Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hey Kids! Comics!

On Wednesday's my pace is a little quicker at lunchtime. Since noontime is the normal lunch hour for many Bostonians I leave my office at 11:40. I don't want to arrive too late. I don't like to shop when too many people are crowded around a small area. And too many 30 and 40-somethings crowded into the back section of Newbury Comics makes for a small area.
Today is comic book day. And I am on my weekly mission.
I have already researched the weeks "New Releases" online. My list is folded in thirds and sits in my back pocket. Once opened a yellow highlighter will tell me what books that I will definitely buy and what ones that I will consider to buy. It used to be that I bought 10-15 books per week. Now, skyrocketing prices everywhere combined with an ennui I can't quite shake have reduced my weekly take-home to 3-5 issues, maximum. While this has dropped my monthly intake of books it has increased my eagerness to read the books I do get. This is good.
When I arrive at Newbury I pass by the front registers. Tattooed clerks in their twenties work next to aging hippies and all bid me welcome. I say hello to all in turn and wind my way through the button racks and the calendar displays. I pass by the used DVD section, dodge a patron or two and finally stop at a low black filing cabinet. The familiar sound of scraping metal on metal opens my subscription drawer. I remove this week's subscription stash. Books in hand, I make my way to the New Arrivals rack.
Usually Anthony appears at this point. Anthony is the comics manager at this store. He is also quirky, funny and smart. A slacker look with a savvy heart. His knowledge of comic lore is vast, and I can see myself sharing a beer with him someday. We exchange pleasantries and discuss what did or did not get shipped from the warehouse while I look over the newly-filled racks.
The long black magazine shelves hold dozens and dozens of new books. Color floods my corneas. The comic rack never looks the same two weeks in a row. Different titles mean different artists and colorists whose work hopefully explodes out from the multitudes of other books. Each publisher hoping that there is something - anything - there to attract your attention away from "the other guy". Now my search begins in earnest.
Hmmm, what's this?
Have I been reading that...?
What's Green Arrow doing in "Batman and the Outsiders?" Do I care if he is? A quick flip through the book tells me I don't and it goes back on the rack.
Hey, that looks cool. Who drew that?
And so it goes.
Usually at this point there are four or five people at the racks. All seem to be 35-45 years old. A few seem like businessmen. One looks like a bike messenger. One guy looks lost. Although I see them weekly; I don't know them personally. I probably never will. We are joined together only because of our love for modern mythologies.
By now Anthony is making suggestions. "Hey, you should check this out" and "Are you reading this?" are his usual conversation starters. However, once in a blue moon he'll be positively giddy as he declares "You NEED to check out this shit right here!" and he'll pull a book from the shelf for me. His suggestions are usually right on the money for me.
Sometimes Anthony and I talk about the lack of change from the major publishers. This depresses us. Other times, we discuss what's going on with a particular series, where we see the story going and why we like it. Sometimes, if we're lucky, we can discuss a "Wow!" moment in something we just read last week.
I live for these fleeting "Wow!" moments on Wednesdays.
Past "Wow!" moments for me include the pages of Fantastic Four #241 and found a splash page of The Thing punching Terrax the Untamed through two apartment buildings before he crashes into the East River.

