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
1939-2020
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.

Scratch This Off Of Your Christmas Shopping List



While December 26th may be Boxing Day to in the UK, it was "Cash-In-Your-Winning-Tickets-At-The-Gas-Station-Day" in our house when I was growing up.  Every card given out by my dad or grandparents during the holiday season came with at least one Christmas scratch-off ticket from the Pennsylvania Lottery.  However, if you were getting a card from my grandfather, there's a chance you might be getting a Happy Birthday ticket - because it's Jesus' birthday.

These sample tickets came in a pack that I bought in eBay back in August.  Don't ask me what I'm going to do with them because I have no idea.  The most reasonable explanation I can come up with is that if I hit Powerball someday and open an 80's themed roadside diner, I can put these on display to add a little ambiance.  And when that's your justification for buying something on eBay, you know you've made a pretty silly purchase.

Holiday Cash - Pennsylvania Lottery (1989)
Holiday Cash - Pennsylvania Lottery (1990)
Stocking Stuffer - Pennsylvania Lottery (1991)

Dec 25, 2020

This Is The Way



Lucasfilm / ILM Christmas Card
Christian Alzmann (2020)
To anyone who stumbled across this little corner of the web, I hope you have a Merry Christmas.

Dec 24, 2020

A Pirate's Christmas For Me



Long John Silver's
Rt. 93 - Hazleton, PA
I mentioned earlier today that Long John Silver's was a Christmas Eve tradition in my family.  These days, it's a bit more than that.  You see, in addition to being a nerd, I'm also a sentimental bastard, and little reminders of happy moments from the past never fail to bring a tear to my eye and a smile to my face.  Those everyday little reminders of the past are getting fewer and farther between with each passing year as the world changes with time.  At this point, I can probably count the number of places remaining in Hazleton that I've visited with my grandparents on one hand.  One of those places is Long John Silver's.  It's a place that my grandfather and I went together many times, but typically only once a year - on Christmas Eve.

The restaurant on Rt. 93 in Hazleton has only seen minor changes over the years.  However, like most of the rest of the world this year, it has taken on a bit of a dystopian feel due to the pandemic.  The dining room is closed and the lights have been turned off, although you can still enter the restaurant for pick-up at the counter, which is what we always did anyway.

There are also a number of signs like the ones pictured at the top of this entry.  The one on the far left are placed six feet apart on the floor to give you an idea of how to keep socially distant.  The stop sign in the center is placed on tables that are meant to be left empty, which is all of them in December since the ban on seating in Pennsylvania restaurants went into effect.  The tan circle on the right is on the soda fountain and in the locations where the condiment packets are usually kept.  You have to hand it to Long John's.  At a time when we're all tense and worried about a virus that has now killed over 300,000 Americans, they have taken the time to inject a little fun into these signs by keeping to the pirate and nautical theme of the restaurant.  Well done!



This restaurant has an L-shaped hallway that starts at the front door and leads to the cash register at the counter.  In the photo on the left, you can see most of it.  You pass by the window on the far wall, then turn left and walk toward the foreground where you place your order and pick up your food.  When I was a kid, the restaurant didn't have such an open floor plan as it does today.  The waist-high white wall that makes the L-shaped hallway was yellow back in the 80's, and it went either up to the ceiling or close to it, so it was an actual hallway.  I suppose it may have had a bit of a claustrophobic feel, but I always kind of liked it.

In most years, it was very busy on Christmas Eve so the line of customers was backed up all the way to the front door.  Sometimes, we even had to wait outside for a few minutes before the line moved enough for us to enter the building.  It was about a half hour wait before we made our way through the line and placed an order.  If it were any other situation in my childhood, I probably would have been impatient, but I was happy to wait in line.  The place smelled outstanding, and I was with my Grandpa on Christmas Eve, with dinner and presents and desert with my family ahead of me, just waiting to unfold.



To the left of the register at the front counter is a little secondary dining room with a row of booths.  This section is closed off 99% of the time that I've ever been here, so I don't remember if it looked this way back in the 80's and 90's or not, but I've always liked it.  It has a bit of a private feel to it, with windows that overlook the strip mall down the road.  Each of the booths has a backboard to make it look like the rear of a boat, with names like The Beach Comber, Neptune and One That Got Away.

I can't say that I've been to too many other Long John Silver's in my travels.  For all I know, they all look like this, and this one is nothing special to anyone else who looks at these photos, but they're special to me.

