Friday, September 30, 2005

 

Giveaway of CRAP (update)


Oh goody.

Well so far it's been a very gratifying response. Keep it coming, folks. Surely somebody wants the Gandalf bust, or Daphne's autograph, or my old Mr. Spock? I thought those would be snapped up, not a cache of my old stories.

Also: I appreciate how polite everyone is being, but just because someone else has put a bid on an item doesn't mean you can't. No one should take a counter-bid personally. Look at Batonga and Mandy's little back and forth in Wave 1 comments. They've got the right idea!

And remember: everyone gets something. If you don't get what you bid on, I'll do my best to make your alternate item as appropriate as I can. In some cases, I have multiples of items. For example, I have enough Art Lad original art to supply the entire blogosphere. I also have way more of my writing than any sane person wants to read.

But here's the thing: If you don't bid at all, how will I know to give you anything? Plus, the more people who bid, the more crap I can get rid of, which is the main thing (have to write that because Her Lovely Self is watching me right now).

Okay? Okay.

Over the weekend, I'll post the current status of items and bids, if for no other reason than to keep it straight in my head.

Back to the crap pile...

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Thursday, September 29, 2005

 

Giveaway of CRAP (Wave 2)

Okay, let's get this all on the table. Here's the last 10 items from this giveaway.

Again, rules are here.

Wave 1 is here, if you find yourself unable to scroll.

Get bidding. This first giveaway is gonna be quick, as in wrapped up in about a week, so hop to it.


Item #11: Neil Gaiman Goody Bag B--This lot contains some nifty Gaiman items too, including a signed copy of Neil's Telling Tales CD, which has five great stories (read by Neil) including "Harlequin Valentine" and "The Wedding Present."

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Also some more Sandman cards, plus a lovely Sandman spiral-bound journal with an illuminated-style cover of Dream by Yoshitaka Amano, who also illustrated the Sandman: Dream Hunters book.




Item #12: Ghost World Enid Doll
--Neat doll in a big-ass box--over a foot long. Features a doll of Enid herself, one of the characters from Dan Clowes' Ghost World. Enid comes with some accessories like a ray gun and a mask.

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The box is a hoot--has a very retro look to it, with some fun comics on the side by Clowes. I'll also throw in a Clowes Ghost World graphic novel.




Item #13: Boy Detective Adventure books--From my personal collection when I was a Magazine Lad.

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You get three books: Me and My Little Brain, from the Great Brain series by John Fitzgerald; a hard-back Hardy Boys book, #43, The Mystery of the Aztec Warrior; and finally, one of the great inspirations of my youth, the official Hardy Boys Detective Handbook, packed with real hints and tips for aspiring detectives. I loved this book so much I actually owned two copies (one for my house, one for the mail truck where my best friend and I had our detective agency). This is the mail truck copy.



Item #14: Star Trek crew shirt
--This is a large-sized green t-shirt from the film Star Trek: First Contact. On the front it has the logo from the movie, plus the words "ILM Visual Effects Crew."

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On the back it has the Starfleet logo, slightly Borg-ified, with the words "Resistance is Futile."

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This was a gift to me from an old girlfriend, who after we broke up moved west and ended up working for Industrial Light and Magic and did some CGI work for the film (and all I got was this lousy...well, you know). These shirts were only available to select ILM employees and crew members. It has never been worn.



Item #15: Gandalf bust
--Another 1/4 scale Sideshow bust from The Lord of the Rings. This is of himself, Gandalf the Grey. Another gift I never opened so it's sealed in the box. If you ever wanted the head of a wizard on your desk, here's your chance.

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Item #16: Journals--Here's a really nice leather-bound journal, great for a diary or travel journal or your novel in progress.

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It smells great, and comes with its own pull-string pouch (which is of course a serious bonus and so worth mentioning). I'm also throwing in a highly useful Moleskine pocket-sized notebook. Great for jotting down bursts of inspiration--or shopping lists--in style.




Item #17: Daphne's autograph--From the Scooby Doo Inkworks trading card series, this is one of the scarce signature cards, featuring the actual genuine autograph of Heather North Kenney, the voice actress who portrayed the luscious Daphne.

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Card is inside one of those, er, stiff card holders. But you know, if you want to save postage, I could always just fold it in half and stick it in a small envelope or something...




Item #18: TV/Radio/Flashlight/Lantern Thingy
--From the Jeep line of accessories, this thing is like a Swiss Army knife with a glandular condition.

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It's a portable black-and-white TV. It's an AM/FM radio. It's a removable flashlight. It's a fluorescent lamp. It's an audible emergency alarm. It's all these things in one compact package. Great for the car or camping, if you really want to watch a small, fuzzy TV. Batteries not included.



Item #19: Crap-load of LEGOs--Legoboy? Legoboy's mom, you out there?

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Here's some--take a wild guess--LEGOs! Four little disk-sized kits, plus a larger dinosaur kit. Plus any other LEGO kits I find lying around between now and the time I ship this puppy out.




Item #20: Really tiny digital camera
--This is the palm-sized SiPix StyleCam Blink II camera, a very cute, very handy little camera. Comes with a clip-on lanyard so you can wear the thing as a necklace. Also comes with a little stand so it won't fall over when you hook it up to a computer.

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It does connect to a PC through a USB cable, which is also included (doesn't work on a Mac). If it came with software, I don't have it now, but I've never needed it. Soon as I plugged it in, my Win XP computer recognized it. Isn't it cute? Isn't it tiny? Apparently you can also use it as a Web cam. Go here for more details and click on StyleCam Blink II (you'll also find updated drivers and a pdf manual. Good thing, since I don't have one).



Oh, what the hell, let's push it to a full 23:




Item #21: Star Wars swag--This is kind of a cheat, because I already promised this to Johnny C. It's the weirdly hard-to-find #38 tank gunner from the latest series of Star Wars figures.

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I'm also throwing in an interesting press kit item from last year's release of the DVD set. Johnny, I know you've given up smoking and that's a pretty good bid by any measure, but if you want to play along and offer up some other good deed for the figure, here's your chance to show off for everyone.




Item #22: Art Lad original artwork
--Somebody anticipated this, and here it is! An actual original piece of artwork from my son, aka Art Lad.

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You'll be getting a full-color illustration of the Prehistoric Spotted Small Orange Sabre-Whiskered Dog, as also seen here.



Item #23: Doggy Poo DVD--I'm not kidding. This is an animated DVD about a pile of dog crap.

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Doggy Poo is one of those things that you just can't stop watching. It's like seeing what would happen if the old Claymation crew at Rankin-Bass just went nuts and put together the worst thing they could think of. And yet, it's a strangely touching work too. Not really obscene or gross, it's actually safe for kids (mine thought it was the shit!). If you're an animation fan, trust me, this is like nothing you've ever seen before.

Okay, that's it. If you were waiting for Wave 2, it has officially hit. Get bidding.

And did I say "Have fun" yet?

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


 

Giveaway of CRAP (Wave 1)



Let's get started!

Rules are here, in case you have short-term memory issues.

UPDATE: WAVE 2 IS HERE.

Okay, this time around, I've had to limit what I'm giving away to about 20 items. And, because it's the first time and because we're already going to my in-laws with a pretty full car and because I really don't need the hernia, most of these items are relatively small--nothing bigger than a bread box.

We'll do this in waves of 10. Here's the first wave.

Yes, if you see something in the second wave that you want more but you already bid on an item in Wave 1, you can transfer or change your bid to the new item.

In no particular order:


Item #1: Neil Gaiman Goody Bag A--No, there's no real bag, but yes, there will be a Gaiman Goody Bag B in the next wave. In this lot, you will get a signed first edition of Gaiman's brand-spanking-new book, Anansi Boys, plus a handful of Sandman trading cards from 10 or 12 years ago. The cards have been opened. Can't honestly remember if any were rare or special and no, I'm not going through them now.

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Suggested bids (but don't feel obligated. I'm just trying to prime the pump): donating some graphic novels to your local library, offering to give away comics instead of candy this Halloween, signing up for membership in the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (which Gaiman heartily supports. And why don't you?)



