Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Wind is a Cat - Dr. Electro, E VI

 Letters from Josh

  Monsters and Aliens 10/28/20                                                                           Letter 29

Well hey there, Crew!  And an early “Happy Halloween” to ya!  It’s that time of year when our thoughts turn to the creepies and crawlies lurking in the forest, the ghouls flitting among the trees, or at least our imagination.  As I drove home this evening, a sinister fog rose from the fields.  It was obviously up to something, but like most things of that nature, it was best to not ask, and keep on driving.  “Nothing to see here, folks…”  And the mysterious and unexplained brings us to the neighborhood of a fascinating topic:  Aliens!  UFOs!  Intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos! 

 It’s quite often that, when talking about the Universe, the topics of God and Aliens pop up.  I’ll start with the Aliens.  I don’t know much about the topic, but get asked about it a lot.  My answers are “professional”, boring, and vague.  So, I’ll be diving into the topic, learning all I can, and speaking about it soon! And, this is where I need your help.  Wouldn’t it be fun to sprinkle a talk about Aliens/Lifeforms/UFOs with some stories? 

A buddy just told me about a UFO sighting, and one that his friend had confided, too.  So, I’ll be doing some careful reading, and I was hoping:  Do YOU have a UFO sighting?  Ever see a little green man?  Something mysterious?  I’d love to hear.  And, if you’d be OK with me using your story in my next talk (it can be anonymous), let me know!  

And here’s another Space bit that leads into a life question:  I was speaking with a friend today who’s really struggling with the isolation in her retirement community.  She misses family and home.  Later, after some personal disappointment, I peered through a telescope at the Jura mountains, soaring twelve thousand feet over the desolate lunar surface.  An owl hooted in the distance, and boy, did I feel lonely, too.  Here I am, a lad of 34, and I can do anything, go anywhere, interact with more people than the average person, and...although it sounds both incredibly obvious AND yet surprising at the same time, I get lonely all the time.  Loneliness seems something that can affect us all, and sometimes, it’s really a bummer. I’m going to start to tackle the subject by spending this week just observing the feeling, both in myself and others, and start to poke at it a bit.  Drop me a line if you have any thoughts on the topic.  I bet we can get somewhere together. And now...

Dr. Electro - Episode VI - The Wind is a Cat  

Previously on Dr. Electro: Murphy gives the upscale life the slip for an evening, boarding a streetcar, where he receives a mysterious plea for help from an orphan.  

 The wind was like a cat, lashing a giant rainy paw around the corner to rake Murphy with uncertainty.  He waited under the trolley shelter for the transfer to Union Street, and for the first time since the War, felt nervous. Or maybe it was caring about something again, and realizing that he could fail.  Although he would have previously avoided the sensation, it was preferable over boredom.  At long last, the headlamp of the Union Street transfer glimmered through the drizzle and fog. Boarding, Murphy found himself decidedly on the wrong side of the tracks. 

The dim light of the decrepit interior reeked of a smell mysterious yet one or two thoughts away from being alarmingly familiar. A lone old woman watched him suspiciously, and he felt his fine tailoring less armor and more of a gaping hole in this part of town.  Seven blocks passed uneventfully, yet Murphy’s sense of foreboding grew.  Glancing down, he caught sight of his expensive shoes, and smiled.  How much more rewarding this night already had been than the last one inside at that vapid club.  The trolley did what it was supposed to, surprisingly, and trundled into Union Street. 

“Well, I guess this is it” he thought, the Cat snarling one more time around the corner with a gust for good measure.  511...509...steps echoing in the night, he arrived at 507, a massive hulk of a building that once was an engine of commerce, but now sat dark and sullen in the autumn rain, save for the mysterious flicker of a blue light on the grimy windows…

Across (and under) town, in the culvert:  The League of Inquiring Minds’ meeting began to simmer, a secretive pot of subterranean subversion. “It’s all about the NOISE, Gentlemen!” the head man shouted, the irony not lost on Dr. Electro and Rutherford, watching from the shadows.  “As you may recall, I was rudely awakened for the tenth time last spring by those urchins playing some form of sportsball” he positively spat.  “A busy mind cannot make a racket, and this world is fast becoming a cacophony.  We must ACT.” The echo of his statement rumbled like thunder down the great cavernous pipe. Suddenly, Rutherford sneezed. To be continued...

Thursday, October 22, 2020

A Streetcar named Purpose - Dr. Electro, episode V

 Letters from Josh

  Autumn Leaves 10/18/20                                                                           Letter 28

  Howdy, folks!  How ya doin’ over there?  It’s a pleasant Monday evening over here, with a cello concerto on the turntable, and great-grandma’s clock from 1896 ticking away on the recently-completed bookshelf.  Yesterday found me peacefully rummaging through rocks - shale fragments to be exact - on the side of a mountain just over the West Virginia line. 

