Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Functionary: A person employed in a bureaucracy who carries out simple functions and has little or no authority

Flunky: An assistant who does menial work; a toady

Flunktionary: A low-level employee in a business or government agency with minimal authority and an over-inflated sense of self-importance

Your company is doing a multi-million dollar project and you have submitted an invoice. Also required are a variety of waivers, affidavits, and forms. In many cases, the first stop for your paperwork is the desk of someone whose job it is to sort through and make sure everything is there, perhaps also distributing parts to various other people or departments. 

On one of the forms, you neglected to put in the date of the invoice or the title of the person who signed it or perhaps the zip code. Logic would dictate that the person who notices it fills it in, perhaps sending you a note saying, "Hey, just a heads up that you forgot to do this."

Flunktionaries do not do that. 
Flunktionaries call or email you and say that you have to redo the forms and resubmit them. (If you try to ignore them, they will bombard you with emails and voice-mail messages asking where the resubmitted forms are.)
Flunktionaries advise you that your invoice will not be processed until the "error" is corrected.
Flunktionaries believe that he or she has every right to do this because they have complete authority over you, the work your company does, and whether or not you will be paid at all. In fact, they have none.

Some people are actually cowed by flunktionaries and do whatever is demanded, further enabling this behavior. 
Others just don't want to be bothered dealing with them, so they redo whatever is necessary, regardless of the waste of time and expense. 
A few will actually confront the flunktionaries and threaten to go to their superiors. This will sometimes get the flunktionary to renege, but there are also times you actually do have to call their boss. But if you are going to call the boss, do it quickly because you can bet the flunktionary will be running down the hall to let the boss know that you are overreacting and that your paperwork really, really, really is incorrect.

Occasionally, you can be successful in your dealings with flunktionaries. More often than not, however, you will just be frustrated by them. Often, you will wish there was some way to send a zap charge through the phone.

Unfortunately, flunktionaries never seem to get fired.
In fact, sometimes they get promoted.
And then you're really flunktioned!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Slice of Life

  A man asked me yesterday if I wanted to buy a power drill.
  I was sitting in my car, waiting outside a supermarket for Laurie and Chuck, when he walked over and asked if I needed one. Last weekend we actually did, as Chuck's got misplaced in the move and he had to buy a new one. Not so any more.
  He walked over to a few others who were also sitting in their cars, but found no buyers.
  Having exhausted his pool of potential purchasers, he came back to me and asked, "Are you sure you don't need a drill?"
  When I assured him that I was, he asked, "Want me to wash your car?"
  This struck me as an odd idea, since there was nothing he could use to do it anywhere that I could see. I smiled and told him no, thanks.

  He told me he'd been down on his luck. That he'd had a job at a nearby condo community for eight and a half years, but when he took ten vacation days off to visit his ailing mother out of state, he came back to find out that a new supervisor had taken over who told him he was no longer needed.
   He said that he was successful in a suit for unlawful termination, but it got him a cash settlement rather than his job back. That money has since run out and his quest for new employment has been fruitless. "My wife is a good woman," he said, "but it's tough. And," he confessed, "I've been drinking, probably too much sometimes."
  And so, here he was, in a supermarket parking lot, trying to sell his drill and offering to do any odd job (like wash my car) to make some money.

  I wish I had the power to create work for people who want jobs but can't get find one, like this man seemed to. Life shouldn't be so tough here in the greatest country in the world. But it is...
  I gave him a couple of dollars and wished him luck. He thanked me and walked off in search of someone who needed a drill.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

San Diego Comic-Con (or Comi-Con)