Item #2: Mr. Spock--Made by the legendary Mego toy company, this is my personal Mr. Spock action figure, produced during the 1970s and owned by me when I was just a little Magazine Lad. He stands about 8 inches high and is not-quite-fully articulated (after a bad away mission, his right knee was damaged and he was repaired with Federation-issue electrical tape). He comes with his regulation blue shirt (with extra "character" or "stains") and black pants. Am pretty sure his boots are actually fireman's boots borrowed off of Action Jackson. Cool belt with phaser and tricorder are, for all I know, still up in a gutter in Goffstown, New Hampshire, where my brother threw them in a fit of pique.

Also included is a more-or-less complete set of Enterprise blueprints from around the time of the first movie.

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Suggested bids: You heard what I said about the whole Orion slave girl/boy thing, right? Or come up with your own idea.



Item #3: Web Cam--Standard issue Web cam for PC users. Everything's here, so it should work. I should probably tell you that Caustic Bunny wants this pretty badly, but that doesn't mean I can't make him work for it. What am I bid, CB?

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Item #4: Crap-load of manga--Here's nine graphic novels full of English-translated manga. Includes What's Michael, some weird story about a cat; a couple of Usagi Yojimbo books, volumes 1-4 of Nausicaa, Valley of the Wind, and volumes 1 and 2 of Initial D, which looks to be some kind of strip about street racing. I'd like to say this stuff is for all ages, but I haven't read them all and you know how that manga stuff can be. If you want these, Flip, I think Wood better see em first.


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Suggested bid: Helping a kid start an art blog (ha!) or some other artistically inclined good deed, maybe?


Item #5: Mysterious Locked Case--Oh my God! Remember that episode where Sawyer and Kate went swimming and they found the locked case? And--OH MY GOD--was their kiss scene hot? I KNOW. I swear, my hair caught fire--all of it. And how about the way Jack has the key SO tight around his neck. Wouldn't you just like to...

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Okay, I'm pretty sure there are no guns in here, but this IS a locked case that I honestly have no idea what's inside. I've had it for several years. At one time, I did keep a laptop in there, then I used it as a briefcase, then it was filled with some vintage comics I took to sell somewhere. Then I moved to start my new job and while I was gone Her Lovely Self went through all my stuff and packed every empty case, bag or box with assorted crap. But she has a worse memory than I do and she has no idea what's in here. It is a high-impact laptop case, but for a small laptop--it measures about 17 inches long by 13 inches wide and about 4 inches deep. No discernible markings. Two very sturdy locks on the front. When I shake the case I can hear something clunky shifting around and also a kind of clattering noise, which makes me think that the key is, alas, inside (which I'm sure HLS placed in there for safe keeping).

NOTE: Winning bidder must agree to wait a month before trying to bust open the case or pick the lock. Here's why: my dad just found a jar of keys in my old desk and is bringing them to me on his next visit. He's always insisted that case had two keys. If the extra key is anywhere, it's in that jar.


Item #6: Elven War Helm--This is a 1/4 scale sculpture/bust thing. It was a gift to me and I've never opened it. It's from The Fellowship of the Ring and looks pretty neat on the box, suitable for display on the mantel in your hobbit hole, or perhaps as the coolest paperweight ever. It's made by Sideshow, which means our girl Dusty probably knows more about it than anyone.

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Suggested bid: Reading Tolkien to the vision impaired? Sending a LOTR DVD to pixelscribbles, seeing as she lost all of hers in a fire?




Item #7: Green Lantern Power Ring
--

In brightest junk
In darkest crap
Bad guy's gonna get a slap
Let those who sit on evil's lap
Beware--oh God will someone
Please shut MM's yap?


This is an authentic power ring worn by members of the Green Lantern Corp. When fully charged by its power battery* ring gives the wearer 24 hours of use (or 15 minutes, if ring is used to power an iPod).

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Operated by will power, ring emits coherent green energy in any form the wearer desires: laser beams, shields, giant boxing gloves, you name it. Made of unknown material with flexible band that allows for convenient resizing to most any finger.

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*Power battery not included.

Suggested bid: For the most powerful weapon in the galaxy? You tell me!




Item #8: Land's End Blue Fleecy Ensemble--A very comfy-looking women's (Size Small, 6-8) powder-blue jacket from Land's End. Fleecy inner lining with zippered pockets inside and out. Comes with a L/XL matching hat and multi-colored scarf. Great for fall or winter.

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This was sitting on a shelf in a prop room for about a year and so it shows just the slightest shelf wear. Probably all it needs is just a good cleaning. So far as I know, it's only been worn once.

Okay, twice.*



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But as you can see, powder-blue is not my color. If it's yours, this is your lucky day, because you know how overpriced that Land's End stuff is.

*Magazine Man not included (although HLS is willing to negotiate).



Item #9: Christmas Story figures
--You just might get these in time for Christmas. Here's a set of four figures from the beloved holiday classic A Christmas Story.

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Still in their packages, unopened, you get Ralphie w/Red Ryder BB gun (careful--you'll put someone's eye out!), Mom and Randy, the Old Man (with garish Leg Lamp accessory), and Flick, complete with frozen pole (hours of fun sticking his tongue to it).

Suggested bid: Hosting a Christmas movie marathon for your friends and neighbors? Hell, I'm running out of ideas. You guys are the creative ones. SURPRISE me!



Item #10: Original Magazine Man Stories--Is it obvious I was scraping the bottom of the barrel? Here are some unpublished (or lightly published) items from my personal archives. Stories may include a piece about an anthropomorphic snack cake, an unconventional response to trolls (suitable for blogging), or a mystery story I wrote when I was 10.

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Suggested bid: How 'bout an original story from you, when YOU were 10?

That's it for now. Let the wild rumpus start!

Wave 2 coming soon.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


 

Giveaway of CRAP (Part 1)



Okay, folks, here it is. Welcome to


MM's First Annual Giveaway of Crap!


UPDATE: WAVE #1 OF ITEMS IS UP! CLICK HERE!


UPDATE: WAVE #2 IS HERE.


The premise is simple, but the rules (such as they are) may get a little complicated, so bear with me.

First, and to make myself perfectly clear: I am giving away a random assortment of (generally) cool items from my incredible basement of crap.

These items will be free for the taking.
Your money is no good here.
There are a few strings attached...
...But absolutely no sexual favors expected.

Shortly, I will be listing the items here--with pictures. If you see something you like, make a claim for it in the comments section. You can also email me, if you prefer, but understand that I may use pertinent parts of your message in a future blog entry (if you don't want people to know your name, tell me and I will make up a suitable alias for you). Items will be up for grabs for about a week or so.

All I'm asking you to do is the following:


1. When you make a claim for an item or cluster of items, tell me what you'd be willing to do in return for the item(s). This is not to prove that you're deserving of free stuff. It's more a matter of paying it forward. Since you will know what it means to feel the unexpected pleasure that comes from getting something cool for free, you will now have a certain responsibility to pass that feeling along to others. Think of it as depositing a little karma in the bank.

(And by the way, if memory serves, that part was Thimbelle's idea, so don't thank me. Thank her. Or blame her. Either one.)

2. You can do anything you desire, so long as it's well-intentioned, is likely to make someone else happy (including me), and won't harm you or anyone else. At intervals, I will post entries detailing who has put a claim on which items and what they're willing to do for those items (hereafter called a bid). In the event that more than one person puts in a claim for the same item, I will be the final judge of who gets the item. My decision will be based on how appropriate and interesting I think someone's bid is. By appropriate I mean in the spirit of the item being offered.

For example, if you want my old Mego Mr. Spock action figure and are willing to give away toys on a street corner in return, that's pretty cool. But giving away Star Trek toys on a street corner may be judged appropriate. Offering to give away Star Trek toys while dressed as an Orion slave girl--and then posting pictures of you doing it--would be both appropriate AND interesting, especially if your name is Naiah or J.Sto, and would be awfully hard to beat.

(Unless you were perhaps dressed as an Orion slave BOY. Shane? AJ?)

3. If you feel someone else has made a bid more interesting than yours, you are free to "up" your bid, to augment whatever it is you'd be willing to do.

4. Remember, this is in good fun and we're all friends here. Don't get carried away competing with one another. And don't worry about whether or not your bid is impressive enough. I'm a weird guy, and there's no telling what will impress me. Walking the dog for a bedridden neighbor might win you your item. Committing to spend the next week letting other drivers into your lane (instead of driving aggressively so they can't cut in) might do it too. Be creative. Have fun.

If you don't get the item you wanted, I promise you'll get something (you did SEE how vast my basement of crap was, right?), so don't fret: everyone who participates will get something.

