Friday, December 30, 2016

54 Years Later

  Going through a box of our father's papers, my brother unearthed this photo of my 6th grade class. Though I haven't seen any of them in more than fifty years -- all but one of the girls and I went to a different junior high and high school -- I was surprised at how many of their names I remembered.
  That's me in the white shirt and bow tie, second from the left in the top row.

Mrs. Levine's 6th grade class at Belmont Boulevard/Clara H Carlson School, 1963...
Top row: Nick Tortorella, me, Mark Bernstein, Ed Forte, Stephen O'Rourke, Tom Bock, Robert Becker, Robert Morris, Bill Schade, Rick Margaroli.
Middle Row: Mrs Marsha Levine, Wendy Bergmann, Marilyn Verna, Joan Belauskis, Ronnie Feldman, Sharon Doherty, Gail Ludwigsen, Barbara Kuno, Denise Aquino, ?, Vicki Keller, 
Front Row: Bobby Bouchard, Carol Hilt, Larry Henn, Kathy DeLuca, Robert Woods, Eva Bialt, Michael Mannion, Susan Stripp, Billy Cook, Craig Burdi

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Majority Rules

majority is the greater part, or more than half, of the total. It is a subset of a set consisting of more than half of the set's elements.

Just to make things clear to those folks who do not seem to understand what a majority is:

* The population of the United States is approximately 322 million people. Donald Trump was not elected by a majority of the people in the United States.

* The number of registered voters in this country is approximately 200 million. Donald Trump was not elected by a majority of the voters in the United States.

* The number of votes cast in the 2016 presidential election was approximately 125 million. Donald Trump was not elected by a majority of the people who voted in the United States.

* Hillary Clinton got 60,274,974 votes and Donald Trump got 59,937,338. Head to head, Donald Trump was not even elected by a majority of people who chose between him and Clinton.

* The only majority that Donald Trump won was Electoral College votes and that is why he is President-elect. 

The same situation occurred most recently in 2000, when George W. Bush won over Al Gore, despite having lost the popular vote. That it has happened for a second time in less than two decades will no doubt spark another debate about the value / necessity of the Electoral College.

Got it? Good.

Now don't get me started on what a mandate is!

Friday, November 4, 2016


  The Farmingdale School District recently had to vote on a $36 million dollar bond issue that would provide funding to build an "aquatic center" and what, according to the artistic renderings, looks like a minor league baseball park complex at the middle school.

  Playing the ever-popular political game of "Fun With Numbers," proponents of this bond claimed that property taxes would actually go down with its passage. Closer examination of this claim showed that when a current bond is paid off in 2021, taxes would indeed be reduced. The new bond would cost less than the old one, so the net effect would be lower taxes, ignoring, of course, the fact that they would be substantially lower without the new bond.
  Despite claims of the proponents that they presented this plan to numerous community groups, all of which were in favor of it, it became apparent that much of the community had no idea it was even being considered until shortly before the vote. One can only presume that those groups in favor were Little League organizations, swim clubs, etc. rather than people far less likely to view it as a great idea.  In fact, virtually all the people I spoke to about it were against it.
  The Farmingdale school district has a total population of 109,000 in some 37,000 households. If we presume that half the population is under 18, that means we have 54,500 eligible voters. Even if we go further and assume there is only one eligible voter in each household (which is highly unlikely), that is still 37,000 people.
  How many voted on this bond issue? Three thousand. Eight percent of my smaller estimated number of potential voters; less than 6% of the more likely number.
  The bond passed 1610 to 1390. A difference of 220 people determined that the district should spend $36 million. And the response from a number of people who complained about it? "I never thought that would pass! I should have voted!"

  My point here is simple: You can't take anything for granted. Don't presume that you don't have to bother voting because "that could never happen." It can and it does and it will.
  Go vote!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

More Buzz

  Two things I don't think I ever expected to see:
   1) A cos-player at the NY Comic Con dressed as the Bumblebee...
Photo by James Whitbrook, Io9

    2) A Bumblebee Halloween costume on sale at Target...

DC Super Hero Girls Bumblebee Girls' Costume

Swimsover 2016

  Well, the pool won't be officially closed until Tuesday, but the forecast for the next three days is for rain and then high temps only in the very low 60s. So, today was the day for Swimsover 2016, my last lap of the year.
  The water was about 68 degrees, air temp about 73, and I was sweated up from a long bicycle ride, so there I went.
  Only about six months till First Dunk 2017.

Monday, October 3, 2016

What's the Buzz?

  It's been quite a long while since a box arrived at our house with a DC Comics return address, so I got a surprise when I came home from an afternoon bike ride and discovered a fairly sizable one. Inside was a statue of the Bumblebee, one of the series of "DC Bombshells."

  I created the Bumblebee as a member of the Teen Titans back in the mid-1970s. She was largely ignored after the series ended, but has become a prime component in DC's Superhero Girls series.


A recent McDonald's Happy Meal promotion included a Bumblebee figure as one of the toys.

  She's had a variety of looks over the years, but it is quite a kick to see a character I created as an important component of DC's line four decades later.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Hey, I'm a Legend!

  I've been named Guest of Honor at Uticon, taking place Sunday. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by and say hello.
  Meantime, the lectures I gave about the history of comics and graphic novels drew impressive crowds at both the Utica and Rome campuses of Mohawk Valley Community College.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

An Evening with Tony

  I caught up with my old pal Tony Isabella last week and we had a great evening. Wives Laurie and Barb had a good time together as well, deciding (probably wisely) to take a walk together after dinner and leaving the guys to talk comics and "the old days."
  It's been a particularly good week for Tony as his years-long battle with DC over Black Lightning seems to have been settled quite nicely in his favor, including a TV pilot for Fox that is in the works. (Coincidentally, I found out about that the night before via a Google Alert.)
  Our paths don't cross often, but I told Tony I'd love to be part of Driveway Con if he decides to have one next summer. Tony held a Driveway Con in the summer of 2014 as part of his garage sale. (Read about it here, here and here.) Something for all you fans of old comics guys to look forward to.

