Sunday, September 30, 2018


Rear entrance and break deck, WNS, September 28, 2018
At 7:00 tonight the Wilkes-Barre, PA location of WNS officially closed. The last few agents and supervisors logged off their phones, shut down their computers, turned in their badges, shook hands, and headed home.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Dream of the empty workplace

I had a dream about work last night, the first in a long time. This one was about the place closing, as it is in real life.

In the dream I noticed that key-card access had been removed from everywhere and now all the doors would just pop open. Most of the desks and cubicles were now empty - as they will be in real life when I walk in tomorrow. People were sitting in meetings with supervisors, crying (I recognized one guy who had actually been fired a few months ago) or taking selfies (I accidentally photobombed one as I walked into the place - cell phones and cameras are not allowed on the floor there.)

Tomorrow is going to be very weird. Most of the stuff has been taken down from the walls in the past few weeks. Yesterday, when I strolled in on my day off for a Special Guest Appearance, a lot of people were having their last day. Tomorrow everyone but the handful of us who are scheduled to work will have already packed up and left that place for the last time. And when we leave at 7:00 tomorrow night, it will really, finally, be over.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Open mic at the Dietrich Theater, Tunkhannock

After another day of watching Brett Kavanaugh's angry, whiny, entitled fratbro ass slide closer to an appointment for life on the Supreme Court - a consequence of the election of Donald Trump that some of us tried to warn everyone else about - it felt good to head up to Tunkhannock for a good old-fashioned open mic.

No camera with me, so no photos, though I honestly wish I had taken some. I just felt uncomfortable showing up at an open mic I had never been to before and saying "HELLO FELLOW OPEN MIC ENTHUSIASTS I AM GOING TO TAKE PICTURES OF ALL THE PERFORMERS." But I wish I had. Here, as best I can recall, are the people who performed:

- A teen guitarist who played two cover songs and one original. It was his first time performing.

- A singer who covered Taylor Swift's "Love Story," which is an extended Romeo and Juliet allegory. She ended with a from-memory recitation of part of one of Juliet's soliloquies.

- A long-haired, bearded 15-year-old who performed the Tom Jones murder ballad "Delilah" on a ukulele. (He later did an encore of "Human" by Rag'n'Bone Man, also on the ukulele.)

- Me. I read "Double Dig" from the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Word Fountain. I also did my first mic drop, when the microphone popped out of the mic stand while I was trying trying to adjust it before reading. I am frightened and confused by these bright lights and newfangled amplification devices.

- Another singer, also performing for the first time.

- An 88-year-old ventriloquist with a 71-year-old vent dummy. While the ventriloquists's natural voice - I spoke with him for a while during intermission - was somewhat muffled and hollow, his dummy spoke in a strong, clear voice.

- The feature, Laurel Radzieski, a poet I have known since our time together in the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective. She read selections from her new book, Red Mother, a collection of poems written from a parasite to its host, with between-poem discussions of the things she had learned while researching parasites and parasitology. She also read selections from her contribution to "Down the Dog Hole," a collection of poems about coal mining in Northeastern Pennsylvania written by eleven local poets. Laurel ended with some other poems, including some from her "Letters" series, poems that give insights into the daily lives and concerns of letters of the alphabet.

The next open mic at the Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock will be October 26, 2018. It will be the last one for the season. Sign-ups begin at 6:30, and readings start at 7:00.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

One day left

Two days off, then Sunday is my final day.

I am exhausted. Totally drained.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Final days

My current workplace will close at the end of the day Sunday. I have work tomorrow, Thursday. I have Friday and Saturday off. And then I work Sunday. I will be one of a handful of people working the last shift on the last day of our company's existence.

People have been leaving to begin the next phase for a while now. Many people have chosen a work-at-home option offered by the last campaign we had a contract with. Some began to transition to this new position at the beginning of the month, and a few more have been moving every week. Some are still waiting to find out if they have been approved to work at home.  Others have simply quit, or have left to pursue other opportunities.

But tomorrow will be different. For many people, their last scheduled day is Friday. For others, it's Saturday. I am not working either of these days, so tomorrow will be the last time I will see these people at work, and the last time they will see me. We will still keep in touch with each other, many of us, through Facebook. If most of us aren't Facebook friends with everyone else in the group, in most cases we are just one or two mutual friends away.

Even though Sunday will be my last day, tomorrow will have its own sense of finality about it.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Cat nap time

No new thoughts tonight. I posted a rant about a comic strip that I despise ("Dustin") on a Facebook discussion page yesterday. I posted a rant about "Bernie or Bust" voters on Facebook, which got the usual responses from the usual suspects. Took my mom on a nice ride yesterday. Pulled some weeds. Had my last first day of the workweek today.