5. One more thing: once you get the item, you're on your honor to fulfill your bid, to do the thing you promised to do, preferably by the end of the year.

How will I know you've done it? Because you're going to blog about it (obviously, the more creative and interesting your bid is, the better blog material you'll have). If you don't have a blog, you're going to email me a little story about what you did, and then I'm going to post it on my blog so people can see how cool you really are.

Yes, I will email you to remind you of this. And depending on how much your follow-up blog entry or story amuses me, I may send you even cooler free crap. Why? Because I said so.

So look at that: you get free stuff AND you get an instant idea for generating blog content. It's win-win.

6. If there's any requirement, it's that you'll need to email me a mailing address (I will not publish your address on my blog nor anywhere else, nor will I sell it to skeevy marketing people). I will use that address only to mail your item, which I will do from Ohio, the next time I go to visit my in-laws. Items will be sent by regular mail, without delivery confirmation or insurance or even a valid return address. I will pay all postage, including international postage, and will contact you as soon as the item is on the way.

I guess I better have a few disclaimers, so here they are:


--Although most everything I'm giving away is appropriate for all ages, if you are under 18 (Twinkie, Flip, you listening?), please get the permission of a parent or guardian. As in, they will need to contact me to confirm that, yes, it's okay for me to send you, say, the big pile of manga or Harry Potter stuff. In fact, I will insist on sending the items to the attention of your parent or guardian so they can examine the items first to confirm for themselves that I'm not some wacko (or that, at least, I'm a nice wacko).

--Items are not guaranteed to be in mint condition, or even necessarily in working order. If you don't like that, I'll give you your money back.

--In the unlikely event that you receive an item that somehow leads you to uncover my identity, you are permitted to email me with one guess, which I will confirm or deny. If you are correct, you must pinky-swear never to reveal my identity and in return you will be bribed regularly with all manner of signed books and other free stuff. Guesses posted in comments will be promptly deleted, whether accurate or not.

--My dad likes to say that opportunity knocks once, but temptation leans on the doorbell. If after taking advantage of this opportunity you are tempted to sell the item I've given you--say on eBay--know this: I understand the temptation, but I expect you to resist it. Selling items I've freely given for your own personal gain is most definitely NOT in the spirit of this endeavor, and if you think I won't find out, you may have another think coming. Beyond incurring my wrath, though, you have to ask yourself: Do you really want that kind of bad karma hanging over you?

--When in doubt, just email me. Every rule has an exception. If you want to sell the item I gave you and give the money to an animal shelter, that's a pretty good exception.

--If you don't like this whole giveaway idea, or you think it's a big, fat hassle, I won't blame you one bit for choosing not to participate, but don't waste your time telling me about it. The "next blog" button is up there to the right of your screen. Have a nice day. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Oof, that's a lot, isn't it? Okay, here's the quick-start version:

--If you want it, tell me what you'll do for it.

--Want it more than someone else? Counter-bid!

--Everyone gets something.

--As long as you send me an address.

--Once you get it, do what you promised.

--Once you do what you promised, blog about it or email me about it.

--Have fun.


Links to Waves 1 and 2 are posted. Have at it!

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

 

In Which I Make A Guest Appearance...


Well, to paraphrase that old rhyme:

I'm not a poet
and I...am fully cognizant of that fact.

(see what I mean?)

But there comes a time in a man's life when he meets a woman--in my case, there's more than one--who moves him to poetry, or the nearest approximation of same.

Of course, it almost goes without saying that my wife and daughter are the chief targets of whatever feeble couplets I can string together. But there are others.

You know who you are.

One of them is the lovely Naiah, who has been absent from her blog of late. To compensate for depriving us of her company, she's been allowing guest bloggers to fill in. And last night, she asked me--ME--if I would write something for her. It's not often women as delicious as Naiah ask me to besmirch their nubile sites with my grubby, sticky copy, so I agreed right away, before she could change her mind.

I won't tell you how long I spent on this, because honestly I don't want to know whether you'll be impressed or aghast. But as I have no--or at least very few--secrets from you, I thought you might want to have a read.

More importantly, if you haven't spent any time at Naiah's blog yet, it's certainly not for want of links in this entry. Seriously, this is as good a time as any to get reading. She's a peach of a writer. The pictures she posts are mighty peachy too.

(And if you want to see some real poetry, check out Jennifer's effort in the comments under my entry. Jennifer's blog is here.)

What, are you still here? Get going!

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


 

In Which We Take a Deep Breath...



I'll say this for my son: that kid can run. He practically left smoking shoe prints in the asphalt of that empty parking lot. By the time I had shut off my car and ran around the front, he was already tearing ass up to the wooded embankment that separated the nearby housing development from the closed office complex where I'd parked to tell him that our trip to the dentist's office was a ruse. That he wasn't going to have his teeth examined. That in fact he was going to have one yanked out his head (I sold it a little bit better than that, but the net result was the same).

Now he was on the lam, a 6-year-old boy who really didn't want to go to the dentist. I booked after him--I didn't want him running into some street in a blind panic--but I wasn't mad or even annoyed. Mostly I admired his decision-making ability. Her Lovely Self and the Brownie are terrible deliberators. They will stand in a long line at a fast-food place, with plenty of time to scan the menu. And when they get to the cashier, they still hem and haw about what they want. Whereas I was brought up by a mom whose favorite saying was, "Just DO something, even if it's wrong." In my house, you learned to make quick decisions. You learned to trust your gut and think on your feet.

Clearly, Thomas had inherited that tendency. Because he sure as hell was thinking on his feet.

At the embankment, Thomas turned and saw that I was following him. He screamed bloody murder and ran back, making a wide arc away from me across the parking lot, crying "I won't go! I won't go!" the whole way (where was he finding the oxygen to sprint and scream?). I cut across the lot and intercepted him right at the corner of one of the old office buildings, a scant 100 feet from the road we'd been on.

"No! no! NOOOOOOO!!!" he screamed as I caught his t-shirt. His forward momentum yanked us around the corner of the building.

Anyone who reads this blog and understands the forces that shape my life will not be surprised at all to learn that, just around that corner, there sat a police car.

The officer inside had been training his RADAR gun on the busy road in front of us, but he was willing to interrupt this activity to regard--with what I am sure could only have been keen interest--the sight of a screaming little boy being held by the collar of his shirt by a crazed-looking man, in the middle of an abandoned office complex.

I hadn't really even seen the cop, nor comprehended that he was out of his vehicle and moving rather rapidly towards me, hand on the butt of his pistol, until Thomas screamed. "No, Dad, no! Please don't make me go to the dentist! Please! Please Puh-lease! No dentist, noooooo!"

The officer scuffed to a sudden halt and that's when I noticed him, just as his face was melting from the hard kick-your-ass cop face to the more sympathetic I'm-a-dad-too face.

"Dentist?" he asked, not unkindly.

"Bad tooth," I replied above Thomas' screams.

"Well, you're in the wrong complex. Dentist's office is in the complex down the end of the street." He looked down at Thomas, who was red and panting from all the screaming, and who was now trying to draw breath.

"Don't worry kiddo," he said. "You listen to your dad and it'll be over before you know it."

I have no doubt that if he'd been just a couple years older, Thomas would have had the presence of mind to yell "He's not my Dad. HELP!" or anything to get out of going to the dentist. But being addressed by the law had a calming effect on him. He relaxed ever so slightly, and then hugged my leg. A great swell of pity filled me and I picked him up, like I used to when he was a toddler. While he cried on my shoulder, I nodded my thanks to the officer (I could have sworn I heard him mutter "Poor bastard" as he walked, head shaking, back to his patrol car) and carried Thomas back to our car.

It was a lucky thing we had distracted the cop from his speed patrol duties as we had, because I drove like Richard Petty with his pants on fire the remaining few blocks to the dentist's office. I carried Thomas in, who by this time had gathered a fresh lungful of air and was beginning to sob rather loudly about his impending dental doom.

I had yet to meet my son's dentist, but I liked him already. At least, I admired his choices when it came to hiring staff. Because waiting for us at the front desk was a dishy young dental assistant who flashed Thomas and me a winning smile.

"What's a big boy like you doing looking so upset?" she asked in a soft, cooing voice.

I almost answered her, then realized she was talking to Thomas, who was falling under her spell as well. He dropped out of my arms and took her hand as she led him back to one of the exam rooms. The fifth wheel on this date, I trotted along behind.

