Dec 3, 2021

When That Clock Strikes

Mac Tonight
Artwork by Mr. Melville
Ever since I was seven years old, I was fascinated by the Mac Tonight mascot that McDonald's used in some of their commercials.  Looking back on it, I guess I can see why.  He had a cool, futuristic vibe like Max Headroom, but with less sarcasm and edge.  The character didn't even aggressively pitch the product.  He just floated through the clouds with his piano singing a parody of an old Bobby Darin song, as chill as you could be, and he invited you to have "dinnah" at McDonald's.

This artwork was created by Mr. Melville.  It features Mac Tonight in the center holding a bottle of Pepsi and some french fries.  In front of him is a Toshiba Betamax with a Big Mac sandwich and a VHS tape on top - one that could not possibly have played in the player that it's sitting on.  There are several items on the table in front of the player, including an NES controller, a California Raisin toy standing on top of a 3.5" floppy disk, a cassette tape of Michael Jackson's 1979 album Off The Wall, and the plastic Mac Tonight car toy that used to come in Happy Meals in the late 80's.  To the left and right are vintage computers and keyboards with Gizmo and the crazy Mogwai from Gremlins peeking around the equipment.  Finally, the DeLorean from Back To The Future II is flying over the cityscape in the background, with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man marching around to its right.

Mr. Melville's artwork is available on clothing, posters, and other merchandise from Vapor95.

Dec 2, 2021

Loaded Up And Locked Out

With a lockout on the horizon, a flood of trades and free agent signing have taken place over the past week.  Unfortunately, the Phillies have done very little to take advantage of this window of time, so they will likely have to wait until Spring 2022 to make any further improvements to the team.

The biggest acquisition the team made so far was the signing of relief pitcher Corey Knebel to a one year, 10 mil contract.  The 30 year old right hander was originally drafted by Dave Dombrowski in the first round of the 2013 draft.  He would go on to make his MLB debut for the Tigers one year later.  Injuries have kept him from living up to his full potential, but he had a remarkable 2017 season for the Milwaukee Brewers in which he recorded 39 saves and made the All-Star Team.  He finished that season with a 1.78 ERA in 76 innings of work, and he set a MLB record for relief pitchers by starting the season with 45 consecutive appearances in which he recorded at least one strikeout.  Tommy John surgery set him back in 2019 and 2020, but he had a strong season for the 2021 Dodgers with a 4–0 record, 2.45 ERA, three saves and 30 strikeouts in the regular season, and he recorded 11 strikeouts to one walk in just under six innings in the post-season.

The Phillies made a last minute signing before the lockout last night when they signed infielder Johan Camargo to a one year, 1.4 mil contract.  He's floated between the Atlanta Braves and their Triple A affiliate since 2017.  His bat has cooled off at the MLB level in recent seasons, but he had a .326/.401/.557 slash line in 104 games for the Gwinnett Stripers in 2021. Additionally, he appeared in games at every position except catcher, center field and left field last season, so the hope seems to be that he will bring defensive versatility off of the Phillies bench in 2022.

These aren't the only moves the Phillies made this off-season.  A few weeks ago, the Phillies traded for two catchers.  They acquired Garrett Stubbs from the Astros, and Donnie Sands from the Yankees (along with pitcher Nick Nelson).  Even after non-tendering Andrew Knapp (who has already signed with the Reds), the catching position is the one areas where the Phillies have respectable depth, so the acquisition of two catchers who are presumably coming to camp to compete for job to back up JT Realmuto leads me to believe that Dombrowski intends to shop Rafael Marchan or Logan O'Hoppe in a trade this winter.  I suspect that Marchan is more likely to be dealt because it would open up a spot on the 40 man roster, but Dombrowski has a reputation for unloading prospects for proven talent at the big league level, and O'Hoppe had a very impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League, so maybe they see his value as being high at the moment.

Aside from that, the Phillies picked up four pitchers off of the waiver wire - right hander Yoan López from the Atlanta Braves, and three lefties: Ryan Sherriff from the RaysKent Emanuel from the Astros and Scott Moss from the Guardians.  The Cleveland Indians new name is going to take a little time to get used to; it still feels strange to say Guardians.  These waiver claims aren't the kind of news that's going make headlines, but these acquisitions around the margins sometimes can make a huge difference in a season, especially when it comes to the bullpen.  Relief pitchers are an inconsistent lot from year to year, so signing a relief pitcher for top dollar is often as much of a lottery ticket as a waiver claim can be.  Maybe these guys will contribute to an effective bullpen, and maybe one or more of them won't even make the team out of Spring Training.  Time will tell.

