The Wal-Mart Baseball Bat Incident

            When you work in any profession there is always the chance that you can run into some type of dangerous situation, whether it is an accident which could cause injury and sometimes even death or there is a possibility that you could have a run-in with a dangerous and mentally unstable person who is looking for someone to take his anger out on. Normally this applies to high-risk occupations like police work, construction and so on. And as I learned one night in 2007, retail is no exception.
            It was a cold February night in 2007 while I was still working on the overnight shift at the Wal-Mart in Herkimer, New York. That night I went into work thinking that it was going to be another normal night of stocking freight to the sales floor so that customers could buy them. At that time I was assigned to the Electronics department even though as an overnight stocker I was expected to go wherever they needed me to stock. And on overnights, you usually have a more colorful group of characters that come into the store. There are the kind that are usually drunk and on their way home from the bar. You also got college students coming in and occasionally cause trouble with shoplifting and running around the store as though they are still in kindergarten. There was even one time around Halloween in 2005 where a local bar had a “hoe and pimp” costume contest and when that got out you had a group of young women coming into the store dressed only in lingerie.
            However, for the purpose of this story I am going to focus on that one particular incident that happened that night in February 2007.
            Also at that time, I had been blogging for about a year and was in the process of writing a book about the Chester Gillette case at the Herkimer County Historical Society, both of which I had been heavily involved in. I was also starting to use the computers up at the college to go on Myspace back when Myspace was a thing. In fact, I was planning to go back to the Historical Society to work on my book the week after Valentine’s Day and also after my twenty-ninth birthday. Unfortunately, those plans would be unceremoniously thwarted for the worst possible reason.
When I first got up that night, I was feeling a little nauseous and I was debating whether or not to call in that night. Eventually the nausea went away and I ended up going into work. Maybe if I really was sick and called in, I would not be writing this story right now.
The first half of that night was going okay and it was around two in the morning which was when I normally went to lunch. While I was going towards the shoe department, I realized that maintenance was waxing over by those doors that night so I had to go back and go through the doors over by Electronics. I was not really paying attention as I was passing the Photo Lab because all I was thinking about was going to lunch.
And that was when I was hit in the back by a guy with a metal baseball bat that he took out of Sporting Goods. I did not even have enough time to react but then he kept swinging and backed me right into the Photo Lab. I put my right hand up to block and then he swung again, hitting my right hand. I screamed at him and he stood there for a second with a crazed look in his eye. Then he threw the bat and ran.
 The attack was completely unprovoked and I have had no dealings with the person before that. Other associates who were on overnights doing mod changes witnessed my attack and chased him out into the parking lot. During the chase, one of the associates called the police and once he got on the other side of the fence the Herkimer Police Department got there in time and he was arrested very quickly.
            Then the cops came into the store to get a statement from me and then they took me in the back where the police cars pulled up so I could identify the guy. Then the cops took photos of my injuries and the scene of the attack. After that I ended up going to the hospital where I was x-rayed. The doctors thought I had a little crack on my right ring finger but otherwise I had no broken bones or fractures. My luck as far as never having any broken bones was still holding. Still I ended up wearing a splint for a week and I had to put an ice pack on my back for a couple of days.
            Even though I went home from work after I returned from the hospital with a side trip to the police station to drop off my doctor’s report, the doctors said that I didn’t have to miss any work. I also had to take a drug test which is mandatory for Walmart associates who have been injured on the job. Then I had to get forms from Bassett Health Care in Herkimer. And in all that time I was still debating about whether or not to tell my family. They found out eventually and they weren’t mad that I didn’t tell them right away because it was obvious why. I did not want to worry them.
            And so I spent the last couple of weeks on light duty at work which was basically doing break packs, returns and zoning various departments. It was pretty annoying not to be able to do my full job, at least partially.
Then I went back to Bassett where I was examined. I was able to get my splint off and was x-rayed again. The doctor said that I had to remain on light duty at work for at least another two weeks. Or so I thought. I had to get a doctor’s note before I could return to full duty which took about a month to get.
            As a result of my ordeal, I could not blog on my site for at least a week because my right hand was still hurting and I was worried that using a computer would aggravate it more. I also had to take more time off of my book at the Historical Society which set me back a lot. Thankfully, it was only for about a week. After I got the splint off, I blogged about my ordeal. But other than that I had to take it easy for a bit.
            During my recovery process, I did feel like I was suffering from a temporary moment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder where I kind of burst out in rage which I thought was natural considering that something like this has never happened to me before or since then. Sure, I have dealt with bullies in school when I was a kid, but nothing that would lead someone to nearly kill me with a weapon. He probably would have had he aimed at my head and there was also the fact that there were other associates around that saw him attack me.
            And then a strange thing happened. To this day, I am not sure if it was the shock I still felt or whether it was the ibuprofen talking, but I had visions of a young woman holding my hand and telling that everything would be all right. Call me crazy, but I swear to god that this is the truth.
            In the weeks that followed and I slowly recovered, I went to tell my story to the Grand Jury so that the District Attorney could build his case against my attacker. In the meantime, he was held in the County Jail which incidentally was right down the street from my house and he was not let out on bail. When he was first caught, he had no sense of reality and had no idea why he was being arrested. Other associates who have seen him described him as a manic-depressive person who has had problems with the store before. While he was in jail, my attacker had been undergoing psychiatric evaluation to see if he would be fit to stand trial. That was another thing I had to worry about: Would I have to go to court and testify again if the case went to trial? I was hoping to put this behind me as quickly as possible.
            And yet I still managed to do some things that helped me take my mind off the ordeal. For starters, about a couple weeks after the incident, I went to Hamilton College with a person I worked with to attend the ceremony where Chester Gillette’s prison diary was donated to the library’s collection of Gillette memorabilia for which I got my picture in the Observer-Dispatch again. I also went on the Heart Run in Utica with my mother as well. And I received my first laptop computer from a contact I made in Houston, Texas as a result of the Gillette blog. Now with that computer, I was able to continue working on my book and at the same time I launched what is now my main website. It seemed that slowly but surely that my life was starting to return to normal.
            And throughout the remainder of the year, I got updates from the District Attorney’s Office on the status of the case and on the defendant. I basically wanted the defendant to get whatever sentence the court deemed fit to give him. I did not sue him because he looked like the type of guy who did not have anything to go after. Eventually, the case ended up not going to trial and he ended up getting sentenced to five years’ probation. And I never saw the guy again after his arrest. Finally, the ordeal was over.
            As far as what happened, I have long since gotten over the incident and I do not have any long-lasting lingering effects such as pain in my right hand or any bad memories of that night. Looking back on what happened that night, I could not fight back because I was on the clock and there has been some controversy about losing your job if you act in self-defense. However, if this happened on the street, I would have had more options and I would have been able to fight back. But all in all, I acted accordingly in that case.
Hopefully I will not find myself in that situation again but then again, retail can be just as dangerous as police work especially in terms of the people you deal with. There will always be crazies out there that are looking to do an innocent person trying to do his or her job harm. I was very fortunate to be alive that night but there have been others that have not been so lucky. The world is a pretty dangerous place which is why people have to be vigilant because this is just one of many things that could happen to anybody if you are not careful.
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Enter the Blackcatloner

