Friday, November 30, 2018
No preamble. No intro. No distractions. It’s Friday afternoon. The weekend is nigh. And I’m left to wonder how productive I’d out of necessity be if every moment of every working day were 10 minutes ’til the Happy Hour …
• It’s unfathomable to imagine how much better off the world would be if every time we felt moved by a good intention we acted on it.
• People who want to appear more colorful get tattoos. People who want to become more colorful get library cards.
• The ones who profess to know all the answers are usually the same ones who never bother to ask any of the questions.
• The difference between my friends from church and my friends from the bar is my friends from church say they're sinners and they're really nice people and my friends from bars say they're sinners and brag about it.
• Because fickle publishing industry insists it is looking for timeless books, my next novel is going to be about a broken clock.
• I wonder how guys like Bach and Beethoven reacted when during meltdowns someone told them to compose themselves.
• Thousand Oaks Strong. Pittsburgh Strong. Parkland Strong. Vegas Strong. How come with all this muscular strength all across the nation I'm always left feeling so weak?
• On most days, happiness and sadness are not emotions. They're decisions. Now, being an asshole, that's different. It's a pre-existing condition.
• I admire vegans, but the chances of me giving up meat are about the same as me resuming my virginity.
• Would you find the Bible more or less compelling if back in Biblical times rudimentary selfie technology had existed? Imagine some of Noah's selfies.
• Your life will be appreciably more balanced & sane if you wake up each day realizing your job isn't nearly as important as you think it is.
• Experts say the world needs to prepare for a cashless society. If that's the case, I'm way ahead of the world. I haven't had any cash since I decided to become a writer.
• Perhaps I'm being too literal, but I have to think the nation of Togo must have really great take-out food.
• Didn’t really bother me when daughter said I was a "bad word." What did was the realization that I consider her a fine judge of character.
• With 55-inch large-screen TVs being among the most popular, I'm amazed how there are so many people who when it comes to current events still fail to see the big picture.
• Spent the last five nights in the woods dining on grubs, avoiding detection. Seven days before Thanksgiving and I'm already at DEFCON 4. Why the special ops training? Almost time for my annual War on Christmas! #HappyHolidays, my friends!
• I know next to nothing about sailing, but I know enough about basic zoology to surmise that on Noah's Arc every deck was a poop deck.
• Even serenely disposed Siamese twins find it impossible to be anything but beside themselves all the time.
• Man, the only animal who spends most of its time stationary on its butt, is also the only animal to spend billions each year on footwear.
• I wonder if cavemen and cavewomen woke up each morning and asked each other how they slept or if they had other priorities.
• The term "penniless" has lost all value for describing an impoverished individual. Probably been 20 years since Trump's even seen a penny.
• I wonder if the chariots from ancient Roman times had drink holders. Or maybe the'd yet to invent the sized lid/straw combo ...
• Even elderly donut makers wake up each morning knowing they have their hole lives ahead of them.
• How much more revelatory would Gospels be today had Jesus been subjected to the scrutiny of a Biblical times Facebook?
• On this day in 1969, Fantasy Records released the Creedence Clearwater Revival song "Proud Mary." She's been rollin' on the river ever since. This leads me to believe not only was Mary proud, she was also quite buoyant.
• I’d like to have been a fly on the wall to hear what His high school guidance counselor said when the teenage Jesus told him God said He was going to be the Savior.
• The difference between being grounded and being buried is sometimes grave.
• In sublime case of perfect timing the morning after an old buddy spent the night, the new Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall book "Hungover: The Morning After & One Man's Search for the Cure," arrives. I'll post more later. Not today. Today I'm hungover.
For me, the most indelible memory will be the faces of the children. The bright faces shown with joy, hope and cheer. They’d braved temperatures in the high teens to see Santa.
That they first had to see me didn’t faze them one bit.
Then there were the faces of the adults. They seemed to go through what I guess you could call the Five Stages of Celebrity Disappointment.
It was “The Sparkle of Christmas” parade and hundreds of families lined historic Clay Avenue, to cheer the season, gaze at me and twist their once-sunny expressions into the facial equivalent of “WTF?”
My friends at the Jeannette Public Library flattered me by asking if I’d be their parade celebrity. Of course, I said yes.
