Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Searching Through the Darkness

I really want to find a copy of Karl Edward Wagner's Gods in Darkness.

Just not enough that I'm willing to pay the going price, apparently.

There are some things that I want badly enough that the cost becomes almost secondary to my obsession to find them; when I got my Marvel Masterworks collection complete sans three volumes, I paid a premium price for them because... well, to put it plainly, I wanted them more than I wanted the amount of money that I had to give for them. (Ultimately, isn't that the basis for any purchase?)

Well, I want this collection of Wagner Kane novels from Night Shade Press, but the going price on this one appears to be $125-$150, and I just don't want to spend that much. This one falls into a different category: items I'm willing to hunt down at a bargain price.

I once had a complete collection of Fantastic Four #s 1-100. I sold that collection for $500 in the early 1970's... a fortune for the time, and money that Susan and I really needed while I was in college. A little over four years later, I wanted those issues of FF, plus the fifty or so that had come out subsequently. I ended up re-acquiring those books for a total investment of $300; I bought a Daredevil collection plus some Amazing Spider-Man issues, which I in turn traded for some early issues of Flash and Green Lantern, which I traded (along with some cash) for the FF run I wanted. Net cash outlay on my part: $300, along with some searching and footwork.

And two years after that, I sold the FF run for $1000. That should be the end of the story, right?


In 1983, I wanted those issues of FF again, along with the issues that had been published between then. I don't even remember how I put the deal together, but at a single convention I managed to leverage eight different purchase/trades into a complete-to-date set of Fantastic Four. I spent two full days working the dealers' room, finding out who had what and who wanted what; then, on the final day of the show (the best deals always occur on the final day), I invested a little cash, started the comics-trading dominos, and within two hours I had the collection... and I had spent about$3 shy of $200 to do it. Yep, each time I sold the collection, I managed to replace it even cheaper than the time before. More time, mind you, but less money. It had become a game to me, and I saw myself as the champ.

Problem is, I didn't see any way I'd ever get a complete Fantastic Four collection for less than $197. So I never sold that last set; still have 'em, in fact, although I haven't actually read 'em in years.

And that's where I stand with Wagner's Gods in Darkness. I'm in the bargain mode right now; I'd like to have the book, but I'm looking to get it for far less than market value. Will it happen? Who knows? But if it doesn't... well, I've read the books, and I think I still have the original novels in paperback, so I won't be too bothered by the failure.

When it comes to bargain shopping, though, I rarely fail...

Maybe Arthur Had the Right Idea...

We seem to have a table problem with our Wednesday night dinner trips.

You remember those Wednesday night dinners... I've mentioned 'em before in these pages. Regular trips to El Rodeo. Been doing it for almost 19 years now. Hardly ever missed a week. The attendance has fluctuated, but our group has included (at one time or another) me, Charles, Brett, Chris, Ralph, Allyson, Trish, Ed Thomas, Lanny Lathem, Buck, Chrissy, Taura (Lanny's wife), Markay (Chris's wife), Susan (although it's been many years since she's made the trip... she hates to eat that late), Patrick Key, Whitney, Jared, Bobby Politte, Amy, and a few other occasional attendees such as Randy Satterfield, Ward Batty, and Nick Pastis.

The group began with Charles, Chris, Brett, me, Lanny, and Ralph. Six people who've known each other for a long time. Over the years, other people have joined us while others have left, creating a slightly dynamic membership built on a relatively stable core.

For a long time, seating was stable as well: the core would sit together, since the meals were built around our friendship and our interest in catching up with one another. But as attendance has grown, the size has made it difficult for one end of the table to hear the other. It might not sound like much of a problem, but it's sometimes frustrating because the seating arrangement now frequently spreads the core group out along the table, where we can't really talk to each other.

Don't really know what to do. We don't have "assigned seats" as such, but I think it's been a couple of months since Brett's even been able to hear anything that Chris or Charles had to say. A round table might not be a bad idea... except that it might be of sufficiently large diameter that those on one side would have trouble hearing those on the other side anyway!

