Jan 17, 2021

I'll Trade You Steve Jeltz For Dan Quayle



Operation Desert Storm cards
Topps (1991)
The Gen-X kids like myself who were born in the late 70's and early 80's grew up in a really strange and transitional time.  For the first ten years of my life, we were still in the Cold War with the Soviet Union.  You know those old Duck and Cover educational videos from the 50's and 60's we all laugh about on YouTube?  They were still teaching that in school when I was a kid.  My first grade class did a duck and cover drill where we all practiced getting under our desk.  However, the Cold War wasn't my strangest experience with war when I was a kid.  That honor goes to Topps Trading Cards.

Thirty years ago today, Operation Desert Storm began in Iraq.  I was in fifth grade at Heights Terrace Elementary School at the time, and I remember that they brought televisions on wheel carts into our classrooms where we watched the live news footage as it happened.  Our teachers discussed it with us in class, but the information we were given was pretty vague.  It pretty much boiled down to two things: Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and the American military was headed to the Middle East to liberate them.  Come to think of it, that's pretty much my extent of knowledge about the war today.

In the months that followed, we were saturated with information about the Gulf War.  I heard about it from teachers, from other kids, from my grandparents at home (I was living with my mom's parents at the time), and from television and radio.  It was literally everywhere - even at the baseball card shops.  Topps released not one, not two, but three different series of trading cards for the war.  If you went through my baseball cards back then, you would have found cards of General Norman Schwarzkopf and the Patriot Missile right between the Cal Ripken and Mike Schmidt cards.  If the idea of Topps trading cards for a war isn't weird enough, they weren't the only ones making them.  Football card manufacturer Pro Set came out with their own series to compete with Topps, and the Pacific Trading Card Company beat them both to the punch with their own Operation Desert Shield card series, before the conflict escalated to a full scale war.  I remember some of the adults in my life buying them and putting them away with the expectation that they'd be worth money someday.  In reality, they're barely worth the cardboard they're printed on.  You can still find hundreds of packs in unopened boxes for sale on eBay.  The asking price seems to be around $5 for a box of 36 packs - a fraction of the 50 cents per pack that they sold for in every gas station and grocery store in the country back in 1991.

When I started Kindergarten, we were still doing Duck and Cover drills.  By the time I graduated high school, we had 28.8k dial up internet, and in the years between, we had trading cards for a war halfway across the world.  What can I say; it was a weird time to grow up.

Jan 16, 2021

Oculus Orbus Meets Jay Decay



Madballs vs GPK
Cloudco Entertainment / Topps (2021)
Veteran illustrators from the iconic Madballs and Garbage Pail Kids brands are teaming up to create new 80's inspired crossover artwork that will be featured on trading cards and other merchandise.  If this happened when I was a kid, I think my head might have exploded like Adam Bomb.

Look at that crazy little six year old bastard in the GPK shirt!
Garbage Pail Kids was one of my favorite things in the world when I was a kid, and I had at least 3 or 4 Madballs.  I remember I stuffed one into the dryer vent at my grandparents house when I was a kid.  My grandfather had to disconnect the dryer hose to shake it loose while my grandmother sat me down at the kitchen table and explained why I shouldn't stick my balls in the dryer vent (I'm pretty sure she used those exact words).  I got to hand it to you Grandma - that was some good advice right there.

I'm really looking forward to seeing what they come up with for the new crossover artwork.  It should be a lot of fun.

Jan 15, 2021

The Little Mall That Could



Planet Fitness and Hobby Lobby
Laurel Mall - Hazleton, PA
Today is Friday.  I will be spending this evening like I've spent pretty much every Friday since the pandemic began.  However, if you were to take a trip in a time machine to a random Friday 25 years ago, you would have probably found me at the Laurel Mall.  There wasn't really a lot to do in town.  The kids who were into cars usually hung out at the "The Lot" (the parking lot for Blockbuster video), and the dorks like me spent the evening in the mall - meeting friends, eating pizza at Dino's, playing a few video games at Boardwalk Blvd, listening to music at Camelot and The Wall, looking at rock shirts from Nirvana's Closet, and walking around trying to look like we had any intention of buying things to avoid the wrath of Intrepid Security.  When the place closed, the next stop would be Perkins, where about 100 teenagers would spend as long as we could with a bottomless cup of coffee before getting kicked out.  Many of the malls that were around back in the mid 90's are gone today, but this is yet another instance in which Hazleton is the exception to the rule.

