Friday, November 30, 2018

First week done

My first week at the new job is over. Really, this was just the first week of training. There will be nine more.

Now on to the weekend, which will be exhausting, as usual.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Photos from Poems at the Pub featuring Craig Czury, November 27, 2018

The second edition of Poems at the Pub was held on the second floor of Dugan's Pub in Luzerne, PA. Craig Czury was the featured reader, but his set was followed by an open mic in which nine more poets read. David Bauman and Erin Delaney organized and hosted the event.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Long night

It's garbage night. That's always a long, drawn-out process.

I downloaded my photos from last night. Just the best ones. I have sixty-three of them that made the cut. I don't think I'll be posting all of them here.

Some of the photos from last night

Can't find Temptations Milk Treats. That used to be the favorite flavor for the cats, though now they prefer chicken. But Thor enjoyed some of our remaining supply of the milk flavor. I hope it hasn't been discontinued.

UPDATE, 11/29/18: Found two 16 ounce boxes of Temptations Milk Treats at Pet Supplies Plus and one at Price Chopper. Walmart claims online that I can order a bunch at an excellent price, but if I did that now some would go moldy before the cats got a chance to eat them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Poems at the Pub featuring Craig Czury, November 27, 2018

Craig Czury
Another amazing night at the second edition of Poems at the Pub. Craig Czury was the feature, but nine other poets shared pieces in the open mic that followed. The night didn't end until nearly 10:00. If you missed it, there will be another in January!

(More pictures to follow.)

UPDATE, 11/29/2018: Additional photos are now included in this post:

Monday, November 26, 2018

St. Joseph's: Another church is coming down

After having stood empty for over eight years without attracting a buyer, St. Joseph's Church in Nanticoke is now slated for demolition.

Here it is in better days, two years before it closed:
St. Joseph's Church, Nanticoke, October 18, 2008. The church would be closed two years later.

The stained glass windows were removed and sold several years ago, and since then the church has stood with simple clear glass in their place. But as of this past week, even that was gone.

St. Joseph's Church, November 25, 2018. The stained glass windows were removed and sold some time ago, and now even the plate-glass replacement windows have been removed.

I wanted to try to get photos some late afternoon on a sunny day, when the sun would shine through the empty window frames and fill the church with light. But it may be that such a sunny day may never happen in the time that that remains.

Soon another piece of Nanticoke's history will be nothing but photographs, memories, and rubble.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Back to work, again

Today is the last day of my eight weeks of unemployment.

I suppose I could have brought this to an end sooner if I had been willing to settle for far less than what I was making at my old job. Places everywhere are hiring, warehouses and call centers and retail stores. All the jobs they were offering would have paid up to 25% less than what I had been making. The job I am starting is paying an hourly wage almost identical to my previous wage, though the bonus structure - or in this case, commission structure - will be quite different. (To be fair, in the first nine months of 2018 I made more money than I had in any of at least the previous six full years of employment, so that's a hard mark to reach.)

I'm starting over again. What worries me is that I'm starting over doing customer service for a tech company. That sounds great, but technology has a way of becoming antiquated and obsolete. I say that as someone who once thought he had a career in the CD and DVD industry. At my age, I'm looking for a job that will keep me employed for the next fifteen to seventeen years. If this job goes away in, say, six and a half years, I'll find myself back on the job market at age fifty-seven.

I met with some friends for dinner this afternoon. I had some plans for when I got home, but instead wound up sitting with Joey, our oldest cat. He likes to be wrapped in a blanket and held, and when he is adequately comfortable his purrs will turn to snores and then silence as he falls asleep. Thor napped nearby, just out of arm's reach. One or both of these cats may very well die in the coming weeks, and will probably die while I am at work. I wanted to get in as much time as I could with them now.

Now it's time for bed. Five o'clock will come around soon.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Stray thoughts: A roundup

1. I had a nightmare last night within 45 minutes of falling asleep. Don't remember much of it. I know I had to walk across town at night in bad weather. I took a shortcut that should have gone through an alley, but in fact took me through someone's house. When the occupant noticed, I apologized and explained that I was lost. She was very understanding. I eventually came out the other side, and then had to walk past the quarter mile of graveyards along the south central edge of Nanticoke. As I began this walk, I spotted something crouching in the graveyard that I simultaneously identified as ghoul and crackhead. I decided not to run - running would only make me more vulnerable, and would be worse than dealing with it head on. It charged at me in full gallop, running on all fours, using its hands to push itself forward. I think around this time I woke up and checked the clock to see how long I had been asleep. It was about an hour since I had gone to bed, and I knew it had taken a while for me to fall asleep.