The Short Life Of Norman Bigfish



Mr. Norman Bigfish
Long John Silver's (1995)
It was a Christmas Eve tradition in my family to have a seafood dinner.  My grandmother tried to go the homemade route a few times in the early 2000's, but those times were the exception to the rule.  Most years, she would make her own crabcakes and shrimp cocktail, and the rest came from Long John Silver's.  This is why I've always associated Long John's with Christmas.  Even seeing their logo brings back memories of my grandmother's kitchen with the green tablecloth and all of the festive decorations.


For most of their history, Long John's didn't have a mascot like 
Ronald McDonald or the Burger King.  They had a few memorable ad campaigns, like "Go Fish", and their packaging sometimes had a pirate or nautical theme, but the focus of their commercials was usually on the food itself - tasty fish for a reasonable price.  They changed things up for a short time in early 1995 when they introduced a six foot tall fish in a business suit named Norman Bigfish.


The commercials showed Mr. Bigfish acting as the chairman of Long John Silver's in corporate meetings to discuss their upcoming specials.  He was also featured in print advertisement along with coupons for their new line of popcorn fish and chicken.

He looks like a fishy version of Baby Sinclair from Dinosaurs in this ad.
According to encyclopedia.com, the campaign was very poorly received.  Franchisees complained to the corporate office that the commercials with Norman caused a decrease in sales.  The media wasn't much kinder to the spokesfish.

The Star Press (Muncie, IN) - April 30, 1995
Poor Norman didn't last until Christmas.  Long John Silver's flushed their fishy mascot down the commode before the end of summer.  Norman Bigfish may not be talked about as often as the other mascots of the 80's and 90's, but there are some of us who will never forget the short time when a giant fish in a three piece suit sold hush puppies to us.

Dec 23, 2020

On Dasher, On Dancer, Or Else...



My grandmother set out this ceramic white tray every year when she decorated for Christmas.  It's pretty small (6” x 3”), and it doesn't have any years or makers marks, but I believe it's from the 1950's.

I've looked at this tray hundreds of times throughout my life, but it wasn't until this very moment as I am typing that I noticed something strange.  The cursive "Merry Christmas" are spelled out in Santa's signal whip.  Not gonna lie, I'm slightly disturbed at the idea of Santa savagely whipping his reindeer, let alone twirling it to spell out a Christmas greeting in the process.  The 50's were a very different time, I suppose.

Dec 22, 2020

Vintage Christmas Commercials


70's and 80's Christmas Commercials
Shared by Some Classic Game Music
I love old commercials, and few of them provide more warm and fuzzy nostalgic feelings than the ones from the Christmas season.

Dec 21, 2020

The Christmas Star

Source: SkySafari via Space.com

Tonight, a rare planetary alignment is taking place that hasn't been viewed on Earth for almost 800 years.  Although there is a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter that occurs once every twenty years, the two planets will appear within 0.102 degrees of each other from our position in the universe.

The best way to see this phenomenon is to find an unobstructed view of the southwest and look towards the low horizon about 45 minutes after sunset.  With the naked eye, the two planets will be close enough to appear to be a double planet.  If you're using a telescope in a clear sky, you'll be able to see both Saturn and Jupiter distinctly, as well as several of their moons, in the same field of view.  Either way, you will be seeing something that hasn't been seen by a human being since March 4th, 1226.

Dec 20, 2020

Grandma's Christmas Cottage



Lighted Ceramic Mountain Tree House
Marcia Ceramics (early 1980's)
My grandmother bought this on clearance from Boscov's at some point during the early 80's when I was a kid, and she put it out on the old woodgrain console stereo in her parlor every year.  She passed away in 2012, and I've put it out for the holidays ever since.  It's my favorite Christmas decoration.

This is what it looks like with the lights off.

It's little things like this that bring me joy during the holiday and help me to remember my family.  I'm not a religious person by any means, but having this makes it feel like I still have a small part of my grandparents still around for the holidays.

Dec 19, 2020

A Festive Holiday Rant



Christmas Movie Showdown
Rotten Tomatoes (2020)
I don't know if these brackets are evidence that the world has collectively lost its mind, but they're most certainly a supporting argument.  Might as well begin by slaughtering one of the sacred cows that seems to pop up as a debate topic every year (right alongside "is a hotdog a sandwich").



Die Hard is not a Christmas movie.  It's an action movie that happens to take place at Christmas.  If I drink a glass of Sharkleberry Fin on December 25th, that doesn't mean that it gets classified alongside Eggnog as a Christmas drink...even if someone puts a little Santa sticker on the package.  Some things are part of Christmas.  Some things just exist with Christmas in the background.  Just look at the poster... do you see anything Christmassy going on there?  Also, it's was released to theaters on July 15th, 1988.  I know we're all guilty of rushing the season, but even The Christmas Tree Shops aren't playing Jingle Bells over the loudspeaker in mid July.

