Friday, December 24, 2010

"Holiday Message"

I wrote the following in 1967. It appeared in The Muse, Elmont Memorial High School's literary magazine...

Holiday Message

"Good morning, this is Mr. Carver speaking. As you know, this is the last day of school before the holidays, and, as principal of the high school, I am called upon to make the traditional holiday greeting to the student body. What I have to say is this. While you are enjoying the holidays, giving and receiving gifts, visiting with friends and relatives, and ringing in the New Year, take a moment to think about what these holidays symbolize -- 'Peace on Earth' and 'Brotherhood Among Men.'

"One other announcement this morning. There will be an air raid drill following the first period this morning."

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Here Comes Santa Claus

As I write this, our local volunteer fire department is having part of their annual "Santa Claus Parade." With sirens and horns blaring and lights flashing, they drive all their equipment up and down every street in the town. The last truck pulls a flatbed that carries Santa Claus and his sled. They have been doing this for a number of years now, so we have gotten used to the idea that it is not the end of the world nor is an entire neighboring block being consumed in flames... at least not in the last couple of weekends before Christmas. (Were an actual fire to break out, one wonders what might happen to Santa. Would he be left to fend for himself? More likely that he is actually one of the firefighters and would be manning a hose in full suit and beard.)

Back in the days when Chuck and Sammi were little and even in years before they were born, I would dress in a Santa suit and pay a Christmas Eve visit to children on our block and those of various friends of ours.

One year, I had to stop and gas up the car. I'm sure you can imagine the surprise of two small children in a car at the next pump when they saw Santa pumping gas. I told them that the reindeer were not feeling well, gave each a candy cane and went on my way.

Another time, the son of one of our friends was just on the cusp of not believing in Santa any more. He was convinced that the Santa who showed up at his house was, in fact, his uncle. Of course we arranged it so I arrived...and then said uncle walked in right behind me.

For a few years when Chuck and Sammi were young, we used to spend part of Christmas Eve with our friends Merrill and Marty and their kids. Some time during the evening, I would slip away to their garage, change into the Santa suit and come in the back door. None of the four kids seemed to notice that I was missing whenever Santa arrived, but one year their daughter Jessica mentioned that "Santa has the same kind of shoes as Uncle Bob." (After that, my switch included changing to a pair of black boots.)

It's been a number of years since I last donned the suit and beard, but they wait dutifully in the cedar closet for the next time I'll need to declare, "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night."

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Fudge Man

As I mentioned in a prior posting about my blood and platelet donations, there is a regular group of folks I see when I visit the Blood Center. In addition to the phlebotomists who have the Saturday shift, there are the men and women who, like me, spend a couple of hours every month making a donation. Some I only know by sight, others I know by first name. And then there's the Fudge Man.

A few years back, after I finished up my platelet donation, I saw that, in addition to the usual assortment of cookies, crackers, and trail mix in the canteen, there were a couple of plates with cut-up bars of fudge. When I asked about it, Debbie, the appointment coordinator, said that it had been brought by one of the other regulars.

Well, if making a blood donation is a good excuse for eating Lorna Doones for breakfast, it is a great excuse for having fudge. And we're talking really tasty, creamy fudge!

It was a few months before my donation schedule again coincided with that of the Fudge Man, but on the day it did, I noticed that there were a lot of familiar faces among the donors. It turned out that I was a latecomer to the group who were scheduling their appointments so they could be there for fudge. Over the next couple of years, I was pretty much in sync with him and more often than not had the opportunity to enjoy such flavors as eggnog, pumpkin pie, Oreo cookie, cheesecake and , of course, all manner of chocolate varieties.

This past Saturday, after I finished my platelet donation, I was sitting in the canteen with Steve (one of the regulars whose first name I do know) and another donor. When I mentioned that I hadn't seen the Fudge Man in awhile, Steve told me that he had died a few months ago. He and some of the other regulars found out on a Saturday morning when the Fudge Man was scheduled to donate that he had passed away in his sleep at the age of 48. That morning, Steve and a couple of others did a "triple," donating three units of platelets each. "We decided that we had to make up for the fact that he wasn't there."

Steve pointed at the two signs on the wall in the canteen, a list of all the people who have made 75 or more platelet donations. "He told me," Steve said, "that his goal was to get his name on that sign. And he did."

No, it doesn't say "Fudge Man." His name was John Roach. Most of us knew nothing about his family, his job, his life. But he was one of our Saturday morning regulars. And though we only saw him for a couple of hours every month or so, we will miss him.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Marketing 101

Now that Election Day has passed, the barrage of political TV commercials has ended and we are back to ads that are just trying to persuade us to buy things.

Though I prefer to speed through the ads when I have recorded shows -- or read or wander away when I'm watching something live -- there are a few that are quite entertaining. Top of the list to get me to watch are the E*Trade ads featuring the talking babies; they are cleverly written and, frankly, funnier than some of the programs. (That does not mean I think they should try to turn them into a TV series, like they tried with those GEICO cavemen a couple of years ago.)

Another current commercial shows two large rocks are having a conversation. Unlike the AmEx commercials of a year or two ago that featured a variety of objects that seemed to be either smiling or frowning, it takes a moment to realize that there are "faces" in these stones. In any case, they are discussing how they would drink Sierra Mist Natural if they could actually drink soda.
I'm not sure who thought up the idea that rocks would drink soda, but it does make for a memorable commercial. What I find amusing, however, is how they are selling a high-calorie soda as an "all-natural" beverage, highlighting that it is made with only natural sugar and contains no artificial sweeteners. But I suppose rocks don't have to worry about obesity.

Then there's the AT&T commercial that depicts a street scene with a number of people after an automobile accident. Everyone in it is texting on their cell phones. The tag line of this ad is something like "AT&T saves you from your cell phone so you can get back to your life." Well, how exactly does using your cell phone save you from it? I'm guessing they are trying to say that theirs works faster so you can send your text messages more quickly. But wouldn't that just mean people would text even more? Come to think of it, I guess that is what AT&T would really want.
As far as cellphones, I guess I'm a Luddite since I have one that only makes phone calls. It can receive a text message, but if it has the capability of sending one, I've never used it. And there is nothing so important in my email that I need to read it before I am at home or work and sitting at the computer. I mean, really, if you have something vital to tell me, call me -- the thing is a telephone!
But I'm truly baffled by why anyone would want to be able to download a TV show or a movie to their phone. On the one hand, we're being told to buy giant-screen HD-TVs that show us every pore on a person's face and on the other we should buy a phone with a 2-inch screen so we can watch the latest blockbuster films.

And, finally, there are the commercials featuring the pre-teen boy who talks about how his parents are "lame" because they don't own a fancy SUV. What is this? Years of peer pressure ads -- you want to have a better car than your friends and neighbors -- were not enough? Now we should spend on a vehicle with high-tech video and sound systems so our kids won't be embarrassed by us? It is a sad state of affairs for any parent who has to buy a showy car to gain the respect of his kids.

Monday, November 8, 2010

It Must Be True Because It's on the Internet

I was copied on an email this morning...

"If each person sends this to a minimum of twenty people on their address list, in three days, all people in The United States of America would have the message. I believe this is one proposal that really should be passed around.
[There then appears a photo of President Obama, standing on an airport runway, holding a book.]
"The name of the book Obama is reading is called: The Post-American World, and it was written by a fellow Muslim. "Post" America means the world After America ! Please forward this picture to everyone you know, conservative or liberal. We must expose Obama's radical ideas and his intent to bring down our beloved America !"

So, according to the originator of this email, the President is getting his plan on how to "bring down our beloved America" from a book? Or is reading books one of the President's radical ideas?

And talk about judging a book by its cover, a quick check at Amazon revealed the following about this "radical" tome...
"This is not a book about the decline of America, but rather about the rise of everyone else." So begins Fareed Zakaria's important new work on the era we are now entering. Following on the success of his best-selling The Future of Freedom, Zakaria describes with equal prescience a world in which the United States will no longer dominate the global economy, orchestrate geopolitics, or overwhelm cultures. He sees the "rise of the rest"—the growth of countries like China, India, Brazil, Russia, and many others—as the great story of our time, and one that will reshape the world. The tallest buildings, biggest dams, largest-selling movies, and most advanced cell phones are all being built outside the United States. This economic growth is producing political confidence, national pride, and potentially international problems. How should the United States understand and thrive in this rapidly changing international climate? What does it mean to live in a truly global era? Zakaria answers these questions with his customary lucidity, insight, and imagination.
Fareed Zakaria is the editor of Newsweek International and writes a weekly column on international affairs and hosts "Fareed Zakaria GPS" for CNN. He the author of the New York Times bestsellers
The Future of Freedom and The Post-American World. Zakaria lives in New York City.

