Monthly Archives: January 2015

Old Man Celebrity Game

As my friend Carrie can attest, I invented the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game several years before someone else did. Most people probably don’t remember that game any more. Anyway, here’s my newest creation. I thought I’d get it this one out to the public so that when someone publishes it, people will know who thought of it first.

Old Man Celebrity Game. Rules – you describe a celebrity to your partner in the way that an old man might. Your partner tries to guess the movie. Here are a couple examples. Public notoriety for the first person to guess these actors.

Who is that guy who was in the movie, his love interest was the directors wife, but no the one from the piano movie; he was also in the one with the woman whose mom was in the musical where they sang that song about staying up all night; the CNN guy was in that one too?

Who is the woman who was in the comedy, it didn’t do very well, with the guy everyone loved in the 70s; he made a lot of movies, most of them funny. She was also in the sexy one with the guy who’s always so serious; he was also in the movie with woman who played a dog trainer. I think the dog trainer was married in real life to they guy who was in the big baby boomer movie with the serious guy.

Denny Zeitlin – Cathexis

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This used to be one of my favorite albums. In listening to it again to write about it, I realize that I almost exclusively listened to the A-side. It’s a great side. I got this album when I was doing time in Chanute, Kansas.  I was the news director at a little radio station there. There was a bit of fun to be had; it’s what you make it after all. But I still refer to that time in my life as the dark days. I was a 23-year-old man in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere where my extremely low paying job was to come up with 15-minutes of news about the middle of nowhere every day.

One of the bright moments of this existence was coming upon a big box of jazz and blues albums that the station was throwing out. At that time the station mostly played music, music that came preprogrammed on these giant reels of tape. Throughout most of the day these giant reels spun playing the mildest and most popular songs of the previous decade or two, pausing occasionally for commercials or a time check or news. I asked if anyone was interested in this box of jazz and blues records. Of course they weren’t. So back to my furnished top floor of a crappy old house they went.

Of that box of albums, Denny Zeitlin was the one I liked best and listened to most. I love the opening track, Repeat, and it’s  repeated opening phrase. I’ve sung along with it dozens of times. It makes me happy, and I’m sure that it’s uplifting quality is one of the reasons it got so much play in Chanute.

The rest of side one, continues to be joyful, if not so bouncy and sing-along as that first tune. Any jazz album, I suppose, can be enjoyed in the background while you’re doing something else. (I know there are those that are less musical, and more, is there something wrong with the sound system, but for the most part I’m saying.) And Zeitlin’s record is fine for that. And most days it may be best for that.

For it seems to me that Zeitlin’s music has a lot in common with classical music. Maybe this is true for most, or at least a lot of jazz, but I really noticed it here. Now bear with me. I had one required music appreciation class (and for years after I had repeated dreams about sleeping through the final of that class). But in the same way that a novice music lover might say to himself while listening to classical music, hmmm, what’s that little phrase quietly making it’s way from the background and slowing taking control of the piece, or, oh, that’s the tune from earlier, only now it’s sad and slow; you find those kinds of things going on throughout this album. This makes listening to this record, really listening to it, which I try it do before writing about a record, a bit of work. There’s a lot to miss if one is making dinner or playing words with friends while this album is on. I guess I’m saying this was an easier album to enjoy back in Chanute when I had little else to do other than sit and listen.

The back of the album cover has a lot to say about Zeitlin. As he was beginning his music career back in 1964 he was also perusing the field of psychology. A Google search for Zeitlin shows that he’s been successful at both. So if you’re interested, you can find more of his stuff out there. While it doesn’t see the play it once did, I’m glad I have this album. And today I’m going to give side A one more listen before it goes back into the music box.

 

Homeland

Another that I read in 2014.

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Finally read this after buying it off the author himself a year and a half ago. Marcus is a great character. I liked the Moby Dickiness of the book. I also like that Marcus turns into a D. Hammett character at the end. And I like the hopefulness of the ending and the afterwords, as it’s difficult for me to stay hopeful in the face of these issues.

Cheering the Moon

Here’s another memory of mom from a friend of my brother.  This guy may have been my favorite of my brother’s friends, and not just because of the collection of dirty magazines in the loft of his garage.  He was a hoot and a great guy.

