Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Burger Time

For as far back as I can remember, I've always been very fond of cheeseburgers - that American classic.

It was a standard staple on the weekly dinner menu at our house when I was a kid. Every Wednesday we would have burgers. My mother was very routine oriented for most of the week (since she worked outside the home, she had to plan out meals that could either be put together ahead of time or could be put together quickly). I guess that's where I got a lot of my own routine approach to things. Now, my mom's burgers were okay but not something I really loved. I think it was how she put them together (being Italian she mixed the meat with egg and other stuff that gave it a different taste).

No, I think my love for burgers came on those rare occasions we ate out. As a kid in the 70's, we maybe got McDonald's a couple times a year - usually during the summer for dinner on a night my parents were going out. We also would go out to the country club as a family once a month during the winter, usually on a Friday night. While everyone was having fish fry, I would savor the cheeseburger and steak fries they served. Of course, this always was a point of contention during Lent. I was a little Catholic rebel then. My take was this: show me exactly in the Bible where it said I had to not eat meat on Fridays and I wouldn't do it. Guess who won? Yeah, I got to savor those wonderful burgers.

Burgers became more of a diet staple for me during college. On nights that I didn't like the main entree selection, I could always go to the grill line and get a burger. That usually happened a couple nights a week. And for the few years after college when I was single, grabbing a burger here are there was a quick and easy option as opposed to cooking for one. Time of day didn't matter. Some of the best burgers were at 2am, gotten from the late night drive-thru window at Hardee's after a night out at the clubs.

When my wife was pregnant with our son, she couldn't stand the smell of food cooking in the house. So, I had to run out and get take-out a lot during that period. For some reason, milkshakes from Hardee's and cheeseburgers from McDonald's seemed to keep her stomach from revolting too much. That was the summer of the third Batman movie (the one with Jim Carey as the Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face). Since I was running to the arches every night, I was eating quite a few of these triple patty sandwiches they were selling for the film tie-in. Yeah, I think that's where I gained all my sympathy-pregnancy-weight.

On the whole McDonald's vs. Burger King debate, I'm going with Ronald and company. I just love a Quarter Pounder with cheese, and Micky D's fries are simply the best. I never really got into BK's flame-broiled taste; if it is my only choice then I'll settle - but I'd chose a non-burger place to eat first.

I try to watch how often I have burgers now that I'm over 40. When they went in for my heart surgery a few years back, they let me know I didn't have any build up to be cleaned up. So, I figure why make more trouble, right? Still, a really good burger every now and again is always a welcome treat.

Like Jimmy Buffett sings: I like mine with lettuce and tomato. I'll throw on onion, pickles and some mayo. Definitely paradise.

Other burger favorite places I haven't mentioned yet: Wendy's (love that square patty), In-And-Out Burger (when I'm in southern California), build your own burger places like Fat Daddy's and Fuddrucker's, Raleigh's famous Char-Grill (a must-eat stop every time we're in our old stomping grounds), Five Guys Famous Burgers (we had some in Kill Devil Hills, NC, on our vacation earlier this summer - they have franchises all up and down the East Coast), Backyard Burger (another chain) and BT's Burger Joint (a local Hickory place that just opened up).

Hmm, I think I'll get a burger tonight for dinner. Mmmmmm.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Rant: Would It Kill Them To Flush?

Okay, time for me to vent again. I'm so happy I now have a blog with which I can do so.

Sometimes, when you're out and about (at work, at the grocery store, at a restaurant, at the mall), nature calls unexpectedly and you need to use a public restroom. There is nothing worse than stepping into a vacant stall and finding out the person who last used it prior to you hasn't flushed. Notice, I left gas stations off the list because it is a rare thing that one will ever find a gas station restroom that they'll willingly use unless it is a dire emergency; hoping to find a clean stall in one of those is just asking way too much.

Now, I get that a lot of places have gone to those auto-sensor flushing toilets. You know the kind: those direct out of the Jetsons things with the little red sensors that if you move the wrong way can act like a bidet. They're really cool and great for the user to avoid having to touch one more place for germs. I like them (as long as they work and you don't have to push that little manual button when the sensor doesn't trigger - I seem to have an innate talent of finding the ones where the sensors aren't the most reliable).

But, a lot of places don't have these newer toilets. Believe me, I understand the older toilets. My grandfather was a plumber and ran his own plumbing company. The store and the warehouse had a lot of toilets - and this was back in the 70's when they were built to last. Because most places still have older toilets this is why I'm complaining.

Joe Slob needs to pay attention to his surroundings, take a look when he stands up (if he didn't look before he sat down) and realize he needs to push the button/handle/whatever and make his waste do a disappearing act. Don't leave it there for the masses to admire, moron. You aren't five years old any longer; nobody is gonna reward you for making a poopy. Flush the dang toilet!

Oh, and while I'm on this subject (like you don't want me returning to it again in the future), maybe some of these guys are listening too much to the females in their lives about putting the seat down. If you're using the stall and standing to take a leak either a) lift the seat first, b) put some concentrated effort into aiming (you've got a whole big bowl to hit there, cowboy - unlike basketball, rim shots don't count!) or c) wipe the seat when you're done.

Remember the golden rule: do unto others as you'd wish they do unto you. That and what your kindergarten teacher probably tried to school you on too: leave things in the same condition, or better, than when you found them. This simple act can go a long way, my friend, to the betterment of mankind.

I know I'd be much happier if I didn't have to run across this situation at least once a week.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

I Wanna Rock!

Last week, the latest release in a Playstation 2 game franchise that we enjoy in our household came out. Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the 80's is the third installment in the Guitar Hero line. It takes the same game engine from Guitar Hero II, alters some of the character designs and settings, and drops in a new soundtrack featuring all tunes from the 1980's.

My son and I got into this game last Fall. We had constantly been seeing folks playing the demo version at the local Best Buy, usually with a crowd of folks around them. The player uses an actual-size guitar shaped controller (with a strap to hang it properly over your shoulder) with five color coded buttons, a strum bar and a whammy bar. The concept is that you play the various notes (combos of buttons with a strum) as they cross the line on the scrolling fret bar. The game has various levels of play from easy (only three colors for notes that move rather slowly) to expert (all five colors for notes in various combos and a rather rapid scrolling pace). Hit the notes right, your score and crowd meter goes up. Miss notes and crowd gets upset. Miss too many and you're booed off the stage.

At first, I was hesitant about getting the game because it really requires two hand coordination to play. My son has a birth injury (brachial plexus) which included nerve damage in his right arm and hand. He's had corrective surgery over the years to help improve things some, but his usage of that hand is still limited. What amazes me is that he is actually better at this game than I am! I don't know how he does it, but he is able to play full songs on Hard while I'm lucky if I can get through 15% of the first song on the first difficulty tier on Hard. I actually think, in some way, that playing this type of game with such complex controls can actually be a kind of therapy for him. I am really thankful he excells at it. It is always encouraging for him to have something he can do better than someone with two good hands.

One of the coolest parts of the game is the rock n' roll soundtrack. The first game had cuts from Joan Jett, the Ramones, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Boston, Judas Priest, ZZ Top, Queen, David Bowie, and more. 30 classic tracks in all. Then there were another 17 songs you could unlock by some indie bands. The second game added in another 40 licensed tracks from Motley Crue, Cheap Trick, Spinal Tap, Kiss, Nirvana, the Police, Van Halen, Kansas, the Pretenders, the Rolling Stones, Guns N' Roses, Aerosmith, Heart, Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" (the ultimate rock song!) and many more. And it also included another unlockable 26 independent tracks. The most recent release is a bit skimpy on tracks - only 30 licensed tracks and no bonus tunes. The classics include songs by Quiet Riot, the Go-Go's, A Flock of Seagulls, Skid Row, Scorpions, Asia, the Vapors, .38 Special, Scandal, Twisted Sister, Ratt, Oingo Boingo, Poison and more. I can tell you that my son has gotten a better appreciation for the "older" music from the game. He'll ask me to put tracks on his MP3 player for some of the songs. I guess I don't have to worry about him complaining about "old fogey music".

I can't begin to tell you how quickly the time flies when we're playing this. My son and I take turns doing a set of songs, or sometimes we'll play in cooperative mode or head-to-head. Even my wife has succumbed to the game's siren song and tried a few tracks on easy. It is a lot of fun, especially when you have a lot of people around. I actually stand when I play, totally getting into the moment and moving to the music.