Monday, September 12, 2016

An Alex Anecdote

  In mid-August, while Laurie was in Australia with Sammi, Chuck and Rebecca asked if I could babysit Alex overnight so they could go to a nearby convention. As my little buddy and I seem never at a loss for things to do, I said okay.
  I drove to their house and they took the car to drive to the con. Since it was brutally hot, Alex and I spent most of the time in the air conditioning, playing and doing activities. One scenario involved the "rescue squad" chasing a bad dump truck who had stolen lollipops from the other trucks. (A helicopter grabbed up the lollipops with a grappling hook and flew them to safety.) We painted, we made things with Play-Doh, we read books, and we did much more.
  By mid-afternoon, we were both more than ready for a nap.

  After naptime and an afternoon snack, Alex said, "Papa, we should go to the Liberty Science Center."
  "We can't. Mommy and Daddy took the car."
  "It's okay. We can walk to the light rail." The light rail is about half a mile away.
  "It is too hot to walk that far."
  "We could take the stroller."
  Instead, we went outside to the sandbox where he got frequent sprinklings from the hose to stay cool.

  When Laurie and Sammi Skyped in the late afternoon and Laurie asked Alex what he had done all day, he said, "I watched some videos."

Camp Papa & Grandma

  Alex came and stayed with us for the better part of a week in August. During that time, in addition to the usual playing with every toy in the house, he attended two programs at the library, had two lunches at McDonalds, and a personalized visit to the local fire house.

Poolside with Papa
  In addition to his new favorite thing to do -- "driving" the convertible -- he had swim time in the pool with Papa, chalking the walk with Grandma, and picking vegetables in the garden (and then eating them).

Enjoying a snack

Fireman Alex drives the truck

  While I called it Camp Papa & Grandma, one of Laurie's friends said it was more like "Alex on a Cruise."  After all, there was unlimited food, plenty of on-board activities, a variety of excursions, and he couldn't leave the "ship" without an escort.
Showing off his work with Play-Doh
  When it was time to take him home, rather than get in the car, Alex walked back to the front door and said, "I want to stay here." Small wonder, eh?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


  This morning I made my 250th platelet donation at the New York Blood Center in Massapequa. As usual, it was a "triple," meaning they got three donations worth of platelets out of me.
  I made my first platelet donation on May 25, 1991, a little more than twenty-five years ago. Each donation takes about two and a half hours from beginning to end and I've watched a lot of mindless morning television in that time. (I've also eaten an awful lot of Lorna Doones for breakfast!)

From the website of the American Red Cross, some Fun Facts to Know & Tell:
  • Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.
  • Approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells are needed every day in the U.S.
  • Nearly 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma are needed daily in the U.S.
  • Nearly 21 million blood components are transfused each year in the U.S.
  • The number of whole blood and red blood cell units collected in the U.S. in a year: 13.6 million
  • The number of blood donors in the U.S. in a year: 6.8 million
  • Although an estimated 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood at any given time, less than 10% of that eligible population actually do each year.
  • Blood cannot be manufactured – it can only come from generous donors.
  • There are four types of transfusable products that can be derived from blood: red cells, platelets, plasma and cryoprecipitate. Typically, two or three of these are produced from a pint of donated whole blood.
  • A single donation can potentially help more than one patient.
  • Donors can give either whole blood or specific blood components only. The process of donating specific blood components – red cells, plasma or platelets – is called apheresis.
  • One transfusion dose of platelets can be obtained through one apheresis donation of platelets or by combining the platelets derived from five whole blood donations.
  • Most donated red blood cells must be used within 42 days of collection.
  • Donated platelets must be used within five days of collection – new donations are constantly needed.

  In addition to the platelet donations,  I've donated 7+ gallons of whole blood since 1982, so there's a little bit of me in an whole lot of people.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Still More Tales of CTY Summers

And still more tales of CTY Past...

Pi Day: It has long been said that three weeks of CTY is like a year of school. Based on that theory, the first weekend is Christmas vacation and the second weekend is Spring Break. Taking that one step further, for many years the math classes (joined by the Writing & Imagination and Drama classes) would celebrate Pi Day on the second Friday.
Each student in the math classes would have a number taped to his or her shirt and, when in a proper order, they represented pi to however many digits they were able. (The most coveted spots were the decimal point and the "..." at the end.
In the afternoon, the math classes would sing "Oh Number Pi" (to the music of "Oh Tannenbaum"), the Writing classes would present their Pi-Koo poetry (poems about math that had 3 syllables, 1 syllable, 4 syllables, 1 syllable, 5 syllables, 9 syllables) and then the instructors and TAs would put on a performance of Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi. Despite having played the title roll for a long stretch of years, I never managed to learn my lines. Well, except for "Pie with an E is for eating; pi without an E is the name of the number for all things round!"
And then we all ate pie!

