Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Who's Who in my new YouTube promo extravaganza!

The thing I like most about my new YouTube promotional extravaganza is it’s already turning out to be polarizing.

For instance, my family seems horrified. Not just that they’re in it, but that I’m really, really in it. Parts of it are way over the top, like the part when I lip synch “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

And there’s word that Sir Paul McCartney’s feathers are ruffled, too, although I suspect he’s just reacting that way to get Yoko to shut the hell up.

I do hope you’ll check it out. You won’t be bored.

Nauseous, maybe, but not bored.

My purpose for producing it is to give event planners a good long glimpse of how people are reacting to my talks. As you’ll, see many of them are euphoric. About half the people who attend say I ought to be a stand-up comic and the other half say thank me for being so inspirational.

It’s a wonderful breakthrough for me and I need to do everything I can to seize on it.

Hence the video. It stems from a string of my summer appearances where I had a video guy approach attendees and ask, “So, in 20 seconds or less, what did you think of Chris?”

Of course, people are mostly polite anyway and would say “He was funny!” Or “Inspirational!” That kind of thing.

My initial idea was to have about two minutes of people saying that. But wouldn’t that be boring?

So I decided to spice it up with family and friends chipping in their snide remarks. That led to a bunch of mini-skit.

This is 7:22, far longer than experts advise. They say no one will watch something this sprawling.

To hell with them.

My tech guys are right now working to make it even longer. My buddy Quinn Fallon sent me a musical tribute and I responded with a sign-board reply. My fingers are crossed that’ll soon be available as a director’s cut.

But this is what’s there now. Here’s a brief rundown of who’s who and some behind the scenes info about when into the shot.

I had a lot of fun doing this over the past two months and am grateful to all who appeared or encouraged. I apologize to those who had to be cut.

Scene 1: That’s Josie. She’s turning 14 on Thursday. She shot many of the scenes and advised when I was doing something way too dorky for her 8th grade tastes.

Scenes 2 - 6: An extended version of this could have been the whole thing. I think it’s very effective to hear real people saying they genuinely like something and nothing about these reactions is contrived. But for the thing to stand out, it needed more. 

Scene 7: That’s Arnold. People everywhere clamor for his endorsement. But I thought it’d be more fun if this Midas-touched pitchman pretended he’d never heard of my book.

Scene 8: That’s a blow-up cover of the book featuring Palmer’s endorsement. I think following up him saying he doesn’t know who I am with a shot of his quote from my book is exactly what Spielberg would have done . That Mick Jagger is heard in the background singing, “I like it!” is purely coincidental.

Scene 9: That’s Brad. He’s my nephew who was up for a visit. Lovely backdrop of the Point State Park fountain and Ft. Pitt Bridge in the background.

Scene 10: That’s one of the ladies from an area church group that invited me to speak. I’m fond of this one because she just seems so happy.

Scene 11: That’s Eric. He’s a cook at The Pond. And he really did buy 10 books. I didn’t use any fakers. I like following a petite church lady up with Eric, a great guy, who looks like he’d have nothing in common with petite church ladies. The subtle message is my book works with every demographic. And it does. But those two would get along great, too, I’m sure. 

Scene 12: That’s Heidi. She’s an instructor from South Side Area School district. You’ll notice I start moving away from endorsements to more jokey stuff. I think that’ll keep interest fresh. Again, once you’ve established that people like the book, move on.

Scene 13: That’s a Greentree Methodist minister where I spoke to local rotarians. I almost cut the “And tell him to get a job!” line, but I think self-deprecation goes a long way in helping promote a book like mine.

Scene 14: That’s Boris and Bill. It’s some of the most infectious laughter in history. I’m very fond of this because it looks like Bill’s laughing at the idea of me getting a job. That is funny.

Scene 15: That’s Andy. He’s a great guy, but I couldn’t have him go on longer than 20 seconds because it might have seemed cloying, thus . . .