Or when I read Uncanny X-Men #137 for the first time (in 1980).
The X-Men had fought the Hellfire Club, the Shi'ar Empire and Dark Phoenix herself for over 10 issues before finding themselves in battle against the Shi'ar Imperial Guard in the Blue Area of the moon (don't ask). During this battle Jean Grey ("Phoenix") reverted to "Dark Phoenix" once again, attacking the X-Men, who were led by her lover, Scott Summers ("Cyclops"). Phoenix realized that she could no longer control the dark impulses of her diabolic alter-ego and killed herself before she could cause any more deaths. This was my first superhero death. It is still the most meaningful.
This was a "Wow!" moment of amazing complexity. I am still in awe of this story. It is the writing pinnacle that no other comic has ever reached for me.
When they happen, these modern day "Wow!" moments are the times of excitement when I am no longer a 42 year-old man who is on his lunch hour in a major city fighting the crowds to stand in front of a comic display, list in hand, trying to figure out what comic books won't disappoint me if I buy them. Nope. In these moments of comic joy I am once again a twelve year old boy.
I am the kid who, allowance in hand, just rode one mile on his Columbia bike to Curtis Farms convenience store in Hanson to buy comics. If it was raining, Mom or Dad drove me there. I enter and walk over to the metal turnstile rack with the "Hey Kids! Comics!" sign at the top. The rack is over near the pay phone and the pet food aisle. It's full of books and it squeaks as I turn it. I don't have a list in my back pocket because comic shops did not yet exist. Neither did the Internet. The only way I knew what books to look for each week was because publishers put a monthly reminder in each issue; usually listed under "Out Next Week!" Books in hand, I would ride home and disappear for awhile just to lose myself in other worlds. There were no disappointments in a comic book story for me back in those days. Everything was new to me.
Not like today. Most stories today have a "been there, done that" quality to them.
This is the source of my ennui.
Maybe the day will arrive and it will be the last time I buy comic books? It's easy to justify. The price of two comic books today is the same as the cost of a paperback book. The paperback takes longer to read and is probably more fulfilling to my adult tastes and expectations. But a paperback doesn't remind me of a time when I believed that heroes really could exist. Of a time when I believed that it was possible for heroes to fly in the skies overhead. The paperback doesn't allow me to remember a time that anything was possible.
However, I am not so jaded.
Between you and I, a part of me still believes that anything is possible. Or wants to. And my weekly search for "Wow!" helps me to do so.
Maybe this is why we usually steer away from the joys of our childhood; because we outgrow them long before they can disappoint us under the harsh glare of adult realities?
Maybe I will steer away from comics.
Maybe someday soon.
But not today.
Today I am hoping for "Wow!"

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wet Solitude

I hold my umbrella in one hand and my cellphone in the other. I'm using it to change my voicemail at work. The puddles squish beneath my shoes as I walk along the sidewalk to the train platform. My long grey raincoat protects my legs pretty well, but there always seems to be some place that gets wet that shouldn't. I shift the umbrella while I put my cellphone back into my pocket. Cold water runs down the framework of the umbrella. The small stream finds my semi-open collar and cascades down my back. I grimace at the sensation; this wet, wake-up call.
Who needs morning coffee?
Slowly I mount the stairs and turn right to walk toward my usual spot. The platform is empty. Up ahead I can see one dozen or more commuters all huddled underneath the small platform roof. Some have umbrellas in their hands; all are closed. There are no sounds of conversation. The rain has muted their voices. I stop at my usual position and stand firm.
I glance at the overhead message board. All trains are running on or near schedule. Good. When I look back at the shelter, I see that I am now the topic of silent conversation.
All eyes are on me; the lone commuter who did not come in from the rain. I am too far away for any clear expressions to be seen but I am one and they are many. Clearly, I am in the wrong.
I ignore their collective gaze and look down the track. No headlight yet.
The recent rain has caused an explosion of green around the neighborhood. The smell of wet earth is pungent. There is a fresh look to everything. Even in the rainstorm it is beautiful. Wet greenery.
I listen to the raindrops as they pelt my umbrella. The steady "thump thump thump" of the raindrops are randomly broken up by larger drops that fall from the tree branches overhead. Not long afterwards the rhythm seems constant. It is soothing to me.
As I stare at nothing the greenery down the track is slowly bathed in an artificial light. The train is here. As it approaches I wait until the last second to close my umbrella, give it a quick shake and then board the first car. Looking at those commuters who joined me from under the platform roofing I see that they are no more wet or dry than I am.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Show & Tell