You really have to hand it to the management of the Laurel Mall.  At a time when malls across the country have been dying a slow death even before the start of the pandemic, they're finding ways to not only stay open, but to fill their vacancies with new businesses.  Sadly, one of these new business is a place I will absolutely never spend a dime (hint: it's not the one with the treadmills), but I'm still happy that the small town mall that I grew up with is continuing to defy the odds.


Planet Fitness and Hobby Lobby have split the old K-Mart anchor store, which used to be the old Ames anchor store, which used to be the old Zayre's anchor store, which used to be... well, a town swimming pool, I think.  I'm not completely sure, but Zayre's was there when the mall opened in 1973.



There are still a couple of visual clues of the previous mall occupant.  For example, members of Planet Fitness might wonder why the gym has what appears to be a concrete prison on the left hand side of the building.  It was once the outside portion of the Lawn & Garden department of the Hazleton K-Mart where plants were kept with automatic sprinklers to keep them healthy in the open air during the spring and summer months.  It looked perfectly normal back then.

You can also see the outline of the old "Big K" sign that was removed from the back of the building.

Jan 14, 2021

Let's Bake-a-roo



Dunkaroos Sugar Cookie Dough
Betty Crocker (2021)
Sweet baby Jesus on a bicycle!  Within the past few years, they've brought back Crystal Pepsi, Ecto Cooler, Purplesaurus Rex, The Chipwich, a virtual clone of the Alpine White, and every damn thing you can think of made in a limited edition Pumpkin Spice flavor.  Now, they've not only brought back Dunkaroos, but they've turned them into a refrigerated dough with packets of icing.  If Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pies make a comeback, I'm getting a CAT Scan to find the listening device that the consumer packaged goods industry must have implanted in my brain.



If I had any artistic talent at all, I would have drawn a picture of the lead singer of Nirvana dressed in jelly shoes and a track suit with a pager on his hip, which is what I envisioned when I read this.  Incidentally, I totally had a beeper when I was a high school freshman in the mid 90's.  It didn't have service, and I used to turn it off and on in my pocket so people thought I was getting paged.  Needless to say, I was not elected prom king, but at least I didn't wear a track suit.



The package contains six little hockey puck cookies and two packs of frosting in a metallic package with the helpful advice to not microwave it.  There are two ways to prepare these.  You can either bake six big cookies or two dozen mini cookies.
 


Let's see.  To make 24 mini cookies, cut each cookie round into quarters and roll into balls.  Hmmm... I don't like the sound of that.  It sounds painful, and nobody wants cookie stains in their boxer shorts.  Besides, what's with the extra step.  What do I look like, Emeril Lagasse?  Six big cookies it is.



On the left is one of the six big cookies that were baked from this package, and the frosting from one of two packets that were included.  Let me assure you, it's a much more generous amount of frosting that it appears to be in this photo.  I was dunk-a-rooing the hell out of these and still had leftover frosting after all of the cookies were eaten.



As far as them being "big" cookies, keep in mind that the size is in comparison to the mini Dunkaroos cookies that you get in the little snack packs.  Each one was about the circumference of seven regular Dunkaroos, and as thick as two stacked on top of one another.

Back in the 90's, if you had told the teenage me that as a 40 year old man, he would be sheltered at home to avoid a global pandemic while domestic terrorists lay siege to our Capitol, and that he would be spending this time taking pictures of big Dunkaroos next to little Dunkaroos to give an accurate Dunkaroo size comparison to total strangers, I think he'd be alright with it.  I mean, how bad could it really be if I still have Dunkaroos?

Jan 13, 2021

Can Watermelon Soda Change Your Life?



Mountain Dew - Major Melon
PepsiCo (2021)
Not bad, but a little too sweet.  I think it might be better if it had a bit more tang.

