May 01

Cocoa Beware and The Fastest Geek Alive

Those aren’t the names of two professional wrestlers. Those are the “titles” for what I did on Saturday and Sunday to close out April and welcome in May.

The weekend started off with a trip to New Hope, PA with my wife (Nicole) and one of our close friends (Kyle) in order to attend the 4th Annual Bucks County Chocolate Show. The show itself offered sort of a good news/bad news situation.  The good was that a portion of proceeds from ticket sales went to the National Wildlife Federation. The bad news that while there was in fact chocolate and there was indeed a show, the quality of the event was rather lacking.

There were a handful of chocolate vendors (seven, to be precise) offering samples of their wares.  The highlights were Valrhona, Didi’s Chocolates  and Laurie’s Chocolates. There was also a guy selling honey from France, a booth from Cabot cheese, two booths of people selling various hand creams and lotions, a culinary knife vendor and a table with a bunch of orchids. But, hey, some of those people had bowls of candy so I guess that qualifies them for a chocolate show, right?  Right?  Meh!

Chocolate from Didi's Chocolates. One of the few bright spots of the show.

Look, I’m not a food snob, and when the cost of a ticket is only $13.00 for an event such as this, you’re not really sure what to expect. But the reality of it was that the show was far less into chocolate and more into other stuff. I realize that it was held at the New Hope Eagle Fire Hall so my expectations should not have been high, but they should have billed this as more of a “Stuff You May Buy for Your Mom, Unless She’s a Diabetic Because There’s Some Chocolate Show” and less of a “Chocolate Show.”

When we were walking in I didn’t think that the guy who was walking out saying “That was the worst chocolate show ever!” was speaking the truth.  Unless I see some promising new improvements in next year’s show I think the Fourth Annual will be my First and Only.

But the whole trip wasn’t a waste because it still offered a chance to go into New Hope proper and browse the shops along the main strip.  Switching gears from sweet to savory we had lunch at Fran’s Pub (Good burger!) then went back to sweet with ice cream from Gerenser’s (delicious as usual).  We also lucked out and serendipitously walked over the bridge to Lambertville, NJ right into Shadfest 2011. After a visit to Tomasello Winery, one of my favorite spots to hit when in New Hope/Lambertville, the day was complete.

The Chocolate Fest was a dud, a bland Mr. Goodbar when compared to the Snickers that was the rest of the day in New Hope and Lambertville.  But good company and great weather made up for the poor start to the day.

* * *

When Pop Culture References Collide: The Fastest Geek Alive meets Agent 007

Switching gears from decadence, Sunday presented an opportunity to take part in something I’ve never done in my life.  A few weeks ago, my wife mentioned that there was a 5K Walk/Run in the area and asked if I would be interested in taking part.  Running, you see, is something I never really participated in competitively.

My weight has always been a struggle.  I used to be thin, in shape and have ample energy.  And then I turned eight.  From third grade until my junior year of high school I was stocky at best and fat at worst. Then I had success with Weight Watchers and in my Senior year got down under 200 lbs. and was back in shape for the first time since watching cartoons after school. When college rolled around I put on the Freshman 15. And then the Sophomore five. And the Junior ten. And the Senior ten. And the Post-Graduation 50. The next thing you know it was 2002 and I was over 300 lbs.

Over the years I was still athletic.  I was always “fast for my size” so football was a natural for me.  I also loved playing baseball and softball.  Bowling was also a favorite of mine but it’s not exactly a sport known for the svelte. But exercising on a regular basis was something I never really did except for that Senior year of high school.

Being a Geek is as plain as the nose on my face.

When my father passed away from a sudden and surprising stroke in 2003 it caused me to look at myself and realize that it was time to take my health seriously.  With the combined effort of Weight Watchers and Nicole’s help, and our wedding in 2005 as a goal-date I succeeded in losing 108 pounds and getting down under 200 lbs. for the first time since 1991. But slowly since then the weight has crept back on and I’ve been hovering around the 250-pound mark recently.  This meant that getting back in shape must become a priority once again.

