Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Val and I had such a wonderful time at the Great American Banana Split Festival I vow to no longer refer to it with my snide alternative.
That being the Great American B.S. Festival.
But the Latrobe festival, now in its 6th year, is becoming a rousing success. A highlight for us was the Yellow Tie Gala at the Latrobe Art Center.
One of the festival organizers told me the gala was a hit. “The only complaint I heard,” he said, “was some guests saw a couple of young men sneak in to the open bar to steal beer.”
Steal beer? I said, suddenly alert. How many?
“Just a couple. No big deal.”
I had to stifle a laugh. In the grand scheme of things, “just a couple” amounts to little more than spillage.
I know because I once took part in the Great Columbus Draft Beer Heist.
I’m ambivalent about revealing the details here because it was, I guess, a criminal misdemeanor. And I’m reluctant to encourage others in the ways of crafty theft. And I know a lot of people think drinking is bad, a societal woe, and drunkenness shouldn’t be celebrated.
To those thoughtful contrarians, I say …
Get your own damn blog!
These are tense times. I think it’s a good for people to know that the free drunk still exists.
I helped make it happen in Columbus back in the late 1980s, back when my life was playing out like one long beer commercial.
It was one of those music festivals where they make you wait in line to buy beer tickets before you can wait in line to exchange them for beers that lead you to wait in line to urinate before you could resume the cycle again.
As this arrangement would not do for impatient sophisticates like my friends and I, we found an enterprising-looking guy working the Budweiser taps and made him an offer: We’d give him $20 up front and he’d give us free beers whenever we were empty.
And for an hour, it worked like a charm. But then he abruptly announced his shift was ending and it was time for him to vamoose.
I thought we were screwed.
But my buddy Bob had an idea. He said, “Follow me,” and made a beeline for the busiest beer table on the lot. Once there he slid beneath the barricade as the frantic bartender began to object.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he said.
“I’m Frank,” Bob said. “Bill told me you were swamped and said I should come over and help out.”
The beleaguered bartender said, “Start pouring.”
Bob/Frank had been touched by genius. He poured two beers and handed them to me. Seeing his genius had inspired mine so I promptly threw the beers to the pavement.
“You call that a beer?” I screamed. “I paid for 20 beers and, dammit, I want 20 beers. Twenty FULL beers!”
My tirade immediately earned my friend the crowd’s sympathy. I'd made myself out to be the bad guy so none of the other bartenders would want to wait on me. Bob/Frank poured me two more and said, “Sir, please understand we’re doing the best we can. Be patient …”
What happened over the next hour was like the miracle of the loaves and fishes only with Red Solo cups and cheap domestic beer. He’d hand me two beers and I’d pass them back to our friends who’d eventually pass them off to nearby girls or other friendly strangers.
A good time was had by all.
Still, I understand there’s some moral ambiguity in this tale. We stole no money, no gems, but clearly we took something of value in the eyes of the thirsty recipients. Stealing foamy beers and giving them to young inebriates, it wasn’t like we could claim the mantle of Robin Hood.
More like robbin’ head.
Of course, none of this troubled us at the time. Me, Bob/Frank and our friends all enjoyed a good giggle and when an organizer showed up asking to see the evening's receipts we just did what came natural.
We made like bananas and split.
Tuesday, August 21, 2018
So there we were, one of the world’s most efficient men answering questions about hyper-time management from me, one of the least.
It was just the UPS guy and me. I kept trailing in his busy wake asking one thing then another like I was a 6-year-old on “Take-Your-Son-To-Work” day and the UPS guy was my old man.
Does he ever get a break?
“No. They monitor our every movement to ensure we’re operating at maximum efficiency,” he said. “They know when my seatbelt is unfastened, when I deviate from my appointed route and when the truck is idling too long in one place.”
So, I said, scheduling a quickie with a downtown hooker must be a nightmare.
He laughed for precisely 1.3 seconds.
He was there to deliver 10 more boxes of my popular new Arnold Palmer book, soon to up the total I’ve sold all by myself since April 4 to 1,500. I’m proud to tell people I wrote the book in five snappy weeks.
I don’t tell the UPS man this because I’m sure he’ll reply the company has an app that would have let him write it in just four.
I don’t know whether I was more impressed by his blazing efficiency or by his cheerful manner. Never once did he stop moving and never once did he ever stop smiling.
