Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Will eternity seem like an eternity?


Today’s topic is eternity.

Because I understand our time is short, I promise I’ll try and keep it snappy.

I find myself wondering more and more about eternity and the idea of endless time.

It’s unfathomable.

The closest I come to relating is Mr. Wylie’s Econ 101 back at Ohio University. It was from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and it seemed to take forever, especially the last 30 minutes when I was in a panic to get to the bars before anything fun happened without me. I remember staring at the clock, oblivious to old Wylie’s blahbedy-blahbedy-blahhing about Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand.

He didn’t care we had things to do. I remember how his reciprocal obliviousness always made me want to give him the Invisible Finger.

So that’s an example of when 30 slim minutes seemed like an eternity.

What will we do if eternity ever starts to seem like an eternity? 

I’m starting to think even in heaven I’ll get bored.

For our purposes, let’s stipulate in eternity we’ll still need to deal with some common units of time like days and years.

And, yes, let’s assume me, you and everyone else who reads my blog are bound for heaven. To assume otherwise would be depressing and would require the kind of substantive content changes that would ruin all the fun of producing and reading this blog.

I think what sent me down this eternal path was seeing a young adult book called, “Please Bury Me in the Library,” by J. Patrick Lewis. I find the title utterly charming.

I’ve always wished I had more time to read. In eternity, you’ll have all the time the time in the world to read.

Well, all the time in the afterworld.

But will I one day run out of good books? Remember, eternity is forever. The printed word’s only been around for about 2,500 years. That’s roughly the age of a 6-page book found in a Bulgarian tomb. It’s so ancient, scholars have been unable to translate a single word.

I have a hunch they’ll one day declare it’s a book of old Far Side cartoons.

But in heaven you could read every book ever produced — even all the really crappy ones — in the blink of an eternal eye. 

What would you do after you’ve run out of books?

I’d like to play golf in heaven, but would that ruin golf? The more you golf, the better you’re bound to get. What if, say, I played every single day. Certainly, I’d improve. Would excelling at golf ruin playing golf?

I think it might.

What else would you like to do for eternity?

You’d have to imagine even in heaven there’d be restrictions on some pastimes the Biblical honchos have long deemed sinful. Maybe you could get a pass and go to hell to enjoy those forbidden recreations, sort of like the way people on Earth do in Las Vegas.

But customs on the return trip would be a real bitch, for sure.

You know one thing I’d like to do in heaven that most people never dream of?

In heaven, I’d like to sleep. Really sleep.

For like 250 billion years.

Really, I think sleep is going to be a big part of managing eternity. 

Because all the other things you do — games, conversation, dining — will eventually grow tedious. Same goes for family togetherness.

My family and I will soon embark on a five-day jaunt full of fun activities. We’ll be rafting, hiking, zip lining, kayaking, etc. Coincidentally, we’ll be doing this in West Virginia, the state with the motto: “Almost Heaven.”

Guaranteed, as much fun as we’re bound to have together we’ll all be eager after just five days to get home and find ways to put a little distance between one another.

Sleeping again in our own beds will be, yes, heavenly.

I have to think in heaven hitting the snooze alarm will buy you another 10,000 years of shut-eye.

I’d like to know what you think about the concept of eternity.

You don’t have to come up with an answer right away.

Take your time.

Take it while time still seems something indescribably precious. 



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Sunday, May 24, 2015

RRS: Q: War: What is it good for? A: War movies!


I see AMC is running “Saving Private Ryan” four times tomorrow, which I guess makes it to war movies what “SlapShot!” is to hockey flicks: the one best representative of the genre. Either way, I’ll be in full war movie overload by tomorrow at this time. I hate war, but I love war movies. This is from 2013.

Happy Memorial Day! Remember to say a prayer for those who gave all.



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 stalk. 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.



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Friday, May 22, 2015

The Boss of the Bee: Me again as Word Master



The nearest exit was blocked by three 8-year-old girls who at the moment were all bawling their eyes out.

Exit no. 2 was crowded with chairs, children and the folding table packed with all the gift baskets.

