On Campus

It’s still the pandemic and I don’t get out much.  It seems prudent and only a little paranoid.  I had the opportunity to meet someone from Lehigh University recently.  The interesting thing is, I’ve become shy about going onto college campuses unless invited.  I can still usually pass for a professor (the beard and glasses help, along with a natural disheveledness) and I behave well in public.  Still, universities are all about belonging.  If you’re an alum you can come in.  You’ve paid a lot of money, and, the thinking goes, hopefully you’ll pay more.  Of course you’re welcome!  The last time I visited Boston University I remember thinking how small it was compared to my younger memories of wider corridors and more welcoming faculty.  Many ways exist for measuring how we grow.

When offered the chance for a quick stroll around Lehigh I had to say yes.  Like Syracuse University, it’s set on a hill.  From downtown south-side Bethlehem you need to walk up.  Even growing up in Pennsylvania I didn’t hear much about Lehigh.  The western part is dominated by the University of Pittsburgh and the eastern by Penn.  In the middle there’s Penn State.  There are actually many colleges in the commonwealth, about 140 if you separate out branch campuses.  Still, I was struck by the classic feel to Lehigh’s campus.  As you come down the hill it grows more modern, but I always like the older buildings.  Something about their solidity is comforting.  How’ve I been here nearly four years and not found it?

My host pointed out one of the libraries and suggested I stop in before leaving campus.  I had a mask and a minute so I did just that.  There’s a danger to stopping into libraries.  It’s too easy to fall in love in them.  I could see myself whiling away the hours there.  I spent plenty of hours in my own undergrad library, even though it wasn’t nearly so nice.  The only bad thing about visiting campuses is that I eventually have to face the exile from them I feel each and every day.  Many people can’t wait to graduate and get away.  Some of the rest of us never want to leave.  I suppose it’s an artificial environment, but if a small segment of the population can make it work, I wonder why we can’t get more of the world to emulate it.  I may not get out much, but I like to make those rare trips worth the effort.


Evening Out

It feels like magic.  The morning after staying up late for something special has a transcendent quality to it.  You can almost touch the veil.  Now, for me it’s an admittedly low bar.  I get up around 3:00 a.m. most days, so “late” is when I venture past about 8:00 p.m.  And I don’t mean for a board meeting where you’re trying to solve the problems of the world.  No, I mean staying up for something you anticipate.  Or even if it’s something you experience only by association.  I had to pick somebody up in Easton after an evening event recently.  It wasn’t over until after I’m normally asleep, but I made plans to hole up in Dunkin’ Donuts and perhaps even sip a coffee if I had to, for the drive home.

This was a Tuesday night so most businesses were closed.  After parking the car I found out that Dunkin’ wasn’t keeping evening hours either.  I try always to travel with a book.  The one thing I learned from my brief stint in Boy Scouts was “be prepared.”  With no Dunkin’ the only places open were bars and clubs.  Thankfully it was a warm evening, so I found a free bit of curb on which to sit to read my book.  Easton’s a college town so young people were out and about.  It was good to see other folks enjoying life.  Then a woman stopped and leaned down.  She was looking at the cover of my book.  “Just wondering what you’re reading,” she said.  “I’m always on the look out for something good.”

Reading in public

I can’t recall the last time a stranger struck up a conversation with me.  Especially about literature.  I was reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved (more anon) and she asked what it was about.  (You, dear reader, will need to wait a few more days if you don’t already know.)   I told her as best I could in a sentence or two, but I was in shock that someone I didn’t know was taking a moment out of her busy life to ask me about a book.  Her companion was ready to get going, so she left.  Shortly after that the event ended and I picked up my charge and headed home.  The next morning had that magic feeling.  I slept later than normal although it was a work day and when I went for my morning walk a startled bald eagle took off from the ground and flew less than twenty feet over my head.  Staying up late, talking about books, and a dawn-time walk in the morning.  Even everyday life can be magical, when it’s rare enough.


Boone to Some

Folk heroes sometimes put us in compromising positions.  We appreciate their importance for where we are and yet we recognize that where we are came at a tremendous cost for those who lived here first.  Still, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Daniel Boone was born right here in Pennsylvania.  Like most people my age, I learned of Boone primarily through the television series that aired in the 1960s.  In other words, I learned the commercial Boone.  In reality he was a fascinating individual who preferred outdoors living to the comforts of home.  His prominence meant that he would meet and know such figures as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  He was largely responsible for US westward expansion, leading the first Europeans into the territory of Kentucky.  His association with the south is so pronounced that I was surprised to learn he was born in a homestead, that is today, less than an hour north of Philadelphia.

