Dec 31, 2006

Ghosts Of New Years Past


New Years Eve - 1956
Times Square - New York, NY
Happy New Year from fifty years in the past.

Dec 25, 2006

Christmas Traditions


My family always has seafood for dinner on Christmas Eve.  For most of my childhood, my Grandpa and I would pick it up at Long John Silvers, but in recent years, Grandma made her own.  This year, she tried to do the Feast Of The Seven Fishes, complete with homemade crabcakes.



For Christmas Day, Grandma makes a lasagna that's packed full of mozzarella and rigot cheese.  I'm pretty sure the rigot (which she pronounces "row-goo-t") is ricotta, but she swears that it's different.  Whatever you call the cheese, the lasagna is delicious!

Dec 24, 2006

Christmas Manger


My grandmother has been putting out this manger every December since the 1960's.  In recent years, she has put an old Christmas tree skirt over the orange hassock in the parlor and set it up there.  She and my grandfather always go overboard with presents, so they're laid out in piles around the parlor until Christmas Eve.

Dec 23, 2006

Tetrabrachius Santa's Got His Hands Full


Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine
January, 1956
Cover artwork by Ed Emshwiller.  I especially love the book "How To Manage Reindeer In Space".

Dec 22, 2006

Interstellar Stop For Cookies And Milk


Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine
December, 1951
Cover artwork by Ed Emshwiller.  Check out that tentacle-like Christmas tree!

Dec 21, 2006

Community Bulletin


This channel has been broadcasting on Service Electric Cablevision in for as long as I've been alive.  The screen changes every ten seconds or so and has announcements about church fundraisers and other community events with the occasional advertisement about what pay-per-view movies and shows are available to purchase.  Local radio plays on audio, and because it's all Christmas music this time of year, it's not uncommon to see a home in Hazleton that has this channel on in the background just for the music.

Dec 20, 2006

Space Carols


Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine
December, 1953
Cover artwork by Ed Emshwiller.  I'd like to believe that they're singing "What Can You Get A Wookiee For Christmas".

Dec 7, 2006

Big Kitty


Gendo is a pretty husky cat.  He's also one of the sweetest animals I have ever known.  When we rescued him from the animal shelter, he was very thin and had a persistent cough like he was trying to get a hairball up.  The vet put him on prednisone which cleared up his breathing problems, but also caused him to gain a lot of weight.  Today, he's a healthy, happy cat who likes to lay on my grandmother's kitchen table.

Nov 24, 2006

Grandma's Pumpkin Pie


This is the recipe that my grandmother based her pumpkin pie off of.  It's from the inside of a Carnation Evaporated Milk can label from the 1960's.

Nov 23, 2006

Nov 10, 2006

Pac Lottery


Pac-Man Instant Ticket
Pennsylvania Lottery (2006)
If you get this ticket, you really should scratch it off with a quarter, preferably in an arcade.  It's good luck.

Oct 15, 2006

Sep 16, 2006

Baby Alex


This is my mother's new puppy, Alex.

Sep 7, 2006

Jimmy's On The Mountain. Abe's In The Valley.



Abe's Hot Dogs
Route 309 - Wilkes-Barre, PA
I'm a Hazleton boy, so I'm always going to prefer Jimmy's, but these are pretty good too.

Sep 6, 2006

Hard Luck Mike



A couple of days ago when I was going through old pictures to find a few of my great-grandfather, Cosimo, I came across this picture of a couple that I didn't recognize.  I asked my grandmother about it and she told me that the man on the left was her uncle (my great-grandfather's brother) with his wife and baby.  Her uncle's name was Michael Scambia, but she said that everybody called him "Crazy Mike" or "Hard Luck Mike".  Oh really?  Please tell me more!

