Archive - April 2003

April 30th, 2003

As it turned out, last Saturday was a bigger disaster than it appeared to be at first glance--and it sure wasn't an attractive snapshot at the outset, either, lemme tell you!?!

The opening game of the spring portion of the intramural soccer schedule was to commence that day, y'see--about two weeks later than usual, owing equally to the lingering bad weather as well as to a late Easter. The Blue Thunderbolts, the team Julie plays for and which I, somewhat coincidentally, happen to coach, had an away contest pencilled in for a 10:30 AM start. Only, our fine friends over at The Weather Channel had clearly made that notion seem highly unlikely for many days prior, promising rain around midnight Friday, continuing all throughout the following day. So convinced was I by this formidable forecast that I even told the girls at our initial 2003 Thursday practice that, unfortunately, we were probably going to start this half just as we ended the last half--with a rainout. Since we already had three games vanish from the fall schedule, never to be made-up, and had our spring whittled down to 8 games caused by our late start (as opposed to the standard 10) the prospect of yet ANOTHER wash out was a depressing one. These kids wanna play! But, sadly, it seemed to be all but guaranteed that we wouldn't...

With barely a prospect of strapping on the shin-guards, there seemed no reason to veto Julie from inviting a friend to sleep over on Friday night. I also decided to dispense with composing my chart of who plays where and when, since I knew I'd never need it (and no, I couldn't carry it over to the next game since it was specific to the girls who would and wouldn't show up that particular day, and two of my little T-Bolts informed me they'd be unable to attend, rain or no rain). I admit, I was becoming a wee bit concerned as I turned in at 1AM, since I still hadn't heard the tell-tale tap tap tap of raindrops on my roof, but TWC was still talking overnight downpours, so I went to sleep reasonably assured of getting that early morning cancellation call. And sure enough, I did. However...

But wait--I'm sure by now you're asking yourself, "Fred? A COACH?!? Cartoon boy? Well, THAT doesn't seem right, not right at all!?!" Yeah, I realize it seems a bit of an incongruous job description, and in plain fact, it surely isn't anything I would've ever expected to find myself doing, y'know? How'd it happen then? Well, four seasons back--and I'll restrain myself from inserting the obligatory Frankie Valli reference (Oops! Too late!)--Julie's coach asked for a volunteer to act as his assistant. Naturally, no one stepped forward, but after we got home, Julie convinced me to take the job, inasmuch as, hey, I'd be attending every practice anyway. Reluctantly, I agreed, and proceeded to assist Coach Pat as quietly and as inconspicuously as I possibly could, doing my best to stay out of his way, since this was his gig and he was a guy who truly knew the game. Over the course of the year, he had to go out of town several times, leaving me in charge of a couple of the games, and believe me, folks, I was a bundle of nerves before THOSE matches!?! If I remember right, we actually lost both contests, but neither in an embarrassing fashion, so I felt I came out of things relatively unscathed. And I would've been more than content to merely continue my supporting role, if only my boss hadn't dropped a bombshell at game's end on the last day of the season--he was stepping down!! Not entirely, as it turned out--he'd coach his two younger son's squads, but he was leaving the girls in other hands, as yet to be determined. Can you all guess who wound up with the position?..

Oh, I resisted at first, rightfully confessing my massive ignorance of the finer points of the game. You kick the ball, don't use your hands, and then, um...well, I would've been paying far closer attention to the practice drills if I'd had ANY hint of my ultimate fate, believe you me. However, since I HAD found working with the kids to be enjoyable--and after trying other avenues, they just couldn't find anybody else to fill the vacancy--I eventually gave in, thus launching my unlikely coaching career some three years back now.

How would I best describe my approach? Well, I don't exactly evince the drive and intensity of a Billy Martin--more like the carefree nonchalance of a Dean Martin! Bobby Knight? Try Ted Knight. But look, the important thing was that I strictly adhered to the league's Prime Directive--everybody plays equally, and everybody plays both defense and offensive positions, and in the same game whenever possible. Y'see, this organization doesn't keep records, stats or standings of any kind. You pays your money, you're on a team, whatever your skill level may be. The challenge here is to get all the players on the field roughly the same amount of time while making sure each configuration is properly balanced between girls of varying abilities, giving each of them the best opportunity to succeed. And somehow, miraculously, that first year, things were golden--we only lost a single contest! (Though we certainly didn't WIN all the rest, mind you--several ended as ties. Still, it was a highly satisfying start to my tenure, even if it wouldn't last...)

Each campaign features totally refurbished teams, the overhauls made necessary by new players coming in, old ones dropping out, and the varying birth dates of the girls--y'see, each age grouping covers a two year swing, meaning there'll always be some left behind as the older girls advance up a level. Which explains why, outside of a core contingent of about seven girls--including my Julie, of course--I've had three vastly different teams. Guiding that second group wasn't nearly as wonderful an experience as the first year's contingent, and not just because we wound up with closer to a .500 record than being undefeated. Statistically--which you wind up keeping for your own edification, if nothing else-- that's pretty much where we're at this year, but it's a far more positive situation. Maybe I'll spill with the details someday, but for now, I felt compelled to fill you in a bit on this tale's back-story.

Oh yeah, one more thing--travel teams. These are teams that--yes!--travel, but by that, I mean long distances, sometimes even out of state. You have to make a travel team by trying out--it's not automatic like the intramurals. You practice several times a week, play in numerous tournaments, continue throughout the winter when we're shut down, keep records and standings, and players generally learn and hopefully perfect a single position. I assure you, there's absolutely no way I'd EVER be qualified to be a travel team coach, nor would I ever have any desire to become one. Far more time is invested in soccer by those involved in that side of things than the handful of hours twice a week me and my girls put into our intramural league. Which, like I said, is just fine and dandy with me. Even if, as it turned out, we weren't gonna get to play that opening game...

The phone rang at 7:10 Saturday morning. I quickly grabbed it and answered groggily. Sure enough, our town was postponing that day's games, and the fellow on the other end of the line asked me to alert our town's other four coaches while he made some further calls. Dutifully doing my duty, I rang up--and probably woke up-- a quartet of not-very-surprised folks. And then I dialed up my competition for the day, but after I relayed the message I had received, he hastily reminded me that this development didn't apply to OUR game, since we were playing on HIS home ground, that being in the next town over. (We have 16 teams unevenly divided between 5 different towns in our league, please understand) Fact is, as far as he could tell, it didn't seem to be raining all that much at the time, and he sounded fairly certain that we'd indeed play!?! Backing up his supposition, the weather radar on TV showed a distinct break in our immediate area. He went on to assure me that the field we were heading for would definitely be playable, in stark contrast to our own town's fields, well renowned for their ability to retain moisture in puddles aplenty, thereby causing the cancellation of games even under the sunniest of skies--heck, a bad shower on a Thursday has been known to put the kibosh on a Saturday morning match!?! Was it possible? Were we really going to play? He promised to call me back at 9, and maybe by then, we'd know for sure. Maybe by then, the folks over there would come to their senses and pull the plug, but just in case, I figured, maybe I oughta quickly cobble me up a game plan!?!...

At 9:10, the word finally arrived--the scheduled game preceding ours was out there on the field, the ball being merrily kicked around! And, according to our distinguished opponent--NOT, to the best of my knowledge, an accredited meteorologist--there's but a light mist in the air. WE'RE ON!?! Yipes! Time to go rouse Julie and her (non-soccer playing) pal--get up get up get up!! And then the calls started flooding in--fully expecting to be on the receiving end of one of my by now far too regular cancellation calls, the parents of my charges were as surprised as I was to find out that, yes, we WERE playing!! THAT'S why I hadn't called, folks--and I soon realized I'd best contact the few who neglected to check in in case false if logical assumptions were made, which they were. So, running late as it was, we quickly got ourselves ready. Of course, wouldn't you know it--the sleep-over girl's mom couldn't get to our place fast enough, so we wound up driving her home instead! While it was only slightly out of our way, the detour still caused me to be late--albeit a mere five minutes--for the first time in three otherwise punctual years. It was no big deal, and I was forgiven, but it was indicative somehow of the way things were going to go that day. Remember that so-called "fine mist"? Well, somehow, over the past ninety minutes, it had developed into a light but doggedly steady chilling rain...

That wasn't my only problem. Five of my sixteen girls didn't show, and when the referee checked out my team's equipment, she noticed that one of my best players was wearing softball cleats, not soccer cleats. Despite the fact that my girl'd worn those self-same footgear the entire first half with no one the wiser--myself included--this inordinately picky ref refused to let her play. Great. It's cold, it's raining, and I've only got 10 players for 11 positions, while the opposition has at least 15 or 16 players available, allowing them to substitute fresh kids for weary teammates, a luxury I was denied this particular day. And while we sometimes play two 25-minute halves, wouldn't you know that THIS day we got the full 30-minute periods!? I shoulda known things weren't going our way by that point, but once the ball was finally kicked off, it sure didn't take long to confirm those suspicions...

Our opponents scored two goals on us within the first three minutes, and it all went downhill from there. Final score? 7 to 1. It was by far the biggest disparity in goals I've ever experienced throughout the years. This team sure played awfully good for a so-called intramural squad, lemme tell ya. They seamlessly executed all sorts of plays at the direction of their coach or one of this many assistants. With an outside sponsor--we're merely affiliated with the town's league--each and every girl on the other side had a fancy monogrammed bag holding their individual soccer balls, a far fancier situation than I'd ever run across before. I'd heard that sometimes the other town's criteria for recruitment for their teams didn't exactly...match up with ours. Gee, you don't think we could've been up against some ringers, do you? Of course, it's just entirely possible that we were up against a really, really good team, and of course, that our team wasn't playing all that well, but I still have to wonder. We're not gonna win every game, I have no illusions about THAT, and I sure don't wanna come off as whining sour grapes-like, but geez, 7 to 1?? We're not THAT bad--even if I DON'T know what I'm doing!?! Next game up is within our own little town configuration, and if that goes poorly, I guess I CAN'T pull this lame excuse of my hat, now can I?

Exhausted, wet and weary, we staggered home. If nothing else, I now knew what we needed to concentrate on at practice--pretty much everything!! Ah, if only I had more of background in soccer, these kids may've had a better chance. After a drubbing like that, I feel as if I let the kids down somehow. But, well, I guess you get what you pay for, and since the position pays absolutely nothing whatsoever--sorta like working on this web-site, dig?--I give 'em all I got and hope for the best! At least no one ever gets cheated out of playing time, I'm proud to say. So, look forward, not backward, right? I put the whole debacle pretty much out of my head--at least until Tuesday morning...

Julie woke up with a sore throat. Yup. Gee, now how could THAT'VE happened? She valiantly attempted to get ready for school, but no, she never made it. Nor did she today. Instead, it was time for yet another visit to the local sawbones, and THIS time--bingo!--she turned up with strep throat!?! Oy!! You might recall me informing you that my darlin' little daughter's been plagued by a slew of illnesses in recent times, most recently two weeks to the day before the drenching she took this past Saturday. It never ends, apparently. Absent once again today, she now has amassed a total of 20 days missed!! Twenty!! That's four weeks of school time--Julie's missed a MONTH of the seventh grade!?! A month!?! Luckily, she's a good student, and has been able to--so far--keep up with the work she misses and maintain her grades, but still...

Geez, this time I blame myself. I never shoulda let the other coach talk me into coming out on such a dreary day. I only ever once before had a team play in the rain, and inasmuch as it was the very last day of my first season, there was a special impetus to getting that particular game in. Okay, sure, I suppose I didn't want to have another scheduled contest up and slip through my fingers, so yeah, at the time I thought it might be a good thing to play despite the lousy weather. Now, obviously, I'm having second thoughts. At practice tomorrow I'll find out just how many OTHER poor kids I wound up sending to the medicine cabinets!?!

