Saturday, April 30, 2016

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 5/2/1966 to 5/8/1966

The Rome City School system announced that Governor Carl Sanders would deliver the commencement address at graduation services scheduled for the Rome City Auditorium on June 6th. Apparently both West Rome and East Rome had hoped to get the governor--but once again, the Chieftains won against the Gladiators!

School desegregation plans were finalized this week in 1966, with a total of 400 black students signing up to attend previously-segregated city schools; 47 students were scheduled to attend West Rome beginning in the fall of 1966, marking the end of a segregation era that lasted for far too long.

West Rome was the site of an almost fruitless robbery on May 2nd when a thief broke into the Dinner Bell Cafe at 612 Shorter Avenue and stole (get ready for it) eight packs of cheering gum and $5 in pennies. As I said, it was almost fruitless… but apparently not Juicy Fruit-less!…

The car theft ring that the city and county police cracked a week earlier led to a new arrest when NASCAR driver Henley Gray, the ninth ranked NASCAR point winner in 1966, was arrested for possessing an automobile with altered serial numbers. Turned out that Gray had also been an owner of the garage-junkyard that was the site of a chop shop and the base of operations for the theft ring.

The Tri-County Regional Library held a dedication ceremony for its new facility on May 2nd, highlighted by a speech from Congressman John W. Davis and a “history of the Tri-County Library” presentation by state library consultant Lucille Nix.

And the excitement never stopped in Rome in 1966: The National All-Jersey Milk Dealers conference kicked off on May 6th, hosted by Dempsey Brothers Dairies, who made a concerted effort to milk the event for all it was worth with heavy advertising for their Saturday prize dairy cow showing.

Suppose they held a track meet and no one else showed up? That’s almost what happened on May 2nd when West Rome defeated Calhoun 126-20 in a dual track meet. Oh, the Calhoun team was there, but apparently they weren’t ready to compete, judging from the score. The Calhoun team won only a single event—otherwise, it was West Rome all the way!

The next day, the track team beat Cherokee County and Cedartown 91-40-39 in a three-way meet, led by Arbie Lovell (who took first in the low hurdles, the high hurdles, and the triple jump) and Lane Warner (who took first in the 880 and the mile run).

The Chieftains baseball team defeated Dalton 4-1 on May 3rd, thanks to Oscar Horne’s three-hitter, along with two runs scored by Bubba Holbrooks and one each by Ronnie Parker and Oscar Horne.

Piggly Wiggly had sirloin steak for 99¢ a pound, Lady Alice ice milk for 35¢ a half-gallon, and a 100-count box of Luzianne tea bags for 69¢. Kroger had turkeys for 39¢ a pound, tomatoes for a quarter a pound, and a three-pound bag of Winesap apples for 59¢. A&P had corn for 8¢ an ear, shank portion ham for 33¢ a pound, and rib roast for 79¢ a pound. Big Apple had RC Cola or Diet Rite for 89¢ a case plus deposit, ground beef for 47¢ a pound, and Bailey’s Supreme coffee for 59¢ s pound. Couch’s had lamb roast for 49¢ a pound, eggs for 33¢ a dozen, and Cudahy Round-Up bacon for 63¢ a pound.

With the DeSoto Theater closed for a few weeks for renovation, Rome’s theatrical choices were slim pickings indeed. The First Avenue kicked off the week with the seven-year-old film North by Northwest (with Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint), while the West Rome Drive-In kicked off its warm-weather seven-night-a-week schedule with The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (with Richard Burton). The midweek switch out brought The Heroes of Telemark (with Kirk Douglas & Richard Harris) and a double feature of the 1955 film You’re Never Too Young (with Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis) and the 1960 film The Rat Race (with Tony Curtis & Debbie Reynolds).  Apparently someone declared it theatrical rerun week in Rome, with films from 1955, 1959, and 1960…

The Mamas & the Papas held on to  the top slot this week in 1966 with “Monday Monday.”  Other top ten songs included “Good Lovin’” by the Young Rascals (#2); “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” by Bob Dylan (#3); “Kicks” by Paul Revere & the Raiders (#4); “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys (#5); “You’re My Soul & Inspiration” by the Righteous Brothers (#6); “How Does that Grab You Darlin’?” by Nancy Sinatra (#7); “Message to Michael” by Dionne Warwick (#8); “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge (#9); and “Gloria” by Shadows of Knight (#10).

Gold Key brought the Robert Culp-Bill Cosby espionage series to comics this week in 1966 with the release of I Spy #1. Meanwhile, in the pages of Tales to Astonish #82, Iron Man fought the Sub-Mariner in one of my favorite Sub-Mariner tales from the Silver Age.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 4/25/1966 to 5/1/1966

West Rome’s track team placed second in the West Georgia Relays, racking up 55 points and three first places (Richard Camp in the broad jump, Arbie Lovell in High hurdles, and the team of Lane Warner, Arbie Lovell, Benny Padgett, and Dale Prater in sprint relay).

