Talking Grover with a Little Girl

I sat in the Beetle and cried.

It wasn’t an ugly cry or an evil cry. Emotion had bubbled to the surface and, like an unstirred pot on the stove, boiled over.

“I like your Grover mask,” said a little girl to me when I was leaving the ballpark, and what followed was the perhaps the most interesting face-to-face conversation I’ve had in six months.

She sat on a bench inside the gate with her grandmother, though fidgeted is closer to the mark than sat. I paid them almost no mind as I approached them on my way to leave — except to note that neither was wearing a mask — and it was after I’d passed them that I heard the little girl.

“I like your Grover mask.”

I stopped. I turned. I took them both in.

“I’m glad you like my Grover mask,” I said. “Did you have a good time tonight? Did you enjoy the movie?”

“No,” the little girl said. “I hated the movie.”

“She was bored by it,” the grandmother said. “I liked it, though.”

I nodded sagely. “That’s fair.” There were technical difficulties with the video board for the first forty minutes, and A League of Their Own is a quiet film so some of the dialogue was too quiet for the stadium PA system to be clear. A League of Their Own is also very episodic; there’s a narrative throughline in the relationship between sisters Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty), but there’s also a lot of side-story stuff to fill time and keep it going. None of this, of course, did I say. None of it needed to be said.

“I like your Grover mask,” the little girl said again.

“I like it, too. I’ve been a great fan of Grover since I was your age.”

“I’m five,” she said.

“Oh,” I said in a tone of surprise, though I wasn’t surprised at all. “In that case, I’ve been a fan of Grover since I was younger than you. I watched Sesame Street all the time. I still have my copy of The Monster at the End of This Book from all the way back then.”

She didn’t know it — or she didn’t recognize the title, being only five — and I described it. How Grover’s quite agitated, how there’s a monster at the end of the book and he doesn’t want you, the reader, turning pages because that only makes the monster come closer. And how there’s a big surprise at the end, which I did not spoil.

Her grandfather arrived during this explanation — he’d been the same place I’d come from, the restrooms on the main concourse — and the family gathered up their things and made ready to leave.

“It was very nice meeting you,” I said.

“I really like your Grover mask.”

“Perhaps I’ll see you at a Senators game next summer.”

“Will you have your Grover mask?”

“I’ll wear it just for you.”

I left the ballpark, and behind me I could hear the little girl, aged five, still talking about my Grover mask.

It was dark and quiet, the air was a little damp, and Mars glowed in the eastern sky over the city. There weren’t more than a dozen cars still in the parking lot.

For six months the in-person conversations I’ve had have revolved around COVID, or work, or politics. All of these conversations were important, and none of them had the same joy, the same life, the same vitality as a brief conversation with a five year-old girl about Grover.

Harrisburg at night

Last night, the Harrisburg Senators held another of their Summer Movie Nights, this time for A League of Their Own, the 1992 Penny Marshall film about the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that stars Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Lori Petty, and Rosie O’Donnell. The day the tickets went on sale I bought one.

Unlike The Sandlot, an earlier entry in the Summer Movie Nights series, I genuinely like this film. I’ve bought it on DVD three times, the third time because it came with baseball cards of Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), Mae Mordabito (Madonna, who famously did not enjoy making the film), and Dottie “The Queen of Diamonds” Hinson (Geena Davis).

A League of Their Own baseball cards
In my baseball card binder, A League of Their Own baseball cards

Sure, it’s cheesy and episodic. No, I don’t like how Tom Hanks gets top billing in what’s a supporting role. But it’s also charming, fun, and very quotable.

The story of A League of Their Own, for those unfamiliar with the film, is based on the early history of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. During World War II, as baseball players are being called up to fight in Europe and Japan, the candy magnate owner of a Chicago baseball team (the Chicago Cubs, thinly disguised) conceives of a plan for a women’s baseball league. Two wowen in Oregon — Dottie (Geena Davis) and her sister Kit (Lori Petty) — are scouted (by Jon Lovitz) while they play for a local industrial fast-pitch softball team, and soon enough they’re on a train to Chicago for tryouts. Both sisters make the cut and join the Rockford Peaches, “managed” by ex-ballplayer and fall-down drunk Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks, loosely based on Hack Wilson and Jimmie Foxx). Because Dugan can’t stay sober enough to actually manage the team — he thinks managing a team of women is beneath him and is in it purely for the paycheck — Dottie effectively manages the team until, one day, Dugan wakes from his drunken stupor, realizes he has actual ballplayers, and takes charge. Against this various comedic dramas play out, one player learns her husband died in action in the war before a game, Dottie’s own husband (Bill Pullman) returns from Italy due to wounds and Dottie quits the team to return to Oregon, and it all culminates in a dramatic game seven in the Women’s World Series between Rockford and Racine (to whom Kit was traded mid-season) (In reality, Rockford was the league’s cellar dwellers that year. Hey, it’s a movie!) And it’s all wrapped in a framing device set that the opening of an exhibition on the women’s league at the Baseball Hall of Fame.


It was a lovely evening. It was about seventy degrees, and there was a nice breeze through the ballpark off the Susquehanna. It became a little damp as the evening wore on, though I didn’t need my hoodie until the end of the film.

I couldn’t judge the size of the crowd, but it felt smaller to me than the crowd for The Sandlot last month. There was even a giveaway; Giant, the local grocery store chain, gave out red blankets. I’m probably going to keep mine in my car as an emergency blanket. I bought a box of popcorn, an ice cream sandwich, and a Pepsi.

There were technical issues early on — parts of the video board would cut out or get out of sync, and the audio mix wasn’t always clear. Nothing that prevented me from enjoying the film.


