Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fifty Years Later

Thanks to Facebook, I have recently been in contact with Wendy, a woman who was in my fifth grade class at Belmont Boulevard School way back in the 1961-62 school year. We had not seen nor heard from one another since the end of sixth grade, when, due to the way the district was set up, I (and a very few classmates) moved on to Elmont Memorial while the rest of the class went on to Alva T. Stanforth JHS and then Sewanhaka HS.

Among the photos on Wendy's page is the one above, with many members of the class and our teacher, Miss Carroll. (That's yours truly second from the left in the top row, wearing the very fashionable bolo tie.) Fifty years after it was taken, it's not easy to put names to the faces, though I find I remember one or two more each time I look at the photo.

I was only in Belmont Boulevard for fifth and sixth grade.My kindegarten through fourth grade years were spent in Elmont Road School, the smallest building in the district, but also the closest to my home. As a result, I was a "newcomer" in fifth grade, among students who had already been together for half a decade and in spite of this (or, perhaps, because of it), I was elected president of our class.

Memories are fuzzy now, but at one point during the year, some of my classmates wanted to "impeach" me. I remember Miss Carroll sending me out of the room on an errand so that she could discuss this with the rest of the class. She sent me to another classroom with a note, where the teacher kept me waiting for about fifteen minutes and then handed me a stapler to bring back to Miss Carroll. I certainly hope neither teacher thought I was fooled about why I was being sent out of the classroom, especially after Miss Carroll took the stapler I'd brought back and put it on her desk right next to her own stapler. In any case, after the class meeting that took place in my absence, there was no more talk about my being "removed from office."

I have no idea where any of the other members of the class are, what they've done in the ensuing half-century, or if our lives have intersected along the way. But Facebook is an amazing thing, so who knows when the next classmate will turn up?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Secret History of AA Comics

Shameless Plug Department: The Secret History of AA Comics is now available in trade paperback form at lulu.com. You can order a copy by clicking on the link in the column on the right.

This alternate history of the comic book business -- in which M.C. Gaines bought out the owners of DC Comics, Green Lantern and The Flash were the premier heroes, and Superman and Batman were reimagined to start the Silver Age -- appeared in somewhat different form in issues of Alter Ego and Back Issue. There is additional text material as well as new artwork included in this version.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Publishing and the Booksellers

It's no secret that the publishing business has been in trouble for a long time. Just last week, McGraw-Hill announced that some 550 people would be losing their jobs. Of the many people Laurie has dealt with in her long career as a writer, very few are still gainfully employed in the publishing business. Book packagers and publishing companies have closed up shop as their work dwindles down to nothing.

One of my close friends, a printer his entire life, closed his family-owned printing company more than a decade ago and went to work as a sales rep for another printing company. That company was bought out by another printer and was then sold to yet another firm. He retired this year and is quite happy that he no longer has to deal with the daily grind of pursuing printing work in an ever-shrinking market.

In the comic book business, sales have been steadily dropping since a peak in the mid-1990s. Unit sales that fifteen years ago would have been considered too low and grounds for cancelling a title are now hailed as best-seller numbers. 

Bookstores have been victims of this as well. Local book shops succumbed to the big-store chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble, which in turn were undersold by Amazon. Borders is now gone, leaving B&N as pretty much the only brick-and-mortar franchise left.

But you have to wonder how much longer they will be around when you see their current TV commercial. It features Jane Lynch of "Glee" fame and a crew of B&N "staff" singing about how you should come into the store and buy a Nook. Of course, once you buy one, you never have to go into the store again because you can then order all your books (and plenty more) as downloads!

While you're there, wish the salesperson good luck in his or her new career outside the bookselling business.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Another Saturday Morning at the Blood Center

One of the ways that Long Island Blood Services recognizes regular donors is with the two posters listing everyone who has made more than 75 lifetime platelet donations. Those with 75-99 or 100-149 -- and there are hundreds of them -- are on one poster. Those with 150 or more are on the other, which we've laughingly called the "Big Board."

Last Saturday. a few of us regulars were sitting in the canteen and discussing where we were on the posters. Deb, the appointment coordinator, started to laugh and said, "It's always the guys who know exactly where they are and how many more donations they need to move to the next group." I can't speak for all "the guys," but those of us who were present agreed. Steve, who is just shy of 150, has calculated that he will move to the Big Board when it is updated next September. Tom knew exactly where he stood.  And I know I have a chance of jumping from the 150-199 group to 200-249 if I find enough Saturdays in the next ten months.

This morning another of the regulars was happy to see that he had made it to the Big Board. He mentioned that he thought there were  more categories this year and I pointed out the lone man in the 350+ category.  Deb has mentioned that the man is 80 years old and continues to donate regularly; clearly, he is the gold standard we are all striving for.

As I was sitting there, I did a little math. The 142 people on the Big Board have, at a minimum, made 23,000 platelet donations! That does not take into account the "doubles" and "triples" done in a single donation -- some donors are just so chock full of platelets that they can give extra.

I've mentioned it before, but it's worth repeating: There is no artificial substitute that can be used, yet only 2% of the population donates. If you donate, even just once or twice a year, great! If you never have, please consider trying.  Regardless of whether the donor is a long-time regular or a first-timer, every pint of blood and unit of platelets makes a difference in someone's life.

And donating is a great excuse for eating Lorna Doones for breakfast.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

News of the Day

What is probably the best copy of Action Comics #1, the 1938 comic book that featured the debut of Superman, has sold at auction in Philadelphia for $2.16 million. Though the identities of the buyer and the seller are being kept secret, it is apparently the copy that was stolen from Nicolas Cage back in 2000.
After being off the radar for more than a decade, the book was discovered in an abandoned storage shed in California last April.

This particular copy has been auctioned twice before. In 1992, it sold for $86,000 and was resold in 1997 for $150,000. Each time, it was the highest-priced comic ever sold, a record it has now achieved for the third time.

Most articles about the sale include the factoid that there are only about 100 copies of the book left in existence. I have no idea where they came up with that number, but back when I started at DC Comics in the '70s, the guess was that maybe two dozen were still out there. Of course, that guess was no more scientific than the one used today. In any case, it will probably remain a guess because I suspect that the people who own one aren't about to advertise it.

For whatever reason, today seems to be a day for lists making the news.  Among those I've come across this morning are:
* America's 30 Druggiest Colleges
  The University of Colorado leads the list, followed by Dennison College in Ohio and Dartmouth (which I guess can now claim to be the "highest"-ranking of the Ivy League schools). Also on the list are five campuses of the State University of New York (Fredonia, New Paltz, Oneonta, Oswego, and Purchase). None of the schools on this list made it onto this next one...

* America's 10 Unhappiest Colleges
  The students at the New Jersey Institute of Technology are apparently the unhappiest of all. Also on the list are the students at the Merchant Marine, Coast Guard and Naval Academies. The students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania also made the top ten, perhaps because they are not sure which state they are in.

* The 10 Saddest Cities in America
St. Petersburg, Florida tops this list but its residents can cheer up just a little by driving over to Tampa, which ranked as #4. Detroit and Memphis are in between. Thankfully, none of the unhappy colleges are located in the saddest cities; that would be just too depressing.

* The #1 Stolen Car in America
  A 1994 Honda Accord! The article says they are stolen for the parts, but how many of these 18-year-old cars are still out there? You have to wonder, are there more 1994 Honda Accords or copies of Action Comics #1 in the world?
  Also at the top of the list is the 1991 Toyota Camry, which makes you wonder if the thieves are new car dealers trying to force people into buying vehicles built in this century.

* The Places You Must See Before You Die
  Machu Picchu beats out such destinations as the Great Pyramid of Giza, Yellowstone National Park, Easter Island, Red Square in Moscow and the Great Barrier Reef. You could spend quite a bit of money just getting to those six places... or you could do a Google Images search.

Also in the news, there's the story about the 4,000-pound unexploded bomb that was discovered in the Rhine River in Koblenz, Germany. It is believed to have been dropped by the RAF during World War II and has been sitting there ever since. Half of the city's 45,000 residents -- including hospital patients and prison inmates -- are being evacuated before any attempts are made to defuse it.
If anyone is putting together a list of The World's Most Dangerous Cities, Koblenz should probably be on it.


Finally, Coca-Cola has announced that they are abandoning their special white holiday cans and switching (or "reverting back," as one article put it) to the traditional red ones. One of the complaints was that consumers were confusing the white cans with the silver Diet Coke ones. But there were also people complaining that the soda tastes different in the white cans!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tales of The Batman: Don Newton

DC continues their series of high-priced collections of Batman stories by a single artist and this time around it's Don Newton. Unlike the Marshall Rogers volume I wrote about a few weeks back, Tales of The Batman: Don Newton is $10 cheaper and 144 pages shorter. Still, at $39.99, one might expect a bit more effort being put into it.

I mentioned in my column about the Rogers book that my script was the first Batman story he drew. I did not realize until I got the Newton book that Don's first Batman story was also one of mine. The story, "With This Ring, Find Me Dead" ran in Batman #305 and was the first half of a two-parter. And that's where the lack of an editor or designer who pays any attention to the material first becomes obvious; in between the two parts of my story is a Denny O'Neil tale from the issue of Detective Comics that went on sale between the two issues of Batman. I could perhaps understand the desire to have Don's work appear chronologically, but they could have fudged it a little. [There's a similar situation later in the book when a Michael Fleisher story that ends with "To be continued--!!" is interrupted by an eight-page short by Marv Wolfman, again, presumably to maintain chronological order.]

