Should old acquaintance

There are lots of ideas that I come up with for this blog but eventually abandon. Things like, my favorite albums of the aughts or my favorite TV shows of the aughts. I just can’t wrap my head around the beginning and end points, I’d likely just forget a bunch of choices, and it’d be unsatisfactory for all involved. Especially me.

(Not to be confused with the things I start but haven’t finished yet. Sssh, we won’t mention THEM just yet.)

In fact, I don’t even note the significant deaths of the year, because everyone else has already done so. I do want to note some deaths I had not mentioned here, most of which did NOT make it into those annual lists in the magazines, because the magazines came out in the FIRST WEEK IN DECEMBER. No one dies in December, it would seem; ask James Brown.

Edward Woodward (11/16, age 79) – there was this show I enjoyed in the mid-1980s called The Equalizer on CBS that I enjoyed immensely. it was about a secret agent for the US government (Woodward) who quit and helped individuals in dire straits. Unfortunately, it was head-to-head, Wednesday at 10 p.m. with St. Elsewhere on NBC, one of my favorite shows, for most of 1985-1988. So I only saw it when the hospital show was in reruns, until The Equalizer’s last season, when St. Elsewhere had gone off the air.

Gene Barry (12/9, age 90) – the western Bat Masterson (1958-1961) was a little before my time, but Burke’s Law (1963-1965) was not. It about a millionaire L.A. chief of detectives (Barry, pictured above with Jaye P. morgan in 1984), who’d get driven in his limousine to the latest celebrity murder; he was always surrounded by beautiful young women. A great theme song. LOTS of guest stars in these shows. I loved it, yet didn’t follow Barry when the show segued into Amos Burke – Secret Agent in the 1965-1966 season.

Oral Roberts (12/15, age 91). When I was 12, his theology was right up my alley. By a decade later, it had become anathema to me. That clip that ABC News showed with Roberts proclaiming need for more money for the ministry, lest the Lord take him away, is one of the most vile pieces of “theology” I’ve seen.

Connie Hines (12/18, age 78). It must have be difficult for a working actress to be best known as the “mom” of TV horse Mr. Ed (1961-1966), especially since her character Carol didn’t even know the equine talked; only her husband Wilbur (Alan Young) did. An insidious theme song, which unfortunately I’ve known by heart for decades. She seemed to have left acting in 1971.

Brittany Murphy (12/20, age 32!) I saw her in the movies Clueless and Girl, Interrupted. But I enjoyed her most as the voice of Luanne in the cartoon series King of the Hill, the extended theme by the Refreshments which can be found here.

Arnold Stang (12/20, age 91) the voice of a lot of nerdy cartoon characters, plus one of my favorite cartoon characters, the cool and unflappable Top Cat. He also did some onscreen performances. Evanier has a piece or two. I remember THAT theme too, and in case you don’t, here’s a singalong version.
***
The passing of the Spatula Forum blog, mentioned here only yesterday. I am sad but I understand. Sort of. There’s been a number of blogs that I followed that bit the dust this year: Delenda Est Carthago by Greg Burgas, though he still has the Daughter Chronicles; Tom the Dog; Tosy and Cosh. The latter two are on Twitter, but it just ain’t the same.
***
So because it pleases me, A Charlie Brown Hey Ya Christmas. Hey, it’s only the seventh day of Christmas.


ROG

Forsooth! A final week of 2009 meme!

I was not looking for a meme, but I did think I needed to write a post or two about end-of-year stuff. As it turns out, I found one from that American expat in New Zealand, Nik at spatulaforum, that met my needs. Oddly, Nik has written about spatulas only once.

Not incidentally, Nik’s meme was stolen for this week’s Sunday Stealing, which I usually purloin. Like a circle in a circle.

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?

Go to a bunch of kindergarten events, such as the “Apple Run”; the daughter is fast! Go on a vacation with the wife, without the daughter, for our 10th anniversary; it was surely the highlight of the year, though we were only 30 miles from home. Saw Bruce Springsteen live. Flew on an airplane with the daughter, her first flights.

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I don’t make the things. Less grief.

3. How will you be spending New Year’s Eve?

Watching my wife valiantly trying to stay awake but likely failing.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No, though the husband of a fellow choir member did.

5. What countries did you visit?

None, including the US. In fact, the longest trip was the aforementioned flight to Charlotte.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?

More sleep. More democracy. Less war. Steve Bissette wrote What I Won’t Miss About 2009, and I really can’t argue with any of it; re: the year, this video Steve found will do nicely.

