Friday, August 31, 2018

Ward Hall has died

He died this morning. I heard the news through my friends from the Sideshow Gathering. Here's the announcement from the World of Wonders Sideshow:

Ward Hall, THE KING OF THE SIDESHOW, was a larger than life showman. He lived a life so full of amazement and adventure that it has filled 3 published books, graced the stage of Carnegie Hall, and is immortalized in the Circus Ring of Fame. Ward Hall brought joy and wonderment to the lives of literally thousands upon thousands of people who saw his shows on circuses, carnivals, and theaters. His creativity and talent were limitless, and he will be forever remembered by all his friends and fans. World of Wonders is truly honored to carry on his legacy, so his show and his spirit can continue on the midways. We open today at the Cumberland County Fair in Fayetteville, NC with extremeley heavy hearts, but know that Ward would insist "the show must go on". We love you Ward Hall.

Ward Hall was a true showman. He was a living connection to an older world. He kept sideshow traditions and the sideshow itself alive. Most sideshow performers I know have a personal connection to Ward Hall, or were trained by someone who does.

While I have seen many videos of Ward Hall and heard many, many stories about him, I never got to meet him in person. The closest I came was thirteen years ago at the Bloomsburg Fair. Apparently the World of Wonders had had a regular spot at the Bloomsburg Fair, but that relationship eventually came to a end. I eventually did get to see the World of Wonders Sideshow at the new-defunct (at least temporarily) Northeast Fair in 2011, but by then Ward was no longer traveling with the show.

Here is my photo of Ward and Poobah gathering a crowd. Sadly, both have now passed.

From Harley Newman, one of the still-living legends of sideshow:

It’s a balmy summer evening. You’re at the fair, strolling down the midway...bright lights, brilliant colors, loud music. The aromas of deep-fried food...oh, so tempting! You hear the fast-talking men offering to show you gadgets you’ve seen on TV. You see rides that twist and turn you in every direction. Over here...giant’s smallest woman, five-legged cow, giant killer snakes, right here, right now, alive on the inside!

And then you see it...a big tent with a hundred-foot line of giant banners along the front. There’s a stage there, with a woman draped in a giant snake that covers more of her than her clothes. There’s a dwarf sitting on a milk crate, waving a couple of flaming torches, sticking one in his mouth. There’s a man, too. He looks so normal, so grandfatherly, he seems almost out of place, except for the sequined coat and top-hat. He’s talking on a microphone, and a crowd gathers, drawn by his voice. Nobody can walk by without stopping to listen.

The closer you get, the better you hear him. The better you hear him, the more you have to hear him. You MUST listen! He describes the wonders inside the tent as depicted on the banners,…mummies, sword-swallowers, pain-proof women, midgets and human immensities! They’re all inside! You have to buy a ticket! You have to see for yourself! Your friends and neighbors are already there, and now’s the time to go!

“It’s the Sideshow! It’s the Museum of Oddities! Strange, Odd, Unusual Acts and Attractions from all over the world, gathered together for your education and entertainment, right here, right now!”

Thank you, Ward, for so many dreams.

A bit of everyday magic has gone out of this world.

Ward Hall, from the World of Wonders announcement post

UPDATE, September 4, 2018: Here is the official press release regarding Ward Hall's passing.


Legendary showman, Ward Hall, passed away on September 29th, after a prolonged illness at the age of 88.

Born in Trenton, Nebraska on June 21st, 1930, Hall moved to Denver as a young teenager where discovered The Billboard magazine, and was immediately hooked, faithfully reading every week's addition.

In 1946, he joined Daily Bros. Railroad Circus, where he started his show business education. Staying on the circus for three years, he performed in the sideshow, juggled, did wire walking, worked a lion act, and most importantly, learned to pitch and make a bally, which is what he would become most well known for.

In 1950, he bought his fist carnival sideshow with his partner Harry Leonard from Freer's United Shows. Hall's circus sideshow toured with many major carnivals; Cavalcade of Amusements, William T. Collins Shows, Rod Link's World of Pleasure Shows, and many more covering the Midwest through the early 60's. Hall and his partner then framed a show called the Pygmy Village.

In his career Hall was connected with over 15 circuses such as Circus Vargas, Kelly Miller Circus, Toby Tyler Circus, and many more.

For 7 years he was partnered with Nate Eagles, producing the sideshow for the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden.

Hall moved to Gibsonton in 1966, and partnered with C.M. Christ to form a new company to produce a state fair sideshow for Gooding's Million Dollar Midway, where they stayed for several years. The company continually grew to the point in the late 70's where they had 4 state fair sideshows and 8 grind shows with 70 employees. These shows played all the major fairs; the Ohio State Fair, the Minnesota State Fair, the Wisconsin State Fair, and just about all the major fairs east of the Mississippi.

Hall also produced a special show for R.B.B.B Circus for special engagements, and for 2 years at Circus World in Florida.

