Thursday, December 31, 2009

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

Well, I didn't expect to be sitting here writing a blog entry. In fact, Laurie and I were supposed to be in Cape Cod at a wedding (that of James, brother of our daughter-in-law Rebecca). But we woke up this morning to find it snowing and a check of the storm's track had it moving up the coast and across southern New England at about the same time we would be.

Well, in our younger days, we would have been game for spending however many hours the 250-mile trip would take, but these days we aren't quite so adventurous. So we phoned Chuck to advise him of our cancelled plans, sent our good wishes to the newlyweds, and stayed home.

It got me thinking about how we've spent past New Year's Eves...
Recent ones have been at dinner parties at Gudrun's. This year, however, she is away, so there is no dinner party.
We spent a number of years with Merrill and Marty, at whatever party Marty's band was playing.
Others were spent with Jodi and Alex, and I can recall at least one of those at which Alex's brother, a chiropractor, was giving folks adjustments.
A few were spent at Sam Lord's Castle in Barbados.
And there was a year that we accepted invitations to two different neighborhood parties. Like Archie on dates with Betty and Veronica at the same time, we took turns ducking out of one and trotting down the street to the other. And, if I recall correctly, Sammi was having a party of her own at our house, so we kept stopping by to check up on that as well. (I can't say which party we were at when the ball dropped, but I do know Laurie and I were both at the same place at the time.)

Wherever you are this evening, I wish you and yours a Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Traditions

When Chuck and Sammi were small, we started one of our Christmas traditions, driving around town looking at the Christmas lights on all the houses. Some years, we did it on Christmas Eve, but switched it to another night if we had some plans.

Though Chuck lost interest in it after awhile, Sammi and I have continued to do it every year. With a couple of CDs of Christmas music -- Gloria Estefan and Karen Carpenter are the two favorites -- we head out and drive a varied route up and down and around Farmingdale. Over the years, we added keeping a list of how many of one type or another of decorations we see. The list changes each year, but we've tallied the number of wooden reindeer, icicle lights, blow-up Santas, light-up candy canes, sheep in mangers, and all sorts of things. And though we never actually give out a prize of any sort, we always pick a house that we think is the best-decorated of the year.


For as long as I can remember, I have watched the Alastair Sim version of "A Christmas Carol" on Christmas Eve. Way back when, it was a staple on Channel 5, usually starting at 11:00 p.m. There have been plenty of other versions over the years, but the Sim one has always been my favorite. (It was followed by the Gene Lockhardt version and I would often stay up watching that as well, so I guess that would have to be my second favorite version.)

When we got a VCR, I taped both so that I could start watching them a bit earlier in the evening (and also fast-forward through the commercials). And when NBC turned "It's a Wonderful Life" into a Christmas Eve tradition, I added that to my annual viewing list. I taped that as well, so that I could watch it after Sammi and I did our Christmas lights viewing (and, again, skip the commercials). A couple of years ago, the kids got me the movies on DVD, so I no longer have to worry about commercials at all.


When the kids were little and still believed in Santa, I would wait till they'd gone to sleep, then retrieved the presents from whichever closet Laurie and I had stored them away and put them under the tree. (One year, we spent Christmas in Barbados. As Laurie was getting Chuck and Sammi into the car to go to the airport, I got the presents and put them under the tree. When we got home ten days later, the kids were convinced that Santa had delivered the gifts in our absence.)

As in many homes, we put out a snack for Santa. The traditional cookies and milk were replaced with ice water and an orange when we decided that "Santa" needed to eat more healthily.

On Christmas morning, Chuck and Sammi were allowed to come down and empty their stockings whenever they awoke, but they could not wake up Laurie and me to open the gifts until 8:00. I don't think I've ever asked what the earliest time they crept downstairs was, but if they were anything like my brothers and me when we were kids, I'm sure it was before dawn on more than one occasion.


This year will be the first since Chuck's birth that we will not have either of our children in the house on Christmas morning. Chuck and Rebecca are spending the holiday with her parents in Washington, D.C., as they've done for the past few years, establishing a Christmas tradition of their own.

Sammi is out in California visiting her boyfriend, Bill, who is in the Air Force and does not have the time off to come to New York for the holidays. They have spent the day working their way through the Feast of the Seven Fishes and are then are heading to San Francisco tomorrow for the weekend.

But while I won't be piling presents under the tree or eating an orange tonight, I've already watched "It's a Wonderful Life" and am now joining Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas for their annual tale of his redemption.

So, as I head off to bed, let me close with the words of Clement Clarke Moore: "Merry Christmas to all...and to all a good night."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Snows of Yesteryear

One Saturday in early February of 1969, a group of us went to the beach.

No, we weren't trying to become members of the Polar Bear Club; our goal was to take a picture for the Elmont High School yearbook. For our opening photo essay, we wanted a shot of students looking (metaphorically) towards the future, the vast ocean stretching out before us. And, like many who had done it before and many who have done it since, we thought we were being totally original.

It was a beautiful sunny day. The temperature was in the low 40s, the air was crisply fresh, and the sky was that bright winter blue. And, while there was a breeze, it was warm enough for us to doff our coats and pose as if it were a summer afternoon.

When we were finished and getting ready to leave, one of my compatriots mentioned that he heard it was supposed to snow the next day. We all scoffed. Look at this weather; there wasn't a cloud in the sky.

Now you have to keep in mind that this was in the days before Doppler radar, satellite imagery, TV stations devoted solely to the weather, and the panic-generating overkill coverage by the media that we have today. Even when it started to snow, the weather forecasters could only guess about how much we would get and how long it would last. The U.S. Weather Bureau had, in fact, predicted that it was going to turn to rain by afternoon.

Well, it started to snow. And snow. And snow. It never turned to rain. And when it finally ended, the snow was 18 to 20 inches deep. Partially due to budget concerns and, presumably, because they were expecting it to change to rain, New York City and surrounding county officials were not quick to get plows on the roads. When they finally were dispatched, there was no way they would get ahead of the storm.

The metropolitan area was paralyzed for three days. It was not until Wednesday that NYC schools, trains, and airports were back to operating normally. It took longer in the borough of Queens, which seemed like the forgotten stepchild of the city. It was a week before some of the streets were finally cleared.

Just across the city line in Elmont, the schools were closed all week. They would have been able to open on Friday, but that was Lincoln's Birthday, which was a holiday. And though our roads were cleared, you can't get out of Nassau County without going through Queens, so no one was getting very far.

Faced with this unexpected week-long vacation, what did we do? Well, I know I made some good money by shoveling the walks and driveways of some of my neighbors. And I walked a lot to visit my friends, the closest of whom lived about a mile away.

On the first two nights we went sledding on the Cross Island Parkway. (For those non-New Yorkers reading, the Cross Island is a major highway that runs north and south on the Queens-Nassau border.) Sometime during the storm, a plow had made a single-lane path on the northbound side, skirting around cars that had been stuck and abandoned all along the way. The snow that remained in that path was great for sledding, but the best part of all was the hill overlooking the merge of the Cross Island with the Southern State Parkway. We had a great time zipping down and across an area that normally would have been filled with four lanes of traffic!

Eventually, the snow melted and our senior year at Elmont continued towards graduation. But the Blizzard of '69 had one more effect on us. The schools had been closed for four days, but they had only allotted three snow days to the schedule. In order to fulfill the state-mandated number of school days, we all had to go to school one last Monday in late June... the day after we graduated.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow Stories

As blizzards go, the one we experienced over the past weekend is supposed to have been a record-breaker. The record broken, however, is apparently for snowfall before the actual start of winter. Or snowfall on the last shopping weekend before Christmas. Or snowfall in years that you might think are prime numbers but aren't. We got somewhere in the neighborhood of a foot and a half of snow, but virtually all of came overnight and the plows seemed able to stay ahead of it as far as keeping the streets relatively clear.

As blizzards go, however, this one did wreak havoc with travel plans. Sammi was supposed to fly home on Saturday afternoon, but Delta, apparently succumbing to the doomsday scenarios being broadcast by the media, cancelled all four of its flights for the day, including two in the morning, well before a snowflake had fallen (and while it was only raining on the Richmond end). When Sammi was finally able to get through to a live person at the airline, she was rebooked for the same flight on Sunday. All well and good until Delta cancelled all the flights for a second day, despite the fact that the storm had blown out of here by mid-morning.

Since Sammi was scheduled on a flight from NY to California this morning, this created a rather large problem. There were no flights she could get on that would get her here in time. There was, however, AmTrak, and so I was able to book her a ticket on a train from Richmond to NYC yesterday. Of course, since nothing goes as planned when we're in blizzard mode, the train, which was due in at 4:45 p.m., finally arrived at 9:30. After another hour on the Long Island Railroad, Sammi was finally in the door at 11:30 last night. Her planned day and half home before departing for LA was reduced to about five hours, most of which were spent sleeping, as she and I were out the door at 4:45 this morning on the way to the airport.

