Sunday, December 31, 2006

Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime

I never did post anything about how Christmas went, did I?

Christmas Eve and Christmas went very well indeed, thank you very much! I seem to have found a few particularly good gifts for family members, and that's always a good thing. For Kim, I prepaid for the installation and monthly service cost for a year's worth of DVR service from Comcast; she had commented on several occasions that she wished her budget allowed for the DVR upgrade, but she wanted to wait to see what 2007 would bring before adding that extra cost. Now she doesn't have to worry about it!

For Dad, there were two gifts that were quite successful: a 24" television with a built-in DVD player and VCR for his bedroom and a 7" digital picture frame loaded with a few hundred family photos to sit beside his chair in the den. I had trepidations about the former gift, but Dad had repeatedly remarked during the past year how much he wished he had a television, with a built-in DVD player and a VCR; his old bedroom TV had a built-in VCR, but with more and more DVDs in his personal library, he wanted the ability to play those as well. Furthermore, his old bedroom television was only a 13"; this is almost four times the total size. So why did I have trepidations? Because as Dad has gotten older, he has become less amenable to learning new remote controls, settings, and controls, and I was afraid that a new television would add new frustrations. Just to be safe, I had downloaded the manual for his television, which meant that I had a diagram of the television controls and of the remote, making it easy for me to trouble-shoot any problems that arose. It turns out that I haven't had to do any troubleshooting at all; he seems to have gotten the hang of it right away.

I'm surprised by how much Dad has enjoyed the digital picture frame. He told me that he spent over an hour watching it the first day I gave it to him, and he's spent a half an hour to an hour a day watching it ever since then (since it has about 300 photos on it currently and it cycles through one every fifteen seconds, he can spend about an hour and fifteen minutes watching it without seeing any duplicates). He said that part of the fun of it is seeing what comes up next, since the order of the photos is totally random; he enjoys remembering when the photos were taken, what was going on at that time, etc.

Susan seemed quite pleased with the assortment of flavored green teas that I got for her; I had tracked down flavors that she didn't even know existed! I also got her a 2007 Linda Nelson Stock Calendar; this is one of her favorite folk artist, and Susan thought she had quit doing calendars as of this coming year (what she didn't know was the artist had simply changed publishers). Otherwise, there were few surprises for her; Susan, like me, tends to acquire a lot her wants as she sees them, knowing that (due to the collectible nature of a lot of these items) they may not be there, so many of the gifts I got her were sort of predictable--a favorite candy, a 365 Cats calendar, and that sort of thing.

No real surprises for Cole, Christy, or Jessica; they come from a generation that wants gift cards rather than gifts, so I gave in and got each of them gift cards from the stores of their choice as their major gifts, with a few little personal gifts to accompany them. I don't enjoy giving gift cards rather than gifts--but I thought about it and decided that gift-giving should focus on what the recipient wants, not what the giver wants, so I did the gift-card thing even though it seems somehow impersonal to me...

Monday, December 25, 2006

Best. Toy. Ever.

No doubt about it--there was no toy that surpassed the wonderful Ideal Man from UNCLE Gun Set. I wanted this so very badly that I probably drove my parents crazy asking for it; once I saw this in its package, complete with shoulder holster, I had to have it.

The pistol is a standard cap pistol, but it was the accessory set that made is so memorable: a rifle stock, a sight, a silencer, a rifle barrel, and a tripod, along with the aforementioned shoulder holster. Heck, the UNCLE gun surpassed any James Bond accessory on the toy racks!

Once I got one of these, I remember actually wearing the shoulder holster to school, my cap gun tucked in there securely and my jacket over that (not a sports coat, of course--just a kid's jacket). Today, that's the sort of thing that would get you expelled... but if my teachers ever noticed it back then, they said nothing at all about it. Just another one of those things that kids did...

Gradually, I lost one piece after another. The tripod went first, then the silencer, then the sight; I had the rifle barrel and the pistol and the stock for a pretty good while, and can't remember exactly when they went MIA. Sure do wish I had them again! There are people who make pretty upscale replicas of the UNCLE gun now, but I guess my emotional attachment is to this cheap plastic toy, not to the upscale stuff...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Another Night Before Christmas...

Anyone who thinks that time flows at a steady, consistent pace couldn't have possibly been an eleven year old on Christmas Eve.