In February I rejoined Bally’s and started hitting the gym again. And then with Nicole’s persistence and a personal goal in mind I started training to run in the Freedom Steps 5K Run. The proceeds from the event go towards sending care packages to soldiers fighting overseas, so it was something that sounded like it was going to be beneficial to the body and the mind.

The only problem is that work has been particularly busy lately and that meant less time that I’d have preferred to train properly. So my training basically meant that twice in the past month I ran on a treadmill for 30 minutes. And once, last week, I ran 3.4 miles at Alverthorpe Park with Nicole (where she has done a bit of her own training for the event). Running outdoors was considerably different than running inside on a treadmill. For one thing, the ground isn’t rubber, and it doesn’t move underneath you. There’s also the concept of hills, which had me feeling stitches in my side after only a mile of huffing and puffing amidst nature. But with Nicole pushing me along and visible markers informing us of our progress I pushed through my final day of training to run (and partially walk) just over five kilometers in around 45 minutes.

Most importantly it gave me an idea of what I could expect on May 1st when I took part in the race.

Decked out in my Flash t-shirt, matching red running shorts, comfy running shoes and a Breathe-Right strip across my nose sporting the word “Geek,” I was ready to race.  We arrived at Mason’s Mill Park in Huntington Valley.  I was given number 007 which I took as a sign that I had been given a license to kill – but hopefully not myself.

We started jogging strong, probably even a tad faster that Nicole was used to running, but we settled in to our pace very early. The terrain changed often, but there were not many hills or tough spots. In what felt like a personal victory I only had to stop and walk once during the whole race and even then for only about fifteen seconds. With Nicole by my side to encourage me and the outdoors to offer ample distractions, I made my way around the course.

You can see the exhaustion in my eyes. Or that's just pollen.

Nicole and I crossed the finish line holding hands at the 34:33 mark, finishing 10 minutes ahead of when I thought I would finish. I was astounded. Most importantly I felt great. The only thing that felt better were the soft pretzels and PowerAde at the finish line and the three hour nap I took later on in the afternoon.

Running a ten minute mile?  Not bad for a fat guy.  And not bad for a geek.  It makes me realize that being fat and out of shape isn’t who I am.  That’s something I can change. Especially if I run more of these races — and attend fewer chocolate shows.

But being a geek? I’d never want that to change. Even if I could.

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Apr 24

All Of My Children Have Paws: Part 3

It was in the last week of June when our former next-door neighbor called Nicole to explain that her new landlord found out about her cats and their newborn kittens (apparently there were three simultaneous litters), so either the cats had to go or she did. She was desperate and needed help within a few days or she would be out on the street.

We had conquered the challenge of cat ownership but failed miserably at being dog parents. Were kittens something we were really ready to take on?  Nicole and I had a very brief discussion and realized quickly that we couldn’t say no to the opportunity to help our former neighbor out.

Nicole asked how many kittens.  The woman responded “About eight.”

I just assumed she wasn’t good at counting.  You figure knowing how many kittens you had in your house was a skill you learned in kindergarten, right after Advanced Shapes and Colors and before advancing to Adolescent Cookie Dunking 101.

Apparently her math was a little shaky, because when she showed up two days later with a box full of dirty kittens we counted thirteen in all.

A room full of kittens or a portal to Paradise?

She asked us to take the three adult mothers with her that day but we couldn’t take them all in along with the kittens.  We urged her to take the mothers to a local shelter and found out that ten minutes after she drove away from our home that our former neighbor just dumped them on the side of the road about two miles away from out house.

After making a few calls, two of the three cats were found and put into proper care at a local shelter.  The third was never found.  But I’m getting ahead of myself still have a box of kittens to tell about.

