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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My mini-commencement address


Tonight is the last class I’ll teach this semester. It’ll likely be the last scholarly class many of my 16 grad students at Point Park University ever attend.

This, to me, is too momentous an occasion to let slide with yet another tedious dissertation about where to put all the commas.

So as is my custom, tonight I’ll engage the students in the grave life lessons I’ve learned over 47 years. I feel an obligation to deviate from conventional wisdoms and tell them -- political correctness be damned -- some of what I’ve learned.

Here is a summary of what I plan to say. Note: this version omits all the “uhs,” “ums” and other awkward pauses where I get distracted by the sounds of passing sirens or stop for as long as 90 seconds or so to scratch myself.

Good evening,

I’ve been privileged to be the instructional portal for teaching you how to navigate the choppy waters of basic storytelling and to provide you with a handy list of excuses for when the spellchecker fails to realize you meant ‘earthquake’ when you typed ‘earthquack.’

I’ve taught you all I know about how to be a successful journalist, which can be boiled down to five words: Do everything opposite of me.

Now I’m going to tell you how to be successful adults.

First, get the hell out of the passing lane. Remember, it’s not a left lane. It’s a passing lane. Apply your left turn signal and accelerate past slower drivers on the right. Then do the reverse with the right turn signal so you can get the hell out of my way.

Remember as you go through life to mute all the commercials. You’re a savvy bunch. You don’t need Flo or the Geico gecco to tell you you need insurance. Prime-time television devotes 23 minutes of every hour to selling you stuff you already have. Over the course of a year, you could earn a law degree simply by studying while the commercials are on mute. Keep a newspaper or magazine handy.

Wait until you’re 35 until you even consider getting married, then don’t get married until you’re 40. Willie Nelson says there is no such thing as ex-wives. There are only additional wives. Always aspire to the wisdoms of Willie.

Ask your parents important questions before it’s too late. Ask mom why she fell in love with dad. Ask dad about his greatest regret. And, remember, sometimes the most important question you can ever ask either parent is a sincere, hey, how are you doing?

Smile at strangers in elevators and talk to them when you’re sitting next to one another on airplanes. We’re all in this together.

I learned this by interacting with my 3 year old, but it applies to sweethearts, too. The four ingredients for any loving relationship are: play, tickle, cuddle and kiss. You can based on need divine your own proportions, but those are the essentials.

It’ll take three baseball-sized bean bags and about a month of stooping over, but learning to juggle will help you think through a lot of life’s problems.

Avoid going through life too drunk or addicted to drugs. Be careful, especially, of prescription drugs. We live in times of national madness when people consume more drugs than vegetables. It’s a sad, sad fact that strong drink and mind-altering drugs destroy many promising young lives.

On the flip side, avoid going through life way too sober. Excessive sobriety is a societal scourge with a host of nasty consequences all its own.

Both drunk and sober, I’ve devoted countless hours trying to figure out the meaning of life. I have failed. I have not the depth of wisdom to grapple with the answer to the greatest question.

But I know someone who did, someone with even more cerebral cred than baked, wise Willie. It’s Albert Einstein.

A 19-year-old Rutger’s University student in 1950 asked Einstein the purpose of life.

Here, in part, is what the genius said: “The answer is, in my opinion: satisfaction of the desires and needs of all, as far as can be achieved, and achievement of harmony and beauty in the human relationships.”

To paraphrase: the reason we’re here is to help each other. And to convince people to get the hell out of the passing lane.”

And that’s how I’ll conclude. That bit about the passing lane came from me, not Einstein, but I thought it would have more weight if I passed it off as coming from him.

And it is pretty darned important.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Boston Corbett, America's Greatest Eunuch


You won’t see it anywhere in the news today. There will be no stirring memorials. Congress won’t pause to honor the actions of the man who should be acclaimed as America’s greatest eunuch by unanimous consent.

All hail, Boston Corbett, the man who killed the man who killed President Lincoln! It happened 145 years ago this very morning.

Really, can you even name a single other great American eunuch?

I can’t.

I guess we’re all stumped.

And so are the eunuchs, but in a much more literal way.

A eunuch is a man who undergoes deliberate removal of his testicles for any number of offbeat cultural reasons. Throughout history, eunuchs have served royals as courtiers, harem servants and trusted guardians of virginal princesses

Some have even willingly become eunuchs so they could serenade a discerning king with a treble voice of unmatched loveliness.

It sounds extreme, but I’m surprised no one’s tried it yet on American Idol. I guess in these days of instant fame, making a real sacrifice for the sake of art is no longer fashionable.

Of course, Corbett makes each of those motivations seem like pikers by comparison.

Born Thomas P. Corbett in London in 1832, he eventually moved to Boston, where he picked up a nickname with slightly more dash than if he’d have moved to say, Passadumkeag, Maine.

In 1858, at the age of 26, is when things got interesting. Fired with the religious passions, he grew his hair long in an attempt to imitate Jesus.

Then he did Jesus one better. Two better, to be precise.

