Sunday, September 29, 2019

First Impressions of an Old Friend

I've been here in State College for a month now.  State College is the home of the Pennsylvania State University. (PSU).  As the few of you who read this blog know, I graduated from PSU in 1989.  Thirty years ago.  Ugh.

I tried to travel back to PSU once or twice a year as an alumnae, so I've been watching as the university and town have grown and changed.  I remember when Playland closed.  Many other stores and bars closed, even the Rathskeller which had been open for generations.   For that matter, the entire character of the town and campus has changed.  There are some many high rise apartment buildings now dominating the landscape- and many more being built.  The “small town” feel of the place is quickly disappearing.  PSU seemed like an isolated “self-sufficient oasis” in the middle of nowhere back then.  Well, it’s still in the middle of nowhere, but thanks to the internet, it’s not so isolated.

High rise cranes.  There are many of them...

Some things haven’t changed.  The campus is still an oasis of tolerance in the middle of Trump country- but it’s become far more enlightened since the 80s.  For example, LGBT (especially gay men and transgender women) had to hide or face beatings.  For that matter, I don’t remember seeing any transgender people back then at all.  There was a rumor about a “gay guy” who dressed as a woman for Halloween, and was “picked up” at a party by a football player… with the assumption that violence was the end result.  There was and still is a “gay bar” at PSU called Chumleys.  It’s small, but fun the few times I’ve been there- all since re-discovering myself.

It’s so very different, but then again… so am I.  I’m now over fifty, and living my Truth.  The co-eds wear their yoga pants (it’s like a uniform up here!  They all wear them!) while I wear a skirt.  No need to “compete” with girls young enough to be my daughter.  Not that I could if I wanted.

The other day, someone asked me why I love PSU so much.  I paused a moment to think, then replied  that I wrote a book on that very topic (part of which I've been serializing on this blog.).  That book took me years, and I still don't have a definitive answer.  I guess a short answer would be that it's part of my identity.

Wednesday Sophie Selfie

In any case, I'm back.  I'm finishing the fifth week of classes, which means I'm already one third through this first semester.  Papers and presentations are coming due.  I'm overwhelmed with reading.

Still, I guess things are looking up.  My roomie/bestie Linda has probably found a job.  Wife and daughter visited this weekend (in fact they just left a few minutes ago.)  Nice visit.  I miss them desperately. 

It’s now fall, yet the temperatures are still over 80.  I’m guessing it’ll be a mild winter, so I won’t be listening to the hissing snow as I walk to class.  Not that they have class when it snows these days.

In any case, I'm here.  And it's time to get back to work.

Be well.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Men of the Skull Chapter 56: Pyramids

Getting involved with a "pyramid scheme" wasn't the smartest thing I'd ever done.  Eventually those guys were caught and arrested.

Lesson learned.  Cost me $25.

Chapter 56: Pyramids

Saturday, March 27, 1987 Probing into strange past of Gary Heidnik

            The kegs were tapped and the chairs sat on the porch.  It was an absolutely beautiful day in Happy Valley.  I stopped at the house after classes for dinner and walked smack into a porch party. 
            I left my book bag in the phone room next to the front door, and tapped a beer from the keg there as well.  After all, it was now the weekend!  As usual, the girls appeared from nowhere exchanging smiles for beer.
            All the talk was about this new money making scheme the guys had joined. 
            “So what you do is pay in fifty bucks to join.  Then, when people join after you, you get a piece of what they pay in, as do the people above you.  The more you recruit, the more you make.  It’s called a ‘pyramid’ and eventually you’re at the top!”  Windex said. 
            Wow!  Free money!  And all I have to do is buy in and wait.  Did I mention how stupid I was when I was 20?
            Standing next to Windex was a guy I never saw before.  Kyle was just a little shorter than me.  He was built like a runner with powerful legs and thin frame.  Oh- he was also black, with a flat top haircut and a goatee.  We didn’t get many black people hanging around the house for whatever reason.  I always figured they wanted to hang with each other- after all we had several black fraternities on campus.  Actually, the truth is I never thought of it.
            In any case, Kyle was here, and he was really cool and a lot of fun.  He was more accepted by the brothers than I was. 

