Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nosing around heaven and hell

I remember a long boozy evening when a friend of mine was expounding on the mundanities of heaven and hell.

By that he meant we all sort of agree on what to expect from our afterlives. Heaven will be paradise. No war. No loneliness. No disease. No Ashton Kutcher.

Hell will be hell. It will be endless torment. Pain. Isolation. And everybody will get stuck with at least one really bad roommate, and by bad I’m talking about someone like Hitler.

That’s the big picture stuff. But my buddy was talking about the little day-to-day things.

In heaven, he said, there will be no frosted toasted oats in the boxes of Lucky Charms. It’ll just be Lucky Charms.

I just love this. I devote nearly 75 percent of my time spent eating a bowl of Lucky Charms to hunting down the brown, tasteless oats with my spoon and and getting them out of the way so I can indulge in a candy feast of crunchy marshmallows.

Just think if you could wake up everyday and pour a big bowl full of the colorful little charms. To hell with the nutrition!

Yes, back to hell. Hell, he believes, will be a place where all the boogers smell really, really bad and all the boxes of Kleenex are empty.

Think about it. Our mortal boogers give off no discernible fragrance. The damned would endure eternity with awful smelling nasal debris constantly assaulting the organ devoted to detecting scent. It’s a kind of torture that would give Dick Cheney the warm and fuzzy feelings people like you and I get when we watch E.T.

I know it’s risky writing anything that includes the word “booger” because Dave Barry sort of seized ownership of the topic about 20 years ago, but I’ve been thinking about my buddy’s hellish mundanities a lot lately.

We have an 8 year old and she has a lot of 8-year-old friends. Eight might be the golden era of boogerdom. It’s not uncommon to walk into our living room and see three or four darling girls with their digits jammed so far up their noses that you worry one might embed a fingernail in her brains.

It’s our duty as parents to stigmatize this behavior. Stop it! Gross! Bad!

But my heart’s just not in it.

If I’d purchased my nose from a department store, I’d be contacting a cheap lawyer about suing the manufacturer under some kind of olfactory lemon law.

It’s just a malfunctioning product. And I don’t think I’m alone on this. We all share the same problems and embarrassments.

The nose is the gateway to herding delightful aromas into our senses (good), but it round-the-clock produces an excess of gross wastes (bad). If given the option, I’d never inhale another whiff from a fragrant rose or some aromatic soup if I could simply do without ever having to worry about something disgusting dangling from the old booger barn.

It’s just not worth it.

The Swine Flu has us all justifiably jumpy about sneezes and slime. Common nasal disposal methods are too archaic. I believe the next breakthrough in plastic surgery will be a procedure that will allow us each to, in the privacy of our bathrooms, efficiently and sanitarily remove and dispose our nasal wastes without the indignity of having to shove fingers up the middle of our faces.

It should be more like removing lint from the dryer screen, which I always get a little domestic kick out of doing.

So that’s just something to ponder as you go about your day and are given a choice of being good or evil.

Your decision matters. How you behave could lead you to the land of milk, honey and magically delicious Lucky Charms.

Or you could wind up in a realm of evil where the boogers smell like hell.

And that would really stink.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Cigar store ambiance enhanced by breasts

In my endless quest to find the coolest place in Pittsburgh, I’m often responsible for rounding up a posse.

Sound easy? It never is. Maybe I’m just not dangerous enough. I could probably get a gang of guys together if I said we were going to book a day-long trip to Pittsburgh’s best strip clubs.

But that’s never been my idea of cool because I’m a fairly chatty guy. If a naked woman slides up to me in a bar that’s pulsing with music by the artist who was formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince, she’s likely to pose me the question, “Are you feeling hot?”

Most guys will pant, “Yeah, baby!”

I’ll say, “Well, this print shirt is a comfortable cotton-polyester blend. Today’s forecast calls for mild temperatures with low humidity, so, no, I’m not hot. If you, wearing nothing but that immodest little G-string flossing your tattooed derriere, are feeling warm then you might be coming down with Swine Flu.”

I already have access to a fine naked woman. She’d probably agree with the stripper that I talk too much and do too little, but my wife would be referring to common household chores and not randy action.

At least I hope that’d be her only complaint.

My idea of a really cool time is a long day in downtown Pittsburgh cheering the home teams, hitting lively bars and enjoying a really fine cigar with my buddies.

So I was disappointed when none of my friends agreed to join me Saturday for a day that involved a crucial Pittsburgh Penguin playoff game and the NFL draft. The excuses were universally lame and reminded me of my songwriting buddy Quinn Fallon and his lyrical lament about the sad decline of guys who used to be nothing but fun.

“These are dark days for black sheep.”

I was undaunted. If I lived in any city in the planet, I could find a Pittsburgh bar and make friends the way Detroit used to make sports cars.

I know I can make them in the city that has thousands of great Pittsburgh bars filled with great Pittsburghers.

I thought I’d start with the cigar in a little place that would certainly be on the list when anyone’s debating the coolest places in the city. On Saturdays the regulars fill maybe a dozen donated refugee easy chairs and cloud the room with thick aromatic smoke.

I stepped into the enormous humidor and nosed around until I found a robust Dominican that looked like a policeman’s night stick. It would occupy me for an hour’s worth of idleness. Upon returning to the smoke-filled sitting room, I blinked through the haze. There off in the distance I spied something surprising.

Could it be? Were those what I thought they were?

They were!

Breasts ahoy!

There were four of them (breasts, not women). It caught me by surprise because I’ve been going there on and off for years and have never once seen a single boob in the place -- and by boob I’m extending the definition to the customers. Doctors, judges, executives -- cigar stores attract a classy clientele.

