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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The vanishing stigma of typpos

I was a cocky kid fresh out of Ohio University, the top journalism school in the country. Armed with my degree and mastery of a diabolical herd-thinning challenge called the English Proficiency Test, I was going to dazzle the stalwarts at the Nashville Banner.


I remember it was deadline chaos. Nerves were taut, tensions high. They needed the unflappable flash to write a chunk of tight copy to explain a page one feature picture.


The grizzled old editor raised his voice above the din and yelled, “Get me The Kid!”


It was the moment I’d been waiting for my whole life.


“Kid, we need someone to write some snappy explanation that will have readers jumping out of their seats. Can you send me some sizzle?”


I should explain here I’m over-dramatizing this story. No one’s ever called me “The Kid,” I’ve never been cocky and am always far from the fray whenever challenges arise. Then, as now, when the going got tough, I’d get going to the men’s room to hide while I filled out my football pools.


But you get the gist. I was summoned to compose an extended cutline for a big page one story.


And I thought I did a bang up job. So I was dumbfounded after the story went to press and the editor, a kind and gentle man, summoned me to say, “Chris, there’s a typo in your cutline.”


I was devastated. I don’t recall the word. Let’s say it was “imbecile” and I spelled it “imbassile,” thus becoming the first writer to make an ass out of himself while adding an ass to a word.


What’s important here is my reaction. I said, “Well, at least it was surrounded by a lot of other properly spelled words.”


I instinctively tried to cover my, er, rear by minimizing my error.


Really, it was brilliant. The Kid back then had a lot of moxie.


I bring all this up because I want to endorse a stealth movement I’ve noticed taking hold amongst people who type:


Typos, schmypos.


With all our smart phones, Facebook messages and e-mails, the stigma against casual typos is being buried beneath an avalanche of other properly spelled words.


I say it’s about time. I’ve labored for nearly three decades under the tyranny of the typo.


Blame it on the aforementioned English Proficiency Test at Ohio University.


The test sounds like something conservative presidential candidates want to impose on the people who cross our borders to clean our malls, landscape our McMansions and harvest our salad crops.


In fact, it was one of those tests educators inflict on students to frighten them out of their stupors, the lesson being that, hey, this is serious stuff. You’re going to be entering a professional world where one careless typo could cost you your job.


Well, no, it couldn’t. Maybe a 1,000 of them could, but only if you’re a jerk and the boss is looking for a reason to bounce you.


But writing news stories isn’t exactly guard duty at Gitmo. No one’s going to die if you put the commas after the conjunctions.


I’m tickled to see smart phone messages appear with the embed, “Sent from my smurt phone. Please exuse tipos.”


I’m thinking I ought to banner that beneath my blog title.


Because I self-edit, mistakes will be made. This blog labors to appear professional and I believe it is, save for one key distinction.


I do it for free!


I try and write the things up in an hour or so, walk away and proof it three or four times before posting. I aspire to the grammar being good, but walk away when I believe it’s good enough and it's time to try and earn some loot.


What’s funny is how error free they become -- about six months or so after they first appear. I can tell when there’s a surge of people reading an old post and I’ll go in and see what the fuss is about. I’ll re-read it and inevitably find three or four sloppy mistakes.


It’s embarrassing but, geez, who cares?


I welcome when readers point out a mistake, especially when the wording is senselessly mangled. Please feel free to do so as long as you do so in a way that doesn’t hurt The Kid’s feelings.


But lets none of us restrict our eagerness to joyfully communicate for fear someone’s going to criticize us for minor grammatical mistakes.


Really, anymore it’s just not that big a deel.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Enough with thanks, let's get back to bitching!

I’ve spent the last four days immersed in the bosom of my family and expressing heartfelt gratitude for all that makes life so rich.


Man, am I thankful that’s finally over.


I truly am thankful for all life’s gifts.


But I’d be untrue to myself if I spent more than 48 hours expressing earnest thanks. The soul-supple yin of gratitude needs its bitter yang or it’ll die from diabetic shock.