But now, I have a nineteen year old cat who wants to go to bed, so we're going to bed. Goodnight.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Six and a half years, over in a week

Tomorrow begins the last week of my job at my current employer. It will really only be four ten-hour days. I will work the next three days, have Friday and Saturday off, work Sunday, and then walk out of a building that will be closing behind me. I will be on the last shift on the last day of operations there.

At some point I will be posting a reflection on these past six and a half years. For now, here is my first post referencing this job, about three weeks into my five (or was it six? more?) weeks of training:

Sunday, September 23, 2018

New story seed

Frackers. Strippers. The supernatural. Justice.

May actually need to do some research for this.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Call for submissions to Word Fountain!

You - yes, you - have a poem or a story in you. Share it with the world, and become a published author! Word Fountain is the literary magazine of the Osterhout Free Library of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. They accept submissions from all over the world. Submissions for the next issue will be accepted from September 24 through October 29. From the Word Fountain website,
We have an engaged local and regional audience, and thanks to our internet presence, a growing national and global readership as well. We are committed to featuring writers from Northeast Pennsylvania along with poets and storytellers from all over the state, the country, and around the globe. We particularly enjoy showcasing talented new and emerging writers right alongside those with experience and previous publication.
Submission guidelines for Word Fountain

So, put pen to paper,* or fingers to keyboard, hack and slash, revise, revise, revise, and when you've had enough and are ready to throw the whole thing into the fire, submit to Word Fountain!

*Only electronic submissions are accepted. So, when you're done, type it up and send it in per the submission guidelines.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Mowing accomplished

I was finally able to mow the lawn after at least three weeks. In some parts of the front lawn, which receives the most sun, the grass was close to a foot tall. And even though the dew had burned off and it hasn't rained in a few days, the grass clippings were damp - water-fat, from a long, wet summer - and kept choking the lawnmower. The back lawn went much faster.

There's probably one more mowing left for this year. Maybe two. One year I did the final mowing in November.

I may be working on a poem about two women who drowned while trapped in the back of a van on Tuesday night when they were being transported from a mental evaluation to another facility in South Carolina. The two sheriff's deputies who were driving them - and apparently made the decision to drive around barriers and onto a flooded and worsening stretch of road - were able to extricate themselves. But the women - conscious and talking, but trapped - drowned in the back of that van,in the cold waters of the Little Pee Dee River. It's a story that fills me with such outrage that a poem may be the only way to produce anything coherent.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

No post. Sleep now.

I had a post I wanted to write, expressing outrage at the deaths of two mental patients in South Carolina who drowned when the van they were being transported in drove into onto a blocked-off area of road and into flood waters. The two sheriff's deputies in the van were able to get to a place where they could be rescued, but the two women in the transport area of the van were trapped and drowned.

I expect this will be swept under the rug, just a footnote to all of the devastation Hurricane Florence brought. But this is something that cannot be neglected. Someone was criminally negligent, and two patients in the care of the state were allowed to die a slow, horrible  death.

But I will express that outrage at a later time. Now I must sleep.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


With less than a dozen calendar days left at our workplace, something has started running through the office. At first I thought my hayfever had kicked in a few weeks later than usual. I started getting a tickle in my throat on Monday, a few hours after my failed attempt to mow the lawn. Maybe I had stirred something up? I felt worse Monday night, with lots more coughing. At work on Tuesday I was reminded that several people had been coughing and sniffling the week before. By Wednesday the place had started to sound like a sick ward, and I had started sneezing. Was this an allergy, or a cold?

I'm starting to think it may be a cold because of another symptom I was showing several days before the ticklish cough: I lost the ability to spell.

Not entirely, and not all the time. But in retrospect I realize that for about a week I haven't been able to type more than a few words without having to go back and correct some typo. More often than not these are phonetic typos - words written out to more literally resemble the way they sound than they are normally spelled.

Does anyone else get this? I have no idea what brings this on. I just know that when it happens, it usually means I am going to be sick within a week. I seem to be past this stage, and now am just sick. We'll see how long that lasts.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Moon after Florence

The remnants of Hurricane Florence blew through northeastern Pennsylvania yesterday, last night, and this morning. As with Katrina thirteen years ago, the passage of this storm that had caused so much devastation elsewhere locally left an aftermath of clear blue skies. By this evening a faint haze had spread across the sky, but it wasn't thick enough to seriously distort this image of the waxing gibbous Moon, just a little past First Quarter.

(For more Moon images, see my blog dedicated to them, Shoot the Moon (

Monday, September 17, 2018

Last lunch

As of today I have eight days left at my current job - two full four-day/forty-hour weeks. My workplace is closing September 30. I am scheduled to be one of the last people to be on the phones in that place on its last day.

