Friday, December 3, 2021

Hello, world!

 Hello everyone!  

  I'm hanging out with my buddies over at Woodbine right now on Zoom, and we're talking about meaning and purpose.  I thought it would be fun to show them how to blog.  Man, I'd sure love to read some life advice - and boy could I use it!  Here's to hoping that this inspires a few new bloggers.  Let me know if you need help setting up your own!

- Josh 

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Splinters instead

  Hey folks!  

  I was about to write a "review" of some incredible music I just saw.  The criticism was going to be wrapped in theological nuance, a fishhook in a bible, Cain's murder weapon a virtuous pillow.  Instead, I'm going to spend ten minutes writing a song.  It'll be terrible - I haven't written seriously in a few years.  But better to start rough framing a humble shack then to lob those easy stones towards another man's castle.  

  Those same stones don't give one splinters like the beams of real progress can - but man, they're awfully cold.  


Monday, November 29, 2021

Looking West

 Letters from Josh

Looking West                                                                Letter 66 11/30/21

  Howdy, folks, and a happy belated Thanksgiving!  I’m jotting this from high atop Long Mountain, aka “the backyard” of my folks at their new place.  Here’s the scene and some fresh country air for you:  The sky is wintry azure to the north, but cold gray clouds provide cover right above me.  A November wind stirs the grasses and rustles a few remaining chestnut oak leaves on it’s way up the mountainside.  There’s something bracing in it - a Sunday preacher demanding of the observer as it does the pine trees it sings in: let go of anything that needs to be blown away.  And these trees do, keeping only what is absolutely necessary.  Grizzled, bent, and some would say stunted, they keep watch over the valley below as a train whistle echoes up from unseen rails.  Although the environment is harsh, perhaps the trees are the lucky ones, getting to spend their days watching the sun arc from ridge to ridge, and nights gazing into infinity.  Countless winter snows and summer storms have worn these rocks, and there’s something ruggedly wise about this quiet spot I sit, with just Brother Wind as company.  Casting my eyes to the blue distance, I look west 60 odd miles towards the hulking ranges of West Virginia.  A quiet road loops at the nearer feet of the mountain, and some part of me I can’t even describe stirs, longing to follow the endless double yellow line towards lands imagined.  Have you ever felt that way, too?  It’s hard to say exactly what it is, but it’s similar to the wish of flying.  What an excellent vista to make a heart glad on a Thanksgiving holiday!  I sure am grateful for a lot this year, and especially for these Letters and the opportunity to chat with you.  The cold makes it feel extra festive.  I hope your “turkey day” was meaningful and festive, and here’s a mountain toast to the past year.  We sure have been through a lot, and an extra toast to handling it with grace and tenacity.  Now, it’s time to lumber on down the mountain like a plaid bear (forget about grace there!), crunching the dry oak leaves, peering carefully at the steep slope to find sure footing, duck through the mountain laurel groves, slide on some more leaves, jump the stream, and head back inside to warm up.  It’s a long walk, but a delightful one.  I hope you’ve enjoyed our hike.  Until next time… - Josh

Monday, September 20, 2021

Letters From Josh, Vol 63

Letters from Josh

Falling Curtains                                                         Letter 63   9/20/21

  Howdy, folks!  There’s a delicious cool in the air this evening.  I took a quick stroll, looking comically relaxed and seasonal in plaid shorts and funky socks.  It was time to bid farewell to Summer.  The last light was in the sky as the sun set on this second to last day of the season.  The Equinox is Wednesday, and with the approaching autumn, pumpkin spice everything will be in style.  (I’d grumble, but I’m “basic”, and love the flavor.)  Ambling along, I listened to the bugs singing in the gathering dusk.  The cicadas reminded me of summers long ago, getting a sweet treat on Connecticut avenue as a little boy.  I’d revel in the experience, playing with my brothers in a timeless evening, and looking back, I wonder if I knew how fleeting seasons are.  A wood thrush flitted and called deep in the woods, ready to turn in for the evening.  Mother Nature seemed to be beckoning all her children:  “Time to come home and get some dinner.”  A ripping, plopping sound: an acorn tore through the leaves and hit the ground. The White Oaks are putting out a bumper crop this year, and near the forest pond, the deer rustled away from this twilight walker. They’ll be feasting on the bounty soon.  Along the road, a patch of yellow wildflowers bloomed with the faintest perfume of a season finale. The crickets have changed their tune, too.  They sing a beautiful, quiet song, ushering in the Change.  And all around, the air was the bittersweet temperature of a pool about to close.  “But mom, just a few more minutes in the water!”  “No, no, it’s time to come in for dinner.”  Soon, the Harvest Moon will rise, and I must be off to find her.  It seems important to say hello.  Enjoy the little things!  

Until next time...

