Friday, September 9, 2022

I let 15 strangers grill me about my Parkinson's

(895 words)

It was last week and I was concluding my first of 30 news gathering classes. I was just about to say the part about remembering to please get your pet spayed or neutered when an afterthought floated to the front of my mind.

“Oh, and if you see me limping or my left arm shaking, it’s because I have Parkinson’s Disease.”

I didn’t say it to gain pity or deference. It’s just a matter of fact and it suddenly occurred to me these budding journalists — all curious and observant undergrads — might notice and have some questions.

Then I thanked them and mumbled my Bob Barker tribute — and don’t you just love that a man named Barker (still alive, 98!) chose as his pet cause a cause that involves pets who bark?

(That entire last sentence could one day be used to disqualify me as a professor having anything to do with the future of journalism).

And we all went along on our merry way, one of us with a slight limp that may be symptomatic of a for-now incurable progressive neurological disorder that strikes 60,000 Americans each year.

I spent much of the intervening day trying my damnedest to think of something interesting to say that’ll consume the 90-minutes I’m obligated to justify the peanuts they’re paying. And it is truly peanuts. Given my bent for extravagant Pittsburgh lunches, I calculate I’ll eventually tip more than I earn.

And just about as we were to start class No. 2, it hit me. I’d stumbled, almost literally, into a topic sure to consume a solid 15 minutes of class time.

“We broke news here the other day,” I said. “Can anyone tell me what it was?”

One kid said it was something about Ukraine, Another meekly wondered if it involved Trump.

“No! No! No! The news we broke is that your professor has Parkinson’s. You’re news reporters. You should have responded with 10 shouted questions about my condition. You should have at least out of self-preservation asked if it’s catchy (it’s not).”

I scolded them for failing on the human level, too. Sure, we’d just met an hour ago, but the trajectory of our relationship bends toward friendship. There’s zero chance of a guy like me spending nearly 45 hours — almost two whole days — in the same room with fellow English speakers and us not emerging chums.

I’d revealed something deeply personal and got no reaction.

I told them I forgave them the slight.

“Now, I want you to fire off questions — any question — about me and my condition. I promise to be totally honest. Ask me anything.”

What I was hoping would result in 15 minutes of chat wound up taking five times that.

We started out talking about my body. We wound up talking about our souls.

How long did I have to live? (Parkinson’s does not alter life expectancy, but motor skills can deteriorate to the point where the patient loses the ability to talk, walk or even blink.)

“Know what that means?” I asked. “Kiss pickleball goodbye!”

I told them my brain doctor tells me I’m beating Parkinson’s. I said I feel like I’m distracting it. I feel like I’m standing on a trap door with a rusty hinge.

“But, guess what? You’re all right there with me. Life is perilous. They oughta give us each a medal every time we make it home alive.”

If I am beating it, I told them the experts say a lot of the success is due to exercise and attitude. I remain upbeat about my prospects. Diagnosed in 2018, I told them my goal is to appear symptom-free for so long that the people who know me best suspect I made it all up to satisfy my need for attention.

I choked up when one girl asked me how I told my family. I love them so much. It was tough, I said. I’d summoned them to the back porch and laid it all out there.

“When it was over, I put my arm around the 12 year old and asked what she’d thought the purpose of the meeting was going to be. She said she thought I was going to be funny.”

I like to think I have since at least a time or two.

I was surprised but pleased when this roomful of strangers began asking me if I was afraid of dying, if I believed I was going to heaven, and how I’d like to be remembered.

I’m much more comfortable with these topics than ones that involve where you’re supposed to put the commas.

I have no way of knowing what kind of impact I made on how many, if any, of the students. But I sensed in their questions an embrace of the rare opportunity to have an honest exchange with an experienced adult about the things that really matter.

It’s something for which even experienced adults yearn. 

We stumble through life bewildered by pain, fear, injustice and the profound suspicion we’re doomed to die ignorant of just what the hell it all meant. 

And now I’m stuck with 26 more 90-minute classes to find a way to top the one that could have the greatest impact.

Thanks for reading. Please help control the pet population and get your pets spayed or neutered.

Class dismissed.

