I don’t even subscribe to any local Lancaster newspapers, but I do have an online subscription to the San Francisco Chronicle. The newspaper, which was once a media outlet for such esteemed writers as Mark Twain and Jack London, is the primary source of family news for me. Every Wednesday, my brother Kevin Fisher-Paulson writes a column in The Chronicle about life in the bedlam-blue bungalow in the City by the Bay. Sometimes he even mentions Brother X and me in his column, but rarely in a good way. The little squealer tells of long-forgotten, and best-left-forgotten tales from our childhood. This irks the hell out of my other brother, who is the butt of a lot of Kevin’s humor, but it always provides me with a good laugh. Like P.T. Barnum said, “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.” Unfortunately, they don’t. To avoid lawsuits, Kevin never uses our real names. To his readers, we are simply Brother X and Brother Dos Equis, a nickname which hints that I might have a drinking problem. Oh brother!
Kevin and his family are famous in San Francisco. This doesn’t surprise me in the least. Besides writing his weekly column in the paper, Kevin is a gay captain in the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. His husband Brian is a world-renowned dancer and dance instructor. Their two adopted children are legendary in the academic world for the number of times they have been threatened with expulsion, and their pack of rescue dogs have marked every one of the dozens of trees Kevin and his extended LGBTLSMFTLOL family have planted throughout the city. No, I’m not surprised that they are famous. I’m surprised that they are not the stars in a TV sitcom.
Several years ago, Kevin wrote a book about the at-risk triplets they foster-parented for years, “A Song for Lost Angels”. Now, to the great embarrassment of Brother X, Kevin has gathered some of his favorite newspaper columns into a second book, “How We Keep Spinning…!”
It’s available at:
If you want to, you can go to his webpage to see a bunch of stuff he has previously written (www.twopennypress.org), or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Just don’t tell the little squealer that I sent you.
Peace & Love, and all of the above,
Brother Dos Equis
Harriet Lane, Queen Victoria, me, and an unwrinkled President Buchanan
June 1st is the birthday of Marilyn Monroe, Morgan Freeman, Heidi Klum, and Amy Schumer. This June 1st was also the 151st Anniversary of the death of President James Buchanan. His historic home, Wheatland, is just a few miles from my apartment, so I made my second trip there to pay honor to the man on this solemn occasion. I’m glad I did. Normally a guide takes you on a tour of the mansion, but, on this day, because of its significance, we had two guides, and there were also two special guests. Two very beautiful local actresses in full costume played the roles of Queen Victoria and Buchanan’s beloved niece, Harriet Lane. The ten of us on the three o’clock tour entered the room where the two actresses were sitting opposite each other, and they played out a scene for us. They reenacted the moment in Buckingham Palace when Queen Victoria asked the enormously popular Harriet to remain in England after her Uncle finished his duties as Ambassador to England and returned to the States.
Halfway through their scene, the Queen noticed the t-shirt I was wearing and directed a question to me. “Is that a picture of Harriet’s uncle on your shirt?”
“Yes, your Majesty,” I responded a little nervously, as if I was actually speaking to royalty. The “Queen” told me that she approved, and I beamed with pride that she had interrupted the scene to speak with little old me. Well, she didn’t exactly interrupt the scene, she incorporated me into the scene. Both she and the actress playing Harriet remained in character while they told me how much they liked the shirt. The “Queen” then involved me further into the scene by asking for my opinion about whether or not Harriet should remain in England or return to the States with her uncle. At that point, I really wanted to break out my phone and get a selfie with the two lovely actresses, but I don’t think they had smart phones in the Victorian era, and I didn’t want to break the magical spell of the reenactment. Where are the paparazzi when you need them?
After the tour, I wandered around Wheatland for a while, walking in the footsteps of America’s most underrated President. Some historians even claim that he was the worst President the U.S. ever had. That’s a sad situation, which I hope to rectify with a play I am writing about him and his Wheatland family.
President Buchanan was unmarried, so when he was in the White House, his niece Harriet Lane handled the social calendar, and she was the first woman that the newspapers referred to as “The First Lady.” She parlayed her popularity in Europe by being even more popular here as The First Lady. She played piano and especially enjoyed the songs of fellow Pennsylvanian, Stephen Foster. She also loved to dance, and she planned an elaborate ball at the White House when her friend the Prince of Wales made the first visit of a member of the British Royal Family to their former colonies. Many Americans, especially in the Northeast, were suffering the effects of the Panic of 1857 at the time, and President Buchanan did not think it was proper for there to be dancing in the White House while Americans were out of work and going hungry. So, he made her change her plans from a grand ball to a State Dinner. She was disappointed, but she understood. So, there was no dancing in the White House while he was President, but there was dancing in the street when he returned home to his home, Wheatland, in 1861.
