Friday, November 30, 2012

Arnold Palmer NOT attending my book signing

The following story is mostly true. I always try to tell the truth. I do it all the time except for when it seems advantageous to do otherwise.

I was driving down the parkway to Pittsburgh yesterday when the phone in my pocket began tickling my hip. It was a stranger who’d read the Sunday newspaper story about me and my book, which I’ll be crayon signing tomorrow at the Greensburg Barnes & Noble from 2 to 4 p.m. 

“A friend of mine said Arnold Palmer was going to be there,” said Jim. “I thought, wow, what a great opportunity. Your book sounds really fun. I could pick up some copies for friends and we could meet Arnold Palmer. What time is it?”

I told him the times and said he was mistaken. It is true that my friend Arnold Palmer, the most popular golfer of all time and one of the few Americans to win both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal -- our nation’s highest civilian awards -- had provided the gushy foreword to the book. But he’s in Orlando and won’t be back until Christmas.

I say we’re friends and that’s true. But he’s not the kind of friend who’d text me to meet him out for beers and wings or invite me to swing by to meet Queen Elizabeth, with whom he’s chummy.

But I never dreamed there’d be a day I’d be able to say my friend Arnold Palmer provided the foreword for my kooky self-help book, so who knows?

I promise if he ever texts me the Queen’s in town because she heard wings at The Pond were good and they wanted me to join them, I’ll tweet it right up.

Jim said he’s still coming and said it made his day to find an author’s phone number on his website, call it, and have the actual author pick up.

I told him I’m not like other authors.

So I set the phone down and the devious parts of my mind began to fidget.

How’d that crazy rumor get started? How many people were believing it? How could I use this to my benefit? And, gadzooks, what if it’s true?

If it was, I knew I’d need a haircut. Palmer’s made fun of me before for looking too shaggy.

I knew what I needed to do first. As soon as I could, I dashed off an e-mail to Palmer’s assistant. I wouldn’t want him thinking the rumor was something I’d concocted.

“Is Arnold Palmer flying from Orlando to Latrobe to help draw interest for my crayon book signing Saturday at the Greensburg Barnes & Noble from 2 to 4 p.m.? That would be outstanding.

“And if he's not, would you please issue a press release to every media outlet in America saying Arnold Palmer will not be attending Chris Rodell's book signing Saturday at the Greensburg Barnes & Noble from 2 to 4 p.m.?”

I knew at this point an official press release strongly denying he’d be there would draw as much attention as if he were.

My e-mail received the sarcasm-rich two-word response: “Nice try.”

I spent the next hour debating whether it would be worth my time to contact representatives for Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber, Donald Trump and Nelson Mandela to ask if they’d issue honest press releases asserting these luminaries wouldn’t be attending my book signing tomorrow at the Greensburg Barnes & Noble from 2 to 4 p.m. 

I’m going to try to make it fun. I’m bringing a little bell to ring anytime someone purchases more than one copy. And I’ll have a sheet of paper where people can do a little crayon doodling while I’m signing their books.

I’m thinking of putting up a list of things I’ll do as incentives for people to purchase multiple copies. Example: “Buy 100 copies and next week I’ll clean your gutters!”

But that’ll be about it. Because, in fact, none of the mentioned stars will be attending. Neither will Palmer nor the Queen.

But I’ll be there.

If you’re not busy, I hope you will be, too.

And that’s the truth.

(Can’t make it? Tune in tomorrow at 8 a.m. to Latrobe’s 1480 WCNS-AM for a lively 30 minute interview host Dow Carnahan taped earlier this week. And the book’s available at Amazon, Barnes& and on iTunes)

Related . . .

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Movember & my magnificent mustache

Chances are as you’re sitting there reading this on your computer or smartphone, I’m standing in some brightly lit bathroom admiring the reflection of my mustache in the mirror.

It’s magnificent. It’s salt ‘n’ pepper. It’s unruly. It’s better than Tom Selleck’s.

It’s a sad fact of life that as men age our mustaches become more splendid even as the faces to which they are attached continue their inexorable march to hell.

You may not know it, but we are nearing the end of the month of the mustache.

Yes, there’s only two more shopping days in Movember.

Movember is an Aussie import -- “mo” is Aussie slang for mustache -- that grew out of some friends seeking a playful way to call attention to prostrate cancer awareness.

If it seemed like a bigger deal last year it might be because greedy NHL owners are locking out greedy NHL players.

Hockey players had really embraced Movember. At least half of the players grew really cheesy mustaches that had people wondering if hockey players were moonlighting as porn stars.

