Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why I'm not driving an Equus today...

Spent an hour and a half at Ed Voyles Hyundai yesterday morning, checking out the Hyundai Equus (granite gray Ultimate) that they had. When I had first reserved a vehicle, the color was listed as dark gray; it's a very light gray, almost a silver gray, which wasn't what I wanted. But it wasn't the color that led me to determine that this wasn't the car for me.

First off, I wasn't allowed to drive it. Since they had only this one for sale and had not gotten a demo car yet, I could only sit in the parking lot and test out various aspects of the vehicle. I've never bought a car that I wasn't allowed to drive at all prior to purchase, so that was off-putting, to say the least. Perhaps if I had insisted, I would have been able to drive the car, but I definitely go the feeling that it would have taken some pushiness on my part to get that car moving off the lot, and I didn't feel like being pushy... wasn't really sure that I should have to, either. It goes against the customer-oriented luxury nature of the vehicle.

I did get to test out the driver's seat, passenger seat, and rear luxury seat. The driver's seat was fine (although a headrest angle adjustment would be nice... all it has now is a headrest elevation control), although the massage feature was less soothing than aggravating--almost as bad as having someone slowly pressing on the seat from behind. Didn't do anything for me.

The passenger seat does have height adjustment as well as angle adjustment and forward/backward movement (there was some rumor out there that the height was fixed), but it does not have lumbar adjustment or leg support adjustment.

The rear "luxury seat" is, to be kind, an absolute disaster. Unless you earn your living pointing at the sky and saying "zee plane, boss, zee plane!" or questing for the one ring to rule them all, then this seat is entirely too cramped to be of any comfort with the legrest elevated. I tried pushing myself as far back into the seat as possible, but even with the front seat moved forward to its maximum, I either had to bend my feet sideways or press them against the back of the front passenger's seat and leave dusty footprints. Even then, it wasn't at all comfortable. The features are nice, but the seat simply doesn't work in the space allotted for it unless you're about 5'2" or less.

The iPod control is improved but I'd only give it a B-. You can connect an iPod, then say "iPod" and "random songs" to randomize on the fly. However, if you change input to anything else (XM, FM, etc.) and come back, you have to randomize again. The DIS displays an iPod symbol and the track number on the center of the dash when you're in iPod mode--not the title, mind you, but the track number, which tells you nothing. And as is the case with the Genesis, if you leave the iPod display (to go to map, for instance) and come back, it no longer shows you the artist/album/song info about the current track playing--you have to go through a cumbersome system of finding the playlist once again, then looking at the screen for the track number and maneuvering your way to that track. Since I was randomizing an 800 song playlist when I was testing it, I found that the track being played was 534, and it would have taken way too long to maneuver my way through that many tracks.

The bass seems stronger and punchier than on the 2009 Genesis--but conversely, the treble seems a little more subdued, giving it almost a Bose-like sound quality (and I'm aware that Bose isn't well respected by a lot of audiophiles, but I"m not saying that as a negative--I don't mind the Bose sound in the Acura RL, for instance--but I didn't feel that this system had the full resonance of the Lexicon in my 2009 Genesis). Surround separation and processing was superb except for one little glitch. I have an Acura TL demo disc that begins with a Doobie Brothers Song--first in two-channel sound, then in 5.1 surround DVD-A sound. That disc plays fine in the Acura, plays fine in the 2009 Genesis, plays fine in the 2011 Genesis they had loaned me at one point... but on the Equus, it would NOT play the stereo track. It went dead silent on that track, even though the timer was counting down. Once it got to the 5.1 version, the sound came right back on. Led me to wonder if I might have similar problems with other discs.

No A2DP streaming bluetooth audio--an odd omission that underscores the general impression that the audio, NAV, and DIS tech is years old. It contradicts the contemporary, cutting-edge luxury attitude that Hyundai seems to be trying to convey with its iPad owner's manual and other touches.

The doors definitely do not have auto-closing feature, as I had been warned would likely be the case. That's a shame; they actually had to remove this feature for the American market, since it's included in the Korean version of the car.

Nav system looked like the Genesis system--although since I couldn'td drive the car, I didn't get a chance to put it through its paces. I also didn't have time to check out voice commands in the manual to determine it destination entry is any easier. Wish that Hyundai would include that part of the manual in their iPad app--the audio and DIS/NAV system section is totally missing, however. I'd need more time to explore the NAV interface, and that would require being able to drive the car. Right now, the NAV interface in the Genesis is so cumbersome that it's almost unusable.

Front camera had a good field of vision; I could see objects well not only in front, but off to each side. Not sure how useful this would be, since I've never had a driving situation that led me to think, "Boy, I wish I had a little camera mounted on the snout of my car."

Coolbox is very compact; I suspect it would hold a six-pack of canned beverages, but didn't have anything with me to test it out. There are two storage compartments between the two rear seats that seem a bit too high to be comfortably accessible, but they're still nice to have.

The rear DVD has to be moved into position manually--an oddity in a field where most DVD screens automatically raise and lower themselves. All in all, the picture was fair to adequate--but the display on various Acura, Honda, Toyota, and Nissan vehicles I've sampled with rear-seat DVD screens was brighter and more vivid.

Motorized rear sunshades worked nicely, but that's not a feature that means much to me. If it's important to you, you'll be happy.

Fit and finish quality seemed very respectable; at first I thought the paint had an orange-peel look, but that turned out to be the play of light off the heavily-metal-flaked paint finish.

What led me to pass on the Ultimate? Well, not driving it was a big factor. Having to wait for a half an hour to see the car after having made the appointment five days earlier was an inconvenience since I was on a tight schedule, but not a deal-breaker; I do hope that the vehicle prep team can keep to schedule a little better in the future, though, because it's always disappointing to wait a half an hour when you have a specific appointment time.

Ultimately (no pun intended) I just didn't feel that there was $65K+ of car there. Since the stereo system/DIS system is under a 3 year warranty, it would cost from $689 to $1700 to extend that to 5 or 10 years--and with the many problems that DIS has had for Genesis drivers, I wouldn't feel comfortable without that extension. (Woodstock Hyundai threw that in at no charge on my 2009 Genesis.)

The price differential was made even more noticeable by a very low trade-in offer on a 2009 Genesis with 10,500 miles. The car has been garaged continually when not driven and is in impeccable shape, but the offer came in at almost $5000 under Kelly Blue Book trade-in value.

The absence of a Hyundai Circle discount (which was once rumored, but was confirmed by Hyundai as NOT being offered for the Equus after all) left me in a situation where I was going to have to write a check for almost $10K more than I would have hoped. And even at the price I had originally hoped, I just didn't feel that I was going to get my money's worth. I could not have seen myself closing this deal unless the drive-out price after trade-in had been $10k less than what was offered to me, including a warranty on the DIS. That sounds like I'm pipe-dreaming, but bear in mind that if I had been offered Kelly Blue Book trade-in value and had the Hyundai Circle pricing been offered as many of us thought it was going to be, I would have had the car for $10,000 to $11,000 less than what was quoted to me at Ed Voyles.

I haven't cancelled my deposit with Ed Voyles; I've asked them to let me know when they have a Signature edition that I can actually drive, and then I'll see how I feel about it. But right now, The Equus strikes me as a missed opportunity; had Hyundai actually designed a luxury car for the American market rather than shoehorning a Korean car (with Korean-buyer-focused features) into the American market, it could have been a real winner.