The kittens were a writhing mass of poop and pee and fur and little mewling noises, so we took them to the bathtub for a quick scrubbing.  After cleaning them all up and drying them off we determined that four of the kittens were so young (probably only about five weeks old) that their ears had not even flipped up, so they needed to be separated from their older siblings for their own safety.

That first night we kept the Peanuts in the bathtub since they were too small to even jump out of the tub.  The remaining kittens were put into our smallest of three bedrooms where they were left free to roam and explore as kittens are wont to do.

On day two we realized we were in it for the long haul and would be raising these kittens until they were ready to be adopted out.  We decided to make sure every single cat had their shots and got fixed before we found them new homes.  But our first task (second if you count that bath that all thirteen cats seemed to hate) was to come up with names for all of these little balls of fluff.

The Peanuts, asleep in their crate.

The Four Peanuts were moved out of the bathtub and into the dog crate that used to belong to Nori. That allowed them to be in the same room with their brothers and sisters but also be kept safely from their older siblings. We named them, because they were all either black or gray, Biddy, Boo, Ash and Smoke. Of the remaining nine slightly older kittens there were two fluffy black and white (tuxedo) kittens (Chuck and Casey), two mirror image tuxedo twins (Xena and Gabrielle),  and five black kittens.

The black kittens were the hardest to tell apart at first, even though their personalities started to come out right away. Nicole and I came up with an idea of using color-coded collars, so we bought four different collars to assign to the black cats. We assigned the multi-colored spiral collar to Neko (promised to our friend Gena), the pink collar to Ninja (promised to a friend I made riding the bus to work every day), the red collar to Ophelia and no collar to Mr. Black.

The last collar, the blue one, was assigned to Yorick, the ring-leader of the kittens.  He established himself right away as my favorite so I named him after one of my favorite comic book characters (Yorick Brown from “Y – The Last Man”). It was an appropriate name because he was mischievous and an expert at escape, just like the character he was named after.  I think Nicole and I realized very early that we would only be adopting out twelve of the thirteen kittens and that Yorick would be staying with us. He was my buddy from the beginning and there was no way he wouldn’t become cat number three in the Lombardi family.

Kittens are great at falling asleep...anywhere...including the extra-large litter box I made for them.

The Peanuts were actually the first to be re-homed. After only four days of caring for them they were reunited with their mother in foster care, set up by our friend Donna (the resident neighborhood “cat lady” who was an invaluable resource from day one), so we had eight cats left to be adopted.  The next to go was Casey (renamed Tikka), to the sister of one of Nicole’s high school friends, leaving us with seven to go.

The remaining kittens were fixed and the folks at Forgotten Cats helped us defer many of the costs. They’ve become one of my favorite charitable organizations and I’m sure to donate to them every year because of what they did for us.  They also helped us to discover that Xena was actually a boy (surprisingly not the case for the character on TV) so we renamed him X-Man. We said goodbye to Chuck (taken in by my friend Tom, who renamed him Dragon) and we were left with six cats to re-home. We took a car trip to Brooklyn to deliver Neko to our friend Gena and were down to five.  X-Man was the next to go (to my brother-in-law’s cousin) and we were down to four.  Mr. Black was renamed Mr. Glass and went to our friends Bryan and Judy (who in turn renamed him Mr. Moto) and just like that we were down to three.

Ninja was our project cat. She was always skittish, sort of an outsider among her brothers and sisters and acted almost like an autistic child. So the day that she crawled into Nicole’s lap and began purring was one of the most amazing and heartwarming days of our lives. Shortly thereafter she was delivered to my friend Rob, and Nicole’s tears meant that we were down to just two cats left.

By then Yorick (an official family member), Ophelia and Gabrielle had been let free to roam the house with Saku and Cleo, so it felt more like a house of five cats.  Around the same time Gabrielle really started to bond with Nicole. One day we renamed her Maggie, and then decided she would become cat number four in our household, which meant there was just one more cat for which we needed to find a new home.

