Archive for the ‘Misc’ Category

The Year Everything Broke

Friday, December 31st, 2021

I come to bury 2021, not to praise it.

2021 is now officially on my list of All-time Top 5 Worst Years. It may even be in my top (bottom?) three—who knows, today is still not over—but it is certainly among my least favorite.

This year everything, it seems, broke. My hand. The refrigerator. Our car (three times, actually). Democracy.

There’s a 100 ft. ponderosa pine in our neighbor’s yard that snapped in two—and is still hanging across our property months later— after being strangled by a wisteria vine so thick it looks like a python. The same snaking plant is entangled in an electrical line and is currently, slowly, pulling down a nearby street light at the top of a utility pole. The power company has sent out a number of people to look at the problem, but nobody has done anything about it. (Feel free to insert your own Trump/Jan.6/Antivaxxer metaphor here.)

While 2020 was a blow to the system, with plenty of jokes about the Before Time, 2021 feels like a hard break with the past.

This summer I broke with a mountain religious retreat my family has been deeply involved with for over 120 years, selling off the last of our shares and interests after I found out they had blatantly ignored public safety during the pandemic (and after assuring everyone they would). Word was a few of its board members still believe covid is a hoax. Yeah, no.

Newspapers — an industry I always wanted to work in, and did so for almost a quarter century— are deliberately being broken by hedge funds and vulture capitalists, whose sole interest is smashing open journalism and sucking out the money until only a desiccated shell remains. That this also allows corruption in politics and business to spread like a cancer, freeing bullshit and big lies to flourish, is seen by them as fringe benefit.

Once it was believed that billionaires could save newsprint, but 2021 made it clear that no one was coming to the rescue.

Even the reputation of the Pulitzers Prize shattered this year, when they refused to name a winner in the category of Editorial Cartooning — after a grueling 2020 when political cartoonists did some of the best work of the last century. Supposedly the gold standard for great journalism, the Pulitzer committee undercut the validity of their own award with the snub, and showed they were just as chummy, self-important, and out of touch as the Grammys.

I could go on. I am sure you have your own list of broken bodies, beliefs and institutions from this year.

2021 also revealed what we suspected all along: that Facebook is clearly broken … wait, come to think of it, that’s actually a good thing. We don’t need no water/let the motherzucker burn!

So it wasn’t all bad.

Also, kittens.

That I am able to test out my hand by slowly writing this post 3 weeks after surgery is a good sign. And I’d be remiss if I did not point out the one mitigating factor that kept 2021 from being a complete disaster:

We would not have been able to make it through this year without the unflinching generosity of friends, family and complete strangers. That is not an exaggeration. We would have lost everything. Everyone who helped us this year made a real difference, one that we eventually hope to pay back or pay forward.

I must even thank —and I can’t believe I’m saying this— several large corporations who stepped up and stepped in to assist us of their own volition, proving that some businesses have finally begun to realize they won’t have customers in the future if they don’t help out people now.

We’re not out of this yet, but thanks to y’all we made it to 2022. You bought us time.

For the first time since I was probably in the crib, I’m not going to celebrate the new year — I don’t want to jinx it — but I will raise a glass …hopefully with my right hand … to everyone who helped us this year.

Insurrection photo credit: Jim Urquhart/Reuters

[50/50] Album #1: Candy-O

Thursday, September 19th, 2019

Album #1: “Candy-O” — The Cars (1979)


I have a confession to make.

When The Cars first arrived in 1978, I hated them. No really. I have no idea why now—maybe they were too janglely, too alien—but I distantly recall mocking my cousin that Christmas as she went on about The Cars and the Ramones and all things punk and new wave. What can I say: teenagers are idiots. Especially this one.

My Road to Damascus moment came when Candy-O, their second album, appeared the next summer, it’s airbrushed Vargas cover calling like a siren song. I recollect a moment with fellow PK Monty Link and his friends as they challenged each other to name the songs in play order on both records without looking at the jacket. Eventually I could do the same. Eventually I embraced all things punk and new wave and so much more, and it started with this band and this album.

