Friday, August 31, 2012

World's biggest ash

It was already three inches long and still growing when I called Val out on the porch to give it a good long look.

“Are you not impressed, babe?”

She just stared. Her incredulous face meant it was time for the next step.

“Get the kids! They gotta see this! And bring the camera!”

How can a man who feels awkward eating a banana in public be so proud to suck on a cigar?

I was in the midst of growing the world’s longest cigar ash and wanted witnesses.

The achievement’s been a dream of mine since I was a young reporter in Nashville and heard a story of a legendary attorney who used to distract jurors by growing a cigar ash that refused to fall.

I was told he’d insert a straightened paper clip right down the center of the cigar. The wire would somehow unite the ash into maintaining its pre-fire form.

The attorney would flamboyantly puff away on the cigar and stare at the ash as it grew to preposterous lengths. The gawking jurors became too pre-occupied by the spectacle to pay any attention to the prosecution.

I’d since heard the attorney was the great Clarence Darrow and the setting was the Scopes Monkey Trial, upon which one of my favorite films, “Inherit the Wind” (1960), is based, but this interesting Straight Dope piece debunks the contention.

I’d given the attempt meager efforts over the years, but this time I was determined to grow a 6-inch ash.

The effort had me recalling a smoke from a few years ago when an early curfew meant my companion had to ditch me in a smoky tavern on Pittsburgh’s South Side. I didn’t have my friend, but I did have my cigar.

I clipped it, lit it and began to commune with all the ghosts in the smoke. I would never dream of bothering a stranger with my smoke, but this was a smoker friendly bar and at that moment I was a friendly smoker.

So I was a little taken aback when a cigarette smoker next to me said in a challenging voice, “Just what is it you like about cigars?”

I surprised him with my answer. “It’s an hour-long commitment to idleness.”

A good cigar is too expensive to hurry or throw away, I said. The smoke has a way of inoculating you against bores and chores alike. You can’t go pick up the kids, you can’t clean the gutters, it’s just you and your cigar.

I told him to check out the great 1995 cigar-smoker Harvey Keitel/William Hurt flick, “Smoke,” a movie that teaches viewers how to weigh smoke. It relates how tobacco pioneer Sir Walter Raleigh weighed an unsmoked cigar on a balance, then lit and smoked the stogie, careful to preserve all the ashes.

When the cigar was done, he set the dead butt amidst the ashes, subtracted the one from the other, hence, the weight of smoke.

I was thinking about this on the back porch as I chased ash immortality.

I was closing in on my fourth inch when it began to occur to me I’d made a serious error. I’d been so consumed with setting some kind of record I forgotten my commitment to idleness.

I was puffing away like a locomotive, not at all my usual leisurely pace.

I was smoking the cigar so aggressively I was becoming light-headed. I started feeling woozy and sick to my stomach, the way I feel when I realize the weekend’s going to involve things like yard work.

Feeling faint, I set the half-smoked cigar down on the porch and let it expire. I sat there in the cool evening breeze to recover and mull my errors.

For a man so concerned about his masculinity, I’d really sucked the hell out of that thing. Rather than let it lead me, I tried to lead it.

Oh, well. No big deal.

For guys like me, being a half-ashed failure in the pursuit of an extra inch or two beats being exposed as a man who comes off half-cocked.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

"Use All The Crayons!" still free, defying biz models

Compelling evidence that I should ignore those who say I should sell, rather than give away my little book, came roaring into my inbox yesterday.

“I enjoyed the crayon-signed copy of "Use All the Crayons!" you gave me. It gave me many LOL moments. Hilarious. Your outlook on life is refreshing. I'd like to purchase 24 copies to give to my employees. Can you direct me to the best option for doing that?”

I met this gentleman at a golf function about six weeks ago. I told him about my book and said I’d like for him to have a freebie copy. His business card said he’s a banker, which was risky of me because the book includes gratuitous banker bashing.

Understand, that day I also gave free copies to locker room attendants, a waitress and a caddie. I make no distinctions between peon and powerful.

I can’t help myself. The book is making people happy. People really love it. The reaction is causing me to reconsider my default position of self-deprecating humility. Think I’m kidding?

One of my early promotional lines was: “I can’t promise you’ll like this book, but I’m pretty sure it won’t make your head hurt.” Talk about your soft sell.

