Friday, February 16, 2018

In '89 I was auctioned off as one of area's most eligible bachelors

It was during our annual family viewing of “Groundhog Day” that I shared a recollection I’d for unfathomable reasons long concealed. It was during the giddy scene near the end where Bill Murray’s “Phil Connors” character shows just how rewarding life can be when we devote our days to pure altruism.

He saves a man from choking. He bestows newlyweds with Wrestlemania tickets. He delights an audience with his musical virtuosity. He becomes universally beloved.

And the Punxsy women find him irresistible.

He is the star of the local bachelor auction. The women go wild for him. A bidding war erupts.

I don’t know why I never brought it up before, but as the bids kept going higher and higher, I piped up, “Boy, does that bring back some memories.”

The 17 year old snagged the bait: “Wait, you were in a bachelor auction?”

Indeed, I was. For about 90 minutes back in 1989, the tuxedoed me was considered one of the most eligible men in all Westmoreland County.

The particulars of how it all came about are fuzzy as is, well, any sober recollection of 1989. I know the other eligibles included doctors, lawyers, philanthropists and other regional muckety-mucks.

That in hindsight makes me proud because it meant I was chosen purely for looks and personality. Because what young debutante even then thought spending time with a young guy who covered local municipal authority meetings was a good way to secure a solid future?

The girls grilled me with questions. They wanted to know all about it. Were there a lot of bids? How much did I go for? Who won the bid — and there was some stinging remarks about what “winning” me meant.

It was some charity event held in the ballroom of the old Greensburg Sheraton. About 200 women were there to bid. As part of my package, I’d promised the high bidder I’d spring for a fine dinner on Pittsburgh’s scenic Mt. Washington followed by a dance party cruise on the Gateway Clipper. 

The bidding started at $25. I remember strolling around the stage and smiling and pointing at each bidder, which did nothing to excite the crowd.

I was prepared for this eventuality. So I strolled to center stage and reached my hands down below the waist of my tux pants. You may think I did something salacious. I did not.

I didn’t pull my pants down.

I pulled them up.

I was wearing a pair of lush red socks that went way up the legs.

And the women went wild!

Who knew I could excite more women by pulling my pants up than I ever could by stripping them off?

“Do I hear $50? $75? $100? $150?”

In the end, I went for $225, a bit more than a buck-a-pound or about what was then the going price for ground sirloin down at the Giant Eagle.

The winning bidder was a pretty summer intern, a striking red head, who worked with me at the Trib. I was later told several of the women who worked at the paper had contributed to her winning bid, which was very sweet of them.

Interestingly, this was before I met the woman who’d become my wife began working there and we commenced a primal hook-up that’s endured nearly three decades. 

I tell you, when it came to collegial canoodling that newspaper back then was thick with sin.

It was left to Val, of course, to ask the pregnant question that hung over the whole story.

“Well,” she said, “did you get lucky?”

“No, I did not,” I truthfully said.

But I like to think the intern did.

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Hip questions on Tom Petty death report

News that the great Tom Petty died from an accidental overdose closes the book for many who are satisfied that this answers all the relevant questions. Petty, 66, was self-medicating to alleviate chronic pain resulting from a broken hip.

So that’s that, right?

Wrong. I’m restless over what to me is the key unresolved question.

How did Tom Petty break a hip? I can’t find it anywhere.

What happened? Did he fall off a ladder? Slip on a spill in Aisle 6? For heaven’s sake, was Tom Petty out shoveling snow?

Each of those scenarios nearly befell me in recent years, scrapes that led me to after sticking the landing think, “Whew, that was close. I could have broken a hip. Oh, well. Better me than Tom Petty.”

At the time of his October 2 death, it was reported Petty was worth $95 million. He could have afforded a squad of guys whose round-the-clock job description was KEEP TOM PETTY FROM BREAKING A HIP!

He was such a national treasure he should have been encased in bubble wrap and moved in armored cars on a continuous loop from home to stage to studio. Keeping him safe should have been codified in any national health care plan

I wonder if we’ll ever learn how it happened.

My Thanksgiving dinner prayer included all the graceful staples about lost loved ones, culinary blessings and that the Almighty would lend a holy hand on climate change since it was looking like we’d do nothing at all, but the conclusion was more personal.

“ … and please tell Tom Petty how much we miss him.”


I really do miss him. I’m normally immune to grieving over the deaths of men and women I’ve never met. I think it was different for so many of us with Petty. It felt like losing a brilliant friend. Someone we counted on for most of our lives was gone.

And it was all because of a broken hip. Such a shame.

I always thought Petty had plenty hip to spare.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A covfefe of January's best tweets

Follow me at 8days2Amish! Or don’t.

Either way, I hope you’re all ready for the Big Day. Yes, only two shopping days till Groundhog’s Day! Punxsutawney, here we come! Or not.

Have a great day!

• Astronomers calculate earth is 93,000,000 miles from sun. I stepped outside today and, I swear, it felt more like 93,000,002.

• You shouldn't be allowed to demand U.S. impose order around the globe until you can prove you can impose order on your own family.

