Thursday, March 23, 2023

My letter to Grace seeking grace

 This is the letter I wrote to the 10-year-old girl, an aspiring writer, after she gave me the only copy of her 22-page handwritten book to review and I lost it.

I had her father read it first. I thought there was a chance he’d hit me. Instead, he got choked up and shook my hand.

I gotta be honest: I gave a lot of serious thought to trying to lie my way out of this one …

Dear Grace,

When your father  asked if I’d  be willing to read something you’d written, I didn’t hesitate. I’m more than happy to encourage young writers like yourself to pursue the kind of life I’ve been lucky enough to have lived.. I’ve been writing for 40 years and I still tingle with satisfaction knowing I’ve crafted a sentence that people will want to re-read because t made them laugh or think.

He gave me the draft of the book you started — in one night — on Wednesday. On Thursday I did something wise followed by something unbelievably stupid. First the wisdom.

I teach creative writing at Point Park U. I told my students that I’d begun a new book and I began to read them what you’d written. I read them two pages and asked what they thought. One student said it was “imaginative.” One said the writing was “well-paced.” Two said for me to keep reading. They wanted class turned into story time. Then I confessed I’d lied. I told them the writer was the 10-year-old daughter of a Ligonier friend. And they were amazed. One said you must be a prodigy.  I said that’s the perfect word to describe what you’re doing.

Now for the stupid. I don’t know if you can forgive me but I lost what you put so much heart into. I have no excuse. The class is 3 hours long and leads to a sprawl of papers, but I should be more careful with something so precious.  You can be furious with me. I deserve it.

But I’m going to urge you to do something else. I’m going to urge you to take three deep breaths (through the nose!). And do it all over again. The best writers aren’t really writers at all. They’re re-writers. A first draft can be a frolic. Very loose. Almost stream of conscious. I’m not saying yours was, but a rigorous re-write shines with a discipline that demands respect

So you can curse me — I’d start with that — but I recommend you learn from this and add it as another rung on the ladder to success I’m sure you’ll ascend. Lastly, make copies of EVERY THING. It’s a lesson every writer learns. It was just my incompetence that gave you a particularly vivid lesson at an early age.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

The perils of parallel parking


(578 words)

I’ve said before that a father teaching a daughter to drive is like a warden teaching an inmate how to escape.

So as of yesterday it was, “One-Adam-12! One-Adam-12! We have an APB for a female 16-year-old known to come to a complete stop even at desolate intersections. Suspect exhibits pathological disdain for having to parallel park.”

That comes from me. Here’s the sum of my parallel parking instructions:

“Accelerate past the vacancy to reduce the temptation to parallel park there. Drive in a relaxed fashion until you find a spacious surface lot with three adjoining spaces. Park in the middle one. Summon Uber and pay $5 or so bucks to drop you off at the front door of your destination.”

This was her second time taking the test. I told her (lied) 72 percent of test takers who fail do so because of a parallel parking failure. 

“Just like you!”

Citing the made-up statistic did nothing to ease her despondency.  I needed to say something wise and insightful. Here, after hours of deliberation, is what I came up with:

“You’ll get ‘em next time, kiddo!”

That’s it. It was like she was 4 and blew a chance to win a silly straw at an Aisle 6 supermarket promotion.

Happily, God is well-aware of my many shortcomings. He (pronoun from Biblical sources) sent me two examples that bestowed perspective and levity that helped deflate her tension.

The first was a timely recollection of an “Austin Powers” clip of him 

trying to execute a 3-point turn. It’s absolutely hilarious. Check it out right here.

The second example caught me by surprise. He’s not someone for whom I’ve ever felt any affinity. He was a bad husband to one of my favorite Hollywood lovelies (Jennifer Garner) and he’s currently imposing his New England mopiness on another (Jennifer Lopez).

Yes, it’s Ben Affleck. I normally wouldn’t pay any attention to Affleck news, but I was having a bad day and the way small-minded men like me feel better about ourselves is reading about people we envy having days that suck. The headline is  “Another Rough Day for Ben Affleck,” by Danielle Cohen in New York magazine. It’s terrific.

