Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Poems at the Pub, June 26, 2018

image by Erin Delaney

A week from now will see the inaugural installment of Poems at the Pub, being held Tuesday, June 26 from 7:00 to 9:00 PM in the upper room of Dugan's Pub, 385 Main Street in Luzerne, Pennsylvania, and featuring readings by Erin Delaney, Joel Showalter, Micah Bauman, and David Bauman. If this is successful, it may be the first of many. Come on out and support the local arts scene in Luzerne County!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Recipe: No-Bake Eggnog Pie


Yes, it's June 18, and even though Summer hasn't officially started yet, it's the middle of Summer as far as the weather is concerned in Northeastern Pennsylvania today, with high humidity and temperatures in the high 80s, mid 90s, and even allegedly reaching into the 100s in some parts of Scranton. But my mom is gathering together a bunch of old Woman's World magazines to donate tomorrow, and I remembered that one had a recipe for an eggnog pie I wanted to grab.

I made an eggnog pie once for a New Year's Eve party back in 1998. It used a cooked filling, and I remember that even though I managed to scorch the filling it was still pretty good. This is a far simpler no-bake pie.

This recipe is from the December 4, 2017 issue of Woman's World, and is reprinted from the blog MeatloafAndMelodrama.com.  I would include a link to the original, but have found to my dismay that external sites can be ephemeral things, and all too often these links will become dead links over time.  If you want to see the original, look up "eggnog pie" on the site listed above.

Helpful hint: I almost made this this past holiday season, but when I went to the supermarket a day or two after Christmas all of the eggnog had been cleared off the shelves. Which is odd, since I've always associated eggnog more with New Year's than Christmas. So buy your eggnog before Christmas if you want to make this pie!

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups eggnog
1 package (3.4 ounces) instant vanilla pudding mix
Dash of nutmeg
2 cups thawed frozen whipped topping (not "lite")
1 frozen or homemade pie shell, baked, cooled

- In medium bowl, combine eggnog and pudding mix; beat with electric mixer until thick.
- Sprinkle in some nutmeg.
- Fold in whipped topping until mixture is fluffy and color is pale yellow.
- Spoon mixture into pie shell, smooth with spatula.
- Refrigerate two hours or until firm.


And now, this issue of Woman's World goes off to be donated to a hospital or retirement home somewhere.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Back to work

Today was my first day back at work after my vacation. Because of my new schedule, by taking three days off - two of which I had already scheduled off back in January - I was able to manage nearly a week away from work. After today's ten hour session, I will have tomorrow off, then be back for three more days, and then have two days off. Then everything starts over next Sunday.

This was definitely one of the strangest vacation weeks I've ever had, made stranger by a tornado smack in the middle of it. Someday I may even write about it.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Osterhout Book Sale, now through June 23!



The 42nd Annual Book Sale at the Osterhout Library is going on now through June 23! See the schedule above for the hours. I stopped by today and walked out with $10 worth of books that filled two bags. I'll try to visit again and see what I missed today!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Writers' Showcase Summer Edition is Saturday, June 16!


The Writers' Showcase Summer Edition is tomorrow! If you can make it, I'd love to see you there!

WHAT: The Writers' Showcase, an evening of stories, poems, and surprises from Grant Clauser, Harold Jenkins, Vicki Mayk, and Curtis Smith, hosted by Brian Fanelli and Dawn Leas, all for the low, low price of $4.00! Refreshments will be provided!

WHERE: The Olde Brick Theatre, rear 126 West Market Street, Scranton, PA.

WHEN: 7:00 - 9:00 PM on Saturday, June 16

HOW:  Take North Main Avenue to West Market Street and go uphill. Park on Market Street or in the parking lot behind the theatre. The entrance is from the back and on an upper story - you'll be climbing a hill and crossing a bridge. Admission is $4.00 - that works out to a dollar a reader!

Please come if you can! You won't be disappointed!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Arena Hub Plaza tornado, June 13, 2018


Last night a tornado tore across the Arena Hub Plaza in Wilkes-Barre Township.

It really wasn't a surprise. We had plenty of warning. A Tornado Warning box was drawn up just west of Nanticoke until 9:45 PM. After it passed, another box was drawn up - including Nanticoke, and extending east through Wilkes-Barre, Wilkes-Barre Township, and beyond. It would expire in a half-hour or so. We watched and waited. At one point my phone flared up with an alert. I think that was just about 10:00 PM.

