Apr 30, 2020

Keeping Tabs On The Early 90's

Tab Clear pin
Coca-Cola (1993)
I had some eBay Bucks that were about to expire, so I used them to do what any sensible person living through an apocalypse would do.  I bought a promotional pin that was used to advertise a soda that was discontinued 27 years ago.

Tab Clear soda will always have a special place in my heart.  My dad had a minor scam operation going in 1993 which resulted in a free year's supply of his favorite diet cola.  I would wager that our household drank more Tab Clear than anyone else in the country.

It only lasted for a year so there's not a lot of Tab Clear merchandise floating around out there, but I try to keep my eye out for things like this pin.  One of these days, I'm hoping to find the flyer that Dad used to take advantage of the promo that brought us all of that free soda.

Source: Kevin Trotman (Flickr)

Apr 29, 2020

The Enchirito

Taco Bell (1970)
According to @RetroNewsNow, the Enchirito was introduced by Taco Bell fifty years ago.  It was a soft tortilla filled with seasoned ground beef, pinto beans and and onions, topped with cheddar cheese, olives and red sauce, and served in a reheatable aluminum foil tray.  Chico's in El Paso reminded me of it a little.  The Enchirito was discontinued by Taco Bell in 1993, but if you get creative with the customization options on the mobile app, you can re-create something similar to it.  Sadly, it will not come in the snazzy tray.

Apr 28, 2020

Too Much Virus On The Dance Floor

Ghost Town
The Specials (1981)
This classic British punk/reggae song has had a dark tone since it was recorded in April 1981, but it has an even more ominous feel during the pandemic.
This town is coming like a ghost town
All the clubs have been closed down
This place is coming like a ghost town
Bands won't play no more
Too much fighting on the dance floor
Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town?
We danced and sang as the music played in any boomtown
This town is coming like a ghost town
Why must the youth fight against themselves?
Government leaving the youth on the shelf
This place is coming like a ghost town
No job to be found in this country
Can't go on no more
The people getting angry
This town is coming like a ghost town

Apr 27, 2020

It Was A Million To One Shot, Doc

Fusilli Jerry
Brooklyn Cyclones (2019)
Every year since 2014, the Brooklyn Cyclones have held a Seinfeld appreciation night.  Last year, they gave away figurines of the statue of Jerry Seinfeld that Kramer makes out of pasta in a Season 6 episode called The Fusilli Jerry.  In that episode, which first aired 25 years ago today, the statue ends up in a very uncomfortable location for Frank Costanza.

Apr 26, 2020

Out Here In The Fields

As you might expect, the baseball fields and basketball courts behind the former West Hazleton High School are usually crowded with parents and children who are having fun and enjoying the outdoors.  These days, the fields are empty.

I took these photos of the fields over Easter weekend.  The advertisements on the outfield wall are a who's who of products and businesses that will forever be linked with the Hazleton area, including Farmer's Iced Tea, Valley Hi Drive In and Jimmy's Quick Lunch.

Apr 25, 2020

Social Distancing Of The Juggalos

Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope of the Insane Clown Posse announced on Thursday that the 2020 Gathering Of The Juggalos has been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  Within minutes, ICP trended on Twitter with most of the comments pointing out the fact that two rapping clowns who wrestle in barbed wire have more common sense and decency than many of our elected officials.

Apr 24, 2020

Shut In With Shudder

The Last Drive-In
Shudder (2020)
The new season of The Last Drive-In, hosted by the great Joe Bob Briggs, begins tonight.  You can get a free 30 day subscription to Shudder with the promo code SHUTIN.

Apr 23, 2020

Life In Hazleton Is The Pitz

Cold Pitza
Hazleton, PA
It's difficult to explain this to anyone who hasn't grown up in the Hazleton area.  When I've tried, I usually get a reaction that's somewhere between skeptical and disgusted, but I assure you that what I'm about to tell you is not only true, but it's been a staple in this city for nearly 100 years and it's absolutely delicious.

