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Friday, May 26, 2017

Pledge Week: A bleak career assessment


I used to dream I’d one day become a great writer. A wiser man would have known it would have been better to dream he’d one day become a successful writer.

Big difference.

Am I a great writer? Lots of people say so. I think I’ve become exactly the kind of writer I always wanted to be, funny with a keen eye for offbeat observation. I know there are no other writers that make me wish I could trade my talents for theirs.

Maybe I’m delusional.

Or maybe I’m not delusional enough. Being more delusional would certainly benefit my peace of mind.

I’ve written two books that have earned exactly the kind of reaction writers crave. People say say they’re hilarious and soulful. They buy them for friends and recommend them to other readers. They provide gushy on-line reviews.

Even many of my friends began treating me differently after they’d read “The Last Baby Boomer.” Sure, they loved “Use All The Crayons!” But that book wasn’t so much written as assembled, stitched together with treads and fabric I’d worn like so many colorful shirts.

But “Last Baby Boomer” was real writing really written. It’s like my friends were shocked someone they know so well was capable of something they considered great.

It’s a real kick in the ass when that shit happens.

So many people compare it to Kurt Vonnegut. In fact, I’d never read Kurt Vonnegut until readers started comparing me to him.

I read “Dead Eye Dick.” Didn’t like it. Thought I was better.

How’s that for delusional!

I’ve never asked anyone to take me seriously, but people began taking me more seriously as a writer after they’d read that book. It was very gratifying. So, I thought, this is what if feels like to be a real writer.

Only took me 30 years!

You’re aware by now of my affections for the blog. People say they can’t live without it. Many of these same people, to my ever-loving chagrin, don’t seem to have the disposable income to justify paying even a penny a post for it. 

One of the great surprises to me is how much people enjoy hearing my “Use All The Crayons!” talk. I’ve twice been paid $2,500 to address groups of 250 people. And they all loved me and chipped in with referrals and gushy compliments I still use when pitching to other event planners.

How come I can’t figure out a way to arrange one of those a month? Am I close? Somedays I think so. Other days, I fear it’ll never happen.

I may, indeed, be a great writer and speaker, but I’m an utter failure in every single category that people like Trump use to consider success.

I’m in debt. My car’s a wreck with 180,799 miles on it. I can’t afford to buy my wife and kids the things I wish I could. I sometimes feel crushed by disappointment.

How come I can’t convert evident abilities into even meager income?

My entire so-called “career” seems to be one of disappointment, rejection, humiliation and cruel defeat. I lie awake at night wondering how it’s all gone so wrong.

And what’s truly confounding is how I wake up every morning soulfully convinced that this will be the day something great is bound to happen. I’m stubbornly convinced I’m doing exactly what I ought to be doing and it’s all going to work out just fine.

Sadly, I’ve been thinking that every day since, gulp, 1992.

I may be broke but, by God, I’ll never be broken.

Being delusional isn’t a character flaw.

Being delusional is a frreakin’ godsend.

• Chris Rodell, 874 Solomon Temple Rd., Latrobe, Pa. 15650. Or just click the PayPal (storyteller@chrisrodell.com) donate button.



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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Random thoughts amidst unseemly Pledge Week begging


• I know many of you start each day with a cup of hot coffee. Since, oh, mid-April I’ve been starting each day by watching Ray Davies and the Jayhawks perform “Americana,” the title cut from Ray’s magnificent new album. I find it soothingly elevating.

• If it wasn’t pledge week, I’d today be writing about how I told my mother (84, dementia) a dear old cousin of hers had gotten eaten by a bear. In fact, he died of a common heart attack, but I thought I’d use his death to see if she’d remember a really colorful demise. As she does not, I keep adding details. It’s now a very rich and gothic death, one which I think cousin Chuck would prefer. He was a fun and outdoorsy guy who was fond of wearing ’70’s style leisure suits. I’m enjoying telling the fiction because it proves, to hungry bears at least, you don’t have to exude good taste to taste good.

• In my mind, I was hoping my plea for donations would be greeted the way Bedford Falls greeted Mary Bailey’s “It’s A Wonderful Life” summons that her husband George was broke and needed dough fast. That hasn’t happened yet, but I’ll be sure to post something cheerful the instant it does.

• Spent the weekend with the family being tourists in D.C. It was wonderful. We spent Friday evening doing the Western monuments (Lincoln, Vietnam, Korean, MLK, FDR, Jefferson), Saturday the centrals (Washington monument, Holocaust Museum,  WWII, American History) and Sunday the eastern sites (Capitol, Supreme Court, Air & Space, Natural History, Hall of Archives and later the National Zoo). We’re so divided over so much, but that every American can enjoy each of these historical splendors for free is a national blessing.

