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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Solution to gun violence: one bullet per gun


Monday’s Supreme Court decision pretty much convinces me I’m going to die in a hail of gunfire.

Understand, that’s just the optimist in me talking. I’d much rather die of multiple gunshot wounds than terminal illness, flesh eating bacteria or chronic boredom.

The 5-4 decision roughly thrills half the country that believes more guns are the solution to deadly gun violence and confounds the other half that believes it’s utter lunacy to think the solution to deadly gun violence is more deadly gun violence.

On this issue, I lean straight up.

Anti-gun people are loath to admit it, but everyone’s manners become more refined in the presence of a loaded gun. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used to quote Al Capone, who was known to say: “You can get more accomplished with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.”

Predictable reaction to the court's decision means it's time for me once again share what one friend helpfully dubbed “The Barney Fife Amendment.” Here it is:

Every one over the age of 18 gets to carry a loaded gun, holstered or concealed, any where they want, any time they want. That means every place people gather -- offices, airplanes, sporting events -- plenty will be packing.

But you get just one bullet. One bullet per person.

Use it or lose it and, in addition to any existing criminal charges, you need to go before a judge and explain what happened to your bullet before he or she decides whether or not you get another bullet.

Guns don’t kill people. People don’t kill people.

The bullets are the killers and the astronomical number of them invariably leads to deadly recklessness.

One Minnesota firm, Alliant Techsystems, boasts on its web site (www.atk.com) that it makes up to 600 million bullets each and every year all by itself.

The most hateful, paranoid person on the planet would be hard pressed to enumerate 600 million people in history who really deserve to be shot.

An attorney once told me there are three types of homicides: unnecessary, justifiable, and praiseworthy. If everyone was entitled to just one bullet, many of those serving hard time at tax-payer expense for unnecessary homicides would today be productive citizens.

The jails are full of otherwise good men and women who in moments of drunken or drug-fueled rage emptied guns at victims who didn’t deserve lethal ventilation.

But if a drunk or crack fiend had just one bullet, most of them would miss their targets and they’d be subject to the laws of the land.

Judge: “Why did you shoot your bullet at Mr. Smith?”

Mr. Wesson: “Well, it sounds silly, but I didn’t like the way he was looking at me.”

Judge: “Is that any reason to shoot a man?”

Mr. Wesson: “Nah, but I was really drunk.”

Judge: “Well, it’s a good thing you missed. I’d advise you to stay home with your kids instead of engaging in barroom staring contests. Understood?”

Mr. Wesson: “Yes, your honor.”

The crossfire of pro- and anti-gun groups has become the rhetorical equivalent of trench warfare. The mindsets are so ingrained that any attempt to breach the deadlock with fresh thought is automatically shot down -- even by people who are organizationally opposed to shooting anything.

Years ago I proposed The Fife Amendment to a spokeswoman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence. She reflexively dismissed it saying, “Our theory is that even one bullet can kill someone.”

True, I said, but doesn’t it stand to reason that fewer people would be shot if everyone had just one bullet?

“Well, yes, but . . .” she began reciting familiar arguments before realizing she’d descended into what she called “wonk babble.”

“Sorry, but it’s hard to think about new ideas.”

Exactly.

Out of fairness, I called the National Rifle Association, the scary, dour people with the bumper stickers that are always alluding to their “cold, dead fingers.”

The NRA spokeswoman’s reaction to my proposal caught me completely off guard.

She burst out laughing. And she continued to laugh. It was such a joyful laugh that I felt a rush of sweet affection for this unseen, distant stranger. It had me hoping nobody would have to pry anything from her cold, dead fingers for many, many happy, productive decades.

I called back the next day and, I swear, she was still laughing. Seven years later, she still hasn’t gotten back to me, and I to this day I imagine her still sitting there still laughing maniacally as teams of psychiatrists study her behavior.

One bullet per person might be a silly idea, but there just aren’t any new ideas coming from either side, certainly none that at least one person in the pro-gun lobby finds so ironically disarming.

Monday, June 28, 2010

My 25 top tweets


This morning I posted my 250th tweet since signing up on January 8. Know what that means?

I now have more than enough to go back and rerun posts that people forgot seconds after they read them months ago.

That news will be of microscopic consequence to the 46 people who follow my tweets like this: “How do people from Wyoming, our most geographically square state, ever manage to think outside the box?” (Jan. 12).

I like to think my followers lapsed into a collective stupor when I challenged them with that profundity, but I doubt any one of them will recognize the retread.

Twitter is a splendid training ground for anyone who aspires to write for fortune cookies.

I’ve always considered it a farm team for my blog posts. Sometimes a single 140-character tweet will inspire an entire 750-word post.

That’s what happened with this one from January 18: “I have about the same interest in learning speed reading as I do in learning speed sex.”

If I haven’t forgotten it next Easter, like I did this past Easter, I plan to write something based on this little nugget: “If chickens ever start laying Cadbury eggs I'm becoming a chicken farmer.”

Whimsical, yet true! Cadbury eggs are delicious.

Admittedly, 46 followers shows what an appalling waste of time Twitter is for unknown deadbeats like me. Still, 46 is more than will fit around the bar where I refresh myself and test drive many of the lines that wind up as tweets.

Some twitizens stick to one field, say, baseball or gardening. Me, I’m all over the map.