Clearly, the person who started this email has not read the book nor even checked to see what it is about.

A little further research about Obama's "fellow Muslim" Zakaria turned up the following...
He was born in Mumbai, India to a Konkani Muslim family, though his religious upbringing was secular, including the singing of Christian hymns and the celebration of both Hindu and Muslim holidays. He earned his B.A. from Yale University and his Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard.

One final bit of research revealed that the photo was taken and first appeared in May, 2008!


What's next? A photo of the President reading Doctor Doolittle to his daughters and it's really the secret behind his healthcare plan?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Lower Taxes? Let's Have NO Taxes!

With Election Day done and the victories of a new crop of mostly Republicans, we're being treated to a number of speeches about how this is a mandate that the American people don't want "big government," that they want government spending reduced and taxes cut. I would disagree. The only part of it that people really want is lower taxes. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who would be unhappy about paying less tax.

So, how about paying no taxes? Let's see a slate of candidates next year who promise to reduce taxes to 0% across the board. And they'll cut government spending to zero as well. That means the government will be made up of volunteers, since none of them will be receiving a salary. Aren't most of them millionaires anyway? Why do they even need a salary? And for those who aren't independently wealthy, not a problem; all these candidates seem to drum up contributions to run their campaigns, so they should be able to get their constituents to kick in a few bucks each towards their well-being.

Okay, so now we have all our leaders working for free. But we're no longer spending any money, so all the support people -- assistants, maintenance people, technicians, drivers, etc. -- will either have to also work for free or seek other employment. Not that they would have much to do, anyway. The government will no longer be paying for electricity, water or HVAC, so the offices won't be very hospitable. There also won't be any expenditures for office supplies, postage, printing and copying, or internet connections.

Well, who cares? The government doesn't actually do anything anyway.

With government spending ended, let's see what else will happen...

Our military forces around the globe had better make do with what they have. There will be no more fuel purchases for planes, ships, trucks, jeeps, etc.; when the tanks run dry, those things are staying wherever they stop. Those men and women in war zones would do well to ration bullets because there won't be any more coming. Oh, and they'd better start figuring out how they're going to get home.

Senior citizens, you've seen your last Social Security check. Not that there would be any way to get them to you, since there's no one paying the postage. And you better get used to paying full price for medical treatments because Medicare isn't going to be around to subsidize them. Forget about the new government health coverage plan, the old government health coverage plan, and any other government health coverage plan. Gone, gone and gone.

All the traffic lights and street lights will be turned off because no one is paying that electric bill. Unless someone volunteers to direct traffic, expect perpetual gridlock; it is unlikely that members of the police department will work for free. And that's scary since the prisons will have to be closed and everyone in them will have to be set free. (Or, I suppose, we could just leave them locked in there to rot; they're criminals, after all.)

But wait, there won't be any more criminals. The court system will also be shut down because no one is paying for it. No judges (unless they want to work for free like other elected officials), no district or state's attorneys, no public defenders, no trials... so no one will be found guilty of a crime.

Got kids in school? Not any more! There's no tax money to keep the schools open so your kids will be home every day. That's okay, right? With the money you're saving by not paying taxes, you can hire a babysitter. Or maybe even a now-unemployed teacher to tutor them.
Don't think about leaving them home unattended, though. They might play with matches or leave the stove on. If the house catches fire, alas, odds are there won't be anyone coming to put it out.

There will be good news for the unemployed, however. Even though you won't be able to collect unemployment checks any more, with the cuts in government spending there will be no one enforcing the Minimum Wage laws. That means employers can pay you whatever they want, cutting wages to lower than those paid in foreign countries and bringing back all those jobs that have been outsourced. Lower pay, sure, but you won't have to pay any taxes on it!
Oh, by the way, you had better be careful on the job because there will also be no one enforcing any OSHA safety regulations and no one will be paying disability if you get hurt.

Finally, there is the government debt. Thirteen trillion dollars ($13,000,000,000,000) worth. When we stop paying taxes, there will be no money to pay the interest on it let alone pay it down. What happens if you stop making payments? The holders of your debt foreclose; they take your property. Since China holds quite a bit of our debt, maybe they will accept Hawaii as a settlement. Or California. Or both.


Is what I'm proposing ridiculous? Of course it is. We can't do away with government and the costs of everything our taxes pay for without throwing the entire nation (and the world) into utter chaos.

There are plenty of our tax dollars being spent on things we might think are wasteful, but it all got approved because our elected officials make bargains in order to get things done. A highway in South Carolina is voted for so that six park rangers can be hired to watch for fires in Montana and safety laws are enforced on a job site in Vermont. Same thing on a smaller scale in your home state, your county, your town.

Everybody needs things, everybody wants things, and, ultimately, everybody should have to pay for them. Period.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Trick or Treat

Yesterday, as in pretty much every year past, we handed out comic books rather than candy to the trick-or-treaters who came to our door. Unlike previous years when the holiday has fallen on the weekend, the turnout was relatively light. We had fewer than forty kids come to the door.

Yes, I'm sure even forty sounds like a lot to some of you. One of the women I work with said she had only one kid ring the doorbell. But we've had Halloween Saturdays and Sundays in past years where we've given out more than 100 comics; those were the days when, despite the fact there were no cellphones, word spread quickly among the kids that there was a house giving away comic books.
One year, there was a kid who was such a big comics fan that he kept going home and changing his costume so he could come back and get another. When I finally told him that recognized him and that he had to stop, he was startled. But I made his day when I told him that if he came back the next day, I would give him whatever was left over.

Back in the days when I was still working at DC Comics and they published such books as Ghosts, The Witching Hour and House of Mystery, it was fairly easy to amass a group of appropriate books to distribute. In more recent years, however, as even the mainstream DC titles have become a bit too graphic, I've limited what I give out to the "kids' line" of titles, supplementing what I have with issues of such titles as Animaniacs and Heathcliff that are left over from the days when Chuck and Sammi were young.

Among yesterday's highlights:
* A little boy dressed as Superman was thrilled to get an issue of Super Friends with the Man of Steel on the cover. I got the feeling he knew Superman only from TV cartoons and had no idea there was a print version.
* Five teenaged boys, apparently costumed as teenaged boys, were surprised to get issues of Tiny Titans instead of candy. "Bet you thought you were going to get something to eat," I said.
One of them replied, "Yeah!"
"Don't eat these," I warned. "The staples can get caught in your digestive tract."
* A man dressed in costume was carrying his infant son who was asleep in a pumpkin-snuggy. I think it will be a few years before the child will be reading the issue of Looney Tunes. And I presume it will be Dad who will be eating the candy rather than saving it till Junior has teeth.
* The copies of Animaniacs and Heathcliff I gave out yesterday were older than the kids who received them.

My favorite Halloween story of all, though, happened a few years ago. After I dropped a comic book into a little boy's bag, he looked at it and ran back to his mother on the sidewalk, shouting, "Mom, he gave us mail!"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The High Cost of Being a Comics Fanboy

"There are two types of comic book fans: pencil-necked geeks and fat fanboys. The pencil-necked geeks spend all of their money on comic books; the fat fanboys spend most of their money on comic books and the rest on Cheez Doodles."

One of the topics I touched upon briefly during my talk at Hofstra last week was the high price of comic books these days. I pointed out that one thing that was rising as quickly as the cost of a college education was that of collecting comic books.

With a number of their books selling for $3.99 each these days and sales of some in the mid four digits, DC and Marvel recently announced that they were cutting prices to $2.99 (with a corresponding reduction in the number of story pages). DC will be releasing 56 comic books in December and it will cost $192.44 to buy all of them; in January, they will also release 56 books, at a cost of $171.44. Ninety-three Marvel comics in December will cost $353.07; in January they'll have only 75 books, with a total cost of $273.25. The grand total for every DC and Marvel comic for the two month-period: $990.20!

Jump into the time machine to the same period in 1960 (when comic books all cost a dime) and you'll find that DC released 28 titles in each of the two months while Marvel -- which was still technically Atlas Comics at the time -- had eleven titles in December and nine in January. The cost of buying all 76 of those books: $7.60, roughly the price of two and a half present-day books.

Okay, I'm playing a little fast and loose with the numbers and ignoring inflation, so let's tighten the look a bit. Fifty-six DC comics in 1960/61 cost a total of $5.60. That same number of books in December 2010 will cost $192.44, more than 34 times the cost half a century ago. With the reduced price in January, the fifty-six are only 30 times more!