"How old were you when you were 16?" I am sure that I am not the only one among us who has had the students trying to guess their age. These days the kids just Google me and read the Wikipedia page, but before they had ready access to the internet, it made for an amusing guessing game. One class, determined to figure it out, tried by asking the question at the beginning of this paragraph.
  For many years, I told the kids that I had charged up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt back in '98. They assumed I meant 1998 and it did not seem to bother them when I would say, "Yup, he became President and I came to CTY." 
One year, a students was skeptical and said, "Mr. R, if you were really at San Juan Hill, what did you see there?"
"A lot of Spaniards with rifles," I replied. 
"Hmm, maybe you really were there!"
I finally stopped telling that story after I mentioned it to the parents on Opening Day and one mother said, "Really? That must have been something!"
  Since then, I've told the students that I was the one who told Thomas Jefferson to buy Louisiana because, "Tom, we've gotta get those Frenchies out of there." Tom said we didn't have much money and I said, "Yes, but they're having a war, so I bet you can make them a crazy low offer and they'll take it." And they did. And that's how we got Louisiana.
As usual, there was one skeptical student, who asked, "Mr. R, was it really your idea or were you just in the room?"
"No, it was my idea. If you doubt it, remember that one of the states in the Purchase was named in recognition of my part in working the deal:  The French called me 'Missour R'."

Merry Crabmas: Back in the days when not every meal in the dining hall consisted of chicken and potatoes, the Crab Fest was a night shared by the entire CTY community, including all the kids. Some of the kids who came from the area knew what a treat the crabs were, others were willing to try, and some just took a couple and dropped them at the table where their instructor or TA was sitting. 
  Well, in 1999, there was a bushel box of crabs left over and, since CTY had paid for them, site director Tim decided to stash them in one of the instructional dorm refrigerators. Whether he never mentioned them or the people he told just forgot about them has never been established, but they remained there until the final Friday night of the summer. Now, despite refrigeration, after ten days or so, these were no longer something anyone wanted to eat.
  Enter Lincoln, the Science & Engineering instructor, better know to us as McGyver. He is the one who took apart and reassembled his car engine in the parking lot on Intersession Saturday. He is also the one who used another car engine for a lesson, had it put into the storage unit, and wanted CTY to ship it to him when he was teaching in California the following summer. (They didn't.) Confronted with this large and pretty smelly box of crabs, Lincoln had a brainstorm and said, "Does anyone have any dental floss?" Once he had obtained a roll -- cinnamon-flavored, by the way -- he dragged the box of crabs from the dorm all the way to the crosswalk on the county road that bisects the campus.
  Once there, Lincoln proceeded to create a diorama of crabs, crawling from the box, down the sidewalk, climbing the pole to push the crosswalk button and lined up waiting to cross. (He even added one stuck on the yellow line in the middle of the street.) While he was doing this, his comrades-in-crabbiness proceeded to string crabs and sprigs from the evergreen bushes across the walkway, giving the festive occasion its name. Then, once the diorama was complete, the staff members wandered back to their dorms.
  All the while that this was going on, one of the campus security guards was sitting across the street on his bicycle watching. Once everybody walked away, he went into a nearby dorm, where the residential staff was having their own party (blissfully unaware of what had happened outside) and yelled at them!
  Finally convinced that the res staff had no idea what was going on, the security guard pedaled his bike over to the dorm where Ted, the site coordinator from Baltimore, was sleeping. (It was, by now, about 1:30 in the morning.) Lincoln and company, back to sitting outside their nearby dorms, realized that the guard was going to wake up Ted and moseyed over. Ted, totally baffled by the guard's tale of crabs in the crosswalk, looked at the staff members and said, "I don't know what you did and I don't care who did it, but go clean it up." 
  Lincoln and company made their way back to the crosswalk and, now under the watchful eyes of two security guards, dismantled the entire scenario. (There were photos taken at the time, and they are probably still out there somewhere in the ether but, alas, search attempts have been fruitless.) Once all the crabs had been deposited in a couple of large trash bags, the staffers were escorted to the dining hall dumpster so that it could be assured that the crabs had been disposed of. 
   And that, my friends, is the story of Crabmas. Oh, and by the way, in the aftermath of the event,  an unwritten rule was made that leftover crabs were never to be given to CTY staffers again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

More Tales Of CTY Summers

  Some more of the stories of CTY summers past...

July 4th: Many instructors had students ask if there is class on July 4th and be quite surprised to learn that we do work on the holiday. As I have explained to my classes, "It's not like we can call your parents and tell them to take you home for the day!"
  During our orientation that I mentioned to Shirley (our liaison with Washington College) to please make sure they programmed the air conditioning to be on in the classrooms on Monday. Some years back, when the 4th also fell on a Monday, the system was set for a summer holiday weekend (meaning, basically, "off"). Unfortunately, it was not a mild weekend like we've been experiencing, but one of those hazy/hot/humid 90+ kind. Needless to say, on Monday morning the classrooms were somewhere between sauna and pizza oven; despite it being 90 degrees outside, we went out to cool off. It was not until 1:00 that Washington College got someone to show up and turn the a/c on, by which time we'd all abandoned our classrooms and were holding classes in such places as the dining hall, the office, and the basement in one of the dorms. (The Bay Ecology classes went on a field trip down to the river, as I recall.)
  And, finally, the Chestertown fireworks are a July 4th tradition, with the students being taken to the stadium stands to sit and watch. One year, when the 4th was a Friday, the dance was interrupted so the students could view them, prompting one bright lad to ask, "Are the fireworks outside?"

Who Has the Kids? While my daughter Sammi was visiting over the weekend, we got to talking about memorable CTY incidents. She reminded me of one during her first year on staff, when she was an RA, and she had the girls from my class on her hall. The father of one of said girls was coming at lunchtime one Tuesday to take his daughter to a doctor's appointment. Sammi happened to walk into the office shortly before lunch.
Lucille (the office manager): Sammi, Mr. Jones is coming in shortly to pick up Sally.
Sammi: Okay, but I don't have her now.
L: Well, where is she?
S: My father has her.
L (puzzled): Your father?
S: Yes, he's got all my girls.
L (becoming distressed): What?! Why does your father have all the girls? Does the administration know about this?
S: Lucille, my father is Bob!
L: Your father is Bob?! Really? Well, I guess maybe you look a little alike.
Just to make sure Sammi wasn't making it up, Lucille checked with me that afternoon that she was indeed my daughter.

