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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Don't call them patriots


On U2’s 1988 album, “Rattle and Hum,” singer Bono intros “Helter Skelter” by saying, “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back.”

Well, the dangerous and delusional fringe of the far right has stolen the word patriot from all of us.

And I’m stealing it back.

News out of southern Michigan keeps referring to what is becoming known as the “Patriot Movement.” It implies these people love America so much they will kill to restore it to a presumed purity that never existed.

There’s nothing patriotic about wanting to kill a police officer to set a trap to kill more police officers.

My first thought when I saw the Hutaree group mugshots was, “I’ll bet we won’t see any Obama/Biden signs out in front of any of their trailers.”

So far all we know is that the group were preparing for war with the anti-Christ. Want to take a wild guess on who they think he might be?

It’s people like this that make it so easy to caricature the entire Tea Party movement, whose spiritual godfather is Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh.

And, as I’m sure we’ll see, an ugly mix of racism and righteousness will be at the heart of Hutaree.

I’ve yet to see a single white supremacist that makes me, a fellow white, feel the least bit supreme. These are the chosen ones? Who’s doing the choosing? Jerry Springer?

This is going to sound like a joke, but these guys give trailer trash a bad name. I know and am friendly with lots of trashy people who live in trailers. In fact, one of my pop culture heroes, Earl Hickey, is proud trailer trash. His show, “My Name Is Earl,” is to modern family life what “The Waltons” were to the 1930s.

There’s nothing at all redemptive about groups calling themselves patriots. It’s an insult to our proud history.

America’s Founding Fathers were educated men of grace, class and wit. Egged on by the savants at Fox News, the men and women who today call themselves patriots sneer at anyone with with those nobilities.

Our Founding Fathers weren’t bloodthirsty. They weren’t hot headed. They were cool and deliberate. War was a last resort.

It was an age of reason. They didn’t want to kill all the British. They wanted them to just go away.

It’s wrong to take on of our most proud and cherished words and apply it to groups that have nothing in common with the inspiration.

Want to hear about a real patriot?

Let me tell you a little about the father who founded me.

Paul Rodell was an optician who never earned more than $20,000 a year and worked until the day he died. He loved his wife, his children and I doubt the world’s ever seen a happier grandpa.

A Pittsburgh Steeler season ticket holder for four decades, he’d stand with his hand over his heart and sing the national anthem with a gusto so loud, off-key and joyful beer vendors would turn their heads in slack-jawed amazement.

He paid his taxes without complaint, bitched about potholes and wars he didn’t think were justified. He was happy when men like Nixon and Reagan won elections and chagrined when men like Carter and Clinton did.

He loved this exuberant country with his whole heart. Things like reflexive racism and religious intolerance confused him. He couldn’t understand hating a man he’d never met and every man he ever met became his friend. If it was raining, he'd offer soaked strangers a ride from the bus stop into town.

He believed God had blessed him and wondered what the golf courses in heaven will look like.

He’d rather have spent an hour reading a good mystery than watching partisans harangue each other about politics.

When he died, the government he served without complaint in World War II sent us an American flag in gratitude for his service.

He was the greatest man I’ve ever known and he’ll always be my idea of a true American patriot.

So, please, when it comes to hate-spewing traitors who cherish their access to automatic weaponry more than their flawed fellow man, don’t call them patriots.

They’re just morons with basic cable service.

And save all your hatred for the really despicable Patriots. The ones who play football in New England.

Do it out of remembrance for men like my father.

As I said, Dad was a Steeler fan.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

In praise of profanity


At least once a week I regret my vow to make this a family-friendly blog. See, I’m pro-profanity. I love to swear and my life is enriched with ample provocations to do so.

Happened just this morning.

For reasons of economy, taste and snobbery, I’ve pretty much kicked the fast food habit.

But sometimes the body simply needs fuel. Today I wanted to accomplish a lot in a little time so I swung by the nearest McDonald’s and ordered a sausage biscuit with cheese. The place is notorious for its inefficiency and I hadn’t been there in probably two years.

I zipped through the drive-thru and made it back to my office in under two minutes.

I was pleased to think that maybe my faith in humanity was being restored in that they’ve evolved and learned to work together more efficiently and, yeah, I gave all the credit to Barack.

That will please conservatives because of what happened next.

I unfolded the paper and inside was just the biscuit with cheese.

I’d been awake barely 20 minutes and I screamed my first profanity of the day.

My entire order was just four words long: “sausage biscuit with cheese.” And only three of the words involved food.

I understand in these busy times that many people are distracted and that many of our attention spans have shortened to jiffy fractions. So if the wrapper had contained just a sausage biscuit, I’d have understood.

But how Person A says or prints “sausage biscuit with cheese,” and Person B omits the sausage is incomprehensible.

It is the very essence of any sausage sandwich. I’d wager in the history of McDonald’s history no one’s ever said, “I’d like a biscuit with cheese.”

So now I’m on a mission. I grab the inedible mistake and dash straight back to the drive-thru determined to keep my cool.

I like situational profanity, but using it at someone always makes me feel small. Plus, the store was clearly staffed with idiots who’d have responded to my barbs with either gunfire or dumbfounded stares.

I politely explained to the girl I needed to see the manager. She said, sure, and asked me to pull up to the second drive thru.

No, I’ll wait here, I said.

It was a small act of civil disobedience, but I have a pet theory about the progression of drive thrus and here was an opportunity to perhaps further its potential.

See, there were no drive thrus when I was a boy. Now each restaurant has two. My theory is that in 20 years it will take four drive thrus to screw up each order.

The manager, a sweet grandmotherly lady, approached and heard my complaint. I said I wanted a new sausage biscuit with cheese and compensation for the inconvenience.

“Well, we don’t have any gift certificates here, but I can give you some pie!”

Pie?

As I said, I’m not a frequent patron so I don’t know what McDonald’s breakfast pie would entail. I’ve had and enjoyed quiche, which is a pie-shaped entree. But I’d already ordered my breakfast entree.

I said no thanks. She took my address and said she’d send some gift certificates. Soon she handed me a sack and said, “Here’s your sausage biscuit with cheese -- I put a free hash brown in for you!”

She said it in a way that led me to believe this gesture led past disgruntled customers to emerge from their vehicles and do handsprings around the parking lot.

I just said, “Thank you for your consideration.”

I get back to the office. Opened the sack and unfolded the wrapper. Know what was inside?

Biscuit with cheese, egg and bacon.

I shouted the day’s second profanity with such a reverberating gusto that I imagined flocks of birds simultaneously lifting off from branches all across distant savannahs.

It helped relieve the strain.

That brings me to Joe Biden’s profane gaffe. I was so pleased to see it didn’t inspire the usual holier-than-thou back and forth that’s become so common in our over-heated political climate.

We’re all becoming more comfortable with profanity.

It gives me hope that someday I’ll be able to use all my favorite swear words right here in this family-friendly blog.

And on that day, I’ll tell you exactly what I thought when I bit into that bacon mistake I was too furious to return a second time.