Back in 1960, at the very beginning of my comics-collecting, my allowance was 25c a week. If I spent all of it on comics, I could get ten books a month. More likely, however, I was buying six or seven and spending the rest of the money on candy bars or baseball cards. Ten comic books today would cost between $30 and $40, but how many nine-year-olds get an allowance between $7.50 and $10 a week to enable them to make such a purchase? Is it any wonder that sales have dwindled to abysmal numbers?

And I'm not even mentioning all the hardcover and trade paperback reprint collections DC and Marvel publish every month. With those prices ranging from $10 to upwards of $75, the cost of buying everything would easily outpace the monthly rent or mortgage many people pay.

Were I a nine-year-old today, would I become a comics fan? Like most of today's potential new readers who can't afford the habit, I'd have to say, "Probably not."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More Politics as Usual

In the past week, there have been a couple of political campaign ads that, if you listen carefully, you can't help but say, "Hunh?"

One that I've heard on the radio this week condemns a candidate for voting against the cost-of-living increase on Social Security and also voting against extending tax cuts. This strikes me as a damned-if-you-do/ damned-if-you-don't situation. If you want to spend more money, you need to increase taxes; if you want to cut taxes, you'd better not spend more money. You can't have it both ways.
The ad goes on to say how the candidate is working against our senior citizens by denying them their Social Security increase as well as saddling our grandchildren with massive debt. Well, if we want to pay out more money and not pay taxes, who exactly is going to foot the bill? With a 2010 budget deficit of over a trillion dollars -- that's a million millions, a 1 with 12 zeros after it -- and a national debt of more than 13 trillion, somebody will eventually have to pay. I guess it must be that anonymous "they" who shell out for unemployment benefits, emergency rescues and repairs during natural disasters, and all those other things that just seem to be there.

Another ad I've seen on TV the past few days had me wondering what the point of it was. A woman who owns a diner -- I'm not sure where, because it is never made clear -- talks about how the mayor tried all sorts of unscrupulous tricks to put her out of business and steal the land her diner was on. The woman speaks with a heavy accent, making it even more difficult to understand her story, and the voice-over and captions do little to alleviate the situation. Apparently, she went to court and was successful in stopping the mayor's evil scheme. But even after seeing it four or five times, I have no idea who the mayor she is talking about is, what office he is running for, or even in which state -- New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut -- this is taking place.

And then there was the gubernatorial debate that took place here in New York last week. Local newspapers and TV news programs referred to it as a "seven-ring circus" as the two major party candidates were joined by five others from minority parties. One, representing the Rent is 2 Damn High party, is apparently releasing his campaign platform as a rap CD and, despite the name of his party, does not pay rent.
Most amusing, however, was the former madam who compared her business to the MTA, saying that, unlike them, she had only one set of books, everything ran on schedule, and all the customers were satisfied.

Finally, basing their campaign on the concept that every elected official is evil, corrupt, overpaid and morally bankrupt, there are the groups who tell you to vote against all the "career politicians" and elect their candidate instead, usually touting theirs as a success in some other field.
Yes, I'm sure there are people in office who fit their description, just as there are people in every other profession who would. But before you jump on their bandwagon, consider this: If you need surgery, are you going to go to a "career medical professional" or a guy who has been a successful plumber? Do you want the car you drive repaired by a "career auto mechanic" or someone who is successful restaurateur? If you are the victim of a crime, do you want the aid or a "career law enforcement professional" or someone who wins at online poker?

While there are things about our government that are broken, they are not going to be fixed overnight by throwing everyone out and starting again. Vote for the candidates you feel will do the best job, regardless of party lines, and it will be a step in the right direction.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Volleyball Challenges

Last spring, because we had so much interest in our Tuesday Adult Ed volleyball program, I started campaigning to get a second night added to the schedule. Monday and Wednesday nights, the gym is used for Adult Ed basketball, and they show no signs of decamping, so the high school venue is out.

One option that did open up, however, was the gym in the middle school. For awhile it seemed like a sure thing, then we were told it would not be available. Just as our fall semester was about to begin, we found out that we actually could play there on Wednesday nights.

This was quite fortuitous. Because nearby Seaford closed down their Adult Ed volleyball, we inherited a substantial number of new players. I already had 52 people -- four more than the cap of 48 I had tried to set -- signed up for Tuesday night and had to turn away quite a few. With only two courts in the middle school, I wanted to cap the class at 34, but have ended up with 40. So far, we've had enough absences each night that there has not been overcrowding.

Adding the second night has not been without its challenges. It seemed that no one in the Athletic Department at the middle school had any idea what volleyball equipment was there. One person said there were poles, but no nets. Another said there were nets but no poles. A third insisted there was nothing, that it was all stored at the high school.

For the first night of play, I went to the high school and picked up two extra nets there, which turned out to be a good thing because there were only poles at the middle school. The poles, which are fairly heavy, stand in specially-made holes in the gym floor. As you might imagine, there are covers on these holes when volleyball is not being played. What we did not expect that first night was to find that when they last polyurethaned the gym floor, they effectively glued the four covers in place. It took us a good fifteen minutes of scratching, scraping, and prying with a heavy-duty screwdriver to get them open.

Once we had the poles in place, it took a bit of creativity to get the nets set up. Because we were using leftover "hand-me-down" nets, we were missing some of the necessary hooks. But were are a determined group and we made it work. For the second week, I had gathered a few more pieces and set-up went more smoothly.

Last night, however, presented a new challenge. I went to get the poles from the locker room and they were gone. I called the Adult Ed office in the high school, but they had no idea. We searched the other gym, the rest of the locker rooms, and anywhere else we could think of, but there was no sign of the poles. The head of the custodial staff suggested that they had been taken to one of the other schools; he offered to get us some basketballs if we wanted to play that instead.

We are a determined group of volleyball players, however. First, we located the poles on movable bases that are usually used for the badminton nets and rolled them into place. Then we came up with creative ways to attach the volleyball nets. Finally, using an assortment of ropes and rock-climbing belts that various players had in their cars, we fixed the poles in place by attaching them to the basketball backboards and the walls of the gym. It would not have passed muster in any official volleyball tournament, but it was good enough for us.

I'm hoping the poles find their way back from wherever they've gone, but at least we've worked out "Plan B" if they don't. Of course, who knows what new challenge will face us next week?

Friday, October 15, 2010

No Sign of The Times

Once upon a time, shortly after dinosaurs ruled the earth, newspapers were delivered to our suburban homes by boys on bicycles. Usually, it was one of the kids from the neighborhood, earning his spending money after school. I knew a couple of boys who did it and they used to say the thing they hated most was somebody cursing them out because the newspaper was late or not put exactly where they wanted it.
When the local papers either switched to morning editions, the after-school job became an early-morning task and those kids were replaced by adults, in many cases a parent who didn't want Billy out riding his bike at 6 in the morning.
Somewhere along the way, the parents and kids were replaced by delivery service companies who have contracts for large areas.

Doing our best to keep the print media alive, we get three daily newspapers delivered: Newsday, The New York Times, and USA Today. Newsday is delivered by one company, while the latter two are handled by another. And, other than on a morning of terrible weather, we would awaken to find the newspapers in the driveway.

A few weeks ago, we got a note from the Times/USA Today guy that routes were being changed and he would no longer be delivering our papers. The following week, delivery was spotty, at best. One day we got the Times, the next we got USA Today, then both, then neither. One morning USA Today was on our driveway and the Times was two houses up and across the street. Presumably, we were not alone in making complaint calls, and the problems seemed to be resolved. Whoever the new delivery person was, s/he went so far as putting the papers on the front steps rather than just tossing them onto the lawn or driveway.

That person's tenure seems to have been short-lived, however. Last week, deliveries were once again spotty. On Monday, there was no USA Today. On Tuesday, there was no Times, but we did get Monday's USA Today. On Wednesday, there was no USA Today. Each time, we called.
On Thursday, Laurie was outside when the delivery guy came by. He handed her USA Today. When she told him that we also get the Times, he looked at his list and said, "No, you don't."
"Well, yes, since 1974 and except for a couple of days this week, we do!"
For the next few days, we got both.

This past Tuesday we got neither, resulting in yet another pair of phone calls. (Someone eventually delivered the papers, to our next door neighbor's house.)
On Wednesday, we got two of each, the sets being delivered about an hour apart.
Yesterday, we again got two of each.
This morning, I was about to leave for work when the delivery guy drove up. He said it was only his second day on the route and apologized for running late, but he knew which two papers I was supposed to get and handed them to me.
He also told me he had just been cursed at by one of the neighbors because he was late. I guess some things don't change...