  • Josh



Sunday, August 15, 2021

On Rivers and Crossings

 "I've got to cross that River Jordan

       Lord, I've got to cross that for myself

Say nobody here can cross it for me

I've got to cross it by myself."  

  Sunday evening arrived with the stillness of a held breath.  The rough-hewn path beckoned me down the hill and through the meadow , where even the whine of the occasional mosquito was startlingly loud in the soupy air.  

  There's something about Sunday evening which stands up to remind me that there's a week ahead.  My generation shrinks from this, calling it "The Sunday Scaries".  Whatever.  This feeling was illustrated by nature, as the path led directly to the Potomac shore, terminating in a river to cross.

  Thoughts crowded around my ears like the gnats above the fragrant grasses.  I'll be moving across that river (eventually), and perhaps this will be one of the few remaining summer Sundays to spend on the gravely banks.  A good friend of mine has just crossed another sort of river.  He was like one of the old oaks that stretch their arms out over these meadows.  He had seen much lighting in his life, and laughed with an oaky mirth.  His eyes would gleam out of his weathered face, waiting for me to get his joke.  He lived at the retirement home.  I'm not sad that he gets to rest.  He's earned it. I sure will miss him, though.  A forest ought to have oak trees in it.  

  I plopped down on a washed-up railroad tie, the perfect seat for a wandering spirit.  An enormous yacht plied the bathwater-still river.  Observing from my humble chair, my first instinct was to write it off as a major headache that I wouldn't really want if I were rich.  How Cain of me to scoff at this nautical Abel enjoying a lovely Sunday on the water.  

  The damselflies flitted through the still air, and finally it was time to go.  A walking stick presented itself to me from a pile of driftwood.  STEP-STEP-CLOMP through the packed shells and sand, winding back to the path through the meadow.  Somehow, the stick was more than a bleached twig - it seemed to have the spirit of adventure in it.  It fit perfectly.  

  The gray evening sky let some light through, illuminating that stern Sunday feeling:  Some are gone, some are to be helped tomorrow, some challenges will rear up like sharks from the water.  Perhaps I can poke 'em in the eye with the walking stick...

  Friends will be missed.  Storms will come, and so will the rays of hope.  A man stands alone, and the path winds forward into the unknown.   There are rivers to cross.  

What a blessing.





Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Letters from Josh, Vol. 59

(After a two-month hiatus, I've resumed writing to my senior buddies in assisted living homes across the area.  It's neat to connect with words.  I thought you all might enjoy, too.) 

Letters from Josh

Endless Summer                                                                           Letter 59    8/9/21

  Howdy, folks!  It’s been a little while.  Josh Urban here...DJ and science lecturer who occasionally plays at your community.  Perhaps we’ve never met, and maybe this is your first Letters from Josh.  Created over a year ago, this was my way to bring a little joy during the lockdown, and has turned into a fun project.  If you’re reading this for the first time, welcome.  If you’re an old friend, welcome back. I like to bring my buddies with me through words, so buckle up!  I’ve hiked down to the local park, and am sitting on the back porch of historic Mt. Aventine, with it’s lovely Potomac river valley view.   Nathaniel Chapman, best friend and business partner of George Mason, had this plantation house built directly across the river from Gunston Cove, Mr. Mason’s estate.  A descendent of his, Percy Chapman, would bolt from the property when Union Soldiers showed up to arrest and execute him for spying.  (He escaped.)  Today, bloodshed and misery have been gently and gratefully replaced by lush nature, peaceful and quiet.  (As I write this, the A/C unit kicked on with a clatter as if on cue.  D’oh!)  The thick summer air hangs hazy and humid over the river.  I feel like a fish, swimming in an endless summer. And, if a fish had ever pondered the immensity of the ocean, so too must he have felt like I do now, immersed in the hazy nostalgia of an August afternoon. Have you ever felt this spirit of Summer, for lack of a better word?  Christmas has it, spring does, too.  The aching melancholy of an autumn rain is not to be overlooked.  But summer, man...The timeless singing in the trees, the too-short loves, and the Sun, the Sun.  Brash at midday making colors pop, and lazy in the afternoon, a mellow baker, kneading the dough of thunderstorms in a mighty kitchen of an immense sky.  He’s even felt at night, the city concrete radiating noontime memories to the sweating pedestrians.  The goldfinches, flitting through the meadow below the porch like little pieces of this light, chatter gleefully about how good it is to have the gift of an endless summer afternoon.  The A/C unit shuts off, as a breeze toussels the leaves of the wise old poplar tree.  I gaze across the Potomac river, and wave.  Happy August, everyone!

  • Josh 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Another one

 "Hey Lois, ya home?"

  "Come in!"  

We sit and chat.  She's written for years, weaving stories of the past in with humor for her nephews.  "Have you ever tried a blog?"  

"What's that?"

So I'm showing her.  Hello, world!

