Friday, May 29, 2009

Random Comments III

While I was watching the Yankees game this evening, they ran a commercial for an upcoming promotion: Yankee Passport Holder Night. My first thought was, are they going to give them to everyone who shows up with a passport? Turns out that is not the case; it appears to be some kind of a plastic wallet you can put your passport in. Once upon a time they had Cap Day, Bat Day, and Ball Day. But in more recent years teams have been giving away pins, bobble-heads, refrigerator magnets, and all sorts of other things that you used to be able to find only in a Lillian Vernon catalog. It reminded me of a Seinfeld episode in which George suggests something like Snowblower Appreciation Night.

What I also found interesting about this giveaway is that only "the first 18,000 fans" will be receiving these passport covers. According to The Sporting News, the Yankees' average attendance this year is more than 44,600. So why aren't there enough passport covers for everybody? I could understand if they had 45,000 and then ran out, but why not at least try have enough for everybody?


Jay Leno wraps up 17 years as host of The Tonight Show tonight. One of the promos that I've seen for Conan O'Brien's debut next week mentions the show's "tradition" and hosts Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, and, of course, Leno. Considering that the program had only one other regular host, I was surprised that the promo omitted Jack Paar, who was its host from 1957 till 1962. I don't recall seeing much of the Paar version of the program; after all, I was only 11 when he left. But what I do remember was it being much more sedate.

Speaking of Leno, much ado is being made of NBC's decision to give him the 10:00 p.m. weeknight slot in place of running scripted programs. Back when there were only three networks and not much more for people to watch, this might have been a valid argument. But there are so many channels available now, does it really make a difference? If you can't find something on the dozens (or hundreds) of channels available, rent an old TV series on DVD...or read a book.


For those who might be wondering about the pool update, the water reached about 84 degrees last weekend. Laurie took her first swim on Sunday, a full four weeks after my first dunk. Our quartet of thermometers continued to show varied temperatures, though Ducky, Swanee and Snorkel Duck were all within a degree of one another. Alas, poor Tommy Turtle remains slow in catching up, reporting the water at only 72 degrees.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Happy Birthday, Chuck

My son Chuck turns 28 today... at 10:21 this evening, to be exact... and it does not seem possible that it has been twenty-eight years since the night in the delivery room that he came into the world. Of course, it seems equally impossible that he's out of high school ten years, out of Princeton for six and married for two and a half!

One of our long-held family traditions is the birthday dinner; the celebrant gets to pick whatever foods he or she wants. Chuck opted for steak and shrimp on the barbecue, pasta with pesto, salad, and chocolate beet cake for dessert, which we all enjoyed yesterday after a sunny afternoon by the pool.

Among the presents Chuck received was a device that allows him to play older-generation Nintendo games on his current game system. That reminded us all of how, as a youngster, he saved up his money to buy that first Nintendo and what he did until he had enough. Using some cardboard, plastic, markers and crayons, and -- most important -- his imagination, he made himself a faux video game system and called it "Pretendo." He had so much fun with it that some of his friends wanted one too!

Happy Birthday, Chuck! And many, many more!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Somebody's Tax Dollars at Work

This week's edition of the Farmingdale Observer has as its lead story news that our school district has broken ground for a new turf football field at the high school. The cost of this project is $800,000 and it is being funded by grants from New York State which have been secured by our local State Senator.
Included with the article is the to-be-expected photo op picture -- various officials with shovels pretending to dig into the ground. Behind them is a huge banner proclaiming the start of the project, with the words "at no cost to the taxpayer!!!" (Exclamation points theirs.)
Now wait just a minute. The money is coming from the state. The state government gets its money from taxes. We are the taxpayers. So how exactly is this being done with no cost to us? Did the state legislature just print up some extra money and send it along?

The article includes quotes from school officials about the need for this improvement, including the athletic director who proclaims that because they will have this field "practice will always take place in any weather anytime." Does she mean the football, soccer, and lacrosse teams will now be practicing day and night, in rain and snow?

The article also quotes the lacrosse coach, who says that "this will help our athletes get ready for college since about 80% of the Division 1 teams have turf fields." I don't know how many of Farmingdale's lacrosse players get sports scholarships or how many of those go to Division 1 schools, but there are probably some other things they could be doing to prepare for college. Taking courses that will prepare them for the job market, especially since there don't seem to be too many careers in lacrosse, might be a good idea.