It rained, hard, for a while. The wind blew hard for a bit, too. But the storm passed over us without so much as a shingle through the front window.

Then we got a call that Barnes & Noble at the Arena Hun Plaza in Wilkes-Barre Township had collapsed. And not just Barnes & Noble. Panera Bread had allegedly collapsed, too.

Photographers and first responders arrived on the scene. Nighttime shots showed devastation: twisted metal, scattered rubble, cars flipped and destroyed. Buildings collapsed. And the rumors started: numerous deaths, many missing, widespread looting.

But the reality of the situation gradually unfolded. Despite all the damage, nobody had died, or even been seriously injured. Six people had been slightly injured in Panera Bread, which had been torn open and massively damaged. But that was it. The tornado (confirmed as an F2) had hit around 10:00, when most of the businesses in the area were closed or closing. The path of destruction started at U-Haul and Ken Pollock Nissan just off Mundy Street. It cut through Music-Go-Round, Panera Bread, clipped Barnes & Noble, and continued through Dick's Sporting Goods - a straight line distance of less than half a mile. In all, twenty-six stores were damaged or destroyed, and a propane tank was damaged, filling the area with heavier-than-air flammable gas.

Red dots indicate approximate path of tornado. Orange indicates places that could have resulted in numerous casualties if hit by a tornado.
Official National Weather Service report. Click to read.

It was a best case / worst case scenario. Had the tornado taken a slightly different path, it might have torn through Highland Park Senior Living, a retirement community with hundreds of residents, or the Veterans' Administration Medical Center, a hospital with hundreds of beds, or through a housing development just to the east of the Arena Hub Plaza, or a still-open Walmart, or the Mohegan Sun Arena, or any of a number of hotels, or torn apart Interstate 81. Had it arrived an hour or two earlier, it would have hit stores and restaurants full of customers. But it didn't. It hit a bunch of mostly-empty stores, and caused massive property damage but no major injuries.

But it hit the concentrated heart of retail in the greater Wilkes-Barre area. It has done tens of millions of dollars of property damage, and the damage to the local economy through the temporary or permanent loss of jobs and sales tax revenue and the consequences of those losses could go into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Hundreds of people have lost their jobs. Some of those jobs will never come back.

Barnes and Noble stood for about twenty-five years. The chain pledges to rebuild.

But in those twenty-five years, the Arena Hub Plaza has never been hit by a storm like this. In fifty years, my mother's house has never had a shingle put through its front window, or had shingles ripped off its own roof. All of these things have happened now in a span of eight weeks.

My friends in Maryland who perform at a Renaissance Faire have noted that each year the weather is becoming more intense and erratic, to the point that they are talking about moving the Faire inside, perhaps into one of the many now-vacant shopping malls.

Things are changing. Weather is changing. The climate is changing.

Welcome to the new normal.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Mental illness is not a weakness

In the wake of Anthony Bourdain's suicide on June 8, 2018, there was a common refrain heard: "He had such an amazing life. He got to travel all over the world. He knew so many famous people. He was so successful. What did he have to be depressed about?"

Depression is not sadness. Depression is not disappointment with your station in life. Depression is an illness. Asking "What did he have to be depressed about, he's so rich and successful?" is about as dumb as saying "How can she have cancer, she's so pretty?" or "How can he have diabetes, he has such great hair?"

I know someone who has experienced a mental breakdown. I am no psychologist, but I expect this was a result of various stresses in conjunction with previously unrecognized chemical imbalances in the brain. But people ask, "How can this happen to this person? They've always been so strong." Mental illness has nothing to do with strength. Mental illness is not a weakness. Mental illness is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Mental illness is an illness.

Do what you can. Send love, sure. Pray if it makes you feel better. Wish upon a star. But when it comes down to it, people with mental illness need treatment and support. If you are their friend, that means support from you, too. Learn what you can do to help them, to keep them going. Then do it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The college dream

Had a dream last night and want to write it down before it fades away.

I was back in college, but it was a highly specialized college, with only a handful of students, who ranged in age from very young children to adults older than me. The setting of the college was apparently the old  quarters for our DVD Compession, Encoding, and Authoring facility at WEA Manufacturing, in a building that, in the real world, is closing forever shortly. That layout of that space in real life is - or was - two long, parallel hallways with large offices, storage space, and work rooms on the two outer walls and in the space between, and connecting halls between the two main ones.