So what was the source of the Afflek’s angst? Did he and Garner have families to blend? Did J-Lo ask him to break dance in her next video?

No, the trouble was parallel parking. This is from Cohen’s story.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to parallel park, but it is akin to entering the fifth circle of hell, with the sixth being doing it while people watch. (This magazine’s official stance on parallel parking: “People should be allowed the grace to park alone without being perceived.”) So it only makes sense that Ben Affleck, who recently resumed his reign as the king of despair, was subjected to being not only watched but also filmed while trying to work his way out of a parking crisis.

“On Monday, Affleck found himself in the nightmarish scenario of attempting to wiggle his Mercedes-Benz out of a parking spot in Brentwood. Affleck knows better than anyone that we live in a cruel, cruel world, so of course TMZ managed to secure footage of the entire ordeal.”

We can relate.

I propose we alter the spelling of the hassle to better reflect all that could go wrong in attempting it.

It’s peril-l-ous parking.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2023

RIP Charlie Appleton: a great newspaperman, an even better man


(478 words)

Charlie Appleton, the extraordinary newsman, would have frowned at all the adulatory words being used to mourn the passing of Charlie Appleton, the ordinary family man. 

And just the sight of the word “adulatory” in a scrappy newspaper would have set him off.

He came from the man-bites-dog school of news gathering, but then raised the bar by becoming a de facto dean of the man-bites-dog-then-marries-the-bitch school of journalism.

He had a genius for finding the best, most compelling stories with just a phone and a rolodex of sources he’d painstakingly groomed to trust him implicitly. 

He was the first person to offer his friendship when in 1985 I started working at the Nashville Banner. We became very good friends.

If it sounds like I’m bragging, let me clarify.

Charlie was like Arnold Palmer. I used to brag I was friends with Palmer until it dawned on me that Palmer was friends with everyone.

It was the same with Charlie, the only reporter I knew that had his own catch phrase.

“… and in a bizarre twist …” 

He’d be talking in confidential tones before saying a courteous goodbye.Then he’d set the phone down and turn to the editor and share the facts of what at first would seem to be a routine crime story until, “… and in a bizarre twist …”

That’s when everyone in the newsroomleaned in to learn the bizarre twist. 

I remember one time the bizarre twist was a mother marrying her son — I remember it being in one of Tennessee’s less cosmopolitan zip codes. Strange, but true.

It’s always noteworthy when a senior newsperson dies to see his or her juniors compete to see who can compose the most reverential eulogy.

I’ve already read many fine tributes to this great man by so many dear old friends that I don’t feel compelled to add.

I will, instead, offer another sentiment that comes first to my mind when I think of  dear old Charlie.


See, Charlie is solely responsible for getting me the job with National Enquirer, the notorious tabloid that brought me in to chase the amazing tales I go back to time and time again when I know people are counting on me to be interesting.

I remember interviewing at The Enquirer’s Lantana, Florida, offices prepared for a day-long grilling over my resourcefulness, my tenacity, my ethics …

Kidding! They cared not about ethics — as long as you didn’t have any. I’d fit right in.

For me, there’d be no interview.

“Oh, the job is yours, if you want it,” she said. “Charlie Appleton vouched for you and that’s all we need to hear.”

So I’m thankful that Charlie recognized in me a kindred spirit for telling stories.

And coincidentally, for being a decent human being who will be loved and missed by one and all.

In a bizarre twist that’s what I aspire to one day  become as well.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2023

February Tweets of the Month


• Legendary escape artist Harry Houdini could extricate himself from a straight jacket in just 4 minutes and 9 seconds. I have to imagine escaping from an LBGTQIA jacket would be much more time consuming.

• Restitution is the act of restoring ownership of something that was illegally taken. The act of restoring something that was illegally taken but doing it with island rhythms and bales of ganga is rastatution.

• How will you react if the next time some F-16 guns down a high-tech, high altitude spy balloon investigators find it leads to some rich kid with a really, really long string.