“Hey, this is pretty #@$*-ing good!”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Justice and John Grisham


Here’s another indication of just how massive my ego is: Wednesday night I had an opportunity to forfeit one night of professorial instruction in favor of letting my students hear another writer speak.

It was not an easy call. I had to carefully weigh whether they would benefit more from a ninth three-hour class with me or one hour with a writer who might shed some insights into aspects of the writing profession. The other writer?

John Grisham.

He was invited to speak to The Innocence Institute at Point Park University in Pittsburgh where I teach creative non-fiction. Two of my students, Matt Stroud and Marie DoRego, are pillars of the program that painstakingly researches cases of death row inmates who claim to have been wrongly convicted.

They devoted long hours with grizzled program director Bill Moushey, a legendary local reporter, and thought, gee, maybe other aspiring journalists would benefit from the experience.

Partly out of laziness, I decided, yeah, well, let’s let them hear what a guy who’s sold more than 250 million books has to say. The students would have to write about the evening.

Twelve hours later, I’m convinced I made the right decision. But not for any of the reasons you might suspect.

Sure, Grisham was great. He was funny, handsome and spoke with a drawling eloquence that made everything he said compelling.

In short, he was everything that the three men who told unforgettable stories are not.

They are Greg Bright, John Thompson and Douglas Dilosa.

You may never have heard their names and but for saintly work by people in other Innocence Institutes you never would have. Thompson was five days from a date with a Louisiana electric chair.

The men spent a combined 58 years in Louisiana’s Angola State Penitentiary, one of the most notorious, soul-devouring prisons on earth.

They took turns telling their stories from stools behind metal podiums on a barren stage. Their demographic breakdown roughly equalled that of our nation’s prisons. Bright and Thompson were poor blacks from challenging backgrounds convicted of murdering strangers.

Dilosa on September 27, 1986, was a lot like me. He was a happily married father of two young children he adored. He was convicted of killing his wife for insurance money and then, according to prosecutors, staging a crime scene to make it look like it had been done by two intruders he swore were getting away with murder. Prosecutors said he’d strangled his wife, mangled himself and tied himself up to foil investigators.

Each was sent to Angola, Dilosa for 14 years, Thompson for 17, and Bright for 27.

Eventually, all were exonerated. A system that in every way was stacked against them said oops. Oops, but not sorry. None of the men were compensated for the lost years.

They talked about the indelible stigma that comes from being wrongly convicted in a society that smugly assures itself, hey, the dude had to be guilty of something.

But as Grisham’s 2006 non-fiction book “The Innocent Man” details, our criminal justice system is rife with laziness and outright corruption. It happens with police, lawyers, junk science, snitch testimony and indifferent judges who mars a system that strives for fairness.

Wrong men are convicted while guilty men roam free.

Later, I coaxed my students to talk to the men at the follow-up reception. It’s where I always get the best stories, I said.

And I couldn’t resist. I cornered Bright. He told me even after 27 years in Angola, he never stopped believing the system that put him away would eventually free him. He said he has no bitterness, was thrilled the Saints won the Super Bowl, and that he hadn’t seen “The Shawshank Redemption.”

He said the worst thing about being in prison was hearing the prison chaplain tell him his mother died thinking her son would be executed for a heinous crime she knew he did not commit. He said the best thing about being free is just being free.

Me and two of my young male students were talking when I saw Dilosa talking to one of their female classmates.

They thought it might be rude to interrupt. Nonsense, I said. Your job is to get a good story out of this. It can be done without being rude.

Maybe by them, but not by me. I went over and swamped the whole conversation. I just had too many questions.

He said he thought of committing suicide to spare his sons the indignities of prison visits. He said they found the “expert witness” who showed the jury how any man could tie himself up without assistance at a state fair. The guy was a professional contortionist.

As he was about to leave I had one last question: “How ‘bout them Saints!”

Dilosa fairly quaked with rage.

“I was furious they won the Super Bowl,” he said. “It deludes the people of Louisiana into thinking everything’s all right when innocent men are going through absolute hell every day of their lives.”

When it was over, I drove to my mom’s apartment in the South Hills where I stay with my 3-year-old daughter on nights when I teach class. I hugged mom, told her I loved her, then climbed into the bed where my father slept before he died in 2004 and later my grandfather before he died in 2008.

I cuddled my sweet little darling and said a prayer that someday a loving God will bring justice to all the wrongly convicted men and women who survive in prisons on the slim hopes that one day they might enjoy a single moment like the ones I enjoy throughout each and every day.

And I prayed that He will show a mercy undeserved to men like me for not doing more to help men like them.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Conservatives wrong . . . again


It’s always surprising to me that a political party that lavishly embraces creationism always resorts to Darwinism when it comes to caring for the weakest among us.

With conservative Republicans it shouldn’t, I know, and here’s why.

I don’t listen to popular talk radio because I understand it’s the greatest obstacle to clear thinking. I try and stay informed, but when something as massive as Health Care Reform comes along, I am overwhelmed and turn to the one reliable bellwether in an obfuscating world of spin.

I turn to history. And if there’s one thing being a student of history has taught me, it is this:

The most conservative people in the nation have been wrong about every major issue since the movement in America was founded by Benedict Arnold.

That’s why I was so pleased by the passage of Health Care Reform. Because the vitriolic opposition of the most shrill conservatives convinces me that in the very near future, the bill will be deemed such a stunning success that Americans will wonder how we ever did without it for so long.

It happens with wars, with great social issues and with the very founding of the country these alleged patriots contend they revere.

It all started with America’s most notorious traitor, Benedict Arnold. He was the Revolutionary War general who plotted to forfeit the fort at West Point, N.Y., over to the British. He escaped to Britain where he led the conservative Tory movement that believed America should remain under the oppressive thumb of King George.

Beginning a trend that endures through John Kerry and the late Ted Kennedy, conservatives like Arnold despised liberal Massachusetts agitators like Founding Fathers John Adams and John Hancock.

Here’s a handy clip ‘n’ save list of all the things seasoned conservatives have opposed and the ones they thought would make the world a better place:

They thought U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy would have been a fine president; many of them cheered when John F. Kennedy was slain. And I think we all can surmise how many of the most conservative Americans immersed in the Tea Party movement would feel if anything bad befell President Obama.

They're saying the same things about Obamacare as they said about Civil Rights, Social Security, Medicare, and extending the right to vote to women.

The most conservative people in America cheered when South Carolina triggered the Civil War by seceding from the Union. Echoes of those sentiments were recently shouted to thrilled conservatives by Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

They were outraged by things like the Emancipation Proclamation, Jackie Robinson playing professional baseball and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

They thought losing Vietnam would trigger a dominate effect of countries falling to communism and sneered when shots fell long-haired war protesters at Kent State.

They led demonstrations to burn records by people like Elvis and the Beatles.

They worked tirelessly to keep Richard Nixon in office and tirelessly to throw Bill Clinton out of it.

They’re outraged that people like Elton John and Ellen DeGeneres are involved in long-term monogamous same-sex relationships, but consider a thrice-married recovering drug addict like Rush Limbaugh a paragon of family values.

