Friday, August 26, 2016

Drawing cheer from the pain and suffering of vapid morons (from '14)

 I was having a bad day. No one was returning my calls. The previous day’s sales were less than anticipated. Uncharacteristic hopelessness seemed to surround me.

I’m not ashamed of that. It happens.

But I am ashamed of what spurred me to depart my Friday funk.

It wasn’t the encouragement of loved ones. It wasn’t a happy song. It wasn’t prayer.

No, I saw three idiots nearly get their heads blown off working on a disabled car in the parking lot out behind my office. I saw the whole thing from my second story window.

It warmed my heart even as it was super-heating their faces.

It was John, my troubled apartment neighbor up here above The Pond. His 1994 Bronco has been an idle eyesore for a couple of years now. It has one flat tire and last week it leaked oil all over the parking lot. Dave, the bar and building owner, has told him he has to get it the hell out of there.

So on that drizzly day John and what amounts to his braintrust were huddled under the hood looking like they were giving the engine a pep talk.

And each was smoking a cigarette.

Now, I know acting U.S. Surgeon General Boris D. Lushniak frowns on the practice even when the smoker is far from potentially lethal combustibles.

I’ve never seen competent mechanics smoke around open fuel injectors, but who am I to judge? Maybe dribbled piston ash is some kind of home remedy they read on the web, that reliable site for shady solutions for people too cheap to pay for expertise.

What I do know is only a moron would begin splashing gasoline from a five-gallon jug onto an exposed and firing engine with lit cigarettes dangling from their lips. But that’s what happened next. Without the precision of a funnel, they began pouring gas into what was for them an elusive target. The fuel was going all over the running engine.

I decided to text Dave downstairs at the bar: “Fear not the loud explosion you’re about to hear out back. It’s just John trying to repair his vehicle and instead blowing it and himself to smithereens.”

Dave’s reply: “There is a God.”

The detonation occurred the instant after I looked up from my phone and it was a beauty.

It looked like one of those old news reel films of some uninhabited Pacific atoll being incinerated in a nuclear test blast.

The explosion caused an impromptu Three Stooges skit to break out right there next to the bar dumpster. They each put their hands to their faces and began bouncing into one another. The Bronco engine was fully engulfed.

And it was all hilarious. I roared with laughter. It felt wonderful.

It really brightened my day — and not just from the explosive flash of gasoline being ignited.

On later reflection, I realized the many ways in which I’d failed my fellow man.

First, I should have gone out there and asked if there was anything I could do to help. It would have at least been encouraging and would have let them know we’re all in this together.

Second, I should have said something about the longterm hazards of smoking. I could have told them The Centers for Disease Control reports that 480,000 deaths occur each year from smoking tobacco products — and that includes second hand smoke inflicted on otherwise innocents..

I certainly should have stepped in and said something about how potentially dangerous it is to have a lit cigarette around gasoline fumes, although I’ve since heard that those hazards are exaggerated, a fact sure to incinerate legions more reckless idiots.

Failing all that, I should have at the very least immediately called 911 and then run outside with a fire extinguisher to be the hero for these now eyebrow-less men in their time of need. I could have set a good example for how any civic-minded citizen should react in an emergency.

Of course, I forgive myself for those human failings. As I said, I was having a bad day.

But if there’s one vital lesson from all this to take forward, one nugget to carry along on my inexorable march through life, then it is this:

Always keep a video camera handy.

Related . . .

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The white man who broke MLB's color barrier

I’ll be taking our 10-year-old to the 12:30 Pirate game today because it’ll simultaneously allow me to achieve two things foremost to my existence: one, have fun; two, brainwash my offspring into believing the old man was once wise and nimble-minded.

It’s easy for me to do today because I’m a student of the game.

I’ll tell Lucy stories of Pirate greats Roberto Clemente, Willie Stargell and Honus Wagner and, of course, Jackie Robinson, eternally famous for breaking baseball’s color barrier.

The story of the hallowed Robinson is why I’m chagrinned I’ll be able to relate so little about forgotten Eddie Klep.

Eddie Klep was the Jackie Robinson of baseball 11 months before Jackie Robison became famous for being Jackie Robinson.

