Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Back from Fall Hiatus

Hard to believe I've missed almost an entire season of postings here--but as the dates make painfully clear, that's exactly what happened. Without going into great detail, I'll just say that there were personal things happening that left me unable to focus my attention on blogging... in fact, in many ways I've just been going through the motions on many fronts, following routine because it requires less thought.

Big things have happened since I last wrote. First off, I made a trip to Montreal for a DC Comics RRP meeting; this is the first major trip I've made in several years, and only the second time I've ever been out of the country. The trip went well, the meeting was rewarding and inspiring, and I'm glad I went... but I don't understand how some of my friends can rack up frequent-flyer miles without going insane from the rather unique demands of air travel nowadays. Too much time waiting, too many hoops to jump through--it all seems like an endurance contest.

Also, my nephew Cole and his long-time love, Christy, got married on December 3rd. Cole is 21--and that's hard to believe--so I shouldn't be surprised that he's getting married and charting a course for his life. But I still remember buying his presents on Christmas shopping trips to Toys R Us on the first weekday that teachers were free from class--it became a sort of ritual. I have vivid memories of Cole's and Jessica's Christmases (Jess is Cole's sister, for those who are keeping track)--now they're both all but grown up and the Toys R Us days are behind them. Now I find myself buying some of the same sorts of gifts that Mom and Dad gave Susan and me when we first got married--and it makes me more appreciative of the things that they did for us in those early days, in fact.

This is the first Christmas where I feel like I'm having to "ad lib" a bit in terms of gifts; I have very few ideas of what anyone wants, so Christmas shopping is more unpredictable, more spontaneous... and much less focused. Too early to say if that's a Good Thing or a Bad Thing.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Sailors and Toyotas

So why did Toyota choose an orchestral version of "What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor" as the theme music for their latest commercial?

If you're not familiar with the song, here's a link to a simpler version of the melody:

I have heard this song about eight hundred times in the past week, since Toyota (like so many other car manufacturers) seems to buy huge blocks of time to run the same and again and again until everyone hates the song and the manufacturer's vehicles. I even have new lyrics:

why would a sailor drive Toyota?
why would a sailor drive Toyota?
why would a sailor drive Toyota?
He'd prefer a schooner

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Food for Thought

"Feeding the birds" has become verbal shorthand for "feeding whatever critters happen to wander by while there's still food to be had." We routinely see our share of raccoons, chipmunks, field mice, possums (the first "o" is now invisible as well as silent), and even an occasional rat, all vying for the seed we leave out for the cardinals, finches, thrashers, woodpeckers, bluebirds, robins, bluejays, and crows that frequent our deck. However, the most dedicated munchers in the neighborhood are squirrels and rabbits; we see dozens of squirrels during the day, and a dedicated band of rabbits are familiar with the Biggers Buffet. It's not that common that I see the two groups chowing down at the same "table," though, so I thought I'd preserve the moment in JPG...

World Turned Upside Down

Like pretty much everyone else, I've followed the news from New Orleans with an ever-shifting mix of disbelief, anguish, concern, and outrage. I still can't get my mind around the magnitude of the loss--a disaster of this size is beyond imagining, I believe. Sure, we've seen massive disasters in summer popcorn films time and again... but in some way, that has almost inured us to the real thing.

I've found myself moved time again by the little stories, the human tragedies that I can comprehend. The man who sat despondently by the corpse of his wife, who had died because the medicines she needed could not be acqired. The e-mail from a woman desperately searching for any news about a lost family member--an e-mail that ended with the humble statement that hinted at an underlying ocean of fear and grief: "we are so worried." The photos of parents trying to comfort children whose lives won't return to normal for years. The woman stumbling as she enters a shelter--stumbling because she's looking upwards, rather than at the ground, at the only home she's likely to know for a short while.

But one man's words helped me to envision a bit more what he was seeing. "I was on the roof of a three-story building," he said, "and as far as I could see in every direction, it was like the world had been turned upside down." After that, i went walking this morning, and as I crested a hill, I took a minute to look in every direction, and to try to imagine if the destruction and suffering I saw in those television pictures were repeated over and over again as far as the eye could see. Every house, flooded or damaged or collapsed or gone entirely... trees uprooted... cars tossed about, or standing in filthy water... corpses haphazardly scattered here and there, yet unrecovered...

Hieronymous Bosch could not depict more human misery and suffering than these men and women and children have seen for the past week.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Egocentrism in Action

I'm probably about the eight millionth person to write in his blog about the increasing egocentrism and rudeness of the general public, but today's experience at the store left me wondering what goes through the minds of some people.

We have a policy that no outside drinks are allowed unless they're in bottles with tops securely screwed on (we only sell drinks in screw-top bottles, and we ask our gamers and customers to keep the tops on the drinks when they're not actively drinking). Too many bad experiences with Wendy's cups (the local Wendy's is just down the road), Starbucks grandes, etc. have left us with damaged merchandise for which the customer was simply unable or unwilling to pay, so we just ask that customers finish their drinks outside, or that they leave them on a table located near the front of the store, away from comics, trade paperbacks, and other water-sensitive items.

Today, some late-teen-early-twenty type came in with his girlfriend, both carrying paper cups filled with whatever beverage they'd ordered at a local fast-food place. Jared asked that they leave the cups on the counter; the young woman had no trouble with that, but the guy decided to ignore the request. He continued to walk into the store, consuming his drink; again, Jared asked him to leave the drink at the table or finish it outside. At this time, Jared had (so I understand) moved into the general direction where the non-customer was walking, forcing the non-customer to stop his forward progress. At that point, he stood there looking surly, then made a point of finishing his drink in the store and went to the door, crushing the cup on the ledge outside our front window.

Trying not to let the situation get worse, Jared took the friendly approach, saying to the now-hydrated fellow, "Look, I wasn't trying to be a jerk or anything, but we have to be careful with drinks because of all the paper in here..." At that point, the non-customer cut him off and said, "You guys have always been assholes, so that's what I expect," and then continued to swagger around the store, assuming that he'd now told off the employee.

If you know Jared, you know that he's exceedingly polite, very amiable, and certainly not a rude fellow. At this point, I approached the customer, unhappy that one of my associates had been treated so poorly. I asked him if my understanding of the conversation was correct, and he said, "yeah, everyone around here is an asshole." At that point, I told him that rather than have him endure continued abuse from our staff, it would probably be best if he went to another store where he felt he got better treatment. "That's okay," he said, "I wasn't going to buy anything anyway." So why'd he bother coming to a store where, according to him, all the staff has always been so substandard? Who knows.

Now, bear in mind that Jared has only worked here for five weeks--in fact, most all of our staff has only been with us for five weeks, since Brett (our long-time store manager, who'd been with the store for twenty years) chose to leave in late July to find out what other career options awaited him (Brett began working for us shortly after graduating from high school, and he's been a part of the staff ever since, and he just decided that he'd done the retail think for long enough; he's still a friend of mine, and he still comes by the store regularly, so there's no ill will in his departure). The folks who are working for us are exceedingly polite, as is Buck (our store manager, formerly assistant manager)--and Brett wasn't a rude guy, either, even when customers gave him cause to be. But this guy came in with a chip on his shoulder for some reason.

The thing that amazes me, though, is that we see more customers who come in and violate the basic rules of polite conduct in a public place, and then act offended when they're asked not do continue doing that. We see teenagers and early-twenties who begin loud, vulgar conversations, and then look put out when we tell them we can't allow them to speak that way in a famly store. We have customers who try to break the shrink wrap on products that are sealed for a reason, and then seem angry when we tell them they can't do that. And this isn't the first person who's felt like it was his god-given right to drink wherever he wanted to, regardless of the store.

And then there's the gray-area rudeness of people who come into a store carrying on a loud mobile phone conversation and never hang up for the duration of their visit. They shop while talking, come to the register while talking, pay while talking, and never once acknowledge any other human presence. I'm old-school enough that I try to end my phone conversations before going into the store, and if I do get a call while I'm at a register, I tell the caller I'll phone them back when I'm finished... and then apologize to the cashier for the call (if I can see that it's not an important call, I don't even take it, opting instead to simply return the call when I've finished my transaction).