December 24th was a celebratory day at our house; Mom filled our table with a Christmas feast on that day, preparing so much turkey and dressing and potato salad and green beans and sweet potatoes and Waldorf salad and cranberry sauce that a family of four could gorge themselves and still have plenty left over for multiple meals of leftovers. For dessert, there was pineapple upside down cake, smooth and moist and redolent of pineapple and brown sugar; fudge, dark with cocoa and almost crystalline with sugar, that crumbled indulgently at the first bite; caramel frosted cake, a lustrous brown-frosted concoction whose color always reminded me of that distinctive shade of brown found on Fantastic Four #11 and a few other Marvel Comics of the era, a shade that no other comics publisher—and no other Mom—could duplicate; and there was always chocolate cake. Sometimes there would also be pecan pie, but that wasn't an every-year thing. We would usually eat earlier than most of my friends; dinner time was typically 4:30, sometimes pushing as late as 5:00, but hardly ever later than that.

After we could eat no more, we'd all relocate to the living room, lounging around the large console television set-home entertainment system that combined a 25" black and white television with a turntable, AM/FM radio,a and built-in speakers. Dad would claim his large, overstuffed chair; Mom would take the sofa, often stretching out to relax after her culinary labors. Kim and I always took the floor, dragging our pillows into the living room and stretching out as close to the television set as we could get before Mom or Dad made us move back.

About 7:30, Mom put Kim to bed; since Kim was only 3 1/2 years old, that was plenty late enough to leave her ready to sleep. She knew Christmas was an event--after all, the presence of a decorated tree in the living room served as a daily reminder that things were different at this time of year--but she wasn't so attuned to the event that she had trouble sleeping.

Me, I was 11--heck, I was almost a teenager! As far as I was concerned, I could stay up as late as my parents. Of course, they saw things differently; they let me stay awake later than my usual bedtime, but by 9:30 they were hinting that it was time to end the evening. I'd get ready for bed, and by 10:00 pm, I semi-willingly retired to my bedroom, closed the door, and turned out the lights.

And from that time until 5:30 the next morning--the time that I considered the earliest acceptable time to arise, since that was about the time that Dad got up to get ready for work during the week--I bore witness to the fact that time is not a constant. No, the progress of the minutes slowed perceptibly, with each minute running slightly longer than the one before, until it seemed like it the night had gone on forever. I'd finally sneak a look at the clock, and learn that it was only an hour later than the time I'd gone to bed.

In the other end of the house, I could hear my parents doing things; I know now that they were getting out the presents that Santa would bring, and I actually knew even then that Santa came in the form of Mom and Dad, but there was still a part of me that thought that they surely must have had some extra help from that magical fellow in order to get so many presents into our house in so little time. Mom and Dad tried to be quiet, but the house was small, and the distance from the living room to my bedroom was less than 20 feet, with only thin walls and hollow doors in between. I hear the creaks of the floorboards, the rustle of moving objects, the muffled conversations that the televison couldn't quite mask. Then I'd hear the sounds that told me that their activities were ending--the clink of coffee cups as Mom got the dishes ready for breakfast the next morning, the sound of running water as she measured out the right balance of coffee grounds and water so that all she had to do the next morning was plug in the percolator. That was a sound I heard every evening, and it was the sure sign that bedtime had arrived for my parents as well.

The last lights would go out, and I saw not even the slightest glint of light under my doorway. Now everyone was asleep, and that meant that I had to be particularly quiet. My parents' bedroom was directly across the narrow hallway from mine, and the restless creakings of my bed were clearly discernible in their room--I knew that from past experiences, when my parents seemed almost supernaturally attuned to my slightest movements if I got out of bed and tried to tiptoe to the other end of the house in the middle of the night.

So I lay there, awake, looking into the darkness to pick out what details I could in my shadowed room; the only light came through the curtained windows, the indirect glow of a streetlight between our house and the Greshams. And I speculated; what gifts might be under the tree? I wanted a copy of The Beatles on VeeJay Records; Phil Patterson had that album, and we had listened to it incessantly at his house, but I knew I would appreciate it even more if I had my very own copy. And I wanted a Creature of the Black Lagoon model kit; I had many other Aurora monster models, but that intensely-green reptilian horror had eluded me. And of course, there were airplane models on my list; in particular, I wanted a Messerschmidt ME-109, a sleek and deadly WWII fighter that would occupy a place of prominence in the aerial display of other WWII models that hung from my ceiling, suspended by string and thumbtacks.

