Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Life in Four Colors (Part Twelve)

The biggest change of my childhood occurred in early 1962, when my parents quit being renters and became home owners. In January of '62, they paid $10,500.00 (or more specifically, they financed that then-enormous sum) for a newly-constructed home at 3 Marchmont Drive in Rome... a home that was built to their specifications. I can remember the frequent trips beginning in November of '61 as construction began; we repeatedly stopped by the site to watch our house going up, and at the time it seemed like we were building a mansion.

Houses have gotten much larger over the subsequent decades, so the idea of a 1000 square foot home for four people seems almost claustrophobic today. But I thought we had to be rich; we were moving from an approximately-800-square foot house that we were renting (two bedrooms, a living room, one bath, a small kitchen) to a spacious 1000-square-foot home that would be ours (I didn't really understand that whole mortgage thing back then). The Marchmont house had three bedrooms (one for Mom and Dad, one for me, and one for Kim), one and a half bathrooms (a half-bath off Mom and Dad's room, and a hallway bath for everyone), a living room, a phenomenally long hallway (okay, it's only about twelve feet... but that seemed long enough for a foot-race back then!), and a kitchen large enough for a table and four chairs. We also had a carport, a concrete driveway, and 1960s-state-of-the-art aluminum siding (yellow). I began to think of myself as being in the same league as Richie Rich!...

So, in February of 1962, we moved from Garden Lakes to Marchmont Drive in the city of Rome. We were no longer county residents; we now lived in the city limits.... just barely.

And that brought some changes. For one thing, I would have to change schools. The county administration gave my parents permission to continue taking me to Garden Lakes Elementary to finish my third grade year with my favorite teacher, Mrs. Solomon--but it was no longer the same. I couldn't walk to school; it was no longer in my neighborhood, but was a ten minute drive away. I felt like an outsider for those last four months, and I didn't have the slightest idea what my new school would be.

I was lucky enough to still have a close friendship with David Lynch. David and I would see each other at school, and we would alternate spending Friday or Saturday night at one another's house. I would begin planning for my trips to his house two days ahead of time, perusing my comics and sorting out the ones we would most likely want to re-read and talk about; if David were coming to spend the night with me, he would do the same thing. Our luggage of choice, of course, was a brown paper grocery bag--large enough that a comic could pretty much lie flat in the bottom, and other comics would be stacked atop that, with my pajamas, a change of clothes, a toothbrush, and any other personal necessities packed on top of that. (The photo at the top of this post is a 1963 shot of me and David clowning it up in the back yard of our Marchmont Drive house... I'm on the left, David is on the right.)

David's response to our new house played into my childhood beliefs that I lived in wealth. First of all, David kept talking about how lucky we were to own a house; his parents still rented their home in Garden Lakes. And our house had all sorts of amenities--we had aluminum windows that opened smoothly and didn't stick when the wood swelled like the windows of the older homes in Garden Lakes, for instance. We had shiny varnished wooden floors that had no signs of wear or previous occupants; we had folding closet doors; we had built-in appliances in our kitchen; we even had an air conditioner built into the wall of our living room, jutting out into the carport. (It was the equivalent of a window or a room AC, not central air, but it still made me feel opulent... we actually had AC in one room!) We even had a tall antenna mounted at one end of the house, and it had a motorized rotor on it so that we could watch Atlanta television stations or Chattanooga televisions stations with the turn of a dial and the careful adjusting of television fine tuning!

Best of all, the new home brought two major changes for me: first, I got my very own room and no longer had to put up with Kimberly and her crib in our shared room (a very big plus for an eight-year-old boy), and second, I got my very own closet--more than five feet wide and two feet deep with double folding doors, it had enough room for all the comics I could possibly own (oh, how little I knew back then).

David wanted to spend the night at my house every weekend, but his parents insisted that from time to time we stay over there (and I suspect my parents were glad of that, too). But the Marchmont house was the envy of my friends, and I felt privileged. I wouldn't know until years later how little money we actually had. Dad was paid relatively will for his job as sports editor at the Rome News Tribune, but a $10,000 home came with an $82 a month mortgage payment. Add to that $58 a month for a car, and Mom suddenly spent many an evening poring over the family checkbook to keep our budget balanced.

Mom kept all the check records, the bills, and the receipts in a shoebox in the cabinet over the kitchen stove; I remember seeing her and Dad getting that shoebox out, taking it to the kitchen table, and spending an hour or so going over financial figures. I was always told to go watch television; my parents came from a time when family budgets were grown-up matters, and kids were not to worry about money. Their efforts kept me thinking that we were rich; I never once remember wanting for anything, and I thought those once-a-week dinners of pork and beans and hot dogs or sausage patties were special occasions and not budget-stretchers.

Once we were settled into the new house, I had to find out where the nearest comic book suppliers were. It turned out that there were three stores within approved walking distance: Couch's Grocery, just under a half-mile away; Candler's Drugs, immediately next door to Couch's; and Hill's Grocery, a much more ramshackle store located across Shorter Avenue from Couch's. Since there was no red light anywhere near these stores and Shorter Avenue was a busy four-lane thoroughfare, Mom told me I was not to walk to Hill's... but what Mom didn't know wouldn't hurt her, right?

