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?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sleep, now

If I fall asleep right now, I can get just over four hours of sleep before my 3:00 AM alarm. Even if I allow myself to stay in bed until 4:00 AM, that still won't amount to much. I hope I can stay awake through the Word Fountain release party tomorrow evening!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

An unexpected journey (to a hospital)

I had to go to the hospital today after work. No, not for me, but to visit a friend who suddenly found herself there. She was in the ICU, so I had to sign in and out. I signed in at 5:32 and signed out at 6:33. I then spent the next seventeen minutes wandering the labyrinthine corridors and grounds of the hospital, trying to find my way back to the car. (It felt much longer, but I know it was 6:50 as I approached the car.)

At least I got a few hundred extra steps in today.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Story seeds

I mentioned in a previous post that I have some story ideas bouncing around that I have never really worked on. I decided to sketch them out in a post on my secret writing blog, just one- or two-sentence summaries that will help me remember the stories in case I forget. At this moment I have seven of these story summaries jotted down - I keep remembering stories that have been on the back burner for months, or even years. Now that I am thinking about these stories again, ideas for fleshing them out are coming to me. Best of all: ideas and details that don't quite fit one story can possibly be made to fit another! Some of these stories may even get combined, or may be made to fit into a single, unified story world, with consistent details of society, politics, and the state of the economy.

Remember, you have two chances to hear me read some of my stories and poems in the next few weeks! On Thursday, May 31 I'll be reading at the release party for the Spring/Summer 2016 edition of the literary magazine Word Fountain at the Osterhout Library, 71 South Franklin Street in Wilkes-Barre, PA starting at 6:00 PM.

Then on Saturday, June 16 I will be one of the featured readers at the Writers' Showcase Summer Edition, held from 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM at the Olde Brick Theatre at 126 West Market Street (rear entrance, over the bridge) in Scranton, PA. Admission is $4.00, and refreshments will be provided.

I hope to see you at either or both of these events!

What America said last Tuesday (written November 9, 2014)

Note, May 28, 2018: Another post left in draft. It appears incomplete. I'm posting what there is of it for its relevance to the events two years after it was written. The draft of this post was dated November 9, 2014.

I was watching one of the Sunday squabble shows this morning. Candy Crowley had a bunch of newly-elected members of Congress on one side of the set and a bunch of returning members on the other side. Among the old guard was the ever-delusional Michele Bachmann, who kept going on about the "clear message" Americans had sent last  Tuesday.

Americans did send a message last Tuesday, though I don't think she heard it. And that message was "Meh."

The midterm elections of 2014 had the lowest voter turnout of any general election since 1942. Yet in polling prior to the elections, Americans expressed overwhelming disapproval for the job Congress is doing. Logic would seem to dictate that such dissatisfaction would lead to action to unseat the people responsible for the dissatisfaction. Instead, Americans chose to stay at home and watch TV.


I'm no social scientist, but like a lot of people I have some theories to explain why people behave like they do. Let's look at the last few elections.

Turnout was high in 2008. Many people who had never cast a vote before, despite being eligible for many years, went out and voted for the very first time. For a lot of people the motivating factor here was the opportunity to vote for the FIRST! BLACK! PRESIDENT! It worked: As you may be aware, Barack Obama became President.

In 2010, just two years later, turnout was low again. Many of the people who were excited about voting in 2008 had other priorities on Election Day in 2010. Besides, for the most part the elections were either for one bland late-middle-aged white guy running against another bland late-middle-aged white guy, or were being held in districts so gerrymandered that the outcome was a foregone conclusion. What was there to get excited about? The Democratic get-out-the-vote machine that had been in action in 2008 was mostly silent.

That's why I was worried in 2012. Mitt Romney was a terrible candidate, but Republican partisans were still committed to vote for him. Barack Obama had failed to deliver on many of his promises from 2008, and Republican obstructionism had blocked many of his grand ideas from being realized, while others, like the Affordable Care Act, had been twisted and bent in an attempt to garner approval from a majority of Congress to the point that they were just barely recognizable. Democratic support was there, but it was less enthusiastic than in 2008. Yet when election day came, despite the best efforts by Republicans to disenfranchise voters or in some cases to relocate or simply close polling places, voter turnout was high and Barack Obama won again.

Which brings us to 2014. The economy is recovering, we are told, though most of us do not feel it; in fact, most of the gains from the improving economy are going to the wealthiest strata of society. War and pestilence are everywhere, with ISIS waiting to chop off our heads and spread Ebola through illegal immigrants. Congress is historically inactive, engaging in partisan bickering and the occasional grand but meaningless gestures doomed to failure. Approval for the President's performance is low, but approval for Congressional performance is barely in the double digits.

Last Tuesday, a smaller percentage of America's eligible voters came out to vote. The Republicans won handily, and now control both branches of Congress.

The people who voted for these Republicans will share in the blame for their actions. That's a given. But the people who were so excited to vote in 2008, and who turned out again in 2012, but didn't bother to vote in 2014 - those people let it happen. As did everyone who sat at home on Election Day 2014 and didn't bother to vote.

Car adventures (written June 12, 2017)

Note, May 28, 2018: For some reason this post was never published. It seems to be incomplete, but maybe I ended it where I wanted to. I see no reason not to publish it, since it contains an important bit of personal history.

The draft of this post was originally dated June 12, 2017.

