Friday, September 28, 2012

Birthday of Doom


My birthday popped up here recently and I ended up having a lot of fun.

My pal Mario planned out a day of surprises with my wife Lorie. It was also Rebecca's birthday (Mario's wife). So... Not knowing what was gonna happen had my stomach in knots for two days previous. It was ridiculous! I might be a little bit of a control freak.

Early on a Saturday morning, Lorie and I left the kids with her parents and went for a 45 minute bike ride exploring the Vienna portion of the WO&D Trail. We explored a park together and stopped at a farmer's market. I had a mushroom borek for breakfast at the Farmer's market, and salmon and lox at Lorie's parents place when we got back.

That afternoon, Mario drove us out to the country without telling us our final destination. Rebecca wore a dress, but had combat fatigues and boots packed just in case. You never quite know with Mario. But, as it turns out, Lorie and Mario had decided on a wine tasting afternoon at a winery in Hillsboro, VA. It was perfect.

Two glasses of wine later, I was sloshed. I'm a lightweight.

When we got back to Mario's house, we walked in on a surprise party with all of our friends and cake.

Lorie and I crashed with Mario and Rebecca that night. And my weekly Sunday morning bike ride with Mario was a tummy- turning basket of Hell!

Thanks to Lorie and Mario for such a great time. And no... I'm not telling the fart story today. I'll tell you later.

This is the card my sister Robyn made for me.  I'm famously hipster ironic.

Birthday presents!

Found a wall on the bike trail.  It had a date carved in it in a bit of raised-yet-depressed weirdness.

Found the Farmer's Market.

On the trail.

Action Lorie speeds off to explore the park.

This train was set aside on an old piece of track at the Farmer's market portion of the trail.

Lorie got a panoramic shot of the winery.  Click for a bigger version.

They look like they're texting, but they're just preparing to take pictures.

Coy pond at the winery.

I asked Mario if there was a Greek God of creepy kisses.  Mario promptly informed me that this was 'Kissecles'.

The Spirit of Kissecles was in the air.

Mario decided to give me some acting lessons while we were there.  This is confidence intermingled with indifference.

This is smoldering sexuality marked with a heavy dose of wine appreciation.

My memory is failing me on this range of emotion.  Unbridled passion?  Heartfelt song?  Impending bathroom emergency?

Back at the house.  I didn't get many pictures.  But here, for your enjoyment, is my wife sitting with Matt's crotch and Jen Kranich sitting in a chair clearly made for a two year old.

Next morning, bike trip photo op guest starring Bill Wakefield.  This is right after I fought off the urge to throw up.

The winery again.  It really was beautiful.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

So Round, So Firm, So Fully Packed

The first time I heard the phrase “so round, so firm, so fully packed” was in this page of Tales of the New Teen Titans #3:

As you can see, the character that uses the phrase was NOT referring to cigarettes. Technically, he was referring to hot dogs. But this being 1982 and me being 13 years old, all that I remember about the phrase is that he used it to comment on his curvaceous team mate.

So, ever since then I’ve been thinking that the phrase refers to well-built women. Or… impossibly built women.

But now it’s 2012, and I’m … not 13 years old anymore. And I’ve been listening to Jack Benny’s radio show on the treadmill at the gym, as you all know. It’s 1948 in Jack Benny time and he’s been hocking Lucky Strike cigarettes for a couple of seasons now, having switched over from Jello. The phrase “So round, so firm, so fully packed, so free and easy on the draw” is pelted at me pretty regularly over the program. As is the phrase “LSMFT… LSMFT… Lucky Strikes Mean Fine Tobacco”. It’s really a case of repetition in advertising. They repeated the phrase so much that it became part of our cultural lexicon. Chances are you’ve heard of the phrase, even if you were ignorant of the origin, like I was in 1982.

As an experiment, I asked my Mother if she knew what ‘LSMFT’ meant when we were at the beach together last June. She rattled off “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco” immediately.

Now… cigarettes aren’t being advertised on the radio or TV anymore. I don’t think it’s even legal. So it’s not as if my mother was exposed to the phrase recently. It was probably repeated so much on the television and the radio back in the day that it just became part of the cultural lexicon.

And chances are, in twenty more years it’ll be unheard of.

