The “good death” of Carl Reiner

Denny O’Neil, David Mazzucchelli, and me

Carl ReinerIt appears that Carl Reiner had a good death on June 29. The 98-year-old was productive and vital until the very end.

This is very clear as I was watching If You’re Not In the Obit, Eat Breakfast, the 2017 documentary for which Reiner was nominated for an Emmy. I caught it on July 3.

He “tracks down several nonagenarians [and older] to show how the twilight years can be rewarding.” The participants included Fyvush Finkel, who died before the release; the recently deceased Kirk Douglas; Betty White; Dick Van Dyke, with his much younger wife Arlene; Norman Lear; and naturally, his friend of 70 years, Mel Brooks. Here’s the preview.

I’m pleased to note that my daughter has watched all five seasons of The Dick Van Dyke Show, which Carl Reiner created, and which I love. Of course, he played the irritable TV star, Alan Brady, as well as the budding English anti-existentialist Yale Sampson, and several other annoying characters.

Not like his characters

But as Mark Evanier noted: “Carl Reiner was the friendliest, most talented person in show business… He was a guy I admired not just for his fine work as a writer, producer, director, and performer but for just the way he was as a person. Every time I was around him, he was an absolute delight – funny, engaging, willing to talk with anyone about anything. He was just what you’d want an idol to be. He was a role model for how to be truly successful and sane in show business.”

Yes, Carl Reiner was an actor (Ocean’s 11 franchise, Hot in Cleveland) and director (Oh, God; The Jerk; All of Me). But mostly he was a writer, going back to 1950s television, with Sid Caesar and Dinah Shore. He co-wrote and directed Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) and The Man with Two Brains (1983).

I had wished he would have been selected for the Kennedy Center Honors, like his friends Mel Brooks had been in 2009 and Norman Lear in 2017. It may be that he was underappreciated as the straight man, such as the interviewer of Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man.

Other recent deaths of note

Dennis O’Neil, who died June 11, was a comic writer who I admired greatly. His Green Lantern/Green Arrow with Neal Adams made the book relevant. He also did work on Iron Man and The Amazing Spider-Man.

Somewhere in my possession is a photo of O’Neil, David Mazzucchelli, Augustus Manly (Matt at the time), me, and a fifth person at the comic book store FantaCo in Albany. Denny and David were working on Daredevil at the time, so this had to be 1984 or 1985. He was quite pleasant, but I might have been a bit awestruck.

Hugh Downs, who passed away on July 1, was a constant presence in my television watching the last third of the 20th century. He hosted the game show Concentration (1958-1968), which BTW I was very bad at. Downs also co-hosted The Today Show (1962-1971).

With Barbara Walters, he co-hosted the news show 20/20 from 1978 until his retirement in 1999. In 1984, “he was certified by the Guinness World Records as holding the record for the greatest number of hours on network commercial television (15,188 hours).”

The reference to the “good death”, incidentally, comes from Paul McCartney explaining the song The End of the End from his 2007 album Memory Almost Full.

Comic book creator John Byrne is 70

FantaCo Chronicles

John ByrneBack in my FantaCo days, John Byrne saved my bacon. Twice.

For those of you who are not comic book fans, Byrne is a British-born writer and artist of superhero comics. Notably, he had a stellar run with Chris Claremont that made the X-Men the most popular title in the Marvel Universe starting in the late 1970s. He’s worked on many Marvel titles and a few from DC, as you can see here. In 1981, Byrne took over the writing and drawing of Marvel’s first superhero group, the Fantastic Four.

When I worked at FantaCo, we created a series of magazines about Marvel characters. The first was the X-Men Chronicles in 1981, which I edited, with a cover by former X-Men artist Dave Cockrum, It turned out to be monumentally successful, with a print run of 50,000.

The next two were to cover the Fantastic Four, edited by me, and Daredevil, compiled by Mitch Cohn, in early 1982. I no longer know how we did it, but we were able to get several name artists and writers to participate in our project.

