Thursday, January 31, 2019

Was Jan. 2 tweet already year's best?

I won’t be surprised if the tweet of the year was composed at 6:57 a.m. on January 2. It’s the one right up top about tangents with tan gents. I just love that one. But who knows? I could be within mere moments of composing a tweet so profound, so monumental that the whole rest of twitter just gives up. Yeah, even Trump. 

I wonder if there’ be some sort of prize for that. You’d think, wouldn’t you?

It could be damaging to a woman's reputation if she gets off on too many tangents with too many tan gents.

• I wonder if temperature in heaven is individualized or if some old ladies complain it's always too cold & bundle up in sweaters.

• If heaven is all it's cracked up to be then shouldn't we feel foolish telling survivors of grisly events, "Man, you're lucky to be alive." Kind of by comparison makes heaven sound like a Motel 6.

• It should be in the Constitution that nobody should be allowed to hold elective office unless he or she can prove they once held a job that required them to wear a name tag.

• I was just in my mind listing the 5 most influential people from my life; 4 of them are bartenders. It’s all starting to make sense.

• Time for my annual Super Bowl prediction. Here goes ... Los Angeles 61, New England 39. Remember, those aren't scores. Those are the forecast highs for both cities at kickoff.

• Thrilled, humbled to have been invited to deliver the commencement address for Adelphoi Village School here in Latrobe. Know what this means? I touch the future! Tomorrow's leaders will be relying on my words, my ideas! I say that while acknowledging I don't remember who spoke at my commencement, what he or she said or if I even attended …

• Go ahead & vent. To hell with your neighbor. To hell with  tact. I'll not judge you ... I'll leave that to Winston Churchill: "I have often noticed when political controversy becomes excited persons of choleric dispositions and limited intelligences are apt to become rude."

• Reading is maybe the one passion that’ll ensure you’ll never need friends while assuring you’ll always have as many friends as you wish.

• Optimists understand phrase "familiarity breeds contempt" is not absolute. Often is the case that familiarity breeds family.

• I’d like to see how a Geiger counter reacts if you take one to a Geiger family reunion.

• I’m intelligent enough to appreciate the contradiction of being a man who fancies himself an intellectual while simultaneously becoming furious at the failure to successfully complete the marshmallow maze on the back of the Lucky Charms cereal box.

• I’m confused about suggestions that Coast Guard personnel host garage sales to minimalize shut-down inconveniences. Coast Guard vessels have garages?

• New neighbor told me she loves it here. "Everyone is so nice," she gushed. Told her if that's the way she feels she’s yet to meet everyone.

• I find some lies too soul-enriching to resist. For instance: Carly Simon told me I was the inspiration for her hit, "Nobody Does It Better." But that's not a lie. It really happened. It did! Right @CarlySimonHQ? Right?

• Teaching your children to seek out the insights of interesting people is easy. The challenge is teaching them that EVERY person is in some way interesting.

• I’m on the verge of proving once and for all my office plants are talking to one another. But every time I get close enough to record the conversation the bully ficus says, "Shut up! Here he comes again!" I'll not rest until I get conclusive evidence. Won't work either.

• I remember seeing a story that asked prominent writers to name works they wish they'd written. Answers included "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Grapes of Wrath," etc. Me? I wish I'd coined the phrase "Butt dial.”

• Astronomers calculate Earth is 92,960,000 miles from the sun. I stepped outside today and I swear it feels more like 92,960,002.

• My devotion to recycling is so emphatic I hope to one day create a sweater made entirely of warm belly button lint.

• I’m so cheap I wish Latrobe had a Dutch restaurant so I could invite my wife to dinner and say, "Let's go Dutch!" and get out of paying.

• I haven't been following the news very closely. But all I hear is cave, cave, cave. Is that in addition to the wall? I don't see how caves are going to help border security, but it's very confusing.

• What kind of emoji will you ask them to put on your tombstone when that becomes customary?

• I vow to continue saying 'Happy New Year!' right up thru July 5 when it'll once again become seasonally appropriate to resume saying, "Merry Christmas!”

• I hate it when I fake a mild cold to get out of some petty obligation and people look and me and say, "Yeah, you look terrible! I'll call 911. There's something really wrong with you. You oughta be quarantined! Medic! Medic!" Makes me sick.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

How TV disappoints in ways books never do

You know we’ve crossed another unwelcome technological threshold when turning on your typical television is more complicated than turning on your typical man.

Both are simple devices.You should be able to turn one on by pushing a single button, the other with a flirtatious wink, a playful touch or by maybe offering it a warm donut. 

The only time a TV should be difficult to turn on is when the remote is tucked beneath a cushion.