I have just two of my daily lunch servings of chicken left in the freezer, so today, while waiting for the dew to burn off the grass so I could mow the lawn*, I cooked up another batch of chicken. Ten chicken thighs, lightly dusted in a mix of flour and cracker crumbs and spices, baked at 450 degrees for twenty minutes, flipped over, and baked for another twenty minutes.

Ten pieces of chicken. Two more than I need - four more, counting the two in the freezer. I ate one, set three aside for my Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday lunches, and wrapped the rest for freezing.

And now I'm done. No more need to prepare lunches for this place. I wonder what I'll take as a lunch for my next job?

*As soon as I began to mow the lawn, it started to rain - lightly at first, and then more heavily and steadily. I only made a few passes with the mower before I had to stop, put the mower away, and pull my clothes off the line.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Time to mow the lawn

I currently work four ten-hour days each week with three days off. This might sound like a great shift, and in some ways it is. But the ten hour days, which often stretch out closer to eleven hours, tend to leave you drained and exhausted and uninterested in doing much of anything beyond getting ready for the next day of work. The three days off are great, but if you want to get anything done outside, you'd better hope for nice weather on those days off. Because you're not going to mow the lawn if it's wet or raining, and you probably shouldn't if it's very hot or oppressively humid. Which pretty much defines this summer.

The upshot of this is that it's been about three weeks since I last mowed the lawn, and the grass - aided by all that rainfall - is pretty damned tall. So tomorrow's lawnmowing, which won't get started until after the dew burns off around midday, will be a most-of-the-day affair.

I'm hoping there will only be one or two more mowings after this one. Then it will be time to rake, shred, and mulch the leaves, and then the time of shoveling and spreading salt.

It never ends. Until it does.

UPDATE, Monday, September 17: The outer bands of what's left of Hurricane Florence, which brought so much devastation to the Carolinas these past few days, brought rain to this area a few hours earlier than expected. I got a few passes into the lawn when the spitting drizzle that started as I began mowing turned into a regular rainshower. It slowed later, but continues to come down, and is supposed to be very heavy overnight. So this lawn will have to wait until at least Friday to be mowed.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

You are a target market

I frequently see complaints online from friends who mentioned something online, or said something about something offline, or merely thought about thinking about something, and within a day or two were getting targeted with ads for this very thing. What witchery is this? Is their iPhone or Alexa or microwave oven spying on them, monitoring their conversations or maybe reading their thoughts?

I don't know. I've never had it happen - and I'm someone who swims through a sea of synchronicity too blatant to be coincidence. The only times I've had anything like this happen at all are after I've actually searched for a product outside of Safe Search mode, and even that is spotty at best. I think my chaotic online behavior defeats most marketing algorithms.*

Today, having recently searched for Consumer Reports-recommended carpet shampooers, I received this targeted ad from Walmart:

So, what brought this on? It's not like a walking stick is something I've looked at online, at least not in over nine years, when I briefly flirted with the idea of getting a walking stick / monopod just in case I might ever get together with a local blogger who was also an avid hiker, but that never happened and she got married and had kids and I finally met her for the first time in person about two years ago and...but I digress. Prior to that, my only other walking stick incident involved a handsome silver-and-black number back in 2002 that...well, that's another story involving someone who's since gotten married and had kids, and I'm not going to tell it.

The thing is, there was no reason for Walmart to target me with this item, even though it is pretty cool.

To a point.

That point being where the "About this item" says:
Warning - Choking Hazard - Children Under 3 
This toy is not suitable for ages under 3 years. It contains one or more of the following items marbles; small ball; or small parts.

Wait, what? And then:
This decorative walking stick is not weight bearing and is not intended for orthopedic use. 
Sorry, dude. If I'm going to invest money in a walking stick, I at the very least expect it to serve as a walking stick. And also be rugged enough to be used as a melee weapon, for which I require a weighted knob capable of breaking bones and knocking out teeth. And it should have an attachment for my camera, and a spike for walking on ice, and a compass in the top, and a built-in flashlight, laser, magnifying glass, mirror, flint and striker, bottle opener, cell phone charger, waterproof matches, and a concealed sword. 

Decorative? Decorative? Walmart, you failed. You don't know me at all. 

*I feel sorry for the FBI agent who monitors my online activity. "What the hell - WHY is he going THERE now? And - wait, this makes no sense, and - OH MY GOD, I did NOT need to see that! I gotta find another job, something less - wait, what the hell is THIS now..?" 

Title reference: The subtitle to "Meeting people is easy.", Radiohead's 1998 DVD release ("A film by grant gee about radiohead.") 