"Are you ready?"
" goes."
I pressed the start button and removed myself from the batting cage. I stood on the other side of the wire fence just behind Jenna, who was about to start her first of seven "at bats" in the softball cage at Star-Land.
The first ball landed with a whimper against the fence behind home plate.
So did the second.
And the third.
She seems to be ahead of the pitch.
It's been so long since I had to bat (1998, I believe) so I'm doubting my evaluation.
Yeah...she's ahead of the ball. And her stance is a bit wrong.
Twelve pitches and done. She's frustrated. And she hates being corrected.
Don't we all?
With Jenna, it is always better to "show" than to "tell". So I won't tell. Instead, I ask if I can take the next twelve pitches. She agrees.
Bat in hand, I stare down the automatic pitcher. It doesn't blink. Neither do I. Now I wait for the pitch.
I see the arm coming around, ball ready to fly...I feel my arms tense as I go into my swing...
The ball flies toward the back of the netting. That felt good. I hope it wasn't a lucky hit.
The ball flies toward the back of the netting. That felt good.
And so it goes...
After the sixth hit, I hear a voice behind me. "Okay, Dad..."
"Not improving my self-confidence..." she says with a laugh.
After twelve successful hits she re-enters the batting cage. "Let me see your stance," I ask. She obliges me.
Her legs are fine. Good. But her right arm needs to be up more. I tell her so. She moves it up without question. She wants another shot against the automaton. I feed the beast and hit the start button.
Outside the cage I watch her again. "Keep that arm up." She does.
Jenna is making contact but not completely. "You're ahead of the pitch, honey. Just wait for it."
More contact. Still not full. Twelve pitches later and we're evaluating again. A woman (late twenties, maybe?) who has been swinging in the cage next to us approaches our cage to wait her turn. I tell her she has a nice swing.
"Thanks. I've been at this for many years now."
"It's her first season," I say with pride as I gesture towards my daughter. Jenna stops to listen.
"May I make a suggestion?" the softball pro asks.
"Absolutely," I reply.
At this point she ignores me and looks right at Jenna. "You're ahead of the pitch."
Thank God I was right about that.
"Don't hurry. Take your time. The ball will get to you. Keep your weight on your back leg, wait for it, then swing."
"Thanks!" Jenna replies.
"Good luck," the pro answers back.
She doesn't stay close to the cage but I know she's still watching Jenna's next "at bat".
Before the first ball is pitched Jenna's arm is slack - until the ball is released. Then she raises her arm as she waits for the pitch to reach her and...
Into the outfield.
Next pitch.
She only misses two out of twelve. After a miss the very next pitch is a home run hit.
She keeps this up for the next three sets of twelve.
Finally, she looks beat. I want to leave on a positive note. "I think we're done here...?"
She agrees with me.
As Jenna leaves the batting cage there is a look of triumph in her eyes. As we walk away together I put my arm over her shoulder, hug her and say, "You did good in there, daughter of mine."
"I know."
Then, after her moment of self-congratulations, a quieter voice is heard.
"Thanks, Dad."
Believe me, no thanks were needed. But they were appreciated more than she'll ever know.