I’ve been political: “Can we all agree that calling something ‘gubernatorial’ is demeaning to any high office that isn't contested in elementary school?” (June 2)

I’ve been biological: “Molar, bicuspid and uvula are words of mouth.” (May 18)

I’ve been historical: “Grace Slick is a direct descendant of Mayflower pilgrims and the first person to say the word "motherf****r" on live TV in 1969.” (May 2)

I’ve been topical: “Imagine, right now some woman's trying to fix her friend up saying, "He's charming! He's funny! He can dance!" And the guy is Larry King.” (May 18)

I’ve been grammatical: “People are going overboard with exclamation points! It's punctuation’s whoopee cushion!! And I don't like it!!! Not one little bit!!!!” (April 5)

I’ve been philosophical: “The only time bitch, bitch, bitch is ever any good is if you're running a dog grooming business and you need a fast buck.” (April 16)

And I’ve been wonder-ful: “I wonder if life is really like those two or three hours we all have to kill while the hotel gets our room ready for the 3 o'clock check in.” (June 23)

“1984 author George Orwell (1903-50) had two little sisters. I wonder if the gals complained that Orwell was a tyrannical big brother.” (June 20)

“I wonder if God has a spam filter to screen out some of my sillier prayers like when I'm standing over a difficult par putt.” (June 9)

“I wonder if the adult film industry is resentful that a guy named Andy Roddick isn’t a porn star.” (May 2)

It seems like every fifth tweet or so is wondering about something. I can only hope all that wondering adds up to something collectively wonderful.

I think what I’ll do in the next week or so is ruthlessly delete dozens of weaker tweets in an effort to keep the homepage as spare and honed as possible.

Afterall, brevity is the soul of twitter.

Here are 25 of my favorites:


“People who refuse straws do not suck.” (January 18)

“I'd like to see each World Cup match end in a nil-nil tie and then witness Nelson Mandela draw the winner's name out of a hat.” (June 12)

“How can champion water skiers practice? Dry runs for them are impossible.” (June 3)

“Larry King at 76 interviewing Mick Jagger at 67 makes Mick seem 35 and Larry seem 98.” (May 18)

“Only solution to Gulf crisis is to teach fish to eat and enjoy crude oil. Can't be harder than teaching 4 yr old to do same w/ vegetables.” (May 18)


“It's a mystery why anyone would opt for Oreos over Double Stuffed Oreos. It'd be like choosing to watch a skit featuring The Two Stooges.” (May 16)


“I think this gulf catastrophe would be working out differently if Jed Clampett was still involved in the oil industry.” (May 5)


“We could eliminate both obesity and starvation in one fell swoop if everyone, everywhere would agree to eat just two meals a day.” (May 3)

“After latest 17-3 drubbing, ESPN says "the Milwaukee Brewers own the Pirates." It's gotta be better than being owned by Bob Nutting.” (April 27)

“Chefs with rashes are the best at cooking from scratch.” (April 20)

“Time bomb makes no sense. It should be timed bomb. A time bomb might have its advantages and could delay aging.” (April 14)


“Should know better but when I'm alone in a room with what is described as a magic marker, I still try and use it to turn chairs into gold.” (March 29)


“Just started reading Grisham's ‘Innocent Man.’ So far, it's nothing at all like Billy Joel's "Innocent Man." (March 25)

“In ‘Wizard of Oz,’ the role of ‘Toto’ was played by a dog named "Toto." Coincidence or just really expert casting? (March 24)

“Just learned Ernie Borgnine is 92. Know what that means? Pretty soon we're going to need an Ernie Borgten.” (March 11)

“If I were a heroic crime fighter, I'd love to have Super Vision. But as a regular guy, I hate any supervision. Can't stand it.” (March 6)

“The tragedy at SeaWorld is bound to give killer whales a really bad name.” (February 25)

“Angry enough about forecast of heavy new snows to consider storming the Weather Channel, but realize that would be redundant.” (February 24)

“One day soon cell phones will be used to cure the cancers they cause.” (February 17)

“People say 'the mind boggles' like it's a rarity. Most minds do more boggling than they do thinking.” (February 17)


“If someone who feasts on human flesh is a cannibal, should some who eats just a wee bit be called a cannibbler?” (February 4)


“Stuck listening to Radio Disney. Nobody should be allowed to make any music until they're mature enough to have to shave something.” (January 30)


“I'm thinking of getting a $75 tattoo of an $18,000 Rolex for my left wrist.” (January 26)

“I like to think eager and optimistic agents in crime labs pass the time singing, ‘Some Day My Prints Will Come!’ (January 26)


“During all my typing commotion, my left thumb never even hits the space bar. When it comes to typing, my left thumb never lifts a finger.” (January 25)


“A single splash of water killed the Wicked Witch of the West. Logical conclusion: Not only was she evil, she also reeked.” (January 23)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Reduce deficits, grow grass (not that kind)


It pains me to offer so many sensible solutions to so many global problems when the ideas always seem motivated by pure laziness.

Yet, I can’t help it.

The world would be a lot better off if everyone was less reluctant to indulge their laziness.

Lazy people don’t start wars, instigate Ponzi schemes or manufacture housing bubbles. They don’t drill deep sea oil wells, rig elections or trouble with any of the necessary couch shifting that leads to unwanted pregnancies.

In fact, the only scourge we can lay at the reclining feet of lazy people is lousy television programming.

So I salute lazy people and thank them for all their inspiration, including this recent brainstorm stemming from observing a vast patch of earth that could really benefit from a whole lot of laziness.

Grass. Lawns. Green space.

Can you think of how much money, time, aggravation and wasted fuel we’d all save if we all just sat back, sipped some lemonade, and let the grass grow?

The savings would be staggering.

And I’m not even talking about our own lawns. I’ll get to that.

I’m talking about the millions of miles of grass that coast-to-coast line and divide our interstate highways. On our recent nine-hour drive from our western Pennsylvania home to splendid southern part of Indiana, we covered 1,225 miles round trip. About 95 percent of those miles were spent on interstate highways straddled by between 50- and 75-feet of well-manicured grasses. Those same highways are divided by strips of grass about 100 feet wide for the duration.

