Friday, January 31, 2020

Tweets of the Month

Anytime I have fewer twweets than I do days of the month, I feel like I stumbled through a whole lunar cyccle with my brain switched off. Oh, well, I'll let you decide ...

• Televising CNN anchors getting all gooned up isn't entertaining unless they agree to show them waking up with skull-pounding hangovers. Now THAT'd be entertaining.

• You can play a mean bluegrass banjo or country fiddle here on earth & it won't matter one bit. Once you get to heaven, everyone's in a soul band.

• It’s a brazen betrayal of the sturdy container's very existence but most recycling bins cannot be recycled.

• I once imagined my life would include an era of depravity where I reveled in the dark cravings of the sordid flesh. Alas, the time for such wanton behavior has passed. Today, my idea of depravity is eating ice cream before lunch in a room where my wife and kids can see me.

• Many devote their lives to the pursuit of riches and power. I'm on a quest to rid my life of envy. I fear I'll always be envious of the envy-free.

• When Bloomberg says he's spending all he has "to get rid of Trump," he's talking about a long, messy campaign. He's giving Trump too much credit. I'd just make him an offer: "How much would it cost for you to resign?" I say he'd go away for $10 billion.

Just once, I'd like to be in the clinic and hear the tech declare, "I'm here to draw blood!" have her don a beret, produce an easel, scribble furiously and  proudly hand me a paper with every spot covered in crimson red.

• I sometimes wonder if heaven is like "Fantasy Island" and God is like My. Roark. Then I wonder if the mere thought is sufficiently blasphemous to prevent my soul from ever finding out.

• When you order at the drive-thru do you make eye contact with the speaker like this disembodied voice will give you better service? Me? I flirt.

• 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.

• I was deeply flattered the other day when my daughter, 19, asked me for some life advice but am self-aware enough to realize that if I was anyone else and saw her asking me for advice, I'd think, "What could she possibly hope to learn from that guy?”

• I years ago vowed I'd write 1,200 words a day. Today, I got to 751 and didn't feel like I could go on. Did I quit? I did not. I instead in the last 3 mins typed the word "to" 449 consecutive times. I'll start tomorrow by deleting those words, but now I'm going to the bar.

• For the sake of geometric diversity, I'd like to see a square dance called the Putz Around.

• As a student of history, it's my understanding that man has waged war over injustice, territory, greed, vengeance, pride, and even reasons as petty as national vanity. As a student of breakfast, I'm surprised man has never waged a war over bacon. I'd enlist.

• Quid pro quo is one thing for another. More alarming in a legal sense is eight things for another or the rare squid pro quo.

• Time for my annual Super Bowl prediction: Ready? San Francisco 62, Kansas City 51! Those aren't scores. That's my prediction for the high temperatures in each city at kickoff.

• Happy 79th Birthday Dick Cheney! I can't believe Tom Petty's dead and you're not.

A long story about the long story behind the TINARA Award-winning "Last Baby Boomer"

His name was Phil. That I’ll never forget. His last name I’ve spent more than 20 years trying to pressure wash off my cranium in case we’re one day introduced at some social event and I see fit to murder Phil with my bare hands right there beside the punch bowl.

I hear there are consequences to that sort of thing

It was Phil who gave me the most euphoric news anyone’s ever given me about my career and it was Phil who for reasons I’ll never know swiped away that good news the way a master illusionist makes a caged elephant disappear.

It was there then it was gone.

But Phil purloined something to me more precious than a pachyderm.

Phil stole my swagger.

This was 2001. I was 35. My career — and this was way back when I actually had one of those — was progressing splendidly.

I’d had a solid newspaper career, been honored with industry awards and in 1992 embarked upon a promising freelance career, one I was sure would bestow me with a treasure chest of uproarious human interest stories I could tell over and over again and again (it did just that).

I worked for many of the top magazines — Esquire, Sports Illustrated, Playboy, Men’s Health — back when that really meant something. I’d checked every box you’d need on the way to becoming an important writer, the kind studied in school, fought and fawned over by guys like Spielberg and Oprah. 