In the exam room, the dishy DA produced a nose mask hooked up to the nitrous oxide and oxygen bottles. Thomas balked, fearing that anything in the room was likely to hurt him.

"This will make you feel better, sweetie," the dishy DA said.

"Yeah," I chipped in. "In fact, I'll even take a few puffs so you can see for yourself."

Alas, I wasn't permitted to sample the laughing gas, but under the assistant's patient coaxing, Thomas at last climbed into the chair and began snorting the gas.

The effect was almost instantaneous. He relaxed into the chair as though someone had let the air out of him. His eyes got wide and he began looking around the room, an absent smile on his face. His gaze lingered on me for a moment, as if he didn’t quite know who I was, then he turned and gave his full attention to the dishy assistant.

"This is pretty good," he said. "I could lay here all my whole life." He paused, sniffing in some more of his good mood. "My last tooth came out on its own and I told about it on my Web site," he babbled. "My dad has one too. But it's a secret. He's the Magazine Man, so don't tell anyone."

Oh thanks a pantload, buddy, I thought. But of course, I've been hiding in plain sight long enough to realize I had nothing to worry about. And so Thomas babbled on, revealing all sorts of family secrets, until the dentist came in and shook my hand.

Thomas eyed him with a certain curiosity. "Hey. You're gonna pull my tooth out," he said evenly. This threw the dentist, who no doubt had his routine all worked out: the fake exam, the feigned surprise, followed by the announcement that it looked like that tooth might have to come out. The dentist gave me a look and I shrugged.

"Well, let's not worry about that, Thomas--" he started.

"Worried?" Thomas interrupted. "I'm not worried. I feel guh-reat," he said, doing an unintentional yet remarkable imitation of Tony the Tiger.

And then it all went straight back to hell.

As soon as Thomas opened his mouth to let the dentist check him out, he stopped breathing through his nose. By the time the dentist produced a novocaine needle--with the intention of numbing his gums for the tooth-pulling--the laughing gas had worn right off. Thomas took one look at the needle and was up like a shot.

Luckily, the nose-mask kept him from making a complete escape and the dishy DA and I were able to hold him down in the chair while the dentist went in to, er, make the shot.

Man, there is nothing worse than holding your kid down while someone else inflicts pain upon him. The dentist delivered three of the shortest, quickest little jabs of the needle, but you'd have thought he was removing Thomas' whole lower jaw without the benefit of anesthesia. The screaming was so loud that exam room doors throughout the office closed with great speed and force. Other kids in distant rooms began wailing in sympathy. Back home, my wife's head exploded.

And then it was over and the nose mask was back in place and the dentist was turning the dial on the nitrous tank way the hell up and telling Thomas to breathe, breathe, breathe. He looked at me. "It'll take a few minutes for the local to kick in. But between that and the laughing gas, he won't feel a thing. I'll be right back to do the extraction." And as he left, I found myself praying, please God, don't let Thomas be immune to novocaine.

Well, it turns out he wasn't. Nor was he immune to the effects of the dishy dental assistant, because once the stronger laughing gas kicked in, my son began hitting on her.

"You're really pretty, lady," he slurred at her. "You have a pretty, pretty face. You're as nice as my mom. Do you work here everyday? Because I will come back only on the days you come here too. When my tooth comes out, I'm going to give it to you because you're so nice. You make my toes feel all scrunchy."

That's my boy!

The dishy DA just giggled and patted his arm, but this only encouraged my dizzy little Romeo. "I will draw you a picture when I go home. You should see my pictures. They are pretty good, some of them. I will send you some. You are the best lady I ever saw. I like it here."

I turned to her. "So I bet this is just like going to a bar and getting hit on by drunk college guys."

She liked that. "Yeah," she agreed. "Sometimes they even use the same lines."

And so we all had a good chuckle--although one of us didn't know what he was laughing about--until the dentist came back in. I saw a brief look of alarm sweep across Thomas' face, but under the influence of the laughing gas, you could almost hear his mind saying, aw fuggedaboudit and he relaxed back into his seat.

The actual removal of the tooth was a breeze. Thomas really didn't feel a thing--in fact, as I would discover later, he didn't even realize he'd been parted from his tooth until we got home. But jeez, it was a big tooth. I couldn’t help myself and watched with disgusted awe as the dentist pulled that sucker out...and just kept pulling and pulling. The root of the tooth seemed to go on forever. When it was finally out, it looked more like some primitive fish hook made of bone, such as you might see in a museum display about Stone Age man. And then the tooth was deposited in a cunning little green box in the shape of a tiny treasure chest. The dentist handed it to me--it was then that I realized just how white and trembling my hands were--and we discussed one or two things he'd seen in the X-rays. Meanwhile the dishy DA blotted my son. Blood was everywhere.

Once he was fairly well sopped up, I drove him home packed with gauze, stopping first to pick out a few comics at our local shop (Batman and Teen Titans, in case you were wondering). By the time we reached our driveway, the gas had long since worn off. Gone was the loopy Lothario, charmer of dental assistants. He stared at me sullenly.

"What is it?" I asked, knowing full well what it was. This was my moment of reckoning, when I'd catch it full in the face for luring him to the dentist under false pretenses.

But I was wrong again. "Dad," he said. "Why didn't he take my tooth out like you said he would? Now I have to go back."

I was confused for a second, then realized. "You--what makes you think he didn't take your tooth out?"

He looked at me like I was crazy. "It woulda hurt like anything. You said he was gonna take it out, but he didn't." His eyes were getting all big and teary just then. Coincidentally enough, so were the eyes of Her Lovely Self, who suddenly appeared at the door to the car, ready to offer comfort aplenty now that the deed had been done.

Well, that was enough drama for me for one day, so I brought out the little green treasure box and shook it. "You mean THIS tooth right here?"

Even when I opened the box and showed him, Thomas still couldn't believe it. I had to take him into the bathroom and make him look in the mirror to see the giant gap in his bottom row of teeth. He gave me the look of shock he normally reserves for really good magic tricks. He was so surprised, he almost swallowed all the gauze packed in his mouth.

And so we ended the afternoon on rather a high note. Right after dinner, Thomas made out a letter to the Tooth Fairy and sealed his second tooth in an envelope. Good thing, because within five minutes of going upstairs, he was comatose in his bed, no doubt worn from his day of stress.

I was feeling a bit fatigued myself. And later, as I sat on the sofa with Her Lovely Self, sipping a little liquid gum-numbing agent, I regaled her with our exploits and she sat shaking her head.

"See," she said, trying not to sound smug, but failing. "He was better off not knowing."

"Yeah, you're right. I'm sure as hell not going to tell him next time."

Her Lovely Self paused in mid-swallow of her drink. "Next time?"

And then I told her what the dentist told me: that the X-rays had revealed another fused tooth. Once again, it wasn't likely to come out on its own. Her Lovely Self slowly went white.

"So we're going to have to go through this all over again?" she asked.

I smiled my most charming smile. "We? Oh honey, I don't think so. It's your turn next time. Have fun. And make sure he gets the dishy dental assistant. She really helped me--us--through the ordeal."

Her Lovely Self made a face.

"Bite me," she said.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

 

In Which it is Exactly Like Pulling Teeth...




Not too long ago, Thomas lost his first tooth and we were so excited about it--because, hey, he lost his first tooth--that we almost completely forgot how relieved we were.

Relieved, because if it hadn't fallen out on its own, the dentist was going to yank it out.

Not to give you a crash-course in dentistry here, but my son has some fused teeth along his bottom jaw. Which means that the teeth coming up underneath them are usually too small to dislocate the fused big boys above, which leads to all sorts of unfortunate consequences, the likes of which fill up dentistry journals and cause people reading such accounts to wince and to feel sympathetic aching in all their teeth, much as if they'd just eaten an entire bag of gummy bears.

So we were relieved because one of those sets of fused teeth came out on its own (Yay Dad for being thoughtless enough to serve corn-on-the-cob that fateful night). We figured this meant the other set of fused teeth next to it would be loosening up and falling out on its own any day now.

Except it didn't happen.

And roughly a month later--also known as Two Weeks Ago--Thomas started to complain of an ache in his bottom jaw. His new tooth was coming in, pushing in futility on the fused mass above, causing uncomfortable pressure. That was bad enough. But now, looking in his little mouth, I could see the new tooth, its pale outline becoming clearer with each passing day as it pushed itself up at angle, tearing through his gums on a path to come up directly behind the fused teeth. Not cool.