Losing, even that badly, was a disaster I could get past. Getting people sick in the process, now THAT'S not so easily tossed aside. And guess what? They're calling for showers this Saturday!?! I don't know what's gonna happen, but I'm reasonably certain Julie won't be playing. If you don't see the scores on ESPN, check back here, and should events merit it, I'll give you the lowdown, okay, sports fans?...

GO THUNDERBOLTS!! But try and dress warmly, okay?...

April 28th, 2003

Get back, get back to what you once recorded!!

Imagine my surprise when I went over to AOL, intent on checking my mail but first saw a blurb regarding a brand-new Paul McCartney ditty!?! Recorded for the soundtrack of a brand new movie, "The In-Laws"--or so one is led to believe-- the fine folks at AOL made it available for their constituency's listening pleasure! Only, while this flick itself is actually a remake of sorts, broadly based on the 1979 Peter Falk/Alan Arkin romp of the same name--this time starring the chuckle-inducing duo of Albert Brooks and Michael Douglas (...Michael Douglas?...)--it's STILL fresher than the music Sir Paul contributed to this cinematic enterprise, a little thing called "A Love For You"!

Not immediately recognizing the rather non-descript title, I clicked the proper button in order to sample this "new" track, and instantaneously realized this was indeed a familiar piece of long-lost Macca. After two run-throughs, I dug out my "Cold Cuts" bootleg CD, and sure enough, there it was, initiating the festivities in the leadoff slot. True, the "In-Laws" version was shorter, and in fact most likely an entirely different take than the one included on what was once an almost-released collection of un-issued sides that Paul himself gathered together (a last minute change of mind kept the official version of this CD from consumer's sweaty little hands back in the mid-eighties, with McCartney later remarking that he had no further plans to put the collection out, inasmuch as the bootleg was pretty much available to anybody who REALLY wanted it!!...) Paul's "new" song dates back--are you ready for this?? --to the "Ram" sessions in 1971!! 1971!! That's a whole eight years BEFORE the original "In-Laws" laff-fest, one year AFTER Paul split from the other three lads, and. "choke"... THIRTYTWO years before getting a legitimate release!! As, the AOL brain trust would have it, Paul's "NEW" song!?! Yipes!

Despite being shuffled off to the darkest recesses of the reel-to-reel archives all these decades, I gotta tell ya, it's actually a pretty good recording. Sprightly in the McCartney manner, with his underused falsetto carrying most of the tune, urged on by a relentless--and melodic-- acoustic guitar riff. Certainly, it's a far sight better than a fair share of stuff that none the less squeaked out of the MPL gates over the years, and yes, I'd judge it as being more memorable than "Vanilla Sky", Paul's last--and, as best I can tell, wholly contemporary--attempt at winning an Oscar for Best Song, being the title theme from the like-named filmic flop. Hey, remember that slogan NBC had for their summer reruns a few years back? "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you!!" Well, if you haven't heard it, it IS new to you!! It just ain't new to me and all the other obsessive Maccanites out there in the Pepperland's of our minds!! (..but at least it's an alternate take--must buy soundtrack, must buy soundtrack, must buy soundtrack...)

Speaking of the Cute Beatle, as we seem to be incessantly around these parts, last week on my self-proclaimed McCartney Day, after I filed my report over these very airwaves, I was pleasantly surprised to see the man himself featured on the cover of my latest subscription copy of Britain's fine MOJO magazine!! What great timing! Beneath an uncharacteristically stern looking portrait of Macca ran the banner headline--"Battered. Slandered. Unbowed. McCartney--Why He's Tougher Than You Think". And right under THAT, in smaller type, in reference to another article contained within ran the blurb, "Yoko Ono--Why She's Nicer Than You Think"!?! Provocative statements, both--and more importantly, I wondered if, maybe, just maybe, there was an alternate Yoko cover somewhere out there too?!?

Sure enough, right smack dab on the contents page was a small reproduction of the dreaded Yoko version!?! Only, unlike the time four different Beatles each merited their own quarter of the print run, the publisher's hastily informed us that the "super-rare " Yoko Ono cover is available only from specific retailers (check the enclosed list, all ye Beatles completists!), as a mere 1750 of these covers were printed! Rare--or uncommercial? YOU make the call!! I'm just relieved they chose to send me the, ahem, RIGHT cover, dig!?!

April 25th, 2003

Sometimes I get a line stuck in my head, and until I get it out, there's no peace for me, no peace at all. Usually, my poor family bears the brunt of my inanity, but that was before I had THIS forum available to me. So, if you don't mind, let's give Lynn and Julie a break this time, and let me try this one out on you folks, okay?...

Please understand, I'm not saying this is gonna be particularly FUNNY, but this punch line just came to me shortly after writing one of these installments a couple days back--you'll soon realize which one-- and I felt compelled to concoct a convoluted lead-in to it, so here goes (and gang, I apologize ahead of time...)

One afternoon, famous social activist and stand-up comic Dick Gregory was visiting his friend, legendary comedian and well-known commercial spokesman, Bill Cosby. While having a pleasant conversation in Cosby's living room, Bill suddenly excuses himself and goes into the kitchen. He returns with a bowl full to the brim containing a large portion of one of the most successful of the many products he'd represented in his long career, and set it down on the coffee table in front of his startled guest. Currently amidst one of his trademark hunger strikes, Gregory appears offended when he senses that Cosby fully expects him to dig right in. Bill doesn't seem to understand Dick's dilemma, until Gregory distills the situation succinctly for his clueless host:

"I am furious--Jello!!"

...all right, go back to your lives now, and please--PLEASE!!--don't let this deter you from coming 'round again, okay?...

April 23rd, 2003

Inevitably, the close of every TV season brings an end to a handful of long-running, beloved (at least by some) programs. This season is no exception, and the future grows dim for a trio of otherworldly females and their adventurous antics in the weeks--and days--to come.

We all know about the heralded upcoming demise of Buffy, and as a charter member of that woefully under appreciated show's cult following ever since day one, I'll most likely shed more than one tear for the passing of our spunky Slayer. But that sad day's over a month away--no need to get over concerned about it at this juncture.

Word is the heavenly ladies over at "Touched By An Angel" are closing up shop as well after a long, successful run, but as one who remained completely UNtouched during the entirety of that fanciful series many, many broadcasts, I can't honestly say I care overmuch if they're saying goodbye...or halo.

Which brings us to the impending conclusion of "Sabrina, The Teenage Witch", an event the WB network has scheduled for this Thursday evening, April 25th. Unlike the two aforementioned series with their carefully planned exits, the "Sabrina" franchise is going under due to an unstoppable trend in audience erosion--people just ain't watching anymore, gang!! Still, star Melissa Joan Hart and her producing mom apparently saw the writing on the wall and planned a very special season ending episode just in case. When the WB promoed it at the end of last week's episode as a no-ifs-and-or-buts series--NOT season--finale, the Hart's hearts must've sank, the realization that it was undeniably over. And folks, as someone who's sat through all seven years of episodes, I can confidentially announce that, yes, the time has clearly come to fold up the tent. Fact is, to my way of thinking, this move is perhaps three, maybe four years overdue, hmm?...

Now, I can certainly be compulsive about my tubing, but not THAT compulsive. If it weren't for the fact that "Sabrina" remains one of the few shows Lynn and I watch with our daughter Julie, I probably would've bailed years ago. But the kid seemed to still enjoy it, and old sentimental softie that I am, I decided to just go with the flow. In all honesty, "Sabrina" was a terrific show when it debuted--fresh, funny, hip even, AND family-friendly, which, when you're watching with a five year-old, can be a blessing. Because of the comics' source material, you might think my viewer-ship was a fait accompli, but that wasn't necessarily the case. Julie being a big fan of "Clarissa Explains It All", Hart's previous hit on Nickelodeon, had as much to do with it as a viewing choice as anything. Combine the two, and how could we NOT check out the televised escapades of Archie Comics SECOND most famous teenager??

It was a great show for a while there, really it was. Melissa Joan Hart made for a spunky and appealing witch-in-training, and the rest of the cast served as perfect foils as she experienced WAY out of the ordinary growing pains!! Particularly note-worthy was the impression Nick Bakay made with his role as the voice of the feline familiar, Salem, said by some to be the TRUE star of the program!! Ah, those were heady days, with such off the wall cameos as those by the likes of bad-boy magicians, Penn and Teller, in recurring roles as Other Realm entities--one of whom didn't speak, naturally! Sabrina was in high school, vying with other girls for the affections of Harvey, a clueless but apparently appealing young mortal, her aunts were at home in their gothic ediface making sure their charge didn't get herself into TOO much hot water, and all was well on this surprise Friday night ABC network hit!

And then, ever so slowly, the changes began to creep in. The first to go was the frizzy haired best buddy Sabrina leaned on all during the first season, replaced by a straight haired brunette to confide in--although not TOTALLY-- for what? Seasons two and three? Can't say for sure. I'm going purely on memory here, folks, and after awhile all the switches start to get confusing and run together in the ol' noggin. The science teacher from season one? Out. Martin Mull as a comedically uptight high-school principal--in. And before long, in a wacky twist, he's dating one of Sabrina's aunts!! Though he's purported to be the great love of her (really, really long) life, when he's unaccountably jettisoned from the cast after a couple of years, Zelda's loss is never mentioned again. One sure thing this show had in common with its Archie Comics antecedents was it's total disdain for continuity! And the one time it DID attempt it, well, geez...

It was a season ending cliffhanger. Harvey finally discovered that his girlfriend was a witch, leaving us regular viewers to wonder all summer long (well, SOME of the time, anyway...) what his sustained reaction would be and how this would further complicate matters. I think this was the point where things finally went south, as the subsequent season's premiere episode dispensed of this entire storyline BEFORE the opening credits!?! It was casually stated that the shock of what he had learned had freaked out Harvey so incredibly much, that he immediately turned tail and vacated Sabrina's vicinity!! All this was accomplished WITHOUT the on-screen participation of actor Nate Richert, who'd essayed the role ever since the series inception, as the storyline picked up month's after he fled town. It was a coldly callous fair thee well to a once central character, insulting to both the thespian and the fans, but by now, the show had shifted over to the WB and bigger changes were in the offing.

Sabrina had entered college--a local one, of course--and was spending more and more time with Josh, an amiable fellow she'd met the year before. Additional changes were to come--Sabrina would find herself gaining three off-campus roommates, including the former star of "Punky Brewster", the oddly named Soleil Moon Frye. Aunt Hilda purchased the coffee shop where both Josh and Sabrina worked while attending school. And season six saw Sabrina getting her first professional job, as a staff reporter for a newspaper run by George Wendt ("Norm!!!") that also employed her photographer pal, Josh. Then at season's end, Aunt Hilda found true love--and actress Caroline Rea coincidentally found her own talk show--and exited the proceedings. At the outset of this, the seventh and mercifully final season, Josh, "Norm", and the third, male roomie were all inexplicably gone. Aunt Zelda was devolved into a child and sent off to the Other Realm, leaving that big ol' mansion of the Aunt's ripe for Roxy, Morgan, and Sabrina to move into! Only Salem remained a constant, though the quality of his wisecracks, sadly, had noticeably deteriorated over the years. As had, overall, the plots, the quips, and the characterizations in general.

Last September, an entirely new supporting cast was brought in--again--as our witchy women made a lateral career move and became a writer for a trendy rock magazine. But, in a move jarring even for this schizo series, the whole group of kooky co-workers were shown the door mid-season!?! Somehow, Sabrina lost her job there--I forget exactly how, since at the time, I figured it was just that episode's lame plot device, not a 180-degree change for the storyline's status quo. But it was. Cuz, as it turned out, round about the very same time, she met and immediately started dating the LATEST love of her life. Only this time, the producers were playing it up as the REAL thing, and each succeeding episode put Sabrina and this new guy. Aaron, on the fast track to matrimony! The only problem? Well, there were two, actually--first off, there was less chemistry between the pair than between Lisa Marie Presley and TITO Jackson! Secondly, Harvey was back.