Hours later... it had to be hours... I looked again. And I saw that it was only 12:45 am.

Looking for something to help while away the time, I thought of the AM radio that sat on the desk at the head of the bunkbeds on which I was sleeping. I took the bottom bunk ever since I had found a spider on the top bunk; I have always had a phobic reaction to spiders, so I viewed the top mattress as a protective barrier between me and spidery doom. The desk was built into the end of the bunk bed, and I could reach between the support beams to turn the radio around so that it faced the bed rather than facing the desk chair. I turned the volume way down, then turned the radio on. It lit up as the internal tubes warmed up; a few seconds later, I began to turn the radio up slightly.

And I heard static. Rome's stations cut their power to low levels after sunset; by 12:45, some of the stations were off the air entirely. So I began to tune up the dial, looking for someone else who, like me, was unable to sleep.

It was then that I found a distant signal--it seemed to me like it must have come half a world away--and heard a voice introducing a song. A voice speaking Spanish. I didn't know what he was saying, but it was a voice. I pulled the radio close to me, since the volume was turned down so low that it couldn't have been heard on the other side of my nine foot by eleven foot room, much less across the hallway.

Did he know that it was Christmas now? Was it Christmas now where he was? Why wasn't he playing Christmas songs? These, and many other questions, came to mind, but there was no one to answer. He spoke for a while, then he played songs--some in Spanish, some in English with a country twang. And for that time, I had found a kindred spirit who was just as unable to sleep as I was. He played and talked, I listened...

I must have fallen asleep, because I became aware that there was a sound of water running, and that meant that my parents were awake (or that someone had gotten up to go to the bathroom). I looked at the clock and it was 5:23... seven minutes earlier than my self-appointed deadline for arising from bed and starting the Christmas gift-opening festivities, but 5:23 was close enough...

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Have Yourself a Balmy Little Christmas

I don't know how those of you in California do it; I just can't fully embrace the Christmas season when the temperature is hitting 70 in the afternoons. Even worse, it was 61° last night when I went for a midnight walk (okay, it was really 12:30a.m., but close enough). I recall a couple of other Christmases that were hampered by excessively warm weather, but I was young enough then that a tropical heat wave couldn't have lessened my holiday enthusiasm.

I still need to wrap a hefty stack of presents for Kim, Cole, Jessica, Dad, and Christy--but I suspect I won't actually get around to that until this evening, since I've always thought of wrapping as a night-time activity. The warm weather, combined with an incredibly busy week at Dr. No's, has left me all too little time for wrapping during the week.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Vignette

Every year affords us interesting new memory scraps with which we can assemble a wondrous mental Christmas scrapbook. This year, one event that stands out involved Tommy Sanes.

Who's Tommy? He works the loading dock at FedEx Freight, where we pick up our comic book shipments every week. He's a gregarious, good-natured bear of a man, burly and always smiling, no matter how busy things are. He's a master of the forklift, moving it around with deceptive ease. And Tommy always takes care of us; often he is waiting for us at the loading dock, our skid ready to go, because he knows what time we usually arrive.

This year, as a way of saying thanks, I got Tommy a Christmas card and a gift card for Olive Garden, because I had heard him mention that he really liked eating there. I stuck the gift card in the Christmas card, put it all in an envelope, and had it ready so that I could hand it to him.

As it turned out, this was one of those mornings when Tommy was bringing our books to the loading dock just as we were pulling up. As he brought the forklift down the ramp to put the skid down right next to the van, I handed him the envelope. He grinned and looked a little bit surprised. "I've never gotten a Christmas card from a customer in all the years I've worked here--thanks!" he said. We wished each other a merry Christmas, and he steered his forklift back up the ramp and into the football-field-sized warehouse.

About three minutes later, as we were finishing loading the boxes into the van, the forklift dashed back down the ramp, steered by a grinning Tommy. He stopped a few feet away, got off the forklift, and said, "Aww, man!..." Then he headed over, started to shake my hand, and then changed his mind and gave me an enthusiastic bear hug. "I couldn't believe it!" he said. "No one's ever done anything like that for me in all these years!" I assured him that it was just a small token of our gratitude for all he has done to make our job easier. "I just hope you have a great Christmas," I told him.

"I will now!" he said--and I believe he really meant it. For some reason, this simple gift seemed to have had an impact far greater than its value, and I was very happy for that.