The Cars provided the soundtrack to my high school years quite literally, each record indelibly marking the grade in which it dropped.

(Decades later I found myself reading some music critic who snidely dismissed fans that thought of music merely as the soundtrack to their life — as if the power songs had to create memory and color experiences were a trivial thing compared to the importance of music criticism. Whatever, dude.)


The cars covers


The Cars self-titled debut album appeared the summer before 9th grade, just as my friends and I headed off to the halls of Susquehanna Twp. High School; it remained on the charts so long it eventually become familiar, comfortable, necessary. Panorama‘s dour soundscape landed as I hit 11th grade with a thud, and Shake It Up showed up—appropriately enough—in the middle of my senior year as I began a long process of reinventing myself after a long bout of depression and failure. Each record seemed to mirror the dash and turmoil of my adolescence with pop aplomb.



The Cars ubiquitous presence continued throughout college — here’s Moving in Stereo blasting out a dorm window as we roll out to Friday Happy Hour!; there’s Drive topping the charts the semester my college girlfriend and I broke up in ugly, sprawling fashion!; look at us partying around Rusty’s swimming pool the perfect summer night we finally see the band on City Island!

Candy-O came out shortly before 10th grade, and —never left. Not really. I’ve played it so often over the past 40 years it became a benchmark for a dozen adventures, a steady reference point for my brother and close friends that acted as a shorthand for numerous girlfriends over the decades.



Ric Ocasek, with his awkward pose and beat-inspired prose, had somehow tapped into virtually every relationship I had growing up: the longing, the confusion, the waiting—and the eventual growing up.

Wherever you are now — thanks.




Trek movies — the Warp Factor scale

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016


Now that Star Trek Beyond is out, where does fall on the Warp Factor scale?

Warp 10 — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Warp 9 — Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Warp 8 — Star Trek: First Contact
Warp 7 — Galaxy Quest*
Warp 6 — Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Warp 5 — Star Trek Beyond
Warp 4 — Star Trek: Generations
Warp 3 — Star Trek: Insurrection
Warp 2 — Star Trek (2009)
Warp 1 — Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Impulse only — Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Warp Core breach
Star Trek Into Darkness
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Star Trek: Nemesis

*Yeah, I know. Don’t care. This love letter to nerds is still more “Trek” — and a better movie— than most of the titles on this list.

[minor spoiler alert] As for Beyond, it too is a love letter to fans. Though the plot is patently ridiculous, and the action sets too frequently stumble, the pitch perfect cast once again saves the movie. It also gets bonus points for blowing up the hideous nuEnterprise with style.

Rollerball turns 40

Thursday, June 25th, 2015


Happy birthday to the bestest dystopian deathsport of the future, which was released on June 25, 1975. Jonathan! Jonathan! JONATHAN!

Also, a more modern take on the trailer:

Mad Men — Once in a Lifetime

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

My superfan mix, set to Talking Heads. Watch it now before it gets pulled! Final episodes start tomorrow!

It. Exists.

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

[As the following contains a potential spoiler for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” I’ll wait a few minutes for you to run out and see the movie. … … … ok, you back? Wasn’t that great? Anyway, spoilers in 3…2…1….]


It’s a goofy, throwaway joke, but the post-credit tag in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” kicked that summer movie up from very entertaining to A+++++. It also left anyone under 40 scratching their head and asking — “What’s with the duck?”

It was, or course, Howard the Duck. Director James Gunn had slipped in a sly homage to one of his favorite Marvel characters in the final scene. The cocktail-swilling, misanthropic talking duck once had his own best-selling comic book in the ’70s that was equal parts superhero parody, social satire, and existential musings. From the moment he appeared in 1974, Howard the Duck was a huge cult hit — and had a successful 5-year run until Marvel fired his creator Steve Gerber over creative differences, and Disney sued the pants on Howard.

