Monday, November 30, 2020

Dr. Electro, Episode X - Ooops, They Did It Again

 Letters from Josh

  Happy Thanksgiving      11/24/20                                                                   Letter 33

  Howdy, folks!  I’d like to say not only “HAPPY THANKSGIVING”, but also “Happy FRIENDSgiving.”  You see, it’s the celebration of Turkey Day with the family you choose - friends, that is. 

Thanksgiving 2020 finds me incredibly grateful, as strange as that sounds.  Sure, it’s been a year that could be best described using the lyrics to You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.  Full of unwashed socks, triple-decker toadstool and sauerkraut sandwiches with extra arsenic sauce, and cuddly as a crocodile, this gunk of the soul, there have been remarkable examples of perseverance, strength, and beacons of hope that have lit many a dark night and twisty road for me. 

These sparks of hope I speak of, are, of course, you all.  The patience you’ve demonstrated has shown me how to be an adult.  The connections we’ve been able to maintain, and in some cases, forge, have shown me that the Worldly conditions and prevailing winds of current events have little to do with genuine expressions of humanity.  The purpose I’ve found in doing what I can, with what I have, to fix what’s broken right in front of me...has led to a deep sense of meaning and satisfaction of doing work I consider to be Good.  For all of this, and more, am I grateful this Thanksgiving.  Please know I’ll be raising a glass to you all this year with heartfelt thanks and appreciation.  

  Of course, it will be a Thanksgiving wish to celebrate holidays in the very near future without this stupid COVID stuff.  But - I never would have known just how strong we all are, and how brightly we can burn, without this great darkness.  I’m impressed.  Here’s to you!  

  Another thing I’m grateful for - this fun little series of Dr. Electro.  I hope you’re enjoying his adventures as much as I am.  Let’s check in on our fantastical little land, shall we?  And best wishes for a peaceful Thanksgiving. 

Previously on Dr. Electro:  Mabel has tea with an acrobatic lady of mature age, while Henry the Jane Austen-reading clockkeeper puzzles over an unexpected power outage.  

Dr. Electro - Episode X - Ooops, They Did it Again  

  The house lights had joined the strike in the street, and quit as well. Henry fumbled for a match, thinking he might as well read Austen by candlelight.  “Seems right” he mumbled to no one in particular, as the clock overhead ticked louder in the dark (don’t they always?)  Something kept gnawing at him, though, as he squinted at the pages.  Answering the call of this mental mouse, he lumbered to the window, and peered out at the darkness.  The scale of the outage widened his eyes.  The entire city appeared to be cloaked.  His boots echoed on the floor, the door creaked, and swung shut.  Pride and Prejudice lay open and unfinished on the table. Darcy and co were left to contemplate the glowing ember on the end of candle wick as the waxy smoke spiraled up in an empty room. Henry was off to investigate.  

   Back at the Union Street Warehouse, Dr. Electro, Rutherford, Murphy, and their mysterious host Noah, head arc welder,  were all suddenly greeted with that boisterously sullen visitor - the ill-favored cousin who arrives at Thanksgiving trimmed in a black feathered cape, only to sit passive-aggressively quietly in the corner, a gale of “Oh, fine, fine” that must be contended with if the day is to go on.  The visitor, of course, was pitch blackness - a power outage.  Cries, and an occasional crash resulting in muffled profanity made their way closer to the group, as a harried worker appeared holding a light.  “Sorry, boss, we blew the transformer again.  We must have taken out the electricity on the whole block! Cranston thought we might get away with running more juice through the welders tonight, but guess he was wrong.  We’ll get this fixed up right away.”  With that, he vanished back into the blackness.  Noah lit a cigarette, the match flare illuminating a face that was thoughtful, and not entirely convinced that Cranston’s boundless optimism was the cause of the failure.  “Hmmm…” he muttered, taking a drag.  

  “Have a cookie!” the old woman intoned.  Mabel was glad to accept. 
“Your uncle loved these.  We used to eat them when we were plotting against the League of Inquiring Minds.”  “You knew my Uncle?”  “Oh yes.  And he would be so proud of you.  In fact, you remind me of him.  And, it’s high time you showed up.  I think the League is back.”  To be continued...

Monday, November 16, 2020

Dr. Electro, Episode IX - Teatime on a Rainy Night

 Letters from Josh

  Gearing up for the Holidays 11/16/20                                                       Letter 32

  Howdy, folks!  Now this feels like November.  The trees have all but turned in for a long winter’s nap, and the fire of Autumn has simmered down to an ember of oak here, a flame of hickory there.  I’ve got some excellent news: a friend of mine named Josh just had a baby boy named Josh, which Joshes are fast taking over.  And we ain’t Joshin’ ya!  I can’t wait to meet him.  Nothing like a baby, right? 

