Friday, November 28, 2014

Parade aftermath: what happens to all the helium?

The only way I could enjoy the Macy’s Day Parade more is if they’d broadcast the Day-After Macy’s Day Parade.

I’d like to see what happens to all that helium.

Helium is probably my second favorite gas behind, of course, “Jumping Jack Flash.”

After all, helium’s a gas, but “Jumping Jack Flash” is a gas, gas . . . er . . . uh . . .

Sorry. I forgot how the rest of it goes.

My knowledge of helium is minimal. I know it’s colorless and odorless and can make me sound like a cartoon character if I take a big suck of it.

That’s why I’d like to see a special on the parade aftermath.

Does everyone in Manhattan spend the rest of the day sounding like Daffy Duck?

You’d think so because that’s a lot of helium.

A parade fact site said your typical Snoopy balloon is three stories high, as wide as five cabs and about 11 bicycles long — and that’s the first time I’ve ever seen bicycles used as a unit of measurement. I don’t know why they’d do that.

You’d think a story about a giant inflatable Snoopy wouldn’t need additional whimsy.

The same site said it’s enough helium to fill about 700,000 Mylar balloons. That’s about half of what we got for my daughter’s 8th birthday.

This was the 20th straight year Linde North America Inc. has provided the helium for the parade. Helium forms underground and is extracted along with natural gas deposits with which it mingles. It is separated, chilled into a liquid for transportation purposes and sold to companies like Linde.

It is one of the most abundant elements in the universe, second only to hydrogen.

So next time you see anyone with a big foam finger claiming, say, the Alabama Crimson Tide is No. 1, you can point out the discrepancy.

Helium’s practical uses include chilling magnets in MRI machines and helping welders protect their work from impurities.

I know, I know . . .


Take the great big balloons away and your typical helium salesman is the last guy you want to be cornered by at the neighborhood Christmas party.

I guess it’s my environmental bent that has me curious about what happens to all that parade helium.

Do they recycle it?

They do not. Linde tried that in 2008 and found the process too expensive and wasteful to be of value. So all that helium goes aloft.

Is it dangerous to dispel that much concentrated helium?

It doesn’t seem so. I’ve heard no reports of JFK-bound planes mysteriously being elevated 5,000 feet after being blasted by a helium updraft.

You’d think some of the parade walkers, many of whom are probably a bit gassed up themselves, would want to stroll around inside Spiderman or Sponge Bob and just inhale all that helium.

Maybe they’d want to talk funny through Christmas.

Me, I’d like to inhale and inhale as much as I could and then hold my breath and see if I could float down the street.

It does seem like a lost opportunity.

You’d think it would be easy to add some harmless drug mist that would maybe alter behaviors.

It being Thanksgiving, you could put some appetite suppressors in the helium. I know I’d be feeling grateful today, not to mention less bloated.

Or how about adding a hint of nitrous oxide? Imagine how much fun it’d be to watch about two hours of NYC strangers hysterically laughing. It’d be like watching a million Al Rokers without having to endure the tedium of the forecast.

Of course, since Macy’s paid for all that gas maybe the department store could add something that would make people want to shop like crazy and behave like animals in search of bargain specials.

Hmmm . . .

Maybe that’s what they’ve been doing all along.

I’m sure retailers everywhere would think that’s a real, uh . . .

What’s the word? 

Beneficial development!

Related . . .

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Friendship, The Boss & Thanksgiving drunk dialing

It dawned on me a long time ago that parking at my funeral is going to be a real challenge.

I’ve always had a lot of really great friends. We laugh, joke and drink and just have a non-stop ball whenever we’re together. It’s been that way with me since kindergarten.

I was thinking about this late the other night when I was in my office unwinding with a beer and the tunes cranked to unreasonable levels. 

I was playing “Born To Run,” an album that features on the cover one of the greatest embodiments of friendship I’ve ever seen: Bruce Springsteen laughing and draped all over his legendary buddy, the late Clarence Clemons.