My mom and I were rear-ended at an active crosswalk while on the way to the vet two weeks ago, on May 31, 2017. (I stopped at a flashing yellow crosswalk to let a woman with a stroller cross. The truck behind us was following too close and too fast and disd't stop all the way in time.) The car took damage to the trunk and bumper. One rear light was damaged, and the left quarter-panel was bent slightly. We were belted, so we were fine, though my mom though my mom had her arm inside the pet carrier and got some bruises.

(NOTE, May 28, 2018: She actually did sustain some shoulder and back trauma, for which she is still getting physical therapy. I didn't suffer any long-term physical effects, though I now have an aversion to stopping at yellow lights, flashing crosswalks, or for ladies pushing baby strollers - you never know what kind of idiot is behind you.)

I took the car to a body shop recommended by my brother last Wednesday, June 7. They said that if they took it in right away they could get started right away, but if I waited to bring it in until Monday (today) they didn't know how long it might take. I dropped the car off and called the car rental place that was recommended by my family (at my mom's insistence, really.) But rather than coming there with a car, as everyone assured me they would, they came and picked me up to take me to the rental site - which was mostly in boxes, since they were about to move into a new location. In fact, they didn't have many cars to choose from: a BMW X3 luxury crossover SUV, or nothing. I took the car, hoping insurance would cover it for the week or so the car would be in the shop.

(It is a fine car, I am sure, for someone who appreciates all it has to offer. Pushbutton start. Backup camera. Unfathomable console features. A radio so complex that the entry in the owner's manual says, unhelpfully, "See owner's manual.")

The next day, June 8, I got a call from the body shop: getting the parts and repairing the car would take eight days. Longer than I hoped, but acceptable; I wouldn't be paying too much out-of-pocket for the 20% of the rental, even if we hit the insurance company's maximum of $500.00. Fine, I said. OK, they said. The car would be ready June 20th.

I hung up the phone and thought wait what.

I called them back, Yes, that would be eight business days. Twelve calendar days. Twelve car rental days.

I called the car rental place and told them there was no way in hell I could afford a BMW X3 luxury crossover SUV through June 20th. Did they have anything...smaller? Yes, they told me, something smaller would be in that afternoon. Stop by around 5:00.

I stopped by that afternoon to find even more of the location in boxes. The manager waited on me personally. He inspected the BMW, and let me know that they did indeed have something smaller that afternoon. An Audi. It would be the same price, of course, but it was decidedly smaller.

I drove off in the BMW. My weekend was over, and a shift-change shortened three-day week was about to begin.

Today, Monday, June 12, is my first "Saturday" of my new schedule. I called the body shop this morning. Yes, the car was still on schedule to be finished by the 20th. I checked the rental agency website and verified that yes, they did have an economy car available. I called them and told them I wanted to swap out the car. They advised me to come in around 3:00.

Before I returned it I took a few photos of the BMW. I walked around the car, carefully shooting it from each angle. Finished, I put down my camera and fumbled in my pocket for the key fob.

As I was standing there on the sidewalk a white van pulled up to the stop sign on the nearby cross-street. It lingered there, despite an absence of traffic. After a few seconds the door on the side slid open slightly, and someone in the back compartment - young and male, by the timbre of the voice - shouted a hearty "FUCK YOU!" The door then shut and the van drove off.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

SD cards and GigaByte leaps

I bought my first digital camera, a Nikon Coolpix 4100, back in April 2005. It came with an SD card with, if I recall correctly, 500 MB of storage. (It might have had even less storage - I can go through my old cards and find out. But it cost a hell of a lot.) Back in the mid-1990's, when I was the Statistical Process Control Coordinator for a major CD manufacturer, I stored, collated, and analyzed data for all of our CD presses on two 500 MB hard drives, so having the memory equivalent on a card the size of a postage stamp and thickness of a dime was amazing.

I managed to crack the screen on that first camera after coming home from a trip to Harrisburg a year and a few months later, in August 2006. By then I think I had graduated from 500 MB cards to ones that held 1 GB. This was an incredible increase in capacity, but not as amazing as the 2 GB cards that became my standard storage with my replacement camera, a Nikon Coolpix L4.

When I got my current camera in March 2014, a Nikon Coolpix p520, I realized I had to move up to a new level of storage. I still had plenty of 2 GB SD cards in packages waiting to be used, since my L4 was still functioning (and still is; I use it as my "car" camera, keeping it in the car so I always have it with me, just in case), but the p520 had a much higher resolution and much larger image size, and needed a card with more storage capacity. Fortunately 8 GB cards had become available, so that was what I installed next.

The SDHC card I just filled up yesterday dates from March 2016 and had a capacity of 32 GB.  I don't recall how many 8 GB cards I filled up before I bought this, but it was probably more than a few. The 32 GB card held just over 10,000 images.

Today I bought a two-pack of 64 GB SDXC cards for $29.99. If I continue to fill the card as I did this last one, the first card should last four years, filling up sometime in 2022. If the second one lasts another four years - assuming I can locate it four years from now, when I need to replace the first one - then it will fill up sometime in 2026, when the camera is twelve years old, which is probably beyond the reasonable life expectancy of a p520. We'll see what happens!

Saturday, May 26, 2018


Here are some pictures of a lovely clematis in my yard, shortly before I accidentally killed it.

