Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Putting those Tin Lizzy rumors to rest

One of my favorite things to do in the Tin Lizzy is pretend I own the Tin Lizzy.

I pretend I’m Buck Pawloski, the 74-year-old actual owner. 

This isn’t as challenging as it sounds. I have since July 2015 rented an office in the historic tavern. The landmark building dates back to the 1750’s and has three distinct lively bars, one in the basement and ones on the first and second floors. A great kitchen serves all three.

Atop the whole shebang is my third floor office. I’m up here all by myself. Just me and the ghosts.

It’s, as I like to say, “Four floors, a million stories.”

Even though it’s possible for me to go days without seeing anyone but Buck, I mostly dress like I’m a prosperous businessman, like a man who since 1980 has owned a thriving and profitable business.

That’s what Buck is. But for some reason Buck every day chooses to dress like a man who is expecting at any minute to be asked to spring off his bar stool and help gut a deer.

I have an office in the building. Buck does not. 

So the perceptions of our appearances make pretending I’m Buck to be a cinch.

I do it about once a month or so when I hear the stairs creak and sense Buck is about to talk building business with some unwitting salesperson or prospective waitress.

I storm into the room and seethe at the real Buck (insert obvious profanity), “Are you pretending you’re me again? I told you I’d fire your butt if I caught you pulling this stunt again. Now, get your mop bucket and go scrub that toilet in the ladies room. Move!”

I then cooly turn my full attention to the visitor, adopt a warm professional demeanor and say, “Hi, I’m Buck. What can I do for you?”

The total bewilderment of the stranger is a joy to behold, and is in stark contrast to the face of Buck, which looks consumed with thoughts of dismembering me.

It’s a good thing — for me, at least — he’s never acted on the homicidal impulse. It could jeopardize his four-decade plus “Employee of the Month” streak, one notable  for him being both selector and recipient, which must be some sort of record for either employee performance or crass nepotism.

There have been fears recently the streak would end for reasons — not of long overdue fairness — but for harsh mortality.

Doctors told Buck he was unlikely to make it beyond this past May.

His liver was in catastrophic failure from, as he bluntly says, the “occupational hazard” of for 40 years running a popular bar. A Vietnam combat vet, he declined pursuing transplant options saying there were worthier recipients.

Now, that’s employee of the month behavior.

If having a mortal departure date shook him, he never betrayed it. He was never sour or morose, bitter or maudlin.

Buck dying was — hallelujah — the same as Buck living.

He laughed, he joked, he told stories. He razzed Jessie, Sandy and Jimmy — the three longest serving bartenders, ones whose terms are measured in decades, evidence of organizational loyalty relatable mostly in Steeler head coaches and the Rooney family.

And he kept showing up. Every day. I can’t decide who’s more monumental, him or the 270-year-old building.

He kept showing up even as rumors swirled — fact-based rumors — that Buck was dead man walking. This, of course, fueled rampant rumors that the Tin was for sale. It was not uncommon for customers to tell better informed employees that it was already sold. The deal was done, they swore.

This would produce unwelcome upheaval among those of us who revel in feeling at home in such a quirky and delightful place.

Through it all Buck appeared robust, enough so that I began telling people he made the whole thing up because he craves attention.

That’s not true. Men like Buck don’t crave attention. They deserve it.

Either way, it’s attention he’s bound to get because of what he told me and others after last week’s checkup.

“They can’t explain it, but they said my numbers are perfect,” he said. “They were so surprised by what they saw they ordered a second blood test. It confirmed the first. They said I could live forever.”

They lied. He won’t. No one does.

But it’s welcome news to those of us who disdain change in things that seem so fleetingly perfect.

And our friend is indispensable to the situation.

Consider yourself fortunate if you live in a place with even a few indispensable people like Buck.

Easy to mimic, impossible to replace.

Note: Because this included personal info, the subject was given the opportunity to read this in advance, make changes or deny its posting. He made one minor change regarding the source of his affliction. It is my hope we can now go back to speculating on the really important Tin Lizzy questions. Questions like “Where does Rodell hide all the loot he makes from bloggin’?”

