Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Morning with Alex

With the Grandmas...

...and the Grandpas

  We spent Christmas morning having brunch at Chuck and Rebecca's and Alex was thrilled to have both sets of grandparents on hand, along with Aunt Sammi. He entertained us with songs (including having everyone do the hokey-pokey), made us Play-Doh delicacies, and helped us open our gifts.

  He was also thrilled when Santa made a special stop to drop off one more gift for him, this year's Hess truck.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Men Seeking Pizza

  It started when our friend Stephan declared that the Costco in Commack had the best pizza around. (He later claimed he meant of all the Costco warehouses at which he'd had pizza, but that is neither here nor there.) With more than a dozen pizzerias in Farmingdale alone -- and plenty more within a short drive -- I said that we could find a better slice. And so, Men Seeking Pizza was born.
  Every Wednesday our "Core Four" -- Stephan, Ed, Ken and your truly -- along with occasional guests, visit a local pizzeria, have a couple of slices, and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10. Most of the places we visited over the past nine months have served up a good pie, with only a couple of clunkers.
  I've been keeping a running tally and, over the past three weeks, we've been having our year-end playoffs. Two weeks ago, #4-ranked Marino's went up against #1-ranked Mary's, with the latter posting a 4-1 victory. Last week it was #3 Piazzetta beating #2 Frankie's with a 4-0 score.
  This set the stage for today's final and, despite our expectations of a closer battle, Mary's romped with a 4-0 score and has been declared "Best Pizza in Farmingdale - 2015!"

  What does this mean for the pizza business in Farmingdale? Probably nothing, except that if someone asks, I now can state assuredly which one has the best pizza.

  Stephan, by the way, still insists that he likes the Costco pie the best.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Thank You Note

I got the following email this morning...

Hello Bob,

I’m sure you don’t remember, but you dutifully met with me in 1985 to reviewed my portfolio, such as it was for a seventeen year old. You were candid and encouraging. This meant a lot to me and only more as the years have passed. I ended up attending SVA and eventually became Joe Orlando’s teaching assistant. After school I began penciling for DC, Marvel and the others through the 90’s. Now I run a graphic design practice.

Thank you for setting a realistic tone to my career as a commercial artist, it has never been forgotten.

Best regards,

To be honest, I don't recall this particular meeting, as I reviewed the portfolios of a number of hopeful young artists during my years at DC. But it was great to hear from Alex and to learn that I'd played a small part in his successful career. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Three Amigos

  Twenty years ago, Rick Taylor, Bob Greenberger and I saw one another every day at work at DC Comics. A few years later, we were all on to other things. In fact, the last time we were together was my son Chuck's wedding in 2006... until this past Saturday night when we, along with our spouses, met up for dinner in Philadelphia.
  Philly is a midpoint for the Greenbergers and Rozakises, coming from Baltimore and Long Island respectively, and we have met there a few times before. Attempts to catch up with Rick did not work out then, but this time we were able to get all the schedules to mesh and we had dinner at The Angry Moose, a very pleasant place a few blocks from Rick's home.
Rick, Bob, Bob, Deb Greenberger, Laurie Rozakis and Bill Gatewood
After dinner, we turned the photo op into an idea for a movie remake. Hey, if they can redo Ghostbusters with a female cast, why can't Charlie's Angels be three old guys? Maybe we can get Jaclyn Smith or Kate Jackson to play Bosley?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Unsolicited Plug

The following was posted on Facebook by fan Mike Chary...

Okay, so you have a comics fan in your life and you want to get them a present but you, yourself, know nothing about comics and aren't sure what they have. Trust me. I have been reading comics for over 40 years. Bob Rozakis has written this book. It might be the best book ever written by anyone. I hadn't realized it existed until a couple weeks ago. I would try to describe it, but it would conjure up some sort of bizarre geek black hole and suck me in. If you have a comics fan in your life, they want this book. If they happen to already own it, they want a spare copy in case the first is destroyed. This is the single perfect comics gift for the comics fan in your life. No, your husband can't share it with your son. They each want their own copy. If you are a comics fan yourself, buy one for yourself because you won't be able to share. Just trust me.

You can order it at Amazon.

Thanks, Mike. 

And, as long as we're doing advertising, let's not forget...

Also available at Amazon.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A Day With Papa

  Veterans Day meant a day off from preschool / day care for Alex, but not a day off from work for Chuck or Rebecca. Not to worry, Papa was available and willing to babysit.
  Rather than get up before the crack of dawn to beat the morning rush hour traffic, I opted to drive to their house Tuesday night after volleyball. It worked out well, as I made it in just about an hour, far better than the average of 90 minutes. I got settled in, read for a few minutes and then went to sleep, knowing that my little buddy was a very early riser.
  Sure enough, there he was at 6:30, his sweet little voice saying, "Hello, Papa!"

  Chuck and Rebecca went through their usual morning routine, sans the part where they get Alex ready for school. Instead, I got him dressed for a day indoors -- it had been raining all night and everything was quite sodden outside, so we weren't going anywhere -- with plenty of things on his agenda.
  At breakfast, Alex helped me peel my banana. I asked him if he wanted a bite. He replied, "Piece!" and took half of it. I asked him if he wanted some of my coffee and he said, "Silly Papa, I don't drink coffee. I drink milk!" (Asking him if he wants coffee is one of our regular games, not unlike Laurie's when she puts his shoes on and asks if they go on his ears. He always laughs at how silly his grandparents are.)
  We then proceeded downstairs for a variety of games. He cooked up some food for us in his play kitchen, drove trucks and trains all over the room, and played a one-man concert on his drums and guitar. The concert featured, of course, his favorite "I've Been Working on the Railroad," but also included "The Airplane Song," one that I'm not sure whether he made up or heard somewhere else. For that latter, the audience  -- a.k.a. Papa -- has to stand up and stick my arms out and move like an airplane.
  He pulled a yoga mat out from under the sofa and said we had to take it upstairs to do exercises. The mat was unrolled in the kitchen and Alex did a variety of yoga poses... well, the three year old versions of them, anyway. While we were there, he decided it was time to have a snack -- apple slices and pretzels -- before heading back downstairs.

  The most elaborate playing involved a set of large cardboard bricks. These are nothing more than heavy-duty cardboard boxes, designed to look like brick walls, but they are light-weight, durable, and easy for a little boy and his grandfather to build with.
  First we built a bridge that Alex could stand on. He told me about all the different kinds of trucks,  cars and other vehicles he could see while standing on it.  A few were the toys around the room, but the rest were from his imagination. (When we were telling Chuck about this some six hours later, I said that one of the things Alex saw was a school bus. "No, Papa," he corrected, "I saw a regular bus...not a school bus.")
  After the bridge was destroyed by an "earthquake," the bricks were turned into an elevator as we were now going to be visiting "the museum." In his imagination, the museum was mostly based on the Liberty Science Center, one of his favorite places, but with the addition of a barber shop, a dentist's office and a McDonalds. The elevator was only big enough for Alex, so Papa had to go up and down the imaginary stairs as we explored various floors. (A lot of floors in this museum had lots of toys to play with -- not surprising, considering how much stuff we had spread around the room.)
  Though we were carrying around a bucket of "snacks" (toy food from the kitchen) in case we got hungry, they weren't very filling. So, at about noon, we went up the real stairs to have lunch. Alex unrolled the mat and did some more yoga while his noodles warmed up.
  After noodles and more apple slices and pretzels (and a piece of Papa's sandwich), Alex announced it was nap time. So we went up to his bedroom, where actual sleeping was preceded by reading a book and then Papa telling a story. Then he got in his bed and I laid down on the other bed in the room.
  If there was any question about whether we'd worn each other out, the answer is "You betcha!" I slept for about 90 minutes; Alex slept for 2 1/2 hours.