Here's hoping there will be more.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Stories and writing

The story I wrote that will be published in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Word Fountain, the literary magazine of the Osterhout Library, came to me almost-but-not-quite fully formed three years ago, back when I was meeting with the remnants of my old writing group at Zummo's Cafe on the east side of Scranton in the months following the closing of The Vintage, our old home base. (The group did not survive the closing very long.) I knew what the story was about; I knew who the main character was, and what he did, and what happened to him in the end. I just didn't know how to tell it. I kept writing sketches that would show, not tell, but were taking the story in directions that ultimately didn't get the story told. In the end I did an exercise that I've found useful when editing images: I asked myself, what is this story about? Anything that didn't help to get the point across had to go. I slashed and burned, cut out long passages scenes I had lovingly written, and started over, again and again. In the end I had something I was happy with, and submitted it. On May 31, 2018 you can hear me read it at the Word Fountain Release Party at 6:00 PM at the Osterhout Library in Wilkes-Barre.

I have two - three - four stories that are in the works. Three of them are "reality turned up to 11" stories: one about the music industry, another about the travel business, a third about the increasingly broad chasm in sexual attitudes between men of a certain mindset and women of a certain other mindset. A fourth is a fantasy, an attempt to weave mythology into the mythology-deficient landscape of Northeastern Pennsylvania, inspired by and influenced by Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood and Neil Gaiman's American Gods. I've been having a hard time trying to find the right point of view for this story. I think I've found it, but it's a point of view I have absolutely no right to take, one that will require an imaginative projection into - well, into being someone completely different from myself.

I stopped at the Mill Memorial Library's book sale last week and hit the jackpot: I got a paperback copy of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere for  just a few pennies. (I paid three dollars for that, a hardback copy of Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan's Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, a third book whose identity escapes me, and a National Geographic magazine all about Mars. I could also have picked up a great many advanced texts on quantum physics, which led me to wonder who the hell had owned those books originally and how they came to be part of the library sale.) Reading the first two chapters terrified me: was my fantasy story plagiarizing a Neil Gaiman story I had never read? But soon the story diverged from what I had in mind. I haven't finished it yet. We'll see where it goes.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

The tale of the BMW X3

(NOTE, May 28, 2018: According to this post, recently discovered in my drafts, I picked up the BMW on June 7 and swapped it out on June 12.)

I've written before about how, while taking our cat Bowie to the vet's on May 31, 2017 to find out why she kept vomiting every time she ate (it was because of an abdominal tumor, part of the cancer that would kill her in seventeen days), my mom's car was rear-ended when we stopped for a woman pushing a baby stroller across a crosswalk with a flashing yellow light - and the guy in the SUV behind us didn't.

The car was damaged, but driveable. It took more than a week to arrange to have the damage repaired. We didn't know how long repairs would take, and my insurance would only cover a total rental of, I think, $500.00. I went to one of the few rental agencies in the area, and found that they were preparing to move into a new location. Their vehicle options were limited. Only one vehicle was available, really - a BMW X3 Sports Activity Vehicle®. (Yes, apparently that term is a registered trademark.)

It was a bit more car than I am used to, considering that I spent twenty years driving a 1996 Toyota Tercel. The official website refers to its "intuitive controls," but I beg to differ. The inch-thick owner's manual came with an inch-thick supplement to explain how to use the radio. It took me several minutes to figure out how to turn the damned thing off - the vehicle, that is, not the radio. It simultaneously felt too big and too small. My first impression was that it looked like an oversized VW Golf, but driving it felt like I was navigating a yacht.

I only had the BMW X3 Sports Activity Vehicle® for two full a few days before I was able to take it back to swap it for a less expensive vehicle, a stripped-down Chevrolet Aveo that made my old Tercel seem spacious by comparison. But during that brief time together, I managed to have one preposterous adventure.

The day after we were hit, June 1, a new paving project began on the street in front of our house, the street where I usually park the car. There was a chronically empty spot in front of the house across the street facing the front of our house (the one that recently lost the shingle that came through our front window.) I parked the BMW X3 Sports Activity Vehicle® there, which meant that I could view this extremely expensive rental vehicle from the front door of our house.

Now, please understand: I am a stranger to many technological innovations in cars. In part this is because I do not trust them - or, rather, I do expect many of the electronic features on the car to cease functioning within the reasonable life expectancy of a car. Why have an electronic control for a window when a crank works just as well? Why have a pushbutton start for the ignition when a key works just fine and is more secure? Why use a key fob to unlock the doors remotely, and sometimes inadvertently?

After a few days of driving the BMW X3 Sports Activity Vehicle®, I was starting to get used to it. I had to make some peace with it, because I had tried to swap it for something smaller that day and could not. At the end of the day that day I parked the car across the street, dramatically used the key fob to lock it up as I was walking away, and then locked it again, just to be sure.

The next morning after I got up I looked out at the car. It was still there. It sure was a good-looking thing: glossy black paint job that was both dark and bright at the same time. Windows so clear they looked like they weren't even there. Why, I could see straight through the windows on the driver's side and the windows on the passenger's side like I was looking through plain air.

I didn't start work until a few hours later. Much of that time was spent tending to Bowie, giving her her medicine and syringes of food and water. About fifteen minutes before I had to be in work - it's a ten minute drive on a good day - I stepped out of the house, lunch bag and key fob in one hand, coffee thermos and jug of iced tea in the other. I had clapped my hat on my head before I walked out, but I left my coat in the house. It hadn't rained in days, and wasn't supposed to any time soon.