Over coffee at the dinner table, my grandmother told me about how Mike lost an eye lighting fireworks for a bunch of kids, but that wasn't the only incident that earned him the nickname.  There was another situation that happened when a woman in town was sitting on a horse that went a little wild and started running on its own.  The way my grandmother put it is that Mike must have seen one too many cowboy movies, because he got in front of the path of the charging horse, held out one hand and shouted "Whoa!".  The horse didn't even slow down and trampled over Mike in the process, which sent him to the hospital.

Last, but certainly not least, Grandma told me about his car accidents.  She didn't know all of the details, so I don't know who was driving, what caused the accident, or who was to blame.  What she did remember is that it was a serious enough accident that he had to be taken to the hospital - which is what would have happened, except for the fact that the ambulance was also in a very serious car accident after they picked Mike up.  He eventually did get to the hospital, and he was there for quite a long time recovering from whatever injuries he sustained.  Finally, he was released from the hospital, and on the way back home, the car he was riding in was involved in another very serious accident.  At least this time, the ambulance got him back to the hospital without any further vehicular incidents.

Sep 5, 2006

My Grandparents



I took this photo of my grandparents before we went out to breakfast yesterday.  My grandmother doesn't usually like cameras, so it's not always easy to get a picture of her where she doesn't look annoyed.

Sep 4, 2006

Nana and Pap Pap



My grandparents and I stopped at the Calvary Cemetery earlier today to visit the place where my great-grandparents were laid to rest.  Out of all the members of my family who I wish I would have gotten to know better, my paternal grandmother's mother and father are at the top of the list.



This is a photo of my great-grandfather, Cosimo Scambia with my father sitting on his lap.  Even though he died when my dad was young, the two were very close.  To this day, when Dad talks about him, he can't help but to smile and to share every memory he has of spending time with his grandfather.

From what I've been told by my family, Cosimo lived a very interesting life.  He was connected to the mob, though I can't say to what degree.  My grandmother likes to say that he "had shady friends", but other stories in the family made it clear that he was involved in whatever shady business was taking place.  I'm certainly not going to get into any of those stories here, but I will say that if I could pick one of my family members or ancestors to take out to a bar to hang out and listen to the story of their life, it would be him.

The stories Dad tells me about Cosimo (who he called Pap Pap) are either second-hand accounts of what he was told, or the memories of a toddler.  For example, Pap Pap used to take my dad to the Blue Comet Diner for lunch.  If they walked past an empty table that still had the tip on it, Cosimo would tell my dad "Oh look, you're lucky!  You found money!" and encourage him to take it.  Then, when he thought my dad's back was turned, he'd leave money to replace the tip on the table.  Speaking of money, he once got into an argument with my grandmother at the kitchen table because he wanted to buy my dad a shoe shine kit.  His logic was that he would never be broke - if he ever wanted money to go get a sandwich and a soda, he could earn it anytime just by taking his shoe shine kit downtown.  I don't know if this was still a thing that happened in the early 60's, but it made perfect sense to Cosimo.  My grandmother wouldn't allow it, saying that "I'm not going to have my son shining shoes on Broad Street for nickles".  He also wanted to teach my dad how to box, but grandma put the brakes on that plan as well.  I'm sure that if he hadn't passed away when my dad was so young, Cosimo would have done both and kept it hidden from my grandmother.

Cosimo died on September 2nd. 1963.  He was waiting for a bus to come over to see my dad.  Dad told me that he was all dressed and waiting for his Pap Pap to arrive when he heard the news that he had a heart attack.

Standard Speaker (Hazleton, PA) - September 3, 1963
From left to right: Fortunata Scambia (Nana), Joanne Scambia (Grandma) and Cosimo Scambia (Pap Pap)


This is my great-grandmother, Fortunata Scambia.  Everybody who knew her just called her Tuna, except for Dad and I.  We both called  her Nana.  I was lucky enough to get to know her when I was a kid.  She had her own apartment when I was very young, but she moved in with my grandparents when I was around six years old, so I got to see every weekend that I went to my grandparents house.