                Before I answered the call of the Internet, I was originally planning to be a writer and prior to ten years ago, I had only limited experience with the Internet, mainly using it to look up the latest movies in development. That was before the rise of social media as we know it today. My foray into the Internet actually began when I set up my first email address on Yahoo in November 2005 and it was there where I first came up with my unique and prestigious username, Blackcatloner.
            Three months later in February 2006, I discovered blogging and I signed up for my first social media site on the long-since-extinct Yahoo 360 site where I first started blogging. Being that I did not have a computer or a digital camera at the time, I had to have a friend of mine who I was working with at Walmart at the time scan some photos of myself to put up online so that way I was not starting out blogging without people knowing what I look like. That was one thing I learned early on when I was starting out in social media where you have to have a picture of yourself otherwise not many people would want to get to know you.
            At the same time, I was researching for a book on the famous Chester Gillette murder case better known as “the murder that will never die.”  To coincide with the centennial commemoration events and to share what I learned about the case in preparation for my book, I opened up a blog site on Blogger devoted to that case. I called the site Chester and Grace: The Real American Tragedy. Even though I do not really update on the site anymore primarily because I pretty much covered everything about the case that needed to be covered, the site is still up on Blogger.
            I still continued to move deeper into the world of social media eventually signing up for Myspace back when it was still the social networking site of choice. However I could not use it at the public library because the library had a rule in place primarily to curb people from misusing it. Even in those days people were misusing social media. I eventually learned that the library up at Herkimer College was open to the public and I started going up there the following year to use Myspace.
            It was while I was getting started in the world of social media that I first discovered YouTube. I signed up for my YouTube account under the username Blackcatloner on October 30, 2006 which is pretty easy to remember because the day before that is my anniversary at work. So as of October 2015, I will have been making videos on YouTube for nine years. Now ironically, I was not originally planning to make videos being I did not have either a video camera or Internet access especially since I was operating out of the public library in H-town.
            Then 2006 turned into 2007 and I ended my run on Yahoo 360 when I decided to launch my Blackcatloner website in March of that year. I originally had it on Blogger along with my Gillette blog until 2009 when I exported the Blackcatloner site to WordPress where it has been ever since. In the meantime, I started becoming addicted to watching YouTube videos and eventually it dawned on me that maybe I should be making videos. But the one thing that really decided things for me was the day I watched a video by Cory “Mr. Safety” Williams known as “The Mean Kitty Song.” And that is pretty much why I cited Mr. Safety as an influence for my YouTube career when I eventually started making videos.
            When I first started doing videos, I uploaded my videos through a site called onetruemedia.com where I decided to upload cat photo montages since you know, cats are usually a top draw and a source for humor on the Interwebs. That while I still did not have a video camera, I ended up successfully uploading the first cat montage video to YouTube on January 5, 2008. I went on to upload a total of twenty-one cat montages while at the same time, I got my first video camera for my thirtieth birthday. I managed to film some live cat videos for the Internet while biding my time when I would eventually reveal myself on YouTube.
            And eventually on May 21, 2008 I filmed and uploaded my first vlog to YouTube and it was a movie review of the film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. And though I admitted that it’s not as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade but I am in the camp that puts Crystal Skull over Temple of Doom. And I am probably gonna get some flak for this but deal with it. No matter what I thought of the movie, with that minute and a half video I finally made the transition from blogging to YouTube. Although the Indiana Jones vlog did not get a lot of hits, I followed it up with what is by far my most popular video to date: “The Librarian.”
            The idea for “The Librarian” came when I came across a video by popular YouTuber LisaNova where she was offering to do collab videos with other YouTubers using many of her popular characters that she used in her videos. The characters ranged from Emo LisaNova, Naughty Nurse LisaNova, Librarian LisaNova, Drunk LisaNova, and I think there was even a Rambo LisaNova character. All of the characters were dressed provocatively with cleavage showing which remains a trademark for a lot of female YouTubers to this day. I ended up using the Librarian one because I felt at the time that it would be the easiest one to do.
            I actually did the video with a flashback-type storyline played primarily for laughs. It started with me sitting at the computer in my living room at the time before cutting to the Librarian LisaNova clips. The portions with me in the library was actually shot in the gift shop at the Herkimer County Historical Society and I know it does not really match up but at least for my purposes it worked out for the best. And it was pretty well-received and like I said to this date it is my most popular video on YouTube with nearly 10,000 hits.
