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Commentary Journal

I Almost Moved, But Didn’t

I don’t have the engagement here that I used to have and that was getting me down a little bit–enough that I went so far as to execute a new start on a new platform, one in which I might be able to stir up new interest in exchange for new a new commitment to more mature and less whimsical writing–a writer’s blog, if you will, rather than how I once described Old Road Apples, as the site of a literary hobbyist. I was encouraged by my best friend and most ardent supporter to “take it seriously.” So, right. It was inspiring. I wrote up a new essay to start my new site, and then I dove deeper into the new platform and realized a lot of what it is good for is not really good for me and what I do.

As a result, I’m staying here. Some of the most whimsical content from the archive will be disappearing–for the practical purpose of clearing out storage space, but also because it embarrasses me. Other stuff might get rewritten and pushed on you again; but mostly, I’m recommitting to this blog, to awakening those of you who remain “from the days of yore” way back in 2015, 2016 etc. while maybe grabbing up one or two new readers and, with any luck, a few caustic trolls with whom we might toy.

Finally, since I won’t be starting that new site, here’s the essay I wrote for it, a reflection of my direction as well as a glimpse into my state of mind.

This isn’t my first rodeo. I think someplace in the back of my head, for a long time, I’ve harbored a compelling desire to say that; or something equally grizzled and assertive—a dramatic line. Indiana Jones, for example, snarling an understated “Nazis—I hate these guys.” Or Will Riker grabbing the yoke on the Enterprise and sneering, “We’re through running from these bastards,” while an alien ensign side-eyes him appraisingly, all but licking her lips. Or pretty much anything Rooster Cogburn says, in the eponymous film or either version of True Grit. And see, by gods I did it. Snuck it right in there at the top. Maybe that’s why I write: the giddy, intoxicating sensation of power?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently, and usually settle on an answer that is as much compromise as it is informative: I write because I can’t not write. I’ve been hobby writing, for lack of a better description, on the Internet for a while now, with varying degrees of consistency and relatively little real discipline, throwing words out across a diverse range of platforms and in numerous formats and “communities.” Sometimes, in the most satisfying instances, I’ve fallen into small groups of readers and bloggers, developing a sort of camaraderie—not quite friendship, but a familiarity among individuals whose situations, insights, and experiences are far different those I encounter in the analog world. Other times, I’ve shouted into the void with nary a hint that even a single word of it was noticed, much less read.

My last blog withered away due to my shifting attentions: working on an ongoing novel, one that I should have finished a decade ago, at the same time that our nation’s politics took a dark turn into the surreally macabre. I found it almost impossible to write anything positive, and I was reluctant to rehash—even critically—the bizarro-world events manifesting themselves minute by minute in the headlines. I know who I am. Commentary turns to screeds, screeds devolve into tantrums, tantrums to hissy fits, and we end up with a full-blown rant. A festival of rants. Unfortunately, although they can be deeply, emotionally satisfying, rants—like methamphetamine—offer only short-term satiety, and are equally alluring to outside observers.

While this was happening, bloggery was changing. I’d found myself able to easily, happily sidestep the word-vomit that is Twitter—a disorienting cacophony of hyper-brief, purposefully inarticulate blurts and burps of artificial brevity that reminds me of a tabernacle choir gathered together, with each member shouting a different limerick, Hallmark greeting, excerpt from the instructions for assembling a new Wayfair coat rack (in the original Mandarin) or middle-school haiku at the top of their lungs. My attention span extends beyond the twelve or thirteen words I’m allowed on Twitter—that’s not even room enough for a decent rant.

The image-first blogs, primarily Instgram but also TikTok—or Tick Talk, or whatever—and its latest flash in the pan app trend (Vine, anyone?) made for a much more discouraging hurdle. First of all, as you will shortly see should you choose to return, I am what the English so cunningly describe as “shit” when it comes to photography. I have lousy instincts and I’m too lazy to learn how to do it better. I mean, adjusting shutter speed and aperture? That is verging dangerously close to something heinous, something my STEM-savvy daughters refer to as “algebra.” All those variables. No thanks. I’m lucky when I remember how to change the length between intermittent windshield wiper swipes when I’m in traffic. Instagram killed my blog community—the tone over there is very post-apocalyptic, broken windows, overturned cars, and trash blowing down the street. I can’t compete with all the prettiness on Instagram, even though I enjoy it—especially during the pandemic, when the lure of vicarious adventure, vicarious dining, vicarious gawking at all that pretty stuff, transitioned from an amusing distraction to a full-bore necessity, a window into the world that was, as cheery as photos from the Johnstown Flood.

Nevertheless, I prefer something word-based, something that encourages articulation, and something more permanent than the recent trend of messages that evaporate as I read them—”stories”?–the ultimate tease, and certainly an apt subject for some sort of zen-discovery exploration about experiencing before immediately letting go. I’m not Zen at all. Not even close. My family legacy is self-destructive nostalgia and borderline hoarding. So here we are, back to the words.

I arrived at this site on the advice and encouragement of my wife and I must admit to a certain degree of leaping before I look on my way here. Immediate action to preclude reflection. But isn’t that often the way with fresh starts? There’s an element of suddenly jumping from a moving train when some disconnected voice urges “Now!”