Hall wrote 3 books, and wrote and produced 3 stage musicals. He produced a 2,500 seat tented theater show called WONDERCADE, appeared in 4 movies, and was featured on many T.V. shows and documentaries.

Ward was President of the I.I.S.A. in 1974 and 75 due to the unexpected passing of his predecessor. His President's Banquet and Ball was the most elaborate and exiting of all time, and is still talked about today.

He spent 14 years on the board of directors of the O.A.B.A and was board member emeritus of the I.I.S.A.

Ward Hall was inducted into The Circus Ring Of Fame, the I.I.S.A. Hall Of Fame, and the O.A.B.A. Hall Of Fame.

In 1981, Hall produced 12 shows for the Ohio State Fair when they made it a pay one price at the gate, and that year it jumped to being the number 1 attended fair in the nation. Also at this time, Hall operated 2 permanent wax museums on the sea shore resorts in New Jersey.

Hall was a prolific story teller, but one true story he never told anyone, as he felt they would not believe it, was that on April 22, 1994 he appeared in, MC'ed, and sang in a one night show at Carnegie Hall called "Circus Blues." He also made an appearance at Lincoln Center, and 4 trips to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington to produce shows for their spring celebration.

He was a member of the C.H.S., C.F.A., O.A.B.A., S.L.A., and I.I.S.A.

In semi-retirement the last few years, his show company was sold to Thomas Breen, who keeps the tradition alive today.

Ward Hall lived a full and happy life, and passed away peacefully in his sleep.

He is survived by his partner of 53 years, C.M. Christ.

There will be a Celebration of Life at the Showmen's Club in Gibsonton, FL in the middle of November, 2018.

In lieu of flowers, you can make a donation in his name to The IISA Museum of the American Carnival.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Early to bed

Well, I was going to go to bed early, around 11:00. Then stuff came up.

Two other blog posts coming up, both book-related:

All your books in one basket - This area used to have a dozen or more bookstores, new and used. Now it's down to two. And one of them was nearly destroyed by a tornado. How did we get here?

Remembrance of library books past - My surprising relationship with libraries, and tracking down the few books I remember checking out of the school library.

I was supposed to take my mom to meet one of her friends for lunch tomorrow, but they had to reschedule. So, if the weather cooperates, it looks like tomorrow will be another day of laundry and lawnmowing...and maybe some blogging.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Short subjects

I've been blogging on a daily basis since March 7 of this year. It's a pace I used to keep up regularly when this was a younger man's blog. Now I find myself reaching for things to blog about on many days. Often the problem isn't a lack of topics to blog about, but a lack of topics to blog about in a relatively short period of time. I have a list of things I'd like to blog about, but most of those items would require an hour or more of writing time. Working ten hour days, that's something I'm just not able to do most nights. Maybe soon I'll be getting the opportunity to write more extensively, at least for a little while.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Shouters

For all the damage Donald Trump has done to the office of the President of the United States, for all the truly awful precedents he has set that his successors will choose to either embrace or renounce, there is one bizarre innovation that has been introduced that intrigues me more than some: the Shouters.

You've heard them. At the end of press conferences, Oval Office appearances, or other occasions that Trump deigns to allow the press to hear him speak, there are always several women who are shouting "OUT! COME ON! LET'S GO! OUT! GET OUT!" on top of each other, over and over, drowning out any final questions and generally causing an atmosphere of chaos.

Who are these people? What's their official job description? Has any other president (or, should I say, President, current occupant excluded) employed anyone in such a role? I don't ever remember hearing such a thing before. Press conferences would generally end with a few shouts of "Mister President! Mister President!" as the President walked out of the room. No one was trying to shout down or drown out these questions.

But now it's become routine. Just another symptom of a chaotic regime that has brought shame upon the United States of America. Let's hope we can all survive the occupation, however long it lasts.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Hazy, crazy, not-so-lazy days of summer

Summer is about to come back with a tropical vengeance.

This summer has been a bit of a mixed bag. It got off to a late start, but was fairly pleasant through May and June, with only the occasional horror storm putting a shingle through our front window or tearing shingles off our house or sending a tornado right through the heart of our shopping district shortly after the shops had closed for the night. But aside from those incidents, and a few flash floods, this was really one of the nicest summers I can remember in a while..until mid-June, around the time of the Osterhout book sale, when temperatures soared and humidity spiked.

That's where things have stayed since then, mostly, until this past week. We've actually had a few cool, pleasant days with low humidity. It became possible once again to do lawn work or even just walk around outside without fear of dying of heatstroke while drowning from simply breathing the air.* But in the next few days, temperature and humidity are both expected to soar. I will be glad to be at work and have a good excuse for not being outside doing things.

