Monday, October 24, 2016

Has "Walking Dead" jumped the zombie shark?

The show had been gut-wrenching — and I don’t mean that as a dramatic critique.

No, in “Walking Dead” you can see people use things like wrenches to remove guts. It’s a weekly disgust.

My wife, a devoted fan, was eager to talk about it. She wanted to pick my brain.

“Are you done with it?” she asked.

I told her, no. I still feel invested in the characters and the prepper in me is still compiling survival tips on what to do in the event zombie apocalypse becomes a reality and I’ll need to be alert for a more literal kind of brain picking.

But last night’s season 7 premier crossed a line with me.

I won’t say the show jumped the shark. “Walking Dead” producers would never let that happen, opting, I’m sure, to work a zombie shark plot line into the series.

The wanton gruesomeness of last night’s de rigeur violence left me feeling diminished. Is this really how I want to spend an hour? Does this qualify as entertainment?

The presidential debates are more uplifting.

At least with those — and they’re every bit as gruesome as “Walking Dead” — I know I’ll get to see Alec Baldwin ridiculing Trump.

Anytime televised violence becomes stomach turning because characters are getting their stomachs turned (or chewed), it’s time to re-think how I’m spending my time. So I’ll, for now, continue watching “Walking Dead,” but all the while my mind will be drifting to what I’d rather be watching. The list includes:

• Porn — I’ve never been a big porn guy, but something raunchy would be a nice palette cleanser after watching Michonne lop the heads off 30 zombies intent on dining on more than finger sandwiches. If you’re looking for Christmas stocking stuffers, I like ones involving things like the saucy divorcee and her cheerleader roommate surprising the pizza delivery boy with the kind of tip he can’t claim on his tax forms.

• “Cheers” — It’s on one of the retro channels and we DVR about 20 of them at a time. I hadn’t seen the show in about 15 years and I wondered if it still held up. Boy, does it. It remains uproarious with each character deftly acted and right on the money. I love to laugh so, ergo, I’ll always love “Cheers.” It sounds heretical, but it’s right up there with “Seinfeld” and “Seinfeld” is right at the top.

• “The Fugitive” — It was about 20 years ago, before kids, and I was seeking a good show to watch with lunch. Val at the time had a full-time job in Pittsburgh. I vaguely remember my father telling me to check out David Janssen and “The Fugitive” reruns. I watched one and was blown away. Each episode was a dramatic gem. I remember Val coming home and me saying, “We’re going to have to start taping these shows to watch with dinner. They’re that good.” She responded with some version of, yeah, right, we’re going to tape shows that first appeared in 1963. Today, it remains one of our all-time favorite shows. We even have an episode guide!

• “Breaking Bad” — The show went off the air three years ago last month and I’ve ever since been itching to start it all over. It’s that good, in my opinion the best show ever. I’d watch “Mad Men” and “Sopranos” from the start again, too.

• The World Series — Now’s the time of year when every pitch becomes so precious because I know baseball’s about to be cruelly ripped from my life. In the summer, baseball is my televised security blanket. Personal calm is elusive when it isn’t near. Barring a zombie apocalypse, I’ll be writing about the World Series tomorrow in advance of Game 1.

• “The Larry Sanders Show” — Brilliant Garry Shandling comedy with equally brilliant cast led by Jeffrey Tambor and Rip Torn. Again, I just love to laugh and this one makes me very happy. HBO ran 89 episodes from 1992-98. I have a compilation disc with about 20 of them on there. Each is golden. You know what else is still really, really funny? “Third Rock from the Sun,” starring the peerless John Lithgow. Sitcom trivia: The career-making Frasier Crane “Cheers” role that went to Kelsey Grammar was offered first to Lithgow. 

• A roaring fire — Hallelujah! The weather has finally turned. I welcome the fall chill. I love fall days cooking soups and warming the house with a nice fire. And if I’m in front of a fire, naturally, I’ll have a good book with me. I’m right now in the middle of Tom Wolfe’s excellent “Bonfire of the Vanities” from 1986. It’s particularly timely with so many egos and ambitions dominating our news.

• “Walking Dead” — It’ll never be one of my all-time favorite shows — I doubt I’ll ever re-watch more than an episodic scene or two — but this show was once great.