  Awake and refreshed and after another snack, grapes and pretzels this time, we returned to "the museum." This time, in addition to visiting the various floors with toys and ones that had animals, we also stopped in at the barber shop so Alex could get a haircut and the dentist's office so he could get his teeth cleaned. The museum had apparently gone through a major expansion while we were napping, though, because it had a lot more floors during our afternoon visit. Papa had to go up and down a lot of flights of stairs while Alex rode the elevator. (At one point, I said, "Well, I'm downstairs waiting for Alex." He, standing amid the wall of bricks, replied, "Papa, this is a very slow elevator.")
  When Chuck got home, Alex took him on a tour of the museum, reenacting the haircut and the visit to the dentist and adding a check-up at the doctor's office, which had apparently opened up when we weren't looking. Then we rebuilt the bridge and Daddy was told all of that story as well.

  After dinner, Alex and I read a couple of books and then it was time for me to head home. There was more that we did during this whirlwind day, but it has all become a blur. Not to worry, though, because I'm sure he'll be able to tell me all about it in great detail when I see him again next week.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Another Visit from Alex

Alex and Papa during the early stages of railroad construction

   Alex came for another visit this weekend and, as always, we managed to cram a lot into a relatively short period. One of the first things he likes to do when he gets to our house is set up an elaborate set of train tracks in the family room. The picture above shows only the beginnings of the railroad work that took place; it expanded around most of the room by Sunday morning.

  On the agenda was a haircut ("and then I get a lollipop and then we go to McDonalds"). Since Chuck was not with us and I'd gotten one just a couple of weeks ago, we were in and out of the barber shop fairly quickly, lollipop in hand, and on our way to an afternoon snack at Mickey D's.

  Alex took plenty of opportunities to sing us his favorite songs -- "I've Been Working on the Railroad" is becoming one of his standards -- as well as plunking on the piano. We had three rounds of playing with Play-Do (twice with Papa, once with Grandma) and three rounds of painting pictures (with the opposite split). And we drew an extensive set of roads outside on the driveway so that the fire trucks could rescue a monkey in a tree, drive past a field of giant pumpkins, and have lunch at McDonalds.

  It was a busy couple of days for Papa and Grandma, but doubly busy for Alex, who fell asleep within minutes of getting into the car and had a nice nap on the ride home.

Alex shows off his spiffy haircut while enjoying one of Grandma's mini-cupcakes

Monday, November 2, 2015

Department of Da Fence

  When we had the yard redone back in 2000, one of the additions was a white stockade fence, replacing the combination of chain link and unpainted stockade that had been there before. Over the ensuing decade and a half, some sections have stood the test of time and others not so much.
  The major damage came three years ago when the winds of Hurricane Sandy took out two sections on one side and another 8-footer across the yard. The damage to the fence sections was actually minimal, as the posts holding them just snapped at the base. It was a relatively simple job to have new posts installed and the sections reattached.
  Much more of a hassle was dealing with the individual slats that rotted or cracked. We've made annual trips to Home Depot to get a dozen or more replacements, which Laurie painted and I installed -- one here, two there, and you would only notice if you were looking closely.
  This year, with one section pretty much disintegrating because of a tree that grew too large and too close, along with the usual number of single slats that needed replacement, we decided it was time to take major action. Thus, this morning, the wooden fence on the two sides of the yard is being replaced with a PVC version.
  We opted to leave the wood along the back perimeter because a) virtually all of it is hidden behind the evergreens that line the border and b) our neighbor's chain link fence is on the other side of it. For whatever reason, this section of fence does not need the level of repair the two sides did, so I'll continue to do some annual maintenance, but a lot less than I have been doing.
  And when we return to sitting poolside next spring, it will no doubt seem like the fence that's there has always been so.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloweens Past and Present

  Halloween fell on a weekend twice back in the days when I was a trick-or-treater. On both occasions, 1959 and 1964, it was a Saturday.
  At age 8, I was a bit too young, even by that era's much-relaxed standards, to venture outside our cul-de-sac neighborhood, so it did not matter that I had much more daylight in which to go trick-or-treating. Five years later, as an eighth-grader, I'd pretty much aged out of doing it, though I did escort my two younger brothers and a couple of their friends to other neighborhoods where people were rumored to be giving out full-sized candy bars and other generous treats. At those few houses, I joined my siblings and happily accepted a Hershey bar or a Milky Way.
  The intervening Halloweens, however, were a race to get to as many houses as I could before it got dark. And since that was before the days when Daylight Savings Time ended after Halloween, there wasn't much time between the end of the school day and sundown.
  I do recall 1962 when, as a sixth-grader, I opted out of taking the bus home. Instead, I went up and down as many blocks as I could between school and my house, arriving home at dinner time with a massive assortment of candy, snacks, and an assortment of loose change. If only Halloween had been on the weekend that year; I could have collected enough treats to last me till Easter!

  So, here we are, half a century later and Halloween is again on a Saturday. As we have done every year since we moved in in 1974, we give out comic books. In the '70s and '80s, when DC still published books like Ghosts, The Witching Hour, and House of Mystery, those were the ones we handed out. As those type of books were cancelled, I switched to the super-hero books that tied into cartoon series.  These days, I've got a nice pile of vintage Disney comics for the younger kids and Archie books for the older ones.
  But, unlike the days of my youth, and even those weekend Halloweens when my kids were young, the trick-or-treaters have been few and far between. I was expecting armies of them before I had a chance to finish my morning coffee. Instead, the first one did not arrive until almost 2:00 p.m.
As I write this, almost two hours later, there have been maybe a dozen in all.
  With the exception of one boy, who proclaimed, "No candy? I don't want any books!" those who have knocked on the door have been happy with their treats. (And most of them even recognize what a comic book is, unlike the lad a few years ago who yelled to his parents waiting at the foot of the driveway, "He gave us mail!") Whether there is a herd of them waiting to descend remains to be seen, but right now, with nightfall only a couple of hours away, they don't have much more time than they would have if they'd been in school all day.

Post-Halloween Update: Shortly after I posted this entry, a surge of kids, with a commensurate allotment of parents, arrived. In the space of half an hour, there were about thirty trick-or-treaters at the door. But after that wave, there were three more in the next two hours.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

To B&B or Not to B&B

  Laurie and I took a four-day weekend and made a whirlwind tour around the state of Pennsylvania, logging just over 1,000 miles on the trip.
  We started out by heading to the Lancaster area, where the Green Dragon Market has been on Laurie's list of places to visit for a couple of years now. Because she'd found a Groupon deal, we booked the night at a Bed & Breakfast in Bird in Hand, rather than staying in a hotel or motel.
  We have never stayed in a B&B before, so we were not quite sure what to expect. The owner seemed friendly enough when he checked us in, but he was not very clear in his instructions on where we were supposed to go to get our "free hay ride." As a result, we drove about four miles to the address on the card he gave us and found the place closed for the day. When we returned to see what could be done, he told us we were supposed to go to a spot in front of one of the stores nearby.
  That someone was providing said rides was only evident when the horse and carriage were actually there, which was not the case when we arrived. Said conveyance did eventually return and we got a ride on a road that circled a farm.
  After dinner at a nearby restaurant, we returned to the B&B. The wi-fi only worked on the main level of the building, so we sat in the parlor checking our email and chatting with a woman who was a frequent guest. Not that we needed anything from them, but the owners of the B&B did not make an appearance at any point during the evening.
  Breakfast the next morning was between 8:00 and 9:00, so we set the alarm. Not that we needed it, since we both went to sleep quite early and were up before it went off. The breakfast fare was not unexpected: pancakes and ham, with a variety of breads, cakes and fresh strawberries to choose from, along with coffee, tea and juice. The owners were as much concerned with getting their three kids out the door for the school bus as they were with feeding the dozen or so guests.
  We left shortly thereafter, agreeing that we'd felt that asking for anything would have been putting these people out.

