Wednesday, February 20, 2019

My tribute to the great (& gorgeous) Robert Redford

One of the most glaring contradictions of my life is how in no way do I consider myself a homophobe, but would watch every single one of my male friends die before I’d resort to mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

It would just be so everlastingly awkward and I would much rather do nothing and end their lives than do something and end our friendship.

I was thinking of this yesterday as Val and I were enjoying Robert Redford in “An Old Man With a Gun,” which we both recommend, as do a consensus 92 percent of Rotten Tomato movie critics. 

Redford is on screen for almost the entire film and the whole time he is I’m thinking of how if I’m ever in a room with Redford and he fell over clutching his heart I’m thinking I actually might demand, “Quick! Someone bring me some Binaca!”

The movie starts with a mirrored close-up of the 82-year-old Redford looking about 182. The weathered face has deep crevasses, age spots and all the ravages of grim longevity. It ain’t pretty. I suspect the director did this to startle us into forgetting just how handsome the star is so we can accept him as an everyday bank robber. 

As a filmmaking technique, it’s an utter failure because when the camera pulls back we see it’s that familiar gorgeous face and think, ahhh, it’s Robert Redford. We can if we choose watch the rest of the movie with the sound down so it won’t distract us from the visual splendor.

If I’m in a bank and that old man with a gun walks in and says, “This is a robbery!” I don’t just give him my money.

I’d also give him my wife!

I know in these divisive times some of you despise Redford because of the liberal causes he promotes. I’d urge you to set aside the partisan pettiness. You shouldn’t let opposing politics interfere with your critical enjoyment of anyone’s art.

I’d never let Scott Baio’s MAGA ardor prevent me from watching old “Joanie Loves Chachi!” reruns, which I intend to do the instant every single other form of visual, aural or tactile entertainment simultaneously disappears from the planet.

Redford was great in “The Way We Were,” “The Natural,” “All The President’s Men,” and “The Great Waldo Pepper.”

And we love the rather obscure “Sneakers,” the 1992 caper about national security computer hackers.

One of his best is the one where it’s just him and he says just one word and — hallelujah — that word is the f-bomb. It’s the Oscar-nominated “All Is Lost,” from 2013.

Redford isn’t even my favorite actor. That would be Paul Newman, peerless if for no other reason than he starred in “Cool Hand Luke,” my very favorite movie of all-time.

Of course, Newman and Redford were best friends and together starred in two of my other top favorites “The Sting,” and “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid,” the latter being the namesake inspiration for the Sundance Film Festival, an event that’s led some to declare Redford the “Godfather of the Indie film.”

Redford and Newman shared a love for practical jokes, the most elaborate involving a junked Porsche sports car that Redford had delivered to race fan Newman’s driveway . It was wrapped in a frilly blue ribbon. Without ever acknowledging the joke, Newman had the car crushed and returned to Redford but cunningly had it placed — frilly blue ribbon and all — in the pristine center of Redford’s living room.

Likewise, Redford pretended it never happened.

He’s announced that “An Old Man With A Gun” is his last acting role, news that disappoints me on many levels, not the least being my bucket-list ambition to direct him to in one scene take the wheel of a  sporty crimson Mustang just so I could say I was the guy who finally filmed a scene of a man named Redford driving a red Ford.

So, yes, I love Redford and I’ll one day shed a tear at his passing and our collective loss of so much grace, charm and pure human beauty.

And if that passing were to happen as a result of my refusing to bestow the kiss of life?

So be it.

I’m suffering from a persistent sore throat and I wouldn’t want to risk spreading my germs to a man I so admire.

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Monday, February 18, 2019

My personal threat assessments & what they have to do w/ girls volleball

I walked into the gym and alertly, as is my custom, surveilled the occupants. The first thing I do in every room is threat assessment: who in here could kick my ass and who would I easily dominate if things went sideways?

Sadly, I judged it about 50-50.

I learned the threat assessment custom from a retired army colonel who said, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone in the room.” I’ve since heard it attributed to former Sec. of Defense James Mattis, which always made me wonder what was going through Mattis’s mind when he was looking at the president while Trump bragged he knew “more than the generals.”

Of course, I’m not killing anyone.

 I’m so non-violent I think twice about telling jokes that have what are called “punch” lines. I make Gandhi look like professional wrestling promoter Vince McMahon.

But the recon has served me well. It helps me separate the friendlies from the potential hostiles and deal with each accordingly.

As I’ve aged and softened I’ve become alarmed at how the odds have been evening out and show no signs of reverting in my dominant favor. I used to average about 80-20. So my first 50-50 was a wake-up call.

It was disturbing, yes, but that wasn’t the worst if it.

No, the worst was the potential threats were all 7th graders.

Seventh grade girls!

Our darling Lucy and her Greater Latrobe volleyball teammates — Bump! Set! Spike! — were preparing for a match. 

By the way, Mattis would declare Lucy, her sister and their mother my primary threats. The dog hates me, too. Each has ample motive and access so, yes, I sleep with one eye open.

