Monday, August 31, 2009

Time on my hands & everywhere else

I’m thinking of getting a $75 tattoo of an $18,000 Rolex on my left wrist. It would appear jewel-encrusted, waterproof and would make even the stylish wafer thin ones look clunky by comparison.

I think a really nice timepiece is a great way to impress strangers, and I don’t have the otherwise means to do so without deception.

Plus, I have so many clocks and time-telling devices in my life that I no longer have any idea what time it really is.

Right now, the clock on my laptop says its 10:36 a.m., but if I raise my eyes slightly to the digital display on my stereo (now playing Sgt. Pepper by The Beatles) it says it’s 10:28 a.m.

Perhaps it’s fitting that my futuristic MacBook Pro is vaulting ahead in time while my Bose Soundwave plays “When I’m 64,” a 42-year-old ditty about the pending intrusions of the doddering ages (and did you catch how that last sentence shows what a materialistic brand name-dropping dandy I’ve become?).

I have three watches ranging from cheap to middle-class spiffy. With my car clock, cell phone, several scattered clocks throughout the home and the notoriously corrupt homewrecker in my favorite tavern and it would seem I’m a man with all the time in the world.

Yet, I can’t seem to find the time to precisely synchronize the dozen or so I rely on for essentials like picking up the kid at the bus stop or being on time for the weekly golf match.

“I’m sitting on my watch, so I can be on time.”

That’s a Bob Dylan joke from his 2001 song, “Bye & Bye.”

Is that posture the solution?

I’m always either late or early. Never right on time.

I’m either hurrying to get someplace or just sitting stationary killing time, a once favorite pastime of mine. That was before I read how Henry David Thoreau wondered if it was possible to kill time without injuring eternity. It brain barnicled the instant I read it and still nags at me whenever I have time on my hands.

Thoreau’s philosophical petard makes my possession of so many scattered and disagreeable time keepers seem like a crime against humanity.

I feel driven to always be doing something productive. No longer do I kill time.

Now time’s killing me.

Exchanging my unwieldy array of Babelonian time pieces in exchange for a time tattoo of a really nice watch would change all that.

It’d be a practical fashion statement, people would appreciate the eccentricity of it, and it would have the nifty benefit of relieving the pressure to always be punctual.

I’m sure I’m not alone. We’re all so stressed by constant nano-second reminders that time is running out.

Could fancy wrist tattoos ease some of our pressing worries? Is it an idea that will eventually sweep the country?

Only time will tell.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The one foul thing we all crave

This has been the summer that something we can all agree is clearly foul has been more cherished than children.

Twice I’ve enjoyed video highlights of toddler-cradling fathers snagging foul balls at Major League Baseball games.

The clips show the balls roaring in while the two thick-bellied fathers nimbly tuck the kids away and grab the balls out the sky while meeker sorts in surrounding seats dive for cover.

I’m convinced had the one guy been freighted with both a full beer and offspring, he’d have sprung up and caught the ball with his teeth.

The clips caused controversy among those who believe children are universally good and shouldn’t be put at risk over mis-struck baseballs.

As a father, I’d like to stand up and testify on behalf of the balls.

Don’t misread this as some gaudy sort of fertility boast, but I’m a man with two children and three balls. I keep them on my desk and juggle them when I get bored -- and I’m talking about the baseballs, not my daughters.

The girls, ages 8 and 3, while often fonts of pure bliss, can also sass, disobey and merrily join their mother in making vicious sport of me, the way I dress and the sound of my voice when I try and show them how I ought to be an “American Idol” finalist.

The balls, in contrast, are memories of perfect moments. Every boy growing up at one time or another dreams of being a professional baseball player and making spectacular catches in front of cheering throng.

Catching a foul is the happy collision of circumstance and skill. You have to have the opportunity, itself a rarity that some experts have calculated at one in every 1,200 every game, and a talent you either have or you don’t. Some rabid baseball fans go their entire lives without ever catching one.

I’ve caught three. All barehanded.

Two of 'em beer-handed.

I wrote the dates, the pitcher and the batter on each one and every time I hold them -- and I often do -- I’m reminded of the three days when enormous stadiums full of baseball fans cheered for me as avidly as they did the superstars on the field.

The first one was May 20, 1991. John Smiley of the Pirates pitched a curveball to Randy Reading of the Philadelphia Phillies.

I’d been at a raucous wedding the night before and was still detoxifying. It’s safe to say my system was coursing with only slightly fewer foreign substances than those of the players on the field in those innocent days that predated mandatory drug testing.

Reading hit a rocket off the facade at old Three Rivers Stadium. It was no where near our seats on the first base side, but I knew to expect a ricochet. I turned in time to see the ball -- I’ll never forget it -- coming like a bullet for right between my eyes, which I felt instantly become saucer sized.

Pure reflex, I reached up with my left hand (I had a big beer in right hand) and deftly caught it. It was a great catch. The crowd went crazy. I raised both beer and ball in salute and the crowd of more than 30,000 went crazy.

The second was May 17, 1992. Pirate third baseman Steve Buechele hit a foul off Padre Andy Benes. It struck the railing adjacent to our seat. I had to monkey over my side of the railing, catch the ball and hold on for dear life or fall 30-feet to a messy ending in the aisle below.

