Crossing Pumpkins

We won’t be putting out pumpkins on the front porch this October. Two years ago, we went outside one crisp, early October morning to find our three pumpkins in various states of distress and eaten-ness. Our squirrels apparently decided there weren’t enough nuts out there in the world to nosh on, so they turned their attention to our vulnerable decorations. It was not a fair fight. It was not a pretty sight.

The irony is those three pumpkins may have been doomed from the start anyway. They barely survived the trip home.

We have a Wegmans grocery store nearby, where we bought those three pumpkins. If you have a Wegmans in your area, you know how ginormous they are. Many people are coming and going, with a front entrance that goes on forever. After we checked out a handful of groceries and the three pumpkins, we headed out the front doors and headed for the relative safety of the crosswalk. I say relative because everyone gets a little crazy whether they are coming or going from the Wegmans, driving by or walking to and from their cars, etc. And at the crosswalk, you can clearly see many drivers glaring at you as they reluctantly stop for the foot traffic to proceed.

I went to put my sunglasses on just as we got to the crosswalk…while awaiting those not-very-compassionate drivers to stop in both directions… so we could get to the parking lot. Two hands on the sunglasses. No hands on the cart. We were on a slope at that point, and I didn’t compensate for the additional weight of the pumpkins we had with us that day.

The shopping cart started to cross the crosswalk…without…me.

My wife gasped as I executed an impromptu jog to catch up to the cart. By the grace of the Holy Great Pumpkin himself, there were no cars immediately in the vicinity of the crosswalk and I regained control of the wayward cart. Little did we know the pumpkins wouldn’t be as lucky crossing paths again with the Grim Reaper just a couple of days later.

Ah yes, October. Days are getting noticeably shorter (am I the only person who likes that?). Leaves start to fall (they usually all wind up in our yard even though we have no trees). Air feels crisper (the air where I live, at least).

The following represents a handful of entertainment items I’ve noticed are on the way in October. As always, please share your comments on these (good or bad – this is a safe space!), and most definitely let me know anything you might be looking forward to.

October 3 – The Good Doctor returns on ABC – My wife is always down for watching medical shows. I’m not a big fan of them, in part because of the great lengths shows like this now go to show as close to an actual surgery as possible. It’s very hard for me to sleep after being deep inside a chest cavity late at night.

October 4 – The First To Die At The End is released – A prequel to the best-selling They Both Die At The End, Adam Silvera writes a new tale regarding the new app named Death-Cast, which promises it can predict the date of your death. When strangers meet, their lives are forever altered when one gets the call from Death-Cast…the other doesn’t. Didn’t read the first book, but might give both a read now. The biggest complaint I have heard about the original novel was they both died at the end.

October 5 – Reginald The Vampire debuts on Syfy – My wife and I are suckers for anything Syfy puts out there, aside from the relatively-new Chucky series and reruns of their “classic” Sharknado movies. I myself have never connected with the Chucky vibe, and my wife would rather be married to Chucky than watch shark movies. Sharks are her kryptonite. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t real sharks. Trust me, it doesn’t matter.

October 6 – Walker returns on The CW – We are huge, fanatical fans of The CW’s recently-concluded Supernatural series and Jared Padalecki, who played Sam Winchester on that show, is the lead character on Walker. This show is similar to Chuck Norris’ Walker, Texas Ranger in name only. I like Padalecki, but I’m not sure yet if I like his acting choice-post Supernatural.

October 6 – Walker: Independence debuts on The CW – Even my wife agrees the last show that needed a prequel was the above-mentioned Walker. It’s only been on for two freakin’ seasons. I will say this show will feature a good leading lady in Katherine McNamara, a star on Freeform’s Shadowhunters, as well as a co-star on The CW’s Arrow when that show was winding down. I’ll watch the first episode and see what kind of world-building they do.

October 7 – Amsterdam debuts in the theatres – Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Anya Taylor-Joy, Taylor Swift, Mike Myers, Chris Rock, Robert De Niro. Yes, please. Loosely based on a true story, it follows three friends in the 1930’s who saw a murder, got framed for it, and now are the prime suspects. With this cast, I am all in.

October 7 – MLB Playoffs start…NHL Regular Season starts – I remember as a little kid coming home from school as soon as possible to watch playoff games, especially when they involved my favorite childhood team (aside from the Phillies), the Oakland Athletics. Not a bad team at all to be rooting for as a child, as they won three straight World Championships from 1972-74. The Phillies may yet find their way into the playoffs this year (courtesy of Major League Baseball adding an extra Wild Card berth). The chances for the Flyers to win a Stanley Cup this year? None. Playoffs? None. We won the Cup back in 1973-74 and 1974-75. I went into Center City for both of the massive parades honoring the team. Who knew they’d be the only parades? Sigh.

October 9 – Full Moon – Called the Full Hunter’s or Harvest Moon. I always pause to check out the Full Moon. The Moon has always fascinated me, and it’s hard to believe we landed on it in 1969 and still no one lives there. Then again, it’s even harder to believe we’re now going to spend a gazillion dollars to start going there again. I think my fascination with the Moon goes back to when I was a kid and somehow the Moon wound up representing Heaven to me. At least I got the direction right.

October 11 – The Winchesters debuts on The CW – You’ll recall I mentioned the TV series Supernatural earlier. That show ran for 327 episodes…a whopping 15 seasons. Now THIS is a show you can have a prequel for. It will tell the early stories of John & Mary Winchester, the parents of Sam & Dean, who Supernatural was all about. Jensen Ackles, who played Dean is – along with his wife – an executive producer of this new series. Jensen will also be narrating this show. His time invested behind the scenes and his active participation on the show has we fans of Supernatural very hopeful the spirit of the original series will be honored and extended within this prequel.

