Monday, March 30, 2020

Stay-at-home shelfie #1

I'm entering Week 3 of working from home here in Dover, Pennsylvania. And York County was officially added to Governor Tom Wolf's "Stay at Home" order on Friday. To mark the days and help pass the time, I'm going to start a Shelfie Tour of my bedroom. Consider it a visual version of 2016's "All my books (or A Perfectly Ridiculous Way to Spend a Sunday)." There are a lot of books, so we'll see how many days this gets us through. Be safe out there. Read lots of books!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Smile-worthy old AP Laserphoto

I still have this 1991 Associated Press LaserPhoto from my days working at The Daily Collegian at Penn State. For many years, it was taped up in my work cubicle at various newspapers, because it always brings a smile to my face. I have an odd sense of humor, perhaps, but there's no doubt it's a great piece of photojournalism.

The caption states:

"ROYAL OAK, Mich., April 16 -- A TAXING MIDNIGHT -- Darryl Lee, of Detroit, seals his 1990 tax return as the final cart of mail is loaded onto a truck at midnight Monday at the Royal Oak, Mich. Post Office. Postal worker Bill Vanderveer hangs his head in disbelief as onlookers cheer for Lee. Lee works the midnight shift at his job and said he fell asleep, but awoke just in time to make the deadline."

The photo is by Blake J. Discher. There's someone by that name on Twitter and I've reached out to him. If he gets back to me, I'll be sure to add to this post.

Three elements of this photo, of course, are much different in 2020:
1. The deadlines to FILE and PAY federal income taxes are extended to July 15, 2020, according to the IRS.
2. This crowd is not using proper social distancing.
3. Probably let's not lick envelopes.

One thing remains the same, however: Postal workers are unsung heroes.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Best photo of Buddy,
and another of Cyrano

Earlier this month, I promised a picture of Buddy, the first family cat we had during my lifetime. I have surprisingly few snapshots of him, and here's the best. It was taken in the summer of 1984, when we lived in Florida. Buddy joined the family in 1979, when we were living in Clayton, New Jersey. The story goes that Dad found him as a scared kitten seeking shelter in the parking lot of Buddy's Tavern in nearby Swedesboro. Hence his name. He was a very good cat, but he didn't live that long of a life. He died in either late 1986 or early 1987; he had hidden under a chest freezer in our basement in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, such that we didn't find him until a couple months later, despite several top-to-bottom house searches. I know animals have an instinct to hide when they're sick or dying, but have always felt really sad that Buddy died alone. We've been fortunate enough to be lovingly gathered about cats Salem, Mitts and Huggles when they died peacefully. And also our goldendoodle Coby. (And now I'm realizing there's another cat I haven't written much about — Scoop, the journalism cat. That'll be the next thing to rectify.)

In cheerier news, here's another photograph of Cyrano, who was Buddy's brother starting in 1980.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Sci-fi book cover: "The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction"

Oh, hi Ed Harris.

  • Title: The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction, Fourth Series
  • Editor: Anthony Boucher (1911-1968)
  • Cover illustrator: Ed Emshwiller (1925-1990)
  • Publisher: Ace Books (D-455)
  • Cover price: 35 cents
  • Year: 1960, per, per Cole Checklist of SF Anthologies.
  • Pages: 255
  • Format: Paperback
  • Back cover blurb: "Tops in their field." — St. Louis Globe-Democrat
  • Authors included: Alfred Bester, C.M. Kornbluth, Robert Abernathy, Arthur Porges, Poul Anderson, Ray Bradbury, Robert Sheckley, J. Francis McComas, Avram Davidson, Richard Matheson, Albert Compton Friborg, Shirley Jackson, Daniel F. Galouye, Lord Dunsany, Manly Wade Wellman, Isaac Asimov.
  • Dedication: "For Mick without whose incomparable stimulus and cooperation this book was, alas, edited."
  • First sentence: "If this collection has a thesis, it is simply this: That The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction had the good luck to publish a number of outstanding stories during the past year, and that the best of them are worth assembling in this more permanent form."
  • Last sentence: "*If this rime seems questionable, cf. 'God Save the Queen.' — A.B."
  • Random sentence from the middle: "He gathered together the henbane, the ground unicorn's horn, the hemlock, together with a morsel of dragon's tooth."
  • Rating on Goodreads: 3.11 stars (out of 5)
  • Rating on Amazon: 5 stars (out of 5)
  • Amazon review excerpt: In 2014, R. Holloway wrote (cleaned up a bit by me): "Even though I have probably read most of these stories when they were first published in the magazine, they are still a great re-read. When I was a kid, early 60s, I loved reading these scifi mags. Still have all of them, mostly, relatively pristine. ... If one purchases a copy of this volume, they will not be disappointed."

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Yup, still thinking about "The Stand"

OK, I guess that's not enough.

Still have that nagging feeling we're living in a cockeyed (or would that be croweyed?) version of The Stand.

Still fighting the journalist's urge to document everything for posterity.1 But is there a need? A former colleague, Ryan Teague Beckwith, half-joked on Twitter, "Everybody's locked at home with good internet access, smartphones and cheap computers. This is going to be the most over-documented historical crisis ever."

True. Unless there's some kind of disaster with The Cloud, future historians will be up to their eyeballs in digital eyewitness accounts from 2020.

I cannot, however, resist the urge to aggregate some of the insanity swirling around us this week. Here are some headlines and tweets that might leave you with the distinct impression that the healthiest thing you can do right now is to not read the headlines and tweets. This is straight out of Stephen King...