The history books say he was so consumed with lust for Boston prostitutes he resorted to dire remedies. So one night he took a pair of rusty scissors, dropped his trousers and -- snip! snip! -- cut off his troublesome testicles.

That’s taking safe sex practices to a whole other realm.

The he sat down and had a nice dinner and attended a Methodist prayer meeting before finally staggering off for medical attention.

Amazing. For literary purposes it would be great fun to discover that the entree was meatballs, but the menu is lost to history.

The man is testament to the fact that it doesn’t take real balls to be a real man.

In April 1861, he enlisted as a private in the New York Militia, was honorably discharged after his three-month commitment, then re-enlisted to fight again. He was taken prisoner in 1863 and was captive for five months in the notorious Andersonville prison before being freed in a common prisoner exchange. He would later testify for the prosecution in the death penalty trial of doomed prison commandant Capt. Henry Wirz.

After again re-enlisting, it was Corbett on this day in 1865 at the Garrett tobacco barn near Port Royal, Virginia, who against orders shot the bullet that struck John Wilkes Booth in the back of neck, about one inch from where the dastardly Booth slew Lincoln on April 14.

“Providence directed me,” he said when asked why he’d disobeyed orders.

Then, like today, you can get away with a lot if you can convince believers that God whispered in your ear, “Pssst, hey, buddy . . .”

Corbett’s post-war life became increasingly erratic, perhaps, because of exposure to mercury when he worked as a hatter in New York and Boston. Because of his fame, he was appointed doorkeeper of the Kansas House of Representatives, where he pulled a pistol on some men who he’d caught yawning about the morning prayer.

He was sent to an insane asylum, escaped and lived for a while in a hole that www.allaboutbikes.com today lists as the No. 1 scenic attraction in Kansas.

It may be a big state, but I’ll drive hundreds of miles out of the way if I can avoid a state where the most scenic site is Corbett’s hole.

He is believed to have died along with more than 400 others in the Great Hinkley Fire that consumed hundreds of acres of Minnesota forest where he’d built a cabin and was living when the fire spread on September 1, 1894.

His story is the reason I never fail to engage airplane seat mates about their lives.

I’m sure he shared many stagecoach rides with men and women too engaged in their 19th century iPad equivalents to hear the stories of this fascinating eunuch who killed the man who killed the president.

So, to honor America’s greatest eunuch, I suggest we all cut the work day short.

Please don’t feel the drastic need to cut off anything more significant.

And just to be safe, let's all steer clear of the prostitutes in Boston at least for today.



Related . . .

Thursday, April 22, 2010

For Earth Day, a recycled post


Earth Day 2010 is shaping up to be exactly the same as Earth Days 2008 and 2009: I'm heading to my kid's school to talk to the students about my work as a worm farmer.

So to celebrate Earth Day, I'm posting the exact same thing I posted last year.

If you've already read it, I urge you to turn off your lights, go outside pick up some trash, recycle it, and revel in this great big beautiful world.



I’d planned on spending Earth Day scattering dense trash on pristine lands and in deep lakes where the environmental obscenities will likely linger for centuries.

Some future explorer would find them in some distant age. She may shake her head at my carelessness and exclaim, “Wow, someone with a really nasty slice used to roam these lands. We’re miles from the nearest golf course!”

It is my Earth Day custom to bang Titleists deep in the western Pennsylvania forests. I lose about four or five golf balls every single time I tee it up. I putt good, my iron play is strong, but I can’t hit a straight drive to save my life.

Most people don’t consider lost golf balls trash. I do. I can’t sleep the night before I golf knowing there’s nothing I can do to prevent defacing Mother Earth with my dimpled, non-biodegradable spheres.

Maybe I take things too seriously.

Like the saving the planet. I take it very seriously.

I aim to reduce, reuse and recycle everything. I vowed last year I would never step over another piece of trash. Now I carry a recyclable plastic bag with me on my walks and usually have enough cups, wrappers and papers to get about half a bag full.

I could accumulate more if I wobbled along in a drunken sort of weave into the bushes and gutters, but that would take too long and would reduce the happy time I spend in the bar developing a true drunken weave the old-fashioned way

Still, I know I could do more. I’ve read that the average American discards 28 pounds of trash each week into our bulging landfills. Our family is way below that, but not near the average household in Oslo, Norway, where they produce just four pounds of weekly trash.

Four pounds! What, is Oslo populated entirely by Keebler elves?

Still, even they are pikers compared to the world’s best recyclers. For every single pound of trash you and I produce, this trash-devouring little superhero is capable of recycling it into an equivalent amount of something useful and nutritious.

Behold, the red wiggler worm!

I did a story about the practice of vermiculture four years ago and immediately became enthralled with the ambi-sexterous red wiggler worms. The tiny slimies simply fascinate. It takes a trained eye and, I’d guess, an atomic level microscope, but every worm is a hermaphrodite generously bestowed with organs of both sexes.

The condition is not enough to make me want to tune in to worm porn night on the Animal Planet, but I’ll never again look at another worm and believe it must endure a boring or lonely existence.