  The Green Dragon market was disappointing, though Laurie did buy the largest head of cauliflower we'd ever seen. Thankfully, she passed on the cabbage that was the size of a basketball.
  From there we set off across the state to Meadville, where my mother and my brother both live. When we were planning the trip, I spoke to my brother about motels in the area and he suggested we stay at the B&B right next door to his house. Laurie called to make the reservation and the owner found it quite amusing when he found out who we were.
  We were greeted warmly by the owners and, after an amusing conversation about their next door neighbors, walked over to my brother's house. My mother, brother and sister-in-law were there to greet us and we had a pleasant dinner, but not long after, their cat was wreaking havoc with Laurie's allergies and we headed back to the B&B. After some TV, we called it a night.
  When we checked in, we were asked what time we wanted breakfast -- a big switch from the first B&B -- and we chose 8:30. Once again, we were up before the alarm went off. Breakfast was french toast and grilled pineapple. Unlike the first B&B where everyone pretty much kept to themselves and ate in silence, there was a lively conversation that included the owners (when they weren't scurrying back to the kitchen to cook up more food).
  Laurie went out for a walk while I continued to chat with the owners and a couple of guests. At 10:00, my brother came over to say that he was going to pick up Mom, so we loaded our stuff into the car, bid our hosts goodbye, and went next door. From there, Laurie and our sister-in-law went on a tour and shopping trip around town, while my brother, mother and I sat talked.
  We all met up for lunch at a nearby restaurant and then Laurie and I started the first half of our journey home.

  Our third night was spent in a Fairfield Inn, which we were quite happy about. Laurie and I agreed that we are hotel / motel folks, preferring the relative anonymity of staying in them, along with the flexibility to change our schedule if we want, and avoiding the feeling of imposing if we want an extra couple of towels or a wake-up call.

  Our Sunday plan had been to stop at the Yogi Berra Museum on the way home. Despite their slogan "We're open 'til we close," they seem to have shortened their hours since I last checked. Rather than sit in their parking lot for 90 minutes, we headed straight to to visit Chuck, Rebecca, and Alex. And after lunch with them, we completed our journey.

  And spent Sunday night in our own bed in our own house... which is the best place of all.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Let's Go, Mets (or, Maybe, Cubbies)

  I became a baseball fan more than half a century ago. The Yankees were and are my team. There are a  number of reasons for this, a major one being that I've lived in New York all my life.
  My uncle's company had a season box at Yankee Stadium and my father would get those tickets once or twice a year and take me to the ball park. In my first, formative years, the Yankees were the only game in town; the Dodgers and the Giants had just quit the city for the west coast. (My best friend, Lenny, was a Dodger fan. His family had come from Brooklyn and remained loyal to "Dem Bums" even after they'd moved to Los Angeles.)
  When the Mets were created in the 1962 league expansion, they were clearly the second bananas to the Yankees, who were regularly dominating the American League with stars like Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Roger Maris. The Mets did have Casey Stengel, the long-time Yankees manager, as their skipper, but he had to be quite frustrated with a team that set a record by losing 120 of the 160 games they played. (Casey's famous quote, "Can't anybody here play this game?" sums up his feelings quite well.)
  If there was a choice between the Yankees and the Mets on TV, I'd always opt for the former -- I still do -- but in 1969, when the Miracle Mets won the NL crown, I, like everyone else in New York, cheered them on.
  Over the ensuing (decades of) seasons, the Yankees and Mets have had their ups and downs. I cheered for the Yanks in the mid-'70s, the Mets in the mid-'80s and the Yankees again through the '90s.  But when the two teams had their only meeting in the 2000 World Series, there was no doubt I'd be rooting for the Bronx Bombers.

  Jump to 2015. The Yankees, with their patchwork line-up of aging stars and unpredictable pitchers, barely made it to the playoffs and exited the post-season by losing the Wild Card game. The Mets, on the other hand, got better and better as the season progressed, handily dispatching the heavily-favored Washington Nationals to win their division. They then battled the Dodgers, winning the best-of-five series to make it to the League Championship Series and the shot at their first World Series since they met the Yankees in Y2K. Got to root for them, right?
  Well, yes, absolutely! I'm a New Yorker! Let's go, Mets!

  But their opponents are the Chicago Cubs, a team that last went to the World Series in 1945 and last won it all in 1908! How can you watch them and not say, "Hey, it's their turn."
  So, don't tell anybody, but I won't be that disappointed if the Cubbies win the NLCS...

Baseball Playoffs

  An article in the paper today reports that the TV audience for the National League games has been much larger than that for the American League games. This should not be much of a surprise.
  The three largest TV markets in the United States are New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Those would be the homes of the Mets, the Dodgers and the Cubs. The other two teams to make the NL playoffs -- the Cardinals and the Pirates -- hail from St. Louis (#21) and Pittsburgh (#22). The Pirates were gone after one game and the Cards were dispatched in four more, leaving the three biggest audiences in the nation to root for their home teams.
  On the flip side, you had the Yankees, the Rangers, the Astros, the Royals and the Blue Jays. Sure, they had a New York team, but the Yanks were gone after one game. That left them with Dallas/Fort Worth (#5), Houston (#16), Kansas City (#31) and Toronto ( Canada).

  So, as we move to the next round of playoffs, we have the Mets versus the Cubs on the National League side and the Royals versus the Blue Jays on the American League slate. Want to make any guess about which series is going to have the higher ratings when these two series have ended?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Swimsover 2015

  For some folks, summer ends with the Labor Day weekend. For others, it's the 21st (or so) of September, when autumn officially begins. For us, it's the day we close the pool.
  That said, summer ended today.

  Our tradition has become to wait till after Columbus Day and I try to get in as often as I can up until the end.  The water stayed in the upper 70s through the last week in September and even Laurie, who usually gives up long before I do, got in a few laps. But then we had a couple of days of rain and some chilly overnights and the upper 60s was as warm as the water got.
  Still, it did not deter me from taking a couple of last dips, including yesterday afternoon, Laurie's comments about my being crazy notwithstanding.

  And now it is six months till First Dunk of 2016.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Farewell to Yogi

  I met Yogi Berra at my cousin Jane's wedding back in the early 1970s. He was a member of the same country club as my uncle, so he and his wife Carmen were among the guests.
  Somewhere in a photo album is a picture of my brothers and me posing with him. We were not alone among the guests who were posing for pix with the baseball legend.
  Citing the fact that Yogi had a game the next afternoon -- he was managing the Mets at the time -- the Berras departed early. My father later said that it was more likely that Yogi realized he was taking the attention away from the bride and groom.
  I'd like to say that the occasion resulted in a quotable "Yogi-ism," but such is not the case.