  • Patients 'charged with attempted murder' for failing to self-isolate
  • Rural America watches pandemic erupt in cities as fear grows
  • How govt can track social media posts to enforce quarantines
  • Supermarkets install protective barriers between staff, customers
  • Maggie Haberman: The increased wail of ambulances in our Brooklyn neighborhood is haunting over the last few days.
  • Fired Americans Send Unemployment Websites Crashing Down
  • Pentagon orders halt of overseas movement for military
  • Meredith (@thisismeredith): I feel I must tweet because the press does not reflect our reality. The deluge is here. Our ICU is completely full with intubated COVID patients. We are rapidly moving to expand capacity. We are nearly out of PPE. I anticipate we will begin rationing today.
  • Pastor: Virus Of Demonic Origin
  • Thousands of inmates released as jails face virus threat
  • Man Who Licked Products at WALMART Charged with Terror Threat
  • Londoners spooked after mystery air raid siren goes off
  • Donald Trump: The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success. The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!
  • Hillary Clinton: Please do not take medical advice from a man who looked directly at a solar eclipse.
  • 'We are collapsing': Virus pummels medics in Spain and Italy
  • Senate rushes to approve $2.2 trillion coronavirus bill
  • Meredith: One problem is the sheer number of patients. Another is that we are early intubating these patients given data suggesting improved outcomes and also to avoid aerosolizing procedures to protect staff.
  • Hospitals consider universal do-not-resuscitate orders for coronavirus patients
  • Brazil’s Bolsonaro, channeling Trump, dismisses coronavirus measures — it’s just ‘a little cold’
  • Analysis: President Trump is as popular as he's ever been right now
  • World Health Organization praises Trump's leadership in response to coronavirus pandemic
  • Meredith: Tough day. Floor beds were converted to ICU beds on the fly as a cascade of patients in the ED and on the floor required emergent intubation. Inspiring to watch RN, NP/PA and MD administration come together to find a way to care for these patients.
  • Testing blunders crippled response
  • Biden Slams Trump 'Failure'
  • Fear and foreboding in New York
  • California needs 50,000 more hospital beds
  • San Fran warns of surge: 'Worst yet to come'
  • Meredith: Staffing these beds requires incredible resources. Hard to say which will run out first — staffing, physical beds, ventilators, or other life support devices, e.g. CRRT machines to run continuous dialysis for the many patients developing renal failure.
  • City dwellers fleeing to deserts and mountains
  • Florida Spring Breakers Begin Testing Positive
  • Domestic Passenger Flights Could Shut Down
  • Meredith: Today was the worst day anyone has ever seen, but tomorrow will be worse. We are on the precipice of rationing. Needless to say, these decisions run counter to everything we stand for and are incredibly painful.
  • Survivalists feel vindicated
  • National Guard arrives at JAVITS to build first of 4 emergency hospitals
  • Priest dies after giving respirator to younger patient
  • Meredith: I am ending my night by delivering acetaminophen to a co-resident who spiked her first fever today. She is one of many in recent days. This is where we are.

1. Went for a walk at 7:30 tonight.
Just past sunset, before full dark.
The gloamin, they call it.
A walk of almost complete silence.
Except for the birds, chattering. So much chattering.
No other sounds.
Houses dark, except for glowing screens behind front windows:
A game show. Disney+. A black-and-white Space Invaders game five feet wide.
It's quiet.
Driveways filled with cars.
Campers in driveways and on the street. Many campers.
I passed one soul, walking in the opposite direction.
She: Hi.
Me: Good evening.
Ten feet apart, we were.
Darker now.
Jesus glowing from a window, filling the whole frame.
The birds are silent.
My footsteps the only sound.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Three members of the Bridge Gang

As an addendum to the post "Two decades of keeping the running bridge tally," here's a photo, probably from the late 1960s, of three of the bridge participants. From left:

  • Mom
  • George Langis
  • Susie Langis

The original photo is only 1⅝ inches across, so this is the best I could do with the quality. Best guess is that this was taken in Lycoming County. And Dad, the other original member of the Bridge Gang, probably took it. Or possibly it was my grandmother, Helen.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Many words about "The Stand" strung together

"No, coronavirus is NOT like THE STAND.
It’s not anywhere near as serious. It’s eminently survivable. Keep calm and take all reasonable precautions."

— Stephen King, author of The Stand, 15 days ago, on Twitter.

I've been thinking about The Stand quite a bit lately, and I suspect I'm not the only member of Generation X to be doing so. For some of us who grew up reading Stephen King, the surreal unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic feels a bit too much like a book we've read — a story that gets worse with each chapter.

Yes, I've been thinking about The Stand quite a bit lately, but I haven't really been able to shape a coherent blog post about it. I'm one of those writers who needs to know the first sentences and the basic direction of longer writing pieces before being able to type a single thing. So that leads to a lot of staring at the blinking cursor on the screen.

But nothing coherent emerged and, in this moment, "nothing" doesn't seem to be a viable option. So I'm going to wing it a bit, freestyle this post. Maybe that's appropriate because, weaving back to Stephen King, my bedtime reading the past week hasn't been The Stand, but Danse Macabre, King's 1981 history of horror. And that book is as freestyle as it gets. It's King at his peak of just letting everything he thinks about everything tumble out of his mind and onto the typewriter (or perhaps keyboard by that point). It's like hanging out with that guy who knows every bit of book or movie trivia, and has an opinion on it all, to boot. You could listen to that guy talk for hours because, damn, how does remember all that stuff? As Becky wrote in a review of Danse Macabre almost exactly 10 years ago on Goodreads: "There was so much inside [King's] head that I just wanted to remember, or come back to, or ... just highlight."

Anyway, The Stand.

It was first published as a Doubleday hardcover in 1978. Then came the Signet/New American Library paperback in 1980 that's pictured at the top of this post. That's the paperback edition I remember us having around the house. But while I read (many) other books by King in the middle and late 1980s, I never got into The Stand. Don't really know why.

Then the spring of 1990 rolled around. I had just finished my freshman year at Penn State. We had a big family trip on the summer docket; seven of us were heading west for two weeks to see the Grand Canyon, Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone. There was going to be a lot of down time, so I needed something hefty to read. And that's when The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition hit the bookstores in its full, 1,150-page glory. The original 1978 hardcover, at 823 pages, had been no lightweight. But in 1990 King was at the height of his power in the book industry. He could have sold phone books with his name plastered on the cover. So the 1990 version was a much-trumpeted re-release, promising everything that had been cut from King's earlier version. The novel got a timeline makeover, too. As Wikipedia describes it, "King restored some fragments of texts that were initially reduced, revised the order of the chapters, shifted the novel's setting from 1980 to ten years forward, and accordingly corrected a number of cultural references."

