Editorial: Welcome Back

The pandemic was brutal.

I used to write this pamphlet when I would go for long drives. I’d find some little town and find the local diner or coffee shop. I’d grab a cup, listen to the folks around me, observe, and write.

Covid killed a lot of that for me. Fear of exposure, deserted streets, closed businesses. I could go for a drive, and I would drive for hours, but I’d never leave my car.

But they tell me the pandemic is…over? Managed? Largely handled? Boring, and we’ve moved on? Something like that. Returning to the road has been a slow process. Crowds make me uncomfortable. People…are a little more scary than they used to be. Discovery isn’t always an adventure; sometimes, it feels more like danger.

Being diagnosed with generalized anxiety helps me find a handle on all of these feelings. I know much of it is in my head. Much, but not all. Maybe I’m just more aware now. Maybe that awareness can be a strength and not a weakness.

So, I’m getting back on the road. I’ve got my bindle on my shoulder. I’m ready to see some things and write some things. I’m ready to share again.

Welcome back.

Support the Local Bookstore

“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes."

– Desiderius Erasmus

I’m a reader, which should come as no surprise to anyone. I learned to read very young, and I’ve had a book in my hand, pocket, or backpack ever since.

Certain people in specific industries would love to tell you that print is dead, but based on recent statistics, print books still outsell e-books. Book and magazine reading took a dive during the pandemic, but in 2023, they’ve risen back to pre-pandemic levels.

I’ll admit that I split my time between print, audio, and ebook. For the past few years it’s mostly been ebooks – some of this is my growing older: it’s a lovely thing to adjust the print size in a book when my eyes are tired or just not up to the task. Lately, however, with an improved glasses prescription and better lighting, I’ve returned to paper books as a mainstay, and I have to say that I’m enjoying it. Cue the hipster comments about a warmer experience, etc.

As I turn to print books, I’m drawn back to the local bookstores. I thought that there were fewer of them than there used to be, but it turns out that’s not true. Sure, Waldenbooks, B. Dalton’s, and Borders are gone, but the little mainstays near me are still going strong. In fact, when visiting one, I was a little surprised at the number of events, signings, and even live music shows they offer.

That big store in Seattle sucks at all of those.

This is to say, go to your local bookstore. Patronize it. Shop, sure, but engage as well. Talk to people at the store about your books. It’ll leave you with a warm feeling, and you’ll keep a vital local institution alive.

Five Interesting Things: Leap Years

  • The French newspaper La Bougie du Sapeur is only published once every four years on Feb. 29. It is a satirical publication filled with puns and commentary on news events of the last four years. Sadly, there is no digital version, so unless you know someone in France, it’s unlikely you’ll get your hands on one. NPR had a news story on them in 2012.
  • The odds of being born on a leap day are 1 in 1500
  • Leap day babies have a name: leaplings
  • Not having a leap year would cause the calendar to get completely out of sync with the seasons. If we eliminate the extra day now, by 2148, the winter solstice would occur on Jan 20- a change of 30 days. By 2777, the calendar would shift by 182 days, making June 21 the new winter solstice.
  • Leap years in history: During leap years, George Armstrong Custer fought the Battle of the Little Bighorn (1876), the Titanic sank (1912), Benjamin Franklin proved that lightning is electricity (1752), and gold was discovered in California (1848).

Letters From Marlow

In the first incarnation of this little pamphlet, I would usually drive to Marlow, Ohio, to a coffee shop I liked and write.

Marlow requires a little explanation.

Marlow is a smallish college town not too far but just far enough from Cleveland and Akron. In the BeforeTimes, I drove up there to spend afternoons, talk with people, and write for this pamphlet. But Covid came and went, and time got away from me. I got around to heading back this month.

First, there’s the pronunciation. It’s an Ohio thing. In Ohio, we don’t have (Berlin) ber-LIN; we have BER-lin. We don’t have (Medina) Me-DEE-nah; we have Meh-DIE-nah. And Marlow is not pronounced MAR-low; it’s MER-leh.