As seems to be the case with virtually everything DC reprints these days, they are using the original film negatives and not bothering to fix any problems. As a result,  blurbs for the next issue -- including on sale dates -- are left on the pages, without any regard for their correctness. In one case, the blurb reads, "Next month: Batman has 'A Bad Day in Baja!'" Amusingly, that story begin on the very next page and is titled "Bad Night in Baja."
In another example, the aforementioned Marv Wolfman 8-page story is numbered 1 through 7 with the last page numbered 41!

Similar to the Rogers volume, there is a dearth of information about the artist being spotlighted. The only text is on the back cover flap: "Don Newton was born in1934 and began his career as a professional comic book artist in 1974. After becoming an art teacher in his home of Arizona Newton became an active participant in the culture of comics both as a fan and a creator. He produced distinctive work on iconic characters for companies such as Charlton, Marvel and DC. His work on Batman and several other DC characters is still widely respected for its deft storytelling and characterization. Don Newton passed away in 1984 at the age of 49."
At least, unlike the case of Marshall Rogers, they do acknowledge that Don has died. (By the way, had that paragraph been shown to DC's ace proofreader, Arlene Lo, she probably would have pointed out where there are commas missing.)

The Table of Contents pages provide additional proof that more editorial oversight was needed. The stories written by Denny O'Neil list him as "Dennis J. O'Neil." Okay, I've seen Denny use his full name a couple of times on his work, so maybe that's how he wanted it to appear. But inker Bob Smith, who has always worked under that name, is listed in the ToC as "Robert R. Smith," which is particularly bizarre since I'm pretty sure his middle name is Allen!

And then there are the black pages. I can only presume that the book designer set these up expecting them to be filled with a foreword and an afterword. How else to explain three pages that are solid black save for an inch and a half of spot art at the top? But I can think of no explanation for page 301 being completely black!

I know there are other books in this series. (I have not seen the Gene Colan edition; I don't recall Gene ever having drawn one of my Batman stories, so DC won't be sending me a copy.) One has to hope, though, that at some point in the future, someone will start paying more attention to what they are publishing.

And Now, the Really Important News...

Congress has declared that pizza is a vegetable, citing the tomato sauce as the primary reason for this pronouncement. It is good to know that with all of the problems in the world today, they have the time to devote to this important question.

This is particularly important to those of us who work each summer at CTY Chestertown, where we place requirements on what our students eat. For example, when we tell them they must have a serving of a fruit or vegetable with a meal, we do not count ketchup, pickles, any form of potatoes or anything that is fried. [One student, wanting us to count onion rings as his vegetables, argued about the latter. He even called his mother to verify that an onion was a vegetable. He gave up, however, when it was pointed out that he was pulling the onion out and eating only the crunchy coating.] We've also refused to count such things as orange soda, grape jelly, cherry Jell-O, and Froot Loops as servings of fruit.

As far as pizza, we've conceded in the past few years to counting it as a protein, but one that could not be eaten for every lunch or dinner. I can only imagine what is in store in the coming year, when some up-on-the-news student tries to claim a slice as both a serving of protein and vegetables.

Hey, if Congress says it, it must be the law, right?


In other important news, Starbucks has announced that they will close the public restrooms in their New York locations. Apparently, having long lines of customers waiting to use them interferes with the ability of the employees to do so, thereby slowing down service.  Clearly, Starbucks' ability to dispense vast quantities of liquid to their customers far surpasses their ability to receive it.

Given NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's propensity for issuing ordinances regarding such things as smoking and the sale of fatty foods in the name of public well-being, it is probably only a matter of time before he weighs in on this one. Surely the idea of New Yorkers, their bladders filled with super-duper-grande coffee beverages, having to wander the streets in search of relief is an imminent threat to public health!

I'm so glad I don't work in New York City any more.

Monday, November 7, 2011

'Mazing TV

Twenty-five years after his debut in the pages of a DC comic book, 'Mazing Man has become a cartoon character, part of an episode of Batman:The Brave & the Bold on Cartoon Network.

'Maze, co-created by artist Stephen DeStefano and yours truly, had a twelve-issue run of his own monthly magazine plus three Specials over the next couple of years. Sigfried Horatio Hunch III, independently wealthy because he had won the Publisher's Reading House sweepstakes, donned a helmet he found in the trash and became the superhero of his neighborhood in Queens, NY. He lived in an apartment with Denton Fixx, a comic book writer for BC Comics, and Denton's divorced sister, K.P. The cast was rounded out by young marrieds Brenda and Eddie Valentine and wanna-be lothario Guido Garibaldi. It was a TV sitcom in comic book form, years before six other "Friends" became mainstays on NBC.

"Kitty Catastrophe," 'Mazing Man's cartoon appearance, is loosely based on a story of the same name that appeared in MM #8. (You can watch the cartoon at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4A0Kk9DdbWI) Stephen was the one who suggested 'Maze when the show's producers were looking for characters to use. He did the storyboards and gets onscreen credit for his handiwork. (Unless there was something in the impossible-to-read, squished-into-a quarter-of-the-screen-box closing credits of the show, I was not acknowledged as co-creator of the character.)

DC and Warner Bros have nixxed another 'Maze short that Stephen has proposed, so it seems likely that this will be his only TV appearance. As for a reprint collection of the comic book series -- though some fans have suggested it, DC is not listening.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Tree Grows in America

A big old tree sits right where the property lines of four backyards intersect. It's a massive tree, providing plenty of shade in Anderson's yard, but the branches that overhang Baker's yard drop leaves into his swimming pool. Carver has discovered that the tree's roots have stretched across his yard, making it impossible for him to plant his vegetable garden as well as starting to cause damage to the foundation of his house. Denton has severe allergies to plants of all kinds, including the tree.

One morning, the four homeowners converge at the tree. After a few minutes of discussion, they realize that there is no consensus about what to do. Finally, one of the neighbors says, "We each have our own needs and concerns. We should hire someone to come up with the best solution."

Independent of one another, each neighbor hires a tree specialist to come and analyze the situation.
Apple, hired by Anderson, says there is nothing wrong and, except for some minor trimming of dead branches, the tree should be left just as it is.
Birch, hired by Baker, decides that all the branches on the pool side should be cut off.
Chestnut, hired by Carver, says he will excavate the yard and remove the roots that are causing the problem.
Dogwood, hired by Denton, proposes cutting the tree down. 

Armed with the proposals they've gotten, the four neighbors reconvene. It does not take long for them to realize that no one's plan is going to satisfy the other three. The only thing they can agree on is that their four "experts" need to sit down together and come up with an answer.

Apple, Birch, Chestnut, and Dogwood, each happy to be collecting a "consulting fee," meet at a local coffee shop. Cutting off the branches near Baker's pool will take away the shade in Anderson's yard. Digging up the roots in Carver's yard would be dangerous to the tree's health as well as damaging to its structural support; in a bad storm, the tree could be blown over onto one or another of the houses. After four hours of debate, they resolve nothing.

Apple, Birch, Chestnut, and Dogwood report back, each telling the neighbor who hired him that they have made no headway, but that they should continue to meet until they can come up with a plan. Seeing no other alternative, each of the four neighbors agrees.

After six months of these meetings, all at the neighbors' expense, nothing has been accomplished.
Carver, frustrated that he has missed an entire season of gardening, confronts Chestnut. "These guys are intractable," says Chestnut. "They don't care about damage to your property."
Equally angered, the other neighbors meet with their representatives.
"They refuse to see the environmental impact of their plans," insists Apple to Anderson.
"Their response to your health issues," reports Dogwood, "is that you should take a pill."
Birch tells his client, "They say that if you can afford a pool, you can afford to clean it."

Each of the four neighbors is left with the same assurance, "Don't worry! I've got your best interests in mind. I'll keep meeting with these guys until we get our way." Left unsaid is, "And you will keep paying me to do so."

One day about a year later, Sycamore knocks on Carver's door and says, "Listen, Chestnut isn't getting the job done for you. Hire me and I'll make sure to convince the others that those tree roots have to go."  Carver agrees, fires Chestnut, and sends Sycamore in his place.
Realizing that getting someone else might be a good idea, Denton fires Dogwood and hires Hickory, who claims he can get the job done... and at a lower price than Dogwood would have charged.
Birch convinces Baker that he will have the advantage over the new guys and keeps the job.
Apple, pointing out to Anderson that the tree is still just as it was, says, "Hey, I'm doing my job and will continue to do so."

The four "experts" continue to meet. The four homeowners continue to pay them, a bit more, in fact, because the "experts" determine that their time is now more valuable.

One afternoon, weeks later, a man sitting nearby in the coffee shop listens in as the four "experts" debate. He has been there many times before and has heard them argue the same points again and again. After a few minutes, he says, "Pardon my interruption, gentlemen. It seems to me that you could cut back just a few of the branches, keeping most of the shade but reducing the amount of pollen and the number of leaves in the pool . And as long as you leave some of the roots in place, the tree should be okay; the garden might have to be a bit smaller, but you can stop the damage to the foundation of the house."

The four "experts" look at the man, shake their heads and smile. "You don't understand," says Apple. "We don't need to actually do anything; we just need the people who hired us to think we are."

"And these homeowners don't realize what's going on?" asks the man.

"Oh, no," laughs Apple. "We get paid to sit here and talk and blame each other for nothing being resolved. In fact, I've convinced enough clients of my expertise that having these meetings has become my career. I will never have to pick up my chainsaw again!"

The man walks away, thinking that, despite the fact he can't tell a palm from an evergreen, he would like to have a career as a tree expert. "Perhaps I should pay a call on some of those homeowners..."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tales of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers

The other day I received a comp copy of Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers, an almost-500 page $50 hardcover volume containing virtually all the Batman art Marshall did. While Marshall is perhaps best-known for his collaboration with Steve Engelhart on a run in Detective Comics, his first Batman story was actually the last chapter of my Calculator series in 'Tec. And that almost didn't happen...

