Friday, March 13, 2009

Forgotten Fragment of a Future Foretold

Cole called me this evening; he has been working to prepare my old bedroom at Marchmont so that he and Christy can use it as Dexter's room. Mom and Dad had converted the room to a sort of office after I got married; in the mid-1970s, they had put up the then-ubiquitous dark panelling on the walls, covering the pale blue painted drywall. One of the things that Cole and Christy wanted to do was take down the panelling and brighten up that room; I liked the idea, of course, since I still envision the room with the bright walls of my childhood.

What led to the call, though, was what Cole found when he removed the panelling. On one small area of the wall, he discovered a little bit of graffiti from my past, and he was kind enough to send me a photo of it. The handwriting, crude as it is, is mine; I don't recall putting it there, but I recognize it. And of course, I'm CB; SH is Susan Hendrix (in case you didn't know, Hendrix is Susan's maiden name). I believe that the wall jotting dates back to late 1969, when Susan and I first began dating.

Thanks for the photo, Cole--it was a delightful bit of the past that had been totally lost in the corners of my mind...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Life in Four Colors (Part Twenty-Three)

Not all of my fifth grade year was so great, however...

As I've mentioned previously, Dad was the sports editor at the Rome News-Tribune, my hometown's local paper. As part of his role in covering the local sports scene--a demanding job indeed, considering how many high schools are in the area served by the RNT--Dad frequently offered Friday-afternoon prognostications on the weekend's football games or on the outcome of various basketball games. In particular, he would focus on the local scene, predicting the wins in various local high-school rivalries.

And of course, West Rome High School was one of those schools. West Rome was one of Rome's two then-relatively-new high schools, and it was the school that served the rapidly-growing newer area of Rome. It was also the high school that served as a home to my fifth-grade class while work was done on West End Elementary across the street.

I was always proud of Dad's work--the idea of a man earning his living by putting words on paper seemed incredibly skilled, and in my mind that put Dad in an unique position. None of the other kids I knew had a father who wrote for a living; their dads worked in stores or in factories or did deliveries. I didn't brag about it--Dad would have been upset with me if I did--but I was so very proud of what he did, and I just naturally assumed that everyone else had the same respect for Dad and his work.

I soon learned that people whose teams were picked to win were far more appreciative of Dad's work than were those whose teams were picked to lose. I soon learned that there should be an analog to the "don't shoot the messenger" cliché: "don't shoot the messenger's son, either."

Since there weren't many Biggers in Rome at the time (the city's other well-known Biggers had not moved to Rome at that time), some people figured out that I was the son of the sports editor. And because he hadn't chosen West Rome to win every game--and the team had indeed lost some of the games that he had said they would lose--somehow they blamed Dad for that. And while there wasn't much they could do to express their displeasure to Dad, they could make sure that I was acutely aware of it.

I was a relatively introverted ten-year old in the fall of 1964, adjusting to my third new school in five years (three years at Garden Lakes, one at Elm Street, and now one at the south end of West Rome High, where empty classrooms were the home to elementary school overflow). This meant that, in spite of the best efforts of the school administration to treat us as a school within a school, isolated on common ground, we fifth graders would still cross paths with high schoolers.

A couple of those high schoolers who had taken umbrage at Dad's predictions would occasionally pick on me. These guys were football players; I suspect they were part of the same group of football players who, in the fall of 1962, had paid a vandalizing visit to our house after an East Rome-West Rome football game and had torn up most of Dad's sod-sprigged front lawn and had pulled up many of his young shrubs. That was a lawn that Dad had personally planted; we had no money to hire someone for lawn care, nor did we have enough money to pay to fully sod the front lawn. Instead, Dad would carefully cut sod squares into sprigs and spread them out in a checkerboard pattern of small pieces so that the runners in the centipede grass would spread out and fill in the holes. Dad had put in countless hours in preparing the ground, planting those sprigs, and caring for that lawn. I had helped him from time to time, but I lacked Dad's patience and vision; I saw only little squares of grass, not the lawn that they would be, and I couldn't see why we had to work so hard to place and press those little squares.

