Wednesday, December 30, 2009

NFL not rich enough: Needs "Throwforward" unis

My life curse is that I, a man who can’t even earn a dime for himself, sees how the already filthy rich can grab even more loot.

Take this past weekend. I spent $75 to attend a professional football game between my hometown Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens.

Now, when it comes to brazen money-grubbing organizations, the National Football League has few rivals. Already awash in billions in profits, the ownership continues to find new and creative ways to squeeze money from their diehard fans.

They think nothing of charging attending fans $50 to park, $7.50 for 12 ounces of lite beer, insist we pay full price for meaningless pre-season games, and hold entire cities hostage by enforcing cruel TV blackouts if the stadiums don’t sell out.

They showed their contempt for fans on Christmas when they scheduled an 8 p.m. game between the Tennessee Titans and the San Diego Chargers. Fans in Nashville had to choose between leaving home and hearth on the holiest day of the year or sitting outside in near freezing temperatures to watch professional football.

So the stadium was about half empty. More and more fans with better and better big screen TVs are wisely opting to stay home.

That’s why an increasing number of games are being broadcast on the premium cable channel, The NFL Network. If fewer people are going to attend the games, they need to make money off those who like to watch it at home.

Pay-per-view professional football, brought to you by The NFL Network, is already here.

So why would I bother trying to make such a greedy, nefarious organization even more money? I guess I just can’t help myself so here goes:

The NFL needs to start selling replica Throwforward uniforms.

That’s a term you’ve never heard before. But most fans have certainly heard of the obnoxious Throwback uniforms.

Once nearly every fan in America had purchased for about $250 an authentic replica NFL-issued jersey of their favorite team, the NFL realized the apparel market was saturated.

So in a greedy panic they turned on a time machine and began forcing teams to wear throwback jerseys from the olden days. That way the truly obsessed fan would need to spend another $250 for a jersey that represented their team in, say, the 1930s. Then the 1940s. Then the 1950s, and so on.

And here’s the thing: the uniforms are uniformly hideous. I’ve seen plenty of archival pre-1970s footage of professional jerseys. In faded black and white photographs, the uniforms appear drab.

It gives the impression that our ancestors grew up in a time when no one smiled and everyone wore hand-me downs from folks with the fashion sense of bitter Pilgrims.

But when our favorite teams raced out onto the field wearing their throwback jerseys we were stunned to learn we were wrong.

Our ancestors weren’t boring. They were insane.

The jerseys had psychedelic stripes, odd insignia and bewildering color schemes that jarred the senses. It’s a shameless marketing ploy that interferes with the enjoyment of the game.

The genius of the Throwforward jersey is that NFL flacks could unveil jerseys that will be worn by the home team in, say, the year 2029.

It would let daffy fans of teams like the perennially hapless Detroit Lions delude themselves into thinking that maybe by then -- cross your fingers -- the Lions will be competitive.

And the best thing from the NFL perspective is that they’ll be able to justify charging $1,250 per jersey because that’s what the actual price will likely be in the year 2029.

So there you have it. Throwback. Throwforward. For an increasing number of disgusted fans like me, there’s only one direction we feel like throwing any more.

And that’s up.

Monday, December 28, 2009

"Office" party recap

Mark your calendars: Dec. 23, 2010, is the tentative date for when I’ll be hosting my second Pond Office Party.

I didn’t want to issue a blog invitation for the first, held Wednesday last, because I didn’t want any of my friendly international readers to feel obliged to drop what they were doing and zoom clear to Latrobe for my little party.

And, yes, I was nervous it would be an abject failure. This fear stemmed from a friend, a big shot New York advertising executive, who told me it would be an abject favor.

“So, you’re having a little ‘office party,’ are you?” he sneered. I could tell he was ridiculing me with little air finger quotes when he said “office party” because he told me over the phone, “and I’m doing little air finger quotes when I say ‘office party.’”

I had to admit it was a social risk. I “work” all by myself in a little “office” above The Pond, Latrobe’s friendliest neighborhood tavern. People like my friend think my “work” involves juggling, chipping golf balls, tossing balled up waste paper at a hoop-high trash basket and decorating my “office” with streamers of cut out paper dolls.

If no one showed up, I’d be a laughingstock. If people did show up, they’d see my juggling bags, my hoop-high waste basket filled to the rim with balled up papers and the walls decorated with cut out paper doll streamers.

They’d see my entire “career” was surrounded by sarcastic air finger quotes.

I asked my wife if she wanted to get a sitter and join me. She said she was “busy.”

She didn’t need to put any air finger quotes around busy. I think it chagrins her every time she steps into my “office” that she didn’t marry a plumber. I can’t blame her.

Heck, there’s a lot of times I wish I’d married a plumber.

I wasn’t surprised. Her default answer for my every suggestion is no -- and that’s been good for our marriage. In fact, the only times I can remember when she responded affirmatively to any of my suggestions led to us being saddled with two cranky children so I wasn’t about to argue this one.

Still, my default is fun. I wanted to party. I printed up a colorful invitation and left it downstairs at the bar. It read in festive fonts:

Merry Christmas!


4-6 p.m., Apt. 2

All Friends and Honest Strangers Welcome!

Games, prizes . . . smokers welcome!

Come for the Fun! Come for the Pizza!

Come hear Bob Dylan sing your favorite Christmas Songs!

Come and enjoy my new haircut!

It would be a catered affair. I bought industrial sized bags of chips and a bag of pretzels. Libations would include Crown Royal, Wild Turkey, Yuengling beer and cold tap water. A friend promised to bring fistfuls of cigars.

As you can surmise from the unrefined fare, my target guests were all the boys from the bar. We spend a lot of happy time together, but we vary bar stools so infrequently it’s almost like we have assigned seats. Our routines need disruption.

Right away, three good buddies showed up with their sweethearts. They brought their females, I think, so that one day if their misbehavior led to stormy relations, they could point to me and justifiably say, hey, at least I have a job and am nothing like Rodell in his little “office.”

A few more friends drifted in. Things were going great. I was juggling and people seemed to be enjoying my new haircut.

Then what to my wondering eyes should appear but my wife and our two little dears.

I knew instantly it was a party killer. People may say they like children, but no one really does and that’s particularly true of every one else’s children.

You can’t tell a kid to shut the hell up, buzz off or go change their own damn diapers. At least I can’t.

Nobody likes to see children at an adult party. The sole exception is the Von Trapp kids from “The Sound of Music.”

Really, it’s a great movie with some of the most catchy and exuberant songs ever performed. But I’m always struck by the “So Long, Farewell” scene where the Von Trapp children stage an elaborate departure song and dance at the formal ball.

The adults in the film seem teary eyed at the sentimental and pitch-perfect performance of the adorable little children. They’re perfectly charmed.

That’s not like real life where the appearance of children can extinguish the momentum of a really rocking party.

And that’s what happened with my first Pond “office” party. The adults had to curb their urges to swear, tell dirty jokes or act like the carefree children we all yearn to be.

The real kids acted like real kids. They monkeyed around on the furniture, played with the juggling bags, swung the golf clubs, and generally behaved the way their father does when he’s alone in his little “office.”

The low point for me was when our precocious 9 year old heaved a heavy juggling bag and struck me in a place no man likes to be struck. My guests seemed to enjoy my pained grimace even more than my new haircut.

And while it cheered my heart to see them, I knew word would get down to the bar and depress the attendance and that’s just what happened.

Still, I judge the party a true success. About 20 or so people drifted through at one time or another. We all had a good time and enjoyed some Christmas cheer.

Next year, I vow things will be different. Starting today, I’ll be drilling our daughters to rehearse “So Long, Farewell” from “The Sound of Music” in preparation for next year’s office party.

I hope you’ll plan on being there.

I’m a man who understands the subtle differences between being “annoying” and “entertaining.”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Thanks to each and every one of you who has spent even a bit of 2009 goofing off on

The Rodells and our friend Arnold Palmer wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ban straws! They, er, suck!

I’m convinced I could construct a built-to-scale Kiddieland sort of Gitmo with all the unused straws that have passed through my hands on their way to the godforsaken landfill.

I’ve never understood the custom of restaurants handing out scores of straws to able-bodied people with at least one working arm. Yet, guaranteed, sometime in the next day or so I’ll be eating out at a family restaurant and the overworked/undertipped waitress is going to bring me and my squad four drinks and four straws.

The first thing that’s going to happen, decorum be damned, is that both kids (and likely my wife, too) are going to peel one end off the wasteful little paper condom holding the straw and shoot the missile directly at my eyeballs.