Dumping a once-in-a-century pandemic on top of this whole mess has felt a lot like standing knee-deep in mud, hands cuffed behind my head, and being pummeled in the belly and face by a fat, shirtless clown in boxing gloves: more than irksome but not enough to kill me, leaving me bruised, nauseous and disoriented, with a chance of long-term complications. Indeed, I toyed with the idea of calling this blog “A Journal After The Plague Year,” with apologies to Daniel Defoe, but that sounded just a bit too pretentious—and I’m far too pessimistic to embrace the word “after” when it comes to SARS-CoV2. Instead, I went for “The New Old Road Apples,” referencing a former blog and a self-depreciating nudge and a wink reminder that this endeavor shouldn’t be taken too seriously. As for the old “Old Road Apples,” why not just stick with it? Why not, as the saying goes, “make 10 louder?” I made a concious decision to move on from what now feels to be too juvenile, too whimsical, and more focused on volume and production over quality of content—however arguable my use of the word “quality” may be in this context.

Conventional wisdom is that a blog—or any writing, for that matter—should be targeted towards a specific audience, bound by a cohesive topic or focus or, ideally, both. Some degree of continuity seems appropriate, but the thing is: I want to start now and I have yet to figure out the particulars. Who do I want to reach as an audience? Simple: everyone, anyone! What do I want to write about? Not quite everything, anything! And continuity? I guess that makes me the continuity.

So, that’s where we’ll begin, assuming a (possibly arrogant) relevance and proceeding as if there is some interest in what I’ve got to say. We’ll consider it a variety site with a bit of this and that: culture, politics, commentary, culture—like the Atlantic, but written by a semi-retired manual laborer pecking at an aged desktop perched upon a cluttered desk in a small, dark, cold little room at the top of the staircase. Or maybe it’s more like pantry soup: when you pull a bunch of frost- or dust-coated stuff off the shelves and out of the deep freeze and throw it together in a crock pot. With any luck, I’ll find some level of direction, or something that tastes good enough to choke down with a few slices of homemade bread, as time passes. What’s the worst that can happen?

Charles. New Years, 2021 

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Commentary Journal Uncategorized

It’s A Wonderful Life In Indiana, PA

I have the good fortune of living in the town where iconic film star Jimmy Stewart, who played the lead role in the classic holiday movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” was born, raised, and to which he often returned.  The article-2528752-1A468BBF00000578-209_634x480town of Indiana, PA is the county seat of Indiana County, PA, which for decades has laid a somewhat dubious claim to the title “Christmas Tree Capital of the World.” We’re not the biggest producer of Christmas Trees in the world any more, but we were the first place to grow them as dedicated crops, and the business still means a lot to our local identity.

As Philadelphia Inquirer writer Jeff Gammage wrote, way back in 1997, “Trees cut from its mountainside farms are shipped everywhere from Mexico to England, Florida to Arizona. They are wrapped in brown paper and sent via UPS to Pittsburgh, or strapped onto the roofs of cars that drive in from all over New York State.

One couple travels here each year from Philadelphia to buy a tree, which their dog picks out. Another family pops a bottle of champagne over theirs, christening it for the season.

In Indiana, you can drive from lot to lot and spend $79.50 for a 15-foot Fraser fir or $11.93 for a five-foot white pine, then cruise through a gaggle of glowing Santas at the Festival of Lights or shake hands with Queen Evergreen, the tiara-clad promoter of Indiana County Christmas trees.”

We take this Christmas business seriously, and in the years since Gammage wrote, our seasonal celebrations have expanded to include an “It’s a Wonderful Life” Light-Up night that features a 5o+ unit parade starring the high school marching band playing Christmas songs, floats from a cross-section of community groups, organizations, athletic and dance teams, and even (my favorite) a corps of farm folks stoicly piloting a squadron of beautifully restored antique tractors.

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Photo From: https://bestmountainfamily.wordpress.com/2014/11/23/its-a-wonderful-life-in-indiana-pa/

There is a bonfire in the center of town, free cocoa and crafts, an increasingly accomplished Jimmy Stewart impersonator wandering the crowd and, of course, Santa delivered on the back of a firetruck into the hands of the teaming masses of children.

This year, we had an additional treat: groups of travelers who were on bus tours visiting Indiana to see the Jimmy Stewart Museum and to enjoy the festival were seated on floats and celebrated as the welcomed visitors they are. I imagine we’re not the only town to show our appreciation to our guests, but I’ve never heard of anyplace else that puts visitors in a parade. Very cool.

We celebrated in equally warm fashion on one of the coldest evenings we’ve had to date, gathering with friends at a local pub for dinner and cocktails before watching the parade, then going back to Dave & Laura’s for beers, snacks, conversation and camaraderie by a roaring fire.

Earlier that day, I bemoaned to my wife that it just felt too early this year, that I didn’t have any sense of anticipation, but after an evening like that I was raring to go. Holidays 2015–bring it on!  I’m ready.

