Friday, October 20, 2017

Opioid scourge in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood


It was 4:45 yesterday afternoon. I was home and Val could sense I was beginning to feel anxious. I had somewhere I had to be.

Was I late for Happy Hour?

No. I was late for prayer.

In some ways I was late for an Unhappy Hour. 

I’d accepted an invitation to attend a prayer service in recognition of the opioid abuse crisis that’s poisoning all America. It’s happening in big cities and small. And it’s happening right here in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Fred Rogers was born here in Latrobe in 1928 and devoted much of his 73 years to ensuring the well-being of his beloved hometown. He did this while simultaneously doing the exact same thing for the entire planet.

The Greater Latrobe Ministerial Association chose to host the service under the bright autumnal sunshine in the Fred Rogers Memorial Park under the smiling gaze of Fred’s statue.

It was appropriate for reasons I suspect I alone knew.

See, I know a secret about Fred Rogers, one I’ve been reluctant to share since, oh, about 1994, when I was paid to share it with 6 million strangers.

Fred Rogers did time in rehab. 

That was the story I wrote for National Enquirer.

I remember in vivid detail how I secured the facts. I’d been sipping beers with Paul and Jimmy Plazza, the late owner of The Lantern, a popular Latrobe tavern that once sat on the spot that’s now the senior living facility where my dear mother spent her last year.

The bar phone rang. It was Val calling to say my Enquirer editor called with an assignment about Saint Fred. I was instantly dismayed. I correctly figured it would be something unflattering which my revealing would make me a pariah among certain elements of Latrobe society.

As you’re about to learn, none of those elements were right then drinking hootch in The Lantern.

I told Paul. Sitting and overhearing about four stools down was Dickie Kemp. He died a few weeks ago, relatively young — I don’t think he was 60 — of natural causes after many years of indulging abundant vices. We all liked Dickie very much.

He heard the name Fred Rogers and piped right up: “Fred Rogers? I was just in rehab with his son. I met Fred when he’d come to visit. Great guy. What’s the story about?”

I pulled a fifty out of my wallet and told Dickie to slide on down. I’d be buying all night. Just like that, I had my “A” source. I just sat and listened to him tell me his story of how he was kicking one addiction while I was abetting another.

The thrust of the story was how the scourge of drugs can happen to even the most loving of parents. But the best part was how Fred, an ordained Presbyterian minister, set up an impromptu ministry right there in the rehab rec yard.

“When we saw him, everyone started cracking up and mocking him. A lot of these guys were hard core junkies,” Dickie said. “But one-by-one, every one of these low lifes went up to him and started telling him their stories. And one-by-one, they all started bawlin'. He just had so much compassion. He was saving lives.”

Did you see Sunday's “60 Minutes” report? I can’t remember being more appalled by a news story.

Most of the news that appalls is instigated by some low life. What’s happening with Congress, the DEA and their drug distributor overlords is being conducted by scores of people with respectable pedigrees. They’re educated, attend church, serve on boards of prestigious charitable organizations.

And they’ve sold their souls to medicate ours.

Are we all doomed to live in an age when the low lifes are the leaders?

That evident greed so tips the scales over common humanity makes me for the first time ever proud to be poor.

My pastor told me she was recently summoned to the hospital to inform three young children their 29-year-old mother had died. The kids will be raised by their grandparents. Their father ODd years ago.

An attending friend told me he knew of the deaths of six classmates in the last few months. He’s 38.

Every single day the local obituaries feature another smiling face of someone too young to die.

This is Latrobe, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the town we’ve chosen to raise our children.

So what do I hope to accomplish? I don’t know, but I hope prayer helps.

I do know it’s all hands on deck.

There were about 30 people there Thursday. I hope double that are there for the next one Dec. 14 at Latrobe Presbyterian Church.

I fear a day is approaching when the dead outnumber those still left to care.


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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

In a hurry to relax? Go to Bedford Springs


Arnold Palmer once flew his $23 million Citation X private jet from the Arnold Palmer airport in Latrobe 58 miles east to play golf at Bedford Springs Resort. The jet is capable of flying 700 mph so the entire flight took just 12 minutes.

Some may cringe at the aerial extravagance.

Nonsense.