The most depressing baseball news for me this winter is the loss of one of my favorite players, Héctor Neris.  He has pitched out of the Phillies bullpen since 2014, and in that time, he has gone on to become the team's all-time leader in strikeouts for a relief pitcher.  I was hopeful that the Phillies would have re-signed him, but he signed a two year deal with the Houston Astros.  He is unquestionably one of the greatest relief pitchers to suit up for the Phillies over the past twenty years, and I expect that we are going to miss what he brought to the team.

And that's it for now.  Until the league and the players' union come to a collective bargaining agreement, all transactions have been suspended.  This comes as no surprise to anyone who pays attention to the game, but it is disappointing that the Phillies weren't able to address more of their needs before the start of the lockout.

It's disappointing that the Phillies weren't able to address more of their needs for the 2022 season.  I was hoping they would sign Kris Bryant and make a trade with the Pirates for Bryan Reynolds (even if it costs top prospect Mick Abel).  There were rumors that linked the Phillies to both players over the past few weeks, as well as Kevin Kiermaier, Nick Castellanos, and Kyle Schwarber.  Personally, I'm not too interested in seeing Kiermaier or Castellanos come to Philadelphia.  Schwarber would be a good addition, especially as a leadoff bat, but his defense in LF is pretty sketchy, so they better have a darn good defensive center fielder in mind if they plan to go down that route.

The reason I prefer Bryant to the other free agents is that can fill the absence left by Andrew McCutchen in LF, but he would bring a lot of defensive versatility to the club because he can also play 1B, 2B, SS, 3B and CF if needed.  Also, I would trade any combination of prospects not named Bryson Stott to get Reynolds out of Pittsburgh.  He's an elite center fielder who's under team control through 2025.  If the Phillies are going to get the most value out of the prime years of Harper, Realmuto and Wheeler, this is the kind of trade they need to make.  I can see the need to keeping Stott because he's proven all he can prove at the minor league level, and the Phillies have a need at SS, but I would have no hesitation trading any other prospects (especially pitching prospects) to bring Reynolds to Philadelphia.

However, all of the talk of potential signings and trades are officially on hold for the foreseeable future as we enter the ninth work stoppage in baseball history.  The Phillies issued a press release which basically said that, with the exception of John Middleton, no one from the team is allowed to talk to the media.  Rob Manfred issued a full letter to the fans on behalf of the league, and the Player's Association also put out a message on Twitter.  Both of these suggest that the two sides are nowhere near reaching a settlement, and if the negotiations before the 2020 season are any indication, this could go on for a very long time.  Hopefully they come to an agreement in plenty of time for Spring Training and the 2022 season to begin as scheduled, but it wouldn't surprise me much if that wasn't the case.  Work stoppage issues have caused the cancellation of over 1,600 games in my lifetime, including the 1994 playoffs and World Series, and the two sides may even be further apart today than they were in 1981 and 1994.

I'm not picking a side in this fight between the owners and the players.  Player salaries have skyrocketed well beyond the income of any other profession, including hundreds of millions of dollars that have been paid to players who played poorly, or barely played at all, or in some cases, didn't play a single inning through the life of their contract.  On the other side, the league holds the television rights of games hostage with an archaic blackout restriction policy that should have been done away with in the 1960's, and the cost of going to a ballgame has risen to a point where many families simply can't afford it.  Neither side has the fans in mind, except to the extent that we allow them to live the lives of millionaires and billionaires.  I hope this results in the National League getting the DH.  I hope that something is done to limit the overuse of defensive shifts.  I hope they don't make a mockery out of the playoffs by letting two dozen teams into the post-season.  I hope that whatever financial structure that the teams have to work with don't hinder the Phillies chances to field a competitive team, particularly since the team owner has no interest going over the Luxury Tax threshold despite lip service to the contrary.  I hope that no games are cancelled, and that the owners and players can put their greed aside and play ball.

Dec 1, 2021

Nothing Says Happiness Like Those Eyebrows

Happy Santa
Zawa (1960s)
We found this vintage Santa Claus toy for sale at an antiques store in Allentown earlier this year.  Boy, he sure does look happy, doesn't he?

Nov 30, 2021

Rocket Booster

I got my Covid-19 booster shot just in time for the Omicron Variant to start the whole mess all over again.

Nov 29, 2021

The Hottest Toys Of '84

Toys R Us flyer
November 29, 1984
I spent a good part of my pre-k childhood trying to feed a stormtrooper action figures to the Rancor.

Nov 28, 2021

The Food That Bites You Back

Food Freaks
Horror Decor (2021)
These awesome stickers are available at Horror Decor, and I had to have 'em!  The artwork by Matthew Skiff mashes up classic horror movie villains in the style of one of my favorite lines of action figures when I was a kid, Food Fighters.