The Calculator series had been running as a back-up in the book, with the villain battling The Atom, Black Canary, Elongated Man, Green Arrow, and Hawkman in succession, all leading up to a confrontation with Batman. Mike Grell pencilled the first two tales and Ernie Chua (Chan) did the third before Marshall came on board. Editor Julie Schwartz and I loved how Marshall handled the GA and Hawkman chapters and wanted him to pencil the book-length final chapter.

But we ran into a bit of a roadblock. Vince Colletta, who was DC's Art Director at the time, did not think Marshall was ready to handle the lead story in a book, particularly a Batman story. Eventually, Julie prevailed, Marshall pencilled the story, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Anyway, back to this hardcover collection. The copy on the dust jacket flap reads: "Marshall Rogers was born in Flushing, New York on January 22, 1950. Rogers worked in comics for many years but is best known for his detailed and realistic work on Batman during his run on Detective Comics in the late 1970's. Considered extremely influential by both writers and artists to this day, he left an indelible mark on the world of comics."

And that's it! Despite the hefty page count and equally hefty price, this book has no introduction or foreword of any sort. There is no mention of any of Marshall's other work -- for DC and other publishers. There is no further info about his career and no commentary by any of the writers, inkers and editors who worked with him. There isn't even mention of the fact that Marshall died in 2007!

It's not like the information is a secret. Wikipedia has a long entry about Marshall and his career. Even DC's own online Database has more info about him than the book does!

One thing the book does have, however, is a misplaced apostrophe on the back cover: "Roger's (sic) Batman stories introduced  ideas and visuals that remain a staple in Batman tales to this day."

Maybe they could correct that when they do a second printing...and add some more biographical material to all the empty space on the end flaps.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

It Must Be True-- I Read It on the Internet!

Wild animals running loose... in Ohio? Sheriff's staff takes part in a big-game hunt after the owner of a private zoo lets them loose and kills himself! If you saw this in a movie or read it in a book, you'd say, "How ridiculous!"

Tea Party urges small businesses to not hire any new employees in order to ruin the economy and bring down Obama and the Senate and their socialist agenda? Are these people who are not being hired the ones who are Occupying Wall Street?

Muammar Gaddafi dead? Captured? Shot in the leg(s)? How can we be sure it's him since no one can even agree about how to spell his name?

A 67-year old Canadian man was arrested for drunk driving for the 24th time? At some point, shouldn't someone have taken away his car keys?

Riverside County, California sex offenders have officially been prohibited from distributing trick-or-treat candy and lighting their homes with Halloween decorations. No comment.

A single cup of ice cream has more fat than a hamburger and more cholesterol than 10 glazed doughnuts. So, a burger and five donuts is the much better choice?

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Day at the New York Comic-Con

It's been a couple of years since I last went to the New York Comic-Con. I usually find such massive conventions a bit too much after a couple of hours and, after seeking out a few familiar faces and chatting, I head home.

That was pretty much my plan on Saturday. I took a 10:00 train to the city, got to the Javits Center at about 11:15 and figured I'd be on a 2:00 train home. When I showed my badge to a Con employee and he directed me onto a line that snaked down the hill and around most of the building and back again, I was thinking that I might just give up and be on a train at noon. After being on the line -- which, to the credit of the Con personnel moved steadily -- for about ten minutes, I came upon another Con employee and asked if there wasn't some other entrance for the Comics Pros. He looked at my badge and said, "Why are you on this line? You should have gone right in!" He gave me his name, sent me back up the hill, and said to tell whoever I encountered that he had sent me. This time, however, I walked right in.

There were half a dozen old friends who were on my short list of people I wanted to see. A couple of them were scheduled to be doing signings at one booth or another, but otherwise, they would be wandering around like I was. The Archie Comics booth was easy to find once I entered the hall, so I headed there, thinking I might find Paul Kupperberg. Kupps wasn't there, but Michael Uslan was, signing copies of comics and his book, The Boy Who Loved Batman. As Michael and I talked, Kupps and John Workman walked up. Moments later, Allan Asherman and Arlene Lo walked by and joined us, followed by Jack C. Harris.

Sidebar: Back in the very early days of our careers at DC Comics, then VP/Production Manager Sol Harrison decided that we "kids" should put together a company-backed fanzine called Amazing World of DC Comics. He came to my desk and said, "Go get the rest of your pals and bring them to my office." So I went to my compatriots and said, "Sol wants to have a Junior Woodchucks meeting." I was making a joke, using the name of the faux-Boy Scouts that Huey, Dewey and Louie of Donald Duck fame belonged to. But the name stuck...and we became DC's Junior Woodchucks.

So I'd been at the Con for about five minutes and already I was reunited with three of my Junior Woodchuck pals -- Michael, Allan, and Jack. We all talked and laughed for awhile, reminding one another of stories from the old days and deciding that we could start a comic book company -- Old Fart Comics.

John Workman, yours truly, Paul Kupperberg, Jack C. Harris, Michael Uslan, Allan Asherman (photos courtesy of JCH)

Michael had to depart for a panel and the rest of us headed over to the Kubert School booth to say hi to Joe Kubert. Joe was signing a book when we got there and I said, "Excuse me, Mr. Kubert. If we come to your school, could we get jobs in the comic book business?" Joe looked up, laughed and said, "You? No way!"

Allan, Arlene and Paul then split off for other destinations as Jack, John and I headed to Artists Alley, where I wanted to find my old pal and collaborator, Alex Saviuk. Jack had already seen Alex, so he led the way. After chatting with Alex for awhile, we decided to wander. I still had Marty Pasko and Tony Isabella on my short list of people to find.

We made our way to the DC Comics booth. It has been thirteen years since I left staff at DC and about ten since I last did any freelance work for them, so I did not expect to know that many people there. As it turned out, the only person I did know was editor Karen Berger. Karen gave us another name to add to our list, saying that Len Wein was also at the Con.

Time flew by quickly as we made our way around the Con, stopping to have long or short conversations with Walt and Louise Simonson, Joe and Hillary Staton, Denny and Maryfrann O'Neil, Arvell Jones, Bob Wiacek, Bob Kahan, Robin and Elayne Riggs, Craig Yoe, Jamie Graham, and Mark Mazz. Along the way I was greeted by a fan who had seen my presentation at the Pronto Comics meeting in August and another who had been present when I spoke at a meeting of the comic book fans at Hofstra University about five years ago. And in the "I didn't expect to see you here" department, we were taking a break when I spotted one of the Teaching Assistants from CTY walking by. She was as surprised to see me as I was to see her.

With Michael Uslan with the splash page of our Batman collaboration

At about 4:15, Jack, John and I decided to head back to Artists Alley for another try at finding Marty, Tony and/or Len. Our route took us past the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art booth, where Michael was signing his book. We stopped for another chat with Mike and he and I posed for a photo with the splash page of the Batman story we collaborated on way back in 1976.

Just as we were talking about the guys we had yet to find, up strolled Tony. He looked at Jack and me and said, "Am I having an acid flashback?" "More like acid indigestion," replied Jack.

While Tony and I chatted, I mentioned that we had yet to find Marty and then glanced up to see him walking right past us. We pulled Marty into our group for another lively conversation about the "old days."
With Marty Pasko, Jack, and Tony Isabella

At about 5:30, the group started to split up for different destinations and I decided it was time for me to head home. So I bid my pals farewell and headed out through the throngs of costumed and non-costumed fans.

Alas, we never did find Len.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Swimsover 2011

Our neighbors on both sides have had their pools closed and covered for weeks, but ours has remained open -- as usual -- through Columbus Day. As seems to be the norm, we were rewarded with temperatures in the 80s over the three-day weekend and I was able to get in a few more swims. (Laurie's mother used to say, "It always gets hot around the Jewish holidays" and that holds true, regardless of when in September or October those holidays fall. Not surprising, then, that Saturday was Yom Kippur.)

But following my one last swim yesterday afternoon -- with both air and water temps in the mid 70s -- our "Temperature Team" of thermometers is now off duty. The cover awaits the arrival of the guys who will close the pool for the season. And we look forward to next April and First Dunk 2012.

The way time seems to be flying by, that should be in about a week...

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Strange Adventures in Halifax

Sometimes you have to wonder where coincidence ends and cosmic intervention begins.

Case in point: We are on a cruise and make a stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia. One of the highlights to visit in the city is the Citadel. Not surprisingly, this massive fortress sits on the top of a hill overlooking the harbor... a fairly steep hill, at that.

Ignoring the suggestion of a friendly traffic director that we follow one street about six blocks and then head straight up the hill, I decide that we should zigzag, thereby making the trek up the hill a bit less strenuous by breaking it up.

So what are the odds that our across-and-up path should take us up a side street where the only comic book shop in Halifax, Strange Adventures, is located? Laurie will insist it is the hand of fate that does this.

So we enter the shop and, as she is wont to do, Laurie immediately asks if the owner is there. Cal Johnston identifies himself and Laurie says, "You should meet my husband. He's famous."

As I am wont to do, I just roll my eyes and say, "Oh, here we go." We have gone through this scenario in other places and it usually leads to a response like, "Oh...okay." This time, however, as I identify myself, Cal exclaims, "Wow! The Answer Man is in the house!"

Cal and I had a pleasant conversation about my Answer Man column that ran in the comics in the '70s and '80s. I offered to autograph some books, but the most recent volumes containing reprints of my work (Secret Society of Super-Villains, Greatest Batgirl Stories, and Showcase: Robin #2) were all sold out.