All Photos Below are from The Indiana Gazette

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Journal

What Is Up With The French?

rude-frenchI’m a situationally humble person, when it comes to myself and my country (but not my kids, who are awesome, and if you’d like I can spend a few hours telling you why…) and as such one of the stereotypes I’ve fallen for over the years has been the idea of “the Ugly American abroad”–you know, the loud, boorish guy in a Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts, and Nikes grumping around Paris complaining about not getting ice in his Coke and that all the locals don’t have the courtesy to speak English. I’m not the only one.  There are web sites and entire chapters of travel books dedicated to teaching Americans how to tone it down, lay low, and fit in, enough in fact that an intelligent, sensitive individual can certainly be excused for adopting a preemptive inferiority complex verging dangerously close to shame.

No longer.  Not after this trip.

Now before I go further, a caveat: I have a dear friend who lives in Marseilles and who may just be the sweetest, kindest, and most considerate person I have ever met–and let’s be clear about what I’m saying: I met Mr. Rogers once, and my friend Agnès is right in that ballpark. For many years, I held her up as a representative of her nation, but lately I’ve begun to suspect she is an anomaly.  Why?

Because every French person I encountered on my 24 days at large in the Wild West was an asshole–and when I got together with my friends, one of them relayed to me a traumatizing story–of being bullied by, you guessed it, the French.

20120604_123154In Badlands National Park, descending a precipitous portion of trail called “the 140 Steps” which is pretty much a cable ladder secured into a slope too steep to scramble and too unstable to switchback, we were in line, taking turns–my wife was about halfway down, moving slowly because, while she’s extremely athletic she’s also a little nervous about heights.  Two children were on the rungs between her and the top–the kids being a primary concern, because the steps near the top are spread widest and are  the most difficult.  From behind us, a shrill voice breaks into our quiet patience.

“Excuse, excuse!” A middle aged couple pushes past me and the rest of my party in turn, “Make room, excuse!” and when the person up next doesn’t move, the woman says, “If you step aside we will go down much quickly and be out of your way,” then shoves herself onto the the ladder, edging past a 12 year old girl, and heads down.  The husband follows.  The others on the ladder make room, mostly in fear of getting knocked off, but my wife won’t budge.

“You might as well slow down because I’m a little afraid of heights and you’re not getting past me,” she says, with a hint of fake laughter to keep things light.  But the woman keeps coming.  My wife makes another attempt at friendly, but unyielding banter, but the French chick fires back snark.  At the bottom, she cracks something sharp and in French–I couldn’t hear what from my perch above, which is a damn shame because I can speak a little French, but the tone was clear enough.  We shook it off, though, appreciated having someone external to complain about, and moved on.

Several days later, in Yellowstone, at a Pay Shower concession, there were about a dozen stalls, all occupied, and six guys standing in line.  This guy comes in just as there’s an opening and heads right for it.  “Yo!” Someone says. The potential shower poacher flinches–he heard it–but keeps resolutely going for the shower.  “Yo, man!” The guy at the front of the line is a biker on his way to Sturgis–and he doesn’t look like one of those guys who bikes two weeks a year when he’s not Vice President of Marketing back in Sandusky, Ohio.  The guy looks up, we’re all glaring at him, and he slouches to the end of the line.  Isolated incident?  I’d think so, but TWO MORE GUYS come in the next six or seven minutes, all  of them ignoring the line, and in no time at all they’re shamed to their rightful place, where they all start jabbering in French–some of it fairly unpleasant.

I briefly turned to face them, “Avez-vous des lignes en France? Je pensais que nous étions les “barbarians”?

That showed ’em–but damn, what were the odds I’d remember the word for “lines?”

So, we go on to meet up with my friends in Jackson Hole, and Karen has a story to tell that beats ours all to hell–though when she starts, we’ve no idea it fits in with our theme of the boorish French.

Karen towed a camper trailer behind her husbands truck up from Colorado to meet up with a bunch of us.  It’s a big-ass truck and she hadn’t much experience with the trailer.  When she gets to the first campground it is full, and they send her on to the next one that is further out and a bit more rugged.  She parks to register and discovers she’s scored the last site–hooray, right!  While she fills out the paper work, the campground host suggests she send one of her children to go sit in the site so if anyone else comes they won’t get all excited about finding an open site.  Her 12-year old girl is dispatched to sit on the picnic table, while Karen accidentally backs her camper into a ditch–not a bad ditch, but enough to require some extrication using a jack, with the assistance of the campground host.

About this time, the daughter comes back, a little shaken, reporting that a couple pulled into the campsite, ignored her when she said her family already registered, and proceeded to unpack everything in their car and pile in on the picnic table and around the site–presumably to claim ownership, but who knows.  When my friend finally frees her rig and goes to the site for some serious WTFing, the stubborn squatters want nothing to do with her or her receipt–they ignore her, they pooh pooh her and argue in–you guessed in–heavy French accents.  Ultimately, the campground host must be summoned to intervene and evict the bastards, and even then they leave reluctantly. Later in the evening, they repeatedly drive and walk by Karen’s campsite, glaring and staring.