Saku shares a meal with Yorick, Maggie and Ophelia

After meeting many new potential adopters we found a gentleman on Craigslist who seemed perfect. He had recently lost a beloved cat to old age and wanted to find a new companion for him and his remaining kitty.  Ophelia was adopted to him (and became Mi-Mi) at the end of September and we had succeeded in finding a new home for each and every kitten that came to us that day in late June.

I learned many things from the experience, the biggest of which was that caring for thirteen kittens was immensely easier than caring for just one puppy.  I also learned that taking a part in their lives was incredibly fulfilling. Knowing that we helped to shape the lives of these kittens and get them used to being around people was one thing. Understanding that we kept them from the potentially short lives of living on the streets was wonderful. And feeling the love back from them as we raised them from mewling poo-covered messes to happy, healthy young cats is something that’s difficult to describe.

So, I’ll say this: It was life-altering. Raising those cats and finding new homes for them was something I knew I wanted to do again and again. Having Yorick and Maggie in our lives as parts of our newly extended family was also a great feeling.

I felt complete. I have the wife, the home and now the kids.  Except in this case, all of my children have paws. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Apr 17

All Of My Children Have Paws: Part 2

It was late December 2006, only a few days before Christmas, when Nicole and I moved into our new home in Roslyn.  We actually made settlement in October and went through two months of various repairs and upgrades in the house, turning a lovely grandmother’s home into a house worthy of two relatively young and geeky childless people.

Among the work we did was making sure our new home was pet friendly.  With Cleo (and our personal taste) in mind we removed all of the carpet and had hardwood installed throughout the upper and lower floors.  We put a pet door in the basement door so Cleo and Saku would have easy access to their litter box and get that out of the view of visitors. We put the cat tree in the foyer, allowing the cats to look out of the front windows from a prime location. Everything was set.

I still remember seeing the cats wander the empty apartment before we moved them into our new home.  I opened the apartment bedroom door and they came out slowly — stunned almost — and looked completely freaked out, as if Cleo and Saku were concerned that we were robbed.  But bringing them into the house was an adventure for them. New smells. New places to explore. And more importantly…STAIRS!  Cleo had a brief taste of stairs when she lived with my In-Laws, and both of the cats had fun in the apartment hallway on occasion.  We would let them walk down the stairs under close supervision, but now they had three floors to roam and enjoyed checking out all of this space for two tiny cats.

Saku, enjoying the comforts of a new home.

Our next-door neighbor – a single mother with two teenage kids –  was also a cat owner, but she was an absentee one at best.  She had five adult cats and four of them would come and go from a broken window on her front porch. Our street, which is a dead-end block that terminates at a park, has plenty of feral cats in the area.  My supposition was that this neighbor was probably a good reason for that since most of these cats were likely inbred castoffs from her own indoor-outdoor family of unfixed felines.

Our cats had an entirely different lifestyle in which they were safely sheltered. They were in their glory roaming their new home and got along wonderfully in the new digs.  Then in February we did something to throw them for a loop.

Only two months after we moved into the house, Nicole and I stopped in a local pet store that was holding an adoption event featuring puppies that were born to dogs rescued from the recent Hurricane Katrina.  We fell in love with a tiny black ball of fur that the people running the event eventually convinced me was really a Black Lab. We thought it over, put in an application and gave the required vet references. Seven days later we were called and told that the puppy was ours. 

Just like that we were dog owners.

We were very careful when we took the puppy home, especially because neither of us really knew what to expect since we were both new to puppy ownership.  Nicole and I both had experience with dogs (mine much more briefly than hers) but neither of us had ever owned a puppy. We learned the hard way that owning a puppy is different than dog ownership.  Everything is on a smaller, dirtier, bitier scale with lots more work. And much less sleep.

Is this a place for cats and dogs to live in harmony?

When we first introduced Nori to her new stomping grounds, Nicole and I figured it would be wise to keep Cleo and Saku locked away in our bedroom.  Only once we were confident that cats and dogs would not fight like…well, cats and dogs, we took baby steps to introduce them.  Nothing was funnier than that first night when Saku and Nori, both the same size, were playfully chasing each other around the house.  We laughed for hours watching them.