That meant the least obstructed way out was to leap straight off the stage and dash down the middle aisle of the Greensburg Salem Middle School auditorium and just pray I could dodge the 80 or so parents and supporters who would, I was certain, descend en masse and hold me until the cops showed up.

It was the 9th annual Greensburg Rotary Spelling Bee. I was again word master and the situation was on the verge of unraveling.

We were down to just two students — two darling girls — and neither could spell the two words in a row required to declare a victor.

The first girl would correctly spell mesa, but then flub xylophone. Then the next girl would nail pigeon, but stumble over hieroglyphics.

It went on like that for 20 minutes. It looked like it might never end. The words were only getting more difficult.

Rhombus, ventriloquist, terrestrial, handkerchief  … the girls were taking turns misspelling the clinchers.

Unless you’ve been, you have no idea how nerve-wracking a competitive spelling bee among elementary children is. I’ve been to many less compelling NFL games.

The children are so precious. They’ve studied so hard. They are eager to do well.

And when they misspell aorta, it looks like theirs is going to rupture right there on stage.

This was the second year they’d asked me to be word master and it looks like the gig is mine until I show up drunk and for fun start asking the little 3rd graders to spell words like poopy or fart.

I learned last night my predecessor had been a prominent female broadcaster who fell out of favor when she gave into the temptation show off.

I’m not saying she was Diane Sawyer, but she acted like she was Diane Sawyer.

“It was unbelievable,” a judge told me. “When she told one kid to spell tsunami, she said, ‘The Japanese pronounce the word Ta-SU-ne-MAY.’ Geez, these kids don’t care about Japanese pronunciations.”

I told her that would never happen with me.

I despise psilent letters.

What did worry me was a crying kid could shatter my reserve and I’d be forced to act like a caring human being.

We know how that can lead to trouble.

See, as word master, I’m a perfect cypher. I dress nice and have a pleasant smile the whole time, but show zero emotion. I’m like “Hunger Games” emcee Caesar Flickerman only with a mood-tempering hangover.

Last year, it took me a while to achieve this facade. I remember having to force myself not to silently mouth the correct letters to the boys. Sure, I understand the necessity of being impartial, but I’ll do whatever I can to help a kid from the home team win.

I really started getting nervous when three of the girls started to bawl.

Any misstep or misspeak on my part it could lead to controversy.

But I have a precious 8-year-old girl at home. She cries, too. And when she does, my instinct is drop whatever I’m doing, pick her up in my Daddy arms and squeeze until my shirt’s soaked up all the tears.

Imagine the scandal if I did that with some other Daddy’s daughter?

Can you spell molester?

I’d be dismissed from future word master duties for reasons more felonious than a pretentious pronunciation of Ta-SU-ne-MAY.

Happily, we soon declared a winner. The runner-up failed on the word strategy and the eventual winner brought home the trophy by correctly spelling first encyclopedia then quadrilateral.

It was all very impressive.

Even more impressive, I made it though the whole night without a single mispronunciation or flub. Parents and organizers said my enunciations were flawless and I’ll be welcomed back next year.

I went home without having caused any parental dismay or scandal.

And that to me spells relief.



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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Random thoughts on Letterman, "Survivor" & my weenie ways

• When I heard there was a deadly brawl involving three Texas biker gangs I instinctively knew the man in the picture at least was safe.

• I’m happy David Letterman seems happy to be retiring. Last night’s adios Top Ten list was wonderful. I watched him when he was a morning show sensation way back in 1980. I’d never seen anything like it. And I was in college when he was revolutionary. We’d never miss it. He was as influential to our juvenile humor as “Mad” magazine had once been. The vintage clips he’d been playing the last month recall his brilliance. I think over the years Dave just got professionally fatigued at his inability to beat Jay in the ratings and it was like he stopped trying. I eventually became a solid Leno viewer for reasons that have nothing to do with perceived cool or fealty to the hip coastal critics. Jay made me laugh more.

