Jan 17, 2021

I'll Trade You Steve Jeltz For Dan Quayle

Operation Desert Storm cards
Topps (1991)
The Gen-X kids like myself who were born in the late 70's and early 80's grew up in a really strange and transitional time.  For the first ten years of my life, we were still in the Cold War with the Soviet Union.  You know those old Duck and Cover educational videos from the 50's and 60's we all laugh about on YouTube?  They were still teaching that in school when I was a kid.  My first grade class did a duck and cover drill where we all practiced getting under our desk.  However, the Cold War wasn't my strangest experience with war when I was a kid.  That honor goes to Topps Trading Cards.

Thirty years ago today, Operation Desert Storm began in Iraq.  I was in fifth grade at Heights Terrace Elementary School at the time, and I remember that they brought televisions on wheel carts into our classrooms where we watched the live news footage as it happened.  Our teachers discussed it with us in class, but the information we were given was pretty vague.  It pretty much boiled down to two things: Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and the American military was headed to the Middle East to liberate them.  Come to think of it, that's pretty much my extent of knowledge about the war today.

In the months that followed, we were saturated with information about the Gulf War.  I heard about it from teachers, from other kids, from my grandparents at home (I was living with my mom's parents at the time), and from television and radio.  It was literally everywhere - even at the baseball card shops.  Topps released not one, not two, but three different series of trading cards for the war.  If you went through my baseball cards back then, you would have found cards of General Norman Schwarzkopf and the Patriot Missile right between the Cal Ripken and Mike Schmidt cards.  If the idea of Topps trading cards for a war isn't weird enough, they weren't the only ones making them.  Football card manufacturer Pro Set came out with their own series to compete with Topps, and the Pacific Trading Card Company beat them both to the punch with their own Operation Desert Shield card series, before the conflict escalated to a full scale war.  I remember some of the adults in my life buying them and putting them away with the expectation that they'd be worth money someday.  In reality, they're barely worth the cardboard they're printed on.  You can still find hundreds of packs in unopened boxes for sale on eBay.  The asking price seems to be around $5 for a box of 36 packs - a fraction of the 50 cents per pack that they sold for in every gas station and grocery store in the country back in 1991.

When I started Kindergarten, we were still doing Duck and Cover drills.  By the time I graduated high school, we had 28.8k dial up internet, and in the years between, we had trading cards for a war halfway across the world.  What can I say; it was a weird time to grow up.

Jan 16, 2021

Oculus Orbus Meets Jay Decay

Madballs vs GPK
Cloudco Entertainment / Topps (2021)
Veteran illustrators from the iconic Madballs and Garbage Pail Kids brands are teaming up to create new 80's inspired crossover artwork that will be featured on trading cards and other merchandise.  If this happened when I was a kid, I think my head might have exploded like Adam Bomb.

Look at that crazy little six year old bastard in the GPK shirt!
Garbage Pail Kids was one of my favorite things in the world when I was a kid, and I had at least 3 or 4 Madballs.  I remember I stuffed one into the dryer vent at my grandparents house when I was a kid.  My grandfather had to disconnect the dryer hose to shake it loose while my grandmother sat me down at the kitchen table and explained why I shouldn't stick my balls in the dryer vent (I'm pretty sure she used those exact words).  I got to hand it to you Grandma - that was some good advice right there.

I'm really looking forward to seeing what they come up with for the new crossover artwork.  It should be a lot of fun.

Jan 15, 2021

The Little Mall That Could

Planet Fitness and Hobby Lobby
Laurel Mall - Hazleton, PA
Today is Friday.  I will be spending this evening like I've spent pretty much every Friday since the pandemic began.  However, if you were to take a trip in a time machine to a random Friday 25 years ago, you would have probably found me at the Laurel Mall.  There wasn't really a lot to do in town.  The kids who were into cars usually hung out at the "The Lot" (the parking lot for Blockbuster video), and the dorks like me spent the evening in the mall - meeting friends, eating pizza at Dino's, playing a few video games at Boardwalk Blvd, listening to music at Camelot and The Wall, looking at rock shirts from Nirvana's Closet, and walking around trying to look like we had any intention of buying things to avoid the wrath of Intrepid Security.  When the place closed, the next stop would be Perkins, where about 100 teenagers would spend as long as we could with a bottomless cup of coffee before getting kicked out.  Many of the malls that were around back in the mid 90's are gone today, but this is yet another instance in which Hazleton is the exception to the rule.

You really have to hand it to the management of the Laurel Mall.  At a time when malls across the country have been dying a slow death even before the start of the pandemic, they're finding ways to not only stay open, but to fill their vacancies with new businesses.  Sadly, one of these new business is a place I will absolutely never spend a dime (hint: it's not the one with the treadmills), but I'm still happy that the small town mall that I grew up with is continuing to defy the odds.