I’m convinced if the stupid dog had even one opposable thumb I’d have been murdered in my sleep years ago — and, guaranteed, none of my loved ones would testify against the dog. 

But kids today, especially those who pursue athletics, are a marvel. With proper leadership, I think Greater Latrobe’s 7th grade girls volleyball team could with a little “Bump! Set! Spike!” modification rival SEAL Team 6 in heroic accomplishment.

I’ve read that in the past 150 years, our average height has increased by 4 inches.

So the human race is getting bigger.

I’ve seen no studies that indicate the human race is getting any smarter. 

Still, the added height makes for compelling 7th grade girls volleyball. The games are very entertaining.

But it’s always been that way for me and girls volleyball.

It was my senior year at Ohio University when I walked into the offices of the school paper and said I wanted to be a writer.

One of the sarcastic assholes who ran things asked, “Do you want to write sports?”

I hadn’t thought of it, but I said, sure.

“How would you like to cover the Lady Bobcats volleyball team?”

Why not, I said.

What do I remember most about my first season on the volleyball beat?

The games were exciting, the Bobcats lost most of them, and I was often distracted from my duties by lusty thoughts of what it would be like to sleep with some of the players I was assigned to cover.

I’ve since talked with Hall of Fame sportswriter Ed Bouchette about the phenomenon and he said he never shared similar romantic yearnings.

Ed covers the Pittsburgh Steelers.

But these Bobcats were so pretty, so athletic and several of them were so very, very tall — I remember one was 6’5” — it appealed to the randy adventurer in me. And I think I could have made it happen and I would have but one thing was holding me back. It was …


In hindsight, it’s hilarious. But I’d taken an ethics class that instructed it would have been improper for me to sleep with a subject. I was such an idiot. It wasn’t like I was covering someone on the school board of regents.

We’re talking about a young sportswriter and a volleyball player. Ethically, it might have been different had it been the Lady Bobcats coach.

But there’d never been any kind of spark between Burt and I.

My favorite part of the story is how I, this young man tortured by dainty ethics, would wind up becoming a stalwart contributor of over 1,000 stories to National Enquirer. 

Safe to say they won’t be naming any journalism buildings after me any time soon. 

The example just shows how going back to the very start of my so-called career I’ve made bone-headed decisions that derailed my chances for certain life enhancements.

I should do a threat assessment next time I look in the mirror.

Friday, February 15, 2019

A Happy Birthday update on my condition

It’s been one year and one day since a brusque tech with no time for blow-softening small talk told me test results indicated I have Parkinson’s Disease and that there is no cure.

I asked what I could expect next.

“Well,” she said, “are you still capable of feeding yourself?”

I told her I’d heroically downed a donut for breakfast but some of the pink Valentine sprinkles fell into my lap. Was it time to summon hospice angels?

That was a low.

The highs? I’ve been the welcoming recipient of numberless hugs, prayers and more than a few offers for free bucket-list fun.

One buddy wants to take me to Scotland to carouse. Another well-heeled gent wants me to pick my itinerary of the top three golf courses I’ve always dreamed of playing. And an old friend with a deep expense account and casual ethics about how it’s disbursed thinks we should roll the dice in Las Vegas.

He knows a houseful of showgirls!

Lesson: people are extra nice to you when they’re convinced you’re not going to be around to be such a pain in the ass much longer.

Given this outpouring of concern and lush largess I’ve struggled to find a logical reason to to tell people, sorry, I’m not dying.

Not yet. I hope. 

Oh, and today is my 56th birthday.

Part of me worries that if I tell people I could be around another 15 to 20 years they’ll be disappointed. And I’m sorry to disappoint people by persisting to exist.

Don’t you hate when that happens?

It appears, alas, that may be my fate.

“The great misconception about Parkinson’s,” one doctor told me, “is when you tell people you have it they think it means you’re going to die and you’re going to die soon. It’s the best incurable disease you could wish to get.”

And isn’t that a perfectly charming way to convey bad news?

People ask me how I’m feeling.

“I feel like I’m living life perched atop a trapdoor with a rusty hinge.”

The docs say that’s a poor analogy. I say they’re wrong. It’s a wonderful analogy.

It’s just not in my situation an apt one.

Any downturn in my condition won’t be as dramatic as disappearing through the floor. It’ll be gradual.

My doctors say my PD is slow progressing and that I’m high functioning. That’s good. The worst part for me is the virtual uselessness of my left hand when it comes to typing. 

It’s a detriment to productivity — as if I need yet another one of those.

Along those lines, some people have asked if I’m going to stop drinking alcohol. 

I should note that none of these people tend bar at the Tin Lizzy where they spend their entire shifts ensuring the inebriation of me and my drunken friends, the ones who’d never dream of asking silly questions about my drinking.

In fact, I don’t drink near as much as you think — or as much I’d like — but lively saloons have been my native habitat since, gee, about the 4th grade. 

I excuse this habit because I tend to be a gregarious person toiling in a very solitary endeavor. Solitary that is if you don’t count the 1,000 ceaseless voices raging in my head. At the end of a long day (usually about 2 p.m.) it enriches my soul to stop working and go out to be amongst the folks.