This morning's flight, on American, seems to have departed as scheduled. Delta, on the other hand, has sent Sammi an email advising her that they have rebooked her on "the earliest convenient flight" from Richmond to NYC. It's at 6:30 tomorrow morning.


Bob and Deb Greenberger's flight from Florida yesterday evening, on the other hand, was not a problem. In fact, it arrived some twenty minutes ahead of schedule. As we had custody of both their car and their puppy, I was picking them up.

Despite a few icy patches on the roads, getting to LaGuardia Airport last night was fairly easy. Not many folks were out driving on a frigid Sunday night after a blizzard. Those who were, however, all seem to have been headed for LaGuardia. It took me as long to get from the entrance to the "arriving passengers" area to its exit (having extracted Bob and Deb from the crowds of waiting folks in the process) as it did to go the 25 miles to the airport!

First, two lanes of traffic were forced to merge into one because the other was filled with cars whose drivers were apparently just waiting. The single lane then spread to four in front of the terminal, three of which were filled with more "waiting cars" as drivers in the only moving lane tried to squeeze in among them. Add a traffic light that turned red every time a pedestrian appeared and it's little wonder why it took almost forty minutes to make a quarter-mile loop.

The pick-up and drop-off areas are usually policed by security personnel who blow their whistles and wave you on if you are stopped for more than thirty seconds. (On one occasion a few years ago, I was confronted with one who kept yelling and angrily waving at me to move even as a crowd of pedestrians were walking in front of my car.) Last night, however, they were all missing in action -- lost in a giant snowdrift, perhaps -- and so, chaos ensued.


CRI's office is in a group of buildings that form a U-shape around a central parking area. Said parking area accumulated quite a bit of snow, which the plowers pushed into a couple of sizable mountains in the middle. Actually, I should say that's where they pushed most of the snow. The rest got pushed up against the buildings... including the office doors and garage doors and loading docks. Employees of the various businesses here got quite a surprise when they drove in this morning and discovered their workplaces were virtually inaccessible. (We at CRI were a bit more fortunate; our truck driver, his son and a friend came by yesterday and dug a path to our doorway.)

Today, due to numerous complaints to the landlord, there was a payloader dispatched to move all the snow from in front of the buildings. Of course, since the parking lot is now filled with cars, he hasn't got as many options for where to put it as he would have had yesterday when we were all at home.

Those two mountains of snow in the middle of the lot... I think they're going to be with us till spring rolls around.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sammi

At 8:20 in the morning twenty-five years ago, my daughter Sammi finally entered the world. I say "finally" because we had been expecting her arrival for almost three weeks.

We had what we thought was a pretty good preparedness plan for her birth. My mother was coming to stay with us to take care of Chuck while Laurie was in the hospital; she lived about 30 miles away and I would pick her up when the time was near.

On the 4th of December, I was lying on the living room couch reading at about 11:30 p.m. when Laurie came downstairs and said, "I think it's time." I threw on some clothes, called my mom to say I was on the way, and raced off to get her.
We got back to the house at about 1:00 in the morning. I was expecting to find Laurie sitting on the couch with her coat on, ready to go. Instead, there was no sign of her. My first thought was that we had cut things too closely and she had gotten an ambulance or one of the neighbors to take her to the hospital. But then, where was Chuckie?
I went upstairs and found him sound asleep in his bed.
And in our bedroom, there was Laurie, also sound asleep. I woke her and asked, "What's going on?"
"It was a false alarm," she replied.
I went down and told my mother what was going on. "Well, I hope you're not planning to drive me home," she replied. I wasn't and she stayed for the duration.

Two nights later, we had invited Karen Smith, an old college friend, over for dinner. When I got home from work, Laurie advised me that she had called Karen to reschedule. "I'm having a baby," she told Karen.
We ate and then we headed off to the hospital. Though Laurie's water had broken, Sammi still seemed in no great rush to be born. After a few hours in the hospital, Laurie decided that I should go home and get some sleep.
I remember getting home in time to watch "Hill Street Blues," and then just after I turned out the light to go to sleep, the phone rang. It was a nurse in the hospital. She said my wife wanted me to come back because she was lonely. (This was not actually the case; there were some signs of possible fetal distress and Laurie wanted me there. But she also did not want me to be upset while I was driving, so she had the nurse say she was lonely.)
I spent the night dozing in a plastic chair in the labor room because Sammi still was not in any hurry to arrive. At about 6:30, the doctor decided Sammi needed a little coaxing and gave Laurie a shot. He assured me that I had time to go down and get a cup of coffee.
When I got back to the room, I found Laurie telling the nurse, "Go get the doctor. The baby is coming right now!"
The doctor came in and said, "It can't be happening this fast," then took a look and said, "Oh, I guess it can!"

And at 8:20 a.m. on December 7, 1984, Samantha Jill Rozakis finally made her debut!

Happy birthday, Sammi... and many. many more!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright...

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am really tired of hearing about Tiger Woods, his accident, his indiscretions, and the rest of the "scandal" that has been the hot topic on TV, the newspapers and magazines, and online for the past week. Given Tiger's status as a sports celebrity, the story has been fodder for news programs, the various sports talk shows, and the "entertainment news" shows, making it virtually impossible to have the TV on for an hour without someone mentioning his name.

Is it news? No, it's just gossip...on a grand scale.

Imagine that someone you work with is having an extra-marital affair and that secret is discovered by another co-worker. How long before the story spreads through the company, the topic whispered about in the copy room and the coffee-maker? The only relevance it holds, however, is if it affects how your co-worker does his or her job. If it doesn't, then it's nobody's business.

In the case of an elected official (like the one who claimed he was off hiking in the Andes or whatever), the question is, again, does the situation affect how the job is performed. If the answer is "yes," then we have a right to be concerned, though only to the extent that it affects the responsibilities to the public. If the answer if "no," then, again, it is nobody else's business.

But in the case of a sports figure like Tiger, whose "job" is to win golf tournaments, why should any of us really care if, as a result of his "transgressions," he can't concentrate and never wins another one? He's just another in a long line of celebrities who has managed to screw up his life.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Worst Travel Day of the Year

Now that Sammi is living and working in Virginia, this is the first Thanksgiving that she has to travel a great distance to come home. As it is a seven-to-eight hour drive and she had to work yesterday, we were concerned about her making it alone.

Initially, there were two friends in the Washington area who were going to hitch a ride with her, which would have broken up the trip a bit. However, those plans fell through and so I decided to fly down to Richmond and drive back with her.

On paper, it all looked easy. There is a 12:35 flight from JFK to Richmond, arriving at 2:15. Since Sammi had a shortened day and was done at 1:00, it fit perfectly into the schedule. And would have worked quite well had the plane actually departed.
Half the passengers were already on board when they decided there was a "mechanical situation" and sent us all back to the terminal. (I actually never made it to the plane; I was halfway down the gangway when I was confronted with my fellow fliers coming in the opposite direction.)
Eventually, they decided they were replacing our plane with a different one and we finally boarded (or re-boarded, as the case may be) at 1:45. The plane did not actually leave the ground until 2:40. And so, we arrived in Richmond at 4:00, where Sammi was waiting in the terminal.

And so we headed off on what turned out to be an eight-hour second part of my round-trip.
The trip was not without its amusing sidelights, however...
I had packed a lunch -- a wrap and a banana -- and had it in my bag when I went through the security check at the airport. My bag was stopped inside the x-ray machine and the inspector called her supervisor over and said, "What do you think that could be?"
"It's a banana!" replied the supervisor.
And my bag continued through the machine.

While I was sitting in the terminal, the mother of a small boy sat a few seats away. She and her husband were taking turns following their son around as he explored. (He was particularly fascinated by the high stools in the bar and kept running back in there.) Eventually, they steered him back to the seat to get him to eat some lunch. Though his parents offered him the seat between them, he decided to sit on the other side of his father and next to me.
I said hello to him and asked him his name. He said his name was Teddy and then said, "What's your name?"
"My name is Bob."
"Hello, Bob," he said.
Then he said to his father, "Say hello to Bob."
And his father said hello.
Then Teddy said to his mother, "Say hello to Bob."
And his mother said hello.
Teddy took another bite of his sandwich and was off and roaming again, with his father right behind him.
After awhile, as our stay in the terminal dragged on, Teddy's mother got up and went off in search of father and son, and another couple took the seats.
A few minutes later, all three returned, sharing a giant cookie they had purchased (at the Giant Airport Cookies Bakery, no doubt). Teddy, holding a chunk of cookie in his hand, climbed into the seat next to me and said, "Hello, Bob. I came back." Then he pointed to his cookie and said, "I have a cookie. Do you want a cookie?"
I told him no, thank you, so he turned to the woman on the other side of him and asked her if she wanted a cookie. I don't think she understood what he was asking, so she said yes. His mother then broke off a piece of the cookie and told Teddy that he should give it to the woman. Instead, he stuck it in his mouth.
His mother told him that he had offered her a cookie and that that was sharing. She broke off another piece and said that he had to give it to the woman. This time, he got the idea and handed it over. And then he was off and running again, with both parents on his heels.
When we finally did board, I was seated in the back of the plane and Teddy and his parents were in the middle. They had waited and were among the last to board; Teddy seemed pretty tuckered out when his mother carried him in, so I'm pretty sure he had a nice nap. (So did I, for that matter.)
When we arrived in Richmond, I passed Teddy and his mother as we were disembarking. I stopped to say goodbye. His mother told me that when they were getting on board, Teddy kept asking, "Where's Bob?" and they had to assure him I was on the plane. She said that they saw where I was sitting and pointed me out to him.
I was heading on my way and Teddy said to his mother, "Where is Bob going?"
"He has to go home," said his mother.
Teddy seemed disappointed, but he said, "Goodbye, Bob." And told his mother, "Say goodbye to Bob."
Which she did.
I can only presume that he told his father afterwards that he didn't say goodbye to me.

