Monday, December 29, 2014

On the Radio

  For the first time in awhile, I joined Howard Margolin on his radio program, "Destinies - The Voice of Science Fiction" for the annual year-end review of the best, worst, and most disappointing books and events in comics. While there isn't much in the way of new comics being published that I am reading, I was able to hold my own and talk about The Walking Dead, new material coming from Charlton Neo,  and the various collections of vintage comic books and comic strips that are being published, You can listen to the broadcast here by scrolling down to the December 26, 2014 entry.

  Howard has been doing his weekly radio for for nigh on forever -- I've been a guest nineteen times over the years -- and he gave me a recording on a 1997 broadcast that featured an interview he had done with me way back in 1991. Much of that interview involved my efforts as Production Director at DC Comics, particularly relating to the various types of paper we were experimenting with and using on the books at the time. (You can find that program here by scrolling down to the March 7, 1997 broadcast. And yes, that is a very young Laurie and me in front of the DC Comicmobile in the accompanying photograph.)
  Towards the end of the interview, Howard asked me what I had in the works as a writer and I talked about a project called Dinosaur Island. I invite you to listen as I talked about a few of the elements that were part of my proposal -- which was ultimately rejected by DC because "there's no market for a dinosaur book (in 1991)" -- and remind you that Jurassic Park came out in 1993.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Monogram Murders

  By the time Agatha Christie passed away in 1976, I had read pretty much everything she had written. I enjoyed all the Hercule Poirot books and the Miss Marple mysteries and had a special fondness for Tommy and Tuppence. With no new books available, I moved on to other authors, expecting that I would someday reread some of the Christie classics.
  Though that time for rereading hasn't yet arrived, I was quite pleasantly surprised to see a new Poirot mystery, The Monogram Murders, written by Sophie Hannah, had been published.

 Set in the late 1920s, the novel fits nicely among those by Ms. Christie, and presents Hercule Poirot in all his glory. Ms. Hannah has created a new character, Detective Catchpool, as the narrator, giving her the opportunity to explore Poirot's eccentricities through a fresh set of eyes. Catchpool experiences the same frustrations of Christie's own Colonel Hastings and others as Poirot teases the answers to him (and the reader).
  As for the mystery itself, three bodies are found in a posh London hotel, each carefully posed with a monogrammed cuff link in his or her mouth. Catchpool, the detective in charge of the case, recruits Poirot to help him make sense of the case. As with the best Christie books, not everything is what it seems, though the answers are right there in front of you if you (like Poirot) know what to look for.
  All in all, a quite satisfying read. I hope Ms. Hannah gets the opportunity to continue the series.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Back to DC

  It has been almost fifteen years since I was last in the DC Comics offices at 1700 Broadway. Back then, the company spanned five floors, but over the years that has been whittled down to three. Come April, it will be none, as the company moves its operations out to California.
  As this will be their last holiday season in New York, Manufacturing VP Alison Gill decided invite some "alumni" to her department's annual party. That list of folks included yours truly and since there are still a few people there who I know from the old days, I decided to accept the invitation.

  I arrived a bit early and Alison graciously guided me through all three floors. Turned out there were more than a few people that I knew and I was greeted numerous times with smiles of delight and surprise. The most-often-made comments were along the lines of "I remember you with glasses and/or a mustache and/or hair!"
  Virtually all the production work done on comics is electronic these days, so the folks in my former department sit at desks with computers rather than at art tables. In fact, there was not a page of original art in sight anywhere I went.
  Gone as well was the stat room, which was a mainstay back when we had to rearrange art manually. And the film library -- all the negatives used to make printing plates for the comics dating back to the 1950s -- had long ago been shipped to a facility were it is midway through a five-year project of digitizing everything.

  When we completed my tour, Alison and I sat and chatted for a few minutes and then headed over to a nearby pub for the party. I spent some time chatting with more familiar folks there, but then said my goodbyes in order to meet Chuck and Rebecca at Penn Station.
  And there, just in case I hadn't had enough reminders of the twenty-five years I'd worked at DC, the Long Island Railroad was delaying and cancelling trains due to police activity. As it had on a number of past occasions, the commute home, which should have taken an hour, took two and a half.

BobRo in the 1990s

The Answer Man, late 1970s

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

  As has been the tradition for many years, we hosted Thanksgiving dinner.
  Also as usual, Laurie spent much of the previous week prepping, cooking and baking. And our 23-pound bird went into the oven Wednesday afternoon, as I always like to have it carved and ready well before the guests arrive on Thursday.
  The holiday began with Sammi's arrival on Wednesday evening. As is the case every time she flies home, we were constantly monitoring the status of her flight from Norfolk to BWI and the connection to Islip. Despite the weather forecasters proclaiming doom and gloom for travelers, the delays were relatively minor.
  The full contingent of guests arrived on Thursday morning and early afternoon: Chuck, Rebecca and Alex; Rebecca's parents Jim and Debbie and grandmother Avis; my brother Rich, sister-in-law Felice and nephew Adam; and Chuck's long-time friend Dave.
The guests gathered around the Thanksgiving Day parade broadcast.
 Not surprisingly, Alex was the center of attention, though he insisted on sharing the turkey hat that Aunt Sammi brought him.

  As always, though the turkey itself was not stuffed, all of the guests were and the few remaining leftovers will be lunch on Monday.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Another Visit from Alex

  We offered Chuck and Rebecca another chance for a staycation, which they happily accepted, and so Alex came to spend the weekend with Gamma and Gappa. Unlike his stay last month, when the weather was great for outdoor play, this visit was much more an indoor one.
   That did not deter the little dynamo in the least, as he read books, sang songs, made things with playdough, drew pictures, played with puzzles, watched Elmo's World and Truck Tunes videos and generally kept us on our toes from 6 in the morning till 7:30 at night. (Thank goodness he takes a nap!)

