Monday, December 17, 2018

My left arm is dying


This is the first blog I could have written with one hand tied behind my back. 

Not because it was a breeze or required little agile effort. No, the reason I could have written it with one hand tied behind my back is because Parkinson’s Disease has rendered my left hand virtually useless. It just hangs there, an anatomical ornament dangling from an untrimmed trunk.

When I try and summon the south paw to assist it treats me like it’s one of my daughters when I ask them to fetch Daddy a beer. 

It just pretends it didn’t hear me.

How bad is it?

It’s so bad if I was engaged in a duel, my adversary could stroll up and insert the fatal bullet manually before I could draw my pistol. 

So my dreams of becoming as ambidextrous as Leonardo da Vinci are in the midst of being dashed. The great daVinci (1452-1519) thought using one hand was a gross inefficiency for any two-handed animal. He wasn’t right-handed. He wasn’t left-handed.

He was both handed. 

When he deemed it necessary to indulge his creative side by, say, painting a horse, he would pick up two brushes, one for each hand, and only then turn toward the canvas. With equally bold and confident strokes, he would with his right hand begin painting the horse’s face, with his left the horse’s ass. 

In less than half the time it would take a common and competent painter working with one hand, he’d be done. Che Bello! A lovely horse grazing in a field.

Such devotion to hyper-efficiency has long roiled art historians who are prone to speculating: Should such manic ambidexterity be aspirational? Is technique ever a worthy sacrifice on the altar of artistic efficiency?

Me, I wonder about different stuff. Like what kind of anatomical calculations went through the genius’s mind when he felt like jerking off?

Many friends are suggesting I try a computer dictation option, something I’m reluctant to pursue. Much of my writing to me looks stupid on the screen. How would it sound?

Or what I was wrong? What if my blogs A cappella become such a sensation strangers begin to flock to my office just to hear me orate?

Why, I might have to start wearing pants to work.

I remember from my freelancing days a story about an Indiana woman who overcame being born without arms.

It was a good story, sure, but I was always seeking a lead nugget, a factual firecracker that would electrify the attention of a prospective Enquirer editor. The story said she cooked with her feet, drove a car and was a member of the local bar bowling team. That’s all good.

But buried deep in the story was the line I was seeking: She even typed 30 words a minute — with her feet!

That was my lead: “Armless woman types 30 words a minute — with her feet!” I thought it was money in the bank. So I was surprised when I didn’t hear back from the editor. I called him up.

Didn’t he want me to get on the story?

“No, thanks. We’re not interested.”

You’re not interested? Why not?

“Well, 30 words a minute … That’s not much!”

I’ve sometimes wondered what that old editor would have thought of da Vinci. I suspect he’d have found a way to pooh-pooh it.

Me, I worry about how my affliction will hamper my already woeful productivity. I remember reading Isaac Asimov’s tart reply when asked what he’d would do if told he only had six months to live.

“Type faster,” he said.

My PD has robbed me of that aggressive option and these days my concerns are far more pedestrian. 

Now, I try mightily to not tip over when I tie my shoes or elevate myself from the comfortable recliner. The worst is simply trying to put on my winter coat in any public place. I struggle. I writhe. I look all tangled up.

The one dead arm can make me look like some half-assed Harry Houdini.

I’m becoming very self-conscious. In short I strive to look normal doing simple things that were once, well, second hand.

Yes, a man who once aspired to use his left hand to paint the horse’s ass now struggles to merely avoid looking like one.



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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Here's how I ask you to give me money


I’ve always understood one of the most confounding aspects about my existence was how I could have such a massive ego with so little foundational accomplishment.

Why be egotistical when you have zero professional acclaim, skimpy prospects and often less-than-break-even income?

Well, thanks to so many of you, 2018 has been the year when the foundation was poured and warm breezes blown across the forming concrete.

I’m not quite out of the woods, but I can hear the traffic.

I was thinking of this last week after reading and then re-reading again and again a Christmas card from a self-described “fan” in West Virginia.

“This year I have rejoiced in your humor! Thank you for existing!”

Think about that. Thank you for existing.

I matter simply by being a carbon-based life form, albeit one who still finds irresistible the occasional fart joke.

That means merely by falling out of bed each morning I have accomplished something worthwhile. It means I could spend the entire day doing nothing but watching old “I Dream of Jeannie” reruns and the whole celebration of sloth would still be a plus.

Still, just to be safe, I haven’t done that whole “I Dream of Jeannie” thing since the day after Quinn left so it’s been a productivity streak of about 12 straight days.

Please don’t worry about it going to my head, though.

It wouldn’t fit.

True story: I was buying a local newspaper — yes, I’m that kind of old school, the kind that pays actual cash for organic news — when the cashier concluded our transaction with, “Thanks! You guys have a great day!”

I turned around. The store was empty. I was all alone.

I had no idea my multiple personalities were visible to strangers. 

Cool!

But the tangible successes of this year, relatively minor as they may be, have been soulfully refreshing.