• Teaching college level anesthesiology must be a real challenge. How do you determine if a student snoozing is a lazy goofball or a real go-getter determined to truly absorb that day’s lesson?

• He has influence, a prestigious job, opportunities. In many ways he's a true role model. So what am I supposed to say when an impressionable youth comes up to me and says, "I wanna be just like George Santos." I look at his life and I look at mine and wonder, man, where did I go so wrong? I used to regret I didn't work harder. Now, I regret I didn't spend more mirror time working on my poker face.

• Middle Easterners put aside ancient differences to aid Syrian/Turkish earthquake victims, proving once again the only thing capable of bringing the world together is the world coming apart.

• For a human face to convey the same look of pure elation a dog gets when he sticks his head out the car window, I believe you'd have to time travel back to Eden and the first time Eve wondered what kind of reaction she'd get if she kissed Adam someplace besides the lips.

• I apologize for feeling the need to be so divisive here on Facebook, a forum only intellectually belligerent use for anything but food porn & cat videos, but it’s been 16 years it must be said: Just what the hell was David Chase thinking?

• Told students one of the best ways to unleash creative thinking is to immerse yourself in absurdity. The premise was discussed and I soon congratulated them on recognizing the absurdity abundant in their lives. Yes, they all parents who thought they knew all the answers.

• The very idea of writing for a living is  so inherently wussie, I at least once a week like to shout loud commands peppered with meaningless jargon -- "Tango! Alpha! Charlie! -- to confuse Tin Lizzy drinkers into thinking some real serious shit is going on up here.

• Tragic about the Florida woman, 85, killed by gator. It's all some people are talking about. I wonder what they're saying in the gator community. "I was just last week warnin' Roscoe nothin' good would come from chasin' them cougars.”

• Beleaguered Buffalo is expected to get hit with another 2 feet of snow. The population of the Greater Buffalo metro region is 889,217. If I were mayor of Buffalo I’d order every able-bodied adult to obtain at least two cigarette lighters and stand outside with both arms upraised.  The goal would be to convert every snowflake into raindrops before they hit ground.

• I hope one day I get summoned to the witness stand of some big, high-profile trial just so I can squander an hour or two of the court’s time trying to insist there has to be a little wiggle room in that bit about swearing on the Bible to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” I mean, c’mon. They can’t be serious. Can they?

• Tonight I intend to alert my students they have a historic opportunity to surpass The Greatest Generation in achievement. After all, The Greatest Generation saved the world from fascism. Today’s college students will battle climate change, cynicism, pandemic, fundamentalism and a dozen or so other isms. So today’s students won’t just be saving the mankind from fascism. They’ll be saving mankind from mankind.

• In an effort to make myself appear more hip, more cosmopolitan, I'm thinking of telling associates I'm "based in LA," which is a mere five letters from factual. Home is LA-trobe. I'm not deceitful, but guys like me just don't have time for second syllables.

• I'd like to have one night a month where we go out to dinner with another couple with the incentive that whomever talks the most pays. The social pressure to yap and be witty would vanish. We'd learn subtle new ways to communicate. Restaurants would be more peaceful. But in the end, the idea is self-defeating. The very notion of a no-talking dinner would give everyone something to really talk about.

• Getting all your news through a palm-sized screen you keep in your back pocket means most people will never even get a glimpse at what we used to call The Big Picture.

• If everyone on the planet awakens tomorrow to see in the mirror a third ear had overnight grown on their forehead, will you take it as an Almighty sign we need to start listening to one another or will you drop whatever you’re doing and dash out to buy a third noise-cancelling ear bud?

• Talking to a woman in the bar last week. Told her I was a writer. Said she loves to read. I asked her what genre. "Oh, I love murder mysteries!" she said. I told her everything I've ever written is a murder mystery. And it's true. It's a mystery why none of my books are a commercial success and the realization is killing me.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Bravo Bucs signing McCutcheon! Now sign Bonds & Ted Williams's head


(849 words)

The Pittsburgh Pirates made a bold move when they signed veteran superstar and beloved former Bucco Andrew McCutchen.

