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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Happy Birthday to my Blog!


This blog turned 1 year old on Saturday and I gave it the weekend off. If that makes it seem like I’m a kind and nurturing blog boss then it’s misleading.

In fact, I’m a tyrant. I push the blog as hard as I can. I make ridiculous demands on its time and insist each and every one of its efforts be of a respectable quality equivalent to what any hungover Journalism 101 student could produce, the professional standard to which I’ve held myself since earning a gentleman’s C in Journalism 101 back in 1984.

I do this because I resent the blog for being everything I am not.

It’s punctual. It has produced 156 out of the past 356 days, or about three a week with at least 700 words per posting. I haven’t come close to matching that many words over the same time period and that includes word counts from things like grocery lists and scribbled “Be home in time for dinner . . .” lies I leave on the kitchen table.

It’s creative. The posts have ranged from industry-saving solutions like edible newspapers to why, for the good of humanity, Mt. Everest should be lowered by about 15,000 feet.

It has followers. Twenty-nine friendlies have signed up to testify that they keep up with the blog and will follow it wherever it leads. I look behind me and there’s no one there.

It earns money. Just yesterday, Google Adsense sent me a notification that it owes me chump change for people who’ve clicked on the ads that lean against the blog copy. One of my biggest scores from the past year involved the $9 I earned while serving eight hours of jury duty. Honest.

It gets scores of great comments from far-flung strangers who say they love the blog (not me). I can’t help but notice them on the end of many of the posts. The little brown noser shows me each and everyone of them.

But as much as I resent the blog, I grudgingly admit it’s been a smashing success. It’s gone from no readers to a feisty squad of loyal followers. Let’s be fair-minded and conservative -- something the liberal little blog would never dare be -- and confine the readership to the 29 followers.

If in one year the blog’s gone from zero to 29 readers, that’s a increase of -- correct me if I’m wrong (if I could do math, I wouldn’t be blogtending) -- 290 percent. If I exponentially increase 290 percent each and every year then in five years it will be this blog, and not Howard Stern, who can claim to be King of All Media.

The great thing is this zero to 29 leap took place in a year when nearly every other major media outlet -- NY Times, Esquire, Sports Illustrated -- all suffered substantial readership losses.

The trend is unmistakable. Many of the publications that routinely reject the words found on this blog are going under. The blog is not.

So here are some of my linked favorites from the past year. If you’re enjoying the blog and want to share it with friends, I thought this would be a handy way to catch them up on the last year. Most of the ones I picked were from the first part of the year when the blog readership was utter desolation.

Since then, I’m pleased to report that scores of new readers have climbed aboard through my friendly associations with www.redroom.com, Gumbo Writer and The Unbreakable Child.

If you enjoy it, I’d encourage you to sign up to be a follower. The more substantial the blog’s readership, the more likely someone influential is to sign me up to do work that might involve actual payment -- and wouldn’t that be something!

Thanks so much for reading. I’m thrilled to have each and every one of you as a reader. Really, it means a lot to me.

Just please don’t share that mushy sort of sentiment with the blog.

I wouldn’t want it to go to its head.


8Days2Amish -- A scattered sampler


R.I.P. Buster the 19-Year-Old Cat: This is about the cat I stopped loving in 2002 and how I reacted when he finally died in 2008.

Inaugural Oath Goof and the Right Wing Crazies: I have good friends who say they can’t stand it when the blog is political. I agree. There are far too many gasbags out there pontificating on politics. But the election of President Obama was too compelling to ignore. This one was my highest rated on www.redroom.com by a bunch.

TV-holics Prepare for Bender: My tribute to John Lithgow, the world’s greatest over-actor.

Worked to Death: I used this poor stranger’s death to justify my dissolute life. I think it worked . . . even if I rarely do.

Vanity Zip Codes: Nothing baffles me more than coming up with a fresh, fun story like this and not being able to convert it into money. It strikes me as such an original idea done well, I contest. Yet it was roundly rejected by the pay publications.

Good Music for the Needy & The Stupid: I’m very passionate about music. Here’s what happened when we sold our CD collection at a local flea market.

Two Handsome Devils, The Stranger & Me: Most of these take about an hour to write and an hour to polish. This was done and filed 30 minutes after the burnouts made the inspirational remark.

A Brad Pitt-y Party: If for no other reason, this one will forever endear itself to me because it allowed me to post these fantastic pictures of a shirtless Jack Nicholson eating a hoagie. It’s priceless.


Surviving the Survivalists: These are dark days. I have a rule to always cast some sunshine against the darkness as I tried to do here.

Horsin’ Around in the ol’ Breed Barn: This was from just a couple of weeks ago so I probably shouldn’t include it. But one woman posted a comment that said it was the funniest thing she’s ever read. I was deeply flattered, but can only conclude she's either a constitutional lawyer or just got the hang of reading. Ah, heck, parts of cracked me up, too.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Jon, Kate, 8 plus me


I prepared last evening for a show that six weeks ago I didn’t know even existed on a network I never watch like it was the Super Bowl.