Thank God the vendors were slow that day or a big beer would have complicated the physics with perhaps fatal consequences.

Again a big cheer and a soul-soothing memory that, yeah, maybe I had the goods to make it to the bigs.

The third catch wasn’t nearly as special. It was August 27, 1999, with forgettable Pirate Jimmy Anderson pitching to forgettable Colorado Rocky Terry Shumpert.

It was a gentle pop up. It wasn’t difficult, but I didn’t drop it or my beer -- something fans justifiably boo when they witness it.

That catch earned nothing but polite applause and envy from those who knew my day at the ballpark had somehow become blessed.

Observant readers will note the date and understand it was 10 years ago today that I caught my last foul ball.

That’s 10 years since I’ve done anything that might make a stadium full of strangers cheer me as if I were a real Big Leaguer.

I don’t know why I felt compelled to share the story now.

I guess the realization just put me in a foul mood.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Pittsburgh columnist embraces worthy cause -- me!

The “Free Chris Rodell!” movement got off to a gangbuster start Sunday after columnist Eric Heyl of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review picked up his editorial cudgel and used it to hammer my recent arrest for trying to sell $300 worth of Steeler tickets for just $200.

It was fun for me to be on the other side of a story I’ve told so many times, that of a cherubic innocent being unjustly persecuted by stupid bureaucracy beholden to a law that should never have been enacted.

With the exception of the cherubic bit, the entirety of the previous sentence is true.

I tried to be an accommodating subject. When Eric asked if I’d been placed in hand cuffs, I was tempted to and say, “Not only that, but he tased me in place no man should ever be tased.”

When he asked if the officer mistreated me in anyway, I nearly blurted out, “Only if you believe waterboarding constitutes mistreatment.”

But those would have been lies.

Skeptics, well, my wife, keep wondering if I’m leaving something out of the story, like maybe the propositioning of an undercover hooker.

But, no, I was arrested for trying to sell an undercover officer four of my own tickets, valued at $75 each, for less than $200 for the whole bunch. That’s exactly what the citation says.

I’m awaiting a hearing date and a call from the gang over at “60 Minutes.” Justice will prevail!

Funny, in one week I was quoted as an expert in the New York Times and then just five days later revealed to be a half-assed outlaw in the paper read by all my friends.

You’d think there’d be some money in a life this interesting.

You’d be mistaken.

Eric had some fun with it and I’m happy with how it turned out. Here’s what he wrote:

Preseason games sure ticket to big fine
By Eric Heyl
Sunday, August 23, 2009

It shouldn't be that difficult to get rid of Steelers tickets, even if they are for a preseason game.

More importantly, no one should ever — ever — get into legal trouble over tickets for any NFL preseason game. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Chris Rodell and his cousin long have owned four Steelers season tickets. They usually charitably give the preseason tickets to people who otherwise never would get to see the Black-and-Gold players in person.

"Doesn't seem right to charge for them," Rodell said. "Not when most of the guys you're going to see playing will soon be strip club bouncers down in Dixie."

Rodell, 46, of Latrobe is a freelance writer. In this economy, that means he usually is one benevolent editor's assignment away from playing Stratego with other residents of the homeless encampment under the overpass.

So this year, Rodell was determined to get some money for the tickets, which have a face value of $75 apiece. But he had trouble finding a buyer for the Steelers' exhibition opener against the Arizona Cardinals.

None of his friends were interested.

"Everyone has a nice big-screen TV at home now and would rather drink (their own) beers than the $7 ones the crooks at Heinz Field charge for warm stadium brew," Rodell said.

He attempted to sell them via Ticketmaster's online ticket exchange site, but found it apparently only brokers regular-season tickets. He tried to peddle them on Craigslist, but got nary a nibble.

So Rodell and a buddy ventured to the North Shore the night of the game with a plan. Rodell would sell the tickets for whatever he could get, and then use some of the proceeds for liquid refreshments while watching the action at a nearby sports bar.

After negotiations with several prospective purchasers went nowhere, Rodell was approached by a guy in a Hines Ward jersey.

He asked how much Rodell wanted for the $300 worth of tickets.

Not wanting to price gouge, Rodell asked what he thought was a reasonable price of $200.

"That's when he pulled out a Pittsburgh Police badge and told me I was under arrest," Rodell said. "I was arrested by Hines Ward."

That Rodell was attempting to sell his own tickets for less than their original cost was irrelevant.

He didn't have a city license authorizing him to resell the tickets. He wasn't in the legal ticket reselling zone next to the portable toilets near North Shore Drive and Tony Dorsett Way.

Rodell has an upcoming hearing before a district judge. Ironically, he faces a fine equal to the face value of the tickets he was trying to sell — $300.

He didn't hesitate when asked if getting arrested while attempting to consummate a money-losing business transaction has taught him anything.

"If you have preseason tickets and you don't plan on using them," he said, "set them on fire."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pittsburgh ought to be singin' in the rain

Three years from Sunday will mark the 100th birthday of beloved actor and Pittsburgh native Gene Kelly (August 23, 1912).

That gives me plenty of time to make an iconic popsicle stick statue of him “Singin’ in the Rain” and hang it from a lamp post in Pittsburgh’s landmark Market Square.