• If those Letterman thoughts leave you thinking I’m a weenie, well, join the club. I was deemed “weenie” more times last night than the guy who drives the Oscar Meyer-mobile. Why? Last night, I skipped a big cigar smoker at DiSalvo’s Station in favor of staying in to watch the “Survivor” finale. I’ll bet I received 20 texts disparaging my taste, my intellect and my manhood. It was almost as bad as the time I ducked out on a drunken weekend in Athens, Ohio, to slink home to watch “The Muppet’s Most Wanted” movie with my family.

• My friends think I spend too much time with my family. My family thinks I spend too much time with cigar-smoking louts. I’m at a point in my life where every decision I make is bound to make at least half of the people who know and love me think I’m a perfect jackass. 

• I wonder if it bothers virtuoso banjo players that to most Americans the most accomplished banjo players in America are named Steve Martin and Kermit The Frog.

• I don’t know why I feel compelled to be honest with my buddies when I’m doing something I know will earn their disdain. None of them would have known if I’d have said I was skipping the monthly debauch to speak to the International Gay Bowlers Organization. At least I don’t think any of them would have known. Maybe some of them are secretly afraid to come out and publicly admit they bowl. 

• In fact, the IGBO is meeting in Pittsburgh Nov. 10-16 and I have sent them a proposal about addressing their group. I recently shelled out $250 to partner with Visit Pittsburgh, the city’s tourism bureau, to take advantage of the marketing muscle behind all the conventions that come to this popular destination. I attended an introductory gathering Tuesday and was very pleased by the warmth of the informative greeting. The people are great, plus now I have access to calendars and contacts of every convention coming to town. It promises to be very beneficial.

• Still, I’m having trouble believing I’ll ever be successful as a public speaker until my mustache makes up its mind what color it wants to be. Many men my age have what is known as a salt ’n’ pepper mustache. I do, too. But their’s look good because the salt and pepper is all mixed up in one shaker. Mine is salt on one side, pepper on the other — two shakers on opposite ends of the table. I have to think it’s very distracting for anyone trying to suss out what I have to say in a public forum.

• I’m doing a random list today, in part, because I need to get ready for tonight when again I’ll be Word Master for the Greensburg Rotary’s Ninth Annual Spelling Bee at Greensburg Salem Middle School. It’s a role I assumed for last year’s bee, which nearly ended in controversy when a student incorrectly spelled the word “Pennsylvania.” How does a Pennsylvanian misspell Pennsylvania? He forgets to start with “capital P.” Luckily, the judges deemed the word’s inclusion too sneaky and gave the kid another chance. But having a role — even a non-judging one — in a spelling bee is nerve-wracking. If you can’t make it to the school tonight, I advise you to check out the excellent 2006 movie, “Akeelah and the Bee.” It is to spelling bee movies what “Rocky” is to boxing flicks. You’ll love it.

• Other bona fide groups coming to Pittsburgh for conventions in the next few months include: the American Guild of Organists, the Barbershop Harmony Society, the American Massage Therapy Association, the National Association of Black Accountants, and The Amalgamated Association of Blonde Blind Bloggers.

• I made that last one up.

• So how was “Survivor?” It was outstanding. If everybody in America was as good as their jobs as host Jeff Probst is as his, the nation would be a juggernaut. Still, I like to reflect how the show is the exact same age as our oldest daughter, Josie, who will be 15 in September. The physical and cerebral changes in J-Ro are stunning. Yet, Jeff Probst hasn’t changed even a little bit. Neither have any of his lines.

• Wanna know what you’re playing for?

• Frontrunner for @8Days2Amish Tweet of the Month: “Too many people who mistakenly believe they have the world on a string realize too late what they’re actually holding is a lit fuse.”

• If I were less concerned about your time and how busy you are, I would include the following lines at the bottom of each and every post: Thank you. You taking the time to read and, I hope, enjoy my blog means the world me. I hope you’ll continue and refer it to friends whenever it’s worthy.

• I’ve had some people say I should do more of these round-ups because it would make blogging so much easier. But who said it ought to be easy? There’d be no point in blogging for free if you didn’t at least aspire to greatness every single time you sat down to type. Soothing mediocrity is our most addictive painkiller.