They thought the Iraq War was a really swell idea and that those of us who opposed it were sissy traitors afraid of an easy fight.

They thought Sarah Palin was qualified to be John McCain’s veep and that Barack Obama was a Muslim tourist who’d spend his days palling around with terrorists.

Of course, some of these could be fairly considered overwrought generalizations. So I’ll stop here.

Any more overwrought generalizations and somebody might accuse me of being conservative and I wouldn’t want that to happen.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Merry March Madness!


You can judge how much a guy dislikes any given holiday based on the number of greeting cards he has to send or see.

So far, there are no “Happy March Madness!” greeting cards.

And, make no mistake, March Madness is the number one guy holiday on the whole guy calendar. It has gambling, drinking, saturation coverage and the kind of buddy-buddy camaraderie that’s been absent from even professional football ever since the NFL decided to feminize the sport with women’s outreach programs and things like Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.

I have gainfully employed friends who are taking the day off because their employers don’t put March Madness on equal footing with all the repressive religious holidays that involve sermons and in-laws.

So, of course, I’m taking today off, too. Instead of falling short of my thrice-weekly goal to write one coherent 750-word blog post, I’m posting this multitude of shorter, equally incoherent ones.

And I’ll leave it to you gainfully employed folks to wonder what a guy who doesn’t do or earn anything does differently when he takes a day off from whatever it is he does or doesn’t do.

• If the people who sold beer and booze with ads that earnestly urge “Please Drink Responsibly” were the least bit honest they’d say, “Please drink lots -- just don’t get caught breaking anything!”

• There are well-regarded sitcoms with million-dollar budgets and squads of witty writers that fail to produce anything as funny as either of the Old Spice deodorant commercials involving the black guy on the white horse and the dashing gent who makes an elegant meat portrait out of carved turkey for his girlfriend. If I didn’t already use Old Spice, I’d be switching.

• As a proud alumnus, I couldn’t be more thrilled about the Ohio University upset over Georgetown. It’s the biggest victory in the school’s history. I just had to fill out a questionnaire that asked the offbeat query: “Where would you most like to be?” I put “1985” because it was my senior year at OU in Athens, Ohio. I don’t want to diminish all my other years, but it was just such a great time and, for better or worse, Athens was where I became who I am. Still, I’m happy right where I am. But putting “1985” sounded like a more creative answer than “Outer Banks” or something new agey like “Stuck in a Moment.”

• I like to joke that the only thing I learned during my four years at OU was to never mix Ouzo and beer. It’s an exaggeration, of course, but the essence of the wisdom should not be overlooked: Mixing beer and the volcanic Greek liqueur will inevitably lead a foolhardy drinker to wake up in a strange place, with a killer hangover and no recollection of what happened to his or her pants.

• Anyone who thinks the election of our first black president has done anything to dent our historic racism ought to spend an afternoon watching college basketball in a bar full of rednecks like the one where I imbibe. Your average redneck bases for whom he is rooting solely on the number of blacks on each team. It doesn’t matter if they look like gansta rappers or young Denzel Washingtons. If they’re black, the redneck wants them to lose.

• Still, these are great guys and I prefer their company to that of many more fair-minded bores. It just says something about where the country is right now. And, yes, there’s this: They think Sarah Palin’s going to be a really swell president.

• I’ll be following the recent celebrity breakups of Sandra Bullock and the effervescent Kate Winslet. Too soon for me to play matchmaker, but I’ll figure it all out soon enough. I prefer Winslett to Bullock, but if either of them ends up with Jon Gosselin I’m canceling my People magazine subscription.

• Me and the boys back in Athens used to think we were great wits when we’d say things like, “You can’t spell Ouzo without OU.”

• I’d love to know how many days Tiger Woods devoted to saving his family. By his returning to golf so soon, it’s clear saving his family is driving him right back to the lifestyle that jeopardized it in the first place. I love my wife and kids, but one of the reasons I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize my family is because I know I’d be forced to spend more time with them. We already spend plenty of time together. Any more and they’d be sick of me and all those friendly rednecks would be the poorer without access to my enlightened insights.

• But I wouldn’t recommend the way I live to many others. It’s like the great Capt. Augustus McCrae says in one of my favorite books, “Lonesome Dove.” “Boys, what’s good for me, ain’t necessarily good for the weak-minded.”

• You can’t spell bourbon, voudka or Scoutch without OU either. See, I learned something in Athens!

• Merry March Madness to one and all!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Winter's over; Keith heads south


I yesterday bestowed upon a truly great man an insight that nearly moved him to tears.

He’s Keith. Like me, he’s a regular at the corner tavern where we go for giggles and boredom-bashing inebriations.

Other than that, we have little in common. He’s on my Mt. Rushmore of great personal friends because he volunteered and served with distinction during the Vietnam War. I admire anyone who fulfills that noble sort of duty.

I elevate Keith above even those honorable men and women because after he’d finished serving in the special forces he immediately volunteered for two years in the Peace Corp.

“I’d seen and done so much destruction in the war, that I wanted to do my part to restore some balance to the world,” he says.

So in the prime of his life, while bubble-headed young men like the one I was destined to become were making merry on riotous college campuses in the ‘70s, Keith was swatting mosquitos and installing sewer systems in poverty-stricken hamlets throughout Central America.

He does everything with an infectious joy that makes watching “The Price Is Right” with him over lunch as entertaining as attending any professional sporting event.

And he acts like he doesn’t mind that I always ask, and I always do, if his daughter, a FBI crime tech at the Quantico HQ, ever sits around and sings to the Disney melody, “Someday my prints will come!”

So, truly, this is a great man.

He told us the other day that after a year he’d sold his house and would be joining his wife in the home on the North Carolina golf course they bought last year. He’d been commuting every two weeks or so to house tend and tie up loose ends at a local company he’d over the course of a satisfying career helped build into a global powerhouse.

People have said how much they’re going to miss him and that they hope he returns often.

But it was left to me to freeze him with a statement so profound that this great man gasped.

“Do you realize,” I said, “that you’ll probably never have to shovel snow again for as long as you live?”

If I hadn’t said it in the sort of bar where people still make Brokeback Mountain jokes, I think he would have kissed me.

Keith’s a visionary man. He can envision things like world peace, lunar agriculture and the Pittsburgh Pirates being competitive (well, maybe not that last one).

But after the most miserable winter any of us can remember, I don’t think anyone can envision a future without snow.

Even this late into March, I still obsessively check the five day forecast and am stunned to see 60 degree temperatures and no indication that yet another monster storm is going close the schools, make roads impassable and maroon me 1.1 miles away from the bar I need the way worms do dirt.

For the first time in my life, I can honestly sympathize with what post-traumatic stress victims go through. The brutality of the past three months has me feeling mentally defective in ways that cannot be healthy.

I saw the snow shovel leaning in the corner of the garage the other day and it looked so forlorn that I began to pity it. For three months, I was as emotionally attached to it as many people are to their iPhones.

I’d pick it up three or four times a day and used it to heave so much snow that my lower lumbar still throbs. I don’t know if the pain will ever go away and am pondering chiropractic remedies.