"Don't start no mess, won't be no mess." Those were the sage words of advice from Miss Joy, our very first Office Manager (both at the Goucher site and then in Chestertown). In her third CTY summer, those words were emblazoned on a sign in the Main Office and continued to hang there every summer she was with us.
In my second year, I had a girl in the class who was particularly accident-prone. She got poked in the eye by a tree branch, she cut her arm on a fence, she broke her ankle playing a game. It seemed like every other day she was going to the doctor. One evening, I walked into the office and Miss Joy was on the phone with the hospital. Turned out that my student, who had just been at the hospital that morning, was back there again. 
Whoever Miss Joy was speaking with was giving her a hard time, saying that they did not have the girl's paperwork and so they could not treat her. "Now don't you tell me you don't have that child's paperwork," said Miss Joy, "because I have sent it over to you at least four times this week!... Yes, I think you should go and look for it!... Her name? She's sitting right there in front of you!... It's Farthington. Farthington!! With an F... as in..." There was a very long pause and then Miss Joy said, "Firetruck!"
When she had hung up the phone, I said, "Miss Joy, 'firetruck' wasn't the first word you thought of, was it?"
She just smiled at me and said, "Mister Bob, you know that I am too much of a lady to say what I was thinking."

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Tales of CTY Summers

   I am in the midst of my 23rd summer stint in the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth program, teaching the Writing & Imagination course to a group of gifted 11- and 12-year-olds. Because of my (very) senior status among the staff (the person with the next-most years has 10), I am also the unofficial historian and "cruise director."
  This past week, in addition to keeping my fellow instructors informed on such things as when we are playing volleyball and what's at the theater for our Tuesday movie night, I have been regaling them with tales of past years. To wit:

  * Okay, so last night I went back to my room and wanted to take a shower. Took off my lanyard, was taking off my shirt and then realized I needed something from my car. Grabbed the car keys, closed my bedroom door, walked out of the suite and, halfway to the car, realized I had just locked myself out because the lanyard was on the desk. Twenty-three years of this and there's still the opportunity to do one of the things I always tell people not to do: Don't leave without your lanyard! A call to the WC Security office and I was back inside
  Anyway, I was reminded of the most famous lock-out in C'town lore. Way back when we were first in these western shore apartments (a.k.a. the previous millennium), one of the instructors walked out his bedroom, pulling his door closed behind him, and went to take a shower. Takes his shower, comes out of the bathroom, and realizes he has locked himself out of his room. Looks to his roommates to get one of them to call Security, but all three have gone to breakfast. So he decides he should try one of his across the hall neighbors. He walks out of the apartment... and the door locks behind him! His neighbors are gone as well, so there he is, standing on the "balcony," yelling down to a passing CTYer from another building to please call security for him. What makes this story so legendary? Well, as I said, he came out of the shower. All he was "wearing" was a not-very-large towel.
  And that's why you should never forget your lanyard.

* Beginning with our first year at the site and until he retired, Dr. John Toll (for whom the Science Center is named), the President of the college, would join our Opening Ceremony and welcome the students and their families.  His speech was always the same: "Washington College was the first college established in the United States of America. Now, I know what you're thinking, what about Harvard and Yale and such? Well, they were established before there was a United States of America..." He would then go on to explain the history of the school.
  In 2002, Dr. Toll was unavailable to make his speech and it fell to Lowell, who was the liaison between WC and CTY, to speak. Lowell, while very capable in his job, had no interest in public speaking and was, in fact, in a near panic about having to do it. So, I offered to help him out.
  The opening ceremony began and when our site director Tim introduced Lowell, he stepped to the mike and said, "I have asked someone to help me out with this." I walked up to the microphone, with Tim and the rest of the admins looking at each other and saying, "What is he doing now?!"
  I proceeded to deliver Dr. Toll's speech verbatim. The instructors and TAs, recognizing the speech because we had all heard it so many times before, were laughing hysterically. The parents and kids, of course, had no idea and probably thought the instructional staff was just crazy.
  And that is the story of how I delivered the Washington College Address.

* Way back in 1996, when CTY first arrived at Washington College, there was no movie theater in town. In fact, the nearest place to see a movie was Dover, and few people wanted to make the drive to see a flick. When the Chester 5 opened in 1998, CTYers were a ready and willing audience.  Admission at the time was only $5, but since we were a group of 30 or more each week, I was able to secure a Tuesday night special of $4 for anyone wearing a CTY lanyard. With a couple of small price increases along the way, this 6-week summer discount continued until 2013. At that point, the theater owner decided to make Tuesday a discount night year-round for everybody.
  Over the course of the past seventeen summers, we've seen a number of blockbusters, along with a number of clunkers. (Eight-Legged Freaks comes to mind i the latter category.) And while there is a wide array of films that might be voted the best one, there was little doubt about the worst movie. A vote of long-time staffers named 2003's Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde the worst CTY movie ever. Miami Vice in 2006 ran a far second.

