Friday, March 30, 2007

Lost Lost

Lost for March 28th, 2007.

Worst. Episode. Ever.

Why didn't they just run a notice saying, "We have absolutely no idea what to with the increasingly off-kilter story we've been doing, so we're going to throw in a story we were working on for Twilight Zone before someone told us that series was cancelled years ago. Hope you enjoy it, and we're really hoping we can figure out what to do by next week"?

Create flat characters, imbue the with no appeal for the viewer, then put them through the motions of a contrived EC-Comics-Meets-O-Henry plotline... yeah, that's just what Lost viewers were looking forward to...

Ollie's Well That Ends Well

That li'l guy over there is Oliver Dean Pearson, the new son of my nephew Cole and his wife Christy. His mom and dad got to go home with the little guy today, and all seems to be going quite well. I'm very proud of both of them for what they have done to put together a wonderful home and the beginnings of a memorable life for the newest member of our family.

Like so many parents, the both of them have had to grow up very quickly; it was just about sixteen months ago that they got married, going through the trials that all of us who are married went through in those first months as we struggled to balance budgets, plan for a future, and enjoy newly married life. Seven months later, they discover that their family is about to grow by one, and they absolutely blossomed. Cole, who has always been intelligent, insightful, sensitive, considerate, and creative, embraced his role as a father-to-be, while Christy seemed to relish the idea of motherhood. She and Cole bought their own house, transformed it into a loving home for Ollie to call his own, and then built a long-range plan to ensure happiness and security for their family. They accomplished all this under the most unyielding of schedules--but accomplish it they did!

I suspect you're going to hear more about Ollie in posts to come. To paraphrase Mr. Geisel: oh, the things he'll see, the things he'll do, the experiences he's going to have! And oh, what a family to be born into... all children should be so lucky...

The Root of the Problem

Got back from Dr. Sturn's office (see the previous post for more info on why I went), and it turns out I'll need a root canal and a new crown for the tooth. Dr. Crackers, the dentist who did the original crown, didn't adequately glue the crown in place and decay had taken place underneath it.

More interestingly, Dr. Crackers billed me for a post and crown procedure when he did this, but Dr. Sturn says that there's no post there. He showed me my x-rays, and then showed me x-rays of a post so that I could see the difference. So apparently, Dr. Crackers is not only incompetent, he's also dishonest. A great combination in a medical caregiver, huh?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Down in the Mouth

Another day, another dental problem...

I've mentioned previously that I have very bad teeth--both my sister and I have inherited that from our parents, I fear. I have far more dental problems than anyone else I know, and always have. But I've been diligent in my dental care, and after my last checkup found only one tiny cavity that needed filling, I thought I was doing just great.

Then, tonight, a crown fell out.

This isn't one of the crowns done by Dr. Ian Sturn, the absolute best dentist practicing today. No, this was the one adult crown I have that was done by another dentist (whom we'll refer to here as Dr. Crackers) before I discovered Dr. Sturn's office. This crown was a problem from day one. Dr. Crackers took forever to get started after he numbed my mouth, so the novocaine began to wear off before he was finished. When he prepared the tooth, it felt like he was using heavy road construction equipment. The temporary crown sat poorly, and fell out twice. The permanent crown never seemed to sit exactly right, and was always succeptible to pressure, as if it was sitting high.

And while they were doing the crown, they also did a dental checkup, including x-rays, and told me that they had found nothing wrong--my first perfect checkup ever. Only problem was, I had a few cavities... but they had lost my x-rays, and rather than admitting that, the dental hygienist just bluffed that there was nothing else wrong, and that created oodles of problems later on, as you might imagine.

(Oddly enough, I was talking to someone at another store in our shopping center, and she was complaining about the many problems she was having with a crown that she had just had done; I asked her if "Dr. Crackers" was her dentist, by any chance, and she was surprised that I had guessed correctly, since it was the first time she had ever used him. I adivsed her to make it the last...)

Tomorrow, I'll find out if the lost crown has been hiding decay beneath it for weeks or months; I hope not, but it's always possible because the porcelain-on-metal crown would have blocked x-rays that might have revealed such decay. Whatever it is, I trust Dr. Sturn to make it right, and I know he'll be honest and up-front with me about what needs to be done. Ultimately, you can't ask for more from a dentist than that, can you?