Friday, April 25, 2008


The cool evening air envelops me as I step out onto our front porch, "Hornblower and the Hotspur" in one hand and a rusty nail in the other. I listen to birds as they fly about, chirping loudly while on the next street a neighbor is using pruning sheers. The sounds of evening. As I settle into my Adirondack chair, I place my drink on the arm of the adjacent chair while I remove my glasses from their case and settle them on my nose. Outfitting complete, I start reading where my bookmark tells me to. Soon, I am lost in the Atlantic, late in the season, hunting French ships with Horatio Hornblower in command.
His new wife, Maria, has given birth to their son, Horatio, yet still Hornblower yearns to be at sea. He gets his wish as new orders come down from the admiralty. England means to keep Boney caged up in France and Hornblower is assigned to the naval front line. I can taste the salt on the air and feel the tension from the crew on the Hotspur as she braces for battle once again.
I read for some time when the sound of the approaching train registers somewhere far away in my thoughts. I continue reading as cars that have waited at Bellevue station for their loved ones to return cluster together and race down our street, heading for home. The log jam at the end of our street quickly passes. The pedestrians stroll by a few moments later. Most have a beaten look about them. Yet every tired step brings them closer to home.
From my seat on the porch I am a silent observer, eight feet above the street and hidden behind the porch rails. It would take an effort for someone to see me when I sit here. My neighbor across the street leaves his house to get into his car. He sees me; he always does. We exchange pleasantries but Billy seems to be in a hurry so its a short conversation. As he speeds away I nestle down in my chair and climb back into my book.
I absentmindedly sip my drink throughout the evening. The warmth of the scotch is in stark contrast to the cool breeze. Both are welcome sensations.
A couple walks by; one that I have never seen before. It looks to be an elderly woman and a younger relation. Her son, maybe? She stops to look at our daffodils, tulips and the emerging perennials. As she does so she notices me sitting on my porch watching her and she seems flustered. I smile and wave and she returns the gesture, all evidence of fluster is gone. I hear snippets of her conversation as they walk by. She likes our flowers. That makes me happy.
Before I return to Hornblower I look over our garden. I am surprised to notice that the rogue tree - growing in the spot where a Rose of Sharon once stood - is flowering. This is unexpected. I walk over to them and touch the buds gingerly.The small white petals have a reddish-brown center and are beautiful in their delicate simplicity. I have no idea what type of tree this is. I'll research it tomorrow, For now, I just want to enjoy the tree and its blooms.
Billy returns home again with his wife in the car. He obviously picked her up at work. As she heads for the house he locks the car. She looks at him with surprise. "I'm in for the night," he says to her. "Oh, okay," she answers. "It was a beautiful day, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, it sure was," he replies as they walk through their front door. They leave the inside door open so as to enjoy the cool, Spring air. I've already opened our windows. Inside I can hear Callie and Doyle rampaging around the house while Malcolm lays near the door, snoring gently.
I love a Spring evening.
Thirty minutes later the next train from Boston arrives and we repeat the dance. Cars. Log jam. Pedestrians. This time a woman is walking by. She's on the opposite side of the street. There is a jauntiness to her step; one full of vim and vigor. Why is she so happy? Good day at the office? Maybe she had the day off? Whatever the reason, her whole self radiates.
"Hi!" she says as she smiles and waves.
"Hi," I respond.
"Have a great night!" she chirps.
"You, too!"
Back to the Atlantic.
After Hornblower is placed in a position where he can make easy prize money by capturing a large shipment of Spanish gold, he instead takes on a stronger enemy frigate sent to warn the convoy. Through his superior seamanship he uses the fact that his sloop is smaller and more maneuverable than the frigate in the battle to his advantage. This allows Hornblower to keep it from accomplishing its mission. Eventually, he drives it away. Thanks to the skill of C.S. Forester I am in the thick of it all. I can feel the ship move beneath my Adirondack chair. I can smell the gunpowder from the deck guns (or is it car exhaust?) as the cannonballs tear through the rigging of the frigate.
However, I am crushed to read that, in doing his duty and engaging the frigate, Hornblower is unable to claim any of the war prize, and he stands defeated. Soon I learn that no one is able to claim the war prize because, technically, war with Spain has not yet been declared. The prize money will go to the crown, and for his actions against the frigate Hornblower is recommended for promotion to Post-Captain, by the retiring Admiral Cornwallis. My chest swells with pride as Hornblower receives this news and the novel is ended. I close the book.
With a few sips left of my drink I remain outside and sit in silence. The trains are arriving further apart now and the sun is silently beginning to slip below the horizon. I close my eyes and listen to my neighborhood. The bird calls have diminished with the onrush of sunset. The neighbor on the next street has stopped pruning his hedge and for a moment, all is quiet.
Words from the novel swirl in my head. I can't escape them. The words from Forester, much like my new tree buds, are beautiful in their delicate simplicity. There is power and majesty in them. In his words.
I have re-learned all about the power and majesty of words at Northeastern University, under the tutelage of two giants. Professor Joe DeRoche and David Tutein have left me enthralled with the words that they have taught me. That they have infused in me. Words from Hemingway, the unknown author of Beowulf, Donne, Milton, Byron, Tennyson swirled about the air in the classroom of Tutein, as his every quirk and foible was concentrated on teaching us the magnificent words of others.
Joe DeRoche had the more difficult task, I think. Besides being my Lit professor he was also my writing professor. In his classroom, in his shadow, I learned that words are a craft - a gift - to be honed, sharpened and implemented. Most importantly, he taught me that words - my words - were just as important as the words of all those who came before me. When I first realized what he was teaching me, I was supercilious and humbled in the same instant; mostly humbled. I continue to be so to this day.
These men recently retired from teaching. I was fortunate enough to attend their retirement celebration and I personally thanked them for their words in the classroom. Before I drank the last of my scotch I raised my glass in honor of C.S. Forester, Joseph DeRoche and David Tutein; men that I wished I had been and men that I hope I can still emulate.
With my own words.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Just Another Face