I read the newly single Demi Moore tweeted what a pity it is that we have just one day out of 365 to be thankful. Why not, she wondered, be thankful 365 days a year?


Well, because I live a world where I’m reminded Demi Moore has access to a Twitter account for starters.


If they made a sunscreen to ward off life’s annoyances it would have to be about SPF 995.


So here’s a little list of stuff I’ve needed to get off my chest when saying so out loud would have struck a disharmonious note.


Better make sure the coffee’s warm. This could take a while.


• NFL officiating: What they need to do is get rid of the instant replay and all but two of the officials, one for each side of the ball. Then ask the players to play under the honor system. If a player feels he was too aggressive, he should raise his hand and assess himself a 15-yard penalty.


• The Euro: Either rise or fall, but stop all the waffling. If you’re going to collapse and drag the world into an apocalyptic depression, let’s just get on with it.


• Our dog: His frequent yips still make me feel someone’s just attached the 400-watt defibrillator paddles to my chest and is about to yell, “Clear!” Snickers is 18-months old and still peeing on the carpet. I’d say, “Look, if that dog pees on the carpet one more time, it’s either me or him,” but I know I’d be annoyed watching the dog and the girls enjoy Christmas morning with me on the cold side of the frosty window.


• I’m annoyed honesty in prayer is frowned upon. Everyone freezes at the Thanksgiving dinner table when I ask, “All right, who wants to say the prayer?” Of course, no one does and it’s left to me. So I mumble some Sunday School sort of prayer about being thankful for the food, the family, the need to help the lonely and less fortunate, blah, blah, blah, when I’d like to at least mention, “And thank you, Lord, for the men and women who make this Tennessee sipping whiskey that’ll help me get through another two hours of sitting here at this table with my father-in-law.”


• The march of time annoys me. I don’t know whether it’s the pending holiday involving important people making naughty/nice lists, but my darling daughters are loving Daddy these days. They out of no where will pop up onto my lap for cuddling and tickle time. Can’t they stay 11 and 5 until at least the year 2017?


• The “Some Girls” re-release. The 1978 Stones classic is one of my favorites. Play it all the time. Now, they’ve re-released it with premium pricing and 10 extra songs. I heard one of the vault songs, “No Spare Parts” and was blown away. I have to have it. But do I need to spend $14.99 on songs I already have? And it annoys me when I have to stoop to cherry-picking selected cuts.


• Dull things annoy me. It’s wood chopping season and my trusty Stihl MS 270 needs new choppers. It’s tedious sawing wood with a machine inefficient for the task. Still, I’d rather spend two hours in the woods with a dull chainsaw than 10 minutes alone with a dull bartender.


My Twitter account: The thing, I think, sparkles with wit. Yet, bone-headed moron Ashton Kutcher’s account has 8,551,759 followers and mine has a measly 106. What does a guy have to do to get that kind of following? Oh? Really? Okay. I’ll pass.


• My inability to start a movement. I have the perfect solution to the really crabby mood the nation’s in right now: Everyone take the afternoon off and let’s all go see the new Muppet movie! Saw it yesterday with the family. It’s wonderful! And just why are there so many songs about rainbows?


• Black Friday violence on principle annoys the hell out of me, but I’d rather see bargain shoppers getting pepper sprayed than sidewalk-occupying philosophy majors.


• Facebook’s certainly annoying. I read recently Mark Zuckerberg was barnstorming the country to hire 700 new Facebook employees. If he was really smart, he’d fire 700 employees. The more Facebook improves the worse it gets. Nothing can change that trajectory.


• I annoy myself. Because, God help me, I still care what happens with those kids, Demi and Ashton. The sentimental old romantic in me hopes Demi reunites with Bruce but, this being Hollywood, I won’t be disappointed if Bruce and Ashton wind up together -- at least until Rumer’s old enough to date Ashton without it all looking so unseemly.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Re-run Sunday: Of mice and mice

I saw fresh mice evidence in the attic the other day. That means I might have to re-deploy the ol' TomCat 2000. Either way, it's a good excuse to redeploy this post from August 2009.