Second, there is the college: Marlowe University. Sounds like it’s spelled. I know, I know. Believe it or not, that all comes down to two brothers who grew to dislike one another over the years. I’ll have to tell that story one of these days.

So yeah. Ohio. Welcome to it.

Heading back showed me that, unlike Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, Marlow is not the little town that time forgot. In the past three years, it has seen some stuff—some good, all challenging.

I got into town early, so the local bar and grille, The Reckoning, was closed – made the mistake of heading down on a Monday. The old coffee shop I liked, Prince of Cups, looked like it had closed down…there was a stationary store called Manuscript in their place. I dropped in to ask. Rebecca, the woman behind the counter who owned the place, said she opened in 2022, and it had been vacant for almost a year when she signed the lease. She was kind and didn’t seem to mind the questions.

The new coffee shop, Groundkeepers, was not open yet. It’s just down the block from the old place, next to the campus bookstore, which seems fitting. Having no place to stop, I drove around town to see what else had changed.

At the University…nothing, so far as I could tell. Tom Lehrer’s line, “Ivy-covered professors in ivy-covered halls,” comes to mind. The University approaching its bicentennial, and while interiors may shift and move, the stately brick buildings do now. I noticed a wing added to the science college, though. Good for them.

The town seemed unchanged at first glance, but as I looked closer, I could see what I’d seen in other cities across Northeast Ohio. Things look more run-down, a little less cared for than before. I’d never seen a house boarded up in Marlow before…now I have. The nicer homes are the same as ever, but the smaller ones, where folks live close to the poverty edge, are showing their distress. I keep hearing about how the economy has bounced back, but my section of the Rust Belt has seen some serious wear and tear, and whatever prosperity the coasts might be experiencing has yet to migrate inland. At least, that’s what it feels like as I look around.

You can feel the cognitive dissonance like a shadow. The town is holding its breath. Something tentative and a little sad. When I came here a few years back, the city was famously liberal as well, but now I see as many conservative flags as I do signs for the opposition. That breath-holding… maybe it’s just waiting for someone to start a fight. I get that feeling in a lot of places now. Like we are at an in-between place, between seasons, maybe. Literally and figuratively.

I ran out of time and needed to get back to my place for weekend chores, but I’ll return next month. Hopefully, the spring flowers will be up, warm enough to go for a walk around town, and things won’t feel quite pensive.

The sun does come out on the drive home. I feel a little better, then.

Quote

“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time

Recipe: Irish Soda Bread

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day

Ingredients

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup margarine, softened
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease a large baking sheet.

  2. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and margarine. Stir in 1 cup of buttermilk and egg. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead slightly. Form the dough into a round and place it on the prepared baking sheet. In a small bowl, combine melted butter with 1/4 cup buttermilk; brush loaf with this mixture. Use a sharp knife to cut an ‘X’ into the top of the loaf.

  3. Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Check for doneness after 30 minutes. You may continue to brush the loaf with the butter mixture while it bakes.

A Poem

Witch Wife

By Kiki Petrosino

I’ll conjure the perfect Easter
& we’ll plant mini spruces in the yard—
my pink gloves & your green gloves

like parrots from an opera over the earth—
We’ll chatter about our enemies’ spectacular deaths.
I’ll conjure the perfect Easter

dark pesto sauce sealed with lemon
long cords of fusilli to remind you of my hair
& my pink gloves. Your gloves are green

& transparent like the skin of Christ
when He returned, filmed over with moss roses—
I’ll conjure as perfect an Easter:

provolone cut from the whole ball
woody herbs burning our tongues—it’s a holiday
I conjure with my pink-and-green gloves

wrangling life from the dirt. It all turns out
as I’d hoped. The warlocks of winter are dead
& it’s Easter. I dig up body after body after body
with my pink gloves, my green gloves.