Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Vote Rostraver for Hockeyville! Me & Flyer great Hextall would want you to

I disappointed a lot of readers by not returning from last month’s Philadelphia visit with even one story about how Philly was full of Pitttsburgh-hating jerks.

Sorry, but everyone I met was perfectly sweet so I defend Philly.

Maybe it’s because I once defended arguably one of the biggest Philly jerks of all time.

Yes, at one time I defended Ron Hextall.

And he had my back! 

I played defense on a peewee hockey on a team with Hextall, who went on to play goaltender for the Philadelphia Flyers and was described by none other than Wayne Gretzky as “the best goalie I’d ever faced.”

I mention this now because today is the final day to vote for Rostraver Gardens to win $150,000 from Kraft Hockeyville as the best hockey venue in America. Rostraver and Bloomington (Minn.) Ice Garden are the remaining finalists culled from 1,300 entrants.

I just signed up and voted Rostraver 50 times, which is the limit and after I’m done with this I’ll try and think of a way to submit another 5,000 votes.

Rostraver Gardens means a lot to me and most every other kid who grew up playing hockey in Pittsburgh. It’s where I learned hockey fundamentals, the values of teamwork, leadership and persistence.

It’s where Hextall screamed at me so cruelly I nearly crapped my hockey pants.

I was 10.

He was 8.

I’ve known Marines who were less profane.

Hextall was the son of former Pittsburgh Penguin Bryan Hextall and the grandson of NHL Hall of Famer Bryan Hextall Sr. He had a very proud pedigree.

I was the son of a South Hills optician and was proud when I learned to tie my own skates.

In those pre-Mario Lemieux days, hockey wasn’t huge in Pittsburgh. Almost every kid who played — and every son of every Pen — played in the leagues run out of Rostraver. I played with the sons of notable Pens Vic Hatfield, Marc Boileau, Syl Apps and Dave Burrows. They were all just great, regular kids.

Hextall was a monster.

In my life of people yelling at me for being stupid, lazy and wrong, I’ve never had anyone yell at me like Hextall did.

“Rodell, you’re &%$#! screening me! I can’t *#$%&* see! Hit somebody you stupid *&%$#@ pussy! &%*#!%& *%$#@! *&%$!”

At 10, I only understood one out of every four words he was screaming, but I instinctively knew he was, let’s say, displeased with my performance.

And it was only our first practice.

I don’t remember crying, but I probably felt like crying. Crying and quitting.

In the end, I did neither. Instead, I went to work.

I’m not saying I became a competent hockey player because he screamed at me — I wouldn’t want my wife to draw any conclusions from the fable — but showing Hextall I was good was a serious motivation.

I’ll never forget the game about half way through the season when I was on fire. I made two key break-out passes that led to goals, scored on a rebound and broke up two 3-on-1 breakaways in the crucial 3rd period. We beat the Kiddie Kings 3-2.

Later in the din of our victorious locker room, Hextall yelled out, “Rodell!” I looked over at him.

All he did was nod. One time.

But I felt utterly euphoric. The son of Pittsburgh Penguin approved of my play. I felt welcomed. I felt like a real man.

Two years before my first pube!

I wouldn’t say we became friends. Heck, I’m not sure a kid that angry ever had a friend in his entire life. He went onto a great career, but was considered one of the meanest players ever.

And that’s in goon-filled hockey!

But he did became respectful of my play. I love recalling those stories and recollecting all my time at Rostraver. It’s a very special place and hope you’ll vote for it at Kraft Hockeyville.

I ask you nicely.

Don’t make me go all Hextall on you.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Teaching daughter, 16, illicit thrills of movie hopping

Enjoyed a great father-daughter bonding experience Saturday with Josie, 16. It wasn’t scholarly, athletic or crafty in nature.

More like retail theft.

I exposed her to the joys of movie hopping, paying to see one film and staying for free for another.

She and I saw “The Zookeeper’s Wife” at 1 p.m. and then snuck down the hall just in time to catch the 3:10 showing of “Beauty and the Beast.” Our crime was undetected so I guess it was sort of crafty in nature.