I’ve always wondered if the rest of the E Streeters felt jealous that Clarence was pictured on one of rock’s most indelible covers and they’re not. I don’t think so. The picture’s just too perfect.

The situation — me alone, sipping a beer, and listening to tunes — took me back to nights when that sort of reverie was more frequent.

Back then, I’d always pick up the phone.

I’m pretty sure I was pretty drunk.

I’d call friends from all over the country. It was never a problem because most of them were drunk, too. We’d spend about an hour or so doing things like recite dialogue from movies like “Slap Shot!” and “Naked Gun.” 

I haven’t drunk dialed in years.

Heck, anymore I barely sober dial. I can’t stand making telephonic small talk. I think it’s from all those truly compelling phone interviews I used to do for pulse-racing feature stories, mostly for National Enquirer. I’d talk for hours with some stranger until we became confidants and they’d tell me all their secrets. Many of them became friends, too.

So today I’d rather not phone chat unless it’s someone saying they want to meet so we can spend the evening laughing, joking and drinking.

I think the last time I drunk dialed was before we had kids and before things like Facebook kept us all immersed in the details that used to be reserved for warm conversation.

I remember it was one of my buddies from my days at Ohio University. He picked up the phone and said, “You must be listening to ‘Backstreets’ again.”

He had a 50-50 shot at being right. It was either that or “Bobby Jean” from “Born in the USA.” That’s the song Springsteen wrote about then-departing bandmate Steven Van Zandt.

Well if you do, you’ll know I’m thinking of you and all the miles in between
And I’m just calling one last time — not to change your mind
But just to say I miss you, baby
Good luck
Bobby Jean

Gets me every time.

It’s ironic that an artist so many of us admire for telling so many of life’s truths is initialed B.S.

That was all back when I used to get genuinely angry when I suspected any of my friends anywhere were having fun without me. 

They understood and so I was often invited for raucous, week-long carousals in New York, Orlando, Nashville and all over Ohio.

I don’t feel that way so much anymore and am mostly content spending my many social hours with my buddies downstairs in The Pond.

But at Thanksgiving especially I think of all those friends, all those great times, and wish I could spend the evening alone in my office with bottle of bourbon, a good cigar and The Boss cranking up out of the Bose.

I wish I spend the whole night drunk dialing all the people who’ve always mattered so much to me and still do.

But I no longer risk being hungover for Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, and because I’m just so grateful for so much.

I think maybe the greatest of those is that I’ve begun to realize that with good friends you don’t need them to be right there in the room with you with you all the time.

In so many ways, they’re already there.


So if you don’t hear from me late tonight, please, my friends, don’t think I’ve forgotten all about you. Any of you.

I never will.

Related . . . 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Randoms on Ferguson, race & Three Dog Night

I played “Black and White” by Three Dog Night as soon as I got to my office today. It’s a good song, by a band that really doesn’t get their due as far as being tuneful craftsmen.

The song reached No. 1 in 1972 when many euphorically believed we were on the verge of an era when race no longer mattered.

It was written, I learned, in 1954 by David I. Arkin and Earl Robinson to commemorate the Brown v. Board of Education court decision outlawing racial segregation in public schools.

I have no way of knowing, but I’m going to as balm for my frazzled soul believe that Arkin was black and Robinson white.

It is contradictory for me to hate people who hate? Perhaps. I’m hating the blacks who are rioting in Ferguson and I’m hating the whites who are gloating that officer Darren Wilson isn’t going to be charged in the death of Michael Brown.

I have mixed feelings over the whole thing. On the one hand, I can understand blacks being outraged over yet another youth getting gun-downed by a white man who shoots with impunity. On the other hand, the officer’s testimony seemed mostly credible. Of course, you’d never know it from the pictures that he’d been in what he considered a life-and-death struggle with an unarmed assailant. I get more beat up tussling on the waterbed with my 8 year old daughter.

I wish more people would stop looking at all the black and white issues like everything was so black and white.