Then, while gleefully chuckling at my girlish squeals, they will set the straws down on their placemats and pick up the drinks with their hands.

Once the girls outgrew their sippy cups, they had the sufficient motor skills to pick up a drink with only the occasional little spill. The girls may one day need training bras, but no child needs a bridge device between sippy and adult cups.

So that always gnaws at me, not to mention leaves me all twitchy whenever the waitress brings the drinks.

But that’s not the worst of it. That’ll happen when I’ll be in some tavern and order a soul-soothing Jack Daniel’s on ice.

I would never desecrate a Jack with Coke or some other soda. I drink my bourbon straight.

That means it defies logic that it would need stirring. Still, guaranteed, it’ll come with a little red straw. Sometimes two.

Heck, even the heathens who order mixed drinks understand that gravity alone can achieve a suitable mix between liquids. I stare cold-eyed around the bar at all those wasteful little straws and wish I had a license to kill like that renown environmentalist James Bond. He insisted his dry martini be, “Shaken, not stirred.” I can’t imagine a straw ever touching his lips.

And instead of stirring, I stew.

“What’s the deal with all the *&$#@ straws?” I fume. “The only thing more unnecessary than an adult drink with a straw is a mute button on the remotes down at the school for the deaf.”

I instigate so many crackpot crusades (vanity zip codes to reduce federal deficit, edible newspapers to save daily journalism, etc.) that I’m loath to launch another one.

That’s why I was happy to see a giant entertainment complex is taking the lead.

Singapore Airlines called me straight out the blue (get it?) and asked me to do a story for their inflight magazine about the world’s must-visit theme parks.

Of course, the opportunist in me was thrilled. This could lead to bigger gigs with this prestigious publication (doubtful). And the crabby malcontent in me was circumspect. With a December 23 deadline, this could disrupt my last minute holiday plans (a certainty).

Still, I couldn’t pass it up.

My internet research led me to Ocean Park in Hong Kong. It’s a wonderland of rides, marine and zoo exhibits and looks perfect for my editiorial needs. But that’s not what really got me revved up.

What did was a pop-up that said in English, “Come visit us on No Straw Mondays!” They see straws as disgraceful inadvertent litter and are phasing them out.

I was thrilled and momentarily thought about jumping on a carbon-devouring monster jet and zooming clear around the world just to thank them for their environmental sensitivity.

Further research -- I told you this would disrupt my holiday -- revealed Sea World in Orlando has banished straws altogether. I doubt the place is now stained with spills although, really, at Sea World how could anyone tell?

I feel a righteous fire to spread the anti-straw gospel. I hope you’ll join me in a movement to remove this ridiculous waste from our drinking landscape.

I know I can count on you because people like me and you are like James Bond in at least one respect:

We don’t suck.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Report lists happy/miserable states

I experienced a momentary hiccup of dismay upon reading the list of least/most happy states. It said I’d spent nearly all of my most happy years in some of the most miserable states.

Understand, it didn’t ruin my day. I learned years ago that I’m genetically disposed to happiness.

It’s a sort of character defect along the lines of being cheap, lazy or naturally unkempt (I’m three-for-three on those, too).

Yet, a foolish happiness is my most persistent trait. Been that way all my life. It’s an unusual circumstance for anyone who bothers to read the newspaper, as I’ve always done.

Really, anyone who is at all aware of the news or earth trends should awaken borderline suicidal and become progressively more morose as the day progresses. There are mass bombings, random murder, thieves who prey on senior citizens, and here in western Pennsylvania we are besieged by the daily drumbeat of news that, gadzooks, the Steelers have lost five in a row.

How can anyone with an IQ above a hammer be happy?

The AP report I saw said the study was based on residential satisfaction with schools, safety and commuting. By those criteria, Louisiana comes first in cheeriness.

Had more scholarly discrimination been applied, the study would have concluded that the top 10 (see list below) are blessed with an abundance of booze and beaches.

I wouldn’t argue with Louisiana. I’ve been blissfully happy there many times. Once in New Orleans while there on an deep pocket expense account, I was convinced I’d died and gone to happy heaven. It was wonderful.

In fact, if I ever get to actual heaven and someone doesn’t say, “Welcome to New Orleans. Here’s the company credit card,” I’m going to hunt around for a suggestion box.

I also have splendid memories of happy times in Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and Maine, all states listed in the top ten.

If for some outlandish reason, someone told me I had to move back to Tennessee, I’d do it in a heartbeat. My big brother and his family live there and I have many friends from the years 1985-88 when I called the Volunteer State home. I love the music at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, the barbecue at The Rendezvous in Memphis and all that fine bourbon produced in happy hamlets like Lynchburg and Tullahoma.

Heck, with enough Tennessee sippin’ whiskey within reach I could probably be happy in Hell.

And I’d love to spend more time in the marvelous Low Country of South Carolina, as relaxed a location as anywhere in the country.

But it looks like I’m doomed to spend my days here in Pennsylvania, now ranked the ninth least happy state in the union. As I tap out this post, I can look out the window and see the snows falling that’ll probably lay on the ground until late March.

I don’t know why my fellow Pennsylvanians are so unhappy. Sure, our legislature is full of overpaid crooks, more than 10 percent can’t even find work in the godforsaken coal mines, and the weather sucks from Halloween to clear past Easter.

Plus, if anyone ever made us sit in state-by-state home rooms we’d be stuck with newly single Pennsylvanians Jon and Kate Gosselin.

But is it really all that bad?

Take me. I haven’t earned hardly a dime all year and will stubbornly refuse wage-earning work if I thought it was beneath me or cut too deeply into my bar time. Yet I remain foolishly convinced that today something good will happen to me whether I do something about it or not.

Here’s a thought: maybe the only person they bothered to poll was my poor wife. Now, there’s a person that has ample reason to be unhappy.

Anyhoo, I was surprised more of the geometrically boring states didn’t crack the bottom 10. Kids are always being encouraged to “think outside the box.” How is that even possible in a state as perfectly square as Wyoming?

It’s too bad we don’t have one circular state. It’s such a happy shape I’d love to live there in the round.

Square or round, I guess it wouldn’t make difference for a guy like me. I’m just stuck being happy.

I go through life like a retired fisherman with a fresh bucket full of worms and dirt, ever content to be whiling away the years with the patience and confidence that something good is bound to happen sooner or later.

I guess true happiness is just a state of mind where we can choose to reside or not.

The AP state-by-state list, from happiest to least cheery:
1. Louisiana
2. Hawaii
3. Florida
4. Tennessee
5. Arizona
6. South Carolina
7. Mississippi
8. Montana
9. Alabama
10. Maine
11. Wyoming
12. Alaska
13. North Carolina
14. South Dakota
15. Texas
16. Idaho
17. Vermont
18. Arkansas
19. Georgia
20. Utah
21. Oklahoma
22. Delaware
23. Colorado
24. New Mexico
25. North Dakota
26. Minnesota
27. Virginia
28. New Hampshire
29. Wisconsin
30. Oregon
31. Iowa
32. Kansas
33. Nebraska
34. West Virginia
35. Kentucky
36. Washington
37. District of Columbia
38. Missouri
39. Nevada
40. Maryland
41. Pennsylvania
42. Rhode Island
43. Ohio
44. Massachusetts
45. Illinois
46. California
47. New Jersey
48. Indiana
49. Michigan
50. Connecticut
51. New York

Friday, December 18, 2009

Male birth control with teeth

It’s becoming clear that mankind will never have successful birth control until a drug is designed that diminishes the length of a man’s penis every time it has unprotected sex.

For the good of steadfast families and population control, this drug should be mandatory for all males over the age of 15.

Three weeks into the scandal, I continue to be amazed at the recklessness of Tiger Woods. Here was a man with so much to lose. Clearly, risking his family, his vast riches and his prestige didn’t matter to him.

So what’s the one thing that really does matter to him?

Anyone need three guesses?

It’s impossible for me to be detached from a subject to which I’m so attached and which, coincidentally, is so attached to me, but for the good of my brothers this drastic solution must be considered.

I’ve seen too much wreckage involving men I admire to stand by without addressing the subject -- and there’s no other way to put it -- head on.

It’s happened with Tiger, John Edwards, David Letterman, Bill Clinton and even Charles Kuralt, the late more-wholesome-than-milk broadcaster whose homespun “On the Road” reports made him part of every home in America.

In fact, that was particularly true with homes in both New York and Montana. Shortly after his starspangled death on July 4, 1997, it was revealed that he’d for nearly three decades kept a shadow family in Montana, which kind of made him a polygamist with frequent flyer miles.

