Friday, July 1, 2016

4 days, 3 talks, 3 results

I had three speaking engagements in the last five days and I’m now optimistic I’ll one day soon drive a car with a functioning air conditioner.

That’s been a problem. My vehicle is an heirloom Saturn Vue, 2007, and it’s bit-by-bit falling apart.

I’m like that, too, so I’m still partial to it.

We’re conditioned to think running a car without self-cooling is akin to self-waterboarding. Really, it’s not as bad as you think. 

People who think it must be horrendous mostly fail to understand that car windows roll down at places other than fast food drive-thus.

So I park in the shade, drive in the fast lane and let the wind do its work.

Note: if your AC breaks, it helps to keep a nice tight hair cut.

I had three presentations this week and some of you might be interested in how they went.

Well, they all were exceptional, but for different reasons.

The first was Monday evening at City Books on Pittsburgh’s North Side. I was aggressive in promoting this one on the blog and social media and I’m now more than ever convinced social media only works only if you’re named Kardashian.

Just six people showed up.

And I was one of the six!

The owner and her husband were two of the others.

A sweet local couple walked in off the street and so did John McIntire.

So in the crowd was at least one celebrity! John is a friend who hosts scintillating talk shows on KDKA radio and does local stand up comedy. I was very pleased to see him walk through the door.

This was my first reading for “Last Baby Boomer” so it was, in fact, my first reading ever.

All my other talks are basically monologues. I don’t read much at all from the “Crayons” book because it’s mostly a list of stuff.

I decided a nimble mingle would work best. So I’d read from a chapter and then intersperse some personal talk about the roll dark humor plays in brightening my life.

And I sweated profusely the whole time. It was very warm and I was nervous. It’s much more difficult to try and entertain five people than it is 250.

But it went well. Despite the low turnout, it was a key event because the next day I’d be in Wheeling at the Ohio County Public Library doing the same thing before 70 people.

John — and I can count on him for bracing honesty — said the presentation was good, but I read too hastily and should have emoted more.

What buoyed me, too, was how much every — all five of ‘em — had enjoyed the actual readings from “Last Baby Boomer.” They laughed out loud often. I was thrilled to learn how much the book connects to a live audience.

So I was very confident, bold even, on Tuesday in Wheeling. 

I did a brief intro then brashly went right into the the first of four substantial readings.

It was at first a mistake. I asked an enthusiast later how I could improve the talk and she said, “The first reading was too abrupt. You need to inform the audience you’re going to read and then talk some. It turned out to be a perfect mix, but when it seemed like you were going to read for the full hour everyone got very afraid.”
Well, it became one of the best reactions I’ve ever received. They just loved it.

I’m thrilled it went over so well and will now begin aggressively promoting more readings apart from “Crayons!” motivational gigs.

I am jazzed.

Thursday was a “Crayons!” presentation where everything that could have gone wrong did. It was a South Hills men’s social club held on the awninged porch of the TGIFridays near South Hills Village. 

The setting was horrendous. It was in the parking lot. Ambient music was playing. Landscapers were mowing the trim. And the audience was intimidatingly affluent — a bunch of really rich guys.

And I killed it.

They loved my talk.

Working without notes, I on the spot boiled my normally hour-long talk down to the five of the most colorful people I knew.

It couldn’t have gone better. I know it goes well when attendees come up and say I would be a stand-up comic. That happened.

Plus, a man renowned as a talent evaluator issued heady praise.

“You were excellent. Very enjoyable.”

He was Tom Donohoe (above), director of football operations for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1991 through ’99.

Retired Pens GM Eddie Johnson was there, too. It was a great crowd. Johnson, by the way, said the greatest player who ever lived wasn’t Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby or even Wayne Gretzky.

It was Bobby Orr.

They bought a ton of books, too.

So it was a great week and leaves me convinced all the arrows are pointing up.

It’s so encouraging I’m thinking I just might do something drastic.

I’m thinking about getting the AC fixed!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

June Tweets of the Month

How many other writers could produce such a heady mix of profound and silly? I wonder if I’d be more successful if I confined my disciplines to just one or the other. Oh, well. I can’t help it. I yam what I yam and that’s all that I yam. I think that’s from Plato …

Enjoy June’s tweets of the month and follow me @8days2Amish!

• Many writers are on shoe-string budgets. Me, I can't afford shoes with strings. I guess that means I'm on a flip flop budget. 

• Maybe I'm superstitious, but I only buy things like thyme, basil and sage from farmers named Herb.

• It’s your past. Make it as colorful as you wish. I say I put myself through college working as a male stripper.