It would be wrong to say the two girls were strippers, at least they weren’t for this sunny afternoon. They weren’t performing. They weren’t dancers either. The Pens were on TV and only the most creative dancers could writhe suggestively to the color commentary of guys like Eddie Olczyk.

It was a harmonious coincidence that during this Earth Day week these girls were hybrids. They made friendly with the customers. They walked around suggestively. They didn’t hold lit cigars, but they were truly smoking.

They wore short tight black dresses from which they would capriciously liberate their breasts as if to give them a good airing out. But I’m sure that was not their purpose. Who in the world would go to a smoke-filled cigar store to air out breasts?

There were a bunch of men’s magazines on the tables and I thought about telling the girls I’ve written for Playboy and Maxim, but knew I couldn’t prove it without looking pathetic. So I thought it best for me to just sit there quietly and, well, be observant.

So I sat and listened while the girls talked about pedicures, farm animals and whether men would prefer three breasts on a woman or one really big one (most of the men were traditionalists, but if forced to choose, we opted for the singleton over the trio).

It was a splendid afternoon. As I smoked my cigar down to its bitter butt, I set it in the ashtray and pulled two $10s from my wallet. I gave one to each of the smiling girls.

I turned to the store owner and made a snap judgement, “Thanks for a great afternoon. You, sir, have the coolest place in Pittsburgh.”

And that’s coming from an expert who understands how fabric and meteorology can affect a man’s feel for when things start getting really hot.

Friday, April 24, 2009

"Waiter, there's some hair in my bar!"

The boys in the bar were making fun of how long my hair was getting. Understand, when I’m talking about the boys in the bar, I don’t mean Vidal Sassoon, Paul Mitchell or Jay Sebring.

These guys don’t cut hair. Heck, these guys barely have hair. My bar, The Pond, is not some swanky Manhattan cocktail lounge populated by thin pretty boys and girls fresh from their fashion shoots. It’s what me and my underage friends used to deride as an “old man’s bar” before we all became old men.

It’s a friendly tavern, but on some days there is a throwback element to a 1950s sort of danger, kind of like the kind George Bailey finds in Nick’s after his “wish I’d never been born” prayer turns Bedford Falls into Pottersville.

In fact, one bartender is exactly like Nick, the owner of the place where Bailey and apprentice angel Clarence Oddbody retire for a double whiskey and a “mulled wine with a lot of cinnamon and just a little clove,” respectively.

The exotic order prompts Nick to seethe: “Look, mister - we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast, and we don't need any characters around to give the joint ‘atmosphere.’ Is that clear, or do I have to slip you my left for a convincer?”

That’s what it’s like on Tuesdays when Bill’s working only with Bill every other word would have NBC censors diving on the five-second delay the way heroes dive on live grenades.

I’m often the target for ridicule because I consider it my duty to give the place atmosphere. I differ from most of my fellow drinkers in that I dress dapper, profess liberal opinions and use common silverware for things like salad and spaghetti.

If they ever start stocking mulled wine, why, I’ll be the first to order a big snifter full and load it up with the cinnamon I keep with the cloves and other spices I always carry around in my handy little fanny pack.

My critics are strictly the ballcap and tube sock crowd. And that’s not even the most noticeable difference in our appearance.

That would be hair. I have it. They do not.

In fact, I have a lot of it. It’s thinning a bit, but what I have behaves like the East Germans did after the Berlin Wall came down. It’s having a party.

I go as long as eight weeks without getting it cut. I do this for many reasons. It saves money. It saves time. It keeps me from having to go to that awful unisex salon where I feel they’re psychologically cutting off things more dear to me than hair every time I enter and am assaulted by music from people like Beyonce.

The days when men with long, lively hair were considered effeminate ended throughout most of America about 30 years ago. That means it’ll be another 15 years or so before it ends here in Western Pennsylvania.

But I argue that these men so concerned about their masculinity are actually behaving more lady-like than I.

They devote more time and product to their appearances than I ever do. I get out of the shower, run a brush through the noodles, and I’m done. The whole procedure takes maybe 12 seconds. Then the hair is at liberty to do as it pleases for 24 hours.

If tedious facial shaving is any indicator, my tormentors probably spend 15 or 20 minutes every other day gazing into the mirror at their ape-like faces as the try not to nick their noggins with the buzzing little groomers.

The smooth result is that when two of them put their heads together to talk confidentially about guns, Sarah Palin or NASCAR the combined effect looks like one wide bottom is trying make an angry point by mooning some invisible cross-bar antagonist.

Of course, like most bar arguments, this one is an utterly pointless diversion. Increasing numbers of my once stout hairs are becoming cowardly deserters. They go AWOL and one day I recognize that I, too, will be just another butt head sitting around the old man’s bar.

Oh, well. That’s the circle of life.

Hair today. Gone tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Saving the world with global worming

I’d planned on spending Earth Day scattering dense trash on pristine lands and in deep lakes where the environmental obscenities will likely linger for centuries.

Some future explorer would find them in some distant age. She may shake her head at my carelessness and exclaim, “Wow, someone with a really nasty slice used to roam these lands. We’re miles from the nearest golf course!”

It is my Earth Day custom to bang Titleists deep in the western Pennsylvania forests. I lose about four or five golf balls every single time I tee it up. I putt good, my iron play is strong, but I can’t hit a straight drive to save my life.

Most people don’t consider lost golf balls trash. I do. I can’t sleep the night before I golf knowing there’s nothing I can do to prevent defacing Mother Earth with my dimpled, non-biodegradable spheres.

Maybe I take things too seriously.

Like the saving the planet. I take it very seriously.