Of course, the land settled by the Boone family was stolen from American Indians.  The story might be somewhat easier to appreciate if we treated Indians better today, but our culture still insists on repressing them.  Racism runs deep, it seems.  Boone himself seems mainly to have gotten along with the Indians he knew.  The fact is his story is exciting to hear.  He was an able negotiator and both Indians and other settlers respected his position.  When tales of his adventures were written down he became famous, if not wealthy.  What seems to have really struck those who heard his story is that he continued his outdoor existence into his eighties.  At an age when many have become frail, he continued to spend months of the year living outdoors in the wilderness.

Being there where he was born felt like a revelation.  Of course the docent was a gifted storyteller, and she told his story with humor and an obvious pride in the man who’s responsible for her living.  I reflected how television once again had shaped my childhood.  Fess Parker’s portrayal of Boone was among the most popular prime-time shows of the mid-sixties to 1970.  I had no idea that I was consuming pop culture in such quantities as I watched it, along with other staples such as Dark Shadows, Gilligan’s Island, Scooby-Doo, and the Brady Bunch.  Some people worry that the rising generation “learns” its narratives from the internet, but my generation learned them from television.  Daniel Boone would have, and indeed did, learned from the outdoors.


Normal Paranormal

One of my favorite televisions shows of all time is The X-Files.  I didn’t watch it when it originally aired, but eventually got a hankering to see it on DVD.  There are many reasons to like it, including its originality and the dynamics between Mulder and Scully and the sense that governments really do hide things.  As I rewatch episodes I see how much religion plays into it as well.  This post is actually not about the X-Files proper, but about a place in Bethlehem I recently discovered.  I’m not a preachy vegan, but I do like to support the establishments who make such lifestyles as mine much easier.  It was thus that I discovered Paranormal Pizza in Bethlehem.  I wondered about the name, figuring that it was paranormal that you could have non-dairy, non-meat pizza at all.

To celebrate Earth Day we decided to check it out.  The menu has a set of fixed items, each named after an X-Files character.  I was glad to see that I’m not alone in my appreciation of the show.  The pizza’s very good, and I’m sure the college-age crowd that was there would agree with me.  I did wonder how many of them knew the X-Files.  Is it still a thing?  Maybe recent government disclosures have brought it back into the public eye.  Hey, I’m a Bible editor, about as far from the public eye as you can possibly get.  Vegan pizza on Earth Day, however, just felt right.

Foodiness seems to be trending.  A great many options are available in the land of plenty.  Still, I know that vegetarians and vegans in developing countries exist, and many of them for similar reasons to me.  They know animals think and feel.  We promote the myth that they don’t so that we don’t have to feel guilty about exploiting them.  It seems to me that many of our world-wide problems would start to vanish if we realized we can evolve out of being predators.  Cashews and almonds can become cheese.  Soy beans and wheat can become meat.  And peanuts are about the best food ever, in any form.  Then there’s the natural fruits and veg.  Industrial animal farming is perhaps the largest polluter of our planet.  Yesterday was Earth Day.  I was eating a pizza made from wheat, tomatoes, and cashews.  These ingredients might seem a bit unusual.  Paranormal, even.  But that’s precisely the point.  I won’t be waiting until the next Earth Day to go back for more.


Energized

I grew up in Pennsylvania, but there’s a lot I don’t know about the commonwealth.  (I do know that it’s a commonwealth rather than a state.)  My parents weren’t educated—neither one finished high school—so I didn’t have a lot to go on at home.  I recently learned that it is the second largest energy producing state in this somewhat tenuous union.  Texas is, of course, first.  I suspect this is because the Keystone State is old.  Not because it was one of the original thirteen colonies (which it was), but because the Appalachians around here are ancient and abundant in coal, oil, and natural gas.  And speaking of natural gas, the state houses of congress are dominated by Republicans.  The state motto should probably be “Burn, baby, burn.”  Given the number of Republicans, it is also one of the most corrupt states.