The next movie night is Hocus Pocus in about two weeks. I’m unlikely to attend; I know I’ve seen it, but I also have no feelings for it one way or the other.


Some photos from last night.

The entrance to FNB Field
Sunset-tinged clouds over FNB Field
The Harrisburg skyline from the main concourse
On the main concourse, the Ryan Zimmerman banner
My usual seat at FNB Field — the first base bleachers
Trea Turner knew this view — the grandstand of FNB Field from very shallow left

Full of Sound and Fury

To say that I was exhausted Thursday evening would be an understatement.

This was publishing deadline week at work, and it’s easier — and more efficient — for me to work out of the office than from home during that week. The deadlines are tight; I don’t have time for laggy connections and connectivity issues, and I don’t trust the VPN for some of the more delicate procedures I have to run. So, since Diamond went to work-from-home in mid-March, I’ve made the trek into the Plague Lands on deadline weeks, a sacrifice I’m willing to make for the sake of the comics industry.

And, this month, for reasons beyond my understanding, Wednesday turned into a giant flaming ball of wreckage. Tasks that I had to do could not be done. They would have to be done on Thursday, and the publications affected had to go to press on Thursday, and I was going to have to do twelve hours of work spread across two days in eight in one.

Which I did, because I am good, and no one bothered me (because the office is effectively closed), and I left at a normal time.

But damn, was I drained.

I picked up Chipotle on the way home and inhaled it — I hadn’t eaten since breakfast — and collapsed into bed shortly thereafter.

Then I received an email.

The Comedie of Email the First

This is damned peculiar, I thought.

My initial reaction was that it was spam. A common spam technique is to fake a reply, creating a message that looks like there’s an active conversation going, but why reply to an email message from himself that’s two and a half years old? If this were a spam, it was a very odd spam, to be sure; why be profane and belittling in an email where you’re hoping to get a mark to click on your link?

My doubts that this message was a spam message were growing. And when I did some basic forensics, all my doubts were confirmed.

The email was genuine.

Two and a half years ago, a stranger emailed me about Shakespearean authorship and I never replied. Two years later, for reasons known only to him, he emails me again and berates me.

I posted a few Tweets about it, and went to bed. I was, as I said, exhausted, and I had one more day of publishing deadlines to get through.

Friday morning, I got on my computer and, out of curiosity, decided to see if I could find his original email from 2018 in my email client. Had I kept it? Had I deleted it? If I thought it was spam in 2018, I probably deleted it.

No. I had kept it.

And I found that he had emailed me twice before — in 2013 and 2015 — about Shakespearean authorship. I hadn’t been ignoring his theory on Shakespearean authorship for two and a half years. I’d ignored it for seven.

Now, my thoughts on Shakespearean authorship are not complex. The actor from Stratford William Shakespeare wrote the plays credited to Shakespeare. The theories of alternative authorship all fail at Occam’s Razor and make absurd leaps to twist history to fit the theory. Yet, as batshit insane as it is, I really did enjoy Roland Emmerich’s film Anonymous, about Edward de Vere’s authorship of the plays.

It’s possible that my correspondent had emailed me more on the subject and I deleted his messages. I suppose I kept them to look at later, then never got around to it.

I mused on Twitter than this situation sounded like fodder for a Will Ferrell movie.

Writing about this on Twitter summoned my correspondent like a demon with an incantation because yesterday afternoon, after not hearing from him in two and a half years, he replied to me on Twitter (which Twitter hid from me) and then emailed me again:

The Comedie of Email the Seconde

He also harassed a friend of mine on Twitter, which pisses me off, but I also know she could rhetorically disembowel him in less than thirty seconds.

The irony of all this, of course, is that, had he continued to email me every few years, randomly and politely, at some point he might have found me receptive to reading his theory into Shakespearean authorship. The fact that I’d kept the emails from 2013, 2015, and 2018 suggests to me that I didn’t dismiss them out of hand. I probably set them aside, meaning to read them later, and never did. But someday! Someday! I might’ve had the time.

Now we’ll never know.

LEGO bricks are strewn across my desk at Diamond Comic Distributors as I work on building a base for my LEGO phone cradle.

Like I said, this really does feel like the set-up for a Will Ferrell movie.

Ferrell, a self-professed expert on Shakespearean authorship, randomly emails strangers with his theories, grows increasingly frustrated at being ignored, reaches a breaking point, and kidnaps an English professor at Columbia (played by Paul Rudd), and then they go on some sort of wacky road trip, perhaps to a minor Shakespeare festival on the East Coast, because Ferrell’s character believes the performance of a rare play will prove his case to the academic.

That’s not a bad hook for a story.

In another reality, I would have followed yesterday and its weird correspondent with Shore Leave. Certainly, it was a lovely day for it.

Clouds over Hunt Valley, Maryland — and the Hunt Valley Inn in particular — on what would have been the first day of Shore Leave 42.

But, thanks to COVID-19 and the president’s indifference and unwillingness to contain it, we’re not in that reality, and there’s a smaller, virtual convention going this weekend in its place. I watched the panel on the forthcoming CBS All Access series about Christopher Pike and his Enterprise, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, spinning off from Star Trek: Discovery, yesterday evening.

At least I have the weekend to unwind and write.

Stay safe, people. Get lost in the clouds.

High, wispy clouds at sunset, July 10th

Baseball on the Radio

Last night I listened to a baseball game on the “radio.”

Radio goes in quotes. It was Internet streaming audio, but for all intents and purposes, it was a radio broadcast, complete with ads for local business.