There are five stickers in the pack - Cheesy Krueger, Jumbo Dog Jason, Chucky Cheeseburger, Leather-Fried Chicken, and Frosted Cenobite.

They're on sale for six bucks right now, so get 'em while the gettin's good.

Nov 27, 2021

So I've Got That Going For Me, Which Is Nice

Caddyshack Gopher Traxs
Serendipity Ice Cream (2021)
Earlier this year, I found Serendipity's ice cream flavor that was inspired by The Goonies.  It was called Sloth & Chunk's Rocky Rooooaad, which was a dark chocolate stuffed with almonds and marshmallow chunks.

This one was inspired by my favorite comedy film of all time, Caddyshack.  It's called Gopher Traxs, which is made up of vanilla ice cream with peanut butter cups and a salted caramel swirl.  Very tasty!

They've got one more movie flavor that I'd like to try.  It's called Oh Fudge Peppermint Cookie Fudge Sundae, and it's inspired by A Christmas Story.  So far, I've only been able to find Serendipity Ice Cream at Giant and Wawa, and neither of them had it yet.

Nov 26, 2021

It's The Biggest Shopping Day Of The Year, I Tell You...

Life Is Cruel socks
Tears For Fears (2021)
Who says socks can't be the perfect holiday gift?  Don't get me wrong, I love Tears For Fears.  I've been a fan of their music since I was five years old, I've been to see them in concert twice, and I'm going to see them again when they go on tour for their new album.  However, I've got to draw the line at $20 socks that say "life is tough" and "life is cruel".

It's not quite as strange as the Ropeless Jump Rope or the Harlem Globetrotters email that I got on Black Friday, but it's up there.

Nov 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving

Dad came over for Thanksgiving dinner, and Little Harvey has been glued to his side since he got here.

An Italian Thanksgiving

Aldi's stocks some pretty awesome seasonal goodies throughout the year.  Some of the things that I found earlier this month were Turkey Cranberry and Bourbon Sweet Potato Ravioli, and a jar of Pumpkin Chipotle pasta sauce.  They're not going to replace turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving day, but they made a delicious lunch earlier this week.

I'm looking forward to seeing if they have any interesting ravioli flavors for Christmas season.

Nov 24, 2021

The Return Of The Amish Comic

Raymond The Amish Comic
Cinema & Drafthouse - West Hazleton, PA
A few months before the pandemic began, we went to see Raymond The Amish Comic on the night before Thanksgiving.  It was only two years ago, but with all of the craziness that has happened in the world since that night, it feels like it could have been a hundred.  At the time, we had never heard of the phrase "social distancing", and if you had said coronavirus to me, I would have thought you caught something from a bottle of beer.

Raymond wasn't able to perform in Hazleton last year at this time when the world was still shut down, but I'm glad to say that he's back in 2021.  He was hysterically funny as always.  If you ever have a chance to see him, definitely don't miss it.

It was a very nice night out with the family, and a great kickoff to Thanksgiving weekend.  Hope to do it again next year!

Nov 23, 2021

Back To The Conyngham Brewing Company

I've been working my way through the draught list at the Conyngham Brewing CompanyLast time, I had the Grodziskie, the Jalapeno Lager and the Gruit.  Last Saturday, I tried three more.  From left to right, they are Ginger Lemongrass Saison, Into Darkness, and Shipwreck Stout II.

I enjoyed all of them, but the Ginger Lemongrass was by far my favorite of the three.  Into Darkness was very good, but it's also very sweet.  It would be perfect to have while sitting in front of a fireplace watching the snow fall on a cold winter night.

Nov 22, 2021

Admire As Much As You Can

Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience
Tower Theater - Upper Darby, PA
We originally had tickets to see this exhibition on Halloween, but it got crossed up with our plans to go to the Mahoning Drive-In for Dee Wallace Night.  As luck would have it, my dad had tickets to the same show for the Sunday before Thanksgiving, so we just swapped tickets.

We got the VIP package, which includes a VR experience at the end of the exhibit and a poster print of The Starry Night from the gift shop.  We also got to skip the line, which was pretty cool since they were doing timed entries due to the Covid pandemic.

Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience is being held in cities all over the world.  It has already finished its run in Brussels, Linz, Naples, Tel Aviv, Beijing, Hangzhou and Holon, and is currently being exhibited in New York, Boston, Houston, Miami, Seattle, London and Berlin, among other places.  Locally, it's being shown at the historic Tower Theater in Upper Darby, just outside of Philadelphia.