A pattern emerges.

c25-ext-1-300Utah was lousy with French–in the campground in Arches we were surrounded by French families in rented RVs.  Companies like CruiseAmerica must advertise like crazy in France, because everywhere we went the ubiquitous 30″ behemoths were spitting our hordes of loud, angry-looking French families who, while slamming doors and stomping around a lot, otherwise remained happily inside their hermetically sealed vehicles except for a lot of trips to the restrooms–where they could be found washing dishes in the sinks, even though NPS French traffic circlehas added some very convenient dishwashing stations to many campground facilities.  And lest I be too subtle with my warnings, consider who is driving when you’re navigating all those western switchbacks, and that they’ve spent all of their lives steering Peugeots and Citroens into virtual anarchy.

I tried being nice, even threw in  some “mercis” and “saluts” when I was navigating the more crowded trails in Arches, but mostly I got grunts in response.  When we were shadowed one day by a tour bus–“Le Bus” painted on the side–I reached my fill.  At three different 2014_LeBus_793.x446trailheads we ran into “Le Bus,” as it disgorged its herd of unruly French, elbowing each other as badly as they pushed their way through and past everyone else.  They must really not have lines in France, I realized–it has to be a cultural thing–this almost Darwinist “me first” behavior.  At one point, I stood with a group of Japanese–no strangers to emerging from tour buses like a rising tide–and noted their wide-eyed horror at the toddler-like ego-driven comportment of the French. “It’s entitlement,” my wife growled.  “That has to be it.  Cultural narcissism.”

I’m not ready to adopt that extreme position, but I was almost pushed to my limit at our last destination, in Mesa Verde park, where our neighbors were a French family with 5 seemingly feral kids who, when the father wasn’t berating them aggressively, ran roughshod through everyone else’s sites–the oldest two, boys of about 7 and 8–were running about, dualing with tree branch swords, and at one point ran out into the lane yelling “Dragon! Dragon! Tuez le dragon!” and proceeded to thwap the passing vehicle multiple times with their tree screaming-baby1limbs, while Mama and Papa stared blandly–all the while ignoring the shrieking, screaming 2 year old, who they were still bottle feeding formula (I watched Papa mix and shake), and who would continue to wail like a banshee for the three days straight.  I recalled a really patronizing article I once read in the New York Times, about how French children are taught their place–to be seen and not heard–while Americans let their kids run roughshod until they become demanding self-absorbed assholes who think they are the center of the universe. Well, this kid was certainly heard by everyone within a 4 mile radius–she sounded so dire that vultures were circling–and I instructed my kids, “when a baby cries for hours, it’s my experience that they’re usually sitting in a pile of shit or under some other sort of discomfort. You ignore a 4 year old who has tantrums–when it’s a baby, you pay attention.”

bt500bFinally, and perhaps most horribly, were the signs in the showers at Mesa Verde, which read “Please do not use shower drains for solid waste. They cannot handle it. Please use toilets in the restrooms next door.”  I mean: what the fuck is that?  I don’t really want to know, I think, but all I can come up with is it’s some kind of sick-ass French bidet thing….*

Because, really. Who’s ugly now?

 

*okay, I’ll admit it–bidets are awesome, but they freak out most of my fellow Americans, and no way to I pass up a chance at a cheap laugh.

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Commentary Journal

Home Sweet? Home

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Early morning. Thermal features near the Artist’s Paint Pots in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.

It’s been awhile: 23 days. 5974 Miles. 15 States. 10 National Parks. 2 Spectacular State Parks. 5 Motel Rooms. 7 Campgrounds. Temps 33 (Madison, Yellowstone National Park) to -99 degrees (Moab, Utah). 2 Jacuzzi nights.  About a dozen great old friends. A few new ones. A lot of new adventures.

Am I glad to be home? I’m still thinking about that one. I will say it is good to sleep in my own bed again, that it was nice to be indoors for two nights in a row, and that I missed my dog.  I guess I missed some people, too–a few here and a lot of you, there, gentle readers.

If I had it to do again, I’d take the laptop and blog from the road, even if it was only a an update now and then.  You’ll be hearing a lot of this trip–it was significant for me in many ways far and above simple nostalgia–but I’m certain a great deal of things that might have been amusing, or entertaining, or at the very least just a little bit droll, have fallen prey to my aged and distracted mind.

I didn’t write while I was gone.  Intentionally.  The object was to stoke the creative fires, build up a good appetite, and enjoy the trip viscerally rather than interpretively or expositionally, and I’m feeling some of that but, strangely, this is my third evening indoors and I had to overcome a bit of awkward reluctance to sit down and start–something I can best describe as shyness.

I met up with a group of old friends–former coworkers I met 25 years ago as a young, messed-up, kid who didn’t know the first thing about the world or himself–except that he wasn’t happy. It’s been 20 years since I saw most of them, and I was a little nervous going in: these people mean so much to me, but were we still the same people?  The sensation was disconcerting, to say the least–I’ve beaten as much of the hesitance and doubt from my soul as I could without breaking my hammer, and I’m unaccustomed to feeling awkward, but this was important. I’ve made very few friendships that move me as these people move me.

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Badlands National Park, South Dakota, with some innocents who have no idea I’m about to make them famous…. When you see these long narrow panorama pictures, give ’em a click…they get BIG.