Klep broke the color barrier by being the first white to play in the Negro Leagues

It happened May 29, 1946, when he pitched seven innings for the Cleveland Buckeyes in what many sources say was an 8-6 win over the Chicago American Giants.

And that’s about the only relevant thing I know about this pale pioneer.

Sadly, the only other thing I know is — God help us — his life story was sold to Adam Sandler’s film company.

So that means, perhaps, sometime in the next 10 years we’ll see an entire movie that’ll play out like the fish-out-of-water Dexter Lake Club scene from “Animal House.”

“Can we dance wit yo’ dates?”

I read about Klep, who died in ’81 at the age of 72, in my go-to source for baseball minutia: The “On This Day in Baseball” feature that runs in wee print on the days when there’s leftover room beneath the newspaper box scores.

Fun fact for Pirate fans: It was 37 years ago today MLB commissioner Bart Giamatti permanently banned Pete Rose for betting on baseball.

I don’t think Rose should be permanently banned for gambling. I think he should be banned for having one of the worst hair cuts of any public figure for the last four decades.

Fun fact for non-sports fans: Bart Giamatti, about whom there is much to admire, is the father of actor Paul Giamatti, about whom there is much to admire (loved him in “Sideways” from ’04).

So many questions about Klep, who was born in Erie in 1918.

Robinson was mercilessly heckled with white fans — and opposing teams — making monkey sounds and screaming the n-word.

Robinson took it all and kicked historic ass.

Did anyone heckle Klep? Was he treated differently? And was he any good?

Most sources I see say he was 1-0, which percentage-wise would make him one of the all-time greatest pitchers. 

But the encyclopedic says Klep lost his only game, which percentage-wise would make him one of the all-time worst pitchers and thus a suitable candidate to start for the Bucs from ’93 through ’12.

But what about the man?

Was he trying to make a civil rights statement? Did he feel he’d done something significant? Where his fans called Klep-to-maniacs?

It is said he died of alcoholism in 1981.

What drove this man to drink?

Was it fear he’d be remembered? Or fear he’d be forgotten?

I’ll bet I know.

He had a premonition one day someone like Adam Sandler would be primarily responsible for telling his life story.

Related …

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Resolving a friend's feelings of failure

It’s not yet become frequent enough to declare it a trend, but a few of my friends are moving home to live with their mamas.

Understand, I’m not friends with any 18 year olds who see extending the summer job at the Pizza Hut as a career killer.

No, my friends are all like me, all gray and grizzled. We’ve spent our lives bouncing between prosperity and destitution. We’ve reached ages where many of our more successful counterparts are planning their retirements. 

But things aren’t working out that way for my buddies. Me, either.

I spent a couple of days last week with one of them. He’d moved home last year after living and working in Manhattan for 30 years. Then it was like he’d dropped off the grid.

Everyone was concerned because the guy’s always been lively and connected, a real cranky son of a bitch beloved for so much sass and sarcasm.

This was no mid-life crisis. There was no Corvette. No blonde. Just an evident forlorness so deep it echoed up and down the East Coast.

I by default became the point man because I’d known him the longest and lived nearest to him. His brother drove him out to spend the night hoping maybe it’d help lift him from a near year-long funk.

I know friends have counseled him to consider returning to school, to network, to take out a small business loan and start over. One urged regular church attendance.

I told him he ought to binge watch “Breaking Bad.”

As someone who’s been the recipient of so much well-meaning career advice, I hope he heeds mine.

I know my buddy is feeling defeated.

Never married, he lost his life savings in ’08, saw career opportunities dwindle, and admitted he felt like there was nothing left to look forward to.

Watching “Breaking Bad” would change all that. 

Who knows? It might even become aspirational. Walter White, with his cancer diagnosis and all, was down the dumps when he found a useful distraction.

Unfortunately for so many hapless victims in his bloody future, that distraction turned out to be Jesse Pinkman.

I understand despair and hopelessness. Avid spankers have hit bottom fewer times than I have in the past seven years.

How did I respond?

I uniformly chose to persevere and — this is key — to persevere cheerfully.

Honest, I think one of my great achievements is that through years of rejection, ridicule, failure and constant financial turmoil, I never gave into despair and let myself become a mean or moody drunk.