As it was explained to me, “These worms simply live to eat and reproduce. Basically, the worm is just a mouth, anus and a microscopic little brain.”

I asked, given these base characteristics, how do red wiggler worms differ from the typical radio talk show host.

“Well, the worm actually contributes some good to society. About 45 percent of all our waste stream comes from food and paper products, both of which are compostable materials. Worms can convert these common waste products into nutrient-rich soil fertilizer to energize your gardens.”

I was sold. I got a little bin, a softball sized ball of 1,000 little wigglers and soon our family started putting apple cores, banana peels, lettuce scraps, tea bags, potato peels, etc. into the bin along with showers of shredded newspapers. The warm worm poo makes great fertilizer.

So now when strangers ask what I do for a living, I always answer “I’m a worm farmer.”

And it’s true. Sure, I do a lot of writing, but there’s rarely even a penny of commerce involved in the exercise. I used to say blogging was the journalistic equivalent of running a lemonade stand until I realized that even 8 year olds know enough to charge a quarter for a glass of lemonade.

Worm farming is a productive pursuit that reduces vile pollution. Some critics would argue blogging is the exact opposite.

So instead of golfing on this Earth Day, I’m putting on my worm farmer bib overalls and am heading to Baggeley Elementary School to teach my daughter’s second grade class about the joys of vermiculture or worm farming.

I’ve done it the past couple of years and it’s always a joy to see the kids fussing over the bin full of worms as they frolick amidst all the rich worm poo.

But it’s not all fun and games. I don’t let the kids get too out of hand.

It might upset the worms.

And, take my word for it, no one wants to see a hermaphroditic red wiggler get all excited in front of a classroom full of second graders.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My headshot is freezing!


I’m right there with those who’ve complained that my profile picture needs thawing. Trees and flowers are in bloom, birds are singing and the blissful warmth of summer beckons.

Yet, there I am, three times a week, still looking like I’m dressed for an expedition to wrestle the fabled Yeti off the slopes of Mt. Everest.

But as is my custom, I can’t do anything about it until my vehicle needs its oil changed and the only way that’s going to happen is if I take the day off and drive to Cleveland and back.

I came up with the idea in 2008 to regulate my headshots according to my vehicular need to change the oil every 5,000 miles.

So far, it’s worked well. I usually drive about 15,000 miles a year so that’s three new headshots that allow me the opportunity to indulge my inner ham.

This one was taken January 8, smack in the teeth of winter. Its pesky duration’s taught me a lesson: never take a headshot picture with a short seasonal shelf life.

But to be fair, on January 8 I had every reason to believe this monster winter was never going to end. At the time, it seemed like we’d be toboganning clear through the Fourth of July.

Headshot trivia: The headshot may be worth preserving for historical reasons. That may have been the only time I smiled the entire winter. I mostly scowled from Halloween clear through Opening Day. How I wound up with a picture of me smiling and not looking like a homicidal-Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” defies the odds.

I think a day will come when most of us, vanity be damned, will update our headshots every single time we update our blogs or Facebook posts.

Our headshots will be like visual mood rings. The pictures will clue us in to whether the post will be worth reading or not.

“I see Tiffany has her diamond nose stud in tonight. I guess she’s got another date with that slam poet who shuns conventions like deodorant. Could she finally be sharing what she sees in that loser?”

Or, “Man, does Tommy look hungover. I gotta see if he lost his pants again!”

Or, “Looks like Mort spent the last six hours wallowing in on-line pornography. Eh, I’ll skip him today. His descriptions focus too much on action at the expense of essential plot.”

I just saw a really great headshot where the girl looks like she’s actually listening to God speak. It’s so lovely and reverential somebody should photoshop a halo above her head.

What I like about it, too, is the idea that in these narcissistic days of preening individuality there is still somebody who’d actually listen to God, rather than just bitch to Him about things like rain forecast for picnics.

For now, I’m stuck about what I should do after I return from getting the car’s oil changed.

I’m a traditionalist in that I’ve always favored the straightforward over props or other playful diversions.

I want my picture to say, “Hey, thanks so much for taking time to read my humble little blog. It means the world to me. If you keep reading and promise to tell friends, I’ll visit your house this weekend to mow your lawn and wash your car!”

I suppose if I really wanted it to say that, I’d smear lipstick on my kisser and pucker up.

One of my favorite pictures, one I’d like to someday emulate, is the one Van Morrison uses for the cover of his 1997 masterpiece, “The Healing Game,”
a collection so soulful I swear it can cure hangovers.

But the pose would look pretentious for me, I fear.

So I’m not sure what I’ll do for the still-momentous shot. I wish I could banish the vanity that stubbornly dominates these decisions.

I need to strike a balance between friendly and earnestness.

How I’ll do that, I cannot say.

I need time to think about it.

I’d take a long drive but, given the way I change headshots, that’d be counter-productive.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Who's the worst man in America?


I’ve tried in vain for the past week to calculate who’s the worst man in America. The competition is just too, well, stiff.

Is it Tiger Woods? Ben Roethlisberger? John Edwards? Jesse James?

