Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I hate the Chicago Cubs

It was two months ago when my 7-year-old daughter asked me if there were any teams I hated. And I could sense that she didn’t mean it in that gee-I-hope-those-guys-lose sort of hatred.

She meant it in the way that liberals hate George Bush, that conservatives hate Hillary Clinton and that she hates her cruel and tyrannical second grade gym teacher.

It was a good question. I grew up nurturing vicious hatreds for at various times, the New York Mets, the Dallas Cowboys, The Oakland Raiders and any professional team with an Ohio zip code.

I gave it some thought and looked deep in my heart.

The answer was no.

There was no team I so despised that I rooted for them and their fans to not only lose their games by humiliating margins, but for them all to develop things like leprosy and large pervasive boogers that smelled really, really bad.

Sure, I’m passionately Pittsburgh and want our teams to win ‘em all. It’s great for the city I love and only enhances an image that’s still under-appreciated. But the last two times Pittsburgh teams have competed for the respective championships -- Steelers in 2006 and the Penguins in June -- I was unable to muster any fan-imosity toward their opponents (Seattle and Detroit).

I felt marginally proud of myself that I was no longer one of those frothing idiots who goes on-line and calls talk shows hosted by addle-minded cementheads who do nothing but foment irrational anxieties over simple games.

I was setting a good example for my kids. They could look at me and understand what perspective and wisdom I bring to the sporting world. And that, by extension, their Daddy was one of the good guys.

Not anymore.

I now hate the Chicago Cubs. I want them to suffer soul-crushing defeats from now through eternity. I want them to feel sharp pains in places Monica-gate prosecutor Ken Starr used to call their distinguishing characteristics. I want them to work with and be constantly surrounded at airports by mean-spirited, petty guys like me who’ll do nothing but remind them their sorry franchise hasn’t won in 100 years . . . and counting.

It all happened last night after my buddy brought me with him to the Pirates game at PNC Park. We’ve seen hundreds of games together all over the country. We both know the game and all the etiquette that goes with it.

Right now the Cubs have the best record in baseball and their best chance in years to shuck the burden of being one of the losingest and most luckless franchises in sports.

The Pirates? They stink. They’re one of the worst teams in baseball and have been for 16 years. But this city and this team enjoy one of the longest and proudest sports histories in all America. In my lifetime, I’ve lustily cheered 10 world champions in baseball, hockey and football, an unparalleled record for a small-market city and better than Chicago’s if you toss out Michael Jordan and professional basketball, which I do because I don’t consider basketball a sport.

Every sport requires a skill. All basketball requires is freakish height. Sure, the sport attracts some good athletes, but if you or I woke up tomorrow and had a growth spurt that left us 7-foot-8 inches tall, guaranteed, some NBA team would make us instant millionaires. Why? Simply because we’re tall. So, sorry, MJ, but basketball’s not a sport.

So Pittsburgh takes a backseat to no one in sports history.

But you can’t tell that to the thousands of Cub fans who showed up at PNC Park, named by ESPN as the most beautiful ballpark in America, which means the most beautiful ballpark in the universe.

This is an important point. PNC’s so beautiful that couples regularly choose it as a place to wed. In fact, I’ve been to one of the weddings there (congratulations, Howard & Mary!) and a more elegant affair there’s never been. This wasn’t some scoreboard proposal deal either. This was a fairytale wedding that graced the fabulous club level and happened, as it does more than 30 times a year, when the home team’s away. The service is so posh and delightfully unusual it’s been featured in Modern Bride (and I, ahem, wrote the story).

Wrigley Field, on the other hand, is a beer-soaked toilet. Chicago drunks go there to vomit, urinate in their seats and delude themselves into thinking it’s something special. And they fill it whether the team wins or not. In fact, they fill it when the team has no chance at all, and that’s often been the case since Roosevelt was president. Teddy Roosevelt.

No good fan should reward their cheap ownership with full attendance. In Pittsburgh, if the team stinks, we stay home until the owners put up a winner. It’s that way in sensible cities around the country.

So as the game dwindled down to its final outs, Paul and I were about the only Pirate fans left amidst several thousand wearing Cubby blue. Had any survivors from the Alamo time-traveled to enjoy a summer evening at PNC they would have said, “Man, and we thought we were outnumbered!”

That’s when it started, all the disparaging remarks.

“Didn’t these guys used to be good? . . . Where are all the Pirate fans? . . . This is like a home game . . . The vendors outnumber the Pirate fans . . .”

There was none of the friendly banter, camaraderie or commiseration that is the hallmark of good baseball fans everywhere. Paul and I stewed.

I don’t know what set me off, I think I remember hearing the word “lame,” but I detonated.

I’ve always prided myself on being a witty guy. Like the great comic -- and Pittsburgh native -- Dennis Miller, I can usually come up with devastating and intelligent zinger that’ll disarm even the nastiest of bullies.

Where that part of me was Tuesday in the bottom of the ninth, I don’t know.

Because all I could think to shout was a two-word epithet that got Ralphie in so much trouble while he was helping his dad change the tire in “A Christmas Story.”

It was like those nature scenes where flocks of birds are startled from the trees. Every head in the place turned. The ushers came rushing up like they smelled burning babies. Later Paul assured me my singular profanity was certainly picked up by microphones and broadcast around the globe on satellite and terrestrial radio.

I instinctually did what years as a troublemaking wiseguy prepared me to do. I pointed at the Cub fan behind me.

For some reason, I didn’t get ejected. Maybe the ushers didn’t want to leave Paul all by himself. Maybe they really wanted to thank me for saying what they felt like telling all those obnoxious Cub fans themselves.

But I immediately felt very small. As we got up to leave -- final score Cubs 14, Pirates 9 -- I got into one of those endless and pointless staring contests with the guy behind me. He told me I was a coward for not having the guts to admit I’d been the culprit.

And he was right.

Now, when my daughters look to me for an example of right and wrong, I’ll just have to pretend I’m a highroad guy when deep down I know the truth.

That I’m a lowdown, gutless, impetuously immature jerk who can’t control his fragile emotions when confronted with even mild taunting. I’m no longer one of the good guys. I’m a sad loser and that’s probably all I’ll ever be. I'm a disgraceful human being.

Still beats being a Cub fan!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Non-worker takes daughter to work

I was reminded again last week how even the best of intentions can become corrupted by individual realties. There’s “Take Your Daughter To Work Day,” for instance.