Seems like we have more people than ever who are convinced that whatever they choose to do in a retail establishment should be acceptable. And while some of it is tolerable (albeit aggravating), that self-indulgent and egocentric behavior that is insulting or offensive to my store associates is quite the opposite.

Okay, I've vented enough for now...

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Fell Stumbles

Fell, Warren Ellis's new crime drama from Image Comics, is a perfect example of a comic that tries too hard. The title character is a former big-city cop who finds himself relocated to the blighted Snowtown, a dead-end beat in a dead-end town. Each 16-page issue tells a complete story, replacing the currently-trendy plot-starved decompressed storytelling for a tighter plot-driven tale. And I have no problems with the plot--but this is one of the few Warren Ellis comics in which the dialogue totally fails to click.

Ellis has packed Fell with the sort of tough-as-nails dialogue that writers like Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler popularized... but he all too frequently crosses the border into Leslie Nielsen spoof territory.

"Welcome to the Moon, Detective. Miles from anywhere. Colder than Eskimo nipples. And if you breathe, you die." (Most Eskimos I've seen in photos have actually been pretty well insulated by layers of clothing, so I'm not sure this comparison even works...)

"Moon St. Precinct House--where I work now. It smells like a leper's cesspit." (Does Hansen's disease actually cause a leper's waste matter to smell even worse than anyone else's?)

"I see you again and I'll shove this up your ass so hard it'll hit you in the back of the teeth."

If these lines work for you, odds are you'll enjoy Fell. If they make you wince in apprehension that Ellis wants us to take this seriously, then you'll likely remain as disengaged from this story as I was.

Ben Templesmith's art is subdued, filled with too many empty medium shots and even more minimally impressionistic than usual. The result is a dreary book thta seems to waste much of its visual potential.

Ellis, Templesmith, crime drama... I had high hopes. But this one just doesn't deliver.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What Gall!

Tisha underwent a sonogram today to determine the nature of the mass in her abdomen. I had trouble sleeping, so I got up at 5:45 in the morning to feed Tisha, pet her, and enjoy her company for a while before having to leave her at Dr. Lane's office for a few hours. In the back of my mind, I had this morbid fear that this might be the last day I would get to spend with her.

However, the news was far better than either Dr. Lane or I had ever imagined it would be. The sonographer was convinced, after meticulous scrutiny, that the abdominal mass wasn't a tumor at all, but was instead an infection in her gall bladder that had caused it to enlarge somewhat. After more tests, Dr. Marshall (another vet at the Cat Clinic of Cobb) was confident that this was the problem, and she prescribed both an antibiotic and a medication to help get her gall bladder problems under control.

Suddenly Tisha has a chance for a full recovery and I have hopes of having her with me for much longer. And Tisha didn't even act too unhappy with me for leaving her at the vet's office for several hours this mornning... but Tisha has always had a forgiving soul...

Monday, August 15, 2005

...Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

What is it about Shakespeare that inspires creators to meddle and muck about, marking their territorial trail through Will's work much as a dog marks his own territory?

Today, I received three more volumes in the Puffin Graphics series of young-reader-focused literary classic adaptations; this selection includes Macbeth, The Wizard of Oz, and Treasure Island. Tim Hamilton's adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's adventure is appropriately moody and action-oriented, with a confident ink-line that sometimes reminded me of Al Williamson or early Jeffrey Jones (although his layout lacks the inventive vitality of those creators). Michael Cavellero's The Wizard of Oz shows an animation influence, with boldly energetic lines and exaggerated energy that virtually leaps from the page.

And then there's Macbeth, adapted by Arthur Byron Cover and Tony Leonard Tamai. It's rare to find such a jarring disconnect between content and style; for some reason, Cover thought about it and apparently said to himself, "I know what Shakespeare forgot. Robots 'n' dragons and manga, that's what!" And then, compounding the error, Cover proceeded to shoehorn all of these elements into Shakespeare's play, creating an embarrassingly bad adaptation that trivializes Shakespeare while doing absolutely nothing to clarify the storyline for young readers. Cover doesn't adapt, he excerpts; once he contributes his misguided science fiction elements, he does little more than choose which Shakespearean lines to keep in. Many panels convey nothing of the meaning of the prose that will remain impenetrable to the younger readers towards whom this book is purportedly targeted. This is ponderous reading for a young reader; I taught Macbeth to high school juniors and seniors, and it was ponderous reading for many of them until the language could be broken into digestible segments, explained within context, and then re-read with an educated understanding. This version of Macbeth explains nothing, educates no one, and ultimately contains prose and pictures so isolated from one another that readers might be left wondering if this is some cynical comic book version of What's Up, Tiger Lily?

Rarely has such talent drifted so far astray...

Saturday, August 06, 2005

One Day at a Time

This morning, Tisha ate a few bites of canned cat food--ocean fish feast, a breakfast mainstay for about five years that she had lost interest in a few months ago, but I thought it might be time to bring it back into her diet--and drank a little bit of water. It wasn't enough of either, of course, but it was an improvement. I took her to the Cat Clinic of Cobb, where Dr. Marshall gave her some more subcutaneous fluids and a B-12 injection; she seems a little more alert and active now.

The mass in her abdomen is definitely a problem, though; Dr. Marshall feels that it has pushed her intestines out of place a bit as it has grown. Everyone agrees, though, that Tisha is too old and too weak to survive a major surgery, so that's not an option.

Right now, we'll continue to give her food and water with oral syringes if necessary, and we'll try to make her comfortable. The outcome of this problem is virtually inevitable, but that doesn't mean that we're not going to cherish each additional day we have with her, so long as that day is good for her as well.

...Where Kittens Run Free...

My dear Tisha is, I fear, preparing to leave us.

Tisha, more than sixteen years old, is a blue-cream Persian that we've had since she was a scant eight weeks old. Her compact, stocky body (Susan always described it as "cobby") always looked larger than it was, largely due to her thick, almost wooly fur. Tisha is one of those extremely flat-faced Persian cats--the type of Persian whose carefully-bred extreme look gave her problems all of her life. That same flat face made her appear to be scowling, but when she saw Susan or me or her sister Asia, the joy in her eyes put aside any thoughts of a scowl.

I have a thousand thousand Tisha stories I could tell, and sometime I'll begin sharing them. But right now, the joy of those memories is tempered by the sorrow of knowing that Tisha is almost certainly in her final days. Just a few days ago, she broke with her normal eating routine... in fact, she wouldn't eat at all. Then, two days ago, Susan found her lying on her favorite afternoon sleeping spot--an old padded computer bag that I had put down next to the back stairs over a year ago, intending to store it in a closet that day until Tisha discovered it and made it clear that this was now her afternoon bed--but she was lying in a small puddle of her own vomit. For a cat as fastidious as Tisha, who devoted hour into attempting to groom that wooly body, this was a serious sign of problems.

We took her to the vets, where they discovered she had a high fever and was dehydrated. Blood tests were done, and no signs of an infection showed up, not did any signs of metabolic disorders... but a subsequent x-ray showed something ominous. There was a large almost circular mass in her stomach, a mass that shouldn't be there... a mass that was almost certainly a tumor of some sorts.

The doctor gave her some fluids subcutaneously and showed me how to administer more fluids if needed, and we took her home. A few hours later, I came in from my afternoon exercise to the wondrous sight of Tisha standing near the door to greet me. I opened a can of her favorite food--Nine Lives tuna with cheese, the same food I gave her on the very first day we brought her home--and she nibbled at it three different times that afternoon. I was convinced the diagnosis had to be a mistake, and that Tisha was going to come right back to her normal self.

Of course, I was fooling myself. That was the last time that Tisha ate anything; she has showed no interest in food since then, nor has she drunk anything other than the water I've given her with an oral syringe.