  USA Weekend has an article titled "The Best of Summer" and it includes the "10 Best Reasons to Go to Comic-Con." Directly under the title, it says "Comi-Con [sic] is July 24-27 in San Diego." We'll ignore the lack of proofreading along with the fact that there are plenty more comic book conventions around the country.
  Among their reasons to attend are the chance to see movie trailers and TV pilots as well as buy exclusive collectibles featuring Star Wars and My Little Pony. Also, you can wear whatever you want (including your homemade superhero costume) and take Instagram-postable pictures of others in costumes. They advise that it is generally okay to say hello to any celebrities you come across, either on the convention floor or at the hotel bar and that even if you don't have tickets to the actual con, there are free events and nightly parties that you can attend. (That last one is important because, if you don't already have tickets, you aren't getting in; they have been sold out for months.)
   Oh, and in case you were wondering, "Frame-worthy art awaits. Pack a sketchbook and visit Artists' Alley, where many folks are happy to draw whatever your heart desires." Hmm, seems to me that most, if not all, of those "many folks" are comic book artists. And comic books are what give Comic-Con its raison d'etre. Or, at least, they did once upon a time.
   These days you would never know. You might think Comic-Con got its name because Don Rickles, Jerry Seinfeld and Joan Rivers used to hang out there. Trying out their new nightclub routines, showing trailers of their new movies and sneak peeks at their TV shows.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Alex Comes for a Stay

Chuck and Rebecca are moving into their new home this weekend, so Alex is staying with us for as couple of days. This evening, he showed "Gappa" how to do a couple of puzzles...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thoughts About Another CTY Summer

  With my twenty-first summer at CTY about to begin, it is interesting to note that I will have a Teaching Assistant this year who was not even born the first time Laurie and I taught the class. In all those years, there has only been one TA who came back for a second year; she also came back for a third and a fourth and a fifth and eventually started teaching the other section of the class. In fact, this year will be the first that she is not with us.
   As for the rest, some of them went on to teach the class at other sites and some went on to teach other CTY courses. And some, well, I don't know where they went.

  Hundreds of boys and girls have sat in my classroom and written a myriad of poems, short stories, and essays. They've solved the mystery of the glowing green kids, designed packages for the Wonderful Weebil, and acted out radio plays starring a group of high school students living on Long Island in 1969.
  Some of these students had a flair for writing and a way with words. Some of the them had lots of ideas but couldn't figure out how to get them out of their heads and down on the paper. And a few of them were there only because their parents decided that their writing was horrible and they needed to make it better.

  What do the students take away? Each year, I tell my classes that I don't expect them to be able to write a best-selling novel or an Oscar-winning screenplay at the end of the three weeks. We experiment with all types of writing and all I ask is that they do their best with each assignment.  I am hopeful that they all leave with some skill they didn't have when they arrived. One lad answered the question about the most important thing he learned by simply saying, "You must try."

   I also start each session by telling them that writing is not a punishment or a waste of time, despite how some teachers might make it seem. I had a math teacher in high school who assigned, as homework over the Christmas vacation, a report on non-Euclidean geometry. It had to be ten or more typewritten pages. He did this every year, apparently. But he never graded them and never gave them back; we doubted that he even read them. Why, then, give such an assignment? Did he have a grudge against the English and Social Studies teachers, whose job it was to give us writing assignments? Surely, no English teacher ever assigned 1,000 math calculations as vacation homework.
   Yes, they will have to write reports and those dreaded five-paragraph essays throughout their educational careers. but if they start out with a positive attitude about writing, they'll do much better jobs.

   The first class arrives in ten days. And we begin anew...

An Evening in a College Class

  "You have two hours to complete the assignment. If you finish early, work on your presentation for the next class; you may not leave until the end of the period."