Oh, did I fail to mention that? In truth, he wasn't ever gone for long. Mid-way during his first year of banishment, the character inexplicably showed up unannounced smack dab in the middle of an episode. Sabrina and Josh were on a skiing trip with friends, y'see, and while registering at the lodge, Sabrina encounters her erstwhile boyfriend, also there with some friends. Their conversation was realistically strained and uncomfortable, as this was the first time they'd come face to face since he'd learned of her true nature and split. Even more peculiar, the brief scene had absolutely no bearing on the plot de jour, and came--and went-- totally out of the blue. One almost gets the impression that the Hart's--mom and daughter--took pity on an actor they had earlier dumped and threw the struggling Richert a bone. But no matter--Harvey had his foot back in the door (or the cauldron, if you will), though it would be awhile before he began appearing again on a semi-regular basis. When he finally did come back, he spent most of a season dating the self-centered Morgan, one of Sabrina's roomies. And when the plot called for it, he happily provided the occasional jealous moment for Josh. But even after he split with Morgan, he convincingly remained "just friends" with his old flame--that is, until the powers-that-be turned the show into a Harlequin Romance mid-stream this year!

Suddenly, a re-smitten Harvey is professing his undying love for his spell-casting sweetie, though she blindly--and conveniently--seems to miss the point and/or deny her own true feelings at each and every turn!?! On the promos for the series finale spotlighting the wedding of Sabrina and Aaron, the WB voiceover guy promised viewers a shockingly surprising ending--and, in my mind, do you know what THAT would be? If Sabrina really DID marry this Aaron stiff--the alternative is highly predictable. Like, you think maybe she'll get hitched to good ol' Harv instead? You think? Hmm? (Stray thought: Y'know, that OTHER witch show began when Samantha married her mortal husband, Darrin Stevens, and now, in a bit of mirror imagery, this one ends at the altar!) Let's all tune in one last time tomorrow and find out.

On a personal note, it stuns me to think that Julie was just five and entering the first grade when we began following the amiable antics of the also-younger Ms. Hart, and now here's my little girl nearing the end of seventh grade, as we all gather round the set one final time to watch the end of "Sabrina, The (Contractually Designated But Still Fooling No One) Teenage Witch", and considering the flop films she churned out when this series exuded it's initial heat, maybe the end of Ms. Hart's career, too!?! Which--no pun intended--would be a shame. If nothing else, a "Clarissa" reunion special should be taken under serious advisement. After all, SOMEONE should try to explain what went awry for Melissa Joan's once bright future!?!..

Bye, Salem! Like Dorothy said to the Scarecrow, YOU I'm gonna miss most of all--even if your crudely animatronic little cat body gave my good buddy Rocco Nigro the shaking willies! Or maybe that's reason enough to mourn your departure, eh kitty?...

April 22nd, 2003

The other day I wrote something that, if this isn't TOO totally a narcissistic thing to say, really got myself to thinking! Hey, who'd a thought?

As you've probably noticed by now, I try my best to open each installment of "Fred Sez" with some sort of quip or statement that'll hopefully grab hold of your attention. In preparing my review of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's two limited series, DAREDEVIL: YELLOW and SPIDER-MAN: BLUE, I noticed for the first time a connection between the pair I had previously overlooked. Namely, the last two thematically related works of art those particular colors were appended to were the once-notorious motion pictures, "I Am Curious--Yellow" and "I Am Curious--Blue"! Thinking myself immensely clever, I opened the essay with a cute little play on those very titles, but after it was all done and I was proofreading my handiwork, I had a sudden realization--has anybody under the age of forty even HEARD of these films?!? My good golly gosh, having been around to witness their landmark release back at the tail end of the sixties, it's almost impossible to believe they've been forgotten, but the more I think about it, the more I've come to believe they indeed have!!

Historical recap: these were a pair of Swedish films made in 1967 and when their importation to the United States was attempted during a period between the years 1969 and 1972, their eventual distribution was instrumental in breaking down long held censorship barriers in this country. Not, of course, without a fight; hence the three-year long court battle. Described by some as overlong, intellectual political comedies told from the Nordic point of view, they'd no doubt've been considered snooze-worthy by 99% of the popcorn popping audience of the day if it weren't for one little thing--"I Am Curious--Yellow" featured an unprecedentedly explicit ten minute sex scene buried deep amidst it's dire dogma!! Hard to recall if you didn't live through it, but there was a time when a quick glimpse of a female's undraped backside was cause for much hand wringing amongst the motion picture community. And then along comes this bold Swedish DeMille--Vilgot Sjoman by name (remember that the next time you play "XXX Trivial Pursuit", gang!)--who goes and ups the ante by THAT much, and much, much more!! All of a sudden, we're seeing nekkid folks from the FRONT!! And, oh the horrors, that includes GUYS too!?! You know what THAT means! And while there's always been some dispute as to whether the, um, activities depicted up there on the big ol' silver screen were real or simulated, the mere fact that the camera didn't just discreetly pan away was big news in it's day. Oh sure, there'd been sleazy sexually explicit films produced and screened discreetly for a specialized audience (i.e., men) for many decades up to that point, but "I Am Curious--Yellow" was different. It had artistic merit, y'see. It wanted to play at the Orpheum down on Main Street, not the Pussycat Theater out in the warehouse district. And it wanted to be advertised in the New York Times. Simply put, it wanted to break down some pretty big barriers. And, ultimately, it did.

It became an instant sensation all across the nation. Everyone was talking about it, and wordplay on it's oddly configured title became the staple of every comedian working in every venue as the sixties turned into the seventies! EVERY comedian. They ALL had their twists on the color designation--Bob Hope, Rodney Dangerfield, Phyllis Diller, Rowan and Martin, Jackie Gleason--they all had their gags. Why, variations on the film's title even turned up in some wholesome Code approved comic books, fer gawsh sakes!?! Anybody out there remember the well-intentioned but jaw-droppingly inane little detour Lois Lane took into the once-trendy realm of socially relevant storytelling, "I Am Curious--Black"?? Obviously, the focus was on racial issues in that little fable, not any messy male/female configurations. The point is, this once verboten subject had so ingrained itself into America's zeitgeist that plays on it's nomenclature were being used to sell, of all things, Superman comics!?! It was, my friends, a nutty time.

And for me personally? Well, as a young fella in his mid-teens, the whole brouhaha managed to, um, capture my attention. Here was an activity I wasn't personally familiar with, but if going to the local cinema was what it would take to learn, well, by gum, I was willing!! No sacrifice too great and all that! Except--I never did see "I Am Curious--Yellow", as it didn't quite make it far enough out on Long Island for me to even attempt to sneak in. (And just as a footnote, NO ONE went to see "I Am Curious--Blue", inasmuch as THAT episode was shockingly devoid of any crowd-pleasing bare back bumpy-wumpy) There WAS a paperback novelization, however, and I do have fond memories of furtively checking out the grainy black and white photo section stuck in the middle of the text portion of the book while out shopping with my parents at the mall. I never actually owned the tome, understand, but I still managed to sneak my share of peeks, I'll confess. But the film--one of THE cause celebres of the era--THAT always escaped me...

Sigh. Unless you were there, why should you care? Just a few short years later, Linda Lovelace, Marilyn Chambers, and all the lovelies who followed made the demand for overlong, intellectual political comedies from Sweden that feature maybe ten minutes of possibly simulated smoochy-woochy, um, shrink. I mean, who's gonna step into the adult section of his--or her--local video store in the hopes of locating a copy of "I Am Curious--Yellow" when there's, ah, OTHER material available? Unless, of course, one really IS into overlong, intellectual, so on and so forth??...

Geez, this has gotta take some sort of cake (the one left out in the rain down at MacArthur Park, perhaps?...)! My rant is beginning to sound like some bizarro variation of the old "I had to walk two miles in the snow to attend classes while you kids ride on luxurious school buses" lecture WE endured from our parents?!? Y'know, something like, "You kids with your interactive DVDs and your instant internet access--when I wanted to see naked strangers tumbling around in the sack, I had to sit through almost two hours of boring black and white sub-titled polemic for a quick glimpse of the goods!! You kids don't know just how sweet you've got it!!"

But seriously, it's a little unsettling to realize that, as the years have stacked up, the whole tempestuous affair has largely been forgotten. Fact is, I can't say that I ever actually known anyone who SAW the film in question, and I sincerely wonder if it's even currently available for home consumption. If it is, I can't imagine it being much of a hot item, either sales-wise, or as, well, a hot item? With a title that distinctively tied to such a specific time and place, it's somehow a little bit sad to contemplate it being wiped from the culture's collective memory banks. Someone else out there must remember it--and more importantly, someone out there must've actually VIEWED this little bit of cinematic history. If you did, please--let me know! Tell me about it! Share your impressions.

Because, after all, I am curious--Fred!!...

April 21st, 2003

Sunday. One year ago today. Lynn and I boarded a bus, a magical bus, you might say--but it was no mystery where we were headed. Nope. We were on route to a venue where we'd join thousands of other like-minded individuals gathered to listen to some silly love songs--and what's wrong with THAT, I'd like to know??...

Yup, despite the both of us being devoted fans of that evening's featured performer--and his old band--ever since that cold February night in '64 when Ed Sullivan introduced them to an astonished America, it was the first time ever that me and my honey would be witnessing a live performance put on by the so-called cute Beatle, the knighted one himself, known to all the world these many years as one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century, yes, boys and girls, the one, the only, still alive despite all the rumors to the contrary, Macca, MISTER PAUL McCARTNEY!!!! (Did I mention I was a little bit excited at the prospect? Consider it noted.)

Y'see, the local oldies station was offering a package deal--transportation, dinner, and, oh yeah, a little musical entertainment, all for, well, all for a whole LOT. A pretty pricey piece of change, I assure you, and for any other event, you'd hear me screaming rip-off from here to Kalamazoo, but after all was said and done, we readily agreed that it was worth every shekel shelled out--even if the dinner was only so-so. It was a three hour trip to Long Island's Nassau Coliseum from our home base, so we started out at 2 in the afternoon, even though the concert didn't begin until 8 that evening. Grandma came over to stay with Julie, and soon enough we were off on that long and winding road.

I'll spare you the blow-by-blow description--suffice to say it was among the most memorable events I've ever been lucky enough to participate in. You people have probably picked up on the fact that comics meant an inordinate amount to me when I was growing up, right? Well, if there's any one thing that trumps my devotion to the funnybook form, it's my life-long devotion to the four cheeky lads from Liverpool!! Just call me the 565th Beatle (I don't want to sound TOO presumptuous...) Of course neither they nor their original fans are young any more, as was readily apparent from the looks of our bus riding companions. Still, Paul himself was in remarkable shape for his (then) 59 years, and, at nearly two and a half hours, showed tremendous stamina during his stunning performance. Amazingly, that distinctive voice sounded virtually unchanged from the one that played day in and day out on my worn down copy of "Meet the Beatles" during MY 11th year! Fact is, the fourth number of the night, "All My Loving" from that self-same album, provided one of the most emotional moments for me. Standing in front of a bank of video monitors flashing those iconic black and white images of the band debarking onto American soil for the very first time as this timelessly fresh and uplifting number was being sung by it's composer with as much joy and panache as when it was featured on that first Sullivan show, well--it brought a broad smile to my face and a happy tear to my eye, music lovers. There he was. Paul. Singing those songs. And there I was, listening. Amazing, simply amazing.