They wish, I’m sure.

Just hearing about uncomfortable things like prostrate exams makes the butt cheeks of most men tighten right up -- and when you’re talking about prostrate exams nothing could be more counter-productive.

But I like Movember more for its focus on facial hair.

I’ve been tending a mustache ever since I was about 20. 

I shaved it once when it was still a toddler, maybe 3 years old.

My late father hated it and challenged me to a round of golf. If I lost, I’d shave; if he lost, he’d grow one.

Dad played that day like Arnold Palmer without all the dignity and scruples. He was a terrible golfer, but a very skilled cheater.

“I golf for my health,” he’d say, “and I feel better when I can tell people I shot a good score.”

I had to admit his logic was impeccable.

My efforts to bust him kicking the ball to a better position distracted my otherwise superior game. He kicked the part of me doctors need to access when they’re checking my prostrate.

So I shaved and immediately resumed growing it back. I had for the next 10 years what could be called a spite mustache.

I could give my father the finger simply by smiling at him.

But he was right. It was a terrible mustache. Had zero character. 

So now my mustache is about 25. It could walk into a bar by itself and not have to worry about getting carded.

I haven’t grown up, but it has.

And we’re very close. It understands I’ll always have its back.

It has character, depth, and it’s now superior to Tom Selleck’s.

Selleck played a key role mustache history. He was one of the world’s most handsome men in the ‘90s. And everyone loved him, the girls because he was sexy and men because he was a real guy’s guy. “Magnum, P.I.” still holds up.

I always admire anyone who is both beautiful and funny, or beautiful and smart, especially women because if you’re beautiful you don’t have to be anything else.

In fact, you jeopardize your beauty simply by opening your mouth.

My brother was taller and more appealing to the babes than me. When he grew his mustache everyone said he looked like Magnum.

They said I looked like I didn’t get enough sleep.

Growing the mustache didn’t change any of that. So I gravitated to bars where it was dark and the girls weren’t so picky or too drunk to care.

I was thinking about all this when I saw an ad for Selleck’s show “Blue Bloods.”

He’s really gone to hell, hasn’t he? What happened to him? He looks like such a mope.

He used to be so cheerful and funny. I haven’t heard anyone say, “Man, you have to watch ‘Blue Bloods.’ Selleck’s still got it.”

You know what I think happened?

He betrayed his mustache. He trimmed it to surface whiskers and put paint on the stubble. Clearly, he’s dying his hair. That’s disgraceful.

I vow to never dye my mustache or do anything to depress its joyful individuality.

I do this because I know it could get even with me the way Selleck’s is getting even with him.

And I don’t want to do anything to risk losing my mo-jo.

Related . . .

Monday, November 26, 2012

My week of obnoxious self-promotion

This will surprise anyone who remembers me as an Ouzo-fueled streaker running naked across campus at Ohio University with bottle rockets shooting out my butt, but I’ve always considered myself a bit of a wallflower.

Reserved. Bashful.

The stupid things I’ve done that attracted the most attention were often done on a dare -- and I wish I could blame my chronic occupational predicament on that bone-headed motivation.

I guess it’s because being the center of attention makes me uncomfortable. The person I’m most interested in without exception is the person right in front of me.

The best conversations involve engaged strangers, full eye contact and topics that reveal what makes us tick. Have you kicked the drugs? Do you hate your job? What was the last movie that made you cry?

I have so little patience for small talk with people who look past us I’ve even coined a word to describe the phenomenon: Glibberish. It’s the pointless party chatter between two people who’d rather be talking to anyone else.

So with the exception of those times when I’m launching bottle rockets out my ass, I’m really kind of shy.

That means this week is bound to be a little difficult.

It started yesterday with Eric Heyl’s great B-1 story in Sunday’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Eric and I were acquaintances who became friends after he wrote about my wrongful arrest for scalping Steeler pre-season tickets.

I’d sent him a copy of “Use All The Crayons! The Colorful Guide to Simple Human Happiness” with the hopes he’d find it interesting enough to profile.

I was thrilled he did and focused on my efforts to give the book away for free to anyone who says they can’t afford it, to servicemen and women, and anyone who asks nicely.

It says so on the book’s very first page under the headline “This Book Is Free.”

I’m sure I’ll look back on the story’s publication as a key date in the book’s success, still by no means a sure thing.

This is the kind of clip, I hope, that will create cascading attention. It already has from Eric’s readers. I received heartfelt requests for free books from 23 readers and orders from paying customers for another 15. That’s a good day.