Not-So-Total Recall

We've had a bit of a problem with one reorder from Diamond; it somehow got lost in the system, and no one can figure out what happened to it. Our fill-in rep, John Brolle (who adopted us while our regular rep, Natacha, is on maternity leave) thought he had the problem solved on multiple occasions, only to find out that some glitch had once again prevented the box from coming to us. He thought the final resolution had occurred, and told us that the box was shipping out Monday; alas, it still didn't make it. I asked John about it, he checked and wrote back to me very apologetically, saying basically that he didn't know what went wrong and that he appreciated the fact that I wasn't yelling at him loudly at this point.

"I've been with Diamond for more than twenty years," I replied, "and they've never failed to take care of me. And we remember the effort expended in resolving the situation long after the problem itself has been forgotten." And it's true--I can remember situations when folks have gone to a great deal of trouble to help me solve a problem, but for the life of me I can no longer remember what those problems were.

By the Gods!

See that book over there? A while back, I had written about how I was having no luck tracking down a copy. Well, I'm not tracking it down any longer: my friend Charles surprised me this evening by slipping it into the bottom of a stack of three Otis Adelbert Kline books he had previously told me he would be passing on to me as he cleaned out his collection.

I didn't see Karl Edward Wagner's Gods in Darkness at first; it was the third book down in a four-book stack. When Charles handed them to me, I was finishing up with a customer, so I thanked him and set them on the counter to peruse later. When later arrived, I went through the stack: one Kline book that I fondly remembered, one that I recalled only in parts so I'd need to read it again, one Gods in Darkness, one... hey, wait a minute!

I was so taken by surprise that I didn't know what to say. I think I mumbled something like, "Aw, Charles!" as he grinned at me. "Where'd you find this?" I finally asked, but Charles wasn't giving away his secrets.

I have fond memories of Karl Wagner from my years in the SF con circuit, and I am thrilled to have this collection of his Kane novels in my library. I'm even more glad, though, to have a friend like Charles. Wotta guy!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Next Generation

Just got word from Kim that my nephew Cole and his wife Christy officially have an eight pound one ounce son, Oliver Dean Pearson, as of 9:51 this evening. It was a long labor, but Kim tells me there were no complications or problems, and everyone is doing fine.

Hard to believe that another generation has begun. I'm proud of Cole and Christy for the amazing way they've prepared for this event: they've managed to buy a wonderful home and to prepare it for Ollie's arrival (okay, I have no idea if they're going to call him Ollie, but those of us who've read Green Arrow and watched Laurel & Hardy films can't avoid it...) I look forward to some wonderful years to come as Ollie grows up and comes into his own.

Welcome to the world, li'l guy!

Making His Mark

My pal Mark Bagley is rapidly approaching the end of his run on Ultimate Spider-Man; his last full issue is #110, although he'll be doing part of #111 before passing the book on to Stuart Immonen, who has one enormous set of shoes to fill.

One hundred and ten issues illustrated by the same penciller in collaboration with the same writer, Brian Bendis. That's an amazing accomplishment: more consecutive issues than Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four, Gil Kane's Green Lantern, Carmine Infantino's Flash, Steve Ditko's Spider-Man... heck, more than any other artist in collaboration with a single writer.

The most amazing thing about the run, though, is how consistent and well-crafted it is. Brian and Mark haven't told scores of different stories; they're told one massive story, divided into accessible chapters linked by major plotlines, but the subplots have comprised one fluid, long-running saga.

When Lee & Kirby completed their 102-issue run on Fantastic Four, the only way a reader could enjoy the entire run was to buy some very expensive back issues; today, the comic book market's transition to trade paperbacks makes it easy for a reader to assemble the entire run in trade paperback or hardcover. That's a good thing; this is an unmatched run not only in duration but in consistency of vision and quality. If you haven't tried it, you should; this is without a doubt the finest Spider-Man series ever published--and I really think I'd feel that way even if I didn't know Mark.


Charles recently wrote about his pushup prowess. Left me wondering what I was doing wrong, because I routinely do sixty or so pushups in a minute. I went online and actually pulled up some video clips of military-style pushups to make sure that I was doing them right; apparently I am, judging from what I saw.

I figure the difference is my lighter weight, because I know that Charles has much more upper body strength than I do. But I guess this is one of the benefits of doing sixty pushups twice a day for six years... I'm pretty good at it!

You Never Know...

I'm frequently reminded of how hazy and circuitous the path ahead can be, regardless of our efforts to map our journey in advance.