It’s an engaging topic among worldly men like myself. We’re the kind of guys who understand every single motivation a man could have for cheating on his wife.

Marriages go stale. Passions cool. Temptations beckon.

So men come at the topic with a slightly more sympathetic angle than would, say, a jury composed of 12 angry married women.

But the other night five of us were discussing over beers just which of these four men is the biggest disgrace to those of us who lug around the Y chromosome.

The misbehavior of each is so operatic that we were unable to agree on a clear winner, and by winner I mean loser. For that, we’re going to need spreadsheets, categories, assigned points and about eight more pitchers of beer.

We all agreed that Roethlisberger is the biggest jerk because his misdeeds are just a few splashes of DNA-testable material short of criminal. You’d have to give a ton of points for non-consensual acts.

He’s clearly the most stupid of the four. He could have been living Tiger Woods’s illicit life and no one would have cared.

So while he loses points for being a single man on the prowl, he gets a bunch for raping drunk women he should be sending home in cabs. And, remember, points here determine who is the most despicable.

I wouldn’t want any men to read this and think me and my buddies are going to buy them a beer and salute them for doing things for which they should be slugged.

The other three are married men involved with consensual adultresses.

So give Woods, Edwards and James points for being married. The marriage vow should still mean something and with our calculations it does.

But who among that trio is the worst cheater?

Tiger wins on volume, but loses points because, clearly, he felt no emotional attachment to these women who were either hookers or have undergone extensive plastic surgery to ensure they’d look like hookers.

Jesse James is an interesting contestant -- or should it be detestant?

He didn’t cheat as much as Tiger, but he gets a lot of points for cheating on America’s sweetheart with a Nazi. A Nazi!

“My wife says she feels no sympathy for Sandra,” Dave said. “She says she should have known he was a scumbag because his last wife was a porn star.”

Excellent point, but still . . . a Nazi! Plus, the news broke the night of her Oscar celebration so he gets incidental creep points for that. And if we’re giving Tiger 5 points for each women he’s cheating with, we’d have to give James 50 points for choosing to cheat with . . . a Nazi!

That brings us to John Edwards. One category is “Man with the Most to Lose.”

Edwards runs away with this one. Think of it: this could all be happening while he was president. It’s not much of a stretch.

The right despises Obama. Just imagine what Beck, Hannity and Limbaugh would be saying if our president was flying Air Force One to Charlotte to visit his mistress and their love child.

He loses points on the adultery scale because it was only one woman and he did have a caring relationship with her. But he gets huge points because he got her pregnant, blamed it on a buddy, and because his wife was battling cancer during the affair.

This is visceral with women. They just hate Edwards for that.

With most women, the rankings are Edwards, Rothlisberger, Tiger, and James.

Guys are more nuanced. We see mitigating factors.

With Edwards, we see it as a man trapped in a marriage that had broken down. We think Elizabeth should have said, “John, we had a nice run, lovely kids, etc. But I now see you’re unhappy and want to spend your life with the comely and new-agey Rielle. Go! Be free! Just please don’t bring her to my funeral. That’d be tacky.”

We can’t help it. That’s just the way we think.

So after an evening of boozy consideration, I still can’t decide who’s the worst.

For now, our only logical conclusion is this:

Not only do we men have penises, alas, sometimes we just can’t help but act like them, too.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Take this jersey & shove it


You’d think I’d have known better by now. It was just six years ago that I laid down the law about shelling out big bucks to wear the jersey of any professional athlete.

First of all, I didn’t want to wear a jersey of someone who would beat or kill his wife. You don’t see many tasteful folks wearing Buffalo Bills jerseys with no. 32 and “Simpson” on the back.

The player would have to be either a native Pittsburgher or enjoy a strong bond with his adopted city. He’d have to be visible in the community and do charity work. That’s important to me.

The guy would have to be a Hall of Fame shoo-in. The jersey needs an heirloom quality to it for it to be a smart purchase.

So I chose well, I think, when I paid $85 for a Hines Ward jersey in 2005.

But for the past month now I’ve opened up my closet, saw the big black and gold jersey with the no. 7 and thought, “How could I be such an idiot?”


See, I didn’t consider a fourth essential rule: Wait until the player is dead or too old to disgrace himself, the team or me with shameful criminal activities.

But in a weak moment last year I broke all my rules and wound up with a Ben Roethlisberger jersey.

Blame the thrill of a bargain.

Every year a lively group of friends from New York City come to Pittsburgh and we all whoop it up for a weekend centered around a Steeler game.

One of the shiftier sorts brought a trunkful of pristine jerseys of questionable origin. They were dandies, too. Double stitched, hi-gloss numbers, NFL authentication, etc. The price tags for the Roethlisbergers said $125.

He told me, hey, sweetheart, because we’re chums, he’d let me have one for $100.

“Ha!” I said. “You must think I’m an idiot. Buying one of these, I’m sure, would make me an accessory to one of your criminal activities. And I have firm rules about whose jersey I’ll wear.”

Okay, he said, how about $80?

“Look, the guy’s already got a rape charge against him in Reno and everyone in town’s heard stories about him being huge jerk.”