   Saturday's adventures included a visit to the Long Island Children's Museum, which he thoroughly enjoyed, especially the big wooden backhoe that he could sit in. That was followed by continuing a tradition his father and Aunt Sammi enjoyed for many years -- a trip to McDonalds for a Happy Meal.
   Alex also enjoys a wide variety of foods, many of which Gamma makes special for him. (Her pancakes were the big hit this time.)  Foods are especially delicious if Gamma or Gappa is eating them. Any time I have a banana, he will ask "Bite?" and happily chomp on it. And on Sunday morning, he ate as much of my bowl of oatmeal as I did.

   He and I were sitting at the computer Saturday morning, and my desktop photos cycled to one of the two of us with one of his wooden puzzles. He immediately recognized the puzzle and insisted we get it so he could imitate the picture.

  Alex will be back with us for another weekend in January (as well as visits with his parents for Thanksgiving and a weekend in December). In the meantime, Gamma and Gappa will catch up on some sleep.

Monday, November 10, 2014

How Was Everything?

  We went out for dinner with friends on Saturday night to a restaurant that we've eaten in for years. The food is consistently good and, though a bit noisy, the dining area is comfortable.

  Things were going along fine at first. We placed our orders and our pre-main-course salads arrived quickly. Moments after our salads arrived, a woman we presumed was the manager or assistant manager asked us how everything was. We responded positively; she smiled and went on to the next table. A few moments later, our waitress asked how everything was. Again, we responded positively. Shortly thereafter another waitress along with a woman who actually was the manager (though you would not have guessed it based on the very casual clothing she was wearing) both stopped to ask us if everything was okay.

  When our waitress cleared away the salad plates, she again asked how everything was. By this point, it was becoming amusing and Laurie started to count how many times we were asked. Our main courses arrived soon thereafter, along with another round of "How is everything" questioning by the variety of staff members, as well as someone who may have just been wandering by.

  When the manager stopped by for the third time, just after we'd ordered coffee and dessert, Laurie pointed out to her that this was the twelfth time someone had asked us the same question. The woman seemed nonplussed when Laurie asked why we were being bombarded with concern about how our dining experience was going.

  That was also about the time things started going south. We were given our bill, but it did not reflect the 20% off coupon our dining companions had presented via smartphone when they arrived. The coupon had disappeared into the ether and, as luck would have it, said smartphone's battery had run out in the interim. As a result, it would take a few minutes to have the discount applied to our bill by the manager.

  No problem, as we were not in a rush. While we waited, Laurie asked if she get some more hot water for her tea. Coming right up! (Well, not really, because it never did arrive.)

   We continued to chat, during which time the assistant manager again stopped by to ask how everything was. I was about to say that we were just waiting for the manager to adjust our bill, when I noticed that she was just a couple of tables away, no doubt asking other patrons how everything was. In fact, it was another fifteen minutes before we actually got the corrected bill.

  One other thing I noticed was that, despite having a large number of people whose main concern seemed to be asking patrons how everything was, the restaurant was suffering a severe lack of staff to bus the dirty dishes. Three tables around us were left uncleared long after the diners had finished and departed.

   We paid the bill and headed out, our path to the exit leading us right past the manager and assistant manager. I have to say we were all somewhat disappointed that neither of them asked us "How was everything?" as we went out the door.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Adventures of Johnny Applepix

  I did a lot of creative writing during my years in high school. Much of it was the adventures of Rob Boozakis and his pals in Clemont High School, which I wrote under the guise of Hobart Pumpernickel. (You'll find a recounting of Hobart's creation and an early example of his work here.) Prior to Hobart's debut, however, a lot of my creativity combined writing with my somewhat limited skills as an artist.

  While I was still in elementary school, I had produced a "Sunday comics section" for the entertainment of my parents and my brothers. It featured strips like "Andy and Jojo," "Peter Groundhog," "Dat's Grownups" and my attempt to draw Superman.  I drew them, colored them, and delivered one each Sunday for a few months. For the most part, I think I recycled jokes from other comic strips and joke books that I read.

  In seventh grade, my friend Billy and I spent part of the summer drawing a collection of Rube Goldberg-esque cartoons. As I recall, he had a plastic stencil that had beakers and coils and other "scientific" equipment that we used to make these inventions. Included in these drawings was a character who had a nose the shape of a potato and three hairs sprouting from the top of his head. He eventually got a name -- Penelope Jones (yes, I know Penelope is a girl's name, but he was a boy nonetheless) -- and ended up "starring" in a couple of notebooks' worth of gag cartoons that I drew.
A recent drawing of Penelope Jones. He hasn't changed in fifty years.
  By ninth grade, the world of Penelope Jones had expanded to included superheroes like Superduck and Batduck (who were not ducks; in fact, both had the same type of potato nose that Penelope had), secret agent George P. Wombat (who was not a wombat, but did have a different kind of nose), and Penelope's brother Schnooky Poo (whose face was never seen, so we have no idea what his nose looked like). I had advanced beyond single-panel gags by this point and was writing and drawing comic strips of their adventures.

  In the fall of 1966, a new character appeared, inspired by one of the classmates of my brother Richie. The lad had a mole/birthmark on his face and my brother started calling it an "applepix." No one recalls where he came up with that name for it, but that's how Johnny Applepix got his moniker. It wasn't long before I started drawing comic strip adventures of Johnny, beginning with one in which the applepix starts to grow and takes over his entire head. In the course of seven pages, Johnny is mistaken for the master criminal Boscofinger, falls into a time tunnel that takes him to the near and far future, and is even mistaken for Richard Kimble's one-armed man.

Johnny's troubles begin when his entire head turns into an applepix.
   Johnny's other adventures have him trying to win a free sweatshirt from a local radio station, attempting to collect a reward by capturing an escaped fugitive, and turning into a master criminal after he breathes in gas from a meteor.
   In all, there are seventeen pages of Johnny Applepix Archives, all drawn in a single marble notebook. Only a few people ever saw them, but of those who did, more than one said, "Gee, Bob, you should be doing comic books." Who could have guessed...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Alex's Weekend Visit

   Alex celebrated his parents' eighth wedding anniversary by spending the weekend with Gamma and Gappa, allowing Mommy and Daddy to have a stay-cation. One of the hits of the visit was the "Truck Tunes" video, which he requested numerous times by pointing at the TV and asking for "More trucks." Alex is a particular fan of backhoes and dump trucks.