I don’t think anybody gets into a marriage and plans on having it end with tawdry infidelity. But it happens all the time.

Why the young Tiger wanted to get involved in the pretense of marriage is a mystery when it’s clear all he wanted to do was spend his idle hours dabbling with hookers or women who devote hours to makeup, wardrobe and costly reconstructive surgery to ensure they resemble hookers.

It’s more complex with men like Clinton, Edwards and certainly Kuralt.

I have a theory that our rampant infidelity is a result of the grinding boredom that comes with man’s ever-increasing longevity.

Think about it. Just 250 years ago, the average life span in America was about 40 years. Strong and faithful men with names like Miles would get married at about 18 years old and swear before fellow pilgrims that, “By God, I’m going to be true and faithful to Hester for the rest of our natural days.”

Then Miles would get to be about 38 years old, he’d say, “I am so sicketh of Hester. Our marital relations have soured, her figure has lost its sturdiness and she never did learn to roast a goose the way mother did. Oh, well, I’ll be dead in two years. Might as well sticketh it out.”

Our life expectancy has been extended dramatically, but young people still feel family pressure to marry in their still ripe 20s.

I was able to resist those pressures and didn’t marry my sweetheart until I was 33 (three years after we began a sinfully sensible shack up).

Men wouldn’t get in so much trouble if they’d had a grandfather like mine. I remember leaving home to attend Ohio University back in 1981. He pulled me aside and said, “Boy, just keep your pecker in your pants until you’re 30 and you’ll be fine.”

I thought of Papa anytime I got into trouble that stemmed from disregarding his advice.

If I ever have a grandson, I’m going to tell him what Papa told me and amend it to address times sure to be even more sex-obsessed than ours “. . . and if you fail to do so, be sure to put condoms on everything and three condoms on some things.”

And the world spins on with fresh reports that Elin Woods is going to shorten the marriage that, I’m sure, both she and Tiger hoped would last forever.

Tiger could lose a whopping $500 million.

He should consider himself lucky. Nobody would blame her if she drastically shortened something that clearly means more to him than marriage.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Lit cars for lit drivers

For the sake of society sanity, it’s time we had cars that got lit anytime our drivers did.

Because if one thing is clear after 30 years of high-profile wars on drugs and earnest mad mothers it is that people everywhere really adore drugs and drinking.

You can threaten people with public shame, enormous fines and even jail time and -- cheers! -- they’re still going to get drunk and drive.

And it happens in all walks of life, not just with scum of the earth lowlifes that I call my friends. It happens with powerful politicians, soccer moms, choir directors, school teachers and successful men and women with much to lose.

At some point in many otherwise productive and law-abiding lives, scores of people fail to find solace in religion, family or even hundreds of channels of hi-def diversion and say, to heck with it, “I’m going to Dizzyland!”

And more often than not, they drive to get there. Chances are better than even that you’ll be at a party in the next two weeks when someone you love or admire is going to have too much to drink and risk highway mayhem on the way home.

So far the inertia to curbing this kind of recklessness rests solely on the misguided “impairment starts with the first drink” crowd. They’re the ones who keep the pressure on our often hypocritically tipsy legislators to keep reducing the legal blood alcohol limits to miniscule levels.

Lower it from .08 to .04, or about two beers an evening, and it’s not going to make any difference. All it’s going to do is enrich scores of hack lawyers and make lives miserable for many of our friends and neighbors who are guilty of nothing more than driving while giddy.

So what we need is an alternative that will allow police officers and the public to recognize the problem drinkers and either arrest them or just get the hell out of their way.

Lit cars would do just that. Cars would need to be fitted with sensors that automatically detect just how much alcohol a driver has consumed. If a driver is being responsible, the car would appear normal.

But if the driver, say, has just lost a long beer chugging game of quarters, then the entire car would glow in an alarming shade of red.

This would be helpful on so many levels because the police can’t be everywhere at once. But if I were driving my family to church (see, I’m one of the good guys -- plus I never lose at quarters) and saw a glowing red Mustang barreling down the highway, I’d know to pull over to a safe distance and let the driver pass.

People who are comfortable with narcing on strangers could even call 911. But the roving alert would be sufficient to clear the road when a drunk approached. It would reduce to near zero the sad collateral damage inflicted by drunks who then may be in for a hard lesson when things like trees and telephone polls fail to take sensible precautions upon their approach.

Future technological tweaks could include other angry shades, say purple, that indicate when the driver was in a crabby mood and prone to road rage.

Because we cannot change human nature. People are still going to get angry and they’re still going to get drunk and drive.

We’ve done all we can to try and keep people from getting too drunk. Once we clear this up we can turn our attention to saving the many people who go through life way too sober.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hooray for Humbug USA!

On U2’s 1988 album, “Rattle and Hum,” singer Bono intros “Helter Skelter” by saying, “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We’re stealing it back.”

Well, in 1843 Charles Dickens stole the word “humbug” from proper usage.

I’m stealing it back.

Contrary to seasonal custom, humbug has more to do with WMD, the Salahis and Bernie Madoff than it has to do with a dyspeptic dislike for Christmas.

In today’s tabloid saturated age of cheating golfers, straying politicians and silicone saturated Botox Barbies draped like tawdry tinsel across every front page, true American humbug reigns all year long.

Let’s start with the American Heritage Dictionary which defines humbug as: “1. A hoax, fake; 2. an impostor or charlatan; 3. Nonsense, rubbish.”

Of course, our dictionaries are compiled by -- and I’m making what may be a wild and unfair assumption here -- pointy-headed dorks whose cloistered existences allow no popular culture references to illuminate the inner walls of their ivory towers.

And pop culture is from whence the power of the humbug misusage stems.

“Bah Humbug” is the pejorative phrase most associated with our most powerful story of Christmas redemption. It first appears on the third page of “A Christmas Carol.” Here’s the passage (and note the exclamatory punctuation that deliberately separates what’s morphed into a non-sensical run-on phrase):

A merry Christmas, Uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.

“Bah!” said Scrooge. “Humbug!”

He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.

“Christmas, a humbug, Uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure?”

“I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”

“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”

Scrooge, having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.”

Clearly, he’s referring in two distinct declarations that the idea of a happy holiday is an excessive hoax or fraud.

As the book progresses, each subsequent reference to humbuggery refers, not to seasonal Christmas elements, but to something that might be cooked up by the likes of Penn & Teller.

When apparitions of old Marley’s head replace those of Biblical figures depicted on artistic fire place tiles, Scrooge exclaims, “Humbug!”

Inexplicable banging from down the stairs? “It’s humbug still! I won’t believe it.”

As Marley’s ghost begins to diminish into the ether, Dickens writes, “He tried to say ‘Humbug!’ but stopped at the first syllable.”

Need more proof? When the wizard is revealed to be a phony in the 1939 classic, "Wizard of Oz," the enraged Scarecrow sputters to come up with the most devastating insult his straw noggin can conceive: "You! You . . . humbug!" he says, to which the fraudulent wizard confesses, "Yes, I am a humbug."

In fact, the misappropriation of the term must be infuriating to an egotistical Dickens contemporary who so reveled in the joy of artful humbug that he in his 1855 autobiography called himself “The Prince of the Humbugs.”

That would be P.T. Barnum.

The satirical fingerprints of America’s most authentic impresario are today on every reality TV program and tabloid news story.

Here’s some humbug, American-style.

Barnum enjoyed his first commercial success in 1835 by purchasing for $1,000 an elderly slave woman named Joice Heth, who he claimed to be the 161-year-old nurse to George Washington. Paying audiences sat in rapt attention as the blind, toothless and withered ancient spun religious and patriotic tales about being the de facto mother to the father of the country.

Days after her February 1836 demise, Barnum allowed newspaper skeptics to autopsy her brittle remains. Hired medical examiners cried fraud and said, humbug, she wasn’t a day over 80. Barnum then fueled the uproar by releasing a story to publisher James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald that said the autopsy was a fake and that the real Heth, now pushing 162 years old, was alive and well (and still drawing huge crowds) in Connecticut.

He then offered a third “real” story: that he’d found Heth in Kentucky, yanked all her teeth, taught her baby Gen. Washington anecdotes and that he’d capriciously increased her age by 10 years along the tour until she’d finally hit 161.

Barnum scholar Terence Whalen writes: “Every true story is rendered false by a succeeding explanation, and ultimately the various explanatory links seem to merge into a great chain of humbug.”