I look forward to having a few months to master these tunes. Then, just when we're getting a little tired of it, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock is slated for an October 2007 release. Rock on!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Weighing In

According to what I've found on the Internet, the ideal weight for a man of my height (5'10") is 166lbs (falling in the range of 132lbs to 173lbs). Now, I'm currently sitting at 192 which, according to another chart I've found, puts me approximately in the 60th percentile or so for other men around my age (meaning, populationwise, a lot of us have a lot of work to do!).
One of my friends quoted something that was mentioned on Oprah recently: that if you take your height in inches and divide by two that is the waist size you should be shooting for. So, for me 5'10" is 70 inches - divide by two and I get 35. Okay, I feel a bit better. I wear 36 inch waist pants. Not so bad, really. I know I'm not too far off the market either. My recent BMI (body mass index) number was 28.1 - and the goal for someone my age/height is 25 or under. So, I guess this all puts me as slightly overweight.

I'm pretty good about my caloric intake. Sure, I'll spluge once in awhile - a super-sized meal here or a desert there - but I'm usually pretty good. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, so I'm safe there. I do like chips though, so I really need to focus more on ones with less fat (and, of course, have them occasionally - all in moderation). No, my big problem is my sedentary lifestyle.

It wasn't always this way for me. All through high school and college I weighed 130lbs with a 32 inch waist. I walked a lot back then. From the age of seven through eighteen, I walked a mile home from school every day. During the summer, I biked and swam, and as I got into my teens walked an eighteen-hole round of golf most weekdays. I ran cross-country in the fall and tracks in the spring (the two-mile) during the early part of my high school career. In college, I know I walked the quarter-mile between the dorms and the class buildings at least four times a day (if not more). And I'd usually go out dancing a few nights a week to boot.

It all really switched gears when I started to work full-time. As a programmer, I sit eight to ten hours a day in front of a computer screen. The first few years I was still going out dancing, but that bit stopped once I met my wife and got married in 1990. By the time I hit 30, two things happened: my metabolism finally started to slow down and my wife got pregnant. Now, during those nine months, I ate a lot of fast food - in part because the smell of food cooking didn't agree with her (she had morning sickness all day for six months). That probably didn't help. When my son started on solid foods and such, I probably did what a lot of father's did - cleaned up the scraps left on his plate that he didn't eat. So, really, poor eating habits since 1995 are part of the problem.

In any case, I know I need to make some changes. Going from regular soda down to a zero calorie will help (for my one can a day that I have). Switching to whole grain bread will too. Eating more fruit and veggies and drinking water can't hurt. And I need to exercise more too. Weekends aren't too much a problem fitting it in; my key is going to be fitting in twenty to thirty minutes Monday through Friday. If I can do that, I can try to reverse a bit the upward trend from the last twelve or so years. I'd definitely be much happier being closer to 175 than being spitting distance from 200.

Oh, and just to note something amusing: there was a story Thursday about a study from Harvard Medical School and the University of California-San Diego regarding obesity being a sort of socially-contagious 'disease'. related news story

Does that mean I can blame my friends and family for the shape I'm in? Nah. Gotta take the responsibility myself. Can't blame a guy for trying though.

Friday, July 27, 2007

SDCC - Wish I Was There

Yesterday marked the opening day of the annual Comic-Con International in San Diego. This four-day event brings together people from all over the country and world that share common interests in comics, animation, science fiction, fantasy, film and television. Last year's attendance was over 125,000 people, a long way from the 300 who attended the first one back in 1970. I've been lucky enough to go to the Con a few times over the years.

My first time was in 1999 when a number of friends I knew for years from the Clobberin' Times APA managed to convince me that I needed to join them for the show (they were celebrating ten years of hitting the Con which is where the APA idea came together in 1989). I had been to San Diego once before (with my wife in 1991) but this was a totally different vacation. Even though I was spending four days in the downtown area by the convention center, the time seemed to fly. Between panel discussions, scouring the many aisles of the exhibit hall, meeting comic creators to get autographs or sketches, and just people-watching (so many folks come in costumes), it seemed like a challenge to take everything in that I wanted to. But I gave it my best effort.

I bonded so well with my friends that first trip that they left me an open invitation to stay with them at their apartment for future Cons. I first took them up on that offer in 2001 when I came back for the show. That year I even volunteered to run one of the group's annual Champions gaming sessions which was loads of fun. I came back again for the show in 2002 and 2003 as well. These trips were very much a recharge time for me as well. It was a chance to step away from the daily routine and just go with the flow. This was time to just hang with the guys, fellow hobby enthusiasts with whom I had a lot in common. We've read the same books, knew the same character histories, could quote the same lines from movies. It was our geek-time. And sure, we had our traditions: a lunch at Hooters, a meal at Kansas City Barbeque, a film the day before the show ramped up at Horton Plaza, a meal at Dick's Last Resort, one or two evenings of Champions gaming, etc. Great times.

Last year, we did things up a bit differently. With a new job and less vacation than before, my wife and I decided to make a family trip out of Con week. So, while my wife was able to leisurely site-see in the town she was born in, I was able to take my ten year old son to the show (he had been asking for years so I finally got to have him come along). This really was a different way to enjoy the show: experiencing it all through his eyes. He was blown away by the various video-game presenters (we spent a good bit of time at the demo booth trying upcoming games). I enjoyed watching him try his hand at the various collectible-card-game challenges. We both enjoyed a number of panels dealing with animation and voice talents of shows we watched together. And we scoured the ever-growing number of aisles on the exhibit floor to find just the right stuff we wanted to spend money on. Sure, I did get to hang with the guys some and I managed to fit in a few of the traditions (all our favorite eating places) between family time activities like a tour of the San Diego Harbor and the US Naval ship.

This year's show seems to have already sold out, especially for Saturday, in advance. That means huge crowds again. Maybe a bit too crowded, at least for my taste. You really couldn't move around the floor well during the weekend last year, and many of the popular panels had huge lines that required arriving in advance and waiting in order to get a seat. I know that only some of the gang is making the show this year, due to other committments and such. Still, I'll get the low-down from Mike in his wonderful narrative style, and I have some friends scouting out freebie items from the exhibit floor I'm interested in (man, sorting through the freebie bag at the end of the show is always fun - I still have a lot of stuff left from last year on top my filing cabinet). I can hit sites like Newsarama to get the high-lights of some of the key panels as well. So, I'll get a taste of the Con even though I'm thousands of miles away. Still, I wish I was there. Maybe in 2009; I can't go next summer as that's tagged for going back North to where I grew up for my 25th high school reunion.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

CBS Should Walk The Plank

Aaaaargh! First FOX did it with Drive, and now CBS has gone and pulled Pirate Master before its run finished. Yes, they are going to offer the last five episodes on their website, but come on! This was a summer reality show - it isn't supposed to to great in ratings. And, sure, it was Mark Burnett taking his Survivor formula and trying to map it to a buccanneer theme in hopes of cashing in on the Pirates of the Caribbean bandwagon but still. The contestants were okay - a few you'd love, a few you'd hate and a few you'd go "who is that again?". The challenges were a bit repetitive (row the boat, run into the jungle, find this item, run into the jungle again, find that item, run some more and dig) and the rules regarding eviction in Pirates' Court were sometimes confusing (just how does the mutiny work again?) but still. It was a mindless reality show. Do the few fans it had a favor and let it run it's course.

Well, I refuse to waste my time trying to watch it off the website. That should be used only if one missed a show - like if the power was out and the DVR didn't record it. That shouldn't be the only way to catch it. If that's the way CBS wants to play, fine. No more taking risks on new shows on their network for me. I'll stick to my Monday comedies and that's it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Caught 'Em All

I'm a collector - books, comics, CDs, DVDs, trading cards. I always have been, for as far back as I remember. Perhaps it's the thrill of the 'hunt' or the feeling of satisfaction of having a complete set of something, all neat and everyone in their proper place.

After over 220 hours over the past three months, I can finally say I caught 'em all. What I am I talking about? Just the 490 different Pokemon in the most recent games in the Pokemon series - Diamond and Pearl. From Abomasnow to Zubat, my National Pokedex is complete.
My son and I have been active Pokemon fanatics since I first introduced him to the tv series in early 2000. This was before we had any games or before the phenomenom really hit full-tilt where we lived. At the start, it was just about this kid Ash who was travelling about, making friends, helping others and getting into battles with his funny little creatures. And the stories even had some moral lessons hidden into the mix so it wasn't so bad viewing. While my son connected to Ash, I really enjoyed the comic antics of the ever-present troublemakers - Jesse and James of Team Rocket.

