Pennsylvania Pitstop: Hershey, PA

Last winter I went home to the States for five weeks. One of those weeks was spent criss-crossing the great state of Pennsylvania – a series of adventures now collectively referred to as the Pennsylvania Pitstop.

Tuesday, January 10th, 2017: There’s a Smile in Every Trip to Hershey

If Monday’s trip to the Flight 93 Memorial had dredged up bitter memories of September 11th, Tuesday’s trip to Hershey was a nice reminder that life has a sweet side too.

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You’re free to punch me in the face for that little bout of cheesiness next time you see me, dear readers. But no kidding, our trip to Hershey was awesome.

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From Pittsburgh it would have taken us nearly 4 hours to reach Hershey by car, assuming we didn’t stop for bathroom breaks, lunch, heavy traffic, or speeding tickets. Good thing Keith’s an upstart airline mogul. We flew one of his planes into tiny Lancaster Airport in the heart of Amish country in a quarter of that time, and from there we rented a car and made our way to the self-proclaimed sweetest place on Earth –

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Please don’t confuse this with Disneyland, the self-proclaimed happiest place on Earth. Apparently being sweet and being happy are two different things. That’s why sweet people are often depressed and jerks go to sleep with big smiles on their faces. The more you know.

My interest in seeing Hershey began in elementary school when my neighbor, Mrs. Susie Bass (“Miss Susie”), told me about the trip she had taken there with her family (shout-out to Mr.Mike, Clare, and Michele). “J, we could smell chocolate everywhere we went!” she shouted. “They had Hershey bars that weighed 5 pounds! And the street lights were shaped like Hershey’s Kisses!” All of this was music to a fat kid’s ears. Hard to believe, but somewhere out there in America was a town – not an amusement park (though of course there is an amusement park in Hershey), but an actual town where people lived – that smelled like chocolate and had Hershey Kiss street lights. I had to know more about it.

Over the next few years I read several books about Hershey and its founder Milton. (I’ve used Who Was Milton Hershey? in several of my elementary English lessons here in Korea.)

At one point I even owned a Hershey’s watch. (I would kill to have another one. If anyone has one for sale, I’m your man.)

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And now here I was, finally seeing it with my own eyes. Hershey Park was closed for the winter (all the more reason to go back someday), but we still got to see all the cool stuff I’d been reading about since I was a kid.

The Willy Wonka-esque chocolate factory:

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The streets with names like “Cocoa” and “Chocolate.”

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And of course those legendary Hershey’s Kiss streetlights:

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Even better, we accidentally came across The Hershey Story, an amazing museum dedicated to Milton Hershey and the chocolate that bears his name.

Milton Hershey has long been a hero of mine, largely because, like Scrooge McDuckhe embodies the spirit of hard work, creativity, and free enterprise that once defined the American Dream. Born to a simple Mennonite family, he grew up to become a businessman, failing in several endeavors before striking it rich with his Lancaster Caramel Company.

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After discovering a chocolate-making machine at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, he turned his attention to chocolate – and well, you know what happened next.

But was that enough for him? Did he sit back on his thumbs and say, “Well, I’m swimming in money and chocolate, guess I’ll buy a Bugatti and call it a day?” Not even close. Hershey kept going and built an entire community around his factory, complete with hospitals, affordable housing for his workers, and the Milton Hershey School, which he considered his greatest achievement. He implemented high standards of safety for all of his businesses and even helped his competitor H.B. Reese develop his own candy company in Hershey. (Fun fact: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are made with Reese’s peanut butter and Hershey’s chocolate.)

It might surprise some people that a man with so much personal wealth would be so invested in the well-being of others. Aren’t rich people, the hated 1%, supposed to be mean and greedy? Well, no, not according to Hershey’s fellow Pennsylvanian tycoon Andrew Carnegie. In The Gospel of Wealth (1889), Carnegie asserted that the rich – and especially the uber-rich – have a responsibility to be generous with their wealth. He believed they should use it to improve the lives of the less fortunate. (It’s important to note that he was advocating charity, not socialism.) Milton Hershey’s entire life was an illustration of this principle. I wish more people were familiar with his incredible legacy.

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Keith and I soaked all of this in for at least two hours, reminiscing about discontinued Hershey’s products like Bar None and getting our visitor cards stamped every time we successfully completed “work” in a different area of chocolate production.

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Before heading back to the airport, we went for a late lunch at the General Sutter Inn, an English pub in Lititz, PA, where I had fish-and-chips, drank the strongest beer I’ve ever had –

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and got scared half to death by Pearl, a creepy-as-hell mannequin inexplicably stretched out in a bathtub downstairs.

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During the last leg of the trip, we passed a restaurant with a red-and-white exterior on the interstate.

“Dude!” Keith cried out. “That’s the biggest Chick-Fil-A I’ve ever seen!”

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“Dude!” I replied. “That’s a Friendly’s.”

It was a great laugh to end a great trip, and the Pennsylvania Pitstop now had its second official catch phrase.