Cal apologizes. "If we'd known you were coming, we would have ordered a few more copies."

"I'm sure you would have, but I didn't know I was coming!" was my reply.

Despite the lack of comics I wrote, Strange Adventures is quite well-stocked. Comics, books, and related material are all arranged to attract attention and invite browsing. It's easy to see why they are called Canada's best comics shop. As Laurie put it, "I have no interest in comics, but I would buy things here."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

More "Truth" in Advertising

Among the many writing assignments my students do every summer, a pair of my favorites involve advertising.

In the first, we create the "Ultimatoy," the world's greatest toy and come up with a list of all the things it can do -- anything from doing homework, making snacks and cleaning up the room to flying them anywhere in the world. Once we have all the fabulous features, I reveal that the price tag is almost $7 million. Their assignment is to create an advertisement which will prompt consumers to come down to the store to buy one and it doesn't take them long to figure out that they have to hide the price (or leave it out completely).

In the second, they come up with uses for the "Weebil," a fabulous toy that costs only 99c. Once they've come up with the list, they design the packaging; this time they play up the price and hide the fact that the "Weebil" is actually the lid to a cole slaw container.

The primary goal of these assignments is, of course, to tap their creativity, but my secondary one is to alert them to the concept that advertising is very often deceptive. Sometimes it's the way the information is presented, sometimes it's what is left out and sometimes there's just a misstatement to make the product sound better.


Among a number of recent radio ads that have had me saying, "Hey, wait a minute," is one for Verizon FiOS. The announcer tells us that users of the competing Optimum service should know that the top download speed advertised is rarely reached, except at 4:30 in the morning, and that Optimum's speeds vary widely during the day. FiOS, on the other hand, has been cited (in a J.D. Power & Associates study, I believe) as having the "most consistent download speed." At no time does the announcer claim that FiOS' download speed is faster than Optimum's, just that it is more consistent. It would seem likely that's because he can't make that claim and that Optimum at its slowest is stil faster than FiOS.

An ad for an auto dealer promises to beat any competitor's price by at least $500 or "the car is free!" Wow! What a great deal! I better run on down there and maybe I can get a free car! But stop and think about this one for a moment. Let's say you find a car at another dealer for $20,000. You go to the dealer making this incredible guarantee with this price. Is he going to sell you the same car for $19,500 or give it to you for free?

Finally, there's a commercial for a "friendly mortgage broker." He says that mortgage rates are so low right now that many people with thirty-year mortgages can refinance for fifteen-year mortgages and end up making the same monthly payment. This might well be the case if your current mortgage rate is particularly high. But where this advertiser loses me is when he claims that refinancing from a 30-year to a 15-year mortgage can save you "hundreds of thousands of dollars in principal and interest." Well, you can save a big chunk of interest for sure by doing this, but since the principal is the amount you have actually borrowed, that's not going to change no matter how many (or few) years you take to pay it back.  (By the way, current rates on a 30-year mortgage are about half what they were a decade ago; if you bought your home then and haven't looked into refinancing, you should.)

Anyone want to buy a Weebil?

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Survey Says...

For the past few years, I've been participating in online surveys for a couple of different organizations. One of them focuses more on business-related decisions and purchases, while the other is more consumer-centric. Some of the surveys are short and some are long; many are interesting but some are tediously boring; most of them relate to me, but a few are way off the mark. (Since I work for a construction company, I tend to get surveys asking about the purchase of tools I use in my job. I may have to hammer out a business letter when someone tries to screw us out of a payment, but it doesn't require actual hand tools.)

Why bother with them? They give rewards. I've gotten magazine subscriptions, Amazon gift certificates, and free DVD rentals (when Blockbuster was still thriving), among other things. Even so, there have been a few surveys that have had me shaking my head and wondering who is thinking up the questions.

I recently responded to a quite long one on the topic of "bathroom tissue." There were lots of questions about a wide variety of brands, most of which I have neither used or even heard of. One series of questions involved this variety of brands and asked which ones would make me want to seek out other users. Now, I'm sure that if I go to Google, I can find a chat group of "Fluffy-and-Puffy Cottony-Soft Bathroom Tissue" enthusiasts, but, really, would you want to know people who are willing to admit they are fans of some brand of toilet paper?

Another survey was about "beverages" and gave a long list of brands and varieties, asking which, if any, I had enjoyed in the past month. As it turned out, there were only coffee and a couple of brands of soda on the list that I'd had. For each variety, they presented a long list of reasons I might have for drinking that beverage. I wonder how many people responded that they drank a glass of Fresca because they wanted "to feel sexy." Or had a cup of coffee ("home-brewed, caffeinated, with milk and an artificial sweetener") so that they could feel "enlightened."

Virtually all of the surveys start out with general questions -- age, gender, location -- presumably so that they can filter out people in their sampling who do not fit the topic being covered. Every now and then, that screening seems to go haywire, as was the case recently when, after establishing that I was a 60-year-old male, I was asked a series of questions about birth control and pregnancy. It's a pretty safe bet that they were able to state from their collected data that no men in my age group are or are planning to become pregnant.

A few of the surveys end with questions about the survey itself. Was it enjoyable? Was it too long? Was it repititious? Unfortunately, the ones that I would really like to respond "This is the most idiotic collection of questions ever assembled" rarely allow for feedback. I suspect they already know.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Fact Is...

"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." -- Mark Twain
"Just the facts, ma'am..." -- Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday, on Dragnet

Not so long ago, an article appeared in the newspaper about the trend in writing and grading essay papers, saying that there was more attention being paid to style and far less to the actual facts cited. For example, a student writing about the Civil War who wrote in complete sentences but with the history incorrect would score higher than one whose command of the facts was greater than his ability to compose an organized essay.

I suppose that, in the abstract, if the only goal of a writing class is to teach structure, grammar and usage, then the facts really don't matter at all. The student might as well be writing about the history of the Republic of Warewebee or the plant life in the Shuriscary Jungle. But if the purpose is also to teach them how to do research, gather and organize information, and present it in a logical way, you might expect a bit more emphasis on getting the facts correct.

Just yesterday, Laurie was grading a first round of papers from one of her classes, and more than one contained historical "facts" that weren't. One student stated that the United States had been the first nation in outer space. Not so; the Russians beat us with the first satellite (Sputnik on October 4, 1957) and the first man (Yuri Gargarin on April 12, 1961). We did, however, beat the Russians to the moon, with the first landing on July 20, 1969; in fact, they have never gotten there with a manned spacecraft.

Another student claimed that the U.S. was involved in the Vietnam War from 1955 to 1975 and that involvement prevented us from having any money to help the people who were "trapped inside the Berlin Wall." I'm pretty sure Wikipedia gets the credit/blame for the first part of that, presuming that the student read only the first sentence of the Wiki article about the Vietnam War, ignoring the rest of it that included the information about our first combat troops being deployed in 1965. As far as the Berlin Wall, most people would probably agree that it was the East Germans who were outside the Wall who were trapped. [As a side note, I highly recommend Berlin 1961 by Frederick Kempe as a very readable history of the power plays and politics surrounding the erection of the Wall.]

Those of you of the Baby Boomer Generation probably read the above paragraphs and thought, "I knew that!" Unfortunately, history and geography are among the subjects that are apparently no longer important in school.  Each summer, I am startled by how "geographically challenged" and "historically deprived" my CTY students -- kids who have completed fifth or sixth grade and are ranked as the top 1% of their age group -- are. Rounds of "Think Fast" in which they are asked to name states west of the Mississippi River, countries in Europe, or rivers result in off-the-wall responses ("Paris?") or blank stares. One student insisted that Benjamin Franklin had been a President of the United States; when I suggested that perhaps he was confusing him with FDR, he replied, "That's him! Benjamin Franklin Roosevelt!"

Unfortunately, thanks to the internet, more and more of this misinformation gets posted somewhere, then gets picked up and repeated until it is quoted as fact, no matter how incorrect it actually is. So, as my part in an effort to prevent this, I'll leave you with the following facts:
* Paris is not a state. There is a city named Paris in Texas; Texas is a state, and one that is west of the Mississippi.
* Paris is also not a country. It is a city in France, which is a country located in Europe.
* There is no Paris River in Paris, France (nor in Paris, Texas, for that matter). The name of the river in France is the Seine.
* Benjamin Franklin was never the President of the United States.
* Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the 32nd President of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. He is the only President ever elected to the office four times.
* Franklin Pierce was the 14th President of the United States, in office from 1853 to 1857.
* Benjamin Franklin Pierce is the full name of the character "Hawkeye" in M*A*S*H. (Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye in the TV series, later played a presidential candidate in The West Wing.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Not Quite the End of the World...

Notes from the Hurricane Irene weekend...

* We had overnight guests on Saturday when our friends Stephan and Joi and their daughter Shelby were among the many Long Islanders faced with the mandatory evacuation of their homes. They had gotten a reservation at a motel that, once they arrived, they described as "sketchy at best." Prepared to go to one of the numerous shelters opened up around the island, they called Laurie who said, "Come here. We'll have a barbecue." (We didn't have a barbecue; Stephan insisted on treating us to dinner, so we had Chinese takeout instead.)
On Sunday, after the brunt of the storm had passed, they decided they wanted to head home. A call to the police department resulted in a response that their street was under four feet of water. But then Joi spoke to a neighbor who had not evacuated, who walked over to their house and reported back that there was no water at all. So they headed home; their house was dry, albeit without electricity.

