Friday, April 27, 2012

Showcasing Things Out

I'm a big fan of DC's Showcase books; these are hefty 500+ page collections of comics, reproduced in black and white, priced at less than twenty bucks. After a bit of a lean spell, we've had three great weeks of Showcase volumes: The Losers, All-Star Squadron, and The Spectre.

I enjoyed these three books in different ways. Showcase Presents the Losers was a real treat for me, since I had read fewer than 10% of the stories in this book. Even better, the stories that I hadn't read yet were almost entirely ilustrated by the incomparable John Severin, one of the finest comic artists of the past half-century And after several pleasant evenings of reading, I came to one unavoidable conclusion: if you're in trouble, you never ever ever want to be rescued by the Losers... it's about as worrisome as being given a spare red shirt by the crew of the USS Enterprise while on a Federation mission. The Robert Kanigher stories are similar enough that they don't fare as well in large helpings as some tales; there is a similarity of structure that makes these guys seem like the WWII equivalents of Garfield or Ziggy... .they just can't get a break! But each tale functions well on its own; I enjoyed this book more when I decided to break down into smaller reading installments, enjoying four or five stories then moving on to something else to cleanse my literary palate, returning to The Losers once again the next night.

Showcase Presents All-Star Squadron is a collection of 1980s-created stories set in the Golden Age; this is prime Roy Thomas storytelling, with some great early work by (among others) Jerry Ordway, an artist whose linework I have loved ever since I saw his earliest professional art.  These stories are the sort of stuff that Thomas does incredibly well; it's obvious that he has a deep appreciation of the Golden Age, and an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the era; he demonstrates both in his storytelling. (I should also note that the early issues feature art by Rich Buckler, a skilled illustrator who seems to have become a very polarizing figure in the industry; I always thought that Buckler was a capable visual storyteller with a polished style, so I enjoyed seeing his work here.) It's rare to see DC publishing Showcase volumes from the 1980s; the line generally focuses on books from the late 1950s through the early/mid 1970s, so this is a pleasant surprise from a more recent era.

Showcase Presents the Spectre was a wonderful chance to revisit some wonderful stories from the past. I loved the Spectre from those cosmic Showcase tales through his own book into the Adventure Comics run, and all those eras a represented in this volume. There's some great art by Murphy Anderson, Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, and some of the first professional work of one Berni (now Bernie) Wrightson. The best-known tales are the Michael Fleisher-Jim Aparo tales of guignol-esque justice/vengeance; these are harsh Old-Testament-esque "eye for an eye" tales, and it's interesting to see how the Spectre metes retribution on the wicked.

Three different books, three different eras, three different sorts of stories--but all great fun, and at a bargain price. If you want to revisit comics' bygone days without spending a small fortune, these are the books for you!

A Problem of Bilirubinesque Proportions

This morning, shortly after I got up but before I went out for my morning walk, I got a call from my cardiologist's office to let me know that the results of my blood test were in. I thought it was odd when she said, "You may want to write this down." So I opened a text document and began typing in the numbers. HDL, great. LDL, low. Triglycerides, excellent. Bilirubin... extremely high, health-endangering high, indicative-of-major-problems high.

What was that again?

Now I always have elevated bilirubin. Something called Gilbert's Syndrome, which has nothing to do with Gilbert Gottfreid; my bilirubin has been in the 2 to 3 range as long as I've been taking these tests. But this was many, many multiples above that.

"We need to do a conjugated bilirubin test as soon as you can come in," she said. It had to wait a few hours, I told her; this was the day I had scheduled pretty much every appointment I could think of--annual termite inspection, monthly pest control, estimate for lawn maintenance, and so on--so I had to wait for the retinue to arrive and depart. Then I'm off to the lab again, get the blood test done, and try to get some idea how I'm going to adjust store schedules if surgery is needed to send my gall bladder on its own merry way (that's one of the better potential outcomes from all of this, I'm told... as if anything involving more surgery sounds better!).

In the meantime, the cardiologist's office has faxed the results to my doctor, who has in turn forwarded the email to me. I look over the PDF, and as is my wont, I begin reading all the numbers on the printout--multiple pages of them--and looking for any patterns. And there, on the third page, I see it...

The very same value for calcium as for bilirubin. It's one of the few numbers on the five-page document that is repeated.

So, in my head, I quickly begin alphabetizing every measurement on the blood test results, and I realize that calcium would have come directly after bilirubin if the results were alphabetical.

I contact my doctor, who said it was an interesting theory...

I contact the cardiologist's office, and leave a message explaining my weird observation...

And I call the lab, where I'm told that I shouldn't pin any false hopes on that and data entry errors like that hardly ever happen.

And then, a half-hour later, I get a call. "We're so sorry--somehow your calcium levels were entered in the place where your bilirubin levels should have been. Your actual bilirubin level was right where it's been on almost all your other tests--elevated slightly, but within Gilbert's Syndrome range."

You know, your day gets immensely better when the options of surgery or even more dire problems suddenly fly out the window on little flapping wings!

Mistakes happen; I've certainly entered the wrong data in the wrong field from time to time. I really appreciated the fact that, to humor a worried patient, they were willing to pull those results and look at the raw data again, even when no one thought it was very likely that there was any sort of an error.

And I am appreciative of the fact that my cardiologist and his staff were concerned enough to contact me immediately upon receiving the results, rather than wait more than a month for my followup appointment to tell me.

But I will point out that there are easier ways to elevate my heart rate--I can just run on a treadmill, guys!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Out of Storage...

