Friday, March 31, 2017

National Crayon Day news from Crayola & me!

Today is National Crayon Day and I know what you’re thinking:

What the hell’s Rodell doing up there in the Tin Lizzy when he should be grand marshall of some big crayon parade down through?

Well, first of all, there are lots of logistical difficulties answering nature’s call when you’re wearing a great, big crayon costume and the only way I’m going to wear a great, big crayon costume is if I first drink a lot of great, big amber-colored beers.

Besides, I’m busy today.

On a day when Crayola is announcing it is using fewer crayons, I’m here to announce I’ll soon be using even more.

“Use All The Crayons! (Vol. II)” is done!

It took J.D. Salinger 10 years to write “Catcher in the Rye.”

The second UATC took me about two weeks.

To be fair, it took me about two weeks to type. Took about four years to live.

It was a cinch pulling together another 501 items and 34 essays from the blog and my twitter feed.

Why now?

An agent urged me to. She liked the first one and the fact it’s sold about 4,000 on its own. Doing a second one now made sense. I think the funny parts are funnier and thoughtful parts more worthy of tickling your intellect.

Soulful reaction to the first book’s made me, I think, a better person so a better book should naturally follow.

So I’ll keep you posted on the progress, but today we have bigger issues.

What crayon did Crayola dump?

Spoiler alert! It’s dandelion.

Dandelion! What kind of research went into that decision?

I thought the job of killing dandelions was best left to Scott’s Turf Builder Weed & Feed. 

The decision led me to spend nearly an hour arraying in descending height all the crayons from my heirloom 96 pack to determine which ones I use most and which the least (above).

Told you I was busy!

The standard crayon straight out of the box is 3 5/8 inches. 

Dandelion falls right in the middle of the usage range. My dandelion is currently 2 3/4 inches. So I’ve used about 7/8 an inch.

I have two toy sharpeners and I preserve all the shavings in a little stoppered jar that when open smells exactly like crayon shavings.

I’ve been using these crayons since 2013. I put a little multi-colored smiley face doodle on each book’s title page — no two are the same — and color in the 8 clip art crayons and, of course, sign them in crayon. 

Violet is the most used crayon. It’s just 2 1/4 inches, meaning I’ve used or shaved nearly an inch and a half.

Nearly all the vivid purples — royal purple, metallic, plums and blue violet — have been decimated. They’re all stumps and I can barely grasp them. They’re very eye-catching on a page.

Note: I also use a crayon identified as Macaroni and Cheese, which I advise against you having in the room when you’re stricken with the munchies. It tastes nothing like the real thing and Listerine-colored mouth wash won’t help.

So which is my least-used crayon? The lazy, good-for-nothing one that never contributes?

I hate to seem like a traitor to my race, but it’s the white dude.

White, “blanco,” or “blanc” — Crayola helpfully includes foreign translations on each crayon for, I guess, colorblind immigrants who have a hankering to draw — has only shed a 1/4 inch.

On the page, it doesn’t show up. So it just takes up space.

Maybe it’s just taking after me.

For racial balance, I should point out the black crayon really busts its crayon ass. In fact, I use it with every book. It’s the color I’ve out of habit been using for the comma-sized nose on every smiley-faced doodle. It just seems to anchor the whole face.

I have a brand new back-up pack on a shelf here in the office just waiting to step in when I decide to retire my originals. There doing some great things with crayon recycling these days. Check out crazy crayons.

But I just can’t. These crayons have meant so much to me and, unlike their manufacturer, I’m loyal to them, even the honky loafer.

So Crayola can go ahead and retire dandelion. 

It’ll forever flower on the pages of my books, old and new.

Because it isn’t about coloring anyway.

It’s about colorful living.

Happy National Crayon Day!

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Thursday, March 30, 2017

March tweets & 4 random thoughts

Because my tweet output was a paltry 18 (I usually average 40), I’m splicing in a few random thoughts so no one feels like they’re getting cheated.

• People who want to appear more interesting get new tattoos. People who want to become more interesting get library cards.

• Never dreamed I'd say it, but I long for the days when Republicans seeking party sense used to say, "Let's wait and see what Sarah thinks."

• There are 310 million people in America. That means a million-to-one-shot happens 310 times every day. Maybe today 1 will happen to you.

On this day, in 1981 John Hinkley shot President Ronald Reagan and a guy who once came to me for pizza. The latter was Thomas Delahanty, at the time a 46-year-old D.C. police officer assigned that day to protect the president. He was shot in the neck, suffered permanent and debilitating nerve damage to his left arm and eventually succumbed to a craving for Pizza Hut deep dish pizza from the Banksville Road store where I worked in college. I recognized the name on the slip and then the face. It was about a year after the shooting and he was in town visiting family. I asked how he was doing. He said, thanks, he was doing okay. He’s 81 today and still living in D.C. And that’s the first thing I think about anytime I hear anything about the day Hinkley shot Reagan.

