Saturday, July 4, 2015

"Hi! Welcome to CTY!"



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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Day With Alex

Alex fills Papa in on his adventures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 15, 2015

Some Last Words From Julie Schwartz


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

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

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

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

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

BobRo Archives:Strange Schwartz Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On the Roads

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

**

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

**

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