Brian O'Neill: The novel premise of 'The Last Baby Boomer'
February 18, 2016 12:00 AM
Chris Rodell: A voice of a generation that sure has talked a lot about itself
By Brian O'Neill / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Imagine we’re six decades into the future, the Earth’s last baby boomer is on his deathbed, and the entire nation is transfixed.
That’s not only because the last member of the most self-examined generation in history is knocking on mortality’s exit door. It’s because pretty much everyone is in on a pool on just when 118-year-old Martin J. McCrae kicks the bucket, and the pot is close to $1 billion.
“The Last Baby Boomer: The Story of the Ultimate Ghoul Pool,” a self-published novel by Latrobe’s Chris Rodell, is a testament to the author’s philosophy:
“I don’t want to live forever. I want to live right now!”
As an aging boomer (there is no other kind), I liked Mr. Rodell’s premise immediately. Our generation seems past due for a good-humored humbling.
I finished the 248-page book Tuesday night and met Mr. Rodell Wednesday morning for a hot beverage, telling him what I’ll tell you. The first 50 pages were as funny as any I’ve read in a long time, the middle should be shorter, there are too many typos, but the tale revs up again in its final third.
His protagonist McRae is likable layabout who lived a remarkable life almost in spite himself. Once a professional golf hustler and interplanetary space tourist, Mr. McRae would really rather just sit around and talk or dream about it all at the end.
“Once he’d hit 50, all he’d ever sought from life was a really comfortable chair. ... Drunk, he knew he could withstand any torment known to man. Well, except holy matrimony. He’d proven that 16 times with 13 different women.”
Mr. Rodell, who turned 53 Monday, is not that guy. He and his wife, Valerie, a freelance editor, have two daughters, Josie, 15, Lucy, 9. When Josie was 4, a teacher asked what her father did, and she answered, “He plays with me.”
He also writes. He hasn’t had a regular job since 1992, but he’s a motivational speaker and has freelanced for everyone from The National Enquirer to Playboy. He wrote the story of Angelo Cammarata of Ross, the world’s longest-serving bartender who died last October at 101, for at least four different publications.
When Mr. Rodell asked Mr. Cammarata what his best years were, figuring he’d hear it was his teens or 20s, the man who poured for decades at Cammarata’s Cafe in West View told him, no, “I think the best years were when I was between 30 and 75.”
It was the kind of joyous, hopeful answer that gets a man out of bed in the morning, but Mr. Rodell also has seen the other side of aging. When his grandfather was 85, he visited him in DuBois and, as they were riding to breakfast, Mr. Rodell asked what he had going the rest of the day.
“I’m going to bury another one of my best friends,” his grandfather said.
When Mr. Rodell asked him if he was afraid of dying, his grandfather hit the steering wheel, said, “Hell, no, I pray every night I don’t wake up. I’m sick of burying my friends” — and then he lived 12 more years.
This novel has gestated for more than a decade and, in the meantime, Mr. Rodell self-published a guide to happiness that has sold thousands of copies, “Use All the Crayons.” He has the stories common to first-time authors of book deals — “I got off the phone wondering if the Cadillac should be black or red’’ — that later went kaput.
But like his protagonist, Mr. Rodell keeps plugging away. In the novel, when a ne’er-do-well hears that Mr. McCrae, at 113, is the last boomer — “born Dec. 9, 1964, Passavant Hospital, Pittsburgh” — he approaches the old man on a park bench with this pitch:
He can end his boredom by setting him up in a museum, charging admission, and running “a lottery ghoul pool so that whoever is in the room with you when you finally die wins all the loot.’’
The chatty McCrae loves the spectacle he’ll make of himself. The nearly literal kicker is that every visitor gets 14 minutes and 59.5 seconds with him before a trap door opens, that visitor is whooshed away, and a conveyor brings another.
Do I need to issue a spoiler alert that Martin J. McCrae dies at the end? Somebody has to be last boomer, and the youngest turn 52 this year.
Me, I’m betting the last survivor will be Marisa Tomei. Her bio indicates she’s five days older than Marty McRae and she still looks great.
Brian O’Neill: email@example.com or 412-263-1947.
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