So here we were: our own house, and three sources for comics within walking distance. Yep, this upscale home-ownership thing had all sorts of benefits!...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Pot, Meet Kettle

This evening while I was watching an episode of Journeyman from a couple of weeks ago, I stopped to watch a Mac Vs. PC commercial that I hadn't seen previously. This one features PC talking about how dissatisfied users are with Vista, but they shouldn't use this as a reason to switch to Mac's new Leopard operating system. It ends with PC confiding to Mac that he actually switched back to XP three weeks ago, and he's so much happier.

Problem is, I have had the exact same experience with Leopard. I'm not a Mac novice--I've been using Macs for more than twenty years now, and have always upgraded to the newest operating system almost upon release. I did just that with Leopard (Mac OSX 10.5, for those who aren't up on their Mac nomenclature)... and within a matter of days, I went to a great deal of trouble to downgrade to 104.10 again.

Leopard was not ready for prime time; this is an operating system that was too buggy to have ever seen release, but Mac felt obligated to get it out the door in October, regardless of the fact that it didn't work.

Never, since the inception of Mac OSX, has an incremental upgrade in operating systems rendered large numbers of programs non-functional, with little or no hope of repair... but Leopard did exactly that. Some programs wouldn't work at all, others (such as Quark 6.5, the last reliable and relatively speedy version of Quark the company produced, since Quark 7 is bloated, slow, and unreliable) lost functionality to the point they were unreliable. Some hardware ceased to function.

And it wasn't just third-party software that was affected. This past spring, Apple unveiled their new 802.11n Airport Extreme base stations, which offered a great feature called Airport Disk. This feature allowed users to plug a USB 2 drive into the Airport Extreme and have it work as a network drive accessible by any computer connected to that Airport's network. Sounds great, doesn't it? Well, it is... but it doesn't work under Leopard. That's right--Apple wrote and released an operating system that broke a key feature of a piece of hardware that Apple had introduced earlier in the same year! Even worse, Apple had to roll out a patch within a week or so of Leopard's release... and it still didn't fix the broken network disk feature!

This wasn't the only Apple hardware problem. Airport cards became unreliable or didn't work at all for some users; connection speeds dropped dramatically; features like the Time Machine backup system didn't do what Apple originally said they'd do. For the first time in twenty years, I was embarrassed to be an Apple advocate; the company had released a piece of software that should have never seen the light of day in its current incarnation.

Like I said, I downgraded from Leopard to Panther in order to restore the functionality that was nonexistent in Leopard. I wasn't alone; a survey of the Mac forums reveals that a lot of others have been forced to do the same thing. And that makes Apple's latest commercial seem more than a little ironic, doesn't it?

A for Effort

Over the years, a lot of people have asked, in conjunction with discussions regarding my fascination with the work of Steve Ditko, who Ayn Rand is and what her theory of objectivism means. I've had many discussions regarding the writer and her philosophy (a philosophy that I find more on-target that many, by the way, although I tend to blend it with the Hindu concepts of dharma and karma in the structure of my own ethos), but rarely have I found anyone explain the interrelationship of Rand and Ditko more clearly than Robby Reed (is that his real name? Here's his answer to that question: Let's just say that if my name were not actually Robby Reed, it would be remarkably close, particularly the initials. I prefer to let my work on this site speak for itself. How very Ditko-ish of me!") at his Dial B for Blog site. The Ditko/Rand discussion begins here, and you can follow the links to enjoy the entire analysis.

Basically, I find Rand's emphatic Aristotelian assertion that "A is A" to be an essential that is more often than not overlooked or ignored in today's society. From discussion of illegal immigration to taxation to personal responsibility to capitalism to Katrina "victims" to art to religion, I find that Rand's idea serves as a philosophical razor that cuts away the detritus. I admire Howard Roark; I salute John Galt; I respect Prometheus. I find it interesting that authors such as Kurt Vonnegut also found Randian objectivism to be appealing (he expresses his admiration for the concept quite clearly in the short story "Harrison Bergeron"). I find Galt's observation that society has "sacrificed justice to mercy" to be a telling condemnation of the flaws of our modern world, and a political system in which egregious theft is justified because "we're doing it for the kids," or "we're helping the less fortunate," or "everyone, regardless of skill, deserves a 'living wage.'"

If you're not familiar with Rand, or if you'd like to know more about Ditko's career beyond Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, this is a must-read.

Friday, November 23, 2007


I am firmly convinced that the much-touted Black Friday sales are actually bad for the retailers who run them.

Check the various consumer sites and you'll find a litany of horror stories from customers who are angry because stores didn't have the merchandise advertised, or they allowed people to buy the limited quantities hours earlier than they should have. In every case, the result is unhappy customers who are unlikely to ever view that retailer in a positive light.

Sure, there are some who view the idea of getting up early and fighting the rabble for some token discounted item as a worthy game--but for most people, it's a frustrating, undignified, and unpleasant experience.