Sammi has a GPS device in her car that she calls "Bernice." For the most part, Bernice functions just fine, advising you when a turn is approaching, cautioning you when you go over the speed limit, etc.
But Bernice has a problem if you have choose a different route from hers.
Though Bernice plotted a route up I-95 for us, taking us past Washington DC and Baltimore, I prefer crossing the Bay Bridge and heading up through eastern Maryland and Delaware. (Most of that route is the one I take to CTY in Chestertown, so I'm quite familiar with it.) Well, once we veered from her intended path, Bernice kept telling up to turn around.
In fact, for each of about ten exits as we approached the Bay Bridge, she kept devising alternate paths that would take us back the way she wanted us to go.
When we were about halfway across the bridge, she suddenly started telling us to make a u-turn! Sammi was on the phone with Chuck at the time and he could not figure out who was telling us to turn around. (While Bernice's seeming "nervous breakdown" and directions could have led to disaster, I did eventually figure out why she was so insistent. The Bay Bridge has two separate spans, one eastbound and one westbound. However, to ease traffic flow, they will often reverse the direction of cars on one lane of a span. We were in the reverse-traffic lane, driving east on the westbound span, which Bernice interpreted as our driving the wrong way up a one-way street.)
Once we were across the bridge, however, Bernice tried a few more times to get us to go back to her original route (which would have included going back across the bridge) before finally recalculating and coming up with the route I had been following all along.

We finally got home a few minutes past midnight.

Talking Turkey

Cooking the Thanksgiving turkey has been my task for the past thirty-some years, dating back to the third time Laurie and I hosted the holiday for our families.

Why the third time, you might wonder? Well, for our first Thanksgiving, Laurie did all the cooking, including the bird. But, going for that Norman Rockwell moment, I did the carving. Laurie had left the neck inside the carcass and the plastic bag containing the liver, et al, under the "front flap" so there were these surprises when I started cutting. I pointed out that these were supposed to be removed and she agreed.

The next year, as she was prepping the bird, I asked if she had removed the neck and the plastic bag and she told me that she had indeed done so. Imagine my surprise when the bird was done and I went to carve it and found that she had not. "I'm not sticking my hand inside there!" she proclaimed.

And so, I started doing it for our third Thanksgiving.

For many years, I would get up at 4:00 in the morning on Thanksgiving Day to put the turkey in the oven. (More than once, I had been awakened by a phone call from Angelo at Ronalds Printing, the folks that printed all of DC's comics, with a problem that had to be addressed. It is not Thanksgiving in Canada, so it was a regular workday there and, since they run the presses 24/7, there were also problems at any time of the day or night.)

I believe the last time I actually cooked the turkey on Thanksgiving was the year that it took longer than it was supposed to. That was also the year I almost used the electric knife to carve
my father-in-law as well as the turkey.
You have to understand that my father-in-law had his "rules" about eating meals. If dinner was at 5:45, you had better be eating at 5:45. He once ate an uncooked hamburger because it was 5:45. When he arrived for Thanksgiving dinner at 3:00, he expected to start eating at 3:00. (One year I handed him his bowl of fruit salad as he walked in the door because they were a couple of minutes late.)
Anyway, since the turkey was not done, we were running seriously behind schedule that year. When it finally was, I started carving, with my father-in-law standing right next to me and grabbing slices of turkey as I was cutting them. I finally had to have Laurie remove him from the kitchen before he lost a finger.
That was also the year that he and my mother-in-law left before dessert, much to my mother-in-law's dismay. The allotted Thanksgiving visit time was used up and they had to go. (To be fair, in the early years they used to have to go home "to make sure the dog was okay." In later years, however, after the pooch had gone to doggy heaven, they continued to depart on schedule. We used to say that they were going home to make sure the dog was still dead.)

In order to avoid another delayed turkey fiasco, I've started cooking the bird on Wednesday. (This has also freed up the oven on T'Day for stuffing, yams, and all other assorted foods.) I stay up until it is finished, carve it in the wee hours, and then have it ready for warming at dinner time on Thanksgiving Day.
In recent years, as the number of family and friends who join us has increased, we've added a turkey breast (or two) to the mix. Those get cooked on Tuesday night!

And I always remove the neck and the plastic bags beforehand.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

...and Out Again

For those of you who might be planning to watch the AMC version of "The Prisoner," consider this a Spoiler Warning. While I don't know if they are planning to run it again in the near future, last night's finale included an announcement that you can advance-order it from Amazon for delivery in March of next year. My advice: Don't bother.

Though this hodge-podge included bits and pieces of the original -- people saying "Be seeing you," Rover the bouncing balloon, the shopkeeper providing maps of the Village -- and the episodes could claim to be "inspired" by ones from the McGoohan series, it was no more "The Prisoner" than I am an Olympic volleyball player.

From the beginning, I felt that there was far too much focus on Number 2 (or just "2" since this version opted to drop the "Number" from the names), his comatose wife, and his son. In the original, each episode had a new Number 2, replacing another who had failed to break Number 6 and learn why he had resigned. It was obvious that whoever was running the Village did not tolerate failure. As it turned out, in the new version there was an important reason for all the emphasis on "2" and Mrs. "2" because the Village existed in her head.

Remember "St. Elsewhere"? The series ended its run revealing that everything had been a fantasy in the head of an autistic child. Presumably, no one knew about it but the boy. With the exception of his father and grandfather, who he recast as doctors in his "movie of the mind," the rest of the characters did not exist.

In "The Prisoner," however, all the people in the Village are somehow transported inside the dream world of Mrs. "2" and, based on what we see of "6," are existing in both places at the same time. It is not clear, however, where they physically are in our world while leading their idyllic lives in the Village.

Unlike Patrick McGoohan's Number 6, a secret agent who quits being a spy, this "6" resigns from a job in some kind of "Big Brother is Watching" operation. And rather than wanting to know why he resigned, the goal of "2" seems to be to lure "6" back so he can be in charge of the operation after the Village is moved into the mind of his new-found girlfriend.

Which, by the way, he succeeds in doing. So, unlike the original, this version is a number and is not a free man!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"In the Village..."

One summer Saturday evening forty-plus years ago, the first episode of a British import TV series debuted on CBS. It starred Patrick McGoohan, who we American audiences knew as John Drake from the program "Secret Agent." It was, of course, "The Prisoner," and from the opening sequence with its pounding theme to the end of that initial hour, it was captivating.

A secret agent resigns and is spirited away to The Village, where he, who we fans thought of as John Drake, was called Number 6. Each week, a succession of men and women known only as Number 2 try all sorts of physical and mental tricks to get him to explain why he resigned. In the end, Number 6 does escape, but the ending was just a puzzling as the beginning.

As you probably have guessed, I was an instant fan and, since these were the days before VCRs and TIVO and DVD sets, I would not go out on a Saturday night until after "The Prisoner" was over.

In the decades that followed, the program reappeared a couple of times and I was happy to see it again. I taped it sometime in the early 80s and then got the DVD collection a few years ago. I still enjoy watching it every few years.


Jump to 2009 and AMC's remake of the program. Despite the far-from-glowing reviews I'd read, I wanted to view it with an open mind. Unfortunately, I can't watch it without thinking about how it doesn't compare.

The whimsical little Village of the original has been replaced by a Levittown in the middle of the desert, but it also seems to be more a city than a village. Instead of a place filled only with adults, there are children and entire families in this version, and they even have barbecues in their little Levittown backyards.

Rather than the succession of Numbers 2 that the original had, making us aware that whoever was in charge did not tolerate the failure of the various people who filled the seat to break Number 6, this new version has a 2 who seems more concerned with his own family problems than getting any information from 6. And while Ian McKellan could hold his own against Leo McKern as the Village leader, Jim Caviezel is no Patrick McGoohan.