Planet Fitness and Hobby Lobby have split the old K-Mart anchor store, which used to be the old Ames anchor store, which used to be the old Zayre's anchor store, which used to be... well, a town swimming pool, I think.  I'm not completely sure, but Zayre's was there when the mall opened in 1973.

There are still a couple of visual clues of the previous mall occupant.  For example, members of Planet Fitness might wonder why the gym has what appears to be a concrete prison on the left hand side of the building.  It was once the outside portion of the Lawn & Garden department of the Hazleton K-Mart where plants were kept with automatic sprinklers to keep them healthy in the open air during the spring and summer months.  It looked perfectly normal back then.

You can also see the outline of the old "Big K" sign that was removed from the back of the building.

Jan 14, 2021

Let's Bake-a-roo

Dunkaroos Sugar Cookie Dough
Betty Crocker (2021)
Sweet baby Jesus on a bicycle!  Within the past few years, they've brought back Crystal Pepsi, Ecto Cooler, Purplesaurus Rex, The Chipwich, a virtual clone of the Alpine White, and every damn thing you can think of made in a limited edition Pumpkin Spice flavor.  Now, they've not only brought back Dunkaroos, but they've turned them into a refrigerated dough with packets of icing.  If Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pies make a comeback, I'm getting a CAT Scan to find the listening device that the consumer packaged goods industry must have implanted in my brain.

If I had any artistic talent at all, I would have drawn a picture of the lead singer of Nirvana dressed in jelly shoes and a track suit with a pager on his hip, which is what I envisioned when I read this.  Incidentally, I totally had a beeper when I was a high school freshman in the mid 90's.  It didn't have service, and I used to turn it off and on in my pocket so people thought I was getting paged.  Needless to say, I was not elected prom king, but at least I didn't wear a track suit.

The package contains six little hockey puck cookies and two packs of frosting in a metallic package with the helpful advice to not microwave it.  There are two ways to prepare these.  You can either bake six big cookies or two dozen mini cookies.

Let's see.  To make 24 mini cookies, cut each cookie round into quarters and roll into balls.  Hmmm... I don't like the sound of that.  It sounds painful, and nobody wants cookie stains in their boxer shorts.  Besides, what's with the extra step.  What do I look like, Emeril Lagasse?  Six big cookies it is.

On the left is one of the six big cookies that were baked from this package, and the frosting from one of two packets that were included.  Let me assure you, it's a much more generous amount of frosting that it appears to be in this photo.  I was dunk-a-rooing the hell out of these and still had leftover frosting after all of the cookies were eaten.

As far as them being "big" cookies, keep in mind that the size is in comparison to the mini Dunkaroos cookies that you get in the little snack packs.  Each one was about the circumference of seven regular Dunkaroos, and as thick as two stacked on top of one another.

Back in the 90's, if you had told the teenage me that as a 40 year old man, he would be sheltered at home to avoid a global pandemic while domestic terrorists lay siege to our Capitol, and that he would be spending this time taking pictures of big Dunkaroos next to little Dunkaroos to give an accurate Dunkaroo size comparison to total strangers, I think he'd be alright with it.  I mean, how bad could it really be if I still have Dunkaroos?

Jan 13, 2021

Can Watermelon Soda Change Your Life?

Mountain Dew - Major Melon
PepsiCo (2021)
Not bad, but a little too sweet.  I think it might be better if it had a bit more tang.

Jan 12, 2021

These Televisions Have A Snowy Picture

One month later, the stray CRT televisions are still sitting on the side of the road.  The NEPA winter has taken its toll on them.  I'm starting to suspect that they'll be sitting here long after the snow thaws.

Jan 11, 2021

The Cheetah Kid Has Been Discovered

The Cheetah Kid
WWF Monday Night Raw - January 11, 1993
One of the dark matches on the first ever episode of Monday Night Raw was The Cheetah Kid vs. Johnny Rotten.  At the time, they were independent wrestlers who were largely unknown.  Later that year, these opponents made their debut as a tag team at ECW Ultraclash in Philadelphia using the personas that they would use for the rest of their pro wrestling career.  The Cheetah Kid became "Flyboy" Rocco Rock and Johnny Rotten became Johnny Grunge.  Together as The Public Enemy, they were four time ECW Tag Team Champions.  They also won the WCW and NWA tag team championships 

I don't know if video footage exists if their dark mach from the first Monday Night Raw, but at least one photo of Rocco Rock as The Cheetah Kid is out there.  It was shared last October by Richard Land (@maskedwrestlers on Twitter and editor of The History Of WWE).

Jan 10, 2021

It Hasn't Got A Leg To Stand On

My toughest night as a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies was October 7th, 2011.  It was Game 5 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals - an elimination game.  The winner moves on in the playoffs and the loser goes home.