Today we are beseiged by humbug and the moralists decry that the decay is eating away at the soul of America’s character.

To that, I say, “Bah! Uh, hogwash!”

Roll with the punches, America. The hyperbole is a uniquely American phenomenon. Sit back and savor all the silliness.

And may each of you enjoy a warm and Happy Humbug this Christmas and all year long.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Indestructible wedding rings to outlast any marriage

I received a polite and solicitous e-mail today that wondered what it would take to get me to mention “Tungsten Wedding Bands” on and provide the promotional link,

Company rep Nick Hudson said he was eager to improve the snazzy jeweler’s Google page rank and for some reason thought a site that mentions “Amish” in the title would do the trick.

Well, it hasn’t really worked much magic for me, but best of luck with that.

“We operate on a small budget, and we would be more than willing to give you a tungsten ring from our site in exchange for a link,” he wrote. “Let me know if this would be something that you would be interested in. Thanks for any help you can give us.”

I decided to do so because I believe this sort of behavior should be encouraged, and I mean polite earnestness like the sort practiced by Nick.

Sure, I believe encouraging people to offer me free stuff should be encouraged, too, but that’s beside the point.

See I don’t need another wedding ring. I already have a dandy one that’s been on my finger since September 1996.

Like the marriage it represents, it is golden, priceless to me, makes a nice appearance and has a few scratches of character that come with age and finger fidelity. And by that I mean I never take it off. It’s on me when I’m golfing, cutting firewood or raising a champagne toast to my still lovely bride.

It is the only jewelry I wear. For great swathes of the 24-hour day, it is the only thing I wear, as I don’t wear my glasses and nothing else to slumber.

Note that it is gold and not a Tungsten Wedding Band, something I didn’t know existed until Nick’s e-mail zoomed into my computer.

Tungsten is a robust metal that resists melting until heated to excess of 6,192-degrees Fahrenheit. That means these wedding rings could survive a honeymoon stroll through a fiery coke oven at a steel mill, even if you and your betrothed could not.

I’m a little confused about the technology of constructing indestructible wedding bands in an age when so many marriages are downright disposable.

We are today witness to headlines of cheating on a (speaking of indestructible) Titanic scale. Today, the Tiger tally is up to nine women, including an Orlando pancake waitress and porn star Holly Sampson.

And it looks like that’s just the tip of the, speaking of Titanic, iceberg. The man who'd never dreaming of cheating on a golf course makes up for it in his marriage.

Call me naive, but I’m stunned. It’s impossible to peek behind the curtains of any marriage, but why get married in the first place if the bedrock principles behind the coupling are such a sham? Why expose the mother of your children to such global ridicule?

It’s all so sordid. Although I do like, for the purposes of holiday cheer, that the porn star’s name is Holly.

It’s been reported that Tiger and Elin Woods are renegotiating their pre-nup to $75 million if she stays with him for another two years.

And he’s supposedly ring shopping for what’s called a Kobe Special. That’s in reference to the $4 million 8-carat purple diamond ring NBA star Kobe Bryant bought his wife after he’d been accused of sexual assault in 2003.

Two children and six years later, the pair are still married. Maybe the fact that Vanessa still has nine other fingers has something to do with it.

Maybe all marriages should start out with the bride and groom exchanging candy rings made of Necco wafers that my daughters love so much.

Then on your first anniversary, depending on marital evaluations, you either eat it and move on or swap it for sturdier models. As the marriage thrives through the successive difficulties wrought by children and financial woe, the better quality rings could be showcased combat like metals on generals.

So, there you go.

As the FTC is all of a sudden getting finicky about full blogger disclosure, I feel compelled to announce I am hearby for now declining Nick’s gracious offer of a free ring.

I will, however, keep his e-mail in the hopes my marriage shows the tungsten like-grit to make it to 2046 and our 50th anniversary.

And you never know. Maybe one day Nick will get hired to do marketing for Lamborghini.

Like Tiger, I reserve the right to be a little choosy when it comes to ethical matters.

Ed. NOTE #1 . . . Here was Nick's reply to the post:

Thank you, Chris, for your help and the great post. I was wondering if you could also put a link on the side bar saying "Tungsten Wedding Ring" so that when add more posts and ours gets bumped off of the first page we still have a link there. Thank you for your help I greatly appreciate it.


Ed. NOTE #2 . . . Somebody should give this guy a raise. Consider it done!

And, once more just for good measure . . . TUNGSTEN WEDDING RING!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Pit bull loose in my 'hood

The homestead is on full alert. The kids are patrolling the perimeter. Mom’s scanning the horizon and I’m trying to instill some prudence lest Santa get his jolly ol’ ass ventilated by my trigger-happy troops.

A bad Storm is loose on the land.

Storm is the name of the lost “pet” pit bull that escaped from our distant neighbor’s home further up in the woods.

It all started for us last week when the doorbell rang at our woodsy home. Outside was a frantic looking gentleman who introduced himself as “Bill from up the hill.”

“My dog got away this morning,” he said. “Have you seen her?”

No, I told him and it was true. A national scandal involving a golfer had broken and I’d seen nothing but Tiger (and, no, I didn’t verbalize that lame joke to this distraught senior citizen).

“She’s a gray pit bull. If you see her, please give me a call. Here’s my number. Thanks.”

What’s her name? I asked, hoping it would be something like Marshmallow or Daisy.

“We call her Storm.”

And with that he was gone and the stew of questions began to percolate up into the swampy part of my brain.

Has he called the local animal control? Are my children in jeopardy? And, hey, Mr. Bill, why on earth would anyone want an animal that’s been bred by Satan to kill?

Now, in my experience that last question is going set pit bull lovers to howling. You’ve probably seen them on the news.

“Ah, pit bulls are cuddly and misunderstood,” they say. “They aren’t dangerous unless provoked.”

That’s what they tell mic-wielding news reporters who’ve been summoned to a fresh crime scene where a pit bull’s mauled a child or a pony.

Yep, that happened here in Pittsburgh in 2006. Three pit bulls owned by former Steeler and current Miami Dolphin Joey Porter ate a pony.

Now, I don’t know what a pony could do to provoke a pit bull, unless mildly chewing pasture grass is considered provocative.

The incident stirred me to try and get local sportscasters to start using the phrase “he was on him like pit bulls on a pony” to describe a Porter QB sack. I was disappointed when I was told it was in bad taste, something a savage pit bull might dispute.

We’re fence straddling about getting the girls a dog for Christmas. They say they really, really want one. Of course, they say they really, really want whatever commercial aired during iCarly tells them to want so we’re not convinced.

But if we do get a dog I can assure you it’ll have these two qualities: It’ll be sweet and it’ll be dumb.

It’s been three years since Casey, the sweetest, dumbest dog in the world died. He was so dumb and so sweet I was convinced one day he was going to get killed chasing a helicopter.

We were playing frisbee on a splendid spring day in the big unfenced field behind our old house when he was startled by an approaching helicopter.

It was at about, I guess, 2,000 feet when the golden retriever heard the whop! Whop! Whop! of the rotors. He looked nervously around at eye level until the chopper came slowly into his peripheral vision and began to hypnotize him.

His first steps were tentative, as if he thought he’d try sniffing the strange vehicle first. When that didn’t work, he tore off in full sprint, head skyward. He didn’t stop until he ran snoot first into a distant church wall.

Chris Rock says the recent hysteria over Michael Vick’s dog fighting crimes was a white people’s concern.

Blacks, he said, hate vicious dogs and, really, didn’t mind that Vick and his buddies were using them to do what they’ve been bred to do: fight, kill and die.

And he’s right. And that part about Satan wasn’t just hyperbole. Pit bulls were deployed to defend demon seed Damien in the classic 1976 thriller “The Omen.”

(Note: In fact, they were Rottweilers, not pit bulls. Damn that careful research.)

Storm’s been loose for five days now. By now she’s hungry and starved for affection. I fear she’s out back eating gentle deer and mating with bears to produce monster pit bears.

I don’t know what sort of menace she’s up to, but I do know this: I haven’t seen a single wild pony since Bill from up the Hill warned me a bad Storm was coming.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

When Christ is a cudgel

Excessively enthusiastic Christians keep doing things that get in the way of me enjoying Christmas.

And by the aforementioned sect, I don’t mean the good people who believe in Jesus, love their neighbor, attend church regularly and pray for forgiveness for all their earthly sins.

You know, people like me.

Unlike the zealots, I don’t profess to have all the answers. But I’m comfortable practicing a Lutheran-accented Christianity because of its emphasis on love and forgiveness, two qualities I need in spades.