Tommy was still grinning as he drove back in to the warehouse a second time... and I have a sneaking suspicion that grin stayed with him for a while. I hope so.

Merry Christmas, Tommy!

Get Your Own Title

You may simply refer to me as

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Milord Sir Lord Cliff the Pertinacious of Longer Interval
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

(And thanks to Charles for pointing this one out!)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Last night was the Twentieth Annual Get Together at Dr. No's And Exchange Gifts Extravaganza, an event that began with a much smaller group back in 1987 and has grown ever since (one might argue that it began even earlier than that, since Charles and Ward and I swapped gifts for a year or two before that, but it wasn't as semi-organized as it has been since '87, when we began doing the gift thing on the Wednesday before Christmas, followed by our big weekly dinner event, which is almost always at El Rodeo). I think this was our biggest year ever; in attendance were Charles, Chris, Brett, Allyson, Ralph, Buck, Chrissy, Jared, Jenny, Whitney, Bobby, and me. (Trish and Amy didn't make it to the store, but they joined us at the restaurant afterwards.)

Got lots of great gifts, including Beatles and Philosophy (don't know how I missed this one, but Jared's unerring gift sense led him to secure a copy for me), Everyday Life in Mesopotamia (thanks, Charles!), another exceptional cheesecake and an exceptionally bizarre Nativity-scene-reenacted-by-cats figurine display (it must be seen to be believed!) from Brett and Allyson, dark chocolate and a hot chocolate kit from Whitney, delicious homemade cookies from Chris, a wonderfully weird original Psycho Bunny ornament from Ralph (he debuted his latest creation at DragonCon--picture Berke Breathed's Bill the Cat transformed into a bunny by Ralph Steadman), a subscription to a "how-it's-done" magazine called Makers from Buck and Chrissy... all sorts of goodies!

I always wish I could find the perfect gift for everyone, but it doesn't always work out that way. This year, though, I did hit a couple that were right on target. For Charles, an avid fan of Lin Carter, I managed to track down the cover painting to Mind Wizards of Callisto, a Lin Carter book that's part of a series of which Charles is quite fond. Serendipity was with me; I managed to luck into the original, only modestly scuffed, back in September and kept it hidden away until then. I had owned one of the Callisto cover painting originals and had given it to Charles a few years ago, knowing he would appreciate it more than me. I thought I had tracked down another cover back in July, but it turned out that the owner had cut it in half because he didn't like the solid color area at the top where the logo would be overlaid. Then, by methods so esoteric that I can't even begin to explain them without rambling on for far too long, I ran across this one and knew I had found the gift for Charles. He seemed to be really pleased with it, which was great--that's what we always hope for every gift!

The other was my gift for Bobby, a Jane Monheit Christmas Dual-Disc. Bobby's a big Jane Monheit fan, and I had remembered that this disc came out and then went out of print very quickly; I ran across a second copy (already had one for myself) and gambled that Bobby didn't have it. The gamble paid off; not only did he not have it, but he didn't even know it existed until he opened the gift!

Alas, other gifts were less perfect; I hope that they were appreciated as a sign of friendship and affection, though!

(Incidentally, this was the first year that Bobby and Jenny joined us for the event; hope it's not their last!)

Another Pioneer Passes

Jack Burnley died at the age of 95. Burnley was best known as the co-creator of Starman, but he also did some work on numerous other DC books, including a few Batman covers. In addition, he did the Golden Age Superman comic strip for a while. I'll confess that Burnley is one of the Golden Age creators whose work I appreciate on an intellectual and historical level, but not on the more visceral level at which I appreciate many of the others Golden Age creators. I was never an avid fan of his work, and I never had a chance to see him at any convention; nevertheless, I recognize that he was a contributor to the creation and success of a medium that I love, and thus his passing saddens me.

There are so very few of these pioneering talents left, so the loss of each one has an increasingly greater impact on the field as a whole. Stan Lee, Carmine Infantino, Murphy Anderson, and Joe Kubert are the last surviving major talents; let's hope that many years pass before I have to make note of their passing as well.

In the Bleak Midwinter...

I worry about my Dad all the time, but I worry most of all at Christmas.

Dad has always embraced Christmas with great enthusiasm; he virtually epitomized Christmas spirit, and that enthusiasm was so infectious that everyone who knew him was inspired. Since Mom died in December of 2002, though, his Christmas joy has been intermingled with a solemnity and sadness because of the memories of her final days.