I think it’s too infatuated with devastating its audience with increasingly graphic violence. Last night’s brutal killings of two main and beloved characters couldn’t have been more disgusting.

Plus, I don’t foresee a “Walking Dead” happy ending and that turns me off.

See, I love happy endings.

Like the kind awaiting that lucky pizza delivery boy!

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Friday, October 21, 2016

When did Facebook become Hatebook?

I wonder how many parents warn their children about the perils of social media malevolence and then take to social media to engage in perilously malevolent behavior.

They rant, they bully, they poison once-vital friendships.

When did Facebook become Hatebook?

Every one is looking to fight.

We live in an age that’d be a curse to anyone trying to make a living as a novelty mindreader. No thought is left unexpressed. We’re so plugged in it’s like we walk around with constantly updated cartoon thought balloons floating over our heads.

And feelings are getting hurt.

A sweet girl I know — and she’s a real babe — told me she was saddened the other day when out-of-the-blue a friend blocked her over mild political commentary.

“I went to comment on something she’d written and I saw she’d blocked me,” she said. “I wasn’t going to say anything mean. I just wanted to point out there’s two sides to every story. And she blocked me. I couldn’t believe it. I thought we were friends.”

Who was this reckless firebrand?

My wife!

Yes, we’re so divided even the mild-mannered Lutheran church organist must be censored.

I feel bad that anyone would do anything to make my sweetheart glum, but admit to feeling a bit more chipper knowing the frowny face for once didn’t have anything to do with her realization she’s married to me so at least there’s that.

I daily grow more and more nostalgic for the times when I didn’t know your politics and you didn’t know mine.

Heck, I’m daily growing more and more nostalgic for stupid cat videos.

The daily vitriol she sees among her friends — and Val doesn’t hang with the tattooed roller derby set —- is shocking. She says people who have to make nice at things like PTA meetings savage each other on-line.

I wonder how polite society will survive this election.

It amazes Val — me, too — how serene I’ve become throughout our most tumultuous election.

It’s odd, for sure. I used to be a fire-breathing partisan.

I’ve for years said the GOP hypocrisy of the Clinton impeachment trials turned me from a moderate into a knee-jerk liberal whose knee jerked most liberally whenever it was near a conservative’s crotch.

Oh, the fights I used to instigate. In hindsight, I’m probably lucky no one ever gave me a good ass-kicking.

I guess the reason I outgrew such agitating is because I realized the folly of the battle. I doubt I ever changed a single mind and it probably cost me a few friends.

So as I’ve matured — as much as any man who blogs above three bars can “mature” — the civilized world’s gone batty.

I know people who want to kill one another over yard signs. 

How about for the next two weeks everyone puts down the swords?

There are no minds left to change. It’s time to turn all our kettles off boil.

Don’t read so much. Don’t post so much. Watch a Muppets movie.

And don’t go blocking my darling on Facebook! You hurt her feelings and — who knows? — someday you might need her to play the organ at your kids’ wedding and she might stick you for the fee.

See, I’m no longer worried about America surviving the election.

I worry if Americans will survive one another. 

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Wazoo & Ying Yang are NOT Chinese rivers

After hours spent scouring topographical maps of China, I can safely declare there is no Wazoo River, no Ying Yang River nor any associated Wazoo or Ying Yang gulf, bay or estuary.

So if you want to cruise up the Ying Yang or out the ol’ Wazoo you’re up Shitt’s Creek, which, by the way, is the name of a satirical Canadian TV show starring Eugene Levy.

I can’t explain why I always feel the Wazoo and the Ying Yang are rivers of Chinese origin. They sound Chinese to me. Either way, the usage seems to be on the rise.

The Wazoo seems the more commercial of the two.

I’m forever hearing of men and women who are experiencing an abundance of elements coming either out or up the wazoo. The items are usually work related.

This guy has paperwork out the wazoo. She has assignments up the wazoo.

So many coming and goings, I’m surprised our wazoos don’t need traffic lights.

Wazoo is an especially jolly word. There are Wazoo candy bars and Tampa each year has a Wazoo Beer Fest.

So the wazoo must be tasteful, yes?

Uh, no.