The program continues over the next two nights with a total of six episodes. I'll reserve my final opinion until after I see them all, but, so far, I am underwhelmed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Romemoe & Curliet

Some blogs back, I told about my 4th grade writing career -- turning the week's spelling words into stories about Silly Billy -- and hinted about something else I'd written then. It took me some time to unearth it, but in a box of very old mementos, I found the one-and-only copy of the script for "Romemoe and Curliet."

Fifty years later, a lot of the back story has been forgotten, but I can tell you this:
* I was a big fan of the Three Stooges.
* My brothers and I got hand puppets of Moe, Larry, and Curly for Christmas -- one for each of us.
* My two closest friends in 4th grade were John Cataldi and Ricky Margaroli.
* It's a safe bet I had not read Romeo and Juliet at the time and had only the vaguest idea of the plot.

One day, John and Ricky (who were also Three Stooges fans) and I were talking about what it might be like if Moe, Larry and Curly performed one of Shakespeare's plays. [It's likely that the only one we knew of was Romeo and Juliet, so I doubt that we would have hit on doing "Moebeth" or "A Midsummer Night's Curly."] I mentioned that we had the three puppets and that led to the idea of doing a puppet show.

Initially, the three of us were going to collaborate on the script. I had access to a typewriter at home and was on my way to mastering my skills as a four-fingered typist, so I would be the one to type it up. The collaborative process proved to be a problem, as we spent a great deal of time discussing what I was going to put on paper. Since there was no Wite-Out in those days, whatever I typed was going to be a permanent part of the script.

Needless to say, when the guys had to go home for dinner, the only thing that had been written was the preface to the script that explained why we were creating the play. (We wanted to "give something back to Elmont Road School.")

But I was on a roll. Over the next couple of days I pecked away at the typewriter, producing the script about the two families -- the Practical Jokers and the Montagooses -- and the star-crossed lovers, Romemoe and Curliet. (Larry had a smaller role as Larrybalt, but then, he always seemed to be the odd man out in the Stooges films too.) In fact, it was mostly a collection of slapstick and corny jokes.

William Shakespeare was probably spinning in his grave, but I was sure I had written a great masterpiece. John and Ricky, who I was afraid would be upset that we didn't collaborate on the script, turned out to be quite happy to be getting their names on something they didn't have to write.
So we took it to our teacher, Mrs. Fox, to ask if we could perform it as a puppet show for the class. Mrs. Fox went us one better; she took the script to Mrs. Carlson, the principal, to suggest that we perform it for the entire school! As you may have guessed, Mrs. Carlson thought it was a wonderful idea.

I do remember having a meeting with Mrs. Carlson about the script. She asked for a couple of changes. At one point in the script, one of the characters explains how he knows what is going to happen and he tells the king it is because he read it in a comic book. There follows a half-page of dialogue about which comic books he and the king enjoy reading. (In fact, it is the list of comic books that I enjoyed reading!) Mrs. Carlson suggested that we did not need this sequence and the script has her pencil note that we should omit it.
Her other request was a name change. I had called one of the characters Jeezy Jinx Jokeson, going for alliteration, obviously. And while I might have come up with a better name afterwards, this is what was typed into the script. Anyway, Mrs. Carlson thought the name Jeezy sounded too much like Jesus and suggested we call him Cheesy instead. Well, I certainly wasn't going to argue with the principal so, though no change was made on the script, we called him Cheesy in the performance.

Now that we were headed for the big stage, we had to assemble a cast -- both puppets and puppeteers. I persuaded my brothers to allow me to borrow Larry and Curly for the show. (We glued a wad of yellow yarn to Curly's head to turn him into Curliet. We also put some rouge and lipstick on the puppet's face; much to my brother Jimmy's annoyance, we could never get it off.) Then we gathered up whatever puppets we had to fill out the cast.
Initially, we were planning to have other kids in the class performing the various secondary characters. This proved unwieldy because there were times when we would have had half a dozen or more people behind our little puppet stage -- all trying to read from the single copy of the script -- so all the parts were divided among John, Ricky and me.
The stage was actually a cafeteria table with some pieces of cardboard propped on it to hold up the curtain. Whatever set we had was made up of dollhouse furniture.

I do not recall much about the actual performance. I remember standing on the stage with John and Ricky, reading the preface to the audience of students and teachers. And that it was tricky behind the table making the puppets move around while trying to speak into the microphone which was lying on the table in front of us. I can't say whether the show was well-received; I'm sure the classes applauded when it was over, but who knows whether they actually liked or even understood it.

In any case, it was the first time I had written something that was performed for an audience. It was far from the only time... but those are stories for other days.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


Think that voting in an "off-year election" doesn't matter? Consider the following from our district...

Nassau Legislature-District 14 -- 57 of 57 precincts reporting (100%) District 14
Joseph Belesi (R,C) - 7,184 - 50%
David Mejias* (D,I,WF) - 7,156 - 50%

At the moment, Mr. Belesi has won the seat by 18 votes. It's a safe bet that we will be following the lead set last year in Minnesota by Norm Coleman and Al Franken as they count, recount, and re-recount the votes, especially the absentee ballots.

Meanwhile, on the county-wide level...

County Executive - Nassau
1,142 of 1,142 precincts reporting (100%)
Thomas Suozzi* Dem - 118,111 - 48%
Edward Mangano, Rep - 117,874 - 48%
Steven Hansen, Con - 9,552 - 4%

Mr. Suozzi has won by 335 votes. However, both sides are proclaiming victory based on "favorable results of the pending recount."

As far as I know, we have no opportunity to have "hanging chads" and "dimpled chads" in our elections.


By the way, should Mr. Belesi prevail -- he is one of the candidates who campaigned with the "Tax Revolt" signs I mentioned in my previous posting -- I will look forward to seeing my property taxes slashed.

Or maybe we're all just going to throw tea in the Oyster Bay harbor.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


"Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.'' — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Now that Election Day has passed, the campaign signs that have been on lawns and fences for the past two months will finally start to disappear and the mailbox will be empty of the seemingly endless flow of cards and fliers promoting and/or excoriating the candidates.

While most of the campaign signs have been a very patriotic red, white and blue, a couple of local candidates did theirs in green and purple and emblazoned them with the words "Tax Revolt." (For those comic book fans among you, the green and purple they chose are remarkably similar to the colors of the "battle suit" Lex Luthor had in the 70s and 80s. And about as ugly.) These candidates encouraged voters to join them and rebel against the incumbent leaders and the taxes we pay.

As I write this, those two races are too close to call, so we don't know whether we will have a "tax revolt" or not. Well, actually, we do know. Despite all the claims of all the candidates that have ever run for office that they are going to reduce ( or "slash" as many like to say)government spending and cut taxes, it never happens. Whoever gets into office recognizes that the only way the government can function is by collecting taxes. The more things people want or need, the more it costs.

But let's suppose there really was a major cut in spending on the local level so that property taxes could be reduced. What would people be willing to give up?
* Sorry, no more twice-a-week garbage collection; please bring your trash to the dump on the third Thursday of the month between 8:00 and 11:00.
* Oh, there's pothole in the road? Maybe you can get out a shovel and throw some dirt in it.
* We got a foot of snow on Friday night? Sorry, no overtime for the plow drivers, but they'll be out on Monday for eight hours. Maybe they can get to your street then.
Also, we didn't buy any salt or sand this year, so please be really careful if you go driving on the ice.
And maybe Spring will come early this year.
* We'll be closing the school buildings promptly at 3:00 every day. Perhaps you would be willing to host a meeting of the Honor Society or a Glee Club rehearsal in your basement?
Also, to save on energy costs, we'll only be heating the schools to 60 degrees. Please have your children dress warmly.
* The library will be open every Wednesday from 2:00 to 6:00. If you have any books, DVDs, or recent magazines you would like to share, please bring them in.
* "You've reached police headquarters. I'm out right now, so please leave a message. If this is an emergency, try yelling for help to attract the attention of your neighbors or passersby."
* Oh, and by the way, we've laid off a lot of people in order to make these cuts. Some of them will be your neighbors or people you know or perhaps a member of your own family. But look at the bright side; if there's no income coming in, there's no income tax! (They'll still have to pay property taxes, though. Unless, of course, they lose their house.)

And that is just on the local level.

Think we don't need someone to maintain the highways, bridges and tunnels?
How about having the armed forces to protect us?
And someone inspecting the food we buy?
Social Security and Medicare? (Would everyone who gets Medicare and is against universal health care either stop collecting or please shut up.) (And those people who complain that taxes are too high and also that Social Security benefits are not getting their annual increase in January, you too!)
Unemployment insurance?
Mail delivery?

Is there waste in the government? Of course there is.
There is also waste in every business, large and small, in this country.
And in every household.

Politicians can claim they will reduce the waste and make those tax cuts, but let's be real.
It's about as likely as the company you work for making sure that you are working every minute you are on the job. (By the way, if you're reading this on company time...)
Or you making sure to fix that leaky faucet as soon as you see the first drip, turning off the lights every time you leave a room, and getting every last drop of ketchup out of the bottle before you throw it away.