  With his passing, there will be no new quotes, but there are plenty that will be with us forever. For your amusement, here are some of my favorites.

On the game of baseball:
"Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical."
"I always thought that record would stand until it was broken."
"Slump? I ain't in no slump. I just ain't hitting."
"It gets late early out there."
"If people don't want to come out to the ball park, nobody's gonna stop 'em."

On life in general:
"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
"Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours."
"You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going because you might not get there."
"You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I'm not hungry enough to eat six."
"Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."
"You can observe a lot by just watching."

And the classics:
"It's like deja-vu all over again."
"I never said most of the things I said."
"It ain't over till it's over."

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Saturday Night at the Ballpark

  Since our friends Bob and Deb moved from Connecticut to Maryland, getting together with them has been a bit more of an adventure. Rather than one couple or the other making the 4+ hour trip, we've started meeting at the halfway point, which is in New Jersey just across the river from Philadelphia. We meet at a motel Saturday morning, have lunch, go adventuring in Philly, have dinner, adventure some more (or sit and talk), then head on our separate ways after Sunday morning breakfast.
  This weekend, our primary goal was to see the Genghis Khan exhibit at the Franklin Institute and that's where we headed. The plan was then for dinner and then to Citizens Bank Park for the Phillies / Cubs game. Well, we saw the exhibit, wandered the Institute some more, and then decided we needed a snack. We headed back to our motel and found a diner just down the road with excellent cake. The forecast, however, was for showers all evening and we debated whether we would actually see a baseball game.
   Since we had all eaten sizable pieces of cake at 4:30, no one was particularly interested in having dinner at 5:30. (See, your mom was right; snacks before dinner do ruin your appetite!) So we headed off to the ballpark... and it started to rain while we were en route.
   It was clear that the Phillies had no intention of calling the game. There was a decent crowd at the ballpark and, though the tarp was still on the field, the rain was easing up. Shortly after 7:30, the announcement was made that the game was expected to start at around 7:50 and at that time, we made our way to our seats. And through the evening, not another drop of rain fell.

  Bob and Deb are Mets fans through and through. I divide my allegiance between the Yankees and the Mets, since they are in separate leagues, but in a head-to-head game, I am much more likely to be rooting for the Bronx Bombers than the Amazing Ones. I watch plenty of other games on TV or online when the Yanks and Mets are not playing. But I always enjoy a game at the ballpark and root for the home team.
  In the case of the Phillies / Cubs game, the only player on either starting line-up that I had heard of was the Philadelphia left fielder, Jeff Francoeur, because he had played for the Mets a few years back. Everyone else was an unknown.
  In addition to watching the game, which was quite a pitching duel for the first six innings, Bob, Deb and I were watching the scoreboard. (Laurie, by the way, who has minimal interest in baseball, spent the evening chatting with us and knitting a sweater for Alex.) Bob and Deb were paying closest attention to the Mets / Braves score and secondarily to the Nationals / Marlins; the Mets are closing in on the NL East title and the Nats have pretty much self-destructed out of the race. I was checking the Yankees / Blue Jays game, where the Toronto team was beating up on the Yanks. In the end, the Mets won, the Nats lost, and the Yanks got blasted for the third time in two days.
  Meanwhile, in Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies pitcher Jerad Eickhoff, was pitching a one-hitter into the 7th inning. Unfortunately for him, the one hit had been a home run, and he was on the losing end of a 1-0 score. (For those of you who believe in baseball jinxes, I offer the following: I mentioned to Bob and Deb that this was going to be a tough luck loss for Eickhoff since his one bad pitch had been a home run. As soon as I said it, the next two Cubs got hits!) In the bottom of the 7th, the Phillies bats came alive, sparked by a pinch-hit by Ryan Howard -- hey, a Phillie I actually recognized! -- and they went ahead 5-1.
   Unfortunately, the Cubs came back to tie the game in the 8th and we headed into the ninth inning with a 5-5 score. As I was watching the Phils' pitcher quickly dispatch the Cubs in the top half, it occurred to me that we had not seen much action on the field -- fly ball outs were few and far between and ground outs seemed almost nonexistent. I asked Bob, who was keeping score (and has done so at every game he's attended since the early 1990s) how many strikeouts there had been. He counted. Eleven Phillies and eleven Cubs; make that twelve Phils as another one went down in the bottom of the ninth. Twenty-three of the 53 outs in the game -- 43% -- were strikeouts! I don't have any idea what the Major League record is, but this one most assuredly is one in the book of games I've attended.
   Oh, and those of you who are baseball fans are probably saying, "Hey, wait a minute, nine innings, three outs each --what about the 54th out?" Well, that never came. With two outs, the Cubs pitcher walked the next batter. Then a guy named Cody Asche (who we thought was announced as "Kobioshi") pinch-hit a game-ending home run into the right field stands. Phils win, 7-5.
  The Phillies fans who had stayed to the end went home happy. And so did we, having spent an enjoyable evening at a ball game.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Season Ticket

  I've spent time over the past week or so reliving baseball in the mid-1980s through the eyes of Roger Angell, reading (or, more likely, re-reading, since it is 27 years old) Season Ticket, a collection of his essays that originally appeared in The New Yorker magazine.

  Whether he is talking about how different pitchers throw a fastball, the joys and woes of owning a baseball team, the doldrums of mid-summer play, or the 1986 World Series, Angell's writing is filled with anecdotes and insights that will delight any fan of the game. 
  Three decades later, it is amusing to read about rookie players who managers and teammates (and Angell) think will make names for themselves: Cal Ripkin, Roger Clemens, Darryl Strawberry, Mark McGwire, to name a few... perhaps you've heard of them. And there are patterns that repeat over the decades -- players given outrageously high contracts ($1.5 million-- gasp!) who then fail to perform, teams that are predicted to run away with championships but falter, drug use (cocaine back then rather than performance-enhancing drugs), and lesser-known players who have one shining moment. 
  Fans of this year's New York Mets will enjoy the tale of the '86 team who, after battling the Houston Astros in a 16-inning pennant-clinching game, then went on to march back from the brink of World Series defeat -- two outs, no one on base, down by two runs in the bottom of the 10th inning with the Red Sox moments away from popping open the champagne -- to claim a victory. (I remember that game so well and thinking at the time that every player on the Mets bench was saying, "I'm not going to make the last out!") Mets fans will also note that Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, members of that team and now announcers in the TV booth, were well-spoken about the mechanics and intricacies of the game back way back then.
  Perhaps my favorite anecdote in the book is Orioles manager Earl Weaver talking about his ace pitcher, Jim Palmer: "Do you remember Jim pitching that day against Oakland -- the old Oakland team, when they were so tough -- when he started rearranging our outfielders, the way he does? [Sal] Bando is coming up, with men on base, and he's a right-handed hitter, of course, and Jimmy begins to move our right fielder -- I think it's [Merv] Rettenmund -- in, and then over a step, and then back half a step, like a photographer arranging a picture, and then he holds up his hands -- Hold it! Right there! -- and the next pitch, the very next pitch, Bando hits a shot out to right, and the fielder goes like this and like this, bending in and leaning back while he's watching the ball, but he never has to take a single step, and he catches the ball. Jim Frey was coaching with us then, and he turns to me on the bench and says, 'Well, now I've seen everything.'"
  Angell will tell you, however, and every baseball fan will nod in agreement, that even when you think you've seen everything, something will happen and you'll say, "I've never seen that before!"