When you have your heart set on going to Bedford Springs, you want to get there as fast as possible.

We just spent the weekend there — we departed grudgingly — and now I’m trying to divine a way that’ll return us PDQ.

I’m thinking maybe massive medieval catapult. If we refine the trajectory just right we’ll be able to safely splash land in the pamper pool overlooking the very golf course Palmer was in such a hurry to play.

It’s an odd paradox that all this haste and commotion is over getting to a place that’s perfectly relaxing. And it’s not like Bedford Springs, an Omni Hotels property, is going anywhere anytime soon.

It’s been here in Bedford (central Pennsylvania, 2 1/2 hours from D.C.) for almost as long as there’s been a U.S.A. The property known for its healing waters became a resort in 1796. It has now for 221 years survived both glories and degradations to thrive as one of America’s most splendid resorts. 

In these divisive times of so much exasperation, tumult and dismay, it settles the soul to be reminded there’s an America that’s endured it all before and still defiantly thrives.

Part of that star-spangled story is told at Bedford Springs. 

It starts when you check in at the front desk. On the wall is a lushly stitched and a one-of-its kind, 39-star flag from 1865. History buffs will note there were only 36 states in 1865. The additional stars were affixed after the flag’s unknown creator became convinced it would soon happen. In fact, in 1867, America added four new states (Colorado, Nebraska, North and South Dakota) so the 39-star flag is utterly unique.

Some key dates and firsts:

• 1819 — Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd president, checks in for several healing weeks. He is the first of 12 future, current or former presidents who seek solace at Bedford Springs. These include Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Dwight Eisenhower, Andrew Jackson, James Polk and James Buchanan who spent 40 summers in Bedford and during his time in office used it as the summer White House.

• 1858 — Buchanan in the hotel lobby receives the very first trans-Atlantic cable. It’s a formal sort of howdy from Queen Victoria.

• 1895    One of the first golf courses in America is laid out by Spencer Oldham at Bedford Springs. It would eventually be updated in later years both by renown course architects A.W. Tillinghast and Donald Ross. If you’re unfamiliar with the names, having this pedigreed trio work on your golf course would be like having John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison collaborate on a birthday song written just for you.

• 1905 — One of the nation’s first indoor pools is unveiled at Bedford Springs, complete with a mineral water-fed swimming pool, solarium and hydrotherapy rooms.

• 1941–1943 —  The U.S. Navy occupies the resort, using it as a training facility for radio operators.

• 1943–1945  — Japanese diplomats captured in Germany during WWII are housed at the resort.

• 1986 — The property closes and falls into disrepair

1998 — The property is purchased and plans for a massive and lavish $120 million refurbishing are initiated

• Right now — There are reasonable priced getaway packages at Omni Bedford Springs. There’s golf, spa treatments, hiking, s’mores by the outdoor fire pit and fine dining in the hallmark 1796 dining room.

Much of this documented history is painstakingly preserved under glass in the lobbies and hallways. An other, much more quirky history is preserved on panes.

Look closely on the lobby glass and you’ll see scrawled evidence of matrimonial fidelity from more than 100 years ago. As today, tasteful brides-to-be from the 19th century flocked to Bedford for their nuptials. 

One from 1888 was named Millie Schwartzfelder. All that is known about Millie is she was a suspicious bride. She doubted the authenticity of her diamond wedding ring. 

How do we know?  Because she is one of maybe a dozen brides from that era who “trued” their diamonds to see if they were authentic enough to cut glass. The brides — vandals, really — etched their names in the ghostly glass.

The practice, I guess, fell out of favor when doubting brides were given the option of instead of signing their names on pre-nuptial agreements. 

I’m glad you won’t find my wife’s name on any of the resort glass. We’d spent our 21st wedding anniversary there and had a wonderful time.

Everyone does.

Bedford Springs is the place to go if you’re in a real hurry to really relax.



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Friday, October 13, 2017

Echoes of loss: Missing Mom & Tom Petty


The admission will cause some to label me a real SOB, but I’m having trouble deciding who I’m missing more, my Mom or Tom Petty.

Mom, 84, died July 7. Petty, 66, died too soon.

Petty wrote “The Waiting,” “Refugee” and “Free Fallin’.”