• I’d like to see a play about a demonic woman who works at an evil candle factory. I'd call it "Wicked."

• I wonder how many dermatologists think they're being clever when they write bios that promise "warts 'n' all."

• 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.

Val and I both highly recommend seeing “Get Out,” the inventive new Jordan Peele comedy thriller starring Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams. It’s earned a 99 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s funny/scary and I now have a crush on the beautiful Williams, who is the daughter of Anson “Potsie” Williams from “Happy Days,” which means she’s the great-nephew of the recently deceased Henry Heimlich, which is what I think about every time I think about Potsie and now his comely daughter. My Heimlich-fact story is here. (Editor’s note: Ugh, I just learned she is NOT the daughter or Anson Williams, but the daughter of BRIAN Williams, the disgraced NBC News anchor. I’d change the whole thing, but since it involves Brian I’m leaving it stand as a nod to reckless storytelling).

• People complaining new Facebook pop-up tab is distracting fail to appreciate that Facebook is nothing but one big distraction.

• Billy Idol selling tickets to multiple spring Vegas shows thus ensuring he'll not become idle Billy.

• Irony of living in these uncertain times is how so much uncertainty could produce so many who are absolutely certain they're never wrong.

• Team Trump contention that all its problems are result of deep state lead me to conclude they are the shallow state.

Not only was my tweet output paltry, March’s 14 posts was the lowest monthly blog output in six years. Being less of a slave to near-daily posting may be conversely productive. I think the topic selection and the writing have been strong and despite fewer posts, March is the second month to crest 10,000 views. It’s odd that the less I write, the more people read. Maybe it’ll take me ceasing writing all together to become a truly successful writer.

• I’m growing nostalgic for the days when I could tell nasty bald jokes without appearing truly hypocritical. 

• Anytime you hear of someone dying suddenly it should reinforce the need to ensure you’re always living suddenly. #PrayForLondon

• Given abundance of today's school activities coupled with my habitual hooky I'm now spending more time in high school than when I was in high school.

• I'm one of those guys who says he hates change, but still stoops in traffic for pennies and nickels. 

• If you do not have any friends who challenge your thinking, do you have any friends? Moot point for me; I have daughters.

Thanks to my friends who’ve forwarded the news that Crayola is tomorrow announcing the permanent retirement of one of its colors. Of course, that’s the obvious choice for tomorrow’s blog. Given my abhorrence to do anything obvious, does that mean it’ll happen? I think so. I have some news about my own crayons stuff and tomorrow will be a good day to break it. 

• I’m looking forward to the day when I'm so curmudgeonly I say whatever the hell I feel to whomever I please. I'm thinking it'll be Tuesday.

• Because it's bound to piss off all the people I enjoy seeing pissed, I hope when Obama re-emerges he looks just like this (see above).

• He said I'd get sick of winning. Don't think this is what he meant. Glad if I do get sick I still have my ACA.

• Reading newspapers on-line is to reading actual newspapers what phone sex is to lovemaking. Gone is the soul, the serendipity and chance to get your hands good and dirty during the touchy endeavor.

Thanks for reading!

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The PG halts local delivery & greatest newspaper story ever

It was maybe the greatest story I’ve ever read in any out-of-town newspaper. It was last year in the Omaha World-Herald.

It was about a local businessman who repeatedly risked his own life to save a dozen people from a raging fire.

As news stories go, it sounds fairly dog-bites-man, doesn’t it? Many men and women conduct selfless heroics each and every day.

Why was this singular story so memorable?

The hero was a funeral director, the burning building his family funeral home and the people he “saved” were dead men and women destined for cremation.

He was risking his life to save dead bodies from burning so he could later burn those dead bodies with professional dignity. The reporter conveyed the whole heartrending ordeal with rich detail, dramatic quotes and subtle nods to all the inherent irony.

What a story. I probably read it four straight times.

Wherever I go, I still love reading out-of-town big city newspapers, seeing how former colleagues handle the mundane, the seedy and sublime.

Now, thanks to short-sighted bean counters at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I now have an out-of-town big city newspaper just 36 miles from my front door.

The P-G announced last week it would no longer be delivering to Westmoreland County, Pittsburgh’s eastern neighbor and home to roughly 360,000 literates.

Far be it for me to give financial advice to one of “America’s (self-proclaimed) Great Newspapers,” but it seems like a bone-headed error to deny people eager to purchase your product an opportunity to do so. 

I can no longer buy the P-G at local convenience stores, newsstands or grocers. As of Saturday, I’ll have to drive to Allegheny County to do so.

Or, yeah, I could read it on-line, still an unsatisfying alternative for those of us who grew up reading a morning paper as part of our daily routine.