The Rome Teen Club sponsored a “Scholarship Dance” on Saturday, April 30th, at the Rome Civic Center. The “admission cost” was a donation to a scholarship fund intended to enable a teenager majoring in recreation to attend college. The Stereophonics provided music for the dance.

A major auto theft ring operating out of Rome was shut down by the Rome City Police and the Floyd County Police on Thursday, April 28th, after a months-long joint investigation. The theft ring operated in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, selling stolen cars and operating a chop shop to supply auto parts to unscrupulous dealers. It was estimated that the ring had stolen more than 100 automobiles in the months leading up to the arrest. Three Rome men were arrested at the junkyard from which the chop shop operated; authorities suspected that there were others involved as well.

Julian Harrison Ford celebrated Ford’s sale of its millionth Mustang with a week-long Mustang sale. All Mustangs were discounted an additional $200 off list price, with Mustang trade-ins also earning an additional $200 above normal trade-in value. Bonnie Davis responded with a $200 discount on ANY new Chevrolet and an additional $200 trade-in on ANY Chevrolet. Chrysler responded with an ad saying “Please Buy Chrysler.”

Piggly Wiggly had cube steak for 99¢ a pound, 14-ounce bottles of Heinz ketchup for 23¢, and fresh strawberries for 33¢ a pint. Kroger had pork steaks for 59¢ a pound, navel oranges for 59¢ a dozen, and Maxwell House coffee for 59¢ a pound. A&P had round steak for 79¢ a pound, 24-ounce cans of Poss beef stew for 49¢, and a 12-ounce package of Sunnyland olive loaf for 45¢. Big Apple had ground chuck for 77¢ a pound, cucumbers for a dime each, and Diet Rite or RC Cola for 29¢ a carton plus deposit. Couch’s had Wilson’s CrispRite bacon for 59¢ a pound, lettuce for 15¢ a head, and a one-pound bag of dried pinto beans for a dime.

The cinematic week began with Harper (with Paul Newman) at the DeSoto Theater and Hold On! (with Herman’s Hermits) at the First Avenue. The midweek switch out brought  Oscar (with Elke Sommer, Milton Berle, & Joseph Cotten) to the DeSoto and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (with Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, & Oskar Werner) to both the First Avenue Theater and the West Rome Drive-In. However, the DeSoto was only open through Friday, April 29th; the theater was closed from April 30th through May 26th for repairs, remodeling, and seat replacement and reupholstering, leaving Rome with only one indoor theater choice for almost a month. And this was in a time before VCRs or DVRs, when our only TV viewing options involved an antenna, a TV set, and six channels (because we didn’t even have cable TV in Rome yet!). How did we survive?

The Mamas & the Papas took the number one slot this week in 1966 with “Monday Monday.” Other top ten hits included “Good Lovin’” by the Young Rascals (#2); “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys (#3); “You’re My Soul and Inspiration” by the Righteous Brothers (#4); “Kicks” by Paul Revere & the Raiders (#5); “Secret Agent Man” by Johnny Rivers (#6); “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” by Bob Dylan (#7); “Bang Bang” by Cher (#8); “Leaning on a Lamp Post” by Herman’s Hermits (#9); and “Gloria” by Shadows of Night (#10).

Friday, April 15, 2016

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 4/18/1966 to 4/24/1966

Think how large West Rome’s student body might have been if this had come to pass: a public opinion poll regarding the annexation of all of Garden Lakes into the city of Rome was launched this week in 1966. If the annexation had gone through, all students in the Garden Lakes area would have become Chieftains.

West Rome defeated North Whitfield 16-3 on Monday; racking up sixteen hits in the game, while pitcher Mike Souder only allowed three hits; Jimmy Edwards was the Chieftain’s leading hitter with three hits.

West Rome’s track team continued its winning season with a 121-37-21 win over Main High and Calhoun on Monday; the Chieftains took twelve first places in the track meet, thanks in part to Arbie Lovell’s three first place wins (high hurdles, low hurdles, and triple jump), while Lane Warner and Benny Padgett each posted two wins (880 and mile run for Warner, shot and discus for Padgett). Then the Chiefs defeated Dalton 77-59 in a two-way track meet on Tuesday, claiming ten of the eighteen first places, with Arbie Lovell again taking three first place wins (again with low hurdles, high hurdles, and triple jump).

West Rome’s golf team was having a tougher time of it; the team came in third in a three-way match with East Rome an Cedartown.

McDonald’s was the site of a grease fire on Monday, April 18th, but they were able to clean the store up, replace damaged equipment and fixtures, and re-open for business on Friday, April 22nd.

