Monday, September 28, 2009

The Federal Maximum Bob Act

The was a point in the mid-1980s that the DC Comics staff of about 100 people included five men named Bob: Bob Greenberger, Bob LeRose, Bob Kahan, Bhob Stewart, and yours truly. As you might surmise, it caused confusion if someone said, "I was talking to Bob." But we came up with a way to differentiate ourselves with the use of nicknames. Greenberger became "Greenie" or "Bobby"; LeRose was "Bobby Lee"; Kahan was "Kahan!" (often yelled as Captain Kirk did it in the movie); Stewart was called "Bee-hob" (there was a reason he spelled his name that way and I may have heard it, but I don't recall it now); and I was BobRo.

And then Bob Wayne got hired to work in the Marketing Department.

Well, this was also the period when Robyn McBryde and I were the unofficial company morale officers and often ran one crazy event or another. One afternoon we celebrated Loud Shirt Day and had a contest for the "best" one. ("Wear the shirt your Great Aunt Edna gave you as a gift the week after she went blind.") We held a wedding of two of the production department staffers on another. Adding a new Bob to the staff proved to be fodder for yet another morale event.

We announced that hiring Mr. Wayne had placed DC in the position of violating the Federal Maximum Bob Act, which states that a company cannot have more than one person named Bob for every twenty people on staff. As DC had about 100 staffers at the time, we had maxed out with the five Bobs we already had. Therefore, we had to rename him and gave the staff the opportunity to come up with his new name.

(As it turns out, every company I've worked for since has violated the Federal Maximum Bob Act at some point. Preload had two Bobs for most of the time I was there, but added a third one in late 2005; I left in 2006, before the authorities were alerted. Accordant had a preponderance of Bobs. And we had two Bobs at CRI for about five months, but the other one left.)

There were quite a few entries and the one we finally decided on was "Ignatius," or "Iggy" for short. Bob objected when he heard the choice, but we told him that since he was in violation of the law, he had no say in the matter.

Although we rarely, if ever, called him "Iggy" in direct conversation, pretty much everyone referred to him that way in the third person. So if someone said, "BobRo and Greenie had a meeting with Iggy about the promo poster," you knew which three Bobs were involved.

Of the six Bobs, Mr. Wayne is only one working at DC today. There are still some people there who know and refer to him as Iggy, causing newer staffers to wonder just where the nickname came from (especially since Bob himself never mentions it). If someone asks, they may be told of the Federal Maximum Bob Act, but it is just as likely the answer will be. "I don't know. We always called him that."

What is perhaps most amusing about this story is that Robert is his middle name and that he uses Bob because he does not like his first name at all. But don't worry, Iggy, I'm not going to tell anybody what it is...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Paying the Bill

There's been a hubbub the past couple of days over a New Hampshire law that requires people who get lost to pay for their rescue. Last April, a 17-year-old Eagle Scout went hiking on Mount Washington and got lost. Helicopters and search parties combed the mountain for three days before finally discovering the boy. Now, citing the law, the state is billing him $25,000.
An online survey reveals that 25% of respondents think the state should reduce the amount and an additional 49% are in favor of it being dropped altogether. A second poll has 57% of respondents against the law's existence.

In the news yesterday was a story about a woman who has disappeared from a cruise ship sailing back from Alaska. Though all her belongings remain in her stateroom, the woman was nowhere to be found on the ship. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Canadian authorities are searching some 200-plus miles of waterways and coastline.
Was she a victim or foul play? Did she somehow manage to fall overboard (which is not easy to do)? Or did she just "miss the boat" and is safe and sound in a small Alaskan town? At this point, we don't know the answer to that.
What we do know, however, is that two countries are spending a large amount of money on manpower and fuel to search for her. Presuming she is found, should she be sent the bill? Based on the survey cited above, most people would say no.

How about people who ignore evacuation warnings in the face of floods, hurricanes, or forest fires and later have to be rescued? We've all seen the "dramatic footage" of a daring rescue by firefighters or helicopter crews or the National Guard. It's safe to say there would be a public outcry if these people were invoiced for services rendered.

So who should pay for this? Unfortunately, if you took a poll, the majority response is likely to be "the government." And where would the government get the money to pay for such things? That would be the same place it gets all its money... from taxes. I'm pretty sure you'd have a hard time finding anyone who would say they would like their taxes raised in order to pay for search-and-rescue missions of responsible people who make foolish decisions.