And, of course, I had nothing to worry about. There was no question that the years had passed, but I fell right into the comfort of my friends’ company as naturally as if we’d been separated for a day or two–there were hugs, of course, a general marveling at how much we did/didn’t look as we once did, and a profound awe at meeting our respective children.  At least, I was awed.  Every kid I met was loaded down with coolness and cuteness and –because folks like us were drawn together for a reason–there was just a little devilry to be found in those youthful eyes.  I would remark over and over again how strange it was, to be in that place, among those people, knowing full well how much time has passed but at the same time feeling like it was nothing at all.  A blink.

How strange it was, then, to come home a few weeks later and feel estranged and awkward at my desk?  Some things I’ll never figure out–and I’m not going to waste more time talking about it.  I’ve got a ton of writing to do, both here and on The Novel, a lot of work in my day job, a lot of work around the house, and a host of other crap in front of me and, strangely enough, I feel motivated to take care of some business.  I also have over 3 weeks of my favorite bloggers to catch up with–so be patient.  I’ll be around, eventually.

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Commentary Journal

Relay For A Cure

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2014-2015 YPSL Western Champs

So, hey–I’ve been doing this for the past day or so: Relay For Life, one of those community events where you harass the hell out of your friends, and get a t-shirt in return of staying up all night and walking around a course filled with activities and contests and all other manner of distractions.  My kids’ awesome swimming team, where we’ve been investing a lot of our energy over the last decade, participated as an organization this year–athletes, parents, and even a few of the coaches. I felt a sudden and convincing impulse to join, even though I hate doing fund raising and, you know, doing good.

image0In 2010 my best friend since childhood was diagnosed with a recurrence of a cancerous tumor in his abdomen. Six weeks later he was dead–we were baptized together as babies (that’s right, I was baptized, and not in goat’s blood, either)–we went to school together, spent a couple of years as college housemates, traveled together, worked together in Wyoming (where I lured him to the mountains from an office job) and lived about 15 minutes apart in Oregon. We were about as close to being brothers as I can imagine–the guy could drive me crazy like nobody else, and I loved him.

About 15 months later, my brother-in-law was taken from our family, leaving my sister and four daughters, the oldest just 14 at the time. I don’t suppose I need to try and define how messed up that is? Givng a day of my life is the very least I can do if it means some day down the road some other guy’s kids and wife aren’t going to have to live through a similar, life-defining tragedy.

035So, yesterday afternoon we started walking.  You don’t walk the entire 24 hours–although I put in about 10 miles through the evening and night–it’s a relay, so a minimum of 3 members of each team must be walking at any time.  At the same time, every team has a booth that sells things (food, crafts, etc) or has contests, like basket contests and games of skill, as well as cancer awareness information.  Every hour of the walk has a theme–and teams get “spirit points” for participating in things like “Patriotic Hour” and so forth.

We kind of rocked it–I rounded up several hundred dollars by mercilessly bludgeoning my closest friends and known associates via facebook, and our team in it’s first year generated around $8000 in donations. Additionally, we raised a boatload of money at our booth, and spent not a little on concessions and games at other booths.  017In the end, our team won the “spirit points” title for the entire event–a measure of participation and pride that included my buddy Marty and I taking third place in a corn-hole tournament–despite it being my first time ever playing, and our wildly popular laps during “Dude Looks Like A Lady” themed hour. That’s my hulking frame in gold–still can’t believe they make matronly dresses to fit men’s chest size 56 long–but here’s the proof.  Poor Marty got chastized from excessive twerking.  I was much  more demure, despite a LOT of catcalls and one vaguely inappropriate proposition.

The most inspiring part of the event was the Survivor’s Brunch–a defiant march from the the relay area to an adjacent sports complex, where survivors, proudly wearing their bright purple shirts, were treated to a catered breakfast.  Some people immediately stood up and clapped as they walked by, and I’m generally not that kind of joiner, but looking at all those people–old, young, slim, fat, debilitated, seemingly fit and healthy, tall, short–it’s hard not to get that warm feeling behind your eyes, the one that makes you glad for sunglasses.  In the end, I was clapping as loudly as anyone.

I did sleep, a full hour beneath a fleece blanket in my Coleman folding chair from around five to six, when my kids went into the relay on “twin hour”.  Purportedly an event for pairs of folks to dress alike, they hiked it up a notch by actually looking alike.

When I finally got home, I crashed in an arm chair for close to 4 hours–I slept through a loud thunderstorm and only woke up with Marty called to try and cajole Mrs. Junk and I to hit the drive-in theater (we’ve got one in our town, and it’s awesome) to see the new Avengers film.  I said something like “dude, really?”  I’d been so hard asleep that when the phone finally drove me out of my dreams, I stared at the thing for at least two rings trying to remember how to answer it.  And I stink.

On the other hand, I got a nice tan, had a blast with my family and friends both new and old, got a lot of sun–I’m literally golden–and played a part in and event that raised tens of thousands of dollars.  And oh, yeah–I earned a free a t-shirt.

What did you do today?  (not a lot of days I can ask that and feel cocky about it).

 

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Funny and/or Strange Journal

I dreamt I Failed Bill Clinton

defaultSo I had this dream. My wife and I were staying at a cheap hotel–one of those single story set ups with a swimming pool and a courtyard right by the roadside, on the highway leading out to Duck, North Carolina, which was odd because when we’ve gone to the Outer Banks we stayed way up north in Corolla where the beaches are uncrowded and the snazzy rentals let you pretend you’re wealthy for the week. It’s a hot morning, the kind where it never cooled off at all over night, and my wife is sitting cross-legged in the chair, 4804419151_facb9ab808wearing cutoff jeans and (she’s going to love this) a white shirt tied around her waist–exactly like the one  Jennifer Aniston is wearing in the photo I’ve included–which is also odd, because she never wears shirts like that.