It really didn't extend beyond the show until I gave my son my old Gameboy Color when I got a Gameboy Advance in the Fall of 2000. My son started us off with Pokemon Blue, the Americanized version of the popular Japanese game. We quickly found many of the elements from the cartoon show came directly from the game (big surprise - not; most of these cartoon shows these days are product tie-ins to other things). When a version called Pokemon Yellow came out, I decided to get that one for myself to play That introduced us to the first 150.

Every few years after that, new versions popped up for the game to expand the world. Pokemon versions Gold and Silver came next, adding another 100 to the mix. This worked out well: I got one version while my son got the other. And since you needed to cooperatively trade with others, it worked out well to have it all in one house hold. Next came versions Ruby and Sapphire. Again, more characters were introduced into the game and again the whole cooperative factor. Because these newer games only came for the Gameboy Advance, my son got to upgrade his system a bit. A few years back, they rereleased the original games with improved graphics and color for the Advance system in the forms of Leaf Green and Fire Red versions. Again, two way split. Tie-in games like Pokemon Collesseum and Pokemon XD for the Gamecube allowed by son to get his game fix in a more three-dimensional form, while the Pokebox software allowed for transferal of characters from the Gameboy games into the Gamecube games, and vice versa.

All of it came to a head this Spring. First came Diamond and Pearl for the Nintendo DS system. This most recent version took the same classic concepts but allowed for players to get all the monsters from all the games - all 490. First one had to complete the first 150 listed in the regional Pokedex, and then the list expanded out to all from all the various games together in the National Pokedex. The catch: you really needed the former games to get some of them. This required breeding of eggs, transferring from other games through the DS cartridge port, etc. It was a lot of work. Some of the hard to get ones required even using the Global Trading Station, a way in the game to use an Internet connection to trade with folks around the world. My son got one Pokemon from someone in Japan, then bred it to make an egg so I could have this hard to get one in my game too. I even did a trade on the GTS for one, with someone from Colorado.
And that's one thing I really liked about these games: the cooperative aspects. It wasn't just about beating down some monsters or leveling up or solving puzzles. It promoted teamwork. Being an only child, my son often looks to my wife and I to share some of his interests. This is one I could share with him readily; my wife's eyes glaze over every time he and I get so deep into discussions about Raichu, Feebas, Chimchar and the like (she says it's like we're speaking our own language at the time - when in some ways it is).

The other thing I liked is that when my son was first starting out it was a good way to encourage him to read more things. The game has text aspects to it - so you often have to pay attention to what the people you encounter are saying. It was a nice way to get him to do something he typically didn't like to do often. Also, through these games, my son realizes the importance of studying up and memorization. I can ask him what level a Krabby evolves into a Kingler or what fossil a Cranidos comes from, and he knows. I figure if he can memorize all this stuff, he shouldn't have any problems in school down the road.

So, having caught 'em all, I feel that little weight lifted off my shoulders. I can put this game aside for awhile, focus on other things, and still have that satisfied feeling of a job completed. Until the next game comes out, at least.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Knowing When To Move On

A hobby, by definition, is an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation. In short, something fun. When does it stop being a hobby? When it starts to become a chore or when it starts to turn into something stressful and unfun.

In November of 2000 I discovered a Yahoo Group devoted to DC Comics fanfiction. The club was part of a group that made up the Five Earths Project. The idea was that the pivotal ending of the 1987 Crisis On Infinite Earths mini series was changed so that the five parallel Earths remained seperate rather than merging into a single continuity. The clubs would carry on tales of each of those worlds from that point on, ignoring changes DC Comics put into their books from 1988 on. After spending a few months reading all of the stories to date (over 100) in one of the clubs and documenting the tales into a database (so I knew exactly what had come before and so I wouldn't contradict anything previously done), I then set about participating in the group as a writer. I wrote my first story for the group in March 2001 and I was off and running.

I started off with one on-going series, a hero team title called Titans West. I then added in a second on-going, this time with the Secret Society of Super-Villains. In between those two, I'd sprinkle in one-shot stories of Superman, Batman, the Justice League, Wonder Woman, Flash and whoever else in the Earth-1 pantheon that caught my fancy. Around Halloween I even tried my hand at some supernatural and horror tales. I eventually would add a third on-going into the mix - Dial H For Hero, which dealt with a new owner of a strange dial that created new super-hero identities on each spin.

About a year into my active time, the person who was doing all the story archiving (formatting completed pages into HTML and posting the onto a website) was finding himself seriously overbooked between school, his personal life and the clubs. I offered to take over the archiving duties for the one club I wrote nearly exclusively on. I then set about to do the updates on a timely basis (once every two months or so - or when we had twenty five to thirty stories ready to go). Considering at this point I was now contributing a story a week (four a month), it was in my best interest to see the archiving continue so that my work and everyone else's made it onto the final website. Now, this was hard work - it would take me a half hour or more to prep stories and get them formatted. Sometimes that required extensive spell and grammar checking. But I was into it so I dealt with the extra work as I continued to write.

Late December of 2003, I was burning out fast. The archiving was getting to be a lot - especially after we did an epic, multi-writer event during that summer and fall. By this point, I had contributed over 130 stories to the club - some even done in collaboration with other writers. I had sort of exhausted through most of the ideas in my idea pile, even though more would come over time. So, I stepped back from my writing activities on the group in early 2004 but I still kept reading and offering comments to my fellow writers as they had for me over the years. The story flow for the entire group in general began to slow up a bit at that point. I did another couple archive updates in 2004, but by September of that year I felt done in on that too. I did my last archive update and announced that someone else would need to pick up the task.

I really should have gotten out entirely then, but I kept around as I was one of the moderators in some of the clubs. I was still enjoying the occasional tales from friends of mine. I also wanted to offer guidance and such to new writers who had come on board - in part because I remembered how hard it was when I started out. Our clubs had sort of stricter guidelines than most fanfiction sites. It wasn't just open for anything and everything. We had a shared continuity, which meant anything writer A did could have ramifications on writer B who might be using the characters down the road. The group was harmonious for most of the time I was there, but there were the occasional boat-rockers. We seemed to get one every couple years but eventually they would figure things out and move on because the fit wasn't right. Well, in 2006 we got another one and this one just kept butting heads with everyone, trying to shoe-horn in her ideas that didn't always fit.

The most recent arguments stemming from her stories was the last straw for me. It was causing too many of us friends to side against one another, and feelings were getting hurt by the heated discussions. I knew it was time to opt out entirely - to walk away from the groups. This morning, I removed myself from the moderator role. The next step will be leave the group membership entirely. I just realized that the hobby was no longer relaxing and fun for me.

The stories I did for the group can be accessed off of this page - my DC fanfiction if you're interested in some of my work from this period. I really had fun with these classic characters. It was almost like fulfilling that dream, in part, I had as a kid: to be a writer for DC Comics. They are characters who have been with me for a large part of my life, so being able to breathe some life into them myself for a short time was a true delight.

This isn't to say I'm done with writing - far from it! In fact, when I stopped writing for the group in late 2003, that is when I decided to focus once more on my own personal writing with characters fully my own creations. Those are outlined on my website the World of Maenza

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ghost From The Past

Last Wednesday I was able to pick up something I've been looking forward to for months - a book called Harvey Comics Classics volume 1: Casper the Friendly Ghost. This 480 page softcover book includes a cross section of comic stories starring Casper and his friends from the 1950's through 1966, most of the book being in crisp, clean black and white while two sections include restored color pages that really give a feel for those classic newsprint pages of yesteryear.

This weekend I had a chance to read through the book. It's a pretty quick read, especially for an adult who grew up on this stuff. Quite a few of the earliest comic stories are in fact adaptions from the old Paramount Casper cartoons that used to rerun on television. Reading those tales immediately brought back to mind those animated gems from the early days of cartoons. All the classic characters are there: Casper and his friendly ghost steed Nightmare, his best friend in the world Wendy the Good Little Witch, his rowdy buddy Spooky, and the Ghostly Trio, his housemates and constant source of conflict. It was really nice to see the evolution of the artwork as the characters developed into those I fondly remember.