So let's stop pretending that anyone who is elected is actually going to lead a "tax revolt." Because no matter how much it saves, we can't afford it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stats Ridiculous

Time was that TV and radio sportscasters had a statistician working with them who would thumb through record books to give them a bit of trivia that tied into something that happened during the game or related to a story one of them was telling. These days, massive tomes like The Baseball Encyclopedia have been replaced by a laptop with access to every bit of information ever collected, calculated, or crunched.

Often, the stat is interesting and you can understand the manager's thinking. How has a particular batter done against a particular pitcher over the years? (For example, if Alex Rodriguez has faced a pitcher seven times and has two home runs, two doubles and a single, you might want to play the odds and walk him. Or bring in a different pitcher.) How many inherited runners has a relief pitcher allowed to score? How has a pinch hitter performed with men on base? This type of information helps determine the strategy of the opposing teams.

Then again, some of the stats are just ridiculous. Last night, for example, one popped up late in the Dodgers - Phillies game. With Philadelphia ahead 10-4 in the eighth inning, we were advised that the last time the Dodgers came back from a six-run deficit to win a post-season game was in 1956. (Just for the record, it was Game 2 of the '56 World Series. The Yankees were up 6-0 after the top of the second and the Dodgers came back with six runs in the bottom of the inning. The Dodgers eventually won the game 13-8.) An interesting fact, but it is highly unlikely that Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges or any of their teammates were going to be coming to bat. And it's a safe bet it had no bearing on what Joe Torre or Charlie Manuel did last night.

Of course, all the stats in the world really don't determine what will happen in the current situation. Casey Stengel advised that "good pitching will stop good hitting and vice-versa." And Yogi Berra reminded us, "It ain't over till it's over." Perhaps, though, we need just remember the disclaimer in all the ads for investment firms: "Past performance does not guarantee future results."

Monday, October 19, 2009

And Now, a Word From Our Sponsor

"Mr. Clean gets rid of dirt and grime and grease in just a minute. Mr. Clean will clean your whole house and everything that's in it."
"Pepsi-Cola hits the spot. Twelve full ounces, that's a lot."
"See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet."

It has been many years since any of these jingles have been broadcast, but I can still remember them...and the products they advertised. And there are plenty of other jingles and slogans rattling around in my memory, some for products and companies that are still around and others that have faded away.

Laurie and I are fans of Mad Men, which takes place at a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the early 1960s. And while much of the show is typical TV soap drama, I find the portions that relate to creating advertising campaigns the most interesting. In last night's episode, for example, the agency had to come up with a way to sell Western Union telegrams in an age when telephone use was quickly outpacing their usefulness. (This was an interesting parallel to the present day, where electronic media are replacing print.) The solution that the copywriters came up with was not dissimilar to Laurie's comment when I asked, "Gee, how would you promote something that is becoming obsolete?"

"B-O-N-O-M-O! O-O-O it's Bonomo Turkish Taffy."
"Winston tastes good like a cigarette should."
"Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is." (That one's for Alka-Seltzer, for those too young to remember it.)

In another part of last night's episode, the characters were discussing a commercial for hair spray. After hearing the proposal, the creative director tells them there was "too much story" and they come up with a quicker, cleaner way to get the point across.

That made me wonder what is going on in ad agencies today, where they seem to be coming up with campaigns that have me confused about what exactly they are trying to sell me.

Geico, for example, has gotten a lot of mileage out of the gecko, that little talking lizard with the British accent. Their "caveman" campaign, which I found tedious after awhile, has also been running a long time. Their most recent collection of ads, however, showing people being bothered by a singing wad of money with ping pong ball eyes, misses the mark. One, in which a woman keeps getting text messages from the wad of money, had me thinking it was a cellphone ad.
Allstate's commercials, with Dennis Haysbert as the spokesman, lack the creative gimmickry of Geico's, but at least I know what he's selling every time I see him.

Not so with others. There are a couple of commercials currently running that have a stern-voiced narrator reciting poetry over photos and footage that appear to be riots, war, and revolution. Only in the last seconds do you find out that it is an ad for Levi's jeans. Am I supposed to take away the idea that I need to be wearing jeans if I want to take over the world?

There's also a car commercial that shows a man skiing down the hills of San Francisco despite the fact that there is no snow. The computer-generated "stuff" he is skiing on is supposed to be gravel or ball-bearings or I don't know what. At the end of the ad, he turns into a car. (I don't recall -- or care -- what kind.) What is the message here? Buy this car and you'll feel like you're skiing? Speeding down a hill on snow and ice at risk of running into a tree?!

"Call Roto-Rotor, that's the name, and away go troubles down the drain."
"Trust Sleepy's for the rest of your life."
"McDonald's is my kind of place. It's such a happy place."

Commercials for drugs are in a class by themselves. Does every man over the age of 35 suffer from erectile dysfunction? And an uncontrollable bladder? And high cholesterol? Based on the ads, all the women in the country seem to be suffering from depression, genital herpes, and restless leg syndrome.
One thing all these commercials have in common seems to be the lines, "Ask your doctor if this drug is right for you. And be sure to tell your doctor if you are taking medications for this, that, or the other thing." Shouldn't your doctor already know what medications you're taking? If not, who are you getting to write the prescriptions?!
Of course, the disclaimers that are recited in these commercials (and the pages of them that are appended to print ads) make me wonder why anyone would even consider taking these drugs, especially when I hear something like "possible side effects may include paralysis or death."

"And like a good neighbor, State Farm is there."
"From the valley of the = Ho Ho Ho = Green Giant."
"Let Hertz put you in the driver's seat."

There's a series of commercials for some alcoholic beverage in which a group of people do something outrageous like fill an empty swimming pool with foam rubber or stage a concert in an abandoned subway tunnel. It doesn't say much for the ads when I can't recall what alcoholic beverage they're promoting. I do remember that it advises me to "drink responsibly." Somehow, I don't think that if I was "drinking responsibly," I'd come up with the idea to fill a swimming pool with foam rubber and jump in!

There are a few ads that grab my attention and get the message across. One is the American Express commercial that shows "faces" in all sorts of everyday objects while recounting all the things that you can do with your card. It's clever and one that you watch more than once to see all the different ways they've depicted the frowns and smiles.
Commercials for Target are visually interesting. There is a subtle similarity to them all, utilizing colors and their target symbol, that makes them instantly recognizable.
And the Coor's commercials which mix beer drinkers asking questions with clips of football coaches apparently answering them are clever and amusing.

But will any of today's commercials make me run out and buy something I didn't know I needed or wanted? Because, after all, isn't that what they're supposed to do? Can't think of any that accomplish that...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Up, Up and (Not) Away

Getting lots of play in the news the past couple of days is the story of the 6-year-old Colorado boy who was thought to have been in the compartment of a runaway weather balloon, resulting in a major search as well as the temporary shutdown of the Denver airport. As it turns out, he was hiding in the rafters of the garage the entire time.

Once again, our tax dollars were at work as military helicopters chased the balloon across two counties. Plans were being considered to have either someone lowered onto the balloon or to somehow place weights on it and force it down. Shooting it down was not an option, since that would have been placed its supposed passenger at great risk.

When asked why he was hiding in the garage and did not respond when he heard his parents yelling his name, the boy said it was because he thought they "did this for a show." No one seems quite sure what the comment meant, though the father said that his son was just confused by the question.

Confused or not, the boy and the rest of the family were on the "reality" show, Wife Swap, and he may well have thought this had something to do with it. According to the AP news report, the program promoted the family as storm chasers who also spend time searching for extraterrestrials.

Given their inability to locate their own son in their garage, any Martians hiding in their neighborhood have nothing to worry about.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Into the Woods

This time of year always brings back memories of the years in which Chuck was a Boy Scout in Troop 601 and the annual camping trip upstate to a piece of property owned by Bill, the Scoutmaster. In my role as "Assistant Sidekick to the Assistant Scoutmaster," I went along on this particular adventure each fall.

Though he had a house on the property, we would trek about a quarter-mile uphill to a spot where Bill had constructed a small cabin and there was plenty of open space for the boys to pitch their tents. (We fathers got to sleep in the cabin and we were quite a collection of snorers, so that it must have sounded like we had a buzz saw running in there!) There was also an outhouse up there, so that we did not have to do in the woods what bears do.

We would usually depart at about 5:00 p.m. on Friday and make the three-hour trip as a caravan. As this was the mid-1990s, very few people had portable phones, so we made do with walkie-talkies, which, unfortunately had limited range and were of little help if someone got lost. We would all pack some sandwiches, etc. and eat dinner on the way.

On one of the trips one of the boys brought along a 2-liter bottle of soda to quench his thirst. In the course of the first half hour or so, he drank it all. Needless to say, it was not long before his bladder took note and we had to make an emergency stop on the side of the road. Even as the car was slowing down, he bolted out the door and ran up an incline in the dark.
We never quite figured out where it was we had stopped, but our soda-drinker managed to relieve himself all over a hunter who was lying just over the hill. He came running down the hill almost as fast as he had run up it.