We'll see what happens over the next few weeks; I'm sure that a solution will be make itself known...

Saturday, February 17, 2007


I have very little patience for people who will not end a phone conversation in order to transact business at a store, a bank, or a restaurant. I have been known, on occasion, to crank the store's music up to an irritating volume just because I know it will hinder their ability to carry on a phone conversation that has become aggravatingly loud. I have also been known to stand near a "constant phoner" and yell out inventory numbers to the person at the register; hey, I can't help it if our need to do business interferes with their important phone call!

Apparently, I'm not the only one aggravated by this as is evidenced by the 2/16/07 installment of Stephen Pastis's Pearls Before Swine.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Why Little Work Gets Done

Here's the real problem with those faster processors and the heat that they create...
(photo from Cute Overload)

A First Line in Progress

I liked the sound of this opening line that drifted into my head while I was walking at sunrise this morning:

Every sunrise marks the beginning of the best day in someone's life... and the worst day in someone else's. People spend a lot of time dreaming of the former; they should really spend more time hoping to avoid the latter.

I'm still playing with it, but it intrigues me enough that I want to see what comes next...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Recognizing a Non-Accomplishment

Tonight, at the neighborhood board of directors meeting (in case you missed it, I'm the president of our neighborhood's board of directors-- figure if someone's gonna spend my money, I should involve myself to ensure that they spend it as frugally and wisely as possible), some of the residents brought up the subject of erecting a banner at each entrance to the subdivision in May congratulating high school graduates by name. This seems to be a big deal to parents, although I'm not sure why.

Graduating is about as much of an accomplishment as eating breakfast. Let's face it, in today's society, a student has to make a pretty concerted effort not to graduate; the system is constructed so that the most mediocre, ill-prepared student can still proudly display a diploma indicating that he or she is suitably prepared to be ejected from high school after twelve (or more) years.

I find our society's exaggerated emphasis on the supposed significance of high school graduation to be quizzical at best. Everyone seems to be aware that the actual process of graduation is in itself insignificant--otherwise, why would they push students to go to college or tech school to get further education? To be sure, some students excel in high school and actually prepare themselves for post-secondary life... but that's a different accomplishment, and it's not the one that the residents want to commemorate with this banner. All they wish to do is list the names of those who have acquired a diploma, as if that actually takes any significant output of energy or display of intellect.

The board voted to approve the expenditure; I think it's a waste of money in recognition of a non-accomplishment, but my opinion did not prevail.

Meanwhile, I am considering asking that we erect a banner congratulating by name all those who managed to eat breakfast...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

So Long, Apa... Hello, Aba!

Back in 1968, I launched a fifteen-year involvement with amateur press alliances, or apas. For those who were never a part of print fandom, here are the basics: apas were fanzine amalgams, sort of. Each contributor would prepare and print a set number of copies of his apazine (usually, members were expected to do at least four pages every two issues, although most did far more). These copies were mailed to the Central Mailer or Official Editor (different titles, same duties), who prepared a contents and membership listing in a small magazine that served as a home for all the apa's business (dues, page requirements, etc.) and then mailed one copy of each apazine to each contributor. Basically, you prepared, say, thirty copies of your zine, and got one copy each of thirty people's zines.

It was a lot of fun in its time, but it was also incredibly expensive: not only did you have to cover the cost of your own zine (and that usually meant having a mimeo or ditto machine of your own, since photocopying was too expensive for most back then), but you also had to cover the cost of postage to the Official Editor and you had to pay dues to cover the cost of mailing each set of apazines to you.

At one time, I was involved in CAPA-Alpha (the first comics apa), Myriad, SFPA, Galaxy,Apa-5, REHUPA (the Robert E. Howard Apa), The Esoteric Order of Dagon (the H.P. Lovecraft apa), DNQ (an apa for folks in the comics biz)... and I'm sure there are others that I'm forgetting. I probably prepared a couple of thousand pages for various apas over the years. I enjoyed it, and it was great practice for the weekly deadlines of Comic Shop News, but the energies I once put into that were diverted into Dr. No's and CSN, so I finally gave up apas in the late 80s (although I did briefly dabble with them again for a year or so in the mid-90's before I accepted the fact that I simply didn't have enough time to do this on a weekly schedule).

