The Whoreads? Chronicles

There’s a title you don’t want to read too fast, right? All judgement aside, I’m only interested in great reads with most alluring story lines. That’s all. Attraction in its most novel form … to be clear. Three then five letters in one, not five then three. Math I didn’t see until after typing in that most (un)fortunate one word in a three word title. However, I love words, so it stays.

I love words – so much so I barely read them in books. Scanning over fictional characters’ smoochy love hugs in a dime-store, crack-back beach book isn’t my sunny day pleasure by a long shot. Draping a smoking jacket over my lazy shoulders – while sitting beside a slobbering basset hound – reading Baskerville is less suited to me than another Doyle named Brunson calling my all-in Aces at a World Series of Poker event. See, reading as a pastime, hobby, or school assignment has never, ever been a great love of mine.

I know those who do – voraciously. They eat up books faster than I shove pizza slices in my 4-times a week gapper. Eating, words, and music are more my three-ring circus. These friends and relatives exchange books in little gift bags, store plastics, and porch boxes. Back and forth go biographies, romances, comedies, tragedies, flimsy flops, and hard histories. I see them quickly buzz by, freely bartered among them-that-thespianate over such strung pages of textual bliss. I’ve Tristan and Iseult-ed once in my life. That was enough. Honestly, I don’t know how I managed high school and college, but I did … somehow.

Words – in five minute drops – are perfectly fine for me. More than that, shut the door. Which makes the 90-minute view last night quite remarkable for me. Well, not really that stunning since I wasn’t really reading.

In between the warm covers of my evening, I caught a short documentary about folks who collect antique books. Book “people”. Living, breathing kin folk who spend their lives amassing valuable, old … books. The first fifteen minutes had me at a $130,000 Don Quixote.

Hosted by the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, the event featured in the documentary returned to the Park Avenue Armory in 2020.

Books, books, … more old, young, and enthusiastic heart-pumping humans talking authors and editions than I’ve ever seen. White gloves in abundance with cheeky monacles inspecting ink blots dried decades before Ben Franklin was a glimmer in his mother’s eye. Everywhere the camera scanned, bookcases full with volumes of knowledge none in attendance could possibly have enough time or money to absorb. It didn’t matter to those waiting in line to go in, or to most lined up in the lobby. Readers all. Collectors of words in their heads and hearts.

Not just there, but in homes as well. Gentlemen and ladies with warehouses stacked to the ceiling with pages of stories – not only just tales from the masters, mind you, but also heroic sagas of that one, possibly multiple year-long journeys of gotta-haves that engrossed their every novel fascinations. Oversized gots with fold-outs of fish and little, century-old diaries including real mammoth hair … yep, mammoth hair. We were pretty far away from Alcott’s little darlings at this point in the story, but I’m sure Dickens would’ve approved of the twist this evening’s turn took at that moment.

During the whole time, I didn’t see many words. Just dusty old covers and lots of fancy price tags adorned the screen. $100,000 for this, $74,900 for that … oh, but the pamphlets and info were probably free. Not sure how much it was to get into the show, however, because that information wasn’t given out and, of course, I wasn’t in attendance. Didn’t even know the damn show was going on last March. How would I have known, anyway?

See, I wouldn’t be on their mailing list – as a donor, reader, or exhibitor. I’m basically broke, don’t read, and, save a few 1970’s MAD magazines in the attic, I don’t have any old paper around of any value. The closest I can come to the Antiquarian club is saying I saw Shamu once at the Aquarium at Sea World. Those two words are close, right?

… kinda like the two words Shamu’d together in the title. Ok, I’ll say it. This post today is multiple whore-ads for words. Who-reads, anyway? I don’t, in effect, for effect. Don’t have time for it. Still not judging anyone here. You’re obviously a reader of high quality or you wouldn’t have lasted this long today, or longer, with me on DougHugs.

Dickens, Doyle, Alcott, and never the Twain shall meet … me, probably. I’m way beyond school, thankfully, and only read books with lots of pictures and/or blogs I can write – hopefully lasting less than five minutes.

If you need a book to read, I have friends. Just let me know.

Ghee What a Ghal!

Ghosts and ghouls are past us by about two months during which gharries possibly arrived carrying ghastful gharials.

Admittedly, I knew three words starting with “gh” used in the above paragraph. The other two? Yep. Google. By the third grade – or sooner, if the chalk dust and marvelous marker smell has cleared my mind – I also knew these are the consecutive 7th and 8th letters of our 26 developed from the Etruscan alphabet sometime before 600 BCE (also Google πŸ˜„). It takes a bit of brain power to engineer opening paragraphs around the letters G and H and I’m not sure this little engine in my skull is puffing up hill effectively. Most likely won’t know until I’m looking down over my connected paragraph cars to the conclusion caboose. If everything is intact and there’s been no derailment, the G&H Line has been a success!

All I’m sure of is those two letters meant something to me today – and that’s all that really counts. So, hop aboard and let me tell you about my nice conversation today.

There’s a station in life where we stand. These weirdly words slapped on us are defined by society and there’s not much that can be done about it. We’re either married, or not. A pastor, or not. Have 12 children, one, or none. Maybe you’re one who employees hundreds, an employee, or not an employee at all. Ok, so we can do something about them, right? Get married, employed, or pregnant if so desired … but all these do is change the station. You’re still assigned a station in life, regardless. The life train comes and goes – in and out of your station … day after blessed day. We have to find a way to enjoy that station upon which we stand. Somehow enjoy the freakin’ show we see as people walk up and down, across and between our paths every. Single. Day.