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Pennsylvania Pitstop: Exploring Pittsburgh

Last winter I went home to the States for five weeks. One of those weeks was spent criss-crossing the great state of Pennsylvania – a series of adventures now collectively referred to as the Pennsylvania Pitstop.

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017: Merrily On Our Way to Nowhere at All

Every vacation schedule needs a day where nothing specific is planned and you’re free just to relax and wander around. Wednesday was that day.

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I spent most of the morning lounging around in Keith’s living room, struggling not to tell Ashley that she was gonna get engaged on Groundhog Day, then headed down the street with Keith to explore bookstores, candy and novelty shops (Pittsburgh is loaded with them), and interesting restaurants.

Among other things, we found a place that serves nothing but different kinds of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches –

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a candy store named after one of the characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

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a pretty cool statue of St. Michael –

and a one-stop horror shop called The House of the Dead where I found the perfect shirt for a Pittsburgh tourist who likes zombie shit.


That night we had dinner at the Pleasure Bar, a place that sounds like a strip club/brothel/bathhouse but is actually a crazy-good Italian restaurant that serves crazy-good Italian food.

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Went back to Keith’s place and fell asleep watching South Park re-runs. Not the most eventful day on the travel calendar, but you’ll hear no complaints from me about that. Every teacher in the world knows the value of a quiet day.

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Pennsylvania Pitstop: The Andy Warhol Museum

Last winter I went home to the States for five weeks. One of those weeks was spent criss-crossing the great state of Pennsylvania – a series of adventures now collectively referred to as the Pennsylvania Pitstop.

Thursday, January 12th, 2017: Pop Goes the Pitstop / Epilogue

And then came Grand Finale Thursday, the event that turned my attention to Pittsburgh in the first place. Yes, after 20 years and one week, the day had finally come for me to visit the Andy Warhol Museum.

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The day started off with Keith handing me his car keys and announcing, “I don’t wanna see that shit, but I don’t wanna rush you through it. Go down there, take your time, and call me when you’re done.” A part of me felt bad for leaving him behind, but the other part was like, Awesome. I’ve got the whole place to myself! I took a few wrong turns and got lost a couple of times before I finally made it, but once I saw the parking lot with the Brillo box attendant stand I knew I was in the right place.


The first thing I spotted when I stepped into the lobby was a large picture of Andy Warhol lying on his famous red sofa. Directly below this picture – creating a nice Warholian “copy” effect – was the sofa itself.

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Warhol’s friends often accused him of being cheap – no doubt a side effect of his growing up during the Great Depression. His critics often accused him of tricking or conning people into believing ordinary objects were works of art. If you felt so inclined, you might think of this sofa as a combination of those two things. A top-tier art museum (the largest single-artist museum in the world) is saving money on furniture by having guests sit on a 50-60 year old sofa. I love it.

Inside the museum itself, Warhol’s artwork was arranged chronologically by decade, beginning with the early work he made in art school and later as an illustrator in New York.

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The work he is best known for, it goes without saying, was made in the 1960s. This was the period when he made his famous Campbell’s Soup and Coca Cola paintings, as well as his three-dimensional Brillo and Heinz Ketchup boxes. (Pop quiz: where is the Heinz Company headquartered? Could it be in Warhol’s boyhood home of Pittsburgh, PA?)

 


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He also painted a lot of celebrities during this time, including Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Kennedy, and Elvis.

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Another of his most famous images from this era was the Velvet Underground & Nico album cover.

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The Velvet Underground was the house band at Warhol’s studio, “The Factory.” (Who but a Pittsburgh native would give an art studio such an industrial-sounding name?) During Factory parties, the Velvet Underground would play music while multiple Warhol films were projected on walls around the room. This is what was happening in the scene from The Doors that I mentioned in my prologue. The Andy Warhol Museum has an entire room set up to recreate this experience.

There’s also another room filled with his well-known silver cloud balloons:

The other floors are largely dedicated to the portraits and character paintings Warhol made from the heyday of Studio 54 in the late 1970s until his untimely death in 1987.


My favorite part of the museum was the part that was probably easiest to miss. Off to the side, sort of hidden away in a corner, was an audio-visual room where you could sit down in front of a television and watch virtually any movie or television appearance Andy Warhol ever made.

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Andy Warhol’s guest appearance on The Love Boat

This little room was a great relief to me. Anyone who’s seriously interested in movies has undoubtedly heard about Warhol’s underground films from the 1960s – like Poor Little Rich Girl (starring the beautiful/tragic Edie Sedgwick) and Empire (a single eight-hour shot of the Empire State Building) –

but these films have never, to my knowledge, been officially released to the general public. There are a lot of umpteenth-generation bootlegs on YouTube, but I had to wonder if the original reels still existed or if maybe they had been lost or destroyed sometime during the last 50 years. I guess not. All of them were at my fingertips at the Andy Warhol Museum, along with a large selection of “screen tests.” (Warhol asked everyone who visited the Factory to stare silently into a camera for 3-5 minutes.) Here’s Bob Dylan’s. It’s interesting to watch, because he and Andy Warhol hated each other at the time and he was obviously pissed off.