But that was what seemed to be the lone bright spot of puppy ownership.

While housebreaking Nori we kept her alternately gated and crated in the kitchen.  During the day, while Nicole and I were at work, Nori took the time to chew everything in the kitchen in sight and poop everywhere except on the newspaper we laid out for her.  I’m not sure about you, but cleaning up dog doo and shredded wood from your kitchen on a daily basis is not something you want to do.  But Nori was also telling us, in her own way, that maybe we weren’t dog people.  Animal lovers?  Sure.  But definitely not dog people.

Waking up in the middle of the night, walking her at 2am, breaking her habit of chewing everything, housebreaking her, and the frustration of taking her outside to go potty only to have her go to the bathroom the moment she walked back in the house – all of these things were anger-inducing reminders that living with a dog is nothing like living with a cat.

So, when the contractor who was brought in to begin renovating our kitchen showed interest in Nori it seemed like kismet.  He was married with three children and lived in Bucks County where he had two and a half acres of land, and most importantly, he had an adult black lab at home that wanted a playmate.  It sounded like a great place for a dog to be, and in all fairness to Nori we were not giving her the amount of love of the life she deserved.  After only four short months of being Nori’s owners we made the difficult decision to give her away.

Just like that, Nori was gone and we were back to being cat parents only.

How could you say no to this face?

Two weeks after saying goodbye to Nori we were still re-adjusting to our calm lives of cat ownership.  It was a blessing to have had Nori in our lives, even briefly, because it instilled in Nicole and me the idea that we are not cut out to have dogs because they are so different than cats.  A dog depends on you so much more, treating you like an owner.  A cat lives with you almost independently, as if you’re just roommates and they’re there rent free.  And much like our own frustrations, the idea of having a dog in the house seemed to stress the cats as well.

Around the same time we said goodbye to Nori, our next door neighbor (the terrible cat mom) sold her house to move into a more affordable apartment.  We were glad to see her go and offered to help her find new homes for her cats if she needed it, but she said she was taking them all with her.  We figured we would never hear from her again.

Naturally, just as Saku and Cleo were beginning to get their bearings again on their more relaxed living environment we received a phone call from our former neighbor asking if we could take a few kittens off of her hands…

TO BE CONCLUDED

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Apr 11

All Of My Children Have Paws: Part 1

I’m going to admit something that, for a guy, is tantamount to confessing about wearing lace undies or lipstick on a regular basis.

I like cats.

There! I said it! I’m a cat person. Always have been.  I mean, there was a point when I was a kid that I had a dog.  It was a very short period of a few weeks when I was around seven or eight that my parents took in the beagle that belonged to a family friend who had to get rid of her. The dog’s name was Muffin and I can remember two things about her: she howled a lot and she used to eat Limburger cheese.

After the first weeks of doggie-ownership passed it was determined that Muffin was not a good fit for our home. I’m not sure if it was the howling, the inevitable dog farts that came from a Limburger-heavy diet, or a seven-or-eight-year-old’s lack of enthusiasm for walking the dog every day and cleaning up accidents inside of the house.  But something made my parents decide that it was time to bring Muffin to the home of some friends of the family.  Friends who owned a farm.

I may be cute, but these farts are going to kill you.

Ten years later, when I was a Senior in high school and I tried to adopt a dog for a girl I had a crush on, the SPCA turned me down for adopting a puppy since my family brought a dog to them a decade ago. I said, “No, that’s not true, my parents gave that dog . . .”

And then I had one of those moments like that scene in The Usual Suspects when Chazz Palminteri’s character realized that everything he just heard was a lie and he just let Keyser Soze get away.  I almost slapped myself in the head and said, “But we don’t know anyone who has a farm!”