2. When I was in high school and college in the 1980s, in what was effectively the pre-Internet era (an early version of the Internet existed then, but not for us, mostly), we had to generally rely on liner notes and close listening to decipher the lyrics of songs. (Some fan clubs would send you "official" copies of song lyrics, but you had to join, and there was always a fee involved.) R.E.M. was a band legendary for its often-incomprehensible lyrics. U2 also had several songs with lyrics that were only semi-coherent, most notably "Elvis Presley and America" from "The Unforgettable Fire." (The legend was that Bono drunkenly mumbled things into a microphone in a single take, and even if that is not true, the lyrics really have nothing resembling narrative coherence.) When "The Joshua Tree" came out while I was in college, we listened intently to each song as it came out on the radio. I remember a friend stopping me in the cafeteria to hand my the lyrics she had transcribed from her first hearing of "With or Without You." These days, of course, you can just Google these songs and pull up what are allegedly the "official" lyrics to almost any song. For some bands, like My Bloody Valentine, this has become a bit of a game; their lyrics intentionally hover on the edge of comprehensibility, no "official" versions exist, and the band will privately rate posted versions on the degree to which they correspond to what they recall actually singing.

3. Ricky Jay died today. He was so many things: a magician, an actor, a historian, a writer - his book "Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women" re-introduced me to the world of strange and unusual performers that I had once learned of through furtive glimpses at the pages of a paperback in the book department of the 1970s-era department store Fowler, Dick, and Walker: The Boston Store (now Boscov's in Wilkes-Barre, a store which, like so many others, no longer has a book department.) I am constantly surprised whenever he pops up in a random movie or TV series - his acting credits are extensive.

4. On Monday I will be heading back to work. These last few days I've been spending as much time as possible with two of our cats who will most likely be the next to die. In both cases we're forestalling the inevitable by identifying and providing foods that the individual cat is most likely to eat in quantity. Foe one cat, Joey, that means Friskies Beef with Extra Gravy and Fancy Feast Beef Pate mixed with extra virgin olive oil. For Thor, it means Fancy Feast Grilled Beef and Fancy Feast Beef and Liver Pate, as well as chicken, turkey, and thinly sliced ham. Joey also is fond of taking naps, especially if he is first wrapped in a blanket and held against your chest. Thor prefers to be scritched and scratched and massaged all over. I'm sorry I won't be able to do these things once I head back to work - at least during the nine hours or so I'll be out of the house.

So, one more sleep. Church in the morning. I'll be meeting some friends for dinner in the afternoon. And then - back to work I go!

Friday, November 23, 2018

A most American shooting

Shooting incidents in America are happening so frequently that those that do make it into news reports tend to blend together after a while. Last week, there was a mass shooting at a hospital at about the same time another incident was happening somewhere else - I forget where. A few weeks earlier, the shooting of two random people in a Kroger supermarket was almost completely ignored when a gunman engaged in a premeditated mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. (Both of these stories managed to displace the story of the MAGAbomber, who sent out pipe bombs - none of which went off - to various critics of Donald Trump.)

This Thanksgiving, something different happened.

Thanksgiving was traditionally a holiday for getting together with family for a big feast. The next morning, fanatical shoppers would head out on "Black Friday" to score deep discounts on all sorts of stuff. Some stores remained open on Thanksgiving night, usually convenience stores and the like, and everyone felt bad for the poor slobs who had to work while everyone else was sitting down to the big meal.

Then some retailers had the bright idea to get a head start on Black Friday sales by having them on Thursday. Suddenly, lots of people, employees who were forced to work and shoppers looking to jump the line for bargains, were missing their Thanksgiving dinners.

Which is how we wound up with a crowd of shoppers at a mall in Alabama. (According to CNN, the Riverchase Galleria in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover.) Two people - a 21-year-old male and an 18-year-old male - got into an argument. What was it about? Who was in the right, and who was in the wrong? We don't know -  specifically, I don't know as I write this. What we do know - what has been reported, what I have read - is that the 21-year-old pulled a gun and shot the 18-year-old.

Now, you may be wondering: Who takes a gun to the mall on Thanksgiving? The mayor of the city where the shooting took place said "You just don’t bring guns to a crowded mall and that’s what happened tonight." Yet the same article notes "Several shoppers were seen with their guns drawn." So the answer is: several people, at least. In this particular mall, at least.

The 21-year-old fled the scene. He was approached by armed police responding to the incident, because of course there were armed police at a shopping mall on Thanksgiving, and he was shot and killed.*

The 18-year-old who was shot did not die, at least not yet. Neither did the 12-year-old girl who was shot in the back as all this was happening. No one is saying for sure who shot her - the original gunman, the responding police, or someone else.

The mayor also said "This was an isolated incident. Unfortunately, it happens all of the country." I think when something happens all over the country, it isn't an isolated incident.