(One more piece of advice, Hyundai: you might want to avoid announcing improvements to the Equus and the Genesis even before the current Equus is available. I saw the announcement that the Equus would get a 5.0L V8 and an 8-speed transmission even before the first Equus went on display in November; I saw just last week a report that the 2012 Genesis with the same engine and transmission might be available as early as the first quarter of 2011. It makes your very expensive flagship car seem tired and lackluster out of the gate when buyers are already told that both the Genesis and the Equus will have improved engines and transmissions but no, there will be no Hyundai Circle discount or other incentive to encourage early adopters to buy, drive, promote, and support the line.)  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Spin Is Job One

Comics have reflected political viewpoints pretty much as long as there have been comic books (Little Orphan Annie strongly reflected the Rooseveltian Depression-era politics of the 1930s, books such as Captain America captured the patriotic fervor of the war years, Superman always supported the American ideal). For the most part, though, the comics existed to tell an entertaining story, while the politics were secondary.

That's not the case with Erich Origen & Gan Golan's The Adventures of Unemployed Man. The raison d'etre for this book is entirely political: Origen and Golan want to present a very left-slanted view of  current economic conditions, and everything else is secondary. They're not telling a superhero story--they're presenting propaganda clothed in superhero tropes.

The result is a book that is so ham-fisted and unyielding in driving home its one-sided points that it fails to entertain. Even energetic artwork from such creators as Ramona Fradon, Rick Veitch, Michael Netzer, Thomas Yeates, and Shawn Martinbrough can't salvage a story whose only purpose is to perpetuate one-sided political views. The tone is overly strident throughout, and any opposing views are set up as paper tigers designed to be immediately knocked down.

In the hands of someone skilled at combining wit and history (Larry Gonick, for instance), Adventures of Unemployed Man might have had a chance. As it is, this is a book that can only appeal to those who agree with its politics--because ultimately, that's the only content that matters for the book's writers.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Man of Letters

It's no secret that I have been a comic book fan almost my entire life. Problem is, comic book fans are pretty widely scattered. While I knew people in West Rome who read comics (Gary Steele, Bobby Wear, Phil Patterson, John Ball, to name a few), few of my fellow comic book readers were as addicted to the medium as was I.  Soon, though, I realized that many of those letters in the comic book letters columns had names and addresses attached, and I began writing to a few of those letter-writers whose opinions intrigued me. Even better, they wrote back.

By the time I was 13 years old, I had at least a dozen regular "pen pals" across the country with whom I exchanged letters regarding comics that we both enjoyed. These correspondents helped introduce me to the world of fanzines--amateur fan magazines published in small quantities for sale or trade to fellow fans. Many of those fanzines would send a free copy to anyone who wrote a letter that was published in the fanzine, so I began writing even more letters.

By 1968, it seemed like I was getting more mail at my parents' house than they were; rarely a day went by that I didn't have at least one or two letters in the mail. I even remember my amazement and excitement when, in 1969, I actually received a Sunday mail delivery from a correspondent who was so eager to get me a sample of his artwork that he paid huge sums to have some artwork and a letter delivered via whatever was 1969's precursor to Express Mail.

I would get very frustrated when I didn't get any mail at all, because the letters I wrote and received had become very important to me. One day, I became so aggravated that a letter I was awaiting had not arrived that I punched the door to my room--and imagine my chagrin when I discovered (the hard way) that the doors in our house were hollow! Lo and behold, I had punched a hole in the door! I tried to put a sticker over the hole to cover it up, by my sister Kimberly saw the hole before I covered it, and  she poked a hole in the sticker to ensure that my parents saw the hole in the doorway. (My nephew and his wife now live in the house where I grew up; when they replaced the interior doors, they cut out that door panel with its hole and sticker fragments and gave it to me as a relic of my childhood).

Through the remainder of the 1960s and into the 1970s, I was a voluminous letter writer (or should I say "letter typist," since I always preferred to type letters rather than handwrite them). After Susan and I were married, we both continued to correspond with science fiction and comics fans, and remained involved in fanzines. As a result, we were pretty much on a first-name basis with the staff at the post office--not a surprise, considering how much of our disposable income was spent on postage!

Many of the fellow fans with whom I corresponded in my younger years have gone on to become professionals in the comics and/or SF field nowadays; it's surprising to realize that many of those correspondence friendships have outlasted a lot of my in-person friendships!

I write very few letters nowadays, though, preferring to use email. I still have a tendency of rambling on in my emails as if I were writing a regular letter, though; I never got the hang of short, pithy emails, I guess.  Old habits die hard, though: I still rush to see what came in the mail each day (and thanks to my role as editor and publisher of a newsweekly in the comics field, I still get a lot of mail), and I spend too much time sorting through the 150-250 emails I get each day. Like regular mail, about half of those emails are junk or ads, but the others serve as a link between me and many of my correspondents!

I don't think that too many people today understand how important letters were in the pre-internet days; they served as my link to a much larger world made up of people who shared my interest, and helped me to feel a lot less isolated than would have otherwise been the case.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Things Are Different There...

Yesterday, I found myself in the area of Phipps Plaza in Buckhead. How long has it been since I last went to Phipps Plaza? Well, the last time I was there was when Susan and I joined Lanny, Brett, Charles, and some other friends at the showing of the Tim Burton Batman film...

Where most malls hosting auto shows have a new Cadillac or Lexus or Chrysler or the like in the mall area, Phipps' display of autos for possible gift-giving included a Bentley, a Lotus, an Aston-Martin, and a Maserati. That pretty much underscored the idea that this isn't a typical mall.

Then, at one end of the mall, I saw a familiar store: Belks. So I wandered in--and the first thing I saw was a shoe display. And that, too, underscored the fact that everything--even Belks--is different at Phipps Plaza.

No, that's not a  cage-match fighting shoe--it's a fashion heel from Belk's shoe display. And yes, those are solid metal conical spikes all over the outer edge and the heel of the shoe. And yes, they hurt if you tap 'em against your hand--I checked.

I found myself wondering if the fashion-conscious woman who buys those shoes has the same tendency I have to occasionally scuff one's ankle with the side of one's shoe when walking.  When I do it with my Rockport shoes, it's a minor annoyance. For the unfortunate wearer of these shoes, though, it could be a debilitating mistake...

I was looking for one item at Belks--a quilt that was featured in their most recent ad. I asked someone about it. "We don't carry home goods here," the sales staffer said with more than a little disdain. "We're not that kind of store."

And apparently I'm just not the right clientele for Phipps Plaza...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Subject-ive Commentary

My friend Jim Moore passed along a galley of his upcoming young adult suspense-thriller Subject Seven, and I just got a chance to read through it.  I try to avoid hurting friends' feelings, so I don't write about books I didn't enjoy.

I'm writing about Subject Seven.

The book follows a group of teens who are the results of a program to create genetically engineered sleeper assassins. The plans are simple: keep trying until the program is perfected, destroy the failed experiments.

Then things to wrong. Subject Seven escapes... and in doing so, reveals that he possesses the very skills they've been hoping to instill in their subjects. He's so good, in fact, that even though he's only ten years old, he's able to best his captors and disappear from the program.

Jump ahead five years, and a seemingly unrelated group of teenagers comes together at the behest of a mysterious caller. Once they assemble, they learn that each of them is a failed experiment, and those responsible for their existence want them dead. But that's not as easy as it sounds...

Subject Seven is a fast-paced young adult novel, filled with insightful glimpses into the lives of teenagers who feel that they don't quite fit in. That's normal, of course--and it's the commonality of that makes this such a strong young adult novel. Every teen feels like there's something different about him or her--but in the case of Hunter, Cody, Gene, Tina, and Kyle, there's a good reason to feel that way. The novel takes the commonality of the adolescent experience and uses it as a launching point for a compelling adventure novel that's the kickoff of a potential series.

