Thursday, May 23, 2019
Today is this blog’s 11th Birthday. Can you believe it? I know some of you think I should give the blog the day off to celebrate, but the blog can’t be trusted. Were that to happen, I’m pretty sure it would spend the day drinking in the Tin Lizzy and you know what that’ll lead to come 10 p.m. — Here come the hookers! Honestly, I don’t know where that sort of shiftless behavior comes from. It’s like the blog’s picked the wrong role model.
• I used to lie about the blog’s age. Used to say it was older than it was. No, the blog didn’t have a fake ID. The blog, see, was coincidentally born one day before Bob Dylan’s birthday and I thought it would be cool to say the blog and Dylan shared the same birthday, as if the fraudulent assertion would bestow coincidental glory on Eight Days to Amish, like people would say, “I think I’ll check out this enigmatically named blog because it has to be good. It was born the same day as Dylan!” If that ever happened even just once, I’m unaware of it.
• In preparation for Dylan’s 78th birthday, I told the 12 year old I’d play just one song so she could at least be aware of his enduring genius. Amazingly, she didn’t rebell. After about 15 minutes, I asked what she thought. “I hate it,” she said. “I said I’d listen to one song and you played four! And all four sounded exactly alike!” She’d fallen right into my little trap. “Ah! Ha!” I said. “That’s not four songs. It’s the same song!” I’d played “Highlands,” a 16 minute, 41 second epic from ’97’s “Time Out Of Mind.” And she’s wrong. It’s a great song.
• Tonight’s the annual night when I do things that cause the children of strangers to burst into tears and I don’t get either arrested or beaten up. Yes, tonight I’m again word master for the Greensburg Rotary Spelling Bee. I never dreamed making kids cry could be so rewarding.
• I was about to do my patriotic privilege on Tuesday when I was awkwardly confronted with an option to obey or ignore a patriotic pseudo-obligation. I was waiting at the Latrobe high school for Val so we could vote together in the Pennsylvania primary election — I know, I know. We’re one of “those” cute couples. I was early so I went for a stroll. As I’m ambling I hear the school outside- PA come to life and some squeaky voiced kid say, “We’ll now say the Pledge of Allegiance,” and they did just that. Now what’s the etiquette? Not a flag in sight, do I stand there outside the school all by myself and say a pledge to a flag I can’t see. No one knows I’m there. Am honor bound to do the pledge? Do you say it if you’re at a ballgame waiting in line for beer? In the end I blow it off and continue on my way, quietly relieved it is God who knows all/sees all instead of Sean Hannity.
• I’m sure some of you rolled your eyes when you read me saying Bob Dylan’s an “enduring genius.” Anytime I think that’s going too far I remind myself how in 2006 on the song “Thunder on the Mountain,” he artfully rhymes “orphanages” with “sons of bitches.” Genius!
• Example #1 on Why I Should Never Leave the Tin Lizzy: Last Friday I was stationed on my corner stool up in Flapper’s the 2nd floor bar, the one with the popular deck. Not a wingman in sight. Zach and Aaron, my Friday evening bartender buddies, were too busy to BS. I’m always comfortable being alone in a bar — if you have as many voices in your head as I do, you’re never really alone. But with so many groups of happy gigglers surrounding me, I felt conspicuously alone. Finally, a big friendly guy with Western clothes sidles up and rounds up some conversation. He’s heard of me.“I was hoping I’d get to meet you.” Turns out he’s a prosperous Arizona rancher/businessman. Long short/short, he ends up buying 20 books and inviting me out in August for a shindig. All I need to do is get there. I think I’m going to do it.
• Example #2 on Why I Should Never Leave the Tin Lizzy: I was supposed to meet a woman at the Main (street level) bar at 1:30 p.m. She was buying a book to include in a golf gift basket for Latrobe high class of ’69 reunion. Confusion ensued and at 2:15, I’m still there when this group of chipper women emerge from the dining room. After some conversation with Jessie, my Wednesday afternoon bartender buddy (yes, I have designated bartenders ‘round the clock — don’t judge me!) says the ladies are looking for a Tin Lizzy tour guide. Was I busy? Truthfully, I haven’t been busy since 1992. Well, theses ladies from Johnstown couldn’t have been nicer. I craftily conducted the tour so it would conclude in my office where I sell my books. Sold 8. Plus they asked if I’d come to Johnstown and tell my stories to their social groups. See, if I’d have been the kind of guy prone toward common office hours and work, I’d have missed out on all those bar sales,
• I’m thinking I’d better wrap this up and get back to drinking down there before this day becomes a total waste!
