Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Use All The Crayons TRAVEL!" radio show?

I have exciting news for anyone who perversely enjoys reading about me failing at five jobs while they’re succeeding at one:

I’ve accepted another that may lead to job number 7.

Yes, I’m selling radio ads for a prospective show that does not yet exist!

That makes “radio ad salesman” my sixth job along with pseudo jobs of author, freelance writer, motivational speaker, worm farmer and blogger.

And if it works out then in a few weeks you’ll be able to tune in locally or on the ‘net to “Use All The Crayons TRAVEL!” on 1480 WCNS-AM in Latrobe.

This would automatically boost “radio host” to the top of the list as my most prestigious endeavor, bumping from atop the pinnacle, I guess, worm farmer.

How’d we get here?

It all starts with the stories. See, some of the best work was either disappearing or becoming too diffuse for anyone to notice.

I from 2000 to 2010 did hundreds of freelance travel stories for many of the top publications around the world. And all of them were uniquely mine. 

They were stories about the confusing Texas town that has streets named This Way, That Way, Which Way, Any Way, etc. A street beside a church is named His Way. It’s a great offbeat travel story that ran on a website that no longer exists.

Same for the story I wrote about what people named Pat Downs think about pat-downs. Or the one about the cheeky National Nude Recreation Week festival that inspired the line: “A game of 8 ball played between two naked men is still called 8 ball.”

Industry tumult meant that many of these great, fun — yes, colorful — stories were disappearing. I was bumming.

Then I realized I didn’t need these once powerful media titans to save my stories. I could save them all by myself.

I decided this unique collection of offbeat Americana were worthy of a site of their very own and that I finally had the perfect umbrella under which they could flourish.

You can check it all out at the still-evolving “Use All The Crayons TRAVEL!” website, expertly done by my friends at Apollo Design right here in Latrobe. Of course, please like and share with friends.

I decided to put the site together after being invited to speak at the Pennsylvania Travel Summit in Harrisburg this May. I thought I could use the site to secure more travel industry talks.

This was happening right about the time when it was announced that venerable WCNS was being sold to Laurel Highlands Total Communication. The new owners  were airing ads about making a great local radio station even better.

I thought I had something to offer.

Friends at the station encouraged me to submit a proposal. I said a colorful travel show could be a hit with listeners and advertisers. I told them I had lots of radio/TV experience, a decent internet following, and that — ahem — I was just featured in a book that declared I am a Latrobe legend.

What was most persuasive, I think, was I said the show’s emphasis would be on storytelling about interesting places and people. See, I’ve never been the kind of travel writer who cares about fancy thread counts or pillow concierges expert at feather fluffiness.

I believe the most colorful destination in the world is sitting right next to a fellow human being with something interesting to say. And I think you’ll find more of those colorful folks in places like Darwin, Minnesota (pop. 250), home of the world’s largest ball of twine, than you will in Cabo or St. Thomas.

I’m a huge advocate that you don’t have to go far to have fun.

So I’m spending this week reaching out to interested advertisers and am very encouraged so far. They like the concept and seem enthused about supporting.

The reaction has me optimistic this thing could really take off.

And I’d be delighted by the irony of a career that’s never gotten off the ground finally taking off because I eventually came home to travel.

Related . . .

Monday, March 30, 2015

March tweets of the month

I introduced a new feature on @8days2Amish about two weeks ago: It’s the “Near-Daily 3,” a blast of three blog stories on a related topic such as, “Grooming,” “Dogs,” or “Baseball.” It’d been “The Daily 3” for about three days straight, then I skipped a day and felt obliged to change the title. So far, it’s done nothing to increase the number of followers, a perennial frustration of mine, but it has driven up the blog numbers.

So check out these. Hope you like ‘em and will follow if you’re into that sort of thing. 

• Levi Strauss was a jeanius

• For reasons of justice, environmental improvement & pure symmetry, I think any hedge fund managers convicted of misdeeds should fund hedges.

• Most people who blow their own horn never even go to trouble of obtaining and learning how to play a horn. They just blow.

• My mind's been wandering so long I'm surprised it's not appeared on someone's milk carton.

• Historic villains like Hitler should have their audio books like "Mein Kampf" read by guys who do voices for things like "Winnie The Pooh.”

• My handwriting is so bad I’m going to begin signing all my checks with a big shaky “X” to see if it makes any difference.

• I believe with my whole heart in a color blind society, but I fear what the result’ll do to our nation’s sock drawers.

• I’m one of those Christians who believes in God, but has trouble believing God could ever believe in me.