I remember that night in the fall of 1962, because it was the first time that lights woke me up. The lights came from police cars; I wasn't sure if a neighbor had called the police or if Mom or Dad had done so, but the police had come. Shortly after, West Rome's football coach came to the house as well; there were many people talking in the front yard that night, and while I couldn't understand the words, I knew that something serious was going on.

Dad chose not to press any charges; he instead asked that the football coach have the vandalizing members of the West Rome football team come over and repair the damages they had caused. They did so, albeit not very well; I remember Dad having to put many more hours into repairing those damages as he continues his perpetual struggle to maintain a beautiful lawn in what must have been some of Georgia's worst dirt.

I was puzzled as to why Dad didn't have them all arrested and taken to jail. It wasn't until later that he told me that, had he done so, many of those players would have lost scholarships to college and would have been thrown off the team and might even have been suspended from school; in 1962, society was far less tolerant of vandalism. Dad's love for high school sports also included an abiding concern for high school athletes, and he had put his first reaction aside so as not to cause more hardship to players who had showed what he called "bad judgment."

But I never crossed paths with those athletes in 1962. However, I did in 1963, I suspect; I can think of no other reason that a few of them would have devoted so much effort on so many days to torment me.

The problems were slow to begin; I don't recall any problems until after Thanksgiving in 1963, in fact, three months after my fifth grade year had begun. But from that time on, I could count on at least one or two incidents every week. They were mild, all things considered: being pushed down from behind in the hallway, being tripped on my way to the bus, having things thrown at me from behind, having my books slapped out of my hands, and then (if there were comic books in my notebook) being mocked for reading "funnybooks." Back then, comics weren't as accepted in society as they are today; more people read them, but far fewer people respected them.

My bicycle tires were punctured once. One time, a football player grabbed me by my hooded sweatshirt (we didn't call them "hoodies" back then) and jerked it so hard that the hood tore partly loose and I felt a constrictive pain in my throat so severe that I was unable to eat lunch that day.

But for me, the worst incident came in the early spring, when a football player pushed me down on the rough concrete sidewalk in front of the school as we were walking back from lunch, I think it was; I dropped to the ground in an ungainly, skidding fall, and the next thing I knew, my pants were torn at the knee and the skin on my kneecap was ragged and bleeding. My knee hurt, but what devastated me was the tear in those pants; these were new pants, pants that Mom had bought for me just a week earlier. They were brown pants with a light pattern to them, and the fabric was torn in a jagged, irregular L, and the pattern was ruined, and I knew that Mom would be so disappointed in me for tearing those pants.

I wish at times that I had been one of those aggressive boys who would fight back against his tormenters, but I wasn't. I was an average-to-small fifth grader, not particularly athletic with no skills in fighting and self-defense, and I didn't know how to stand up to football players who were older, larger, and stronger than me. And I hadn't told my parents of the problems at school because I thought that would be stirring up more trouble. All I could think of was the Mom would be sad and disappointed and mad, and I didn't know how to deal with it, and the only thing I could do was just go on to class. As I walked to class, I began to cry; for the first time in my life, I was wishing I didn't have to go to school.

I continued to cry a bit in class--not an attention-getting crying, but a few tears running down my face sort of crying. The teacher noticed after a while; she thought that perhaps I was sick because they were tarring the roof of an adjacent building at the time, so she asked if the tar was making me sick. I never told her what had happened; I kept thinking that if I would ignore it, it would all go away.

I was crying again by the time I got home. I was absolutely certain that Mom would be upset, but she wasn't. She cleaned my knee, washed the pants, and then somehow managed to meticulously mend the pants, taking care to match the pattern as best she could. When she gave them back to me later on, she said, "Good as new" and smiled to reassure me that everything was all right. They weren't as good as new, but Mom's concern and compassion made them seem even better than new to me; I continued to wear those mended pants until I outgrew them, and every time I put them on I remembered how Mom had made such a bad day seem much less bad.

For some reason, the situation became more tolerable after that. Sometimes, I thought that someone must have reported the problem and a teacher must have said something to the high schoolers. Other times, I figured that making me cry must have been their goal; when they got the desired results, they were satisfied. I never knew, though--and in fact, I never even knew who those football players were. Friends who witnessed the incidents would tell me their names, but I never even bothered to remember them. To this day, I could not say who they were.