I took a bus home and it went past Buchanan Park, which is just south of Franklin and Marshall College, where James Buchanan was the first President of their Board of Trustees. The place was packed with people. There were so many vendors tents that it looked like a camp grounds. I don’t know what occasion they were celebrating, because I didn’t get off the bus to find out. I was just happy to see so many hundreds of people having a good time in Buchanan Park. I only hoped that they were all somewhat aware of the historical significance of the day. James Buchanan loved the places and the people of Lancaster, and the people of Lancaster loved him right back. More than 20,000 people came to his funeral 151 years ago, even though he had requested a small simple service. A century and a half later, he is still beloved by the people of Lancaster, and they are still dancing in the street for him.
Peace & Love, and all of the above,
Last week the local Susquehanna Valley oldies station, 96.1 FM SOX Radio, had their own “Santa D.” in a big booth at the Wrightsville Columbia Bridge collecting toys for underprivileged children. Their goal was to collect 7500 toys. “7500 toys,” I thought, “heck, my New York friend Marianne could probably gather that many new toys overnight. She’s the leader of a large network of New York Do-Gooders, who manage to turn a whole lot of bad situations into great fundraisers. Marianne just goes on social media and posts something like, “If anyone would like to contribute toys for underprivileged children [or it could be books for Africa, household goods for Appalachia, bleach, food, and water for victims of Hurricane Sandy, toiletries for veterans, or whatever itch needed scratching in some part of the world], they can just leave them on my porch.…and I’ll deliver them.” Overnight, her front porch would become The F.A.O. Schwartz of toy stores or a warehouse of whatever stuff they were collecting for the cause they were helping that day. But that’s not the point of this story.
The point is that the toy drive was being held at the historical site of one of the most famous bridges in Civil War history, the Wrightsville Columbia Bridge, which, back then, was a covered bridge. There are plenty of covered bridges out here in Amish land, and I asked around to find out why. I learned that the main reasons they were covered was to weather storms, and to prevent the horses from seeing the rushing water and being spooked while crossing and possibly falling into the river.The current bridge, the fifth edition of the grand structure, is not a covered bridge like its predecessors. It’s not even called the Wrightsville Columbia Bridge anymore, except by locals. U.S. maps call it the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge.
The first Wrightsville Columbia Bridge was destroyed by severe weather. The second Wrightsville-Columbia Bridge, completed in 1834, is the one that made history. Besides being the longest covered-bridge in the world it was “stout enough to bear loaded train cars.” I wondered how many of the people who travelled across the bridge to give toys, knew the history of the bridge itself. As a native New Yorker, I was completely unaware of the significance of the Wrightsville Bridge in the Civil War until recently.
Most of the Civil War battles were fought in the South. The leader of the Confederate Army, Robert E. Lee, hoped to get England and France to enter the war on the side of the South. So, he instructed his generals to attack the North, hoping to impress the European countries. The Rebel army advanced. The Confederates won at York, Pennsylvania, and were about to cross the Susquehanna River into the City of Lancaster on the way to the Pennsylvanian capital at Harrisburg. If they crossed the Susquehanna, things would not be good for the Union.
The small Pennsylvania militia could not halt the advancing army, so they tried to blow up the bridge with dynamite, but it was like a scene straight out of the movie, The Bridge on the River Kwai. The bridge was so well-built that it was not so easily demolished. So, on June 28, 1863, the Pennsylvania militia wound up soaking it with oil and burning the bridge.
The local people of Wrightsville and Columbia gave up their bridge to save the cities of Lancaster and Harrisburg, and, as it turned out, the Union itself. With no way to cross the mile-wide Susquehanna River, the Southern troops heading north poured into the Gettysburg area. The Army of the Potomac met them there a few days later on July 1, 1863, and they fought one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War at Gettysburg. Casualties were high on both sides, but Lee lost a third of his Southern army. The battle of Gettysburg, followed by Lincoln’s inspirational Gettysburg address turned the course of the war for the North.
It is very fitting that the site of the Wrightsville Columbia Bridge, which gave its all for the Union in 1863 was the site of so much gift giving this holiday season. Happy Holidays to all.
Peace & Love, and all of the above,
I bought so many tickets to 2015 Lancaster Barnstormers games that I get to throw out the first pitch at one of their games and take batting practice with the team at another. I love the way that Lancaster makes me feel like a big fish in a small pond. This is a great opportunity for me. The only problem is that I suck at both pitching and hitting. Plus, I will probably be standing in front of a few thousand Barnstormer fans, and some friends, and I want to do well, but I don’t have any experience. I only played Cub Scout Softball as a kid. I never actually played hardball. So, I need a lot of practice.
It’s winter, and there is snow outside. So, I set up a little infield in my kitchen, and I pitch into a spring-loaded net in the laundry room that sometimes bounces the ball right back to me. They don’t all bounce right back to me, though, and sometimes even when they do, I miss them. So, I keep a big bag of tennis balls on “the pitcher’s mound” and I keep pitching until all the tennis balls are gone. Then I go around looking for them. Rarely do I find them all, so I wind up buying more every so often.
In an unsolicited testimonial, I have to say that those Penn brand tennis balls are worth the extra cost. They bounce well. The ones from the Dollar store, don’t bounce worth a damn. They always scoot under my glove. I no longer have the cat like reflexes of my youth, so I now require tennis balls with the most bounce.