Some years ago, a similar to-do was made when lights were installed on the football field so that the team could play night games. I don't recall how much money was spent putting them in, but the football team only plays eight regular season games... four of them at home!
Our local version of Friday Night Lights proved to bring an expense that its proponents apparently did not take into account; not long after the first night game, there were fundraisers being held to pay the electric bill!
What hidden cost does a turf field have? Squeegies to get the water off when it rains?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Bob on a Bicycle

The CRI office is only 5 1/4 miles from my house and so, one Saturday afternoon last year when I went out for a bicycle ride, I decided to see if riding to work was a viable idea. It proved to be a fairly easy ride and so about a week later I did it on a work day. Dressed in shorts and a t-shirt and with a change of clothes in a gym bag, I set off and was able to make the trip in about 35 minutes.

Since then, I have tried to do it at least once a week. There are a couple of prerequisites, though.
The temperature in the morning has to be at least 55 degrees. I tried doing it a few weeks ago when the temp was about 48, rode about six blocks before deciding that I would need to wear warmer clothing. At that point, I went home, changed, and drove to work.
Second, there can 't be any rain in the forecast. I certainly would not set out in the morning if it was raining, but I also do not want to be riding home on wet roads.

There are a couple of uphill stretches on the way to work where, more than once, I've said to myself, "Why am I doing this? I'm 58 years old!" But then I get past those parts and it's, "That wasn't so bad even though I'm 58 years old." And riding home is easier since those stretches are downhill in the other direction.

My route takes me past the Bethpage Park Golf Course, which will host the U.S. Open next month. Last year, I would find numerous golf balls in the road -- the driving range is just up the hill -- and I would pick them up and give them to Howard, my boss, who is an avid golfer. It started as a joke, but by the end of the summer, I'd picked up about 130 balls, which filled a basket under his desk.
No golf balls this year; they're erecting a huge platform and tent in the middle of the driving range for the Open. In fact, they have turned parts of the course into "tent city," and have been erecting bleachers all over as well. This started in February and has been continuing steadily ever since. I presume it is happening all over the course, not just in the relatively small portion I can see from the road.

I notice that I get some strange looks from people I pass, particularly from the kids at the school bus stops. I guess they don't expect to see someone who looks old enough to be their father (or grandfather, more likely) riding by on a bicycle. Well, when I was their age, I probably would have reacted the same way.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


A news story on AOL today reports that the worst drivers in the United States are found right here in New York. While this may, in fact, be true, the basis for their report is not the number of accidents or tickets issued (in total or per capita). It is based on how well drivers scored on a 20-question "written test" about various rules of the road and other driving decisions. At most, this indicates that New Yorkers are the worst in the country at taking multiple choice tests.
I am not saying that we don't have our share of bad drivers, those who don't understand or follow the rules and those who are a menace. I've talked about some of them in an entry last month and I continue to encounter them on the roads.
A couple of days ago, a car in front of me pulled over to the left side of the street and then made a right turn into a driveway, all without using a turn signal.
Yesterday, a car stopped suddenly in the middle of the street and then the driver started backing up...without looking! Luckily, I was far enough behind him that blowing my horn was enough to alert him I was there. His response? A wave and a goofy smile.
In any case, New Yorkers know that we are not the worst drivers in the country. We all grew up being told that anyone who did something stupid on the road was a "Jersey driver."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Season Finales

Over on his blog, my pal Bob Greenberger writes about the season finales of various TV shows. As has become the norm, most of the dramas wrap up the season with a cliffhanger of some sort. I suppose this goes back to the days of Dallas and its "Who shot J.R.?" season-ender. That particular mystery prompted one of the largest audiences in TV history for the first episode of the next season and is, no doubt, the reason so many shows do it now.

Unfortunately, there don't seem to be too many options that the writers have to choose from. At least, you wouldn't think so, given how a number of shows ended the season. (SPOILER WARNING: If you recorded these shows and haven't watched them yet, go watch and then come back.)

On Grey's Anatomy, George and/or Izzie could die (but that seems to hinge mostly on whether the two actors really want out of the show).
On Private Practice, the Amy Brennerman character is about to be Caesarian-sectioned on her living room floor by a crazy woman.
On 24, Jack might die of exposure to a bio-weapon.
On CSI: New York, the entire team has been shot at in a restaurant and any of them could die.
On Lost, everybody in 1977 has been blown up by a hydrogen bomb and might be dead.
Defying the trend, on Smallville, Jimmy Olsen actually died in the last episode.

There was a bit more variety with some of the other shows: House has checked himself into rehab for the summer. The Lawrence Fishburne character on C.S.I. will apparently spend the off-months mulling over having to shoot a bad guy. The main character in Fringe has taken an elevator ride to an alternate universe where the World Trade towers are still standing. And we are left to wonder which woman Mike has married (or remarried) on Desperate Housewives.

What all of these shows have in common is that they have been renewed for next season, so there will be some resolution. Not so many years ago, NBC had a Saturday night line-up of that consisted of The Pretender, The Others, and Profiler. All three ended on the same night, each with a cliffhanger. The first two ended with most of the main characters caught in explosions, as I recall. Profiler ended with the title character being locked away in an asylum, the result of an evil plan of her major enemy. All three series were cancelled. There was no way the stories would be resolved. (Actually, The Pretender was, in cable-network movie, if I recall correctly.) So why the cliffhangers?