If you’ don’t remember the Postal Savings System, that might be because it was abolished as of March 27, 1966 and it ceased paying interest as of April 20th, 1966. Up until that time, the US Post Office sold postal savings certificates that paid a monthly interest rate. The system was created way back in 1911 to appeal to immigrants who were accustomed to saving at Post Offices in their home countries; it also served as a depository for people who had lost faith in banks, since the certificates could be purchased in cash, did not require identification, and had no limit on the amount of insured savings that anyone could own. The Saving System were discontinued because its then-meager 2% interest rate was far lower than banks were paying; today, of course, people would gladly line up at the Post Office for a chance to buy a guaranteed certificate that paid 2% interest!

Piggly Wiggly had five pounds of Colonial sugar for 39¢, Downy Flake frozen waffles for a dime a box, and two pounds of frozen french fries for 33¢. Kroger had Spotlight coffee for 39¢ a pound, pork roast for 29¢ a pound, and bananas for a dime a pound. A&P had sirloin steak for 89¢ a pound, Campbell’s pork & beans for 16¢ a can, and green peppers for a dime each. Big Apple had baking hens for 37¢ a pound, Gebhardt chili for 33¢ a can, and Aunt Jemima grits for a dime a box. Couch’s had ground beef for 39¢ a pound, cabbage for a nickel a head, and Coca Cola, Tab, or Sprite for 99¢ a case plus deposit.

The cinematic week began with Frankie & Johnny (with Elvis Presley) at the DeSoto Theater and Shane (with Alan Ladd) at the First Avenue. The midweek switch out brought Harper (with Paul Newman & Lauren Bacall) to the DeSoto and Hold On (with Herman’s Hermits and Shelley Fabares) to the First Avenue, while the West Rome Drive-In offered a weekend double feature of War Drums (a 1957 oldie with Lex Barker—but in the days before home video, it wasn’t that uncommon for years-old films to make the drive-in circuit) and The World of Suzie Wong (a 1960 drama with Nancy Kwan & William Holden).

The Young Rascals took first place this week in 1966 with “Good Lovin’.” Other top ten hits included “You’re My Soul & Inspiration” by the Righteous Brothers (#2); “Monday Monday” by the Mamas & the Papas (#3); “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys (#4); “Secret Agent Man” by Johnny Rivers (#5); “Kicks” by Paul Revere (#6); “Time Won’t Let Me” by the Outsiders (#7); “Bang Bang” by Cher (#8); “Daydream” by the Lovin’ Spoonful (#9); and “Leaning on a Lamp Post” by Herman’s Hermits (#10).

The Academy Awards aired in color for the first time on April 18th; even as late as 1966, some television programming was still presented in black and white, believe it or not!

Poison Ivy made her first appearance this week in 1966 in the pages of Batman #181, courtesy of Robert Kanigher & Sheldon Moldoff (and most definitely not Bob Kane, whose only conribution to Batman at this point was his name).

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 4/11/1966 to 4/17/1966

West Rome’s track team continued to run circles around the competition. First, the Chiefs defeated Armuchee 87-49 on April 11th, led by double victories for both Arbie Lovell (high hurdles and low hurdles) and Benny Padgett (shot and discus). The next day, the track team racked up 96 points to beat Cedartown and Rossville in a three-way track meet on April 12th. The Chiefs performed so well in this meet that they outscored the other two schools combined!

The JV Chiefs scored seven runs on ten sites to beat Model 7-1 on Wednesday, led by the strong pitching of Steve Harrell.

As if there were any doubts, Tuesday’s referendum put them to rest: voters in both the city and the county overwhelmingly rejected the idea of a school system merger, with almost 70% of the voters casting a NO ballot.

On Thursday, the Rome City school system finally gave up its losing battle to delay desegregation, signing a desegregation compliance certificate just one day before a federal deadline mandating loss of educational funds. This meant that, at long last, segregation came to an end as an official city school system policy, although it would still be two more years before all facets of the plan would be completed.

Coosa Valley Tech’s enrollment was growing so rapidly that the school unveiled plans to add a $1.3 million expansion, with the intention of getting the work completed by the end of the year. (Can the government do anything in eight months nowadays?…)

The cinematic week began with Frankie & Johnny (with Elvis Presley) at the DeSoto Theater and The Rare Breed (with James Stewart & Maureen O’Hara) at the First Avenue. The midweek switch out brought  a Shock-o-Rama double feature of Billy the Kid Vs Dracula and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter to the First Avenue (because you know, moviegoers can never get enough Western-monster movie mashups), while Elvis hung around for another week at the DeSoto. The West Rome Drive-In offered a weekend double feature of The Bridges at Toko-Ri (with William Holden) and The Trap (with Richard Widmark).