Scene 16: I rudely cut off Andy. That Ray Davies and the Kinks are singing “Village Green Preservation Society” in the background is purely coincidental.

Scene 17: That’s another teacher from South Side Area School District. I’m very pleased by what he had to say and wouldn’t dream of cutting one word of it.

Scenes 18 — 21: Here’s where the thing really begins to diverge from typical promotions. It’s where friends of mine begin acting out scenes for me. All four reactions from my darling girls (Mom, Val, Lucy and Josie) make me laugh. Josie cinches her best supporting actress nomination.

Scene 22: That’s Boris and Bill again laughing hysterically at my daughter’s reaction.

Scene 23: That’s Renee Stallings’s Greater Latrobe Senior High School journalism class. I spoke to two classes that day but, alas, could only include one in the video. But the reaction I get from high school and college students is so heartwarming. These guys were great. This and their next appearance are among my favorite scenes.

Scene 24: That’s Dave setting up a key joke at the end. He dodged me for a week before finally agreeing to be in it. Odd, because he was so great in the previous FAQ one linked below. I think he’ll love this when he sees it.

Scene 25: That’s Arnold again because you can never have too much Arnold.

Scene 26: That’s Doc. He’s been Arnold’s right hand man for nearly 50 years. I showed him the clip with the warning that I really hammed it up. I think he was shocked at just how hammy I can be.

Scene 27: That’s me swinging a golf club. I wanted my boisterous golf buddies mostly clammed up when the camera went on.

Scene 28: That’s Doc again. Same clip only cut into two. We both love “Survivor” and are eager for it’s Wednesday return.

Scene 29: That’s me pretending I’m Jeff Probst.

Scene 30: That’s my family acting apathetic.

Scene 31: That’s me acting dumbfounded that they don’t want to know what they’re playing for.

Scene 32: That’s TC, the whistling beer vendor. He’s a real Pittsburgh character and I am proud to have him in my video.

Scene 33: That’s Rick. Remember, this whole video is shot in the hopes it’ll interest event planners to have me into speak to their groups. At this point in the video, a little more than halfway, I wanted to remind them what they’re getting when they’re getting me.

Scene 35: That’s Dave again saying I sing like Sinatra. Again, he’s setting up a concluding joke.

Scene 36: That’s Wanda. I love what she said and the way she said it.

Scene 37: That’s another church lady who’s eager to buy the book.

Scene 38: That’s Lori from Second Chapter Books in Ligonier. I’ll be at her store for the Friday and Sunday of Ft. Ligonier Days. Stop by!

Scene 39: That’s Brooke. She’s bought a bunch of copies of the book and taught both our daughters. We love her. This scene represents a shift where I wanted to have a bunch of people say basically the same thing, “I loved the book so much I bought 10/20/30 copies.” I think that’s really uncommon for most books, but I want viewers to know it’s very common with “Use All The Crayons!” And isn’t what she said wonderful? So kind.

Scene 40: That’s Paul looking like he’s taking a moment to talk to the camera while holding back a collapsing wall. His story is pivotal in the journey of my book. Because what he’s saying is true. We’d met only briefly and I sensed he’d like the book so I dropped one off at the bank where he works. Didn’t hear from him for two months. Not a peep. Then out of the blue he called and said he loved the book so much he wanted to buy 30 copies for his employees. I thought, man, I might be onto something here. He’s disappointed he comes across as the only serious guy in the video. He’s not serious and I’ll try and come up with a  better role for him next time.

Scene 41: That’s Sue and Martina. Our families are great friends and I love her story. It’s all true, too. Her 99-year-old mother wrote me a note saying the book had changed her life. God bless her.

Scene 42: I had to justify letting her talk longer than the allotted time. That The Who are singing “Mama’s Got a Squeeze Box” in the background is purely coincidental.

