Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Memoirs and the way memory works

This is a follow-up to my previous entry, but not in a way you might think. All the while I was writing that entry I was trying to remember another memoir-fabrication scandal from a few years back. I thought I had heard it referenced again recently, but that tenuous fact didn't get me any closer to a name.

But I knew how to get there.

I remember where I was when I heard the story. It was on Fresh Air with Terry Gross, an interview show on NPR that focuses mainly on authors, musicians, and other people in the entertainment industry. (The first category expands the scope of the program to cover pretty much everybody who has ever written anything.) More important to my recollection, it was while I was in my car, driving along a winding road in the woods. I was driving through Ashley, birthplace of Russell Johnson, the Professor from Gilligan's Island.

Why was I there?

I was there because I was scouting out the location of an upcoming 3 Brix Shy show. I had a little extra time after work that afternoon, and it was Summer, and it was still sunny even close to 7:00 in the evening. 3 Brix Shy would be playing a show at the picnic grounds of a church in Ashley during their church bazaar in a few days, and I didn't want to worry about getting hopelessly lost on my way there the day of the show.

So, now I had several hooks to hang memories from: It was summer. The show in Ashley was one of the last shows 3 Brix Shy ever played - I think it was their second-to-last. So now all I had to do was figure out when 3 Brix Shy played their last show.

Where could I turn for that tidbit of information?

Why, my blog of course, and my entry on 3 Brix Shy.

OK, so there it was: "The band broke up last August..." This was written in May of 2004, putting the breakup date as August 2003. My friend who was the bassist for the band (who couldn't remember offhand what year they broke up!) thought that the church bazaar show was in August. So now all I had to do was go into the Fresh Air archives for August 2003 and start slogging through.

It didn't take long to find what I was looking for. The show was on Thursday, August 14, and the writer in question was Vivian Gornick. (This means that the church bazaar show was probably the next day, Friday August 15.) To hear the whole Vivan Gornick / Maureen Corrigan confrontation firsthand, go here and listen to all three stories, in order.

A Google search search on '"vivian gornick" npr' finds a Newsday article by Tom Beer* from January 25, 2006 called "No place for lies in the 'true story' industry" which mentions Gornick in relation to the current James Frey "A Million Little Pieces" scandal. Interestingly, it sounds like nothing Gornick did even pushes the limits that Bill lays out in his comment to my previous entry. The Newsday article explores this story more broadly than I could ever hope to, pointing out examples I had never even heard of. Read it soon, before it goes into the pay-to read archives.

*Mmmmmm, beeeer.

Monday, January 30, 2006

A million little book sales

I caught the Trade Paperback bestsellers on CNN's crawl yesterday. #1 was Night by Elie Wiesel, Oprah Winfrey's latest book club pick. #3 was Collapse by Jared Diamond - a book you'll be hearing more about from me in the near future whenever I finally finish it, which will be sometime after I finish The Idiot. And in the #2 spot was A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. So I guess all this controversy hasn't hurt his book sales much.

Frey certainly isn't the first self-made man, the first person to combine fabrications and exaggerations with a dash of the truth to cook up a self-aggrandizing and largely fictitious autobiography. In the years following his death Richard Feynman was accused in the letters pages of Physics Today of exaggerating his role in many events, both major and minor, in his book of autobiographical anecdotes Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! Game-show creator and host Chuck Barris took the art of the fictional autobiography to new heights with his "unauthorized" 1982 autobiography Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (made into a motion picture twenty years later.) Fictionalized memoirs are nothing new. And biographies, especially posthumous biographies, are notorious for weaving together documented facts and occasional speculation to create colorful but not necessarily accurate portraits of their subjects.

So will Frey's book hang in on the bestseller lists? Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, you'd be better served by reading Jared Diamond's book. Now.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

In deep

Just purchased tickets to Ireland. This will probably be my last trip there, since my friend will be moving back this year sometime. Maybe.

This trip will use up all of my remaining 2005 vacation days and at least three of my 2006 days.

When I get back I will be buying a house.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Thank You, commentors!

I don't thank my commentors often enough. In part this is because I can't post comments while I'm at work - our "Surf Control" software lets me view my blog and most others, and lets me comment on a few, but unfortunately not on Another Monkey. Which means that I have to count on my incredibly unreliable short-term memory to keep any responses to comments I receive throughout the day in a mental buffer until I get home hours later. Which means that half the time I have forgotten what I wanted to say, and the other half the time I get distracted by, say, a new post that I want to write. And so sometimes I forget to respond.

Let me try to rectify that now. THANK YOU! Thank you for your kind comments about Ashes, and Haley, and my father, and my uncle, about the Theomeandering entry and the other entries that have been commented on in the past.

I'd like to think that blogging can exist in a vacuum. That I can scream into the void, and it won't matter if anyone hears or not. But that's not the way it works. I need feedback. I need to know that people are reading. Sitemeter lets me know that people are visiting, but only comments let me know that people are reading.

And I read and appreciate every comment. So for all the times I haven't said it in the past, and for all the times I'll forget to say it in the future, let me say it now: THANK YOU!


While I was working on the "Ashes" post last night there was a tremendous clap of thunder. My brother had called about 10 minutes earlier reporting seeing lightning. While thunderstorms are not uncommon in this area, thundersnow is quite rare. This thunder and lightning was associated with a brief but heavy snow squall which turned major highways into a "skating rink" according to the emergency personnel who had abandoned their vehicles to proceed, on foot, to the site of a traffic-blocking accident.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Ashes, January 24, 2006

I don't think I've ever written about Ashes before. On what may be the last night of his life, it seems appropriate.

Ashes came into our lives more than 14 years ago, in October, 1991.* My brother and his fiance had bought a kitten as a present for my future sister-in-law's mother, a tiny gray Tabby kitten. Unfortunately, physical limitations prevented her from being able to take care of a pet, and the kitten reverted to us.

As seems to be the rule, while my mom was on vacation in Florida with my sister several major events happened: we acquired a cat, and Skatarama burned down.

At the time we had a dog (Kitty) and a cat (Josephine, or Josie.) We had lost our Chihuahua Chico the year before, and my mom didn't want to get any more animals. But once my mom heard our new kitten purring over the phone, there was no turning back. And once he started purring, he never stopped.

We didn't want to jump into naming him, but everybody had the same general idea: his coat was not a perfect gray, but had a considerable amount of pinkish-white in it - exactly the color of anthracite coal ashes. (Everybody in Nanticoke is familiar with the color of anthracite coal ashes.) It was after the fire at Skatarama (in which my brother, who was a firefighter at the time, was nearly killed several times by structural collapses) that we decided to commemorate both his color and the destruction of a longstanding Nanticoke landmark with the name "Ashes".

Ashes was a tiny kitten. I decided to train him to ride around on my shoulder, like the Siamese cat in the Bob Dylan song. Josie didn't care for the new cat in the house, but Kitty was ecstatic over the new friend. Ashes explored his surroundings and made himself at home. He would sit near the TV screen when we played video games, and would chase the cursor around the screen on the Wheel of Fortune video game for the Sega Genesis. (This was 1991.)

He wasn't a perfect cat. He once peed on my raincoat, which wasn't much of an issue since it was Scotchguarded - the urine rolled right off. My grandmother, afraid I would spank him, begged me not to because I might "hurt his kidneys and his liver." In the end a badly-timed alarm clock went off by coincidence, and I told Ashes that this was the "bad cat alarm". It scared the hell out of him.

He used to be a very active cat. Late at night we would hear a galloping sound, followed by silence, followed by a scrape, more silence, and a thud. In the morning we would find scratchmarks two feet up along the walls of the hallway. Ashes had been charging up and down the hall, launching himself at the walls, and kicking off.

He later became a very large cat. Fat, in the way of many housecats, but big also, with a head almost as big as my two fists put together. Upon seeing him once a friend asked "What do you feed him, other cats?"