Dad wants to like Christmas. He tries to rekindle the old fires of excitement for the holiday. He speaks of it often. He decorates early. He listens to the Christmas songs that he used to enjoy.

But as December reaches its midpoint, he misses Mom more than ever. He seems more frustrated with the season, and I'm not sure he really knows why. And I think he gets frustrated with himself that he can't find happiness at this time.

My sister mentioned that, for the first time, Dad is talking about "if I'm here for next Christmas" when he discusses his plans. It's a change that we've both noticed, and one that disturbs me.

One friend mentioned that, when her mother died, her father worked methodically to complete things that he had promised her mother that he would see to. Once they were done, once his mental list was checked off, he felt that his mission was complete. He died a few months later... not of anything any particular other than subconscious decision that it was time to move on.

I fervently hope I'm not seeing that scene play out right now with my own father...

Christmas Time Is Here

Okay, we're four days away. Have I finished shopping? Of course not.

I don't think I've ever finished shopping really. Every Christmas, I reach that point where I simply can't find any more gifts to get, so I have to settle with what I've gotten. Every January, I think of things that I wish I had gotten for gifts, but it's too late.

When I was a kid, Christmas was a time when you had to settle with what you got. As an adult, you have to settle with what you give...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Jeepers Creepers

In a recent conversation about his upcoming Captain America miniseries for Marvel, David Morrell (you know, the First Blood guy... the one who gave us Rambo) spoke briefly about his new novel Creepers. I had paid no attention to it, dismissing it as a horror novel, but it turns out that the sort of Creepers he's talking about are absolutely fascinating to me—and in fact, I've been one briefly, although I didn't know it at the time.

Creepers (also known as "infiltrators" or "urban explorers") are people who gain access to old buildings that have been closed to the public for years. In many cases, these old buildings still have the original furnishings and decor, although the state of disrepair can be pretty severe. The book deals with some creepers who enter a long-sealed hotel and discover that it still has some secrets inside its walls...

Years ago, when I was in Rome, GA, I was a creeper. Rome is a fascinating town; the current street level on Broad Street is actually one story higher than the original street level. Rome was basically built up one story to get much of the downtown area above flood level. As it turns out, though, many of the current buildings on Broad Street predate the elevation of the street level, which means that they have a basement that as once the ground floor of the building.

I had a chance to gain access to a basement that was once, from what I was told, an opera house. The furnishings were somewhat sparse now, having been pilfered and recycled over the years, but it was obvious that there were some once-elegant theatrical style seats, a lot of woodwork in what must have been the lobby, some ornate ceiling work... all deteriorated, of course. Seeing all this in its then-current condition led me to speculate about how it must have looked in its prime; I found it to be wonderfully evocative, almost a mystical experience.

One other time, when I was a senior in high school, some friends and I attended a school function at the largely-closed off Forrest Hotel on Broad Street. Here, it was the upstairs that was sealed off, not the downstairs. We weren't even aware that we were going into an area where we shouldn't be as we accessed the closed hallways and saw hotel rooms with doors standing open... doors to empty rooms in some cases, but in other cases the rooms beyond those doors had some outdated furnishings that harkened back to the 1940s or 1950s, when the hotel was still a thriving enterprise. Even then, I was fascinated by the idea that this had once been a center of life and activity, and that people lived and worked here and probably assumed it would always be such, taking for granted the surroundings that would eventually be abandoned.

When I see old, decrepit houses, I have to wonder what they were like when they were new, when someone proudly planned a life around their home, when the building was as full of promise as the lives of those who dwelled within its walls. The allure of old buildings complete with their furnishings is almost irresistible to me.

I have been a creeper unknowing--but given the opportunity, I would love to be a creeper once again, touching the resonance of lives that have left those surroundings behind. It's a wonderful, wistful, and sometimes sad experience, but one that I find positively compelling. It makes me wish that I lived in a city with many such sites waiting to be explored...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

It Was Almost 20 Years Ago Today...

Today, a friend asked me how long I had been doing Comic Shop News. That's really a pretty easy calculation; take the number of issues, divide by 52, and there you go!

Well, I'm putting together material for CSN #1019 right now; quick math revealed that we were past the 19 1/2 year mark and closing in on 20 years in late spring of 2007. That's a long time to do any one thing--and a long time to enjoy doing it.