This is America, and a 12-year-old girl was hit by a stray bullet during a shooting that followed an argument at a pre-Black Friday sale on Thanksgiving at a shopping mall.

Happy Thanksgiving, from One Nation Under the Gun.

*UPDATE, 11/25/2018:
Oh, it gets even MORE American. Police shot and killed the wrong guy.

From CNN:
(CNN) An armed 21-year-old man killed by an officer at a mall in Alabama on Thanksgiving night "likely did not fire" the shots that wounded two people and sent terrified shoppers running for cover, police said Friday. 
The shooting at the Riverchase Galleria in Hoover, about 10 miles south of Birmingham, happened Thursday, one of the year's busiest shopping days. 
Authorities mistakenly thought Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. fired the rounds that left an 18-year-old and a 12-year-old hospitalized, Hoover police spokesman Capt. Gregg Rector said in a statement. 
Police initially said Bradford opened fire after an altercation with the 18-year-old and an officer fatally shot him as he fled the scene. But late Friday, police changed that story, saying that while Bradford was involved in "some aspect of the altercation" and was armed with a handgun, he likely did not fire the rounds that injured the two others. 
"We regret that our initial media release was not totally accurate, but new evidence indicates that it was not," Rector said. 
The error came to light after Jefferson County Sheriff's Office investigators and crime scene experts spoke to witnesses and examined evidence, police said. 
"Investigators now believe that more than two individuals were involved in the initial altercation," Rector said. "This information indicates that there is at least one gunman still at large." 
The officer involved in the shooting is on administrative leave pending an investigation, police said 
The Jefferson County district attorney informed Hoover police Friday that the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency will take over the lead role in the shooting investigation from the county sheriff's office, Rector said. Hoover police will "assist and cooperate fully" in that inquiry and will "conduct an internal but separate investigation" of the officer-involved shooting, he said.

From Facebook:

American police just killed another "good guy with a gun."

Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr., better known as EJ, the son of a police officer, was an active duty officer for the Army, home for Thanksgiving.

Murdered by police yesterday in a mall shooting in Alabama.

Not only did police in Hoover, Alabama murder EJ, for 24 hours they plastered his face all over the news saying he was the mass shooter.

They did a press conference saying they killed the shooter, showed his picture, then said the community was safe.


EJ's family and friends reached out to me this morning. They are not just devastated, they are furious.

Police publicly and local media both publicly blamed him for the mall shooting.

He never fired a single shot.

After police shot EJ, he was still alive, struggling.

Family and friends just sent me a horrendous video of police not only refusing to provide EJ first aid as he fought for his life, but literally abusing him on the ground thinking he was the mall shooter.

It was heartless.

EJ Bradford, Jr. was beloved all over Birmingham. This morning I have heard from neighbors, friends, even teachers from elementary to high school - who LOVED this man.

Served safely in the Army, then shot & killed by American police in Alabama while home for Thanksgiving. #JusticeForEJ

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving reruns: The Littlest Turkey!

A holiday tradition returns...which may be complicated by an HTML message I just received regarding the security setting of the images. Sigh. I may need to reload them all.

...anyway, happy Thanksgiving! Gather around the children and prepare to give them lasting psychological trauma as you tell them the story of The Littlest Turkey!

What's more traditional during the holidays than reruns of your favorite holiday specials? In that spirit, and the spirit of not having very much time this year, I present to you The Littlest Turkey complete in one post!
The Littlest Turkey was originally posted November 16 (Part 1) and 17 (Part 2 and Conclusion), 2005, and was originally posted complete in one post on November 24, 2005.

D.B. Echo

Once upon a time there was a farm where turkeys lived. All of them were young and plump, big and strong and proud. All of them except one. He was smaller than all the other turkeys. He was called the Littlest Turkey.

The Littlest Turkey wanted to run and play with the other turkeys, but they didn't want to play with him. "Go away, Littlest Turkey," they would say. "Come back when you've gotten bigger."

But the Littlest Turkey was sure he was as big as he was going to get. He tried to eat as much as he could, but he never seemed to get as big and plump as the other turkeys. And he knew that unless he got big and plump like the other turkeys, he would never get to go to the Laughter House.

The Laughter House was a wonderful place. The Littlest Turkey had never been in there. He knew that only the big and plump turkeys would get to go inside the Laughter House. He had seen them go in once, and had heard their squawks and gobbles of laughter for a little while. It must be wonderful in there, the Littlest Turkey thought. All those turkeys go in to laugh, and none of them had ever come out again. How much fun they must be having!

The Littlest Turkey decided that, big and plump or not, he would get into the Laughter House the next time they let the turkeys in.