With the COVID pandemic raging unchecked across the United States, most baseball leagues have cancelled their seasons. Major League Baseball will begin “spring training 2.0” for a shortened season. A few college and amateur leages are making a go of it as well; close to me, the Maryland Collegiate Baseball League’s season begins week after next.

I feel there’s a great deal of magical thinking involved in this, especially if leagues and teams allow crowds; you can take all the precautions in the world, but this virus finds a way. People gather, someone doesn’t know they’re infected, the virus spreads, and there’s an outbreak. I’m skeptical of Major League Baseball’s season reaching the end of August, let alone playing through to the end of the season and the postseason, for that very reason.

I thought about this as I listened to the Broadway Bruins take on the Clover Hill Bucks at Buck Bowman Field in Clover Hill, Virginia on opening day in the Rockingham County Baseball League. By listening to this game, was I contributing to and encouraging a situation where people would put themselves in a position where they could be infected with COVID-19? Was listening to the game moral?

I don’t have a good answer to that.

Clover Hill and Broadway are perennial contenders in the Rockingham County Baseball League, an amateur league that has played since 1924. I’ve never attended a game in that league, I didn’t even know about the league until a few years ago, but I did know one of the league’s former ballparks: Ruritan Park, the field of the now-defunct Linville Patriots, was situated behind the elementary school I attended, Linville-Edom. It’s been a good thirty-five years since I’ve seen it, but I still vaguely remember it.

Crowd in the grandstand, Buck Bowman Field, Clover Hill, VA, June 27, 2020
The crowd at Buck Bowman Field in Clover Hill, Virginia, in the grandstand on the Rockingham County Baseball League’s 2020 Opening Night. Photo by WHSV’s T.J. Eck, via Twitter.

Clover Hill’s ballpark, from what I saw on Twitter last night, is vintage. Quirky, full of character, the kind of place that you’d find in small towns across the country before World War II. Stumptown in the Green Grass League might have played in a place like this. So too might the Lake Wobegon Whippets. It’s a place where I could imagine sitting in the bleachers along the baselines, eat a hot dog or two, have a beer in a plastic up, and spend a lovely summer evening. That I wouldn’t know any of the players wouldn’t lessen the enjoyment.

But, right now? In the midst of a pandemic? Would I feel safe around others? Would I be comfortable potentially risking the lives of others around me?

I don’t know. I barely like going to the grocery store right now for essentials because I feel like I’m risking other people’s lives.

The presentation of the game last night was professional. The sound quality, frankly, was better than some minor league games I’ve listened to over the years — and I’ve listened to a lot. (I have the MiLB schedule bookmarked at work, so I can stream games during the day when I work, even if it’s two random teams in the South Atlantic League.) And the broadcasters called a good game, if occasionally sparse; they didn’t always paint the picture of what was happening on the field, but it sufficed. Overall, I enjoyed it, and it was nice to have a live baseball game on the “radio.”

Crowd along the first base line, Buck Bowman Field, Clover Hill, VA, June 27, 2020
The crowd at Buck Bowman Field in Clover Hill, Virginia, stretches along the right field line on the Rockingham County Baseball League’s 2020 Opening Night. Photo by WHSV’s T.J. Eck, via Twitter.

Clover Hill won 6-4. The game was scorless through the first six innings. Broadway put three runs on the board in the top of seventh, Clover Hill answered with a three-run home run in the bottom half of the inning, and then tacked on three more on a home run in the bottom half of the eighth. Broadway scored one in the top of the ninth and put the tying run on first with two out, but the final batter went down on strikes.

Would I listen to more games this summer in the Rockingham County Baseball League? Yes.

Would I feel weird about doing so? Also yes.

These are weird times. They will be weird for some time to come.

Stay safe, players and fans of the Rockingham County Baseball League.

Getting Productive with LEGO

Working from home these last three months, I’ve had to participate in a new thing for me — video conferences!

Unfortunately, I don’t own a webcam. I did, at one time, have a PlayStation 2 camera, and I had the drivers for Window XP for it, but I’ve no idea what happened to the PS2 camera (probably tossed it) and I gave that computer to my parents (who recycled it). I do have sn old smartphone, and there are drivers and software to convert an Android phone into a webcam, but I haven’t delved too deeply into that.

After all, I can run the video conferencing app on my phone.

But I needed a way to make my phone functional for a video conference. I couldn’t just prop it up somewhere, and how can I take notes if I’m holding it?

Well, I’m an industrious sort, so I built myself a cradle out of LEGO to hold it.

I dug into my LEGO box and started building. I made it up as I went. I took apart an X-Wing fighter for parts, tried some things, kept sticking my phone into it to see if I needed more height, and a few hours later, I had something that worked.

Surprisingly, it turned out better than I thought it would. It has guide rails at top and X-Wing engines at the bottom to hold it in place. Some of the bricks are over forty years old.

Some Star Wars fan may be screaming right now, “Wait, you disassembled a vintage X-Wing Fighter for that?!?” Yup. And I’d do it again.

The next week, I was working out of the office due to publishing deadlines when the video conference rolled around, so I took my cradle to the office. I quickly realized that it was too low to work at the office. At home, it sits atop my computer tower. At the office, it would sit on my desk.

But, I’m industrious! I have a supply of LEGO bricks at the office because I never know when I’ll need to build something on the fly — or when I’ll need to relieve some stress by snapping some bricks together and taking them apart.

I have a pen holder on my desk built from LEGO. It was an off-brand set I bought at Five Below two years ago. It was a nice idea, but it needed help, so I went through my LEGO bricks, reworked it, and attached to it a LEGO business card holder. I realized I could use that as a stand. It could support a platform, and the smartphone cradle could go on top of that.

The result was not pretty.

It worked. It wasn’t pretty. Nor was it especially stable.