            And what followed after that was me filming videos whenever I felt like it and I did some videos in that period that are no longer on the channel because they have either become redundant or I just didn’t like the quality. But keep in mind I was just starting out at the time but as far as I went, I was technically too far behind the rest of the elite YouTubers because while I was starting out on YouTube with slightly primitive equipment and Windows Movie Maker, the elite YouTubers were upgrading their videos to high definition and widescreen. It took me a while to do that but as time went on, I was able to figure out how to render my videos in HD using Movie Maker and I did a video on that too. It got quite a bit of hits, but I ended up taking the video down because I do admit the video quality was bad and I was using a really shitty headset mic which made my voice sound all garbled.
            While I was trying to keep up with the Joneses, I also dabbled in BlogTV back when that was a thing. It was a site where YouTubers could interact with each other and do live shows. My only outing doing a live show was kind of a disaster. I had tried to do another one later on but I either cancelled due to lack of nerves or bad timing. Right now I am fully aware of Google Hangout but right now with me finishing up school and my new responsibilities at work, I don’t really have the time to do another live show. Personally I think it is better just to do videos.
            Throughout the course of my career I have experimented with video ideas that worked or didn’t work. For example, in 2009 I got the idea to do news partly from watching Philip DeFranco where he did a news show (and as far as I know he still does) where he talks about news stories that have been happening and then adds his own thoughts which are usually in the form of snarky remarks and I’m like “Hey, I can do that.” But the thing was that he threw around the “f-word” a lot and at the time I was trying to keep my content as PG-rated as possible. As a result, I ended up starting the Black Cat Weekly news series. I ended up doing five videos where I covered stories such as a dead chupacabra, the official launching of the People of Walmart website and I even did a rant about Kanye West’s infamous stunt at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards where he interrupted Taylor Swift after she won an award. You remember the whole “I think you’re really talented. Imma let you finish, but Beyoncé had the greatest video of all time!” Basically my take on the story was me telling Kanye to shut the fuck up. Of course I had to censor myself where I had a beep sound effect whenever I said the word fuck.
            While I was doing the Black Cat Weekly series, I did get praise for one story I did and it was about a gay teenager in Mohawk who sued the Mohawk School District (it has since merged with the Ilion School District) for not doing enough to help him against bullies that were tormenting him, beating him up and even making death threats against him. The case ended with the teen winning and the school paying his college tuition so to speak. And as the result of the video I got a comment from the teen himself thanking me for getting his story out. If I could get that kind of response, then I have really made a difference.
            But otherwise, the series as a whole was not very well-received. In fact, the haters came out in force, especially with the last Black Cat Weekly video I did because in addition to the story about Kanye West’s shenanigans at the MTV Movie Awards, I also included a story about one of Charles Manson’s accomplices being released from prison and being relocated to the Mohawk Valley and I really got hit by Manson supporters calling me a clown just like the media for still thinking that Manson is a killer. He is. So I ended up taking down the video but not before cutting the Manson story and reuploading the video as just the Kanye West story. In the end, I eventually took the whole video down. But that didn’t mean I didn’t get a chance to abuse the haters in reply comments where I managed to include the word hater in capital letters which is my way of marking them in case people who offer positive feedback will know who they are. Because in truth, haters are people who do nothing constructive but attack those who actually do something. In fact many hater channels that I got actually had either no videos on their channel or they had videos that weren’t really all that interesting.
            In fact the only existing videos that are left from the Black Cat Weekly era are the “Gay Teen” video and the “Chupacabra Pops Alli at Walmart” video and both had really high view counts so it wouldn’t really make sense to take them down. But in the end, the Black Cat Weekly was a failure. I probably should’ve had thicker skin but even though I had been on YouTube for only a year when I did the Black Cat Weekly, I still was not really ready to get negative backlash because that’s what happens in news and still does today.
            But then again each video I put up has been a learning experience as far as what works and what doesn’t work as well as how YouTube works and how to deal with certain aspects such as the haters and other stuff. And also during the Black Cat Weeklyera I discovered Blip as a possible alternative video upload site where I could make money off my videos.
            However about a month later, I decided to get a little revenge on the haters for the failure of the Black Cat Weekly by creating a masked character. And thank goodness it was Halloween season at work because I was able to find a clear plastic mask similar to the ones AngryAussie wore in his videos back when he first started out. I got a plastic mask which is supposed to make the wearer look like a horribly scarred person. And I saw the scars as kind of a metaphor for a hater who gets attacked for being an asshole to people who actually create videos. So I cut out the jaw just like AngryAussie did for his masks and lo and behold, Mr. Hater was born.