Now she does little more than sleep... but oh, what glorious dreams she must have! In her dreams, she's young again and healthy and vibrant, and her feet move ever so slightly in a running motion; I know that she must be scurrying to meet her sister Asia, who left us in May of 2004. The two were inseparable in life, sleeping together, eating together, playing together--they were ideal sisters (even though they weren't related, although we did get the both of them on the same day in 1989)... and now, they'll be united again, in a place where cats are always happy and the sun always shines in time for an afternoon nap and there's never any pain or illness...

But still, when I gently touch a hand to Tisha's back, stroke her head, she awakens, and she purrs. In spite of all, she purrs incessantly at my touch, and she stretches out as best she can, and she finds the only joy I can give her. I stroke her for a long, long time, and I scratch under the chin that she always stretched upwards in order to get me to comb her neck, and I scuff my index finger across the top of her nose, between her eyes, in that spot that always made her absolutely blissful, and she is for that moment happy again and I only wish I could make that last forever, not only for her but also for me...

But I think that Asia and Tisha will be together very soon...

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Spare Change

Anna, our lovely Siberian that I last wrote about here, is apparently saving up for something special. Over the past few days, I have discovered that Anna has been hoarding spare change; I discovered this when I heard her clawing at the carpeting under my recliner while I was typing. Curious as to what she found so fascinating, I crawled behind the chair to sneak a peek just as she came out from under the chair carrying a quarter in her mouth. I followed her from the upstairs library down two floors to the basement, where she placed the coin in a quarter with, as it turned out, another 64¢ in change that she had apparently accumulated over an unknown period of time. During the next two days, I found three more treasure-troves of coins and watched Anna search out another 57¢ in change to add to her savings account. I finally discovered where much of the change was coming from: Anna has learned that there was more change to be had in the cushions of the living room sofa, and had pushed the cushion forward just enough to enable her to get to it.

What did she plan to buy? I have no idea. I thought we were meeting her financial needs pretty well without any need for additional feline investment. I also have no idea how she learned that there were coins to be had in the sofa, since we really haven't sat in the family room downstairs a single evening since Anna joined us back in November (we spend most of our evening time in the upstairs library, which has become our impromptu family room/media room since we added the 61" DLP Samsung almost two years ago now). Perhaps she can smell the coins... I dunno. At any rate, I have tried to track down any remaining change and put it out of her reach, since I'm now worried that she'll swallow the coins and do some damage to herself.

I've never heard of another cat that saved coins; if anyone has any more information on this rather distinctive character trait, please clue me in.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

For Love of Comics

Today, a customer came in to pick up a couple of issues of The Punisher. As I was ringing him up, he mentioned that this completed his run of the series; he was proud of the fact that he now had every issue of the current Punisher run. I asked him what else he read.

"Nothing," he said. "Just The Punisher."

I didn't say anything--everyone has his own entertainment quirks--but I was a bit mystified. I can never remember a time when I went into a comic shop and picked up just one comic book. I would be more likely to eat just one potato chip, just one M from a pack of M&M's, just one jelly bean, than to buy just one comic book. Sure, there are characters that I enjoy more than others--but I really enjoy comic books.

When I was a kid, I never thought of some comics as being just for girls and other comic books as being just for boys; I was just as likely to grab a Little Lulu or Wendy the Good Little Witch as a Strange Adventures or Batman or Adventures into the Unknown or Fantastic Four. The character or the premise was less important than the comic book itself; it was the blending of words and pictures that captivated me. (Of course, I was much the same when it came to television in those days; while I had shows that I enjoyed more than others, I could always find something to watch on the six channels we received--three network channels from Atlanta, three from Chattanooga--because less desirable television was still better than no television at all!)

I loved the three-packs I found at convenience stores and department stores that contained those old Israel Waldman IW and Super reprint books; it wasn't too long before I could recognize the distinctive Ross Andru-Mike Esposito cover art on some of those collections, although at the time I couldn't figure out why the same dramatic art couldn't be found inside the books as well. I relished the discovery of a big stack of Charlton comics (for some reason still unknown to me, I tended to find Charltons in large clumps--it was as if, rather than being distributed with the regular weekly shipment of comics that the rack jobber brought in, the Charltons were held for months at a time, until there were enough of them to fill up an entire rack). I could be amused for hours with a hefty pile of Archie comics--particularly if they included a handful of those wonderful Bob Bolling Little Archie comics. I really enjoyed the Marvel and DC pre-hero and non-hero anthology books; Strange Tales Annual #1, with its heaping helping of monster and sf reprints, was as much fun for me as Strange Tales Annual #2, with its Spider-Man & Human Torch team-up story. War books, hot rod comics, movie and teevee licensed books, Classics Illustrated... heck, in a pinch, I could be amused by a bunch of romance comics (the only genre I thought of as being somehow inappropriate for young boys... although I still read 'em when there was nothing else around).

Of course, there were no comic book shops when I was a kid. In fact, there were no comic book shops when I was a teenager, nor were there any in this area when I was in my early twenties. The closest we came was Cantrell's on Lee Street in Atlanta, where a huge assortment of back issues could be found (most at premium prices, alas); in my hometown of Rome, I could count on Liberty Hatworks & Newsstand on Broad Street to have the best assortment of new comics, with Conn's Grocery coming in a close second. And I don't think I ever, ever went into one of those stores and came out with just one comic book... I never had that level of self-control.

And I'm pretty happy about that. If I had bought just a single comic on each trip to the store--if I had focused only on books starring a single character--think how much I would have missed! I don't collect comics--I consume entertainment, and it's hard to find more entertainment than is contained within a big stack of comic books...

Monday, May 30, 2005

The Razor's Edge

When I walk--particularly in the evenings--I engage in idle calculations. Nothing of any importance, mind you--usually I'm figuring out such things as how long it is until Christmas, or the amortized daily cost of opening the store, or something else that serves no particular purpose other than to give me some numbers to mentally juggle. Tonight, for some reason, I began calculating how long I have been clean-shaven as compared to how long I had a beard. Turns out that I have been clean-shaven just a almost exactly half my life; I had a beard for a total of twenty-five years and eleven months, and I've been beardless for a total of (taa-daa!) twenty-five years and eleven months. Of course, the latter figure includes the first twenty-one years of my life plus a few months, so it wasn't like I particularly had a choice for much of that time.

I first grew a beard beginning in May of 1975, just after I finished student teaching, primarily to make me look a bit older. I knew I'd be teaching juniors and seniors in high school in three scant months, and I figured that I'd best do something to camouflage the fact that I was only about four years older than the students I would be teaching. Once I grew the beard, though, it became a fixture of my appearance; students knew me as the teacher with a beard (at a time when most teachers had no facial hair), and gradually my circle of friends came to include virtually no one who had ever known me beardless.

Twice I tried shaving off my beard when I was in my fat-Elvis phase, and I really hated the way it looked; my face was round and flabby and my jawline was ill-defined. Of course, that's because I was pretty round and flabby. Once I lost almost seventy pounds, though, I decided that it might be nice to see what was hiding underneath the facial hair; so, in the spring of 2001, I shaved the beard off. And that's when I discovered that, as unappealing as my face might be, I liked it better sans beard. It took very little time for me to get used to the change; of course, I spend relatively little time looking at my face. I have no idea how long it took others to get used to the change, but most of my friends seemed to adjust to the new look pretty quickly.

Today, someone asked me if I'd ever considered growing a beard; that made me aware that there are now a number of my acquaintances who have never known me with facial hair. The answer to the question, though, is "no." Maybe it's a "been-there-done-that" sort of thing, or maybe it just reminds me of the fat days, but I don't feel like a beard kind of guy any longer. Now I'm pretty adamant about shaving before I face the world, in fact; since I've decided not to have a beard, I've also decided that I don't want to give into the too-lazy-to-shave stubble look, either. (Of course, other things have changed since the picture to the left was taken; I've cut my hair, so it's actually closer to the hair length in the bearded picture than any of the others... and alas, there's much less of it on top as well...)