If you go into any grocery store in Hazleton, you will see shelves of Pitza for sale.  That's not a spelling mistake.  The original version of this product, which was introduced by the Senape's Bakery (pronounced "Snaps") is called Pitza or Pitz (pronounced like the first syllable of Pittsburgh).  If you grew up in this area over the past century, you probably didn't think anything of it.  It was just another thing that your family picked up for lunch or dinner.  Mom or Dad would send you to walk or bike down to the store to pick up a gallon of Farmer's tea and a box of Pitz.

When you got to the store, you knew to go towards the bakery because you could usually find it near the bread.  It's shelf-stable, so it's never in the coolers.  It's stacked up on the shelf in rectangular boxes, some of which are tied up with white string.  When I was growing up, Pantry Quik would have a basket of individual slices coated in plastic wrap for sale at the cash register.  It would be right there next to the Hershey bars and the box of baseball cards ready to purchase for 50 cents as a quick snack.

The reason it's sold at room temperature is because that's how it's meant to be eaten.  Sure, some of the boxes will tell you that it's delicious hot or cold, but in 40 years, I can tell you with confidence that not once have I ever seen anyone heat up a box of Pitz.  I have had a few pieces over the years that were kept in the refrigerator, but this should be avoided.  It gets hard and it just doesn't taste the same when it's cold.  There's nothing else like a good, fresh piece of Pitz eaten at room temperature.

It's only when you get older that most kids learn that Pitz is a strictly regional product.  There are a few communities around here where Pitz is just as present as it is in Hazleton - towns like Drums, McAdoo, Sugarloaf, Beaver Meadows and Freeland, but it's a pretty tight circle.  By the time you get to Wilkes-Barre (about a half hour's drive up I-81), you'll have about a 50/50 chance that any random person you ask will ever even hear of Pitz, and you'll have a very hard time finding any for sale.  Go another 20 minutes to Scranton and mention Pitz and they'll look at you like you're from Mars.  They'll either say they've never heard of it, or they'll mistake what you're talking about for Old Forge pizza, which is not at all the same thing.

The flavor is something you just have to experience for yourself.  I've tried to describe it many times over the years, and I just can't do it justice.  WYLN aired a six minute clip on it that I shared about ten years ago and even the families who bake and sell Pitz seem to have a difficult time describing how it tastes.  I can tell you two things with confidence: it doesn't taste like any pizza you've ever had before, and it's delicious.  Also, you didn't have to grow up with it to appreciate it.  In my previous job, I had to fly back and forth between Wilkes-Barre and El Paso a couple of times.  I tried to describe it to my class (about 30 men and women ranging in age from 20 to 60) and again found myself at a loss for words, so I filled a suitcase with Senape's and Longo's and brought it to them on my next trip.  They all loved it.

The two main companies that make Pitz are Senape's and Longo's.  Each have their own secret recipe and a unique flavor, but even a long time Hazleton resident would have trouble telling those two apart without seeing which box it came from.  Carmen's Bakery and Frankie's Pizzeria also have it available for sale, and I've seen other brands come and go over the years, like Dizzy's Pizza.  In my opinion, Carmen's is the best.  The family had an Italian restaurant on Broad Street for many years which I worked at when I was 15 and 16 years old, and there's something about their sauce that is unmatched by any other brand.  I'd put Senape's in second over Longo's because over the years, I've found more edge and corner pieces in Longo's.  Frankie's is the newest player in the game, and while their product is very tasty, I'd have to rank it last for it's thin crust.  It felt about half as thick as a piece from any of the others I've eaten over the years.  In fairness to Frankie's, I've only ever had one box of theirs, so I don't know if it's part of their recipe or if I managed to get an oddball box, but a piece of Pitz should have a little more heft to it.

All this talk of crust reminded me to share one final, but important tip. if you're at a family gathering and you're about to open a box, get in there first and take the middle pieces.  I don't mean the middle of the box - I mean the ones that were in the middle of the pan when it was baked.  You'll be able to tell at a glace which ones I mean.  If you can't get all middles, go for the edge pieces next, but leave the corner pieces for the folks who were late to lunch.  You snooze, you lose.