You may think I’m exaggerating about seeing facial let down. I am not. And I am expert at recognizing the faces of the disappointed.
I’m a married father of two daughters who expect me to be a decent provider and sensible enough to not wear things like mustard-stained bowling shirts to parent/teacher conferences.
On the strength of my dynamic talk at their library — I wowed everyone there (all 8 of them) — local librarians last month asked me if I’d be willing to ride in their Sparkle parade element, which happened to be a 1972 Jaguar XK150 convertible.
Oh, you betcha. I’ve never been in a parade before so it was very cool.
Cool? Heck, it was practically freezing. We sat in the car — roof down — for an hour awaiting the parade beginning.
The Jag belonged to a local businessman. I was worried he’d be one of those finicky vintage car owners understandably fretting over every scratch.. In fact, he was just the opposite.
At one point, he thrilled me by racing in reverse down a narrow one-way street pinched with parked cars.
I felt like James Bond. Well, since I was in the passenger seat, I guess I was more like a Bond girl, one with a three-day stubble, stale beer breath and peek-a-boo holes in her thermal underwear.
Yes, the #MeToo movement is taking its toll in strange places.
Once the parade finally began, I remember turning the corner and being surprised by the sight of so many staring strangers. It was unsettling. What were they looking at? How rude.
Then it dawned on me; idiot, this is the parade! Smile and say something!
In these fraught times, anything I’d say could be fair game for social media outrage. So I played it safe and said:
“Happy Holidays, good people of Jeannette! Remember to welcome caravans of migrants into your homes, to support the LBGQT agenda and urge the kids to ask Santa to take Barron Trump some lumps of beautiful clean coal for Christmas — and tell him it was from his father!”
Actually, I didn’t say any of that.
I instead opted to risk infuriating the liberals with a two-word taunt.
I must have said it about 10,000 times. And I wore a big smile the whole time.
It was wonderful.
And the people were so happy, too. Af first, at least. A parade celebrity had wished them Merry Christmas!
Then their eyes went to the sign on the side of the Jag and confusion began to emerge. Why, Jeannette couldn’t even get one of the three dozen or so local TV news grinners to appear in their holiday parade.
They had to get me!
But then another change came on. They began to re-smile. It’s like they were thinking, “Oh, what the heck. This poser may not be Wendy Bell, but he seems friendly enough. And it is almost Christmas …”
And they smiled back.
When we got to the end of the parade route, I had one question for my driver: Could we circle around and do it all over again?
I mistakenly thought the parade had elevated my soul. I now realize the parade had nothing to do with the feeling. You don’t need a whole parade.
All you need is a smile and a stranger.
It can be your Christmas gift to the world.
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
I always feel like a failure when I resort to sarcasm in response to any question from the family innocents who should by now know everything about me and my recreations.
But that’s what happened this spring when I was departing for a weekend with some cheerful reprobates I’ve known for decades.
She wanted to know what we’d be doing the weekend, and she asked it in a business-like way that indicated to me she expected us to have an itinerary, goals, profit margins and ultimately some tangible results for my time.
So I blurted out: “Oh, we’re going to spend the weekend knitting quilts for homeless vets.”
Not my finest moment.
But how would it have sounded if I’d have said, “Well, we’re going to find a dark, divey bar with a really good jukebox, a friendly bartender and then we’re going to spend the next 10 hours drinking beer and laughing at stories we’ve all told or heard about 200 times. The result of all this wanton sloth is we’ll probably produce eight skull-pounding hangovers that lead to a spike in our communal need for hour-long naps in quiet places where we hope loved ones like you can’t find us and make us feel ashamed for acting like the boys we’ve always been.”
So now “Knitting quilts for homeless vets” has become code for spending multiple hours getting all tipsy in a local tavern.
I mention this because my friend Quinn is visiting tonight and we plan on knitting quilts for homeless vets.
And I’m not ruling that out. When you think about it, there’s really nothing to prevent us from learning to knit.
Drinking beer hour after hour doesn’t occupy the hands all that much. I pick up the beer glass, take a sip and then set the glass back on the bar coaster. The whole process takes maybe four seconds. The rest of the time my hands are basically unemployed.
Just like the rest of me!