October 14 – Halloween Ends debuts in the theatres and on Peacock – The 1978 original film for me is a cinematic classic. The director, John Carpenter, is one of my all-time favorites. In 2018, a reboot of the Halloween franchise (for the umpteenth time) provided the first film of a promised trilogy. I thought that movie modestly captured the spirit which made the first film successful, and I was ok with it being made. It was good enough I thought they should just forget the idea of making the next two movies and just call it a day. Unfortunately, the second film released last year was a complete and utter failure for me. I think it is an embarrassment to the franchise. I do hope that – as this new release is named – Halloween Ends.

October 18 – The Last Chairlift is released – John Irving’s first novel in seven years deals with a skier who becomes pregnant after competing in the National Championships in Aspen. She returns to New England and becomes a ski instructor, raising her son Adam in an unusual manner. As an adult, Adam travels to Aspen looking for answers in the hotel he was conceived within. The main themes here are sexual politics, a love story…and a ghost story.

October 19 – NBA Regular Season starts – Our 76ers will most definitely make the playoffs again this season, but it is hard to see them winning the Eastern Conference and getting to the Finals. That being said, I don’t have an opinion yet who will be the last teams standing at season’s end. Do however keep an eye on those Cleveland Cavaliers. No, they did not get Lebron back again. They’re going to be just fine without him. My sleeper team in the NBA this season.

October 21 – Black Adam debuts in the theatres – Dwayne Johnson is as big (literally) a movie star there is, but will he be believable and welcomed as a DC Comics mega-superhero? We shall see. I like Dwayne a lot and am hoping he and this film do great things. The Peacemaker series with John Cena recently turned out well for DC. Maybe the Black Adam movie will do the same.

October 21 – Taylor Swift’s Midnights drops – I am not a Swiftie (even though she’s from nearby Reading PA), but I will take note if any notes on this new release resonate with me. I will tell you her ten minute song and short film All Too Well is one of the very best musical concoctions I have heard and seen in the past year. She performed it on Saturday Night Live last Fall and just crushed it.

October 21 – Hallmark Christmas 2022 Readers here may recall my admitted weakness for having Hallmark Christmas movies on as we begin Christmas prep. I’ll be honest, I more often steer towards their older films made before the Hallmark “formula” became a standard for all their movies…which some folks legitimately can find repetitive. Some of the earlier entries took a much bigger creative swing and were a bit less predictable. Hey, Hallmark storylines and families aren’t anything like I’ve ever experienced, but I guess that’s the appeal.

October 22 – World Cup Alpine Skiing begins – This sport may have to rethink its locations as snow continues to disappear around the globe and man-made snow becomes ever more challenging to maintain. I never learned how to ski, but I always wanted to (still do, but the wife just shakes her head). As a kid I loved taking in skiing during the Winter Olympics, and have been hooked on watching it ever since.

October 30 – The White Lotus returns on HBO and HBO Max – The first season of this series had a super-great cast, but to me came across as slow and plodding. And then the finale came and it was – wait for it – slow and plodding. This show has garnered wide critical acclaim, but to me Season 1 was just a slow burn of a show that never got hot, and its finale left me ice cold.

October 31 – Halloween – Loved this holiday as a kid, and I do appreciate it even more as an adult. It’s great to see what characters come up to the front door for their treats. In addition, my wife does not enforce the cut-off number Mom did on candy consumption Halloween Night.

Happy October!

 

Pictures Courtesy City of Salisbury MD/The CW

Scream A Little Scream Of Me

It is one of those moments that mark the unofficial start of Fall around these parts. Their brochures arrive like clockwork this time of year in all of the convenience stores. Yes, the Field of Screams in Mountville PA has once again begun their latest chapter in terrorizing young and old alike nightly through the middle of November. It is located about forty miles from where I live, but I have never gotten around to visiting it. This year, I am more intrigued than ever to go spend an evening there.

There are actually four main, separate haunted attractions involved at the Field of Screams which require separate admissions, but the cost structure is designed for attendees to secure a “Scream Pass” which gains you entry to each one.

Here are excerpts from their brochure with some immediate thoughts I have:

NOCTURNAL WASTELAND “As you walk along the narrow, winding paths through the dense overgrown vegetation, you will come face-to-face with the mutant creatures of this fear-filled forest. New for 2022 – You will be forced to make your way through the Deadwood Cemetery and encounter the Tree of Death!”

It sounds like trying to make your way through a very trying jungle. I have never done that, but I suppose it is something like those Black Friday sales I used to go to. I’ve certainly been to cemeteries before, but never at night. Their “Tree of Death” has me wondering how the hell they got ahold of the cherry tree we used to have in the front yard?

HAUNTED HAYRIDE “There is no turning back as the tractor-pulled wagons take you on a horrifying hayride into the depths of our dark and sinister cornfield. Feel the cold night air send shivers down your spine as you are attacked from all angles by the maniacal creatures who call this cornfield home.”

I remember when I was a little kid who hadn’t quite taken possession of common sense yet, a bunch of us hid out in a cornfield the night before Halloween and tossed handfuls of corn at passing cars. Mind you, this was a suburban back street where the top speed was approximately 2 mph, so it wasn’t as heinous as it initially sounds. However, during this Mischief Night adventure when the kernels hit one car, the driver hit the brakes and opened their car door. My friend Mikey may still be running.

Also, if I am ever attacked by creatures from all angles my current spine isn’t going to just be feeling the cold night air. That will be nerve damage.

DEN OF DARKNESS “Three stories of sheer terror await as you creep through the dismal passageways and maddening mazes of this 170-year-old original barn. New for 2022 – You will explore the Gory Greenhouse, the Putrid Pantry, and the Rotting Flesh Kitchen.”