Howard-the-Duck-01-00-FCHoward the Duck was also the spur to the greatest, dumbest quest of my life.

The cover of Howard the Duck #1 is still one of the best known covers of the Marvel era, with its send up of the fantasy illustrations of Conan the Barbarian and his ilk. In the issue, Howard is eventually sent on a fantasy quest dressed a la Conan, with nothing but a loin cloth, viking helmet and oversized sword. It’s ridiculous, but the spoof is so well rendered it works.

The thing is — I loved that cover. It’s so absurd but it plugged straight into all the stuff I liked at the time: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Dungeon & Dragons, wacky cartoon animals. And then one day, some guy at a game store told me that he heard they had made a D&D miniature of Howard the Duck in that exact pose.

htdEven though he didn’t have it and didn’t know who to order it from, he swore it was true. He’d seen it … or someone he knew had told him they’d seen it. And thus began my quest. For the next several years, in every game store I entered, I looked for it. I sought it out at conventions, and asked fellow gamers if they’d ever seen one. Some had heard rumors, some imagined they had seen it, but like the Maltese Falcon, evidence of the tiny figurine eluded me. Finally, I came to the conclusion the whole thing was an urban myth, that the game store owner had simply bullshitted me.

Howard the Duck 01 - 11And then the internet showed up.

I don’t know exactly what triggered it, but slowly the old curiosity came back. I had to discover once and for all if it was real or not. Googling variations of howard, duck, miniature, sword all proved fruitless however. Given the wild, open business environment back in the day, it was highly unlikely — scratch that, no chance in hell — that any company had bothered to license “Howard the Duck”™ for a simple lead miniature.

I did get a few hits: in the intervening decades, like-minded goofs had created modules, figures and entire games around sword-swinging anthropomorphic ducks. Weird, but didn’t count — I wanted the original. It was the holy grail or nothing. And then one day I stumbled across a site archiving old D&D figures and catalogs as if they were on an archeological dig in ancient Sumeria. And there it was —

Barbarian Duck.”

It existed. The urban myth was real.

A few more searches confirmed that Archive Fantasy Miniatures had indeed put out a 25mm Howard the Duck-like figure, complete with cigar, in 1976. Eventually one showed up on eBay. Suffice to say, I was the only bidder.

It is, admittedly, hideous. A small, misshapen lump of lead, it barely resembles the figure in the pages, much less the Howard the Duck of the cover. But it’s real, and it’s mine. And it felt good to scratch that itch.

So, who wants to play some D&D?



The return of Snooze Button Poetry

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Snooze Button Poetry IV

Scandals and wealth: we get a tour from
Courage to take easy or no show classes.
The mob from scaling them to laying their eggs
New dresses and casual shirts released
……each week
Making it impossible for matter
……to dig out of the black hole.

—May 2014

Save the Murals: The Next Stage

Sunday, June 8th, 2014

#savethesthsmuralsAs I may have mentioned once or twice on facebook — 🙂 — the murals in the halls of Susquehanna Twp. High School received a reprieve this week, when the school board changed the installation plans of a new HVAC system for the building.

This is a huge win for the artists and alumni, who quickly came together to preserve almost 45 years worth of artwork and an important piece of our collective history.

Some of you have been asking what comes next, and how you might help. The deal we reached was made possible by the generosity of the McClure Company — who agreed to knock almost half of the cost needed to protect the paintings during this summer’s construction — but also by a promise from the community to raise the rest of the funds ourselves.

Right now that number is $92,000.

Over the next month, hundreds of alumni and their families will attempt to bridge that gap with an online kickstarter. This includes NFL wide receiver and STHS grad Marques Colston, who is donating some of the proceeds from the remaining home games of the Harrisburg Stampede, his arena football team. We will also be putting together a team of photographers and designers to scan and digitize the murals to create a permanent record of the 80-some paintings that adorn the halls.

mural82If you went to my high school in the early ’80s, you might remember all the time I spent on that scaffolding painting my senior year. (I’ll admit it, it was a good excuse to get out of class, but I still learned an amazing amount that semester.) Now multiply that effort, that creativity, by 80 artists. That’s what we’re trying to save.