I’m sure when organizers came up with this noble idea, they envisioned bright, fresh-faced girls heading to some corporate office so they could spend a day watching their mommies and daddies conducting productive meetings in organizational settings where everyone’s bright, shiny and can daily demonstrate they’re contributing to society’s overall good.

In fact, those are probably the exact sorts of jobs the very organizers had the day they dreamed up with the idea in first place, the uppity showoffs.

Guaranteed, the guys who haul my trash didn’t think it up. Nice guys doing a job you can argue is more necessary than most, but it’s doubtful they’re ever hanging off the back of the stinking truck thinking, “Oh, how I wish my daughter could see how I heaved that last bin of trash! I wish she could have seen me frisbee the lid over into yonder bushes!”

Same goes for folks working in slaughterhouses, sewage plants and other pivotal, but unheralded jobs.

And the same goes for me.

It’s not that I’m ashamed of what I do for a living. Far from it. It’s just that I set a terrible example for anyone who’s been taught we all need to be ambitious and work hard to get anywhere in life.

With me, it’s been just the opposite, and that wasn’t the lesson I wanted to impart to our 7-year-old daughter, Josie, when circumstances meant she could either spend the day with the sitter or tagging along with how I spend a normal day.

“I promise I won’t bother you, Daddy! Please, please, I’ll let you work!”

With those words, she proved she’s mastered one requirement in any number of demanding fields. She’s a really fine liar.

During the one usually productive segment of my at-home morning -- writing this no-pay blog -- she pestered and distracted me without end. She asked if she could play on mommy’s computer (no), if I’d play “Battleship” (no), if she could watch TV (no), and if I’d come with her to the woods to poke a really big spider with a stick (yes).

I’d planned on devoting that day at the office to re-working a story on the upcoming 9/11 commemorations of Flight 93 at nearby Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Instead, I imparted her with another lesson likely to doom her from future career advancement:

When faced with distractions and obstacles, don’t try and overcome them. Just give up.

That’s what I did. I took her for a long sunshine walk along the nearby train tracks. That finished off the morning and meant it was time for one of my favorite parts of the day.

The Price is Right!

If the day’s going smoothly, I can usually time the instant my rear end hits the bar stool with Rich Fields’ announcement that -- DA! da! Da! DAAAA! -- it’s time for the Showcase Showdown! I have great memories of my old man taking me into bars with him for lunch so I thought she should see where I eat most lunches when I’m not home watching TPIR with the family.

I don’t think she ever realized the show was such a spectator sport. One of my buddies was screaming at the set when some lame brain bid $21,000 on a camper combo worth, he said, at least twice that much: “You shouldn’t be allowed on the show if you’ve never bothered to watch it!” he screamed (he was right on the money, too. It was $42,150).

It was fun for me to look into her little brown eyes and see the dawning awareness that much older men were just as childish as her little boyfriends who were about to enter second grade.

The part, I’m sure, she’ll remember most vividly was what we did after lunch. It’s something I’ve been doing on and off for the better part of the 18 months I’ve worked in the tiny apartment overlooking the bar’s rear parking lot.

We stood behind the curtains waiting for cars to park or depart. The instant the drivers closed their car doors, I’d remotely deploy my car horn alarm with my own key set, instigating panic and confusion among the drivers and their parties.

Twice we had befuddled drivers set off their own horns in vain efforts to silence mine. Together, we roared at the chaos.

So that was my impromptu take-my-daughter-to-work day.

To sum up, I produced something inconsequential that’ll be quickly forgotten. I romped about in the sunshine. Played a few jokes. Laughed with a loved one. Didn’t earn a dime.

Come to think of it, that about sums up my entire career, too.

Monday, August 25, 2008

China power? Tso what

There are 1.3 billion Chinese people on the planet and I don’t know a single one of them. I don’t know what motivates them, what they aspire to or where we can find common ground, if any.

All I know, for sure, is that they really know how to throw a great Olympics. I was enthralled. I believe it’ll be remembered as one of the greatest shows in television history (and please don’t take that as a personal slap at my hero, J.R. Ewing).

But as for the people who put it on, I know zip. My life is shockingly lilly-white. Latrobe is where the gentle PBS legend Fred Rogers grew up. He patterned his enduring children’s show on my town. I live, literally, in Mister Rogers Neighborhood.

Sure, I know a few Chinese Americans, but our relationship doesn’t exceed the customer-businessman level. I say, “Hello, Huang. I’d like the General Tso chicken today.”

He says, “Big surprise. One General Tso chicken. You never get anything else. Always same. I guess that mean I can look forward to another 50-cent tip, too.”

Well, I guess I do know one thing about the Chinese: Years of cheap tips can leave them just as surly as their American counterparts.

Nothing about the Chinese fascinated more than their ability to choreograph thousands of people into those sublime human towers and floor patterns. It was compelling and at the same time a little scary to some viewers.

What if they used that same discipline for evil purposes, they wondered? Readers of the old Weekly World News (sample headline: “Baby Born with Wooden Leg!!!”) knew years ago that this could happen.

I vividly recall one story that detailed how the Chinese government had ordered all one billion of its citizens to jump up at precisely the same instant. Their evil scientists had divined that all those people landing at the same second would throw the earth of orbit and doom us all.

“They know it’ll mean their utter destruction as well as the entire planet’s, but they’re eager to show how powerful they are,” said one expert.

The day passed without event. It wasn’t until the next issue of the Batboy tabloid arrived that I learned why. A bar full of about two dozen beer-bellied WWN readers in New Jersey learned of the plot, jumped up at the same time and provided the lifesaving oomph needed to keep this woe-begotten world on track.

So now we’re at a crossroads. The Beijing Olympics has been an unparalleled success. Do the Chinese use the global goodwill they’ve engendered to become more open and progressive? Or will they continue to treat their citizens like chattel, stacking them up for the televised amusement of a mostly American audience that sits there and thinks nothing of human rights while they stuff their faces with pizza, chips and big steaming bowls of General Tso’s chicken.

Time will tell.

I just know this: I’m glad I live in a country so uniformly prosperous that 24 guys from a New Jersey bar weigh as much as 1.3 billion Chinese.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The perfect phone message

I’ve foisted yet another example on my wife about why being married to me is no day at the beach.