I had that experience today. The happy human I conversed with is enjoying her station in life. Circumstances being what they are, I’m sure she would hope for better days ahead. Being careful on details for obvious reasons, I will bind this together like a coal car and engine gracefully tying their couplers for a wonderful journey ahead.

We met for less than an hour this morning. She, a purveyor of a service I needed to tie up a loose end for a holiday present, and I talked over health, religion, family relations, politics, music, and oddly enough, a little witchcraft. There is a small, friendly, historical connection between us as our pasts intertwine ever so gently. I do believe our chit-chat session could have extended beyond the time we spent before I had to leave for other engagements. This was, simply, a nice conversation with a nice, sincere person. Someone who is face-to-face with some real things as she stands on, and in, her station.

I drove away thinking about that. Moments later wrapping some presents … thinking about … that. Boy, what a waste of time arguing with a “friend” on Facebook when that time could be better spent talking to someone about their life’s struggles in person. Laughing (six feet away) from a relative stranger who needs a good joke rather than sharing a goofy meme seems to be far greater. In-person vs. Out-impersonal?

I know it’s tough, probably. My business affords me the chance to interact daily with folks. Without it, especially during this pandemic when we’re forced into distancing and lock-down situations, I’d be lost. Today’s wonderful conversation may have been a one-off’er because of the holiday need. Regardless, she certainly stepped up and lifted my spirits this morning while giving me a little hope in the midst of this rather bleak 2020.

She’s definitely on the right track for what she believes in and who she trusts. Her station in life is on pretty solid ground from the little I know, anyway. She believes in herself and trusts in herself to make the best decisions for herself. I’d say that’s a pretty good place to be. From where I stood, “Ghee What A Ghal” is pretty darn accurate…

…and her initials – engineered to be identical to the company name emblazoned on the side of her engine that CAN – is all the information you’re going to get as you watch her get up that hill. The “G & H” Line proudly steaming ahead as an example to all of us of what humanity, grace, and honesty looks like in the midst of life not being particularly kind.

Yes, two letters and not much of a start to any words, really. Didn’t expect them to be. Then again, I didn’t expect to be talking about broomsticks and Wickens this morning, either.

Don’t be Ruth-less

See, here’s the thing. I’m not the luckiest guy in the world. Wherever that gold mine is – with riches untold – a scratched instant game card, or row of six numbers leading me to the state lottery office for a multi-million dollar check … I’m not there. One could argue “yet”, and be correct, but after years of haphazardly wishing my way toward that big red X on the map, I’m not holding out much hope. This is o.k. because millions of other treasure seekers are happily leading their destiny donkeys across the barren gambling desert with me. I’m certainly not alone.

β€œShallow men believe in luck or in circumstance. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” – so penned the famous American essayist, Ralph Emerson, who lived a good hundred years before Martin Handford asked, “Where’s Waldo?”. This 20th century British illustrator, I’m quite confident, knew all along Waldo was the loosely held middle nomenclature of the aforementioned prolific philosopher. Knowing that, however, didn’t stop Mr. Handford from searching for Waldo, or depositing over $20 million bones to date into his bank account over the years from sales, licensing, and royalty contracts. More to the point, ” … rise early, work late, and strike oil.”, as J. Paul Getty once spewed from his mouth. Martin Handford certainly did that, right? The work he put into creating and developing the character, making the contacts necessary to publish his work, and the long hours – all to his credit. We can’t set aside many others who did – and continue to do – the same, if not more, and have little to no credit with no bones. Yes, the the backbone and drive to continue forward, but no cashola or contracts, licenses or royalties. Still searching for their Waldo.

Luck is such a weird concept. It appears randomly without cause and effect. Unpredictable which, I guess, is the very definition of it. “Success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions”, is the pedantic, boring definition when googled. I’ve danced with her countless times and have so many bruised toes as slot machines, instant, and mega-millions tickets slammed down upon my already tired, wanting to be incredible, feet. It’s not wanting to be instantaneously rich that hugs me as we sway, more the process of satisfying my inner need to calm the waters at that moment. This is, as well, the excitement that drives those of us who get up every day to cut a rug with a new sales day – a time where we don’t really know who, or what, will take our hand. Who or what will try to take the lead. The dance, for sure.

If luck be the lady, Mr. Sinatra, I’ll dance. Oh, and I’d sure like to meet the lady who was lucky enough to find this gem in an attic a few months ago:

I’m a sports card collector. An amateur, but I know a bit more than the average Joe Jackson out there. Travel only a few short miles from my house and you’ll end up at the hospital where the woman works as a front line worker. She deserves every bone deposited because of the work done the past nine months. That card above came from Johnstown – a city about 40 minutes’ drive south of here. Rarity drove the price up from a starting bid of $25,000 to almost $350,000 in 16 days. According to the article, she kept 80% and the auction house retained 20%. Two-Hundred eighty thousand dollars for a little piece of cardboard attic find? Not a bad piece of luck … and slice of history either because a picture of the “Babe” – the Sultan of Swat – in a pitching stance is rare – rare, indeed.