I can’t imagine knitting is all that difficult. I mean it’s something even grannies do and I can kick granny’s ass — unless maybe my reflexes are so slowed by decades of inebriation that granny disables me by jabbing a knitting needle in my eye.
When you think about it, bar knitting is something that might really catch on.
Quinn, in fact, owns a great bar in Columbus. It’s Little Rock. Why Little Rock? ‘cause every great bar needs at least a Little Rock.
Quinn is an old college roommate and one of my most relentlessly entertaining friends. Here’s a 1:33 YouTuber of him literally singing my praises and me reciprocating with a snippet of his song “Die Trying” from the Los Gravediggers album, “Get a New Ghost.”
He’s adept at corrupting names of popular businesses or programs so they sound vaguely dirty — Holiday Quinn! The Quinnocence Project! Quinntoxication!
His goal, of course, is to cajole women of loose morals to consider his worthiness. It works more than you might think, which to me hints that the women of Columbus are less virtuous than the women from, say, Latrobe.
And if my family ever declares they’ve had enough of my quilt-knitting ways, my plan is to head straight to Columbus and become Little Rock’s premier blogger.
Maybe this evening I’ll suggest initiating a bar knitting night to him. Or maybe not.
We’ll have bigger things on our minds.
The Saturday NYTimes op-ed page featured an Arthur Brooks essay headlined: “Loneliness is Tearing America Apart.” His lead: “America is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness.”
He says half of all Americans admit to feelings of loneliness or being “left out.” It says the result of so much statistical loneliness is an America prone to depression, opioid dependency, and things like angry politics.
It makes me sad, especially when supportive camaraderie can be found in so many neighborhood churches, rec centers, gyms and other places where your neighbors go to defeat the scourge of loneliness.
It’ll be happening tonight, for sure, at at least one small town bar near Latrobe.
The Quinn Lizzy!
I may say we’ll be out knitting quilts for homeless vets, but you know better. This is bigger than that.
We’re saving America.
One beer at a time.
Friday, November 23, 2018
When you read that I CRY, I’m not talking blubbering. My composure remains intact. The last time I was that out-of-control bereft was January 12, 2004, the day my father died. I was devastated. Cried like a baby for hours.
I loved that man and, geez, he died owing me $50.
What some guys won’t do to get out of paying up.
This is true. The only other time I remember crying that hard was October 11, 1972, the night Bob Moose of the Pittsburgh Pirates threw a game-ending wild pitch to hand the National League Champion Series to the hated Cincinnati Reds.
I was 9 years old. I cried and cried and cried. In fact, I didn’t stop crying until October 9, 1976. That was the day my Dad told me Bob Moose was tragically killed in an automobile accident on his way to play golf. It was his 29th birthday.
I like to think the one had nothing to do with the other, but I was a heartless little bastard so who knows.
These days when I say something made me CRY, I mean it made me misty, that I had to wipe tears from my eyes, that I was becoming sentimental. I’d maybe CRY harder, but I’m shy about letting my daughters see me cry over things like department store commercials.
Really, with the world being such a mess a handy line I use about drinking could easily apply to crying if you just swap the key words: “It’s not surprising we drink/cry. It’s surprising we ever stop drinking/crying.”
But this isn’t about big things. This is about relatively little things, things like car repairs and disappointing afternoons at the movies.
What makes you CRY? Here’s a little list of things that had me feeling sentimental and some stuff that didn’t at all …
CRY : The Elton John commercial. Have you seen this? It’s magnificent. It’s a poignant summation of Sir Elton’s entire performing life told through one indelible song. It’s his life. It’s “Your Song.”
CRY: My mechanic says my 2007 Saturn Vue with 205,692 miles needs more than $10,000 in repairs before it’ll pass inspection. He’s exaggerating — I think — but it’s done. I don’t know where I’m going to get the dough for a new ride. I don’t know why I’ve held onto it so long. It’s been a good vehicle, sure, but it’s the first car I’ve owned I never had any sex in. It’s a sad kind of milestone. Of course, there’s still time to rectify that status. It’s such a low class idea I know I’ll have to butter up the missus to get her to even consider it. And I’m not being metaphorical. The upholstery is already shot so a little bit of butter won’t make much difference
DIDN’T CRY: My old friend Chuck Mincey’s 2018 was dominated by a stroke and two-brain surgeries. That he’s having brain trouble shocks me. The man has one of the best brains of anyone I’ve ever known. It’s always been quick, witty and original. I didn’t feel like crying when I read a poignant note of gratitude to those of us who’ve prayed for him, but I did tear up when I wrote: “God Bless you, Chuck, because He sure blessed me by having you as a friend.” Why I didn’t cry at his note, but nearly did at my own is more evidence of my massive ego. If my income ever catches up to my ego, even Trump’s going to have to watch out.
