Thursday, December 6, 2018

How I became junk mail (and announcement of Tin Lizzy Christmas book signing)!

I’m forever confused whenever I hear people complain about postal surliness. Maybe it’s because I conduct the majority of my postal business at the Youngstown post office just up the street from the Tin Lizzy.

Sue and Lexi are so fun, sweet and cheerful it’s like they were hired by postal party boy Benjamin Franklin. 

So I enjoy going in there, as I often do to mail books, buy stamps, etc. And I’m naturally open-minded to their ideas on how the storied USPS can help me make money. 

That’s the Cliff Notes version of how I dove into the exciting world of Every Door Direct postal promotions.

Yes, I am now junk mail!

I’m having a Christmas book signing Dec. 13 from 5 to 9 p.m. at The Tin Lizzy. I’ll be back in Flappers, the cozy second floor bar, signing copies of “The Last Baby Boomer,” “Use All The Crayons!” and my bestselling Arnold Palmer book.

And by “bestselling,” I’m not talking like it’s crashed the lists published in places like the New York Times. I mean it outsells my other two books. And I’m very proud of those two books, especially the “Baby Boomer” ghoul pool novel.

But it should be a lot of fun. Bartenders Zach and Aaron will be serving Arnold Palmer drink specials and the food keeps earning raves. I recommend the Chicken Parmesan Milanese.

I was telling Sue and Lexi all about it when Sue mentioned how Every Door Direct Mail might be beneficial. The service involves targeting specific postal routes with mailers intended to excite a specific demographic. 

After much consideration, the neighborhood I chose to inflict my nuisance upon is …

Lawson Heights!

It’s blue collar with deep local roots. It’s a proud family neighborhood of good people who work hard and play hard. 

Palmer people.

Next step was stopping by Unity Printing — a landmark business that just happens to reside in Lawson Heights. My friends there, I think, outdid themselves with the mailer.

I had them print 650, but only 649 are eligible for delivery duty. I’m keeping one to hang in my office. It’s to me a work of art disguised as junk mail.

A key line is right at the top:

“Meet Chris Rodell, author of the book Jim Nantz says is ‘the best book anyone’s ever written about Arnold Palmer.’”

Zach says I missed an opportunity to apply some creative editing so it reads, “… Jim Nantz says it’s the best book anyone’s ever written!”

I threw in a wildcard beneath my picture that reads, “Can’t make it? I’ll deliver signed books right to your front door! Call me, 724-961-2558.”

If just 10 people out of the 600 or so buy 20 books, that’ll take care of most of my investment (my cheapskate publisher is picking up half the total cost, about $400). 

Speaking of cost, that was the only item of the mailer that caused me to waver. I originally was going to charge $20 per book, a not unreasonable sum, I think.

But I couldn’t put $20. Latrobe has been too good for me to attempt anything that might be perceived as a gouge. I’ve sold all on my own to mostly my neighbors more than 2,000 copies of the Palmer book.

I say everyone in town has bought five copies; they read one and use the other four to stabilize wobbly furniture — and I’m fine with that! Once you pay for it, I don’t care what you do with it.

I’m kidding. I hope my books become something you treasure. The reaction I get from readers is what I truly treasure.

So I hope you’ll stop by the Tin Lizzy next Thursday. Ideally, you’ll have a drink or two with Jessie in the main bar and lavishly overtip her. Then you’ll enjoy dinner in the dining room and duplicate the generous procedure with your waitress.

Then, once you’re in fine spirits — and maybe just a wee bit tipsy — you’ll climb the steps to Flappers, order a spiked Arnold Palmer, and stop by my table to say hello.

I find, you see, that people are more disposed to buying my books once they’ve consumed at least the equivalent of five shots of alcohol.

You’ll be supporting the local post office, Unity Printing and a host of friendly waiters, waitresses and bartenders.

You see, I like seeing small local businesses succeed. 

I hope on Dec. 13 you’ll stop by the Tin Lizzy and help me become one.

Related …

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

My friend's new book cures hangovers!

The greatest tribute anyone’s ever said about me is that just by telling my stories I once cured their hangover.

I mean, if you believe Scripture, that’s something even Jesus never did.

It was 2015 and I was the breakfast keynote speaker for the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association. I was there to give my “Use All The Crayons!” talk.

I’ll let my Lazarus tell it (I to this day use this quote for promotional purposes):

“My restaurant hosted a lavish wine dinner the night before Chris’s keynote. Everyone there felt like dying. I didn’t even want to go. The topic sounded so stupid. Man, I’m so glad I did. Chris was so warm, so funny and so engaging he had me feeling better right away. It was a tough crowd, but he had us all feeling happy to be human. I swear, Chris cured my hangover!”

This man owns one of the finest and most established restaurants in Pittsburgh. And to show his gratitude, he invited me to a lavish dinner which I accepted without even a pause for prissy ethical considerations. 

“And bring your wife!”

So my favorite part of this sumptuously memorable evening was watching Val’s bewildered reaction to this prominent man’s gushing on and on and on about me. She suspected it was all an elaborate put on.