Moore's writing is taut, lean, and fast-paced. The prose is vivid and energetic, and the storytelling is sufficiently strong to propel the reader through its 300+ pages. As is the case with many young adult novels nowadays, Subject Seven leaves the door wide open for a sequel; hope that we don't have to wait too long! I'm eager to hear more about the true purpose of the program and how Seven and his teen comrades-in-arms find a place for themselves in a world that seems to want them dead and gone.

Look for it in a Razorbill paperback edition in January.

Comics in Bad Taste

My current idea for a comic in such bad taste that no one would ever publish it (or would they)?

A young Jewish girl hides from the Nazis. For many months, she keeps a chronicle of her life in hiding. Then she is found, sent away, and dies in a Nazi concentration camp...

...at which point a scientist finds a way to bring her back to life and turn her into an engine of destruction against her Nazi tormentors.

The title?... Wait for it...

The Diary of Ann Frankenstein.

(Yes, I know it's in wretchedly bad taste.)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Giving in to my Plebian Pizza Tastes

I've mentioned from time to time that I have fairly plebian tastes (probably developed during my childhood--I think we often grow to like those foods that remind us of our favorites from the first sixteen years of our lives). I'm about to demonstrate that once again.

Susan and I succumbed to the urge to sample a Pizza Hut Big Italy pizza--and I enjoyed it quite a bit!

We'd barely finished our first piece when we both remarked that the pizza reminded us of the Village Inn pizza we used to enjoy when we were dating and when we were newlyweds. The crust was thin but not cracker-like in texture; the sauce was well seeasoned and thick (a necessity on a thin crust pizza, or else it'll soak right through), the cheese was flavorful but not too heavy, and the sausage, pepperoni, and mushroom were savory and plentiful.

Over the years, we've moved on to a lot of other pizzas, from the multi-storied construction of the Upper Crust (oh, how I wish that Galleria restaurant was still there!) and Chicago's (the best pizza restaurant in the old Parkaire Mall area) to the sizeable, loaded Mellow Mushroom to the hearty, heavy-crusted Everybody's to the spicy, piquant, full-flavored Rosa's to the distinctive, refreshing Bellacino's... and none of those pizzas are thin crust. I didn't even know if I would enjoy a thin crust pizza any longer--but I found it to be a refreshing change to the heavier pizzas that we normally prefer.

Don't look for this one to last for too long--at $12 for a large three-ingredient pizza, I look for Pizza Hut to retire it or modify it very soon. I think we'll probably try it another time or two before it goes away, though--where else can we get a full pizza meal and culinary nostalgia for such a low price?

Friday, September 10, 2010

February 1, 1964

Fun with numbers...

As of today, I have been alive for 3810 days since my heart stopped beating for seven minutes on April 7, 2000.

That works out to a little over 10 years, five months.

As it turns out, February 1, 1964 was 3810 days after my birth. So I've lived as long in my second time around as I have had been alive my first time around on 2/1/64.

Yeah, I know it doesn't mean anything to anyone else, but it's the sort of numbers games that I love to play. I can remember a great many details of my life in early 1964, and have even written about some of those details in other blog posts.

It's been a great 3810 days...

(And to complete the calculations, I've been around for a total of 20,839 days...)

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Life in Four Colors (Part Thirty)

1965 was also the year that I began junior high school. West Rome Junior High was radically different from West End Elementary, Elm Street Elementary, or Garden Lakes Elementary; suddenly I was expected to take responsibility for myself, and it seemed that the focus of the subject matter became more focused and more caefully honed.

And I loved it.

I learned a multitude of things in elementary school, but all in all, I thought of that phase of my education as a six-year preparation of the foundation by which I could really begin to learn. I learned to read--and not just to read basically, but to read well, and to read well. I learned basic mathematical skills of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. I learned to spell. I learned to write clearly and readably (a skill that my elementary teachers would be dismayed to learn that I squandered in my later years--I blame too many hastily written hall passes and hastily jotted notes for the loss of any penmanship skills I once had). I learned how to find facts and reorganize information. I learned to alphabetize, to prioritize. I learned social skills.

And then I moved into junior high school, where I saw immediately that everything I had learned up until that time served as tools for the learning I would do next. I had done summarizing book reports in the past; I now was expected to do analytical writing on characterization and themes. I had drilled on basic math fundamentals previously; I learned to do proofs and solve complex equations. I had memorized geography and natural resources; I now compared governmental structures and historical movements. did rudimentary literary analysis; I discerned symbols in what I read; I recognized the difference between simple drawing and artistry. It was a remarkable time, and I felt like I was truly where I belonged.

That doesn't mean that I didn't love school holidays and teacher workdays and snow days and weekends; like very adolescent, I thought that school could be too demanding. But I still enjoyed it enough that, when Mom and Dad wanted me to accompany them to Callaway Gardens for some spring press event--a trip that would mandate that I miss two days of school--I wouldn't agree to go until my parents talked to my junior high guidance counselor and he personally told me that it would be acceptable, that my absence would be excused, and that I would have no trouble making up the work.

I also learned to type. That's a little bit deceptive, of course; I had learned the basics of typing from my parents, both of whom were skilled typists. Dad was a newspaperman, so we had typewriters at home--two Royals, in fact, both worn and black and heavy as anchors. I wanted to be like Dad, to sit at that typewriter and make words appear on the page as fast as my fingers could move. Dad taught me the basics--where to put my fingers, where the keys were located, what keys to hit with which fingers.

But I wasn't good at it. That's where junior high typing class came in; I learned to type for speed, to improve my accuracy, to listen and type at the same time. And I also learned how to lay out type on a page. We did numerous exercises wherein we designed letters, prepared newsletters in two columns, left space for an illustration,justified type, and even used typography to design graphics.

I don't know how many other junior high students found this fascinating, but for me, it opened the door to new opportunities. You see, 1965 was also the year that I discovered fanzines. In response to an ad in the back of a comic book, I had ordered my first fanzines while I was in the 7th grade. And in those days before computers, before printers, before word processors, fanzines were generally produced with typewriters, designed by people like myself who used typing skills to produce amateur magazines that were ambitious in scope--amateur magazines with illustrations around which type had to be designed, magazines laid out in two and three columns per page.

It was as if junior high school knew of my growing interests in fanzines and my newfound desire to produce my own publications, so the junior high powers that be determined that I should be given those skills.

Junior high also taught me to be more discerning in what I read--to tell the difference between what I enjoyed and what was good literature. And it taught me to find the good elements and the weak elements in literature. I learned many of those skills from Miss Kitty Alford, one of the most quirky, delightful, and demanding junior high teachers I ever had. She loved what she did, she loved to read, she loved music, and she loved learning. And she helped me to love all of those things even more.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Missing Dad

Today is the third anniversary of Dad's death. We celebrate his birth and his life, but we can never forget that afternoon three years ago that Dad left us.

In many ways, I'm grateful for my own writings from that time; while I remember the details and the events, it's my own contemporaneous narratives that help me keep the events in order, help me to see the bigger picture.

And now more than ever I'm so happy for those posts I made about Dad prior to July 29th, when we thought we had many more years to share. They are sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but they remind me of the joys that we took for granted.

Emily said it far better than I, in the pages of Thornton Wilder's Our Town:

"Oh, earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?"

Good night, Mom and Dad. I think of you every day, and I wish you were here with me.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dreams and Portents

Ever had a dream strange enough that you found yourself wondering, after awakening, if there was some meaning buried in the surreal events?

