Thursday, July 11, 2019

Rogers book excerpts & my vehicular homage to "Tallahassee"

They were helicopter parents years before most Americans had ever even seen a helicopter. That’s what most parenting “experts” would say about the way James and Nancy Rogers raised the baby they named Fred McFeely Rogers, born March 20, 1928. They refused to allow him to mingle with common classmates. They spoiled him, smothered him with parental love. What this says about a widely derided parenting technique is best left to the experts, but clearly some children of helicopter parents are destined to soar.”

• That’s the lead to the new book I hope will be available around Labor Day. The title for now is, “Growing Up In Mr. Rogers REAL Neighborhood: Life Lessons from The Heart of Latrobe.”

• I was embarrassed — well, even more embarrassed — to be seen driving my ’07 Saturn Vue (210,082 miles) after a slow speed nick surgically removed the entire grill. So I impetuously painted Dale Earnhardt No. 3s on the doors — bonus points to those who recognize it as a homage to Woody Harrelson’s “Tallahassee” character from the hilarious 2009 spoof, “Zombieland.” I posted pictures with me holding my zombie-slayer knife and we all had a good laugh. Now, four days later, I’m embarrassed again. 

• A 2008 survey of 3,000 British teenagers found that no fewer than 20 percent of them thought Winston Churchill to be a fictional character. The same survey found that 58 percent thought Sherlock Holmes and 47 percent thought Eleanor Rigby were real folks. It’s heartening to learn moronic children are an international phenomenon.

• The obligation I feel toward this deadbeat blog is pure madness. It pays squat, yet devoted readers tell me they’re upset when I let it languish like I have this month. Behold the irony: I ignore it for eight days in favor of trying — trying, mind you — to score a tidy payday, and I worry the hiatus might upset readers who for the most part would never dream of paying to read it. No wonder I drive an embarrassing vehicle.

• I doubt I’d pay to see them again with my tight finances, but what the Rolling Stones are doing this tour is breathtaking. We’ll not see the likes of them ever again.

• The Hon. Gov. Tom Ridge has graciously agreed to provide the book’s promotional foreword. My favorite line: “Chris writes about Latrobe the way Sinatra sings about New York, unflinching about the gritty realities, but with abiding affection and relentless positivity about the future.”

• One of the best nights I had selling the Palmer book was a pre-Christmas signing right here at The Tin Lizzy in Flappers, the beguiling second floor bar beneath my office. I sold a lot of books, made a bunch of new friends and bartenders Zach and Aaron sold a lot of Arnold Palmer drink specials. We’re already trying to conceive a drink exclusive we can call The Mister Rogers. We’re nearing consensus that a Mister Rogers should be room temperature tap water.

• That’s a cheap shot, albeit a funny cheap shot, from three renown boozehounds on a lifelong teetotaler. But he was anything but a milquetoast. I’ve unearthed some tremendously soulful stories about Fred. Contrasting the upbringing of this sweet, gentle soul with the rowdy Latrobe I for the most part inhabit is leading to what I think will be a book even more compelling than “Palmer: Homespun.”

• How did the word milquetoast become a pejorative to describe an ordinary bore when it by all means ought to be a snappy breakfast order at the neighborhood diner?

• I do love my wordplay. When I get back to more consistent blogging I’ll probably do something with this … “There must be a baker's equivalent to ‘piece of cake’ that is not ‘piece of cake.’ Because if a baker says something is going to be a piece of cake and shows up with, say, a pie instead he could be accused of loafing -- and don't get me started on bakers who loaf.”

• And this … “Megan Rapinoe says US Womens Soccer victory has team ‘on Cloud 9.’ She's mistaken. On-going gender equality issues mean they're only on Cloud 5.”

• “America used to really watch Mister Rogers. Maybe now it’s time America began to really study him. Two Ohio educators are spearheading a nascent movement to persuade the world to view Fred Rogers, not as a popular children’s TV host, but instead as a transcendent cultural figure along the lines of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.”

• Val and I are now in the happy habit of watching old “Cheers” reruns at bedtime. The show still holds up. I’m amazed at how deftly they introduce new and uproarious characters on a near-weekly basis. Seeing Frazier, Lillith, Ma Claven, Woody and others drop in and be hilariously impactful right away is a marvel.