• If it wasn’t pledge week, I’d have written about Uber. My old Nashville buddy Jim pointed out an NYTimes story about how the once-promising partnership between Uber & Pittsburgh soured. We used Uber a bunch in DC. Being aware what a criminal jerk Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is, it pained me to use them so much. Uber drivers work for next to nothing, get no respect, and have to hustle to make ends meet. So Uber drivers are like the bloggers of the transportation world! And, yes, we always tipped them (nudge, nudge).

• I realized I became eligible for an Order of Irony Medal when we were standing in front of a monument honoring victims and survivors of the Bataan Death March and all I could think about was how sore my feet felt.

• A friend of mine turned 40 this week and was lamenting how he now felt over the hill, done, used up. Overlooking the fact he was making this gloomy assessment to a 54-year-old listener, I told him he was fine. “Plus,” I said, “even if you are over the hill, it helps to remember going downhill fast is always the most exhilarating part of the ride.” I’m going to try and keep that in mind as my declines accelerate.

• I’m very proud of this blog and the number of people who enjoy it so much, but if circumstances don’t improve, changes will be made. I’m paraphrasing here with something I heard on an actual PBS pledge drive.

• The literalist in me was furious to visit Smithsonian Air & Space Museum and see it has both walls and ceilings.

• Jim, that same old Nashville buddy, asked if donation amounts lead to increasing gift levels. Like does a $25 pledge earn a blog umbrella; a $50 pledge a blog tote bag; etc.? I told him I'll start throwing in cheap bulk tchotchke when surging donations make purchasing cheap bulk tchotchke possible.

• I am putting together a sequel to “Use All The Crayons!” How about this? Anyone who donates to support the blog will get a grateful mention in the new book’s acknowledgments. And a free signed copy!

• I guarantee some of the jurors being selected in Pittsburgh for what is likely to be a long trial once said, “Oh, I just love Bill Cosby! I wish I could spend some time getting to know him even better.”

• If it wasn’t pledge week, I’d be writing about our visit to the magnificent Lincoln Monument and one of my favorite recollections of offbeat Presidential history. It was May 9, 1970, five days after the Kent State shootings. It was there under the shadow of Lincoln that then-President Richard Nixon surprised college protesters by appearing in person at 4 a.m. just to philosophize. It was utterly bizarre. The students asked Nixon questions about U.S. incursions into Cambodia, about the death of innocents and the morality of war. Yeah, in the back of my mind, I game planned what I’d ask President Trump if he on the spur of the moment decided to wade out among the tourists. Was I going to ask about prejudice? Equality? The sustainability of human life on a depleted planet? Nope, nope and nope. I was going to ask him if he’d likes to donate to support Eight Days To Amish. I’m optimistic he’d have written me a check on the spot.

• Chris Rodell, 874 Solomon Temple Rd., Latrobe, Pa. 15650. Or just click the PayPal (storyteller@chrisrodell.com) donate button.

• No amount too small … or too large! Every gesture appreciated.




Wednesday, May 24, 2017

HAPPY 9TH BIRTHDAY TO THIS BLOG! THAT MEANS IT'S PLEDGE WEEK! DONATE! DONATE! DONATE!


Happy 9th Birthday to this blog!

I know, I know. You’re so busy you didn’t even have time to buy it a card or a gift.

I can help. See, the blog and I are very close. I know what it likes and will be happy to funnel your gift to where it can do the most good.

For $25, I can snag a scrumptious birthday cake with lots of purple frosted roses. The blog loves purple frosted roses.

It also enjoys a good stiff shot of Wild Turkey bourbon; $4.

How about a draft beer for $2? Or a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate for a $1.

Or let your imagination run wild. Do you think the blog would look good tooling around town in a Mini Cooper? They’re $20,950.

Make all checks out to:

Chris Rodell, 874 Solomon Temple Rd., Latrobe, Pa. 15650. Or just click the PayPal (storyteller@chrisrodell.com) donate button.

The blog will soon be 10. It’s time it started earning money.

I ask now because I believe we’ve reached a critical mass where people like you understand the blog adds value to your life and are ready to support it with cash donations.

There are now — finally — credible platforms that will erect pay walls between you and your enjoyment of this blog. It’s one erection I’d prefer to suppress.

One is Patreon. Here’s a NYTimes piece about it. Readers who once felt welcome to consume everything on the internet for free are now understanding there is a benefit to supporting creative websites they enjoy for news and entertainment.