Now I’m thinking of including the line: “This book is guaranteed to make you happy.” That’s not me. It’s a quote from an review.

These days nothing makes me happier than sitting down with a stack of books and my box of 96 nubby crayons because I know what will happen next.

The recipient will feel a giddy little burst of euphoria because everyone loves getting something that sells for $15.95 for free. They’ll begin leafing through the pages and then they’ll start to laugh.

Then there’s this and it is key: They’ll tell friends about it. Or maybe they’ll buy two or three copies for gifts.

Free copies have led to purchases of 5, 10 and now 24 copies at once. I’m convinced I’ll soon hear from someone who wants to buy 100 copies.

How many sales will result from one man giving away 24 books he bought from me? 50? 100? More?

And, yes, the best way is to buy them directly from me. I’ll sell them to you at a $2 discount and every copy includes a cheery note and little smiley-faced crayon self-portraits.

I’ve had some friends who insist on buying it on-line, and I’m grateful. But a part of me is chagrined because those versions seem sterile compared to the ones I bestow with vibrant splashes of Mauvelous, Lazer Lemon and Atomic Tangerine.

The distributor told me two Japanese publishers are vying to publish it there, and they believe interest will spread after an international book fair in Frankfort in October.

Nationally, it’s the top seller of the Open Book Editions, the joint venture between Berrett-Koelher Publishers and Author Solutions, the self-publishing titan I paid to bring this book to life.

That sounds more grand than it is. Self-publishing is expensive and fraught with pitfalls. I still have steep hills to climb to make the book a mainstream success.

But things are happening on a near-weekly basis that rattle my knee-jerk pessimism.

Can you help? You betcha.

If I’ve given you copy, please be sure to tell friends. More than once. Fans in Oklahoma, Illinois and California have told me they’ve barnstormed local bookstores with enthusiastic arguments about why they should carry it. That’s great.

Or you could write an honest review on The marketing gurus tell me this really helps.

You could certainly buy another copy or two, or persuade a civic or philanthropic organization to have me in for a lively address. I’ve got lots of great stories and promise I won’t start drinking until I get there.

Or how about this?

Just get in touch and ask me for another free copy. You can give it to a friend or someone serving in the military.

Either way, it’s an exchange that I’m sure will enrich me in ways I never imagined.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

When Facebook becomes Fakebook

I did something yesterday for which I’m feeling justifiably small: I tried to bust someone for fibbing on Facebook.

It’s not exactly “60 Minutes” going after Big Tobacco, is it.

And I should know better.

Facebook is a perfectly innocuous place where we all go to post our prettiest pictures and give the shared impression we all live in a happy, shiny place free of discord and things that smell, although I’ll bet Zuckerberg’s about to force that function on us all.

It brings old friends and classmates together and connects those with shared interests. In these divisive times, we need more, not less, of that.

So why did I feel instantly compelled to expose what I suspected was deceit?

Because I feared it was being perpetrated in the name of George, one of my all-time very best buddies.

It’s not a stretch to say it was George who taught me how to drink, which means George taught me all I know.

George and I met in the dorms and became fast friends.

I remember sitting in the library that first week bored out of my mind and saying to George, man, we’ve been bearing down on this algebra for 10 excruciating minutes and we still don’t get it. What ever are we going to do?

“Well, we could leave and go to a bar,” he said.

His remark showed a genius Ohio University transcripts failed to detect. The state drinking age at the time was 18. Athens was strewn with bars. He was right. We could go to a bar! And that’s exactly what we did.

And we never left.

He’s the one guy old friends always ask about when they call to catch up. “Have you heard from George?” they’ll ask. “Is he on Facebook?

I talk to him every six months or so. The sound of his laugh takes me back to some of the happiest days in my life. But, no, he’s not on Facebook. He’s too cool for that.

That’s why I was shocked to see a burst of George behaving very uncool on Facebook yesterday. He was posting pictures of his kids, his wife and the captions said things like how much he loved these people.

I thought he only loved me.

And Anheuser-Busch.

I suspected fraud and immediately posted the comment: “If this is really George posting these pictures, then what’s Brad Wiseman’s middle name?”

This was a serious breach of Facebook etiquette. I should have posted, “George, you have a beautiful family! Like! Like! Like!”