Apr 22, 2020

A Whole New World Map

Super Mario Maker 2: Final Update
Nintendo Switch (2020)
The last major update for Super Mario Maker 2 will be released later today, and it's got a ton of new features.  This update will add the frog suit and the super acorn, as well as a series of masks that allow you to disguise Mario as a Goomba or Bullet Bill.  You can also design a World Map to tie together your level designs into a full game.  There are others which are described in this video, but my favorite is the Super Mario Bros. 2 mushroom that gives Mario the powers to pick up enemies and throw them like he can do in SMB 2 on the NES.

It's a free update, so if you have the game, fire it up later today.  There's enough content on here to keep you busy for a long time.

Apr 21, 2020

More 25 Year Old Pumpkin Mail

Smashing Pumpkins
Fan Club Newsletter (1995)
I found another newsletter that I received in the mail from the Smashing Pumpkins fan club 25 years ago.  This one came out in either February or March, a few months before the last one that I shared.  The note from Billy Corgan is the first time I had ever seen Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness mentioned by name.  There are also short notes from D'arcy WretzkyJames Iha, and Jimmy Chamberlin (and his dog, Akasha).

Apr 20, 2020

The Theaters Are A Quiet Place

Doritos / Bugles
Frito Lay / General Mills (2020)
Movie theaters across the country and the world have had their doors closed for over a month due to the pandemic.  As a result, many films have been pushed back until the threat blows over and the movies can be properly presented on the big screen.  Despite this, the marketing materials for these films have already been produced and shipped to distributors, including these bags of Doritos and Bugles which were meant to promote Wonder Woman 1984 and A Quiet Place: Part II.

The planned release date for the sequel to A Quiet Place was a month ago: March 20th.  It has been rescheduled to premier in theaters on September 4th.  Wonder Woman 1984 was originally scheduled to hit theaters on June 5th, but this has been pushed back to August 14th.

Whether either of these movies will see the inside of an American theater in 2020 remains to be seen.  Keep in mind, it was only five weeks ago that Major League Baseball announced a two week delay to the start of the season due to Covid-19 with a planned Opening Day of April 9th.  The latest talk is that the season will be played in empty stadiums in May with players under strict lockdown, if it happens at all.

Apr 19, 2020

Mellon Collie And The Infinite God Squirrel

Smashing Pumpkins
Fan Club Newsletter (1995)
When I was a teenager, I was a member of the Smashing Pumpkins fan club.  Once in a while, I received a newsletter in the mail.  This one came out before the release of the Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness double album and includes a letter from James Iha.

I don't claim to be an expert on the Pumpkins catalog, but I will say that it's been 25 years and I still don't know what the hell Laura Ann was talking about with the reference to a two second song called Pee and a 75 minute long song called God Squirrel.

Apr 18, 2020

The Voice Of Pro Wrestling

Howard Finkel
The world has lost the voice of professional wrestling.  Generations of fans can call up the memory of the voice of Howard Finkel without even trying.  The hall-of-fame ring announcer starting working for the World Wide Wrestling Federation in 1975 when Vincent J. McMahon owned the promotion.  He remained with the company after it was bought by McMahon's son, and he was named the first employee of the renamed World Wrestling Federation.  Mr. Finkel remained with the WWF and WWE through the 80's, 90's and early 2000's and made many appearances over the past two decades at Wrestlemania and other large shows.

Mr. Finkel suffered a stroke in 2018 and wasn't in the best of health over the past two years.  No cause of death has been made available to the public at this time, so it's unknown if his passing is related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

After Mr. Finkel's passing, Tommy Dreamer shared this photo, which was presumably taken earlier this year before we all went on lockdown.  In the background, you can see that he left a note for his nurses asking that they please tune the television to channel 43 on Monday nights so he could watch wrestling - a true fan to the end.

Apr 17, 2020

It's A Damn Shame

It's getting very difficult to be a fan of World Wrestling Entertainment.  Last week, Linda McMahon's SuperPAC, America First Action, pledged to spend $18.5 million dollars in Florida to support the re-election of a person that I believe to be the most disgusting excuse for a human being to ever set foot in the White House.  By an astonishing coincidence, World Wrestling Entertainment was declared an "essential business" that same day by Republican governor Ron DeSantis, which allows the company to continue putting on live shows from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando.