The book instantly took back to the early 1970's. I recalled fondly spending summer afternoons on the back porch of my across-the-street friend Jeanie, reading and trading the latest Harveys, Archies and Gold Keys with her. This was the period of time right between the start of reading for fun and before moving onto super-hero themed comics. The times, like the stories in this collection, were about simpler things: carefree play, helping others solve problems, and laughing at a good pun or play on words. Sometimes in this hurry up crazy world of the 21st Century we lose sight of those things. It was nice to be able to sit back and remember those things again.
The beautiful thing about this collection is that the stories and characters are timeless. Small kids of today could enjoy these tales just kids of my generation did back in the day. I would highly recommend this book.

And, it appears that the publisher, Dark Horse Comics, plans to continue the line. Coming this Fall is volume 2 of the collection featuring Richie Rich, the Poor Little Rich Boy. I can't wait! Maybe if the line continues to sell we might see some of the other characters from the Harvey Comics line in books too: Little Audrey, Little Dot, Hot Stuff, Baby Huey, Sad Sack, etc. One can only hope.

If you're interested in buying the book, check your local book stores in the section they have graphic novels or humor books. Or, if you want, here is one online source:

Amazon listing for the book

Sunday, July 22, 2007

My Cave

Last week I discussed how I've always been a geek and how my wife has always been accommodating towards that. I've always had a place in our home for my hobby stuff - usually some place we could close the door so I didn't have to keep things as orderly as my wife would like (okay, and yes, to hide the geek factor).

In our first house, I had the spare bedroom for my stuff - bookcases and my desk, and the closet to store the comic boxes. That lasted until my son was born - then it became his room. Some of my stuff rolled to the guest room closet while others got packed away. Very inconvenient. All that lifting of long boxes to get to the ones on the bottom wasn't fun either.

In our second house, I had the bonus room over the garage end of the house. There I had plenty of space, even for a large widescreen TV. It also had a huge walk-in closet to store my many comic long boxes and such. Okay, maybe closet is misleading. This was more like the size of my bedroom growing up as a kid! Plenty of space. Sure, I had to share half of it for other storage, but it made it much easier to access my comic collection, my other hobby stuff, etc. I really liked that space a lot!

Two years ago, we had to relocate for my change in jobs. So, when we were house hunting, my primary criteria was again what little space would I be able to carve out for my own. We managed to find something that would meet my needs as well as what my wife had in mind for the rest of the living space. In our current house, I have a nice 'cave' in the basement for my stuff (a room with no windows). It is about ten feet wide by fifteen feet deep with an open archway on one wall to the bottom of the steps (on the other side of the steps is a door that leads to the rest of the basement). There is a large florescent light in the ceiling to give the room proper illumination. Because the room is completely underground, it stays very cool all year round. This room is solely my own and I am able to decorate things however I like.

Stepping inside, immediately on the right is my computer desk and chair. This is where my laptop computer and scanner. The two filing cabinets, covered with all-new Wacky Pacakge stickers turned into magnets, are the home for the many volumes of APA's (amateur press association) I've been involved with over the year. In the drawers are also folders full of stories and art and such that I work on.

There is a recliner chair as well with a tall lamp nearby, for a relaxing place to put my feet up and read. And there is plenty of reading material all about the room. The six bookcases are full of paperback novels, other reference books, comic reprint volumes, and gaming binders. There are also various stands full of DVDs and CDs.

Atop one bookcase are various glasses, all souveniers from the years I was in Student Orientation Service (SOS) during college. Above those on the wall are the framed group photos of the SOS committees from each year, intersperced with the awards I was given at a couple of the year-end banquets.

Atop another bookcase is a statue of Superman, done in the animated series style. My wife and son got that for me for Christmas at the Warner Brothers store many years back. Next to that is a Superman themed cookie jar and a whisky container in the shape of Ben Franklin; this later item came from my grandfather's brother's house. Also there is a ceramic Goofy that my father's sister made for me back in the 1970's.

Atop one of the taller bookcases sits a topographical map of North Carolina that my son worked on in the 4th grade. Next to that is a wooden Snoopy music box, with him dressed as a WWII fighter pilot atop his dog house. I've had the music box since my childhood as well.

Also on the walls are a a floor-to-ceiling vinyl Spider-Man 2 movie poster my brother game me for Christmas a few years back, a framed poster showing all of the original Wacky Packages, a framed promotional poster for the Justice League video game that came out last year for the Playstation 2, a framed poster that came with the Crisis On Infinite Earths hardcover collection, and framed drawings of varous role-playing characters of mine over the years - done by friends, myself and artists by which I've had commission work done at conventions. There is also a framed collage I had made from the color Sunday DC Super-Heroes newspaper strips from the late 70's (my parents had the collage framed and gave it to me as a gift a number of years ago. Next to that is an autographed picture from the artist of Superboy And the Ravers, a prize I won from a contest in the comic book. Scattered about the room are pictures of my wife (one taken as part of her wedding pictures) and my son.

On the shelf of the coffee table, beneath the glass surface, sit two encyclopedia volumes - one for DC Comics and one for Marvel Comics. Sometimes I'll swap those around with coffee table tomes that cover the complete history of Hanna-Barbera cartoons and Disney animation. It really just depends on which ones I had out to read last.

On the back of my hunter green covered fouton is a Superman throw blanket my in-laws gave me last Christmas, a large stuffed purple crayon pillow, and a stuffed Cartman I picked up at the San Diego Comic-Con back in 2001 for cheap. I also have folded up there a DC super-heroes sleeping bag, very faded, that I had as child growing up in the 70's. I managed to hold onto that treasure all these years. Finally there is an embroidered pillow with a boykin spaniel on it. My wife and son got that for me after we lost our first boykin spaniel - the picture on it so looks like our Mikey. The fouton is a perfect place for taking a weekend nap, since the room is very dark when no lights are on.

My comic book long boxes are in the other part of the basement, all housed on a couple of high quality shelving units we got from the local hardware store. They are arranged in such a way that I can just slide the box out a bit, lift the lid and locate whatever books I'm wanting to read. This is by far the easiest access I've had to my collection. The coolness of the basement and the ever running dehumidifier keeps everything nice comfortable.

This is my place, my refuge, my Fortress of Solitude. It is where I can go to chill out, read, or work on my stories or art.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Midnight Date With Harry

My wife, my son and I spent last night doing what a lot of other people across the country did: hung out a book release party at the local Barnes & Noble bookstore. Of course, it was a special event - to mark the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the best selling series. It warms my heart to see so many folks, especially those my son's age and all, so excited for the release of a book. This isn't the latest in video game technology and a fancy-schmancy phone that can do everything you ever wanted and more. This is a stor, words on pages that they have to use their imaginations to enjoy! I've always had a love for reading, and I love it when I see others share that too - even if it might be isolated to certain book series and such. Baby step, baby steps.

Though the first Harry Potter book came out in the United States in 1998, our household really didn't get into them until early 2001 - just before the first movie was to come out. My son, age six at the time, had expressed an interest in the books. My wife picked up the first one of the series in hardcover and began reading it to him as a bedtime story. Having devoured the first, she decided to pick up the remaining three that were available as well - reading them first herself and then introducing them to him as well. When my son wanted to read them himself, we picked up paperback copies as well so that he could tote them to and from school, etc. His teachers all recognized the merits of the books and allowed the children to read them as part of their daily reading requirements. And my view was at least he was showing interest in a series of books. Prior to this, he saw reading as a chore to be done ten to fifteen minutes a night for school. I was more than willing to let him give these a try. He has since shown interest in other fantasy lines and some sci-fi (mostly Star Wars tie-in stuff). When books five and six came out in the more recent years, we would pick them up within a few days of release (after finding them for a good price).

Now, I haven't personally read any of the novels yet, but that is in part due to my always having so much stuff to read. I have a pile of paperbacks as well as comic reprint collections that keep calling to me. I knew the Potter series would be finite in length, so I've sort of held off until the last one came out. That way, I can do a marathon run and read them all back to back to back without having to pause for the next release. I have seen the first four films; our family truly enjoys going to the theatre together for films that are appropriate for our son's viewing. So, I do have a general gist of things going on. I know the books will provide a much richer subtext - especially in some of those tomes that clock in over 600 pages.

