Aug 31, 2020

Tigers Are Filled With Orange Cream


Twinkies: Tiger Tails
Hostess (2020)
I'm a sucker for oddities, especially those that come in the form of seasonal or limited edition variations on things that are commonly available.  For example, this box of Twinkies: Tiger Tails, which is the same stale snack cake that I find disappointing every single time I've eaten them, but with an orange cream filling and a wrapper printed with tiger stripes.  And look, they even have a glittery sort of graphic on the top of the box!  Oooooh!  Aaaaah!

I bought a box, therefore I must be among the coolest cats and kittens.  It's time to update my CV.
These are like every other Twinkies ever made - not bad enough to be disgusting, but not good enough to make them enjoyable.  With every bite of a Twinkie, my brain begins shouting "hey stupid, why didn't you buy Tastykakes, or Entenmann's, or any one of a dozen other snack cakes that you know you'll enjoy!"  However, the next time they come out with a limited edition flavor, there I am happily tossing it into the shopping cart with a great big goofy grin on my face, and the cycle begins anew.

Somehow I doubt that these will find their way to eBay like the original Twinkies did when they wee briefly discontinued in 2012, but in these uncertain times, who can say for sure.

Aug 30, 2020

Baby, Can You Dig Your Remake

Owen Teague as Harold Lauder in the 2020 adaptation of The Stand (source: Robert Falconer / CBS)
The Stand
CBS All Access (2020)
I recently listened to Round Table #92 from the Dark Tower Palaver podcast.  The episode was centered around my all-time favorite novel, The Stand, and it's upcoming miniseries that will stream on CBS All Access on December 17th.

As much as I love The Stand, I've kind of pushed this project to the back of my mind.  Stephen King film adaptations have historically been hit or miss, however when they miss, they miss by a country mile.  The best example of this is when Sony Pictures attempted to cram eight novels and a short story into a single movie with their release of The Dark Tower in 2017.  They tried to call it a sequel to the books.  It wasn't.  It was a half-assed attempt to cash in on perhaps the best series of novels ever written with a poor film that, at best, contains a handful of references to its source material.  The Dark Tower movie is to The Dark Tower universe what Family Guy: Blue Harvest is to the Star Wars universe, and even that is giving it far more credit than it deserves.


This isn't the first time The Stand has been turned into a mini-series.  The first attempt aired on ABC in May, 1994, and it's surprisingly good for a King adaptation.  It over-simplifies much of the plot and its characters, and it leaves quite a bit out, but I found it to be an enjoyable 7+ hours that succeeds in capturing the spirit of the novel.

I didn't realize until listening to this podcast that they were as far along in the mini-series remake as they are.  Much of the cast has been announced, and some production photos have been published by Vanity Fair, so I'd like to take a moment to compare the actors and actresses that have been announced for the upcoming mini-series to the one that aired on ABC 26 years ago, and to the character as he or she is presented in the original novel.

James Marsden (left) and Gary Sinise (right)
Stu Redman
2020James Marsden
1994: Gary Sinise

Marsden has an impressive resume, but he's got very big cowboy boots to fill in The Stand.  Gary Sinise was absolutely perfect as Stuart Redman.  He came across naturally as "just another good old boy in a dying Texas town" who discovered his place in the world only after it ended.  My initial reaction was that he's too young for the role, but he's definitely not.  The man is 46 and he looks like he could be ten years younger than me.  That being said, I think Marsden might be a bit too GQ and polished for the role, but I'm sure people said the same thing about Rob Lowe in the original mini-series, and he was amazing.  I'm going to go ahead and set my skepticism aside when it comes to the new Stu Redman.

Odessa Young (left) and Molly Ringwald (right)
Fran Goldsmith
2020Odessa Young
1994: Molly Ringwald

It's been over 20 years since I first watched the original mini-series.  I've watched it at least a dozen times, and I'm still not sure how I feel about Molly Ringwald's performance as Frannie.  I guess I don't hate it, but I don't think she fully captured the young woman that King wrote about.

I've not seen any of the films or shows that feature Odessa Young, so I know nothing about her, but I'm pretty happy about that.  I think part of the problem with the original mini-series is that it was sometimes difficult to see past the star of the 80's Brat Pack films to fully appreciate the Fran Goldsmith of the book.  I'm interested in seeing how she is brought to life.

On a side note, I hope they find a way to include the confrontation between Frannie and her mother in the parlor.  I have a hunch it's not going to make it to screen, and I can understand why, but I think the scene does a great job of explaining Fran Goldsmith and where she came from.