I love her very much, but she’s the inspiration for the line: “Any man who thinks he’s his own worst critic is either delusional or single.”

I mention all this today because I’m in the middle of a terrific book by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall. It’s “Hungover: The Morning After & One Man’s Quest for the Cure.”

His book is off to a roaring start and has the potential to become historic. I mean, even Jesus only raised one from the dead.

I’m a sucker for compelling quest books, stories of men and women striding confidently around the globe in search of fame, riches or adventure. That Shaughnessy conducts his in a mostly inebriated stumble only makes it more endearing. 

It’s already the No. 1 bestseller in the Amazon substance abuse category, an indication to me that those who are categorizing books for amazon could use a belt or two. Because this is a substance appreciation book.

He consulted doctors. He consulted bartenders. He consulted the world’s foremost experts on what it’s like to be hungover.

He consulted me!

Shaughnessy and I became friends in ’13 when we met on an “Extreme Vegas” press junket of five of America’s premiere freelance writers and me.

See what I did there? That’s an example of me being self-deprecating, a trait I learned Shaughnessy appreciates.

I liked him immediately because I could tell he was fashioning a dandy book idea and was grounded enough to avoid it turning him into a colossal prick. And I admire anyone who can mange being grounded while simultaneously being high, as he is apt to be.

He mentions me on page 20 in a passage about how we were set to embark on an afternoon of Ferrari racing across the desert. Now, I ask you to brace yourself because parts of this will be disorienting to anyone who knows me even vaguely.

“‘You ever done this before?’ asks the writer (me) from Iowa—an old-school, avuncular journalist who’s self-published a finely crafted, nicely jokey self-help book available through his website on a pay-what-you-can basis. It’s called ‘Use All The Crayons!’ and has sold more copies than anything the rest of us have authored combined. He is as self-deprecating and inspiring as the New York travel writer is not.”

I’ve never been to Iowa, but now I’m wondering if I should move there to seize any potential promotional opportunities arising from the confusion.

Iowa? He knows I’m from Pennsylvania. Maybe he wanted to convey someone who’d appear more rube-like than us Keystone State sophisticates. Maybe he was up against a deadline and Iowa takes less time to spell than Pennsylvania.

If I could change one thing it would be using the word “avuncular,” meaning of or resembling an uncle. I’d opt, instead, for words like masculine, studly or buff — you know, words I use to describe myself during my near-hourly mirror pep talks.

Otherwise, I’m perfectly charmed. I think it’s wonderful.

Plus, in the acknowledgements page where he mentions, I think, about 1,000 people who’ve rendered him assistance, he lists me fifth. I’ve chosen to think the list was compiled in order of importance and can only hope it’s not in order of most avuncular. 

But I couldn’t be happier for my friend. His book in just the last week has earned praise in the Wall St. Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times. And he’s just getting started.

He’s a great guy who’s written a great book. A single father of a young son, I admire him for having achieved a proper balance between being responsible and being reckless and making it seem destined for grand and deserving success. And all it took was 10 years of devoted drinking.

And to think I squandered the equivalent time way out here in Iowa tending this godforsaken blog.

No wonder a guy like me earns mention in a book titled “Hungover.”

Related …

Friday, November 30, 2018

November Tweets of the Month (in the nick of time)

No preamble. No intro. No distractions. It’s Friday afternoon. The weekend is nigh. And I’m left to wonder how productive I’d out of necessity be if every moment of every working day were 10 minutes ’til the Happy Hour …

• It’s unfathomable to imagine how much better off the world would be if every time we felt moved by a good intention we acted on it.

• People who want to appear more colorful get tattoos. People who want to become more colorful get library cards.

• The ones who profess to know all the answers are usually the same ones who never bother to ask any of the questions.

• The difference between my friends from church and my friends from the bar is my friends from church say they're sinners and they're really nice people and my friends from bars say they're sinners and brag about it.

• Because fickle publishing industry insists it is looking for timeless books, my next novel is going to be about a broken clock.

• I wonder how guys like Bach and Beethoven reacted when during meltdowns someone told them to compose themselves.

• Thousand Oaks Strong. Pittsburgh Strong. Parkland Strong. Vegas Strong. How come with all this muscular strength all across the nation I'm always left feeling so weak?

• On most days, happiness and sadness are not emotions. They're decisions. Now, being an asshole, that's different. It's a pre-existing condition.

• I admire vegans, but the chances of me giving up meat are about the same as me resuming my virginity.

• Would you find the Bible more or less compelling if back in Biblical times rudimentary selfie technology had existed? Imagine some of Noah's selfies. 

• Your life will be appreciably more balanced & sane if you wake up each day realizing your job isn't nearly as important as you think it is.

• Experts say the world needs to prepare for a cashless society. If that's the case, I'm way ahead of the world. I haven't had any cash since I decided to become a writer.

• Perhaps I'm being too literal, but I have to think the nation of Togo must have really great take-out food.

• Didn’t really bother me when daughter said I was a "bad word." What did was the realization that I consider her a fine judge of character.

