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Encore Performances: Virginia death trip.

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During my recent trip to Virginia I procured my second-ever bottle of moonshine. This post from February 2011 on the old blog tells what happened when I bought my first.

Just back from a few days at the in-laws’ in Virginia, a trip chiefly memorable for producing two reminders of how short, nasty and brutish life used to be.

Took the family to Mount Vernon on Washington’s birthday.
We saw the General and Martha their ownselves, and toured the buildings and grounds.
I was vaguely aware that Washington died of quinsy, but I’d never realized what that was until I heard a tour guide explain it.
(Several times, in fact. The line wasn’t moving very quickly.)

Turns out what killed Washington was an infection that swelled his throat shut, closed off his windpipe and suffocated him.

That’s a pretty goddamn horrible way to die, in my humble opinion.

I was not able to visit George Washington’s restored whiskey distillery, which was closed for the day.
But I did check out one of Virginia’s state-run liquor stores, which, not surprisingly, offer about four times as much of everything as your average Pennsylvania state store.

I couldn’t resist bringing a couple bottles of bourbon back with me — as well as a bottle of Virginia Lightning brand 100-proof corn whiskey, a.k.a. moonshine.
I’d been intrigued by descriptions of corn whiskey, and had toyed for a while with the idea of trying it.
So — with visions of frontier corn-drinkers in my head — I invested in a bottle of the clear stuff; ran it past the hapless gendarmerie of two states; opened it up and tried some.

Holy crap, is that stuff toxic.
It tastes a tiny bit like corn if you use your imagination … but mostly it tastes like Prestone.

As a spoiled modern drinker, I am used to beverages that bring joy to an occasion; that spur conversation, and sparkle and dance in the mouth.
Stuff that tastes good, in other words.

There is no joy or pleasure in corn whiskey.
This is stuff you drink to escape.
Stuff to help you stop thinking about your wife who died in childbirth, or to temporarily forget that you’re expected to work 12 hours at the mill tomorrow even though you are physically unable to straighten your back.
Stuff you drink when the average lifespan in your county is 40 years, and you’re 37, and you’re feeling like those extra three years ain’t gonna bring you much besides pain anyhow.

It smacks you in the face with every sip — and I can only imagine the brainhammer hangovers this stuff produces.
(I hope only to imagine them, anyway.)
Even pleasure came hard in the old days, it seems.

The 20th-century equivalent of a corn-whiskey bender would have been to take a fistful of pills at a Black Oak Arkansas concert, wash ’em down with some Mad Dog 20/20 and fall asleep directly in front of a tweeter.

It might have been corn whiskey that fired the “old, weird America” that Dylan summoned so well.
But I prefer to think all those 19th-century Mrs. Henrys and Ruben Remuses were drinking rye.
So much more convivial.

Having vomited all that vitriol out of my system, it is worth noting that I fully expect to finish the remainder of the bottle.
Maybe before I get to the much friendlier bottles of bourbon in my haul.
And almost certainly at a pace that will surprise me with its quickness.
(April 2015 editor’s note: I did indeed finish my first bottle. The stuff goes very nicely in stone fences. Shame I bought this second bottle outside of peak cider season.)

Maybe someday I will explore what drives me to drink.
But right now I gotta go to bed and get my head into the gray race again.
It’s possible that a week in the corporate world will make a shot of corn whiskey seem as comforting as a featherbed.

I’m feeling better.

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A couple months ago I started listening to Two Humans, a pop-punk band from the Hartford area.

(Yes, the guy who is on record as saying “Hartford is boring” and “All pop-punk sounds the same” is in love with a pop-punk band from Hartford. I reserve the right to double back all over myself if I want to. Consistency is for sucks.)

I’d had the inspiration, based on my Bandcamp adventures, that I could sort all the recordings from any particular state, look through them all, and build a mix of 10 or 12 songs. And then I’d have a Connecticut mix and a Rhode Island mix and a Minnesota mix that had all this cool grassroots music no one else had ever heard.

I can tell you from experience that such a mix is not as easy to build as it might seem … but as you’re trying, you’re likely to come across a single unfamiliar band whose stuff is good enough to distract you from the larger search.