The Cardinals scored in the top of the 1st inning.  It ended up being their only run of the game, but it was enough.  Of course, I had no way of knowing that would be the case.  When I watched the Phillies bat in the bottom of the first, I had all the hope in the world, and every reason to believe the Fightin's would pull through.  After all, this was a team that won 102 games during the regular season.  We had Roy Halladay on the mound and a lineup that included Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Hunter Pence, Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz.  Surely they could come back from a one run deficit with 27 outs to work with.  However, the situation grew more tense as each inning passed without the Phillies scoring a run.  The torture continued for over two hours.  It finally ended in the bottom of the 9th when Ryan Howard hit a weak ground ball up the middle and then collapsed with a torn Achilles tendon.  The Phillies lost the game, and they haven't been back to the post season since.

There are nine innings in a ballgame, and there are nine episodes in The Stand miniseries on CBS All Access.  After four episodes, I can say that this show feels a lot like that game in 2011.  With each passing episode of bungled, clunky storytelling, there's less time and fewer opportunities for this to end in a win.

I was truly excited for this miniseriesThe Stand is not only my favorite book; it's my favorite work of fiction in any medium.  To say that it has been a disappointment so far would be a massive understatement.  It's a sloppy mess with character development that has been so poor that it's almost non-existent.  It's not quite as horrible as The Dark Tower movie, but it doesn't even live up to the standards of the 1994 ABC miniseries, let alone do justice to the novel.

Part of the reason for this is that the show's creators decided to try to get cute with the flow of the story.  Rather than tell it as a linear story from start to finish, it jumps all over the place in time.  It seems like the gimmick was used to give the writers an opportunity to gloss over the pandemic and get to the Boulder Free Zone as soon as possible, but that does a great disservice to the story.  The first 230 pages of the novel - nearly 1/5th of the story - is the Captain Trips plague and its effects on the world.  It is the foundation upon which the rest of the story is built.  We are introduced to Stu, Nick, Larry, Frannie and Harold as the pandemic ends the world around them in just under a span of two weeks.  The miniseries hints at this with stunning visual effects and a few clips told in flashback, but it seems like it purposely doesn't tell the full story of the plague.  They decided to skip over the end of the world, and in so doing, they've made the rest of the story far less meaningful.

I'm sure that when the series is over, there will be fan edits that tell the story chronologically, but instead of improving the overall product, I think it will expose the CBS All Access miniseries for what it is: a version of The Stand that has been hacked to pieces, with more holes than a chunk of Swiss cheese, and with characters who were written with very little concern for the source material.

First of all, the Mother Abagail of the novel is a bad ass.  She is 108 years old and still makes her own biscuits in her farmhouse.  She also pumps her own water from the well, and kills her own chickens for her supper.  She is not a helpless old lady in a Colorado nursing home who is waiting for Nick to rescue her before she runs out of her pills, as this new miniseries would have you believe.  She also did not crave power and would never have been so arrogant as to refuse to speak to her neighbors in Boulder, insisting that they go through Nick.

Likewise, Fran Goldsmith is not the damsel in distress that she has been portrayed to be in this miniseries.  The Frannie in the novel would never attempt suicide, especially knowing that she is pregnant.  She may be intimidated by her mother in the parlor, but she is a strong, confident woman who knows what she wants and stands her ground to make sure that she gets it, or at least that her voice is heard, loudly and clearly.

The worst injustice so far has been what this miniseries has done to Larry Underwood.  I'm left to wonder why they even bothered to include Rita Blakemoor in this adaptation.  The whole point of her character is to show Larry's growth from a selfish boy in a man's body into an honorable man who has come out the other side as a father to Leo, a husband to Lucy, and a leader to the Boulder Free Zone.  The Larry Underwood of the novel may have showed off by playing the Star Spangled Banner on guitar from the roof of his house in the world before Captain Trips, but that Larry was gone by the time they got to Boulder.

Like most of the others, the characters of Glen Bateman and Stu Redman have been cut down to the bone.  The 1994 ABC miniseries may not have been a perfect adaptation of the book, but it does a good job of capturing the bond of friendship between the old bald-headed sociologist and the good ol' boy from a dying East Texas town.  The 2020-21 miniseries barely does enough to make them acquaintances.

They started off by short changing the story of who Stu was in Arnette, Texas.  They then included a friendship between Stu and one of the plague center doctors, which was actually a pretty good addition to the story.  However, since that time, the character has been flat out boring and bears only a faint resemblance to the Stu of the novel.  He has no chemistry with Glen, or Fran, or anybody else.  He's just a generic guy in charge.

