Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Binge watch ... me! My new (and old) videos


After previewing my most recent promotional video, I’ve made a directorial decision regarding the next one.

I’ve decided to cast someone else to play me.

The “new” Chris Rodell will be younger, have better posture and smile more vibrantly.

And she’ll be black.

I’m thinking of Danai Gurira.

Having the woman who plays Michonne on “Walking Dead” play me will really ring the old diversity bell, and she’s a terrific actress. She could use her katana to in mid-air sever a whole damn box of crayons.

(Unrelated fun fact: Danai Gurira, now famous for beheading zombies, was born on Valentine’s Day, 1978. Lovely!)

The people who are trying to secure me more big league keynote addresses suggested a 90-second promotional video would be helpful.

Luckily, I have an ace videographer who’s now twice graced me with his talents.
His video news segments have won Mid-Atlantic regional Emmys. He could be busy round-the clock fulfilling lucrative corporate work. 

Why people like him choose to squander precious time working on my behalf for just a few free beers, I do not know.

Maybe they don’t realize Straub American lager is sold in most every area beer distributor.

I rehearsed for about two whole days trying to ensure it looked totally unrehearsed. 

Filming a commercial about yourself and starring in it feels like an exercise in pure vanity, like a really extended selfie. I was conscious of this the whole time.

So I’ll be interested to hear the reactions. Here’s the link.

I’ve long said anyone who believes he is his own worst critic is either delusional or single.

Is that the case here? 

I like everything about the video except the parts in which I’m speaking, which is unfortunate because the whole point of the thing is to get people to hire me to speak.

I love the music, the asides and shots of me playing around in the office. 

It looks wonderful and I remain optimistic its message will work with its intended audience: meeting planners looking for speakers. I hope it conveys the mirth I feel about life even in tumultuous times.

I don’t think it’ll stand out the way I’d hoped, but it’s another foundational block in the now-sturdy structure that is my pitch.

And the next one will be even better because it’ll star Danai Gurira, assuming she’s willing to do it for a few free Straubs. I think she’ll go for it.

Something about her tells me she’s a real sweetheart.


I now have a video for nearly every occasion. Here are some of the others:

“So what did you think of Chris (in 20 seconds or less)?” — I had a lot of fun with this one. Funny cameos include my mom, wife, kids, Arnold Palmer and Bill Clinton. 

Greensburg Library ’14 — This is when I was just getting started and shows, I think, a really strong and conversational talk. There were only about 15 people here, but you can tell everyone’s having a good time.

Bethel Park Speakers Series — As a commentator points out, this one appears disjointed because they failed to mic the audience. So it’s like an hour of me telling stories and basking in the laughter no one else can hear.

“What the book’s about and why it’ll always be free” — Very nice. This is the first one my buddy Brian did for me. Has a nice polish to it. I used this as the main feature on my crayons page for several years.

“Why ‘Use All The Crayons!’ is like the cure for polio” — It’s too bad the lighting renders this nearly unwatchable because it’s great reaction to a strong delivery. This was before the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association. It’s when the guy told me I’d cured his hangover.

“‘Crayons!’ FAQ” — Hilarious. I had Dave from The Pond pose a bunch of questions about the book. Very cheesy.

Quinn Fallon sings about me — What’s not to love about this? My rock star buddy sings the songs I inspired.

• “Chris drunk in church story” — Strong story. Great reaction. I’d rate this higher, but my emerging bald spot appears too prominent for my liking.

Omaha intro — This highlights the humor I use to start my talks.

• “When men tell other men, ‘I love you’” — Depending on the audience, I sometimes read a story from the book. Nothing boring.

• “Greatest ovation ever” — That’s no lie. This one is pure fun. I send this link out with every pitch. This is my most-viewed video with nearly 1,800 hits. The recollection of the moment still leaves me tingling.


Friday, January 13, 2017

What to say to serial sneezers


It was on this day in 1980 that Donna Griffiths, 11, of Worcestershire, England, sneezed. It was the first of 978 in a row.

Not 978 sneezes, mind you.