Scenes 43-46: That’s me relating the groundswell of organizational interest in having me speak. Those kinds of orders from those kinds of organizations are significant and should add heft to the idea of having me speak.

Scene 47: That’s the WVU 4H group reacting to one of my speeches like they think I’m Oprah and I’d just promised them each a brand new car. The full clip (below) is worth checking out.

Scene 48: That’s Martina saying she really likes it when I sing.

Scene 49: That’s me singing a joke from the book.

Scene 50: That’s Martina again saying she likes it when I really, really, really, really sing.

Scene 51: That’s me pretending to really, really, really, really sing. That Queen is singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the background is purely coincidental.

Scene 52: That’s the GLSD high school journalists saying they love Chris Rodell. Thanks, guys! I love you, too.

Scene 53: That’s me delivering the payoff lines. I’ll be sending the video all over the country and I’m hoping people will get in touch about having me speak to their group. That Paul McCartney and The Beatles are singing “The End” from “Abbey Road” in the background is purely coincidence. I mention this because when I finally posted the video YouTube informed me that song is blocked. I decided I’ll let it play until they take steps to shut it down. It’d be a pity because it’s only background and having a song called “The End” play at the end of my video is purely coincidental.

Scene 54: That’s Arnold right before he calls security. Love it!

So there you go, way more than you wanted to know about something few of you may ever even watch. But I wanted to document it.

That’s enough for now. This is the end.

I’m ending with “The End” for purely coincidental reasons, too.

Related . . .

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Pittsburgh Pirates & the KKK (not those ones)

Yesterday’s big Pirate victory over the hated Milwaukee Brewers differed from many past season finales in that I wasn’t there and neither was the KKK.

Instead, it was the KKKKK.

K is the baseball scoresheet designation for a strike out.

It’s been that way for about 165 years since pioneering scorekeeper Henry Chadwick developed the iconic box score, a minute marvel of a concise yet thorough way to impart information no 1,000 word story could equal.

It is said he used K because it is the most prominent sound of the word “strike” and “S” was already useful for denoting sacrifice, stolen base or single. And this I just learned: a backwards K on the scoresheet means the batter struck out looking.

I used to be one of those baseball nerds who on occasion kept score in the stands, just like the broadcasters.

I did it for a number of years until I found many of my scoresheets dominated by the enigmatic WWs, a designation conceived by New York Yankee broadcaster Phil Rizzuto, who when asked what WW meant said, “Wasn’t Watching.”

For 20 years from 1992-2012, huge swaths of once-proud Pirate fans could have been described as “WW.”

The teams stunk. Three Rivers Stadium was empty. Nobody went.

Nobody, but me and my three buddies. And we went all the time, about 30 games a year.

You had to really love baseball to be a Pirate fan during what turned out to be a 20-year losing streak.

And I truly did. It was my golden age of fandom. I snagged three foul balls, saw an unassisted triple play — one of the most rare plays in all sports — and witnessed many superhuman feats by Mark McGuire, Barry Bonds and other men we later learned were superhuman only in the pharmacological sense.

Yesterday, the Pirates set an all-time home attendance record with 2.5 million fans.

I remember the days when it was just me, my buddies and the KKK.

See, most every team has a section where a ballpark employee keeps track of the number of strikeouts the home pitcher registers. In old Three Rivers, it was on the upper deck facade above right field.

A Pirate pitcher might get his first strike-out in the 2nd inning and a kid would get out of his seat and put up a big K. He’d get another an inning or two later and a second K would be slid right next to the first one.

This was the moment for which we’d been waiting. We knew the next strike out would be what we called “The Special K.”

Because someone in Pirate management had made a decision that The Special K — the third strikeout — should never be allowed near to the other two. A space would be left between the 2nd and 3rd Ks so it looked like this:   KK  K.

The only thing we could figure is management feared seeing three in a row — KKK — might confuse fans into thinking ownership was so desperate to sell tickets they’d offered group discounts to notorious hate mongers.