That ergonomically designed green shovel was my Tonto. Together we waged so many heroic battles that I was seized by an irresistible urge: I grabbed the shovel with both hands and ran out into the driveway and started shouting profanities at the heavens.

It was just like old times.

I haven’t asked what Keith, that great humanitarian/warrior/vicarious Price is Right contestant, is going to do with his shovel.

But after this winter, I think I’ll be buried with mine.

I just pray to the God we both serve it doesn’t happen in eight months under another 106 inches of snow.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Trade Ben to Oakland


In a week when American Idol is planning to murder the Rolling Stones, Ben Roethlisberger is killing the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s a bad week for my icons.

The Stones, now 50 years without a rape charge, will endure. They survived Vanilla Ice singing “Satisfaction,” they’ll survive this.

But the Steelers need to trade Roethlisberger to the Oakland Raiders while we can still get a good draft pick. That’s where he belongs.

I’m historically more comfortable in the role of defendant than judge. But I’m so disgusted by Roethlisberger that I want him gone. He’s making Tiger Woods look like a gentleman.

My rush to judgement is contrary to what I’ve heard from many fair-minded Steeler fans I’ve seen interviewed on TV. They say, hey, he’s innocent until proven guilty. Let justice take its course. Jurisprudence, blah, blah, blah.

Many of these were the same people who about 10 years ago were saying, “Kill Kordell Stewart. He’s gay! Schenly Park! It’s true! My brother heard it from a friend whose cousin’s a cop . . .”

It was the sort of rumor genealogy that would have caused “Roots” author Alex Haley to pull his hair out by the, well, fistfuls.

Kordell, by the way, is now a married father of a 5 year old boy. Maybe he’s on some sort of gay sabbatical.

Ben, on the other hand, is a disgrace. He’s suspected of sexually assaulting a 20-year-old college student in a night club bathroom. Lawyers are still sorting out another sexual assault charge stemming from an unseemly 2008 hotel suite encounter with a Lake Tahoe casino employee.

The Tahoe one sounds contrived. The claimant waited a year to seek monetary damages and told conflicting stories to friends.

So far, there’s nothing dubious about the current allegation. The woman didn’t call a lawyer or hold a press conference. She went to the emergency room and called the police.

Those aren’t the actions of a money grubber. They are the actions of a victim.

And the release of the police report is when things are going to really get ugly. The only possible chivalrous revelation to emerge will be maybe that Big Ben, who was wearing a Satanic t-shirt, held the bathroom door for her.

This is all happening as a bill from the Pittsburgh Steelers for $3,244 sits in my desk drawer. It’s for four season tickets that have been in my name for 15 years and in my father’s before me for 30 before that.

It’s crazy, I know, but Steeler fans like me like to think we’re better or certainly luckier than people who root for cheaters like Bill Belichik or pompous blowhards like Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder.

When team founder Art Rooney died in 1988, he was hailed as one of the most beloved characters in sports. No one expected his son Dan would ever measure up to the old man. Instead, he’s surpassed him. He is the unrivaled conscience of a league whose “Rooney Rule” was instigated to promote minority hiring. In one of his first acts in office, President Obama appointed Rooney -- Happy St. Patrick’s Day! -- ambassador to Ireland.

Our teams have always been dominated by high-profile good guys -- Hall of Famers like Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Chuck Noll, Mel Blount and Rod Woodson.

They’ve been teams I’d be proud to root for if they played like hapless Cleveland Browns.

But they do not. They’ve won more Super Bowls than any other team and are one of the most envied franchises in all sports.

I’m hoping team president Art Rooney II, who continues to a family tradition of class and grace, will hold a press conference and say, “We’ve begun talks to trade Ben to the Oakland Raiders for draft picks we will use to compensate for the loss of one best quarterbacks in the game, someone we’d counted on to help make us winners for the next 10 years.

“We’re doing so because we’d rather lose with quality men than win with jerks. His consistent off-field recklessness convinces us this is a pattern of misbehavior a 28-year-old multimillionaire will not outgrow.

“Because there’s so much more to Steeler tradition than winning. I only wish Myron Cope were here to explain it to him in a voice so screechy that the only thing Ben will there after be able to hear will be the thunderous boos of stadiums packed with decent Steeler fans around league.

“And if talks with the Raiders fall apart, we’ll pursue a trade with the New Jersey Devils.

“Yes, I know they play hockey, not football, but as pictures posted on TMZ.com attest, Ben’s already got the uniform. And this much is becoming clear: He knows the Devil’s playbook.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Word Quest


A heady gush of teastosterone was pulsing through my veins, but my Mamish wife accused me of shamorous behavior. I hadn’t seen her this angry since painful birthquakes had made her stork . . . raving . . . mad! It was the kind of reaction that can make happily married men understand why some guys are slomosexual.

The whole situation made me wish I’d married a mousewife instead of a sassy woman’s fiberator.

She left me no choice but to go down stairs and make goodbye glibberish with my budding slimitator and her sister, the santaclaustrophobic. I was impatient because I had an error-plane and knew at some point I was bound to suffer from comatoes.

I’m watching my garbohydrates so I grabbed a crapple and headed down for a wretched cup of coffee from the failing shop where I volunteer bizzospice care. I climbed back into the car, switched on the radio and decided against listening to any of the blowhard boracles and instead punched in channel that played standards sung by women with unconvincing leyebrows. I knew I’d be seeing scores of mallbergs at the airport and wished for a moment I was going someplace warm, even if that meant I might have to dodge hungry canniblers.

They wouldn’t scare me because I fancy myself a mooscular empathlete. I may spend my days decrapitating silly little stories on my laptop, but in my mind I’m tougher than Ernie Borgten.

Didn’t understand any of that? Did the spellchecker in your head just explode?

Don’t blame me.

Blame the culture and the dictionaries it relies upon for not letting me in.

See, the words that baffled you above are just a sampling of the 30 I’ve coined and am trying to wedge into usage so widespread that they’ll be recognized as significant contributions to the vernacular. I’ve spent the better part of the last four years coining words with the hopes that just one of the little dandies will earn a relatively microscopic spot on a whisper thin page in dense books with more than 1,600 pages and 180,000 entries.

I don’t think that’s asking too much.

See, I’m on a word quest to land one of my neologisms -- self-coined words -- in a major dictionary. Any major dictionary. Once there, it will endure with barnacle-like tenacity through the ages. Once one gains acceptance, dislodging dictionary words becomes as impossible as removing dogged and ill-conceived traffic lights: no one ever thinks of removing them no matter how little traffic they actually stop.

As goals go, it’s not like leading my team to Super Bowl victory, brokering a tricky peace deal between historic hostiles or curing something itchy. It’s not even like writing a 75,000-word bestseller, something even marginally literate athletes, drug-abusing rock degenerates and self-degrading reality TV stars have achieved, so how big a deal is that?

When you think of it in those writerly terms, how worthy a goal is writing any book, even a really good one? They come and they go.