But this was George -- and let’s say that’s not his real name and that he’s not married to someone really named Jeannine.

Instantly, one of George’s relatives responded, “Quick, Jeannine, get off the computer and ask George what Brad Wiseman’s middle name is!”

An hour or so went by and finally George typed in the single word “Boner,” which was wrong but Alex Trebek would have accepted. Boner was Brad’s nickname.

Then he came back after about 15 minutes and typed, “Lon,” which was correct. Brad had the uncommon middle name Lon and the nickname “Boner” for reasons I won’t dare reveal.

By now I was beginning to realize feelings were being hurt. So I typed, hey, it was just a little test I conduct to make sure people aren’t using the internet for less than pure purposes. Because no one wants that.

And today I feel bad. I sanctimoniously suspected Jeannine had hacked into George’s computer to make him look even more perfect than he’s always been.

Even worse, just three days ago I perpetrated an even more egregious fraud.

I’ve long been frustrated by my inability to lure more people onto my languishing @8days2amish Twitter account.

In fact, reaching 190 followers last week seemed an opportune time to run a sweepstakes. I tweeted, “Anyone who helps me get to 200 followers by 5 pm gets a free signed copy of “Use All The Crayons!

The result? By 5 p.m. four once steadfast followers bailed on me. I was down to 186.

So on Sunday I decided to take matters into my own hands. I snuck onto my wife’s laptop and signed her up for a Twitter account so “she” could follow me.

But I didn’t do anything as innocuous as I suspected Jeannine did. No, I really upped the ante.

I signed her up under the user name @ILuvChrisRodell! I figured I could use it for a clearinghouse for things I wish she’d say about me, but has never had the grounds to. Things like: “He’s a spectacular lover! . . . He’s a great provider! . . . He’s, uh, honest!”

And because I wanted to bestow my darling new follower with intellectual superiority, I signed her up to follow Barack Obama, the Dalai Lama, Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela, Ann Coulter -- and me!

And I have the nerve to doubt the authenticity of my old friend’s innocent posts.

So I feel bad about my petty suspicions. Because I @LuvGeorgeNJeannine.

I really, really do.

I’ll swear it on a whole stack of internets.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Moon elevators & other uplifting thoughts

News that Seattle-based LiftPort is planning to construct moon elevators to floating space stations had me making a trip down elevator memory lane.

Or a trip up and down elevator memory lane, I should say.

We’ll get to the moon elevators, but first let me stray from that topic to discuss the noble device utterly incapable of straying even a inch in any non-vertical direction.

In some ways, the elevator is man’s most varied conveyance. In others, our least.

Some can travel 50 stories in the time it takes others to go three. Some have televisions; others are without even meager decoration. Some have glass walls and scenic views of places like Niagara Falls.

I did a 2003 story about Pittsburgh’s last human elevator operator. His elevator -- I was disappointed he didn’t give it a pet name like, oh, Elly? -- was more spacious and plush than my first apartment.

He rolled his eyes when I told him he was lucky to have job with such upward mobility. He'd heard 'em all.

His passengers loved him, said he really brightened their days.

I’m surprised innovative companies don’t hire elevator operators to loosen up what is one of our most poisonous interpersonal atmospheres.

Funerals are livelier than most elevator rides. No one jokes. No one makes eye contact. They just enter, do an immediate about-face and begin staring at the numbers above the doors the way gamblers stare a high stakes horse races.

I will on occasion defy convention and startle fellow passengers by facing the rear wall for the entire ride. It’s very unsettling to some, almost like they’re flying commercial next to a devout Muslim.

I almost always wind up exiting on the wrong floor, but I’m never in so much of a hurry that taking the steps a few flights is a bother and it’s fun to try and guess how close I come to the floor I need, adding a “Price is Right!” element to something typically mundane.

I guess my all-time favorite elevator was the one at the 7-story College Inn in Athens, Ohio, where I attended Ohio University. I lived on the top floor. What made it cool was The Nickelodeon, the best bar in town, was in the basement and I tended bar there.

I remember one time a girl to whom I felt no carnal attraction offered to drive me home. I told her her car wouldn’t fit in the elevator.

This one had a dual stop/start button that if you timed it just right you express the lift right past every floor.

