Category Archives: winter woes

The Spies.

So, now those who just read headlines are all up in a bunch, pantiwise, over the latest Wikileaks release.

Seems it’s merely official, finally; everything we say and/or do, on either our phones or computers, and even via our TVs if they are Smart /and, phhh, even if they are dumb as stone can be intercepted; viewed; seized; and, Lord knows, transported into any number of Files Are Us.

That said, allow me.

“Hey, there, iRobot. You like my style? You watch me chat with my people, and toss me a photo essay about the vegetables I search and their corresponding polyphenols? You like my test results? You need to feed me the latest fake horoscope?

Your attempts to flatter are folly, you of the artificial intelligence. If thou art so smart, why dost thou even need me and all my trolling patterns?”

You really think I’m not immune, by now, to all the ploys?

That bit about getting into our cars, via satellite radio, and programming us to crash? That’s old. Richard A. Clarke already told us all about that, in his novel, PINNACLE EVENT.

The Will is strong in me. I get my kicks out of skewing data. Anomalies Are Moi, I say!

So, there.

Factor that one up your faux ass.




© Ruth Ann Scanzillo    3/7/17         All rights those of the living, breathing female human person from whom these blog posts come, whose name appears above this line. I’d thank you for your respect, but you don’t process the meaning of the concept.


Lake Effected.

The first lake effect snowstorm of the season descended upon Erie-town this morning.

For those who live in oblivion, Erie, PA is notable for a handful of curious matters, both of criminal and historical significance, not the least of which is Most Snowfall in Inches for the Winter of 2013. Nationwide. Number One. (Watertown, NY actually beat us by about an inch and a half but, due to its size, never made the cut.)

To us lifelong “Erietes”, the whole First Place thing was no mild titillation on social media; but, truth be told, we are a hardy, thick-skinned (or, Eddie Bauer insulated) folk to whom fourteen inches of the fluffy white stuff is a jaded yawn.

Not so to my new friend and mother to three of my newest private string students. She and her family having just relocated to our town from the west coast – Washington state, to be exact – following her husband’s medical fellowship appointment, I was bemused when, upon entering my foyer today to pick up two of her brood, she exclaimed:  “ Wow!  I can’t believe they haven’t plowed your street yet!?”

The question was the punchline. I live on the southwest corner of a quiet street in an area I call Slumtown (what used to be Little Italy), just a block east of the main north-south, west side artery. As she makes the right turn off of Liberty Boulevard, little does my new friend know how many times she will be swimming across that final intersection, her destination in full view, straining to get across the chasm to the curb before her tire rubber catches fire.

Yes; city design takes on many forms across this wide land of yours and mine. Most have a variety of hills and curves, valleys, cubbies, and cul de sacs. corner of Pennsylvania. “Philadelphia grid” is the term used by city engineers and other planners for the endless, square, “tic-tac-toe” blocks that populate our satellite view. Of slightly less significance are the number of pizza shops per capita. But, be that as it may, when winter arrives, the city snowplow regiment mobilizes for their long slog east to west, north to south. Usually with marked absence of enthusiasm, seeing as they’d just morphed from the streetcleaning contingent one likely week prior.

But, because of the lay of the land, and the limits of the city budget, this fleet of heavy yellow metal must play selective about its fuel consumption and general wear and tear across the tundra of that interminable, ever-expanding season we call winter around here. This means that those of us who live in the latitude line sandwiched between the aforementioned main drag and the massive Erie Cemetery ( 14 un-interrupted blocks of permanently-occupied space ), might be lucky to get mail delivery. Most of our dwellings do not have driveways; yet, multiple household residents have their own cars, and they park them, bumper-to-nose-to-bumper, from corner to corner, all winter.

Around here, we count the sight of a plow by the sound of its approaching rumble and clank. And, with Even-Odd parking, if we’re lucky enough to remember on which side of the street to park the night before, we are graced with a clean cut to the curb from the cemetery to the boulevard – on one side of the street.

But, I live on the corner. And,  even a street cleaner rig is no match for an  Erie snowplow. Nothing clumsier to navigate than one of these Abrams tanks. Yes; the plow cuts a straight swath, east to west, alright….and, like the garbage route in the dead of night, won’t be coming north to south anytime soon until the east west veins are vanquished. But, most important to fully grasp: never in all my years on this planet, let alone in the town made notorious by a hapless bank robbing pizza deliveryman with a bomb strapped to his torso, have I ever witnessed the King of All Motorized Machines turning.a.residential.corner. Even a Zamboni has these babies beat.

Nope. Never had it happen. These monsters bore across, or they rumble on down the grid, like prehistoric dinosaur serpents, pushing the prohibitive precipitate aside the whole way – and, that, past as many as ten bisecting streets. Consequently, there are mountains of plowed snow deposited on either side of each intersection, in both directions, and then.left.there to await the next even or odd day.