And so it was with Two Humans — who were actually three humans, and who are no longer together as of last year, but whose 2011 recording Good Morning, Chemicals remains wonderfully available for the taking.

Lead singer John Rule III had (and presumably still has) a wry, cracked voice — like a less wide-eyed Jonathan Richman — that works well to put his lyrics across.

And his band’s music is not rigidly tied to the inflexible structures that usually put me off pop-punk-styled music (you know the ones — quiet verse, loud chorus, big power chords everywhere.)

Personal circumstances keep me particularly coming back to “Saggitarious,” the last song on Good Morning, Chemicals.

Things are looking up in my world. A month-plus of chiropractic sessions didn’t entirely cure my previously mentioned back problems, but I’m walking a lot straighter and functioning a lot more normally than I was for the first three months of the year.

I’m running every other day and am back up to three miles per run, which is where I would want to be at this time of year anyway. I’m getting in good walks on most of the days I don’t run, which I couldn’t do a few months ago either.

On top of all this, the weather is finally turning after another long, colder-than-usual winter.

The Lehigh Valley will be 60 degrees and sunny both days this weekend — the first really nice weekend of the year — and it’s supposed to stay in the mid-60s all this coming week.

The crocuses are out, and the chances of that one last pisser spring snowstorm have finally receded to zero. (Frost? Maybe; I’m not planting the jalapenos yet. But snow? No.)

“Saggitarious” is maybe not the perfect anthem for the moment. ItsĀ  first verse declares: “My grip here is crumbling / Don’t shout at me, shout at me,” while its other lyrics hint at various emotional entanglements.

But the chorus is big and glorious and singable and profane and right; and sometimes that’s all you need.

I’m feeling better now.


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My old red iPod is on the skids again. So tonight I brought a different companion out on my walk:

Screw the iPod. I'm taking *this* on tonight's walk. #transistor

A video posted by @kurtblumenau on

This old square radio, powered by an old square battery, belonged to my maternal grandfather, once upon a time. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably 35 years old or so — recent enough to accommodate both AM and FM operation.

It doesn’t get much use, but I keep it around for some undefined sense of utility, like if the lights ever go out for a truly extended period of time.

Not sure what I expected of it. In my heart of hearts, maybe I hoped I would turn it on and the New York suburbs of 1980 would come out, with the Scooter calling a Yankees spring training game … or WABC playing “Rock With You” … or at least some good greasy oldies, like Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers or summat.

Of course I didn’t do nearly so well. I kept it stuck on the AM band the whole time, and could come up with nothing better than:

– bland going-nowhere ESPN Radio Final Four blather

– inoffensive but uninteresting Spanish-language music

– a random station from Pittsburgh – just about all I could understand were the words “McKees Rocks

– some plummy-voiced pismire defending Indiana’s move toward state-approved homophobia (“…when people say you’re being intolerant, they’re really being intolerant of you, aren’t they?” No, and f–k you.)

– the Sixers Radio Network … and when the Sixers Radio Network is the highlight of your walk, well, that’s pretty sad

As I walked, I realized my house is just about the highest point on my course; it’s literally all downhill from there. That probably didn’t help the reception. Neither did the fact that the antenna is firmly wedged inside its casing.

(Both can be remedied to some degree: I can walk a different course, and I can find something skinny to pry up the antenna.)

I did enjoy a couple of highlights in the relative higher ground of my subdivision.

For a minute or two I caught New York City sports-talk station WFAN, which is something my grandfather might have listened to for the latest Yanks and Giants news, had it been around in his time. (The newsbreak I caught was sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union. Yay out-of-town color!)

On my way out I briefly pulled in a French-language talk station somewhere between 850 and 900; and on my way back I caught CHLM 900-AM out of Hamilton, Ontario. Somebody was gabbing, once again, but it was Canadian gab, so that at least was interesting for two minutes.

I left the radio on CHLM. Early results might be disappointing, but I’m not done with this yet.


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Yesterday’s outing for a baseball game at Lafayette College was insufficient to ease my pent-up jones; I had to go to another one today.

Today I took the kids to Moravian College in Bethlehem for an ultra-small-school matchup with Elizabethtown College (it’s somewhere else in Pennsylvania; I forget where.)