• Happy Fred Rogers 143 day! I think I’ve settled on a title: “Growing Up & Old in Mr. Rogers Real Neighborhood: Stories from The Heart of Latrobe, Pennsylvania.” Hoping to have it available for sale by Labor Day, in plenty of time before the Tom Hanks movie.
• The second toughest thing about being word master at a 4th grade spelling bee is understanding I can’t hug a crying child. The toughest thing is not actually mouthing the correct letters when you can tell the kid’s about to fail to correctly spell “adobe.”
• Come out and enjoy the Westmoreland County Airshow at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, featuring the Royal Canadian Snowbirds. The CT-114s are capable of flying 460 mph, which means they could fly from Latrobe to Pittsburgh in just 43 minutes. That calculation includes the typical 41 minute backup at the Squirrel Hill Tunnel.
• I think I’m going to spend the next 1:06:04 listening to Bob Dylan singing “Highlands” four straight times. The beauty is it’ll sound the same all four times. It’ll sound perfect.
Monday, May 20, 2019
Sorry to start your week off with a riddle, but what begins at the bottom, has 5 feet, and ends back at the beginning?
A Monday blog about your colonoscopy!
Haven’t had one?
Then someone somewhere soon is about to advise you it’s time.
It could save your life. The procedure can both detect and remove pre-cancerous polyps that kill 51,000 Americans a year. That’s a tragically high number for something that could be so easily preventable if only we all agreed to take some common sense precautions.
Of course, it’s only ballpark 10,000 more annual deaths than those 40,000 poor hapless bastards killed by all-American gun violence and no one wants to do squat about that so big whoop.
Speaking of squat, colonoscopy patients should be prepared to do lots of that. They make you drink a diabolical solution the day before to make your gastro-industrial tract clean as a whistle, albeit a whistle no sane person would ever wish to blow.
Why all this talk of colonoscopies when I had mine done, oh, about three years ago?
I recently had to take a loved one in for hers. Patients are highly medicated for 24 hours so now we know just what it takes to get me to be the designated driver. So I’m sitting there all sober and observant and I was struck by how factory-like this procedure has become.
There were maybe a dozen in the waiting room and one after another they just kept coming.
To further the proctological factory analogy, it was a real ASS-embly line.
Being there amidst so many anxious patients, had me recalling my own experience. What do I remember most? I remember thinking anti-drug crusader Nancy Reagan was wrong. Drugs aren’t bad.
Drugs are terrific! Who knew having 5-feet of apparatus surgically shoved up your rectum could involve so much euphoria?
I’ve since heard an unverified bar chatter that the drugs they use to put you out for the colonoscopy are the same ones King of Pop Michael Jackson OD’d on.
It seems all too convenient: a drug they give you before they shove something up your rear is misused by a man who …
The obvious punchlines are too lazy for even me.
I’m suspicious of the pictures they give you in post-op. They tell you it was taken deep inside your very own colon.
I hate to sound like some cracker colo-racist, but they all look exactly alike. Like I couldn’t believe it when they showed me pictures of what they said were my colon. It looked so ordinary
“This can’t be mine,” I protested. “My colon is much more handsome. And if this colon is mine then where’s the mustache?”
I once did a story for Esquire about what it’s like to be a proctologist. I wish I still had it because the doctor had a great self-deprecating sense of humor. He said his friends all called him “the Rear Admiral.”
I once did a story for Esquire about what it’s like to be a proctologist. I wish I still had it because the doctor had a great self-deprecating sense of humor. He said his friends all called him “the Rear Admiral.”
He had a bunch of other fart jokes like that and said he goes to work each day knowing he’s saving lives.
I wonder about the many people working in the Excela Health Center on Donohoe Road where we’d been sent. Every single person, from receptionist to doctor, was cheerful and friendly. If anyone was feeling occupational burnout, they kept it concealed.
I’ve been in surlier ice cream shops.
Could it be seeing the full range of humanity so vulnerable, so exposed, makes one more appreciative of our common decency?
Could it be as simple as that? Could it be a 9-to-5 exposure to real assholes somehow bestows an understanding that deep down inside — deep up inside — there aren’t quite so many metaphorical ones.
Or maybe they’re just better at turning the other cheek. It’s a Biblical sentiment for most of us, but many of them had to pass a test on the maneuver back in med school.
