Friday, October 12, 2018

Leading leaders in search of food, my swagger

It was the most poorly planned quasi-military exercise since Bay of Pigs. We were on a mission to find the food at the Greensburg-area banquet hall destined to be forever known as The Place that Used to be Known as the Bishop Connare Center. 

To give you some idea how preposterous it was, I was the leader.

Some context: I was brought in to speak to about 50 esteemed members and spouses of the Military Officers Association of America.

So the room was full of nothing but decorated combat veterans. Bona fide leaders.

And me.

And through some abeyance to absurd protocol, the retired Lt. Colonel said, “It’s time to eat. Chris, as our guest speaker, will you lead us?”

I had the good sense not to make a lame joke — that’s what this blog is for! — and marched from the main table to the buffet line where five steam tray pans hinted at the feast to come. I grabbed a plate and — voila! — removed the lid off the first steam tray pan.


Same with the second, and the third.

I’d been punked.

The hostess explained we’d be eating the salad course before the hot food. I signaled retreat. My first attempt at leading real men ended in lettuce and ranch dressing. That I’d been asked to find food and produced only hot air did not bode well for my talk.

Plus, I was nervous my swagger might be AWOL. A certain swagger is essential when you’re an unheralded nobody asking strangers to sit and listen to you talk about something they may or may not need to hear.

What if my swagger was gone for good?

You may recall, my epic September 25 failure — I completely froze — was still fresh in my mind, but not as much as you might think.

I’d chosen to view the whole episode as pure aberration. See, I’m a believer in the necessity of failure in growth. I realize my perceived mistakes, catalogued them and then wholly forgave myself. 

Would I have rather it’d never happened, especially then?

Certainly, but I believe I’ve grown from it. In the aftermath, I had talks in the Greensburg and Jeannette libraries, albeit before smaller audiences, and they both went great. In fact, my friends in Jeannette are planning on bringing a van load of patrons to the Tin Lizzy to hear my stories from my years of swashbuckling reporting.

I’m beginning to realize what gold I have in them.

It was apparent last night. These proud officers and their spouses all reacted the way I dream everyone in every audience always will. They roared with laughter at the jokes and teared up when I talked about the hard times in every life (they’d requested I focus my talk on my “Crayons!” book). And when it was over they lined up to buy books and shower me with praise.

It was very heady. It always is.

The embarrassing failure from last month is buried.

The lieutenant colonel, the leader of these fine leaders, came up afterwards and put his arm around me. “You were great,” he said. “I’ve already had about five men come up and say we need to find more guys like you.”

I smiled, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Sir, there is no one else like me.”

I couldn’t find the food, but I'd found something more nourishing.

I'd found my swagger.

• Note: I’ll be at Second Chapter Books for Fort Ligonier Days for all three days. Stop by!

Monday, October 8, 2018

My doctor wants to be my friend

I was a bit startled when during a routine exam the doctor said he considers me a friend and began confiding details of a failed marriage.

I confess I was relieved he at the time didn’t have anything jammed up my ass.

And I didn’t have anything jammed up his!

I like it when anyone says they consider me a friend. I always make a mental note to keep my new friend in mind next time I need to bum some dough.

But in this intimate professional setting, it was a bit disconcerting. 

Understand, he’s a great guy. I chose him to be my doctor after observing his gentle manner and ready laugh when he cared for my late mother. And, believe me, anyone who didn’t laugh when he or she was in the examining room with my mother and her dementia is someone I wouldn’t want for my doctor.

He’s a true country doctor. So country I’m convinced I could pay him in chickens and he’d give me eggs for change.

He’s caring, funny, intelligent, generous, a good listener — all the things you want in a good friend.

And, man, the guy can get me the drugs.

But do I want to hear, “How ‘bout them Steelers!” from the same guy who moments later will be saying, “Turn your head and cough.”

The majority of the scolds in the prissy medical community say he’s making an ethical boo boo.

This is from an essay: “The short answer is that friendships and any type of relationship beyond strictly professional boundaries are not condoned. It can cloud the judgment of the treating physician and is generally frowned upon for a variety of reasons.”

It goes on to say friendship may cloud the doctor’s professional judgement. They say this like it’s a bad thing.


Having the doctor for a friend could save me money, maybe even save my life.

Let’s say I’m Patient A, a locally renown author whose books the country doctor buys and enjoys. I don’t complain or moan when the the blood tests say my Bun/Creatinine Ratio is out of whack. Hell, I don’t even ask him to explain what a Bun/Creatinine Ratio even means as long as it doesn’t have anything to do with the liveliness of my erections, still the whole reason me and all his other male patients come to see him in the first place.

