Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The why, how & what of new "Crayons DELUXE!"

I’ve described browsing the now sold-out original version of “Use All The Crayons!” as what it’s like spending a jovial hour or two with me in a friendly tavern. There’s laughs, wit, insight, some poignancy and sensations of pleasant refreshment at the conclusion.

If that’s true, then the new “Deluxe!” version is maybe like spending 10 hours with me doing the same thing at the same place.

The activities do not differ, but the duration leads to feelings of bloat, queasiness and a morning-after wish that the whole thing had never happened.

Do I know how to sell a book or what?

Maybe I’ll always be too self-deprecating for my own good or maybe I’m just charmed by any nifty drinking analogy.

You’re welcome for $20 to find out for yourself.

Early reviews are positive. My Tin Lizzy landlord says he reads a little bit every morning and is really enjoying it. He says it cracks him up and puts him in a good mood for the rest of the day.

I’m very flattered and am hopeful many readers will embrace it the same way.

I assembled this book — assembled, not wrote — from my best blog and tweets from the past five years. I figure it’s about 80 percent new, with the rest being relevant Hall of Famers from the first edition.

The original has 501 items and 33 essays; “Deluxe!” has a whopping 1,001 items surrounding 57 essays.

Western Pennsylvania history students will note the significance of the essay totals. The “33” was a nod to erstwhile Rolling Rock beer, once famously brewed in Latrobe; “57” hearkens to Heinz 57, the number of pickle varieties Heinz once offered.

Why “Deluxe?” Why now?

I optimistically believe 2018 will be a breakthrough year for me and my speaking opportunities. This clip of me keynoting in Columbus in September is getting much positive notice.

I self-published now because I was out of books to sell. A new self-published version would give me greater pricing liberty in selling in bulk.

Plus, I just have this treasure chest of fresh stories and lively tweets that people really seem to like. Here are a few of my favorites from the new edition:

39 Consider: A single apple seed weighs 700 mg but sinks in water. A battleship weighs 45,000 tons, but does not. What would happen to battleship full of apple seeds?

91 Ask friends: If fans of the Grateful Dead are called Deadheads, what does that make those of us who revere the book “Moby Dick?”

243 Point out that when Satan gives someone hell it should be considered a real estate transaction.

848 Be so at peace with the world the only thing left to get off your chest are your nipples.

909 Your life will be appreciably more sane if you wake up each day realizing your job isn’t nearly as important as you think it is.

I just put the Kindle version on Amazon for an introductory price of just $3.75 Here’s the link.

Or you, my friends, can get crayon-signed copies for $20 by getting in touch with me. “Deluxe!,” for now, won’t be available in stores anywhere.

It makes a great Christmas gift, especially if you’re on a hefty expense account: A salesman friend of mine just ordered 20 copies to distribute to customers.


But I’m hoping the majority of these books will be sold to people who’ve never heard of me. And that’s one potentially lucrative whopper of a demographic.

So please get in touch if you’re interested in buying signed copies for gifts or for yourself.

And Happy Thanksgiving!

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Monday, November 20, 2017

My new "Crayons DELUXE!" is dedicated to ...

Spoiler alert!

It’s dedicated to Dave Carfang (first on right above).

The dedication, and forgive its indulgence, reads in full, “This book is dedicated to the joyful souls whose laughter is so explosive, so infectious and so euphoric it makes storytellers run red lights when we think of anything so provocatively funny it just might do the trick.

“Thus, this book is dedicated to our friend Dave Carfang.”

Who’s Dave Carfang?

A son of the great Dick Carfang and nephew of Ed Carfang (also great), Dave and I became friends in about 2005. He came into my life a year before our daughter Lucy (she’s great, too, just in ways that have nothing to do with running a swell neighborhood tavern).

The June 2006 introduction of Lucy necessitated a .075 mile move from our cozy little starter house to a 3-bedroom split level up in the woods above Youngstown.

The house is wonderful. Two fireplaces, vaulted living room ceilings and an elevated back porch that looks deep into the lush sylvan part of Pennsylvania.

One problem: no obvious space for a home office.

That meant I’d either have to find a cheap — really cheap apartment — or secure gainful employment at an actual office.

Kidding! The cut-rate apartment was the only option.

I talked to a bunch of friends and the cheapest offer was $250 a month for way more than I’d need.