• Trump’s repeated declarations that "deep state" is out to get him lead me to believe he runs the shallow state.

• I vow to continue saying 'Happy New Year!' right up thru July 5 when it'll become seasonally appropriate to resume saying "Merry Christmas!”

• I wonder if any of the fabled explorers ever considered naming a prominence "Moot Point" but decided the gesture would be meaningless.

• We have blankets of snow and sheets of ice. Anyone know where I can find a good slush pillow?

• So Oprah may run for prez. Has anyone bothered to ask her her party affiliation? I mean, yeah, she's wealthy, but that doesn't necessarily mean she's GOP. Right?

• I have to think giraffe parents take it far more seriously than human counterparts when they catch giraffe teenagers necking.

• The Stooges are to comedy what porn is to drama: it's still satisfying even when the plot's a little thin.

• That twilight -- a halfway point of solar illumination -- is one of my favorite words compels me to use "twi" prefix more. "I got twidrunk last night but the missus became twihomicidal when I told her I was feelin' twihorny.”

• I don't flirt with disaster. I slip something in its drink, say "Cheers!" and shove my tongue down its throat.

• The cumulative weight of the '78 Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers starting offensive line was 1,277 pounds. The five starters in those same positions today weigh 1,604 pounds. Somewhere in this calculation is a solution to world hunger.

• For many, the advent of social media means our greatest fear is no longer death. It is the fear of appearing too ordinary.

• People say "not a snowball’s chance in hell,” like they know forecast. In my hell, there will be tons of snow.

• The seemingly simple act of driving to the store for bread, milk and toilet paper would be much less stressful if only I could have the roads all to myself.

• I have read that tribes native to Arctic climes have 47 words to describe snow. I have just as many to describe farts.

• If Monica Lewinsky was a consenting adult then I guess that makes porn star Stormy Davis a really, really consenting adult.

• World will be a better place when all those scheming to find the means to an end instead worked on finding an end to the means.

• Anyone who aspires to teach the whole world to sing in perfect harmony has never spent a minute at a karaoke bar after 10 p.m. 

• It’s been 2 months. Which do you think Matt's missing more? The carefree cooking segments or all that predatory sex?

• One of the things I most admire about dogs is they never pause to read a nutrition label.

• Perfect casting: Nicest guy in Hollywood (Tom Hanks) to play the nicest guy in the world (Fred Rogers).

• Beer drinkers who believe their bladders are half empty should be called pissimists.

• The name Ivanka Trump sounds like a punchline to one of the prank calls Bart makes to Moe on "The Simpsons.”

• There are 310 million people in America. That means a million-to-one-shot happens 310 times every day. Maybe today 1 will happen to you

• On the recommendation of friends, I just finished reading autobiographies of Bruce Springsteen & Ray Davies, two of my favorite rockers. Both men, composers of so much joyful music, have spent long stretches of their lives depressed. Maybe they should read my book.

• We live in corrosive, often cruel times, but I'm grateful we don't live when the phrase, "There's more than one way to skin a cat," become part of the vernacular. I don't know of even one way to efficiently skin a cat.  

Related …

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Saved from indoor Siberia by The Big Bazoo!

Hardships endured by our ancestors included fetching well water, shoeing the family horse and having to be vigilant for hostile native Americans on the midnight dash to the outhouse.

A hardship for our children involves having to leave the room to charge the phone when all the living room outlets are occupied.

So it was a modern sort of hardship last week on one of the coldest nights of the year the furnace went cold. A fuse had blown. The lights in the whole house were flickering, pipes were in danger of freezing and, gulp, none of the TVs were functioning.

It was like we’d become marooned in an orbiting Apollo 13.

I shined a flashlight on the fuse box, thus exhausting the sum of my furnace repair expertise. When that didn’t work, I said a prayer. 


In Latrobe when prayers don’t fix the furnace, there’s only one thing left to do.

Call The Big Bazoo!

One of the things I enjoyed about doing the Arnold Palmer book about why he never left Latrobe (to be published everywhere May 15) was it allowed me to celebrate in print why so many, Palmer especially, love living here.

It’s full to busting with larger than life people, real characters.And few are larger or livelier than The Big Bazoo. He’s a semi-retired electrician who lives on a street named for him,  Bazoo Way. That tells you plenty. We don’t name our streets after villains.

People know him as Bazzy or Bazoo and I once heard his wife, Mrs. Felbaum, call him Barry.

We’ve golfed and drank together many times. He’s just a lot of boisterous fun. And competent. He’s one of those small town guys you call in the middle of the night when you need someone who’ll come over when it’s minus 7 degrees out.

Really, it was alarming. The pipes were freezing; the fritzing electronics meant fire seemed a legitimate concern. Bazzie rushed over and shut it all down. He’d need to replace two pivotal breakers in the pitch dark basement. 

It was almost two hours of him standing above me on a step stool grunting and exerting over taut cables and me standing directly behind and beneath him holding the flashlight and hoping he hadn’t dined that evening at the local Mexican joint.