Even in the rural parts where I grew up, it was clear that energy was a huge part of our history.  The petroleum industry began in Pennsylvania.  Col. Edwin Drake’s well at Titusville is still producing.  The oil fields here are shallow (speaking of the GOP), however, and the interest shifted to Texas where, well, everything’s bigger.  Growing up, refineries were a familiar sight.  One of my vivid childhood memories is witnessing a refinery fire.  I was too young to really understand.  My brothers and I were outside playing when it started to snow in the summer.  It wasn’t really snow, it was hot ashes falling from the sky from a refinery fire about five miles away.  We later drove out to see the huge vats melted like wax, charred and rusted under what had been an industrial paint facade.  Petroleum companies are like that.

My second hometown of Rouseville lived under constant threat of a refinery fire.  The small town of about 800 was completely dominated by a Pennzoil refinery that took up much of the valley.  We trembled whenever the refinery sirens went off.  My life may have been shortened by breathing in all those toxic fumes.  Big petroleum comes with massive costs.  We know that alternative sources of energy are available, but we have very rich people who stand to lose some of their vast fortunes if we move away from fossil fuels.  There’s much about Pennsylvania that I don’t know.  I’ve lived here longer than in any other state.  And I, for one, would like to see this fascinating commonwealth work for the betterment of the world it inhabits instead of rewarding the bad behavior of the wealthy.


Old and New

Annual holiday traditions show just how deeply ritual is established in our behavior.  As the holiday season rolls around we find our familiar customs to be fun and comforting.  I’m not much of a commercialist; for me the end-of-year celebrations are mostly about rest and peace, still a family tradition since settling in the Lehigh Valley is the Christkindlmarkt.  Bethlehem, founded on Christmas Eve by Moravians, has attempted to live up to its namesake and celebrate the season well.  It’s become an established family tradition to visit the Christkindlmarkt and we wander the tents with artisanal goods, some Christmas-themed, and others more just gift-ideas.  We seldom buy much.  It’s the spirit of the holidays that seems to come through and we need something to help us get through winter.

Each year things are a little different.  Many of the mainstays are similar, however, with the same vendors with the same merchandise.  What has changed in the past year is really us.  We’re not the only ones who make an annual tradition of this and we’re not the only ones who see the same scarves, sweaters, pillows, and pottery.  And ornaments—lots of ornaments.  We see new things because we’re different from our selves who’ve wandered through here before.  Hopefully we’re better selves.  Each time I do this I find myself growing more and more reflective.  A celebration of peace and love to all seems to hold, for the most part.  There are lots of people—too many for my comfort at this stage of the pandemic, but we’re wearing masks and hopefully most of these people are vaccinated—peace and love for all.

The end of the year has long been a season of festivities.  Even ancient peoples, especially in temperate regions, longed for the return of warmth and light.  In response to the long hours of darkness around the solstice they instituted holidays.  Times for us to get together and work a little less and relax a little more, recharging our spiritual batteries.  Yule with its Christmas trees and logs, served to bring the message of light into the darkness.  The twinkling of holiday lights is a festive sight, bringing back childhood memories of gifts, special foods, and time off from school.  I’m a different person than the one who’s written a blog post about Christkindlmarkt in the past.  If you’ve read such posts you’re a different person now too.  We all hope that the present person is a better one than the previous as we enter this season of joy and kindness.


Abominable and Biblical

In many ways Holy Horror was an initial volume.  The Bible  is fairly prevalent in horror, and had the book done any better I might’ve considered a sequel.  Take The Abominable Dr. Phibes.  I’d literally never heard of it until I saw on a website listing states’ favorite horror films that it was number one in Pennsylvania.  At that point I decided I would have to see it one day.  That day came and I later found out that quite a few critics hold it in high regard.  It is very campy, almost worthy of the live action Batman series with which I grew up.  Phibes is out for revenge and kills his victims (more on this shortly) with vampire bats and acid.  It may have been the first movie I’ve seen with death by brussels sprouts and locusts.  None of this makes it fit Holy Horror’s premise, however.

Phibes is a serial killer using the Bible as his road map.  About halfway through the film we learn Dr. Phibes’ doctorate is in theology.  He is using the ten biblical plagues to kill his victims.  The police consult a rabbi to learn about the plagues but even here the Bible’s misquoted.  Interestingly for this period, the inspector refers to the plagues as a myth.  The first plague shown is of bats.  There is also a plague of rats.  Neither of which occur in the Good Book.  The Bible’s a fairly easy tome to find, but it takes quite a bit of ingenuity, I guess, to murder by gnats or the death of cattle (which doesn’t prevent The Reaping from trying).  Plot holes are large enough to drive a chariot through, but the Bible clearly has a starring role in the narrative.  And Vincent Price is able to pull it off because he’s, well, Vincent Price.