He eventually became the male head of a herd of housecats. He and Josie would roughhouse frequently, and he would play with Kitty the dog and later Haley. He and Minnie, a female nicotine-stain-brown Tabby that we acquired in 1998*, treated each other as equals. Joey, our most recent addition, was adopted as a favorite son. But Nikki, a naughty little cat that we raised from the time he was a few weeks old (my sister had raised him from the time of his birth and abandonment to that point), never found favor with Ashes, no matter how hard he tried to ingratiate himself with the Alpha cat.

Ashes has been a constant presence in our lives. He has had a few close calls, urinary tract infections and bad teeth, but he has always been there, wanting nothing more than to be loved up and occasionally brushed.

A few weeks ago my mom took him to the vet because he had displayed rapid weight loss. The vet found something puzzling: while he does not have leukemia, he apparently does have some other condition which is causing a shutdown of red blood cell production. He began a regimen of medication - administering the pills has been my job, and I do not know if the gradual reduction in difficulty has been due to improvements in my technique or a gradual loss of strength on his part. My mom has also been taking him to the vet every Tuesday morning for the last few weeks for a shot.

This morning my mom was sick - it seemed like a combined allergy and cold - and she asked me to take Ashes to the vet before I went to work. I usually go in to work around 9:00 to get there sometime after 9:30, and as far as we could tell the vet did not open until 9:00 this morning. But I figured the visit would be a quick in, quick out, and I would be back home and on my way no later than 9:30.

Turned out the vet had some other tests planned. Ashes and I waited together for the results. The vet eventually arrived and gravely explained Ashes' condition to me. He pulled back his eyelids to show me the whiteness within, where it should have been red. He pointed out that the inside of his ears were also white when they should have been pink with red veining. As he had less than 36 hours before Haley's death, he expressed astonishment and bewilderment that Ashes was still functioning at all.

He gave Ashes a shot of B-12 and gave me some new liquid medicines to administer starting tomorrow morning. I took Ashes home, a little numb, but glad to have a little more time with him. False hope is better than no hope.

It was well after 10:00 when I got home. I didn't get in to work until almost 11:00, which put my quitting time after 8-and-a-half hours at 7:30 PM. Fair enough.

Work kept me busy, filling the normal work day as well as my few late hours at then end of the day. Truth be told, I like after-hours work. I love my coworkers, but there is much to be said for the few hours of isolation that I can grab at the end of some days that allow me to focus without distraction.

I had a special project scheduled for the end of the day: a client had requested the return of specific assets from six very old projects. This meant I had to go climbing through my archives to retrieve the old project boxes, pull out the assets where available, and research return dates of any missing assets. It was fun and relatively mindless.

I came back to my desk at 6:15 after a half-hour of isolated gruntwork in my Asset Library with a handful of assets and a list of return dates. I was about to sit down and compose an e-mail to the client when I noticed I had a message on my phone.

Two messages.

The first was from about 5:50. My mom said that Ashes had just made some ungodly yowls - possibly like the yowls Josie let out just before she died on the day after Thanksgiving several years ago - and that he was being very still, laying in her lap, letting her scratch him. I should leave work very soon, she said.

The second message was from 6:12. Same message. Come home quick.

I called her back and began to shut down my computer. Ashes was still alive. I should leave right away.

I raced home as quickly as I could. No point in getting into an accident on the way home. And getting pulled over for speeding and reckless driving would only delay my arrival.

I got home. I ran up the steps from the basement. Halfway up my mom called down, "He's fine."

There was Ashes, laying on the kitchen table happy as could be as my mom went over him with a comb. Apparently he had rallied shortly after I had set out from work. There even seemed to be some color in his ears.

We worked him over, first with the comb, then with a sticky brush, then with a special cat and dog brush. He was in ecstasy.

Now he is stretched out behind me on what used to be my sister's bed, using a paperback dictionary as a pillow. I check from time to time to make sure he is still breathing. He is.

Soon my mom will be going to bed, and Ashes will be joining her. I will make sure I kiss him goodnight.

And in the morning, God willing, I will start him on his new medication.

UPDATE (6:52 AM, Wednesday, January 25, 2006): Ashes made it through the night. He looks quite perky right now. I will give him hist first doses of his new antibiotic and vitamin supplement in a few minutes.

*Dates have been changed from original, based on conflicting information from other sources. Someday I have to sit down and work out the definitive chronology of my life so far. Did we get Ashes before I started to work at Specialty Records, or after? Did we get him while my grandmother was with us due to her sciatica, or while she was with us due to her stroke?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Taxation without representation

A new tax went into effect this year in many Pennsylvania municipalities. The old $10 "Occupational Privilege Tax" has been replaced by an "Emergency and Municipal Sevices" tax. This is a tax which municipalities may opt into, and it may be up to $52 per year. Guess how much most municipalities have opted for.

Now, despite the title of this entry my beef is not primarily about taxation without representation, a condition which was used as a rallying cry during the American Revolution. Nor am I taking particular issue with the fact that this represents an increase of 420%* over what I was previously paying, which is pretty remarkably brazen if you think about it.

I live in a community of just over 10,000 people with no industry to speak of - our major employers are the school district, some banks and drugstores, and one supermarket. I work in a community of fewer than 6000 residents which hosts industries that probably employ some 4000 people - nearly 2000 at my company alone. (Yeah, we're big.) So last year, assuming that there were 4000 people employed in this municipality, the Occupational Privilege Tax would have raked in $40,000. This year, with the same assumptions, the Emergency and Municipal Services Tax will bring in $208,000.

If you are a regular reader you know that I take a pretty Liberal outlook on a lot of things. And what are Liberals noted for? Yes, "Tax and Spend." And you know what? There's plenty that this $168,000 windfall can be spent on. Snowplows, maybe. The town - borough? Bloomsburg is officially Pennsylvania's only "town" - where I work takes a "Let the cars tamp it down" attitude towards snow on the roads, resulting in extremely dangerous conditions for the 2000 or so people I work with. Yes, spending money on municipal services isn't a bad idea.

Only that place isn't run by Tax-and-Spend Liberals. No, the political philosophy there is "Tax and Pocket." The general coffers don't get filled; as one friend pointed out, the people running the place aren't caught with their hands in the cookie jar, they just swipe the whole thing to ransack at their leisure. And unfortunately I don't have the ability to use my vote to get those bums out of office and have different bums installed in their place. I may pay taxes there, but I can't vote there. So maybe this is about taxation without representation after all.

On the plus side, this tax may actually increase job security for people working in Pennsylvania. Money like this tends to become addicting - anyone who purchases liquor in Pennsylvania pays an 18% "emergency tax" in addition to the 6% sales tax - the "emergency" in question being the Johnstown Flood. This tax went into effect in 1936, and it is unlikely that Pennsylvania will ever repeal such an extremely lucrative source of revenue. So the new EMS tax is a huge incentive to honest municipalities and crooked politicians alike to hold onto as many area jobs as possible, and bring in as many new jobs as possible.

All those $52 tax payments add up, after all.

*(($52-$10)/$10) x 100% =
(($42)/$10) x 100% =
4.2 x 100% =
420% increase

Sunday, January 22, 2006

How to be a Hero (Disney version)

Yesterday I saw a commercial for the first time. We see parents and their children going about their daily business: pushing strollers, shopping, spending time around the house, doing homework together. Only the parents are dressed in brightly-colored spandex and wearing capes. In the background, we hear instrumental music that is probably vaguely familiar to most 30-somethings: after a few seconds of listening, and after processing the parents' costumes, I realized it was the theme to the 1980's TV show "The Greatest American Hero."

How nice, I thought. A PSA encouraging parents to be heroes to their kids by interacting with them, paying attention to them, making time for them, becoming a part of their lives. Yeah, right.


I don't remember verbatim what the voiceover said when it started, but it was something like "Be a hero to your kids. Take them to Disneyworld."

And now we see the spandex-clad-and-caped parents standing with their kids at the fireworks show at a surprisingly uncrowded Disneyworld (minus any rowdy drunks - must not have been a weekend.) The voiceover goes on to tell us that a family of four (two parents and two children) can spend something like six days and five nights - or was it five days and six nights? - at Disneyworld for the low, low price of $1500. (I think. I only saw the commercial once.)