Also odd is that we were sitting in lawn chairs with a young, charming Bill Clinton, drinking our way through a bucket of Margaritas in the shade, wise-cracking and watching the logjam of Saturday morning traffic that clogs the bridge over to the island every summer weekend.  I don’t recall our conversation, but it was full of laughs and, perhaps most importantly, Bill made no move to seduce my wife–which should have been a worry, because my wife is pretty attractive and while I trust her completely I’ve also met Bill Clinton in real life, albeit briefly, and his charisma was so powerful I was half tempted to make a run at him myself.  The guy can work a room, and his was the softest hand I’ve ever shaken.  Like a warm, soft silken pillow hand.

But I digress.  If it wasn’t taken, I’d have another blog and I’d name it “But I Digress….”  Because I do.  All the damn time.
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My wife decides to go back to our room and get some chips and salsa. So, we’re out there on the edge of the shade, Bill and I, watching the people trapped in their cars, sipping Margaritas and having a grand time and I have to do it.  My wife won’t approve, but here’s young Bill Clinton and he’s such a pleasant guy, a real pal, and the dangers of busting up the time/space continuim, all that butterfly effect stuff, all goes out the proverbial window.  I’ve got to say something, and I do.  “One day, you’re going to meet this girl called Monica Lewinsky….”

My wife returns, and Bill is gone, disappeared in the way that people disappear in dreams without so much as a puff of smoke, and she immediately sees it in my eyes.  The thing is, I can’t lie to her about anything important. I could weave a tale without a hint it’s a fiction, but if I want to tell her that, yes, I forgot to put the clothes from the washer in the drier, I’m done.  And worse still, she’s trained my daughters to see through my bull shit as well.

“You did it, didn’t you?”

I looked past the traffic toward the horizon.  The scent of the ocean heavy on the hot summer air.  “I don’t know what you mean.”

“You told him.” She shook her head.  “Didn’t you.

I nodded.

“What exactly did you say?”

“I told him not to fuck Monica Lewinsky,” I said.

She flopped into her chair and sighed in exasperation–a bit melodramatically, I must say.  “So, it’s all your fault, you know.”

“No.” I said. “Nothing happened.”

“It. Was. You.” She said, slowly so I could get it.

“I don’t understand.”

“Idiot,” she said.  “He’s just going to take you literally.”

“Oh,” I said.  “Oh!  Damn.”  

Categories
Funny and/or Strange Journal Uncategorized

I Ate This: My Kid Tweeted It

I’m ashamed of my meal, but proud of my daughter. She took artistic license–probably because she didn’t want to reference her dad on twitter–but this was my sandwich–at 3″ x 3″ inches of dry, chewy tastelessness of it.

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It was like this: we were in a hurry and didn’t want to take the time to go to a real restaurant, so we went to Wendy’s, but we don’t generally eat this stuff and the menu confused me–all the sandwiches have nicknames that aren’t all that illuminating, and a bunch of the sandwiches cost five or six bucks but then there are options for “meals” so I panicked and asked the clerk: I just want a plain old burger with some ketchup and onions.

Note: I said onions. Plural. It’s funny how they missed on that, but seized on the word “old.” Serves me right, though. I’m the one who pulled into Wendy’s. I’m the one who bowed to the pressure of that big bright board of choices, and the line forming behind me. I got what I deserved. I guess.

Categories
Journal

Back From “States”

Hey,  I was gone again. You missed me. I missed you, too,  just as I missed writing for you and reading your stuff for the past 3 days while I was out of town and busy watching my kids and their team-mates participate in the 2015 PIAA High School Swimming Championships.  It’s kind of a big deal for the kids, obviously, getting to compete against some of their most accomplished peers on a pretty impressive stage: The Kinney Natatorium at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA, with television cameras and reporters on site.

Don't they look cool?  I don't generally let my private life bleed into the Junk Chuck persona in terms of names and images, but this photo was pinched from the local paper, so it' already out there--and I'll delete it after a little while.
Don’t they look cool? I don’t generally let my private life bleed into the Junk Chuck persona in terms of names and images, but this photo was pinched from the local paper, so it’ already out there–and I’ll delete it after a little while.

A lot of swimmers carry a chip on their shoulders, largely ignored by the media (our local paper is getting better, and we appreciate the love) as well as the students, the and local community at large,  the pride and validation that comes from the Championships is rewarding.  As my kid complained after a pep rally in which a member of the basketball team mentioned that they’d “won our section two years in a row, and that’s a big deal,” our swimming team has won the section something like 11 of the past 12 years.

As for us parents, we’re proud of the kids (ask us and we’ll tell you just how proud), and happy that they get to have this experience, but we also enjoy the camaraderie of  hanging out with each other just as much as the kids have fun with each other.  They’re a great bunch of kids, and it’s taken a great group of parents to get them that way.