Wait, Tom Skulan, publisher and store owner, remembers that several came directly from other artists who had done work for us “who felt that their friends would appreciate the high rates we were paying.” Mitch, in particular, often pumped creators for other phone numbers.

We DID have an impressive Rolodex. (Hey, kids: a Rolodex is “a rotating file device used to store business contact information. Its name is a portmanteau of the words rolling and index.” I have my red one SOMEWHERE, I think.)

Problem solver

spider-man chroniclesJohn Byrne agreed not only to do the front cover of the Fantastic Four Chronicles but the centerspread. He also wrote A Personal Reflection re: the FF. We needed to print the front and back covers of the Fantastic Four and Daredevil Chronicles “two-up”, i.e., at the same time.

The problem is that I didn’t have the back cover from prominent artist George Perez. What to do, what to do?

Finally, I called Byrne, who suggested using his front cover as the back cover as well. No charge. Eventually, the Perez cover showed and we used it as the inside back cover. It bumped a piece by local artist Joe Fludd, who was/is a big Perez fan. George, BTW, did the cover for the Avengers Chronicle, edited by Mitch.

I’m working on the Spider-Man Chronicles. Spider-Man was my favorite character. Mitch got Frank Miller, who had done the Daredevil Chronicles cover, to agree to do the same for Spidey. Then, at the last moment, Miller called and pulled out! I have everything else finished.

In desperation, I call John Byrne. Can he whip up SOMETHING? And quickly? I swear that four days later, the cover arrives in the mail. And it’s great! The book schedule is saved.

I haven’t kept up with Byrne since I largely gave up reading comics in the mid-1990s. I know that he and his X-Men collaborator Chris Claremont were entered into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2015. But thanks, John Byrne. And happy natal day.

First kiss; still retired; Fan-Taco

Things get settled eventually

First KissSome Ask Roger Anything questions, all from people I met in the 1970s or 1980s IRL, as it turns out. All were asked on Facebook.

Kevin, who I’ve known since college, asks: How old were you when you had your first kiss?

This proved to be surprisingly difficult to answer. I thought my first kiss was when I was 13, at the home of my friends Danny and Bob, and I kissed Mary under the mistletoe. But Mary, who I’m still in touch with via FB, has no such recollection. Maybe it’s a false memory.

That would mean I was 15 or 16 when I surely kissed Martha. That would have been 1968 or 1969. Not incidentally, the Beatles white album came out in November 1968. So I sang the song Martha My Dear a LOT at the time, and played it too, Side 2, 1st track.

How was I to know that it was a paean to Paul McCartney’s English sheepdog?

Still retired

Augustus, with whom I worked at the comic book store FantaCo in the mid-1980s, wants to know: How long have you been retired?

My last day of work was Friday, June 28. I say I retired on Sunday, June 30 because that’s the day my insurance ended. I was primary on Medicare as of July 1, though, based on the denial got recently for a doctor’s service, Medicare STILL doesn’t know it. It’s not really their fault but my previous insurance company’s.

My friend Catbird wrote:
What I’ve heard about Medicare is:
Find a provider who takes it (prepare for disappointment)
Receive service
Receive bill for what was not reimbursed in 45 days
Tell provider, who resubmits
Things get settled eventually
No wonder so many providers don’t accept Medicare! It seems like the only ones that do are the big medical machines like MedStar (and maybe United Healthcare)
Other countries do healthcare a LOT better than the US.

Fan-Taco

Mark, my old roommate who also worked at FantaCo, is being funny: Did you ever work at a Restaurant called Fan-taco?

Ha. It does remind me, though, that I have NEVER worked in food service in my whole life. No cooking, waiting, dishwashing. I was not opposed to it but just did other stuff.

Exiting my jobs over the years

I have no idea about these things

exitingSince I am about to leave my job of 26 years plus, I thought I’d mention exiting my jobs in the past.