Another day, another extra-innings thriller. Moravian’s pitchers only allowed three hits in 10 innings, and the Greyhounds finally put together two walks and a single in the bottom of the 10th to win the game 3-2.

(Today’s game was again to be the first of a doubleheader, but other interests kept me from watching the second, including the dinner whose preparation I am blowing off to write this.)


The great joy of Moravian’s home field, Gillespie Field, is that it’s tucked into a city block in the middle of downtown Bethlehem — maybe not the precise middle, but work with me.


Unlike other local college ballparks — which are either on campuses, or part of off-campus athletic field complexes — Gillespie Field is surrounded by residential streets with old brick houses. It’s a cool, rootsy setting, and one I always enjoy.


Unfortunately, since my last visit, the school has erected a couple of high fences surrounding the field — presumably to protect adjoining homes from the hazards of foul balls. It’s a sound bit of town-gown compromise, but it’s tough to shoot pictures through.


No matter. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. And, between this and the Lafayette game, I feel like spring is well and truly here, at long last.

Some more pictures, then:

Elizabethtown is another of those schools that uses a contraction of its name on its jerseys, rather than its team nickname ("Blue Jays").

Elizabethtown is another of those schools that uses a contraction of its name on its jerseys, rather than its team nickname (“Blue Jays”).

Another gorgeous ballpark-in-the-city shot. I'm gonna buy that little brick house and walk to the games.

Another gorgeous ballpark-in-the-city shot. I’m gonna buy that little brick house and walk to the games. (And then I’m gonna put a sign on the roof that says “450.”)

It looks like there's not enough dugout to hold the Moravian massive. (Some of these pix might look better if you click to see 'em larger.)

It looks like there’s not enough dugout to hold the Moravian massive. (Some of these pix might look better if you click to see ’em larger.)

One shift clocks off, the next shift punches in.

One shift clocks off, the next shift punches in.



E'town's first baseman is about to wing the ball across the diamond to catch a Moravian runner trying to take third on the groundout. Something like a 6-3-5 double play.

E’town’s first baseman is about to wing the ball across the diamond to catch a Moravian runner trying to take third on the groundout. Something like a 6-3-5 double play.

Blondie doesn't know it, but this game has only minutes to live.

Blondie doesn’t know it, but this game has only minutes to live.

The Moravian victory pileup begins, as the aforementioned Blondie and his mates leave the field.

The Moravian victory pileup begins, as the aforementioned Blondie and his mates leave the field.

Postgame victory huddle.

Postgame victory huddle.


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As sure as the robins return to herald the spring, the venerable traditions of our vernal roots rekindle themselves anew, and OH HELL THERE WAS BASEBALL LIVE BASEBALL IN THE LEHIGH VALLEY COLLEGE BASEBALL LIVE BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL.

Yes, after two washed-out weekends, at least one local college baseball team finally got to take the field today.

At the start of the day, Lafayette College was one of only 33 Division I baseball programs that hadn’t played a home game yet. Now they’ve played two, and I saw some of both.

It was cold as hell and also amazing. The routine tics and motions and noises and set-pieces of the college baseball diamond are charming as ever.

(The ones that happen off the diamond are welcome too. It was a pleasure as always to watch the players eating sandwiches with their parents between games, or to see two players walking to the bathroom and catch a bit of their conversation: “On that three-and-one count…”)

Lafayette’s opponent today was the Crusaders of the College of the Holy Cross, and their first game was a dandy. At the end of the regulation seven innings, Holy Cross had one hit, Lafayette had three or four, and neither team had a run.

(Lafayette’s starting first baseman was Toby Schwartz, whose heroics last season were immortalized in this space. Schwartz came up twice today with runners on, but couldn’t drive them in. Ah, well. Riding high in April, shot down in May.)

Both starting pitchers shone — Lafayette’s David Bednar struck out 10 hitters, while Holy Cross’s Donny Murray (of Walpole, Mass.) took a line drive to the midsection but kept pitching anyway.

In the top of the eighth, with the bases loaded, a Holy Cross hitter chopped a ball off the plate that rolled maybe 25 feet. Lafayette catcher Parker Hills couldn’t quite make the scoop and tag, and Holy Cross’s Alex Voitik snuck past him from third with the only run of the game.

Maybe one of the better sports action pix I've ever taken, not that that's setting the bar that high.

