Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Tweets of the New Year!


I’d like to grant doctors the power to evaluate patients so that we’d hear more diagnoses like: “Well, the good news is the  operation was a success. You’re going to be fine. The bad news is unless you cut back on the volume and partisan stridency of all your non-stop political talk, everyone’s gonna think you’re still an asshole.”

• Teen daughter expressed irritation that I’d repeated myself by asking yet again if she had any homework. I told her not to be too harsh. Every parent asks pointless questions hoping they'll lead to a gusher of other revelations about her dreams, her loves and heartaches. I’m hoping that innocuous question will lead to her knowing she has a father who truly loves her and if he’s being honest really just doesn’t give a shit whether she has homework or not.

• I understand it's not the sort of behavior anyone should be encouraging, but there is something so compelling about the drunken, shirtless NFL fan in freezing weather I find incredibly riveting. There has to be a way to factor their idiocy into game outcome. But should team should be penalized or rewarded for inspiring such cheerful self-destruction?

• I've always enjoyed the Hall & Oates version of "You've Lost that Lovin' Feelin'," but lately and in light of their creative and financial estrangement, hearing it makes me uncomfortable. I just imagine them singing, not to the pop audience, but soulfully to one another. I just hope those kids can work it all out.

• What kind of multiple spiritual crises must a seeker endure to become a Born-Again Atheist?

• It's never led me to riches or anything remotely like traditional success, but I like the way my brain works. I especially like it when it takes the time to inform the rest of me that it's worked hard enough and it's time to get its ass atop the nearest barstool. Like right about ... Now!

• As I don't foresee us bridging our political divides, I ask that you join me in finding consensus that if the aliens show up and demand, "Take me to your leader," we just trash protocol and take them straight to this guy … (Mick Jagger)

• We live in a age where many of the people who declare themselves perfectionists often misspell the word.

• It's something the historians never discuss, but can you imagine the social upheaval when the first caveman installed the first cave door. Boy, the neighbors must've been abuzz. "Did you get a load of what the Groks did? The fancies put a door on their cave. Now if you want to see them you have to knock or ring the door bell that came with it." But the very next day, everyone had to have a  door. From Dire Straits (Telegraph Road): "Then came the churches, then came the schools. Then came the lawyers. Then came the rules." Imagine a world without doors.

• Is it "kit and caboodle" or "kitten caboodle?" Kit and caboodle makes more sense because it means the whole thing. But what the hell is a caboodle? It's not an Etsy category. I wonder if caboodle is what falls off and rolls away when a male kitten hits cat puberty.

• Check out my new feet! Surgery went fine. Pain-inducing hardware from a botched ’21 operation was removed. And the cosmetic enhancement I sought was addressed and I now have the dainty tootsies of a teenage foot model. An African-American teenage foot model. Yes, it’ll be jarring if you ever see me at the beach, but I saw the African-American option on the menu and just couldn’t resist impulsively checking the box.

• It’d be interesting to time travel back to the Stone ages and interview the first gay cave man. When did it occur to him he was interested in other cave men? How did he let the other cave men know? And were there prejudicial discriminations? Then it’d be fun to talk to the second gay cave man and learn how the whole thing was explained to him, what kind of questions did he ask, and if he ever explained the whole thing to his cave wife.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Tin Lizzy now has a free pool table!


(1237 words)

Nobody asked me and I’m not sure what I would’ve said, but they went and put a snazzy pool table in the 3rd floor rec room in the Tin Lizzy. It’s just 15 steps from the desk where I spend so much time trying to concentrate so I can maybe earn a living.

Its pull on my attention is strong and I confess I spend at least an hour a day trying to sharpen my game.

I’m consumed by a drive to get good.

How good? 

As good as I was in 1990 when I was a participant in one of the most dramatic pool games in Westmoreland County history.

The fact that I can’t name a single other game of any importance does not diminish the boast.

Paul and I were beat reporters in the Latrobe bureau office for the Tribune-Review, a scrappy paper that continues to thrive in a  market that’s devastating the entire industry.

The endurance hints at wise decision makers among Trib leadership.