I’ve done it successfully maybe a million times. Understand, I don’t feel a wave of relief when I’ve turned it on and found my channel. I don’t do a celebratory dance or spike the remote. I just sit back in my recliner and commence to do my patriotic duty as an American and begin watching my 14-hours of daily television.

But now turning on the TV is beginning to make me feel anxious, like when someone asks me to do math without a calculator. 

Val, like all of you, is on a restless quest to reduce the cost of our most annoying monthly gouge, that being the TV/internet bill.  So she did all the research, shopped, haggled and secured the necessary hardware. We’d enjoy more options and pay less; a true win-win.

That was the easy part. The hard part was teaching it all to someone who rages against complicating additions to our already cluttered lives.

“This remote turns on the TV,” she began. “This one turns on the Roku. Once this screen pops up, you can toggle over to the home screen where you can choose from …”

At the mention of the word toggle, the room began to spin. I wasn’t an undercover operative programming an IED to obliterate an enemy combatant. I just an easily amused guy who still enjoys watching the same “Seinfeld” reruns he’s already seen about 192 times. 

I looked over on the end table and made eye contact with the book I’m reading. It’s the 1,152-page “Churchill: Walking With Destiny,” by Andrew Roberts. I telepathically tell it, “I’m sorry!”

“I apologize for again straying. You’re so beautiful, so uncomplicated. You don’t cause stress. You relieve it. Yet, I continue to turn to that trashy whore who costs me a fortune. Can you forgive me?”

I expect it to answer in Churchill’s voice, but my mind is so saturated with TV dominance the voice I hear is Gilbert Gottfried’s from when he was doing the Aflac duck commercials: “You’re fine! Books harbor no petty jealousies. Life moves too fast … so do the benefits of Aflac!”

They say we’re supposed to be in a golden age of TV viewing, but every time I watch something hailed as “great” I think, well, that was fun, but in six months I won’t remember who was in it or what they did.

Some of the recent shows we’ve truly enjoyed include, “Ozark,” “Friends From College,” “Master of None,” and “Making A Murderer.”

And for every one of those, there’ve been four or five I found unwatchable.

I haven’t seen anything that feels like it’s enriched my life in a way that’ll make me ever want to watch it all over again in two, five or certainly not 10 years. It all feels like a big time kill, like I went to the right hotel the wrong weekend for my high school reunion. Everyone was very nice, polite and pretty, but we had no shared past and no future.

Golden Age? Feels more like being mired in mediocrity.

As our options become more plentiful and our screens ever grander, the once communal act of watching great TV has become somehow smaller. 

It’s why I think I felt such a primal urge to read when my poor wife was trying to explain how to navigate ever deeper into the swampy maze that is our TV viewing options.

I never feel diminished by time spent immersed in a book. Just the opposite. I often feel enhanced.

It’s a feeling I intend to cultivate. Because as TV becomes glitzier and more bewildering, books remain defiantly books.

And you never need worry about turning on a book.

The book turns you on.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Frustrated recycler seeking trashy solutions

I’m convinced the only way we’re going to solve our confounding plastic waste crisis is to make all the containers we use to transport some kind of food out of some other kind of food.

It’s why I always order soup in a bread bowl. You slurp the soup then you consume the bowl. Nothing is wasted. Nothing is thrown away. The only thing that could be better is if the server presented it on a pancake plate. It’s an environmentalist’ dream, I tell ya. 

A minimum-wage career dishwasher’s nightmare, yes, but an environmentalist’s dream. 

I’m imaging a world where soft drinks come in bottles made out of, say, bird seed. 

That way you could enjoy your soda and let it either drop to the ground or chuck it at the head of any nearby New England Patriots fan. Either way, birds will swoop in and devour the debris or an NFL referee will appear out of nowhere and flag you for mistreating Tom Brady.

Make the penalty flag out of Pringles!

I mention all this because I’ve about reached the breaking point with recycling. As has my Latrobe recycling center, China and, I guess, planet Earth.

My wife and I have been avid recyclers for 25 years. We were on the ground floor of the movement.

The problem with being on the ground floor of a movement like that is that eventually the ground floor becomes full of trash.

That’s about where we’re at now. China says it no longer has a market for trash, so eventually my community recycling facility said it can no longer accept ours. I began to sense we were nearing a breaking point when it dawned on me just how much time I was spending essentially recycling air.

This wasn’t good, old air mind you. It was the crappy stuff you and I breath.

I differentiate because I remember a story in the Weekly World News — vigilant tracker of Bat Boy! — that quoted reputable scientists from South Granada Community College in the Caribbean who said we could cleanse Earth’s air by popping the tires of old cars from the 1950s to liberate the good clean air from bygone days when all was more wholesome.

Mind you, this was the same scholarly tabloid that revealed all the ocean waters are composed entirely out of old dinosaur urine.