Woe to the lowride used car that ventures south on an even day, lucky to cover one short cube of the grid before encountering a Rocky Mountain Ridge roadblock of the flakey stuff at the corner; or, to the SUV heading east on an odd day, hoping to get beyond a single block without sliding into the imposing mound awaiting, only to fishtail its weightless derriere into a 360.

In most cases, the snow has met the underbelly of the driver’s vehicle before it reaches the intersection. Tires are useless in such a scenario. If cars could swim, there might be a sliver of hope of reaching one’s destination; but, alas – even GM, and its eternal warehouse of recalled parts, hasn’t a gill or a fin to offer here.

Die-hards though we be, whenever we see network news broadcasts of marooned caravans on regional highways, we are far less transfixed than the rest of America. We know that the same thing will probably happen to us the next morning,  just for trying to get across the street.

So, if you happen to live on the edge of the Great Lakes, remember to look out for the drivers with foreign license plates; these people may only be here on limited visa, but if we can help it we’d better be ready with shovels, sandbags, and chains to lift a bumper or two in the name of good old Northern hospitality.


© Ruth Ann Scanzillo


all rights reserved. Thank you.


The electronic strains of “Danse Trepak” from THE NUTCRACKER Ballet sounded its alarm via my senior citizen model cell phone at the ungodly hour of 8:10 am and, two years into retirement from teaching public school, this reminder that the lack of a full 8 hours of deep and REM sleep would chip well more than two years off my life was a rude awakening at best. Nevertheless, defying the predictable vertigo, I trudged to the bathroom to throw on the cotton pants with the elastic waistband, my sturdy Eddie Bauer down, the still-new pair of high-end, gel-insoled athletic shoes with the opalescent aqua stripes and purple laces recently purchased for yoga class, all to brave 3 degrees F to get my car into the shop for its annual physical.

Greg’s Auto had taken over Skip’s Tire and Car Care Center after John Aquino died, and we over here in Little Italy, Erie PA had wondered if anybody could ever replace our guy John and his brothers, all but one of whom had succumbed to cancer. We all pretty much knew the day would come, given the sooty veil of cigarette smoke whose progeny had bound molecularly with the plumes of gasoline and transmission fluid and oil that seeped from the service station into the office. But, all of us had been quite relieved, after grieving the passing of our John, to see new, interlocking carpet squares on the floor, a blonde desk replacing the high counter, and the color of fresh, new air in Greg’s waiting room.

When I arrived, two customers were already seated, and in high spirits. Both of them African-American, I knew from my many years teaching “urban” children that we would be “folks” at the first greeting, and made sure to make some crack about the weather as soon as we saw each other. I also made the typically-Caucasian assumption that, man and woman, they were there together to get their car fixed. My momentary sense of social cool at appreciating the diversity of patrons obviously devoted to Greg’s reputable service was soon humbled; when the woman left the room, I asked the man where his wife could have possibly gone to wait in such bitter conditions. He gracefully explained that he was a law clerk from Cleveland, and his wife was at home.

Greg, however, was an Armenian immigrant. He flipped effortlessly from adequate English to Russian and any number of Eastern European dialects to address delivery men, mechanics, and familiar patrons, each one offering a foreign greeting stranger than the first, each one built to withstand hypothermia of the highest order, all totally unfazed by the cold. Each time the door opened, a blast of frigidity confronted the heating unit, preventing the room from ever reaching a temperature comfortable enough for my small-boned, middle-aged frame which could not seem to hold a single pound of insulation around its heart. Yet, on a day like today, Greg was in his element; time for the rest of us to settle in, and bear up.

I had carried with me to what was sure to be at least an hour of sit-down time the February issue of, as my grandfather Pappy always called it, NATIONAL GEOGRAPH. The night before, its lead article – covering the latest in brain research – had left mine in an electrical tizzy; apparently, there were tens of millions of neurons, axons, dendrites, and synapses, my distant relative the field mouse holding as much data as 25,000 high-def movies in a rodent-sized hunk of grey matter no larger than a grain of salt. Hugging my chest and rocking back and forth, I marveled at Greg’s brain, wondering whether there was a region devoted to instantaneous translation and whether his could fit on the head of a pin. Surely, this speculation would keep me occupied for at least one, maybe two, car inspections.

Of course, I had to apologize for distracting the law clerk from his yellow legal pad and affidavit without making any attempt whatsoever to curb my compulsion to rattle on about the research findings. Pardon me, but did we ever think our brains devoted just one single neuron to the recognition of Jennifer Anniston’s face? He was gallant, and balanced my enthusiasm with wonder at just how they all could have designed anything capable of getting inside the brain in the first place.