As I walked to the car, I was awfully glad it hadn't rained overnight. All of the windows were rolled down, and the sunroof was open.

How the hell did that happen? I thought. I don't have time for this crap. I started the car and rolled up the windows, and then began to fumble around looking for the controls for the sunroof as I drove. Nothing was intuitively obvious. A bunch of cryptic buttons were along the top edge of the windshield, the most obvious place for a sunroof control. This one didn't do anything, and this one didn't do anything, and this one...

Uh-oh. That one was marked "OnStar."

Within a few seconds I started to experience the consequences of my random button pushing. The headlights began to flash intermittently. The horn began to beep. An alarm screeched as I drove to work. 

"This is OnStar, how can I help you?" a voice asked from somewhere.

I explained, as frantically and pathetically as I could, what was going on, explaining that this was a rental vehicle and I had no idea how all the windows had gotten rolled down or how the sunroof had opened up or how to stop the alarms and I was just trying to get to work. The OnStar person had to put me on mute at least once, probably to let out screams of laughter at my predicament. Eventually they were able to explain how to close the sunroof. They also explained what had happened: I must have held the "lock" button on the key fob for an extended period, either when I was double-locking the car the evening before or possibly by pressing the button while it was in my pocket. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to create this functionality? Who would think that pressing and holding "lock" should cause all the windows to roll down and the sunroof to open?

The next day Eventually I was able to swap out the BMW X3 Sports Activity Vehicle® for a much less expensive, spacious, and and technologically sophisticated Chevrolet Aveo, with roll-up windows and a key for the doors and the ignition and no sunroof. It was quite a step down, but closer to what I was used to.

A few days later, on June 17, 2018, the repairs to my mom's car were complete - the same day Bowie died.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Sunset mystery

I was scrolling through the photos on the SD card from the camera I keep in the car and I came across one that I initially assumed was just another sunset image taken from the street in front of our house. Then I looked at it more closely and realized I had no idea where it had been taken.

I'm confused by the odd lights, the strange chimney thing on the middle right, the odd geometry of the dormer on the house to the right of center. Where was this? It was taken February 2, 2017. What was I doing at sunset that day?

I discovered a clue while uploading the photo: at bottom left are two circles with the words "BURGER KING" in them.Was this taken from, perhaps, the parking lot of the drugstore across the street from the Nanticoke Burger King? Next time I'm there, I'll have to check to see if the details match.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Broken links, dead images

I was planning on writing a funny post about an incident that happened during the period last year between the day Bowie was diagnosed with terminal cancer (when my mom's car was rear-ended at a crosswalk as we drove to the vet's) and the day Bowie died (which was also the day repairs to the car were completed.) To do that I wanted to check the post that I wrote about Bowie two and a half months after she died. Upon opening it I discovered that several of the photos in the post were...dead.

A few years ago Blogger introduced a new way of adding photos to your post: drag-and-drop. It was an extension of a functionality that had always existed for their photo posting, a way of hotlinking to an image on the internet. I've never liked doing this, because you never know when the image source is going to be moved or deleted. So up until relatively recently, I've preferred uploading images from my hard drive directly to my blog. It's a tedious, multi-step process, but it feels more reliable.

But drag-and-drop is so fast, so easy. I settled on a compromise: I would only drag-and-drop images from my Facebook page, specifically from Albums on my Facebook page. These photos, I figured, would have stable addresses, and wouldn't be going anywhere.

I was wrong.

The source images never actually moved, mind you. They were still right where they were, next to other photos that had been dragged-and-dropped and were still showing up just fine. Finding them took some effort, though. The names of the missing photos, mostly long streams of numbers, did not match the names of any of the photos in the albums, also long strings of numbers - until I tried to save them. Then the numbers transformed into something else. Two of those strings of numbers transformed into strings that matched the missing images.

I went through seven years of posts and found that most of the posts with missing photos were from 2017. Some posts from 2011 appear to be broken in a different way - the uploaded images are still in the posts but don't display. That's an investigation for another time.

Here are the posts currently missing images. I'll try to replace them with uploaded versions of the same images.
(fixed June 4, 2018)
(fixed June 4, 2018)

And here's one with the images present but not visible:

Monday, May 21, 2018

Susquehanna at Pittston, May 5, 2018

I am tired and need to get to bed, so here's a photo I took on May 5, 2018 from the deck of Brews Brothers in Pittston a little after 6:00 PM. The day was bright,if a bit overcast, and the sunlight was glimmering on the Susquehanna, but the camera chose to interpret the scene as one of grim foreboding. What the hell, I'll take it, I thought. So here it is.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

First lawnmowing at house across town, May 20, 2018

This has been a hell of a Spring.Winter lingered, not in the horrible, icy-grip-on-your-throat way it has in years past, but in the manner of someone who keeps returning to a lost argument trying to make another point. I had made a mental note that I should mow my lawn across town for the first time no later than the third week of April, but we were still getting frosts, freezes, and even snow at that point. And thanks to a rainier-than-usual past few weeks and the need to mow my mom's lawn when I could, I didn't get a chance to mow it until today. What should have taken one hour took three, mainly because I had to keep stopping to unjam the blade, sometimes after only a few feet. The grass was from eight to twelve inches tall, and slightly damp. But I got it done.

Along the way I spotted some interesting new weeds in flower. Unfortunately, the camera I keep in the car has issues focusing on very close items, so the bleeding hearts are out-of-focus.