I aim to reduce, reuse and recycle everything. I vowed last year I would never step over another piece of trash. Now I carry a recyclable plastic bag with me on my walks and usually have enough cups, wrappers and papers to get about half a bag full.

I could accumulate more if I wobbled along in a drunken sort of weave into the bushes and gutters, but that would take too long and would reduce the happy time I spend in the bar developing a true drunken weave the old-fashioned way

Still, I know I could do more. I’ve read that the average American discards 28 pounds of trash each week into our bulging landfills. Our family is way below that, but not near the average household in Oslo, Norway, where they produce just four pounds of weekly trash.

Four pounds! What, is Oslo populated entirely by Keebler elves?

Still, even they are pikers compared to the world’s best recyclers. For every single pound of trash you and I produce, this trash-devouring little superhero is capable of recycling it into an equivalent amount of something useful and nutritious.

Behold, the red wiggler worm!

I did a story about the practice of vermiculture four years ago and immediately became enthralled with the ambi-sexterous red wiggler worms. The tiny slimies simply fascinate. It takes a trained eye and, I’d guess, an atomic level microscope, but every worm is a hermaphrodite generously bestowed with organs of both sexes.

The condition is not enough to make me want to tune in to worm porn night on the Animal Planet, but I’ll never again look at another worm and believe it must endure a boring or lonely existence.

As it was explained to me, “These worms simply live to eat and reproduce. Basically, the worm is just a mouth, anus and a microscopic little brain.”

I asked, given these base characteristics, how do red wiggler worms differ from the typical radio talk show host.

“Well, the worm actually contributes some good to society. About 45 percent of all our waste stream comes from food and paper products, both of which are compostable materials. Worms can convert these common waste products into nutrient-rich soil fertilizer to energize your gardens.”

I was sold. I got a little bin, a softball sized ball of 1,000 little wigglers and soon our family started putting apple cores, banana peels, lettuce scraps, tea bags, potato peels, etc. into the bin along with showers of shredded newspapers. The warm worm poo makes great fertilizer.

So now when strangers ask what I do for a living, I always answer “I’m a worm farmer.”

And it’s true. Sure, I do a lot of writing, but there’s rarely even a penny of commerce involved in the exercise. I used to say blogging was the journalistic equivalent of running a lemonade stand until I realized that even 8 year olds know enough to charge a quarter for a glass of lemonade.

Worm farming is a productive pursuit that reduces vile pollution. Some critics would argue blogging is the exact opposite.

So instead of golfing on this Earth Day, I’m putting on my worm farmer bib overalls and am heading to Baggeley Elementary School to teach my daughter’s second grade class about the joys of vermiculture or worm farming.

I’ve done it the past couple of years and it’s always a joy to see the kids fussing over the bin full of worms as they frolick amidst all the rich worm poo.

But it’s not all fun and games. I don’t let the kids get too out of hand.

It might upset the worms.

And, take my word for it, no one wants to see a hermaphroditic red wiggler get all excited in front of a classroom full of second graders.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Is it safe? A tortured debate

At the risk of alienating one of my 11 confirmed readers, I’m about to get serious. I know about 10 percent of my entire readership, a good buddy named Kyle, is not going to like it. And by 10 percent, I’m referring to per capita, and not weight.

My verifiable readership is the 11 brave souls who’ve stepped forward to declare themselves pictured “followers” of I suspect there are more, but these 11 are my core constituency. And I thank them! From what I can judge by their microscopic pictures, they’re handsome, engaging, warmhearted, irrepressibly witty and of mostly svelte builds.

Kyle, whom I’ve known and loved for 25 years, is like most of us middle-aged men with enthusiastic access to imported beer and domestic pizza. He is non-svelte. If we were to go solely by weight then I’m about to upset a whopping 35 percent of my readership.

Kyle doesn’t like political rants about any of the desolation left behind by the Bush/Cheney administration.

But the uproar over President Obama’s release of the CIA torture memos moves me to comment.

For me, just having to refer to George W. Bush as my president for eight years was a form of soft torture. Now that the nitty-gritty of hard torture is coming to light, it should be addressed.

I think I’m a typical American in that I hate torture but love Jack Bauer. My wife and I will be glued to the set tonight again at 9 p.m. cheering anytime Jack lops off the fingers or other dangly parts of the bad guys who’re determined to make President Allison Taylor’s already bad day really, really worse.

I was looking forward to tonight’s episode for puerile reasons that had nothing to do with drama. The story arc promised to bring back Jack’s sexy daughter, the comely Elisha Cuthbert. Then I was crestfallen to see a preview that seemed to indicate Cuthbert’s lovely face had endured torture at the hands of some hillbilly plastic surgeon.

She’s just not as fresh and pretty as she was about four years ago when in one 24-hour period she got menaced by a survivalist redneck, a wild cougar and a rusty bear trap.

I tell you, it’s a great show!

I trust our special operatives in the field to know under which extraordinary circumstances they need to go Bauer.

I spent a couple days many years ago with some Navy SEALS and a finer and more admirable group of men I’ve never met. They were boisterous, warm and fun. Knowing that they’d been trained to kill me dozens of different ways only enhanced my admiration (not to mention my manners).

I’d trust my life and the lives of my loved ones to them.

Hell, that’s what we all do.

These are the men I want making the front-line decisions about when they have to cross a line they’ll have to live with both legally and morally. I don’t want unscarred chicken hawks like John Yoo, David Addington and Dick Cheney pushing institutionalized torture from deep inside the White House to compensate for whatever masculine shortcomings about which are best left to the Freudians.