Sure, there’s upsides to being my Mrs. Rodell. I’m good for giggles, take her on nice trips, help around the house, am good with the kids, smell nice, am devastatingly handsome . . . modest.

But, yep, there’s baggage. For now, let’s skip the biggies (no ambition, impatient, excessive thirst for bar products) and go to the infuriating little ones, the straws that strain the camel’s back (and, yes, I’m aware equating her with a camel can be misread by people unfamiliar with her beauty so add “sloppy analogizyer” to the baggage list).

Take my latest instructions about the phone message. I have a real thing about idiot phone messages -- and hers was not one of them. Most phone messages prattle on and on with so many unnecessary and detailed instructions that it seems like we’re all being taught how to defuse live bombs, not leave a message.

We just got a new phone system and she innocently recorded something perfectly utilitarian. “Hi, you’ve reached the Rodells. We’re not home right now. Please leave a message and we’ll call you right back.”

Nine out of 10 times, that message will convey at least two outrageous lies and is scattered with insults to the poor caller. Let’s break it down:

“Hi, you’ve reached the Rodells.” Well, no they haven’t. They’ve failed to reach the Rodells. This is a busy world and these five words eat up time. Most people know who they’re calling. Still, it’s a small matter so let’s move on.

“We’re not home right now.” Oh, yes we are. In fact, we’re standing there staring at the Caller ID -- or as I call it, the “In-Law Detector” -- and thinking when it’ll be convenient for us to call you back or if we ever will. My mind’s running through questions like, “Do I owe this woman money? Does she owe me money? Will there be any selfish benefit for me to ever bother returning her phone call?” It’s impossible for me to convey just how much heartfelt affection I have for the Caller ID function.

“Please leave a message . . .” This one always gets me. It’s redundantly unnecessary. Every single person capable of hearing and speech knows instantly what to do when they reach a recording. Phone machines have been in widespread use for more than 15 years now. We all know the drill.

“ . . . and we’ll get right back to you.” Another outrageous falsehood. We’ll get back to you when we’re damn good and ready.

The perfect phone message is simply, “Go!” It’s lets the callers know they’ve gotten through and they can commence with their business.

But that’s a bit abrupt. That’s why the previous phone message, the one I composed, was splashed with sunshine. “Hi! This is Chris. That’s Val. That’s Josie. That’s Lucinda. Have a splendid day!”

Try and improve on it. You can’t. It paints a Rockwellian picture of a happy family, gives the full family roster and ends with a rosy salutation.

Really, if people weren’t so busy, I’d love to elaborate on the ending with “and we hope you have a wonderful day, and that every day after this gets better and better until your life is complicated by a jackpot winning Powerball ticket!”

That’s a message that would put even the grumpiest bank manager in a sunny mood.

And that’s what I’m all about. I’m out to make every single person on the planet's life a little bit better, a little more hopeful, a little more happy.

I’m sure Val will argue that last point pretty convincingly, though.

This has been Chris wishing you a really great day.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

To bike or not to bike

I recently bought a bike for health purposes and I’m keeping it deep in the garage for health purposes.

With gas prices skyrocketing this spring, stopping at a yard full of used bikes to buy a spiffy 10-speeder for $80 seemed to make sense. I could ride it the two miles to my office in town. It would be good cardiovascular exercise and would help me stay tone and fit.

I’ve always liked riding bikes. Unlike running, people who ride bikes are almost always smiling and you never hear grim news stories about the kick stand crowd suffering from bouts of things like bike rage.

I took a bike tour of Philadelphia -- a city you wouldn’t normally associate with biking -- and it was a splendid. We hit all the great historic sites and had a picnic lunch at a lovely park. And I have great memories of an overnight bike trip with my wife through scenic Ohiopyle State Park.

So I thought biking to work would be a pleasant way to save gas, keep fit and enjoy that smug eco-superiority we’re all striving for these days.

Of course, as with any impulse buy, I immediately began experiencing regrets.

I failed to realize commuter biking is not conducive to where I live and work. I live in the Laurel Mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania. The first part of my two-mile commute is nearly straight downhill. I road it one Saturday morning to get the paper while suffering from a mild hangover. I made the mistake of thinking a bike ride would sweat the toxins out.

The ride down was great. I felt the “Wind in the hair! Lead in the pencil!” euphoria that Jack Nicholson exhalted about in “Terms of Endearment” moments before wrecking the T-Top he was steering along the beach with his feet. I didn’t wreck, but I didn’t figure on the “ride” back up the mountain being enough to kill me.

I wound up laying on the side of the road, cold sweat covering my pale skin, until Val and the kids responded to my humiliated cellphone calls for assistance. Their ridicule and laughter did nothing to help my hangover.

I chalked it up to being out of shape. I figured I could scale the hill after a week or so of two-wheeled exertions.

But then I began to do a little thoughtful reconnaissance about the entire two-mile trip to my office above The Pond (the tavern that, if you’re not counting parking lot puddles, is about three miles from the nearest body of water).

Riding mostly downhill to the office would be a cinch. I’d be motivated and eager to get to my destination. Riding back uphill was another matter. The hill’s daunting enough. Worse, the ride home requires navigating past four lively taverns.

That means dodging drunks as they come and go. And I’m not even counting myself. I might become so fatigued that I’ll need to stop in for refreshment. Once there, generous friendlies might insist on refreshing me so much that I’ll be unable to mount the bike again.

The perfect solution is to could get The IOC to build one of those Olympic tracks from my house to The Pond. There’d be no traffic, gentle slopes and thousands of smiling Chinese children yelling patriotic slogans in fractured English for NBC cameras.

I began to conclude that my route is simply too dangerous for me to dare it. The odds are that I’ll either fall or get hit on these country roads. Drivers are too distracted. They’re yapping on their cell phones, switching iPod playlists -- doing anything but watching out for a gentle soul who’s single-footedly trying to pedal America to energy independence.

Plus, I read about CBS golf analyst David Feherty and his near-fatal bike accident in his Dallas neighborhood. He nearly lost a limb. Just two years after recovering from alcoholism, his newly virtuous life nearly ended when a truck went crooked and wide into his straight and narrow.

A man with so much to live for nearly had to kiss it all goodbye.

Life’s so funny like that.

The only way for some of us to save our sorry asses is to do something that’ll ensure we’ll be forever saddled with flabby butts.