I was there for at least 4 hours before I finally forced myself to leave, but that wasn’t the end of the adventure. First I drove back to Keith’s place and told him there was one more thing I wanted to see. Not too long after, we were driving through the rain looking for a Byzantine Catholic cemetery in Bethel Park.

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Andy Warhol’s burial site. No, we didn’t put those soup cans (or anything else) there.


We were so stupid, dear readers. When we first pulled into the cemetery we saw a few cameras mounted to a post and (correctly) assumed they were there for security reasons. Then, after we parked, we devised an elaborate plan to split up and look for Warhol’s grave, complete with signals we would send each other once we found it. We must have walked around with our umbrellas for at least three or four minutes before realizing he was “probably” buried near the cameras…Because why else would this little cemetery even need them?

And we were right. The line of the cameras led directly to his headstone, which, in true Warholian fashion, can be viewed online 24 hours a day. His parents are buried directly behind him, though their headstone bears the original Polish spelling of their last name: Warhola.

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Andy’s portrait of his mother Julia.

I’m glad I saw these Warhol sights on my last day in Pennsylvania. I don’t know if I would have fully appreciated them if I had seen them any sooner.

After decades of learning about him, I can tell you quite a bit about how his art is popularly interpreted, how he profoundly influenced modern culture, and how he basically invented the art of trolling the media (video below):

But in order to get a truly good look behind Andy’s sunglasses, I think I had to visit Pittsburgh first. I read somewhere that he was confused when someone first proposed the idea of opening his museum in Pittsburgh. Why not New York, the city where he lived and worked for the great bulk of his professional career?

It’s a good question, but the answer makes sense once you’ve been there. So much of what made Warhol successful – the brands he depicted in his art, his work ethic, his industrial style of art production, his glorification of ordinary things – is firmly rooted in his Steel City background. It was only right for him to come home.

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Your Humble Narrator attempts a selfie in front of Andy Warhol’s most famous work.

After paying our respects, Keith and I went and had our last supper at an incredible German restaurant. Lots of meat, cheese, accordion music, and waitresses in sexy Bavarian outfits. A meal fit for superstars. If Andy Warhol had been there, I’m sure he would have agreed that it was greeeeaaat.

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Friday, January 13th, 2017: The Epilogue

The next day I said farewell to Keith, Ashley, and Presley and flew to New Orleans on an incredibly affordable Allegiant flight. (That’s right. I boarded a flight on Friday the 13th. I ain’t superstitious.) When I landed, my old buddy Giuliano (of Mount Fuji fame) picked me up at the airport and drove me straight to the horse races. The next morning we went to Biloxi, met up with our long-MIA friend Steve Morris, and had lunch at the Olive Garden with my mom.

As for Keith back in Pennsylvania, well…

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she said yes…But only after she said, “What the hell are you doing, Keith?” 🙂

Looking back on my time in Pennsylvania now, I can say with absolute certainty that Jackie O (a character in Wendy Mcleod’s The House of Yes) was wrong when she said all those terrible things about it.


Pennsylvania is not “just this state that gets in your way when you have to go someplace else.” It’s actually a great state filled with good people, awesome sights, and a wide variety of amazing food. A very worthwhile place to make a pitstop.

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My Last 4 Months Explained in 10 Questions

Alright, dear readers, let’s cut to the chase here. I haven’t posted an update for four solid months now. By regular standards, that’s a pretty long time – a full third of a year! – but online, it’s practically an eternity. I’ve got a lot of ground to cover, and I’m on limited time at the moment, so let’s make this easy for everyone by using a Q&A format. Cool? Cool.
Here you go.

 My Last 4 Months Explained in 10 Questions

1. Where have you been?

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All over the place. My school got out for Christmas vacation on December 23rd, and I flew home to the States the very next day: Seoul to Seattle. Seattle to Atlanta. Atlanta to Gulfport. (I’ll explain this rather roundabout flight plan in a separate post.) It was the first time I’ve been home for Christmas in five years, and it was awesome. I got to spend time with my dear old friend Jeff Delapp during my layover in Seattle, visit with my family and friends in Biloxi and Jackson, and even take a week-long trip to Pittsburgh to see my old friend and former radio co-host Keith Sisson. I flew back to Seoul near the end of January and have been preparing for the new school year ever since.

2. How is Kimchi?

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Kimchi is an American now. Because this is probably my last year in Korea (one more at most), I decided to leave him with my parents when I went home for Christmas. This will spare him the stress of another overseas flight, as well as the mind-numbing boredom of sitting alone in our apartment all day while I’m at work. Also, my new school offers much longer vacations than my old school did, so I don’t want to board poor Kimchi for months at a time while I go sightseeing around the world.

I’m not gonna lie. I ugly-cried on the night before I left home, and the first few weeks without him have been depressing as hell. But, I know he’s in good hands and it’s ultimately for the best. And from what my mom tells me, he’s doing just fine.