Caution: This Image is Too Cute for Your Health

So, long story short, my parents were big fat liars.  But that’s beside the point.  The real point of this was to say that a few years after we got rid of Muffin we adopted a tiny black kitten from our neighbor whose cat had a litter.  Living in the city and not knowing much about animals, my parents did what pretty much every other unknowing cat owner did; they let Blackie out of the front door whenever she wanted to run out.  She was never fixed, never declawed and, sadly enough, one day she never came home.

I was sad, but I don’t remember aching over the loss of Blackie. But I do remember feeling a loss to the kinship I had with Blackie.  So, when the same neighbor’s cat had yet another litter of kittens a year after we lost Blackie, we took in yet another black kitten.  His name was Lucky.

Lucky was a great cat, but he was given the same freedoms as Blackie. Freedoms that, during that same Senior year of high school, had me find Lucky limping up the front steps to the porch one day as I was leaving for school.  I thought that he had been in a fight with another cat, and let him in the front door. I was concerned, so when I got to school I called home and my mother broke the news to me that it seemed that Lucky was hit by a car and managed to make it home before passing away.

I was devastated. The rest of the school day was a blur and I’m not ashamed to admit that at seventeen years of age I still cried at the loss of a pet.  In school, no less.

It was quite a while after that until I was ready to have a pet again. Part of me realized that having a cat in the city meant never letting it out of the house, and my parents could not be trusted to prevent that from happening.  And there was one other hurdle.

I am terribly allergic to cats.

Not all of them, mind you.  But certain ones will still send me into sneezing fits and leave me with a face so swollen that it looks like I have been stung by a hive full of bees.  I’ve taken every allergy pill imaginable, both prescription and over-the-counter. I’ve gone through years of allergy shots. And I’ve done it because a part of me always wanted to have a cat in my home.

Our first "child"

I’m very thankful to have met a woman who feels the same exact way.

When Nicole and I rented our apartment, we took Nicole’s parents’ cat with us.  It turned out that Cleopatra (yet another black cat) was having a difficult time realizing that peeing on a carpet is a bad thing.  So we took this six-year-old cat from one end of Montgomery County to the other and introduced her to an apartment filled with hardwood flooring and void of the temptations of shag carpet.  She adjusted quite well and, most importantly, seemed to be one of those few cats that didn’t set off my allergies.

In the summer of 2006, Nicole and I came across another cat that needed a home: a year and a half old Exotic Shorthair named Sakura, who looks like a cross between Wilfred Brimley and a bunny rabbit.  Our cozy little apartment was now a home to a married couple and our two four-legged children. I became a Cat Dad for the first time and it felt great.

Quaker Oats! Diabeetus!

Sure, there were some growing pains involved.  Cleo hated Saku in the beginning.  He was still a kitten in a sense and wanted a playmate.  She was an adult cat and just wanted to sit in the window and chirp at birds.

And neither one of them were ready for what we had in store a few months later when we bought our home.

TO BE CONTINUED…
(where we meet a new dog, thirteen kittens and the world of being a foster parents…)

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Apr 06

The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth

In the Neanderthal Age, most cavewomen were attracted to cavemen for their physical stature, their masculinity, and quite possibly the size of their clubs. The bigger the brow and the hairier the chest, the more cavewomen a caveman would quite literally have to beat off with a stick.

In the Modern Age, an equally large number of women are attracted to men for their economic stature, their reliability and, oddly still, the size of their clubs (so to speak). But the bigger the brain and the more financially stable the career, the more likely a man of today is going to find himself with a thrall of interested female admirers.

That’s not to say that many, most or all women are money-hungry. Nor is it to say that physical attraction is not predominant in modern romantic encounters. It has just become more apparent that brains are finally starting to catch up with brawn as one of the more attractive qualities in a male mate.

In other words, it’s a great time to be a Geek.  

I’m a Geek. I will proclaim it from the highest mountaintops and scream it in the most echo-laden valleys.