Jan 12, 2021

These Televisions Have A Snowy Picture



One month later, the stray CRT televisions are still sitting on the side of the road.  The NEPA winter has taken its toll on them.  I'm starting to suspect that they'll be sitting here long after the snow thaws.

Jan 11, 2021

The Cheetah Kid Has Been Discovered


The Cheetah Kid
WWF Monday Night Raw - January 11, 1993
One of the dark matches on the first ever episode of Monday Night Raw was The Cheetah Kid vs. Johnny Rotten.  At the time, they were independent wrestlers who were largely unknown.  Later that year, these opponents made their debut as a tag team at ECW Ultraclash in Philadelphia using the personas that they would use for the rest of their pro wrestling career.  The Cheetah Kid became "Flyboy" Rocco Rock and Johnny Rotten became Johnny Grunge.  Together as The Public Enemy, they were four time ECW Tag Team Champions.  They also won the WCW and NWA tag team championships 

I don't know if video footage exists if their dark mach from the first Monday Night Raw, but at least one photo of Rocco Rock as The Cheetah Kid is out there.  It was shared last October by Richard Land (@maskedwrestlers on Twitter and editor of The History Of WWE).

Jan 10, 2021

It Hasn't Got A Leg To Stand On



My toughest night as a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies was October 7th, 2011.  It was Game 5 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals - an elimination game.  The winner moves on in the playoffs and the loser goes home.

The Cardinals scored in the top of the 1st inning.  It ended up being their only run of the game, but it was enough.  Of course, I had no way of knowing that would be the case.  When I watched the Phillies bat in the bottom of the first, I had all the hope in the world, and every reason to believe the Fightin's would pull through.  After all, this was a team that won 102 games during the regular season.  We had Roy Halladay on the mound and a lineup that included Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Hunter Pence, Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz.  Surely they could come back from a one run deficit with 27 outs to work with.  However, the situation grew more tense as each inning passed without the Phillies scoring a run.  The torture continued for over two hours.  It finally ended in the bottom of the 9th when Ryan Howard hit a weak ground ball up the middle and then collapsed with a torn Achilles tendon.  The Phillies lost the game, and they haven't been back to the post season since.

There are nine innings in a ballgame, and there are nine episodes in The Stand miniseries on CBS All Access.  After four episodes, I can say that this show feels a lot like that game in 2011.  With each passing episode of bungled, clunky storytelling, there's less time and fewer opportunities for this to end in a win.


I was truly excited for this miniseriesThe Stand is not only my favorite book; it's my favorite work of fiction in any medium.  To say that it has been a disappointment so far would be a massive understatement.  It's a sloppy mess with character development that has been so poor that it's almost non-existent.  It's not quite as horrible as The Dark Tower movie, but it doesn't even live up to the standards of the 1994 ABC miniseries, let alone do justice to the novel.

Part of the reason for this is that the show's creators decided to try to get cute with the flow of the story.  Rather than tell it as a linear story from start to finish, it jumps all over the place in time.  It seems like the gimmick was used to give the writers an opportunity to gloss over the pandemic and get to the Boulder Free Zone as soon as possible, but that does a great disservice to the story.  The first 230 pages of the novel - nearly 1/5th of the story - is the Captain Trips plague and its effects on the world.  It is the foundation upon which the rest of the story is built.  We are introduced to Stu, Nick, Larry, Frannie and Harold as the pandemic ends the world around them in just under a span of two weeks.  The miniseries hints at this with stunning visual effects and a few clips told in flashback, but it seems like it purposely doesn't tell the full story of the plague.  They decided to skip over the end of the world, and in so doing, they've made the rest of the story far less meaningful.

I'm sure that when the series is over, there will be fan edits that tell the story chronologically, but instead of improving the overall product, I think it will expose the CBS All Access miniseries for what it is: a version of The Stand that has been hacked to pieces, with more holes than a chunk of Swiss cheese, and with characters who were written with very little concern for the source material.