While I'm by no means an inveterate concert-goer, I've seen my share of biggies in my time. The Stones, the Who, the Beach Boys. The Eagles, the Go-Gos, the Pretenders. Smaller names that had bigger reps with me personally--10cc, Greg Kihn, the Roches, and Jonathan Richman (twice). Nothing else even came close. Uh uh. Not even the Ringo gig from two years earlier (which we'll discuss more thoroughly on May 15th--or, as we call it around here, "Ringo Day") THIS was nirvana (although it wasn't Nirvana, but you get what I'm saying...) Music has the mysterious and marvelous ability to extract tangible emotional responses from me unlike anything else, and first and foremost at the head of that melodic line-up is the work of the Beatles, both after but especially before they went their separate ways. Older now, with less left to prove, Paul no longer stints on the Fabs extensive catalog, sharing a generous 23 selections drawn from the greatest songbook in the history of rock with his adoring audience. Add to this the very cream of his solo material (... and "C Moon"), and ladies and gents, you've got yourself one heckuva concert!!

Of course, some of you may already be familiar with the star-studded song-list if you've grabbed up a copy of either the "Back In The USA" CD or DVD, both released late last year. While they certainly give you an idea just how good our man Macca sounded, they're both sadly lacking in several critical elements. The CD, while maintaining all the selections in their proper sequence, unwisely eliminates all of Paul's between song banter. Now, no one'll ever confuse Paul's stage patter with the dramatic delivery of a Bruce Springsteen (who I also saw, by the way) (NOT to drop names, heh...), but this tour featured more than his trademark "Wooos!!" and "How you doing (fill in name of city)?" shouts. There were some downright cute--if rehearsed--stories included in his act this time around. Most egregiously, the official release eliminates his heart-felt introduction's to "Here Today" and "Something", Paul's moving tributes to his two fallen mates, John and George (not to mention his later dedication of "My Love" to his late wife Linda) Believe me, there wasn't a dry eye in the house at this juncture in the show, and without the verbal set-up, the songs seem somehow hollow when piping out of the stereo speakers. And the DVD? It's all over the place, sequence be damned. What they SHOULD'VE done was just record the concert as it was, and, well, let it be! With a little luck, somebody DID!!

Lynn surprised the heck out've me with a videotape of the very show we attended as a gift for our wedding anniversary last June that she scored off eBay!! While it certainly wasn't the most professional of quality, it was surprisingly well put together, apparently filmed from several different angles and then edited almost like a real piece of MPL merchandise. However, when I tried duping it off for a pal, it just looked horrible, so maybe the bootleggers know something the legit guys don't!?! (Sorry, Matt, but I tried...) Once Lynn demonstrated what could be had on eBay, it didn't take me long to locate a bootleg audio recording of the April 21st date, and after a few unsuccessful tries, I finally managed to snare me a copy!! Ah, the wonderful world of technology! The sound ain't the best, but now I'll always have that Japanese massage story at the ready when I want to enjoy it again!!...

So, while it's the twenty-first day of the fourth month for the rest of the world today, round these here parts, it's Paul McCartney Day. Gonna roll out the tapes, the CDS, the DVDs, and relive one of the grandest days of my half-century and just let the music and good vibes wash over me. And come September 23rd, I'm gonna do it all AGAIN!! Oh, didn't I mention? Once was not enough. Not nearly. We unlocked the vault, cashed in some stocks, snagged some tickets, drove ourselves to Hartford Connecticut in a steady (but NOT Driving) rain--Julie in tow this time, which is a whole story in itself--and saw our SECOND show on the latter leg of Macca's 2002 American tour!?! Hey, it was well worth it--he did four new songs!! AND he cut "C Moon" from the set-list!! But, more about that on Paul McCartney Day II come this September!

A quick paraphrase, folks: you never give me your money, but I give me you my funny papers!! DONATE to the site, friends, because who knows, I may just want to hop aboard the Concord and take in a show on Paul's current European sweep!! And I repeat, what's wrong with THAT, I'd like to know???...

April 19th, 2003

I am curious--which was better, SPIDER-MAN: BLUE, or DAREDEVIL: YELLOW?

For the uninitiated, both are six issue limited series revisiting and re-examining earlier exploits of Marvel's two most recent Hollywood box-office stars. Both are the products of the reliable team of Jeph Loeb, author, and Tim Sale, artist. Both are narrated in the first person. And both are, at their core, love stories.

Loeb and Sale have an impressive track record with reinterpreting key moments in the past histories of DC Comics two biggest moneymakers, Superman and Batman, and now they've applied their winning approach to a pair of Marvel stalwarts. Does it work? Well, yeah--these guys are good, after all. However, it's not quite the same slam-dunk the DC redos were. The formative days of the World's Finest duo were sketched in far less precisely than the initial escapades of Stan Lee's progeny. There's less room to stretch in the retelling when dealing with classic Marvel characters, unless of course, reverence to what's gone before is casually tossed out the window. Thankfully, that's not the case with Loeb and Sale, who, while making some small and necessary alterations to the big picture, approach their task with the respect it deserves.

The title of DAREDEVIL: YELLOW is pretty much a giveaway, as long-time fans are well aware that the Man Without Fear embarked on his crime-busting career decked out in canary colored couture. The yellow and red outfit lasted all of six bi-monthly issues--that's a full year of MY life, people--and unlike a lot of other devotees, I've long had a soft spot in my heart--and yeah, maybe my head, too--for that sun-drenched fashion faux pas! So right there, before the story's even begun, they've got me!

But when it does, we're treated to a whirlwind tour through the earliest days of Matt Murdock's double life. After devoting a substantial chunk of space to the classic origin sequence--particularly the murder of boxer/dad, Battling Jack Murdock--the balance of the series treats the once primary super-villain encounters from the vintage issues as mere background for the tales' TRUE focus--the developing love between blind barrister Murdock and newly hired receptionist Karen Page (complicated, of course, by the additional--and unwanted--attentions of law fellow partner, Franklin "Foggy" Nelson).

Inasmuch as Ms. Page is dead at the current time--and since this IS comics, after all, who can REALLY tell as to what the future might bring?--Daredevil's tender-loving narration takes on a decidedly mournful quality. Jeph Loeb's words are deft and to the point, and read as if they could easily double as an alternate screenplay to the one Ben Affleck managed to get into the country's multiplexes recently. Of course, in THAT film, Elektra is the love interest, and Karen, though briefly seen, isn't even identified by name!?! Guess you could call that one DAREDEVIL: RED.

The relationship between the two is developed naturally and organically, with generous dollops of Marvel history to keep the less romantic readers in the audience happily interested. There's that great scene from DD#2 where the Fantastic Four pull up outside the windows of Nelson and Murdock, Attorney's At Law, with the intention of putting the firm on retainer, a pivotal moment in Marvel history that's finally given the space it so richly deserves. Watching the new hero on the block save a bevy of show girls from the clutches of Electro is a gloriously smile-inducing moment drawn from that self-same issue, while the Owl, DD#3's menace de jour, gets the biggest play of all, and rightly so. Conversely, the extremely lame villainy of the Matador merits only a brief montage across an expanded splash page, while the far more intriguing Killgrave the Purple Man gets a fresh, if ultimately, unsatisfying look-see in a slightly out of sequence flip-flop. A fellow who can control the minds of others as easily as our lavender pigmented pal deserves a bit more than the cursory run-through that he received, but I suppose a more in-depth examination would've thrown the bigger story way off-kilter. And that's most likely why Daredevil's last foe faced in the spiffy little yellow unitard, Mr. Fear from DD#6, was ignored entirely. Hey, YOU try working a guy who can inspire abject and scream-inducing terror in others at will and neatly shoehorn him into a love story!! An understandable omission. And as far as admirable additions to DD lore, well, we've FINALLY given plausible reasons for the yellow outfit, and equally convincing reasons for the crimson changeover. (Mr. Blackwell gives this series two thumbs up, or so I've heard...)

And SPIDER-MAN: BLUE? Well, we're not talking uniforms here, rather emotional states. Y'know--the blues? And talking indeed takes center stage, as Peter Parker dictates into a tape recorder a letter he fully realizes will never be read (unless it's by some sort of clone lady or other...) to his long lost love, Gwen Stacy. His blue mood colors his recollections, which unlike Daredevil's, don't harken back to the earliest days of his career. They don't even date back to Gwen's introduction into the Spider-Man mythos. A Ditko created cutie first glimpsed in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN#31, Loeb and Sale instead utilize the events seen in issues 39 through 49 as their palette, a period noteworthy for commencing the John Romita Sr. era. (Appearances by #42's John Jameson and #46's Shocker are totally ignored, though, as they don't fit in with the animal/enemy theme that otherwise fell comfortably into place for the rewritten history, spotlighting instead the thematic grouping of the Rhino, the Lizard, a pair of Vultures, all masterminded by the oh-so-appropriate Kraven the Hunter!!)

Again, we have a hero pining for a deceased damsel, but this telling is complicated by the introduction of a romantic rival into the mix. Mary Jane Watson, to be specific. Actually, the redhead who would one day wind up wife to the Webhead was ambivalent towards Parker during the originally published sequence (which included her introduction, at least as an on-panel personage), and Loeb wisely doesn't attempt to rewrite the Stacy/Watson/Parker dynamics to fit events that occurred much later. Still, by staying true to the Stan Lee blueprint, this great love story seems more meandering and less convincing than the comparatively straightforward Matt Murdock/Karen Page pairing. However, I must admit that as the series drew to a close, it wrapped up with a powerful scene between the young lovers, and an even more emotional epilog set in the present day. Yup, it brought a lump to the ol' throat and a tear to the ol' duct. And in a similarly bizarro reverse on the far famed Spidey movie, this little tale deals with a lady-love totally ignored by the cinematic version!! Overall, another fine screenplay on paper by Loeb, and I probably would've enjoyed it even more if I could be convinced that there's ever been anyone to happen along who's more worthy of Peter's undying affection than the beloved Betty Brant, but I don't imagine that, at this late date, that that's ever gonna happen, now is it folks??...

Hey, I hear you shout--haven't I forgotten something? Like, what about the art, man? Didn't Tim Sale have a little something or other to do with the obvious success of these two projects? Well, yeah, he sure enough did! Truth is, Sale is one of my very most favorite currently employed cartoonists. His sense of scene is rivaled only by that of the under-appreciated Paul Gulacy, both of whom possess the enviable ability to create landscapes that readers can contentedly and totally immerse themselves in. Unlike many artists, Sale isn't afraid to devote double page spreads to such deceptively quiet moments as Peter Parker eating cereal at the kitchen table, tie draped over his shoulder to prevent it from falling into the milk filled bowl, while his Aunt May silently washes dishes at the sink, the entire environment brilliantly depicted in all it's suburban beauty and banality.

Which is not to say the only thing Sale can do is quiet. Far from it. There's a downright mesmerizing spread in the Daredevil series of DD aerially pursuing The Owl over a raging sea just off shore from the city!! I don't think I've ever seen a more stunning representation of a violently active ocean in a comic book--and I've got me a pile of AQUAMAN and SUB-MARINER comics that sure ain't gonna dispute THAT claim!!--with distinctively dark storm clouds ominously rolling in in the background. Beyond his pronounced talent for building a believable living space for his charges, Sale provides Loeb's scenarios with wonderfully expressive characters, all convincingly going through whatever paces the pair choose to assign them. He's one of the very few comic artists whose work I linger on, so absolutely taken am I by the fully realized world he inevitably creates.

A word about the covers. Each series boasts a half dozen illustrations that are of a particular piece, with recurring motifs, both in lines, lettering and hues, binding them all together in one--or actually, two--consistent design patterns. They're all delightful, but the third Spidey frontispiece, with its suggestive representation of Mary Jane in her full bombshellness may very well be my favorite! Ah, heck, I admit it--it IS my favorite! It's almost enough to make me forget Betty Brant!! Almost...