It’s kind of disconcerting to hear Jack Benny and the gang hock cigarettes like they do. And they have such fun while doing it. Don’t they know that’s considered taboo now? Don’t they know they’re promoting sickness and death wrapped up in a disgusting habit? Yet they go about it the same way as they pushed Jello on us a couple of years previous. The Jack Benny cast of my treadmill runs are COMPLETELY unaware that it’s 2012 now and we have different sensibilities.

Odd. So I think about that a lot.



Monday, September 24, 2012

Chuck and Mario on Bikes

I’ve been biking a lot lately. I picked up an old rental bike for $50 from a vendor in Ocean City, New Jersey, in August of 2010. I felt large and foolish as I rode it on the boardwalk, but that feeling soon melted into sweet nostalgic memories of being a kid and biking absolutely everywhere. After that Ocean City vacation, I’ve been biking pretty regularly during the non-winter seasons of the year. I’ve been taking a route through my neighborhood, bringing the bike with me back to the beach, or hitting the nearby C&O Canal bike trail. I’ve come to really love it.

So much so, that in January of 2012 I finally broke down and bought a real bike from Dick’s sporting goods. My Ocean City rental bike was just skipping gears too much and had become unreliable for the kinds of trips I’ve been putting it through.

I’ve roped my buddy Mario into biking with me. Every Sunday morning for about six weeks now, I’ve been waking up at 4:40 A.M. to load up both my bike and my old Ocean City rental bike on the van and drive to Mario’s house in Ashburn to be there by 6:30 A.M. After hitting the weights, we’ve been hitting the WO&D Trail, which is right near where he lives. It’s not as flat as the C&O Canal, but it’s a really nice ride. We’ve been experimenting with different sections of that trail to keep things fresh and to find out what parts we really like to ride on. There’s one stretch that’s almost entirely uphill that has really been kicking my butt. However, that same stretch also offers a really pleasant ride back to the car. That’s the dichotomy of biking.

After awhile using my old, rusted, Ocean City rental bike, Mario decided to buy a bike of his own. Problem was, neither of us were really well educated on the different types of bikes and their uses. Mario got a very affordable mountain bike from Walmart. On its first use, Mario was miserable. We took the WO&D Trail again, and Mario had trouble keeping up with me, felt uncomfortably low and pitched forward, and found that he couldn’t coast downhill. He had to peddle every inch, because the tires of the mountain bike were designed for maximum traction.

Not only was the whole experience miserable, but Mario got bit by a giant flying bug while we were back at the car rubbing our sore butts and loading the bikes back up on the bike rack. We decided to label that incident as “Attached by a vicious, beast-like form of wildlife”.

Mario returned the mountain bike to Walmart and began his search anew. This time getting some education from the people at Dick’s on the differences between mountain bikes, cruisers, and hybrids. But the whole incident kept playing around in his head. Until he found himself on my crusty old Ocean City rental again the very next Sunday, only this time thoroughly enjoying the ride and keeping up easily.

“Hey… what do you know about old time, Prisoner like, bikes with giant front wheels?” He asked.

I paused for a minute, then had to capitulate. “Not a thing.” I answered.

“I think they were easier to peddle.” Mario was mentally comparing his seating position with the Ocean City rental bike against that of the lower seat and handlebars of the mountain bike. “I think the higher up you are, the easier it is to peddle.”

“Huh.” I hadn’t given any of this any thought. “I dunno.”

“Write a blog about it.” Mario tossed out the idea.

So here we are.

Extremely minimal research on my part has turned up that the type of bicycle Mario was talking about is called a ‘penny farthing’, or an ‘ordinary bicycle’. It was a French innovation of a constantly evolving form of bicycle. I haven’t found anything that said the higher seat made peddling easier. But a Wikipedia article on the history of bicycles did mention that they were very difficult to to ride because of the high seat and weight distribution.

Mario and I have vowed to find two of these bikes and ride them around like kings of the bike trail; stylish kings of the bike trail… in super hero t-shirts. We’ll get a Kickstarter project up and running for you to contribute to soon enough.

Something that I did read about the evolution away from the Penny Farthing into the bicycle we have today is that the peddling and steering were both on the front wheel, which was kind of a disastrous design that led to a lot of problems. The effort of putting the peddling to the back wheels of the bicycle necessitated the addition of gearing.

Apparently, there was a bicycling craze in the 1890’s that led to ‘The Golden Age of Bicycles’. And it was one of the primary modes of transportation right before the invention of the car.

Yeah… but what did they do on hills?