To truly make the night a special event for us, we started off by going to see the fifth film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The local theatre only had three showings to chose from. 5:30pm was going to be too early to pull off. 9:30pm was going to be too late at the film clocks in at 2 hours and 18 minutes, not counting the obligatory 20+ minutes of previews and such before the film (we'd end up getting to the bookstore too late for the fun). So, we settled on the 8pm showing. Just to be safe, we picked up tickets early for the show, ran to dinner, and right after stopped at the bookstore to see if they were giving out numbers for folks who pre-ordered. Turns out they were - and that we ended up with number 223. Okay, so we're covered. We then went and enjoyed the movie.

As we returned back to the store around 10:30pm, we noticed the parking lot was overflowing with cars and people - a huge plaza area really. I dropped my wife and son off and proceeded to park down the hills at the Sam's Club. Then I hiked back up, through the IHOP lot and found them in front of the store. Now, my wife gets claustrophobic in crowds, so this was a challenge to say the lease. I offered to take my son inside to see the doings there. Inside was just as packed and crazy. They had activities through out the night - magic shows, face painting, etc. - but things were winding down at this point. They wanted everyone out of the store by 11:15pm so they could start to set up for the selling of the book. Lots of folks dressed in costumes too. From witches to Hogwarth's student gear. All very nice, very festive.

We got back outside, talked to other folks also waiting. People getting books for themselves, for their wives or kids. Just like us. A whole common bond thing. We waited a bit and then I moved closer to hear the announcements from the door. At 11:45pm they called out numbers 1 through 50. I saw people around us with numbers in the 700's and 800's. Man, this was huge. Hung out a bit more, went back and forth to the family. Then I find out from someone that they were on to the 300's a few minutes later! I quickly notify Terri so she can make her way into line while I stood with my son. From the windows outside, we could see them snaking people into and around the inside of the store. We found a spot by the cafe door where they would have folks exiting. Time to watch the clock. 11:50. 11:55. Boxes would get cracked at 12:01.

By 12:03, people began to come out - the first lucky ones here in Hickory. And then it just was a steady stream of folks. As I stood there, I overheard two older men in the 60's or so just shaking their heads at the whole thing. I don't think they had ever seen anything like this before. And I watched the door too - to watch the faces. And those faces spoke volumes! Joy, rapture, elation, excitement. A few plopped right down on the curb and started to read. Others clutched their books like a prized possession. A book - this is about a book. What a true joy! The joy reading and anticipation of reading can bring to folks. It really was amazing to see.

My wife came out with our copy about 12:30pm. We hiked back to the car and drove the five minutes home. While my son went off to bed, I walked the dogs. When I came back in, my wife had already started reading. I went downstairs and found the other six hardcovers - putting them aside in my room to read soon (I promise). I then came upstairs, quickly ran through my taped Best Week Ever and then we went up to bed. My wife was still sleeping when I fell asleep at 1:30pm.

A book. Magic. That's what it's all about.

Update: I should note that my wife finished reading the book on Saturday night before going to bed. I knew once she started it that she couldn't put it down. She really enjoyed it. I guess I better get started on the series, eh?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Always A Geek

My good friend and a writer whose work (prose and fiction alike) that I enjoy immensely, Michael O'Connell, created a second blog for himself to cover the geek side of his life (see my Links section for access to his blogs). In his first post on that second blog, he discussed the aspects of being a geek. I thought I'd address that topic myself as well and how it pertains to me.

First, I actually looked up some definitions of geek. Some of them aren't very flattering: "a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, esp. one who is percieved to be overly intellectual" (yeah, I was a smart kid in school, top 5 in my high school graduating class, but I don't think I was ever called dislikable) or "a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken" (who knew Ozzy Osborne could be labelled a geek?). Others seem more in line and closer to describing myself: "a computer expert or enthusiast (a term of pride as self-reference, but often considered offensive when used by outsiders)" or " a person with an unusual or odd personality" (okay, perhaps quoting TV shows and movies might be considered 'odd', but I usually only do it with others around who are going to get the references).

When I call myself a geek, I use it in a way that means that I have hobbies and interests that are typically not shared by a majority of the population. These are things like: comic books, computer and video games, role-playing games, fantasy and science fiction novels, animation, writing and drawing, etc. Though, as anyone who has attended the San Diego Comic-Con International can tell you, there seem to be an awful lot of folks with similar interests as my own (last year's attendance for the four day show was over 123,000 - a long way from it's humble beginnings of 300 attendees in 1970). And on our cable system, there are full blown channels devoted to some of this stuff: Cartoon Network, Boomerang, the Sci-Fi Channel, and G4. So maybe I'm not is so much of a minority as first thought.

Given these interests, I guess I've been a geek for as long as I can recall.

I started collecting comic books back in the late 60's and early 70's once I was able to read. I still make a weekly visit to the local comic shop today, despite how expensive it can be to pick up new comics each week (I focus a lot more now on classic reprints than current stuff). I've been into video games since we got our Pong system when those came out in the late 70's, and I've been into computer games since high school and getting my first computer - a Commodore 64. I started getting into formal role-playing games about the same time (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Star Frontiers, Champions, Traveller, Villains & Vigilantes). I started reading fantasy and science fiction novels back in junior high, though I watched a lot of sci-fi reruns long before that (original Star Trek, Lost In Space, Twilight Zone, etc.). As for animation, I was a cartoon fan from the age of three or four (with classic Hanna-Barbera stuff and anything that came on Saturday mornings). That of course led to my liking to doodle and such (I'm not a very good artist - I copy well enough). And regarding writing, I always was one to write stories - from as far back as elementary school. I had my first kid's typewriter when I was ten (it had this plastic blue case that allowed me to take it to wherever I wanted), got my first manual typewriter when I was thirteen (a depreciated office asset from one of my parent's friend's insurance bussiness), and got my first electric typewriter once I took typing during my sophmore year of high school (I could type 40 words a minute at the time). I've always been known to scribble story ideas down on pads or spare scraps of paper; I try never to leave home without a pen and some paper or such.

I guess too the whole aspect of a 'geek' being awkward socially probably applied early on. Sure, I enjoyed playing with the kids in the neighborhood growing up, but I equally enjoyed spending time alone with my interests. I could easily have been considered a quiet child. I really grew into my own socially when I got into high school - when I started going to dances, dating, playing a few sports and joining activity clubs. By the time I got to college, those things just flourished. But, all the while, there was those interests keeping me tethered to others who could also be called 'geeks'. I participated in a weekly AD&D game every Saturday afternoon all through college. I never stopped reading comic books either (and I often drove the rest of the gang each week to Empire Comics, the chain of shops in Rochester NY that are still open to this day).

Getting back to Mike's blog entry, I think he does have a point in that not everyone 'gets' people with these sorts of interests. We're kind of an interesting breed. Are we oddities? I certainly don't think so. I think a lot of people have ecclectic interests and that's what makes everyone fascinating. Heck, I've lived in the middle of ACC tournament and NASCAR country for almost half my life now, and I have barely a passing interest in either of these things. That doesn't mean I look at folks who enjoy this kind of stuff as being odd or anything. Are we folks with strong imaginations? I think so. A lot of these hobbies certainly appeal to a creative asthetic. Many are tied to stories - either written, oral or visual. A lot of times folks who aren't so into sports (due to lack of physical skills, coordination or whatever) tend to be more cerebral. And maybe some conflict arises from that: the whole brain vs. brawn paradigm.

And Mike is correct: there are those who when they find out that the person they just had a date with has different hobby interests will suddenly become very uninterested very fast. Know what? It's those people that have the problem, not us geeks. For whatever reason, they're closed-minded to certain types of people. If a person will shut someone out because they don't care to understand something someone has an interest in, then there really is no point in the two people interacting together for a long term, deep relationship. It's just an incompatibility thing. In the end, one is better off without the person.

I guess I never had to worry about hiding my geek tendencies. My family always knew about my interests, and though they didn't share them they certainly didn't discourage them. Same goes for the folks who I would consider good friends. This really allowed me to grow up being myself, with everything that I embraced. These things are a part of who I am and most likely who I'll be for the rest of my life. When you've stuck with some things for thirty-plus years, they sort of become part of your foundation and core.

And I've been lucky too. When I started dating, most of the women I dated seemed to accept the interests (or, if they didn't accept them they at least did not use them as a reason for our breaking up). Some occasionally even shared one or two similar interests. But sharing the interests wasn't always crucial for me. My wife of seventeen years (and hopefully for the rest of our days) has read Tolkein and Heinlen (two authors I actually haven't read surprisingly). She's never played an RPG or really read a comic book since her childhood. Her preference on video games is Tetris or Bejeweled (though we have gotten her to try other things). And we've learned to find neutral ground in regards to television and movies. So, I'm what Mike calls one of those 'geeks' that can be out because they have a long standing relationship.