Last night I dreamt that I went into my garage and found a strange car there. Even though I had never seen it before, I opened the door, got in the car, pulled the keys from my pocket, and began driving. I was soon on a roadway overshadowed by heavy, darkly leafed, overhanging trees. I drove seemingly for hours, then arrived at a hotel that appeared small and old, but actually had 14 floors of rooms... or more.

Without asking anyone where I should go, I got in the elevator and stopped on a floor located midway between 13 and 14.

Mom and Dad were there, as was my cousin Frank and other people who were in shadows. They told me that my cake wasn't ready, but Frank said that he was making french fries to hold us over. The fries were almost ready. We smiled at each other for a few moments, saying very little but glad to see one another; then he removed the fries and divided them for the two of us.

And I munched on fries and talked with Mom and Dad for a while, again quite pleased to see them again. We never talked about life or death, just about joy and sorrow. Again, they told me the cake was so very close to being ready, but not quite yet.

And then I awoke.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What's Up? Doc!

In the past week or so, I've been reading some of the later Doc Savage novels that have sat untouched on my bookshelf for far too long. First up was Death Had Yellow Eyes, a late-war-era adventure from 1944 that had high-tech gadgetry, a locked room mystery, a near-perfect frame-up, archetypal Monk and Ham interplay, and lots of Nazis. The latter isn't necessarily a good thing, by the way; all too often, once Nazis enter the villainous picture, characterization falls by the wayside (after all, we all know what Nazis are like, right?). Still, it was an adequate book; the biggest problem is that Doc himself makes several mistakes and spends far too much of the book obsessing over any potential damage to his hands; it's out of place enough that it actual hinders the story at times.

Then came One-Eyed Mystic, the abbreviated paperback title for the 1944 pulp adventure According to Plan of a One-Eyed Mystic. Apparent body swapping, an enigmatic mystic who seems Indian-by-way-of-Mexico, more Nazis (I hate those guys), and yet another frame-up. After a while, you'd think the police would realize that, if the evidence pointed to Doc, Ham, Monk, Renny, Johnny, or Long Tom, that's should be proof positive that they didn't do it. This one flows a little better than Yellow Eyes, but it's obvious that either of these are as energetic or inspired as almost any of the 1930's Doc Savage novels.

Even so, these tales are heads and shoulders above the disappointing Doc Savage comic; I haven't figured out how that book went so badly awry, since writer Paul Malmont had done a great Lester Dent-Walter Gibson adventure novel (Chinatown Death Cloud Peril) before tackling the comic. Alas, Malmont got no guidance on comic book story construction or development, it appears; he seems to have been more or less thrown in the deep end and left to flail around on his own, all the while being critiqued for his lack of swimming technique. In fact, it was that disappointing comic book series that inspired me to revisit the Doc Savage pulps; I wanted to make sure that my appreciation of those pulps wasn't overly colored by nostalgia. It wasn't--even the more lackluster pulps still have a verve and a vitality that the comic book Doc Savage lacked.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Shelf-ish Memories

I built bookshelves for my father.

It may not seem like much, but it's a memory I'll always cherish.

Back in the summer of 1974, when Susan and I realized that our books were expanding well beyond our ability to store them, I built a set of bookshelves for our house at 621.5 Olive Street. They weren't anything fancy (a couple of decades later, my former brother-in-law Johnny Pearson built bookshelves for me that were true furniture-quality shelves, whereas mine were basic and functional), but I was incredibly proud of the fact that I had built them myself, had finished them myself, and that they were both useful and attractive it. (I still have those shelves in the basement, in fact, and they serve as the home to many of my Ballantine Adult Fantasy titles, my HPL, my REH, my Doc Savage, my ERB, my Heinlein... in short, they house the same books they would have housed in 1974, since these are authors who have been an integral part of my reading and collecting since the 1960s.)

A few weeks after I finished the shelves, Mom and Dad came to Cedartown to visit my grandmother, who lived next door to us; Dad came over to our house for a little while, and was quite taken with the bookshelves. "I'd love to have some shelves like that for our living room," Dad said, "but we don't have a wall we can put shelves against since we have the big Sony television." (Of course, in 1975, "big" meant a 27" Sony that weighed as much as a steamship anchor, and the living room was the very small room in the front of the house that served as the central room for family activities, since my parents hadn't yet built the spacious den off the back of the house.)

I believe that Dad had forgotten about it at that point, but I kept thinking revisiting those shelves. Finally, I came to Dad with a plan. I could build shelves that would work with his television set--two tall two foot wide units that would flank the television, and a three foot bridging unit that would begin above the television, leaving a hole for the Sony and its stand. I sketched it out, and Dad was enthusiastic.

I built the shelves during a school holiday, preparing them while Dad was at work. It took a couple of days to finish the shelf units properly; once they were done, I assembled the three parts on the floor, then lifted them into position and anchored them against the wall.

And they fit perfectly!

I'll always remember the look on Dad's face; I don't think he had really believed it would all come together, but he was quite pleased that it did. He and Mom spent quite some time deciding what would go where on each of those shelves--the books, the records, the pictures, the decorative items, each placed carefully for maximum appeal.

Those bookshelves were the only thing I ever built for Dad. I'm not a handy person; I don't build things very often, and I'm not particularly skilled at it. Neither did Dad, which was why he had never attempted to build the shelves himself. Dad had an impressive array of skills, but woodworking and carpentry did not number among them; I never saw him attempt to do anything more than hang the occasional shelf.

In this case, though, I had assembled something just for Dad, and he loved it. In that, I found a sense of satisfaction that was almost surprising. I had done something for Dad that he did not believe he could do for himself; even better, he was impressed with the finished product. I will never forget the feeling of pride and satisfaction that came with the completion of those shelves...

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Literary Mish-Mash

These are just for Tom, 'cuz he brought 'em on by lamenting the literary trend that began with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and has continued through the upcoming Android Karenina. Just wanted him to see that no matter how bad it is, it could be worse...

•Romeo falls in love with a woman who sells crafts online--Romeo and Juli-Etsy

•Mechanical hero of Scotland: Robot Roy

•Romantic comedy set somewhere over the rainbow: Oz You Like It

•Female vampire among the hillbillies; Lilith ABner

•Willa Cather's story of the first people to sell overstocked merchandise online: O Pioneers

•Gothic novel that shuts down abruptly: Northanger Ab-End

•Novel spotlighting the crazy man of Mayberry: The Importance of Being Ernest

•Mystery novel in which the detective tries to figure out in which person a missing Alien fetus has been implanted: Parasite Lost

•And of course, the tale of a genetic engineer who blends the DNA of a Greek king and a vicious dinosaur: Oedipus Rex

Telephone Lines

"I didn't know it was you."

"I didn't know you had called."

"I didn't get the message."

A couple of decades ago, these were all pretty good excuses for not taking or returning a phone call. Now? Not so much.

Thanks to caller ID and voice mail, there's very little excuse for not knowing that someone has called. Sure, about 1 out of a 1000 calls goes into a strange phone-void where the call isn't completed and the recipient has no idea a call came in to begin with... but that's pretty uncommon. And if I call a second time, it's about 1 in a million that you don't have a record of either call coming in.

Sometimes I don't even leave a message, because most phones will indicate if you've missed a call and will display the number for that missed call. Odds are, if I want to to talk to you, you already know me as soon as you see that number. If I don't think you do, I'll leave a message.

I have my phone number blocked on my iPhone so that it doesn't show up every time I place a call, but I also have programmed in *82 in front of the numbers of all the people programmed into my iPhone, so that it overrides that number-block and shows you who I am (or at least my number). I am well aware that you might not be able to take the call when I place it, but there's no reason in the world you can't call me back later on (other than unwillingness).