Both of my great-grandparents are Italian, but they're not the same ethnicity.  Cosimo's family came from Calabria (the southern tip), but Nana's family came from Tyrol, which is a region in the Alps that includes part Northern Italy and part of Western Austria.  It was once part of the Holy Roman Empire, the Austrian Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and despite the fact that it's physically located in Italy and Austria, the Tyrolean people aren't really ethnically Italian or Austrian.  They've kind of got their own thing going on.  Obviously, I'm far from an expert on the subject, but I do know that Nana was very proud of being Tyrolean, as is my Grandma.  In fact, my grandmother always makes a point of correcting me when I say that I'm Italian by telling me that I'm Calabrese and Tyrolean.



This is a photo of Grandma (left) and Nana (right) with me in the middle.  It was taken in my grandparent's kitchen, but there wasn't a year written on the back.  If I had to guess, I'd say it was taken in December 1986.  The month is a complete guess based solely on the fact that there's a gingerbread man magnet on my grandmother's freezer.  At any rate, it had to be Fall or Winter, because I know that I got that Taz shirt when we went on vacation to Wildwood.  The hot shirt at all of the shops on the Boardwalk that year was one that said "I'm the Tasmanian Devil.  Who the hell are you?", and they obviously didn't make that one for kids, so my grandparents asked at every shop they went to until they found it.
 


Nana was awesome, but I never really got to know who she was.  By the time I was born, she was in her seventies, so I knew her as a great-grandmother who carried saccharin tablets in her purse to use in coffee, and who liked to sit on the front porch and do crossword puzzles, and who always said "honest to goodness" when you told her something that she didn't know how to react to.  However, there was a lot more to her that I've only ever learned in fragments - like the fact that she was a Flapper during the 1920s.  Also, she didn't get married until she was in her thirties, which was pretty rare back then, and no one knew she was married to Cosimo for a full year, which would still be pretty weird today.  I have no idea what caused them to keep their wedding a secret for that long.

The last time I saw Nana was when Dad, Liz, Stephanie and left my grandparents house on New Years Day, 1992 to go back to Florida.  I remember that for Christmas, she got a VHS tape of Victor Borge that we watched together.  She passed away just over two years later while I was still living in Boynton Beach.

Standard Speaker (Hazleton, PA) - February 12, 1994

Sep 3, 2006

Sunday Morning Breakfast


Capriotti's Banquet Hall
Maple Street - Tresckow, PA
I had a very nice Sunday morning breakfast with the family today.  It was very good.  I hope that we get to come back here sometime.

Sep 2, 2006

Burger King Memories



Toy Story Kids Meal Toys
Burger King (1995)
Writing about my first job yesterday brought back a flood of random memories that I haven't thought about in years, so I thought I'd spend a few minutes documenting them while they're still fresh in my mind.

There were different toys in the time that I worked at Burger King, but the ones that I remember the most vividly were ones that promoted the first Toy Story film.  We must have had a few hundred of those Sheriff Woody plush dolls at the restaurant when I was there.



Throughout my life, I have unintentionally created mental soundtracks for the people I meet and the places that I go.  I rarely realize it's happening at the time, but years later when I hear one of these songs, the memories of that time and place in my life immediately come flooding back to me.  If I were to create a playlist for the Burger King chapter of my life, the first track would be Roll To Me by Del Amitri.  I don't know anything at all about the band, but we had a little radio on the stainless steal prep table in the back corner of the kitchen where many of us would take our break and have something to eat.  This song was hot at the time, so it played at least twice a day during my shift.  Sometimes a song will start to annoy me if I hear it that often, but this one never did.  It's a catchy and pleasant song, and I always smile when it comes on - and get a craving for a Whopper.