I cooked up a big meal. I prepared the snacks. I loaded the frig with beer.

It was time for The Learning Channel’s season premier of “Jon & Kate Plus 8!”

Reality shows register about a 15 percent approval rating from me. I love “Survivor,” tolerate “American Idol,” and won’t watch “Dancing With the Stars” the latest Trump nonsense, forlorn bachelor shows or any of the weepers about more sizable homes or less sizable homely contestants.

Most of it’s too low brow for even a guy like me, someone who, when it comes to TV viewing, has brows that rarely elevate above the belt.

But in the past six weeks “J.K.+8” is that rare show that can raise low brow fare to something that seems Shakespearean.

For me, it all started when I wandered through the living room and saw Valerie and our 8-year-old rapt before the big screen as a squad of runny-nosed toddlers demolished a department store while the parents tried in vain to rein in the squalling herd.

I didn’t care about that. I watch professional sports whenever I can’t make it to the ballgames, but I don’t need to import feckless parenting into my own living room. It’s on even when the power’s out.

What caught my eye was the cut away of the parents being interviewed about the chaos. The woman kept interviewing herself -- “Was it out of control? Yes. Did I feel Jon could have done more? Well, see for yourself . . .” -- and casting baleful glances at the husband.

The husband just stared off camera at some unseen producer. He looked like a prisoner who knew speaking up would lead to months of harsh treatment once the camera shut off. I felt an heroic impulse to round up my buddies from the bar and plan some kind of half-assed rescue mission to save an imperiled brother.

I was hooked. “That’s the most unhappy man on the face of the planet,” I said.

Val told me the show detailed the life of this eastern Pennsylvania couple that had twins and then apparently angered the fertility gods who bestowed upon them sextuplets five years ago.

Some would consider six on top of two a blessing, some a curse. But I know what someone in the Gosselin house -- and I think I know who -- considered it.

It was an opportunity. They conscripted their innocents into a promotional vehicle that would turn every aspect of their lives into reality TV.

I could tell from about 90 seconds of viewing that Jon absolutely hated what his life had become, and I don’t mean the parenting part. He hates that someone -- and I think I know who -- decided to embrace a perverted fame that eventually singes everything it touches.

Pointing a hi-def camera at anything distorts everything.

So I wasn’t surprised when I read a short note in the celebrity corner of the newspaper that said Jon was suspected of cheating with a some smalltown school teacher. That led to accusations that the prim and evangelizing Kate had been getting a little too close to a burly man described as a “bodyguard,” and that guy must take his job way too seriously.

Last night delivered all the bitter wreckage. The two barely spoke to one another throughout the entire riveting hour.

She said she’s always thinking of the kids, even when she’s away for weeks at a time promoting the new season, doing book signings and appearing on shows with guys like Larry King. She said she’s worked too hard to lose things like the free trips to Hawaii for flashy renewals of their wedding vows.

He said he enjoys being a Dad.

She said she doesn’t want to disappoint the multitude of fans who’ve come to consider her and her brood part of their own family.

He said he wishes he could make it all go away.

Both deny the allegations of infidelity. Both admit the future of the franchise is in jeopardy.

I’ve always said every bad marriage is a monster created by two Dr. Frankensteins. But I think the Gosselin marriage that is disintegrating before our eyes every Monday at 9 a.m. with encores throughout the week has just one person to blame.

And I think I know who.

Monday, May 25, 2009

More than a few good men (& women)


On Memorial Day, I advise people to either thank a veteran or go right out and enlist.

I always opt to thank the vet.

I think I would be a terrific peacetime soldier, which is not unlike being a spouse in a productive marriage. Sure, there’s a lot of bitching and petty gripes, but the GIs realize we’re working for a greater good and soldier on. Adding kids to the equation makes the family unit like boot camp where the parents are the drill instructors and the young ‘uns are the green recruits.

And I think I’m good in that role, as is my wife, Col. Valerie.

But none of us can predict how we’d react under fire. Would I be hero or coward? I can’t handle the truth.

Like a lot of men, I’d like to be tested but I never felt the situational urge to put on the uniform like so many others have done.

I think I and the nation are weaker for it. I’m sure I could have benefited from a couple of years of service right out of high school. Imagine what kind of shape the country would be in if, instead of going straight to the college bars, guys like me had been conscripted to spend 18 months in the service of our country.

And I’m not even talking about overseas duty in hostile lands. I mean if at 18 we’d have done some basic boot camp and been dispersed to clean up the ghettos, to dig sewage projects in the Appalachians, or help distribute food and friendly company to the elderly.

It would have instilled a sense of national morality and the too often alien notion of what it feels like to do good for strangers.

But to enlist with the understanding that enemy fire will be trained on you takes another breed.

I like to think I’m like Albert Einstein -- and I doubt he’d ever reciprocate in any fashion -- in that we’re both what he called “rational pacifists.”

We don’t want to kill anybody. We believe reason can usually prevail and that war should be the last, least welcome option.