- Josh

Saturday, July 10, 2021

The Dot

  There it was again.   It happens every year, usually in July.  Summer was resplendent in her party dress, the sunbeams crept through the forest with misty greetings, and an achingly beautiful scent wafted through the dewy leaves this morning.  Yet, at the height of power of this kingdom, suddenly, when all was fair and green and growing...a breeze, almost imperceptible, a breath of cool, of change, the black dot of Chaos in the white Yang symbol.  Summer took a nap, had a weird dream, and waking, brushed it off...almost.  “This will all end.  Winter is coming.”  The music of the birds blasted over the dance floor, and a blue sky was nearly able to smile away such notions, but...the Dot is always there.  

  Perhaps this realization makes Summer’s perfume all the more poignant, propelling her stilettos over the dance floor late into the sleepless nights.  Without limitation, this Eden would degenerate into a disposable, meaningless ease.  Free refills lose their charm after the fifth time.  

  I was hanging out with some senior citizens recently.  We had just finished bingo, and got to talking.  “Would you want to live forever?”   

“Absolutely not!” was the emphatic reply.  Interestingly, nobody said “well, maybe for another thirty years.”  

  I think they’ve got a better grasp of seasons than I do. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021


 The Strawberry Moon was riveting.  I gaped at the sight through binoculars, and the brilliant searchlight stared back at my wondering eyes.  The orb hovered in the summer sky, a sight both comfortingly familiar and eternally mysterious.  The landscape was ancient, great lava plains barren save for imaginary echoes.  Astronomers of Old fancied them to be seas, and named them as such.  "Sea of Crisis.  Sea of Tranquility.  Sea of Clouds."  But there's nothing there, except for the loneliness and cooled basalt.    

  The night breeze rustled the holly tree behind me, and grew to a chorus in the nearby forest.  Unseen animals rummaged through the dry leaves, and the night was alive, brimming with potential, restless in the fresh air.  Luna gazed down, and I stood in the dewy grass, awestruck.  

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Scorpio Moon

"Modern Man does not see God because he does not look low enough."  - Carl Jung 

 The Moon is in Scorpius.  It hangs low in the early summer sky, a giant gold balloon, caught in the treetops by an invisible string.  Ruddy Antares, alpha star of Scorpius, blazing with the intensity of the June days that preceede it, glitters in the background.  The starlight reaching my eye is old. Columbus was sailing around tonight's photons left the star, 554 years ago.  

  A Barred Owl hoots in the distance, and the dog next door fusses at some critter unseen.  I gaze up from my front yard, the dewy grass transformed into an observation deck into Infinity.  It's a sight many can see, but few notice.  

  I work with old people.  Actually, I today I worked with people.  You see, Time is a strange thing, how it renders us frail.  I think it's easier to treat people as residents, or the Elderly.  Working at an assisted living home forces me to confront the tempoary nature of my relative youth.  I helped a 96 year old version of myself the other day.  He had his suspenders, and his home built table.  He needed help getting a screw unstuck, so there I was, pliers in stronger hands, doing what he couldn't.  I helped him because it was the Right thing to do, and perhaps I'm putting a favor in the bank for the not-too-distant future.  I left his room glad to have assisted, and with another reminder of perspective.  It makes sense that people my age might treat the aged as something unrelated to their lot.  It's just easier to avoid the thought of how quickly time passes.  

  Today I played cribbage with a resident friend.  I dropped the Ms., and just called her Jean.  

  She lost her husband a few months ago, and really doesn't come out of her room.  I've been twisting her arm to come play cards, and we're having a blast (and she's coming out of her room.)  For a few minutes today, I forgot that she was old, and that I was going to be.  I think she did, too.  It felt strikingly normal at the table.  We yelled and bickered and talked trash.  "Sixteen for two."  "Sixteen isn't fifteen, Jean - what are you talking about?"  "it's a PAIR of eights, son!  Geeze."  I started to win, and gloated heartily.  

  She wasn't a grieving widow. I wasn't a staffer providing an activity for residents on the second floor.  I was...losing.  Again.  (I've never won, actually.)  We laughed and bickered some more, two people enjoying the Miraculous "Ordinary."  

  This phenomona is all around...Just like the Moon, a great golden balloon, with it's string caught in the summer forest, smiling down from Scorpius.  I guess these observation decks into Infinity abound.  






Sunday, June 13, 2021


 1:33 AM's dim yellow numbers softly lit the room.  "Huh, I wonder if the sky has cleared" I mumbled groggily to myself, stumbling out of bed.  

  It had!

  There's something delightful about a well-practiced eccentricity.  The phrase "man, I could do this in my sleep" applies especially well in these situations.  Still only half awake, it seemed a good time to test out a new arrival in the growing arsenal of telescopes.  I had actually built it for a friend, but it had returned after about a year when they weren't getting proper use of it.  (Telescopes should collect starlight, not dust - that's a maxim 'round here and with my buddies.)  