 

As a freshman in high school, I was warming up for a race at a track meet in Abilene.  During the warm-up process, I was taking off my sweats to get lined up at the starting line.  Well, as I was removing my sweats – with my butt facing the crowd – my shorts got caught and went down with my sweats and I clearly mooned the crowd.  I thought that I was quick enough to pull my shorts back up in time for no one to notice.  I was clearly wrong.  As I turned around to ensure no one saw my full moon glory, I see Elaine jumping up out of her seat yelling “Alright (name withheld)!” along with an Arsenio Hall fist pump.

 

Here is another….

Elaine:  “Hey ——-, would you like a Coke”

——-: “NO way, that stuff tastes like lake water”

 

Of course I remember all of the times she was there cheering us on at cross country meets.  Always a big  supporter and can still hear her cheering.

Save a Life

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This button is not from my child hood, but from just a few years ago. I had my English III students work in groups to design and carry out a number of community service projects. I know this isn’t reading a story and answering questions, but it requires a half dozen or more language arts learning targets, plus most of our graduate goals. Some kids raised nearly $1000 for Haiti, some raised less for other charities, some spoke with younger kids about bullying or how to be ready for high school. This group designed these buttons, sold them, gave the proceeds to a local no-kill shelter, and maybe volunteered some time at that shelter. Pretty cool. My kids are doing it again this year [last year]. I got a text last night from a kid saying they’d made over $100 selling baked goods at the track meet. It’s fun to see them fired up about doing something good.

Spiderman

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This amazing Spiderman I received in recent years.  It was done by a kid I didn’t get to know very well until he was a senior.  He was for a time most well know at school for nearly dieing. The cause of his and another student’s near death experience is a common one among high school students–stupidity. The artist and another student were walking across a barely frozen lake when, as they neared its center, the ice gave out from under them.  They tried to pull themselves back up onto the ice, but every time they did, the ice would break.  They slowly worked their way toward shore, breaking ice and swimming for their lives. Their cloths heavy with ice water and their fingers worn bloody, they were about to surrender to the their apparent fate when someone driving through the park on a cold winter’s day saw their plight and called for help.  Had it not been for that bit of luck, it likely would have been a terrible school year for everyone.  Eventually safe and sound, these two were yelled at and scolded by family, friends, and acquaintances.  If this story has a moral, it’s not for teenagers to not do stupid things, as I believe trying to make that happen is a losing battle. Rather, it’s enjoy the knuckleheads in your life. Put their art on the wall. Listen to their jokes.  And hope for the best.

Comfort and Affliction

This one is from January 2012. 

 

It’s such an old tradition, maybe the oldest tradition in the church.  It’s celebrated so many different ways around the world, and really even in Bates county we’d find a variety of ways of doing communion.

In the same way that one of the things I liked about the Eucharist in the Episcopal church was the comfort of the same words each Sunday, those words that were so familiar that they embraced and centered me when I needed it, I like that here we get to hear from someone different each Sunday.  We get to share someone else’s walk and struggle for a bit.  And the one’s I like best are the ones that challenge us.

And then I got to thinking, do we go to church to be comforted or challenged.  And of course it’s both.  And then I got to thinking about how Jesus treated those he came into contact with.  And he did challenge them.  And when I got to thinking about the some of these people he challenged, I was reminded of a statement about the press that I tracked back to journalist Finley Peter Dunne, who said 100 years ago, that the purpose of the press is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  That’s what Jesus did.

Lepers, and prostitutes, and Samaritans, and all kinds of “unclean,” he spent time with and ate with and left them comforted.

When the woman caught in adultery was about to be stoned, Jesus challenged those with rocks in their hands to stop, a comfort to her I’m sure, and then he challenged the woman to stop sinning.

When the gentile woman begged for crumbs from the table, he challenged her, and she accepted the challenge, and then he offered her comfort.

When Jesus spotted Zachius up in the tree, he challenged him to invite him for dinner, actually it seems like he sort of invited himself.  But Zachius accepted the challenge, and by dinner’s end, Zachius was a changed man.

The unclean woman who touched the hem of Jesus garment, was healed, then challenged, then sent home in peace.

Obviously I could go on.

On the other hand, Religious and political leaders that he spent time with were left feeling insulted, disrespected, afflicted.

