Wednesday, December 31, 2008

5 Things That Have Changed....

...since the last time I wrote this.

(1) Christmas has passed--it was a good one, and I was lucky enough to find several gifts that seemed to really please the recipients, which is always a good thing. We also managed to donate more than 500 toys, books, etc., to Toys for Tots, which is also a good thing.

(2) I now have a Blu-Ray player. Didn't get it as a Christmas gift; I bought it myself when Amazon sent me a $100 off certificate, getting the price for this BD-Live capable unit to about $150.

(3) I almost bought an American car. Test drove a 2009 Enclave, which looked quite nice and seemed like it might be a replacement for the Sienna--but Capital Buick wanted to ultra-lowball the offer on the trade-in (75% the KBB/ estimated trade-in value), so I walked. The situation wasn't helped by the fact that the test car they gave me to drive had a malfunction in the passenger seat belt module (yes, a new car with 7 miles on it already needed repairs). I started off talking to the folks at Carl Black Buick, but their way of doing business seems odd to me... the first visit, I couldn't even get the salesperson to give me a test drive; the second visit, he never could find the keys to the car I wanted and he was absolutely clueless about several features that interested me--and he wanted me to come back for at least one more visit before he'd look at the Sienna for trade-in, in spite of my asking twice that he do it now. Is this all SOP for American car dealers?

(4) I have now seen both Iron Man and The Dark Knight. Thought the former was the better superhero movie, although I enjoyed both. As for The Dark Knight--well, there wasn't enough Batman (too many gadgets, too little hero), and Heath Ledger's vaunted performance seemed pretty much like an actor just performing the part as written. And the film could have benefited from about 30 minutes of careful editing.

(5) I have once again experienced perfect peanut butter fudge. Susan made some for me as a Christmas gift, and it was just like the fudge Mom used to make. I'm rationing it out to make it last as long as possible.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The $5 Slice o' Cake

Today we made our annual trek to Whole Foods to purchase a few hunks of their dark, rich gingerbread, which they sell in cornbread-like squares. It's a much more flavorful gingerbread than we've found anywhere else, and we've made it a sort of Christmas tradition.

Usually, it's the only thing we buy at Whole Foods. I'm not a big fan of the store; even though it's owned by the same people who own Harry's, Whole Foods is a pale shadow of Harry's in its selection and its pricing. The same items are always more expensive at Whole Foods--but it's the items that aren't at Whole Foods that make me prefer Harry's. Unfortunately, the Harry's in Marietta doesn't offer gingerbread by the chunk, so we have to drive to Roswell.

While I was there, I noticed that their hot food bar includes a dessert bar, where you can buy whatever you want for $7.99 a pound. I started to ask why it's in the hot food bar area, since none of the desserts are hot, but my smark-aleckiness was sidetracked by the vision of an almost-virgin coconut cake that was included on the dessert bar. I say "almost virgin" because someone had claimed one corner of the square cake in order to get a heaping helping of the thick, rich, creamy coconut-laden icing. However, that meant that there were three corners left...

That left me with a dilemma, of course. I generally don't pay $8 a pound for cake. In fact, the very concept is anathema to me... but this wasn't just cake, it was coconut cake, the cakiest, desssertiest, bestest of cakes. My coconut craving overcame my frugality, and within a matter of moments, a $5.08 hunk of coconut heaven was all mine.

Yes, if you do the math, that's more than a half-pound of coconut cake, so it was actually two servings, not one... but even so, I felt foolish for wasting the money.

Then I had half of the cake for dessert this evening. All doubts went away. This was the best coconut cake I've had since Mom died; it wasn't the same as hers—in fact, it was more reminiscent of grandmother's coconut cake, which was always heavier than Mom's—but it was the best I'm likely to find, I suspect.

So yes, I bought a $5 piece of cake (that turned into two $2.50 pieces of cake)--and now that I've tried it, I'll do it again next year, if the opportunity arises.

Putting the Screw in Screwdriver

Okay, Amazon's price policies are sometimes puzzling, but this may be the first time I've seem them charge a couple of bucks less than four grand for a $40 screwdriver. This picture is not photoshopped or adjusted in any way, and Amazon insists (both to me and to others who have posted in the comments) that this is indeed the price you'll be charged if you order this item. Apparently the government is their intended customer...

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Buck Stops Here

One of those things that has mystified me: how can executives of major corporations agree to work for $1 a year? If I try to pay an employee less than minimum wage, I'm in violation of all sorts of labor laws, regardless of the employee's willingness to work for the negotiated wage. But apparently if the employee agreed to work for me for $1 a year, there'd be no problem at all, right?

Seriously, I'm not sure how this works... why is it okay for some people to work for far less than minimum wage when it's illegal for most everyone else to do the very same thing if they so desired?


There Are 0 Gaps in Your Knowledge

Where you have gaps in your knowledge:

No Gaps!

Where you don't have gaps in your knowledge:








Counting the Days

My friend Trish is being deployed to Iraq tomorrow, and that makes me sad. I got to know Trish because she worked with Charles; she became a Wednesday night dinner regular, and I've become increasingly fond of her and appreciative of her company and her commentary. Trish is in the reserves, and is being deployed for an engineering job, so she won't be on the front lines and should be as safe as anyone is in Iraq--but I have selfish reasons for not wanting her to go. You hate to lose the company of friends for even a few weeks, so a six-month tour of duty is going to seem interminable.

I know that Trish will come back to us with hundreds of stories, and I look forward to hearing all of them. And I hope she's going to share some of those stories on her blog, so that we don't have to go Trish-less for six long months!

Until then, I'm counting the days, waiting for her return...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Why Is It?...

...that scented candles always smell great in the store but never smell like anything when you put 'em out at home?