This has been a very busy summer, and a very strange one. With our dryer broken, I've been hanging the laundry out to dry or taking it to the laundromat, both more time-consuming than simply tossing it into the dryer. I have a friend who has had some issues that have involved two extended hospitalizations and a hell of a lot of fear and stress for all involved. I'm dealing with the impending loss of my job. I'm trying to not completely disappoint my mom for her eighty-fifth birthday, which is coming up in less than two weeks. Oh, and a major open-secret sex scandal in the Catholic Church is now suddenly the topic of conversation for everyone. And Donald Trump and his gang still occupy the White House.

But, in any event, here's hoping that the weather cools off a little bit, at least before we plunge straight into the jaws of another Fimbulvinter.

*A side note: I noticed an educational "weather station" in Nanticoke's city park today. One panel explained the water cycle, and noted that water that falls as rain into streams and lakes is then heated by the sun, turns into steam, and becomes clouds. I'd be more comfortable if they called it water vapor - steam forms when water boils, and the sun isn't causing that to happen just yet.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Thinning out

The transition at work continues, and my workplace is getting emptier and emptier. Several people have already left to begin their work-from-home positions. Several others are burning up some vacation time in anticipation of a future where scheduling vacation might be much more difficult. Other people have chosen to leave to pursue other opportunities.

As for me, I am bound to ride this out to the end to get my full payout of bonuses and severance. My nearly six and a half years in the travel business will come to an end on the last day of September. With luck I will be able to roll right into another position somewhere, possibly even one that will last for fifteen to twenty years.

Do such jobs even exist anymore? When I started at Specialty Records in 1992 I was twenty-four. I survived the transition to WEA Manufacturing, to Time-Warner, to AOL Time Warner, and to CINRAM. I was forty-four when I left CINRAM and joined Travelocity. Our facility was later taken over by WNS, and at fifty I am dealing with the facility closing now. How long will the next job last? How old will I be when that one ends?

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Four things

1. Hung clothes out to dry around 10:30 AM today. At about 6:30 PM I brought them in. Everything was still damp. I may not have too many more opportunities to hang clothes out this year.

2. There is a job fair coming to the area (sort of) on Wednesday, October 15. The 2018 Great Northeast Job Fair is in Dickson City. The local CareerLink strongly respects the Anthracite Curtain that divides Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. It serves Luzerne and Schuylkill Counties. Lackawanna County (where Scranton and Dickson City are located) is in foreign territory. So I don't expect to see much support for this job fair. I actually asked a rep from CareerLink about job fairs the other day, and he said that the major ones had already passed. This one describes itself as "the most attended job fair in the region." This does create an opportunity for my planned blog post on job fairs.

3. I've been having a battle with Facebook all day. Francesco Marciuliano posted an image from tomorrow's Sally Forth that reminded me of an image from Darwyn Cooke's Justice League: The New Frontier. I found and posted that image. It stuck around long enough to get some reactions, and then vanished. I reposted it and it disappeared again. I posted the Sally Forth image and it stuck. Then I posted an image that combined the two, and it hasn't been deleted yet. Here is that image:

4. Senator John McCain died today. There's a lot of praise being heaped upon him. Few people outside of Twitter are mentioning the things he did which hurt people or brought shame on his reputation. There will be time for that later.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Sauce, version 2018.01

Took my mom out to a bunch of appointments this morning. Her first one took a lot longer than expected. The TV in the waiting room was set to ESPN, and I had to listen to two scruffy-looking guys in suits shout at each other regarding the finer points of sportsball.* (Last time they had the TV set to HGTV with some reality competition where people would buy random old junk, turn it upside down, spray paint it yellow, glue random things to it, and then try to sell it at a profit, so I guess this was marginally better.) Her next appointment also took longer than expected. At the third stop I took off to squeeze in some quick grocery shopping. After that, we got home and I began to make my tomato sauce.

I started with about six medium-sized and nine small tomatoes. I scalded them (poured boiling water on them and allowed them to sit in the hot water for a few minutes) and slipped off the skins. I then cut them up and put them in a deep pot, removing the stem scars and any thick white parts of the cores. I added about two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and began to heat gently. As the tomatoes began to break down, I stirred in half a teaspoon of garlic powder, half a teaspoon of onion powder, a quarter teaspoon of garlic salt, and a quarter teaspoon of onion salt. I wanted to add basil but didn't have any, so I sprinkled in some pre-mixed Italian seasoning. After a bit more reduction, I stirred in a quarter teaspoon of balsamic vinegar.

At this point my mom remarked that we had missed a stop on our outing earlier in the day: we had forgotten to go to the cemetery to observe the thirteenth anniversary of my father's death. So I turned off the sauce and we took a quick run to the cemetery, about five miles away.

I finished the sauce after we got back, while I deep-vacuumed the carpet. I let the sauce cool and poured it off into a deep glass covered container. Perhaps tomorrow we will sample it. And maybe on Monday, I'll be making sauce #2.