Mom wrote grocery lists with detailed brand instructions involving feminine hygiene products.

I’m missing Mom more than I thought I would. I thought I’d feel relief that her demise was tidy and involved none of the negative hypotheticals I’d indulged the last years as her mind bit-by-bit began floating away. 

I miss laughing with her even as toward the end her punch lines were unintentional. Remember, her last best joke was when they were wheeling her off the porch to the ambulance parked outside her senior living home (she’d fallen and shattered her wrist). Her neighbors asked her what was wrong.

“They’re taking me to the hospital. I’m gonna have a baby!”

I think she was joking, but who knows?

I find myself driving past her old place at odd hours. One of her favorite things to do her last year was for me to take her on long rides in the country while Broadway show tunes played on the radio.

I still sometimes make the rides, but now I’m all alone. She was right up to the end the most persistently sweet person I’ve ever known and the reason no one who’s ever met her would ever dare call me or my brother a son of a bitch.

I miss her.

But I miss Petty, too. I just didn’t see that one coming.

A friend, another steadfast Petty fan from way back, said “he’s the only artist who never even once embarrassed me with a look, a period, a statement, or song, much less an album.”

Heck, even his Christmas song is good.

SNL’s 10 p.m. show last week was from ’79 when Petty & The Heartbreakers were the musical guests. They played “Refugee” and “Don’t Do Me Like That.” I hope you caught him, all thin, snarl and sneer. 

He made looking cool so effortless. Same with his songwriting. His knack for writing compelling, catchy hits is unmatched.

How many artists have their last album (“Hypnotic Eye” ’14) be as stellar as their first four decades previous? And with zero lulls. Drop the needle on any song from any album and your pulse will begin to hum.

My favorite album? It was his least favorite.

It’s “Echo” from ’99.

I remember hearing the first notes from “Room at the Top of the World” and feeling I’d just been introduced to a new best friend. It would be there with me for the rest of my life. And it has.

It was like that with every Petty album.

He hated “Echo,” I’ve read and never played any of it in concert. You’d never know it from the often-raucous songs, but the album was for this soulful man an anthem of defeat. His marriage was ending and he was fighting a heroin addiction, the same scourge that was simultaneously killing Heartbreaker Howie Epstein.

I urge you to download the “Echo” title track. It’s an exquisite lament. Knowing its enigmatic message so pained this beloved and gentle man only adds ache to the inherent poignancy.

I like what Val said when I told her the news. “Oh, that’s too bad. He seemed like such a delightful guy.”


I like that she didn’t mention his music. Because he was truly delightful. It shone through in his songs, his videos and his funny cameos in movies like Kevin Costner’s “The Postman,” “King of the Hill,” and “The Larry Saunders Show.”


His joys, even in the face of woe, were irrepressible. I love in the “Runnin’ Down a Dream” rockumentary when he’s asked about his addictions during the “Echo” period. He in hushed tones, very serious, says how drugs can devastate lives and kill creativity. And, clearly, he means it. He’s felt its unholy ravages

But then his blue eyes begin to twinkle and a small grin appears. He asks the interviewer, “You don’t happen to have any drugs, do you?”


And he cackles unrepentantly. It’s very funny.

I read him saying this summer was going to be his last big tour. He had a 4-year-old granddaughter he was looking forward to spending time with.

Thus, the Heartbreaker leaves us broken hearted. 

Ah, life can be a such a bitch.

Especially when you lose the ones who weren’t.


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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Keynoting in my beloved "pimp" shoes



It’s been almost two weeks and my sails are still filled by all the heady compliments I heard at my Columbus keystone before 200 associates of National Church Residences.

People said I was great.

Note the tense: I was great.

Nobody said I am great.

The only thing I can figure is someone in the audience must have been texting my family.

It’s a real joy to be given the opportunity to talk in front of that many people and have them repeatedly interrupt with laughter and ovations.

Best part? It’s now all on YouTube. The hotel had a videographer film the whole shebang, including the 20-minute meet ’n’ greet at the end where 50 people — 50! — lined up to buy crayon-signed copies of my book.

I whittled the 45-minute talk down to 12 minutes. This is the link. I invite you to give it a skim. There’s no nudity — you’re welcome! — but I do swear and people enjoy profane titillation.

