Tuesday, July 17, 2018

So, okay, I have Parkinson's


How many of you, my friends, are confused by that headline confession? Parkinson’s? Parkinson’s what? Parkinson’s galoshes? Parkinson’s kite? Parkinson’s fruit salad?

No. I have Parkinson’s Disease. So do more than 1 million men mostly and women in America. The average age onset is 60.

I am 55.

I first began noticing the unsettling symptoms in October 2015 when the left side of my body seemed to begin shutting down. My left arm would hang like dead meat at my side. A slight limp began to develop as my left foot disobediently dragged. 

Always a crackerjack typist, crisp keyboard strokes became tentative and at times impossible. The fingers on my left hand refused to obey cranial commands that had until recently been split-second instinctive. 

Doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. So on a miserable day in early February I was given the miserable task of having to drive to Pittsburgh’s UPMC Hospital to undergo a $10,000 DAP test that involved injecting me with nuclear isotopes that would circulate throughout my brain.

And on Valentine’s Day, just before lunch, all alone in my shabby little office, I found out in the most graceless way possible I was one of 60,000 Americans each year who learn we have this progressive neurological disorder that in its most severe cases can rob victims of even the most basic motor skills right down to the ability to blink one’s eye.

My grim informant had no time for blow-softening small talk: “Well, your test results came back and are consistent with Parkinson’s Disease. There is no cure.”

I went quiet so long she must have thought I’d either dropped the phone or dropped dead.

“You still there?”

I mumbled confirmation. What could I expect was going to happen?

“Can you still feed yourself?”

I told her I’d managed to down a donut that morning, but that some of the rainbow sprinkles fell on my lap. Will the inability to swallow strike by lunch? 

“Well, you should really talk to the doctor.”

I told her I couldn’t believe the doctor, whom I’ve come to like, would outsource such a sensitive phone call to someone so clearly insensitive.

Even though I’ve known I have it for five months, I’m still remarkably ignorant of what I’m up against. In fact, I hadn’t even typed the word Parkinson’s into a search engine until this morning when I needed to look up the above statistics.

Believing that I’m an individual and that the disease strikes individuals differently, I didn’t want to burden my psyche with blanket fears.

Note: it’s not Parkinson’s Condition, Parkinson’s Malady or Parkinson’s Inconvenience; It’s Parkinson’s Disease. So semantically at least this is some serious shit. Doctors have told me they have patients in their 70s who with treatment display no visible symptoms. They tell me my relative fitness and otherwise sunny disposition mean I’m a good candidate for a rosy eventuality.

But seared into my memory is a conversation with an old neighbor from the street where I was raised. We golf together once a year and a couple of years ago I introduced him to Arnold Palmer. It was the first time I think he looked at me and didn’t see a runny-nosed kid riding his Big Wheel.

I treasure his friendship. 

It was about four years ago he confided in me his sweet wife of 35 years had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. We talked about it for a compelling 30 minutes and to this day all I remember him saying are two words with dreadful conviction as he drilled me with his eyes.

“It’s horrible … horrible.”

She’s in dire straits — and, no, not the cool one where Mark Knopfler, one of my very favorite performers, sings and plays peerless guitar.

Coincidentally, it was Dire Straits who in 1982 released a song that contains the only mention of any Parkinson I’ve ever heard or known of. It’s on “Industrial Disease,” a catchy number about unregulated factory ailment and what it can do to a man. Pertinent lyrics:

“Dr. Parkinson declared: ‘I’m not surprised to find you here
You’ve got smoker’s cough from smoking, brewer’s droop from drinking beer

I don’t know how you’ve come to get those Bette Davis knees
But worst of all, young man, you’ve got Industrial Disease!’

I wonder if the victim maintains the ability to blink.

In fact, the disease was named for London physician James Parkinson who in 1817 begun groundbreaking research into what since AD 175 had been known as “shaking palsy.”

I don’t yet do much shaking. My left arm — I thank God it’s, so far, not my dominant right side — shakes when it’s cold, when I use it to lift plates into a cupboard or when it’s under stress. Sometimes when I’m nervous and giving a speech it begins to shake so I put my hand in my pocket to conceal the quiver. It’s not a good look, but I wouldn’t want the shaking to distract from what I’m trying to say.

I wonder if in five years I’ll read that last sentence and marvel at my quaint innocence.

“… horrible … horrible.”

Right now the limp is the worst. I walk like a man who looks like a man who with every desperate step appears to be trying to walk like a man.

It’s been an embarrassment for about the last year. People look and wonder, geez, what the hell’s wrong with that guy?

Maybe I should begin to gauge their cool by telling them it’s “Industrial Disease” and see who gets it.

I didn’t want to say anything sooner because I wanted to enjoy the successful release of the Palmer book — a true professional high — and because, being blessed with so many empathetic friends, I knew the news would bum you out.