  The summer Milky Way flowed high overhead, a soft glow of innumerable stars.  And there, peeking out behind the tall pine tree, a cosmic lighthouse shone out along the shore of this celestial river.  Saturn!  

  But, the pine tree was in the way.  Lugging the telescope this way and that, playing the game of strategic angles and not waking the neighbor's dogs, I stole through my front yard like a total weirdo.  It was great.  

  Finally, I had a shot!  For the first time since the winter, Saturn swam into view in the eyepiece.  Of all the things to observe in the universe, this ringed planet is unparalleled in its perennial you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me punch.  Every time.  Especially if one hasn't seen it in a while.  (Or before.  Showing this with "sidewalk astronomy" outreach has been a highlight of my life.) 

  So there I perched on the side of a small hill in my yard, the neighbor's dog still asleep, the telescope threatening to fall off the edge, my logical mind suggesting sleep would be helpful...and Saturn, a tiny dancer with a hula hoop, the palest yellow against a velvety sky, pirouetting in a timeless dance on the shore of the Milky Way, almost 800 million miles away.   


I drank my fill of this sight, put the scope back, and drifted off to sleep.  High above my slumbering roof, the stars twinkled and Saturn spun 'round and 'round. 





Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Singing Trees


(Excerpted from my weekly "Letters from Josh" publication for my senior buddies.)

Letters from Josh

The Singing Trees                                                        Letter 57    5/30/21

    Howdy, folks!  How ya feelin’ over there?  I’m a bit dusty and sweaty, and the bathroom has no walls.  That’s right, I took a sledgehammer to ‘em tonight, preparing for a complete renovation. While that’s worthy of metaphor and philosophical discussion, I’d like to take you on...a bike ride, or at least an imaginary one. 

That’s right, “all of the sights, none of the sweat.” 

It was my dad’s birthday.  He wanted to go on a trek with his sons, so despite the 90 degree weather, Sunday afternoon found the four Urban men rolling down the hill, crossing Duke street, and setting out on a three hour adventure.  “Click click click” went our gears, downshifting to tackle the overpass flying over Telegraph road.  The May sun bleached the sidewalk, and a few cars drifted lazily on the highway below. 

There’s a certain solitude that lives amongst the bustle, and is one of my favorites.  A warm wind washed over my face, calling me forward to experience the Unknown in the Familiar.  If the flow of the city is a great river, a bicycle is a leaf swirling in the eddies in the unnoticed pools by the shore.  We wound under railroad bridges and through thickets, marveling at the din caused by Brood X, the trillion-strong cicada mob.  They flew through the air, littered the pavement, and throbbed incessantly, great hordes a few blocks away, and then right above. 

“Click click click” went our gears, shifting off the busy street, plunging down a leafy path to meet Holmes Run.  A million little kids played in the questionable water, yelling with the invincible joy of summer.  “Oooga Oooga!” I cackled as I sounded the clown bike horn bought expressly for the occasion.  (I can be a pill, although a jolly one, I like to think.)  Families strolled with picnics, dogs sniffed the wayside, and an angry young woman stalked by, wrestling with something in her mind.  I hope she succeeds, and commend her for starting in the first place.  Ahoy!  A monster hill!  Who puts a stop sign at the bottom?  “Let’s blow it!”  The graffiti on the railroad underpass barked slogans from unseen hands, and a tunnel lurked even deeper down a flight of stairs, a door to the underworld, or at least to the other side of the tracks.  Warehouse doors lined a quiet street, sleepy faces readying themselves for Monday.

The cicadas sang on in the warm May afternoon, and our gears went “click click click” in reply.  Oh, how I relish an adventure.

Monday, May 31, 2021

An Observation of Venus

Hey folks!  I have a new astronomy community over at Locals.  Come join the fun! 

An Observation of Venus

Memorial Day ‘21

“See these eyes of green?  I can stare for a thousand years.”  

  Hear the roar of the crowd, pressed together like innumerable matchstick men, ready to ignite at the right words.  Dizzy with vertigo and pressure, the stage flexes slightly as you stride across it to take the microphone, peering down into Times Square, New York City.  A special convention has been called to hear your thoughts.  The world is waiting.  What do you say?

  Most of the time, I come up empty.  That’s bad for a blogger and podcaster.  But tonight, I should like to share with you an observation of Venus.  It’s an evening star this time of year, looking like an airplane following the liquid silver of the Potomac river, mirroring a clear sky at dusk.  

  Crunching along the gravel road, my brain throbbed.  It was a day in Hell.  The old people I work with can be mean or pleasant, uplifting or heartbreaking, just like any of us.  I think the focus is sharpened for me, because they invariably die, sooner rather than later, and often go insane, scratching at chronically bloody faces and sobbing to go home.  “My parents are calling!  I need to go meet them!”  (This is not a metaphor for death, simply a wish of a mind wracked with dementia, believing me to be the obstacle of seeing a cherished relative approximately 138 years old.)  Mix that with 90 minutes of “B-13….I-27” and you’ve got a lot to think about.  