            “Hey Lancer!  You want in?”  Windex asked. 
            “I don’t have fifty bucks to my name!”  I said.  Damn!
            “Do you have twenty five?  We could split a spot!”  Kyle said.
            “Umm.  I guess,” I said.  “Who needs to eat anyway?”
            “Let’s do it!”  Kyle said, holding up a hand for a high five.
            A high five, chugged beers, and we were off.  First, I had to stop at the MAC machine (ATM- people from Philly called them MACs) to get my $25.  From there we walked to Sigma Pi, where the guy running the thing was a brother.
            Sigma Pi has a beautiful house right on the end of Fraternity Row.  (Yeah, there’s a street in State College named “Fraternity Row.”  Lame, I know.)  Sigma Pi even registered their house as a historic landmark, arrogant bastards!  Anyway, Kyle and I headed up the walk, there were guys playing volleyball off to the side and music blasting from a window.
Open your heart to me, baby
I hold the lock and you hold the key
Open your heart to me, darlin
Ill give you love if you, you turn the key

The door was wide open, so we just walked right in.  Their foyer was so dark compared to the bright sunshine outside!  We stopped a passing Sig Pi brother and gave him the name and code word that we’d been given.  He seemed shocked to see us.  Was it Us or Kyle?  I don’t know.
Anyway, we were told to wait, and that’s what we did.  Maybe ten minutes, during which time we looked around the first floor.  I noted the locations of all their composites for possible future “liberation.”  (I never got around to it, though.)
Eventually we were shown upstairs by a pledge wearing a tie to a room where there were two guys sitting next to windows so they were kind of in silhouette.  I guess they were trying for drama.  We told them the code word we were given. 
“Who gave you that word?” the one on the left asked.  His hair was a mess, like he just woke up.
“Windex” I said.
The two checked a handwritten list.
“Are either of you cops?”  asked the one on the right.  He was all sweaty.  I’m guessing he was out playing volleyball.
“No,” Kyle answered.
“Do we look like cops?”  I asked, not realizing I was wearing my Police concert shirt.
“We always ask,” said Left.  Then he laughed a stoner laugh.  Huh huh huh.
So we wrote our names on the Pyramid drawn on the paper, paid our money, had the code words explained (duh!  I think we figured that one out already!) and after some handshakes and huh huhs we were back out into the daylight.
Did I just pay those assholes twenty five fucking dollars?
Kyle and I walked back to the Bone.  Now we waited and watched as the money would start pouring in. 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

53 and 6

Today, as I write this, is my "berfday."  I was born 53 years ago, according to my Mum.  I'll take her word for it, as she was there, and I don't remember it.  Besides, it's on my birth certificate.

That means it's four days until the 6th anniversary of one of the worst days of my life: the day Lisa died.

These days will remain linked for the rest of my life.  One leads to the other.  Bim bam.

Three years ago today, I did my best to join her.  However, my stupidity prevented it.  So here I am.  Fifty three.

Fifty three is one of my friend R's favorite kinds of poker.  "Fiddy three" he'll call when he deals.  Been a while since I sat at the table with him.  Last time I lost $20.  We play low stakes, which is a courtesy to me as I can't afford the stakes my friends usually play.

So, I'm 53.  I live in State College now, where I just started working on my PhD.  I'm told it will take five years, so I'll be 58 when I graduate.  Assuming I do.

My friend Jeanine did her PhD much faster than that.  Her's was in American Studies, and she went to Penn State Harrisburg.  I tried to follow in her footsteps, but didn't get accepted.  She died before I was accepted to my current program.  I miss her.

Now late at night.  I'm tired.  And I'm 53.

And I'm thinking of Lisa.  Six long years since we last spoke, laughed, and hugged.  I cried on her shoulder that final night.  She was 52 when she died.  I'm  now older than she ever was.  I remember reading a poem about how the fallen in battle will remain forever young.   They never age.  So it is with Lisa.  52 forever.  Would she still have the same style?  Would  her hair have finally grown out enough to ditch wigs?

What would she say about me being here at PSU?

So many questions.  No, I'm not "over" her death.  Six years and the Pain is still a scar on my soul.  I cant imagine how her widow, Sandy feels.

My birthday and her death.  Forever intertwined.

At the Nittany Lion Inn

It's now Saturday.  I have a slight hangover.  I'm doing laundry while watching the Penn State/Pitt game.  I have a ton of reading to do yet, but it can wait until after the game.

Bestie/roomie Linda and I went to dinner at the Nittany Lion Inn using money from an "anonymous" gift.  We then went down to Chumleys, an LGBT bar on College Ave.  there we met a few people, including Sophia, who just started to realize her Truth.  Someone told the bartender it was my (and a classmate's) birthday, so the whole bar sang to us.  We left relatively early.

So.  Life continues.  Thanks to all those who sent me birthday wishes.  I don't deserve you.