Still, I respect my single geek bretheren. I know the rules. No Con badges or talk of geek things when having lunches out. No pulling out the portfolios or hobby related items from the bookbags around strangers or the non-geek. For them I will assume the dual identity, the mask of normality.

My only advice: don't keep it a secret for too long when you find someone you're serious about. Honesty is the foundation of any relationship. If you want the other person to get to know the real you, you have to be willing to wear that real you with some pride. It might mean slowly feeding them the 411 on some of your areas of interests. Who knows, you might be with someone who too is hiding a bit of a geek side themselves.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Rant: Spoilers and the Spoilees

Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to have a really long fuse regarding most things. But every now and again, something will set me off. So, when I talk about those kinds of things here in the blog, I'll be sure to note it in the title with the helpful indicator of "Rant:". When you see this, just know that I might be blowing off a little steam. Okay? Cool.

Today, I want to address the topics of Spoilers and those who like to ruin things for everyone by revealing them (said Spoilees). Spoilers are basically a revelation of key plot details in a film, book, television show, whatever that are discussed prior to the general availability of said film, book, whatever, to the majority of the public. Let me give you a couple examples.

Everyone in the world knows the final Harry Potter book is coming out at midnight on June 21st. The security around the release of the book is tighter than Fort Knox. No one is to sell the book until that time. The author is remaining tight lipped. The publisher has asked all media to not spoil the book's key plot points until readers have had an opportunity to get the book. So what happened today: two days prior to the book's official release? Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times published a review of the book and gave away critical plot details. Anyone who runs across the review, and many will since it is the New York Times, could have their reading experience marred by knowing how things end. And this reviewer isn't the only one. Dozens of Internet sites popped up early in the week, some showing full digital pictures of every "supposed" page of the book. Again, the only reasoning behind these acts is to spoil the finale for millions of readers.

On a much smaller scale, on the DC Comics Messages boards a poster by the name of 'mazingman' was posting with regularity spoiler filled reviews of key comics for the week. This poster would outline every detail of the issues, breaking it down by pages and panels. The kicker: the poster did this every Monday night/Tuesday morning but most comic sellers did not get the issues for sale until Wednesday each week. This poster easily had the inside track (either a DC employee himself, a retailer who had preview copies of the upcoming titles, or someone who knew someone with the inside track). Basically, thanks to this person, folks would be able to follow the plot lines of various titles without ever paying the money for the books. Clearly, this poster knew they were spoilers though and would mark his thread titles as such. Still, others would read those spoilers early and discuss them outside of the same thread - thus increasing the chances of unsuspecting readers of encountering the details early. Thankfully, DC Comics cracked down on this practice and initiated a new policy on their board: any spoilers prior to a book's release would be deleted and the poster would be banned from the board. Good for them!

This kind of stuff just annoys me to no end. Why do some people get-off on ruining things for others? Do they have some kind of medical disorder that prevents them from keeping a secret? I mean, okay, congrats to you for getting a hold of an early copy. Can't you wait a damn day or two to let the rest of the world get their copies too before you discuss it? Do you have no patience? Sheesh.

Now, I get that we live in an age of information - where anything that happens in one corner of the world is instantly talked about everywhere, thanks to the growth of media and the Internet. And the rationale is that there is an audience out there that wants to know stuff as it becomes available. But what happened to the element of surprise? It's one thing to reveal the details of something that is out before the general public already (like the meaning of Rosebud, or the identity of Luke's father, or the secret of The Crying Game). It's another thing to shout it from the rooftops about something that 99% of the population hasn't even had a chance to view yet.

I think the old axiom applies here: do unto others as you would wish they'd do unto you. Oh, and if you are a person who likes spoilers and can't stand surprise, do the rest of us a favor who do and shut the heck up!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Cherry Memory

This past week I've been enjoying some bing cherries as part of my lunch. It's part of my eat-more-healthy plan and a way to try to get another serving of fruit and vegetables in every day. I bring a small tupperware full with them - holding about a dozen or so. Just enough to savor that taste.

While eating them, my mind took me back to the time when I was a kid growing up in Dunkirk, NY. During the summer, my father and I often took little drives in the evenings just before the sun went down and things started to cool off. Often we'd head up Route 60 a mile or so and then turn down into the nearby village of Fredonia. Usually we'd end up stopping some place like Aldritch's Dairy or Farmer Parker's to get some ice cream. The later also was adjacent to some orchards and you could always pick up fresh fruit there as well. This is usually the place we got bing cherries.

Now, I've never been a big fan of maraschino cherries - the kind that tend to come on top of ice cream sundaes or served with drinks. I think they're really too sweet. And that glowing red color. Is that natural? If so, why does it rub off onto the whipped cream so? Something doesn't seem right there. By the same token, I never liked cherry soda - again too sweet. And I wasn't fond of cherry ice cream either. I was okay, however, with cherry Kool-Aid or Funny Face drink mix, but either of those probably didn't have so much real cherries in it.

Bing cherries, I found, seemed to have a more subdued flavor. Like their dark purple color, they have a more meaty, fulfilling taste to them. They were sweet without being too sweet. We always had them at our house as well as over at my grandparents' place during the summer time. As a kid, I'd eat them by the dish-full - a lot of times eating way more in one sitting than I probably should. I really couldn't help it since they were just so good. I always would rather have fruit than candy if given the choice, and these were certainly way better than chocolate to me (both in taste and healthy for the diet).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Generosity of Strangers

I have two incidents in the past few weeks of the good-natured generosity of strangers that I wanted to share today.

The first came about from my involvement on a comic book message board. One of the regulars, Jeff, made an offer to the group. He had various lots of comics he was planning to get rid of - to help thin out his growing collection. He announced the lots on the board, the contents of each, and offered them to any of the folks on the board that were interested (one lot per person). He even offered to ship them to wherever folks lived, free of charge. I happened to see one set that interested me - the first twenty issues of Solo Avengers, published by Marvel Comics from 1986 to 1988. I had these issues, or most of them, at one time but had gotten rid of them when I was slimming my collection down over a decade ago. They were issues I wouldn't have minded owning again. So, I asked for them and Jeff sent them out. They arrived at my house on Friday in the mail. Now, the books were cover priced of seventy five cents each, so retailing at about $15. It was another $7 or so for postage to send the box to me. Basically, Jeff took $22 out of his "pocket" so someone else could get enjoyment out of books he no longer wanted to keep. That was very very generous of him!

The second came just this Saturday at my local comic book shop, Time Tunnel Comics (http://www.timetunnelcomics.com/). I took my son there for the weekly Yu-Gi-Oh tournament. After he lost in the first round, he wanted to hang out for a bit. One of patrons, a guy in his late twenties or so, was near the counter having just purchased a large box of Magic the Gathering cards. It was one of those Tenth Edition boxes with 36 packs in them (retailed around $90). The guy was opening packs and my son was talking to him at the time. My son was explaining to him that he just had learned how to play Magic earlier in the week from one of his camp counselors at the YMCA. Anyway, a few minutes later my son comes over to me with the box in tow. The guy had opened up all the packs, took away from the 540 cards therein the ones he needed for his own decks and ones he could resell (ie. the most rare of the lot) and offered up the rest of the commons to my son for free. Now, I was scheptical, so I went back to the guy and asked if he was sure. He said, yes, it was fine. I said, can I at least offer you something for them? He said I didn't have to. Still, I felt I should give him something - and I wanted to set a good example for my son. I had about five dollars in my wallet, so I offered him that. He gratefully said thanks and took the offering. I made sure my son said thanks again as well. After we got home, I counted the lot. The man had given my son 507 of the 540 cards. Again, a very very generous thing for someone to do for a relative stranger!

Both these acts reminded me that the world, despite all the horrific events the news has to offer up, is still full of good, unselfish people. Both Jeff and the guy at the comic shop had items that were of no use to them. Rather than throw them away or try to sell them off on ebay or wherever (taking extra time to do so for possible little return), they shared what they had with others who might share a common interest. They gave freely from their hearts, asking for nothing in return.

Good will - it does a body good.