* Even though it's still very early in the session, most of the admin staff has been in to visit my class. They quickly found out that if you come into my classroom and we start a writing assignment, you are expected to do it too. 
  Some years ago, we had a site director named Joe and he was a fairly frequent visitor. However, when I would tell the class to take out a piece of paper, he would suddenly look out the window, announce that he was needed elsewhere and run out of the room. The class, well aware of my policy, were quite upset by his actions. So we set a trap. The kids came up with an assignment for Joe and I said that the next time he came in, as soon as he sat down, I would stop whatever lesson I was doing and we would get him to write. (The assignment was "Where does Joe rush off to whenever there's a writing assignment?")
  In he came a few days later and = boom = he was trapped! The kids had a great time watching him try to talk his way out of it, but we didn't let him. They, of course, also wrote their versions of where he went... and they had a great time doing so.
  And speaking of visitors, one time back in the early days, a contingent of folks from the Baltimore "mother ship" came to visit the site and dropped in on various classes. Mine was one of them. In walked four swell-dressed folks who just smiled and said. "Don't mind us, we're just here to observe." 
  "That's what you think," I thought. A few minutes later, as I finished the lesson, I told the class to take out paper and a pen. The guests in a back sat calmly; I suppose they thought they would just watch the kids write for a few minutes and then go. "That means you folks as well," I said, as my TA handed them paper and pens. Funny thing, I've never had a Baltimore contingent visit my class again...

Friday, June 10, 2016

"Driving" Mr. Alex

  It is fairly safe to say that Alex has never been in a car when he wasn't in a car seat. Further, he has never been in the front seat of a car. And certainly, he's never been in the driver's seat.
  His fascination with trucks has grown into one for cars as well. to the point where he has told me that one of the cars he wants to have is a red convertible. He is well aware that I still have my Sebring but, until today, he has never been in it.
  This morning we decided to go for a pretend ride. We got in the car, put down the top, and then went for a "ride" around town. We also drove to Jersey City and back, because he knows the route. "We go in the Holland Tunnel, then on the Manhattan Bridge, then on the Kosciuszko Bridge, and the Long Island Expressway." (It is always entertaining to see the looks on people's faces when they hear him say "Kosciuszko Bridge.")

  I let him sit on my lap in the driver's seat. and after a few minutes he said, "Papa, let's change seats." So I moved over to the passenger side and the future driver took over. He asked about the dials, the buttons and everything else on the dashboard and steering wheel and then said, "Okay, let's go to the store."
  During the course of his "driving lesson," I taught him the hand signals for a right turn, a left turn, and slow/stop. So, every time I gave him directions to make a turn, he stuck his hand out the window and signaled. (Do they even teach the hand signals in driver's ed any more?)

  He enjoyed it so much that after dinner he wanted to go for another pretend ride. This time, we went to the barber shop, McDonalds (to the drive-thru, of course), the library, and the ice cream shop. But then we had to drive home because it was time for his bath.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Monkee Business

  As my 65th birthday present, Chuck and Rebecca got me tickets to see the Monkees in concert. Well, half of the Monkees, since only Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork are featured in the promotions.

  It was an entertaining evening, as Mickey and Peter performed lots of old favorites along with a couple of songs from their newly-released album. The onstage performance was backed by a giant video screen that included clips from the old TV show, concerts, home movies, and other performances. These continued through the intermission and even included some commercials for Kellogg's Rice Krispies that appeared on the show.
  Fellow Monkees Davy Jones and Michael Nesmith were represented as well. Tracks from the 1960s of Davy, who died in 2012, singing "Shades of Gray" and "Daydream Believer" were combined with the live performance. The latter became a singalong for the audience as well.
  To bring Michael in as a part of the show, they had quite a clever gimmick. They called him on Skype! From the comfort of his home, Michael joined his fellow Monkees for a song.
  It is hard to believe that I first heard many of these songs fifty years ago. Peter, commenting on the fact that they debuted in 1966, said that the equivalent to this concert back then would have been people going to see an act that was popular in 1916. Enrico Caruso, anyone?

Hey, hey, they're still the Monkees...

Monday, May 30, 2016

On the High Seas with Alex

  We went on a cruise to Bermuda with Chuck, Rebecca and Alex along. Though Laurie and I have been there before, it was a first for the kids.
  It's an easy cruise -- leave Sunday afternoon, sail on Monday and Tuesday, spend Wednesday, Thursday and most of Friday in Bermuda, then set sail and arrive home Sunday morning. With Papa and Grandma along to handle some of the babysitting, Chuck and Rebecca got time for some fancy dinners, horseback riding, and general relaxing.
  Alex spent an hour or so a day at the kiddy care center, but the rest of the time was spent with his favorite people. And he kept us all busy.
  His bed was a foldout, which was fine, but he also liked the large sill in front of the window. He decided it could double as a second bed.
Alex watches as we sail away...

...and decides this is a great place to nap.
    Alex also discovered that the phone in their stateroom could be used to call Grandma and Papa. One evening he called us and said, "I need you guys to come down here because Mommy and Daddy are going out."
  One morning he called and said, "I'm going to breakfast and wanted invite you to join me."
  Sometimes, it is hard to believe that he is only three years old.

  Among the onshore adventures, we all spent a few hours at the nearby beach -- Alex made friends with a boy from the other ship that was docked. There was a playground area that he also liked. But, every time he was asked what his favorite part of the cruise was, he said, "Riding the train."
  Said train being the little tram -- dressed up like an old train -- that takes people from the ships around the shopping area of King's Wharf. Every time we started moving, the engineer would shout "Choo choo!" to Alex's great delight.
"Choo choo!"

Friday, May 20, 2016

At Last-- First Dunk

  It was a long time coming this year, especially since the pool has been open for weeks, but the weather and water temperature finally aligned to bring about the First Dunk.

  Joining Swannee and Moby the Whale on the Temperature Team this year is Froggy. (To those of you who just thought, "Plunk your magic twanger, Froggy!" from the TV show Andy's Gang, wow, you're as old as I am! If you thought of Smilin' Ed, you're even older than that!)
  All three concurred that the water was 72 degrees when I took my dunk.