  A chorus of gray treefrogs greeted my wondering face.  I plopped down on an ancient millstone, once worked with enslaved hands, my back to the plantation house. Gazing out across the now-still fields, sprinkled with early fireflies, my eyes settled on the Virginia shore.  The gathering twilight settled over the land like my great grandmother’s popcorn comforter, soft, authoritative.  Blinking red beacons signaled to airplanes that there was more there than met the eye, and I had to concur.  

  Life sure can be complicated.  Taking the view in front of me, I pondered:  I’m moving soon, across this very river.  The past and it’s memories faded like the sunset, and the beacons signaled a path forward towards new lands.  I’ll be sitting this summer out, getting ready for the journey ahead, yet previous summers whispered of good times and regrets only half realized in the murk.  White clover blossomed pale in the evening, scenting the air as bugs danced a strange courtship in the air, and one crawled up my ankle.  

  And there she was - Venus!  Blazing in the sunset, beautiful to behold from a distance, toxic in person, not unlike some celebrities.  Why do we gaze to the heavens, or at least to the opposite shore of the river?  What captivates us?  

  I was watching Bevis and Butthead the other day on YouTube.  I thought I should do something else, so I watched a talk on Heidegger, the German philosopher.  (Then I watched some more Bevis.)  He talks about the mystery of Das Sein, or “being” in English.  It’s weird it all exists as it does in the first place, and then one leaps to the Zennish question “well, who’s watching it?”  Consciousness sure is weird.  

  My gaze traveled 150 million miles to Venus, and then five miles across the river to Fort Belvor.  “ZIP!  ZAP!”  Back to Venus, and it’s pearly cloudtops, hiding the surface upon which metal spacecraft endure only a matter of hours before melting into puddles.  Now back to the clover with it’s gentle scent in the night air.  “Who’s observing?”  Perhaps the act of noticing the Universe is to experience our capacity for doing so, and to engage one of the profound mysteries of Das Sein.  Extending one’s hand out to touch a wall defines the house and our body.  To quote the other YouTube viewing... “We’re there, dude!”  

  At the end of the day, so what?  I got up from the millstone, and shot a glance over the plantation house’s roof.  A light shone from an empty room, and a star called Arcturus twinkled orange 36 light years away over the dormers.  That house holds a lot of baggage, as empty as it is.  

  Crunching back down the now-dark cedar lane, the thoughts continued.  Do these questions even matter?  I stated long ago that “I’ll never figure “It” out.”  After spending many years on the Search, I’d have to agree.  But a new idea bubbled up this evening.  

  A definitive, all-encompassing, popsicle-stick simple motto might prove elusive.  Indeed, it’s often frustrating and futile, trying to cram everything into oversimplifications like “Life is Good.”  But what if the Search moves one closer to the answer, and that’s preferable?  The Ultimate answer may be unobtainable, but vicinity to the Truth seems preferable.  Milton defined Hell as a distance from God.  Making progress on that gap sounds prudent.  

  I’d prefer not to die (I think.)  Too bad.  I’d definitely prefer not to spend my final days tearing at open wounds, seen or unseen, surrounded by wadded up tissues and ghosts.  Perhaps I have some say over that, and perhaps not, but I’d like to look at where I’m going.  

  As such, I’ll continue to pay attention, to notice, to search, to observe.  Venus dances over the silver ribbon of the river, a haunted house broods silent on a hill with a single light burning, and my footsteps crunch on along the road.  Hey, looks like it’s going to be a beautiful night for stargazing.  

Clear skies,


Monday, February 1, 2021

Nailpolish Stories

Hey there, crew!

  Well, I stumbled across a marvelous place the other day...Nailpolish Stories!  There are two rules for writing:  1. Base your story off the color title of a nail polish.  2.  It must be exactly 25 words.  

  Oh man, I had to try!  

  My grandmother asked me a question the other day. "Why do you want to move?"  Sometimes 25 words says it better than 2500.  

  I'm flattered to be featured on the site.  Check it out - it just went live.

Dr. Electro XV: Sadistic Santa

 Previously on Dr. Electro:  Henry observes a sinister meeting taking shape, and is startled by an unseen door opening behind him.  Dr. Electro and Crew get a move on, while Mabel and The Old One hit the road, walking deeper into the mystery. 