I believe I can justify the lawlessness.

We’re getting new floors. Val has long contended the carpet is an eyesore. Me, I’m old school. I don’t think anyone needs new floors until furniture starts tumbling through holes in the old floors. So on Saturday our house was a mess as our buddy Mark Slagle, Baggaley’s resident philosopher/handyman is tearing the place apart. Best to be out of Mark’s way.

And Saturday was repressively dreary, cold and rainy. A perfect day for a flick. We took two cars because Lucy and Val had opted for the Earth Day Disneynature “Born in China” movie (two thumb’s up).

Josie and I were in a bit of a quandary. We’d already seen “Beauty” and loved it, but paying to see it again so soon seemed frivolous. Despite lukewarm reviews (58 percent), we wound up deciding to try “The Zookeeper’s Wife.” We both love history and this true WWII story about Warsaw zookeepers saving Jews during the German occupation seemed like a good way to spend an afternoon.

It was. We both enjoyed it, although I thought the main Nazi was too gentlemanly, which may have been director’s discretion. You wouldn’t want a human animal upstaging the caged creatures in a movie about a zoo.

So we’re walking out past the other theaters and I see “Beauty and the Beast” in number 5.

“Say, why don’t we pop in and see where it’s at,” I suggest.

She was thrilled with the idea. She’s enamored with the song “Evermore,” and was hoping maybe if we’re lucky our pop in would coincide with its appearance. I told her the rules: Be very inconspicuous. Don’t do anything to distract any of the paying customers. Just find a seat and we’ll stay for 10 minutes then boogie.

Well, we were both delighted to walk in and realize the movie hadn’t even begun. It was the last preview. Perfect! The first three floor rows were empty so we snagged two seats right up front. There was even time for her to dash out to the lobby and grab two more free soda refills.

Of course, we wound up staying for the whole thing. Leaving in the middle would have felt rude.

We enjoyed it very much. As we walked out, I turned to Josie and asked, “What’s next? How about ‘Fate of the Furious.’”

I was kidding. Sort of. We’d enjoyed a wonderful day, nearly five hours in the theater, er, theaters.

It was fun for me to see how exhilarating it can be to watch a young impressionable enjoy the illicit thrill of realizing you don’t always have to follow all the adult rules all the time

It also gave me the idea of how much fun it would be to be homeless in a multiplex if Val ever boots me for being, say, a lousy role model. I wonder how many months I could live undetected.

It’s now on my bucket list. Join me! 

That would be a sensational crime, for sure. But is what we did criminal? Is a one-movie freebie a crime?

I’ve read it can be considered trespass and has in some cases led to jail time. Big whoop. Jail with Josie would be bound to be another great bonding experience.
Sure, there’s something to be said for raising perfect children, but I’ll take a really good cellmate any old day.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

The curse of living in interesting times

I don’t remember the first time anyone said it to me or, really, if anyone ever did say it to me or if I’m just imagining it. But I’m always startled whenever I hear it said with the such sunny affirmation.

“May you live during interesting times.”

Its origins are obscure. One debunked theory is it isn’t a well-wish at all, but is actually an ancient Chinese curse.mFake news from a synthetic fortune cookie

Sounds about right.

I’ve never once heard it said like a curse. Want to hear a curse?

“May the fleas of a 1,000 camels infest your crotch.”

Now, that’s a curse.

This “live during interesting times” always sounds like it’s meant to be a positive, 
like something you say before you down the shots of Bacardi 151.


Wishing that someone live in interesting times is like wishing expectant parents an interesting delivery room experience.

The situation is already plenty interesting.

North Korean missiles, Syrian chemical warfare, Arkansas executions, Aaron Hernandez hangs himself, MOAB, Sarah/Ted/Kid yucking it up in the Oval Office, Russian bombers cruising Alaska, WWIII scenarios being discussed by mainstream rationals.

Billy Joel says he didn’t start the fire?

Who did?

Gotta be somebody to blame.

“We Didn’t Start The Fire” in 4 minutes and 51 snappy seconds chronicles a tumultuous four-decade epoch from 1949-89.