It was riveting whenever the kid mistakenly put KKK up. We’d wager among ourselves how long it would take for a paunchy team official to hike all the way to the upper deck to move The Special K.

I always thought it would have been funny to see what would happen if the four of us would have sat up there dressed in hooded white sheets whenever it went to KKK.

Much has changed.

No one cares about the number of consecutive Ks they see, and the Pirates for the second year in a row are playing feisty ball and look playoff bound.

Me, I only attended four games and planned on watching yesterday’s home finale on the big TV, but my oldest daughter requested it for a movie. Our youngest reserved the basement for a playdate, and Val was sorting fall clothes for the kids in the bedroom so that was out.

That’s one, two, three strikes, I was out. I wound up in my office all alone listening to the game on the radio, a far cry from my baseball glory days.

For me, there was no joy in Mudville.

Didn’t bother me a bit.

There’s plenty in Pittsburgh.

Related . . .

Friday, September 19, 2014

Binge reading my blog in tree stand

Good morning, Dave A.! Had your breakfast yet? Seen any deer? And how’s the blog been lately?

I’m taking the unusual step today of directly addressing an individual reader because Dave, one of my more faithful blog constituents, informed me last week he’d given up cold turkey.

Why, pray tell? Had I become boring? Topics not to your liking? Have you found a blog that purports to be nearer to Amish than mine?

“Nah,” he said. “It’s none of that. It’s just I’m going deer hunting near Quincy, Illinois, for 10 days in November and I like to have big backlog of your blogs to read while I’m in the tree stand for 13 hours a day.”

It’s not the first time someone’s informed me they’re binge reading my blog, but it is the first time they’ve done it in a chilly tree stand while cradling a lethal weapon.

It struck me as very strange, but I prefer that image to the one most commonly mentioned as the best place to read my blog. That, of course, would be the crapper.

Some people are sheepish about mentioning this, others bold.

I favor the latter because it helps demolish the unnecessary stigma that some feel about reading in the bathroom.

Bathrooms are such great places to read I’m surprised they don’t each come with their own librarian. It’s quiet (mostly), well-lit and no one in your nebbie family will dare bother you while you’re doing your necessary.

And if makes you feel more comfortable, rest assured that while I always read in the bathroom, I’ve never once written in there.

In fact, it’s maybe the only room where I’ve never written even a single word.

I prefer to write in my office, but will sometimes write on the kitchen or dining room table and I’ve blogged from bed, from the porch and once when the girls were having a party from the canary yellow captain’s chair on my John Deere mower.

I’m actually writing this from the bleachers in the high school natatorium where my daughter is engaged in swim practice. 

I had a friend once tell me he knew a writer who says he always wore a three-piece suit every time he wrote in his apartment by himself where no one to see him. He said it made him feel more professional.

Clearly, the guy was either an idiot or a skilled liar. Because only an idiot would bother to constrict himself in a neck tie when sitting down to write.

To write, I wear what’s comfortable. It’s what you’d see me wearing if you saw me at a family restaurant or ball game. I wouldn’t dream of trying to write something funny in church clothes.

Maybe I should dream up some kind of heroic costume to tell people I wear when I write, something with a cape. I could be SuperBlogger!

Dave’s told me he sometimes laughs out loud at something I’ve written. I love hearing that reaction so please tell me you, too, do that even if it isn’t true.

I like to think, for the sake of gentle woodland creatures, that Dave right now is guffawing so hard the nervous deer are scattering for miles wondering what all the commotion might be.

And having the rifle there is an interesting element.

It’d be great if he fired off a round every time he read a line that struck him as funny. Maybe the “last meal” story below has enough funnies in it that it’d sound like west central Illinois had declared war on Missouri.

Of course, best of all, would be Dave returned to tell me he was reading my blog and became so immersed that he was startled to find a bunch of wild animals reading over his shoulder right along with him.