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Friday, August 19, 2022

After 30 years, we bid farewell to our waterbed

(471 words)

Val and I did something in the bedroom we’ve even after 30 years of sleeping together had never dreamed we’d try.

It was, for us at least, deviant. A little kinky.

It was — and there is no way to avoid this — good and hard.

I’d better explain before any of you daintier readers become faint at the bawdy turn the blog seems to have taken.

We purchased a new mattress. In more than 30 years of togetherness, we purchased our first non-waterbed mattress.

See Val and I were both waterbed enthusiasts long before we met. This put us at odds with 97 percent of Americans who sleep.

I qualify the figure because I’m convinced about 10 percent of all Americans do not sleep even a wink.  Ever. I presume the 10 percent spend their every waking moment thinking up things to say on Facebook to make it uncomfortable for those of us who check out Facebook just to make sure all our old friends remain in a state of spastic euphoria over things like Taco Tuesday. 

At their popularity’s peak in 1984, waterbeds were a $2 billion dollar industry accounting for 22 percent of all mattress sales. In the free love ’70s, they were Hippie staples.

I bought my first waterbed in 1985. I was shopping to fill my very first apartment — this was in Nashville — with cheap furniture. 

I remember the salesman looked like either Starsky or Hutch. I can no longer recall which is which. But I still remember his sales pitch. “There are two things that are better in a water bed,” he said. “One of them is sleep.”


Gimme a break. I was young and new to the city and open-minded about any suggestion that might increase the chances of me getting laid. 

Who could have predicted my stumbling virtue would remain intact, clear up to the magical night in ’96 when my wife said, “I do.” And she did. 

Still does!

Am I going to miss the waterbed? At it’s best, climbing into it on a cold winter night, was like returning to the womb — that is if the womb in which you were conceived was about the same capacity as a 4-ton female pachyderm.’s.

I think I’m going to miss saying I owned a waterbed more than actually owning one.

And I’m a little sad to say goodbye to another one of those things that made the Hippie era so sweet.

Makes me feel like a relic.

To think, I once had a lava light, bellbottom jeans,  beaded doorways and shoulder-holstered wine skins filled to bursting with Mogen David

When I think about it, I’m pretty lucky Val’s stuck with me and am grateful the things we share are deeper than an old waterbed mattress.

I got you, babe.

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Monday, August 1, 2022

You can again call me Professor


(586 words)

The last time I was honored to teach journalism to Point Park University students, I was determined to make a real impression. And I did.

A real bad one.

The class was three hours of me talking. Three! I showed up 10 minutes late, stumbling, barely coherent. I wanted them to think I was drunk.

I know, role of a lifetime. 

These weren’t privileged students. Most of them were paying for their education out of their own pockets and here was the prof showing up late and drunk.

The room seethed with hostility. I took out a single note card and, trembling, I began, “When  …..  I ….. heard ….. I ….. was ….. teaching ….. a three- …… hour ….. class ….. I  ……  figured ….. the …… only …… way …… I …… could ….. pull  ….. it ….. off …… was ….. if …… I ……”

By this point I was smiling, in control, making deliberate eye contact with all 20 students. 

“put ….. really ….. really ….. really ….. long …… pauses ….. between …… all ….. the …. words.”

I’m not going to say the room exploded with laughter, but given the situation, their expectations and my farce, I do believe it was the funniest  prank I’ve ever pulled.

They’d been completely fooled.

The man they’d moments earlier believed to be an incompetent booze hound turned out to be a man of sophistication and wit.

I told you it was a prank!

I mention this now because, as of Thursday, I am again a professor at Point Park University. I’d been communicating with a department head about a one-off address to the journalism students. He said the school had an opening and urged me to apply.

I’d taught grad students creative non-fiction there from 2007-’10. Why was I asked to leave?

If you’re thinking there was some tawdry scandal involving illicit contact between the professor and a beguiling student, well, thank you.

Most people, I think, reflexively believe any scandal involving me stemmed from rank stupidity.

In fact, the university decided to enforce a standard that adjuncts have at least a Masters degree to be allowed to teach. I still don’t have one, but I can persuasively argue my experience renders the point moot.

I believe I can build a compelling 15-week class based solely around all my hilarious failures.