I’d be more likely to bend on torture if anyone could convince me it worked. But it doesn’t. CIA memos indicate the result is similar to what happens in the great 1976 thriller, “Marathon Man.”

The movie features a Nazi dentist -- and has there ever been a more villainous job description? -- played by Lawrence Olivier bent on orally torturing Hoffman into revealing the secret location of a hidden cache of jewels.

One scene shows Olivier ripping up Hoffman’s mouth and repeatedly asking with bone-chilling calm, “Is it safe?”

Hoffman, his gums and teeth full of drilled vacancies, is an innocent with no idea what the hell he’s talking about. He just keeps vacillating between frantically telling his torturer, “Yes! It’s perfectly safe!” And “No! It’s not safe! It’s very dangerous! Help! Help!”

In the end the bad guys get their bloody comeuppance. And that’s what I’m confident will happen with what Bush liked to call the War on Terror. The good guys will win.

I just want to make sure we’re the good guys. We always win when we’re the good guys.

In October 2007, the Washington Post did a great story asking two dozen top World War II interrogators about their work vital prying information from hostile Nazi prisoners.

They didn’t water board. They played board games.

“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today with their brutal torture,” said MIT physicist Henry Kolm who’d been assigned to pry information from Hitler’s deputy, Rudoph Hess. “Torture just doesn’t work.”

So I’ll climb off my stump again for now and promise, Kyle, that I’ll come back in the next day or so with something silly about my socks or my nose hairs.

Either way, I can guarantee the next post won’t be nearly this torturous.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Enough already! Awash in staples

It dawned on me at the cash register that the $4.29 I paid for 5,000 staples will be the last money I’ll ever spend on staples in this mortal coil. It was the smallest quantity they had in the mega office supply store store named, coincidentally, Staples.

I’m 46 and lead a reasonably healthy and risk-free life. The actuarial tables indicate I ought to make it another good 30 years or so.

But I’ll need to go on a crazy stapling binge to use 5,000 staples during that anticipated spread. I just don’t see it happening. And it’s doubtful someone’s going to come along with a revolutionary new item that will render my vast staple empire obsolete.

So one day in, say, the year 2038, one or the other of my darling daughters will be clearing out the detritus of my spent life and they’ll find the little box of staples about the size of kid’s toy tractor trailer. It’s doubtful it’ll register to either of them that I bought them way back in 2009 and that the tiny unsung office soldiers in the war on disorderliness triggered an odd moment of melancholy.

Who knows? Maybe finding the staples will trigger in one of the girls a flash of fury because if things keep going the way they are, the staples will be the only thing their impoverished father’s going leave behind for either of them.

I may not have a lot of money, but if life’s wealth can be measured in staples then I’m rich beyond measure.

Mr. Staples behind the register asked, “Will there be anything else?”

“No,” I told him. “I have all I need.”

And, truly, I do. At least in regards to staples and guys like Bruce Springsteen.

A friend of mine, a huge Boss fan, said he, like me, immediately bought the new Springsteen album, ‘Working on a Dream,’ when it came out in February.

“I like it, but I just know I’ll never listen to it,” Dave said. “It’s like U2. I listen to their new album and think, ‘Ah, this reminds me of some of the post-industrial grunge of ‘Achtung Baby’ from 1991.’ So why would I listen to it when I can listen to the better and more original album? With Bruce, I like the new album but when I’m in the mood to listen to Bruce, I’ll just listen to ‘Darkness’ or ‘The River’.”

He’s right. I’ve been finding myself saying no to artists I used to reflexively buy. So when new music from artists like U2, Lyle Lovett, Elton John, or Eric Clapton pops up, I just pass.

(I’ll still buy anything from Bob Dylan, Mark Knopfler, Joe Ely, Todd Snider, and the peerless Van Morrison. And, taunt if you will, but The Rolling Stones still kick ass; I’ll argue till I’m hoarse that 2005’s ‘A Bigger Bang’ is a classic).

But I have 7,578 songs in my iTunes library. I’d need to rock for 20.8 straight days to listen to it all, and not even a booze- and drug-fueled Keith Richards can stay awake for that long.

Enough already!

I’ve never bought any music by the techno-pop artist Moby, although I once whooped it up at a swanky private NYC party with him, Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna, and when I say that -- and I often do -- it winks at the idea that the four of us were giggling and spilling champagne all over one another’s topless bodies. And that may have happened, but if it did it happened after one of us split the party to watch the Mets v. Yankees in the 2000 World Series in a Chelsea dive.

Guess which of us A-listers did that?

But Moby was asked in the current issue of New York magazine if he could, as scientists are doing with mice, erase memories, would he? His answer is brilliant:

“If I erased the memories of embarrassing things I’ve done, it would increase the likelihood I’d do all these incredibly stupid things again. The only memories that might make sense to erase would be the good ones so that way you could experience things for the first time again, you know?”


Once you get past 40, much of life is like the past two seasons of the relentlessly baffling ABC show, “Lost.” It’s an often bewildering story that seems to deliberately go nowhere and is chock full of tedious reruns that fail to shed light on any of the nonsense that’s gone before.

If this all sounds depressing, I certainly don’t mean it to be.

It just makes it more challenging and makes each fresh adventure, friendship or discovery more satisfying.

We need to find creative and exciting ways to use all the staples before we die.

I think I’m going to spend the rest of the day jotting down a quixotic list of all things I want to avoid ever doing again -- taxes! -- and a list of some of the things I want to try and get around to doing -- party once more with Moby!

Then I’ll stack the papers together and affix them with one of my shiny brand new staples.

Just 4,999 to go!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Human hunting to curb gun violence

We need to curb rampant gun violence by issuing human hunting permits to psychopaths who’ll promise to only target suicidal volunteers.