            To complete the Mr. Hater character, all I had to do was turn my hat backwards and put on a silly voice because that’s pretty much what haters sound like. And I decided for this character’s debut that I would subject him to a little video that everyone on the Internet has pretty much heard about: 2girls1cup. And by having Mr. Hater being subjected to 2girls1cup, I decided to make a video with a moral attached to it by telling people not to be haters. It’s a moral I know nobody will listen to because there have been haters since the beginning of time and there always will be haters.
            So far I have done two solo videos with Mr. Hater and he’s popped up on occasion in other vlogs I did. So will I do another solo video as Mr. Hater? Very likely yes. You will definitely be seeing more of Mr. Hater in the future.
            Then a couple months later, I decided to take my videos in another direction partly because at the time I was watching Charles Trippy’s daily vlog series Internet Killed Television, I decided to do a vlog series where I shot around town and showed videos of me doing stuff. The only problem was that I didn’t have the time, discipline or the resources to do a daily vlog series. So I opted instead to do a weekly vlog series which I called The Adventures of Blackcatloner which ironically was the original name of my website. But if you think doing a weekly vlog series is easy, well I’ll let you in on a little secret: It isn’t. There were days I actually missed for one reason or another and there were days where I actually did filler episodes. But from February 2010 until June 2011 I was able to film stuff around town and talk about things that were going on in my day-to-day life and it was there where I filmed the world’s largest omelet being made by Crazy Otto’s Empire Diner in H-town. But probably the most important event that I filmed there was when Sylvester Stallone and Mike Tyson were inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame in June 2011.
            Then tragedy struck. Shortly after I uploaded that video, the computer that I was editing my videos on got a virus and I was unable to film, edit or upload videos for a while which turned out for the best because during my downtime, I was starting college at Herkimer College where I was originally majoring in Radio/TV Broadcasting. And for the most part, I credit my success in college to the fact that I was on YouTube and my blogging career. Also during my downtime on YouTube, I learned that I can upload videos as long as I want and I could also monetize my videos.
            Then after I got past my first semester, I finally got a laptop for school the following semester. I eventually picked up where I left off but not until I learned about YouTube’s plan to make every content creator a partner as opposed to what channel can bring in the most subscribers and my channel qualified for this so I gladly accepted it. However I did not start making videos until the summer and I picked up right where I left off. And as an added twist, I decided to do regular movie reviews partly because I started watching The Nostalgia Critic at the time and my plan was to review both new movies that came out in theaters as well movies that have been around a while. It also helped that I saw some pretty big movies that year, such as The Avengers, the Spider-Man reboot and The Dark Knight Rises. It felt good that I decided to do on a regular basis something that I have only done sporadically early in my career. I had only done a couple of movie reviews at that point but I have an opportunity to make jokes in the reviews which is kind of the norm on the Internet.
            There were some reviews that I had taken down for various reasons such as a review I did on the 2009 Star Trek reboot which I did after I saw that in theaters and most of the other reviews I did in that time period are long-gone but I do plan on redoing reviews of those movies in the future. Also I had originally planned on keeping the reviews separate from my regular videos. In fact I created a separate channel for the reviews both on YouTube and on Blip.
            And of course I continued with the weekly vlogs, picking up right where I left off. I even filmed some portions of my time on campus because I was going into my third semester at Herkimer College. In fact, since I was a Radio/TV major at the time, I was practically encouraged to continue filming videos on campus. In fact I also filmed the weather segments for the HCTV Channel 99 news segments. But after the semester ended and Christmas came, I made it to fifty-two vlogs which is equivalent to a full year worth of vlogs despite the fact that it took me nearly two years to make that goal. And it was after the Christmas vlog that I decided to end the weekly vlogs and stick to doing random vlogs.
            With the vlogs I decided to include vlogs based on projects I did in school. For example, the rant I did about paying on dating sites was based on a paper I did for Creative Writing. Also both my “Twilight Ruins Relationships” and my “Why American Men Should Date Foreign Women” vlogs were based on projects I did for my Voice and Diction class but other than that a lot of my vlogs were original and I eventually incorporated the reviews into my vlogs. At the same time, I also started doing Mystery Science Theater 3000-style riffs on Public Domain educational movies starting with a movie called Health- Your Posture. Since then I have done several riffs including one on the notorious anti-gay film Boys Beware as well as the 1930’s exploitation film Sex Madness. The riffs are a lot of fun and I have decided to make that part of my normal batch of videos.
            There was a time where I was toying with the idea of leaving YouTube to post material on Blip. So throughout the remainder of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, I was posting my new vlogs and riffs to Blip partly because the Blip players worked really well on my website even though I know a lot of people complained about how slow the players were. But two things happened that forced me come back to YouTube: First, I picked up a computer virus that pretty much screwed up and eventually killed my first laptop. However I was able to get a few videos put up on YouTube as well as Blip before my laptop died.