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnny Ray … Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron … Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex, JFK blown away

What else do I have to say?
We’re getting the current events equivalent between each commercial break on our 24/7 news channels.

Not that long ago, I’d enjoy spending about an hour each day reading the morning papers and then be pretty much done consuming news the rest of the day. I’m not sure what I watched when I was free to watch TV, but I can probably guarantee some of it included reruns of things like “Green Acres.”

Now I have to fight the urge to either listen to cable TV news on the car radio or watch cable news on TV. 

There’s just so much going on and I want to keep up with who from somewhere godforsaken around the world or from just around the block is getting blown to smithereens.

Maybe I’m subconsciously watching in the hopes the news will give me a head’s up for when I’m due to duck, sort of like a weather forecast but with terror warnings instead of high and low pressure systems.

I yearn to be bored.

I long to turn on CNN and hear Wolf Blitzer say, “Well, there’s no news today so for the next week or so we’re just going to point the camera at this lava light.”

I fear we’re addicting ourselves to our anxieties.

We check our phones like lab rats conditioned to get sugar cube rewards with each bell tap. We update our Facebook status and set the bar high for that week’s SNL host.

We’re frazzled.

The religious-minded among us say we need to be born again to find true peace.

I’ll settle for being bored again.

I wish I could bank some boredom and make a withdrawal whenever the world gets too crazy.

Yes, there ought to be a boredom bank. Make your deposit and watch your principle grow with the only kind of interest that interests me.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rent empty weekend White House to boost revenue

The Washington Post is today reporting President Trump has spent one out of every five minutes of his young presidency at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida.

And, oh, what a gleeful moment it must have been for Post reporter Philip Bump when the math worked out so precisely.

He’d uncovered what I call a “brain barnacle,” a fact so nifty and easy to understand a nautical power sprayer would be unable to disconnect it from the brain.

That’s “424.5 hours there and 1,663.5 hours everywhere else, including on Air Force One headed to Mar-a-Lago. (That trip takes about an hour-and-a-half, so that’s an additional 21 hours spent flying there and back,)” Bump writes.

Critics will pounce. This man of the people’s spent an estimated $20 million on travel during his first 80 days and is on pace to spend more on travel in one year than Obama did in eight.

All these news reports will mistakenly focus on Trump’s desire to lavish time on Mar-a-Lago.

This is myopic.

Trump spending time at Mar-a-Lago boosts the economy. Trump’s economy, sure, but let’s not quibble.

My concern is on the missed revenue opportunities and I have a solution so wise I’m surprised our real estate developer-in-chief didn’t think of it himself.

On weekends when he’s away, let’s put the White House up for bid on AirBnB!

AirBnB is the popular online marketplace that enables people to bid on vacation or short-term rental property without all the red tape.

That says populism, baby.

The White House being in essence vacant one of every five minutes is a tremendous waste of a tremendous asset. It’s the most historic piece of real estate in America. As many as 6,000 tourists a day line up to visit the place.

They go to see the history. They go to see the art. They go to see the First Lady.


Everyone knows Melania Trump is in the White House even less than her husband.

The most expensive AirBnB property I’ve found is a New Orleans mansion that goes for $10,000 a night. The blurb says numerous Hollywood A-listers have signed the guest book.

It’s very nice, I’m sure, but I’ll bet it doesn’t have a bowling alley or Situation Room capable of either monitoring or obliterating hot spots around the world.

How much would wealthy people pay to say they’ve enjoyed jammy time in the White House? $50,000? $100,000? $250,000?

Take any of those base-line figures and multiply it by the 20 days Trump’s been just at Mar-a-Lago and you’ve got some serious scratch.

And that’s just the start.

How about entertainment options? Imagine how much, say, CBS would pay to film a “Big Brother” season in the building where THE Big Brother resides four out of every five minutes.

The White House has 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Corporate retreat!

Koch Industries earns about $115 billion a year. I’m sure their meeting planners would be salivating over the opportunity to plan a leadership event in the seat of power.

