Twisted in Knots

Our staycation at the Red Caboose in Ronks brought to mind the Weird Al Yankovic parody of “Amish Paradise.”  Bored-looking tourists in Lancaster County can’t find anything to do.  While it may be true that many big city entertainments are lacking, we had no trouble filling up a day.  We discovered the little town of Lititz.  Just north of the city of Lancaster, it retains several buildings from the eighteenth century along its main street, and the same quaint, boutique feel of Lancaster itself continues.  I have to admire the creativity of shop owners who have to appeal to the varied tastes of the tourist crowd.  Of course there was a bookstore—there are several in this area—and we long ago discovered the dual value of books as souvenirs.

The reason we were in Lititz, however, was the pretzels.  The Julius Sturgis Pretzel House makes the claim of being the oldest commercial pretzel bakery in North America.  Built in 1784, this is one of the early buildings still standing, and they offer brief tours where you’re taught to roll  and knot a pretzel.  Pretzels are, of course, a European invention.  Since they were an avocation of monks, their shapes became imbued with religious symbolism.  The initial U shape was, like a gothic spire, intended to point thoughts upward, toward God.  As I learned, the twist (which was an indication of a handmade pretzel) was symbolic of marriage and “tying the knot.”  This leaves a fish-like shape, and the Icthys moniker for Jesus would’ve been known to monks.  The folding the knot onto the outer loop symbolizes the arms across the chest used in Catholic prayer as a way of embracing the cross.  The resulting twisted breadstick has three holes for the Trinity.

The real innovation in Lititz, however, was the hard pretzel.  If I heard correctly, Julius Sturgis was working at a pretzel bakery in town where he had the duty of cleaning out the ovens.  The hard bits could be used for animal food, but they gave Sturgis the idea of intentionally baking hard pretzels.  This is the most common commercial form sold today, but southeastern Pennsylvania, which produces eighty percent of the pretzels sold in the United States, is still a soft pretzel paradise.  Radiating out from Philadelphia to locations like Lancaster, Reading, and Allentown, pretzels are eaten more frequently in Pennsylvania than elsewhere.  The religious aspect of pilgrimage still exists for those who venture to Lititz to find the birthplace of the hard pretzel, and the opportunity to stick your fingers in the dough.


Odd Getaway

It’s small.  Almost cramped, you might say.  But then again, a Pennsylvania Railroad caboose wasn’t really designed to be a two-bedroom apartment with en suite bath.  Why the Gideon Bible was laid open to Ezra 2.62–4.19 I couldn’t fathom.  I suppose the story begins in Wisconsin, and ends up with me deep in Trump territory for an overnight getaway.  Let’s start at the Badger State.  I’ve always been a sucker for the unusual.  In that regard, I suppose getting a job at Nashotah House was inevitable.  When I spied Weird Wisconsin in Books & Company in Oconomowoc, it became an obvious birthday ask.  When we moved to New Jersey I learned that Weird NJ was a magazine as well as a book, and I bought, and read, every issue.  I also bought both volumes of the book and those of nearby New York and Pennsylvania.  It was in the latter that I first read about it.

The Red Caboose Motel began as a kind of a lark in the late sixties.  A Lancaster county man bought a bunch of cabooses at an auction and then had to figure out what to do with these tons of steel.  He settled on refurbishing them as individual hotel rooms.  I read about them in Weird Pennsylvania and hoped that someday I might stay in one.  My family, feeling restless after more than two years of pandemic isolation, wanted a short staycation.  Hotels involve corridors and breakfast rooms, often tiny, and too many Americans just won’t get vaccinated.  This seemed an ideal opportunity to spend a night in a discrete, self-contained caboose.  And, I admit, to tick something off my bucket list.

Driving behind Amish buggies to get there after a hot day on the streets of Lancaster—a surprisingly busy and loud city—the Red Caboose felt like a good getaway.  Given the number of cars parked outside cabooses, we weren’t the only ones with this idea.  Lancaster is more than just Witness territory.  Known for its boutique shops and pretzels, as well as its thriving Central Market, it’s a busy place in July.  Bumper stickers and loud, aggressively roaring pickup trucks indicate that outside the city the Trump myth reigns supreme.  In town we visited two independent bookstores, one of them quite large.  With at least seven to choose from, Lancaster feels like a readerly place.  Indeed, I could, had I the money and time, envision renting a caboose for a month or two to do nothing but write.  Why they wanted me to read about rebuilding the Jerusalem temple I just don’t know.  I’ll chalk it up to being weird in Pennsylvania.