Part 2
D.B. Echo

The weather started getting cooler, and the leaves on the trees started to change colors. All the turkeys knew that soon it would be time for the biggest holiday of the year, Turkey Day.
"Just before Turkey Day is when they take the big and plump turkeys into the Laughter House," thought the Littlest Turkey. "But this time I'm going to get in there, too!"

It wasn't long before the big day came. All of the big and plump turkeys lined up to go into the Laughter House. The Littlest Turkey waited near the entrance of the Laughter House, then squeezed in between two very big and plump turkeys. No one noticed him because he was so little.

The Laughter House was dark inside, and there was a sort of moving sidewalk there that was taking turkeys into another room, where he could hear gobbles and squawks of laughter. One by one the turkeys hopped up to ride the sidewalk. The Littlest Turkey hopped up, too.
The turkey in front of him, whose name was Tom, turned around. "Go away, Littlest Turkey," he said. "Come back when you are bigger."

"Yes, go away," said the turkey behind him, whose name was also Tom. "They do not want little turkeys at the Market. Only big and plump ones."

"No," said the Littlest Turkey. "I want to go to the Market with you." He had never heard of the Market, but he realized that it must be even better than the Laughter House.

A Man spotted the Littlest Turkey. "Go away, Littlest Turkey," he said. "Come back when you are bigger."

"Oh, please, Mr. Man," said the Littlest Turkey. "I do so want to go to the Market with the other turkeys."

"Very well," said the Man. "We've got a quota to meet, anyway."

The Littlest Turkey rode the sidewalk into the other room. He wondered what things would be like at the Market.


D.B. Echo

The Littlest Turkey was cold. He was colder than he ever remembered being before. But then again, it was hard to remember much since they had chopped his head off.

He was in a case with the other turkeys, the big and plump turkeys. Turkey Day was coming soon, and people were coming to the Market to pick turkeys to take home.

They always seemed to want the big and plump turkeys. One time a little girl had seen him in the case. "Mommy, mommy, look at the little turkey," she said. "I want to take home the littlest turkey."

"No, dear," her mother said. "We are having many people over for Thanksgiving. We need a big, plump turkey."

One by one the other turkeys left the Market to go home with people. Turkey Day was coming soon, and people were taking away more and more of the big and plump turkeys. But no one wanted the Littlest Turkey.
Finally, the day before Turkey Day came, and the Littlest Turkey found himself all alone in the case.

"How sad," he thought. "No one wants to take me home."

It was late in the day, and the Manager was about to close down the Market for the night. Suddenly a Man came into the store.

"I have a coupon," he said, "for a free turkey. Do you have any left?"

"You're in luck," said the Manager. "I have one left." He showed the Man the Littlest Turkey, all alone in the case.

"It's a little small," the Man said. "But I guess beggars can't be choosers. Besides, it's just me and my wife this year. A little turkey might be just what we need."

The Manager took the Littlest Turkey out of the case and traded him to the Man for the coupon he was holding. "Happy Thanksgiving!", he said to the Man.

"I'm not going to be left behind for Turkey Day," thought the Littlest Turkey happily as the Man put him in the trunk of his car. "I'm so happy. But I'm so cold." He rolled around a little as the car pulled out of the parking lot. "I sure hope I'm going someplace warm."


What I did the day before Thanksgiving

I missed yesterday's post. Here's why.

1. Had to take one of our cats (Thor) to the vet's for a quick procedure at 8:00. This involved actually getting him in the carrier to take him to the vet's - no easy feat. After I gave him breakfast, I was able to grab him and lock him in a room. Then I ate my breakfast, took a shower, extracted him from the room, stuffed him in the carrier, and ran him to the vet's.

2. When I got back I uncrated Thor, got back in the car, and ran across town to drop the car off for inspection. The inspection isn't due until January, but this was my last easy opportunity to get it done. After dropping off the car,I walked back across town.

3. I planned to get started on the pies - coconut cream and lemon meringue - while the car was being inspected. But it got done faster than I expected, so I found myself walking back across town to pick it up.

4. The inspection and associated maintenance came out to less than I had budgeted for, so I set out on a quest. My search for My-T-Fine lemon pudding and pie filling revealed that it should have been available at multiple stores in my area. Most of them had come up empty, but there was one chain I had yet to check out - Price Chopper, and the related Market 32. But first, I needed to get gas.

5. I was $18 in grocery purchases short of getting fifty cents a gallon off on gas. So first I hit my regular grocery store and...overshot. I bought $27 in stuff, bringing my points total to 508.

6. From the grocery store I headed for what I thought was the location of the nearest Market 32 at the Narrows Shopping Center in Edwardsville. But along the way I watched the fuel gauge drop, and drop, until I realized I'd better fill up before doing anything else. So I replotted my course to hit the gas station first.