Then the second problem arose. I got an email from Blip saying that they were gonna cancel my channel. Thankfully a lot of my vlogs that I had up on the channel were already on YouTube but the remaining videos needed to be reedited before I could put them up, a couple of them for copyright reasons despite the fact that I uploaded the videos to Blip while following the guidelines of Fair Use as defined under the Digital Millennium Communications Act. So I had to wait until late August when I got my current laptop and I was at the start of the Fall 2014 semester. As a result I managed to get the rest of the videos I edited for Blip back on YouTube and at the same time I have been able to do new videos and I have been back on YouTube ever since.

            And as it stands now, I have no intentions of leaving YouTube anytime soon and at the same time, you will be seeing more of Blackcatloner for as long as I am able to continue doing the videos. Which I am hoping will be forever.

Where Was I on 9/11?

             This is a story of perhaps one of the most tragic days in my generation: the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center and also crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C, killing nearly three thousand people, many of whom were first responders. There was also another plane crash near Shanksville, Pennsylvania where passengers made the ultimate sacrifice and thwarted another attack that was rumored to be aimed at the White House. That day was the day that more or less changed America and the way people looked at America forever.
            But this story is not really about the 9/11 attacks at all. This is the story of what I was doing on that tragic day.
            I was still living in Tivoli, located near Red Hook, New York at the time. It was a Tuesday and at the time I was off from my job as a cashier at Stop and Shop, a grocery store that was located in Rhinebeck. The weather was nice that day as well. I started out the morning going up to the barn to feed my sister’s horses. It seemed like it was going to be just another normal day to me.
            Sometime later, I got a phone call from my mother who was working at a pet shop in Red Hook that my family owned at the time. She was asking me if I heard anything about a plane crash in New York City and I obviously hadn’t. I turned on the radio but I couldn’t really hear much so I was still pretty much in the dark for a little while longer.
            It wasn’t until I went into town to do my usual routine on my days off from work that I finally found out what was going on. When I went to the post office to get my mail, I found out that I couldn’t because the country had ordered all federal institutions to be closed down, including post offices, banks and schools. So I couldn’t get my mail that day. Nor could I go to the library to use the Internet. At that time I was not fully active on the whole Internet scene because social media did not really exist at that time. I mainly used the Internet to look up new movies that were coming out. However had Facebook, Twitter and YouTube existed at that time, you could guarantee that this would practically be the main topic everyone would be talking about.
            After dropping off a load of laundry at the Laundromat, I stopped off at Broadway Pizza and also at Milagro’s, a health food deli that was located in Tivoli. They had the TV on and it was there where I finally got my first look at the chaos and devastation that occurred in New York City as the image of the burning towers appeared on the TV.
            On one of the news segments they showed an image of a Boeing 747 jet plane smashing into the second tower of the World Trade Center. This all happened on national television and it was then that the reporters announced that it was an official terrorist attack on American soil at a magnitude not seen since Pearl Harbor during World War II, a day that came to be known as “the day of infamy.”
            My initial reaction when I saw the plane smash into the South Tower was “Is this shit for real?” To some, people assumed that the footage of an airliner crashing into the Twin Towers looked like it could have been part of an action movie that was filming. However, the devastation proved to be all too real. People were shocked, devastated but at the same time they were cheering on the first responders (police, paramedics and the fire department officials that arrived on the scene in an attempt to rescue survivors when the towers collapsed and later when rescuers from all around the country converged on the remains of the World Trade Center.
            In the days that followed, I watched the news because that’s what was on 24/7 during the remainder of that week and this was also at a time when I still had cable TV. I bought the newspapers that were out during the week. During that week, I along with the rest of the country learned all about the Taliban, Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden and so on and that the attacks were directed at us because Al Qaeda hated everything America stood for, namely freedom. I watched the speech where then-President George W. Bush declared a “war on terror” against Al Qaeda and all terrorist organizations throughout the world. The first target was the Taliban because Afghanistan was the country harboring Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Shortly after the attacks, Americans felt a wave of patriotism that had not been seen before or since.
            However at the same time, America changed even more in the years after 9/11. More organizations were created for the purpose of security, including the Department of Homeland Security. Bin Laden was eventually tracked down and killed by Navy SEALs in 2011. We have been through a recession, two wars, another very controversial president (Barack Obama) and more social, political and economic problems than you can shake a fist at. Our international standing is not what it used to be and the country is more divided than it used to be. And we are on the verge of another election year where we will have to select a new president and one of the candidates is a woman (Hillary Rodham Clinton) who I definitely will not be voting for because I hate everything she stands for and I will just leave it at that.
            As far as I go, 9/11 didn’t really affect me all that much. I didn’t have any relatives or anyone I know that died on that day, either as a bystander or as part of the rescue teams trying to save others. For me life went on as usual but it was a minor deciding factor for my family moving out of the Red Hook area a year later after all the city people started moving up to the area in the months afterward. However, 9/11 did have a positive significance for me because my youngest nephew was born on that day in 2007.
            Unfortunately, this is going to be a short story about a national tragedy because it did not affect me at all. The reason why I decided to write this was because I felt obligated to get a 9/11 story out there and this probably would not be a memoir if I did not include a story about what I was doing on my generation’s “day of infamy.”

 

Finding Paradise

            Summer has arrived at last. And with summer comes hot weather, trips to the beach, girls in bikinis and good times. Of course there was one year where summer sort of came early for me and it happened in the spring of 1996. I was in my junior year at Red Hook High School and for ten days in April I went with my Spanish class on a trip to Puerto Rico.
            It was a Thursday when we left Red Hook High School to go down to JFK International Airport in New York City. And also of note the trip to and from Puerto Rico marked the only times that I was on an airline flight to date. The flight down took about six hours and when we landed at San Juan International Airport, it was pouring rain.
            We checked into our hotel and got our room assignments. Since I was one of three guys (excluding my Spanish teacher’s husband) that were on the trip, we were assigned to one room while the girls were split up three to a room. As far as dinner goes, we were within walking distance of McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and other assorted fast food restaurants. Since Puerto Rico is still U.S. territory as opposed to being a foreign country, it was very likely that they would have the same things that we do.
            Our first full day in Puerto Rico was a day of leisure. Most of the attractions in the area were closed that day due to it being Good Friday. We went out to breakfast at another hotel and took an afternoon trip to find the Hard Rock Café that was located in Old San Juan. After that, we went to the beach that was right across the street from our hotel and went for a dip in the Atlantic Ocean.
            That night I got to roam the streets of San Juan by myself because there wasn’t really anything we could have done as a class, like go to a dance club because I would have been the only one that would have been able to get in. I was eighteen at the time, which to this day is still the legal drinking age in Puerto Rico and nearly all of my classmates were sixteen or seventeen.
            Later that night, four of my classmates didn’t come back on time and my Spanish teacher started to worry. So I went out looking for them with my Spanish teacher’s husband to look for them and lo and behold my missing classmates were on their way back and from the looks of them they were drunk. And while drinking on the trip was a no-no (and not just because of the law), that didn’t stop anyone from doing so.  
            The previous night’s activities behind us, we went to the Yunque Rain Forest which was about an hour away from San Juan. It was really humid that day but the forest was beautiful. We walked around and went for a dip in a stream they had there. It was nice but kind of rocky so we had to be careful that we didn’t get banged up on the rocks.
            After that we went to Luquillo Beach, one of the most famous beaches in Puerto Rico for a little while before we went back to San Juan. Apart from the fact that I had to hunt down a flower vendor to buy a flower for one classmate to give to a girl on the trip who obviously was not interested in him, that night passed by uneventfully.