Rational pacifists saw sound reasons to engage in bloody all-out war with Hitler and the Taliban. We didn’t see it in the buildup to war with Iraq. She’s mangling her defense of it but clearly someone was lying to Nancy Pelosi right along with the rest of us.

Yet, even in a war that many of us felt was misguided, hundreds of thousands of men and women, many righteously motivated by the attacks of 9/11, lined up to serve because they believe it’s their sacred duty.

The surfer dudes have practically neutered the powerful word’s original impact but, man, that’s awesome.

A few years ago I was once golfing with friends on Memorial Day and admitted to feeling sheepish that there we were skipping along in the sunshine, enjoying our favorite pastime, some beers and giggles, while men and women not too different from us were hunkered down in boiling bunkers in places like Baqubah and Jalalabad.

Despite being mired in two difficult wars, there was no homefront hardships in our little world.

My buddy Ronnie, himself an Army vet who’d served in Korea, gave a poignant response masked in a cheerful smile: “Hey, this is what they want us to be doing. This is why they serve.”

Well, that made me feel even more unworthy.

So those are some Memorial Day options for you to consider amidst the barbecue and the beers.

Either thank a vet or climb out of your lawn chair and go enlist.

Me, I think I’ll call Ronnie up and see if he wants to go golfing this week.

Guys like him are too humble to accept my thanks for what they’ve done on behalf of my country. It’s no big deal, they say.

That’s too bad.

It means I’ll probably have to give him strokes.

Alas, that’ll be the sad extent of my sacrifice on this Memorial Day.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Boss for God: a concert review


I don’t presume to know what God looks or acts like or what goes on in His mind. But I can hope He’s a lot like Bruce Springsteen.

We could do a lot worse in the way of deities.

Just saw Springsteen last night for something like the 15th time. If he wanted to start taking himself too seriously there are plenty of people who are ready to consider him messianic. There were about 20,000 of them there last night at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena.

But, thank God, he doesn’t take himself that seriously. He’s self-deprecating and that’s a good trait for a supreme being. The Boss can laugh at himself when he delivers a bombastic line like, “We’re tearing the fear out of here and building a house of love!”

That was from a playful sermon he preached during a euphoric “Working on a Dream,” a song that brought tears to the eyes of many fans who are hopeful that these hard times will soon end and tells us we are empowered to seize our fate and help our downtrodden fellow man while we’re helping ourselves.

He answers prayers. During a popular new phase of his show he’s been reaching into the audience for handmade signs suggesting songs for him and the E Street Band to play. It’s come to be called “Stump the Band” and during recent shows he’s played unrehearsed and gloriously ragged versions of “I Wanna Be Sedated,” “London Calling,” and, yikes, “Hava Negilia.”

But in Pittsburgh we were blessed to have him pick Bob Dylan's “Like a Rolling Stone.” To hear Bruce and the band play the seminal song by the man who lyrically inspired Bruce was a revelation and a show highlight many of us will never forget.

He can admit some of his creations are flawed imperfections. This he’s done with the recently released album, “Working on a Dream.” His fans have roundly rejected it since its February release. But as this is the “Working on a Dream” tour we expected that he’d cram it down our throats with up to 10 songs from the 25 song set list. That’s what most artists would do.

Not Bruce. He plucked just three -- the previously mentioned title cut, "Kingdom of Days" and what may be the most ill-conceived song he’s ever written, the appallingly hokey and nearly 10-minute long, “Outlaw Pete,” or as my friend Quinn now calls it, “Outlaw Pee.” We both despise the song, but were eager to hear if it translated better live.

After four minutes, Quinn decided nope and split to urinate while I grimly hung on to see if it would improve. It did not. During the seventh minute I, too, dashed to the men’s room. When I returned he was still flogging the piece and I was for the first time in my life wishing I had a smaller bladder.

Thus, “Outlaw Pee.”

Quinn came all the way from Columbus to see the show with me. I feel a sensation of genuine pity for people who don’t have the actual Quinn for a friend.

But most of the show was jammed with fan favorites like “Candy’s Room,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” “She’s the One,” “The Promised Land,” and “Thunder Road.”

Bruce has for nearly 40 years, or about the length of time Moses spent wandering the desert, nurtured a family and a love for community that transcends all the great rock. He works tirelessly for the causes in which he believes and proselytizes the crowd to contribute canned goods, cash and prayers to help the local food banks. He’s done this for years and the souls who work to feed the poor in those places consider him a saint.

His disciples are capable of miracles, too. Quinn observed on the big screens that Springsteen’s saxophone player, the monumentally cool Clarence Clemens, had painted his fingernails a vibrant shade of gold.

I told Quinn I believe that wasn’t nail polish. I believe the Big Man’s fingernails are actual gold. He’s that cool.

It was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen.

So many of us are out of work, homeless or struggling. We pray that God will do all He can to end the wars, the suffering, the pain and the senseless hatreds that have led to so much earthly ruin.

If Bruce could do any of that with a wave of his guitar, guaranteed, he would.