My time working at Burger King was over a decade ago, so I don't remember exactly what days I worked or what shift I worked on those days.  However, I am absolute positive that I worked the night shift on Saturday, October 28th, 1995.  That night, on the same radio I just wrote about, I listened to Game Six of the 1995 World Series when the Atlanta Braves defeated the Cleveland Indians for the only World Championship that they won during their run of dominance in the 90's.  I love baseball, and even though none of my co-workers really cared too much for the sport, one of them found the game on the radio so that I could listen to it while working.  That act of kindness meant a lot to me.



In the days before DVR, if you wanted to record a television show that was airing when you weren't at home so that you could watch it later, you would have to buy a blank VHS tape, and set the timer in your VCR to record it.  I probably had 100 tapes in my dresser drawers and in a tray that slid out from under the bed, and I recorded all kinds of things.  One show that I recorded completely by accident was an episode of a science fiction show I had never heard of called Sliders.

The show was about four inter-dimensional travelers who traveled to different parallel worlds.  The over-simplified way to explain each of these worlds is that something different happened at some point in the past, which created a domino effect that drastically changed the world as the travelers knew it.  The episode that I had accidentally taped was called Last Days, in which an asteroid was headed for the earth that would cause a mass extinction.  As it turned out, this world had never invented the atomic bomb, so the heroes of the story worked to hastily invent a nuclear warhead to shoot down the asteroid before it could strike the planet.

So, assuming anyone on earth is actually reading this and gives a damn, you might be asking yourself what this has to do with Burger King.  I was in 9th grade at the time, and I was even more of a social misfit back then.  There's a reason that I don't have comments enabled on this blog or any contact information, and that is that I'm not the kind of person who makes or keeps friends easily.  I start out with good intentions, but then something happens (which is usually my fault) that makes it all go wrong.  If you touch a hot stove enough times, you eventually wise up and learn to keep your hand away, which is why I mostly keep to myself these days.  However, back in 1995, I was still trying to make friends, so I mentioned this quirky sci-fi show during a shift at work to the folks that I was working with.  One dude, who I would guess was about 10 - 15 years older than me, instantly looked up and knew exactly what I was talking about.  He was as excited about the show as I was.  He had every episode of the first season recorded on tape, which he brought in for me to borrow, and we quickly became friends.  His name was Darwin Jarrett, but he often went by his Native American name, which is Nitehawk.



This is Nitehawk.  I lost touch with him over the years, which again is entirely my fault.  I strongly doubt he would remember me at all, let alone know what a positive influence he was in my life.  He was a funny, creative person who was just an all around good dude, and he taught me that it's ok to be a nerd and to embrace the things in my life that made me happy, like science fiction.  Although our areas of interest didn't always overlap (he's more into the Dungeons & Dragons scene, whereas I've always been more into retro arcade and console games), we had tons of interest in common and spent many shifts making burgers and fries and talking about Sliders, Star Trek, Star Wars, Nowhere Man and different ideas for Geocities sites that we had.

At the time, he ran a sci-fi fan club called The Drakmärian Alliance.  I signed up for it, but social anxiety and general awkwardness kept me from really participating, as it often does.  This dude bent over backwards to make me feel welcome.  I only wish I could have just relaxed and allowed myself to become a part of it.

These days, he runs a company called Nitehawk Interactive Games, which publishes tabletop role playing games and expansion modules to AD&D, among other things.  I'm not knowledgeable enough about the scene to do justice to their work, but if you happen to stumble upon this blog and you enjoy RPGs, I strongly encourage you to check them out.



Last, but certainly not least, I will always remember the food at Burger King.  Of course, I could go to a Burger King any time I want and have a Whopper, but as anyone who has ever worked at a restaurant can tell you, it's different when you work for the place.  Our managers had a pretty liberal policy of letting the employees eat whatever they wanted.