Speaking of fun things, I’ve been hard at work in the shop building a tiny train set - a magical Christmas village that I’ll be bringing to the retirement home I work at to show the residents.  So far, it’s not quite magical yet - it’s mostly plywood, actually, but it’s getting there!  A bridge over a future skating pond has been fitted, and hopefully the mountains will be installed this week.  Did any of you have a train around the Christmas tree?  I just love that tradition!  And speaking of Christmas, I’ve been straining my brain on what to do during this upcoming holiday season.  It seems a worthy topic: how can we make the best of the times in these uncertain ones?  I don’t know.  But, I do know this: my favorite part of Christmas is the sparks of magic I see when people are kind to each other.  This gives me hope, inspiration, and the strength to carry on.  Yes, I love the songs, the smells, the gatherings, the hearty handshakes and santa babies, cookies and eggnog, and even the traffic.  Things will be different this year.  How can we find gold in the darkness?  Something gives me hope: any holiday celebrated in the season makes that a central message:  Salvation’s birth in midwinter, Light’s enduring hope...So, if we had to pick a day to make better in challenge, well, we would do well with Christmas or Hanukah.  Their point is one of hope at the darkest point.  What can we do about it?  For starters, I propose a Christmas card exchange.  Drop me a note, or send an early card, and say you’d like a Christmas card.  I’ll send you one!  I’ve got a giant box of ‘em at Walmart, and I’m READY, man.  Let’s do this!  Looking forward to corresponding! 

And now...Previously on Dr. Electro: Murphy, Rutherford, and Dr. E. meet Noah, head Arc Welder at a giant warehouse, while Mabel slinks and lurks in basements.  

Dr. Electro, Episode IX - Teatime on a Rainy Night 

  “That must be Mabel!” a voice enthused.  Her eyes adjusting to the candlelight, Mabel scanned the room, but was only greeted with a pair of...slippers where someone’s head should be.  “Yes yes, it really is!”  exclaimed the voice from near the floor.  Mabel dropped her gaze, and saw the source of the welcome.  Two bright eyes gleamed up from the gloom, as a wreath of gray hair fell the rest of the way to the flagstone.  Mabel’s gears were still jammed.  Suddenly, the owner of the voice sprung spryly off her bench, and right side up.  “I was doing headstands on this new piece of furniture my husband built for me!  Keeps my brain sharp!  Want some tea?”  “...Sure!”  A kettle bubbled cozily on a wood stove, and Bohemian tapestries graced the walls.  The smell of cookies and incense hovered, a bulwark against the gloom that pervaded the streets outside.  Mabel hung her coat by the door, and for the first time, realized it was heavy not just with the rain, but the weight of the World, too.  Much lighter, she sat down for tea with her mysterious hostess.  “I’m so glad you found the place” the old woman sparkled at Mabel, and they began to drink. 

Central City, Clocktower.  Henry was also having tea, although it was the smell of time and clock oil that danced in the air, not cookies.  He eased his massive frame into the small chair at the kitchen table, and absent-mindedly surveyed his calloused hands.  The escapement had needed work today, and the grime of years was still impressed upon his skin.  Now the giant hands reached across and picked up a copy of Pride and Prejudice.  Henry was, by nature, first mechanical, and then, closely second, inquisitive - a perfect temperament for a man tasked with keeping the city on time through a careful watch on gears.  The dutiful TICK TOCK of the five story clock was a heartbeat of his days, yet as the years marched on as surely as the cogs in the timepiece high overhead (and he made sure of that), he thought it might be nice to find a lady to share in a few of the ticks and the tocks.  Even a mantel clock can echo something fierce in an empty house. And so, he was broadening his horizons with Austen.  He’d always found that in clocks,  more could be understood if one just tried. Suddenly, the street lights went out.  To be continued….    

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Dr. Electro, Episode VIII

 Letters from Josh

 Bobbing across the Deep  11/10/20                                                       Letter 31

  Howdy, folks!  How’s everyone doing over there?  We’ve got lots to talk about today - a new installment of Dr. Electro, plus some philosophy and astronomy.  Pull up a chair - it’s good to see you!  

  Well, I buried a friend yesterday.  This was, obviously, a ‘bummer”, to put it mildly.  However, there was something transformative about this event.  I saw how much he was loved.  I marveled that men who he had coached in high school in the 60’s returned to pay their respects, and realized that what you do does matter.  More importantly, I saw that it’s possible to live a life that justifies the terrible cost associated with living.  I’m sad at the loss, but absolutely encouraged and inspired to make “it” count. 