And that’s as good a place as any to conclude an essay on colonoscopies.
(Just this one recommendation today. I do so to encourage you to read this one. It’s very funny.)
Friday, May 10, 2019
Okay, the admission may lead you to conclude I’m a rube, but I still get a kick out of seeing my name and picture in the local newspaper. So thank you Steve Kittey and The Latrobe Bulletin for yesterday’s front page splash.
Of course my favorite part is the picture, one I don’t recall taking, haven’t ever seen before and haven’t the foggiest idea how it was secured fir usage by my Bulletin friends.
It’s a dandy. First, I’m smiling and you can tell I have a mouthful of teeth. I’d be disappointed had they selected one where I appear serious.
Here’s a tweet from two years ago this month: “One benefit about being carefree is serious people never look at you and say, "Hon, let's go sit next to that guy. He looks real serious, too.”
The picture is a perfect repellent to serious people.
The best part are the eyes. They appear to be gazing 20-feet above and past the unknown photographer. It’s like I’m gazing at either the resurrected Christ returned to Earth Biggie-sized or at a hovering UFO filled with love-starved women yearning to try earth sex and their malfunctioning computers have led them to believe I’m the only man on the planet.
It’s just a very happy face.
And why wouldn’t it be?
I’m announcing my next book. It’s the one I never dreamed I’d write.
See, for a year I’ve been resisting pressure to write a book about Fred Rogers that’s just like the one I wrote about Arnold Palmer.
I didn’t want to do this because I didn’t know Rogers, certainly not the way I knew Palmer. And it just seemed too obvious.
My resistance is indicative about why I’m always moaning about being broke. After all, why would I want repeat something that made me a lot of money and so many people happy?
I mean, besides the producers of “Shrek 12,” who would want to do that?
But the commercial incentive is apparent; the Tom Hanks/Fred Rogers movie is likely to do gangbuster business and generate interest in what it’s like to live in Mr. Rogers Real Neighborhood, a place I’ve called home since 1992 and written about in my blog since 2019.
That, for me, seemed like a good hook and an authentic reason for me to engage.
I explain it all in this Bulletin story. Please get in touch if you have any Fred stories or are interest in sharing why his spirit still matters here in Latrobe and around the world.
Happy Mother’s Day!
— << >> — — << >> — — << >> —
It was this week last year that Triumph Publishing released my book, “Arnold Palmer: Homespun Stories of The King.” In the year since, my editor has called repeatedly to gush that sales were exceeding expectations.
The satisfaction I feel over that news is surpassed only by my appreciation over how well it sold right here in Latrobe. I joke that it’s like everyone in town bought five copies. “They read one and they use the other four to stabilize wobbly furniture.”
That’s a silly exaggeration, but my gratitude is heartfelt.
Why is it selling so well? I can think of two reasons. One of them, obviously, is Arnold Palmer, one of the most compelling men from the last 100 years.
The other is you.
One of the best decisions I made upon landing the contract — maybe the best decision — was to reach out to readers of the Latrobe Bulletin and let you know I was eager to hear your stories about our famous neighbor. Those stories enriched my book the way our neighborly association with Arnold Palmer enriched our town.
A year later, I’m back to humbly repeat my request: Latrobe, please tell me your stories.
Not about Arnold Palmer.
No, I want to hear your stories about you. Well, you and Mr. Rogers.
I want to hear why you live here and if you or your loved ones are ever motivated by the benevolent spirit of Fred Rogers.
We’re just seven months until the release of the Tom Hanks/Fred movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” The movie — experts are predicting a blockbuster — is bound to have people around the world asking, “So what’s the real Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood really like?
The book I’m considering will not be a biography of Rogers or a history of Latrobe (although there will be elements of both). At this point I anticipate the book will rely heavily on my observations s of what it’s like to live here, as my family and I have done since 1992.
See, I didn’t know Fred.
But I do know Latrobe. I hang out in its bars, patronize its businesses, attend its church services, its festivals and am chummy with both its community leaders as well as its happy rabble (some of them fit neatly in both categories).
So if you know any great first person Fred stories (funny, heroic, generous), by all means, please get in touch.
But I’ll be just as pleased to hear any stories from men and women who decide to help a stranger change a tire because, gee, that’s what Fred would have done; stories of how some distant stranger treated you with extra care because they found out you were from Latrobe, birthplace of Fred Rogers, Mr. Rogers’ Real Neighborhood.