Arrrgh. Disney really is the Evil Empire, isn't it?

Actually, Disneyworld is fun for adults and kids - well, kids over 4 years old, at least. Otherwise it's overwhelming and exhausting. And don't go on the weekend - see the link above. Still, if you want to be a hero to your kids, there are probably a lot better ways to do it than to fly them down to wander through an overpriced three-dimensional commercial.

Speaking of Physicists from NEPA...

Wilkes-Barre native William Daniel Phillips was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1997. I seemed to remember that - how could I forget such a thing? - but completely forgot his name.

This tidbit of information is courtesy of the Wikipedia entry on the "Coal Region", which is a subsection of NEPA. (NEPA doesn't have its own Wikipedia entry, but instead redirects you to the Coal Region entry.)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Physicist and the Professor

A lot of people look down on Northeastern Pennsylvania, including many people from Northeastern Pennsylvania. Coal-crackers, they call us. Heynas. Peasants. Scranton alone is the butt of a million jokes. Some people think of this place as good for nothing but a dumping ground for undesirables from Philadelphia, New York, and New Jersey.

They're wrong, of course.

More than a few noteable people have come from this area. Some, like Mary Jo Kopechne, are famous not for their accomplishments but for being victims of circumstance. Others have achieved fame for more positive reasons.

There are at least two world-famous scientists who were born in this area. One was Wlkes-Barre's David Bohm, a quantum physicist and one of Senator Joseph McCarthy's many victims. His career survived the McCarthy era, but only after he removed himself from the United States. He died in 1992 in London, leaving behind a huge body of work.

The other famous scientist is actually an actor playing the part of scientist - a scientist who could build a radio out of a coconut but couldn't figure out how to patch a two-foot hole on a boat. Russell Johnson, who achieved worldwide fame as The Professor on Gilligan's Island, was born in Ashley, a small town not far from Nanticoke. Perhaps like James Doohan - Star Trek's Scotty - Russell Johnson's Professor was responsible for creating interest in his character's field of expertise among impressionable young kids - especially the ones who wouldn't mind being stranded on a desert island with the likes of Ginger and Mary Ann.

There are no statues to these two, no schools named in their honor, not in this corner of the world. There should be. Something to commemorate their lives, to recognize their accomplishments, and to remind kids that even they - the great-grandchildren of coal crackers, the sons and daughters of Heynas, the children of exiles from the mean streets of the big cities - that even they can grow up to accomplish great things. Even to become great scientists.

Or at least play one on TV.

Friday, January 20, 2006

A survey, courtesy of Melanie

This is all Melanie's fault.

What were you doing 10 years ago?
That's a tough one. I bought my current car in March of 1996. My grandmother was one of the first people to go for a ride in it, and she was only a few weeks in her first nursing home then. So in January 1996 she wasn't in a nursing home yet, and was probably still at home with us. So part of the answer is that I was helping take care of her at home.

Workwise, I was still the Statistical Process Control Coordinator for CD Pre-Production, which was at that time mostly a teaching and training position, with plenty of analysis thrown in. I changed offices five times between 1993 and 1998, and each time my job description changed slightly. I think I was in the third office at this point, which means that my partner had already been broken off to work for our startup DVD group. This was in the days before there was anything called a DVD. We helped invent the technology - and paid a heavy price for being pioneers.

Personally I was travelling more, spending time in New Jersey and the Poconos and visiting a friend in her Lincoln Park apartment in Washington, D.C. Still, that doesn't help place me; I can't even remember when she moved in. Or was it out?

Given my annual bouts of Seasonal Affective Disorder, the answer is probably the same as what I do every January: sulking in a state of semi-hibernation.

What were you doing 1 year ago?
I thought my blog would help me here, but no such luck. All my posts from this time last year were pretty generic. See the above comment about S.A.D.

Personally and professionally, I was doing pretty much the same thing I am now. I am so dynamic.

Five snacks I enjoy:
1. Chocolate, especially chunk chocolate from Diamond's Candy Shoppe in downtown Nanticoke.
2. Local potato chip brands Middleswarth and Gibble's.
3. Turkey Hill Rocky Road Ice Cream.
4. Homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookies...homemade by me. They are the best. I rule.
5. Fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Counts as one because all together they do not amount to as much as any one of the others, but I will seriously snack on apples, oranges, grapes, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, celery, cucumbers, tomatoes, peanuts, pecans, almonds, and on, and on.

Five songs to which I know all the lyrics
I'm not sure I know all the lyrics to any songs. I've always had a hard time hearing lyrics to songs, so sometimes I'll fill them in with words that approximate the rhythm and the meter. I try to look up song lyrics, but sometimes the ones listed in the liner notes (for example, Barenaked Ladies' "If I Had $1,000,000", Counting Crows' "Mr Jones", or Courtney Love's "Hollywood Hills") are simply - and possibly intentionally - wrong.

Still, I have learned the words to a few songs that I will sometimes sing in my car at the top of my lungs:

1. "Just Like Heaven" - The Cure. 'Nuff said. It works as a country song, too.
2. "Cherub Rock" - Smashing Pumpkins. A dangerous song to have playing while driving. ("Whoooooooo waaaaahnts huuuuuhneeeeeee, 'slong as there's some.....maaaaaahneee, Who wahnts thaat huuhuuuuuuneee....")
3. "Lovers In A Dangerous Time" - originally by Bruce Cockburn*, I learned it from the Barenaked Ladies. ("Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight, you gotta kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight..." That gives me goosebumps just reading it.)
4. "I Alone" by Live. Good for inducing aneurysms while driving. Also good for waking yourself up late at night. (This also works as a country song: "I'll read tuh yeh heer, save yer ayes...yu'll need 'em, yer boat is at sea...")
5. "Stand Inside Your Love", Smashing Pumpkins. Discovered by accident when I dumped a Smashing Pumpkins Greatest Hits CD onto a 12-hour .mp3 compilation. Some of the words I approximate...I don't even know if Billy Corgan knows all the words. I learned this song mostly by playing it on a continuous loop on the way to work.

Five things I would do if I were a millionaire

1. Get a financial adviser. Seriously. That's the first thing.
2. Invest. Heavily. At least half of it.
3. Arrange things so my mom would never, ever have to worry about going into a nursing home. That might eat up the rest.
4. Buy a few chunks of forest and keep them as forest.
5. Invest whatever remains. I'll be sure to think of something else to do with it later.

Five bad habits
1. Sloth.
2. Gluttony.
3. Spending too much time on the Internet.
4. Procrastination.
5. Despair.

Five things I like doing
1. Blogging. Also spending too much time on the Internet.
2. Giving blood. Every eight weeks. It's the easiest way to lose weight that I know of, and the easiest way to help people without lifting a finger. If only they could do something about that damned needle.
3. Reading.
4. Girls. Wait, "doing girls" doesn't sound right, does it?
5. Driving. I'd better like it. I average 1,000 miles every 17 days.

Five things I would never wear, buy or get new again
Hmmm. Doesn't really seem to apply to me. I'm not known for fashion mistakes. Or fashion.
1. Flip-flops. I hate these things. They are the farthest things from the form of a "shoe" that you can get that are still marginally considered shoes. They are uncomfortable, do not serve any purpose other than to keep your feet off the ground, and fall off so easily that you need to focus tremendous concentration just to keep them on your feet. I wore them once, at the beach, and I think I threw them out. Sandals do the same job without most of the disadvantages.
2. Zip-up smooth-soled boots. I last wore these in third grade. They are uncomfortable, provide marginal ankle support, and give no traction. Plus I would sometimes get the skin of my ankle caught in the zipper.
3. Tank top or v-neck t-shirts under other shirts. These perform no real function. The v-neck looks ridiculous, too.
4. Down jacket. Very warm, but tends to be too fragile for me. Ends up spewing feathers from multiple ruptures. Last worn in fifth grade.
5. Tinted glasses. I think these make you look like a jerk, or like someone who wants to look like a jerk. Last worn when I was about 12.