The elevator would stop when summoned, signaling impatient occupants like myself to lean hard on the stop button. This would cause an emergency bell to ring. The sound of the bell meant you immediately needed to yank the start button for the elevator would zoom right past the floor.

Infuriated residents would pound on the door and scream profanities at those of us inside.

Some of the most awkward moments of my life occurred in that elevator when I mis-timed my effort and the door would open and a student would enter to see me standing there pulling on the button for dear life.

The glaring hatred I felt was palpable. To this day, I don’t know how I escaped multiple beatings.

Another recollection: Elevator sensors were incapable of detecting empty beer bottles lodged between the center-closing doors. The doors would shut and the elevator would operate as normal with the beer bottle captive in the inner doors.

We’d be there in the basement hearing the bottle make escalating clanging sounds on each floor as we wagered how high it would get before shattering.

I remember winning $20 on a durable Genesee Cream Ale bottle that went six floors before breaking into a thousand tiny pieces that musically rained down the shaft for the next 30 seconds.

I doubt that will be possible with the proposed moon elevator. The idea is to build tethered space platforms (first lunar, then earth) that make galactic exploration more feasible, but I think it’ll most be used by leaping daredevils intent on having their bloody demises filmed for YouTube posterity.

An outer space elevator seems to offer the choice of dying of either boredom or hypoxic asphyxiation.

The stories don’t say, but I have to believe the ride would seem to take forever.

And I’m sure I’d go crazy standing there aboard what is essentially a two-story elevator waiting for the “EARTH” light to darken and the “SPACE” one to illuminate.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Joyful news! New additions to our (musical) family!

It was about nine months ago I learned the joyous news that I’ve been reluctant to share because I might drip tears of joy on the keyboard.

We’re welcoming three new members to our family next month!

Save your baby shower diapers for the Duggars. We’re done having children.

But Mark Knopfler, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison are not. Three of my very favorite musicians are each releasing new albums of fresh material over the next four weeks.

If the collections are their children, then I’m at least their uncle.

Because I will nurture them, offer them my unconditional love, tell friends about how great they are and, yes, I’ll listen to them over and over and over.

I’ve been thinking about how new music from artists we love differs from the children we love and, let’s be honest, it’s hard to say children are superior.

Let’s take the new Dylan record, “Tempest,” to be released Sept. 11. Like my children, it will ask me for money.

Unlike my children, it’ll ask me for money only once.

Like my children, parts of it will speak directly to my soul.

Unlike my children, it won’t address me as “weird” or “stinky” before addressing me.

Like my children, I’ll take “Tempest” with me in the car for long rides across the nation.

Unlike my children, it won’t whine for me to turn it off in favor of Radio Disney.

To my knowledge, this is the second time Dylan released an album on Sept. 11. The first is an indelible memory.

It was the 2001 album, “Love and Theft.” I was still buying CDs then and was at the local Barnes & Noble waiting for the doors to open. In addition to Dylan, Alison Krauss and Delbert McClinton were releasing new albums.

I was driving home with the expectation of luxuriating in the new music when I heard the news that planes were hitting the World Trade Center. Instead of listening to great new music, I spent the day fearing the end of the world.

I still listen to all three of those albums a lot and every time I do I think of that day.

I guess releasing another album Sept. 11 means Dylan’s not superstitious.

Here’s how I feel about music: It was another fall day in 1999. Tom Petty released the often-beautiful album, “Echo.”

I remember putting the CD in the car player and hearing the first mesmerizing notes of “Room at the Top of the World,” and thinking, man, I’ve just been introduced to another best friend. This music will be in my heart and my head for the rest of my life.

If I’m feeling sad, it’ll brighten my mood. It’ll inspire me when I’m feeling stuck. I’ll never be lonely.

I don’t think I could have picked three artists I’d rather have release new music in quick succession over Dylan, Knopfler and Morrison.

Like many vapid music fans, I went a long time thinking Van Morrison’s best song was “Brown Eyed Girl.” Then in 1991 I began hearing “Hymns to the Silence,” an interesting title ode to a double album that is one hour and 25 minutes of sound.

It was a revelation. I began buying every thing he’d ever done and believe he just gets better and better. My favorites are “The Healing Game” from 1996 and “Magic Time” from 2005. But it’s all sublime.