   I spent two hours last evening in a college classroom, watching as ten students did a writing assignment. To their credit, all of them spent at least some of the time pounding away on the keyboards.
  The first to arrive in the class dove into the assignment, asked a couple of pertinent questions, and was also the first to finish. He then used the rest of the time period to do research for the next assignment, even printing out some information he needed for it.
   Another student spent a good ten minutes asking other students what he was supposed to do, apparently having decided that I know nothing and am just sitting here to make sure they don't steal the computers. He also then interrupted others by telling them what he was going to write and asking what they thought of it.
   One, who appeared to have finished his work early but did not turn it in, then  sat at the computer checking his email. He was also chatting with another who had finished and turned in her assignment.
  At different times, three of them left the room, ostensibly to use the rest room. I guess they didn't think I could see them pulling out their cell phones as they went out the door.
   One of them left and went to a vending machine somewhere. He came back with some chips and a beverage which I hoped did not constitute his dinner. Unfortunately, it probably did.
   Two of them, neither of whom appeared to be finished, were high-fiving each other, presumably on their jobs well done.
  It occurred to me as the second hour was winding down that the ones who appeared finished but hadn't turned in the work were stalling in case I was going to point out that they could be working on another assignment.
  And when the two hours were up, four of them were still not finished, though three of them wrapped up in a minute or two. The last one asked for five more minutes; he actually needed seven. And then he had to reprint his assignment because he realized he left something out.

Friday, June 13, 2014

All For Naught

  I was reminded this morning of my days on the freshman football team at Elmont Memorial High School way back in the fall of 1965.
  We were an interesting bunch.
  We did not win any games, but we are probably not the only team in the school's history to boast that "accomplishment."
  We also did not score a single point all season and that probably is a school record.
  However, despite never recording a touchdown, a field goal or a safety, our record was 0-5-1.
  Indeed, our most noteworthy achievement was holding New Hyde Park just as scoreless as we were and ending in a 0-0 tie. We were so excited to have not lost that we celebrated in the locker room afterwards and pushed the coach in the showers. (We had no Gatorade to pour on his head.)

  We lost our starting quarterback to a broken collarbone very early in the season.
  We lost our backup quarterback to a broken collarbone a week later.
   I believe that the mother of our third-string quarterback made him quit the team before he had the chance to play in a game.

  We did actually score a touchdown in one of the games. It was nullified by a penalty for having an ineligible receiver because our center had somehow managed to charge down field well ahead of the player who caught what would have been the scoring pass.

  One of our fullbacks tripped over the white line during a running play that would have resulted in a substantial gain. There was no one near him -- from our team or our opponent --and he just fell over.

  I played right tackle. The coach had wanted to put me in the backfield, but I was playing without my glasses; if I was down field, it was unlikely I would be able to see the ball being passed.
  It was just as well. I was one of the few on the team who could remember the plays. We would line up and I would often have to tell the right guard and the center who they were supposed to block.
  More than once, I had to tell the right end what pattern he was going to run. One time, I actually drew the pattern in the dirt. The opposing player watching this must have figured we were trying to decoy him because our guy ran the pattern and caught the pass with no one around him.

  The coach erroneously believed that we would get better with more practice and so we were often out on the field well after dark. Such was the case on November 9th.
  He was running a drill where he would yell "Drop" and we would have to drop on our stomachs, then "Up" and we'd have to jump back to our feet.
  Well, he yelled "Drop," we did, and then we looked up to see that all the lights had gone out! On the field. In the school. All around us, for as far as we could see. And they didn't come back on.
  It was the Northeast Blackout of 1965.
  So here we are, in our sweaty. dirty uniforms and pads. The locker room was pitch dark.
  The coach drove his car as close to the building as he could get, turned the headlights on, and was able to get a bit of reflected light through the windows.  Those of us with lockers facing the window were able to see enough to dial the combinations on our lockers and get them open. Those with lockers facing the other way -- not so lucky.
  About a third of the team walked home in full uniform and cleats.