Piggly Wiggly had Plymouth bacon for 69¢ a pound, cantaloupes for 29¢ each, and a case of Coca Cola, Tab, or Sprite for 99¢ plus deposit. A&P had chuck steak for 59¢ a pound, Eight O’Clock coffee for 63¢ a pound, and strawberries for 29¢ a pint. Kroger had sirloin steak for 99¢ a pound, yellow corn for 6¢ an year, and ten pounds of Domino sugar for 89¢. Big Apple had center cut pork chops for 59¢ a pound, Irvindale ice milk for 39¢ a half-gallon, and Van Camp potted meat (a deviled ham competitor… as if we needed something else akin to deviled ham) for 18¢ a can. Couch’s had corned beef for 49¢ a pound, Utica salmon for 35¢ a can, and Big Ten canned biscuits for 15¢ a can.

The Righteous Brothers took the number one slot this week with “You’re My Soul & Inspiration.” Other top ten hits included “Bang Bang” by Cher (#2); “Secret Agent Man” by Johnny Rivers (#3); “Daydream” by the Lovin’ Spoonful (#4); “Time Won’t Let Me” by the Outsiders (#5); “Good Lovin’” by the Young Rascals (#6); “Kicks” by Paul Revere & the Raiders (#7); “Sloop John B” by the Beach Boys” (#8); “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by BJ Thomas & the Triumphs (#9); and “Monday Monday” by the Mamas & the Papas (#10).

On April 12th, Jan Berry of Jan & Dean nearly died in a car crash; he survived, but suffered near-total paralysis for a year and struggled to come to terms with profound brain damage as a result of the crash. Ironically, his crash occurred very near the same Dead Man’s Curve that he and his musical partner Dean Torrance immortalized in their hit song.

The final episode of McHale’s Navy aired on April 12th, 1966, although the show would continue to be reshown in syndication.

The Wakandan King T’Challa, better known as the Black Panther, made his comic book debut this week in 1966 in Fantastic Four #52 by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, & Joe Sinnott. The Black Panther was the first black superhero in mainstream US comics, and has played a significant role in the Marvel Universe ever since. (That’s the Black Panther that you may have spotted in the Captain America: Civil War trailer—and he plays a significant role in the film.)

This was also the week that saw the release of Steve Ditko’s final stories for Amazing Spider-Man (#38) and Doctor Strange (in Strange Tales #146). For those of us who love Ditko’s distinctive storytelling and strikingly unique artistic takes on Marvel heroes and villains, it truly was the end of an era…

Friday, April 08, 2016

16th Birthday v 2.0

Happy sixteenth birthday to me, happy sixteenth birthday to me...

It was sixteen years ago exactly as I type this that I died.  Ten years ago, I wrote about it all in more detail, and you can read it here. I'm not going to bore you with the story if you already know it. Here's the short version: late evening on April 7th, 2000, I had a heart attack (my second in about two weeks, but this was a major one). At 12:31 pm on April 8th, I died for just over seven minutes.

5844 days that I have been gifted... now beginning day 5845. That's more than a third of the 17,026 days I lived up until the heart attack.

I don't think I appreciated each of those 17,026 days the way I've tried to appreciate the 5844 extra days I was given (thanks to some dedicated paramedics, a superb hospital staff, and a great cardiologist). I try to end each night--even the worst ones, such as the night that Mom died, or the night after Dad succumbed to the effects of his stroke--by appreciating at least one good thing that I experienced that day... one good thing I wouldn't have experienced had I not been given that extra day. I keep count of the days, and add a personal note to a private calendar each day, as a way of saying "thanks for the second life."

I'm glad I didn't die in the early morning of April 8th, 2000. However, when I was faced with the reality that I had a good chance of dying again in the next few days--without a third chance at life--I wasn't afraid, and I had only a few regrets... most of them related to any burdens my death might place on those I love.

(I haven't been frightened of dying ever since then. I don't want to die, mind you--I have many more calendar pages that I'd like to mark up with the most memorable good thing from that day--but the concept of dying isn't disturbing any longer. The experience changed me in that regard; before that day, the thought of my own death disturbed me.)

Every year, I commemorate this anniversary quietly, with appreciation. I also realize that the chance exists that I won't celebrate it the next year. Should that happen, know this: I have had a most wonderful life, with more good things than I ever imagined that my life could encompass. If I'm not here and my absence is worth noting, then note it in this way: tell those you love, "That lucky guy got sixteen extra years. May all the rest of us, when we come to the end of our lives, get sixteen bonus years tacked on--and may we all find as many good experiences, good friends, and good memories to fill those bonus years as Cliff did."

Now excuse me while I go for a quiet post-midnight walk and ruminate on the best thing about this day that's coming to an end...

Sunday, April 03, 2016

An Audience With the King

My best friend Charles Rutledge recently referred to a one of our favorite shared memories. "Did I ever tell you about that time that Batman 'creator' Bob Kane was rude to Cliff Biggers and me," Charles wrote, "and Jack Kirby set him straight? That was a good day."