Yours truly at the Grand Canyon in 1990

While I was seeing the Scenic National Landmarks™ with my family, I essentially spent that 1990 trip to with Stu Redman, Nick Andros, Harold Lauder and, of course, Randall Flagg. Complete & Uncut was the only version of The Stand I knew, though it was later conflated with the well-done 1994 mini-series. (And now I don't think I could read any edition of the book without picturing Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Rob Lowe, Miguel Ferrer and Laura San Giacomo in my head. You can't go home again.)

But COVID-19 has me thinking about The Stand quite a bit lately ⁠— and just maybe its world can be visited anew. On the blog Stephen King Revisited, Bev Vincent contributed an interesting essay in 2015 that looks at the creation of The Stand. You should read it yourself, but as a way of enticing you I can say it has mentions of Patty Hearst, Legionnaires' disease, Charles Manson, and The Wizard of Oz.

Down in the comments section of that essay, I came across the first kernel of an idea that now intrigues me. Someone named BR waxes eloquently about the strength of the 1978 version. He writes:
"Returned to it recently after about 25 years, but picked up the uncut edition, and it strikes me as a very different book, with many parts having a post-‘It’ King feel that don’t quite gel [sic] with the original voice. The original version seems like a book an idealistic youth in his 20’s would write, the expanded version has a bitter undercurrent of cynicism and suspicion about Humanity that I guess I just find unpleasant, cartoonish and lacking empathy. ... King moved the timeline ahead, but it’s a book that very specifically deals with the 1970’s, and its attendant fears, to the degree I think it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read that sums up the climate of the 70’s."
I have an obsession with the 1970s now (fiction and nonfiction) that I didn't remotely have when I was a 19-year-old in that summer of 1990 (with the possible exception of loving old Genesis albums). So I like the idea of reading the original edition of The Stand.

Book and movie critic Jessica Ritchey, whose writings are available at the Patreon page "Cold Takes: The Elephant Graveyard of Hip," is currently doing a multi-part series in which she's reading the 1978 and 1990 versions of The Stand simultaneously. The series, natch, is titled "Reading The Stand in the time of Coronavirus." I'm not going to quote any of it here, because her work is behind the Patreon paywall and she deserves to be paid for it (the $1 per month tier is dubbed "I'd Buy That For A Dollar"). But, in general, she has been praising the 1978 edition as being the tighter, better reading experience.

* * *

But why am I drawn to any edition of The Stand as we're dealing with our own, less-deadly pandemic? How is would that possibly be enjoyable? The COVID-19 news gets worse every day, and I can't avoid it my role as a journalist. Today, I sent my ex-wife and her wife an email with the header "Devolving into Stephen King level shit." It detailed these COVID-19 snippets:

  • "Pennsylvania State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R., Clinton) has introduced a resolution calling for A State Day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer because the coronavirus pandemic 'may be but a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins'"
  • "Racist extremist groups, including neo-Nazis and other white supremacists, are encouraging members who contract novel coronavirus disease to spread the contagion to cops and Jews, according to intelligence gathered by the FBI."

Also today, we learned that a man died and his wife is in critical condition after they ingested chloroquine phosphate that was intended for use in their aquarium. In recent days, President Donald Trump has touted chloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, as a potential treatment for COVID-19. Chloroquine phosphate is not cholorquine and, regardless, doctors stress that people should never, ever self-medicate.

As I said at the start, all of these horrific March 2020 news reports feel a bit too much like a book we've read; they are like the "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold" vignettes that made Stephen King novels so horribly compelling when we were in our teens. Maybe we want to revisit these novels because, as terrifying as they might be, we know they're much safer than the real world right now. Escapism in a time of COVID-19. Horror as comfort food.

There was a lot of wit and dark humor in the replies to Stephen King's March 8 tweet. Mentions of Hap's pumps, Captain Trips, summer colds, and, in a nod to a different King novel and present-day events, Greg Stillson.

I think these were my favorite two responses, though:

OK, that's enough.
I'll go back to old postcards, snapshots and book covers. Promise.

Mystery RPPC: Woman feeding a farm animal

Today's real photo postcard features a woman in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots feeding what I'm 90% sure is a pig. It's an AZO postcard dating to between 1910 and 1930. Nothing is written on the back. It certainly meant something to someone at some point, for it to have been kept all those early years. But now it's just pure mystery. I hope the little one didn't become bacon, but it's hard to imagine it was raised for any other purpose.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Philadelphia Phillies spring training photos from March 1984

Dad snapped these photographs while the two of us were at a Philadelphia Phillies spring training game in March 1984. The Phillies were on the road that day. It looks like they were playing against the New York Mets, which might make this Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Florida.

As we lived in nearby Largo at the time, we went to a lot of spring training games; the Phillies' spring training home was (and still is) Clearwater. One day in Clearwater, Dad was able to get Richie Ashburn's autograph, which I related in a 2011 post.

These photographs from 36 years ago feature the late Frank Edwin "Tug" McGraw Jr., Hall of Famer Michael Jack Schmidt and the Phillie Phanatic, among others. The player stretching and wearing No. 11 is Ivan DeJesus, who the Phillies acquired in 1981 by trading Larry Bowa to the Cubs (and throwing future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg into the deal). The Phillies were coming off an appearance in the 1983 World Series, which they lost to the Baltimore Orioles. The Mets were beginning to put together the team that went on to win the 1986 World Series.

As the COVID-19 pandemic makes it impossible to predict when Major League Baseball (and other sports) will return, I'm going to finally buckle down and try to finish some of the baseball-themed posts I've had on the backburner for far too long. We need a diversion, just as we did in 1994, when a strike stopped Major League Baseball and I created "Baseball Flashback" at The Gettysburg Times. Along those lines, I'm planning to write the definitive history of the Steve Jeltz Fan Club, an ode to MicroLeague Baseball on the C-64, and an inning-by-inning essay about PHL-17's telecast of the surreal Game 5 of the 1980 National League Division Series between the Phillie and Astros.

Here are the rest of those March 1984 snapshots...