Image may contain: plant, flower, nature and outdoor

Image may contain: plant, flower, nature and outdoor

Next year for sure: first mowing by May 1!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

In Bloom, May 19, 2018

We haven't seen the sun much lately, so these photos were taken under low light conditions. But here are photos of the things that have come into bloom in the past week.

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No idea what these are, other than "weeds growing amongst my roses." So I'm just going with "wildflowers."

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The rest of the rhododendrons - we have about a dozen - are starting to open. This was not open yesterday.

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Obligatory high-contrast monochrome version. I've always wondered what the pattern of spots above the pollen-bearing bodies look like to bees. They seem to fixate on them while they pollinate the flowers. 

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Iris (right group) in high-contrast monochrome.

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Iris (right group.) These are a different color from the irises in the left group.

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The irises of the right group. There used to be dozens of these, but they choked themselves out years ago.

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The irises of the left group. Note the completely different color from the right group.

Image may contain: flower, plant, nature and outdoor

Image may contain: plant, flower, nature and outdoor

Image may contain: plant, flower, nature and outdoor

White azalea.

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Grotto of Mary in front of azaleas.

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May 19, 2018

May 7, 2005 (brand new)
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White and pink azaleas intermingled.

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White azalea in high-contrast monochrome.

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This white azalea is using a holly bush as a trellis.

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Pink azalea 2. This has been in bloom for a few day.

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In high-contrast monochrome.

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Either this is two different azaleas growing together, or it is one azalea with two different types of leaves.

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Almost in bloom: one of about a dozen lilies of the valley under the Japanese red maple tree. I planted these years ago - possibly in 2002 - but have only seen them bloom once. I'll be keeping an eye on them.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Notes for May 18, 2018

- Woke up on the second day of my working vacation to the sound of someone propping a ladder against the house and climbing onto the roof. It was the insurance adjuster, there to check on our smashed window and ripped-off shingles from two separate storms- the first two storms of the year.

- Verified that my paycheck and bonus had been deposited, and then paid all my bills for the rest of the month, including my AAA renewal and my county real estate bill, which I didn't pay until November last year.

- Waited for the window guys to show up to replace our smashed window. They eventually showed up, removed the pane with the broken glass, and took it down to the truck to repair it - where they discovered the person who had measured the window for replacement had measured wrong, and the replacement glass was the wrong size. So they had to run back to the shop for another piece of glass. In the meantime, the broken window was now replaced with a gaping hole in the bay window, making it easy for bugs to fly in and cats to fall out. I blocked this as best I could with the foamboard and cardboard I had been using to patch the broken window.

- Took four bags of aluminum cans to the recycling center, instead of the usual six or more. They are currently paying fifty cents a pound for aluminum, but I only had eighteen pounds, so my haul was just nine dollars.

- Stopped at the Wilkes-Barre Post Office (just down the street from the scrapyard where I recycle cans) and mailed my AAA renewal and my county real estate tax, both with Mister Rodgers stamps. (Every other bill I paid online.) I tried to buy more, but was told they're sold out; they sell out as soon as they get a new supply. I'll need to order more online - I'm down to about thirteen.

- The window guys showed up again, and this time the replacement fit.

- Mowed the front and side yards for the second time this year. The grass was probably close to ten inches tall. I mowed the back yard several days ago, and it could have done with another mowing today, but I ran out of steam. I still haven't mowed the lawn for the first time this year at my house across town. That's a project for Sunday, weather permitting.

- The white azaleas in the front yard are in bloom, and probably bloomed yesterday. In the past they have been in bloom for Mothers' Day.

- Some of the irises are in bloom, and might have been in bloom for several days. The irises that I observed the other day had not yet opened have still not opened.

- One rhododendron is blooming, the one in the far corner of the yard near the composter. Other rhododendrons are not yet threatening to open.

- Lilies of the Valley are coming up and may bloom soon.

- And there was another mass shooting at a school, this one in Santa Fe, Texas. With days left to go in the school year, nine kids and one teacher have been murdered by a white male gun enthusiast armed with his father's shotgun and .38. (For once, a mass shooting not using an AR-15 or a knockoff.) He also injured ten others and had a much larger massacre in mind - he had set up explosive devices around the school grounds. Fortunately, none of them went off.

- Tomorrow: Dental appointment for my mom, dental appointment for me (different dentist, nearly three hours later), grocery shopping, library sale at the Mill Memorial Library, possible trip to the Fine Arts Fiesta in Wilkes-Barre, weather permitting.

Just another day...

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Upcoming readings: May 31 and June 16, 2018

Outside of open mics, I have two scheduled readings coming up!

On Thursday, May 31, at 6:00 PM I will be presenting a brand-new poem and short story at the release party for the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Word Fountain, the literary magazine of the Osterhout Free Library. The reading will be at the library, located at 71 South Franklin Street in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Lots of other contributors will be reading their pieces, too, and may even be reading some bonus material! Admission is free, and (based on past events) there will be snacks. And possibly cake!
The official release statement:
Come to the Osterhout Free Library, 71 South Franklin St. in Wilkes-Barre, PA at 6:00 PM and hear some of our contributors read from their own works. Books and art on display for sale also! Get a free copy of the current issue just for showing up!