Sixty?

“I know, I know, he just led us to a glorious Super Bowl victory and he’ll likely retire a Steeler, but . . .”

Fifty?

“C’mon! In this day of salary cap value . . .”

Forty?

“Uh . . . Sold!”

I wore it twice and will never wear it again.

Ever since the damning press conference by Georgia District Attorney Fred Bright, I have been confounded by what to do with the damn thing. Didn’t want to burn it. Couldn’t give it to an impressionable.

So after much consideration, yesterday I got in my car and drove an hour to the Steeler’s headquarters on Pittsburgh’s South Side.

I handed the jersey and a letter to Steeler president Art Rooney II to the receptionist and asked her to give them to Mr. Rooney. She smiled and said, “I’ll be sure he gets them.”

Here’s what the letter says:

Dear Mr. Rooney,

I don’t know what to do with this Ben Roethlisberger jersey. I can no longer wear it. I can’t give it to my nephews because I don’t want them thinking No. 7 is someone their uncle would want them to cheer on.

I won’t give it to charity because I don’t want someone less fortunate to think Ben’s someone they should emulate. I can’t give it to a friend because I don’t want to see him or her wearing it at the stadium where the sight of it will disgust me.

So I’m giving it to you. I’m a second generation Steeler season ticket holder. I travel a good bit and have friends all over the world. Like many avid Steeler fans, I consider myself an ambassador for the team and the city I love. I wouldn’t do anything to disgrace those proud affiliations.

Wearing this jersey in public would do that.

I trust you’ll know what to do with the jersey. I don’t want to ever see it again.

And the same goes for the son of bitch who’s worn it for the past six years at Heinz Field.”

Now I’m in the market for spiffy new Terry Bradshaw jersey.

I’ll pay big bucks for one.

Just as soon as I hear the man’s dead.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Home improvements & looming heart attacks


I don’t know when kids stopped eating paint chips, but recent duties have me wishing they’d resume the practice. It would ease clean ups.

Kids have always been picky, but I seem to remember a time when children ate paint chips the way parents wish they’d eat things like broccoli.

It’s one of the things I thought about during a recent 60-hour stretch it’s taken me to re-do a bedroom that to me was perfectly suitable for every single bedroom activity a man can conceive -- and that includes acts involving conception.

Alas, I’m lacking in more visionary aspects of homemaking. That reality has been hammered home with crushing certainty.

Our 3 year old, the one who looks like Susan Boyle and talks like Joe Pesci, was doing routine destruction on our heirloom dining room table when my wife exploded: “Stop that! You’re destroying the only nice thing in this entire house!”

The insult ricochetted off the non-plussed child and scored a direct hit on me.

Gee, wasn’t I nice?

She apologized, but it’s clear the home we moved into three years ago needed improvements.

And now I’m determined to make them before I have my first heart attack, which I’m on schedule for in about 2013.

So I went right from bitching-about-snow-shoveling season to bitching-about- doing-my-taxes season to bitching-about-re-doing-a-bedroom season.

It’s the kind of bitch, bitch, bitch you’d expect to see only at a really successful dog grooming venture.

And it all goes completely against my grain.

Not the bitching, certainly. I’m talking about work.

It’s alien to my being because I had a perfectly pleasant and lazy man as a role model.

I don’t remember ever seeing my father lifting a paint brush in his life. My enduring image of him was sitting in an neutral-looking room in a blue Lazy Boy recliner, watching sports, eating chips (the potato-based kind, not paint), and drinking beer after beer after beer.

To this day, the recollection soothes me.

I asked Mom if the old man ever painted a single room in the house, which I remember being uniformly egg-shell white.

“Yes, he’d paint and do things to keep the house up,” she said.

A lot?

“More than most men, I’d say.”

More than me?

“No way! I don’t know anybody who works as hard as you!”

Because of fear it would sound scripted, I’d missed the opportunity to have her make the statement in front of my wife, who thinks the reverse is true. She thinks everyone works harder than me.

I blame Martha Stewart. Men never used “re-do” rooms. Now many wives think nothing of changing the paint scheme in a room the way they change seasonal wardrobes.

But to do it right it’s a big job. Always. There’s careful taping, furniture rearrangement, drop cloths, vent and outlet removal, sanding, etc.

I’m not exaggerating that’s taken me 60 hours, either. I had four layers of wallpaper to strip, spackle to apply, walls to sand, primer and textured coats to apply, then the final double coats of Mint Celadon green

The worst part of it is -- God help me -- I’m starting to enjoy it. I haven't golfed even once this year, but I’m recalling some aspects of the project the way I used to herald recollections of negotiating a difficult par 5 dogleg over water.

“See up in that corner? The previous owner was an adhesive-crazed bonehead whose carelessness left me no alternative but to rip a chunk of drywall off. Took me four scalpel-like swipes with a 4-inch putty knife heaped with dry vinyl spackle to repair the damage.”

Message: Me, skilled handyman; previous owner, loathsome jackass (a topic for another day).