And the left hand doesn’t mind pitching in when it comes to raising a glass so I count it as part of my physical therapy!

Some PT sessions did wonders for my attitude. My enthusiastic therapist says I’m in a great position to keep symptoms at bay for many years. She said my eagerness to exercise will play a pivotal role in ensuring I will have many quality days in the years ahead.

My goal is to exercise with such fervor that years from now many of you will seethe with suspicion that I faked the whole diagnosis just to get hugs, attention and free golf.

And that one of you will be so incensed you’ll shoot me to death in my sleep, a much tidier demise than ones I’ve darkly envisioned during low points of the past year.

What can I say? You have your bucket list. I have my kick-the-bucket list. 

And I hope I am deserving of any kindness you extend to me as I continue to lurch bewildered through what’s left of this sweet life. I will be happy to reciprocate.

Because I intend to live for as long as I’m not dying.

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Black face & "The Legend of Tyrone Stone"

I didn’t start paying attention to the Virginia blackface scandal until I read that one of the minstrels admitted to donning shoe polish to impersonate Michael Jackson, an African-American who at the time was contemplating skin lightening measures that would make him appear more white faced.

So I’d say we’re again nearing peak absurdity on race issues, but every time I say that escalating circumstances make me do an about face.

And with race in America, it’s all about face. 

This madcap trio are rough contemporaries of mine. Gov. Ralph Northam is 59. I’ll be 56 next Friday — go ahead and tell the boss you’re taking the day off to celebrate.

But I gauge past scandals of powerful men through the blurry prism of my own youthful hijinks.

Was the offending episode something I’d done? Did I object when I observed others doing it?

And this was key: was the now-reprehensible act back then funny? Did it make me laugh? I give gargantuan leeway to anything or one that gave me the giggles. I wasn’t PC.

Heck, with casual study habits like mine, I was barely even C.

But I excelled at having raucous fun. I had a crew of like-minded rogues I could rely on to ensure nothing serious was ever allowed to flourish. 

Not once in four years of drunken debauchery did any one of us ever say, “Hey, I have an idea. Let’s put some shoe polish on our faces and entertain ourselves by pretending we’re stereotypical blacks. Who’s game?”

It wouldn’t have been funny. It would have been offensive. We somehow knew without having to have been told that putting shoe polish on our faces was wrong.

Putting shoe polish on our faces would have made us, er, what?


That brings us to The Legend of Tyrone Stone.

That became the name of the cement stable boy I stole from the front porch of an affluent South Hills Pittsburgh home that happened to be between our family homes and the Carnegie saloon we’d go to get inebriated when we were back on break.

Bob K. and I saw it first. It looked very similar to the picture I found and posted above. I have no doubt in my mind it was intended to mock blacks. The realization kindled outrage in me before I’d ever become aware so much racial injustice existed.

We thought it was a deliberate racial affront. We thought it was intended to taunt.

We thought it would look better in the beer room at our Ohio University fraternity house!

So one drunken night with Bob behind the wheel of an idling station wagon, I crept across the well-manicured lawn and seized the lawn jockey.

Man, it weighed a ton. A real Kentucky Derby jockey weighs about 114 pounds. This thing felt like it weighed as much as his horse.

But I was trim and motivated and succeeded in our merry mission.

The prize was warmly greeted at his new home where one of the brothers dubbed him Tyrone Stone.

I felt smug about my role in removing an obvious racist symbol from public view and transferring it to a place where fewer racists could mock it.

And that’s the way it was for three days. Then one of the fraternity brothers thought it would be funny to put Tyrone up on the roof.

It took about two days before the brothers showed up. And I mean brothers not in the fraternal sense, but the ethnic kind.

There were three of them; there were about 15 of us.

Yes, we were badly outnumbered.

“We’re here to talk to you about that stable boy on your roof,” said the leader. He spent the next 15 minutes articulating to us why it was offensive, its dark history and the divisiveness we were fostering by displaying it on our roof.

He was righteous. He was genuine. He was persuasive.

Oh, how I wish I could conclude this fable by saying he was Barack Hussein Obama.

But he convinced us we were wrong. We felt bad and apologized for our thoughtlessness. And we were genuinely apologetic. It was more than the realization they could kick our sorry candy asses.

But they were men of real character. They’d forthrightly marched into a forbidding element and with just reasoning prevailed. They were not men to be mocked over skin color.

It’s a goddamned shame it’s still an issue in 21st century America.

Whatever happened to Tyrone Stone?

We took turns smashing the racist symbol to smithereens with empty beer kegs.

And every time I tell a story like that I marvel at the fickleness of life where Brett Kavanaugh and I could lead such parallel lives and one of us wind up on the Supreme Court and the other atop the Tin Lizzy.

Maybe one day we can take one another at face value when we value all faces without the anchor of prejudice.

Until then, the whole ordeal will leave me feeling red-faced.

But we’ll have to save the Elizabeth Warren discussion for some other time. 

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