She was lucky. Lucky her great-grandfather didn’t toss away that card (or some others in the box) when he could. Lucky they were stored away in a cold, dry place. Lucky that house didn’t burn down or be sold. Lucky, if sold, that the box wasn’t lost in a move. Lucky there wasn’t a water leak in the roof. But, not lucky that rarity drives prices up … and up … and up in the collectibles market. Luck, in the supply/demand curve here, does not have a dance card. Even in the midst of a pandemic, a miserable 2020 during which folks are scratching their collective heads, those who want, … want, and are willing to bone up close to 350G’s for a slab of cardboard with a guy’s picture on it.

Remarkable, but not surprising.

I wasn’t aware of this until it appeared in the local papers. Surprising since I, myself, appear frequently in the local card shop to converse with the locals. We know the vibe about town. There’s always scuttlebutt about the who’s and what’s when it comes down to these cardboard men and ladies in the sports world. To have a really rare, gradable, Ruth card like this around the area … in a collection with other cards from the same set … and none of us know? Hmmm. Or, perhaps, some did know and kept it pleasantly quiet which, by the way, I would have done as well. I certainly would have … most assuredly … without hesitation … wall-flowered the whole process!

This lady, again, was lucky. All of us are genuinely happy for her. To not be shows an out-of-touch reality and a, err … Ruth-less personality. How could anyone not marvel at the odds of someone shuffling through an old box in an attic only to find, months later, $280,000 in their bank account?

Lou Gehrig, a later contemporary of Babe, spoke these words in his “Farewell to Baseball” address: “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”. Quoted often, most omit the first word, “Yet”. The sentence before, he says, “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got.” … Then continues, “Yet …”.

So often there is heartbreak before luck. Lou Gehrig was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. We know that, right? It is a disease that destroys the neurons that control voluntary muscles. Lou used “yet” as a conjunction between two worlds, saying, “I’ve been told I’m sick, yet life has been spectacular.” Bad luck, nah. No such thing. The “Iron Horse” died June 2nd, 1941, after 17 seasons with the New York Yankees.

Between 1925 and 1934, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth were teammates with the Yankees and were next to each other in the batting order. I would think that’s the best luck in the world, but I’m a simple man. One who has been though his – and his grandfather’s grandfather’s – attics many, many times searching for something – anything – that would bring in skeleton’s bones fortune. Alas, it has not panned out. My grandfather was young when these cards were new, crisp, and white. Not this one in particular, but cards of the same class. Cards he often told me were so expensive, even by today’s prices, if he bought even one, there’d be hell to pay. Besides, most were sold as promotions with cigar, or cigarette packs, so they were off limits to him, anyway. I’d argue the point with him to no end. Oh, there actually was an end. He walked away. If you’re thinking of my dad’s cards from the 50’s – like the ’51 Bowman or ’52 Topps Mantles? Uhm, grandma threw them out. Yeah. Luck be a lady there, too.

So, I didn’t write a best seller or find any real valuable cards around. Most of us won’t. See, here’s the thing. I’m not the luckiest guy in the world and my name isn’t George. Oh, and I have a brother, but his name isn’t Harry, so he can’t claim the quote, “A toast to … The richest man in town.” … Yet.

One day, he may be able to make that toast, however, I’m not changing my name. It is a “Wonderful Life” and our lives are a process whether we have a Clarence, a Ruth, or a Gehrig to remind us of such a fact. It’s not whether we have a remarkable find in our attic. It’s all the little bells that give the angels their wings, I suppose.

I wrote “I’m not holding out much hope” earlier, and that’s true. Nonetheless, I have to be truthful, real, and in that tiny space where our tires are on the road. Luck is rare in the sense that it appears as instant wealth, three cherries, or six numbers and a mega-ball. Luck isn’t so bad in good friends, health, a really cool job, food, family, and a little hope going forward. All of this is unpredictable. Even the friends, health, and jobs as 2020 so frighteningly brought to the plate. We struck out so much this year. With the final innings … yet … to go, we must hope for a grand slam here. Let’s stay in the game, at least, and give our teammates a chance:

Up to the plate steps the Babe, with a bat in hand. Points to the outfield. Here’s the pitch – from Charlie Root, the Cubs pitcher who would give up a three-run homer to Babe Ruth in the first inning and a solo shot to Lou Gehrig in the third. The famous “Called Shot”. October 1, 1932.

The Yankees won the World Series 4-0 over the Cubs that year.

If it happened then, it can happen now. Even in empty stadiums, I can hear the cheers of many over the doubts of the few. No bones about it.

Thankful Evolutions

Back in March of 2005, I started. Just what at the time? Not real sure. It was the beginning of 10,000 baby steps that continues to this day. Over fifteen years later, I haven’t yet matured into adult strides, i.e. grown-up thinking about my business. My attitude is still childish, – like opening up a Christmas present every time I unlock the door to my concession trailer or slide the window wide open to greet a customer. Every day is new. Fresh. Exciting. Record sales or rainy, blah days, I’m ok. Five-thousand, five-hundred days flipped over on the calendar since diving in this unknown pool of figuring out how to stay financially afloat, I’m ok.

In this type of business – as in all I suspect – a re-investment of capital is necessary to grow. What’s left over after the bills are paid (not including our own paychecks early on) goes right back in for development, research, new(er) equipment, advertising, employee benefits/incentives, etc … all the stuff to help urge our businesses along. As owners, we have to stay positive. We must never lose our energy, drive, or focus. These are the intrinsic qualities fueling the engine. Cliche? Absolutely! True? Most assuredly.