In the dream this space held living and sleeping space and rooms for at least three separate classes. The first is the one I least remember: it was a large class, taught by an older woman, apparently focusing on the nature and history of the subjects being taught in the college. This wasn't an ordinary college, but it wasn't a flat-out Hogwarts-style college of magic. I think I can best describe it as a college of the unusual.

The second class I easily remember: it was a history of toys, taught by two magicians / showmen, one of whom was Todd Robbins, who is someone I have met in person and communicate with over Facebook on a regular basis. You entered their classroom through the double doors that once led to my DVD Asset Library, where all of the assets that were used in individual DVD projects were stored in project-specific banker's boxes. (I was in the process of consolidating those boxes and shipping back the assets from older projects when my position was cut in 2007, leaving a jumbled mess for whoever had to complete that project after me.) But when you went through those double doors you were confronted with a wide, shallow room with two desks facing the double doors and flanking a large space of blank wall. Todd and the other professor (who I just realized was The Amazing Kreskin, who I saw interviewed locally a few months ago, and he gave a hell of an interview) would sit at these desks and harass and abuse anyone entering the room until they figured out that the blank wall actually concealed another set of double doors. Going through these doors, which seemed to be made of foam board, led to a series of interconnecting rooms that were filled with shelves displaying fantastic and unusual toys, apparently grouped by era or decade of release. (One that I remember clearly was a winged giraffe with a unicorn horn, part of a collection of animal toys with unicorn horns.) Some rooms had only empty shelves, but these had dates from the future on the doors.

The third class was...odd. It was held in a room a little larger than a dorm room, and was something like Anime Studies. The room was a dorm room, as far as I could tell. There were two little girls there, students, both asleep in chairs with blankets, and a teacher who had a blanket over her head. There was a small, old-style CRT TV in one corner, showing a cartoon of plump fuzzy kittens with bows in their hair. As I took my place - late, I guess - the teacher pulled the blanket off her head and revealed herself to be someone I was involved with for several years, who we shall call Dolly S. In real life I have not seen her since before she got engaged, and have not spoken with her since shortly after that. In the dream, as in real life, she was married. But she was glad to see me, and I was glad to see her, and she checked my schedule and saw that I had a free period coming up (I think it was listed on my paper schedule as a "study period"), and she suggested that we spend that time catching up.

...and then I woke up, to the sound of a cat crying for breakfast.

I have had college dreams before, but they have mostly been anxiety dreams: I have a final coming up and cannot find the room where it is being held, and I seem to have forgotten to go to that class most of the semester, that sort of thing. This dream was nothing like that. Instead it was strangely comforting, which made it an odd contrast to my real-world experiences of a few hours earlier, going to a hospital to visit a friend who has had a breakdown. Maybe my dreaming mind has decided that my waking mind has quite enough on its plate for now.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Vector


I mowed the lawn at my house across town the other day, and saw that the grapevines needed some attention: they were being smothered by assorted viny weeds. Today I had a bit of free time, so I stopped over there to rip out as much as I could. The vines didn't put up much resistance, though I had to be careful not to rip out the grapevines along with the weeds.

When I was done I stepped back to look at what I had done. I glanced down and noticed that my black sweatshirt was covered with tiny green balls, about three millimeters across. So were my jeans. And my boots. And my gloves. They seemed too small to be considered burrs, but I think that's essentially what they were. The weed vine had allowed me to rip it out, but in the process had hijacked my body to spread its seeds.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

What Donald Trump taught us at the 2018 G7

I hope the six surviving member states of the G7 went home with a a sense of the critical importance of securing their elections from hostile foreign - i.e., Russian - interference. Because now they've seen how quickly a once-great nation can be turned into a puppet state and sham democracy.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Wind out of the sails

Something has happened to a friend that I cannot write about. Suffice it to say that I am thoroughly dispirited, and not in much of a blog post writing mood. This is the sort of thing that, if it happened to someone else, I would want to contact this friend to talk about what I'm going through. But that friend isn't there to talk to right now.

Maybe I'll take some more photos and post them. We'll see.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Exhausting day off

First day off on my new schedule, and I'm exhausted.

The day started with hanging some laundry out to dry, even before feeding the cats. A little later, while finally eating my own breakfast, I heard the shocking news of Anthony Bourdain's death. Then it was off to the dentist for a lengthy procedure to grind down a tooth that is to be capped, followed by some grocery shopping and banking. Home for lunch, took my mom to physical therapy, then more grocery shopping, and some massive worrying about a friend who has gone off the grid. Oh, and I discovered that what I thought would be a quick weekend repair project might actually require the front steps to be rebuilt or replaced.