You can be sure my son and I will be passing the positive karma along at the next available opportunity.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Obvious Why He's Still Single

So, the summer rounds of "celebreality" began on VH-1 yesterday. And since I'm always into ending my weekends by watching the trials and tribulations of the famous, I was so there once more. One of the new shows that debuted yesterday was Scott Baio Is 45 and Single.

Now, I'll admit I was a fan of his shows back in the day (Happy Days, Joanies Loves Chachi, Charles In Charge) and my first drive-in date was to one of his movies (Zapped) so I had interest in seeing how the man turned out. I had forgotten we were rather close in age. There are women who I graduated high school with (class of '83 is the best!) who were hugely in love with him growing up - and they too were interested to see how this show was going to play out (we were chatting about this subject on our class message board just last week). He always struck me as likable, but he also had a reputation of being seen with so many different women over the years. And why not - he's still good looking. Time has been good to him in that aspect.

Turns out, at 45, he's decided he needs to get a life coach to help him figure out why every relationship of his "hits a wall" and never progresses to something long term. He finds a coach - Dr. Ally - and she pretty much tells him he has to examine his past and resolve things with the women he's been with in order to figure out what his deal is. Holy High Fidelity, Batman! It sounds a bit like that wonderful John Cusack movie - one I enjoy a lot (thanks, Mike, for recommending it to me years ago).

In this first episode, Scott visits a woman he dated 20 years ago - and, deciding showing up empty handed is not cool, brings a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (gee, Scott, see any symbolism there?). She's happily married with a daughter. Scott asks "how did you know he was the right person?" She tells him that her husband was someone she got along with and felt close to. She then proceeds to tell Scott that his problem is commitment issues and that he was always that he was always looking for the next best thing, which is why he often broke up with her so he could go out with playmates and such. She tells him point blank: there is no next best thing - there is just the next thing. Simple. Brilliant. So true.

Scott next has to visit his first love, the woman he lost his virginity to. That ends up being - Erin Moran. Yes, Joanie Cunningham. The story of that first time is pretty funny, and she pretty much lays the truth on him too (also very funny - I won't spoil it - catch the inevitable reruns). Erin manages to convince him to come to an autograph signing she is going to do. He is reluctant to do so - says he hates them and hates all that stuff with the fans. Oh, and he hates being called Chachi. Gee, dude, what helped you pay for that nice home you've got? Like it or not, it was your first big role so just accept it. That is why you got into acting, right? To be known for your work? Or was it just to get girls? I'm seriously thinking it could be the later.

We get some other cameos as well. Scott runs into Clint Howard when he visits his agent (his agent really thinks this show is a bad idea, but Scott tells him the cow has left the barn and he's committed to doing it - score one for commitment at least). We also get a phone call to Henry Winkler. It is nice to see he and Scott still talk, though not often. Henry pretty much tells Scott that he shouldn't use his being a TV star as an excuse for having failed relationships. Aaaaah, Fonz - you definitely know Scott needs the tough love. Good for you!

Scott likes to hang out with his buddies - golfing, smoking cigars, betting on the ponies. One is Jason Hervey, best known as older brother Wayne on the Wonder Years; Jason's been married for nine years. Another is a guy who just recently got engaged (thus dropping out of the single-party-men set). The last guy is named Johnny V, whom Scott says has been his "wing-man" for years. When the guys find out Scott is doing this and has to avoid seeing his current girlfriend for eight weeks while he goes through this process, they actually bet how long it'll take Scott to break the vow of celibacy. Nice guys. With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Over the season, the show is going to have Scott visiting the rest of his old girlfriends. Some famous: like his co-stars from Charles In Charge. I'm looking forward to it as it will be a nice "where are they now" thing. Also, it'll be fun to see him get smacked around a bit more with the reality stick. His good looks might have got him the women over the years, but clearly this book cannot be judged by its cover. It also reminds me of something else from my single days: there are the kind of folks you date, and there are the kind of folks you marry. Me, personally, I was always more the marrying kind. Scott definitely appears to be the dating kind.

Oh, and back to my title, why is it obvious he is still single after all these years? My take from just the premiere episode is because, in a large part, of Johnny V. Johnny is this nerdy, nebish of a guy. He's like a parasite, a hanger on. He gets Scott to party, to get into situations with these women, and then he feeds off the cast-offs (you know there will be some). He's kind of the Danny Bonaduce to Scott's David Cassidy. Clearly, motivations are his own. He's known because of his affiliation with Scott, and he's willing to be rude or whatever to people in order to keep Scott in the single scene - all so he himself can keep getting laid.

Again, with friends like these...

My hope is that Scott realizes he has to kick this guy to the curb if he wants to find lifelong happiness with one woman. Otherwise, as Scott admits he fears, he will end up dying alone.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Book Review: Replay

I just finished a book recommended to me by some folks on a message board I frequent quite a bit. The book is Replay written by Ken Grimwood, published in 1986.

The novel poses the question: "What if you could live your life over again, knowing the mistakes you'd made before?"

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Su-Suzuki Goodbye

Today was a milestone kind of day. I had to bid farewell to my 1998 Suzuki Sidekick.

We got her new back on June 9th, 1998. She was baltic blue in color and only had 12 miles on her. The circumstances of getting her was a rough one. At the time I was serving on jury duty in a double murder case in Raleigh. I was driving down to the courthouse in morning traffic a few days before. The light turned red, the pickup in front of my Dodge Neon stopped, I stopped and then glanced in my rearview mirror. The pickup behind me wasn't going to stop! I could see that, there was no where to move my car, so I prepared for the impact. The Neon was totalled. Good news, the insurance covered what we owed on it. Bad news, it was only a few months old - also bought new. So, we had to buy a car with no trade-in and we needed to make a fast decision. That's when the Sidekick caught my eye.

After the accident, I wanted something higher up. The Sidekick fit the bill nicely. Over time I was able to add a six disk CD changer to it (a birthday present probably in 1999 or so). We paid the Suzuki off in 2004. When we traded it in today, it had 121,616 miles on it.

It was a good car - a really dependable car. Nothing ever really went wrong with it until about a week or so ago. I was running by the post office on the way home and tried to open the door from the inside. I heard a crack of plastic around the handle, and then a small copper spring popped out. After that, no opening the door from the inside. No problem, really. I could just roll down the window and reach out to open it from the outside handle. That worked fine for a few days. Then, last Monday, the motor on the driver's side window died - with the window fully rolled down. Well, that complicated things a lot!

Luckily my in-laws live twenty minutes away and they have an extra vehicle. So, they let me borrow their Suzuki Grand Vitara for as long as I'd need it. They actually bought it from the same dealership as I bought my girl. Kind of fitting. Still, it had no CD player and rode a bit rougher than mine.

Terri had been looking for new cars for a few weeks now anyway. Maybe my Suzuki knew what was going on. Maybe that's why the window motor went. Not sure. Anyway, this just forced Terri to be more proactive this weekend. Today she managed to find her replacement car - a BMW 325I. So, she got a new car, I inherit her Ford Explorer and I had to say goodbye to my old car.

You'll be missed, old girl.

Friday, July 13, 2007

FOX Drives Me Crazy

Yesterday I promised to tell you why I was mad at FOX.

Back in the Spring, during my weekly doses of American Idol and Bones, the promo monkeys at FOX ran teasers for a new show that they were planning to launch in the coming weeks. It featured fast cars, slick driving, pounding music and some familar stars I knew from other shows (Nathan Fillion from Firefly, Melanie Lynskey from Two And A Half Men, Charles Martin Smith from many films including American Graffiti, and Brian Bloom who got his start as a child actor on As The World Turns). The program's name was Drive.

It lasted a total of two weeks before FOX pulled the plug.

Now, before you say "but Martin, it only had two shows - how can you be upset after two shows?", I must explain a bit more.

See, the show was a continuing drama with a good sized cast. The viewers would find out bits and pieces about the characters as things went along. And there were mysteries - ala Lost and Heroes. Lots of mysteries. Who are these people? Why are they competing (besides monetary reasons) in this illegal cross-country race? What motiviates a person who is put in situations like this (some enter the race under free will, some are coerced through various means)? Who are the people behind the race? Why are they doing it? Has the race actually been going on for decades? What happens to the teams who reach a check point last? Curiousity is what kept my interest racing from that very first hour.

