Monday, February 1, 2016

My (Non) Exciting Life.

Even though my life has been completely uneventful lately, I decided that if I didn't throw up some content on the old blog soon that I was going to have to start telling people that I used to write a blog rather than saying yeah, I write a blog.

So what have I been up to since the Penn State Homecoming parade?

Based on the photos on my phone, I apparently made the mistake of going to the State Store (now called the infinitely more upscale name of Fine Wine and Good Spirits) on a football weekend. If memory serves me correctly—and if it doesn’t please remember that the Bryant family motto is “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”—I was the only one in the store over 24 who didn’t work there.

And I was probably the only one buying something other than a handle of Cap’n Crunch flavored vodka or some other artificially sweetened swill. When I was a college boy, I didn’t wait in line at the ABC Store, I bought beer at the A&P.  I bought pot from my roommate, the barefoot Mao-ist econ major with a serious but endearing stammer. It was much more convenient than the A&P, if much less legal.

No, I did not take advantage of the chance to save $5 on a bottle of Dom Perignon.

Then in the late fall, my friend Judy took me on a tour of the Penn State football building with the Penn State Quarterback Club. The Quarterback Club is a lunch club of mostly retired to elderly through post-elderly Penn State football boosters. Do not go to one of their meetings wearing anything other than blue and white. It's just not done.

The football facility was eye-opening even if the docent-ing wasn't up to the NFL caliber of say, Monticello. I shouldn’t have been that surprised that the football building is the glitzy-est building on the Penn State campus. Everything is new and shiny and about ten minutes old.

The first stop on the tour was the Brag Wall consisting of photos of Penn State’s All-American players. Penn State’s first was William Thomas “Mother” Dunn, the first All-American who played at a non-Ivy school. Walter Camp selected him for his All-American Team in 1906.

The photo of Dunn reminded me of an J. C. Leyendecker illustration. I didn't share this amazing art historical insight with any of my buddies on the tour,  though some of them probably knew J. C. Leyendecker personally.

After the brag all, we came to the the well-hung mannequin. As your the more erudite travel writers say, WTF?

We were herded (slowly, the Quarterback Club-ers are not a speedy bunch) into the auditorium where Penn State Head Football Coach James Franklin spoke to us briefly and pointed out the actual chair that Christian Hackenberg sat in for team meetings. We were then treated to a super secret recruiting film that though it was nice, didn’t make me want to play football for Penn State. (Hey, I have eligibility remaining!) It was, however, better than The Red Balloon, French “featurette” which holds the distinction of being the world’s longest four-minute film. Anyone who sees it can tell you that thing lasts for hours.

We got to see some trophies in cases. They're apparently usually displayed with the reverence reserved for pieces of the True Cross, but when we were they, they were in a bit of a jumble since they were remodeling the building to make it more glitzy.  College football recruits are big on glitz.

We also saw the terrace where the Athletic Department holds extra special al fresco events, the kind of al fresco events that Donald Trump would be attend, as long as he didn't have to sit next to a Syrian refugee or Rosie O'Donnell.

After the terrace, it was on to the weight room, where everything that could be branded Penn State was branded Penn State and then some.

There were huge inspirational banners hung from the walls urging us to have a POSITIVE ATTITUDE and WORK ETHIC and COMPETE and SACRIFICE.

Apparently they’re supposed to be coaching is all about, but they mostly reminded me of posters for Joseph Stalin’s Five Year Plan written by someone who never learned about parallel construction in English class.

The last stop on the tour was the indoor practice field. It’s big. And no one was practicing. Once you got used to its size the experience was sort of underwhelming. We've all been there before, right? (Sigh.)

Fortunately, this was the last stop on the tour and none of our fellow tourists had to be carted off to Koch Funeral Home…which could have happened had it lasted much longer. It was great, albeit slow, fun. However, I was left wondering if this is what college football facilities look like, what do NFL facilities look like?

Then in November came the non-shocking news that I was once again passed over for People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. Presumably this is what Shakespeare was talking about when he had Hamlet yammer on and on about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

In early December it was time for the Lewistown Festival of Ice.  First Night State College has worked with the folks in Lewistown to help produce the Festival for some time. Even though it has some fantastic 19th century buildings, Lewistown's central business district is, as we say in the historic preservation circles, going down the razor blade of life. The marquee of the Embassy Theatre is one of the town's bright spots--literally!
Lewistown has a fantastic local model railroad club and it's worth the trip to Lewistown just to see the club's display. There are two rooms each with a large and elaborate train layout, on which, at least when I was there, several trains were running.

It’s light years beyond the Lionel train that my brother and I enjoyed when we were kids.

The layouts include bridges, tunnels, buildings and little plastic people.  One vignette of daily life shows a perp standing against his car as he’s being frisked by a policeman. Of all the little bits of mundane life that they could immortalize in plastic...they chose this? When I return again, I will expect to see bunch of equally tiny protesters blocking the highway and holding up signs that say "Polystyrene Lives Matter."

After the Ice Festival, it's time to head to Stone Harbor to close up the house for the winter. That chore coincides with the Maurice River Township Fire Department Antique Show.

 It's a treasure trove of kitsch and wacky stuff. 

It’s refreshing to see that in the age of eBay and 1stDibs that an antique show can survive and—judging by full the parking lot— thrive.

 And yes, they even had Sir Walter Raleigh in a can.

Fortunately for my social calendar, the West Cape May Christmas Parade is the same weekend as the antique show. This year the parade, usually a highlight of my holiday season, turned out to be a huge disappointment. It wasn’t quite as badly run as the Avalon Clamshell Toss, but it’s getting there.