I've had enough for one day off. I'm going to bed.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Instrumental mystery (Solved!)

For the past few days I've had a song stuck in my head. Unfortunately, it is an instrumental, making it impossible to track down by snippets of lyrics.

I had very little to go by: It sounds a bit like "The Hustle." It has a funky wocka-wocka guitar in it, but also has an orchestral sound. It opens with swirling violins, and features harps and horns. It was very popular in its day, and still gets a lot of airplay. But I had no idea what it was.

I put the question out to my friends on Facebook. One suggested checking the works of Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield. But I felt they were more funk, while this was more what I described as "The Living Strings Go Disco."

There was nothing to do but grind through lists of instrumental songs of the 1970's. I was guessing the song was from the 70's: it had enough of a disco sensibility to put it past the 1960's, but enough of an orchestral sound to probably predate the more electro-funk disco of the early 1980's. Somehow I got the notion that the song was from 1973. It turned out I was right.

I played through snippets of lots of instrumental songs of the 1970's. Some were very familiar, some I had never heard of. Some I hadn't heard in a good long time. Then there was one by...Barry White? Barry White, the Icon of Love? Barry White, with the deep, soulful voice that I can only come close to imitating when I am very, very sick? What is Barry White doing on a list of instrumental songs of the 1970's?

Turned out is was actually Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra. And the song, "Love's Theme," was exactly the song I was looking for.

(I won't include a link to the song here; such links are ephemeral, and eventually break and go dead. You can look it up if you want to hear it for yourself.)

From the Wikipedia entry for "Love's Theme:"

"Love's Theme" is an instrumental piece recorded by Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra and released in 1973 as a single. It is one of the few instrumental and purely orchestral singles to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States, which it did in early 1974. Billboard ranked it as the No. 3 song for 1974.[2] The piece was included on two albums: 1973's Under the Influence of... Love Unlimited (by the vocal group Love Unlimited) and 1974's Rhapsody in White by Love Unlimited Orchestra.

The recording, with a large string orchestra, wah-wah guitar, and big rhythm, is considered by author Peter Shapiro to be an influence to the disco sound, which would explode in popularity the following year.

It has an enduring presence:

The Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways used the song for their TV advertisements. It was also featured briefly in Mean Girls, Despicable Me 2, El Cantante, Goodbye Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water.

So now I can put that earworm out of my head. And now that I know what it is, I can call it back any time I want.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Preparing for the June 16, 2018 Writers' Showcase

I'm trying to decide what to include in my readings for the Writers' Showcase on June 16, 2018. Last time I picked out several poems and two short stories, then read them aloud while timing myself and realized that I would easily exceed any reasonable time limit. I dropped one of the short stories and one or two of the poems, and brought my set in roughly in the allocated time.

I want to present the poem and short story that have been published in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Word Fountain, and maybe one or both of the poems from previous issues. I was thinking of including another short story, but that might drag things out too much. There's an older poem I want to include, as a sort of counterpoint to a poem that one of the readers at the last Writers' Showcase presented. I may also read something that's probably pretty inadvisable.

I really want to avoid repeating myself, despite a strong urge to perform "dancer" again. Fortunately I kept a record of everything I presented during my February 2016 set.

Come on out to Scranton's Olde Brick Theater on Saturday, June 16 if you can!

                                                                                
   

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The Understudies

The yard and garden, of course, are full of things that I never planted. For example, deadly nightshade.


Deadly nightshade is a persistent weed, easily pulled out, quick to regrow. It is a vine that climbs everywhere. It has beautiful flowers and beautiful berries, much beloved by birds. Every part of it is poisonous.


This particular nightshade vine is growing on a blueberry bush. I probably should pull it off before the blueberries ripen.

I've been seeing a commercial for a weed killer that promises to kill a broad range of weeds - including clover. I've never heard of clover being considered a weed. I know that it is added to grass seed mixes because it helps to fix nitrogen from the air and fertilize lawns. Unsurprisingly, the weed killer company also sells lawn fertilizer. You'll need it after you use their product.


When I spotted this rosy-pink cluster of Dutch clover while mowing the lawn this weekend, I intentionally avoided it. There pictures were taken on a roughly six inch by six inch patch of unmown lawn. The tall grass tended to steal the focus away from the clover.