From what I've read, New Hampshire may be the only state that has such a law on its books. And depending on how much of a public outcry there is, they might decide to change it. In which case, the cost of future searches and rescues will come out of the funds that might otherwise be used to repair a road, pay for medical supplies in a clinic, or feed needy children a school lunch.

Just like they do in the rest of the country.

Getting What You Deserve

Some years ago, McDonalds ran an ad campaign to entice people to take a night off from cooking dinner and drive on over for burgers and fries. "You deserve a break today," was the clever catch-phrase and it played quite well, especially as more and more families had both mom and dad working outside the home.

The definition of the verb "deserve" is "merit" or "earn" and plenty of people felt that, after working all day long, they had earned the right to skip cooking once in awhile. And while you can certainly argue that choosing to eat dinner at Mickey D's might not be the most healthy option, doing so was not going to make a big dent in the family's budget.

Recently, I saw an automobile ad on TV that proclaimed that everyone "deserved" the luxury car we wanted. And for a "low" monthly lease payment of $395 (or $495 or whatever -- I was ignoring it by this point), we could have that car. What too many people seem to have lost sight of is whether or not they earned it... as in, bring in enough income to actually pay for it. After all, a monthly $395 is going to take a much bigger hit out of the family budget than $20 at McDonalds. (In fact, you could eat dinner every weeknight of the month at McD's for the cost of the car. Not that that would be advisable, but you get the point.)

Unfortunately, too many people buy into the concept that they "deserve" a fancy car or a huge house or a humongous television or whatever. I certainly will not dispute the fact that many people work hard; the lawn service guy cutting my neighbor's grass for minimum wage is putting as much effort into his job as my neighbors the nurses put into theirs and my friend the banker puts into his. But some skills are more valuable than others and, for the most part, what various professions earn reflects that. So the banker may well be earning a salary that allows him to easily pay for the luxury car, but if the guy cutting grass wants to be driving one, he had better find a profession that will pay him enough to do so.

Perhaps one of the best/worst examples of all this is to be found among college students. Many of the students have incurred enormous debt in order to attend and more than a few don't buy the textbooks necessary for their classes because they don't have the money for them. Yet those same students will be distracted in class by messages, updates, and the like that they are receiving on their brand-new iPhones. When asked why she had to have the latest (and quite expensive) version, one student replied, "I deserve it."

The question, then, is, will she and her like-minded fellow students ever earn enough to pay for what they "deserve"?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ted P. Skimmer and Me

A number of the chapters of my "Secret History of All-American Comics" that has been running in ALTER EGO and BACK ISSUE magazines (available at have been presented as interviews of Ted Skimmer, "a longtime employee of AA Comics." Ted's career there began in the mid-1940s and lasted well into the 1990s; he worked in both the editorial and production departments and did freelance work as a colorist and a letterer.

The use of Ted prompted one reader to write to AE editor Roy Thomas to ask for an article about the career at DC Comics of the real Ted P. Skimmer. Indeed, if you were to peruse some of the books DC published in the 70s and 80s, you would find that Ted was a fan from Pittstown, Oklahoma, who had a number of letters published. He then worked in the editorial department, writing the responses in the letters pages of some of the books, and even scripted an El Diablo story in JONAH HEX #48.

Despite all this evidence, Ted does not exist. In fact, everything he wrote was actually written by yours truly.

Ted's original appearances in the letter columns were done to fill space. Believe it or not, some of the letters that appeared in the comic books were written by staff members. If there was not enough mail to fill the page, those of us responsible for putting the columns together would ask our fellow fans-turned-staffers to write a letter. (This was going on long before my compatriots and I arrived at DC. Readers from my generation will remember numerous letters in the Mort Weisinger-edited Superman books that asked questions like, "Has Superman ever turned into a dragon?" The response was always something like, "Do you have x-ray vision? Have you been peeking into our editorial offices? That's exactly what happens in next month's issue!") Though our letters weren't usually blatant plugs for upcoming issues like those that Weisinger used, we often made comments that sparked an editorial response that could fill the page.

