Friday, September 28, 2018

I had a really bad time at Laurel Valley this week

Take a moment to let that headline sink in. I believe it is without precedent. No one’s ever had a bad time at Laurel Valley, the posh Ligonier country club and home to one of America’s top 100 golf courses.

Let me be more specific. When I say I had a bad time at Laurel, the bad time lasted fewer than 7 minutes.

The rest of the time — nearly 20 hours — was absolutely splendid. I was wined, dined, flattered for my book and made a host of new friends.

It’s time I hope I never forget coupled with time I sorely wish I could.

See, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation secured my participation by purchasing 200 signed copies of my Palmer book to give as gifts to golfers who were paying thousands of dollars to enjoy the Laurel luxury. The opportunity included being featured speaker at both lunch and dinner.

I was really excited about my role. I took Josie with me Monday on the pretext of needing help delivering the books. She’d be turning 18 on Tuesday and I was hoping she’d get a peek at the place.

“Now, this might be a bust,” I warned. “We might not get past the front door.”

We were there four hours and she left with a Laurel Valley job application and pleas she’d return it ringing in her ears.

The kid has charisma. We’re so proud of her.

I later swapped her for her mother and we were treated to a fabulous Laurel dinner.

I was back early morning. Sprawled over two tables were all my books. Best part? I didn’t have to endure the crass indignity of trying to sell them. All I had to do was hand them to arriving golfers and engage in cheerful chat. And I got that down.

I had no reason to be nervous for my lunch talk, but nervous I was. Understand, they wanted me to talk for just 3- to 5-minutes. I can talk for 3- to 5-minutes  coherently in my sleep.

Everyone told me it was just fine.

But just fine isn’t good enough for me. Truly, I’m used to euphoric reactions. I vowed to myself and others my dinner address would be perfect.

And a flawed man gets into himself into trouble any time he strives for flawlessness.

I may have been intimidated by the affluence of the audience. But that makes no sense. I’ve never been intimidated by the busboys and there’ve been many years when I’ve been out-earned by busboys.

I’m loath to say so, but the recent Parkinson’s diagnosis has me more rattled than I’m eager to admit. A mind that was for so many years as carefree as clouds is now agitated by foul forecasts. Was that it?

Did I drink too much? Not enough? Was I overdue for a humbling?

Either way, the dinner talk was my worst ever. I stammered. I shook. I froze. I'd  have said, "Honest, this is the first time this has ever happened to me," but I was fearful it would sound like I was auditioning for an erectile dysfunction ad.

When I came to a sloppy conclusion, I said some quick goodbyes then made a cowardly retreat out the nearest door.

First thing the next morning, I composed an apologetic email to my two contact  organizers. “Today,” I wrote, “my feelings will ricochet between despondency and mortification, hopefully by tomorrow settling into mere embarrassment.”

I hinted how I couldn’t feel worse. 

That’s why I was floored when the one wrote back, eh, no biggie.

“Please don’t worry yourself for one second on our account,” one replied. “We were honored to have you.”

The second was even more effusive: “You were delightful and charming, and I assure you that you're the only person who feels like your performance was subpar.”

It’s like they’d seen a different me.

Were they just being kind? Could be, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all about your vantage point.

I selfishly see myself from deep inside my own head, a POV that magnifies each triumph and defeat into monumental proportions. 

They responded to my apology from inside a building full of dangerously sick children and fervently praying parents.

My momentary embarrassment in an otherwise plush experience? Indeed, no biggie.

And sometimes when we seek something akin to forgiveness, we’re lucky when we stumble into perspective. 

Friday, September 21, 2018

The why & how of my brand new signature -- it's legible!

I heard what by now are familiar compliments from robust audiences this week in Mt. Pleasant and the South Hills of Pittsburgh. 

They said I was witty, eloquent, composed and other gushy compliments that would convince my family everyone who comes to hear me talk is either shit-faced or susceptible to mass hypnosis.

But of all the heady praise — and I’m on a bit of a roll here — one stands out as the kind I’ll likely replay over and over in my mind.

