Tuesday, March 30, 2010

E.T. Phone Home

Sometimes I see a commercial on TV and wonder, what message are they really sending?

There's one for AT&T that's been running recently in which mom, dad, and very young son are at a restaurant. Mom gets up to go to the ladies room and the child immediately starts to cry. The father takes out his keys and starts to jingle them to amuse his son. The camera slides over to show spokesman Luke Wilson connecting to a video on his cell phone, which he then hands over to the dad to amuse the son. Of course, this works immediately.

Sure, the point they're trying to make is how quickly you can connect to the Internet and find something using AT&T. But the subliminal message is that Dad is incapable of taking care of his son and, rather than even trying, should just plug him in to a cartoon. But Mom does not have that problem; as soon as she returns, junior is happy again without the cartoon.


Another commercial, which ran about fifteen times during the shows I was watching last night, has Mom and young teenage daughter at the mall. It's the daughter's first day of "shopping on her own" and the commercial asks who you would trust her safety to? In this case, it's that great 3G coverage of Verizon and, particularly, something called "Family Finder."

Though they don't explain it, one can only surmise that rather than following her daughter around the mall, Mom is going to be somewhere tracking her movements on her cellphone. And then what? "Oh, dear, she's buying some too-revealing top at the Sluttique!" Or "Uh-oh, she's at the food court. I better swoop in and stop her before she eats something loaded with trans fats."

Or is it so dangerous at the mall that Mom needs to worry about her daughter being abducted by terrorists and has to be able to track her down when it happens?


Both AT&T and Verizon make a big deal about their maps and their 3G coverage. Well, unless you happen to be running all over the country all the time, why should you care?

I live on Long Island, I work five miles from home, and, other than an occasional visit to friends or family and my summer stint at CTY in Maryland, I'm always in the same few places using my cell phone. Does it matter to me which of them has better coverage in Butte, Boise, or Biloxi? No, all I care about is whether I can get a signal in my office, the house and the road in between.


Finally, let's not leave Sprint out of the mix. Their current commercial says that "very few people use their cell phone just for making phone calls." Well, call me old-fashioned, but that's exactly what I use mine for. It's a telephone!

If there's an urgent message you have for me, don't text me or send me an email. Call me on the phone. That way, we can actually have a conversation.
If a question comes up that requires an Internet search for the answer, it can wait till I get to a computer, either at home or the office.
And, frankly, if I missed my favorite TV show, the last thing I want to do is try to watch it on a 2-inch screen!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Not Creepy and Not Kooky

"8:00 p.m. (Ch 7) ADDAMS FAMILY - Wednesday asks her parents to act "like normal people" because her new boyfriend's parents are coming to dinner. Gomez: Nathan Lane, Morticia: Bebe Neuwirth."

As a slightly-early anniversary treat, Laurie got us tickets to see "The Addams Family" musical on Broadway last night. Had it been a half-hour episode of the 1960s TV series, I'm sure it would have been quite funny. Unfortunately, as a two-hour musical, it doesn't work; the jokes are few and far between and what there is of a plot is stretched thin in the first act and becomes all but nonexistent in the second act.

Bebe Neuwirth is a worthy successor to Carolyn Jones as Morticia and the play makes use of her skills as a dancer by giving her a big number in the second act. (Laurie commented that one of the back-up dancers was actually better than Ms. Neuwirth. I did not notice, as I was watching her dance rings around Nathan Lane.) As Gomez, however, Mr. Lane is no John Astin. His accent was some odd conglomeration of Spanish, Yiddish, and Lane-ish and, despite his flair for the outrageous, he never reached the level Astin did every week on TV.

As Uncle Fester, Kevin Chamberlin does a fine job channeling Jackie Coogan and Zachary James is an appropriately stiff and inarticulate Lurch. Jackie Hoffman is an amusingly wacky Grandma, while Krysta Rodriguez and Adam Riegler are okay as Wednesday and Pugsley. On the other hand, Terrance Mann is wasted as the boyfriend's father, given only one song in the second act.

And speaking of the songs, there was nothing memorable among them. In fact, while listening to the lyrics to two of them ("Crazier Than You" and "In the Arms"), I found myself thinking that these could not be the real words, that they were so ridiculous they sounded like a MAD magazine parody rather than part of the actual show.

On the positive side, the set reflects a Charles Addams sensibility, particularly the scenes with staircases that cross and seem to go nowhere but up and down in the same room. And costuming and make-up were spot-on, particularly for the ghostly Addams ancestors.

Finally, for those who came as fans of the TV series, the Overture hints at the show's theme song. It leaves one hoping that the show will end with the cast singing it, but unfortunately it never gets past the finger-snapping.

While Laurie and I agreed that the show left a lot to be desired, there were some fellow passengers on the train home who had also seen it and they thought it was "hilarious" and "one of the best shows ever." I'm sure the producers are hoping for more audiences like them and not too many like us.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

There aren't that many major life events that Laurie and I are invited to these days, so when we got invited Becca Roberson's wedding and Stephen Kassinger's Eagle Scout Court of Honor and both were taking place on the same day, we decided we would each attend one.