We chatted away. He turned out to be an oracle for legal gems like parking your lemon across the street from the dealership and posting “Show and Tell” signs until the dealer fixed whatever you wanted. I offered my standard whine about public education and the costs and benefits of living and working in the town of my birth. We talked about family names, too, and the tendency of the largest clans to stay in Erie for generations. Greg even chimed in, telling us that the business across the street was closing after 45 years, because this generation wanted to sell. I thought about Tony’s Barber Shop, my father’s own business on 5th, surviving 44 years of devoted clientele and ethnic flux, then selling for $7000, it’s concrete exterior now painted brothel red, beckoning encroaching crime. Then, the mechanics and parts delivery men converged in our little waiting area like a committee at the tower of Babel and we returned to our own preoccupations – he, to his affidavit, and me to my magazine.

Having come to the end of the fascinating story of the brain of mammals, I turned to the next feature. Here was a grande photo essay, hallmarked by National Geographic quality, the subject of which was the life memoir of American storyteller and radio persona, Garrison Keillor. Rich and heady, each pictorial image warm with the scent of recognition, I leaned in for the ride; Garrison Keillor, after all, was almost my friend.

Though located a mere four blocks south of Greg’s Auto, the house I had purchased in 1989 was miles from my old neighborhood and precisely one world away. Raised on the east side, one block from both my grandparents, my mother’s sister and her family, and our tiny church meeting hall, my affinity with this American literary genius had begun almost at birth. His was the heart of the Mid-west, mine a largely-unknown Great Lakes port city, but we were borne and bred of the same ilk.

Even Keillor’s most ardent fans and listeners would hardly notice his numerous references over the years to the so-called Brethren, whence he came. But we in the tiny, one room church building on East Ave called the Gospel Assembly Hall always knew.

He was one of us; a non-denominational Christian fundamentalist sectarian, in allegedly happy if totally exclusive fellowship with literal Bible-believers. All twenty-nine of them, when every family member was present, and my family comprising most all. My grandmother, Mammy, two of her four daughters and all of their children, minus one son-in-law who smoked and his two sons by a previous marriage. Oh, and my grandfather, Pappy, excommunicated for railing. And, his eldest daughter, who left right after. But, we were all there, mostly, all the time: Sunday morning, Sunday night; Tuesday night Prayer Meeting, Friday night Bible Study. In junior high, Tuesday and Friday merged into Wednesday, where Mom and I would go every week right following my cello lesson. I’d sit there, biting my nails ‘til they bled, trying to figure out whether to start cleaning my room so I could go to college on permission, or stay in bed dreaming my life away like Mom was fond of saying, particularly when she was running the sweeper.

His sister, Linda, was the steadfast girlfriend of Doug, who was just about the only single person at the Hall not a member of our family. They’d sing together, he playing folk guitar, and often with tears in their eyes from the depths of their earnest souls. We’d all see each other every summer without fail at the annual Eastern Bible Conference of the Plymouth Brethren, where Doug and Linda met. Gary, as he was called, was just that much older than I, closer to my brother’s age and, by his own admission (in the memoirs) being ‘not a good man’, probably ceased attending already by the time I was old enough to notice. But, my parents would greet his parents every year, so my mother was fond of pointing out whenever the subject came up.

No longer aware of the cold or the comings and goings of the various ones in the waiting area at Greg’s Auto, I submerged myself in the parallel life of the famous author of the second featured article in the February issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC. I heard my own chuckles pepper the air around me as each familial moment of his life story echoed across my firmament. There is or was no greater a narrator since Samuel Clemens, nor more pithy a commentator since Will Rogers, and I recognized his every word. He was the male counterpart to my female embodiment. His wings unfolded; mine tucked further into my chest. His sphere of influence expanded; mine reduced, like butter in a saucepan. He was bold; I was terrified. Our only mutual fear was nakedness, and nobody could help either of us, then or now.

Keillor closed his memoir with the deft fluency of one who knows how. Here his command of thought in verbal expression peaked with the fullness of a life manifest in total authenticity. I closed the magazine, returning my attention to the room I had entered two and a half hours earlier. My car was finished, its front right level arm replaced, its oil changed, its wiper blades new, its inspection complete. Greg and I made our transaction, the gentlemanly law clerk and I bid a hasty farewell, and I re-entered the blistery cold now seething beneath an ascending sun, carrying my magazine and all of my memories, safely ensconced in the synapses between the axons and dendrites of my own, still-reluctant, ever-anticipating imagination.


© Ruth Ann Scanzillo


photo of Garrison Keillor by Dennis Tryon/cropped by Ruth Ann Scanzillo, to remove herself.

all rights reserved.