I do remember biking absolutely everywhere in the 1980’s. That’s how I got to the Safeway that sold comics. That’s how I got to the Seven Eleven that sold comics. That’s how I got to the K-Mart that sold super hero toys. That’s how I got to the comic book store that opened at a strip mall in Burke, Virginia. I even biked to a music store once to get a cassette tape of Simple Minds’ greatest hits. And when I was sixteen, that’s how I got myself to my summer job at Burke Lake Park picking up trash five days a week. So I could pay for comics.

Even such a manly post as biking seems to drag me back into comic memories. It’s almost as if I was obsessed or something. Can’t imagine.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Buck Rogers, Man of the Future?

I read this line recently, “A vision of our future as could only be seen from a certain point in our past”. I think it was on the back of one of my books reprinting Buck Rogers newspaper strips. I’m totally enamored with the idea.

“Retro-future” is another term I’ve heard thrown around to describe the same concept. The entertainment, whether it be movie, TV, book, comic, or something else, was futuristic at the time it was published. But not seems quaint and oddly out of place. It’s an antique vision of something that never existed. It’s an impossible anachronism.

No character embodies this more so than poor old Buck Rogers.

Buck Rogers, more formerly known as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, is culturally one of our greater science fiction characters. He used to be a household name, and even made it into our cultural lexicon as referring to something futuristic. If you’re unfamiliar, Buck is a modern day hero from 1929 who through some accident get put in stasis and revived in the year 2429. The character first appears in pulp novels of the 1920’s, but is later chronicled in a daily newspaper strip that ends up being one of the most popular strips of that era.

Part of Buck’s allure is that he’s a ‘fish out of water’. He’s a character from modern times cast in the future against his will. So he’s using the smarts and knowhow of today to battle menaces of tomorrow. This speaks to the reader somewhat, as we’re all able to imagine how we would do in Buck’s place. Despite the fantastic circumstances, it makes him relatable.

I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed Buck’s appearances in the original comic strips so much that now when his name is mentioned; it’s the character I think of and not the television show of my childhood. Although that show, starring Gil Gerard, was definitely a favorite of mine growing up and I wouldn’t have the love for Buck that I do without that show.

As I said before, this characters version of the future can’t possibly exist. It’s a future that can only be envisioned from a point in our past. In the original strip, Buck and his friends have yet to even leave Earth’s atmosphere. Having their adventures while facing Mongol hoards of Earth and using flight belts that make them light as a feather and enable them to jump great distances. In the television show, Buck is a member of Earth’s defense forces and earns an audience by introducing modern day knowledge to fantastic situations. Such things as showing the visiting alien queen how to disco, or being the only person around who knows what a boomerang is, or teaching a flight school how to fight by using an ancient game called ‘football’.

These elements of Buck’s character are important at first, but fall by the wayside as the character gets further entrenched in his fantastic surroundings. But these elements are what sets Buck apart, and keep him a bit entrenched in being an anachronism.

Flash Gordon’s adventures, hailed as comic strip art at its finest, are far more engrossing. He’s the Earthman tossed out of his element too, but those ‘fish out of water’ moments aren’t really played up. Flash goes in swinging and almost never stops. Whether it be the original comic strips or the television and movies that came after.

Some would say Captain Kirk and the original Star Trek show are a bit of an anachronism. Most everything they can do in the original show is within our technological understanding today. But Captain Kirk and crew have a story and a message that transcends the trappings of their 1960’s TV set. Any anyone with any imagination at all, and a willingness to watch, can forgive the paper mache scenery and hokey lighting and be swept up into their adventures.

The difference is longevity. Captain Kirk is easily making his way along with our culture, moving into the future as an endearing character along with Superman, Batman and Spider-Man. Flash Gordon has been revived several times. He struggles along far behind Captain Kirk and Superman, but he has a shot at entering the future as a character re-imagined for a new generation.

But Buck? Will Buck make it? Flash Gordon is at least still printed in Sunday newspaper strip format. But Buck’s strip was cancelled in 1967, not counting a short revival in the 1980’s because of the popularity of the TV show.

Things look bleak for Buck. Which only makes me love him more.

These are a couple of vehicles that Lorie found for me one Christmas. Their beautiful, in my opinion, and I can’t believe they were made. They match ships that were seen in the original newspaper strip. If I had a comic room to display them in, they would have a proud spot. But the comic room is still under construction.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Suggestion for the Nephews

See... The thing is that I have a couple of completely crazy nephews living in New York. You can read all about them here.