A tip of the hat to colorists Matt Hollingsworth (DD) and Steve Buccellato (Spidey)--they both do superb jobs fleshing out Tim Sale's line work, and it's frankly difficult to imagine what it would've looked like without their sculpted tints lushly bringing a three dimensional roundness to the proceedings.

So, be curious no more--YELLOW and BLUE are BOTH worthy additions to your comics' library as well as the ever-expanding Loeb/Sale canon. Yeah, they do have some definite similarities--how long will it be before the pair tackle the tragedy of Ben and Alicia, one has to wonder?--but unless you read 'em back to back, like I did, it shouldn't be a problem. At this late date, you'd probably be better off skipping the comics altogether and just wait for the sure-to-come lush hardcover collections (the soft cover for you cheapies out there may take a slightly longer wait...)

The ultimate lesson taught us by these two thematically similar re-workings? Why, that under every classic slam-bang super-hero saga there lurks a tragically brooding love story, and Loeb and Sale are apparently determined to find it and present it to a waiting world!!

April 18, 2003

The most memorable thing I ever read concerning the twentieth century's most celebrated funnyman appeared, oddly enough, in a minimally distributed newsletter focusing on investment in old comic books!?!

It had to be over twenty years since I stumbled across the line in question. Y'see, a buddy of mine was determined to make his fortune in the wild and woolly world of back issue bartering, and was looking for any edge he could find. Understand that in those days, the annual Overstreet Price Guide was less than a decade old, with such regularly published investing forums as Comic Book Marketplace and Wizard were years off in the distant future. Still, there were some enterprising souls out there who recognized the thirst for some so-called authoritative advice aimed at the beginning comics dealer, and one such fellow took it upon himself to publish his own, small-time tip sheet. Though I had absolutely no interest in becoming a huckster, I looked over my pal's copies purely out of curiosity. Now, while I've long since forgotten who exactly it was that cranked out this modest 8 page pamphlet, and just what name it was it went by, there WAS a piece of advice included within that I've NEVER forgotten.

There, amongst the not-so-startling advice to invest in early, key, Silver Age DC titles--pick up those SHOWCASE Flash issues when you get the chance, bunkie!--was buried a little gem concerning a certain licensed series National Periodical Publication's issued for almost twenty years. Now, this isn't the EXACT quote, but I guarantee you, this is the gist of what was said:

"DC Comics long-running ADVENTURES OF BOB HOPE is a wise investment, with prices sure to rise if Bob Hope ever dies."

You read that right, folks--that was "if", NOT "when"!?! And believe me, if you had any thought that our long-forgotten prognosticator was evincing some sort of sly sense of humor with that comment, forget it. There was nothing else whatsoever in his rather clunky prose to suggest he was yocking it up anywhere with his business-like projections. No, he was serious, er, DEAD serious. His informed wisdom was that Bob Hope comics would undoubtedly appreciate in value, but only if Bob leaves us--and, a good twenty years after those fatefully prescient words were penned, that STILL ain't looking like such a sure thing, now is it?!?

Bob "Can You Believe I'm Still Alive?" Hope turns the Big One Oh Oh on May 29th--though I've read several biographies that've hinted he may very well've ALREADY passed that particular milestone, the implication being that he fiddled a bit with his birth date early on in his career--and to celebrate his official centennial, NBC is presenting a two hour retrospective on Easter evening (7pm in the east) entitled "100 Years of Hope and Humor". Now, I know what you're thinking--aren't they jumping the gun here? Can't they wait the additional five weeks for the actual day? Do they know something you, me, and our erstwhile investment guru DON'T? After all, haven't the supermarket tabloids been predicting ol' Ski Nose's demise for years now? Well, maybe, but I can come up with at least two good reasons to run the special early, both of which I'm sure Bob would sympathize with.

First off, a savvy show biz personality like Hope would understand that since his birthday falls AFTER the tube's highly competitive sweeps period, it would do nobody any good at all if it aired following their completion on May 29th. (While it's true the May sweeps haven't yet started, it's also true that Bob's ratings aren't what they once were either, so NBC is apparently using the program as a sort of warm-up, if you will, for the season's final stretch) Secondly, in an uncharacteristic nod to sentimentality--or is it merely convenience?--NBC has scheduled this celebration on Easter Sunday because, as it turns out, they long ago broadcast the FIRST of his 285th specials half a century back on 1950's Easter Sunday!! Full circle, it would seem.

No need to egg ME on--I'll be watching. For reasons I don't fully comprehend, I've always been inordinately fond of Bob. I can't say he was my favorite comedian--that would be Jack Benny, whose material and performances were always top-notch--nor were his shows anywhere near as funny as "Sgt. Bilko", "The Honeymooners", "I Love Lucy", "The Dick Van Dyke Show", or even my beloved "Leave It To Beaver". Fact is, anything featuring Bob after the mid-fifties, big screen or small, can be highly questionable. But, oh those early movies!! "My Favorite Brunette"! "The Paleface"! And those delectable Road expeditions with la Lamour and der Bingle!?! Reason enough! That voice, that persona, that delivery--Bob Hope was always funny, even when the material wasn't. And personally, he's been a constant presence in my life, always there, lurking and laughing in the background, ever since I can recall. For whatever reason, the guy means an awful lot to me. Y'know--sorta like family? You may not always like 'em, but you GOTTA love 'em, dig??…

I remember when Lynn and I went to the Caribbean on vacation--the island of Guadalupe, to be precise--back in the mid-eighties, only to return, broad-sided by the news that the legendary Lucille Ball had passed away. Sad as that was, I was somehow disappointed and distressed that I was denied the opportunity to view the numerous televised tributes that were broadcast in the wake of the Redhead's death, and I vowed that a similar situation wouldn't present itself to me when (...if?...) Bob Hope finally embarks off onto that Road to Eternity. Towards that end, I've been careful to deputize my good friend Rocco Nigro on the "Keeping Hope Alive" watch. Whenever we leave town for extended periods, Rocco keeps his ears and eyes open, a videotape ever at the ready. When it happens (…or, again-- "If?"...), it's somehow comforting to know I've got back-up. Not to sound TOO morbid, mind you, but when that sad day finally comes, believe me, I'm gonna need the closure that a late night clip job special will undoubtedly provide. That, and a really, really mournful version of "Thanks For The Memories"...

But, but...maybe it'll never happen?!? Maybe, just maybe that guy with his little tip sheet was onto something, something even he couldn't be cognizant of? Maybe we're gonna have Hope forever? Maybe--well, okay, probably not. But one thing I DO know--our time lost expert is most likely STILL sitting on a huge pile of DC's Bob Hope comics, waiting, just patiently waiting...

APRIL 17, 2003

A well-researched, in-depth, and thoroughly thorough cover article recounting the history of Fleetwood Mac in the latest issue of Britain's UNCUT magazine had the desired effect on this particular reader-- it made me downright enthusiastic about something I'd previously only considered mildly interesting. Specifically, the immenent debut of "Say You Will", the Mac's first new release in many a year.

Although the band released close to a dozen albums prior to the recruitment of guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and singer Stevie Nicks to an ever changing line-up in the mid-seventies, it was their arrival that turned Fleetwood Mac into one of the most successful acts in rock history. Adding their songwriting prowess to that of fellow chanteuse, Christine McVie, and backed by the ever-reliable rhythm section of John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums, the quintet concocted two of the best selling LPs of the seventies, 1975's "Fleetwood Mac", and the even more culturally pervasive "Rumours" two years later.

These discs spun non-stop for much of my college tenure. To this day, I still get goose bumps upon hearing the memorable opening bass line for "Rhiannon". Has Stevie Nicks ever written a more perfect song? Decades of airplay may've dulled the impact this music had in it's day, but it's undeniable that these five came up with a distinctive sound, one that managed to appeal to a massive audience while still maintaining an artistic edge. The Mac simply put, were big. You might say "Rumours" was a real, er, whopper. And then, in 1979, while unquestionably reigning as the biggest band in the world, they released "Tusk".

"Tusk" was an ambitious double LP presided over by Lindsey Buckingham, and seemed to be evenly--and schizophrenically-- divided between the guitarist's quirky, challenging compositions, and tunes from Nicks and Christine McVie that sounded, well, comfortably familiar would be a NICE way of putting it. An odd combination, one the record buying public didn't exactly embrace in numbers equivalent to the sales shattering "Rumours ", not even close. I bought a copy myself, and pretty much had the same reaction, though over time I've come more and more to appreciate Buckingham's risk-taking inventiveness. But at the time, that was it for me and the Mac. I didn't buy any more of their stuff 'til the CD era dawned, and then mostly through used CD venues or music clubs. As with a lot of things, familiarity breeds apathy. It took words-- Nigel Williamson's expansive profile in UNCUT--not music, to re-spark my interest.

For those of you who may not be aware, the group has had quite a history, even outside the music. Affairs, marriages, breakups, new members, old members, solo careers, conspicuous consumption, and of course, that old rock-star cliché, drugs. It's all clearly laid out in the overview, and it all leads into "Say You Will", the first fully new Mac recording to feature the talents of Lindsey Buckingham since 1987's "Tango In The Night" (It's also the first NOT to feature the full participation of songstress Christine McVie since she joined the outfit in 1970, though her name shows up in the credits for contributing a limited amount of background warbling--and I'll be darned if I can find her anywhere in the mix! Maybe with headphones?...) All the press puffery in all the magazines in all the world ain't gonna sustain a listener's enthusiasm if the good's aren't front and center in the tunes, believe me.. So I popped the latest addition to my burgeoning CD collection into the disc changer with more than a small amount of curiosity and apprehension, and listened...

Well, it's difficult to make a properly informed assessment after a single run through--music has to be lived with to be truly appreciated I find--but the early returns are encouraging. The program features a generous helping of 18 ditties, evenly divided between Buckingham and Nicks, and while the absence of the distaff McVie prevents this from being a true reunion of that most successful of Mac aggregations, I always did rate Christine third on the Mac totem pole, so what we have here is satisfying in it's own right. Fact is, in a lot of ways, this sounds overmuch like a solo Buckingham project with Nicks sharing the vocals--and to my ear, there's nothing at all wrong with THAT!

Although it was the blond and beautiful Nicks who scored the hits outside the safety of the Mac umbrella, it was the three modestly selling Buckingham solo releases that garnered the lion's share of the critical acclaim. Deservedly so. Now, as it turned out, Stevie was going out on tour just when this new record was in it's nascent stages, so she turned over a handful of demos to her male colleagues to work on while she went out and wowed the concertgoers of the world with her tunes and her twirling. And when she got back to the studio, musical maven Lindsey had already shaped her compositions to his liking using his own unique vision. While several tracks list co-producers, his fingerprints are patently obvious on each and every track.

Distorted vocals, multi-layered aural landscapes, and a guitar pushed so far up in the mix, it sounds for all the world that Buckingham is sitting on the floor right next to you, plucking his twelve string!! And then at other times, from the delicate to the furious, as he effectively draws from his instrument the ever crescendoing wail of doom! I've always felt the guy was a woefully under-appreciated guitarist, capable of plucking all shades of shimmering emotion with his pick, and all the evidence necessary to support that claim can be found herein. Clearly, Lindsey Buckingham is the brains behind the Mac. Which makes, I suppose, Stevie Nicks the heart.

