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Posts from February 2013

Fanging Around
     The prospect of a real vampire among us probably seems far-fetched. After all, we may know people who can suck the life out of a situation, but they’re not normally hanging off the nape of the neck; they’re hogging the left lane on the way to work or telling us a tedious tale when we’re trying to eat a sandwich.
That’s why the announced appearance of Father Sebastiaan van Houten at the Everhart Museum in Scranton seemed so promising. The museum, hosting an exhibit called “The Blood is the Life,” invited the self-proclaimed vampyre (his spelling), impresario and host of the Vampire Ball in NYC, Paris and New Orleans to our town to discuss his unorthodox lifestyle.
     Turns out vampires are a lot like the rest of us. Instead of sporting slicked back black hair accentuated by a widow’s peak, Father Sebastian looked like a roadie for Poison. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. You certainly can’t judge a book by its cover, except in the case of books about vampires. I just checked a bunch on amazon.com quickly and they were all pretty lousy. The books remind me of the countless unsold romance paperbacks I used to dispose of in the book department at Kmart every few months, featuring some shirtless dude and a needy concubine in a flimsy corset. But, I digress.
     The reason I went to this lecture was to learn about elegant and refined aristocracy with peculiar traits associated with lonely nights on the plains of Transylvania that culminate with an upended casket and a stake dripping with blood. Instead, I have the feeling that today’s vampires are busy watching “The Matrix,” gyrating to Lady Gaga at a trendy disco and considering the religious symbolism of Star Wars and “the force.”  Vampires seem to enjoy the nightlife, but it’s more about partying on the graveyard shift instead of creeping around in one.
Father Sebastiaan explained there were vampires and non-vampires in the audience of his lecture, a point never demonstrated by anything tangible like tiny flapping wings or a sore throat. He discussed the three types of modern day practitioners of vampirism: Blood drinking vampires, psychic vampires who feed off of other people’s emotional energy and living vampires, embracing  a philosophy and spirituality that is both ancient and modern.
Father Sebastian pointed out the blood drinkers think they need to quench their thirst for life in this bizarre fetish that lacks any sort of scientific validity.  It also sounds pretty gross and is known to be dangerous and icky.
Psychic vampires are the most believable type of creatures to me. In the regular people’s world, we call them “social murderers.” They literally suck every ounce of energy out of the room and make you run the other way when you spot them at a distance of 100 yards. Or, you allow them to sap all your energy by recounting details about all nine innings of a t-ball game or what’s so great about the new episode of “American Idol.” Here’s my advice to you to avoid psychic vampirism: Run. Away. Now.
     The living vampire sounds a lot like a club hopping hipster who enjoys black clothing because it hides red wine spills and makes you look thinner.
     Eh, to each his own.  At the end of the day, we learned Father Sebastiaan is pretty much like that effete  college prof who wears groovy boots and an ankh, and is a master of the non-sequitur. Although you expect Dracula, turns out you’re the sucker.

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Locations: New OrleansParis
People: Lady GagaSebastiaan van HoutenSebastian