Glen is my favorite character of the novel, and while the 1994 miniseries cuts out quite a bit of what made him special in the novel (such as his theories about how society would come together after Captain Trips), the new miniseries seems like it wrote a brand new character from the ground up and just decided to call him Glen Bateman.  Frankly, if they were going to play him like this, they might as well have cut the character from the story altogether.

The only character that has been given any significant depth after four episodes is Harold Lauder.  In fact, if you've started watching this miniseries without ever reading the book or seeing the 1994 miniseries, you might think that he was the main character of the story.  In all fairness, Owen Teague has done a fantastic job in the role.

In fact, I don't think there's anything wrong with any of the acting performances so far.  They're just written so badly and so far from the source material that it has killed much of what makes The Stand such a fantastic story.  There's nothing to connect to with most of these characters.  There's no depth, no heart, no connections to each other or to the viewer.  Take Ralph Brentner: in the novel, he's a middle-aged, blue collar, salt-of-the-earth guy with a heart of gold who loves Mother Abagail like she was his own mother.  That character was replaced by "Ray" Brentner, who has had maybe a dozen words of dialogue total, and whose entire role thus far has been reduced to Queen's Guard to Mother Abagail - an extra who could just have easily appeared in the credits as "doorwoman with gun".

There are things that have been done well.  The choice of music has been excellent (though I do miss the haunting score of W.G. Snuffy Walden), and the visual effects have been quite good.  They didn't cheap out, that's for sure.  However, the writing and the story structure have made this really difficult to enjoy.  This is not The Stand.  It's some guy monkeying around with The Stand, and trying to add his own little twist on it, and screwing it up royally in the process.  It's such a shame.  This could have been great.

Jan 9, 2021

Forest Fortune

Forest Fortune
Pennsylvania Lottery (1992)
Ones like this weren't quite as big of a pain in the neck as the astrological sign tickets.  I mean, on the rare occasion that someone would wants the one with the turtle and the fish, it was doable.  There's only five designs, so if push came to shove, I'd buy the loose tickets when my shift was over.

Alright, I'm done ranting about instant lottery games with different ticket designs.

Jan 8, 2021

The Most Annoying Type Of Lottery To Sell

Lucky Stars
Pennsylvania Lottery (1992)
I used to hate this kind of ticket when I worked at the gas station.  It has nothing to do with the astrology aspect of them, which I think is actually pretty cool.  It's more the way that the tickets are sold.

If you've never worked at a place that sells lottery tickets, here's a brief rundown of how it works (or at least how it worked from the mid 90's through around 2005): First, you get a delivery of new tickets.  Each pack of tickets is shrink wrapped, and includes a special barcode that you scan into the PA Lottery Machine to "active" the pack (if you skip this step, a winning ticket from the pack cannot be redeemed).  Next, you load the little plastic ticket dispenser.  In most of the places I've worked, this is built into the counter near the cash register.  It's set up in such a way that the shoppers can look down through a clear plexiglass window and see which tickets are available for sale.

Each type of ticket comes on a long strip, and the individual tickets are perforated so that you can tear one off at a time when you sell it.  The tickets in each pack are sequentially numbered, starting with 001 and ending at however many tickets are in the pack.  If memory serves me correct, each pack contains $300 worth of tickets, so if it's a $1 ticket, the strip will have 300 individual tickets.  If it's a $2 ticket, the strip will have 150 individual tickets, and so on.

In most cases, all of the tickets in each pack have the same exact appearance, other than the number that identifies the number of the ticket.  Every so often, a customer comes along who swears that there's a "trick" to it and will only buy tickets if they have a low number, or a high number, or a little bar printed somewhere near the number.  This is all in their heads, of course.  I've watched people scratch these things off for decades and I can assure you that there's no secret "trick" to hitting the jackpot.  However, the fact that we have to sell them in sequential order

In some cases, the same ticket can have several different designs, such as these Lucky Stars tickets.  There's still 300 tickets in the pack, but in this case, there are 12 different designs - one for each astrological sign.  Here's the problem - the one that people see through the little plexiglass window in the counter is further into the pack, and is different from the next one in line that can be torn off and sold.  So, Suzie Customer sees the Sagittarius design and asks for the Lucky Stars ticket.  You tear off the ticket and sell it to her, and she grouchily waives the Taurus ticket in the air while telling you that you gave her the wrong one.

This puts you, the cashier, in quite a pickle.  Do you try to explain the cliff notes version of what you just read in the hopes that she's sensible and accepts the ticket you sold to her, or do you break the rules and pull out the next seven tickets, give her the Sagittarius one, and then hope that you can sell the rest of them before the end of your shift?  Keep in mind, if you make an exception to the rule once, you'll probably be asked to make it every day, since most of your customers are "regulars" who pop in for their morning coffee every day, and if you don't make an exception, you run the risk of a screaming imbecile on the other side of the counter berating you for being too stupid to honor a simple request?  Oh yeah, you'll be dealing with this exact scenario at least five or six times a day - probably over a dozen times on a busy day, so if you choose to do the right thing and explain why you have to sell the next ticket in the pack, which might not necessarily be the one the customer saw in the window, you're going to have to use your best fake-nice voice and pretend that you haven't had this same exact conversation 50 times before this silly Sagittarius strolled on over to the counter.