Five favorite toys
1. My computer. Currently a Compaq Presario 7478, circa 1999. Upgraded the RAM in 2001 or 2002, but it's getting outpaced by the rigorous demands of most websites...or their pop-up ads.
2. My CyberHome DVD player. For under $40, it plays .mp3s, MPEG movies, JPEG images, CDs, and DVDs. Soon to be replaced with a CyberHome DVD Player/Recorder (approximate price: $80.)
3. My Nikon Coolpix 4100 camera. It's small, simple, and takes nice pictures.
4. My 1996 Toyota Tercel. Smart, fast, maneuverable, it's a car for someone who knows how to drive and isn't intimidated by vehicles 10 times your size. Efficient and reliable, too.
5. My painting stuff. Technically a big pile of things - paints, brushes, canvasses, wooden boxes, books of techniques. All comes together as one...when the time is right and the feeling hits me.

There. I did it. Dammit. Satisfied?

Oh, I guess I'm supposed to tag five people. OK, you, you, you in the funky T-shirt, you, and...you. No, not you. The other one.

Don't try to get out of it. I've got a Sitemeter. I know who you are.

*heh heh, heh heh

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Someone's in for a rude surprise

I broke my computer chair over two months ago. I broke it on a day which happened to not be garbage night, the day of the week when all of the household garbage and recyclables are dragged out to the curb for pickup the next day. So the broken carcass got placed in a fairly inconspicuous location behind my back porch. It sat in this spot until last Thursday.

Periodically our city does "big garbage pickup" when it will take away a single large object at no extra charge. Usually this is a television, air conditioner, or other semi-major home appliance. For me, it was the broken remains of a five-year old task chair with a detached back and mostly snapped-off seat, all of which had sat through two months of Fall and Winter weather in my back yard behind my porch. I snapped the seat off all the way lest some industrious soul decide that he had come upon a perfectly good chair being tossed out by some wasteful fool. (Anyone who knows me knows that when I am ready to throw something out, it's garbage.)

Friday came and went. They took my brother's Christmas tree - his new house is in an area where they don't bother to recycle, or compost, or do anything other than pick up garbage, so he brought it to our house for a more proper disposal - but they left the chair at the curb. It sat there, forlorn, like the discarded lamp in Spike Jonze's Ikea commercial, bereft of its chair-ness, two useless cushions next to a broken pillar on wheels. I left it there, at the curb, in case the "big garbage pickup" was happening over the weekend. Or maybe on Monday. Plus, I didn't want to touch the damned thing without latex gloves.

Saturday came and went. The chair sat there.

Sunday. I went out with some friends for a few hours that afternoon. When they dropped me off at my house, I squinted at the object on the curb. Something was different. Missing.

"Where are the cushions?" I asked.

"The what?" they inquired.

"The seat. The back. They're...gone."

And gone they were. The wind was fierce this weekend, especially on Saturday night, but all of the broken bits of chair had still been there on Sunday morning, and even into Sunday afternoon. Now the cushion parts were gone: two plastic-backed pieces of fabric-wrapped foam that had been subjected to more than five years of me and two months of rain and snow.

Why? What possible use could the cushions be put to? Try using them as a seat and you'll find yourself sitting on a damp sponge, possibly full of bacteria and maybe even little critters seeking refuge from the cold. Maybe some kid is looking to customize a go-kart, or someone wants to use them for sledding. All I can say is: Yiccchhh.

I won't be surprised if the cushions wind up tossed back on my lawn.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Oh, dear, I've been tagged

Melanie at Hyperextended Joints has tagged me with a survey.

Usually I hate these surveys. As readers of the last few entries know, even simple questions can spark a meandering, soul-serching ramble through my past, with little side-trips to places you might not have expected to go - or have wanted to go, if you knew what was good for you. People have generally learned to stop asking me the question "What are you thinking about right now?" Even my heavily edited answers tend to be a bit much. And the unedited versions...well, if you've ever seen "The Medusa Touch", you would understand why I might first scan the area for the presence of blunt objects before I ventured to give a more complete answer.

I have done one survey recently, on Anne's Almost Quintessence last June. I also did one via e-mail a few years back that was thought-provoking.

Because Melanie asked so nicely, I'll get around to answering this...soon. But not right now. Tonight is garbage night, and comingled recyclables night, and yet another night of high winds and massive temperature shifts. So I need to find a way to deal with all of these issues simultaneously. But I will fill it out soon, I promise!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Faith in Politics

This past Saturday afternoon I had an e-mail forwarded to me by Gort of Gort42:

If you're interested this is a PA blogger effort.

> From: "Lehigh Valley Democrat"
> Subject: Values, Religion and Politics
> Date: Tue, 03 Jan 2006 16:36:48 +0000
Hey all,

A couple of weeks ago, Above Average Jane and I had a give and take about how religion plays an influencing role in our political views (actually, we were arguing about abortion, but the above sound so much more cultured and refined). Though the conversation we emailed back and forth about perhaps having progressive leaning bloggers take the time to pen articles about faith in politics from a progressive point of view. Dems are too often labled as anti-religion and anti-family values, but we know the truth... that many of us have strong family units, go to church, volunteer in religious communities and hold very strong beliefs of religion and society. To make this more potent, Jane suggested doing this in a coordinated fashion so that all us progressive/liberal bloggers could make a profound statement about what religion means in our lives...

I think what might have brought about my invitation to this blogging exercise was a comment I made to Gort about how I might not be able to come to a gathering of local bloggers because the scheduled time was in conflict with the time I go to church each week.* I think I might have been the last one to show up at the dance. I spent much of the weekend mentally composing my essay, and much of yesterday writing it. (Blogger says I started it just after 2:00 in the afternoon, and my atomic clock said I hit the "Publish Post" comment at 11:59 PM. In between I removed our outdoor Christmas decorations, changed a burned-out floodlight, had dinner with my mom, aunt, and cousin, got gas at Sam's Club, and bought a candelabra at Target. But I digress.) When I got to the end I reviewed my post and realized that the introductory paragraphs - the bits that I had been thinking through all weekend - no longer fit in with the rest of the piece, and I cut them out. What remains was made up on the spot as I sat at my computer.

What I ended up with was not so much a statement of beliefs or analysis of the relationship between faith and politics, but more a typical bit of personal meandering similar to the waiter's tale from Monty Python's The Meaning Of Life. Several other bloggers who took part in the same exercise addressed the topic more coherently than I did. This list of participants is copied from several of their sites, and may not be complete. Check them out and see what they have to say.


Above Average Jane

Apt. 2024

Just Between Strangers


The Smedley Log

Forever a Square Peg

Gort 42

Another Monkey

Summarized in Keystone Politics

*Turns out that that wasn't what brought about the invite. As Gort himself commented:

Actually this remark on one of your earlier posts made me think you would be interested.
"What would Jesus do? He would kick Pat Robertson's ass on national television from one end of the set to the other."

Monday, January 16, 2006


I was raised in the same small town where I still live. Nanticoke is predominantly Polish, predominantly Roman Catholic. I went to Church every Sunday since before I could walk, and in my youth went to my grandmother's for a brunch of Polish sausage and white bread and coffee afterwards every week. I spent the first nine years of my education in Catholic school, and most of those years served as an altar boy.

The priest at our parish for most of those years was Father Piontek. He was a crass, gruff man, balding, easily annoyed, with liver spots and at least three chins and vertical creases on his earlobes that have been correlated to an increased likelihood of a heart attack, fond of cigars and Cadillacs and black cowboy hats. He slurred his way through most Masses in a loud, flat voice, the words having become blurred by repitition into little more than sounds emitted from the larynx without any conscious processing whatsoever.

The nuns at our school were part of a dying breed, and they knew it. Only a few wore the full old-fashioned Carmelite habit. Through the years more and more lay teachers took over classes, and in the end both the school and the convent closed.

Father Piontek was eventually transferred to another parish in town, and Father Krafchak came to replace him. By this time I was in High School, or very nearly so, and was stepping away from my role as an altar boy. I was becoming more distanced from the day-to-day activity of my parish, but this seemed only natural as I entered my teens.

