Saturday, May 28, 2016

Memorial Day thoughts on war & great war movies (from '13)

Being born with a philosophical bent, I spend a good deal of time wrestling with the great questions of the ages.

“Why are we here?” “What happens to us when we die?” And, “If God created heaven and earth, who created God?”

Those are all topics for another day.

Today, Memorial Day, I think I have an answer to a question that has puzzled great thinkers since it was first posed in 1970. The question?

“War: What is it good for?”

After much soul-searching I’ve come up with an answer. It is as follows:

Without war, there would be no great war movies.

I understand my answer is unlikely to salve the wounds of the veterans and widows for whom today means so much more than a traditional basic cable war movie feast.

I know of very few males, the gender primarily responsible for launching and fighting wars, for whom war movies do not resonate.

I wonder if the two are related.

But I know many men who today will be tuned in to watch, “Patton,” “The Guns of Navarone,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Longest Day,” and other epic films based on man’s inhumanity to man.

I think it’s because most men wonder how we’d react under fire. Would we flee or advance?  Would we respond like our fathers did?

In my case, the answer is probably yes.

Like many descendants of The Greatest Generation, I come from military stock. The declaration seems to be bestow me with reflected glory.

My Dad served. He stood on the bright line that helped save the world from tyranny.

Did he storm the beaches at Normandy? No.

Dad was a U.S. Navy chaplain’s assistant.

The only less hazardous military title I can imagine is Army Pillow Tester.

He had no war stories about heroics. In fact, my favorite war story of his was the one he told about he was waiting to board the U.S Pocono to be shipped off to the Pacific on August 7, 1945, when someone told him we’d dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima.

Dad’s question: “What’s an atom bomb?”

Military historians will argue the ethics of the point, but the atom bomb forced a swift Japanese surrender and likely saved the lives of my father and millions of others who would have perished invading an entrenched and motivated Japan.

We naturally tend today to memorialize only of the ones who fought on the front lines, the wounded and dead. In fact, the original intent of Memorial Day was the memorialize those killed in action. It has somehow morphed into an omnibus military appreciation day and I’m cool with that.

I tend to believe heroics are often the result of circumstance.

In that regard, I’m like the protagonist of what to me is the greatest war movie ever made, a war movie that shows not a single gun being fired and the only notable death is unseen, but merely mentioned in a letter read aloud.

It’s “Mister Roberts.”

The 1955 John Ford movie stars Henry Fonda as beleaguered Lt. Doug Roberts, the executive officer aboard the cargo supply ship Reluctant.

Roberts itches for action, but so excels at his mundane duties that his tyrannical captain, played by James Cagney, won’t approve his repeated requests for front line transfer.

In the end, his beloved crew secretly rigs the transfer and Roberts is thrust into combat.

The movie concludes with the bored crew getting two letters from Roberts’s new ship: the first is from Roberts who relates how his destroyer is in the thick of the action near Okinawa. 

In hindsight, he has an epiphany about his old shipmates and that the “unseen enemy of this terrible war is the boredom that eventually becomes a faith and, therefore, a terrible sort of suicide. I know now that the ones who refuse to surrender to it are the strongest of all.”

The second letter is from one of Roberts’s shipmates. It conveys Roberts was killed in a below-decks kamikaze strike. He was drinking coffee and never saw it coming.

Just another example of a sad, useless death in war’s grim ledger.

But, geez, it makes for one hell of a movie.

Related . . .

Friday, May 27, 2016

Pens vs. Sharks in Stanley Cup (and life)

The Pens playing the San Jose Sharks for the Stanley Cup is less than idyllic for me because I’m one of those guys who gets annoyed having to pay attention to any news happening in any of the 39 world time zones that aren’t the one I’m in.

If it’s not happening in EST, I have trouble paying attention. Same goes for news about people whose names I have trouble pronouncing. 

It’ll be annoying for people watching the games with me because I’ll inevitably ask stupid questions about real sharks.

For instance, I’ve always wondered if these notorious man-eaters are uniformly voracious or if there are some sharks that are like some picky kids about cleaning their proverbial plate.

Dad shark: “Son, if you don’t eat your liver you’ll go to your room without your device privileges for the whole night.”

Son shark: “I hate liver! Isn't it enough I ate both the awful kidneys!”

I like it when best of seven series involving Pittsburgh teams are against teams within our sensible time zone against players whose names lend themselves to convenient heckling.

That’s why I was hoping we’d play the Brooklyn Nets, a EST team with players named Tad Young, Will Read, and Jarret Jack.

Of course, this would be highly unusual because the Nets are a professional basketball team and playing an NBA team in the NHL’s Stanley Cup would unprecedented.

And, oh, how the Pens would kick their asses.

NHL scouts routinely rate a team’s skating abilities. I’m sure they’d say an NBA team has very poor skating skills.

It’d be fun to watch Sidney Crosby zoom around a bunch of 6-foot-10 dudes who can barely stand up on skates. I’m confident Crosby could beat the Nets all by himself. Heck, our goalie could beat them all by himself.

Alas, we get the PTZ (Pacific Time Zone) San Jose Sharks and guys named Dainius Zubrus, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Joonas Donskoi.