It's been 16 years since I worked at a gas station and I can feel the suppressed rage bubbling up like it was yesterday.  So, yeah, these tickets are pretty cool, but what a pain in the ass they are to sell.

Jan 7, 2021

Better Than Lunch In Elementary School

Jam N' Jim's PB&J
George DeLallo Company (2021)
These are round wafer sticks that are filled with a peanut butter cream, and they're packaged with a little tub of raspberry jam to dip them in.  Very creative, and a very tasty snack.

Jan 6, 2021

The Shameful Face Of The Nation

The atrocities that are taking place in Washington DC right now should have every decent American feeling a deep sense of shame.  We allowed a repulsive, hate-filled con man like Donald Trump to attempt a coup to remain in power after he lost a free and fair election, and we allowed him to incite treason and sedition and a violent overthrow of the Capitol in his name.

This is what we've come to.  A sociopath - an absolute clown without a shred of honor, integrity or decency, has led us to destroy ourselves.

Shame on us all for allowing this.

Jan 5, 2021

The Closing Of A Hazleton Landmark

Rt. 309 - Hazleton, PA
Genetti's Hotel has been open in Hazleton since 1950.  It began as 23 rooms over a restaurant, and it expanded into several buildings with a ballroom.  Over the years, I've been to their Sunday breakfast buffet with my family.  It became a tradition since my grandparents passed away that we would go with Dad and Trish to their holiday dinners for Easter and Thanksgiving.

Sadly, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is now closed, and the property was sold through a Luzerne County bankruptcy sale to the Iglesia Pentecostal Casa de Oracion Church.

I went to school with the current owner, Pat Genetti.  We didn't run in the same social circles, but he was always very nice every time I spoke with him.  His family has been in the hospitality industry since his great-grandfather came to America from Tyrol (the same region of Europe that my great-grandfather, Cosimo, came from).  It's a damn shame to see his business close.  It has been a part of Hazleton for many years, and it will be missed.

Jan 4, 2021

You Could Fit A Lot Of Herbs And Spices In There

The World's Largest Frying Pan
Delmarva Chicken Festival
This photo was recently shared by Vintage Classic Postcards on Twitter, and it has definitely piqued my interest.  I've never heard of the Delmarva Chicken Festival before, but it has been held on the Delmarva Peninsula annually since 1948.

The World's Largest Frying Pan made its debut at the festival in 1950.  The first one was ten feet in diameter, had an eight-foot handle, and weighed 650 pounds.  The pan can hold 800 chicken quarters at a time, and it is used to fry nearly three tons of chicken every year.

Jan 3, 2021

McRib and Dr. Pepper

McDonald's - Laurel Mall - Hazleton, PA
I'm convinced that the vast majority of folks who say that this sandwich is disgusting have never actually eaten one.  I'm not going to pretend it's the greatest example of meat placed between two pieces of bread, but it's pretty delicious.  The pickles and onions give the sandwich a nice crunch, and their flavors work well with the barbecue sauce.  According to McDonald's on Twitter, this is the end of McRib season, so get one while you still can.

I don't know about that Dr. Pepper though.  It's just such a weird soda that I don't even know how to describe it.  The closest I can come is to say that it sort of tastes the way that makeup smells, but sometimes it's pleasant.  It's not a great description, but see if you can do better.  It's not a cola.  It's not creamy.  It's not lemony or fruity.  What the hell is it?

Jan 2, 2021

Life, The Universe, And Snoopy

Snoopy Greeting Card
Hallmark Contemporary Cards (1979)
When I was up in the attic putting away Christmas decorations, I found a box that I've had since I cleaned out my grandparents house after they passed away.  It was filled with cards and letters that my father and grandparents wrote back and forth to each other when my dad went off to college.

I only read a few of them so far, but reading my dad's words to his parents (and vice versa) in the two years before I was born has been quite an experience.  This one caught my eye because it was one of the few that included a date.  My grandmother wrote it to my dad on January 2nd, 1979, which was 42 years ago today.  My dad was 19 years old and entering the second semester of his sophomore year at Penn State after Christmas break.

It struck me that when Dad read this card, the last thing on his mind was becoming a father.  I was one of those babies that just sort of happened, and screwed up a lot of plans in the process.  Reading these has not only given me a glimpse of who my family were before I came around, but who they might have been if not for Dad randomly meeting a Hawaiian girl at Carmen's Restaurant later on in 1979.  Any number of little things could have happened differently on that day that would have prevented my parents from meeting, and I wouldn't be here.  As it turned out, they were just hanging around waiting for something to happen, and for better or for worse, that something was me.