It was 978 days of sneezing. Consecutive days. Twice a minute. Every minute. She even sneezed in her sleep. Guinness calculated she sneezed more than 1 million times the first year alone. She didn’t stop until Sept. 16, 1983.

Ah-choo! Ah-choo! Ah-choo!

Oh, to have had stock in Kleenex back then!

It must have been terrible. For her, sure. But what about her family?

I sneezed eight consecutive times the other night and the kids reacted like I’d been stricken with viral leprosy.

They were really annoyed.

And I understood. I can annoy the hell out of my family when I’m sitting quietly alone in an entirely different room on another floor. I’m probably annoying one of them right now and we’re all miles apart.

Our family makes a big deal out of sneezing.

It never used to be that way. Someone would sneeze and we’d mumble, “God bless you,” like The Almighty was going to rush right into the kitchen with a fresh tissue.

It sounds righteous, but we’d say, “Pass the salt,” with more soulful urgency.

Then I migrated a startling sneeze custom from the days when my office was above The Pond and I’d make silly with Dave for an hour or two each day. 

And, boy, do I miss that pastime.

It started with Dave’s acknowledgement of how annoying it is to be in room with a serial sneezer.

I remember the first time it happened. A sweet, elderly lady chirped a dainty little sneeze into her hanky. Dave, ever the gent, said, “God bless you,” like he really meant it.

He said nothing when she sneezed again. And nothing when she sneezed a third time.

On the fourth sneeze, he said aloud what everyone in the bar was thinking: “Now, you’re just being annoying.”

The stranger was not yet attuned to Dave’s sense of humor and took offense. She grabbed her purse and stormed out the door in a huff, if it’s at all possible to simultaneously sneeze and huff.

We spent the next hour or so wondering if he should have handled the situation differently or it was good riddance to just another crank who threatened to damage fragile bar karma.

Dave had been phony gallant then honestly rude (Dave’s very well-rounded that way). You can’t keep saying “God bless you,” over and over. It calls embarrassing attention to the sneezer and God has, we hope, better things to do.

But saying nothing is impolite, too. We needed to find a balance between acknowledging and ignoring.

We decided on the groundbreaking sneeze count.

As soon as anyone in the bar sneezed, we’d all yell, “One!” If they sneezed a second time, we’d yell, “Two!” and so on.

It became very popular. It, of course, startled the hell out of the uninformed sneezers.

But then people started getting into it. It became sporting. It also had a positive impact on spousal relations.
I’ll never forget the time I broke the bar record when I blasted 12 sneezes in about 90 seconds. When Val asked how my day had gone I told her all about it. She was so happy.

“That’s great! Gee, 12 bar sneezes. I’m so proud of you! I’m so lucky to have you for a husband!”
Later, it occurred to me she may have been speaking sarcastically. So I was relieved that years earlier I’d made the deliberate decision to always confuse sarcasm with compliments.

I thought about the old sneeze count when I read about Donna Griffiths and her 45-month long sneezing fit.

What do you say to a loved one that’s stuck in a years-long sneezing fit so epic it confounds all the doctors and draws international attention?

Gesundheit? God bless you?

I have a feeling I know what my family would say.

“Been nice knowing you!”




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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Getting real angry about fake news


I’ll remember yesterday as the day a man with fake hair who spent the last eight years peddling a fake news story about presidential birth origins spent the day decrying fake news about urinary recreations.

It pains me that at the time when so many people choose to be hyper-partisan about real news coincides with the time when those same people choose to abandon those most skilled at providing it.

There’s a difference between being skeptical of real news, which is healthy, and ignoring real news, which is dangerous.

Instead of absorbing the smorgasbord that is a well-rounded daily newspaper, we opt for hand-held distractions and shallow video substitutes.

It’s like for the first time in history humans are engaging in deliberate illiteracy.

I know a guy who brags about never reading newspapers or books — traditional staples of wisdom, creativity and intellect — and ridicules elites renown for their intelligence.

Know what happened to him?

In eight days he becomes our president.

I think the reason Trump relies so heavily on his family's opinions instead of a traditional braintrust is he doesn’t trust brains.