I think that kind of eyeball evidence might be what it takes to get city officials interested doing what ought to come naturally.

Ever since I returned last fall from a trip to write about golf in Wisconsin, I’ve been consumed with the idea of Pittsburgh building a Kelly statue in the heart of the city. The city is investing $5 million in a beautification project Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says will make “Market Square an even better destination for residents, visitors and families.”

I love Pittsburgh, but sometimes I want to take its leadership and bat them over over their collective heads with a hearty loaf of Mancini’s Italian bread. A statue of Kelly singin’ in the rain from a Market Square lamp post would bring international attention to the city and not to mention tourist dollars.

Yet, I can’t get any of the magazines to let me write a story about it and my fledgling efforts to convince opinion makers have been met with shrugs. I might have to resort to writing a letter to the editor, a stinging surrender by someone who still likes to pretend he’s professional.

I wish I had the eloquence to convince city leaders that the Kelly statue would earn Pittsburgh accolades and loot.

If I can’t, maybe The Fonz can.

David Fantle of Visit Milwaukee told me that the statue of Milwaukee “native” Arthur Fonzerelli of “Happy Days” fame the city erected in 2007 has been an wholesome godsend to downtown tourism.

“It cost us $90,000 in donated sponsorships to build and has in just two years earned us more than $9.5 million in worldwide media value,” Fantle says.

Today, a steady stream of visitors to central Milwaukee stop by the downtown river plaza to ape it up with the “Bronze Fonz.”

Now -- ehhh! -- we all love Fonzie. But Gene Kelly is one of America’s most sparkling icons.

And for me it’s all because of that joyful dance he made famous in the 1952 movie.

The American Film Institute in 2007 ranked “Singin’ in the Rain” as the fifth greatest American movie of all time. These experts in cinematic glories ranked it ahead of “Gone With The Wind” (6), and “The Wizard of Oz,” (10).

Only “Citizen Kane,” “The Godfather,” “Casablanca” and “Raging Bull” ranked (in order) better than the great Kelly vehicle.

Not a man or woman alive can’t relate at some level to that euphoric dance. Released nearly two years before the birth of Howard Stern, that dance is an upraised middle finger to anyone who finds themselves caught without an umbrella in the crapstorm of life.

Check it out. The sequence is 4:36 seconds of pure magic.

It’s particularly relevant to a city like Pittsburgh, a perpetual underdog of a metropolis despite consistent top rankings in numerous “most livable city” listings.

Once dubbed “Hell with the lid off” because of its smoke-belching crush of fiery factories, Pittsburgh today is as green and fresh as a salad bar. The mills, gone thirty years, have been replaced by high-tech upstarts, downtown universities and riverside fitness trails. Skies once choked with smoke, today crackle with free citywide WiFi.

It’s a city you can still put your arms around. Downtown is geographically incarcerated by the waters of the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers. The only direction downtown can sprawl is straight up.

Leaders from all over the world are about to discover its charms as they come to town for the G-20 summit September 24-25.
Guaranteed, many of the leaders of the industrialized world learned what America is all about by watching movies like “Singin’ in the Rain.”

I hope somebody in the city picks up the baton and runs with it. Three years is plenty of time to raise awareness, funds and construct a statue that will give Pittsburgh a joyful jolt of publicity and a euphoric new image that will resonate around the world.

I’d do it myself, but I’ve got a full plate. I need to go out and rent “Singin’ in the Rain.”

I don’t want to rain on my own expertise, but I’ve never seen the flick.

I hear it’s pretty good.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Free Firewood? It's True!

The high topped 90-degrees yesterday and I received my first e-mail of the year requesting free firewood.

“I understand that you are giving away free firewood,” wrote Kenneth M. “I rely on firewood for cooking and for heat and would love to receive a free truckload or two of it. Please sign me up for this fantastic service!”

I used to be thrilled whenever a stranger e-mailed me asking for free firewood. As anyone who’s ever seen the homepage of knows, I’m the world’s leading purveyor of free firewood. No joke. I’ll send anyone, anywhere in North America free firewood.

Now I’m feeling more and more like a bit of creep because five or six people each year are gullible enough to fall for the world’s lamest joke.

It all started about 15 years ago. Val and I had a lovely little house with a cozy fireplace. I pity those of you who live in places that suffer from year-round sunshine. You’ll never know the pleasure of cuddling up with a loved one in front of a warming fire, charming fireplace implements at our side, while the wind’s blowing trash cans across the desolate lawn.

Go ahead, feel free to pity me right back this February when cabin fever has us all so crazy we’re ready to use those charming fireplace instruments to bash each other’s brains in.

But to enjoy the fire, you need an ingredient more essential than even dry matches.

You need wood. Lots of it. And for that you need an authentic woodsman.

I’d been warned that they are among the most boring carbon-based life forms on the planet. I was told they spend long days out there among the oak, maple and pine, and that they must spend most of that lonely time trying to converse with the bark.

This I found to be true. The woodsmen I’d hired to bring me a cord or two each fall universally seemed -- and pardon the pun -- stumped whenever I’d speak back.

Plus, they seemed to be a bit -- and here I go again -- shady in their woodsmen ethics. They’d bring less than promised or green wood that just insolently hissed at me rather than combust.