Several people expressed an interest in hearing the story. I'm sure Charles will post it in his own blog, but the memories of that evening are so vivid that I wanted to preserve it here.

I am lucky enough to have met with and interviewed Jack "The King" Kirby several times in my life. But it just so happened that my and Charles' meeting with Jack this time in San Diego was totally spontaneous. We were walking through the hotel lobby when we saw Jack and his wife Roz sitting in the lobby. My intent was just to say hello and to thank him for working with me on a phone interview just a few weeks before--and of course, both Charles and I wanted to let him know how much his work meant to us. (If there's anyone who's as much a Kirby fan as I am, it's Charles--to this day, we still have long conversations about Jack and his work.)

We had assumed that Jack was waiting to meet someone, so we had no intention of intruding on his time--but it turned out that Jack was enjoying a rare unscheduled moment. As soon as I introduced myself (while we had met in person, I never expected someone like Jack Kirby--who undoubtedly had met tens of thousands of enthusiastic fans of his work--to remember me), Jack actually thanked me for the interview. I then introduced Charles, and both of us told Jack about our unflagging admiration for his work. Jack was obviously flattered, and he talked to us about our interest in comics, asking when we first started reading comics, what books we had enjoyed, and so on.

I mentioned that the early Fantastic Four issues were particularly meaningful to me, and that they had helped to solidify my lifelong interest in comics. I even told him that, had it not been for those books, I might never have tried to produce my own comics, or contributed to fanzines, or worked with others to launch comic shops, or bought a comic shop of my own, or started Comic Shop News. Jack smiled thoughtfully, then asked me, "So what was your very favorite issue of Fantastic Four?"

I thought for a few seconds, and then centered on the issue that has survived most vividly in my memory for more than fifty years: Fantastic Four #4, the issue that featured the first Silver Age appearance of the Sub-Mariner. It also referred to Golden Age comics (the Human Torch was reading a Golden Age comic featuring the Sub-Mariner), which has piqued my interest in those Marvel books from the 1940s. Jack was beaming as I described the book and its significance to me; then he looked me in the eye, pointed at me, and said, "I did that book for you." He wasn't being patronizing or dismissive--at that moment, Jack absolutely meant it.

From there, the conversation went on to diverse subjects--other projects Kirby was working on, fellow professionals whose work he liked, and numerous war stories. And oh, what stories they were--Jack's tales of his own experiences in the war were every bit as dynamic and exciting as any war comic he had ever done. Jack's storytelling skills were in rare form, and the more he talked, the more enthusiastic he got. The conversation went on for what must have been at least a half an hour, maybe even more--and of course, Charles and I were enthralled.  We had been given a private audience with the King!

Suddenly, a man in a sports coat brusquely inserted himself between us, standing with his back to Charles and me. He had seen Jack talking with us; rather than join the conversation, he just intruded right in the middle of it, not saying a word to Charles or to me. He extended a hand towards Jack, all the while ignoring us. "Jack! How are you! Good to see you. I was just talking with---" As he turned so that we could see a little more of his face, Charles and I recognized the intruder as Bob Kane.

Bob Kane is well known as the creator of Batman. What is less well-known outside of comics is that Bob is even better known as the man who took credit for the work of others. Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger, Dick Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff--these are just a few of the talented writers and artists whose contributions to the Batman mythos was buried under the Bob Kane by-line. (When Bob Kane published his supposed autobiography Batman & Me, the publisher offered expensive limited edition copies that contained an original hand-drawn Bob Kane Batman sketch. According to artists I know and believe, Bob Kane hired them and others to draw his sketches, then Bob signed his name to the drawings. That anecdote typified much of his career...)

Bob was in mid-sentence still vigorously shaking Jack's hand, when Jack gripped Bob's elbow with his other hand, never releasing his grip as he moved Bob to the side and turned him so that we were directly in his field of vision. "Bob, have you met my friends Cliff and Charles?" And in his amiable Jack Kirby way, he forced Bob Kane to acknowledge we were there and to say hello to us. After Bob spoke to us, Jack said, "We were just in the middle of a conversation. You and I will talk later, okay?"

Yes, Jack Kirby dismissed Bob Kane so that he could finish up his conversation with us.

Not only did Jack Kirby give us a chance to talk with a legend that evening, he also gave us a memory that neither of us would ever forget.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 4/4/1966 to 4/10/1966

No week-long spring break for those of us attending West Rome in 1966: the city school system was closed on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, giving us a five-day spring break instead. Teachers had to go to two days of teachers’ meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, while everyone got Good Friday off.

West Rome racked up a dozen first place wins on April 5th to win the three-way track meet. The Chief defeated Coosa and Berry Academy with 110 points to 11.5 and 49.5 respectively. Ray Jones won three first places, while Arbie Lovell, Lane Warner, and Benny Padgett each won two first places.