After High School I moved on to the University of Scranton, a Jesuit university located in Scranton, Pennsylvania. While it was only a half-hour from my home, my full tuition scholarship made on-campus housing financially attainable. I took up residence there and became a part of the U of S community.

I was not active in Campus Ministries beyond my attendance at the weekly Mass. In my Freshman year I became involved with a group called Students Against Hunger - a group whose name changed, during the writing of a press release for the campus newspaper, into Students For Social Justice.

Students For Social Justice had connections to Campus Ministries. Our faculty advisor was one of the priests in the Campus Ministries office. We hung out in their offices and made friends with Pam Tigrett, the Campus Ministries secretary.

This was in the late 1980's. Oppressive and murderous right-wing regimes were in power in parts of Central and South America, operating with the blessing and support of the Reagan administration. In Nicaragua a leftist Communist-supported regime was in power, so in this case the Reagan administration was with a group known as the Contra rebels - described as "the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers" by Ronald Reagan, described as rapists and murderers by people in the field. A movement known as Liberation Theology was taking root among those who worked with the poor and the oppressed in these countries, only to be smacked down and disavowed by a Pope who despised anything that had the taint of Communism, regardless of what the alternative might be.

Our Lady of Czestachowa Church and School
(a.k.a. St. Mary's)
Nanticoke, PA

It was during these years that I began to question both Church and State. The Reagan administration was blatantly wrong on a great many topics from a moral and ethical point of view. The Church, as I saw it, was wrong on the issue of Liberation Theology, just as it was wrong on the issue of contraception. But still I went to Mass every week.

Our Lady of Czestachowah Church

After graduating from Scranton I went on to a brief but horrible semester as a graduate student at the University of Delaware. It was there that I realized I would not be able to fulfill my dream of earning a Ph.D. in Physics by age 27 and settling into a career of writing advanced science books for the general public.

There was a Catholic chapel on the campus of the University of Delaware. In Delaware Catholics are fewer and farther between than in Northeastern Pennsylvania, so despite the campus being several times the size of the U of S, Delaware's chapel was perhaps somewhat smaller than the campus chapel in Scranton. That chapel became my church for the two years of my exile in Delaware.

From left to right:
New Rectory (built in the 1980's)
Convent (disused for about 20 years, slated for demolition)
St. Mary's School

Upon my return to Pennsylvania I almost immediately took on the role of full-time caregiver to my 81-year-old grandmother, who was floored with a severe case of sciatica. Both of my parents were working full-time, my brother was taking classes to become a nurse, and my sister was living out-of-state. For more than six months this was my job, to wait on her and administer her medications and cook her meals and help her get to the bathroom or into bed.

I returned to the parish of my childhood to find things subtly different. Time had had its way with the parish, and many of the old faces were gone forever. The nuns were gone, too, as was the old rectory.

My grandmother eventually recovered from her sciatica, only to be felled almost immediately by a stroke.

Wind Tunnel and Nuns' Bridge

Strokes are terrible things. Her recovery was slow and incomplete. She returned to stay with us for several more years, until her condition had deteriorated to the point that she needed full-time medical attention.

My grandmother bounced from one nursing home to another. None of them were right for her, but in the end she settled into one that was more right than all the other ones. This one had one great advantage over the others, for her at least: it was a Catholic institution, and provided a daily and weekly Mass for the residents.

For the next few years this became my parish as I attended Sunday Mass with my grandmother. The Mass provided a continuity for her with her past, a continuity connecting the Catholic upbringing of her childhood with the daily attendance of the Mass in her adult years to the suffering and loss of freedom of her final years. She enjoyed it. At the Sunday service I would pull out some token cash for the collection basket, a dollar for me and a dollar for her. Once in a while she would look at the profferred dollar and say, "Put in five for me."

She died, as we all eventually will. I saw her body in the hospital early that morning - it was a Sunday - and went to the nursing home as soon as the doors opened so I could talk to the head nurse. She told me about how my grandmother had been talking and joking with the nurses when they came to give her medication early in the morning. An hour later they found her unresponsive and without a pulse in her bed. They had tried, frantically, to bring her back while they waited for the ambulance to arrive. They cried, she told me. They had all loved her vey much.

I looked at the clock. It was almost time for church.

I went to the nursing home's chapel. The chapel was not designed to accommodate a large number of wheelchair-bound attendees. Most Sundays my grandmother and I stood in the hallway outside of the chapel along with a dozen or so other residents. We had our regular spot, and other people had their regular spots, and we were all in more or less the same relative positions each week.

That Sunday I stood alone in our regular spot. People who didn't know before that my grandmother had died, knew then.


The nursing home remained my parish for several years after my grandmother's death until Masses there were discontinued as part of the ongoing diocesean implosion. Every once in a while I would remember my grandmother's periodic request and I would put six dollars in the collection basket - one for me, five for her.

After Masses at the nursing home were discontinued I returned, grudgingly, to the parish of my youth. I felt very little connection with it anymore. But still I attended Mass every week.

It was during one of these Masses that I had the closest thing I have ever had to a genuine religious experience. It was just after the Pope - Pope John Paul II - had died in 2005, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the portion of the Mass in which the bread and wine are consecrated and, we are told, transubstantiate into the actual body and blood of Christ. Looking at the ceremony, seeing the lights glint off the golden chalice and candlesticks, hearing the familiar words, I was suddenly impressed with the feeling that this was the moment that united all Catholics together. I saw all of the Masses being held everywhere in the world at all times in the past, present, and future, stictched together by this golden thread. As I pulled out of the mental rabbit-hole that I was pluging into headfirst, I thought to myself: This is the ultimate Catholic water-cooler moment.

Parishes are closing all around us. Father Piontek is dead, my grandmother is dead, my father is dead, my uncle, who was our church organist for many years, is dead. Father Krafchak is retiring in a few months, and the future of our parish is uncertain. I still believe that the Catholic Church is dead wrong about many issues. I hold out hope that God will someday steer the apostolic hierarchy in the right direction.

And I still go to Mass every week.

Rear Stairwell
St. Mary's School

This started out as something very different from what it became. It was originally to be an essay on religion and the politics of the Liberal blogger. Instead it became a meander through my life as seen through the filter of religion and, especially, the Mass. It comes as a surprise to some of my conservative friends and acquaintainces when they discover that I attend Mass regularly. Such a thing does not fit in with their preconceived notion of what a "Liberal" is or does. But they need to learn that "Liberals" are not bound to act according to either the preconceived notions of "Conservatives" or the confabulations of "Conservative" pundits and demagogues.

There are those who claim positions of moral superiority and yet behave in manners that are morally reprehensible. I try to avoid making any such claims, or behaving in any such ways. My religion is not the religion of the Pharisee who makes a great show of his piety so that others will be impressed. My beliefs are more quietely expressed through my actions. Who I am, what I believe, is what I do. I can make no stronger statement of the role of my religious beliefs in my politics than that.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Looking inward

The first blogger I ever read regularly, or possibly at all, was Camilla Henrikke at wallflower.nu. This fact is commemorated by having her listed at the top of my links to other people's blogs. Second on my list is Samantha at sdfsdf.wox.org. I found Sammie's site by way of a link from a site linked by Camilla. I visit both Camilla and Sammie's sites on a daily basis. When I think of blogging, they are what comes to mind. In a large part, they are responsible for me getting into blogging.

Camilla is based in Norway, while Sammie is on the East coast of Australia. From the start, blogging for me has been something international in scope. My Sitemeter shows me that I have visitors from all over the country and all over the world - some intentional, some accidental. I have always tried to keep that in mind in my writing.

So the experience of NEPA Blogs is something completely different. The subject matter of this blog is a geographical region entirely within a two-hour drive from my house. (Well, maybe longer for the bits not serviced by major roads.) The target audience is completely different, too - it's really aimed at people from Northeastern Pennsylvania, or people who used to live here, or people who are planning to come here. Instead of turning my awareness outward towards the rest of the world, on NEPA Blogs I am turning it inward, close to home.