Tonight, I read some very kind words that Whitney posted about me in her blog, and I noted that she still remembered clearly her mornings spent in my classroom in my last year or so of teaching, before unseen twists led me to a non-teaching path. Those mornings are as vivid in my mind as they apparently were in Whitney's; I was pleased to get to know this soft-spoken young girl with a skill for writing, and I enjoyed reading her work and talking to her in those pre-school minutes when the day was just unfolding. I remembered Whitney so well, in fact, that she immediately came to mind a couple of years ago when we were looking for new employees. I never foresaw that the amiable, insightful young woman in my classroom would eventually become a co-worker and a friend.

Whitney became an employee because of another unforeseen change: Brett's departure from the store. I had always assumed that Brett would stay with the store and eventually move into an ownership role; in the summer of 2005, though, it appeared that his path would take him in a very different direction. As he prepared to move in a different direction, we looked for employees to help fill the void--and we were lucky enough to add Whitney, Jared, Amy, and Brian to our ranks. I knew Whitney and Jared already (Jared had shopped with Dr. No's for years before joining the staff); Amy and Brian were relatively new to me, but getting to know them was an unexpected positive that came out of the negative of Brett's departure.

Buck was a student long before he became an employee, and now the manager, of Dr. No's. I liked him as a student, but I never would have guessed that his future path would intersect with mine in the way that it has.

Then, of course, there's Brett's return to the store--something that neither he nor I foresaw in July of 2005 when he left. A path that veered away from mine and Dr. No's for a stretch reconnected further down the road, where we couldn't see its intersection at the time.

And of course, I've mentioned before my health problems, which ironically led to me restoring myself to a level of health and well-being unseen since I was in my teens. Had someone told me in April of 2000 that so much good would await me further down that rough path, I'd have dismissed their thoughts as simple attempts to cheer me up.

It's very easy to see how we got where we are... but sometimes where we're going us much less clear.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Gaining Wisdom

Every now and then, I pick up a book that surpasses my expectations. Wisdom from the Batcave is just such a book. Rabbi Cary Friedman surprised me by producing a book so very well done. Many books that derive philosophical or existential significance from comic books, television shows, or other forms of popular culture end up doing a disservice to both subjects. Frequently, they display an embarrassingly superficial familiarity with the media from which they're drawing inspiration. In this case, though, Friedman showed a versatile knowledge of Batman, his history, and the character's development from all media, using that knowledge as a stepping-stone to well-founded, carefully crafted observations. He doesn't limit his source material to the comics; he's just as likely to quote from the animated series or a film, and he can cite creators and story titles just as well as any veteran Batman reader.

I usually finish a book of this sort in an hour or so, but this one actually took a bit longer; it was Friedman's solid research and well-grounded observations that enticed me to linger more with each segment I read. I simply couldn't give the book a hasty flip-through, but found myself instead wanting to take the book in at a slower pace.

All in all, a surprisingly memorable book; I only wish he'd devote the same attention to Superman, another hero from whom I derived a great deal of my own ethical and philosophical views early in my childhood.

Marshall Rogers Passes

Just got word a little while ago that artist Marshall Rogers, best known for his Batman work with writer Steve Englehart and inker Terry Austin, has died.

Rogers was a part of what I considered the "fourth wave" of comic book artists. I missed out on the first wave entirely--that would be the Golden Age greats (although several of those continued to work their artistic magic in the Silver Age and beyond). The second wave, as I saw it, was comprised of Silver Age masters like Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Murphy Anderson, Wally Wood, Wayne Boring, Gil Kane, and Nick Cardy (yes, I know that many of these guys started in the Golden Age, but they really came into their prime as far as I was concerned in the Silver Age). The third wave included those late-60s talents who helped to reshape the industry, led by Neal Adams but also including Jim Steranko, John Buscema, and Bernie Wrightson, among others.

The fourth wave came along in the late 1960s, when comics began to embrace more stylistic experimentation as a result of the success of some of those third wave talents. Many of these artists began their craft in the 1960s, but they established themselves as major names in the 1970s. Jim Starlin, Mike Kaluta, Barry Windsor-Smith, Paul Gulacy, and Marshall Rogers were the most impressive talents from this time period; their linework was instantly identifiable and often imitated. Their work evoked some of the greats from earlier eras, but it wasn't fawningly derivative.