I hope someday God reveals Himself to us as the caring father we all believe Him to be. I hope He has a simple explanation for why this imperfect world is so goddamned hard on so many. I hope He has in abundance many of the heavenly attributes so many of us have come to admire in Bruce Springsteen, one of His finer creations.

And, yeah, it would be cool if He could really rock, too.



Set list, Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, May 19, 2009

• Badlands
• Candy’s Room
• Outlaw Pete
• Jackson Cage
• She’s the One
• Working on a Dream
• Seeds
• Johnny 99
• Youngstown
• Good Lovin’
• Like a Rolling Stone
• Darkness on the Edge of Town
• Waiting on a Sunny Day
• The Promised Land
• I’m on Fire
• King of Days
• Lonesome Day
• The Rising
• Born to Run

Encores

• Hard Times
• Thunder Road
• Land of Hope and Dreams
• American Land
• Glory Days (with Pittsburgh’s Joe Grushecky and son Johnny)
• Mony Mony

Monday, May 18, 2009

Horsin' around in the ol' Breed Barn


I admit this is going to sound sexist, but when I learned what was planned for Rachel Alexander’s future, my first thought was, “That slut!”

I don’t know why I’m surprised. It’s the way of the world. Already, the girl really gets around. She got around Pimlico on Saturday in 1:55:08. She’s the first filly to win the second leg of the Triple Crown in 85 years and only the fifth in the 134-year history of the Preakness Stakes.

Those are the kinds of numbers that get pulses racing. Jess Jackson is the filly’s owner. One report described him as the Kendall-Jackson “wine magnate,” a term they left undefined. I like to think it means whenever he strolls down the aisles of a liquor store bottles of Cabernet and Merlot fly off the shelves and bond to the 79-year-old entrepreneur.

Despite his advanced age, he spends a great deal of time thinking of horse sex and this in no way means he’s deviant. The fourth most famous race in the sport is tastelessly called The Breeder’s Cup.

How the refined men and women who dabble in what is renown as The Sport of Kings aren’t lumped in with common pimps must be just another exception of privilege.

That’s what struck me when I read that Jackson is eyeing a breeding jackpot with the filly. He also owns the stallion Curlin, winner of the 2007 Preakness, and insiders say it’s a sure thing he’s going to usher the pair off to the breeding barn.

As a romantic who’s always eager for new techniques to please the missus, I decided to research what goes on behind the big doors of the breeding barn.

You can check it out at this highly entertaining segment from Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs show on the Discovery Channel.

There are no roses. No sonnets. No sweet nothings. It’s all very clinical. The stud comes in, does his business and, I guess, leaves behind an insincere note with a made-up phone number for the spent mare.

Then there was this disturbing passage that could have easily applied to me and any unfortunate date from back when I was about 24. Try this: whenever the paragraph mentions the “stallion” or its male pronoun, just substitute “Chris” and read on:

“Make sure the stallion mounts the mare in a controlled and reasonable fashion. Too many overenthusiastic or fresh, young stallions will be so anxious to start copulating that they will try to mount from the side and/or thrust with no rhyme or reason. This can frustrate both the stallion and the mare, and neither option is particularly desirable. A frustrated mare can start lashing out at the stallion, and a frustrated stallion will only perform worse as he allows his frustration to cloud his mind.”

Boy, does that take me back. It might have risked ruining the mood, but I’ll bet my dates would have been thrilled I’d have brought along a squad of white smocked veterinarians to show me what goes where.

Not all the research was so grim and sterile and, yes, I realize that’s a poor word choice when dealing with story about horse fertility. I found there’s a sporty-looking human supermodel named Rachel Alexander and she’s often topless.

I’m going to start trying this research thing more often!

I’m unable to reconcile why I feel the equine Rachel Alexander is such a cheap slut for her role in the breeding process when I always feel I should congratulate the male counterparts with cigars and bourbon toasts.

I guess it’s just the primal differences between men and women, stallions and fillies. I’ve been a bystander to enough Lifetime movies to know that women who wind up like Rachel Alexander always come to a moment when they realize what they’ve become. It destroys their self-esteem.

They say they feel used.

And I know what most men will do if we ever find ourselves in the stud role and in a moment of clarity realize we’ve been used for the most base reasons.

We’ll say, "Thanks!"

Friday, May 15, 2009

In praise of Facebook. Seriously


Is it time to take the guy who said prolonged internet usage would lead to social isolation and beat him virtually senseless with the combined weight of our Facebook friends lists?

Thanks to Facebook I’m hearing near daily from people whom I thought were dead. None yet who I’d hoped were dead, but that could happen.

I was one of those who scoffed at the social networking site, but now I admit I’m enjoying my daily dabblings.

See, I work under Gitmo-like conditions. It’s just me and a cruel tormentor. It’s endless isolation in a cell-like room where I’m beaten up by an angry bully who constantly shouts I’m a worthless failure.

Sure, that man’s in my head, but that doesn’t make the torture any less painful.