And that’s part of it, too.  Every year, States is the last swim for a few of the kids–we lose 4 of the 13 who qualified this year, and while we all talk about how we’ll still see each other we’re all conscious enough of reality to know that it won’t be the same: long hours of shared joy, apprehension, misery, boredom, heartbreak and exaltation create a pretty intense bond.  Basketball games last an hour.  Some swim meets go on for days, during which we often share moral support as well as meals–and in many ways it becomes an almost group parenting situation.  We all look out for everyone’s kids, share in the victories as well as their disappointments.

Of course, we’re lucky to have a very good program.  We have more kids coming up–several came very close this year and will almost certainly make the trip next year (save those personal days, Ken)–and a new group of parents will join us at the all-you-can-eat grilled cheese bar at Bucknell, the between sessions coffee at Barnes & Noble, and the nights of long tables and laughter at a seemingly endless parade of mediocre strip mall dinner joints (Fridays, Applebees, Damon’s…where would you be without us?)  It will be that way long after we say our farewells next year, and that’s a good thing.

As for the results–we’re a proud, successful public school program.  We build our athletes, unlike the dominant private schools (Villa, Shadyside…) who buy theirs, and this year wasn’t the best. Our best swimmer battled injury all year, and two others were in bed with the flu as late as two days before the meet.  Our finishes were in the top twenty, for the most part, which is a disappointment given our high expectations–but no small accomplishment.  Just having 13 swimmers as a public school at States is a feat.

But here’s something about these kids: less than an hour after moving up two spots to claim 15th place in an honorable mention all-state finish, the returning members were already plotting their summer workouts and what sort of self-inflicted tortures they could embrace in order to step up next year.

Categories
Journal

Winter Cedes To Onions

Everyone else has been getting snow days–we’re at what is hopefully the bitter end to an uncharacteristic late winter cold and snow snap.  Temperatures have been up and down for weeks, hitting well below 0 degrees Farenheit zero (-18 C) on multiple occasions and, until the past weekend, ascending above freezing for just two days out the the past month or so.  Unfortunately, it rained like hell both of those days, in between snow storms, accumulating inches of slush that turned to the ice that lay beneath everything that hasn’t been constantly shoveled, scraped, and salted.  My wife is a teacher, and her school has cancelled at least 6 days, with at least that many late openings and early dismissals, combined.

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I grew accustomed to my kids are sleeping in morning after morning, classes on what seemd like a perpetual 2-hour delay, due to cold.  I sat at my desk one morning last week and guzzled coffee: outside it was  -4 F, which didn’t even feel that cold.  It was not so long ago I was bundling up in wool sweater, parka, gloves, scarf, and cap to go out to our community’s annual “It’s a Wonderful Life” light-up night back in November.  I remember the gentle winter breeze felt like it was cutting like a dagger.

It was 29 degrees.

If it had been 29 degrees last week I’d have gone outside without a jacket and washed the truck.

No precipitation right now, but it’s supposed to hit 50 degrees–we’ve been above freezing, with highs in the upper 30s and 40s for the past 3 days as well, and not a moment too soon.  If the meteorologists are to be believed (and they aren’t) things look good, and above averages, through the weekend.  Sweet. I’ve got yard work to do.   Apple trees and shrubbery to prune, fallen sticks and branches to pick up, and who knows what else is hidden beneath the foot or so of crystalized mess in the backyard.

Photo shamelessly pilfered from Eric Barker--sorry, Eric.
Photo shamelessly pilfered from Eric Barker–sorry, Eric.

It will be a treat.  I’ve got this little property maintenance gig, and one of the things I do is clear sidewalks for a local landlord whose student tenants are too lazy and indifferent (as I was when I was a student) to do it for themselves.  It’s always been fun, invigorating, especially since I stopped trying to wrestle a snowblower in and out of the truck and opted to do as much as I could by hand.  It’s good, clean work.  The sound of the shovel scraping concrete pleases me, and despite all those mothers in the world urging us to bundle up I think the cold, fresh air is good for me.  I know getting outside, even under cloudy skies, is a good thing–no seasonal depression disorder for me.  I’m the same level of grumpy as always.

But the level of weather has been bullshit.  I said that the other morning, when I woke to find three new inches when the forecast had called for “a dusting.”

“This is bullshit.” I said.  It didn’t help.

Normally, I expect to shovel 17 times, give or take.  Last year was high with 24 trips around town spread between early December and March. This year there was one day of work in December, nothing even in early January, but I’ve been out 37 times in slightly less than 2 months.  Some of those are two trips on the same day, and some of them were easy–a few inches of powder.  The heavy snow and slush of the past two weeks, on the other hand, has been a mess–impossible to clear without hundreds of pounds of salt, and hell on my arms. I’ve got what I think is tendonitis in my left elbow. Tendonitis!  From shoveling!

On the bright side: I’ve been planting.  My package from Fedco Seeds arrived a few weeks back, and I’ve got my onions growing in flats under lights, and the leeks are germinating and should sprout within the next few days.  We joke around here about “clinging to our guns and religion,” thanks to a certain President’s unfortunate, but astute observations of our regional mores, but at this point it is those little green blades of onion starts that are keeping me sane.