Englehart and Rogers were a creative gestalt to be reckoned with; they did some amazing work on Batman, redefining the Dark Knight during that time period between the Adams era and Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns. Rogers' Gotham was a foreboding place, and its appearance resonated through Tim Burton's 1989 Batman.

Alas, Rogers has done all too little comics work in recent years; as a result, when he did return to the field, his skills seemed a little bit rusty from lack of practice. Even so, he was still uniquely Marshall Rogers, unwilling to bend his style to trends.

Only 57 years old... far too early to leave us...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Royale Treatment

Finally got around to watching Casino Royale last night; I was every bit as impressed as I had expected to be, based on advance reports. The film was a return to the harder Bond of the first four films, long before Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan reduced the character to a preening fop of a hero.

What made the film work was the screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, & Paul Haggis; they stripped away the intrusive paraphernalia and gave Bond the same determination and drive as can be seen in modern uber-agent Jack Bauer.

Daniel Craig is an above-average Bond; his only drawback is his over-reliance on one jaws-clenched-cheeks-drawn-lips-pursed expression better suited for Calvin Klein ads than an inscrutable agent. He isn't Sean Connery, but he can't be; he is, however, the best Bond there has been since Connery.

Now that Bond has been reinvented for the 21st Century with an "origin tale," so to speak, it'll be interesting to see what comes next. Perhaps they'll return to some of those Ian Fleming stories that were never truly adapted so much as they had their titles stolen.

Em Toon Vee?

One of the reasons I have such affection for songs of the 1930s and 1940s is that they seem so very familiar. For a while, I credited that to my parents, figuring they must have played those songs so much that they were imprinted into my psyche.

Watching some Merrie Melodies cartoon recently, it dawned on me that Warner Brothers is responsible for my familiarity with those songs. I grew up thinking that Merrie Melodies were cartoons using old songs; it didn't occur to me as a child that the songs were actually contemporary at the time the cartoons were produced! These were pre-MTV "music videos," more or less, using covers of popular songs of the day to help hook the tunes in people's minds... and it worked so well that very often, when I hear one of these songs, I picture segments of the cartoons in which I first got to know this delightful music.

Thanks for the entertaining education, WB!

Cole Mining

Frank Sinatra is probably the best known and best-selling male vocalist of the 40s, 50s, and 60s combined, but I'd put my money on Nat King Cole as the absolute best vocalist to ever put a track to record.

Most people know Cole's later work with Capitol Records--a body of work that includes almost all of his major hits--but some of his most outstanding performances can be found on Cool Cole, a collection of 104 tracks from the King Cole Trio originally recorded between 1941 and 1950. This set includes my favorite Cole tune of all time, "Mona Lisa," but it includes so many other gems, all recorded by one of the tightest jazz trios of all time.

I have the eleven-disc set that includes Nat Cole's entire body of work for Capitol, including his only live disc and the most unusual disc of his career--a song-by-song cover of My Fair Lady--so I thought I had everything I needed. I was wrong. As great as that set is, this set is even better.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Anna has developed a bad habit of chewing on cables.

She has always had an affinity for chewing on plastic, which means that we have to put away grocery bags, ziploc bags, etc. Recently, though, I've found three coaxial cables that have been chewed down to the metal wiring.

I'm concerned, of course; sooner or later, if I can't break her of this awful habit, she's going to bite into a power cord and do major harm to herself. I'm at a loss over this, though; there are too many wires in our house, and there's simply no way to hide them all. Right now, I'm putting a little bit of Ben-Gay on the wires she's most likely to bite (I try to get on the floor and look at things from her angle to determine what looks the most appealing), and I'm covering some of the wiring in split flex-tubing, which doesn't seem to appeal to her plastic appetite.

If anyone has better suggestions, I'm open to new ideas!

Make Room, Make Room

It seems that, all my life, I've had (a) too little room for my stuff, or (b) too much stuff for the room I have. The problem gets worse with each passing year, even though I've been trying to cull through stuff, because it seems that Susan and I still add more than we eliminate. I have this surreal image of our house suddenly collapsing into the ground, Usher-like, from the weight of an accumulated lifetime of pack-rat-ism.

Recently, though, I decided that I really wanted to remake one of the two rooms in the basement into a usable, liveable space. The basement is largely finished, but it has become a repository for esoteric items that won't fit upstairs, books that have long since overflowed every available bookshelf, burgeoning numbers of CDs and DVDs, etc.