Today, I went by Target at about noon to check on an item or two that was advertised as part of their 6 a.m. sale. Of course, they didn't have it... but as it turned out, they didn't have the 37" Olevia LCD TV for $549 at 6a.m. either. "We didn't actually get any of those," the clerk said. So that meant that customers who had actually gotten up early to buy this stuff were frustrated and angry because they had wasted their time for absolutely nothing. And since stores are allowed to put all sorts of caveats on the sales terms ("quantities are very limited, absolutely no rainchecks," etc.), there's nothing the consumer can do.

I buy relatively little from Target nowadays because I find them to be one of the most customer-unfriendly stores one might deal with. Experiences like this make me even more determined to spend most of my money somewhere else... not because I expected Target to havfe the TV at noon, but because they didn't bother to have it at all, even though they advertised it.

When I left, I stopped at Office Depot across the street. Not only did they still have their 42" LCD Olevia for $699, they also still had the discounted Micro-SD card and Pro Duo memory card that were advertised. I picked up both, and am more likely to deal with them because they showed respect for their customers by actually bringing in a decent stock of their sales items.

I'd love to see every customer refuse to go to these one-day Black Friday sales. I'd love to see merchants discontinue the entire demeaning experience. So long as there are people willing to be treated like witless cattle, though, the policies will continue... but at the cost of the retailers' reputations.

A Life in Four Colors (Part Eleven)

Comics in bags... what a deal!

In today's condition-conscious storage-oriented comics market, the idea of comics in bags evokes a totally different image than the one that I was introduced to by my friend David Lynch (check out part six of this irregular series for more about David). When David told me that the Han-Dee Market on Shorter Avenue was selling three comics in bags for a quarter, I wasn't sure what he meant... but I knew that I had to buy some of them to see what was in those bags!

The Han-Dee Market wasn't one of my usual comics stops, but it was close enough that I was able to convince Dad to stop by there on the way home from one of those evening trips to the Rome News-Tribune. I loved to accompany him on those trips--in part because I loved going to the old offices on Tribune Street, and in part because he would frequently stop at a store on the way home. Since we drove right past the Han-Dee Market and it was a right-turn-in right-turn-out stop, he didn't mind letting me check it out a couple of days after David first told me about the bagged comics.

The Han-Dee Market was one of those "once a month" stores that could never be counted on to have new releases--but they would sometimes have older books, since it seemed that the rack jobber who stocked their racks filled the slots with leftover returns from other accounts. I'm not sure if he was doing affadavit returns and then selling the books or if he was just trying to give the books a second chance to sell before returning them.

(In these pre-direct-market comic shop days, all comics were racked on a returnable basis; the distributor took back what the store couldn't sell and billed them for what was sold. The distributor, in turn, would either strip the title off the cover of each book and return it to the publisher for credit--or, in some cases, he would submit an affadavit of destruction indicating that he had received and destroyed X number of copies. Unfortunately, it appears that virtually every distributor was deceptive regarding returns--either he resold the stripped books for half-price rather than destroying them as he was legally obligated to do, or he sold the old books at full price whenever he could, after submitting his returns affadavit. I often wonder what real sales figures for comics would look like had the distributors told the truth...)

I scanned the spinner rack and found a few comics I hadn't seen, but no bagged books. I was dismayed; could they have sold out since David told me about them? Then, on my way out of the store, I scanned the toy rack, which was usually occupied by off-brand or out-of-date toys; there, mixed in with rejected plastic playthings, were polybags of three comics with a 25¢ price printed on the bag. I could only see two of the books, so I was not only judging a book by its cover, but I was judging three books by two of their covers.

What was in those bags? IW reprints. Israel Waldman was the IW in the company name; he made money by buying the rights to old comics--including the printing plates or photostats--and then reprinting those books with new covers that seemed more in the style of contemporary comics. The stories might date back to the 1940s or the early 1950s, and they might have very little to do with the book's contents--but they were at least indicative of the types of stories you'd find in those pages. There were some superheroes--a Plastic Man book caught my eye--but there were mostly war comics, Westerns, horror/suspense books, and crime comics.

My purchases were truly "mixed bags." One contained two horror/suspense and one Western; the other, a war comic, a crime comic, and a Plastic Man, who appeared to be the same sort of hero as Mr. Fantastic or Elongated Man. And while I didn't recognize the characters or the publisher, I did recognize the style of the cover art on some of the books.

The art that I recognized, as it turned out, was done by Ross Andru & Mike Esposito, a team whose work I had enjoyed at DC, where they illustrated Wonder Woman as well as some of the War That Time Forgot stories in Star-Spangled War Stories (dinosaurs and tanks... what a combination!). I didn't know their names, but I knew their style; while it wasn't as dynamic as Kirby's work at Marvel or Infantino's art at DC, it was solid, bold, dramatic art, and I found it appealing. If these guys were working for this IW company, it couldn't be all bad, could it?

Well, as it turned out, the only Andru & Esposito art to be found in my two bags was on the cover of three of the six comics that I bought. Israel Waldman realized that these guys had a sellable style, so he got them to do new covers. Their art looked like DC, but the look of the books seemed more influenced by Marvel; the covers had bold, angular logos, the color schemes were more Marvel than DC, and the horror-suspense books looked far closer to Strange Tales than to My Greatest Adventure.