7. After getting gas at the Sheetz in Wilkes-Barre, I headed for the nearby Price Chopper. But first I decided to stop at the Wegman's next door. (We have a lot of grocery stores in Northeastern Pennsylvania.) Wegman's didn't have any Mu-T-Fine, and according to the woman stocking the pudding shelves, didn't carry it. I bought a much more expensive substitute. (My-T-Fine at Weis used to be 50 cents a box. This substitute was $2.99 for enough to make a single pie.)

8. I went to the Price Chopper next door (actually, on the next hill over) and realized I had never been there before. I entered, a stranger in a strange land. I found the pudding aisle quickly and joined the crowd of people scanning the shelves. Suddenly I saw it - My-T-Fine lemon pudding and pie filling! Eight boxes! I snatched them all, thought about it, and put two back for anyone else who might be looking for it. The shelf indicated it was normally 99 cents a box, but was on sale for 69 cents for anyone with a member card. I didn't have a member card. I told this to the girl at the checkout. She gave them to me at the member price and told me I could get a card at customer service. So I did.

9. Since I was already out and about, I figured I may as well head out to the comic book store in West Pittston.

10. On the way back from the comic book store I spotted another Price Chopper at the Midway Shopping Center in Wyoming. Armed with my shiny new member card, I headed for the pudding aisle and once again found My-T-Fine - dozens of boxes! I bought another six to bring my total haul to twelve.

11. I continued down the road I was on to get back to the Market 32 I was going to make my first stop. Market 32 is an upscale rebranding of the Price Chopper stores. But it had the same general layout as the two Price Choppers I had just been to - and their pudding aisle was also spilling over with My-T-Fine! But this time I was just here on a reconnaissance mission. I walked out empty-handed.

12. I came home to find my mom was still working on her cranberry relish. I helped her out as best I could, mostly with the heavy lifting - the Oster blender I bought years ago to replace our old dead Waring blender is an excellent piece of equipment, but heavy as anything. While we were doing this, an old friend I haven't talked to in a long while called. We talked while I shuffled back and forth, emptying the blender after my mom filled and ran it.

13. When she was done, my mom advised me that there was now not enough sugar left to make the pies. So, back out to the grocery store - my fifth grocery store of the day.

14. Back home, and decided to check my emails before I got started on the pies. And there was a long-awaited, life-complicating email I had been hoping to see. But nothing to be done about it on a national holiday. Follow-up would have to wait until Friday.

15. Pies at last. Lemon meringue and coconut cream. I didn't undercook or burn either of the fillings. I didn't bleed yolk into the whites and toughen the meringue. Everything came out exactly as it should have. But Thanksgiving dinner will be the real test.

...And after Thanksgiving, we'll see what happens.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Writing started

And now, as my "free time" is about to be drastically curtailed, I have been inspired to start writing.

It's a story I've been kicking around for a few months. I started writing it today when I became impatient while waiting for someone. I haven't put out much yet - fewer than 750 words, though that is trimmed down a bit from what I initially wrote. That's just the opening written out. I know where I'm going with the climax and the conclusion. What I'm missing in the middle is a good description of a place the likes of which I haven't been to in close to twenty years. I can fake it to an extent, but I think at some point I'm going to make some really dumb statement that will throw the reader familiar with places like this right out of the story. So, only one thing to do: field research.

But I think that field research will have to wait until I am drawing a paycheck again.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Tumbling into Thanksgiving

I start a new job next Monday. This week I'm trying to cram in a lot of things, since I'm looking at ten weeks of inflexible training - no opportunity for time off. So I've been running my mom to appointments, and running one of our cats to appointments, and on Wednesday I'll be taking the car in for its annual inspection. The inspection is due in January, but I would only be able to get it done on weekends in January, and our preferred mechanic is only available Monday through Friday. Fortunately, a January inspection can be done in November, so Wednesday it is. (Besides, if there is some special work that needs to be done, I have time to get it done before the inspection expires.)

I have a story that I repost every Thanksgiving, and this year will be no different. I have another story that I wrote years ago that is ostensibly a Christmas story, but is actually set just before Thanksgiving. It's a satire about the "keep Christ in Christmas" movement, but many of the satirical elements are dangerously close to coming true - if they haven't already. I've never posted that story to this blog, and don't know if that will happen anytime soon.