Readers keep telling me my blog is among those elements deserving of investment.

“If I’m having a bad day, I now out of habit click on Eight Days To Amish,” is how one Harrisburg meeting planner introduced me to his group of 50 associates. “It always makes a bad day better. It’s always funny and it always has heart. Always.”

“There are always at least three or four lines in every post that make me laugh out loud and keep me smiling throughout the day,” said another reader. “I’ll burst out laughing at my desk and one of my co-workers will say, ‘You’re reading Eight Days To Amish again, aren’t you?’”

Or as a buddy said, “You’ve become so self-deprecating you no longer have any idea about what a difference your blog is making in people’s lives. You and your blog are making the world a better place.”

Best thing about those three quotes? They’re authentic. I didn’t make ‘em up. Honest!

The numbers bear out readers around the world agree. I’m now averaging 10,000 unique readers a month with heavy traffic from places as diverse as Russia, France, Ireland and South Korea, to name just a few. I’d be hard pressed to name a single nation that hasn’t checked in at least a few times.

How much has posting 1,852 times over 8 years earned me?

Basically squat. Sure, many of you have bought my books, some have been generous with cash donations and in-kind trade — all of it much appreciated. But for nearly 2,000 posts over nearly 10 years?

It’s less than a peanut a post.

Part of it is my fault. True, I self-deprecate to my everlasting detriment. I make fun of what I do here because I understand it’s on its face wholly frivolous.

But I’m gratefully beginning to realize I’ve created with your cheer and encouragement something of tremendous value, something that will be lamented by many if it ever goes away.

We’ve created a bona fide happy place!

I now ask you to contribute to give us both peace of mind. Studies shows donating to support something you count on for enjoyment leads to a palpable decrease in stress, extends life expectancy, promotes mental health and it just feels good.

So does getting loot!

So please consider donating either by check to the above address or paypal. Pool your office mates. No amount is too small or too large. I’m grateful for every gesture. If you’re too pinched (I know the feeling) please urge five friends to begin reading the blog.

Consider the list above as guidelines:

A $25 “cake” donation is a one-timer. But if reading the blog four or five times a week is the convivial equivalent to having one weekly drink with me then consider a Wild Turkey donation of $200 ($100 if you prefer beer). If you equate reading my blog to a weekly candy bar fix then consider $50.

I chose the $20,950 Mini Cooper because me in a $53,000 Mercedes E350 would clash with the blog’s pure Amish ethos.

And because a one-hit plea may be missed or ignored, I’ve decided to go all PBS on you. This is the first of at least three consecutive posts about why you ought to generously donate. I thought about following up with one month of blog darkness to dramatize what’s at stake, but I believe it’s better to persuade than punish.

So at some point next week we’ll get back to the silly business of being busy staying silly.

I’ll never run out of ideas because I care so much about forever keeping this blog fresh and fun. About this blog, I truly give a damn.

It’s why I’m asking you to give now, too.


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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Being upfront about my behind procedure


Let’s today start with the end: Everything’s fine. No concerns or additional needs to undergo the procedure again.

I wanted to get that out of the way right up front because the end is a good place to start when you’re talking about the cringe-inducing indignities of what I’ll euphemistically call “the procedure.”

It’s recommended for every man or woman once their odometer hits 50. It can by then detect a deadly cancer and render it treatable. Having it done is worth the embarrassment. I’m 54 and had put it off for as long as I could.

Bottom line: It was time to get this procedure behind me.

Honest, I wasn’t even going to write about it. I don’t feel comfortable writing about things I’d rather not even talk about.

However, a buddy of mine noticed a telltale IV bandage on my right hand, is privy to my circumstances and cunningly knew right away what the procedure had to be: “Oh, man, you have to blog about it,” he said. “People need to hear it and it’s bound to be funny. C’mon! You have to!”

So consider this a sort of public service announcement and, yeah, a good chance to share lots and lots of puns about my buns: We’re talking buttloads.

You’ve probably heard the prep is the worst. That’s true. The infernal cleansing solution seems to be composed of Satan’s pit perspiration. It’s awful.

Now, I’ve drunk many awful mostly alcoholic concoctions on dares of drunken friends. I can drink anything; you probably can, too.

But there’s just so much of the solution: 3 liters — and you know it must be bad if they measure it in metric. It’s every 15 to 30 minutes another slug. That goes on for about four hours; again doable if only you knew it was going to bestow a giddy buzz.

But the end results are results in the end. You’re tethered to the toilet; so many indignities.