I can be reached at 724 961-2558; email@example.com.
I’m hoping this book will be a definitive answer to the question, “What’s Mr. Rogers’ Real Neighborhood really like?”
To me, it’s a special place. It’s full of boisterous characters, robust natures and so many kind hearts I sometimes wonder if it’s our chief export. But Latrobe is not a fantasy. It’s not a fable. It’s not a safe space.
It’s a real town with real people.
And with this book, I intend to keep it real.
Monday, May 6, 2019
News that the unemployment rate has descended to 3.6 percent has me wondering if I’ll be the last unemployed man left in America.
I tell people the coolest thing about me is I haven’t had a job since 1992. Then I tell them the most disturbing thing about me is I haven’t had a job since 1992.
The opposing statements are both equally true.
People say they drive past the Tin Lizzy and see me up here on the 3rd floor staring at the computer. They say they saw me working. A stickler for accuracy even when it’s detrimental to my reputation, I feel obliged to correct them.
“In fact,” I say, “what you likely saw was me sitting. The chances of me doing anything that would earn an actual, albeit meager, wage are next to nothing.”
I don’t look at computer porn but from street level a man sitting at a computer looking at porn is indistinguishable from a man trying to compose a compelling line.
It’s unfathomable how much time I devote to thinking up a line that might be thoughtful to readers like you for about, oh, three seconds. A line like, say:
“Most people agree room temperature is 70 degrees. Elmer Fudd says womb temperature is 98.6 degrees.”
Took me about 20 minutes to compose and craft that one. Then I spent another 10 minutes trying to find just the right Fudd photo to best illustrate the word play (it’s the one up top).
Then I sat staring at the computer and admired the resulting tweet for like 15 minutes and concluded, "Well, that’s the best I got this afternoon. Might as well call it a day. Time to hit the bar.”
It was 1:45 p.m.!
I used to dream my life would unwind like one of the great, noble figures in literature I so admired, men like Tom Joad or Atticus Finch, respect-commanding figures of substance and drive.
I was sitting up here in the window “working” when it dawned on me that life turned out just like I’d hoped. Sorta. I have, indeed, become a character from American literature. Just one problem.
The character is Ferris Bueller!
I must make it look easier than it is.
People ask me what it’s like to be a “successful” writer. I tell them I aspire to success. Hell, I aspire to mere solvency. I respond to break even the way many of you do to getting lucky on some band kid’s strip ticket.
I’m a 56-year-old man whose idea of a really good day is one that involves me finding a quarter.
And while I do not consider myself a successful writer, I am becoming a locally acclaimed one. People know my name. I like that. But mine isn’t the kind of name that’s ever going attract sneaker contract dough. I’d like that better.
Other writers tell me they want to be like me. They ask how I do what I do. I quote to them Bob Dylan from the song, “High Water.”
“Don’t reach out for me, she said, can’t ya see I’m drowning, too?”
My poor wife. I suspect about once every other month or so she wishes she’d married a plumber.
Heck, it’s about once every other month or so I wish I’d married a plumber.
I think the worst part for her is when we’re out and somebody starts to gush about something I’ve written. And, God bless ‘em, some people hold nothing back in their manic praise. Goes straight to my head.
What I lack in deficient funds, I make up for in baseless ego.
I wake up every single day convinced something wonderful is going to happen to my career and I’ve been saying that every single day since June 31, 1992, the last day the U.S. Department of Labor considered me a gainfully employed individual.
There is a Fool-on-the-Hill sort of beauty in such simple-minded optimism.
The problem is that it keeps smashing up against the complex realities that go hand-in-hand with being the fool in the window on the 3rd floor of the Tin Lizzy, the one who spends so much time wondering WTF.
What The Fudd?
See, I with my whole heart and (most of my head) believe the people who tell me I’m great and that one day I’ll be truly successful in ways more tangible than flattering name recognition.
And if and when that happens, then the story of my life will become one of the very best stories of my life.
It wasn’t my intention, but I guess now is as good a time as any to pass the hat. Donations accepted at PayPal (Chris Rodell) or get in touch about book purchases at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wednesday, May 1, 2019
If I today were a publicity-mad attorney — is there any other kind? — I know exactly what I’d be doing: I’d file a defective product lawsuit against the manufacturer of the AR-type assault weapon used in the California synagogue shooting that left one dead and three wounded.
The grounds? It failed to wipe out more innocents.
One mealy coffin?
