Steel-spined clerks toe the firing line for our convenience

We rightfully and respectfully revere cops, firemen and members of the armed forces for being heroes.But overnight clerks in convenience stores are equally as heroic.To these brave souls, the night must seem as if it has no end.For they never know when somebody, attracted by what they perceive to be an irresistible stack of cash, will pop in to pound the pudding out of them.Or worse yet, shoot them.These poor folks toil in a brickbat universe, and they seem to be lightning rods for robbery.For the sake of our convenience, their job is incredibly inconvenient.They work during hours when sane people sleep, and they work while trying to see through the back and sides of their heads.They simply can’t afford a blindside.For they never know when some intruder, some interloper with greed in his eye and a gun in his hand, will walk in and turn their world upside down.Nocturnal robberies of convenience stores are as regular as the sunrise.It happened again early Thursday. A man punched a clerk inside the Sunoco A-Plus, 719 Spring St., took about $100 in a robbery, police said. The holdup occurred about 3 a.m. when the man asked the clerk for a pack of cigarettes. The man went behind the counter, demanded money and punched the clerk in the face. Another clerk opened the drawer and turned over the money and the robber ran out. Although they were fortunate they weren’t shot, I’m sure the intrusion, the utter abduction of their already shaky serenity, gave those two clerks pause for thought.Because a job like theirs is an open invitation to wanton, raw violence.Each and every night they are perched like lonely, vulnerable sentinels in the name of customer service.Sitting ducks like that aren’t paid enough.But employment options sometimes are limited.So there they are, taking a huge risk that some scum from the streets will ooze through their door. All for the sake of our convenience.

Treat or trick time for the Eagles and McNabb

NFL quarterbacks make the big money. Which is good. They need those thick wallets to cushion backsides that usually are full of buckshot.Players are obviously painfully vulnerable to the inherent brutality of the percussive and concussive NFL Actually, the NFL should stand for the National Ferociousness League.Each snap triggers another car collision, another train wreck. But these shattering pileups involve human crash dummies, not automobiles or diesels. Yet players trudge onward through the fireballs of agony, for all roads lead to the end zone.Or so the theory goes.All NFL players learn to live with the stabbing pain, but Eagles QB Donovan McNabb seems to be taking the equation right into the margin.Fitting for a scrambler, but McNabb no longer is a scrambler — philosophically or biologically.His crippled body right now has all the mobility of a cigar store Indian. He has all the lateral movement of a fire hydrant.The core of his problem is his core. When your gut is gutted, well, even the true gristle of a hearty heart ain’t enough.McNabb is playing with a sports hernia, a chronic lower abdominal strain that hurts like hell whenever he moves. Factor in his chest contusion and his shin contusion and the guy is an absolute mess.McNabb needs surgery to correct the sports hernia. Rest won’t heal it. Prayers won’t heal it. Meditation won’t heal it. Dr. Phil can’t heal it. Even bloggers and sports talk radio hosts can’t heal it. But if Donovan can swallow the pain and manage not to choke to death by doing so while playing quarterback and getting smacked silly in the pocket, apparently he can soldier on.But how well can he play? Granted, he has a history of performing well while playing hurt.But there are limits. Campbell’s soup is good for a cold, but it won’t soothe a sports hernia.When will McNabb hit the wall and cease to function effectively?The torrent of hits he will absorb in the sweltering heat of the pass rush will cause further erosion of his battered body.It would seem prudent for the Eagles and McNabb to have the surgery now, miss two months, and be hale and hearty — relatively so — for the stretch run.But no. The Birds and the Eagles insist that their quarterback can muster on, continuing to lay down his Superman cover. Well, covers never are as good as original soundtracks.It’s time the Eagles and McNabb face the music — they won’t reach the Super Bowl again playing with a hollow quarterback.Defenses are going to carve him up like a Halloween pumpkin.

