Thursday, February 28, 2019
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• Just because I think it would be super fun to mess with 'em, I'm thinking of sending the SuperMax warden a sexy Rita Hayworth poster and asking him to give it to El Chapo.
• On this chilly winter day I just saw a man at the bus stop wearing nothing but a musical bellows. He was dressed accordioningly.
• The American Flag: Three colors, countless threads.
• Huge faux pas with a friend I hadn't seen in years. Asked when the baby was due. So embarrassing. Not sure Burt'll ever speak to me again.
• What would happen to the criminal justice system if it was declared that from now on a "jury of our peers" was comprised entirely of the cheerful lunatics drawn from "The Price Is Right" studio audience?
• I’m going to name our next dog "Gusto" so I can spend my days lounging on my couch drinking beer and still contend I'm living with Gusto.
• My daughter, HS senior, is assigned a story on the best person in history. She asked my opinion. I told her Jesus Christ and August Anheuser Busch Sr. were too obvious. Best person in history? Jonas Salk.
• I hate it when my foot falls asleep and the stubborn rest of me refuses to take the hint.
• I sometimes wish I lived during an era when violence was still quaint and one man rattling one saber was alarming enough to become a catch phrase: "Beware: Burt's out saber-rattling again." Today Burt probably owns 30 AR-15s.
• It’s a pity to live in a time when as climate change warning bells toll their doom more people believe in science fiction than in science fact.
• There are evident novelty advantages to riding a magic carpet, but until they provide some necessary lumbar support the concept will always be flawed.
• We live in a time when being right or being wrong matters less than always having someone to blame when it all goes to hell.
• I don't believe it should be in anyway disqualifying but is it a problem when it's impossible to envision any of the candidates said to be throwing their hats in the ring ever even once wearing a hat?
• Many of the people who are opposed to building physical walls along the Mexican border are more than happy to construct truly ugly mental ones between themselves and the neighbors they see every day.
• The self-loathing true conservatives feel at supporting Trump must be akin to what dying vegetarians feel when they realize they’re about to turn zombie.
• Who wants to bet that once/if we get to heaven, one of the most popular rec spots is a combo zoo/waterpark run by the Biblical Noah?
• Time, it is said with admiring wonder, can heal all wounds, a statement that seems to bestow time with god-like powers. Oh, yeah? I'd like to see time fix a busted watch.
• My wife is an editor. I am a writer. When I asked her to turn my comma into an exclamation point, she corrected me.
• I vow profound new respect for Robert Kraft, 77, if the prostitute he hired turns out to be his same age and police reports reveal they were listening to Glenn Miller records while they were doing it.
• With your typical polygamist, it's the more the marry-her.
• Momentarily wondered if Don Cheadle was nominated or had won before realizing my folly. Cheadles never win.
• The best prosthetic salesmen and women are blessed with disarming personalities.
• Many men experience what is known as a mid-life crisis at about age 50. Math question: In heaven our souls are supposed to live for eternity. If there's such a thing as a mid-Afterlife crisis, when would it strike?
• I’ve never once heard someone say, "I'm not a racist, but ..." without following up with something unbelievably racist. It would be like me saying, "Now, I'm not lazy ..." and immediately taking a nap.
Related … (Does anyone read these?)
Monday, February 25, 2019
I think one of the most surprising aspects of my life to many of my friends is that I never became what the propaganda films used to call a “dope fiend.”
I don’t do drugs. Never snorted coke, tried LSD or was tempted to stick a needle in a vein.
And I rarely smoke pot. I’ve never even gotten high.
I’ve tried many, many times, but my efforts usually come to an inglorious end when I break down into a coughing fit — red eyes watering, nose running, errant spit sailing from my lips — a literal buzz kill to gaze upon.
I’ve never understood it. I smoke and enjoy robust cigars, but marijuana smoke has always made me gag.
I think maybe it’s God’s way of telling me I don’t need to add to my already ample roster of self-indulgent vices. Or maybe He needs at least one living, breathing example of what I audaciously believe I am becoming:
The last happy drug-free man in America.
I’m thinking of all this because I’ve been invited to do a brief commencement address June 6 for an area high school for troubled youth. And let’s be honest: all youth today — at least the aware ones — are in some way troubled. These are very troubling times.
I laughed when I heard Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin declare based on an increasing number of snow days our kids are getting soft.
Soft? I wish it wasn’t so but we’re raising a generation of battle-hardened warriors. Since Sandy Hook in 2012, 438 innocents have been shot in American schools.