Now, let’s consider hypothetical Patient B. She’s an overweight, chain-smoking hypochondriac who thinks if she doesn’t live forever it’ll be all his fault. She talks her obnoxious politics during the exam (Patient A would never dream of doing so) and to top it all off, she’s a medical malpractice attorney.

So, of course, he’d be acquitted if, given those facts, he admitted to concluding the exam by smothering Patient B with a antiseptic pillow.

It’s a broken analogy, but I welcome the friendship of my doctor with the same exuberance I would if he were one of my crack team of bartenders.

If they like me — and why the hell wouldn’t they? — they may serve me sooner than other thirsty customers, give me stronger pours and inebriate other unsuspecting patrons to the point they’ll purchase my books — just $15 at Tin Lizzy! — while they’re too gooned up to know any better.


I want my bartender to be my friend. Same goes for my mechanic, my barber, my tailor, my butcher and the usher who shows me to my seat when I go to the ball games.

A little smile, some cheerful conversation, a little human recognition that the world isn’t as mean or as indifferent as it seems.

Why wouldn’t I welcome the same from my doctor?

One aims to save my life. The others make it worth living.

That’s what friends are for.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

I'm drinking too much & it's all your fault!

First of all, this is NOT about Judge Kavanaugh or his drinking. The only experiences we share are that he admits he got drunk on beer and blacked out and so did I.

The difference is he meant in high school.

 I mean most every Wednesday through Friday since high school.

Many prudent drinkers downplay how much alcohol they’ve consumed.

Me, I tend to romanticize it. A friendly saloon has been my native habitat since my old man took me into Frankie Gustine’s Bar in Oakland back in the ‘70s. Dad moonlighted there as a bartender. I remember walking through those swinging doors and falling in love with the atmosphere, the boisterous characters and the promise I was in a place alive with randy opportunity.

“Dad,” I said, “I’d like change for the jukebox, an ashtray for my smokes and a double Jack Daniels on the rocks — no straw. Buy that pretty little redhead by the window a Sloe Gin Fizz and tell her it’s on me. And don’t wait up for me, old man. I plan on going home with her.”

I was in the 4th grade.

I think that kind of behavior is what people expect out of writers, especially writers whose offices just happen to be located in historic buildings with three distinct and winning bars on three different floors. 

People seem to be disappointed if writers don’t tipple — and I wouldn’t want to disappoint them. 

Blame Papa.

Ernest Hemingway was a larger-than-life and now stereotypical writer/drunk. When people learn my office is above the Tin Lizzy, they often say, “Oh, so, you’re just like Hemingway!”

“That’s right,” I say, “we’re practically indistinguishable. The main difference is he’s the one with all the money, all the prestige, all the success, all the acclaim and all the six-toed cats.”

The 40- to 50-so-called polydactyl cats are the in-bred descendants of white cat named Snow White who was a gift from a wandering sea captain. They’re a highlight of any visit to the Hemingway House in Key West.

Given all those signs of tangible success, I wonder if Hemingway ever wondered if he drank too much.

Lately, I do. I sometimes ask myself if I drink too much. I usually say no. I do this out loud and using two different voices like I'm on stage.

Is such playacting a sign I drink too much?

Either way, I think lately the answer is yes. I am drinking too much.

And you’re to blame.

It’s true. For the first time ever, friendly strangers are eager to come to meet me and hear my stories. And none of them ever say, hey, let’s meet at the barber shop. 

No, they say let’s meet at the Tin Lizzy!

And they’re convivial folk. They want to have a drink and — God bless ‘em — they want to buy me one, too.

On top of all that there’s been an influx of well-wishers who are concerned about my health. Their altruistic intentions don’t make them any less thirsty.

I tell them I feel uncommonly melancholy from a dawning awareness that the number of quality days I have may be fewer than I once anticipated (I hate to break it to you, but the same may be true for you. You just never know).

And today, I’m loathe to walk away from any room where people are either laughing or saying nice things about me.

So, yes, I’m drinking more than I should for reasons I believe most people will appreciate.

In fact, despite my diagnosis, it’s a happy time, one of the best in my what I for a lack of a better word will call my “career.”

I have a little money, a little acclaim, a little prestige and — best of all — a whole lot of friends.

Now if I can only get my hands on a herd of six-toed cats I’ll be all set.

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