• Even if I never accrue a single speaking engagement through my Visit Pittsburgh partnership, I’ll guarantee you this: I’ll make back the $250 in free drinks and hors d’oeuvres in six months flat.



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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Brushes with celebs & why I'm #TooCoolToSelfie

(911 words)

I texted five of my NYC buddies with news I was sure would make them envious. I was drinking at Nadine’s on Pittsburgh’s South Side with Earl.

Nadine’s is maybe my favorite bar in my favorite city and Earl’s my favorite bartender. He’s one of those great big guys who can be described with words that seem to conflict.

Earl is gruff. Earl is jolly.

Earl’s like Santa would be if Santa ever felt like being sarcastic.

So to have him greet me as warmly as he did really made my day. I hadn’t stopped in for about six months, the last time to give him a copy of my book. I had a funny feeling he’d like it.

He did. A lot. He couldn’t have been more effusive.

“I keep passing it around between me and four of my buddies,” he said. “It’s hilarious. My one buddy says next time we’re in Ligonier we’re going to have to get together and spend an afternoon drinking with you.”

I told him that would be quite a feat because I live in Latrobe and five different Latrobe bars would have to burn to the ground before I felt like driving to Ligonier for a good brain soaking.

But he made a big deal of me in front of the whole bar. It felt great.

It was the kind of thing most people today would have commemorated with a viral selfie blast to the social media world.

Not me. And certainly not Earl.

Guys like us wouldn’t dream of ruining a perfectly good human moment with technological distractions.

Guys like us are too cool to selfie.

I thought about it on the drive home and realized just how much I could raise my profile if I wasn’t #TooCoolToSelfie.

Just think of the hits I’d have gotten had I selfied my way through what was by all standards an amazing day to be me.

It started at the election booth at Baggaley Elementary school. Our voluptuous county commissioner candidate Gina Cerilli was there. She said, “Aren’t you the guy who wrote that great blog post about me?”

I told her I was.

“Well, it’s because of that post I’m sure I’ll finish today with the most votes of any Democratic candidate.”

In fact, she did.

She asked if she could give me a hug, but would I mind if she took a quick moment to change into the swimsuit she wore when as Miss Pennsylvania she finished in the top 10 of the Miss USA contest?

“If that makes you more comfortable, go right ahead,” I said agreeably.

In a moment, she emerged in her swimsuit. Traffic along State Route 982 screeched to a halt. She gave me a big hug.

And, guys, in case you’ve ever wondered, she is very soft.

“Don’t you want a picture?” she asked.

I told her, no, the memory would suffice. I was #TooCoolToSelfie.

I told Arnold Palmer about it. It’s not something I brag about, but a few years ago Palmer asked me to stop by the office every morning to discuss the daily news with him. He said it helps him sort out his thoughts.

As one of the most photographed people on the planet, he has a unique insight into the selfie world.

“Well,” he said, “I never like to refuse a fan so I usually don’t mind.”

I told him him he was hopelessly old-fashioned. I rose to leave and he asked, as he always does, if he could snap a picture of the two of us talking to post on www.ArnoldPalmer.com.

I told him, as I always do, sorry Arnold.

I’m #TooCoolToSelfie.

“I knew you’d say that,” he said. “Same time tomorrow?”

Yes, Arnold. Same time tomorrow.

On the way to Pittsburgh, I saved an old widow’s cat from a 100-foot oak; I foiled a bank robbery and helped deliver triplets in the parking lot of the Murrysville Burger King. 

What can I say? I kept hitting all the red lights so I had the time.

Do I have any proof of these heroics?
None.

I’m #TooCoolToSelfie.

It’s always been a dream of mine to meet The Rolling Stones.

What surprised me was meeting me has always been a dream of theirs!

The boys were in town for a site check for their June 23rd Heinz Field concert. How’d they know I was going to be in the city the same day?

Letterman told them.

#TooCoolToSelfie.

So the summer season is already off to a roaring start and it’s not even Memorial Day.

It promises to be an exciting few months. Will and Kate have booked me to babysit while they’re in the Caribbean, there’s golf with Jeter, dance lessons with Elin, and ping pong with the pope.