Even worse is the person who accidentally accepts the call while trying to screen it. I can hear him/her talking to someone else, so I know that (a) the call went through, (b) the recipient has looked at the phone and can see the number, and (c) he/she knows I called. If I can hear ten or fifteen seconds of your conversation and then you never bother to call me back, that's about as clear an "I don't want to talk to you" message as I can get.

The only thing more stark than that is the caller who, while screening missed calls, accidentally returns my call and doesn't know it. Then I not only know that you saw that I had called, but I sometimes hear you talking about it. "It was Cliff. He wanted to know how we were doing..." From there, the conversation wanders. But y'know what? Saying "I didn't know you called" really won't work then--nor will it be very convincing when you tell me "I was too busy and forgot to call you back," because I heard you doing nothing in particular while you were checking your missed calls.

When Dad was alive, there were people who he just didn't call. "Why should I?" he asked me when I suggested he give them another call. "They could just return any of the last two dozen calls I've made if they wanted to talk to me." And y'know, he was right...

So I'm taking a hint now, the same way Dad did. If I call you two or three times and you don't take my call and you don't call me back, then I will finally realize that you're not interested in talking to me. So I'll wait and see if you want to call me on your own schedule sometimes. If not, then I'm going to be okay with it.

'Cause you know, if you really didn't feel like taking or returning my calls, I guess we weren't on good enough terms that I needed to talk to you anyway...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dream Drive

The first manufacturer who offers all of this in one vehicle, let me know and I'll sign the deal right away:

(1) Total vehicle length no more than 195 inches. at least 72" wide.

(2) 300+ HP, 6+ speed transmission, SH-AWD or equivalent, 25+ MPG.

(3) All-around camera view system, infrared night vision viewing on heads-up display, parking sensors, backup camera, collision mitigation system, driver alert system.

(4) NAV + traffic + weather.

(5) Fully adjustable driver and passenger seating (with both adjustable lumbar and thigh support), heated and cooled seats.

(6) Heated and cooled cupholders to keep beverages warm or cool (duh!).

(7) 5.1 surround sound system minimal, 7.1 preferred; 17 speakers or more; Blu-Ray, DVD, CD, MP3, AVI, DVD-A, SACD playback; front-seat viewing through NAV screen when in park.

(8) Pause and play radio for AM, FM, XM, HD Radio.

(9) Full iPod integration with voice control.

(10) Internet capability through 3G phone, complete with voice readout of emails.

(11) At least 100 cubic feet cargo capacity behind front seats.

(12) No more than 18" step-in height.

(13) Auto-closing doors and hatch.

(14) At least 3 12V and 3 115-120V AC outlets.

(15) Adjustable suspension.

(16) Self-healing paint.

(17) Automatic windshield wipers--and automatic headlights that turn themselves on not only when it gets dark, but when the windshield wipers go on as well! Most states require headlights to be on when windshield wipers are on, so let's link the two automatically, okay?

(18) Headlight washers/wipers.

(19) Adjustable headlights that turn into a curve.

(20) The ability to transfer files (MP3s, photos, etc.) to and from the car's internal hard drive.

Okay, that's the basics. Any auto makers out there ready to deliver? I'm ready to write the check!

Oh, The Places You Will Go

The other day, I stopped in a nearby used bookstore while out for an evening walk. As I scanned the SF section, I saw a copy of John Eric Holmes' Mahars of Pellucidar, a licensed Edgar Rice Burroughs Pellucidar novel that I had owned a third of a century ago but had accidentally eliminated from my collection when I weeded out a few thousand unwanted SF volumes back in the early 90s. Since I've been in a Burroughs phase recently, I decided to pick it up, still regretting that I had gotten rid of my original copy.

On the way home, I began flipping through the book in preparation to read it. One can't simply begin reading a book with the first page, of course; instead, one must peruse the book, look at the front and back covers, scan the title page and the copyright page, sample the interior font... it's a ritual for me that must preface any actual reading--and it's perhaps one of the reasons why I'll never give up physical books for e-books. Lo and behold, the book that I had just purchased was indeed the same copy I had sold to Tom at the Marietta Book Exchange many years before. While it showed some minor wear, it was still in remarkably good condition.

My best guess is that someone bought the book from Tom or from Cathy (who purchased Tom's store several years ago and has gradually processed out the science fiction he had warehoused over the years), then traded it in at the store near my house. I can't even begin to calculate the odds of a book randomly catching my eye during its brief duration on the used bookstore shelf, only to have it turn out to be my original copy!

I'd love to know who else has enjoyed this book since it left my library. Now that it's back, though, I've read through it and I give it my ERB seal of approval: strong action, Burroughs-esque story structure, a self-assured capable hero-... it's all in there!

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Ever found yourself missing someone, and not sure how?

We always know why we miss someone, I think, but the how can be a much more complex thing to discern.

In the past two and a half years, life has taken Kim and me in divergent directions. Oh, we still talk to each other once every week or two, but the conversations seem different. We catch each other up on events... but we talk a lot less about hopes and dreams and joys and sorrows and wishes than we used to.

I remember when Kim was born. I wasn't there; I was sent to stay with my maternal grandmother so that Mom and Dad could be sure that I was in good hands while Mom was at the hospital and Dad was splitting his time between hospital visits and a minimal work schedule; while Kim was born on a Thursday, the doctor had thought that she might not be born until Friday, and Friday was an extremely busy day for the Rome News Tribune sports department (mid-size towns with lots of high schools have lots of Friday night sporting events) . That meant that there was little time left for Dad to run back and forth home as well, and grandmother was always gracious about having me stay with her in Cedartown--so there I was, over a half an hour away, relying on brief phone calls to let me know when my little sister would make her arrival.

Kim was born on March 2nd, but it was March 4th before I first got to see her. I remember that she was small, red, and loud--and while the red went away soon enough, the petite nature and the enhanced volume remained inherent parts of her nature.

Kim and I shared a room for the first ten months of her life (it would be April of 1962 before Mom and Dad bought the Marchmont home that gave us separate rooms--albeit separated by only the thinnest of sheet-rock walls, so we continued to hear one another for the duration of the time I lived there). I grew accustomed to her presence after a couple of weeks, and remember feeling a little lonesome at first when I got my own room. Kim made the transition easy, though; she cried quite a bit for the first few weeks we moved to Marchmont, so I knew she was close by.

As Kim grew older, it became clear that she had been graced with whatever good looks there were in our generation. Kim always had eager eyes and an engaging smile that made it easy for her to get away with far too many childhood indiscretions. I never really figured out how the same gene pool could be so much more generous to her than to me in that regard.

Like most of us, Kim suffered through many childhood injuries--but I'll have to give her credit for suffering some of the most spectacular of mishaps. We've all burned out hands as children, but Kim wasn't satisfied with the simplicity of a reddened finger. Instead, she fell onto a hot floor furnace at grandmother's house, branding a grid pattern on the bottom of her forearm that I suspect is still there to one degree or another.

We all fall off a tricycle, but Kim took that to the next level by falling forward on the tricycle, hand outstretched to stop her face from hitting the patio... and as a result, the handlebars of the tricycle slammed full force into her elbow, propelled by the weight of her own body in such a way that it snapped the elbow instantly and bent her arm at an angle that horrified us all. I can still remember what seemed the silent seconds as the pain must have overwhelmed her senses; Kim didn't start crying until Dad was across the patio and almost at her side--and then she didn't stop. We all knew it was a horrible break, and the doctors confirmed that it was one of the worst they'd seen. (They worked with her for hours, and Dad stayed right by her side the entire time. It was only after they had finished that Dad went down the hall to the restroom and threw up, literally sick with worry over what Kim had suffered.)