That I didn’t mind. What I could not tolerate was that not a one of them ever got my firewood joke. And, damn it, it’s funny. I’d spring it on them each time when we’d finished stacking.

I’d say, “Well, friend, how much do I owe you for this ‘ere wood?”

“I reckon (most woodsmen are reckoners) you owe me $125.”

At this point, no matter what the price, I’d feign shock. “Gee, $125! That’s a lot of money. I guess firewood doesn’t grow on trees!”

Silence. Nothing.

See, it’s funny because firewood is actually one of the few products you can buy that actually does grow on trees.

Had I ever found one woodsman who’d have slapped his torn jeans and said, “Ha! That’s a good one! Firewood don’t grow on trees! Ha! Ha!” I would have invited him inside for a beer and signed a 25-year contract for yearly delivery.

But the reaction was always dumbfounded silence.

So I decided to hell with the whole sorry bunch of them and ran out and bought my own chainsaw. Each year now I head out to harvest some lumber, marginally making me, a guy who talks and types for a living, feel at least a little bit like a manly dude.

And each year as I kneel down and light the first warming fire of the fall, my wife expresses her gratitude and support by saying something like, “I’m amazed you’ve made it another year without chopping off one of your arms or being crushed to death by a falling timber.”

I never dreamed when I conceived the site that people would actually think there’s such a thing as free firewood.

See, the joke is that the site doesn’t specify how much firewood I deliver for free.

So I invite readers of this blog to visit -- and to let me know if you need any free firewood. Look for it in your mailbox.

It’ll be free. It’ll be wood. And it’ll burn. If properly lit under mild wind conditions, there ought to be enough to set the delivery envelope ablaze. I suggest you put some paper and twigs around it if you want to kindle a bigger fire.

But first you’d better find an honest woodsmen. And good luck with that.

Those guys exactly grow on trees either.

Monday, August 17, 2009

NYTimes cites me, my golf book

Today The New York Times bestowed upon me the de facto title it usually reserves for the likes of Kissinger and Greenspan.

I am, in the eyes of The Times, an expert.

And, lucky me, my expertise isn’t in foreign policy or the more arcane aspects of the miserable economy.

I’m The Times expert on the ace.

I’m the guy Times “On Par” golf writer Bill Pennington sought and quoted when he did the story “Golf’s Holy Grail is Far From Elusive.”

Pennington did a nifty job on the story about the alleged “rarity” of golf’s luckiest shot and how even though about 20 holes in one are made every hour, he’s never had one.

Me neither.

For Pennington, it’s a source of consternation.

For me, it’s a diabolical cruelty.

See, it was in 2003 that I had the idea to write “Hole-in-One! The Complete Book of Fact, Legend and Lore on Golf’s Luckiest Shot.” After some research, I learned there’d never been a book on the one shot each and every golfer dreams of making at least once in their lives.

For those of us who’ve never achieved the goal, the fact nags like an unreplaced divot.

I selfishly believe for me it’s much worse because as an, ahem, expert, I’ve heard thousands of stories of golfers who’ve had an aces. I’ve talked to blind men and women who’ve had them. Men with one arm. Women with no legs. I’ve talked to the sacred and the profane.

Most of them describe the feeling that erupted when the ball dropped in the cup as “indescribable.” I wonder if they’re taunting me.

To me, the ace respresents maybe the one time in life where absolutely every thing went perfect. And it can happen to anyone.

As I told Pennington, “Average men or women can’t wake up tomorrow morning and expect any chance to do something perfectly in sports, like whiff Alex Rodriguez on three pitches. But they could one day hit a golf shot that even Tiger Woods couldn’t best. When you make a hole in one, in that moment, it’s the greatest shot ever.”

So I hear.

Those who’ve made aces often put the lucky ball on the mantles already crowded with pictures of loved ones.

I contend the ace alone remains pure. Even the best children will do things to make blood pressure and insurance rates rise.

But the ace is forever perfect. It gets mentioned in countless obits and many old golfers are buried with the lucky balls in the caskets in the hopes they can get a good tee time someplace in the afterlife.

The analogy I use it is to lucky golfers what pre-teen grandchildren are: Born flawless and incapable of causing angst.

So why can’t I be so blessed as to get an ace? Why can’t I be one of the 150,000 or so fortunate golfers who get an ace here in America each year?

When strangers find out I’m a golf writer who wrote a book about aces, they stop what they’re doing and tell me a story about what for many of them will swear was one of the greatest moment of their lives.

Why can’t I be one of the lucky ones?

Of course, as a New York Times certified expert on one of the world’s happiest topics, you could argue that maybe I’m already plenty lucky. Really, who could ask for anything more?

Me, for one.

I want an ace of my own!

Until I get one, the shot will remain my Moby Dick and I its Ahab. Wish me luck.

And may your first or next ace be so wonderful and lucrative that it'll earn a whole chapter in my next golf book.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I had the right to remain silent: arrested again

Despite my self-conviction that I’m a really great guy, I keep getting insistent reminders that I’m not. The latest came Thursday night and was enforced by a guy carrying a badge and a concealed weapon.

Yep, just two weeks after blagging (bragging on my blog) about my get-out-of-jail-free card from a friendly state trooper, I got busted again.

And this time I could wind up back in jail.

Unlike my 1986 arrest, I wasn’t tipsy or rendering general mayhem.