The Pharisees he called white washed tombs, clean on the outside, filled with rot and stink on the inside.  He mocked their idea that they were sons of Abraham, something God could make out of rocks if he wanted to.  The challenge was too great.  They responded to Jesus’ challenges with anger and pride.

He challenged the money lenders outside the temple by trashing their stuff.

Even when the rich young man, who seemed earnest, came and told Jesus he followed all the commandments, Jesus challenged him to sell all he had and give the money to the poor.  He left sad, afflicted.  The challenge was too great.

Near the end, he challenged Peter’s idea that violence is how God wants us to solve problems.  A challenge that we continue to wrestle with.

Peter faced the challenge of standing up as a follower of Christ in the face of real danger.  The challenge was too great.

As Jesus hung on the cross he forgave the soldiers driving the nails and throwing dice for his clothes; this continues to be a challenge to me.  He welcomed, I suspect, both the criminals being crucified with him into kingdom of God, but for one of them, the challenge was too great.

And as he died, he challenged our idea of what it means to be king, to have power, to use that power to serve, not to rule.

I’m sure you can find yourself in one or more of those encounters with Jesus, or maybe another springs to mind, one that makes you feel good, or one that afflicts you.

So why are you here today?  To be challenged or to be comforted?

Jesus gives us both, I think, at the same time, one not canceling out the other.

As you take communion in a minute, remember what Jesus did, how he responded to the hurt in others, how he responded to the sin, how he responds to us.  And while there are times that we truly need comforting, I suspect we’re mostly where God wants us to be when we’re uncomfortable, when we’re struggling to understand God, when we’re struggling to do the difficult things we know we should do.  I believe we serve a God of challenge.  So as you take the bread and the cup, I hope you find there both comfort and affliction, and do with them what God would have you do.

Amen.

My Nest Egg

After a recent visit to my brother’s house, I left with two containers, one cardboard, one plastic with the half of my old comic collection that I didn’t already have in my basement.  Of course it was fun to shuffle through the old books, and I found myself sorting them, which involved spreading them all over three couches and the floor. I even bought an app to help me catalog the collection. I don’t know what I’ll do with any of that data. But it’s fun to flip through the covers on my iPad, so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

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Even though the collection was fairly randomly distributed throughout three different containers, based on my memory, as opposed to nice rock layers like archeologists have, I noticed something about the collection. There was a point were I went from buying and reading comics for my own enjoyment to buying them as an investment. Near the end of our comic buying days a lot of books begin to appear with words like “First Issue Collectors Item!” or “500th Issue Collectors Item” or just “Collectors Item” printed on the cover. My brother and I (I suspect he slipped some of his comics into these boxes) knew these small 60 cent investments would be worth hundreds if not thousands some day. I haven’t researched the value of any if these investments. Partly I’m afraid to find out they’re worth not quite what I paid for them. Partly I’m sure that some comic collector will see this post and these photos and will get a hold of me with huge offers for pieces of my collection.

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If my collection was laid out like layers of rock, I think the oldest ones that comicologists would find, on the bottom layer, would be Richie Rich and the other Harvey comics. Next would come the occasional Marvel title and a lot of Superman, Batman, and Justice League titles. Batman would continue on up after most of these other titles stop appearing in the higher strata. This is when two groups of comic begin to show up–the aforementioned collectors items, and Jonah Hex. Batman continues to remain in the layers after the collector’s items disappear, but they too eventually are no more to be found, leaving Johan Hex as the last comic I regularly purchased and read. Then some time travel thing happened and Jonah Hex jumped the shark. But that’s a story for another time.
Comic collectors willing to swap big stacks of cash for the comic pictured above, feel free to leave a comment to that affect below.  Thanks.

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Please Pardon Me

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I can tell you one thing.  This kid never wrote this eloquently on any of the essays I assigned him.  I have no idea what this kid, or his two accomplishes are currently doing with their lives.  I hope they have given up the criminal life, have stopped gluing pennies to things, and are using their skills to make the world a better place.

Conan #100

Conan #100

-Roy thomas, John Buscema & Ernie Chan

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I didn’t read a lot of Conan as a kid. Later in life I read some of the black and white Conan comics. And I’ve read a couple of the books by Robert E. Howard. I like the world that Howard created in his stories, a world of magic and terrifying monsters, but not populated by elves and dwarves. The story in this book does a pretty good job of bringing Howard’s dark and foreboding mood to the comics.