People love the Palmer book, but that one to me still feels like a gimme. Any “storyteller” with the kind of access I had to Palmer could write a decent book about Palmer, just maybe not one HOF broadcaster Jim Nantz would say is “the best book anyone’s ever written about Arnold Palmer.”

But I digress.

I’m hoping the six months of happy hoohah culminates tomorrow at my Tin Lizzy book signing, 5 to 9 p.m. in Flappers, but kicking off at 4 with Jessie in the Main Bar. I’ll be signing three of the seven books I’ve authored — the three that don’t really, really suck — for just $15 each.

Also for sale will be the deluxe edition of “Use All The Crayons!” It’s the book for anyone who enjoys this blog and the observations I post on Facebook and Twitter. The other book, my pride and joy, is “The Last Baby Boomer,” the satirical novel I stubbornly believe is the one that will allow me to once and for all consider myself a real writer — a successful one to boot. 

This is from one of 17 5-star amazon reviews: “I literally laughed out loud and discovered tears welling up in my eyes at various points in the first 50 pages. It's really an incredible work of artistic humor writing. Can't recommend it enough.”

I’m proud I’ve authored three distinctive books in three distinctive genres and that each one has earned the kind of praise writers dream about when we stare at a blank screen.

Maybe ’19 will be the year one of the three busts through to commercial success.

A friend of mine said the trio of books make the perfect stocking stuffers. 

My friend is incorrect. Know what makes the perfect stocking stuffers?

Feet!

So please stop by The Tin Lizzy tomorrow and show your support. I’ll be grateful if you buy books or make a stipend Christmas cash donation if you enjoy reading the blog.

Can’t make it? I welcome checks or PayPal from friends all around the world. Message me (storyteller@chrisrodell.com) for contact details.

Either way, please keep checking in and referring me, my blog or my books to cohorts whenever you find us worthy. 

And, hey, I mean this … 

Thank you for existing.



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Thursday, December 6, 2018

How I became junk mail (and announcement of Tin Lizzy Christmas book signing)!



I’m forever confused whenever I hear people complain about postal surliness. Maybe it’s because I conduct the majority of my postal business at the Youngstown post office just up the street from the Tin Lizzy.

Sue and Lexi are so fun, sweet and cheerful it’s like they were hired by postal party boy Benjamin Franklin. 

So I enjoy going in there, as I often do to mail books, buy stamps, etc. And I’m naturally open-minded to their ideas on how the storied USPS can help me make money. 

That’s the Cliff Notes version of how I dove into the exciting world of Every Door Direct postal promotions.

Yes, I am now junk mail!

I’m having a Christmas book signing Dec. 13 from 5 to 9 p.m. at The Tin Lizzy. I’ll be back in Flappers, the cozy second floor bar, signing copies of “The Last Baby Boomer,” “Use All The Crayons!” and my bestselling Arnold Palmer book.

And by “bestselling,” I’m not talking like it’s crashed the lists published in places like the New York Times. I mean it outsells my other two books. And I’m very proud of those two books, especially the “Baby Boomer” ghoul pool novel.

But it should be a lot of fun. Bartenders Zach and Aaron will be serving Arnold Palmer drink specials and the food keeps earning raves. I recommend the Chicken Parmesan Milanese.

I was telling Sue and Lexi all about it when Sue mentioned how Every Door Direct Mail might be beneficial. The service involves targeting specific postal routes with mailers intended to excite a specific demographic. 

After much consideration, the neighborhood I chose to inflict my nuisance upon is …

Lawson Heights!

It’s blue collar with deep local roots. It’s a proud family neighborhood of good people who work hard and play hard. 

Palmer people.

Next step was stopping by Unity Printing — a landmark business that just happens to reside in Lawson Heights. My friends there, I think, outdid themselves with the mailer.

I had them print 650, but only 649 are eligible for delivery duty. I’m keeping one to hang in my office. It’s to me a work of art disguised as junk mail.

A key line is right at the top:

“Meet Chris Rodell, author of the book Jim Nantz says is ‘the best book anyone’s ever written about Arnold Palmer.’”

Zach says I missed an opportunity to apply some creative editing so it reads, “… Jim Nantz says it’s the best book anyone’s ever written!”

I threw in a wildcard beneath my picture that reads, “Can’t make it? I’ll deliver signed books right to your front door! Call me, 724-961-2558.”

If just 10 people out of the 600 or so buy 20 books, that’ll take care of most of my investment (my cheapskate publisher is picking up half the total cost, about $400). 

Speaking of cost, that was the only item of the mailer that caused me to waver. I originally was going to charge $20 per book, a not unreasonable sum, I think.

But I couldn’t put $20. Latrobe has been too good for me to attempt anything that might be perceived as a gouge. I’ve sold all on my own to mostly my neighbors more than 2,000 copies of the Palmer book.

I say everyone in town has bought five copies; they read one and use the other four to stabilize wobbly furniture — and I’m fine with that! Once you pay for it, I don’t care what you do with it.

I’m kidding. I hope my books become something you treasure. The reaction I get from readers is what I truly treasure.