Related …

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Blinded by the (head)lights: a glaring story

I’ve said it before, but I’m such a pacifist the only thing I reflexively want to kill is time.

This puts me at odds with everyone but, gee, I guess the Dalai Lama and Kermit the Frog.

But the other night I heard some cranky old white male talking about blasting a fellow motorist and I thought, yeah, I’m on board with that.

He said: “I’d wait the they got real close and then I’d — BAM! — let ‘em have it!”

He indicated his victim would go unmourned and that he, this vehicular vigilante, would be hailed a hero.

I have to say, I saw the light.

And now I can’t see anything else!

Bruce Springsteen was metaphorically “Blinded by The Light” in ’73. I’m blinded every time I leave my driveway in the dark. 

It seems our headlights have gone wild.

Yes, on top of all our other boiling hostilities, I sense a new front is emerging in the multi-pronged Civil War some seem so eager tp fight. This one is between high-beam blasting souped-up headlight jerk offs versus courteous in-obtrusive motorists like me

If anecdotal motorist complaints are any indication, there’s an epidemic of blinding headlights and selfish on-coming motorists who never dim their high beams, the better perhaps to see you go airborne missing a turn and wrapping your car around a utility pole.

My cranky friend says he wants to rig a rear-facing LED light and switch it on anytime he’s being high-beamed or tailgated. 

His anger illuminates a problem that’s all about anger illumination.

Are headlights getting brighter?

Government and insurance industry inspectors say no. They say the especially controversial LED lights only seem brighter because they’re novelty blue.

Well, I believe my own eyes and at night they’re in a constant squint. Looking for terrain and road contour clues while faceing on-coming traffic is like staring staight into the sun.

Headlights have been getting cosmetically worse ever since the 2006 premier of the Pixar animated “Cars” movie where all the vehicles were made to appear human. This was especially evident through the headlights. The turn signals were even eyebrows.

And, of course, life imitated crass art and today many new cars at night appear to be monsters on a roll to gobble up the pavement.

While we’re on the subject of movies, my jiffy Oscar thoughts on some we saw: We loved “Jo Jo Rabbit” and “1917” (wife and daughter saw it … w/o me!); my favorite of the year was “Knives Out.” I haven’t seen “Parasite” and am reluctant to because I hated “Snowpiercer,” also by lauded director Boon Joon-Ho — and he has the best name to appear on film since Dash Riprock.

And, sorry, I hated the self-indulgent “Irishman,” and consider it more evidence that picture-by-picture Robert DeNiro is becoming our most over-rated actor. Want to see an under-appreciated DeNiro gem with crackling dialogue? Check out “Midnight Run,” the great 1988 road/buddy movie co-starring (Pittsburgher!) Charles Grodin.

I hear “Ford vs. Ferrari” is great and that brings us back full circle to cars, likely with the blinker on and the whole time hogging the passing lane.

I did a little digging on the glare problem and the future is, well, less blinding.

Popular Science reports all new vehicles will soon be equipped with so-called “adaptive driving beam tech.” It uses sensors at the front of the vehicle to detect where other vehicles are, and dynamically dims headlights to avoid glaring those vehicles.  Experts say the win-win result is other drivers won’t be blinded, but the road will be brighter.

The technology is already in use in Europe.

It’s maybe the only time in the history of illumination when dimming is a bright idea.

We shall close today’s rant with a Bible lesson from Genesis 1:3 declares, “Let there be light.”

Given the glaring troubles of driving in the dark, I don’t feel sacrilegious making the last sentence in this blog …

Enough already!

Related …

Monday, February 10, 2020

Forks, fingers & sporks

I’ve in the last month added an exciting new element to my diet, one that could lead to dramatic weight loss without the sweaty grind of regular exercise. It is … 

The fork! 

See, because of my condition, I’ve let myself go a bit over the last 18 months.

Who wouldn’t? Women look at me with a pity they can not conceal. Men cross the street like they fear what’s afflicting me will jump to them.

My once vital life is irreparable diminished.

But, hey, that’s what living with male pattern baldness can do to a man.