*Actually, what they were shouting about was whether preseason football games are relevant enough to put in any effort, or if the primary goal of anyone playing a preseason game should be to avoid getting hurt so they can give their all in the real season. It might have been an interesting discussion, but the two of them were just shouting like a couple of pro wrestlers or Donald Trump wannabees. The argument ended when the feed for one of the two combatants froze. Another feed froze later for another person.

(As I finished this post I heard about Caleb Leone, a high school football player from the small Pennsylvania town of Jersey Shore who sustained a traumatic brain injury during practice last week, required brain surgery, and is still in a coma.) 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

No post

Wiped out today. No regular posts.

Here are three posts I'm working on:

- Watch what you say: Politics and social media
- Job Fairs: You're doing it wrong

...and another one which has slipped my mind. Maybe I'll remember it after I sleep.


UPDATE, August 24: I believe the third post I was trying to remember was on the social aspects of work. Something a lot of people I work with are recognizing as they contemplating beginning a work-from-home version of their current jobs.

UPDATE, August 25: The other post was actually "We're Ready to Disbelieve You." Why were Catholic priests, and the bishops who protected them, able to get away with sexual abuse of children for decades? Possibly because the victims were treated the same way that women who report sexual assault - and attempted sexual assault - are treated today.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Tomato harvest time

For the past two weeks my tomatoes have been ripening. I've been enjoying tomato sandwiches, BLTs, sliced tomatoes, and tomatoes in salads. Shortly we'll have fried green tomatoes for the first time in a while. Every time I eat one, I remember that they would have cost a dollar apiece at the local farm stand.

Today I picked nine tomatoes. Tomorrow I will probably pick another half dozen. This means one thing: it's time to start making sauce.

I've made sauce several times before. Two years ago I made several batches, at least one of which was ready for my sister's birthday, which means they ripened at least a week earlier. I know I've made sauce in previous years, but the only time I remember clearly was after my father died in 2005.

My father's death was both sudden and long in coming. It was the result of a traumatic brain injury after an accidental fall at a nursing home when he was left unattended in a wheelchair outside of his room after a shower. (There was a single nurse who was attending to all of the residents in that wing at shower time; all the others were apparently on break together, smoking outside.) He lingered for a few days, moving between being semi-comatose and babbling incoherently. He held on long enough for my mom and my sister to make it back from Space Congress in Florida, where they had gone just a few days before.

The death of someone who had to that point required so much attention leaves an enormous hole in your schedule. Suddenly you find yourself with lots of free time and no real plans, even after all the details of the funeral have been dealt with. In the days after my father's death, I turned to my long-neglected garden and realized that I had a ton of tomatoes that needed to be picked. So I picked them and started to make sauce.

I haven't kept records of when I've made sauce before. But I realize that I did have a record of the date of my father's death in 2005 in the blog entry I posted. I looked it up, and there was the date: August 24, 2005. He will have been dead thirteen years this Friday.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A note on the thickness of the lawn

It's really thick.

I mowed the lawn yesterday for what I think was the first time in two weeks, but maybe it was three. We've had quite a bit of rain since the last time I mowed - Joe Snedeker the meteorologist said this has been one of the wettest summers in Northeastern Pennsylvania, though I think this is less true for Nanticoke - and also a good deal of sun. The grass grew tall since the last time I mowed, but many individual blades seem to have also grown unusually broad. I wonder if this is a case of a different variety of grass becoming dominant and spreading across the lawn, or the same varieties simply expressing themselves differently.

It didn't rain the night before yesterday, as far as I could tell, but the grass was still lightly damp with dew at midday when I began mowing. The thickness of the grass meant many individual blades were in shade and did not dry out in the relatively weak sunlight, even as the day wore on. But the grass catcher kept filling up, and the deck kept clogging up, and the lawnmower blades kept getting bogged down. In the end it took me the entire day up to the loss of usable sunlight at 8 PM to finish the lawn. I had to stop to clear jams ever few minutes, and stop to empty the grass catcher about once every ten or fifteen minutes. What should have taken two or three hours took far longer, and the lawnmower consumed far more gasoline than usual.

We've had droughts in past years, bad ones, where lawns have gone dormant and turned crunchy and brown. This hasn't been one of those years. How many more sessions of mowing the lawn, I wonder, until the lawn is done for the season?

Monday, August 20, 2018


No extended post today. I have a cat on my belly, and it's almost time for bed.

For the record, it's Joey, our oldest. Peaches is - was, I just noticed - sitting on top of the chair above me. Thor is under the coffee table, and Romeo is - was - under the window. Babusz and Homer are in the bathroom for the night. Amber and Spooky are hiding somewhere, and Ray is probably in the kitchen.

Joey just jumped off. Time to get ready for bed.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Greetings from Barack Obama

So I did a thing today. One of many things I've been meaning to do for a very long time. I hope I am not too late.