Dr. Electro, Episode XV: - Sadistic Santa

  “What the?!” Henry exclaimed, his outcry becoming quickly muffled.  With a quiet thud, he was down and...inside a giant cloth sack, the zip of tape sealing hopes of escape.  The opening door he had heard a split second ago was the squeak of bad news.  “Ho ho ho!” boomed an alarming voice.  “Who are you?  Why am I in a bag?” yelled Henry.  “Just call me Santa Claws, pops. Take it easy, and stay on the good list, OK? I take the bad kids to the North Pole.  Watch out I don’t hit you with a candy cane, capisce?”  With another maniacal laugh, this sadistic stand-in started to drag the entrapped Henry across the roof. Bump bump bump over the cracks and wires, scraping the threshold, and thankfully, into an elevator instead of stairs.  “Who’s there?  Who’s that?” Henry yelled, still muffled inside the bag.  “...Elves, boss.  Shaddup.”  A sinking feeling in his gut matched the motion of the elevator, and Henry guessed correctly that they were door.  A blast of wind and rain hit, signaling the open door, and the alley pavement bit up through the sack as “Santa” dragged Henry across to the Tower, and the waiting League meeting upstairs. 

Fake Santa failed to notice two sets of eyes that weren’t sleeping, though.  Mabel and The Old One lurked behind convenient garbage cans, galvanized like the will of the two women who watched this abduction with alarm. The door of the Tower building snapped shut, nearly licking its chops, and the spectacle was gone. “Who’s in the sack?  And...why Santa?”  “I’m not sure, Mabel.  But something will turn up.  Can’t you feel it in the air?”  Mabel had to admit it - there was a certain...electricity.

Just then: voices. “Blimey, the whole city is dark, old chap!”  Mabel tensed, some menial worker deep in her brain warning “Ma’am, you’ve heard that before.”  “Rutherford, I think this must be a cover for something” Electro suddenly spat out, clearing the alley where the women watched from behind the garbage cans. Mabel recognized the group now, and sharply whispered a pet name for our venerable hero. “Sparky!”  The men froze.  “Mabel?”  “Over here!”  “...Sparky?!” With a muffled guffaw, his compatriots pointed first to the trash cans, then to the mortified Electro, dimmed down in front of the boys.  Murphy was especially gratified, feeling part of the crew at last.  His expensive shoes were properly scuffed beyond Club standards, and now he wasn’t the only one with a weakness. Settling into this delicious new role of sleuth and Ordinary Man, he strode with the gang to rendezvous with the unexpected allies and Electro’s sweetheart.  To Be Continued… 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Dr. Electro - Episode XIV: Up On The Housetop

 Dr. Electro, Episode XIV: Up On The Housetop

Henry ran and jumped.  The cold iron of the fire escape greeted his determined grip as he hoisted himself up to the ladder, which reacted with an alarmed shudder to this surprise visit.  Up and up went Henry the clock keeper, climbing into familiar territory as the ground grew distant.  Finally, he gained the roof, and peered down into the window opposite.  Lamplight streamed out in an ominous yellow, interrupted occasionally by the cloaked figures as they all jockeyed for position around a great table in the center of the room.  Suddenly, everyone sat down hurriedly, with a frantic rustling, and an eerie still descended.  The creak of a carved oak door made Henry shudder, watching on the ledge across the alley, and even seemed to impress a dread upon the seated Members. 

The Head Man glided in, obvious in his rank by the deference bestowed upon him by his petrified lieutenants.  “So, gentlemen, it has begun!” A slow grin on his face signaled that it was time for jubilation, no matter how forced or grim, and a hurrah was mustered.  “Come, come, gentlemen, although we strive for the Silence, we could at least give ourselves two more cheers.  Things are best in threes.”  As this observance was made, Henry heard a door close behind him. 

Below Street Level, the bohemian room was empty, with incense smoke the only movement in the quiet.  Mabel and The Old One drew their coats tightly, the rain taking on a persistent chill as the hour grew later.  Steps echoing off the slumbering facades of the buildings, they wound their way further into the blackness of the night, and deeper into the mystery.  “I just love a good stroll!” the old woman intoned, her words startling Mabel out of a reverie.  “I see you’re worried, dearie.  I used to worry when I was young.”  “What’s going on, exactly?” Mabel asked her guide.  “Why the power outage?  What’s the League?  Where are we going?”  The steps continued to echo, and the blank faces of the houses offered no helpful small talk to soften the blow of the Old One’s silence.  Eight...thirteen...twenty steps passed, as Mabel began to count, suddenly having time to feel nervous. 

Union Street was growing smoky with Noah’s cigarettes, and Dr. Electro’s pondering. A man of action, Rutherford was growing restless, but it was Murphy who had the good idea (for once.) “Why don’t we take a few of your men here to make a little gang, and we follow where the broken wires go?” he asked.  “Jolly well!” Rutherford sprang up, and even Electro was jolted to earth and to action.  To be continued...

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Victorian Moon

 Victorian Moon

 The Cold Moon loomed up through the forest, as big as a new idea, resplendent in purple robes of dusk.  I saw it looking at me, and so I looked back, gazing upon this last tradition of the waning year before turning to walk inside.  