The reliably filthy puts the onus on the anus, “the prison purse,” or “the rusty bullet hole,” to name just two racy synonyms. I’ve read wazoo’s actual origin is Australian slang.

A Seabrook, Texas, company calls itself Wazoo Survival Gear and says it specializes in “creating comfortable, everyday accessories that prepare people for the worst so they don't have to give it a second thought.”

They’re currently promoting a stylish Cache belt that contains fishing hooks, needles, flashlight, first aid tinder, and what it says is a ferrocerium rod — a man-made metal capable of producing 5,000-degree Fahrenheit sparks.

Give MacGyver a belt like that and each episode would resolve in about 8 minutes.

Me, if I’m ever in a situation where the only thing between me and my demise is my ability to strike a 5,000-degree spark, I figure it’ll already be too late. 

I’ll just kiss my wazoo goodbye.

Kissing my ying yang is another matter. I’m not even sure how to get my hands on one.

I’m weekly assaulted with confusing ying yang references when I watch the opening of ESPN’s “College Game Day” each Saturday.

The otherwise entertaining show kicks off at 9 a.m. with what is one of the most appalling pieces of music I’ve ever heard. Designed to appeal to every bone-headed demographic, the song features rap, a fiddler, screech rock and bro country.

Here’s one confounding verse:

“And if you want a little thang in ya ying-yang
If you want a little zing in ya zang-zang
If you want a little ching in ya chang-chang
Come along!”

Do I even have a ying-yang? I didn’t see one in the shower.

My garage is a mess. Maybe it’s in there.

And how would my mood improve if someone shoved a little thang up it?

I’m not disposed to find out.

Urban Dictionary offers several definitions, but it says the phrase “up the ying yang” means to be overwhelmed.

Clearly, it’s a corruption of the harmonious “yin yang,” the Chinese symbol for how seemingly contrary elements can work as one.

Like Trump and Hillary supporters?

If only.

All the directional usages implications — up, down, in, out — of the wazoo and ying yang reminds me of a naive friend of mine who while in Harrisburg years ago was propositioned by a prostitute who wanted to know if he’d ever done “The Hershey Highway.”

“I told her I was from Philly and the Schuykill Expressway was the most direct route if you could avoid the rush hour. I went to my car to get a map, but when I came back she was gone.”

Of course, that was back before everyone had GPS out the ol’ wazoo.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Visit Tin Lizzy today! An advertorial praising my hosts

I’ve begun leaving empty beer bottles and a nearly drained fifth of Wild Turkey strewn upon my office desk.

I do this to perpetuate the myth I spend all my writing time in the Tin Lizzy all gooned up.

And that’s why I’m so wildly successful!

But more and more, strangers are wandering up to the third floor and I wouldn’t want them to think the Tin is hosting some stick-up-his-butt sober writer.

I like meeting the wandering strangers.

Just the other day I looked up and a guy, maybe about 45, was standing over my desk.

“Is there a bar in this building?” he asked. Took me about 10 seconds to realize he was serious.

I told him he’d labored up three floors, past three bars and a 6-pack shoppe, to find the only floor that didn’t serve hootch.

I stood up and pointed straight down. “There’s a great bar called ‘Flappers’ one floor below our feet."

Then I walked him across to the cornhole room, pointed and said, “Two floors below this room is the ground-level Main Street bar. And down near the 6-pack shoppe is a flight of stairs that leads to the basement Rathskeller that’s been there for, oh, gee, about 260 years.”

Remarkably, I did all this without sounding even a bit sarcastic. I was explicit in my directions because I knew if I saw him wandering again I’d feel compelled to take him by the hand and lead him to some alcoholic quenching.

I guess I’m happy for the guy that the Tin isn’t a 15-story building.

My friend Scott Levin of the Tin Lizzy Bistro asked me to write the following 1,000-word advertorial that is running in Laurel View Living Magazine. I was happy to oblige.

——   <<  >>   —-

The Tin Lizzy

Where the only things destined to outlast the building are the good time memories.

Your first thought when stepping through the varnished doors at the historic Tin Lizzy will probably be, “Man, this place must be really, really old.” The last thought when you depart many happy hours later will likely be, “Man, this place is really, really cool!”

And you’ll be right both times.