First of all, the Mother Abagail of the novel is a bad ass.  She is 108 years old and still makes her own biscuits in her farmhouse.  She also pumps her own water from the well, and kills her own chickens for her supper.  She is not a helpless old lady in a Colorado nursing home who is waiting for Nick to rescue her before she runs out of her pills, as this new miniseries would have you believe.  She also did not crave power and would never have been so arrogant as to refuse to speak to her neighbors in Boulder, insisting that they go through Nick.


Likewise, Fran Goldsmith is not the damsel in distress that she has been portrayed to be in this miniseries.  The Frannie in the novel would never attempt suicide, especially knowing that she is pregnant.  She may be intimidated by her mother in the parlor, but she is a strong, confident woman who knows what she wants and stands her ground to make sure that she gets it, or at least that her voice is heard, loudly and clearly.



The worst injustice so far has been what this miniseries has done to Larry Underwood.  I'm left to wonder why they even bothered to include Rita Blakemoor in this adaptation.  The whole point of her character is to show Larry's growth from a selfish boy in a man's body into an honorable man who has come out the other side as a father to Leo, a husband to Lucy, and a leader to the Boulder Free Zone.  The Larry Underwood of the novel may have showed off by playing the Star Spangled Banner on guitar from the roof of his house in the world before Captain Trips, but that Larry was gone by the time they got to Boulder.



Like most of the others, the characters of Glen Bateman and Stu Redman have been cut down to the bone.  The 1994 ABC miniseries may not have been a perfect adaptation of the book, but it does a good job of capturing the bond of friendship between the old bald-headed sociologist and the good ol' boy from a dying East Texas town.  The 2020-21 miniseries barely does enough to make them acquaintances.

They started off by short changing the story of who Stu was in Arnette, Texas.  They then included a friendship between Stu and one of the plague center doctors, which was actually a pretty good addition to the story.  However, since that time, the character has been flat out boring and bears only a faint resemblance to the Stu of the novel.  He has no chemistry with Glen, or Fran, or anybody else.  He's just a generic guy in charge.

Glen is my favorite character of the novel, and while the 1994 miniseries cuts out quite a bit of what made him special in the novel (such as his theories about how society would come together after Captain Trips), the new miniseries seems like it wrote a brand new character from the ground up and just decided to call him Glen Bateman.  Frankly, if they were going to play him like this, they might as well have cut the character from the story altogether.


The only character that has been given any significant depth after four episodes is Harold Lauder.  In fact, if you've started watching this miniseries without ever reading the book or seeing the 1994 miniseries, you might think that he was the main character of the story.  In all fairness, Owen Teague has done a fantastic job in the role.

In fact, I don't think there's anything wrong with any of the acting performances so far.  They're just written so badly and so far from the source material that it has killed much of what makes The Stand such a fantastic story.  There's nothing to connect to with most of these characters.  There's no depth, no heart, no connections to each other or to the viewer.  Take Ralph Brentner: in the novel, he's a middle-aged, blue collar, salt-of-the-earth guy with a heart of gold who loves Mother Abagail like she was his own mother.  That character was replaced by "Ray" Brentner, who has had maybe a dozen words of dialogue total, and whose entire role thus far has been reduced to Queen's Guard to Mother Abagail - an extra who could just have easily appeared in the credits as "doorwoman with gun".

There are things that have been done well.  The choice of music has been excellent (though I do miss the haunting score of W.G. Snuffy Walden), and the visual effects have been quite good.  They didn't cheap out, that's for sure.  However, the writing and the story structure have made this really difficult to enjoy.  This is not The Stand.  It's some guy monkeying around with The Stand, and trying to add his own little twist on it, and screwing it up royally in the process.  It's such a shame.  This could have been great.

Jan 9, 2021

Forest Fortune


Forest Fortune
Pennsylvania Lottery (1992)
Ones like this weren't quite as big of a pain in the neck as the astrological sign tickets.  I mean, on the rare occasion that someone would wants the one with the turtle and the fish, it was doable.  There's only five designs, so if push came to shove, I'd buy the loose tickets when my shift was over.

Alright, I'm done ranting about instant lottery games with different ticket designs.