The books were good, but not great; I could tell even then that these books didn't have a modern sensibility to them. They seemed outdated and in some cases sub-par--but they were cheap, and they were entertaining, and they made good trade fodder once I had read them several times.

They were also frustrating to the newly-born collector in me. I had grown accustomed to looking for other issues of books that I liked; IW books seemed to be published in no numberical order whatsoever, and finding runs of the better titles proved almost impossible. Even worse, the bags were packed semi-randomly, which meant that once I had bought several of the bags, I began to get some duplications--I'd buy a three-book bag that had two books I hadn't read and one that I already had. That made the quarter price far less appealing, believe me.

However, IW offered me a bargain-priced glimpse into a comics era I had never experienced before, and I found that somewhat appealing. It also led me to assume that old comics were worth less than new comics--but I'd find out a few years later that was most definitely not the case...

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Kimberly did an incredible job of making this Thanksgiving joyous and positive for everyone, even though we all felt Dad's absence tremendously. For the past few years, Kim has prepared Thanksgiving dinner at her house--an enormous task that has become even more grand in scope in recent years, as the list of those she welcomes into her house has expanded. Today there were more than a dozen people there, including a few I didn't know well--friends of Cole's and Jess's who enjoyed great food and the company of their friends.

Kimberly and her fiance, Phil, have done a wonderful job of improving an already impressive home. Phil has masterminded the remodeling of Kim's primary bathroom--a task that is so far beyond my knowledge and ability that I can only marvel at its completion. Since Phil had a home of his own, he and Kim have deftly incorporated two households into one, blending furniture and decor to create a home that represents the both of them.

Cole and Christy had the second-toughest job of the day (second only to Kim's herculean efforts in preparing a feast for all): they had to drive from their house to Christy's Mom's house in Smyrna, back to Rome to Kim's house, and then to Cole's dad's house... that's three Thanksgiving dinners and about four and a half hours of driving with an eight-month-old Oliver. Ollie's a fine, well-behaved lad, but travelling with an eight-month-old is demanding no matter how well-behaved the child is.

We got to talk to Phil for a while, which was one of the day's highlights; Phil's years living in Australia, plus his job-related forays around the world, make for dozens of interesting stories. I look forward to hearing many more over the years to come...

Kim's efforts to make enough food for everyone led to one minor smoke alert: the sweet potato casserole overflowed in the oven, and the sugary excess burning off created a bit of a smoky haze in the kitchen. This, too, has become a tradition: it appears that Kim's recipe creates exactly as much as the pan will hold plus about three tablespoons more--and those three tablespoons become a libation to the god of fire. It's our annual burnt sacrifice, I guess. I know that Dad would have laughed had he been there.

My biggest regret was that I had less time to talk to Cole and Christy and Jess and Adam than I would have liked; Cole and Christy have made Mom and Dad's house their own, while Jess and Adam have moved into Phil's house, so everyone has played musical houses in the past month, and I'm still curious to hear more about how that experience has gone. I also am curious to know what they've been up to; now that they live on their own as adults, I know less about their day-to-day activities than I did when they were living with Kimberly, and I'm eager to know how they're doing. I miss hearing from them, but they have their own lives to live now.

One of Kim's hallway photos is a snapshot of her and Dad, taken at a time when he was healthier and less burdened by the sorrows and worries that haunted the shadows of his last year or so. It's a happy photo, and I gazed at it several times, just to remind myself of how Dad might have looked had he been with us.

I still miss Dad terribly, but I am so very thankful to Kim for creating an afternoon so pleasant that it could offset my melancholy.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Lonely Days

A few months ago, Tom Kater wrote something that has stayed with me ever since I read it. Before the sorrow of a loss can begin to fade, one must go through a full year of sadness as each season carries a reminder of prior seasons before the loss.

Right now, I'm feeling Dad's loss more strongly than I have since the week he left.

Thanksgiving is four days away, but I can't stir up any festive feelings. Christmas is five weeks away, and I'm almost dreading the season that used to bring me so much joy... Christmas was Dad's season, and he cherished it.

Sometimes I think there must be something wrong with me... I see other people who suffer similar losses, and they seem to get past it. I wish that I could...

A Life in Four Colors (Part Ten)

I was lucky enough to grow up in the 1960s, when teachers were responsible for teaching and students were responsible for learning. There was no talk about malarky like "learning styles" and "attention deficit disorder" and the like; teachers had a lot to teach us, they taught it, and we read and did homework and practice drills and listened and took tests and learned.

One of my fondest memories of elementary school was SRA. I cannot tell you with certainty what it stood for, but we always said that it stood for "Speed Reading Associates." The goal of the SRA program was to encourage students to read quickly and effectively, emphasizing both speed and comprehension. And it worked remarkably well... for me, at least!

The SRA program consisted of color-coded stories and articles. The basic colors were rather simple and straightforward selections with a more restrained vocabulary; they were informative and entertaining, but there was nothing memorable about them. However, before one could advance to the better selections, one had to work through the basic colors, which I did in relatively short time. (I was always a fast reader, even before SRA--but there's no doubt that SRA made me much, much faster.)