While we're at it, I'm going to go ahead and call bull on a few others.  Gremlins is a horror flick that just so happens to take place during the Christmas season.  The actual holiday plays almost no role in the film whatsoever.  And although it's a classic film that gets played on cable during the holidays, It's A Wonderful Life is borderline.  It has a much stronger case to be called a Christmas movie than either Die Hard or Gremlins because it was actually released during the holidays and the whole story unfolds as it is being told by one angel to another on Christmas Eve, but when 99% of the events of a film have nothing at all to do with the holiday season, it's at least worthy of debate.  Forrest Gump celebrates New Years with Lieutenant Dan, but that doesn't make it a New Years flick.  For it to be a holiday movie, the movie has to at least be partially about the holiday, which is why It's A Wonderful Life gets a free pass, while Die Hard and Gremlins can sit on the Action and Horror shelf.  It still shouldn't be ranked ahead of A Christmas Story, but it's at least they're comparable.



While a respectable argument could be made over which is the better film between It's A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, the same cannot be said for this match up.  The fact that anyone would even consider picking Home Alone 2 over Scrooged is proof that we, as a species, do not deserve the sheer genius that is Bill Murray.  I don't even think Macaulay Culkin would try to make that argument.  Scrooged is an absolute masterpiece in every sense of the word.  The Home Alone sequel was a blatant cash grab to piggyback off of the success of the first film before Culkin got too old to reprise the role.

As bad as that decision is, it pales in comparison to the absolute miscarriage of justice of ranking Home Alone 2 over A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Look, I'll be the first one to say that Charlie Brown, the original Grinch cartoon, and the Rankin/Bass Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer special don't belong on this list.  They're not movies; they're animated tv specials.  However, if you're going to put A Charlie Brown Christmas in a bracket relating to the holidays, you declare it the winner immediately and work backwards from there.  It is the gold standard.  The whole damn thing could rightfully be called the Charlie Brown Christmas Memorial Tournament.



I will fully admit that I'm not the biggest fan of Will Ferrell, but this is the one time that I really enjoyed his performance.  His starry-eyed, deer in headlights schtick is a perfect fit for Buddy The ElfBob Newhart and James Caan take turns as the straight man for Ferrell to play off of, and it works perfectly.

Elf is a good movie, and it holds its own alongside other family holiday classics, such as The Santa Clause and Jingle All The Way.  I'll even go so far as to call it the best holiday movie of the 21st century so far.  However, it doesn't hold a candle to National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

The opening credits of the Chevy Chase classic have more genuine laughs than most Christmas movies have in their entire runtime.  By the time Cousin Eddie is introduced, there have already been about a dozen scenes and quotable lines that have become synonymous with the holiday season for over thirty years, and the best parts are just getting started.  I can understand Scrooged not being everyone's cup of tea, but I've never met anyone who doesn't absolutely love National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.  It is the #1 Christmas movie of all-time.



Last, but not least, let's talk about the first round match between The Nightmare Before Christmas and How The Grinch Stole Christmas.  This one is almost as bad as Home Alone 2 getting the nod over Charlie Brown and Bill Murray.  No one out there can seriously take a look at these two films and pick The Grinch as the superior work, can they?  One is a live action adaptation of a children's book which was already brought to the screen in a perfect holiday cartoon.  It was also made in opposition to the author's consent, as Dr. Seuss refused to sell the film rights to his books when he was alive.  The other is perhaps the greatest work of stop-motion animation, and one of the most original and creative stories ever told in an animated film.

I haven't even mentioned the glaring omissions from this tournament, like The Ref, Christmas With The Kranks, Prancer and Santa Claus: The Movie.  I wouldn't say that they're contenders for the top spot, but they definitely deserve a mention and a watch during the holiday season. and they're guaranteed to do a better job of putting you in a festive mood that seeing John McClane drop Hans Gruber off of a building (as gratifying as that may be).

Dec 18, 2020

May The Force Be With Yule



In honor of the season finale of The Mandalorian, here is a little Santa Yoda pin that I found on clearance at The Disney Store in Lancaster a couple of years ago.

Dec 17, 2020

This Is The Way The World Ends...


Grab your Chocolate Payday and head over to CBS All Access.  The world is ending today, not with a bang, but with a new adaptation of the greatest post-apocalyptic story ever written.