Over the past few months, I've been sorting through various items that have been stored away--some for a few months, some for a few years, some for more than a decade.

Among the items that I ran across recently were one of Dad's typewriters and an old heavy-duty typing stand; both of these date back to Dad's years at the Rome News Tribune, before the newspaper moved to computers. The typewriter was dirty but functional; some cleaning and oiling got it working just fine, although the ribbon is a bit worn and I'm not really sure where to find a replacement.

Since we have more than a little empty space at Marchmont, I figured it would be nice to set these up as I remember them being used for so many years. Of course, Mom and Dad kept the typewriter in their bedroom (this dates back to a time when their bedroom furniture was much smaller than the heavy furniture suite that they purchased in the late 70s or early 80s). Even so, I remember using that typewriter many times before I got a portable of my own; during the afternoon and early evening, I'd grab sheets of the newsprint trimmed down to 8.5" x 11" size that was always stacked next to the typewriter, and I'd type away--stories, letters, copies of articles that I liked, retyped copies of books that I borrowed from friends (I typed out the entirety of a Barton Werper Tarzan manuscript that way, in fact).

My eventual plan is to finish the corner out with some photos of Dad from the same years that he used the typewriter; even better, Kimberly mentioned that she had found some of Dad's AP plaques and awards, so I'll get one of two of those to complement the photos. I will always remember Dad working away at the typewriter, whether at the house or at the Rome News office, and now I'll have a window into the past whenever I see this typewriter sitting on ready.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Journey Through the Past

Part of the fun of unpacking stuff is finding things that haven't seen the light of day in years--or in some cases, decades.

Today, when I was unpacking a few boxes over at Marchmont, I found some decorative items that we used to have in the kitchen at the Horseleg Creek house in Rome. Among the knicknacks were several copper molds that we used to hang on the brick wall of the kitchen there; I haven't seen them since we packed them away in September of 1999 in preparation to sell the house.

I'm aware that copper molds aren't trendy in terms of decoration, but as is the case with so many things from the Horseleg Creek house, I remember very well how we came to purchase each of them, and I can picture them hanging on the wall there as we ate breakfast. Since there was a narrow space in the kitchen at Marchmont that seemed tailor-made for them, I hung the molds there. Of course, each item that we unpack and display there makes Marchmont seem less like an overflow storage space and more like an addition to our home.

There's something nice about revisiting items from the past; each item seems to be imbued with the pleasant memories that resonate through it, as if it somehow absorbed those memories and have made it a part of the item itself.

Perhaps that's why, in spite of some of my best efforts, I still retain too many things from my past. Items are sometimes more than their physical nature; they are links to moments of joy.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)

Today, my car told me it couldn't import the phone directory from my iPhone because of what I refer to as "contact creep." As I've added numbers of stores, restaurants, friends, distributors, and the like, I had crept above the magic thousand-entry mark that is all the Acura will support.

So I spent some time editing out numbers. I'm bad about postponing routine maintenance of this sort, so it's not surprising that I discovered I still had a few numbers of contacts who were no longer among the living. I winnowed that list down--and while I was at it, I dropped numbers belonging to (a) people I couldn't remember, (b) people with whom I'd had no contact in at least three years, and (c) people I had called several times who have apparently decided that they had no interest in talking to me, since they never returned repeated calls. (Hey, I have an iPhone, too, so I know that your phone tells you when I called...) Now my phone is 143 numbers lighter, and I can import my phone book to the Acura.

Sometimes you have to do data "spring cleaning" like this, not just for the sake of technological spring cleaning, but to remind yourself that times change, and so do people.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Overlooked King

Ever discover that you had somehow missed a book by one of your favorite authors? Well, apparently I did just that.

It's not that I didn't know that Stephen King's Lisey's Story existed--I even referred to it back in 2008, when I wrote about Duma Key in a post here. But I never read it. In fact, I never even bought it.

Susan and I were noodling around at an antique store over the weekend, looking for nothing in particular, when I ran across a selection of $5 books. I gave the books a disinterested perusal, because I was sure there was nothing in that selection that would appeal to me, when I spotted a Stephen King book whose bright red spine looked foreign to me. I know my King collection well enough, and I was certain that I had never seen that spine on my King bookshelves.

It was Lisey's Story, and the moment I saw the die-cut dust jacket, I was certain that this book was not in my collection.

I couldn't figure out how that could happen, but a little research made it clearer. Lisey's Story was the King book that followed Cell, the most disappointing King book I ever read. Cell was so bad, in fact, that I came near to swearing off Stephen King entirely after that... and apparently I did, at least for one book.

It was published at a time when Dad was beginning to have issues as well; I wrote about them back in 2006 and 2007, so I won't go into them again, but a lot of things in my life got lost (or set aside for later) during that time. That may have contributed to my missing Lisey's Story, too.

I'm not through with Lisey's Story yet, but I'm glad I picked it up. It has the strength of characterization of Dolores Claiborne and an an intensity similar to Duma Key, although the story is narrower in focus. The book focuses on Lisey Landon, the widow of a famous author. The story splits its focus between the present, as Lisey begins to come to terms with aspects of her marriage that she had repressed, and the past, as events bring up memories of her husband, her marriage, and their love. It's a personal story, very personal--a story told by a man who has faced his own mortality and how it might affect the lives of those who love him.

I'm eager to finish it; it's rare to get a surprise book from a favorite author, and that's just what this is.