We saw nearly a dozen taxpayer-funded work crews toiling in gas-guzzling tractors who, I’m sure, do nothing but tidy the highway grass for eight hours a day.

Why?

High grass is not a highway hazard. Heck, it’s hardly a golf hazard.

See for yourself. The grass along and between the highways is never more than about six inches long. The rough at golf’s U.S. Open is more daunting.

If it was next door to my yard, I’d mutter about it being unkempt but when I zip by at 70 mph, I couldn’t care less. Who would?

In fact, I’ll bet it would be more scenic if it was allowed to flourish. Wild flowers would poke up and the grasses would be reminiscent of splendid African savannas, albeit ones choked with hub caps, roadkill and those handy bottles the truckers use for urinals when they’re behind schedule.

Can you imagine how much money it would save our struggling state and federal governments if they they were to raise the blades and reduce highway mowing to, say, once a month?

The savings would be breathtaking.

Hell, they could probably let it go altogether. What would it matter?

If it grew to sufficient density, the grassy cushions might serve as safety buffers for out-of-control vehicles.

That brings us back home.

Reflexively, one of the first things I did after returning home from vacation was to jump out of the car and onto my John Deere.

The grass needed mown.

Or did it?

We used to live in a traditional neighborhood with yards slammed right next to each other. If fastidious Fred cut his grass, mine looked shaggy. I was forever struggling to decide whether to cut the grass or just kill Fred.

Now we live in a shady home up in the woods. Cars roar by at 50 mph. The only people who sees our grass are the garbage men and the school bus driver and we won’t be seeing her again until fall.

In many ways, a mowed lawn is an affront to nature. We expend so much money, sweat and time trying to tame what is wild.

Well, I’m done.

I’m going to resist the urge to cut the grass until it gets high enough to tickle my backside in the hammock where I intend to spend more time brainstorming ways true laziness can help mankind.

Give it some thought. Tell a friendly congressman or woman.

Longer grass is an idea that ought to really grow on us all.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

When breast implants are booby prizes


I pay no attention to either of the $4,000 boobs as they sashay into the bar, nor to the girl to whom they’ve been surgically attached.

As I’ve said before, I am not a boob man. I am an ass man.

And I drink in a bar with about a dozen other asses just like me.

But lots of the Regular Joes notice them, including one of the Regular Joes who’s sitting to my right and is conveniently named Joe.

“Oh, here she comes,” he says contemptuously. “Do you know he paid $8,000 to get her those breast implants? Can you believe it?”

No, I can’t believe it. It seems excessive, like ordering a new car with bigger, brighter headlights when the ones that come installed from the factory are sufficient in illuminating any darkened road.

And I’m confused by the etiquette of the gesture. How does that offer arise? Did he say he wouldn’t have anything to do with her unless she bumped up two or three cups?

I’d be hurt if my wife said I was deficient in a physical area and that she’d spend $8,000 to extend the length of my, say, nose.

The girl seems perfectly pleasant. I don’t know what would have been wrong with her old breasts. I doubt they were square or made funny corduroy noises when she was walking around bra-less.

In fact, the old breasts that the 50-something guy was concerned about probably weren’t even on this 30-something girl. They were probably on some ex-wife.

That’s fairly common. Many middle-aged men leave perfectly good wives for younger women who are bound to cause the same consternations that come with any matrimonial binding of the sexes.

I don’t see that happening to me. I love my wife and, besides, I wouldn’t want to have to go through explaining things like Bob Dylan to someone all over again.

But there’s no denying we live in a breast-obsessed society.

In truth, I’m always more interested in the guy who bought the breasts than the girl who’s accessorizing with them.

I have a lot of questions I’d like to ask him.

I’d like to know how you wrap breast implants that you intend to give as a gift. Do you put them both in the same box? Really, a box with one implant would likely spoil the surprise as to what’s in the second box, wouldn’t it?

And do you go in the operating room with the recipient during the installation? It would be like the reverse of being in the delivery room when your gal delivered twins.

But my observations lead me to believe he’s a tremendous jerk and I already have my quota of them in my life.

See, I’ve been a convivial person my whole life and I’ve always gone to all the places the other convivial people go. I’d never seen this guy before and now he and the $8,000 breasts are everywhere.

That would be fine, but he’s causing trouble in places where I seek sudsy serenity.

First I saw him being rude to a waitress at one local tavern. Already overwhelmed with customers, he summoned her by calling her name -- “Cara!” -- raising his glass and rattling the ice the way pet owners rattle keys to summon dawdling dogs.

To me, right there, that’s a hell-worthy sin -- and hell’s going to be mighty crowded if I ever get to decide who belongs there. She’s a professional. She’ll get there.

Then he went beyond the pale by coming into my home bar and stirring up trouble on a recent Friday afternoon. And it was all over a bar stool.

The breasts sat down in one where one guy’s wife had been sitting. A joke was made (it wasn’t even funny), then all of a sudden my Happy Hour turned into a wildlife special.

The breast buyer rose up like a fighting rooster -- cock, if you will -- and said the remark was an affront to his fair damsel.

The men had to be separated. It was all incredibly immature -- and that’s coming from a guy who sometimes wears big Wookie pajamas to work.

I kind of feel sorry for the girl, because now it looks like he owns more of her than just her $8,000 breasts.

All I can surmise is that they must have been having some kind of boob special the day she got hers.

He paid for two big ones and she wound up stuck with three.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Vacation recycling near impossible


Watching my waste-averse wife try to find a stranger willing to take two leftover cuts of pizza reminded me of Oskar Schindler's heroics.