Politics As Usual

With Election Day two and a half weeks away, it is not surprising that the airwaves have been filled with an assortment of political advertisements. And, as usual, almost all of them are the negative variety.

One Long Island Congressional race has a candidate whose ads proclaimed that he had created hundreds of jobs. His opponent has since countered with one saying that they were created in places like Korea and India, "at the expense of American jobs." As one would expect from a negative ad, the opponent's reason you should vote for him is only, "The other guy is a liar."

In an ad for a Connecticut race, one candidate is asked how jobs are created and he is shown fumbling through an explanation that makes no sense. His opponent belittles him for not having the answer, but does not offer one herself. "Vote for me because my opponent is a blatherer."

Another Congressional race ad here on Long Island sternly advises us that the incumbent "voted with Nancy Pelosi 97% of the time" as if that were an offense on par with worshipping Satan. Presumably, his opponent is promising to vote against anything Pelosi votes for, regardless of whether it is good or bad for his district.

And then there's the ad for a State Assembly race that tells us how the incumbent recently attended a special session that he proclaimed was a waste of time and taxpayer money. He supposedly paid for the trip to Albany out of his own pocket and then put in an expense report the next day. Once again, the campaign tactic is, "My opponent is a liar, so vote for me instead."

There is one arena for which I don't recall seeing or hearing any negative ads. Because Hillary Clinton resigned her Senate seat to become Secretary of State, we are electing two Senators in New York this year.
Chuck Schumer, who I have heard speak at enough college graduations that I can now recite his speech, seems to be a shoe-in. His ads run on TV fairly regularly, seemingly to remind us that he is up for reelection. I have no idea who his Republican opponent is, nor can I recall seeing or hearing an ad for whoever it is.
Kirsten Gillibrand is our junior Senator, selected to replace Clinton and now running for the remaining two years of the term. In one of her TV ads, she talks about how the government is broken and how she is working to fix it, specifically by voting against Congress' automatic pay raises. "The average worker," she says, "can't give himself a raise, so why should Congress be allowed to do it?" As with Schumer, I have no idea who her Republican opponent is.


You might recall that last year I wrote about local candidates who were campaigning that they would lead a "Tax Revolt" and had those words emblazoned on their posters. You might also recall that they were elected. I can't say that I know what they have done since taking office, other than showing up for photo ops for the Farmingdale Observer. I can, however, report that we just got our property tax bill for the coming year and it is still revolting.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


While many consider Labor Day to be the end of summer, I've always gone with whatever day I last go in the pool. For the past few years, since we added the solar heating panels and the pool has stayed warm much longer, Columbus Day has become the last day of summer. Or, as we've come to call it, Swimsover.

The three-day holiday weekend provided ideal weather -- sunny with temperatures in the mid-70s -- for sitting poolside and enjoying a few dips. The water was in the low 70s, according to the consensus our "Temperature Team" of floating thermometers, though Tommy Turtle, ever the slow one, said it was 48. Laurie called it "too cold" while I referred to it as "bracing." She got in up to her ankles while I swam the length of the pool more than a few times.

Today, with our "Temperature Team" out and stored away for the winter and the pool guys coming to flush the lines and put on the cover, we bid the Summer of 2010 adieu and look forward to First Dunk, sometime in April, 2011.

Kapow! From Pulp Fiction to Google Books (with Comic Books in the Middle)

Hofstra University Library
Presents a 75th Anniversary Symposium
Kapow! From Pulp Fiction to Google Books
Celebrating the evolution of popular culture from 1935 to the present

Friday, October 22, 2010
Sponsored by the Joan and Donald E. Axinn Lecture Series

RSVP for the KAPOW! by October 15, 2010, to Jolene Collazo at 516-463-5952 or

Pulps were the successor to the penny dreadful, dime novels, and short fiction magazines of the 19th century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “pulp fiction” had its first documented use in the Washington Post in 1935, the year of Hofstra’s founding. The morning session of KAPOW! will examine pulps, cartoons, and popular culture. After a complimentary lunch with a guest speaker, the afternoon session will focus on fan fiction, copyright, re-mix culture and the Google Book settlement. Join us as we celebrate the evolution of popular culture through literature, art, and film from 1935 to the present.

9:00 - 9:45 a.m. Registration and Coffee
Guthart Cultural Center Theater, first floor, Axinn Library

12:15 p.m. Guthart Cultural Center Theater, first floor, Axinn Library

WELCOME Daniel R. Rubey
Dean, Library and Information Services
Hofstra University

Keynote Speaker Michael Sharp, aka “Rex Parker,” SUNY Binghamton
Lurid Liberation: Sex and Social Change in American Paperback Cover Art, 1940-1970

Michael Sharp teaches English Literature at Binghamton University in Binghamton, NY. He has also taught literature classes in the New York State prison system, as well as continuing education classes for senior citizens in the Binghamton area. He has published articles on topics ranging from medieval literature to American crime fiction, and is the editor of the Encyclopedia of Popular Contemporary Writers (Marshall-Cavendish, 2006). Under the pseudonym "Rex Parker," he writes two blogs, one about the New York Times crossword puzzle, and the other about American paperback books of the mid-20th century. He has constructed crossword puzzles for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, and is currently working on a book about the place of the crossword puzzle in contemporary American culture.

Hofstra Faculty Panel I
Moderator: William Caniano, Assistant Professor, Joan and Donald E. Axinn Library
Lisa Dresner, Assistant Professor, Writing Studies and Composition, ‘60s Pulp: The Cult of the Sexual Savior
Mary Ann Allison, Assistant Professor, Journalism, Media Studies and Public Relations, Picturing Pop Culture: New Media Academics
Richard Pioreck, Adjunct Associate Professor, English, Read a Few Books, Get More of the Jokes
Louis Kern, Professor, History, Uncle Sam, iconic embodiment of a nation
12:30 – 1:45 p.m. COMPLIMENTARY LUNCH
246 Axinn Library

Keynote Speaker: Bob Rozakis
“75 Years of Comic Books”

Bob Rozakis (BBA, ‘73) began his career in the comic book industry shortly before graduating from Hofstra and spent the next twenty-five years at DC Comics.

As a writer, Bob is perhaps best known as the co-creator of ‘Mazing Man, but his credits include more than four hundred stories featuring Superman, Batman and virtually every other DC character. He recently completed "The Secret History of AA Comics," an alternate history of the industry that appeared in Alter Ego and Back Issue magazines. Outside the comic book business, he has written storybooks for educational publishing projects and co-authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to Office Politics with his wife, Dr. Laurie Rozakis (BA, ‘73, MA ‘76).

During his seventeen years as head of DC's Production Department, Bob guided the company (and, eventually, the entire industry) into previously unexplored areas of computerized color separations and typesetting, electronic page preparation, and computer-to-plate printing. These efforts earned DC Comics over one hundred awards for printing excellence and resulted in Bob twice being profiled and cover - featured in Publishing & Production Executive.

Currently, Bob is the comptroller for Combined Resources Interiors, a drywall construction firm, utilizing the accounting degree he earned at Hofstra. He annually teaches a creative writing course for the Johns Hopkins University / Center for Talented Youth summer program for gifted students.
2:00 – 4:15 p.m. SESSION II: … TO GOOGLE BOOKS
Guthart Cultural Center Theater, first floor, Axinn Library

Keynote Speaker Kevin Smith, Duke University
Joseph G. Astman Distinguished Symposium Scholar
Copyright, Creativity and Incentive: the Problem of Fan Fiction

As Duke University’s first Scholarly Communications Officer, Kevin Smith’s principal role is to teach and advise faculty, administrators and students about copyright, intellectual property licensing and scholarly publishing. Kevin began his academic career with graduate studies in theology at Yale University and the University of Chicago, and then decided to move into library work. He holds a Masters of Library Science from Kent State University and has worked as an academic librarian in both liberal arts colleges and specialized theological libraries. His strong interest in copyright law began in library school and he received a law degree from Capital University in 2005. Before moving to Duke in 2006, Kevin served as the Director of the Pilgrim Library at Defiance College in Ohio, where he also taught Constitutional Law. He is admitted to the bar in Ohio and North Carolina.

Kevin serves on the Intellectual Property Board and the Provost’s Digital Futures Task Force at Duke, as well as on the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Scholarly Communications Committee and the faculty of the Association of Research Libraries’ Institute on Scholarly Communications. He has written several articles on copyright issues in higher education, and maintains a highly-regarded web log that discusses copyright and publication in academia, and he is a frequent speaker on those topics.