Monday, August 18, 2008

"You're the greatest swimmer ever! Now what?"

It was because of Michael Phelps, underwater cameras and glorious 48-inch HDTV that I’ve said things in the past week I never thought I’d say about a nearly naked man.

“Look, it’s so beautiful. Do you see how the splash of bubbles runs over his body? Look at the dolphin-like way he moves. Magnificent! I’ve never seen anything like it. Go Michael! Go! Go! Go!”

And away he went for eight gold medals. He’s the world’s greatest swimmer and the hands-down star of these great Olympics.

And in five years, that’ll mean precisely, what?

ESPN’s “Mike and Mike” were talking on Monday about what Phelps will do next to capitalize on his instant and well-deserved global fame. Will he turn to acting? Will he continue to compete? Advertising? Corporate sponsorships?

They thoroughly cited every proven example of what he could do to ensure he remains relevant, if anyone who spends hour after mind-numbing hour in a pool without devolving back into a sea creature could ever be considered relevant at all.

All but one.

The only logical and fun option for a 23-year-old swimmer who experts say is on the verge of a multi-million dollar payday is to become Arthur.

Arthur was the Dudley Moore character in the title role of the 1981 movie of the same name.

He’ll be the role model for me if, cross your fingers, I’m ever bestowed instant and bottom-less wealth. There’s never been a better example of a happy drunk than Arthur Bach. He left $1,000 tips, was kind to and revered by his staff of flunkies and drivers, and generally laughed through life as though he were being tickled by a giant invisible feather.

I remember the first time I saw the movie and thinking they were going to ruin him in the end by making him poor and happy or -- worse -- sober and happy, but the producers never flinched. In the end he got all the money, he got the girl and, I suppose, went through the rest of his life without ever drawing a single sober breath.

And if I can ever shed the shackles of my wage-earning requirements, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

I advise the same for Phelps. Certainly, the appeal -- if ever there was one -- of getting up every day, tucking his goodies into the Speedo and jumping into a chilly pool is waning. Swimming-wise, it’s all downhill from here. Further competition will only dim his luster.

Acting? Not going to happen for him. He’s got a good-natured and goofy smile that would be great for Jay Leno skits, but the ladies are never going to line up to watch him star in a remake of, say, “The Bodyguard.”

Forget corporate sponsorships. That would be a life of going around and glad-handing with obnoxious mostly white, mostly male corporate Republicans whose idea of humor is making cheap Speedo jokes like the ones I only flirted with in previous paragraphs.

It would be enough to drive any man to drink.

That’s why I’m urging him to become the first man to swim to drink.

Phelps should reap the waiting bonanza of endorsements experts say is in the neighborhood of $10 million, retire, and simply enjoy life.

He should build a huge mansion near the Inner Harbor at his Baltimore hometown, a great place to party. He should build an enormous and lavish pool with waterslides, a lazy river and invite all the inner city and neighborhood kids to stop by anytime they’d want. An adults-only section could feature the world’s largest swim-up Hooters.

He’d be the king of Baltimore (happily dethroning weirdo filmmaker John Waters). He’d be revered for his good nature. We’d all feel a little better about ourselves every time he’d make the news for some charitable act. And he could enjoy it all with the kind of endless buzz that made Arthur such a wonderful character.

I just hope he’ll hire a sober squad of lifeguards to tend to him whenever he’s near the water.

It wouldn’t do to have a man who’d made his fortune swimming like a fish drown after drinking like one.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Amazing, but true: time for 2010 calendars

It’s doubtful any aspiring writer ever sat in a journalism class and thought, “Boy, someday I’d like to write those little page-a-day calendars that people read, tear off and throw away.”

I know it’s something I never aspired to. In fact, my stream-of-consciousness in journalism class went something like this: “Man, this hangover’s killing me. Why did I drink that sixth shot of Ouzo? I’m so stupid! Well, at least I’m smart enough to have chosen journalism for a career. Industries will come and go, but people are always going to need daily newspapers. Man, I sure could use a drink . . .”

Yet, here I am, embarking on my 10th year of doing those perky little calendars. I’ve done them, at least one a year, on a range of “Amazing But True” topics.

I’ve done them on fishing: “More than 5,000 ice fishing 'huts' on Mille Lacs, Minnesota, have ceiling fans, computers, satellite TV, kitchens -- even hot tubs. Each winter, the frozen lake becomes home to the world’s largest temporary city with more than 100 miles of ploughed roads, street signs, a police force, pizza delivery and regular trash pickup.”

I’ve done them on new Dads: “Jack Somano is America’s greatest Mr. Mom. The Orlando father stays at home raising the quintuplets his wife Kathy delivered in 2000. She is the breadwinning branch manager for Thrifty Car Rental and the family relies on her benefits to keep the family afloat.”

I’ve done ‘em on grandparents: “In the presence of your beloved grandchild, answer any ringing phone and pretend it's the President of the United States calling to ask your opinion on important world affairs. The unwitting caller will be confused, but the wide-eyed child will be mighty impressed.”

And, lordy, lordy, have I done ‘em on golf. The template for the 2010 “Amazing But True Golf Facts” page-a-day golf calendar just arrived. My friend, Allan Zullo, owner of the franchise, has farmed these out to me for 10 years now.

Their arrival has become like a visit from an old friend. It means one week in the next month or so I’ll absolutely immerse myself in golf trivia as I comb through a year’s worth of old golf magazines and news stories for source information. God help you if you get paired with me for a round of golf within the days after the project wraps.

I’m bleary from the work and a Tourette’s-like stream of golf trivia's always blurting out of my mouth. For instance: “Playing ‘barefoot’ in the U.K. isn’t an invitation to intimacy. It means no strokes will be exchanged in a competitive match.”

Very few people on the planet have ever done even one of these, but I think everybody should and they should be ranked based on the result. They’re very revealing. Doing the calendars mirrors my moods throughout the entire year. On the calendars, I can be witty and sharp through March. I’m enlightening through July. I’m relevent through September, mildly informative through October and after Halloween I got nothing left.

The work doesn’t pay a huge sum, but it’s a nifty earner for the time invested, especially now that I do them with such machine-like intensity. The fruit is they make great Christmas presents to golf pros at nice courses who often return the favor with a free round of golf for me and my buddies. And free golf beats money any day (a thought that’s ensuring my continued poverty for at least another two years of golf calendars).