I love Cutch. Besides being an outstanding Pirate centerfielder from 2009-’17 and league MVP in ‘13, McCutchen plays the game like a kid. He laughs, he jokes, he cheers his teammates and generally cavorts like he can’t believe he’s getting $5 million a year to play a game.

Frankly, and as much as I adore McCutcheon, I can’t believe it either. I guess it becomes more and more believable every time saps like me plunk down $18 for one can of domestic ballpark brew.

So it’s good to have him back and I applaud owner Bob Nutting for making what is essentially a sentimental move that won’t do much to alter projections of another last place finish.

That’s why I encourage Nutting to make an even bolder move by signing 58-year-old former Buc Barry Bonds, Bonds is a tougher sell because he comes with a lot of baggage — and most of it is filled with steroids, needles and fraudulent prescription orders.

Bonds was a Pirate from ’86 to ’92. He was surly, a clubhouse cancer and earned a reputation for being a playoff choker.

He left Pittsburgh — good riddance! — to become a San Francisco Giant and begin his pursuit of one of the most hallowed records in all sports: Henry Aaron’s all-time home run record of 755..

The 7-time MVP ended his career in 2007 with 762 homers. He spent the next two years trying in vain to persuade even one of the 30 MLB teams to sign him. None did, an indication of just how toxic he’d become — and his toxicity wasn’t metaphorical. It was courtesy of BALCO.

But mighty dingers are not the reason the Bucs should bond with Bonds.

The reasons are humble singles, 65 of ‘em to be exact.

See, Bonds is just 65 base hits away from admittance to one of the few baseball clubs that can’t exclude him out of pique.

Yes, Bonds is just a few dozen hits away from becoming a member of MLB’s hallowed 3,000 hit club. There are just 33 players who’ve achieved the feat. How difficult is getting 3,000?

Only one Yankee’s ever done it, The great Derek Jeter.

Just about everyone loves a story of redemption. Those who do not often revel in mocking the failures of the strivers.

So Bonds returning offers, to the delight of all,  both outcomes. Some will come to cheer, others to jeer.

But all will watch.

He had 167 hits in ’98, back when he was a fit 180 pounds.

Twenty-five years hence, he probably weighs close to 250. It’s likely he not only lost a step, he may even forgotten where he left the shoe.

His every at bat would be must-see TV. He’ll strike out plenty, but imagine if he gets wood on the ball. Him running the 90 feet to first would be a master class of frantic motion.

Now imagine if he tries for two. Or gets caught in a rundown. It would be a highlight reel of hilarious desperation.

And as bold as signing Bonds would be, it would pale in comparison to the greatest PR maneuver in free agent history.

That would be signing Ted Williams, 1918-2002. Those numbers aren’t obscure baseball stats. Those are the vitals denoting the duration of Williams mortal portion. He’s been dead 21 years.

R.B.I? More like R.I.P.

I give you one more number: minus-321 Fahrenheit. That’s the temperature really life sci-fi fans are keeping Williams’s detached head in hopes of one day bringing it back to life.

I don’t know what his first words will be upon reanimation, but I can pretty much guarantee they won’t be, “Where’s the can? I really gotta go!”

So it’ll take many hours of thawing by a warm campfire before one of the greatest hitters of all time to be declared on another hot streak.

His head is in the custody the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona until the time is right to reanimate it.

The Pirates haven’t been to the World Series since 1979.

The time is right now!

Signing Williams, one of the great baseball minds would benefit every level of the Pirate baseball operation — even if it’d be tough to have the Ted head do things like hit batting practice.

It wouldn’t be without precedent for the Pirates, an organization that for years has fielded bunches of stiffs who couldn’t get their heads in the game.

An outfield with Bonds, McCutcheon and the noggin of Williams would be a blow for diversity.

It would be the first time in history any team rostered an outfield of two black dudes and one white head. 

You can be dismissive of my ideas, but my heart’s in the right place. I hope you’ll realize I’m just trying to help the Bucs get ahead.

This is one of the rare circumstances where getting a head will help you do just that.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2023

I'm 60 today. Only as old as I feel?