Since that day in 2005, I lost a lot of money. Two failed restaurants within two years, a depleted savings, and lessons I didn’t want to learn but needed to. Everything was right at the start, however, I sucked at picking locations. Sucked. “If You Renovate It, They Will Come”, right? Shoeless Joe … you there? Purchased equipment sat lonely with me as cars swooned by at the second location, and people hastily walked by at the first. My recipes were (and continue to be) tasty, customer service is “me”, and cleanliness exemplary. I knew what I sucked at and had to admit it: location.

Everything else being fine, why not go mobile? Go to the customer. Problem fixed. Enter small cart #1. Then cart #2 shown above. Then the trailer seen far right … fifteen years later. A van, one commercial kitchen, two carts, one trailer … and one guy who is still pretty excited about his business.

Why these words a day before Thanksgiving, 2020, from a simple hotdawg selling, piano-playing, blog-writing, strangely strange fellow? Because, I’ve learned being thankful is a process, an evolutionary operation, with baby steps under foot. In the business of simply being you, be thankful for all the little things along the way contributing to your magnificent self.

I could list all the crappy stuff – even today – that isn’t right in my business. But, that’s today and all of it will right itself sometime soon. None of it has to do much with the pandemic shut-downs or customers not willing to be out. Heck, I live in an area where a larger than normal number of people don’t mask or social distance anyway. Our numbers are going up. Period. Whether you’re a believer in the science or not, the local hospital is experiencing an increase in cases and inpatient admittances. Too many haven’t been willing to take the necessary baby steps since March. But, I digress.

-My thankfulness comes in the form of each 4316-9. That is the current number on my sales book today. Every customer is a baby step. Without them, I don’t survive as a business.

-My thankfulness is for each supplier of the goods I provide. I can’t process hotdawgs, sausage, steaks, or chicken. The rolls nestled around these juicy delicacies don’t just appear in my hands, either.

-My thankfulness is extended toward all the landlords who rent spaces to me so I can be open. They are my lifeblood. Customers and suppliers are not relevant if I can’t set up anywhere.

-My thankfulness wraps around money provided to me in the form of credit and financial services offered through the local banks. Personal service and help when needed has been so valuable.

-My thankfulness to all the local businesses who have allowed me to set up and serve lunch to their employees on site. Word of mouth through these lunches has been a tremendous asset.

-And, finally, thanks to all my family and friends who’ve stepped in to help over the years in many different ways. You know where I am. You know how things are. You’ve been there for every baby step.

Everyone above is so important. Investing in them is as important as placing one dollar in a new refrigerator, ad campaign, or employee’s IRA. They are the process of my being thankful. I’ve evolved – in no small part – with the help of their support and encouragement in spite of my stubborn nature and crazy ideas.

Find those people in your life that have been part of your thankful process. You’re magnificent today because they were there for you – maybe when you didn’t even know. In those silent moments you felt encouraged, they sat away thinking of you. That amazing business phone call you didn’t expect? That was their referral. A customer stopped by because they heard … through the proverbial grapevine ….? Find them. Thank them. All.

Some friends, as they look over silly FB memes of mine … listen to goofy jokes, or my pontificating about political punditry so ever-present in our world today, assume I haven’t matured at all. I proudly wear this jacket emblazoned with young, fancifully unsophisticated lettering embroidered on my soul. It is because of who I am, I can appreciate where I’ve been and what the future looks like as it evolves.

So, tomorrow is a weird 2020 Thanksgiving holiday, but it doesn’t have to be. Stay socially distanced and masked if that’s what you feel is necessary. I am. That’s me.

The day isn’t weird at all if you take a minute, or a baby-second’s time, to ask yourself a simple question: “Who, in this process I call my life, has been there for me?”.

The answer(s) may not be sitting across from you – especially this year – but I guarantee they are thinking about you. They always are because of who they’ve evolved to be: folks who want you to be the very best you can be – even if you’re not real sure what that is when you open a business and have no idea what lies ahead. It may be 10,000 baby steps or more, so be open to anything.

Psychic Flames

This is the back window view from my concession trailer, the wonky-winky sticker added virtually to protect the proprietor; although, she knew that was going to happen, I suspect, if she’s worth every ounce of crystal in the ball resting comfortably on her velvety red table. I see this sign every day when firing up my propane tank on that side of my business and always wonder: Is there an external, psychic force – unbenounced to any living concessionaire – applying positive or negative energy to me?

Usually unanswered, this query goes. Usually. Today, I felt the force. It came quickly in the form of a short, blue flash of light. A propane brightness followed by a stench of burnt hair. This is not uncommon to me. I should have seen it coming. Rather, SHE should have seen it and warned me … somehow, through a telepathic, psychic foodie, synaptic sensory system. Twice this has happened in the fifteen years I’ve been twisting tubers on a grill. “What?”, you ask. Step #1) Hook up propane tank and turn on the nozzle, Step #2) Walk into warm trailer, Step #3) Not remember that I didn’t turn off the griddle the previous evening, aaaand Step #4) stick a long handle ez-lighter in the hole while, subsequently, clicking on the flame … score: four-burner chamber 1, Doug 0.