The selections got more challenging--and more rewarding--when one moved into the blended colors. Instead of reds and blues and greens and yellows, we got turquoises and caramels and mauves and creams... and these selections actually had interesting storylines, fascinating information, and more advanced vocabulary. These were stories worth reading, and once I got into these colors, I was hooked.

The best selections of all were found in the metallic ink colors: gold, silver, copper, bronze. Once you hit these colors, you couldn't wait to finish up the selection and pass the comprehension quiz so that you could read the next selection. My goal was to read every single SRA selection, and I did just that... more than once, in fact! (Sometimes I would convince my teacher to let me re-read a favorite...)

SRA wasn't something that took up a great deal of class time. While there would occasionally be a half an hour of organized SRA time, it was generally something that we did at our own pace once we finished up with other class activities. Once I finished writing a paper or doing a math worksheet or drawing a map, I could work on SRA while others were finishing up their assignments. The system was entirely self-motivated and self-focused; the rewards were enjoyment, improvement, and pride in accomplishment. And believe it or not, that was plenty; I wasn't the only one who looked forward to moving up the color scale. We even talked about it in recess, believe it or not--it was that addictive!

I actually learned a lot from SRA; not only did it improve my reading and comprehension, but the selections featured a mix of stories and informative articles on all sorts of subjects. Even as early as elementary school, I had a memory like a sponge, soaking up all sorts of facts for potential future use.

I also came to appreciate blended colors, oddly enough. To this day, my favorite early FF covers are those that feature the FF in teal costumes rather than basic blue costumes--and I absolutely love the distinctive caramel backgrounds that appeared on some Marvel titles in the early 1960s. I'm not sure why Marvel had a more sophisticated color palette, but to this day, when I see those unique comic colors, I have SRA flashbacks.

Did SRA help me in school? Of course; by the time I had finished those selections, I was reading much faster and comprehending what I read. I had learned to take in multiple words--even entire lines--at the same time, greatly enhancing the speed with which I could finish a comic book. And of course, that meant I could read even more comic books in the same amount of time. Heck, I could even read a comic or two while standing at the racks in Conn's Grocery, enabling me to buy my normal comics and get a couple of bonus books as lagniappe.

And of course, it strengthened my passion for reading as entertainment... a passion that would stay with me for the rest of my life...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sad Season

Went to Rome today to take care of some legal matters that will, I hope, expedite the transfer of the deed on Mom and Dad's house into Cole and Christy's name. It was a relatively short trip--I don't think I was in Rome more than two hours total--but it was one that had to be made.

As I had prepared for the trip, I realized that this was about the time of year when Dad would put up his Christmas tree (when Mom was with us, they would usually wait until Thanksgiving day... but not always!). While I couldn't put up a tree for them, I could at least replace the flowers at the gravesite with some more holiday-themed colors. I took the new flowers out to the cemetery to replace the fall-themed flowers that were there; seeing the grave, still looking raw and fresh because the drought has slowed the growth of covering grasses, was a solemn and sorrowful experience.

Not a day goes by that I don't miss them... but there is something particularly stark about a gravesite and a marker. I tried to find joy in the fall colors--Lavender Mountain looked particularly striking in its golds and reds and rusts--and in knowing how much Mom and Dad would love a day like today, but there was little solace to be found.

I spent the rest of the day in bleakness. I am glad to have taken the flowers out there, but there was no comfort to be found in doing so... just a reminder of the extent of the solitude that I so often feel nowadays.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cleaning Up

I've been in a cleaning mood recently; for some reason, I'm more bothered than usual by the clutter that is a constant part of my life. I've been getting rid of some acccumulated detritus of life--a large George Foreman grill to Whitney, a stereo system to Jared, some speakers to Buck, a VCR/DVD unit to Charles, some unwanted AV equipment to Goodwill, a lot of clothes to various charities, several loads of miscellany to the trashcan--but I'm impatient to make more of it go away.

I'm resisting the urge to make a lot of clutter disappear quickly, because I know that what we dispose of in haste we may later realize was less disposable than it seemed. But the dichotomy can be confusing: I enjoy having the elements of my life at hand should I want them, but I resent the space that they take up.

As I've noted here previously,I'm more and more attuned to the idea that it's not the things themselves that bring me joy, but the memories that go with them... and I can enjoy those memories even if the things are not there. TAke my comics, for example: I haven't gone into the storage room to pull out any of my accumulated collection a single time since we moved into this house in 1996, but I still have the same fond memories of those books, as my "Life in Four Colors" series indicates. So what is the benefit of having them?

The same for records, and videodiscs, and VHS tapes that I'll never watch again. I keep them because at one point or another I bought them thinking that they were important to me, and I'm reluctant to admit that they're no longer so. Now I realize, though, that what's important is ephemeral; the fact that they were important once isn't negated by the fact that they're no longer important now, and the fact that I spent money on them once doesn't obligate me to keep them forever.