You can check it out here and I hope you do. And share the ever-loving daylights out of it. Take it to bookstores. Have a sky-writer reproduce it above your town.

It would be cool if it were a coincidence, but hours after Eric’s article appeared I got a call from KDKA 1020-AM radio. Talk host Johnna Pro was eager to have me on to discuss the book.

Johnna and I were reporters together many moons ago. She loved what she’d read about my book and was eager to promote it. So last night one of America’s most historic news organizations hosted one of its least for 20 lively minutes.

Live radio can be an unnerving gig over the telephone, especially when you have two young daughters barging into the room to make monkey faces while you’re on the air.

You want to scream at them to scram, but know if you do listeners all across the land will say things like, “Hey, Myrtle, you gotta hear this! This guy who wrote a book about how to be happy is being a real asshole to his kids!”

Johnna couldn’t have been better. She really dug what she’d read and flattered me with great questions. I’ll post it when I can snag an audio clip.

This all happened one day after I posted the first YouTube video of myself speaking to a packed house at Allegory Gallery in Ligonier. If it sounds like there are only about eight people there, that’s because it was a very small house.

Observant viewers will note at the end of the video I look directly into the camera, a pre-arranged signal that it was time to shut it off just five minutes into a talk that went 30.

I wanted to give the video a cliff-hanger feel and I figured five minutes was plenty. I’m shy, remember?

What’s next? I’ll be sitting down with my friend Dow Carnahan of Latrobe’s 1480 WCNS-AM to tape a show that will air Saturday at 8 a.m.. I’ve known Dow a long time and we drink together so there’s a good chance he’ll ask at least a few potentially embarrassing questions and that’s always fun. 

The timing for Dow’s segment couldn’t be better because that same day from 2 to 4 p.m. I’m doing my first big book signing at the Greensburg Barnes & Noble.

I tingle in anticipation.

It’s impossible to underestimate what a lift the acceptance and support of B&N means to me and my book. Store staffers have gone out of their way to recommend the book to customers. And it’s really working. Store manager Megan Sowinski tells me the book is selling like crazy. Her exact words: "It's selling like crazy."

In my dreams, I see myself standing there behind a table like George Bailey at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life” as everyone in the community approaches to fill up a big basket full of dough.

It could happen. I have a lot of friends around here who are eager to support me and my book. Then there’s all the people who don’t really like me, but have heard the book’s good.

Then -- and this is the majority -- there are people who have read there’s a local author who is vowing to give his book away for free to anyone who wants it. They believe I’m an idiot and my family will starve if they don’t pay for a copy.

Either way, it’s shaping up to be a banner day for me and my book. I promise I’m going to do everything I can to ensure Saturday will be truly memorable for everyone who attends.

And you know what that means.

Yep. I’m bringing bottle rockets!

Related . . .

Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday thoughts on shoplifters & other dummies

An Italian mannequin manufacturer is charging $5,072 for store mannequins that can spy on shoppers with eye-embedded cameras that profile customers, they say, to mine more shopper data.

It’s maybe the first time in history true dummies can be called visionary.

The Almax SpA EyeSee mannequins scan and gather data with the goal of informing stores about what interests which customers. To me, store security is the more obvious application. In this regard, highly motivated Dep. Barney Fife was visionary beyond his years.

I remember “The Andy Griffith Show” episode in which Fife pretended to be a store mannequin. His plan was to stand there motionless and spring into action any time he saw someone attempting the five-finger discount.

It was a brilliant idea, but the execution was flawed. A fly kept buzzing Barney’s face and one runny-nosed kid blew his cover by standing there and asking him questions about things like fishing.

In the end, however, he did catch a little old lady who’d been robbing Ben Weaver blind.

Oh, if only life were like TV Land.

Biologists have detected a chemical reaction in shoplifters stemming from the “high” that comes from getting away with it. Alas, I’m not immune to this.

I remember my first shoplifting experience. I was in the fourth grade at Julia Ward Howe Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon -- and admitting I attended school in posh Mt. Lebanon is way more difficult than admitting I was a crook.

There was a little general store right next to the playground. I was in there with a couple of my hoodlum friends. I remember the clerk being distracted and the Sugar Daddy beckoning me from behind the counter.

Quick as lightning, the teeth-rotting confection was in my pocket.

The rush was fleeting and overwhelmed by shame. I knew what I’d done was wrong.

I haven’t stolen from a store since. 

But there is one venue in which I steal services and will, I’m sure, continue to do so whenever I can get away with it.

It’s where the Pittsburgh Pirates play baseball.

