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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Handing it to arm transplants


News that a grievously wounded soldier is being given two “new” arms strengthens my conviction that men will one day shop at a store called “Dicks” and won’t be there for sporting goods.

Army Sgt. Brendan Marrocco lost both legs and both arms to a 2009 roadside bomb attack near Baghdad.

And you thought you were having a bad day.

He is the only soldier to survive such a devastating loss.

I’m from a family that is avid about organ donation: eyes, heart, liver, kidneys, you name it, in due time come and get it.

My mother is going even a step further. She’s insisting her body be donated to science.

That means hours after she’s died, hungover pre-med students will be picking her apart like a cold Thanksgiving turkey and asking questions like, “Now what hell is that?”

The procedure involving Sgt. Marrocco, 26, has me full of questions no one bothered to ask at the brief John Hopkins press conference.

Primarily, who’s the donor?

This isn’t like getting someone’s old liver. Once functioning, new arms could alter your life. 

I tried to think of recent deaths of able-bodied deceased who might have in death given Marrocco a postmortem hand.

Well, two hands.

Me, I’d want some guns. I’d rather have the late Ernie Borgnine’s beefy arms than Jack Klugman’s noodles; as 2012 saw the death of two “Welcome Back Kotter” Sweathogs, I guess I’d rather have Epstein’s than Horshack’s old limbs.

Sure, Epstein’s arms were stubby, but I’d be afraid Horshack’s arm would always be shooting up in the air forcing me to go, “Ooh! Ooh!”

I guess there’s a chance some once vigorous young man could one day get my mother’s arms. She’s still what is commonly referred to as “spry,” but it would be tough for a twenty-something to have no rebuttal when his soldier buddies taunt him with, “You have the arms of a little old lady!”

Arm transplant is another reason to pause before getting a tattoo. It wouldn’t do for a girl to get a big, “I Love Burt!” tattoo on her upper arm knowing it one day might be transplanted onto the torso of a young man who may or may not be disposed to loving Burt.

I wonder what the impact of arm donations will be on Major League Baseball. Scouts used to beating the bushes for talent may now include local morgues as part of their rounds.

I’m fascinated by the possibilities and wonder what’s next. Because in life necessity soon gives way to vanity.

That’s the way it was when Ruth Handler, a breast cancer survivor, designed the first breast implants to to be mere utilitarian replacements for what was lost to surgery.

Look at the ta-ta trajectory of that procedure.

Handler, by the way, is more famous for another invention coincidentally renown for breasts. She is the creator of the Barbie Doll.

So who knows where arm transplants will lead?

Me, I’d like one really, really long arm so I could reach stuff up on the high shelves without having to resort to a step ladder. Plus, I’d be more popular on the pick-up basketball court where I’ve never been able to dunk.

I’m surprised more amputees don’t go in the direction of Swiss Army arms. It would be great to have an arm that concluded with had a corkscrew, a nail file and some little scissors at the end.

You could say it would be handy!

If I’m ever given the choice, my wish would be to get a pale Caucasian white arm, and a robust dark African American number for the opposite.

It would be a statement about the importance of cheerful race relations and I could get booked on all the morning shows playing “Ebony and Ivory” on the piano while performing both the Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney vocals simultaneously.

Like breast implants, maybe one day arm transplants will be common.

Of course, that might lead to an appendage shortage.

That brings me back to baseball.

I’d recommend surgeons visit the bullpen of the Pittsburgh Pirates every season around August where they will find a surplus of potential donors.

The place is by then always full of dead arms.




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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January tweets of the month!


I have no idea why I included an exclamation point up there in the headline. I guess I’m expecting confetti.

The 24 best 8days2Amish tweets from this month tend to trend toward puns. Cartoonist Doug Larson said, “The pun is the lowest form of humor -- unless you thought of it yourself.”

Speaks for itself.

What’s on deck? Barring other inspiration, I’ll rise with the roosters tomorrow and compose a post about the soldier who was given two donated arms to replace ones he lost in battle.

Doug Larson would no doubt consider it “disarming.”


• Question for the ages: Am I a pig because I eat too much Christmas ham or does eating too much Christmas ham make me a pig?

• Porn directors are the only people who should ever be allowed to say, “Man up!”