Actual conversation:

Me: I’m just worried about him. I’ve heard about these dogs whose separation anxiety is so severe that they basically go into mourning, stop eating, and have to be put on an I.V. to survive.

Mom: (in a “you’re being ridiculous” tone) J, he’s nowhere near that.

3. You said you’re going “sightseeing around the world.” Where are you planning to go?

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I have big plans to visit England and Scotland at some point, but I think I’ll probably keep that trip on the back burner until I leave Korea for good. This year I’m looking into visiting Moscow and St.Petersburg. And possibly Hawaii or Australia. We’ll see.

4. You also said you went to Pittsburgh. How was it?

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Amazing! I’ll be posting several updates about my adventures in Pittsburgh (and Pennsylvania at large) in the near future. Stay tuned.

5. So now you’re back in Seoul. Are you still teaching at the same school?

Yes, but this year I’m teaching 6th grade. (I taught 2nd grade last year.) The 6th grade English program at my school mainly consists of writing practice and novel study, which makes it the perfect fit for someone with my background and interests. My students are incredibly smart this year. Gotta stay on my toes!

6. Any big changes in 2017?

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It’s kind of embarrassing to list my New Year’s resolutions, because I realize that they’re basically identical to the ones I made 4 years ago. The difference is, I’m really sticking to them this time. With a less strenuous work schedule and no pet-owner responsibilities for the coming year, I now have time to put all of these plans into motion.

a. Lose weight – It’s a big goal, but I’ve done it before. After some trial and error, I’ve finally come up with a diet/exercise plan that works for me and that helps me lose weight at a healthy rate. I’ve already dropped 8 pounds in the first month alone. Just gotta keep it up.

b. Write something every day – I’m trying to set aside 2 hours for writing every day. Whether it’s a story, an essay, a book review, or a blog post, I just need to write something. I’m happy with the progress I’ve been making on a project that’s been sitting around for years, and I’m hoping to post at least one blog a week. Hold me to it!

c. Become more sociable – I know, it’s hard for those of you who know me to imagine me needing to add “become more sociable” to a list of New Year’s resolutions. But, there’s definitely something to be said for total exhaustion. For the past few years, my weekday schedule has basically consisted of work, dinner, going home and getting Kimchi situated, and then passing out. This year I’m trying to remedy that by making more plans, accepting more invitations, and staying in better touch with friends and family.

d. Complete a daily task – At the beginning of the year I bought a small planner and started writing down little goals to complete each day. These goals might be something simple like “Listen to Elvis” or “Eat Indian food,” or something a little more challenging like “Learn the Bill of Rights.” Whatever it is, I’m always doing something to try and break out of my usual routine. I’m open to suggestion if you can think of any worthwhile additions to the list.

7. Still single?
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Yup, but with any luck the aforementioned weight loss and improved social calendar will be changing that before too long.

8. What are you reading these days?

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I just finished Stephen King’s Revivalwhich I’ll review at Those Sentences in the next couple of weeks, and now I’m three or four chapters into Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. On weekends I take a break from whatever novel I’m reading and read an essay or short story. Current faves include: Nikolai Gogol, Wendell Berry, Orrin Grey, and Bill Kauffman. Good stuff.

9. What are you listening to these days?

In the spirit of breaking out of my usual routines I’ve recently created two new iTunes playlists, one called Swingabilly and the other called Sawdust. Swingabilly is a collection of big band jazz, classic and neo-swing, rockabilly, and hulabilly songs. In case you’re wondering, “hulabilly” – I admit this was a new one for me too – is like rockabilly with a Hawaiian twist. Dig it:

“Sawdust” is a collection of Delta blues, classic and neo-bluegrass, and old country. What can I say? I’m feeling old-fashioned these days.

10. Last question. What do you think of what’s going on with Donald Trump?

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The truth is, I try very hard not to think of what’s going on with Donald Trump. But of course that’s nearly impossible, because, just as I predicted, a lot of my liberal friends on Facebook overreact to every single thing he does. Seriously, if Trump took an aspirin liberals would declare headaches a victimized minority and start breaking Starbucks windows somewhere. #StandWithHeadaches #HeadacheJustice #MyHeadacheGrabsBack
Is there a None of the Above Club I can join to be with other people who don’t like the president OR the “resistance?” Please? Come on. They did it in Brewster’s Millions!

Anyway, I hope this brings everything up to speed. Like I said, I’m gonna be posting about my Pittsburgh trip very soon and then trying to post at least one update every week. Drop me a line and let me know what’s up. ‘Til then, my friends, be well.

J.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/J-Wiltz-142761115744236/
IG: poms_are_metal

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The 2016 Election, as Seen from Seoul

Okay, so, in case you haven’t heard – and yes, I’m saying this sarcastically – Donald Trump won the 2016 US Presidential Election.

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I know. I couldn’t believe it either.