You know that sarcastic rhetorical question about if bears do their business in the woods?

It’d be cool if, like so many of my human friends, they were reading my blog while they were on the squat.

Related . . .

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Teaching my 13-year-old how to drive my car

Our oldest daughter turns 14 in two weeks. It’s an age of looming adolescence that makes some fathers quake.

Not me.

I understand now that every day she gets a day older she’s making some of my questionable parenting less and less newsworthy.

Like teaching her to drive.

My interest in her learning to drive dates back to ’11 when I read a spate of stories about a Detroit father who let his daughter drive him home from the bar because he was too drunk to do it himself. I invite you to read the top first link below. I thought it was a goodie.

The kid was 9 and, I guess, sober.

I’m not saying I’d ever do that, but if extraordinary circumstances ever called for it, I think she should know to place her hands on the wheel at 10 and 2 without having to nudge me awake.

So that’s what we did Sunday morning out back behind Westmoreland Mall in the acres of empty parking lots. Not another vehicle in sight.

That’s why it’s surprising she almost killed me.

She was coasting along — I’d wisely instructed her to not press the accelerator — when I calmly said, “Okay, now hit the brake.”

I only wish she’d react so affirmatively when I tell her to empty the dish washer. It was like a 10-point buck had jumped in front of the old Saturn.

My head banged off the windshield.

Because I was uncertain whether I’d need to once again help her adjust the driver’s seat, I’d failed to put my seat belt on.

So she learned a lesson about how instantly responsive GM’s ABS braking system can be and I learned a lesson that you should always apply proper seat restraints when a 13 year old is behind the wheel.

I want her to become familiar with what it feels like to drive a car so in two years she’ll be comfortable. And other than nearly sending her instructor head first through the windshield she did fine.

For me, the best part was the verbal instructions about driver etiquette.

“Remember, there is no such thing as a left lane. There’s only a right lane and a passing lane. Pass slower vehicles and then get the hell out of the way for guys like your old man.”

And I told her about the importance of waiting until someone who’s driving a bigger car than yours is heading down an exit ramp before you have someone in the passenger seat moon them, which is a much more satisfying expression than giving them the finger.

The neat thing about the dynamic is I know she was actually listening to me. She’s eager to learn to drive and has seen me drive competently so she knows I have information she wants.

I only wish every motorist felt that way. 

I think every motorist should have to take a refresher driver’s test every five years and I ought to be the teacher.

I’m a great driver.

You probably think you are, too, but you’re probably wrong.

You probably don’t use your turn signals, slow down too much when you come to a tunnel, and hog the passing lane when I’m trying to bury your ass in my rear view mirrors.

Of course, it might all become moot. I’ve been reading a lot about self-driving cars these days. Not having to drive a car will be a godsend to lots of people who find driving tedious.

Not me. I hate sitting in traffic, but I love operating a motor vehicle. I’m not a distracted driver. I’m fully engaged.

Once we get self-driving cars, the thrill of passing a slow truck on a two-lane mountain road with another on-coming driver playing chicken will be no more.

I wonder, too, if the cars will learn how to be truly self-driven and will go where they like whether we’re in them or not.

Like what if my car gets tired of spending so many hours in The Pond parking lot waiting for me to get tanked and heads off on a jaunt to lot with a more scenic view.

So I’ll likely resist the advent of self-driving cars for as long as I can.

I want to drive the car. I don’t want the car driving me.

On the upside, I won’t need an accomplice if I feel like mooning some asshole in a bigger car.

Related . . .

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Beating supporters need an attitudinal switch

The good news for the NFL this week is that for now feckless commissioner Roger Goodell is no longer the media whipping boy.

The bad news is the media are focusing on NFL star Adrian Peterson and the boy he whipped.

Peterson admitted to using a tree branch to whip his 4-year-old son so hard that it left open wounds all over the boy’s legs, butt and scrotum. You may have seen pictures of the scars.