On the other hand,some series wrapped up this year in a nice neat package. E.R., though it had some sappy moments, brought things full circle, especially bringing back the earliest characters to give a glimpse of what they're doing now. Scrubs, though it might come back sans Zack Braff, tied up neatly as well. And Boston Legal left us with Denny and Alan sitting on the balcony smoking cigars, drinking whiskey and discussing life, just as we expect they will always be.
But my favorite wrap-up was for the short-lived Life on Mars. Some people have complained that the resolution of how Sam ended up in 1973 was out of left field, but I thought it worked brilliantly. In fact, I think it was so clever that I'm not going to say what they did. Catch the show on DVD when it comes out in the fall!

Monday, May 18, 2009

What Comics Do I Read?

From time to time I am contacted by people who are writing articles about comic books and ask to interview me. In some cases, it is about a project or series that I worked on (such as Teen Titans, or Secret Society of Super-Villains, or Hostess Cupcake advertisements). Other times it is about someone that I worked with at DC Comics, or an artist who drew some of my stories.
Whatever the topic, the interview invariably ends with some variation of "What comics are you currently reading and enjoying?" And my answer more often than not is, "Nothing much of the new books."

Back when I first started reading comic books, each issue was self-contained and most of them had three separate stories. Some titles, like Action Comics, would feature a variety of heroes, such as Superman, Congorilla, and Tommy Tomorrow. Books like Superman would feature a trio of tales about the Man of Steel. There was some amount of continuity, particularly as editors like Julie Schwartz and Mort Weisinger would expand the "history" of the characters, but a reader never felt left out because he hadn't read the previous issues. In fact, there would usually be a flashback scene if something from an earlier story had particular significance.

In the 60s, the DC format morphed into a longer lead story and a short back-up. Marvel's superhero books had a full-length story in the team books (Fantastic 4, Avengers) and two stories in the single hero titles (Tales of Suspense, Strange Tales). For the most part, the stories in all these magazines were still self-contained.
One of the things Stan Lee started to do in the Marvel books was add a little "cliffhanger tease" at the end, a way to make the readers anxious to get the next issue. The one I remember most was in Spider-Man and hinged on how Peter Parker kept missing meeting Mary Jane. Spidey would defeat the villain of the month and get home just in time for Aunt May to say, "Oh, you just missed her, but she'll be back tomorrow."

Well, somewhere along the way, the little cliffhangers started getting bigger and bigger, and now they have become the standard "ending" in any given issue. Not that there are any actual stories any more. After all, a story requires a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Most comic books today seem to be an interminable middle.
If you've read any recent comic books, you're no doubt familiar with this issue breakdown. (If you're not a comic book reader, I'm guessing you've already gotten bored with this installment of Anything Goes, so I'll see you back here tomorrow.) The "story" opens with the revelation of who is behind the door/inside the headquarters/driving the truck from the previous issue's cliffhanger. Conversation and a fight ensue (not necessarily in that order), with the fight taking up numerous pages of single-panel fisticuffs. Their "issues" resolved, the characters proceed to the next "Gasp! It's YOU--!" cliffhanger as they open a door/walk into headquarters/ see a truck coming. Come back again next issue.
Every issue seems to be "chapter 7 of a 14-part saga," but even if you ever get to the final chapter, it only seems to be the cliffhanger for the next 14-part saga, rather than an actual ending. Occasionally, the publishers will promote an issue as "a great jumping-on point" for readers who haven't been following the series. Which basically says, "Don't bother buying any earlier issues because you're going to be hopelessly lost and, if you miss this one, don't bother coming back again for another year or so." And they wonder why comics can't attract new readers?

Not so long ago I read an interview with a writer who was taking over one of the major DC characters. She mentioned that she had already plotted out the next two years of issues, meaning she had, at most, three "story arcs" in mind. More likely, it was only two, and it might have been only one. To run for a total of 528 pages!
Back when my contemporaries and I were writing for editors like Julie Schwartz, if you said you had two years worth of issues, you had better have at least 24 separate plots. To fill 528 pages with 8-page back-up stories, Julie would have made us come up with 66 different plots.