Who knew there’d be so much practical value in so much mortal humiliation?

The key, however, was the praise from the former students of mine that rallied in support of my hire. Check it out:

• “Chris Rodell is a great teacher and his assignments really made me believe in my creativity again. I saved every paper from his class. I still have them and still read them for inspiration and insights.”

• “I’ve stayed in touch with professor Rodell because I appreciated his candor. To this day I find myself reflecting on his real-world advice. He may not hold an M.A. but his experiences make him much more valuable to students. I strongly recommend Mr. Rodell for a position at Point Park.”

• “Rodell is the one professor at Point Park who taught me how to trust my creative impulses and also to think about how I could actually sell my work. Rodell is a phenomenal writer, but also an entrepreneur. And he was the first and only professor — in both my undergraduate and master's degree programs — who showed me how to think like an entrepreneur, too. That's incredibly important in the media landscape today. Without Rodell, I would've never had the courage or impulse to pitch — let alone sell — a book to one of the Big Five publishers, or publish in major magazines and newspapers, or think about my work as something that could extend beyond the written word and into audio and video formats. I owe just about everything I've done as a freelance journalist to what Chris taught me in one semester at Point Park. That's no exaggeration. You should hire Chris.”

So it looks like I’ll be resuming my happy little gig in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh. 

I may not have all the answers, but I’m the perfect guy to get a class through the tough patches when time really … really …. starts …. to ….. drag.”

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Sunday, July 31, 2022

July Tweets of the Month


• While is one of our most nimble, yet undefined words. You can be a good while, but not a bad one. You can take a while, but you cannot give one. I've never encountered a nice while but our days are strewn with meanwhiles that aren't mean at all. Idlers like me can while away the hours but we can't while them back. The definition is hard to pin down. It should come as no surprise: Turns out while is wily.

• It roams the scenic countryside at leisure. It foregoes reliable sustenance in favor of a roll-the-dice existence. Its sole function is to keep itself energized enough to scavenge another day. God help me, I have the brain of a free-range chicken. And that I take the time to reason out how my brain is like that of a free-range chicken is ample evidence that I have the brain of a free-range chicken.

• I remain confounded by how so many Americans allow themselves to be roiled by petty division. We all love America.And at one time or another, regardless of party affiliation, every man, woman and child has stood up and declared themselves to be John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.

• Before the great thinning, I used to be vain about my hair. Then for a while I was proud of my broad shoulders and trim waist. Then there were days I’d fancy that women admired the firmness of my dancer’s butt. Much has changed. It dawned on me the other day, the element of me I most want people to notice is that I wear nice shoes. Sad, isn’t it? What was once the whole package is now embarrassed about everything ‘cept what’s below the ankles.

• There ought to be an award show celebrating candy-covered chocolates if for no other reason we could look forward to promos announcing, "It's once again time for the M&Memmies!"

• For many humans, there is no other condition that suffers as precipitous a drop in value as that of our virginity. Its possessor spends years guarding it, preserving it, taking pride in maintaining it. Then one maybe drunken night the virginity is lost. No one looks for it. You never hear of sone finding a huge pile of lost virginity and hauling it down to the pawn shop to swap for, say an old guitar. 

• I’m aware we live in a time many prepper parents teaching kids how to kill, segregate, and how to look out for #1 for when the world goes to Hell. They fail to realize that if it wasn’t for parents teaching our children to think, share, be kind and work together to solve big problems Hell would already be here.

• Told friend a new acquaintance could be described with what’s becoming my least favorite word: He’s “very Conservative.” Oh, he said, you dislike Conservatives. I told him I’m fine with Conservatives. And I’m fine with Liberals. It’s the verys that scare me. 

• Nutritionists ought to have a term for the unnecessary fats we foolishly add to our diets when we kill off the last slice of pizza so we can’t eat it later cause we know it could kill us and the term ought to be “kamikaze calories.”

• It’s a running joke that it'll never happen, but Keith Richards will one day die. My fear is on that day I'll not only struggle to mourn Keith, but will also have to deal with the news that my favorite band will henceforth be known as "Mick Jagger & The Mick Jagger Orchestra."