And make no mistake. Greatness was my goal. Ever since 5th grade, my ambition has been to be known as a great writer. (Today, I advise 5th graders aspiring to become great writers that for the sake of homestead serenity, they should first master the bottom-line intricacies of becoming a successful writer.)

How did I intend to achieve greatness?
I wrote “The Last Baby Boomer.”

The origins of my first novel date back to a ’96 story I read about Kathleen Casey-Kirschling. Born mere minutes after midnight Jan. 1, 1946, she was America’s first Baby Boomer and she was turning 50.

By then, I’d grown strategically conditioned to think for story purposes in terms of opposites and extremes: The biggest, the smallest; the oldest, the youngest; the most, the fewest; the first and the last.

Kathleen’s story was interesting, but it was the inverse that sparked my imagination. Who’d be the last baby boomer? And what would they do with him?

I contrived it in my mind:

“Martin J. McCrae at the age of 112 in the year 2076 will be declared the last living Baby Boomer. The distinction will earn the chatty McCrae a luxury suite at a NYC museum where contestants pay $25 each to spend 15 minutes with him as part of the ultimate ghoul pool. If they're in the room when he dies, they win the $1.2 billion jackpot. 

“It's a ‘round-the-clock global reality show where no one wins until death does.”

And here are the lines I foresaw them putting up top on all the movie posters:

“Because everyone has to die.

“But only one of us gets to die last.”

Beautiful, huh. How could it miss? I was so confident of success I didn’t trouble with small potato literary agents. No, I went right to the top.

I went to Phil.

Phil was a young hotshot at a prestigious agency. He’d snagged a six-figure movie deal for some first-time author of a trendy coming-of-age story.

Six figures for a coming of age story? I wondered how many figures he could score  for my coming-of-old-old age story.

As was the custom in those pre-whiz-bang internet days I printed out a spiffy cover letter, the first three chapters and dropped it all into a cozy envelope destined for a Manhattan skyscraper.

The call from the 212 area code came just three days later. 

It was Phil and what followed were two of my life’s most exciting minutes since the afternoon I lost my virginity. So the call was exciting for about 94 seconds longer than the romantic elations did.

“This is the best book I’ve read since Catch 22. I want you drop everything else, print out the whole thing and overnight it to me. This is a can’t-miss premise and your deadpan humor is the perfect fit. And what’s next? I want to hear all you got. Man, you’re going to be a big star!”

We said our hurried goodbyes and I returned the phone to its cradle (long time ago!). I distinctly remember my first thought being, “Should the Cadillac be black or red?”

A spiffy Cadillac would be an audacious exclamation point to overnight success.

I Fedexed the manuscript and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

In a sense, I’m still waiting because the day after Phil accepted delivery of “The Last Baby Boomer,” Phil became a ghost.

I waited three excruciating weeks before calling and asking for Phil.

“Phil’s not here.”

Where’s Phil?

“Phil left.”

Where’d he go?

“No one knows. One day he just got up and walked out. No one’s heard from him since. He even left his coat. He took just one thing.”

What was that?

“Your ‘Last Baby Boomer’ manuscript.”

I don’t know whether they blame me — why would they? — but the agency closed down eight months later.

I still wonder what happened to Phil. I like to think he was too staggered by my genius to go on, that he does one-man recitations of the book in the grottos near Cabo or that he inspires Himalayan mystics with the now-tattered pages of the book he assured was going to make me famous.

As for me, I remain mystified the book’s now-torturous journey hasn’t yet led to the kind of success Phil so long ago promised. In many ways, it’s stifled everything else I’ve tried to do. I for years stubbornly believed the novel had to be a success before people would take me seriously.

Odd, because even I don’t take myself seriously.

My desperation for recognition became was so manic I stooped to fraud to mock the industry I was intent on wooing. Yes, I began to promote the book being the recipient of the prestigious TINARA Award for Best Satire. I even graced the book’s cover with a ribbon sticker announcing the honor.

But, lo and behold, the success of my other books seems to be providing daylight for my heirloom creation. I’m each week hearing the kind of praise I heard from Phil.