Fun side note: Today on The TED Radio Hour, I heard Dan Airley describe a simple experiment. A group of people were given an option regarding a subscription to a magazine relevant to their interests. They could get an online-only subscription for $59, a print-only subscription for $125, or a combination print and online subscription for $125 - the print subscription with free online access! In this experiment (which was based on an actual magazine offer), the majority chose the combination offer, fewer chose the online offer, and nobody chose the print-only option. So then the experiment was re-run with another group - only this time, the print-only option, which no one wanted in the first experiment, was eliminated. And overwhelmingly, the subjects chose the less expensive online-only option. The combination offer, which had been so very popular before, was now far less attractive, simply because a similar option that no one wanted had been eliminated. 

...this isn't actually relevant to anything above. I just thought it was pretty cool.

Friday, September 14, 2018

All your books in one basket

Once upon a time, Luzerne County in Pennsylvania was teeming with bookstores. The Wyoming Valley Mall in Wilkes-Barre Township alone had two: B. Dalton and Waldenbooks. Another Waldenbooks was located in the West Side Mall in Edwardsville. Downtown Wilkes-Barre had the Book and Record Mart. Kingston had one of two Tudor Book Store locations, and a newcomer moved into the West Side Mall in the early 1990s: the Village Green Bookstore. And that's just counting retailers. There were also numerous used book shops throughout the area: Book Swap, The Hermit, Mostly Books, and numerous others whose names I have forgotten. Farther afield, many outlet malls had excellent bookstores that sold remaindered and overstocked books - two in the Crossings in Tannersville, one in Vanity Fair in Reading, and another located near Bushkill Falls in the Poconos. In addition, every year or two a pop-up remaindered bookstore would set up shop in a vacant space previously occupied by a supermarket or other large retailer for a month or two, bringing an enormous and random selection of books - sometimes a single copy apiece - at deep discount prices.

I'm not sure if all of these stores were ever open simultaneously. B. Dalton was an early casualty in the late 1980s or early 1990s, leaving the Wyoming Valley Mall with a single bookstore. The Book and Record Mart didn't survive long into the 1990s, closing shortly after The Village Green opened. Neither did the Waldenbooks at the West Side Mall, which shut down in the late 1990s. The Tudor Bookstore once posted a warning that big chains like Waldenbooks and the recent arrival Barnes & Noble (which opened in the Arena Hub Plaza in 1999) were threatening to drive independent bookstores like them out of business - and they were right. The Village Green lasted through the late 1990s, possibly a bit longer. But by then, online bookseller Amazon was well on its way to becoming the monster it is today. The Tudor gave up the ghost in 2008. Waldenbooks didn't survive long, closing its last regional locations in the Wyoming Valley Mall in Wilkes-Barre Township and the Laurel Mall in Hazleton in 2010, and the Borders in the Viewmont Mall in Dickson City closed in 2011. (In both cases it was not just the individual locations closing, but the entire chains.) As far as I know, all of the outlet mall bookstores are gone, and I haven't seen or heard of a pop-up remaindered store coming to the area in over ten years. Books-a-Million moved into the closed Borders location to become Lackawanna County's sole bookstore, while Barnes & Noble emerged as the sole surviving bookstore in Luzerne County, albeit with two locations: the main one at the Arena Hub Plaza in Wilkes-Barre Township, and another in downtown Wilkes-Barre that serves as the college bookstore for King's College and Wilkes University.

The search results for "bookstores wilkes-barre". Note that in addition to the two
locations of Barnes & Noble, a third, highly specialized bookstore is listed.

Then a tornado tore through the Arena Hub Plaza on Wednesday, June 13, 2018, ripping the back wall off of Barnes & Noble.

Technically, this did not leave Luzerne County without a bookstore. The Barnes & Noble in downtown Wilkes-Barre is a serviceable bookstore, with an adequate selection of books. In addition to the alternative bookstore listed above (which, in reality, carries mainly magazines full of photographs), Ollie's Bargain Outlet is also counted as a bookstore, and does carry a large but fairly random selection of remaindered books of all sorts. Retailers like Sam's Club, Walmart, Target, and Kmart still have book sections, mainly carrying new releases and popular books. At the other extreme, most libraries - and this area has many libraries - have an extensive selection of books for sale, ranging from recent releases to rare and strange books looking for new homes, and periodically hold large-scale book sales.

(EDIT, September 16, 2018: A friend just reminded me that "Library Express in the Marketplace at Steamtown [formerly the Mall at Steamtown in Scranton] is both a branch of the Lackawanna County Library System AND an indie bookstore. They have a mix of new and used books and they'll order anything for you that they don't have. Book orders usually take a week to come in." I've bought several books at deep discounts here over the years, and have also been to some poetry readings there.)