There was zero evidence of any such wisdom 33 years ago when someone had the bright idea of moving me in to work with Paul. Two more like-minded journalists were never paired. We were like Woodward and Bernstein except instead of grave constitutional matters we were laser focused on pretty bar maids,  agreeable company and Latrobe bars casual about LCB regs involving Happy Hour drink specials.

Conveniently, our shabby little office was practically right next door to a lively neighborhood tavern.

How close?

If the doors to both the office and the bar — B.C. Kenlys —were open we could hear the office phone ring from our barstools.

So the two of us spent entire days in that bar drinking, joking … and shooting pool.

We both became very competent. In fact, it could be argued we were much better at billiards than we were at covering things like school boards, warehouse fires, etc.

So we didn’t see it coming when one of the bosses left the following message on the old answering machine.

“Mrs. Kent, an English teacher at Ligonier Valley High School ,has asked us to send a reporter up to talk to seniors about a career in journalism. So you guys decide who it’s gonna be and get back to Mrs Kent.”

Neither of us wanted anything to do with it so we needed to find a way to determine the loser.

A coin flip just wouldn’t do and pistols at 20 paces, while debonaire, would have put the bar out of business and neither of of us wanted that on our conscience.

The obvious solution was in the back of the bar under tight green felt.

But this was too big a deal to conduct at our local hangout. We needed a regulation table, professional lighting and a real swinging jukebox. We needed an old style watering hole.

We needed Bull’s Tavern. It was a great Ligonier bar run by a legendary family. I’m delighted to share honest flattery because the bar was owned by the father of our friend, Tom Turnbull, who reads blogs like this without prompting. 

Thank you, Tom, for reading — and for being an historic link to one of my favorite bars.

It was such a perfect setting for a high stakes, best-of-seven, match, I remember being surprised ESPN hadn’t assigned a crew.

Upon entry, I detected mass indifference in our competition. There were maybe a dozen people in the bar. 

I won game one with a nifty bank shot on the 8 ball. I didn’t gloat or preen. A few if the regulars noted my even-tempered reaction. Paul’s reaction to the loss meant he was all business.

Screw those future journalists!

Splitting the next two games put me up 2-1.

By now there were about 20 customers in the bar and whenever anyone came in laughing, the old timers laid down the law by shhhing them. We’d each earned our own little bands of partisans.

Paul had a chance to even the tally with an end-to-end roll that would have been nervy even in pressure-free situations.

“That’s a lot of green, Mr. Gardner,” I said. By now, we realized we’d become more than two guys shooting pool. We were performers. The crowd, now well over two dozen, was fully engaged. Without acknowledging it to each other, we realized we were putting on a show.

It was impressive because by then we’d both consumed about four or five tequila shooters.

Bull’s customers kept fueling us with shots, sometimes in true appreciation, sometimes in the hopes it would make us unstable and prone to miss. By then there were many wagers, including a flurry of fins that Paul would miss the 9-footer.

He made it. We were tied 2-2.

And he won game 5. For me, it was do-or-die.

In May of 2000, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers played a hockey game that was not decided until the 5th overtime, one of the longest games in history. It made headlines around the continent with writers asking readers to imagine the pressure, the exhaustion. Can anyone empathize with  what these players were going through?

Paul and I could. We’d played game 6 at Bull’s back in ’90.

I have since been in the delivery room for the birth of my two daughters. Those procedures were fraught with consequence, emotions and life-and-death outcomes.

Game 6 had prepared me for the drama like nothing else ever could.

I swear, each of us had credible chances to win. But the game was destined to go on. 

And on 

I finally won on a crazy bank shot that drew cheers so loud I thought the chimney on the old stone fireplace was going to topple.

Game 7 was oddly flat. I think we’d put so much into Game 6 we had nothing left. Paul won. I'd be speaking to the kids.

It was the greatest competition in which I’d ever been involved and Paul a most worthy winner.

We stuck around another hour or so to shake hands and get road sober enough for the drive back to Latrobe.

I’ll never forget emerging from Bull’s and looking across the parking lot to where a banged up tractor trailer lay on its side. Paul and I surveilled it and said something like, “There’s something you don’t see every day,” and moved on.