Well, of the physical scars. 

The psychological ones sure to come from having someone you love terrorize you might not emerge for years.

My first reaction, of course, is distress. I can’t imagine anything a 4 year old would do to deserve such a beating (Peterson says he pushed his sibling off from a video game control panel).

But anyone familiar with the daily news is numb to that kind of brutality against children. 

What is news to me, however, is how much support there is for the 6-foot-1, 217-pound, locomotive who beat the boy.

“Spare the rod, spoil the child,” they say, citing the Biblical justification for more wanton violence against innocents than any six words in history.

They’re saying this is okay. It’s a way of life. 

This from Charles Barkley: “Whipping — we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.”

Well, then we either need to change or build bigger jails because it’s impossible to justify what Peterson did to his son.

I’m surprised to hear a black man from the South defend a peculiar institution that looks to the rest of the civilized world like something barbaric. Because he sounds just like the white Dixie politicians who used to defend slavery and Jim Crow laws and all the quaint Southern customs that led to lynchings.

This is just the way things are. 

I like Barkley and consider him thoughtful, if bombastically so.

But if he thinks Peterson shouldn’t go to jail for this, then he’s blind to a culture that needs to change.

He makes the good point that me, someone who grew up a privileged white guy in a nice neighborhood, shouldn’t judge Peterson, a kid who like many young black men, had to dodge the odds that said he’d either wind up dead or in jail.

Peterson’s father, an outstanding athlete in his own right, dreamed of playing in the NBA. Those dreams were derailed when a gun his brother was cleaning discharged into his leg.

My father dreamed of playing golf at Pebble Beach. And in 1985 he did.

When he was 13, Peterson’s father was jailed for laundering money for a local crack cocaine ring.

When I was 13, my father used to drive the car loaded with heavy stacks of Sunday newspapers so we could finish in time to go golfing where Dad would always win.

My father beat me at golf.

His father beat him with a switch.

Of course, maybe Barkley’s right. Maybe if my Dad have ever beaten me even once I’d have become more accomplished, more disciplined. More like Peterson, whose last contract was for $96 million.

So part of me sees the point Barkley’s trying to make.

Barkley says without the beatings he wouldn’t be where he is today.

Statistically, he’s one of the lucky ones — black men who’ve played professional sports and gone onto lucrative broadcasting careers. Many more turn out like Peterson’s father.

So savage beatings like the one Peterson gave his son may have worked out for Barkley.

To his credit, blowhard ESPN yapper Cris Carter said in an emotional interview that his mother was wrong to beat him and that the beatings have to stop.

No one can argue that cycles of violence and poverty are particularly crushing to the demographics Barkley so cavalierly defends.

So we can all see what tough love can do.

Maybe it’s time we encourage one another to try it with just a little less tough and a little more love.

Related . . .

Sunday, September 14, 2014

RRS: Happy belated birthday Arnold Palmer!

Arnold Palmer turned 85 on Wednesday and the whole town was invited to the party. They held it at Greater Latrobe High School where, thanks to $1 million donated by Palmer, the district was dedicating the Arnold Palmer Field House at the new state-of-the-art practice facility. I missed it for a reason Palmer would surely appreciate: I was golfing with buddies. But I heard it was a wonderful slice of Americana. The whole high school sang him Happy Birthday. I saw him last month. He showed me his new pacemaker. I almost asked if he'd let me touch it. Here’s what I wrote about Palmer on his 80th birthday back in in ’09.

Enjoy your Sunday!

Some admiring jokers started www.chucknorrisfacts.com to put a farcical spin on the B-movie actor’s fantasy exploits. Example: “When Chuck Norris does a push up, he isn’t elevating himself, he’s pushing the earth down.”

It’s a hilarious bit of make believe.

