Leggo my pancake!

Progress is a wonderful thing, especially when it comes to breakfast foods. It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Eggo frozen waffles. They certainly don’t compare to a freshly prepared waffle, hot from the griddle, but they’re a good, versatile staple to have in the freezer. If you’re in a rush you can pop a couple in the toaster and make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to eat in the car. If you have the time they taste mighty fine with a little butter and maple syrup. And if you’re my wife, you use a couple to make a sandwich out of a fried egg. My daughter has never been big on breakfast but I could usually get her eat the better part of one on her way to school.

The Eggo folks have tried marketing a variety of different variations on a theme, making them with whole grains and buttermilk or adding fruit or chocolate chips, but the original flavor is just fine by me.

A while back Eggo came out with a line of frozen pancakes that you popped into your toaster. It was good in theory but horrible in practice. They always came out of the toaster with the same consistency of the cardboard backing from a frozen pizza. I love a good pancake, but if you’re making them at home, especially just for yourself, the amount of work and mess you wound up never equaled the results, no matter how yummy.

Now we have a new option, and it’s a tasty one. The friendly folks at Kellogg’s have come out with a frozen microwave pancake that is to die for. Or maybe to kill for. Either way,, they’re oh-so good.

Growing up in Chicago my family was on the back end of the curve when it came to microwave ovens. My mother and father came from big families and had lots of brothers and sisters to exchange urban legends with. Back then urban legends had another name—the truth. And the truth about microwave ovens was that they leaked more radiation than a bucket full of plutonium.

My Uncle Paul and Aunt Marge were the first ones in our family to get a microwave oven. My Uncle Paul was a mountain of a man who wasn’t afraid of anything, but I do seem to recall that they kept the oven in the basement, and you weren’t allowed to be in the same room with it while it was on.

We didn’t get one in our immediate family until the early 1980s. It was pretty amazing. You could cook a scrambled egg in a cup in only three minutes. It tasted like crap, but it only took three minutes to cook. It only took three or four minutes to bake a potato. I don’t recall ever being in that big of a hurry to make a potato, but I guess if you were, this was a great thing. Besides, you didn’t have to fire up the conventional oven if you just wanted to make a single potato.

I was never that big a fan of the microwave oven until the day I discovered microwaveable French fries. Now this was something to get excited about! I forget the product name, but they came in a red box about the size of today’s juice boxes and after a few minutes in the oven you have yourself a box full of sweaty, soggy French fries. The gods of science were smiling down upon us.

I don’t know if microwavable French fries still exist, but pancakes do—so get ‘em while they’re hot!


A matter of convenience…

For an embarrassing number of years I avoided using the word ‘convenience’ in my writing because I could never remember how to spell it. I used to have the same problem with the word ‘restaurant’ but I overcame that one way back—three or four years ago.

Some words elude me. This goes back to the olden day, before the miracle of Spell Check, when your only choices for writing were a typewriter or a stone tablet and chisel. Perhaps my mama sniffed too much glue whilst carrying me in her belly, or it could be that a vast chunk of the ‘spelling’ portion of my brain was trampled flat by storage containers filled with the knowledge of every conceivable way Iron Man can defend himself against all ten of the Mandarin’s power rings.

I have the cable box tuned to the ‘70s music channel and Manfred Mann is singing Springsteen’s ‘Blinded by the Light’ and the lyrics defy comprehension. Case in point; “Madman drummers bummers, Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat. In the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat.” Someone please run this through Reed Richard’s universal translator and have a copy on my desk in the morning.

But back to the topic bubbling in my brain at the moment--convenience. Are you ever embarrassed by the wealth of convenience s available to us? I used to complain about how good my daughter has it. She can listen to music online on her computer, on CDs, her MP3 player, on the cable t.v. music channels, or on her cell phone. But I really can’t blame her for not appreciating how great she has it. She’s grown up with technology. I’m the one who should be embarrassed.

This morning I used the toilet and flushed it away. It was there looking at me one moment, and the next it was gone. See ya—write if you get work. Sunday nights I haul a big plastic container filled with my trash to the curb and Monday when I wake up it’s gone. Anything that I don’t like or want is taken away from me and my house, without question, for thirty dollars a month. I don’t know where it goes and don’t especially care. There could be anything in that container and no one would ever know or judge me. (Or trash collection is a one-person operation here in super-advanced California. Someone drives a truck up and a mechanical arm grabs our can and hoists it to dump it inside.)