Apas had their own social hierarchy, their own jargon, and a uniquely apa-esque form of interaction known as mailing comments: you'd read each mailing and respond to various members' zines with individualized comments that were sort of a cross between a conversation and a letter of comment. These were sometimes clever, sometimes caustic, sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical, sometimes confrontational, but they were the lifeblood of the apa; without them, what you had was just a compendium of unrelated fanzines.

At one point, I had toyed with the idea of trying to revive the apa concept with a PDF-format apa: members would send PDFs of their zines to one person, who would then compile the PDFs and send one copy to everyone. It sounded great, and it circumvented the "let's make the Post Office rich" structure that was inherent in the print apa modus operandi. It never coalesced, though, and I gave it up.

Then came the advent of blogs, and I'm convinced that even the PDF apa is too structured, too rigid for the 21st Century. If you look at my sidebar links, you'll notice that many of my friends have blogs of their own. Even people who'd never do a fanzine, like my sister Kim, have dabbled in blogging. It's the universal fanzine. Oh, it may lack mailing comments, but there are comments; if you take a look, you'll see that many of us have posted comments on one another's blogs, continuing the mailing comment tradition into the blogosphere.

We even inspire one another to comment on the same topics; you'll find crossover commentary in my blog and Charles's blog, for instance, in which one person's postings leads the other to comment on the same (or a related) topic. So we don't exist in a vacuum: it's a sort of Schroedinger's Keyboard, in which the existence of one person's blog in some way shapes the topics towards which another's blog gravitates and vice versa.

Now I'm eager to see if some of my old apa friends like Sven Ahlstrom, Wade Gilbreath, and Janice Gelb, among others, will begin blogging more frequently. I'd love to see this sort of informal blog-chain replace the old apa; it'll be interesting to see if our group of friends will expand to include others known by one but not the other.

In the meantime--well, it's a lot of fun, and somehow the deadline pressure seems far less intrusive when you know you don't have to write if you don't want to... or, if you want, you can post three or four things on the same day!

Found Wisdom

Every now and then, you run across a string of words that strike you as either surprisingly profound or amazingly stupid.

My favorite slogan (found on a sign at Dr. No's after we bought the store from the prior owner):
"No Purchase, No Refund"

My favorite bit of observational philosophy (seen in the opening frames of the first episode of Rules of Engagement, a surprisingly entertaining television series on CBS):
"When you're single, you're exactly as happy as you are.
"When you're married, you can only be as happy as the least happy person in the relationship."

My favorite cry for help (seen in a promo sign at the Dollar General in our shopping center):
"Donate your chainge to help promote literasy"

My favorite motivational caption from a greeting card (obviously prepared by a cynic):
"So you're having another birthday. That makes it a better day for you than for the 155,000 people around the world who died yesterday."

My favorite literary summation from a student paper (written in a book report on the novel Shane):
"And with that, Shane got on his whores and rode away."

My favorite line from a Beatles song:
"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

Time Keeps on Slipping...

A friend of mine who moved here from Knoxville about ten years ago has been talking about moving back home. I can understand the feeling; there are times when I feel the gravitational pull of Rome, GA, urging me to return to the place that I will always consider home (although I actually lived in Rome only 12 years of my life, from 1959 until 1971, after which I had a second home there from 1992 until 1999).

I suspect, though, that if he does so, he's going to find that "home" exists only in his mind. It's not Knoxville the place that he yearns to return to, I'll bet; it's Knoxville in 1997 that he wants to experience again, and even if he does relocate there, it won't be the Knoxville he remembers.