The hardware store exterminator showed me an array of medieval killing devices. I could poison the little beasties. I could lure to them to glue traps where they’d be frozen in place until their tiny hearts burst, or I could sever their spines with one frantic blast of sprung steel.

“Have you got any thing that can maybe sedate them first or, better still, reason with them and convince them to just leave our home of their own free will?”

See, we have mice.

He looked at me like he knew he was dealing with a bleeding heart liberal. I looked at him like he had an uncanny perception for a grown man who still wears a “Burt” name tag on his little blue vest.

“A little squeamish, are you?” he asked.

I suppose I could have told him I oppose any sort of animal cruelty, the unfairly applied death penalty, rude behavior at town hall meetings and those garish posters that make Barack Obama look like The Joker.

Instead, I just said, “Yup.”

“You seem like a TomCat 2000 man to me,” he said.

I couldn’t tell if he’d just insulted me or not, but I liked the sound of it.

Maybe I am a TomCat 2000 man!

The TomCat 2000 is a no-kill mouse trap that works by gravity. The mice, lured by aromatic peanut butter dabs in the darkened end of the four-inch tunnel trap, march in through a door that’s cunningly rigged to close shut when the mouse’s weight shift triggers the door.

The mice trap themselves.

Somebody’s built a better mousetrap!

What appeals to the samurai in me is that we’re only catching stupid mice. The smart ones sense menace and escape to resume the grand battle of wits.

Hawkeye and Trapper John belittled him for it, but the TomCat 2000’s similar to the rat trap Major Frank Burns developed when 4077th was in the midst of their own infestation (mark your calendars: Larry Linville’s birthday is September 29!).

It’s given my life a purpose. Without the TomCat 2000, I suppose I’d have to find something else productive to do with my waking hours, like maybe, gadzooks, find a job.

Just this morning, I caught and released my eighth mouse. Each release ceremony has enlivened the breakfast hour.

I assemble the family and give a little speech explaining to the mouse that we’re doing this for its own good. The woods will offer many more recreational opportunities for mice, not to mention a healthier diet -- they are natural herbivores -- than the nutritionally desolate Pop Tarts, Lucky Charms and other crap we feed our children.

Then I pull open the door. You see the whiskered nose first. The mouse seems terrified and slick with sweat. This saddens me. I’m trying to invent a tiny air conditioning unit and maybe set the iPod to something soothing to ease the incarceration.

As it scampers away, I say a small prayer that it will thrive and bother us no more.

I don’t warn it about the numerous hawks, snakes and other natural predators that abound in the woods. No sense scaring it any more than I’ve already done and, hey, those creatures have to eat, too. Circle of life, baby.

Then I announce the tally to the family I’m charged to protect.

“Well, that’s number eight,” I said this morning.

“How do you know that?” asked my wife, ever the skeptic. “That might be the same mouse over and over again. It sure looks exactly mice one through seven. Perhaps you should begin to brand the the ones you catch before freeing them.”

She, of course, was needling me, as is her matrimonial wont. But she has a point.

Maybe I should brand them. I could set up a little pen, wrangle the rascals and put the CR brand on their hind quarters.

Then once I got a sufficient herd I could run a drive like the way I’ve seen them do in all the great cowboy movies I’ve loved since I was boy. I could take them across the Red River to some mouse sanctuary.

It sounds like a great adventure.

In fact, that’s the one childhood fantasy I’ve never been able to shake.

Yup, I’ve always wanted to be a cowboy.

Who knew I’d grow up to be a mouseboy!

But Burt back at the hardware store probably could have already told you that.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The odd Amish crime wave

I can no longer ignore the drumbeat of demand I address a topic I’ve managed to avoid for six months.


Yes, it’s time to talk about the rogue Amish barbers.


And wouldn’t that be a dandy name for a punk band?


“Ladies and gentleman, get ready to rock! It’s time for the Rogue Amish Barbers!”