I do and I disdain having to live in an era when our leader’s default reactions to every challenge is either bluster or blame.

He calls his victory an historic landslide — “a mandate” — choosing to dismiss the more than half the country who did not vote for him.

Understand, I’m giving him a chance. A lot of my friends have very sound reasons for supporting him.

It’s a pity so many of them can only express those reasons with either rage or ridicule.

I was hoping a man who brags about the size of his hands would use one of them to reach out to those with whom he disagrees.

But he’s doing things that are ensuring his honeymoon is ending before the limo makes it to the hotel. Polls say his approval rating is 37 percent.

Of course, all my frothing friends on the left say it’s only going to get worse. They believe the fake news stories that say our president elect is a Russian spy who pays prostitutes to do on his bed what our old weak-kidneyed cat used to do on ours for free.

They all seem sensible compared to the fake news all my loony friends on the right so eagerly swallow. 

I’ll not list all of them here -- just google "Comet Pizza" -- because I really ought to wrap up this essay on fake news and try to move on to some real work.

But the people have spoken. And what they said can’t be printed in a family newspaper and even if it was, who’d bother to read it?

He thinks Meryl Streep is overrated as an actress. I disagree, but have no frame of reference to judge whom he thinks is great.

Maybe it’s the guy who played Chachi.

So I’ll not argue Meryl’s on-screen merits. I think she’s terrific.

But after the Golden Globes, I think she’s underrated as a speech maker. She aptly articulated everything I fear about the Trump presidency.

It seems certain to further coarsen what’s left of our vanishing civility, our sense that we’re all in this together. 

He lost the popular election by 3 million votes and declares he won in a landslide.

He appoints a climate change denier to head the federal agency to oversee how our government deals with things like changing climates.

He belittles the men and women who run the intelligence agencies he’ll soon rely on to make national security decisions.

He cruelly mocks a disabled reporter then denies what we can see with our own eyes.

And this is all ripe for hostile interpretation in a country where one side sees black and the other adamantly declares it’s white — and don’t get me started on race issues.

God, I only wish the news was fake.


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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The ups & downs of speedy elevators


Although my aim is to always at least appear to be a self-sufficient Tin Lizzy tenant, I’m thinking of asking Buck if he’ll install a three-story stair lift to ease my ass up the flights to my office.

That would save me 57 steps a trip or about 342 steps a day. That’s all vertical and on some days my knees are starting to bark.

I’m thinking of doing so on the grounds it would save me vital energy so I can spend the next three hours just sitting on my ass and staring out the window.

Installing a stair lift would be a sort of compromise, too. I first thought of asking him to install an elevator that accelerates to 45.8 mph.

That’s the new world elevator speed record set in Shanghai. For perspective, it would take an elevator that fast precisely one hour to go from the bottom to the top of a building that is 45.8 miles tall.

Elevators in the new 1 World Trade Center creep along at a mere 23 mph, so we have to hope Trump will do everything in his power to keep elevator racing from becoming an Olympic sport.

A Washington Post story says a boom in super-skyscraper construction means by 2020 40 percent of high-speed elevators will be operating in China.

The pragmatist in me hopes the nation experiences a boom in massive elevator brake construction by at least 2019.

It’s said some claustrophobics are deathly afraid of riding in elevators, which makes no sense. Me, I have fear of dying in elevators, which makes perfect sense.

I could see a mechanical failure on one of those race rocket elevators causing it to shoot straight through the roof the way the Wonkavator does in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

I’ve always wondered about the reverse, too. If a cable snaps could you survive by jumping up a second before impact?

Experience tells me the quickest way to ensure an elevator death is to get between two children who are racing to see who can push the floor button first. It’s like they think if they successfully navigate the automatic lift to Floor 5 at Nana’s apartment they’ll be accorded the same acclaim Admiral Byrd received when he planted the first flag at the North Pole.

It’s a big deal.

I remember reading a health study that says elevator buttons are among the germiest surfaces we encounter and it’s recommended we use our noses.

Maybe I’m confusing noses with knuckles.