We give our graduates diplomas. Hell, we ought to give ‘em combat medals.
Stopping drugs from coming over the border, we’re told, is one of the key reasons we need to build the wall. Because drugs are deadly. Drugs are bad.
To me, the argument means wall-advocating capitalists have forgotten a key element of basic capitalism and that is …
Americans love drugs!
Trump wants to keep drugs out of the country while many of us, including those who support him, want to keep drugs in a convenient place in case the day needs a little pharmaceutical softening.
You could build a great, big beautiful wall clear up to the jet stream and, guaranteed, people will still crave drugs and die for the high.
Because, yes, drugs are bad, but so is disappointment, loneliness and the death of hope.
I can only guess there’s no real money to be made in finding ways to make people not need drugs, as opposed to depriving them of drugs.
So who’s to blame?
High school commencement speakers!
They urge graduates to strive, to achieve, to succeed.
A test: Ask any nearby youth what he or she wants to be when they grow up. They want to grow up to be doctors, attorneys, engineers, etc.
Guaranteed, not one of them will say when they grow up they want to be happy.
Author/philosopher Robert Louis Stevenson said, “There is no duty we so underrate as our duty to be happy.”
Being happy is just not part of our national mindset, certainly not the priority that becoming affluent (good) or obscenely rich (better) is.
Striving to be Type A is in our DNA. It sets our children up for disappointment, feelings of failure and for some a narcotic escape.
I intend to share my bedrock belief that being happy isn’t as important as always trying to be happy. Happiness can be snatched away. Always trying makes happy a habit.
And, yes, that line is No. 516 in my “Crayons!” deluxe book which I’ll be so heavily referencing many of the graduates will confuse my commencement address for an authorial infomercial.
What can I say? Selling my books to a captive audience makes me very happy.
I’m sure many of you think I’m hoping my talk will go so well I’ll be besieged with offers to speak at other schools.
No, my hope is that a prestigious school district hears about my message and by unanimous acclaim makes me their 9-to-5 superintendent.
I’ll promote a program that teaches our children that you don’t have to pursue some Type A occupation to be happy.
You can be like me, an, oh, about a Type M person — that is Type M when he’s between afternoon naps.
We don’t need yet another generation of youth aspiring to grow up to be attorneys, doctors, politicians, etc.
We need young men and women to aspire to be happy, and to understand that being happy shouldn’t be considered an occupational fluke.
It should be considered an obligation.
Wednesday, February 20, 2019
One of the most glaring contradictions of my life is how in no way do I consider myself a homophobe, but would watch every single one of my male friends die before I’d resort to mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
It would just be so everlastingly awkward and I would much rather do nothing and end their lives than do something and end our friendship.
I was thinking of this yesterday as Val and I were enjoying Robert Redford in “An Old Man With a Gun,” which we both recommend, as do a consensus 92 percent of Rotten Tomato movie critics.
Redford is on screen for almost the entire film and the whole time he is I’m thinking of how if I’m ever in a room with Redford and he fell over clutching his heart I’m thinking I actually might demand, “Quick! Someone bring me some Binaca!”
The movie starts with a mirrored close-up of the 82-year-old Redford looking about 182. The weathered face has deep crevasses, age spots and all the ravages of grim longevity. It ain’t pretty. I suspect the director did this to startle us into forgetting just how handsome the star is so we can accept him as an everyday bank robber.
As a filmmaking technique, it’s an utter failure because when the camera pulls back we see it’s that familiar gorgeous face and think, ahhh, it’s Robert Redford. We can if we choose watch the rest of the movie with the sound down so it won’t distract us from the visual splendor.
If I’m in a bank and that old man with a gun walks in and says, “This is a robbery!” I don’t just give him my money.
I’d also give him my wife!
I know in these divisive times some of you despise Redford because of the liberal causes he promotes. I’d urge you to set aside the partisan pettiness. You shouldn’t let opposing politics interfere with your critical enjoyment of anyone’s art.
I’d never let Scott Baio’s MAGA ardor prevent me from watching old “Joanie Loves Chachi!” reruns, which I intend to do the instant every single other form of visual, aural or tactile entertainment simultaneously disappears from the planet.
Redford was great in “The Way We Were,” “The Natural,” “All The President’s Men,” and “The Great Waldo Pepper.”
And we love the rather obscure “Sneakers,” the 1992 caper about national security computer hackers.