At one point, I was doing the lettercols for Julie Schwartz's books, along with the Daily Planet and Answer Man pages, and one or two of the other editors asked if I would handle the columns for their books as well. We decided that, rather than have it seem like I was the only person in the company who was reading the mail, Ted P. Skimmer would come to New York and take a job as an editorial assistant.
I came up with a "secret origin" for Ted, claiming that he and I were friends from college. When someone wrote in and asked where Pittstown, Oklahoma was because he could not find it on a map, I had an answer for that as well. There is actually a Pittsburg in the Sooner State and so, when Ted and I met, he told me he hailed from there. I thought he meant Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and started talking about how my brother lived north of there. When Ted explained he meant a small town in Oklahoma, I told him that he was not allowed to confuse people ever again and from then on I would call it Pittstown.
Occasionally, I would make jokes about the relationship between myself and Ted, eventually having him move from the Editorial department into the Production department "Bob calls me his right-hand man, which is pretty funny because I'm left-handed," Ted once commented in print. Indeed, whenever I saw Ted (in the mirror), he was left-handed.

Why Ted got credit for writing the El Diablo story is something I do not recall, but I'm sure we had a good reason at the time. It may just have been that he mentioned writing his first script in some letter column and we figured it was about time it was actually published.

The secret of Ted had remained pretty much undiscovered for almost three decades. The Grand Comics Database ( lists him as the writer of the El Diablo story, along with a credit for a number of letters pages. But just the other day, someone reading my blog about the Secret History made a connection between the two Teds and wrote to me to find out the story.

By the way, the Ted shown in the photos in ALTER EGO and BACK ISSUE is actually my father. If nothing else, it made it easy to come up with a photo showing "Ted" and me together. In the final chapter of the series, in BI #36, there is a photo of Samantha Skimmer, Ted's granddaughter. As you might have guessed, it's actually my daughter Sammi, who is, of course, "Ted's" granddaughter.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Bad News Bears Grow Up

On Saturday, the NYC Carpenters held their annual picnic and softball competition and CRI fielded a team for the first time. With our snazzy, logo-emblazoned, red-and-white shirts, the Crushers looked like we were ready to challenge the rest of the teams for the championship. Well, until the game started, anyway.

Perhaps the first sign of trouble was when we realized that the only bat we had was a Little League one belonging to one of the team members' kids. Fortunately, we were able to borrow one from our opponents. Unfortunately, our opponents were the top-seeded team in the competition; since we were the newest team, this was not surprising.
We were quickly retired in the top of the first inning, with one batter striking out after swinging at balls that bounced two feet in front of home plate. Our opponents quickly proved why they were the top seed, racking up a dozen runs before we recorded the first out, then adding eight more before the inning ended. Oh, they were good hitters, but it didn't help that we had an outfielder who apparently thought he was supposed to let the ball drop in front of him before fielding it and an infielder who played ground balls by allowing them to first bounce off his chest. (To be fair, we had a couple of guys on the team who have never played softball or baseball in their lives.)

Because of the ten-run "mercy rule," we had to score eleven runs in the top of the second inning in order to continue the game. Needless to say, we fell eleven runs short of that and so the "CRI Crushed" were eliminated in the first round.

Watching all this brought back memories of the early days of the DC Bullets, the DC Comics softball team that I captained for a number of years. Like the Crushers, the Bullets had a number of players who had never played before and had no understanding of the rules. I used to ask if we could please hire some people who knew something about baseball and was reminded that comic book fans generally spent their time reading comic books, not participating in competitive sports. (We did eventually get some guys who could play; they worked in our accounting department!)

The Bullets, unlike the Crushers, did manage to practice a few times before our first game. (We even had a couple of bats!) In the first few years, we only played one game per season, against Marvel Comics. Luckily for us, their team was also made up of comics-fans-turned-pros, so we were pretty evenly matched. In fact, the Bullets won the first two years, but the games were not without bizarre plays.
In one game, we had runners on first and second with no one out. The batter hit a pop fly to the second baseman. Without a thought, both runners took off. I was coaching at third base, yelling, "Go back! Go back!" to the runner coming towards me. Rather than doing so, he just stopped and said, "Why?" Meantime, the second baseman -- reminiscing about it last week at Ithacon, Jim Shooter and I agreed it was probably Marvel production man Danny Crespi -- caught the ball (one out), stepped on second base (two outs) and then tagged the runner from first as he triumphantly arrived at the base (three outs).