Rob Lowe (left) and Henry Zaga (right)
Nick Andros
2020Henry Zaga
1994: Rob Lowe

Rob Lowe is right up there with Gary Sinise for his masterful performance as Nick Andros.  It couldn't have been easy to play a deaf mute and to capture the essence of a character whose only speaking lines come in a couple of dream sequences, but Lowe did a tremendous job.  I've only ever seen Henry Zaga in 13 Reasons Why.  He's a competent actor who seems like he'd be up to the challenge.

Bill Fagerbakke (left) and Brad William Henke (right)
Tom Cullen
2020Brad William Henke
1994Bill Fagerbakke

When I watched the original mini-series for the first time, it took me a moment to separate Bill Fagerbakke from his role as Dauber in Coach, but it didn't take long for him to melt into the role.  I think I'm going to run into the same situation with the remake as I try not to see Captain Piscatella from Orange Is The New Black.  I think that getting Tom Cullen just right may be even more challenging than the role of Nick Andros, particularly in the world today when so many are just aching for an excuse to hop on their soapbox and feign outrage, but Henke is a brilliant actor and I think he'll do a great job.

Adam Storke (left) and Jovan Adepo (right)
Larry Underwood
2020Jovan Adepo
1994Adam Storke

One of the current trends in television and filmmaking is to cast a black actor in a remake of a work that was previously played by a white actor.  It has the same effect on the general public pretty much every time: racists will express outrage while liberal-minded people will insist that the job should be given to the person with the most talent and who is best suited for the role regardless of their race.  The latter is a noble sentiment, but it's tainted with hypocrisy as these views are often expressed by the same groups who insist that all white actors step away from roles of characters that have a different ethnicity, such as Hank Azaria in The Simpsons or Scarlett Johansson in The Ghost In The Shell.

As usual, the douchebags who take these issues to the extreme have the loudest and most obnoxious voices in the discussion, so they shout down anyone in the middle who express a reasonable, adult opinion on the matter.  Therefore, if you don't enthusiastically agree that the world has gone to hell because black actors are portraying characters who have traditionally been white, you're called a libtard snowflake by one group of douchebags.  If you don't fall in line with the opinion that any actor can play any role, except for white people who must only accept roles for white characters, you're called a racist Nazi by another group of douchebags.  Naturally, both groups of douchebags are completely unaware of how asinine they are because they're obsessed with coming up with a zinger (which the little kiddos now call a "clapback") to "own" people who don't conform entirely to their world view.  This is mostly done as a public performance for the purpose of receiving positive reinforcement from their fellow douchebags ("say it louder for the people in the back").  The more I deal with people, the more I almost wish Captain Trips was real.  Anyway, at the risk of offending anyone in a world where we have all become Big Brother to each other, I will offer my opinion on this casting.

I absolutely love the way that Adam Storke brought the character to life in 1994, particularly when he takes a break from his trip across the country to play Eve Of Destruction for a traffic jam of the dead outside of Des Moines.  He played the role with a pitch perfect attitude to the source material, and his progression from a self-centered musician who "ain't no nice guy" to a family man who is willing to lay down his life to stand against evil is captured beautifully by Storke's performance.  These are big shoes to fill.

While I was critical of the casting of Idris Elba as Roland Deschain, I don't feel the same way about the casting of Jovan Adepo as Larry Underwood.  Unlike the lead role in The Dark Tower, there is no reason in the story for Larry to be a white guy.  Adepo is the right age for the character, and although I'm unfamiliar with his work, he has a look that I can definitely see as a musician from New York City who has the bad luck to have his big break coincide with the end of the world.

Laura San Giacomo (left) and Amber Heard (right)
Nadine Cross
2020Amber Heard
1994Laura San Giacomo

This may be the most appropriate casting in the whole project.  I don't remember seeing her performance in any movies or television shows that I've seen, but I can absolutely buy her in the role of the twisted, manipulative and evil Nadine Cross.

I wasn't a huge fan of how the Nadine was presented in the 1994 mini-series.  A large part of that is due to the fact that they omitted the Rita Blakemoor character and shoehorned her story into that of Nadine.  This also eliminated the relationship that Nadine had with "Joe", both on the road and in Boulder, so the end result was that Laura San Giacomo was playing a bastardized version of Rita and Nadine that didn't do justice to either one.  Her performance is all over the place, and I don't feel that it connected strongly to the motivations or story arc of the Nadine Cross character.  I know nothing of Amber Heard's work, but if she's half as good of an actress as she was in her Oscar-worthy performance of playing the victim to Johnny Depp, I'm intrigued.

Corin Nemec (left) and Owen Teague (right)
Harold Lauder
2020Owen Teague
1994Corin Nemec

Although I like Corin's performance in the original mini-series, I'm not crazy about how he was written at the start of the story.  The Harold Lauder in the first episode of the 1994 series is a socially awkward nerd who borders on being lovable.  In contrast, the novel presents him as highly intelligent, but absolutely obnoxious and not the least bit lovable.  When viewed through the lens of modern psychology, Harold comes across as a highly functioning autistic who recognizes that people don't like him without understanding why.  This causes him to become bitter and mistrustful of people while, at the same time, crafting an artificial persona to make it through the day, such as when he spends hours staring into a mirror to practice smiling.  As an autistic, I can definitely relate to this.