Goldangit, I was being, yep, a really great guy.

I was trying to sell $300 worth of Pittsburgh Steeler tickets to friendlies for just $200.

Heck, I would have taken $150.

Anyone who channels Richard Nixon to bolster moral arguments is on shaky ground, but let me make this clear:

I am not a crook.

Of course, the undercover cop is going to swear in court I am.

Here are the facts:

The criminals who run the National Football League commit extortion on their best customers by charging us full price to see utterly meaningless exhibition games contested by burly men who in four weeks will be back serving as bouncers at strip clubs across Dixie.

For years, my cousin with whom I share four valuable season tickets, and I would give away these tickets for free to families who might never get to attend a professional football game. We try and give them to fathers who’ll take kids because that’s the way our Dads got us into the game.

It makes us feel good (like me, my cousin’s a real sweetheart, too).

But with prices reaching $75 a ticket and zero income, I felt a mercenary tug that overshadowed my good intentions.

So I tried to sell the tickets in ways law and custom allow.

I tried selling them on Steeler, but was told the software was down. The site allows fans to bid on the tickets. Conceivably, I could have made an indecent profit and it would have been perfectly legal.

Tried Craig’s List and didn’t get a nibble.

And I crapped out with all my friends.

I theorize everyone has a nice big screen TV at home now and would rather drink free beer than the $7 ones the crooks at Heinz Field charge for warm stadium brew.

I don’t blame them.

So I talked a buddy of mine into come with me. We’d take what we could get and watch the game in a lively Steeler bar.

At first, things looked promising. The professional scalpers were buying tickets for $25 a piece. I figured a respectable gentleman like myself could get $50 a piece, but I wasn’t going to be picky.

I stood on the sidewalk and fanned out the tickets to see the six-time Super Bowl champion Steelers play an exhibition re-match against the Phoenix Cardinals, the team they’d beaten in February’s championship.

A couple guys balked at my total. That’s part of the game. It’s a negotiation. I was unconcerned.

Some fresh-faced kids with a hand-made sign saying, “We Need Tickets!” approached. They looked perfect. But they said $200 a piece was too steep.

Had they made a counter offer of, say, $150, I would have said, “Deal!”

But they did not.

The next man to approach had a Hines Ward no. 86 jersey on. I have one, too! I love Hines.

He asked if I was selling tickets. I said yes. He asked how much. I said $200.

He pulled a Pittsburgh Police badge from under his jersey and said, “You’re under arrest. Come with me.”

I was being arrested by Hines Ward!

Had I been thinking instinctually, I'd have just took off. I think I could have out run the cop and the whole thing could have been averted. Plus, I could forever brag about the day I outran Hines Ward.

The officer told me I was an unlicensed vendor. That I was trying to sell my own tickets (I had my season ticket cardholder ID on me) for less than I paid for them mattered not.

Nor did my get-out-of-jail free card. He didn’t even look at it, and now I’m relieved I didn’t try and rob any banks on its illusory protections.

I have to appear in court. One licensed scalper said the fine could be as high as $300.

I’ll not blog about this again until the issue’s resolved.

I am willing to go to jail over this. Because I intend to express my heartfelt contempt for any judge that doesn’t summarily dismiss this ticket.

As I am unschooled in the ways of the court, I’ll be unable to express that emotion with fancy legalize.

But, believe me, I’ll get my point across to the presiding authority.

I’ll moon the old bastard.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Of mice and mice

The hardware store exterminator showed me an array of medieval killing devices. I could poison the little beasties. I could lure to them to glue traps where they’d be frozen in place until their tiny hearts burst, or I could sever their spines with one frantic blast of sprung steel.

“Have you got any thing that can maybe sedate them first or, better still, reason with them and convince them to just leave our home of their own free will?”

See, we have mice.

He looked at me like he knew he was dealing with a bleeding heart liberal. I looked at him like he had an uncanny perception for a grown man who still wears a “Burt” name tag on his little blue vest.

“A little squeamish, are you?” he asked.

I suppose I could have told him I oppose any sort of animal cruelty, the unfairly applied death penalty, rude behavior at town hall meetings and those garish posters that make Barack Obama look like The Joker.

Instead, I just said, “Yup.”

“You seem like a TomCat 2000 man to me,” he said.

I couldn’t tell if he’d just insulted me or not, but I liked the sound of it.

Maybe I am a TomCat 2000 man!

The TomCat 2000 is a no-kill mouse trap that works by gravity. The mice, lured by aromatic peanut butter dabs in the darkened end of the four-inch tunnel trap, march in through a door that’s cunningly rigged to close shut when the mouse’s weight shift triggers the door.

The mice trap themselves.

Somebody’s built a better mousetrap!

What appeals to the samurai in me is that we’re only catching stupid mice. The smart ones sense menace and escape to resume the grand battle of wits.

Hawkeye and Trapper John belittled him for it, but the TomCat 2000’s similar to the rat trap Major Frank Burns developed when 4077th was in the midst of their own infestation (mark your calendars: Larry Linville’s birthday is September 29!).

It’s given my life a purpose. Without the TomCat 2000, I suppose I’d have to find something else productive to do with my waking hours, like maybe, gadzooks, find a job.