Have you ever been alone in an elevator and pushed every floor just to mess with the next group of Type-A passengers? For something so juvenile, it still feels fun.

Muddy Waters, the great bluesman, sang a song called, “Elevate Me Mama” that, I think, has nothing to do with raising his body up a floor or two.

Well, maybe part of his body.
Sample lyrics:

Well you know when you start to elevate me
You almost scared me to death
You elevate me so fast
I have to stop and catch my breath
Elevate me Mama!

I’ve never had sex in an elevator, but I’ve been in some elevators crowded enough to have left me feeling like I have. It’s why I pause before entering any elevator and scan the passengers to position myself right behind someone who appears jolly.

It just doesn’t seem to lend itself to my kind of sex — and by that I mean sex with just me and the missus in the room.

I might change my mind if I’m ever in an elevator that’s conducive to offbeat romance.

My love elevator would need scented candles, a couch/cot or love seat, a big screen TV, a shower, a balcony over-looking the ocean and probably the elevator equivalent of room service.

And my Val would have to be on board, too.

The woman really knows how to press my buttons.

Maybe it’s wise to pass on Tin Lizzy elevator idea.

It’s ironic, but in some ways the stair lift would help keep me more grounded.



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Monday, January 9, 2017

An old Banner colleague hails "Last Baby Boomer"


I’m thrilled with all the 5-star amazon reviews “Last Baby Boomer” has earned. I’m posting this one in its entirety because it’s so carefully crafted — not to mention flattering — and because it’s from one of my many old friends from my Nashville Banner days. I was so lucky to have been tutored in writing and life by these vibrant men and women who coincidentally were great, lively journalists. I couldn’t have as a writer been treated to better formative years for what I hoped to one day become.

And that’s a storyteller.



By William C. Hudgins on January 6, 2017
Format: Paperback
Disclosure: I’ve known Chris Rodell, author of The Last Baby Boomer, for around 30 years, starting when we were reporters at the late, great Nashville (TN) Banner. Neither of us owe the other money, though I think I owe him a couple of beers. I’d hoped to liquidate that debt at the tavern above which he had his office for a number of years, but the bar closed, and its resident wit had to find other accommodations.

This was also a loss for the community—by which I mean the regulars who occupied the barstools and hashed out the world’s problems with Chris. It seems likely that many of the quips, puns, jokes, shaggy dog stories and absurdities in The Last Baby Boomer were distilled from those companionable afternoons and evenings. And that more than a few of the characters, including the hero, the ancient Marty McCrae, sat a few places down from the author.

The Last Baby Boomer is funny meditation on life—and like life itself, there are bittersweet moments softened only by our ability to laugh at some random absurdity. And there is a central tragedy that is slowly revealed, which, like so much in life, leaves only questions.

The plot is deceptively simple—at age 117 Marty is the last Baby Boomer on earth. Despite a life of carousing, multiple marriages, making and blowing piles of money, and even being shanghaied to a distant planet, Marty seems to blunt the Grim Reaper’s scythe. A chance encounter with a stranger leads to what—before reality TV—would have seemed absurd: Marty agrees to be the focus of a ghoul pool on when he will die.

Installed in a specially designed suite in a museum, Marty welcomes an unending line of visitors who each get precisely 14 minutes and 59 seconds in his presence. The ghoulish guest who’s present when Marty kicks wins the ever-growing jackpot.

Marty doesn’t need money himself—he agrees to star in this macabre event so he can have a captive audience for his yarns and social commentary. As the timer counts down, Marty chats up each visitor and takes aim at tempting targets like politics, religion, technology, big Pharma, marriage, divorce, the entertainment industry, and, of course, the Baby Boomer generation’s narcissistic pursuit of perpetual youth and eternal life.

The Last Baby Boomer is a droll sketch of our media- and youth-obsessed culture, one that’ll have you laughing out loud between chuckles (and maybe the occasional pun-induced groan—though like Rodell I’ve never met a pun I wouldn’t take home to meet my folks). It wouldn’t surprise me if something like Marty’s ghoul pool does happen in a couple of decades—I just hope they give Rodell credit (and a big check).


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