Once we reached the property, we would fill canteens and water jugs at the spigot in Bill's house, then head up the hill and set up camp. Once everything was set, the boys would retire to their tents and the dads would head into the cabin.

On Saturday morning, we'd get the campfire going and everyone would have breakfast of bacon, sausage and eggs. Then we'd head down the hill to where Bill had a skeet-shooting area as well as a rifle range. Bill and John, the co-leader, were both Nassau County police officers and knew their way around guns.
Bill's philosophy about having the boys use rifles and shotguns was simple: If they learned about them properly, there would be no fascination and they would be less likely to try using one in an unsafe situation. The boys (and the dads, for that matter) were thoroughly drilled in the safety procedures before anyone even picked up one of the guns.

Along the way, we would have lunch, usually more of the sandwiches that had been packed the before. When the shooting was done, some of us would lead some of the boys on a hike around the property while others prepared dinner. The boys were on their own for this one, having been charged with working together in small groups to bring enough food for everyone. We fathers ate separately, usually a beef stew prepared by Karl, the father we dubbed our "gourmet chef of the woods."

The evening was spent around the campfire. Some of the boys would work on merit badges; others would play hide-and-seek in the dark. Often we would have a radio and tried to pick up a far away station.
In 1993, we listened to Game 6 of the World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays. I remember this in particular because the day before, just as Chuck and I were getting ready to leave for the trip, I got a call from Angelo Messina, the Ronalds Printing rep that I dealt with. "Use your Air Canada miles, " he said, "and meet me in Toronto tomorrow. I've got two tickets for the game." I explained that I was leaving on a Boy Scout camping trip and had to pass on the opportunity.
Well, as the baseball fans among you might remember, Game 6 was the one in which the Blue Jays won the Series on Joe Carter's ninth-inning walk-off home run, probably one of the most exciting Series conclusions ever. Listening to a broadcast that faded in and out -- at one point we had the radio hanging on a branch in a tree above us -- one of the other fathers told me, "If your son ever tells you that never sacrificed anything for him when he was growing up, just tell him how you were sitting on a rock in the woods when you could have been at the World Series."

Eventually, everyone would go to sleep. And the night quiet would be shattered by the snoring coming from the cabin. Hey, I'm sure it kept the bears away!

On Sunday morning, we had another communal breakfast of bacon, sausage and eggs. Then it was time to pack up, clean up the campsite, and head home. It was always surprising to the boys to discover just how much trash we generated in 36 hours! Of course, when we pointed out to them how much food they had consumed in that period, they understood a bit better.

The first year that I went on the trip, I had four boys (including Chuck) riding in my car. We were not far along on the drive home when one of them started complaining that his stomach hurt. Thinking that he might upchuck, I told him to roll down the window and to make sure to stick his head out if that was the case.
He continued to complain and I started questioning him about the pain. Was it sharp? Was it throbbing? Did it feel like he'd been punched? Suddenly, I had a thought. "When," I asked him, "was the last time you went?"
"Thursday," he replied.
"Thursday!? You realize that everything you have eaten since then -- and it has been a considerable amount of food -- is backed up in your digestive system?"
"Well, I didn't want to go in the woods!"
"You didn't have to. You could have used the outhouse like everyone else did."
"Yeah, but I also didn't want to wipe myself with leaves!"
"There was toilet paper in the outhouse."
I pulled into the first rest area I came to, followed by the other cars in our little caravan. He ran inside and was in the men's room quite awhile. The other dads and scouts wanted to know what the emergency was and I gave them a quick explanation of my "diagnosis."
We stood around waiting for awhile and I finally had to go inside and check on him. He was still in the stall. "How are you feeling? Was it what we thought it was?" I asked.
"Ooohhh yeah!" He replied, with great relief in his voice.
The postscript to the story? When I dropped him off at home and told his mother about his digestive adventure, she said, "I packed two rolls of toilet paper in has backpack! Didn't he even look?"

Did we learn from this particular misadventure? You bet we did. Bill added a new rule for the camping trips: "Bears $#!+ in the woods and so should you."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Can I Pay to Have Your Autograph?

There is a discussion going on at one of the comics-related message boards about the cost of getting an autograph at a convention. Specifically, Adam West, who played Batman on TV in the 1960s, will be one of the guests at the Big Apple Convention in New York next weekend and a few of the folks were discussing what the charge would be. One person mentioned that he had gotten West to autograph a TV Guide some years back and it cost $25. Another responded that at more recent show, the charge was $50.

Such a practice is not new; it seems to be standard operating procedure at card shows when professional ballplayers are the guests and is becoming more common at comic book shows as well, particularly where movie and TV celebrities are involved. But is it justified?

On one hand, there are people who get books, photos. etc. autographed and immediately offer them for sale at a premium price. If it is my signature that is responsible for someone paying more, shouldn't I be entitled to a share of it?
On the other hand, if an individual buys something I've written and has no intention of selling it, why wouldn't I sign it for free? If it's a book, I presumably have a royalty deal and will get a percentage for every copy sold. If it's a comic book, I've been paid to write the script and the more people who buy it, the more likely it would be that the magazine would continue to be published.

Granted that Adam West is not making any money off an old issue of TV Guide, but the show promoters are presumably paying him something to appear, along with his expenses. Those promoters make their money from the admission they charge and one big way they attract more paying attendees is with the guests they line up.
If I am a dealer in collectibles and I want to make money on someone else's celebrity, I should be willing to share the profits and pay that person for each and every signature.
But if I am a fan of Adam West and am willing to pay $25 or more to get into the convention to see him, why should I then have to pay another $50 to have him autograph something for me?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Updates on This and That

For the record, Swimsover was October 5th this year. On Sunday, with the sun shining and the temps in the low 70s, I spent the afternoon poolside and in the water. But, acknowledging that the end was near, I put away the rafts and Robbie the Robot (the automatic vacuum). I also set out the cover for the pool guys when they come this afternoon.
Yesterday, after work and a gym workout, I came home and had one last swim. The last report from the "temperature team" before they were removed from the pool for the season, had the water at about 70 degrees.
Laurie, ever supportive, came out and proclaimed, "Look, everyone, there's a polar bear swimming in the pool!"


I commented a couple of weeks ago about a 67-year-old woman who disappeared from a cruise ship in Alaska and the ensuing search. A follow-up news story reported that video surveillance from the ship showed her jumping overboard, an apparent suicide. She suffered from an undisclosed illness and had wrapped up her affairs before going on the cruise.
The news report goes on to say that it is presumed she drowned and that the search by the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards has been ended.
Presumably, there is no one to send a bill to for the cost of said search.


Following my revelations about Ted P. Skimmer, I received an email pointing out that a Google search leads to a book credited to him as well. Joe's Lost Home, published by McGraw Hill in 2001, is indeed the handiwork of "Ted."

For an educational project Laurie was working on, I wrote ten or twelve story books. The publisher, however, wanted different authors for each of them, so I had to come up with a dozen names. Among the others I used were Robert Harris, O.G. Smedley, and Chris Hobart (but not Bob Rozakis). And while the books still appear on school-approved reading lists, I have never seen any of them.


Monday, October 5, 2009


Laurie and I saw "Zombieland" on Saturday night and, as she says over on her blog, it is no "Shaun of the Dead." Reduced to the basics, it is the standard "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl" plot...with zombies. There is an amusing cameo, which reviewers -- and yours truly -- have been keeping secret, but it's not enough to earn more than a "Rental" on our review scale.

[We watch the coming attractions and rate the forthcoming movies as "See it in the Theater," "Rental," "Get it From the Library," and "No Way." Occasionally, I will add "11:30 on a Saturday Night if Nothing Else is on."
As with "Zombieland," some movies get downgraded after we've seen them.]

One amusing sidelight of the movie, however, was Woody Harrelson's character's obsession with Hostess Twinkies and the fact that they do indeed have a shelf-life.
We found this out during Chuck's years at Princeton because Laurie had gotten him a box to keep in his dorm room. Well, Chuck was not much of a fan of golden sponge cake and creme filling, so the box sat for a long, long time.
Many months after the expiration date on the box, he finally opened it...and discovered that the golden cake was turning green!


Back in 1976, DC Comics hosted a convention in New York City to celebrate Superman's birthday. At the time, Hostess was one of the major advertisers in the books, so DC president Sol Harrison asked them if they would provide some of their product as giveaways at the show.

The Hostess folks responded with hundreds of boxes of Twinkies. (Alas, no Cupcakes, Sno-Balls, or Fruit Pies, all of which I prefer to the Twinkies.) Just how many? I have no idea, but the boxes completely filled two 3'x6'x4' bins...and then some.
At the start of the con, we handed out a Twinkie to each person who came in. By the end, we still had a tremendous number left and started handing a box to each departing guest. The comics dealers who had set up tables all left with as many boxes as they could handle.
And there was still a load of them that were taken back to the DC offices, where we had a supply that lasted far longer than anyone's desire to eat any more of them. I can't speak for my fellow staffers, but I don't think I ate another Twinkie for 25 years!