Is there a more recognizable voice in the entire realm of female rock vocalists?? Okay, so it's not the BEST voice in the pantheon, not by a long shot, but who else has that smoky, sandpaper-soaked-in-honey quality that Nicks has? Nobody, that's who. And now, comfortably returned to it's proper setting--I just never could get behind a majority of her solo projects, I'm afraid--her chirping sounds as astonishing as it ever did. Backed by her ex, as well as the boys on bass and drums--the soul of the Mac, of course--it's still, after all this time, a winning combination.

It's too soon for me to talk about individual songs, as I've yet to properly absorb the disc. Besides, words have always been beside the point for me in regards to good rock and roll. A phrase, a feel, a sound is all I need to keep me happy. Admittedly, nothing coming out of this group is ever gonna be as fresh as "Rhiannon" again because, let's face it, the shock of the new is long gone. But after but a single spin, I can report that "Say You Will" trumps most, if not all, post "Tusk" releases from this nigh legendary musical institution. If you ever had any interest in Fleetwood Mac in your--and their-- younger days, you could do far worse than check out what they're up to currently.

And if you're NOT interested, well, then, might I suggest you, ahem, go your own way??...

April 12th, 2003

Sick, sick, sick!!

No, cartoon fans, this isn't a fond look back at one of Jules Feiffer's more memorable collections. It pretty much describes the state of things over here at the Hembeck Household. Julie--sick. Lynn--sick!! Fred--SICK!!

I should probably dispense with the melodrama, as by any measuring stick, I come off with by far the mildest virus of the bunch. It's poor little Julie who's really been zapped by the bug. Sore throat, headaches, and ultimately, a nasty case of something called sinusitis--this reoccurring malady has kept her home from school an astonishing eleven--that's right, all you moms and dads out there, ELEVEN!!--days since early March. Initially, the absences came in two separate three day chunks. Then, after a week or so back in class, never fully recovered, ALL five days of the past week!?! She's on her third antibiotic in ten days, after having an allergic reaction to the first one, while the second proved to be largely ineffectual. This latest concoction seems to be working, finally, but then I knew it had a pretty good shot--Julie's Easter break officially starts TODAY y'see! She's officially outta school up through a week from Tuesday. Nothing'll cure a kid like the prospect of a week long vacation!! Yes, the timing may seem a wee bit suspicious, but the shock and awe that involuntarily played across the doctor's face when she looked up Julie's red and ravaged nostrils was evidence enough for me that the kid was on the up and up!

And that week Julie managed to slog on off to school? Lynn's turn. She actually took several days off from work, which is a bit of a rarity for her. She sometimes works at home, via the magic of the computer, and on other occasions when she wasn't feeling one hundred per cent, she still put some time in at the keyboard. Not that week. With a cough that'd do the Marlboro Man proud, the poor gal suffered and suffered, slowly--ever so s l o w l y--but surely recovering.

Me? My turn came last. And--it appears--LEAST. Some congestion, lot's of empty tissue boxes, and a foggy head--that's pretty much it. Now, some might argue that I ALWAYS have a foggy noggin, but if that's truly the case, currently my mental miasma has been knocked up a notch or two. Which is my typically long-winded explanation as to why you may not have seen many new entries here in recent days. While I've been able to maintain at least a part-time presence at the ol' drawing board, my muddled mind found it too much of a struggle to sit down and compose one of these delightful little ditties. But we may very well have turned a corner, folks, so keep checking--things'll be back full steam before you know it!!

Speaking of checking back, I'd like you all to take a peek at the "New On Site" section when you get a chance. Two reasons. First, pardon me for saying so, but some of my best gags wind up there. If you come directly to "Fred Sez", you'll miss my pun-filled description of the topic de jour--and unlike any other portion of this site, the very nature of that section demands I keep my comments uncharacteristically terse!?! It can be a REAL challenge at times, lemme tell you!

The second reason? Well, I'd like you to pause a moment and take a look at all we've added since we launched three and a half months ago. That's a lotta stuff, people, and there's a lot more where that came from, I assure you! However, in an effort to help make all this fun stuff possible--and to keep out pop-up ads and their annoying ilk--we very recently instituted a "Donate" button on the Home Page. Click the icon and show your appreciation. Yup, I'm putting my Cyber Cap out there on the Internet Boulevard, dancing around like a trained chimp, and happily taking donations!! Anything you can spare would be appreciated, loyal readers--and as always, purchases of original art and specially commissioned pieces are gleefully encouraged!!

After all, we gotta pay for Julie's medical bills SOMEHOW! AHHH--CHOOO!!!! Kleenex...

April 8th, 2003

Back when I was still living in the same town as that renowned funnybook practitioner, Joe Staton, I heard from a young fellow by the name of Lawrence Klein. A big comics fan, he'd already visited Joe, and now he'd hoped to stop by for a short visit with yours truly. Well, since Joe had only good things to say about him, a date was arranged for the teen-ager and his dad to stop by for a couple of hours. To the best of my recollection, a pleasant time was had by all, and out of that little get-together came a perennial invitation to the annual one-day Ramapo, N. Y. Comic Convention.

Held in the gymnasium of the Ramapo High School and presided over by the local comics club, of which Lawrence was a key member, the event was one that quite a few pros--myself included--looked forward to each and every May for many years. It was low-key, it was friendly, and the reception from the fans was generally enthusiastic. When, after at least a decade, they closed up shop for good three years back (various affiliated faculty members were retiring, and the original membership had dispersed to various points across the globe--or at least, the state--hastening the con's demise), many folks were sad to see it come to an end, myself again included. But recently, though having moved out of the old neighborhood some time back, thus no longer living within walking distance of Senor Staton (not that I ever did--cars are SO much faster, I found!), I received yet another call from Joe regarding (not quite as) young Larry!!

Seems as if, some fifteen years down the road from that day spent hanging out in my kitchen, the now grown up lad had become a lawyer AND found an impressive way to express his obviously enduring appreciation of the comics medium--he started the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art!! Quite a mouthful, eh? Why don't we just call it MoCCA, okay? After all, that's what everyone else does, y'know? The MoCCA concept is still in its nascent stages, please understand, with local events organized to raise awareness amongst the cartooning community and the public alike. One such gathering was being held in the spacious home of Joe and Hilarie Staton this past Sunday, and wouldn't you know it? I was invited!! Hey, great art, fellow doodlemeisters, and perhaps MOST importantly--free food!?! Try KEEPING me away!!...

Walking into stately Staton manor, I was immediately taken by all the gorgeous framed art that adorned every wall, every nook, and every cranny of the available space so generously given over to MoCCA for display purposes on behalf of Joe and Hilarie. THEN I looked for the Dateline:@#$! page featuring the Punisher I myself had donated to the cause--had they perhaps hung it in the shower area in the out of the way upstairs bathroom? But no, fear not--there it was, straight ahead, not at all far from the luscious table of food (mmm--food). However, before my eyes totally focused on the piece I myself had chosen to give, I spied some only vaguely familiar color illos of Superman and Batman, nicely framed and greeting the crowd as they passed through the hallway and in towards the food (yum--food)! They turned out to be ancient twenty year old drawings I'd long ago done for Joe when first we met, and I admit to cringing somewhat, because like most artists confronted with work from their dim past, I could only see the imperfections. Eventually, I made my peace with their defects, and figured if they made the MoCCAmen happy, fine. Now, I decided, time to concentrate on more IMPORTANT matters--namely, lemme at that food!!...

(...We'll pause briefly while I reflect on all the fine edibles it was my distinct pleasure to chow down on, courtesy of the fine folks in the MoCCA kitchens--mmmMMM!!...)

I told you all about the Joe Sinnott congregation yesterday, but in addition to that happy little group, the following folks were on hand to take part in the celebration: Jim Starlin, Eliot Brown, Herb Trimpe, Linda Fite, James Warhola, Charles Barnett III, Ramona Fradon, Walt Simonson, Elaine Lee, Janice Chiang, Kyle Baker, Elwood Smith, Charles Fazzini, Ron Ferdinand, Laura Levine, and Bill Plympton, proving without a doubt that the world of cartooning is united not only in it's desire to better the public's perception of it's craft, but eager as well to show up where free vittles are being readily dispensed!?!

Now, some of these talented peeps I managed to speak at length with, while with others I merely exchanged a friendly greeting. Unfortunately, several of the newcomers I missed talking to entirely (name tags, anyone?). Then, of course, there was that one individual, who, going way back to the days when the local area artists took turns hosting almost monthly pot-luck parties in the early nineties, steadfastly and much to my ultimate bemusement, refuses to acknowledge my very presence!?! While I can't possibly think of any possible reason for this peculiar behavior--even a bad one--I'm here to tell you that yes, the status quo of THAT relationship was maintained. Sigh. But by now, it's to be expected, and didn't put a damper on the afternoon for me. I was busy, happily meeting some new people, like Eliot Brown.

Eliot worked in the Marvel editorial offices for nearly a decade, and while that part of his career is over, it still made for a lasting impression. Like many folks toiling away for the mainstream companies, myself included, the time put in is spoken of with equal parts awe, wistfulness, and downright disgust! After all, who DOESN'T complain about their job? But then it comes-- there's always that realization that, whoa!--it's comics, man! COOL!! You gotta smile. As one niche guy to another--Eliot is THE master of the tech illustration, and I'm, well, take a look around, and figure out MY niche--we had ourselves a lively conversation!!

I was also delighted to speak, however briefly, with James Warhola, a truly nice fella I hadn't seen in years, one who's obvious talent is gonna keep him famous for more than the requisite 15 minutes!! In fact, ALL the artwork on display, whether donated or on loan, was worthy of a bit more immortality than THAT!? Besides the group listed above, there were illustrations showcased by the likes of Dan Green, Mary Wilshire, Ted Rall, Bob Oksner, and even the ever dynamic duo of Walt Kelly and Winsor McCay!?! Although I'm reasonably certain the latter two gents would've been more than sympathetic to the MoCCA cause, they were unable to attend the festivities due to the unfortunate fact that they're dead at the present time. Happily, no one let that small bugaboo cast a pall over the event, and a swell time was had by all!!

Of course, there were many folks other than cartoonists invited, including some good buddies of mine. It was nice seeing Blaise Schweitzer, reporter for the local newspaper, again after too many years. And seeing Alex Bialy and Kevin Ferrara somewhere other than the volleyball court was a refreshing change as well--though I sure wish Kevin hadn't spiked a Swedish meatball onto my plate out of force of habit!?!

And then there were two of my best buddies, Peter Clapper and Rocco Nigro. Both had arrived at the party later than most everyone else, Peter due to some work that needed getting done around the house, and Rocco--who was traveling a farther distance than even I was, albeit from the opposite direction--because of a little thing called Daylight's Savings Time, and the inadvertent overlooking of the one hour push forward the night before!?! I knew I shoulda emailed him a wake-up call!! Next time for sure--and the next time I wanna hassle him, I think I'll just bury it deep in one of my little tales from the baseball diamond, as I was informed by good ol' Mr. N, that while he manages to slog through MOST of what I post, he neglects to peruse my rhapsodic prose regarding the nation's alleged past-time (and hey, with Armondo Benitez surrendering a game losing homer in what should've been a tremendous come-from-behind victory for the Mets in the 9th inning of Sunday's game, it looks as if the season has truly begun in earnest, eh sports fans? But now, back to our regularly scheduled recap...)

A painfully amusing moment occurred when I was out in the hallway speaking with the pair and Joe Sinnott stuck his head around the corner and asked if I'd please come into the front parlor when I had the chance. Seeing my attention momentarily diverted, my two pals good-naturedly chided me for my imminently dumping of them to talk to someone more important. I protested, saying, fellas, I'm not like that--really! To prove it, I told 'em, c'mon WITH me--I'll introduce you!! You're my friends, my pals, my buddies after all!!