"Don't move or I'll bubble you!"

   Also on hand for the visit was Aunt Sammi (in town for a wedding), who, knowing Alex's love of bubbles, brought him a Bubble Gun.

  And the beautiful weather allowed for plenty of time to play outside in the sandbox, as well as to look, up in the sky...! (It was a plane.)

 There was also a lot of time to sit and read (mostly books about trucks). "Backhoe!"

Thursday, October 16, 2014


  Over in his blog, my pal Bob Greenberger has his comments about Gotham, the show that wants to be for Batman what Smallville was for Superman. You can take a moment to go there and check it out. I'll wait.

  I'm sure there are things in the show that annoy or anger regular fans of the Batman comics being published today. What those fans don't realize is that the show's producers really don't care about making the 50,000 of them (if there still are that many) happy.  They are aiming at the millions of people who have seen the movies.

  So the rather heavy-handed introductions of Oswald Cobblepot (who walks like a penguin) and Selina ("Call me Cat") Kyle are for movie fans to be able to point to and say, "Hey, I know who that person is going to become." More astute ones will also recognize Ed Nigma, Harvey Dent, and Ivy. But they have no frame of reference for characters like Harvey Bullock and Renee Montoya, so however they are played in the show, well, that's who they are.

  That's not to say there aren't some Easter eggs for the longtime comics fans. For example, the waste treatment plant that is to be built near Arkham Asylum. Somewhere down the road, a two-bit criminal calling himself the Red Hood -- or perhaps just some nondescript member of a criminal gang -- is going to fall into the toxic waste there.

  All that said, Gotham is much more like the early years of Dick Tracy than a superhero adventure. Gangsters who are just a bit over the top. Crimes that are too outlandish for CSI or NCIS or even Criminal Minds. And a hero who sometimes has to fight the system in order to do his job.

  And if you're going to do a series about a city that grows up to be Batman's home town, it's probably the way to go.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Swimsover 2014

Columbus Day weekend is usually the end of the pool season for us, so Swimsover has come a few days earlier this season. I had my last swim last week when the water was still about 75 degrees. Then we had an overnight temperature earlier this week that went to the low 40s and that was enough to take about ten degrees from the pool water, too much for the solar panels to replenish during the day.
So I wrapped up the season with a quick dunk on Tuesday and another on Wednesday. Yes, I'm probably crazy, but I always try to squeeze that one more day out of every pool season. And now the cover's on, the floats and rafts and "temperature team" are stowed away... and we'll look forward to First Dunk 2015 sometime next April.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Bestest Series

  With the elimination of the Washington Nationals from the playoffs last night, we have yet another season in which the teams with the best records in the American and National Leagues do not make it to the World Series. Instead, thanks to the pile of playoff series that have been concocted, we may see -- in the best case -- the second best team in an AL (Baltimore) against the third best team in the NL (St; Louis) or -- in the worst case -- the fourth best team in the AL (Kansas City) against the fourth best team in the NL (San Francisco), with a couple of other combinations also possible.

  I became a baseball fan way back when there were only eight teams in each league and the two with the best records met in the World Series. It was not about winning a short series at the end of the season; it was about winning over the long haul, from April through September.

  But Major League Baseball, like the NFL, NBA, and NHL, is all about making money. And so we have layers of playoff games, supposedly to keep the fans in many cities excited and interested, but mostly to get more fannies in those more-expensive post-season seats.

  So here's my suggestion to MLB: Go right ahead with the current system of getting two teams into the World Series. But after it's all over, take the two teams with the best records and let them play a "Bestest Series." They could play a game or two in each of their home cities and then, like the Super Bowl, play the finale in a predetermined locale.

  There's more money to be made here, MLB. Think about it.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Farewell to The Captain

  I became a Yankees fan in the days of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Whitey Ford. I'm sure that I saw their last games, though I doubt that we even realized at the time that that's what they were.

   Certainly they did not go out in a storybook ending like Derek Jeter did this evening.
  The Yankees are up 5-2 in the top of the ninth inning. Suddenly, the usually-reliable David Robertson gives up two home runs and the game is tied. The first Yankee batter in the bottom of the inning singles and is bunted over to second base.
  Up comes Derek... and he promptly singles to right field and drives in the winning run for a walk-off victory.
  If they did it in a movie, everyone would complain, "What a cliche!" And yet, there it is.

  As I grew up with Mickey in the outfield, Whitey pitching and Yogi behind the plate, a generation of fans will remember growing up in a time when Derek was always the shortstop.
  And fifty years from now, they'll be watching some future hero finish his career and say, "I remember when Derek Jeter retired."

Sunday, September 7, 2014


  The Farmingdale Patch -- and, I presume, all the other Patches out there -- was recently reconfigured so that there are advertisements in between the news stories. After seeing today's edition, I have to wonder whether someone thinks this is a joke or it's just that nobody is looking at the bigger picture.

First up...

Copyright ©2014 Patch. All rights reserved.

Is it just me or does this make it seem like Naughton was one of the four arrested? And, just for the record, the man is running in Massachusetts, so why is his ad even appearing on Long Island?

And then there's this...

I haven't the faintest idea what that "Grommet" is supposed to be, but an apparently headless person with a news story about a dead motorcyclist just seems creepy.

And, finally...
Copyright ©2014 Patch. All rights reserved.
Sorry, this is a cast I'd rather not meet!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

An Alex Update

  Our little man is nineteen months old today. Here he is enjoying two of his favorite outdoor activities...bubbles and the sandbox.