Maybe one of the better sports action pix I’ve ever taken, not that that’s setting the bar that high.

I hung around for the first inning or so of Game 2, which Holy Cross apparently also won 1-0. For all the pleasure of being back in baseball’s presence, I had had enough of the wind for one day.

I didn’t need to glut myself: It was only the start of the season, and there would be plenty more opportunities.

In addition to Mr. Schwartz, I was pleased to see a couple of memorable Lafayette Leopards back for another year.

Relief pitcher Connor McMahon is a sidearmer, and one of the most pronounced sidearmers I can remember seeing. His entrance music is Men At Work’s “Down Under,” he’s pretty good, and he’s always fun to watch.

McMahon works to the plate.

McMahon works to the plate.

Also back is third baseman Tyler Hudson, the only one of this pajama-panted bunch who wins points for style. With his shaggy hair, horseshoe mustache and stirrups rampant, he looks like he stepped straight off the roster of the ’77 California Angels.


Not that much more to say, really; so I’ll give this post over to a couple more pictures and bring it to a close BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL BASEBALL.

Lafayette's first-base coach. Did I mention it was cold?

Lafayette’s first-base coach. Did I mention it was cold?

The three-and-one-count conversation.

The three-and-one-count conversation.

McMahon again. The left fielder and umpire look like they're saying to each other, "Damn, that's weird-looking."

McMahon again. The left fielder and umpire look like they’re saying to each other, “Damn, how’s he do that?”

Now THOSE are freakin' stirrups.

Now THOSE are freakin’ stirrups.

Mound conference. Toby Schwartz at far right, hand jammed blithely in pocket.

Mound conference. Toby Schwartz at far right, hand jammed blithely in pocket.

It's a beautiful day for a high leg kick.

It’s a beautiful day for a high leg kick.

Donny Murray, who has just been nailed by a line drive, recovers to pick up the ball and throw the batter out at first.

Donny Murray, who has just been nailed by a line drive, recovers to pick up the ball and throw the batter out at first.

Good game. Here's to many more.

Good game. Here’s to many more.

I don’t hear a single.

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It looks like I’ve finally made my Satanic Majesties Request, or maybe my Self Portrait — the album that makes people shake their heads and say, “He’s lost the plot.”

My latest Bandcamp effort, The Midnight Loneliness of the Sunflower, has stalled out with fewer downloads — and, I think, fewer listens — than any of its three predecessors.

Apparently, fire sirens and machine-translated French lyrics just ain’t what the music-loving public wants in the year 2015.

(Give it time, I say. By the year — oh, let’s say 2037 — I will be regarded as a genius, ahead of my time in my ambitious fusion of otherwise unrelated elements.)

Bandcamp’s inscrutable popularity rankings currently list The Midnight Loneliness as the eighth-most-popular recording with the tag “Allentown.”

Which says little, really, except that the music-listening public doesn’t seem to like recordings tagged “Allentown” any more than it does fire sirens.


The Midnight Loneliness is also currently the 80th-most-popular Bandcamp recording with the tag “french.” I can only assume that sound I hear is Vercingetorix weeping from beyond the grave.

The good news? Well, you won’t get to listen ’til late in the year, but I’m already working on tracks for a second recording of atonal diddley-bow solos.

Yeah, next time around I’m gonna give the people what they want.

Just in time for spring.

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Anybody wanna buy a ballpark?

Assuming this is real, and it seems like it is, online bids are being accepted for a 4,000-seat independent-league ballpark in the Rockford, Illinois, area.

Looks like a cute little place — I dig that saucy little indentation down the right-field line.

There’s no shortage of parking, nor of advertisers.

And the opening bid is just $1.5 million, as compared to a previous valuation of $8 million! What a deal. (Perhaps the basement is wet or the neighbors are loud, or something.)

I probably wouldn’t ordinarily care about this … but because of the cold and snowy winter, two whole weekends of college baseball have been washed out here in the Lehigh Valley, and I’m yet to see a live pitch this spring. It *looks* like that will finally happen this weekend, but that’s not guaranteed either.

So maybe I’m a little eager when it comes to baseball.

Anyway, I’m gonna go look between the cushions. I’ve got until April 2 to come up with that $1.5 million.


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