I’m thinking if the barn is 170 years old…yes, that would be an original. Three floors? I’m not so much worried about passageways and mazes as much as whether or not the structure will support visitors. I’ll probably be ok with the “Gory Greenhouse” since we had no rain for two months this summer and our gardens provided their fair share of frightening scenes. As for that “Putrid Pantry” and “Rotting Flesh Kitchen,” they sound like dead ringers for when myself and three other guys rented a house for the summer.

FRIGHTMARE ASYLUM “Become a part of the bone-chilling madness as you explore four floors of the demented and the deranged! Feel the fear as you meet the disturbed doctors and nightmarish nurses who have taken up residence here! New for 2022 – You will get to meet the posse of Psycho Clowns as they unleash their vengeance on you.”

Four floors? (please see above “Den of Darkness” concerns about stability) As for their “Psycho Clowns,” that may very well be the most redundant title I’ve ever seen. EVERY clown is a psycho.

So, while pondering the main attractions offered, I noticed one additional section in the bottom right corner of the brochure…

EXTREME BLACKOUT – ONE NIGHT ONLY – NOVEMBER 11TH – LAST NIGHT OF THE SEASON “All four attractions will be darker, more intense, and hands-on! You will be subjected to new methods of torture, physical restraint, and isolation that are not a part of our regular season show. Extreme scare tactics and fear-inducing techniques will be incorporated as part of your Extreme Blackout experience. Not all will survive. Release waivers must be signed in order to participate!”

OK, this does NOT sound OK. Is it really breaking news you have to sign a waiver to participate in this?

I did take note in the fine print there is also a VIP Upgrade available at an additional cost. I can only assume that’s for life insurance.

My wife is not into the horror performance art thing at all. She told me when we first met that in the autumns of her youth, her youth group would always manage each year to find their way to haunted hayrides and houses. She reminded me when I mentioned possibly going here this year she has been sufficiently traumatized for life, thank you.

Me, I’m thinking this could be a bucket list event. I never did anything like this when I was younger and if not now, when? I love a well-done horror movie – providing really good scares – as much as the next guy. But, do I really want to immerse myself in an experience like this?

The “Extreme Blackout” sounds like quite the near-Death experience, but since I’m on the backside of life I probably don’t need to edge any closer to Death, so that’s a hard pass.

It does sound like I could pull off the main attractions…but I do have a concern about the close-proximity performers who might jump out and grab at me while my senses are in a heightened, frightened state. I am legitimately concerned I might instinctively knock them out…then you’ve got real blood mixing with the fake…getting lawyers involved, etc. I think I’d have to recruit at least one other person to accompany me, if for nothing else than to serve as a potential witness for police reports.

If you’ve ever been to something like this, I am curious to know what your experience was. If not, would you dare go there for scares?

 

Picture Courtesy Haunted Pennsylvania

 

TMI

Even after all these years, it is still one of those life events I can recall fairly easily.

And after all these years, the event isn’t over just yet.

In August of 1978, I started attending Penn State University’s Capitol Campus (now known as Penn State-Harrisburg) in Middletown PA for my junior year of college. I was majoring in a specific degree program there for Humanities-Communications.

Capitol Campus served at that time as an alternative for juniors, seniors, and graduate students who either did not want to attend PSU’s State College PA Campus (which you know as simply Penn State), or who wanted to attain one of the specific degree programs the Capitol Campus offered. The campus (to this day) resides less than ten miles from Harrisburg, the state capitol. It is located on the site of the decommissioned Olmsted Air Force Base, of which many buildings were ready-made for becoming part of a collegiate setting when it first opened for business in 1966.

But more importantly, its location while I was there was near an Arby’s restaurant, which stayed open late night to accommodate its proximity to starving college students. A true win-win.

Wednesday March 28, 1979

Classes were set to resume the following week after the school’s spring break. I was waiting at the Harrisburg train station at 6:30 am, listening to my car radio while waiting to pick up my friend John. John had gone home to Western PA for the break, and needed someone to take him back to campus as he did not have a car at the time.

I heard the local radio DJ announce there was a “site emergency” at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant but it was under control. He read it between songs matter-of-factly much like an update on traffic or weather. It literally went in one ear and out the other.

Capitol Campus sits only about three miles from TMI, whose “smokestacks” you can easily see from several parts of the campus. Its proximity to where I going to continue my education didn’t even register in my mind when I first went to visit the campus…certainly not like that Arby’s did.

I picked up John shortly after the radio announcement and we returned to campus. I didn’t even mention it on the way back. As the day went on, periodic reports on both radio and television were now waffling a bit as to whether or not any actual radiation had gotten out, but the main takeaway continued to be everything was just fine.

Which was quite fine with those of us already back at school, because we were in full-on chill mode since the first classes were not for a few more days.

Thursday March 29, 1979

Spades is a card game of which I am told is somewhat of a “descendant” of Bridge (which I have never played). The object is to bid your hand as accurately as you can, with trump cards being from the suit of Spades.

Our dorms played a LOT of Spades that year, and when the weather favored it, we liked to drag out a folding table and chairs to play outside. We even established a Spades league and kept track of win-loss records, overall points, etc. Regardless of our card-playing venue, adult beverages often made an appearance as well, which may have impacted some performances from time to time now that I think of it.

This Spring day was perfect for enjoying the outdoors and playing some Spades. We had a blast, and thoughts of being so close to Three Mile Island were miles away. Toward evening however, when watching local television reports it seemed to me there was still some major confusion between the operators of the plant (Met Ed), the state authorities, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Federal government. There were many views as to what the actual status of the plant was.

I called my mother, asking her what she was seeing and hearing from our home just a couple hours east of Middletown. I told her we were experiencing some reporting confusion at our end. The term meltdown had started to be thrown around as what could have happened if the operators had not already gotten control of the situation. So, we all started to try to figure out what a meltdown was.  I can say those of us in the dorms started to have a few more conversations about TMI, and whether or not anyone knew the exact situation, wasn’t telling us the exact situation…a bit of suspicion and worrying had started.