Most of the clover in the yard is white.


Wild strawberry is also surprisingly common. Like the wild grapevines that are such a nuisance, the fruit is small, made up mostly of seeds (a single large seed in the case of wild grapes), and is not especially flavorful.


 
More clematis flowers are opening each day. From what I read, it sounds like I may need to leave this trellis in place permanently. (Disregard the plastic-wrapped half-bale of straw in the background.)




Monday, June 04, 2018

First four tomatoes planted

Last year I never got around to planting any tomatoes. Instead I bought them from a local farmstand - at a cost of $1 apiece. After a few meals of fried green tomatoes, I realized I was spending a hell of a lot on tomatoes. I resolved to start them from seed again in 2018, as I did in 2016.

I started my first seeds in peat pots on Saturday, March 10, in between watching Scranton's St. Patrick's Day Parade, taking photos of Peaches on a widowsill, repairing the molding on the front door, and watching The Fifth Element. I was somewhat ambitious, starting about a dozen peat pots with three different varieties of tomatoes - Roma plum tomatoes (good for making sauce,) a couple of Better Boy seeds left over from 2016, and Early Boys. This turned out to be a series of not-very-great ideas: about half of the peat pots produced nothing at all, and I quickly lost track of which seeds were where. I may also have started the seeds several weeks too early. It didn't help when Spring suddenly turned from cold to hot, and several of the seedlings (and several of the second group of seedlings, which I started in mid-April) fried and died on the east-facing windowsill.

Through all that, several seedlings survived. I transplanted these into larger containers and moved them into a sheltered spot on the front porch in mid-May to harden off. This Saturday, I moved the largest four into what I have dubbed the Weed Patch garden. (Three more seedlings will be ready to transplant elsewhere after they've gotten a little bigger.)

The tallest of the four, about ten to twelve inches tall.

I mulched the transplanted seedlings with straw that I purchased during a cold snap this Winter to provide protective insulation for the semi-feral cats that live in our back yard. (They made it through just fine.) The seedlings experienced some transplant shock, as is normal, but after a deep, targeted watering aimed at the roots they have all perked up.

June 4, two days after being transplanted. Plants are roughly eighteen inches apart.

Next I need to get the tallest stakes I can find and start tying these up. In about two months I guess we'll find out what kind of tomatoes survived!


Sunday, June 03, 2018

Clematis redux

A week ago I spotted a large, showy flower growing in an obscure spot: up against the chimney, where the downspout for the rain gutter has an elbow that redirects the water ten feet from the foundation. I vaguely remember planting a clematis here many years ago, perhaps fifteen or more, and being disappointed that it never took. I also remember occasionally spotting single flowers of this same type hidden amongst the weeds there. It only occurred to me last week that this might be the clematis, somehow surviving many years of neglect and occasional heavy weeding. A reverse image search (with a result of "Leather flower") and request to my friends for help identifying it determined that, yes, this was definitely a clematis. I went out and weeded around the clematis, giving it some room to breathe and a chance to see the sun. I carefully pulled out some weeds and clipped others. In the process I managed to clip right through the stem of my sole clematis blossom.

Clematis blossoms have long stems, and I had managed to avoid killing the plant itself. I found the main vine, which fad several buds on it ready to blossom. Hoping to make it up to the plant, I dug up an old trellis on which I had once tried to train my hummingbird vine. (Ha, ha. Train a hummingbird vine. From its Wikipedia entry: "It grows well on arbors, fences, telephone poles, and trees, although it may dismember them in the process. Ruthless pruning is recommended." Starting about three years after I planted it, I have spent decades trying to kill or at least control the hummingbird vine before it dismembers the house.) I wove the clematis through it, careful to not knock off any buds in the process. And then I waited.

I waited the better part of the week. The buds didn't begin to blossom until Friday, June 1. These pictures were taken the next day.


The brightness at the bottom of the two lowest petals is actually the spot where the sun was shining - after noon, the sun cuts across the flower obliquely, and the shadow of the house eventually falls over it.



Additional buds have opened since these photos were taken, and several more are waiting to open.

This flower looks like velvet in the high contrast monochrome images, and the sunlight is much more distinct.


We'll see how big the clematis gets this year, and how well it comes back in coming years.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Roses

June is a festival of roses. A few blossoms open in the last week of May, but June is when the first flush is in full bloom.