Hofstra Faculty Panel II
Moderator: Sally Glasser, Assistant Professor, Joan and Donald E. Axinn Library
Robert Leonard, Professor, Linguistics, Slang! What is it good for?!--The utility, motivation and poetry of slang in pulp fiction and other popular literary genres
Kathleen Wallace, Professor, Philosophy, Mashups, mixups, wikis, blogs – when is it creative use and when is it plagiarism?
Kevin Esch, Assistant Professor, Radio/TV/Film: Fan-Made Movie Trailers and the Power of Disappointment
Leon Friedman, Professor, Law, The Google Books Settlement

Ground Floor Lounge, Joan and Donald E. Axinn Library

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Last Time

This past Friday night I did something I hadn't expected to do again this year -- I took a midnight swim. As a result of the (presumably) last gasp of summer, air temperature and water temperature made it not just possible, but inviting. So, after watching TV and finishing a book I'd been reading, I did a couple of laps in the moonlight.

But as I was drying off, I started wondering if this would be my last moonlight swim of 2010. Certainly, until a few minutes earlier, I would have said that my last one had been during Labor Day weekend. But until the cover is on and the pool is closed for the season, I can't say for certain that there won't be one more night that I'll be out there.

Taking it to a larger scale, there are some things that you can say, "This is the last time I'll..." about. Your last day of classes before high school graduation, for example. "This is the last time I'll be in Physics." If the time period available for you to do something is finite and you do it at the last possible moment, you can safely say "This is the last time."

But how about something like going to a favorite restaurant? Unless it closes, when is the last time you ever go there? You may never be able to say.

Even asserting "I'm never going to do that again!" isn't a guarantee. (How many times has Brett Favre far?) Perhaps one of the best examples of that is Sean Connery playing James Bond. He announced after "You Only Live Twice" that he was done. After George Lazenby did "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," Connery was lured back for "Diamonds Are Forever." This time, however, he said he would never play Bond again. Until eleven years later, when he made "Never Say Never Again." The title of the film is attributed to Connery's wife, who told him exactly that after his "Diamonds" announcement.

And how do you know when it's the last time you'll see somebody you know? Unless it is the grimmest of circumstances and you're sitting in the hospital room right before they pull the plug, you don't. Otherwise, it is only when they are dead that you can determine for certain the occasion of the last time you saw them...and, presumably, you didn't know it at the time.

So, these are the kinds of things I think about when I take a midnight swim. The last midnight swim? Who can say?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Hey, Look, I Wrote a Book!

Back in 1994, I was not doing much comic book writing any more and so I decided to write a novel that had been percolating for a number of years. Weekend hours that had previously been devoted to tales of Superman, Aquaman, Air Wave, and numerous others became the time to write chapters.

The "present-day" of the story is 1992, but much of the action relates to events from 1968 and 1969, which are presented as flashbacks. (While I was certainly not the first to tell a tale this way, it has been interesting to note how this particular method of storytelling has become popular recently with the success of "Lost" on television.) I don't recall how long I worked on it, but eventually all the pieces of "The Junkyards of Memory" were done.

With my 80,000-word opus completed, I got in touch with an agent who was a friend of a friend. She said that she would circulate it to publishers she thought might be interested and I crossed my fingers. Some months later, my fingers long uncrossed, she had received a single response along the lines of, "He's a good writer, but this does not fit our publishing program." So I put the copy of the manuscript in a file drawer and stored the electronic file on a floppy disk and went on to other things.

And that is where it has remained, though two very small portions turn up every year in my CTY writing class. One scene is used as an example of how to utilize the setting to describe a character's personality; another is the basis for a radio play that the students read to learn how to use dialogue to tell a story. From time to time, one of the students would ask where to get a copy of the novel and I would say, "It hasn't been published."

Recently, however, Laurie and I were talking about some of her out-of-print books and the possibility of self-publishing them via Neither of us knew much about it, so I went to the site and checked it out. And, after doing so, I decided, "Why not publish my novel?"

I have to say this, if not for the electronic file, the book would still be a manuscript sitting in a filing cabinet. That I was able to do some light editing and then drop the entire text into one of lulu's templates is the only way this could have worked. Putting together the cover was fairly simple as well. In a couple of hours, I had everything ready to go.

And so, for anyone who is interested, "The Junkyards of Memory" is now available in hard copy ( or as a digital download (

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Lucky in Love" -- Not Lucky in Travel

Yesterday evening my old friend and 'Mazing Man co-creator Stephen DeStefano was having an art showing and book signing for his new masterpiece Lucky in Love at a gallery in New York City. Since the gallery was an easy walk from Penn Station and I have not seen Stephen in years, I thought it would be good to make the trip into the city.

Well, as they say, nothing’s ever easy.

I got on the 5:14 train out of Farmingdale, scheduled to arrive at Penn at 6:10. As I did in my years as a regular on the LIRR, I fell asleep shortly thereafter. Imagine my surprise when I woke up at 6:05 and discovered we were sitting in Jamaica station, where they were making announcements that due to “wild weather” there would be delays. (The US Weather Service has not yet determined whether it was a tornado. Whatever it was, it took out trees along a path through Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens, dropping some across LIRR tracks along the way.)

Still not a major problem, however, since right downstairs at the Jamaica station is the subway and the E train would take me to within a four block walk to the gallery. And since the subways were honoring LIRR tickets, the ride would not cost anything more.

After a few station stops, we pulled into Roosevelt Avenue... and sat... and sat... and sat. Finally, there was an announcement that we should switch to another E train that was pulling in on the other track. Turned out there was a fight going on in one of the other cars of the train I was on, so it would not be going anywhere for awhile.

Not surprising, the train that pulled in was a lot more crowded. But we rolled along and at about 7:00, we finally made it to my stop. A quick stroll in a very light drizzle brought me to the gallery. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the gallery was not much larger than the subway car I'd just left... and almost as crowded.

There was a nice display of Stephen's work on both walls and I was able to squeeze my way to the back, where he was signing copies of the book. We spoke for about a minute and then he returned to what he was there to do. Since I did not want to jump the line, I worked my way back towards the door.

Unfortunately, air conditioning was sorely lacking and it grew quite warm. I decided I needed to step outside for awhile when my shirt started to look like I'd been playing Ultimate Frisbee for an hour. (My CTY compatriots would have looked at me and decided I was about to yell "Last point!") After cooling down, I tried my best to rejoin the line inside, but after once again starting to look like I was melting, I figured it was not meant to be. Stephen was being his affable self, talking and adding little drawings to the autographs for each of his guests, and the line was moving about as quickly as that LIRR train I'd abandoned.

So I headed towards Penn Station, figuring that train service would have been restored in the couple of hours since the "wild weather." Alas, that was far from the case. The station was packed with people and no trains were running. Police and LIRR officials were directing passengers to the E train so they could take the subway to Jamaica station, from which eastbound trains were operating. What I found remarkable was the number of people who weren't doing this; they seemed resigned to staying in Penn for however long was necessary.

Though you can normally access the subway from inside Penn, this was not the case. We had to go back outside and walk around the building to get to the subway entrance on the street. I was finally successful getting into the subway and when an E train pulled in, I even managed to get a seat. I was quite happy about that because the car got quite full and quite warm. (Not surprisingly, I started "melting" again.)

We crawled along, the PA system reminding us that there were delays ahead and that we would proceed when they had a green signal. About an hour later, we finally reached our destination... where there were many, many people waiting at street level for trains to carry them further east. (The first one, going on the Babylon branch, was announced just as I arrived and started a stampede towards the steps to the track. I suspect that many of those people had been there for quite awhile.)

There was no Ronkonkoma branch train on the horizon, but I'd dealt with LIRR delays many times during my twenty-five years commuting to DC Comics, so I knew some ways around a lot of the crowds. I walked to a staircase leading up to one of the tracks that was not being used and went all the way up to the crossover platform above the tracks. I wasn't the only person who knew this trick, but there were far fewer people up top than there were down below.

After about a forty-five minute wait, they announced a train to Ronkonkoma. From my lofty waiting area, I was able to quickly get down to the track and snag a seat before most of the passengers made it to the platform. We sat for another twenty minutes or so while the train filled and then finally started rolling east.

Though the train made every stop along the way, I was finally back in Farmingdale at 11:10 and home a few minutes after that. A six hour round-trip... probably the most travel fun I've had since the day in March when I came home from Becca's wedding. (Blogged here as "Planes, Trains and Automobiles.")

And people wonder why I'm so happy to now have a twelve-minute commute to work!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Amalgamated Madness

February, 1996 was very special for comics fanboys (and fangirls). It was the month when DC Versus Marvel, a four-issue weekly series co-produced by the two rival publishers appeared, pitting the greatest heroes against one another with some of the battles being determined by the votes of the readers.