 Now if we can just keep moving towards June weather rather than bouncing back to leftover April temperatures...

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Lost at the Social Security Administration

  I had a 9:45 appointment at the local Social Security office this morning.

  This appointment was made in March, after I spent a couple of hours on the phone with the Social Security Administration and the Medicare office, trying to get clarification about what I was going to be charged for Medicare. The calls were the result of getting three letters with three different amounts listed as my monthly payment... plus a bill for an amount that did not match any of the letters.  
  One of the people I spoke to then, a woman who I would swear said her name was Candy Crush, said of the most recent letter I'd received, "Sir, that amount isn't even one that shows up on our charts!" She is the person who scheduled my visit for "the next available appointment" seven weeks hence.

  So, I showed up about ten minutes early for my appointment, with all my letters in a folder, and, because I was expecting a wait, a book to read. When you walk in, a security guard points you towards the "sign-in machine." You enter your social security number, indicate whether you have an appointment, and a ticket with a code number is generated; my number was A73. There were different numbers posted on the video screen -- A's, B's, C's, etc. -- and A72 was currently being handled, so I figured I did not have long to wait. 
  Indeed, about ten minutes later, I was called to window #1 (one of the four windows in the room), where a woman asked me if I had an appointment. This struck me as rather odd, since I'd answered that question and presumably code the A-code number because I did have one. "Well, I'm officially logging you in now. Someone will call your name." What was the purpose of signing in if I wasn't really signed in?
  So I sat. And I read. And I waited. And no one called my name. At about 10:30, a woman came in and she got #A74, something I determined when she was called to window #4 and got the same line about being logged in.
  Other people had their names called and went through a door to the back. Some people just got called to windows and, their questions answered or forms processed, went on their way. And I sat. And I read. And I waited.
  From where I was sitting, I could hear the man in window #4. He was quite knowledgeable as he dealt with a variety of people and their questions.

  At 11:45, I went back to window #1 and asked the woman just how long I had to wait to be called for my 9:45 appointment.
  She:"Is this your first time coming to the window?"
  Me: "No, you checked me in two hours ago."
  She: (typing on her computer) "What's your name?"
  Me: "Rozakis."
  She: (more typing) "I'm not seeing you here."
  She asks me to write down my social security number, which she then enters three or four times. "Maybe your name was called and you didn't hear it."
  Me: "I've been sitting here for two hours! I would have heard my name called."
  She: "Well, I will put you back on the board, so have a seat and someone will get to you soon."
  I went back and sat down, but I could tell she was still trying to figure out how she had wiped me out of the system, as she kept looking at the slip of paper I'd written my SS# on and kept typing it in. She then consulted the man at window #2, but he could not help. Nor could the man at window #3.
  However, the man at window #4, said. "I'll handle it."
  He called my name and when I came up, said, "I'm going to help you right now."

  And he took care of the entire problem in less than five minutes!


Monday, May 2, 2016

Up, Down, Look Around

  The past weekend was one that involved a variety of babysitting adventures with Alex.

  These included his class field trip to a nature preserve on Friday. Perhaps the idea of three-year-olds turning over rocks and logs in the woods in order to find worms, millipedes, slugs, and other squirmy things needed more thought. Just keeping them together and paying some semblance of attention was a challenge for the young woman leading them. ("It's like trying to herd cats," Laurie pointed out.)
  Alex did seem to enjoy it. And we got to meet all of his school friends that we've been hearing about for months now.

  A field trip he enjoys much more is going to Home Depot. Not because he is a future home handyman... because they have escaltors!
  On Sunday afternoon, Alex, Rebecca and I drove there. Rebecca did the shopping. Alex and I went up the escalator and down the one next to it. While this is great fun for a three-year-old, Papa knew it would get tiresome very quickly. So I added a twist: After each round-trip, we had to go an look at something in the store.
  The first time, we looked at all the packets of seeds they had for sale and Alex identified a number of vegetables he likes to eat. Then we looked at the fruit bushes -- raspberries, blueberries, grapes, etc. We examined the various rose bushes and picked our favorite colors. We looked at house plants, hammers, and portable chairs.
  Coming down on our last trip, I pointed out what we would look at next. "Mommy!" Alex exclaimed, as Rebecca appeared from the check-out area.
  Alex so enjoyed "Up, Down, Look Around" that when we got home, he told Chuck that they would have to play it the next time they went to Home Depot together.

Pool's Open, Dive Safely

  Call me optimistic (or maybe crazy), but we've already opened the pool for the season. Not that the weather has cooperated in the least.  After some signs that we might be getting some early warm weather, it's been cloudy, rainy and downright chilly for the past few days.
  And with temps hitting 70 degrees not forecast till sometime next week, it would appear that my annual First Dunk is still some days away. Still, it's nice to look out the window and see water rather than the cover.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Mark Twain House & Museum (and Harriet Beecher Stowe, too)

  Each week, Laurie and I try to take some sort of an adventure trip. Sometimes it's a short one, like our visit to the Huntington Library to see the Berndt Toast exhibit. Other times, like this week, it's a bit more involved.
  With our friends Betty and Alan, we set off yesterday morning for Hartford, Connecticut to visit the Mark Twain House and Museum.  

  The house was built for Twain and his family in 1873 and was their home for seventeen years. It is quite impressive, as is the Museum that also sits on the property. Check it out here.
  Some Fun Facts to Know & Tell (or, as Laurie calls them, things you didn't know but learned during the visit):
  * Twain lived in this house longer than he lived anywhere else during his life and did much of his notable writing there. I'd always thought of him as a fixture in Missouri.
  * The Twain home was one of the first to have a telephone
  * When Twain died in 1910, he had outlived his wife (who was ten years younger) as well as three of his four children.
  * The museum display includes a Thomas Edison-made film of Twain having tea on his patio. (Not Hal Holbrook!)
  * Before bedtime, Twain would sit with his daughters and tell them a story using a series of items on their mantelpiece. The objects, beginning  with a painting of a cat wearing a ruff, had to be used in the same order and it had to be a new story each time. Such was the challenge for a master storyteller, to keep his children amused.
  * Twain's neighbor was Harriet Beecher Stowe.