Did you know that you can arrange to have birthday greetings sent to someone from Barack Obama? I mean, it's traditional to have such greetings sent from The President of the United States when someone, say, turns 85. But considering we are currently lacking a legitimate person in that position, I thought it would be good to have greetings sent from the last person who held that office with honor.

Request a Greeting - The Office of Barack and Michelle Obama

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Fourteen on the right, fourteen on the left...

I have a bunch of things I should be doing, and a pair of longform posts I want to write. I haven't done any of these things, for...reasons. So instead, here's something that happened this morning.

I woke up thinking about the lyrics to an old song I used to hear as a kid on WNAK. I never understood the lyrics then, now could I make most of them out. I remember a chorus singing something like "...lord take me home. Fourteen on the right, fourteen on the left, take me to my lucky day...I lost my bet." I figured it was the Johnny Mann Singers, but had never thought more about the song.

I woke up thinking about it. And then I thought: inches from you is a device that can scour information services from across the globe to find the answer to this question. What are you waiting for? So I typed in what I could remember, and within seconds, I had the answer.

The song is "One Paddle, Two Paddle." Written by Kuiokalani Lee (a very interesting guy - you should read up on him) and a hit for Don Ho, the version I recalled was actually by the Ray Coniff Singers. The reason I couldn't make out the lyrics is because some of them were in Hawaiian.

One paddle, two paddle, three paddle for to take me home

Fourteen on the right, fourteen on the left
take me to Hawaii nei

A No ka best

So, that's one of life's little mysteries solved.

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

"One Paddle, Two Paddle Lyrics." STANDS4 LLC, 2018. Web. 18 Aug. 2018. <>.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Homer is (was) missing

Homer went missing sometime this evening.

He may be somewhere in the house. He might have pushed the back storm door open and slipped out. He might have snuck downstairs, or into a room that is usually closed up, or...

Never mind. My mom just found him, curled up under a stepstool in a room we had both searched several times. His snorting breathing, caused by a congenital sinus condition, gave him away. We had both been listening for that sound, and were worried when we didn't hear it.

So now we know he's safe and alive, and I can go to sleep.

Thursday, August 16, 2018


I just recounted this story on a friend's Facebook post and decided to include it here for posterity:

I was driving into Nanticoke once. Guy was in front of me, driving slow. He turned left, I turned left. He drove straight for a few blocks, I drove straight for a few blocks. He turned left again, so did I. He pulled over to the side of the road and so did I. He got out of his car to angrily confront me, I got out of my car with my thermos and lunch bag, home from a day at work. He realized that I had basically followed him to my own house, got back in his car, and left.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The day after the day the Report came out

Yesterday was a day we all knew was coming for a long time. A Grand Jury report on sexual abuse of minors and others by Roman Catholic priests, long-awaited and long-delayed through legal maneuvers, finally came out. (Located here, for the moment.) It names names - mostly, except for those temporarily redacted as a result of those legal maneuvers - and details not just the crimes committed by the priests, but the efforts of bishops and others to cover up the facts of the crimes and to silence the victims of the crimes.

The report is huge, coming in at just under nine hundred pages. It lists the offending priests by diocese - there are fifty-nine in the Diocese of Scranton alone - and lists for each offending priest all the parishes they have been assigned to over the years. This list is not entirely accurate. One elderly priest who had been in residence in my home parish for the past few years is listed as a consequence of crimes he allegedly committed before starting here, but nowhere does it mention "Nanticoke" among his assignments.

Most of what is in the report is no surprise to...well, most Catholics. Sexual abuse by priests has been an open secret for most of my life. The Bishop's Annual Appeal, a pledge drive for extra donations with targeted goals for every parish, is also known as "Peter's Pence." A common refrain is that Peter's Pence go to pay for the priests who couldn't keep their peters in their pants.

What is most shocking is the pattern of cover-ups on the parts of bishops. I remember when James Timlin became bishop decades ago. I was just a grade school kid, but even then it seemed that he was young for a bishop. He is no longer the bishop in charge of the Diocese of Scranton, but he still pays a role in diocesan activities. Many of the priests listed are now very old or have died, but Timlin is still around. Will he be called upon to account for all the things he did to cover up the actions of criminal priests?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Ow, my thumb

My left thumb hurts. It might be Neil Gaiman's fault.

I'm not sure when this started, but I think it was this weekend. I noticed a soreness in my left thumb, in the first (or is it the second?) joint - the second one down from the tip, the point where the thumb joins the hand. The soreness actually caused a loss of function in my left hand: I could no longer use my thumb to hold things, so my left hand was mostly useless except for typing.

I noticed a bony bulge at the base of my thumb, at the knuckle. It looks like a blister or boil, but it is hard to the touch.

Could this be arthritis? Maybe. At the half-century mark, such things start to be expected. I've never had arthritis before, so I don't know what it feels like.