Blaze roses aren't the first to open, but they were the first roses in out yard. My mom told me that my grandfather mail-ordered the original rosebush many decades ago. It is gone now, dead for some thirty-five years or more. But its offspring live on, at least in this yard. Three of them, two on the north side of the house, one on the south. These are photos of the of one on the south side.


Blaze roses live up to their name, with an intense red that is difficult to capture in a photograph, and masses of blossoms in profligate clusters.







Next up are the Royal Highness roses I bought about twenty years ago. I have three bushes now, two from cuttings from the original. There are two or three branches on each that can become new bushes. I should go through the steps needed to make this happen.


Royal Highness has a beautiful pink color and an intense rose scent. These are my favorite roses.


In high-contrast monochrome, Royal Highness appears mostly white.

The third - and apparently, last surviving - roses in the yard are a single bush of what was originally Double Delight. I first saw these roses at the Disney World Magic Kingdom Plaza Rose Garden, an oasis of serenity that offered a hideaway from the crowds, now gone, paved over, transformed into something less magical. After my success with Royal Highness, I decided to try my hand at Double Delight, but things didn't work out. In the first year it produced just one or two of the classical bicolor, overpoweringly scented blooms,  which were promptly eaten by Japanese beetles. But then things got...weird. The bush began throwing up long, straight stems without buds, towering over the rest of the bush. Maybe I planted the bush too deep. Maybe it was stressed. Maybe the rootstock became confused and started throwing up stems of its own. In any case, the blooms that came in later years weren't what I was expecting. It was as if only one of the Double Delight precursors was expressing itself.



The roses aren't bad, but they're not Double Delight. They are nearly unscented, and the spiky bits are still an issue.



This was the biggest surprise. In high-contrast monochrome, these petals are very dark, much darker than the similarly-colored Blaze roses, while the central portions are very bright.

There was a fourth variety of rose struggling in the yard, but it doesn't appear to have survived the past winter.  Maybe I'll try a new variety this year to replace it.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Fiction: Cathedral

Several years ago I had a thought: How would you feel if someone stole from you only the things you didn't want? I think that question was in my mind when I first conceived this story in 2015, during one of the final meetings of the remnant of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective at the Adezzo coffee shop in Scranton. It languished for over two years until I pulled it out of the archives and fleshed it out, wrote it, slashed and hacked, rewrote it, carved it up again, and finally got it into a form I felt was ready to submit. The initial version saved in my archives is dated February 20, 2018. The submission version is dated February 27, 2018.

This story first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Word Fountain, the literary magazine of the Osterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre, PA.


The way I see it, I'm not stealing. These people are old, dying. Nobody loves them, or cares enough to come and see them. The nurses at the hospice think I'm an angel, volunteering to spend time with them three nights a week, three hours a night. Sit with them, talk to them, pretend to understand their garbled moans. What I'm taking from them, they don't want anyway. No one in their right mind would want this stuff.

It's hard to describe how I see someone else's memories, but here's the best image I can come up with: imagine a building crammed with bookshelves, like a library. Sometimes it's a mansion, sometimes a modest house, sometimes a broken-down shack. Many of the books are out of reach, or have no titles on the spines, or the pages are stuck together, or faded, or unreadable. Most of the contents of the books are stupid and dull. Some are disgustingly sweet, or just the usual happy crap common to most people, the stuff we take for granted because we think it's routine, even though it isn't. But that stuff doesn't interest me. For me, the best memories are the nasty bits. The trauma, the pain, the horrible things that happened to you, the rotten, unforgivable things you did to others without thinking. The stuff you really don't want to remember. I love it.

The Alzheimer's patients are the worst. Their libraries look beautiful from the outside, but inside, the shelves are a mess. Worm-eaten pages from one book lead directly to crumbling pages from another. Whole shelves are empty, or connect to shelves in another room. What's left, though...wisps of joy, fleeting moments of family and friends that flutter away before you can really grasp them, and the sharp, sharp scraps of pain and guilt and regret.

I take their memories. It's my gift, my talent. Maybe I'm the only one who can do it, I don't know. I rip those pages out of their books, stuff them into my pockets, and get the hell out of there. I don't take everything, just the really bad memories. Who could object to me taking that from them? They're going to be dead in a few days, or weeks, or months. And then all this stuff will be lost. That would be the real crime.

Granted, they seem to want to hold onto their bad memories. Maybe the act of dredging this stuff up, extracting it, and ripping it out causes them to relive the trauma. Maybe when I take the worst moments of their lives from them, they get to experience them all over again.