Kim didn't just have bicycle accidents, she had Evil Knievelsque stunt-accidents that propelled her head first over the bicycle in such a calamitous manner that I was sure she had to be mortally wounded. I remember running to the corner after that accident, certain she'd be unconscious if not dead; somehow, though, she survived--although not unscathed. Her knee was ragged and bloody, and she said she couldn't walk, so I carried her home, convinced that she must have broken another bone... but somehow, underneath all that carnage, the bones were intact.

But thankfully, Kim's childhood wasn't all accidents and injuries. She loved to dance, as she would demonstrate upon request. She loved to sing, even moreso when she was accompanying my records. She also loved to borrow my records to play them on her child's record player, balancing coins on the top of the turntable to stop them from skipping... and as a result, I can identify Kim's favorites from my music collection by the number and size of the scratches and gouges left in the surface of the vinyl.

We watched a lot of television together, find amusement in the most mundane of shows. And somewhere along the way, we discovered that any television show became outrageously funny if watched at near-maximum volume... a discovery that neither Mom nor Dad understood or appreciated, as I recall.

I got married and moved out shortly after Kim's tenth birthday, but that didn't mean I didn't see her frequently. Susan and I were at Mom and Dad's house at least once a weekend, often more, so we saw each other regularly enough that I got to witness her entire sullen pre-teen and alienated teen phase. I remember lots of door slams during those years--but even then, we would laugh together and joke and talk.

There were years when we saw less of one another; that was the time when Kim and Johnny Pearson lived in South Georgia. I didn't realize at first how much Mom missed having Kim around; I think Mom had hoped Kim would always be nearby, and the idea that she was hours away made her feel lonely.

Then Kim moved back, and before too long there was not only Kim and Johnny but also Cole and Jess. Suddenly, the house was full, life was full, and my little sister had turned into a mother who was every bit as devoted and loving as our Mom had been.

We began to talk much more during the time when Susan and I had the farmhouse on Horseleg Creek Road. that meant that we were in Rome pretty much every weekend, and that gave us time to see one another regularly, to spend time with Mom and Dad, and to talk about more than just the superficial. I felt like I truly got to know Kim during that time period.

As the years passed, we continued to talk. When Mom was diagnosed with emphysema, we spoke of what this meant for her and for Dad. Kim was there the day after I had my heart attack; she and I were there when Mom nearly left us just prior to the Christmas of 2000. We worried for Mom and Dad, and strove to understand the progression and cruelty of the emphysema that ravaged her.

We spoke even more often after Mom recovered, and we shared a joyous Christmas of 2001, knowing that any Christmas with both Mom and Dad was an occasion to be cherished. I think both of us were aware that we couldn't take any of those family holidays for granted.

Kim became the gracious host for our family's Thanksgiving gatherings. I still find joy in the memory of the Thanksgiving of 2002, the last holiday that Mom was able to enjoy with us. It was only a week or two later that the decline began, and we were both at Mom and Dad's side when Mom succumbed in mid-December. I was always surprised at how strong Kim was, enduring loss and sorrow with a composure that I couldn't muster.

And we were there to see Dad's efforts to continue on without Mom. We worried about Dad; we both tried to talk with him regularly, and we then spoke to one another to try to determine what we could do to make life happier for him. We worried over him; as we became aware of the struggles and challenges he faced in his final year or so, we tried to help him with the burdens that seemed to weigh him down.

Kim shared Dad's final happy day with him, taking him out to lunch the afternoon before a stroke took him from us in phases over the next two weeks. I wasn't there, and Kim knew how much that haunted me, so she shared every moment of that meal in detail, letting me enjoy vicariously the good day that I had not been able to share in person.

For a couple of years, Kim's job with Randstad had her travelling all over North Georgia. The job was incredibly stressful, demanding, and unrewarding, but there was one benefit: we were able to speak to each other almost every day, and our talks were long and often philosophical. We worried together, we reminisced, we joked, we hoped...

Since we lost Dad in 2007, though, life has drawn us in different directions. I get to Rome very little now because I have trouble reconciling my love for Rome with my sorrow at the loss of Mom and Dad. Kim's job keeps her busy all day long, and she's rarely able to take phone calls at work. So now we speak infrequently, and our conversations are more about what has happened since we previously spoke.

Lives move in different directions; the connections that link us gradually weaken. I am glad that Kim has found such happiness with Phil, and that she able to share in the lives of her children and grandchildren.

But I can still miss her...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Very Free and Easy

Got a note from Sven after my summer of 1970 post. "CS&N always brings me back to those days," he wrote, and he's absolutely right--I have no idea how I could have failed to mention that album.

Prior to that summer, I had never listened to Crosby, Stills, and Nash; I had heard snippets of "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" on the radio, but had never even heard the entire song. Sven bought the eight-track early that summer, and we gave it a listen. Initially, I was surprised by the overall tone of the album--it seemed to be lacking a resonance that was present in a lot of what we were listening to at the time. But by the third playing, I was hooked by those wonderful harmonies, the intensely personal songwriting, the blending of acoustic and electric...

A couple of weeks ago, I prepared two playlists: Malibu 1970 and Summer 1970. The latter is comprised of the many songs that I listened to during that summer; some of them date back to 1967 or 1968, but those were songs that I was playing over and over again forty years ago. The former, though, is only those albums that we listened to in Sven's car that summer; it's a small playlist, and I think I have every note of every song memorized from repeated playing.

The first album I added to that list was Crosby, Stills, and Nash, that eponymous first album.

Thanks for remembering, Sven!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

That Golden Summer

Each of us has a golden summer--a year that shapes our lives forever, engraving itself on our minds with such clarity that each of our senses competes to recall it most vividly.

The summer of 1970 is the summer that lives with me always. Now, forty years after that wondrous summer, I can remember the joys, savor the tastes, breathe the fragrances, and hear the sounds of that glorious three month period.

Much of that summer was spent in Sven Ahlstrom's blue '68 Chevy Malibu, riding and talking and listening to music and envisioning our futures while cherishing a present that seemed as if it would go on forever.

Sven had an Altanta Constitution paper route at the time, and I had plenty of time. I didn't have a part-time job that summer, because I had been accepted to Berry College's Summer Enrichment program and had classes a couple of days a week. That left me with more unscheduled free time than I've had at any other time in my life, and I spent much of that time riding Sven's route with him--and riding many summer nights away as we celebrated the freedom that came with Sven's car and a modest amount of spending money. Most of that money was Sven's, of course; my income came from mowing a few lawns and doing a few chores around the house--chores for which Mom and Dad paid me far more than the going rate, thankfully.

While Susan was already a part of my life at that time--and there were the occasional Saturday that she, Sven, and I would spend together--Susan was already working in the payroll department of Arrow in Cedartown, and lacked the free time that Sven and I took for granted. So much of that summer was spent with her only on weekends; the weekdays belonged to Sven and me.

I had a stereo at home, but the only transportation regularly available to me was a '64 Volkswagen with an AM radio that worked intermittently--usually only when it was raining, in fact. However, Sven had bestowed upon his Malibu the one and only eight track player owned by any of our circle of friends, so it became a rolling concert-hall-and-listening-room for us as we endlessly played the few tapes that came to define that summer.

The car wasn't air conditioned, but that didn't matter to either of us. At home, we had air conditioning only in the living room and my parents' bedroom; the rest of the house depended on fans and open windows for cooling. Sven's house was the same, as best I can recall; the truth is, we spent little time at Sven's house and spent more time at my house or at Gary Steele's or Ida Hutchings'.