This is one delivery man who’ll never go postal.
It was a pity I couldn’t persuade him to join me on the porch for beers and more idle conversation. I enjoy sudsy philosophizing with opposites
Of course, maybe he was being monitored by a tiny UPS drone overhead capable of firing painful BBs into his neck should it overhear him saying anything derogatory.
He told me the reason they no longer require signatures confirming delivery is some UPS beancounter calculated obtaining the signature took on average 11.2 seconds and the time and money eliminating the quaint practice would save the company $14.3 million each day.
Remember UPS was in the news a few years ago for developed routing software that eliminated all but 10 percent of left turns after it calculated how crossing against traffic eats into time, fuel and profit.
I bet my wife wishes she’d married UPS. Not to a single driver, but to the whole $65 billion delivery behemoth.
She’s descended from proud Germans, a nationality renown for a fanatical devotion to efficiency, precise engineering and periodic and bloody quests for world domination.
Me? I’m the descendant of proud Swedes, a nationality known for IKEA, ABBA and those tasty little red candy fish I find impossible to resist, despite knowing what they do to my teeth.
As I ponder mortality, I realize a more logical creature would try to maximize the time he has left, to plan and scheme ways to make the tyrannical clock bend to his will.
I tried thinking like that and so far the only alterations I’ve added to my ways are vows to be less fanatical about the need to floss after every meal and to whenever possible avoid things like math.
Instead, I find myself behaving as I’ve always done only with more awareness of how a carefree life can be so joyful while being simultaneously devoid of any meaningful accomplishment.
I’m still apt to slug the snooze alarm, to linger over lunch and to play an extra 9 holes while the weather’s still pleasant. And I’ll forever be the guy who when he runs into a chum with a bottle of rum will, guaranteed, wind up drinking all night.
It’s just my nature.
Why, just the other night I a made a series of inefficient left turns because I was admiring the way the sun was setting on the golf course at the very moment Van Morrison’s “And It Stoned Me” came on the radio.
Wish you could have been there.
In life, just because you make a lot of right turns doesn’t mean you still can’t somehow go all wrong.
And you wouldn’t want a soulful moment to emerge and feel all left out.
Friday, August 10, 2018
We’re four hours into an eight-hour train ride to New York City and I’m once again reminded of the late John Clouse, for years The Guinness World Record holder for World’s Most Traveled Man.
He’d been to something like 364 of the world’s 365 countries, islands and territories.
For me, he was the World’s Most Entertaining Story Source.
Anytime an editor would summon me with an assignment about something exotic, I knew to call John, a six-times married-and-divorced WWII Battle of Bulge veteran and the most beguiling storyteller I’ve ever known.
I think of John — he died about 12 years ago — anytime I board a train, something I used to do twice a year, and something he told me he reveled in.
“I’ve ridden everything with legs or wheels,” he said, “and nothing beats the train.”
That declaration may surprise you Type A sorts who are aware of Amtrak’s sometimes casual notion of punctual scheduling.
It’s not as bad as it used to be, but the passenger trains were once notoriously late, often for hours at a time.
I remember doing my typical train gush to a friend and he said he once took the train from Latrobe to Chicago when an inexplicable breakdown occurred.
“I spent three hours,” he said, “staring at the same cow’s ass.”
I still defend rail riding even though I was once the incredulous victim of a still-hard-to-believe eight-hour foul-up.
It was in the late ’90s, pre-cell phone days. I waited eight hours on the Latrobe platform for a train to take me to Manhattan.
Do you know how much time you spend staring west down miles of track hoping you’ll spy the beaming headlight of an east-bound train?
About 7 hours and 57 minutes.
Every couple hours I’d dash away to a payphone to check on progress. And every time, the Amtrak rep said, “It could be a while or it could be 15 minutes. Better hold tight.”
When the 8:20 a.m. locomotive finally dawdled in at 3:30 p.m., I was furious and got on the train expecting a riot. But there was none. All were serene.
I asked a fellow passenger about the absence of uproar.
“Oh, everyone is angry when they board,” he said, “but then they find out the good news: They’re givin’ away free chicken up front!”
I learned two things that day: there will never be such a thing as “train rage” and that the only thing better than buying a bucket of the Colonel’s secret recipe is getting to eat it for free as you watch the Pennsylvania countryside roll on by.