The Hostess ads that ran in the DC books were single page comics starring the heroes and their methods of stopping crime and catastrophe by using Twinkies, Fruit Pies and Cupcakes. I wrote a handful of these ads, including ones in which Aquaman stops underwater treasure hunters and Wonder Woman defeats the Robot Master. ( and
There were a number of rules we had to follow in scripting these pages, one of which was that the hero, though pitching the "golden sponge cake" and "creme filling" to others, was not allowed to be shown eating the product!
Clearly, the superheroes were supposed to know something the rest of us didn't!

Friday, October 2, 2009


While the opening of the pool is celebrated as First Dunk on whichever April day the temperatures push high enough for a swim, the closing is that sad day known as Swimsover.

A couple of years ago, it was warm enough on Columbus Day that Laurie joined me for a last swim, but she has usually given up getting into the water long before I do. This year, with September temps topping out only in the mid-70s, it has been a couple of weeks since she has been in. Thanks to the solar heating panels on the roof, the pool has stayed fairly warm and last Saturday, with both water and air temperatures around 75, I was able to enjoy an autumn afternoon poolside.

It's been down in the 40s the past couple of nights, so, despite the solar assistance, the pool has cooled to the upper 60s. (Snorkel Duck, the supreme optimist among our pool thermometers, said 69 yesterday; Swanee and Ducky were at about 67; Tommy Turtle, remaining the pessimist he has been all year, said the water was 50!) Refusing to give up until the cover is on, I did take a very brief dip yesterday when I got home from the gym. The water might best be described as "bracing."

Unless the long range forecast is for a substantial heat wave, the pool is scheduled to be closed next Tuesday. (Temperatures this weekend are expected to be in the 70s, warm enough for me to venture into the water again, but the autumn sunshine is not strong enough to pump the temp back up that quickly.) We are usually among the last ones on the list of closings that our pool guys handle. A couple of years ago, they showed up and said, "We are shutting down for the winter and yours is the only pool still open. We have to close it today or you'll have to wait till next spring."

So, while I have to sadly acknowledge Swimsover this week, I can look forward to First Dunk sometime next April.

And with the way time has been flying by, that's just around the corner.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Federal Maximum Bob Act

The was a point in the mid-1980s that the DC Comics staff of about 100 people included five men named Bob: Bob Greenberger, Bob LeRose, Bob Kahan, Bhob Stewart, and yours truly. As you might surmise, it caused confusion if someone said, "I was talking to Bob." But we came up with a way to differentiate ourselves with the use of nicknames. Greenberger became "Greenie" or "Bobby"; LeRose was "Bobby Lee"; Kahan was "Kahan!" (often yelled as Captain Kirk did it in the movie); Stewart was called "Bee-hob" (there was a reason he spelled his name that way and I may have heard it, but I don't recall it now); and I was BobRo.

And then Bob Wayne got hired to work in the Marketing Department.

Well, this was also the period when Robyn McBryde and I were the unofficial company morale officers and often ran one crazy event or another. One afternoon we celebrated Loud Shirt Day and had a contest for the "best" one. ("Wear the shirt your Great Aunt Edna gave you as a gift the week after she went blind.") We held a wedding of two of the production department staffers on another. Adding a new Bob to the staff proved to be fodder for yet another morale event.

We announced that hiring Mr. Wayne had placed DC in the position of violating the Federal Maximum Bob Act, which states that a company cannot have more than one person named Bob for every twenty people on staff. As DC had about 100 staffers at the time, we had maxed out with the five Bobs we already had. Therefore, we had to rename him and gave the staff the opportunity to come up with his new name.

(As it turns out, every company I've worked for since has violated the Federal Maximum Bob Act at some point. Preload had two Bobs for most of the time I was there, but added a third one in late 2005; I left in 2006, before the authorities were alerted. Accordant had a preponderance of Bobs. And we had two Bobs at CRI for about five months, but the other one left.)

There were quite a few entries and the one we finally decided on was "Ignatius," or "Iggy" for short. Bob objected when he heard the choice, but we told him that since he was in violation of the law, he had no say in the matter.

Although we rarely, if ever, called him "Iggy" in direct conversation, pretty much everyone referred to him that way in the third person. So if someone said, "BobRo and Greenie had a meeting with Iggy about the promo poster," you knew which three Bobs were involved.

Of the six Bobs, Mr. Wayne is only one working at DC today. There are still some people there who know and refer to him as Iggy, causing newer staffers to wonder just where the nickname came from (especially since Bob himself never mentions it). If someone asks, they may be told of the Federal Maximum Bob Act, but it is just as likely the answer will be. "I don't know. We always called him that."

What is perhaps most amusing about this story is that Robert is his middle name and that he uses Bob because he does not like his first name at all. But don't worry, Iggy, I'm not going to tell anybody what it is...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Paying the Bill

There's been a hubbub the past couple of days over a New Hampshire law that requires people who get lost to pay for their rescue. Last April, a 17-year-old Eagle Scout went hiking on Mount Washington and got lost. Helicopters and search parties combed the mountain for three days before finally discovering the boy. Now, citing the law, the state is billing him $25,000.
An online survey reveals that 25% of respondents think the state should reduce the amount and an additional 49% are in favor of it being dropped altogether. A second poll has 57% of respondents against the law's existence.

In the news yesterday was a story about a woman who has disappeared from a cruise ship sailing back from Alaska. Though all her belongings remain in her stateroom, the woman was nowhere to be found on the ship. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Canadian authorities are searching some 200-plus miles of waterways and coastline.
Was she a victim or foul play? Did she somehow manage to fall overboard (which is not easy to do)? Or did she just "miss the boat" and is safe and sound in a small Alaskan town? At this point, we don't know the answer to that.
What we do know, however, is that two countries are spending a large amount of money on manpower and fuel to search for her. Presuming she is found, should she be sent the bill? Based on the survey cited above, most people would say no.

How about people who ignore evacuation warnings in the face of floods, hurricanes, or forest fires and later have to be rescued? We've all seen the "dramatic footage" of a daring rescue by firefighters or helicopter crews or the National Guard. It's safe to say there would be a public outcry if these people were invoiced for services rendered.

So who should pay for this? Unfortunately, if you took a poll, the majority response is likely to be "the government." And where would the government get the money to pay for such things? That would be the same place it gets all its money... from taxes. I'm pretty sure you'd have a hard time finding anyone who would say they would like their taxes raised in order to pay for search-and-rescue missions of responsible people who make foolish decisions.

From what I've read, New Hampshire may be the only state that has such a law on its books. And depending on how much of a public outcry there is, they might decide to change it. In which case, the cost of future searches and rescues will come out of the funds that might otherwise be used to repair a road, pay for medical supplies in a clinic, or feed needy children a school lunch.

Just like they do in the rest of the country.

Getting What You Deserve

Some years ago, McDonalds ran an ad campaign to entice people to take a night off from cooking dinner and drive on over for burgers and fries. "You deserve a break today," was the clever catch-phrase and it played quite well, especially as more and more families had both mom and dad working outside the home.

The definition of the verb "deserve" is "merit" or "earn" and plenty of people felt that, after working all day long, they had earned the right to skip cooking once in awhile. And while you can certainly argue that choosing to eat dinner at Mickey D's might not be the most healthy option, doing so was not going to make a big dent in the family's budget.

Recently, I saw an automobile ad on TV that proclaimed that everyone "deserved" the luxury car we wanted. And for a "low" monthly lease payment of $395 (or $495 or whatever -- I was ignoring it by this point), we could have that car. What too many people seem to have lost sight of is whether or not they earned it... as in, bring in enough income to actually pay for it. After all, a monthly $395 is going to take a much bigger hit out of the family budget than $20 at McDonalds. (In fact, you could eat dinner every weeknight of the month at McD's for the cost of the car. Not that that would be advisable, but you get the point.)

Unfortunately, too many people buy into the concept that they "deserve" a fancy car or a huge house or a humongous television or whatever. I certainly will not dispute the fact that many people work hard; the lawn service guy cutting my neighbor's grass for minimum wage is putting as much effort into his job as my neighbors the nurses put into theirs and my friend the banker puts into his. But some skills are more valuable than others and, for the most part, what various professions earn reflects that. So the banker may well be earning a salary that allows him to easily pay for the luxury car, but if the guy cutting grass wants to be driving one, he had better find a profession that will pay him enough to do so.

Perhaps one of the best/worst examples of all this is to be found among college students. Many of the students have incurred enormous debt in order to attend and more than a few don't buy the textbooks necessary for their classes because they don't have the money for them. Yet those same students will be distracted in class by messages, updates, and the like that they are receiving on their brand-new iPhones. When asked why she had to have the latest (and quite expensive) version, one student replied, "I deserve it."