I also hate the sports league propensity to try and achieve perfect fairness in scheduling. That means games 1, 2, 5 and 7 will be played in Pittsburgh, which gets home ice advantage because of its superior record. 

Those of you who are statistically minded will note the disparity in sequencing. Games 3, 4 and 6 will succumb to the scheduling equivalent of Manifest Destiny.

It upsets environmentalists like myself because of all the squandered  jet fuel it’ll take to zoom back and forth across the continent in the event the series goes seven games (it won’t).

It’s incredible wasteful.

It’d make environmental sense to play the games in a central location, like Lebanon, Kansas, the exact geographic center of the USA.

If you think Lebanon would be a convention mecca, you’d be mistaken. Population 279, one resident told me they’re so desolate they’re 60 miles from the nearest Walmart and that they buy toilet paper by the pallet.

Of course, the biggest question of all involving San Jose’s participation in the Stanley Cup is whose idea was it to put an NHL franchise in San Jose, an inland city with the same international prestige as Fresno.

Who wants to junket to San Jose?

It’s like taking a California team and making it come to Pennsylvania to play Scranton.

There shouldn’t be professional ice hockey in towns that never see roads covered in actual ice. And I reserve the right to alter my position once Global Warming renders the whole stipulation preposterous.

So it promises to be a fun week here in Pittsburgh and San Jose, too, I’m sure.

I grew up playing hockey and have remained a huge fan. This Penguin team is very appealing, too.

Being in a city that’s on a championship run is tremendous fun. No one knows this better than Pittsburgh fans. In my lifetime, I’ve celebrated six Super Bowls, three Stanley Cups and three World Series championships.

That’s 12 in five decades, for an average of more than two every decade.

By comparison, fans in Cleveland haven’t won squat.

Yes, it’s good to be us.

This week will prove it again.

It sounds like one of those hysterically hyped Animal Planet shows, but this series will confound the the aquatic natural order: The Pens will devour the Sharks.

Livers and all.

Pens in five.

Related …

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A pill to end need for sleep; one to end need for food: You must take one. Which do you take?

Imagine it is the future, which means it could be 10, 20 or 50 years from now or it could be tomorrow morning.

It is announced a major pharmaceutical company has developed a pill that if you take just once will eliminate the need to eat.

Simultaneously, a rival announces it has developed a pill that eliminates the need to sleep.

And because it is the future and we’re all conditioned to see the future as grimly dystopian, the prevailing tyrannies announce everyone in America has to take one or the other.

Which do you choose?

Will you never sleep again or never eat again?

I’m torn.

Sleeping and eating are two of my very favorite human activities. But, guaranteed, we’re nearing a day when these prescriptive remedies are available.

Many people regard both essentials as nuisances. Trump brags he sleeps just three or four hours a night, like sleeplessness is a virtue. He’d certainly take both pills, viewing meals as time consuming inconveniences.

All but the delicious Taco Bowls made in Trump Tower Grill!

But most of us aren’t like that. We enjoy eating and sleeping. 

On many, many days I look forward to sleeping the way I used to look forward to Friday nights. The event fills me with yearning anticipation.

We have a comfy waterbed — and I can’t fathom the marketing failures that have relegated the moisture mattress to hippie nostalgia. If I’m tired, crawling into a warm waterbed with my soft sweet wife is a heavenly sensation.
When the air is brisk and crickets croaking Mother Nature’s lullaby, a good night’s sleep leaves me feeling born again.

On some rare nights, I become so lost in slumber, so bereft of decorum, I wake up with my face stuck to the soggy pillow. It’s slobber sleep, the best sleep there is, the sleep equivalent to bowling a 300.

Then there’s the soulful afternoon doze. It may last just 15 minutes, but it’s perfectly refreshing. I like turning on the Weather Channel and watching the soothing patterns depicting havoc being wreaked in places I’m not. They could be getting the hell pounded out of them in Kansas, but to me the big purple blobs look like a soothing lava light in a darkened room.

Zzzzzz …

That’s all done if you take the big no-doze.

What will happen to the bedrooms in the houses where nobody sleeps?

It seems extravagant to keep a bed in a room just for the screwing, especially in homes that have a handy breakfast bar.

No sleep means no pillows, no PJs, no bed head, no my-alarm-didn’t-go-off excuses. No more nightmares, but no more wickedly raunchy dreams either. And no cocooning retreat from the world when it seems to be getting really mean.

One of our last sanctuaries will be banished forever. It’ll truly be 24/7 for 24/7.

A pill that will eliminate the need to eat will forever rid the world of hunger so we’ll have to find something for the farmers to do.

And driving will take on a dangerous new element as the streets may soon be over run with wild cows, chickens and pigs as liberating the animals makes more sense than maintain them.

PETA will have to figure out a whole new ad campaign while militant vegans will face an identity crisis.

It’ll be nice that no one will be hungry but a no-eat pill could cripple the economy. Look around where you live. Nearly every third business is some kind of eatery. Same goes for commercials.

But it’s not like the people who feed us will ever go hungry so don’t lose any sleep over that factor.