In 2005, I was asked to do the daily timeline project on www.ArnoldPalmer.com and can now conclude what should be obvious to any fair-minded observer. And that is this:

The real Arnold Palmer makes even the make-believe Chuck Norris look like a candy-assed sissy.

Today is Palmer’s 80th birthday.

He declined an invitation to an interesting party this evening where some of his friends were going to salute him just for being such a great guy.

“I wish I could attend,” he told reporters, “but I’ve got some other things planned and I’ll be pretty busy that night. Sorry, I just can’t be there.”

The event? The opening night kickoff of the 2009 NFL season at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Steelers wanted to honor Palmer on one of the biggest nights of the year. They wanted to have more than 65,000 fans cheer him, watch video highlights of his career, and listen to heady praise of his lavish philanthropy.

But he has something better to do.

There’s an astounding humility in that polite little no thanks. I’m guessing he’s going have a small party with friends at Latrobe Country Club, but how many of our celebrities could resist the opportunity to have their already-massive egos stoked by having a crowd of that size blow kisses at them?

All America should feel better about itself today knowing we produced a man like Palmer and that he continues to thrive and inspire.

Unlike Norris, who’s becoming more famous for popping off on far right causes that embarrass even mainstream conservatives, facts about Palmer are, well, facts.

I know this because for two years it was my job to go through more than 50 years of newspaper and magazine clippings about Palmer and note what he did each and every day of his life.

As of today, the Timeline has more than 1,200 noteworthy items.

As everyone knows, he is one of the greatest golfers who’s ever lived. But a charming alchemy of small-town grit, old-fashioned good manners and heaven-sent good fortune have made his a life unique in American history. Many presidents may admire Sandy Koufax or Cal Ripken, but that doesn’t mean they’ll ever invite them to the White House to play catch.

But it’s different with golfers. And it’s different still with Palmer. That helps explain why former President Dwight D. Eisenhower showed up at Palmer’s house to surprise him on his 37th birthday on this day in 1966, and why Bill Clinton told biographers in 2000 that one of the greatest perks of being POTUS is the “opportunity to play golf with Arnold Palmer.”

An accomplished pilot who still flies his own jet, Palmer set an aviation world record on May 19, 1976, when he circumnavigated the globe in a Lear 36 in less than 58 hours.

Kirk Douglas said in 1970 that no one -- not Sinatra, John Wayne or Ronald Reagan -- has more charisma than Palmer.

He has a popular drink, The Arnold Palmer (half lemonade/half iced tea), named after him and the concoction is recognized by hip Manhattan waitresses who have no idea who Arnold Palmer is. In addition to the drink, two entire hospitals, a national golf museum, a regional airport, a PGA golf tournament, fancy club rooms and charity initiatives and scholarships too numerous to tally bear the name Arnold Palmer.

John Paul Newport of the Wall Street Journal wrote this week, “Lasting popularity of Palmer’s magnitude simply cannot be explained.”

It’s a safe bet that today Palmer will celebrate his birthday by playing some golf, laughing with some children, hugging loved ones, joking with buddies, being bold and doing something to help someone needy.

Let’s all try and join him in doing just some of the same. It’s life the way it ought to be lived.

All, but you, Chuck Norris.

You can just sit home in the dark and maybe dream about what it would be like to be a real man.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A celebration of food & death row last meals

I have no fear of dying as long as it doesn’t have to hurt. I want my demise to be so rapid I never even see it coming.

That’s why I contend it’s entirely possible to die peacefully in your sleep of multiple gunshot wounds.

And while I have no fear of death I absolutely dread the idea I might either die hungry or with a belly full of pedestrian crap.

I cherish good food so much I’ve always eaten like my next meal might be my last. This awareness is becoming more acute as I ascend the actuarial tables.

I’m 51 and every day the obituaries, which I read with morbid enthusiasm, are filled with death notices of men either my age or younger. I wonder how many of them will be buried with undigested Hot Pockets crammed in their colons.

Poor saps.