Sunday, May 29, 2005


" My life is made of Patterns/That can scarcely be controlled"
--Paul Simon

There is great comfort in patterns... I think that all of us enjoy a sense of stability, and the patterns that begin to define our days become remarkably stable. For my twenty-five years of high school teaching, I arose at precisely 5:24 a.m. during the school year; I left my house by 6:55 a.m. to ensure that I arrived at school early enough to allow me to focus for the day. When I retired from teaching in April of 2000 (I actually didn't retire until December of 2000, but that was just the formal retirement... my last day in the classroom was March 31st, 2000, so that seems like as official a place as any to mark a retirement), I left that pattern behind forever.

Sort of.

As it turned out, it took me more than three years to break the habit of waking at 5:24 during the week, even though I no longer had to. Even now, I find myself frequently rolling over and gazing at the clock within a minute or two of that time--but only during the week. On weekends, I never wake up particularly early... that's a pattern that I never could break.

As time progressed, though, my freedom from patterns led to the creation of more patterns. I walk about three miles twice a day--once in the morning and once in the afternoon. I follow that with the same weight routine. I get up at 6:10 every Tuesday to exercise and eat breakfast before going to the FedEx Freight hub in South Atlanta. I to go Dr. No's for a full day's work every Wednesday, doing order adjustments for my Marvel and DC books, placing reorders, and ringing up customers. I have a wonderful dinner with my closest friends every Wednesday night at the same restaurant we've visited for the better part of two decades. I go to the store every Friday evening to assist with the YuGiOh tournament. I do the bulk of my work on Comic Shop News every Saturday.


Dad retired from the newspaper business several years ago, when we all had hopes that he and Mom would use the time to travel, to golf, to enjoy the life they had earned. Emphysema had other plans for Mom, unfortunately, and the patterns they had envisioned never came to be. A new set of patterns was established for them... patterns that were broken only by the insidious downward spiral of emphysema.

After Mom had to leave us on December 15th, 2002, Dad's life was patternless for a brief time... but before too long, he had new patterns. He gets up at the same early hour every day; he joins his friends for coffee at Hardee's almost every morning; he makes the same rounds to the local grocery stores, WalMart, and Kmart. There's comfort in those patterns.

I used to think that nothing was more liberating than breaking the patterns. I'm not so sure any longer. The patterns give us a focus, a security that serves as an anchor. I remarked recently that my life was remarkably predictable.. but you know what? I don't particularly mind that; there's something about predictability that promises a tomorrow, and a tomorrow after that.

Oddly enough, though, we don't really develop the patterns. The patterns just develop on their own, and we drift in the flow, secure that we can predict its flow and direction.

Empire Fails

I have endured HBO's two-part Empire Falls... but just barely. I had hoped for an insightful character-driven drama; what I got was a maudlin assemblage of cliches and stereotypes that plodded along incessantly. What a waste of perfectly good talent; the directors assembled an impressive array of actors and actresses, including Ed Harris, Helen Hunt, and Paul Newman--but there's a limit to what even the most talented people can do with a script that fails to rise to the level of soap opera. Wait for this one to show up on DVD, then pick something else...

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Philosophical Differences

Reading a discussion with Ed Brubaker at Newsarama regarding what strikes me as his brutalization of Captain America's heritage, I've become acutely aware of a crucial difference between Marvel and DC insofar as its characters are concerned. For the most part--and I'm aware that there are exceptions here--DC sees itself as the caretakers of a legacy, protecting their most established characters and maintaining a long-running philosophy, while Marvel by and large is willing to toss out anything for the sake of a story, even if it means abandoning a character who has been built up for decades. Marvel will kill off characters like Nomad and Hawkeye in largely ineffectual ways, just as a device to advance a plot; there's no long-term ramification to the death in many cases, just a least-effort-possible means to advance a plot and establish a character's ethos. When DC kills off a character, it becomes much more of an event that reshapes the fictional universe as a whole, and the hero generally dies in a way that honors what the character has become. Sue Dibny dies a partner in her husband's crimefighting and in his life; Blue Beetle dies a hero willing to give everything he had to protect the team that was so important to him; Flash dies to save a universe.

Being an advocate of the metafictional approach--that is, these characters take on a life as a cultural icon that transcends the significance of any single story, and thus stories that sacrifice the character's iconic elements in order to advance a single plot demean the fiction as a whole--I much prefer the DC approach. Marvel has generally treated Captain America shabbily for years; the only recent arc that captured his heroic status, a "what if?" sort of story by Dave Gibbons and Lee Weeks, went out of print weeks after it was collected in trade paperback and now isn't even available for backorder, as if to say "we would sooner forget that this story ever happened." Nick Fury has been reduced from a self-sacrificing hero acting for the good of his nation to a bigoted, bitter, selfishly amoral figure deserving of contempt, not admiration. The Punisher, at best a hero of questionable stature, is no longer a hero at all; instead, he's a Grand Guignol scene in spandex, brutality incarnate, Batman without any ethical limitations. And with little editorial guidance, protagonists are inconsistent; a character comes across as nobly heroic in one book, indulgently unlikeable in others.

There's a tendency in modern culture to tear down heroes; I hate to see it happen in comics, and I applaud those who see the heritage as worthy of protection. I learned a lot of my formative ethics from the standards of the characters whose exploits I read; I'd like to think that today's comic book readers might want to do the same, but when I see the sort of ethics attributed to many of the heroes today, it's probably best if they never serve as a sort of ethical role model...

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Picture Not-So-Perfect

Like probably 90% of the world's living population (and probably an equal percentage of the dead population, for that matter), I really don't like having my picture taken. In fact, I think that's probably what separates most of us from the upper social strata of celebrities; most of them have the innate ability to look just right when there's a camera pointed at them, whereas most of the rest of us feel about as comfortable as we would if everyone in the neighborhood stood in the hallway and watched through an open door while we used the bathroom.

As you might have guessed, the motivating factor for this post is that I had to have my picture taken today. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is doing an article on the store, and they sent a photographer out as "point man" to get some photos before the reporter comes out tomorrow morning. I'll give him credit--he wasn't the usual sort of "stand there and look stiff" news photographer. Instead, he was quite imaginative; I leaned on shelves, I stood casually in about six different ways (most of which weren't really casual or comfortable... but darn it, they looked casual!), and I even stretched out supine on the floor while he arranged comic books all around me and then took a half-dozen shots.

He offered to let me see the photos, but I decided it was probably best if I didn't. This way, once they appear in next week's newspaper, I only have to be embarrassed from that point on for the remainder of my life. If I saw them today, it would add another week to my embarrassment, and it still wouldn't change anything... I'd still look just as goofy. That's no slight to him; of all the news photogs I've worked with, he seemed the most conscientious and skilled at his craft. Problem is, I know the subject he had to work with...

When it actually shows up, I'll post the link here so that you can all enjoy my humiliation.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

I and the Tiger

After a couple days of indecisiveness, I went ahead and loaded Mac OSX 10.4, aka Tiger, onto my Powerbook today. I got the software on Friday, the day of release, but I was in the middle of putting together Comic Shop News #935, and I didn't want to risk a system failure if things went awry. (This was all too normal in the early days of OSX; both the 10.1 and the 10.2 upgrades led to total disaster on the two different computers I was using at the time I upgraded, and that meant that I had to wipe the hard drives and start over in both cases.)

Not only did nothing go awry, but the upgrade worked like a charm. About thirty-five minutes after I began, I had Tiger up and running, and it took me no time at all to adjust to the elegant improvements that make this the most useful Mac operating system thus far. I'm very impressed with the addition of Dashboard and its many widgets; not only am I using a few of the basic widgets that were included, but I've also downloaded a few extra widgets that I think will be most useful. The image that accompanies this entry was posted using the Transmit widget, which allows me to drag and drop an image and have it automatically filed in the appropriate folder.