• "Use All The Crayons!" now available in every Pittsburgh Barnes & Noble! Today Pittsburgh, tomorrow . . . Altoona!

• There are still many pockets of America where "Do you think rasslin's fake?" is considered a sophisticated pick-up line.

• I’m surprised you don’t hear more top male porn stars described as “swell.”

• Folks who run for office on the promise of maintaining status quo should be called cantdidates.

• Another week has passed and once again my heirloom achievement is I didn't drop my phone in the toilet.

• Just came to me: Superman would sometimes escape wearing an S cape. Alas, this is destined to become my e=mc2.

• Logically, dictionaries should be called definitionaries.

• If I had a dime every time I heard someone start a sentence with "If I had a dime . . ." I'd probably have about $34.80.

• More people would attend church -- not if church promised eternal salvation -- but if church promised to get you out of church in 30 mins.

• A hyphen-nation is a land to which grammarians will likely dash.

• The only time it’s proper to say someone’s been “jarred” awake is when Moe does it to Curly and it involves an actual jar.

• I HOPE I DIE BEFORE THE DAY ARRIVES WHEN EVERYONE IS SO ANGRY THAT EVERYTHING WE WRITE IS IN ALL CAPS.

• Just discovered Crayola has a color called “Macaroni & Cheese.” Be warned: it tastes nothing like the real thing and Listerine won’t help.

• Call me crazy, but I'm hoping Obama inaugural includes at least one Knock-Knock joke.

• In the future everything will be biodegradable and will disintegrate at specified times, sure to embarrass lovers of 2nd hand clothes.

• Disappointed in Gatorade's decision to remove flame retardant from sports drink. How will I now achieve my goal of becoming less flammable?

• Solar plexus sounds like some kind of exciting new green energy, but something in my gut tells me it is not.

• Just because a person's bad at math doesn’t mean he or she can’t be considered calculating.

• A person who eats human flesh, but insists on dainty portions is a Cannibler.

• Strive to do things that will earn you a proverbial feather in your cap, but try to at all costs avoid wearing caps with feathers.

• Sad thing about being on the verge of turning 50. Now I can drop dead any day and 20-somethings will say, "I'll miss him but, hey, he lived a good long life."

• Do profanity-averse parents insist their children refer to the monumental Nevada structure as the Hoover Darn?

• Chances of getting rope aficionados to call themsleves "Knotsies" are the same as getting florists to call themselves petalphiles.



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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Calculating kindness: 65 free books


So yesterday a woman out of the blue calls and asks if my book’s still free. She’s been out of work since 2011.

“I read the Eric Heyl story in The Tribune-Review and I was hoping you might be able to send me one,” she says. “I’m having a tough time and this sounds like it might cheer me up.”

Without me having to do even a lick of math, I get to become Santa Claus.

“I’ll be happy to,” I say. “But you have to answer one question.”

“Yes?”

“What’s your favorite color?”

“It’s green. Thanks!”

And today a crayon-signed copy of “Use All The Crayons!” is on its way to Gail M. on Pittsburgh’s West End.

It’s a humble little gesture, but I’ve heard from others who say the book does, indeed, take some of the sting out of the tough times

Now for the math: Each book cost me about $5; each envelope about 35-cents; because I’ve been burned by cheaper media mail, I pay the premium first class $2.70 to mail each and every copy. Lavishly signing and mailing take about 20 minutes.

To me it’s a mutual bargain.

Let’s say a smiling stranger walked into The Pond and said they’d like to be my friend. I’d certainly spend at least $10.05 to make it happen. Who knows? Maybe my drunken new friend will tell someone I’m a great guy and they’ll go out and buy a book or two.

Now, let’s alter the equation.

Instead of one unemployed person, let’s make it 65 who, unlike me, are employed adults with steady incomes.

Well, the bartender’s not going to like all that sudden commotion one bit. Me, I’ll be stricken with an instant math migraine.

Let’s see, 65 people at, uh, carry the two, um, er . . . that’s in the neighborhood of $650.

And by the time I’ve dealt with every one in line, I’m drunk off my ass and my whole day is shot.

It’s a really big commitment.

But that’s the situation because after I got off the phone with Gail an esteemed literacy advocacy group requested I send them 65 free books for each of their national directors.