I concluded this after the anticipated groundswell of consensus for what one friend calls my Barney Fife Amendment failed to materialize.

That’s a pity because it’s a sound idea.

But now that we’ve gone about nine days since the last mass shooting made national headlines, it’s starting to feel like we’re overdue. So I’m in a rush to come up with another solution because there’s been no movement that could break the rhetorical stalemate and end the slaughter.

Lots of people think there should be some sensible restrictions on guns, but we all have to acknowledge that here in America people love guns and many people who love guns are dying to use them on innocent strangers.

That’s the rubric with which we’re stuck. So we need to find a way to satisfy those twin urges.

Here it is:

Anyone with homicidal tendencies is allowed to purchase, for a reasonable price, a hunting license that will allow them to kill up to, say, a dozen strangers in a controlled environment. I think a dozen deaths would certainly satisfy all but the most incorrigible psychopaths.

With fewer spree killers on the loose, our overworked police could focus their investigative eyes on rounding up the bloodthirsty worst.

I know at this point many of you think you’ve spotted a flaw in my logic. I anticipated the following question: So where are we going to get the victims, smart guy?

We ask for volunteers. If statistics are any guide, in four weeks we’ll have about 2,000 of them lined up to help reduce gun violence by becoming willing victims of it.

Those would be our suicidal friends and neighbors. They represent the 11th leading cause of death in America with 32,439 of them in 2004.

Understand, I’m not talking about the teenagers who are heartbroken because Britney left them for a boy with a nicer car. Those sorts of depressives would be identified in the screening process and given the necessary counseling.

I’m talking about the elderly, the terminally ill and the hopelessly forlorn who can’t shake things like being fans of teams like the Cincinnati Bengals. Many of these people are already seeking a Kevorkian solution. Giving them one is something that would appeal to liberals who believe in assisted suicides to end prolonged suffering.

So you see the circular logic of the plan means we’re killing two birds with one proverbial stone. And the N.R.A. is bound to be supportive of any equation that involves that much killing.

The suicidals wouldn’t have to endure the lonely stigma of dying alone and in secret despair. They’d be given loving wakes and a hero’s send off as their last act is to contribute to societal good by becoming a notch on the barrel of some psychopath’s AK-47.

Me, under the right circumstances, I’d do it in an instant. It would beat terminal cancer or certainly the decline of old age. I’ve seen with my own eyes how an elderly loved one dies. It’s a heartbreaking humiliation. Death with dignity, even with loving hospice care, is a sad oxymoron.

Let’s say I make it to about 80. Every thing’s breaking down. I’ve already buried most of my friends. I’m a nuisance to the kids. Offer me a fine and official send off and a tidy death by bullet and I’d jump at the chance, or maybe just tilt over on my walker.

Think of the potential. The government could construct controlled theme parks where everyone who enters is wearing a jump suit identifying them as someone who wants to kill or be killed. And the potential suicides could be armed, too. It would make it a fair fight. And if some cranky septuagenarian with a good squint and a steady trigger finger offs a psychopath or two before they receive their own lethal ventilation, then great.

It’s all good.

But I hope people take this idea with the gravity it deserves. I’m happy to help break the rhetorical impasse that has made us all numb to a homegrown violence. It’s gotten so bad, so common, that al-Quaeda hostiles must feel like loosening up their turbans while they sit back and enjoy watching us all kill each other so they don’t have to.

And I’ll welcome any other suggestions as to how we can break this ongoing and horrific deadlock.

Because if things keep going the way they are, it’s a lock we're bound to wind up with more dead.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Opening Day Hookie Edition, abbrev.

• Today is the Pittsburgh Pirates home opener. In honor of my time-honored tradition of playing hookie to attend the opener, I’m taking the day off and am just posting some scattered thoughts. Tomorrow I’ll be back with 700 or so words that take another vain stab at bloggy coherence.

• I was kind of hoping Phil Mickelson would win The Masters because, guaranteed, his lovely daughters would have run out onto the green to cheer their daddy. It’s going to be fun watching these girls grow up because if they inherit their mother Amy’s angelic looks and their father’s voluptuous breasts those girls are bound to be knock outs.

• A buddy of mine said he thinks one of the more mundane differences between heaven and hell is that in heaven there will be no frosted toasted oats in the boxes of Lucky Charms. And that in hell, all the boogers will smell really, really bad and no one will ever be able to find any Kleenex.

• I spent part of the weekend sorting a Volkswagen-sized hamper of freshly washed underwear belonging to my wife and my two daughters while the girls watched “Mamma Mia!” for perhaps the 399th time. It dawned on me that I was probably in the midst of my life's most feminine moment. The next time that duty falls to me I think I’m just going to -- damn the torpedoes -- put on Val’s pretty blue dress and see how it feels. Who knows? The experiment might lead to some interesting lifestyle changes.

• The Somali Pirates suffered a tough loss on Sunday. I hope the Pittsburgh Pirates do better today against the Houston Astros. Previous to the heroic rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips, my brother said he was hoping the Navy simply dispatched one of its big heavy lift helicopters, scooped up the lifeboat and hauled the thing straight to Gitmo. That would have been cool.

• This hookie day won’t be like days of yore which used to involve embracing about five of the seven deadly sins over 18 hours of baseball related revelry. Today I’ll be taking my daughters (no school) to spend the day with their grandmother and then racing back after the game to get Josie back for her kiddie soccer match. The only moment of danger likely to erupt will be when the girls revolt at my refusal to play the “Mamma Mia!” soundtrack for the third consecutive time.