Spotlight, the sophisticated search application, is incredible... but of course, we do Comic Shop News in Quark 6, which doesn't work with Spotlight (heck, Quark doesn't play well with any other programs, with only two or three exceptions--I've never known a piece of software designed to be as user-unfriendly and as poorly supported as Quark, and I wish that Quebecor would switch over to InDesign so that we could abandon Quark entirely).

I also decided to give iWork, the word processing and presentation software, a test run; Apple provides a disc with a thirty-day trial version of both Pages and Keynotes, and I'm playing with Pages already. I'll keep you updated regarding its functionality, but so far it works great.

The one thing that's missing? Well, it was rumored that OSX 10.4 would include in its disc utilities a function that would allow you to recombine existing partitions without having to reformat the partition. It ain't there, folks... wish it was, since I no longer have to have partitions the way I did in the early days of OSX. Once Apple modified the software to allow it to boot from an external drive, I didn't have to keep a backup partition with duplicate software on it Just In Case; now I'd like to recombine those partitions, but I don't want to have to wipe them out and spend hours reinstalling software.

Monday, May 02, 2005

After Midnight...

Just got in from a midnight walk; it was a glorious night, the sort of midnight that we all too rarely get in May... forty-nine degrees, crisp and clear all the way to the stars. I began taking midnight walks almost a year ago, just to enjoy the nights. Hinduism recognizes night not as the absence of day, but as the presence of dark, with its own distinctive qualities... after a year of enjoying midnights, I can see why.

My midnight walks are also a time I can talk to Mom for a few minutes. She left us on December 15, 2000, after several years of the most unrelenting struggle against the rigors of emphysema; at night, though, I feel closer to her, and I enjoy taking a moment to tell her about the events of the day, to discuss memories from childhood, the share joys and sorrows. I don't imagine I'll ever quit talking to her... and I don't imagine I'd ever want to.

Midnight walks are also a great way to reacquaint yourself with the seasons while avoiding the harsh summer heat. Oh, winters are cold enough at midnight, but the winds are usually more still at that time, making the cold less piercing; summers are warm and close and sultry, but the heat seems to have settled in a bit by that time of night, and even the summer humidity seems more subdued. And as I walk past all the darkened houses, I wonder about those behind the doors and windows as they rest from the business of one day and prepare themselves for the unknown day that awaits in a few hours.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

A Shakespearean Western

In trying to describe Deadwood to Brett, I found myself using the phrase, "The Western that Shakespeare would have written, although with a lot more 'f*ck's and 'c*cks*ck*rs.'" Watching tonight's episode (which is on as I type this) only reinforces that description. David Milch and his writing staff have created an artificial, almost poetic dialogue style that seems quite unlike anything ever heard in a Western before now--and, I'm quite sure, quite unlike anything ever heard in the Old West, either. (One thing I can say for sure is that the Old West never heard the word 'f*ck' used so so freely and in so many grammatical forms. While the word itself, used to describe the sexual act, existed long before the era of Deadwood, its use as an adjective, an adverb, and pretty much any other grammatical form that Milch & Co. can shoehorn it into is a uniquely 20th Century linguistic device.)

The story of Deadwood, heavily drawn from history (gee, just like Shakespeare's plays!), is constructed around the transition of a lawless region to a territory and then a state. Its characters are richly rendered from history, given personalities (some none too likeable), but its plot seems to stick close to the plotted course of the past. But it's not the story that makes this series so memorable--it's the distinctive voice that Milch has given it. No show has dialogue so convoluted, so complicated, so sometimes enigmatic. It evokes the era without ever accurately recreating the era, if that makes any sense. (If you'd like to learn more about how it does and doesn't follow real history, this is a very good site for such information--and it's fascinating reading.)

Ian McShane's performance as Al Swearengen is as irresistibly watchable as a high-speed nine-car pile-up; you don't necessarily like what you're seeing, but you just can't look away while it unfolds before your eyes. For my money, though, the best actors in the series are Timothy Olyphant, who plays Seth Bullock in an intensely understated manner; and Robin Weigert, whose take on Calamity Jane is rambunctious, unrestrained, often undignified, and yet noble in its own warped way. Neither gets to chew the scenery the way that McShane does, but they're quite successful in stopping him from stealing the show.

Can't say you'll like Deadwood if you like traditional Westerns, because it most definitely isn't one. As for what it is... well, I'll get back to you on that...

We're for the Dark

For many years--when I was about seventy pounds heavier than I am now--I was addicted to M&M's. When I determined to lower my body weight to less than average for my height, though, I gave up those tasty little morsels of candy-coated milk chocolate. Didn't even particularly miss 'em after a little while.

But now they've lured me back...

In conjunction with the upcoming third Star Wars dud... err, film... (the appropriately entitled Star Wars: ROTS) M&M's have "gone to the dark side" with the release of Dark Chocolate M&M's in both plain and peanut. The peanut I can take or leave, since I find that the taste of the peanut pretty much overwhelms the thin layer of dark chocolate that coats it. But oh, those delicious little nuggets of plain dark chocolate!...

This isn't the first time I recall M&M making dark chocolate candies. Back in the 1990's, they made mini-M&M's for use in baking, but I found that the dark chocolate mini-M&M's were pretty darn good for snacking, too; however, I haven't seen them in years (don't know if they still make them or not, but our area Kroger--home of the diminishing grocery selection--doesn't carry them if they do). The standard-sized dark chocolate M&M's are even better, though, because the dark-chocolate-to-candy-coating ratio is skewed more in favor of the dark chocolate.

Since I know that I'm not going to simply give these up--at least not for a little while, until my "instant gratification" tastebuds have been adequately satisfied--I'm cutting back on other guilty pleasures so that I don't gain weight. I figure it's better than whittling off body parts...

Don't know how long they're going to make these, so I advise dark chocolate fans to grab a bag of 'em while you have the chance. (And for those of you who, like Brett, keep wondering when they're going to do white chocolate M&M's--give it up. That's not chocolate, it's just vanilla flavored fat!...)

Farewell Meal

This evening, Susan and I had dinner at American Cafe, which is part of a chain owned by the same company that owns Ruby Tuesday's. We've eaten at American Cafe several times, because they were located in an easily accessible area that wasn't anywhere near the local mall. (I have a real aversion to any weekend excursion that takes me near Town Center Mall, since we're located in a county with an abominably designed traffic light system that bogs down mall-area traffic to the point of gridlock through much of the weekend.)

Apparently, though, there weren't enough people who considered the Johnson's Ferry Road location a viable alternative: as we approached the door, I saw a sign taped to the glass that said that tomorrow evening would be their last day of business. It turns out that American Cafe is closing two of their four metro Atlanta locations as of tomorrow night--simply not enough business to keep them open in a changing market. I guess we're a part of the problem, since we only ate there two or three times a year and that's not enough frequency to help keep a restaurant in business.

The food was great (as always) and the service was impeccable. Sometimes, when the staff knows that a restaurant is going out of business, they quit caring--not the case here, though. Hope the server who waited on us finds another job soon; I suspect she would be a superlative addition to any restaurant's staff, considering how well she performed her duties under what had to be a disappointing day for her...

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Holy War

Joan of Arcadia has, in the course of two seasons, metamorphosed from a charming morality play into a complex, ethically driven personal drama, and the second season's final episode indicates that yet another major evolution is underway. I've enjoyed the show in each stage of its development, due in large part to the powerful and believable performance of Amber Tamblyn, who plays the title character in the series. Tamblyn conveys the volatile mixture of self-involvement, emotionalism, devotion, alienation, altruism, compassion, and maturity that I saw quite frequently in the many teenagers I knew from my quarter-century as a high school English teacher (in fact, the only actress I know of who surpasses Tamblyn in her portrayal of a teenage girl on the cusp of adulthood is Ellen Muth, whose performance as George in the positively brilliant but all-too-short-lived Dead Like Me was a high point of episodic television). Tamblyn isn't the only standout member of Joan's cast; Mary Steenbergen imbues Joan's mother with an irresistible sincerity, and Joe Mantegna... well, has Joe Mantegna ever turned in a bad performance?