I know many people will who mistake food for fuel. They believe it’s merely something to combust to keep the motor running.

I pity them.

I love trying new recipes, shopping for food, preparing food and then slowly, bite-by-bite, savoring it.

Many of the best memories of my entire life involve eating meals both simple and grand with people whose company I treasure.

Val and I dined at Windows on the World at the top of the World Trade Center with all Manhattan spread out beneath us. And there was that four-hour lunch at he famed French Laundry in Napa. And I love the grub fests at some divey roadhouse after me and the boys have enjoyed a sunny afternoon round of golf.

I’d miss juicy grilled steaks, sumptuous sushi, eggs-over-easy, pasta, winter soups and ballpark hot dogs with my darling daughters.

What will I miss most?

The answer will reveal I’m at heart a man of pedestrian tastes, but I bet I’d miss good pizza the way men who’ve endured accidental castration say they miss their erections.

I just love pizza.

In fact, just typing the word pizza has me right now craving pizza.

Oh, how I wish I had access to a pill that would free me from these distracting daydreams!

Or maybe it’d be better to just order a pizza while that’s still an option.

Related …

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

I was bumped from mag cover by luscious Margot Bingham

Have you ever woken up feeling an irrational disdain for actress Margot Bingham?

I mean, who hasn’t?

Happened to me just last week.

Who’s Margot Bingham? She plays detective Nina Meyer on the ABC show “The Family.”

That’s the generic headline.

But in some ways, I’m beginning to feel like she’s the blacker, female, more stylish, successful and kissable version of me.

I say that because it was her looks and fame that got me bumped from the cover of the South Hills Magazine issue that featured the story about me (link below).

Writer Suzanne Elliott, had told me I was being considered for cover purposes and I walked around for about a month thinking how cool that would be.

It seemed possible. They took a lot of pictures during the interview. 

And Suzanne’s a friend and I knew she wouldn’t just mess with me to coax a chummier interview. I used to do that with dipshit feature subjects like myself all the time.

Oh, yeah, I promised plenty of people they’d be on the cover of numerous local and national magazines. Heck, that wasn’t even the worst of my lies.

Get this: I remember telling bunches of people I’d quote them accurately.

And they believed me!


I’d have liked to have been a fly on the wall when the editorial board met to discuss who’d be a better fit for cover prominence.

“Okay, we have these sultry pictures of luscious Margot Bingham. She’s the striking 27-year-old daughter of former Steeler Craig Bingham. She’s on a hit show, has fantastic hair, a bright future and if we’re nice to her one day she might stop by our office and show us her selfies with people like Beyonce.

“Then we have Rodell. Now, we could run his mug on the cover, but we’d need to fire three staffers to compensate for all the overtime it’ll take the rest of us to photoshop out all the flaws. Shall we put it to a vote?”

I’ve been very pleased by the article and the cheery reaction to it. It confirms how so many people are rooting for me to succeed and how some, myself included, are confounded success remains so elusive.

Of course, I told Val my favorite part was where she was quoted as saying I’m wonderful.

“I’m so proud of him persevering and for the books and the success he’s found in motivational speaking. He is such an amazing writer and it’s been a joy be able to watch him live out his dreams. He wakes up being funny and goes to bed being funny. He keeps us all laughing, that’s for sure.”
I told her I’ll always remember that quote whenever she pretends she’s really, really mad at me for frequent bouts of drunken sloth.

“How do you know,” she asked, “that’s what I really said?”


“Yeah, I could have told her to make up something that sounds nice.”

It’s true. I used to tell rising journalist students they’ll never get in trouble for misquoting someone as long as the salient misquote makes the quoted subject sound either intelligent or more sweet.

Such deviousness is why I always think of Val anytime I hear Tom Petty sing, “Shadow of a Doubt,” the 1979 song from “Damn the Torpedoes.”

She likes to keep me guessing
Yeah, she’s got me on the fence
With that little bit of mystery
She’s a complex kid

What’s funny is Suzanne asked me to get in touch with someone else who’d say nice things about me. I figured I’d go right to the top.

I told her to call Jimmy Krenn.

He’s Pittsburgh’s perennial entertainer of the year. We’ve been friends ever since he used to have me on as his guest when he and Scott Paulsen were the genius frontmen for the DVE Morning Show.

Krenn sent this to Suzanne and copied me. It didn’t run in the magazine for, I guess, spacial reasons. But there’s no reason I can’t run it here!

“To me Chris Rodell is Dave Barry's every bit as talented evil twin brother! No one captures people's true character and spirit like Chris. He colorfully gives you a peek behind the curtain as he paints a story with a sense of warmth and true understanding like no other I've ever read. After getting to know Chris through the years I can honestly say, as a person, he's one of the most genuine and humble men I've ever known. That humility serves him well in his writing style as it seems to always connect the reader to the person or place he's writing about in a revealing and respectful way that makes his stories a combination of being both thought- provoking and always entertaining!”

Coming from someone as beloved and revered as Krenn, it’s very touching. 

It encourages the belief that good things are bound to happen.

And they’ll happen a whole lot sooner if I can figure out a way to get my hair to do that Margot Bingham thing.

Related …