Well, we walked around the corner, and it turned out Joe and his son Mark were hoping to get a photo of me with the legendary embellisher, about which I told you yesterday. After readily agreeing to their flattering request, I quickly looked over my shoulder, motioned to my compadres, and said, "Joe, I'd like you to meet two close friends of mine, Rocco Nigro and....", after which there was an involuntary pause when I found myself momentarily unable to conjure up Peter's name, which brought gales of laughter from all who witnessed my tongue tumble bumble. Oh, I got his name out, but not until the delivery sounded as insincere as possible!! It was, I maintain, an honest mistake! Sorry, um, Peter was it?...

All in all, a fine afternoon. If Lawrence Klein continues to stage events like this one, the future of MoCCA looks bright indeed!! Hey, how couldn't it with not only Stan Lee, but my all-time favorite editor, Jim Salicrup, serving steadfastly as members of the board of advisors? And let's not forget such tireless supporters as our happy hosts, Joe and Hilarie! (Rumor is they're available for bar mitzvahs and small birthday parties, but you'll have to check in with them for more on that!)
For additional info, click on that colorful icon over to the side and you'll immediately be in a position to learn more. And to see some photos of the event taken by ace shutterbug, Scott Kress, visit the Catskill Comics site. You'll get a peek at the Staton ediface, some of the art, Jim Starlin, Joe Staton, Walt Simonson, and, resplendent in his Kryptonian garb, Charles Barnett III! Plus more, more, more--even a shot of the top of yours truly's noggin! View at your own risk! In the meantime, remember--believe! Don't mock MoCCA!
April 7th, 2003

For many years, Joe Sinnott's son-in-law was our plumber.

While that sounds like the boast of a hopeless comics geek, there's more to it than that. Rex Kiniry is good at what he does, fair in what he charges, and accommodating when necessity demands. Plus, he's a swell fella to yak it up with. Frankly, I'm generally inept across the board in matters technological, and there's a certain amount of self-consciousness that comes into play when repairmen are called in to fix something around our home. Most expect their clients to know at least the bare minimum when they address you regarding your problem de jour, and well, with yours truly, good luck! But Rex never put me ill at ease, and in fact actually enlisted my less than expert aid on several occasions, most notably during the infamous ham-bone incident.

Lynn had made her delicious pea soup, flavored with ham from a dinner cooked days earlier. She made so much of the soup that, as happens from time to time, not all of it was consumed. Instead, it sat in a metal container in the fridge, inexorably growing old. As is periodically necessary, I subsequently went through the refrigerator, disposing of all that had aged poorly and--in some cases--become stomach churningly gross. Rule of thumb--if you can't identify it, out it goes. There was a substantial though still recognizable amount of the Linda Blair Special remaining in a no longer edible state, so I took the tin container over to the small toilet off the kitchen area and proceeded to pour the vicious viscous liquid into the bowl, completing my fowl task with a quick flush. And that, brother, is when my REAL trouble began!

Y'see, I'd neglected to take into account that the concoction wasn't solely flavored by odd remnants of ham, but in fact by the bone itself. I became suddenly aware of this fact when the porcelain potty failed to properly siphon it's contents down into the dark nether regions of the land Ed Norton affectionately calls home, the sewer! What to do? Simple--


With a little help from his plumber's snake and myself in determining exactly where in the pipes what was once our dinner had stubbornly lodged itself, Rex opened the jointed tubing, and successfully removed the obstacle! Voila! My--literal--boneheaded blunder was now reversed. Fixed, but, as it turns out, not nearly forgotten...

We moved out of Rex's immediate area seven years ago, though not so far that we couldn't return to the old stomping grounds in but an hour's drive, much like we did yesterday. Lynn, Julie and I were pleased to attend a Mid-Hudson Reception for the fledgling Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art--commonly known as MoCCA, and not to be confused with another favorite of mine, Macca, a/k/a Sir Paul McCartney--at the lovely home of our good friends, Joe and Hilarie Staton. Among the many luminaries present was a small gathering of the Sinnott clan, including, yes, good old Rex!!

The legendary Joe was present and accounted for, naturally, as was his delightful wife Betty, their son Mark, with wife, Belinda, and kids Erin and Trevor, and Rex and his wife, Kathy. Now, besides Rex, we'd met Joe and Betty on several occasions, but the rest of these folks were new to us. The Sinnotts once paid us a highly memorable visit when our daughter was mere months old, very graciously bringing along a gift for the brand new baby, and now, twelve years later, here was a whole different Julie standing amongst us! There was a time in the early nineties when the artists in the area took turns throwing almost monthly pot-luck parties--we hosted a couple ourselves--and nothing marks the passage of time more than watching the kids that are, ahem, dragged to these events sprout like the proverbial weeds! Betty, like any good mom, seemed suitably impressed with Julie's significant growth, while everyone in attendance had to be impressed with the all encompassing display of artwork Joe had set up in the Staton's front parlor!

Marvel stuff, of course, including faithful recreation's of memorable FANTASTIC FOUR covers, the book he so beautifully inked over the iconic Jack Kirby during the company's glory days, but other stuff as well--a sports illustration of Hall of Fame San Francisco Giants pitcher, Juan Marichal, personally signed by the Dominican Dandy; a moody depiction of the pulp hero the Shadow for a cover hosing several repackaged radio shows transferred to disc; and a wonderful craft-tint rendered illo of Joe's life-long favorite, Bing Crosby, entertaining the troops during World War Two. In fact, aware of my late blossoming appreciation for Der Bingle, it was that piece, and not one of the Marvel-centric ones that Joe held up between us as his son Mark snapped a photo of us together! Besides the comics connection, Mr. S and I are fellow dues paying members of The International Crosby Circle, an organization that Lynn likes to joke I'm the youngest member of!?! I don't think she gives the old crooner enough credit for enduring popularity, and sincerely believe she's wrong, and has clearly made a... boo boo boo boo!?!...

Joe enthusiastically engaged me in conversation about the art on display, and a more friendly, upbeat fella you're not likely to find! We spoke of my OTHER musical idols, the Beatles, and the 1964 Dell Giant focusing on the Fab Foursome that he both pencilled and inked. He also evinced a strong desire for Stan Lee to send Spidey out to Mt. Rushmore for an adventure in his syndicated strip. Joe, who still inks the Sunday pages, apparently wants to return to the rock arena!!

And I was happy to make the acquaintance of Joe's son, Mark. It seems Mark was the kid in the family who fell in love with all the comics his dad had, as a matter of routine, streaming into the house. This doesn't always happen, folks--I can assure you that from personal experience, right Julie?--with Mark being the sole member of his siblings bitten by the bug (I know Rex wasn't a comics buff, as he always insisted on cash or a check for his services in lieu of the autographed sketches I generously offered him?!?...) Joe proudly told me how Mark served as an excellent reference source for him when he was growing up, no doubt knowing the storylines and characters even better than the fellow whose talented brush was preparing them for printing!! Like father like son, as they both showed a refreshingly positive zeal for the comics' medium!

And Rex? Well, it wasn't long before the hambone incident was relived for all to enjoy, and by the time the night ended, I had a multitude of Sinnotts razzing me for my foolish flush! But as much of a highlight as it was to spend quality time with these quality people, there was a whole lot more to this MoCCA meeting than that, and if you come back tomorrow, I'll tell you all about it...

April 5th, 2003

It was twenty years ago today, Tom Seaver came back to the Mets to play.

I know because I was there. When the greatest player in New York Met's baseball history--still--came back to once again don the familiar blue and orange uniform, designated to pitch opening day for the team he'd led to an exhilarating--yet improbable--World's Championship title back in 1969, I was there. And when Tom Terrific, after five and a half season's spent exiled with the Cincinnati Reds--the end result of the most ill-advised trade in Mets history--finished warming up in the bullpen, and slowly began to walk in across the outfield grass, heading for the pitcher's mound as the ovation from the fans in a Shea Stadium filled to capacity built in an intensity analogous to the love they felt for their returning hero, I was--WHERE was I exactly? Oh, that's right--in a car, listening to this pivotal moment described over the radio by announcer Bob Murphy, desperately trying to maneuver around the stadiums' underground pylons and secure a reasonably close parking space!?! When the man once known as "The Franchise" took the mound to pitch the second inning, well, FINALLY, I was there...

Timing is everything, eh? Ours was just a SKRUNCH off that historic day, as was that of the man who commanded all our attention's that afternoon. The Mets had a mediocre season in '83, and managed to once again lose their all-time ace over the winter in a convoluted set of baseball legalisms--ones that were wiped off the books a few short years later, as it turned out--denying us all the chance to see Seaver share a rotation with rookie Dwight Gooden the very next year, 1984, when the Mets finally came back from the outskirts of the city's collective consciousness. Perhaps Tom's greatest lasting contribution to the Eighties Mets was helping to convince a reluctant Keith Hernandez to stay with the team after the All Star first baseman was traded over from the St. Louis Cardinals mid-season, and not exercise his option to demand a trade when the '83 campaign concluded. Keith immediately provided a fairly lousy team with credibility, and he'd eventually anchor the team for seasons to come. But who knew all this as we were scrambling to find our seats on that brisk Tuesday afternoon two decades back??

It was a miscalculation. Lynn and I had friends who lived in Queens--Lloyd Tereno and his wife, Cara Sherman-Tereno--and we'd had occasion, before and since, to drive down from our home in upstate New York, check in at their place, and then take an elevated train over to the ballpark, a trip that took all of about twenty minutes. That day, however, there was some concern about encountering massive crowds on the El, so it was decided we'd drive. Bad decision. Traffic--LOTSA traffic.

We still saw one heckuva game. The Mets won 2-0, although they didn't score their runs until after Tom had left, reducing his six shutout innings merely to frosting on his statistics, denying him the victorious decision. Again, the timing was off.

(...and speaking of bad timing, sadly, several years after leaving the big city suburbs for the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, Cara, an early Kubert school graduate some of you may recall from a long pencilling stint on DC Comic's ARION in the late eighties, was felled by an illness and passed away at much too young an age in the mid-nineties. Even though we had mostly lost touch after the Tereno's relocation, we still considered this talented, intelligent young woman a good friend, and it saddens me to this day when I think of her much too early demise. Life just ain't fair sometimes...)

I began musing on all these events last night because of yet one more semi-historic baseball game. This time, it was the rebirth of another long-lost hero that captured my attention, David Cone. For those of you who don't know, Cone was an exemplary pitcher for the Mets between 1987 and 1992, winning 80 games for them, while going 20-3 in his second season in Mets garb. He was also the kinda guy you just couldn't help rooting for. Intelligent, well-spoken, yet self-effacing, he was the sorta fella I could honestly see myself hanging out with, and I certainly won't make that claim about, oh, 90% of the self-centered ballplayers found in the game today. You won't be reading my public plea for Pete Rose's reinstatement here anytime soon, for instance. But Coney's a whole different bird. More so than in the case of most other ex-Mets, I found myself carefully tracking David's career after his stay at Shea ended, even though it all took place in the distant American League. The latter years were hard to miss, however--after stays in Toronto and Kansas City, he returned to the area as a Yankee!?! Now, rooting for a Yankee is a definite no-no for a Mets fan, but in this case, well, rules are made to be broken, right?

Cone had quite a run with the Bronx Bombers, too, including another 20 win season, a hand in several of the Joe Torre led World Championships teams, and that rarest of all pitching achievements, a perfect game. But after being summoned to fill an important relief role in a big spot, successfully retiring a single batter, Mets slugger Mike Piazza, during the 2000 Subway World Series, the Yanks let him go. He wound up signing with the archrival Boston Red Sox, where he pitched the 2001 season. The 2002 season? Cone sat by his phone, waiting for that call that never came. Despite the forced inactivity, the aging hurler was reluctant to officially announce his retirement. But after turning 40 years old this past January--ancient by baseball terms--it became a distinct possibility, almost an inevitably. Until David went bowling...