• I’m not going to folo you just because you folo me & promise more paid foloers. If I pay for relationship, it'd better involve sex.

• I find it difficult to be grammatically proper on these dreary days. I fear I have Seasonal Effective Disorder.

• I wish only important people had smart phone and I got to decide who's important and who's not. Same goes for driver's licenses!

• Harrison Ford crash landing his plane on a golf course is the most exciting thing to happen on a golf course since Tiger ’09.

• Being fair & balance, I'm sure Fox News is right now preparing an Obama rebuttal suggesting right to vote for blacks be revoked. #Selma50

• I’m surprised there's not a residential security firm that calls itself Sure-Lock Homes.

• Saw a friend I hadn't seen in 30 years. He said I looked great. Even the paunch? Yes. He said it gave me gravitas. More like gravy-tas.

• How come people deemed in "serious" condition don't get treated with laughing gas?

• I know it’s dishonest, but I find it irresistible to run into crowded rooms to yell, “Dick Cheney’s gonna be on ‘DWTS!”

• Hoping Belichick an eventual character witness for Aaron Hernandez & breaks down on stand after telling a story about a boy and his puppy.

• I remain amazed "beer" & "mirror," words with just one letter in common, are near-perfect rhyme. Beer, is there nothing you can't do?

• In the future, suspicious parents will be able to purchase smart pants for kids that will ignite when the pants detect the youths are lying.

• The parents of the North and South Poles can never use the tried 'n' true line, "The world doesn't revolve around you, you know.”

• I figure Singapore would be a great place for an international dermatological convention.

• How come the words work and fork don't rhyme, but beer and mirror do?

• I wonder if one dimensional people have an advantage when it comes to those hard to reach itches.

• I’ll bet folks working in the hardware store have contests to see who hears the word "doohickey" most each week.

• Any time I hear Secret Service agents are in hot water I think it's a jacuzzi. 

• The best prosthetic salesmen and women are blessed with disarming personalities.

• Spanker devotees spend their lives in the pursuit of slappiness.

• I wish elected officials would stop quoting "Art of War" author Sun Tzu and start quoting Fred Rogers.

• What the plastic surgeons won't tell you: Smiles are facelifts, too.

• Oppressed groups making strides in equality. When, at long last, will somebody do something about the long-suffering succotash? 

• I believe in the next six months, the combined age of the Rolling Stones (251 years) will finally exceed their combined weight.

• John Doe is a pseudonym for someone lost and unidentifiable, often for medical reasons. Someone who's lost and just stupid is a John D’oh!

• A woman named Bristol marrying a man named Meyers sounds like what you'd get if you had a woman named Proctor marry a man named Gamble.

• A spritely Irish elf is a leprechaun. A 3-card scam that ends up with a whole hand on the table is a leper con.

• I’d like to see how a proctologist responds when angry patient tells him bill's too high and he knows what he can do with it.

• I’d like to be a fly on the wall when flies on the wall discuss their bafflement over why any human would ever want to be a fly on the wall

• I wonder if there’s graffiti on the outside walls by the pearly gates and if it says things like, “Angels suck!” and “Satan No. 1!”

• A long marriage is a terrific antidote to excessive ego.

• Most people who blow their own horns never even go to trouble of obtaining and learning how to play a horn. Hence, they just blow.

• I think solar plexus is some exciting new kind of renewable energy, but something in my gut tells me I'm wrong.

• Can’t prove it and I'd never dream of trying it, but I'll bet I'm friends with many 50 year old men who'd fall for the "Got yer nose!" gag.

• Must be difficult for 8th grd boys to gauge proper reaction when serious doctors inform them they have a condition pronounced ASS-burgers

• Which is more surprising: That anyone follows news or that anyone who follows news is ever brave enough to step outside.

• Any time police are said to be combing crime scene for evidence, reporters should be required to describe situation as “hairy.” 

• For consistency’s sake, we should either begin spelling Raleigh Rolly, or jolly jaleigh.

• Technological improvements in target accuracy mean that most missiles today are hitles.

Related . . . 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

RRS: This Easter, let's resurrect the name Judas

“Walking Dead” finale tonight and I thought about re-running one of those but, geez, what do zombies and the Easter season have in common? Besides, those zombie stories are just gross. So I opted for this '10 one about why it’d be advantageous for parents to name new males Judas.

Happy Palm Sunday!

Easter is the season when I’m always chagrined we didn’t have a son. By God, I’d have named him Judas.

One of the keys to succeeding in this life is simply to exceed expectations.

Being called Judas in the 21st century would ensure this. No name in history is freighted with worse connotations than Judas and that would forever work in the kid’s favor.