* One of the two big maple trees in front of our next door neighbor's house was blown over by the wind. It fell across the street and came to rest on the power lines... which sagged substantially but did not snap. In the late afternoon, a crew arrived to cut the tree apart. They did it quickly and efficiently and without the power ever going out.
We were amazed by the number of people who came -- on foot and in cars -- to take photos of the tree. A couple of particularly foolish ones chose to climb onto the tree to have their picture taken, despite warnings that it was resting on live wires.

* Chuck and Rebecca weathered the storm with evacuee guests as well, their close friend Dave and his sister Mai. Meanwhile, Sammi and her housemate Vanessa had left their home in Virginia about two hours ahead of a mandatory evacuation being announced and had a very nice weekend in the Shenandoah Valley -- a perfect example of making lemonade out of life's lemons. They got home this afternoon to find the flood waters receded (with no damage to the house) and electric power restored.

* Meantime, the Long Island Power Authority continues to deal with power outages all over LI. The total was about 475,000 customers (that's homes and businesses, not people) without power at the peak yesterday. It was at about 371,000 when I checked it recently, one-third of their total customers.
Though we did not lose power this time, we have in past storms (including one occasion when our block was in the dark while the houses directly behind us were fine), so I can certainly sympathize with those people still waiting for it to be restored. And it is very frustrating to have no definitive answer about when it will happen.
Still, venting in a venomous rage on the LIPA website, as some folks have done, is not going to make anything happen any faster. One poster carries on because he read on someone's blog that they drove past a LIPA truck where the crew was sitting and eating; apparently, these men and women should not be allowed a meal break until all the power is restored. (It is interesting to note that, despite the lack of electricity, these disgruntled folks have managed to post some incredibly long diatribes.)

So now the storm has gone and we will await the next "disaster" on Mother Nature's agenda. Locusts, perhaps?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The End of the World...

"It's the end of the world as we know it
It's the end,
It's the end of the world."

With Hurricane Irene bearing down on us, as it has been for the past four days, the media frenzy has fed upon itself to the point where this had better be the storm of the century or everyone is going to be terribly disappointed.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered some 300,000 residents to evacuate such areas as Coney Island, the Rockaways, and Battery Park in Manhattan. He then announced that the subway and bus system would be shut down at noon today in advance of the storm.  Since many people in the areas he ordered evacuated do not have cars, how exactly does he expect them to get out of town? And just how many families carrying all their important possessions can fit on a city bus anyway?

Not to be outdone, the Nassau and Suffolk County Executives have ordered the "mandatory evacuation" of a large portion of the population on Long Island's south shore at 5:00 p.m. this evening. The line of demarcation in Nassau is Sunrise Highway in the western portion and Merrick Road to the east. There are many houses less than one block south of these roads; should these people just walk across the street to be safe?

How does anyone enforce a mandatory evacuation, anyway? Do they drag you out of your house and put you in jail? A news reporter covering the evacuation plan in Suffolk said that the Sheriff's Department would be going door-to-door, collecting the names, phone numbers and next-of-kin information of those people who will not leave. I don't know how many employees the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department has, but it seems to me that they will still be ringing doorbells long after the storm has passed.
Perhaps the only realistic threat that could be used to get people to leave is to say, "Look, if there's flooding and you end up sitting on your roof, we're not going to risk anyone else's safety to come and get you. If you stay, you're on your own." Of course, then we won't have any of those dramatic rescue videos that TV news stations love to show.

For those who enjoy ironic humor: The Farmingdale Patch web page that reports the evacuation order includes an ad for the Farmingdale Aquatic Swim Club.


According to the 2010 census, the population of Long Island (including Queens and Brooklyn) is 7.5 million people. If we were forced to evacuate the Island, all 118 miles of it, we have just three bridges -- the Throgs Neck, the Whitestone and the RFK (nee Triborough) -- which connect to the mainland. Four other bridges -- the 59th St, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and Manhattan -- and two tunnels -- Midtown and Brooklyn-Battery -- connect us to Manhattan, which is, by the way, another island with only the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels and the George Washington Bridge as means of egress. One last bridge, the Verrazano, connects to Staten Island, which is also, as you can tell from its name, an island; should we manage to get to SI, however, there are three bridges we can use to get to New Jersey.

Considering how backed up the highways, bridges and tunnels get during a normal rush hour, does anyone seriously think that Long Island could ever be evacuated in an emergency? Might as well stay put in the comfort of your home and enjoy a beverage. Or, as we used to say back during the peak of the Cold War when we had those duck-and-cover air raid drills in school, "Put your head between your knees and kiss your butt goodbye."


Well, that's all for now from "Stormfront: Long Island." Check back later to see how we make out. I might be blogging while sitting in an inner tube as I float down the street.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

On DC's Relaunch

A number of people have asked me recently what I think of DC Comics' plan to relaunch their entire line of comics with fifty-two new #1 issues beginning next week. My response has been the same each time; it is not the print version of these comics that is the key element here. It is the digital edition, which will be released "day and date" with the ink-on-paper editions.

It is no secret that comic books have lost a substantial portion of their readership over the past decade-plus. The print runs for many books being published these days are less than 10,000 copies -- numbers that would have had past generations of publishers cancelling the titles faster than a speeding bullet. (Books that were cancelled for "low sales" just a couple of decades ago -- my own 'Mazing Man included -- would be considered top-sellers in today's market.)

The potential new readers have grown used to getting all their entertainment online -- games, TV, movies. They are not likely to walk into a comic book shop and start buying up lots of $2.99 and $3.99 "pamphlets." Nor are they likely to become hooked on anything DC or Marvel is currently publishing by buying a single issue because there are virtually no self-contained stories any more. Company-wide "events" that are spread over seventy-five different issues? At $3 of $4 a pop? It's no wonder even the current fans have been dropping out.

Starting over with all #1s that are also revamps of the existing characters makes sense if you are looking to hook a brand-new audience. And while DC is already crowing about having orders of more than 200,000 print copies of JLA #1 and 100,000 of six other titles, that is probably lots more speculators than new readers.  It is the digital sales that will be the telling factor here... and those won't be known until the issues are released.

Should the digital versions of the books build up an audience -- at the expense of the printed versions, of course -- the next logical step would have a substantial number of the titles going "digital-only," with only the most mainstream characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.) still appearing in print. That is the game-plan I would be pushing if I were still there.

But then, what do I know? After all, I'm the guy who, back in the mid-80s, said that comic book coloring, color separations, lettering, and even the art could and would eventually be done on a computer screen, only to be pooh-poohed by the powers-that-were.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mother Nature and the Media

I'm sure everyone on the West Coast is laughing at us!

The way the media reacted yesterday afternoon (and continue to do so today), you would have thought the earthquake that rumbled from Virginia through the East Coast was on par with the quake/tsunami that hit Japan earlier this year. Despite all the building evacuations, minor flight delays, event cancellations, etc., it wasn't. But that didn't stop the talking heads on every news channel from trying to make it seem like big news. A brief visit to the website of our local news channel showed the two commentators talking about how they felt while the 15 seconds of shaking was occuring followed by a phone interview of someone else who felt it.

My main concern? The quake occured in Virginia, where Sammi lives, though it turned out she is about 120 miles away from the epicenter. Even as I was finding out this key piece of information, she had already called and left a voicemail message that she was fine and heading home after they had closed the school. "Things shook, but nothing in my classroom fell down," was her report. (Actually closer to the epicenter were Chuck's in-laws, also in Virginia, who reported the tragic loss of a wine glass.)

Did I feel the quake?  Yes, I was sitting at my desk at work. I thought it was caused by a truck pulling up. Frankly, things shook a lot more a couple of months ago when they were digging up and repaving the parking lot.


Even as the aftermath of "the great quake of August 23rd" plays out, the media moppets are revving up because Hurricane Irene is projected to make its way to our area over the weekend. Unlike the quake, which came without warning, the impending doom of a hurricane allows the news channels to warn us to stock up on batteries, bottled water, and those famous food staples - milk, eggs and bread. (As Chuck once pointed out, does everyone make French toast during blizzards and hurricanes?)

We've already gotten a robo-call from the Nassau County Executive, advising us to check our chimneys, water and gas lines, and house foundations for damage from the quake and then reminding us to make sure our "emergency preparedness kit" is fully stocked as Hurricane Irene (possibly) bears down on us.

I'd like to write more, but I have to scale the side of the house and check out the chimney, then run off to the store to buy a few hundred double-A batteries, 17 loaves of bread, 30 dozen eggs, and 9 gallons of milk. Oh, yes, and I should stop at the library and check out a dozen DVDs, another thing that people do every time a weather "disaster" looms.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Speaking of Comics...

Last week I was invited to speak at a meeting of Pronto Comics, a group of up-and-coming independent comics creators, and had a fun time regaling them with tales of my career in the comics industry.
[From their website (www.prontocomics.com ): "Pronto Comics is a group of comic book writers and artists that meets regularly to collaborate on different projects. We pair up writers with artists to work on self published anthologies, and it is our mission to help our members take the necessary steps to achieve their goals of working in the professional comic book industry."]

The Pronto writers and artists produce some interesting material and reminded me of my compatriots back when we were the "new blood" at DC in the 70s.

The following evening, some friends of my son Chuck who do a podcast called RagNerdrok interviewed me for their most recent episode. If you'd like to listen in as I recount tales of my early days at DC Comics, the computerization of coloring and color separations and the Death of Superman, among other things, you can find it at

All in all, a pair of enjoyable evenings.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


1: one who serves in a certain function
2: one holding office in a government or political party

1a : a liveried servant
1b : one performing menial or miscellaneous duties

(The above courtesy of the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.)

I'll lay claim to having created the term flunctionary and define it as a person with a self-esteem-building-but-meaningless title who performs menial or miscellaneous duties for an organization and usually has no idea why those duties are performed.