IBM, Endicott, NY, 03-09/1971: I was working the evening shift, 5:12 p.m.-2 a.m., though it was usually until 4 a.m. I worked on putting this laminated gel on computer boards, then heating these boards in ovens, then attaching plastic plates to the board.

I was very good. Too good, in fact, because the first process was so easy that the job quota went from 60 items/hour to 80/hour. The day shift had been slacking off. In retaliation, the day shift did a ton of the first process, leaving the more precise second task for me.

When I left, my manager was disappointed, but I needed to go to college.

Some box factory, 2 weeks in the summer of 1973, described here. After they gave me grief about my productivity, they begged me to stay.

Albany Savings Bank, teller, 02/1978 – two days after my training was over, and I was on the window by myself, spending an hour trying to find a five cent overage, I quit with two days notice. They weren’t happy but they were only paying me $6000 a year, less than what I had in my drawer every day.

Schenectady Arts Council, 03/1978-01/1979 – I took this job, which, BTW, paid $8200. It was a lot more fun and interesting.

Ostensibly, I was the bookkeeper, but I solicited ads for a fundraiser to fix Proctors Theatre, I was a dance partner for the choreographer when she taught disco to school, and most regularly, I ran the biweekly Artisans’ Arcade in the Proctors’ walkway.

When the federal funding was suddenly cut, a bunch of us went out drinking. I’m fairly sure I called my girlfriend to come pick me up.

Empire Blue Cross, 02/1979-03/1980 – described here.

FantaCo, 05/1980-11/1988 – the comic book store/publisher/mail order place. It was a great job for a long time. But as I wrote here, I was just burned out.

I thought I would never have a job with a tenure more than the 8.5 years I worked at FantaCo. Yet I was at the NY SBDC greater than thrice as long, proving I have no idea about these things.

Listen to I Quit – Blotto

For ABC Wednesday

Librarians in America (and everywhere)

Working at FantaCo, the comic book store et al., has been very helpful in my current job. I know about balancing a checkbook, applying for a business loan, trying to get a better rate on a credit card.

Berkeley Lab Librarians Peter Palath and Michael Golden
Berkeley Lab Librarians Peter Palath and Michael Golden at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory on Friday, October 6, 2017 in Berkeley, Calif.
My dear friend Deborah wonders if Asking Roger Anything would include her son asking me questions about finding work in libraries in America? (He is, last I knew, in France.)

Why, yes, it would. We should set up some online dialogue. Meanwhile, let me give you some general thoughts about being a librarian.

Whatever he already knows, in whatever field, is good. It’s because it will be useful in some yet unexplained way.

Working at FantaCo, the comic book store et al., has been very helpful in my current job. I know about balancing a checkbook, applying for a business loan, trying to get a better rate on a credit card.

Late last month, I gave a webinar about sales tax. It was, well, pretty damn good, according to the reviews.

My interest in such an arcane topic came from realizing that a comic book is a periodical and not subject to sales tax in New York State. But if you sell that same comic book for more than the cover price, it is then a “collectible” and therefore IS subject to sales tax.

(I know that last paragraph was REALLY exciting. Riveting, even. My friend Dave and I talked sales tax that very evening. Seriously. Of course he WORKS for the tax department.)

Working as an enumerator for the 1990 Census was likewise of great value to my current work. If you know the questions they ask, it informs what data might be available.

Librarians HAVE to be curious. You have to want to, no, need to know. You can be trained to do that, I suppose, but it REALLY helps if one is innately so disposed.

This is why my friends Judy and Jendy and Broome nagged me to go to library school in 1990. They KNEW. It was patently OBVIOUS to them, and eventually to me, that my mind works in a particular way. Ask my sisters; I’ve ALWAYS had a need to know.

He doesn’t have to be up on EVERY topic, just his areas of interest. But it is an occupational hazard that other people think librarians know everything about EVERYTHING, when it’s merely ALMOST everything.

This notion, BTW, is laid out in the book called The Library Book by Susan Orlean. Your son probably should read it. I’m about 2/3s of the way through.