Friday March 30, 1979

It was almost 11 am, and I was in class with about 30 other students. A woman came to the doorway, interrupted our class, and started to advise us the Governor had requested everyone stay in the building and close the windows.

It seemed like we arose from our desks as one, and walked right by her on our way out of the building. God bless that woman. She was just doing her job.

Most students I knew went back to the dorms and started watching television again, eventually seeing the Governor issuing an “advisory” for pregnant women and pre-school age children to evacuate within a five-mile radius of the plant, with evacuation centers to be set up. Schools were ordered to close.

Some of us by then had decided enough was enough, and if we lived close enough, we were going to go home for the weekend. There were a couple of students on our floor who were from out of state, but they decided to ride it out in the dorms. John was on the floor below me, and he decided to stick around also. I gathered up some things and left for home at around 1 pm.

Driving through Middletown to get out of town, I saw some folks outside their homes packing up their families as quickly as they could. That’s when it really hit me. As I turned onto the Interstate for the drive back, the gravity and seriousness of the situation was finally realized…from an admittedly selfish perspective at first. Would I EVER be able to go back there? What if I had to go elsewhere to continue my education? What of the friendships with those in the dorms?

And eventually, my concern widened to include everyone else involved. Heck, we only lived a couple of hours away. My thoughts turned to…would my friends and family at home even be far enough away from whatever this was?

After a weekend of sitting on pins and needles, it seemed like all the players in this saga eventually got back on the same page, and any potential disaster had been avoided. We returned to class a week or so later.

Several weeks after returning, we had a couple of residents whose farms sit within a couple miles of the plant visit one of my classes to discuss their experiences post-TMI. They indicated health issues for both their families and their livestock. Around the same time, the state of Pennsylvania and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission set up a trailer in Middletown. They invited anyone who was within three miles of the plant to be tested for radiation exposure. Since we “qualified,” five of us got together and went down to be tested. The test was simple in execution…you took off your shoes and any metallic items, and got into what I would call an eight-foot long steel-like bathtub. An arm above the tub scanned your body up and down a couple of times…and that was that. We were told we’d get our results in the mail in a few weeks.

The school year was over and I remember getting the envelope when it arrived at my home. It was a certificate from both the state and the NRC indicating the test found I had no elevated levels of radiation.

That being said, the two spaces assigned for signatures from each entity were both unsigned.

It was and continues to be my real life X-Files. A situation where I didn’t know who to believe then, and I still don’t now. There are still books being written and documentaries being made. Last week, the current owners of Three Mile Island applied to the NRC to take the “next step” towards decommissioning the reactor which failed us all back in 1979.

It has been 43 years and there is still “clean-up” to be done.

I’ll never feel sure about what the true story is regarding how bad it could have been at TMI.

Nor do I know if this story will ever end.

 

Pictures Courtesy Penn State-Harrisburg/Smithsonian Magazine

The Drop Shot

In honor of the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament returning to New York City this week – one of my all-time favorite sporting events to watch – I thought I’d take this opportunity to post about a significant tennis moment in my life. The “anniversary” of this event is coming up, but it really feels like it only happened yesterday. Unfortunately.

My wife and I have not played tennis since.

The incident if ever recounted, is done so in hushed tones.

The wife and I were playing tennis at least once a week. Never in a competitive way, mind you. We simply went out for an hour or so sticking to the baselines, volleying back and forth.

That is…until “The Drop Shot.”

It was an early weeknight when we took to the court. The temperature was 70F. No wind to speak of. No one playing on the court next to us…although there were a couple of guys playing on the court one removed from where we were, so periodically we had to serve as ball persons for each other’s play. Otherwise, absolutely perfect conditions for twilight tennis on a well-kept, public court.

We were about a half-hour into play when it occurred. Mind you, we always kept score even though our shared goal was to extend points, get some good exercise, and enjoy the outdoors.

My wife, a pretty good field hockey player back in her day, was actually beating me in this particular game. She had just returned my shot from deep in her far corner when I executed “The Drop Shot.”

To this day, my wife insists it was because I was losing and consciously wanted to win the point by hitting my shot to land just over the net. My claim to this day is my competitive mind and muscles simply converged in the moment, and I subconsciously went for a winning shot. It was without a doubt the greatest drop shot I’ve ever hit.

It was also my last.

My wife, reacting to my shortened stroke and immediately setting aside our mutual goal to take things easy, attempted to sprint all the way from the back court in a spectacularly athletic yet predictably futile fashion to reach the ball in time.

Futile intersected with fall.

My wife went down several feet from the net in a full-on, concrete face plant.

I thought she was dead.

Mind you I was gratified to have won the point, but I decided to check on my wife first before retrieving the ball. As I got to her, she was rolling onto her side and making low, unintelligible sounds…which indicated she was, a) alive and, b) able to move.

“You OK? What hurts?

“My hand.”

“Just your hand. Great!”

“Great? No, not great. It hurts. A lot. I think I BROKE it.”

This is when I switched into ultra-positive mode. Knowing my wife as I do, it would be important to assure her she was OK, and that hand of hers would be fine with some rest and TLC. She’s as tough a trooper as I know, but in accident situations with anyone I always feel it is important to deflate any thoughts of potentially more serious injuries. Getting stressed about what may or may be wrong certainly doesn’t make anyone feel any better.

It did seem like her hand did take the brunt of the impact with the court. This was a good thing, because her head was next in line if that hand had not been extended to break her fall. The question now…was the hand actually BROKEN?

I quickly got her to her feet and into our car so, if nothing else, to reassure those guys playing nearby a hearse would indeed not be required. There was some concern on my part they might have seen my wife’s plunge.