I was checking out Facebook the other day when the great Steely Dan song, “My Old School” came on the radio. I’ve heard it thousands of times and, like many great songs, am still unable to decipher what the hell it’s all about.

I know the gist is conveyed in the line, “And I’m never going back to my old school.”

Clearly, Mr. Dan or who ever the enigmatic guys behind the just-a-tad-too-pretentious band weren’t Facebooking when they did the ditty (and I apologize if that last vaguely sexual sounding phrase got you momentarily worked up).

I’m going back to my old school every single time I’m on Facebook. And I don’t mean Ohio University. I don’t even mean (and talk about pretentious) Mt. Lebanon Senior High School.

Mt. Lebanon is a tony area of Pittsburgh where I was raised. Our struggling father moved us to the relatively affordable section of town -- just a 5-iron from Dormont! -- in the mistaken belief it would ensure we’d get a good education.

Poor guy. He never could accept you can lead a horse to water but you can’t teach it algebra.

Having said that, my old school is Julia Ward Howe Elementary, named after the ardent feminist, abolitionist, pacifist, and I’m guessing one hell of a party gal. Howe composed “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

To me, her namesake school was the Battleground of the Six-Year Spitball War. It’s where I became an irredeemable goof ball. I’ve been tickled to hear from a score of some of the earliest a and most uncomplicated friendships I’ve ever enjoyed.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve reflexively avoided many reunion gigs while maintaining the key friendships I’ve nurtured from those years. For instance, I’m still close to friends I met in second grade when we all got in trouble for seeing who could eat the most paste.

Facebook eliminates all the awkwardness of running into the people I didn’t like. It’s like a reunion with just us cool folks.

I hear from so many old friends at the Nashville Banner that, I swear, on Friday afternoons I think I should start checking to see which of the old gang is hosting the weekend blow out.

For me the best part has been hearing from people who tell me how much precocious fun I was back before I started sneaking beers in, oh, I think about fifth grade.

All my college buddies say I’m fun, but I don’t recall ever drawing a single sober breath with any of them. That taints their judgments.

So when a girl I’ve known since first grade looked me up and invited me to a party to watch the Penguins play one recent Saturday afternoon, I was happy to accept for reasons that had nothing to do with hockey.

We spent a couple of hours talking about the old days, who was prospering, who was lost and all the human wreckage that accumulates from three decades of relentless living. I met her husband, her five kids and failed to get her to prove she didn’t have more tattoos than offspring.

She told me so many nice things about myself that I walked away just so pleased with the kind of kid I was and hopeful that foundation meant something about the man I became.

Thanks, Nancy.

I guess I’m like a lot of people in that I always focuse on the flaws. Who knows? Maybe there are squads of angry Facebook subscribers who think we were a bunch of jerks. Happily, they don’t get in touch to assure us that’s the case.

Or maybe, just maybe, we weren’t as bad as we thought we were.

Either way, it makes for some dandy rhetorical ammo to use when the guards in our mental Gitmos start screaming we were never any good.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

American Idol and American music


As much as I was distraught by eight years of Bush/Cheney, my sanity was soothed by the certainty that one day it had to end.

The American people would return to their senses, a bold new leader would arise, the future would brighten.

Amen.

But the same cannot be said for a scourge that will continue to devastate the nation. It poisons our youth, desecrates our culture and threatens to leave a vast wasteland in its vapid wake.

Of course, I’m talking about American Idol.

I wish I could say the popular show is setting music back 25 years, but that would be too much to ask. Musically speaking, the past is the present.

I tremble for my cool when I hear I myself saying, consarnit, music just isn’t what it used to be. But back when I went to college in the paunchy part of the 1980s, they were playing great, current music from the 1980s. Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, U2, Journey and Tom Petty were all making vital contributions.

Today, I go back to those same Athens, Ohio, bars and hear many of those same songs. I look at my gray-haired and balding buddies and lament the only thing that ever changes is us.

We’d have torn the bar apart in an Ouzo-fueled rage if in 1985, we’d have gone into the bar and been subjected to nothing but 1965 ditties by the likes of Perry Como and Bobby Vinton.

But it’s the future of music for which I cringe.

American Idol sets the trends in gaudy fashion, pouty posing and fractured commentary. Paula Abdul recently confessed to a 12-year pill addiction, but hastened to add she was never high on Idol.

Really? That’s what she’s like when she’s lucid? If I were a show producer, I’d order her to refill her Vicoden prescription.

Musically is where it does the most damage. There are some clearly talented singers on the show, but ever since the success of Kelly Clarkson, all the girls and most of the boys have tried to sound exactly like Kelly Clarkson.

I think the show lost all credibility the year someone no one remembers beat out the great Sanjaya Malakar. Now, that guy was entertaining. As soon as I can find a big poster from the night he sang ‘You Really Got Me,’ by the Kinks with his hair piled up in that ridiculous faux-hawk, I’m putting it on the wall in front of the desk in my office.

The sweet-smiling Indian kid will always be my American Idol.