The structure is different, too. NEPA Blogs is primarily a link site. Its main goal is to provide links to as many bloggers in Northeastern Pennsylvania as I can locate. Secondarily it provides links to non-blog sites about NEPA. It is not a site about content: we may introduce some websites with some musings and stories about the sites themselves, but the intention is not to be creating new content, but rather to point the way to other sites that contain content.

Gort from Gort42 is on board at Nepa Blogs. He has an extensive knowledge of the local blogging scene and local goings-on. I have general knowledge of local websites and a handful of bloggers, and I am a tireless researcher. We have added lots of links to the new site in just two days - links that may be of absolutely no interest for someone not from Northeast PA. What would someone from New South Wales care about "Nuangola's UNOFFICIAL Home on the Web"? Why would someone from Istanbul want to read about Nanticoke actor Nick Adams's short, sad life? But it's there, it's available.

For me, NEPA Blogs will be a sort of counterpoint to Another Monkey. It's not written with a general audience in mind, but all are welcome. Who knows, maybe you'll find something interesting at Capt'n Clint's Place, or the Nanticoke Historical Society website. And while you're at it, you might just stop by the blogs for k8, or Rochelle, or Ben Folds Laundry, or...

Friday, January 13, 2006

Check out NEPA Blogs!

I've created a new blog called NEPA Blogs. (Yes, I know the name has already been used elsewhere.) This will be more a link site than a blog, exactly - the primary goal will be to point to blogs and other sites about Northeastern Pennsylvania, or by people from Northeastern Pennsylvania. This is all explained in the introductory post. Check it out!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Webster has a blog!

Local DJ John Webster (of the hilarious Daniels & Webster morning show on Rock 107) has started a blog!


Gort over at Gort 42 has written in the past about local radio personalities who are hostile towards bloggers and blogging. The Daniels & Webster show is a very popular and funny show (although personally I hate Rock 107's "Oldies/Classic Rock" format - I listen to the station for D&W, then switch to another station when the music starts.) Maybe this exposure will encourage more folks in Northeastern PA to take up blogging!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Bush and "Irresponsible Debate"

I just read Our Beloved Maximum Leader's comments about "irresponsible debate", and I'm still spluttering and trying to formulate a response that isn't simply a knee-jerk. Next this guy will be telling us that the key to success is hard work, honesty, personal responsibility, and fair play - just look at where it's gotten him.

As usual, Adam Felber has addressed this issue far better than I ever could.

It looks like Felberpalooza 2006 is actually going to happen this Labor Day weekend right here in Pennsylvania! Look here for details.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Send some love Sammie's way

Samantha's beloved Australian tree frog Gilbert died over the holidays.

If you've never visited Sammie's site, you've missed out on seeing this clown-like amphibian crawl all over the place. She even had her own web page for a while. She will be missed, by Sammie far more than anyone else, but by Sammie's readers, too.

Please stop by sdfsdf.wox.org and give Sammie a virtual hug.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A random walk through the blogosphere

Here's a little experiment. I'm going to step through ten blogs using the "Next Blog" button provided by Blogger. I will provide the name, link, and a description of the blogs. Any fake blogs I find I will flag, and I encourage you to flag them too.

The Wilsons: Family News, Events, Photos, and Happenings
Wow. This looks amazingly wholesome. And it just started on December 8, 2005, so it's not hard to catch up from the beginning. Very nice. A promising start to my walk.

Car Kills
: "We have in the past overcomed all enemies (weather,calamity, plaque) but ourselves. We have invented cars. But cars also killed estimated 1.2 million people worldwide each year, and injure about 40 times this number. 42,636 people in US alone died in motor vehicle crashes in 2004. How often do your hear media discuss this?"
Check out "Roadside erotic images cause car accidents"!

Another wholesome family blog. This is not going as I expected!

Evo Morales, vido y milagros
Ummm, it's in Spanish. Best I can tell, it's about the President-elect of Bolivia?

nanotechnology blog: A Blog about Computers and Electronics
Exactly what it says.

Hmmm...halfway through this walk, and no "bitch blogs", no rants by 12-year-olds or psychopaths, no numbers blogs, or porn blogs, or ONLINE CASINO GAMBLING blogs, or other fake blogs. I am somewhat disappointed.

Artist Way Quilters
Lisa from Amazing Grace might find this interesting.

Dvalin Darkdale: Discussion of Asatru, Current Events and Religious Philosophy
Ummm, yeah. Warning: it's got a popup that Firefox blocked for me, so I have no idea what it is.

The Photography of Sam Adams
And you thought he was just about the beer! Lots and lots of photos - mostly artistic architectural.

Things That Make Me ANGRY!
: These are posts of stupid everyday things that get under my skin.
At last! Not just a bitch blog, but a blog specifically dedicated to bitching!

A series of book and story reviews. This person must be plowing through books at an amazing rate.

So, there you have it: ten random blogs, all apparently legitimate. gzReads is probably the only one that I would feel much desire to return to, but I don't think I would be adding it to my blog links. But nothing that holds up Chris Pirillo's as-yet-unretracted assertions that Blospot is "nothing but a crapfarm" with 99% "splogs", or "fake blogs". I wonder how many more times I would have to click to get to something seedy, or fake...

Update: The answer is, apparently, eight, assuming that this blog is a fake one randomly adding content that contains the word "office". (Good luck making your way around the damaged template without spraining something.) So one for eighteen, that's not bad.

By the way, do check out the other blog belonging to GZ of gzReads, BrainyPants. This one may very well get added to my blog links. Be sure to check out the introductory post BrainyPants: Welcome to BrainyPants!

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Two long overdue additions

It's been a few weeks since Mr. H.K. posted his first comment on Another Monkey. I've been meaning to link him but keep forgetting. Well, here he is now - with not one, but two sites.

Postcards From Hell's Kitchen is Mr. H.K.'s main blog. I actually first became aware of it during the Smenita incident, since he (like several million other bloggers) was also affected by the breakdown of the comment verification system. It's a fun look at an alternative lifestyle in a big city, a world alien to my own in almost every respect - but still fun and interesting.

"and i quote blog"
is a collection of quotes presented without commentary (aside from the identification of the individual quoted). Some of the quotes are familiar, some obscure, some from famous people, some from people who are identified only by screen names. The overall effect is fascinating.

Go on over to Mr. H.K.'s blogs - both of them - and have a look for yourself!

More misplaced comments

Once again I'm having problems posting comments on IndustrialBlog. Maybe I've been banned. Maybe it's just a technical glitch.* Until we get it sorted out, I'll just post my comments here. We can always copy and paste them later, assuming the ones I posted earlier have vanished into the ether.

These comments are in chronological order, oldest first. (IndustrialBlog, like most blogs, is in reverse-chronological order, with the newest posts at the top. The comments for the newest post will be at the bottom of this list.)

No excuse
Chris, OK, now I understand what you were saying, though I'm still not sure how you missed this story. Even without cable TV, it was the top news story for several days last week on broadcast TV, the radio, newspapers, and the Internet. For my take on the story, and the story-that-is-the-story-about-the-story, check this post. There's even a link to one of the (still-archived) incorrect news stories, though you'll need a free online registration to read the full text.

Bitch blogs
I hope you don't think I was ripping into you, or speaking out of frustration. My crappy day has resulted in feelings of exasperation, not frustration - big difference. Frustration would have me ready to randomly lash out at the world. Exasperation means that I have had just about enough crap for one day, and I'm not ready to passively accept much more. I've been cruising a lot of blogs lately looking to add new ones to my links, and a lot of the ones I've been coming across that aren't fake blogs or the incoherent scribblings of a 12-year-old have fallen into the "bitch blogs" category. (And this includes some of the bigger and better-attended ones, too.) If you think that my comments were directed specifically at you, then maybe some introspection and review are in order. (If you want to see what specifically brought about this comment, go here. You'll need quite a lot of backstory to understand. I want to like her blog, but her bitching about her girlfriend - or possibly ex-girlfriend - gets on my nerves. Do you think yours is the only blog I visit?) I will say in public what I have said to your face: on your best days, you're better than George Will on his best days. And I'd rather read you than George Will. (But, hey, my subscription is for all of Newsweek, not just the parts I like. And I'm sure there are pagan babies somewhere who would love to feast their eyes on George Will's column every other week.)