West Rome’s baseball team didn’t fare so well: Calhoun scored five runs in the first inning to pave the way for an 11-1 victory over the Chieftains.

Rome Police Chief Nelson Camp said that the police were immediately implementing a crackdown on loud mufflers. ”We are going to enforce the law,” Chief Camp said. “We’ve heard from many residents who complain that these mufflers disturb the peace of their neighborhoods.” Shorter Avenue was mentioned as one specific location where the police would be actively enforcing the crackdown. They also planned to fine muffler shops that installed excessively loud mufflers.

Apparently the subject matter of A Patch of Blue bothered at least one Roman: someone phoned in a bomb threat to the First Avenue Theater at 7:53PM on Monday night, just as A Patch of Blue was about to begin its evening showing. The caller said that he had put a bomb in the theater and it was set to explode at 8pm. The theater was quickly evacuated, police conducted a search, and no bomb was found. In case you’re not familiar with the film, here’s the “Cliff's Notes” mini-summary: A Patch of Blue deals with a black man who befriends a troubled blind girl and helps her to gain entrance into a school for the blind. The teen confuses his compassion for her with romantic love and asks him to marry her—a proposal that he declines, explaining that their love wasn’t romantic and their relationship will not work.)

An investigation into Rome City Schools expenditures revealed that the Rome City School System spent $22,000 a year for school bus transportation—but they didn’t have any school buses. Instead, students rode city buses that were assigned to run school bus routes. This expenditure was mandated by a  state law that said school systems had to pay their proportionate per-pupil share for school bus services across the state, even if the systems had no school buses of their own. (I remember riding the bus to school every now and then, and seem to recall having to pay for the privilege…)

Rome’s Kentucky Fried chicken was running two interesting specials this week in 1966: a chicken liver dinner (with 6 livers, mashed statutes, gravy, and rolls) for 89¢ and a quart of Brunswick stew for 59¢. I have absolutely no memory of Brunswick stew from KFC, which is surprising, considering how much I love Brunswick stew and how often we bought chicken from the KFC on Turner McCall--it was a favorite of Mom & Dad's.)

Enloe’s Rexall drugstores had one-pound Easter-themed Whitman samplers for $1.60 each. Arrington-Ingram and chocolate-covered Easter Eggs in assorted flavors for a nickel each. Buy-Wise had one-pound bags of jelly beans for a quarter each. Super-Discount Stores had Brach’s Bunny Eggs for 29¢ a bag. And Murphy’s had 12” tall solid milk chocolate Easter bunnies for 59¢ each. Let the candy-feasting begin!

Remember the Mercury Discovery? I don’t—and apparently it wasn’t the biggest seller on the Mercury lot since, Rome Lincoln-Mercury was running a major special on the car this week in 1966, taking $300 off the list price of this particular model. The deluxe auto included such luxuries as an all-vinyl interior, push-button radio, a 390 cubic inch V-8 engine, deluxe wheel covers with spinners, a full-range heater, electric windshield washers, and (get ready for it)… back-up lights! Makes you wonder what a stripped down car included back then…

Piggly Wiggly had Armour bacon for 69¢ a pound, medium eggs for 39¢ a dozen, and strawberries for 33¢ a pint. Kroger and hen turkeys for 39¢ a pound, Country Club ice cream for 44¢ a half-gallon, and fruit cocktail for a quarter a can. A&P had Eight O’Clock coffee for 63¢ a pound, whole or half hams for 59¢ a pound, and fresh-baked apple pies for 33¢ each. Big Apple had fryer breast for 49¢ a pound, celery for a dime a bunch, and fresh turnip sales (I must confess I have no idea what this is, but it was so strange it caught my attention) for 19¢ a pound. Couch’s and chuck roast for 47¢ a pound, cabbage for a nickel a head, and Coca Cola or Tab for 99¢ a case plus deposit.

The cinematic week began with The Silencers (with Dean Martin) at the DeSoto Theater and—as mentioned earlier— A Patch of Blue (with Sidney Poitier) at the First Avenue. The midweek switch out brought Frankie & Johnny (with Elvis Presley) to the DeSoto and The Rare Breed (with James Stewart & Maureen O’Hara) to the First Avenue. The West Rome Drive-In’s weekend offerings included a double feature of Black Spurs (a 1965 film with Rory Calhoun) and The Party Crashers (a 1958 grade-B film whose case included Connie Stevens and Frances Farmer).

The Righteous Brothers climbed to the top spot on the record charts this week in 1966 with “You’re My Soul and Inspiration.” Other top ten hits included “Daydream” by the Lovin’ Spoonful (#2); “Bang Bang” by Cher (#3); “Secret Agent Man” by Johnny Rivers (#4); “Time Won’t Let Me” by the Outsiders (#5); “19th Nervous Breakdown” by the Rolling Stones (#7); “The Ballad of the Green Berets” by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler (#7); “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by BJ Thomas & the Triumphs (#8); “Good Lovin’” by the Young Rascals (#9); and “Kicks” by Paul Revere & the Raiders (#10).

Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass set a record this month in 1966 by pacing five albums on the Pop Albums Chart in the same week—and four of them were in the Top Ten!

The Addams Family aired its final original episode this week in 1966, but Gomez, Morticia, Lurch, and the rest would love on for many more years in syndication.

What an incredible week this was for Marvel Comics fans: Marvel added Golden Age Captain America reprints to Fantasy Masterpieces #3, while also including some of the pre-hero monster and fantasy stories that had been Marvel’s stock-in-trade before Fantastic Four #1. I had read one Golden Age Cap story in Jules Feiffer’s Great Comic Book Heroes, but now I could look forward to rare Golden Age reprints every month... and these stories featured art by Jack Kirby and his partner Joe Simon!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 3/28/1966 to 4/3/1966

What a boom period the mid-1960s were! Rome’s building permits topped the $1 million mark in March, marking the third month in a row that more than $1 million in permits were issued. This included permits for new construction as well as for renovations. (Bear in mind that this was in a time period when the average new home in Rome sold for $24,000.)

It’s hard to imagine how much the draft cast a shadow over everything for young men in the 1960s, but the monthly draft report serves as an uncomfortable reminder. Georgia announced that the state would, for the first time since WWII, draft a thousand men in the May draft selection. This was an increase of more than 25% over the number of Georgians drafted in January of 1966, and the Georgia Selective Service System said that it was likely that the number would continue to increase for the rest of the year.

The Chieftains defeated Darlington 69-67 in a hard-fought track meet; the match was decided by a three-yard margin int final race, when Lane Warner crossed the finish line on the last leg of the mile relay to give West Rome the victory.

Coach Nick Hyder was optimistic about West Rome’s prospects for the baseball season, but he said that he saw the battle for the region title going “right down to the wire. I can’t see one team dominating it. I believe several teams will battle it out. It could go into a playoff before the winner is decided. But I think this team is as goo as, if not better than, the team we had last season.”

Piggly Wiggly had Plymouth bacon for 69¢ a pound, tomatoes for 19¢ a pound, and Fleetwood coffee for 69¢ a pound. Big Apple had leg o’ lamb for 79¢ a pound, Irvindale ice cream for 49¢ a pound, and Libby Vienna sausage for 20¢ a can (judging from the ads, we all ate a lot of Vienna sausages in the 1960s). Kroger had fresh fryers for 29¢ a pound, Morton cream pies for a quarter each, and Gorton fish sticks for 39¢ a box. A&P had chuck roast for 39¢ a pound, fresh-baked cherry pie for 45¢ each, and apples for 19¢ a pound. Couch’s had sirloin steak for 99¢ a pound, a 12 ounce jar of Blue Plate peanut butter for 29¢, and a 10-ounce jar of the ever-popular Maxwell Instant Coffee for $1.29. (I remember thinking that instant coffee had to be one of the greatest ideas of the 20th century… the only problem was, it didn’t really taste very good—sort of like powdered milk…)

The cinematic week began with The Silencers (with Dean Martin) at the DeSoto Theater and The Ghost & Mr. Chicken (with Don Knotts) at the First Avenue—and both films proved so popular that the hung around for a second week! The West Rome Drive-In weekend schedule included a double feature of The Fall of the Roman Empire (with Sophia Loren, Alec Guinness, & James Mason) and Thunder in the Sun (with Jeff Chandler).

The Righteous Brothers took the number one slot this week in 1966 with “You’re My Soul and Inspiration.” Other top ten hits included “Daydream” by the Lovin’ Spoonful (#2); “19th Nervous Breakdown” by the Rolling Stones (#3); “Bang Bang” by Cher (#4); “The Ballad of the Green Berets” by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler (#5), “Nowhere Man” by the Beatles (#6); “Secret Agent Man” by Johnny Rivers (#7); “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by BJ Thomas & the Triumphs (#8); “Sure Gonna Miss Her” by Gary Lewis & the Playboys (#9); and “California Dreaming” by the Mamas & the Papas (#10).

Sam & Dave made their album debut this week in 1966 with Hold On, I’m Comin’. That was one of several major albums released fifty years ago this week; other noteworthy LPs included Big Hits (High Tide & Green Grass), a greatest hits compilation  by the Rolling Stones; Boots by Nancy Sinatra; Color Me Barbra by Barbra Streisand; Hold On! by Herman’s Hermits; Daydream by the Lovin’ Spoonful; If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears by the Mamas & the Papas; Woman by Peter & Gordon; and a pair of eponymous premiere albums, The Young Rascals and Love. (Since my allowance only allowed one album a week in addition to my comics, the Rolling Stones won out—but I was lucky enough to get  free copy of the Herman’s Hermits album through the Rome News-Tribune, where no one wanted the review copy that came in so Dad brought it home to me.  This was my first experience with free review copies, and I must admit that I found the idea to be very appealing... so appealing, in fact, that a few years later I would start a science fiction review fanzine in order to get review copies of books.)

