I don’t know that I’d been to the heart of Bloomsburg before. For me, Bloomsburg was too far away to be a convenient jaunt and too close to be an exotic destination. However, I’ve driven by on I-80 and looked at placemats promoting the Bloomsburg Fair lots of times. Now that I’m older and wiser, well, OK, older, I’ve kicked myself a million times for missing all those opportunities to see the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show at the Bloomsburg Fair.
For those of you who aren’t white trash conversant, back in the day when red blooded American males spent time souping up American muscle cars, Joie Chitwood and his pals had an automobile daredevil show that traveled around on the county fair circuit. In one of his more bizarre stunts, on May 13, 1978, Joie Chitwood set a world record when he drove a Chevrolet Chevette for 5.6 miles on 2 wheels. Like you, I didn’t know that there was a world record for driving a Chevrolet Chevette on 2 wheels, but since there is one, I’m glad the record holder is Joie Chitwood and not some Brand X daredevil.
I arrived in Bloomsburg a tad early so I walked around downtown for a bit before my appointment.
I loved the neon sign at the Bill Hess Tavern. Someone opened the door when I walked by and wow, the smoke-belching steel mills of 1930s Pittsburgh had nothing on this place. I don’t think they allow you in there unless you chain smoke, and not just anything, but preferably the Three Stooges signature cigar, the LaStinkadora or as Shemp said, “Oye, a Lasting Kadora!”).
Smelling like an ashtray and a distillery seemed like a bad idea so I didn’t stop in for a restorative before my consulting gig.
A head shot from Michelangelo’s David definitely says top drawer to me. Interestingly enough, Michelangelo's David didn't wear any clothes, high fashion or otherwise.
Then there was the Arcus Brothers resale emporium. It may be a resale shoppe, but wow, it really feels like a performance art installation. I did a jiffy tour through the inside and had to get out before I asked if they happened to have Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls on 8 track tape, as read aloud by Merv Griffin. (I'm sure they had it.) It seemed like a treasure trove of weird sports memorabilia (no doubt there’s a Steve Blass bobble head in there someplace), used musical instruments, and old-fashioned flotsam and jetsam. Had I the patience of a born shopper I think I could have found the Village People’s movie on European format videodisc. (Just what I always wanted...How nice!) Just as I was leaving a woman brought a in laundry basket filled with stuff that Goodwill seemingly rejected. She seemed all set to cash in on her like-new Donald Trump Board Game and Marie Osmond signature Sony Walkman cozy.
My meeting was at a place called the Moose Exchange. It had been the Loyal Order of Moose Lodge No. 623, but the days of the Moose in Bloomsburg had long since passed. The Moose had been the ne plus ultra of Bloomsburg’s fraternal societies when it opened its mid-century modern lodge on June 1, 1950 in a gala attended by many of the Moose’s 3,000 members not to mention more than a few of the 500 Ladies of the Moose. (Isn't a female moose a cow?) The story of the Loyal Order of Moose brought back memories of Fred Flintstone and the Water Buffalo Lodge.
For quite some time Bloomsburg Moose Lodge No. 623 was the place to be. Its grand public spaces—including a big ballroom with a semi-circular bar—were the scene of many local proms and other events of note. But as the building aged, fraternal organizations lost their allure. The world passed Pennsylvania’s aging downtowns by, and guys found out that they could get laid without investing in a corsage, a couple of whiskey sours, and an evening of dancing with the GF to accordion music at the Moose.
The Moose hibernated for some time before being rescued by a herd of concerned locals. Now it’s the Moose Exchange, and has a more artistic slash Brooklyn-hipster identity. During my visit a gallery in the building was hosting the mandatory photo essay on the Marcellus shale, which I sort of skipped over.
My host, Oren, took me into the back of the alleys (as opposed to into the back alley, the place where illegal abortions take place) and gave me a quick tutorial on how pin setting machines worked. It’s all really very easy, the gizmo is attached to a thingy, and then this arm comes by and well, pretty soon the pins are all where they’re supposed to be. And nothing is computerized. It was quite the triumph of mechanical engineering and lubrication, kinda like a visit to a San Francisco S&M club.
As I watched the machine go through its motions, I felt as if I was in an old Industry on Parade newsreel, watching the widgets go along an assembly line while the narrator intoned about Yankee ingenuity and then moved right into the feel-good anti-commie message at the end of the show. Even today, I know that if a bunch of Ruskies came to the Moose Exchange to bowl a few frames, the Godless Commies would be no match for the happy, contented Protestant workers of Bloomsburg when it came to the seven/ten split.
There was a rack of bowling balls by the wall of the alley. They were completely unremarkable. All of the bowling alleys I’ve been to have had racks of bowling balls. Oren, made sure that I saw them.
“See those bowling balls over there?”
“In the business they’re called dead men’s balls. Guys left their bowling ball here and never came back for ‘em.”
He didn’t quite have the flat affect of Sgt Joe Friday or Clint Eastwood but he was close. He spoke as if he uttered the phrase Dead men’s balls every day, which given his situation, perhaps he does.
The business. I wasn’t sure what business he was talking about. Surely there weren’t enough people rehabbing old Moose clubs to qualify as "the business" but what do I know?
I thought about telling him that when I was at Park Forest Junior High, Rich Ackerman swore to me that there was an article in Readers’ Digest called I Am Joe’s Balls and I pretty much believed him. Oren hadn’t bought my dinner yet, so I thought I was best to save that anecdote for the demitasse course. In the new, post-modern hipster online Reader’s Digest there’s probably an article called I Am Dead Joe’s Ball written from the bowling ball’s perspective.
By the time dinner was over, I’d shared everything I knew about deploying Whoopee cushions in nice restaurants and even a little stuff about art festivals, too. Bloomsburg seemed like a pretty nice place, and as former Moose lodges go, theirs seemed to be one of the best. I’d spent a couple hours at the Moose Exchange and no one mentioned Captain Kangaroo’s friend, Mr. Moose, or even the practically local, Mike “Moose” Mussina, the former pitcher for the Yankees and Orioles. Then again, if I were in charge, I’d have called it the Moose (and Squirrel) Exchange, pronounced, of course, in a thick Russian accent. I chuckled at that idea repeatedly during the my drive back to Happy Valley. I’ve always been good at amusing myself, and that doesn’t stop just because I’m waiting to download I Am Dead Joe’s Ball onto my Kindle.