Case in point is a woman I spoke with recently who works for an accounting firm that performs audits on behalf of various unions. She insisted that they had to perform a payroll audit for the years 2008 to 2010 on a firm that has been out of business for two years and had no income, work, or employees since 2001.
Rather than listen to what was being said to her, she said she would refer it to the union's legal department if we refused to comply. I suppose we could have scheduled the audit and, when the auditor showed up, just handed over an empty folder with the comment, "Here are all the records for the period."

Other flunctionaries I've dealt with in the past include those people who insist that invoices we submit must be done on a form that they've been using for the past few decades, ignoring the fact that said form exists only as a pdf file of an old photocopy that would have to be filled out on a typewriter (presuming one still has one) or by hand. On more than one occasion I have recreated their form as and Excel or Word document so that I could do our monthly requisitions on my computer. I've gone so far as to duplicate the layout, design and fonts used on the originals, including one on which I repeated a misspelling that their form has had since the dawn of time. I never told those flunctionaries what I'd done and smile at the thought of them wondering how I'd gotten such a clean copy to use.

Standard responses from flunctionaries include:
"That's the way it's always been done."
"Everybody does it this way."
"No one else has a problem with this."

And, of course, the flunctionaries are the ones who invaribly ask for three or four or six "originals" of any form we submit. (See my June posting for that one.)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Writing Assignment (One of Many)

And suddenly (it seems), we are at the end of the fifth week of CTY 2011. And the end of July, as well. The thirteen students from the first session, who were here "forever," are long gone and the second session class, now two-thirds of the way through their own "forever," have been diligently working and playing.

One of the assignments we have is writing a poem about a color. We hang various colored sheets of construction paper on the wall and I have the students add a word or phrase related to its color to each sheet. They each get to choose a sheet and must compose a poem using the words on the paper and ideas of their own. When there is a sheet left, the students challenge me to come up with a poem as well.

This year, the color no one wanted was brown...

Alas, poor brown
Though the color of chocolate
And cookies which delight my taste buds
You are also the color of dirt
Or earth or ground or mud
And while some extol the virtues
Of coffee and cola and hot chocolate
One is quick to remind us that
"Poop" is also within your realm
And where green stands triumphant
In the leaves on the trees
No one ever mentions your place in the bark
Nor that after those leaves have blazed
With yellows, reds, and oranges
It is brown they become
Like you, forgotten.
Oh, brown, poor brown
So neglected
They don't even let you join the rainbow.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Once more unto the breach...

Tomorrow morning I head off to Washington College in lovely, bucolic Chestertown, Maryland, for another six weeks teaching Writing & Imagination for the Johns Hopkins CTY summer program.

Some odd bits of information about my CTY summers:

Laurie and I tag-team taught the course for five of the first six years. I've been doing it solo ever since. Chuck was a Teaching Assistant for two summers. Sammi was a Resident Assistant and then Senior RA for four.

In the first ten years, I had ten different Teaching Assistants. At the end of that tenth summer, Lauren said that she planned to come back. She did, as TA, co-instructor and then as instructor of her own section of the course. Last year, I had the first new TA since 2003, though Lauren and I co-instructed the second three-week session. This year I will have another new TA -- the first male TA since way back in 1994.

I've taught more than 375 students over the years. There have been a number of siblings who took the class in different years, as well as at least two sets of twins who were there together. The eleven- and twelve-year-olds who made up our first class are now turning 30!

I have lived in the same dorm room for eight of the past nine years. In total, I have spent about 76 weeks at Washington College. That would put me into my junior year there.

Long-time staff members have a "CTY t-shirt countdown" over the course of the three-week session. Starting with the current year's shirt, we go backwards a shirt a day. As you might imagine, I am always the last man standing. However, I now have more shirts than we have class-days, so there are a couple of times when I double up, changing shirts at lunchtime. Some years, the kids notice fairly quickly; other years we get to the last week before one of the students asks, "Just how many CTY shirts do you have?"

Since the Chester 5 Theater opened, we have been getting a special Tuesday night discount for CTY staff members. We'll go see pretty much anything... and there have been some awfully bad movies released in the past dozen summers! It is agreed that "Legally Blonde 2" is the worst movie we have ever gone to see, with "Miami Vice" in second place.

Of all the strange things I have seen students do, perhaps the greatest number of them involve the toasters in the dining hall. Over the years I have seen watermelon, potato chips, and ice cubes put in them. (Not surprisingly, none of these "experiments" went well.) And a summer doesn't pass without at least one pre-buttered slice of toast or pre-cream-cheesed bagel.

So here comes CTY Chestertown 2011. We shall see what delights and surprises it brings...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Original Originals

orig·i·nal noun \ə-ˈrij-ə-nəl, -ˈrij-nəl\
1 archaic : the source or cause from which something arises; specifically : originator
2a : that from which a copy, reproduction, or translation is made b : a work composed firsthand
3a : a person of fresh initiative or inventive capacity b : a unique or eccentric person

From time to time you hear about someone being "most unique" or something "reverting back" and, if you are like me (or my dear wife, the English professor) you wince. These are classics from the Department of Redundancy Department.

It was not until I was employed in the construction industry that I encountered the concept of "multiple originals." After all, I worked for twenty-five years in the comic book business and original art was just that, a single piece of artwork created by the artist(s).

Not so in construction. When I was working at Preload, handling the billings, we would occasionally have a customer that would ask for more than one copy of the invoice. We were building a tank in a small town in Maine when I first encountered the need to provide "six originals" of the bill. I joked at the time that it seemed that everyone in that small town wanted his or her own copy of the bill, but I was serious when I said that there could only be one original. "The second one, even if it is an exact copy, is a duplicate," I explained. "The third one is a triplicate." And so on. It fell on deaf ears.

Well, I made my point, at least to my own satisfaction. I made six Xerox copies of the original and we signed and notarized each one. Then I put the original in our file and sent the six copies off to Maine. Each month that we billed them, I did the same thing. They thought they had six originals; actually, they had none.

As the comptroller at Combined Resources Interiors, I still handle the billings. And the demand for multiple originals is far more prevalent. And they want multiples not only of the invoices, but of the waivers and releases as well. Just this afternoon I had a conversation with an accountant at the General Contractor we work for; she said she would need four originals of the paperwork. "You realize that, by definition, only one of them can be the original," I said. She wasn't getting it and replied, "Okay, but I still need four."

As I did at Preload, I handle the need for multiple originals the same way. However many they want, the photocopies are made and all of them are signed and notarized. That seems to keep them happy.

But every now and then I threaten to go into the fine print in the waivers and releases and affidavits and change a few words in each copy. Because that would make each one original!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Where Does the Time Go?

It feels like I just posted my most recent blog entry, yet it is three and a half weeks later. In the interim, I've scribbled notes to myself about topics I want to explore here, but haven't found the time to do so. Among them...

Big Apple Con
Had a nice time there, as Chuck and Rebecca joined me for the day. Unlike I-Con, where I spent most of my time doings panels, my only obligation seemed to be to show up and sit at the table they provided.
I signed some comic books -- quite a variety of the books I've written, from 'Mazing Man and Hero Hotline to various Superman and Batman Family tales and even a copy of Heroes for Hunger, a fund-raiser comic DC published.

Suddenly, Summer
It stopped being April on Tuesday, May 24th. We went from having 50-degrees-and-raining to having temperatures in the 70s and above. It worked out nicely because that was also the first night of volleyball at the beach.
The pool has been up to 90 degrees on a couple of days and I've had the opportunity for a few "midnight swims" in the past couple of weeks.

The End of the World
Well, it didn't happen on May 21st at 6:00 p.m. I was on a train heading home from Big Apple Con at the time, so I'm glad my final moments weren't spent on the Long Island Railroad.
On the other hand, given the earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, et al happening lately, maybe it's just taking awhile.
There was one man in Times Square on "Doomsday," surrounded by reporters and non-believers, who was quite surprised that he was still there at 6:01. I'll bet he was wishing he really could disappear!

How Do These People Get Elected?
Congressman Anthony Weiner does inappropriate things online, lies about it, and says that not only will he not resign, he's still planning to run for Mayor of New York City.
Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered how many children with women other than his wife?
Sarah Palin continues to demonstrate her lack of knowledge, screws up on Paul Revere's ride, and insists she's right. To top that off, someone -- presumably a Palin-supporter -- tried to edit the Wikipedia entry on Revere to support Palin's version of history.

Happy 30th Birthday, Chuck
I don't feel old enough to have a son who is thirty years old. To put it in perspective, though, my mother says the same thing about having a son who is sixty!

DC Comics Reboots Their Entire Line
The fanboys are ticked off by this, saying they feel like DC is kicking them to the curb. On the one hand, the people with the disposable income to buy $3 comic books, the trade paperback and hardcover books, and outrageously expensive statues and geegaws are those same fanboys. On the other hand, they are a shrinking number and if the comics industry doesn't find a way to bring in a new generation of readers, it's just a question who is going to be left to turn off the lights.
Far more important than rebooting all the characters -- and lost in most of the hubbub -- is DC's announcement that they will be making all these new books available "date and date" as downloads. Will this capture the attention (and money) of a new generation of readers? Or will it end with DC having no audience at all?

One More Chapter of the Secret History
A bonus chapter of The Secret History of AA Comics will finally see print in Alter Ego #102, on sale later this month. Editor Roy Thomas had expressed an interest in seeing a fuller explanation of the transition away from superhero titles in the late 1940s and, with the aid of artists Larry Guidry and Shane Foley, I provided even more than he expected.