I think it's best that way. I'm far from the only kid who got picked on in school, and it's far easier to avoid begrudging the bullies if you don't know who they are...

A Life in Four Colors (Part Twenty-Two)

1964 was much more than the year that the Beatles came into my life. It was also the year that something remarkable happened to Batman.

Batman had been one of my favorite comic book characters for several years; The logo in the corner may have said "Superman DC," but I knew that Batman was the real star of the company's comics line (I had no idea at the time that the "DC" actually referred to Detective Comics, the book that introduced Batman to the world). While Batman had featured some pretty strong stories (most notably "Robin Dies at Dawn," a book that I found so riveting that I must have read it at least ten times in the month after it was published in Batman #156), it was clear to me that DC's books, for the most part, lacked the visceral appeal of Marvel's growing line of superhero books. Marvel told most realistic stories, or so it seemed; DC offered multiple short tales in each issue, and there seemed to be no relation between them. The idea of continuity was new, and Marvel was mining it for all it was worth; DC was still largely continuity free, producing stories that could have been published in pretty much any order.

But I knew right away that there was something wrong when I saw a copy of Detective Comics #327 on the spinner rack at Hunt's Drugs in Cedartown. We were visiting my grandmother, and I had walked the almost two miles to Hunt's to look for comics. As I mentioned previously, hunting for comics was more of a true hunter-gatherer routine then that it is now. Today, readers can be relatively sure that the local comic shop will have every major release each and every week. Back then, we had no such assurances; the haphazard system of magazine delivery meant that each store might be the only neighborhood source for several of that week's releases.

So I hiked to Hunt's Drugs with a dollar in my pocket, looking for a couple of comics to read. And there was that cover--a three-panel affair set against a white background. Robin could see that something was amiss, but we couldn't... at least, not without reading the comic. And the bottom of the page featured the Elongated Man, a supporting character from the Flash that I had come to enjoy because of his fascination with mysteries (I, too, found mysteries intriguing, and loved to try to solve them before the end of the tale).

Even though I couldn't see whatever it was that Robin saw, I could see one thing right away: this didn't look like Batman as I had come to know him. Batman and Robin were drawn more realistically; they looked more like characters from The Flash or from the Adam Strange stories in Mystery in Space (I would soon discover that the resemblance was due to Carmine Infantino's handling the art duties on all three books). I even remembered that I had seen Batman drawn this same way in another comic in my collection: Mystery in Space #75, my absolute favorite Adam Strange story because it featured guest appearances by the Justice League and their ungainly pink-skinned alien adversary Kanjar-Ro.

And oddly enough, I was struck by the fact that all three panels were constructed in such a way that we didn't see Batman facing front in any of those three panels. DC was justifiably proud and protective of that Bat-symbol on Batman's chest, so almost every cover depicted a shot of Batman facing front so that his symbol could be seen. But here we had one, two, three panels and no front view of Batman. What was up?

So I opened the book, and I was stunned. Batman's costume had changed!

Not only did the art look just as realistic in the book as it did on the cover (Infantino again!), but Batman had added a yellow circle around the black bat-symbol.

My comic book world had shifted on its axis. A character whose costume had been largely the same (except for stylistic differences between artistic representations) for much longer than I had been alive was now wearing different clothes!

You wouldn't think a yellow oval would make that big a difference, but I was both shocked and fascinated. The story didn't make a big deal of it, but to me it was an incredibly big deal. If DC was willing to change costumes, what other changes might they make?

This issue of Detective is now known as the first "new look" Batman, and it also marked the debut of Julius Schwartz as editor of the Bat-books. Schwartz also edited many of the other books I enjoyed, including the aforementioned Flash and Mystery in Space as well as Green Lantern. And now he was in charge of Batman. At the time, I had no idea what an editor did; I presumed that his job was to read the words and make sure that they were spelled correctly and that the sentences were punctuated properly. It would be years before I would begin to appreciate how much the editor shaped the direction of a comic book.

Not only was the Batman story radically different in look and tone (it was much more real-world than most Batman tales), but the Elongated Man story in the back was also different. The art looked similar to the art on the Batman story, but it was somehow scratchier and more angular. I would learn later that the difference was due to penciller Carmine Infantino inking his own work. At the time, I wasn't sure what an inker did, but I could tell that different inkers gave very different looks to the artwork. (I interpreted this as a budgetary thing; for some reason, I figured it was cheaper to have the same person ink the book than it would be to hire someone else to do the inks.)