Indeed, it was a not-cool situation all around. Because it meant that we'd have to go to the dentist to get the fused teeth yanked after all. And soon, before the new tooth came up.

I've written elsewhere about how anxious Thomas tends to be in the face of anything new or different or remotely off-putting. And that's just normal kid-anxiety stuff, like going upstairs by himself, or being alone in the back yard. When you throw in a situation that causes many grown men and women to cringe--as a visit to the dentist is wont to do--then you have in my son the anxiety equivalent of a nuclear event.

Saying my son is nervous about doctor and dentist visits is a monument to understatement. To put this in the proper context for you: When Thomas was starting kindergarten, he had to get the two vaccinations before he could go to school. Unfortunately, his pediatrician made the mistake of actually saying this while Thomas was within earshot. And also, he said it in April. We should have simply taken Thomas to get the shots there and then. But no, we waited. Til July. Which meant that not a week of the next three months went by without my son freaking out--either a little or a lot--about getting his shots. Dinnertime became a cross-examination about needle pain as compared to the worst pain Mom and Dad ever experienced. Every night it was the same thing: He wanted to know how much shots hurt--but of course what he really wanted was a guarantee on the maximum pain he was likely to experience (or better yet, on there being no pain at all). If Art Lad had launched back then, I'd have been helping him post pictures with titles like "The Needle Monster" and "Hypodermisaurus." It was agony for everyone.

I begged Her Lovely Self to schedule him for the shots sooner, but the pediatrician was booked solid and spring turned to summer til at last we came to July, a hellish month. Every day Thomas either woke up crying, or ran screaming to our bed, his dreams haunted by ghoulish mad doctors bursting into his room with syringes the size of harpoons.

At last, fate showed us mercy: the pediatrician called with a cancellation and we got to see him a couple of weeks early. Not really thinking it through, we told Thomas he'd get to go in the morning. Which meant he spent the night pressed between Her Lovely Self and me, whimpering. He greeted the dawn by racing into our bathroom and throwing up in the Jacuzzi. That's when I decided to take the morning off from work and join my family for the trip to the doctor's office.

You'd have thought we were taking Thomas to the vet to be put to sleep, the way he carried on in the car. I had to sit in the back with him and hold his clammy little hand, assuring him that it wasn't that big a deal, that he'd see how quickly it would be over, and how relatively painless it would be, compared to, say, 3 months of angsting over it. I was the very model of the calm, understanding Dad, validating his fears but also helping him rationalize them too.

Naturally, he screamed the whole way into the office, which got us right into an exam room (good tip to remember next time I'm stuck in a waiting room). The doctor showed up with the needle, and Thomas went purely crazy. I had to sit him in my lap and even then it was like trying to wrestle an orangutan. There was just screaming--"OOooahh! Ooo-ooo-auggh! Ooooaaghh!"--and a flurry of arms and hair and mad scrabbling and dirty fingernails furrowing skin until finally I got his arms at his side and held him in my lap and cried, "Okay, now!" and the doctor, in one fluid motion, brought the needle down, on target with my son's meaty little thigh, which the little shit moved at the last possible second.

And that's how I got an unexpected diphtheria booster.

Call us crazy, overwrought parents, but it occurred to us that telling Thomas he would now have to go to the dentist to get a tooth pulled out of his head might not be the best approach.

When the toothaches started, Her Lovely Self began wondering how we would spare everyone the suffering that had occurred last time we told Thomas he was heading for a potentially unpleasant doctor visit. I suggested she call the dentist first. Surely he had dealt with patients who were as nervous--maybe even more so--than our son. So one morning, while I went to work, that's exactly what she did. And by the time I came home, she was happy and relaxed and sat me down to tell me the plan she and the dentist had concocted.

"We're going to lie our heads off," she said.

Well, I'm paraphrasing a little, but it boiled down to this: The dentist advised us to tell Thomas that he needed to go have his teeth examined. "Tell him I just want to check out where he lost his first tooth, make sure everything's okay," the dentist said. "Then, when I'm in there--why, look at that--I'll just decide the fused teeth next to it are ready to come out too. I'll have them out before he even knows what's going on."

Her Lovely Self told him the story of The Dad Who Got Immunized Instead and the dentist reassured her that he could head off any freakisodes. "Don't worry. As soon as he gets in the chair, we'll give him a little nose mask to wear and he can breathe some laughing gas. By the time I get in there, he won't care what I'm doing."

I had to admit, I wasn't exactly thrilled about lying to Thomas. On the other hand, I remembered well the enormous tizzy into which he had worked himself the previous summer. Surely the less time he had to agonize about what was going to happen, the better it would be for everybody (plus--and I was merely considering this a side benefit--I wouldn't have to spend two weekends cleaning vomit out of the Jacuzzi jets with a Q-tip).

"Well," I said uncertainly. "I guess. If you're okay with it. I mean, aren't you going to feel a little weird, sitting in the exam room with him, knowing what's going to happen?"

Her Lovely Self's smile faltered a little. "Oh, honey," she said. "Are you kidding? I'm not taking him to the dentist. You are."

"What?!?" I squawked.

And then Her Lovely Self did the teary thing with her eyes that makes it very hard for me to refuse women who do that teary thing with their eyes. "I can't go in there with him, honey (she only ever calls me "honey" when she really wants me to do something unpleasant, like remove a dead squirrel from a gutter, or clear a toilet-based obstacle). I can't. I'll blow it. I'll start crying and he'll know something's up. Please, you have to do this. Please. Oh, please."

Well, it's not often my wife begs me for anything, so I sort of sank in on myself and said, "All right."

The mood brightened considerably after that. For her anyway.

But for the next few days, it was me who had all the anxiety. Thomas, blissfully unaware, went about his days without a care in the world. I felt like I was leading a lamb to the slaughter. "I have to tell him," I confided in Her Lovely Self one night. "I just don't think it's right to lie to him."

HLS wouldn't have it. "The morning of the appointment, I'll tell him. And I'll tell him just what the dentist said. What is the point of telling him he's going to get his teeth pulled? That's not going to help anybody. Let Thomas have some peace of mind til then."

I shook my head. "He's not stupid you know. That kid is so intuitive he's almost psychic. You just can't hide this kind of crap. They just know, instinctively."

"Oh, please," she said. And she wasn't saying it the beggy, teary-eyed way she was before. This was more in the usual tone of voice she reserves for me.

But as we got closer to what I was starting to think of a D-Day, I did notice Thomas seemed to be acting out a lot more than usual. Even though we had been exceedingly hush-hush about it, he knew. I was convinced of it.

And then D-Day arrived. I briefly went to work, but was so anxious I couldn't get anything done. You'd have thought it was my teeth they were going to pull out. I went home way earlier than I needed to and was sitting around for more than an hour waiting for Thomas when he finally got off his bus that afternoon. He looked as sick as I felt. He knows! I thought.

"Dad," he said. "Do I really have to go to the dentist to get my teeth looked at?"

Poor kid, still clinging to the illusion, even though he knows the truth. "Yep," I said, sounding so off-handed I wouldn't have been surprised to discover prosthetics at the ends of both wrists. "But hey! The good news is, I get to go with you! And afterwards, we can swing by the comic shop and you can pick out some comics."

Well, that brightened him up, so off we went.

But with each mile that we drew closer to the dentist, I was feeling an enormous pressure building, like a tiny but powerful storm cell manifesting in the car. Thomas fidgeted in the back seat, anxiously biting his nails. Once or twice he opened his mouth to speak to me, then clammed up.

Oh, the guilt! I couldn't stand it. However good our intentions, we had lied to our son. Well, technically, Her Lovely Self had lied to our son, but I had gone along with it. In just a few minutes, our ruse would be exposed. I cringed when I thought about that moment. I dreaded the look I would get when it dawned on him that Daddy had lied to him, had tricked him into the Dental Chair of Tooth-Pulling Agony. I was going to hell. I knew it. Somehow, I had to try and do the right thing.

We were still several stoplights from the dentist's office when I pulled the car into the empty parking lot of a closed business complex and turned around in my seat.

"Buddy, I gotta tell you something," I said. Thomas snapped to right away, gazing at me intently.

"You know that fused tooth?" I asked. My son nodded. "Well, the dentist said it has to come out. And he's going to help you get it out. Today."