In this story Conan and his sexy pirate girlfriend find themselves heading upriver in a gloomy forlorn swamp, seeking an ancient abandoned city. Conan isn’t so sure about the whole trip, but his “mate” is into it, so he stoically goes along. Before arriving at the ruins, a man on their boat is attached and killed by a giant sea serpent, and the crew spots some kind of flying ape perched menacingly atop the ancient ruins. This gives Conan second thoughts, but his baby thinks there might be a lot of treasure involved, so off they go. Turns out there is a lot of treasure at the old city, and his woman is able to get to it despite a deadly booby trap, by sacrificing the lives of three of her soldiers. Hmmmm, not like her, thinks Conan, but she seems so happy with her treasure, that he lets it slide.

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In the meantime, their ship has been attacked by the flying ape; it’s smashed all their water barrels. Conan goes off to search for water while sweet-thing moves her treasure to the boat. While in the dark jungle, Conan accidentally breathes in the aroma of the black lotus which knocks him out and gives him dreams of this past civilization. The gist is that it was once ruled by majestic winged celestial creatures, but over time, for various reasons, they became hideous winged apes that destroyed each other, leaving only the one. When Conan wakes up, he heads back to the ship only to find that everyone is dead from flying ape attack, and his lover is hanging from the yardarm by her precious necklace.

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At this point Conan is a little pissed. And just when it seems that things can’t get worse, he is attacked by a pack if hyenas. He takes high ground and is able to cut the pack down one by one with arrow and then sword. Finally it’s just him and the ape. But Conan finds himself trapped under some of the stone ruins.  It looks like the end for our hero. Then slice slice, back from the dead his pirate lover attacks and kills the winged ape.

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She has returned from the dead to save Conan, just like she said she would while they snuggled on the boat. I forgot to mention that earlier because it just seemed like an idle conversation, but here she is just as she promised.

In the epilogue, Conan gives her and her treasure a Viking funeral.

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Unlike batman, Conan doesn’t feel the need to emphasize the lesson we all should have learned. He just wanders off for to more adventures.

 

This was a pretty good story. About as good as Conan gets, I think. Conan definitely has that every man wants to be him thing going on. In making his way through an uncertain world, Conan has the skill and wherewithal to courageously stand up to the challenges of life, something many of us struggle to do. Plus he’s a muscly stud and gets all the girls.

That’s something to talk about regarding Conan, the women. It’s tricky to judge how enlightened a 1970’s comic book based on 1930’s pulp novels should be. But here’s some thoughts. These women, as you can see from the cover, are everything that junior high boys believe women should be, and they dress the way junior high boys think these women should dress. In fact, the I way I remember it, this is in fact how all women between 16 and 26 do look to a 13-year-old boy. I’ve seen this in action. Last year while teaching a 7th grade reading class, one of my yearbook students, a high school girl, walked into my room, took a camera off my desk, and left. I looked at my class. Where were we, I said. The guys didn’t hear me. Not only didn’t these guys know where we had been, they did t know where they were right now. They were gobsmacked. The woman from the cover of Conan had just walked into then out of their lives.

Men don’t stop feeling this way about women when they turn 14, or 24, or 54. And the fact that the the hot Conan women are so often chained or caged or uncontrollably attracted to the brute of a man who sees her as little more than a sexy warm body is problematic.  Red Sonja, the mostly naked heroine who sometimes inhabits Conan’s world is sort of an answer to this idea I guess as she’s always killing the awful men she encounters. (But she’s the one saying smell the glove, you see.) That may be one way of dealing with the misogynistic point of view of the Conan comics.  It may also be just another excuse for men to lust after a hottie in a metal bikini. I don’t know. Google images of Red Sonja, maybe not at work or with the kids around, and let me know what you think.

In this Conan story, at least at the beginning, the woman is portrayed as Conan’s equal. Later, however, as she becomes touched with the greed for treasure, she becomes bossy, murderous, and out of control. In the end she learns her lesson, albeit too late, to not worry so much about having nice things. Because you know, that’s how women are.