In the weeks leading up to the election, I had heard a number of pundits saying that Trump had less than a 30% chance of winning. Some projected that his chances might even be as low as 12%, a view propped up by various hypothetical maps that predicted even Texas going blue. Republican and Conservative attempts to “unskew” these predictions just sounded like wishful thinking.

Because I live in Seoul, 15 hours ahead of my hometown in the States, I was watching the Tuesday night election returns on Wednesday morning (pretty cool, huh?). Every so often when my students were busy with something at their desks, I would head over to the classroom computer and refresh Real Clear Politics to see how things were going. No big surprise, the first few states that turned red on their election map were mostly in the South – the states everyone expects the GOP to win in pretty much every election. Like a lot of people, I assumed Trump would lead early but then get slaughtered as the northeastern and West Coast votes started coming in. As one of my Facebook friends put it, “This is like an Ole Miss game. Trump is way ahead now, but just wait.”

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But then Trump took Ohio, an incredibly important swing state that often acts as an indicator of the entire election.


“What?” I said out loud. I knew Trump was polling well in Ohio, but I didn’t expect it to mean very much on Election Day itself. (Sounds nonsensical, I know. It’s really just a roundabout way of saying I don’t always trust the polls.) But then when I got back from lunch, I found an even bigger surprise waiting for me. Trump had won Florida, another important swing-state.


“Is this really happening?” I said, again speaking out loud. Yes, it was. And as I started mentally adding up all the other states that Trump was almost certain to win (Alaska, Arizona, etc.) my mind suddenly came to an unexpected conclusion: Wow. He might actually win this thing. And, of course, that’s what happened.


“So, J,” some of you might find yourselves saying, “you were a vocal critic of the Obama administration. Will you be coming home now that there’s a Republican in the White House?” Ummm, no. I may not be frothing at the mouth the way a lot of other people are, but a lot of things I didn’t like about Obama are also true of Trump.

Here’s a quick list.

The Cons of a Trump Presidency
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(1) He is being handed entirely too much power. When Donald Trump assumes the presidency in January, we will find ourselves with a Republican president, a Republican House, and a Republican Senate. This means that, like Obama before him, Trump will have at least two years to pass virtually any piece of legislation he wants. A lot of people with no imaginations blamed the backlash against Obama on racism, but I think it had much less to do with race and much more to do with his lack of checks and balances. History is now repeating itself with Trump. I’m not a fan of one-party rule.

(2) He is inexperienced as a political leader. Trump has had lots of business experience, so he’s at least superior to Obama in that regard. But I believe the American president should have experience in both business and politics.  It would have made sense if Trump had run for a smaller office, maybe governor of New York, but instead he’s all the way at the top of the mountain. Thus, the two most recent captains of the American ship are men who’ve never even paddled a canoe.

(3) His motives are not 100% clear and could potentially be very radical. One of the recurring criticisms of Trump throughout his campaign was his tendency to tell voters that his plans were “great” and “unbelievable” and “you’re gonna love them” without actually saying what those plans were. His stance on immigrants from Islamic countries, for example, has been interpreted in a number of different ways. Trump supporters are adamant that he never said he was going to deport all Muslims, only that he wants to find a better way to screen for potential terrorists coming to the USA from Islamic countries. His opponents, however – including President Obama – have stated that Trump has plans to “ban an entire religion.”

For me, it’s hard to form solid opinions about these things, because, again, they simply aren’t very clear yet. This was also a major problem that many skeptics had with the Obama presidency. The accusation that Obama was involved in radical/far Left/neo-Marxist/socialist politics was not a Republican myth or talking point. Dig into his background just a little bit and you’ll find that he was a member of the New Party, a close associate of many left-wing radicals, and a proponent of using intimidation tactics against voters and businesses.

Some people are upset that Donald Trump won’t release his tax returns.
Just like Obama wouldn’t release his college transcripts.

Some people are upset that Trump is supported by white nationalists.
Just like Obama was supported by the Black Panthers and Nation of Islam.

Because these issues in Obama’s past were never properly addressed by the mainstream press, many people were left to fill in the blanks with conspiracy theories and fear. Again, history is now repeating itself with Trump.

And just a sidenote –

(4) Social media is gonna suuuuuuck for the next four years. In high school, I was a theater kid (Drama Club president, actually) who enjoyed offbeat, counter-cultural books and movies. In college, I was a liberal arts major who co-hosted a radio show that routinely made fun of Southern Conservative frat boys, religious student organizations, and rednecks. Some of you might recall the “Redneck at the Zoo” sketch my old roommate and I recorded in Memphis.


One Halloween I dressed up as the Rainbow Crusader (“the world’s first openly gay super hero”) and went prancing around my hometown wearing a Pride flag as a cape. And just this year, I’ve donated several hundred dollars to the African Wildlife Foundation to combat elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade.