In fact, the only books with perennial staying power to transcend cultural fashions are dictionaries and holy books like the Bible. And I’ve already authored the only book published in the last 2,000 years that can arguably be called holier than even the Bible.

It’s “Hole in One! The Complete Book of Fact, Legend and Lore of Golf’s Luckiest Shot,” (Andrews McMeel, 2003; current Amazon ranking, no. 1,071,643). As the only book ever written dedicated exclusively to the most amazing shot in golf, it documents the story of hundreds of aces. In “Game’s Holy Grail is Far From Elusive,” a August 17, 2009, New York Times story, author Bill Pennington cited me and my book in his story about the art of aces.

If The New York Times cites my book, and only my book, in its story about aces, then I humbly submit my book is the Bible on the subject. And saying a book about aces is downright holy isn’t much of a stretch. And, yes, I’m aware, the dictionary spells it “holey,” but as I’ve already pointed out, the book is not without its flaws.

So, even though it may be a just bit of stretch, I’ve already checked “Write a Really Holy Book,” from my life’s to-do list.

That leaves “Plant One Word in the Big Boring Book Full of Them” next on the list (just below ‘Call Buddies about Happy Hour Plans,’ and about five notches above things like ‘Fix Car Brakes,’ and ‘Find a Job’).

My inspiration is the late Bill Cardoso. I still have the fading yellow newspaper clip announcing his February 26, 2006, death. The Associated Press obituary reads: “Bill Cardoso, the writer who coined the term ‘gonzo’ to describe the frenetic participatory journalism practiced by contemporary Hunter S. Thompson, has died. He was 68.”

The 350-word story goes on to detail how Cardoso and Thompson became friends while sharing long rides and chats together on the national press bus assigned to cover the 1968 re-presidential campaign of Richard M. Nixon. When Thompson wrote his colorful drug-riddled story, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved for Scanlan’s Monthly magazine, Cardoso wrote a flattering letter describing the piece as “pure gonzo.”

“The term stuck,” reads the Cardoso obit. “Thompson embraced it and so did Webster’s, including it in the New World Dictionary in 1979 as meaning ‘bizarre, unrestrained, extravagant specifically designating a style of personal journalism so characterized.”

The brief story mentioned that Cardoso’d written for Esquire, Rolling Stone and other top magazines.

I began to feel a kinship. I’ve written for Esquire, Playboy, Sports Illustrated and a bunch of others. I like to brag that I’ve written for many of the finest publications in America and been rejected by all the rest.

But doing any of that won’t ensure a snazzy obit in newspapers across the country. There’s thousands of underemployed guys like me who scratch out a living contributing 400 word stories to top magazines. I realized I needed to follow in Cardoso’s footsteps. I began to coin words, hundreds of them. Some weren’t worthy of keeping. “Slanguage” is too obvious. “Rimbicile,” a description of dim-bulb copy editors misplacing commas at daily newspapers, was too narrow. And as proud as I am of “vagitarian,” I was fearful my mother might read it and scold me so it had to go.

That left me with the 30 you’ll find below. Those are the core creations I’m beginning to promote. I’ll welcome your comments about the potential of your favorites. I urge you to be hasty because it took 12 years for “gonzo” to be accepted into a dictionary and I intend to do it in 12 months.

I think it can be done. Really, Cardoso didn’t have the benefit of the viral internet or even the self- motivation that’s driving me. He just came up with the word, it sounds perfectly serendipitous, and went about his life. Not me. I’m going to apply all my skills, my genius, my contacts, my promotional savvy to in one year achieve mass exposure for at least one of my 30 (and counting) words. I’m going to do it because I believe I need to secure a legacy that’ll impress my descendants, and because I believe I have something to contribute to humanity.

And, really, I’ve got nothing better to do.

Here’s the list of my offerings. Feel free to use them liberally in speech and in print.


Appallitic: A contemporary effort to make current governance so nasty and shrill that none of the rational mainstream voters will want to participate.
Ambisextrous: Any creature or being with sex organs of both genders; i.e. the Greek god Hermaphrodite or the red wiggler worm.
Ashhole: An otherwise harmless volcano that kills no one, but disrupts the travel plans of millions.
Birthquakes: The intense contractions that convulse a pregnant woman as she’s about to deliver a child; labor pains.
Bizzospice (bi-ZOS-pis) Care Volunteers: Loyal if misguided customers of failing businesses determined to patronize an ill-conceived establishment right up until it dies a merciful death.
Boreacles: Opinionated radio talk show hosts paid to, but incapable of saying anything of interest or insight.
Bornograher: An amateur cinematographer, usually a male who was involved in the act of conception, who in a hospital delivery room spends his time recording all the intimate details of a child’s birth; resulting film is bornography.
Bulldozin’: The non-constructive act of any spouse who pretends to sleep to get out of things like household chores or late-night love.
Cannibler: A picky eater of human flesh; a cannibal with an eating disorder.
Carmpit Stains: The unsightly engine excretions defacing every delineated parking space in every American parking lot.
Carmudgeon: A grouchy motorist, regardless of age or gender, who views a typical commute as a form of nasty combat.
Comatoes: The act of one’s foot falling asleep, uncommonly known as the medical condition, parasthesia.
Commanist: A writer, editor, or essayist who believes, with his or her full heart, in the dogmatic, perhaps, liberal application, or use, of often needless, or, at least, questionable, and, excessive, punctuation.
Confanity: The boring, inoffensive over-dubbed words actors like James Gandolfini must mouth to make shows like “The Sopranos” acceptable for networks like A&E.
Corrral: An rocky ocean enclosure used to house seahorses. Derived from coral, a rocky ocean formation; and corral, an enclosure used to pen ponies.
Crapple: A flavorless apple lacking in texture or taste.
Decrapitate: An editorial elimination of all the bullshit from a specified piece of writing.
eDiot: Hapless sidewalk ambler who stumbles into strangers or the path of a moving bus due to the hypnotizing pull of any portable electronic device.
Empathlete -- Sports fans who pretend they know the game so well they can tell exactly what a professional athlete is thinking and how they should react in any high pressure situation.
Ernie Borgten: What we’ll all be looking for after the great actor Ernie Borgnine, 92, finally succumbs to mortal absolutes.
Error-plane: Typical commercial flight that leaves late, is overbooked, and loses luggage after landing at the wrong airport.
Fauxksiness: The contrived characteristic displayed by a man or woman, usually one with a political bent, determined to appear in synch with the popular feelings common folk.
Fictionary: A dictionary or glossary composed entirely of made-up words with the pretentious hope that each of the words will one day resonate. See “zeitgust.”
Furrious: The unstable state of mind hunters get in whenever they hear about the latest attention grabbing stunt by animal rights group PETA.
Garbohydrates: Dangerous calories so reclusive that even doctors cannot detect them until they make you so sick you vant to be alone.
Glibberish: Pointless party chatter between two people who'd rather be talking to anyone else.

