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.