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Stake Out at The Everhart
A tip of the cape must be given to Scranton’s Everhart Museum, which has assembled an exhibition that will get people of all curiosities back to a place they really should visit.
As a child, I went to the Everhart many times with my grandfather. Since my parents both worked, I spent countless hours with this man, a diminutive and lively guy with a twinkle in his eye and a series of powder blue cars with a tissue box always available near the back windshield. Although he only made it to the eighth grade, his thirst for knowledge and boundless spirit may be the genetic reasons that I enjoy reporting.
He took my brother and me on many fine adventures that are probably not understandable to today’s society. By his modest house in North Scranton, we would walk across a sewer pipe that ran over a creek and bound up the coal heap, our destination in our grasp.
My grandfather loved to go to the dump, which was then located within city limits. It may have been an area where people simply discarded their belongings and not a sanctioned dump, but we loved it and often found stuff there to take home, like 78 recordings and books.
The other crown jewel of our travels was Nay Aug Park and The Everhart Museum. The park was a fascinating place, with its tiny zoo and little amusement rides. The museum’s lure was three-fold: The bees, the mummy and the shrunken head.
The bees have apparently been gone for some time due to a collapse in the colony.
The mummy is in storage, and there is a chance it will be “repatriated” to the museum in the future, which would certainly bring me back, dragging my brother. So, there’s two tickets sold.
The shrunken head, the cause of endless childhood fascination, is no longer on public view. Whether this is based on sensitivity or some questions about its authenticity, I am disappointed. I remember the grimace of the petite woman with dark hair displayed in the center of a small room at the museum and I never turned down a chance to see it.  If anyone has a photo, please send it as the museum no longer displays it, mainly because they are tormenting me. Believe me, I’ve asked.
Despite these setbacks, the Everhart has something for everyone in your life, from the creep to the scientist, with their exhibition “The Blood is the Life.” This is a look at vampirism in society, from the creatures with blood lust to the lunatic fringe element of society that did some pretty crazy things, like digging up their loved ones and burning their hearts. There are some exquisite vampire killing kits on display with fancy daggers and little grains in bottles that would stop a vampire in his tracks because they are apparently obsessed with counting. That’s how The Count on Sesame Street was devised. Clever, no?
There is also a photo about the moving story of Dick Smith of Honesdale, a man who came down with a disease that separated him from society called tuberculosis. In those days, tuberculosis removed a man from society, and, in Smith’s case, sent him to the West Side Sanitarium in the godforsaken upper hinterlands of Scranton. Despite the grimness of his surroundings, his sickness and its fatal outcome, he somehow penned the Christmas classic, “Winter Wonderland.” If that’s not making the best of a bad situation, I don’t know what is. Smith was long dead when the song became a perennial hit.
There are paintings done with cow blood, repulsive and fascinating. There are bats of all sorts. There’s the goblet from the goth 1960s soap opera, “Dark Shadows.” There’s a cutout of the guy from “Twilight.”
As part of this exhibition, the Everhart hosted Father Sebastiaan van Houten on Friday, fangsmith and bon vivant of the vampire lifestyle. Since this deserves its own assessment, I’ll save that for next time. If you want to return to the Everhart, “The Blood is the Life” will be there through July with some special guests lecturing about a variety of topics, including vampire folklore. Get out of the house and get your blood flowing. You won’t be sorry.

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People: Dick Smith

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Pretty Boy Fred
Yes, as through this world I've wandered
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

-Woody Guthrie, “Pretty Boy Floyd”