The original mini-series also short changes the crossroads that Harold comes to after he and his group settle down in Boulder.  In the novel, Harold gets so good at faking his way through the social landscape that he actually becomes respected and well-liked.  Stu even begins to warm up to him.  Eventually, Harold begins to question his desire for vengeance and seems on the cusp of leaving the negativity that plagued his mind in the past, until Randall Flagg and Nadine Cross nudge him back down a road that will damn him.  If not for their influence, I think "Hawk" would have eventually found himself in this new world, much in the same way that Larry Underwood did.

All of this nuance is lost in the original mini-series.  Harold goes from a nerdy, lovesick puppy to a murderous psychopath with very little exploration of his character.  I'm not at all familiar with Owen Teague's work, but I'm hoping that the remake of the mini-series can finally do justice to Harold Lauder on the screen.

Whoppi Goldberg (left) and Ruby Dee (right)
Mother Abagail
2020: Whoopi Goldberg
1994: Ruby Dee

The iconic Ruby Dee infused Mother Abagail with heart.  If you ever listen to the director's commentary track from the original mini-series, it will be clear to you that she loved playing this role and she put all of herself into the character.  I can think of no better actress for the late Ms. Dee to pass the baton to than the incomparable Whoopi Goldberg.  I have thoroughly enjoyed everything I have ever seen Ms. Goldberg in, and I can't wait to see the energy she brings to the 108 year old from Hemingford Home, Nebraska who still bakes her own biscuits.

Ray Walston (left) and Greg Kinnear (right)
Glen Bateman
2020Greg Kinnear
1994Ray Walston

The old bald-headed sociologist is probably my favorite character in The Stand overall.  I know many readers might disagree with me, but I feel as if Glen Bateman is the old man that Harold Lauder could have grown to become if he could have charted that blue and lonely section of hell and come out the other side.  Glen came out the other side as a distant loner with a dim view of the human race, which is summarized nicely in a conversation he has with Stu:
 “Shall I tell you what sociology teaches us about the human race?  I’ll give it to you in a nutshell.  Show me a man or woman alone and I’ll show you a saint.  Give me two and they’ll fall in love.  Give me three and they’ll invent the charming thing we call “society”.  Give me four and they’ll build a pyramid.  Give me five and they’ll make one an outcast.  Give me six and they’ll reinvent prejudice.  Give me seven and in seven years they’ll reinvent warfare.  Man may have been made in the image of God, but human society was made in the image of His opposite number, and is always trying to get back home.”
Ray Walston is probably best known as the titular character from My Favorite Martian, and he was perfect as Glen Bateman.  He was 79 years old when the original mini-series was filmed.  This time around, the've decided to go with 57 year old Greg Kinnear.  Kinnear is only 11 years older than James Marsden.  Unless they're planning to use makeup or CGI to age him up, I feel like this casting choice might alter the relationship between Glen and Stu.

Jamey Sheridan (left) and Alexander Skarsgård (right)
Randall Flagg
2020Alexander Skarsgård
1994Jamey Sheridan

The casting of The Dark Man is interesting to say the least.  Alexander Skarsgård is the older brother of Bill Skarsgård, who plays the iconic Pennywise in the film remake of Stephen King's It.  He looks a bit like Bryce Harper in the production photo, which has given me the visual of Randall Flagg bowing to the fans in right field at Citizens Bank Park.

When I first saw the mini-series, I liked Jamey Sheridan as Flagg.  I thought the special effects to turn his face into a demon were a bit silly and unnecessary, but he was unnerving and made me feel like this is someone I'd want to be friends with, not because I'd enjoy their company, but because I'd be afraid not to be.  However, as I worked through The Dark Tower series and realized that Flagg is just one of the many forms that The Man In Black has taken over the centuries, Sheridan doesn't seem right.

I was hoping for Jeffrey Dean Morgan, but if Alexander Skarsgård is half as creepy as his little brother in the clown makeup, he'll make a great Randall Flagg.

Miguel Ferrer (left) and Nat Wolff (right)
Lloyd Henreid
2020Nat Wolff
1994Miguel Ferrer

I'm not sure how to feel about this casting.  On one hand, the novel describes Lloyd Henreid as "the unrepentant baby-faced killer" when his murder spree in the pre-pandemic world generates headlines in the newspaper.  On the other hand, Miguel Ferrer delivered what was probably my favorite performance in the original mini-series when he was in his late 30's.  He was masterful, and for that reason, I have a hard time separating Ferrer from Lloyd when I read the book, even though the actor might have been older than the character was in the source material.