  After our tour of the Twain house, we walked across the back yard to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. (More about that here.) Who would have known that two of the most influential writers of the 19th century lived across from one another? (For the record, Stowe was there first.)

  Finally, some Twain quotes:
  * "I was born modest, but it didn't last."
  * "Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to."
  * "Architects cannot teach nature anything."
  * "The man with the new idea is a crank until the idea succeeds."
  * "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please."
  * "We ought never to do wrong when people are looking."
  * "It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt."
  * "I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened."
  * "Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education."
  * "Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest."

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Birthday Weekend

  The celebration of my 65th birthday began last Friday night when Sammi flew in for the weekend. Saturday was relatively quiet as we did such exciting things as finish Sammi's income taxes.
  On Sunday morning, Chuck, Rebecca, and Alex took the train out for my birthday brunch (waffles with an assortment of toppings) and birthday dinner. It has long been a family tradition that the birthday boy (or girl) get to pick his (or her) dinner and, for the most part, we have fallen into expected choices. (Chuck, for example, opts for a shellfish extravaganza.)
  My standard birthday fare has been a large slab of meat -- a prime rib or a rack of lamb chops -- plus Yiaya's Spaghetti (spaghetti with a burnt butter/cheese "sauce" like my paternal grandmother used to make), a veggie or two and a salad. This year I surprised everyone by going off-script and selecting what amounted to a tailgate party.  We grilled up five different types of sausages, added cole slaw, corn on the cob, sauerkraut, and green salad, and even had four different types of mustard.

  The birthday cake was the traditional babka ("the cake named after me!") with an assortment of other crumb-coated goodies from the bakery. And, just because I was in the mood, a jelly donut!

  Rebecca had to work on Monday, so she took the train home, but Chuck and Alex spent the night. As usual when the little man is with us, he was up before the birds and wanted Papa to come and play trains with him. Thankfully, he let me go back to sleep for a bit when Chuck took over.
  Since Monday was my actual birthday, the celebration extended to additional meals. Chuck and Sammi had both heard about how the Men Seeking Pizza voted Mary's the best pizzeria in Farmingdale (as recounted here) and were anxious to see what the hoopla was about, so I ordered a pie for lunch. Then the three of us headed off to see Batman v Superman (leaving Alex home with Grandma) and afterwards for a snack from Rita's.
  Dinner Monday was crab-stuffed fish fillets and then it was off to run volleyball, after which I drove Chuck and Alex back to Jersey City. The traffic gods must have decided to give me a birthday present because we made the round-trip in just about two hours.
  After all that, you'd think I would opt to sleep in on Tuesday, right? Didn't happen... but that's another story!

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Berndt Toast Gang Cartoonist Showcase

  Laurie and I took a drive over to the Huntington Library (where she once worked as a clerk) to see a display of art by the members of the Berndt Toast Gang. The Gang is a branch of the National Cartoonists Society, made up of artists who live (or lived) on Long Island. 

  Among the art and artists most recognizable to comic book fans:
  * A Wonder Woman page by Don Heck 
  * A Superboy and Krypto double-spread penciled by Kurt Schaffenberger and inked by Gang member Joe Giella (and scripted by my pal Paul Kupperberg)
  * A painting of Batman, also by Giella
  * A Phantom daily strip by Sy Barry
  * Two sketches by Golden Age artist Craig Flessel
  * A Mad piece by Mort Drucker

  There were plenty of other artists represented, some of whom I'd heard of and some I was unfamiliar with. I would have liked a bit of biographical information about each of the artists, but even without it, this is a display worth seeing if you are in the area.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Loud Shirt Day

  "Here's your chance to wear that shirt your Great Aunt Edna bought you the week after she went blind!"
  That was how we invited the DC staff to participate in Loud Shirt Day, one of a variety of crazy morale events dreamed up by Robyn McBryde and yours truly back in the 1980s. The staff gathered in the Production Department and watched each contestant emerge from the statroom in all their eye-blasting finery.
  Everybody voted for their favorite and the winner received a Superman tie that was created by my wife Laurie.
Len Wein and Ed Hannigan in floral motifs
Pat Bastienne and Joe Orlando went with stripes
Bob LeRose sampled the refreshments; Robyn McBryde hand-crafted her shirt
Todd Klein felt his tie completed the ensemble; John Holowski didn't need one
Helen Vesik chose a hand-made sweater; Julia Sabbagh demonstrated her art skills
Yours truly shows off the prize; winner Todd Klein wears it proudly
And if the shirts weren't eye-numbing enough, here is your truly in front of the infamous yellow wallpaper that graced the DC offices at 666 Fifth Avenue

Friday, March 4, 2016

BobRo Archives: Centurions - A Thirty-Year-Old Interview

From a 15-year-old online column comes an interview conducted a decade and a half before that...

In 1986, WCEYE, the in-house newsletter for employees of Warner Communications, interviewed yours truly about ‘Mazing Man and the Centurions tie-in book DC was about to publish. I recently unearthed a copy and thought I’d share some of it with you…

Q: What is a Centurion?

“It’s a tie-in to a toy product of Kenner Toys. We are publishing a comic book in conjunction with the release of the toys. There’s also a cartoon series and probably 5,000 other licensed products coming out at the same time.