Drawing some inspiration from The Phantom of the Opera, and featuring a scene set in Highgate Cemetery, this movie has its fingers all over the place.  I do have to wonder why so many people in Pennsylvania picked this as their favorite horror film.  I grew up in the state watching horror, much of it camp, and much of it worse, but never heard a thing about this.  It’s not really scary.  Perhaps it appeals to those who think they know the Bible but really don’t.  Of course, having amulets inscribed with Hebrew letters to symbolize the plagues is classy.  I doubt The Abominable Dr. Phibes will give anyone nightmares, but it could stand a bit of analysis in its use of the Good Book.


It’s Thorpe, Jim

On a rainy fall day we found ourselves in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.  We’d been through the touristy town before, but had never had any luck finding parking so getting out to explore was problematic.  Named after perhaps the greatest all-round athlete America has ever produced, the town bore the American Indian name of Mauch Chunk prior to the communal name change.  Once the greatest eastern vacation attraction after Niagara Falls, it’s now a town that caters to a regular stream of tourists and supports the small, boutique shops that thrive in such an environment.  Whenever I’m in a new place, I look for books.  Perhaps an illness, it is one I have no wish to cure.  Sellers Books is small but I didn’t walk out empty-handed.

A few yards later a sign at Emporium of Curious Goods caught my eye.  A store of mystical, magical whimsy, it had a posted note saying the owner had been friends with Ed and Lorraine Warren.  I hadn’t anticipated such a thing—we were here with friends and really just expecting to enjoy the quaint ambiance.  Being October, nearly every house and shop on Broad Street was decorated for Halloween, creating that frisson that only this time of year offers.  I stepped inside the shop and looked around.  I asked the owner how he’d met the Warrens.  He said that many years ago they’d lectured at East Stroudsburg University.  Introducing himself, he’d invited them over to his place and soon they became long-time friends.  They agreed to do a talk there in Jim Thorpe.

The brief conversation made me aware that as much as reading reveals, it never conveys the full story.  The store advertised having all the Warrens’ books.  I have all of them myself, but I had never seen all of them together in a single store before.  I wished I had something magical or mystical to buy to support the owner so willing to share information, but I had little time to look around with friends waiting outside, probably wondering what I was doing in such a place to begin with.  The Warrens are both deceased but their legacy lives on through the Conjuring movies.  More than that, in the lives they’ve influenced.  Yes, they may have been using their fame as a way of making living, but many celebrities do that.  It doesn’t mean they were any less sincere in attempting to help people with their ghosts and demons.  A rainy day in October reveals so much.


Festive Books

The Book and Puppet Company, a small independent bookstore in Easton, Pennsylvania is unique.  Other bookstores may have puppet shows and other forms of theater.  Others may have the obviously tasteful and intelligent selection of books.  Others offer items other than books.  Book and Puppet is unique in at least three ways.  First, and most (I promise) self-serving, it is the only bookstore in the world with Holy Horror on its shelves.  I know how it got there, which ties into the second unique feature—the Easton Book Festival.  The Easton Book Festival is the brainchild of the third unique element, the store’s owners—Andrew Laties and Rebecca Migdal.  

So let’s piece this all together.  The Easton Book Festival launched in 2019.  Being local to the event, I volunteered to present because Holy Horror had missed Halloween in 2018 when it came out, and it was still technically a front list book.  As with any event that wishes to grow, the Festival was extremely inclusive.  Despite its price point Andy had ordered copies to have on hand to sell.  He assigned me to a panel discussion and even gave me a time slot to talk about the book.  The event was one of the highlights of my true calling—being a writer of books.  Weathering the Psalms was less expensive but more technical.  Holy Horror is for a general readership, although the publisher sees it differently and prices it accordingly.  You have to start somewhere.  In any case,  it was part of a book festival that contains memories that still make me glow.

his year, like many events, the Easton Book Festival (October 16-24) is going hybrid.  As we start to regather, is there any better place to coalesce than around books?  Wouldn’t the world be a better place if that were true?  A recent visit to the shop led to a conversation that seems likely to result in a chance to plug Nightmares with the Bible, the more expensive sequel to Holy Horror.  Well into the writing of my next book, my attention has momentarily turned from demons to more human horrors.  Nevertheless, books are what my lifelong goal has always been.  I thought that I would be writing as a professor, but even editors can make some modest contributions, I hope.  Regardless, since much of the Festival will be online, it’s accessible from the comfort of your chair.  Why not tune in?   In any case, supporting your local bookstore will do nothing but improve society.