Gulp.

I have no one to blame but myself

I’m proud that mine is maybe the only book in the world that has right there on the very first page the bold-faced declaration: “This Book is Free.” The idea, it says, is that no one who might benefit from a book whose mission is to make people happy should go without over a few dollars.

Sure, there have been violations of the spirt of the thing, requests from tenured professors, lawyers and one cheap-ass photographer -- all people with jobs who can afford to buy the book -- but I won’t stoop to quibbling.

This is different. I’d read about the high-profile group and sent their offices five free crayon-signed books with a note saying I admire what they’re doing and I’d be happy to contribute.

Me and my big mouth.

What happened next was one of the most odd negotiations in which I’ve ever been engaged: I immediately began scrambling to get them to pay me something for my in-kind donation.

The retail value of that many $15.95 books -- let me check the smart phone -- is $1,036.75. Would they consider giving me a stipend?

Nope.

How about a Fedex account number so I won’t have to pay shipping?

Yes.

Would you mind issuing a press release saying how happy you are to have the books?

Sure.

My bottom line is I’m delighted to get 65 books into the hands of people who spend their days enthusing to others about the joys of reading. It’s been my experience that good things happen when I give my books away out of the goodness of my heart.

But what if this time it doesn’t?

What if the 65 books get lost in the shuffle? What if these employed recipients simultaneously exalt that my book is just the right height to prop up their wobbly tables? What if the books just sort of disappear?

You know what I really hope happens?

I hope next week Gail M. gets a job and zooms up the organizational charts as her bosses recognize what a colorful individual she is.

I hope she ends up running the company. Then I hope she gives all the credit to “Use All The Crayons!” and splurges on 1,000 copies for her grateful employees.

Just because a man’s bad at math doesn’t mean he can’t be considered calculating. 


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Monday, January 28, 2013

Bring back duels & the art of the draw


We could reduce both gun violence and the federal deficit in one fell swoop by reviving a 17th century custom denounced by both Benjamin Franklin and George Washington as too senselessly violent.

Yes, it’s time to bring back the duel.

I love old westerns. Hell, I love new westerns.

Stories from what we used to call the “Wild West” always have me wondering whatever happened to the art of drawing a gun -- and I’m not talking about with a pencil, something that today would certainly earn a kid an emergency session with the school psychiatrist.

No, I’m referring to the lightning lifting and triggering of a pistol from a holster in one move that meant doom to horse thieves, cattle rustlers and grabby scoundrels who tried to get a mite too friendly with Miss Kitty.

I’ll bet they don’t even teach the fast draw anymore. Why bother?

Today’s gun lovers are so impatient to kill something that they don’t have time for the split-second draw, much less background checks or five-day waiting periods.

It wasn’t like that in “The Gunfighter,” from 1950, which has the great tag line, “His Only Friend Was a Gun! His Only Refuge, a Woman’s Heart!”

It’s one of my favorite movies. Bob Dylan’s, too.

Dylan in 1986 made the Gregory Peck film the focus of his 11:05 enigmatic epic,  “Brownsville Girl.”

The movie tells the story of the late, great Jimmy Ringo, the fastest gun in the west. He is a mythic figure both revered and feared for his legendary draw. He is also haunted by the knowledge that every where he goes some squirt will be there eager to make a name for himself by goading him into a duel.

And the bodies keep piling up.

By Ringo’s count there were 12 dead men over a dozen years, or less than half of what Adam Lanza managed in a few minutes at Sandy Hook Elementary.

The ending is unforgettable, at least to me and Dylan.

“Brownsville Girl” recounts the scene where the local punk shoots Ringo in the back and how the marshall beats that kid into a bloody pulp with the crowd screaming to string him up by the neck for his cowardly kill.

Paraphrasing the dying gunfighter, Dylan sings, “Turn him loose! Let him go! Let him say he outdrew me, fair and square. I want him to feel what it’s like to every moment face his death . . .”

Ringo’s dying lament means the kid’s destined to roam a world full of pistoleroes now determined to make their name doing to him what he did to Ringo.

Dueling would restore that sense of honor and consequence to gun ownership.