I digress.

But I’ve lately noticed how loading my vehicle up was like Santa loading up his sleigh only I had gifts like stuff nobody really wants. Not even China. I had maybe 4-pounds of actual recyclables in big leaf disposal bag as big as Santa’s sack. I’d pour the contents into the big blue steel container, an enormous unit that must weigh nearly 20 times its flimsy cargo.

I’m one of those guys who is hyper alert to any hint of managerial inefficiency — the sole, glaring blindspot being the way I’ve pursued my entire career. 

First, every home recycler should have a spiffy kitchen trash compactor that could reduce a week’s worth of recyclables into the size of my old Speed Racer lunch box. 

Then you take your little square to the recycling center where they weigh it, you pay a small fee and they in return give you the key element to ensure the program’s success. 

They give you a great, big balloon. 

Tie it to you trash and … release! Trash disposal will never appear so scenic.

The balloons will need to go high enough that if they collide with our orbital space trash or some luckless bastards on the International Space Station the whole mess will burn up on re-entry, providing a cool light show for us gravity-bound Earthlings. 

That’ll tide us over until space travel gets so cheap we can slingshot disposable rockets full of trash straight into the sun, that great galactic incinerator.

I’d go into more detail on this and the obvious role black holes can play in trash disposal next week, but I’d be lying. That seems like a lot of work. I’ll instead just re-run this post.

What would you expect from such a committed recycler?

Related …

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Barnstorming strippers seeking Tin Lizzy gig

My brain was clouded with morning fog Monday at 6:30 a.m. when I unlocked the front door of the Tin Lizzy and gave it a little push. Only half awake, I barely noticed the business card flutter to the floor.

I picked it up and held it under the light. 

It read, “Bodies in Motion: PA’s only female traveling exotic dance company!” Beside it was a picture of a smiling young blonde with an inviting cleavage that appeared cavernous.

A tag line promised, “The most exciting show you’ll ever see!!”

There in the twilight I wondered if that could be true. The boast transported me right back to 2012. I’d taken the kids to the old Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus. That was in the Dark (but entertaining) Ages when the Greatest Show on Earth featured trained elephants.

An elephant eats up to 600 pounds of salad fixings each day. In hindsight it would have been useful to know that fact prior to show time.

Because you can train an elephant to stand on its back legs, but you can’t train it to be discreet when it comes to purging itself of that enormous colon-cleansing intake. As it happened, we were directly behind the colossus when nature called.

Talk about hindsight.

The tail shot straight up and the massive sphincter began to pucker. I glanced down at the 6 year old. She looked up at me like she was waiting for a signal we flee to higher ground. The rear of the elephant looked like it was preparing to discharge a parade of anal Volkswagens.

Then out of nowhere appeared this slight black-clad woman with a snow shovel — and what a pity for a tool that grew up complacent it would only be used to shovel snow.  But it was like she’d rappelled from the rafters. She positioned herself directly in the danger zone. 

Now, I’ve seen the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and most of the great rock bands perform. I’ve seen the Steelers in their glory years and I was there the night Mario Lemieux split the Minnesota North Stars for a Stanly Cup goal that was immortalized into the statue that today is outside the arena.

But nothing was exciting as watching this heroic woman respond to what seemed like a HazMat event sure to devastate the Tri-State area.

I encourage you to read the first link below or ask either one of my daughters to relate the story of the elephant we on the spot named “Dumpo.”

So that was the most exciting show I’d ever seen. How four or five gypsy strippers could ever compete with that, I do not know. But who am I to argue with a little business card hyperbole?

I was curious about when they’d rambled by. It had to have been Sunday evening. Coincidentally, I was in my 3rd floor office most of the morning and afternoon. Had I been here when they stopped, it’s likely this post would have a far jauntier tone and wouldn’t include any mentions of elephant poop.

I didn’t know what to do with the sexy business card. I should have given it to Buck, the owner, who might assume his tenant has given up writing to manage a troupe of itinerant strippers. In the short-term, he’d likely have greater respect for me. But a lie like that might backfire.

So I instead scoured the building for a pen with whore-red ink and wrote: “Hi Buck! It’s Brandi.” And here I drew the little pulsing heart above the “i.” Then I put, “Call me! We miss ya, Stud!” and left it where all the bar gossips could find it.

I think a distinguished gent like Buck would enjoy a little scandal, and I know the rest of us would enjoy watching him try explaining it to his wife Louise. 

I reflexively assumed just because they took their clothes off for horny strangers they were women of loose morals. But that’s unfair. 

Maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe they’re motivated by the belief that there are underprivileged pockets of Pennsylvania where men don’t have access to naked women.

This would put the dancers more in the missionary tradition, not to be confused with the missionary position. 