I doubt I’ll be starting the 2010 version until October. But I already know what the January 1, 2010, entry will be.

It fell into my lap last month when I went to interview Arnold Palmer at his Latrobe office. I’d never noticed one before, but right there where most people keep a computer was my 2008 “Amazing, but True Golf Calendar.” I told him how flattered I was that he was a reader.

“Not, only am I a reader,” he said reaching into his desk for a sizable stack, “but I keep a bunch of them for reference purposes. I’m always telling people about something I’ve found in these. They’re great!”

Arnold Palmer reads my convenience store Confusionisms first thing every day.

It’d be like Elvis waking up and playing a commercial jingle I’d written just because he thinks the tune’s catchy.

Amazing, but true.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Long live National Enquirer!

It happened Saturday, as it nearly always does, when I’m introduced at a party by anyone who’s known me for the past 15 years or so.

“This is Chris. He writes for National Enquirer.”

I could have become indignant and pointed out I haven’t written a word for the notorious supermarket tabloid in more than seven years. I could have mentioned Esquire, Sports Illustrated, People, Playboy or nearly a dozen other mainstream publications deemed more prestigious than the Enquirer.

Instead, I just nodded my head. In a way, I’ll always be writing for National Enquirer. It was there from 1992-1999 that I cranked out more than 1,000 stories. I still look at every potential story through the journalistic prism I learned at their Lantana, Florida, offices.

It’s not, “Will this be relevant?” “Will this alter policy?” Or “Will this effect the lives of readers?”

No, it’s always “Will this be fun?”

The Enquirer is one of the last bastions in the publishing world where wage-earning reporters and editors understand the exuberant joy of really great storytelling.

That’s why at parties I’m always happy to acknowledge my Enquirer days and stories like, “Town Saved by Giant Ball of Twine!” Or “Man Struck By Lightning Never Feels Cold Again!” Or “Baby Born with Wooden Leg!”

I did mostly the wacky features, but also did my share of celebrity skullduggery. I nearly got arrested trying to crash Julia Roberts’s 30th birthday party, I snuck flowers to Tammy Wynette in the hopes of getting a death bed interview, and I checked into rehab with Courtney Love (I don’t think it helped either of us).

If you’ve never done so, please visit the National Enquirer page at It features my three greatest hits including the time I gained 20 pounds in one week eating like Elvis Presley. It’s all true and was based on the popular Elvis cookbook, “Are You Hungry Tonight?”

And I still contend Eats Like Elvis would be a really nifty name for aspiring punk bands.

So you see, I have great affection for the Enquirer, the people there and what it’s meant to me and my career.

It’s why I was rooting for the Enquirer to be on-the-money when it first published the story that John Edwards was having an affair way back in October 2007. At the time, I was a staunch Edwards supporter and I still believe no one would do more to help the godforsaken poor than John with the dreamy hair.

But when it comes to pure partisanship, I’m more National Enquirer than Democrat. I guess it comes from all the “true” journalistic types who’ll always look down their noses at me for having reveled in the tabloid world.

This was from media critic Howard Kurtz of the August 11 Washington Post:

“Those who blithely dismiss a brash supermarket tabloid -- what New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller called the "hold-your-nose quality about the Enquirer" -- had better check the record. The Enquirer's reporting of the O.J. Simpson extravaganza of the '90s was good enough to be cited by the Times itself. In 2001, the tabloid reported both that Hillary Clinton's brother had been paid $400,000 to secure a presidential pardon for a convicted businessman, and that Jesse Jackson had fathered an out-of-wedlock child. In 2003, Rush Limbaugh acknowledged an addiction to painkillers after the Enquirer reported that Florida authorities were looking into his drug use.”

So there.

Oh, and that story about the baby born with the wooden leg? That was one of my favorite stories from the uproarious Weekly World News, the Enquirer’s now-defunct sister publication.

Like a lot of publications, they wouldn’t hire me because I worked for National Enquirer. For them, I was just too mainstream.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Text messaging menace under my roof

Add “Getting killed in my sleep by a 13-year-old girl” to my ever-growing list of fears that go with living in these tumultuous times.

I’m fairly certain I can kick the ass of almost any 13-year-old girl on the planet who’s not right now swinging from a parallel bar in Beijing. I’m fairly fit, have a high pain tolerance that’s helped me survive countless hangovers that would have claimed lesser men, and I’m skilled at dirty fighting.

So square me off against a 13-year-old girl and you’d be smart to put your money on me.

But have a crazed one attack me in my sleep and that changes the odds. I’m a sound sleeper who’s used to enduring the tiny stabs of Buster, the 19-year-old cat who won’t die, as he puts his fresh-from-the-litter-box paws all over my face. I might not recognize the mortal wounds until the waterbed mattress was filled with my diluted blood.

That’s why I’ve spent the past two nights hiding the knives and rigging up an empty beer can alarm system that’ll give me a head’s up that danger’s approaching.

In our house, danger’s a doll.

She’s my wife’s 13-year-old niece up from Virginia Beach for the week. She’s sweet, smart and pretty by nature, but she’s having a tough time because her mother got divorced and remarried within a year. She’s been thrown into a new house in a new neighborhood with three new siblings.

I’m totally sympathetic towards her. Growing up, she never imagined this would happen to her family. What kid does?

I don’t think she’d ever do anything to hurt me or my family.

But the people who seem to be controlling her mind through sinister text messages would.

It’s utterly unnerving to be sharing so much space with someone who doesn’t talk to you, but is constantly staring at you as she tap, tap, taps secret messages to unseen strangers. In my mind, I imagine seizing the cellular device from her and reading in bold LED letters, “KILL THEM ALL!”

Part of it, of course, is my massive ego that just can’t accept that anyone wouldn’t want to devote their entire waking minutes to my philosophical discourses on religion, politics, sports and which local taverns serve the tastiest pizza (The Pond, of course).

I realize this makes no sense. No one in the family listens to me. And the only reason the kids, ages 7 and 2, haven’t succeeded in running away yet is they both take such tiny strides. Guaranteed, once they realize their father will fatigue and give up running after 15 steps, those gals are gone.

In the meantime, we’re trying to show our niece love and warmth, to let her know that we believe in her and laughter is a better dinner companion than sullen insolence.