There were several rooms with displays, including a timeline of the life of Vincent Van Gogh, facts about his art, and lit displays of many of his most famous works.  These included my favorite of his paintings, Cafe Terrace At Night, which he finished in 1888.  There was also an app that you could download and use as you were going through the exhibition, but I couldn't get it to work on my phone.

It was pretty crowded, and the lighting made it difficult to take pictures without a reflection (especially for the written displays), but it was very nicely put together and a lot of fun to walk through.

This is a moment where I really wish I had headphones.  It was a beautiful three dimensional display of a vase with Van Gogh's artwork projected onto it, with peaceful music playing.  It was sort of nestled down a short, dark hallway with benches on the left and right hand side where you could sit and get lost for a while.  Well, you could have if not for the nonstop conversation from random strangers.  I get it.  This display is for everyone, and folks have the right to chit chat with each other, but I really do wish I could have sat here by myself for a little while.

This display was the centerpiece of the display that showed the influence that Japanese artwork had on Van Gogh's own work.  He never had the opportunity to travel to Japan in his short life, but in letters to his brother Theo, he admired the Ukiyo-e woodblock paintings.  Many of his works blend elements of this style with his own.

There was a three dimensional walk-in display of the three paintings that Van Gogh did of his bedroom.  This reminded me a lot of the Seward Johnson work that we saw at Grounds For Sculpture earlier this year.

The exhibit had a display that puts The Bedroom paintings into context.  Van Gogh lived in this room at 2 Place Lamartine in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône in the South of France from 1888 - 1889, so when you look at these three works, you are seeing, through the artists eyes, the place where Van Gogh slept in the years that they were painted.

On May 8th, 1889, Van Gogh committed himself to the Saint Paul de Mausole asylum.  He had a studio space at the asylum where he finished 150 paintings and nearly 100 drawings in a single year.  Many of these works are of the asylum itself, including the entrance hall, which he painted in 1889.  It was represented at the exposition by a three dimensional display.  It wasn't quite as deep as the one of The Bedroom, but definitely very cool.

The main event of Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience was a large sitting room with high definition projectors on all sides of the room.  It really is something that has to be experienced because a written description or a photo isn't going to do justice to how incredible it feels to lay back and surround yourself with the works of Vincent Van Gogh.  The projections have animated parts of his work and added voiceovers from letters that the artist wrote to his brother.

We stayed in this room for a long time.  I took a few video clips and stitched them together to a single file.

The video really doesn't capture how amazing this display is.  If you have the opportunity to see this exhibit in a city near you, please do so.  It's not very expensive, and it's definitely an experience worth having.

The next room in the exhibition was a studio area with pages to color your own Vincent Van Gogh masterpiece and share it with other art lovers.

I've scanned four of the coloring pages from the exhibit, just in case someone happens to stumble on this page who wasn't able to make it to the exhibit before it closes, or if it never runs in their area.  There were many more available, so if you go, you'll find a lot more than these.

Click on one of the images above to load a full size jpeg to print and color.

Last, but not least, there was a virtual reality experience at the end of the exhibition.  It's included if you get the VIP tickets, but it cost five dollars if you didn't, but it's definitely worth five bucks.  I fully acknowledge that I sound like an old man when it comes to VR, but this technology truly is amazing.  When I was growing up, the two things that pop culture always promised that the future would bring to us is virtual reality and flying cars.  While I don't expect flying cars any time soon, VR is just a few small steps away from creating high definition virtual worlds that are visually indistinguishable from the outside world.

The Van Gogh virtual experience was like walking through an animated world that resembled his paintings, with stops along the way of places and things that inspired his works, with the painting shown alongside these locations.  There was a narration that made it feel like Van Gogh himself was taking you through a tour of a part of his life, starting and ending at his bedroom.

The only thing that's a little tricky about coming to the Philadelphia exhibition is parking.  I'm not sure if The Tower Theater has a parking lot, but I couldn't find it if it does.  We just parked on the street about a block up from the theater.  The parking meters have a two hour time limit, so bring quarters and be ready to run out to your car if you need to feed the meter part way through the exhibit.

Nov 21, 2021

The Annual Thanksgiving Pre-Show Hoagie

The Gobbler
Wawa - Upper Darby, PA
Northeast PA is Sheetz country, so I have to go a bit out of my way if I want to pick up a Gobbler.  As luck would have it, I was in Philly for the weekend before Thanksgiving, so I was able to get my turkey hoagie.

Wawa makes a few different kinds of Gobbler, but the standard one is made up of chunks of hot turkey with stuffing and cranberry dressing on a classic hoagie roll.

It's a bit of a messy hoagie to eat in the car, but it's well worth it.  You're basically having a Thanksgiving dinner in a bun.  What's not to love about that?