When it comes to saving the planet, she’s that earnest.

“Please,” she said, “they’re really delicious and it would be such a terrible shame to have to just throw them away.”

That in essence is what saintly Schindler said about the Jews he saved, although I don’t think he ever hinted about their tastiness.

The road to eco-purity is littered with good intentions, not to mention discarded burger wrappers, water bottles and mini-mountains of menthol filtered cigarette butts.

This is never more evident than when you’re on summer vacation and witness to the massive amounts of waste that come along with enjoying being a consumer on a jaunt in a world that looks like it quit caring.

I’m one of those maniacs that will chase a wind-blown Hershey’s wrapper around a shopping center parking lot like it was a $50 bill.

I just decided years ago that I was going to without complaint pick up and dispose of as much trash as I could without veering too far out of my way, digging in jagger bushes or risking getting hit by a speeding bus.

On my daily walks, I often carry a plastic bag. Usually, I can find enough trash in my stumbling path to fill the bag.

I realize the utter absurdity of stooping in the gutter to prevent someone’s discarded cigarette wrapper from traveling downstream while BP floods the Gulf with millions of barrels of crude, yet stoop I do.

If I was a superhero, I’d be StooperMan!

It would be different if I the only trash disposal places were way up atop the remote Himalayas.

But the world is littered with trash cans. They’re everywhere and there’s usually an unholy halo of garbage ringing every one of them. So I pick it up and put it where it belongs.

When my daughter asked why I was picking up trash that wasn’t mine, I knelt down and said, “No, it isn’t my trash, but it is my planet.”

Now that’s a dandy line, one the Sierra Club’s free to pilfer.

It’s the kind of line my daughter will likely repeat to countless therapists she’ll see over the course of her life to correct exposure to my uniformly liberal aphorisms.

But the landscape is different on vacation. First, the six-cylinder Saturn -- and it’s green, by the way (in color at least) -- is finite. It doesn’t expand to make room for all the empty sodas we consume and would dearly love to recycle.

I draw the line at hauling trash around the country so we’re at the mercy of the hosting hotel. If they don’t put out a recycle bin, we toss it in the trash, a raised middle finger to Ma Nature and all we espouse.

Table scraps is where I part ways with my wife.

Truly, the world needs a machine that will allow all of us to fax leftovers to the starving.

The waste at any restaurant is staggering. Super sized portions leave conscientious diners with the option of overeating or watching the indifferent waitress drop a veritable feast into the garbage.

A food fax would solve all that. Restaurants would be able to take leftovers and send them to needy people around the globe.

I’m surprised Val hasn’t devoted herself to inventing one.

Maybe she’s too busy beseeching strangers to take what we can’t eat.

That’s what happened at an Indiana restaurant where a coupon stipulated we’d get the grande size. It was way too much for the four of us and two enormous cuts were left on the table. Val began to panic over the potential waste.

“Forget it,” I said. “You’ll look like a crazy woman for even asking and only an idiot would take food from a perfect stranger.”

Thus, my little speech made it all the more satisfying to her when some nice Kentucky woman said why, yes, thank you, my family will be happy to eat them.

She returned to the table triumphant that she’d won a small battle on behalf of Mother Earth. The food would nourish another and not go to waste.

I told her she was right, I was wrong and that I’m an idiot.

It was nothing she hadn’t heard before.

The apology was one of the few things I’d managed to recycle the entire week.

Friday, June 18, 2010

I'm back and a good man's gone


I’m back from an unannounced six-day blogging vacation while I took the family on a summer frolic.

It was unannounced for security reasons. We’ve all seen stories about crafty crooks who prowl the internet for clues that someone is going away.

I consider it more disparaging evidence of man’s decline that today’s crooks dawdle around on Facebook rather than sticking a gun in someone’s ribs the way honest crooks always used to.

But I felt bad about it all week. I felt it was an affront to my regular readers.

I worried that they may have felt something happened to me, that maybe I’d been injured in a freak typing accident or that maybe I’d, egads, found a real wage-earning job.

Let me assure you, that’s never going to happen.

Certainly, I don’t think I have any readers who would use the information that I was away to break into my home. First of all, my readers are no fools. They know precisely how impoverished I am.

Not many people are going to go out of their way to rob a man who boasts that his prize possession is a beer can collection he’s tended since the fourth grade.

I think my readers are uniformly charitable, well-read, make informed decisions based on facts, like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain.

But, boy, would I have felt stupid explaining to police how I’d given daily updates about our distant whereabouts.

The blog’s become such a habit that if I don’t post at least 750 words three times a week, I feel like I’m shirking my commitments.

That, of course, is insane. It would be like my kid feeling guilty over not playing enough with her Care Bears.

Yet, as I strolled through several midwest playgrounds, the feeling did persist. I’d see taxpayer-funded highway workers mowing already trim grass and feel the need to expound on the waste.

I’d think how the relationship between me and the caddie the pro shop had assigned me was not unlike that between a hooker and her John and reflexively want to reach for my laptop.

I’d see so many awful tattoos on so many misshapen bodies and think maybe I should become a tattoo artist.

So instead of blogging, I talked. And talked and talked and talked. I yammered so relentlessly my daughter said she actually missed being in school.

So did my wife.

The only thing I said during the entire eight-hour trip home that wasn’t greeted with exasperated groans of impatience was, “We’re home!”

So I’m going to try and get to all that in the next few days, but first we need to engage in some mourning.

Will Koch, 48, died Monday at his home in Santa Claus, Indiana. He was found dead in his pool from what his family believes were complications from the Type 1 diabetes he’d dealt with since college.