On the Radio

  My drive home from work usually takes between twelve and fifteen minutes. (To those of you with long commutes who are sighing and thinking, "Wow, wish mine was that short!": I have to say, "Been there, done that." When I worked at DC Comics, my drive-to-the-station / train / subway-or-walk combo took at least ninety minutes each way -- when everything was running on time!)
  Somehow, my brief commute coincides with when a number of local radio stations are running blocks of commercials rather than playing music. Since I'm not in the car that long, it doesn't really matter that much. And they do break up the commercials with traffic reports (which don't matter to me) and weather reports (which do).
  I don't pay that much attention to the commercials, though every now and then one will catch my ear. Like the one for the gasoline that has some new "energerific" additive. The spokesman goes on and on about how wonderful this is, but buried in the fast-talking mumbo-jumbo at the end is the line, "Depending on your vehicle and how you drive it, you may see an improvement of three to five miles per tankful." (Emphasis mine.) Wow! Sure makes me want to drive around trying to find a gas station selling this brand!
  Then there are the ads that remind us to drive safely because school is open. I've never really understood this campaign. Shouldn't we be more careful when the kids are not in school, since they could be out playing in the streets? For that matter, shouldn't we drive safely all the time?
  But perhaps the most intriguing ad I heard was one that asked for people who wanted to play a vital role in the security and defense of our country. If so, the Central Intelligence Agency wants you.
  The CIA advertises on the radio?! It made me think of a new version of the old ads that used to appear in the comic books, changed to "We're looking for people who like to spy."

Monday, August 25, 2014

Four Old Guys Talking Comics

(l-r) BobRo, Alan Gold, Bob Greenberger, Paul Kupperberg
  Laurie and I hosted a barbecue on Saturday that split along gender lines pretty quickly. Not so surprising, since four of the guys -- Bob Greenberger, Alan Gold, Paul Kupperberg, and yours truly -- have more than a combined one hundred years in the comic book business, most of it at DC Comics.

  We talked about our days in the DC offices, folks we had worked with who we wouldn't mind seeing again (and some we never want to see again), the state of comics today, and various crazy things we'd been a part of.

  At one point, while the other ladies were occupied, Deb Greenberger ended up with the four of us. She quickly retreated, saying, "I don't want to talk about comic books."
  "How about this whole situation with ISIS?" said Paul. "What should we be doing in the Middle East?"
  This did not entice Deb to stay, so, not missing a beat, Paul said, "Every time I hear something about ISIS, I think of The Mighty Isis (a 1976 TV series that DC published a comic book version of)."
   And we were right back on topic...

Bucket Brigade

Yes, I was invited to take the Ice Bucket Challenge.
No, you won't see any video of me getting doused. Anyone who has seen my cell phone knows that it doesn't take pictures, let alone videos.
What you also won't see are the checks we've written over the years to sponsor a friend who takes part in the annual Walk to Defeat ALS in New York City.

It's great that the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral and that many millions of dollars have been donated to the fight against ALS.
One giant influx of cash is unlikely to solve the problem, however. It is a steady flow of donations that keeps the fight going, so it will be great if everyone who donated this year does so again next year... and the year after that... and the year after that.

Preferably without having to have another bucket of ice water poured on them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hey, Look! It's Dr. Wolfgang!

Dr. Wolfgang tells the class about examining the glowing students
  Dr. Wolf W. Wolfgang, "ze head of Science at Vashington College and an expert on ze Marianas Trench, vhich, as you know, is the deepest part of ze Specific Ocean," has been a mainstay of my summer teaching stints since the very beginning. Every year, his bioluminescent jellyfish samples from the Trench end up in the dining hall refrigerator, from which they are served up as Jell-O by Ima Server and eaten by CTY students. When said students end up glowing green in the middle of the night, the writing prompt begins.
  For the past few summers, Giselle, our Assistant Academic Dean, has been trying, unsuccessfully,  to photograph Dr. Wolfgang. By the time she showed up with the camera, the good doctor had invariably wandered back to his lab. That was not the case this year, as she arrived in time to catch the professor answering questions about his examination of the glowing children.
  Many students notice a resemblance between Dr. Wolfgang and Mr. R., the writing instructor, but it is quite easy to tell them apart. Wolfie wears a lab coat (with a name tag that clearly identifies him) and glasses.
Dr. Wolfgang (Note glasses and lab coat with name tag)
Mr. R.

  Surprisingly, no one seems to notice any similarity between Wolfie, Mr. R. and Ulysses S. Feedum, the head of Dining Services. Maybe it's the hat.

Ulysses S. Feedum, with his assistant Ima Server

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Alas, Poor Buzzy

Buzzy the Fly, who reached notoriety in a blog entry just last week, has passed away. He went quietly, perched on a tissue on my classroom desk, undoubtedly of old age. He had been buzzing around the classroom for just about four weeks.

I was prepared to give him a simple funeral -- wrapping him in the tissue and dropping him in the wastepaper basket -- but the students insisted that Buzzy deserved a more formal burial. Well, since everything really is a writing prompt, I told them they would each have to write a eulogy to be delivered at graveside. And, indeed, they did.

My pal Bob Greenberger, visiting for the day, served as our gravedigger, scooping a hole under a tree outside the classroom building while the students read their tributes to our class mascot. "I have never liked flies," wrote one of the girls, "but you were the first fly I liked." Another apologized for trying to swat Buzzy when he landed on her head: "I should have realized you were just interested in my writing."

Once we'd all said our farewells, I pushed the dirt back into the grave and erected the marker, made from a pencil and a piece of paper. We had a moment of silence and then the kids went off for their afternoon break.

I can only imagine the reactions of the parents when they asked their kids last night what we did in class and were told, "Oh, we had a funeral for a fly."