My knee jerk reaction to seeing that Nat Wolff cast as Lloyd was "Oh, come on!  Why do they always cast young, fresh-faced kids in roles meant for characters in their 30's and 40's", but I don't want to be unfair to the actor.  He's not too much younger than the character as it was originally written, and he very well might do a tremendous job and bring more of the source material to the screen.

Katherine McNamara (left) and Shawnee Smith (right)
Julie Lawry
2020Katherine McNamara
1994Shawnee Smith

Julie is first introduced to readers of The Stand as a 17 year old girl, but we very quickly learn that this might not be the case.  Stephen King clarifies the characters age by saying "She wasn't seventeen, or fourteen, or twenty-one. She was any age you wanted her to be... as long as you wanted her more than she wanted you".  In some ways, I find her to be the most realistic villain of any King novel.  Shawnee Smith did a great job in bringing madness and a smiling hostility to the character.  I still haven't gotten around to watching Arrow so I'm not very familiar with Ms. McNamara's work, but when I looked up a photo of her and found this one of her smirking, I was immediately on board with her in the role of Julie Lawry.

Jovan Adepo (left) and Heather Graham (right)
Rita Blakemoor
2020Heather Graham
1994: not included

Rita was cut out of the 1994 mini-series altogether.  They instead tried to fold aspects of her character into Nadine Cross.  I think that decision hindered Larry and Nadine, so I'm happy to see that Rita will be in the new mini-series.  King wrote her as an older, over-privileged widow who latches on to Larry.  My reaction to Rita is one of the reasons why I relate to the less desirable traits of Larry.  If I'm being completely honest with myself, Rita would have irritated me to the point where I would have bailed on her at the Lincoln Tunnel, if not sooner.  I know that's not the reaction King was going for, but what can I say?  I guess I ain't no nice guy, as the dental hygienist would no doubt have said if she met me - right after nailing me in the head with a spatula.

Heather Graham is an interesting casting choice.  When I was a teenager, she was Rollergirl in one of my favorite films, Boogie Nights.  I'm not sure if she's going to play Rita the way that King wrote her.  The production photo sure doesn't look like the Rita from the novel.  I pictured her to be more like Blanche Devereaux from The Golden Girls, but with the helpless, needy characteristics of Bill Dauterive from King Of The Hill.  You can't tell much from a single production photo, but I don't get those vibes from Graham as Rita.

Marilyn Manson - Photo source:  Christine Chew / UPI
Unknown
2020: Marilyn Manson

The shock rock star has been cast for The Stand, but there was no announcement of what role he is playing.  Rumor has it that he will be playing Donald Merwin Elbert, better known to Stephen King fans as The Trashcan Man.

The Trashcan Man is one of my favorite characters in any Stephen King novel.  I've long felt that he's also one of the most misunderstood characters in the King universe.  Trashy is not an evil guy.  He was shaped into what he became by the world around him.  Whereas Tom Cullen was nurtured and cared for, Donald Elbert grew in a world of rejection and abuse.  Imagine a version of The Stand where he ignores The Dark Man, who preys on his weaknesses to draw him to Las Vegas - a world where he instead goes to Boulder to make a life in the Free Zone.  Would he have been welcomed, or would it have been Terre Haute all over again?

I see Trashy as an instrument of God much in the same way that Tom Cullen is.  He took a different path than Stu, Larry, Glen, Ralph and the "scouts" that were sent ahead of them.  However, he was put in the time and place that he needed to be to make his stand against The Dark Man.  Like Tom Cullen, he isn't fully conscious of his role, but if he wasn't there to play it, Randall Flagg's empire would have continued.  Gan works in mysterious ways.

It makes perfect sense for Manson to play The Trashcan Man, but something here seems fishy.  I think we're meant to believe that he's playing Trashy, but I have to wonder why Manson is the only known cast member whose role in the series hasn't been announced.  The production team has gone out of their way to announce most of the other major roles, as well as to release photos from the set, but there's been no photos of The Trashcan Man.  It makes me wonder if they're planning to shock us with Manson playing General Starkey, or the President of the United States, or some other straight-laced face of the system that allowed Captain Trips to come into being.  They could also be planning to spring him on us as one of Trashy's companions in the desert, if you can believe that happy crappy.  Wherever he is, I look forward to seeing Manson as a part of The Stand.


I'm so ready for this.  The Stand is my favorite work of fiction of all time, in any medium.  I've read the book, listened to the audiobook and watched the 1994 mini-series countless times since I first discovered it as a teenager.  I'm keeping an open mind that the people behind this new mini-series will learn from the mistakes of The Dark Tower film and deliver something worthy of this fantastic story.

