JT's Blog

Things that interest me, things that happened to me, things that I like, even some things that I don't like...

Wayne Busbea, Etc.

As I was reading Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, which is a history of the early years of science fiction and a biography of some of its foremost writers, I was reminded of Wayne Busbea. Let me explain.

Our family moved to Richland, PA, in June of 1957, and for the first few months we lived in the apartment that Lynn and Isobel Klopp kept on the second floor of their house on East Main Street. That summer, as most summers thereafter, I spent a lot of time at the Richland Playground, and one day I heard someone on the shuffleboard court speaking with a distinctive Texas twang. I soon found out his name was Wayne Busbea (BUZZ-bee), and he had recently moved to town with his mother from Texas.

A few months later we moved to a house on West Main Street, and Wayne lived with his mother and stepfather in an apartment just a few doors up the street. Wayne was about two years older than I was, but we’d occasionally hang out together. I was fascinated by his accent, so I tended to hang on his every word, and like practically everyone from Texas that I’ve ever met, he had a tendency to compare everything to what it was like back in Texas. Everything was bigger and better in Texas, of course. Although after a few years that tendency faded, as did his accent.

I only recall a few specific incidents. One time, I’m guessing this was the winter of 1960 when I was in 5th grade, I came across him as he was throwing snowballs at the snowman in the Gass’s yard. This would be the yard of Polly and George Gass who had two sons, Frank (a year younger than I was) and Michael (two years younger than I was). So this was the snowman that Frank and Mike had built a couple days earlier, and Wayne was tossing snowballs at it in an effort to knock it down, the Gass boys not being home at the time.

I joined him. I don’t think I tossed any snowballs, but even if I did, I doubt they caused any damage. On the other hand, I didn’t do anything to prevent Wayne from destroying the Gass boys’ snowman either.

A few days later as I was walking home from school, Dale Saddler and Mike Gass confronted me. Dale was in my class and fancied himself something of a tough guy. In the one conversation that I recall having with him he said that he planned to join the Marines because that was the toughest thing you could get. Anyway Dale was a good friend of Wayne’s, but this day he was acting as a protector of sorts for Mike.

 The only photo I have of Wayne Busbea from the 1963 yearbook

The only photo I have of Wayne Busbea from the 1963 yearbook

They confronted me on a sidewalk with snow piled up on either side. As Dale blocked my escape, Mike demanded to know why I had destroyed his snowman. (How had he found out? Probably neighborhood busybody Olive Geiss, who made the most divine cookies. But that’s another story.) I don’t know what my reply was, but before I knew it, Mike was attacking me. Fortunately, Mike had never learned to fight or punch. His idea of fighting was to just flail his arms wildly, and since he was two years younger, even I could defend myself against that. Happily, Dale didn’t actively participate or I might not have been so fortunate.

A few months later, some money was stolen from the Gass’s house. Stupidly, I blurted out in front of my mother that Wayne knew that the Gass’s kept their garage door unlocked so that Frank and Mike could get in if their parents weren’t at home. So my mother alerted Richland’s sole police officer, Donald Foreman. (In later years my mother couldn’t understand why I tended not to tell her anything.) I don’t think she realized that this information incriminated me as much as it did Wayne. Hell, I suspect half the town knew that the Gass’s kept their garage unlocked.

Anyway, the next school day I found myself hauled out of class to go down to the basement to repeat this supposedly incriminating piece of information to Officer Foreman directly. Then he brought Wayne down. While I was still sitting there! I thought I was supposed to be an anonymous tipster.

Well, Wayne denied that he stole the money. I believed him. I never thought he stole it in the first place. There being no real evidence against him, there was nothing to be done. We were each sent back to our classrooms.

Surprisingly, Wayne wasn’t angry with me. We walked home from school together that day, and he never held that against me.

So who stole the money? It was never solved, but really the most likely suspects were right under Polly and George’s noses. Not that I’m accusing anyone.

In 1962 when I turned 13 my birthday present was a membership in the Science Fiction Book Club, and one of the books in the introductory offer was Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. In those days my mother had a beauty shop in the rear of our house, and one of her customers was Wayne’s mother, whose name I no longer recall, but I do recall that she was a beautiful woman with thick red hair, and she still had her Texas accent. When my mother casually told her about my book club present, Wayne’s mother exclaimed:

"Science fiction? Why that’s the only thing I ever read. I have piles of books that’re just lying about gathering dust. You have your boy come round and I’ll fix him up with a heap of books.”