I began doing fanzine work in 1965, at the age of 11 (shortly before my 12th birthday). More specifically, I began submitting work to fanzines at that time; none of it was published right away, so I did what any good fan does: I figured out how to do my own fanzines. Then, in 1968, a correspondent/friend named Stven Carlberg (he was still spelling it Steven back then) launched an amateur press alliance called Myriad for fans who wanted to talk about topics that didn't necessarily fit into the pages of CAPA-Alpha, the premiere comics apa of the time. Suddenly I was a part of the world of fandom, doing fanzines of all sorts on a regular basis; I did reviews, commentary, fan-fiction, artwork, poetry, comics... heck, I tried my hand at everything! I became accustomed to working on deadlines; I began to work on improving my wordsmith skills; and I had fun all the while.

Fanzines led to some pro work in the early 70s, doing some reviews and a couple of article for Jim Steranko's ComixScene (the name of which was later changed to Mediascene as Steranko expanded the focus of the publication), and a short-lived paperback anthology series called Quark. That led to some other reviews for fanzines, and eventually a short-lived SF and comics review magazine called Future Retrospective, put together by Susan and me for about four years. FR got some good press, Susan and I won a Rebel Award for our work in Southern SF fandom, and then I turned my attention to a club newsletter for the fledgling Atlanta Science Fiction Club. That newsletter, Atarantes, brought me in contact with a talented but quirky artist named Jerry Collins, and he in turn introduced me to an enthusiastic fan named Ward Batty.

Ward and I ended up working together on Atarantes for a while, and we enjoyed the partnership enough that we became partners in Dr. No's as well. We transformed the used bookstore/used record store into a full-line comic shop, and that led to our doing a newsletter for our own customers. A couple of other shops asked if we would be willing to sell our blank newsletter to them so that they could put their store name on it. From there, we came up with the idea of a comic shop newsletter that shops all over the country could offer to their customers for about a dime a copy... and thus Comic Shop News was born in 1987.

Did we make money from the start? Heck, no! In fact, we lost money for a while... and then, we hit the break-even point and hung there for a good while (it seemed quite long, but I don't believe it was much more than two years...). Quite literally, CSN was a labor of love. I had plenty of training for it; I had done fanzines for more than two decades by that time, and none of those fanzines had been moneymakers (that's the nature of fanzines, in fact; they're means of expression and communication, not commerce). Even so, I'll admit that I was more than a little pleased when CSN began generating paychecks for me and for Ward. (I suspect Ward was even more pleased; while I was still teaching at the time, Ward's sole sources of income were the store and CSN).

Every week since then, we've put together an issue of Comic Shop News--first, they were four-page black and white issues, then four pages with a color cover and centerspread, then eight pages with color cover and centerspread, finally moving to eight full-color pages. For years, CSN was printed at Star Printing in Acworth, Georgia; issues were delivered to distributors via truck line and then shipped to comic shops all over America and beyond. From there, we moved to Anderson Printing in Sylacauga, Alabama (now American Printing, I believe, although I may have the name wrong), because Marvel was printing there and thus they were already having regular pickups by distributors, so we could get into the system quickly and painlessly. (We didn't leave Star due to dissatisfaction, but due to the fact that they simply didn't have a press that could do full color; a color cover and centerspread was the best they could give us at the time.)

A lot of people don't believe that Ward and I have done pretty much every issue, but it's true. Ward has taken a couple of issues off, having Brett Brooks step in to handle layout and production; I took part of one issue off when I had a heart attack and open-heart surgery, imposing on Brett and Mike Doran to take what I'd begun and finish it out for Ward (the files were on my computer, and Susan had to help them to get the raw material I had in the works and finish it up). But that was only one issue, and then I was back at it... and even then, a significant portion of the issue was my work, since I tend to work ahead on several pieces.

Have we really done 1019 issues? No. We've actually done a little over 1100 issues, since we've done four seasonal specials each year for 18 years, plus a Christmas Special, plus a collector's guide for several years. It's well over 10 million words of work to date, and I'm still plugging away at it.

I don't have illusions that Comic Shop News will continue forever... but I have to admit that I never thought, back in 1987, that we'd be doing it a thousand issues later. I'd like to do enough issues to surpass Comics Buyer's Guide in numbering; they were weekly for many years before going monthly, so we're slowly catching up on 'em, but I figured it out once and I'd have to keep doing this until I'm 75 before we actually passed them...