As of yesterday, three months since the tornado, Barnes & Noble has opened what they are calling a "pop-up" bookstore in a previously vacant space in the East End Centre, about a mile and a half from their tornado-damaged location. It has a fraction of the books and magazines the main location held, and has a feeling of impermanence hanging about it. The original plan was to repair and reopen the old location by Thanksgiving. Now the plan is to keep the pop-up in place through "the holidays" - Thanksgiving? Christmas? New Years? - and reopen the old store sometime early next year.

Amazon, the online shopping juggernaut, is an amazing resource for people looking to buy books. New books, used books, rare books - if they don't have it, they'll do their darnedest to find it for you. Their domination of the books sales market is widely held responsible for the fairly rapid demise of bricks-and-mortar bookstores since Amazon came onto the scene. Yet there is something visceral and undeniably sensual about being able to walk into a bookstore and see, feel, smell, and even maybe read the book you'd like to purchase, and to be in the presence of other book lovers - to the point that Amazon is actually experimenting with opening bricks-and-mortar locations.  

Once upon a time, this area had numerous bookstore choices, new and used. Now we're down to two locations of Barnes & Noble, a network of libraries selling used books, and a handful of other places that only incidentally carry books. A few years from now, will we even have that many choices? Or will bricks-and-mortar bookstores become a thing of the past?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Florence has arrived

Florence is making landfall in North Carolina. I've heard reports of twelve foot storm surges. The storm has slowed down, meaning it will linger and grind on each area it passes through for a long time.

It will be a week or more before we have a sense of how much damage has been done. At it will be much longer before the affected areas have made a significant recovery.

...hell, some parts of New Orleans haven't fully recovered yet from Katrina, which hit in 2005.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Storm surge and your car

Florence is coming. This huge hurricane will make landfall sometime in the next day or so, and will bring with it storm surge - a piling-up of seawater that will cause flooding to a depth of as much as nine feet.

Even if you think that you're safe from the storm, even if you're in a reinforced building well above flood level, one thing you need to ask yourself is: where is your car parked?

For most people, the answer will be "on the street." And that's a very bad place for it to be. At the very least you can expect your vehicle to be flooded, sustaining waster damage that will leave a soggy, smelly mess. A little more water - two to three feet, according to the Weather Channel - can float your car. More than that will flood the engine compartment and the entire inside of your car. This isn't just water we're talking about - this is salty sea water, probably full of particles of sand. In addition to the damage to your paint job, salt water can interact unpleasantly with your car's battery, electrical system, and fuel. After Coney Island and other parts of New York City were flooded by Superstorm Sandy back in 2012, numerous inundated vehicles shorted out and caught fire - and sometimes exploded.

Not every car flooded by storm surge will be destroyed. Some will be cleaned up and put back on the market without any information regarding their flood-damaged status. Just as after Sandy, for the next few years buyers of used cars will need to carefully inspect all vehicles for tell-tale signs of flood damage.

It would be so much easier for people in the danger zone to avoid all this by getting themselves - and their cars - to the safety of higher ground. Please consider it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

A reminder on 9/11

A hallmark of Al Qaeda attacks was - is - simultaneity. If multiple attacks happen at or nearly at the same time, there's a good chance Al Qaeda is behind it.

The attacks on the World Trade Center weren't simultaneous, but were very nearly so. The attack on the Pentagon, too. And as these attacks were going on, Flight 93 was headed for a field in western Pennsylvania.

Because it was delayed.

Where would it have gone if the terrorists' takeover hadn't been frustrated? The U.S. Capitol? The White House? We don't know. We'll probably never know.

But because it was delayed, it was still a long way from its intended target when news of the attacks in New York and Washington D.C. broke. The passengers heard this news and realized that their plane was another flying weapon of mass destruction. They were able to attack the hijackers and ruin their plan.

Who put the plane into the ground? The hijackers, or the passengers? It almost doesn't matter. But in another sense, the fact that it went down averted another tragedy, different from the tragedies in New York and Washington D.C. Had the plane continued on its course, it would likely have been intercepted and destroyed by scrambled fighter jets. It might have come down in pieces over a populated area. The scars of 9/11 would include guilt over the destruction of Flight 93 and the deaths of everyone on board due to it being shot down.

But that's not what happened. Because Flight 93 was delayed, the passengers had a chance to learn about what was going on, and fight back, and stop the fourth plane from getting where it was going.

Remember that next time you grumble about your flight being delayed.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Open mic at the Dietrich Theater, Friday, September 28

There are definitely open mics still being held in and near Northeastern Pennsylvania. NEPA Scene hosts the Rising Talent Open Mic at the V-Spot in Scranton every Tuesday with sign-ups starting at 6:30 PM. The Sherman Showcase (formerly The Living Room) at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg every Sunday, with sign-ups starting at 6:30 PM. The Be Daring Open Mic is held at the cafe Adezzo in Scranton the last Wednesday of every month, with sign-ups again beginning at 6:30 PM.

The Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock holds an open mic on the fourth Friday of every month. This month's open mic will be held on September 28 at 7:00 PM, with sign-ups starting at 6:30 PM, featuring poet Laurel Radzieski. From the Dietrich's website:

Open to audiences and performers of all ages, musicians, poets, comedians and performers of all types are invited to share their talents on the Dietrich stage every fourth Friday. This month's featured performer is poet Laurel Radzieski. She will read from her debut poetry collection, Red Mother, a love story told from the perspective of a parasite. This series of short poems explores the intimacy, desire and devotion we all experience by following the sometimes tender, often distressing relationship that emerges between a parasite and its host. Radzieski will also share new poems from an in-progress project and copies of Red Mother will be available for purchase.

I have known Laurel since her time in the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective. She has been featured at the Writers' Showcase in Scranton and has been published in the Osterhout library's literary magazine Word Fountain. Red Mother is her first poetry collection, and it's like nothing I've ever read before. I heard her read selections from it at the release party for the most recent Word Fountain, and it's definitely fun to hear her words in her own voice. I have never been to the Dietrich before, and while Tunkhannock is a bit of a trek from Nanticoke, I'm looking forward to the trip!

Sunday, September 09, 2018

And just like that, it was cold

It won't last. But suddenly, the steamy tropical weather in the 80s has turned into cold rainy weather in the 50s. It's not quite Irish weather, but it's close. Temperatures are supposed to be back in the 80s in a few days, and we may even get hit with a hurricane in the coming week. Whatever the temperature, this has turned out to be a wet summer.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Same name, different life status

For as long as I can remember, the first thing my mom has done every morning is check the obituaries "to see who is no longer with us." Forty years ago this was somewhat morbid, but as the decades wore on it became a more sensible thing to do, as more and more of her friends, co-workers, and classmates passed away.

A second reason she always gave was that she looking to see if her own name was in the obituaries. But all this watching and waiting finally paid off. A few weeks ago, my mom discovered her own name in the obituaries.

Well, almost her own name.

The deceased had a different middle name, was a year older than my mom, and lived in a different part of the area. It was a heck of a coincidence, and we got a few laughs out of it, but we didn't think of it  much beyond that.

Today my brother pointed out that my mom's longtime dentist had posted to the memorial page.

Heartfelt condolences to the entire family on the loss of Eleanor. She was quite the gal and kept me on my toes for many years. God rest her soul. Sincerely Dr Len M_____

Posted by: A friend   Aug 20, 2018

So, this is...disconcerting. I actually just met this dentist for the first time about a month ago while taking my mom to an appointment with another doctor. My mom keeps in touch with many of her friends over the phone, and makes weekly social appearances in church. But there are still other friends who don't speak to her on the phone or see her in church. How can we let them know she's still alive? I'm not sure. I located Dr. M____ on Facebook and sent him a message letting him know - though since we are not Facebook friends, I have reason to believe Facebook may keep him from seeing these.

So I'll just put it out here: as of this writing, my mom is still alive. Thank you for your concern!

Friday, September 07, 2018

Poem: Once were poets

The time when I wrote this poem, and the time that I wrote the poem about, feel like a lifetime ago. Maybe several lifetimes. It was definitely a different time: Northeastern Pennsylvania had a thriving poetry scene, with poetry and prose open mics being held nearly every week somewhere. For a while I set out to maintain a calendar to let people know just what was going on, and where and when it was happening. Sometimes the biggest problem was the sheer number of events happening at the same time - check out the March 2014 entry, which noted that there were three events happening on a single day.

But all good things must come to an end, and maybe, as many people told me consolingly in the aftermath, an art community is an inherently unstable thing. Strong personalities and inflated egos lead to conflicts. Limited time and other resources force people to pick and choose what events they support. Cliques form, friendships get strained, relationships end. Life takes people in new directions, sometimes far, far away.

Venues close.

This poem was written in the aftermath of the closure of the Vintage, the Scranton arthouse and coffee shop where the Northeastern Pennsylvania Writers' Collective had our weekly writing group and put on our monthly open mics. The writing group did not long survive the closing of the Vintage at the end of August 2014 - by some measures, less than two hours after the last visit to the Vintage for its everything-must-go sale, the group was effectively broken up. The poem was read for the first time at Arts Seen in Wilkes-Barre, a venue that would not survive 2015. 