The platform came from one of Character Options’ LEGO-like Doctor Who sets. (The Weeping Angels set, I think.) But the pillars on which the stand stood were too far apart to attach to the platform, resulting in the awkward supports underneath.

I’ll need to do some rethinking to make the cradle more work-friendly.

Fortunately, I was at Dollar Tree earlier this week, and they have off-brand LEGO bricks for sale. I was curious and bought four bags, two each of yellow and green. When I got home I was surprised to find that these were quality! Out of the bag, they looked like LEGO. They’re a little slicker than some of the older bricks in my collection, more like Hasbro’s KRE-O. They snapped together well. I had to make a supply run, so I stopped at Dollar Tree and bought ten more bags, in a variety of colors.

Last night, I took the cradle apart and rebuilt it.

The cradle had two major problems — it wasn’t especially stable, and it was fragile. If I pressed down on it — or flipped it over and pressed on the base — it would break apart. A couple of places weren’t connected very well to the rest of the structure, notably the beams beneath the phone.

I tore it apart a couple of times, trying to make sure that this was supported by that, that the weight-bearing bricks would support the parts abovethem, that putting my hand on top and pressing down wouldn’t break it apart. It’ll still break, but it’s less fragile now. Those rows of green and blue just below the phone make a lot of difference.

I used far less of the off-brand LEGO than I thought I would — the light green bricks, some of the blue in the engine row, and some of the yellow at the top. The rest is authentic LEGO. Looking at it, touching it, I can’t tell the difference.

The supports remain just too wide for the base I have at the office, so I need to do more thinking to bring those closer in — or come up with a less-unsightly maeans of connecting the cradle to the platform.

If I go into the office next week, that’s something I’ll take a look at.

And when/if I ever do convert that old smartphone into a webcam, the cradle will be necessary for that, too.

Speculation about The Great Gatsby

Some recent thinking of mine on Twitter…

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby enters the public domain at the beginning of 2021.

Header photo: “Gatsby,” by Larry Yeiser, licensed CC BY-ND 2.0

A Loss in the Lynchburg Baseball Community

This came across my Twitter feed late yesterday afternoon:

My mom introduced me to Ronnie Roberts two years ago. I’d driven down from Pennsylvania for a Lynchburg Hillcats game — it was Margaritaville Night, and my brother’s company was the night’s t-shirt giveaway sponsor — and at the table where you picked up the t-shirt on the concourse my mom was talking to him. She was telling him that I went to a lot of baseball games, that I have a strange but personal system of keeping score, things of that nature, and Ronnie, who didn’t know me and had never met me before, was interested. I showed him my scorebook, and I shared with him an anecdote I thought he’d find of interest…

A few years earlier, in 2015, I went to Harrisburg for a Harrisburg Senators game. It was late summer, Labor Day weekend, a Sunday afternoon game between the Senators and the Akron RubberDucks. When the line-ups were announced on the videoboard pre-game, two of the Rubberducks players, Bradley Zimmer and Nellie Rodriguez, appeared, as midseason promoted players often do, in the uniforms of their previous team. In this case, the Lynchburg Hillcats with the old-style lynx logo.

I had seen Zimmer and Rodriguez in Lynchburg that year. (And also, Clint Frazier.) I’d visited my parents in May, and my dad, brother, and I went to see the Hillcats play the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, so I was aware of them. (Zimmer, of course, has made the show. Rodriguez, on the other hand, may be playing indie ball this year, assuming there’s a season; he’s signed with the York Revolution.) This proved fortuitous because, two rows in front of me in the bleachers, was a group of Rubberducks fans from Akron. When Zimmer shanked a ball in an early inning down the right field line just to the right of the foul pole and I said aloud to no one but myself, as I wrote in my scorekeeping notebook, “He had the distance, but not the direction,” they turned to me, asked if I were a Rubberducks fan or even from Akron, and then engaged me in conversation throughout the game when they discovered here was someone who could talk to them knowledgeably about at least some Rubberducks players, at least until they left in the late innings. After the game, I walked across the Walnut Street Bridge into Harrisburg and had dinner at an Irish pub just off Second Street.

I told Ronnie this anecdote — the first half of it, anyway, about seeing Hillcats gear on the Harrisburg video board — and he was deeply interested. I didn’t want to keep him — he was the team’s Assistant General Manager, I believe, and he was trying to distribute the t-shirt — and I said that the next time I was in Lynchburg for a Hillcats perhaps we’d talk again, but he told me he was retiring after the season. He was glad we’d met, though. He liked meeting a serious fan. We never met again.

If there’s one thing I know about Ronnie Roberts from reading about him, it’s that my experience was not atypical. He loved baseball. He cared about the players. He cared about the fans. He wanted people to succeed. He wanted people to have fun. And he wanted people to take something meaningful away from the game that had brought him so much enjoyment over his life. The city of Lynchburg, the baseball community there, and baseball in general are all poorer without him.

I saw on Twitter a few weeks ago that he was entering hospice care in North Carolina. Cancer, if memory serves. I hope that, in switching off, it was peaceful for Ronnie.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s this — every connection we make in our lives, no matter how fleeting, is meaningful. Ronnie found a conversation with one random fan meaningful enough to engage in, and I found a conversation with a stranger meaningful enough that I can tell you all of that above. Our connections are part of the journey, and the communities we build and choose to be a part of sustain us along the way.


Article on Ronnie Roberts from the Lynchburg News & Advance here.

Margaritaville Night, Lynchburg Hillcats, 2018

Margaritaville Night, Lynchburg Hillcats, 2018

Questionnaire!