And that’s peanuts compared to the really big money.

I’m talking foreign governments. They’d pay fortunes to have free reign in the White House. The selfies alone would give them tremendous prestige advantages over global adversaries.

I’m sure the Russians would pay tens of millions to spend even one weekend in the White House, more than enough to offset Trump’s trips to Palm Beach.

Of course, Russia’s a bad example.

Why would anyone pay twice for something they’ve already bought once?

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Friday, April 14, 2017

Last Easter Mom nearly choked in church

On this weekend of deaths and resurrections, I’d like to talk about the one that got away.

Jesus lives!

And so does my Mom!

Last Easter, for the latter the matter seemed in doubt.

It was a moment I’ll never forget. She nearly died the most perfect Christian death. And I was right there rooting for it. Praying, actually.

Many will think me callous, sacrilegious, heartless, blah, blah, blah.

But she’s my 84-year-old mother. I’m her primary caretaker. I’m the one who takes her to the doctor, the beauty salon, and along with Val sees to all her needs, and the one thing this seven-year journey has taught me is to never judge others or myself when it comes to honest emotions in dealing with dementia patients.

I dearly miss the way she was. She’s always reminded me of Carol Burnett and I got my sense of humor from her so it’s fair to say she gave me everything I have.

Since we moved her out here in August, we see her nearly every day. She’s enjoyed the kids’ school plays and performances and sitting by the family fire when it’s snowy and out on the porch when it’s warm.

And in the moment, she’s always very happy.

It’s just in the very next moment, she doesn’t remember a single bit of it.

Just Sunday I took her to her old church in the South Hills where she was for years a joyful fixture in the choir. All her friends were there and went with us to a grand lunch at a lively neighborhood restaurant.

It was wonderful. She is beloved.

And not 30 minutes later she couldn’t recall where we’d been, who we’d seen or what we’d done.

She’s been like that for about five years.

Yet, she’s incredibly fit with a constitution that impresses her doctor.

“I can’t explain it, but her health is excellent,” he said. “She could live another 10 years.”


Her father lived to 97.

So, forgive me, but I have morbid impatience for seeing how this all ends.

Especially after last Easter Sunday.

She was with us in church, smiling and sweet as ever, when it came time for holy communion. When it was our turn, I assisted her out of the pew and up to the altar where together three generations knelt for our blessings.

A covenant that symbolizes the Last Supper, the wafer and wine represent the very body and blood of our savior Jesus Christ.

And for an electric moment last Easter we all thought it was going to kill Nana.

My daughters contend it was the wine down the wrong pipe, but I say it was the wafer because it’s what I truly believe (and because, sure, it makes a better story).

Either way, she began choking. Right there at the altar.

She was coughing. Gagging. Turning red.

It was beautiful!

Think about it.

If Mom dies there on the altar, on Easter Sunday, choking on the body and blood of her Savior, could there possibly be a better Christian death?

I don’t think so. I think you’d go right to heaven where Jesus begs your forgiveness and then escorts you to a really nice balcony suite with free HBO and a stack of chips you can use in the casino.

Just like Vegas!

Hell, you couldn’t wish for a better death.

I remember my exact thoughts as I sensed Mom might be choking to death:

Don’t anybody touch her!

My great fear was some church butt-in-ski was going to rush up and give her the Heimlich Maneuver and save her life.

Such heroics would have left me in a terrible quandary: Do I let him or her save my Mom or do I wrestle them to the carpet right there by the pulpit to ensure the life saving does not occur?

It was not to be.

What ever the obstruction, her ever-loving will to live overcame it. The drama was over. She was fine.

Still is.

Praise God.

I continue to spend much of my waking hours tending to her needs and ensuring her comfort. Those efforts include seeing to her spiritual devotions.

That’s why Sunday I’m again looking forward to taking her to Easter service, saying my steadfast prayers about her future and ensuring she gets to partake in the holy communion.

Oh, yes. I’ll see to it she again partakes of the body and the blood.

I’ll do so if I have to drag her bony old ass up there myself!

It’s just what any good son would do.

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