I, instead, wrote a book about how life can be joyful even when nothing’s going the way you grew up assured it would.

This is a notable accomplishment even if it never takes off the way I still believe it will.

At least I won’t have spent the past seven years — essential years spent raising my daughters — mired in a pessimistic mope. Imagine how different our daughters would grow up if I’d have been that kind of father.

How about my friend?

What’s he supposed to do after he learns the fate of Heisenberg?

He needs to persevere cheerfully.

He’s in a real slump, one that looks like it’ll never end.

But end it will.

He’ll find a job. He’ll still have his friends. He’ll still be nuts about the Steelers. He’ll still have opportunities to laugh each day.

A writer friend once challenged me to compose the most pessimistic line ever written. I rose, er, sank as it were, to the occasion with the following:

“Life is a series of disappointments, each one greater than the last, leading inexorably to the grave.”

Isn’t that one doozy of a downer?

Of course, it’s only true if you choose to make it so.

I choose to be cheerful.

It’s what I recommend for my friend, for anyone who finds themselves feeling distraught.

And what if I’m wrong?

I have no insights about what that'll mean for others. But I can divine what it means for me.

It means I can look forward to long nights of me on the couch at mama’s trying to explain to her things like why Walter White’s standing naked in the grocery store.

Related …

Monday, August 22, 2016

16 random thoughts on Rio Olympics/Lochte/etc.

• Does winning 51 more Olympic medals than the world’s second winningest nation mean we’ve made America great again?

• When announcers said divers were judged on size of the splash, I told daughters I’d divined a way to become the greatest one-time diver in Olympic history. “Before my dive, I’d ask them to remove all the water from the pool.” Like I said, it’d be a one-time feat.

• I forgave Ryan Lochte after about the 30th time I heard Matt Lauer blatantly prompt him to seek our forgiveness. I was, er, pissed at first because it seemed like a stain on Rio and the people of Brazil deserve better — the hosts were magnificent and did their nation a world of good. Lochte’s lies only serve as a contrast to the joyful reality. My best @8days2Amish tweet on Lochte: “I think Ryan Lochte would be found innocent if he were judged by a jury of his pee'ers, but the situation remains fluid.”

• I adore watching the Olympics and do my best to make sure my darling minions do the same. At its best the Olympics are a big middle finger to people who hate based on race and religion — and, yes, I’m aware of the inherent contradiction of not embracing people who hate.

• I entertained the kids by making up non-PC lyrics to the obscure national anthems of gold-medal winning athletes. Here’s what I sang while Kenyan marathoner Eliud Kipchoge was singing: We’re someplace in Africa! It’s very hot here! Our chief export is textiles! We stop what we’re doing every day at 4 p.m. to to tickle each other! Come visit and pet our goats!”

• My 10-year-old asked why USA was winning so many more medals than other countries. I told her, “It’s because we’re affluent enough that our youth can fritter away their lives learning to tumble, throw balls and jump when youths of poorer nations must work on farms for food or dig through garbage dumps to find essentials.” Then I told her to quit asking so many pointless questions and go separate the aluminum cans from the rest of the recyclables to help Daddy afford to buy another case of cheap domestic beer.

• Favorite Lochte headline comes from the New York Post: “Liar! Liar! Speedo’s on fire!”

•Fencing should be one of the most exciting of all the oddball Olympic sports. Instead, it is one of the least. They should make ‘em wear pirate garb and compete on planks above pools of hungry alligators.

• Having said that golf, to me, fell really flat. How come I, an avid golfer, couldn’t watch even a minute of Olympic golf, but was riveted to synchronized swimming?

• The daily news is dominated by angry, bloody faces and, happily, the Olympics are just the opposite. It proves the world is full to busting with good-hearted and appealing men and women. I hope after the closing ceremonies they all had sex with one another, conceived a bunch of children and that one day the whole happy gang of ‘em will immigrate to America.