I decided, eff it, I’ll eat what I want. Lots of pizza, subs, burgers and that omnibus staple of every unhealthy meal, bacon! Bacon! Bacon!

I consider bacon an essential component in every tasty meal. Describe any meal — any activity — with the word “bacon” and it automatically improves.

There’s bacon pizza, bacon burgers, bacon lasagna; and you can get creative with things like bacon commute, bacon Happy Hour, bacon church — “Come for the worship, stay for the bacon!” 

Or even bacon sex — “Come for the sex, stay for the bacon!”

See, I’d eaten healthy for most of my adult life and then was blindsided by news that it really hadn’t mattered. You’re still eligible for any number of nasty maladies that mock your motivations to maintain a sleek profile in tight jeans.

So for the past 18 month I’ve eaten like Elvis (see link below).

What’s interesting is the number of folks who now go out of their way to declare just how great I look. They seem sincere, but I wonder how many of them are just trying to make feel better without having to go to the expense of having to buy me liquor.

Well, there’s only one way to find out. Too bad it’s still a bit nippy to start showing up to the Tin Lizzy in the ol’ Speedo. 

But then I began to detect obvious flaws in the logic behind my damn-the-torpedos diet, one by my 19-year-old daughter instigated what we’ll call her “cookie intervention.”

“Dad, do you want to die of a massive heart attack?”

Yes, I said. That’s exactly what I’m hoping to do. A chest-clutching heart attack is a bucket list way to go. More like a kick-the-bucket list way to go, but you get the point.

But my heart is not yet so cushioned with fatty tissue that it cannot be moved by a daughter’s love — even when a cynic might confuse her sassy admonitions for  patricidal nagging.

So I told her I’d resume eating healthy fork foods.

Or would I?

Because as I was in the midst of reacquainting myself with the fork, a good buddy from my Nashville Banner days messaged me with an epiphany about innovative tableware. He was at a fast food chicken joint and felt compelled to rhapsodize

“It’s just just such a joy to hold and behold!”

I had to read it twice to ascertain he wasn’t talking about the birth of a new grandchild.

In fact, he was talking about …

The Spork! 

It’s the Swiss Army knife of knifeless utensils 

He was eager to learn the history of the hybrid utensil and because he was my first Alpha editor, I reflexively viewed his request as as assignment. So here goes …

The spork was in 1874 invented by Philonious T. Spork.

I jest. But I wanted to include at least one libel or falsehood in a story I knew my old editor would read just for old time’s sake. 

In fact, Samuel W. Francis was on Feb. 4, 1874, issued U.S. patent no. 147,119. So the spork’s been around for two years longer than the first internal combustion engine.

This is in contrast to the chop stick which is estimated to be between 4,000- and 5,000 years old and thrives despite the fact it is the least efficient/most potentially embarrassing way to convey food from plate or bowl to mouth.

It’s no wonder so many chop stick advocates are thin.

I think my friend is hoping that if I highlight the spork here on the blog I can boost its profile, maybe make it some dough. You know like I’ve been trying in vain to do for myself since 2008.

Either way it’s all just some Monday morning food for thought and now it’s done.

Stick a spork in it. 

Related ….

Friday, January 31, 2020

Tweets of the Month

Anytime I have fewer twweets than I do days of the month, I feel like I stumbled through a whole lunar cyccle with my brain switched off. Oh, well, I'll let you decide ...

• Televising CNN anchors getting all gooned up isn't entertaining unless they agree to show them waking up with skull-pounding hangovers. Now THAT'd be entertaining.

• You can play a mean bluegrass banjo or country fiddle here on earth & it won't matter one bit. Once you get to heaven, everyone's in a soul band.

• It’s a brazen betrayal of the sturdy container's very existence but most recycling bins cannot be recycled.

• I once imagined my life would include an era of depravity where I reveled in the dark cravings of the sordid flesh. Alas, the time for such wanton behavior has passed. Today, my idea of depravity is eating ice cream before lunch in a room where my wife and kids can see me.

• Many devote their lives to the pursuit of riches and power. I'm on a quest to rid my life of envy. I fear I'll always be envious of the envy-free.