As for the judging, 75 percent of it is drivel. I sputtered in outrage after some long-gone top 10er sang, “Make You Feel My Love,” and Randy and Kara both gushed it was a moving interpretation of a great Garth Brooks song.

“What the . . .,” I exploded. “That’s a Bob Dylan song from his classic 1997 album, ‘Time Out of Mind.’ Brooks sang it, but it’ll never be a Garth Brooks song. How do these so-called experts not know that? And the guy made an awful hash of it. Here, let me show you how it’s supposed to be done . . .”

I dashed to the kitchen and grabbed a ladle for a microphone and stood up on the hearth and began what I thought was a poignant rendition of the soulful song. That’s when my 8-year-old seared me with a glare and a Cockney echo: “What . . . the . . . bloody . . . hell . . . was . . . that?”

She does a wicked Simon Cowell. He’s the only reason I let her even watch the show. He’s brilliant. After all the oral fluff from Randy, Paula and dippy fifth wheel Kara, some bracing insight from Simon is a catharsis of honest interpretation.

I wish it were just him judging. In fact, I don’t think the perennial ratings winner is a large enough platform for him. I’d like to see President Obama appoint him to fill the Souter vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. And then turn the high court into a modern equivalent of “The Gong Show.”

Maybe someday they’ll rule on the case of who murdered all the music back in 1989, consarnit!

Here are some uniquely ‘80s songs you can still hear in places like The Junction and Pawpurrs on Court Street in Athens, Ohio.



• “Voices Carry,” ‘til Tuesday

• “Shakin’,” Eddie Money

• “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” Georgia Satellites

• “Luka,” Suzanne Vega

• “Angel is a Centerfold,” J. Geils Band

• “Twilight Zone,” Golden Earring

• “Who Can It Be Now?,” Men at Work

• “Come on Eileen,” Dexey’s Midnight Runners

• “Love is Like a Rock,” Donnie Iris

• “The Breakup Song,” The Greg Kihn Band

• “Take On Me,” a-ha

Feel free to add to the list. Please, nothing by Paula Abdul.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Pest control from a pacifist


The first tiny ants of the season have invaded our home and that means Valerie immediately ordered the family straight to DEFCON 2.

The familiar military term DEFCON comes from Defense Readiness Condition, a phrase that originated during the Cold War and signifies, in descending order, how prepared the top brass are to go to all-out nuclear war (DEFCON 5 equals peace; DEFCON 1 equals Ka-BOOM!).

I like throwing the word DEFCON around because it always reminds me of the great 1983 movie, “War Games,” where Matthew Broderick plays a mischievous computer hacker whose shenanigans with NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) computers nearly leads to an unauthorized nuclear launch that would lead to a MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) result.

Say what you want about the anxieties and crushing paranoia of the Cold War but, gosh, the epoch sure left us with a dandy batch of acronyms.

The movie includes what could be the rallying cry for beleaguered technophobes everywhere. It happens when Gen. Jack Beringer (played by Barry Corbin) gets so exasperated at having his authority usurped by confounding tech problems, he bellows, “Goddamnit, I’d piss on a spark plug if I thought it would do any good!”

I imagine Val would let me piss on an ant if she thought it would do any good.

But she must know it would not, something every guy already knows. The ant is a formidable antagonist. Each ant is capable of lifting nearly 25 times its body weight with its “mandibles” (that’s the entomological term for ant jaws and as soon I finish this post I’m going to try and find out if ants call human jaws “antdibles”).

Think about that. It would be like me or you seizing a Volkswagen by the bumper with our teeth and lifting it over our heads.

So by those extrapolations, it’s a sort of fair fight whenever I simultaneously squash a dozen of them with one swing of my slipper.

Maybe it’s a female thing, but I never get bent out of sorts by bugs or beasts in the house. I’m a pacifist at heart and, truly, would rather not hurt a fly.

I try and reason with them. I tell them they aren’t wanted. I offer alternatives. I tell them I’ll give them a ride to a nearby park.

But that doesn’t work and it always falls to me to protect the tribe. And that usually means splat. Bats, spiders, flies, mice, I’ve got a body count that would probably reach into the thousands.

We’re pet-less right now, but when we had the cat and the dog, the lousy fleas would pop up every now and again. And with fleas I could be ruthless.

Val would always play the diplomat and encourage incremental steps. Not me, I didn’t pussyfoot around. I ordered the family out of the house and would coldly bomb the nasty little bastards back to the Stone Ages.

That’s in stark contrast to how I dealt with the most menacing creature that ever invaded one of my dwellings. The thing was about 5-foot-8, weighed 175 and smelled like infernal corruption.

It was back about in 1990 at a tiny little two-man newspaper office I shared with my buddy Paul. I remember coming in late from some tedious municipal meeting and hearing the closet door in the darkened office rattle shut.

I pulled on the door. It pulled back.

Turns out he was a homeless guy who’d found the key above the door and had been napping nights in the office. He’d been there about a week or so. Neither of us ever had a clue.