The biggest and most welcome gush came from a Barnes & Noble sales clerk. I needed to buy a copy of my own book, one with an authentic bar code, to submit to a marketing firm.

As the clerk was ringing it up, she said, “Oh, everyone loves this book. Our whole staff’s read it and everyone thinks it’s hilarious. It’s a real find. We’re recommending it to everyone.”

She had no idea I’d written it. I said, “I hear it was awarded The TINARA.

“Yeah, I heard that, too!”

So I remain ever-optimistic that my first, best book will one day soon fulfill its long simmering promise and find an enormous audience, thus giving me 20 years to answer that elemental question:

Should the Cadillac be black or red?

Oh, and about that TINARA Award … 

TINARA stands for This Is Not A Real Award.

You can purchase “The Last Baby Boomer: The Story of The Ultimate Ghoul Pool” right here on amazon or at Barnes & Noble.

Or signed-TINARA editions available at Second Chapter Books at Ligonier or, as always and with all my books, right here at the fabulous Tin Lizzy

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Return this decision to sender: Palmer stamp to be unveiled in Orlando, not Latrobe

I’m painfully aware of the personal and professional consequences of using this blog — named the 32nd most influential blog for Amish readers — to ruffle the feathers of the braintrust behind one of the world’s most beloved and iconic brands.

But when a company worth in the neighborhood $700 million gracelessly stumbles over a 55-cent postage stamp then feathers must be ruffled.

The U.S.P.S. is March 4 unveiling the Arnold Palmer commemorative stamp in Orlando, home to Mickey Mouse, rather than unveiling it in Latrobe, home to, well, Arnold Palmer.

Do I blame the post office? I do not. I suspect they’re merely doing the ill-considered bidding of Orlando-based Arnold Palmer Enterprises.

I contend it diminishes the legacy of Palmer every time something is done to put space between him and the iconic place he called home. And make no mistake, Latrobe was home to Palmer, a fact that was essential to his enduring appeal.

Palmer was raised in a home that was 320 yards from the one where he was living when they took him to the Pittsburgh hospital where he died September 25, 2016. He was 87.

Think about that. A man who could have been pampered in palaces around the planet never left the defiantly proud shot & a beer steel town that raised him. Hell, he never left the same street.

I have some authority in the matter. In the 18-months since the release of my Arnold Palmer book — the one Palmer confidant Jim Nantz says is, ahem, the best book anyone’s written on Palmer — I’ve been privileged to befriend many of the most ardent Palmer fans.

Most of them are eager to play Latrobe C.C., buy some merchandise, and have a drink or two at the Tin Lizzy. Many of them remind me of my father so I love them and their soulful motivations before we’ve even met.

Like my father, they knew all about Palmer the golfer. They didn’t need to hear about which club he’d use from the 150-marker when there was a stiff wind in his kisser.

No, they wanted to hear what it was like when you ran into him in the grocery store, the barber shop, or the local tavern.

Sure, there are those kinds of stories in Orlando, pop. 1,923,000, but they’re just more concentrated — more potent — in Latrobe, pop. 7,885

In Latrobe, Palmer was a fixture; in Orlando, a tourist.

So why is the postal ceremony there, not here?

I can only speculate but part of it seems partly pure laziness. The decision makers all live there and the ceremony will coincide with the opening of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club & Lodge. It’ll wind up as a 200-word items at the bottom of some notes column; NBC will daily run a 15-second spot.

That’s lazier than even the pampered golf writers they presume to woo. Guaranteed, they’d get more compelling and colorful stories if they at random chose a dozen golf writers and flew them to Arnold Palmer Regional Airport for an overnighter and a round of golf at LCC.

 The other part — and again I’m only speculating — is that the people who run Arnold Palmer Enterprises simply don’t believe in Latrobe. I think they’d like to shed some of the fiscal burdens of running what’s been called “sentimental aspects” of the Palmer legacy.