These signposts on the road of my life might seem to indicate that I’m something of a liberal, right? Nope. I have never been a liberal. Why? Because, in my experience, liberals are the left-wing equivalent of Christian fundamentalists. They are convinced not only that they are right about everything but that everyone who disagrees with them is evil, blind to the truth, and deserving of condemnation. And, also like Christian fundamentalists, many liberals labor under the delusion that everyone around them not only wants, but NEEDS to hear their opinion on everything. You know how most people groan when someone approaches them and asks if they have a minute to talk about their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? I do the same thing whenever someone starts talking to me about male privilege and “the patriarchy,” tries to downplay Islamic violence by talking about things Christians did literally hundreds of years ago, or tells me that the only reason I’m opposed to government-run healthcare is because I want poor people to die.

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Let me be clear that I do not think everyone whose politics lean farther to the left than my own falls into this mold. I know many intelligent people on the Left whom I consider both respectable and moral despite our differences of opinion. Some of them have even helped me refine my own political thinking. But you know who I’m talking about. I’m talking about the idiots who could look at this question –

Which of the following people is the worst human being on this list?
(A) A white male
(B) A black male who supported Donald Trump
(C) A woman who doesn’t support modern feminism
(D) An axe murderer who likes to molest, dismember, and eat the corpses of children

– and actually have to think for a while about the answer.

Looking into the future, I can already see these people taking my Facebook and Instagram feeds hostage with their endless virtue signalling and calls to “fight back against hate and oppression.” It’s gonna be 2004 all over again.


That said, I believe there are a few things that might actually be okay about Trump’s presidency.

Here they are, in no particular order.

The (Possible) Pros of a Trump Presidency

pros
(1) Trump probably has a slightly better understanding of economics than President Obama did. That’s not saying very much, but take it for what it’s worth. Trump, as I mentioned, has considerable business experience and should be able to figure out that a country cannot increase its wealth by spending trillions of dollars that it doesn’t have. Then again, he did mention infrastructure spending in his acceptance speech, so maybe I should just prepare to be disappointed. (Note: fixing roads and bridges does not improve the economy.)

(2) At least there’s no creepy cult of personality around Donald Trump. The thing that disturbed me most about President Obama’s rise to power was the frenzied adulation that came along with it. For those of us who weren’t on the wagon, the whole thing was incredibly bizarre to behold. Seriously, just watch the following video and try not to find it at least a little off-putting and dystopian, especially at the end.

In the early days of his presidency, you could actually go to Wal-Mart and buy Obama merchandise. Bobble heads. Calendars. Banks. Posters. Pencils. You name it. I was working as a university writing instructor at the time, and to many of the students on campus Obama was no mere politician; he was the human embodiment of Hope itself. A philosopher-king. The smartest man to ever occupy the Oval Office. A bridge builder. A master orator. A man who could turn back the ocean tides and heal the planet. A modern-day combination of Jesus, Socrates, Einstein, and Gandhi. Amen! Alleluia! The savior had come! And the mainstream media was all too eager and willing to sing his praises.


Trump, it goes without saying, will not enter the White House with quite the same level of love-stricken support from the media and popular culture. And you know what? That’s great. Americans shouldn’t love their politicians. You shouldn’t want to have a poster of the president hanging on your wall. That sort of thing is not patriotism. It’s cult follower bullshit. Especially when the president is someone like Barack Obama or Donald Trump and has done nothing to deserve that level of emotional commitment.

obamessiah
(3) Thoughtful people on the Right and Left might very well find some common ground. Earlier in this blog post I mentioned the intelligent people on the political Left. In the wake of Trump’s success, many of these good people are genuinely, understandably afraid of what the future might hold. Believe me, I know that fear very well. I understand what it’s like to deeply distrust a president and his intentions. Have you seen all those people on television threatening to leave the country? I actually did it.

That’s why I will not condescend to anyone by telling them that they need to calm down and respect Trump because he’s the president or that they should give him time to prove himself. I won’t even tell them not to be angry at the people who voted for him. Lord knows I still lose respect for people when I find out they fell for all that vapid “Yes We Can” nonsense (especially the second time around). But what I will say is this: if you’re only angry about Trump, you haven’t gone far enough in your thinking…But don’t worry, you’re getting there.

In the past week, some of my left-leaning friends have declared that they will not pay taxes to a Trump administration. Others have expressed support for non-compliance and/or refusal to accept Trump’s authority. Some have even gone so far as to say they support #CalExit, a movement calling for California to secede from the United States. What the people posting these things might not realize is that this is exactly what most Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians have been preaching for a very long time. A healthy resistance to taxation, undue governmental authority, and federal control of the states forms the foundation of most right-wing thinking.

market
Do you suddenly feel as if the federal government has too much control over your life, that you’re taking orders from people you didn’t elect and don’t even respect? Have you begun to feel that government should be smaller and more localized, that voters in Iowa shouldn’t be making decisions for people in Massachusetts? Have you maybe even dared to think the unthinkable – that our whole idea of government is quickly becoming outdated in the digital age? Hey, welcome to the club. We took different paths, but it would appear that we’ve arrived  at the same destination.

I can’t say for certain where we’re going from here. All I know is that my school recently asked me if I’d like to stay for another year. And I said yes.