“It takes place in the 21st century and the three heroes wear suits which give them weapons and all sorts of different powers. There’s one whose powers are land-based, one in the air, and one in the sea. They all get involved in plots of Doc Terror who’s the villain.

“What I’ve done is take the stack of information they gave me (which is about a foot high) and weeded through it all to find what I wanted to use in the comic book stories.”

Q: Who decided what they would look like?

“That’s been established by the people doing the cartoon show and the people doing the toys.”

Q: Suppose you were starting a series from scratch. Who would design the characters?

“The artist usually decides. The series I just finished doing, ‘Mazing Man, was a creation of artist Stephen DeStefano and myself. He designed the original characters and then we sat down and worked out their personalities.

“When we would introduce a new character, I would decide what the person should look like and Stephen would interpret what I was saying.”

Q: After the story is written and drawn, what happens? Who approves it?

“On  ‘Mazing Man, Stephen and I would sit down with the editor to get our story ideas approved. With Centurions, we’ve got an extra step. Since it’s a licensed series, the people who license it have to approve it as well.”

Q: How does the creative process work?

“It’s different for each team of writer and artist. With  ‘Mazing Man, since Stephen and I both had a hand in creating the characters, the two of us worked together to come up with the stories. We’d work out a plot and get three-quarters of the way through and sometimes say, ‘No, this wouldn’t happen. They wouldn’t DO this.’ Even if we hadn’t explained all their behavior in the book itself, we knew how they would act.”

Q: Sounds like you’re writing a TV or movie script.

“There isn’t much difference when you’re making up a story. In fact, with ‘Mazing Man we tried to do it as if it was a TV situation comedy since that book was aimed at an older audience.”

Q: And once the plot was decided upon?

“I gave Stephen a page-by-page breakdown of what was going on. He would draw it and bring it back and I’d write dialogue to fit the panels.

“With Centurions I’m using a slightly different approach. I’m giving the artist [Don Heck] panel-by-panel descriptions of what’s going on and underneath it there is rough dialogue. Since these are new characters, a new book, and an artist I haven’t worked closely with before, I’m giving him more. He’s got the range to say that I’ve given him six panels and he wants to do six or I’ve given him eight and he wants to do it in six. He just has to know that the characters have to say all of this in a given page and make sure there’s room for them to say it.”

Q: What happens after the art is done?

“Once it’s done in pencil, the artwork comes back to the editor, who approves it. I get it again to write the final dialogue, which will also go to the editor for approval. Next the dialogue is lettered and the art is inked for reproduction.

“At that point, with Centurions, we have to get approval again from the licensor. They have already approved my raw script so their next approval would be on the finished artwork. We then make a photostat of each page and get it colored. The colorist has a limited palette of 64 colors that are tints of red, yellow and blue in combination. When the pages are colored, the separations are done and then it’s printed.”

Q: Is a book market-tested prior to publication?

“Usually not., Once we’re committed to publishing a book, there’s no pre-testing. Sometimes before a book is on the schedule, samples of the art will be sent to retailers in the direct sales shops that cater to comic book buyers and we get peoples’ reactions. But for the most part, the decision is made here by Jenette Kahn, Dick Giordano, and Paul Levitz. Sometimes it’s decided to do just six or twelve issues to see what will happen.”

Q: So how do you gauge what will appeal to young readers?

“I’m using my five-year-old son Chuckie as my consultant on this book. Centurions is aimed at a younger audience – the same kids who will be watching the cartoons and buying the toys. Chuckie has seen Centurions on TV and is excited about the book. If he understands the story, then I feel it works. Additionally, if I can write a story that I as a parent wouldn’t mind reading to him, all the better. That way I won’t drive parents crazy when they read it to their kids.

“I’m taking both sides and thinking that if I was buying this comic book for my son, he would understand it and I wouldn’t feel like a complete fool reading silly dialogue and a story that made no sense to him.”

Q: How does DC promote its new books?

“We advertise them in our own books. There are also a number of comic book fanzines that the fans read and we advertise in those. We’ve done posters, postcards, buttons and bumper stickers. It varies from book to book. Those decisions are made by the marketing department.”

Q: Where are comics sold besides newsstands?

“They are sold in comic specialty shops and in places like 7-Eleven and in ‘mom-and-pop’ candy stores, if there are any of those left in the world.”

Q; How much of a success does a book have to be to stay on the market? How much of a chance does it get?

“We’ll keep publishing it if it makes money. 'Mazing Man had a lot of fan support and good reviews, but it was just on the wrong side of acceptable sales.

“We’re usually committed to twelve issues. It’s not like the TV networks where they cancel a show after one week. Also, by the time the first issue goes on sale, if you haven’t finished issues four and five you’re in a lot of trouble on a monthly book.

“The audience can be very strange. I would think that an interesting set of characters, with good stories and artwork, would sell a comic book, but that’s not necessarily the case. I look at some of the things being published and say, ‘Why is this a big hit?’ What seems to be selling these days is teams of super-heroes.

Q: So how do you think Centurions will do?

“I hope Centurions will appeal to a different audience in addition to the regular comic book fans. We’ve got a pretty good shot with the younger audience, the kids who are watching the cartoons and playing with the toys, assuming that the toys do well. My son keeps asking if I’ve finished an issue yet. I try to explain to him that it takes six months from beginning to end to get an issue published.

Q: But based on his reaction, it looks like a hit?

“I hope so. The licensor has given us some free rein. I’ve established a history of the characters that wasn’t done with the cartoon show or with the toys. I’ve fleshed out a kind of 21st century civilization that ties in with the things going on in the book. I think it’s interesting and fun. Hopefully, the readers will think so too.”