After two months of Sundays working hard at finishing the Professor Plum Library room in my house, plus the cycle of life and death wearing on my heart more than a little bit, it was time to hit the open road.  The highway sang beneath my tires and an autumn sun, benevolent in his advancing season, blessed the path before me. 

The trees began to blaze as the elevation increased, mountains decked out in their Halloween costumes.  The only map I took was a photo of one on my phone.  I could have used the GPS, but with Adventure being the main goal, I only referred to it occasionally.  A “wrong turn” from Strasburg onto 81 south brought me one mile from Mt. Olive, wherever that was.  The little car motored west, then north, aiming for Route 55 and a way over the next ridge.  Quiet churches and the occasional cow watched me zip by, a blur of red in autumn fields.  There, a nursery with a million pumpkins for sale, yonder an American flag.  The road dipped and wound and gradually climbed into the golden light, trees matching the pumpkins, the air crisp and cool. 

I drank in the beauty, a salve for a sad mood.  A friend lay dying a hundred miles east.  It wasn’t unexpected, and his life was a good, and long one.  But, the End always boggles my mind, and fries my circuits.  Does a computer comprehend a swimming pool?  As a younger man, I’d lapse completely into Nihilism, thinking “what’s it all about?” with only the answer “nothing” echoing with an ache in reply.  Yet today, as I urged my little car forward towards the ridgeline, it didn’t ring true anymore (thankfully.) 

I still don’t know what does, but as far as I can tell, moving in the opposite direction -towards meaning, to faith if one is practicing, to light...well, that seems to be the choice to make.  This path that we’re walking together makes my head spin sometimes, but it seems to be spinning towards better things, and for that, I thank you.  And hey, I found some fossils in the rocks on the mountainside.  

So, folks, heavy stuff aside, are you ready for some Dr. Electro?  Previously, we found him peering intently from the shadows mid-culvert, watching a sinister gathering of The League of Inquiring Minds.  Across town, disillusioned WWI Veteran Murphy languishes at Club Vignette, adrift in a sea of money, lacking an anchor of meaning, and anything to do, really.  

Dr. Electro - Episode V - A Streetcar Named Purpose 

  Murphy put out his cigarette and exited Club Vignette. Only the closest of observers would have noted the frustration in how the paper crumpled in the gilded tray by the door.  His chauffeur wasn’t expecting him for another three hours, and Murphy rather relished the novelty of the streetcar that trundled towards him. 

“Ah, the common folk” he thought, a quick step up into the yellow-lit oasis of the Ordinary. There, an old lady with her shopping, and next to her, a...drummer?  The musician clutched his cases on his way back from a wedding gig, calling to his young daughter in a thick Lithuanian accent.  “Kathryn, Kathryn, the case!” as the vehicle started off with a pop, whine, and smell of ozone, jostling everyone violently.  Murphy smiled for the first time in weeks.  It was cold, rainy, and real. 

“Hey buddy, read all about it.”  A grimy urchin bumped and stumbled by, applejack hat besmirched with rain.  “ORPHANS FOR ORDER” screamed the headline on the pamphlet.  Puzzled, Murphy read on. 

“Children - scrambling in the streets, throwing rocks at horses, breaking bottles, practically inciting anarchy at every turn!  Schoolhouses are only serving as nests of corruption, one boy infecting ten with ideas about spitballs and disobedience!”  On and on,  thundering in ominous print, eviscerating the modern child and his devilish disregard for discipline, calling for a re-education of the young mind, and implementation of draconian measures of order.  Eyebrows raised, Murphy flipped over the greasy paper, and scrawled on the back in red crayon:  HELP US.  507 Union.  ASAP. Flip flop.  Front and back.  Back and forth.  No, no, the printed text and crayon were unrelated, and obviously to be heeded.  Murphy’s head snapped up.  The orphan stared at him, doffed his Applejack, and hopped off the streetcar.  “Next stop, transfer to the Chestnut street line, direction of Union Street” cried the conductor. 

Murphy smelled - nay, felt,  the ozone of the lines crackling overhead.

To be continued...

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

I've Practiced Looking for Things

 I've Practiced Looking For Things

One night
I crept outside into the void
and peered intently through a telescope
years of practice
to see the glimmer of Stephan's Quintet
The family of galaxies at the beginning of  It's a Wonderful Life
who decide George Bailey's fate

I'm not sure if I saw them, or just the flicker of something holy in the infinite.