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Endless Summer

  It is almost five weeks since I returned from my annual teaching stint at CTY, but, unlike all the previous years, I did not have to return to work in the "real world" the following Monday. With one rainy exception the third day I was home, the weather has been pretty much the same -- hot and sunny -- perfect for sitting by and in the pool.
   There's been volleyball on Tuesday nights (and some Saturday mornings), the Men Seeking Pizza group on Wednesdays, and volunteer Notary Public services at the library on Thursdays, along with socializing with friends, visits with Alex, and a couple of platelet donations. But even with all of this and the variety of indoor and outdoor chores that have filled many mornings, I've had plenty of time to relax and enjoy.
  And, since closing the pool is not going to happen until after Columbus Day, there are still a lot more of these days to come. Indeed, an endless summer.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

And now, the "News"

* An item in USA Today reported that more adults are having accidents while riding bicycles, adding that this is most likely a result of more adults riding bicycles.

* A study by the University of Illinois has determined that police officers working in states with high gun ownership rates are three times as likely to be killed on the job as those who work in states with low gun ownership rates.

* According to The New York Times, 67% of Republicans and 60% of Democrats say they are "very happy" in their marriages. It must be all those Independents who account for the 50% divorce rate.

* Justin Bieber's handlers do not want him doing live interviews to promote his new album because they are afraid he will embarrass himself.

* reports that 25% of new mothers go back to work within two weeks of giving birth, adding that most of them work for companies that do not provide paid maternity leave.

* According to the World Happiness Report (who knew there was such a thing?), Switzerland is the happiest place on Earth. At the other end of the 158-nation list is Togo, which, despite its name, is not the place to go.
The U.S., by the way, came in 15th, falling behind all of Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Austria, Costa Rica, Israel, Canada and Mexico!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Button Gwinnett

Button Gwinnett, born in England in 1735, became a merchant and emigrated to America in 1762. By 1765, he had given up his mercantile pursuits and owned a plantation in Georgia. He was elected to the Provincial Assembly in 1769 and became a strong advocate of colonial rights. He served as the second governor of Georgia for a brief period.
Gwinnett was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and, of all those men who signed it, his signature is the rarest and most valuable. It is perhaps because Gwinnett died of wounds received in a duel in 1777 that there are not many examples of his signature to be found.
Why am I telling you about a man with an odd name whose only claim to fame is being one of the 56 men who signed the Declaration? Because I happened upon the fact about the value of his signature and used it in a story many years ago.
And while I've occasionally brought it up as a "fun fact" over the years, I don't think I've ever seen anything about him in print.

But now I've just finished reading The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons, a new entry in the series about bookshop owner and gentleman burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr by Lawrence Block. It was an enjoyable read, as all the books in the series are, even if I did figure out ahead of time that Mr. Gwinnett's role in the past would play a part in the story.

It's just as I tell my writing students every summer: An interesting fact you come across can lead to an entertaining work of fiction. And here's a case where it happened more than once.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Alex's Whirlwind Adventures

Alex (and Chuck and Rebecca) came for a visit yesterday and the little man was excited from the moment he got off the train. Actually, I'm sure he was excited long before that, as he usually is whenever he is coming to see Papa and Grandma.

As soon as he came in the house, he announced that he wanted to play with the large wooden train set that Laurie has borrowed from friends. It took only a few minutes for a massive network of tracks to take over the family room floor, set up almost entirely by Alex, with only minimal assistance from Papa to connect up a couple of routes to nowhere.

In addition to keeping the trains on schedule, Alex took time to review the toys in the wall unit, those that are still in the basement, and the ones in the dresser that Grandma has just refinished and painted that will soon be making its way to his bedroom at home.

After a nap with Papa on the "big boy bed" -- we have now outgrown the porta-crib -- it was off to Jones Beach with Mommy and Daddy, where he enjoyed the sand and the waves. "We have to hold hands in the water," he told me later, "so the waves don't make me fall down."

We decided the easiest way to clean him off after the beach was to dunk him in his wading pool, but he decided he wanted the big pool with Papa.

There were more adventures with the trains -- interrupted only by dinner -- as well as using some of his construction trucks to make a cake. (Obviously, it was to be a massive cake since the ingredients were being carried by the bulldozer and being mixed in the dump truck.)

There was also time for a photo op of Alex and Papa in our matching fedoras. It is only a matter of time before he and I are singing a duet of "New York, New York" in our best Frank Sinatra voices.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Boomers in Debt

An article in USA Today this morning talks about Baby Boomers saddled with debt, but it is another example of "fun with numbers," that is, using the numbers to prove whatever point they're trying to make. (In this particular case, it is a very long lead-in to what people with large debt should do to get out from under.)

The chart they present says that 80% of the 66 million Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, have debt and the median for all is approximately $70,000. The text of the article, however, states that "one-third have no debt; the middle third have $37,500 in overall debt; and the top third have $200,000 in debt."

Okay, so let's flip this on its head: Sixty-six percent of the Boomers have less than $19,000 in debt. Not an insignificant amount, but certainly not an indication of a generation drowning in red ink.

And let's take some of the rest of the chart apart:
Forty-seven percent of the Boomers have mortgages with a median debt of $90,000. Some portion of the third of the generation with $37,500 in debt must have mortgages. Unless your house is under water -- worth less than what you owe -- you could sell it and pay off the balance due. Debt erased.
Thirty-five percent have car loans with a median of $14,000. I bought a new car in 2013 and financed part of it  at 0% because the dealer knocked a chunk off the price if I did. So I am one of many who had an auto loan and I am sure I wasn't alone in doing this. Real debt or artificially created?

The article then goes on with the usual advice for the 33% of Boomers who are saddled with the large amount of debt., including "increase your income" and "pay off high-interest debt first."

Yes, I'm sure those would be a good start, but let's go right to the core: "Spend less than you earn!" If you had practiced this all along, you would probably be where the other 66% of the Boomers are.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

So, How's Retirement?

The number one question I'm asked these days involves my being retired. Doesn't matter whether the person asking is retired as well, nearing retirement, or decades away from it, the inquiry centers on my departure from the work-a-day world.

Though I retired on March 31st, the first couple of months felt more like a long vacation than the end of having to go to work. By the time I'd wrapped up some audits and other odds and ends that carried over at the office, April was pretty much gone. I spent a lot of time in May working in the back yard, the major project being the removal and resetting of about half the pavers of the patio. Playing volleyball at the beach, doing voluntary Notary Public duties at the library, and establishing the weekly Men Seeking Pizza lunch group gave the weeks structure. And, before I knew it, it was the end of June and time to go teach at CTY.

Now that my summer teaching stint is over, I'm in full onset retirement mode. (As the session ended, my various colleagues at CTY were boasting or bemoaning that they had one week or two or three before they had to go back to work. After many years of saying, "I go back to work on Monday," I was able, this year, to say, "I go back in 46 weeks." which is when CTY starts in 2016.)