• Having access to thousands of streaming channels makes me feel like a Sultan with a harem with dozens of nubile women. It's  excessive. Many of the offerings are  mediocre. Wouldn't I be better off with that one special channel? Okay, four or five might be agreeable, but that’s just the Sultan in me talkin’.

• Today is July 9, 2020. It is a day some men and women will remember with great honor and affection. For today, women will deliver children and men will become fathers. Someone today will learn that they’ve beaten cancer. And we may not know it for years but someone somewhere today will achieve — Eureka! — the breakthrough that will unshackle us from our unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels. Me? I’ll fart around the office until about 4 o’clock when I can head down to the bar without risking scandal. Oh, and I’ll Wordle. 

• Reports that 43,591 women elected to have some breast reduction procedure, while 301,599 sought  (breast enhancement). Being a proponent of efficiency I have to wonder if someday the market may respond with some sort of swap along the lines of "Need-A--Penny/Take-A-Penny …"

• With my new book I set out to write something that would withstand the test of time. I vowed to work like a maniac until the final draft shown for submission. But then with war/pandemic/Global warming/etc., I realized our time may soon be up. So I'd work till lunch then shoot pool.

• After spending yet another hour in the gym this morning I've concluded there is a multi-million dollar industry staffed by men and women whose sole purpose in life is to produce song-after-song-after-song they know I'll find revolting.

• If I ruled the squirrel Kingdom, I would have universal mandatory class 7 times daily, every day, and the lesson would never vary: "Remember, it's never a good idea to pause in the middle of a busy hiway to engage an oncoming driver in a staring contest.”

• Climate change alarmists fret heatwave is causing the roads to melt. I told them  the roads in France are melting because they're  made of ice cream! Then I did a little research and learned French do NOT make their roads out of ice cream. They make them out of … road! Uh oh …

• I think one of the problems of combatting Climate Change is our focus on global warming. Yes, the earth is too hot, but the sun is way, way hotter. I propose we fight global warming with solar cooling. How much ice would we need to dump on the sun to lower it, say, 5 degrees?

Monday, July 25, 2022

My thoughts on Tin Lizzy bartender search

 (554 words)

The Tin Lizzy is looking for a new bartender. Recent bartenders have moved on, are seeking greener pastures or, sadly, been summoned to that Great Last Call in the sky. 

So they are advertising for a new bartender to run Flappers.

Frankly, I’d rather they look for an old bartender.

My preference has nothing to do with age and everything to do with attitude.

New bartenders muddle organic drink ingredients. Old bartenders muddle drinkers’ brains. 

A good bartender makes the drink, sets it down and moves on without comment to the next thirsty customer.

The upscale cocktail trend has new bartenders taking forever to construct complicated drinks. Then they just stand there and wait to bask in customer ovations in appreciation of their drink-making skills. 

It has me nostalgic for the bartender we all called “Angry Bill.” Note: The nickname was not a result of subtle irony. This was not a case of calling the fat guy “Slim.”

No, Angry Bill was ornery, hot-tempered, thin-skinned, homophobic, xenophobic and although I’ve never used nor heard the term before, Angry Bill was customer-ophobic.

He showed up incensed at having to schlep drinks and his anger only deepened when drinkers showed up expecting a good time. 

A typical greeting was, “Hello, Dickhead. Don’t plan on staying long. We’re closing in 45 minutes then you can go home and do your wife a favor and screw your poodle.”

The only time I’d see him approach gleefulness was when one of his luckless patrons either lost big on a bet, got publicly embarrassed by an ex-wife or he overheard anyone expressing a kind sentiment that opened the door for him to interrupt with a “Brokeback Mountain” joke. 

He was one of my all-time favorite bartenders because after spending an hour or two with someone so misanthropic, so antithetical to our common humanity, I’d toddle out of the bar feeling better about myself.

If I could get along with Angry Bill — and I truly did — it meant there was hope for liberals and conservatives, Jews and  Arabs, Pirate fans and Pirate owner Bob Nutting.

I know. That third one is a gross exaggeration of a preposterous impossibility.

New bartenders labor under the delusion that it is their job to make people happy.


It is their job to make people forget just how unhappy they are.