R.A.B would be rad.


I was hoping the story would go away because I don’t want this blog to become a clearinghouse for Amish news.


The title’s already confusing enough to researchers who in just the past week have stumbled in by clicking on search terms that include “amish nudes,” “amish blog,” “do amish can bacon,” and inevitably “insane amish barber scissors.”


The blog title refers to how long before my teetering finances force a drastic lifestyle change. I don’t want people mistakenly concluding this blog has anything to do with making fun of Amish.


Just the opposite. If anything I’d like to exalt the Amish. Can you imagine how the world would be better if in eight days we all became Amish?


Gas prices would plummet. We’d know more about our families than we know about Snooki. We could all text while driving as long as our horses didn’t. Our police forces would get so bored they’d have to kill time pepper spraying one another.


The Amish are among the world’s least divisive people. They don’t start bloody my-God-is-better-than-your-God wars, protest soldier funerals, or knock on anyone’s door and annoy them with talk about eternal salvation when -- “Come on down!” -- The Showcase Showdown is getting revved up.


They are the Chicago Cubs of religious devotions, innocuous and utterly non-competitive.


Even their crimes are quaint.


Imagine what would happen if you called 911 and said, “Help! Some polite men just came to my house, asked if they could come inside and then trimmed my beard!”


You’d get a more sympathetic response if you reported a wedgie.


But if you’ve read any of the stories, you’ll understand this is a devastating crime to Amish men. Their beards carry great religious significance.


My beard carries great chunky remnants of soup I had for lunch three days ago.


I started growing my annual chin divot last month to help my face fend off winter’s bitter bite and because I wanted to make myself more appealing to women like the one in my new profile picture.


If convicted the men charged in the barbering crime -- and speaking of barbering crimes, the ringleader is named Mullet -- the accused could face 10 years in federal prison. It could be life if they can prove kidnapping.


It’s unsettling to see mounting evidence that instead of society at large becoming more Amish, the Amish are becoming more like society at large.


They’re the subject of federal investigations involving kidnapping, assault and other activities tantamount to bully hate crimes. And just like our daily headlines, there are even allegations of unseemly sex crimes.


Mullet is accused of locking husbands in chicken coops while “cleansing” their wives of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy.


And that last line is loaded with reasons why I’ve for so long resisted writing about the Bergholz, Ohio, Amish crime wave.


It’s all too sad when a people renown for gentle devotion, thrift and all the best humanity has to offer become punchlines for crimes we have trouble understanding.


Again, I think the world would be better off it we were all eight days to Amish.


What scares me is a world where all the Amish are eight days to us.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A slouching idiot says thanks

I advise you to start tomorrow, as I do every Thanksgiving, by playing the 2006 Ray Davies song, “Thanksgiving Day.”

We can argue all day and night about our favorite Christmas songs, there must be a million of them, but there’s only one Thanksgiving song.

And I mean that. Can anyone name even one great traditional Thanksgiving song?

Leave it to an Englishman to write the song about one of our most authentic American holidays. Be sure to download it as soon as you finish reading this. I promise to keep it holiday snappy.

The song’s got it all. The poignancy, the longings, the Greyhound rides home, the hearth, the family dysfunction and in the end the euphoria of my very favorite holiday.

I’ll be thankful tomorrow for Ray Davies.

And I’ll be thankful for the U.S. Marine Corp and all who serve.

We were in Washington, D.C., over the weekend where I went to write a story about the lavish Christmas festival at the Gaylord National Hotel (and, man, I’m thankful I get to do cool stuff like that as part of my job).

The place was crawling with Marines in their dress blues. The hotel was the site of their annual ball.

It diminishes me even further, but I get kind of squishy whenever I’m around a serviceman or woman, especially a Marine.

I’m grateful for their service and they are just the most impressively composed human beings on the planet.

I’ve never seen a Marine in action, but I imagine they could overwhelm most any enemy merely with manners and posture.