Who does believe in Latrobe? Palmer pal Gov. Tom Ridge who told me he envisions a day when people come to Latrobe to pay homage to Palmer the way they do in Orlando with Mickey whazisname.

“People are always going to want to see the town where Arnold Palmer grew up, see his workshop, his office, his memorabilia and play the course where he learned to golf,” Ridge says.

Oh, and I can think of one other guy who believed in Latrobe. Many of Palmer's most iconic marketing campaigns hearkened back to ol’ Latrobe.

What this town has to offer are assets, not burdens. To think otherwise is short-sighted. 

I apologize for once again ruffling feathers, but when top decision makers keep on acting like turkeys then a few feathers are bound to be ruffled.

Related Feather Rufflers …

Thursday, January 16, 2020

In the ring: fighting Parkinson's with boxing

I became a personal pacifist in 5th grade a split second after my right fist caved in the face of Mark Duncan on the front steps at Julia Ward Howe Elementary School.

So at the age of 13 with blood on my knuckles, I’d renounced violence in front of a building named for the composer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a song that exalts the Lordly unleashing of His terrible swift sword.

Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!

Mark had the day before spit in my face for reasons I still do not know.

We were in 5th grade so it wasn’t like he’d busted me for hitting on his wife.

That didn’t happen ’til, oh, 6th grade with Mr. Apple, suspiciously alert husband of  Mrs. Apple, my 6th grade teacher.

I just recall a righteous fury as I wiped his hot spit from my befuddled face. In that instant and years before I’d ever watched a single episode of “Mannix,” I fully understood the concept of justifiable homicide. 

It’s a pity I became a pacifist because, clearly, I could have been a world champion pugilist and I hear there’s good scratch in that.

His head snapped back — hell, it nearly snapped off. I thought I’d killed him. I felt oddly apologetic. We never spoke again. If he saw me coming, he’d duck behind locker. I fear my punch severely deformed his psychological composition. On the other hand he probably learned spitting in someone’s face is an unwise tactic when it comes to interpersonal problem solving.

I mention all this now because after 44 years, I’m training for a fight against a foe more consequential than that childhood slobber slinger

I’m fighting Parkinson’s Disease. And I’m kicking its ass!

Uh, not really. See, I gotta be honest. I knew writing that obligatory rah-rah sentence would feel phony.

You don’t beat Parkinson’s. You either come to some sort of accommodation or you surrender to it. To me, it’s like being in one of those old movies where the lawman and the escapee are shackled and on the run for reasons that take about 90 minutes to resolve. 

Doctors describe my status as “slow progressing/high functioning.”

(In fact, I saw my PCP yesterday after I’d started this and he declared I’m in otherwise excellent health. If only …)

I have a noticeable limp and watching me put on a jacket is like watching Houdini trying to escape from one. My left arm is basically useless. It just hangs there like salami in a deli window. I type one-handed with the same hand I once used to devastate a 5th grader spitter. 

They say exercise is a key to slowing symptoms. So, I work out at Planet Fitness about four times a week, but I find terribly boring. Perhaps I should set a goal of looking decent in a Speedo by spring, but that kind of vanity exercise would lead to too many drastic lifestyle changes and I’d miss my Tin Lizzy time spent keeping my body all soft and cuddly.

But experts say one of the best ways to fight symptom progression is to put on boxing gloves and get in the ring. One headline: “Punching Out Parkinson’s Symptoms: How Boxing Helps.”  The story says boxing helps Parkinson’s patients maintain higher levels of function and quality of life than those who engaged in other forms of exercise.

So for three months now I’ve been going once-a-week to Ground Zero martial arts academy on Latrobe’s Main Street. I like owner instructor Jeremy Kosicek in that he’ll spend 30 minutes teaching me how to fight and then spend the next 30 minutes philosophizing with me about the folly of living in a world where so many people are so eager to fight.

I’m very fond of him and thus feel sheepish about my eagerness to corrupt his admirably healthy lifestyle in favor of sitting, boozing and BSing with me in dark taverns, which remains my favorite pastime.

My sessions involve shadow boxing, footwork, balance, rhythm and hitting the heavy bags. It’s very invigorating.