To me, it was like hearing Mr. Rogers had died before anyone had a chance to get to really know the grace and joy of Fred Rogers.

Koch was for 20 years the president of Holiday World and Splashin’ Safari and the outstanding successor to his father and grandfather who founded the world’s first theme park, one that predates Disney World by nine year. The park is divided into four sections that celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween and the Fourth of July, a traditional lineup that makes brawny amusement park snobs snicker.

By poignant coincidence, we were there Tuesday and Wednesday, the day before he was buried. The tears of the employees who beloved him were never far from the surface.

I first met him in 1996 when National Enquirer asked me to travel to southern Indiana to do a Christmas story about the town called Santa Claus. Each December, the normally sleepy Santa Claus Post Office, ZIP code 47579, goes from handling 3,000 pieces of mail a day to more than 50,000. This Christmas alone, postal workers will help deliver more than 500,000 pieces of mail from all over the world.

Little did I know it at the time, but Koch was in the midst of turning the quirky little park into a colossus.

I’d write about the place every couple of years for various newspapers, but didn’t have an opportunity to return until 2008 when I accepted a longstanding invitation to bring my family.

Koch and park spokeswoman Paula Werne met us at the front gate and thanked me for all the coverage over the years. My impression of him was that he was warm, mirthful and that when he knelt down to tell my daughters that he hoped they had a wonderful time at his park, by God, he really meant it.

My impression of the park was more euphoric. When an overseas airline magazine magazine asked me to do a story about the must-visit amusement parks in the entire world, I told them they had to include Holiday World.

They’d never heard of it.

I told them that the it edged out all the Disneys and the Six Flags and a host of better known others in 2005 when the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions organization awarded it Best Park, the smallest park to ever earn the designation.

I told them it was a coaster lovers’ paradise and that Amusement Today declared The Voyage the world’s number one wooden coaster for the past three years, and that the same magazine gives it top honors for cleanest and friendliest park.

I told them that Splashin’ Safari this year opened the $5.5 million Wildebeest, the world’s longest water coaster and a fitting companion to Pilgrim’s Plunge, the world’s tallest water slide.

I told them Forbes Magazine included it on its 2006 list of the top 10 amusement parks in the world.

They agreed it needed to be included.

Those are worthy credentials all, but what impressed me most is that in 2008, Koch decided it would give away for free sunscreen and soda.

Scattered throughout the park are sunscreen stations and Pepsi oases that allow thirsty families to drink as much free Pepsi products as they want all day long.

In a day where ballparks and movie theaters charge $4.50 for 12 flat ounces of soda, it’s a flabbergasting gesture.

Try and get there one day. You won’t regret it. This week was our second visit in three years and if we don’t go back by 2012, our kids will scream neglect.

We can only hope heaven’s all it’s cracked up to be, but I can’t help but think that in two years or so, the souls of the saints will be greeting Will Koch on the golden sidewalks and saying, “Hey, thanks so much for all you’ve done around here. You’ve really made this place so much more fun and friendly.”

Countless people have been saying that here on earth for years.

A married father of three, he will be missed.

Friday, June 11, 2010

"A three hour tour!"


The commentary world is buzzing today that 16-year-old Abby Sunderland has been rescued. On her round-the-world solo jaunt, she nearly capsized in hurricane force winds and mountainous seas. Costly teams of taxpayer subsidized air and seaborne rescuers risked their lives to find and retrieve the California girl.

How come you never hear about girls from places like Akron getting into these kinds of scrapes?

Critics are questioning the parental reasoning of allowing a kid barely old enough to drive a four-cylinder Hyundai to the mini-mart for milk, to go around the world solo in a sailboat.

Me, I don’t judge. Maybe she’s qualified. Maybe she enjoyed an instructional religious vision. Maybe her folks stood to make some loot on a wager with the parents of balloon boy.

I just know this much: When my daughters turn 16, I won’t allow either of them to be alone at the local mall much less alone in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Because that’s where I’ll be.

It sounds heavenly.

Sunderland’s mistake was she had a cutting edge satellite communications, soul finder GPS, and a grand, ambitious plan.

Hell, I won’t even have a sail. I’ll be like the note in bottle cruise ship passengers heave overboard. I’ll just drift with the tides and maybe wash ashore in some distant land decades later to be marveled at by beachcombers and the local newspaper.

Defenders are hailing Sunderland as a girl with real spirit. That’s maybe the one department in which I’ll one-up her.

I’ll be a man with many spirits. There will be rum, bourbon, vodka, tequila, iced coolers of beer and maybe a ganja-filled dinghy in case I need to make friendly with some ya mon pirates.

There will be books. I’ll empty the local library of its Louis L’amour collection and I’ll have one of those page-a-day “Far Side” calendars that I’ll just roll over and enjoy year-after-year -- and they can kiss those astronomical late fees goodbye!

In deference to my primary sponsor and source of nutrition, I’ll call my proud little boat the S.S. Pop Tart. That to me is the one food any man lost at sea could depend on for eternal sustenance.

Really, by the time my daughters are that troublesome age, someone will probably have invented a machine that will allow restaurants to fax things like pizza anywhere in the world.

Can you imagine how parenting will change when that happens? It’s bound to.

The waters will be crowded with men like me, married fathers of daughters awash in confusing seas of estrogen.

We’re just looking for a little escape.

It has hard to fathom what led her father to green light the around-the-world jaunt when everyone would understand if he cried, “Uncle! Mid-life crisis! I’m outta here!”

It’s okay for a man to do something stupid, but it’s stupid for a man to let a kid do the exact same thing.

All I can guess is that old man Sunderland, himself a dandy yacht skipper, doesn’t hang around the kinds of guys I do.