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Ultimate Else

Dining hall conversations among the instructional staff at CTY can go pretty much anywhere and such was the case this morning at breakfast.
Arsalan, our robotics wizard, was telling me about a woman in Great Britain who came up with a way to teach computer programming to young children by turning the if/else statements into stories that begin with "Once upon a time..." Each new choice would take the story in a different direction and create numerous versions of the tale.
It is, I pointed out, a spin on the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, in which the reader is asked at various points to choose action a or b, and is then directed to a different page depending on that choice. But since the computer is not strapped by the physical limitations of a printed book, there is the availability of many more options to any given choice.
There did have to be, however, an end to the story and that would be the "ultimate else." It is the same in any video game; at some point you make a decision to do or not do something and you are killed/ destroyed/ whatever and the game ends. The ultimate else.
And, in fact, isn't that how to describe life itself? You make choices that lead you to more and more choices until you reach that ultimate else and then your "game" is over.
At this point, the discussion intrigued our tablemates, Brittany, Holly and Zach, who joined in. I postulated that Arsalan was actually an agent from the future, here to prevent the ultimate else of the entire universe from happening. Each time we reach that final if/else, we further speculated, he is able to "skip that line of code" and come back to reset things to change the outcome.
Ah, but is it something one of his students does? Or a number of students? Or one of us?
The possibilities, it would seem, are endless...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Everything's a Writing Prompt

When I moved into my classroom for this summer's installment of teaching Writing & Imagination at CTY, I noticed that someone had left a fork and spoon sitting on the window sill. Not the plastic variety, but the stainless steel kind they have in the dining hall.
Jennie, my teaching assistant, asked if I wanted her to take them back. "No," I replied, "there's a writing prompt here somewhere."
And so there was two weeks later, as the students came up with tales ranging from one about ghosts dining in the classroom to another in which my grandson Alex brought them to the classroom to play with.

A rather persistent fly took up residence in the classroom, buzzing around and landing on desks, notebooks, and even the student's heads. He proved to be quite adept at avoiding being swatted and eventually became something of the class mascot. Buzzy's fly's-eye view of what was happening in the classroom and the people in it made for another round of interesting tales. "Why do these guys keep chasing me away?" he moans in one. "I just want to see what they are writing."

Just this week, two different lessons contributed to create another writing prompt. One, which we call "Squeeze the grape," has the students adding a word or short phrase to those original three until we have an often outrageous, yet still legitimate sentence. This time it expanded to include the description of "Oliver's Dad," who had an orange uni-brow with pink highlights and a neon yellow mustache with rainbow sprinkles.
When I was explaining the "hamburger theory" of writing a five-paragraph essay, I used a green marker to draw a lettuce leaf on the whiteboard. Turned out this marker was the "wet-erase" variety rather than the "dry-erase" version so, when I erased everything else, the lettuce leaf remained.
Long story short, that lettuce leaf turned into the mouth for a rather scary-looking version of Oliver's Dad. We joked about him showing up in the dorms and I added a word balloon to the pic: "Sleep well, children." And thus was born the prompt for "A Visit from Oliver's Dad."

Meantime, our class has been regularly disrupted by the group in the classroom upstairs who are constantly moving the furniture around, dragging it back and forth across the floor. Can you guess what this morning's prompt is going to be?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Functionary: A person employed in a bureaucracy who carries out simple functions and has little or no authority

Flunky: An assistant who does menial work; a toady

Flunktionary: A low-level employee in a business or government agency with minimal authority and an over-inflated sense of self-importance

Your company is doing a multi-million dollar project and you have submitted an invoice. Also required are a variety of waivers, affidavits, and forms. In many cases, the first stop for your paperwork is the desk of someone whose job it is to sort through and make sure everything is there, perhaps also distributing parts to various other people or departments. 

On one of the forms, you neglected to put in the date of the invoice or the title of the person who signed it or perhaps the zip code. Logic would dictate that the person who notices it fills it in, perhaps sending you a note saying, "Hey, just a heads up that you forgot to do this."

Flunktionaries do not do that. 
Flunktionaries call or email you and say that you have to redo the forms and resubmit them. (If you try to ignore them, they will bombard you with emails and voice-mail messages asking where the resubmitted forms are.)
Flunktionaries advise you that your invoice will not be processed until the "error" is corrected.
Flunktionaries believe that he or she has every right to do this because they have complete authority over you, the work your company does, and whether or not you will be paid at all. In fact, they have none.

Some people are actually cowed by flunktionaries and do whatever is demanded, further enabling this behavior. 
Others just don't want to be bothered dealing with them, so they redo whatever is necessary, regardless of the waste of time and expense. 
A few will actually confront the flunktionaries and threaten to go to their superiors. This will sometimes get the flunktionary to renege, but there are also times you actually do have to call their boss. But if you are going to call the boss, do it quickly because you can bet the flunktionary will be running down the hall to let the boss know that you are overreacting and that your paperwork really, really, really is incorrect.

Occasionally, you can be successful in your dealings with flunktionaries. More often than not, however, you will just be frustrated by them. Often, you will wish there was some way to send a zap charge through the phone.

Unfortunately, flunktionaries never seem to get fired.
In fact, sometimes they get promoted.
And then you're really flunktioned!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Slice of Life

  A man asked me yesterday if I wanted to buy a power drill.
  I was sitting in my car, waiting outside a supermarket for Laurie and Chuck, when he walked over and asked if I needed one. Last weekend we actually did, as Chuck's got misplaced in the move and he had to buy a new one. Not so any more.
  He walked over to a few others who were also sitting in their cars, but found no buyers.
  Having exhausted his pool of potential purchasers, he came back to me and asked, "Are you sure you don't need a drill?"
  When I assured him that I was, he asked, "Want me to wash your car?"
  This struck me as an odd idea, since there was nothing he could use to do it anywhere that I could see. I smiled and told him no, thanks.

  He told me he'd been down on his luck. That he'd had a job at a nearby condo community for eight and a half years, but when he took ten vacation days off to visit his ailing mother out of state, he came back to find out that a new supervisor had taken over who told him he was no longer needed.
   He said that he was successful in a suit for unlawful termination, but it got him a cash settlement rather than his job back. That money has since run out and his quest for new employment has been fruitless. "My wife is a good woman," he said, "but it's tough. And," he confessed, "I've been drinking, probably too much sometimes."
  And so, here he was, in a supermarket parking lot, trying to sell his drill and offering to do any odd job (like wash my car) to make some money.