There's still volleyball, notarizing, and pizza lunches, along with various regular and not-so-often chores around the house. There's a list of indoor things I intend to do once the weather turns cooler, but right now I'm taking advantage of the sunshine and the pool and getting lots of reading done. I can stay up and watch west coast baseball games or an extra episode of whatever DVD set I'm binging on -- it's currently Season 3 of The X-Files -- without having to worry about getting up early. And, unless I've got an appointment for a platelet donation, there's no need to set the alarm clock.

So, how's retirement?  So far, so good.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Highlights of CTY 2015

CTY 2015 is done and all the staff members and students are back in the real world. As always, the six weeks seemed incredibly long yet passed remarkably quickly. Among the things that happened this time around...

* My long-time "camp pal" Scott Dodd, who has been our Academic Dean for a decade, wrapped up his final CTY summer. He's heading for a full-year position in his home school district which will preclude his return to Chestertown. We had a very nice retirement dinner for him, along with some fun roasting of the guest of honor.
"Mr. R" and Scott Dodd (photo by Olivia Maldonado)
The CTY 2015 Second Session Instructional Staff

* Despite some periods of pre-teen angst, my second session students were able to do a second-best-record 86 assignments. These included a wide varieties of poems, fiction exercises, news stories, advertisements, and even tales of a haunted painting in the classroom upstairs.

* During an activity period, a superhero trivia quiz I had intended to run turned into a one-student oration of his personal reviews of every comic book-inspired movie and TV show from the past thirty years. Then he proceeded to tell me what he expects to happen in all the upcoming movies and TV shows, after which the period was (thankfully) over and he had to go back to his dorm.

* The volleyball court we'd been playing on for the past two years got paved over to make way for a new dorm building. Our replacement, a backyard setup of poles and net, just wasn't the same, so our VB playing was seriously curtailed.

* Among the words of wisdom uttered in the classroom:
    + "Do you like cheese on your cheeseburger?"
    + "What other types of persuasive writing are there?" "Verbal?"
    + "Hey, where did my pants go?"
    + "Why are you biting your notebook?"
    + "Algae has to pee too."
    + "Girls are more scientifically prone to lying."

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Visit from Alex

Alex and Papa sport newly cut hair.
  I drove home from CTY Friday night to spend Saturday with my favorite little buddy. He arrived with his parents on the train  in the late morning and, after lunch and a failed attempt at a nap, we set out on our adventures.
  At the top of the list were haircuts for all the men. ("First I get a haircut, then I get a lollipop, and then we go to McDonalds.") I don't know if it was the first time that the barbershop had three generations there at the same time, but it was a first for us. With Chuck in the chair next to us, Alex sat on my lap while the barber ("His name is Alex too!") cut his hair. After they were both done, it was Papa's turn; my haircut is the quickest since a) it's all done with the clipper on one setting and b) there's a whole part of my head that doesn't have any hair any more.
  Alex did get his lollipop -- a yellow one -- and then we stopped at the drugstore to pick up a prescription. As it turned out, they had a free lollipop jar. Alex did not pick one for himself, since he already had one, but chose ones for Chuck and me. (He eventually ate them for us.)
  We went to McDonalds and Alex got his Happy Meal, but managed to eat only the french fries and one bite of the burger. (The rest  came home and became his Sunday lunch.)
  Back home, he spent time playing in his sandbox and swimming pool with Grandma, who was then able to get him to take the long-delayed nap.
  A variety of other activities filled the time before and after dinner, including making pudding with Mommy, reviewing all the toys in the basement with Daddy, and making Play-Doh spaghetti and french fries with Papa.
  He then decided it was time to go outside with the chalk and some of his trucks. Alex's current favorite is the firetruck, which is always driving off to deal with emergencies. He had me draw a road on the driveway for the firetruck to travel on. Then I had to add a fire station for it to park in, along with a cat in a tree and a house on fire.
The firetruck drives off to rescue a cat in a tree.
Alex and the firetruck go off-road through the Papa Tunnel.
  After a snack and his bath, it was time for a story and bed. It should be noted that Papa's default story is about a little boy named Alex and what he did that day. It took awhile for him to get settled, but then he slept through...
  ...till 5:00 a.m., when he was wide awake and proceeded to tell Papa stories and all of his plans for the day.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

"Hi! Welcome to CTY!"

   This is CTY's twentieth year at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland and over the two decades, I have greeted thousands of students and their families during registration.
   "The Bob Table," as it is sometimes called, has been part of the registration procedure for as long as I can recall. In the early days, it was where parents dropped off forms they had forgotten to fill out or turn in and signed up their children to attend religious services on the weekends.
   It evolved into the "Answers Table." When parents asked where they might be able to purchase something they'd forgotten to bring, what the best route out of C'town was, or where they could get a meal before heading home, CTY staffers would respond, "See that man in the pink shirt? He'll know." (Once an Answer Man, always an Answer Man!)
   These days, I sign up parents for their last-day conferences with the instructors, collect forms, and still answer questions. But my favorite part is seeing my prior-year students back for another CTY summer, many of whom have gone through growth spurts in the intervening period.
   And, occasionally, there is a long-ago student whose younger sibling is now taking a course. It is a delight to see them again, though there have been a couple of times when "I'm so glad to see you're still here!" came across as "Wow! You're still alive!"
   (I guess I deserve that for telling them that I'm the one who told Thomas Jefferson we should buy Louisiana and that I charged up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Day With Alex

Alex fills Papa in on his adventures.

  I spent yesterday babysitting Alex. He'd been diagnosed with scarlet fever last week and very dutifully takes his antibiotics -- he even announced to Rebecca that it was time for his medicine just before dinner -- and was back to being his usual energetic self.

  I made the trip Sunday evening so as to avoid Monday morning rush hour traffic and, worse, waking up at 4:30 a.m. to beat it. I also managed to avoid the thunderstorms that were forecast. And, best of all, I got to their house just as someone pulled out of the parking space right in front.

  Alex did not know that I was coming and, since I arrived after he'd gone to bed, he did not find out till Chuck told him when he woke up at 6 a.m. that Papa was there. Upon hearing this news, he insisted on coming downstairs immediately to wake me up, which he did by tapping me on the arm and shouting "Hello!"

  Over the course of the day we played with his trucks, played in the sandbox, drew with chalk on the sidewalk in front of the house, walked from one end of the block to the other, played with his trains (including building a set of tunnels for the train to drive through), read books, watched videos, played in his kitchen, and, when we ran out of other things to do, played with the trucks some more.

  And we talked. He told me about things he did at day care, about things he did at home, about things he did when he visited Papa and Grandma's house, pretty much about anything and everything. When Rebecca mentioned that he needed to get a haircut soon, he reminded us that we go to the barber to get a haircut (and he remembered that the barber's name is also Alex), "then I get a lollipop, and then we go to McDonalds."

  When he's not talking, Alex likes to sing. One of his current favorites is "the railroad song" ("I've Been Working on the Railroad") and it amazing how much of this song he knows. He will sing it while strumming on his guitar, which he also refers to as his ukulele. When he runs out of songs you might recognize, he makes up his own; there was one yesterday that he called "The Papa Song," which was mostly strumming the guitar and singing "Papa, do da do" over and over again. I was honored to be immortalized in song.

  Thankfully, the little dynamo does need to recharge his batteries from time to time and took a nice two-hour nap after lunch, during which Papa was also able to cop a few Z's.