I drove her to a Wawa convenience store (one we don’t normally frequent) to get some much-needed ice for her injury. I left her in the car briefly, returning as quickly as I could with an ice-cold drink for her, ice for her hand…and a TV Guide.

“You thought about the TV Guide during THIS?”

“It’s next week’s edition. I got it early!”

Uh-oh. She’s not laughing anymore.

Moments later, as I was getting her cooled down and set-up in a more comfortable position for the drive home, I was trying to adjust the angle of her seat to make her a bit more comfortable…when I almost made her horizontal as the seat control got away from me.

She actually managed a laugh about that, watching me being flustered getting the seat corrected.

Good sign. Laughter really IS the best medicine.

Until the next day of course, when her hand looked like one of those cartoon character balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.

Off to the doctor. Then the hospital. Multiple X-rays. No break. Bad sprain. Two weeks of rest.

Since then…conversations of “The Drop Shot” usually go like this:

“You know you hit that shot on purpose.”

“I did not. I just reacted in the moment. It was simply instinct. You were so far away, and the shot was there for the taking. I never thought you’d actually try to go get it. I didn’t mean to almost kill you.”

“Well, you almost did.”

“Again, I’m sorry. You know, I really thought you were dead for a second there. I’ll never forget that sight. It was awful.”

“I still can’t believe you bought that TV Guide.”

“I got it early!”

“Idiot.”

🎾

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Joe Shlabotnik

I love underdogs in sports.

Hell, I even rooted for both the 1988 and 2021 Baltimore Orioles to just win a game when they eventually ended respective losing streaks of 21 and 19 games…even though if they had kept right on losing in either one of those seasons they could have possibly broken the record of the longest losing streak in major league baseball’s modern era…23 games by the Philadelphia Phillies.

I don’t like to see teams get embarrassed because as a fan I know full well what that feels like. I am a product of my environment, living in the suburbs of Philadelphia. All of our professional teams have a long, inglorious history of being quite far removed from championship glory.  Our current ledger looks like this:

Phillies – World Series Champions in 1980 and 2008. (131 seasons)

Eagles – Super Bowl Champions in 2017. NFL Champions in 1948, 1949, and 1960. (89 seasons)

Flyers – Stanley Cup Champions in 1973-74 and 1974-75. (54 seasons)

76ers – NBA Finals Champions in 1954-55 (as the Syracuse Nationals), 1966-67, and 1982-83. (73 seasons)

Which may be why I love Joe Shlabotnik. It’s usually this time of year – in the baseball dog days of August – when I most often think about Joe. For those who have not previously heard of Joe, he is a fictional baseball player featured in Charles M. Schulz’s classic Peanuts comic strip. He was Charlie Brown’s all-time favorite baseball player.

Charlie Brown worked endlessly to hunt down any and all memorabilia associated with Joe Shlabotnik. He once bought 500 one-card packs of baseball cards to try and get one card of Joe’s. While he wasn’t successful, his pal Lucy van Pelt bought only one pack and what-do-you-know…she was the proud owner of a Joe Shlabotnik baseball card. Unfortunately, Lucy then steadfastly refused to trade Joe’s card to Charlie Brown, even though she had no idea who Joe was. Once Charlie Brown exhausted himself trying to entice her to give up Joe’s card…she eventually decided he wasn’t quite as cute as first thought…and tossed the card into the trash.

Charlie Brown also once was under the impression he had a Joe Shlabotnik autographed baseball…which in fact turned out to be a forgery. But, it isn’t just Charlie Brown’s futility trying to get Joe Shlabotnik memorabilia that makes Joe an underdog for us all to root for. It is the “legendary” career of Joe Shlabotnik:

  1. Joe was demoted to the minor leagues after hitting .004 over an entire season. The one hit was a bloop single…with his team comfortably ahead.
  2. Joe once promised to hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. He instead popped out…but circled the bases anyway.
  3. Joe had a knack for making routine fly balls into spectacular catches. He also had a talent for throwing out runners who had fallen between first and second base.
  4. Joe eventually retired as an active player and took a job managing the Waffletown Syrups. He was fired after one game when he called for a squeeze play…with no one on base.

Charlie Brown never got to meet Joe Shlabotnik. He bought tickets to a sports banquet where fans could dine with their favorite athletes…but Joe was the only athlete who didn’t show up. It turned out Joe had marked the wrong event, city AND date on his calendar. Joe was also invited to attend a testimonial dinner for Charlie Brown. He got lost on the way there.

Ironically, this might be one of the best pro sports years we’ve had in a while. The Phillies are competing down the stretch for a wild-card berth. The Eagles should be in the hunt for the post-season. The Sixers should be a lock for their post-season. The Flyers…they will likely have a season similar to the ones Joe Shlabotnik experienced. Not. Good.

In any case, thank you for allowing me to acknowledge Joe as one of my favorite characters in sports. When it feels like the pro athletes representing Philadelphia are performing poorly, I will think of Joe and realize they aren’t that bad.

 

Picture Courtesy United Feature Syndicate

Living In The Moment

I was cleaning off some excess grass from the lawn mower in the front yard a couple days ago when I saw a man and his dog walking on the other side of the street…headed in my direction. They were too far away to say hello, and I was headed back into the garage anyway to get some iced tea I had there.

It had been like mowing on the sun…should have just hired the landscaping crew who came to the door earlier (see above).

While I was in the garage cooling off, as this duo got closer I could hear the man singing to himself (or the dog?). He did not have ear buds or any player device – just him, his dog, and his song.  He was definitely enjoying his walk…this moment. However, his dog was periodically stopping to smell whatever dogs smell off to the sides of sidewalks. What struck me was how the man was singing his tune louder while the dog was walking ahead, but his song’s volume…and its progress…dropped off significantly every time the dog stopped.