And so I did. She gave me a big box filled with a treasury of science fiction books and magazines. They kept me reading for a long time. Among the treasures were a bunch of issues of Amazing Stories magazine which had a series of biographies of science fiction authors like Campbell, Asimov, and Heinlein.

And that, Gentle Reader, is why reading Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction reminded me of Wayne Busbea.

I guess I shouldn’t end this without providing yet another example of my mother sending me on an embarrassing mission. She kept insisting that I should return the books to Wayne’s mother once I had read them. I tried to point out that they were a gift, but she wouldn’t have it. So one Saturday morning I went back with a few of the books in hand to see if Wayne’s mother would take them back. As I had known all along, she had wanted to get rid of them and didn’t want them back.

About a year or so later I noticed that I hadn’t seen Wayne for some time. When I asked about him, I found out that his mother had sent him back to live with his grandmother in Texas. Apparently, Wayne’s stepfather was not treating him very well, and she wanted to get him out of that environment. Wayne had never mentioned anything about his stepfather to me, but I had noticed that he did try to avoid him. It wasn’t long after that that Wayne’s mother left as well, and the stepfather continued to live in that apartment by himself.

Lynn and Isobel Klopp’s house in 2013

The Klopps eventually stopped renting out their second floor and expanded their living quarters to embrace the whole house, where they raised three boys, Randy (in my class), Dwight (in my sister’s), and Ross. They lived in that house for at least 60 years, and the last time I was in Richland in 2013 there was a For Sale sign in their yard.

Dale Saddler left Richland sometime after 5th grade, and I’ve never heard from him again, so I don’t know if he ever did join the Marines.

The Gass boys and I had our ups and downs, particularly after the Dieffenbachs moved in next door to us. Sometimes Frank and Mike and I formed a coalition against the Diefenbachs, sometimes the Gass boys and the Diefenbach boys ganged up against me. I don’t recall ever siding with the Dieffenbach boys.

George and Polly Gass bought the apartment building across from the railroad tracks and moved into one of the apartments themselves. They converted the basement into a laundromat, and the Richland Laundry was born.

Olive Geiss moved to Reading, but not before giving my mother the recipe to her cookies. Thereafter my mother always baked up a batch of Olive’s cookies around Christmastime.

The last I heard of Officer Donald Foreman, he had developed a urinary infection of some sort. I hope he recovered.

Eventually my parents bought the apartment building and laundromat from the Gass’s, but that’s another story.



The One Where I Was Almost Killed—Twice

I was still living in State College and working for the Pennsylvania Mirror, the Altoona Mirror’s failed attempt to go head to head with the Centre Daily Times, so I’d guess this must have been sometime in the spring or summer of 1972.

My job was basically that of a glorified delivery boy, although there was no glory in it, and the Mirror being a morning newspaper, I started work at midnight just as the paper was going to press. I, along with the half dozen or so other drivers, would grab our bundled papers as they came off the line, load them into our car or truck, and drive off to deliver them to the various newsstands, grocery stores, and other outlets that carried the Mirror. We even delivered single copies to folks who lived in the countryside.

We’d get back to the newspaper’s building around 5:00 AM or so, maybe find an excuse to hang around for a bit to get some extra time (the pay being not much above minimum wage), and punch out around 5:30 or 6:00.

Usually Brian Galas and I carpooled, as we lived just a few blocks from each other in State College. Brian was a fascinating guy, probably the smartest fellow I’ve ever known. He had been a geology student, working on an advanced degree, when suddenly he became disillusioned with the field and the people working in it. The breaking point came when he realized that his professor had a paperweight on his desk and couldn’t even name the type of mineral it was made of. Now Brian was an aspiring artist with a wife and two daughters. Actually, Brian probably deserves a whole blog post or two devoted to him.

Anyway, on this day I was driving Brian home, but we had to deliver a single paper that one of the other drivers had missed.

The recipient lived in Park Forest Village, which was north of State College just off 322, so that’s where I headed. Now 322 was a four lane highway in that area, although because it was a fairly well developed section, the speed limit was probably about 45 mph. Since Park Forest Village was on the left, I was driving in the left hand lane and my eyes were on the street signs as I was watching where to turn off.

And that’s when I heard Brian say, “Hey…hey…hey…” His voice was calm but I knew something was wrong. In any case it was just enough to divert my attention away from where to turn off to look straight ahead at the car that was barreling directly towards us in our lane! I swerved just in time and it missed us.

I pulled over to collect myself, and Brian said he had tried not to shout so as not to put me into panic mode. In any case I think he did exactly the right thing, and as I thought about it, I realized that if I had been alone, I probably would not have seen that oncoming car in time to react. And no, I have no idea why that car was driving in the wrong lane.