A man said I had beautiful signature.

“It is!” he said. “Beautiful. Just beautiful.”

I think by “beautiful” he meant “legible.” But it can be both. And it is because you can read it. Yes, after about 48 years of signing my name in cursive, I finally have a John Hancock worthy of John Hancock.

I’ve been signing a lot of “Arnold Palmer” books lately; 200 this week, in fact. That’s how many UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation bought in advance for me to bring to a gala fundraiser Tuesday at Laurel Valley Golf Club on Tuesday. I’ll be the featured speaker for both lunch and dinner. 

It’s a big deal.

That was going through my head last week as I cracked open the first box of 25 books. and began my traditional scrawl. 

My standard inscription in block print is: “This is NOT a golf book. This is a LIFE book!”

That’s true, too. And people seem to like that. I know many authors merely sign their names. So my note is above and beyond.

Then, gulp, I’d get to the actual signature. See for yourself. 

The R could be a P; the o masquerades as the circular part of the d; and then the d loop, the e and the two l’s form like a chorus line of showgirls too drunk to know when to quit kicking. (Note: For years I teased my daughters by telling them our names are spelled with three l’s: “The second l is silent, but the third is silent AND invisible.”)

It’s always embarrassed me when people ask me to sign their books.

I contend the stakes are higher for me because the book is about Palmer, who was famous for both his penmanship and the promiscuity of his autograph. He’d brag that his name was worthless on eBay because he’d signed so many. 

And it was immaculate. Surgeons suturing scars on supermodels were less careful than Palmer was with a pen.

Now, it’s ridiculous for me to hold myself to the Palmer standard. 

No one expects me to golf like he did.

But the poor penmanship made me look sloppy. So about four boxes in to the eight-box stack I decided enough’s enough. I decided it was time to alter my signature, to give it some manners, to make it appear presentable.

I took a stack of scrap paper and began to practice. I’d do about 15 at a time — just the surname. I think my Chris is decent.

It was very painstaking. For some reason, we’ve all been conditioned to think a good signature is a fast one. That might be the root of the problem.

Palmer, who may have signed more autographs than anyone in history, didn’t think it ought to be done quickly. I saw it. He took his time to make it appear perfect.

That’s what I began to do.

But if you want to improve yours, I’d encourage you to persevere until you develop what I think of as a “twitch.” That’s when your hand takes over and leaves your bossy-ass brain in the dust.

I only wish I’d have embarked on this character-enhancing project before I’d signed so many books, like the one I did for you, maybe?

So that’s all for today. I just wanted to share with you the news that you can change something as elemental as your very signature. It just takes a little will, a little patience and a little practice.

Thank you for reading and have a great weekend.

This is me, signing off and signing on.


Thursday, September 13, 2018

10 great life quotes for graduating seniors

Our oldest daughter is on a quest to find the most insightful quote to illustrate her character in her HS year book. She asked me for advice because she understands the old man is full of quotes.

At least that’s what I think she thinks the old man is full of.

But I surprised her when I told her to buzz off. I knew she’d instinctively ridicule any of my suggestions and then I’d be back to hiding in the closet until my weeping ceased.

I did offer this jiffy advice: I said, “Choose silly over substance because no matter what you pick in 10 years you’ll be embarrassed by the selection and it’s better to appear playful rather than pompous.”

I wrote that one down because I figure in 10 years it’ll be a handy answer if she asks, “Dad, what do you think? Should I marry Jeff or Burt?”

Picking out a character-defining quote is tricky business. You need something obscure, but something that’s withstood the test of time. Sure, there’s tuneful nobility in “Give Peace a Chance,” but it’s like quoting Twilight Sparkle from “My Little Pony.”

I say all this while admitting I whiffed on mine. Vain without reason even in high school, I opted for the self-quote. I don’t remember the exact wording but it was something like, hey, gang, let’s always be friends — and remember to keep guzzling beer!

Sadly, what was intended to be jocular became prophesy. I never stopped guzzling beer.

Of course, my life path was set months earlier in ways more definitive than some sudsy salute to juvenile delinquency.