Back in the old days when the trash containers were emptied into the back of the truck by hand, you were still somewhat accountable for what was inside, if things weren’t properly wrapped. But now it’s totally anonymous so anything goes. Your trash could consist of thirty birthday cakes, Dutch pornography, your left leg (from the knee down—which you felt compelled to self-amputate because it just never felt ‘right’ down there), or sawed up chunks of a dead pony.

We can flush away our bodily waste; have a thirty-gallon container of whatever we consider to be ‘trash’ hauled away from our homes, have the dirtiest of dirty movies streamed onto our computers, set our DVR to record every episode of American Idol and then burn them onto DVD to send them to our cousin in Finland. We never have to get lost again because our car tells us how to get where we’re going. The kids don’t have to be bored during the drive there because of they have the option of listening to music, playing GTA on the PlayStation, or watching Saw II on DVD. If we crash into a telephone pole while driving we don’t have to be troubled to find our cell phone to call for help because OnStar has our back.

I love convenience. I crave the latest technology like old women crave cats. The computer has allowed me to become a better writer. The laptop computer has made it convenient for me to become a better writer. But isn’t there something fundamentally wrong about all of it? I can’t be the only one who sees that no one ever seems to survive renewal.

As the folks over at Fark.com are fond of saying, “Sony unveils new 80” plasma television. Still no cure for cancer.” Last week my wife and I upgraded to a pair of swinging new cell phones. Not to be a downer, but I wonder how many people in the world died that day from lack of food or clean water or simple medical care. Forget the world—how many people go to bed hungry in our own country every night? Screw the country—how many of them are here in California.

Would the problem be solved if instead of buying new iPods and TiVos this year we poured a big chunk of our disposable income into caring for the poor? Solve, probably not. Help, probably. Will it ever happen, not in my lifetime, not a chance. People today are far too hung up over what the world owes them and what they’re convinced they deserve. Myself included. Besides, the starving people don’t live in my neighborhood. They’re on the television in commercials with that bearded fellow. I can change the channel and they’re gone. (By the way, after that bearded fellow films his commericals, does he go back to his house and eat Skippy peanut butter straight from the jar? Give what's left of his hamburger to his dog?)

I once had an argument with Archie Goodwin (while he was still alive) about a Batman Elsewhere story I had submitted. Do they still publish Elsewhere stories? We were talking about degrees of reality in comics. I brought up the old argument that there was no way that Superman should have taken on the persona of Clark Kent to work at the Daily Planet and sniff around Lois Lane. From day one he should have been using his powers to feed the hungry, damn rivers, build hospitals, research medical discoveries, sew up a hole in the ozone level, clean up the mess from oil spills, develop alternate forms of energy. I mean, how dare he go home at night to his modest apartment, put on his pajamas, and lay in his bed and pretend to sleep (after first thinking nasty thoughts about Lois and rubbing one off that results in yet another hole in ceiling. There’s simply no way he’s going to get his security deposit back). During his eight hours of pretend sleeping he could have built thirteen schools, created a pill that prevents heart attacks, plowed fields and planted crops and built irrigation systems for an entire starving country, and developed a cure for pink eye.

Archie Goodwin called me stupid. During all my years as a fanboy I had/have never heard a single bad thing said about Archie Goodwin. He was almost a saint and the bee’s knees. Everyone loved him and he always had a smile on his mustached face for everyone. Except me. He never seemed to like me. Maybe because he was small and I was big and fat. I was working on staff at DC at the time doing production work and checking printer’s films. It was no secret that I really wanted to write comics but I was never a pest. I did no pestering. Every couple of weeks when I was dropping off something to a particular editor I would chat them up and ask if they needed any fill-in issues or anything else written. Most of the editors and assistants were fairly affable. I guess they figured if they were editing books that required talent, that having talent offering them their services sort of came with the job. I got the cold shoulder from Archie the first couple of times and then stopped asking, until one day someone mentioned that Archie had made it known that he was interested in Batman Elsewhere pitches. I handed him several springboards and he expressed interest in one. I wrote up a proper pitch (which I’ll post here once I finally get all my floppy discs transferred over to CD) and he liked a lot of it, but then the conversation took a left turn and we got into the discussion I mentioned above.