Linda at dinner

A wave and huggses to Joanne and Ellen, both of whom recognized me from this blog within an hour of each other on College Ave last night.  I was deeply moved.  Thanks.

Monday, September 9, 2019

10 hours

Yesterday, I read 10 hours of hardcore academic stuff, and STILL didn't finish my reading assignment.  By the time I reached hour whatever, my brain was mush.

When we discussed the reading in class today, I could barely recall any of it.

I feel like I should be sitting at the kids table.  And I have a presentation tomorrow which I haven't started.  (I'm typing this as a study break.)

And I haven't started my 20 hours of Graduate Assistant work this week yet. 

What have I gotten myself into this time?

Oh, then there's this:

I added the red stuff

I got it fixed but, what the f**k?  None of my documentation has my dead name on it anymore.  They had to go LOOKING to find that.

I'm so tired. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

"Tomb of Horrors" for Charity

On July 27, 2019, I was Dungeon Master for a charity game of 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons (DnD) which benefited the Phoenixville Women's Outreach Center.   This event occurred at Nerd Merch, which is a new gaming "store" in Phoenixville, PA.
The game Dungeons and Dragons was published in 1974.  I started playing in 1978, just as the first edition (1e) of Advanced DnD was being released.  This is the version I played the most- all the way through college and after.  Second edition (2e) was published in 1989, and that's the edition that was current when I worked for TSR (company that fist published the game) from 1992-4.  In 1997, TSR was purchased by Wizards of the Coast (WOTC.) WITC was purchased by Hasbro in 1999.  DnD is currently enjoying a new resurgence with its 5th edition (5e). (Wikipedia)

I can't say I'm a big fan of 5e.  Power gaming at its worst.  And dumbed down like crazy.  That's why I prefer earlier versions.

A seat at the table cost $20.  That got you your character.  If your character died, you could "re-buy" another for $10.  Every cent was going to the Center.  The module was Tomb of Horrors, (ToH) known by gamers as the deadliest dungeon ever written.  The (surviving) creator of DnD, Gary Gygax, was tired of players complaining about how tournament modules were too easy, so he wrote ToH to absolutely kill characters.  In this module, characters died.  Often.  So, the rebuy was going to raise more money.  I also set up an online fundraiser.

I arrived and the staff at Nerd Merch helped me set up the tables.  I pre-made appropriate characters, chose appropriate spell, and put them in color coded folders.  I figured that if the players were shelling out $20 per seat, they should get the best I could make it within my means.  I did my best to set the players for success.  All was ready and set up for noon... and nobody showed... until near 1.  Sigh. 

Mt set up behind the screen

Eventually I had eight players- mostly around my age.  The store was crowded, and people playing whatever at other tables were curiously looking over.  We recruited one from another table.  Score! 

First Corridor

After a few "false starts" the group finally found the true entrance.   This first corridor was loaded with trap doors... and a "false path" of red tiles set into the floor.  These traps would claim the first kill- a paladin who was impaled on poison spikes.  The group found their way into a second hallway, and pressed onward.

Oh, I forgot to mention, each player had one "Mercy."  It was essentially a re-roll.  The party leader had two of these.  You could buy more for $5.00 each, again going to the Center.  You could also get more for good role playing or having a great idea.  By the end of that first corridor, the party had used almost all their Mercy. 

Original art.  Want a gem?

I used all the original pictures as player aids.  I made enlarged copies so they were easier to see, though. 

The idea was to play until all characters were dead or surrendered.  By the end, all but one had been magically deposited, butt-naked, back at the Tomb entrance.  The one who hadn't was at the entrance, having run away earlier.  The others surrendered, so the one guy won the "prize:" a never released Citadel miniature so rare that even staff only ever got one (this one was mine.)

What did I get paid for all this?  3 bottles of Fiji water- exactly what I requested.  Between the day and the online, we raised over $300 for the Phoenixville Women's Outreach Center... which they didn't expect as the guys at Nerd Merch never told them that the event was happening.  *facepalm* I received a very nice email from the director of the Center- and that was more than enough for me.  I helped, and I got to play a game I love.

I used to play DnD all the time.  I played ToH as a player twice back in the day, and DM'ed it twice (counting this.)  Doing this game, and knowing it was a good cause really reminded me of how much fun the game was and is.  Also, it was a fitting way of saying "goodbye" to the town where I'd lived for over 16 years on and off- but that's another story

If I could find a group willing to play an old edition of the game up here in State College, I'd jump at it.  Alas, I fear it will not be. 

Still, I was able to help a little. 

Be well.