I got a great deal on a large DLP television to replace an older, smaller unit in the basement (I wrote about it a while back when I had to rework the basement wiring to accommodate the power drain caused by printers, TVs, amplifiers, computers, and exercise equipment, so I used that as the lynchpin of the reinvention. I rearranged the furniture to make it more functional, eliminated some furnishings and esoterica that I was tired of stumbling over, and tried to streamline what was there. The result is a very comfortable room for working, watching television, listening to music, or just relaxing.

The cats, who stay in the basement every night, have been intrigued by the changes. Suddenly their space is arranged totally differently, and Anna and Mischa are having a great time exploring the new realm. Tisha, who has been with us through too many moves and rearrangements, doesn't care; she simply finds a place that seems fairly similar to the last place she claimed as her own and settles down there.

Next--a major purge of some books I don't anticipate reading ever again. With boxes of books still on the floor of the other basement room, there's no reason to waste valuable space on books that I won't experience again when there's a chance someone could enjoy the chance to become acquainted with them.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Big Three Oh

As of today, I have lived in Cobb County for thirty years.

It takes a minute for me to realize just how long that is. I've lived here for 33% longer than I lived everywhere else combined. I've lived here almost two and a half times longer than I lived in Rome. I've lived here four times longer than I lived in Cedartown (both times combined... I lived there for a while when I was four, then again when Susan and I got married in 1971, just before I turned eighteen).

I have always thought of Rome as my home town, since that's the place where most of my formative experiences occurred, but something has to be said for the place where one has lived the vast majority of his life.

In early March of 1977, Susan got a job offer from Management Science America, whose offices were located near Lenox Square. We chose to split the difference and look for an apartment in Marietta, since I'd still be driving back to Rome every day (I continued to teach there for two and a quarter more years, in fact, before taking a job at North Cobb High School). After a little bit of looking, we chose Savannah Oaks Apartments on Franklin Road as our residence. Susan stayed with our friend, Larry Mason, for her first week of work while I went back to Cedartown and spent several days packing our belongings for the movers to haul them to Marietta (vital lesson learned in this experience: don't pack your books in a refrigerator-sized box if you expect any normal human beings to ever be able to pick up the box afterwards). On March 18th, the movers showed up... and on March 19th, we experienced our first full day as Marietta residents.

If you know Cobb County nowadays, you know that Franklin Road is now one of the most blighted, crime-ridden areas in Cobb. However, in 1977 Franklin Road was the up-and-coming area of Cobb County--close to Cumberland Mall, lined with upscale apartments, not too far away from a host of restaurants, theaters, and shopping centers... We felt like we had really gone up-scale, since prior to moving to Cobb County we had never had central heat and air conditioning!

I adapted to life in Cobb County pretty quickly--although we never did adapt to apartment life very well. We had to move from our first apartment after a matter of months because of a horrible noise problem (upstairs neighbors with a huge, lumbering dog and an apartment that had absolutely no soundproofing between floors); the townhome apartment we moved into was much better, and was actually relatively enjoyable for the two years that we lived there.

In May of 1979, we bought our first house in Kennesaw, located about ten miles further north in Cobb County. That translated to "closer for me, farther for Susan." A year later, I was hired at North Cobb High School, only three miles from our new home... for the first time, I was working within minutes of the place where I lived!

We stayed there until October of 1986, when we bought a house on Milstead Circle in Marietta, about seven miles southeast of our Kennesaw home. We moved up from 1450 square feet to 2500 square feet, and we felt like we were living in a veritable mansion.

And that's where we remained until April of 1996, when we bought this house. It's hard to believe that we've been here for eleven years now; this is the longest I've lived in any house in my life, in fact. Due to the vagaries of personal relativity, though, it seems like this is still our "new home," and in fact there are still a few boxes in the basement that we haven't unpacked from the last move. (I suspect that, if you haven't needed to unpack 'em in eleven years, you probably don't need 'em at all...)

In 1992 we bought a weekend home in Rome, but as much as I enjoyed our seven years there, I never really thought of us as "living there." Marietta was still our home; Rome was our getaway.

Now it's 2007, and I have doubts that I'll move again. We've thought about it, but I really like being close enough to everything that I can walk to the bank, the drugstore, the grocery, the theater, Target... Heck, if this chunk of Earth was thrown into space in the aftermath of a planetary explosion, we could survive quite well so long as someone constructed a dome over it like Argo City!...