As far as the DC heroes I grew up reading about (most of whom I eventually got to write stories about), here is where things stand... I think.
Superman: He's given up being Superman and followed a city full of Kryptonians to set up New Krypton on another planet. In fact, he does not even appear in his own magazine; the current star of Superman is Mon-El. Action Comics, in which he has starred since #1 back in 1938, features Nightwing and Flamebird.
Batman: He's dead. Or maybe he's trapped in the prehistoric past. It depends on who you ask. In any event, a whole slew of other characters, including three different Robins, are vying to become the new Batman. Batman and Detective Comics are not currently being published.
The Flash: Barry Allen has been dead since 1986, but he recently got better. In his absence, Wally (formerly Kid Flash) West became The Flash, then was replaced by Bart (Impulse) Allen, who was recently killed by super-villains but who has also recently gotten better.
Green Lantern: He fought Sinestro and the Yellow Lanterns for about a year. Then GL became a Red Lantern. Now he is half Green Lantern and half Blue Lantern. There are also Orange Lanterns, Purple Lanterns, and Black Lanterns running around.
Green Arrow: He too was dead for awhile, but he too got better and then married Black Canary. His former partner Speedy is now Red Arrow. Can Blue Arrow, Orange Arrow and Purple Arrow be far behind?
Aquaman: I'm pretty sure he's dead at the moment.
J'onn J'onzz, Manhunter from Mars: Ditto.

So, to come back to the question posed at the beginning of this essay, what comics am I currently reading and enjoying? That would be Golden Age and Silver Age stories appearing in the reprint volumes. The stuff that made me a comics fan to begin with.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Graduation Day

Sammi's six years at Hofstra (four years undergrad, two years as a grad student) are winding down and today was the "official" end of her academic career as she received her master's degree. The ceremony was held in the Hofstra Arena, much nicer than outdoors in the stadium (where the undergrad graduation is held) especially since it was a damp and drizzly morning.

Sammi was profiled in Newsday on Friday because she planned to wear her yellow Crocs (,0,7041158.story ) and while the online version does not include a photo, the print version shows her in cap and gown and bright yellow rubber shoes. Amusingly, despite the article, a number of people told her they never thought she would actually wear them.

Laurie and I are Hofstra alumni, as are my brothers Richie and Jim. And while we all were involved while we were students, I have to say that Sammi is the Rozakis who has had the biggest impact there. She was an RA in the freshman dorm for three years. She was a editor-in-chief of Nexus, the yearbook and a captain of the Pep Band. She was active in the student government and was a nominee for VP. She was also a finalist for Homecoming Queen. Sammi was named Hofstra's Junior Woman of the Year in 2006.
For the past two years, she has worked as the graduate assistant in the Spirit Support office, keeping the Pep Band, cheerleaders, dance team, mascots and national anthem singers on schedule and everywhere they were supposed to be. (And she has filled in playing the tuba in the band, singing the anthem, and even wearing the mascot costume when she had to!) Sammi's picture (with Laurie and me) was the cover of the Parent & Family Handbook last year. And she is also on the front page of the grad school application form.

Sammi finishes her grad courses with a dual Master's in Special Ed and Elementary Ed, and a GPA of 3.99. Clearly, she has been able to balance course work with all the rest that she did.

As each of the graduates was announced, they proceeded across the stage and shook hands with the Dean of their School and HU President Stuart Rabinowitz. Some of the graduates were also congratulated by one or another member of the faculty or administration. I lost track of how many people stepped up to give Sammi a hug or a handshake, but I do know that the two people behind her in line actually passed her in crossing the stage!

Sammi has a few more weeks of working in the Spirit Support office, though she moves out of the dorm on Tuesday. Her withdrawal from being a part of Hofstra's day-to-day life will be a bit more gradual than it is for most graduates. But as she moves on into the "real world," she leaves behind an impressive array of friends she had made among the administration, faculty, and staff. When they speak about those students who have made an impression, more than a few will be talking about Sammi.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Elmont Road School

Elmont Road School is located a block from the house where I grew up and it was there that I attended kindergarten through the fourth grade. It was built around 1915 and, if my memory is correct, had eight classrooms and a cafeteria/auditorium/gym in the basement. There was one kindergarten classroom, two each for first, second and third grade, and one fourth grade room. Because the school was small, we moved on to the much larger Belmont Boulevard School for fifth and sixth grade.

Kindergarten was only a half-day back then and I was in the afternoon class. My teacher was Mrs. Welch and I remember almost nothing about her other than the impression that she was short. Given how short I was at age 5, she must have been very short. The one thing I do remember is misunderstanding something we were told while waiting for class to start. Every so often, we would be standing in the hallway outside the classroom waiting for Mrs. Welch to come and let us in. On those occasions, one of the other teachers would appear at the top of the stairs and tell us to wait quietly for her, that she would be there in a few minutes because she was "on duty." Well, I thought this was some "teacher talk" that meant she was sitting on the toilet.