I understand they teach other more lethal things in grueling boot camps, but if someone told me it was 13 weeks of manners and posture I’d believe it.

It’s like they are constructed with steel spines that make slouching physically impossible. My body would assume a natural slouch if it was suspended from a noose.

I was in the company of about 100 other journalists who, like me, stood around slouching for hours at a time waiting for someone to bring us something free.

I’ve never seen a more vivid mingling of the givers and the takers.

I’m sure if I’d have spilled a free bourbon a Marine would have sprung from the rafters and thrown his medal bedecked jacket over the puddle to assist my wife and daughters over the floor hazard.

I don’t know how to say thank you without sounding cliche or maudlin, so I just tried to make eye contact and say, “Happy Holidays,” hoping it would convey so much more.

But that, too, has pitfalls, as I learned on the elevator.

We got on together in the lobby. I asked this man who does so much for me and our country to do one more thing. Could he please push 15?

Guys like me can’t do anything for ourselves.

He was wearing a Steeler jacket. Eureka! I could make Pittsburgh small talk!

If my room had been on the 353rd floor it might have given us enough time to strike up a real friendship.

But we had a very friendly chat, enough so that when the elevator floor bell rang I felt comfortable looking this strong, proud man eye to eye and saying, “Happy Holidays” hoping he’d know what I really meant was:

“Thank you for all you sacrifice for me and my loved ones. Thank you for the friends you’ve lost, the tears you’ve shed, and the enemies you’ve killed. I hope your holiday season is filled with love, joy and a peace that’s so often elusive to warriors like yourself. And I hope the Steelers we both cheer act like United States Marines and kick the asses of their every opponent clear through to the Super Bowl.”

It was perfect. He knew exactly what I meant. The door opened and I gave one last firm nod and gathered up my stuff.

Damn. Wrong floor.

He was too gracious, of course, to point out I asked him to push 15 and was exiting the elevator on 11.

But to ride four more floors in awkward silence risked ruining the perfect micro-conversation.

So what did I do?

I marched right the hell out that elevator door like I knew where I was going, leaving this Marine to logically conclude I’m an idiot.

That's okay. I’ll bet the nation is full of slouching idiots like me.

We have to wait around 364 days until the one day comes when we feel comfortable saying a truly heartfelt thanks.

So Happy Thanksgiving to all our servicemen and women, their families, Ray Davies and to each and everyone struggling to get along in this great, big beautiful land I’m forever thankful to call my home.



Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In the news . . . me!

It’s been a boffo three day-run for blog promotion -- and not just because circumstances have allowed me to use the word “boffo” for maybe the first time in my entire life.


First the local paper, The Latrobe Bulletin, chose to highlight me and www.EightDaysToAmish.com in the lavish front page story re-printed below. The Bulletin’s so old school it doesn’t have a website so you lose out if you want to see the big picture of me sitting at my desk.


It’s probably the nicest thing ever written about me. It’s amazing for anyone to be the subject of a 1,200-word story and not have it include at least one thing that’s either wrong or embarrassing.


And I couldn’t be more pleased it ran in The Bulletin than if it had run in The New York Times.


The Bulletin to me will always be Vince Quatrini. He was what the great newspaper editor Dutton Peabody was to Ransom Stoddard, the Jimmy Stewart character in the great John Wayne movie, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.”


He knew everyone and everything that happened in town. He was irascible, thorough and could be wildly vindictive whenever he perceived anyone crossed him, his family, or the town he loved.


And I was thrilled to be one of his two henchmen. My buddy Paul and I were de facto competitors, but the three of us shared the same agendas: keep the jerks out of office, the meetings short and the freebies flowing for the working press.


Vince was as good a friend as I’ve ever had and I’m glad he died about 10 years before such a flattering story about me ran in his paper. He never would have let reporter Barbara M. Neill write such a rosy piece about me for fear it would go straight to my head.


He’d have been right again.


During the Thanksgiving season, I’m thankful Barbara took such care in crafting the story. It’s a reminder to me to be as careful and gracious with the people who become my story subjects.