Thirty years... I never imagined, on that fateful 82 degree day in March of 1977, that I would be setting down roots that would last for the rest of my life. Funny how things happen, isn't it?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Down in the Mouth

Tomorrow, another trip to the dentist. In spite of my best efforts, my last checkup yielded one more cavity; Dr. Sturn (a great dentist and a friend) is going to fill that cavity tomorrow, and I hope that will be the last time I make a trip to the dentist for a little while.

I inherited many things from my parents, most of them very good--but healthy teeth were apparently not in the genes on either side of the family.

It's All Coming Back To Me Now...

Since I wrote about Mom's inexplicable experience a few days ago, I've discussed it further with Kim, who helped to clarify a few things. First off, my timeline was slightly off; Kim said that the year was 1966, not 1964 or 1965; she was 5 at the time it occurred, and remembers some details of it from later retellings.

The horse that lived in the "pasture" behind us was named Superman (appropriate for a horse located near a comics fan, huh?). He was a huge horse with a broad back; what was so odd about that--and the source of such amusement for Kim and her friend--was that there were a couple of cats who would actually sleep on Superman's back at times; they'd climb up on a ledge, jump lightly on to that broad back, then settle down for a nap. Superman didn't seem to care; he tolerated his feline companions on multiple occasions.

The night that the event occurred, Mom was sure that she saw the strange figures doing something to Superman.

Superman died the day after this occurred. His owners came and took the body away as soon as they learned of his death, so none of us ever knew what caused it or what condition he was in. After Superman died, the owner of the property didn't put another horse in there.

The pasture went into further decline, the barn collapsed eventually, and the land was abandoned for more than two decades before someone eventually bought it, levelled everything, and built apartments there.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

It Came Out of the Sky

My mother swore that she witnessed a UFO event.

It would have been sometime around 1964, I guess... I don't remember precisely, but it wasn't more than a year or two after we moved into the house on Marchmont Drive, so it had to be sometime between April of 1963 and early 1965, when Mom first began to talk about the experience. I remember when she first told us; she had an adamant, "no fooling" tone that I came to recognize over the years, a tone that signalled that she was absolutely convinced regarding what she was about to tell us.

I'm sure I don't remember every detail, but I remember enough.

The back yard of our house shared a common fence with a horse pasture--not a neat, well-maintained horse pasture, but several acres of overgrown land in which there was a rather ramshackle stable and a segment of level ground that could be called a pasture if one was feeling rather generous. There were two horses that were housed there when we moved in; the only reason the horse pasture was there had to do with the vagaries of the city-county borders. The city didn't allow a horse pasture in a residential area, and we lived in the city... but the owner of that pasture had somehow convinced the city to annex the land around him without annexing the pasture itself, so the land remained in the county, where zoning requirements were one step away from nonexistent.

Why is this important? Well, because it meant that we had--just beyond our rather spacious back yard with all its hickory, poplar, and oak trees--and overgrown stand of woodland, brambles, and briars that formed a rugged thicket, beyond which could barely be seen a sloped-roof horse shed. Beyond that was a pasture, a dirt path that wound to a gate on the low-lying far end of the property, next to a swampy area that bordered a creek. No one ever maintained this property, so don't for a moment picture an attractive, manicured, orderly horse pasture; instead, imagine a stand of north Georgia wilderness, about ten acres in size, on which three acres had been cleared of sufficient trees to form a crude flat area on which weeds and wild grasses were allowed to grow waist-high in the summer. It was a thatch filled with poison ivy and poison oak in the wilder parts, home to snakes in the swampy area, and overrun with thorny blackberry bushes at the fence line.

As you might imagine, we kids would occasionally venture into the area to see the horse--an elderly, aloof steed that tolerated us quite well, snorting and eating whatever apples or sugar cubes we brought with us. But this ground was so rugged that even we kids found it uninviting.

From the back of our house, the overgrown wooded area gave some privacy; we could catch glimpses of the weathered red of the stable area, and we could at night see broken patterns of headlights as cars came down Paris Drive and took the curve at the far end of the horse pasture--but for the most part, the pasture provided a sense of seclusion. As a result, I don't think my parents particularly minded its wild, overgrown nature; it was much more protective than a privacy fence could have been.