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October 7th: The Good and the Bad

If you saw the SNL sketch where Kylo Ren appeared on Undercover Boss disguised as a radar technician named Matt, you’ll undoubtedly remember one of the Stormtroopers making the comment: “Dude, Matt straight-up sucks.


Those are the words going through my head as I’m reading about Hurricane Matthew’s incredible death toll in Haiti and the havoc he’s (it’s?) wreaking up the East Coast. As someone whose hometown was ground zero for Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, I know firsthand how hurricanes can devastate families and property. My heart goes out to everyone in the storm’s path. If you’re reading this and know of a reputable relief organization where I can donate to the recovery, please let me know.

hurricane-matthew

It’s kind of a tragic coincidence that Matthew made landfall on October 7th, a day that has both a personal and national history of being downright shitty.

On October 7th, 2005, my old dog Annie passed away from health complications caused by the above-mentioned Hurricane Katrina. (We believe she ingested some unclean water during the flooding.)

annie

Four years before that – October 7, 2001 – was the day America fired its first shots in the War on Terror.

afghan3
If you’re old enough to remember 9-11, you might also remember the climate of fear and paranoia that swept over the country in the months that followed. The world had completely changed in the course of a single morning, and suddenly we Americans found ourselves learning phrases like “sleeper cell,” “anthrax attack,” and “homeland security.” There was some debate at the time about whether the US should retaliate for the attacks using military force. It wasn’t as clear-cut as Pearl Harbor 60 years earlier. We hadn’t been attacked by a foreign military but by a terrorist organization (al-Queda). By going to war in Afghanistan we would run the risk of being sucked into an endless, bloody ground war (“like Russia”). There was also considerable fear that attacking a Middle Eastern country would only invite more attacks by sleeper cells already located inside the US.

sleeper
I was a college student working at an independent video rental store (remember those?) when all of this was happening. Being an extrovert who was deeply troubled by the 9-11 attacks, I would frequently chat with customers about the state of the world and wonder what the near future might hold for all of us. “Do you think we’re going to war?” I asked a lady one Saturday morning.

“We just did,” she said. “Started dropping bombs on Afghanistan about an hour ago.”

It was one of those weird moments when you recognize the significance of something as soon as it happens. Even now I can remember feeling afraid and excited at the same time. After a month of fearful indecision, it was finally open season on those murderous bastards. But that meant it was open season on us too. My country just went to war, and it might last a really long time. I remember looking at the calendar next to the cash register. “October 7th,” I said.

The lady nodded and said we’d always remember this date.

Before we give in to the superstition that a certain day is somehow cursed, though, it’s important to remember that not everything that’s happened on October 7th has been bad.
After all, on October 7th, 1986, more than a decade before there was any such thing as 9-11 or the War on Terror or Hurricanes Katrina and Matthew, Slayer released their landmark album Reign in Blood – a permanent fixture on my list of things that really are as good as everyone says.

reign
My introduction to this album came when I was 13 or so, several months after I’d first gotten into metal via Metallica’s black album. I didn’t really know the difference between good metal and shit metal back then, so I signed up for Columbia House’s “12 Tapes for a Penny” deal and ordered a bunch of Motley Crue, Poison, and Damn Yankees cassettes. A few of their songs were fairly catchy, but none of them packed the same punch as the songs I was listening to on Metallica’s earlier albums. Ride the Lightning. Master of Puppets. Where could I find more bands that sounded like that? I wondered. Where’s the heavy shit?

The answer came when an old buddy of mine named Chris Coleman showed up to school with a battered cassette copy of Reign in Blood and told me I could borrow it. I stared at the cover art for a while – it appeared to be some kind of goat-headed Satan figure surrounded by images of war – before flipping it over to look at the song titles.

track-listing
“It’s a mini-album,” Chris explained. “Same songs on both sides.”
A mini-album. It sounded almost cute.
But that mini-album, I soon learned, was anything but cute. In just 28 minutes, Slayer ripped through 10 songs, both of my eardrums, and my previously unshakeable belief that Metallica was the heaviest band in the world. Seriously, listening to “Enter Sandman” after hearing “Angel of Death” was like smoking a joint after trying PCP. It just didn’t work anymore.


Having officially discovered the heavy shit, I then went on to discover even heavier bands and genres (i.e. death and black metal), but Reign in Blood still reigns. Do yourself a favor and listen to it now. It’s a great way to spend your October 7th.

Fucking. Slayer.

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A Bloomsday Ramble

Bloomsday
Bloomsday 2016. It’s almost 9:30 p.m. at the time of this writing, and I put in a full day of teaching and planning before taking my roommate out for his nightly hour-long tour of the neighborhood. But, it just doesn’t seem right to let this day go by without writing something. Like a Halloween without candy or a birthday without cake. This is a day when the words should flow freely, so please, just sit back and let me ramble for a while.