After the funeral, I loaded the telescope in the car, and headed out for a spontaneous observing session at a dark sky site nearby.  I felt like I was a ship on an ocean of Infinity, folks!  Man was it needed, too.  So, I set up on this porch that’s cleverly called the star deck.  (Ha, what a delightful bunch of nerds we are, right?)  It was only me and the owls to keep company.  When it’s that dark, you’re extra thankful for gravity. I mean, sure, it’s the thing that breaks dishes, but a few cracked plates seems a small price for remaining on Earth, and not hurtling into the blackness that stretches overhead.  I sometimes think if I tripped and fell, but upwards instead of down…

Anyway, the stars glittered, and the telescope conducted me many leagues across the Deep last night.  Peering into the eyepiece, I glimpsed a tiny wait, two...maybe three?  It was the glimmering of Stephan’s Quintet, a group of galaxies where some of them are over 200 million light years away.  Anyone remember the beginning of It’s a Wonderful Life? There’s the galaxies/angels talking about George Bailey, and that’s what I saw!...!  WOW! 

As my ship bobbed like the cork of an ant’s bottle of wine on a mighty swell, the mist from the nearby creek started to creep onto the field. It rose with mystery, and I sat back and marveled at the Distance.  

And now, with the splendor of the stars still etched in my mind, it’s time for..Dr. Electro!  We left Murphy at the door, ushered in by a short man long in mystery, while Dr. E. and Rutherford converged on the scene via the sewer.  

Dr. Electro - Episode VIII - Noah’s Arc 

  Entering the door behind the short man, a marvelous scene greeted Murphy, lighting his bewildered face with an electric blue.  The giant hulk of a warehouse was far from abandoned, yet it’s age leant a majesty to the industry stretched out before him. Great metallic shapes loomed out of the murk, with an army of workers welding, cutting, grinding, and assembling vague forms in the gloom. 

All of this was strangely quiet, furthering the air of mystery, and Murphy wondered why he hadn’t heard anything on the street outside.  “Best step this way, guv’nor” a voice at his elbow urged.  Murphy jumped in surprise - the short man had materialized unexpectedly - and then ducked, as a giant I beam started to swing silently where he had just been standing.  Following the foreman, for that’s what he appeared to be, they wound their way past great piles of steel, machinery, scurrying workers, and all lit by the flickering blue of the arc welders.  They reminded him of industrial fireflies, illuminating the oily night with their spark, the acrid smell of hot metal stinging his nostrils. 

“ORPHANS?!  I do declare!” a British voice thundered as they emerged from under a tunnel of great iron beams, everything still strangely hushed.  A tall, gangly man in rusty overalls peered quizzically over his glasses at the strange pair that had apparently just emerged from a sewer grate in the floor.  “Hallo, chaps!” intoned the hearty Englishman, greeting Murphy and the short man.  “Quite a little party here!”  Exchanging a round of handshakes, rusty overalls attempted to clarify the murky matter in what was already a confounding environment.  “I’m Noah, head arc welder on Project Dynamo.  Welcome.  And you are?”  “Rutherford, by Jove!’ exclaimed Rutherford.  “This is Dr. Electro.  Now, what about these orphans?” 

Uptown, on a quiet street Mabel strode slowly and deliberately through the drizzle.  Any artist would have jumped up in a fit of inspiration - the scene cried out to be captured in an oil Nocturne, but the street was empty, save her cigarette smoke that mingled with the fog.  The click clack of her heels echoed on the steps descending to an English basement, shrouded in gloom.  If the smoke had eyes, they would have been surprised to see the door swing open.  Someone had been anticipating her arrival.  To be continued...

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

On the Necessity of War

Well, here's a post I never thought I'd make.  On the necessity of WAR?!  My teenage self, marching in the street, would doubtless throw something at me. But check it out...

 I'm (of course) saluting the Veterans today, and thinking of you guys 'n gals that I've been lucky enough to talk with, as I do every year.  For a civilian, I've thought a lot about war, especially from a pacifistic perspective.  I've studied it, marched against it, watched videos about it, interviewed veteran friends, and generally viewed it as an unnecessary evil - a moral failure of the politicians that the soldier was subjected to.

    Veteran's day was a reminder to abolish the carnage, and outlaw the killing.  War would be over once we got the politics right, and voted in the Utopian state. (Oh boy.) Isn't this what every idealistic artist sings about?  Well, this year, I've been thinking about Force and Malevolence.  The latter exists, and surely would run rampant without the former (ESPECIALLY in any "utopian state", of which idea I firmly reject.)  There must be lines drawn, and a line is nothing without consequence.  

  Sure, there's much waste, political incompetence, and better answers to many situations, and many paths to Hell that are best avoided...But for the first Veteran's Day ever, as a chilly rain falls from a leaden sky, scattering brilliant leaves like young men dead on a foreign field...Not only am I thanking the Veterans for their service, but for their role as being the arbiters of saying "No" and meaning it, sometimes with the Ultimate Price.

   Perhaps that will be abstracted someday, and we won't be using bullets to make the point, and physical war will be antiquated, like duels, although I doubt it.  But the spirit of No will always, and should always, remain.  