My first grade teacher was Mrs. Lynch. She was tall (at least by comparison to Mrs. Welch) and she used to tell us about her daughter a lot. We thought she must be very old, like our grandparents, to have a grown-up daughter.
In second grade, I was in Mrs. Drew's class. We were all happy to be her class because Mrs. McGwire, the other second grade teacher, was "the mean teacher." (My brother Richie also had Mrs. Drew, but Jimmy got Mrs. McGwire. According to him, she wasn't mean at all.)
Miss Garde was my third grade teacher. There was much ado among the teachers through the year because Miss Garde was engaged. At some point, she became Mrs. Raynor but I can't remember whether that was while I was in her class or if it happened in the summer afterwards. Our class put on the Christmas play that year. It was called "Mr. Wuggleby's Toy Shop" and I had the title role.
I think it was in third grade that we started having air raid drills in addition to fire drills. The Elmont Road variation of "Duck and Cover" had us sitting on the floor in the hallway with our coats over our heads. I remember that we always had to pull down the window shades before we left the classroom in one of these drills. I never understood how those canvas shades were going to protect us from an atomic bomb.

Mrs. Fox was the fourth grade teacher and she was the first of the very few teachers who had Richie, Jimmy, and me in a class. In fact, she had us in three successive years. Mine was the last fourth grade class in Elmont Road School, so the following year Mrs. Fox became a third grade teacher and had Richie. Jimmy, who skipped from first grade to second mid-year, was in her class the year after Richie.
I was in Mrs. Fox's class in the fall of 1960, when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon ran for President. And though the election had already been decided when Christmas rolled around, we presented the play "Santa Claus for President." I again had the title role. Not long before the play, I had a major mishap on my bicycle and scraped one side of my face pretty badly. A combination of make-up and Santa's beard covered up the large scab, as I recall.
It was also in Mrs. Fox's class that I did my first creative writing. Each week we had a new set of spelling words and one of the regular assignments was to use each of them in a sentence. Rather than write a series of unrelated sentences, I started writing little stories about Silly Billy, most of which revolved around a joke of some sort. Mrs. Fox liked one of them so much that she told the other teachers about it. That afternoon, she sent me to the second and third grade classrooms to read my story aloud.
Naturally, after that it became a challenge for me to write an amusing Silly Billy adventure using the spelling words, because I knew I would be reading it aloud. One of my classmates started imitating me and wrote a story about Silly Tommy. When I got upset that he was stealing my idea, Mrs. Fox said to me, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." At the time, I had no idea what that meant, but since she didn't let him read his stories to the class, it was okay.

There were a few other people of note at Elmont Road School. Mr. Mino was the gym teacher and Mr. York was the music teacher. Both of them worked only part time in our school and spent the rest of their day at the aforementioned Belmont Boulevard School. (I was surprised when I got there in fifth grade and found both of them had come along with me.)
As I recall, Mr. Mino was big on having us do squat thrusts and jumping jacks. And we played a lot of dodgeball.
Mr. York was my teacher when I played the song flute (a.k.a. the recorder) in second and third grade and then took up the clarinet in fourth grade. One of the first songs we learned on the song flute was called "Far, Far Away." There was a joke that whenever a child with an instrument was going to play and asked for requests, the adults would say, "Play far, far away." Clearly, someone putting together the song flute music book had a sense of humor.
I only played the clarinet for one year. I remember that it cost $20 to rent it from the music store. I had expected to be in the "Christmas concert" but wasn't because I was starring as Santa Claus in the play. I think my parents and I decided that I was not destined to be a clarinet virtuoso.

Finally, there was the principal, Miss Clara H. Carlson. I remember talking to her a few times and one of those conversations I'll discuss in another posting. She had been a teacher and an administrator in the district for many years and they renamed Belmont Boulevard School after her. In retrospect, she must have had quite an impact because she is the only person the district has ever honored in that way; all the rest of the schools retain the names of the streets on which they are located.

Not long after my brothers and I passed through, Elmont Road School was converted into the district office. From the outside, it still looks like it did in 1956. Inside, well, perhaps if you listen really closely you can still hear someone playing a song flute or reading a story about Silly Billy...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Random Comments II

The much-hyped new Star Trek movie has many people talking and writing this week. That includes my pal Bob Greenberger, whose blog (, discusses Gene Roddenberry's original concept of extrapolating a 23rd century based on what futurists foresaw in 1966. Certainly much of the technology we have today looks a lot like things we saw on the show, from flip-phone communicators to computer-accessed data bases to hand-held electronic "books."
One thing that seems to have been lost in the march to the future (in the original series, its successors, and the current film) is our concern for safety. We live in a time when we have people riding bicycles and playing sports while wearing helmets, knee pads and elbow pads. Cars are equipped with front airbags, side airbags, roof airbags and warning devices that alert us of an imminent collision. Yet, despite encounters with hostile aliens, meteors, and "space anomalies," all of which have sent the crew members flying out of their chairs, the 23rd century is devoid of seat belts!
What could this mean? Lawsuits for work-related injuries must have been outlawed and the future has no place for 1-800-LAWYERS.