A more intriguing possibility hit me this afternoon. On Saturday I picked up the latest issue of the comic book serialization of Neil Gaiman's American Gods. A good deal of this issue is dedicated to Mr. Ibis's recounting of the story of a slave girl and her twin brother, instrumental respectively in bringing belief in the old gods of Africa to the New World, and in leading a slave rebellion that eventually led to the liberation of Haiti. As an aside, Mr. Ibis (a manifestation of the ancient Egyptian god Thoth) mentions the punishment one of the slave girl's children received for demonstrating the ability to read: one of his thumbs was cut off.

I thought about how terrible a punishment this would be, how difficult life would be without a thumb, particularly a slave's life of unrelenting hard labor. I wonder now if I let my imagination delve into this too much, and if my body decided to respond by letting me know how it might feel, and to see what life might be like without a functioning thumb.

As I began to write this, the pain in my left thumb was present but not overwhelming. As I wrote, the pain gradually subsided. Now, my left thumb feels almost completely normal and pain-free. So maybe this really was a psychosomatic pain, and writing about it exorcised it from my consciousness.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The floods of mid-August

It's flooding in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Not in Nanticoke, for once, or our big sister Wilkes-Barre, though the Susquehanna was riding high yesterday, and will probably be higher tomorrow. Locally the flooding is in and around Bloomsburg to the southwest, and Scranton and the surrounding area (including, notably, Clarks Summit) to the northeast. Major roadways are flooded and impassable. Whole neighborhoods are cut off. Some idiotically unethical white water rafting outfit in Jim Thorpe decided that today would be a fine day for a planned outing, despite the dire weather forecasts. Over two hundred rafters were swept away, and about fifty of them had to be rescued. (The rest presumably rescued themselves, though there's still time for bad news to trickle in.)

The spotty but intense showers which have been the norm this spring and summer are expected to continue for the next few days. This may mean more flooding - either in areas that have so far been spared, or in areas that have already been devastated.

Sunday, August 12, 2018


There was nothing unusually stressful about today, but I am feeling totally exhausted. Just took a two-hour nap in an easy chair, and now I'm going to bed.

I was planning to mow the lawn tomorrow, but it may rain. We'll see.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The unreality of Sundays

I worked a seventeen-day stretch in July. No full days on my days off, never more than five scheduled hours, but still, I was in my seat and working every one of those days. After a single day off, I stretched this to nineteen out of twenty days. And then I stopped.

Last Friday and Saturday were my first "weekend" since July 8. My schedule has me work three ten-hour days, take two days off, work one more ten-hour day, and then take another day off. I realized how much I missed weekends, two days of knowing you didn't have to worry about going to go to work the next day.

I also realized how much I enjoyed that third day off, which (for me) is Monday. (Lots of people where I work have similar schedules, with different days on and off.) Last Monday I had an appointment with my eye doctor. Then I went shopping for perfume for my sister's birthday and a specific type of fudge (Boscov's maple walnut) for my mom. As I was driving around it hit me how much I had missed having the freedom to go on these jaunts.

Sundays are special days for me at work. They have this air of unreality: I have just been off two days, and I will be off again tomorrow. The calls are just as fast and the callers just as demanding as on any other day, and sometimes moreso. But I know that at the end of the day I get to go home, and won't have to be back until Tuesday. This somehow lightens the burden of the day and makes it easier to deal with people, whatever their demands.

I'm going to miss all this when it all wraps up at the end of September. There are a lot of things I will miss, and it seems odd that this confusing, exhausting schedule will be one of them. But it is.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The spice must flow

Years ago - maybe fifteen or more - I used to drink Tazo Chai Tea latte. It comes in a concentrate that you mix with milk over ice. The concentrate is expensive, and goes bad a week or so after you open it, so if you don't drink it every day you wind up throwing money away.

I've been drinking iced coffee at work throughout the summer. I freeze cooled coffee in an ice cube tray  and set aside some leftover coffee in the refrigerator at the end of the day. In the morning I'll fill my thermos with the frozen coffee cubes, add some of the refrigerated coffee, top off with milk, and shake vigorously. Sometimes I used to add hazelnut syrup for sweetness and flavor. But a few weeks ago I had the idea to look up a recipe for mixing chai spice at home.

It turned out to be pretty easy and obvious: ground allspice, ground cloves, ground ginger, ground cinnamon. (I skipped the ground cardamon, which I do not have, but which appears to be fundamental for authentic chai.) I added the ingredients to an empty and washed bottle from white pepper, which retained some pepper flavor without being overwhelming. (Black pepper is also an ingredient in authentic Masala chai.) I have now been adding this to my iced coffee, along with a few grains of Demerara sugar, which I've had for a few years and have mainly used for sprinkling on the whipped cream on the Irish coffees I drink once or twice a year. The result is nearly identical to the chai tea latte I used to drink.

