There's a mild-mannered fellow in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who has adapted an old saying to fit his immensely successful career. As he puts it, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, write about it."
And the reason Josh Piven cannot do most of the things he writes about is that not very many other people can, either.
About 10 years ago, Piven and a book producer created an improbable book that sold more than a million copies in seven months. It's still selling briskly, has spawned a whole series of similar books, and inspired entire cable-television series. The book is titled The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. It's about life-and-death situations and how to survive them.
Piven's co-author had read an article that told people how they might safely land a small plane if the pilot passes out. The two men got to thinking about other hair-raising situations in movies and TV shows. Of course, it's one thing for an action hero to fend off a killer shark. But how would an ordinary, out-of-shape person do it? Or survive if a parachute does not open, or escape from pursuing killer bees? Easy.
Lost in the desert? Turn to Page 129. Need to deliver a baby in the back of a taxicab? No big deal.
Piven says the books do provide the best advice possible for desperate situations, gathered from real, macho survival manuals. But the tips are packed with dry humor. If you're atop a speeding train that's approaching a curve, for instance, here's what you should do: lie flat. No kidding. Could be a tunnel ahead.
No enraged bull has ever charged Piven in his quiet Philadelphia neighorbhood. But he knows what to do if one does.
First, don't antagonize him. Makes sense.
Then, look around for an escape route. We'd all do that, for sure.
And if all else fails, throw your shirt or hat in another direction. The bull should head toward that object.
"Should" being the operative word.
[The Worst-Case Survival series of books is published by Chronicle Books.]
Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.