Man, it’s bummin’ me out, too!

I keep trying to find a silver lining and the only one I can think of is that soon this inability to blink means I’ll be able to really give ‘em all hell in the staring contests.

Why me, I ask.

Did I have this coming? Did I ever make fun of someone with a disability? Is this karma circling back to kick my ass?

Then I remember I stopped believing in karma the day I woke up and incredulously realized Tom Petty is dead and Dick Cheney isn’t.

Could jokes like that be the reason?

I didn’t tell my little darlings, ages 17 and 12, until Sunday afternoon. It was not easy. I love them so much and dread the reality that one of the most difficult aspects of their lives may one day involve caring for me. 

I told them about the symptoms, the treatments and prognosis and said if they ever noticed me stumbling coming home from the bar late at night it wasn’t because Daddy was drunk. It was because Daddy has Parkinson’s.

Amazingly, they bought it.

Well, not Val.

Because of rampant infant mortality, the average life expectancy of a male born in America in 1850 was a measly 38.5 years. And that was before a single Civil War bullet was fired in hostility. 

I think many people view me as youthful or, well, maybe juvenile is a better word.

But, c’mon, 55 is pretty old. Some decrepitude is inevitable.  And for five decades I’ve had a really great body.

And I don’t mean that the way a swimsuit model does.

I had a strapping healthy body for all the meaty years when having a healthy body is a real boon for a young man eager to have raucous fun.

I think about my body and its first 50 years the way many of you feel about that old jalopy you had in college: high mileage, low maintenance. It never needed an oil change, was great in the snow and was nimble enough to parallel park between a Mercedes and a Cadillac with both owners obsessively watching. You’d need two hands to count the number of times you’d run it into the trees and it miraculously seemed like it’d bounced right off without a a scratch.

My body climbed mountains and skied down them. It was agile enough to on the very same night run from police and chase girls. It ate like Elvis, jumped out of planes, wrestled alligators and partied so hard and irresponsibly it birthed drinking legends that endure to this day among sober witnesses.

In many ways, it’s not surprising that a body that’s been through all that is breaking down at 55. What’s surprising is it ever made it past 38.5.

Why me?

Really, with the joyful and rambunctious life I’ve led, it’s fair to ask,  “Why not me?”

For me, the most confounding aspect of all this is professional, a surprise result for someone who since 1992 has wallowed in being utterly unprofessional. But this is not the way this story is supposed to end.

“… horrible … horrible”

I cannot abide an unhappy ending and I don’t intend for this to be one of them. I’m already being diligent about exercise and other recommended behaviors. It’s all a reminder how our  happy little lives can be taken away in the blink of an eye.

But not if we cease to blink!

See, I knew there’d be a silver lining in there somewhere.



Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Today is book's official release! Seeking Amazon reviews


I guess the most surprising — and touching — review came from a friend who I consider one of the good guys. He’s polite, thoughtful and eager to help the needy. If he saw an old widow’s cat stuck high up in a tree, he’d commence to climbing.

He said my book made him want to be a better person.

Isn’t that beautiful?

It was not my intention, but I can certainly understand the sentiment. I’ve been signing a bunch of books thusly:

“Only a handful of golfers on the planet will ever know what it’s like to play golf like Arnold Palmer played golf. This book shows us all how we can each live just like he lived.”

It’s true. We can all be kind, stylish, bold, playful, work hard, be charitable and go for every par 5 in two. Arnold Palmer had a lot of money — some estimates say as much as $800 million — but none of those soulful behaviors requires even a cent. It’s why I tell people this isn’t a golf book.

It’s a life book.

That’s the subtext of “Arnold Palmer: Homespun Stories of The King,” today enjoying its official nationwide release (thank you Triumph Books!).

Surprising, isn’t it? It seems like to me the book’s been out and robustly selling for six months. In fact, I got my first copies March 31.

What’s happened in those six weeks?

Well, it seems like every single man, woman and child in Latrobe has bought three copies each.

Thank you, Latrobe!

I’ll be speaking Thursday 6 p.m. at the Adams Memorial Library — registration required — right there near downtown Latrobe. 

I’m overjoyed by the local reaction. It feels like the book’s put a smile on the whole face of Latrobe.

And now the rest of the country — lots of Palmer fans there, too — is starting to follow suit. Here’s what one influential Texas golf writer wrote:

“If you're an Arnold Palmer fan (and who isn't?), or a golf fan, or a fan of really, really great storytelling, I suggest you plunk down some of your hard-earned cash and buy my friend Chris Rodell’s new book, "Arnold Palmer: Homespun Stories of The King.