The spice blend reminds me of apple pie spice. I've added it to iced tea. It would be great in apple cider, and would be delicious on pumpkin pie, and...


So, yeah. For the past few weeks, I've basically been making and using my own pumpkin spice, that ubiquitous stable of Autumn. And I don't regret it one bit.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Site maintenance needed

I noticed that most of my posts for this year up to the end of May that had photos are now missing some or all of the images. As I realized late in May, this came from using the easy but dangerous new copy-and-paste method of adding photos to Blogspot posts, which actually just hotlinks to the photo source. If anything changes with the photo source - in this case, the photos I had downloaded to Facebook albums - the link becomes broken, and the photos vanish. Not all of them, not all at once, but enough of them to be a problem requiring that I reupload them all directly to Blogger. So I have a LOT of photos to replace.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

First tomato, August 8, 2018

OK, that didn't take long. I picked my first tomato today. It may not be fully ripe yet - we'll find out tomorrow. In the image in the linked post, this is the tomato on the right, mostly obscured by foliage.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

The promise of tomatoes to come

Despite this being a very hot and wet summer, my tomatoes seem to be a bit behind schedule. That seems to be general complaint from a lot of people with vegetable gardens. Still, I have some that will be fully ripe soon. Maybe this week, maybe next.

August 6, 2018

Monday, August 06, 2018


My grandmother had a lot of phlox in her yard. They have died out over the years, but some that we transplanted to my mother's house years ago are still plugging along, despite annually getting the powdery mildew that plagued the ones in my grandmother's yard. These have been in bloom since the last week of July.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

"The Enthusiast" by Josh Fruhlinger: A review

I recently came across a copy of "The Enthusiast" by Josh Fruhlinger, the blogger who runs The Comics Curmudgeon blog. It came out a few years ago, and I had always meant to get a copy, but never got around to it. And now a brand, spanking new copy was right in front of me at a library book sale, mine for next to nothing. I felt embarrassed about buying it in such a way, but I also felt like it was a damned shame that this copy had gone unread. I needed to buy it, and I needed to read it.

That was over a month and a half ago. I finally read it over the past two weeks. I finished it a few days ago. And it's been rolling around in my head ever since.

This is a novel of ideas. Josh presents a new sort of consulting firm, one that is part guerrilla marketing, part psychological operations. The motto of the Subconscious Agency (its name a clever play on a psychological term) is "Enthusiasm is our business." Through subtle nudges, online interaction, and direct work in the field, the agency and its agents encourage, cultivate, and direct naturally-occurring enthusiasms in ways that are useful to their clients. The story follows agent Kate Berkowitz as she takes the lead on two seemingly unconnected campaigns: encouraging the purchase of a client's trains to replace the outdated ones in service on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, and helping a charming but vain movie star build interest in a movie project based on a decades-old comic strip - with him playing every male character.

Josh takes us on a ride that is full of twists and turns, more roller coaster than commuter train. While there are chapters of necessary exposition to get through and over a dozen characters to keep track of, once the story gets rolling it moves faster and faster, even as it is peppered with Mao-like aphorisms from Christine, the founder of Subconscious Agency, who is one part New Age visionary and several parts K Street scrapper. There is suspense, menace, ill-considered romance, lies and subterfuge and rugs that get pulled out from under characters at inconvenient times. And through it all is the theme of harnessing enthusiasm to achieve not just a desired outcome, but a desired shape of a process.

It's hard to believe that an organization like Subconscious Agency isn't already out there, subtly manipulating opinions in ways that benefit its clients. And then it becomes clear - these agencies are already out there, these manipulations are real. While the novel was published in 2013 2015 and written in the years that preceded, it's a prescient and fairly believable description of the psychological warfare and opinion manipulation that went on in the 2016 election and continues to this day.

What are you enthusiastic about? How can your personal mental energies be hijacked to produce a desired outcome for someone else, to establish a shape of a process, a template for future thought? Who is manipulating you through the things you care about? Read "The Enthusiast" by Josh Fruhlinger, and think very hard about these questions.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Fall in summer

Cherry tree, August 4, 2018
"The Great Gatsby" is a story set over the course of the summer of 1922. All of the action takes place between Nick Carraway's arrival in New York at the beginning of June and the funeral at the beginning of September, with the lethal events that punctuate the story happening at the end of August. Friendships form, long-lost loves are found, new relationships are born, there's treachery and crime and parties and fast cars and death, death, death, all in the course of three months. (And what did you do this summer?)

But for me, the most unrealistic aspect of the story is that Gatsby's groundskeeper wants to close up the pool at the end of August before it gets clogged with leaves. I mean, leaves don't start falling in the Northeast until well into late September, right?