I’m hoping it’s a daily groundwork that’ll help my daughters avoid falling into the same doleful demeanor when they reach that difficult age. If not, there’s always what we dubbed Plan A.

If the kids become too immersed in diabolical text messages, cell phones, instant messages and other technologies that insulate them from family love, we decided long ago to go to Plan A. That is Plan Amish.

Plan Amish means we school both children in the humble ways of the Amish, while Val and I continue to enjoy the heathen lifestyle to which we’ve become so accustomed. I’ll still have my iPod, my HDTV and all the technological doodads that make life so nifty for anyone with either disposable income or credit card company that hasn’t already been scorched by foolishly leisure lending habits.

You never see Amish girls on reality shows. They don’t get tattoos or spend their time text messaging when they should be milking cows and churning butter. And you don’t see them calling their Amish pappies “Daddy Doofus,” the name to which I reflexively respond “Yes?” every time it’s shouted, doggone it.

Daddy Doofus will stand there having the last laugh as he watches them type their very last text messages to their corrupted friends.

“Goodbye cool world!”

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Free to the people

I was recently rebuffed after I offered a good friend of mine, a new father, the greatest gift of all. I gave his son a name. It’s the name I would have used for our second child had she conveniently been born boy.

Here’s the story. We didn’t peek at the sex -- and shame on you if you ever do -- before the birth. But both Valerie and I were convinced the kicking little rascal was going to be a son.

She liked the name Sawyer because she has the hots for Sawyer on the aptly named and endlessly confusing ABC show “Lost.” I liked it because I could pass it off for its literary allusions to my hero, Mark Twain.

But as she was in labor and under heavy sedation, she agreed to my brainstorm name that is the key to the greatest boy name in the history of boys.


It’s short, punchy, unique and, I said, was the given name as one of the original seven astronauts and an authentic American hero, Buzz Aldrin (I belatedly learned I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Aldin's given name is Edwin Eugene).

Put them together and you get Buzz Sawyer.

This is perfect because years later I envisioned some future Pittsburgh Steeler announcer shouting, “And Buzz Saw Rodell rips another hole in the Cowboy line and dives in for the winning Super Bowl TD!”

Buzz Saw Rodell.

Then the doctor said, “It’s a girl!” and screwed the whole thing up. Now some future announcer’s going to be saddled with, “And there goes Lucinda Grace Rodell . . .” It just won’t have the same ring to it. And the magnificent daughter I love to cuddle is going to have to endure a really, really awkward phase in the teens for it to happen.

So I’ve been magnanimously giving away the name Buzz Sawyer free to every expecting couple I know. The reaction’s always the same.

“Uh, no thanks. We’re naming him Robert.”

So instead of having the greatest name in the world, I end up getting Bob a stupid diaper genie.

It always surprises me when the world turns its back on my generous inspirations.

Take pick-up lines. Years after I’ve lost any need for them, I’m a prolific creator of some of the best ever.

I give them to single friends and young men who need skillful mentoring from someone wise like me. And, check ‘em out, these are perfectly unisex. They can work in both directions. Remember to always say them deadpan with a straight face.

* “Tell me, was it as difficult for you growing up beautiful as it was for me?” This works great for really ugly guys because it combines a fine compliment with humor and absurd confidence. Most beautiful women are uncomfortable about their beauty and this addresses that silly nonsense.

* “You have really beautiful skin. How can I see more of it?” The issue of lustful intentions should be settled right up front. If this innocuous little come-on offends, the speaker can just move right on to the person on the next bar stool. Who needs to waste time pussyfooting around with, “Uh, do you like sushi?”

• “You look like an observant person. Tell me, what can you suggest in terms of diet or exercise that’ll have me looking as great in my jeans as you look in yours?” This, again, disarms with a deft compliment -- people like it when anyone seeks their advice -- and then closes with a devastating animal lust.

I have more, but these three should be sufficient to end loneliness around the planet. As noted, I’m all about helping people.

And why does a happily married man feel the need to compile pick-up lines? Besides the obvious humanitarian reasons, I suppose it’s basically for the same reason I resisted ever getting a vasectomy after the birth of our second and last child.

Deep in every guy’s heart, there is a profound belief that unforeseen cataclysmic events could one day wipe out the rest of the entire male population. And it’ll be up to the lone survivor to singlehandedly repopulate the human race.

And, given our history in dealing with women, even the last man alive is still going to need a really dandy pick-up if he’s ever going to get anywhere.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

How to win a race war

The bar stool racists informed me I’d be a minority in fewer than five years. No, they’ve not developed a cellular ray gun that’ll -- poof! -- instantly turn me into an African American or a Hispanic, which would be kind of cool if any such gun existed and wound up in mischievous hands.

“I’m telling you, in about four years the white man in America is going to be a minority,” he gravely intoned. “We'll be outnumbered. And if Obama gets elected, the first thing he’ll do is redistrict so the blacks in the ghettos’ll have all the power. And what are you gonna do then?”

Well, if history’s a reliable guide, I’m guessing I’ll start smooching a whole lot more black and Hispanic butt. That’s been my pattern with anyone who’s in any position of power. Sure, it hasn’t helped me get ahead in any single situation, but it hasn’t tossed me any farther behind so I’m guessing it’s a wash at worst.

In truth, I’ve always tried to go out of my way to be extra nice to minorities. I think they have it so difficult and that so many racists hate them just for being born that I take it upon myself to show them that, after centuries of ancestral hatreds, at least the Rodells are friendly folk.

To me, it’s a truly affirmative action.

Of course, that’s nothing that the bar stool racists want to hear. Your typical bar stool racist is never going to listen to positive solutions. They’d rather wallow in hate and ignorance and go about their mean little lives.

That’s why I knew my most potent solution was going to be so tough for them to swallow. But it’s the only truly proactive solution that is guaranteed to prolong white superiority -- and for the purposes of this discussion I mean that from a purely numeric point of view.

“Boys, if you’re really serious about doing something about maintaining a white majority, here's what you do. Go home right now, fill your wives and girlfriends full of fertility drugs and make passionate love to them over and over again.”

This is a profound logic. Yet, it was greeted with an awkward silence and I knew exactly why.

Most bar stool racists like these -- ones that aren’t already divorced or dateless -- are mired in marriages so loveless that their memories of passion are more distant than the memory of their first tattoos.