Porn apparently is more than skin deep

I’m hardly a Puritan. In fact, I don’t even know the difference between a Puritan and a Pilgrim other than that Pilgrims ate turkey on Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock.I guess the difference is that Puritans seem to frequently eat crow.Anyway, what has triggered this indirect approach to today’s blog was the Porn Star vs. the Feminist Grand Debate at Kutztown University last night. Ron Jeremy, billed as the world’s most famous male porn star, and feminist Susan G. Cole went vocal cord to vocal cord as captivated students jammed Schaeffer Auditorium.Evidently Jeremy was pro-porn, Cole was anti-porn.But the real news was what a galvanic presence Jeremy was.The students worshipped him like a rock star. I don’t watch porn, basically because I’m old and I find there to be a scalding sadness to it. I have to say I’m somewhat surprised that Jeremy, who is short, fat and basically ugly, is a porn superstar.Needless to say, he must measure up in other ways.Apparently model-handsome looks aren’t prerequisites for the job.I guess male porn stars, like rock guitarists, can be sex symbols even when they look like disfigured gerbils. Speaking of sex, Jeremy has starred in 1,700 pornographic films.How the guy has enough energy to even talk astounds me.I’m shocked that his mouth doesn’t have to work like a guppy’s as he fights to catch his breath after uttering each sentence. Still, exhausted or not, Jeremy is guy who should never complain about his day job.Cole’s concern is how pornography affects how society views women. She said only women shaped a certain way could be successful in the porn business. “You would never imagine the world’s most popular female porn star to be the female version of Ron Jeremy,” she said.Touché. “I was good-looking back in 1978,” he said, only half joking. Touché.Her point was well taken. Short, fat, dumpy women generally become cleaning ladies, not porn stars.Still, I sort of think her role in the debate had to be akin to the poor sucker with the shovel and the wheelbarrow, dutifully walking behind the elephants.Because the star of this circus was the crusty Jeremy.The students flocked to him like ants to a honey hill. At least among the young, a porn star apparently is neither pariah nor provocateur.Some 835 students shoehorned into the auditorium to express their homage.Outside, several hundred more stood in the rain hoping just to gape in awe at the dude.I guess the refrain that beauty is in the eye of the beholder is more than just a cliche. Because, I for one, would much rather look at a belly dancer on amphetamines.The students formed a line running down Main Street and chanted, “We want Ron.” Kutztown and university police were called to calm the crowd. Hope their parents are getting their money’s worth as far as tuition goes.

Tom Brady is one precise Patriot

In the earliest hours of the morning, those smallest of hours when time seems to stretch on forever, I ponder my “Can You Beat Zeke?” pigskin picks.For instance, what’s left of my intelligence last week had a fierce internal debate: Patriots or Steelers?Ultimately, I defied the siren song of the Patriots’ Super Bowl karma, so sweet it kills you subtly and without rancor, and foolishly picked the Steelers because they were at home. And because, I erroneously thought, New England’s astonishing success had begun to wither just a bit with age.As you know, the Patriots won a 23-20 thriller yesterday because quarterback Tom Brady continues to be overlaid with ability and poise.He is so utterly serene under pressure that he plays as if time has stopped just for him. While all around him careen about with pulse-racing dimension, he calmly exhibits stylings that transcend his GQ cover shoots.This guy flees trauma more gracefully than Indiana Jones. And you could lay a mellow soundtrack on the elegant rhythm of his passing game.The kid with the champagne smile kills teams softly with surgical precision.Indeed, the football in his hand morphs into a scalpel when the pressure is tar thick. Take Sunday for example.The scoreboard was tied in knots at 20-20 with 1:21 left in the game and my pick still had a chance to breathe.Then Brady suffocated it. Starting at his 38, Brady threw three straight strikes to set up Adam Vinatieri’s winning field goal with one second left. Brady completed all 12 of his passes in the fourth quarter for 168 yards and 13 points against a Pittsburgh defense that usually folds, mutilates and spindles quarterbacks.All told, the leader of the Brady Bunch completed 31 of 41 passes for 372 yards.Next time I’m contemplating the primal matters of pigskin prognostication, I shall not forget the cunning calibration of Mr. Brady.