Seedy Delivery

Call it a weird indulgence, for that it surely is.  I’ve been slowly re-collecting childhood books—really what we call “tween books” these days, but there were no tweens back then.  Since these are out of print and somewhat difficult to find, I order them when I can afford to, and have been doing so for over a decade now.  The latest one shipped from Minnesota, via the US Postal Service.  Since these are not easily replaced, I follow the tracking.  The seller indicated a delivery date of September 16-18, only to send an early delivery notice when it was mailed.  Indeed, I’d ordered this on the 8th and by the 10th it was in Pittsburgh.  In case you’re not familiar with Pennsylvania geography, I’ve sketched a map.

Pittsburgh is about 6 hours away from where I live.  It was now scheduled for delivery on the 11th.  I had my doubts.  I awoke on the eleventh to find that it had overshot and was now in Baltimore.  Baltimore is only about two-and-a-half hours away, but still, the thought that it could reach the local post office and get out for delivery that same day seemed slim.  The next day was Sunday, so I figured maybe Monday.  Sure enough, on Saturday the 11th it had reached the dreaded Lehigh Valley Distribution Center, in Allentown.  Allentown is only ten miles from here, within actual walking distance.  The tracking site said it would be delayed.  On the 14th it had been shipped back to Pittsburgh (where it had been less than a week before), from there to Warrendale (which I had to look up on a map), and from there to Johnstown.  Barring another flood, it was due here on the 16th.  Of course, it may have to go through the horror-inducing Lehigh Valley Distribution Center again.

That same center had shipped a package to East Stroudsburg, over thirty miles away, just the week before and had sent a notice that it had reached its final destination.  I’m not one for squandering money, but I would gladly buy the Lehigh Valley Distribution Center a map.  They could look and see that Bethlehem is a mere 20-minute drive to the east.  That could prove useful information.  The package arrived the 15th.  The next day I received a status update alert that it was out for delivery and would arrive that day.  I’m a Post Office booster.  I believe the government should fund the postal service adequately and quit trying to win elections by cheating.  And maybe they could throw in a map while they’re at it.  I’ve got one they can have for free.


Friendly Food

The rain felt like relief after the most recent heat wave.  We’d long planned to attend the Easton VegFest regardless.  Summer is the season for street festivals and it’s always a strange kind of affirmation to find one dedicated to vegans.  And to see so many people at it.  The cities of the Lehigh Valley have quite a few animal-friendly options for eating, and although the VegFest isn’t huge it’s a good place to find others who realize that our food choices matter.  So it was that we came upon the booth for NoPigNeva.  Now, if you’ve ever tried to shop for vegan food—I know there must be a few of you out there—you know how catch-as-catch-can it is.  Around here lots of grocery stores carry vegan items, but what you’re looking for may not be there.  Even WholeFoods in Allentown has a limited selection.

NoPigNeva is a supply company run by black women.  It supports worthy causes.  And it makes finding what you’re looking for essentially one-stop.  I’m no businessman, but I do wonder why, when they keep selling out of vegan stock, stores don’t get their orders refilled right away.  It’s almost as if we don’t want to believe people will buy it.  Vegan food has come a long way even in just the last five years.  I know that when I became a vegetarian almost two decades ago now I felt there was no way to get enough to eat as a vegan.  Options seemed so limited.  That’s no longer the case.  I’m guessing the success of the Impossible Whopper caught everyone (except consumers) by surprise.  Even now, if you order one (hold the mayo, please) you’re pretty much guaranteed it won’t have been sitting on the warming shelf.