Jan 1, 2021

The Return Of Saturday Morning

Saturday Morning Cartoons
MeTV (2021)
The new year is already looking better than the dumpster fire that was 2020.    Get ready to grab your bowl of Lucky Charms and head for the television.  At 7:00 am tomorrow morning, MeTV is launching the rebirth of Saturday Morning Cartoons with a three hour block of Loony Tunes, Tom & Jerry and Popeye.

Dec 31, 2020

Seeing 2020 Through 1993 Eyes

Trapper Keeper
The Mead Corporation (1993)
One of my favorite records of all time is Recovering The Satellites, the sophomore album by Counting Crows that was released in 1996.  My favorite track from that album is A Long December, which begins with Adam singing "A long December and there's reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last".  It's not just been a long December; it has been a long and difficult year.  Covid-19 was the leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, surpassing both cancer and heart disease.  

While things aren't going to magically go back to normal when the ball drops on Times Square, the words of A Long December ring true, in that there are reasons to be optimistic that things will start to get better in 2021.  I'm not naive enough to believe that the hardships brought into the world by Covid are suddenly going to disappear with a vaccine.  We're going to be dealing with the health, social, financial and political side-effects of this virus for years, if not decades to come.  So, as I've done since I was in elementary school, I will continue to use nostalgia as a security blanket - to take comfort in the joys of the past to deal with uncertainty of the present, and I make no apologies for doing so.  It's much safer than drugs, alcohol or the countless other coping mechanisms that people fall back on.  All it takes is a few mouse clicks to find a picture of an old Trapper Keeper and like magic, I have a smile on my face.

Trapper Keepers were known for their funky artwork that was designed to appeal to elementary and middle school students throughout the 80's and 90's.  Having grown up during that time, I can tell you that as much as I loved the summer time, I looked forward to going out with my dad and my grandparents to buy "back to school" supplies, and a brand new Trapper Keeper, with places to hold papers, folders and pencils, was at the very top of my wish list year after year.

This design from 1993 is the very definition of retro futurism, as it imagines the world of a young teenager in the far off distant year of 2020.  It appears that he is either on another planet or in a zero gravity room with a soda, potato chips, and a slice of pizza floating in the air.  Another house can be seen outside of the right window which looks very similar to those seen in The Jetsons.  Beneath the windows is a strip of what appear to be either posters or flat screen televisions, with Godzilla on the one at the far left.  The main reason that I suspect they may be posters instead of LCD televisions (apart from the fact that these televisions wouldn't exist for another 10-15 years) is the fact that there's a red CRT television sitting on the right across from the colorful sofa.  This appears to be showing a 3-D image of a Spuds MacKenzie-like character popping out of the center of the Loony Tunes title screen.  Outside of rarities like the Captain EO short film at Epcot Center, 3-D technology of the time was pretty much limited to the paper red-blue glasses that would sometimes come packaged with comic books.

Speaking of glasses, the boy appears to be wearing either a funky pair of shades, or a futuristic VR headset, which technically existed, but was mostly in the realm of science fiction back in 1993.  I lean towards the latter, since there is a microphone connected to them.  This was many years before gamers would regularly wear microphones while gaming online.  Just to put into perspective the world of gaming that existed when this artwork was created, the best-selling games of that year were Tetris on the NES, Street Fighter II for the SNES and PGA Tour Golf II on the Sega Genesis (that last one is pretty surprising - I would have bet money that it would have been Mortal Kombat or one of the Sonic games).

The boy's right hand is on something that looks like a Discman floating in the zero-gravity atmosphere with a compact disc floating at the bottom center of the image.  Even though the format existed in the 80's, I didn't know anyone who owned one at the time because CDs and CD players were pretty expensive.  My stepsister's collection of rock and heavy metal albums was entirely on cassette, and neither one of us got into CDs until the mid 90's (my first one being Collective Soul's debut album the year after this artwork came out).  The point is that for many of the kids who would have been carrying Trapper Keepers at the time, CDs were still kind of a futuristic technology.  None of us could have imagined that Napster would come along six years later and literally rip the life out of the technology.

Last but not least, take a closer look at that coffee table in front of the sofa.  If you look closely, you'll see that there's a computer built into it with what I imagine to be a glass top covering the monitor.  A keyboard and either a post-it note or a yellow floppy disc are below the screen.  If you look even closer at the screen, there's a message to "please press return to receive homework assignment".  This is a slightly eerie prediction for 2020, a year in which most children around their country have had all of their schoolwork sent home through a computer.