• One dispute: Val likes to skip the “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,”  theme song and I could listen to it over and over. I think I feel this way because the song always reminds me of home. Odd, I know, because, well, I am home.

• My heart warms every time someone compliments my Adelphoi commencement address, as someone does at least once a week. Need a speaker? I’m your guy. You may not know it yet, but I’m your guy.

• “We’ve made this our home. We’re never leaving Mister Rogers Neighborhood. After reading the stories in this book, I hope it never leaves you.”

• That’s the book’s last paragraph. Now all I need to do is finish all the stuff that goes in between.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Bad golf & stories of our lost virginity

The much anticipated round of golf at Olde Stonewall, one of Pennsylvania’s finest golf courses, hadn’t gone as we’d hoped. We’d all played poorly. 

Clubs were broken, profanities shouted and questions considered about the wisdom of ever golfing again.

As one who by now has been golfing badly for nearly 50 years, it was up to me to save the memory of what would have been a blissful day of camaraderie and laughter had we not been foolhardy enough to include actual golf in the mix

I knew just what to do. 

Change the subject to sex!

And luckily I years ago committed to memory the greatest line about golf that isn’t about golf but is in fact about sex. I heard it from a guy who’d gone golf crazy in six quick months. He said:

“The first time I golfed was the most fun I’d had at something I was so bad at since the night I lost my virginity.”

It’s a great line. My friends had heard me say it before, but for some reason this time it launched into a lively conversation about the first time we, as I’ve heard it described, “line danced at the Bush inaugural ball.”

It was a revelation. Not just that all their ribald stories were entertaining, but the fact that the younger two friends had, in fact, had sex. Sure, they’re great guys, good company, but I just have trouble believing either of them had found women so reckless about their reputations as to willingly bestow carnal favors.

And one of them is a father!

Of course, I kept all this to myself. Saying it aloud would have surely invited vicious backlash about my own issues with age and homeliness. Even worse, my story is a real bore. So I just sat there silently vowing it’d be the last time I’d have the lamest virginity-vanquishing story at the table.

If my first-sex story was a snoozer, I’d just have to make up a better one.

I know some of you are shocked I’d lie, but I’ve always advocated liberating our past from its truthful shackles. It just makes every conversation more interesting. It’s why I still tell church friends I put myself through college working as a stripper.

Our sexual pasts are especially ripe for dramatic embroidering.

For conversation’s sake, I’d much rather get stuck in an elevator with a chatty whore than an honest virgin. Plus, you never know when you might find use for babe-it-might-be-up-to-the-two-of-us-to-repopulate-the-planet argument.

Guys like me believe in being prepared.

That would make a dandy lose-your virginity-tale, but I fear my story would unravel under intense questioning: “Where was the lift? How long were you marooned? And given your experience, how come I’ve seen you take the stairs?”

It would make a good story if I lied and said I lost my virginity on my old paper route, and that has a high believability factor. Many apartment occupants were young singles, restless brides, and working girls eager for randy relief. In fact, I remember one shapely 30-something who invited me in for refreshment. It could have happened then, but I was too dedicated to my duties to pause even for possible romance.

I know, I know, that has a very low believability factor, but it’s the truth — and why that sort of work ethic didn’t carry over into adulthood is a pity and an enduring reason why "paperboy" remains my answer to the question, “What was your most lucrative occupation?”

But I think I’ll concoct a lost virginity story about the day I had my tonsils removed when the young nurse waited until the recovery room was empty and my voice was still too raw to alert the staff about her unusual therapy. 

It has the potential to be a lively story and far more interesting than the bland truth.

The truth?

I lost my virginity September 20, 1996.

I was nervous. I was afraid a satisfying performance was beyond me. I felt like I feel today standing on the 1st tee when other golfers are watching.

Oh, and I was 33 years old. It was my wedding night.

I guess that just makes me old-fashioned. And since we’d been living together for three years I guess that makes me really old-fashioned.

I’ve grown. I’m no longer old-fashioned.

Today I’m just old.

But with age comes wisdom and I’m wise enough to appreciate the value of artful fibs as shock absorbers on the sometimes bumpy road to a long and happy marriage.

So that's my story and I'm sticking to it. 

Related …

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Tweets of the Month ... a day early!