Someone has had the bright idea of getting every unit in the parade to stop in front of the reviewing stand to perform for the judges and dignitaries. I suppose dignitaries expect that sort of Downton-esque treatment. The requisite to-ing and fro-ing involved to get the Cape May County Lil’ Mini Petite Cutie Tooties into place for their star turn in front of the reviewing stand and then back to marching (or waddling, as the case may be) down the street is pure torture. It creates a parade with more, as we would say in the art business, “negative space” than holiday cheer.

So, while some of the units were great—it’s hard not to like Mummers imported from Philadelphia for the occasion—there was a way too much, to use Gertrude Stein’s expression, no there there.

In lieu of waiting for the next unit in the parade to come by--frankly, I thought not only Godot, but Jesus would appear first--my chums and I tried to go to the bar at the Congress Hall for our traditional after the parade drink. Alas and alack,  everyone else in Cape May had the same idea. The hotel was a madhouse, right down to the line for the men's room in the basement. It might have been possible to get waited upon by Christmas, but I wouldn’t have bet on it. We left Cape May and headed back to Stone Harbor and Fred’s Tavern for our restorative beverages.

On the way back, like the Magi, we followed a bright light in the distance. It led us to the Wildwood Boardwalk, which, in December, still retains its creepy Diane Arbus quality.

The lights we saw on turned out to be a Ferris Wheel lit up like Santa.

And that was OK, because if it had been a virgin birth, or someone explaining the secret of Donald Trump's hair, I'd have been woefully unprepared. I hadn't brought any gold, frankincense, or myrrh. Everyone knows that you need to take a gift to an occasion like that. 

After that weekend at the shore, there were a few weeks of fretting about holiday shopping but not doing it, followed by Christmas and time spent in the bosom of my family.

Christmas at my grandparents' really did look like this, right down to the celery on the table. However, my grandmother would have taken off her apron prior to bringing the turkey to the dining table. My grandfather, at the head of the table and always dressed in a dark suit, did the honors with the carving set.

At my sister's house, this year, it looked like this:

Not only do we look all au courant, we also tell WAY more fart jokes than we did at my grandparents' house.

And once Christmas is done, it’s time for First Night State College.

This means not only making the Burning Man with my sister but setting him on fire...once he lets go of the little red-headed kid.

After First Night…the Pennsylvania Farm Show is upon us. This was the 100th Farm Show, so I think the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture put a little extra zip into it.

This year, I went twice. The first trip was for the VIP reception where the Governor and the Secretary of Agriculture made brief remarks. The gist of the speeches was that they’re in favor of Pennsylvania agriculture.

After the reception, I met a potato—the variety is American Kabuki—and its stunt double. The potato is on the left. I’m not sure why Spud is wearing a camo cap, but my guess is that it was an effort to gain some rural cred. Trust me, you can't be too underdressed for the Farm Show.

I heard that they opened the food court a day early. Seriously! The line for the potato donuts was crazy...and this was on the day when the rest of the farm show wasn't open!

Of course, no one wanted soups and salads.

On the second trip to the Farm Show, I got to see lots more than the Governor and the back of the line for potato donuts. It's fascinating and even educational. Seriously! There's crazy stuff too, starting with the famous butter sculpture. Who knew that there was a historical marker for the man who invented the individually wrapped cheese slice?

Or that someone made a model--at really nice model, at that--of Pennsylvania's famous--at least to people who drive by on Route 283--Star Barn? The barn is being moved to a new site so that it can be used as a wedding venue. I'm not sure if that's progress, but at least it's not being demolished.  Unfortunately, the booth babes (and I use the term in a non gender-specific manner) didn't know much about the barn, though they knew plenty about catering weddings.

Or that there was a Miss Mushroom?

Or that the Mushroom-Industrial Complex owns an inflatable mushroom, creatively called the MushRoom? The mushroom guy told me that I could probably rate a historical marker of my own if I could produce morels commercially.

Fortunately I had the chance to meet Miss Teen Rodeo New Jersey and Miss Rodeo New Jersey...visiting from The Garden State. These are actual women and not drag performers. At least I’m pretty sure about that. Don’t quote me. They weren’t that impressed when I told them that, in true New Jersey fashion, that as a very part time resident of New Jersey I was Exit 10 on the Parkway. They put in a plug for Cowtown Rodeo in Salem County, which I actually knew about, though I’d never stopped. Hmmm...a future blog post, perhaps?

This was my first time at the Farm Show’s Celebrity Grape Stomping Contest.  As you can see, the audience was on the collective edge of its seats. Alas, there was not a Kardashian or Trump in sight, but the Penn State Nittany Lion, and Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Agriculture did their part as celebrities. I helped my friend Judy, a celebrity stomper, train by sending her a clip of the “I Love Lucy” episode where Lucy stomps grapes--the bit is one of Lucy's best. The contest started on time and moved right along...unlike  the West Cape May Christmas parade.

I recuperated from the Farm Show by spending part of Winter Storm Jonas giving a talk at the Bedford Springs Hotel to a leadership institute and trying to ignore the grim weather reports from Stone Harbor. I highly recommend  it as a place in which to get almost snowed in, though paying four bucks for a tube of Chapstick in the hotel's gift and sundry shoppe almost killed me. Fortunately drinks in the bar were reasonably priced--not that I'm a price shopper when it comes to my nightcap.

The hotel was in the midst of getting 31 inches of snow when I headed back to Happy Valley on Saturday morning. There wasn't much traffic...actually for the first twenty miles there wasn't any traffic. As in, I saw three cars between Bedford and Altoona.  As if common sense were taking a holiday, the Governor had banned motorcycles from the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 99 during the storm. It was snowing like mad, who knows when a plow went by last, and the Governor thought that people would be out on motorcycles?! Truly, driving was a bit of an adventure. For me, sometimes a bit of an adventure is just enough.