The premise of a young woman who speaks to God in various incarnations piqued my curiosity from the very first episode; I thought the show handled the whole "divinely-inspired" theme much better than the quickly-cancelled Wonderfalls, which premiered the same season as Joan but died a quick death, due in part to the fact that the central character was largely unlikeable. God tends to interact with Joan in much the same way a zen master might interact with a disciple--lots of questions, some riddles, very little direct guidance. Joan is the story of a journey, and journeys are occasionally marked by wrong turns and dead ends--and Joan has had more than her share of those.

The second season gave Joan a Job-like quality as the Girardi family was beset by a series of setbacks that pushed each of them to the breaking point. How each dealt with these crises helped to define the characters of Joan, her parents, and her two brothers--and it gave the show a complexity that broke it out of the moral-lesson-of-the-week approach that typified the first season. Things were happening here, and characters were in transition.

But the final two episodes of this season foreshadowed an even more dramatic change as Joan was forced to become a spiritual warrior, a true Joan of Arc whose divine guidance would lead her into conflict with the most evil threat she could imagine: a man who, like her, talked directly with God... but unlike her, he had turned away from God and now considered God his enemy. Only Joan understood the significance of the choice he had made, and now she will have to communicate that significance to her friends--friends who are about to become the ragtag army this Joan will need for the battle of her life. The twist sounds Buffy-like, but I get the feeling the show's creators have something larger and more metaphysical than Whedon and the Buffy team ever envisioned.

And now we have no idea if Joan of Arcadia is going to be renewed for a third season. I hope so; this show is unique in the size of the canvas on which it works, and I hope CBS has the faith (no pun intended) in Joan to let it follow its grand path.

(As an aside, Joan has led me to ponder one point: when God appears to Joan in the form of a human being, is he taking possession of an existing human being's body, Boston-Brand-like, only to release that person to pursue his/her normal life after interacting with Joan--or is God creating a physical manifestation that never existed until He needed to interact with Joan, and then discorporating that physical manifestation once the interaction is completed? I've presumed the former, but there's a solipsistic element to the latter that leads some credence to the theory that Joan herself may be far more than she appears...)

Friday, April 29, 2005

Tourney Time

For the past year and a half or so, we've hosted YuGiOh tournaments at Dr. No's every Friday night. I think we've missed one Friday night in all that time--Christmas Eve of 2004, for those of you who were going to write and ask me which Friday and why--and we've maintained a great turnout for all that time. The lowest number of players I remember us having was twenty-two; the highest was sixty-six. We average thirty-six or so every Friday night, and I look forward to the tournament nights... and not just because we make extra money from all the tourney entries.

Now bear in mind that I'm not a YuGiOh player; in fact, I'm not really a games player at all. I don't like computer games; I burned out on videogames about the time the Atari 2600 jumped the shark; I never got into role-playing games; I like some of the collectible miniatures, but I never enjoyed the games; and I'm not a card game player. I enjoy some board games, but they're the older classic family board games; I think that comes from Mom, who loved playing Monopoly and Yahtzee and Boggle and Scrabble.

So why do I enjoy tournament night? There's an energy, a vitality to the tournament crowd that really enthuses me. The players seem to genuinely enjoy coming in--and the younger players in particular are excited about the evening. Seeing a couple of kids running to the front door of the store because they can't wait to come in and sign up for the tournament... there's something about that excitement that's contagious. The older players also have a good time; we have some parent-and-child teams who show up, and I've come to regard many of them as friends.

I know the YuGiOh wave has already crested, and YuGiOh low tide is eventually coming--but I hope that by the time it gets here, there's something else that generates this level of excitement. It recharges my batteries to a degree, reminding even a jaded old comic book guy of what it was like to be so excited about a comic or a game that the time it would take to merely walk to the front door of the store seemed too long.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Forensic Follies

There was a time when CSI: Crime Scene Investigation was compelling television. Unfortunately, the edge of the series dulled midway through the second season, and CSI has become bogged down in formulae that don't work (insightful personal stories about characters with whom we viewers have no attachment; pseudo-science that wouldn't work in forensic reality; exploitative kinky sex dramas that are supposed to shock the mainstream viewer in a 1960's-Dragnet "can you believe this?" sort of way). Tonight's episode was a mix of all three—a little "meaningful" insight into Sara Sidle's personality (you may yawn now), some "shocking" sexploitative incest subplots, and a laughable plotline involving the extraction of audio sounds from grooves in a wet clay pot that was on the wheel at the time two characters were having a conversation.

Someone needs to tell the writers that we viewers have no interest in these characters; they are tools to move the plot along. They function best as competent, capable policemen; the episodes bog down when they become troubled personalities with problematic off-the-job lives. CSI is the star of the series, not the people who comprise the CSI team. Let's hope that the writers can get back on focus next year; otherwise, this show is going to follow such once-fascinating concept shows as ER into forgettable mediocrity.

In Search of...

A few weeks ago in an earlier entry, I mentioned a childhood friend, Gary Steele; I've known Gary since the fourth grade, and we became particularly good friends beginning our seventh grade year, when we both began attending West Rome Junior School; we remained steadfast friends as we both went on to West Rome High School (alma mater: "Destined to be a Walmart Parking Lot"). Gary and I discovered fandom together at more or less the same time; I think I was the one who first ordered a copy of Rocket's Blast•ComiCollector back in 1965 or so, and I shared it with Gary. We each ordered fanzines from various listings in those pages, passing copies back and forth so that each of us could enjoy twice as many zines for our mutual investment. We both joined our first apa, Myriad, at the same time, and we remained active in those apas as well as in SFPA and Galaxy through the early 1980s. When I made that first nervous phone call to Susan Hendrix, a comics reader whose name and address I found in a Batman letters column, I remember telling Gary about it. Gary remained a good friend to both Susan and me as we dated and ultimately got married; he spent many a night at our tiny house in Cedartown, he helped in our move to Marietta in 1977, and he joined us in Marietta three months later. We made hundreds of bookstore runs together, we debated comics and music together, we shared an interest in television shows and movies (Gary was also the first person I knew who successfully ran his television sound through a home stereo system--sure, it's something we all take for granted now, but in 1969 it was A Big Thing).

Something happened in 1979 or so, though, and I never really knew what it was. I remember that, for the first time in years, we went for more than a week without hearing from Gary at all. That was disturbing, since I heard from Gary pretty much once a day, minimum; we had grown up thinking of one another's place as a second home, and we kept each other updated on everything. When we did finally hear from Gary again, both Susan and I could tell that something was different; Gary was aloof, distant, and less communicative than he had been. Within a few months, Gary had cut off his contact with his former fan friends in Southern SF fandom; he had quit attending Atlanta SF Club meetings; he had dropped out of the apas that we had so enjoyed. I'd see him every now and then at bookstores; when I bought Dr. No's in 1982, he'd drop by periodically, but there was still a perceptible distance between us... the distance that was so hard for formerly best friends to transcend.

By the 1990's, I had only the most minimal contact with Gary. We saw each other maybe once a year at best; we rarely contacted each other beyond that. I often wanted to find out what had gone wrong between us, but I couldn't bring myself to ask the question.

Since 2000, when I had my heart attack and subsequent surgery, I talked with Gary only once, to let him know I was still alive and that his friendship had meant a lot to me and I'd like to see him again... perhaps at dinner. He was noncommittal, and while he gave me his email address, he never responded to the emails that I sent him.

Last year, when I tried to call Gary, I discovered that his longtime phone number--the number that had been his since 1977--was disconnected. Gary had moved after spending almost twenty-five years in the same apartment... and I had no idea where he had gone or how to get in touch with him. I've tried to contact his father in Rome at least two dozen times, but Mr. Steele's health has been problematic in recent years, and I suspect he spends most of his time with family rather than staying at home.