I could have called the cops. Instead, I took him next door to the bar where my buddy was watching the game. I’m not going to say he wound up all bombed like the fleas, but we bought him a few drinks. Paul drove him to a Salvation Army shelter that night.

Oh, how I wish I could end that story with the line, “ . . . and that man’s name was Barack Obama.”

But I don’t know what happened to the guy.

I like to think we helped him on his way. I think if we’d have dealt with him harshly, it might have backfired. He knew our names and where we worked. It wouldn’t have been difficult or unprecedented for the guy to find out where we lived and come after us.

He could have creeped into our homes and become a real pest.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A stiff tribute to moms & cadavers


I was eager to read Michael Perry’s recent
Men’s Health article about human cadaver donation for two reasons: First, Perry’s a terrific writer who’s flattered me by saying nice things about my work. Funny how that makes us all more charitable in our opinions of one another’s abilities.

But Perry, author of “Population 485,” “Truck,” and the recently released “Coop,” is the kind of writer that makes me glad I never mastered speed reading. His are sentences to savor. I wanted to see how he crafted his gems around the squeamish topic of people who donate their bodies to medical schools so future doctors can dissect the corpses for essential education.

But the main reason was because I’m on intimate terms with a genuine human cadaver. Don’t jump to any necrophiliac conclusions.

The girl’s not dead yet. But she’s pledged to become one.

She’s my darling white-haired mother. Her sense of humor has always reminded me of Carol Burnett’s. She’s sweet, warm and few things make me happier than the sound of her infectious laughter bubbling up when one of her enchanted granddaughters is cradled in her arms.

And nothing creeps me out more than to realize that one day some wisecracking, hungover med student is going to be poking through her exposed thoracic cavity while she lies naked and deader than hell on some cold examination table. This is a dainty and demure woman who gets upset when I insist to my daughters that Nana has a tattoo of Sponge Bob Square Pants on her ass and that she’ll deny it’s there.

And deny it, she does.

I realize my discomfort over her donation is at odds with the generous philosophy she and my Dad bestowed on their two sons. It’s because of them that Eric and I are enthusiastic organ donors. I think leaving my organs behind to enrich ailing strangers will one day inspire my daughters into forgiving me for leaving them with nothing but an old golf bag full of bent tees and expired coupons.

My fun-loving late father could be a bit of a cad, but he never went the full cadaver. His remains were cremated. I put my portion in a decorative wine decanter and decoupaged it with pictures of him and our loved ones.

If I’m going to play at a nice golf course or visit the beach, I always take some with me to scatter on some lovely vista. He likes that, I’m sure.

But, Mom, my goodness, what am I going to do about her? There will be nothing left to eulogize.

Perry’s article confirms my fears that precious little reverential decorum is present as they dig about (some are gloveless -- gloveless!) in the bodies to learn that the legbone’s connected to the hipbone, the hipbone’s connected to the . . .

I’m sure the banter’s tempered whenever an observant reporter is present. It’s always been my suspicion that the first thing medical teams do once the anesthesia kicks in is lift the blanket and make juvenile fun of everyone’s genitalia.

Well, not my genitalia.

Perry stresses the importance of cadaver donation as essential in helping solve many of the medical problems that once bedeviled us and kept lives uniformly short.

“One way or another, the dead people here are substituting for you and me,” he writes. “If you are healthy and hope to stay that way, at some point you will rely on the services of medical professionals who learned their craft by cutting into a cadaver.”

He writes movingly of services where those who make this generous sort of donation are eulogized and praised for their selflessness.

I’m for all of that . . . But leave my Mommy alone!

The article makes clear that the cadaver examinations are painstakingly thorough. They go through all the internal organs, tease out the nerves in the legs, and slice away at the body until these once vital beings are nothing but memories and scattered pieces of bone and tissue.

My mother’s dear self-deprecating humor makes me wonder if she ever believes me when I tell her how much I love her, how much she means to me and how grateful I’ve been to have gone through life with her as my friend.

No relationship is so simultaneously simple and complicated as the relationship between mother and child. We can never repay all they’ve done for us. All we can do is be kind and patient as we all march along together toward our messy mortal conclusions.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, I hope you are at peace with your mother and any difficulties involved in that complicated relationship are overshadowed by the majesty of it all.

And I hope it’s many healthy and productive years before my own mother winds up in pieces.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Victory lap in Mow-town


My wife approached with the same look of grave concern she bore when she told me the 18-year-old cat I couldn’t stand was about to die.

“I have bad news about the new garage door,” she said. “Actually, it’s double bad news. Which do you want to hear first? The bad news or the worse news?”

Like the impending 2008 death of Buster, the foul-breathed, weak-kidneyed cat I’d stopped caring about in 2002, I knew nothing she could tell me was going to ruin my day. We’d already dipped into the savings for the $1,100 and gave it to a reputable local guy. If there was a problem, I knew it was his problem, not mine.

I feigned fragile distress.