Global Warming SCOPEtics: People who are not only skeptics of climate change, but also believe we can still consume fossil fuels at an alarming rate and things will still turn out all green and minty fresh.
Hollerdays: The chaotic time of the year that used to be revered for peaceful silent nights.
Influenca: A Washington, D.C.,-contained virus transmitted between lobbyists and elected officials. Symptoms include spinelessness, preferential treatment and pivotal memory lapses when summoned before investigating authorities.
Leyebrows: Tattooed or penciled on eyebrows meant to mimic the real thing. Related: Heyebrows (HIGH-brows).
Lollylagger: A high handicap golfer who’d rather aimlessly knock balls around on the practice green than engage in meaningful putting practice.
Mallbergs: Massive ice mounds created by snow plows that push heavy snowfalls into remote areas of mall or shopping center parking lots where they persist until the temperatures finally diminish their masses by mid-June.
Mamish: Any group of mother figures who refuse to let their children play with electronic devices until they’ve done all their homework.
Mephoria: A selfish state of joy characterized by the realization that an individual is having a good time while everyone else is miserable.
Mintometer: Any device built to measure mint flavor on a scale that ranges from spicy peppermint to roadkill varmint.
Moistard: The shaded, bun-soiling liquid that dribbles out the top of any condiment bottle before the spicy substance oozes out.
Mooscular: Adjective describing someone who uses so many performance enhancing drugs they begin to resemble large, hoofed, woods-roaming mammals.
Montehall: A structural feature in any house or building that features a passage way that allows for doors no. 1, 2 or 3.
Motorvator: A highly skilled mechanic capable of encouraging any poorly performing engine to get out there and get really running so it can be the best engine it can possibly be.
Mousewife: Any female spouse who lets an oafish husband do whatever he wants without even a squeak of matrimonial dissent.
Park Splug: A drowsy child who reaches a point of playground exhaustion and succumbs to an involuntary nap.
Pompomposity: The act of being exuberantly aggressive and cheerleading others to say they think you’re great, too!!!
Poperazzi: A Vatican City-based news reporter devoted to coverage of all papal doings.
Raptile: A person otherwise gifted in the art of urban rhyme who behaves like a snake or other scaled creature.
Refoodiate: What a uniformed snack food delivery man or women does on a near weekly basis when the vending machines need re-stocking.
Santaclaustrophobia: The irrational and childish fear of any jolly ol’ elf.
Shamorous: A person, male or female, whose ugly nature is concealed under makeup or plastic surgery or fake, sweet smiles.
Sizemologist: Any man or woman engaged in the clothing trade for purposes of measuring customers to ensure proper fits.
Slimitators: Impressionable teenage boys and girls intent on looking like fashionable Hollywood anorexics.
Slomosexual: A person who devotes his or her life to the self-proclaimed virtues of public heterosexuality before finally coming to grips with their true sexual identity.
Smockturnal: A painter or other creative person who only works at night.
Sniveling rivalry: A childish fit between two unrelated grown adults determined to act like crybabies.
Sprawlidays: An irrational spread of a once-tidy holiday season that used to take about four weeks and now takes four months.
Splashock: The terrifying realization that the person who’d showered previously forgot to restore the faucet to necessary tub dispensing.
Stork . . . Raving . . . Mad! A better, more emotionally emphatic phrase to describe the condition known as “post-partum depression; the mental unbalance that afflicts many women after giving birth.
Teastosterone: The surplus hormones that are released when men view so much pornography that they become consumed with ambitious lust, thus making them universally repulsive to otherwise willing females.
Tumpire: A designated fitness referee who sets the rules for any individual’s battle of the bulge.
Woman’s Fiberator: A woman who is adamant in her demands for full social equality for her herself and her sisters, yet sees no contraction in her expectation that men hold all the doors for the gals.
Zeitgust: The contrived and deliberate act of trying to mass manipulate the popular culture to an individual whim. One lone man’s attempt to zip zeitgust into the dictionary.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

J-students quiz Christ


I feel it’s my duty to singlehandedly save journalism from boring the rest of us to death. I do so 15 students at a time at Point Park University in Pittsburgh where every other year it’s become my privilege to teach grad students creative non-fiction.

I realized the future of journalism was at stake several years ago when I asked the class to conduct Q&As with someone interesting in their lives, someone capable of drawing compelling interest from strangers

The results made me furious.

They asked self-centered friends what makes them cool, why their hair always looks so fabulous and how they overcome hangovers.

With the exception of the kid who asked detailed questions about hangover cures, I flunked them all (some of the kid’s tips actually worked).

Was this how they intended to entertain and enlighten busy news consumers? I needed to come up with way to get them to ask tough questions that will yield revealing answers.

So I decided to have them pose hypothetical questions with three celebrity subjects who’ve been relentlessly grilled about their personal lives and their thoughts about important issues.

The subjects?

Mick Jagger, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jesus Christ.

For Jagger, some asked what his grandchildren call him and if he ever makes fun of Keith Richard’s amplified mumblings behind his back.

They posed questions of Paltrow about her marriage to Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, their daughter Apple, and if they had plans to name any subsequent children after tree fruit.

But it was the questions for Christ -- some playful, others seething -- that were so riveting I include a version of the drill every year. It serves an educational purpose that goes beyond where you're supposed to put all the commas.

Here are some of my favorites from a group I admire as a bright and creative bunch. I think they could right now could give the King of Kings a better grilling that the ones scandal-plagued celebs get from renown softballer Larry King.

Check ‘em out:

• When a bell rings does an angel really get its wings?

• What is your contact information and have you been getting your messages?

• Is there a basis of severity for fulfilling prayers? I mean, is there a keyword you’re looking for?

• What would Jesus do?

• What do you do for recreation in heaven?

• If you had a driver’s license printed, what variation of your name would you use? What about address?

• As a bastard son, do you resent that your birth father wasn’t around more?

• After your resurrection, how did you get past the stigma of, well, how do I put this gently . . . being a zombie? Is that the real reason you ascended to heaven?

• I’ve broken seven of the 10 commandments. What are my chances of getting into heaven?

• Will there be a time when Miss America contestants cannot use “world peace” as an answer?

• What does your business card say?

• What have you learned about choosing friends more carefully since that Judas situation?

• Who really killed Kennedy?

• Can you tell us what’s at the edge of the universe?

• How did Noah handle the woodpeckers on the ark?

• Mac or Windows?

• Loved that whole water into wine thing. Would you like to come to a party I’m having?

• If only those who believe that you are savior can get into Heaven, then technically wouldn’t Hitler go to heaven and Ghandi to hell?

• If you competed in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, what country would you represent?

• Why do you permit so much senseless killing in your name?

• Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

• Of all the well-known public figures from the past 200 years, who best exemplifies your ideal way of life?

• How do you justify all the tragedies/natural disasters/accidents that cause so many people to question your existence?

• What do souls look like?

I close with a recollection of what is still my favorite question to Jesus from an aspiring journalist in a professional setting.

“So, Jesus, how are things with your father?

I like how it establishes a nice, friendly rapport, while still offering the subject an opportunity to make real news.


And it’s friendly enough that it doesn’t put the subject on guard for all the really tough questions that are sure to come later.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oscars bore; movies suck


I found myself getting impatient watching the Oscars like I do when I’m obligated to attend some party with too many people I don’t like.