And two weeks wasn't just two one-hour shows. Oh no. See, FOX premiered it with a two-hour block (episodes 1 and 2). But they did it weirdly. They put the premiere on a Sunday night (bumped their animation block out for a week). Then they ran episode 3 the very next night in the normal Monday 8pm slot. They ran episode 4 the following Monday, and then cancelled the show by that week's end. That was it! No chance in letting the ratings increase. No rebroadcast of the beginning to help feed the word-of-mouth the show might have gotten around the water coolers on Monday morning. Nope - best leave anyone who missed the premiere behind and confused by missing the first two hours. And, what's with the premiere on a night the show isn't going to run? Crazy!

Now, I get that the show was costly. It had an effects budget as well as lots of car racing stunts. Then there is the cars, paying for the large cast etc. Still, FOX was hyping this show to the moon. It ran tons of ads during Idol (prime advertsing real-estate given how high Idol's weekly viewer numbers were) and even had the cast in the audience one night (they got the five second camera shout-out that a lot of FOX shows do during Idol). There were radio ads, there were magazine ads, and there was a nice web presence on the FOX.com site too. So, clearly someone making decisions believed in this show from the get-go.

As a late Spring show, FOX had green-lighted the show for 13 episodes. The cast had completed six of those before the plug got pulled in late April.

Okay, fine. That left two in the can. FOX said they'd air them at some point. When does FOX say they'll air them? How's about July 4th? Two months later - on a night most people are out at holiday parties or watching fireworks and such. In short, a very slow television night. No risk there on there part, eh? And what a nice way to treat the fans who talked this show up, FOX.
Okay, fine. I'm cool with that decision. Drive is still in my DVR to-record list so I'll get it months later.

Yeah, right. FOX then says - no, can't do it on the 4th. Let's move it to July 13th.

Okay. Fine. Even USA Today notes it this week in an article about shows getting the rest of their runs put out somehow. What does FOX do? Pulls it again from the 13th and says "oh, we'll just put them on our website so fans can stream them that way".

Ugggggh! I tried watching one of the episdoes on their site (Drive #3 - our power was out due to storms that night so the DVR couldn't record it) and it was painful. It took me over two hours to see 42 minutes of show. Horrible! So, you want me to deal with your wonky servers and waste even more time to view two of them that way? Thanks but no thanks. So if, big IF, FOX does put them on their site (I have my doubts given all their switcheroos so far), I'll still not be able to enjoy them as much as if I could see them nicely on my HD widescreen TV. Thanks a bleeping lot, FOX!

But, I should expect this from them. This isn't the first time FOX has cancelled a show I liked. There was the aforementioned Firefly (best damn sci-fi/western genre mix show ever!) in 2002. FOX aired episodes out of order, jumped it around in the schedule, etc. - but at least we got a nice DVD set out of it! Then there was Life On A Stick also in 2005, That 80's Show in 2002, and Costello in 1998. Okay, those last three were so-so comedies at best but I liked them a lot - they made me laugh which is what comedies are supposed to do!

Ah well. I guess I just get a little grumpy when I get hooked into a new show and then the rug gets pulled out from under me after an extremely short run of episodes. It isn't the first time and it won't be the last. Maybe FOX can redeem themselves and put out a Drive DVD set including a featurette with the producers, etc. telling us how it might have ended. I really don't like to be left hanging.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Singing A Different Tune

Summer television viewing is always hit-or-miss. You can either watch reruns of shows you like (or those you didn't watch first time around due to other interests), or you can take a chance at something new. I did the later last night - though the two something-news I checked out had a lot of similarity.

NBC put on a new show this week called Singing Bee, hosted by N*SYNC member Joey Fatone. Joey is a likable enough host, always smiles and such. And he has his musical background to fall back on. The show actually debuted on Tuesday, but I missed it and caught the reshowing last night. Turns out this was originally slated for the fall season, but NBC had to rush it out this summer. Why?

FOX was putting out their own show called Don't Forget the Lyrics! , hosted by Wayne Brady, which debuted last night. I've been a fan of Wayne's since classic Who's Line Is It Anyway? from the BBC which Comedy Central used to air. I'd also catch his afternoon talk show when I could - he is always personable and has a great rapport with everybody he talks to. He's they type of guy I'd like to know, who would be great fun at parties or just to hang out with. And for DFTL!, they even managed to pull in the American Idol show band leader Ricky Minor over to help out. Why is it scary that I know that? Shudder.

Now, both shows are a half hour in length. Both are game shows (and boy do I have a long love-affair with game shows starting back in my childhood in the early 70's!). Both have live bands and contestants singing to win big sums of money. Both rely on contestants' knowledge of song lyrics from popular songs - again, something I enjoy. My brain is so full of song lyrics (most of them right) it is scary. My son looks at me oddly every time a song comes on the radio in the car and I just start singing out...sorry, I digress. Sounds like the same show, right? We'll, that's kind of where they diverge.

Singing Bee is like a classic spelling bee in that it has elimination rounds. It starts with six contestants picked "randomly" from the audience. Six become four when they have to finish lines from songs done by the band. And by finish, they have to be exact lyrics. Throw in an "oh" or "well" or anything and you are wrong! Bye bye bye, as Joey used to sing with his bandmates. The four then face off head-to-head in pairs, cutting it down to two. The two remaining then face off, and the winner gets to go to 'the Final Countdown' (yes, introduced by that famous 80's song snippet played by the band) where they have to try and get five out of seven songs right for $50,000. Everyone else gets nothing. So, the way it is structured, each show is self-contained.

DFTL! is more like a lot of game shows you've seen recently. Ten categories with two songs each (the contestant only has to work with one of the two songs in each category). Each song gotten right moves them up the money scale. There is a safe-zone at $2500 (meaning you don't go home empty handed unless you really suck at song lyrics). After that, you can play up the scale, doubling money as you go, up to a million dollars. You have "back-up singers" - ie. three life-lines ala Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? to help you out. Basically here, the band plays the music and the contestant sings karaoke off the screen. When the blanks show up, you have to fill them in - usually a four or more word phrase (more words the higher up you get). Now, this show also has that manufactured 'drama', the long lingering on the questions - do you want to lock in with those words? are the answers right? we'll find out after this commercial! In the first half hour, we still were on contestant one who only sang about five songs. Luckily, FOX knows that this generates carry-over between shows, so they're putting it on multiple nights a week.

Now, I love music, I love singing (even though I'm not good at it), I love real people doing bad karaoke, and as I noted above I love game shows. However, I can't see committing myself to two shows, even though with the DVR I can turn these half-hour offerings into something like 21 minutes or so apiece. So, one gets that DVR recording contract (see, musical analogy) and one gets bounced from the living room. Which am I going with?

We'll find out after this break.

Okay, just kidding.

I'm going with Don't Forget The Lyrics! - even though I am very mad at FOX right now (find out why right here tomorrow!).

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How Lucky Am I?

My brother told me last Saturday that I should play the lottery. Not just because it was 07/07/07 but also because it was my wife's and my 17th wedding anniversary (see, then we'd get that fourth seven in there).

Now anyone who knows me knows I'm not really a gambler. I'll play with a slot machine program on my home PC with virtual money, but I just don't get into dropping coins in the slot and pulling a lever (I'd pull the lever if I did - hitting the button is just too quick) in real life. I played about $10 worth of coins in a casino in Niagra Falls back in 2003, and it was all gone in just a few minutes. I just don't get any enjoyment out of tossing my money away on something that has too much chance on any return. I'm not patient enough to wait for the machine to hit - that's not a skill I inherited from my parents. If I ever went to Las Vegas, I'd go for the food, the shows and the people watching. I pretty much lump playing the lottery in the same bucket. I played it maybe once or twice growing up in New York state, but that was it. And even when we got the lottery here in North Carolina earlier this year, it just didn't interest me. Besides, that silvery stuff you scratch off of the tickets gets everywhere - and then you have to clean it up.

No, where I am lucky comes from the fact that I've been married happily to the same woman for 17 years. That, in among itself, is a major accomplishment in this day and age. We met in the summer of 1989 (and neither of us was really looking on that night) and were married just shy of a year later. We have one son, a nice home that is just right for us - not too small or too big, and a couple of dogs (a beagle and a boykin spaniel). Our neighbors are friendly. We have family that lives nearby - close enough to visit for the day or a weekend. And I have many friends, some from as far back as junior high school - mostly whom I communicate with now online in one form or another. We eat dinner as a family every night, and at night and on weekends I get to kick back and enjoy my various hobbies. Who could ask for anything more?

Not me.

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