One of the lead news items on AOL this morning is about two women in Oregon who, after fifty-six years, have had DNA testing to confirm that they were in fact switched at birth. One of the women said that when she heard the news she cried because "my life wasn't my life." The other said, "I'm trying to move forward and look at the positive."
Well, it's not like one of them grew up the daughter of billionaires and the other lived in a refrigerator box on the side of the highway. Each of them grew up in a small town in Oregon, got married, had children and grandchildren. Their lives, despite the comment, are their lives.
Yes, they can speculate what it would have been like to grow up with the family they were born to rather than the one they were "adopted" by, but that's about all. It's fifty-six years later, ladies; you are who you are and I'm sure there are "nature-versus-nurture" researchers who would love to talk to you both.
The news story also said that the hospital has offered counseling services, which both women refused. Somewhere, though, I'll bet there is a lawyer gleefully rubbing his hands together and saying. "I smell a lawsuit!"

Speaking of lawyers (which seems to be a recurring theme today), there was an article a few years ago in U.S. News & World Report that noted the increased percentage of female attorneys in the country. In the early 1970s, less than 10% of the 300,000 lawyers in the country were women. Twenty-five years later, however, their numbers had increased to 27% of the total -- some 270,000 of the 1 million attorneys were women.
What the article ignored was the fact that, in a quarter century, the number of lawyers in the country had more than tripled! (The current estimate is that there are now 1,150,000.) What are all these people actually doing? Whatever it is, is there almost four times as much of it as there was in 1975? And is "1-800-LAWYERS" more than a phone number, telling us, in fact, that there are 1,800 lawyers sitting by the phone waiting for us to call?

And finally,since I can't seem to escape the topic today anyway, there is the line from William Shakespeare: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." It is frequently quoted, and, just as it was when I heard it used a couple of days ago, it is almost always out of context.
The quote comes from Henry VI, Part 2 and a scene in which Jack Cade is talking about a revolution that will put himself in charge. His underling, Dick the butcher, is the one who speaks the line and Cade agrees. In order to take control, he must eliminate those who would be able to challenge him.
There were undoubtedly fewer of them back then, making the plan feasible. These days, not so much...

Sunday, May 10, 2009


When we moved into our house in October of 1974, our next door neighbors, Ed and Mary Schmidt and their children, Eddie, Paul and Heather, had been in their house only a few months. We supplanted their role as "the new neighbors" on the block (and were ourselves supplanted when the Fitzpatricks moved in across the street a few months after that). For almost thirty-five years, we have watched other families come and go (though the Fitzpatricks -- and Mrs. Tiedemann next door to them -- are also still here), seen our own and each other's children grow to adulthood, and commented on the never-ending array of chores we seem to have around the house.

It was Ed who said once, when I had borrowed his ladder to clean leaves from our gutters or he had borrowed our tree clipper to cut down some dead branches, "When you own a house, you either earn a lot or you learn a lot!" Indeed, while I have learned how to fix a number of things, Ed has learned a lot more and has always been happy to share his knowledge and time, for which Laurie and I will always be grateful.

Back when Eddie and then Paul were old enough to use the lawnmower, we hired them to mow our lawn. When Paul grew up, I took up the chore again, and had been doing it for a dozen years or more. Last summer, however, when "Murray," our lawnmower, started getting cranky, we decided it was time to hire the next generation of Schmidt to take over the task. Eddie's son Nicholas, who was already coming over to mow his grandparents' lawn, added us to his small but loyal customer base.

Well, spring has sprung and a few days ago Ed and I were talking about how all the recent rain had started the grass a-growing. Ed said that he expected Nicholas to be over soon to mow. For whatever reason, Nicholas did not make it and I came home Friday to discover that Ed had mowed our lawn while he was mowing his own! I told him that I could have gotten cranky "Murray" out and done it myself, but he just smiled and said, "No problem."

Ed's "community spirit" goes much further than that, by the way. Last week he was honored by the South Farmingdale Fire Department for serving fifty years as a volunteer fireman. Fifty years! Congratulations on that achievement, Ed; it's great to know you and have you as a neighbor.

Friday, May 8, 2009

It's The Answer Man

My daughter Sammi called me yesterday afternoon with an amusing story. One of the teachers in the school where she's been student teaching had just realized who I am. "Your father is The Answer Man!" he told her with great enthusiasm. "He's famous!"