That kind of advice is absolutely contrary to the bar racist’s entire way of life. In fact, it’s doubtful you’ll even find the words “make love” any place in the whole bar racist playbook. They’d rather talk about hurt than hugs.

And I’m sure their wives and girlfriends suffer for it. If I could, I’d help them, too. It saddens me to know anyone’s going through life so distant from joyful affections.

But that’s not my job, not when there are so many bar stool racists that need guys like me around to shine a little light and show them, conversely, there’s nothing wrong with a little dark. Not to mention that if my wife ever found out, my own marriage would suddenly and pitifully be a lot more loveless.

Still, it won’t distract me from my message, one that works for anyone interested in a winning the race war.

Remember, in every instance, make love, not hate.

I’d like to go on but, hey, I’ve got to pack. My sister-in-law’s getting married in Virginia Beach this weekend and we’re all invited! Regular readers of this blog (Hiya, Ronnie!) know how sentimental I am about weddings.

I’ve been weeping about this one ever since Val told me I had to go.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Warning: prospective golf story

What follows is a story I've submitted to the major golf magazines. I just got my hair cut by a woman who asked what I did for a living. I've been leaning more and more toward just saying, "worm farmer," anytime anyone asks what I do.

And it's true. I am a worm farmer. I took a vermiculture class a couple of years ago. Vermiculture is a recycling procedure where a big bin of dirt and worms are used to recycle discarded food stuffs like uneaten vegetables, tea bags and shredded newspapers. I'm an avid recycle and love this aspect of the game. The harvested worm poo makes a great, nutrient-rich fertilizer for other plants.

Plus, for the past two years I've been invited to my daughter's school to discuss the project. If it keeps up, in the eyes of some of the children I'll always be the "worm farmer guy."

That's much better than what I told the haircutter. To her, I said, "Well, I'm a writer. I work for a bunch of magazines and get rejected by the rest. I write about travel, interesting people, trends, restaurants and I do a lot of golf stuff. I work with Arnold Palmer and have covered some major tournaments. Most of the time I'll just come up with a story and try and submit it to magazines. If they pass on it -- and they almost always do -- I usually just dump it on the orphanage page at my website,"

At this point, I glanced up in the mirror and saw she was looking for a sharp instrument to jab into her eye as punishment for bothering to ask.

But I know some of my regular readers (Hiya, Ronnie!) are as avid about golf as I am about worm farming. For his and your benefit, here's an unedited story about an unusual practice swing I'd heard about.

So if you don't like golf or are that poor woman who had to cut my hair, you'd better click off right now. Either way, you've been warned or "wormed," as it were.

"Super fast improving through super slow-motion practice swings!"

I’m like most busy golfers in that I’ll devote countless hours to range work, but I’m too impatient to give even a measly minute to a tedious training technique that just might revolutionize golf.

It’s the super slow-motion golf swing. I learned about it at Wintergreen Golf Academy in Virginia where I was told that reducing my golf swing to one full minute would bestow the physical and neurological benefits of smacking 1,000 range balls.

One minute. Sixty seconds. I shared the revelation with friends who greeted it with ridicule. “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. You must have made a mistake.”

I checked with the super slo-mo swing’s chief promoter, renown teacher and former tour player Mike Malaska, and he told me my buddy was correct. I had made a mistake.

“Actually, it’s a three-minute swing. One minute for the back swing, one for the downswing and one for the follow through.”

You won’t find many beginner’s licenses out on the Autobahn, but we all practice the golf swing with our foot slammed on the accelerator. In fact, most practice ranges are populated by golfers who resemble lumberjacks. They thoughtlessly swing at the ball-after-ball like woodsmen eager to split all the logs before the last bowl of Dinty Moore’s gone.

The result is that most range practice simply reinforces bad habits and makes it harder than ever to improve.

The super-slow motion swing rewires the brain so that a lifetime of bad habits are thoughtfully displaced by exemplary ones. The drill is based on the wisdoms of Tai Chi martial arts that seeks to focus the mind solely on movements of the form to bring about mental calm and clarity.

“The results are dramatic,” says Malaska who daily practices the three phases of the swing in three five-minute increments. “I’ve seen guys go from shooting 100s to 70s in one year. I have made more progress with my swing under pressure in one year than in all my years on tour.”

Malaska says it’s hard to convince golfers to commit to the swing. Your friends, none of whom wants you to get any better, will make fun of you, as did mine. But an even more ruthless adversary stands in the way. My own mind brims with an impatience for anything in these days of instant messaging . . . that . . . deliberately . . . moves . . . so . . . slowly.

I’ve tried it in the quiet of my own back yard. My self-timing mind rushed through the whole swing in 45 seconds. When I vainly try and stretch it out to three minutes, I feel like Rory Sabbatini’s going to rush out of the woods and take a swing at me for slow play.

But I vow to stick with it. Years of beating balls on the practice range have done nothing to improve my game, something I desperately want to do.

I believe in the wisdom behind the super-slow motion swing. I have the motivation to master it. Now, if I could only find the time.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The future of smart meters for dummies

A recent New York Times story detailed how two English villages have cut their energy consumption by half in five years since the installation of “smart meters” that let homeowners know when energy usage is redlining.

When Jeffrey Marchant and his wife, Brenda, power up their computer, turn on a light or put the kettle on to boil, they can just about watch their electric bill rise. Turn on a computer and the device — a type of so-called smart meter — goes from 300 watts to 400 watts. Turn off a light and it goes from 299 to 215. At 500, the meter is set to sound an alarm.

“I’ve become like one of Pavlov’s dogs,” Mrs. Marchant said. “Every time it bleeps I think I’m going to take one of those pans off the stove. I’d do anything to make it stop. It helps you change your habits.”

Normally, my in-home strategies for conserving energy are confined to pretending to be asleep when my wife asks me to get up and feed the cat, but I’m already looking into getting my own smart meter to torture my family every time someone snaps on a hairdryer or a blender.

I’ll get a whistle, a nightstick, an energy police badge and storm into the kitchen whenever the slightest burp in usage sends the smart meter higher than, say, 50.

“What the hell’s going on in here?” I’ll demand. “The smart meter’s ringing like there’s a prison break.”

“Why, I just wanted to make some toast to feed the baby.”

“You’re wasting electricity! Use a candle!”

“But I’m already using a candle because you’ve removed all the light bulbs.”