Saturday I drove down to Baltimore to visit Loudon Park Cemetery. I hadn’t been since the end of January, it was a nice day, and a cemetery is a place where one can socially distance without much difficulty.

I had no idea if I would be able to get into the cemetery; some cemeteries are closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Congressional Cemetery in Washington, for instance, is closed except by appointment. I had no idea if Loudon would be open, and they have no online presence to speak of that I could check. At worst, I’d get there, find the gates closed, and turn around and do something else; a drive, on a mild spring day isn’t such a bad thing, and driving down to Baltimore I had the windows in the Beetle open all the way for at least part of it. Approaching the gate on Wilkens, I saw cars in the cemetery grounds, and the open gate answered that question.

I didn’t expect to find anyone there. To my surprise, I passed people walking — some teenagers with masks near the old railroad tracks, a couple walking their dog in the old part of the cemetery. The direct crossing into the old part of the cemetery was still blocked off, as it has been for almost two years, and taking the longer route I found that the road into Whatcoat wasn’t blocked off. Was the road, which had collapsed into sinkholes and chaos due to the flooding, repaired? I turned down the narrow stone road betweeen Whatcoat and M, and the road past my great-great-grandmother Susan’s grave wasn’t blocked off! For the first time since the summer of 2018, I could park by her stone! This was exciting!

Whatcoat Hill, Loudon Park Cemetery

Getting back out, I discovered, was going to be a little tricky. The road was patched in places, filled in with stones in others, and directly ahead of where I parked there was still a sinkhole. Had I not gone and looked to see how the road was repaired, I might not have noticed. Still, getting out was a problem that could wait.

Cleaning up my “office” at home, I found a selfie stick. “I’ll take this with me when I go down to Baltimore,” I said after I experimented with it in my bedroom to make sure it worked.

I made a number of attempts (greater than twenty) to capture a photograph of myself with my great-great-grandmother Susan Gardner’s stone since I have no such photo and wanted one.

Your humble author, with his great-great-grandmother Susan Gardner's stone

Of these attempts (greater than twenty), I judged this the least bad. This side of the stone faces slightly southwest. It was afternoon and I had the sun mostly in my face, hence a number of photos of me grimacing against the light. I couldn’t see anything on my phone’s screen, so I couldn’t angle the selfie stick and be sure of getting anything, and even as it was I had no idea what I got.

Still, expecting nothing usable, I went through my selfie stick photos (greater than twenty), found two that weren’t the worst, decided between them which one to crop, and deleted the rest.

You can see a little stub of a bolt sticking out from the top of the pillar. I still cannot decide if something (a cross? a decoration?) was affixed to it that has since been lost, if something was intended to be attached and never was, or if that bolt was simply standard for this type of monument in the 1890s.

I didn’t stay as long as I might have; I tired quickly, and my muscles began to hurt. This has been a “thing” for about six weeks. It’s not constant, it doesn’t always happen, but going for walks into Dallastown can wear me out. My muscles all over get fatigued, I get shin splints, I feel winded. And Saturday, my body let me know, in no uncertain terms, that it was done here.

I stopped at my great-grandparents’ site on my way out, then left.

That’s the same stretch of road through the cemetery that comes up when you look up Loudon Park Cemetery in Google.

I had some grocery shopping to do, so I stopped at the Giant. One of my fatigue issues, I think, was that I hadn’t had lunch, so I bought a sandwich from the deli. Had I stopped at Giant on my way into to the cemetery, as I often do, to buy flowers, I might have realized that I needed calories.

I also bought a number of things I didn’t need — Tastycakes, apple turnovers. That’s just how grocery shopping goes, in good times and weird times and everything in between.

Then, in Hunt Valley, I stopped at Shawan Liquors and bought beer curbside.

"Ain't no party like a Gatsby party!"
“Ain’t no party like a Gatsby party!”

Peabody Height‘s The Lost Generation. A s’mores-style (chocolate, graham crackers, marshmallow) imperial stout with a 10.5% ABV. That’s going to be — how would Fitzgerald put it? — an expensive orgy to the taste buds. I’ll probably start speaking in em-dashes. I have not tried it yet.

Soon!


A friend posted this meme on Facebook this morning and, having little better to do with my time, I sat down with it in the spirit of The Rutles’ “Questionnaire.”

Quarantine Q&A

1) Still working? Yes, from home.

2) Is it hard? Not really. Working from home is not terribly different from working at the office. Writing is a somewhat solitary activity, and most of the people I would interact with I would interact with over email anyway. I still do the same things, I plan my day and keep track of my tasks with the same bullet journal I’ve kept for two years. I just do it at home. And I still go into the office about once a week, because I occasionally need access to the printers; I don’t have a printer hooked up at home and, even if I did, I wouldn’t waste the ink and reams of paper on Diamond work. No offense, but they don’t pay me enough for me to buy my own office supplies so I can do my job.

3) Bored? No more than usual. The thing about working from home is that, when I run out of work tasks to do, there are things I can do to fill the time. I just sorted through a month’s worth of phones on my cell phone and culled them by sixty percent. I have gobs of music and podcasts I can listen to. I have comics, I have a library, I have hobby projects.

And the nice thing about working at home is that I can go outside, whenever I want. The door is just right there. I don’t have a pressing task? The sun is out? Ten minute mental health break! Walk around the block, take pictures of clouds, sit in the sun. I have lots of pictures of clouds. No one needs as many pictures of clouds as I have.