I can just imagine what would happen if I announced to my friends at the bar that I was letting my 16-year-old daughter sail around the world all by herself.

They’d ask if I was joking. They’d ask if I’d lost my mind. They’d want to know if they needed to beat some sense into me.

It’d be entirely different if I pushed through the doors and said, “Fellas, guess what? I’m leaving my family indefinitely! I’ve sold my half of everything! I’ve bought a boat and I’m going to sail around the seven seas! And I don’t know when I’m ever coming back!”

Want to know what would happen next?

These men would fight each other and bribe me to see who could crew my little boat. My dreams of being alone would be shipwrecked before even leaving port.

Ah, it’s bound to be a raucous voyage along the high seas. And I mean high seas in every sense of the word.

I know some of those guys who’d bring plenty of provisional ganja.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Neighbor, My Deere


I’d planned the afternoon with the precision of a military unit, albeit one where the stereotypical sexuality of the troops wasn’t really an issue.

GI Joe is never ordered to run out and get the eggs. But that was my first mission.

Fetching eggs may sound like lady’s work to some hombres. Not me.

See, we go organic. That meant driving by the local farmer’s market and getting for $1.75 a dozen delicious brown eggs. Had I not been on the clock, I’d have asked the farmer why the shells of healthy organic eggs are light brown.

I know the chickens that lay these brown eggs are treated far better than the factory ones that, perhaps out of subtle protest, lay ivory white ones. Why that is so is a mystery to me. But I like to support the people who treat their employees with dignity and respect, one handy exception being the suicidally prone Chinese drones responsible for making the Apple computer upon which I’m typing this bit of silliness.

But I had no time for chat. Next up was picking up The Outlaw Josie Rodell with the gals at the bus stop, another female job that falls to me while my wife is out at a real job bringing home the proverbial bacon.

(Is this post starting to make anyone else hungry for a really big breakfast?)

Mission accomplished. Next up was a true man’s job. I needed to get the John Deere tractor out and mow the lawn. I had one hour to do a job that takes about 57 minutes.

The reward for all this commotion was a night at the bar with the boys watching the historic debut of Washington Nationals pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg. Experts say he is one of the best ever.

I love climbing aboard the ol’ John Deere. First, it’s one of the most iconic brands in all American manufacturing. And it’s just one hell of a machine. My yard is strewn with rocks, deadfall and the odd beer can. It has dangerous elevation changes, tree obstacles and hidden gopher holes deep enough to upend the mower in less experienced hands.

My J.D. has four speeds, a reverse and a mowing deck that has 15 precise levels. Given the yard’s challenges, I’m constantly regulating the mower deck height to prevent dinging the dual blades.

I treat cutting the grass the way race car drivers treat the Daytona 500. I dispatch all the risks with skill, daring and speed.

So climbing into the big yellow seat finally let me feel manly behavior, an emotion that persisted even as I put on the big clunky ear muffs to protect my hearing so I can still enjoy “Mamma Mia” when I’m retired.

I turned the key in the ignition, eager to hear the behemoth rumble to life.

Nothing.

I tried again.

Again nothing.

Once more.

A clicking sound.

I was crestfallen. The whole operation was now in jeopardy.

Again.

More clicking.

This was disconcerting because it strikes at the core of my fears about being unmanly.

Because if this didn’t work, I’d have to go knock on Greg’s door for help, an exercise that always leaves me feeling small.

Greg builds interstate highways for a living. I feel manly driving a machine that goes by the name Deere, a moniker that sounds like an animal named Bambi.

He goes all over the country to drive million dollar machines that look like the ones that maneuver space shuttles around the launch pad.
I’ve never seen him without a lit, unfiltered Camel in either his mouth or his hand. I imagine him smoking in places like church and during dental procedures.

Calling him gruff trivializes gruffness. Andy Rooney is gruff. Greg is armed and gruff. He’s so gruff he makes Dick Cheney look as gentle and friendly as a neighborhood carpenter. Karen Carpenter.

He’s profane and has a tankful of hate.

He hates politicians, lawyers, golf and he really hates the people who used to own our house. The hatred’s never far from the surface.

I’ll give you an example but because I’ve vowed to make this a family friendly blog, I’m going to substitute various fruits for when he swears when talking about his old neighbor.

“That grape was the biggest peachy banana I’ve ever seen. A plum-sucking tangerine like that wouldn’t know his cantaloupe from a hole in the ground.”

I fear the day I shank a golf ball through one of his windows and he retaliates by firing a bazooka through my solar plexus.

I tried again.

Nothing.

I checked the oil. It looked oily. I pulled on some wires and checked some connections -- not because I knew what I was doing. I do that whenever it seems to make more sense than chanting something like, “Abracadabra!” or “Tuscarora!”

I’ve never felt the need to know how my John Deere works to love it. It’s the same with my family. I love them, but knowing that they have spleens or how a spleen works isn’t going to make me love them any more.

I tried again.

Nothing.

At this point, I don’t remember if I resorted to prayer. I may have. I know in this world of hurt and woe, it’s pathetic to pray for things like mechanical assistance so I don’t have to ask my scary neighbor for help to ensure I get to the bar to watch some young millionaire toss a baseball to another millionaire.

But it’s such a reflexive reaction I can only hope God has a spam filter that just sends my silly little prayers straight to his junk prayer file for convenient disposal.

Either way, on the seventh try, the mower came roaring to life in a great big gust of manly pollution.

The grass got cut and I settled into my bar stool in time to watch baseball history. And I spent the rest of the night relieved I didn’t have to ask Greg for help.

We get along great and as a neighbor he’s a lifesaver.