• Both daughters have caught on, but I still find it irresistible to phone pretending I’m Prez Obama just calling to praise their father. 

• The idea of being a lab rat must seem so prestigious to rats so it must be a cruel disappointment when they learn what it involves

• Asked 9 year old if she knew difference between carpenter bees and regular bees. Said carpenter bees have the tiny tool belts.

• He admires Trump’s spunk, his moxie, but he thinks the kid needs some guidance, the tutelage of an old Washington hand. #Trump/Cheney

• All my life people have been telling me, "Chris you can't do this. You can't do that." They've been right about 90 percent of the time.

• Imagine how much better off we’d all be if humble “Need a penny/Take a penny/ Have a penny/Leave a penny,” were applied on a global level.

• I wish in the interests of polite society that people described as lightning rods attracted actual lightning.

• It’s probably because of my years at Ohio University I drink responsibly whenever I should and irresponsibly whenever I can.

• Store receipts getting so long it is now be possible to wrap new toaster in new toaster receipts.

• How come the only ones who seem to get to blither are idiots? I'd just once like to see a blithering weatherman.

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

• Families are God's way of proving we're incapable of helping even those we love the very most.

• The reward of soothing mediocrity is among society’s most addictive painkillers.

• I’ll bet God wishes terrorists who kill in His name saying "God is great!" would at least add, "But I am not!"

• I’ve made a bold decision: I'm living the rest of my life in italics!

• She’ll deny it, but my wife just hasn't been herself since Heisenberg died. #BreakingBad

• Devotees of irony rejoice! Today we honor as a disciple of peace, a man who got famous beating the living crap out of others. #AliFuneral

• How much more advanced will humanity be when we select mates based on intelligence instead of how nice one’s ass looks in tight jeans?

• How sizable would the yard sale be if you had access to all the stuff enemies through-out your life told you to shove up your ass? 

• I’ve done like the financial wizards advised. I've had nest eggs. The problem is they've always hatched and flown away.

• I detest the term spree killer. It makes it sound like so much fun.

• Anytime you hear of anyone dying suddenly, it should reinforce the need to be always living suddenly ... 

• I’d like to see a boy named Morley engage a girl name Leslie and have them conceive a child they'll name Equally.

• It’s said no two snowflakes are exactly alike. But I was upscale bar this weekend with 30 guys who looked, dressed & thought exactly alike.

• When someone tells me they don't have the time to read I assume they don't have time for sex either. #priorities

• Never forget: A clear, sharp mind is a brute impediment to enjoying so much of life's whimsy and wonder. Bourbon works wonders.

• Reaping what you sew is good unless you’re a dressmaker who grows his or her own cotton then in which case you sew what you reap. 

• It may be that I'll always be broke, but by God I'll never be broken.

• I propose they rename phone book "The Big Book of Names & Numbers of People You Don't Know, Will Never Meet & Will Never Call.”

• I’ve become so trusting of small town values the only time I lock my car is when my keys are in there and I'm not.

• I wonder if Jesus and God do anything special for Father's Day.

•I wonder if parents of boys born above the Arctic Circle ever struggle with the illogic of naming the fair-skinned child Tanner. 

• Jordan Speith talks so much on the golf course he should be called Jordan Spekith.

• Ham radios will resume their popularity when they're constructed of ham. 

• News reports of a local home being ransacked always make me wonder if the suspect is Santa, a man who runs with sacks.

• Today I feel like a futurist, but I predict the feeling will pass.

• It’d be a useful gauge of the woman's native optimism to learn if Carly Fiorina is still introducing herself as Ted Cruz's Veep.

• I wonder if Satanists, like other special interest groups, resent being demonized or consider it a badge of honor.

• The AK 47, one of the deadliest guns ever made, is capable of firing 600 bullets per minute. And right now someone is working on an AK 48.

• It bears repeating: Rhode Island isn't even Rhode Isthmus.

• Daughter, 10, admits she was 3 before she realized my first name wasn't "Daddy." What did she think of all the other kids calling their fathers Daddy? “Copycats!"

• If we ever get another cat I'm going to encourage the kids to name it Copy. Copycat!

Related …

June ’15 Tweets of the Month

June ’14 Tweets of the Month

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

New River Gorge & the story of the Suicidal Corona Drinker (from '15)

It was the kind of unsightly trash a devoted recycler like myself would instinctively take a few steps out of his way to retrieve for proper disposal. I do this especially when, as in this case, it’s in a national park spoiling one of the most spectacular views in America.

But I didn’t budge.

It was a six-pack of 12-ounce Corona glass bottles. Four of the beers had been emptied. Two full ones remained.