Eagles kick through the pain to boot the Raiders

Pain makes cowards out of some people.Other people swallow pain like candy. Fortunately for the Eagles, they limped and gimped past the Raiders 23-20 this afternoon at the Linc because Donovan McNabb and David Akers turned off their nerve endings, cursed at their agony, gulped through the hurt, and clutched it up.So hobbled by the throbbing right hamstring he apparently re-mangled like a popped guitar string on the opening kickoff, Akers kicked a 23-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining to win it.He earlier had gritted through his intense pain to kick two extra points.Granted, the game would have had a lot less melodrama had Andy Reid activated kicker Todd France from the practice squad to caddy for Akers, a non-move that Reid admitted in hindsight was a gaffe.Yep, it was a grit-and-gristle game, raw as an open wound, all bloody noses and scabbed knuckles.McNabb, crippled by an abdominal strain and/or strained groin that could be a sports hernia according to some reports, threw a whopping 52 times, completing 30 of them for 365 yards and two touchdowns in the third quarter.It made you cringe watching McNabb try to throw, run or even walk back to the huddle. But he had a bloody-mindedness to his game and his zeal couldn’t be diminished by the various fireballs of pain coursing and pinballing through his body.So it sounds cruel to point out that his accuracy was awful at times — his balls sailing frequently because he couldn’t get his legs into his throws.His face hardly a blank canvas, McNabb completed just 11 of 24 passes for 99 yards in the first half, including a godawful pick to lumbering DT Warren Sapp that squelched a scoring opportunity. I don’t know if McNabb visited Lourdes at halftime, but he was more stoic and effective in the second half.McNabb tossed a 4-yard TD pass Terrell Owens, who had 9 catches for 80 yards, with 10:20 left in the third quarter to give the Eagles their first lead.McNabb followed that with a clever 5-yard shovel TD pass to Brian Westbrook right before the third quarter ended. That scoring drive was fueled by McNabb’s 62-yard streak to Westbrook on a key third-and-1 play.Westbrook truly had a mercurial game, catching six balls for 140 yards and running 13 times for 68 yards.Another crucial element in the Eagles’ game was their defense, which was able to put a cork in the genie bottle that contains the captivatingly talented Randy Moss. The Raiders’ flamboyant wideout had just five catches for 86 yards.The defense was marvelous because the Eagles, in Akers’ absence, kicked off like kids playing under-8 soccer. The Raiders had excellent field position frequently, but often couldn’t capitalize on such promising embryonic positioning.Still, Kerry Collins, the former Wilson and Penn State star who still throws a beautiful ball, did his best to try to lead the debased and demoralized Oakland fiefdom.Collins completed 24 of 42 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns. He found Doug Gabriel with a 27-yard touchdown pass with 2:23 left in the fourth quarter to draw the Raiders even at 20-20.In the end, it wasn’t a game for romantic fatalism. And it wasn’t a game that required much interior thought.It simply was gut check time for the Birds.Still, Reid almost doinked the whole game by not activating another kicker.And while McNabb loves to project the aura of an iron man, one wonders how effective he can be next week -– if he plays — when the Eagles go to Kansas City.Proudly wearing the red badge of courage is an inspiring mantra. But ultimately, injury can be the final arbiter of who measures up and who doesn’t.Akers, for one, likely will be MIA for a few weeks.Should McNabb wind up on the shelf, the Eagles will face some treacherous times. Then it will be even more the province of the Eagles’ stellar defense to fend off the undesirables and play with an inflamed rage.

So much blood loss is bleeding our city pale

I’m sitting in our first-floor office at 4th and Court streets Saturday night, minding my own business.Actually, I was blogging about Penn State football, which means I was sticking my nose into Joe Paterno’s business.Anyway, wrapped in my cocoon of concentration (you think these words just pour of me by just opening an artery and letting them gush out?), I was annoyed and distracted when I heard some shattering noise about 7:20 p.m.My initial reaction was somebody was unloading something on Fourth Street. Which struck me as odd for a Saturday night.Then I thought perhaps it was a car crash at Fourth and Court, an intersection which has had some violent collisions over the years.But then the sound of sirens soon echoed in the September air as cop cars, an ambulance and bystanders migrated like moths to a light, converging in the block just outside the Fourth Street door to our office. Yes, Fourth Street between Court and Penn last night was a busy bit of tapestry for all the wrong reasons.The torrents of sound were a regular Thunder Dome cascade of noise that pushed past my eardrums and entered my brain.We can mute our alarm clocks, but we can’t mute the alarm clock going off in our city.An alarm clock that keeps ringing and ringing as people keep pumping and pumping hot lead and gaping holes into other people.There’s blood on our streets and blood in our people’s eyes.While I sat blogging about Penn State, one man was fatally shot and another was wounded on the sidewalk just feet from our Fourth Street door.Like an artery bursting, another episode of needless violence had gushed into our city streets. Those loud, popping noises I had heard were gunshots.Since I was fortunate enough in my life to have been spared the proximity of gunplay until last night, this was a virgin experience for me.So forgive me for not recognizing what I was hearing. Trust me. I’ll know better the next time.Considering the frequency of gunfights in our town and considering I’ve worked in our town for nearly four decades, I probably was way past due hearing shots up close and personal.My initial thoughts on last night echo those of fellow blogger Mike Case, our resident local urban affairs observer.”While the city looks to revitalize its image, it seems to have forgotten that the real revitalization needs to be of the people who live here,” Mike wrote.Eloquently said, Mike.We need the Sovereign Center, we need the Sovereign Performing Arts Center, we need the GoggleWorks, we need Riverfest, we need all of our good mayor’s vision, we need all the economic and intellectual intercession of so many benevolent business benefactors like Al Boscov and others, we need a refurbrished Penn Street corridor from Wyomissing to City Park, we need a catchy marketing tagline to accompany our Greater Reading renaissance, and we need to build up the riverfront.But most of all we need less people to live here whose moral compass, or lack thereof, only points to their too itchy trigger fingers.Because we can’t keep spilling blood like this.Because too much blood loss is bleeding Reading pale.