I was lamenting the situation to Dave one day and he said, “I have a place upstairs I’ll let you have for free!”

I shrewdly negotiated up to $150 a month. But for the next eight years it was perfect. It was shabby, but it had a full kitchen and a shower. 

Best of all, 37 steps from my desk was The Pond in all its glory.

I like to tell people that if I wasn’t on my bar stool by 4:30, guys would start banging on the ceiling. That’s an artful lie.

I was always on my barstool 30 minutes before the rest of regulars got there.

I’ve been lucky in my friendships since, gee, about 3rd grade. I think it’s because I stroll through life with what’s been described as a shit-eatin’ grin, a phrase I’ve never understood.

I wear a violent frown if I bite into a stale Cheeto.

I guess I appear sufficiently goofy enough that serious people never look at me and say, “Hon, let’s go sit next to that guy. He looks real serious, too.”

But The Pond was unique. There were every day about a dozen lively personalities seated elbow-to-elbow engaged in the kind of banter that enriched not just my writing, but my every day.

Regulars included cops, lawyers, coaches, electricians, postal workers, teachers, reporters, mill workers, accountants, mayors, farmers, car salesman and me.

And we all came and we all stayed and stayed and stayed because we all loved Dave.

I remember Val asking after one marathon session what we men talked about for all that time. I said, “We talk about sports, we talk about politics and we talk about how different our lives would be if we went to a bar where women went.”
Some times our wives — and by “our” wives, I mean “my” wife — got justifiably angry when “we” stayed too long.

But on some days the camaraderie was too perfect, too rip-roaring, to depart. And then Paul would come in and it would get even better. And who can leave a bar when Paul’s in there?

And I mean what I say about trying to be funny just to make Dave laugh. Sure, I had a vested interest.

See, Dave used to put classic sports trivia — real brain twisters — on the electronic bar chalkboard. We’d maniacally puzzle over the answers for hours.

That was the glorious days prior to infernal smart phones. I’ll never forget the day Dave berated two young guys who spoiled the fun by looking up the answer to the question, “Who is the only MLB player to hit an inside-the-park, grand slam, walk-off home run?” (It’s Roberto Clemente).

“That’s it,” he said. “No more bar trivia!”

Of course, great bar trivia’s loss became my gain.

Dave began putting my tweets of the week on the board. As he’s never owned a smart phone, much less a computer, I’d dutifully print them out for him. Having my very own public twitter board did wonders for my following, at least among staggering local inebriates.

The very first one he used is now No. 644 (out of 1,001) in “Crayons DELUXE!” It is: “A gym beam requires steady footwork. A Jim Beam isn’t nearly as fussy.”

So life moves on. What was once perfect is now past.

I’m now happily lodged in the Tin Lizzy — and there are a bunch of stories about my 2-year tenure there among the 57 essays in the new edition. And I still enjoy going to The Pond to watch sports while acknowledging things change.

More about the new book tomorrow.

But today I am moved to salute our good friend Dave and his pivotal role in doing something that made so many so happy for so long.

Men like him do something every day that make men like me want to be sharp, to be funny.

To, by God, be alive.

So do readers like you.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

"Lucky Lindy" was a bigamist; Neil Armstrong a bore

So as an antidote to so many stories of so many men behaving so badly, I was reading a book about Neil Armstrong, our premier astronaut who, it seems, never even once entertained a single dirty thought. Thus, his biography is a bit of a bore. 

No orgies, no binges, no excess, no salacious episodes where he invites aspiring female comics to his hotel room so he can liberate his penis.

Armstrong, who died in 2012, never once sought to capitalize on his historic fame. A man celebrated for in July 1969 being the first to step on the desolate surface of the moon lived his entire life as if he’d never find any human fulfillment in Vegas.

I kept waiting to learn if he ever cut loose and maybe snacked on a Twinkie.

But the Jay Barbree book, “Neil Armstrong: A Life in Flight,” was not without merit. For instance, I scored a dandy brain barnacle about another American icon.

A brain barnacle is what I call trivial facts powerful enough to survive a cranial power spraying. Once grasped, they never departs. Guaranteed, this one is something I’ll bring up every time I hear the name Charles Lindbergh.

Turns out Lindbergh was a bigamist. And not a little bigamist. He was a big bigamist.