Appearing as a guest at a charity bowling tournament thrown by two veteran Mets moundsmen, John Franco and Al Leiter, Cone found himself being talked into contacting the Mets front office by the pair. As Spring Training loomed, they convinced him that he owed himself one more shot at winning a spot in the Mets pitching rotation. Always the competitor, and not really happy with the way he just sort of faded away, the one-time flamethrower called the Wilpons. The Mets owners were amenable to giving the old gent a chance. Why not? What was there to lose? After all, he had practically no shot--even he knew that--and if nothing else, it'd give the sports writers a nice, sentimental, feel-good story to write about during what is often a deadly dull stretch.
Well, the stories were written, all right, but guess what? It soon turned into a genuine fairy tale when Cone actually made the team!! Proving, beyond a doubt, that sometimes, bowling CAN change your life!

The only concern was building up his strength after an 18-month layoff. A power pitcher no more, he'd come to rely on guile as much as his arm to get through the opposition's batting order. Having proven his ability to make it at least into the fifth inning--just enough for a starter to qualify for a victory--he was pencilled in to take the mound on this nascent season's fourth game. That game was last night, a cold and misty night at Shea. I wasn't there. I was home, warm, and more excited about a baseball contest than I had been for a long, long time. Bad weather kept attendance down, but a group of the original Coneheads--fans who took to wearing SNL-like headgear to honor their hero--made for a lively and animated presence in the stands. We all waited eagerly to see what would happen, and we all hoped that the air wouldn't be let out of our balloon just yet.

The first pitch? A strike. And BOOM--within three minutes, the Montreal Expos had been quickly and efficiently taken care of. Cone retired the side in order, finishing by getting their best player swinging. As Cone walked off the mound to tumultuous applause, the camera caught a small smile sneak across his face. Not a cocky smile, not a superior smile, just one that all but said, "wow--can you believe that this is REALLY happening?" It was an endearing show of emotion, one that made you root all the more for a Cinderella ending--or maybe, a "Field of Dreams" one...

Which is pretty much what we got. Five innings pitched, five strikeouts--none bigger than the one that ended the third inning when the Expos had the sacks full and their big stick, Vladimir Guerrero, at the plate--no runs allowed, and only two hits surrendered (ironically both to the opposing pitcher?!?...) Cone even had a hit himself, though he didn't knock in the two runs (of an ultimate total of four) that insured him of the victory. Backup catcher, Vance Wilson, filling in for the suspended Mike Piazza (...that's a whole 'NOTHER story...) did the good deed. It was more than anybody could've hoped from the 40-year-old pitcher, and, back in February, more than anybody would've believed. It was, quite simply, a VERY memorable night.

Now David Cone has his 194th career victory, needing six more to reach a nice even number of 200. Oh, that's not enough to insure him a trip to the Hall of Fame, but it is a desirable benchmark, and when you're that close, hey, who can blame you for wanting it? When 2003 rang in, David Cone probably figured his time had finally passed and he'd have to settle for an exemplary career with 193 wins. But to the surprise of everyone, Cone included, it wasn't to be. Because, you know what? Timing is everything, and apparently Cone's time isn't up quite yet. You ask me, he's gonna get that number 200, and a handful more to boot. And when he does, they'll be celebrating from here to Remulak!!...

April 4th, 2003

You know that great old philosophical conundrum, "If a tree falls in a forest and there's no one around to hear it, does it make a sound"? Well, I got me a NEW one for you:

"If Jim Starlin creates a brand new comic and no one publishes it, can anybody read it?"

The answer to that query is most assuredly "YES!!" You have but to click your way over to Jim's brand-spanking new website, to familiarize yourself with the latest Starlin space case!

And actually, the book DID have a publisher all lined up but, well, sometimes in the world of publishing there are...glitches. Fact is, a new publisher is being wooed even as you read this, but in the meantime, Jim is showcasing the Kid online. We're not just talking a handful of promo drawings here, either. Uh uh. The man who laid waste to entire universes is instead going to show us all how he goes about creating a comic from the ground on up, from the most preliminary of sketches to fully colored finished art! Right now, Jim has generously posted the entire first two issues, though the second totally lacks dialog, while the first, albeit completely lettered, features art in a wide variety of stages. Colored, inked and in black and white, pencils only--it's all there, and all fascinating to the true student of the form. Hey, I don't know about you, but I'M taking notes!!

Updates are promised on a weekly basis. The site also has a Shockwave component that may be a bit difficult for some of you to access, but be assured that a 2-D version is also available (and doesn't THAT sound like one of my latter day high school report cards? Luckily, I never have to use trig here at

Full disclosure obligates me to confess that I've been a personal friend of the legendary comics creator for a number of years now. This is a gent heralded for many great achievements, perhaps the least of which--but a big, big fave of mine--was giving us all comics' first folically bereft super-sweetie, the smooth-domed, sassy speaking Moondragon!! (Yeah, I know I've used that gag before, but what can I tell you? I like it. Gotta amuse your own self sometimes, folks...) But dig, even if Jim weren't a buddy, I'd recommend you check out this unique chance to, as they say in the merry old land of Oz, look behind the curtain!

But since he IS a pal, here's hoping Jim'll reward this little bit of plugola with a few extra sets to yours truly the next time we take to the volleyball court, comprende? Unless, of course, he's ACROSS the net from me rather than beside me. In THAT case, I'll say what I always say--"Don't hurt me Jim!!" Because when I take that spike to the head, boys and girls, I guarantee you'll hear ME fall all the way out to the forest and then some!?!

April 2nd, 2003

I can't believe they dropped the bomb! Oh, sure, it wound up over an uninhabited desert area, but still...

Hey, calm down--you didn't miss anything on the news. I'm talking about Fox's "24", okay? Relax. As much as any of us CAN, anyway...

The nuclear bomb that had been threatening to destroy Los Angeles during this season long story arc was detonated several weeks back. Maddeningly, the espionage thriller then went on one of their periodic three-week sabbaticals ("American Idol" being primarily to blame--thank you, Paula Abdul, thank you VERY much... mumble grumble...) and when it returned? Oy. Images of THEIR fictitious president disbelievingly viewing the rising mushroom cloud from a window seat on Air Force One were broadcast mere days after our own, non-fictitious country had gone to war. When seemingly incontrovertible evidence arose blaming three Middle Eastern countries for this (again, fictitious) act of war, well, the storyline suddenly took on an uncomfortably eerie resonance.

Of course, good ol' Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) has determined that this damning piece of tape is actually a fake! So, at this point, he has about four hours left to provide the president (Dennis Haysbert) with concrete proof of these allegations before the leader of the free world will feel absolutely obligated to start World War Three! Talk about your pressure deadlines!! The fact that the Prez believes Jack is pretty much all he has going for him--nobody else in a position of power does, either in his own agency or in the government. After last seasons virtual repeat of their initial hostage storyline finishing out "24"s latter hours, this year's second act is much more satisfying and--so far, anyway--better thought out.

Outside of the chief exec, folks appear to be getting just a little TOO anxious to initiate hostilities, it would seem. And wouldn't you know it--Jack found out just the other night that it was all a conspiracy amongst zillionaire businessmen and high ranking officials--or is that really just ONE group?--to start a war wreaking havoc with access to Middle Eastern oil fields, thus increasing the value of their already bloated holdings. Nice plot, but kinda hard to believe, isn't it? Isn't it?? I say, ISN'T IT??? (...Well, yeah--at least the part about all these events transpiring in a single 24 hour period. Ridiculous. Otherwise?...)

I'll tell you what IS hard to believe on "24", though--the non-stop jams Jack's comely-but-none-too-bright-teenage daughter gets herself involved in! Her name's Kim, in case you didn't know, though I sometimes think "Pauline" might be far more appropriate, considering the hourly perils she stumbles blithely into. Actually, I don't feel the need to complain over much about her latest escapade--being taken hostage after hours in a convenience store by a freaked out young husband who's trying to get his pregnant wife to safety after being tipped off by an in-the-know relative regarding the nuclear explosion. THAT part I could buy. What I couldn't buy was the actor playing this highly emotional role.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not knocking his thespian abilities. He did as fine a job as possible with a part that calls for you to be sympathetic one second, menacing the next--and then back again!! No, that wasn't the problem. It's just that, well--anybody else here watch that OTHER fine Fox program, "The Bernie Mac Show"? It's a very funny, creatively smart, and entertainingly truthful half hour of network TV, and I'd happily recommend it to anyone searching for something just a little bit out of the ordinary. Among several recurring sequences often featured on the show is one where Bernie gathers his pals together for a friendly game of poker. Not surprisingly, it's always the same three gents sitting down to deal the cards, drink the brews, and share the banter. It's a funny group, I assure you, and wouldn't you know it--maybe the most amusing of the bunch is ALSO the poor sap who turned up as Kim's gun-wielding, hostage taking, emotion-shifting, menace de jour!?! And I'm sorry, I just couldn't swallow it.

That's not fair, I know, and I usually don't have much trouble with known quantities crossing over into new roles, but somehow, shifting from comedy to melodrama--THAT can be tough. Hey, just imagine tuning in an old "Streets of San Francisco" rerun and seeing Karl Malden chasing down a serial killer played by the likes of, say, Anson Williams!?! Who could take gunning for THAT perp seriously? After all, taking pot shots at Potsie--that's comedy, NOT drama!?!...

April 1st, 2003

1 down, 161 to go.

...and if they're all like yesterday's game, it's gonna be a loooong season for the New York Mets and their fans, of which, unapologetically, I count myself as one.

Losing 15-2 to the Chicago Cubs marked the Mets worst defeat in all of their 42 Opening Day games. For the Cubbies, well, it was the most runs they've scored in an opener since '99--that's 1899, baseball fans!! This dubious achievement might be considered a small touch of March Madness, coming as it did on March 31st. Had it occurred today, well, the entire slip-shod enterprise would've earned the team a back page headline screaming out some variation of "April Fools!!"--and it would've been no laughing matter, lemme tell ya!

At least I got to witness the debacle in the comfort of my own home. There was a time when Ron Marz, still skulking about these parts, would've enlisted me and several other like-minded individuals to drive down to Long Island's Shea Stadium to witness first hand the glories of New York's National League Home Opener. However, with the estimable Mr. Martz's migration to Florida several years back--it was due either to an attractive offer made to the keyboard-pounder by the fine folks at CrossGen or Ron's innate love of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball franchise which precipitated the relocation, I forget exactly which--I now find myself enjoying the first game of the baseball season on the tube. Or not enjoying it, as the case may be.

I DID enjoy, for the 42nd consecutive season, hearing the soothing tones of broadcaster--and slugging legend--Ralph Kiner. Ralph has cut back on his workload quite a bit in recent seasons--the old fella's getting up there, please understand. Still, hearing the same voice calling a game that's the also the voice that called the very first games I ever watched way back in '66--however affected by age it might be--is somehow comforting. And best of all, Ralph's doing the VERY SAME material!! Yesterday, it was time for Ralph's perennial recitation of the poem, "Tinkers to Evers to Chance", celebrating the early century--LAST century, that is-- Chicago Cubs double play combination. Considering Kiner's gift for malaprops, he might well be better suited to performing that OTHER bit of Hall of Fame oratory, Abbott and Costello's "Who's On First?"...

Ah well, it's only one game, right? No way newly acquired ace, Tom Glavine, can possibly be that bad EVERY time, can he? Plus, the Mets ARE gonna hit, aren't they? And the guys in the outfield, they ARE gonna catch SOME of the balls hit out there, aren't they? AREN'T THEY?? If not, it's gonna be a loooong season...

Say, I wonder if Ralph knows "Casey At The Bat"--or at least that one about the shortstop from Nantucket?...

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