The mission statement on the web page of the Northeastern Educational Intermediate Unit says it’s a service agency with a goal to “educate all students through education, collaboration, and innovation.”  Educating students through education sounds a bit redundant. However, students should study the textbook case of its former director, Dr. Fred Rosetti, who could give a primer in the finer points of Entitlement 101.
Sarah Hofius-Hall of The Scranton Times-Tribune has written some of the most eye-opening accounts of Dr. Rosetti’s penchant for the finer things in life, ill gotten gains enjoyed on the aching backs of the area’s taxpayers. “Dr.” Rosetti racked up $18k in phony travel expenses, threatening to fire employees who wouldn’t play along. Hofius-Hall reported these records only show five years of malfeasance, due to the fact other records were destroyed.
But, Dr. Rosetti didn’t stop there. He thought nothing of mailing out packages on the taxpayer’s dime, using the school’s American Express card for unauthorized purchases of $2k and buying gift certificates for his NEIU favorites.
Dr. Rosetti went on golf retreats to help these children, and off to Gubbio, Italy, where he reportedly racked up a charge of $117.25 in a bar, perhaps while trying to get a good deal on art supplies.  
Dr. Rosetti’s final exit from the NEIU may have been the log that broke the taxpayer’s eye socket, however. He requested a $623,000 (you read it right) payout, including a request for $480,000 in unused vacation and sick time.
Enter “No Nonsense” Louise Brzuchalski of the Abington Heights School Board. A trained accountant, Brzuchalski read a letter at the AH Board meeting when Rosetti’s retirement was announced, openly questioning the validity of the posh payout. Needless to say, Brzuchalski faced demonization and intimidation for speaking truth to power. Rosetti’s henchman also tried to shut some other people up too, with threats to sue them. Cough, cough.
Many thought Rosetti was set to skate through a cushy plea agreement, with the government consenting to a 12 to 18 month prison sentence in exchange for sparing the public the expense of a good old fashioned trial, which probably would have caused blood pressure medicine sales to spike but would have had a predictable conclusion. So, the stage was set for a sentencing, until Judge Robert D. Mariani rejected the plea on Friday, calling Rosetti’s white collar crime spree “longstanding, pervasive and wide-ranging.”
To hear such an outstanding and accurate choice of words to describe this well-heeled thief does one’s heart good. At the top of the page are the lyrics to Woody Guthrie’s often covered ballad, “Pretty Boy Floyd.” That bandit reportedly got his charming nickname from  an eyewitness to one of his numerous bank robberies, exclaiming the criminal was “a pretty boy with apple cheeks.”
The same kind of language could be used to describe Pretty Boy Fred Rosetti. Who would suspect this cousin of “The Prince of Peckville,” Bob Mellow, of being anything but a stand up guy whose main concern was to make sure kids with special needs received all they could get from the system?  Pretty Boy Fred is the kind of wolf in executive’s clothing that might make a nice poster boy for just punishment.  
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Try Freedom
From the swelter of summer to the shiver of winter, it remains a constant to those of us who follow the news.
I say “those of us who follow those news” not to condescend to the Honey Boo Booists who dwell among us, but to tell you what it’s like to hear of an injustice, feel a emphatic sense of outrage, make phone calls and seek clarity and then wait, oftentimes in frustration and silence, for the issue to reach its deserved conclusion.
I remember this vividly before the fall of the judges in Luzerne County. There was a whisper of “something big” coming. Time slowly stretched from Memorial Day to the end of the following January, waiting for the noose to tighten and the bad guys to be formally charged. Finally, a long awaited beginning of the breaking of the bondage and patronage that binds our area to its political hierarchy. This was the chance for freedom, and many people who bore the scars and stories may have felt vindicated, and a lot of us shared I their success, hoping that better days were ahead.
The big question now is: Are they? We’ve had judges go to jail. We’ve had county commissioners, sitting and post-term, sent to the big house. The most powerful and influential state senator from our area, the longest serving member of that body in history for crying out loud, is incarcerated.
We cannot be satisfied, however. A state senator, defiantly demanding his “day in court,” has a defense strategy that has prolonged the moment. A well-known developer’s obligation to pay society back for his misdeeds still walks free, albeit trying to make up for his role in this mess through contributions to heal the community and charitable endeavors. A vendor for the City of Wilkes-Barre appears to have violated the terms of his towing contract, re-victimizing those whose cars were stolen and charging them to retrieve them, against the ink he signed on the paper. A Lackawanna County Commissioner who says he is misunderstood when he told a constituent not to participate in the changing of Lackawanna’ County’s form of government, because said commissioner helped the constituent’s son obtain a $30,000 a year job.
Let’s get to the last one: I spoke about this on Friday, ripping the shameful nature of “public servants,” who dangle these jobs in front of people like they’re giving them the keys to the kingdom. I said if these leaders were more savvy in the arena of economic development, no one would want their crumbs when they could be pulling down $70 k in private industry.
A texter to the station said I was being “arrogant,” insulting all the people who make less than $30 and listen to our station. The person said they would be turning off the show. Just like Pavlov’s dogs, these listeners subscribe to the philosophy that’s trending in our society that Big Daddy Government is doing just fine as the entity that puts bread on the table and gas in the truck. It’s time to realize this kind of dependence is what keeps us indebted and beholden to people who are no more deserving of accolades than the guy who makes payroll at the plant. You don’t see that individual getting a building named for him, do you?
My point is that people here have been conditioned to shut up, pay out, humbly beg for crumbs from the table of patronage, and retain the status quo on behalf of those who possess the power. That’s how Luzerne County got in the mess that it did. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. If you see an injustice, think about saying something. You don’t have to tell your next door neighbor, but the F.B.I. in Philadelphia might be keen on finding out.
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Locations: Luzerne CountyPhiladelphiaWilkes-barre

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