At that point, it just was. No sense arguing the point with any universe willing to listen. I raised a few eyebrow hairs I had remaining and tilted my head. Fortunately, two days prior I shaved. Also, most head hair was covered with a ball cap and arm follicles, similarly, with my hoodie sleeves. Save a few back of the hand stragglers gone the way of hair-burn obscurity, all was well.

All was well … everything except the remaining smell of hair torched by irresponsibility. Boy, does that linger, or what? Not only the smell, but the fact I walked through steps #1 through #4 without thinking. Shhh (🀫) .. it happens, right? No getting around accidental mishaps and misdemeanor maladies. The bothersome bugger to me is the always lingering, “Why?”.

“Why” didn’t I turn off the burner last night? I always do. “Why” didn’t I check to make sure the burner was off before lighting?

The “Why didn’ts?” and “Why dids?” in life. No wonder Ms. Medium across the lot fascinates my opening minutes so much. Problem is, she predictably predicts – or portends to – know the future, but can’t explain the whys of our past. No finely swathed clairvoyant can. It’s up to us to put the pieces together. We have to look at the tarot cards of our own printing, the crystal ball polished by our attitudes, and the palms exposed in the hands we were dealt at birth.

Why did my mom die from cancer after five years of the best treatment this area could offer her? Why didn’t the Covid-19 virus remain dormant – somewhere deep – so it wouldn’t affect millions of people around our beautifully populated world? These are two unanswerable “whys” in my tank as I sit here after seeing a blue, red, and yellow flash of light … a light I’m glad I wasn’t walking heavenly toward eight hours ago. I can’t Uber you to a Psychic hoping she will look into your eyes and find whys, brilliant answers to your questions right now. Depending on what you believe, an afterlife may, or may not, be that eternal flame of forever findings – the place where mom, possibly, is finishing Schubert’s Symphony and understanding why ovarian cancer has a mind of its own.

So, today ends where it started. Is there an external, psychic force – unbenounced to any living concessionaire – applying positive or negative energy to me? … or, by extension to you?

If you believe there is … sure! If not, perfectly fine by me as well – not that my approval or disapproval makes any difference in your life.

We make our decisions and move forward. Chance happens. Luck pops up. Possibility, probability, … fluke, fortuity, friends, and foes all are constantly flowing through the gas lines of our lives.

Just be careful where you stick your flame.

May I Bend Your Ear?

My van’s last gasp – when sputtering – is satisfied very few places. F’uel pardon the sensitivity, I believe my tow vehicle has feelings. It creaks and moans when distressed and, other times, hums beautiful monotones as we travel together down a lonely highway … maintaining a safe, legal speed, of course.

I know where to go during the low gasp times. I’ll go out of my way to drift into Sunoco riding the fumes of prior days’ negligence. Not just any Sunoco, of course. If this was the case, there would be no reason to write a blog today, right? But, there IS a reason!

The Sunoco at the corner of Allegheny Street and Penn (Rt. 36) in Hollidaysburg, Pa. If you read my post yesterday, this friendly, convenient station is a chess knight’s move northeast from Best Way Pizza. Two by one blocks will get you and yours to Raj and Nick’s Sunoco sitting peacefully across from our local Post Office. If you’re mood is sputtering – not just your mode of transport, stop by.

Today’s reason isn’t just because their business is nice, or the gas is cleaner and better for my sit-in friend. The machines pump one full of information. As well, they transport needed gas to the soon to be full metal and plastic alloy friends driven into the station.

There’s a little screen on the pump, about eye level for a 6′ guy like me, that has a few ads – of course – then up pops a “word of the day”. It’s such a nice, educational easement sitting among the barricades of busyness standing in our way every day. Ten seconds to stop and pay attention … not only to the ticking of $2.49 a gallon flowing out of my wallet, but also to one word and its definition: “ductile” – able to be deformed without losing toughness; capable of being stretched out without breaking, as it were. The best example I was able to find was gold possibly being formed into wire.

I have few reasons to believe vapors from the nozzle were effecting my thoughts as I considered what that word meant – truly meant. “Bend, but not break”, rushed through my mind as I watched the rubber hose twist in the pre-winter, 35-degree wind. How appropriately stamped is that phrase in the letters U.S.A. sent to us through generations past? Wars, depressions, once in a hundred years plague a century ago, terrorism, etc … all bent our collective consciousnesses but didn’t break us.

Enter 2020 and two deformed, socially punches to our gut: A hotly contested Presidential election and, of course, COVID-19. Hand-in-hand, the overlapping viral ideas and opinions continue to stress the strongest bonds among families, friends, and workplace associates.

We saw the former coming. I assume we did, anyway. It was four years of a radical turn away from what we knew as normal White House policy and procedures marginally voted in by a distressed, disgruntled populous wanting change. As the newest red hat society, far from ladies in their 50’s and above looking for a recess from day-to-day stressors, this cap wearing MAGA community rode their hero into town and stayed dutifully on the horse. To this day, the reigns are still tight, held by the faithful few. White knuckled are they … hoping for a ride into the sunset of defeat or victory on a stubborn horse refusing to whoa-fully admit it may be the end of the ride.

COVID-19 came out of nowhere. Yeah, ok … Wuhan. Sure, let’s go with that. Back it up a bit from there. Out of “know where” is better. We didn’t know what to do. March 13th, friday, was the day everything stopped in Pennsylvania. Governor Wolf, for all intents and purposes, shut us down. This was during the wave of shutdowns coming across the country and we knew this was inevitable. Colors of green, yellow, and red splashed across Facebook pages as friends posted Pa. maps coded county by county. Store shelves, wiped clean of toilet paper, sanitizer, and canned goods, sat empty testifying loudly to the world that my fellow Blair Countians were afraid of the future. Nobody knew the road ahead. Masking, social distancing, Dr. Fauci, and any hint of a vaccine were concepts, people, and hopes unknown to any of us.