I also bought a Hit-a-way thingee to let me practice my batting, but that has to be set-up outdoors, so I can’t use it until spring. I managed to jury rig a set-up that lets me swing at a stuffed sock hanging from the ceiling, though. I’ll hit that thing about 100 times a day – 50 right handed, and 50 left handed. It probably sounds like I’m beating a rug to death. I wonder what the neighbors above me think. I’ll be glad when spring gets here and I can take this “batting cage” outside. I figure that not having to worry about accidentally letting go of a bat and sending it through the television screen should really open up my swing a good bit.
The rotating of my hips while swinging the bat, is actually helping my arthritic hip regain a little more range of motion. It dawned on me, while pitching in a “virtual close game,” that playing is actually the best thing I can do to achieve better health.
I recently read a book called Play by Stewart Brown, M.D. He stressed the crucial importance of playing for both children and adults. It’s good to know that I am finally ahead of my times in something.
Peace and Love, and all of the above,
My friend Maria drove 200 miles through pouring rain on Friday to bring me furniture and Christmas decorations, but mainly to party here for the monthly town party known as Lancaster First Friday. With the heavy downpour of rain, the outdoor festivities were cancelled, but the indoor fun continued.
We started at the Belvedere Inn, compliments of my friends Barbara and John, who gave me a gift certificate for the place as a housewarming gift when I moved in. I was saving it for just the right occasion and this was it. The Belvedere Inn is probably the best restaurant in Lancaster, and after 200 miles of white-knuckle driving in the heavy rain, Maria needed a good meal and a drink – not necessarily in that order.
I didn’t make reservations so we had to go to the bar until a table opened up. That suited us both just fine. We toyed with the idea of drinking Geralynis, a drink made famous by our friend Geralyn on the Las Vegas trip. (In case you’ve forgotten, I went to Vegas a few weeks ago with Maria, Geralyn, Marianne, and Sabrina.) We decided, though, to stick to more conventional beverages, wine and beer.
To show off my knowledge of Lancaster, I told Maria that “the Belvedere Inn has live jazz on Friday nights from 7 until 10. After that they have Disco.”
The bartender cringed and bit his lip. I looked at him and said that I heard they had Disco on late Friday nights. He informed me that they did indeed have a DJ, but that Disco died nearly 4 decades ago.
Ooops, my age was showing.
A table was now available upstairs, and we went there. We could hear the jazz coming from a room next door and it was great. So was the Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad, the Salmon, and the Lamb Chops. Thank you Barbara and John.
It was still pouring when we left the Belvedere Inn, so we went around the corner to my favorite bar in Lancaster, The Alley Kat, a place where the entire staff is too young to know that there ever was a dance called the Alley Cat, which played at every wedding in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. We were already stuffed so we just drank, but I told Maria that this was where I went every Monday for the Pizza special, a 15 inch pizza for $6.00. I also went there on Thursdays for the live music and the best pastrami sandwich I ever had in my life. (I’ve since learned that they go to NY every Tuesday and pick up their pastrami at the Carnegie Deli. No wonder it’s so good.)
After that, since it was still pouring, we decided not to venture too far away. We went back to the Belevedere Inn to see what was the difference between DJ and Disco music. I have to admit that I wasn’t saddened when disco had died 40 years previously, but the techno music the DJ was playing, did start to make me nostalgic for those good old days. We finished our drinks and left.
We went back to my apartment and took turns being the DJ on the boom box Maria had brought me. It was about 2 in the morning, but my upstairs neighbors are noisy night owls, so I wasn’t worried about keeping them awake. We blasted the music, until we were finally too tired to stay awake.
The next morning we went back to New York for Marianne’s Christmas Party. The rain had stopped. The roads were clear, and we made it in 3 fun-filled hours, while listening to the best of the ‘60s on Sirius Radio.
Marianne and her husband Tres always have a great Christmas Party every year, but this year it was even better than usual. Bob, the piano player, always makes it special and is ready to play any song we want to sing. Bob played at their wedding and has been a staple at their parties ever since. Marianne, Maria, Geralyn, and I were all drinking our Las Vegas drink of choice, Geralynis, made with Champagne, Peach Schnappes, and Peach nectar. Sabrina wasn’t there as she had gone back to Chicago by this time, but she was there with us in spirit, and we were certainly soaked in spirits.
The party ended about an hour before I had to catch the Long Island Railroad to Penn Station to catch the Amtrak back to Lancaster. Marianne’s son Will stayed up to make sure I woke up on time to catch my 5:04 a.m train. Will had to work the next day, so he couldn’t have gotten more than an hour’s sleep. I want to extend a big Thank You to Will for that.
By 10 a.m. I was back in Lancaster, just before it began to snow. I set up my new Christmas tree as I watched the snow coming down for the first time since I’ve been in Lancaster.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Happy Holidays to all my friends and family.
Peace & Love, and all of the above,