• In light of what’s been happening off the coast of Somalia for the past year, I have to believe this is the kind of thing that will trigger some sort of Patriot Act investigation, but here goes . . .

Go Pirates!

Friday, April 10, 2009

On Easter, thoughts of another King

Ever since the week I ate like Elvis, I’ve always tried to promote Eats Like Elvis as the name for a punk band. I just don’t see how it could miss.

I’ve spent a good deal of this week thinking of my culinary apocalypse after an unbeckoned e-mail from the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans sailed into my computer. It read:

“Southern Fried Elvis,” an exhibition of eight cookbooks that focus on the food eaten by the late King of Rock and Roll, opens to the public on Friday, April 24, 2009.

Collection manager Chris Smith said: “Elvis was a classic Southern boy who liked all the hard-core foods – meat loaf, mashed potatoes, pork chops, fried chicken, white bread with gravy, cheeseburgers, the whole nine yards,” says Smith. “And then there were his legendary favorites, which included banana pudding and the infamous fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.”

I hope if this kind of thing ever happens again, someone will have the insight to invite me to serve on a panel. I could detail my experiences from when I ate like Elvis.

I remember it well. It was 1997 and I was watching an anniversary special commemorating the 20th anniversary of Presley’s death. I remember one woman saying she used to bring huge trays of food to the King’s Graceland bedroom where the big boy was chowing down.

“I remember melted butter dripping down his arms and just puddling up on the sheets,” said one woman, “and him saying, ‘Boy this pork chop is delicious. Bring me five more of these!’”

I remember thinking, “What would that kind of diet do to an otherwise healthy American male?” So I did what I was apt to do in those days. I dashed off a lead to National Enquirer proposing I spend one week eating like Elvis.

Being Enquirer editors confronted with anything involving tastelessness and Elvis, they did what Enquirer editors reflexively do: They offered me $1,000 and told to run to the grocery store.

And don’t mistake that as disparagement. The editors and reporters at National Enquirer are the finest storytellers and journalists I’ve ever had the pleasure with whom to work. They knew what readers wanted. Read or watch any publication or TV news show today and you’ll see their influence from the past 30 years.

The same goes for Elvis. Thanks to the all-Elvis channel on XM satellite radio, to this day I still enjoy Presley as much as the Rolling Stones, Tom Petty or any other top band on my playlists. I remember when John Lennon was asked about the influence of Frank Sinatra, he said, “Before Elvis there was nothing.” And how Bob Dylan said, “Hearing Elvis for the first time was like busting out of jail.”

But none of that was on my mind when Val and I loaded $432.33 worth of high-caloric groceries into the trunk that hot summer day. We spent the next three hours preparing a feast fit for The King. My bible was Brenda A. Butler’s -- be sure to sing it -- “Are You Hungry Tonight?” cookbook of Elvis’s favorite meals.

There were mountains cheeseburgers, bacon and eggs, fried chicken pork chops, nanner pudding, and the classic fried peanut butter and nanner sandwiches. There was so much scrap food for that initial photo session the slobbering dog got truly fed up and went downstairs to hide behind the furnace. And with every meal, I always had a big glass of frosty milk, just like Elvis, because as Presley liked to say, “Milk makes ya sexy!”

I called my editor two days into the experiment and proudly reported I’d gained four pounds. He became apoplectic, which was a fairly constant condition for Enquirer editors. Guaranteed, he’d been apoplectic four minutes previous to my call and would re-enter an apoplectic state three minutes after setting down the phone from talking to me.

“Four lousy pounds! That’s not enough! You gotta eat more! You need to look huge! You gotta pack on 15 pounds so the pictures will show you looking like Elvis when he fell off the can! Eat! Eat! Eat!”

That 35 second call left me all shook up and turned my week into a dietary death march. I would wake up feeling bloated. I’d munch on donuts while I as cooking the bacon and eggs. Then I’d consume the food, wash the dishes and repeat.

It was five days of that. Consume, wash, cook, eat, repeat.

In the end I’d gained 20 pounds, rented an Elvis-in-Vegas jump suit from a local costume store and posed next to a pink Cadillac to illustrate the story.

It took about two weeks to recover. The Enquirer ran the full-page piece over Thanksgiving (I tell you, they’re geniuses). The story was a minor sensation. I heard from morning radio giggle shows all over the country.

Much of my ambition to do anything great has since that week come from my understanding that if I die, the first line in my obituary will read something like, “Chris Rodell, who died Tuesday of (choose your mayhem), was a feature writer who once gained 20 pounds after he ate like Elvis for National Enquirer.”

It’s an ignoble legacy I hope to one day erase.

So that’s what I thought this week when I was inspired to write a story about one King on a weekend when many of us will be celebrating the resurrection of another one.

If you’ve taken a small portion of your weekend to read this far I want to wish you a Happy Easter and offer you a most heartfelt . . .

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

"Follow me, men! (and women)"

I was tempted to try and cap the number of listed blog followers at two because the widget looked like the marquee for a prize fight between two classy ladies.

And I know a lot of guys would think that’s cool.

But then a third classy lady showed up and now I’m in Twilight Zone existence where I can either pretend having only three blog followers doesn’t bother me, or I can start sneaking around onto the computers of absent family and friends and perpetuating the fraud that they read my desolate home blog,

My infant blog will turn 1 in May. Like human infants, the thing needs a lot of help. It’s starting to show some personality, but on some days it does nothing but produce big stinky messes that even dedicated loved ones run to avoid.

But blogging to three committed followers beats pacing around and talking to myself, which is about what I’d been doing before I’d begun posting. Doing the blog started to make sense because I had what I thought were good story ideas that would evaporate into the ether after a round of stinging rejections from currently unemployed editors who now spend their idle hours wondering what went wrong at magazines that no longer exist.