4) Miss human contact? Yes. People are social creatures, and my grocery store outings aren’t really a substitute. I do see people around my apartment complex, and I have talked with my neighbors, albeit at a distance, several times

5) Think you have it every time you cough? Well…

About two weeks ago, I had a cough. It wasn’t constant, but it was nagging, and I could “feel” the inside of my lungs when I was breathing or laying down in bed. I’d gone into the office on Thursday. I picked up dinner at Chipotle on my way home. On Friday the cough began. By Monday it was gone. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t worried — I have high blood pressure, and hypertension appears to increase COVID-19 mortality — but, even playing that daily game, I only thought I had one chance in three of having it.

Have I had it? I have no idea. I considered not going to Farpoint or seeing Carbon Leaf in February because of COVID-19. Perhaps the “con crud” I had around that time was COVID. Perhaps my weekend of strange lungs was COVID. Perhaps it was allergies. Perhaps it was my blood pressure meds. Like I said, I have no idea. I couldn’t get tested — I have no reason to be tested — and that would only tell me how I am now. I could have had it and recovered. I could be fine now and get infected in six weeks. It’s Schrödinge’rs virus — we both have it and don’t, and we don’t know until we look.

6) Tired of cooking and eating? No. If I don’t cook, I don’t eat. That was true before the pandemic. That’s true now.

7) Tired of TV? I’ve only had it on to watch DVDs. I rewatched some Father Ted recently.

8) Started a new hobby? No.

9) Finished any projects? I wrote a short story. I have another one turning itself over in my head, and I may be ready to commit words soon.

10) Who you miss the most? Too many to count. I’m not alone in that.

11) First place you wanna go when it’s over? COVID-19 isn’t going to be “over” anytime soon. It will be us through summer and well into 2021. We’re likely to have periodic shutdowns and gradual reopenings as the outbreaks wax and wane. And in that time, we’ll develop a kind of normal that isn’t anything like 2019 was. In that “kind of normal,” I’d like to have a Fuddrucker’s cheeseburger and lunch at La Tolteca by the office. I’d like to go to a movie. I’d like to go to Washington, DC for the day and visit Congressional Cemetery; I’ve been jonesing to do this since I found a photograph with my great-great-grandfather’s site on Wikipedia I’d like to go on a road trip.

12) Birthday before during or hopefully after? It’s in June. Who knows?

13) Made a TikTok? I’m forty-six.

14) Checked on a loved one? Pretty much all the time.

15) Who you quarantined with? Imaginary friends.

16) Second place I wanna go? Who knows? I’m taking it day-by-day, and I’d rather be spontaneous.

17) Home schooling? No.

18) Still got toilet paper? Five rolls.

19) Most watched show? Umm, I guess that would be Father Ted, which celebrated 25 years since its debut last week. Yes, Graham Lineham is an awful person, but the show is hilarious.

20) Binge watched? Father Ted, I suppose.

21) First restaurant you will visit? I have no idea. For all I know, it could be some hole-in-the-wall Chinese place because that was what I was in the mood for. This question assumes a level of pre-planning that makes no sense in these circumstances. There are some many known unknowns and unknown unknowns right now that making a decision like that is ludicrous.

22) Who checks on you everyday? No one, honestly.

23) Third place I wanna go? This is absurd.

24) Miss your job or coworkers? I miss interacting with my coworkers in person every day, yes, but I’m still interacting with them online since I’m working from home and I’m connected with several via social media.

25) When do you think it will be over? It depends on what you mean by “over.” If you mean a return to pre-2019 life, the earliest that could happen is late 2021, once there’s a vaccine or an effective treatment. The problem is, there’s never been a coronavirus vaccine before so we have no idea if one is possible for SARS-CoV-2, and while we’re learning a lot about COVID-19 it is revealing itself to be far more than a respiratory illness as was believed six weeks ago and appears to attack pretty much any organ at random and at will. I really wonder at the long-term health implications — five years, ten years, twenty years out, what lasting effect will COVID-19 have?

I expect that, by the end of May, shelter in place orders will largely be allowed to expire and people will go about their lives. They will probably have to wear masks in public. Large crowds probably will still be banned. One baseball league, the American Association, still intends to play this year, and it’s possible we could see Major League Baseball. I expect there will be localized lockdowns as the virus flares up here and there. With its long incubation period, another nationwide outbreak of COVID-19 due to stealth community spread is not out of the question. The CDC has raised the possibility of another wave of COVID-19 coinciding with flu season, and that’s not impossible.

There will be global disruption. In poorer countries, COVID outbreaks could be uncontrollable.

The economic fallout is impossible to predict, but there will be businesses that won’t recover and careers that will be lost. But that damage can be mitigated.

Far more importantly, lives will be lost due to the virus, and that damage to society can never be replaced. Holes will be left in people’s lives. We’re losing artists and knowledge and experience, and that loss will leave humanity poorer.

It may never be over. Life will probably never return to “normal.” Instead, we’ll find a new “normal.” Millions of Americans are learning that their jobs can be done from home, so office life will change. The minimum wage service industry employees that conservatives should “improve” themselves to get more than $7.25 an hour are every day revealing that they, not CEOs, are the essential parts in the engine that makes the economy go. On a global level, this may be the last hurrah for American hegemony due to the public failure of presidential leadership, both domestically and globally.

We’re going to be left with a lot of wreckage when this is “over.” The question will be what we want to do with it. What do we build on the ruins? What kind of society do we want to be? What kind of world do we want? That’s worth thinking about.


Work has been fine. Doing my part to keep the comic book industry going.

Today was brisk and frequently pretty outside.

Yoe

I got a new monitor today. There’s nothing wrong with the monitor I have, and I’ve no plans to get rid of it, but when using the work VPN and remote desktop some of my applications simply do not fit into my visible space. So I spent 85 dollars on a 1920×1080 LED monitor from Tiger Direct.

Dismantling my old monitor’s stand was difficult, as I couldn’t remember how it went. It’s all packed away now in its styrofoam and box in my closet.