Two great stories, the same artist on both, a change in Batman... and then, as a bonus, there was a letters column! I loved letters columns; in those pre-internet days, it was a great way to find out what other readers thought of earlier issues. Some books had letters columns, but none of the Bat-books had them... until now.

Suddenly, Batman was newly fascinating...

A Life in Four Colors (Part Twenty-One)

1964 was filled with so many wonderful things that it's hard to believe they all could have occurred in the same year. The release of what I thought of as the first two Beatles albums (their first Capitol album and the VeeJay album was quickly followed by their third album, The Beatles' Second Album. Hey, wait a minute...

The name made sense once I realized that Capitol wasn't counting the VeeJay album; somehow, their failure to acknowledge its existence made the album seem illegitimate. I still enjoyed it, but I thought of it as a guilty pleasure... it was a sort of orphaned album. But that second album--oh, what an album it was. I gladly parted with my $3.34 plus tax and played it over and over again until I had memorized every nuance, every note, and every click.

Alas, my turntable was not the best in the world--an inexpensive box record player with a fold-down lid and suitcase-style clasps to keep it closed when not being used. My parents had a better turntable in the living room, built into the home entertainment unit, but that was absolutely off limits in the evenings, since the entertainment unit included our monstrously large 25" black and white television set that was the focal point of our family evenings. My parents weren't interested in having me turn off the television to listen to Beatles music in the evenings, so the Beatles were relegated to early afternoon play on the good record player and evening play on my budget record player. Within a matter of weeks, my turntable had added extra pops and clicks to every song... but I even memorized those pops and clicks! To this day, I fully expect to hear an abrupt pop a split-second before the first "she" in the song "She Loves You," because that's where I accidentally mis-dropped the needle in my haste to play my favorite song.

The whole Beatles album situation got even more complicated a few months later, when two more Beatles albums were released: Something New and A Hard Day's Night. And once again, some of the same songs appeared on both albums. What frustration for a financially-challenged ten-year-old--do I spend $3.34 each for two albums when half of the songs appear on each of them?

And once again, I was confused by the labels. Something New was on the familiar Capitol rainbow swirl, but A Hard Day's Night was on United Artists. And the UA album wasn't even all Beatles; it included instrumentals and background music taken from the movie, and the Beatles didn't even play on those songs! The decision was made: buy Something New.

Too bad that Redford's had sold out of it. And back then, just like now, my desire for instant gratification was too strong to resist. I had the money for a Beatles album, they had a Beatles album that I didn't have... so I bought A Hard Day's Night. And ironically, I wouldn't buy Something New for several years; once my investment was made, I satisfied myself with listening to Phil Patterson's copy of that album and he was happy to listen to my copy of A Hard Day's Night. As a team, we were accumulating quite a Beatles collection!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tough Times for LuthorCorp

Apparently there's one more corporation in trouble, even if it hasn't been spotlighted in the news media...

(And yes, that's John Hamm--the actor I said would be great as Superman--proving he can play a pretty nifty Lex Luthor, too... much better than Kevin Spacey's wretched job in the abominable Superman Returns or whatever it was called...)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Hour Problem

I really, really dislike daylight saving time.

My primary complaint is that it's so inconvenient. This arbitrary adjustment of the clock makes about as much sense as mandating that we all use thermometers that read 10 degrees cooler in the summer. But not only do we insist on using DST, but our government actually expanded its operational period a couple of years ago. Why? Because they claim it saves energy, even though measured studies indicate that it actually increases energy use by about 3%.

It's much easier to air condition large multi-occupant facilities than it is smaller privately-occupied homes; if we remained on standard time year-round, most people would get home closer to twilight, when temperatures have begun to drop, and we'd see significant individual AC savings (AC is a significant portion of that 3% increase in energy use).

I'm luckier than most; I no longer have to get up before sunrise on most days (only on Tuesdays, when we drive to the FedEx Freight hub in South Atlanta to pick up a book shipment), so the changes in the clock require minimal adjustments on my part.