His “Born to Sing: No Plan B” is out Oct. 2.

I’m one of those Dylan fans who became a Dylan fan by hearing Dylan play a supporting role in someone else’s band. Of course, it was the Traveling Wilbury’s. It wasn’t until those records that I realized he had an appealing sense of humor.

I bought his greatest hits Volume 3 in 1994 and finally got it. The epic storytelling of the sweeping 11 minute “Brownsville Girl” is what did it for me. But there’s a Dylan for every season. My favorites change with my mood. Lately, I’ve been favoring “Nashville Skyline” (1969), “Street Legal” (1978), and “Modern Times” (2006).

But the most interesting thing he’s done recently has been “Theme Time Radio Hour,” for Sirius XM. He did about 100 old time radio shows complete with sound effects, dialogue, jokes and old timey music built around themes like “Luck,” “Dreams,” and “Baseball” even. It’s entertaining, informative and hilarious.

Then, finally, there’s Mark Knopfler. Who’s that, some of you may be asking?

Well, he left in 1991 one of the world’s biggest rock bands to be a sort of club singer and somehow managed to get even better. Dire Straits, I still love. But Mark Knopfler solo is so mature, so magnificent, I’d lose everything else before losing him.

Five of my most played top 10 songs are Knopfler solo with the top three (in order “Get Lucky” (2009), “Golden Heart” (1996) and “Heart Full of Holes” (2007) all him.

The man who wrote the still-searing “Sultans of Swing” has transformed himself into something so majestically mature that he exudes wisdom and joy few aging rockers have ever expressed.

So I’m most excited about the Sept. 3 release of his “Privateering.” And, get this, it’s a true double album. Twenty songs with more than two hours of new music from one of the world’s best musical craftsman.

Count on me to give you a full report Sept. 4, along with my thoughts on great double albums, which is what this was supposed to be about in the first place.

Please try and find a little time every day to listen to some music instead of dreadful talk radio.

And never start a Monday slavishly filling out a tedious to-do list for the next five days.

It’s bound to make you week-minded.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Re-run Sunday! Of mice and mice (2009)

Note: Tomorrow's the first day of school, so I did tomorrow's post today. I was tempted to pop it on-line right away, but will hold it in favor of enjoying the pulse-pounding anticipation of waiting for the school bus to arrive. So here's an August 2009 post about how we dealt with a mouse infestation. Enjoy your Sunday!

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.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Profound, timely, solutions to spree killers

Note: I finished this at 8:30 a.m. and didn’t hear the news out of NYC until noon. How sadly prophetic.

It’s been, I guess, a week or so since another spree killer made the national news. Or maybe not.

It’s been 20 minutes since I last checked the headlines. A lot can happen in 20 minutes.

What I can guarantee hasn’t happened is that anyone has proposed a fresh solution to our national insanity. This summer’s relentless violence has produced a collective sort of shrug.

It’s like we as a nation have decided there’s an acceptable body count that goes along with bestowing even mentally disabled or disgruntled white men the absolute right to possess a few semi-automatic AR-15s with 100-round ammo drums capable of killing 140 people in 140 seconds.

In fact, that’s short-changing the weapon. I read that bullets from the AR-15 -- it’s the kind the Aurora killer James Holmes used -- can be counted on to go through not one but two people at a time.

So it’s theoretically possible an AR-15 bullet could hit the Syrian butcher Bashar al-Assad -- yea! -- travel through his body and lethally ventilate Nelson Mandela -- boo!

The scenario reminds me of a pivotal scene from Clint Eastwood’s great 1992 Western, “Unforgiven.”

A naive young assassin nervously gloats about gunning down an unarmed man who’s pants down and seated on the outhouse crapper.

“Well, I guess he had it coming,” the kid says.

“We all have it coming, kid,” wise old Clint says.

Sure we do. We all go to the movies, the churches, the taverns, the gyms, schools, work and the shopping malls -- all sites of recent spree killings.

That anyone in these dangerous times should feel safe while seated on the toilet seems to me a charming notion. Or should I say a Charmin notion!

I believe I stand alone in trying to change the dynamics of this peculiar national tragedy. It was I who offered the Barney Fife Amendment, which would allow anyone, anywhere, to carry a loaded gun.

