"Use All The Crayons!" newsletter No. 3

RIP bartender/friend Zack Starrett, 33

Today’s edition: RIP Zack Starrett, 33, and the reason for the tears we shed over those we love. Plus Lee Trevino on Arnold Palmer’s charisma; the town saved by the giant ball of twine; new crayon tips and fashion folly

Colorful Living Tip of the day (I) …

308 Enjoy a Chinese dinner with someone special. Spend a quiet part of the meal composing personal fortune cookie notes for each other to be shared after the feast.


Monday Fashion Folly …

This is what happens when I get paralyzed by fashion and can't decide which shoes go with which pants and which socks go with which shoes and ...


Arnold Palmer: On This Day in …

1975 -- Lee Trevino tells reporters that the reaction to him, Jack Nicklaus or Fuzzy Zoeller standing individually is always the same: polite applause. “But Arnold stands on the tee and they go crazy. They yell and clap and stamp their feet. It’s charisma. He has it. He has more than anyone’s ever had it. Probably more than anyone ever will.”


Today’s Reason to Visit Latrobe, Mister Rogers’ REAL Neighborhood …

Saint Vincent College uses replica trolleys to transport folks around the scenic campus.


Zeitgust Word of the Week (a word I made up with the goal of getting it into a dictionary) …

Birthquakes: The intense contractions that convulse a pregnant woman as she’s about to deliver a child; labor pains.


Days Until Pittsburgh Steelers Come To Latrobe for Training Camp: 215


What to do today in the Laurel Highlands …

• Give your new gun a go. A&S Indoor Pistol Range is a great place to go ballistic

• Wax the skis! A near record December snow has given Seven Springs and other Highland ski resorts a solid base.

• Buy a country ham from Bardine’s, our award-winning smokehouse in Crabtree


Today’s post …

RIP Zack & the tears we shed for those we love

Zack Starrett, 33, died having never seen “Cool Hand Luke.” I blame myself for the shortcoming.

It was a night a couple years ago. We were talking music, movies, etc. when I told him my all-time favorite movie is “Cool Hand Luke,” the 1967 Paul Newman movie about a laid back convict in a Dixie prison who refuses to bend to the tyrannical authority determined to break his indomitable spirit.

Spoiler alert! They can’t so they kill the sassy bastard.

Zack told me he’d never seen it.

I seized his arm and said, “What are you doing the rest of the night?” By the urgency in my voice, he could surmise what I had in mind.  I wanted him to toss the 20 remaining customers, grab a 12-pack and come back with me to watch “Cool Hand Luke.”

Like four straight times.

Sure, he’d lose his job and I’d get in big Dutch with the missus, but I thought it was essential that Zack see “Cool Hand Luke.”

I think it’s because I didn’t want my friend to change.

I wanted him to, like Luke, smirk at hardship, defy conventional thinking and mock the mindsets that say march on the days you’d really rather float.

And now he’s gone. He died early Thursday morning, a victim of a cascading spiral of ever-worsening Covid-related maladies.

Friends are trying to console me by telling me he’s “gone to a better place.”

Better place?

I contend there’s no better place than pre-Covid Flapper’s on a Friday when Zack was on one side of the bar and everyone of us who was on the other side couldn’t imagine being any where else.

There’s a happy babble of conversation — laughter, encouragement, flirtations, complaints, defeats and victories — the whole stew of humanity condensed into one warm tavern.

It was such reliable fun I was sure it wouldn’t last.

I remember warning Zack and some friends to not take it for granted.

“Good times can overnight go away,” I said, pointing out that the owner could sell, the old building could tumble over into the parking lot “or, gadzooks, Zack, could pursue career stability.”

I never dreamed his departure would be so morbidly final.

And as much I liked and admired the 33-year-old Zack, I was looking forward to spending time with Zack at 40. Or 50.

I was looking forward to seeing where his ambitions had taken him, how he dealt with the challenges of fatherhood and if he ever planned on giving up chasing full lunar eclipses all over the globe (I hoped not).

Nothing in my planning folly had him exiting our lives so soon and without a proper goodbye.

Yeah, 2020, you just keep on giving.

Or is it taking?