I arrive at the train 5 minutes early. Since I've been taking the 6:31 train (instead of the 7:10) I do not know any of my fellow commuters so there is no conversation to be had. I am thankful for the quiet time. Silently, I remove my book from my courier bag and read a few more pages of "Hornblower and the Hotspur" before the train arrives.
After the train slows to a stop I climb aboard and find an empty seat. I resume my reading. A casual "Good morning" to the conductor who checks my pass are the first words I have spoken since I left the house. Nose back in book, I read along. Horatio is patient and he waits to attack the French ships right up until we arrive at my stop - Back Bay. I close the book, eager to know how Hornblower survives this latest action. I make my way to the back of the car and disembark, along with an older man who is always in pole position and ready to break for the stairs. He doesn't know that we're racing to the stairs. We both take the steps two at a time. Today I am the silent winner of our mini-marathon. Tomorrow, who knows?
Once on the street, I begin my walk from Back Bay station towards the Public Garden via Newbury Street. The sun is warm today but its heat is intermittent as I weave through the streets sometimes surrounded by tall buildings; other times with a clear view of the Garden.
A woman jogs past me. She's young (aren't they all?) and probably has more curves than she would like. Personally, I didn't mind them. I walk past Starbucks and flirt with the idea of getting a hot coffee for my walk but I don't want to worry about spilling it; drinking and walking is not always a great idea. Today I decide against it. However, as I pass by Starbuck's I smile and remember Jenna, Bridget and I getting coffee here on a Saturday morning not too long ago. Its a fleeting thought and soon I am walking down Newbury Street.
I squint into the sun as I'm now facing the Public Garden. Newbury is quiet this time of day. Shops are still closed and only the occasional pedestrian passes me by. No one acknowledges each other. Instead it is a silent march to our next destination. I notice that the church is having a choral festival soon but I don't stop to read the flyer. I'll look at it tomorrow.
Once into the Public Garden the silence is broken only by the chattering of two squirrels chasing each other while nearby some birds are chirping overhead. My usual path is barred due to some plantings so I wind my way through an outer walkway, finally to emerge at the bridge of the pond. An Asian woman and I nod at each other as we dodge a homeless woman towing a rolling suitcase and an attitude. I walk by her and her luggage unnoticed and continue on my way. The swan boats are lined up in the water, seemingly at rest until they are called to duty once again. At the edge of the park the pedestrian signal has just started to flash red and the countdown has begun. I quicken my pace so that I am on the other curb as the signal shows "1". Cars roar to life and race to the next light - which is red.
The Boston Common is already teeming with people today. Dogs of all shapes and sizes are being chaperoned by their masters. Some are on a leash; most are not. Beyond two playing dogs is an aerobics group, bending in positions that I am not ready for at 7:10 in the morning. Or at any time, really. The class is made up of men and woman of all shapes and sizes,too. They probably all live nearby, perhaps on Beacon Hill. How nice would it be to have Boston Common as your front yard? I'll never know...
I pass two elderly Asian women on their morning walk. I see them nearly every morning and they have never noticed me. So intent are they in their (very) animated conversation that I wish I knew what language they were speaking just to eavesdrop. After passing them I realize that someone is following me, fairly closely. From the sound and timing of the footfalls I determine that it is a woman, in heels, walking at a brisk pace. She takes two steps to my one and we maintain a constant ten feet between us. Soon, her heels and my footfalls make for a "one-two-two" tempo that I maintain in my head for awhile. Soon, she goes down a separate path and I am alone with my own, solo step.
As I reach the fountain near Tremont Street I say "'Morning!" to a man who stands at the end of the same path every day, drinking a cup of coffee. He greets me with a warm smile and "Good morning". In fact, it was he who started our morning greeting ritual. I think he's homeless but I can't be sure.
Crossing over Tremont I walk down Winter Street and now I am now in the thick of the city downtown. The sun doesn't reach the street at this time of day and there is a chill as the slight wind blows a bit colder. I pass the garbage truck crew trying to finish their rounds before day begins in Downtown Crossing. I emerge from Winter Street to the intersection of Winter and Summer Street. A Metro guy is hawking the news and I pass by a disgruntled pedestrian who seems annoyed at being asked if they wanted the news. I shake my head at the vendor, too. Summer Street turns into High Street and I pass Boston Beanstock, where the same woman is sitting in the window seat with her coffee. Usually she just stares out the window. Today she is writing in a journal. Maybe its a date book...? Whatever it is, she is intent on her task. I wonder what is so important to her today?
At the intersection of High and Congress I bump into a guy I used to work with a few years ago. We exchange pleasantries but it goes no further than that. He was definitely just a guy I worked with. No more. No less. Still, I wish him well on his new shift at work.
When I walk into Brueggers the staff is all wearing birthday hats. Millie tells me that it is Marcia's birthday and not to believe her sister Gwen when she says it is her birthday instead. I'm in a line six people deep but Marcia hands me my iced coffee anyway. I get the same drink every day so they don't even ask me what I want anymore. I wish Marcia a "Happy Birthday". Today is a good day for birthdays.
Iced coffee in hand I cross over Congress Street as the light turns red and I am quickly at the back entrance of my building. Morning walk complete, I am now just another face in the work crowd.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Gauntlet was Picked Up!