  I wish I had the power to create work for people who want jobs but can't get find one, like this man seemed to. Life shouldn't be so tough here in the greatest country in the world. But it is...
  I gave him a couple of dollars and wished him luck. He thanked me and walked off in search of someone who needed a drill.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

San Diego Comic-Con (or Comi-Con)

  USA Weekend has an article titled "The Best of Summer" and it includes the "10 Best Reasons to Go to Comic-Con." Directly under the title, it says "Comi-Con [sic] is July 24-27 in San Diego." We'll ignore the lack of proofreading along with the fact that there are plenty more comic book conventions around the country.
  Among their reasons to attend are the chance to see movie trailers and TV pilots as well as buy exclusive collectibles featuring Star Wars and My Little Pony. Also, you can wear whatever you want (including your homemade superhero costume) and take Instagram-postable pictures of others in costumes. They advise that it is generally okay to say hello to any celebrities you come across, either on the convention floor or at the hotel bar and that even if you don't have tickets to the actual con, there are free events and nightly parties that you can attend. (That last one is important because, if you don't already have tickets, you aren't getting in; they have been sold out for months.)
   Oh, and in case you were wondering, "Frame-worthy art awaits. Pack a sketchbook and visit Artists' Alley, where many folks are happy to draw whatever your heart desires." Hmm, seems to me that most, if not all, of those "many folks" are comic book artists. And comic books are what give Comic-Con its raison d'etre. Or, at least, they did once upon a time.
   These days you would never know. You might think Comic-Con got its name because Don Rickles, Jerry Seinfeld and Joan Rivers used to hang out there. Trying out their new nightclub routines, showing trailers of their new movies and sneak peeks at their TV shows.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Alex Comes for a Stay

Chuck and Rebecca are moving into their new home this weekend, so Alex is staying with us for as couple of days. This evening, he showed "Gappa" how to do a couple of puzzles...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thoughts About Another CTY Summer

  With my twenty-first summer at CTY about to begin, it is interesting to note that I will have a Teaching Assistant this year who was not even born the first time Laurie and I taught the class. In all those years, there has only been one TA who came back for a second year; she also came back for a third and a fourth and a fifth and eventually started teaching the other section of the class. In fact, this year will be the first that she is not with us.
   As for the rest, some of them went on to teach the class at other sites and some went on to teach other CTY courses. And some, well, I don't know where they went.

  Hundreds of boys and girls have sat in my classroom and written a myriad of poems, short stories, and essays. They've solved the mystery of the glowing green kids, designed packages for the Wonderful Weebil, and acted out radio plays starring a group of high school students living on Long Island in 1969.
  Some of these students had a flair for writing and a way with words. Some of the them had lots of ideas but couldn't figure out how to get them out of their heads and down on the paper. And a few of them were there only because their parents decided that their writing was horrible and they needed to make it better.

  What do the students take away? Each year, I tell my classes that I don't expect them to be able to write a best-selling novel or an Oscar-winning screenplay at the end of the three weeks. We experiment with all types of writing and all I ask is that they do their best with each assignment.  I am hopeful that they all leave with some skill they didn't have when they arrived. One lad answered the question about the most important thing he learned by simply saying, "You must try."

   I also start each session by telling them that writing is not a punishment or a waste of time, despite how some teachers might make it seem. I had a math teacher in high school who assigned, as homework over the Christmas vacation, a report on non-Euclidean geometry. It had to be ten or more typewritten pages. He did this every year, apparently. But he never graded them and never gave them back; we doubted that he even read them. Why, then, give such an assignment? Did he have a grudge against the English and Social Studies teachers, whose job it was to give us writing assignments? Surely, no English teacher ever assigned 1,000 math calculations as vacation homework.
   Yes, they will have to write reports and those dreaded five-paragraph essays throughout their educational careers. but if they start out with a positive attitude about writing, they'll do much better jobs.

   The first class arrives in ten days. And we begin anew...

An Evening in a College Class

  "You have two hours to complete the assignment. If you finish early, work on your presentation for the next class; you may not leave until the end of the period."

   I spent two hours last evening in a college classroom, watching as ten students did a writing assignment. To their credit, all of them spent at least some of the time pounding away on the keyboards.
  The first to arrive in the class dove into the assignment, asked a couple of pertinent questions, and was also the first to finish. He then used the rest of the time period to do research for the next assignment, even printing out some information he needed for it.
   Another student spent a good ten minutes asking other students what he was supposed to do, apparently having decided that I know nothing and am just sitting here to make sure they don't steal the computers. He also then interrupted others by telling them what he was going to write and asking what they thought of it.
   One, who appeared to have finished his work early but did not turn it in, then  sat at the computer checking his email. He was also chatting with another who had finished and turned in her assignment.
  At different times, three of them left the room, ostensibly to use the rest room. I guess they didn't think I could see them pulling out their cell phones as they went out the door.
   One of them left and went to a vending machine somewhere. He came back with some chips and a beverage which I hoped did not constitute his dinner. Unfortunately, it probably did.
   Two of them, neither of whom appeared to be finished, were high-fiving each other, presumably on their jobs well done.
  It occurred to me as the second hour was winding down that the ones who appeared finished but hadn't turned in the work were stalling in case I was going to point out that they could be working on another assignment.
  And when the two hours were up, four of them were still not finished, though three of them wrapped up in a minute or two. The last one asked for five more minutes; he actually needed seven. And then he had to reprint his assignment because he realized he left something out.

Friday, June 13, 2014

All For Naught

  I was reminded this morning of my days on the freshman football team at Elmont Memorial High School way back in the fall of 1965.
  We were an interesting bunch.
  We did not win any games, but we are probably not the only team in the school's history to boast that "accomplishment."
  We also did not score a single point all season and that probably is a school record.
  However, despite never recording a touchdown, a field goal or a safety, our record was 0-5-1.
  Indeed, our most noteworthy achievement was holding New Hyde Park just as scoreless as we were and ending in a 0-0 tie. We were so excited to have not lost that we celebrated in the locker room afterwards and pushed the coach in the showers. (We had no Gatorade to pour on his head.)

  We lost our starting quarterback to a broken collarbone very early in the season.
  We lost our backup quarterback to a broken collarbone a week later.
   I believe that the mother of our third-string quarterback made him quit the team before he had the chance to play in a game.