Nothing so exciting happened in the Crushers game, possibly because we didn't play long enough. But as our opponents were piling on the runs thanks to one misplay after another, I thought of Casey Stengel, just as I had that afternoon thirty-some-odd years ago. "The Old Perfessor," after watching his hapless 1962 New York Mets lose yet again in their own unique fashion, sighed and asked, "Can't anybody here play this game?"

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Right and Wrong

My alma mater, Hofstra University, has been making the front page (and lead story on the TV news) these past few days owing to a gang rape that has turned out to be not that at all.

To recap the story as it stands right now for those not in the New York-Metro area, an 18-year-old Hofstra student claimed to have been gang-raped by five men in a bathroom stall in one of the Hofstra dorms at 3:00 a.m. Monday morning. She claimed that one of the men, whom she met while dancing in an on-campus club, took her cellphone away and used it to lure her into the dorm. Once in the dorm, the man was joined by a second and the two of them took her into a men's bathroom, tied her up in a stall, and raped her. Three more men, whom the woman first thought would help her, turned out to be friends of the first two and they also raped her.
After the incident, campus and local police were called and four of the five men, including one who was a Hofstra student, were identified and arrested.
Not surprisingly, the Hofstra staff and student body were shocked, appalled, and frightened for their safety. As campus security was increased, an investigation into the crime ensued and the search for the fifth man continued.
On Wednesday night, however, the shocking story took an unexpected turn. Confronted with the news that a video of at least part of the attack might exist, the woman recanted and said that the sex had been consensual. The D.A. dropped all charges, the four men were released from jail and the search for the fifth was cancelled. (In the meantime, however, the four men had their names and pictures plastered across the newspapers and on television, the modern equivalent of being locked in stocks in the town square.)
Hofstra has now suspended the woman, pending a disciplinary hearing, and the D.A.'s office us considering pressing charges. We do not know, as yet, why she lied or why she got into the situation to begin with.

One of the men in the case, upon being released, said that he was glad that justice had prevailed because he thought he was going to be put in prison for something he didn't do. Yes, that is the basic premise of our judicial system: Good and bad. Right and wrong. The guilty are punished and the innocent go free.
But just what is it that he didn't do? All four men admitted to having sex with the woman, though they insisted it was consensual. Does that make it right? In what society is it okay for four (or five, if there was in fact a fifth man) men to have sex in a bathroom stall with a woman? What is it that was lacking in these guys' upbringing that not one of them stopped and said, "Why am I doing this? Why are we doing this?" Or, at least, "What is the matter with this woman that she is doing this?"
One of the mothers, hugging her son after he was released from jail last night, proclaimed, "I knew my son was innocent." Well, ma'am, your son is not guilty of rape, but one would have a hard time arguing that he is innocent.

No one did the right thing in this case; there was just wrong and more wrong.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Where is Miss Manners When We Need Her?

The buzz today has been all about Kanye West and his behavior during the MTV awards show last night. One has to wonder what he thought he was doing when he took the microphone and interrupted Taylor Swift's acceptance speech. Tonight Jay Leno asked West what his mother might have said to him; West sat silently and never answered the question. One would hope that his mother would have chastised him and asked, "Didn't I teach you any manners?"

Last week we had South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson shouting"You lie!" during President Obama's speech before Congress. Does he think he is some kind of hero for doing something so rudely inappropriate? Or was he somehow confused and thought he was playing the part of the heckler during a nightclub act?

On a local level, I was in the library this afternoon. The new videos are together on one shelf and when I came in there was a woman standing in front of the shelf, blocking it from anyone else as she took video cases one at a time and read them. A second woman approached and was reaching for one of the videos on the shelf when the first woman stopped her and said, "I'm not through looking at these yet." Perhaps someone should explain sharing to her...or at least the concept that you cannot call "dibs" on a shelf full of videos in the library.

When I came out of the library, I noticed a car parked in the traffic lane. Hanging from the mirror was a "handicapped permit." The car was sitting less than ten feet from two handicap parking spaces, but apparently the driver did not feel they were close enough to the library entrance...or just did not care that he/she was inconveniencing anyone else who tried driving into the lot.