Haven't we captured Al Qaeda's #2 man, like, eight times already?

Have you ever seen the cartoon of the Al Qaeda organizational chart? Osama bin Laden at the top, everybody else at #2.

*It looks like I've been de-linked from that site, so it's probably not just a technical glitch. The last time somebody de-linked me, I de-linked them in retaliation. Then I thought to myself, "You know what? This isn't High School, and I'm not 15," and I re-established the link. (She never did.) My links are there because I read these sites, and it makes it easier for me to get to them when I'm not at my own computer. If someone de-links me, it hurts my Google rank, but other than that, it's their business.

UPDATE: Now it looks like I'm there again. Maybe I was there all the while. I don't know.

Saturday wrap-up

Things got a little better today after this morning's bad start:

1. The furnace seems to be working now. The house is gradually crawling back towards 70 degrees. It was strange to pull pots out of the lazy susan and find that they were nearly ice-cold - they seemed to be colder than everything else in the house.

2. Mass (for my father) was nice. But someone decided to bring a squalling child into the choir loft. Unfortunately, this person also took a let-them-get-it-out-of-their-system approach to child behavior, which meant the entire congregation was treated to their child's screaming and repetitive thumping for much of the Mass as broadcast from a part of the church from which sounds are actually meant to carry very well.

3. My cousin's three-year-old daughter was there, and she was a perfect angel. She whispered whenever she needed to talk during the Mass, and as the congregation was dispersing after the Mass had ended she asked, with obvious glee, "Can we talk loud now?"

4. Since our church's manger scene is being dismantled later this week we took my cousin's daughter down to see it, to see the camel and the moo-cow with horns and the baby Jesus and the man with the beard like daddy and the bald head like Pop-Pop and the wooly sheep and the other little sheep that appeared to have found, somewhere, a bunch of bananas. (It might have been supposed to be a bale of hay.) After that we left through the church's side entrance and saw a real live bunny rabbit.

5. The Earth's axial tilt (the true reason for the season) is currently oriented so that the sun is setting later and later in the Northern Hemisphere. So my mom and I were able to stop at the cemetery before it was too dark. (It was already full dark when we got there, but we still had a half-hour before the gates were locked.)

6. After the cemetery I took my mom to one of the local Kmarts to pick up plastic storage boxes and any deep-discounted Christmas decorations that we found worthwhile.

7. On the way home the "Check Engine" light in my mom's car (we usually use her car when I drive her anywhere, since it's more comfortable for her) came on. Oh well.

8. I managed to pick up the scattered books and magazines and catalogs from my bathroom floor. Most of these are in temporary locations right now, but I can deal with this later.

All in all, not too bad. If the furnace makes it through the night I'll be glad.

Crappy Saturday (so far)

I don't like bitch blogs, where all people do is complain about everything from politics to the "liberal media" to how much they hate the ex-girlfriend they broke up with (or who broke up with them) years ago but she's a skanky slut and they hate her and they don't care about her and she's a slut and a skank and they really don't care oh but did they mention she's a skank? There seem to be no end of these, and it seems that it may actually be a good reader-attracting strategy to simply bitch on your blog. People seem to like it.

I don't like it. And I try not to bitch whenever possible. But...hey, it's 1:00 in the afternoon, and I have to tell you how this day is going:

1. I woke up this morning dreaming I was dying of cancer - stomach cancer, I think. In the dream, I had a scheduled "death date", much like a scheduled "due date" for a pregnant woman. The date was a Saturday (today, maybe?) but I wasn't showing any signs of dying, or even many signs of being sick. So my doctor was going to induce me (basically euthanize me.) I pointed out that I was actually feeling pretty well, although I had accepted that I was sick and dying of something that would be increasingly painful. So I asked for medication to ease the pain in the coming weeks. The doctor misunderstood me and thought that I was looking for some treatment despite the fact that my case was beyond hope. He warned me that any treatment would cause internal bleeding. I was trying to explain that no, all I was looking for was something for the anticipated pain, when...

2. ...I awoke to find that the furnace in our house had died overnight, and the whole house was now below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. (I awoke in the middle of the dream, which is why I remember so much of it.) We called in a service guy, but while tidying up the area around the furnace (which is also where the cats' litter boxes are located), the furnace came back on by itself. By the time he got here the furnace was running fine, and he concluded that we were idiots who had turned our thermostat down to under 60 degrees. I blamed the cats.

3. I had plans for today: a blood donation, a haircut, a trip to the Post Office for a hundred or so two-cent stamps (since the new postal rates go into effect tomorrow, and I have tons of old stamps), a trip to the bank to deposit two weeks of paychecks. As it was, I wasted until after 10:30 in the morning dealing with a phantom furnace issue. I decided to go in for a shower and try to salvage what I could. (The blood center, the barber, and the Post Office all close at noon on Saturdays, and a blood donation takes about an hour all by itself.)

4. While I was in the shower, my mom informed me that the furnace had stopped pumping heat again.

5. After getting dressed and gearing up, the cell phone bulging out of my right hip pocket (and yes, I am happy to see you) snagged the book and magazine rack in my downstairs bathroom as I maneuvered around it, causing it to collapse.

6. I picked up as many of the books as I could (those that were in immediate danger of being in water on the floor from my shower) and sized up my situation: I would not be able to give blood today if I wanted to be there when the next service guy showed up. Ditto on a haircut, which would take anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour, door to door, depending on if there were any people in front of me. I could deposit my checks anytime in an ATM. Which left the Post Office as the only available activity option for the day.

7. Most of the population of Nanticoke had apparently had the same idea today, and were currently standing in line at the Post Office. (Vending machines loaded with the two-cent stamps placed in the lobby would have been a great idea. Too bad the Post Office is not noted for great ideas.) I saw the line, turned around, walked away, turned around, walked back, thought better of it, and left. No blood donation, no haircut, no two-cent stamps, just a broken furnace and a billion books and magazines and catalogs scattered across my bathroom floor.

8. I decided to sit down at the computer and look up the MySpace sites for a local musician, and her girlfriend (or possibly ex-girlfriend, it's hard to be sure), and their dead dog. (Yes. Their dead dog has a MySpace site.) Unfortunately, MySpace is one of the worst resource hogs in the known universe, so it was almost impossible to spend much time at their sites, let alone work them into this blog entry. Maybe some other time.

9. By now a different service guy had shown up. This time the furnace had not spontaneously started yet, and the temperature had again fallen below 60 degrees. He spent an hour here and replaced some contacts. The heat seems to be working again.

So now I need to roll up my sleeves and sift through the reading material all over my bathroom floor, deciding what to toss, what to store, and what to keep current. And in two hours I have to go to a Mass for my father. So this day is pretty much done.

Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Pat Robertson Is Not A Christian

End of story. Anybody who understands Christianity knows that. He no more speaks for Christians than Osama bin Laden speaks for Muslims.

What would Jesus do? He would kick Pat Robertson's ass on national television from one end of the set to the other. His failure to make a special guest appearance on Pat Robertson's TV show to do just that sort of thing has actually made some of his followers start to wonder if he cares...or if he's even there at all.

Adam Felber addressed a similar line of thought a little while back, and received quite a few thoughtful comments on the matter.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Comments on other people's blogs

Sometimes I use up my allocated writing energy units for any given day writing comments on other people's blogs. For a political comment, this energy can be drained fairly quickly. When the topic is something more fun, I can go on at length.

Check out this entry about near-future science-fiction settings, and my lengthy comment, on SuperG's My Distractions In This Modern Age.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


This morning I made a verbal commitment to buy a house.