I stood there and tried to recall the number of times I’d have wandered 15 steps just for two free Coronas. It was a bunch.

Still, I remained frozen.

My reasoning had nothing to do with beer quality and everything to do with basic math. I knew if I took just one step I’d travel 851 feet.

Straight down.

I was in the middle of the 6/10-mile long, 24-inch maintenance catwalk suspended 20-feet beneath the New River Gorge Bridge, near Fayetteville, West Virginia. 

The beers had been drunk and left there the previous week by a forlorn young man who’d come to that exact spot to end his life.

“He’d broken undetected through all our security measures and walked out onto the middle of bridge and hopped the railing onto this beam,” said Jada, our guide, a pretty WVU Eastern Religious Studies major who’s about to depart for two months of primary studies in Cambodia and Vietnam. “He climbed out to the edge, sat down right there and started getting drunk. He was intent on jumping.”

She told us that and I wondered what some Hindu prophet would say about trying to penetrate the earthly veil by hurtling oneself off one of America’s landmark bridges.

Prior to 1977, it used to take U.S. Rt. 19 motorists 45 minutes to traverse the canyon-pinched New River, along with the nearby Gauley, are among the top white water rafting sites in the world. Today, thanks to the bridge, crossing takes 16,200 or so motorists each day just about 45 seconds. It was until 2002 the world’s highest vehicular bridge.

Yet for all its majesty, it still fits snug in your pocket.

The bridge profile is featured on the back of the 2005 commemorative West Virginia State quarter.

I’d written about the Bridge Walk in ’11 after it’d opened as one of the most unique tourist attractions in all America.

The 24-inch catwalk had for years been a rite-of-passage for local kids wanting to test their mettle. They’d sneak out there and maybe spray paint their names on the beams.

Then in 2010 local entrepreneur Benjy Simpson and five associates secured permission to add $1 million in unobtrusive safety features into the barren passage and on Sept. 26, 2010, opened Bridge Walk. A one-way trip costs $73.

“We’ve had every age from 9- to 95-years-old cross and we’ve had people in wheelchairs,” says Simpson. “Most are there for scenery or are engineering buffs marveling at the construction and many are people trying to overcome a fear of heights. We’ve had about 22,000 guests cross the bridge. Of them, only 70 have turned back.”

Physically, Bridge Walk is unimposing to anyone capable of a strolling a leisurely mile. Walkers are given harnesses and tethered to overhead steel cables.

For our 5 p.m. trip, it was just me, Josie, and Jada.

I’m not going to lie. I was scared the whole way.

I’m one of those guys who has no senseless fear of heights, but a dreadful fear of falling from high places, which I contend is different and makes perfect sense.

I’ve twice gone skydiving and in ’13 did a 102-story static-line leap from the Stratosphere SkyJump in Las Vegas.

I enjoy testing my nerves, but even more enjoy saying I’ve tested my nerves. I love being able to tell stories about adventures others say they’d rather avoid.

Bridge Walk is a perfect example. I know things can go wrong — even though they have never not once on Bridge Walk. And it’s indelible views are, indeed, spectacular.

Josie, being naive about dramatic death, has no fear whatsoever. She skipped along, used the railings for push-ups and was serene in her assurance that nothing could possibly go wrong.

I’d told here the bridge was a popular site for couples to get engaged. Until Jada showed us the castoff Coronas, it never dawned on her something so magnificent could be used as a place for something so dark.

“We don’t know how much he’d drunk before he got there, but at some point after he’d drunk that fourth beer he changed his mind,” Jada said. “He wasn’t going to jump. He didn’t want to die.”

It was an inconvenient place to have such a dramatic change of heart. He became immobilized by fear and alcohol.

He called 911 and explained his predicament. They rushed a crew to the bridge. The clipped in and a very brave first responder did a duty that’ll forever top the stories of the guys who like to brag about the old widow’s kitten they pulled from way up in the big oak.

I tried to put myself in the shoes of the men on the bridge that night and concluded my feet would have been damp.

In either case, I’m sure I’d have wet my pants.

The would-be suicide had to be in frightful condition. He was unstable out on an exposed beam and now consumed with both alcohol and a frantic will to live. One stumble in either direction and he falls the equivalent of the Washington Monument with the Statue of Liberty balanced on top.

The hero had to be nervous, too. He’d taken all the proper precautions, sure, but he was dealing with a drunken wildcard. What if it were a cruel ruse to try and take an innocent with him?

Me, at that height I was too nervous to remove my phone from my buttoned pocket to even snap a telltale picture of the trash, which had been left there because the rescuer was too otherwise occupied care about housekeeping matters.