7. What date from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

April 3, the massacre in Binghamton, NY. May 14, Springsteen.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Getting through my wife’s two weeks away at college, taking care of the daughter while trying to maintain a semblance of a work schedule.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Controlling the temper, especially during the aforementioned trip to Charlotte.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

The usual minor aches and pains. My neck is a little stiff. I have a cut on the heel of my left foot which makes walking without at least slippers, and preferably thick-soled sneakers, painful. And I suffered with some sort of head congestion/lung congestion/coughing up phlegm thing for two weeks in December which seems FINALLY to be over.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

The Top Pop Singles book. Fun! Actually, I liked buying Wonder Pets DVDs for the daughter; she enjoyed them.

12. Where did most of your money go?

The mortgage, of course. Also house renovation; the attic is being insulated this very week to take advantage of a tax credit.

13. What song will always remind you of 2009?

Tennessee Jed by Levon Helm, from his new Electric Dirt album, one of the very few albums I actually got in 2009.
I also bought A Very Special Christmas 7, and it had a bunch of newer artists that don’t cut it; Kellie Pickler doing Santa Baby is unconvincing. A Christmas Song by Charice was the best tune, though Gloriana’s Silent Night I liked as well. Still, it’s for a good cause, the Special Olympics, and I’ll probably buy the next one when it comes out in 3 or 5 years.

14. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Playing racquetball. Also wish I had bought my bicycle earlier than June. I saw no live baseball – bummer.

15. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Overthinking.

16. What was your favourite TV program?

“Glee”, for sure. It’s a show I get to watch with my wife, which doesn’t happen that often. People say it’s not realistic, as though it were a docudrama. No, the cheerleaders wouldn’t wear the outfits ALL the time. Sheesh. I bought the wife both soundtracks for Christmas. Al;so been watching The Good Wife, which is a show I watch sans wife.
Whereas The Office has lost something, and I can’t put my finger on it – Jim & Pam being married? The co-managing thing?

17. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

Well, not hate. What’s interesting is when there is someone everyone in a certain circle seems to love. But you’re just not that enamored, and it seems to be mutual.

18. What was the best book you read?

The Jack Kirby book by Evanier. Or was that last year?

19. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Well, there’s this British band called the Beatles that I seem to be newly into. Also, to a much lesser degree, Queen. About as little NEW music as I’ve ever experienced.

20. What was your favorite film of this year?

2008 movie I saw in 2009: The Visitor.
2009 movie: Up or Amreeka or maybe District 9. Though if I just got the Julia part of Julie and Julia, it’d be that. But there are a LOT of films I haven’t seen.

21. What did you do on your birthday?

Played (hearts) cards.

22. What kept you sane?

This assumes that I am sane. There’s no evidence I’ve seen.

23. Who did you miss?

Nobody, really. I mean I wish I saw some people more often, but that would be a shopping list. And because of the magic of electronics, I feel I DO keep up with them and/or know they keep up with me. Without that, it’d be pretty tough.

24. Who was the best new person you met?

There are some new folks in church I’m rather fond of, but I won’t name names.

25. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009:

Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot…

Actually, it is the wisdom of Satchel Paige:
“Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”
“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”
“Don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.”
“Not to be cheered by praise, not to be grieved by blame, but to know thoroughly one’s own virtues or powers are the characteristics of an excellent man.”
“Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.”

ROG

X is for X-Men


X-Men is a very popular comic book published by Marvel Comics. Actually, the idea of X-Men now means a series of comic book titles with an interlocking directory of characters. It’s so popular that it has help create three movies* with name stars such as Patrick Stewart (Professor Xavier) and Halle Berry (Storm) [pictured above] and Ian McKellen (Magneto) [pictured below]. These are shots from the premiere of the first film.

If you look at The Marvel Encyclopedia, updated and expanded foe 2009, which I just happened to take out of the library last week, you’ll find no fewer than 110 references to X-Men in the index; that does not count the seven pages, in the 400-page book, describing the X-Men directly.

But it’s not its successful nature per se that interests me. Rather, it’s…well, let me explain.

The X-Men were introduced to the world in 1963, the same year as the supergroup known as the Avengers. The premise of the creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby was that the characters had certain extraordinary (X-tra ordinary) powers at birth, though they weren’t always manifested immediately. They were mutants, outcasts from society. Yet the group, founded by Charles XAVIER, a/k/a Professor X, was sworn to protect those who feared and hated them, trying to bring peaceful coexistence between “ordinary” humans and mutants.