Fair-minded evaluators would say, “Naturally, I had my suspicions Judas was going to be a real turncoat, but I find him to be very trustworthy. I recommend we give him a raise. Let’s start with 30 pieces of silver and see if he counters.”

I’m always fascinated why some Biblical names -- Noah, Joshua, Samuel -- endure, while others do not.

I’ve never met an Obadiah, a Nahum or a Habakkuk and that strikes me as strange. The world is awash with so many religious fanatics you’d think at least a few of them would honor the obscure Old Testament prophets rather than name yet another child Bob or Pete. 

When Mr. and Mrs. Pilate named their son Pontius they had no way of knowing they were passing along a handle with would terminate with his historic misdeeds. I feel for them. They must have been busting with pride that their son had risen to be a powerful Hebrew governor.

Here in America, we’re always harping at politicians for doing what Pilate did: he slavishly followed the polls. Of course, our president with two Old Testament-sounding names is in trouble for doing just the opposite. Sometimes you just can’t win.

With Pilate, they should have just term limited the guy, not the name. Because when you think about it Pontius is a great sounding name. It should be in play. 

I think it would be fun for a family that was really into aviation to name a son Pontius and steer him into the airlines just so one day our routine flights from Pittsburgh to Charlotte could be enlivened by hearing the speaker crackle: “Hello, my name’s Pontius and I’ll be your pilot today . . .”

I’ve always loved the Elton John song, “Levon,” and am stirred by the line, “He called his child Jesus, ‘cause he liked the name.”

Levon’s Jesus aspires to go to Venus on a balloon. I try to never let the senselessness of the lyric interfere with my enjoyment of a really great tune.

There has to be scores of men named Joseph who’ve married women named Mary, but I wager not a one of them had the playful audacity to name a son Jesus. 

Too bad. A trio like that could start a dandy end-of-days cult and that’s where the real money is. Sex, too, from what I hear.

People of Spanish descent have no such sheepishness about naming males Jesus. They pronounce it with a joyful sounding “Hey! Zeus!” which always sounds like an informal shout out to a remote and powerful god with a human weakness for mortal women.

Kind of like Tiger.

Major League baseball is littered with Jesuses. The lowly Pittsburgh Pirates organization has a bunch of them, including Jesus Brito whom we acquired in January from the Cleveland Indians.

And, get this, Jesus Brito was born in 1987 on December 25. I’m not kidding.

I don’t care whether this Jesus can walk on water or not. I’ll be happy if he can bat a measly .280 with runners in scoring position.

I like to think one day I’d be at the ballpark when some Jesus turns water into wine, but I know cheapskate owner Bob Nutting would spoil the miracle by charging $7.50 for a 4-ounce plastic cup of the stuff.

I have so little faith in the Pirates organization that I know if this Jesus ever gets good my buddies and I will scornfully recall the day we traded a guy named Jesus who was born on Christmas Day for two has-beens and a player to be named later.

But back to Judas. He’s enjoying something of a renaissance. Biblical scholars are saying Judas was really Jesus’s BFF and the only one the Nazarene could trust to fulfill scriptural destiny.

How they divined this, I have no idea. Maybe Judas had a Facebook page no one’d ever bothered to check.

Of course, my name has a powerful Biblical connection.

I am Christ-opher.

Before I’d bothered to look it up, I’d always assumed the “Christ” meant “Messiah” and “opher” meant “who toils in blogger obscurity,” and I was only living up to half the bargain.

In actuality, it means “one who bears Christ in his heart.”

That pleases me.

Still, I think I’d have done better associated with the worst name in the Bible, rather than the best.

And, hell, it’s been ages since anyone’s offered me a cash equivalent of 30 pieces of silver to do anything.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Germanwings & the art of living suddenly

“Anytime we hear of anyone dying suddenly, it should reinforce the need we all ought to be living suddenly.”

Is that the best line I’ve ever written? It’s one of them.

I can’t remember what national tragedy inspired the notion. There have been so many it’s hard to keep track.

I can’t tell which is more surprising: That anyone follows the news or that anyone who follows the news is ever brave enough to step outside.

Our tragedies are so redundant we barely have time to grieve and the never-ending grieving crowds out what little time we have left for living.

That’s not going to happen to me.

So right after I heard the news, I drove straight downtown for lunch with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and Chris Jamison, the Pittsburgh singer who did so well on “The Voice.”

Sounds like a real power lunch for such an underachieving blogger, huh?

Well, there were 495 others in the room, too, but what’s a little resume inflation among friends? It was the VisitPittsburgh annual meeting at The Westin Hotel.