The new bartender encourages drinkers to rejoice, make merry, to opine and banter.

The only time an old bartender wants customers to open their mouths is when they’re sucking down hootch.

For example, I remember the time when a trio of younger drinkers came into the bar during Angry Bill’s afternoon shift and proceeded to begin ordering labor-intensive drinks and laughing uproariously like the good times were never going to end.

To their credit, they realized they were out-of-place, that their raucous behavior was ill-suited to a tavern where the regulars mostly kept to themselves and the only sound was that of arteries hardening. 

The ring leader summoned Bill over and asked, “Is there somewhere we can sit where we won’t bother your regulars?”

It was like Bill had been waiting all his life for that question from these guys.

“Racers,” he said.

Racers is a  competing bar that’s about a half-mile down the road.

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Thursday, June 30, 2022

May/June tweets of the Month(s)


• Val was rattled this week after seeing a picture of her late mother from when she was 4 years younger than Val is today. Her mother appeared much older. Told Val she shouldn't be surprised. She works very hard at eating right and remaining fit, has a natural beauty and, in fact, looks better today than the day we met. And if I saw her in a bar today, there'd be only one thing that would prevent me from hitting on her. What's that? I'm a happily married man.

• I guess the reason it's customary for adults to ask graduates what they intend to do with their lives is because deep down we're fearful they might turn the tables and ask us what our lives have done to us.

• I’m troubled by the words we use to describe our state of sleep. We can be either "wide" awake or "sound" asleep. One's dimensional, the other makes me think of noises. Is it possible to be narrow awake or noiselessly asleep? I'd say I was going to sleep on it but that's unlikely.

• After going dark in recent years, Ringling Bros. announces its big comeback. The elephant in the room is that there will be no elephants in the room.

• I find myself being oddly drawn to friends -- not based on character or behavior -- but on how game-  appropriate their names are for Wordle. So sorry, ARCHIBALD TERWILLIGER, you go straight to voice mail if I sense OSCAR BRANT might call.

• Starting today, I shall begin to refer to the fast food wrappers, stray receipts, old magazines, etc. that litter my vehicle interior collectively as "carbage." Not to be confused with cabbage, although I've found some of that back there, too.

• Because I enjoy testing the tolerance of inanimate objects -- and I'm including humans -- when I say "inanimate" -- tomorrow for my first Wordle guess I'm typing in the letters LBGTQ to see if my computer explodes.

• I’ve learned from bitter experience that, although mashed, baked & circular gum may resemble a potentially lucky penny, the gum is much more difficult to lift off the city sidewalk and ultimately it is barely worth the free chew.

• That I can't recall ever having spent any quality time at a popsicle stand, yet have blown hundreds of them, leads me to believe I have some serious commitment issues.

• Thanks Greensburg Barnes & Noble for featuring, not 1, but 2, of my titles on the great books for Dads table. For those keeping score at home, that's Rodell 2, Grisham 0.

• Okay, NASA announces a life-extinguishing asteroid will strike the earth in 8 minutes. And that's it. We're cooked. What would you do with your 8 minutes? Pray? Hug loved ones? I blame Mom's hyper-parenting but I'm pretty sure I'd brush my teeth and put on some fresh underwear. Then, what the heck, maybe rob a bank. 

• I’ll never understand the voluntary insanity of busting your ass for 5 days straight only to wage war with nature on the 2 days you're given to relax. We've reached a stage where we return to our Monday toils in need of 2 precious days to relax. We're all weakened by our weekends.

• Proving once again I'm unworthy of staying in nice places, I spent 2 minutes jumping up and down on a stationary disc trying to get it to register my weight before I realized I was jumping up and down on the roomba.

• ”He speaketh with forked tongue," was once one of the most stinging insults a native American could utter against the White Man. It meant he was a liar, incapable of telling the truth. What does that make me? I confess to fibbing, to shading the truth, to sometimes embroidering fact with fancy. I speaketh with sporked tongue.

• Damsels lead lives fraught with peril. Damsels are always in distress. Just once I'd like see a damsel in, say, a laundromat.

• The best diagnostic proctologists are crack investigators.