PS: I took this photo in July.  If I took it today in the same spot, you would be lucky to see the top of the book.  The rest would be buried in snow.

Dec 16, 2020

Hills Is Where The Toys Are



Christmas In Toyland coloring book
Hills Department Store
Someone recently shared this photo of a coloring book to the @HillsDeptStores page on Twitter.  I'm not sure what year the book is from, but the ad on the front for the coloring contest brought back some fond memories of the days when the chain would frequently offer perks to children who visited the store, like free pictures that you could color in and bring back for a chance to win a prize.

With this in mind, I headed to Newspapers.com and found each of the Christmas coloring contest pages that Hills offered from 1983 to 1989.  The bottom two are from my local store in West Hazleton.  Feel free to grab your Crayola, print off a few copies and enjoy!

1983
1984

1985

1986

1987

1988

1989

Dec 15, 2020

The Ghost Of Christmas Past



A Christmas Tradition
Ben Marcune (1994)
This artwork by Ben Marcune was created for a Christmas card to commemorate Hess's Department Store in downtown Allentown, PA.  It was the chain's flagship store which opened in 1897 and was known for the Christmas display that decorated the front of the store each December.  Hess's went out of business in 1994 and the store was sold to The Bon-Ton, who closed it for good in January, 1996.

The cards were sold by the Allentown Downtown Improvement District Authority shortly after Hess's ended their operation.  They sold out of their first print run of 20,000 in just three days.

Dec 14, 2020

The Stars Of David



Dave Dombrowski
Philadelphia Phillies President of Baseball Operations
This past Friday, the Phillies announced that they have hired Dave Dombrowski to serve as the President of Baseball Operations.  I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this hiring.  While it is true that his time as General Manager and/or President of the Expos, Marlins, Tigers and Red Sox have resulted in 9 playoff appearances, 4 pennants and 2 World Series Championships, he has also earned a reputation of signing players for ridiculous sums of money in bloated, long term contracts that financially handcuff the teams who are stuck paying for them.



My experiences of Mr. Dombrowski as a fan of the sport began when I was 11 and 12 years old.  I lived with my dad, stepmom and stepsister in South Florida in the early 90's.  Dad and I went to a lot of ballgames together in those years, which included our local Florida State League minor league club, the West Palm Beach Expos.  The team had two superstar prospects that fans were especially excited to see: outfielder Rondell White and pitcher Tavo Alvarez.  Although I didn't know it at the time, both players were drafted by Montreal Expos general manager Dave Dombrowski.



In what must have been a dream come true for a young baseball executive, Mr. Dombrowski was hired to be the first general manager of the expansion Florida Marlins club in September 1991.  This gave him the opportunity to build a team from scratch, including the manager, the coaching staff, the scouting department and, of course, the 1992 Expansion Draft.  I still remember watching the Expansion Draft with my dad on ESPN and watching as the Marlins and Rockies went from being just a couple of logos in the newspaper to full Major League Baseball clubs with a roster of players, some of whom we had actually heard of.



I was a 12 year old living in South Florida during the '92 Expansion Draft and the first half of the Marlins inaugural 1993 season.  I was then, and am still, a fan of the Phillies, but as a young kid, I was a bit more of an equal opportunity fan of the game itself.  I rooted for players like Nolan RyanFrank Thomas, Ken Griffey Jr, and even division rivals like Bobby Bonilla and Ozzie Smith.  I don't know if I'd go so far as to say I was a Marlins fan back then, but I definitely paid very close attention to them, and I rooted for them to win unless they were playing the Phillies.  In the months leading up to the 1993 season, I obsessively read any information I could find about the Marlins.  The most notable news was when Dombrowski signed two former All-Stars in catcher Benito Santiago and knuckleballer Charlie Hough.  He also took Miami Hurricanes catcher Charles Johnson in first round of the '92 amateur draft and lured slugger Orestes Destrade back to the United States from Japan.
  


They also took a number of players in the Expansion Draft who became household names for South Florida baseball fans in the early 90's, including Blue Jays prospect Nigel Wilson, Angels veteran pitcher Bryan Harvey, speedy outfielder Chuck Carr, the man who would go on to be known as Mr. Marlin, Jeff Conine, and future Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman.  I went to two games in '93 where I saw Hoffman pitch for the Marlins (May 19th vs the Phillies and June 11th vs the Pirates).  Of course, none of us knew that we were watching the rookie season of a legend, but Dave Dombrowski must have saw something in the young pitcher.  In a move that would become characteristic of the GM, he traded Hoffman and two other prospects to the Padres for slugger Gary Sheffield in late June during the '93 season.  Sheffield would be a key to the Marlins to become the fastest team to go from an expansion ballclub to a World Series Champion in 1997.  It would be difficult for anyone to argue that the trade wasn't worth it, but Hoffman would go on to have a Hall of Fame career as one of the most dominant closers in the history of the game.
 