Why all these prestigious organizations keep inviting me to their lavish soirees is a mystery.

Doesn’t anyone ever notice all the missing silverware?

I was very happy to be there. I’ve made some bone-headed career decisions, but picking up stakes and moving to New York or California for illusory professional improvements isn’t one of them. I never wanted to be more than an hour from the Golden Triangle.

I’ve been for 20 years telling everyone Pittsburgh is the greatest city in the world. Now, as we learned at the banquet, everyone finally agrees with me. The presentation was a greatest hits package of all the publications that over the last year have touted Pittsburgh as the coolest, hottest, hippest, most livable, etc. I can only hope it’s not another 20 years before everyone thinks my blog should be profitable.

The lunch put me in a perfect frame of mind to enjoy Pittsburgh. And that’s what I did.

One of my A-Team drinking buddies had called the night before to say he was in town. Was I free?

It was a silly question. Much to my professional detriment, I’m always free anytime anyone calls with time to giggle. We commenced at the Oyster House.

John’s my old college roommate. I love him because he has a very clever mind, says whatever he thinks, and he’s perfectly corrupt.

Example: He yesterday initiated a conversation about if we could go back in time would we save Phil Hartman or would we save the 149 victims of the plane crash. He had pity for the victims, sure, but he really loved Phil Hartman.

I wish I didn’t so enjoy the company of someone so utterly tasteless, but I’ve always found it mentally invigorating to be in the presence of anyone who just doesn’t give a shit. That’s John.

So we had a good buzz on and were strolling down the street when someone inside Sonoma Grille on Penn tapped on the window. 

A man was giving me the finger.

It was Buck!

Buck owns the Tin Lizzy, the outstanding three-tavern bar/restaurant that would be my go-to bar if I didn’t already have an office above another go-to bar. (Note: Tumult among local bar ownership led, in fact, me to me moving my office onto the 3rd floor of the Tin Lizzy three months after this was written. I'm still here.)

I love it that my friends feel at liberty to insult with such a public gesture. I choose to view it as a sign of affection. That’s a helpful attitude because if I let every time  someone who shot me the bird hurt my feelings I’d often be in tears.

So we stopped in for a chat with him and wife Louise. We told them we were heading to Nadine’s on the South Side. It’s kind of hard to find, and we didn’t think they’d show.

They did!

There was a lot of great conversation but what I’ll remember most from our afternoon is Buck sliding up to the internet jukebox and finding the 1949 Guy Lombardo version of “Enjoy Yourself.” We all knew the words.

First verse:

You work and work for years and years, you’re always on the go
You never take a minute off, too busy making dough
Someday, you say, you’ll have your fun when you’re a millionaire
Imagine all the fun you’ll have in your old rocking chair


Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think!
Enjoy yourself. While your still in the pink!
The years go by as quickly as a wink
Enjoy yourself! Enjoy yourself! It’s later than you think . . .

So cheers, my friends, to sudden living.

May you make sure it is among your life’s priority.

Related . . .

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

In flannel 'til the flowers

I’ve worn the same black, white and grey flannel shirt off and on the past four days and the paparazzi have yet to notice.

My wife, I’m sure, notices but on the long, sorry list of annoying things about being married to me it’s not worth a mention.

Her expressing dissatisfaction about my wardrobe redundancy would be akin to the old Arab proverb about complaint priority:

“Swallows camels. Chokes on fleas.”

The kids don’t care. Neither do the guys at the bar.

Me, I care least of all.

I daily change the t-shirt beneath to give my manly musk a chance to refresh, but unless I inadvertently squirt weenie mustard on the front I see no reason to add to the laundry pile by changing the flannel shell.

We’re — cross your fingers — nearing the end of the most drab season for my wardrobe.

Given my meager income and even less ample motivation, it’s nearly impossible for me to construct a nice appearance from about November through April.

My reasons are perfectly practical. I don’t look at any winter garment and wonder if it’ll add stylish luster to my appearance.

No, all I care about is if will keep me warm.

That’s what flannel does better than nearly every other fabric and flannel doesn’t come in pastel. So I have about five reliably ratty flannel shirts and look like I could at any moment spring right off my bar stool and begin to gut a deer.

Lots of people say I look like a lumberjack. I take it as a compliment.

I probably should have been a lumberjack. Or maybe a lumberchris. I love being in the woods running a chainsaw, surrounded by the smell and spray of sawdust, and I especially love the soulful relief you feel when you realize you’re done and your useful limbs are all still attached.