Reading my entry referring to Gary Steele made me realize that I still miss him. I wish I knew where he was; I'd love to find out what he was doing now, where he's living, how life has been treating him... And someday, I'd like to learn how that chasm opened up between best friends...

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

One for El Rodeo

Tonight, as is the case almost every Wednesday night for at least sixteen years now, the whole Dr. No's Gang headed to El Rodeo restaurant for our post-comic-book-day dinner and gabfest. I say "at least sixteen years now" because we discovered that none of us is exactly sure how long we have been showing up at El Rodeo. I remember that we missed going for a week in 1989 when I had three wisdom teeth removed--and since I can verify that surgery was done in October of '89 and we had been going for a while before we missed it (otherwise, there would have been no tradition, so missing it wouldn't have been memorable), we know that the tradition must date back to early 1989 at least. I suspect it may go back as far as 1987, but I simply have no way to verify that.

At any rate, the dinner was superb, as is always the case; the folks at El Rodeo have never failed to give us first-class service, superb food, and much-appreciated tolerance regarding our endless conversations on almost every subject. The smallest groups have been four people; the largest, sixteen; the average, eight. The core attendees for these weekly mini-banquets are Brett Brooks (my store manager), Charles Rutledge (formerly the manager of the short-lived second Dr. No's from the mid-1980s, and a friend for almost twenty-three years now), and me. Regulars include Chris Appel, a former Dr. No's associate and a superb artist (see what I mean at his website; it's a shame that the folks at Devil's Due haven't latched on to Chris to do the covers for their G.I. Joe comic books); Allyson Brooks, Brett's wife, who is a talented graphic designer and the primary author of the Meddling Kids RPG; Buck Turner, the assistant manager at Dr. No's and the designer of the POS system we use in the store; Chrissie Turner, his wife, who does some superb animal portrait art (including the wonderful pencil portraits of Asia and Tisha that hang in our living room); and Ralph Groff, a longtime friend of Brett's since high school who has become a friend to us all. Recently, Charles' friend and former co-worker Trish Barbisch has been joining us every week, bringing a new viewpoint to the group, since she (like Ralph) has no interest in comic books at all. Our numbers used to include Ed Thomas, a former Dr. No's guy and a trivia master; Patrick Key, another former Dr. No's guy who is now teaching elementary school art (pity him!); and Lanny Lathem, a graphic designer who has taken his remarkable skills to Texas, where he's working with the G.I. Joe Fan Club.

It's amazing, when you think about it; this group of friends has been meeting virtually every week for almost a third of the time I've been alive, and the tradition is just as strong as ever. The food is always good, but it's the friendship that's most important; the flow of the conversation is engaging, the in-jokes have years of history behind them, and the group is genuinely interested in the ups and downs of each member's life. I couldn't ask for a better group of friends, and the dinner remains a high point of the week for me.

(Even though I do eat too much... Can't resist my weekly order of Nachos Mara, chicken and beans only, extra lettuce, no sour cream!...)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Winging It

Bill Galvan sent an advance copy of Thunderbird #1 (Nathan Shumate-W; Bill Galvan-A; Atlantis Studios $2.95), a new superhero series launching next month. Thunderbird is exactly the sort of straight-ahead superhero adventure that Bob Layton aimed for with his short-lived Future Comics line; it's traditional adventure, capably done and pleasant enough. Unfortunately, it's also rather formulaic and undistinguished; the characters are archetypal and undeveloped (the loyal employee who admires his accomplished employer, the devoted assistant who must be protected,the rich tech-guru industrialist who's also a whiz in the lab, the amoral mercenaries) and the whole thing seems more en medias rush than en medias res. Not a bad book, just nothing outside of the ordinary; Galvan's art carries the story along quite nicely, though, and I suspect that with a little more experience, he'll find a place for himself as a mainstream superhero illustrator. Grade - C

Meet Mischa

A few days ago, I told you about Mischa, the latest addition to our feline family. Here's a photo of the lovely little jade-eyed girl. She's growing steadily and has now passed the eight-pound mark--and that makes her slightly heavier than Tisha, our beloved senior cat. Anna still holds her title as the heavyweight cat in the household, coming at at a tad under ten pounds... and what's most amazing is that Anna is primarily a dry food eater, preferring it to the stinky canned food that every other cat loves so (that makes her the first cat we've ever shared a home with who expressed a preference for dry food over wet). I had assumed that a dry food diet would keep Anna leaner... boy, was I wrong!

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Dirty Truth

DirtBoy #1 (George M. Dondero - W; Colin Adams - A; Moronik Comiks, $2.95) is a very attractive book—and it would be a much better read if Dondero had been able to resist the urge to succumb to sophomoric burp-and-fart "humor" and continue with his surreal, slightly twisted story of dysfunctional youth in a warped fairy-tale forest. DirtBoy, an a cross between Peter Pan, Bart Simpson, and Pigpen, becomes a reluctant hero when a young visitor to the forest is threatened for reasons unknown. By the end of the story, however, it becomes evident that DirtBoy isn't the only Bad Kid in this story. Adams' art displays a bold, confident, distinctive ink-lines, a great sense of layout and design, and an engaging style; Dondero's story is hampered by a juvenile self-indulgence, though. Grade - C+


Everything is coming together for Free Comic Book Day, set for May 7th. We're having the majority of our guests in the store from noon until 3 that afternoon (although Paul Jenkins will be there from about 1 pm until 3:30 pm); it's a good lineup of talent, and a nice cross-section of genres (although I do wish that we had been able to find someone who did younger readers books, just to completely round out our offerings). If you're going to be anywhere near Marietta on that day, stop by; we're looking to beat last year's crowd of 750+ people for the day (although I'll admit that's going to be tough to do!)...

Man of the Hour

24 remains the best show on network television this season. What particularly impresses me is that the writers have avoided the aggravating gimmicks that made the first two seasons alternately suspenseful and irritating: no Perils-of-Pauline style kidnapings in which the victim runs from one dire menace to another, no sidetracked subplots that interfere with the primary storyline, and no "failure to deliver." Every episode has been suspenseful in a different way than the episode before, and Marwan's plots have escalated to the level of global menace. I'm glad to see the former President returning in this episode; now I can't wait to see what happens at the end of the episode. As it stands now, 24 is a show I watch twice—once I zoom through it to get the core plot elements out of the way, and the second time I watch it more carefully for subtleties that I didn't have the patience to wait for initially. There aren't too many shows with that much going for them!...

Temporary Disappointment

Temporary #2
(Damond Hurd-W; Rick Smith-A; Origin Comics, $2.95) is an entertainingly flawed book. I can tell what Hurd and Smith are trying to do with the story, which juxtaposes a police detective's real-world actions with the multiple-personality dynamics that motivate him--but it comes across as an affectation and is never particularly convincing. The worst part of it all is that it pushes Envy Saint-Claire, the temp who is the star of this series, entirely out of the picture for far too much of this issue. When she does finally take an active role in the story, filling a temp position at the police station where the volatile detective works, her role there seems forced and the rather abrupt ending comes across as forced and lacking in justification. A lot of what made the first issue of Temporary succeed is missing here. Grade - C-

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

It Can Happen To You...

When I was twelve or thirteen years old, my best friend Gary Steele and I would daydream about what our lives might be like when we grew up. Of course, our view of adulthood was probably shaped in part by the comics we read, by the James Bond films we saw, and by such television series as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. that we never missed. But our daydreams generally involved a high-tech, gadget-laden lifestyle straight out of these realities.

Now I'm fifty-one going on fifty-two, and I realize that I'm living that very same lifestyle. Oh, I don't get to do the spy things and all that, but I do have all the gadgets. Tivos, DVD recorders, computers, wireless networking, mobile phones, GPS navigation systems, iPods... it's a James Bond fantasy, and it's all ours for a relatively low cost.