“Lucky Lindy” fathered 13 children to four women!

Sounds more like “Get Lucky Lindy.”

Who knew a man who became famous in 1927 for the first trans-Atlantic flight had so much in common with so many 21st century NBA stalwarts?

I learned this after reading how Armstrong was honored when Lindbergh showed up July 16, 1969, to watch Apollo 11 lift off for the moon. I was surprised Lindbergh was still alive in ’69. He seemed to me to spring from an entirely different epoch. But I was mistaken.

He was 25 in ’27, thus 67 at lift-off. He’d die three years later of lymphoma complications in Maui, where he spent his final years — and he’d been getting laid years before landing in Hawaii. 

Yet his life after the flight that made him famous was spackled with darkness. How much of that was a reflection of having had his 20-month-old son, Charles Jr., kidnapped and murdered is one for psychological speculation.

I was moved to look up Lindbergh to confirm my recollection he was a Nazi sympathizer.

He was. A moralizing anti-Semite, he campaigned vociferously against FDR and any argument America should enter WWII on behalf of Britain and proudly wore the Order of the German Eagle presented to him by Hitler henchman Hermann Goring. 

And through it all he espoused the sanctity of holy matrimony and derided womanizers for their petty infidelities.

Here, apparently, the pilot was just wingin’ it. Because in addition to the six children he had with his life-long wife Anne Morrow, he fathered seven more to three European mistresses. On his deathbed, he wrote letters to the women imploring them to preserve his silent hypocrisies beyond the grave. 

As the truth began to emerge, Reeve Lindbergh, his youngest daughter wrote, “This story (of her father’s double life) reflects absolutely Byzantine layers of deception on the part of our shared father. These children did not even know who he was! He used a pseudonym with them (To protect them, perhaps? To protect himself, absolutely!)”

So that’s the warts ’n’ all story of one of the most venerated men in American history, just another male icon laid low it seems by unstemmed surges of excess testosterone. 

And I’m left to wonder if the only way to keep men grounded is to send us all to the moon.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

The deadly echo of "Now is not the time"

(462 words)

I’m growing nostalgic for the days when at least one hometown witness to slaughter would tell reporters, man, I never dreamed something like this could happen here.

We’re reaching a point where it’s happening every where, all the time to every one.

It’d be a dereliction of duty if every governor of every state didn’t have in his or her “A” file a written-in-advance statement mourning the loss of (pick one) 50/25/10 (pick one) worshippers/concert goers/grade schoolers ready to recite to the press.

“Our prayers are with … investigation will proceed … come together … first responders … now is not the time …”

Now is not the time.

Now is not the time.

More and more, “now is not the time” is sounding like a Satanic echo.

For God’s sake, when will the time come? How high does the stack of innocent bodies have to be for the alarm to sound?

We’re supposed to be reassured when Trump and the NRA point out (correctly) that the only thing that stops a bad man with a gun is a good man (or woman) with a gun.

True. Johnnie Langendorff is a hero. He ran to the sound of gunfire to eliminate a lethal threat.

So to those of you keeping score at home, the final is 1-26.

And now we’re hearing reports he may have eaten his final bullet so who knows how that effects the point spread.

I always like the part when law enforcers announce, hallelujah, this wasn’t terrorism, like we should feel relief it wasn’t ISIS, but just another angry white man with lots of grudges and guns. 


Texas attorney general Ken Paxton says the solution is for more church goers to start packing. 

Assuming he’s a Christian, it sounds like he’s putting more faith in Smith & Wesson than he is in Jesus.

I’d like to ask Paxton if he believes allowing North Korea and every other nation on earth easy access to nuclear weapons will make us all safer.

It’s an extension of the same logic.

I’m linking below some of the ideas I’ve put forth on reducing gun violence. Some are sensible, some are wacky, and some are merely provocative. At this point, I simply want to see something -- anything -- done that’ll budge us off our lethal dead lock.

I believe if we continue to do absolutely nothing, it’s a lock our futures are filled with more dead.

Trump says this isn’t a gun issue. He says it’s a mental health issue. And he’s half right — and, oh, how I wish he could be at least half right even just half the time.. 

It is a mental health issue.

By continuing to do nothing at all, we’re proving we’re all out of our minds.

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