Not Pope Francis. The retired one. Pope whats-his-name.

Pope Francis and I had a falling out last year when I told him his interpretations of The Book of of Revelations were too literal.

Hey, if The Pope doesn’t want to hear my opinions on Biblical prophesy then The Pope shouldn’t ask.

I’ll try and keep you all informed. I know people are into all that celebrity stuff, but I prefer writing about things like the yearly lawn mowing contest between Paul and myself, if the ability to play a harp helps get you into heaven and, of course, stink bugs.

That’s what’s important to me.

And I’m just #TooCoolToSelfie.



Note: Follow my new Twitter account @TooCoolToSelfie!


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Monday, May 18, 2015

On "Mad Men," drinkin' & the Swingin' '60s


Anyone who endeavors to conclude a landmark television series with even a splash of panache ought to send a gift basket to David Chase.

It’s because of Chase, creator of “The Sopranos,” that the bar is forever set so low on shows like “Mad Men.”

People knew going in that the show would be satisfying as long as it was better than the ending for “The Sopranos.”

Heck, we knew that as long as it provided ANY ending.

And I loved this ending.

Everyone was happy!

Well, not Betty. But she was always a bit of a wet blanket.

I don’t know why. It couldn’t have been because she suffered from any unreasonable pressure to remain sober.

In fact, nobody did.

None of the history lessons ever informed me that sobriety was such a ‘60s afterthought. Sure, I knew most of the young people were experimenting with altered realities on the free love college campuses.

And where’s a reliable time machine when you need one?

I just didn’t know the stuffed shirts against whom they were rebelling were all gooned up, too.

And doesn’t that explain a lot about the history of the ‘60s!

I’ve always contended they made a mistake when they called the Jon Hamm character Don Draper.

He should have been Don Drinker.

Norm on “Cheers” drank less.

It took me until late last year to get on the “Mad Men” wagon. Val and I’d checked out some of the early episodes, but I found something off-putting about each of the characters. Thus, they failed my companionship test which is: would I want to sit down and spend an hour eating lunch with any of them?

If the answer is no, then why would I want to watch them going about their mean little lives?

I didn’t like Peggy (too driven); I didn’t like Don (too uptight); I didn’t like Betty (I suspected she’s the reason Don’s uptight). I didn’t like Bert (too averse to common footwear); I didn’t like Joan (I don’t like being dominated by boobs); and I didn’t like Pete (too much like Major Frank Burns).

Sure, Roger was hilarious and seemed incapable of drawing even a single sober breath. But I’m already friends with about three dozen guys just like that. Three of them, in fact, are already named Roger and the redundancy seemed unnecessary.

The show finally caught my interest about a year ago when I’d wake up at 6 a.m. on Sunday mornings when AMC was running 3-hour chunks of it. I decided to settle in.

It’s exquisitely shot. Nothing is amiss. The sets were museum quality. And I began to appreciate how the flaws in the characters propelled the stories.

Plus, I adored how they wove our tumultuous history into every story line.

The 1960s in America were as lethal and chaotic as the 1860s, a trend which has me hoping I expire sometime before Dec. 31, 2059.

It’s a decade in which the ultra-liberal Lyndon B. Johnson won the presidency by a landslide, only to be hounded from office four years later in an landslide presided over by the ultra-conservative Richard M. Nixon.

What the hell was going on?

Well, if you watched “Mad Men” you realized a lot of hell was going on.

Lawrence of Arabia, British Beatlemania, Selma, birth control, Ho Chi Mihn, Richard Nixon back again, moon shot, Woodstock, JFK blown away …

We didn’t start the fire.

Maybe Sterling Cooper Draper & Pryce did.

I found the finale’s conclusion euphoric and for a show that so often plumbed the depths of despair, emphatically hopeful.

It straddled the line between parody and homage, a fitting stance for a triumphant show that so elegantly danced that line throughout an epoch that pirouetted between the waltz and The Funky Chicken.

And that’s as good a place as any for me to wrap it up.

I hope you found the ending satisfying.

Either way, I think I’ll send David Chase a basket of onion rings for setting the bar so low.


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