The following nine months were gestationally brutal. March through this past November 13th – nearly 270 days – saw us have the most incredibly difficult time as a nation. And, it’s not over, is it?

This pregnancy is going into overtime.

Which gets me back to why my van sputtered at the pump this morning. I was almost out of gas. Almost.

As Americans, it seems we are almost out of gas. The election and COVID-19 has kicked the living crap out of us this year. Hand-in-hand, these two events, by themselves, would have been enough. Together, they’ve been brutal. The economic, social, medical, and emotional strain pulling at both ends of our family and friends’ relationships is heartbreaking. Just the masking opinions alone drive a wedge between people these days, regardless of the science.

I stopped for ten seconds in the cold to fill my tank at Sunoco and saw a single, simple word: ductile. This gives me hope and I wanted to share it with you. We can believe things happen for a reason, or not. I’m just a guy who sees wonderful words, pictures, or people and wants to pass them on to you.

This word, ductile, in itself is seven letters. What it means, however, is so much more to us. We bend, but don’t break. No more complicated than that.

2020 will be not be remembered as our best year, for sure. President Biden, presumably at this time (I guess πŸ€¦πŸ»β€β™‚οΈ), President Trump’s lame duck time remaining, the Senate (or anything in Washington for that matter), COVID-19 vaccines, stats and charts, etc… will all be in front of us for the remainder and into 2021. We can’t escape into some Wonka world and eat candy until things get all right with the universe. There will be smudges on the glass and everlasting gobstoppers to deal with for some time.

Until then, remember we’re resilient, ductile people who know diversity. We see ugly and make it pretty. We see sad and do our best to make it happy. We work our butts off go help those who don’t help themselves.

In ten seconds, I was reminded of this. Thankfully, there’s a friendly gas station in town. A place where a distressed van sat for a few minutes guzzling a gallon or two of premium fuel. Beside it, a guy very grateful to live in a country that never gives up. Never breaks.

That’s what makes America great in the first place. No red hat needed.

“Dare to be Square”

Before diving in, I must give proper credit. The above tag line hangs below – and is, most likely, registered to – one of my favorite sauce, cheese, pepperoni, and dough places in town: Best Way Pizza.

It’s been a family stop of ours for decades. Today, during a busy run-around day off, I find myself here enjoying an extra slice of restful time. Lines at grocery stores and pharmacies, advertising signs blown over from last night’s Pentecostal winds, and messages on my phone all demanding my attention earlier have been tamed. I’m the only one here. Humming soda machines keep me company … no human contact save the occasional really nice employee wiping down the counter over to my right. Expected for the 2:50 p.m. off-lunch, pre-supper time.

This was my pleasurable view only minutes ago. Not so now. I’ve wiped my hands clean of the grease that remains from what is now marching to my heart (thanks, Drew Carey, for your bit on Johnny Carson years ago!). There’s more ice than Pepsi left in the plastic cup and a few less pepper flakes to carry back in the shaker. Over and over this cycle of inhumanity toward my health has been repeated throughout the decades of my life. The pattern of plastic predictability won’t be officially complete until I top off the cup with more empty calories on my way out.

It’s just hunger satisfaction without tofu, veggies, or soy. That’s all. Easy-peasy. Their soda machine calibration is spot-on, by the way … πŸ‘Œ

“Dare to be square”, right? My parent’s generation probably used the word “square” in the 40’s/50’s to mean “not hip”, or outside the cool crowd – a sort-of conventional dude who went about life inside the accepted borders, following all the rules, obeying the laws, driving the speed limit in the family car while just pulling out of the white picket fence lined driveway.

Square could also mean getting right with someone – settling a debt, perhaps. “Don’t worry about it, we’ll square up later.”, I see as a variation of usage. Does this make the person square? Eh, who knows? Just an idea.

As any of this relates to really good pizza, example #1 most likely is what the LeCrones mean. The original owners, in a twisted way, dare us to be normal by eating pizza that is square … in a “pizza is cool only in triangles” world. Maybe they were convinced, decades ago, we were destined for black eyes in dark alleys by going against conventional circles cut into triangles … in square boxes as the popular memes on social media purport?

Geometrically speaking, the above meme is funny. Three shapes in one Friday night, teenager driven delivery. Best Way doesn’t deliver. If memory serves me right, they were one of the first in the area to offer drive up service years ago as a pizza business. Innovation with simplicity. Quite a success story. As of today, they have multiple locations and franchises in numerous counties surrounding and including Blair County.

May I suggest every writer of a blog and, by extension, every reader of every blog could write a similar story of their favorite pizza joint? Yep. My short break today isn’t that unique to anyone else’s American story.

If you told me back in the 80’s I’d be doing this today, … well, pretty sure you’d get a different response than, “In 2020, during a pandemic, I’ll have a day off from my concession business and be typing out my blog entry for the day inside a Best Way”. I didn’t have a 40 minute plan let alone a 40-year plan just getting out of high-school.