I haven't written anything of significance in a while, in part for the same reasons I couldn't possibly take on the work-at-home position offered to me as our old workplace was shutting down. I don't foresee these reasons going away anytime soon, and may possibly get worse after I'm once again gainfully employed. But I will try. I'm reading some inspirational material right now - "Storyteller" by Kate Wilhelm - and will get to see one of my favorite local poets in just a few days, so we'll see if the dark spirit of creativity will once again settle over me like a shroud.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Climate change refugees

Every natural disaster produces refugees, people displaced by the aspects of the event that make it a "disaster." I was four and a half when Agnes hit the Wyoming Valley, causing the Susquehanna to flood, destroying thousands of homes and businesses and forcing tens of thousands of people into temporary housing in mobile homes set up on higher ground. I was reminded of this in late 2005 when Katrina sent refugees from New Orleans on a quest for new homes, and some of them made their way to northeastern Pennsylvania.

"Ordinary" natural disasters happen all the time - a hurricane here, a flood there, an earthquake there, a wildfire over there. People move away temporarily, places are rebuilt, people move back. Life goes on.

Things have changed.

More and more people are becoming refugees due to climate change. Long-term droughts leave areas parched and susceptible to wildfires. Changes in precipitation patterns inflict 500-year floods on areas year after year. Rising ocean levels inundate islands and chew away at shorelines. People, if they are lucky, pack up their belongings and flee - but now without any real hope of a place to return to.

So where do they go? What new homelands will welcome them and sustain them? How will the influx of these "foreigners," refugees within their own countries, change the demographics of their new homes?

And where does it end? Is there some part of the country that exists on a state of climatological grace, where the changes to the global climate will be buffered by an local climate robustness? Would such a place serve as an attractor for climate refugees? Or will we see increased population mobility as more and more places transform from their pastoral present states into places inhospitable to human life? 

Ultimately, we all must be prepared to become climate refugees abandoning our homes when the time comes, or be prepared to welcome climate refugees fleeing from what used to be their homes.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Santa Claus came to town

Both Wilkes-Barre and Scranton had their Christmas parades today. It used to be traditional to have the parade the weekend after Thanksgiving, but that would interfere too much with commerce. For the first time in as long as I can remember, there was snow on the ground for the parade. Just a few years ago, temperatures were in the 70s, and paradegoers wore summer clothes.

I think it used to be that these two cities would hold their parades on different weekends so they weren't competing with each other. Maybe that's the St. Patrick's Day parade I'm thinking of. You certainly wouldn't want anyone driving from the Scranton parade to Wilkes-Barre - or, really, anywhere. People get very, very drunk in Scranton during the St. Patrick's Day parade.

I remember Nanticoke's Christmas parades from when I was a kid. They were never huge affairs, but they would be fun, and a lot of local politicians and eccentrics would take part - including the guy on a bicycle who towed an outhouse around. I haven't been to one of the parades in decades, but apparently they still take place.

  Maybe I'll try to go there this year.

Friday, November 16, 2018

In the aftermath of the mid-November 2018 storm

Yesterday's storm was a bad one. Even though everyone knew it was coming - from forecasters to PennDOT to everyday people - no one seemed to be prepared for how bad it actually was.

Traffic was snarled everywhere. Jackknifed tractor-trailers were the main problem, resulting in multi-hour traffic jams that caused some people to abandon their cars and walk home. Plow trucks were around, but many were driving with their plows up and salt spreaders off. Commutes that should have taken fifteen to twenty minutes took three to five hours. A bus trip from New York City to Scranton took nine hours.

Most of Northeastern Pennsylvania had accumulations of ten or eleven inches, give or take a few. By the morning the snow had been compacted by sleet and freezing rain and then had another layer of snow dropped on top of that. I wanted to get photos, but I didn't have time; I had to dig a path and dig out the car so I could take my mom to a doctor's appointment. The street where the car was parked was unplowed, making for some difficult maneuvering. The main roads of Nanticoke were in good shape, but driving through Wilkes-Barre was tricky: one block would be plowed clean, the next would be virtually untouched. Sometimes it seemed like snowplows must have stopped and reversed course, or simply turned around. By the time my mom's appointment was over, temperatures had risen above freezing, and the snow that had delicately outlined so many of the trees as we drove up had now melted away.

We now know the identity of the Pennsylvania Snow Camel. His name is Einstein, and he's from the Peaceable Kingdom Petting Zoo from Perkasie, near Quakertown in southeastern Pennsylvania.

This felt like one of the snowstorms we get later in the season, like the Valentine's Day storm of 2007 or the storm of March 14, 2017 (named "Stella" by The Weather Channel in their effort to brand winter storms for some reason), when people start to think "Oh, this Winter wasn't so bad, what was everyone worried about?", and then the storm comes around and kicks everyone in the face. But this was the opening act of the Winter of 2018/2019. How will the rest of the season go?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

First snowstorm, November 15, 2018

On October 21 I observed the first snowflake of the season in Nanticoke - and pointed out that just a week before we had been running the air conditioning. Today we are in the midst of the first snowstorm of the season.