Just this morning, I caught and released my eighth mouse. Each release ceremony has enlivened the breakfast hour.

I assemble the family and give a little speech explaining to the mouse that we’re doing this for its own good. The woods will offer many more recreational opportunities for mice, not to mention a healthier diet -- they are natural herbivores -- than the nutritionally desolate Pop Tarts, Lucky Charms and other crap we feed our children.

Then I pull open the door. You see the whiskered nose first. The mouse seems terrified and slick with sweat. This saddens me. I’m trying to invent a tiny air conditioning unit and maybe set the iPod to something soothing to ease the incarceration.

As it scampers away, I say a small prayer that it will thrive and bother us no more.

I don’t warn it about the numerous hawks, snakes and other natural predators that abound in the woods. No sense scaring it any more than I’ve already done and, hey, those creatures have to eat, too. Circle of life, baby.

Then I announce the tally to the family I’m charged to protect.

“Well, that’s number eight,” I said this morning.

“How do you know that?” asked my wife, ever the skeptic. “That might be the same mouse over and over again. It sure looks exactly mice one through seven. Perhaps you should begin to brand the the ones you catch before freeing them.”

She, of course, was needling me, as is her matrimonial wont. But she has a point.

Maybe I should brand them. I could set up a little pen, wrangle the rascals and put the CR brand on their hind quarters.

Then once I got a sufficient herd I could run a drive like the way I’ve seen them do in all the great cowboy movies I’ve loved since I was boy. I could take them across the Red River to some mouse sanctuary.

It sounds like a great adventure.

In fact, that’s the one childhood fantasy I’ve never been able to shake.

Yup, I’ve always wanted to be a cowboy.

Who knew I’d grow up to be a mouseboy!

But Burt back at the hardware store probably could have already told you that.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Safety lessons from spree killers

What we’ve learned from recent spree killers:

• It’s unsafe to exercise in places dedicated to strengthening and prolonging life (George Sodini, LA Fittness, Pittsburgh, August 4; three dead).

• It’s unsafe to be an armed, on-duty police officer responding to routine calls (Richard Poplawski, Pittsburgh residence, April 4; three dead).

• It’s unsafe to be an aspiring American, an immigrant drawn to our shores by the promise of a better life (Jiverly Wong, American Civic Association, Binghamton, N.Y., April 3; 13 dead).

• It’s unsafe to want to live out your golden years at a remote retirement home (Robert Stewart, Pinelake Health and Rehab, Carthage, N.C., March 29; eight dead).

• It’s unsafe to attend places of worship (Terry Ratzman, Living Church of God, Brookfield, Wisconsin, March 12, 2005; seven dead).

• It’s unsafe to shop (Robert Hawkins, Von Maur Department Store, Omaha, Nebraska, Dec. 5, 2007; eight dead).

• It is unsafe, for the love of God, to be an Amish schoolgirl (Charles Carl Roberts IV, West Nickel Mines Amish School, Bart Township, Pennsylvania, Oct. 2, 2006; five dead).

All told, the random teachers listed here killed 47 people they’d never met and wounded hundreds more. The anecdotal tally could be higher if we included the dead who learned too late it is unsafe to go to places like work or school, but we already knew that.

None of these other-wise law-abiding individuals committed a single crime until the second they pulled the triggers on their legally purchased semi-automatic weapons.

Want to be safe?

Get a job in the U.S. Capitol.

It is there that each and every one of the more than three million annual visitors gets marched through state-of-the-art magnetometers before being allowed entry.

Want to be less safe?

Continue to live without complaint amidst the carnage and under the laws our elected officials continue to pass.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fresh air about cash for clunkers

I’m enchanted by “cash-for-clunkers” because I’m hopeful the program will fulfill an offbeat prediction I heard years ago in a progressive publication.

The magazine quoted experts who said the way to solve air pollution problems was to take all the cars from the 1950s and simultaneously empty the air from all their tires.

This would release the sweet, wholesome air of the Howdy Duty era and allow it to crowd out the pollution. The ozone hole would magically close, asthmatic coughing would be eliminated as the more pure air circulated, and network TV censors would find themselves out of work as people began to say things like, “Gee, Beaver . . .” instead of “Holy @*&#!” when stuck in traffic.

The magazine was the great Weekly World News.

Feel free to dispute the wisdom of “experts” who would allow themselves to be quoted on pages next to stories headlined,
“Baby Born with False Teeth!”

How that lively magazine went out of business while weekly snoozers like Newsweek and Time remain solvent still mystifies.

But the story points out something even today’s bona fide experts are overlooking, and that is that good things can sometimes come from unexpected places.

I tried to make this point the other day with a cranky WWII veteran from The Greatest Generation.

He told me the country is in the midst of a historic collapse. He cited the exploding deficits, the trade wars and the legitimacy of a president who may not even be a real American.

Want to take a wild guess where he gets his news?

There was a time not long ago when I would reflexively bow to the opinion of any man who’d bled on the beaches of places like Normandy.

No more. I’m no longer a young whippersnapper. I’ve been alert and informed for more than 40 years now.

Sure, for many of those years I’ve been tipsy from various heady inebriates, but the parking lot at the VFW near my home’s always full, too, so it’s a fair fight.

And he may have toted a M-1 in Europe, but he’s not going to outgun me in any political argument about current events.