• I’d like to know more about Keshorn Walcott, who is the Michael Phelps of Trinidad and Tobago (which is one country with two names; see link). Walcott won the bronze in javelin for TT to become the nation’s only medalist. Here’s what he said: “I praise God. I know the people have been coming down hard on the TT athletes and hopefully this will give them reason to ease up a little. I hope they keep having faith in me and know I am going to try my best each and every time. Thank you, my friends!” Guaranteed, you won’t catch Walcott peeing outside any gas stations. I hope Walcott immigrates to America soon, too.

• I guess one of the reasons I’m so forgiving of Lochte is I was just five days ago accused of acting like an immature jerk. I’d hosted a raucous little party in the corn hole room up here in the third floor penthouse of the Tin Lizzy just down the hall from my shabby little office. There was booze, loud music, scattered butts, a broken chair, etc. The next day Buck, my friend/landlord/chief inebriator here in Youngstown posted an angry note on my door: “Always clean up after yourself. That’s rule No. 1!” Honest, I thought I had cleaned up. Lesson: Buck ought to be glad he’s nothing more than my landlord and Lochte ought to be glad Buck’s not running the USOC.

• I’d like to train Val to get into bed each night by running down the hallway and doing Fosbury flop right on top of me like all the high jumpers do. 

• How did a nation renown for topless beaches wind up with BRA as the first syllable of its name?

• The Kenyan national anthem is, “O, God, of all creation.” The actual lyrics are: “Oh God of all creation! Bless this our land and nation! Justice be our shield and defender! May we dwell in unity! Peace and liberty! Plenty be found within our borders!”

• Guaranteed, Kenyan tourism will increase when they adapt their anthem to my lyrics.

Related …

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Proper prayer posture (from '12)

I was in the fetal position in bed praying that God doesn’t discount the prayers of guys too lazy to get down on their knees to worship.

I mostly pray in bed with my fingers crossed like they taught in Sunday school. But unlike Sunday school, I’m naked and usually cuddled up against my wife, not at all what they teach in Sunday school, at least in the boring ones I attended.

My most traditional Christian prayer posture is at the bedside of my daughters. I try and pray with them every night when I’m not out in the bar getting all gooned up with my buddies.

I cherish those moments -- and I mean the ones with my daughters (and, yeah, the ones with the guys, too).

With the daughters, I think if God grades prayers he’d give mine an A.

Knees on the floor, head bowed, hands folded, prayers concise -- I’m talking as much to the daughters as I am the Lord. I ask God to help the sick, the lonely and the sad. Really, I don’t expect God is going to do any of that stuff so I want the girls to know it would be nice if they pitched in and sort of did what we all wish He would.

I never really thought much about prayer posture until about five years ago when I remember seeing a pictorial study of President George W. Bush absorbed in prayer. Watching him in prayer was like watching a magician try to bend spoons with his mind.

He looked deadly sincere, like if he furrowed his brow deep enough God was going to stop watching Tim Tebow play football and say, “Holy cow! George Bush has something really important to say!”

The Bush presidency really challenged my faith. I always wondered what he was praying for.

I can’t imagine he prayed he’d preside over a failed presidency and global condemnation over his unholy Iraq war and a wrecked economy.

The only prayer of his I can imagine God possibly answered in the affirmative was maybe, “Dear Lord, please let one of my daughters grow up to be a Today Show correspondent.”

At least that’s working out.

The Muslims are fierce prayers. Five times a day they tilt toward Mecca and assume postures fitness crazed Americans do only in yoga class when they want to achieve a tight fanny.

Hearing children pray is a delight. My all-time favorite was when our youngest was 4. It was the evening before Easter and I said a very moving prayer about about the resurrection. 

After my amen, the little one chimed in, “And God bless the Easter Bunny and God bless yourself,” a perfect mingling of the sacred and the secular.

I’ve said a lot of prayers with my fingers gripping a steering wheel, and I used to say a lot of prayers in lecture halls holding, not a Bible, but a No. 2 pencil. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve even said prayers while bent over 6-foot par putts.

God’s been about 50-50 on granting the latter.

To try and gain some insight on proper prayer posture, I engaged the source men and women of faith reach for whenever they seek spiritual guidance.

Yep, I Googled it.

The Biblical Research Institute cites chapters and verses where the Bible tells how holy folks prayed.