One of his best is the one where it’s just him and he says just one word and — hallelujah — that word is the f-bomb. It’s the Oscar-nominated “All Is Lost,” from 2013.
Redford isn’t even my favorite actor. That would be Paul Newman, peerless if for no other reason than he starred in “Cool Hand Luke,” my very favorite movie of all-time.
Of course, Newman and Redford were best friends and together starred in two of my other top favorites “The Sting,” and “Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid,” the latter being the namesake inspiration for the Sundance Film Festival, an event that’s led some to declare Redford the “Godfather of the Indie film.”
Redford and Newman shared a love for practical jokes, the most elaborate involving a junked Porsche sports car that Redford had delivered to race fan Newman’s driveway . It was wrapped in a frilly blue ribbon. Without ever acknowledging the joke, Newman had the car crushed and returned to Redford but cunningly had it placed — frilly blue ribbon and all — in the pristine center of Redford’s living room.
Likewise, Redford pretended it never happened.
He’s announced that “An Old Man With A Gun” is his last acting role, news that disappoints me on many levels, not the least being my bucket-list ambition to direct him to in one scene take the wheel of a sporty crimson Mustang just so I could say I was the guy who finally filmed a scene of a man named Redford driving a red Ford.
So, yes, I love Redford and I’ll one day shed a tear at his passing and our collective loss of so much grace, charm and pure human beauty.
And if that passing were to happen as a result of my refusing to bestow the kiss of life?
So be it.
I’m suffering from a persistent sore throat and I wouldn’t want to risk spreading my germs to a man I so admire.
Monday, February 18, 2019
I walked into the gym and alertly, as is my custom, surveilled the occupants. The first thing I do in every room is threat assessment: who in here could kick my ass and who would I easily dominate if things went sideways?
Sadly, I judged it about 50-50.
I learned the threat assessment custom from a retired army colonel who said, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone in the room.” I’ve since heard it attributed to former Sec. of Defense James Mattis, which always made me wonder what was going through Mattis’s mind when he was looking at the president while Trump bragged he knew “more than the generals.”
Of course, I’m not killing anyone.
I’m so non-violent I think twice about telling jokes that have what are called “punch” lines. I make Gandhi look like professional wrestling promoter Vince McMahon.
But the recon has served me well. It helps me separate the friendlies from the potential hostiles and deal with each accordingly.
As I’ve aged and softened I’ve become alarmed at how the odds have been evening out and show no signs of reverting in my dominant favor. I used to average about 80-20. So my first 50-50 was a wake-up call.
It was disturbing, yes, but that wasn’t the worst if it.
No, the worst was the potential threats were all 7th graders.
Seventh grade girls!
Seventh grade girls!
Our darling Lucy and her Greater Latrobe volleyball teammates — Bump! Set! Spike! — were preparing for a match.
By the way, Mattis would declare Lucy, her sister and their mother my primary threats. The dog hates me, too. Each has ample motive and access so, yes, I sleep with one eye open.
I’m convinced if the stupid dog had even one opposable thumb I’d have been murdered in my sleep years ago — and, guaranteed, none of my loved ones would testify against the dog.
But kids today, especially those who pursue athletics, are a marvel. With proper leadership, I think Greater Latrobe’s 7th grade girls volleyball team could with a little “Bump! Set! Spike!” modification rival SEAL Team 6 in heroic accomplishment.
I’ve read that in the past 150 years, our average height has increased by 4 inches.
So the human race is getting bigger.
I’ve seen no studies that indicate the human race is getting any smarter.
Still, the added height makes for compelling 7th grade girls volleyball. The games are very entertaining.
But it’s always been that way for me and girls volleyball.
It was my senior year at Ohio University when I walked into the offices of the school paper and said I wanted to be a writer.
One of the sarcastic assholes who ran things asked, “Do you want to write sports?”
I hadn’t thought of it, but I said, sure.
“How would you like to cover the Lady Bobcats volleyball team?”
Why not, I said.
What do I remember most about my first season on the volleyball beat?
The games were exciting, the Bobcats lost most of them, and I was often distracted from my duties by lusty thoughts of what it would be like to sleep with some of the players I was assigned to cover.
I’ve since talked with Hall of Fame sportswriter Ed Bouchette about the phenomenon and he said he never shared similar romantic yearnings.