“Now, hold on, friend,” I said. “Are you telling me this isn’t the greatest country in the world? Are you saying we can’t, when challenged, roll up our sleeves and solve any problem?

“Because I refuse to believe that. We are the most exuberant and energetic people the world has ever known. We have for more than 200 years been an enormous force for good and liberty.

“Solving an economic problem is nothing. Remember just 25 years ago when Reagan exploded the deficits there were stories that your generation was ruining the future for my generation? Well, that never happened. Bill Clinton balanced the budget, vanquished nutty Ross Perot in the process and wound up leaving George W. Bush an enormous surplus.

“This is the county that produced Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, and Bugs Bunny. We are capable of greatness when summoned. So I’ll not stand here and allow you or anyone else to bad mouth the United States of America.”

It was roughly the same speech Otter gave to Dean Vernon Wormer in “Animal House” when the Omegas were trying to have the Deltas thrown off campus.

We are in the midst of historic times. I believe there is innovation about to be unleashed that will render many of the old arguments obsolete. Our brightest minds have at their finger tips problem solving computers that would make Albert Einstein snap his stubby little pencils in envy.

Prepare to be amazed by some of the startling improvements that are going to appear out of thin air.

Not to mention old tires.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My obsession: The perfect match

(Note: asked its contributors to this week relate their obsessions. This is my effort. Check out if you're interested in reading about writing from some really great writers. If you're not, stick around here and I'll try to keep from boring you with my petty writerly concerns. Thanks for reading and please consider enlisting as a "follower" of I know there are more than 33 of you out there, but that's a whole 'nuther obsession. Have a great day! Chris R.)

I am obsessed with finding the perfect match. I like to collect them from fancy hotels and restaurants whenever I go on a road trip for business or pleasure.

Despite the tanked economy, I still have the connections to get invited on free trips all over the world. Many resorts and destinations are looking for guys like me, credentialed travel writers, who will come, enjoy all they have to offer and write about the lavish experience.

I’m obsessed with trying to find outlets that will justify their flattering interest. Until then, I turn down all the free trips outside the country and more than 90 percent of the ones within.

I like to use those matches to start fires. I’m obsessed with watching things burn.

We have two fireplaces in our home and a big limestone fire pit out back. I spend many, many days in the woods behind our house chopping timber and watching the big stack of firewood grow. If I could, I’d stop writing for a month and do nothing but concentrate on getting a pile of wood big enough to keep us in firewood for the next 20 years.

And then I’d cut more wood.

One of the things I’m obsessed with burning is a footstool-sized stack of rejection letters from literary agents who say they are not interested in reading my novel. I always say I know I’m not working hard enough unless I get at least a rejection letter a day.

Despite my insistent proclamations of laziness, the stack is evidence I’m a hard worker. There are form letters, personal ones, ones that say I suck and ones that say I don’t. There are snail mailed ones and print outs from e-mailed ones. I save each of them.

After about five years, I’m convinced my novel is really ready for publication. Several top agents have told me so. They say the book is destined to succeed and I believe them.

They tell me the book’s not right for them but they are certain that the right agent for me is out there. They say it’s just a matter of time before I’m matched with an enthusiastic agent who will shepherd this book through to successful publication.

I’m obsessed with finding that agent.

When I find him or her I’m going to go out in my back yard and spend a day cutting firewood. I’ll run the chainsaw till it’s too hot to handle. Then I’ll get the ax out and split the stuff till my arms and back ache.

I’ll stack a pile of it in the pit out back and pull out that stack of rejection letters.

And I’ll set fire to them all.

But first I need to find that perfect match before burn out sets in.

I got to get that match.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My night with Julia Roberts

I’m not going to be among those who today are commenting on last night’s new episodes of “Jon & Kate + 8.” I’ll leave it to others to speculate on the randy shenanigans of serial cheater Jon and to what extent his shrewish wife drove him to it.

No, on this day it falls to me to discuss journalism ethics.

This ought to be funny because I have none.

But I’m uniquely qualified to tackle the subject because the issue here is the oxymoronic topic of tabloid journalism ethics.

I’m talking about tabloid Star magazine reporter Kate Major who while on assignment to cover Jon Gosselin apparently decided to cover him in ways Mike Wallace never dared.

She slept with him.

“I didn’t mean for it to happen -- it just did,” she gushed. "I went to do a story on Jon and ended up falling for him.”

I don’t understand how girls keep falling for a rather dumpy looking chap with more baggage than a Samsonite warehouse, but that’s beside the point. Citing a conflict of interest, she quit her job with Star to follow her heart and the man she considers dashing.

As a tabloid veteran of who wrote more than 1,000 swashbuckling stories for National Enquirer from 1994-2000, I wish Kate would have called me for advice.

I’d have told her to continue screwing Jon in every sense of the word. Quitting your job when you have pillow talk access to one of the biggest tabloid stories in the country?

In the tabloid world it’s considered highly unprofessional to be so professional.

Even my wife understood this.

That’s how I ended up with my hands in Julia Roberts’s pants.

It was October 28, 1997, Julia’s 30th birthday. She was having an exclusive birthday party about a private yacht cruising the Chesapeake from Annapolis to Baltimore’s splendid Inner Harbor.