What the fanboys did not know was the surprise planned for the week between issue #s 3 and 4, that for the week of February 28th, DC and Marvel would cease to exist and be replaced by Amalgam Comics. This hybrid company would issue twelve titles that week, and as part of the gag, everyone would pretend that Amalgam had been in business since the dawn of comics.

Despite the fact that this effort would involved dozens of staff members and freelancers, the powers-that-be were determined to keep it a secret. I don't know how it was handled at Marvel, but at DC it meant that any information involving Amalgam Week was dispensed on a "need-to-know" basis.

And that is where the trouble began.

Since the premise of Amalgam Week was that DC and Marvel did not exist, there could be no house ads for the individual companies' books in the Amalgam titles. "Not a problem," said our advertising director, certain that he could sell all the ad space to paying customers.

Well, it was a problem, presumably because he couldn't tell any of the potential advertisers what the big surprise was going to be. Much of the ad space remained unsold.

In a "normal" week, any unsold ad pages would be filled with house ads for DC books. These were generated on a regular basis and would be slotted in as needed. Which is exactly what happened with the Amalgam books because the people setting up the ad schedules were not on the "need-to-know" list and were unaware of the potential problem.

But the problem should have been caught because the ad schedules had to be signed off on by the ad director, the marketing director, and the editorial director, all of whom were in on the secret. For whatever reasons, none of the three actually reviewed the schedules. In each case, it was an assistant that reviewed and okayed them... and, in each case, the assistant was not aware of the Amalgam gimmick.

This "perfect storm" doesn't stop there.

Before a book goes on the press, a set of blueprint proofs are sent from the printer to be reviewed and okayed. Usually, these would be delivered to the production department and distributed to the appropriate editors who would make sure the story pages were in the proper order, etc. Someone in production would then check the ad pages against the schedule to make sure they were also correct and the proofs would be sent back to the printer.

The Amalgam books, because they had been shoehorned into the regular schedules of the writers and artists, were running very late. The film separations arrived that the printer over the weekend. The proofs were generated and would have been delivered to DC that Monday morning for an instant turnaround. But, as fate would have it, Monday was Presidents Day, so the office was closed. (Not the case at the printer in Canada, however.) To solve this dilemma, it was decided that the proofs would be FedExed to the individual editors, who would review them, call in any corrections directly to the printer's rep, and FedEx the proofs back the same day.

Well, six different DC editors reviewed proofs and not one of them said anything about there being DC house ads in them. (Two later denied that there had been any ads in the proofs they looked at, despite the fact that their signatures are on them.) Whatever the level of "need-to-know" secrecy was deemed necessary to be in on it, you know these guys had to have it.

And so the books got printed with DC house ads in them.

Printed samples arrived in the office a couple of days later and, as with all samples, copies landed on my desk. As I had been away on vacation the previous week and hadn't seen most of the finished stories (and, frankly, being a fanboy at heart), I was especially interested in looking at them. I was told that they heard me yell "Holy $#!+" at the other end of the hall.

After a couple of in-house calls to advise the powers-that-be, I was on the phone with the printer to find out the status of the six books. Then, in a quickly convened meeting, it was determined that we would have to reprint the books on a crash schedule using a cobbled-together collection of paid ads, arrange special shipping to the distributor so they would be able to make the delivery date, and trash everything that had already been produced.

Needless to say, the cost of doing this was astronomical, but it was done and the books came out on schedule, with the readers being none the wiser.

In the DC offices, however, there was plenty of finger-pointing as to who should have caught the error and when. At least one person lost his job as a result and a number of others were chastised for allowing it to happen. A meeting was held to set up procedures so that it would not happen again, but what was never addressed was the fact that the decision to keep Amalgam a secret from the staff was ultimately to blame.

As it turned out, the Amalgam mess was only the tip of the iceberg. There were so many other mistakes, many of them resulting in more shredding and reprinting, that we started referring to 1996 as "The Year of Being Stupid."

As the saying goes, "You ain't seen nothing yet!"


One postscript to Amalgam: A couple of weeks later, I had lunch with Gene and Alison, my Production Director counterparts from Marvel, and we were discussing what had happened. "You realize," said Gene after listening to the story, "that if we had made that mistake, we would have called you up and said, 'Oops, sorry!' and let it go."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hofstra Yearbook 1971

With virtually no staff in place for the Nexus 1971, my co-editor-in-chief Arnie set out to fill the gaps. As new section editors started showing up in the office, it took me a little while to figure out how he was recruiting them.

He was picking up women in his classes, using the line, "Would you like to be a yearbook editor?" Jackie, Diane, Leslie, Gail, Karen, Donna, et al. Each of them shared one class or another with my co-editor. So on the afternoon that Laurie walked in and announced, "Hi, I'm the new Student Life editor!" my response was, "Which of Arnie's classes are you in?" (Jewelry Making, if I remember correctly.)

To be fair, Arnie did not recruit only women for the editorial positions. Jean had been one of our photographers the previous year and he was promoted to Photo Editor. And when it looked like I was going to have to be sports section editor again (because, apparently, Arnie was unable to pick up any athletics-minded women), he agreed to give the post to Stephan, who had taken virtually all the photos for the section.

But there was a lot of estrogen floating around the yearbook office that year, especially as Arnie did his best to promote staff unity by having regular meetings and staff parties. He also managed to date more than a couple of them, even getting engaged to one before the year was out. (The engagement did not last, however.)

We had frequent visits from Dick, who worked for Taylor Publishing, the company that printed the yearbooks, and from Aaron and Bernie, who ran the photography studio that took all the senior portraits and processed the pictures our staff photographers took. Yet, despite all these meetings, when the end of the spring semester rolled around, everybody was scrambling to get their sections done.

But the book did eventually get finished. Arnie graduated and I took over as sole editor-in-chief, with almost all of the editors he'd recruited remaining on staff.

As for Arnie's ploy of recruiting editors in order to find romance, well, that did actually work out for him. After his lone date with Laurie -- at a 13-inning Mets game on an incredibly humid night -- she introduced him to her best friend from high school. A year later, Arnie and Carol got married.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hofstra Yearbook 1970

In the summer of 1969, I received a letter from the editors of Nexus, the Hofstra University yearbook, inviting me to come by their office if I was interested in joining the staff when I started my freshman year in September. It was a form letter, sent to all incoming students who had listed "yearbook" as one of their high school activities, but I decided I should get involved with some activities and this seemed an easy choice.

My first couple of visits to the yearbook office in the Student Center were disappointing. The office was dark and the door was locked. Despite the letter saying that they were actively recruiting new staff members, there did not seem to be any indication that this was the case.

Late one morning of the second week, I had to pay a visit to the bookstore between classes and decided to give it one more try. To my surprise, I did find someone in the office, one of the section editors. She told me that Joe and Arnie, the editors-in-chief of Nexus 1970, were indeed in need of staff members and would be glad to have me on the staff.

She asked what I had done on my high school yearbook; I told her I had handled the senior section and the sports section. Her eyes lit up at the mention of the latter. "We definitely need someone for sports," she said. She told me she would leave my name and that I should stop back that afternoon, when Joe and Arnie would be there.

I figured that, as a freshman staff member, I would probably have to sort through photos, track down scores or correct spellings of players' names, and maybe get to lay out a couple of pages. Imagine my surprise when I came back that afternoon and Arnie told me that I would be the editor of the sports section!

I asked about my duties. Would I have to schedule photographers to go to various games? No, the photo editor (who, it turned out, was Arnie) would do that. Did I have to go to all the games? Only if I wanted to. Would I have to track down the stats? No, the Athletic Department sent them over regularly.

I also asked about staff meetings and he said that there would not be too many, but the individual section co-editors did meet from time to time. When I asked who my co-editor was Arnie told me that he was working on it and he would let me know.


Over the next few weeks, I would stop by the office after classes. It was usually empty, but the door was unlocked, so I was able to go in and check my mailbox. Like the office, however, it too was frequently empty.

Then one day, I found a note that my co-editor, Larry, wanted to meet. He was a resident student rather than a commuter like I was, so he left his dorm phone number. I used the office phone to call and got no answer. I left a note in his mailbox with my number and told him to try me in the evenings (except Mondays and Fridays, when I would be working).

I think it was three weeks later that we finally caught up with each other. He called my home a couple of times when I was out. I called his dorm and got his roommate. As it turned out, I was in the Nexus office leaving him a note when he walked in, planning on leaving one for me. We talked for a few minutes, set up a time to meet the following week, and went our separate ways.