Aug 29, 2020

My Favorite Movie


Rocky
United Artists (1976)
The movie theater in Hazleton reopened this weekend with new pandemic procedures to keep the employees and guests safe.  Truth be told, if you avoid new releases on their opening weekend, it's probably one of the easiest places to maintain social distance outside of your own home.  I suppose that's one of the advantages of living in a small town.  There aren't many, so I'll take what I can get.

Another circumstance that has few advantages is living through a global pandemic.  For example, I like the idea of having six feet of personal space, but it's mitigated by the claustrophobic feeling that I have while wearing a face mask.  One of the unexpected perks of the pandemic is the fact that theaters are re-opening for business before they have a sufficient number of new movies to fill the screens, so the movie studios are re-releasing classic films for a limited time.  One of those is my favorite movie of all time: Rocky.


Rocky doesn't seem to receive the same level of appreciation in 2020 that it did after its release in 1976 when it won the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director (and should have won for best original screenplay).  I think that some of this is because of the many sequels that followed, which continue to this day in the Creed franchise.  They're all good films (except for Rocky V, which is pretty terrible), but I can understand how the genius of the original can be overlooked at a time when it's just part of a franchise.  However, if I had to blame one thing for tainting the legacy of this iconic film, I would blame something that I've grown to despise as I've gotten older: parody and references.

For every Mel Brooks or Weird Al who use parody to express their creative and comic genius, there are about a thousand talentless hacks who throw together a bullshit copy of an original work, with lame jokes that aren't funny in the slightest, to line their pockets with the cash of a gullible audience.  This has only gotten worse over the past 20 years with Family Guy inspiring a generation of hacks who have never had a truly creative thought in their lives to distribute trash that merely references something in pop culture.  The audience laughs along as if a joke has been told, but in reality, they're just experiencing a moment of recognition from something in their memories - Idiocracy in action.

Meanwhile, the actual creative work is now forever associated with the garbage that has parodied or referenced it.  The result is that someone watching Rocky for the first time in 2020 now has to disassociate from all of the times they heard some ass clown mock Stallone by saying "Yo Adrian" to be able to fully appreciate the story of a guy who wants nothing more than to avoid being just another bum from the neighborhood and to connect with the woman at the pet store where he gets his turtle food.

I didn't intend for this to be a rant.  I'm tempted to delete the three paragraphs above, but I'll leave it there in the off chance that someone might stumble on it and feel the same way.  At any rate, I never thought I would get to see Rocky on the big screen, and I'm very thankful that I have.

Aug 28, 2020

The Hershey Alpine White


Hershey White with Whole Almonds
Hershey Foods (2020)
The Nestle Alpine White bar is one of my favorite snack foods of all time, but it was discontinued in the 90's.  I worked for the Confections division of Nestle USA for a number of years, and I quickly learned that they are a very forward-thinking company that rarely brings a discontinued product back to the market.  Any hopes that I had of the Alpine White coming back ended when Nestle sold their American confections business to Ferrero.

When I bought this new candy bar from Hershey, I was expecting it to taste like their Cookies & Cream bar, which I've never been too crazy about.  Thankfully, it did not.  I was extremely happy to find that this tastes exactly like the Nestle Alpine White bars that I had as a kid in the late 80's and early 90's.  In fact, with the thickness of the bar and the inclusion of lots of whole almonds, I think the Hershey one may be even better.

I hope they can think of a better name for this.  I know that FDA regulations make it next to impossible to label a confectionery product as "white chocolate", but I have to say that "Hershey White with Whole Almonds" doesn't exactly sparkle.  Maybe they could slide a few bucks to Nestle for the rights to the Alpine White name.  While they're at it, they should definitely buy the rights to that epic commercial, with the Lloyd Landesman song that sounds like something you might perform around a bonfire to summon the gods of synthpop.

Aug 27, 2020

Blinded By The 90's


25 Qt. Picnic Cooler
The Throwback CollectionIgloo (2020)
Igloo is bringing back the teal, yellow and hot pink aesthetic of the early 90's with their new Throwback Collection.  There are six products, including coolers, water bottles, and even a Fanny Pack.  Perhaps it's just me, but I can't look at these without hearing Color Me Badd in my head.

Aug 26, 2020

Baseball In The Lottery


Philadelphia Phillies Lottery Tickets
Pennsylvania Lottery (2008, 2011)
Once in a while, the Pennsylvania Lottery comes out with a baseball themed ticket.  The one on the left was sold in 2008 and the one on the right came out in 2011.  I'm not sure if they've had them more recently than that.  I don't really buy lottery tickets for myself, but before my grandparents passed away, they used to give them as presents in my birthday and/or Christmas cards.  If a Phillies one was available, that's the one they got for me.