Jan 8, 2021

The Most Annoying Type Of Lottery To Sell


Lucky Stars
Pennsylvania Lottery (1992)
I used to hate this kind of ticket when I worked at the gas station.  It has nothing to do with the astrology aspect of them, which I think is actually pretty cool.  It's more the way that the tickets are sold.

If you've never worked at a place that sells lottery tickets, here's a brief rundown of how it works (or at least how it worked from the mid 90's through around 2005): First, you get a delivery of new tickets.  Each pack of tickets is shrink wrapped, and includes a special barcode that you scan into the PA Lottery Machine to "active" the pack (if you skip this step, a winning ticket from the pack cannot be redeemed).  Next, you load the little plastic ticket dispenser.  In most of the places I've worked, this is built into the counter near the cash register.  It's set up in such a way that the shoppers can look down through a clear plexiglass window and see which tickets are available for sale.

Each type of ticket comes on a long strip, and the individual tickets are perforated so that you can tear one off at a time when you sell it.  The tickets in each pack are sequentially numbered, starting with 001 and ending at however many tickets are in the pack.  If memory serves me correct, each pack contains $300 worth of tickets, so if it's a $1 ticket, the strip will have 300 individual tickets.  If it's a $2 ticket, the strip will have 150 individual tickets, and so on.

In most cases, all of the tickets in each pack have the same exact appearance, other than the number that identifies the number of the ticket.  Every so often, a customer comes along who swears that there's a "trick" to it and will only buy tickets if they have a low number, or a high number, or a little bar printed somewhere near the number.  This is all in their heads, of course.  I've watched people scratch these things off for decades and I can assure you that there's no secret "trick" to hitting the jackpot.  However, the fact that we have to sell them in sequential order

In some cases, the same ticket can have several different designs, such as these Lucky Stars tickets.  There's still 300 tickets in the pack, but in this case, there are 12 different designs - one for each astrological sign.  Here's the problem - the one that people see through the little plexiglass window in the counter is further into the pack, and is different from the next one in line that can be torn off and sold.  So, Suzie Customer sees the Sagittarius design and asks for the Lucky Stars ticket.  You tear off the ticket and sell it to her, and she grouchily waives the Taurus ticket in the air while telling you that you gave her the wrong one.

This puts you, the cashier, in quite a pickle.  Do you try to explain the cliff notes version of what you just read in the hopes that she's sensible and accepts the ticket you sold to her, or do you break the rules and pull out the next seven tickets, give her the Sagittarius one, and then hope that you can sell the rest of them before the end of your shift?  Keep in mind, if you make an exception to the rule once, you'll probably be asked to make it every day, since most of your customers are "regulars" who pop in for their morning coffee every day, and if you don't make an exception, you run the risk of a screaming imbecile on the other side of the counter berating you for being too stupid to honor a simple request?  Oh yeah, you'll be dealing with this exact scenario at least five or six times a day - probably over a dozen times on a busy day, so if you choose to do the right thing and explain why you have to sell the next ticket in the pack, which might not necessarily be the one the customer saw in the window, you're going to have to use your best fake-nice voice and pretend that you haven't had this same exact conversation 50 times before this silly Sagittarius strolled on over to the counter.

It's been 16 years since I worked at a gas station and I can feel the suppressed rage bubbling up like it was yesterday.  So, yeah, these tickets are pretty cool, but what a pain in the ass they are to sell.

Jan 7, 2021

Better Than Lunch In Elementary School



Jam N' Jim's PB&J
George DeLallo Company (2021)
These are round wafer sticks that are filled with a peanut butter cream, and they're packaged with a little tub of raspberry jam to dip them in.  Very creative, and a very tasty snack.

Jan 6, 2021

The Shameful Face Of The Nation



The atrocities that are taking place in Washington DC right now should have every decent American feeling a deep sense of shame.  We allowed a repulsive, hate-filled con man like Donald Trump to attempt a coup to remain in power after he lost a free and fair election, and we allowed him to incite treason and sedition and a violent overthrow of the Capitol in his name.

This is what we've come to.  A sociopath - an absolute clown without a shred of honor, integrity or decency, has led us to destroy ourselves.