As was our custom, we went first to the office to check the answering machine. On a day when there should have been 3 or 4 calls, there were 12.

The first was from our editor and it was frantic.

“Paul! Chris! There’s a report of a runaway tractor-trailer overturned by Bull’s Tavern. We need you guys there right away!”

The urgency was evident the next two messages, but with each new message it began to dwindle. I remember one of the last ones was the plaintive editor crying out, “Helloooo! Helllooooo! Is there anybody there?”

The last message was full surrender.

“Uh, Paul, Chris, just forget about that thing in Ligonier. We sent the intern.”

To summarize, Paul and I spent a day in the bar battling to see who would not have to go to a local school to extol the virtues of newspaper writing, and while we were doing this we nearly got creamed by actual breaking news that neither of us recognized as having even the least news value.

So stop by the Tin Lizzy. The pool is free.

And if you’re at all interested, I’ll be happy to tell you what I told those aspiring journalists. And that's that sometimes the best stories happen away from the most commotion.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

State trooper pulls me over -- in my driveway!

 I saw one head peeking out the window — and it was just a quick peek, like if it had lingered for too long it might have drawn gun fire.

A Pennsylvania state trooper had pulled over a dilapidated vehicle with a shifty looking motorist and it was all going down in our driveway.

This was convenient for me ‘cause it was my car and I was the suspect.

Home, sweet home!

Frankly, I was delighted. He left the light extravaganza flashing, thus ensuring my family was crowded around the window to see if Daddy was going to get taken into custody right out where all the nebby neighbors could gawk.

I wondered what was going through the neighbors’ minds. What was my crime? Porn kingpin? Narcotics? Smart money was on me finally getting up the nerve to knock off a bank.

In fact, he’d pulled me over for driving with expired inspection and registration tags.

He was back to his cruiser and was doing whatever they do for those next 5 or so minutes. I was hoping he was discovering my new “Use All The Crayons!” podcast!

Finally, he returned and asked why I was ignoring so many regulations.

“I’m in a tough time right now and need to prioritize. I don’t need the car for much so I just let it go.”

What he said next surprised me. He offered to help.

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

I was truly touched by his unexpected gesture. I thanked him and told him I anticipated better days were ahead. I told him I’d been waiting for a gusher of good news ever since I chucked it all to become a writer in 1992.

He informed me 1992 was the year he was born.

Then it became like we were auditioning for one of those 90’s oddball buddy-buddy cop comedies, like “Midnight Run,” one of my favorites starring Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin.

We had a couple more minutes of friendly chat and he said, “I’m going to write you up for these violations and here’s what I want you to do. Get them all taken care of and then plead not guilty.”

He said there’d be a hearing and he’d re-check the car and if all was in order, he’d withdraw the $292 fines.

He wished me good luck and again asked if there was anything else he could do to ease my situation.

It seemed like a real longshot, but I thought what the hell. I asked if he’d come in the house and tell my family he was going to take me to jail.

Now I don’t know whether it was a slow day or if he just needed to indulge a puckish sense of humor, but right away he said, “I’ll shake ‘em down for bail money!”

Already on pins and needles, the girls shrunk deeper into the cushions when I entered with my grim escort looming behind. His face glared with disdain.

It was a look mirrored on the faces of my loved ones. Whatever was going to happen, I was to blame for interrupting their Saturday morning programs.

I realized it was a scene rich in irony. I was simultaneously appearing to be the most and the least wanted man in Latrobe, right there in my own home.

The trooper growled, “We’ve got some real problems here and unless you three can come up with $10,000 bail in two minutes, you’re not going to see daddy for a couple of months."

Had the scenario been factual, I’m convinced they would have said “See-ya!” to me and not even discussed the matter until the credits rolled.

But the trooper and I cracked. We’d both enjoyed our little prank.

My family by some means of anti-daddy osmosis unanimously decided, no, inviting an armed stranger — an authority figure — into our living room with threats to tear our family asunder was NOT funny.

They’re wrong.

It was hysterical.

What can I say? They don’t much like “Midnight Run” either.