I told Archie that Superman should be saving the world night and day and he called me stupid. I remember how hot my face got. It was like I’d been slapped. When I asked him why it was so stupid he said, “Because that would be boring and nobody would buy the comics.” I sensed that our story conference was done so I got up and stumbled back to my cubicle.

Wow. That happened over ten years ago but my face is still hot. A year or two later he passed away. Perhaps he was sick at the time. I’d walk through fire for my daughter but when my back hurts I sometimes yell at her.

Gosh, I’ve gone and forgotten my point. I think what I was circling around was that if we stopped buying DVDs and plasma screens and iPods and focused all our resources on caring for those who are in desperate need, our greedy little brains would explode. When slicing the cake we take the bigger of the two halves because we feel like we somehow deserve it. We eek through yellow traffic lights because we feel like we deserve to get through and not have to wait. We download music that we didn’t pay for because the musicians that made it have already gotten paid a ton of money for it and we’re really only ripping off the music companies and not the Black Eyed Peas specifically.

I don’t think we can save the world because we’re ultimately too greedy. I guess that’s sums it up.

How do I sleep at night, knowing that hundreds and thousands are starving to s slow death? Sometimes on my left side, but mostly on my back.

I’m a gonna go to hell when I die, I’m a gonna go to hell.


Old friends...

It's a windy Sunday morning here on California's central coast. The sun is electric and the birdies are hopping from branch to branch in the trees and the cats are sitting on the window ledges soaking it up like Kitty TV. All six of our cats have lived their lives indoors. One or two of them long to go outside, but most are content to stay inside. We have a lot of rooms and stairs for them to race around and up and down for exercise.

My darling wife Valarie is off to work already. Her department is in the midst of a deadline crunch of titanic magnitude. They have a show in Anaheim on Tuesday and they have a ton of display stuff to get designed and printed and mounted and stuff. It feels like the pre comic book convention crunch from the old days.

Gosh, I don't miss setting up for conventions at all. Especially San Diego. I hate large crowds, for starters. The only good thing about going was seeing old friends I hadn’t seen since the year before.

The year we went with Majestic Comics wasn’t too bad. We were pretty well received and the signings and meet-and-greets were fun. I didn’t have to work the booth very much because Val and I brought Dakota with. She was around one or so and we bought a cool backpack baby carrier so I could carry her around up on my shoulders. With precious cargo on my back I had zero guilt in shoving stinky fanboys out of my way.

Years later when Val helped Glenn Danzig start up Verotik, San Diego was kind of fun because she had produced a big book of new pencil art by Frank Frazetta. No one had seen anything new from Frazetta for years, but Danzig had coaxed him out of hiding and produced a line of comics based on some of his characters like the Death Dealer. This was the first year for Verotik and Val and Danzig fought like cats and dogs over what to do for the booth. We were living outside of Sacramento at the time and there was a great little company that made convention displays, but Danzig wanted to do something different.

Val’s brother Mike was living near us at the time, and working with Val and Verotik, so it came down to him building a big wooden framework wall that could be broken down into manageable components. What Danzig wanted was for us to drape a massive black tarp that someone had made for one of his music videos over the wooden frame. The tarp turned out to be pretty cool. It had some big skulls airbrushed on it and a lot of mist and goth crap.

Valarie and Dakota flew down to San Diego while Mike and I rented a truck and drove the wooden framework and other convention stuff down. It was a great drive and we wound up getting a pretty nice tour of Hollywood and the surrounding communities while trying to find Danzig’s house. Meeting him was a hoot. I’d only seen him before in his videos, and he was this big bodybuilder guy with a tangle of black hair and he looked like he could bite your head off if you pissed him off. It turned out that he guy is only four feet tall, or so. I guess they always shot him I his videos with the camera down low looking up. In person he was this meek little shrimp with a buttload of muscles. So we get the tarp from him, shoot down to San Diego and set up. Goth was nowhere near as popular back then as it is now, so Val and I had a hard time finding cool stuff to decorate the booth with. We did find a medical supply house that had really cool resin skulls. We bought a bunch to decorate the table with.