I rooted for the Marlins in '97 after Darren Daulton was traded to the team.  Dutch wasted no time in becoming a clubhouse leader, both on and off the field.  He dominated in the post season, batting .364 against a very tough Braves and Indians team in the NLCS and World Series.  In what would be the final games of his career, Daulton played in all seven games of the World Series, going 7 for 18 with a home run and two RBI.  While I was very happy to see the Phillies legend end his career with a World Series ring, it marked the end of my time following the club.  I was back in Pennsylvania, so I wasn't going to games in Miami anymore, and with Daulton retiring after the '97 season, the last remaining reasons I had to keep a close eye on the team was gone.  Unfortunately for Marlins fans, the team's owners felt the same way.

Almost immediately after the 1997 World Series, Dave Dombrowski was ordered to trade away all of the team's expensive talent seconds after the last piece of confetti fell from their championship parade.  It really was a shame for the city, because they took a golden opportunity to turn Miami into a true baseball city and flushed it down the toilet.  However, none of the blame for this could be placed on Dombrowski.  
  


The Marlins would go on to win another World Series in 2003 around a core of young talent that Dave Dombrowski acquired in the fire sale after the 1997 Championship Season.  However, by this point, the Marlins first general manager had moved on.  After the 2001 season, Dombrowski accepted a position as the President and CEO of the Detroit Tigers; a position he held for fourteen years.

In his time with the Tigers, Dombrowski oversaw the drafting of Justin Verlander, Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and Rick Porcello.  He quickly flipped Maybin and Miller to the Marlins for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.  The Marlins ace fizzled out in the American League, but Cabrera developed into one of the greatest players of his generation, winning back-to-back AL MVP awards in 2012 and 2013.  His 2012 season was other worldly as he became the first AL Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and the first non-outfielder to win a Triple Crown since Lou Gehrig in 1934.  Dombrowski also fleeced the rest of the league in lop sided trades that brought Placido Polanco and Edwin Jackson to Detroit.  A year after acquiring him from the Rays, he flipped Jackson (with Curtis Granderson) for Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson.

In his tenure with the Tigers, Dombrowski took a team that had reached the playoffs four times in a 60 year span (from 1946 to 2005) and built it into a perennial contender that finished on top of the AL Central for four consecutive seasons (2011-2014).  His Tigers reached the Playoffs five times, including two World Series appearances (in 2006 and 2011).  He may have thrown around some ridiculous money (including the Prince Fielder contract), but his time in Detroit could be called nothing short of a miraculous success by any objective measure.
  


Dombrowski was named the President of Baseball Operations for the Boston Red Sox in August of 2015 - two weeks after he was let go by the Tigers.  He got to work quickly by trading for Chris Sale before the 2017 season and signing JD Martinez before the 2018 season, both of which were keys to the Boston Red Sox 2018 World Series Championship.

However, it hasn't all been historic turnarounds and World Series parades for the Mr. Dombrowski.  This is, after all, the man who traded Randy Johnson the year after his rookie season from the Expos to the Mariners in exchange for one year of Mark Langston.  He also traded a young Jair Jurrjens from the Tigers to the Braves for a one year rental of Edgar Renteria.  However, the real eyebrow raising moments have come when he spent a ridiculous amount, in dollars and in years, to a trio of Red Sox pitchers: David Price (7 years, $217 million), Nate Eovaldi (4 years, $68 million) and Chris Sale (5 years, $145 million).  The Prince Fielder contract also is a cause for concern.  Before the start of the 2012 season, he was signed to a nine year, $214 million dollar contract.  Dombrowski got out from under that disastrous contract by trading Fielder to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler, but it stands as one of the worst contracts in the history of the game.  The Rangers released Fielder after the 2017 season, and he's being paid top dollar to sit at home for three seasons (2018 through 2020).
  


So, now he's in Philadelphia.  I don't know what the future will hold for a Phillies team that seemed hell bent on cutting salary as we enter 2021, but one thing is for certain.  They hired a President of Baseball Operations who is not know for sitting on his hands.  The executive that will steer she ship for the next four seasons is known for bold, impactful moves.  Whether he can take the Phillies to the World Series as he did his previous three teams remains to be seen, but there's reason to be optimistic in the City of Brotherly Love as we move forward.