Color Me Barbra was the official soundtrack that accompanied Barbra Streisand’s television special of the same name, which debuted on CBS on Wednesday, March 30th, 1966.

And this was also the week that the last new episode of The Flintstones aired on ABC. This brought the six-season run of the popular prime-time cartoon series to an end, although it would survive for decades in syndication.

Monday, March 21, 2016

"My--Look at the Time..."

When I was a kid, I couldn't wait to become a grown-up so that I could do whatever I wanted, when I wanted.

My childhood was burdened with school and homework and household chores--all those things that kids have griped about for many generations. And yet I somehow found time to read comic books and listen to records and play at playing guitar and do fanzines and write letters to friends and produce my own comic books and and assemble model kits and read for hours and rummage through bookstores and rebuild mimeograph machines and build campfires and throw a football with friends under the Marchmont streetlight and ride a home-made skateboard and a bike and walk to stores and walk in the woods to that secret place with the thirty-foot drop-off to the creek below and play putt-putt golf at the little course next to Dairy Queen and climb water towers on Watson Street that we had been told never to climb and talk on the phone so much that my parents finally got me my own phone line so that they could receive calls too...

Now I'm an adult. Tonight, I enjoyed my grown-up freedom by doing the weekly accounting work for my comic shop, preparing employee paychecks, preparing a big reorder, buying a few groceries, backing up some files, and in general wondering where all that freedom went. And every day and every night is similarly regimented.

How did I manage to do so many wonderfully fun things in my childhood while simultaneously feeling so overburdened and oppressed? Now, I'd love to have the same free time that I had back then. Each day, each week, each year seems to pass by a little more quickly than the one before, and I realize that I can't count on getting to all those fun things eventually, like I did when I was a kid.

So I get up a little earlier in order to have some time to read, or I sit down at the computer at midnight to squeeze out some "fun writing," or I read part of a Doc Savage novel on my phone while I'm walking through the neighborhood. And all the while, I realize that there is never any free time--not really. Every minute has six different claims against it, and I have to pick and choose what to do with those minutes. And every now and then, doing absolutely nothing is the best thing you can do with a few of those minutes...

But I'm realizing more and more that the fun things are as vital to me as the duties and responsibilities. So I'm making the time to listen to records and write my own stories and send emails to friends and play with vintage stereo equipment and look at comics and walk alongside the creek and read for the heck of it and talk to friends on the phone and rearrange books and watch TV and build a model kit and take a 2am walk just because I want to.

We never get the lives we thought we wanted. But that's not a bad thing, really. Sometimes we don't know enough to want the lives we eventually end up with. And other times, we're so busy living them that we don't realize that some of the things we wanted are still there, within reach.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Noteworthy Words

My childhood training to save dessert for last is so deeply ingrained that I always force myself to schedule the more enjoyable activities on my schedule at the end of the day, after I've taken care of the necessary but more tedious tasks.

Saturday is the day I do my almost-the-end-of-the-week accounting work--entering sales in the spreadsheet, entering checks (both those that I've written and automatic billpay payments) into the ledger, etc. I try to do that for Monday through Saturday so that the bulk of the work is done when I sit down on Sunday evening to enter the last day's data, write paychecks, and place my hefty Friday-Saturday-Sunday reorder with Diamond Comics Distribution.

Tonight, I was able to wrap all that up by 9pm or so, which meant that I had almost three solid hours to do what I really wanted to do: get back to the novel in progress. I was able to rework on section that I had written some notes on, then add 3000 more words to the manuscript before calling it quits for the night. Even better, as I'm nearing the end, all the various loose threads are resolving themselves quite satisfactorily, and now everything is right in line with the detailed outline I had already prepared for the last two major sequences. 

I called it quits tonight just as I wrote the last scene prior to the segment I've outlined. That means that, the next time I sit down to write, I will scroll to the beginning of the outline and begin fleshing it out in novel form.

Sometimes I think I must feel the same way as did the classical musicians that the Beatles brought in to fill in the chaotic orchestral sequence of "A Day in the Life." They were told that they were to play for 24 bars; they were to start on this low note; and they were to end on this high note. In between... well, that was up to them.  The resultant organized chaos is one of my favorite parts of the song, almost a musical metaphor for the two discordant lives depicted in the Lennon and McCartney segments of the song.

I knew where I was; I knew where I needed to be. I had to find the way to bridge the gap and get from point A to point B. Tonight, I hit the note.