I think it’s the perfect promo for me. It shows a good-sized crowd reacting enthusiastically to my every punch line. It shows humor, poise, compassion and heart. The only way it could be better is if it showed the shoes above.

Ah, yes. Bask in them. They’re Giorgio Brutini, maker of “contemporary shoes for confident men.” I only wear them to events where I’m promised a big paycheck. They never fail to earn flattering attention. It certainly happened in Columbus.

It was after my talk and I was passing by a group of five women who’d heard me speak.  We smiled and nodded. As I passed, one of the senior women said to the group but loud enough for me to hear, “Now, those are the kinds of shoes only a real man can wear.”

She wasn’t flirting, I don’t think. It was more like she was instructing her younger friends so next time they saw shoes like mine on a man like me they’d know they were seeing something to behold.

I say she wasn’t flirting, but after I bowed my head in dapper acknowledgement of her compliment I put a little turbo wiggle in my butt for a walkaway encore. Of course, I overdid it and almost tripped, which would have given the ladies a chance to laugh all over again for all the wrong reasons.

Then I called my wife.

I had to tell her. See, these shoes were once a controversial subject in one of those matrimonial tugs-of-war over spousal tastefulness.

I paid, I think, about $150 for them in 2002 at Kamps. It may surprise those who know me for dressing like a guy always ready to spring off his bar stool to help gut a deer, but when I have dough I invest in nice clothes.

I appreciate the importance of looking swanky. 

It was something I only sensed in 2002. I remember the salesman having to persuade me they weren’t too flashy. “Someday,” he said, “you’re going to want to make a dashing impression on influential strangers. These shoes will do that without you ever even having to open your mouth!”

Sold!

But when I took them home, Val said things that gave me cold feet, an ironic turn considering the topic was brand new shoes.

I’m paraphrasing here, but the phrase “pimp shoes” leaps to mind.

I was 39, but had yet to establish any real ego so, deferring to her sensibilities, I put the shoes back in the box and headed back to the mall. I was woefully unprepared for the counter argument that awaited.

The salesman was furious. “She’s crazy! These are marvelous shoes! I’d be doing you a disservice if I let her goad you into returning these!”

I remember feeling tremendous pressure. Do I side with the mother of my children or some stranger who earns his living by carrying a steel shoe horn in his shirt pocket?

What I should have in hindsight done was tell him, yes, he was right, it was high time for me to man-up. Then depart the store for another hour and returned to sheepishly say she’d ordered me to again return the shoes. I could have done this repeatedly until either the store closed or he got fed up enough to bitch slap me into submission right there beside the imported loafers.

You know how this story ends. I took a stand. And a walk. 
In my new shoes!

They remain one of my most proud purchases. I usually wear them with black pants and black shirt under a charcoal blazer. It’s all very understated.

I can’t see myself ever getting rid of them — for strictly professional reasons. They make a great impression 

And you just never know when I might one day need them to satisfy an adolescent ambition to pimp.


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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Stellar tweets of the month(s)


August was the first month in five years of tweeting where I didn’t do an @8days2Amish monthly round-up. There was a huge outcry. Well, an outcry of one. A buddy said he missed it. So for Brent -- and you! -- here are two months worth!

Some of these made their way into my new “Use All The Crayons!” deluxe edition. More on that.

Hope you’re having a great weekend!


• I used to think I had a brain but it was all in my head.

• In 10 hrs this Columbus meeting hall will be filled w/ 200 people who'll be looking at me & thinking, “Geez, is this guy ever going to shut up?”

• I’m so pissed. I just heard they're canceling the eclipse until Comcast can figure out a way to charge us peons to see it. Is this true?

• It’s impossible to calculate how much income I've sacrificed to spend time with my kids. Now I have to impress upon them the need to forever bust their asses so they can afford to take care of me.

• Nearly reached peak internet boredom. Yes, I was thisclose to clicking on a link that promised to inform me of the identity of the one guest Johnny Carson couldn’t stand.

• Spent evening with daughter, 11, at Westmoreland Co. fair. Highlight? While visiting rabbit exhibit, she begged me to quit singing, "Can ... anybody ... find me ... some bunny to love?”