Then last night I was thrilled to be invited to speak on-air to South America’s equivalent to Johnny Carson. He’s Jaime Sanchez Cristo, host of the Bogota, Columbia, radio show The Originals, the most popular radio program on the continent.


Sanchez Cristo has been exclusive host of both Columbia’s Oscars and Grammies for the past 20 years. Recent guests include Robert Duvall, George Lucas, Clint Eastwood, David Bowie, James Cameron, Robert De Niro . . . and now me.


They saw this recent msnbc.com story I did about a $2,000 100-finger massage being offered by the Grand Wailea Resort on Maui.


The show is conducted almost entirely in Spanish. I can order a meal at a Mexican restaurant and Spanish is one of the 12 languages in which I’ve schooled myself to say, “Two big beers!” in case of foreign emergency.


So it was a fairly mystifying 15 minutes for me.


Sanchez Cristo asked his questions in broken English. I answered in flawless English. Awkward silence ensued. My answer was then translated into what I can only assume was flawless Spanish.


Four seconds later it was like all South America erupted in the universal language of laughter.


I don’t know whether I’m more funny in Spanish or if the translator used my linguistic ignorance to make me sound stupid.


Either way, it was interesting fun and now I’m inspired to pay more attention next time I have an opportunity to learn a little Spanish.


Lastly, I was privileged to help shape the very future of journalism, which means it’s going to be a whole lot less troubled by things like ethics.


Yes, it was my annual visit to Mrs. Stallings journalism class at Greater Latrobe High School.


I spent the hour telling old war stories and relating how journalism can be a lot of fulfilling fun, but the pay generally stinks.


Kind of like my last three days.


Then at the end of class, Mrs. Stallings presented me with a pen and key chain gift set.


Things are turning around!


Here’s The Bulletin story. I was very pleased Barbara featured The Pond restaurant so prominently. Helps keep the landlord happy!







Tell Us What You Really Think, Chris Rodell!

Latrobe Freelance Writer

By Barbara M. Neill

For the Bulletin


Chris Rodell on Billy Joel:

“I wish I could get him to come visit me in Latrobe. I’d take him to The Pond and order him a big bowl of jambalaya.”


Anyone familiar with The Pond in Latrobe would not be surprised on any given day to find a pleasant waitress toting trays of comfort food, a longtime customer choosing tasty pizza toppings, or even a weary watering hole patron lifting an elbow. However, one of the very last persons you might expect to encounter at 2120 Lincoln Avenue would be a world-class journalist checking his email beside a dumpster.


I first learned of Chris Rodell thanks to a July article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The essay, which bemoaned the gargantuan corporate lettering that punctuates the Burgh’s skyline, was witty, to the point, and entirely in agreement with my own thoughts on that wordy view. Latrobe was given as the freelancer’s hometown at the conclusion of the commentary, and also mentioned was his blog. I typed in EightDaysToAmish.com faster than you can say “shoofly pie.”


What I discovered at the site was an amazingly diverse collection of musings. (Sorry, no tutorial on how to raise a barn in 48 hours or less. If it’s any consolation, Pittsburgh Magazine did select EightDaysToAmish.com as one of the city’s top 5 blogs.) Not subject-specific like some blogs, Rodell’s forum gives the writer free rein to showcase his not inconsiderable literary talent and command of the English language while discussing any issue that strikes his fancy.


Suffice it to say, the wordsmith is an equal opportunity blogger. Rodell alternately cheers and jeers timely topics and persons of the hour. But, he also enjoys reminiscing about bygone days or ruminating about inventive ways to solve pressing global problems.


And Mr. Rodell doesn’t mince words when expressing his far-ranging opinions. He relishes family train rides, has a passion for baseball and golf, and esteems Ben Franklin, Rocky Balboa, and a woman he christened the “Wonder Nun.” He disdains conformist close-mindedness, gets impatient with bugs and heat waves, and would like to bat Pittsburgh’s leadership “over their collective heads with a hearty loaf of Mancini’s Italian bread” for not promoting, and getting, a downtown statue of Gene Kelly.