I’d been accepted at Ohio University!

What quote would I use today?

I’m sure lots of students will use this dandy from Martin Luther King Jr, and I applaud them: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

There are so many great ones by Winston Churchill, to me the most interesting man since Jesus Christ. I like, “When going through hell, keep going,” but would amend it to read, “When going through hell, go faster.”

Many of my favorite quotes relate to the life importance of perseverance. It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who said, “When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”

Those quotes fail to float your boat? How about these?

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

• “The pessimist bemoans all the traitors who’ve thrown him under the bus. The optimist thinks one day he’ll make a really swell bus mechanic.”

• “Try to do at least one thing each week that will blow your hair back and allow you to scream, “Wheeeeeeee!!!”

• “Living forever will never top living for right now.”

• “Make taking the high road such a habit confused strangers along the way ask you for directions.”

  • “Milk makes you sexy!”

Any of those sound familiar? That’s right, the first six are mine and are included in “Use All The Crayons!” That they’re not already in widespread use is an indictment of our educational system.

The milk quote is from that sexy titan of clean living, Elvis Presley. I don’t know if he really meant it — I’ve seen no milk/sexy studies — or if Col. Parker had secured The King a stake in some dairy farm, butI love Elvis and I love that quote. 

But it’s not my favorite. The winner is …

“There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy.”

It’s a quote of Robert Louis Stevenson, author of “Treasure Island,” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” I’d urge every senior to consider submitting it for their year book profile.

It’s perfect. How different the world would be if each of us spent even part of each day making happiness a priority. Ponder that as you go about your daily “duties.”

Me, I have things to do.

I all of a sudden have a hankerin’ to go guzzle some milk.

Related …

Monday, September 10, 2018

Thinking of getting plastic surgery to resemble Arnold Palmer

I wonder if people would think I was taking things too far if they knew I was thinking about plastic surgery to make me look exactly like Arnold Palmer. That way I could skip the sometimes tedious bits of me telling stories about Arnold Palmer and vault right into the role of being Arnold Palmer.

I think it’s what Palmer would do. He held nothing back.

Today would have been his 89th birthday.

I’ll be celebrating with not one, but two book signings — and, whew, both are indoors! I’ll be at the hometown Youngstown Grille from 10 to 1 p.m., and at the Penn Area Library in Harrison City at 6:30 p.m..

Each has the potential to be special. 

From the book:

“He was is in here for breakfast every other week or so,” says Grille owner Scott Levin. “He liked our French Toast so much, he asked for the recipe so he could have it made for him when he left for the winter. And Jerry Palmer was always in here. He was just a great guy, too. We miss them both.”

Levin remembers the time Arnold Palmer was in for breakfast when an awestruck young father sheepishly approached his table with his 2-year-old son in his arms. “He told him he’d named the boy Palmer in his honor. They’d never met before. It was beautiful. And it happened right here in the Youngstown Grille.”

I like the story of Palmer and Tom Ridge dining there, both wearing AriZona Tea Co. shirts. Levin’s young son, Jeremy, saw the shirts and asked if the famous pair were traveling sales reps.

He was sort of correct. Nearly 2 years after Palmer’s passing, Forbes reports the Palmer estate still earns $40 million a year from AP Tea sales.

The Grille — just named by Tribune-Review readers as best breakfast in Latrobe! — has been aggressive in promotions and I’ve at every step been humbled by community support.

And I’m eager to present my talk at the Penn Library. I donated some advance books two weeks ago and was warmly greeted by enthused staff.

So, yes, both have the potential to be special.

Of course as few know better than I, both also have the potential to be incredibly lame.

I’ll never forget the time I was invited to speak at the prestigious main Carnegie Library in Oakland … and no one showed up. Not a single person. It was an abject humiliation. Pittsburgh that year had a population of 307,504 and on that afternoon every single one of them had something better to do than hear me talk.

The library staff were embarrassed for me and struggled for excuses. They couldn’t understand it, one said. The previous week’s program had drawn 86 people.

What, pray tell, was the topic?

“How to raise chickens in your home.”