• Optimists understand phrase "familiarity breeds contempt" is not absolute. Sometimes familiarity breeds family.

• The science behind the theory may be flawed, but the 5-second rule is to me the greatest parenting advance in my lifetime. 

• Rumors of centipede infestations have real legs.

• How you aspire to live is your bucket list. How you aspire to die is your kick the bucket list.

• I have no idea what it'll be about but because it's bound to help sales, I vow to name my next book, "The No. 1 New York Times Bestseller!”

• Sloppy WaPo headline says "Millions lack power and water." I think they mean clean water.

• Reports say we're now spending $200 mil/year freeze-removing fat cells. Imagine how much better off we'll be if spent same on stupid cells.

• Woke up bolt upright with a terrifying premonition I'd die a bloody death in New Orleans. Don't care. I'll go back in a heartbeat.

• How many additional calories would you burn each day if everytime you had to change channel you had to rise from the couch and just do it?

• What percentage of malevolent Irma viewers are actively rooting to see an on-air storm chaser get beheaded by a flying pizza box?

• I wonder if the men who nailed Jesus to the cross felt any sense of irony that they were doing it to a carpenter.

• This may sound inconceivable but one day, guaranteed, there will be a McDonald's at the North Pole.

• To be clear, whenever I post anything that says my kids are great what I'm really saying is I'M great & boy, are my kids great. Handsome 2!

More
• First Harvey, now Irma, then Jose & Katia. And our meteorological conga line of doom rolls on.

• I like it when Trump tweets in ALL CAPS because it lets me know he REALLY means it.

• Amazing new shampoo promises to re-grow hair on bald heads. What happens when you pour some on your palms?

• Teaching a kid to swim by throwing it in the water is like teaching it to fly by throwing it out of an airplane.

• When Satan really gives someone hell is it considered a real estate deal?

• I remain mystified how something called American quarter horses don't have only one leg.

• Some great writers awake & think about writing something people will either enjoy or purchase. I awake & think about what I'll have for lunch

• No one should be allowed to run for public office unless they can prove they once held a job that required a name tag.

• I consider self world's most successful poor man coz I'm happy, loved & optimistic despite being broke. Is this world's wealthiest failure?

• Exploding toilets cause plumbers' lives to flush before their eyes.

• Of all the euphemisms birthed by the Industrial Age, one of the most precious is the locomotive "cow catcher." Right. It "catches" cows.

• Even well-prepared demolition derby students must resign themselves to at least one or two crash courses.

• Here’s a little secret as to why I'm so confident I can write the 60,000-word Palmer book in just 5 weeks: I'm using a bunch of 'em twice.

• Reading on-line is to reading what phone sex is to lovemaking.
Gone is the soul, the serendipity & chance to get your hands good & dirty.

• For posterity's sake, I'm glad my hair styles were post-flat top and preceded the man bun.

• I wonder what Jesus said when some jerk said, "So you think you're better than me?”

• Doggedness is an admirable quality. Dogged people never quit. I'm beginning to understand I'm often overcome with bursts of cattedness.

• I wonder if alpha walruses ever get into beach shoving matches shouting, "I am the walrus!" while another replies, ”No! I am the walrus!”

• I’m so ignorant about automobiles I assume each includes one bisexual part because they call it an alternator.

• Top baby name sites say "Christian" is 54th most popular. I'll let you know when I get to “Atheist."

• If I'm a disaffected youthful loner, I'm not joining any group unless member chair says, "And here's how joining us'll help you get laid…"

• People are so sarcastic these days I'm surprised more of us don't hurt our heads bumping into dense storms of air quotes.

• We live in such porn-drenched times I fully expect to soon see Valentine's cards that say, "I'd give my left nut if you'd tickle my right!”

• Rubbermade, Sterilite, Leaktite, Encore Plastics -- you have your bucket list and I have mine.

• It says something about human nature that all know what it means to belittle someone, but we can't imagine bebigging anyone.

• Thought about taking my watch apart to count all the pieces, but figure I don't have the time to kill.

• Beer drinkers who believe their bladders are half empty are pissimists.

• The purpose of commercial advertising used to be to cajole readers into considering a product. It's now there to punish for trying to read.

• Be so at peace with the world the only thing left to get off your chest are your nipples.



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