And it’s been great. I’m a big blog advocate (10 years ago people might have confused that phrase for an insult). I encourage anyone interested in becoming a better writer to start and nurture one. It’s like exercise. Do a little bit every day and you’re bound to get stronger.

One thing that’s surprised me is the way the blog seems to resonate with women. Though out my entire life, no woman, including the one who married me, has ever been eager to seek my opinions, dote on my wisdoms or pretend the 99th retelling of a sixth grade fart joke was funny.

But God bless the guys. They love that stuff. And so do I. I’ve been lucky that I’ve always found a happy circle of guys who like to sit around drinking beer, talking sports and dissecting the quality and cultural impact of recent Simpsons episodes.

That’s who I thought my blog readership would hit, and to some degree that’s been true. I hear from scattered guys and old buddies who say they enjoy the blog. I have two buddies who work at the local electric company who say they’re big fans. Every time my lights flicker, I figure Ron and Poppy are slacking off a little to read my latest post.

And I know of other regular guys who read, too, but none of them would ever dream of saying something nice about me in the comment section or posting a picture that would indicate they followed me. I understand, too. It would kill me to say anything nice about a buddy with whom I never feel closer than moments after I’ve unleashed a cruel and profane zinger that zooms around our hateful circle of friends.

Yes, there are few burdens regarding etiquette when it comes to being a guy.

But that makes necessary self-promotion difficult.

A perfect example: When I wrote about an honest-to-goodness fan letter I got from Arnold Palmer, sent out a bunch of obsequious e-mails to my guy friends saying, “Hey, thought maybe you’d want to check this out. I got a cool letter from Arnold Palmer. If you have a few minutes, please take quick peek. Thanks!”

Within seconds, one of my buddies responded in a devastating gang e-mail, “Will do, Mr. Attention Whore!”

I could practically hear all the nasty snickering roaring through my computer screen.

Like my blog’s namesake, guys like us believe pride is a sin. We’re like Amish with iPods.

That’s why the persistent and flattering comments from refined ladies takes me aback. They encourage me. They offer thoughtful interpretations. They make me wish I was blogging back when I needed a prom date.

At first, I thought the readers were women who were eager to study the thoughts of a Jurassic-era male who still enjoys regular guy things like excessive bar time, baseball, The Stooges and arm pit instrument symphonies.

But the trend’s one I cannot ignore.

They can’t all be anthropologists.

I’ll not mention it again, but if you’re a regular reader, please take a moment to post your little picture in my followers widget on my home blog and give my battered self-esteem a momentary nudge toward the affirmative. And thanks to the brave trio who’ve already stood up and testified.

My goal is to get maybe a dozen little pictures in the widget so it’ll at least look like a tidy blog version of the Hollywood Squares.

Then with that little bit of respectability, I’ll have time to sneak around in the public libraries and fatten up the followers with fakes like I suspect other successful bloggers do.

I’ll ask you all to do the same for me.

Mr. Attention Whore will be grateful.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Gun violence solution: one bullet per gun

I’d vowed last year to restrict offering my solution to senseless gun violence to days when the body count moved above a dozen innocents. But by that standard, I’d be writing about senseless gun violence every week or so and that would take too much time away from writing about things like my love of pedicures and vanity zip codes.

But the carnage this weekend was too gruesome to ignore. A distraught dad shot and killed his five kids in Graham, Washington; a Vietnamese gunman killed 13 fellow immigrants in Binghamton, New York; and here in Pittsburgh we are devastated by the deaths of three police officers who were shot by a 22-year-old far right gunman who believed President Obama is out to take his guns from him.

That’s always the fear of far right conspiracy theorists like 22-year-old Pittsburgh shooter Richard Poplawski -- and it’s more and more becoming the dream of far left gun control advocates who believe it’s the only way to stop relentless random mayhem.

Like the abortion wars, there is no middle ground between these two bitter camps. With them, it’s either all guns or no guns.

That’s why I first proposed in 2003 a perfectly reasonable solution that was called by one gun control expert as the first original argument he’d heard in a lifetime of dealing with the debate. Here it is:

Every one over the age of 18 gets to carry a loaded gun, holstered or concealed, any where they want, any time they want. That means every place people gather -- offices, churches, airplanes, sporting events -- plenty will be packing.

But you get just one bullet. One bullet per person.

Use it or lose it and, in addition to any existing criminal charges, you need to go before a judge and explain what happened to your bullet before he or she decides whether or not you get another one.

Guns don’t kill people. People don’t kill people.

The bullets are the killers and the astronomical number of them invariably leads to deadly recklessness.

One Minnesota firm, Alliant Techsystems, boasts on its web site ( that it makes up to 600 million bullets each and every year all by itself.

The most hateful, paranoid person on the planet would be hard pressed to enumerate 600 million people in history who really deserve to be shot.

An attorney once told me there are three types of homicides: unnecessary, justifiable, and praiseworthy. If everyone was entitled to just one bullet, many of those serving hard time at tax-payer expense for unnecessary homicides would today be productive citizens.

The jails are full of otherwise good men and women who in moments of drunken or drug-fueled rage emptied guns at victims who didn’t deserve lethal ventilation.

But if a drunk or crack fiend had just one bullet, most of them would miss their targets and they’d be subject to the laws of the land.

Judge: “Why did you shoot your bullet at Mr. Smith?”

Mr. Wesson: “Well, it sounds silly, but I didn’t like the way he was looking at me.”

Judge: “Is that any reason to shoot a man?”