Ebay makes us think that everything should be measured by return on investment; I'm more awere now of return on enjoyment. If I enjoyed something once, don't enjoy it any longer, but know someone who might enjoy it more now, then why not make that joy occur? That doesn't make it a bad investment on my part, or an expenditure to be regretted; each item has an accrued joy that sometimes can only be recognized by others. My joy came in having it at the time I wanted it; that joy will always be there in my memories.

A Life in Four Colors (Part Nine)

It's inevitable that every comic book reader, sooner or later, becomes a comic book collector. The books accumulate quickly; before one realizes it, the stack is tall enough that it demands its own special storage place.

By 1962, I had enough comics that I needed a place to keep them. My first abortive storage system involved a shoe box given to me by Mom, who understood that this was perhaps the only thing I owned that I seemed intent on keeping semi-organized. Unfortunately, none of the shoe boxes that we had were sufficiently wide to store comic books--a 7 1/4" wide comic doesn't fit well in a 6" wide shoebox, it seems. Oh, it would work for a few books, but I had far more than that... and I didn't want them bent! While my comics were far from mint condition, I had already decided that I didn't want them to deteriorate any further.

So, at the age of eight and a half, I got my first comics box. It was actually a fruit box from the grocery store, and it had die-cut handles on either side and a heavyweight lid that fit over the top of the box, and it was large enough that it would hold two stacks of comics and deep enough that I was sure I'd never fill it up.

Today, collectors have a phenomenal selection of storage options--short comics boxes, long comics boxes, drawer boxes, single wall boxes, double wall boxes, acid-free boxes, along with a variety of plastic bags, backing boards, etc. Back then, we had none of those things; a fruit box held two stacks of comics placed flat into the box, which inevitably contributed to some spine roll at the bottom of the stack... but I was eight and had no idea what spine roll was. (Besides, many of my books had more than enough spine roll already, thank you; while I didn't fold my comics backward around themselves as I read them, many of the people with whom I traded did just that, so I had a lot of books that had developed a healthy contour of the spine. I figured they'd do best at the bottom of the stack, where I hoped they'd flatten out.

To make room for the comic book box in my closet, I had to get rid of something... and the something I got rid of was my baseball glove, ball, and bat. I had no idea how symbolic this would be; I had abandoned a path of athletics in favor of a path of four-color comics. For me, the choice was easy; I was bad at baseball, thanks in large part to the bad vision that I mentioned in a previous chapter. I still didn't know that I had poor vision--that's something I wouldn't discover for another year--but I knew that, for some reason, I didn't catch or hit the ball as well as other kids did. I did, however, read very quickly... and I was getting faster all the time. The quicker I read, the more I could read--and there was so much that I wanted to read, that I needed to get as fast as possible!

That's where SRA came in...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

World Full of Tales

"So what makes your life so important?"

That question popped up in an e-mail recently, in response to my ongoing series of autobiographical vignettes.

The answer is simple: absolutely nothing.

I hold no illusions that my life is somehow profound, influential, or significant to the world at large. I write down these memories, filled with inconsequential happenings and trivial asides, because Mom and Dad didn't. Because Grandmother and Granddad didn't. Because my other grandmother didn't, and my other grandfather died too young. Because Karen was taken too soon, too abruptly to even contemplate doing so. Because Carol never found the time.

Family... friends... acquaintances... there are so many people whose lives I would like to have known more fully. Even more, I would love to have preserved their stories of their lives in their own words, so that I would be able to hear those memories in my head, in their own voices, knowing that these were the words they would have used were they talking to me.

Every life is significant to someone, and insignificant to many. I tell these stories so that those who might at some time wonder who I was. My life, my memories... they're no more important than yours or anyone else's--the only difference is in the details. The broad strokes of life are the same for most of us; it's the finishing details that differentiate, that make us who we are... or who we were.

When I read the stories of other lives, I I find the commonality and the distinctions equally fascinating. I want to know how people are like me, as well as how they differ.

And I want to preserve these details now, while I can still see and hear and taste and smell and feel the past. I have two generations of Alzheimer's behind me, and I can't be confident that I'll always remember these details. The act of writing them down--it makes them permanent, it makes them tangible.

This is my life. It may not be much, but it's the only one I've got. I hold no illusions that it's important... except in the sense that every life, every set of accumulated experiences is important to someone.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Life in Four Colors (Part Eight)

Sometimes you get to say "I was there" when lightning strikes.

That's the way I feel about Fantastic Four #1. Thanks to odd timing, a cold, and dumb luck, I was there when one of the most important books in comics history was released. And by happenstance, I bought a copy of it, new, off the magazine rack. And it changed my life.

In the fall of 1961, we still lived in Garden Lakes and I still attended Garden Lakes Elementary School. Like all third graders, I came down with a sore throat and/or a cold every other month or so, it seemed. The colder months of the fall were the worst; as the weather transitioned from summer heat to winter cold, the up-and-down temperature shifts always seemed to trigger the usual cold symptoms. (I now suspect that a lot of my supposed colds were actually childhood sinus conditions and/or sinus infections, since they plagued me through most of my teaching years... but when you're eight years old, you don't think in terms of sinus conditions. The diagnosis of "cold" was adequate to encompass all respiratory problems.)