Let's unpack what we're seeing here.  I know it's cliche for a Gen X'er like myself to try to explain a world before the internet to Millennials and Gen Z, but I really get the impression that they don't fully understand.  I know the history books will tell you that the internet was invented in the 60's and used by universities as early as the 80's.  However, I can assure you as someone whose entire teenage years was spent in the 1990's, for all practical purposes, there was no internet in 1993.  In fact, the vast majority of kids who carried this Trapper Keeper probably hadn't even heard the word "internet" before, let alone used it.  The best way I can describe it is to look at self-driving cars in 2020.  They technically exist, but nobody that you know has one.  The technology is at its infancy, the cost is prohibitive, and the infrastructure that would allow it become commonplace is far enough in the future that we can only imagine with it will be like one day.

That was the internet in 1993.  We had all been told for decades that computers were the future, but we weren't quite sure what it would look like, so people created works of art and fiction to imagine the possibilities.  In fact, the only practical uses I had ever seen a computer used for in 1993 was to play video games or to use as a glorified word processor.  You can see this reflected by the fact that it uses the word "return" instead of "enter".  On a typewriter, the position on a keyboard where you find the enter key was the return key, because it made the carriage return to the left hand side and moved your paper down to type on the next line.

I was 12 and 13 year old back in 1993.  My only awareness that a computer could connect to another computer over a telephone line at that time was the movie WarGames, and an occasional tv commercial for Prodigy, which my stepmom described to me as a service that "lets you hook the phone up to the computer to access things like the encyclopedia".  My middle school in Florida had computers in the library, but I can't remember a time when we actually used them.  In fact, I had a typing class in 7th grade that was just rows of word processors on school desks.  When I returned to Pennsylvania in 9th grade, I once again had to take typing in a school that had old school typewriters that had probably been there for the past twenty years.  I'm sure that there were private schools and universities that were doing more with them, but the few that existed in the public schools that I went to mostly just sat around collecting dust, with few teachers who could think of what to do with them in a classroom setting.

Looking at this Trapper Keeper today, I can remember what it was like to imagine a future with computers at every turn.  It also makes me want to look at the artwork that's being created today to see what we imagine the future will be.  Even before the pandemic, the world of 2020 barely resembles the world I knew in 1993.  Only time will tell what 2047 have in store for us.

Dec 30, 2020

Fancy Munchkin Jar

Coventry Canister
Dunkin' Donuts (1980s)
Christmas may be over, but it's never too late to look at vintage holiday ads.  I'm not gonna lie, I'd be pretty darn happy if I got this as a present.  I can't think of too many people who would be disappointed with a canister of delicious Munchkins.

Dec 29, 2020

Snow White Winter Sushi

Winter Roll
Mirakuya - Hazleton, PA
Mirakuya is open for pickup only during the pandemic.  In fact, they have the entire restaurant completely tarped off with plastic sheeting.  To pick up your food, you walk into the vestibule and you slide the money through to them, after which they pass you your bag of food.  I can't say I blame them.

The Winter Roll is definitely worth getting, whether you're bringing it home or wait until the world opens back up and have it at the sushi bar.  It's got spicy scallop inside and is topped with white tuna, caviar and hot chili sauce.  Delicious!

Dec 28, 2020

McSpam And Oreos

Oreo Spam Burger
McDonald's China (2020)
Every so often, a fast food or consumer packaged goods producer comes up with an idea that's so out of left field that it inspires a reaction all over the world.  That, of course, is the point.  Any publicity that isn't the result of a "problematic" incident is good publicity.  It puts your brand in the mind of the consumer and makes it more likely that you will purchase their product than if you hadn't been inspired to think of them.

Case in point: the McDonald's Spam and Oreo burger that was made available in China on December 21st.  I love fast food, I love Oreo cookies, and I'm Hawaiian, so my body is at least 7% Spam at any given time, but I wasn't thinking about any of these three brands, nor was I planning to write anything about them, but here I am... and I'm not alone.  This burger has been written about by The New York Post, Fox News, Kotaku, and dozens more.  In fact, if you do a Google search for McDonalds Spam Oreo right now, you're going to get pages of results, from major media conglomerates to little blogs with no audience like this one.

I didn't read through everything ever written about this burger.  In fact, I'm not even sure what it's called on the menu.  The only thing that can say with any degree of certainty is that it's made from two slices of grilled Spam and topped with Oreo cookie crumbles on a sesame seed bun.  It also appears to have some sort of white creamy condiment.  Is that mayonnaise?  Horseradish?  Oreo cookie cream filling?  It's a mystery for now... at least to me.