DIDN’T CRY: Thinking of all the ghosts around the Thanksgiving dinner table made me sad. Moms, Dads, Aunts, Uncles, Grandpas and ‘mas — so many gone. I guess it’d be sweet to shed tears over the dearly departed, but I’d be faking it. I loved them each fiercely while they were alive. That ought to count for something.
DIDN’T CRY: Many of my most tasteful friends urged me to go see “A Star Is Born.” “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry,” the said. I did neither. I enjoyed the performances, particularly Lady Gaga, very much. And Val and I both like Bradley Cooper, her for reasons more carnal than mine. Maybe I already sensed the way it was going to play out. Most people really like it. Maybe I'm nitpicking.
CRY: The Fred Rogers documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” made me cry for multiple reasons. It was joyful, it was sad, it was profound, it was hilarious. It’ll, for sure, make most critics best-of. Truly, it’s wrong to call Mr. Rogers a role model. Fred Rogers was a saint.
DIDN’T CRY: I never cry when I hear the peerless Roy Orbison singing “Crying,” but I understand why someone vulnerable might. It’s a beautiful song about deep sadness.
CRY: Dropped a hammer on my toe. Still hurts.
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Whatever regard you have for me may be diminished by my confession that last week I was rude to a friendly stranger.
Now, I was raised better than that. I was taught to be friendly to my fellow humans no matter his/her/other’s race, creed, religion or political leanings. And in these fraught times that last one takes gargantuan restraint, doesn’t it?
In my defense, the guy did admit to being a fan of the ball-deflating, pretty-boy lovin’, ref-whining, Spygate-defending New England Patriots.
It’s too much for even a liberal like me.
So when he said he owned four plants, I blurted out I had five.
Well, 10, if you count branch plants.
He said his plants were in Memphis, Nashville, Ann Arbor and New Hampshire, his ultimate destination. He was flying home from Memphis when storms and curiosity led him to land at the Arnold Palmer Airport for an overnighter in Latrobe.
He asked about the location of my plants.
“Oh, they’re all nearby,” I said.
That was true. Five of them were on a single table upstairs in the hall outside my office (above).
The Patriots may have been the dominant team in the NFL for the past 20 years, but that wasn’t helping their fans differentiate between the definitions of words like “plant” and “factory.”
His said his plants produce specialty steel for the auto industry.
I didn’t feel the need to one-up him once again, but my plants are involved in the process of photosynthesis that results in the production of oxygen essential for human respiration. So without my plants there’d be no need for his.
I was already feeling petty trying to top the Brady lover when he said something that made me feel instantly worse.
“Yeah, I flew out of my way to come here,” he said. “I’m a big Arnold Palmer fan and always wanted to visit Latrobe. I asked a guy at the airport where I could go to hear some good stories. He told me to come to the Tin Lizzy.”
I could feel myself getting smaller as I awaited the inevitable question.
“Did you ever meet him?”
The bartender’d heard the whole thing. He reached up and grabbed a copy of my book and slid it across the bar: “Not only did he know him, he wrote this book.”
“So, you don’t really own plants?”
I told him I really did. Just not the kind he meant.
It was the beginning of what may become a beautiful friendship. I told him all my best stories, he showed me pictures of his new grandson and together we toasted each other’s futures.
It was all going fine until after I took him upstairs to show him my office and sell him a book. I began to suspect maybe he’d been the liar all along.
For a guy who bragged about owning four plants across the Eastern United States, he didn’t show the least professional curiosity in the ones I had sitting on the table outside my office.
Made me glad I didn’t ask him if he was interested in checking out the branch plants.
I don’t think he’d have understood that when you got down to the root of the thing all plants in one way or another are branch plants.