There was not much interaction among the Nexus staff members that year. I don't recall that there was ever a meeting of the entire group and there were some editors I don't think I ever met. Arnie was the only one I ever regularly saw in the office; Joe was doing an internship and became something of an absentee editor.

Larry and I would occasionally run into one another on campus. We would talk about the success or failure of one Hofstra team or another -- the football team was 0-10 that year -- and end with, "We should get together and lay out some pages soon."

As it turned out, we did not sit down and work on the book at all until almost the end of the spring semester. By that point, we had envelopes full of photos for each of the sports, sets of stats and rosters, and a lot of pages to fill.

And that was all we had. As some of you may remember, 1970 was the year of Vietnam War protests and the Kent State shootings and so Hofstra, like many other colleges, ended its school year early. As a result, there were few staff members and fewer students on campus as Larry and I put the sports section together, leaving us with almost no resources to fill the gaps.

We relied on back issues of the Hofstra Chronicle for specifics about games. There wasn't much in the way of positive commentary about the winless football team and none of the other teams had particularly stellar seasons either. Larry and I were reduced to trying to write clever captions for the photos. Our favorites were those where we came up with an interesting adjective for a player. So we had a "bespectacled slugger" on the baseball team and a "mustachioed veteran" on the football team.

We were almost done with the section when we realized we had no photos of the tennis team. Not a single one! And none had appeared in the Chronicle either, so we couldn't even swipe one of theirs. "We'll have to fake it," Larry said.

And so we did. The "Hofstra tennis player" shown in the book is me, in a photo taken by Arnie at the Elmont High School tennis court. No one ever questioned it. For the actual members of the tennis team who may have looked at it and wondered, "Who the heck is this guy?" -- now you know.


Virtually the entire staff of Nexus 1970 was made up of seniors. In fact, when I visited the office shortly before the Fall '70 semester began, Arnie advised me that he and I were the only returning staff members. As such, I was the only candidate for co-editor-in-chief... which will be the subject of an upcoming installment.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Meet the Met$

As a reward for donating platelets four times between May and July, the NY Blood Center sent me four tickets to a Mets game at Citi Field. Since I have not been to a Mets game in their new ballpark, I was looking forward to it. And since I had a quartet of tickets, I invited our friends Allan and Arlene, both avid Mets fans, to join us.

It has been a number of years since I've been to a Mets game. The last time I recall driving to Shea Stadium, the parking fee was $6. I figured it had probably gone up a couple of bucks since then, but was quite surprised to find that it now costs $19! And this is for the "outer" parking fields; I don't even want to guess what "V.I.P Parking" costs.

It was "Build-a-Bear" day, so we each received a teddy bear with a Mets shirt and cap. Thankfully, Laurie had brought a canvas bag, so we had somewhere to put them. Otherwise, we would have been like many of our fellow attendees, with bears stuck under our arms or on our heads as we walked through the stadium. One family I saw had four children, the youngest of which was displaced from her stroller by six bears.

Having been to the "retro-modern" stadiums in Baltimore, Atlanta, and Philadelphia, I was underwhelmed with the look and feel of Citi Field. As Laurie pointed out, it came across as very corporate in its attempt to seem friendly. The Hall of Fame Museum, though it contained a few items of interest, led directly into the souvenir/gift shop with a focus on "buy, buy,buy."

As we made our way to our seats, Laurie pointed out that every possible spot along the way was filled with a cart or kiosk selling something. And there were certainly no bargains to be had. Two hot dogs and two sodas would take almost all of a $20 bill. One can only imagine how much that family with the four kids spent on their day at the ballpark.

Our seats were pretty good, field level in the right field corner. That they were in the shade on a 90+ degree afternoon for most of the game was a good thing. We could see all of the field as well as the scoreboard. We were about ten yards away from the foul pole, so I had an up-close view of the home run ball that bounced off it.

The Mets beat the Astros, 5-1, thanks mostly to the timely 2-RBI single by pitcher R.A. Dickey. Neither team has any hopes of playing in the post-season, so the game had no real importance other than bringing the Mets back to being a .500 team.

One thing hasn't changed between Shea Stadium and Citi Field. Getting out of the parking lot at the end of the game still takes forever. The entire lot seems to feed into a single two-lane exit. You'd think that with all those $19 fees they collect, they could have afforded more than one gate.

Friday, August 27, 2010

75th Anniversaries

New Fun Comics #1 went on sale in January, 1935. It changed its name to More Fun Comics with #7 and was joined by New Comics in November. It was not until February, 1937 that Detective Comics, the magazine that gave the company its name, joined the mix. It is likely that no one involved with the production of those books expected that the company would still be around seventy-five years later.

Though there had been talk through much of 2009 that DC Comics would be making a big deal about their 75th anniversary this year, it would seem that they have forgotten about it. (There are a couple of books coming out, but they are being published by others.) Maybe they're saving their energy for the 75th anniversary of Detective in 2012, or Superman's in 2013?


On the other hand, Hofstra University has an entire year's worth of events planned for its 75th anniversary. In September, Homecoming Weekend will be a three-day extravaganza featuring a parade, fireworks, birthday party, student talent show, numerous receptions, and more. Everything you'd expect from a gala Homecoming except a football game... because Hofstra cancelled its football program last year in order to save a couple million dollars, which will instead be put towards the new medical school.

One event that is scheduled is the symposium “Kapow! From Pulp Fiction to Google Books” on Friday, October 22, 2010. Says Sarah McCleskey, one of its co-directors, "Since Hofstra’s founding date (1935) coincides so nicely with the rise of "pulp fiction" as a literary genre, we have chosen to look at the evolution of literature and culture encompassing such topics as pulp fiction, comics, graphic novels, anime, and digital culture.
"For the morning session, we will focus on popular culture, with a keynote address and a panel of Hofstra professors interested in some of these topics (crime fiction, anime, graphic novels, etc.). The first keynote speaker will be Michael Sharp, Professor at SUNY-Binghamton who is perhaps better known for his NY Times crossword-puzzle solving abilities under the pseudonym 'Rex Parker.' Professor Sharp also authors a pulp fiction blog.
"The afternoon session will feature a Kevin Smith, Scholarly Communications officer at Duke University, to lead off another faculty panel relating to Google Book settlement/copyright issues in education/authors’ rights, etc. and will address such questions as how we protect the legitimate property rights of authors and publishers, but at the same time protect the freedom and creativity of authors and researchers and students."

Of interest to those of you reading this might be the luncheon speaker, with a presentation on the history and evolution of comic books. This will include a mention of how Hofstra and the comic book world were intertwined when HU became the model for Dick ("Robin the Teen Wonder") Grayson's alma mater, Hudson University. And who better to speak of such matters than the writer of those stories, a Hofstra alumnus and veteran of the comic book business?

Yes, that would be me.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

CTY 2010

Six weeks, twenty-six students, 140 writing assignments. That would sum up my two sessions of Writing & Imagination at CTY Chestertown this year.

But a mere summary does not include the odd and interesting highlights, such as...

Finding a bat (the live kind, like the one that flew in Bruce Wayne's window), on the third floor of our classroom building. While none of the students were inspired to become superheroes, they did have to write "I am the Bat" and explain how it got there. When I brought the class up to see it, one of the boys, by then well aware that I'll use almost anything as a prompt, turned to me and said, "We're going to write about this, aren't we?"

Seeing one of the most incredible sunsets ever. One evening, my dormmate Jim came in and said, "You have to come out and look at this." With our fellow roomie Troy, we went outside and watched a spectacular mixture of pinks, reds, oranges, purples, and blues in a tapestry that spread across the western sky. At one point, Jim said, "When do we stop watching?" I replied, "I guess when it's dark." Troy was able to capture it on his cellphone camera and, while the pictures don't really do it justice, they are something to remember it by.

Joining some past and present Bay Ecology instructors on a test run of one of their field trips to the Sassafras River. We drove into a preserve that was part forest and part cornfield, hiked down a path to the river and then along the shore to a pond filled with giant lily pads. It was truly something worth seeing.
But, lest you think the site was something never before found by civilization, some boaters had set up a tiki bar and a live rock band on a sand bar nearby.

Dr. Nefarious' plan to take over the world. One of the numerous personalities I adopt in writing prompts, Dr. N. is the world's most evil villain. During the second session, he won the support of the students by promising them an endless supply of cookies, French fries, and soda and each newly recruited minion was assigned a number. (My class even recruited students from other classes to the cause, resulting in kids coming up to me at lunch and in the swimming pool, asking what minion number they could be.)
Of course, this resulted in a writing assignment, an encyclopedia entry about how Dr. Nefarious became ruler of the earth. In my own contribution, a sidebar by Dr. N. himself, he recounts, "And so I have gained control of the entire world without a single shot being fired. Without a single casualty, in fact. Unless, of course, you count my minion army of burping, fat kids."