The scratch-off tickets that were sold in the 80's and 90's were usually more generic.  I don't ever remember seeing a Phillies ticket from when I was a kid, but they occasionally baseball themed games like the three tickets below.  These came in a pack that I bought on eBay earlier this month.

Baseball '89 - Pennsylvania Lottery (1989)
Triple Play - Pennsylvania Lottery (1991)
Grand Slam - Pennsylvania Lottery (1992)

Aug 25, 2020

A Flavorful Beer In A Nifty Bottle


St. Bernardus Abt 12
This is a very good dark beer from Belgium.  Dad thought the bottle was cool and wanted to save it.  Trish disagreed and felt that an empty bottle belongs in the recycling bin.  I'll give you three guesses where the bottle ended up.

Aug 24, 2020

The Long Walk Out Of Nuremberg

Source: Kris T. Jones (Flickr) - 09/26/2006
Mahanoy Street
Nuremberg, PA
This photo was taken by Kris T. Jones on September 21st, 2006.  I know this because the photographer included this information when they uploaded it to Flickr.  If they had said it was taken in 1996 or 1986, I wouldn't have doubted it for a second.  You see, time sort of has a way of standing still in Nuremberg, Pennsylvania.  At least that was my experience of the place.  In fairness to the town and its residents, what I have to say should be taken with a grain of salt.  My memories of Nuremberg are from 30 years ago, when I was a 10 year old boy with undiagnosed autism.  It was a very challenging and painful time in my life, and over the years, I've come to unfairly associate a lot of painful memories with the town itself, though it wasn't the cause of any of it.  Still, I hold to the opinion that time has a way of standing still in this place, and if you've been there, I think you might agree.

Source: Jake C (Wikipedia) - 10/18/2014
I was living with my mother in a half-double apartment on the corner of First and Seybert Street in Hazleton at the start of 1988.  That was the year that she met Walt, the man who would become (and is still today) my stepfather.  He moved in with us by the end of the year.

Although Walt worked in Hazleton before he ever met my mother, his dislike of the city was so strong that it became his defining characteristic in my eyes.  He frequently ranted to my mother and I about how terrible the city and its people were in comparison to his native Quakertown.  He even came up with his own slur for the people of Hazleton.  He called them "Heynas".  This was inspired in part by the local slang used by older residents of the city who would use the word "heyna" to ask someone for confirmation.  The word is kind of a bastardized version of "ain't it", as in "it's pretty cold out today, heyna?".  I remember on a car trip that he heard Natasha England's cover of the song Iko Iko on the radio and he mistook the lyrics of "hey now" as "heyna", after which point his slur for Hazletonians took on a musical tone.  I'll circle back to Walt in a bit, but for now, the thing to know about him is that, to the 8 year old me, he was the living embodiment of Foghorn Leghorn, and he was very keen to moving out of Hazleton.

Throughout late 1988 and 1989, the three of us visited the Singley family on a regular basis.  Walt worked with Bill Singley, who lived with his wife Pat and five children in Nuremberg.  The parents were nice folks who always treated me well.  At the time, their youngest child was a baby and their oldest was a teenager.  The middle children were closest in age to me.  Ryan Singley was about three or four years younger, Billy Singley was a year younger, and Mary Beth was a year older.  I got along with them well enough.  I remember that they cried a lot more than I was accustomed to, especially Ryan and Billy.  If their dad so much as raised his voice at Ryan, he would break into loud, ear piercing wails of tears.  Seriously, to see this kid's reaction to his father saying "go to your room", you would have thought his dog was hit by a car.  Anyway, this was my first introduction to Nuremberg, and it wasn't too bad.  I wasn't an easy kid to get along with by any means, but they'd play Nintendo with me and we had fun.  I remember that they had three cartridges: Mickey Mousecapade, Donkey Kong Classics, and the Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt combo.  As I'm writing this, I remembered one time, we were playing Super Mario Bros when Bill came in to yell at Ryan or Billy for something or other.  He ended up grounding one of them, which he followed up by doing a little dance to the tune of Super Mario Bros, which I found to be hysterically funny.  I'm pretty sure that even at 8 or 9 years old, I knew enough to not laugh at a kid who just got grounded, but it was hard.  Man, the Singley kids are going to have a fit if they ever discover this blog.  Oh well.  If any of you are seeing this, take a chill pill.  Your part in my reminiscence of Nuremberg is over now.

Source: John Lockwood (Flickr) - May 26, 2008
My mother and Walt bought a house on School Street in Nuremberg in the Fall of 1989.  I was in fourth grade and about a month into the school year when we moved.  Although I lived at State College when I was a baby, the Hazleton Area was the only home that I ever knew.  I went to the same school and knew the same kids since the first day of Kindergarten.  I had an eco-system that I was somewhat comfortable in.  I didn't realize what a difficult transition it would be for me until it was too late.