Past Phillies-themed posts

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Mystery RPPC:
A crowd from long ago

It's the second real photo postcard of the week, and we know roughly zilch about this gang. The stamp box indicates it was an Artura RPPC taken between 1908 and 1924. So we don't know whether this was before or after World War I or the 1918 flu pandemic. Some of the older members of this group could have been born in the late 19th century. Most of them look pretty bundled up, and it sure looks like the landscape in the background is covered with snow. Those are some dandy button-up sweaters. It always strikes me as odd that there are so many RPPCs like this with nothing written on the back.

Here's a closer look at some of the folks.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Story time: The Tale of the Gothic Lullaby

Ashar and I have once again collaborated on a story, using a vintage postcard as the jumping off point for a fanciful tale. And so, without further ado...

The Tale of the Gothic Lullaby

You are about to hear a timeless tale. There was once a huge stone castle atop a cliff. It was full of towers and twisting staircases and secret passages and more memories than one could imagine.

The current occupant of the castle was Xavier Moon. He had lived there for four years.

When our story opens, we find Xavier in his study, with his black cat, Jupiter.

Jupiter was a very special cat. Jupiter liked to sing (which means he can talk). Sometimes, though, the singing started to annoy Xavier.

On this day, Jupiter was singing classic rock.

“Will you quit your singing, I’m trying to write,” Xavier said, exasperated.

“What are you writing, Boss? Is it that gothic musical you’ve been trying to write for the past three years?,” Jupiter said, and then started to lick his paw.

“Yes, it is the gothic musical and it probably wouldn’t have taken me three years to write if you would just shut up every now and then,” Xavier said.

“But I’m your inspiration,” Jupiter said while eyeing his tail. “Are you going to give me a role in the musical?”

“You know, Jupiter, that wouldn’t be a bad idea,” Xavier said.

Just as Jupiter got an excited look in his eyes at the prospect of being a star, they heard a loud bang from somewhere else in the castle. They looked at each other.

“What, what was that?” Jupiter said, acting like a scaredy-cat.

“Relax,” Xavier said. It was probably just the wind.

And so they relaxed.

* * *

Later that night, Xavier was in his bedroom, where he also had a writing desk. His gothic musical was now going to feature a cat. And so far, his best song for it was titled, “Enchanted Darkness.” The song was written for three instruments: piano, bass and acoustic guitar. Because Xavier wasn’t sure how much his musical was going to cost, and was trying to be thrifty.

Suddenly, a panel on the wall opened. It was a panel that Xavier had never noticed in his four years inside the castle. Out floated a purple, wispy phantom.

Xavier was intrigued.

“I have been watching you,” the phantom said. “I am a lover of music, too. I was a composer in my day, which was so long ago we shall not speak of it.”

“What kind of music did you compose?” Xavier asked.

“Mostly death metal,” the phantom said. Then he winked and laughed. “I’m such a kidder. Get it? DEATH metal? I’m not exactly very alive these days, if you catch my drift. … Actually, I wrote love songs, because I was constantly trying to woo the maidens who live in the village below my castle.”

Xavier laughed.

“You have a good sense of humor,” the living person in the room said to the phantom.

“Thank you,” said the phantom. “And I think you have a good sense of music. Do you need any help getting your musical started? Do you have enough funds?”

Xavier smiled slightly. He looked at the phantom.

“I could, if you don’t mind, use your help to write my musical,” Xavier said. “The funds, though, are a different problem.”

“Right,” said the phantom, affecting a British accent. “Let’s take these one at a time. First up, I have some of my old composing ideas in the library. Did you even know this castle has a library, because I’ve never seen you in it.”

“I personally had no idea there was a library, or I might have gone there and looked for some more inspiration to help me write,” Xavier said.

“Follow me,” said the phantom.

* * *

They went through seven different halfways, down two cobweb passages, straight through a fireplace (which shocked Xavier) and then emerged in a tall room with shelves that went fifty feet high.

“Here’s your inspiration,” the phantom said. There are all kinds of subjects. Anything you can imagine. Where would you like to start?

Somewhere, a poodle barked.

“Can you point me in the direction of the mystery and horror books,” Xavier said.

“Certainly can,” the phantom said. “Those were my favorite, too. Though it wasn’t smart reading them before bedtime.”

The phantom drifted over to a shadowy corner of the room and pointed at a shelf of leatherbound books with titles like “Ghosts of the Marshland,” “Sounds That Will Tickle You With Fright” and “Mysterious Cases of the Unknown.”

Xavier was delighted. He spent many days and hours looking over the volumes and eventually, his gothic musical was in wonderful shape, full of a dozen songs, including a brand new one with the title of “Gothic Lullaby.”

* * *

But one morning, the phantom found Xavier in his kitchen, looking quite sad.

“If you were in my position and you worked so hard on something, how would you go about making it known to the world?” Xavier said.

“Well,” said the phantom, while picking his remaining tooth with a toothpick, “I think you’re going to need some funds so that you can have props, an orchestra, advertising, a venue, and a sound system.”

The phantom paused.

“I know a secret about this castle, mate,” he said, once again going British for no reason.

Xavier looked at the phantom, confused.

“Down in the wine cellar, behind some of the shelves, there’s a rocky passage that leads to a room full of plundered pirate treasure. Enough money for you to fund your show,” the phantom said.

“That’s very kind of you to offer,” Xavier said. “But I couldn’t take your money.”

“Oh it’s not my money,” the phantom said in a sing-song voice. “It’s pirate money. Haunted pirate money. Cursed, even. Because there’s a catch.”

“What’s the catch?” Xavier asked, sighing.

“The hallway to the pirates’ treasure is guarded by a harpy, whose songs could drive a man insane,” the phantom said. “And there’s only one thing on Earth the harpy is afraid of.”

“And what’s that,” Xavier asked.

“Black cats,” said the phantom.

Just then, there was a gentle meow behind the phantom

* * *

Two days later, after much planning, Xavier, Jupiter and the phantom went down into the wine cellar. Even though they had a black cat, Xavier was uneasy. Jupiter, meanwhile, was also nervous. The phantom was humming a song to himself and suddenly sneezed into his elbow.

They went down the dark, dark hallway behind the wine shelves. Xavier began to hear soft singing.

“Love your curves and all yours edges, all your perfect imperfections,” sang the sweet and evil harpy in a legendary voice.