So, how does the company reward it's employees who are putting their health in jeopardy to violate social distancing guidelines for the sake of their television show?  They fired over 20 of their on-air talent at a time when they're unable to find other employment in professional wrestling, since AEW, ROH, Impact and New Japan have not offered political bribes that allow them to make their own rules during the pandemic.  Likewise, these performers are not able to find bookings on the indie scene because promoters across the world are following social distancing guidelines for the sake of the health of performers, fans and the community.  In addition to the wrestlers who were abruptly fired, the company has furloughed or terminated over a dozen writers, trainers, producers and other off-camera talent, and others are expected to follow in the near future.

How are these men and women going to put food on the table and pay their bills?  Despite record earnings in 2020, even during a pandemic, it appears that the McMahon family couldn't care less.  Frankly, I wonder if the decision to fire these people was motivated by the bankruptcy and financial losses of Vince McMahon's XFL football league.  The timing is very suspicious to say the least.

WhatCulture published a video of the wrestler's reactions to being told that they no longer have a job.  These videos and tweets are truly heartbreaking, particularly James Curtin, who wrestled in WWE as Drake Maverick.  Each of them are truly appreciative for their fans and the kind words that were shared as fans learned the news and reached out to them.  Obviously, these men and women aren't the only people who have been let go by their employers, but unlike the restaurants, bars, amusement parks, sporting venues and other businesses who have had to close their doors, WWE is continuing to put on shows and make money.  They didn't have to do this.  It's a damn shame.

Apr 15, 2020

Deja Vu In Dunedin

Toronto Blue Jays at Dunedin Stadium
The Tampa Tribune (1995)
The talk of playing the major league season at Spring Training ballparks reminded me of the brief period of time when the Toronto Blue Jays were scheduled to begin the 1995 regular season at their tiny Spring Training facility.

The situation in 1995 was very different than what MLB is facing today.  The player's strike that ended the 1994 season was still ongoing when Spring Training for the 1995 season was scheduled to begin.  Because they were unable to reach an agreement with the MLB Players Association, most of the teams began to hire replacement players from outside of the union.  This included retired major league players, low-level minor leaguers, former college players, and players from independent leagues that weren't affiliated with MLB.  The teams went forward with Spring Training games and had planned to start the season with a motley crew of players, the vast majority of whom were not even close to big league caliber talent.  The Baltimore Orioles refused to field a replacement team, which was attributed to the franchise protecting Cal Ripken's consecutive game streak.  Had the Orioles played a regular season game without Ripken in the lineup, his streak would have been broken.

There are so many sub-plots and oddities that took place during Spring Training 1995 that I'm shocked it hasn't been turned into a movie, but the one that sparked in my memory involves the Toronto Blue Jays.  The province of Ontario had stronger laws in place to protect unions and striking workers than any other home state or province to a Major League Baseball team.  These laws would prevent the Blue Jays from legally playing a home game in Toronto using replacement players.  To get around this, the Blue Jays decided that if the 1995 season were to begin before the strike was resolved, all of their home games would be played at their Spring Training ballpark in Dunedin, Florida.  Tickets had actually gone on sale to see the defending two-time World Series Champions play Opening Day without a single player from the '92 or '93 championship teams in a small park with a maximum seating capacity of 6,218.  Compare that to the SkyDome in Toronto, which seated over 49,000 fans.

Thankfully, the union and the owners reached an agreement on March 28th and the 1995 season was played without replacement players, but I'm sure there was a small group of fans in Pinellas County who would have enjoyed seeing a regular season MLB game being played in the smallest venue since the 1890 Brooklyn Bridegrooms played at Washington Park.  If the Arizona/Florida plan for the 2020 season are put into action, they may get their wish to see regular season MLB games in Dunedin a quarter century later.  Unfortunately, they'll have to settle for watching it on television as no fans will be in attendance.

Apr 14, 2020

The Cactus Grapefruit Plan

Over the past week, some of the plans that officials have discussed for the 2020 Major League Baseball season have come to light.  The plan that seems to have gotten the most attention would see each team playing games from their Spring Training ballparks as early as next month.  Each game would be televised, but fans would not be in attendance.  The players who aren't on the field would be seated six feet apart from each other in the stands to keep them from being in the close confines of the dugout.