  The fireside almost kept me there, its warmth persuasive over the hours, but I had already set up a telescope in the yard.   Its namesake was waiting just outside the door.  The chill descended upon my upturned face, crystalizing my breath and the fireplace’s point, inducing a waver in resolve.  But there was the telescope, pale in the moonlight, ready to turn a green glass eye skyward.  

  An ancient landscape awaited in the eyepiece, silent and fixed, like characters frozen at the end scene of a movie, and what a show it must have been, a few billion years ago.  Fire and brimstone were etched in rocky echoes, and lava flows cooled to a peaceful gray of a matured age.  All of it was serene and forgotten now, lunar dust filtering onto an ancient scrapbook.  Does the Man in the Moon have any regrets?  

  Midway through a scientific perusal of satellite geography, the moonbeams did what they often do, and plucked Reason out of my head.  Perhaps you’ve been robbed of your senses by these silent pickpockets filtering through the branches, softly, softly.  Many songs written, a love professed, and summer scenes remembered after the moonbeams steal away those earthly weights we call Logic and Sense.  The clouds turned the sky soupy, and suddenly, the Moon gazed down with the face of a young woman, immortalized in a Victorian painting.  The glow surrounding her visage, the mysterious half smile, emblazoned on the shifting clouds was now greenish, now sepia.  Gone was the harsh reflected sunlight, replaced with a vintage phosperence of yesteryear.  If one could have caught the sparkles of the waves of a hundred summers, and suffused them into the gentle orb floating in the midnight sky, the explanation would give even the most cynical telescope operator pause.  Doubtless he would dismiss the story, but if the owls hooting deep in the forest were to glance over, they might see him reminiscing about something he wasn’t even sure existed.  

  Vignettes of noontime laughter on a beach, filling stations at the dawn of the automobile age, running through verdant fields, great great great grandmother’s oatmeal raisin cookies, and what a child thinks adults must talk about after bedtime almost appeared on the ephemeral light.  The gnarled branches of the oaks reached up to snag a few of these photons, but like hands that try to hold on to memories, the light ran through their grasping fingers, leaving them empty as a locket in a pawnshop.  

  Above all of this, the Vintage Moon gazed down with that enigmatic smile, floating on in the midnight sky.  I waved goodnight to this Victorian lady, and ventured back to the fireside.  Although I had been robbed by the moonbeams, I was richer without so much of that stifling supply of Sensibility.  I still don’t know what to make of it, but perhaps that’s the point the Vintage Moon was making.  Like listening for echoes in a seashell, it’s good to sink one’s hands into the sands of Imagination, if only to build a small castle that gets rinsed away by the sunrise.  I’ll be watching for her next month.  

Dr. Electro, Episode XIII - Suspicious Minds

 Previously on Dr. Electro:  Henry feels the thrill of the hunt, and trails the League on their way to meet Professor Waverly.  Mabel learns a bit about her late uncle, and how the League espoused a great Silence.  

Dr. Electro, Episode XIII - Suspicious Minds 

“I wonder if this is the doing of those chaps we saw in the sewer? The Club of Inquisitive Thinkers or something” Rutherford mused aloud, as Dr. Electro pensively eyed the wiring puzzle, his brain as lit with the electrical impulses as the dormant warehouse power station was dark.  Something was amiss.  “The League of Inquiring Minds?” Noah interjected, a note of alarm in his voice.  “Yes, jolly well, that’s the ticket!”  “Oh no, those guys are bad news.  I’ve only heard snatches, but from what’s told, they’re far more powerful than they used to be. The whispers seem to all mention silence as a motive.” 

“Those piddling geography club members?” Rutherford retorted disbelievingly. “Got a stupid enough name” Murphy added.  The socialite was way out of his depth, and the way he spat the word stupid betrayed his wish to add something pithy and gritty to this conversation among men’s men.  “Oh yes…”  With that, Noah ignited another cigarette, and the flare illuminated a concerned eye. 

Alleyside across town, Henry ducked in, filling most of it.  The procession had come to a sudden halt at an empty storefront.  An idea of a glow, then the feeble gestures of shadows and candlelight on the wall appeared inside, their size and wild motion far outpacing the usefulness of light, not unlike a midnight fear brought about by misreading a bill.  The ancient doorman leaned, wheezed, and opened, the cloaked figures scurried inside, swallowed by a waiting elevator.

The street returned to blackness, and Henry frantically tried the door, to no avail.  Squinting through the dark, he could just make out the fire escape on the neighboring building. Blessed with long arms and a spot of good luck, he decided to employ both.

Below grade, Mabel crunched on a cookie, as her hostess continued.  “The League was always talking about The Great Silence, although we were never precisely sure what they meant.  It just seemed to get worse at every turn.”  Growing increasingly agitated, the old woman abruptly stood up from the table.  “And there was a Frenchman involved somehow.”  Mabel stopped mid-crunch, remembering the telegrams she had been receiving, and the map of France still papering her warehouse table.  “I think we should do something” she said quietly.  “Eh?  Alright then!”  With a tremendous woosh, action crackled in the air, the old woman’s many shawls billowed behind her, and she whisked towards the door.  “Now?”  “Why, yes!  I love a good misty night!  I think I know where to start.”  With that, they were off.  To be continued...