• Every time I think about writing something serious like Ferguson, I think about a Tennessee friend who was disappointed about a year ago that I’d written something serious. Her exact words were, “Don’t you know we read you to make us laugh?”

Honest, I felt terrible I’d disappointed even one reader. And, really, isn’t that a wonderful thing? To have people take time out of their busy day to read something you’ve written in the expectation it’ll make them laugh? I’ve really tried to adhere to that ever since. So I try to leave all the dark cloud stuff to the paid pundits and Facebook savants who seem intent on using social media for anti-social means.

• I’d planned to write a piece today with the headline, “To err is humon,” apologizing for typos and welcoming people to point them out. I hate when a post is marred by even a discreet little typo. How many of you caught yesterday’s. It was right at the end of the post about my “high” triglycerides. About half way through I thought I’d come up with a great ending. I jotted it down on a piece of scrap paper. It was:

“I don’t want to live forever. I want to live right now!”

Good line, huh. The problem was I become so enamored of it, I never gave it a careful proofing in the copy and it read: “I don’t want to live forever. I want to life right now!”

Very sloppy. Worse, I didn’t notice it until hours after it’d been posted and I could not access a change. And no one mentioned it. Please feel free to point out my errors. It won’t hurt my feelings. In fact, I’m considering including at least one whopper typo in each post and hosting an ad hoc contest to see which reader can find the most goofs. That would clear up a lot of copy. In addition, it would provide me ample cover any time I made numbskulled typo or two by allowing me to say they were deliberate.

• I thought the other day about how my greatest achievement over the past six difficult years is how I never became an alcoholic, took anti-depressants, had a mid-life crisis or just gave up. In fact, in the face of the worst stretch of time ever to befall my profession or me personally, I did the exact opposite. I created and maintained a blog enjoyed by many people and wrote a book that advocates facing every challenge with cheerful perseverance. I did this when many days I woke up and thought, “What would it really matter if I just gave into hopelessness and spent the day getting good and drunk?” It is, to me, a true accomplishment — just not one I’d ever dream of bragging about to my wife.

• Two years after I should have done so, I’ve finally achieved an admirable YouTube portfolio to show prospective bookers looking for an entertaining speaker. Here’s the most recent. It’s from last week when I addressed about 20 Blair County librarians. I took my whole 45 minute appearance and edited it down so it’s just about 3 minutes of punchlines and laughter. I’m hearing it’s very effective. My favorite part, of course, is the last minute when I use archival Beatlemania footage at the end to simulate the ovation. That stunt was born out of necessity. The camera did cut out at the end, which is fine. This is much better. Trivia: the last speaker talking about getting a free drink is Groucho Marx.

• These have all been slapdash hack jobs of my own. Very amateurish. Yesterday, my friend Brian Henry, a Trib photographer spent the morning with me and shot what will be a very professional-looking YouTube promo that ought to wow. This will be a Cadillac, compared to all the ones I’ve shot which if compared to a Cadillac will look like little cars you seen the circus clowns use. 

• If gas prices were pushing $5 a gallon, many of my idiot friends would be blaming President Obama. How come no one’s giving him credit when it’s gone so far in the other direction? Me, I never credit or blame the Commander-in-Chief for gas prices. I’m wise enough to know gas prices are set by whether or not there is any turmoil in the Middle East. With gas below $3 a gallon almost all over America, it’s obvious that today the Middle East is a bastion of peace and stability.

• My favorite “Three Dog Night” songs are “Old Fashioned Love Song,” “One,” and “Never Been to Spain.”

Right now everyone wants to hear from Cosby. Me, too, just not Bill. I’d love to have a candid conversation with Mrs. Cosby. I might write about that next week.

Or maybe nat.

(That last word is an example of a deliberate typo).

Related . . .

Monday, November 24, 2014

Doc says I'm "high" on triglycerides

Four days before I didn’t know I had any triglycerides and now I was fearful I had so many they were going to kill me.

I learned this from the nurse tech that called to inform me of the results of my blood work.

“Your sugars are normal, cholesterol’s fine, but your triglycerides are high. They’re 159.”