“I’ve ridden everything with wheels or legs and nothing beats the train.”
Oh, how I miss being able to call that man. We never met and one of my life’s regrets is I never ventured out to Evansville to join him for one of his legendary Happy Hours.
I can’t mention him without telling my favorite John Clouse story.
Playboy magazine in 2001 was doing a series of “What’s it like to …” stories and wanted to know if I knew anyone who’d ever dined on testicles. Why they thought I’d be the perfect writer to sink my teeth into this topic is a matter about which I’d rather not speculate.
I called John right away and asked if he’d ever eaten testicles. He confirmed my wisdom in calling him by answering, “What kind?”
“Well, I once dined on some elephant balls. It was in a restaurant in Berlin that was serving ‘Elephant Soup Burundi.’ And, no, they didn’t come in a really big bowl.”
It’s a great train story and that’s what I love most about riding the train. Every train ride is a conversation incubator.
We talk to strangers, to staffers, seatmates and we lavish talk on our loved ones.
I’m so pleased my daughters are enjoying the sublime novelty of a great American train ride and just hope the sometimes quirky mechanics of the train don’t bestow on them the unwelcome opportunity to study for a couple of hours the same cow’s ass.
Because right now we’re having a ball.
And, no, not the kind that comes in a really big bowl.
Monday, August 6, 2018
The question is being asked with enough frequency I figure it’s time I address the issue.
Am I a celebrity?
I am not.
A celebrity is someone of enduring appeal, someone of ample means and name recognition, a unifying element capable of dominating pop culture. A celebrity is, oh, say, for example, hmmm, Arnold Palmer? He died worth about $800 million and has a popular drink named after him.
I have very little money, perhaps because I usually have a popular drink right in my hand.
Clearly, Arnold Palmer’s a celebrity and I’m not.
So what am I?
I’m a tourist attraction!
People stop by to see me, grab some refreshments, take some pictures and then depart feeling vaguely hungover and wondering what the hell just happened.
Me, I’m enjoying the heck out of it.
It all started with the four retired lesbians — and I should clarify: I know they are retired and I simply anecdotally inferred they were lesbians.
I don’t know if you can even retire from a thing like that.
But they were just lovely. One of them knocked on my door in the afternoon and said, “Oh, we’re so sorry to disturb you. My friends and I are big Arnie Palmer fans and all bought your book when we heard you speak in Oakmont and wanted to come out and see all the places you wrote about. And we were hoping you weren’t too busy for us to buy you a beer.”
I’ve never been able to find a way to skillfully convey how I’m never busy and that anyone on the planet at any time of the day or night is welcome to barge into my office and cheerfully tell me they want to buy me a beer.
In my entire life I’ve only been truly busy twice and both times involved my obligatory presence during the births of our daughters — and I’m pretty sure Val and the crackerjack OBGYN team could have soldiered on without me if a sudsy stranger popped in and said he wanted to buy books and beers.
I’m thinking of tacking a “DO NOT DISTURB!” sign for my office door and using duck tape to block out the first two words so visitors will see the sign and feel obliged to DISTURB! me.
Strangers wanting to meet me at the Tin Lizzy and buy me a drink is a phenomenon that’s becoming surprisingly common.
On Friday it was my new friend Ben (not his real name). We met at Flappers on the second floor. He texted me he’d be the one wearing jeans and a red golf shirt.
I texted back I’d be the one who looks like an inebriated writer and spelled it “ineebriated.”
Ben’s an interesting man. He’s retired U.S. Air Force who spent most of his career servicing Air Force One and other high security planes in top secret hangars at Joint Base Andrews near the nation’s capital. He went from there straight to a position with Raytheon.
I asked how he and his colleagues spent their hush-hush days with this top defense contractor.
“We all sit around reading your blog,” he said. “It’s hilarious.”
If you think it’s hilarious now, Ben, just wait till you see the post I write after I persuade you to use your top secret security clearance to sneak me onto Air Force One so I can surreptitiously put Saran Wrap over all the toilet bowls.
I dream of the day when some covert operative conceives an undercover sneak to get all the people who love the blog to pay for the blog.
Ben bought 10 signed Palmer books so he’s off the hook.
But, please, if you’re in the neighborhood feel free to stop up and buy some books or just shoot the breeze.
It’s nice being busy, but it’s more fun spending your days being just a wee bit disturbed.