I'm sure there are more topics scribbled on notes that haven't turned up yet. And there will be new ones to add as well. Hopefully, it will be less than three weeks before I'm back to address them.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Superheroes of Stage, Screen and Television

[SPOILER ALERT: The following discusses "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." "Thor" and the season finale of "Smallville."]

It was a busy few nights for me as far as seeing superheroes outside the comic book pages -- in the movies, on the Broadway stage, and on television.

I have always felt that Thor was an odd fit in the Marvel universe. Where virtually every other Marvel superhero is based on some form of pseudo-science, only the god of thunder comes with powers and history firmly rooted in mythology. As long as he was having adventures on Earth, he fit with the rest of the Avengers. His hammer was no more fantastic than Tony Stark's Iron Man suit or Hank Pym's ability to change size. It is where the rest of the Marvel universe intersects with Asgard that things go awry. For me, the mythic/magic and pseudo-science don't mix.

That said, "Thor" works quite well as a stand-alone movie. I'll buy into every bit of the mythology as it is presented in the film, and Asgard, the Rainbow Bridge, et al, are every bit as majestic as they should be. Chris Hemsworth does a fine job playing Thor as a brash and boastful young man being given his comeuppance by his father. It's easy to see why Natalie Portman, as Jane Foster, falls for the hunky guy, though perhaps less understandable why Thor seems so smitten. Jane seems no more feisty and bold than Lady Sif, who has been battling by Thor's side for quite some time.

The rest of the characters, particularly the Warriors Three, are quite close to the way I remember them in the comics of the 60s and 70s. Loki is perhaps a bit more an evil villain than a trickster, but that, too, works. And the overlap from the rest of the Marvel universe, part of the setup for next year's Avengers movie, was not so intrusive as to bother me.

All in all, the movie was worth paying full price to see it. It was even worth the extra few bucks for the 3-D glasses. I well remember the early 3-D movies, where the primary use of the gimmick was to have things seem to be flying out of the still-flat screen at the viewer -- spears, rattlesnakes, cannonballs -- all designed to make you duck out of the way and say "Wow! I could almost touch it!" The 3-D is much more subtle in "Thor," giving everything a rounded, realistic look but not distracting attention from the story.


Two nights after seeing "Thor," we got discount tickets for a preview of the newly-revamped "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."

Before the show began, a pair of the show's execs -- can't say who they were because they never told us their names -- came out and welcomed us and assured us they had done a lot of work to improve the show. Based on what I've read, there was nowhere for them to go but up!

I haven't read a Spider-Man comic in the past couple of decades and, as with Thor, it is the 60s-70s interpretation of the character that I base my opinions on. The basics of the first act -- with Peter Parker as a nerd being picked on at school, living with Aunt May and Uncle Ben, gaining his powers after being bitten by a "special" spider, and even first using those powers in the wrestling ring to win prize money -- all come from the webslinger's origin. Unfortunately, one element is missing in the death of Uncle Ben, who is shot by a burglar while Peter is off winning his wrestling match. In the original story, said burglar is seen being chased by a policeman and Peter can not be bothered to stop him as he counts his prize money. This, frankly, is one of the keys to the character: Spider-Man will always fight criminals because he feels responsible for Uncle Ben's death.

Much of the first act is devoted to setting things up -- from Peter's relationship with Mary Jane Watson to Norman Osborne's obsession with genetically altering mankind to deal with the future and his transformation into the Green Goblin -- without much payoff. (Laurie told me that if I hadn't been with her, she would have left at the intermission.) One other element in the first act, Peter's fascination with Arachne, the woman turned into a spider by Athena, really slowed the play down. Perhaps this is something that has been introduced in retelling of the origin in the comics, but regardless, it does nothing for this story.

The second act is far better than the first. The mixture of aerial tricks over the audience, video on a screen that fills the entire stage, and some incredibly well- designed sets is the spectacle that I suspect audiences will come looking for. If there is anything that drags, it is the dream sequence featuring the reappearance of Arachne. She apparently had a much larger role in the original version and they wanted to get their money's worth so they left her in. Better they should have devoted the time to developing a bit more chemistry between Peter and Mary Jane.

Finally, where the set design is spectacular, the music is far from it. There is not a tune in the entire show that is memorable. (Much of it, frankly, did not even sound like music.) "Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can..." Pretty sad when the theme to the 60s cartoon show is catchier than anything in the play... and I haven't heard it in forty years.

So, worth it for $40 discount tickets...but I wouldn't be happy paying full price.


Wrapping up this trio of reviews is the series finale of "Smallville."

I must admit that I have been following the show through its ten seasons, mostly because it has drawn a lot of its tone from the Superboy stories I grew up reading (and, to some extent, the ones I wrote). Clark having to learn to use his powers, the rivalry with Lex Luthor, the romance with Lana Lang, the introduction of the Legion of Super-Heroes and young Green Arrow and Aquaman -- all these things happened in the comics edited by Mort Weisinger, though Clark was already wearing the costume and known as Superboy. It was its appeal to my fanboy side that made me overlook some of the more ridiculous and/or overdone elements of the series. (I still don't quite get the connection between the Kryptonians, the Native Americans and that cave.)

Some of the characters -- Tess Mercer being perhaps the best/worst example -- seemed to change personalities and motives with each episode, as if the different writers were unaware of what anyone else was doing. And the pacing of each episode became predictable; no matter how dire the situation, it would be resolved at the 48-minute commercial break.

Such was the case in the finale...twice! In the first hour, Oliver Queen, a victim of Darkseid's omega power, is mind-controlled into giving Lois a gold kryptonite ring to put on Clark's finger during their wedding. (Gold K, for those not versed in Super-lore, would remove his super-powers forever.) Good thing Chloe figured out what it was just in time! And, after a fight, Clark was able to free Ollie from Darkseid's clutches by making him find his good side again...or something like that.

In the second hour, with the volcanic planet Apokolips about to crash into Earth, Clark is able to destroy Darkseid and then send the planet spinning off into space... apparently because he is "the light" sent to earth by Jor-El to defeat the darkness. He does all this in about a minute and a half of the episode. And then everyone else who was taken over by Darkseid's omega power is also cured.

You know, the more I write about this, the lamer it sounds! If I had turned in a script like this to Julie Schwartz, he would have told me to throw it out and try again. Actually, with Julie, it would never even make it to script stage; he would have tossed it out during the plotting!

Okay, so if I rated "Thor" and "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark"by what I would pay to see them, how would I rate "Smallville" since it's free? Well, I wouldn't pay for the DVD set to watch it again.

Monday, May 9, 2011

First Dunk 2011

With chilly weather hanging on longer than usual this year, we were in no great rush to open the pool for the season. Longtime readers of this blog may remember that it has been opened in April in the past two years, but it was not until May 3rd that we finally got the cover off.

As a result, First Dunk, my initial swim of the season, was also delayed into the merry month of May. Yesterday afternoon, four of the five members of our "temperature team" -- the floating thermometers Ducky, Swanee, Snorkleduck and Polar Bear Pete -- agreed on a water temp of 69-70 degrees, with the ever-recalcitrant Tommy Turtle stubbornly stuck at 50 degrees. Though the sunshine was intermittent and the air temp was only a couple of degrees higher than the water, I decided it was time for First Dunk.

One of our neighbors used to say that he knew it was almost summer the first day he saw me outside in shorts. (That happened a couple of years in late March!) I'd have to say that First Dunk is a better indicator. I may be the only one in Farmingdale crazy enough to be in the pool this early, but you can take my word for it: The warm weather is on its way.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Truth, Justice and...

There was quite a bit of hubbub in the media last week because, in Action Comics #900, Superman renounces his American citizenship. The story got coverage everywhere - from The New York Times to Fox News - and the internet is awash in comments of support, shock, and derision.

For those of you who might not be sure, let me point out that Superman is not real. He does not exist. He is a fictional character.

Back in the early 1990s, when the DC editorial team decided to kill the Man of Steel in a monumenmtal battle with Doomsday, the media got hold of the story on a particularly slow news day and it sparked even greater outrage. Protesters picketed outside the Time-Warner headquarters in New York City (which was not the building where DC Comics had its offices), media pundits and everyday folks alike condemned the move, and the creative team received death threats.

At the time, I was approached by a casual acquaintance who knew that I had something to do with Superman and presumed I was the one behind his death. She was outraged at what was happening and wanted to know how we could do such a thing. I replied that I was not the writer of the particular story, though I was pretty sure I had killed Supes in one I'd written some years earlier, and also pointed out that "Superman is not real. He does not exist. He is a fictional character."

Superman was dead, but he got better. This was not because of the protests, the media pressure, or the death threats to the staff. This was because it had been the plan all along. DC killed the Man of Steel to sell comic books... because that is what they are in the business to do. All the free publicity the story generated enabled them to sell millions of copies, making everyone involved quite happy.

In the years since Superman's demise, the media has jumped on other comic book "events" in a similar frenzy. The publishers love this because it means they sell more copies and that translates to more money in their pockets. If Superman renouncing his citizenship results in more sales of the $5.99-priced issue, you can be sure the folks at DC will be smiling.

But to those people who are debating this -- on TV, in print, and online -- you need to be reminded of something: Superman is not real. He does not exist. He is a fictional character.

Friday, April 15, 2011

I-CON-ic Moments

I'll be among the guests at I-CON 30 this weekend at Stony Brook University, the annual comics and sci-fi convention. It's a family affair this year, with Laurie, Chuck and Rebecca also on the guest list. All of us will be appearing on a variety of panels; in fact, I believe there is one point on Saturday afternoon where each of us is on a different panel!