The guests bore me. I can’t stand the conversation. I wish I could duck out and watch a hockey game in a divey bar that’s untainted by all the stifling pretension.

And this is a party I should enjoy. These are the core people in an industry that thrills us all. And we have much in common. Like me, most of them want to help earthquake victims, support President Obama and are unruffled that so many gays are eager to engage the pitfalls of holy matrimony.

I think the problem may be that no industry builds up then dashes all my hopes the way the movie industry so consistently does.

I don’t expect much from politicians. The automotive industry with its clinging commitment to 19th century internal combustion technologies seems almost quaint in its stumbles. And, yes, the banking industry steals from us all, but they’ve yet to start shooting customers in their robberies and I’m grateful for that subtle distinction.

But going to the movies is still very special to me. I love the escape and get excited when a buzz builds that some movie is going to provide an emotional jolt that’ll stir my soul.

And, inevitably, more and more I’m let down.

The 2007 best picture winner “No Country for Old Men” should have been called “No Ending for Confusing Movie.” Loved Heath Ledger in the “The Dark Knight,” but the action scenes -- about three quarters of the lengthy flick -- were a chaotic mess.

Your highly acclaimed Erin Brockovichs, your Benjamin Buttons and Harry Potters have all left me cold.

Symptomatic of the problems is “Avatar.” I like James Cameron, loved “Alien” and “Titanic.” But no one’s said, “Man, you have to rush out and see ‘Avatar.’ It’s the greatest movie of all-time.”

Well, it’s the greatest earning movie of all time, a number that’s been inflated by 3-D premium pricing, but no one’s said it’s the greatest movie of all time.

And these are the serious films by serious artists.

I’m surprised the sheer volume dreary crap Hollywood releases each week isn’t enough to slow the earth’s daily rotation to 32 hours (and that still wouldn’t be enough hours in the day to get me to see “Avatar”).

This isn’t counting anything from the Axis of Apatow/Aniston or others who earn millions making the kinds of movies they probably used to denounce back when they had youthful credibility.

So I get angry sitting there watching Ben Stiller yucking it up, Quentin Tarantino preening and Keanu Reeves applauding Sandra Bullock like she’s just announced a cure for something itchy.

It all has me so desperate I’m thinking of drastic measures. Yes, it may be time to ditch the family contraceptives.

The very best movies I’ve seen in the past 10 years are either cartoon or computer animated.

I wholeheartedly recommend “Up,” and “The Princess and the Frog” -- two best picture nominees from last night. I’ve seen “The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “Finding Nemo,” “Toy Story” and “The Lion King” dozens of times and never tire of the viewing.

And I’d put “The Princess Bride,” and “Ella Enchanted” with the beguiling Anne Hathaway in that category.

I’m at my most content sitting with one of my darling daughters in my lap while watching a great children’s movie (and I’m not talking about hyper-obnoxious nonsense like “Shrek”).

And here’s a tip: it helps to be hungover. It’s like taking a nap with your eyes open.

Once the little one gets too big for that kind of cuddling, we’ll need a fresh kid or else I’ll look creepy going to see kiddie movies solo.

For the record, some of the top-of-my-head my favorite movies from the past 15 years or so are “The Big Lebowsky,” “American Gangster,” “Hot Fuzz,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Big Fish,” “Gran Torino,” “Sideways,” and “Up in the Air.”

Why more of our movies do not rise to those august artistic levels is just laziness. I know they can do better.

I hope you’ll join me in demanding more quality from the men and women who produce our movies.

And I’ll thank you in advance for not demanding the same of the people who write the blogs you read.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Let kids land all the planes


So far, not a single life has been lost with 5 year olds running New York City air traffic control. I say let’s turn the whole thing over to the kids and just see what happens.

If ever there was an industry that could benefit from a jolt of levity, it’s the uptight airlines.

Have you flown commercial in the past 10 years? It’s oppressive enough to make an interstate trip aboard Greyhound’s rolling penitentiaries seem jovial. There’s endless lines, delays and invasive security measures administered by joyless automatons who look like the only thing that would enrich their routines would be the opportunity to Tase a sassy grandmother.

It’s hard to believe this is the same discipline that produced men like Chuck Yeager, Gus Grissom and other iconic pilots from “The Right Stuff.”

There used to be swagger and flair about people associated with airlines. Now, one father is in danger of losing his job because he, a proud papa, brought his children into JFK’s tower and let them dent the day’s monotony by issuing some orders over the mic.

They didn’t direct traffic or ad lib instructions for evasive maneuvers. It was all “Roger” this, “Roger” that, and “over and out” sort of word play.

One air traffic controller said it was the equivalent of letting your child hit the “send” button on an e-mail after you’ve composed the message. At no time was anyone in any danger.

In fact, it sounded to me that hearing the child’s voice was a pleasant surprise to the all the pilots. They didn’t sound as mechanical as they usually do.

And they didn’t sound frightened or weary. I didn’t hear one of them say, “My God . . . did you hear that? There are children directing planes from the air traffic control tower! Children! We’re all gonna die! Help! Mommy! Help!!!”

Instead of criticizing the frivolity, the FAA should have seized the opportunity to point out that all the professionals involved, both in the air and the tower, seemed to have been wide awake and sober.

That’s a reassuring trend regarding recent news about air travel.

Me, drunk or asleep is the only way I’d be able to conform to the rigid standards we’re applying to every aspect of air travel.

I suspect the hysteria is orchestrated as part of a plan to replace all humans involved in flying planes with robots as soon as possible. In fact, the process may have already begun.

As proof, I offer exhibit A: Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger.

He’s a bona fide hero, but I haven’t seen him betray a single human emotion. No fear. No joy. No passion. I can’t even recall his eyelids ever closing in a single reflexive blink. His is a buckle that’s never been swashed.

And that’s exactly what the airlines want. They don’t want anyone betraying any feeling that might indicate the presence of a pulse. No one is allowed to deviate from the carefully prepared script.

I suspect it’s too many grown-ups who’re ashamed that they used to get high in the 1960s and ‘70s in ways that didn’t involve wings. They’re overcompensating for the sin by trying to ensure that the rest of us never have even a little bit of fun.

Me, I’m thrilled any time some tiny human emotion is injected into a stoic situation dominated by grown ups.

I believe it’s important for any sensible adult to give into whimsy and let their inner kid out for frequent silliness.

Life’s way too serious and punishing controllers for permitting some harmless fun is only going to make it worse. Parents will be afraid to indulge in creative play with the kids. Our children will be grow up stilted by an irrational fear of fun.

Well, that’s not going to happen with me.

I’ll do everything I can to encourage my darling daughters to explore and grow in ways that’ll ensure the endearing kernals of youth grow without stunting restrictions, professional ethics be damned.

Until then, I’m over and out.

(See, I let the 9-year-old type that last line.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Leno again-o: why critics are wrong


I feel so many pressures to opine on important social issues that it pains me whenever I have to stoop to trivial pop matters. But the blown calls on Jay Leno’s return compel me to speak up.