I'd love to see some group push to abolish this at some point; it's absurd that we go through these motions when DST's benefits have been disproven. However, it remains a part of political mythology, like so many other misguided "science in the name of social engineering" concepts, so I doubt if it's going away.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Audacity of Hopelessness

The ineptitude continues; as of today, we're at 32% of the DJIA value lost since the day that Barack Obama was elected., and the pace of decline is escalating with every continuing day of ineptitude. Most amazingly, Obama and his minions make it clear that they don't care; they're making no effort to protect the millions of Americans whose retirements, whose 401Ks, whose investments are being destroyed by Democratic incompetence and greed. Bush was excoriated by the Democrats for the 16% drop that happened between the beginning of the Lehman Brothers collapse on 9/15 and the election day that was supposed to herald a new era of hope--and that hope has led us into a loss of twice as large a percentage of value since then, with nothing from Democrats but more destructive policies.

At this rate, it appears that Obama might be able to take us right back to the economic and social malaise of the Carter era in one year!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

I see that Tax-Cheat Timothy Geithner is in favor of tax hikes. Of course he is--he's the guy who didn't bother paying the taxes he owed even though he signed documents up front saying that he knew that he owed them. And he's not alone--in fact, that's one reason so many Democrats support hikes. They don't bother paying them anyway, and they're allowed to cheat the system with impunity (hey, one of the most flagrant cheats is now Secretary of the Treasury!), so they always assume that they're raising the taxes on someone else, not on themselves.

And have you also noticed that none of the Democrats who support hikes have voluntarily paid the higher rates they want to impose on others? The IRS has a gift address to which taxpayers can send excess payments if they'd like--wonder why none of these guys pay what they feel the "fair share" should be?

And for any reader who feels that urge to set an example by paying more than you should to the government, here's the address:

Gifts to the United States
U.S. Department of the Treasury
Credit Accounting Branch
3700 East-West Highway, Room 622D
Hyattsville, MD 20782

And no, it's not tax deductible....

And no, I'm not so foolish as to believe that any member of Obama's cabinet, staff, family, or any of his supporters are going to do this. Remember, they're the ones most likely not to pay what they owe...

Monday, March 02, 2009

Happy Birthday, Kim!

Today's my sister's birthday... and I hope it was a good one. Alas, I haven't been able to talk with her today; her job with a tax services company means that she's swamped right now, working long hours that keep her away from her desk. I left her a message or three, but I know how demanding her schedule has been of late, so I suspect it'll be a day or so before I get to speak to her.

I miss getting to spend more time with Kim; the 55 miles distance between us seems to get longer with each passing year, unfortunately, and we speak less than we used to. I think part of that is a result of the changes in our lives, and partly because of Dad's death; it's obvious now that he and Mom were pivotal in our lives, and a lot of the time we were lucky enough to spend together was time that we also shared with one or both of them.

So while I don't know how Kim got to spend her birthday, I hope that there were moments of laughter and times of memories shared with Phil and Cole and Jessica and Christy and Adam. May this be the latest of many, many more happy birthdays!

Journey to the Past

And today, Barack Obama's bumbling, corrupt, dishonest administration leads us to new lows for this century, with the Dow Jones closing at 6763... that's 30% below the Dow's value on November 4th, 2008, the last day that America was free of the burden of this presidency.

That is, by the way, almost twice the percentage drop that the Dow suffered from the time the crisis began on September 15th and the time it was clear that capitalism and individual responsibility were destined to be crippled for at least two and possibly as much as eight more years.

401k's, IRA's, personal investments... all destroyed as the President pushes ahead with socialistic goals and anti-American actions. And of course, if he succeeds in creating a permanent majority supported by the labors of the minority, then it'll be difficult to ever vote in meaningful change.

Too bad there is no system to mandate that one must give up his right to vote in order to live out of the pockets of others...

And too bad that we don't have a President who'd appoint intelligent leaders rather than tax cheats... but that might require that we also have a President with leadership experience, and the nation opted not to go that route when they chose style over substance back in November.

Now Barack Obama has taken the market back to 1997 levels. His policies and fiscal mismanagement are straight out of the Carter playbook, so perhaps he intends to take us back to the market levels of the 1970s as well...