Today I sat beside the dying man
And waited, just the three of us
the Grim Reaper in an empty rocking chair, respectfully on the other side of the bed
both of us quiet and patient, watching him

His gasping mouth so dry
and suddenly
the same galactic flash across his face
a holy mystery

I squeezed his hand and told what might be a lie
and said I'd see him tomorrow.  

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Red in the East - Mars and Dr. Electro, Episode 4

 Letters from Josh

  Mars Burns Bright 10/13/20                                                                           Letter 27

  Heya, folks!  Happy Mars Opposition!  Now, that sounds rather confrontational, but fear not, the Bringer of War isn’t in a political party, rather, opposite the Sun in our sky...a “full Mars”, if you will.  Unlike the moon, this happens about every 26 months, and about every 15 years, it occurs around when it’s closest to us.  Lucky for the Earthlings, this is just one of those times.  Look for it burning brightly in the east, rising around sunset, a lurid red eye blazing down, bloody in appearance from the iron oxide (“rusty”) substances in its soil.  How cool is that - throughout the eons, Mars has summoned stories of war because of...its dirt.  Ah, isn’t that how it usually goes?  I’ve got three telescopes out in the yard getting ready for an evening’s observing session, and some Handel pieces on the turntable for oboe and continuo.  If that isn’t an ideal October evening, I don’t know what is.  How’s everyone been over there?  I was hoping to solicit some “life hacks”, that is, helpful hints for good living today.  Just the other morning, I rose early, and washed my face with a steaming washcloth the very first thing.  Boy was that nice!  A senior buddy told me about this little hint, and as my grateful eyes greeted themselves in the mirror, the thought showed up:  “Hey, ask the crew for more “life tricks” like this in the next letter.”  So, do you have a clever way to fold a fitted sheet?  A snazzy lemonade recipe?  A way to cut a dado joint?  I’d love to hear.  Drop me a line!

And now, here’s this week’s installment of Dr. Electro!  Previously: Mabel appears for the first time, surrounded by smoke and international intrigue in an abandoned warehouse office.  Dr. E and Rutherford set out to stake out the orphanage, deciding to investigate a culvert, where they hear voices.  An ill-fated gust extinguishes their match, thickening the plot with a hearty serving of darkness.  Josh has no idea what’s going to happen, either.  

Dr. Electro - Episode IV - The League of Inquiring Minds 

  The smell of match smoke can be pleasant, and it reminded Dr. Electro of the quiet smile he’d get after striking and lighting a stick of incense, settling in for a cup of tea and a book on physics or botany as the rain fell outside the window.  His thoughts would drift in gratitude that he wasn’t exploring some God-forsaken corner out in the tempest, or at least, where a nasty head cold lurked. 

Unfortunately, tonight, he was on the wrong side of this visual, and as the last wisp of their hope of light curled up towards the dripping ceiling of the culvert, he sighed in resignation, missing his tea and warm chair.  He looked at Rutherford, or rather, where he had seen Rutherford last, as the blackness was inky to the extreme.  “Bugger!”  The sharp exclamation from the Englishman provided a location, and with as little sound as possible in the echo chamber, they crept towards the source of the voices they had heard. 

Glimmers started to appear on the walls, shy gleams, like hesitant guests on a wedding dance floor.  A corner - an ominous thing when one is sneaking -  a torch smoldering - an entrance to a side gallery.  Honoring their treaty with the shadows, the two men kept alliance and peered mightily at the flickering scene before them.  Crates were stacked, piled, and heaped in a vast space off the main channel of the pipe.  Some were cracked open, revealing volumes upon volumes of books.  Others were stamped with familiar and revered names:  DICKENS.  HUGO.  DOSTOEVSKY.  Several stuffed animals of the non-cuddly and decidedly real variety were propped against the wall in a vaguely ominous way, the aggression of the baboon in particular enduring in death, a testament to taxidermy. Just then, ten men with matching safari hats filed in, seating themselves around a massive oak table.  An eleventh joined them, his head bare, transcended of the safari hat, obviously the leader.  In a slight French accent, “Gentlemen, we now convene the League of Inquiring Minds.  Our pupils seem to be progressing rather quickly, I’m delighted to hear.” 

Uptown - At a swanky speakeasy called Club Vignette - Murphy alternated between boredom, and the meta-observation of boredom, with the fascination that provided.  Leaning against the bar, he pretended not to watch the red curtain hung against a discrete brick wall.  Revelers would pause there, thinking themselves unnoticed, and let their guard down for a split second.  They reminded Murphy of Cezanne’s painting The Harlequin, an unobserved clown in a moment of sadness. If the Jazz Age was empty room, the guns of the Great War seemed to echo still.  If this was really it, what was the point?  Ah, how he wished for meaning.