It was early evening, and Dad and I were on our way back home. I had gone with Dad to the old Rome News-Tribune offices on Tribune Street; I always enjoyed rummaging through the old office, scrutinizing the original comic strip artwork on the office walls, reading through old file copies of papers from the war years, and peering through the windowed door into the press room down below, where enormous machines produced massive quantities of printed newspaper at seemingly impossible speeds.

It also gave me a chance to get away from the newest member of our family, my sister Kimberly. In spite of years of joking about Kim being my older sister, I must confess that I was seven and a half years old when this noisy, demanding, schedule-disrespecting baby entered my life... and my room! My sanctum sanctorum was now shared with a very loud, sometimes cranky, frequently stinky baby. I would spend many evenings reading comic books in my parents' room to get away from the noise and the smells... or I would go with Dad to the Rome News-Tribune offices, where the roar of the machines was more peaceful! (Thankfully, Kimberly grew up, and got out the noisy/stinky phase by the time I graduated high school...)

So it's not surprising that I chose to ride with Dad to the newspaper office rather than staying at home, where (horror of horrors!) I might get stuck babysitting for a few minutes. That meant that Dad had to listen to my coughs and sniffles during the four-mile ride to the office and the four-mile ride back... so it was not surprising that he chose to stop at Enloe's Rexall Drugs in Westdale Shopping Center on Shorter Avenue on the way home. Dad wanted to buy some children's cough syrup and a bag of Brach's chocolate covered peanuts--the former for me and the latter for everyone, because this was before Dad was diagnosed with diabetes.

(I thought that Enloes Rexall was the name of the owner; the sign didn't have an apostrophe on it, so I assumed his first name was Enloes and his last name was Rexall. Years later, I discovered that Rexall was a sort of franchised drugstore operation and that Enloe was the last name of the family that owned the Rome area franchises. For years, though, I thought they were a large family, and the various Rexall brothers and sisters had simply opened stores in different non-competing areas.)

While Dad shopped for that amazing product that soothed --and some cough syrup, too!--I stopped to look at the comic book rack. I had flipped through three or four books when I saw FF #1 on the stands.

I didn't know it was a superhero book at first. The cover looked a lot like all the monster books I had bought from the same company--books with names like Strange Tales, Journey Into Mystery, Tales of Suspense, and Tales to Astonish. I was intrigued because it appeared that some of the freakish monsters were fighting another really big monster on a city street that looked much like Broad Street in Rome. So I picked it up and flipped through it to see what the other stories were, because all comics from this publisher (whose name I didn't know at the time) had multiple stories.

But this one didn't. Instead, it had one story, told in chapters. And it appeared from a quick perusal that the smaller monsters were actually heroes, trying to stop the big monster... and they were also trying to stop some small troll-like fellow who resembled The Mole from Dick Tracy. I knew I wouldn't have time to read this whole comic at the store, since Dad was just picking up over-the-counter cough syrup--so I launched my best "oh please it's only one comic book" plea and Dad gave in quickly.

(Dad gave in quickly a lot when it came to comics. I think he was glad to see me reading so enthusiastically at such a young age, but he and Mom were perhaps the most supportive parents any comic book fan could hope for. Dad would act tough for a few seconds, like he might say no, but I can't think of any time when he'd turn me down without at least one comic, even when I had gone through my entire allowance already. I might have to agree to extra chores or to go to bed on time without being asked repeatedly, but Dad found some reason to let me have that comic. Thanks, Dad!)

I hadn't even noticed when I bought the comic that it had a number one on the cover. In 1961, it seemed that the first issues of comics were relative rarities; usually, I was buying a book with issue numbers in the triple digits! Today, publishers constantly relaunch series with new first issues; back then, though, longevity was the key... even if it was fake longevity. Flash #105 was actually the first issue of the new series, for instance; rather than starting with a new first issue, the book simply picked up with the numbering of the old series that had ended before I was born. This created much confusion for a six-year-old who wanted to read as many old issues as possible!

So here I was, with a first issue of a new series that was unlike any superhero book I had ever read. One of the heroes looked like a hideous, lumpy monster reminiscent of a photo I had recently seen in Famous Monsters of Filmland. One of the heroes was ablaze, which seemed like it would be pretty uncomfortable. None of the heroes wore costumes. And the world didn't seem to look at them with awe or admiration. This was no Justice League... but I really liked the qualities that made it so different!

I read that book several times during the course of that night and the next few evenings. There was something about the Fantastic Four and their misfit villain that left me wanting more. So I began looking for more issues immediately. I didn't realize at the time that FF #1 must have been very new; it would be two long months before I would come across the second issue of this series.

During my search, though, I continued to buy other comics from this same company, and I realized that the same artist who drew FF #1 drew a lot of stories in these books. His name was Kirby, and I knew that I wanted to spend more time in his world...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Feline Groovy

Today, we drove over to the Gwinnett Convention Center for the annual Cat Show. Oodles of kitties to be seen, of course, along with some cat-related products from a variety of vendors. We crossed paths with the woman who owned the only Siberians in the show today; they were stunning, of course. One of them looked just like our little Mischa, but it was the blue-coated Nikita (pictured here just as he began to look for a way to break free) who was the real attention-hog of the bunch.