Ed covers the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But these Bobcats were so pretty, so athletic and several of them were so very, very tall — I remember one was 6’5” — it appealed to the randy adventurer in me. And I think I could have made it happen and I would have but one thing was holding me back. It was …
In hindsight, it’s hilarious. But I’d taken an ethics class that instructed it would have been improper for me to sleep with a subject. I was such an idiot. It wasn’t like I was covering someone on the school board of regents.
We’re talking about a young sportswriter and a volleyball player. Ethically, it might have been different had it been the Lady Bobcats coach.
But there’d never been any kind of spark between Burt and I.
My favorite part of the story is how I, this young man tortured by dainty ethics, would wind up becoming a stalwart contributor of over 1,000 stories to National Enquirer.
Safe to say they won’t be naming any journalism buildings after me any time soon.
The example just shows how going back to the very start of my so-called career I’ve made bone-headed decisions that derailed my chances for certain life enhancements.
I should do a threat assessment next time I look in the mirror.
Friday, February 15, 2019
It’s been one year and one day since a brusque tech with no time for blow-softening small talk told me test results indicated I have Parkinson’s Disease and that there is no cure.
I asked what I could expect next.
“Well,” she said, “are you still capable of feeding yourself?”
I told her I’d heroically downed a donut for breakfast but some of the pink Valentine sprinkles fell into my lap. Was it time to summon hospice angels?
That was a low.
The highs? I’ve been the welcoming recipient of numberless hugs, prayers and more than a few offers for free bucket-list fun.
One buddy wants to take me to Scotland to carouse. Another well-heeled gent wants me to pick my itinerary of the top three golf courses I’ve always dreamed of playing. And an old friend with a deep expense account and casual ethics about how it’s disbursed thinks we should roll the dice in Las Vegas.
He knows a houseful of showgirls!
Lesson: people are extra nice to you when they’re convinced you’re not going to be around to be such a pain in the ass much longer.
Given this outpouring of concern and lush largess I’ve struggled to find a logical reason to to tell people, sorry, I’m not dying.
Not yet. I hope.
Oh, and today is my 56th birthday.
Part of me worries that if I tell people I could be around another 15 to 20 years they’ll be disappointed. And I’m sorry to disappoint people by persisting to exist.
Don’t you hate when that happens?
It appears, alas, that may be my fate.
“The great misconception about Parkinson’s,” one doctor told me, “is when you tell people you have it they think it means you’re going to die and you’re going to die soon. It’s the best incurable disease you could wish to get.”
And isn’t that a perfectly charming way to convey bad news?
People ask me how I’m feeling.
“I feel like I’m living life perched atop a trapdoor with a rusty hinge.”
The docs say that’s a poor analogy. I say they’re wrong. It’s a wonderful analogy.
It’s just not in my situation an apt one.
Any downturn in my condition won’t be as dramatic as disappearing through the floor. It’ll be gradual.
My doctors say my PD is slow progressing and that I’m high functioning. That’s good. The worst part for me is the virtual uselessness of my left hand when it comes to typing.
It’s a detriment to productivity — as if I need yet another one of those.
Along those lines, some people have asked if I’m going to stop drinking alcohol.
I should note that none of these people tend bar at the Tin Lizzy where they spend their entire shifts ensuring the inebriation of me and my drunken friends, the ones who’d never dream of asking silly questions about my drinking.
In fact, I don’t drink near as much as you think — or as much I’d like — but lively saloons have been my native habitat since, gee, about the 4th grade.
I excuse this habit because I tend to be a gregarious person toiling in a very solitary endeavor. Solitary that is if you don’t count the 1,000 ceaseless voices raging in my head. At the end of a long day (usually about 2 p.m.) it enriches my soul to stop working and go out to be amongst the folks.
And the left hand doesn’t mind pitching in when it comes to raising a glass so I count it as part of my physical therapy!
Some PT sessions did wonders for my attitude. My enthusiastic therapist says I’m in a great position to keep symptoms at bay for many years. She said my eagerness to exercise will play a pivotal role in ensuring I will have many quality days in the years ahead.
My goal is to exercise with such fervor that years from now many of you will seethe with suspicion that I faked the whole diagnosis just to get hugs, attention and free golf.
And that one of you will be so incensed you’ll shoot me to death in my sleep, a much tidier demise than ones I’ve darkly envisioned during low points of the past year.
What can I say? You have your bucket list. I have my kick-the-bucket list.
And I hope I am deserving of any kindness you extend to me as I continue to lurch bewildered through what’s left of this sweet life. I will be happy to reciprocate.
Because I intend to live for as long as I’m not dying.