"...and Other CTY Lunchtime Stories." During one lunch, I overheard one of my fellow instructors saying to a student, "Sheldon, eat the whole banana!" I mentioned it to Amy, my Teaching Assistant, as something that could inspire a writer, much as Agatha Christie was prompted to write the novel Why Didn't They Ask Evans? after hearing someone say it on a bus. Sheldon, Eat the Whole Banana, and Other CTY Lunchtime Stories could become a bestseller.
It became a running gag for us, adding the tag each time we heard someone say something odd or amusing. By the end, it had spread among other members of the staff, to the point where the line was used quite regularly. Now all we need to do is write the book.

The sidewalks and landscaping getting finished the day before we left. As I mentioned in a previous post, the sidewalk in front of our dorms was torn up and was then gradually replaced with brick walkways. In a flurry of activity in the last week, the brickwork was completed and enough flora to stock a nursery or three was planted in front of the buildings.
We never did get to enjoy an evening sitting outside, but it will be interesting when we return next summer to see how much of the foliage has survived.

There was much more, of course -- games of Ultimate Frisbee and poker, kayaking on the Chester River, a game of Word Assassin that seems to still be going on (my co-instructor Lauren seemed to be winning at last report), crab night, magic cookie bars, visits from staffers from prior summers. But, like Brigadoon, CTY 2010 has vanished from sight, living on only in the memories of those who were a part of it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Boys (and Girls) of Summer

In what seems to have been the blink of an eye, we are already into the fourth week of CTY, which, as some of you know, means that the first group of students have been and gone and the second class has just arrived. With an almost instant turnover of students, it is hard the first couple of days to not be looking for a first session student when gathering the class after lunch or a break. Or to be calling one of this session's students by the name of one from last session.

This summer, my perennial teaching partner Lauren and I had separate classes for the first session, but have been reunited to teach a single class for the second. We both used the same syllabus for the first session -- one we collaborated on changing during the past "off-season" -- but each of us chose some different examples and writing exercises to focus on. Now that we are teaching together, we are comparing notes on what each of us did, deciding what worked or didn't, and coming up with a third version of the course. And, of course, we are throwing in new material based on ideas that occurred to us along the way. (This evening I have written a short story using as many cliches as I can, the basis for an exercise on how not to write an entertaining tale.)

The class has evolved every year since we started teaching it in 1993, though there are some things that are always there. CTY kids always ending up glowing green as the result of Ima Server's mishandling of Dr. Wolfgang's jellyfish samples from the Marianas Trench. Walter W. Weebil continues to hawk cole slaw container lids as a fabulous toy. And "Wayward grandfather / Where are you going to now? / Just to the bathroom," a haiku composed by my brother Richie and me during a Father's Day brunch many years ago, remains in my samples of poetry.

But like any piece of writing, the class can always be made a little better with some careful tweaking.


I have on occasion talked about lovely, bucolic Chestertown, Maryland, home to Washington College, our CTY site. I'm sure many of you have heard the old cliche about a town being so small that they roll up the sidewalks at night. Well, that is just what has been happening here this summer.

Since we've arrived here, the college has been systematically removing the sidewalk that runs in front of our dorm buildings and, based on what we have observed, will eventually replace it with a new brick walkway. In the meantime, however, our first two rainless weeks meant that we were walking through a dust bowl that turned us all a light shade of brown. (Those few folks who opened their windows found a fine layer of grit covering everything in their rooms.) We have since had a number of thunderstorms -- including one earlier this evening -- that have turned the entire area into a giant mud puddle.

We are hopeful that this project will be completed sometime before we leave. The area in front of our dorms has always been a social center; staffers traditionally sit outside and chat till all hours of the night. This year, however, the path we have for getting out is barely a wide enough to walk single file and the only socializing takes place when two people have to shimmy past each other.

For now, however, the sidewalks remain rolled up.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

You Could Look It Up

Here's one of the ways technology has changed things.

I'm currently at Washington College in lovely, bucolic Chestertown, Maryland, for my annual summer stint teaching Writing & Imagination in the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth program. This morning at breakfast, one of my students came over and told me that her mother had Googled me and passed along a host of information, presumably from the Wikipedia entry about me.

This prompted one of my fellow instructors, who was sitting with me, to say, "There's a Wikipedia page about you? Did you make it yourself?" When I replied that I had not created the page and that I do not even know who did, she said, "So, are you famous?"

Well, I suppose if having a page in Wikipedia makes one famous, I suppose I am, but my life and career are probably only of interest to comic book fans... and, it would seem, the parents of my writing students. But the option is there for anybody with internet access and, as Casey Stengel would say, "You could look it up."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

In the Swim (or Not)

An article in the Daily News this morning reports that kids in four working class neighborhoods in New York City will not be able to swim in their local city pools this summer. Though some fifty other city pools will be opened, these four -- one each in Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens and Manhattan -- will not be opened due to the budget crunch and this will save the city $800,000.

How much use do the four pools in question get, you may wonder. According to the article, the total number of visitors last year was about 100,000 people and by my rough calculation, that's 1,300 per day. Quite a few sweaty folks on a hot, muggy summer afternoon.

While I'm sure there are those who would suggest that charging admission to cover the costs would be viable, $8 a day per person is a bit steep. So, instead, let me propose another alternative. First, we'll ignore the fact that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the eighth richest person in the world, with a personal fortune of $18 billion, and could foot the bill without blinking an eye.

Let's instead turn to some of the highest-paid people working in the City, the New York Yankees. If just the eight highest-paid members of the team -- Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Texiera, CC Sabathia, Jorge Posada, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera -- kicked in $100,000 each (a drop in the bucket when you consider what they are paid each season), the four pools could be opened.

Imagine the good will they could generate, especially in light of another story in the paper about the outrageous processing and courtesy fees baseball fans paid (on top of the already-exorbitant ticket prices) to attend the games between the Yankees and the Mets this weekend.


The article also reports that city will save another $600,000 by ending the swimming "season" two weeks early, closing the remaining fifty pools on August 22nd. Maybe they've read something in The Farmer's Almanac that leads them to believe otherwise, but in all my years living in the NY Metro area, it's always remained pretty hot right through the end of August and into the Labor Day weekend.

But we won't ask the Yankees to foot that additional cost. There is, after all, another highly-paid team across town and it would only require the six highest-paid Mets to cover it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Eggplant Burgers

I don't think I ever expected to be posting a recipe here, but Laurie and I have invented a tasty treat: The Eggplant Burger.

A week or so ago, we grilled some eggplant on the barbecue while making a steak for dinner. I remarked that the slices of eggplant were much like hamburger patties. That led to a discussion of what it would be like to have them on a hamburger bun. And this is what we came up with...

Peel an eggplant and slice it into 1/2" thick "patties."
Marinate in balsamic vinegar overnight.
Grill the patties over a high heat, flipping them over after two minutes.

Serve on a bun with a slice of mozzarella cheese, a slice of beefsteak tomato, and a fresh basil leaf. (Well, the basil leaf might be hard to find unless you happen to be growing it like we do.)

A splendiferous mingling of flavors for a tasty dinner!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

World Blood Donor Day

Yesterday I got an email from the New York Blood Center:

The World Health Organization has designated June 14th as World Blood Donor Day, "Celebrating the Gift of Blood." World Blood Donor Day celebrates those who donate their blood in order to save lives. This year's theme is "New Blood for the World" focusing on young donors.

New York Blood Center would like to thank both our young and "young at heart" donors on this special day. Please click on the following link to see our special video of thanks:

Remember, each day, New York Blood Center needs close to 2,000 people a day to roll up their sleeves to give the gift of life.Without volunteer donors, such as yourselves, our community would not have an adequate blood supply.

Thank you for being a donor with New York Blood Center.

As I've mentioned in a prior posting, only 2% of the population donates blood. Though there are a number of restrictions on who can donate -- prior and current medical conditions, exposure and potential exposure to a variety of diseases, travel -- there are still a lot more folks who could than do. And there is still no artificial substitute for blood; those who need it -- accident and burn victims, cancer patients, people needing surgery, et al -- rely on "the kindness of strangers" every single day.

You don't have to be as diligent a donor as I am (9+ gallons and more than 160 platelet donations); even a donation or two a year will make a difference. Someday you might be on the receiving end and you would be quite thankful that there were people who took the time to roll up their sleeves.