           The next day was Easter and while my Spanish teacher went to church with her family, we stayed in the hotel until we went to an old Spanish fort while on our way to Old San Juan. And here’s where one of my adventures on the trip truly began.

            We were put into groups and we looked in the stores. We were planning to meet up at the Hard Rock Café afterwards. I went off to look at some stuff and next thing I knew everyone was gone. Since I was under the impression that they were planning to meet up at the Hard Rock Café, I decided to try and find my way there. I walked around for what seemed like hours and I kept asking for directions to the Hard Rock Café. I’m not sure if some of the people I came across understood me or not but the more I kept looking, the more I kept getting lost.
            In the end, I went to a Ponderosa Steakhouse that just happened to be there at the time and I had lunch there being that I still had some time left before I had to meet the rest of my group assuming I could find them.
            And as fate would have it, I eventually found our tour bus parked at the nearby park. I ended up waiting for everyone there and about twenty minutes later, the rest of my class came back and we went back to the hotel.
            Our last night in San Juan was capped off with another trip to the beach and then going out to a fancy restaurant before going home to pack up.
            The next morning we headed for our next stop: The city of Ponce, the other major city in Puerto Rico. We went sightseeing for a little while and went shopping as well. Shortly after that we went to our next hotel in nearby Parguera but not before we stopped off at a Spanish-American War memorial on the way. Parguera was pretty small compared from San Juan. It was a dock town and according to my Spanish teacher, Parguera was the Puerto Rican equivalent of Tivoli, a small town located within the township of Red Hook back in New York.
            Our hotel in Parguera was located right on the waterfront and was a lot bigger than the hotel we stayed at in San Juan. It had its own dock complete with boat tours and a gift shop located in the courtyard along with the pool. The only thing really of note that happened our first night was that my Spanish teacher had a birthday for her youngest daughter and wanted everyone to be there.
            The next morning, we went another beach which was on the Caribbean coast and we spent a few hours there swimming, walking around and having lunch there as well. Then when we got back to the hotel and were getting ready to charter a boat for a snorkeling trip we were going on that afternoon, I saw my Spanish teacher’s husband talking to this really beautiful girl. And at the time, I thought that she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She was from North Carolina and was on vacation in Puerto Rico with a friend’s family and as much as I wanted to spend some time with her getting to know her, I had to go with my class and get my snorkeling gear for the trip. I would definitely see her later on that day.
            We made the boat and we headed out into the Caribbean. And I gotta tell you something. If I thought snorkeling was going to be easy, it actually isn’t. For one thing, whenever I went into the water I kept getting salt water in my mouth because my mouthpiece kept popping out on me. And then there was the fact that I almost didn’t get back in the boat. It took two people to pull me back on board. I guess I wasn’t in that good of shape back then. So I ended up spending the rest of the time on the boat.
            When we returned to the dock, we ate dinner at the hotel restaurant and then we went on another boat ride, this time to Phosphorescent Bay. Phosphorescent Bay is so called because it seems like it glows in the dark. It looked pretty cool, especially when you stuck your hand in the water and pulled it out it looked like it glowed in the dark too. It was amazing.
            Then sometime later after we got back from the Bay, we went to a pool hall in the center of town where everyone was playing pool. This was pretty much the only time I actually played pool. We were out until about midnight and pretty much everyone except for me was drinking and one of them was so under the influence that she went the wrong way to the hotel.
            The next morning we were set to leave for our last stop on the trip where we were to spend the last two days of the trip. I ran into the girl from North Carolina and I spent a little time with her before the class checked out of the hotel. We exchanged addresses and I said goodbye to her. And I found out that she would be leaving Puerto Rico the same day that we would be and that she would also be leaving from San Juan, which was their next stop. So there would be a very good chance that I would see her again before I left.
            Our next stop was the town of Aguadilla. This was more or less the only stop on the whole trip where not too much happened. The hotel we stayed at in Aguadilla was even bigger than the two previous hotels we stayed at.
            That night while everyone else was doing god-knows-what, I hung out in the lobby writing a letter until I tried to go back to my hotel room only to find that my roommate locked me out! Apparently ever since he got turned down by the one girl on the trip, he had still not resolved his issues and was sleeping a lot and it got to the point where everyone was not too happy with him. With great reluctance and since I couldn’t get a spare key to my room, I ended up spending the night in a hotel room with some of my female classmates. And before you ask, nothing happened. I slept on the floor.
            By the next morning everyone was pretty much beached-out and as it turned out, I was the only one who ended up going to Crashboat Beach with my Spanish teacher and her family. I remember Crashboat Beach for two reasons: 1) That there were a whole bunch of beach dogs there and 2) I ran into two beautiful girls on the beach that didn’t really understand English so that was kind of awkward especially since I was tripping over myself trying to practice my Spanish on them. And that was kind of ironic since Spanish was one of my best subjects in high school. Go figure. But I did manage to get their addresses so it wasn’t a total loss. Then there was also the fact that my Spanish teacher’s husband managed to talk me into buying a beer.
            The rest of that day was spent going to shopping centers in Aguadilla and then with me taking a walk up a hill to Little Caesar’s to get a pizza. The distance from my hotel to there was about the same as the distance from my house to the Little Caesar’s in Mohawk. And that was the first time I ever had Little Caesar’s. Then later everyone gathered in the bar for a celebration of our last night in Puerto Rico before we went home.
            The next morning was not good weather-wise. It was raining which kind of bookended the trip. We arrived in Puerto Rico when it was raining and now we were going to leave Puerto Rico and it was raining. We were supposed to go to a cavern on the way back to San Juan only to find that they cancelled the tour on account of the weather. So instead we stopped off at a shopping center and then we went to the Bacardi Rum Factory where once again the advantage of being the legal drinking age in Puerto Rico served me well because I was the only one who got to sample the rum. They mixed it with Coke so that was the only time that I had Rum and Coke. It wasn’t bad but I actually liked the factory tour.
            Then half an hour later it was off to the airport to board the flight back to New York. And true to my word I did run into the girl I met in Parguera who was waiting for a flight to Atlanta. So I talked to her again briefly while I was waiting for my flight. At that point I didn’t really want to leave Puerto Rico but then again if I did stay, I wouldn’t be here writing this story now. Unfortunately, we didn’t really keep in touch over the years. Story of my life. But I will never forget that girl as long as I live.
            And so the whole class got on the flight back to New York and life went on. So this is about as close to a coming-of-age story as you’re gonna get from me. My experience in Puerto Rico to this day is probably one of the best experiences of my life to date. I hope to go back someday when I can afford to but I can rest knowing that for those ten days in the spring of 1996, I had found paradise.