Bushkill

Waterfalls are fairly plentiful in this part of the country.  Although they’re not the Rockies, the Appalachians are mountains, and mountains lead to waterfalls.  Niagara is an outlier, of course, where one great lake drains into another.  In the area around Ithaca and Watkins Glen, in New York, there are great falls where the water, through the eons, has eroded the softer rock to flow down to sea level.  While most of the waterfalls in Ithaca are free, you have to pay to get into Watkins Glen.  The waterfalls cascade down into Pennsylvania as well, where the geology is similar, where the bedding planes of ancient seas left layer after layer of rock washed away by yet more water millions of years later.

Bushkill Falls, like Watkins Glen, is privately owned.  Deep in the Poconos, it offers a shaded walk around what has been called “the Niagara of Pennsylvania.”  When we went, it had been mostly a dry summer.  Still, there’s a draw to all that water.  Like Watkins Glen, there are stairways to ease the access among tourists; there are those who might be inclined to sue should they lose their footing.  There were lots of others there the day we went.  Many speaking languages other than English, deep in Trumpian, xenophobic territory.  In nature we’re all just human.  Water washes and water erodes.  Water smooths out rough edges.  There are many parables in water.  It makes life as we know it possible.  It flows to the lowest point, creating incredible beauty as it tumbles over many different types of rock that make up the crust of the earth.  There’s a wisdom in water.

The red trail, around the outline of the several waterfalls, has 1276 steps to descend and climb.  Going down the stairs at the start of your journey assures that you will need to climb at the end.  The air is full of negative ions around breaking water.  Positive feelings are created.  Perhaps people should live near waterfalls.  It’s difficult to imagine hatred thriving in such a place.  I recall a family walk, back in some troubled times, when my older brother led us all to a waterfall hidden deep in the western Pennsylvania woods.  The tension and strife melted away.  We probably all knew that it wouldn’t last, but at the time the present was all that mattered.  Water is so basic, but so unbelievably wise.  Paying attention to such things is worth the price of admission.


Places We’re From

The places we’re from aren’t always where we’re born.  The funny thing about reaching “middle age” is the amount of reassessment that goes on.  Where we’re from has a tremendous impact on who we become.  Not that we can’t change how we turn out, but we will always carry along with us some of where all that coming about took place.  I wasn’t born in Rouseville, but I lived there from the time I was eleven until I left for college, and then for good.  A recent creative project sent me back to the web for some information on my former home.  I’d been a (fairly local) immigrant, and I didn’t know much about this tiny town.  Although from only sixteen miles away, I’d never heard of it before moving there.  It was a small town of about 900 people.

The home of a smelly Pennzoil refinery, not everyone wanted to stop there on their way through, along route 8.  What prompted this post, however, was that web search.  According to a recent census, the population of Rouseville is now just over 500.  The Pennzoil refinery closed years ago, and my return trips to the area have always been bittersweet.  Those teenage years were tough, but formative.  Growing up in a town that small you have no connections.  You eventually learn that connections are how you get ahead in life and if you ain’t got ‘em, you ain’t got ‘em.  Even as I met other Pennsylvanians during college, none of them had heard of Rouseville.  The one exception was my advisor who’d recalled a former student from the town.

I’m not certain that it will ever become an actual ghost town—many oil boom towns did back when the petroleum industry began—but it has started on that trail.  The last time I visited, the house where I’d lived was gone.  The elementary school I’d attended had been razed.  The huge refinery was missing.  Some of the paved streets had reverted to gravel.  Part of my childhood was being erased.  Rouseville wasn’t an easy place to live.  The nearest bookstore was thirty miles away.  You couldn’t buy regular groceries, or ironically, even gas for your car in town.  Drug use was rampant and violence wasn’t unheard of.  Even so, I know the town will always be part of me.  And even if Rouseville never becomes a ghost town proper, there will always be ghosts from there living in my mind.


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.