Dueling began to fall out of favor in America in 1804 when Vice President Aaron Burr killed U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton on a popular Weehawken, New Jersey, dueling ground. 

Five men were present, but none witnessed. According to custom, the men had their backs turned to give them plausible deniability in the event of prosecution.

It wouldn’t be like that today. In fact, it would be bigger than the Super Bowl.

There’d be sponsors, beer and truck commercials, pageantry and maybe public service announcements from Wayne LaPierre advising kiddies to not try this at home without proper supervision.

Just imagine today if Joe Biden challenged Tim Geitner to a duel over some perceived insult.

Or, better, Biden and Hilary.

The pay-per-view proceeds could go to trim the deficit.

Another benefit could be that the spectacle might actually reduce violence elsewhere by giving Americans with an insatiable blood lust a good quick fix.

It might inspire our armed kids today to practice their quick draw skills. Naturally, they’d want to test them on one another. Duels could become a part of our weekend neighborhood entertainment.

They could hold them right there on the lawns after Saturday afternoon bocci matches.

This would be vastly preferable to the sorts of copy cat crimes we see with things like Bushmaster AR-15s.

Who knows? Duel revivals might herald a return to the more quaint times from more than 200 years ago.

You know, times when the idea of two men firing two bullets at each other was so horrific that two of our Founding Fathers deemed it too senselessly violent.


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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Re-run Sunday: In praise of, yikes, winter

We had a strong dose of winter here in western Pennsylvania this week. Lots of snow and cold. God help me, I enjoyed it. It coincided with a flurry of people finding there way to this April 2011 post that centered around my defending the joys of winter to some soulless Floridians.

Just 15 days 'till the start of Spring Training!


I endured a skin-crawling moment of awkwardness last week when I felt forced to say nice things about something I fear six months of the year and loathe the rest.
I had to point out the finer aspects of a really nasty winter.
It was like reading aloud affectionate sonnets about Cheney.
Hating winter is a core component of my existence. That’s why I was surprised to hear myself -- sober, even -- defending bitter winter to three Southerners who talked about the joys of doing things like deep frying turkeys in shorts on the porch at Thanksgiving while I’m up to my nose in snows.
And, to be clear, the chefs were in the shorts, not the turkeys.
They were three women from Florida, a state for which I have an instinctual contempt.
I’ve long suspected it was home to the stupidest and laziest people in America, a belief confirmed during the 2000 presidential election whenever the nightly news focused on that guy who self-hypnotized staring at dangling chads.
It’s always struck me as ridiculous that anyone would choose where they live based solely on a weather forecast.
It’s a clear sign of weakness. I’m convinced if we sanctioned a tug of war between Florida and Pennsylvania we Keystone Staters could drag their sad, skinny asses clear to Maryland where they’d perish the instant the first drops of sleet splashed their bronzed skin.
Understand, too, I probably have more good friends in Florida than in any state in the union -- and that should prove my point. Stupid and lazy are an essential criteria for friendship with me.
If I wanted smart and energetic I guess I’d vacation someplace like Vermont with Ben and Jerry, and I’m talking about proper same-sex couples and not high-caloric tubs of ice cream.
But to hear three Floridians deride a big part of my very existence was too much.
“Ewww! I hate snow! I hate cold! I spent one winter in Boston. I’ll never go back!”
Good points, all. Winter can be perilous.
But there is no summer equivalent to cuddling loved ones at home in front of a  warm fire while the snows fall outside.
It’s magnificent. One of my favorite days each winter is geared to a weekend when no one in their right mind would leave the house unless they were low on liquor.
We stoke the fireplace and pop “Gone With The Wind” in the DVD. It’s a full day of marvelous pageantry and entertainment. The girls just love it. Me, too.
Plus, it gives me the opportunity to talk about the history of cinematic profanity and make swearing in front of the children seem educational.
Then there’s the soups. Cooking a big pot of aromatic soup is one of life’s most soulful joys. It nourishes. It lasts all week. It fills the house with heady scents.
As much as I love spending an hour around the Weber Grill with a beer and a baseball game on the radio, it simply doesn’t equate to all winter cooking has to offer.
And I contend Florida is at least as inhospitable as any northern winter.
The four summer months in Florida are a time when even committed sun worshippers admit they never leave the house, choosing instead to stay inside either watching Jerry Springer or doing things that earn invitations to televised appearances with Jerry Springer.
It’s true. Nearly ever goofy news story involving dysfunctional families originates in the Sunshine State. Why do you think National Enquirer is headquartered in Boca?
Understand, too, I’m referring exclusively to Florida and not the many other splendid Southern states like South Carolina, Georgia and other titans of the confederacy.
Those are places rich in heritage with proud people who’ve lived there for generations. It’s been said north, east and west are directions, but the South is a place.
That doesn’t include Florida, a geographical oddity that would be the national drain if you ever tipped America up on its side. It’s the state where so many lost souls swirl around like so much soggy lettuce before they congealing at the bottom of the American sink.
If that seems unduly harsh, so be it.