One condition: you get just one bullet. Use or lose your bullet and in addition to any existing laws you have to go before a judge to explain what happened to your bullet before you get another bullet.

This got zero traction, I’m sorry to say, as did my idea of smart bullet innovation. I suggested the government offer incentives to develop smart bullets that would decide in mid-air if the intended targets deserve killing and then select a more deserving victim.

This is all about preserving innocent collateral damage. The beauty of smart bullets is that in many cases the bullets will reverse and strike the person who fired it, saving police departments a fortune.

Then after the Aurora killings I offered the idea that we could reduce gun violence by having the NRA administer a truly well-regulated militia, the belief being there are more regulations involving the needle artists responsible for tattooing our hillbillies than there are for guns.

This, too, landed with a thud. None of my gun-owning friends said they wanted to sweat out their Saturday hangovers doing calisthenics at the local high school rec fields.

That’s where we are in the gun debate. Every sensible argument offered by people who think there are too many guns, has been gunned down by the people with, duh, all the guns.

The only solution to our near weekly sensational spree killings, they say, are more guns in more places. They think if only there’d been armed hombres like them in the theater, they would have cooly risen amidst the hail of bullets and taken down the killer with one shot.

I think they’ve seen too many movies.

But because I believe the blood-drenched status quo is wholly unacceptable, I at last surrender to their logic.

Let’s try installing racks of loaded guns right next to the fire extinguishers. Signs on the glass can read, “IN CASE OF SPREE KILLER BREAK GLASS.”

There, of course, may be unintended consequences. Angry drunks may break the glass to settle parking space disputes, spouses may escalate infidelity arguments with handy firearms, and there are bound to be casualties involving ticket takers, young mothers or 12-year-old kids who picked the wrong day to see the Batman movie.

Oh, well. Let’s just figure they’ll all have it coming.

By doing continuing to do absolutely nothing, I’m convinced we all do.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday Gene Kelly! Why no statue?

Somewhere out there there is a friendly woman who believes I’m an influential opinion maker. She thinks by championing an issue I can persuade politicians, shake loose tax dollars, and mobilize the public into steamrolling a worthy cause.

She is mistaken.

If she were correct, I’d mobilize the public into steamrolling my book onto the best seller lists so I wouldn’t feel all twitchy next time I spend too much on lunch sushi.

I have my priorities and they are uniformly selfish.

But I’m not without empathy.

That’s why when this woman called me out of the blue last month I felt bad I couldn’t help her. Alas, I told her I’ve done all I could.

“You think so? You haven’t written anything lately. You could write something and join me in getting the public’s attention. Wouldn’t that give you a lot of satisfaction?”

It would, I said, but my sushi chef accepts Visa, not satisfaction.

He won’t accept this either, but here goes . . .

Happy 100th birthday, Gene Kelly!

The woman had seen that for three consecutive years on this day I’d written that Pittsburgh needs to build a statue honoring one of our most perfect Pittsburghers.

He is athletic. He’s cheerful. He demolishes stereotypes. He’s everything we want our city to be.

And it’s all because of that joyful dance he made famous in “Singin’ in the Rain,” a movie that is celebrating a milestone 50th anniversary release this year.

Check it out. The sequence is 4 minutes, 36 seconds of pure magic. The clip’s had 6.3 million views.

The American Film Institute ranked “Singin’ in the Rain” as the fifth greatest American movie of all time, 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 flick.

Not a man or woman alive fails to relate at some level to that euphoric dance. It’s particularly relevant to Pittsburgh, a perpetual underdog of a city despite consistent top rankings in numerous “most livable city” listings.

I became infatuated with the idea of a Kelly statue after visiting Milwaukee in 2008 and learning just how much money the Bronz Fonz statue has meant to the sudsy city. A Visit Milwaukee official told me it cost $90,000 in private donations and in just two years earned the city more than $9 million in free international media.

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

And the timing was fortuitous. His birthday was years away. So I wrote about it and then took, for me, the extraordinary step of alerting public officials. I called someone in the arts community who told me to call someone in the tourism bureau who told me to call someone in city hall . . .

It was a dance I call the Rodell Run Around. And I don’t dance.

I told one guy I would even pitch local magazines a story about the idea and point out that the promotional benefits of erecting a statue of him swinging from a lamppost.