 (932 words)

I turn 60 today. That’s what my driver’s license says so it must be true. The number is vintage enough to provoke friends into telling me I’m only as old as I feel. 

It’s a charming concept, but I’m old school. 

In fact, I’m so old school I’m willing to concede that any reputable school district starts revving up the bulldozers when ever a building hits 50.

But I was taught to use the word feel to describe touch, not emotion. It’s why whenever a doctor asks me how I feel, I always say, “The same as I always feel, Doc. I feel with my fingers.”

Then I hold my hands up in front of my face, palms out, and make squeezy motions like I’m honking a pair of giant invisible hooters.

So today I felt myself up — and down! I spent the morning grabbing, caressing and stroking myself from head to toe. Chest! Abs! Hips! Loins! The works.

I’m not ashamed to admit, I got into it.

I was feeling myself so thoroughly, so lovingly, I nearly missed lunch. But it was worth it because I now have an index that will convey my feelings.

Let’s start at the bottom.

My right foot feels about 50, but the left foot is like the paw of an 85-year-old carpenter who keeps dropping his hammer on his slippered tootsies. I had corrective foot surgery in April 2021 and it’s never healed. I blame the podiatrist.

How any guy who devotes his life to healthy toes can become all thumbs is just perplexing.

It doesn’t get much better as you ascend the shins. But in a reversal, it’s the right knee that’s defective.

After about two years of painful hobbling, I finally found temporary remedy. An orthopedic drained about what looked like 16 ounces of old beer from the knee.

I didn’t think to ask, but I wonder if it was, indeed, old beer that got lost on the way to the bladder. Drinking beer has often left me in a confused state. It stands to reason beer could confuse itself.

So the left knee is fine (50), but the right knee feels about 75. Combined, I’ve lost all my manly swagger. 

But I see an upside. I envision a day when I medal at some amateur games that involve dysfunctional walking and progressive Guinness guzzling at landmark Irish pubs.

I’m calling it the O’Limp-ic Games!

I know. A reasonable 60-year-old brain would never have labored  to get to that lame — lame! — punchline, but it seems like I have the mind of a 12 year old.

Thus, I don’t fear dementia. My fear is no one will be able to distinguish between typical symptoms and just me bein’ me.

My torso is a mixed bag. Pecs are respectable. I lift about 30 minutes a day so they’d better be. I’ll put them at 42.

But I’m nothing near having 6-pack abs. More like a party keg. I remember my father opining that any man who’s over 40 and doesn’t have a beer belly looks deformed. In deference to Dad, let’s say 48.

I take excessive and likely unwarranted pride in my ass. It feels nice and firm. Let’s give it a 24.

It’s peculiar, I know, to be so vain about something I never really get a good look at. I’m glad that God in His infinite wisdom didn’t put my behind in the front of me or else I’d spend too much mirror time admiring the shape.

The butt’s stood by me while I’ve sat on it.

It just dawned on me that I have only one good, intact limb. The feet and legs have staggered disabilities that detract from their utility. 

But I do have one good arm. It’s the righty and with it I and it can do it all. It signs books, brushes teeth, throws snowballs at jittery neighbors and takes the helm in every activity that requires some dexterity.

Yes, my right arm is my right hand, man. My functionality will take a real hit should the right arm/hand become like the lazy, good-for-nearly nothin’ lefty. 

But in a surprise, I’m giving the left hand a 2. Because 2 is an accurate reflection of the dexterity of the limb. It’s about the same as the left arm of a right-handed  2 year old. Sure, it can clear nasal debris from crusty nostril, but it won’t be waving the baton in front of any orchestras.

Now, I’m sure some of you are wondering, “Say, Chris, how’s about the ol’ pecker?”

Well, I’m a contrarian in these tell-all days. I choose not to reveal statistics, anecdotes or the number of times my partner has dumped a celebratory bucket of Gatoraid over my head. I do this because I’ve been with the same woman for 30 years and I’m aware that if I use this forum to share personal intimacies, my pecker will be feeling something the rest of my body never does.