In 1976, when I moved from DC's Editorial department into Production, one of the tasks I took up was the proofreading of all the books. (Yes, I was being paid to read comic books!) Not long after I started doing so, I proposed a weekly house ad page to company president Sol Harrison: A faux newspaper highlighting the events in upcoming issues. Of course, it would be called The Daily Planet, named for the "great metropolitan newspaper" that was home to Clark Kent, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White. I did a sample, writing the "news" and using photostats of cover art as "photos." Sol liked the idea, especially since I was doing the work on staff time and it didn't really cost anything, and gave his go-ahead. And so, I became the editor of The Daily Planet.

From 1976 through 1981, the Daily Planet pages ran in the DC books. In addition to the promos about upcoming books, I came up with trivia quizzes, mini-crosswords and word find puzzles for the pages. And a few months into the run, while going through some letters from readers asking about various DC characters, I came up with the idea of running a Q&A column, dubbing myself The Answer Man.

Well, it took a little while to catch on, but after I started printing the readers' names with their questions, the letters started pouring in. (Everyone, it seemed, wanted to see their name in a comic book!) The amount of mail became so overwhelming that I created a second page, "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's the Answer Man," devoted entirely to readers' questions, just to handle the backlog.

It is an identity that has stayed with me ever since. I have been listed in comic convention booklets as Bob "Answer Man" Rozakis and wrote an online column for four years titled "It's BobRo, The Answer Man." (They are archived at for those of you who want more to read.)

And there have been moments, like the one Sammi experienced yesterday, when someone suddenly makes the connection. One came in the early 80s, when I was in a comics shop. A boy about ten or eleven years old stopped, pointed his finger at me and said, "You're the Answer Man!" I nodded and he ran out of the store.

About ten years ago, during the CTY summer program, I was sitting at dinner and one of my colleagues turned to me and said, "Hey, wait a minute -- you're the Answer Man! I sent you a question once!" He did not know if it had ever been published because he did not buy that many comic books. I asked him what the question was and when he told me, I gave him the answer. So what if it took twenty years...

[For a brief history and a look at some of the Daily Planet pages, check out and ]

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


I began playing Adult Ed volleyball about fifteen years ago. It is a co-ed class, made up of people ranging in age from their 20s to their 60s, and all with an enthusiasm for a lively game. (We have a few people who might be considered overly enthusiastic, including a couple who can often be seen sliding across the floor.)

When I first started playing, volleyball was being run by a man who also ran the adult ed basketball. When family obligations forced him to give it up, it was taken over by a couple who were regular players. The imminent arrival of their child had them bow out after two years and, after a couple more of our regulars took their turns in charge, I volunteered.

It's not that difficult a job. Get there early and set up the poles and nets, take attendance, rotate the teams during the evening, and take everything down again. (There are usually a few of the guys who will help with the set-up and take-down, too.) Occasionally I've had to switch players from one team or another to balance things. Once or twice I've had to remind an overly aggressive player that we are not in the Olympics. Otherwise, it's easy.

We have a core group, some of whom have been playing even longer than I have. That group has changed over the years and we now have a couple of second-generation members as the sons of two regulars have joined. Each year brings new faces, including a steadily-growing contingent of "out-of-district" who pay a premium to play.
In our just-finished spring session we had 48 people signed up. I actually had to "close the class" because, with only three courts, if everyone showed up, we'd have two people rotating in on each team. (As it turned out, we had one night with 43 players, and fewer the rest of the time.)

There have been some amusing moments over the years. Perhaps the most memorable was the night that one of the players, who liked to wear "breakaway pants" (the type with the snap buttons down each leg), got tangled up with another player and lost said pants. As many of the other players said that night, "If only we had instant replay!" It was a scene that would have made the highlight reels forever.

Now that the adult ed program is over for the year, some of us switch over to playing at Jones Beach for the summer. It's a much larger program, with a lot more courts and a lot more players, but since I'm not in charge, all I have to do it show up and play.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Words & Phrases

I was reading a book last night (James Patterson's 1st to Die, the debut of his Women's Murder Club series -- a good read with some nice twists) and a turn of phrase got me thinking. At one point, the main character, Lindsay Boxer, is speaking to someone on her cellphone and when the call is finished, says, "I hung up." Well, we refer to terminating a phone call as "hanging up" even though very few of us have any phones left that require us placing the receiver on the hook-like piece that was standard in old phones. These days, we end a call by pressing a button or touching a screen.

Along the same lines, we speak of "dialing" a number when making a call. Again, however, virtually all phone calls are made by pushing buttons, touching screens or merely saying a name. When was the last time anyone actually used a phone with a dial? (Laurie and I still have a dial phone in our bedroom; it's big and clunky and doesn't break. But we rarely make outgoing calls from the bedroom, so I could not tell you the last time we actually dialed a number. We expect, however, that we will someday have grandchildren who will marvel at this particular antique and how it works.)