What she couldn’t tell from my blood work was that I’m a novice patient and the thought that something in my blood could kill me was likely to send me into a hysterical panic.

Triglycerides? What the hell’s a triglyceride? Was it three times worse than a glyceride?

It sounded vaguely to me like nitroglycerine, a dangerous substance with which I’m familiar from repeated viewings of “Gunsmoke.” I’ve seen it used to blow up train trestles, thick prison walls and jittery explosives amateurs nicknamed Flinch.

So when she said my triglycerides were high, I jumped back from the lit stove.

“How long have I got?”

“The doctor would like you to get them down to below 150.”

“Well, if 159 is high, what’s the number I need to be sure I don’t detonate next time  I feel the need to fart?”

She didn’t know.

“Well, knowing that number would be helpful. Because if it’s 160 I’m heading straight to the ER. But if it’s, oh, say, 180, I’m sticking around for tonight’s “Seinfeld,” because it’s the one where Newman lies about Kramer wanting to be a banker to get out of a bunch of parking tickets and I’ve only seen that one about 140 times.”

She couldn’t advise me on that, but said high triglycerides are caused by too much pasta, too many sweets, too little exercise and too much alcohol.”

I told her I’m moderate in all things — including moderation, a lifestyle decision that allows me to enjoy insane binges on things like spaghetti, candy, sloth and booze whenever I feel like it.

She had no idea where 159 fit on the scale. She said no had ever asked. She put me on hold.

Val was right there in the kitchen cooking pasta.

I told her the situation.

Rather than respond with spousal concern, she gloated her triglycerides were 18 and just kept stirring the pasta.

She means the world to me and we’ve been together for 22 wonderful years. I love her so much, but right then when she smugly bragged about her low triglycerides, my unuttered gut reaction was, “Bitch.”

I made a mental note to check to see if the pasta chef had taken out a hefty insurance policy on her husband.

As related previously, I avoid medical interventions in the belief that too many of us are doctoring ourselves to death. Now, I had proof. A medical professional had told me something was amiss and I felt my heart begin to hammer.

So she gets back on the phone and delivers the news about where my 159 triglyceride count rates.

“Normal is less than 150; borderline high is 150 to 199; high is 200 to 499; very high is 500 or higher.”

So I’m 10 points from perfectly normal?

“That’s correct.”

And I probably shouldn’t really, really fret about my triglycerides until I pack in, oh, about another 301?

“That’s one way to look at it.”

Of course, I’m not going to change a thing about my lifestyle, which with the exception of near-zero income, I enjoy abundantly.

Oh, and Val coincidentally had some blood work done and learned her triglycerides are, in fact, 82, which means she was either wrong about her precious 18 or is on a trajectory to hit the 500 mark the next time she bites into a Milky Way.

I believe too much of the focus of our medical conglomerates is to convince people they ought to live perfect lives. That’s a very stressful ideal likely to cause more heart troubles than a battalion of rootin’ tootin’ triglycerides rafting down the main aorta.

I don’t want to live forever.

I want to live right now!

I think as far as life perspectives go, it’s a healthy idea.

I encourage you to give it a tri.

Related . . .

Friday, November 21, 2014

Renaming snow-bound Buffalo (and other cities)

I think in the interest of accuracy it’s time we rename Buffalo. Let’s call it Uninhabitable, New York.

The last few days prove humans aren’t meant to live in Buffalo.

Heck, buffalo aren’t meant to live in Buffalo.

The only silver lining I can see is that the city need not worry about any more lake effect snow.

I can’t imagine there’s any lake left.

They’ve already exceeded their typical snowfall for the rest of 2014-15 winter, which in Buffalo ends, I think, July 5, or two days before the winter of 2015-16 begins.

I’m horrified by what I see from western New York. It, to me, looks like hell.

By now, other cities would be making snowmen

In Buffalo, they’ll be making snowGodzillas.

Even the almighty NFL is canceling the Sunday Bills game.