What would be great is if I became so renown for my flannel that lumberjacks would begin to insult one another by saying so-and-so looks like a blogger.

I’d think thems would be fighting words.

I have about four shaggy sweaters and some pullovers, all which I disdain. Val likes them and usually buys me one or two for Christmas or my February birthday. But I’m not a fan of pulling anything over my head.

The reason for that is all that crackling static electricity.

I pull something over my head and — POP! — my hairs all immediately Einstein. So I look like a genius, but am still at liberty to act like an ass.

My winter ware is in direct opposition to my summer outfits. In the summer season, I’m a splendid dandy. I have colorful golf shirts, leisure prints and more than a dozen Tommy Bahamas that make me look and feel great.

Ah, summer, sipping pina colada in the sunset at someplace like Mallory Square in Key West (above).

Right now, with everything all drab and grey outside my winter window, it all still seems thousand years away, as does even baseball’s April 5 Opening Day.

Sure, I could brighten up with brilliant dashes of clothed color, which would be in keeping with the theme of my manifesto (crayon-signed copies available through my website for just $10!).

But that wouldn’t seem right.

I feel obliged to give winter its due. Let Mother Nature revel in winter’s mighty miseries. This dreariness can’t endure forever.

How about this?

I’ll begin adding cheerful color to my wardrobe as soon as Mother Nature does the same to hers.

Until then, I’ve got Spring Fever with a touch of the Flannel Flu.

Related . . . 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Return of the Creepy Homeless Posers (and my homeless history)

The weather is beginning to warm and that means we’re about to see the reemergence of a seasonal creature that first began appearing in these parts last spring.

Red Breasted Robin?

No. I’m talking about the Creepy Homeless Poser.

I saw my first one of the year last month at the Waterworks Mall near Oakmont. He looked like all the others, marooned as he was on the little concrete traffic island by the highway access to the busy suburban strip mall.

He wore what looked like a modified pea coat over khakis and held the standard “Will Work For Food” sign.

His face bore no expression. His eyes were downcast. He was as immobile as the stop sign beneath which he was perched.

I didn’t do it this time and I may not do it the next, but one of these days I’m going to slide down the window, lean my head out and ask, “Is this some kind of fraternity stunt? Because I know you’re not homeless.”

I don’t do this because I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the fragile ecosystem actual homeless people endure.

I’ve done lots of rags-to-riches stories about former homeless people who were rescued from the streets by saviors, luck, internal drive or a really original idea. They’re the kind of bootstrap stories in which all Americans revel.

But I also understand the sad reverse. I know chronic homelessness is a heartbreaking blight on our nation.

I know because I was once homeless.

Well, twice.

And it was during the day and I went home each night between my shifts, so you quibblers can deny I was even homeless at all.

It was one of those typical National Enquirer stunts stories which means it was anything but typical. 

I was designated to grub up and spend a day sprawled on a busy downtown Pittsburgh sidewalk with a “Will Work For Food” sign. And because I could choose the sidewalk, I did it right outside where my dear Mother got off the bus to work as a receptionist for Mellon Bank.

She never even noticed me.
“Mom! It’s me. Your son!”

I’ll never forget the look of pained recognition. It was like all her I-told-you-so fears of my failings became realized right there on Grant Street. 

I see that same look, incidentally, on the face of my wife near daily.

I told Mom it was for an Enquirer story. She gave me a buck!

What I remember most about that first day was how utterly worthless people made me feel. No one made eye contact. They pretended like I didn’t even exist.

I felt like jumping up and beseeching, “How can you just ignore me? I am a human being. We have so much in common. Honest! You could be me!”

And it was true. Even pretending to be homeless was very dispiriting.

I was there about 10 hours and bummed $23.45.

I was back the next day. Same look. Same spot. But on this day I had a new sign. It read:

“Why Lie? Need Beer Money. Let’s Party!!!”
The reaction was euphoric. People laughed. They shook my hand. A cab driver stopped his cab in traffic to run out and stuffed $10 in cup.

“That’s the greatest sign I’ve ever seen!” he said.

I made $89.75 in just four hours.

So I recognize a stunt when I see one and that’s what I suspect is going on with these squads of motionless posers simultaneously infiltrating suburban strip malls.

These people aren’t homeless. They act like they’ve been instructed to act like a homeless person might act in the mind of some feeble academic’s imagination.

I suspect this is a study.

Of course, I hate to think they’re actually homeless people in need of succor.

So if you see one of them outside one of the strip malls and are earnest about wanting to help, just roll down your window and do something that will change their lives.

Won’t cost you a penny.

Tell them to get a better sign.

Related . . .