The question, then, is, will she and her like-minded fellow students ever earn enough to pay for what they "deserve"?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ted P. Skimmer and Me

A number of the chapters of my "Secret History of All-American Comics" that has been running in ALTER EGO and BACK ISSUE magazines (available at have been presented as interviews of Ted Skimmer, "a longtime employee of AA Comics." Ted's career there began in the mid-1940s and lasted well into the 1990s; he worked in both the editorial and production departments and did freelance work as a colorist and a letterer.

The use of Ted prompted one reader to write to AE editor Roy Thomas to ask for an article about the career at DC Comics of the real Ted P. Skimmer. Indeed, if you were to peruse some of the books DC published in the 70s and 80s, you would find that Ted was a fan from Pittstown, Oklahoma, who had a number of letters published. He then worked in the editorial department, writing the responses in the letters pages of some of the books, and even scripted an El Diablo story in JONAH HEX #48.

Despite all this evidence, Ted does not exist. In fact, everything he wrote was actually written by yours truly.

Ted's original appearances in the letter columns were done to fill space. Believe it or not, some of the letters that appeared in the comic books were written by staff members. If there was not enough mail to fill the page, those of us responsible for putting the columns together would ask our fellow fans-turned-staffers to write a letter. (This was going on long before my compatriots and I arrived at DC. Readers from my generation will remember numerous letters in the Mort Weisinger-edited Superman books that asked questions like, "Has Superman ever turned into a dragon?" The response was always something like, "Do you have x-ray vision? Have you been peeking into our editorial offices? That's exactly what happens in next month's issue!") Though our letters weren't usually blatant plugs for upcoming issues like those that Weisinger used, we often made comments that sparked an editorial response that could fill the page.

At one point, I was doing the lettercols for Julie Schwartz's books, along with the Daily Planet and Answer Man pages, and one or two of the other editors asked if I would handle the columns for their books as well. We decided that, rather than have it seem like I was the only person in the company who was reading the mail, Ted P. Skimmer would come to New York and take a job as an editorial assistant.
I came up with a "secret origin" for Ted, claiming that he and I were friends from college. When someone wrote in and asked where Pittstown, Oklahoma was because he could not find it on a map, I had an answer for that as well. There is actually a Pittsburg in the Sooner State and so, when Ted and I met, he told me he hailed from there. I thought he meant Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and started talking about how my brother lived north of there. When Ted explained he meant a small town in Oklahoma, I told him that he was not allowed to confuse people ever again and from then on I would call it Pittstown.
Occasionally, I would make jokes about the relationship between myself and Ted, eventually having him move from the Editorial department into the Production department "Bob calls me his right-hand man, which is pretty funny because I'm left-handed," Ted once commented in print. Indeed, whenever I saw Ted (in the mirror), he was left-handed.

Why Ted got credit for writing the El Diablo story is something I do not recall, but I'm sure we had a good reason at the time. It may just have been that he mentioned writing his first script in some letter column and we figured it was about time it was actually published.

The secret of Ted had remained pretty much undiscovered for almost three decades. The Grand Comics Database ( lists him as the writer of the El Diablo story, along with a credit for a number of letters pages. But just the other day, someone reading my blog about the Secret History made a connection between the two Teds and wrote to me to find out the story.

By the way, the Ted shown in the photos in ALTER EGO and BACK ISSUE is actually my father. If nothing else, it made it easy to come up with a photo showing "Ted" and me together. In the final chapter of the series, in BI #36, there is a photo of Samantha Skimmer, Ted's granddaughter. As you might have guessed, it's actually my daughter Sammi, who is, of course, "Ted's" granddaughter.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Bad News Bears Grow Up

On Saturday, the NYC Carpenters held their annual picnic and softball competition and CRI fielded a team for the first time. With our snazzy, logo-emblazoned, red-and-white shirts, the Crushers looked like we were ready to challenge the rest of the teams for the championship. Well, until the game started, anyway.

Perhaps the first sign of trouble was when we realized that the only bat we had was a Little League one belonging to one of the team members' kids. Fortunately, we were able to borrow one from our opponents. Unfortunately, our opponents were the top-seeded team in the competition; since we were the newest team, this was not surprising.
We were quickly retired in the top of the first inning, with one batter striking out after swinging at balls that bounced two feet in front of home plate. Our opponents quickly proved why they were the top seed, racking up a dozen runs before we recorded the first out, then adding eight more before the inning ended. Oh, they were good hitters, but it didn't help that we had an outfielder who apparently thought he was supposed to let the ball drop in front of him before fielding it and an infielder who played ground balls by allowing them to first bounce off his chest. (To be fair, we had a couple of guys on the team who have never played softball or baseball in their lives.)

Because of the ten-run "mercy rule," we had to score eleven runs in the top of the second inning in order to continue the game. Needless to say, we fell eleven runs short of that and so the "CRI Crushed" were eliminated in the first round.

Watching all this brought back memories of the early days of the DC Bullets, the DC Comics softball team that I captained for a number of years. Like the Crushers, the Bullets had a number of players who had never played before and had no understanding of the rules. I used to ask if we could please hire some people who knew something about baseball and was reminded that comic book fans generally spent their time reading comic books, not participating in competitive sports. (We did eventually get some guys who could play; they worked in our accounting department!)

The Bullets, unlike the Crushers, did manage to practice a few times before our first game. (We even had a couple of bats!) In the first few years, we only played one game per season, against Marvel Comics. Luckily for us, their team was also made up of comics-fans-turned-pros, so we were pretty evenly matched. In fact, the Bullets won the first two years, but the games were not without bizarre plays.
In one game, we had runners on first and second with no one out. The batter hit a pop fly to the second baseman. Without a thought, both runners took off. I was coaching at third base, yelling, "Go back! Go back!" to the runner coming towards me. Rather than doing so, he just stopped and said, "Why?" Meantime, the second baseman -- reminiscing about it last week at Ithacon, Jim Shooter and I agreed it was probably Marvel production man Danny Crespi -- caught the ball (one out), stepped on second base (two outs) and then tagged the runner from first as he triumphantly arrived at the base (three outs).

Nothing so exciting happened in the Crushers game, possibly because we didn't play long enough. But as our opponents were piling on the runs thanks to one misplay after another, I thought of Casey Stengel, just as I had that afternoon thirty-some-odd years ago. "The Old Perfessor," after watching his hapless 1962 New York Mets lose yet again in their own unique fashion, sighed and asked, "Can't anybody here play this game?"

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Right and Wrong

My alma mater, Hofstra University, has been making the front page (and lead story on the TV news) these past few days owing to a gang rape that has turned out to be not that at all.

To recap the story as it stands right now for those not in the New York-Metro area, an 18-year-old Hofstra student claimed to have been gang-raped by five men in a bathroom stall in one of the Hofstra dorms at 3:00 a.m. Monday morning. She claimed that one of the men, whom she met while dancing in an on-campus club, took her cellphone away and used it to lure her into the dorm. Once in the dorm, the man was joined by a second and the two of them took her into a men's bathroom, tied her up in a stall, and raped her. Three more men, whom the woman first thought would help her, turned out to be friends of the first two and they also raped her.
After the incident, campus and local police were called and four of the five men, including one who was a Hofstra student, were identified and arrested.
Not surprisingly, the Hofstra staff and student body were shocked, appalled, and frightened for their safety. As campus security was increased, an investigation into the crime ensued and the search for the fifth man continued.
On Wednesday night, however, the shocking story took an unexpected turn. Confronted with the news that a video of at least part of the attack might exist, the woman recanted and said that the sex had been consensual. The D.A. dropped all charges, the four men were released from jail and the search for the fifth was cancelled. (In the meantime, however, the four men had their names and pictures plastered across the newspapers and on television, the modern equivalent of being locked in stocks in the town square.)
Hofstra has now suspended the woman, pending a disciplinary hearing, and the D.A.'s office us considering pressing charges. We do not know, as yet, why she lied or why she got into the situation to begin with.

One of the men in the case, upon being released, said that he was glad that justice had prevailed because he thought he was going to be put in prison for something he didn't do. Yes, that is the basic premise of our judicial system: Good and bad. Right and wrong. The guilty are punished and the innocent go free.
But just what is it that he didn't do? All four men admitted to having sex with the woman, though they insisted it was consensual. Does that make it right? In what society is it okay for four (or five, if there was in fact a fifth man) men to have sex in a bathroom stall with a woman? What is it that was lacking in these guys' upbringing that not one of them stopped and said, "Why am I doing this? Why are we doing this?" Or, at least, "What is the matter with this woman that she is doing this?"
One of the mothers, hugging her son after he was released from jail last night, proclaimed, "I knew my son was innocent." Well, ma'am, your son is not guilty of rape, but one would have a hard time arguing that he is innocent.

No one did the right thing in this case; there was just wrong and more wrong.