Then there’s this. No food for about 36 hours before the procedure. You’re home where all you do is eat. Yet you cannot. You’re starving. It occurred to me that a sad percentage of the world’s population daily endures under those exact conditions; I felt shame.

It didn’t matter. I felt resentful that I couldn’t snag a Pringle whenever I felt like it.

And, yeah, you worry the proctologist is going to at the end of the procedure say he’s found a tumor. You secretly wonder if this is what the anal prospector is hoping he’ll find. It is, after all, what he went to school for. It’s his metaphorical bread ’n’ BUTTer.

So you have that hanging over your head.

Val drove me to the Latrobe hospital at 8 a.m. and then departed to put Lucy on the bus and do her thing. She’d return at 10 a.m.

They had me naked in a jiffy and the anesthesiologist began her quizzing about allergies, medications, history, etc.; no, no, no, etc. Then it was a long naked wait. I’m very impatient when I’m naked, wanting to either sleep, screw or just get dressed. I was there for at least 30 minutes. What the hell was taking so long?

I wanted them to get off their asses and into mine.

Finally, they wheeled me into the exam room, applied the gas and did their thing.

Or so they said.

They might have played cards or spent 20 minutes commenting on their hangovers or my genitals, which I suspect they do with every sedated patient.

There’s no evidence they did anything other than anesthetize me. Sure, they said I was fine and showed me pictures of what they said were my gastro-intestinal tract, but they could have been anyone’s; seen one, seen ‘em all.

If it was a ruse, I forgive them. I mean if you can’t turn the other cheek with your proctologist, who can you?

There; I think that went well. I used 11 versions of the grammatical colons and not one of the anatomical kind which was the whole subject of this essay.

And now I’m all done.

The End.



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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Staying at the Watergate Hotel in '02


I have a feeling younger generations and less aware adults will be surprised to learn you can stay at the Watergate. Rooms start at $467.

We stayed there in 2002.

For free!

I did a travel story about the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. It ran in about 10 newspapers, including here in this link thoughtfully preserved by the San Francisco Chronicle.

I think one reason the story did so well is even newspaper editors had forgotten that the word Watergate initially evoked luxury, not scandal. The complex with its mix of commercial/hotel/residential opened in 1967 so to some Watergate meant home-sweet-home.

“People from around the world hear Watergate and think scandal, but I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather live. We love it here.”


That was Bob Dole. He and wife Liddy moved there in 1972, the same year as the break-in when Dole was chairman of the Republican National Committee. Dole told me he was in Chicago the night of the break-in.

How convenient.

We met the Doles while Val and I were dining in Jeffrey’s, at the time the Watergate’s premier restaurant. The restaurant was a favorite of George and Laura Bush when they were in the Texas governor’s mansion in Austin. Jeffrey’s opened the Watergate location when Bush became president.

It was fun seeing the Doles at dinner while we there. The place seated about 100 and both of them graciously took the time to come up and say hello to every table.

I told him I was doing a travel story about the Watergate — the 5-star dinner was free, too — and would love to interview him about it being his residence. 

“Sure! I’ll be happy to,” he gushed. “Call my office first thing Monday. I’ll talk your ears off!”

He was lying. He dodged my calls for a month before granting me about five measly minutes of crabby responses.

I shouldn’t complain. At least he gave me more than I got from Monica Lewinsky. She lived in the Watergate when the Clinton sex scandal broke and said it was a wonderful place to be “imprisoned.”

Dole did say he used to enjoy emerging from the doors and seeing the crestfallen faces of the paparazzi when they saw it was him, not her.

It was really a fun weekend for Val and I. It was our first weekend without our new baby. They’d given us a nice suite and I remember enjoying a bottle of free wine while overlooked the Potomac.

We’re taking the kids to DC this weekend so I’ve been doing a lot of reminiscing. It occurs to me New York is the only big city I’ve visited more than our nation’s capital.

I love it. Love the museums, the monuments, the galas — free! free! free! — and, oh, my, the history.

I think one reason is my old man was big on instilling in his sons the significance of history and Washington’s unique place in it.

I’ll never forget my first visit. It was July 27, 1974. Dad said, “Be sure to remember this date. You boys can say you were in the capital the day the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Nixon because of Watergate.”

It had a profound impact on me and my sense of history, one I intend to impart on my daughters.

Will I try and put the current tumult into context?

Probably. 

I’ll tell them the story of a man drunk with power, a man who felt entitled and believed he was worthy of festive adulation.

And I’ll tell them how I dream of seeing history repeat itself.

What I won’t tell them is if I’m talking about the president being impeached or their Daddy visiting DC and again getting lots of swell free stuff.



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