So we delivered the paper, and I proceeded to take Brian to his house, which was on Westerly Parkway. This meant retracing our route by going south on 322 until it turned into Atherton Street when we got to State College.

Now once again the turnoff was going to be on the left, and having driven Brian home dozens of times in the past, I would normally have anticipated the left turn by getting into the left hand lane. On this day for some reason I did not. Why I did not I cannot say. Was I perhaps being just a little bit extra cautious because of the earlier incident? I do not know. All I can say for certain is that as I approached the turnoff to Westerly Parkway, I remained in the right hand lane.

As one drives south on Atherton Street towards Westerly Parkway, there is a hill, so drivers really cannot see oncoming traffic. And on that day as we went up that hill, just as we reached the crest, a huge tractor-trailer truck came barreling over the mound in our left hand lane! Had I been in the left lane as I nearly always was in the past, there would have been no time to react; we’d’ve been goners.

So there you have it. Twice in the space of less than half an hour, two drivers traveling in the wrong lane nearly plowed into the car that I was driving. And I lived to tell the tale.

Why I Left the Granary

The exterior of the Granary

After living there for two years, I recently moved out of the Granary and into a more central location in Center City.

And let me just say at the start, that of the 11 places I've lived in Philadelphia during the last 36 years, the Granary is my second favorite (the first being the house in Wissahickon where I lived for 12 years).

But I value peace and quiet above just about everything else in a residence, as I told the leasing agent two years ago when he was showing me the place, and in the last year the Granary has let me down in that area.

The first problem was the gym; specifically the gym bunnies who dropped the weights on the gym floor producing a thud, a thud that I could hear all too clearly in my apartment two floors above. Even if they let the weights down easily and only dropped them that final inch, the sound would reach my apartment. Because the thud sounded like it was coming from the apartment above mine, I initially thought it was coming from that fellow, but when he moved out last year and I was still hearing the thuds, an investigation revealed the actual source of the sounds.

Without going into details, I'll just say that I was disappointed with the Granary's response to the problem, as it took over six months for them to act decisively to reduce the frequency of the thuds. They never eliminated them completely; two weeks before my move-out, I was awakened by a thud just after falling asleep.

I probably could have lived with that problem had it been the only source of aural irritation, but a year ago a new neighbor moved in above me; someone who, like me, is usually at home during the day. While I don't think he was doing anything wrong, nevertheless the hardwood floors transmitted a lot of his movements and furniture rearrangements, etc., etc. Every few weeks he had someone come in, apparently to give the place a thorough cleaning lasting about three hours, and making a lot of noise in the process. Most of those sounds were not particularly loud, but the frequency of them definitely got on my nerves. And I'd really like to know what he did to produce the sound that I called the “slowly bouncing marble”.

Add to that the occasional maintenance noises (like the full week of hammering when an apartment's hardwood floor has to be replaced), the residents (mostly of the younger persuasion) who routinely slam their doors, and the apartment where the dog sometimes barks just a bit too long (like 15 minutes)—and I wasn't able to get the peace that I wanted.

Needless to say, someone who doesn't require peace and quiet, say someone who usually has music playing or the TV on, probably wouldn't be bothered by those noises.

Here are some random observations on other aspects of the Granary experience.

The Granary staff: Excellent. Everyone—concierges, leasing agents, maintenance personnel, housekeeping staff, really everyone—is friendly and helpful. Alas, they tend not to stay very long. The day I moved out there was only one employee who was still there from the day I moved in. Most of the folks moved on to other properties that Greystar manages, and good for them, as in most cases those were promotions. But Greystar seems to treat the Granary as a training ground for its other properties and doesn't give residents the continuity of service that one can get by establishing trust relationships with concierges and other staff members.

The spiral staircase in the Granary lobby

The elevators: Possibly the slowest in the city. This never bothered me because I lived on the fourth floor and always took the stairs. Great exercise. There are three elevators and two call buttons, as only one of the elevators goes to the basement parking garage it gets its own button, but because the elevators are so slow, most folks, including many employees, always press both buttons, which only exacerbates the slowness.

HVAC: Excellent. Unlike many apartments in this city, the heating and cooling are controlled by a thermostat, so it's simple to keep one's apartment comfortable. Moreover, because of energy efficient equipment and excellent insulation, the monthly electric bills are probably the lowest I've ever had in Philadelphia, running between $50 during mild months to maybe $60 or $70 during the summer. Contrast that with my previous residence, One Franklin Town, where my monthly bills often reached $200. So excellent HVAC, excellent insulation, and excellent energy efficient equipment, including the appliances.