However, the book, by the same creative team that had created the Fantastic Four, the Hulk and many, many others, was a bit of a bust. Definitely second-tier in the pantheon of comic book characters. Perhaps the theme of minorities persecuted by a majority was a little bit too “on the nose” for comic book fans of the time.

In fact, for about five years the book was essentially canceled, though reprints were released as X-Men 67-93.

Then a new group was developed in 1975 that was more international in scope, and they didn’t all have those boring yellow and blue jump suits. Others can talk about the particulars of the great success of the revised entity. I want to tell you that, as a comic book fan, I was shocked by both how well the re-envisioning worked and how well it caught on with the public.

Think of the movie Rocky. Better still, think of singer Susan Boyle, from which nothing was expected, yet the judges were gobsmacked by her voice. If that weren’t enough, her debut album sold 700,000 units in the first week in the United States alone and another 500,000 the following week. Such was the success of the X-Men.

So much so that when I worked at a comic book store called FantaCo in the 1980s, and we decided to to a magazine about a comic book group, naturally we picked X-Men. I really wanted to edited it, not just because of my affection for the then-current incarnation, but because I loved the rags-to-riches nature of the title. I write about this at length here, with a little bit of follow-up here.

But as Nik from SpatulaForum writes: “Unfortunately, the ‘X-Men brand’ has been so utterly diluted in the years since by endless spin-offs, impossibly complicated continuity and everything from movies to action figures to beach towels that it’s hard to forget how simple and revolutionary they once seemed.” It’s interesting that the teen artists of Kids of Survival chose to use the X-Men, a run of 1968 episodes of the comic book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, totally unaltered beyond being placed as the canvas, as their choice, rather than the more up-to-date versions, in their artistic expression.


Here is a picture of my good friend Fred Hembeck’s rendition of the X-Men. You can find more of his work here.

*Yes, I know there’s also a Wolverine film. Len Wein, who helped created Wolverine in Hulk #181, talks about the character here and here.

Roger Answers Your Questions, Scott and Jaquandor

Queries from veteran Roger queriers,

First up is the noble Scott:

Is there a team you are rooting for to win the Super Bowl?

Besides the Giants, who just don’t deserve it this year (41-9 loss to Carolina yesterday?), gotta be the Saints. Partly it a parochial hope that a Super Bowl appearance will once again point out the aftermath of Katrina and how much is yet undone in the recovery. Also, can’t help but think it would give the city a real boost; they’ve already postponed some Mardi Gras events in anticipation of getting to the big game. And yes, I thought losing to the Cowboys was probably a good thing; get the loss out of their system. (So naturally they lose to Tampa Bay yesterday.) The perfect season was a curse for the Patriots a couple seasons back, so the loss to the Jets – who are still in playoff contention – theoretically will help the Colts. Or not.

What is your favorite Christmas family tradition?

I’m still grasping at any kind of tradition. We had a tree the last three years, but not the previous two. What we eat varies; this year it was lasagna! And while I sing on Christmas Eve, it’s hardly a FAMILY tradition, since my wife and daughter weren’t there. In fact, I didn’t see my daughter at all on Christmas Eve, though I did talk with her twice on the phone. The tree decorations I used to have seem to have disappeared. So it’s not so much tradition; it’s jazz improv, and it’s all good.

Do you do a lot of decorating inside and outside your house for the holidays?

Outside, not at all. Inside, the Christmas cards – and we got a LOT of Christmas cards this year, more than ever – go around the entryway to our living room. In fact we had so many, we put a few on the other side, the entryway back into the hallway. There’s the tree. There’s red garland on the railing heading upstairs. We do have a creche.

The daughter constructed a snowman from paper, which we hung up. She also made some drawings that got put around the house.

What Christmas gift made the most lasting impression on you?

That would be the Beatles in Mono box set that I got in…2009. It wasn’t just that I got the music; it was something I wanted and Santa delivered that singular package that was more than Santa is inclined to spend on a one item.

What was the best Christmas gift you received as a child?

Seriously, a Johnny Seven OMA (One Man Army); I played with that forever and STILL turned out as a pacifist. Tom Hanks got one as a kid, he once told Leno.

Although the family getting a color TV in 1969, when I was 16, was huge, too; we literally saw the world in a different way. Watching the Wizard of Oz the next year, in particular, was a revelation; a “horse of a different color”, indeed.

Merry Christmas to you and your family, Roger!

You too, Scott.

The best of the west, western NYS, that is, Jaquandor asks:

Do you cook? If so, what? Do you have a favorite ethnic cuisine? If so, what?