An Enquirer editor called me in an apoplectic state, 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.

“We need you to get to Maryland right away!” he said. “We’ve snagged a personal invitation to Julia Robert’s 30th birthday party. You need to get your ass down there.”

I did better than that. I took my wife’s ass, too!.

Ah, those were the good old days.. The Enquirer was a demanding master, but never stingy with the expense account. I knew I could take my wife and we’d have a wonderful time in Baltimore with or without the Pretty Woman.

But I was determined to get on board that boat. I thought presents would add a semblance of reality to my scheme to thwart what was bound to be a tightly controlled arrangement. The invitation was legit, by the way. Someone in her inner circle had secured an lavishly embossed invitation and for whatever reason -- Cash? Revenge? -- gave it to the Enquirer.

So we stopped by a Baltimore gift shop and charged armfuls of crab-themed delights. There were spices, a T-shirt, earrings, cookbooks and some crab-covered silk boxer shorts.

Val was excited, too. Neither of us were big fans of the toothy actress, but it’s easy to be dazzled by the proximity of fame and fun.

It was an interesting time for Roberts. She and dorky singer Lyle Lovett had recently divorced and the Enquirer was reporting she had been dating a string of regular guys.

Guys like me.

I told this to Val and said it was important for her to remember that I was on duty here and might need to behave in ways that might be considered immoral and outside the bounds of our marriage.

In short, I said I might have to -- in the line of duty -- screw Julia Roberts.

But I wasn’t going to screw The National Enquirer.

That’s where Kate Major made her mistake.

Val gave me permission to make out with Julia, but no more, an understanding compromise on her part, I felt.

Of course it didn’t work out. We weren’t on the guest list. They hustled us off the pier and the only pretty woman I got to make out with that night was my own wife.

But we left all the presents and told the guards to tell her they were compliments of National Enquirer.

It wasn’t until the drive home that I realized that I could forever say I had my hands in the star's pants. I was sure she’d like the crabby silk boxers best of all.

It was just my luck that it happened at least three hours before she even knew the pants were hers.

Related . . .

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Free Wireless and costly coffee

I’m such a bleeding heart liberal that anytime I see signs shouting, “Free Wireless!” I run inside looking for a petition to sign. Over the years, this has cost me a fortune in unwanted coffee purchases.

Other writers and, invariably, breakfast waitresses look at me like I tell them my head’s a time bomb set to explode when I say no thanks to morning java.

I admit it’s a startling declaration, like an Eskimo saying he dislikes snow.

Everybody drinks coffee, and most of them seem to enjoy it. They say the caffeine gives them a jolt that helps launch them into the day. It’s a jolt they reignite every 30 minutes or so with multiple refills.

I wonder how different my life would be if I self-medicated that way. I’m sure I’d be more alert and that’s a sufficient reason to keep me from ever doing so.

Truly alert people are the cause for much of life’s miseries. They start shooting wars, they cut you off in traffic and shout out the answers to televised “Jeopardy!” questions like they have an actual money stake in the result.

I’m as alert as I ever want to be. I spend most of the day looking like at any second I could fall fast asleep. In fact, I’m sure I could drift off right now for a few quick winks.

But I’m going to fend off the urge to do so because I don’t want to slow the blog’s momentum for any coffee drinkers who might get impatient at the somnambulant siesta.

I wonder if becoming a coffee drinker because it might be a good career move.

I decided to call my home blog,, shortly after shedding internet access at my shabby little office. I did it to save money and because internet access is readily available in nearby coffee shops and my local library.

The next logical step once you start down that road is cutting cable, electricity, water, etc., and the next thing you know you’re churning your own butter and wearing burlap britches.

(Note: if I were to rename the home blog today I’d call it Things are so tight and bereft of promise that I’ve looked into the legality of trading the kids for cows.)

I’m perfectly content doing on-line work at the local library. But because that government-subsidized outfit is nearing an Amish existence, too, its doors are open as infrequently as a miser’s wallet.

On Fridays the library is down for the day. Its still-functioning wireless reach extends to the parking lot, but I’m reluctant to work on my laptop in my car for hours at a time because the library’s right next door to a busy church playground.

A cop could come by and lurch to the conclusion that something sinister’s afoot, especially if I can’t get him to swallow my story that reading computer pornography next to a church playground involves some farfetched sort of story research (I have trouble believing that one myself).

So that leaves the inviting coffee shops and their “Free Wireless!” signs.

I’m not the kind of mooch who could sit there for hours nursing one mocha frappo whatever. I feel obliged to patronize the joint.

Plus, I’m not going sit there and do like so many other writers and be surreptitious. No, I’ll want everyone to know with whom they’re dealing. That means the purple robe, the extended ebony cigarette holder, the brandy snifter and flamboyant stalking about the bean bins as I grapple about for fancy words like “surreptitious.”

I’m sure word would soon get around that I was the disgraced writer so destitute he couldn’t afford internet access at his pitiful little office.

They’d probably start calling me snide names like “Wire Less” behind my back.

So just to be safe, if you are a fellow writer sitting in some cyber cafe, I ask you to set down your coffee, your cigarette holder, and cinch up your purple bathrobe.

Approach the store manager and ask to start a “Free Wireless!” petition.

She’ll know what you’re talking about.