I often wonder about how old we’ll be in heaven. Do we assume the age we are when we die? Do children who die in tragic circumstances remain children or are they allowed to grow up, to enjoy the illicit thrill of sneaking that first beer and then make out in the back seat with the pretty neighbor girl who all of a sudden has become interesting for reasons he can’t explain. 

Will Zack still be Zack next time we see him?

I hope so because that Zack was close to perfect. He was charismatic without ever appearing over-bearing; just without being judgmental; and ready fun in any circumstance.

That’s the trade-off: Die young and unblemished and your golden memory will be revered for eternity.

His death reminds me how almost every tear we shed stems from selfishness. We cry not for the fate of others, but for how the fate of others affects our own.

We fall and skin our knee. It hurts. We cry.

Our hearts get broken. Our lives and routines are plunged into tumult. We cry.

A parent or spouse dies. Emotional and financial support is disrupted. We cry.

Shortly after learning that Zack had died, my daughters busted me in the kitchen sobbing like I imagine my Mom did when Dad told her they’d just shot Kennedy.

They thought I was weeping because Zack had died.

Someday I’ll explain the reason I wept was because we’ve been denied the opportunity to watch Zack live.

Related …

We Heart Zack! A love story about a man and his bartender


Oddly enough …

Darwin, Minn.: The town saved by the giant ball of twine

You wouldn’t want to be in Darwin the day Earth gets invaded by giant cats. This is the home of the world’s — oh, what the heck — the universe’s largest ball of twine collected by a single person. At 11 feet, 9 inches high and 40 feet around, the 8.7 ton object is large enough to give a pachyderm-sized feline nine lives of numb-skulled fun. For the 250 people of Darwin, Minnesota, the twine ball has provided more than enjoyment. It’s provided a living. Of course, it goes without saying that much twine can really bind people together. Hank Quinn of the Darwin Community Club said the town was hanging by a proverbial thread before the giant ball really got things rolling. “This town was saved by the giant ball of twine,” said Quinn, uttering the title of what would make one heck of a Adam Sandler flick. “Without that ball of twine, Darwin would be dead. All there’d be would be the bank the machine shop, and the grain elevator. That’s it. Its success has breathed life into Darwin.”

The Page 1 “Crayons!” Pledge (still applies)

The Book Is STILL Free

That’s right. Free. Anyone who wants a copy mailed to his or her home, no charge, is welcome to one. Just ask. 

Author Chris Rodell, of course, encourages you to buy it and hopes you’ll support him and the people who distribute, promote and sell books. But if you’re one of those Americans who are out of work and having a tough time, or if you know a US serviceman or woman who might benefit from a book that aims to brighten daily lives, then Rodell wants you to get in touch at storyteller@chrisrodell.com

He doesn’t believe a book that, at its heart, aims to help people be happy should be withheld from anyone over a few dollars. “It’s said the best things in life—love, friendship, laughter—are free,” Rodell says. “I don’t presume this book is among the best things in life but, by God, there’s nothing to say it can’t keep good company.”

And finally …

“Crayons Tip no. 1001” … “Learn the fine art of knowing precisely when to quit.”

About …

Chris Rodell is the author of six books, the most recent being “Undaunted Optimist: Essays on Life, Laughter & Cheerful Perseverance.” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge says, “Rodell writes about life the way Sinatra sings about New York, unflinching about the gritty realities, but with abiding affection and relentless positivity abut the future.”

A swashbuckling freelance writer since 1992, Rodell has rassled alligators, raced Ferraris, jumped out of cloud-cruising airplanes and in one week gained 20 pounds eating like Elvis.

Besides unconventional biographies on Fred Rogers and Arnold Palmer, his other books include “Use All The Crayons! The Colorful Guide To Simple Human Happiness,” and “The Last Baby Boomer: The Story of the Ultimate Ghoul Pool,” a 2016 satiric novel about the life and death of the last baby boomer (winner of the ’17 TINARA Award for best satire).

He is a sought-after and entertaining motivational public speaker and as seen in this 2015 clip the recipient of the greatest author ovation of all-time.

Rodell lives in Latrobe with his wife Valerie, their daughters, Josie and Lucy, and a small loud dog named Snickers.

He’ll write for anyone who’ll pay him. He is a PROSEtitute.

All Chris’s books can be purchased through www.ChrisRodell.com