But if on the day I’m dispatched to meet my maker I learn he’s one of those wacky alien deities that Tom Cruise worships, I won’t slap my forehead in profound betrayal.

Once we leave here, it’s a long leap into the great unknown. We can all believe, but no one can know.

That goes for the born again bunch who -- hallelujah -- testify the day they found Jesus was more momentous than the day Columbus discovered America (which is a fable of another sort, but let’s not get distracted here).

I was an unwitting party to a glancing encounter with one this morning at the grocery store where someone careless stocks the soup shelves. The previous day I’d inadvertently picked up a can of Campbell’s Cream of Asparagus from the dispenser designated Campbell’s Oyster Stew. I didn’t notice until I got home.

I didn’t thunder indignation over the error or urge eternal damnation for the poor hungover stock boy. I just went back this morning to make an understanding exchange.

In its own little way, it was a very Christian reaction.

The middle-aged woman manning the exchange desk was distraught from a phone call she'd just concluded.

I asked what was wrong.

“Oh, this sales woman from Overly’s called to ask if we’d sell tickets for their Christmas display,” she said, referring to a popular drive-through light display at the Westmoreland County fairgrounds. We take the kids every year.

“Well, I explained our store policy and told her we can’t do that and she said, ‘Well, I guess you’re not a very good Christian then, are you?’”

Nobody likes to be told they’re going to hell, but to hear it at your minimum wage job from an anonymous telemarketer was clearly upsetting to this sweet, unassuming woman -- let’s call her Mary.

Using Christ as a cudgel never goes out of fashion, but it’ll always gall me.

I’m ashamed to admit -- and I hope I’ll be forgiven -- but my first instinct was petty revenge. I thought I’d call group sales at Overly’s and ask if they give discounts for church groups.

What good Christian could refuse?

Once enthusiastically assured, I was going to make Christmas Eve reservations for five busloads of reverential brothers from the Greater Pittsburgh Muslim Community Center.

I’d tape the backpedaling reaction and use the audio to choreograph a YouTube puppet show. The short would go viral and have even conservative scolds like Bill O’Reilly tsk-tsking the narrow-mindedness over a county fairground display that tilts toward the gaudy secular aspects of a holiday meant to celebrate peace on earth, for the love of God.

But I didn’t do that. I just told Mary to forget about it.

But I’m pretty sure she won’t. I’ll bet she will tell 10 friends who’ll tell 10 friends who, like me, will feel their blood pressures rise the next time Christians bray about being persecuted when someone innocuously wishes them a cheerful “Happy Holidays!”

For me, it’s yet another life lesson that’ll give me pause if I’m ever in the bleacher seats and forced to pick a rooting interest if the Christians ever face the ecumenical lions again.

Really, it’s sort of a coin toss for me.

Both can be vicious and say what you want about the bloodthirsty lions.

At least they don’t discriminate.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I want Tiger for my son-in-law

My scheme to become future father-in-law to Tiger Woods gained steam this week when the golfer’s Escalade hit a fire hydrant and his marriage the rocks.

The ensuing $164 fine, all the unseemly speculation and today’s couched apology do nothing to dissuade me: Tiger would make a fine son-in-law.

Understand I take no pleasure in the misery of any soul. I want everyone to be happy. That high minded standard is never more in play than when that forlorn soul is my very own.

Nothing in this earthly world has caused me more persistent torment than a love of golf and an aversion to in-laws.

Loving golf is like a gypsy curse. Your very best round is guaranteed to be marred by decisions that’ll cause lifelong regret.

As for in-laws, here’s what my wise brother said one marriage and four in-laws ago:

“The difference between in-laws and outlaws is that outlaws are at least wanted by someone.”

That’s the reciprocal way it’s been with me and my father-in-law. We couldn’t be more different. He’s honest, ambitious, sober and hard-working.

I’m, well, not.

That’s why I believe with one fell swoop I could eliminate two vexing hardships. I’m sure Tiger swing tips could cure my devastating slice and we could enjoy adoring in-law relations that have for so long eluded me.

So I’ve spent the past nine years grooming my daughters to become leading candidates for what I calculate ought to be Tiger’s second or third trophy wife by about the year 2029. That’s when Tiger will be 53 and my daughters will be 29 and 23.

My wife and I are raising our darlings to be well-rounded, thoughtful, creative and witty girls who one day will grow into outstanding individuals. This, we believe, will make them attractive to any caring and accomplished gentleman of the future seeking matrimonial bliss.

This wildly assumes, of course, that anyone of either gender will still be even the least bit heterosexual in 20 years but it can’t hurt to hope.

See, when Tiger married the comely Elin Nordegren in 2004, it dawned on me that according to celebrity custom the marriage would last about 12 years before he traded her in for a newer, sportier model -- and I do mean model.

I sensed opportunity. Woods changes drivers nearly every year. I guarantee you that club’s performance means more to him than anything a wife could do for him.

That’s not intended to disparage marriage or women. It’s simply a function of being a dazzling celebrity worth an estimated $1 billion dollars. He can’t hire a nervy substitute to bang 350 yard drives up the 18th fairway at Augusta or sink a 6-foot birdie putt with $10 million on the line.

But he can hire or obtain someone to do anything an intimate wife will do.

And that’s apparently what caused all the Thanksgiving Day trouble.

The National Enquirer reported the world’s greatest golfer and professional party hostess -- great work if you can get it -- Rachel Uchitel are having an affair.

For me this was a happy collision of two of my most stalwart career disciplines.

I spent 1992-2000 doing more than 1,000 swashbuckling non-celebrity features for the Enquirer. Then I made the numbskulled career pivot from 2000-2007 to become a feature writer for Golf Magazine and other swanky industry publications.

On top of that, like Nordegren, I’m of Swedish descent. If I can manufacture some African-American/Thai connection to my lilly white world then, book it, I’m a lock to appear this week on Larry King Live.

Many people are saying this is none of our business. True, but that ignores the universal impulse to hide behind the drapes and lean closer to the open window whenever the neighbors raise their voices.

Ending any marriage can be painful and laden with financial and emotional pitfalls that can devastate both parties.

And, yes, the same results can apply to all those who stay married so that’s sort of a wash.

The romantic in me hopes they can work it out. I like Tiger and they’ve always seemed to me like a nice family at ease with his solar celebrity.

But the practical side of me sees a relationship with lots of troubling questions.

I hope they’re resolved without any more trauma. I want an in-law, not an outlaw.

My golf game’s not going to get better all by itself.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The 12th Post: A blog on bloggin'

This is the 12th post of the 11th month of the second year I’ve been blogging. That makes this the statistically proper 225th post for an average of about 12.5 per month.

It’s significant in that it hints at solid commitment, like I’ve vowed to take on a job and stick to it. That’s something I stopped doing for purposes of actual income way back in 1992.

I try and write three times a week. I’ve never done fewer than 10 per month and once did 15.

Committing to writing a blog is like having a goofy imaginary friend with multiple dependency issues. You can’t abandon it for too long or it might die from lack of attention. But like having a needy friend, you spend a lot of time wondering if the damn thing’s holding you back from more productive pursuits and wondering if, geez, would anyone really care if the SOB just died?

I started blogging in May 2008 when there was no resounding outcry for my work. I started with zero readers, but did it to satisfy the myriad voices in my head, which is increasingly beginning to seem to me like that lawless border region where Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding.

Like the Afganistan/Pakistan border, my head is populated by a diverse and often war-like collection of tribes that seem to sensible Western minds like they’re contributing nothing of value to the modern world.

I know some writers who say they hear voices in their heads that drive them to write, to create, to opine. The voices in my head say things like, “Psst, ‘The Price is Right’ Showcase begins in 10 minutes,” “Would you like today’s Happy Hour session to conclude at 6 or 9 p.m?” and the always-helpful grooming tip, “Time to trim the nostril hairs!”

The clear trend in all writing is to reduce coherent thought to microscopic declarations. Twitter is booming in popularity by capping each utterance at 140 characters.

I continue to languish in obscurity by writing many posts that exceed 1,400 words.

I make no apologizes. I come from a newspaper background where I was shackled to precise page one spacial penitentiaries. I remember working on deadline about a major cocaine bust for the old Nashville Banner.

I dashed off 10 concise column inches that told the tale with snappy dispatch. The frantic editor screamed he needed four more inches of story or else there’d be a gaping hole of white space on the front page.

I told him that was impossible. I’d exhausted every fact and anecdote about the arrest.