A conspiracy-mined friend said he wondered if the Bridge Walk people planted the trash and came up with a crafty story.

Sure, anything’s possible, but it isn’t in the best interest of Bridge Walk to do anything that is tantamount to encouraging such lethal lawlessness.

And I don’t know much about Eastern Religions, but I’m sure they include a part about how unethical it would be for Jada to lie to visiting travel writers.

Later, I couldn’t stop thinking about the would-be suicide. I figured it must have been over a broken heart. I wondered about his thought progression as he went through his four beers.

Beer 1: “There’s no hope. This heart break will never heal. This is the only solution.”

Beer 2:  “Well, I’ve made some bad decisions, but I’m glad I got a premium import to soothe my final moments instead of that domestic swill I usually drink.”

Beer 3: “I wonder if this was a mistake. The Pirates are playing the Giants tonight. First pitch is in one hour. The game’ll be on down at the bar. I think Brenda’s working tonight. She was looking fine last week.”

Beer 4: “I want to live! Live! Live! Boy, am I glad I remembered to charge my phone before I came up here …”

It’d be great if we eventually hear how right there on the edge of that iconic bridge, the man’s life turned right around, that he found love, stability and the messianic will to became a role model for all the troubled strugglers who fail to realize that even the darkest day is still just one day.

Because a man-made structure as impressive as the New River Gorge Bridge should never be about anything other than the enduring grandeur of the human spirit. 

It’s out of my realm, but it seems to me the story has all the elements you’d need for a really dandy Corona beer commercial.

Related . . .

Monday, June 27, 2016

So who all's invited to tonight's City Books reading?

You are, of course.

Those of you who take the time to read my blog are my core readership. My alpha, my omega. Your support buoys me when I’m down. Your boundless enthusiasm helps generate fresh ideas when imagination depletes.

Having a local reading without offering you luxury box treatment just wouldn’t seem right. So consider this your invitation to hear me read — read aloud! — from “Last Baby Boomer” tonight at 7 p.m. at City Books on Pittsburgh’s North Side. I’m sending it out special to you and only my closest, most personal friends.

And to the entire rosters of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers and their traveling staff and media.

The Bucs and Dodgers close out a four-game Pittsburgh home stand today at 12:30 p.m. and both will be boarding planes for long cross-country flights. An entertaining satirical book like mine will help pass the time until they can snuggle back into the waiting arms of cuddly hookers and groupies.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto? You’re invited. In fact, it’ll be a stinging insult if Hizzoner blows me off. He’s out and about at so many functions like this every night weary political reporters are beginning to suspect he’s cloned

People who are confused about Brexit are welcome. I know you have many questions and in between readings I’ll try and shed some light on what the changes mean.

For instance, now in order to do any business in the U.K. we’ll all have to begin deliberately misspelling words like color, labor, flavor with their infuriatingly unnecessary “u” (colour, labour, flavour).

The Stanley Cup is invited! I don’t know which of our NHL champion Penguins has the cup tonight, but feel free to bring it to City Books to add some sparkle to the proceedings. 

Open and concealed carry aficionados are welcome. Bring all the hardware you want. I believe word-for-word in our 2nd Amendment so bring as many weapons as you can hoist.

Just promise to leave all the bullets at home.

Denzel Washington, you’re one of my favorite actors so consider this your personal invitation. Denzel is in Pittsburgh filming the August Wilson play, “Fences,” about race relations in Pittsburgh in 1957.

I haven’t read or seen the play but, being a fan of happy endings, I’m optimistic it concludes with blacks and whites marching arm-in-arm into a bright future that includes mutual equality, respect, and an assurance that the then-awful Steelers are going to turn it all around starting in the 1970s. 

I hope Denzel accepts and decides on the spot to option my book(s) for his next production.

So if all the close personal friends I’ve invited show up and buy books, I figure I ought to sell, oh, about 15,000 books.


I’ll be happy if I sell 20.

Really, I did want to extend personal invitations to those who’re particularly supportive, but it seemed like an imposition.

I know you’re busy. The kids have soccer. You’re preparing to leave for summer vacation. You still haven’t watched the concluding Part V of “O.J.: Made in America.”

Plus, I’m sure there are those of you who’ve been burned by promotions like this, ones where “book readings” turns out to be code for “orgy” and you’re not sure what to wear.

It is my understanding this is purely a book reading and at the very least I promise this reader will remain fully dressed.

I hope all the concealed carry fans will be, too.

An orgy doesn’t leave many comfortable options for those eager to conceal.

Related . . .