I said we could put it in Market Square, an open space now surrounded by great restaurants and old time bars but so devoid of visual art I keep expecting someone to construct a gallows.

He was very condescending. Oh, it’s being handled, he said. For you to write a story would likely be disruptive. It would be better if you didn’t.

So instead of doing what I thought was a civic duty, I went golfing.

But the idea festered. I wrote this story about cities with great pop culture statues from Yoda to Rocky Balboa.

And each year I dutifully blogged about it, last year announcing I was going to do it myself. I went through 43 boxes of popsicles before giving up.

Cities seem to be on a statue-building binge. They’re popping up everywhere. I wonder if it’s to make downtowns appear more populous.

It would have been done for Kelly in Pittsburgh 25 years ago if he toted a football.

So the Pittsburgh arts community should be ashamed. On a day when we should be blowing out candles they’re blowing something else.

The next logical date is 2112, Kelly’s 200th birthday. Coincidentally, the year reminded me of a 1976 album by the Canadian band Rush. It’s called “2112.” I remember it being very popular among the high school pot heads.

It’s relevant today because in Pittsburgh, apparently, there is no rush at all.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Todd Akin's an idiot; GOP deserves him

Thanks to Todd Akin, it has now become at least linguistically possible to have an illegitimate child who is the result of a legitimate rape.

Even though you’ve probably already read the controversial comments, I’m going to post them again here just to see if they’re as much fun to type as they’ve been to read.

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors, (pregnancy resulting from rape is) really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

As superpowers go, I wouldn’t rank it up there with X-Ray vision or shape-shifting, but reserve the right to change my opinion if my wife tells me she’s feeling fertile.

Most Americans have never heard of Akin, a Tea Party darling, until the last few days, but the Republican establishment had. He was their man in Missouri, the one who was going to deliver them the Senate majority.

He’s such a key prospect Karl Rove kissed his ass.

And now that he’s upended my entire understanding of basic human biology, I’m wondering can even that intimacy result in pregnancy?

I tried to think of what kind of face a woman would make simply willing herself into not getting pregnant. It would, I’m sure, be very determined, scrunched up and foreboding -- a veritable fist of a face.

It was probably the kind of face legions of college girls used to make when they saw me approaching with romantic intentions.

And then there’s the phrase “legitimate rape,” something else I’d never heard before. It’s a term that makes it seem like some mannerly etiquette is involved.

And God love him -- and he’ll tell you God surely does -- Akin’s not backing down. The entire Republican establishment has told him to quit, but he needs to prove a point.

This election cycle is reminding me of a scene from the great 2005 Viggo Mortensen movie, “A History of Violence.”

The Mortensen character, in this parable representing Barack Obama, is doomed. The odds are all stacked against him. You know he just can’t win.

I’ll relate what the cooly confident William Hurt character, a malevolent adversary, says but will replace his crime-related dialogue with what top Republicans are thinking. Hurt is seated and has his back turned to Obama as he begins to monologue.

“The economy stinks. We’ve convinced our base you’re a Kenyan-born Muslim who is an America-hating failure. They despise your stimulus, your silly light bulbs, and think you look like a doofus when you wear those daddy jeans to Five Guys.”

As he’s saying all this, a thug with a piano wire -- let’s just pretend it’s Trump -- is sneaking up from behind Obama to rip open his throat.

Somehow, the unarmed Obama gymnastically thwarts the Trump guy, uses him as a human shield from another assailant’s bullets, kicks that bastard, and escapes out the door to eventually win the day.

The Hurt character turns to his dying henchman and explodes -- and I’ll paraphrase in case Mom’s reading -- “How could you muck this up! We had him! It was all ours! And you let him get away! You bad stupid man!”

The face of the Republican Party increasingly seems to belong to its bullies and bigots. It’s why a documentary about the GOP’s last two years could be called “A History of Stupidity.” The party that’s spent the past four years nurturing it’s most insane zealots is now dealing with the consequences.

I thought Republicans had a legitimate shot, really, to sweep this election. Now it looks like they’re squandering it.

And please don’t mistake my use of “legitimate shot” as a foray into Akinian debate on a topic that has somehow stripped all the logic from biological.

The very idea is, well, ill-conceived.