If this plan were utilized, the divisions for the 2020 season would be realigned.  Instead of the American League and National League, teams would play in the Grapefruit League (Florida) or the Cactus League (Arizona), with inter-league divisions based on the cities that serve as the Spring Training home of each team.  This would put the Phillies in Clearwater playing in the Grapefruit League North division with the Yankees (Tampa), Pirates (Bradenton), Blue Jays (Dunedin) and Tigers (Lakeland).

Maps adapted from Florida Weekly and Event Ticket Center
This all sounds fun and interesting, but the rest of the details about this plan make it ridiculously unfair and unrealistic.  If implemented, this plan would require players and coaches to be sequestered from the rest of the world, including their own families.  Presumably, the players would live in hotels near their Spring Training ballparks, and they would essentially be under house arrest for the duration of the season.  At a time of global crisis, the players and coaches, umpires, camera operators, grounds crew and all of the other personnel that are needed to run a professional baseball game would be forbidden from returning home and spending time with their families.

As much as I would like pro baseball to return, the idea of separating human beings from their spouse, their children, and their parents and grandparents for the sake of a game is absurd.  Phillies starter Zack Wheeler has already gone on record in saying that there's no way that he's going to miss the birth of his first child in a few months, and I don't blame him one bit.  I'm sure he's not alone.  I feel especially bad for the rookies and younger players who haven't reached arbitration or free agency and haven't reached their real earning potential in pro baseball, but if I were a veteran player with a few million dollars in the bank, there's no way on earth I would agree to play until the pandemic is over and the world has gotten back to normal.

I don't think baseball is alone in its rush to reopen before it is safe to do so.  I fully recognize the impact that the pandemic and the lockdown has had on the economy, but I also recognize that we are an impatient and demanding culture that has a track record of sacrificing the good of the future for the comfort of the moment.  It wouldn't surprise me if Major League Baseball did go forward with a season sooner than it should, and that many other businesses will follow.  Likewise, it wouldn't surprise me if our rush to return to business-as-usual leads to a second wave of the outbreak and a second lockdown that could extend the pandemic for months longer than it would have lasted if we had just remained patient.

Apr 13, 2020

Snack Time

This photo was recently shared on Twitter and I'd love to know its origin.  There are a lot of different companies represented, so I don't think it was published by Hershey, Kraft or any of the other food producers.  It could be from a jigsaw puzzle that was sold in the 80's or maybe it's a sign from an old grocery store, but I wasn't able to find out for sure (source: Retroist).

Apr 12, 2020

Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny Easter Eggs

Mickey Mouse Instant Egg Art
Disney (1985)
These were found next to The Smurfs Egg Wraps in the drawer in my grandparent's kitchen.  Like The Smurfs ones, my grandmother bought them from Rea & Derick when I was a kid, but the price sticker makes me think she bought these a year or two later.  This is from Peoples Drug which acquired the Rea & Derick chain of drugstores in 1985.

There were four different Disney egg wraps left over in this package, but the picture on the front shows at least one other design that we must have used up before they got packed away.

The back of the package had two little cardboard egg stands that could be cut out and folded together to prop up the eggs.

There were also some leftover Looney Tunes egg wraps that got stored in the package with the Disney ones.  I don't have the outer package for these, but the Easter artwork includes Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, and Sylvester Cat.  The copywrite on these is from Easter Unlimited 1984, which is the same manufacturer and year as the Smurfs ones, so these were probably bought at the same time as those and happened to get stored in with the Disney set.

I think that there were at least two other Looney Tunes designs that were originally in the package with these five.  The photo below was taken in my grandparent's kitchen on Easter Sunday in 1987.  The egg on the top looks like it's from the set, although I can't be sure because there are no cartoon characters visible on it.  However, you can definitely see Tweety on the egg on the middle rack at the far right, and the beginning of the word "Happy".  None of the leftover egg wraps have large words on them, so I'm guessing we used up all of that particular design.