My sister and I had bedrooms along the front of the house; a hallway ran down the center of the house from the living room to the north end of the house, parallelling Marchmont Drive. My parents' bedroom was on the back side of the house, with a window facing the thickest part of the overgrown thicket. It not only served to block most road traffic noise and light, it actually managed to shade a great deal of the morning sunlight as well, creating a shadowy canopy over the back yard.

It was early in the morning hours, Mom told me, when she was awakened by the sound of dogs barking. Not just the occasional bark of a dog, mind you, but frenzied barking, she said--the sound of dogs who feel threatened and disturbed. It was a constant sound, and that struck her as odd; the dogs in our neighborhood would bark now and then, but for the most part it was a quiet place.

Then she said that she heard another sound--the sound of the two horses whinnying and protesting. This was a sound none of us ever heard in the night, before or after. Her first thought, she said, was that someone was trying to steal the horses; she wasn't sure why they would want them, but she still was concerned enough that she looked out the window.

What she saw, she told me with a solemn seriousness, was an incredibly bright light that filled the lower part of the pasture and penetrated the thicket; it was so instense that it cast stark shadows on the wall opposite the window once she pulled the drapes back to look out. And the light wasn't coming from headlights or a flashlight, but from a large saucer-shaped object in the pasture. Because of the overgrowth, she couldn't see details well enough to describe the saucer in detail, but since the light emanated from the object rather than illuminating it, the light helped to define its shape and size.

What disturbed her more, she told us, was that there were several figures moving in front of and adjacent to the light--think, lanky figures in close-fitting clothing. Since they were largely in silhouette, she couldn't see details, but she knew from their movements and their size that there was something different---disquietingly different--about them.

That's when she tried to awaken Dad. And she couldn't. She shook him, she called his name, she tugged at his arm, but she said he wouldn't wake up. He wasn't snoring--Dad was a constant snorer, his post-midnight cacaphony sometimes resonating down the hallways into my and Kim's rooms--but this time he was silent... and unawakenable.

Mom said that she then opened the door and came over to my room, only to find that she couldn't wake me up, either. For some reason, we were both asleep far more deeply than was normal, and she wasn't able to break through that sleep to alert us about the strange happenings in the pasture behind us. Since Kim was only three or four years old at the time, there was no reason to awaken her, so Mom didn't try; instead, she said, she simply closed the draped again, seeing the light coming in around their edges, but not opening them again for fear that she might attract the attention of whomever was in the pasture.

Then, after about ten minutes, the light went off as if someone had turned off a switch, she said. After waiting a moment to see if it would return, she approached the drapes. She noticed, though, that the noises were gone. The dogs were quiet. The horses were quiet. And when she opened the drapes, there was no light from the pasture.

And at the same time, she said that Dad snored once--one of his loud, explosive snores--and then half-awoke to ask her what she was doing at the window.

She didn't tell him then; she didn't tell us the next day, either. Nor the day after that. It was months later that she first told us about it.

I think it was shortly after a friend and I had remarked about a strange area in the horse pasture... an area where the wild grasses had simply quite growing. It was an area in which everything was flat and withered, an area that stood out from the pasture grasses around it because even the weeds and brambles seemed reluctant to grow in them. And neither horse would walk into that area to eat.

Mom was bothered by that. Shortly after, she told us the story. And while Mom always had a great sense of humor, she never tolerated our joking about that. Whatever she witnessed that night, she was certain that it wasn't natural, and she seemed to feel that she had been on the cusp of something much more ominous than any of us realized. I talked to her about it a time or two again, looking for more details; she didn't want to talk about it in much more detail, because she said it made her nervous. She didn't know why, but it did.

Mom wasn't a person easily made nervous.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

It's Like Christmas Every Week

It's Tuesday morning, and that means that it's new book pickup day. Our books are shipped in by FedEx Freight, and we can pick 'em up at the hub on Tuesday morning for processing and preparation (they don't go on sale until Wednesday, but this enables us to have 'em ready to sell when we open the doors that morning). Of course, the biggest personal benefit is that I get to look at the new comics on Tuesday rather than having to wait until Wednesday.

I've spent a significant portion of my life looking forward to new comic book day. When I was young, I didn't know exactly when new comics would come in; by the time I was nine, though, I had figured out that new magazines arrived at Conn's Grocery and Couch's Grocery on Tuesday, when the new TV Guide was delivered; I would walk to both stores to see what primary-shade-hued covers would greet me upon my arrival. When I was in high school, Wednesday afternoons seemed interminably long as I clicked off the hours until I could leave school and rush to Liberty Hatworks to help them process the new comic books.