Just over seven inches at 8:15 PM

The snow started around midday, around the time I took my pre-Thanksgiving turkey out of the oven. It was snowing as I picked up our pierogi for Christmas Eve - three dozen each of potato, cheese, and cabbage. The forecast was for snow in the afternoon, followed by sleet and freezing rain overnight, changing back by snow in the morning and ending in the afternoon.  By the time I went outside to take a measurement of just over seven inches on the front porch at 8:15 PM, the sleet and freezing rain had already begun, possibly tamping down the snow a bit.

This isn't just a nuisance snow. There have been major accidents resulting in highway blockages. Someone working near where I will begin working in a little over a week, twelve miles from here, has been stuck on the highway for hours. Another person has been stuck at the exit for Nanticoke for over three hours. Trucks have jackknifed. Traffic is snarled. Camels have been spotted.

I'm tempted to go out and shovel now. But that would mean that the sleet and freezing rain would be falling on bare sidewalks, rather than on snow-covered sidewalks - potentially making it much harder to shovel in the morning. We'll see if I made the right decision.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Day of stuff

1. Took one of our cats (Thor) to the vet today because of a throat obstruction that's been causing swallowing problems for him the last week or so. The doctor thinks he may have a very serious underlying condition, which is something I actually expected to hear - after having dealt with as many cats as I have, you get a sense of these things. But on the plus side, the throat obstruction seems to have gone away. The bill, however, set me back by what would have been a full week's pay (before taxes) from back when I was working. (New job starts November 26, at a similar pay rate.)

2. Stopped at the pierogi shop where we normally get our pierogi for Christmas Eve. The sign on the door said "SOLD OUT - ORDER PICK UPS ONLY," but I decided to give it a shot. (We had tried calling on Tuesday, but had no luck.) I was able to place an order for two dozen cheese, two dozen potato, and two dozen cabbage, for pickup tomorrow. (My mom later called and upped the order to three dozen.)

3. My mom wanted chicken soup today. Unfortunately, we were out of carrots. Still, I thawed four chicken thighs, removed the skin, and boiled them in salted water until the foamy, fatty scum my mother and grandmother call shummy stopped forming. Then I added peppercorns, allspice, and parsley, turned down the heat, and ran out to buy carrots, and a ton of other stuff. I came home, added the carrots to the soup, and continued to simmer it for another half-hour or so. (Thor, it turns out, loves boiled chicken.)

4. Garbage night.

A lot of other things happened, but these were the physically, emotionally, and financially draining bits,

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Blue Wave of 2018

In the aftermath of the midterm elections of 2014, I wrote a post which, for various reasons, I never got around to publishing until I found it lurking in my drafts file in May 2018. In the sixth year of Barack Obama's presidency, Democratic candidates had just gotten trounced in a midterm election that featured the lowest voter turnout in decades.
Turnout was high in 2008. Many people who had never cast a vote before, despite being eligible for many years, went out and voted for the very first time. For a lot of people the motivating factor here was the opportunity to vote for the FIRST! BLACK! PRESIDENT! It worked: As you may be aware, Barack Obama became President. 
In 2010, just two years later, turnout was low again. Many of the people who were excited about voting in 2008 had other priorities on Election Day in 2010. Besides, for the most part the elections were either for one bland late-middle-aged white guy running against another bland late-middle-aged white guy, or were being held in districts so gerrymandered that the outcome was a foregone conclusion. What was there to get excited about? The Democratic get-out-the-vote machine that had been in action in 2008 was mostly silent. 
...Which brings us to 2014. The economy is recovering, we are told, though most of us do not feel it; in fact, most of the gains from the improving economy are going to the wealthiest strata of society. War and pestilence are everywhere, with ISIS waiting to chop off our heads and spread Ebola through illegal immigrants. Congress is historically inactive, engaging in partisan bickering and the occasional grand but meaningless gestures doomed to failure. Approval for the President's performance is low, but approval for Congressional performance is barely in the double digits. 
Last Tuesday, a smaller percentage of America's eligible voters came out to vote. The Republicans won handily, and now control both branches of Congress. 
The people who voted for these Republicans will share in the blame for their actions. That's a given. But the people who were so excited to vote in 2008, and who turned out again in 2012, but didn't bother to vote in 2014 - those people let it happen. As did everyone who sat at home on Election Day 2014 and didn't bother to vote.
Apathy. Hopelessness in the face of gerrymandering. And a lack of enthusiasm when faced with the choice of one bland late-middle-aged white guy vs. another bland late-middle-aged white guy. And maybe, just maybe, a populace that felt pretty OK with the way things were going, and didn't mind seeing Barack Obama in the White House countered by a bunch of Republicans in Congress.