There was a pause about 57 years long. The silence in that pause was so complete I could hear the very motion of molecules in the air.

Then Thomas opened his mouth. And I was sure he was going to tell me he had known all along. And so our father/son bond would be repaired and we'd go into the office together, stronger, braver for having shared the truth.



"NOOOOOOO!!!"

he shrieked.

"It's okay, buddy--"

"But-- but-- Mom said he was just gonna to look at my teeth. Just gonna LOOK!"

Uh-oh, I thought. Maybe he hadn't intuitively realized what was going on after all.

"No-no-no-NO-NOOOOOOO!" he cried, thrashing himself back and forth in the seat. Well, there was nothing for it now. I turned in my seat and moved to put the car in gear.

"It'll be okay, Thomas, I'll be right there--"

And that's when I heard the back door open and saw my son tear off across the empty parking lot...


Monday, September 26, 2005

 

In Which I Am (Apparently) Hot...



There's nothing like an unexpected compliment to make you realize just how insecure and completely lacking in self-confidence you really are.

Don't misunderstand. Being complimented on things you do well--or at least try to do well--is wonderful too (For example, one of you nominated me for a BOB award. And while I have no chance of winning, the gesture itself was a fine compliment). It's wholly satisfying and essential, like a big meal in a warm kitchen after working outside all day in the cold.

Getting an unexpected compliment is something else again. It's the stolen kiss that is sweeter than all others. And so it is in my specific case today, because someone paid me a compliment I've never been paid before.

Someone told me she thought I was hot.

This someone was not my wife (who by the way is bound by law to rain compliments upon my needy head, but has never yet seen fit to call me hot, except in circumstances involving fever), which in its own way makes the compliment all the more special.

And I can take some enjoyment from it because I know that the compliment was both sincere and yet innocent. Well, innocent to the extent that it was not a prelude to any kind of morally precarious situation (well, not too much of one, anyway). But I have every reason to believe it was heartfelt, and so I've been carrying it around inside me, this quiet little fire that has been warming me all the way to my toes.

It occurs to me that I probably don't do this enough, compliment others for no reason other than I see some quality in them and feel compelled to blurt it out because I really mean it. Obviously, decorum, and sexual harassment law prohibit me from saying things at work. But that's not a problem here, where I have hundreds of close, personal strangers to share my opinions with.

So, I'd like to pay out a few compliments that occur to me right now. More to follow:


Jack: Ever since I've known you--and probably long before that--you've labored under the reputation of being an irresponsible fuck-up. But in all the ways that count, you are one of the most conscientious, responsible men I know. Outside of my family, there are maybe 3 people to whom I would willingly entrust my life. Guess who's at the top of the list, brother?

Shane: I want you to know I mean this in most impersonal, chest-thumping, manly way, but: you're one handsome man. It floors me that you're considered a "guy-next-door" type. All I can say is, I'm glad you're not the guy next door to me. My wife is home all day and she thinks you're shit-hot.

Sharfa: Words cannot convey how glad I am that you started blogging. I hope you continue to do it as much as you can. You're a much better writer than you probably think you are.

And you: It's one thing to be called "hot" by any old someone. It's another thing entirely to get that compliment from someone who truly is. Earlier, I likened the unexpected compliment to a stolen kiss. In your case, I wish it really was. If I were Shakespeare, I'd write you a sonnet. But since I'm me, the best I could manage would be a halfway decent haiku, which I will probably write today. Or tomorrow.

And which I will not be publishing here.

When I first started writing this entry, I had it in the back of my mind to round things off by suggesting we all take a moment--or even make it a once-a-week kinda thing--to be sure and give someone else an unexpected compliment. But saying that here would be an insult to all of you. Because aside from the very occasional troll, I have been nothing but impressed with the kindness and gentleness you tend to show each other leaving comments in blogs.

So if anything, you've all inspired me to make more of an effort to do the same, to be a better person than I am.

And I mean that as a compliment.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Sunday, September 25, 2005

 

In Which I Knuckle Down...



As always, it started out innocuously enough. I was cleaning the garage this morning when I chanced upon some old pieces of scrap plywood (rather a lot thicker than they look, let me say).

Thomas, whose hand is now grafted to my old digital camera, came along and spied the boards. "Dad!" he shouted as he turned the camera on me. "Can you karate chop those?"

After last week's fencing display, I had made the mistake of telling Thomas that, in addition to studying the French foil in college, I had also taken a few years of martial arts training. Thomas had seen a karate exhibition on TV once--much splitting of lumber and breaking of cinderblocks on that show--and decided that karate was a useful skill indeed. If you were ever to be attacked by construction materials.

I hemmed and hawed. I barely remember any of the katas I learned, let alone any of the goofy trick stuff we used to do after class. But my son had that look, you know? And I didn't want to disappoint.

"Come on, Dad!" he cried. "I bet you a zillion dollars you can break it."

And he was right.

But it turned out he wasn't talking about just the board.

Remember what I said last week about the events in my life being a function of the dumb-ass things I get roped into?

Well, how do you suppose THIS happened?





Of course, you don't have to suppose at all. You can just click on the pained expression below.





And don't fret too much about me. I was looking for an excuse to get out of cleaning the garage anyway.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Friday, September 23, 2005

 

In Which I Count to 40 for Someone...



WARNING

VOMIT LEVEL #2 IN EFFECT

(may contain references to actual vomiting, and scenes that could induce same)

NO FOOD OR DRINK PERMITTED PAST THIS POINT



So today is my brother's 40th birthday.

What an odd grouping of words to assemble in one sentence. But then, he's an odd kind of guy. Much like his little brother.



BB and MM


bros1 (1974)

bros4 (1994)



My brother, being my Big Brother, had a variety of functions in my life. He was supposed to watch out for me when I was little, but in the first 12 years of my life, he put me in the hospital five times. BB was, in general, supposed to help me, but in this regard, he was a bit like a temperamental genie. If I asked for his assistance--fixing a toy, getting down out of a tree, extricating myself from an impending ass-whupping--often as not his response was that I should go rub some other lamp.

But that was just bluster. BB might leave me for a few awful bleating moments there in a tree, but usually he'd return with a step-ladder. The broken toy I would throw into the trash in a fit of frustration the night before would appear, glued and repaired, on my desk later the next morning. Or the young thugs who bedeviled me at school one day would be found the next in need of glue and repair themselves (or possibly still in the trash can where they had been stuffed hours earlier).

However, I think it's fair to say my brother's other role was as a kind of advance scout in my life. The expendable soldier that marched straight into the teeth of the future and gave me intel on the hazards that lay ahead. It wasn't always good intel, mind you, but when you're a kid you're glad to get any information from someone else who had to do it first, whether it's getting a tooth filled, going to school, riding the bus, facing algebra, facing girls, driving, graduating, getting a job, or getting a place of your own. These and a hundred other impending and intimidating rites of passage were all rites BB experienced before me and I waited to see how he would do before I would start dreading whatever was coming for myself.

I say "dreading" of course, because that almost always was my first emotional reaction to anything big or new or different coming up in life. For years, I understood this to mean I was a coward at heart, always fearful of change, easily intimidated. But over time it began to dawn on me that my reaction to crossing thresholds into the future was more a function of how my brother sold the experience to me. He told me getting a tooth filled was a painful experience, and boy, was he right. I never realized that he was just trying to scare his little brother, and figured after I wet my pants for a bit, I'd realize it wasn't a big deal. Of course, BB also hadn't banked on the fact that his little brother was a mutant freak who was immune to novocaine, and so that fact meant said little brother would experience exponentially more discomfort than he ever would.

Eventually, I came to realize that my advance scout was doing recon for a mission that was completely different from the one I was on. This happened about the time it dawned on me that, whoa, girls weren't stupid and silly and mean. That actually, they were smart, and smelled good, and filled out clothing in a manner that could reliably divert you til the End of Days. And if you made even half an effort to be nice and funny and kind to them, they were apt to grab hold of you and press up against you in all sorts of interesting ways. This was not my brother's experience. This may have been the result of a simple quirk of his personality. Or bad luck.

Or it may have been because his best pick-up lines were "Does this look infected to you?" and "You make my ding-dong feel funny."