Here's the part that I wonder about when I see a product like this become available.  McDonald's isn't just some small neighborhood diner that thought up something wacky to get some publicity from the local newspaper.  They're McDonald's.  If you were going to make a Mount Rushmore of companies that are true masters of the art of marketing their brand over the long haul, Ronald McDonald's face has got to be in the George Washington spot.  They don't just come up with spur-of-the-moment combinations of weird things at the grocery store and immediately put it on the menu.  They come up with at least a dozen ideas which get produced, taste tasted and analyzed by focus groups.  Then out of all of the different things they've come up with, one of them stands out from the pack and they tweak the recipe until they have it just right.

It kind of makes you wonder what all of those other ideas were that didn't make the final cut, doesn't it?

Dec 27, 2020

The Greatest Knuckleball Pitcher Of All Time

Phil Niekro
I can't ever remember a year when we lost so many incredible ballplayers.  Unfortunately, 2020 isn't done taking its toll just yet.  Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro passed away in his sleep last night.  He was 81 years old.

The knuckleballer had a career that spanned three decades, from 1964 to 1987.  In that time, he amassed 318 wins; over a third of which were won after his 40th birthday.  He also started 716 games (fifth most of all-time) and pitched 5,404 innings, which is the most of anyone in the past century and the fourth highest of all-time.  As impressive as those numbers sound on the surface, it's even more incredible when you consider the fact that he didn't get his first start in a MLB game until September 17th, 1965 at 26 years old, and didn't start again for nearly another two years (June 18th, 1967) at age 28.

Mr. Niekro started, ended and spent the vast majority of his career pitching for the Braves (both in Milwaukee and Atlanta).  He also pitched for the Yankees in 1984-85 during Yogi Berra's entire tenure as manager, and he earned his 300th win as a member of the Yankees on October 6th, 1985.

He signed with the Indians before the start of the 1986 season, and was involved in one of the most interesting baseball games in my lifetime the next year.  On April 9th, 1987, Niekro started a game for the Indians against the Toronto Blue Jays.  With 311 career wins under his belt, the knuckler threw for 5 innings and gave up 3 runs on 7 hits.  He was relieved in the 6th inning by Steve Carlton, who had 323 career wins at the time.  Lefty pitched four shutout innings to give the Indians their first win of the season.  It was the first time in MLB history that two 300 game winners pitched in the same game for the same team.  Future Hall-of-Famer Phil Niekro earned his 312th career win, and future Hall-of-Famer Steve Carlton earned his second career save.  An interesting side-note to this incredible turn of events is that Carlton's only other career save happened 20 years earlier, on April 16, 1967 when he came on in relief of another future Hall-of-Famer, Bob Gibson.  Sadly, we also lost Mr. Gibson in 2020 less than three months ago.

Before returning to the Braves where he finished his career, the 48 year old hurler briefly pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1987.

Photo Credit: Bob Wolfe

Mr. Niekro's final career game took place for the Atlanta Braves on September 27th, 1987 - their last home game of the season.  The legendary pitcher received a standing ovation from the fans in attendance.  He received yet another well-deserved ovation ten years later when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame.

Rest in peace, Knucksie.

Christmas At The Schuylkill Mall

Hess's Department Store
Schuylkill Mall - Frackville, PA (early 1980's)
Since most of us didn't get out to the mall to do our Christmas shopping during the pandemic, have a look at a mall from Christmas Past.

Hess's was one of the anchor stores when the Schuylkill Mall opened in 1980.  The store remained in the mall for 15 years before it was closed in 1995.  The mall was torn down in 2018 and the grounds are now home to a Clayco Warehouse.

Dec 26, 2020

We Lost A True Champion

Jon Huber
1979 - 2020
A husband, a father of two, and a massively talented professional wrestler who has entertained millions of fans for over a decade is no longer with us.  Jon Huber, who wrestled for AEW and on the independent scene as Brodie Lee, and for WWE as Luke Harper, has passed away due to a non-Covid related lung condition.  He was only 41 years old.

I first has the pleasure of seeing Mr. Huber wrestle in March 2007 at a Chikara show in Hellertown, PA.  My first thought on seeing him was "Holy cow, this dude is huge" (he was 6'6" tall).  My second thought was "Oh, I get it.  He looks a bit like Jason Lee, who starred as Brodie in Mallrats" (only much taller).  My third thought as the match began was "Dude... this guy is incredible!" (and he most certainly was).  Since then, I've watched him grow into one of the most popular performers as a member of The Wyatt Family in WWE and reach new heights as the second AEW TNT Champion this summer.  He lost the title to Cody Rhodes on October 7th, and was mostly off of television after this point.  We all thought that he was sidelined by a minor ankle injury.  Sadly, it was much more serious than that.

From the massive outpouring of love on Twitter tonight, it is very clear that he was an absolutely incredible human being who loved his family and went above and beyond to help his colleagues grow as performers.  My heart goes out to his family, his friends, and everyone who was entertained and/or inspired by this truly gifted performer.  Thank you, Mr. Huber.