There is still a poetry scene here. For a while I retreated to the more genteel scene of the Old School group in Springville, peopled by older and more established poets, poets who didn't act like they were trying to prove anything to anyone. But eventually magister poet and host Craig Czury moved away, possibly forever, bringing that series to an end. I have been a featured reader twice at the Writers' Showcase at the Olde Brick Theatre in Scranton, I have been published three times in the Osterhout literary magazine Word Fountain, and my poems have appeared three times on Luzerne County Transit Authority buses as part of the Poetry in Transit program. Until my work schedule presented a conflict, I was a regular reader at the Be Daring Open Mic at Adezzo in Scranton, which primarily focuses on music and comedy. I know there are a few other open mics and scheduled readings, mostly in Scranton. Maybe someday I will find my way to them, maybe as an audience member, maybe as a poet. I don't know.

This poem was put into its final form on January 29, 2015.

Once were poets

We were poets once
long, long ago
before the curtain fell
and the lights went down
before the egos rose
and the poison spread
we were poets

We were poets then
opening our veins to show the world
the fire that burned within
our innermost truths
deepest secrets
our hopes, our fears,
our loves, our failures
we were poets

We are poets still
as long as we are unafraid
to rip ourselves open
let the words press out
through our hands and our lips and our tongues
push up the curtain
set fire to the lights
suck out the poison
and spit it in the faces of those who would silence us

We were poets once
long long ago
We were poets then
and we are poets now.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Wet Hot American Summer

This summer still has more than two weeks to go and most people are ready to see the end of it. Some summers are scorchingly hot. Some are sickeningly humid. Some are bone-dry, drought years that it seems we will never recover from. Some are rainy, full of dismal days that lead kids to sing incantations to dispel the precipitation.

The best description for this summer in Northeastern Pennsylvania is tropical. Hot, humid, and rainy, with occasional small, tight knots of storms, some isolated deluges resulting in horrible localized flooding, and a few large regional storms. Temperatures since the end of June have generally been well above average, as has the precipitation and humidity.

How unusual is this? Unusual enough that around a dozen school districts have postponed the start of the school year due to mold. The heat and humidity inside the confines of a school building left vacant over the summer are apparently a great mix if you're looking to grow mold. This, as far as I know, has never happened here before.

It gets worse. Schools here have traditionally started in the cool early weeks of September , and ended in the warming days of early June. The school year spanned autumn, winter, and spring, with a few nominal weeks of summer thrown in in the beginning. The practical upshot of this is that schools normally have to be heated but not air-conditioned.

But not this year. This school year temperatures have been soaring into the 90s and above in the afternoon. Many schools in the area, not equipped with air conditioning, have been closing early due to excessive heat. This, too, as far as I know, has never happened before.

Now, a single data point does not create a line. A single year's weather doesn't indicate climate change. But this summer does not exist in isolation. There are many other data points that help to show the trend. It could be that wet, hot, tropical summers are the new normal for this area. Don't like it? Well, it might just be that there's nothing you can do about it, except move or get used to living in the tropics for a good bit of the year.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

The South Valley Parkway is complete...ish

It's well ahead of schedule, even though it feels like it took forever to bring to this point, but as of Friday, August 31, 2018, the South Valley Parkway in Hanover Township and Nanticoke is finally complete. Mostly. Sort of.

It's an odd road, built for...reasons. The most immediate and explicit is to serve as a bypass for Middle Road, the ancient two-lane road that was the original highway from Wilkes-Barre to Nanticoke and beyond. The longstanding problem with this road is that it channels increasingly fast and heavy traffic through numerous residential areas between Wilkes Barre and Luzerne County Community College. The South Valley Parkway, in theory, will allow this traffic to bypass Middle Road onto a two-lane parkway with numerous turning circles and no residences.

There are other reasons, of course. A project of this magnitude wouldn't have been undertaken just to reduce traffic past a few dozen houses. Many of those reasons are explained in this environmental assessment from January 2013.

I've ridden almost the whole thing. It is convenient in some ways, and the turning circles are a smooth, safe, and efficient means of operating an intersection without anyone necessarily having to come to a complete stop. In other ways it feels like a long cut to nowhere. In appearance it seems oddly asymmetrical and aesthetically wrong, with stretches that seem to narrow and widen without reason and odd sections along Middle Road now isolated, in a "you can't get there from here" sense.

An example: Lower Askam, the western border of Hanover Township with Nanticoke, is now effectively cut off from Nanticoke. Middle Road heading west towards Nanticoke now abruptly terminates in a right-curved exit that takes you onto the South Valley Parkway headed east. The only way to continue into Nanticoke would be to follow the Parkway east to the first turning circle, turn around 180 degrees, and head back along the parkway towards Nanticoke - about a two mile detour. That, or make a left-hand turn off the right-curving exit, a maneuver that is probably prohibited, tough no sign indicates this yet. In the east, Middle Road is interrupted by the removal of a bridge; drivers heading east must exit,take a bridge onto a turning circle, and then exit again across a bridge and back onto Middle Road.