But I can’t help but wonder what he makes of me. He’s true blue collar, a salt of the earth kind of guy who doesn’t understand someone like me earning a living telling stories.

He probably thinks I’m some kind of fruit.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My novel's done! Again!


Done! Last night I finished my 17th novel and I’m basking in the sublime sense of accomplishment. I couldn’t be more confident that it is going to be an international bestseller and that Spielberg will soon be calling with offers.

I think I’m more proud of this than any of the others.

My 17th novel is called “The Last Baby Boomer: The Story of the Ultimate Ghoul Pool.” It’s exact same name as my 16 previous novels.

In fact, it’s basically the same as the previous 16 novels.

Sure, all the versions are a bit different, but the thrust is the same.

I figure the last baby boomer is going to die in the year 2081 when he or she will be 118 years old. My 17 novels have been the story of that hypothetical man.

I figure people are going to be so sick of baby boomers by then that they’re going to take the last one and lodge him in a museum suite. People will spend $25 to be with him for 15 minutes. If they’re in the room when he dies, they win the jackpot.

The problem is he won’t die.

I call it a coming of old, old age story. Because everyone has to die, but only one of us gets to die last.

Not a bad premise, eh?

People seem to like it. I’ll never forget the reaction of the first big shot agent I sent it to. He actually called me and gushed that the book sounded like great fun. He asked me to send the entire manuscript.

I clearly remember setting down the phone and thinking, “Should the Cadillac be red or black?”


He never called back and never returned any of my calls. I like to think maybe the novel was so good the excitement from reading it made him drop dead.

That was about 10 years and maybe 1,000 rejections ago.

You sound like a real failure when you tell people you wrote a novel 10 years ago and it still hasn’t been published. But I haven’t been sitting at the computer hammering away at the novel for that entire duration.

I’ve written four other golf and humor books, hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles, did my part to help conceive two darling children, played a lot of golf, drank a lot of beer and probably smoked 100 soul-soothing cigars.

Fatigued from rejection, I’d set the novel aside for entire years. I’ve had two actual publishers -- so small they were what they euphemistically call "boutique" -- say they wanted to publish it. One broke my heart by later changing his mind. I reluctantly pulled it from the other after an intervening agent said she was confident she could find a bigger publisher.

She was mistaken.

The most frequent comment I hear about it from interested agents is that, gee, it’s really fun, the writing’s great, compelling story, someone’s going to just love it, but it doesn’t fit any genre so we don’t know how we’d sell it.

I tell them I sold 62 copies of my 2003 golf book during a raucous day-long book signing at my favorite tavern. And this is a true story: it’s the only day in the 12 years I’ve been a regular there that the owner had to throw someone out for being too rowdy.

I’m surprised industry people don’t offer more suggestions on how to improve it. Really, I’m all ears. They must think I’m one of those writers who believes each word is too precious to disturb.

That’s crazy. I don’t know any writers who wouldn’t be grateful for professional advice on how to make their books better. I parse every rejection to glean any shred of advice or criticism. Then after a groundswell of deliberate thought, I get the hammer out and start bashing the daylights out of what I once cherished.

My 17th novel is vastly different from my first one. I think each of my novels has gotten better and better.

And now I have a friendly association with a prestigious agent that just rejected my non-fiction frolic about trying to get a new word in the dictionary (“Zeitgust!”). She and her boss just loved it. I was very flattered. Alas, it was a no, she said, making me wonder again if I’m on pace to become the nation’s most rejected writer.

But she asked to see any other projects I’m pitching. I told her about my novel and sent her the first 25 pages. She liked it and is eager to see the rest.

It gave me the impetus to do a complete re-write based on something a top agent shared about why he passed. I think the book I finished yesterday is great and is going to be the one that puts me over the top.

I hope with all my heart that is so. Because, like all of us who write, we dearly want to prove we belong. We want our work to have mass appeal. We want to see people reading our books on planes and at the beach. We want our books turned into movies.

Really, more than the money and the professional security, I want to have an answer for people at parties when they ask what I do for a living.

I want to tell them I get paid to write books.

And what if this oh-so-promising agent comes back with yet another stinging rejection? What if she says, gee, this is great, someone’s going to love it, but it’s just not for me?

Then I’ll have no choice.

I’ll roll up my sleeves and start writing my 18th novel, ever confident that it’s going to be another blockbuster.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Earthly concerns


I hate to sound like a doomsday alarmist here, but is there a chance the earth will deflate if we don’t cap the Deepwater Horizon soon?


Really, I can’t think of anything that gets punctured and begins ceaselessly gushing vital fluids that doesn’t go vvvfffftt.

It happens with gunshot victims, faulty waterbeds and certainly with balloons.

Understand, I don’t think the earth is going pop. That’s silly.

My fear is it’s going to scoot merrily around the solar system the way balloons do when you blow one up to near capacity and just let the thing go. What follows is about .8 seconds of magnificent chaos.

That would, of course, be cataclysmic if it happened to earth, but no one can dispute it would be great fun to watch from some safe moon perch.

I look to inner Earth to solve many of man’s problems, not create more of them.

Really, space isn’t the final frontier. Been there. Done that.

But how much do we know about the enormous mass just beneath our feet? It’s mostly scientific speculation. No one’s seen it. There’s no spelunking equivalent to Lewis & Clark who’ve boldly gone and explored more than a couple thousand feet or so.

Who knew there was so much oil? The gulf catastrophe is the result of a break in a pipe that is a mere 6.625 inches wide. Yet 800,000 gallons a day are spewing into the gulf. There’s no end in sight.

And there are thousands of wells just like it in the gulf alone

It’s like some pimply kid popped one zit and the thing turned into a disgusting geyser no one can stop -- and, boy, does that example bring back memories. It happened to me every year the day before it was customary to start asking for prom dates.