Thank you for holding the line.  

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

A State of Flummox - Dr. Electro, Episode VII

 Letters from Josh

  Oh God, Make it Stop 11/2/20                                                                          Letter 30

  Howdy, folks!  Greetings from Josh Central, with a cozy crackling fire, and a cello suite on the 1962 Zenith radio.  The only thing missing is a man-made cloud of anxiety.  Oh wait, the election is tomorrow.  (Probably today as you’re reading this.)  I just got off the phone with a high school buddy of mine, and he is in the crucible that is suburban Philadelphia, likely one of the fiercest battlegrounds in the country.  He was texting me a photo of some art his little daughter had drawn, and joked that the airwaves were jammed by the electioneering.  He’s feeling a bit stressed, I’m feeling a bit stressed, and you might be, too. 

So, I offer you two nuggets that will hopefully be of service.  1. I honestly believe, although certainly tied to an outcome, that whatever happens, it’s gonna be OK.  (And I don’t say that often.)  2. I’ll shut up about it.  We’ve got other things to talk about.  Sure, the election is important, but so is this day that we’re blessed with, and I’m aiming to make it a bit better if I can.  I want to tell you about the leaves.  Bobbing along the quiet lane on my morning run today, the cares of the day ahead suddenly lifted, a fog dispelled by the beauty of Autumn.  There to greet my eyes was...a citrus morning.  I mean, talk about lemon-lime, man!  I usually think of Spring being this color, but Fall affords this, too.  The Paw-Paw trees, scraggly forest denizens knee-high to the stately poplars and oaks, had already dropped their fruits weeks ago, and were gently turning a gentle yellow-green of a tired lime.  Here and there, the Pignut Hickory blazed fourth in bold lemon yellow, shouting to the aloof oaks “HEY, I’m strong, too!”  The morning wind heartily shook hands with the forest as it offered one last lemon-lime spritzer to toast the joys of Summer.  There’s something wistful and poetic about a morning when the wind beckons one down the road, at least to imagine, and wander with the mind.  I see vignettes of beaches and carnivals, and hear echoes of noontime laughter that have never existed.  Or have they?  It’s nice to wink back at the wind.  Besides, the neighbors will only think the lone jogger has a gnat in his eye.  

And now, put your poetic hats on, folks, because...

Previously on Dr. Electro: Murphy arrives at a warehouse of mysteries, while Dr. E and Rutherford learn the villains at the League hate...noise.  Just then, Rutherford sneezed.  (And you thought that was out of style in COVID times.)

Dr. Electro - Episode VII - A State of Flummox

  The sneeze that Rutherford brought forth, had network weathermen (and television, for that matter) been invented, would surely have been it’s own hurricane, or at least tropical storm.  Dr. Electro quickly labeled it under his breath (Mabel would definitely have disapproved), and cringed as the Sneeze leisurely rumbled down the dark galleries, where it seemed to pause to say hello to the corners, adding echoes along the way.  The evil villians - for that is what they certainly were, the League of Inquiring Minds - snapped to attention, and then with a great cry, to their feet. 

Chairs clattered backwards, those echoes adding to the sneeze, until it seemed as if the entire giant pipe was a garbage can of jumbled, moldy sound late for the Tuesday morning trash.  “Argh, the NOISE” wailed the leader.  Electro and Rutherford hastily sprang to their feet, and ducked into the first opening they saw.  It’s yawn of blackness nearly swallowed their senses, but glimmering faintly to the right beckoned another chance at escape, and in they zipped. 

The sound of the pursuit provided decisiveness in their speed and wish to leave a winding trail.  “Here a zig, there a zag, everywhere a zig zag!”  “Rutherford, stop singing!” “Oh, sorry, ol’ chap!  I just love a good adventure!”  They strained to see in the glistening dark, winding uphill and deeper into the labyrinth.  Hidden flows of water gurgled in a sinister manner, and Dr. E almost lost his footing several times on the ancient slimy rock floor. 

With enough turns to right almost all the wrongs of Thursday meeting, the sounds of the pursuit faded away. Looking up, they saw a grate, backlit by a mysterious blue light that danced and flickered from the room above.  “Jolly well!” Clearly relishing the Unknown, Rutherford obeyed the allure of the electric blue sprite, and ascended the iron rungs with gusto.  Dr. Electro decided to follow. 

Above Ground, 507 Union Street:  Murphy peered apprehensively at the great iron door, silent and resentful in it’s idleness, not unlike a grounded teenager.  Just then, with a scraping of rusty metal and a sharp clang!, a small metal door slid open. A tiny man with welding goggles propped up on his grimy forehead blustered “Well, come in, come in!”  In a state of Flummox, Murphy complied, ducking in through the small door.  To be continued...