On Saturday, June 16 I will be one of the featured readers at the Writers' Showcase Summer Edition, held from 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM at the Olde Brick Theatre at 126 West Market Street (rear entrance, over the bridge) in Scranton, PA. Admission is $4.00, and refreshments will be provided.

Come on out and join us for two great evenings full of poetry readings and storytelling. Save the dates: Thursday, May 31 and Saturday, June 16!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Boulevard of broken blogs

I'm preparing another group of blogs to be featured as NEPA Blogs Blogs of the Week on PA Live! (Yes, my segments for PA Live! are pre-recorded, usually twenty or more episodes at a time, so I only need to go in to the studio two or three times a year. It hasn't always been like this, but it works out for the best these days.) And it's a very depressing experience: so many great old blogs have gone dead, been abandoned, or been cybersquatted. In some cases the bloggers have moved on and lost interest in blogging. In other cases the blogger has died. And in some cases the blogs have been hacked, taken over by someone else, turned into something else.

At some point I will go through the lists and weed out all the dead and cybersquatted blogs. But not just yet.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Fourteen years (and a day) a blogger

Yesterday marked the fourteenth anniversary of my first blog post. I allowed myself to slack off posting over the last few...well, years, but since March 7 of this year I have been making an effort to post at least once a day. Not counting this entry, I have seventy-one posts for 2018 so far - more than any full year since 2012, one more than 2016, 2015, and 2014 combined, and equal to 2015, 2014, and 2013 combined. (I will be reflecting on this milestone later.)

As I pointed out yesterday, today is the Pennsylvania midterm Primary election. After work today my mom and I planned to go to the polling place at the football stadium clubhouse down the street. As we were about to step out, I once again noted that it looked like rain, and maybe she should take a raincoat. Suddenly the storm hit: torrential rain and fierce winds, strong enough to blow out my temporary patch on the broken window (we should have an estimate on its repair later this week) and send the large curtains in the front room whipping around. I repatched the window while the storm was hitting - an insanely stupid thing to do. The fix held - but the window turned out to be just a small part of the problem.

After the worst of the storm had passed, I stepped out to assess the damage.

Our front yard was once again littered with shingles. So was our back yard - only these were different: gray with brown and white speckles, and in better overall condition. Where did these come from?

A few of them, at least, came from our roof. Another thing for the insurance company. This is shaping up to be a hell of a spring and summer.

Lilac 1 sustained some damage. One of the trunks snapped, and fell over. I will need to chop up the damaged part and remove it. I wonder if anyone has a use for lilac wood? 

Part of the magnolia down the street appears to have come down. The branch on the ground is the one I photographed from below, looking up.

But that's not the worst of it. After we voted, we took a drive around town. Trees, fences, and streetlights have been knocked down all over Nanticoke, including a very old and very large tree in Patriot Square. Flagpoles have been bent over. The spectator benches at the Little League field were tossed into center field. Shingles and soffits have been loosened everywhere.

Was this a tornado? Lots of people saw the clouds turn green and begin churning before the storm hit. Or could this have been a straight-line wind? Nanticoke certainly didn't get the worst of it. Power has been knocked out throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania, and at least one person was killed when a tree fell on a car.

On another note: the irises are about to bloom. Maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Elections have consequences

Tomorrow is the Pennsylvania midterm Primary election. Anyone registered with a party can vote in that party's primary to determine who will be that party's nominee. It's the way things work in Pennsylvania, and in a lot of other states. Remember how well that idea went over last time? An Independent decided he should be the Democratic party's nominee, and when the Democrats instead chose to go with the Democrat as their nominee, his followers decided to throw the election to the Republican. And they did. And now the Republican is president. But, hey, that's all water under the bridge. (And what have the followers of the Independent candidate, who considered the Primary system to be so very unfair, done in the intervening two years to change the system? I do believe the answer is "nothing," though I could be wrong.)

Three months ago today, a white male adult walked into the 1200 building of Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida with a legally-obtained AR-15 (or an AR-15-style weapon) and a large supply of legally-obtained ammunition and killed seventeen students, teachers, and coaches. His plan to rain gunfire down on fleeing students was only thwarted by hurricane-proof windows. He escaped by blending into the crowd of fleeing students and was captured later that day. Florida's gun laws have long been dictated by the powerful anti-gun-control lobby, the N.R.A. Elected officials have either been in the pocket of the N.R.A., or have been afraid to stand up to them.

In Florida's midterms, a whole bunch of newly-eligible voters intend to do all they can to change the balance of political power. Will Pennsylvania voters be similarly energized by recent events? Or will the poor weather predicted for tomorrow convince many voters to stay home and not bother to vote?

Elections have consequences. Get out and vote.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Scranton Fringe Festival StorySlam: Word to Your Mother

I was there at the beginning, for the very first one...the first Scranton StorySlam. The brainchild (and senior project) of Madeline Zoë McNichols, it took place on March 31, 2012 in the Penn Avenue location of the Vintage Theater. I only attended one StorySlam since then, the second one, held June 30, 2012 at the now-closed Banshee, but numerous others have been held over the last six years.

Since 2016, the Scranton StorySlams have fallen under the umbrella of the Scranton Fringe Festival, a multi-day, multi-venue arts festival which has recently come under fire from a single politician who questions why taxpayer funds should be used (in the form of grants) to fund the perverted arts.