Helter-skelter Penn State twinkling at 4-0

Legends usually are great for the long haul.Unless, of course, the long haul stretches from here to eternity and senility.That’s what some folks have thinking about Penn State football icon Joe Paterno, whose bust of immortality has been showing serious signs of rust in recent seasons.Well, everybody can clamber back on the Penn State bandwagon now.I guess JoePa has all his marbles back intact and he’s spouting nothing but placid wisdom these days. For the first time this century, the Nittany Lions are 4-0.Never mind that they munched on three cupcakes for appetizers and then had to climb off the canvas Saturday before edging Northwestern 34-29 in a Big Ten thriller at Evanston, Ill.And never mind that Northwestern hardly is a threat to win the Big Ten. At least in football. However, the school’s debate team, I hear, is really kicking butt this season.But I digress. I’ll say one thing about these Nittany Lions, they sure as hell aren’t boring. Nobody playing in such boring uniforms should be so exciting.A lot of their juice comes from quarterback Michael Robinson, he of the see-saw peaks and valleys. He’s the first guy I’ve seen play QB like he’s riding a roller-coaster.Penn State fans better not eat heavily during their pregame tailgating because Robinson is the type of player who puts fans’ stomachs in their throats — and keeps them there.For instance, Penn State fell into a 23-7 first-half abyss Saturday because Robinson was pitching like a second-tier Phillies bullpenner. Three picks and a fumble aren’t usually helpful when you’re trying to light up the scoreboard. At least for your team.But Robinson, who would finish a cliffhanger 17 of 36 passing for three touchdowns, was as unflappable as an English butler during crunch time.A precise passer he is not, but the guy is a playmaker who scares the hell out of everybody — his opponents and teammates alike.A metronome he ain’t.But a stud he is.He threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Williams with 51 seconds to win it — even though he took a shot on the play that must have lodged some of his molars in his kidneys.Robinson, who’s so athletic he probably could play in flip-flops, had given Penn State its first lead at 27-26 with an 8-yard TD scamper with 8:52 left.But Northwestern, proving that even brainy kids don’t have to play football like nerds, regained the lead at 29-27 on a field goal with 2:10 left.You couldn’t blame Paterno if he had sincere doubts that he had once again been anointed a genius when the Lions faced a fourth-and-15 from their 15 on the ensuing possession.The horror of more mean gossip was nibbling at Joe’s ears. But Robinson silenced the cynics and the critics when he threw a 20-yard strike to tight end Isaac Smolko to keep the eventual winning TD drive alive.Robinson also rushed for 60 yards on nine carries, becoming the first Penn State player to reach 1,000 yards rushing and passing in a career.Of course, before Penn State fans start posing and flexing and thinking they’re smoking hot, it’s time for a little perspective.The Northwestern Mildcats are just 2-2 and allowed an astonishing 773 yards in last week’s 52-21 loss at Arizona State.Nearly impassable is not how you would characterize Northwestern’s sieve defenders.So while it still could be a gouged and pitted road to a major bowl game, not to mention the Big Ten title, for the Lions, they do have the promise of youth.Young hotshot wideouts Deon Butler, Justin King and Williams all snared TD tosses from Robinson.The Penn State storyline seems to be the old man and the kids. After all, Paterno and those flashy freshmen are prime characters in the narrative.But the Pied Piper of this bunch is Robinson, a senior who seemingly has played every position ever invented and some that weren’t during his dipsy-doo Penn State career.Just don’t expect Robinson to lead the gang in a straight line. There figures to be plenty of hairpin curves in his circuitous path.Hope Joe and the kids don’t get carsick.But it should be a surreal ride to watch.