Remind me of this when I’m moaning about the heat.

onion_seedlings

Categories
Journal Uncategorized

Prom Gown Shopping For Men

I don't know any of these kids--it's just a another random photo I pinched off the interwebs.
I don’t know any of these kids–it’s just a another random photo I pinched off the interwebs.

When I realized that the day of shopping for prom gowns my wife had scheduled with my daughters was not a much-anticipated day of mother-daughter bonding, but a drudgery to which my wife was looking forward with all the eagerness of shoeless pilgrim standing before a road of broken glass, I grimaced and stepped into the breech.  Maybe it had something to do with the disgust in her eye when I presumed I wouldn’t be part of the expedition–or maybe I’m just a great husband and dad.  Pfft.

“Of course I’ll go with you,” I said, my soul sighing miserably from the depths of each individual cell.  She brightened considerably not, I suspect, with glee for the chance to spend a few hours in my delightful company, but at the prospect of sharing the pain.

This would be no quick jaunt down the block.  We would be embarking on a 2-hour drive to the dismal, post-industrial remnants of the town of Sharon, PA–a once vibrant steel town ln062997bthat is, well, surviving “despite all that.”  Our particular destination; a store called “The Winner,” a three-story former department store filled with tens of thousands of dresses that bills itself as “The world’s largest off-price fashion store.”  I don’t think they’re exaggerating, at 75,000 square feet of historic charm, the place was a bit overwhelming.

I have to admit that I was dubious about the whole endeavor.  It sounded too good to be true–a treasure trove of deeply discounted formal gowns set a city for which the term “post industrial wasteland” is a compliment?  Have you seen that movie “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome?”  Well, welcome to the Thunderdome.  The last time we’d been through Sharon they had been using stop signs wired to barrels in the center of the downtown as substitutes for broken traffic signals, and while the lights had been fixed this time around, we found that the streets had been only partially cleared of snow after a storm several days before, and had become uneven obstacle courses of packed ice and slush. I expected to see a sign on the outskirts of town that said: Welcome To Sharon. We’re Well Past Trying.

The sidewalks in the business district were no better–some were clear and some were treacherous.  Nevertheless, we reluctantly parked our new car on the streets–would it be there when we returned?–and found our way to the store.  It wasn’t difficult to find–along with the well-kept diner next door, and a dodgy-looking Army Navy store, there’s just not anything else going on in the downtown.  It’s got the feel of a place where folks have just given up.On our last visit there had been a decent used book store, but it was gone, replaced by some sort of off-brand tax preparation storefront.

Special-Occasion-Dresses-The-WinnerInside The Winner, however I began to be convinced.  You walk inside and the first thing you see is a vintage Jaguar E-type that belonged to the owner of the store, in front of which is stationed a genteel matron at a small desk who welcomed us and politely explained the layout of the store.  And what a good thing that was: the place is huge, filled to the gills with thousands upon thousands of gowns.  I followed my kids around for about twenty minutes before I ambled back over to the lady by the Jag and cracked a joke at one of the clerks, “you guys should open a sports bar next door, you’d make a killing.”

The pleasant, distinguished woman leaned in close and said, “haven’t you visited our men’s lounge adjacent to the fitting rooms?”

Why no, I hadn’t.

I glanced at my wife, who nodded indulgently.  I’d already become an anchor despite my good intentions, and both she and my daughters were eager to have me out of their hair.  With some trepidation I found my way down a narrow hall, past a knot of women outside the fitting rooms, and around a corner.  I half-expected to find a door with of those little slide-open peepholes like you see in speakeasies in the movies, but what I found instead was brotherhood.  Well, maybe not brotherhood–but there was a TV set to ESPN, a half dozen la-z-boy recliners, a sofa, and one of those cute “theater style” popcorn cart poppers and…a keg of Rolling Rock on tap.

Genius.  Free beer and popcorn!  I settled in to watch Tennessee versus Auburn, but soon enough a bunch of us–mostly dads but also a fiance, two boyfriends, and a “family friend.”  Given the date and location (western PA, the day before the superbowl) we talked a lot about football, but also a little about shopping,  a bit about women, and–to my surprise and delight–our mutual admiration for regional hero rogers_esquireFred “Mister” Rogers, which was unanimous. 

Of course, it’s not uncommon for even the hardest among us to wax misty-eyed over Mister Rogers–there’s a true Pittsburgh story, in fact, about how Rogers’ car was stolen from outside the WQED studio.  The story was quickly reported on the local news, and the car showed up back in front of the studio in short order, with a note on the dash that said something like “If I’d known this was your car I never would have taken it.”

But I digress. My children are smart, efficient shoppers–they found beautiful dresses in little more than two hours, for a grand total of about $300 (if you’ve shopped for these formal gowns, you know we got off light).  I bid my compadres a reluctant adieu, lingering in the main gallery to listen to the pianist stroking the keys of baby grand piano–talk about atmosphere!–and we were gone, with a brief stop at a local hand-made candy shop.

On the drive home, my wife decided she had a hankering for a Primanti Brothers sandwich, so that was dinner, a satisfying end to a relatively painless day.  Heck, I didn’t even have to drive, with two learner’s permits in the family: one daughter drove north in the morning, one drove south in the evening–all in all a painless day.