Big graduation party tomorrow, so I’m moving up the traditional month-ending 8Days2Amish tweet round-up by one day. Heartfelt apologies if this deviation throws you into confusion. Have a great weekend and thanks for all your encouragement, cheer and support!

• Bible says our bodies are temples. On Friday nights, mine is more like a honky tonk. Some beer's been spilled, some of the furniture is busted & it smells kinda funny. But the folks are friendly, the peanuts are free and the good music never ends.

• My admiration for the storytellers always declines whenever I recall no one's ever had one of my favorite characters say, "To be or not to be ..." Yes, I want to see the obvious. I want to see Piglet play Hamlet!

• This is how we nibble at the edges of our lethal problems. Virginia Beach gunman kills 12 and we're discussing how it will save lives if guns would only sound more like guns. Yeah, that's the problem ... 

• For those keeping score at home: Bad Guy with a gun, 12; Good Guys with guns, 1. #VirginiaBeachShooting

• The idea of being a lab rat must seem  prestigious to ambitious rats so it must be a cruel disappointment when they learn what it really involves.

• How come there's a "w"in wrong, but not one in right? It's crazy! Am I wright?

• My environmental fantasy is that one day researchers declare that styrofoam soaked in sea water turns into tiny dolphins that eat plastic and poop unicorns who fart ozone.

• Stephen Hawking contends Artificial Intelligence could wipe out man by 2050. Imagine the theological ramifications if Jesus returns in 2051.

• I just checked the 5-day and think I might be safe to put the snow scraper back in the garage. It's a safe bet I won't be needing it until the start of the next Western Pennsylvania winter or what you call July 5.

• I admire them for their loyalty, companionship and eagerness to please, but what I admire most about dogs is they'd never pause for even a second to read a lousy nutrition label.

• Congratulations to the Toronto Raptors for winning NBA championship. Now does Trump understand Toronto is in Canada or does he just to be polite invite them to the White House for hamberders?

• A youthful friend says his steady girlfriend keeps bugging him with questions about if he likes kids. I advised him to tell her that if she puts enough ketchup on it, he could eat anything.

• I’m tempted to execute a citizen's arrest every time I see some jerk exit the men's room without washing his hands but worry then the duty of fingerprinting ol' pee hands might fall to me.

• The only thing better than being a great Daddy is having one. Happy Father's Day!

• I wonder if Lazarus had the foresight to re-gift his copy of "100 Things to do in Jerusalem Before You Die" while it still had mortal relevance.

• The great thing about taking the scenic route isn't just that it's scenic. It's that if you take the scenic route often enough you somehow in the eyes of others become the scenic route.

• In my ongoing quest to prepare you and I for the afterlife, I will now devote the next hour to resolving if Heaven has time zones.

• How sizable would the yard sale be if you had access to all the stuff enemies through-out your life told you to shove up your ass?

• Those eager to see a hyphen in this sentence will suffer from dashed hopes. #grammar

• When someone tells me they don't have the time to read I assume they don't have time for sex either.

• ”Eve of Destruction" is most harrowing protest song ever. Lyrics remain relevant. I'd like to hear a current re-release but sung by The Muppets.

• Stake out space and be prepared to defend; find secure place for valuables; apply sunscreen every 2 hours; check need for shark repellent; monitor children against potential stranger danger. A day at the beach is no longer a day at the beach.

• McCartney was an optimist, cheerfully convinced it would all work out. Lennon a pessimist, grimly sure of eventual doom. Who was right?

• With a name like Yo-Yo, did the world's most famous cellist have any choice but to  play a stringed instrument. I mean, it would't make sense to have the kid named Yo-Yo play the tuba …

• I wish I was one of those sly prestidigitators capable of pulling a coin out from behind a child's ear. Instead it looks like I'll always be one of those near-deadbeats who the day before Comcast imposes the late fee pulls the exact amount owed straight out of his ass.

• Everything about being alive -- from the air we breathe to the food we eat -- is either killing us slowly or all of a sudden. Friday conversation starter: Could we somehow live forever if we'd never been born?

• Turn to the person nearest you and surprise them with a sincere compliment. Why? Because you'll both feel better and because it'll strike a blow against incivility, the rude of all evil.

Related …

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Wrecked my car, ripped my shirt; life lessons from a colossally bad day

The caller had heard what had happened and broke right in with urgent questions: Was anybody hurt? Were ambulances summoned? Did EMTs deploy the Jaws of Life.