“Chris is a truly unique storyteller, and boy, does he have some fantastic tales to share from his years working one-on-one with The King himself. During their time together, Chris made Mr. Palmer laugh more than a few times. I promise you'll laugh, too. Go get this book now and enjoy!”

I’m so flattered by this kind of praise.

My publisher said they are thrilled with the pre-sales and all the interest the book’s already drawing. I asked what we could do next to ensure strong sales in places beyond Latrobe.

She said: “For starters, tell your friends and family to review the book on Amazon. There's a lot we can do with Amazon promotions if your book has 10 or more reviews over 4 stars.”

Ten or more 4 stars? I hear more than that when I stroll from my Tin Lizzy bar stool to the men’s room.

So if you did like the book and have the time, you’ll be helping me out if you can sign onto Amazon right here and say nice things about the book.

It doesn’t have to be fancy or verbose — so don’t use my blog as a model! Just if you liked the book say you liked it and why. It can be as simple as, “I really liked Rodell’s book ‘cause it smells nice.”

I for years have dreamed of getting a 5-star review from some critic based solely on nasal reasons.

If the book made you want to be a better person, I’ll be humbled if that’s what you say.

As long as no one says the book is a real stinker.

So will you do it? Can I count on you? Is it too much of an imposition?

Sorry, that’s just me bein’ nosey.



• To celebrate the official release day of "Arnold Palmer: Homespun Stories of The King," here's a 1:20 video of me discussing how Palmer's rivalry with Gary Player extended to even things like the consumption of bacon. 



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Friday, May 11, 2018

Praise, fame, TINARA award going to my head


The praise, the gushy radio interviews, the 5-star reviews, all the friendly strangers eager to hand me money for signed copies — it’s all going straight to my head.

And I’m not even getting into me being the recipient of the prestigious TINARA award.

Yet.

It’s been a heady month. I for the first time in my life know what it feels like to be a celebrity. People who just six weeks ago would have ignored me want to have their pictures taken with me.

I wonder how my life is going to change when they hear about TINARA.

All this over a book that won’t be officially released until May 15. That’s the day the book will be fully stocked at most major book sellers in America.

I received 50 copies in late March. Many of these were distributed to men and women who helped me get the book published and make it what it is.

Then on April 4 I ordered 250 copies. These were gone in 15 days so I ordered another 250. Those, too, were gone in 15 days and yesterday I took receipt of another 250.

It’s not uncommon for people to buy 12, 15 or 20 signed copies at a time.

I had one casual friend order two — one for his grandson and one for his boss. Two days later, he said his boss said it “was effing great” and wanted to buy 10 copies.

Then he changed his mind.

He wanted 20.

I mention this gent because we’ve never met and he is not quoted in the book as some enthusiasts are. He just loves the effing book.

I’ve in the past week done radio interviews with hosts in Houston, Charlotte, Orlando, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh (John McIntire) and two right here in Latrobe (Hank Baughman and Mike Dudurich).

The praise I get from these is startling. They tell all their listeners how much they love the book and how they have to buy it. They universally love Arnold Palmer, have their own stories and are thrilled to promote an author who has a different take.

I think one of the reasons the book is being well-received is because of how little it has to do with golf. It’s a book about life. 

One radio host said it was the best book about any golfer he’s ever read then floored me by saying it’s better than any number of books by a Mount Rushmore of famous sports writers who’ve written about golfers.

Could I soon be the recipient of my second TINARA?

Perhaps.

I spoke this week at luncheons for the Ligonier Rotary, the Latrobe Rotary and yesterday at the Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce.

I think I have my talk honed to a nice pacing — lots of laughs mixed with insider stories and insights about Palmer.

And I sold a lot of books.

Tomorrow I’ll be a featured author selling books at the Altoona Book Festival. Feature writer Ken Love of the Altoona Mirror composed this flattering profile for today’s paper.

And I’m starting to see the 5-star sales-boosting reviews on the internet. 

I’ve been Googling the hell out of myself lately. That’s how I first saw mention of my TINARA, the elusive snipe of publishing industry awards.

See, I made it up.

There is no TINARA.

But I fooled the internet into thinking there is.

It all started in 2016 when I self-published “The Last Baby Boomer: The Story of the Ultimate Ghoul Pool.”

I’m so proud of that book and optimistically remain convinced it will one day enjoy the reception the “Homespun” book is getting. Reader reaction convinces me it is great. People love it, say it’s better than Kurt Vonnegut.

So suck it, K.V.!

I wanted to bestow it with some distinguishing aplomb, something that would help it stand out. 

Thus, The TINARA satire award was born. 

I had my web wizard add that spiffy sticker to the web page then I forgot all about it.

Until today. 

I just this morning while Googling saw a web blurb about me that says, “Chris Rodell is the 2016 winner of the TINARA award.”

Bullseye!