The main thing that most of us snacked on throughout the day was a piece of cheese from the prep table wrapped around two of three french fries or a chicken tender.  For lunch or dinner, I usually made myself a bacon double cheeseburger (with an absurd amount of bacon and pickles), or one of the many chicken sandwiches we had on the menu.  At the time, there was a series of international chicken sandwiches available, including the American (with lettuce, tomato and American cheese), the French (with mayo, ham and Swiss cheese), and the Italian (with marinara sauce and Mozzarella cheese).  My favorite one of all was the BK Broiler, which was a thick, unbreaded chicken patty sandwich.  It had a smoky flavor and to this day is one of the most delicious fast food sandwiches I've ever eaten.  I used to make mine with bacon, pickles, lettuce, tomato and a little bit of mayo.  It was discontinued a few years ago and replaced with the Chicken Whopper, which isn't bad, but it's just not the same.  Finally, for desert, we had these little individually boxed slices of Oreo Cookie Cream Pies that were to die for.  They were even better if you ate them right from the freezer.  I'm getting hungry just thinking about them.

Sep 1, 2006

My First Job



Burger King
N. Broad St. - West Hazleton, PA
The first job I ever had was at the same Burger King restaurant that my grandfather and I used to walk to on Saturday mornings to have breakfast when I was a kid.  To this day, it's one of my favorite job experiences that I've ever had.  It was a group comprised of mostly high school students with a few adults mixed in, and everybody was extremely friendly to me at a time in my life when I really needed it the most.

I started working here in the Fall of 1995.  It was the end of a very unstable period of time in my life.  In the first half of the 90's, I lived with four different sets of relatives in six different houses across two states and had spent time at a juvenile detention center twice.  I had just moved back to Pennsylvania to live with my paternal grandparents that Spring, and life was just beginning to settle down a bit.

My friend Jen and I were hanging out one evening when we walked to Burger King to grab something to eat.  We noticed a pile of job applications sitting on the counter when we ordered, so we each took one to fill out.  Neither of us really expected to get the job because we were both 15 years old, but we figured no harm could come from applying.

They must have been pretty short staffed because the manager came over to our booth while we were eating.  We hadn't even finished filling out the application and she was telling us about the job and asking what hours we could be available to work after school.  Then came the moment of truth.  She asked Jen how old she was, and when she answered, the manager said in a disappointed tone that the minimum age to get hired was 16.  The manager then turned to me and said "you're 16, right?", to which I quickly agreed.  Thankfully, I hadn't gotten very far in the application yet, so when I got to the birthdate section, I wrote in a year that would have made me 16.



Look at that handsome son of a bitch.  That dude looks sixteen, especially with that suave mustache, right?  Well, the manager of Burger King bought it.  My grandfather took this photo before my first day of work, and I can't begin to express the embarrassment I feel when I look at it.  Dear god, no wonder I got picked on as much as I did.

Fifteen is too young to have even had a learner's permit in Pennsylvania at the time, so I didn't have a photo ID.  Burger King accepted my Social Security Card to fill out my paperwork.  If they needed any other documents, they either overlooked it or I had something that was good enough.  The one thing I do remember is that I had to promise that I would have the school district fill out and sign my working papers as soon as possible.  From that moment, I knew that it was only a matter of time before I got caught.  I had seen school district working papers and they clearly list the kid's age and the restrictions for work (which are very different for a 15 year old compared to a 16 or 17 year old), but I figured that I'd ride it out for as long as I could and make a few bucks.  I thought if I was lucky, I could fly under the radar and work there long enough to make a few hundred bucks.  

What I didn't expect is that I would be able to keep this going for six months.  Every so often when the manager thought of it, she'd ask me if I had my working papers yet, and gosh darn, wouldn't you know that I forgot 'em.  Since I didn't work every shift with that particular manager, and since she didn't always remember to ask me, I kept this going through the rest of the year and a few months into 1996.  I think it was around March when the manager finally got wise and called the house.  My grandfather knew I had fibbed about my age to get the job.  I think he kind of got a kick out of the fact that I wanted to work that badly, but while he wasn't going to run down to the restaurant and rat me out, he wasn't the type of person who would lie to cover for me either.  He answered the phone that day, and when the manager asked, he told her that I was only 15.  She was pretty pissed off at me, but not so mad that she didn't offer to hire me back the day that I turned 16.  I showed up to work on time, did what I was told, and didn't cause trouble... except for putting her at risk for hiring an underage kid.