I assured him he was over-reacting. Everyone was fine, the loss would be overcome. And, jeez, who’d use the Jaws of Life to remove an able-bodied man from a ripped shirt?

“Ripped shirt?” he said. “I heard you were in an accident. Who said anything about a ripped shirt?”

Both, indeed, had happened Wednesday afternoon.

It’s just the ripped shirt, an heirloom Tommy Bahama, mattered more to me than the stupid car. 

I wrecked the car, a 2007 Saturn Vue with 209,998 miles on it at 6 p.m. pulling out of the Tin Lizzy parking lot.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Ah, ha! It was 6 p.m. You were leaving a bar! You’d been drinking beer for at least three hours! You were drunk! Over-the-limit! Drunk!”

Wrong. Remember, my office is in the Tin Lizzy. I don’t just socialize there. It’s my place of business. It’s where I conduct my commerce, the place where I transact so much moolah I can afford to drive a 2007 Saturn Vue with 209,998 miles on it. 

In fact I hadn’t been drinking for three hours. On this day it had been three hours since I’d been drinking. It’s true. Many people are aware my office is atop the historic Tin Lizzy. It’s a very popular place.

And, hell, I’m a very popular guy!

It’s not at all uncommon for friends, strangers even, to get in touch and ask if I’m free for beer and conversation. I don’t think I’ve said no to that cheerful combo since I had my first beer back, gee, I think it was in the 4th grade. 

So Mike texted and said he was bringing a buddy along for wings. Was I free?

Nooo … 

But I could be bought!

I’m kidding. I’m not that kind of crass. But my friends did buy my two beers. In exchange, I gave Ron a signed Arnold Palmer book, and Mike a “Last Baby Boomer.“

God help me, the transaction meant I could consider the day a rousing fiscal success.

I spent the next three hours energetically working on a book proposal that may or may not eventually cost me more money to produce than it earns me to sell.

Repeat after me: “It’s not surprising we drink. It’s surprising we ever stop drinking.”

So at 6 p.m. the summons rings out. My family needs me! Not for wisdom, guidance or clarity.

Somebody had to fetch the pizza! 

It was Day 1 of the five day Mardi Gras that is my daughter Lucy’s 13th birthday. That meant six hungry 8th graders were right then sitting with growling tummies around our dinner table.

At 6 p.m. it’s smack dab in the middle of the Youngstown rush hour. Now, Youngstown has just one stop light, but rush hour is still rush hour if it’s 10,000 cars or 10.

I had this going through my mind as I calculated my route. 

It was a beautiful day. I knew there’d be golfers enjoying the twilight at Latrobe C.C. I could turn right out of the Tin lot and circle the club. It would take a little longer, but there’s a reason people like me prefer the scenic route.

It’s scenic!

But I thought of those hungry children back in my home and how they could combine to rip me limb-from-limb if I showed up with cold pizza.

I decided to make a fateful left. 

There was an ambulance blocking my view to the right. Parked cars obscuring my view to the left. It’s a tricky maneuver.

I don’t know how the drunk drivers pull it off.

Well, my new friend Sandy was pulling out of the Rainbow Inn. I never saw her.

It wasn’t a fender bender. More like a fender obliterator. Ripped the grill clean off. I got the worst of it. My butt cheeks are clenched as I await estimates.  I’ll soon be down several thousand dollars.

But I anticipate being up one Facebook friend and you just can’t put a price on that. 

So if no one was hurt, thank God, how’d I rip my shirt? Snagged it on a rusty bed frame later on back home when I was tending to the basement dehumidifier. 

I loved that old shirt.  So unique. Good thing I have a closet with 15 other outstanding Tommy's  — ones that’ll never be worn when dehumidifier maintenance is being conducted. 

Later on when the pizza and the guests were gone, Val asked if I was any closer to realizing my earnings potential.

I thought about telling her how before the accident I’d traded two books for two beers. I decided to keep that to myself and assured her — hallelujah — fruitful times were just around the bend (if you can see past the goddamned ambulance). 

I’ve tried in vain to think of some profound lesson from this challenging day. I’m tempted to say it’s, “Always take the scenic route.” But that can’t be it.

My whole life is what happens when you always take the scenic route.

You somehow in the eyes of others become the scenic route.

Related …