• When Bloomberg says he's spending all he has "to get rid of Trump," he's talking about a long, messy campaign. He's giving Trump too much credit. I'd just make him an offer: "How much would it cost for you to resign?" I say he'd go away for $10 billion.

Just once, I'd like to be in the clinic and hear the tech declare, "I'm here to draw blood!" have her don a beret, produce an easel, scribble furiously and  proudly hand me a paper with every spot covered in crimson red.

• I sometimes wonder if heaven is like "Fantasy Island" and God is like My. Roark. Then I wonder if the mere thought is sufficiently blasphemous to prevent my soul from ever finding out.

• When you order at the drive-thru do you make eye contact with the speaker like this disembodied voice will give you better service? Me? I flirt.

• Astronomers calculate Earth is 92,960,000 miles from the sun. I stepped outside today and I swear it feels more like 92,960,002.

• I was deeply flattered the other day when my daughter, 19, asked me for some life advice but am self-aware enough to realize that if I was anyone else and saw her asking me for advice, I'd think, "What could she possibly hope to learn from that guy?”

• I years ago vowed I'd write 1,200 words a day. Today, I got to 751 and didn't feel like I could go on. Did I quit? I did not. I instead in the last 3 mins typed the word "to" 449 consecutive times. I'll start tomorrow by deleting those words, but now I'm going to the bar.

• For the sake of geometric diversity, I'd like to see a square dance called the Putz Around.

• As a student of history, it's my understanding that man has waged war over injustice, territory, greed, vengeance, pride, and even reasons as petty as national vanity. As a student of breakfast, I'm surprised man has never waged a war over bacon. I'd enlist.

• Quid pro quo is one thing for another. More alarming in a legal sense is eight things for another or the rare squid pro quo.

• Time for my annual Super Bowl prediction: Ready? San Francisco 62, Kansas City 51! Those aren't scores. That's my prediction for the high temperatures in each city at kickoff.

• Happy 79th Birthday Dick Cheney! I can't believe Tom Petty's dead and you're not.

A long story about the long story behind the TINARA Award-winning "Last Baby Boomer"

His name was Phil. That I’ll never forget. His last name I’ve spent more than 20 years trying to pressure wash off my cranium in case we’re one day introduced at some social event and I see fit to murder Phil with my bare hands right there beside the punch bowl.

I hear there are consequences to that sort of thing

It was Phil who gave me the most euphoric news anyone’s ever given me about my career and it was Phil who for reasons I’ll never know swiped away that good news the way a master illusionist makes a caged elephant disappear.

It was there then it was gone.

But Phil purloined something to me more precious than a pachyderm.

Phil stole my swagger.

This was 2001. I was 35. My career — and this was way back when I actually had one of those — was progressing splendidly.

I’d had a solid newspaper career, been honored with industry awards and in 1992 embarked upon a promising freelance career, one I was sure would bestow me with a treasure chest of uproarious human interest stories I could tell over and over again and again (it did just that).

I worked for many of the top magazines — Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Playboy, Men’s Health — back when that really meant something. I’d checked every box you’d need on the way to becoming an important writer, the kind studied in school, fought and fawned over by guys like Spielberg and Oprah. 

And make no mistake. Greatness was my goal. Ever since 5th grade, my ambition has been to be known as a great writer. (Today, I advise 5th graders aspiring to become great writers that for the sake of homestead serenity, they should first master the bottom-line intricacies of becoming a successful writer.)

How did I intend to achieve greatness?
I wrote “The Last Baby Boomer.”

The origins of my first novel date back to a ’96 story I read about Kathleen Casey-Kirschling. Born mere minutes after midnight Jan. 1, 1946, she was America’s first Baby Boomer and she was turning 50.

By then, I’d grown strategically conditioned to think for story purposes in terms of opposites and extremes: The biggest, the smallest; the oldest, the youngest; the most, the fewest; the first and the last.

Kathleen’s story was interesting, but it was the inverse that sparked my imagination. Who’d be the last baby boomer? And what would they do with him?