PresSuperman

Hail to the Geek: Then Senator Barack Obama in Metropolis, IL in 2007.

Our President, arguably the most powerful man in the free world, is a self-professed Comic Book Geek, Sure, Barack Obama may be the first President of the United States to have a basketball court installed at the White House, but he’s also appeared alongside Spider-Man and Youngblood and fought Bomb Queen in the pages of various comic books.  And you have to imagine that he has them all bagged and boarded somewhere waiting to get them CGC-graded like a good little nerd.

Bill Gates is the second wealthiest man in the world. There’s a better than 50% chance that he invented whatever operating system you’re using to read this blog. And while he’s not exactly a ladies man, Gates is married and both he and his wife are amongst the most philanthropic in the world. His financial status and reputation cannot be regarded as anything other than success. They don’t come much geekier than Gates.

There are Geeks everywhere you look on television; Big Bang Theory, Bones, Chuck, Community, How I Met Your Mother.  Not just Geeks but likeable Geeks. They’re not just the comedic sidekicks.  The Geeks are the stars. We’ve come a long, long way since the days of Steve Urkel and Screech. Now we are represented by ass-kicking superspies that quote Star Wars and brainy experimental physicists that date blonde hotties.

Please allow me to reiterate; it’s chic to be a Geek. Why else would all of those hipsters want to dress the way they do?

As an additional bonus to the way geek culture has invaded our every-day world, we in the Philadelphia suburbs are living in a modern paradise for Geeks. There are some great places to be a Geek in and around Montgomery County.

Brave New Worlds

Brave New Worlds in Willow Grove -- Geek Heaven

If you’re into comic books, look no further than Brave New Worlds in Willow Grove.  Not only do they have massive amounts of comics and “graphic novels” (for those who are still uncomfortable calling them comic books), but they have a plethora of supplies for role playing games and miniatures, action figures, apparel and accessories.  Other comic shops in and around the ‘burbs include Cyborg One in Doylestown and Comics & More (locations in the Plymouth Meeting and King of Prussia malls).  There’s also 7th Dimension Games in Roslyn for those looking to paint some orcs or space marines or maybe pick up the newest D&D Monster Manual.

If getting your garb on is more your speed, the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire opens its Shire to the world every

Kilt

The Perfect Storm of Geekdom - Superman in a Kilt

 August through October in Manheim, PA — a measly hour drive from many of the Northern suburbs. While most patrons are comfortable in their doublets, kilts, wench wear and pirate gear, you still see plenty of normal folk taking in the sights and sounds of 16th Century England plopped right in the middle of Pennsylvania. Plenty of alcohol and an open container policy (the Shire is on the grounds of the Mount Hope Mansion and Winery) helps to get you in a joyful mood. But if Manheim seems too far and you can’t wait until Summer, you can get a taste of the experience at the New Hope Renaissance Faire on April 16th and 17th. Be forewarned, however, that the Knights of New Hope (a.k.a. local constabulary) are not too keen on the portability of ale so there is that subtle difference between the two Faires.

You don’t have to wear a pocket protector or horn-rimmed glasses with tape holding them together to be a Geek. Those are the attributes of a dork and when it comes to the differences between a geek and a dork, well that’s like comparing peaches and kiwi. They may both be fuzzy but they’re not remotely the same. Geeks look down on Nerds. Nerds look down on Dorks. And everyone looks down on Furries.

We geeks are a proud sort. We stick together. We recognize each other for our accomplishments.  We use our intelligence and fandom as a tool, not as a weapon.

But that doesn’t mean we won’t rule the world one day.

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Apr 03

Home Away From Home

 I always thought I’d live my whole life within the limits of South Philly.

I loved being able to walk one block in any direction and find a corner grocery store. I loved having the best tasting pizza, cheesesteaks, hoagies and Italian food within a two-square-mile radius. I loved being able to walk to Veterans Stadium to catch a Phillies game or see the July 4th fireworks from my neighbor’s front porch.