It’ll be something you Floridians can think about when they're deep frying your turkeys next Thanksgiving.
Just don’t come crying to me when hot grease scalds your exposed skin.
Frankly, my dears, I won’t give a damn.


Friday, January 25, 2013

The reason men dislike excessive gal tattoos


It’s reprehensible, I know, but I’ve spent years trying to convince our daughters that their 80-year-old Nana has a faded blue battleship anchor tattooed on her ass.

“Now, she’ll deny it’s there,” I say. “She’ll pretend it doesn’t exist. But it’s there. She got it in 1944 when your grandfather enlisted in the Navy.”

Visiting my mother can be at times tedious and watching my two daughters, ages 12 and 6, chase Nana, 80, around her apartment while tugging at her britches makes it all worthwhile. 

I read that one-third of people who get tattoos eventually regret having them. Of course, I’m sure the number is similar to the people who regret having children.

I’m thinking of my own mother here.

For all I know, maybe the old gal does have a tramp stamp. Everyone else these days seems to have one.

We were talking tattoos in the bar just yesterday and here’s my conclusion: girls, excessive tattoos are maybe the best repellent to paunchy middle-aged men with receding hair lines and a biological disposition to midnight beer farts.

Yes, we Prince Charmings find skin art distasteful. Men my age don’t mind sloppy dress, poor grooming or hillbilly haircuts. But we draw the line at all the tattoos. 

I tried to discern just what it is about tattoos we find so off-putting and I think I’ve found the answer. It goes goes clear back to our adolescence when we spent all our time dreaming of seeing girls naked.

Buff. Raw. Stitchless. Bare-assed. Wearing only a smile.

And this is a guy universal. No 16-year-old boy’s ever dreamed of seeing a girl in sexy lingerie or all dolled up as a teasing French maid. That pimply kid has no appreciation for subtlety or nuance. He could be in a room full of Victoria’s Secret supermodels and he’d close his eyes.

Not because he was overcome with shyness. It’d be easier to imagine them all completely naked.

And that’s the problem.

A girl with a lot of tattoos is never truly naked.

And when you think about that through our adolescent minds -- and rare is the man who’s evolved even a bit in that regard -- it is perhaps life’s cruelest frustration.

There’s a beautiful girl in her mid-20s who works at a bar we get to every once in a while. And she’s wonderful. Great smile. Great sense of humor.

Last year she started getting lots of very vivid tattoos from the neck on down. There are rainbows, storm clouds and silver unicorn bounding through what I guess you’d call her left breast meadow.

They’re so expert I believe they ought to be framed and put in a museum.

If they were, guaranteed, I wouldn’t fumble with the frame to try and peek behind the canvas.

I prefer women who are artistic to women who are art itself.

Every time I think tattoos are becoming passe, I see another example of how out of step I’m becoming with today’s pop culture.

I am heartened that we’re starting to see an increase in popularity of more practical tattoos, which is kind of a way clever people have of saying a fad has reached a tipping point.

You can check out some interesting ones here. They include a wrist ruler, belly subway maps, forearm medical alert information including instructions to not resuscitate.

George Carlin advocated men get groin tattoos that read, “In Case of Emergency, Pull Handle.”

It would ease tensions if more people came with public service instructions like, “Feed Donuts When Cranky.”

I wonder how it’ll all play out a few years from now when my daughters are able to decide for themselves whether they want to tattoo.

I guess it would serve me right if they both turned up one day with great big ass anchors to honor their Nana.



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