This year's show was dominated by Maine Coon cats (so many cats of such diversity that I begin to wonder if this is a true breed after all), but there were a fair number of Havana Browns (including some striking mahogany-colored cats), a lot of Devon Rex, a variety of Scottish Folds, a lot of Persians, and a few Sphynx (sorry, but I'm not much of a fan of hairless cats). We were disappointed that there were no Bengals there at all; maybe next year (hey, Bobby and Trish--here's your chance to show off your kitties!).

The most amusing display was the "cat agility run," which was as funny as it sounds. The only real agility was demonstrated by the person who was trying in vain to convince these cats to run an obstacle course; the cats were not interested or amused.

We did see one lovely blue-cream Persian who looked so much like our dear, departed Tisha that I felt misty-eyed just looking at her. (I still expect to see Tish lying in the corner whenever I go down into the basement, and I look for her every morning when I let Anna and Mischa come upstairs from the basement; there's still an empty place in my heart because of her passing.)

Friday, November 02, 2007

A Heinleinian Hero... for Real!

When I read this story of a man who managed to cure his own cancer using only his knowledge of radio waves, I was amazed. Then I realizedt hat this is the sort of hero I grew up reading about in the pages of Robert A. Heinlein's fiction... an indefatigable man who finds a way to change the world with his own focused knowledge and acumen. It's not only an inspirational tale, it could very well be a world-changing tale in two different ways. Read it and see what I mean...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A Life in Four Colors (Part Seven)

Comics have an addictive quality. After a couple of years of reading comics, I had fallen in love with the art form--and that meant that not only did I search out fellow comics readers for my friends, but I also found ways to work the quest for comic books into almost every aspect of my life.

Mom and Dad were both born in Cedartown, which is about eighteen miles south-by-southwest of Rome. While my parents moved to Rome in the late 1950s, there was still a lot of family in Cedartown--and that meant frequent Sunday trips to visit relatives, as well as occasional weeks spent with my grandmother or with Aunt 'Dessa and Uncle Edward (they lived in Cedartown--my grandmother in the more developed part of Cedartown and my aunt and uncle in the rural parts of Cedartown, off East Avenue).

Part of the fun of visiting a town where your parents grew up is hearing the stories about your parents' childhood. Once they were around family, Mom and Dad were pretty loquacious about their childhoods--and the relatives always loved to reminisce.

The other part of the fun of an out-of-town visit, of course, was finding places where comic books could be had. Cedartown was a small town, and there weren't too many places that carried comic books. There was a drug store or two, a grocery story... and there was Croker's.

Located on East Avenue, Croker's was an old country store in every sense of the word. It had sawdust floors. The merchandise mix was unique--everything from groceries to fishing supplies to toys to handmade wooden decorative items to knives to guns to horse tack to... oh, you know what comes next, don't you?

Croker's was a comic book mecca in the country, replete with hundreds... maybe even thousands... of used comic books. Not new comic books... used comic books. Comic books from recent months and from the past, all tossed randomly in boxes and priced at a nickel each, or you could trade two for one.

Since Croker's was the nearest store to Aunt 'Dessa's house, we stopped there to pick up something on the way to see her and Uncle Edward. I went in with my parents, figuring I'd look around to pass the time. Within minutes of walking into the store, though, I glimpsed those comic books in the back corner of the store, and I didn't want to leave. I wanted to burrow thorugh those boxes of comics and take in all the books that I had never seen before.

"You only have fifty cents," Dad told me. He was right... I had spent the rest of my money on comics earlier in the week, and had accumulated only four bits since then.

"Can I have two more cents?" I asked. That would give me enough to buy ten comic books, since Georgia was a 3% tax state back then, so there were only two cents tax on fifty cents. Dad agreed, and I went to work winnowing an enormous stack of books to ten comics.

And that's when I saw it... a Flash comic I'd never seen before, featuring one of the most outrageously-clad villains I'd ever encountered. And I knew that, whatever else I bought, that Flash had to go home with me.

I'd always liked the Flash because he was just a guy who could run fast. Okay, he could run impossibly fast... but when you're seven years old, you presume that if you practice long enough, you might be able to run pretty fast, too! And I could run pretty fast, so I had something in common with Barry Allen's costumed alter-ego.

The Trickster? never heard of him... but I knew I wanted that book! I picked out nine other comics that are long since forgotten... but I'll always remember the excitement of that cover, featuring a garishly costumed villain running through the air. Who was he? What was his power? How could he hope to get away from the Flash? I could hardly wait to pay for the books and get into the car to find out!

Of course, my parents told me that I needed to be polite and visit with my relatives first, so I didn't get to finish that comic until later that afternoon, when we began the forty minute drive back home (two-lane highways aren't known for speed, unfortunately).

That was the longest afternoon of my life... but as far as I was concerned, the drive back could last forever! I had turned two quarters into ten comic books... and suddenly the prospect of weekend visits to Cedartown seemed incredibly appealing!