I’m the kind of guy P-G executive editor David Shribman was describing when I vividly recall him declaring on a local news show about 10 years ago there will always be newspapers.

“There’s always going to be lots of men and women,” he said, “who love to hold an actual newspaper.”

He was correct.

And many of us live right here in Westmoreland County.

I remained a regular P-G customer even when they raised the price of the daily to a whopping $2. To me, it still had value.

The experience of reading a print newspaper — any print newspaper — is totally different from reading on-line, an exchange designed to atomize your attention span by luring you to immediately read anything other than what you set out to read.

Reading on-line is to actual reading what phone sex is to lovemaking.

Gone is the soul, the serendipity and chance to get your hands good and dirty during the touchy endeavor.

That the people who make newspapers are now refusing to deliver newspapers to people who want to purchase newspapers bolsters my contention that the people responsible for saving newspapers are incompetent at saving even their own asses.

Want to save newspapers?

Become indispensable.

Become The New York Times.

I have an on-line subscription and still double dip by picking up daily editions.

I enjoy their political news, controversial though it is to dyspeptic firebreathers who consider Sean Hannity scholarly, but that breaking news spreads all over the web the instant The Times posts it. It barely registers with me.

I instead revel in the human interest stories about insane dictionary fanatics, technology stories about Shanghai elevators that go 45.6 mph, and science stories about the ticklishness of lab rats.

A daily Times costs me $2.50, but I savor it over three days. The transaction leaves me feeling like they’ve enriched me instead of vice versa.

And that is this month’s latest lament over the death of something still so special to me and so many others. 

I’ve just about resigned myself to their demise.

I’ve become numb to the sight of frantic news industry executives futilely marching into burning buildings to retrieve bodies destined to get burned one way or the other.

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Monday, March 27, 2017

The day-long swim meet from Hell

It was an indicator of either my desperation or my depravity, but after five hours of confinement I began to feel a kinship with people who become refugees because of acts of war or acts of God.

I’d lost all perspective.

I’d equated my situation with those who’d lost their homes, their humanity and their hopes in cruel circumstances beyond their control.

But, hey, that’s what five consecutive hours of the Chestnut Ridge Winter Swim Championships will do to a rational dad.

Understand, at five hours we weren’t even half done. Oh, no.

We’d loaded up the car at 6:30 a.m. Saturday for the 40-minute drive to Penn-Trafford High School in Harrison City. I’d miss out on a day’s worth of televised college basketball, agreeable meals, reading in my recliner — all the hallmarks of refined civilization.

To top it all off, our day began with low-grade marital discord when Val accused me of being negative.

The nerve. 

Perceptive nerve, true. But still.

We arrived at sunrise to find every parking spot taken. I don’t know how many parents/coaches/supporters/staff were invited, but not one of them had the sense to decline.

I found a distant spot in a muddy field and said a fast prayer the Saturn wouldn’t sink up to the axles.

We were herded into one of two massive gyms and told to carve out floor space.

Kids, ages 8 to 14, were everywhere. They were blaring their popular music, throwing toys and screaming for attention.

Now, I love kids.

My kids. 

After two hours, I tried to recall the last time I was marooned in a situation so rife with unruly tumult. I had to go clear back to 1981 in Buffalo.

I didn’t go there to see kids swim.

I went there to see the Rolling Stones!

This was the same kind of atmosphere, but with better toilets and less weed.

Really, I should have brought a keg and tried selling beers on the sly.

Had I been given to an amoral bent, it would have been a swell time to summon a local hooker for some commercial  recreation in the backseat in the ol’ high school parking lot.

It’s practically patriotic.

But either scenario would have likely led to me being caught and exposed as a bad father.

And the pressure to appear “good” in these situations is overwhelming. Why else wasn’t there a revolt after say, Hour 7?

I was told organizers used to break this mammoth fundraiser into a morning and an afternoon session. The problem was the morning parents would leave before lunch and the afternoon parents would lunch prior to arrival.

The coffers weren’t filled to satisfactory levels.

And that’s what it’s all about.

Really, an event of this grandiosity should never be held at a local high school.

It should be held in Rio.

If you’re going to have pretensions of Olympian impact, you should hold your event at Olympian venues.

Seating was at such a premium I missed one of Lucy’s relay races because the already cramped viewing area was too packed to admit even one more parent.

If you think missing the event left me saddened, you’re mistaken. If anything, seeing the events was even worse than being incarcerated in the gyms.

I’ll never understand parents who feel the need to scream, “Go, Peyton! Go!” at a kid whose ears are underwater. Steeler playoff games are less raucous.

Oh, and the event I missed was just one of four — four — from the entire day.

All told, our daughter was in the water a grand total of 7 minutes and 43 seconds of an event that lasted 12 interminable hours.

It was utter madness.

On a day when the actual participants are barely in the water, it’s the parents who put up with this crap who are the ones who are all wet.

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