My cherry trees are...weird. I planted them during a rainstorm in the spring of 2002. They were both supposed to be dwarf specimens, reaching no more than seven feet in height. In reality, one tops out at something like twelve feet, while the other is well over twenty feet tall. (I may have planted them too deep, burying the part where the rootstock was grafted to the body, causing the non-dwarf fruiting trunk to take root rather than the dwarf rootstock.) They didn't bear more than a handful of cherries in their first thirteen years or so. Then one year a few years back, after a particularly cold and brutal winter, they exploded with fruit. Last year was almost as abundant a fruiting season, although the birds enjoyed most of the harvest, not me. This year showed some promise at blossom time, but again only a few fruits ripened, almost all of which were promptly eaten by birds. (I wonder if fluctuations in the amount of fruit are more closely related to fluctuations in bird populations than to anything else.)

As far back as I can recall, my cherry trees have had their leaves turn yellow and drop off in early August. The first few times this happened I assumed they were falling victim to some sort of disease. But over the years I have come to accept this as just a normal part of their life-cycle. I just rake them, shred them, and then use them as mulch, as a quick carbon additive in the compost pile, or leave them in the bag for a few years to become leaf mold.

So maybe Gatsby's trees dropping their leaves at the end of August wasn't that unrealistic, or even unusual. Heck, maybe Gatsby had a few cherry trees on the grounds of his estate.

Friday, August 03, 2018


Today I experienced something that I haven't seen in a long time: a day off from work followed by another day off from work.

I actually had to be at my workplace physically today to meet with a representative from Unemployment to address preliminary questions. Because of the timing of the termination of our employment, income from this quarter - my best quarter in all the time I have been working there - won't be factored into my unemployment compensation. Still, I've been able to pay a lot of bills, and squirrel away some money for the future.

One question that was touched upon was: why have I chosen not to pursue the work-from-home option being offered by the campaign I'm currently working on? I gave the 500-meter answer: that my current living situation makes it impossible. Had they pressed the question - and the rep indicated that they might at some point in the future - I might have elaborated that I am living with a soon-to-be-85-year-old mother who, while very capable of taking care of herself while I am at work, can be somewhat less independent when she knows I am nearby. We are often told about the importance of "work-life balance," but all that goes out the window when your workplace and your home occupy the same space.

My particular situation aside, how presumptuous is it to expect that every employee is going to be able to take on the responsibilities of having a work-from-home job: creating the dedicated workspace that can be isolated from the rest of the home, building a strict do-not-disturb wall between you and anyone else at home, taking on the roles of facility maintenance and I.T., and absorbing all the overhead expenses - electricity, heat, rent - normally borne by the employer.

Besides, since long before we were advised a few weeks ago of this upcoming change to our employment situation, I've been toying with a vaguely science-fiction-y story involving a work-from-home travel agent. So, see, I've got a prior conflict...

Thursday, August 02, 2018


Nothing much to say tonight. I get to sleep in tomorrow for a bit. The stuff at work begins at 1:00 and may last a while, or just a few minutes. Afterwards I have some shopping to do and then need to run my mom out for an errand. I need to remember to grab our information about our vision care plan when I go in to work, since I have an eye appointment on Monday.

Lyin' Don was in Wilkes-Barre tonight. Of course he drew a big crowd. The candidate he was there to support, Lou Barletta, is very well-known in the region, and has made a name for himself for something on the order of 20 years or so. He was mayor of Hazleton and was a big anti-immigrant crusader back when Trump was still doing Pizza Hut commercials. He managed to get the city involved in a series of legal disputes that left it heavily in debt after he left office. His name was constantly in the paper and in the news. Tonight, Trump boasted that not many people in the area are familiar with Lou Barletta, but that he has known him very well for many years. That comment seemed to have left the crowd momentarily perplexed. But I'm sure they got over their cognitive dissonance quickly. Doublethink is the art of believing two mutually contradictory and incompatible things simultaneously, so I'm sure it wasn't long before they accepted that they had been previously unaware of a local politician they had supported for years, and were grateful to Donald Trump for introducing them tonight to a man who had been a household name for a very long time.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Garbage night

And I am wiped out. One more day of work, and then two days off. of which will be spent in part at work, meeting with representatives who will be helping those of us who cannot take the "work at home" option explore other options for transitioning from our current jobs. Hey, the economy is supposed to be booming right now, right? So it should be no problem finding great-paying jobs. At least, I'm sure that's what Trump will say when he comes to Wilkes-Barre on Friday. Actually, who am I kidding? He will likely spend most of the time praising himself, and the rest attacking the media for being enemies of the people and Robert Mueller for wasting taxpayer dollars on and embarrassing the United States with a phony hoax witch hunt investigation.

Maybe another tornado can descend on the area Friday night...

CORRECTION: THURSDAY night. THURSDAY night. The Obstructor-in-Chief is coming here Thursday night to block traffic (I-81 , a major highway that runs from the Canadian border to near Knoxville, Tennessee will be shut down for several hours while he is here) and hurt businesses (access to nearby businesses, still recovering from the June 13 tornado, will be cut off.)