  We did actually score a touchdown in one of the games. It was nullified by a penalty for having an ineligible receiver because our center had somehow managed to charge down field well ahead of the player who caught what would have been the scoring pass.

  One of our fullbacks tripped over the white line during a running play that would have resulted in a substantial gain. There was no one near him -- from our team or our opponent --and he just fell over.

  I played right tackle. The coach had wanted to put me in the backfield, but I was playing without my glasses; if I was down field, it was unlikely I would be able to see the ball being passed.
  It was just as well. I was one of the few on the team who could remember the plays. We would line up and I would often have to tell the right guard and the center who they were supposed to block.
  More than once, I had to tell the right end what pattern he was going to run. One time, I actually drew the pattern in the dirt. The opposing player watching this must have figured we were trying to decoy him because our guy ran the pattern and caught the pass with no one around him.

  The coach erroneously believed that we would get better with more practice and so we were often out on the field well after dark. Such was the case on November 9th.
  He was running a drill where he would yell "Drop" and we would have to drop on our stomachs, then "Up" and we'd have to jump back to our feet.
  Well, he yelled "Drop," we did, and then we looked up to see that all the lights had gone out! On the field. In the school. All around us, for as far as we could see. And they didn't come back on.
  It was the Northeast Blackout of 1965.
  So here we are, in our sweaty. dirty uniforms and pads. The locker room was pitch dark.
  The coach drove his car as close to the building as he could get, turned the headlights on, and was able to get a bit of reflected light through the windows.  Those of us with lockers facing the window were able to see enough to dial the combinations on our lockers and get them open. Those with lockers facing the other way -- not so lucky.
  About a third of the team walked home in full uniform and cleats.

  If this was a movie, the members of the Winless Wonders would go on to have a perfect season when they reached the varsity team in 1968. Not quite... but our senior year record was 6-2, good enough for a tie for first place in the division.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Notes on This and That

Last month, five teenagers ranging in age from 14 to 18 were killed in Farmingdale when the car they were in crossed into oncoming traffic and slammed into an SUV. There is no question that the car was travelling at well above the speed limit; they were drag racing, according to an unnamed person who said he had been in the car they were racing with. Four of the teens were pronounced dead at the scene. The fifth died the next day in the hospital.
There was plenty of media coverage in the days that followed: Platitudes from school and town officials. Speculation that the teens had been drinking or smoking pot before getting into the car. A comment from the father of the driver that his son was not that good behind the wheel. Perhaps the most ridiculous comment was from someone who lives near the crash site who opined that the road itself was the reason for the crash, that the lack of a traffic light on the stretch of road invites people to drive at ridiculously high speeds.
A month later, the story has long since vanished from the news. Apparently, no word was ever released about the identities of the two people in the SUV, both of whom were seriously injured, except that they were from Maryland. Nothing to confirm or deny whether the teens had been under the influence or even any official word that they were indeed drag racing.
At the scene of the accident, there are now portable signs with sensors that tell you what speed you are going. Though I'm sure they are intended to make drivers aware that they are speeding, one could argue that they would also encourage future drag racers to step on the gas.
Instead of these signs, how about a billboard with pictures of the five kids with the caption "Speeding Kills!"


There's a group in Texas who have been bringing their rifles and shotguns with them into places like Taco Bell and Chipolte's. These gun-toting folks apparently are doing this because they want the "open carry" law that allows them to do so to be expanded to include handguns. They don't seem to care whether or not they are scaring the other patrons of these eateries by brandishing weapons while ordering a breakfast burrito.
In light of all the news stories recently about mass shootings in schools, malls and parking lots, how long will it be before someone decides that one of these gun-toters is actually a wild-eyed maniac about to start a killing spree, pulls his (or her) own weapon, and starts a gunfight?


Some months back, I wrote about the company that was offering a bag of nickels as "rarely seen gov't issued coins" for $29.
Since then, I've seen ads for bags of "wheat coins," including a photo of the bags of them surrounded by armed guards like they were gold bricks at Fort Knox.
These "wheat coins" are pennies issued between 1909 and 1959, after which the back was changed to show the Lincoln Memorial. While there are a very few that are worth some bucks -- and the folks selling these would love you to believe that the bag you buy will be filled with them -- most are worth one cent.
Once again, caveat emptor!

Follow Me

One of the things I tell my CTY writing classes each summer is that if they want to become better writers they need to write. Every day.

These are the same words of advice given to anyone who has a blog and wants people to follow it. You have to write. If not every day, at least often enough to bring readers back on a regular basis.

A blogger might then have to consider, why am I doing this? Do I have a product to sell and blogging will entice readers into buying it? Do I have opinions that I think people want to hear? Do I have information about a topic that should be available for people who want to know? Do I want to share what's going on in my life with family and friends? Or do I just like to blather on and hope someone is paying attention?

Looking back over the three hundred-plus entries I've written in the past five years, I guess I have entries that fall into all those categories.

Yes, I have something to sell, though I rarely do anything to advertise. There's my novel The Junkyards of Memory about a man who goes in search of his high school friends and discovers that the "good old days" weren't quite what he remembered. There's my "alternate-Earth" version of the comic book industry The Secret History of AA Comics in which M.C. Gaines buys out his DC Comics partners instead of the other way around. And there's The Answer Man's Book of Trivia Quizzes which includes 101 themed quizzes from the days of my AOL chatroom, hundreds of "Fun Facts to Know & Tell" and reminiscences about my career in the comic book business. (All three books are available at as well as the links to End of sales pitch.


I've shared my opinions on a variety of topics and I've provided some insight into the comic book business as well. And I don't think anyone would argue about how happy and excited I am to be a grandparent, given the number of Alex updates there have been. As for blathering, there's been a bit of that too.

That said, I don't know who is out there reading this, but thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 2, 2014

More Alex Adventures

Here's Alex happily modeling his new Crocs with Aunt Sammi...

And here he is high-fiving the crowd at the Princeton Reunions P-rade...