Gary had been my best friend for many years, and shared an interest in fanzines, comics, and science fiction that had been a driving force in my life; we had gradually instilled in Sven some of those same interests (if I remember correctly, he already shared an interest in SF and had some familiarity with comics, so our friendship developed quite easily). Ida was a grade ahead of me at West Rome High School, but we had shared some classes; she was easy to talk to and fun to be with, and Sven seemed to enjoy her company.

Ida's home was sometimes available during the day, and we'd spend time there. That may sound incriminating, but our afternoons were spent innocently talking and listening to music and daydreaming about the future. Since Ida's house was located midway between my house and Sven's, it was convenient to drop by on our way from either place to either place. So Ida became a part of our group, spending the occasional afternoon with us.

But Ida's home life was turbulent; her father drank too much too often, and that meant that sometimes he slept and sometimes he was angry. To those of us on the outside looking in, there was little in between. So we might go for days without hearing from Ida as she dealt with family issues; she rarely spoke of them, but we could tell that they weighed on her.

Gary would ride with us occasionally, but he was less interested in spending the summer in that Malibu--particularly since Sven was driving and I had claimed the front passenger seat, leaving Gary stuck in the back. So for most of the summer, it was the two of us.

And Steppenwolf Live. And In-a-Gadda-da-Vida. And Through the Past (Darkly). and The Sounds of Silence. And Let It Be. Oh, how we played Let It Be. It is perhaps the only album in whose mind I am sometimes conflicted as to which song comes next; while I listened to the album frequently, we played that eight-track so long that its slightly different song order seems just as natural to me as the song order on the album I played at home.

To this day, every one of these albums will take me back to that Malibu, and to the summer spent with Sven. In those albums, I am again 16 going on 17. I can still enjoy the freedom that comes with carefree hours and Detroit steel. I can still remember the plans and dreams that shaped that summer, and I find it fascinating that they have endured for four decades virtually undiminished.

I don't know if that summer means anything at all to Sven or to Ida or to Gary... but it will forever be a defining season for me, and I not only won't let it go, I can't let it go. It is as a vital part of me, and I owe much of what I have become since then to that golden summer.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Ten Years After

Ten years ago, right about now, I was busy dying.

Thankfully, I'm much healthier ten years later.

(Funny how the mind continually thinks in terms of anniversaries...)

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Make Room Make Room!

I"m in the midst of sorting out boxes of comics and other miscellanea that I have accumulated over the past four decades or so, and I'm surprised by how much of the mass of material has sat boxed and unread for most of that time. I have found scores of boxes of comics and comics-related books that haven't been opened once in the fourteen years that we've lived at this house--and I've even found a couple of dozen boxes that were never opened during the time we lived at the Milstead Circle house, which means that they've been boxed away for 24 years, unread and untouched.

The record, though, might go to a few boxes of fanzines--mailings of SFPA and Myriad, issues of Mediascene and Future Retrospective--that haven't been opened since we lived in Savannah Oaks, the apartment complex on Franklin Road that served as our home from 1977 until 1979. That means that we're looking at books that haven't seen daylight for more than 3 decades!

There's a chance that one of the boxes was last opened when we lived at 621.5 Olive Street in Cedartown, in fact--and that would mean that it has sat boxed and unread since 1977 or earlier. Pretty amazing, huh?

Susan was worried that I was getting rid of stuff that I would regret not having, but the truth is, I haven't really had it (in the sense that I could lay hands on it and enjoy it and appreciate it) for decades. I had enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, but as I told Charles, maybe it's time to practice "catch and release."

One thing that I did find was my collection of Fantastic Four #s 1-100. This isn't my original collection--that was sold to Howard Rogofsky in 1970 to pay for Susan's engagement ring--but is instead the collection I acquired in 1982 for a total investment of $42. This was probably my fourth collection of those books, and each time I had sold it off and rebuilt the collection, I had made it my goal to reacquire those books for less than I had spent before. in 1982, I constructed a backwards trade--I found out what the guy with the FFs was looking for, I found someone who had that and asked what they would take in trade for that item, etc. It was either a five or a six-level trade, but I ended up putting $42 into the deal to to start the ball rolling and it ended with me owning a good reading-copy collection of those 100 books. Knowing I could never acquire a collection any cheaper, I never sold this one off. But now it has much less allure to me--I have read and reread all 100 books in my Omnibus and Masterworks editions, and I have no desire to unbag those original comics and read them now.

Collecting is like that--after a while, it's the art of acquiring that is the driving force behind collecting, not the items being collected. Now I'm ready to let some other folks enjoy the books that once brought joy to me, and I'm ready to enjoy the extra space that comes with unburdening myself with decades worth of comics and other items.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Snow 'Nuff

Yesterday we had our first major snowfall in several years; it amounted to about four inches of snow here at the house. The snow was so perfect--light, powdery, fine-grained--that I made my first 21st century bowl of snow ice cream this morning. Couldn’t wait until after breakfast, because I didn’t want to chance the snow softening or turning mushy as the day warmed. The recipe may have been a bit different from my childhood--fat-free Smart Milk, splenda, and vanilla flavoring--but the taste and the memories were exactly the same.

My memories of my first bowl of snow ice cream are vivid but imprecise. I know we lived on Plymouth Road in Garden Lakes prior to Kimberly's birth, which dates it somewhere between 1959 and 1961. My guess would be the winter of 1960, which was cold and snowy. Regardless of when it was, I remember the event itself because it struck me as so amazing: ice cream was falling from the sky!

I know now that it was only snowflakes that fell from the sky, but it seemed miraculous to me that Mom could take something that fell out of the sky, add a few things that we always had in our house (milk, sugar, and vanilla) and come up with ice cream unlike any that I had ever tasted until that time. And what made doubly miraculous was that, when we finished up that bowl, Mom was able to go outside, gather more snow, and make more ice cream!

There was something about that ice cream--its slight soupiness combined with a grain that made it creak against my teeth when I took my first bite--that made it a unique treat. I appreciated it even more because I knew even then that this wasn't something I could have whenever I wanted; it was a treat that could only exist when the weather was just right, and in Georgia that was quite rare indeed.

I've had snow ice cream maybe a half dozen to a dozen more times since that day--and every time, I still remember my childhood amazement as mother turned snow into ice cream before my very eyes!

Others make richer snow ice cream, adding condensed milk, eggs, or other extra ingredients. Perhaps it makes for creamier snow ice cream, but it's not the snow ice cream I grew up with.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Another TOTUS Appearance

Knowing better than to allow wily sixth-graders to lure him into discussions of political philosophy, mathematically complex "jobs-saved-or-created" calculations, or unbalanced health-care equations, the President made sure to stay on Teleprompter as he spoke to a group of middle-school students...

Yes, the great orator made another superb appearance, and he brought the Prez along with him!..

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Three Score and Ten

How long is a life?

There's no set answer to that question, obviously. I'm convinced, though, that just as a person has a finite lifespan, so does a business. I've mentioned this to friends in the past; the best business is ultimately destined to die, as will the worst business. The difference is the duration between a business's inception and its demise.

Just before Christmas, someone who grew up near Dr. No's and was a regular customer during his high school years came back to visit. He moved to the West Coast almost two decades ago and had only been back once or twice to visit since then, and had not been able to drop by the store on those earlier visits. "It was so weird," he said. "I drove down Canton Road, and I realized that other than a few fast food restauarants that were still in the same place, every other business that I remembered from my childhood wasn't there any longer--except for the Ace Hardware store and Dr. No's."

Today I found out that the Ace Hardware store went out of business at the end of 2009, a little more than a week after that former customer remarked on its longevity.