An Ode to My Childhood

            At some point in their lives whenever one reaches adulthood, one does have a tendency to be a little nostalgic for their childhoods. They tend to reminisce about all the good times they had; of all the things they did as kids; of all the toys they had; movies they saw and so on. Well today I am going to be that person as I am feeling a bit nostalgic. Today we’re going to talk about my childhood growing up in the 80’s and 90’s in Red Hook, New York, specifically some things I did and some things that were around when I was growing up. And even though it hasn’t really shaped who I am today it still makes for a really good essay.
           I grew up during the 80’s, which was the best time for movies, TV shows and music. There was no Internet; computers were not as everywhere as they are now and even if they were, they were too expensive; camcorders were a lot heavier and were VHS-based instead of digital and more compact like they are now; there were no reality shows polluting the airwaves; and video game systems were actually on the rise and not as sophisticated as your garden-variety PlayStation 3’s and Xbox 360’s, which meant you still had to go to the arcade to play video games. So due to the lack of the technological advances that we now have (meaning your iPhones and your Internets,) kids normally played outside and there were a lot of outdoor activities to do and places to go.
            Growing up in Red Hook, the one place where people went during the summer and still do is the Dutchess County Fair in Rhinebeck. It was a real staple of my childhood and I went there every year until I moved up to Central New York in 2002. It’s one of the few things I miss about living downstate. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to go back, although it might be a little more expensive now than it was when I was last down there. The last county fair I went to was back in 2005 and it was the Herkimer County Fair and it does not even hold a candle to the Dutchess County Fair.
            Another place I went to as a kid was the Catskill Game Farm. I’m pretty sure a lot of people downstate remembers that. I remember going there on field trips and sometimes with my family. I had been living in Central New York for several years when the Game Farm closed down in 2006. However, during its heyday, it was fun to see all the exotic animals without having to go to a faraway zoo like the Bronx Zoo, which I also went to when I was a kid. I have not been to the Utica Zoo yet, but it is on my to-do list. Then there was the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome which was a nod to airplanes that fought in World War I. They had shows every weekend during the summer where people flew replicas of planes to reenact World War I aerial battles. I even got to participate in one of the show one time where I got to shoot down the “Black Baron” which was a nod to the Red Baron and I’m not talking about Snoopy here. I’m talking about the real deal. I wouldn’t mind seeing a movie about him someday.
            Let’s see where else did I go as a kid?  I also went to the Jersey Shore a couple times as a kid. This was long before it was associated with Snooki, The Situation, and Pauly D. In fact, I didn’t even go to Seaside Heights. I actually went to Wildwood and Cape May for the summer. Went swimming in the ocean, went out on the boardwalk. I also went up to the Thousand Islands a couple of times as well. It was also during my childhood that I traveled as far west as Missouri for a rabbit show. Yeah we raised rabbits when I was a kid. For class trips in school, one summer we went camping for the weekend as well as going on a class trip to the Museum of Natural History in New York City in fifth grade and one fond memory I had while being on the bus is having a whole bus full of fifth graders ogling the hot city chicks on their way to work.
            Then when we got into junior high, specifically in eighth grade, we went on a class trip to Washington, D.C. in the spring of 1993. We didn’t go in the White House or anything (this was during the Clinton era) but among other things we went to Ford’s Theater, where Abraham Lincoln was shot and went inside the house where he died. I specifically remember the tour guide at Ford’s Theater when we got to the house. I remember him saying “The bed! The pillow!” when he was pointing out the bed where Lincoln died and the pillow that still had his blood stains on it. Then, as we were leaving, he was saying “Remember, New York is number 1!” To which I replied sarcastically, “Yeah and don’t you forget it.”
            We also went to the Smithsonian, Union Station, Mount Vernon (George Washington’s home), and a variety of other places too. All in all, those were fun trips that I went on. Well at least until I went to Puerto Rico for a class trip but that’s for another time.
             I discovered my creative side very early on like when I first started going to school. That was where I first started getting into writing. Back then I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be a writer or an actor. If people could only see me now, especially since I am doing both on the Internet right now. In fifth grade I had done a series of filmstrips where I did public presentations to my classes. And look at me now, doing videos that are seen all over the web and writing stories that I published on three websites. So to this day my creative imagination is still in top form.
             Now let’s move on to some other childhood memories like what I grew up with like favorite TV shows, movies, toys I played with and other stuff that I remember. Of course some of these are items that kids today probably will never grow up with. Let’s start with TV shows. I watched cartoons just like everyone else. We had Saturday morning cartoons and we even had cartoons after school. Good times. It was always a fun time in a kid’s life back then. Now the only cartoons we see on Saturday mornings are crappy educational cartoons on NBC or anime stuff on the CW. Like everyone else, I watched shows like He-Man, Transformers, Garfield, Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and basically any cartoon on Nickelodeon that was on during the 80’s.