“Then, goddammit,” he barked, “gimme four inches on the history of cocaine!”

So, now electronically liberated, I refuse to bend to the Twitter tyranny. I’ll write for as long as I feel like.

Sometimes, just for the playful spite of it, I’ll even write the same sentence twice.

Sometimes, just for the playful spite of it, I’ll even write the same sentence twice.

I know I could do things that might increase the efficiency of the blog. I could employ a tracker to chart how many people are actually checking in and what interests them.

But if I found out most of my readers liked it when I wrote about sports, I’d have to deaden my brain with arcane stats and team trends.

Or if I found out most of readers cared about politics and considered me a Beltway-worthy pundit, then I’d be compelled to throw myself in front of a speeding bus.

Lately, I’ve been surprised to hear from a happy surge of readers who lead me to believe my constituency is composed entirely of people hooked on recreational hug drugs like Ecstacy. I’d never advocate such illicit consumption unless the drugs’ sole side effects was excessive gushing about me.

I understand it’s important to be concise, but every time I have what I think is a 350-word post, something inspires me to double down.

Like now. I thought I could get this out in 400 words and here I am pushing 800 yet again.

I don’t care. We’re all at liberty to write for as long as we care to or at least until the little voice in our heads tells us, “Pssst, ‘The Price is Right’ Showcase begins in 10 minutes.”

Until that happens, I’ll stop when I damn well feel like it or when it seems to make the most sense.

Like now.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How old will you be in heaven?

Do you ever wonder what age you’ll be in heaven? I do.

I hope I live a good long life, but not if it means I get to heaven and am stuck being something like 89 decrepit years old for eternity.

The speculation is presumptuous for me, I admit, but I like to think I’ll make the cut. I’m kind to children and old people, never hog the passing lane for extended periods or send annoying ALL CAP E-MAILS. Sure, that’s setting the heaven bar pretty low, but by today’s standard’s it amounts to near saintly behavior.

I wonder about the demographics of heaven.

Right now, the life expectancy is nearing 80. But that’s only a recent trend. Just 200 or so years ago it was not uncommon for someone to expire at around 40 and for his friends to say, “I’ll misseth Miles, but he didst live a goodly long life. Now, let’s thou and I go burn a witch.”

Today, most of the people crowding the obituary pages are elderly and pissed off about it. I’ve never known a single senior to sit around and gush about the joys of excessive age.

And what about the sad unfortunates who die in infancy? Do they go to heaven as toddlers, forever in need of parental care? That’s seems terribly unfair, especially in light of them having their earthly lives snuffed out so young.

You’d think in heaven they’d at least be allowed to grow up a little, enjoy the liberty of obtaining a driver’s license and then, naturally, enjoy carnal activities in the back seat.

What about the thousands of souls who die daily of reckless or drunken misadventure? The headlines are full of accounts of hillbillies who blow up themselves or their redneck buddies constructing things like backyard rocket ships to deaden the boredom of their lives.

If they’re not given an opportunity to grow older and wiser then heaven might be full to busting with earthly idiots. That doesn’t sound like heaven. It sounds like an endless tape loop of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

Maybe in heaven we can put our ages on in the morning the way we do our clothes. You can wake up and decide that morning you want to be 21, ripped and sure you know everything.

Or maybe occupational considerations prevented you from spending too much time with the kids when they were young. You could say, “Today, I’ll be 38 with nothing to do but play with the kids.”

For many people, me included, that is exactly heaven.

But you’d get tired of that for eternity. And what if the kids don’t feel like being 6 and 4 that day? There could be conflict.

I’m lucky in that I can’t recall a time in my life when I wasn’t really having fun. The indifference of the girls in my awkward years (for me, that lasted from 15 to about 33) was compensated by lively buddies who liked to joke and laugh.

There’d be days I’d love to be young and zooming down Earlswood Avenue on my banana seat bike, bent baseball cards like castanets on the spokes. But there’d be lots of nights I’d like to stay in with Val, a bottle of wine and “Survivor” host Jeff Probst sitting there telling us cool behind the scenes stuff from our favorite show.

I’m finding much to enjoy about what I’m optimistically calling my middle age years. It’s not unreasonable to assume I’ll make it another 46 years to 92. There’s golf, family time and I hope heaven allows for more uninterrupted reading time in the hammock than I have here.

Yes, I believe there’s much to look forward to in the years before the inevitable decline.

Of course, I could have it all wrong. Heaven might not be like that at all. I’ve talked to informed clergy who maintain that heaven is nothing but all the blessed believers praising and worshipping the Lord for all eternity.

Only the heretics would dispute that He is worthy of such enduring adulation, but the description puts to mind Mark Twain who was told heaven’s a place where no one smokes, drinks, eats, reads, or does anything but express joyful contentment.

Twain’s response: “You know my current way of life. Can you suggest any additions, in the way of crime, that will reasonably ensure my going to some other place?”

But I worry about getting to heaven in a me that’s either incomplete or past its expiration date.

My late grandfather lived to be 97. He often said in his sad, last months, “Growing old ain’t for sissies.”

I loved that old man, but he was wrong.

Living ain’t for sissies. This world’s a mess.

We can only hope heaven’s all it’s cracked up to be and that we won’t have to worry about hurt, loneliness or things like male pattern baldness.

I’m going to stop now and go try and do something soulful that’ll help ensure I get to find out for myself.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Grinnin' at mammogram confusion

I smiled this week at the intense reaction to the scientific study that said too frequent mammograms cause unnecessary stress and can be safely reduced.

It was a beautiful smile, too. The mostly straight ivories look like rows of surfboards left to bleach in the summer sun.

It’s a contagious sort of smile. I’ve found people nearly always smile back when I smile at them.

In fact, the only people who as a rule don’t smile back are dentists.

And that’s because my smile is pearly proof that seeing a dentist the recommended once every six months is a colossal waste of time and money.

Trust me. I’ve been to see a dentist exactly once in the past 24 years. Just once.

Like most kids, I was the child of parents who were skillfully brainwashed to believe we all needed to see a dentist once every six months.

And I must compliment the dental lobby for convincing a parade of generations that this directive came in stone from Moses. It’s just accepted wisdom.

Pity the poor podiatrist. No one ever thinks to go see him or her even once a year when you could argue that many of the nagging back infirmities that plague our elderly stem from persistent feet problem.

I did my regular dental thing until one happy 1994 night in Athens, Ohio. Me and the boys were closing up the old Nickelodeon bar on Union Street where a bunch of us were paid to inebriate our fellow Ohio University students.

Once we closed and cleaned up the joint, we’d hike up the Def Leppard and blow off steam with hootch and horseplay.

I don’t recall the insanity of the motivation, but I remember jumping up on big Bill’s back. I must have thought if I surprised the gentle giant I could gain a split second wrestling triumph over him that I’d extrapolate into a lifetime of boast about the night I slammed big Bill Morrissey down to the Nickelodeon dance floor.

My advantage lasted a nano-second. The next instant I remember was feeling a not unpleasant sensation of flight. Bill’d sent me sailing. The whole world slowed down. I’m convinced with sufficient feathering the propulsion could have sent me soaring clear past the jukebox.

Then -- damn that gravity -- I landed on my lip. I remember seeing my maxillary lateral incisor spinning out of my mouth and sashaying about 10 feet across the dance floor. It was the most soulful motion any part of me’d ever achieved on that dance floor.

The next day I went to the local dentist who gave me the sort of oral devastation Dustin Hoffman’s character underwent at the hands of a sadistic Nazi dentist (and can there be a more malevolent job description?) in the great 1976 thriller, “Marathon Man.”

It was root canal. If a woman had ever treated me as poorly as that dentist did, I’d to this day still be casting about for romance with gentle farm animals.

I vowed that very day I would never go see another dentist. To compensate, however, I’d become a fanatic about self-care. I stopped eating sweets. I began concluding every meal with a vigorous water gargle before departing the table and heading to a nearby toothbrush. And -- this is key -- I floss after anything goes in my mouth and that includes the ears and other soft nibbly parts of my dear wife.

And that’s just what I did. Around about 1994, my mother’s alarm over my dental non-conformity could no longer be ignored. To appease her, I agreed to a check-up.

After about 15 minutes of poking and prodding, the dentist said, “Your teeth are perfect. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

I’ve never met an unhappy dentist. Most look forward to retiring at about 55. Truly, they are a joyful lot and I think I alone know why.