So having appearance-altering surgery would be a small price to pay to avoid another disgrace like that.

Think, too, of how interest in my public appearances would zoom. Event planners wouldn’t be hiring me.

They’d be hiring Arnold Palmer!

And Palmer exuded matchless charm. Actor Kirk Douglas said in 1970 that no one -- not Sinatra, John Wayne or Ronald Reagan -- had more charisma than Palmer.

So if I rudely burp beer in your face, you’re disgusted and I’m an uncouth lout. But if it’s me looking like Palmer and burping beer in your face it’s like you’ve been sneezed on by nectar-sipping butterflies.

I could tell Palmer stories in the first person. I could fool the whole world into thinking I was the legendary golfer brought back to life. I could do this right up until someone asked to see me swing a golf club.

And that would be the end of that.

No matter. I’m just spouting off. When it comes to surgery, I’m just too chicken.

But I guess in the eyes of some you can never be too chicken.

Related …

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

What I, duh, think about when men start talking about cars ...

I’ve discovered a delightful coping mechanism when I find myself inescapably stuck in the middle of a conversation that bores me to tears.

Yes, when the boys start talking about cars, I start thinking about sex.

Bawdy sex, sweet sex, fast sex, slow sex. I think about sex in the bedroom, sex on the beach, sex in the hot tub, sex in the back seat and sex behind the “Occupied” sign of a Southwest 747 skyliner cruising at 33,000 feet.

I think about the embellished greatest hits from my now 26-year relationship — 22-years matrimony/4 years soulful shack-up — to the woman I’m blessed to call my wife.

One brazen hussy tried to crash the party, but Daydream Me told her to stop wearing so much whore make-up and begin attending a good neighborhood church until some promising young man agreed to take her on proper chaperoned dates for single scoop ice cream.

Now Daydream Me knows what it feels like to be Mike Pence when he’s talking to anybody on the planet besides Donald Trump

This all came to me one night at the Tin Lizzy when two friends did what many otherwise entertaining men will do. They began talking about cars. 

Many men revel in that conversation. They talk about models, styles, horsepower and what goes on under the hood. They were very engaged.

Me, all I know about cars is how to drive ‘em and how to wash ‘em — and I refuse to wash ‘em.

Maybe if I had money for a fancy jalopy things would be different. I do not. In my entire “adult” life — and I use figurative air quotes around “adult” for reasons that ought to now be glaringly obvious — I’ve owned five vehicles and three of them have been Saturns.

My current ride is a Saturn Vue with 203,998 miles on it. Car guys disdain something so utilitarian.

And, fear not this sudden burst of car talk, we’ll soon resume talking about sex. Promise!

So I have a choice: I can try and make lame contributions to the conversation or fight my nature and just keep my mouth shut. I asked myself a question: what would I rather be doing right then than sitting there listening to these guys talk cars? The answer was obvious.


Studies show that’s the go-to answer for most any guy of any age. I read one, well, duh, news story that said the average man thinks about sex about once every five minutes.

I conducted a half-assed self test and here’s what I came up with over 30 seconds: “sex, sex, sex, pizza, Pirates, sex, sex, golf, sex, Three Stooges, sex.”

I hastily concluded the experiment because I didn’t like the thought trend that sandwiched The Stooges between sex thoughts.

And so while my friends were talking about, yawn, cars, I sat there and quietly reveled in thoughts of sex with a sly smile on my face. They must have thought I was a great listener who really enjoyed an in-depth discussion of the engine and chassis of the ’71 Mustang.

It worked so well with car talk I extended the diversion to when some friends brought up national politics. I told them about my experiment and said, “So, if you see me smiling and nodding my head, know it’s because I’m recollecting a kind of position that has nothing to do with yours.”

I think it creeped them out because they immediately switched the topic to the baseball standings.

I advise you to try it yourself. And announcing it in advance seems to act as a sort of prophylactic, one that ironically in this situation has nothing to do with birth control. 

So, my car fan friends, continue talking all you want about what happens under the hood.

I’m perfectly content thinking about all that happens in the back seat.

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