I remember that later that year, my class took a trip to the high school to take a tour of the place.  I was in 9th grade, which was still considered Junior High School in our district at the time.  Some of the older kids who I worked with at Burger King and got along with really well bumped into me and busted my balls a bit.  If I had managed to hang in there for just a few more months, I would have actually turned 16 and it would have been a moot point.  As it turned out, I never did go back.  Before my 16th birthday, I had found a job as a busboy at an Italian restaurant.  The hours and the pay were a little bit better, the food was good, and best of all, they didn't care one bit that I was 15.

So, that's the story of my first job.  Burger King is the Home Of The Whopper whose motto was "Have It Your Way", so I told them a whopper and did just that.

Aug 16, 2006

Grandma's Flowers



Lowe's
Fairlane Village Mall - Pottsville, PA
After the school year has ended, my dad likes to take my grandmother out shopping and to lunch during the week.  This summer, they've been going on Wednesdays, and I've been going with them a lot more often since my previous relationship ended.  I know it probably sounds lame, but I enjoy spending time with them.  I don't know where I'd be without my dad and my grandparents.

Earlier today, we went to the Fairlane Village Mall in Pottsville, and we stopped at Lowe's.

Aug 15, 2006

Stick Figure Ninjas


The Xiao Xiao stick figure ninjas have been online for as long as I can remember, but it never gets old.  Episode 3 is my favorite.

Aug 7, 2006

Guardian Of The Snack Cakes


If you told me when I was a kid that my grandmother would one day allow a cat to lay on her kitchen table, I would have said you're crazy, but here he sits with his supper dish right next to the Maple Creme Pies.

Jul 23, 2006

The Evil Clown Of Middletown


Calico - The Evil Clown Of Middletown
Circus Liquors - Middletown, NJ
We took a road trip through New Jersey last month.  It started with a visit to the Quick Stop and RST Video from Clerks, and Jay & Silent Bob's Secret Stash comic book shop.  After that, the rest of the trip was guided by the Weird New Jersey book.  One attraction from the book that we saw and photographed was not far from Quick Stop: The Evil Clown Of Middletown.

The 20+ foot tall clown has a name: Calico.  He began his life in 1956 as an advertisement for the Food Circus grocery store that was once in operation across from the parking lot that he has stood watch over for the past 50 years.  The store has since become Circus Liquors.

Although seeing the clown wasn't meant to be a part of the Kevin Smith Askewniverse pilgrimage, that's what it ended up being in retrospect.  Clerks 2 opened in theaters across the country last night, and I was happy to see Calico featured for a few seconds in the opening scene of Dante and Randal driving to work.

Jul 7, 2006

The Wisdom of Satchel Paige


Satchel Paige was born 100 years ago today.  He became one of the hardest throwing pitchers in the history of the game, and the man that Joe DiMaggio called the best pitcher he ever faced.  Click here for more.

Jul 1, 2006

Glorious Wood Paneling



This was my old IBM Aptiva on the computer desk in my bedroom on my 16th birthday, which was ten years ago today.  I loved how it matched the paneling.

Jun 22, 2006

Homicide


Ring of Honor Wrestling
New Yorker Hotel - New York, NY
This photo was taken on June 17th before the show.  In the latest match of the ongoing ROH vs CZW war, Homicide wrestled Chris Hero.

Jun 21, 2006

The Briscoe Brothers


Ring of Honor Wrestling
New Yorker Hotel - New York, NY
This photo was taken on June 17th before the show.  The Briscoe Brothers (Mark and Jay) fought Jason Blade and "Sterling" James Keenan in the opening match of the main show.