I did cook. And I was functional, not inspirational, at things like chicken. But I don’t particularly enjoy it, Carol’s better at it, and I get home close to 6:30 pm. I tend to make eggs, pancakes, oatmeal, grilled cheese sandwiches, those kinds of things on the weekends.

My favorite ethnic cuisine is lasagna, which I used to make in the winter, though the recent Christmas meal in fact was made by the wife and mother-in-law; I shredded the mozzarella. I also used to bake, but likewise Carol’s more ept and I, rather inept. Damn, I just remember a time I confused baking powder with baking soda in a pancake recipe; it was AWFUL.

And do you have a strong opinion one way or the other on Governor Paterson?

Notice that David Paterson’s positives have gone from the low 20s to the mid 30s. Still not great, and still losing to Andrew Cuomo by 40 points, should the attorney general run in a primary against him. But perhaps there is a recognition that he’s at least TRYING to balance the budget, whereas the state legislature is unable/unwilling to. I wonder if those television ads, like this one are having an effect.

I have a question for you; do you think those Saturday Night Live parodies hurt him with the electorate? I’ve been under the impression that the NYS voters and SNL watchers are not that linked, but I could be wrong.

I can/do argue with some of his choices; his cuts to education and libraries seem particularly short-sighted. But I haven’t written him off politically, especially if Rick Lazio, who ran a TERRIBLE campaign against Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate race in 2000, turns out to be the GOP nominee, rather than Rudy Giuliani.

ROG

Roger Answers Your Questions, Sherry, Jay, Autumn Belle, magiceye

Answers, we got ’em for our contestants, all newbies:

Sherry asked:
I must know, “What will you do in 2010? Will you still play in the ABC Meme. Is there life on Mars?”
Maybe a nice glass of Eggnog will help you get into the spirit of the season and a cookie.

What I’ll do in 2010? I never know what tomorrow will bring. That said, if the ABC Wednesday meme continues, I’ll still participate; already have an A, B and V(!) in mind. Do you know if it’ll stick around?
Of course there’s life on Mars. I’m a David Bowie fan.
While trimming the tree on December 23 had eggnog with Amaretto. Thanks for the suggestion.

Jay got excited:
Hmmm. Ask you anything? *Rubs hands together* Well then…

Uh.

OK, why do I think you’re an ordained minister?

Well, I think it’s because when I was about 11 or 12, I thought I would be an ordained minister. Just about everyone at church thought I’d be an ordained minister. I had my “saved” experience when I was nine, watching Billy Graham on television. I was very pious; I say that without irony. I went to Bible study every Friday night (except in the summer) for about seven years.

The problem I developed in my mid teens were twofold: 1) the notion that everyone who didn’t follow Jesus, such as a pious Hindu in India, was going to hell conflicted with my belief in a just God; and 2) sex. OK, that’s an oversimplification, but not incorrect.

So, I fell away from church and Christianity for over a decade, though I would dabble in all sorts of things from the Unitarians to the Moonies. Finally, in 1982, my grandmother died. I sang in the choir at her funeral, and it moved me, slowly and cautiously, back to church and Christianity, in that order.

So now I am actively involved with Bible study. The certainty of my youth has been replaced by, I hope, a more broad understanding of my faith. And I am always looking at other faith traditions to see what seems consistent with my evolving beliefs. You may have read that Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life study that said that nearly six in 10 Americans blend their faith with New Age beliefs. This is unsurprising to me. The one good thing I got from the Unitarians is the idea that we create our own religion. Whether it’s American Catholics who ignore the Pope on birth control or my rejection of the “literal” interpretation of Genesis 1 (the “six days” creation), I recognize that God has given us reason for a purpose.

http://mymalaysiadailyphoto.blogspot.com/ asked:
Did you have a White Christmas?

Yes. we got a dusting a couple days before Christmas, and it stuck around, to clean the extant stuff.

magiceye wants to know: why the stress during holidays meant for destressing? it is distressing!

Well, I can’t speak globally, but for me, this year in particular was tricky. Days I was going to take off to do Roger things I ended up watching the sick daughter, who was ill three separate times. As a result, I violated my own tradition, which was to take off from work a weekday 7 to 10 days before Christmas and do all my hands-on shopping. I deluded myself into thinking that since I did so much purchasing online, I didn’t need the carve-out time; false. I needed it even to go to the library and shop online – my home computer is increasingly as cranky as I was becoming. So next year, I’m taking off Thursday, December 16 to shop; someone hold me to that.

ROG