Monday, May 12, 2014

First Dunk 2014

When the piles of snow in the parking lot at work were still there in the beginning of April, I was wondering just how long it would be before I would be taking the first dunk of the year in the pool. Adding to the extended time frame was the fact that we had to get a new liner installed; tears had started in two of the corners last year and we were able to keep them relatively small with duct tape, but that was not going to work for a full season.

Said liner was installed about ten days ago and the refilling began. Once that was done, we needed our regular pool service guys to come and hook up the filter, et al, which happened this morning. With the temperature this afternoon in the high 70s and lower overall temps forecast for the rest of the week, I decided it was time for First Dunk. The Temperature Team of thermometers pretty much agreed the water was about 72 degrees, which is warmer than it's been in other years.

= Splash! = The season has begun.  Bring on the summer!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

More Adventures with Alex

  The combination of Rebecca going to Los Angeles for a conference and Chuck having three days of training programs at work made for a four-day visit by Alex to "Gamma" and "Gappa."
   We picked him up Tuesday at lunchtime and he had a nice nap on the car ride home. Then it was time for him to reacquaint himself with the miniature playground Grandma has assembled in our family room, with new additions including a climb-in car and a climb-on motorcycle. The slide remained a big hit, especially when he discovered that blocks and other toys could also slide down it.

  Wednesday was a day with Grandpa, but we were forced to stay inside by day-long rain. From time to time Alex would go to the front door and want it opened. He would look at the rain and, after being told that it was too wet to go outside, went back to his indoor adventures.
  Chuck took the train to Farmingdale and stayed over, so father and son got some quality time together. We were quite smug, proclaiming how Alex has slept through the night on Tuesday, as Chuck told us he's been waking up, perhaps as a result of new teeth coming in.
   Not so on Wednesday night. He woke up at about 2:30, but seemed to be soothed by a bottle and some rocking chair time with Grandpa. Once back in the crib, however, he seemed to be telling all of his adventures to his blanket monkey, including singing a song and clapping his hands. Eventually, however, he ran out of energy (and stories to tell) and went back to sleep.

  Thursday the weather cleared and he and Grandma were able to go to the playground at the park and had a great time. We had two wake-ups Thursday night, one at 10:00, which was resolved with bottle and some rocking. The second, at about 5:00, did not go so easily. In fact, after a bottle and some rocking, he decided it was wake-up time and an opportunity for playing with Grandpa.
  So we had some breakfast, put on music (Alex is a big fan of music, which I was supplying on the laptop via online radio, and would go and point at the computer whenever it wasn't playing.), and played until Grandma got up.

   On Friday, Alex had more park / playground fun with Grandma. Chuck once again took the train to Farmingdale for the evening, so we had some bubble-blowing time in the back yard, though Alex seemed more interested in bringing the bubble wands back and forth to Chuck and me than in any bubbles that were actually produced.
   Friday night he woke at about 4:00 and seemed determined for a repeat of the previous day's early-morning fun. Thankfully, at least for sleep-deprived Grandpa, Grandma came to the rescue and told both of us it was time for more sleep.
   Alex slept a couple more hours and Grandpa was able to get a bit more and then it was time for the drive back to Jersey City where Alex and Chuck were reunited with Rebecca. And when Grandpa got home, he took a long afternoon nap.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Speed Traps

  How many TV shows, movies and books have used a scene in which characters are driving down a rural highway and find themselves caught in speed trap? You've seen it. The speed limit suddenly drops from 55 mph to 25 and there's the stereotypical pot-bellied redneck deputy sitting right there ready to pull them over and drag them off to pay an exorbitant fine to a grumpy old judge or else spend a night in a one-cell jail.
   Of course, such places do exist and there are plenty of people who will tell you that they (or someone they know) has been caught in one. many of these municipalities use their ticket revenue to run the town.
   These days, however, they don't need deputies sitting in cars. They just set up a camera which takes a picture of your license plate. Then they send a ticket to the owner of the car with directions where to send the fine. They don't bother to identify the driver which, I suppose, is good news for perpetual speeders because they don't get any moving violations tacked on their license.

   We have a number of roads nearby with schools on them and the speed limits drop by ten or fifteen mph within them, usually "between 7:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. on school days." Perhaps a bit extreme when it's an elementary school that is open from 9 till 3, but okay. We don't want somebody barreling into a crossing guard with a crowd of third-graders.
   Nassau County is petitioning the state to be allowed to install speed trap cameras in fifty of these school zones. Why? They need the revenue these cameras would provide to fortify their budget. They aren't even pretending that it's to increase the safety of school children. No, it's simply, "We want the money."
   I think the state should tell them to hire some potbellied deputies instead.
   Hey, it would create jobs!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Search Results

   I got an email the other day from an interviewer who was looking for a photo of me to use. He went to Google and found quite an assortment, spanning about forty years. Bearded, clean-shaven, mustachioed... they're all there.
Someone, please buy this boy a comb and brush set!

   But one, he said, didn't really look like me...

  Not surprising, since it is actually a photo of E. Nelson Bridwell, with whom I worked at DC for many years.

   One of the interesting things that Blogspot (the host of this and many other bloggers' work) does is provide data on how many times an individual entry is viewed. I know that I have a group of regular followers and that there is a larger group of folks who will check out entries that relate to the comic book business.
   On the other hand, I presume that many one-time readers find their way here as the result of a search on Google or Ask or Bing. That would certainly account for the high number of views for the entries titled "Jury Duty" and "Feed a Fever, Drown a Cold." Those undoubtedly turn up in the results of many different searches.
   Of the more specifically-titled entries, the ones I wrote about baseball great Satchel Paige and the unpublished battle between the Secret Society of Super-Villains and the Freedom Fighters are the most popular entries of the nearly three hundred I've done.
   However, quite surprising to me was discovering that the most popular blog entry is my tale of how the NYPD came to the DC Comics offices for help when they were trying to track down serial killer "Son of Sam." There have been eight hundred more views of this entry than the next highest one and the total is more than ten times the average. I have no idea why.

   Speaking of searches, did you ever notice that, whenever you are looking for something, it's always in the last place you look?