  After dinner and his bath, he insisted that Papa be the one to put him to bed, (After all, Mommy and Daddy are there to do it all the time!) We read a book and then he said, "Tell me a story." So I told him about a little boy named Alex whose Papa came to visit, recounting all the things we'd done, and ending with "when their busy day was all done, Alex was so tired that he wanted to go to sleep."

  Satisfied with this exciting tale, that was exactly what he did.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Some Last Words From Julie Schwartz

  Julie Schwartz was instrumental in my career at DC Comics -- he was my mentor, my boss, my colleague and my friend. After he retired, he continued as DC's Good Will Ambassador and would come into the office once a week. When I would see him in the hall, I would shout, "Schwartz!!" and he would respond "Rozaaakis!"

  After I left the company in 1998, we did not see each other that often -- only at local conventions from time to time -- but we stayed in contact with occasional phone calls and notes.

  Above is the last missive I received from Julie, late in 2003.

AM   A foreign stamp to add to your collection!
         Didja know Guy III finally got married -- a gal named ROSIE!
         Howie Margolin occasionally sends me your Answer Man column. Grade A stuff!
        How'd you make out at Mighty Mini-Con?
                                                              Julie (S) 
PM   P.S. Just received your "Ink in Their Blood" piece. I'm overwhelmed / flattered!
        F.Y.I. Kris Rusch will be a guest at I-CON 2004! Hope you can make it - maybe do a panel together!

  Julie always remembered how I'd be clipping stamps off the mail we got at DC and would put aside envelopes for me..
  "Guy III" is Guy H. Lillian III, who had numerous letters published by Julie and had a brief career as an assistant editor at DC in the mid-'70s.
  Howard Margolin is the host of Destinies - The Voice of Science Fiction on WUSB - 90.1 Friday nights at 11:30 p.m. and a longtime friend of Julie and yours truly.
  I had been a guest at Mighty Mini-Con in upstate New York. I believe Julie had been invited but was unable to make it.
  If I recall correctly, "Ink in Their Blood" was a profile article in which I praised Julie for the role he played in my career in comics.
  Kristine Rusch is a writer / editor in a number of genres, including science fiction and fantasy.
  Alas, Julie and I did not get to do that panel together at I-CON; he passed away on February 8, 2004.

BobRo Archives:Strange Schwartz Stories

Julie Schwartz flanked by Dr, Howard Margolin and BobRo
  On Friday, June 19th legendary comics editor Julius ("Julie") Schwartz would be celebrating his 100th birthday. Though he is not with us to celebrate, the occasion will be marked on "Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction," the long-running radio program hosted by Dr. Howard Margolin on WUSB - 90.1 FM, at 11:30 p.m. I am scheduled to be one of the guests recounting tales of my many years of working with Julie. From the BobRo Archives, a lightly-edited column marking the occasion of Julie's 94th birthday...

  I first met Julie when I was a senior at Hofstra University. I had been writing letters to the various comic books he edited for a number of years and had many of them published in the books. Julie had even sent me an advance copy of Strange Sports Stories, a new title he was editing, and solicited my comments for inclusion in the first issue.
  I had long thought that it would be great fun to visit the DC Comics offices and meet the people who created the books. So, one afternoon in the spring of 1973, I called the company's phone number, asked for Julie, and was put right through. Now, you have to understand that, to a comics fan, this was the equivalent of calling the White House and asking to speak to the President or calling Apple Records and asking to speak with Paul McCartney; you never expect to actually get to speak with the person.
  But Julie knew immediately who I was and when I asked if I could come for a visit to the office, he said, "Sure. When do you want to come?"

  About a week later, accompanied by my future wife Laurie, I made the trip into the city to 909 Third Avenue, then the home of DC Comics. Julie showed us all around the office (which was a lot smaller than I think I expected), introduced us to editors and staff and a couple of freelancers who were passing through, and then showed me proofs and original art for upcoming issues. It was fanboy heaven.
  At the time, I had been creating crossword puzzles and word finds for a comics fanzine and I brought along copies for E. Nelson Bridwell, who was Julie's assistant editor (and a former fanboy himself). When I handed them to Nelson, Julie said, "What are those?" I explained,  and he snatched them from Nelson, telling me, "Stay right here!" as he walked out of the room.
  Two minutes later, he was back with Sol Harrison, DC's VP and head of Production. Sol was now holding the puzzles and said to me, "Can you make some up just about Superman and Batman?" When I said I could, he told me, "Do it. We'll buy them." Suddenly, I was a DC freelancer!
  That was a Friday afternoon. On Monday I was back in the DC offices with nine puzzle pages.

  Now that I had an "in," I pursued what I really wanted to do, which was write stories for Julie. I sent him a number of plots, none of which were accepted. (One, I recall, involved Superman getting a super-ulcer because he was under too much stress.) Meantime, Sol had me do more puzzle pages -- some Tarzan ones were next -- and, after graduation, I asked him for a staff job.
  I started in early July as a production assistant, answering fan mail, making copies, and whatnot. In early August, I took over driving the Comicmobile from Michael Uslan and, after six weeks, I returned to the office as an editorial assistant to Julie. My duties included proofreading the art for the stories, making copies, writing up color notes for the colorists ("Superman's heat vision is red, x-ray vision is yellow, and telescopic vision is white."), and, sometimes, putting together the letter columns for the books.
Julie started allowing me to read the scripts that came in and had me makes notes on things I would change. Eventually, he allowed me to do the preliminary editing on many of them. And, all the while, I kept trying to sell him a story of my own, finally succeeding with a Robin story titled "The Touchdown Trap."

  When I moved into the production department in 1976, I continued to do some "assistant editor" things for Julie, including preparing the letter columns for his books. Julie would read all the letters and give them grades. When it came time to do the lettercol, he would hand me the folder of mail, and I would use the ones with the highest grades, writing the responses. Even after I became Production Manager, I continued to handle Julie's letter columns. Laurie began to help by transcribing the chosen letters, often adding editorial responses of her own.

  In 1985, to celebrate Julie's 70th birthday, DC management decided to prepare a special issue of Superman. Writer Elliot Maggin and artists Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson were recruited to provide story and art. The trick was producing the issue right under Julie's nose and keeping it a secret until it was printed.
  At one point early on, Julie walked into the production department to find Elliot and me in deep conversation. When he asked what was going on, I told him Elliot was asking me income tax questions. After the book was printed and we told Julie how we'd kept it all a secret, he said, "I thought that tax business was a bit fishy!"

  After he retired as editor in 1986, Julie continued to work as DC's goodwill ambassador, attending numerous comic book conventions every year. No matter how many conventions he attended and how many panels he appeared on, Julie was always ready to share a truckload of stories about his career and the comics industry. We often joked about the fact that the other people on a panel with Julie would have little to do. Once he got rolling, there wasn't much that could stop him.
  One year at the San Diego convention, I moderated an hour-long panel on the origins of the Silver Age of comics. Julie was on the panel, along with three or four others, none of whom I can recall now. To open, I invited the other panelists to introduce themselves and say a few words. One objected, saying that Julie should go first. I said, "Trust me, speak now."
  Once they had all said a few words, I turned to Julie and said, "Tell us how you invented the Silver Age of comics." Well, Julie was off and running. He spoke for 45 minutes non-stop, at which point he looked at his watch and said, "I'm having dinner with Gil Kane at 6:00, so I have to leave now." He got a standing ovation as he made his way to the door, but before he could leave I said, "Julie, you didn't tell them how you came up with Barry Allen's name." Which resulted in Julie doing another 15 minutes from the doorway! Then he looked at his watch, said, "That's it, Rozakis! Now I'm late for dinner!" and disappeared down the hall.
  And, it now being 6:00, the panel was over. The other panelists, having spent the hour as spectators, laughed among themselves when one said, "What were we even up here for?"