They're nuts about space and the latest mission to Mars.

I was thinking about them, as I often do, and I began to wonder. "Gee... Are there any televisions shows I know of that my culturally deficient sister probably hasn't exposed them to?"

Let's make a list of what Space 1999 has to offer these boys.

1). Cool shots of the moon

2). Guys that stand around debating physics and philosophy in their pajamas.

3). Command center sets with lots of buttons to push.

4). Complicated space missions.

5). Something familiar about this shot.

6). An entire base on the moon.

7). Backdrop paintings of alien worlds.

8). Creepy uncle type character with magnificent hair that they might find familiar.


Monday, September 17, 2012

The Freedom Train

I’ve never been a fan of TV news shows. As a kid, the evening news was on every night and went largely ignored by me. As an adult, now that we have such wonderful things as CNN and Fox News, televised news has elevated into a migraine-inducing torture scene! It’s on all the time at work, at varying levels of volume depending on which security guard was on duty that morning. The term ‘talking heads’ no longer applies. It’s “screaming hate masks” now.

The big joke about me and the news with my parents is that I’m completely oblivious. I’ve turned a blind eye to the world around me and I’m only involved with my own little bubble. That was very true of Chuck-in-his-twenties. But now that you can choose a variety of ways to get your news, I keep well informed. Unaffiliated news websites, if there is such a thing, is my preferred method. Google News being my first stop. My iPhone chirps all the important news at me. That’s how I found out about Steve Jobs passing away.

For years my only source of news was late night comedians. The Tonight Show or Letterman’s show. I loved Conan O’Brian for quite awhile. The Daily Show is great the few times I caught it. But Lorie’s not really a fan of those shows so I rarely see them anymore.

I AM learning that getting your news from comedians on their talk shows is nothing new. And, in fact, is an excellent example of elements of our entertainment reflecting our culture. Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update is always good. I’m watching 1976 re-runs of SNL with Netflix Streaming and the Weekend Update portion is traditionally the strongest part of the show. Watching a comedic take on news of the day from 1976 has been teaching me things about history and politics and culture of the era that I didn’t learn from comics or remember from my childhood.

As I’ve mentioned before, my favorite old time radio show is Jack Benny. I listen to him while on the treadmill at the gym. I’m up to 1948, at the moment. And I’m constantly getting little news and cultural tidbits from the show that was pertinent to the time they lived in. I was listening to the New Year’s Eve broadcast from December 28th, 1947. The standard New Year’s Eve bit was that Jack played the outgoing year schooling the incoming year on what he had to worry about. One of the things Jack talked to young 1948 about was the Freedom Train.

The Freedom Train was a train attraction in the forties that carried elements of our nation’s history across country to different cities in all forty-eight states. Its first stop was on September 17, 1947 and its last was on October 26th, 1948. The train carried things like the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, one of the original copies of the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, the Iwo Jima Flag, and other such historically significant items. The train had a Marine escort to see to the security of its cargo.

You can read more about the Freedom Train here, or here.

One of the things that caught my attention about this was that it wasn’t the first time I was hearing about it. But my first introduction of the Freedom Train didn’t come from a dusty history book or a Wikipedia article or a Today in History entry from my iPad. It came from reading All-Star Comics #41, cover dated June-July 1948. In that comic, the Justice Society of America had to recover the Freedom Train, which the comic refers to as the “Liberty Train”. Apparently the train had been ingeniously stolen by the Injustice Gang of the World. Those tricky bastards.

The comic takes the time to explain to readers what the train is all about.

I find the concept of the Freedom Train extremely interesting. I can’t imagine anything like it today. First, with our technology in both travel and the internet, we don’t face the same obstacles that were present in 1948 if we decided we wanted to see such things. Second, the government decided to do this! Doesn’t that boggle your mind? One of the reasons I read was that it was to help remind Americans what they just got done fighting for, in the aftermath of a devastating war. If that’s true or not, I don’t know. But I love that reason.

I imagine that word of the Freedom Train was all over the news venues of the time. But I didn’t learn about it from that, not actually having been around in 1948. And I didn’t learn about it while studying history in 2012. I learned about it from comics and comedians, the entertainment of the time.

Some people find this aspect of reading, watching, and listening to past entertainment annoying. They feel like they’re missing out on an in-joke. Lorie doesn’t like those old Saturday Night Live’s. But I’ve grown to love that part of older entertainment; seeing that ‘reflection of culture’.