I am confident in the brutal heat of the midday sun this man had forecasted to get back home sooner than later, but his dog clearly was operating on a different arrival schedule. I found it amusing how the loudness and pace of his song coincided with the forward movement of his dog. Yet, the man was so patient in ensuring the dog was safe at all times while “off-course,” and didn’t think to continue with either his desired decibel level or lyrical style until his dog was back in line and moving ahead.

I am positive I would never have noticed any of this if I hadn’t been actively trying to be in that moment. Over the last few years, I’m betting you have seen many self-help recommendations for all of us to try to live in the moment. Soak in as much of each day’s blessings as possible when we can find them…be aware of all of the sights, sounds, smells.

It has become a pet project of mine to consciously slow down, breathe, and try to appreciate special moments when I come across them. I don’t want to be as consumed with what is next on the to-do list, or worrying about what might or might not happen in the days ahead. For me, I have written my own healthy prescription to find, acknowledge and appreciate positive moments I come across daily.

Most definitely there are times we can’t possibly live within moments. Life comes at us with velocity, curves, and detours…quite unexpectedly at times. In those circumstances we have to look a bit ahead, look forward. Not just for ourselves, but sometimes for the benefit of others as well.

It was like the dog owner was doing just that, making sure both of them stayed together…living in their moment.

 

Picture Courtesy Universal Studios

Not A Dry Ice In The House

I once asked my wife to come up with a list of all the really dumb, idiotic, and stupid things I’ve done since she first met me.

That went on for a while.

For your amusement…a brief history of poor decision-making (in no particular order of stupidity):

The Tire

We got up one morning to find a car tire which was a little bit low on air. I eventually located the head of a small nail on the very edge of the tread. I insisted to my wife I could easily remove the nail, and the tire would be just fine until I could drive our vehicle to the shop. She protested, but to no avail.

A half-hour later, the spare tire had been installed and the now-completely-flat tire was resting in the trunk as I headed off for repairs.

The Ladder

I had the day off from work, but my wife did not. I really wanted to take a look at our gutter drains in one location to see if I could clean out some leaves before the next round of steady rain rolled in. I was confident there was some type of blockage up there. My wife insisted we should put it off until the end of the day so she could steady the ladder for me. I said I’d be just fine…not to worry…and off she went to work.

Later that morning, I exited the ladder from about a height of seventeen feet. Somehow, I was not injured. No, I didn’t tell her it happened when she got home…hell, I didn’t tell her for two years.

The Deck

We have lawn underneath our patio that requires mowing with a push mower. I needed to lower my head about a foot to avoid smacking it against the patio’s base. I insisted to my wife I’d always remember to avoid hitting my head with each pass.

At no point did I ever think I was going to black out, but it did leave a mark for a while…both times…OK, the two times she knows about.

The Cars

We had a horrible ice and snow storm one January. Our two automobiles were encased like fossils in the Ice Age. The morning the weather broke, I told my wife to stay warm inside while I ventured out in the tundra to clear them off. To expedite things, I used a snow brush from one of the cars to crack the ice off. Because it was quite cold, I decided to use the end of the scraper itself on the ice, not the brush.

Several friends felt we could go to insurance adjusters once we had our next hail storm, and they’d insure us for the dents on the hoods and trunks. Years later, the trade-in values reflected this morning in question.

The Codeine

I got so sick one day that by nightfall, my temperature was a robust 102. Fortunately, the doctor had evening hours that day and I was prescribed codeine syrup. I told my wife I was well aware of its effects, and if I had to get up in the middle of the night to use the facilities not to worry. I could certainly decide if I was OK to go to the bathroom.

She found me on the bathroom floor. She said she heard a thump – “did you fall?” I have tried to convince her ever since that night I simply got tired and decided to lay down. She remains to this day completely unconvinced.

The Movie

My wife wanted absolutely no parts of a movie called “Mortdecai.” She begged me to wait for it – if we had to see it at all – to come out on cable and didn’t want to spend any time and money on it at the theatre. I insisted we could both benefit from seeing what was promised to be a funny film.

We now have a name for the look my wife gives me when she’s thoroughly disgusted with me. It is known simply as the “Mortdecai Look.”

The Sticker

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requires owners of vehicles to renew their registrations annually. This used to involve – after payment – sending a sticker to owners to affix to the license plate in question. One day I arrived home first, and got the mail. The sticker had arrived and I decided I could manage the simple task of making our car legal for the twelve months ahead.

We found out just how serious the Commonwealth was regarding making sure their stickers stayed put…as we tried in vain to remove the newly-arrived sticker…which I had put on the wrong car. Pennsylvania has since eliminated the sticker aspect of registration renewal, but there is no truth to the rumor my actions helped lead to discontinuing the sticker requirement.

The Face

We had a Zero Turning Radius mower. When we bought it, the advice was given to us not to operate it in wet conditions, especially on uneven terrain. After a light rain one afternoon, I insisted to my wife it would be OK to mow. Not agreeing with the decision, she grudgingly came outside to do some gardening.

When she got to the large rose bush I had skidded into at the edge of our driveway, I tried my level best to assure her I was OK…even though my face felt like half the skin was gone. She gave me a once-over from head to toe…and calmly stated, “You’ll be fine.” Two years later, she admitted she thought those cuts would never heal.

The Rose Bushes

We had a couple other, smaller rose bushes that resided happily side by side for years thanks to my wife’s loving care. She was working weekdays at the time. I was not. Fall was nearing conclusion, and the rose bushes needed their annual trim (a technique I later learned was called “deadheading”). She took great pains to train me on exactly what needed to be done, but still didn’t feel confident in letting me fly solo. I defended myself vigorously, assuring her the rose bushes were in good hands.

After arriving home and reviewing my work, she didn’t talk to me for a couple of days. Surprisingly, the rose bushes were not dead. I might as well have been.