What I was sure of? … my hometown was always a place to love, family was here … and we always had Best Way Pizza on Friday night if we could. Later in life, it became a Sunday night tradition.

I’m a professional pianist … sell hot dawgs and food out of a trailer, and write on a blog. So far, I haven’t been beaten up, so all is good. I must be cool in a square kind of way.

The pizza was really good … as usual. Next time you’re in Hollidaysburg, Pa. stop by. Dare to be square yourself.

Prince Demetrius and the Leaves of Loretto

It’s a few short minutes drive up the mountain from home, but I don’t go often enough. Prince Gallitzen State Park. Named in honor of Prince Demetrius Gallitzen, a Russian nobleman turned Roman Catholic missionary priest who founded the nearby town of Loretto, the park is home to Glendale Lake – a 1635 acre man-made lake. This state park is near PA Rts. 253 and 53 close to Pattton, Pa. This picture is very familiar to my friend you’ve met here before … a skilled photographer with an eye for the beauty around us.

This location is familiar to me. Our family went there early on in my life. A significantly larger group than today’s remainder met there for smotherings of hugs and non-judgmental gatherings back when divorces were less common and death seemed less familiar to me. A space where old and young kin folks talked, laughed, and played games around checkered tablecloths on splintered tables, and swarms of bees chased us little ones into the woods. Bees that, unfortunately, are as distant as the memories I have to this day.

My dear friend sometimes captures these memories of mine as I look at her pictures she posts. This one above is one of many from her collection labeled, “Glendale Roadtrip 2020”. Her gift is walking along our memory lanes with us without knowing she’s beside our footsteps.

There are times she strides alone, I suspect. She, like all of us, need those days when no company is desired. A picture taken during a solitary saunter can mean a lot when life requires self-reflection from a pond of either regret or satisfaction. Her roadtrip reasons are for her, alone, to settle into her personal picnic basket of emotional needs. She feeds her soul without the need to justify any fruitful endeavor to us. We’re just the fortunate viewers of her gift.

This photographic journey trip to a princely park is worth writing about because today’s breaths are better spent on leaves and a wonderful friend’s keen eye than election what-ifs and presidential prognostications. A small, quaint Loretto, Pa, leafy fall picturesque lake only a few minutes drive from the hustle of Altoona is soul settling – even if only looking at it on a Facebook page. A railroad city where empty buildings sit – in contrast to empty park benches quietly remembering a family’s reunion forty-five plus years ago – can never replace the images in my mind. A grandmother, with her arm around me, saying, “Look at the lake. Isn’t it beautiful?”

Why, yes it is … yes, it is.

Over the benches and through the leaves, we see the reflection. Black against blue is my favorite contrast in all her photographs. There are no people in this photograph like there are in my memories stirred up by looking through her album. Granted, you can’t see my mom with her frosted 70’s hairdo, or my now bald dad with a crew cut back then. My sister, brother, and I together throwing a football, frisbee, or half-deflated ball from the Murphy’s five-and-dime store is a memory once locked up, but free again. Uncles, aunts, cousins, … all mostly removed from my life now due to unpreventable reasons. Events the trees at Prince Gallitzin and Glendale have seen over and over, family by family, generation by generation.

Life moves at a remarkable pace. Quicker than I ever imagined years ago staring out over a lake years away from my first driver’s license or first date. This is where life is.

I don’t know where you are, nor do I know what ever happened to Prince Demetrius. A quick Google search would turn up the answer, but I like the mystery of not knowing. We shouldn’t want to know everything even if everything is accessible and at our fingertips.

The mystery of the leaves of Loretto included.

I do know I have my memories and a well-respected friend who helps me reach back to grab them every now and then with her pictures.

Life is a shared journey. A Roman Catholic missionary, local State Park, picture, friend, my past, and I – all on the bench beside a calm lake are we … bound together by that unbreakable understanding that life is one picture at a time. One day at a time. One virtual hand-hold together down memory lane.

Today is a good day.

Categorically, The Best

Today, in the middle of a not so busy day, I happened to glance down at my phone. There wasn’t much else going on inside – or outside – my fanciful food trailer. For once, no election blather screaming for my attention from this little Samsung phone in which I type. No Facebook screams heard silently escaping from the Left and Right wing political airplanes that have flooded the airwaves these past months…

… Just the news that Alex Trebek died.

I had only a minute or two to gather my thoughts and post the above comment. Now, I’m home and have a few quiet moments to sit. I had quiet moments three hours ago when the news was posted, but silent moments can be interrupted when sitting behind a register … waiting … and waiting … and …. waiting.

A beautiful November day. Sunshine. A puzzler to me, however, my business is seasonal and event-centric which is why I don’t worry about slow sales days in the first week of the 11th month – an off season, non-event, no fuss trailer time-out. A customer here and there, nonetheless, does interrupt a stream of thought when attempting to write about such an iconic figure in American culture.

We watched his hair turn salty white over the years, didn’t we? We so much enjoyed the smart, intellectual banter between Alex and the probably smarter than us trio of folks who methodically pushed the plungers anticipating a daily double. We were rapt by Ken Jennings and his mastery of the board. as did the stoic, gentlemanly host of Jeopardy for 36 years since its reincarnation in 1984. Alex Trebek had that connection with players – those who lost and winners all.