Or it could be the wave of the future. Brick ’n’ mortar establishments are going away. Maybe instead of going to the strip joint, having the strip joint come to you makes sense.

I could see myself giving it a shot. I mean what red-blooded American male wouldn’t want to bring the most exciting show ever into his very own living room?

I just don’t see how four or five strippers are going to fit Dumpo through the front door. 

Related …

Monday, January 7, 2019

The day the Muzak died

Shared musical interests were one of the things that first drew me to the woman I was to marry.

Joe Ely, Todd Snider, Steve Earle, Delbert McClinton — we both reveled in the alt-country music that originated in mostly Texas and Nashville.

She eventually became the paper’s country music writer providing lively interviews with luminaries like Alan Jackson and George Strait under her picture and the generic “Country Connections” header.

I found the title uninspired and lacking the appealing zing of her column. I suggested they use something more provocative, something like … 

“Fiddlin’ ‘round with Val!”

So I always pay attention when ever she makes a point about music which is what I did when she wanted to know what happened to Muzak. “You used to hear it everywhere,” she said, “then it just disappeared.”

Careless readers will be confused by that last paragraph. Note: We’re not talking  music.

We’re talking Muzak.

Music of all forms is appreciated by someone, even if it’s the cheerleader moms or clueless groupies.

Despite being heard by tens of millions of people around the world each and every day, Muzak had no fans. It had no mothers, no groupies. It was utterly unloved. 

Queens College music professor Gary Gumpert described Muzak in a 1990 interview: “It’s a kind of amniotic fluid that surrounds us; and it never startles us, it is never too loud, it is never too silent; it’s always there.”

They’d take popular mainstream music — think “Ruby Tuesday” — play it with muted stringed instruments and record it through amplifiers that must have been deadened with three feet of wet Kleenex. The result was “Ruby Tuesday” sounding as distinctive as “Yesterday Once More” played at the bottom of one of the SeaWorld whale tanks.

It was, to me, an infuriating artistic affront to a band that included all-caps listening instructions on its monumental “Let It Bleed” album: “THIS RECORD SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD.”

While bands like The Stones, The Who and The Beatles were dominating FM radio, Muzak was in control of everything else. The service reached millions of unwitting listeners — aural hostages, really — each day. It was played in countless office buildings, waiting rooms and grocery stores. On the launch of Apollo 11, Mission Control piped Muzak into the capsule on the belief it would calm the astronauts.

Yes, Muzak was our national anesthesia. 

“Muzak fills the deadly silences,” went one of the company’s own promotional slogans.

And it was played almost with out exception in elevators, thus earning the widely repeated pejorative that Muzak was “elevator music.”

What happened to Muzak?

Clearly, I needed an expert on both music and elevators. Luckily, I’m pals with a two-fer. He’s Jim Beattie. I’ve known him almost 25 years. 

Or to be precise, I knew him for two hours in 1995, lost complete track of him until August and now spend three or four nights a week getting gooned up with him right here at The Tin Lizzy.

He in 1995 was running The Gaelic Shop in Ligonier. I was at the time doing wacky features for National Enquirer. That was the year Mel Gibson, then one of the sexiest men in the world, released “Braveheart.” Enquirer editors wanted to see how regular folks would react to a commoner (me) in a kilt.

Shopkeeper Beattie gave me the kilt off his, er, back.

It was a fun day as you can see here. Lots of people wanted to know if I was wearing anything under my kilt. I was told a gentleman would not dignify the question. But I will say this: If you had a list of the five people you’d most want to moon in Westmoreland County, I got three of them.

I returned the kilt and never expected to see Jim again. And for 24 years I was correct.

Then he out of the blue last summer called to tell me he had some Arnold Palmer stories that might be good for my book (he was correct). I asked if he could meet me here at the bar. He stopped by and now it’s like he never plans on leaving. I’m fine with that.

So what was he doing the previous 24 years?

He was an Otis elevator repair man! He was all over the country ensuring Otis lifts operated safely. And he and I share the same exquisite tastes in music, primarily deep appreciation for mostly both Van Morrison and Mark Knopfler.

Certainly, my buddy could give me a good blog-ending zinger on the fecklessness of elevator music.


“It was never on when I was in the elevators,” he said. “Never heard it. If it was on I just tuned it out.”

So, alas, in the end, this blog is like Muzak itself, cloying, innocuous and utterly pointless. Utterly pointless save for this final note. The company that ran Muzak buried the service February 5, 2013.

Sorry Don McLean, but that’s the day the Muzak died.

I suggest we all commemorate the upcoming date by playing some authentic rock ’n’ roll REALLY LOUD.

Because unlike sounds that pretend to be music, true silence isn’t deadly and it often beats the alternative.

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