The Dry Ice

My wife’s parents sent us a gift from Omaha Steaks one Christmas. We had never gotten anything from the company before, but were impressed how frozen the food was considering how far it had travelled. After we got everything out of the big styrofoam cooler, all that remained was a large packet of dry ice. I noticed the label said “Do Not Touch.” Moments later, when my wife said she wanted to keep the cooler, I reached in and attempted to take out the packet.

Medical professionals compare injuries like I sustained as similar to burns, and often require medical attention. Fortunately, I was able to peel both of my hands off the dry ice. My wife told me to get it out of the house so I wouldn’t injure myself further, suggesting maybe I put gloves on this time around.

If anybody can identify with these or similar incidents, please outline your experiences in the comments. It’s always nice to know you’re not the only one who has made a poor decision…or ten…in life.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Robust August

Seeing a rabbit in the front yard this morning…not unusual.

Seeing a rabbit in the front yard with geese marching down the street…this is unusual. The geese spend most of their day at the golf course next to our development. I can only assume air traffic control told them to land on an auxiliary runway…our street.

August has finally arrived. With it, the welcome return of all the Fall and Winter sports I love. I’m definitely Team Fall/Winter, so this month is the gateway to the time of year I enjoy the most.

And regular readers know no matter what month it is I love watching shows…here’s the line-up for August. Let me know if anything looks familiar or intriguing:

CURRENT REWATCHES (Started in July…)

On Syfy Channel…

Warehouse 13 (2009-2014) – Great cast (Eddie McClintock, Joanne Kelly, Saul Rubinek, Allison Scagliotti, Aaron Ashmore) and a very impressive list of guest stars. The network caught lightning in a bottle with this series, which they decided to rerun in its entirety starting last month.

The premise: Two Secret Service Agents are reassigned to a mysterious warehouse located in the middle of South Dakota that holds every artifact, relic, and object collected and stored by the U.S. Government.

The rewatch takeaway: It has been great seeing Warehouse 13 again, so much so if someone asked me for a viewing recommendation on a series which is no longer airing, this would be right up there.

The moment worth a mention: At the end of the first hour of a two-part Season 3 finale, there is a scene so hard-hitting and emotional it usually tops anyone’s list of memorable moments from this series. This scene also features a slower, stripped-down, piano-driven masterpiece of the Kate Bush song “Running Up That Hill,” which recently played a big part in Stranger Things Season 4. I am not exaggerating in saying the scene is one of the very best I’ve ever experienced on television. And if you admire that song, please do give the version by Track and Field a listen.

On Comet Channel…

The X-Files (1993-2002; 2016-2018) – David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson’s chemistry shined brightly in this series, which a lot of folks have on their All-Time Greatest TV Show lists.

The premise: Two FBI Special Agents investigate unexplained events and government conspiracies alike.

The rewatch takeaway: In general, the show holds up really well over all this time when it comes to the stand-alone, “monster-of-the-week” episodes. They feature some of the best acting, writing, and editing you’ll see. However, the recurring, overarching plots regarding government conspiracy and paranoia interrupts the momentum our dynamic duo creates when digging into the paranormal, the supernatural…the weirdness. Every time the “Cigarette Smoking Man” came on-screen, I didn’t feel engaged. I also grew weary of him when it first aired.

The moment worth a mention: Season 5, Episode 12’s “Bad Blood.” Duchovny’s Fox Mulder kills what he thought was a vampire, but turns out to be a young man flashing some false teeth. The differences in how he and Anderson’s Dana Scully recall and remember what went down in their separate reports to their boss are wildly different…and quite humorous. This series features several other episodes which are welcome, funny breaks.

On Comet Channel…

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) – Sarah Michelle Gellar and her “Scooby” gang became pop culture icons for many teenagers and young adults during their run. Like The X-Files, this show appears on some All-Time Greatest TV Show lists.

The premise: Destined to slaying otherworldly invaders of Sunnydale CA, Gellar’s Buffy enlists her Watcher and friends in trying to keep their town from being taken over by a wide variety of dark forces.

The rewatch takeaway: While the sets, special effects and make-up of the various creatures look silly at times, the whip-smart dialogue, camaraderie, and friendship of the characters – as well as outstanding acting – makes this a very satisfying rewatch.

The moment worth a mention: The 10th episode of Season 4, “Hush.” One of the most fascinating, unique episodes in television history. Over half of the episode’s running time features no dialogue. And with most of the episode having no spoken words, the show was actually nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. Even if you don’t know a blessed thing about the Buffyverse, if you ever get the chance to watch “Hush” do it.

RETURNING SHOWS

On Syfy Channel…

Resident Alien (2021-Current) – New episodes in Season 2 return on August 10th. It has become a breakout hit for Syfy due to solid writing and a great cast of characters, led by veteran actor Alan Tudyk. The concept is simple and straight-forward…an alien’s original mission was to kill everyone on Earth…but now he’s the Earth’s only hope for survival. Tudyk’s portrayal of an alien trying to not look out of place in a small town in Colorado includes some of the best physical comedy you’ll see. It’s a show that has me smiling throughout.

ONGOING SHOWS

On HBO…

Westworld (2016-Current) – Season 4 has a couple of episodes left in it. This year has been a wild ride. One week I love it, one week I hate it…and that’s how the WHOLE series has been for me since Season 1 ended.

On Paramount +…

Evil (2019-Current) – Season 3 has a couple of episodes left in it. Regular readers here know how special I think this one is.

On Amazon Prime…

Paper Girls (2022) – Season 1 episodes just dropped a few days ago, and based on reviews that mentioned a faint resemblance to Stranger Things, I took a look. I still have three episodes to watch, but it has been a very pleasant late-summer surprise. It is set in the 80’s, and it has kids on bikes fighting sci-fi elements, but that’s about it for the similarities to Stranger Things. It starts out with four girls delivering newspapers in the early AM hours after Halloween in 1988, when they accidentally become caught up in a time-traveler war and their lives are changed forever.