So I hope you’ll stop by the Tin Lizzy next Thursday. Ideally, you’ll have a drink or two with Jessie in the main bar and lavishly overtip her. Then you’ll enjoy dinner in the dining room and duplicate the generous procedure with your waitress.

Then, once you’re in fine spirits — and maybe just a wee bit tipsy — you’ll climb the steps to Flappers, order a spiked Arnold Palmer, and stop by my table to say hello.

I find, you see, that people are more disposed to buying my books once they’ve consumed at least the equivalent of five shots of alcohol.

You’ll be supporting the local post office, Unity Printing and a host of friendly waiters, waitresses and bartenders.

You see, I like seeing small local businesses succeed. 

I hope on Dec. 13 you’ll stop by the Tin Lizzy and help me become one.


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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

My friend's new book cures hangovers!


The greatest tribute anyone’s ever said about me is that just by telling my stories I once cured their hangover.

I mean, if you believe Scripture, that’s something even Jesus never did.

It was 2015 and I was the breakfast keynote speaker for the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association. I was there to give my “Use All The Crayons!” talk.

I’ll let my Lazarus tell it (I to this day use this quote for promotional purposes):

“My restaurant hosted a lavish wine dinner the night before Chris’s keynote. Everyone there felt like dying. I didn’t even want to go. The topic sounded so stupid. Man, I’m so glad I did. Chris was so warm, so funny and so engaging he had me feeling better right away. It was a tough crowd, but he had us all feeling happy to be human. I swear, Chris cured my hangover!”

This man owns one of the finest and most established restaurants in Pittsburgh. And to show his gratitude, he invited me to a lavish dinner which I accepted without even a pause for prissy ethical considerations. 

“And bring your wife!”

So my favorite part of this sumptuously memorable evening was watching Val’s bewildered reaction to this prominent man’s gushing on and on and on about me. She suspected it was all an elaborate put on.

I love her very much, but she’s the inspiration for the line: “Any man who thinks he’s his own worst critic is either delusional or single.”

I mention all this today because I’m in the middle of a terrific book by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall. It’s “Hungover: The Morning After & One Man’s Quest for the Cure.”

His book is off to a roaring start and has the potential to become historic. I mean, even Jesus only raised one from the dead.

I’m a sucker for compelling quest books, stories of men and women striding confidently around the globe in search of fame, riches or adventure. That Shaughnessy conducts his in a mostly inebriated stumble only makes it more endearing. 

It’s already the No. 1 bestseller in the Amazon substance abuse category, an indication to me that those who are categorizing books for amazon could use a belt or two. Because this is a substance appreciation book.

He consulted doctors. He consulted bartenders. He consulted the world’s foremost experts on what it’s like to be hungover.

He consulted me!

Shaughnessy and I became friends in ’13 when we met on an “Extreme Vegas” press junket of five of America’s premiere freelance writers and me.

See what I did there? That’s an example of me being self-deprecating, a trait I learned Shaughnessy appreciates.

I liked him immediately because I could tell he was fashioning a dandy book idea and was grounded enough to avoid it turning him into a colossal prick. And I admire anyone who can mange being grounded while simultaneously being high, as he is apt to be.

He mentions me on page 20 in a passage about how we were set to embark on an afternoon of Ferrari racing across the desert. Now, I ask you to brace yourself because parts of this will be disorienting to anyone who knows me even vaguely.

“‘You ever done this before?’ asks the writer (me) from Iowa—an old-school, avuncular journalist who’s self-published a finely crafted, nicely jokey self-help book available through his website on a pay-what-you-can basis. It’s called ‘Use All The Crayons!’ and has sold more copies than anything the rest of us have authored combined. He is as self-deprecating and inspiring as the New York travel writer is not.”

I’ve never been to Iowa, but now I’m wondering if I should move there to seize any potential promotional opportunities arising from the confusion.

Iowa? He knows I’m from Pennsylvania. Maybe he wanted to convey someone who’d appear more rube-like than us Keystone State sophisticates. Maybe he was up against a deadline and Iowa takes less time to spell than Pennsylvania.

If I could change one thing it would be using the word “avuncular,” meaning of or resembling an uncle. I’d opt, instead, for words like masculine, studly or buff — you know, words I use to describe myself during my near-hourly mirror pep talks.

Otherwise, I’m perfectly charmed. I think it’s wonderful.

Plus, in the acknowledgements page where he mentions, I think, about 1,000 people who’ve rendered him assistance, he lists me fifth. I’ve chosen to think the list was compiled in order of importance and can only hope it’s not in order of most avuncular. 

But I couldn’t be happier for my friend. His book in just the last week has earned praise in the Wall St. Journal, The Washington Post and The New York Times. And he’s just getting started.

He’s a great guy who’s written a great book. A single father of a young son, I admire him for having achieved a proper balance between being responsible and being reckless and making it seem destined for grand and deserving success. And all it took was 10 years of devoted drinking.

And to think I squandered the equivalent time way out here in Iowa tending this godforsaken blog.

No wonder a guy like me earns mention in a book titled “Hungover.”


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