Suddenly, a pair of red glowing eyes appeared in the dark. Xavier and the phantom saw a creature that looked like a beautiful maiden with wings and talons.

“Not today, chicken lady,” said a voice from the other side of the darkness. Out stepped Jupiter, who took a step toward the harpy.

“You think calling me a name will scare me off?” asked the harpy.

But then she saw a black cat step in front of her.

There was a horrible screech then. And the harpy disappeared.

“Bye-bye, feather queen,” Xavier sang. “That was a great job you did there, Jupiter.”

The three of them continued down the passage and came to a small room. Indeed, it was filled with gold, silver and rubies.

* * *

Two months later, after much rehearsing, “Gothic Lullaby” debuted in a theater in the village below the castle. It starred Jupiter, Xavier and Hugh Jackman.

They gothic musical was a huge success. The phantom sat in the front row and sang along with all the songs. Way, way in the back of the theater, a pair of red eyes glowed. The mouth beneath them smiled.


* * *

And this was the original vintage postcard that inspired the story...

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Mystery RPPC: Group of 4 kids

This real photo postcard was produced by Kruxo, which is a change of pace from the AZO postcards that I have more commonly come across. Interestingly, this one seems to have a stamp box that's a less-documented variation, with circles in each of the four corners. That variation isn't listed at either Playle or MetroPostcard. But, based upon Kruxo's other stamp boxes, I think it's safe to assume this card was produced sometime between 1908 and the end of the 1920s.

And who are these folks? This is all that's written on the back of the postcard, which was never mailed:

[in pen]
Frances Cecil
Lucian Irvan

[in pencil]

So, the four boys' names are probably Frances, Cecil, Lucian and Irvan. (And no, it was not uncommon for children of Lucian's age to wear a gown at that time.)

Other mystery RPPCs
(To pass the time during Social Distancing)

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Junk mail in the time of COVID-19

My only mail today, ironically, was this "Air Gram" addressed to Mom. She died three years ago, but I'm still getting mail addressed to her from cruise companies almost every week. Until very recently, it was fun to browse through them and imagine trips down the Rhine or to other intriguing locations. Now, of course, the cruise advertisements are a bit sad and jarring.1 The world has changed.

We have our extra cat food, extra cans of soup, many blocks of Cabot cheese and, yes, extra toilet paper. All of the adults at our house will be working from home for the foreseeable future. Social distancing and community spread are new phrases that dominate our daily conversations and will enter future history books. Our generation is dealing with a pandemic, as our ancestors did a century ago with the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Here are a few screenshots, preserved for posterity, about how crazy the past five days have been.

1. In fact, The Washington Post reported this today: "By the time Egyptian health authorities learned about the coronavirus case on the Nile cruise ship, the infections had spread around the world. As long ago as late January, a Taiwanese American passenger on the MS Asara was carrying the novel coronavirus, health officials said. But the vessel would make at least four more cruises, and at least 12 crew members would turn out to be infected. ... Hundreds of foreign passengers, including dozens of Americans, and Egyptians were potentially exposed to the virus between mid-February and early March — a dramatic illustration of how, from a single, overlooked infection, the novel coronavirus could swiftly multiply and be carried across the globe. At least six Americans infected aboard the Asara returned to Maryland, according to Gov. Larry Hogan, potentially seeding their communities with the virus. Twelve others have reportedly tested positive in the Houston area."

Saturday's postcard: Adams County note from 111 years ago

This note was written almost exactly 111 years ago, on St. Patrick Day's (March 17), 1909. It was sent from Fairfield, Pennsylvania, to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Those places are both located in Adams County, Pennsylvania, about eight miles apart.

I am actually surprised that this is the first mention of Fairfield on Papergreat, nearly 3,400 days into the blog. It's a scenic little borough near the Pennsylvania/Maryland border. When I worked at The Gettysburg Times from spring 1993 until the end of 1994, I covered sports at all of the Adams County high schools: Gettysburg, Fairfield, Biglerville (Upper Adams), Littlestown, New Oxford (Conewago Valley), Bermudian Springs and Delone Catholic.

This postcard was sent from Emma in Fairfield to Miss Blanch Culbertson in Gettysburg. The "Fairfield Letter" in the October 10, 1891, edition of the Adams County Independent reports that Miss Blanch Culbertson had left to attend Wilson College in nearby Chambersburg. In February 1915, the Adams County News listed Blanch among those attending a "very enjoyable evening" at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Armor Weikert. By 1936, she was back in Fairfield and at some point had become Mrs. Blanch Culbertson Moore, according to The Gettysburg Times.

And it might just be that her first name was misspelled by friends and newspapers all those decades, because Find A Grave notes that Blanche Culbertson Moore lived from 1873 to 1941 and is buried in Gettysburg. She spent a major portion of her life working at The Peddie School.

Here, based on my best reading of the cursive writing, is what Emma wrote to Blanch/Blanche 111 years ago:
March 17th 1909
My dear Blanch,
Was glad to get your card, sorry to hear your mama was still in bed. Glad Aunt Beckie is staying longer. Jimmy [?] has been having a terrible time with his abcess. It shows signs of opening today for the first. He is looking very pale and badly, can scarcely eat at all. Mattie [?] is still in the office. I am feeling some better. I have engaged a girl by the name of Macklyn [Mackly??], from the mountain. I don't know what kind of a girl she may be, but she will do until I can do better. Much love to Mama and Beckie. Do write every few days.
Aunt Emma
And yes, I lament that we will never know more about the girl from the mountain.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Snapshot & memories: Me & Cyrano

Here's a photograph of my cat Cyrano and I at the house on Oak Crest Lane in Wallingford. This ended up being my senior "casual" portrait in Strath Haven High School's 1989 yearbook, so it was taken no later than Autumn 1988. Cyrano was the second cat our family had during my lifetime, following Buddy.1 We got him in 1980 when he was a kitten and he lived until 1995 or 1996. Cyrano was part Siamese and was able to deploy quite the piercing yowl. He name, no surprise, came from the fact that his nose was quite prominent on his kitten face when we adopted him. Cyrano was for the most part a shy and skittish cat, though he got more personable as he got older. By 1986, he had lived in four different houses already, so all the changes probably made him a bit wary of life. He also spent a couple of his early years tucked, against his will, under my sister's arm at bedtime, like a ragdoll. My main recollections are that he enjoyed naps and food, which sounds about right for a cat. He also loved olives.