I contrived it in my mind:

“Martin J. McCrae at the age of 112 in the year 2076 will be declared the last living Baby Boomer. The distinction will earn the chatty McCrae a luxury suite at a NYC museum where contestants pay $25 each to spend 15 minutes with him as part of the ultimate ghoul pool. If they're in the room when he dies, they win the $1.2 billion jackpot. 

“It's a ‘round-the-clock global reality show where no one wins until death does.”

And here are the lines I foresaw them putting up top on all the movie posters:

“Because everyone has to die.

“But only one of us gets to die last.”

Beautiful, huh. How could it miss? I was so confident of success I didn’t trouble with small potato literary agents. No, I went right to the top.

I went to Phil.

Phil was a young hotshot at a prestigious agency. He’d snagged a six-figure movie deal for some first-time author of a trendy coming-of-age story.

Six figures for a coming of age story? I wondered how many figures he could score  for my coming-of-old-old age story.

As was the custom in those pre-whiz-bang internet days I printed out a spiffy cover letter, the first three chapters and dropped it all into a cozy envelope destined for a Manhattan skyscraper.

The call from the 212 area code came just three days later. 

It was Phil and what followed were two of my life’s most exciting minutes since the afternoon I lost my virginity. So the call was exciting for about 94 seconds longer than the romantic elations did.

“This is the best book I’ve read since Catch 22. I want you drop everything else, print out the whole thing and overnight it to me. This is a can’t-miss premise and your deadpan humor is the perfect fit. And what’s next? I want to hear all you got. Man, you’re going to be a big star!”

We said our hurried goodbyes and I returned the phone to its cradle (long time ago!). I distinctly remember my first thought being, “Should the Cadillac be black or red?”

A spiffy Cadillac would be an audacious exclamation point to overnight success.

I Fedexed the manuscript and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

In a sense, I’m still waiting because the day after Phil accepted delivery of “The Last Baby Boomer,” Phil became a ghost.

I waited three excruciating weeks before calling and asking for Phil.

“Phil’s not here.”

Where’s Phil?

“Phil left.”

Where’d he go?

“No one knows. One day he just got up and walked out. No one’s heard from him since. He even left his coat. He took just one thing.”

What was that?

“Your ‘Last Baby Boomer’ manuscript.”

I don’t know whether they blame me — why would they? — but the agency closed down eight months later.

I still wonder what happened to Phil. I like to think he was too staggered by my genius to go on, that he does one-man recitations of the book in the grottos near Cabo or that he inspires Himalayan mystics with the now-tattered pages of the book he assured was going to make me famous.

As for me, I remain mystified the book’s now-torturous journey hasn’t yet led to the kind of success Phil so long ago promised. In many ways, it’s stifled everything else I’ve tried to do. I for years stubbornly believed the novel had to be a success before people would take me seriously.

Odd, because even I don’t take myself seriously.

My desperation for recognition became was so manic I stooped to fraud to mock the industry I was intent on wooing. Yes, I began to promote the book being the recipient of the prestigious TINARA Award for Best Satire. I even graced the book’s cover with a ribbon sticker announcing the honor.

But, lo and behold, the success of my other books seems to be providing daylight for my heirloom creation. I’m each week hearing the kind of praise I heard from Phil.

The biggest and most welcome gush came from a Barnes & Noble sales clerk. I needed to buy a copy of my own book, one with an authentic bar code, to submit to a marketing firm.

As the clerk was ringing it up, she said, “Oh, everyone loves this book. Our whole staff’s read it and everyone thinks it’s hilarious. It’s a real find. We’re recommending it to everyone.”

She had no idea I’d written it. I said, “I hear it was awarded The TINARA.

“Yeah, I heard that, too!”

So I remain ever-optimistic that my first, best book will one day soon fulfill its long simmering promise and find an enormous audience, thus giving me 20 years to answer that elemental question:

Should the Cadillac be black or red?

Oh, and about that TINARA Award … 

TINARA stands for This Is Not A Real Award.

You can purchase “The Last Baby Boomer: The Story of The Ultimate Ghoul Pool” right here on amazon or at Barnes & Noble.

Or signed-TINARA editions available at Second Chapter Books at Ligonier or, as always and with all my books, right here at the fabulous Tin Lizzy