Friday, January 1, 2021

Happy New Year! (And Dr. Electro)

Heya, crew!  Happy New Year!  Here's the latest letter I sent to my senior buddies.  I hope you enjoy it, and best wishes for crushin' it in '21!

 Letters from Josh

 A Roaring ‘20 - Letters from Josh                                                                        Letter 38

  Howdy, folks!  Jazz is the spin of the evening as I sit down to write you a review of one roaring ‘20.  Louie weaves his magic through the air, blending with the steam from the teacup, and a nearly-full moon graces the winter sky above the forest.  What a year it’s been, eh?  I saw a note from an acquaintance, saying “good riddance” to 2020, and it gave me pause. 

I know it would sound Pollyanna-ish and the height of denial to chirp merrily about “lessons learned” and leave it at that, so a more nuanced look is needed. If I were to measure the year, I’d have to give it the dimensions of 2x4 inches...of insanity...crashing down on my head.  WHACK!  BOOM!  If 2020 were a geographical feature, a canyon would be appropriate.  Gazing into its depths, I’ve seen death, rebirth, unimaginable strength, quiet everyday fortitude, despair, the danger of the petty tyrant, and the hope of the Individual aiming towards the Good. If 2020 were an animal, the Raven from Poe’s epic would be suitable.  There it perches, but upon a clock this time, croaking a new phrase:  “Fix what’s right in front of you.” 

I turned 35 this year, and feel like about twenty extra candles should have been added to that cake.  The primacy of Responsibility (as opposed to happiness) revealed itself, and a shining example through all of this has all, my dear friends. Your fortitude. Your patience.  Your resolve.  The way we’ve been able to lean on each other has sprinkled a bit of gray in my beard - perhaps they’ll end up seeds of wisdom one day? I resent 2020 the way I glare at a barbell at the shuttered gyms - it’s so heavy, and often crushing.  But man, does it make men out of boys.  For the hardship you’ve had to endure, I’m sorry in my heart.  For the lessons you’ve brought me, I’m grateful in the same.  And, to our friendship I raise a glass!  What will 2021 bring?  The only thing that’s certain is: we’ll be able to handle it.

Here’s best wishes that there’s some fun stuff in with the challenge, too.  And here’s to you! Speaking of fun..

Previously on Dr. Electro: Henry tails a sinister bunch (which is not recommended by the CDC), and Doc figures out the power outage is city-wide, a big deal times ten.

Dr. Electro, Episode XII - Silence and Shadow

  The big man’s eyes gleamed in the dark, the realization of the hunt bringing a new life to his stealthy tread.  If the tingle in his nerves could be packaged as a coffee, the blend surely would be named Call To Adventure, featuring graphics of bears, eagles, men in flannel, etc.  Henry was on the case, his first technically, although millennia of unlikely heroes before him had prepared for this moment. 
These wisps of ancestors seemed to flit like ghosts around his ears, silent encouragement to face what Needed To Be Faced.  Down the opposite side of the street he crept, keeping to the deepest of shadows, although the outage made the boulevard inky overall.  Evil crackled in the hushed tones of the group of cloaked figures he tailed, and among the snatches of conversation, he heard: “ah, won’t the Great Silence be delicious!”  and “let’s hope Professor Waverly knows what he’s doing.”  “Oh sure, don’t doubt Waverly.  To the Tower!”  On they hurried, the Cloaks and their unseen tail, a lumbering, silent piece of wall with gleaming eyes, all drenched in shadow. 

Below street level, Mabel found the conversation starting to simmer as she pressed “So, my Uncle?”  The English basement, cozy with it’s tapestries, took on the gleam of mystery and import as the old woman began to weave her tale.  “Yes, yes.  Many years ago, when people thought the world a safer place, I was a young woman, and your uncle a dashing, handsome man.  We would take long strolls down moonlit avenues on spring nights.  The linden trees would bloom so sweetly, and I so madly in love with him, that I’d wander and listen to his philosophical prattle all night. I think he was nervous around me, and kept talking so he wouldn’t have to kiss me, but I enjoyed his ideas just the same.  Granted, whenever he got too in the weeds or mixed up Jung with Nietzsche, I’d have to set him straight, but gently, dearie, because there’s nothing as fragile as the Male Ego.”  “And the League?  What about them?”  As the clouds snuff out the glow of the moon, a shadow fell over the old woman’s face. 

“Ah yes...They were all about The Silence.  Some believe, falsely, that there’s only one right idea, and conflicting ones are noise.  The League started to advocate for silence, first in the Libraries, but then we realized that was just the start.

To be continued...