There’s big money in the food industry.  I’m not a foodie, although it’s become fashionable to be one.  I do, however, think about whether my food is causing harm.  There is, I realize, no way not to impact the environment or other living creatures when eating.  Lessening that impact, however, and supporting historically oppressed groups feels good.  There is a morality to mastication.  Most animals, it seems, have evolved a fear of being eaten.  Perhaps we’re only starting to understand that breaking chains might have to begin with us.  Any industry (big agriculture) that tries to make it illegal to see where your food comes from is hardly to be trusted.  I trust more those willing to come to a street fair on a rainy Saturday afternoon to show that there is a better way.


Scary States

You can usually tell, if you look close, when I’m on the trail of a new project.  This blog ranges fairly widely at times, but when lots of posts concentrate in a single area it’s likely something much larger is going on behind the scenes.  I’ve been writing quite a bit about horror lately.  Quite apart from the Republican Party, scary things are on my mind often.  I recently came across an article on KillTheCableBill that made me feel less weird.  It’s a story covering a survey showing the favorite horror movie per state.  Now, I won’t be able to fit all fifty into my usual daily word limit (wouldn’t want to arouse the word count police), so I’ll just add a few words about some of the interesting connections I noticed.  As in my books, if you see something, say something, right?

It’s kind of embarrassing that I haven’t seen the movie most often mentioned: The Devil’s Backbone.  I have to admit falling behind on my Guillermo del Toro movies.  I was surprised at the number of states’ favorites that I hadn’t seen.  I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately: if you have a full-time job which doesn’t include movie watching, it can be pretty difficult to make the time.  A number of classics don’t show up on the list, while some states have somewhat obvious favorites: Massachusetts’ Jaws, Colorado’s The Shining (it was filmed there), New Mexico’s Alien (think about it), and Maine’s The Lighthouse all fit into state self image in some way.  Horror preferences, in other words, may reflect who we are.  

A number of states, more conservative ones mostly, favor older films.  The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Pennsylvania’s favorite, I haven’t seen.  Like most aspects of my home state it’s a mix of things.  It comes from the early seventies, just as modern horror was getting started, but not too far into it.  Studies like this end up giving me homework.  When I can find the time I have a lot of viewing to do to catch up with my fellow Americans. I was surprised that The Exorcist isn’t on anybody’s list of favorites, not even Washington, DC’s.  It may be that films that are too real are too scary for many people.  Another finding, as noted in the article, is that the southeast states like horror the least.  I can’t help but wonder if things would be better, politically, if more people there watched horror and pondered the implications.  


It Happened on Epiphany

Photo credit: Martin Falbisoner, via Wikimedia Commons

Can you spell treason?  It does begin with the letters “T-R-.”  The events of yesterday made it difficult to sleep securely in “the land of the free” as thugs took over the capitol building in Washington, and even after that Republicans still contested the electoral votes from Pennsylvania, preferring a treasonous president to a democratically elected Joe Biden.  As all of this was playing out, Georgia gave control of the senate to the Democratic Party.  Like many Americans born in a democracy, I stared at the news aghast yesterday as Republicans, fully in the public eye, tried to dismantle the very system by which they themselves were elected and even went so far as to claim they were patriots for doing so.  They draw the evil courage to do this from their “Christian” faith.

Yesterday was Epiphany, a Christian holiday.  To see Republicans—claiming the name Christian—attempting to overturn democracy on that very day was sickening.  To my mind it will live on like 9/11 as one of the most dangerous days in US history.  When asked to get the crowds that he personally incited to disperse, Trump released a video on Twitter telling his followers that the election was stolen and fraudulent but they should go home.  Pouring gasoline on a fire he himself lit, sending both houses of congress into hiding, his snakes-in-the-grass continued to support the myth that Trump hadn’t been defeated.  When the smoke clears this American thinks it’s time to dust off laws about treason and start applying them again.

Congressional leaders, and the president, swear to uphold the Constitution—hand on the Bible.  In the most closely watched election in history, with no evidence of fraud, when the loser wouldn’t concede his party backed him.  The Republican party has been infected with evil, I fear.  Even after seeing the turmoil that their posturing caused, they tried to discount the votes from my state just to keep a very dangerous man in power.  Our democracy didn’t die yesterday.  It died four years ago.  Claiming the name “Christian” without ever reading the Bible or attending church or caring about their fellow human beings, the Republican party has gone down in infamy on the feast of Epiphany.  The electoral vote count by congress is a mere formality, and I, a native and resident of Pennsylvania, am outraged that anyone claiming the power of a democratically elected office—disputing the very process that gave them any influence at all—questions my right to vote.  Why hasn’t treason been invoked?  Four years under the influence of the Evil One has shown its effects, and it happened on Epiphany.