How many of us have been sitting in a movie theater and suffered through someone sitting behind us doing a running commentary on the film? And when you asked the person to please be quiet been treated as if you were the offending party?
Have you sent someone a gift and never received an acknowledgement, let a lone a formal thank you note? Or had someone bump into you because they weren't looking and then act like it's your fault?
Whatever happened to "Please," Thank you," "Excuse me," and the like? Maybe instead of worrying about hurting someone's self-esteem, we should reinforce the concept of respecting others and not behaving like a boor on nationwide television or in the Capitol building or even the local library.


Organized and run by the Comic Book Club of Ithaca, Ithacon is a cozy one-day show held in the ("centrally-isolated," as it is called) upstate New York town that is home to Cornell University. I think the first time I attended was because Chuck had friends at Cornell that he wanted to visit and we decided to "double dip." A few years later, both Chuck and Sammi came along when one of Sammi's friends was attending the University. Since then, it's become something of a tradition to make the five-hour drive early on Saturday morning to arrive in time for the 10:00 start, spend the day chatting with fans, friends, and fellow comics pros, and sell off some of the comic books that have accumulated over the year.

This year, with Sammi now living and teaching in Virginia and Chuck attending orientation at NYU (where he'll be going part-time for his MBA, beginning this semester), Laurie volunteered to join me for the trip, especially enthusiastically when I found a nearby orchard where we could pick apples, peaches and vegetables on Sunday. (To be fair, Laurie had intended to go with me two years ago, but while gardening a couple of days prior to the trip, she somehow got a "foreign object" embedded in her knee and ended up with her leg bandaged in such a way that she would not have been able to comfortably sit in the car nor walk around much.)

We were up at about 4:15 and on the road within an hour. The "lingering showers" that were forecast for the morning turned out to be pretty steady rain that stayed with us all the way to Scranton, PA, but then the precipitation stopped and we even had some peeks of sunshine for the rest of the drive. We arrived at just about 10:00, got settled at my table, and had a chance to say hi to some folks, just as the first fans began to arrive.

Among the familiar faces were Roger Stern (writer of Superman and numerous other comics), his wife Carmela (one of the organizers of the show), Tom Peyer (writer and a former DC editor), and Tom Hegeman (fan and fellow member of the Kappa-alpha apa group). Shortly thereafter, we were joined by Jim Shooter, who, depending on your comic book loyalties, is best known for his run as a writer of the Legion of Super-Heroes or his tenure as editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics.

Jim began writing Legion stories in 1965 at the age of 14 and had moved on to work at Marvel by the time I arrived at DC in 1973, so I knew him best from the annual DC/Marvel softball games that we played in Central Park in the mid-70s.
In the third of those games, Jim hit a ball so far that it landed on an adjoining field, where a player there picked it up and threw it back. It was clearly a home run and so Jim was not going all out to get around the bases, but the DC outfielder suddenly found himself holding the ball with Jim just rounding third base. Thinking that he had a chance to get an out, he fired the ball towards home plate. Jodi Saviuk, the DC catcher, attempted to catch the ball, but it glanced off her glove and hit her in the eye. Jim, just crossing home plate, caught her as she started to fall. (Jodi ended up with a black eye, but no more serious injuries.)
The "eyewitness accounts" of the incident are quite varied, however. Some people insist that there really was a play on Jim and that had Jodi caught the ball, she would have tagged him out. Some say that Jim ran into her to prevent her from catching it and that it was his elbow, not the ball, that caused the black eye. One version, that Jim has heard, was that he was the one who threw the ball, despite the fact that it made no sense.

Though we had some time during the show to chat, it was at the dinner hosted by the Comic Book Club afterwards where we really had time to swap stories. Jim recounted his very early days in the business, working for Mort Weisinger, and his first visit to the DC offices and Mort's home in Great Neck, LI. We shared stories about Julie Schwartz, Murray Boltinoff, and other editors, writers and artists of comics' "first generation."