Regular readers know my love-hate relationship with the home team. I adore baseball, but Pittsburgh is now into its 20th year of losing. Twenty years!

Talk about criminal activity.

For some reason sneaking into a sporting event’s always struck me as fair game. Perhaps it was because my late father often regaled me with stories of his sneaking into old Forbes Field for so many splendid afternoons of freebie ball.

It was 1992. My friends and I were partial season ticket holders the year the Pirates were playing the Braves in the playoffs.

It was so long ago I actually had a job that came with a working press credentials.

The games were in old Three Rivers Stadium, a baseball venue that included many obstructed seats deemed unworthy of spectator viewing. So the seats were empty, even as they were more near the field than many regular seats, including ours.

So I’d take my press pass and one ticket and march solo through the turnstyles and get a stamp that would allow me press re-entry privileges.

Meanwhile, one of my friends would sell the remaining three tickets for an indecent profit which we’d use to buy multiple domestic beers the Pirates were selling for an even more indecent profit.

Then I’d one-by-one bring my friends in and we’d filter our way to the front row of the obstructed seats, which were better than ours. We’d toss the usher a $20 and had the whole section to ourselves.

I remember telling my dad about the scheme. The old man beamed with pride.

I still sneak in whenever I can and, in fact, the last game I ever attended with my dad was done on a clever sneak. I understand what I’m doing is stealing, but the urge to sneak into a ballpark is difficult to resist. It’s an urge that grows with each Pirate losing season.

It just galls me to pay that much money for a team that just keeps on stinking.

So I vow to continue my subterfuge for as long as the Pirates continue fielding so many players who turn into lifeless mannequins after the all-star break.

I may be a petty thief, but I’m no dummy.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving! (old post, same sentiment)

On this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful I do not feel embarrassed by subbing something original for a perfectly fine Thanksgiving column from last year. Happy Thanksgiving, my friends!

I advise you to start tomorrow, as I do every Thanksgiving, by playing the 2006 Ray Davies song, “Thanksgiving Day.”

We can argue all day and night about our favorite Christmas songs -- there must be a million of them -- but there’s only one Thanksgiving song.

And I mean that. Can anyone name even one great traditional Thanksgiving song?

Leave it to an Englishman to write the song about one of our most authentic American holidays. Be sure to download it as soon as you finish reading this. I promise to keep it holiday snappy.

The song’s got it all. The poignancy, the longings, the Greyhound rides home, the hearth, the family dysfunction and in the end the euphoria of my very favorite holiday.

I’ll be thankful tomorrow for Ray Davies.

And I’ll be thankful for the U.S. Marine Corp and all who serve.

We were in Washington, D.C., over the weekend where I went to write a story about the lavish Christmas festival at the Gaylord National Hotel (and, man, I’m thankful I get to do cool stuff like that as part of my job).

The place was crawling with Marines in their dress blues. The hotel was the site of their annual ball.

It diminishes me even further, but I get kind of squishy whenever I’m around a serviceman or woman, especially a Marine.

I’m grateful for their service and they are just the most impressively composed human beings on the planet.

I’ve never seen a Marine in action, but I imagine they could overwhelm most any enemy merely with manners and posture.

I understand they teach other more lethal things in grueling boot camps, but if someone told me it was 13 weeks of manners and posture I’d believe it.

It’s like they are constructed with steel spines that make slouching physically impossible. My body would assume a natural slouch if it was suspended from a noose.

I was in the company of about 100 other journalists who, like me, stood around slouching for hours at a time waiting for someone to bring us something free.

I’ve never seen a more vivid mingling of the givers and the takers.

I’m sure if I’d have spilled a free bourbon a Marine would have sprung from the rafters and thrown his medal bedecked jacket over the puddle to assist my wife and daughters over the floor hazard.

I don’t know how to say thank you without sounding cliche or maudlin, so I just tried to make eye contact and say, “Happy Holidays,” hoping it would convey so much more.

But that, too, has pitfalls, as I learned on the elevator.

We got on together in the lobby. I asked this man who does so much for me and our country to do one more thing. Could he please push 15?

Guys like me can’t do anything for ourselves.

He was wearing a Steeler jacket. Eureka! I could make Pittsburgh small talk!

If my room had been on the 353rd floor it might have given us enough time to strike up a real friendship.

But we had a very friendly chat, enough so that when the elevator floor bell rang I felt comfortable looking this strong, proud man eye to eye and saying, “Happy Holidays” hoping he’d know what I really meant was:

“Thank you for all you sacrifice for me and my loved ones. Thank you for the friends you’ve lost, the tears you’ve shed, and the enemies you’ve killed. I hope your holiday season is filled with love, joy and a peace that’s so often elusive to warriors like yourself. And I hope the Steelers we both cheer act like United States Marines and kick the asses of their every opponent clear through to the Super Bowl.”