Just how much oil is down there?

And what else is down there?

I’ve heard that there is only enough oil to last another 120 years or so, but it seems like there’s enough oil to last until man renders the planet uninhabitable, something we’re on pace to achieve in about 15 years.

Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to advocating alternative fuels, the Jolly Green Giant isn’t as green as me (or as jolly).

Our addiction to oil is poisoning the planet and makes a folly of any sensible U.S. foreign policy. It’s the culprit behind the melting polar caps and rising oceans.

Here, again, I look to the earth for a solution. I’ve always believed there has to be some kind of undiscovered drain in each of the oceans.

Fundamentalists and atheists can agree that no one in a world that makes any sense would create bodies of water as enormous as oceans without including some sort of drain.

I figure we’ll find it just as the waters start to crest above the nose on the Statue of Liberty. But, clearly, there has to be a drain somewhere to let a little water out when things get too full.

Failing to include a drain would be as stupid as digging dangerous wells a mile below the surface of the sea and not installing a series of fool proof failsafes that would prevent an oil spill in the event of a disaster.

That would be ridiculous.

My drain theory got a big boost last week when the loony show “Lost” came to its dizzy conclusion.

I wisely opted out after the show’s second season, but my wife was hooked even as the baffling show infuriated her right up to the very end.

I asked her about the finale.

“Well, a bunch of stuff happened, the people on the island all got together and one guy saved the planet.”

Sounds like a pretentious sort of “Gilligan’s Island.” How’d the guy save the planet?

“Oh, there was some plug he needed to put in to keep all the bad stuff from coming out.”

Eureka! Somebody needs to tell BP engineers to get “Lost!”

I just wish someone would have told them that when they assured everyone their deep water drilling techniques were perfectly safe.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Movin' next to the Palins


It took me 10 seconds to come up with 10 reasons to tell my agent to tell my publisher why I wouldn’t be moving in next door to Sarah Palin for purposes of writing a six-figure best seller on her.

The top three are: I don’t have an agent; I don’t have a publisher; and no one’s foolish enough to offer me a six-figure advance on something I’d never finish. I couldn’t read a book about Sarah Palin, much less write one.

Reasons four through 10 are all some variation of the theme: I don’t want any neighbors. In my experience, the bad and the creepy have far outnumbered the kindly and good.

We right now have a vacancy next door and I tremble at what might move in. Meth techs? Doomsday rapture cultists? Pit bull breeders?

The widow Josephine was probably the best neighbor ever. We lived next to her from 1992-2007 before we moved up into the more secluded woods.

She was generous. We had free reign to raid her bountiful garden whenever we needed fixings. I’m convinced the whole Third World could have shown up unannounced for dinner, she’d have fed them up full and then stuck her head out the kitchen door and said, “Anyone have room for pie?”

She was interesting. She surprised me one time when she said she used to watch hours and hours of televised golf. Then she about shocked all the hairs off my head when she told me why.

She used to spend hours and hours with her hands in Arnold Palmer’s pants.

“They called me recently to see if I was still available for hire, but I told them I didn’t do that kind of thing anymore,” she said.

She was his seamstress.

She made a lovely heirloom quilt for our daughter when she was born. She was just so sweet and loving that I’m sure there’ll never be another neighbor so perfect.

It would be a pleasure to be assigned to live next to her for the purposes of writing a book.

Not so with the Palin brood. Already, the Mama Grizzly’s flair for the dramatic has gotten in the way of being neighborly. Instead of welcoming McGinness with cookies and smiles -- and, guaranteed, we’ll do that for whatever meth chef/pit bull owning madman who moves in next to us -- she immediately played the victim.

She unleashed a venomous Facebook attack on McGinniss. If she’s ever president, I’m convinced she’ll eliminate the State Department and run U.S. foreign policy entirely through social networking.

Then she sent surly Todd over to bully and bitch.

Then she built an enormous fence obscuring his view of them and -- who knows? -- maybe her view of Russia.

I don’t know what McGinniss is thinking. Uptight people like that make for awful neighbors.

I’ll bet if sufficiently motivated, I could come up as compelling a story as he eventually will with just two weeks at the Wasilla Best Western.

Of course, that’s not fair to McGuinniss. He’s Holy Cross elite and didn’t cut his reporting teeth, as I did, at National Enquirer.

But it got me to thinking who, in all America, I’d like to live next door to for the purposes of writing a tell-all book.

This week I found the answer.

It’s Todd Snider.

He’s a hilarious singer-songwriter in Nashville, a now flood beleaguered town I love.

He’s the kind of guy who’d probably be furious that America is resorting to generic game shows to determine musical popularity if he wasn’t always so pleasantly stoned.

One recent song, “America’s Favorite Pastime,” is a deadpan homage to the day Pittsburgh Pirate Doc Ellis pitched a no-hitter on LSD.

He just released a flood benefit single “Come Up and See Me Sometime.” The accompanying video shows him and a rag tag band whooping it up amidst snippets all these great East Nashville bars, many of which I used to frequent when I lived there from 1985-1989.

There are beguiling flashes of backyard parties that show the gang sitting around sipping wine, playing fiddles, mandolins and banjos. I could practically smell the marijuana clouds wafting through my computer screen.

For reasons that have nothing to do with contact highs, it would be impossible to live next door to such a happy scene and remain burdened by life’s petty cares or the gnaw of self-inflated ambitions.

Hell, forget about me or McGuinness moving in next to Palin.

Let’s move the Palins next door to Snider.

I’m sure, at the very least, Levi Johnson would enjoy visiting more.