Before I get into the negatives, allow me to paint the picture of the town as I remember it.  Looking back on the place with adult eyes, it was a charming little town.  It was very small, very quiet, and out in the middle of nowhere.  It had its own elementary school, a little pizza parlor, a post office, a bank, a hardware store with a painting gallery on the second floor, and a small grocery store called Bott's Market at the end of the town.  There's not a lot to do, but it's only about a 15 - 20 minute drive through the woods to get to the Interstate, so if you're an adult with a car who can leave whenever you please, it's damn near ideal.  When you're nine years old and isolated from your friends, the rest of your family, and the world as you knew it, it's closer to a dystopian episode of the Twilight Zone.

Bott's Market closed in 1996.  The guy I remember the most from this store is standing on the far left.  His name is Dave Bott.  He put up with me coming into his place, even though I was a pain in the ass of a kid.  Looking at him sort of reminds me of a hybrid of John Oates and Art Garfunkel.
Source: Standard Speaker - September 19, 1996
I was pretty unhappy living in Nuremberg from day one.  Throughout my childhood up to that point, I was always allowed to make my bedroom into my own.  Obviously, they weren't letting a child pick out the furniture or make any major decisions, but if I wanted to hang a poster or put a toy on a shelf that made me happy to look at, it was no big deal.  This wasn't the case when we moved to Nuremberg.  My mother decided that I was going to become interested in classic cars.  I couldn't care less about them and she knew it, but it fit with her idea of what a home in the country should look like.  So, out went the Garbage Pail Kids poster, and in it's place was a framed print of a painting of an old Ford that looked like it was stolen from a cheap motel.  Instead of my stuffed Luigi that Dad won for me at Wildwood, I had a cast iron statue of a Model T.  When I look back on this experience from a psychological perspective, I have to wonder if it's the root of my adult obsession with nostalgia.  Am I trying to recapture the world as I knew and hold on tight so that no one can take it away from me?  Maybe si, maybe no.  That what Wireman says.

Ellen Casey (wife of Governor Bob Casey) visited Nuremberg Elementary School in 1990
Source: Standard Speaker - June 2, 1990
Shortly after we settled in, my mom enrolled me in Nuremberg Elementary School.  To say that I had nothing in common with the other kids would be an understatement.  Although it's only about 12 miles from Hazleton, it might as well have been a foreign country.  Hazleton may not be a big city, but it is a city, and I was a nerdy kid who felt at home there.  I liked to read, play video games and watch cartoons, and horror movies, and Phillies games, and Nick At Nite.  I liked to listen to my records and draw pictures and color.  I liked to walk down to Pantry Quik to get a Slim Jim and a pack of baseball cards, and maybe to sneak a peak at the Playboy on the magazine rack if the clerk wasn't paying attention.  I liked being able to visit my grandparents and ask them to watch Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom with me for the 100th time.  I liked going to the mall with Grandpa and playing arcade games at Aladdin's Castle.  I was not a country kid, and I didn't want to be a country kid.  Suddenly, I was the new kid in a tiny school, and I was surrounded by kids who spent their free time hunting, fishing and firing air rifles.  On top of everything else, there was something that wasn't quite right about me that no one seemed to be able to figure out.  I had a hard time communicating with most people without it turning into a conflict.  I've spent my entire life, including four years of college and a Bachelors degree in psychology to try to figure out what's wrong in my head.  When you're the new kid in a small town, there's not much of an attempt to figure you out, especially with the lack of mental health awareness in the 1980's.  You're different.  You're weird.  You're a problem.  My experience at Nuremberg Elementary were the first domino to fall in a chain of events that forever changed who I am, but that's a story for another time.

Finally, there was Walt, who seemed to have this idea that if he moved us out to the country, I'd suddenly turn into Huck Finn, running around in the corn fields and finding other kids so that we could spend the day chucking rocks at a tin can.  As you can probably imagine, I wasn't too successful when it came to making friends in Nuremberg, and even if I had been, I would have wanted them to come over and play Nintendo.  That wasn't going to work for Walt.  He made the decision to buy a two bedroom house in which the bedrooms were right next to each other, so having a nine year old reading quietly or playing video games in his room presented a bit of a problem for the old man when he wanted to spend some alone-time with my mother.  His solution to this problem was to lock me out of the house, where I suppose he imagined I'd be running and playing with the other kids.  I guess it was for some of the time, but more often than not, I'd just go for a walk by myself.

This is Mahanoy Street, the main road that goes through Nuremberg.  The red building with the red awning on the left is Marchetti's Hardware Store, which has been in business since 1884
Photo Source: Jake C (Wikipedia) - 10/18/2014
Over time, I grew familiar with the roads that led in and out of Nuremberg, and my walks would stretch out farther.  On one particular Sunday when I was 10 or 11 years old, I thought I'd take a very long walk and go to visit my grandparents in West Hazleton.