So for the pecker I file a WD for Withdrawal, fitting, too, because that was one of the precarious contraceptive methods we relied on prior to pharmaceutical safeguards.

Final tally: 388 years divided by 9 anatomical categories:

By that calculation I’m  43.1 years old. Sounds about right

There. I took an emotional issue and exposed it to cold hard reason.

I feel better.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Happy Valentine's Day to me and my Parkinson's!


(757 words)

I hadn’t been on a blind date in more than 30 years. I wasn’t seeking companionship. I wasn’t needy or desperate. My life was fulfilling. And then there was this:

I was married. Had a couple of kids. A dog. The whole nine yards (and, no, none of the nine yards was mowed, raked nor landscaped, but that’s another story).

Clearly, on Valentine’s Day 2018, I wasn’t expecting to be fixed up with a companion who’d from our introduction dominate my thoughts with my nearly every breath.

But that’s what happened five years ago next Tuesday when a gallingly insensitive tech called to brusquely inform me that I had Parkinson’s Disease. She told me my new mate is incurable and hinted my ability to feed myself was about to come to an end. 

But we were right away hitched. There would be no ring ceremony. No Fanfare. Northing in the paper. No Facebook posts. But our devotions became mutual. Despite the lack of formality, there was no getting out of it. 

It’s like we shook on it.

Well, I shook a bit. But that’s just what Parkinson’s Disease can do to you. 

It’s peculiar to me that I don’t write more about the thing I think about the most,  practically round-the clock. I’d never want to depress anyone.

And I won’t do that now, I promise.

But five years is a take-stock anniversary and on Valentine’s Day it’ll be five years since I was informed I am one of the roughly 60,000 adults diagnosed with PD each year. Average age of diagnosis is 60. I was 55 (I turn 60 — 60! — on the 15th).

So how am I doing?

Pretty damn good. I’m learning there are much worse things you can get than Parkinson’s (and, yippee, I’m still eligible for all them, too, btw).

Apparently, I look great. That’s what many people tell me. “Man,” they say, “you look great.”

I’ve taken to deflecting the superficial praise by saying, “Oh, you should have seen me in the 8th grade!”

It’s true. I was a very handsome child. Winning smile. Roguish charm.

Then — boom! — like that it all  went away. In one of my life’s more profound cruelties I think my charm went away almost the exact instant I began getting erections.

But now that I have PD, I am once again looking good. The state of my sex drive does not matter in regards to our primary topic. Lusty ambitions aside, I’ll never be able to screw Parkinson’s the way Parkinson’s is going to screw me.

Or maybe not.

My neurologist — and that I even have a neurologist of my very own chagrins — says I’m beating Parkinson’s. Those are her exact words.

“You’re beating Parkinson’s,” she says.

I tell her I feel like I’m distracting it. I feel like I’m on a trap door with a rusty hinge. I could at any moment tumble into the abyss.

Guess what? We’re on the same trap door! Life, my friend, is a precarious crap shoot.

I said when I was diagnosed my goal was to appear symptom-free for so long all my friends will begin to think I made it up just because I crave attention.

So far, so good. I’m beginning to understand PD is very individualized. I don’t want to say mine is mild but, clearly, I’m on a healthy plateau. She says exercise and a positive attitude are shared characteristics among those who keep synptoms at bay..

I exercise for about an hour every day. Or let’s just say I’m physically in a Planet Fitness for an hour a day. I’m only actually moving weights or my body around for about 40 minutes a day. That’s enough.

And apparently I have the perfect mindset to combat a progressive neurological disorder. For now. One fall, one prolonged and out-of-control tremor, and I could sour overnight.

It dawned on me not too long ago that my defining characteristics are that I have the heart of a pound puppy and the brain of a free range chicken. 

It’s been a hindrance when it comes to providing for my family but a blessing when it comes to perspective.

See, I still consider myself a very lucky man. My symptoms are difficult to detect, I remain hopeful about the future and I still take delight in all the little things that enrich even an under-achieving life like mine.

And, man, I really look great.

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