It’s because most Americans march herd-like into their offices every six months. Once there, the dentists poke, proud, scrape, drill and nick at the integrity of even healthy teeth. Repeat this every six months and a healthy mouth will eventually need constant dentist-enriching attention.

In fact, the people I know who go to the dentist most faithfully are the ones who most need to go to the dentist.

We are a nagging nation of hypochondriacs. We believe there is a pill or potion to cure every infirmity.

If you’re convinced that yearly mammograms and those semi-annual dental visits and on and on and on will prolong your life, then go right ahead.

Me, I’ll just sit back and smile at all the commotion.

You may wonder whatever happened to that old tooth. I have no idea. I guess it just got mopped up with the rest of the mud and the blood and the beer on that long ago evening of now forgotten revelry.

Doesn’t matter. The lesson the loss taught me proved more valuable than anything the Tooth Fairy could ever bestow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Obama's bow wow

President Barack Obama is returning from an overseas diplomatic mission in which he’s now being criticized for being too diplomatic.

Yes, it’s true.

His courtly bow before Japanese Emperor Akihito was deemed demeaning by that Miss Manners of international relations, Dick Cheney.

Cheney said it “showed weakness” for a U.S. president to observe such formality with one of our closest allies, overlooking the fact that Cheney’s old hero, Richard Nixon did a similar shoe stare in 1971 before Emperor Hirohito, a man who personally ordered the dastardly Pearl Harbor attack.

I’m a fan of the formal bow and do it whenever I can. I prefer it for sanitary reasons to the hand shake or, gadzooks, the buss on the cheek, social intimacies with which we’re all about to be bombarded during the holiday season.

It would be so cool if at some upcoming Christmas party instead of greeting everyone with a weak, “Hey, man,” handshake, I instead with a graceful flourish broke into a sweeping bow that charmed all the ladies and made the men simmer with resentment.

Of course, if I were to do that properly, I’d require polished knee boots, a sword scabbard and a hat adorned with a big spread of peacock feathers. The sum result would guarantee I’d be ostracized and forced to sit in the corner for the duration of the party all by myself watching football rather than making microscopic small talk with tipsy sorts of strangers.

I know. I don’t see a downside either.

The Cheney rebuke was surprising in particular because Cheney was mum during one of the oddest diplomatic dosey-does any of us had ever seen. That happened in 2004 when George W. Bush and King Fahd held hands like nervous virgins on prom night during a garden stroll across Bush’s Crawford ranch.

The hetero hombre in me was unsettled and wanted to break out in nervous laughter, but the romantic in me couldn’t help but notice, yeah, they made a really sweet couple.

People less sophisticated than I disparaged it as “gay.” That again puts me at odds with the general public.

I encourage male-to-male handholding in times of spiritual tumult, like when the Pittsburgh Steelers have a long third down and goal. For years, I alone have stood up in the bar during pivotal game moments and exhorted, “Alright, there’s lots riding on this play. Let’s all hold hands and channel positive thoughts out to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Who’s with me!”

No one’s ever picked up that communal baton, but I think I’m making progress. Fewer and fewer bullies are outright suggesting they pause the action and take me out in the parking lot to beat the living crap out of me.

All this nitpicking over simple gestures overlooks what for me is the best ice breaker. Yes, I’m from the pull-my-finger school of diplomacy.

Sure, this works great with uncles and children. But no one’s ever tried extending the finger to our allies on an international level -- and for the sake of clarity I don’t mean George W. Bush and that finger.

Just imagine if instead of bowing, President Obama slyly asked, “Emperor, I invite you to partake in a beloved custom from my country. Go ahead -- wink, wink -- Pull my finger.”

This works because he’ll either laugh hysterically at the result, thus guaranteeing a requisite level of humanity we seek in an ally, or else he’ll be mortally outraged.

I’d be ready for the reaction. If laughter ensued, I’d embrace my ally and anticipate a long and fruitful relationship.

If anger or embarrassment was the result, why I’d have no choice but to immediately sever ties.

And for that you need some really, really big scissors handy.

When I say cut ties, I mean cut ties.

Yes, there’s no international situation that couldn’t benefit from an injection of a little Three Stooges mentality.

Nyuck, nyuck.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mom struggles with new remote

My mother stared at the new cable remote the way the ancients must have stared at a solar eclipse.

For a minute, I thought she was going to run into her bedroom and slam the door.

But the powerful demands of another glowing pagan god, the 42-inch Toshiba flat screen, exerted an even greater pull and my Mom is convinced she’ll perish without Diane Sawyer in the morning.

Thus, we began the ritual warfare where the impatient offspring must teach a techno-phobic elderly parent how to work a harmless battery-powered device that 5 year olds work the way Billy the Kid did Colt .45s.

Really, I think I could get through the process if only I were allowed to shout profanity. I’d be fine if at my breaking point I could just dash out on the porch and deploy echoed f-bombs from the fifth floor balcony of the Pittsburgh high rise where my 76-year-old mother nests.

But, I swear, I can’t swear because if I did she’d think I was swearing at her not the situation and that would break my heart. Plus, even if she did understand my rage was aimed elsewhere, she’d say, "Now, you know I don’t like it when you use that kind of language,” and I’d turn into a little boy again and feel that peculiar sort of shame that 46-year-old potty mouths like me really should be over.

Like most sons, I love my dear white-haired mother. But that kind of love is fraught with challenges in a world that keeps zooming past at warp speed.

See, she didn’t need a new 54-button Comcast remote. But the recent switch to digital required Comcast send her a new receptor box. I drove the hour from my home and installed it.

I was happy to. I take the kids, we get to enjoy time with grandma and I get to feel like a good son who responds to simple tasks with cheerful efficiency.

I gave her a brief tutorial that touched on only the most basic functions of the new remote.

Two days later, she called and said she’d pushed a wrong button and had been without the big TV since we left. She could still use the small boxy TV in the bedroom, but in today’s day and age I could get charged with parental neglect if word of that sort of cruelty ever got out.

So back I went that night. I used the TV remote to key the set to channel 3 (then hid that troublemaking TV remote). I handed her the new whiz-bang cable remote and resumed my simple instructions. It seemed to take and the two of us sat down to watch the fine 1998 movie, “Waking Ned Devine.” She loved it, although she scolded that she “could have done without all that profanity.”

Profanity? I wondered. I must not have been paying attention.

We hugged, I said goodbye and drove back home.

I called again the next day. It wasn’t working again. She didn’t want me to make that drive yet again but I thought of the poor dear forced to watch Good Morning America on a screen that makes the U.S. weather map look like a postage stamp. I said I’d be right there.

This time I took scissors, paper and tape. I cleverly, I thought, made an ingenious remote mask that concealed all the button clutter. Banished were “GUIDE,” “PIP,” “MUTE,” “ON DEMAND,” "AUX" and a host of other button functions she’ll never need.

I told her to leave the television on all the time and to never alter the channel or the volume. In a world with more than 700 channel options, I was convinced she could get by with just one.

It didn’t matter. Somehow, someway, she SNAFU’d it all over again (and she’d cringe if she knew the derivation of that witty military acronym).

I called Comcast and asked if they had a three button remote -- on/off, volume and channel. Really, that’s all she needs.

“This is a very common complaint with the elderly,” he said.

If it’s so common, why can’t Comcast do something about it?

“Well, the demand is for more functions and that’s not going to change.”

Oh, yes, it will. There is a rising appetite for simplicity as brilliantly exemplified in an excellent Wired magazine article “The Good Enough Revolution: When Simple & Cheap is Just Fine.”

A backlash is brewing. My mother, a woman with whom I entrust the care of my beloved children in a 2-ton motor vehicle moving at 60 mph, should not be made to feel like an idiot by her inability to turn on a television and watch basic cable.

And I shouldn’t have to drive once again to her home to remove the offending box and turn back the cable clock to two weeks ago when she knew how to work a simple remote, which I must do tonight.

“I’m so sorry for putting you through all this,” she said.

I said I was sure I’d put her through lots worse all those years ago.

A widow for five years now, she worries about being a burden to her children and the loss of her independence.

I pray to God that He’ll ease the tensions bedeviling her and other seniors struggling with unnecessary tech troubles.

And I pray the pagan tech gods in places like Silicon Valley will find creative and simple solutions to these sorts of problems long before my own kids are stuck dealing with me.

Monday, November 16, 2009

My Day in Court

I selected my best duds, tidied up an ugly tangle of stray nose hairs and took steps to ensure I wouldn’t be too hungover for the big day. That left only one item on the big to-do list: watch a taped “Green Acres” marathon.