The #elbowrooms Sessions

This week, Elbow released a new live album. Unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 outbreak, the band has cancelled their live dates for this spring and summer, so they’ve been posting videos on YouTube of the band, separately, playing some of their songs from home, the #elbowrooms sessions. These aren’t polished, there are occasional fluffs, but I don’t mind; I’m unlikely to see Elbow live in concert again for a while, and this will do.

I’m going to collect these videos in order, and as more are added I will add them to this post. I’ll also offer some thoughts on each song.

“Weightless”

The closing song to Giants of All Sizes, their latest studio album, “Weightless” is a song about the death of Guy Garvey’s father and the birth of his son.

As one of their most recent songs — Giants of All Sizes came out last autumn, after my hospitalization — I don’t have a lot to say about this song, except that I love it. It’s song that reminds me of Gandalf’s admonishion: “Do not fear to weep, for not all tears are evil.” It’s sad and beautiful.

“Great Expectations”

A gorgeous song, the penultimate track of Leaders of the Free World, the band’s third studio album.

For a long time I thought of this song as one of the album’s “break-up songs” — the end of Guy Garvey’s relationship with Edith Bowman heavily influenced the album’s lyrics — but its lyrics have more to do, if I remember correctly, an imagined wedding on a Manchester city bus.

I never would have guessed Guy Garvey was a Hawaiian shirt person.

“Fugitive Motel”

“I’ll blow you a kiss. It’ll reach you tomorrow (reach you tomorrow) as it flies from the other side of the world.”

My first Elbow album was Cast of Thousands. I bought it at the Best Buy in Cary, North Carolina in early 2004, sometime after EA’s MVP Baseball 2004 came out. Elbow had nothing to do with MVP Baseball, but Snow Patrol did — “Spitting Games” was part of the soundtrack and I wanted the album — and I bought the Elbow album and the Snow Patrol album (Final Straw) at the same time.

“Fugitive Motel” and “Not a Job” were the songs that made me an Elbow fan. I ripped the CD to the Xbox demo unit at my EB Games store, and I’d listen to it in the mornings, when doing class counts and other stuff, before the store opened. I had it playing one morning during a conference call with Dave Soltysiak, the regional vice president, and the intro to “Not a Job” was loud enough that he heard it and complained about how rude and unprofessional it was. He wanted to know who was listening to music. I muted the television and said nothing. Pretended it didn’t even happen.

I still love “Fugitive Motel.” I still love Cast of Thousands. Sixteen years ago, and sometimes it feels like yesterday.

“Scattered Black and Whites”

“The dream I weaved today.”

The final song of the band’s first album, Asleep in the Back.

Asleep in the Back is not an album I revisit often. I don’t believe I bought it until after The Seldom Seen Kid, the fourth album, came out. I don’t dislike the album, but I’m more likely to listen to one of the other albums.

“Scattered” is a haunting song of getting lost in memories when looking at old photographs. The lyrical images are vivid, the musicianship compelling. There’s a reason why this song is beloved by Elbow fandom.

Even though I don’t visit Asleep often, “Scattered” is a song I always enjoy when I hear it.

“Mirrorball”

“We made the moon a mirrorball, the streets an empty stage, city sirens violins — everything has changed.”

The most romantic song in the Elbow canon? Certainly the top five. Peter Gabriel thought enough of it to cover it for the Scratch My Back project.

I love everything about this song. I love everything about this performance.

“Magnificent (She Says)”

The most radically reworked Elbow song of these #elbowrooms recorded, thus far, is the lead song to Little Fictions, “Magnificent (She Says).” On the album, it’s an intense song full song strings. This performance is… not intense. Nor are there strings.

“Magnificent” is a song I find very moving. I talked about the original video for the song here, which makes me cry.

I like hearing familiar songs in a new way. Where’s the fun in simply hearing the old familiar performance again?

One of my favorite performances, though not by the band, of “Magnificent (She Says)” comes in this climate change video from 2017 that features Charles Dance, Miranda Richardson, Jason Isaacs, and David Gyasi.

“Puncture Repair”

The final song off Elbow’s third album, Leaders of the Free World, is this piano piece that was written about Richard Jupp, the band’s original drummer. Several songs on the album relate to Guy Garvey’s recent break-up with Edith Bowman. “Puncture Repair” is about how Guy, one particularly difficult night, showed up trashed at Jupp’s place, and Jupp took care of patching him up. A “puncture repair.”

Until this video, I didn’t know what Guy Garvey’s son — and Dame Diana Rigg’s grandson — looked like. Guy was introduced to Riggs’ daughter, the actress Rachael Stirling, by Benedict Cumberbatch at a wedding, they hit it off, and their relationship influenced the lyrics of the last two Elbow albums, Little Fictions and Giants of All Sizes. Their son shows up at the end of the video, during the credits, which sort of ties this video back to the first one in the series, “Weightless,” which is about the birth of his son.

Stormy Weather

CVS texted me on Saturday to let me know that I had a prescription refill to pick up. I wasn’t able to go out for it then, Sunday was Easter and I doubted they were open, so this morning I contacted my team at work, told I would be out for half an hour, and ventured to Red Lion.

If I didn’t have to go for a prescription, this was not a day to go out. There were gale force winds and heavy rains. If it weren’t for those two things, it would have been an unexpectedly warm spring day. But I lucked into the right time to go as there was a lull in the storm. After I got home, the skies opened up once more.

I took a t-shirt, folded it in half lengthwise, folded it in half again, and wrapped it around my face as a face mask, fastening it behind my head by joining the ends and wrapping them in a doubled over hair band. It wasn’t the best mask, and it rode up on my eyes a little and made seeing more difficult than it already is, but it sufficed. It covered my nose and mouth, and that’s what I needed.