Things are different in 2018. Donald Trump is the most insanely unpopular and divisive president (that term used to be spelled with a capital "P", but not anymore, not for the duration) in generations, possibly ever. Pennsylvania, at least, took on the issue of gerrymandering, and a redistricted map was eventually decided upon which made almost no one completely happy, but more closely met the requirements for fair representation than the previous design. People were enthusiastic and excited about the election, and the get-out-the-vote effort was relentless. And, on the Democratic side at least, a lot fewer of the candidates were bland late-middle-aged white guys.


Democrats took the House. That wasn't a sure thing going into the election, despite Nancy Pelosi's expressions of certainty. Republicans held the Senate and slightly increased their majority, but by less than was expected - and no one seriously expected the Democrats to win a majority in the Senate. (Hoped, maybe, but not expected.) Democrats also took or held important gubernatorial positions.

Democrats taking the House is the most important outcome of the election. Had Republicans held both houses of Congress, we could expect to see things continue as they are, with an emboldened Donald Trump continuing to ram through his agenda without any restriction. But a Democratic House presents a check on his presidency, a check that was absent for its first two years. Let's see what they can accomplish in the next two years.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Stan Lee is dead

Stan Lee, a legend in the comics industry and in the world of entertainment, died at the age of 95 today.

I grew up reading comic books. I learned to read from comic books (and newspapers, and MAD Magazine) - a mix of Gold Key (Donald Duck, Uncle Scrooge), Harvey (Baby Huey, Richie Rich, Little Lulu), DC (Batman and Superman, Swamp Thing, some horror), and Marvel. Marvel was what I gravitated toward: The Avengers, Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, Man-Thing, Howard the Duck - weird, flawed heroes, haunted by doubts, fighting past their fears to do what was right. (Or burning at its touch anyone who knew fear - Man-Thing was more tragic and strange than strictly heroic.) When I was nine, Star Wars joined the Marvel camp, and my loyalty was secured.

Comics were more than just stories and pictures. Editorial commentary was peppered through the pages, often referencing past issues that established things being mentioned in the current story, or upcoming issues that would continue the story. The letters page allowed readers to share their opinions. And many Marvel comics featured "Stan's Soapbox" - a feature that allowed Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee to talk directly to readers.

("Smiley" refers to one of his nicknames, "Smilin' Stan Lee.")

Stan Lee was a constant presence in the Marvel universe, narrating the opening and closing segments of the Fantastic Four Saturday morning cartoon (which replaces Human Torch Johnny Storm with the robot pal H.E.R.B.I.E.), always closing with his catchphrase "Excelsior!"

To non-readers, comic books seem like childhood fantasy and escapism - or, more often, as mere seed material for highly lucrative TV and movie franchises. (Most "comic cons" these days have very little to do with comic books, and comic artists and writers are shunted aside for actors, directors, and screenwriters.) But comic books have been seminal in the development of many children. And for many of those children who grew up in the late 20th century, Stan Lee laid the groundwork and guided the steps. And while he will live on through his creations, his absence will be sorely felt. He will be missed.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Too short a season

Autumn came late after a long, hot, wet summer in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Usually the leaves begin to change color in mid-October, and the trees are mostly bare by early November. This year, many trees were still fully green after the third week of an unusually warm October.

Burning Bush, October 16, 2018

Nanticoke from Holy Trinity Cemetery, October 30, 2018

Then, suddenly, everything happened at once. Overnight temperatures dropped, a key factor in allowing color to develop. Rain fell, but the wind was gentle enough to not strip the trees bare. On October 30 most trees were showing at least some color. But then the skies cleared, the sun came out. By October 31 the landscape had been transformed, and Northeastern Pennsylvania was at peak color.

Burning Bush, October 30, 2018

And by November 2, it was past peak.

On November 4 I took my trip to the Lands at Hillside Farms. Along the way I passed mile after mile of trees mostly bare, or covered with dried and shriveling leaves. I wasn't expecting much as I took the left from 309 onto Hillside Road. But as I approached, I saw that Hillside Farms was still at peak color. I quickly realized I wasn't the only one who knew this: the parking lots were packed, and there was a line to get into the Dairy Shop.

The Lands at Hillside Farms, November 4, 2018

The Lands at Hillside Farms, November 4, 2018

By November 10 heavy rains and strong winds had stripped most of the remaining leaves from the trees. I filled three large bags from the leaves that fell from our Japanese Red Maple, which turned from their summertime maroon color to autumn shades or crimson, orange, and gold.

Burning Bush, November 10, 2018

Japanese Red Maple, November 10, 2018

Japanese Red Maple leaves, November 10, 2018

There were still some trees here and there in Nanticoke that were still holding onto their leaves. I don't know how much longer this will be the case. Just a few weeks ago, it looked like we weren't going to have any leaf color at all. What this season lacked in length, it made up in color.