This is the organization that 51 years ago this week played ALL its games in the wake of a presidential assassination that left many fearful the Soviets were preparing a full scale nuclear attack.

So you have the threat of mutually assured mass nuclear destruction being less threatening to human life than snow in Buffalo.

If I lived in Buffalo I’d right now be considering moving somewhere more moderate.

Like Cleveland!

I understand a sentimental attachment to the land on which you were born, but not when that land is buried under 7 feet of snow. 

That’s why, truth in advertising, Buffalo should be required to change its name to Uninhabitable.

It would let people know not to move near there unless you’re skilled in igloo construction.

Of course, Buffalo’s not the only city that ought to be renamed.

For years, I’ve been arguing New York should change its name to New And Improved York. I love spending time in New York and remember what it used to be like back in the bad old days when making a “good impression” meant leaving a really deep dent in the skull.

I’ve never felt Los Angeles was a good name for a city where so few angels dwell, but the truthful alternatives — Los GangBangers, Los LousySequelProducers — are clunky.

But the city is home to more angelic looking men and women than any place on the planet. That these people are uniformly duplicitous and conniving gender-neutral whores factors, too.

That’s why Los Angeles should be Loose Angeles.

I understand Boise, Idaho, is a beautiful town. One story says Boise comes from an exclamation a French-speaking guide had when he spied the verdant valley over the rugged mountains.

He said, “Les bois! Les bois!” In English, “The trees! The trees!”

I read that and thought of the late actor Herve Villechaize. I intend to do some research and see if a similar anecdote exists about the guide who named Ze Plains.

But Boise’s always struck me as sexist, and changing the name to Girlse wouldn’t help.

Let’s call it Folksy!

Latrobe is named after Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the architect who in 1812 rebuilt the U.S. Capital after the dastardly Brits burnt it down.

I’m fine with Latrobe, but in a town that already has the Arnold Palmer Airport, Arnold Palmer Drive, Arnold Palmer Cadillac, the Arnold Palmer hotel, and Arnold Palmer himself, I think we can come up with something more appropriate.

Welcome to Happyville!

That brings us to Pittsburgh.

If ever a town’s been in need of a new name, it’s the city closest to my heart.

Nothing described with the word “pit” is desirable.

No one’s ever said, “Hey, I found a really great pit! Bring a bottle of wine, some sandwiches and we’ll have a pitnic! Er, I mean picnic!”

Mob informants are buried in shallow pits. Most things described with pit — arm pits and pit stops — stink.

Let’s face it, most pits are the pits and that, to me, includes actors named Brad.

Pittsburgh was in 1758 named by Gen. John Forbes in honor of his friend William Pitt, who decreed that it shall be called “Pittsburgh for ever.”

Or was it Pittsburg? Our “h” comes and goes throughout history. Some years we’re Pittsburgh. Some we’re Pittsburg.

I think just to mess with people Mayor Bill Peduto should decree that henceforth Pittsburgh will be spelled Pittsburghh and that we’ll will be adding an additional “h” every 10 years until the year 2054 when we’ll forever be Pittsburghhhhh.

I have an even better idea.

Let’s put Pitt in the pit and bestow the city with a transcendent name that perfectly depicts how we’ve dealt with ups and downs and the jokes of lazy poets who realize that Pittsburgh rhymes with a scatological pejorative.

It’s a name beloved by all of us.

Yes, it’s time Pittsburgh changed its name to Copesburgh!

This would be the perfect way to honor screechy sports announcer and the inventor of the Terrible Towel, Myron Cope.

In Pittsburgh, we not only do cope, we love Cope. Our love for him will never be surpassed. He was warm, hilarious and philanthropic (and he was one hell of a writer, too, a fact that’s often overlooked).

So join me in declaring that Pittsburgh is from now on Copesburgh!


Oh, who am I kidding.

The idea doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Uninhabitable.

Hmmm . . .

I guess when it’s put that way, it just might work after all.

Related . . .