On Saturday, May 12, the Scranton Fringe Festival presented another StorySlam, a Mothers' Day-themed night called "Word to Your Mother," held on the third floor of the Scranton Cultural Center at the Masonic Temple - a huge venue that also happened to be presenting "Beautiful: The Carole King Story" on the same night. I drove there with a friend who was also one of the presenters, and I dropped her off in front of the Center and went off to find a parking space. (I finally found one over two blocks away. This will be important later.)

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The ceiling of the lobby on the third floor is a work of art.
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Decaying beauty: The paint is peeling and the illuminated clock is stuck at 7:50, but the room where the StorySlam was held is gorgeous.
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Detail of the ceiling. Flower, squid, or something else?

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Monica Noelle, founder of #BeKindScranton, tells a story of siblings lost, and mothers found.

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Musician and D.J. Justin Pardo tells the story of how he disappointed his mother by nearly getting killed twice in one night.
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Alicia Nordstrom tells her winning story of why you should always have the diaper bag with you.
Eight storytellers told their true tales of being mothers, adventures with their mothers, or the special relationship between mother and child. The walls of the third floor of the Scranton Cultural Center rocked with laughter and applause. It was a great night, and I wish a certain County Commissioner had been in attendance.

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Window nook in small side stairwell.

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The view from the third floor through ancient drawn sheet glass windows.

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The Scranton Cultural Center.
The event drew to a close and the attendees headed out to their cars or to wait for rides, including from drivers in private cars driving for the currently-popular ride-sharing service Uber. I suggested that my friend, who recently had knee surgery, wait for me while I retrieve the car and pick her up. I hiked the two blocks - uphill this time - to where I had left the car, and was grateful to find it still there. I then wormed my way through the maze of one-way streets to get in a position to pick up my friend.

As I pulled up in front of the Scranton Cultural Center I saw that there were several cars lined up in front of it. I made my way to the front of the line and put on my flashers while I scanned the area for my friend. As I waited, I saw someone else smile and wave and begin to approach me. Who is this woman?, I wondered - and then I realized: she thought I was her ride. She thought I was there to pick her up. I frantically shook my head and, I think, locked the doors to keep this woman from getting in. Then I saw my friend approaching in the rear-view mirror from much further back in the line of cars. I unlocked the doors and let her in.

I was about to tell her the story of what had happened when she said, "I just tried to get into somebody else's car. It looked just like this one."

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Azalea in bloom, May 12, 2018

Well, that took some patience. I noted on May 6 that the red azalea (which is actually pink, or fuschia)  was almost ready to bloom. I expected it to open the next day. No such luck. It stayed closed through the rest of the week, and was still closed last night. This morning it finally opened. Now to see how long it takes the white ones in the front yard to open...

Saint Anthony and the Cat? Not quite...

At the front of the Nanticoke church formerly known as Holy Trinity, now the St. Faustina Main Site, there is a mysterious statue. It is small, about 2/3 life size, and rather simple in design. But it is not a single statue. It has a companion.

When I first noticed this statue a while back, I assumed it was St. Anthony of Padua, just on the basis of the tonsure and the soft, youthful face. But St. Anthony is usually depicted in a brown habit, holding a young (but usually not infant) Christ. And what was that at his feet?

...Seriously, what the hell is that thing? Based on its size and posture, I assumed it was a cat. St. Anthony doesn't have any connection to cats, though he did once preach to a lake full of fish when he decided he just wasn't getting through to humans. This is the sort of thing that might interest a cat greatly. But that face doesn't look like a cat. It looks more like...I dunno, a fox, or weasel, or even a dog? And what is that thing in its mouth? From a distance it looks like a lit cigar, but up close it looks like...a torch, maybe?

I searched for saints associated with cats. I found St. Phillip Neri, St. Gertrude of Nievelles, and even St. Martin de Porres, though his cat is usually depicted with a dog and a mouse, all eating from the same bowl. No cats, especially not cats with torches in their mouths.

There is, however, a saint associated with a dog with a torch in its mouth. From the entry for St. Dominic on Catholic Online:
According to one legend, his mother made a pilgrimage to an abbey at Silos. Legend says there were many signs of the great child she would bear. One of the most common legends says that during the pilgrimage, Joan had a dream of a dog leaping from her womb with a torch in its mouth. The animal "seemed to set the earth on fire." His parents named him Dominic a play on the words Domini canis, meaning the Lord's dog in Latin. 
St. Dominic founded the religious order of the Dominicans, also known as "God's dogs." From the Wikipedia entry "Dominican order" as retrieved on May 11, 2018:
In England and other countries the Dominican friars are referred to as "Black Friars" because of the black cappa or cloak they wear over their white habits.
This matches the outfit on the statue. The book, the tonsure, the rosary, and the dog with torch are all considered common attributes of St. Dominic. The missing ones are lilies, a staff, and a star on the forehead.

So, it seems this is not a depiction of St. Anthony and a cat at all, but rather one of St. Dominic and a dog.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Dream journal: The recording session

So. I had a dream, and want to write it down before I forget it.

The dream started off very much like today. My sister was in town, and was taking my mom to a medical appointment. (I actually took today off months ago for this appointment, but since she came in for Mothers' Day, it's become a bit of a free day for me.) I was waiting at the house for the insurance adjuster to look at our broken window (which was the Plan B for today, but my presence has since become unnecessary, and I expect the visit will consist of him looking at the window and saying "Yep, it's broke.") While waiting for the adjuster, I decided to go for a walk - through the back alleys of downtown Scranton, thirty miles away.