“Oh, no,” I moaned. “I’m not sure I can take any more bad news. Start with the lesser of two evils.”

“Well, the manufacturer shipped him the wrong parts. He didn’t realize it until he’d installed it. Now, we won’t be able to open it for two weeks.”

Of course, I was right. Summer’s in the air. The one-car garage won’t be needed to shield either of our vehicles from harsh blizzards. So this wasn’t bad news. It was barely inconvenient news.

I let my face fall into my hands and began shaking my head like someone told me a minty-smelling cat I really, really cared for was about to die.

“What could possibly be worse news than that?” I wailed.

“The lawn mower’s still in there. You won’t be able to cut the grass for two weeks.”

I love this woman. She’s a great wife and mother. So it would have been unfair for me to jump out of my big easy chair and start cart wheeling around the living room while singing “Celebration!” the 1980 cheesy wedding staple by funksters Kool & The Gang.

So I stood up and strode zombie-like to the door. “I’m going to the bar,” I said. “I need a drink.”

I dashed straight to The Pond, pulled open the door and yelled a triumphant, “I win!”

I know I can’t say this without sounding like the world’s worst father, but the euphoria I felt at that moment differed little from the two times I walked through that same door and told those same men, “It’s a girl!”

Every year, we have an informal pool to see who can go the longest without having to start mowing his lawn.

This is the time of the year all our lawns seem like they’re on steroids. Mow them once and we’re bound to be mowing them every five days. I know some men who are now mowing their lawns every three days.

That used to be me at our old house where we lived for 15 happy years. I loved that little house and was peacock proud the day we paid it off. But I knew in my heart that I didn’t own that house. It owned me.

It was in a traditional neighborhood with finicky neighbors slammed right up against our fenceless borders. That meant that if my anal retentive neighbor felt duty bound to cut his grass every four days or so, then I’d have to keep up the pace or the boundary would look like the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. One side would be order and neatness while the other would be a shaggy sort of squalor.

It took about 90 minutes of grueling labor to push the old mower around all the trees, shrubs and week-old beer bottles I liked to leave around to give the place atmosphere.

Now, our new home is up a mountain deep in the lovely woods. Maybe a car an hour goes past at 50 mph. The shade from the trees stunts the scraggy patches of grass, as does the much higher elevation

So I’m now a strong contender for the last man to mow title. This puts me in a confrontational role with my buddy Paul who lives in similarly remote homestead. He goes so long into spring without mowing that his wife has lost dogs and small children in the deep, thick shag.

He was distraught when I told him my John Deere LA100 had become a ship in a bottle. He’d been confident he’d win and began griping I was cheating, it was unfair, blah, blah, blah.

Then he straightened up on his bar stool, got a glint in his eye and said he was going to try and hold out. He was serious, too.

It’s game on.

Of course, our wives think it’s ridiculous. They lament that if the men they’d married put as much thought and exertion into doing work as we do into getting out of work, they’d be married to titans of industry.

But we don’t care.

It’s just another boredom buster that gives us something about which to yap. Beats watching grass grow.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Willie Nelson for the "High" Court


Don’t hold your breath, but wouldn’t it be great if the next U.S. Supreme Court nominee were asked a truly character-illuminating question such as: “Judge, with all due respect, but have you ever asked a neice or nephew to pull your finger? And I’ll appreciate your candor.”

Elected officials can seem aloof from their constituents, but even they are given to fits of common humanity. They get drunk, accept bribes, say stupid things or get busted chasing comely interns around their oaken desks.

But not Supreme Court justices. The men and women, er, woman, who make up the court have the greatest impact on our daily lives, yet have the least connection to it. They sit in their august black robes, a practical petrified forest of legal tedium. Even during debate over divisive issues that inflame the nation, they read their opinions in dreary monotone as if they were reciting a grocery list.

Where’s the passion? The fury? The understanding that millions of souls are held in the sway of their decision?

It’s time President Obama electrify the country by nominating someone who is not a judge, but who has appeared before plenty of them.

That means it’s time to nominate Willie Nelson for the Supreme Court. He’s the anti-John Roberts, a man who looks so white bread it’s surprising no one’s slapped some baloney and mustard on him for tasteful improvement.

Willie has the life experiences Americans need from an understanding justice. And he’s left a long paper trail, although, granted, most of it has been wrapped around marijuana leaves and smoked.

He proved he understands health care issues when he wisely remarked, “Remember, halitosis is better than no breath at all.”

He’s a man of family values who’s opined, “There are no such thing as ex-wives. There are only additional wives.”

As far as the role of judicial restraint in the war on drugs, he's on record as saying: “Legalizing marijuana would actually reduce crime ... It’s kept me from killing a bunch of people.”

He understands that at times the roles of church and state do intersect when he warned “not to forget the less fortunate or God will personally kick your ass. I’d do it for him,” Willie said, “but I can’t be everywhere.”

Many interest groups are urging President Obama to nominate a person of color. I’d like him to nominate a colorful person.

Willie and the Supremes! Sounds like a surefire hit to me.