Becca's wedding date was in place long before the Court of Honor and we'd originally planned on driving down to Baltimore for it, where we would meet up with Sammi, who would be driving up from Virginia. But when we decided that I would be going alone, I opted to fly. Southwest's flights from MacArthur Airport on Long Island to BWI are numerous, quick, and relatively inexpensive. Sammi would pick me up at BWI and we'd head to the hotel from there.

So, Saturday morning, deciding also that leaving my car overnight was easier than having Laurie drive me there and pick me up again on Sunday, I drove off to the airport. Oh, by the way, it was raining.

The flight took off on time and everything went well. Sammi and her roommate Vanessa picked me up and we got to the hotel in time to have lunch with a group of our fellow CTY staffers before the ceremony. (Becca has worked at CTY since 1997 and has many friends from her years there, all of whom I have worked with as well. This was probably the biggest reunion of CTY Chestertown folks ever... and many pictures were taken to document it.)

The wedding ceremony was held in a nearby church and then we were all on our way to The Engineer's Club for the reception. Through the cocktail hour and dinner, it was like many other weddings, but when the disk jockey started playing the selection of music, it took on the feeling of a CTY dance... minus the fifth and sixth graders. (Becca had asked Sammi and Vanessa to select the music, something the two of them did many times in their years running the Residential staff at Chestertown.) Not surprisingly, the evening ended with everyone singing and dancing to "American Pie."

Our plan the next morning was for Sammi and Vanessa to drop me at BWI and head home. I had a 10:35 flight and we got to the airport at about 9:15. No problem.

Except that it was still raining on Long Island. Well, more than raining. It was like a monsoon, with 65 mile per hour winds, torrential rain, and no visibility. So our flight was being delayed until they knew they would be able to land when they got there. Okay, fine, not a problem, better safe than sorry. And we weren't even boarding the plane until they knew they would be taking off, so it wasn't like we were stuck sitting on the tarmac for hours.

At 11:00, they announced it would probably be another hour. At noon, they bumped it to 1:00. By then, there were passengers who were concerned about connections they would be missing. One woman asked the Southwest rep if she was going to be able to get to Long Island for a wedding Sunday evening; the rep said she could not say and asked, "You're not the bride, are you?"

Then, at 12:10, they announced that the flight was cancelled. And in thirty seconds, virtually everyone in the waiting area was in line to try and book a different flight. But with the monsoon continuing to blow in New York, there were no flights going to JFK or LaGuardia either.

My first thought was to rent a car and drive, so I called Laurie and asked her to go online and book me a car. Unfortunately, a one-way rental was prohibitively expensive. Besides, Laurie had a better idea: Just as we had done in December when Sammi's flight home was cancelled for three days in a row, AmTrak was the answer. She checked online and found a train I could catch at Baltimore's Penn Station that would get me to NYC by 6:00.

Suitcase in hand, I made my way to the LightRail station. I don't think it could have been any further from the Southwest terminal, by the way; I felt like I walked halfway back to Baltimore. Then it was about a half-hour ride to the train station. (Ironically, at one point I was just two blocks away from the hotel I had left five hours earlier.) I had time to grab a sandwich before getting on the train, so with food, drink and a book, I settled in for the three hour trip.

Remember all the rain I mentioned? Well, New Jersey got quite a bit as well, and as we made our way through the Garden State, I got a first-hand look at some of the "flooding in low-lying areas" that the TV news folks always talk about. We passed a park that I presume usually had a small lake at its center. I say I presume so because what I saw was a lake with submerged benches and an underwater playground.

When I got to New York, I had to catch a train to Farmingdale and, remarkably, I got there with ten minutes to spare. Another train ride and Laurie picked me up so we could drive to the airport and pick up my car. So much for saving any time or effort by driving there myself. Oh, and it was still raining, by the way.

It was about 8:45 when I finally walked into the house, almost twelve hours after checking out of the hotel. But, as Laurie pointed out numerous times, it could have been worse. I could have been sitting in the plane, unable to get off. I could have been somewhere that did not have direct train service. I could have been somewhere too far away to come home by train.

Or the rain could have been snow.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Spring Training

Laurie was invited to Phoenix to speak at a conference last week and I went along so that we could make a long weekend out of it. That spring training games had started made the trip that much more attractive to me. And since Laurie looked upon sitting at a game as an opportunity to soak up some sunshine -- something that has been sorely missing at home these days -- she willingly came along on two of the three days.

We didn't order any tickets in advance; there are enough teams and enough ballparks in the area that I did not expect to have a problem. We arrived in Phoenix at about noon on Thursday, making the 1:05 starts a bit of a problem. Luckily, there was a 3:05 game, the White Sox versus the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. We had time to check into the hotel, scope out the area, and then drive to the park. Thanks to tickets we got from a scalper in the parking lot, we were in the third row behind the White Sox dugout. I stood out among the rest of the fans there, wearing a Cubs hat. When a couple of people commented, I told them that I was, in fact, a Yankees fan, but they were in Florida. (The Cubs hat dates back to our last trip to Arizona, some fifteen years ago, when I met up with my Aunt Rena and her brother, die-hard Cubs fans, who insisted I go to Cubs games with them...and be suitably attired.) Though I had hoped to see ex-Yankee Hideki Matsui playing for the Angels, he did not get into the game. Nonetheless, it was a good game and it ended in a 4-4 tie.

