Thursday, March 26, 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.

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