I've lost track of how many I-CONs I've attended over the years. I was a regular attendee in the 80s and 90s when I was still working at DC Comics, but I've been there less frequently over the past decade.

Perhaps my favorite was the year I got to chat with Scott Carpenter, one of the seven Mercury astronauts who made space-flight history back in the 1960s. I actually had a connection with Carpenter. My Uncle Jimmy had been a NASA engineer and for a number of years had worked at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, where the astronauts were also based. As a result, my cousin Peter went to school and was friends with Carpenter's son Marc, as well as the sons of Gus Grissom and Wally Schirra.

Though it was more than two decades later, Carpenter remembered my uncle and that the community they all lived in was named, coincidentally, Stony Brook. We'd been talking for awhile when we realized that we each had to appear on panels. And both of us wanted the chance to go to the men's room before them. I mentioned that we referred to that as Schwartz's Law: "Never go anywhere without going first."

Carpenter countered with his own story. "After I made my space flight, I was in a ticker-tape parade with (then-Vice President Lyndon) Johnson and he said to me, 'Now that you're famous, there are two things that you should never pass up. One is a free lunch and the other is the chance to go to the bathroom.'"

And that is what we now refer to as Lyndon Johnson's Corollary to Schwartz's Law.


"Back in the day" one of my regular activities at I-CON was an interview by Howard Margolin for his "Destinies" program on the Stony Brook radio station. (It still airs Friday nights at 11:30 on WUSB 90.1 FM.) We would talk about what was going on in the comic book business and projects I was working on. Howard would edit the recording and air it a few weeks later.

The one we did in 1988 took place shortly after I had returned from my visit to Ireland to see the prototype computer program a company called Grafascan was using to do comic book color separations. I told Howard that while this program would initially be used only to translate the traditionally hand-colored guides into a form that could be used for printing, I foresaw a time in the future when colorists would be "painting" the pages right on the computer screen. At the time, it sounded like something out of a science fiction movie.

After each interview, Howard would ask me if I wanted a copy of the recording and I would say yes. But neither of us was in any particular rush for it, so there were times when a few years would pass before got them. In 1993 Howard gave me a collection of four or five interviews, including the one we had done in '88.
As we were driving home that evening, Chuck popped the tape in and there I am, talking about how computer coloring was going to change the look of comics forever.

Well, five years later, it had happened and Chuck was just staring at me, asking, "When did you record this?"

Now, of course, twenty-three years after that interview, I'm sure there are plenty of comics fans who can't remember when the books weren't colored on a computer.


For those of you who will be there and are interested in tracking me down, I'll be at the following:

Comic Book Trivia - Saturday from 11:00am - 12:00pm in SAC 308 (with Chuck)

Would You Mess with Forbush Man if You Saw Him Walking Down the Street? - Saturday from 12:00pm - 1:00pm in SAC 308

Comics We Wish Were Collected in Trade - Saturday from 2:00pm - 3:00pm in SAC 308 (with my pal Bob Greenberger)

The Haunted Journey into the Secret Vault of Suspense - Saturday from 3:00pm - 4:00pm in SAC 306

Dwayne McDuffie Tribute - Saturday from 5:00pm - 6:00pm in SAC 306 (also with Bob Greenberger)

1970-1985: An Age Undreamed Of! - Saturday from 6:00pm - 7:00pm in SAC 308

Monday, April 4, 2011

"Ducky Birthday!"

My sixth birthday might be the first that I have a specific memory of. That's because it snowed and the neighborhood kids who came to my party all showed up wearing boots. When the party ended and it was time for them to leave, none of them could remember whose boots were whose. (Well, they were a bunch of six-year-olds, after all!)

But the most memorable birthday was probably my 18th, back in the day when reaching that age meant you were old enough to drink but not old enough to vote. The events of that day back in 1969 were immortalized in a Hobart Pumpernickel story, one that contained very little variation from how it actually happened.
For your amusement, some excerpts from "Ducky Birthday, Dear Rob."

It was 6 PM on the first Friday during Easter vacation. It was also my birthday. To celebrate, I had spent most of the day sleeping.
The telephone rang. It was Peeved Matchklinger. "Hi, Rob," he said. "What are you planning on doing tonight?" "I don't know yet."
"Oh, well, Ellen and I are going to the drive-in and we wondered if you wanted to come along and take notes."
"I don't think so, Peeved. Janet asked me to come over and look at her brother's new goldfish."
"Oh, then do you want a lift?"
"That would be a nice thing for you to do," I replied.
"I'll be over at 8:00."
"Then I'll see you at about 9:30." "No, no. I'll be there on time as a special treat for your birthday."

At 8:15 I heard a car horn outside. I looked out the window but didn't see a car. Five minutes later, Peeved, having turned the car around, pulled up in front of the house. I walked out to the car.
Ellen Ribbonhouse handed me an already-opened bag of walnuts, some of which had been eaten. "Here's your birthday present," she said.
"Walnuts?" I asked.
"Why not?" asked Peeved.

"You're only fifteen minutes late," I said to Peeved.
"That means he's early," said Ellen. "When he's only fifteen minutes late, that means he's early."
Peeved smiled proudly and said, "Have a walnut."
I tried to crack the nut with my teeth. "It would have been nice if you had gotten me a nutcracker to go with them."
"George Washington could open walnuts with his hands," said Ellen.
I tried to open the walnut with my hands. It cracked open. Ellen and Peeved began to cheer about having a potential future President in the car with them.

A short time later we arrived at Janet Hoot's house. There were a number of cars parked nearby. "Looks like a lot of people came to see the new goldfish," said Peeved.
"No, Peeved," I said. "They all came because they think they're having a surprise party for me."
"It'll be a surprise," he said.
We walked into the house. I was surprised. I didn't know half the people there and they didn't seem to care that I had walked in.
Ginsy Alansberg walked up to me and started to laugh.
"What's the matter with you?" I asked. I handed him a walnut. "See what I got for my birthday? Walnuts! They gave me walnuts! Have a walnut."
I walked around the room giving everyone walnuts.
When I got back to Ginsy, he was still laughing. "Wait till you see what we got you."

I walked over to look at the birthday cakes. Ellen had baked one and had drawn a moose head on it with walnuts. Janet and Anita Gravel had baked the other one, a sponge cake they had cut in half to make two circles, each of which had "Rob" spelled on them with pecans. Janet had named the cakes "Mae West" because of their shape when they had come out of the oven. Somehow, I didn't think the two cakes looked at all like Mae West.

Ginsy came over and handed me a card. I read it. "Violets are blue, roses are red. They were out of primal chickens so we got you this instead."
Windy Malsh handed me a live duck. Harry Gerriton came down the stairs and handed me another duck.
"Two ducks?" I said.
"Not just two, said Ginsy, still laughing. "We had to buy six of them."
"Six ducks!!!!"
"Aren't they cute?" said Ginsy. Windy came down the stairs with the other four ducks in a box.
I looked at the duck in my right hand. "Oh, they're cute, all right. Do you know what this cute little duck just did in my hand?!?"
"Don't you just love them?"
"Ginsy, what am I going to do with six ducks?"
"Um... well, you could...um...I don't know."
I put the two ducks into the box and went to wash my hands. Then I went to the phone and called home. When my father answered, I said, "Six ducks. They got me six ducks."
"Live ducks?"
"Yup, six honest-to-goodness-real-live-ducks!"
"Talk to your mother."
My mother got on the phone. "Tell Ginsy that he can take care of the ducks for you and you'll come to visit them at his house."
"Ginsy, my mother says you should take care of the ducks and I can come visit them."
"Doesn't your mother like ducks?" asked Ginsy.
I said goodbye and hang up the phone.
"Don't you even want to take two of them?" asked Ginsy.
"My dog would think they were delicious."
"Let's go over to your house and show you mother how cute the ducks are and convince her to let you keep them."
"You go! I'm not going."
With that, Ginsy, Harry, Windy, Harry's sister Beenie, Amly Coldspleen, and Dynne Ledofsky left with two of the ducks for my house. Peeved and Ellen left too, saying that they would be back soon.
I put on my coat and went to visit Frodo Shnyder, who was sick and unable to attend the party. I walked down the street muttering, "Six ducks! They got me six ducks."

I arrived at Frodo's house and rang the doorbell. He opened the door and said, "Come on in. There's a phone call for you."
We went up to his room and I picked up the phone. It was Janet Hoot. "Where are you?" she asked.
"Well, since you called Frodo's house and I'm talking to you on his phone, where do you think I am?"
"What did you leave for?"
"I came to visit a sick friend."
"It's your party, you know."
"I know that. But half of my party went to my house to sell my mother six ducks. The other half are people I don't even know!"
"Are you coming back?"
"Of course I'm coming back. I want a piece of cake!"

When I got back to Janet's house, the party had returned. Ginsy came over to me and said, "Your mother loved the ducks and said you could keep all six."
"Where? At your house?"
"Actually," said Amly, "your dog loved them. He gobbled them up."
"My dog always wanted a pet," I said.

Janet had been lighting the candles on the cakes. There were eighteen of them in the moose cake and one in each half of Mae West.
Everybody sang "Happy Birthday."
Before the song was done, Janet was telling me to hurry up and blow out the candles. I think she was afraid the cake would blow up if the flames got too close to it.
Somebody told me to make a wish. I did and blew out the candles. The wish didn't come true. The six ducks were still there.

The ducks did not come home with me, nor did they go to "Ginsy's" house. They spent the night with "Harry." The next day, with my friends finally convinced that the ducks could not live in my bedroom, we brought them to a local dairy farm, where they joined cows, chickens, and other ducks. And lived long, happy, pro-duck-tive lives.

As a matter of fact, so have I.