None more fascinated and enthralled by the handsome Mr. Trebek than my grandmother who didn’t miss many shows in her retirement years. Grandma was already advanced in her graying head ahead of Alex when she quietly confirmed the answers already given by contestants. I don’t believe she missed many … all the while paying more attention to the crosswords or word searches already begun in the magazine on her lap. She was a pretty smart cookie and wonderfully honest, too. “Isn’t Alex just so handsome?”, she’d ask me with a not-so trivial twinkle in her eye. “Yes, Grandma, he is.”, was the only reply a grandson could give his sweet mom’s mom who, obviously, felt a deep admiration and connection toward a little man in the t.v. who was larger than life to her.

She was one of millions I have to assume. The connection with him doesn’t end with categories and players, either. When his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer nearly two years ago was announced, we saw thousands of Americans reach out with messages of support and kindness. Similarities of circumstances, “We’ve been there and are here for you” messages, and even “Stay Positives” from all over the world came flowing in like oceans of words on waves of kindness. He knew his fame was not trivial. He knew the thousands of handshakes at the end of each game and the dialogues with each player after the first commercial break meant something to us. He knew his once-in-a-while correction of a wrong answer to a right one made us appreciate his unique brilliance and humility. He knew we loved who he was – how he took us away for a 1/2 hour every day (or so) as we found time … or, every day for retired grandmothers.

I’m sure others have eulogized Mr. Trebek better or more fluently on this day of his passing. I’ve been beaten in trivia games by my dear mother relentlessly over the years, pounded in Pinochle by Grandma as well. They’re both gone … as is Alex on this day. Seems like a little bit of the magic in this world has left with all three no longer among us.

Nobody can replace them. Nobody. I guess all of us are irreplaceable and we are treasures in our own right. That’s the takeaway from today’s news. Only a few get to stand behind a podium for 36 years and be remarkable, iconic, deeply loved American gameshow host. Most of us sit quietly in a food trailer, behind a desk, in a tractor, nursing a patient, whatever our calling is … and enjoy our normal, non-trivial lives.

That’s the realization one comes to when glancing down at a phone for a few minutes – a small amount of time to think about the impact of one man’s 80-year life that was, categorically, the best for all of us.

Rest in peace, Alex Trebek. You will be missed.

Dave and 200 Pennies

Without doing any research, I have to assume Dave is one of the more common male names in America. Doug certainly is the most important 4-letter name starting with D that comes to my mind, of course. Dave is a close second. A second, just to be clear.

Being Vice-President in this non-farm 4-D category is nothing to be ashamed of if you’re Dave, Dale, or Dick. To be in the same category with a Doug – any Doug – is nothing short of wonderful. MacArthur, Flutie, Fairbanks, … the magic of Henning and I welcome you into our group. Open arms and happy smiles …

… and a moderate amount of humility at times.

Seems fitting, on the day when a new President has been declared by the A. P., I am writing about the self-sacrifice of one man. The giving of a gift from a heart of a man without any expectation of anything in return. The America – personified in one man – I knew was here, but haven’t seen for some time. Benevolence in one man with nothing, compared to another who, seemingly, had everything but chose to serve only himself while giving the appearance of compassion for others.

Let me introduce Dave.

Dave is close to homeless. Whether or not he chooses to be this way, I’m not sure. His situation requires the social safety nets we, as a compassionate society, must provide. Those, like Dave, stricken with misfortune – either economic, emotional, or mental – must be cared for by us. Some in our community (associates and friends) tried to help and, understandably, have been frustrated by Dave’s cognitive unease, laziness, or incomprehension of his actual situation. So, we find our local community folks watching him go about town on his bike, collecting cans, sitting on a bench fake-playing a little Casio keyboard, or shuffling by on a cold winter’s day. This is his normal. Day. After. Day.

His day … intermixed among my busy, go-about days of money-making ventures. A maze of where-to-goes and what-to-do’s, not giving a single thought about anyone else with four letters in their name starting with a D – notably, anyone else who has no warm meal waiting for them at home or a soft sofa to sit on while watching commercials laden with products they may want to buy.

My life compared to a younger, less fortunate man’s life? Almost none. No gray area where our lives did intersect, really cross. I’ve known Dave a while. Being a “street vendor” in town, I was a convenient stop-by here and there for him. A chat every few weeks at his discretion – when he had something to say and then he was on his unshaven, over-dressed, way. Never a nuisance and always respectful, he respectfully begged for my attention, never money, and earned my respect.

All this to say, one day last week Dave paid for my $2 iced tea at breakfast without my knowledge. Whether it was all coins or dollars, I do not know. I wasn’t hungry that morning, so that’s all I ordered. I don’t know what Dave had in mind that morning if I would have ordered my normal breakfast. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. The 200 pennies he sacrificed on my behalf was worth more than breakfast at the White House with any President.

I chose sacrificed on purpose. Ten minutes later, outside the very familiar window under which I sat, I saw Dave shuffle by – clear plastic bag in tow.

At that moment, I became a clear Vice-President of the 4-D name club. Dave showed buckets full of humility, grace, and compassion, with a simple $2 nod toward a guy who sees him as invisible most of the time.

I don’t know why Dave did it. I’m not asking him. To do so would take away the marvelous magic I want him to have. No assumptions are going to come forth from my fingers at this moment.

I wanted to acknowledge one simple act of generosity. To man who thought he had a life of important things, a gift given from one person who has a small amount of things to give in life can make a lot of cents all of a sudden.

To Dave and his 200 pennies: I thank you.