  One of Julie's favorite foods was bean soup. When DC was in the Warner Communications building at 75 Rockefeller Plaza, Julie would quiz whoever had eaten in the company cafeteria about whether they had bean soup that day. If they did, he would find a "willing volunteer" to go down and get him a cup.
  One day while I was food shopping with Laurie, I noticed that they had a new "Cup-a-Soup" variety: bean soup. When I mentioned it to Julie the following week, he said, "And you didn't buy it for me?!" So I went back to the store to get it, only to discover that it was being test-marketed at the time and was sold out. It was at least another six months before it came on the market, but each week Julie would ask me, "Did you find that bean soup yet?"

  Every day before he left the office, Julie did two things. He called his wife Jean to say he was on his way home and he went to the men's room. The latter became known as "Schwartz's Law: Never go anywhere without going first." Julie's philosophy was simple. He took the subway back and forth to work and you never knew when the train might be delayed in the tunnel somewhere.
  Numerous people in the business who knew Julie readily agree with his thoughts on the matter. In fact, following Julie's funeral service in 2004, Paul Kupperberg, Marty Pasko, Bob Greenberger and I all headed to the men's room before leaving the funeral home. As Kupps put it, "Well, it's what Julie would have done!"

  One last Strange Schwartz Story: My father and Julie were both born in 1915 in New York City. Both attended and graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School. Is it hard to imagine that, in some classroom during their four years there, Schwartz and Rozakis weren't seated right near one another? My father and Julie met once during my DC tenure, fairly early in my career there, when my father came up to see the office. But who can say if it really was their first meeting and only meeting? 

  So, happy birthday, Julie. I hope that, wherever you are, you are entertaining everyone with your stories, taking a break every now and then to enjoy some bean soup... and, of course, exercising Schwartz's law.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On the Roads

   Despite all of the new safety improvements being added to cars and touted on their commercials, it would seem that many of the vehicles on the roads these days are lacking one of those basics: The turn signal!
   That has to be the reason there are so many drivers switching lanes and making turns without any sort of indication of their intentions. Surely they don't expect everyone to read their minds, right?
   Of course, it could just be that these drivers don't have any hands free to flip the turn signal, what with the coffee cup in one hand and the smartphone in the other.
   It's only a matter of time until some car manufacturer announces that it now has a voice-activated turn signal. "Left lane!" Blink-a-blink. "Right lane!" Blink-a-blink. "Pulling over for cop behind me." Blink-a-blink-a-blink.
   Or how about one that is tied directly to the GPS? When the robotic voice tells you to "Turn left in 500 feet," it could automatically signal for you!
   When it happens, remember where you first read about it.


   Now that I am home during the day, I've become aware of just how many lawn service companies there are in our area: There are a lot of them! 
   They work quickly; in some cases they get the lawn mowed and edged, clippings bagged, and leaves and detritus blown away in ten minutes. And then they are off to the next house, perhaps a number of blocks away.
   Most of them have stand-on lawnmowers which I guess are a bit of  hassle to load and unload onto the truck. So, instead of doing that, the operator just drives the mower from one house to another, even when they are blocks apart. 
   In the space of an hour this morning, I saw five different mowers go by. (One of them made a brief detour to mow our next door neighbor's lawn.) It was like watching a very disjointed and quite noisy parade.
   One can only imagine if competition heats up and these guys start racing one another to houses to get the lawns mowed.


   There is a really lovely bicycle path that runs through Farmingdale (continuing south to Massapequa and north to Plainview), though "bicycle path" is really a misnomer since it is used just as much by folks who are walking, running, and rollerblading.
   Common courtesy requires bicyclers to advise walkers, etc. that they are about to pass them so that these pedestrians don't suddenly move into the path of the approaching two-wheeler. This is easily accomplished by saying (loud enough so they can hear you) "On your left!"
   Unfortunately, there appear to be many bike riders who are mutes because they go whizzing by without uttering a sound, much to the startled dismay of those they are passing.
   Maybe some safety-minded inventor can come up with a radar detector for bicycles that can sense people ahead and sound a warning. "Look out! Biker coming!" "Get out of the way!" Or perhaps just, "On your left!"

Monday, June 1, 2015

Old Photo of the Week #16

   CTY 2015 is just a few weeks away and it will be our twentieth summer at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland.
   We had spent our first three summers at Goucher College in Towson and by the third year, it was pretty obvious that they weren't particularly thrilled to have us there. Any time we encountered something particularly egregious -- such as the Friday they decided to install new windows and air conditioners in the dorm rooms we were living in, then did not finish before the end of the work day and left rooms with an open hole in the wall -- we announced that we had be "Gouched!"
   Dining left a great deal to be desired as well. There was no air conditioning in the dining hall so the platters of melon put out at breakfast time (and again at lunch and then dinner) started growing a layer of fuzz. A huge platter of marshmallow Rice Krispies treats melted into a giant mushy mess that the kids grabbed handfuls of. And such main courses as Tofu Jambalaya and Vegetarian Stew with beef -- "It has vegetables in it, so it's vegetarian." -- resulted in a lot of us losing weight whether we wanted to or not.

Bob in line at the steam table pointing at something brown and unrecognizable in a tray: "What's that?"
Server: "It's a vegetable."
Bob: "What kind?"
Server: "I don't know."
Bob: "Then how do you know it's a vegetable?"
Server: "It's in a square pan. Square pans are vegetables. Long pans are meat."

  Washington College, across the Bay from Baltimore, was a breath of fresh air for those of us who were returning staffers.  It was not without its faults -- the dorm building we were in had some rooms that were so small that my colleague Gwydion Suilebhan remarked, "I have to go out in the hall to change my mind." -- but they were happy to have us and went out of their way to get us anything we needed.
   And the food? Hand-carved side of beef. Swordfish steaks (with pineapple chutney). An all-you-can-eat crab dinner. Nobody lost weight at the C'town site!

   Anyway, the photo above was taken in the dining hall in 1996. Al Schlifstein, Ed Hild, Gwydion Suilebhan, yours truly, and Andrew Wayne were a major contingent of the group that our Academic Dean, Barbara Parker, referred to as "The Usual Suspects."
   As our twentieth year begins, the others have all long ago moved on to other ways to spend their summers. The dining hall has since been demolished and replaced. Even my glasses, mustache and hair are gone!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Writing Prompts

I went for a bike ride after dinner, not an uncommon event. Though a bit breezy, it was a sunny and warm evening for a ride.

Perhaps because this year's teaching stint at CTY is less than five weeks away I found myself noticing things that would make interesting writing prompts:

* A man wearing shorts and a tee shirt, black socks and dress shoes, and a fedora  watering his lawn.
* A single sandal, white with rhinestones, sitting in the middle of the street. (Thankfully, there was no foot in it.)
* A black fright wig hanging from a branch over the bike path. (No head in it.)
* A neighbor whose car I recognized crossing my path three different times in three different places that did not seem to tie together (and none were near her house).
* A pile of old furniture at the curb in front of a house with the sign "Free or Garbage."

Pens ready? Pick one and start writing.