So, we’re now asking you, the public, if you would donate and help us reach our goal. $10, $25, whatever you can — it’s all good.

You can give online at
— or you may write a check to the STHS Alumni Association,
PO Box 61474, Harrisburg, Pa. 17106-1474.
(Please note “Murals” on your check.)

The Fundly site is convenient but they take 4%-7% for fees. Mailing a check to the Alumni Association has the advantage of being an 501(c)(3) public charity, so your donation is tax deductible, and the full amount goes to Save the Murals.

Thank you. Seriously

“Road to Ritter”

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

0707S_029I first met Mike Ritter in 1999, on the rooftop patio of this great little bar in Chattanooga. Directly across the street from the daily newspaper, it was where all the reporters went to drink after deadline (or, maybe, before), so we cartoonists felt right at home. Mike was going on and on about the classic ‘Road to …’ comedies of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, which, as I would soon discover, were not just his favorite movies, but quite possibly his favorite anything. I remember thinking at the time, ‘no one can talk about Dorothy Lamour’s outfits for 20 minutes and not be gay.’ So, got that right….

Others have recounted his incredible talent, wicked wit, and sense of humor. All true. Mike’s passion and insight were keenly refreshing. He once described the AAEC convention as a necessary way station to recharge his inspiration every year, always giving him just enough of a kick to make it through to the next year’s convention. ‘It’s like one of those turbo boosters on a Hot Wheels track, launching the car around for another lap.’ There isn’t a cartoonist gathering I’ve gone to since where I haven’t thought about that.

I loved Mike’s drawing style and warped perspective — both literally and figuratively. As energetic as his line could be, his work often had a dark tinge to it, full of shadows and inky blackness. My all-time favorite cartoon by him was one on a national frenzy over a huge lottery jackpot, after people had reportedly spent their savings on tickets. A forlorn figure hunches over a pile of shredded lottery tickets in the middle of a vast, empty apartment. The small child sitting on the floor looks up at the figure and asks, “Did we win?” It is heartbreaking.

(I couldn't find the lottery cartoon, but here's an appropriate one.)

(I couldn’t find the lottery cartoon, but here’s an appropriate one.)

Looking back now, I realize it’s been almost 10 years since Mike and I talked, twice as long as the handful of years we were friends. We worked together when he was President of the AAEC, but even then it was clear he was starting to pull away. Mike got harder and harder to get ahold of and, as happened to so many of us, stopped returning my calls altogether. I was happy to hear he had resurfaced in Atlanta a few years ago, apparently successful in rebooting his life.

It sounds as if Mike had begun to reach out to old associates recently. We had friended each other on facebook and traded a few chats, but his untimely demise ended that chance to get drinks and catch up.

You know, I believe “Road to Morocco” might cheer me up. I know Mike would enthusiastically agree.

I survived Three Mile Island

Friday, March 28th, 2014


— An excerpt from my Indy article on TMI:

That night my friend Monty called. They were going to see The China Syndrome, which had opened the week before. My mother objected, but, now that I think about it, her reluctance probably had more to do with the fact that Monty had just gotten his driver’s license than anything else. “We have to go,” I told her. “This is historic! Besides, if there’s a meltdown and evacuation who knows when we’ll see our friends again!” She relented.

The theater was packed. At one point in the movie a character talks about the devastation that will be caused by a nuclear meltdown. “It would destroy an area the size of Pennsylvania!” the character says. The audience went wild. As we left the theater there was a TV news camera crew in the parking lot interviewing people about seeing a movie on a meltdown in the midst of a meltdown.

Read the whole thing here:

Photo via WITF