Not just any house. This is my grandmother's old house, a beautiful big double-block house dating from the early years of the 20th century, with three bedrooms and one bath on each side, wrought-iron fence in the front, a glider swing on the front porch, and grapevines in the back. A house in which I spent many of the happiest days of my youth.

My grandmother didn't live there anymore after her stroke back in 1992, and even before her death in 1998 ownership had passed to my uncle, who died last May. In the fall of 1997, when she knew I was looking to buy a house, she had implored me to buy hers. "It's a double-block, so you can move your mommy and daddy next door so you can watch over them," she said, trying to pitch the house to me. These days my father no longer needs watching, and my mother will be less than a mile across town. The current tenants (on the left side of the house) will be moving out in a few months, and I haven't decided what I will do with that side of the house. I don't want to rent it out, but I don't know if I want to violate the integrity of the poured-plaster walls by smashing though them and turning this into a single enormous house.

I still have a few months to work out the financing - the asking price is quite low, but not so low that I will be able to fulfill my dream of buying a house with a briefcase of cash. But by the end of this Spring, if all goes as planned, I will be a homeowner.


In a tragic echo of the erroneous Chicago Tribune headline on the results of the 1948 presidential election, newspapers all over the country (including the New York Times) are arriving at doorsteps and newsstands announcing "12 Miners Found Alive 41 Hours After Explosion". Unfortunately, the headlines are exactly wrong: the bodies of 12 dead miners have been recovered from the Sago mine in West Virginia, and a single miner was rescued alive but in critical condition. (Newspapers are not the only media outlet that got this wrong, but they are the only ones so far who have committed the erroneous information to paper. Most TV news outlets have been hastily rewriting their newsreaders' scripts to reflect the correct information.)

As someone living in what was once coal mining country (prior to the 1959 Knox Mine Disaster, which also killed 12 miners but effectively ended coal mining in this area) and descended (like most people in this region) from coal miners, I feel a visceral connection to the people affected by the tragedy. My heart, and the hearts of many in Northeastern Pennsylvania, goes out to them.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Trappist Caskets

While writing that last post, I found myself going to the Wikipedia to verify the existence of the alleged link between Dostoevsky's Porfiry Petrovich and TV's Lieutenant Columbo. Being a compulsive reader, I naturally scanned through the article and was once again astonished by the fact that while in her 20's Kate Mulgrew (Star Trek:Voyager's Captain Janeway) also briefly played a character who may or may not have been Columbo's ex-wife Kate. From there, of course, I followed the link to the Wikipedia entry on Kate Mulgrew, which stated that she "recently did a radio commercial for the Trappist monks of New Melleray Abbey on their line of Trappist Caskets." Of course, at this point I had no choice but to follow the link to the Trappist Caskets site.

Trappist Caskets! Holy crap! (If you will forgive the blasphemy. )

These things are beautiful, and very affordable. I have always wanted to be buried (or, preferably, cremated, after all of my fillings and other artificial bits have been ripped out and after any useful organs have been pulled out for transplant) in a pine box, simple and without ornamentation - something very much along the lines of their $875 simple shaped casket. If I had had the time, and the presence of mind, and the knowledge of this site, I would have chosen one of these caskets (even a more ornate one) for my father over the powder-blue number we picked from our undertaker's limited supply.

After my father's death I touched on the subject with my mother, and she said that she would like something similar or identical to the package we selected for my father. Still, now that we know that this option exists, maybe she'll reconsider.

Not that she'll be there to admire her casket, or I for mine. You don't get to smell your own flowers at a funeral. That privilege is reserved for another sort of ceremony.

The Idiot

No, I'm not talking about His Imperial Nakedness, George W. Bush, or about his supporters, though the term (in its common pejorative sense) applies in both cases. No, at the urging of a friend I have just purchased and intend to read Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot.

I've read a little Dostoevsky before (if there can be said to be such a thing as "a little Dostoevsky.") I read The Brothers Karamazov in college, and remember it as a rollicking good read - one of the first books I would choose if I were going to be stranded on a desert island. I read Crime and Punishment more recently - although as I write this I realize I read it some 14 years ago, not too much more recently than the 17 or 18 years since I read The Brothers Karamazov, but infinitely closer in my mind. One was read in college before the ordeal of my semester in graduate school; the other was read after my time in Delaware and shortly before I began my employment at a company that at the time was called Specialty Records.

I didn't enjoy Crime and Punishment as much as The Brothers Karamazov, and I never saw the alleged influence that the Crime and Punishment character detective Porfiry Petrovich had on the TV detective Lietenant Columbo. Still, it had one of the most memorable pre-suicide lines of any book, which I may be misremembering as "If anyone asks about me, tell them I went to America." (Online translations render this line differently.)

So. Here I go, back again into the world of Russian literature. Wish me luck!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Old School

A chance encounter a few days ago has got me thinking about my time in college.

It was December 30th, at the wake for my friend's father. We are friends from college, both members of the University of Scranton Class of 1989. We both still keep in touch with many people from Scranton, although not the same people. At the wake there were some people with whom my friend has kept in touch but I, for no very good reason, have not.

I met these people at the back of the funeral home and was greeted by our mutual friend. After she reviewed the programs I had designed the night before (based on her instructions delivered over the phone, consisting of basic birth and death dates and a special Jesuit prayer) and printed earlier that day, she was called away to resume her familial duties at the front of the room. As quietly and respectfully as possible our old friends and I talked and laughed and reminisced. The last time we saw each other was at our mutual friend's wedding several years ago. I had not seen their daughter in years, and had not seen their sons since they were toddlers. Their daughter babysits for one of our old professors, a charming and brilliant man with a penchant for marrying his former students. We spent many long nights over at his house during our Junior and Senior years, all of us and a few other friends, one of whom would eventually become his wife - for a few years, anyway, until he moved on to his next former student.

One of the two priests concelebrating the funeral Mass the next day was one of our old Philosophy professors, and he was also present at the wake. He and I never clicked on the level I did with many of my other professors, but we have always been civil-to-friendly through the years. We spoke together for a few minutes that evening, about how my father and his mother had both died in the previous months, about life and work, and he eventually worked out that while I live in Nanticoke, I work north of Scranton. Which means that I drive past Scranton twice a day. "Oh," was his whole response to this, one that carried a weight of disppointment. Why didn't I ever bother to stop over?

I used to spend quite a lot of time in Scranton. For a few years after I started working at my current job I would stop in from time to time to visit with Pam Tigrett, the secretary for Campus Ministries - someone who deserves a whole blog entry, and possibly several books. Pam died of cancer back in 1994 or so, and I stopped visiting as much as I had. But then one of my old friends came back to the University as a part-time professor, and for years we would meet at least once a month or so for dinner. Eventually he moved on to bigger and better things - well, better, anyway, a tenure-track position at a small midwestern university. And so once again I lost a connection to Scranton.

I miss those days. I miss the atmosphere. The U of S in the mid- to late-eighties was not known for students who were there to excel academically. Many - most - were there because their rich mommies and daddies couldn't get them into fancier colleges in New York, New Jersey, or Philadelphia and didn't want them staying too close to home. So they packed their kids off to Scranton, to party and take easy classes and kill time for four years before they barely squeaked through with a degree, hopefully without amassing too long of a police record.

But there were a few of us who were different, who were more serious about our studies, who were more intense about our lives. Many of us were concentrated into the SJLA, the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts program, which eliminated many of the meaningless elective courses and replaced them with specially-designed courses like Great Books and Logical and Rhetorical Analysis. This became more of a challenge when your primary major was Physics, although it made picking up a second major in Philosophy easier. (My friend who became a professor had a triple major.)

Hanging out with my friends from the SJLA made me think about my life and what I've done with it, where I'm going and where I've been, what roads I've chosen to get here and what paths I will choose tomorrow. I feel like I haven't lived up to my potential, that I'm wasting my life, that I've chosen the safe and the easy over the risky and the hard. I have walked away from things I shouldn't have, and I waste my time doing things I shouldn't do. I really feel like I'm in a rut. The question is, will I try to climb out of it, or just snuggle myself in its warmth and comfort?