“Not to see! Use the candle to make toast! Just hold the bread over the flame. And use it for the soup, too. Heat it as ya eat it, one spoonful at a time.”

But more than that callous fun, I’m romantic about what these meters will mean to the future. I envision a day when meters will inform every aspect of our lives.

Computers of the future may be able to determine down to the mile just how long a vehicle will last. Instead of odometers starting at zero, they’ll start at 250,000 and count down. After a year or so you might dip to 225,000, but you could actually add life miles if you get an oil change or new tires. Truly safe drivers may be able to maintain their life miles at virtually static numbers.

People everywhere will be much more conscious of waste. Meters attached to TVs will show how you’re draining the life of your big screen by leaving it on when you’re not in the room. Refrigerators will tick, tick, tick away their potency as you stand their dawdling over whether to snack on the turkey or the leftover Chinese.

The greatest benefit will, of course, be when each of us gets our very own smart meter. Smoke a cigarette and your life meter will inform you you’ve just scissored 15 minutes off your longevity. Go on a long bender with your buddies and you’d better hope it was damn well worth it. Your life meter will show all that wanton revelry just cost you four days. Eat a spinach salad and you’re just earned another day with the grandkids.

It’ll make every day seem as precious as those given to terminal patients who've just been told they have just six months to live. They draw up their bucket lists and squeeze more zestful fun into two months than they’d done in the previous decades.

Of course, the real breakthrough will be when they develop meters that will be able to determine if we're bound for heaven or hell. Help an old lady across the street and your meter swings toward the heaven. Mistreat your mom and, gadzooks, your meter will tell you may have made an eternally fatal mistake.

We just have to hope the meters won’t make any miscalculations that’ll fool some of us into thinking we’re coasting to heaven when, in fact, we’re bound for a cruise on the lake of fire.

End up there and you're toast.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Bob Dylan, multiple marrieds and me

I’ve long maintained that nobody -- and I mean nobody -- should be allowed to get married without checking with me first.

I’d spend about 15 minutes with every prospective bride and groom. If they fail to convince me they’re going to make a worthy couple, then that’s it. They’re done. “You guys had some swell times together, but it’s over. Time to move on. Good luck to you both.”

And that would be that.

(I believe the same procedure should be in place for every driver before he or she gets a license renewal, but let’s not get off track.)

This would be extremely time-consuming for me, but in the end it would result in a lot less emotional anguish for everyone.

Especially me.

Case in point: Back in June it was announced that Bob Dylan would be headlining an August 9 street festival on the South Side of Pittsburgh. I’ve seen him 43 times before, but this clearly was going to be special. The South Side of Pittsburgh is my favorite neighborhood. It teems with lively ethnic bars, great restaurants and smoke shops. If it was any cooler they could store frozen foods on Carson Street.

I said to my wife, “This is incredible. We’ll drop the kids off with my Mom. Go to the show. If a band stinks, we’ll split and have some drinks and then come back at twilight to hear the great master play. It’ll be the greatest weekend of the year.”

Then, one week later, it all came crashing down. Val told me her sister was getting married. For the third time. It was on the sandy shores at Virginia Beach, an eight hour drive from Latrobe. It was August 9, of course, and then to jab the stick into my eye even further, her sister decided to forbid alcohol.

The only thing that would have made it worse was if she’d have told me that I had to be the groom.

Dry! Under normal circumstances, I might perish under such cruel conditions. And, yes, I’m aware of the stunning incongruity of having a dry wedding yards from the world’s second largest body of water.

On top of all that, I’m actually in the midst of an incredibly busy time. Two misguided publishers have given me advances to work on books. Now, I’m having to weigh whether I should blow off my family on the long drive and stay home looking like a heel. Or go to something I’ll have no chance of enjoying and won’t improve a bit by being there.

“The only difference between in-laws and outlaws is that outlaws are at least wanted by someone.” That’s what my brother said and it’s absolutely true. Her family’s disdain for me is palpable and perfectly understandable, of course. Me, I always take the high road and would never betray my feelings for her whack-job family.

See, if she’d have had to check with me first, she’d never be in this situation and I’d be spending my time dreaming up potential playlists for the Dylan show. I’ve been happily married since 1996 following a sensible three-year shack-up. But what’s good for me isn’t necessarily good for the weak-minded.

Even my 7-year-old daughter understands that. She asked: “How come Aunt Laurie’s getting married for the third time and she’s not even famous?”

I told her that, in my eyes, she’s becoming famous. Really, for the past six weeks or so, she’s all I’ve talked about.

I knew her second husband and disliked him instantly with an intense kind of dislike sovereign people used to reserve for invading Mongols. He was there making microscopic small talk at my favorite holidays. Two or three times I actually had to take him golfing with me and I’d line up for multiple lobotomies if I could get those memories erased from my tender mind.

I never met her first husband, but I’m confident I would have despised him, too.

The third husband-to-be? Seems like a nice enough guy. But there’s no way I’d let him get married to her. Not on August 9.

I’ve long nursed a theory that marriage decay is the fault our excessive longevity. Really, back 200 years ago when our life expectancy topped out at 40 -- you can check it out -- people would get married at age 18 or so and say, “By God, I’m going to love this gal for the rest of my life. There’s no one else for me! ‘til death do us part!”

Then when they were about 38 and their marriage was a stale mess, he’d say, “I am sick and tired of this old crab and her constant nagging. But, what the hell, I’ll be dead in a year or two, so might as well stick it out.”

So I’ll spend the next few days trying to decide whether I should torture myself and her family by taking my own darling loved ones eight hours to something that’ll only provoke the worst in me. The only saving grace about attending such a booze-free yawnfest will be that it’ll keep me from blurting out myriads of hurtful truths.

It’s truly a lose-lose for me. Because if I stay home, then I’ll only be confirming the worst things Val’s family says about me: “Lazy, good-for-nothing, drinks too much, etc.”

And they’d be right. That’s exactly what I’d revel in for three days without my family under our roof. It would be splendid. I’ll never understand how how three people I love so much can make me so happy by not being here.

Plus I’d get to spend about three hours basking in the genius of the twice-married, now single Bob Dylan. You might wonder how I square my admiration for Dylan with his questionable married history.

Well, there’s still a chance he’ll ask me when and if he ever gets married again. And, guaranteed, he’s not getting married August 9.