Goodbye South Philly...Goodbye Cheesesteaks?

It took me 26 years to move out from under my parents’ roof.  But even then it just meant that I moved five blocks away with a roommate.  And then we moved yet another five blocks away a second time when my roommate bought a new home.  But it took something unpredictable to get me to pack up from the familiar safety of city life and move outside of my comfort zone. 

It took love to get the boy out of the city.

Nicole lived in the burbs in Wynnewood, just north of City Line Avenue.  I got my first real taste of suburban life when we started dating and I gave Nicole her the first real taste of city life. We spent time in both places so often that we never really thought much about where we would end up living when the inevitable occurred.

Then she took a job in Jenkintown.  And that, as they say, is all she wrote.

We started our search for places to live and almost right away found the perfect place in the suburbs.  It was in September of 2003 that we moved into an apartment in Abington just five minutes away from Nicole’s office.  That’s no small accomplishment considering I was 29 and still didn’t have a driver’s license.  City living meant I never needed a car and suburban life meant I’d either need to learn to drive or get used to longer trips with SEPTA.   I opted for the Trailpass and a 30-minute commute to work.

Our apartment was just about 800 square feet of happiness surrounded by trees and bushes and grass and all of the things I didn’t see in abundance during my South Philly rowhome days.  But even with that small glimpse of greenery and paradise, I didn’t get a real taste for suburban living until we bought our first home a few years later.

Nicole and I were married in 2005 and exactly one year later we bought a home in Roslyn.  The house we selected was what many would have considered a starter house, but Nicole and I bought what we called our forever home.  At that’s as much of a commitment as I’ve ever made to saying I was completely happy with never living in the city again. 

FrontLawn

A "Front Lawn" in South Philadelphia

I found replacements for my favorite spots, and in some instances they were even improvements over what I was used to back in my city days.  It’s crazy to think that the best pizza I’ve ever tasted comes from Horsham. Or that I needed to move out of the city to find the best sushi. 

I still didn’t have a license to drive and, more importantly, I still hadn’t needed to really grasp what suburban living was all about. But up until the spring of 2007 I had never stepped behind a power lawn mower.

I remember telling Nicole to make sure she had her cell phone charged and nearby.  Just in case.

“Just in case of what?” she asked.

“Just in case you need to call 9-1-1,” I replied.

So...How do I mow this thing exactly?

She laughed, but I was dead serious. I primed the mower, pulled the cord, and as soon as the engine roared to life I became a full-fledged suburbanite. It took me forty minutes to mow my backyard and, while it didn’t look like the outfield at Citizens Bank Park when I was finished, I was proud of what I was able to accomplish. I even managed to do the job without needing Nicole to call for a rescue from emergency personnel.

Seven and a half years after leaving South Philly and moving to Abington I am still adjusting to the subtle differences. I don’t see old ladies sweeping their pavements after it rains. When something happens on my street, the neighbors don’t look outside their windows or front doors to see what’s going on. Double-Parking is just an urban legend that fathers tell their sons to scare them at night. Hell, having your very own parking spot is just a matter of how many cars you can fit onto your driveway. Which of course isn’t a problem for me since I still don’t drive.

A typical South Philadelphia parking nightmare

But there are things I miss, as well. I miss being able to walk to Phillies games. I miss that convenience of a corner store and knowing the name of the guy selling me my milk. And, believe it or not, I miss the fact that my neighbors don’t seem to know every single aspect of my private life as if they were mind-readers.  There’s an almost umcomfortable level of personal space you gain when you move to the ‘burbs, like being in the Witness Protection Program.

And when it comes to having to mow the lawn every week once the seasons change, I almost miss my eight-by-ten concrete backyard from the city.  In those days, “weeding” meant pulling the occasional dandelion from a crack in the sidewalk. Now I need to devote an entire morning to yard work every seven days and have to deal with the resulting farmer’s tan.

The main difference now is that I don’t worry about having to call 9-1-1.

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