            I also watched She-Ra, which actually got me lusting after girls. I’m sure at some point in some boy’s lives they find themselves fantasizing about a female cartoon character. After all, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I always got turned on whenever Princess Adora transformed into She-Ra. Even though some people would still say April O’Neil of Ninja Turtles fame is still the hottest and I would agree she is. But I just put She-Ra (or more specifically Adora) a lot higher.
             But I didn’t limit my TV watching to cartoons. I watched some TV shows in the prime-time hour as well and back then, TV shows weren’t as gratuitous with the sex and violence as they are now, not that it’s necessarily a bad thing. But there weren’t any reality shows polluting the airwaves like there is now. Anyway, as far as grown-up shows go, I watched shows like The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, ALF, the 60’s Batman TV series, Star Trek(both the original and Star Trek: The Next Generation), The A-Team, T.J. Hooker (partly because being a Trekkie obligated me to watch William Shatner’s cop show,) the original Battlestar Galactica (the cheesy one where Starbuck was a man and not a hot chick), and so many more to name that I would be here all day mentioned and I don’t really want to do that.
             I am to this day a huge fan of 80’s music and when I was growing up, 80’s music was king. The radio stations I listened to at that time were WBPM- 94.3 FM in Kingston (it has long since abandoned the Top 40 format) and WSPK 104.7 FM in Poughkeepsie also known as K-104 which still plays Top 40 hits. Some of my favorites from that era were Madonna, Whitney Houston, Bon Jovi, Michael Jackson and so many others that I can’t really think of them right off the bat. In later years, I found a new appreciation for 80’s music and prefer that to a lot of the music that is out today.
             As far as movies go, I’ve quite a bit of the biggest movies to come out of the 80’s. I saw my first movie when I was 2 years old and that was in the summer of 1980. Also like I said before, that movie was The Empire Strikes Back. Usually the theater of choice for me when I was growing up was the Lyceum Theater in Red Hook.
            When I first saw E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial there in 1982, it was a one-movie theater. It got an extension in the mid-80’s so they can show two movies there. I also went to the Hudson Valley Mall (at the time it was a six-movie theater but has since evolved into a multiplex) even though it was a bit expensive and there were also drive-ins where you can go during the summer. I saw The Empire Strikes Back at the Sunset Drive-In in Hudson and I went to see several more movies there afterwards, including Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and the original Back to the Future before it closed down in the late 80’s. The other drive-in I went to was the Hyde Park Drive-In and the first movie I saw there was Return of the Jedi and a few weeks after that I also saw Superman III there as well as the original Gremlins movie. The last time I was there was back in 1998 sometime after I graduated from high school and I saw the asteroid movie Deep Impactthere. To this day, the Hyde Park Drive-In is one of the few remaining drive-in theaters still in operation.
              But anyway, back to the Lyceum. The original theater continued to be in operation until 1991 when it became a multiplex that showed six movies (It now shows eight movies and includes 3D movies. The last movie I saw in the original theater was Terminator 2: Judgment Day before it closed down and while the main theater became an antique store, the extra theater they had reopened as the Lyceum Annex some time afterward. But anyway, even then going to the movies was fun and exciting.
              And during my childhood, we were starting to come into the video age. If you’re as old as I am, you’ll definitely remember video discs. The video disc back in those days was a prototype that would become what DVD’s are in today’s world and the original video disc was basically the size of a record album that you have to play one side and then flip it over to watch a movie. The video disc was basically how I first saw the original Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Then later we upgraded to video tape and VCRs. My family never owned a video camcorder even though they were popular as well so I never got to make videos growing up. So you won’t see any embarrassing videos of me growing up on the Internet anytime soon.

    Okay, what other childhood memories are there? One memory recently came to me while I was watching a show on the web called 80’s Dan where in one episode he buried a McDLT in a time capsule. For those of you who don’t know what that is, McDonald’s put out a sandwich that came in a Styrofoam container with two sides. One side had the top of the bun including the lettuce, tomato and cheese while the other side had the burger and the bottom part of the bun, hence the tagline: “The hot stays hot while the cool stays cool.” I used to get the McDLT pretty much all the time during its heyday. McDonald’s should really consider bringing the McDLT back.

              And I could go on forever as far as talking about my childhood, but I probably should call it a day. I’m not doing a movie here (well not yet anyway.) But if you grew up in the 80’s and 90’s and remember a lot of the stuff I mentioned here today, then your childhood was awesome. They say that as you get older and life gets harder, you start appreciating your childhood a bit more, but at the end of the day, you have to move forward. But there is nothing wrong with a little nostalgia every now and then.