Shame on us all for allowing this.

Jan 5, 2021

The Closing Of A Hazleton Landmark



Genetti's
Rt. 309 - Hazleton, PA
Genetti's Hotel has been open in Hazleton since 1950.  It began as 23 rooms over a restaurant, and it expanded into several buildings with a ballroom.  Over the years, I've been to their Sunday breakfast buffet with my family.  It became a tradition since my grandparents passed away that we would go with Dad and Trish to their holiday dinners for Easter and Thanksgiving.

Sadly, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is now closed, and the property was sold through a Luzerne County bankruptcy sale to the Iglesia Pentecostal Casa de Oracion Church.

I went to school with the current owner, Pat Genetti.  We didn't run in the same social circles, but he was always very nice every time I spoke with him.  His family has been in the hospitality industry since his great-grandfather came to America from Tyrol (the same region of Europe that my great-grandfather, Cosimo, came from).  It's a damn shame to see his business close.  It has been a part of Hazleton for many years, and it will be missed.

Jan 4, 2021

You Could Fit A Lot Of Herbs And Spices In There



The World's Largest Frying Pan
Delmarva Chicken Festival
This photo was recently shared by Vintage Classic Postcards on Twitter, and it has definitely piqued my interest.  I've never heard of the Delmarva Chicken Festival before, but it has been held on the Delmarva Peninsula annually since 1948.

The World's Largest Frying Pan made its debut at the festival in 1950.  The first one was ten feet in diameter, had an eight-foot handle, and weighed 650 pounds.  The pan can hold 800 chicken quarters at a time, and it is used to fry nearly three tons of chicken every year.

Jan 3, 2021

McRib and Dr. Pepper



McRib
McDonald's - Laurel Mall - Hazleton, PA
I'm convinced that the vast majority of folks who say that this sandwich is disgusting have never actually eaten one.  I'm not going to pretend it's the greatest example of meat placed between two pieces of bread, but it's pretty delicious.  The pickles and onions give the sandwich a nice crunch, and their flavors work well with the barbecue sauce.  According to McDonald's on Twitter, this is the end of McRib season, so get one while you still can.



I don't know about that Dr. Pepper though.  It's just such a weird soda that I don't even know how to describe it.  The closest I can come is to say that it sort of tastes the way that makeup smells, but sometimes it's pleasant.  It's not a great description, but see if you can do better.  It's not a cola.  It's not creamy.  It's not lemony or fruity.  What the hell is it?

Jan 2, 2021

Life, The Universe, And Snoopy



Snoopy Greeting Card
Hallmark Contemporary Cards (1979)
When I was up in the attic putting away Christmas decorations, I found a box that I've had since I cleaned out my grandparents house after they passed away.  It was filled with cards and letters that my father and grandparents wrote back and forth to each other when my dad went off to college.

I only read a few of them so far, but reading my dad's words to his parents (and vice versa) in the two years before I was born has been quite an experience.  This one caught my eye because it was one of the few that included a date.  My grandmother wrote it to my dad on January 2nd, 1979, which was 42 years ago today.  My dad was 19 years old and entering the second semester of his sophomore year at Penn State after Christmas break.

It struck me that when Dad read this card, the last thing on his mind was becoming a father.  I was one of those babies that just sort of happened, and screwed up a lot of plans in the process.  Reading these has not only given me a glimpse of who my family were before I came around, but who they might have been if not for Dad randomly meeting a Hawaiian girl at Carmen's Restaurant later on in 1979.  Any number of little things could have happened differently on that day that would have prevented my parents from meeting, and I wouldn't be here.  As it turned out, they were just hanging around waiting for something to happen, and for better or for worse, that something was me.



Jan 1, 2021

The Return Of Saturday Morning



Saturday Morning Cartoons
MeTV (2021)
The new year is already looking better than the dumpster fire that was 2020.    Get ready to grab your bowl of Lucky Charms and head for the television.  At 7:00 am tomorrow morning, MeTV is launching the rebirth of Saturday Morning Cartoons with a three hour block of Loony Tunes, Tom & Jerry and Popeye.