It was perfect. He knew exactly what I meant. The door opened and I gave one last firm nod and gathered up my stuff.

Damn. Wrong floor.

He was too gracious, of course, to point out I asked him to push 15 and was exiting the elevator on 11.

But to ride four more floors in awkward silence risked ruining the perfect micro-conversation.

So what did I do?

I marched right the hell out that elevator door like I knew where I was going, leaving this Marine to logically conclude I’m an idiot.

That's okay. I’ll bet the nation is full of slouching idiots like me.

We have to wait around 364 days until the one day comes when we feel comfortable saying a truly heartfelt thanks.

So Happy Thanksgiving to all our servicemen and women, their families, Ray Davies and to each and everyone struggling to get along in this great, big beautiful land I’m forever thankful to call my home.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Use All The Crayons!" on iTunes!

As of last month, Bob Seger and I have one less thing in common: I’m on iTunes and he’s not.

It should be the exact reverse.

If you want some of Seger’s truly old time rock ‘n’ roll, you need to purchase a physical version of it.

I’d call that old school, but today even all the old schools have computers so I don’t know what the heck to call it.

Yet, here we are. You can now download “Use All The Crayons! The Colorful Guide to Simple Human Happiness” for $3.99.

One of Seger’s best songs advises you to “Turn the Page.” Now, there’s version of my book where that’s impossible.

It’s read by Don Hagen, a man you’ve certainly heard even if you’ve never heard of. Hagen of Washington, D.C., is a top voice talent who does adds dramatic flourishes to the copy for commercials for Volkswagen, Lockheed Martin, PBS and the non-annoying lines for Aflac.

I was eager to talk to him about my book for many reasons. Foremost being he’s read every word.

Some friends say they have, but the eye may skip over parts of it. I’m sure many people read it while the TV’s on in the background or while they’re waiting for the internet porn to download. And that’s fine.

I promise not to issue a pop quiz.

But Hagen’s read each and every one of the 46,167 words. If he skipped even a single word, a producer would yell, “Cut!” and he’d have to start that part over.

So I had about a 1,000 questions for him.

What was your favorite part? Did any of it make you cry? Were you surprised by the ending?

All these questions, of course, are patently nonsensical, as is the whole book. In fact, it makes so little sense I felt compelled to include an entire page of actual upfront reader instructions, which conclude thus:

The book is not a mystery. There’s no surprise ending. The butler didn’t do it. You can read it backwards or forwards, either way really isn’t that important. I think the best way to explore what follows is with an open mind, a playful heart and without any ambition that any of it is ever going to make perfect sense. Sort of like life.”

I e-mailed Hagen to thank him for what I’m certain is an entertaining and professional job and to ask him if he’d have time to answer some questions.

His reply: “Thanks for getting in touch. I enjoyed your book and wish you much success with it!”

He is a busy man and doesn’t have time for chat and that bothers me not even one little bit.

I’ll hear his voice one of these days soon when I download my own book. I plan on using it as an audio club to beat musical tastes into my daughters during long car ride:

“All right, you guys decide: It’s either Bob Dylan’s “Oh Mercy” or another audio hour of ‘Use All The Crayons!’ And YOU will get quizzed. What’s it gonna be?”

It’s too bad the publisher couldn’t have persuaded Dylan to do the reading.

Imagine Dylan’s ravaged voice croaking:  “No 470. Don’t complain the next time someone does or says something that throws a real monkey wrench into an already difficult situation. Instead, do something constructive and try to locate a loose monkey.”

Many of my friends have said I should do my own reading. The suggestion flatters me, but I’m sure I’d make a fairly straight-forward process a chaos.

I’d find the opportunity to really ham it up impossible to resist.

But as I aim to be a full service author/blogger, please get in touch if you’d like me to read any of it aloud to you over the phone. And for a small fee, I’ll even ride along with you in the car to the store and read selections or just talk about stuff.

I doubt you’ll get that offer from Seger. He is among the last holdouts yet to bow to Apple. He says the business model cheapens music and will lead to the ruin of artistic opportunity.

He has integrity.

I do not.

I am thrilled to get my book out there to readers by any means. There’s already ample evidence word-of-mouth grassroots promotion is leading to success.

I’m optimistic that will continue.

Even when my words are coming from Don Hagen’s mouth.

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