One of the oft-told stories of DC's early days is about a freelancer and one of the editors. In virtually every version, a freelancer comes to the office to deliver his work and pick up a check. The editor for whom he has done the job is on vacation and the check is in the hands of another editor. Rather than just hand over the check, said editor starts going through and criticizing the work, demanding changes before he will release the check. The freelancer becomes enraged, picks up the editor and threatens to toss him out the window if he does not hand over the check.
Just as with the softball game story mentioned above, the details vary, depending on the version of the story told.
In some, the freelancer is a writer, while in others it is an artist. The version I'd heard, told to me by Julie Schwartz, was that it was Dave Vern, one of his writers; Jim's, recounted to him by artist Jack Abel, was that it was artist Alex Toth and that the editor had actually ripped one of the pages of art in half. Some versions have the editor being held out the window by the ankles, while others have him bent backwards over the window sill. One, taking into account that the windows did not open (depending on which DC office the story is supposed to have taken place), has the freelancer holding the editor over his head and threatening to throw him through the glass.
Perhaps the only "fact" all the variations we've heard have in common was pointed out by Roger. "The editor is always (Robert) Kanigher."

Our post-dinner conversation went on for more than an hour and probably would have continued much longer, but since Laurie and I had been up since the wee hours of the morning, we were wearing down and needed to get back our motel.

We were up bright and early -- well, 8:00 instead of 4:15 -- yesterday morning, made our way to the orchard, and picked half a bushel of apples, twenty pounds of peaches, and fifteen pounds of tomatoes and peppers. After a stop at Chuck and Rebecca's (and a road-construction-necessitated "scenic tour" of Jersey City) to share the bounty, we were back home some 580 miles and thirty-six hours after we left.
And that was our 2009 Ithacon adventure.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Three Day Weekends

Almost everyone loves a three-day weekend, but there are those who prefer the day off to be a Friday and those who are supporters of Monday holidays. Count me as one of those in the latter category.
Every weekend has its collection of regular chores to be done and the usual times that they get done. If I have Friday off, I'll tend to push a couple of chores up, but still have the others to do on Saturday and Sunday. As a result, I feel like I don't have a day off. On the other hand, if the holiday is on Monday, all the regular weekend chores are finished as usual and we have an entire day to do what we want. Of course, that is sometimes some bigger chores that we put off "until we have time."

Case in point was the just-passed Labor Day weekend. Laundry, vacuuming, pool maintenance, bill-paying, et al were done on Saturday and Sunday, leaving us with Monday free. So what did we do? Laurie went to Lowe's and picked up some plants for the front of the house...and a container of driveway sealant.
Someone told her that Dawn dishwashing detergent is the product of choice to get oil stains off the macadam -- the sealant won't adhere to the oil -- so she poured it on and used a scrub brush to clean them. (After seeing how Dawn works on the driveway, I'm ready to do a testimonial for them, by the way.) Laurie moved on to do her planting and I finished hosing down the driveway.
Since we had to then wait for the driveway to dry, we retired to the back yard and the pool.

Over the past couple of months, we have talked about the fact that the deck needed a fresh coat of water sealant. This requires renting a power sander and, more importantly, a week of dry weather beforehand. As those of us who live in the Northeast can attest, this was far from the driest summer ever. (Three months of April!) As a result, we never got to doing it.
Though the sanding job would now be postponed till next spring, we decided that putting a coat of sealant on now couldn't hurt. Laurie's plan was to do the driveway yesterday and then the deck today, but once we had her set up on the former, I figured I might as well tackle the latter. So, while Laurie "painted" the driveway (as it was described by the little girl next door), I "painted" the deck. And now we have two big chores out of the way.

Who says we don't know how to have fun on a three-day weekend? (Okay, in addition to the chores, I played beach volleyball Friday night, we went to a dinner party on Saturday, and had our friend Janice over on Sunday. And there was plenty of time in and beside the pool!)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Worst Movie Ever?

Laurie and I went to see "Inglourious Basterds" last night. Our pal Bob Greenberger gave it a thumbs-up so, despite the fact that Laurie does not like Quentin Tarantino's films, we gave it a shot. Laurie made it about halfway through before departing for another theatre in the multi-plex. (You can find her review over on her blog.)

On the way home, we were talking about the worst movie we have ever seen, It is actually a tough question, because there have been a number of movies we have started watching and never finished. I think the first one we rented that fell into that category was "Dune." There have been numerous others over the years, most of them borrowed from the library; we tend to give movies that we can see for free a try, figuring that if they are bad, they're worth every penny we paid.