I'm not ruling it out, though! I'm not planning on it, either; I'm just doing a week at a time, having fun with it, and seeing what happens next.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Masters of Humdrum

I finally got up the patience to try the premiere episode of the second season of Showtime's Masters of Horror series. The episode, "Pelts" was Dario Argento's dreary interpretation of a minor F. Paul Wilson tale.

First off, it wasn't horror... but then, none of the first season of this series communicated any sense of horror. Instead, it was all gore and shock with no sophistication at all... but considering the fact that Argento's reputation is built on nothing else, I'm not surprised. Meat Loaf tried his best as the star of the piece, but there's a limit to what an actor can do with second-rate material that both literally and figuratively treats the actor as little more than meat.

But it got me thinking about the pathetic state of horror nowadays. Hardly any works that try to pass themselves off as horror truly convey a sense of foreboding, of dread, of alienation, of true fear that is an important part of true, legitimate horror. Shows like CSI have removed much of the shock value of gore, so pseudo-horror producers feel like they have to take gore and mayhem to the next level.

Shock is cheap, it's superficial, and it's easy. Horror is challenging, unpredictable, and complex. No wonder so many of these guys want to cinematically jump in front of you and say "boo!" rather than really giving you the creeps. And so long as there's a cinematic audience willing to put down some cash for not-so-grand guignol, filmmakers are going to keep churning out this drek, and writers are going to keep trying to pass off splatterpunk as the real thing.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

This Is Not a Test

For the past few weeks, I've been scheduled for a nuclear stress test at 7:30 am on December 8th.

Today, at about 4 pm (just over 12 hours before I was scheduled to begin the test), I got a call from Dr. Mike's office telling me that Kaiser had refused to authorize the test, saying that there was no indication of a problem justifying such a test. The would authorize a basic echo-cardiogram, but nothing more.

Now I'm in the best shape of my life, no doubt--but at the same time, (a) I did have major heart surgery in April of 2000, (b) I still have a reduced ejection fraction, and (c) I have a mitral valve prolapse that seems to be increasing in severity. However, as Dr. Mike's assistant put it, Kaiser's new policy is basically "deny all testing but the most basic, deny all care but the most critical."

I called Kaiser to yell about it, but there's little satisfaction in yelling at a mid-level employee whose only job is to stop you from talking to the person who really made the decision to deny care. I also called the Georgia Insurance Commissioner's office to file a complaint, but since he just won re-election for four more years, I suspect I won't hear back from anyone any time soon (the only time you get prompt call-backs are in the month before an election, unfortunately).

Of course, I can try to adjust the budget to pay $3000+ out of my own pocket to cover the costs of the test. I may very well do that; I figure I'll take a week or two to decide, since the test has already been cancelled and it'll take a while to reschedule.

Meanwhile, I can no longer recommend Kaiser as a responsible insurer. For years, they've seemed to be a health-oriented insurance provider; now they operate more like the insurance companies in a John Grisham novel...

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Tooth, The Whole Tooth...

I have bad teeth.

I inherited this from my parents, unfortunately--and like my Dad's hairline, it's one of the few things I inherited that I'd gladly give back.

Even worse, one of my medications tends to leach calcium from my system, so that even with calcium substitutes, my teeth are even more prone to breakage.

And that's just what happened... again.

Last night, I broke a tooth on a chocolate chip cookie (well, if you gotta break a tooth, at least break it on something you like!). No nuts, nothing hard in there--just a cookie. I called Doc Sturn, my friend and my dentist, and he told me to come on by this morning. His schedule was packed, but he somehow squeezed me in and I now have a temporary crown. The permanent crown should be in by the middle of the month.

At this rate, I won't have many real teeth left to break! I think I'm up to six crowns now, which is nothing to be proud of, believe me...

And this in spite of the fact that I brush twice a day (I only eat two meals a day), I use prescription flouride, I use a hydrogen peroxide rinse followed by mouthwash, I floss... Sometimes heredity trumps everything, it seems.

And this is just the start of the Week of Medical Procedures I Don't Like. On Friday morning, I have a nuclear stress test scheduled. I don't mind the stress test part, but I really hate the intravenous needle in the back of my hand for three hours or so...

The good news? A week from today it'll all be over...