He tells me I’m a natural and that he’ll soon have me ready to pound the crap out any surly assailant.

But it is an ego boost to hear I’m becoming skillful at the most manly of arts.

And the opponent I’d most like to clobber is the one that resides inside my own head. It is patient. Time is on its side. It will win.

It’s up to me to make the most of my time until the final rounds.

You should, of course, be doing the same.

Related …

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Contemplating crime while waiting to say goodbye to our friend Dave at the funeral home

I don’t know what it is about small town funerals that often leads me to think of committing crimes.

Happened yesterday at the visitation for our friend Dave Planinsek, 63. When someone like Dave dies — and there aren’t many like Dave — everyone stops what they’re doing and heads over to pay their respects. 

People stand in line for hours and think about what to say, how to comfort the family and if it’s too soon to call dibs on that fishing rod Dave’ll no longer be needing.

And while they’re thinking these mostly altruistic thoughts, I’m standing there thinking, “Man, now would be a dandy time to stick-up the bank.”

A bank heist would be a cinch when someone like Dave expires in a town like Latrobe. Everyone in town was there to mourn Dave so the rest of town was wide open.

I imagine me running into the empty bank, demanding money, and having the lone teller toss me the keys and saying, “Here you go. Lock up when you’re done,” as she runs out the door in the vain hopes of securing convenient parking.

Of course, there was no convenient parking at Dave’s visitation, thus fulfilling Use All The Crayons! colorful living tip no. 42:

Try and do something each and every day that’ll ensure parking at your funeral will be a real bitch.”

That’s how Dave lived. A retired agent with the state Department of Environmental Protection Agency, he and his wife Cindy are renown for hosting a spring fishing derby on their sylvan property. 

I’d see him every couple days at The Tin Lizzy and was always pleased when he’d sit next to me. The conversation was always insightful, interesting and always circled back to having fun. He’s the only guy I know who could talk for 30 minutes about wild mushrooms native to the Chestnut Ridge and be enlightening instead of excruciating.

Another great thing about Dave: I have no idea about his political leanings. 

If he was a Trump fan, I don’t recall him beating me over the head about it. Likewise, I don’t remember him pulling out a rainbow wig and sashaying around the bar when Megan Rapinoe scored for either the US of A or the LBGQ of T or whatever. 

I do know this: he was a law-and-order guy.

He loved his family, country, the outdoors and people who rolled up their sleeves and worked hard to better his community. 

He was contemptuous of those who felt entitled, those who cut corners, those who felt the rules didn’t apply to them.

So on the day we said goodbye to Dave, Dave would have disdained me.

Because I did something worse than rob a bank.

I cut the line at the funeral home.

I know. It’s the kind of brazen act that could lead to a horizontal sort of visit to that very funeral home.

But the line was so, so, long and the smiling stranger had run out of flattering things to say to me. She’d overheard me talking to some friends and pieced together I’d written the Arnold Palmer book.

“It’s the best book I’ve ever read,” she said with sweet sincerity. I love to hear things like that and am always happy my wife’s not around to logically ask how many books she’s read, if that includes the Bible, and if I’d paid her to say the heresy out loud.

But the line wasn’t moving and the conversation lapsed. Plus, I had to pick up my daughter at the middle school. I’d stood in line for an hour and still had at least another 30 minutes to get to Dave and his grieving family.

I told my friend and he offered an illicit suggestion: Cheat.

“Just skip through that door, down the hall and into the main room.”

He said I could get essential family credit, by just popping in the casket room, signing the book and being seen by the family. From across the room, I could offer a reassuring smile and a solemn nod that says, “I’m here. It’s gonna be okay. Everything’s gonna be fine. Did I mention, ‘I’m here?’”

So what did I do?

What do you think. I took the easy way out! Because t
he easy way isn’t always the right way, but it’s always easy and sometimes that’s all right.

I feel bad I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to a good, kind man whose manner and ethic brightened so many of our lives.

But to be honest I don’t feel that bad.

I’ll instead treasure all those hellos.

Related …