Another bonus is that, cocooned in the bedroom, I’m enjoying a solitude and an opportunity to watch whatever I want, a rare occasion in a house with three girls.

I’ve watched “Slapshot,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence,” “Cool Hand Luke,” the excellent Tom Petty documentary “Running Down a Dream,” and portions of the Rolling Stones “Four Flicks” multi-DVD concert extravaganza.

I’ve watched baseball, golf, March Madness and enough aggregate Moe, Larry and Curly to equal 27 Stooges.

Touch-ups remain, but I’m mostly done.

I feel flushed with achievement and feeling flushed is a helpful state of mind for what I know is in store.

Val says the bathroom really needs re-done.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Our big bear is back


The bear is back and you all know what that means: can’t let the kids fill the pool with honey for any more midnight swims.

Your idea of secure parenting takes a significant shift when a 300-pound black bear turns up for snacks just outside your big living room window.

After a two-year absence, that’s what happened with us again early Sunday morning.

It was about 2:30 a.m. when I was awakened by a crashing sound. I did what I always do in these situations. I crept out of bed, pulled on my Star Wars Wookie pajamas and said a short, fast prayer that I wouldn’t have to do anything remotely heroic.

I like the idea of being a hero, but don’t like the odds of it happening in my home in the dead of night. Unless I can gulp a Bloody Mary or two, I’m just no good before “The Price is Right.”

Plus, if it was an in-home intruder, I’d be worried about subduing the crasher with sufficient force to ensure its docility, but not disabling it so much he or it couldn’t clean up the eventual mess while I went back to bed.

If I’m going to be a hero, I’d like it to happen in broad daylight in front of a TV station where I was returning from my barber and have the recipient of my heroics be a pretty single mother who wasn’t either Kate Gosselin or the Octomom.

So all this is on my mind as I stumble through the darkened house. The basement was clear. Maybe it was the front storm door which has a habit of banging around in the wind.

Yes, it was open. I pulled it shut, but not before considering doing something country boys perched on porches have been doing for years.

It was a brilliant moonlit night. I thought about taking a leak off the porch while staring up at the stars.

But it was a bit cold out. Had it been warmer, I might have died an embarrassing and bloody death.

Because for my final reconnoiter, I turned on the outside lights for one last looksee.

What I saw had me trying to rub the Twilight Zone out of my eyes. It looked like someone had parked a black Volkswagen right under the window.

The bear was back. It had pulled down a small bird feeder we’d suspended from the gutter to feast on sunflower seeds.

When we moved into the house up in the woods three years ago, it was an festival of bear sightings. We’ll never forget the night we saw a mama and three cubs in a tree behind the house.

We gloried at the thrill of rough nature right outside our walls. Then one day my daughter alarmed me by asking, “Daddy, do you think the bear would let me pet it if I gave it a marshmallow?”

Plus, as mentioned, on many nights I revel in taking a country boy leak. My fear was I’d one day be found dead, bear mauled, my pants down around my ankles.

Investigators would be stumped until a buddy would tell them with straight face: “What he was doing in the woods with his pants down, I cannot say. But this much I do know: He always talked about how much he loved animals.”


So now I’m more circumspect. I raced down the hall and woke Val with the news.

It’s difficult to convey just how unnerving it is to have a 300-pound animal with maneater potential just two feet from your couch.

It seemed unlikely that it would spring through the picture window and start chasing us around the kitchen, but the full effects of Global Warming are still being determined so it was an open question.

We took some Zapruder-quality pictures through the window. The flash eventually annoyed the big omnivore enough for it to wander away. But not before it stood up and gave us its full measure. It’s about 7 feet tall.

The next day Val and I argued about which of us was more afraid (trust me, it was her).


Now I have to reckon with what I’ll do next time the bear shows up near my porch to menace me and my family.

I suppose I could try and scare it off with an insulting splash from the only weapon a pacifist country boy conceals.

Or maybe it’d be better if I just answered nature’s call in a more refined way before my next investigation.

The big bear might surprise me first and I wouldn’t want to do anything that might risk ruining my Wookies.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A short distance runner


The three young men were dashing in every sense of the word. I was at a cross walk at the University of Pittsburgh when the shirtless trio came running past.

They were trim, fit and ran with a husky kind of ease you see in Olympic athletes.

Had they paused momentarily to take stock of me, a middle-aged man trending toward paunch, they may have felt pity at my physical decline. They may have thought my days of running were past.

That’s what I thought, too, and the idea pleased me. Running is a sweaty, arduous and unpleasant exercise. Plus, it’s one of the many ill-conceived tortures people resort to for health reasons that often end up having unhealthy consequences.

There are muscle pulls, aching joints and careless, iPhone-fiddling drivers who absentmindedly veer onto the shoulder where you were sure you’d be safe.

So running, I thought, was something I’d forever outgrown.

Of course, I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Not two hours later, I was on the run again. And I realized just how joyful a really good run can be.

Here’s the key: A good run should never exceed 40 feet.