Speaking of "dials," I recently heard a TV promo that said, "Don't touch that dial because (something or other) is coming up next." When was the last time you saw a television set that had an actual knob you turned to change the channels? In fact, is there anyone left who actually gets up and touches the set to do it?
Similarly, TV promos often tell you to "stay tuned" for something coming up, a phrase that hearkens back to the earliest days of the medium, when a television set had to be tuned to a channel by turning the aforementioned dial.

At our Tuesday night volleyball, I have the teams change courts during the evening by announcing, "Move one (or two) courts clockwise." With most clocks now showing a digital readout rather than the traditional clock-face (and, frighteningly, leaving many youngsters unable to tell time the old-fashioned way), it is only a matter of time before this terminology also has a puzzling meaning.

Even what I am doing right now: We call it "writing," though there is no pen or paper involved. We could also call it "typing," though there is no sign of a typewriter. Even "keyboarding" is inaccurate because I'm just pushing buttons that are sending electronic impulses, not actually moving keys to create the words on a piece of paper or the screen.

On that note, I'm going to hang this up. Tune in again next time when I'll no doubt be writing about some other topic.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Saturday Morning at the Blood Center

After I finished my platelet donation at the Blood Center this morning, I was speaking with a woman who, though she had donated blood before, had just done apheresis for the first time. We chatted about the procedure for a couple of minutes and she said, "You're clearly an old hand at this." I replied that this was somewhere around my 160th time. "It's my excuse to eat Lorna Doones for breakfast," I laughed.

Though I had probably done it a few times before then, according to the Blood Center records, my first pint of blood was donated in 1981. Twice yearly, Time-Warner ran a corporate blood drive and I made it a point to get there. In later years, I pressed more and more of my colleagues at DC Comics to do it as well. (One time, a print salesman I did business with wanted to go to lunch. I made him come with me and donate blood first. He told people for years afterward, "I thought Bob was speaking metaphorically when he said he wanted my blood.")
I started donating more than twice a year by going to the local Blood Center. It was there that I met Joe, the man who was at the time responsible for recruiting blood donors to donate platelets instead. Unlike a blood donation, which usually takes less than twenty minutes, the platelet procedure -- apheresis -- requires that you sit for an hour or more. You have a needle in each arm; one carries your blood to the machine, where the platelets are separated, and the other brings the remainder back. I resisted the first few times because I did not have the extra time to devote, but finally agreed one Saturday morning. And have been doing it ever since, in part because, back then, Joe would not let you leave without signing you up for another visit.
Because the procedure takes longer, appointments are scheduled in groups, much like "seatings" at a restaurant. On Saturday, you can be in the 7:30 group or the 11:30 group. I have almost always scheduled my appointments for the earlier time. There are a number of "regulars" and it's very rare that I'm donating when there isn't at least one familiar face. Same thing with the phlebotomists; though they regularly rotate among the various fixed sites and mobile blood drives, one or more that I know by name is usually on duty.
In the old building that housed the Blood Center, there were TV monitors around the room. One of the staff would bring in a recent movie on video and we would watch it. Today, we have individual TVs, so we can choose. I usually pick a movie on Bravo or TBS or AMC that starts at 8:00. Invariably, I miss the last twenty minutes of the movie because I am done before it ends!

Blood Donation Fun Facts to Know & Tell:
1) Less than 2% of the U.S. population donates blood. Granted that many people cannot do so for reasons ranging from exposure to various diseases, where they have lived, and sexual behavior, but still...
2) The most recent upsurge in donations came in the days immediately following 9/11. The Blood Centers had people waiting for hours to donate. At the time, one Blood Center director commented that while this was great, what they needed was for people to come back on a regular basis. Unfortunately, in the ensuing months and years, donations again dropped off.
3) The New York Blood Center (covering NYC, Long Island, and the lower Hudson Valley) goes through almost 2000 pints of blood every day! Auto accident and burn victims, leukemia patients, people having operations -- they all require blood, plasma, and/or platelets.
4) There is no substitute for human blood. It cannot be made from the blood of animals nor fabricated in a lab. The only place to get the blood needed is from people.
5) One pint of blood can be separated into it components when necessary and can be used to help five separate people.
6) After donating, you can eat cookies for breakfast at the blood center. Also jelly beans, Cheez-Its or trail mix. (One of the regular Saturday donors brings fudge when he donates; some of us try to schedule our visits for the days when "the Fudge-Man" will be there.)

The woman I spoke with this morning asked if I had a reason for donating so often, some family member or friend who needed it. I said, "No, it's just something I do."
Of my 160 platelet and 60+ whole blood donations, there was only one occasion that I found out where it was going. I got a call from the Center asking if I could donate for a patient in a nearby hospital for whom I was a particularly close match. With all the rest, well, I guess there are a lot of people out there with a little bit of Bob Rozakis in them.