Rich's. Treasure Island. Food Giant. Revco. Turtles. Gateway Books. Oz Records. Liberty News. The Paper Chase. Bruno's. Big K. Drug Emporium. Couch's Grocery. Book Trader. The Record Shop. Godfather's Pizza. Miller's. Wyatt's. Service Merchandise. Norwood Griffin. A&P. People's. Music Music Music. Esserman's. Harris Teeter. Laserdisc Enterprises. Parisian. Premiere Video. Reader's Den. Conn's Grocery. Gass TV and Electronics. Candler's Drugs. The EZ Shop. Petro's Pizza.

Just a few of the many businesses that I have frequented over the years that have thrived, declined, and failed. While a few (A&P, Bruno's Harris Teeter) are still successful elsewhere, none of them still exist in this area--and there are times when I think back fondly on each and every one of them and wonder what went wrong.

Are you old enough to remember when every major mall had a Hammond organ store (or something similar) that loudly played synthesized-rhythm tracks along to accompany syncopated arrangements of recent hits? Do any of those stores still exist today?

Remember when every major mall department store had a sizeable tech and entertainment department with televisions, VCRs, stereo systems, and the like?

Times change. Interests change. Technology changes. Means of selling merchandise change. And as a result, every store will fail eventually.

I say this at a time when Dr. No's, my comic shop, has posted one of its best years in history, so I don't want you to think I'm concerned about my comic shop. We're doing great, and I think we have the prospects of doing even better in years to come.

At the same time, though, I know that there will be a day when Dr. No's won't exist any longer. And there will be a day when people will reminisce about the store and wonder, "Whatever happened to that comic shop on Canton Road?"

I had to make a trip to the mall tonight--perhaps the third or fourth time I've gone to the mall in the past twelve months. As I walked the length of the mall upstairs and downstairs, I started thinking about the time before there was a Town Center Mall; I remembered its opening in 1986; and I thought about the many stores that once occupied the mall and are now gone. Most of them had their glory days, went into decline, and went away.

Tonight I stopped in the Lindt Chocolates store to pick up some dark chocolate truffles (a weakness of mine). They were on sale for 50% off... because the store is closing. Next week will be their last week of business. After that time, the Lindt store in Lenox Square will be the only remaining Georgia location. And yet it seems like chocolate is more popular than ever right now. So it's not necessarily the decline in popularity of the product itself--it's just a change in public tastes, shopping habits, and economic trends.

It's not a sign of a bad business, or bad management, or bad products. It's just a part of the life cycle.

Had someone told me when I bought Dr. No's from Artie Decker in 1982 that the store would still be open and setting sales records in 2009, I wouldn't have believed it. If someone told me today that the store was going to be gone by the year 2037, I would find that equally hard to believe. We don't like the idea that things change. We count on sameness, we assume that businesses will be here tomorrow and next month and next year and so on.

But every business has a lifespan. And just like people, we don't know in advance how long that lifespan is. (Of course, my goal is to keep my business healthy and thriving for as long as possible, just as my goal is to keep myself healthy and thriving for as long as possible. But neither is immortal.)

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Post-New-Year's Post

New Year's Eve... New Year's Day... both have come and gone, and neither was very eventful for me. I have never been one who perceived of New Year's as being particularly significant; it's one day later than the day before, one day earlier than the day after, and other than the changes dictated by societal and governmental dictates, it doesn't even feel like a holiday to me. Since I don't drink and don't enjoy fireworks, I'm uninterested in two of the most ubiquitious celebratory practices associated with the day.

Nevertheless, I recognize that there's a certain significance to the changing of the last numbers in the date--it's an easily recognized marker of the passage of time, the inexorable march forward that we all experience if we're lucky.

I'm always surprised when people say things like "let's hope next year is better than last year," because I've never really thought in terms of a bad year or a good year. Bad things happen in every year, and some years are remembered for the particularly bad things that happen--but every year also has a thousand thousand good things that happened during its 365-day span, whether or not we choose to remember them.

At the same time, I acknowledge that for some, there seem to have been significant sorrows and stresses in 2009, and I hope that changes. I hate to see friends enduring seemingly relentless hardships, and a change for them would be most appreciated.

(I also acknowledge that 2009 was a difficult year economically; we've been on a downward economic slide as a nation ever since the elections of 2006 put the Democrats in charge of the House, where financial policies are made. Things got even worse in 2009, when the Democrats wrested overwhelming control of the Senate and the the White House. If you know me, you know that I find the current Democratic policies to be nationally destructive, both fiscally and ethically, and I see little chance of improvement for at least another year and most likely for three more.)

I had less to say in 2009 than in the prior three years; it's too early to say if 2010 will see a return to my former level of posting or another relatively quiet year.

Van Go

For the first time in almost five years, I find myself van-less.

In early 2005, I bought a Honda Odyssey minivan, primarily to ensure that I had a vehicle large enough to handle comics shipment pickup for the three stores that were in our shipping group at the time. A van had never qualified as my dream vehicle, but it was the only viable option to hold three stores' weekly comic shipments. After a couple of years, though, I discovered a major design flaw in the Odyssey (the air conditioning compressor was placed too low in an unprotected position, so rocks thrown up from the road had a disconcerting tendency to puncture it--something that Honda acknowledged as a design flaw that they corrected in later models, but they still refused to cover any of the repair cost) that led me to trade the Odyssey in on a Toyota Sienna.

The Sienna was a better vehicle than the Odyssey in every way--drove better, improved sound system, more comfortable, quieter--but it still left me with the problems of second-row seat stowage. Since I used the van for cargo, I had little need for second row seats, so they kept taking up oodles of space in my garage when I took 'em out of the van. Furthermore, while the sound system was improved over the Odyssey, it was still lackluster--weak treble gave a flat, tinny sound rather than a crisp, rich sound.

So the Sienna gave way to the 2009 Nissan Quest, which I still rank as the best van on the market. The Bose sound system was rich and vibrant compared to the Odyssey or the Sienna, the second-row seats fold almost flat (and while they weren't perfectly flat, they were flat enough--and I no longer had to store seats in my garage!), the cargo space was voluminous, the handling was perfectly adequate...

But y'know, I really never wanted to own a van, and I didn't enjoy driving it. I didn't hate it, mind you, but I didn't enjoy it.

Back in September, the third store in our shipping group dropped out, leaving just two stores. And as soon as that happened, I began keeping shipping records, box counts, etc., because I was considering foregoing the van at long last. I had really gotten tired of driving what I felt I should drive to benefit our shipping group; I really wanted to drive what I enjoyed driving.

The last medium-cargo-capacity vehicle I had driven was the Acura MDX, and I had loved its performance, sound, and build quality. So I continued to look at the Acura as a possible replacement, and I let Paul (the owner of the other store in my shipping group) know that I might be making the trade, because it would mean that he might have to make occasional trips to the warehouse on larger weeks. (I thought it only fair to let him know a change was under consideration.) Paul understood, and even joked that he thought it was about time for me to get another vehicle.

When the details on the 2010 MDX were announced, I decided that was the vehicle I wanted. And on December 31st, I became the owner of a 2010 Acura MDX.

I've only had two days to play with it, but it seems to have everything I want in an SUV. For 2010, Acura added a six-speed transmission, cooled front seats (they were already heated), a superlative iPod interface, a hard drive for music storage, a blind-spot alert system, an improved rear camera system, and a few other features that made the vehicle even more appealing--but they kept all the things that made the Acura so enjoyable to drive previously.

Got it from Jackson Acura in Alpharetta, one of the most impressive dealership facilities I've ever visited. Based on my experiences thus far, I'll be doing business with them many times more in the future.