NEW SHOWS

On Netflix…

The Sandman (2022) – Season 1 episodes debut August 5th. This series was in product development hell forever but this show – based on one of the most decorated comics of all time – is ready to roll now. I know next to nothing about it other than, 1) how very highly the comic is revered, 2) how creator Neil Gaiman waited a really, really long time before he found folks who could best translate his source material to TV and, 3) my very favorite Doctor Who companion is in it – Jenna Coleman. I’m going to give this one a go.

On Disney +…

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (2022) – Season 1 episodes debut August 17th. Readers know Marvel is on very thin ice with me, but I’m going to go ahead and give this one a go also. The Hulk himself (Mark Ruffalo) is in it…so we’ll see.

The Concrete Jungle

One of the great things about regularly visiting WordPress is you get to see some amazing posts featuring beautiful, spectacular photography of all types of trees, plants, flowers, and greenery.

This is NOT one of those posts.

I instead welcome you to a brief tour of some living things at our spot in the concrete jungle known as suburban Philadelphia.

First up, the ficus. This tree was a gift from my wife’s mother ten years ago. We had never taken possession of a ficus before and with our well-known, family reputation of being serial killers of anything green, this also started out like it would be DOA. We put a couple of Christmas ornaments on it the year we got it to dress it up a bit, figuring we’d surely put it out of its misery after the New Year…

However, post-Holidays we changed our minds and instead tried to provide enough food and encouragement to correct its downward trajectory. Today it looks like this…

It has even been cut back a couple of times. Regular readers of this space will note Snowy McSnowface off to the left. It also is doing well during its first summer here…no doubt getting encouragement from the ficus.

Second, the pepper plant. This gift was given to us by my mother eight years ago. Again, no familiarity. It started out slowly, but morphed over time to periodically produce many mini-peppers. We dry the seeds and repurpose them into the plant just to watch it take off again…

Third, the evergreen. We bought this tree for ourselves ten years ago after having carved out some planting space between two holly bushes in the front of the house. We decorated it for Christmas that first year. Here’s how it looked then…

And here is how it looks today…

Finally, last Christmas (in addition to the afore-mentioned Snowy) we bought a poinsettia plant. We have a long, shameful history of epic fails when it comes to this species, but we figured we’d work diligently post-Holidays to keep it alive and nurse it towards another Christmas. So far, so good…

Thanks for taking this tour of our “jungle.” I never thought we’d achieve green thumb status…but we’re thumbs up for these modest success stories.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock

Top Guns At The Box Office

Some box office history was made today as Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick passed The Avengers to become the ninth-highest grossing movie in domestic box office history. According to Variety, movie business experts believe before this film finally lands it can fly by a couple more movies on the list, Jurassic World and Titanic.

It has been a long time since I took a look at the top domestic gross box office list, as well as any list which attempts to take inflation into account to better represent how many folks actually came out and supported movies over all the years which we’ve been blessed with cinema entertainment options.

Below are two current domestic gross box office lists which I think are fun to take a glance at…

Courtesy Of Filmsite

All-Time Domestic Gross Box Office (Unadjusted for Inflation)

  1. Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
  2. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
  3. Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
  4. Avatar (2009)
  5. Black Panther (2018)
  6. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
  7. Titanic (1997)
  8. Jurassic World (2015)
  9. Top Gun: Maverick (2022)
  10. The Avengers (2012)
  11. Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)
  12. Incredibles 2 (2018)
  13. The Lion King (2019)
  14. The Dark Knight (2008)
  15. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
  16. Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)
  17. Beauty and the Beast (2017)
  18. Finding Dory (2016)
  19. Frozen II (2019)
  20. Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

All-Time Domestic Gross Box Office (Adjusted for Inflation)

  1. Gone With the Wind (1939)
  2. Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977)
  3. The Sound of Music (1965)
  4. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
  5. Titanic (1997)
  6. The Ten Commandments (1956)
  7. Jaws (1975)
  8. Doctor Zhivago (1965)
  9. The Exorcist (1973)
  10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
  11. Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens (2015)
  12. 101 Dalmatians (1961)
  13. Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
  14. Ben-Hur (1959)
  15. Avatar (2009)
  16. Avengers: Endgame (2019)
  17. Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi (1983)
  18. Jurassic Park (1993)
  19. Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace (1999)
  20. The Lion King (1994)

I am not an analytics guy but I’m smart enough to know trying to accurately compare and compile all-time box office gets a bit tricky. Nonetheless, here’s my takeaways on both of these lists:

Avatar – Look, I’m ashamed to admit somehow I missed seeing this on the big screen, but after watching it a couple of times on the small screen…I just don’t get how this movie was this beloved. Please educate me if you feel differently. That being said, I will go see the sequel at the theatre when it opens up in mid-December.

Incredibles 2 – I was incredulous this film did that much business. Like Avatar, I didn’t get the appeal. The first Incredibles was just ok for me.

Jaws – I remember sitting in the theatre watching it on its first weekend and saying to myself…I think a few more people are going to see this. I remain impressed with where it resides all-time. When I went back to see it again a few weeks later…I remember being in an awfully long line. People love sharks…at a distance, of course.

The Star Wars Franchise – What can you say? These films have resonated with moviegoers throughout the decades. I am curious to see how future films do considering the additional Star Wars streaming content that has come out recently covering different eras. I have enjoyed the recent theatrical releases, but I don’t know if we really need any more movies. However, these lists mean they’re going to keep on making them.

Top Gun: Maverick – In addition to raking in even more money before it’s done, I don’t see any way the movie doesn’t get nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. I’m betting other folks share my view, judging by its box office success.

 

Picture Courtesy iStock