  If this was a movie, the members of the Winless Wonders would go on to have a perfect season when they reached the varsity team in 1968. Not quite... but our senior year record was 6-2, good enough for a tie for first place in the division.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Notes on This and That

Last month, five teenagers ranging in age from 14 to 18 were killed in Farmingdale when the car they were in crossed into oncoming traffic and slammed into an SUV. There is no question that the car was travelling at well above the speed limit; they were drag racing, according to an unnamed person who said he had been in the car they were racing with. Four of the teens were pronounced dead at the scene. The fifth died the next day in the hospital.
There was plenty of media coverage in the days that followed: Platitudes from school and town officials. Speculation that the teens had been drinking or smoking pot before getting into the car. A comment from the father of the driver that his son was not that good behind the wheel. Perhaps the most ridiculous comment was from someone who lives near the crash site who opined that the road itself was the reason for the crash, that the lack of a traffic light on the stretch of road invites people to drive at ridiculously high speeds.
A month later, the story has long since vanished from the news. Apparently, no word was ever released about the identities of the two people in the SUV, both of whom were seriously injured, except that they were from Maryland. Nothing to confirm or deny whether the teens had been under the influence or even any official word that they were indeed drag racing.
At the scene of the accident, there are now portable signs with sensors that tell you what speed you are going. Though I'm sure they are intended to make drivers aware that they are speeding, one could argue that they would also encourage future drag racers to step on the gas.
Instead of these signs, how about a billboard with pictures of the five kids with the caption "Speeding Kills!"


There's a group in Texas who have been bringing their rifles and shotguns with them into places like Taco Bell and Chipolte's. These gun-toting folks apparently are doing this because they want the "open carry" law that allows them to do so to be expanded to include handguns. They don't seem to care whether or not they are scaring the other patrons of these eateries by brandishing weapons while ordering a breakfast burrito.
In light of all the news stories recently about mass shootings in schools, malls and parking lots, how long will it be before someone decides that one of these gun-toters is actually a wild-eyed maniac about to start a killing spree, pulls his (or her) own weapon, and starts a gunfight?


Some months back, I wrote about the company that was offering a bag of nickels as "rarely seen gov't issued coins" for $29.
Since then, I've seen ads for bags of "wheat coins," including a photo of the bags of them surrounded by armed guards like they were gold bricks at Fort Knox.
These "wheat coins" are pennies issued between 1909 and 1959, after which the back was changed to show the Lincoln Memorial. While there are a very few that are worth some bucks -- and the folks selling these would love you to believe that the bag you buy will be filled with them -- most are worth one cent.
Once again, caveat emptor!

Follow Me

One of the things I tell my CTY writing classes each summer is that if they want to become better writers they need to write. Every day.

These are the same words of advice given to anyone who has a blog and wants people to follow it. You have to write. If not every day, at least often enough to bring readers back on a regular basis.

A blogger might then have to consider, why am I doing this? Do I have a product to sell and blogging will entice readers into buying it? Do I have opinions that I think people want to hear? Do I have information about a topic that should be available for people who want to know? Do I want to share what's going on in my life with family and friends? Or do I just like to blather on and hope someone is paying attention?

Looking back over the three hundred-plus entries I've written in the past five years, I guess I have entries that fall into all those categories.

Yes, I have something to sell, though I rarely do anything to advertise. There's my novel The Junkyards of Memory about a man who goes in search of his high school friends and discovers that the "good old days" weren't quite what he remembered. There's my "alternate-Earth" version of the comic book industry The Secret History of AA Comics in which M.C. Gaines buys out his DC Comics partners instead of the other way around. And there's The Answer Man's Book of Trivia Quizzes which includes 101 themed quizzes from the days of my AOL chatroom, hundreds of "Fun Facts to Know & Tell" and reminiscences about my career in the comic book business. (All three books are available at as well as the links to End of sales pitch.


I've shared my opinions on a variety of topics and I've provided some insight into the comic book business as well. And I don't think anyone would argue about how happy and excited I am to be a grandparent, given the number of Alex updates there have been. As for blathering, there's been a bit of that too.

That said, I don't know who is out there reading this, but thanks for stopping by.

Monday, June 2, 2014

More Alex Adventures

Here's Alex happily modeling his new Crocs with Aunt Sammi...

And here he is high-fiving the crowd at the Princeton Reunions P-rade...