1. And I just realized there has never been a photo of Buddy on Papergreat, so I'll have to dig into the snapshot shoebox and rectify that.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Promotional sheet for Deluxe Baseball by Ramtek

This evening we have the front and back of an 8½-by-11 promotional sheet for Deluxe Baseball, an arcade game sold (and/or licensed) by the Ramtek Corporation of Sunnyvale, California, starting in 1976. As you can see, it was marketed as a "new, truly realistic game" that featured curveballs and fastballs, strikeouts, home runs, walks, hits, double plays, errors and a "big stadium." I'm not sure, though, if the realistic features also included stealing signs by banging on a trash can.

The back of the sheet shows the 23-inch playing field, which reminds me a bit of Intellivision's Major League Baseball, which didn't come out until four years later, in 1980. So Deluxe Baseball looked pretty spiffy for 1976!

Deluxe Baseball could be played by one or two players and additional features included repositioning outfielders. As this flyer was a sales pitch (no pun intended) to owners of amusement arcades and similar sites, it stressed that "Ramtek video games are backed by the most responsive service in the industry. When repairs are needed, they're done fast. And new logic boards can be in the air within 24 hours. When it comes to service, Ramtek doesn't play games." The logic boards had only a one-year warranty, though. There's no indication of how much these 210-pound machines cost.

Tooling around the internet a bit, I learned:

  • The game was created by Howell Ivy. According to Alexander Smith's 2019 book They Create Worlds: The Story of the People and Companies That Shaped the Video Game Industry, Vol. I: 1971-1982, Ivy had been in the Air Force before joining Ramtek as its only game engineer. Ivy first created the ball-and-paddle arcade game Baseball, which was rereleased one year later in a standard arcade cabinet as Deluxe Baseball. Smith notes: "The additional complexity of the game over ball-and-paddle concepts required two circuit boards instead of one, which led to problems during the manufacturing run. The first 1,500 of the roughly 2,000 units proved defective because the wooden housing containing the two boards proved too flimsy to handle the job. Ramtek ended up having to replace the wooden housing with a metal one at considerable cost."
  • You can learn more about Howell Ivy in this 2014 interview with Retro Gamer and at this page on the Valley Christian Schools website.
  • Writing on The Golden Age Arcade Historian blog, which was published from 2012 to 2016, Keith Smith has a detailed history of Ramtek's ups and downs in which he reports, among many other great details, that the company had sold more than 10,000 arcade games by the end of 1974, for a sales total of $6 million. (That would be about $600 per machine, which gives us a rough estimate of what Deluxe Baseball might have cost arcade owners in 1976.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Sci-fi book cover: "Star Ways"
(aka Kilts in Space?)

  • Title: Star Ways
  • Cover blurb: "Enjoyable from first to last. Fast-moving and convincing." — Astounding Science-Fiction
  • Author: Poul Anderson (1926-2001). One of the titans of the science-fiction genre. He was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to Danish parents. According to the Nebula Awards website, "Anderson is probably best known for adventure stories in which larger-than-life characters succeed gleefully or fail heroically. His characters were nonetheless thoughtful, often introspective, and well developed. His plot lines frequently involved the application of social and political issues in a speculative manner appropriate to the science fiction genre."
  • Cover artist: Ed Emshwiller, according to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. (He's not credited in the book, but his nickname appears within the illustration.) Emshwiller's work was also featured in this 2014 post.
  • Publisher: Ace Books (D-568)
  • Cover price: 35 cents
  • Publication year: 1963 for this edition. Star Ways was first published in 1956 and has many editions.
  • Pages: 143
  • Format: Paperback
  • Dediction: "To the MFS — all of them"
  • First sentence: There is a planet beyond the edge of the known, and its name is Rendezvous.
  • Wouldn't having a name make it known? Hush up.
  • Last sentence: The sky darkened around them and the stars came forth.
  • What came fifth? Oh, a wise guy, eh?
  • Random sentence from the middle: His black eyebrows lifted courteously.
  • I got nothing. Me either.
  • Goodreads rating: 3.28 stars (out of 5.0)
  • Goodreads review excerpt: In 2014, Ari wrote: "It was one of Anderson's first novels, and the style feels a bit more clipped and the characters a bit shallower than his later work. ... The economics in the novel make no sense. It's hard to imagine interstellar starships selling home made handicrafts."
  • Amazon rating: 2.4 stars (out of 5.0) Some of those low ratings appear to have been unfairly assigned due to the quality of the ebook edition the reader purchased.
  • Amazon review excerpt: In 2017, Indiana Reviewer wrote: "The book displays an early version of Poul Anderson which includes some quite unrealistic SF elements. That an alien who evolved on another world could pass for a stunningly beautiful woman is unlikely to the extreme, and is a fatal and unrepairable flaw in this novel, for that is a central theme from beginning to end. If the reader can overlook that, the story is quite decent."
  • Reddit dunks on the cover: Some excerpts:
    • I dig the space kilt! Finally the fellas have to suffer with impractical spacewear!
    • It looks like Emsh took every prop he had in the room for that wardrobe idea.
    • I don't think plaid should be paired with... any of that.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Schoolchildren and the new coronavirus (COVID-19)

Negar Mortazavi, an Iranian-American journalist and commentator for the BBC, MSNBC, The New York Times and other outlets, tweeted out the above image today with the note: "While fighting #Coronavirus in Iran many schools are closed and children are stuck at home. This is competition that asks children to write creative stories on how to overcome the virus while they have time at home."

An Iranian woman named Faezeh also tweeted out the image with a note that Google says translates to: "Get to the kids, the bored kids, the kids who are bombarded with information, the kids who are scared, the kids who want to talk but no one listens to them ... This is one way to relieve stress and anxiety! We have to be careful."