In fact, all things considered, I've been remarkably lucky in my life. Not only do I have all the gadgets that I dreamed of as a child, but I also have a wonderful house, I'm married to a woman I'm in love with, I have the time to do things that I enjoy, I still get to do fanzines (only now my fanzine is called Comic Shop News, and I can make a living doing it)... sometimes I wish I could let my twelve-year-old self know that sometimes it does all work out, and we really do get what we wished for.

Well, except for the Aston Martin and the international espionage...

And Mischa Makes Three

I've got to do more frequent updates to this site...

It's been more than three weeks since we added a new kitten to the household. Her name is Mischa, and she's another Siberian—a beautiful little girl, only seven months old (born on September 1st). We got her from the owners of Anna's parents; in the intervening weeks since I last wrote about Anna, we did a little detective work and tracked down the folks who had owned Anna's parents. It turned out that they had several other kittens fathered by the same male Siberian as Anna; little Mischa caught our attention immediately, and the owners were willing to let us add her to our household.

The woman who owned her, Mrs. Draper, is a true cat lover; she had thirty cats in her house, and the entire house was virtually one enormous cat environment in which people were allowed to co-exist. Cat trees everywhere, toys, furniture modified for cat purposes... all the things that we eccentric cat people do, multiplied. Naturally, when Mischa got to her new home where there were only two other cats, she was overwhelmed; for the first two days, she lived in the basement, behind the television set or behind the sofa. On the third day, she ventured upstairs very briefly, then scampered back to her "safety zone."

By the end of the third day she was learning to recognize us as the ones who kept bringing her food, and that helped. Finally, on day four, I was able to entice her into coming upstairs with me... and that was akin to inviting a vampire into the house. Once she learned that the upstairs was also cat-friendly, she lost all fear of the household; since that time, she has approached every corner of the house with that same "know-no-fear" seven-month-old-kitten attitude.

Tisha adjusted to Mischa almost immediately; after having spent so many years with Asia, Tisha had been incredibly lonely for the six months that she was the only cat in our house (if only we had known that she missed the companion of other cats!...), so having yet another companion didn't bother her at all. Oh, she gets a little aggravated when Mischa gets right in her face, but Mischa seems to recognize Tisha's refined nature and her age and she gives her respect.

Anna... well, Anna seemed to like being the only baby in the house, and she took to Mischa with a little trepidation. After a few days, things got better, but she's still not accustomed to the fact that Mischa doesn't respect anyone else's food bowl or anyone else's territorial rights, and she really hates to see Mischa play with any of the toys that Anna thinks of us uniquely hers. But now they get along tolerably well, with the only friction coming when Mischa wants to play after Anna has decided that it's time to lounge about, or when Mischa insists on chasing Anna's feathered toy before Anna is through with it.

I don't know that we'll ever get to that point where Anna and Mischa are absolutely comfortable with one another the way that Tisha and Asia were—but we also brought Tisha and Asia into the house on the very same day, and they were within a week or two of the same age. All considered, I think that Anna has been quite accepting of Mischa thus far... although Anna still treasures those late-night moments when everyone else has been put to bed for the night but Anna gets to come upstairs and laze about on the bed with us as the evening winds to a close...

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Second Chances

Anna became a part of our family on November 29th, 2004; we had been a one-cat home since May 16th, when our dear Persian Asia left us after a lengthy struggle with an insidious injection-site fibrosarcoma that had so engaged her spine that removal would have paralyzed her. We still had Tisha, the cobbie-bodied blue Persian that had come home with us on the same day as Asia back in 1989. They weren't sisters by birth, but they both joined us when they were about three months old, and they became fast friends who must have thought of one another as sisters. They were virtually inseparable; the few times that they had to be apart, when one had to stay overnight at Dr. Lane's, the other was disconsolate. So when Asia passed on, Tisha was lonely; she would calll mournfully at night, waiting for the sister who couldn't come to stand beside her and wash her and sleep next to her on the sofa that had long ago become theirs.

We were reluctant to get another cat at first, for fear that Tisha would resent the presence of a newcomer in our home. But I found myself looking at young kittens and wondering if Tisha might accept another cat; she has never been an aggressive cat, though. Then, on a whim, I stopped at a pet store that had a "Siberian cats for sale" sign posted. There were actually four ragdolls--two male, two female--and one lone Siberian, a small mackerel tabby that took to me right away; she loved to be held, and I probably stayed there an hour or so playing with her.

And then I didn't get her. A week or so later, I stopped by again and she was gone; the clerk working that day had no idea who had bought her, or when.

Over a month passed, and I found myself driving down Canton Road again, just north of Dr. No's (my comic shop), when I decided for no apparent reason to stop by the pet store once again. And there, in a cage near the door, was that same delicately-featured mackerel tabby, still eager to be held. It turned out that the woman who had bought her had to move into a no-pets apartment, and she had returned the cat a week or so prior. Every now and then, fate makes its intentions clear--and this kitten was fated to come home with us.

Susan named her Anna--she had picked out the name the day we first saw her. We met at the house so that we could both bring her into her new home for the first time; Tisha never seemed particularly upset with her, although, she took a little while to adjust her sixteen-year-old habits to a nine-month-old's energetic exuberance. For the first night or two, Anna imitated Tisha--but by the end of the first week, we noticed that Tisha had begun to imitate Anna as well, playing with toys she had long since discarding, cajoling me into playing the "door game" with her (I slide a pencil or a string or some object under a half-open doorway, drawing it back and forth as Tisha pounces on it--it's a simple game, but it's one she used to love when she was young, and now she and Anna have both taken to it).

Anna's a remarkable cat--she loves to be around people, and keeps us constant company whenever one or both of us are at home. Having her around has helped us to balance the sense of loss at Asia's death; Anna can't replace Asia, of course, and we'd never want her to do so, but she brings her own joys.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

midnight fifteen minutes gone

midnight fifteen minutes gone
or fifteen years?
in the dewy dark
years shift, illusory as shadowy companions
birthed by vapor lamps and overreaching birches
between sleeping houses, half-heard,
the whispers of eight and twelve and fifteen
when the night and I shared stolen moments

gone so long,
but midnight is forgiving
welcoming forever childhood friends
who once closed the doors on moonlit meetings

Friday, February 04, 2005

Ginger (no Mary Ann)

Current candy addiction: ginger Altoids.

The only store around here that consistently carries 'em is Cost Plus World Market, a strange amalgam of Pier One and Foreign Foods that features a lot of your standard European import food items, a few oddities... and the occasional "exclusive" like this.

If you like ginger, you'll like these. They're in a gold-accented Altoids tin, the candy itself is slightly yellow, and the flavor is strong and spicy with a bit of an afterburn... more afterburn than their cinnamon Altoids have, in fact.

Don't know why these aren't in mass distribution yet, but they should be.

Now I'm waiting for the Altoids folks to offer clove Altoids. Sounds like a flavor that should work, if you ask me!... I'll also confess that licourice (their spelling, not mine) altoids have been much more satisying than I anticipated they would be.

And Altoids remain fat free, of course!...

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Leave a hole.

There isn't much more that any of us can hope to do with our lives other than to leave a hole when we leave this world.

Not a day goes by that I don't think about Mom. I remember a thousand different moments every day, a thousand little things that simply can't be replaced. I hear songs that remind me of Mom... I smell the ileagnis when I'm out walking and I think of the ileagnis in Mom and Dad's back yard and the time we would spend out there... even mundane things like chopping onions remind me of her zen attitude towards little chores like that, executing them flawlessly while carrying on conversations with us at the kitchen table. I never learned to do that; I was never very good at those little chores, because I always had to think about them.

And very few days go by that I don't think of my dear friend Carol Kalish. Carol left a hole that will always go unfilled; she loved comics, and she loved what Marvel Comics was and what it could be, and it has never been the same in her absence.

Sometimes we don't realize just how large a hole we might leave in our passing. I don't think that Mom ever saw herself as someone who would leave a hole, but she did. None of our lives are the same now that she's gone; we all measure our days by how we cope with her absence.

I don't think that Carol ever thought about how big a hole she would leave, either.

We can all hope that we leave that large a hole...