Appliances: Mixed. Yes, they are energy efficient, but otherwise there's not much to be said for them. The washer and dryer are fine, as is the refrigerator (though the ice cubes from the ice-maker tend to fly all over the place), but the electric range and dishwasher lack many features. Not what I would expect from so-called “luxury” apartments, a term that is way too frequently used these days.

Lobby: Excellent. And I loved the spiral staircase. So exercise wasn't the only reason I always took the stairs. There's a grand piano on the second floor and lots of space and rooms for entertaining.

Fire alarms: Way too many! When someone sets off the fire alarm, which happened about 12 times during my two year stay, loudspeakers in both the bedroom and the living room blast out a loud alarm and a voice repeatedly warning to evacuate the building. This goes on for about 20 minutes until the fire department can get there to verify that it's a false alarm. The cause can be anything; perhaps smoke from the oven getting into the hallway when the stupid resident opens the door rather than the window; a stupid resident mistaking the fire alarm for a light switch (yes, that was the explanation I was given one time); a stupid employee in one of the retail outlets on the first floor playing with the alarm switch. When one lives in an apartment building, one is sometimes at the mercy of the dimmest residents.

Residents: Mixed. Like every apartment building where I've lived, there are some pleasant, friendly people and some who aren't so friendly. I think there is a larger percentage of less friendly residents than I've usually encountered (and I'm not the only one who feels that way), but your mileage may vary.

I was able to see some glorious sunsets at the Granary

Dogs: The Granary prides itself on allowing dogs, and most of the human/dog partnerships are considerate of others. But there are a few that aren't. If you don't like dogs, the Granary is not the place for you.

Noise: Mixed. The windows insulate the apartments from outside noises very effectively. Because of the weird ways that sound travels in that building some apartments (probably relatively few) can hear the thuds from the gym. The hardwood floors allow more noise to get through than carpeted ones would, but that is very dependent on factors such as your neighbors and your noise tolerance.

Rent: As the old joke goes, if you have to ask the cost, the Granary is probably not for you. Yes, the rents are high. When I moved in, the rent was at the limit of my comfort level, and the increase after the first year pushed it beyond. But the part time job that fell into my lap a few months ago, eliminated any concerns I had about the rent.

As I said at the start, if the Granary had been able to satisfy my need for a quiet living space, I'd still be there.

How I Got the Job

 When I was young I had this record album, "Learn Russian in Record Time"

When I was young I had this record album, "Learn Russian in Record Time"

I've long been fascinated by the tiny coincidences and happenstances that can often unexpectedly lead to major life changes.

When I was 11 or 12, I had a record album called "Learn Russian in Record Time". I stuck with it at least long enough to learn the Cyrillic alphabet and some basic Russian phrases. That was a long time ago, and I've forgotten most of what I learned. But then at a couple Atheists Meetups, I met a woman who had been born and raised in the USSR, and that stirred up some long lost memories. I decided to try out my rudimentary Russian the next time I saw her.

It was a Tuesday evening not quite two weeks ago when I went to the latest Atheists Meetup. I was the second to arrive, and Natasha (not her real name) showed up shortly afterward. She was just the person I was hoping to see.

After the opening pleasantries, I asked: "Do you still speak Russian?" When she said yes I went on, "I studied Russian a little bit when I was young, and this is about the only thing I remember: Я не понимает по-русски."

She replied: "It should be 'понимаю. Я не понимаю по-русски.'"

"Я не понимаю по-русски," I repeated.

"Yes. 'I don't understand Russian.'"

And the discussion then veered into other areas more appropriate to the Meetup's topic. At one point she said, "Do any of you know someone who's looking for a job?"

The rest of us shook our heads. "What sort of job?" I asked.

"Tech support."

"No, I really can't help you there." She went on that it was a part time job, maybe 24 hours per week, working from home...and briefly I thought hey, that sounds like something I could do...but no, being retired for ten years, I wasn't sure I wanted to go back to work. And there the matter rested.

But the next day I got to thinking, maybe I should have at least asked for more details. So I reached out to her on the Meetup site. A few days later she got back to me; the job was still open. So last Sunday morning she gave me an overview of the system, and after saying I needed to sleep on it, I texted her a few hours later to say I'd take the job. I started the following morning.

And all because I wanted to try out that one sentence of Russian that I mis-remembered from my youth.

 

A Zellers Christmas 2004

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