It doesn't matter. I guess those days are over.

Maybe I should have read up a bit more on the new resident before I sat with him. Albert Gustavus Goodson. Ninety-three years old. Served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Widower twice over. No children. Wealthy recluse. No friends - at least, none who could be bothered to check up on him. Outlived all his family. Had a massive stroke, didn't get to the hospital before permanent paralysis set in on much of his body and robbed him of the ability to speak. My kind of guy.

I suppose if I'd done some reading I would have found out about the strange case of A.G., the man with the perfect memory.

Perfect. Absolute recall of everything that had ever happened to him. Everything he had ever seen, everything he had ever done, everything anybody around him had done. Two wives, seven cats, three wars, four writeups in books about psychology. Countless loves, countless deaths.

No, not countless. Not countless at all.

His memory is...let's say it's like a crystal cathedral. Not like the one that TV preacher built. Bigger, way bigger. A mile high, massive, wide, and sparkling like the diamond in your mother's wedding ring. Thousands of floors, hundreds of thousands of shelves, millions of books, everything gleaming, mirrored and transparent at the same time. Every page crisp and clean, full of sharp text and vivid illustrations. Amazing. Like nothing I’ve ever encountered before. I could spend so much time here, wandering the shelves, climbing the stairs from floor to floor, searching for perfect memories of pain and loss.

And so much else. Perfect memories of banality. Breakfasts and trips to the bathroom. Thirty-seven years of commuting. Every church sermon, every magazine article, every commercial jingle. All of it.

I don't know how long I spent with him that first night, wandering in the maze of library stacks in his cathedral of memory. I think it was a lot longer than my usual three hour session. Maybe they left me with him all night. It was a while before I realized I was lost. I couldn't remember how to get out, how to get back to me. I wasn't sure I wanted to. And then I couldn't.

I don't know what happened. Maybe he died and transferred his memories to me. Maybe I died and got stuck inside him. Maybe he vacated his body and left me alone in here. Maybe he somehow swapped our bodies and walked out of the hospice in a young, healthy body, never to return. I don't know.

I know his memories are intact. Every one of them. Every girl who broke his heart. Every man he lost in the jungles and mountains. Every time he burned his bacon. Every time he fed his cat, or left his umbrella in a cab, or bought stamps, or stubbed his toe, or washed his socks.

I want to leave, but I can't. I can't stop rummaging through his memories. Room to room, floor to floor. I haven't even put a dent in what he remembered. Every time I try to find the way out, I get distracted by something else, some other pain or trauma or whatever. There's so much in here. So much more than I've ever encountered in one place before. Too much. Too much.

I have no idea how long I've been here, or how much longer I'll be here. Maybe someday somebody else will come to me, somebody with the same gift I have. Maybe they'll look on this cathedral of memory with a jealous eye and decide they want it for themself. Maybe someday somebody will come and take all this away from me.


God, I hope so.


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Poem: Some thoughts on turning fifty

I turned fifty at the beginning of this year. This poem is really just a compilation of things I've been saying whenever I thought about hitting this milestone. It was originally put together as a poem on February 28, 2018 and was finalized and submitted for consideration for publication on March 1, 2018.

This poem first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Word Fountain, the literary magazine of the Osterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre, PA.


When you hit the half-century mark, you have to consider
that maybe you're not exactly "young" anymore.
Perhaps you're not really an adult, but it’s possible you might be
something approaching middle age.

You tend to think of the past in terms of decades, not years.

You look at old films and TV shows and think about how young the actors were.
Carroll O'Connor was forty-seven when he began playing Archie Bunker on "All in the Family."
I told that to some of my friends at work and we all had a good laugh.
I told another friend and she looked at me and said
"I have no idea who either of those people are,"
and now I feel really old.

You begin to wonder if you'll be able to retire at sixty-five
or sixty-seven
or seventy
or if maybe the best plan will be to die in harness.

You think about the things you planned to do
and the things you have actually done
and try to decide which is the better list.
You wonder how much time you have left to accomplish a few more things.

When I was a kid, light bulbs would last
six months, maybe a year.
Compact fluorescent bulbs pushed that to five years.
Now I'm waiting for those to burn out so I can replace them with
warm white LED bulbs that could last up to twenty years.
Each time I put one in, I think
"That might be the last time I ever change this bulb."
What will I do if it burns out when I'm seventy?
Will I even remember how to change it?