Too many people confuse food with fuel, something they consume to merely sustain life.

I contend if that’s the way you think then you’re not really living at all.

Every single bite of every single meal should be a celebration, something to be savored.

That doesn’t mean it has to be fancy. A simple sandwich if done properly can be as delightful as a seven-course meal.

That, of course, is the ideal. We have children, ages 13 and 8, and they’re both involved in swimming, an activity so time-consuming that proper meals are often  impossible. On nights like that, I’ll hit the drive-thru — usually Arby’s — and drop a roast beef sandwich on my growling belly. It’s not bad, but it to me represents a lost opportunity.

If I’d have had the time, I’d have sautéed some barbecue Cajun shrimp like the way they do at Pascal Manale’s on Napoleon Ave. in New Orleans. Or maybe tossed a thick Delmonico steak sprinkled with Montreal seasoning on the grill.

The dinners are great, and I love a big breakfast, but my favorite meals of all time are the 3-hour lunches with Val or some friends and two or three bottles of wine.

It’s life the way it’s meant to be. So you can see, I’m not a man who likes to compromise when it comes to my meals. They should be sumptuous, savory and slow.

Top it off with some golf or some sex with the tipsy missus and you’ve got all the ingredients for a really great day.

I mention all this here because I want to confess that my insistence on eating well is leading me to sinful behavior —  well, behavior more sinful than the obvious slothful gluttony.

I’m fibbing to church folks.

It’s because I’m doing so many speaking engagements and they always include a meal. The food is rarely up to my refined standards.

I mean, just try and find a church cafeteria that serves an ’07 Chateau St. Jean Merlot, anything even a step above the sacramental swill.

But the people are so nice I’d feel sheepish saying, “Your chicken has the consistency of a Bridgestone farm tractor tire and the sauce tastes like something scraped from the tread. It’s a good thing people come here for soulful salvation because anyone here for a satisfying meal hasn’t got a prayer.”

It would be the height of rudeness.

So what I do is usually have some salad and say I’d previously agreed to take my mother to Hoss’s for dinner. Then I stop at one of the 20 great restaurants I passed on the way and have an agreeable meal at the bar.

Given all that, it’s obvious I’m the kind of guy who’s fascinated by the tradition of the condemned man’s last meal. After decades of prison food, the last meal might make it all worth while.

Yes, I’m such a cheerful optimist I can find a silver lining even on death row.

Do even a little research and you’ll see the menu reflects the entire spectrum of the American palette. There’s steak, king crab, ice cream, KFC, White Castle sliders, apple sauce — you name it.

Me, I’d probably go with fresh lobster tails, so if I’m ever going to get caught killing anyone I’m driving him at gun point to Maine first.

There’s even some doomed to die who’ve ordered vegetarian options, and you have to be a really committed to healthy living to have that be your last meal before your scheduled sit-down with Ol’ Sparky.

It’s certainly not what racist murderer Lawrence Russell Brewer was thinking. He requested a last meal that included two chicken-fried steaks with gravy, a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger, a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and jalapeños, a bowl of fried okra, a pound of barbecue beef, three fajitas, a meat lover’s pizza, a pint of Blue Bell ice cream and some peanut butter fudge.

Incredibly, his Texas jailers delivered the meal just as requested and were understandably furious when he said he wasn’t hungry.

It was convenient for all that they already felt like killing him anyway and they were all in Texas.

It’s a funny story and would be funnier if you didn’t know he was convicted in the 1998 dragging death of a black man. He’s hungry in Hell, for sure, right now.

On the other end of the spectrum is the request of Odell Barnes, 31, who was convicted and executed on evidence so flimsy that he remains a poster boy for the unjust application of the death sentence in America. He was in March 2000 executed in — where else? — Texas.

What did he want the warden to provide for his last meal?

“Justice, equality and world peace.”

As much as I admire the sentiment, I’d have to stick with the lobster tails.

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