With the framework up and the tarp draped over it, the booth looked a little hinky, but it did the job. Besides, people were a whole lot more interested in what we had for sale. The Frazetta sketch books arrived just in the nick of time, and at only twenty bucks a pop they sold as fast as we could get them out of the boxes. One memorable moment happened when Val’s brother called me over and told me that he had a customer that wanted to buy a couple of the books but he wanted to pay with a Visa card. Verotik was so new that we weren’t set up to accept plastic. The guy wanting to buy the books had a likeable demeanor. He was a thin fellow with white hair and beard, and was wearing a fair amount of turquoise jewelry. I started to apologize and hand his card back, but I happened to look at the name on it. It read, Boris Vallego. How cool was that? It was like Bill Sienkiewicz buying a book of artwork by Bob Peak. I handed Boris his credit card back along with the two Frazetta sketch books and told him it would be my pleasure for him to accept them as a gift. He thanked me with a warm smile and a hearty handshake.

I think the absolutely best time I had at a San Diego convention was back in the very early 90s when I went with Eclipse Comics. Val and I had left First Comics in Chicago about a month before they closed their doors and fired everyone. Val took a job editing at Eclipse, and I came along just to keep her company. This was back when we were just roommates. By day I worked in the Eclipse warehouse, doing a lot of mail order fulfillment, and at night I wrote stories and scripts that I couldn’t sell. When the convention came up we filled a truck and a van with as many comics as they would hold, packed in as many people as would fit, and made the drive. I piloted the van on the way down. We climbed the grapevine and had to make a number of stops because the van kept overheating.

We probably had a dozen tables at the convention and probably a hundred long boxes of comics. Some comic shops simply didn’t carry Eclipse comics so the fans were always glad to be able to load up on books at conventions. We sold hundreds and hundreds of issues of Miracleman (I wish I’d bought a bundle back when they were going for a buck a piece) and the Hobbit books were selling fast as well. Bob Kane came by the table for a signing and he turned out to be a bit of a jackass. Our big guest of the show was Clive Barker. Eclipse was adapting a lot of his work and we had lines of fans wrapped around the tables to meet him and get autographs. Barker was an outstanding man. He was patient, funny as hell, and really gracious under pressure.

The Eclipse booth was busy nonstop, but Dean Mullaney was very cool about making sure that everyone had enough time to cool down and eat and walk around the show. He wasn’t stingy with money, making sure that everyone had enough cash to buy food and drinks. Cat and Dean were very trustworthy. I remember taking a bathroom break, sitting in a stall, and realizing that I had three or four hundred dollars of Eclipse money in my jeans pockets. But you couldn’t steal from someone like Dean Mullaney. He was just too cool of a guy. After the convention was over, it was an Eclipse tradition to stop at Disneyland on the way home. Cat and Dean paid our way in and made sure we had enough spending money to buy all the Mickey Burgers and Carnation ice cream we could hold. If you knew them, and saw their quasi bohemian, hippy-like day-to-day existence, you wouldn’t think they’d be a fan of Disneyland, but I think they enjoyed themselves more than us kids did.

So here it is a windy Sunday morning. My wife is at work, my daughter was up all night drawing her latest comic book, so she’s sleeping in, and my back and hip are hurting me like a sun of a bitch. Luckily I have a couple of old friends to keep me company.

Val had to work yesterday (Saturday), so Dakota and I drove her in to keep her company and attempt to help her. Dakota wound up drawing and going online, and I helped Val find a little bit of reference before I wound up taking a nap on the couch. On the way home we stopped at the bookstore so Val could hunt up some photo reference she needed, and I was lucky enough to find two new paperbacks (I only buy hardcovers when I’m flush—which I’m not at the moment) by two of my favorite authors.

If you enjoy reading good crime suspense drama, you’re doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t read Lawrence Block and Robert B. Parker. These guys are two of the best. Don’t be put off by Parker because of the Spenser television series. The t.v. show never came anywhere near the core of what and who Spenser really is. Trust me.

If you’re already a Spenser fan and you’re looking for someone new to read, try Robert Crais. He started out as a bit of a Robert Parker clone, but he’s continued to grow. His latest book, The Two Minute Rule, shows that he’s getting better and better. Give one of his Elvis Cole mysteries a spin.

Hey! I’m going to put on my reading spectacles and get busy. I hope everyone enjoys their Sunday.

It could be worse. It could be raining.