I discovered that back in 1992 when Susan and I bought our farmhome in Rome. I was excited about the idea of making a home in Rome once again; I have always had wonderful memories of those formative years in Rome, when it seemed like this town-on-the-edge-of-citihood had everything that one could possibly want from life. The economy was on its way up; the shopping choices grew with every passing year; educational opportunities abounded; the SF and comics fan community seemed to be thriving; neighbors befriended one another in an almost Thornton-Wilderesque manner.

I discovered that the Rome I remembered no longer existed. Don't get me wrong--I loved the seven years that Susan and I spent in Rome in the 1990s, even though we were there only on weekends. But it wasn't the Rome I knew as a child; it was a different place overlaid on some familiar backdrops. I enjoyed what Rome offered, but I missed the things that had made Rome what I had loved. I often measured locations by what used to be there, not by what was there currently.

When our time in Rome came to an end in 1999, I was able to accept that change with no regrets because I knew that the Rome I had loved as a teenager existed just as strongly in my mind as it had before we had bought our second home in 1992--but that's the only place where it existed. I had tried to recapture a bit of my childhood, only to discover that being in the same place had little to do with it... and try as I might, I haven't figured out how to be in the same time as well...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Villains Take Note...

...Superheroes have started to figure out what makes you tick...

Monday, February 05, 2007

It's Getting Better

Went to see Dad last Friday, and I was glad that I did; I was able to get a lot of things straightened out in a matter of hours, and now Dad is much less anxious because I've been able to sort out his financial affairs, get his records organized and summarized in a way that he can understand, and get his taxes prepared and filed. Dad had become incredibly anxious about his financial state, and he really didn't need to worry--but telling someone they don't need to worry doesn't do much to stop them from doing so.

Dad seemed significantly happier after we got this done. To ensure that he doesn't get himself worked up over this again, I've assured him that I'll come up there every two weeks to go through his bills, sort out his records, and help him with anything that he needs.

Dad has always been a man in control of things, a man used to making decisions; I think he is most bothered by his inability to totally understand what's going on in his own life. I'm going to do what I can to stop that from becoming a problem for him; I hope I can help him break his life down into more manageable pieces so that he can deal with it better. This may not be a permanent solution, but it continues to afford Dad a great measure of independence, which is what I think he wants.

I can't say that I'm doing all the right things, but the look of relief and happiness on his face when I left tells me that I had to be going in the right direction, at least.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

...in the Autumn of the Year...

My dad has had some difficult times as his 75th birthday approaches. He is more forgetful than he used to be; he seems to get aggravated more easily; at times he seems to be confused by things that he used to understand; he doesn't always make decisions as prudently as he once did. I love him very much, and I'm having to face the possibility that he may be showing some early-stage signs of Alzheimer's. His mother died of Alzheimer's, so I don't use the term lightly; I have seen what it can do to both the victim and the family.

I love Dad, and I worry about him constantly. Worst of all, though, is that I am not really sure where to go next. Dad has been a dignified, independent, self-sufficient man for all his life, never needing help from others. I think he may need more and more help in months to come.

And just in case Alzheimer's should ever pay me an unwanted visit, or should I suffer massive trauma leaving me incapable of returning to conscious life, I have already told Susan:

Don't let me pull you down, too. Find a place where someone can watch after my physical needs and know that the part of me capable of understanding wants you to enjoy life as best you can for both of us.

And should I ever reach the point that I my mind is gone but my body can be sustained, don't do it. I will have moved on. I'm not convinced that my existence ends at the time the last gasp of life leaves this body; I think that there is something that will continue long afterwards... and I think it will have already begun its journey. So let me go, and never regret that it was the right thing to do.

And when that's done, scatter a small dusting of ashes at 3 Marchmont Drive, where I found happiness as a child; at 621 Olive Street, where we found happiness as a married couple; at 3428 Canton Road, where I was lucky enough to begin a long-lived career in comics retailing; at North Cobb High School, where I discovered my true passion; at Mom and Dad's gravesite, so that our family is always together; and here at 2770 Carillon Crossing, where I have truly felt at home.

When the time comes—and I hope it's far, far away—remind Susan of what I've said here. We don't always remember when we need to, even when our minds are working well...