The parkway is not officially finished yet. There is still one more roundabout to go, at the intersection of Middle Road and Prospect Street. I get the impression there may be some adjustments made to the newly-built parkway. And soon, if things go as planned, new industry - primarily warehouses and distribution centers - will move into the areas opened up by this construction. Will the South Valley Parkway be up to the task? Time will tell.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Register to vote!

Election Day 2018 will be here before you know it. This is the first national election since 2016, when Trump slithered to victory and control of Congress - both houses - was handed to the Republicans. Every day we are being reminded of what a disaster this was, and will continue to be.

Remarkably, in 2016 a lot of people didn't bother to vote, or weren't even registered to vote. Many of them saw Trump as a bad joke with no chance of winning. Others decided that they were OK regardless of the outcome of the election. Both were very wrong.

Maybe it's too late to stop Trump from pushing through his second lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Maybe it's too late to stop him from doing long-lasting damage to the economy, the environment, civil rights, international relations, and the standing of the United States in the world. But it's not too late to start setting things right. You're only going to do that if you get out and vote on Tuesday, November 6. And you're only going to do that if you register to vote.

Different states have different deadlines. Here in Pennsylvania, the deadline to register to vote is Tuesday, October 9, 2018. You can register to vote online here:

You can apply for an absentee ballot and do other voting-related tasks here:

Are you already registered to vote? Are you sure you haven't somehow gotten un-registered? It has happened, you know. Just to be sure, visit this site and do a quick check:

Voting is your right as a U.S. citizen. Claim that right for yourself, and then go out and use it!

Monday, September 03, 2018

Scranton Fringe Festival, September 22-30, 2018

The Scranton Fringe Festival is returning for a fourth year! From their Facebook page:

The 2018 Scranton Fringe Festival is a performing arts celebration that showcases original theater, international dramas, music, stand-up comedy, children's programming, dance performances, site specific work and much more! 

125+ individual performances will fill over thirteen venues in downtown Scranton this fall for the fourth annual Scranton Fringe Fest. 

You can download a guide to the 2018 Scranton Fringe Festival here. Tickets are already on sale, and advance purchases are recommended.

Support the arts in Northeastern Pennsylvania! Take part in the Scranton Fringe Festival!

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Late night, last call

My workday is over when the last call ends. (And is properly documented, and I shut down my systems and clear my cookies and send out an email noting my logout time.) Today that last call came through shortly before my scheduled quitting time and lasted until 7:38. It was simultaneously complex and relatively straightforward, and just required a little finagling and finessing to get it exactly the way the caller wanted it. I was able to end it with a caller who felt they got more than their money's worth out of their booking fee, and came out of the transaction knowing a bit more than they did when they began.

I wonder what that last call will be like on my last day, four weeks from today? Will it be miserable, or sweet? Will it be someone who makes me glad to be getting out of this business, or someone I wish I could work with again sometime? And if the latter, will they express the same sentiment? And if they do, will I be able to restrain myself from saying "Heh, funny story..."?

Saturday, September 01, 2018

A season of death is upon us

These past two days have been all about funerals on TV. Yesterday was Aretha Franklin's funeral, a nine-hour marathon that felt, at times, more like the star-studded Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethons of the 1970's and 80's. Today was John McCain's, a relatively brief affair that featured moving eulogies from politicians and family members and a decidedly anti-Trump tone.

These aren't the only deaths right now, of course. Playwright Neil Simon died this week. Ward Hall, the King of Sideshow, passed away yesterday morning. Yesterday was also the funeral for a friend's mother. Numerous friends have also posted about deaths of pets in the past few days.

People are dying all the time, but sometimes deaths seem to come in clusters. A few years ago some friends and I started a discussion thread plotting out the imaginary movie THEY COME IN THREES based on the belief that celebrity deaths happen in groups of three - which is true enough, if you're willing to be pretty arbitrary about your grouping.   (My version had the hero finding out the awful secret truth about why this happens - and going on the run from the villains who will try to stop him from revealing the secret to the world.) At work we often deal with "death days," where almost every call involves someone needing to travel to a funeral or because a friend or family member has just died or is on their deathbed.  After half a dozen calls like this, you just want to yell "Doesn't ANYBODY want to travel for fun anymore?"

Some have suggested that the moving, touching performances at Aretha Franklin's funeral and the calls for a return to a more dignified and honorable era of politics may indicate that a major shift in our society and government is coming soon . But I just don't believe it. I don't think this weekend will bring about any more significant change than the change we have seen in the aftermath of any of the recent mass shootings. For a few days we'll hear some talk of unity, of bipartisanship, of taking positive action to bring about change, and then...

... well, we shall see.