It should go without saying, but kids are the same everywhere on Earth. They have dreams and fears. Questions and inquisitiveness. A great capacity for courage but also a underdeveloped ability to describe how they're really feeling inside. They are extremely perceptive and know when things are off-kilter or out of whack in the World of Adults. So we must understand that part of adult leadership1 in moments of crisis or anxiety involves making sure we're letting kids know what's going on, and not just setting them aside.

Along those lines, here's another excellent initiative. NPR's Malaka Gharib, the author of I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir, put together a short comic to help teach schoolchildren about this developing news story. She writes: "Kids, this comic is for you. It's based on a radio story that NPR education reporter Cory Turner did. He asked some experts what kids might want to know about the new coronavirus discovered in China." Share it around, especially to teachers you might know. They can never have enough good resources. I think Stephen on Twitter spoke for many when he commended the comic and wrote: "Thank you for this. We’ve been walking the line of trying to make our daughters aware without making them panic."

Here are a few more resources on the same topic, from The Guardian, NBC News, and my employer, LNP|LancasterOnline.

1. Speaking of crisis leadership, Smithsonian Magazine published an insightful article in November 2017 headlined: "How the Horrific 1918 Flu Spread Across America." Author and activist Amy Siskind recently noted this specific passage: "The most important lesson from 1918 is to tell the truth. Though that idea is incorporated into every preparedness plan I know of, its actual implementation will depend on the character and leadership of the people in charge when a crisis erupts." That seems relevant at this moment in history.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Deploying playing cards to troops to raise cultural awareness

I intended to write this post about six weeks ago, but life comes at you fast. Especially here in 2020.

I've written about playing cards before. They're a ubiquitous subcategory of ephemera — everyone has a deck or three in the house. My great-grandfather had a deck personalized with his initials (which I should write about some day). Single cards might be tucked inside a book, as detailed in this 2012 post and this 2018 post. Some have amusing vintage designs, as I wrote about in 2013.

But some decks of playing cards have much more importance and historical weight. They can convey the values we wish to encourage and reflect.

I originally hoped to bring this up when it was more timely, at the start of the year, because the president of the United States, amid an inflamed moment in the United States' ongoing conflict with Iran, tweeted a seeming threat toward sites of cultural importance to the Iranian people.

The president reiterated his threat the next day, January 5, according to NPR, stating: "They're allowed to kill our people. They're allowed to torture and maim our people. They're allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we're not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn't work that way."

But it does work that way. That same NPR article notes this: "The targeting of cultural properties by the U.S. is indeed not allowed. The U.S. is a signatory to the 1954 Hague Convention, which requires 'refraining from any act of hostility' directed against cultural property."

And in recent years, the United States miltary has worked to reinforce the importance of leaving cultural sites in foreign countries alone — partly through the use of playing cards. And that brings us to today's ephemera.

In the summer of 2007, the U.S. Defense Department began issuing decks of playing cards to troops. "The cards are training aids designed to help the servicemembers understand the archaeological significance of their deployed locations," wrote Meghan Vittrup of American Forces Press Service.

According to the Fall 2010 "Product Catalog for Cultural Property Protection Planning and Training in the Department of Defense," there were three different decks of cultural awareness playing cards: a combined deck for Iraq and Afghanistan (that's the one I have and am featuring in these photos), one for Egypt, and one specifically for Afghanistan. The catalog indicates that the cards were printed by the U.S. Playing Card Company. Each suit has a theme. Diamonds focused on saving precious artifacts; clubs focused on raising awareness on heritage preservation issues; spades cautioned agianst digging and site destruction; and hearts focused on "winning hearts and minds."

A 2012 article by the German media outlet Deutsche Welle (DW) discussed how archaeologist Dr. Laurie Rush, the Cultural Resources Program Manager at Fort Drum, helped to create the 2007 playing card deck:
"Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, US Marines set up a camp in the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon, with Polish troops following months later. There, the troops inadvertently crushed 2,600-year-old brick pavement and used soil containing artifacts for sandbags.

"After learning of the damage, Rush volunteered her services. 'It immediately occurred to me that a better educated force would not have made those kinds of mistakes,' she said.

"In a creative effort to inform, Rush and her colleagues designed ordinary playing cards with a special purpose: Each card contains a fact about cultural heritage in Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt.

"Deployed forces from the US and other countries can pass the idle hours playing poker and looking at photos of ancient minarets in Iraq, the Bamian Buddhas in Afghanistan and inscribed bricks and tablets. They shuffle, deal and read the messages on the cards, which indicate, for example, that they should stop digging if they find ancient artifacts and turn to local elders for archeological information.

"'Without question, the five of hearts is my favorite,' said Rush, while flipping through the cards. 'The caption is "protecting archeologist sites helps preserve them for future generations." It's an image of a soldier holding hands with a tiny Iraqi child ... and it's clear this soldier and this child have a very positive relationship.'

"One sergeant told Rush that through these simple cards he was able to learn about Iraq's cultural heritage, a subject that he later used to forge stronger bonds with the locals. Rush's cards spurred another soldier to sound the alert that digging was taking place at a Mesopotamian city site east of Baghdad. The site was saved."

A 2014 article by Jennifer Dimas of Colorado State University noted that interest in the Heritage Resource Preservation playing cards was further spurred by the 2014 George Clooney film Monuments Men (even if the movie itself got middling reviews). "Written at the top of each card are the words 'ROE First,' which reminds the soldiers that the military's Rules of Engagement should precede all other considerations," Dimas wrote.

Indeed, the Rules of Engagement should supercede any unlawful orders, even from those in the highest levels of the military chain of command. The aforementioned NPR article notes that "the Department of Defense's Law of War manual mentions cultural property 625 times, repeatedly citing the Hague Convention" and that "the U.S. military educates its soldiers about their responsibilities not to target or destroy cultural property."

Asked about the president's threat in January to "HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD" against "Iranian culture" targets, it was heartening to see the response of the United States' top defense officials. Again according to NPR, Defense Secretary Mark Esper indicated that U.S. forces wouldn't carry out Trump's threat, saying, "We will follow the laws of armed conflict." And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, "We'll behave lawfully. We'll behave inside the system. We always have, and we always will."

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Vintage postcard: Mother and bear cubs in Montana

Here's the last of a short series of postcards featuring old bear-themed postcards. (To see the rest, go here.) At this point, I'm very much just wishing people would leave the nice bears alone. Maybe they can be the next to inherit the planet.