I was ending the class I teach early that night to chaperone the students to a journalism function featuring author John Grisham. I hadn’t told them we’d be attending and had carried on routinely as if they’d be subjected to another grinding evening of me talking about how unfairly the world’s always treating me and how if they wanted to do well in class they’d all write lavish essays telling me I’m great.

So they were thrilled when I announced a deviation from all the preening.

I mentioned the assignments and began in slow measured tones: “So let’s all head across the street to the ballroom . . . First one to the elevators drinks free all night!

And I was off. In my mind it was like one of those nature shows where the cheetah flies through the brush. I ran 15 feet through the classroom, 20 feet down the hall, and about two feet to the elevator.

I’d won!

The act was so exhilarating I just stood there jubilant as the students came filing up. I’d beaten the field by a good 12 seconds.

My euphoria was so overwhelming that I’d forgotten to summon the elevator and we all stood there like morons for about two minutes until one girl reached out and pushed the “Down” button.

This led to a dispute over who actually won. Hard feelings were averted when we got there and realized everyone could drink free, a situation which would have made it my best class ever even if John Grisham had never said a peep.

Really, it was the greatest run of my life.

Many years ago I had some memorable runs, but they were always away from things, not towards them. I’ve run from police, begrudged girlfriends and angry men who wanted to beat me up for reasons I can no longer recall.

Self-preservation is a terrible but wise motivator for speed.

Now fresh from my hallway victory, I’m aware to how much I’m running and I’m thoroughly enjoying the activity.

Just yesterday, our 9 year old, as she is wont to do, challenged me to what she calls a “Silly Race” while we were waiting for the school bus.

Her rules involved skipping down the driveway, touching our noses to the headlights of both cars, making a rooster sound, then repeating up the other way.

She knows instinctively that, as I did with my class, it’s easier to win when you set the rules and announce an advantageous starting time like while your opponent is reading the baseball box scores.

“Ready!Set!Go!”

I was so hopelessly behind I knew I had to cheat to save face. With my recent victory fresh in my mind, I turned the burners on full.

She disputes the outcome, but I swear I won by a step. But this victory was not without a price.

Today, my tight leg muscles feel like piano strings.

In my euphoria, I’d foolishly exceeded 40 feet, a mistake I won’t make again.

To maintain my appreciation of the exertion, I’m sure the distance I run will continue to shorten.

If what I see from all the commercials aimed at men like me during the Masters golf tournament are any indication, in a few years my idea of a really good run will be making it 10 feet from the couch to the bathroom before I embarrass myself.

Whether I’ll win those distant races is a matter for another day.

Right now, I gotta run.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tiger, tips & teeth


There is much criticism today over how the herd golf media was cowed by Tiger Woods.

Me, I’m just happy for the opportunity to describe paunchy writers who cover a pastoral game as being a cowed herd.

Of course, no one should have expected any revealing news to emerge from Tiger’s press conference.

Golf media are so timorous their idea of a tough question is asking an arthritic old caddie if the lordly Davis Love III used a 5 or a 6 iron when he dunked his approach into a pond.

And who can blame them? It’s a great gig. It’s free food and free golf at some of the most idyllic places on the planet. It’s a boat only a fool would want to rock.

Why do you think someone as lazy and unscrupulous as I engaged in golf writing from 2000-2007?

Still, I couldn’t resist the urge to play armchair golf journalist again.

I had two questions and the topics were tips and teeth.

My first question: “Tiger, your former 1,000-watt smile’s now registering only about 920. Why is your left front tooth a shade darker than the rest?”

I think that would have been an artful way of shaking some truth from him. He’s said his only injuries from the November 26 accident were a sore neck and five stitches on his lip.

There are armored tanks in war zones less safe than the $50,000 Escalade he was driving that night. He grazed a curb, a fire hydrant and a tree and wasn’t going fast enough in any of the bumps to cause the airbags to deploy.

So how did he lose the tooth? It’s a simple question.

The second question is in-directly related to the first: “Will you, a man who as recently as last year was worth nearly $1 billion, strive to become a better tipper?”


Many wise observers are saying that what happens between him and his wife is between him and his wife. True, but that ignores the universal impulse to lean closer to the open window whenever the neighbors raise their voices.

But cheapness is an affront to all mankind. I despise it.

Stories of him stiffing waiters and waitresses are legion, and I’m not talking about the parking lot kind of stiffing he gave Mindy Lawton, who earned $8 an hour slinging pancakes in the cream and green uniforms issued by Perkins.

I’m talking about how he mistreated all the women who were either hookers or underwent extensive plastic surgery to ensure everyone would think they were hookers.

Even in those tawdry sorts of encounters, the parties are entering a social contract that is loosely defined but understood by all.

He gets lots of wild sex. They, in exchange, should expect some lavish perks that go with bedding a superstar athlete on the hush.

They should get cars, jewelry, luxury rendezvous apartments in fabulous places.

It’s just understood, sort of like Elin had a right to expect some old-fashioned fidelity from her husband.

But Jessica Junger ended her affair after Tiger refused to help when she was in danger of eviction.