My walk was in the general vicinity of what used to be the Steamtown Mall, now the Steamtown Marketplace. I walked past an imaginary soup store, a chain restaurant not unlike the chain called "The Original Soupman" (which once had a location in Scranton at 344 Adams Avenue, the current location of Eden: A Vegan Cafe and quite close to the old location of the long-closed video rental company specializing in foreign and art films known as the Home Film Festival). It was crowded with customers. Farther down the alley, around a corner, was a smaller, local soup restaurant with a far better reputation and far fewer customers. (The location reminded me of the bizarre mid-block location of Adezzo, the Scranton coffee shop where I frequently attend open mic nights, accessible only through an alley or through the parking lot of another business.)

My walk eventually took me to a large library located in the Steamtown Mall/Steamtown Marketplace. I walked in looking (as I always do in real life) for the books-for-sale section, where gently used copies of many rare and excellent books are available for pocket change. I was spotted and greeted by David Bauman, an actual librarian (and poet, birder, father, and blogger) in the Luzerne County library system. (Scranton is in Lackawanna County.) He pulled me aside and asked for my help with a recording session. It would only take a few minutes, and one of the readers had not shown up, but everyone else was there.

I stepped into a small room off a hallway, and several people - two, I think - were sitting at a table with microphones, including Liz Lewis, a local poet I have read with many times. David and I joined them and I was handed a copy of what we would be reading. It was a short play - five pages, I think - from an old and slim paperback. (My copy was falling apart, and I had to make sure the pages were in order.) The play involved several male characters and one female character, though Liz would also be reading a male character who made a cameo at the end. The play - Dave tried to explain it as I skimmed it - apparently involved a Jewish pioneer family living on the Great Plains in the mid-19th century.

...and that's where it ended. You generally only remember dreams when you wake up during them so that's where this one cut off. But I wanted to write it down before I forgot it.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Flash storm

I was taking my mom to my nephew's band concert this evening. The weather had been unsettled today: nice and sunny part of the day, raining at other times. As we were getting ready to leave the house at 6:00, the gathering clouds were beginning to look ominous.

"Are you sure you want to wear that jacket?" I asked my mom, as we were about to head out to the car. She was wearing a light windbreaker of sorts. "It looks like rain."

She grudgingly agreed to change into a raincoat. I returned into the house to get it, and to change out of my sneakers into more rugged and waterproof boots. Thus prepared, we again began to head out.

At that moment the rain began. It started out heavy and got heavier. Hail mixed in with it, tiny squarish chunks about a centimeter on a side. Lightning cracked uncomfortably close as we walked down the hill. By the time we got to the car, the street was flooded almost to the top of the curb.

It got worse. The intersection of Kosciuszko and Main Streets was flooded. Main Street was flooded again a little further down. Water poured in great gouts from College Street and Christian Street. I watched a car and a van driving in opposite directions on Main Street swamp each other and keep on going. Lower Broadway behind Weis Markets was badly flooded, so badly that it nearly stalled the car.

By the time we reached the Nanticoke-West Nanticoke bridge, the rain had tapered off to more normal levels. A few miles outside of Nanticoke, it stopped entirely, and didn't resume again until we were almost at our destination. By the time we got to the concert site, it had stopped entirely again.

Our basement didn't flood, and the temporary patch I put on the front window held, and there were three bunnies playing on the lawn when we got home. All in all, not a bad outcome.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Poem: While driving home from seeing a performance of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" last Sunday

I wrote the original of this poem on February 26, 2018, shortly after the actual incident. This is a true story, and a sequel of sorts to another poem I wrote a few years ago. 

While driving home from seeing a performance of Shakespeare's "Hamlet" last Sunday

My hand went to the spot
where your hand would be
when you and I used to ride together

I found the program from the play
I had just seen with a friend.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

The best planned mows...

A partly cloudy day. Highs in the low 70s. Low humidity. A perfect day to mow my lawn across town after work. I would get out of work at 2:30, grab something to eat, and then deal with the grass that is probably eight inches tall in spots.

Not so fast.

A last call came in at 2:19, and I didn't get off it and get logged out until 4:15. The extra time won't even count as overtime, since I'm only putting in a 30 hour week this week, and overtime only counts for hours over 40.

Now my schedule was off. With less time to work with, I didn't feel like loading the lawnmower into the car, driving it across town, mowing the lawn, loading it into the car again, driving it back across town, and unloading and putting it away. So instead I started mowing my mom's lawn again, which is something I planned to do on Friday. Got nearly half of it done. Maybe I'll do the rest tomorrow, and then mow my lawn Friday.

Also, I should probably begin a new job search, for reasons unrelated to anything above.

Monday, May 07, 2018


Nothing new has blossomed today. The azalea is still on the verge of blooming, but the switch from sunny warm days to gray skies and rain has stopped it for the moment. So here's something I'm pulling out of the trunk, so to speak.

Last Friday I went for a walk around the neighborhood to see if I could locate the source of the shingle that came through our window. (I think I found it.) While I was out I noticed that a magnolia tree a few houses down has started to lose its blossoms. So I decided to get some pictures.

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May 4, 2018

April 25, 2005

It's...not that much significantly larger. It seems to have lost a secondary trunk, on the right in the second photo.

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The view from below, looking up.

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The view from below, looking down.

The blooms on this magnolia are nearly spent. But we'll see what blooms next.