...that just when you think you've found the perfect pizza place, someone decides it's time to change the house recipe?

...that editors think it's a great idea to have the main character absent from his/her book for prolonged periods of time?

...that hardcover publishers like oddball prices such as $27 or $28? Just go to $29.99 and be done with it!

...that no matter what time you get to the post office during the day, the postal worker has just emptied the drop box and is walking back in as you pull up?

...that no matter how many times we leave the house and return during the day, Anna and Mischa think they're supposed to get a new can of food each time?

...that the best sleeping of all is that half-hour or so that you get when you tell yourself "I'm just going to lay here for five minutes after the alarm, and then I'm getting up"?

...that Starbucks only orders four pumpkin scones every day, even though they continually sell out of them by about 10 am?

...that 99% of the people who give you specific times and/or dates that they'll be coming by don't actually make it on those times/dates?

...that no matter how much we hear about the dire situations facing the auto industry, whenever I inquire about the vehicle, it's supposedly the one model that's doing so great that they're not discounting it?

...that, conversely, the vehicle I have to trade in is always the model for which there isn't much demand, so they can't offer me as much as they normally would?

...that, even though there's only one crooked fork in a silverware drawer that has 24 forks, I will inevitably pick it up every time I reach for a fork.

....that the fork is crooked, anyway? Uri Geller has never visited me...

...that most people will treat you with much more respect if you're wearing a blazer or a sport coat?

... that Target seems to routinely store their chocolate candy in a warehouse with an ambient temperature of about 93°, so that whenever I buy it it's always melted and resolidified into an amorphous mass?

...that ziploc backs turn out to have routinely failed to either zip or lock?

...that smokers assume that none of their smoke will stink up a building if they merely stand 18" away from the door as they indulge their addiction?

...that no matter how much time you put into making a list, you think of the perfect entry the minute you've shut the computer down?

Friday, December 05, 2008

Closing the Books

I know I'm a jaded guy at times, but I'm beginning to wonder just how many more books can carry the name Marvel Masterworks without the editor being required to cross his fingers when he refers to them as such. When Marvel is reprinting random non-X-Men books featuring the mutants to fill in the gap between X-Men #65 and Giant-Size X-Men #1, you have to wonder--and the appearance of any Defenders volumes in a book called a Masterwork seems contradictory.

So what is there to reprint at this point?

Well, there are still some missing gems.

Of course, the pre-hero Marvel run should continue under the name, particularly those issues that feature the core Silver Age Marvel bullpen (Lee, Kirby, Ditko, Heck, Ayers, and Sinnott). And we're still missing the greatest part of the SHIELD run from Strange Tales--those Jim Steranko issues. There are some great Lee-Kirby issues of Two-Gun Kid (who was, for all intents and purposes, a costumed hero in the West) that deserve reprinting. And I think they should go much further with Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos than they've gone so far--at least through the end of the Severin era.

While I enjoy seeing the Golden Age material, the truth is that most of it is really sub-par once you get past the prime Simon & Kirby-Everett period. Take a look at the most recent All Winners volume and you'll see what I mean--it's fun, but it's amazingly crude and hardly Masterworks-ish.

I think it may be time to retire the Masterworks line in the near future. I'd like to see Marvel instead go for a chronological series of books that lets us experience the Marvel titles as they originally appeared. Let us see all the 1961 books, then the 1962 books, etc.; add historical commentary, text pieces, letters columns, overviews, etc., and re-present the Marvel Universe as those of us who were there originally experienced it. It would be great fun to see what was happening in Spider-Man at the same time that FF #25 & 26 appeared, or what Thor was doing in his own book at the same time he appeared in issues of The Avengers.

I pitched this idea to David Gabriel at Marvel, but he didn't think it would sell. I'm not giving up yet, though; I think there's life in this idea, if I can just sell the right person on it. It was that sense of interconnectedness that made the Marvel Universe so distinctive at the time, and this would be a great way to re-experience that.

Surprise from the Past

Recently did an interview with Andrew Cosby, creator/producer/writer of Eureka, a Sci-Fi Channel series that I follow regularly. Andy is also the publisher of Boom! Studios, a comic book company that's doing a lot of licensed books... including a comic based on (how'd you guess?) Eureka.

I knew that Andy had shopped at Dr. No's many years ago, when he lived here (before he moved West to find fame and fortune), but in the course of the interview, another connection with Andy was revealed. I'll let Mr. Cosby fill in the rest:

“Cliff's comic book shop was the shop I grew up with. When I was a kid, it was really the only bonafide ‘comic book store’ around. Not to date myself, but this was during a time when comics were mostly purchased off the spinner racks at your local grocery store or convenient mart. You might also be interested in knowing that eight tracks were still around and The Six Million Dollar Man was ‘that hot new show,’ but I digress...
“I eventually moved away from Atlanta, but then moved back during my junior year of high school—North Cobb, to be precise. Happy times, me being the only punk rock kid in school that even the rednecks considered to be too redneck. I still remember my first day, in which I found myself sitting in the middle of Mr. Biggers' English class. He started the year off with one of those classic essay assignments -- ‘What I Did Over the Summer,’ or something like that. At the end of the hour, Cliff called me up to discuss my essay. I thought I was in some kind of trouble -- I was used to that at this point in my school experience. But it turned out they'd put me in the wrong class. This was a remedial English course, and Cliff was quick to ship me off to the advanced placement classes. Now I'm a writer being interviewed by one of the first teachers to recognize it. Funny how life works!
“Thanks again, Cliff, not just for taking the time to do this interview, but for taking the time more than two decades ago to recognize that the weird kid in the back of the class might have some potential. I'll keep on trying to prove you right!”

What a pleasant blast from the past! Thanks, Andy!

Back at the Keyboard

I've been gone for a while. I'm back now.