• With 55-inch large-screen TVs being among the most popular, I'm amazed how there are so many people who when it comes to current events still fail to see the big picture.

• Spent the last five nights in the woods dining on grubs, avoiding detection. Seven days before Thanksgiving and I'm already at DEFCON 4. Why the special ops training? Almost time for my annual War on Christmas! #HappyHolidays, my friends!

• I know next to nothing about sailing, but I know enough about basic zoology to surmise that on Noah's Arc every deck was a poop deck.

• Even serenely disposed Siamese twins find it impossible to be anything but beside themselves all the time.

• Man, the only animal who spends most of its time stationary on its butt, is also the only animal to spend billions each year on footwear.

• I wonder if cavemen and cavewomen woke up each morning and asked each other how they slept or if they had other priorities.

• The term "penniless" has lost all value for describing an impoverished individual. Probably been 20 years since Trump's even seen a penny.

• I wonder if the chariots from ancient Roman times had drink holders. Or maybe the'd yet to invent the sized lid/straw combo ...

• Even elderly donut makers wake up each morning knowing they have their hole lives ahead of them.

• How much more revelatory would Gospels be today had Jesus been subjected to the scrutiny of a Biblical times Facebook?

• On this day in 1969, Fantasy Records released the Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Proud Mary." She's been rollin' on the river ever since. This leads me to believe not only was Mary proud, she was also quite buoyant.

• I’d like to have been a fly on the wall to hear what His high school guidance counselor said when the teenage Jesus told him God said He was going to be the Savior.

• The difference between being grounded and being buried is sometimes grave.

• In sublime case of perfect timing the morning after an old buddy spent the night, the new Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall book "Hungover: The Morning After & One Man's Search for the Cure," arrives. I'll post more later. Not today. Today I'm hungover.

Related … 

You don't need the parade to smile at strangers

For me, the most indelible memory will be the faces of the children. The bright faces shown with joy, hope and cheer. They’d braved temperatures in the high teens to see Santa.

That they first had to see me didn’t faze them one bit.

Then there were the faces of the adults. They seemed to go through what I guess you could call the Five Stages of Celebrity Disappointment.

It was “The Sparkle of Christmas” parade and hundreds of families lined historic Clay Avenue, to cheer the season, gaze at me and twist their once-sunny expressions into the facial equivalent of “WTF?”

My friends at the Jeannette Public Library flattered me by asking if I’d be their parade celebrity. Of course, I said yes.

You may think I’m exaggerating about seeing facial let down. I am not. And I am expert at recognizing the faces of the disappointed.

I’m a married father of two daughters who expect me to be a decent provider and sensible enough to not wear things like mustard-stained bowling shirts to parent/teacher conferences.

On the strength of my dynamic talk at their library — I wowed everyone there (all 8 of them) — local librarians last month asked me if I’d be willing to ride in their Sparkle parade element, which happened to be a 1972 Jaguar XK150 convertible.

Oh, you betcha. I’ve never been in a parade before so it was very cool.

Cool? Heck, it was practically freezing. We sat in the car — roof down — for an hour awaiting the parade beginning.

The Jag belonged to a local businessman. I was worried he’d be one of those finicky vintage car owners understandably fretting over every scratch.. In fact, he was just the opposite.

At one point, he thrilled me by racing in reverse down a narrow one-way street pinched with parked cars.

I felt like James Bond. Well, since I was in the passenger seat, I guess I was more like a Bond girl, one with a three-day stubble, stale beer breath and peek-a-boo holes in her thermal underwear.

Yes, the #MeToo movement is taking its toll in strange places.

Once the parade finally began, I remember turning the corner and being surprised by the sight of so many staring strangers. It was unsettling. What were they looking at? How rude.

Then it dawned on me; idiot, this is the parade! Smile and say something!

In these fraught times, anything I’d say could be fair game for social media outrage. So I played it safe and said:

“Happy Holidays, good people of Jeannette! Remember to welcome caravans of migrants into your homes, to support the LBGQT agenda and urge the kids to ask Santa to take Barron Trump some lumps of beautiful clean coal for Christmas — and tell him it was from his father!”

Actually, I didn’t say any of that.

I instead opted to risk infuriating the liberals with a two-word taunt. 

“Merry Christmas!” 

I must have said it about 10,000 times. And I wore a big smile the whole time.

It was wonderful.

And the people were so happy, too. Af first, at least. A parade celebrity had wished them Merry Christmas!

Then their eyes went to the sign on the side of the Jag and confusion began to emerge. Why, Jeannette couldn’t even get one of the three dozen or so local TV news grinners to appear in their holiday parade.

They had to get me!

But then another change came on. They began to re-smile. It’s like they were thinking, “Oh, what the heck. This poser may not be Wendy Bell, but he seems friendly enough. And it is almost Christmas …”

And they smiled back.

When we got to the end of the parade route, I had one question for my driver: Could we circle around and do it all over again?

I mistakenly thought the parade had elevated my soul. I now realize the parade had nothing to do with the feeling. You don’t need a whole parade.

All you need is a smile and a stranger.

It can be your Christmas gift to the world.

Related …