(To be continued…) 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Dr. Electro, Sawdust, and Groundhogs

 Letters from Josh

  Sawdust and Stories 10/05/20                                                                           Letter 26

    Hey there, folks, and happy October!  I was hurtling off to work today, zipping down the wooded lane on which I live, and the falling leaves almost escaped my notice...and then Autumn Leaves started playing on my mental radio.  Chasing sunbeams, the car scooted around a corner, where there, in the opposite lane, was a stunned and slightly injured groundhog.  Before any traffic could flatten the poor little fellow, I had turned around, blocked the lane and then...hmmm...He appeared to be irate, attempting to bite me.  Once, many years ago, Alvin the pet hamster (named in honor of a family friend, not the chipmunk), mistook my finger for a sunflower seed, and left a lasting respect for the force exerted by rodent jaws.  And Alvin was tiny.  Time was of the essence, so leaping into the woods, a big stick was found, and I helped him off the road so he could chill out  - flipping him gently like a giant omelette to safety, if the said omelette was trying to angrily bite the spatula. I think he’ll be alright.  He certainly had plenty of spite in him, and that considerably lengthened my great grandma Ruth’s life, so…  

  Have you ever seen a sawmill, mobile or otherwise?  I hadn’t, until yesterday.  A friend who’s an expert craftsman mentioned he was milling some logs, so up the road I went.  Another fellow, a retired forester who always thought these things were cool, had bought a massive trailer with hydraulic “flippers” and a gasoline-powered bandsaw.  They had placed an enormous tree on the trailer, and were slicing it lengthwise, like peeling a giant carrot. .Sure beats Home Depot!  And, much to my delight, they offered me a few of the “leftovers”, huge pieces of lumber with which to learn and build some quality items.  I can’t wait to learn how to work with this new format of the rough cut wood!  Do we have any craftspeople in the audience here?  Perhaps lumberjacks?  I’d love to hear stories!    And, speaking of stories...are you ready for the latest installment of Dr. Electro?  I wonder what he’ll get up to this time.  (The exciting part is - I don’t know, either.)

  Previously on “Dr. Electro”:  Rutherford outlines the strange behavior of the local orphans, their sudden interest in reading and rules, convincing Dr. Electro to join his cause.  Meanwhile, across town, an unknown figure paces in a gloomy chamber.”  

Dr. Electro - Episode 3 - Mabel at the Table

Rain falls universally, sometimes locally, and often mentally, and tonight was no exception. It tapped at the second story warehouse windows, joining the echoing footsteps of a solitary figure. The lampshade swung slightly, jarred by the pacing, and shadows danced on the walls.  The owner of the extra echoes suddenly plopped down at the table, a train making an unexpected whistle stop.  A flapper hat, blonde curls, and a fair cheek that had weathered enough storms to make its owner wise, yet balanced by a subtle display of heart to keep the bitterness off emerged in the light.  Mabel exhaled sharply, and rubbed her blue eyes.  The map of France was still there.  A few letters with international stamps sat next to the ashtray, and the glowing coal of her lit cigarette did little to shed extra light on the room, or the puzzle that stared back at her fatigued eyes.  The smoke drifted and swirled, matching her thoughts as her mind wafted gently to her thinking place.  

Approximately seven miles east, across town..

Dr. Electro and Rutherford slogged a soggy slog, with all of the requisite squishes of a gloomy autumn rain.  Precipitation in the winter that’s unfrozen brings the resigned observation that it could be worse, and April’s downpours at least adhere to the botanical promises that it’ll be worth the trouble (May flowers), but the autumn rain only sowed the seeds of doubt and an uneasy feeling for Dr. Electro tonight. Rutherford, on the other hand, seemed only to be bolstered by the clammy evening, a spark in his eye positively gleaming through the fog.  “Ah, here we are, ol’ chap!  The culvert by the orphanage!  Surely if there’s something nefarious afoot, it would somehow involve a culvert!”  Electro felt a tingle of adrenaline as the great pipe yawned in inky indifference to the storm, looming up above them as they turned the corner.  “There’s an access path over here, sport!”  Leaving his doubts, and perhaps his better sense, outside in the rain, Dr .Electro followed the Englishman inside.  A match was procured, but just as the flame sputtered to life, a sudden gust of wind snuffed it - and carried the sound of voices from further in the great pipe.  To be continued…