Blogging isn’t Rodell’s only outlet for his outspoken pronouncements. He humbly states that he’s “been published by many of the greatest publications in America and been rejected by the rest,” and has had “simultaneous articles published in Men's Health, Cooking Light, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Golf, Playboy, National Enquirer and the South China Morning Post, a combined readership in excess of 97 million earthlings.”


At present Rodell is entertaining online viewers with his sparkling offbeat humor and informative narratives at MSNBC.com penning travel features that shine a beacon on diverse destinations from sea to shining sea and points beyond.


Rodell uses Twitter more to get his hilarious mini-bulletins out there than to tell his followers the humdrum trivia of his everyday existence. Several of his timely gridiron tweets: “Actual score from Week 1 of western Pennsylvania high school football: Mars 26, Moon 8. Team transport costs must be truly astronomical.” And “A Sunday win-win: NFL’s back, Brett Favre isn’t.”


Since you can only find out so much about a journalist by reading his written works and resume, I recently crossed The Pond parking lot and went fishing for some answers of my own from the man who trawls and scrawls in an upstairs office.


Bulletin: You claim to be incredibly lazy, but your literary output seems to say otherwise.


Rodell: I don’t consider this to be real work, because it’s what I would be doing with friends anyway: conversing. I love to write; the trick is getting paid to write. I’ve been lucky enough to write for some really top magazines, and have had a very interesting career.


Bulletin: When writing for the National Enquirer you once gained 20 pounds eating like Elvis, and also wore a “Will Work for Beer!” sign while impersonating a homeless man. Is there anything you wouldn’t do to get a good story?


Rodell: In those days I’d do anything; that was just part of the job. It was swashbuckling fun that paid well. These days I don’t think I’d do anything like that.


Bulletin: Your blog’s name – Eight Days to Amish – originated how?


Rodell: At the time I was going to start blogging, I was so broke that I ended up getting rid of wireless here at the office. I thought, “What’s next – will I give up electricity, start churning my own butter, trade my children for cattle? If it keeps up like this, I’m only eight days from being Amish.” I felt it was a catchy, enigmatic title for a blog, and it really seems to resonate with people.


Bulletin: Blogging really seems to suit you.


Rodell: I enjoy it. I get up at 6:00 a.m. and try to have a story idea from the night before or come up with one early on. I drive down here to the office, write up a story of about 700 words, and go home and put the kids on the bus. Then I already have something of value done and spend the rest of the day on other writing challenges.


Bulletin: How does The Pond rate as a journalistic headquarters?


Rodell: It’s so nice to have a place like this, since writing is such a solitary vocation. Dave Carfang, the owner, has been just terrific, and I’ve got so many friends downstairs I can go and talk with. Sometimes at 4:30 they bang on the ceiling to let me know they’re there. Having that kind of camaraderie is great.


Bulletin: One of your MSNBC.com travel articles has been nominated for the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award.


Rodell: The feature is about the phenomenon of ice fishing in Mille Lacs, Minnesota. Every winter thousands of fishermen live on the lake inside heated fish houses with satellite dishes, hot tubs, pizza delivery, and all these other amenities. MSNBC liked the story so much they sent a video crew out there and did a package that is contained in my story.


Bulletin: Has any progress been made on the publication of your novel, The Last Baby Boomer: The Story of the Ultimate Ghoul Pool?


Rodell: The book gets great attention from top people in the industry, but right now the market’s so unsettled that no on has pulled the trigger yet. A non-fiction book that's being considered by publishers is Zeitgust! How Words Become Words & a Mad Dash at Dictionary Recognition. It's a fun project about coining new words and my efforts to land one of them in a dictionary. Since I have acquired an audience, I might self-publish a second non-fiction book called Use All the Crayons: The Poor Man’s Guide to Colorful Living.


Bulletin: You provide the content for Arnold Palmer’s website, contribute to the golfer’s lifestyle magazine, Kingdom, and have interviewed the hometown legend numerous times since 1998.