Bookselling 101

My wife and I have sometimes toyed with the idea of running a mom and pop bookstore.  Our combined lack of business sense (and capital) have always prevented us, but dreams can be comforting and persistent.  I met Andrew Laties at his bookstore Book & Puppet Company in Easton.  His neighbor, a professional colleague, introduced us just as things were gearing up for the first Easton Book Festival, back in pre-Covid 2019.  It was a big event, and Andrew surprised me by remembering my name when we ran into each other at one of the many presentations held that weekend.  It was there that I picked up a copy of his acclaimed Rebel Bookseller: Why Indie Businesses Represent Everything You Want to Fight for—From Free Speech to Buying Local to Building Communities.  Although the subtitle is lengthy, it encapsulates what the book is about.

A true liberal, Laties is also a savvy businessman.  Rebel Bookseller is the one book you want to be sure to have on hand if you ever dream of starting an indie.  Independent bookstores stand for so much of what liberals value—helping local communities, free expression of ideas, education.  Indeed, one of the draws of the Lehigh Valley is its ability to support several independent bookstores.  We lived for years in an affluent (yours truly excepted) community in New Jersey.  It had a small indie that closed after just a few years.  The nearby mall (which draws employees a nearly two-hour commute from New York City, I kid you not) was a better measure of the local mindset.  We had to drive to Bernardsville or Princeton to find indies, or perhaps all the way to New Hope or Montclair.  Communities that support bookstores are great places to live.

The acquisition of knowledge is, according to a most rudimentary understanding of human civilization, our most basic need.  The invention of writing is what set us on the track to true progress.  Anyone who has benefitted from modern medicine, technology, or the rule of law, has writing to thank.  Books represent the surest way to keep knowledge alive.  Rebel Bookseller moves beyond the sobriquet of knowledge into wisdom.  This is a very well-informed book.  Laties knows the realities of how publishing works and the real costs involved with big box corporations deciding what people will read.  For anyone who wants to think independently, a local bookstore is an essential business.  My wife and I will likely never be able to run our own little indie, but we both reaped the rewards of reading, and dreaming, about the possibilities.


Bethlehem’s Grinch

We’ve got a Grinch around Bethlehem, according to Nextdoor.com.  A guy driving around stealing boxes from porches, in broad daylight.  According to home security cams, he wears a mask (which is more than many Republicans do).  The understandable outrage in the comments is at least partially justified.  A Covid-ridden populace is reluctant to go into shops, and shipping is easy.  You pay for a gift for someone you love and a stranger steals it with impunity.  There is anger there.  It’s also troubling to me, however, how people react.

One commenter claimed this guy was stealing from working people instead of getting a job.  Anger often speaks rashly, I know, but I had to exegete this a bit.  Without knowing this masked man, how are we to judge his employment status?  I mean people like Donald Trump have made entire careers of cheating other people for their own personal gain.  Isn’t this the way of capitalism?  And perhaps this man has a job and thieving is simply moonlighting.  Or, more seriously, perhaps he had a job that was taken away when the Republican-controlled White House and Senate refused to do anything about the pandemic and can’t even agree on a deal to help working people out?  Who’s the real Grinch here?  Theft can take many forms, some of them perfectly legal.

This holiday news, of course, makes people paranoid.  With many vendors trying to compete with Amazon’s (generally) first-class delivery system, packages are left on porches past bedtime.  Even without a Grinch about, that makes me nervous.  Just last night an Amazon package listed as “delivered” didn’t show up.  I found myself on the customer service chat pouring out my soul to a stranger halfway across the world.  Knowing my carefully chosen gift might be stolen to be resold by a faceless thief made for an anxious evening.  Amazon assured me it would be replaced if it really wasn’t delivered after all.

So I’d be upset too, if my orders were actually stolen.  Some people have medications or other necessities shipped, regardless of holiday seasons.  Stealing boxes is wrong.  It may not be the only thing wrong, however.  Isn’t a system that forces people to desperation inherently wrong?  A system that makes getting ahead almost impossible for most people so that a very few can control nearly all the wealth is hardly one that doesn’t involve theft.  Those stolen from are rightfully upset.  But who is really doing the stealing in the first place?