Lawton, the Perkins waitress, said the only thing she ever got from Woods was a chicken sandwich wrap from Subway, which might be acceptable if she’d been screwing that Jared guy. But not Tiger.

If he really wants to turn his life around, he should become a one-man stimulus package.

Me, I’m an extravagant tipper and it feels great. I recently left $5 tip for two beers and a friendly smile. The bartender rang the bar bell and yelled, “Man, you’re awesome!”

And for that moment, I was. I know most people in the hospitality industry would rather be home with their kids than out pretending my jokes are funny.

It’s such a simple gesture and it won’t break anyone, but you’ll feel great doing it and when they’re home soaking their aching feet they’ll say prayers asking God to bless people like you.

And God will.

So I’d advise Tiger to fix his marriage and stop screwing Perkins waitresses either in parking lots or with less than 20 percent gratuities. If I were him, I’d never leave less than a $100.

And, for heaven’s sake, don’t skimp when it comes to picking a dentist you rely on to get the shading of your replacement tooth just right.

Those are my tips to Tiger.

Damn, that felt good.

Friday, April 2, 2010

On Easter, let's resurrect the name Judas


This is the weekend when I’m always chagrined we didn’t have a son. By God, I’d have named him Judas.

One of the keys to succeeding in this life is simply to exceed expectations.

Being called Judas in the 21st century would ensure this. No name in history is freighted with worse connotations than Judas and that would forever work in the kid’s favor.

Fair-minded evaluators would say, “Naturally, I had my suspicions Judas was going to be a real turncoat, but I find him to be very trustworthy. I recommend we give him a raise. Let’s start with 30 pieces of silver and see if he counters.”

I’m always fascinated why some Biblical names -- Noah, Joshua, Samuel -- endure, while others do not.

I’ve never met an Obadiah, a Nahum or a Habakkuk and that strikes me as strange. The world is awash with so many religious fanatics you’d think at least a few of them would honor the obscure Old Testament prophets rather than name yet another child Bob or Pete.

When Mr. and Mrs. Pilate named their son Pontius they had no way of knowing they were passing along a handle with would terminate with his historic misdeeds. I feel for them. They must have been busting with pride that their son had risen to be a powerful Hebrew governor.

Here in America, we’re always harping at politicians for doing what Pilate did: he slavishly followed the polls. Of course, our president with two Old Testament-sounding names is in trouble for doing just the opposite. Sometimes you just can’t win.

With Pilate, they should have just term limited the guy, not the name. Because when you think about it Pontius is a great sounding name. It should be in play.

I think it would be fun for a family that was really into aviation to name a son Pontius and steer him into the airlines just so one day our routine flights from Pittsburgh to Charlotte could be enlivened by hearing the speaker crackle: “Hello, my name’s Pontius and I’ll be your pilot today ...”

I’ve always loved the Elton John song, “Levon,” and am stirred by the line, “He called his child Jesus, ‘cause he liked the name.”

Levon’s Jesus aspires to go to Venus on a balloon. I try to never let the senselessness of the lyric interfere with my enjoyment of a really great tune.

There has to be scores of men named Joseph who’ve married women named Mary, but I wager not a one of them had the playful audacity to name a son Jesus.

Too bad. A trio like that could start a dandy end-of-days cult and that’s where the real money is. Sex, too, from what I hear.

People of Spanish descent have no such sheepishness about naming males Jesus. They pronounce it with a joyful sounding “Hey! Zeus!” which always sounds like an informal shout out to a remote and powerful god with a human weakness for mortal women.

Kind of like Tiger.

Major League baseball is littered with Jesuses. The lowly Pittsburgh Pirates organization has a bunch of them, including Jesus Brito whom we acquired in January from the Cleveland Indians.

And, get this, Jesus Brito was born in 1987 on December 25. I’m not kidding.

I don’t care whether this Jesus can walk on water or not. I’ll be happy if he can bat a measly .280 with runners in scoring position.

I like to think one day I’d be at the ballpark when some Jesus turns water into wine, but I know cheapskate owner Bob Nutting would spoil the miracle by charging $7.50 for a 4-ounce plastic cup of the stuff.

I have so little faith in the Pirates organization that I know if this Jesus ever gets good my buddies and I will scornfully recall the day we traded a guy named Jesus who was born on Christmas Day for two has-beens and a player to be named later.

But back to Judas. He’s enjoying something of a renaissance. Biblical scholars are saying Judas was really Jesus’s BFF and the only one the Nazarene could trust to fulfill scriptural destiny.

How they divined this, I have no idea. Maybe Judas had a Facebook page no one’d ever bothered to check.

Of course, my name has a powerful Biblical connection.

I am Christ-opher.

Before I’d bothered to look it up, I’d always assumed the “Christ” meant “Messiah” and “opher” meant “who toils in blogger obscurity,” and I was only living up to half the bargain.

In actuality, it means “one who bears Christ in his heart.”

That pleases me.

Still, I think I’d have done better associated with the worst name in the Bible, rather than the best.

And, hell, it’s been ages since anyone’s offered me a cash equivalent of 30 pieces of silver to do anything.