• On this Father's Day, I confess to being uncomfortable watching racy movies with our daughters. I don't like excessive profanity. Violence makes me queasy. And I leave the room once the sex goes beyond the consensual dry hump. Fuddy-duddy? No. Fuddy-Daddy!

• I covet the grandfather clock at the place we're staying. So much I've thought of stealing it. But it's big, it's heavy and moving it would be a lot of work. I think I'll just steal a watch. I'm but a small time thief.  

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Who stole my American flag?


(Masking tape above shoes shows where stolen flag was)

(791 words)

The crack team of amateur sleuths I brought in to solve the crime found a glaring breech that they said practically invited theft. It was a mere 6 inches.

That was all the crook needed to sashay into my office and shatter a sense of trust I’ve fostered for the seven years my office has been above the landmark Tin Lizzy in Youngstown, Pa., (pop.  324; defining characteristic — one stop light/ six liquor licenses).

The gap isn’t between the walls, doors or windows.

This gap is between my ears.

“What kind of idiot has a lock on his door and doesn’t use it — and in a building full of drunks?”

It may sound conceited, but I believe only the very best kind of idiot would do such a thing.

I’ve always taken pride in having an open door in case any Tin Lizzy patron interested in my books wanted to come by and peek at my office, which appears to have been furnished completely in the style period of Early 8th Grader.

There are drawings from the kiddos, crayon nicknacks, and out-of-focus pictures of me with loved ones and buddies in various stages of sobriety. 

I contend every office would look like my office if big shot execs didn’t care about trying to impress visitors with how their office looked. 

So I never locked the door. Hell, I rarely closed the door. 

I believe the theft occurred late Thursday night. I walked up the three flights of stairs to my office and noticed little things were amiss. Some posters were down. A fan had been moved. The chair was facing the other way.

I was confused enough that it took me about 30 seconds to notice one big thing was amiss.

My American flag had been ripped off the wall.

Who steals a flag?

In some ways it’s the perfect crime. You can fly it off your front porch and nobody’s going to say, “Call the cops! That looks like Rodell’s flag!”

It’s become stylish to alter the American flag to suit your outrage du jour. I’ve seen standard flags emblazoned with “Don’t Tread on Me!” Some have abandoned the red, white and blue to celebrate sexual orientations in rainbow pastel. And some exhort NASCAR driver Brandon Brown to accelerate.

So compared to those my flag’s a bit of a bore. It’s red, white and blue, 50 stars, 13 stripes. The dimensions are 3x5, or roughly the same size as Superman’s cape.

It looks like every other flag. You’ll see a million just like it over the next week.

What made it special is known only to me and my family.

It is a battle flag.

Now, I’ll understand if proud veterans belittle my contention that my stolen flag was flown in battle. There are no bullet holes. It is not singed by enemy fire. It has no mud I can claim was splattered from Iwo Jima, Normandy or Dien Bien Phu.

It was purchased 21 years ago at a Latrobe flag store from a flustered proprietor who couldn’t believe I’d called to inquire if on that day his store was open.

“No, we’re not open! Aren’t you watching the news?”

I told him the news was why I’d called.

But apparently flag sales are so precisely seasonal that it never occurred to him why out-of-the-blue a stranger was calling about purchasing an American flag on this crisp Fall morning.

It was September 11, 2001.

He must have thought I needed some orange and purple Halloween pumpkin flags.

And that’s how I wound up forking over $26.95 for an American flag that some likely drunk just had to have in the middle of the night when no one was watching.

Also stolen was a 15-year-old iPod Classic I relied on for loud musical inspiration for nearly every word I’ve written since 2007; and a ceramic owl with a coin-sized slot in it dome for change, a gift from the Reynoldsville Public Library for speaking there in 2017

So I’m looking for a patriotic thief with good taste in music and an excess of pocket change. 

I hope the culprit brings it all back or at least stops by to argue why my stuff should be in his house.

I suppose many of you are feeling outrage on my behalf, but I’d encourage you to let those feelings go.

I have very little, but the best parts of me — and you — are the parts that cannot be locked up or stolen. 

And I’d rather folks see me as an open door and wonder what’s in my head than hear I cower behind a fortress and wonder if I have a heart.