Some one or something charged with compiling a profile of me fell for my fraud.

I can only hope now that there’s an independent mention, my TINARA award notice will proliferate and flourish as part of my enduring profile.

And, really, it should. Because in our era of hokum and humbug the TINARA is the perfect award for times when all the news feels like satire.

See, TINARA is an acronym composed from the first letters of the sentence:

This Is Not A Real Award.”

One of these days I’m going to have to have a trophy made for some phony-baloney TINARA awards show.

And you’re all invited!



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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Oakmont Library tonight! My book signings from cerebral to sudsy ...


It was in 2008 when I was interviewing Arnold Palmer coincidentally the day before I was to play Oakmont Country Club, regarded by experts as one of the toughest golf courses on the planet.

I told Palmer I’d be playing there and asked if he had any suggestions for how I could get a good score the next day.

“If you’re really concerned about getting a good score,” he said, “I suggest you play someplace else.”

That’s just one of the stories I’ll be telling this evening at The Oakmont Library from 6 to 8 p.m. Stop by if you’re near. These talks get happy reactions from the audiences and I wind up selling lots and lots of books, which leads to happy reactions from me.

Here’s a partial list of what I have going on through Father’s Day.

• Thursday, 10 p.m., KDKA-AM 1020, The John McIntire Show — I’ve been doing John’s show for 15 years now and it’s always a treat. So you Penguin fans will have a choice: Me and John or Sid and Geno. 

• May 8, noon, Ligonier Rotary, Dave & Carol’s Roadhouse — I was given the option to talk about the new Palmer book or “Use All The Crayons!” I chose … “Crayons!” It’s still such a fun talk to give and as of now I have more copies of “Crayons!” to sell so there are logistical considerations. 

• May 9, noon, Latrobe Rotary, DeNunzio’s Restaurant — This will be the first serious run-through of the Palmer talk, and it’ll be in front of a roomful of supporters so it should be a real confidence boost. One problem: Most of these friends have already purchased multiple copies of “Palmer: Homespun.” Will the talk be a success if it gets great reaction but few sales? I think so.

• May 10, noon, Westmoreland County Chamber of Commerce, Fred Rogers Center, St. Vincent College — I’m so confident this one will go well and am so pleased with the audience and the venue, I’ve hired a friend to film it. My hope is to get a bunch of YouTube videos like this one

• May 12, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Altoona Book Festival, Altoona Library — A reporter from the Altoona Mirror is doing a story on me that will run the day before this event. I’m excited. Could be very good.

• May 17, noon, Good Guys Social Club, TGIFridays, Bethel Park — This is Pittsburgh Pride author Jim O’Brien’s social club. There will be about 50 men there and if my ’16 appearance is any indicator, I’ll sell a lot of books. Audience will include former Pirate manager Jim Leyland and announcer Lanny Frattare.

• May 17, 6 p.m., Adams Memorial Library, Latrobe — Yes, it’s doubleheader day! Very eager for this home game. Again, lots of friends.

• May 19, 2 p.m. Barnes & Noble, Greensburg — These always feel like a big deal to me. Some go well, some don’t. The store manager says she’s ordering 25 copies of “Palmer: Homespun.” Sounds about right but, just in case, I’m bringing along another 25 in my trunk.

• May 29, noon, Ohio County Public Library, Wheeling, WV — This will be my third time with them at their “Lunch With Authors” event. It’s always a big deal. I really enjoy it and have both times left feeling like I’d robbed a bank. I’ll sell lots of books here.

• May 31, 7 p.m., Mt. Lebanon Public Library — With old school friends, neighbors and all Mom’s chums from church I’m expecting a riot. A very polite riot, but a riot nonetheless.

• June 7, 6 p.m., Carnegie Library, West End — I have no idea what to expect here. It could be 30 or it could be 3. Either way, I’ll walk out the door with at least one new friend.

• June 8, 6 to 9 p.m., Cooperstown Social Club, Latrobe — Kevin Smetak runs this historic club. He is a big and enthusiastic supporter of me and my books. I’m proud to have him as my friend. He’s cajoled Yuengling Beer to sponsor my book signing! I have a lot of friends at The Coop and am optimistic we’ll have a good time this night. 

• June 14, 6 to 9 p.m., Flappers at The Tin Lizzy, Youngstown — Ever dreamed of drinking an Arnold Palmer while you’re buying a book about Arnold Palmer in a building Arnold Palmer spent time in his whole life? Well, your dreams are a lot different than mine. But I spend a lot of time in Flappers (one floor below my office) and bartender Zach Starrett suggested the dual promotion might be a winner. I think he’s correct.

Hope to see you at one of the public events. If that’s not possible and you’re eager to buy a book, please stop in at The Tin Lizzy and bang on the ceiling. I’ll be happy to come down and visit.