Over time, those instances, those moments where I realized I'd received bad intel from BB, began to increase. I came to learn, for example, that being called on in class was not an agony, but a chance to show what you knew. That writing and presenting book reports in front of the class was not an exercise in public humiliation, but a welcome moment of improvisational comedy. That school--and especially college--was not one more thing to get through, but could actually be riveting, and reveal to you truths that would serve you in good stead for the rest of your life.

Granted, there were plenty of times his reconnaissance proved valuable. When I started high school, I already knew which kids were mooches who would pretend to be your friend long enough to borrow lunch money off you, and then never repay it. I learned which teachers were good and bad and why. Later, I learned all sorts of technical details about applying for part-time jobs and filling out tax forms while I did it. But just as valuable as this nitty-gritty stuff was the dawning understanding that BB and I were two different people, each with our own gifts and perspectives, each with our own shadows that didn't have to eclipse the other.

So while I did sometimes wish I was as strong as my brother or as good a cook or as mechanically inclined (he was a whiz building models and is still pretty good at fixing his own car. And a few years ago, he attempted a tricky home-plumbing job for me that I could not possibly have attempted without accidentally duplicating some special effects from The Poseidon Adventure), I also was glad to discover my own gifts that had nothing to do with the example BB set or the information he provided.

I'd love to say that over time, we have gained greater understanding of one another and become better friends, but that wouldn't be accurate. I will never comprehend his fascination with guns any more than he can comprehend my fascination with writing. I will never understand why he prefers living at home with my parents to any of the opportunities he's had over the years to move out, opportunities that have even included women (and once, even a woman with her own nurse uniforms). He will never understand my willingness--in some cases, outright eagerness--to accommodate the opposite sex in many areas that strike him as freakish and alien, such as conversation, soft toilet paper, well-made milkshakes, foot massages and cunnilingus.

We have a fractious relationship for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being that, well, we're brothers. Fractious is what we do. But like many siblings, we also have a bond, a rapport, a wavelength, that no one else on earth shares. The best illustration I can give you of this bond is to tell you a story:

Once, when I was about 11 or 12, I was really sick. It was that kind of stomach flu where you spend most of the day, thrashing in bed, supremely uncomfortable. You're hot and tired and achy and feverish. Worst of all, you have this constant nausea, this sense that at any minute, you're going to throw up. The awful thing is, you never do.

So you languish for hours with this almost-gonna-be-sick sensation and it's hellish. Your mom brings you soup and cold cloths for your head and even moves the little black-and-white TV into your room so you can watch Happy Days. But you know your days will never be happy again until you stop feeling so nauseated. At one point, you tell your mother you just wish you could throw up and be done with it. But your mom is horrified that you would say such a thing. She's your mom. That's her job.

That was pretty much the scenario for me as I slouched in bed, abject in my misery, when my brother walked in and sat in the easy chair next to the bed.

Now, he didn't do this to keep me company or anything as panty-waisted as that. It's just that the only TV we owned was in the room there with me and BB wanted to watch it.

We didn't acknowledge each other. We just sat side by side, staring at the TV, wordless.

After a few minutes, my brother reached down and picked up a box he brought with him. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him taking something out of the box, putting it in his mouth, and crunching away. This was not an uncommon sight. My brother always had food handy.

But boy, BB really seemed to be enjoying whatever he was eating. "Rmmm. Good," he grunted. "These are really...yom...good." His words were punctuated by the loudest possible crunching noises. It was like he was breaking rocks with his teeth. With each bite, there was a hard, sharp CRUNK followed by a series of rapid and satisfied ronch-ronch-ronch noises.

Finally I turned and looked at my brother to see what the hell he was so rapturous about.

And that's when I saw that he was eating out of a box of Milk Bone Dog Biscuits.

"Mmm-hmm!" he groaned, really hamming up his pleasure as he crunched a fresh biscuit. Then he rattled the box and looked down in it with great avidity before fishing out some more.

The rattling noise drew our dog Pilgrim, who trotted into the room, tail wagging. "Hey girl!" said my brother. "Want some?"

But BB didn't just offer the dog a Milk Bone. Instead, he popped one into his mouth (ronch-ronch-ronch), then leaned over and stuck out his tongue. I caught a whiff of something that was never intended to come out of a human: Milk Bone breath, the smell of stale bread and old cereal and something like chemically-treated cardboard.

Then Pilgrim hopped up and began slurping bits of chewed dog biscuit out of my brother's open mouth.

A second later, I leaned over the wastebasket near the bed and was lavishly sick. I vomited so much I threw up food I'd eaten the previous week. At last, drenched with sweat and utterly spent, I collapsed back into bed, and looked up at my brother.

"Thanks," I said, and really meant it. "I feel so much better."

"Good," was all he said. Then he left the room as quickly as he could (he can't stand watching or listening to people hurl).

That's brotherly love, people. That's the bond I'm talking about.

And I'm so grateful for it. So grateful that I won't even wonder how it is that a boy who thought nothing of a dog eating out of his mouth could grow up to be a man who is revulsed by the idea of--

Well, never mind.

Instead, I'll tell you this: BB may never have been the genie I wanted him to be. But if I had a genie, the next time I rubbed that lamp, I'd wish for him to have a great birthday, and as much joy and contentment as he feels he can manage.

And of course a big ol' box of Milk Bones.

Happy 40th, Big Brother.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

 

In Which I Am Revealed As An Errorist...

This is probably going to turn out to be a pretty big clue about me, but there are magazines moldering in libraries and landfills across the country that have some pretty amusing--or at least just completely incomprehensible--copy errors. And many of them are my fault.

How many? More than my share, and let's leave it at that.

I can tell you exactly how this happens. We start with a kid who never took a typing class in his life, and so types with only the index and middle fingers of both hands. At the age of 16, this kid was clocked at 98 words per minute, and that was before he became a professional journalist.

Today he still types fast (probably not 98 WPM, but fast), but because he does not type smart, his copy is prone to all the usual errors you might expect from an incomplete typing education and a mind that has a tendency to think 20 words ahead of its fingers.

Now throw in a deadline-oriented job where that person is forever being asked to bang out loads of copy, in impossible time increments up to and including The Very Last Minute. So you'll understand, then, how one or two copy errors might make their way into the magazines that make their way into your mailboxes and local newsstands.

There was a time when I thought it was funny to see typos in newspapers and magazines, and I even--during an impish moment working as a copy editor for my college newspaper--introduced a few of my own. My roommate called me a Terrorist of the Fourth Estate. I proudly wrote to another friend to crow about this title, and in my haste ironically committed another typo. I inadvertently left off the T. Now I was an Errorist. How apt, especially that it should be an error that would reveal my true title.

Today, with an issue closing and a weekend looming (soon, anyway) and, really, more distracting thoughts roaming around my head than is safe for publishing work, I caught myself making no less than FOUR copy errors. These were so egregious, I can't fairly call them typos. They were outright Freudian slips.

I can't share them all with you. I'm sorry. I just can't.

But I CAN tell you this: If I ever write about music or songs again, I will NEVER use the word "ditty," let alone ones that are "well-loved."

Throughout my career, I have had trouble words I needed to keep a careful eye on lest I mistype them to amusing or bizarre effect. We all have our words, of course. For some it's tricky double-consonant devils like "occasion" or "occurrence." For others, it's more an issue of stopping yourself from continuing to spell certain words so that they don't appear on the page as "rememember" or "bananana."

I don't have problems with those words. I have problems with simple words.

For example, I once thought I was going to lose my job over the word "busy." This was when I was working for a women's magazine. The trouble arose when I was doing a story on time-saving tips for women.

Now, the problem was not entirely my fault. If you look down on your keyboard right now, I'd like you to take note of the letters immediately adjacent to the "y" key.

So perhaps you can understand how, in my typing haste, I submitted to my editor a story that was all about "time-savers for busty women."

I'm sure for the right audience, this would have been a great story (although the mind boggles at the kinds of tips with which one would populate such a piece). But at the time, when my editor appeared at the door with the manuscript in hand, there was nothing great about it. It was one of those Hitchcock, Vertigo camera-trick moments.

Oh, the horror! Every other "busy" had an unwanted "t" in it. I had busty women busting out all over that story. "It's so hard to get anything done when you're busty..." is almost one of the first sentences. And it just got worse, a multi-car pile-up I couldn't stop from happening. This is just a handful (no pun intended) of passages from the story:

"Some women are so busty they can scarcely connect with their spouses anymore."

"'I'm so busty these days, I can't even get a decent meal on the table,' says Jane."