Experts have determined the building’s foundational elements date to clear back to the ‘50s.

The 1750’s, that is.

The vestiges of that epoch are evident in the buildings timbering, its fireplaces and and a lively aura known to attract everyone from ghostbusters to connoisseurs of charm and ambiance.  And the only thing more enchanting than the Tin Lizzy’s past is its glorious future. A new team of executive chefs have become the perfect fit for a beloved building that manages to be both historic and hip.

Together with long-time owner Buck Pawlosky, the Tin Lizzy is welcoming guests who enjoy convivial atmosphere, great food and lively companionship in a town already renown for launching larger-than-life legends.

This is Youngstown, Pennsylvania, pop. 400. Turn right out of the Tin Lizzy and you’ll end up on Fred Rogers Way; turn left and you’ll be on Arnold Palmer Drive. Yes, that’s Mister Fred Rogers and Arnold Palmer, both born and raised just down Main Street from the Tin.

“I like to think we offer something unique,” says Pawlosky. “We have three distinct taverns that give you the option of dining in seven different rooms and a seasonal balcony. I have people that live on the option-rich South Side who drive all the way from Pittsburgh to spend a night here. They say it’s just like the South Side, but at the Tin Lizzy all the fun’s under one roof.

“People come here in the summer to golf at Latrobe Country Club, enjoy the Westmoreland County Airshow or Steeler training camp at St. Vincent College. We have always enjoyed great word-of-mouth business and I’m sure that’ll only increase with Scott and his crew here.”

The enthusiasm is mutual.

“We’re thrilled to be here as part of the Tin Lizzy and all it means to the community,” says owner/chef Scott Levin. “This is a special place and we’re looking forward to bringing the kind of quality and affordable dining that’ll keep people coming back again and again.”

His commitment shows in that the Tin Lizzy Bistro is the second eatery he’s opened in Youngstown in just two years.

In 2015, he’d been eager to apply all he’d learned and experienced working for 20 years at the popular Bella Luna restaurant in Murrysville. He found opportunity in Youngstown in the building just up the street from the Tin Lizzy at the site of what for years was the landmark Mekic’s Market.

He opened the Youngstown Grille & Market and has been doing gangbuster business there ever since. But when the Tin Lizzy restaurant became available, Scott sensed opportunity. “People just fall in love with this building. It just felt like the perfect place to run a restaurant. It felt like home.”

The homeyness is evident in the Main Street ground floor bar where locals have long gathered beginning at 7 a.m. when the doors open Monday through Saturday. It’s the kind of place where in the summer someone’s always leaving a basket full of surplus garden vegetables and in the winter they’re right there ready with jumper cables for when you’re in a frozen fix.

Most of the patrons are locals. Sometimes they’re famous and come from as far as Hollywood. One of the regulars is famous and comes from less than a mile away.

In 2014, actors Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo were in the Laurel Highlands filming the award-winning “Foxcatcher” about homicidal billionaire John du Pont. They stayed at the Marriott SpringHill Suites just up the road and asked the front desk where they could get a good meal.

“Go to the Tin Lizzy,” they were told. “You’ll love it.”

So three Tinseltown A-listers were for at least one-week Tin regulars.

One true local who’s even more famous is even more regular.

Arnold Palmer and his family have been dining at the Tin Lizzy for years. In fact, Palmer is a second generation regular. In his 2000 autobiography, “A Golfer’s Life,” Palmer writes about the his father’s enduring affinity for the landmark hotel when it was Amer’s.

“He loved drinking ‘shots and beers’ with his buddies at the firehall or at Amer’s Hotel in Youngstown.”

It’s even rumored some of the regulars come from farther away than even Hollywood.

They come from the great beyond.

“Lots of people believe it’s haunted,” Pawlosky says. “I’ve never seen any evidence of anything spooky. But about once a year we get some group of paranormal detectives who ask for permission to investigate the place. I’m happy to let them have their fun. They take out a bunch of fancy equipment and start hunting for spirits, but sooner or later they wind up just ordering some food and a bunch of drinks.”

It’s what any sensible ghostbuster would do.