You can take Perry Mason or Arnie Becker. For me the most persuasive television attorney of all time was Oliver Wendell Douglas. He was the erstwhile New York lawyer who left the Big Apple to farm among the rubes on the TV Land classic “Green Acres.”

I was always thrilled to watch him debate Sam Drucker, Hank Kimball or Mr. Haney because his arguments were tactically brilliant and always accompanied by patriotic background music.

I needed his legal inspiration because I had a Pittsburgh court date last week and the case against me seemed straight out of Hooterville.

Regular readers of this blog (Mom and three guys named Ronnie) will recall my arrest in August for trying to sell $300 of my own pre-season Steeler tickets to an undercover cop for $200. Eric Heyl of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review made me a minor celebrity by devoting his Sunday column to ridiculing the arrest.

Really, it’s all anybody talked to me about for the past two months. In the bar, the grocery store, the post office, all anybody wanted to know was if it was true and if I was going to fight it.

“Fight it?” I’d say. “I’m not gonna just fight it. I’m gonna bring the entire sum of my sizzling intellect to exposing the injustice.

“I’m spending my every waking moment conducting imaginary mock trials that always conclude with the judge weeping over my cause and gaveling over $10,000 in restitution.

“I’m doing it because I believe in truth, justice, the American way and that one enlightened man can make a real difference in a world bereft of reason.”

Plus, I had absolutely nothing better to do.

I packed a thick briefcase of evidentiary arguments and a sassy attitude and marched them through the metal detectors at the throbbing courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh.

There were about 30 of us in the courtroom. There were prostitutes, drunks, degenerate gamblers, scum of the earth and me. I surveyed the motley mix and thought, hmmm, I’ll bet if I could persuade the bailiff to serve booze from behind the bench we’d have one helluva party.

Judge Charles McLaughlin brought a welcome wise-cracking bent to the proceedings. When he ordered one underage drinker to do community service for a non-profit organization, he added, “And I’m not talking about Chrysler or General Motors.”

The cases were dispatched with judicial vigor. Drunks were fined $200 for napping in hedges. Youthful party hosts were fined and scolded for disturbing the peace. A nasty neighbor dispute over a fence was resolved with Solomonic wisdom.

I made judgements of my own based on stereotypical appearances. I was sure the judge was going to throw the book at one surly looking youth, his hair a sprawl of dreadlocks. His slouchy pants and unkempt appearance were, I felt, an insult to the decorum of the court.

The arresting officer said the defendant refused to turn down his car stereo. I’d seen his type, rolling down the streets with the hip hop blasting, the base shaking the fillings free of my teeth. Get him! I thought.

The judge looked down on the bench and said with a tone of irritation, “Now, why wouldn’t you do as the officer asked?”

Through gritted teeth he said, “Man, I was having a bad day and I needed to blow off some steam. This guy was hassling me for no reason.”

The judge asked what caused his bad day. The defendant said he worked with disadvantaged youths at a notorious local center and he was frustrated he wasn’t getting through.

The judge took his glasses off and said, “I’ll bet you do have some bad days there. That’s a difficult job. I’m going to let this go with a warning. Try and obey the officer next time he asks you to do something.”

Next, the judge called out, “Rodell?”

As I pulled open my briefcase, the arresting officer approached. The last time I’d seen this imposing bald gentleman he’d been undercover and was ignoring my salient explanations about why he shouldn’t be arresting me.

“Hey, you didn’t know about this law, did you?” he said in a whisper.

Well, no, and I want to --

“You won’t do this again, will you?”

I have no intention of --

“Judge McLaughlin is going to ask you those same questions. Answer with one word and this will go away. Now, don’t go and screw yourself by talking too much.”

I raised my right hand and swore to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It happened just like he said it would.

As the judge asked his questions, my options narrowed to meekly complying or to going all Billy Blaze on ‘em.

Blaze was the memorable Michael Keaton character from the great 1982 Ron Howard movie, “Night Shift.” Blaze and mousy clerk Chuck Lumley (played by Henry Winkler) are busted for running a brothel out of a Manhattan morgue.

Blaze infuriates Lumley by refusing a generous plea bargain so he can speechify and press his advantage. It’s hilarious.

My instinct was to go full Blaze.

Alas, my fiscal situation demands meek compliance.

“Yes, your honor.”

And with that it all went away. I didn’t get to issue the brilliant arguments I was prepared to ride all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Later at the parking garage pay machine, I ran into the dreadlocked dude and congratulated him on beating his rap, aware of the irony that his rap stemmed from the volume of his rap.

He smiled and said, “Hey, thanks, man. You, too!”

It was a great moment in race relations. I hope he had a good day because I believe any time he has a good day it will invariably lead to better days for the rest of us, too.

With that, we went our separate ways, me to my bucolic life filled with “Green Acres” reruns and him to occupational heartbreak and constant harassment at the hands of The Man.

What did I learn from all this?

Our court system, flawed though it may be, bestows illuminating and heartwarming sparks of humanity amidst welcome little splashes of true justice.

I enjoyed it so much I’m thinking of committing a petty crime every six months or so just so I can keep going back.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sammy Sosa's turning white

When I heard that former Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa was getting lighter I expressed enthusiastic support.

Good for him, I thought. We could all afford to lose a few pounds. I was disappointed when Sosa got caught illegally corking his bat and cheating with steroids so to hear him crusading about the importance of fitness was refreshing. It sounded like Sammy was becoming cool again.

Then I was confounded to realize I’d misunderstood. Sosa’s not losing weight.

He’s gaining white.

For some reason or another, natural or artificial, the once ebony-colored Dominican is becoming the color of weakly flavored chocolate milk.

This is a case of historically bad timing because for years black has been the new white.

Despite slipping poll numbers, it’s easy to argue that the coolest guy in America is a proud black man, Barack Obama. Heck, even the world’s most lilly-white sport, golf, is dominated by a charismatic black man, Tiger Woods. It’s a great time to be a race-transcending black celebrity. Just look at the appeal of Denzel Washington, Oprah, Will Smith, Charles Barkley and on and on and on.

In a true cultural phenomenon that’s been going on for years, sissy white suburban kids go to great lengths to act black. They listen to hip-hop, pose like gangsters, dress with slouchy pants and generally behave in ways that lead true urban blacks to want to reflexively beat the crap out of them for the fraudulent mimicry.

And despite the evident health risks, young palefaced females continue to climb into the tanning booths to endure unhealthy doses of toxic rays that’ll transform their unacceptably light skins to darker hues.

And who can blame them? Being born white has artistic burdens all its own.

White’s white, but there is a whole rainbow of dark colors that go along with being born black, from cinnamon hints of the luscious Halle Barry to a light autumn wheat tones of Alicia Keys.

It’s not like that with white people. Complexion-wise, we’re a uniformly vanilla race of Kate Gosselins. Here in Pittsburgh where the sun will be turned off for the next five months, we’re entering a period where all us Caucasian natives will begin to resemble the color of fish bellies.

The one advantage white skin has over black skin -- and for now let’s set aside the pesky issue of still lingering and virulent redneck prejudice -- is that we make a great canvass.

And maybe that’s what’s motivating Sosa. Maybe he wants light skin to better illuminate a tattoo or two.

I’m always fascinated by watching hi-def action from any professional sport that shows the tattoos of the athletes. In fact, it’s the only reason I’ll watch even a minute of the mind-numbing tedium of professional basketball.

Few athletes celebrate skin art better than those in the NBA. And it’s true of both blacks and whites, although you can hardly tell it with the African-American ball players.

Whites like Chris “Birdman” Andersen of the Denver Nuggets are as vibrant as a family pack of Crayola Crayons. His fair Scandinavian skin is decorated with golden crowns framed by turquoise backgrounds, and crimson-feathers that extend from armpit to elbow and give the appearance of wings in flight when his arms are extended in defense.

But trying to decipher the tattoos on the black athletes is like trying to read in caves by candlelight. I pause the action. I cock my head to the side. I squint at the set. I try in vain to figure out what the black on black image is trying to convey.

And, again, the liberal in me rises up and wonders why our black brothers and sisters are forced to endure tattoo shading that looks like Kansas before Dorothy and Toto landed in Oz.

Where’s the vibrancy? When it comes to tattoos, the people we used to call colored now have none.

It doesn’t seem fair. If I were a dermatologist, I’d be devoting my entire career to finding a way to give African-Americans the same vivid tattoo opportunities as Caucasians.

Of course, the whole debate ignores the fact that tattoos, really, just aren’t that cool anymore.

Come to think of it, neither is Sammy.