“‘Start Again’ I Heard Them Say”

plans
My life has started over in a number of ways over the past few months. I’ve started my new job, which seems to be going pretty well so far. I had a birthday on May 25th (it’s never too late to hit up ye olde Barnes & Noble Wishlist for belated gift ideas, by the way). And, most significantly, I suddenly find myself with far more free time than I’ve had in literally the last five years.

I’ve had big plans for this free time ever since I signed on for my new job way back in December. My three biggest projects: (1) I want to get some serious writing done; (2) I want to drop about 65 pounds; and (3) I want to start working with North Korean refugees again. Thus far, I’m doing well with two out of three.

Back in the Tutoring Life Again

TNKR
In the past three or four weeks, I’ve attended two meetings at TNKR (Teach North Korean Refugees), a group that pairs English tutors with students from North Korea. I submitted a resume explaining my qualifications, and I might find out whether any of the students have selected me to be their tutor as early as tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Back on the Treadmill Again

The battle of the bulge rages on. It’s kind of embarrassing to look back and see how many times I’ve blogged about my various plans to lose weight during my time in Korea. I was going to the gym. I was competing with my buddy Kristian. I bought a bicycle (which was stolen last winter, sadly). But this time – knock on wood – is different. With more time and less stress to deal with, I feel like I have some advantages that I didn’t have before.

C25k display
I’ve joined a gym here in Seoul, and Doreen, the gal who hooked me up with my new job, has introduced me to Couch to 5k (C25K). If you haven’t heard of it, C25K is a free running app that can supposedly get you off the couch and have you ready for a 5k in just eight weeks if you stick with it and do the assigned 30-minute exercises three times a week. I’m already on Week 3 and loving it, so it must be doing something right.

One thing I didn’t realize about myself before I started C25K was how much my obsessive-compulsive tendencies affect me in the gym. It’s always been very hard for me to relax during a cardio workout because I constantly watch the clock to make sure I start walking/running/jogging at exactly the right times. I’ve even made playlists of songs that could measure these things out for me. C25K takes all that stress away by keeping an eye on the time for me. If I need to run for two minutes, I hear a little chime and a prompt that says “Begin running.” Two minutes later, another chime and “Start walking.” It even tells me when I’m halfway finished and when I only have one more minute to go. All I have to do is rev up my playlist – 423 of the best songs in my music library – and feel the burn. It’s flawless. Can’t wait to post before-and-after pictures.

I Know I’m Slipping

writers block
The one front where I’m not quite hitting all my marks is my writing. I’m definitely writing more than I was before, but I haven’t managed to get into a good routine with it just yet. These things take time. The funny thing about writing, though, is that sometimes you don’t really want to get into a good routine, because you know your other responsibilities are inevitably going to pull you away from it, which is extremely frustrating. That’s why I’m currently trying to save up enough money to take a year off and do nothing but write. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to figure out how to balance everything out.

miracle
A few weeks ago I read a book called The Miracle Morning, which explained how a person could potentially reach any goal they’re trying to reach by waking up a few hours earlier than normal. The writing in this book was atrocious, and it occasionally veered awfully close to that silly “tell the universe what you need” bullshit that made The Secret so popular a decade or so ago. (What’s that called again? The Law of Attraction? Something like that.) But it did offer a few good ideas that I’ve been trying to implement in my life.

For example, I’ve been waking up early several days a week to do an hour of writing in the morning before work. I also made a list that spells out exactly what I’m trying to accomplish. By May 25th, 2017, I plan to finish my long-delayed story collection and reach my weight loss goals. Wish me luck.

And oh yeah, please visit, like, and subscribe to me on social media if you haven’t done so already. I need my fanbase to be ready when my book is finished. 🙂

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/J-Wiltz-142761115744236/

Instagram: poms_are_metal

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClZj2rVRCg8sLQqsWQx2RTQ

“You Opened It. We Came.”

family hellraiser In completely unrelated news, I’ve been going back and watching all the Hellraiser movies again, even the straight-to-video sequels where Pinhead is reduced to making brief cameo appearances. I’ve always enjoyed horror movies, as anyone who saw the kitchen at Apartment 86 can attest, but Hellraiser gets a few extra points in my book for being a bit more literate than the average ’80s slasher flick. (Not that there’s anything wrong with slasher flicks, mind you – I love Jason, Freddy, Michael, and Chucky too.)

Since I began this particular movie marathon, I’ve had to be very careful what I say to my students.

Student crying and whining?
“No tears please. It’s a waste of good suffering.”

Student asking for a bathroom break at an inappropriate time?
“Trick us again, child, and your suffering will be legendary…even in Hell.”

Student tattles for a trivial offense, so you punish them instead of the student they’re ratting on?
“All problems solved.”

I realize now that Clive Barker is a writer I should become much more familiar with. Sounds dumb, I know, but I’ve always associated him with his movies and never really thought of him as a serious writer. My mistake. Gonna start looking into his stuff very soon. Any suggestions?

Rambling Off Now

There’s more I could comment on if I was wide awake, but I’m not, so I won’t.
Happy Bloomsday, everyone. Thanks for reading.

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