It cites examples of men and women communing with God while kneeling, standing, sitting, lying down on a bed (yes!), or prostrate on the ground with their noses in the dirt.

It says there is not one recommended prayer posture: “Any attempt to select one as superior and indispensable over the others lacks biblical support.”

I guess that means Tebowing is okay, too.

Faith in this world of woe is often elusive. I spoke with two people this week who are questioning their faith.

I encouraged them to struggle through their doubt and believe.

I’m perfectly happy deadening the logical part of my brain in favor of thinking there is a God who loves us and wants us to love one another.

All we can do is pray our prayers have even a prayer of being heard.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Today I tried to break Usain Bolt's record

The Olympics will be more satisfying when each event includes a participating representative from the core viewing demographic.

I came to this conclusion after basking in the greatness of Trayvon Bromell.


He’s the 21-year-old Waco, Texas, sprinter who finished dead last in the Olympics 100 meter dash. Shameful, right?

Wrong. He was just 0.25 seconds behind the glorious Usain Bolt.

And Bromell was last.

It would add useful perspective if every race in every event included someone from the target audience, some beer-bellied, under-motivated middle-aged cigar-smoking lout.

Someone like me!

I vowed to see how long it would take me to run 100 meters. First, here’s a tale of the tape between me and the world’s fastest man:
Usain Bolt  Me
Age               29 53   

Height           6-5 5-8 

Weight           207 lbs. 190 lbs.

Overcame  born w/scoliosis         1981-2004

Net worth       $50 million     owns some nice golf clubs

Bolt ran the Rio 100 in 9.81, microscopically slower than his 2009 world record of 9.58. 

I’m not even sure my 2007 Saturn Vue could go 100 meters in 9.81 seconds.

This, of course, is a moot point because the car sometimes stubbornly doesn’t move even an inch. It’s just beat to hell.

So am I!

Really, I was worried the only way I could run a complete 100 meters was if someone sicced a big mean dog on me. Plus, I was fearful I might pull a muscle, trip, get distracted by a butterfly or I might start feeling like I was some kind of idiot.

The latter fear stemming from an insinuation by my 10-year-old daughter who hinted I was acting like I was some kind of idiot.

I’d asked her if she wanted to be my official timekeeper.

“Why would I want to do that?” she asked.

Because, I said, it might be historic. You might get to see your old man set a new world record.

She rolled her eyes in wild exasperation, a move she learned from her mama.

“You’re not going to set any records!”

How did she know? I’ve never tried to run 100 meters before. What if sprinting was the prodigal talent that’s been evading me my entire life?

“53-year-old blogger beats Bolt!” would be a great story, one that would give the whole grumpy world a giddy lift. 

There’d be skeptics, sure. But I’d have had a witness. Lucy’s honest as all get out.

Alas, it was not to be.

So I was out there at the Greater Latrobe High School track all by myself at dawn (above).

Bolt’s been training since he was 10.

I took one stroll around the track.

I also differed from your typical Olympic sprinter in our respective starting positions.

Olympic sprinters bend their taut frames down into coiled 4-point stances.

I stood there upright like I was waiting for a bus. I realized I may have sacrificed some time, but I was fearful if I bent over I might not get back up.

I took three deep breaths then … Ready … Set …


I have to say I was pretty good. Running fast is very fun for human beings of any age.

I’ll link below about the last time I did it. The incentive then was a round of free drinks from my Point Park University students.

The incentive today was much greater: international and eternal sporting glory!

I didn’t pull any muscles, trip or give up. In fact, I kicked through the finish line.

Time: 25.81 seconds (Bolt ran the 200 meter in 19.78).

On my way up the hill, sweaty and out of breath, I coincidentally saw Lucy’s elementary school librarian.

And she saw me!

It added useful credence to my story when I went home and told a disbelieving Lucy I’d run the 100 meter dash in 9.57 seconds.

A new world record!

I told Lucy to ask Mrs. G. if she saw me. Mrs. G. — she’s honest, too — will confirm, yes, she did.

I may have finished the 100 meter dash, but I gave up being honest about 50 years ago.

Despite disparities in our fame and net worth, I stubbornly believe it’s still better to be quick on your feet than swift in your shoes.

Related …