There were two roads out of Nuremberg that led to Hazleton.  If you left the town headed North on Mahoney Street (at the top of the hill near Bott's Market) it took you through Fern Glen and eventually led to Route 93 near Penn State Hazleton and the Laurel Mall.  If you went South on Mahoney Street (at the bottom of the hill near Nuremberg Elementary School) it took you through Oneida and up Route 924 and past the Humbolt Industrial Park.


I think that I took the North route.  I have a vague memory of stopping at the Laurel Mall to find that it was closed for the day because it was Sunday and I had gotten there after 5 pm.  Additionally, although I frequently took walks down the South road, there are a lot more intersections and twists and turns to get lost.  For the most part, the North route was a straight shot, and fairly easy to navigate and avoid making a wrong turn.  Keep in mind, I was doing this by myself, without any maps or cell phones or GPS, and going solely off of my memory of sitting in the back seat of the car when we'd go to and from Hazleton.  I was also 10 or 11 years old (I know I couldn't have been older than that, because I moved to Florida before I turned 12).  It was also over 11 miles and over four hours of walking on back roads and highways (there was no sidewalk after Nuremberg until I was well into Hazleton).

As luck would have it, the day I picked to walk to my grandparents house was the one day of the month when Grandma, Grandpa and Nana went to Atlantic City, so there was no one to answer the door when I got there.  I suppose I could have gone to my uncle Georgie's or my cousin Tommy's house, but I walked a few extra blocks to go see Granny and Aunt Margie.  Granny was my grandfather's mother, and Aunt Margie was my grandfather's sister.  They lived on Broad Street in West Hazleton.  Granny was born in 1902, so I was reasonably sure that she would be home, and she was.  They gave me something to eat, and after a few phone calls, my mother and Walt drove down to pick me up.

In retrospect, this seems pretty crazy, but it didn't feel weird to me at the time.  I was locked out of the house, which was typical, so I wanted to see my grandparents.  My mother was very bitter towards my father's side of the family after the divorce, and she had a bug up her ass about letting me spend the weekend at my grandparents house, so I figured to hell with it; I could find my way there, and I did.  I didn't make a single wrong turn, and I didn't even really get upset when my grandparents weren't home.  I was more confused than anything because I couldn't imagine where they would have gone.

Later that week, my grandparents made me promise not to do this again, and I never did.  They didn't seem mad at me, but they were very flustered.  I know I didn't get locked out of my house in Nuremberg after that, and I was suddenly allowed to go visit my grandparents on the weekend.  I can only imagine the conversation that took place between my grandparents and my mother after this incident.

Nuremberg Post Office - Source: PMCC Post Office Photos (Flickr)
I have a few other scattered memories of this town that I might write about later.  I moved to Florida to live with my Dad and his wife and step-daughter on New Years Day 1992, and life in general improved a great deal.  I came back to Pennsylvania off and on in the years that followed, and eventually moved back to PA for good in late 1995.  By this time, my mother and Walt had moved away from Nuremberg.  I had no reason to go back until late 2002 when I started dating a girl named Sheena who lived there.  I'd pick her up, drop her off, and sometimes stay at her place for a little while to watch a movie, but I didn't spend a whole lot of time walking or driving through town.  What little I saw looked exactly the same as I had remembered, except for the fact that the school was torn down and Bott's Market was closed.  The hardware store was still there, and it's still open to this day, even though the Covid-19 pandemic.  Good for them.  I hope the town is doing well.  Maybe I'll get back there to take some pictures and check it out someday.

Aug 23, 2020

If You Screen It, They Will Come


Field Of Dreams (1989)
Coca-Cola Park - Allentown, PA
It may not have been exactly what I had in mind over the winter, but I did get to see baseball at the ballpark in 2020.  The Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs are hosting movie nights throughout the month of August.  Last night, they were screening my favorite baseball movie of all time (Major League is a close second).


Tickets are $15 bucks, and they come with admission to the ballpark, a hot dog, a drink, a box of popcorn and an ice cream snack.  Some fans watched the film from their table in the right field food court or from one of the seats at the ballpark.  However, you are welcome to bring a blanket and relax on the outfield grass, which is exactly what I did.  It's a pretty magical experience to have been able to watch Field Of Dreams on a warm summer night while laying in shallow right field, just behind second base.

Aug 22, 2020

Britpop Gives Me A Sense Of Enormous Well-Being


Parklife
Blur (1994)
The song that introduced the world to Britpop was released as a single 26 years ago today.  It's the fourth track off of the album of the same name which came out in the Spring of 1994.  The music video is virtually guaranteed to put you in a good mood.  If that doesn't work, be sure to sleep in and get up whenever you want, or until you're rudely awakened by the dustmen.