Let’s cut to the chase:

In two weeks/two months/two years, it will be like it was before Conan moved to The Tonight Show. Jay will still be on top by margins large enough to madden Letterman and his supporters.

Jimmys Fallon and Kimmel will continue to perform to numbers equivalent to large family reunions and Craig Ferguson will quietly continue to put on the best show of the whole bunch.

And people who like third or fourth ranked Conan will continue to be furious that the rest of us don’t appreciate his apparent genius.

We live in times of such jaded partisanship we feel forced to take sides in silly talk show wars. Really, who cares?

I guess most late night viewers are like me in that they aren’t. I usually start dozing off after a 1993 Seinfeld rerun I’ve already seen 49 times and still enjoy.

If I’m insomniac enough to watch anything I enjoy watching Jay. He does about three times the number of jokes that Dave does and most of them make me laugh.

But I’ve not sworn a cult-like allegiance to him. If Dave has better guests or has made news for something in his unseemly personal life to make him even crankier than usual I’ll tune in.

Late night is no longer something we all need to see to get the jokes the next morning around the water cooler. For that we have the internet.

That’s why I shake my head at the predominating criticism of Leno’s return.

“Oh! He told Cheney jokes. He told Tiger jokes. How gauche!”

Listen, if you revived sainted Johnny Carson and set him behind the desk, he’d be joking about the same topics.

It’s what they all do. I’d be disappointed if they didn’t.

Johnny wasn’t revered because he was cutting edge. He was revered because he had the spotlight all to himself and was at ease in the role.

After Steve Allen invented the gig, no one’s been cutting edge since Letterman and Letterman hasn’t been cutting edge since 1992.

The hostility all the other hosts unleashed on Jay didn’t surprise me either. It galls them that they just can’t beat him.

It must make these maladjusted hosts nervous to know that, even after all the Leno bashing, executives at every network would throw them aside in an instant if they knew they could get Jay.

That’s why Conan was bounced. Go ahead and blame weak lead-ins, etc., but he failed to deliver any substantial audience over seven months, dog years in TV programming. They could have given him a year and it wasn’t going to get any better because -- and here’s a little secret -- the guy’s just not that funny.

He can’t interview. His jokes are no better than decent and his sole genius seems to be the ability to project shrill facial gymnastics while doing bizarre mime impressions involving his nipples.

Rely on too much on those dubious skills, as Conan does, and you’ll alienate as many viewers as you impress. Ask Jim Carrey.

This will infuriate Conan fans who have become like devotees of tedious jam bands. They’ll argue that we don’t recognize the sheer brilliance of the composition and if we’d just give it another 18 minutes we’d appreciate the pop.

They don’t understand that most of us are perfectly satisfied with the snappy time it takes Tom Petty to sing “American Girl.”

To me the man who looks the worst in all this is Howard Stern. He was telling Harry Smith that the thought of Leno makes him vomit and that he prefers Letterman because he has so much “integrity,” a word Mrs. Letterman might not have used.

And he says Leno’s Jaywalking and other comedy bits were Stern originals Leno lifted.

That last claim reminds me of a “Simpsons” episode where Krusty the Clown becomes enraged at the sight of some other hack comic doing one of his signature acts. Krusty says: “If that’s anyone but Steve Allen they’re stealing my bit!”

So there you have it. Now I hope I can get back to writing about the important stuff.

Like how the instant chickens start laying Cadbury eggs I’m going to become a chicken farmer.

Hey, that’s a pretty good line.

I wonder if Howard Stern thought of it first.

Monday, March 1, 2010

O Canada! Still misty for mounties


I wonder if it would reduce the viewing impact of the Olympics if they ran them in weekly installments like, say, “How I Met Your Mother.”

I’d watch. I can’t get enough.

These were the best games ever that didn’t involve Tonya Harding.

Maybe it was because it was hosted by Canada, the Chicago Cubs of the international community without the bitter losing streak.

Like the Cubs, our northern neighbors are so lovable and prone to spontaneous inebriation that even opposing fans can’t help but cheer them on. In so many ways, they’re like America without all the in-your-face ‘tude. And they have such a tuneful national anthem that I rooted for them to beat Team USA in hockey for the gold just so I could hear a really great song sung with historic gusto.

It didn’t disappoint. More than 20,000 fans and every single player joyfully sang an ode to a sprawling country that’s never in a hurry to rush off to war or overachieve in any way that’s too show-offy.

If they gave gold medals for national anthems, Canada would be the international powerhouse. “O Canada!” just can’t be beat.

I’ve long argued that countries should change their national anthems every 10 years or so to reflect the national mood. Thus, here in the Clinton years our athletes could have entered the Olympic arenas to Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

And the Axis of Evil and their minions would have certainly had even more reason to tremble during the G.W. Bush years if our athletes had swaggered into the games to the martial stomp of “We Will Rock You!”

(Early contender for the Obama years: “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”)

But the Canadian national song is so pitch-perfect and pleasant it needs no anthemic alterations. The melody and lyrics are outstanding, some inaccuracies involving that part about ‘standing guard for thee’ not withstanding -- the cheap liquor I’ve bootlegged in and out of Canada over the years would have made rivals like Capone come hunting for me with tommyguns a-blazin’.

So I confess to feeling a little turncoat tingle when the Canadian anthem was played as a squad of proud Royal Canadian Mounted police unfurled the big red maple leaf.

And it was more than the music. See, I’ve always been misty for mounties.

That goes back from 1994-99 when the CBS program “Due South” ran. It starred actor Paul Gross as the dashing Constable Benton Fraser, a mountie so wholesome and good-natured he made Dudley Do Right look like one of those bigoted bunglers that let O.J. Simpson get away with murder.

He comes to Chicago to solve the murder of his father, a legendary Mountie played in ghost form by deadpan comic genius Leslie Nielson, himself a native Canadian from the Northwest Territories (who knew?).

Fraser had a wise-cracking Chicago sidekick detective and Diefenbaker, the ever-faithful half-wolf wonderdog who, while stone deaf, was capable of reading human lips and communicating what was said to the understanding Constable Fraser.

Fraser may have been the greatest straight arrow crime fighter ever conceived. He had supernatural detective abilities stemming from superior application of everyday human senses. I remember one lively episode when he was able to track down a homicidal culprit by smelling the breath of a rat to determine the particular brand of barbecued ribs it had been nibbling.

I admit to feeling kind of sheepish rooting for Team Canada over Team USA, but the game meant so much to a country and a people of such natural exuberance that I couldn’t help myself.

Plus, Canadian star and game winner Sidney Crosby plays for Pittsburgh now and I wanted him to succeed under otherwise crushing national expectations.

To me, the guy’s one of the greatest. He’s courteous, a team player, a leader and a real credit to his country and the city he now represents.

I’m not saying the guy could solve a murder from one whiff of rat’s breath, but The Kid is good.


Note: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette cited some of my recent blog, “All Snowmen Are Abominable,” in its “Cutting Edge” column on Sunday’s forum pages. I am flattered by the mention and the nifty juxtaposition that something with Amish in the title is considered cutting edge.