When I became involved in comics, new comic book day became a sort of "working holiday," since I have to put in a fair amount of time to prepare the comics for sale (to this day, many publishers don't supply UPC data, or they supply the wrong data, which means we have to spend a fair amount of time entering books into our system--and of course, we have to count and inspect for damages, which takes some time). It's still a holiday, though--and as is the case with all holidays, I sleep restlessly the night before, largely due to my sense of anticipation.

Things are different now, of course: I no longer wonder what's going to be in the new comic book boxes, since we get copies of our invoices on the Friday prior to delivery. That makes it easier for me to "pre-plan" my reading, determining which books I need to check out first and which can wait until all the work is done. (You didn't think I postponed reading any comics until we finished the work, did you?)

I wonder... when I'm no longer in the comic book business, will I still look forward to new comic book day with such enthusiasm? (I suspect I know the answer...)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Class Act

Had a dream that I was back in the classroom. It was one of those "oh, I forgot" dreams: it turned out that I didn't retire from teaching, I had simply forgotten to drive to the job for the past seven years. I headed back over, found my old classroom was still waiting for me, and everything was just as it was in March of 2000, when I taught for the last time.

In reality, I don't think I could ever go back into the classroom. I spent a long time teaching and loved every minute of it, but I've spent seven years away from the bureaucracy and the education-inhibiting factors that aggravate all teachers, and I think my tolerance of such dysfunction would make it impossible for me to play the game. Oh, I'd love the chance to actually educate some interested and willing students, but that's the ideal situation... and for the most part, the educational system is not designed to encourage that ideal. Education is a real Harrison Bergeron sort of system, unfortunately, designed to pull the best and brightest down to the level of the mediocre...

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Amping Up

That electrical problem that I mentioned yesterday? The solution is underway. I made a call to Mister Sparky (I have to say that these guys have been the most reputable electricians I've ever dealt with, either for the store or for home), and they're installing a dedicated circuit breaker right now to pull that computer equipment off onto its own breaker; that way, I won't have to worry about the power drain caused by all that equipment. Called 'em at 10 a.m., they were here by noon, and they're doing the work even as I'm typing. Hopefully, in a couple of hours, all will be powered up properly!

I Need More Power, Scottie!

Now here's a problem I've never run into before... until now, that is.

I mentioned a while back that I had picked up a boat anchor of an amplifier/receiver a month or two ago. It's an amazing piece of electronics from Pioneer, and I'm still learning all that it can do.

Well, one thing that I have learned is that it can devour electricity. It's a power-hog pulling about 650 watts per hour. And of course, I'm using it with a DLP television, which has some pretty impressive power demands of its own.

And then I have all that in the same room as a Tektronix Phaser 860 DP. That's a solid-ink printer that pulls about 1100 watts when it goes into the warmup phase. Add a few other things on the same circuit breaker, and you begin to run into some real problems if multiple things start clicking on at the same time. I've heard some battery backup units complaining in their irritating beep-beep manner. And I figure that can't be good...

Tomorrow, I need to buy some longer cables--USB and ethernet--and see about moving the printer into the other downstairs room, where it'll be on another circuit breaker. I think that's a much better solution than having to decide whether to watch a movie or listen to a movie, but not both...

The Other Clark

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Clark Kent and his primary-color-clad alter-ego... but you might not have known that I'm an avid fan of that other Clark, the third leg of the Weird Tales triumvirate. I first discovered Clark Ashton Smith in the late 1960's, after reading mention of him in an article about H.P. Lovecraft. I had already read Robert E. Howard's work, so I figured that any guy who ranked in their league was worth a shot. One paperback later, and I was hooked.

If HPL was a horrorist and REH was an adventurist, then CAS was a fantasist. His stories are redolent of mood and atmosphere, rich and heady and captivating. Oh, he can tell a horror tale, and he can write adventure, but he does it in the spirit of a waylaid Pre-Raphaelite.

Night Shade Press has launched a series collecting all of CAS's short fiction; the first volume is out in hardcover now, and it's worth the admission price. Like so many of the authors, he truly came into his own a bit later in his career, but even his early work shows the distinctive narrative voice and style that defined his literary career.