I felt strange walking into CVS masked like this. Yes, the governor has requested people wear masks. Yes, someone who walked into CVS in front of me was not wearing any sort of facial covering. Yet, I know it wouldn’t be safe to others to not wear something, of some kind.

I waited patiently at the pharmacy counter, behind the taped line on the floor, and one of the techs, an older woman I had been hostile with before Christmas — not for any fault of hers; CVS was being a pain — came to help me.

“Name?” she said, standing about eight feet away behind a plastic shield, wearing a mask of her own.

“Gibson.” Then I spelled it.

“G. R. E,” she repeated back to me.

“No, Gibson. G. I. B.”

“G. R. E.”

“No. G. I. B.” I started drawing the letters in the air.

Another pharmacy tech came over and tried to decipher for the first.

Eventually, though it took longer than I think either of us would have liked, she got my name into the system, she retrieved my prescription (a three month supply of lobelatol for my blood pressure), and I wish I could say I went on my merry way, but we went through another pained conversation where she simply could not understand what I was saying through my makeshift mask.

Next time, I’m going to take a portable whiteboard with me.


I didn’t write anything here last week. There was nothing in my work-from-home diaries to write about. That doesn’t mean that nothing interesting happened.

On my website, I wrote about Rob Manfred’s plan for a hermetically sealed baseball season to be played in Arizona and Florida on Friday, and on Saturday I wrote about locating my great-great-grandparents’ house in Georgetown in an 1890 photograph. I can’t say for certain that I found it, but I know I’m in the right area.


I wrote a short story over the weekend.

When I started working from home I found buried on my desk the outline for a story that I’d written at Shore Leave last year during the Meet the Pros Party on Friday night. I reread the outline, thought it was good and solid, and I let it turn itself over in my head for the last couple of weeks. Where do I start the story? Where does the worldbuilding exposition go? I wasn’t writing anything. I was thinking about writing but not actually putting words on the page — or bytes in a file.

A week ago, I figured out I wanted to start in media res. That was the right place to start. Let the reader discover the story with the narrator, who already knows the worldbuilding, forcing the reader to play catch-up.

Thursday I wrote five hundred words. They were a difficult five hundred words. Start in media res, character known the narrator introduces the narrator to a stranger. A problem is introduced. At work, I can write five hundred words in ten to fifteen minutes when I buckle down. This five hundred words took about an hour and a half.

I saved the file and went on to other things.

Saturday evening, I picked it up again.

I worked until past ten — I hadn’t realized it was so late — but I finished the story. My guess was pretty close to the mark; the first draft weighed in just under 3,300 words. Satisfied with my work for the day, I shut off my computer, sat down with an ebook of one of August Derleth’s Solar Pons collections, read a story, and went to bed.

Then I remembered some dialogue I had intended to write but didn’t, so I left myself a note on Twitter to revisit it the morning.

And Sunday morning, that’s what I did. I wrote the dialogue I’d forgotten to write, wrote another bit of dialogue I realized I needed, and brought the story up another 400 words. Then I began an editing pass, and brought it down to 3,300. I used both “yards” and “meters,” so I had to fix that, and there was a factual mismatch in two places I had to repair (and repairing it actually planted a seed of foreshadowing), and late bit of dialogue needed to be reworked because it was too brief. Final word count: 3,500 words, plus/minus 10, depending on how Word feels that day.

With the caveat that I’m biased because I wrote it, it’s a solid story. It’s an unexpected genre mash-up with a staggering twist that is only possible in prose. It’s not groundbreaking, it won’t win any awards, but I’m pleased with it. I wrote it for the challenge and for the fun, and I think it succeeds in what I set out to do.

I submitted the story to an anthology, and I should get a response in six to eight weeks.



With the heavy winds the sky cleared off, and about five o’clock it was gorgeous outside.

A Perfect Spring Day

Thr last few days have been a little rainy, a little chilly, a little gloomy.

And work has been in a bit of a holding pattern; what I’d normally be doing this week — the order forms — has been pushed to next week, so I’ve spent the last two days trying to do next week’s tasks to free up my time next week. I am trying to be flexible, adapt to the situation, but I’m also a little frustrated.

Since it was so nice, I went for a walk in the afternoon.

Behind my apartment

I had some books to drop off at the Little Free Library in town — more of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell novels — and it was brisk enough that I needed a jacket.

The clouds were tremendous.

This poor dog was very upset and irritated that I was out and about, and he made that clear to me in no uncertain terms. Alas, for I felt would have been fast friends.

It was just lovely. I had to stop and sit for a few minutes on the wall of the storage center; my legs were very angry with me, as they often are when I go for walks, thanks to my blood pressure medications. I didn’t feel bad; my legs were just tired and hurting, and resting for five minutes made the hurt go away. I have trouble with hills. Flat ground, I’m fine.

I dropped the books off, and there almost wasn’t room for them! The batch of Mary Russell novels I left last week were still there. Some Dallastown resident can walk by and pick up the first six in the series.

I sat for another tens minutes on the wall at the church. It was pleasant, and I was in no hurry.

It was a little on the windy side. A blustery day. The sort of day Mary Poppins comes to visit.

The return trip home was unremarkable. I stopped, not because my legs were hurting, but because I wanted photos of this very lovely afternoon.

With everything going on, it’s important to pause and take a moment to savor the world. There’s beauty all around us, and many of us lead lives of bustle and impatiencr so we miss it.

When I returned home, I logged back into work and checked the database for text until seven.

I was glad I took the time for a walk.