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Hawaiian lava flow & what if it hits Latrobe

The Pahoans seem to be standing up in good order as one of the world’s most unusual natural disasters is about to befall their Hawaiian village.

They're about to be wiped out by a volcano!

One that could be outrun by a turtle with sore feet.

Have you been following this one? I’m fascinated.

The 1,500-degree lava in June emerged from a vent on the Kilauea volcano and has been moving at about 10 yards a day and headed straight for the town of about 1,000. If it goes along it’s projected path at that rate, it could cut the town in half sometime in June.

Run for your lives!

Or maybe form a Conga Line.

It’s like a condemned man being forced to walk what Stephen King once called “The Green Mile.” Only in this case it would be like the condemned man being forced to walk 350 Green Miles.

From news reports I’ve seen, many residents are mostly concerned about the inconvenience. The lava is likely to scissor a main road, which would add a three hours to get to and from the nearest Olive Garden.

This from Hawaiian News Now: “The lava flow crossed Appa Street, also known locally as Rubbish Dump Road, south of the Pahoa Transfer Station, which was not impacted at all.”

If I read that correctly, it sounds like if it shifts even a little bit, the only casualty would be the town dump, which would add glorious mythological wrinkles to the story of the pagan volcano gods charged with protecting paradise. And residents could instead of driving along Rubbish Dump Road could just pitch their garbage right onto Rubbish Dump Road, which could be renamed Nature’s Incinerator Road.

Of all the people I’ve seen interviewed by drama-craving reporters, my favorite was a guy who said, well, there’s nothing they can do so he was going to go grab a beer and burger and talk with his buddies about the football scores.

He’s right. This isn’t exactly the Brits during The Blitz.

I tried to think how my town would react if faced with a similar threat. Would there be panic? Would neighbor turn against neighbor?

Then I realized my hypothetical was ridiculous.

Arnold Palmer would never let anything bad happen to Latrobe.

Did you see Latrobe is now brewing the new Blonde Guinness? 

Forget Milwaukee. Guinness, Red Stripe, Iron City — all these iconic beers are brewed right here in Latrobe.

I can only suspect the famed Irish brewery thought they only way they could improve their product is if they began making beer with the same water Palmer uses to shower.

But let’s say Palmer was busy, that he was in Orlando once again cuddling with supermodel Kate Upton and understandably couldn’t be disturbed.

How would we react if a slow-moving lava flow threatened to cut us off from, say, Derry Borough? 

First of all, it would be a greater tragedy for Derry than it’d be for me. Derry has nothing I couldn’t do without. It would have been different 20 years ago when I used to frequent the Lakeside Inn, Derry’s charming Ma 'n' Pa strip club.

But let’s say Derry was Pittsburgh, a place I enjoy visiting on a weekly basis.

What would I do if a 20-yard wide 1,500-degree river of lava got between me and Primanti Bros.?

First of all, I’d take my ’07 Saturn to my mechanic and ask him to add a turbo charger and some industrial strength shock absorbers. Then I’d petition the town to build a ramp.

Then it’d be time for Leap the Lava!

It’d be an even bigger Latrobe tourism draw than the historical marker indicating the now-vacant lot where the very first banana split was constructed.

I was interested to read that one power company entombed the base of its utility poles with a cinder and cement mix that resists lava.

That’s incredible, although I doubt the man assigned to tend the pole next time a bird’s nest needs removed feels as cheerful about the advance.

I told a friend about it and he suggested they use the miracle material to construct a dam to save Pahoa.

His heart’s in the right place, but his logic is marred.

Because the earth is unlikely to ever run low on lava and even a grand structure the size of Hoover Dam would eventually fail and the result would be like the historically catastrophic Johnstown Flood, only with molten lava.

So I applaud the Hawaiians for the relaxed way they’re responding to the inevitable. 

You save what can be saved, help the survivors, and press on.

And, remember, you’re persevering in paradise.

I’ve never been, but we’re all aware of The Aloha State's many splendors.

Volcano’s are just part of the landscape.

It’s Hawaii.

Lava or leave it.

Related . . .