It’s been a joy working with Arnie. One of the first things I ever interviewed him about was holes-in-one. I asked if he remembered his first hole-in-one better than his first kiss. He said he remembers the first hole-in-one better because it meant more to him.


Bulletin: What is one of your favorite occupational perks?


Rodell: The fact that I get to spend so much time with my family. Our daughter Josie is eleven and Lucinda’s five. It’s real special to me that I’ve had these years to dote on them. You just can’t replace that.


Read Chris Rodell’s blog at www.eightdaystoamish.com and check out his travel features at MSNBC.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter; contact him at www.storyteller@chrisrodell.com.



Monday, November 21, 2011

Searching for Mr. Stupid





By now many of you are familiar with my pretentious affections for my online subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary.
At $275 a year, it’s a true extravagance for any writer who works in a room with two dictionaries (hard- and soft covered), a laptop dictionary and a smartphone with near-instant access to a cornucopia of murky definitions.
But none of them measure up to the granddaddy of them all. The typical hardcover dictionary has about 150,000 definitions. The OED has more than 600,000. It strives to list every single word ever uttered and, yeah, I checked off all the Hall of Fame profanities the very first day.
I read it the way other people read Agatha Christie mysteries. I want to learn who done it. How words became words. And when they became words.
The dictionary lists as precisely as possible when a word became widespread enough for inclusion.
That’s how I became acquainted with the history of stupid.
According to the OED, stupid is only 470 years old. I thought stupidity was as old as Adam.
Check out the sentence used in 1541 to inaugurate stupid, attributed to a Mr. R. Copland who included the word in his book, “Galen’s Fourth Terapeutyk: “For the fyrste speake ouer lyghtly and to imprudently,‥and the other are all togyther stupydes, sturdy, & lytygious.”
Inserting that sentence into my otherwise pristine copy nearly caused my laptop spell checker to explode. The 19-word sentence includes seven modern misspellings.
Maybe Mr. R. Copland was stupid.
I was hoping stupid was an eponym -- a name derived from a person. Then I could learn more about Mr. Stupid. In fact, it might have inspired me to write a dandy History Channel documentary, “A Man Named Stupid.”
Here’s a factoid to brighten your day: money was named for Thomas le Mony who lived way back in the 13th century, when it must have cost, gee, one egg to fill up your whole tank.
So money was in effect coined for Mony. How rich!
Assuming he was generous it would have been good to have been neighbors with Mony, at least until the 99 percent showed up to occupy and crap all over his yard.
Words spelled by smart people were what led me to look up stupid.
In this November 8 post about Herman Cain’s follies, I wrote about the times when my old newspaper asked me to chaperone spelling bee contestants to the National Spelling Bee in Washington. I needed some examples of winning words and found a list of every winner since it all BEE-gan in 1925.
Recent winning words include “cymotrichous” and “stromuhr,” examples too obscure and frightening for even word nerds like me to look up.
But what most struck me about the list was the steep increase in the degree of difficulty of winning words over the past 86 years.
Early winners were “fracas,” “interning,” “therapy,” and “initials.”
Can you believe it?
Turns out The Greatest Generation had weak vocabularies.
In fact, I’ve seen “fracas” on my daughter’s 5th grade spelling tests.
Guaranteed, there’s no way our nation’s best spellers from past decades could have conquered “rageshree,” “ramachandran,” “pratyush,” or “shivashankar.”
Don’t beat yourself up if those four mentions leave you scratching your head. They’re not spelling bee words. Those are actual names of some recent winners.
Kids named Bob Smith or Sue Miller have been getting drummed out in the early rounds.
So, speaking of Mony, it’s another day, another dollar here in Blogland.
I wonder if by spending my time doing things like this will one day lead to my name being included for posterity in some prominent dictionary.
“rodell, v., U.S.A., 2011: A nonsensical use of time. Example: “I rodelled the whole day away looking up stupid things in the dictionary.”