The printed caption on the back of this postcard is:

MOTHER AND BEAR CUBS on Logan Pass Highway,
in Glacier National Park, Montana.

Color photo by D.J. Schmidt

The postcard was "published and copyrighted" by Glacier Studio in Browning, Montana. It is a Mirro-Krome card by H.S. Crocker Co. of San Francisco, California.

This card was postmarked in the summer of 1963 in East Glacier Park, Montana. It was sent to a Miss Weaver in [I think] Leola, Pennsylvania. (The entirety of the address is Leola, Pa., Route 1. I don't know how those postal workers did it back in the old days.)

The cursive message states:
"Saturday night out for a boat ride and two beautiful big bears, walking along the path, and people on the beach.
Cold [?] 50° early a.m.
Aunt Mamie [?]"

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Roundup of some Winter 2020 Postcrossing connections

Up first, here are a handful of the wonderful Postcrossing postcards from across the globe I've received in my mailbox this winter...

Above: This card is from Margriet in the Netherlands, who lives in a house surrounded by chickens and geese. She writes: "'Wereld' means world. I choose this card for you because of the last sentence in your profile. Would it not be wonderfull? But, I fear it will be just a dream. All the best."

Above: This card in from Kaisy in South Korea, who, instead of writing a message, covered the back of the card in beautiful washi tape. I believe the location show on the card is Bossam Village, which was a filming location for two influential 1980s Korean films — Mulberry and The Surrogate Womb.

Above: This card features Turku Castle in Finland. The note on the back is from Marja-Leena, who writes: "Good morning from warm south Finland. We visited last Oct. with 5 grandchildren Turku castle. It was amazing place from 1200's. I never visited PC-meetup, but this year I will do that with my grandchild, Maija, 13 y.o. I wish you nice days."

Above: And this card, featuring an image from Kiki's Delivery Service, is from high school student Melone in China, who writes: "Sorry about this terrible writing. [Note from me: It's actually excellent.] My pen is not working well. The front is one of my favorite cartoon movies directed by Toru Hara, who made lots of wonderful movies. Though made 30 years ago, it's just so perfect. I especially enjoy the colour-using, typical Toru Hara. So beautiful." [There might be a translation issue. The director, as we would term of it, of Kiki's Delivery Service was the famed Hayao Miyazaki. Toru Hara is listed as Studio Ghibli's lead producer for Kiki's Delivery Service, and it certainly could be that he's responsible for much of the film's vision.]

Unfortunately, the Postcrossing connection with China has been temporarily limited. Postcrossing sent out this message on Feb. 18:
"I’m sure you’ve all heard about the 2019-nCoV (aka Coronavirus) outbreak in China, since it has been all over the news for the past month. A lot of you have been contacting us with questions about this situation, so we thought a quick post was in order to clarify a couple of points.

"First of all, there is no risk of contagion via postcards or mail. Here’s an official response to the question from the World Health Organization:
"Q: Is it safe to receive a letter or a package from China?

"A: Yes, it is safe. People receiving packages from China are not at risk of contracting 2019-nCoV. From previous analysis, we know coronaviruses do not survive long on objects, such as letters or packages.
"This situation has had a heavy impact in the postal world though, with many postal operators having stopped accepting mail to China due to cancelled flights and widespread delays. For this reason, Postcrossing has temporarily stopped giving out Chinese addresses. We will continue monitoring the situation, and when things return to normal, the algorithm will resume giving out Chinese addresses for everyone to send postcards to.

"Doing this really saddens us, as we realize this is a difficult period in which Chinese postcrossers most need support. So we hope everyone will join us in the comments below, sending the Chinese Postcrossing community and their families some encouraging thoughts and good wishes. 中国加油!"

* * *

Thanks from abroad

And here's a new batch of emailed thank-you messages from fellow Postcrossing enthusiasts:

Kim from Australia wrote: "Thank you for the fabulous postcard. I really enjoyed reading your message. If only more people in the world would live and let live. I wish you and your family peace and happiness."

Ibrahim from Turkey wrote: "Thank you for the beautiful card and nice wishes for 2020. I also thank you for the stamps. They are beautiful. Wish you a great year!"

Ania from Poland wrote: "Hello Chris, it has been a great pleasure to receive your postcard! I immediately liked you. I think all the technology ruined human relationships and made our smartphones more important than our relatives. Technology has a lot of good sides but the truth is people lost touch with one another. I hope it will change in the future, people will come back more to nature as opposition to omnipresent technology and billion pieces of information bombing us each day. Our brains are not used to this kind of life. that is why I spend a lot of time surrounded just by nature. The coming weekend I will be cross country skiing in Jakuszyce — a beautiful place in Poland for all who love snow, nature and sport. Thanks a lot for a sentence in Polish — I appreciate your effort. I hope that U.S. will be better and better. I was against Trump but now I see that many things he did are very good for the country! And he is not the president to grab money. He is rich enough."

Julia from Russia wrote: "Thanks for the nice card and warm wishes. I really appreciate that you took the time to tell about the York Fair and even write some words in my language. Peace and Happy Postcrossing!"

Joao from Portugal wrote: "Thanks for the interesting postcard and beautiful stamps! Being a journalist in current times is really difficult, especially if serious journalism is the aim. It is increasingly difficult to find objective, non-biased, informative news and to distinguish between false and true facts. I follow USA news and it is a disgrace how certain people get elected to such important positions. However, in a more optimistic note, I believe that, if there is a country whose democratic institutions can survive and reverse that situation, that country is USA. I have a daughter and a son and I am quite worried about the climate problem. I believe that the international community is failing to acknowledge the real dimension and urgency of the problem and are doing almost nothing that really matters. I wish you and the whole family all the best."

Anastasiia from Ukraine wrote: "Thank you so much for your really cute, beautiful postcard. I like it so much! A lot if thanks for Ukrainian text. I was impressed and pleased by it! And your story about folk tradition, I will definitely learned more about Belsnickel. Happy postcrossing!"

Anita from Germany wrote: "A cat on a llama? The coolest card I've ever received, thank you!"