Besides the Main Street bar, there’s the wonderful Rathskellar, a true step back in time. This is where the bones of the old Tin Lizzy rattle loudest. Low timber rafters and bedrock fireplaces give warm ambiance, and the actual bar is about 50-feet of one-piece solid timber, all gnarly and varnished. Pawlosky tells about the day he and a squad of friends took out a window and spent the day painstakingly maneuvering the bar top into place.

The “new” part of the building — everything above the basement — dates back to the 1890s. The floors and hallways are wonderfully creaky, like an old carnival fun house. 

The second floor bar (and adjacent balcony) is the wonderful Flappers, a 1920’s themed bar so elegantly appointed local advertisers use it to film commercials. It’s a martini bar tucked so discretely back into the building that wandering into it feels like discovering a secret speakeasy.

“In all my life,” Scott says, “I’ve never seen a building that’s a more perfect fit for the kind of fun dining my staff and I deliver daily at the Tin Lizzy.”

So go for the food. Go for the fun. 

There may not be any ghosts in the Tin Lizzy, but it’s the kind of place anyone given to living will love to haunt.

Related …

Friday, October 14, 2016

At Fort Days selling "Last Baby Boomer" errata

Wise friends said they were dumbfounded when I deliberately chose to have “The Last Baby Boomer” released in January instead of December. They thought I was foolish to release a book after Christmas.

They didn’t understand.

In fact, I did release it in plenty of time for Christmas.

Christmas 2016!

And now it’s really ready for sales and promotion. Now, it’s been in the hands of hundreds of readers who’ve affirmed its — and I say this with all due humility — “greatness” and are enthused about telling others.

This from one 5-star Amazon review: “I literally laughed out loud and discovered tears welling up in my eyes at various points. It's really an incredible work of artistic humor writing. Can't recommend it enough.”

See, the first edition is admittedly flawed and chock full of sloppy errors. For that I apologize while begging your understanding.

I could have ordered a editing service for $1,500, an amount which would have caused my wife’s heart to explode.

I couldn’t do it. Getting this book published (in fact, it’s still just self-published, for what little that’s worth) has been the primary saga of my defining failures. Investing even a penny, let alone a few thousands dollars, into getting it printed and formatted for e-books was a harrowing expense.

But I believed in the book. I believed in myself.

Still do.

What did I do? I opted to be unconventional, brash even.

I included a page one author’s note acknowledging the book’s imperfections, and asking readers who cared to e-mail me any errors that bothered them.

Well it was, ahem, genius.

Readers were generous in their response. Most would just kindly point out when I’d transposed words or typed “his his” on page 229.

The funniest typo, the one everyone caught, was when I typed “Mr. and Mrs. Rodell” where I meant to type “Mr. and Mrs. McCrae,” leading many to ask if the satire is autobiographical.

It is not. Sort of. I consider the main character, Martin J. McCrae, to be an exaggeration of my exaggerations.

By embracing this reader/editing method — let’s call it Wiki-Eeks! — I was able to save $1,200.

I submitted more than 100 corrections to the publisher last month and last week received a “Last Baby Boomer” copy that is as close to immaculate as any self-published book could hope to be.

Now, if you order through Amazon, either e-book or soft cover, you’ll get a clean version, one with a snazzy author picture on the back, too.

Please let me know if you already paid for an error-laden copy and want me to replace it free of charge. I’m happy to do that.

What’ll I do with the remaining 100 copies? I’m discounting them to $10 each to anyone who wants to become a book ambassador, meaning anyone who wants to order two or more copies to give as gifts.

All are signed and noted as “Errata Editions,” errata being the Latin word for books that have the errors noted and corrected, which I do with a pencil for most of the truly glaring typos.

So, arrivederci, Mr. and Mrs. Rodell!

Here’s what one recent reader said of her errata — not to be confused with “erotica” — edition:

“Your book the perfect mix of intrigue and humor. I have Ellen's book as well as Amy Poehler's but they are only for when I am in a certain mood to read. However, your book is perfect all the time because you can read it and get a slice of humor, mystery, adventure, and drama all at the same time. It is a several-genre book and I am loving it!”

After so much doubt and failure, you can only imagine what reading words like that mean to me.

I’ll be signing today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Second Chapter Books on Main Street for Fort Ligonier Days.

Just in time for Christmas!

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