Authorities say the shooter had intended a higher body count, but the stupid gun jammed. That’s not supposed to happen.
Someone should have to pay.
Imagine the scalding ridicule from the scores of other spree killers who’ve used the very same weapon to kill hundreds in elementary schools, churches, movie theaters and other places Americans have come to know to be common killing grounds.
I’d depose who sold him the gun. They say a good attorney never asks a question to which he doesn’t know the answer. That must make me a brilliant attorney because I can prophesy word-for-word exactly what he’s he’s going to say.
ME: “Did you ask the shooter to reveal his sexuality before you sold him the weapon?”
HIM: “His sexuality? Why would I do that?”
ME: “Please, I’ll ask the questions. You’d do that because we live in a land where Mike Pence thinks Indiana bakers should have the right to ask about customer sexuality before they decide if they feel like baking a wedding cake for couples they suspect might be homos. I’m trying to determine your priorities.”
HIM: “I did not ask about his sexuality. We gun sellers would never dream of getting into those sorts of morality issues.”
ME: “You’re telling me. Do your weapons come with guarantees?”
HIM: “Our standard warranty covers lifetime single ownership excluding accidents, misuse or abuse.”
ME: “Is it considered misuse or abuse to walk into a place of worship and shoot to death unarmed men and women?”
HIM: “That’s a legal matter.”
ME: “Does the warranty say, ‘Guaranteed to kill at least five unarmed worshippers — or your money back!’”
HIM: “It does not.”
ME: “Are you familiar with the Firearm Safety 10 Commandments?”
HIM: “Certainly. It’s full of common sense wisdoms intended to keep people from getting killed.”
ME: “You mean keep from getting killed accidentally. Do you think it would be beneficial to add an 11th commandment, say, “Thou shalt not kill.” You’ve heard of it? It’s No. 5 on the original 10 Commandments. No. 5 with a bullet.”
HIM: “I have no opinion on that.”
ME: “If the gun had functioned properly how many would have been killed?”
HIM: “Depends. ‘til he either ran out of bullets, targets or until a good man with a — ”
ME: “How many innocent deaths are acceptable before the good men with guns show up? Don’t answer that. Do you think in the interest of saving lives it would be beneficial to sell more defective weapons, like maybe one-out-of-every 5?”
HIM: “That would be bad for business.”
ME: “But maybe good for worshippers. No further questions.”
I’d depose the man who made the defective gun.
ME: “Why do you make guns?”
HIM: “So responsible sportsmen can enjoy a great American tradition.”
ME: “I’m going to assume you don’t mean shooting up places of worship. How many deer could you kill with one of your weapons?”
HIM: “Gee, you could kill a bunch, but they’d spook.”
ME: “What if they’re all penned up in coral or, say, inside the hallowed walls of a place of worship?”
HIM: “All of ‘em, if the weapon doesn’t malfunction. But there are laws against that sort of thing. No one in their right mind would want to see that kind of slaughter.”
ME: “No further questions. I’d now like to call Dr. Nikki Stamp.”
Dr. Nikki Stamp: “I’m right over here.”
ME: “Oh, hello. You’re a heart and lung surgeon from Perth, Austalia?”
DNS: “I am.”
DNS: “I am.”
ME: “Are you the same Dr. Nikki Stern who wrote the story in today’s Washington Post under the headline: ‘I’ve Been a Surgeon in Australia for 16 Years. I’ve Seen Only Two Gunshot Wounds.’”
DNS: “I am.”
ME: Is that story accurate?”
DNS: “It is.”
ME: “Will you please read aloud the last paragraph?”
DNS: “I will. ‘I cannot offer a solution for the gun epidemic in the United States, but guns are clearly a public health issue. Australia’s gun laws will never be a model for Americans, that much is clear. But what may be a model is our resolve to make meaningful changes. It took one event (Port Arthur, 1996, 35 killed) to change the laws to make guns safer in this country, and I hope that Americans fully commit to make guns safer in a way that is effective and suitable for their legal system. I hope that future American surgeons will someday find gunshot wounds as unusual as I do.”
ME: “No further questions. I seek no damages. Too much damage is already daily being done.”
Thank you for indulging me in some absurdity. I thought it was appropriate because in a land where we continue to do nothing in the face of so much insane gun violence, absurdity reigns.
Because it’s looking increasingly like our options have narrowed down to dying of either multiple gunshot wounds or drowning in the bloodshed of all the innocents.