Mr. Wesson: “Nah, but I was really drunk.”

Judge: “Well, it’s a good thing you missed. I’d advise you to stay home with your kids instead of engaging in barroom staring contests. Understood?”

Mr. Wesson: “Yes, your honor.”

Anti-gun people are loath to admit it, but everyone’s manners become more refined in the presence of a loaded gun. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used to quote Al Capone, who was known to say: “You can get more accomplished with a kind word and a gun than you can with just a kind word.”

The crossfire of pro- and anti-gun groups has become the rhetorical equivalent of trench warfare. The mindsets are so ingrained that any attempt to breach the deadlock with fresh thought is automatically shot down -- even by people who are organizationally opposed to shooting anything.

Back when I came up with the theory, I spoke with Nancy Hwa, at the time a representative for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence. She said, “Our theory is that even one bullet can kill someone.”

True, I countered, but doesn’t it stand to reason that fewer people would be shot if everyone had just one bullet?

“Well, yes, but . . .” she began reciting familiar arguments before realizing she’d descended into what she called “wonk babble.”

“Sorry, but it’s hard to think about new ideas.”


Out of fairness, I next had to call the National Rifle Association, the scary, dour people with the bumper stickers that are always alluding to their “cold, dead fingers.”

I remember being caught off guard by NRA spokeswoman Kelly Whitley’s reaction.

She burst out laughing. And she continued to laugh. It was such a joyful laugh that I felt a rush of sweet affection for this unseen, distant stranger. It had me hoping nobody had to pry anything from her cold, dead fingers for many, many happy, productive decades.

I called back the next day and she was still laughing. More than five years, she still hasn’t called me back with a substantive response. I imagine her sitting there still laughing maniacally in between regurgitating the same tired Second Amendment arguments that do nothing to stem the carnage.

One bullet per person might seem like a silly idea, but there just aren’t any new ideas coming from either side, certainly none that at least one person in the pro-gun lobby finds so ironically disarming.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Don't believe anything you read, 'cept this

If all’s gone according to plan, switchboard operators at the Pittsburgh Zoo will by now have fielded more than 20 calls for a Mr. L.E. Funt.

I spent the morning dialing 20 unsuspecting friends and handing the phone to my 8-year-old daughter. My malicious little accomplice then left persuasive scripted messages for them to call the zoo’s 800 number and ask to speak to the esteemed L.E. Funt about a trunkload of money due them.

In past years, 20 different friends were asked to return calls left by one Ima Lyon or her elegant long-necked friend, Mr. G. Raffe.

If the operator ever gets wise to who’s behind this annual April Fool’s Day prank she will herd me and Josie at gun point across the safety moat encircling the hungry Mr. Tiger.

You can keep Christmas, Halloween and all the other warmhearted holidays. I’ll take April Fool’s Day and will carry its cruel spirit with me all year around.

Lately, Val and I have begun to put more emphasis on the actual day because we want our daughters to grow up on their toes.

We emphasize that the world is composed entirely of either victims or perps. The girls need to be prepared to battle the black-hearted men who roam the world with evil intent.

You know, all my good buddies. The ones we pranked this morning!

We inflicted the first lesson of this on our then 6-year-old daughter on this very day in 2006 when my wife was heavy with child. Josie’s innocent excitement about the new arrival couldn’t have been more sweet. A look of pure joy blossomed on her lovely face when I woke her and said Mommy’d had the baby while we’d slept.

She crept down the steps and there was Mommy (God bless her, she’d agreed to play along) cradling a swaddled love loaf on the couch.

Josie crept forward and pulled aside the blanket aside in wonder. There in Mommy’s arms was Baby Bop, the stuffed green cousin to Barney The Purple Dinosaur.

For as along as I live, I’ll never forget the look on Josie’s face as the array of emotions crowded to the surface. First came confusion, then hurt, then disappointment and then -- and this was key -- fury. She dove into me with her tiny fists raining toddler thunder down about my head.

Then she saw the beauty of a well-executed joke and, hallelujah, was able to laugh at herself. We had a hug fest, a big family laugh and a story we’ll tell forever.

It was a pivotal moment in her development. She’d learned to be a skeptic and a more critical thinker.

One the downside, there is evidence that the lesson may have been a bit too well taught. Ever since, she treats her father the way Moe treats Curly. But that’s a price I’ll pay for a being an incorrigible practical joker.

Of course, I’m a piker compared to one of my heroes, Joey Skaggs, the world’s most impractical joker. His scams can involve more than 100 actors, phony press releases, leased and elaborately equipped offices and months of preparation and execution.

Practical jokes? There is nothing practical about them. Today, of all days, amuse yourself by visiting and reveling in more than 40 years of audacious pranks that have duped all the mainstream media and mostly likely you into believing there really are things like high-priced cathouses for dogs.

It was back years ago when Skaggs goaded big shot New York stations and major print media into believing that for $50, customers could get Lassie laid. A white-smocked on-site "vet" assured gawking reporters, “This isn’t about breeding. This is purely a sexual pleasure service.” The false story was circulated around the country, never retracted, and the legend persists to this day.

Skaggs is a self-proclaimed media satirist who figures if we're more suspicious of things like the existence of cathouses for dogs then we're less likely to swallow whoppers like Saddam Hussein's Iraq being awash in WMD.

Clearly, it’s a lesson we’d all foolish to ignore.

Of course, my goals are far less grand and I’m far too busy to spend my time on so many elaborate and pointless pranks.

Despite what the operators at the Pittsburgh Zoo might tell you, I devote all my time to productive pursuits aimed at elevating the discourse of my fellow man.


I’m not a lyin’.