By the time the furnace came roaring back to life, the temperature in the house had dropped to 53 degrees, sort of what it was that day in Oymyakon in Siberia about 3,300 miles east of Moscow.

See, when it was 53 in my house it was 53 in Oymyakon, too … 53 below zero!

And that was the high. The low that day was minus 67.

They’re enjoying a bit of a thaw today. The high is minus 29. The record low in this, the coldest inhabited place on earth, is minus 79. 

I keep Oymyakon on my phone’s weather app whenever I feel a need for some bracing perspective. The town of 500 Russians has never recorded an above freezing day between Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day.

Who but an ambitious insulation salesman could endure in such a climate? How does a place so barren ever become a settlement?

Did the leader of some Siberian reindeer wagon train observe the scenery and say, “This feels like as good a place as any to build a new life. Everyone get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we begin constructing the golf course!”

I read an Associated Press story that says eyelashes freeze as soon as you step outside (above) and exposure is — duh — a common cause of death. It says grave diggers need to spend hours out of doors building huge bonfires to get the ground thawed enough to bury the dead, which leads me to believe digging Oymyakon graves is a common cause of death.

The short story left me with a blizzard of questions: Does the town have an ice cream shoppe? Does anyone see any point to attending Groundhog’s Day festivities there? Did the streaker phenomenon ever strike Oymyakon?

And does Oymyakon have a Big Bazoo of its very own?

I’m sure it needs one. Every town does.

You just can’t have ours.

Related …

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

My medical bills, issues & the $10,000 DAT scan

Mary had a pleasant, patient phone voice, non-antagonistic and experienced in knowing if I got TOO testy she could always pass the buck.

Or bucks — $820 of ‘em to be precise. That’s how much anesthesia cost for the August removal of half my thyroid gland and a potato-sized (non-cancerous) lump.

I’m contesting the fee because I never asked for anesthesia and would never have dreamed of having any had I known they were going to charge me a whopping $820 for something I could do myself with salt, lime and a bottle of cheap tequila

“That’s not an approved reason for refusing payment,” she said.

Not approved, but perfectly reasonable.

Should I have to pay for something I didn’t ask for?

It’s a violation of what we can call the Pizza Delivery Code: If you order a large pizza with pepperoni and sausage, but they deliver you a pizza with pepperoni, sausage and green peppers you get to keep the mistake and eat it for free.

Shouldn’t we expect at least as much from our nation’s health care providers as we do from our nation’s pizza makers?

The poets say you never know how much you love something until it’s gone. I guess that means I loved the left lobe of my once-whole thyroid.

It’s taken five months for me to feel almost like my old self. That’s how long it’s taken to properly adjust the medications to eliminate a restless anxiety that was making sleep impossible.

At least I think the missing thyroid was to blame. It could very well be that restless anxiety is an obvious side effect of just me being me, a perpetually under-employed writer prone to sublime bouts of laziness.

I should have known I was in for a bad year when when I woke up in March with an engorged tick embedded near my right testicle. If waking up to a tick nibbling your nut’s not a bad omen, I’ll eat my Ouija board.

Besides the infernal tick bite and the thyroid removal, this year also saw the deaths of my Mom and Tom Petty, losses that affected me deeply. I miss Mom, but Petty was still so essentially vital, still headlining Bonnaroo. 

Mom? In the grand scheme of things, it was like she’d been consigned to doing Branson matinees. She’d stopped touring. Hadn't had a hit in years. We were prepared for her passing. Not Petty’s.

To top it all off, I now have a Jan. 30 appointment for a $10,000 nuclear MRI — don’t worry; it’s covered — to try and determine the cause of a vexing weakness that’s been plaguing my left arm for two years.

I have difficulty lifting a stack of plates onto the cupboard shelf. I have trouble buttoning my shirts and putting my deadened arm into winter coats. A limp in my left leg from hip pain may or may not be related.

It’s all mostly on the nuisance level of life’s annoyances, the biggest being the left hand is becoming near useless when it comes to crisp typing. That which was once second nature is now chore.

Because another symptom is an occasional mild shaking mostly when it’s cold (and right up to this morning it’s always been cold), a neurologist ordered a so-called DAT scan to see if it’s Parkinson’s Disease. I’m not exactly sure all that the $10,000 test with medicinal nuclear injections includes, but for $10,000 it had better include a complimentary hooker.

My doctors are all optimistic about the outcome. There’s no pain. It doesn’t seem to be getting worse. I’m otherwise fit and the symptoms are more annoying than troubling. A summer MRI and other anecdotal tests show nothing of concern, which leads me to wonder if we’d be better off using the $10,000 to make level the Fun House 3rd floor here at the Tin Lizzy where I come to type. 

My posture’s gone to hell since I started writing here in ‘15. The floor’s so damned uneven it’s like trying to type on the deck of a pitching ship.

So that’s some of why I was glad to see 2017 ebb. My fear, however, isn’t that I’ll look back on ’17 as a really bad year.

My fear is I’ll look back on it as my last really good year.

Please join me in being defiantly cheerful about the New Year.

I won’t back down.

Neither should you.

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