Oh, yes indeedy - the gauntlet of cartoons/music past was picked up and thrown back at me! Well done!
As a reward for your efforts I am posting the links provided by all of you here - with my commentary, of course:
First up:

I never really watched Felix the Cat...OK, I'm lying. I did.

Next up is:

I watched this show religiously. In fact, I caught an episode just yesterday on BCTV. This one has high nostalgia value for me.

Now there is this gem:

Some of the episodes were crap - utter crap. However, there were a few episodes that deserve to be seen by everyone. "Yesteryear" is my personal favorite.

Finally, we had this clip:

Fleegle was my favorite Split, and truth be told my favorite "adventure" on this show were the animated "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", that used live actors in an animated setting. I used to have a huge crush on Becky Thatcher. Let us speak no more of it...

Thank you all for the stroll down memory lane!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Long Tails and Ears for Hats

Does anyone (besides me) remember Josie and the Pussycats?
Let me jog your memory with this:

Do you remember when both "Josie and the Pussycats" and "Scooby Doo" had "chase songs" during their episodes?
Well, I do.
These were bubble gum pop songs in the vein of "The Archies". Just last week I found myself humming one of these chase songs from "Josie and the Pussycats" - which is pretty unbelievable since this song first aired in the early 1970's. One quick, near-obsessive, Internet investigation later an lo and behold, someone actually had the song up on Youtube.
(alas, no scenes from the show, just the song)

Now I'm sure that I am not the only person who fondly remembers some cartoon / song from their childhood that you would ordinarily never discuss in the light of day, right? So, therefore, I am throwing the gauntlet down!
What is one of your favorite "I would usually never admit this to anyone, but I used to LOVE..." cartoons and/or songs?
See that? The gauntlet is down!
Who DARES pick up the gauntlet?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Time: 7:44PM
Place: Victor's House
Event: Playing D&D
Jenna sent me the following text message:
Just saw a trailer for speed racer and thought a table of 40 year old men playing pretendies would wanna know. know where I could find one? :P
She meant this as a compliment, right? RIGHT?
Jeez...where does she get this sarcastic streak?
So, in honor and mockery of said geekiness I present the end-all-be-all of magnificent sarcasm in the form of Triumph, the Comic Insult Dog as he confronts the Star Wars geeks!

PS: The trailer for "Speed Racer" does look pretty friggin' cool.