Certainly, there plenty of bad movies have been made. In a separate category are ones like "Plan 9 From Outer Space," which is soooo bad that you have to watch it . And others, like the original "Invaders from Mars," which scared the bejeebers out of us as kids, are now almost comical.

During the CTY portion of my summers, we see a lot of bad movies. We have a special discount on Tuesday nights at the local Chester 5 movie theater and many of the staffers will go and see whichever summer blockbusters are playing. Good or bad, for $5 (or in the first few years, $4), it was a nice break for us all. In fact, it got to be routine that if someone complained about a movie being particularly lousy, I would say, "Yes, but it only cost you $4."
One particular evening we saw what pretty much everyone agreed was the worst movie we'd ever seen during a CTY summer. It was so bad that my fellow instructor Chuck started mumbling to our dorm mate Joe, "If Bob says, 'Well, it only cost $4,' I'm going to hit him!"
Joe took this as a challenge and during the ride back to the campus, he kept saying, "Boy, that movie was really bad. What do you think, Bob? Wasn't that movie really bad?" At first, I just agreed with him. Then he said, "Yeah, that might be the worst movie we've ever seen, but as you always say..."
"It only cost $4," I said.
At which point, Chuck yelled, "Arrrgh!"
And hit Joe.

Needless to say, we've sat through some pretty terrible movies over the years at the Chester 5. (To be fair, we've also seen some very good ones!) There have been weeks when none of the five offerings seem worth it, but since I am the one who made the deal with the theatre owners for the discount, I feel obligated to make use of it. One week a few summers ago, only two of us went to see a movie about giant spiders; it turned out to be rather entertaining. Since we were expecting it to be bad, we were surprised when it actually had some entertaining moments.
There are a few CTYers who will proclaim that "Miami Vice" is the worst movie we've ever spent a summer evening watching. It certainly had most of us scratching our heads and wondering what the plot was.
But the film that holds the distinction of being "The Worst CTY Movie Ever"? It was one that almost the entire staff went to see, expecting it to be funny and entertaining. It was neither.
And so, if you ask anyone who was there (and even some who weren't), they will say "Legally Blonde 2" is the winner.
But, hey, it only cost $4.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


On any given day, I can find in my mailbox emails from international dignitaries, prominent figures in the financial world, and numerous attorneys. Is it because of my career in the comic book business or some other notable thing I have done?

No, they all write to tell me that I have won an international lottery based solely on my email address... or inherited a fortune from a long-lost relative (mostly in countries in which none of my ancestors have ever lived)... or need my help smuggling out a fortune that they have "appropriated" from the deposed government of some African nation. Of course, I am not the only one who receives these. I'm sure everyone reading this has gotten their share. But you have to wonder, why does anyone actually fall for these scams?

Some months ago, there was an article in The New Yorker (if I recall correctly; if not, I'm sure Laurie will know, as she is the one who found it) about a doctor who got sucked into one. He just kept sending more "handling fees" to the scam artists, somehow convinced that the millions he was going to receive were just one more email away. We were amazed by this story of a seemingly intelligent and well-educated man who was apparently so overcome with greed that he could not see through the scam.

I can understand people getting caught in some of the phishing scams; the scammers have become quite good at faking emails from banks that advise customers of changes in security. Of course, when you get one from a bank you have never even heard of, it should be a heads-up that it's a fake. And there have been enough warnings by now that you wonder why anyone would blindly click on a link that will allow you to "easily update your information."

Recently, I did a tally of just how much money I had "won" or would receive in exchange for helping to smuggle funds out of Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, et al. Seven different lotteries, most of them in Europe, with a grand total of $9.75 million. Plus my share (ranging from 30% to 50%) of another $14.5 million just sitting in secret places around Africa. One man claimed that he was waiting for me at Kennedy Airport with "a cheque for $1 million." Clearly, there is no need to work if I would only take advantage of all this money that is just out there waiting for me.

Perhaps my favorite was one that came from a young woman in England. Seems that her father, a prominent banker, had died and left her several million pounds. His only stipulation for her receiving it before her 30th birthday -- she claimed to be 22 -- was that she had to be married. And of all the people in the world she could have, she chose me. (Let's just ignore all the inherent problems with this.) Now, really, if all it takes to collect her inheritance is to get married, isn't there a guy down the block who'd be willing?