On Friday, Laurie was tied up with the conference, so I was on my own. I decided that I would like to see the Dodgers and former Yankees manager Joe Torre, so I drive out to the Camelback Ranch complex that they share with the White Sox. This time I bought a ticket at the box office and ended up sitting, again, behind the White Sox dugout. Again, ChiSox fans commented about my hat, and one, seeing that I was keeping score, asked if I was a scout for the Cubs. The Dodgers won 7-3, in a game that seemed to be played at a more lethargic level than the previous day's. But I did get to see Joe Torre, albeit from across the field.

The original plan for Saturday was to go see the Cubs at Hohokam Park, since former Yankee Lou Pinella is the manager. The Cubs' opponent? Why, the White Sox, of course. But I wasn't locked on that, especially since I've been to Hohokam before, so Laurie and I started polling people for their suggestions about the best parks to visit. The concierge at the hotel suggested Camelback Ranch, which, of course, I'd just been to. We also asked a few of the city's "tourist aides" who patrol the streets of the downtown. (One turned out to be a big comics fan who was quite surprised to find out who I was.) The consensus seemed to be either Scottsdale, home to the Giants, or Peoria, shared home of the Padres and the Mariners.

On Saturday morning, I was leaning towards the Peoria park, where the Padres and Mariners were playing, over the Giants-Diamondbacks game at Scottsdale. Then we met a man in the hotel elevator who worked for the Giants; he offered to sell us a couple of tickets to the game, with seats right behind the dugout. After a walk around the downtown and a visit to the Rosson House, a restored building dating back to 1895, I decided that Peoria was our destination and off we went.

We were standing in the ticket line there when a man came buy and said, "Does anyone need two tickets?" I figured he was scalping, but when I asked how much he said, "Nothing. Merry Christmas." He had gotten more tickets than he needed -- his wife and daughter had opted to go shopping instead -- and so he just gave them away. As fate would have it, we were once again in the third row behind the dugout, though this time it was the Padres, rather than the White Sox. This game turned out to be the most exciting, with the Mariners winning 7-4, and I was glad I'd picked it.

We flew home Sunday afternoon, so there was no time for a fourth game. Just as well, as it turned out. Part of the odd winter they've been having in Phoenix, it was raining...and all the games were cancelled.

Comics No One's Mom Threw Away

The sale of comic books made the news last week. Well, the sale of two particular books, a copy of ACTION COMICS #1 -- the first appearance of Superman, for those among you who aren't comics aficionados -- that sold for a million dollars and a copy of DETECTIVE COMICS #27 -- the debut of Batman -- that broke that record a day or two later.

For those who might be wondering (and the couple who asked), I am neither the buyer nor the seller of either book, nor do I own copies of the originals. There have been plenty of reprints over the years; I've got most, if not all, of those.

It is highly likely that the two sales last week will bring a lot of those reprints out of the closets and attics and basements, with those folks who find them convinced they are due a major windfall when they sell them. Not only that, every comic book that is more than twenty minutes old has gone up in price at every garage sale, yard sale, and junktique shop in the world, because their sellers now believe they too have a gold mine.

Years ago, when I was the Answer Man and had a weekly column in DC's books, I often fielded questions about what one or another old issue was worth. While I would give them the current Overstreet Price Guide value, I would also say that the book was really worth what someone else was willing to pay for it. And that remains the same for every comic book (and any other collectible) out there. If someone is willing to pay you a million dollars for your copy of ACTION COMICS #1, great. But if he's only offering to give you half a million, that's what it's worth, despite what any other copy sold for. Of course, you may also find someone who believes your reprint is an original and will pay you some ridiculous amount for it. But that's where caveat emptor comes in.


Another bit of comics sales information that has me puzzled was in a column in a recent issue of the Comic Buyer's Guide. According to the article, copies of SUPERMAN #75, the issue in which the Man of Steel was killed by Doomsday, is selling for $60 to $70. I find this incredible. The issue, published in 1993, cost a dollar, and DC sold somewhere between 3 and 4 million copies. At the time, thousands of people -- fans, dealers and speculators -- were convinced this would become as rare a collectible as ACTION #1 and bought multiple copies of it. Some bought whole cartons of 200.

Imagine their surprise and dismay six months later when they tried to cash in and discovered that no one was even willing to give them a dollar for one. Well, maybe all those disgruntled people burned all their copies in a fit of rage, because I can't imagine why anyone would have to pay $60 for a copy unless the number available out there has dwindled to next to nothing.

I do have a couple of copies of that one, by the way, so if you've got the $60, let me know.