"In many ways, busty women bring it on themselves, says Dr. X, time-management expert. 'A very busty woman just can't say "No," but she has to learn to. Otherwise it will overwhelm her.' Here are some ways busty women everywhere can take a load off:"

Luckily, I had a VERY cool editor and although I don't think she was ever quite convinced that it was an accident, in the end it turned out not to be that big a deal (still, I'm sweating at the memory).

If you think you're seeing a pattern in my errors, gentle reader, think again. At that same magazine, I became famous for having difficulty with another simple word: "bet." Again, it was a problem with the proximity of one letter to another on the keyboard, so that I would, with some regularity, insert a man named "bert" into my copy.

You never knew when Bert would show up. Sometimes he'd make an appearance in a headline ("Best Berts in Bath Salts") while other times his arrival just made no sense. "When it comes to PMS, this remedy is a safe bert." Because really, what's Bert gonna do about PMS (except what I do, which is to stock plenty of Hershey's miniatures and a shit-load of cheese doodles in the pantry)?

Sometimes my errors are not even strictly errors, so much as an unfortunate confluence of production issues and story length, forcing a story to be continued to another page at a most unfortunate point in the narrative.

Here's an excerpt from a profile I did years ago of a 70-something tri-athlete, who was explaining his morning routine.

"I get up at 6 and run to the Y. I never counted the blocks, but it's about two miles," he says. "When I get there I hit the pool and do my laps. At first, some of the younger fellas at the Y tried to race me. They don't any more. It's a pretty good feeling to know I can blow guys half my age out of the water when I want to."


As you must surely know by now, when the story ran, the last part of this quote was continued to a distant page in the back of the magazine, so what jumps right out at you there at the end of the page is the spry old codger saying "…I can blow guys half my age…"

Lotsa people wrote in about that one.

Sometimes, my errors don't revolve so much around missing or misspelled words, but words my subconscious has added to the narrative. It reveals, I guess, how regularly my mind likes to work in the grove of puns (when it works at all, that is). Once, I interviewed a urologist about a new anti-impotency drug. It was some forerunner of Viagra, and it required the man to inject himself with the drug. And yes, he had to inject himself exactly where you think he had to inject himself.

The story I wrote for it was a pretty straightforward news brief. The doctor was nice enough, but he kept objecting every time I said the words "shot" or "injection." He didn't want to scare guys off. "Let's just call it a little poke," he said. It was a nice, innocuous enough euphemism, and he said it so often during the interview you'd think I'd remember it.

Here's an excerpt from the final piece.

...in studies, subjects who used the drug reported a significant increase in the duration and firmness of their erections. The serum form of the drug does require men to learn how to administer it themselves using a small needle, similar to ones diabetics use to inject insulin. But Dr. X says most men who have had erectile problems in the past are more than willing to give themselves a little prick. "It's a pretty easy trade-off to make," he says.


Two days after I sent the story in, I saw what I'd done and called the editor, telling him to change the key word to "poke." But he had thought I was being witty and loved the turn of phrase, so it stayed in the story. Sometimes, you get credit for being a clever writer when you're anything but.

You'd think after 16 or so years of doing this I'd get better about catching my errors, but in many ways I just seem to get worse. For example: that story I was working on earlier? The one with the four Freudian slips? My copy chief just appeared in my office with the kind of smile on her face that made me think she'd found number five.

And I saw with a sigh that she had.

See if you can spot the error. This is from a brief entry about an unusual toy. Very unusual, I'd say.

"Even grown-ups can't keep their hands off of this woman...which sets off a stunning array of lights and sounds when you push the right button!"

"Toy." "Woman." Hey, they both have the letter "o." Honest mistake. Anyone could make it.

I sure hope that's the last error I made on that story.

But I wouldn't bert on it.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

 

The Writing Life

I used to teach a few different college courses on writing, mostly journalism and magazine writing. Getting paid to stand up and talk about me to a group of people has always sounded like a sweet deal and I've really enjoyed every time I've done it. I'll probably end up doing it again, possibly on a permanent basis.

One of the more gratifying aspects of starting this blog has been the number of readers who have taken time to email me to ask for my advice or input on various aspects of writing or breaking into magazines. I don't always have the time to respond to everyone in as much detail as I would like, but I enjoy and appreciate the exchanges

This blog was originally intended to be much more about the writing and editing life, but, true to form, ended up being about me. That said, there are a few posts I've made here that might be useful to aspiring magazine writers, so I thought I'd put them here. This doesn't mean folks still can't email me, but perusing these might tell you some useful things. Or not. You'll decide for yourself, I guess.

Story pitches and slush piles:
The slush pile is the great mound of unsolicited manuscripts people send to magazines. Many magazine editors don't even bother wading through. I do.

Ideas in Unlikely Places:
You know how writers always bitch about how much they hate being asked the question, "Where do you get your ideas from?" Well, I don't mind. Here's one answer (but bear in mind there are several).

Feeding on Failure: I wish it wasn't true, but failure and rejection are a big part of the life. For what it's worth, here's how I've dealt with it.

Blind Luck as a Career Tool:
Luck is just as much a part of the life as failure. But often as not, you make your own.

Get the Picture? How not to get an editor's attention. Unless, you know, you're uber-cute.

Tetris editing:
A brief note about a favorite editing technique.

Wordplay I: If anything has made me a better writer over the years, it's been my habit of doing things like this...

Wordplay II: ...but sometimes you can get carried away.

Rejection Letters: I've received tons in my career. These days, I mostly send them out. Here's what I'd really like say in those letters.

Exercise in Ethics: What would YOU do?

What Works For Me:
Things I do to stay in writing trim. Your mileage may vary.

Getting An Editor's Attention: The best advice I can offer aspiring freelance writers. No photos needed!

Magazine Mistypes:
Not advice, really. Unless the advice is: type carefully if you don't want to make the hilarious typos I made.

I'll add more as we move along. And if anyone out there has any specific questions about magazines and writing, here's the place to ask 'em. Maybe I'll address them in a future blog entry.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Monday, September 19, 2005

 

In Which I Set Up the Clip...



Occasionally, readers wonder aloud at the unlikelihood of so many amusing and dumb things happening to one person in a given week.

What you don't understand is, it's not a question of chance or fate. And contrary to popular belief, I am not accident-prone (no, really!). It's all just a function of the dumb-ass things I rope myself--or allow myself to be roped--into.

For example: Let's say you're spending a productive afternoon in your basement, sorting crap, when your son takes an interest in the fencing equipment you've had since college. Once he finds out what it all is, he seizes up his toy light saber and begs you to have a mock duel with him.

What you fail to consider--either of you--is that you have decided to do this in the middle of an area of the basement that is strewn with boxes, both the low-to-the-ground variety and the stacked-rather-precariously variety. Which means that even under normal circumstances, the odds are fairly high--if you're me--that you might accidentally step in the former and reach out to steady yourself on a tottering pile of the latter. With predictable results.

Furthermore, you have, by your own choice, donned a fencing mask, which reduces your visual acuity to the all-bets-are-off range.

Also, you are, not to put too fine a point on it, a 37-year-old man using the tactical equivalent of a radio antenna to defend yourself against a 6-year-old boy with a light saber.

Finally, because that boy is now going crazy with the movie feature on the old digital camera you've been letting him play with, everything that happens is captured on video.

Yeah, I know. It seems like a pretty unlikely confluence of events.

But for me, it's just a brief moment in an all-too-typical weekend afternoon.



(Oh hell, go ahead already! Click on the picture. It's about 7MB.)







Dear God, please please don't let me be the next Star Wars Kid.


Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


Sunday, September 18, 2005

 

In Which We Hear His Master's Voice...






Because enough people asked last time...

I give you an inaugural audioblog--roughly a minute-forty in length--recorded for your pleasure on the world's WORST voice recorder.

I sound like I'm broadcasting from the Mars Colony. Or the Russian front.

If I did this right, clicking on

BAHHHH!

should take you where you need to go.


Best not to have headphones on, I think.

I'm pretty sure this is safe for work, although honestly I have NO idea. I mean, I could be saying anything to the dog, so use your discretion.

I'll try to find a better recorder next time.

But somehow, I think this still manages to convey the effort one must make to bridge the language barrier between man and beast.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have bits of esophageal lining to mop up off the floor.

Yours,
From Somewhere on the Masthead


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