Thursday, May 31, 2007

Grasshopper and Skeleton

A loving labor of a lifetime? A masterpiece? My life's work?

Not exactly. In fact, you can't even hear the music once the grasshopper goes into the bar. And the grasshopper inexplicably stutters.

I'll continue to try to make sense of this. And a reminder to let it load for a few minutes before you play or more than the grasshopper will stutter.

Presenting... A Grasshopper Walks into a Bar.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

A Grasshopper Doesn't Walk into a Bar

I've been struggling with trying to make a grasshopper walk into a bar for two days.

And it just hasn't worked.

Add this to my complete system crash of last weekend and one thing becomes clear.

I've somehow personally offended Steve Jobs.

Either that or I should give up on grasshoppers and skeletons and go back to something I'm good at.

How about travel? Here, I'll show you:

I got excited when I first saw the ad for the "Oz Bus," an overland bus that takes passengers from London to Melbourne.

Had they booked ahead on a freighter to get from Indonesia to Australia? Surely a corporation with scheduled departures would actually work out the specifics.

But no. Closer investigation revealed that the passengers must fly from Dili (East Timor) to Darwin (Australia). The bus gets to go on the freighter. No passengers. Though it's still an incredible trip.

I get occasional emails from people who are trying to go around the world by surface transport. They look at the map, see how close Australia is to Indonesia/Papua New Guinea/East Timor and assume there's got to be a way. They travel through Oz all the way up to Darwin, discover that there isn't a way, and then they go to google. And that's when they find me, through It's the same way I originally found my friend Peter Moore. He had a book out about going overland from London to Oz. I emailed him. He gave me the same response I give wayward travelers today.

IT CAN'T BE DONE. If you go to Darwin, you will have three choices: 1) fly 2) backtrack to a major port and catch a freighter to Singapore 3) Hope you got there during the season when yachts stop by Darwin, and convince someone to give you a lift. Okay, there are 5 ways. #4 is to pay someone a lot of money to take you in a private boat. #5 is to go to the Stella Maris Seaman's Club and sweet talk a captain into taking you on board against regulations. I know of no one who has accomplished this, but I bet it could be done with patience.

Save yourself the bother and just book paid passage to or from Singapore to Australia's East Coast.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Skeleton Walks Into A Bar

Sometimes I get really overwhelmed with work. That's when I do things like get up at five, color comics, go to work for eight hours, then come home and write until eleven, then go to sleep and repeat for weeks on end.

Then there are the times when I am so paralyzed by work that I just procrastinate.

I've been in that state for a few days. I have far too much work to do. Office work, not freelance. What does one do when faced with mind-boggling amounts of office work?

Why, locate ancient Director animations and then fight with them for three days, risking hard drive and operating system in order to update them and make them presentable to a modern computer.

But of course.

Presenting: "A Skeleton Tale" starring Brett and Steve, with art by Steve and Kevin. Advice: Let it load for two minutes before you play. It's much nicer without it seizing up due to slow connection speeds. And turn up your sound.

Tomorrow, the sequel! A grasshopper goes into a bar, y'see...

If I can stomach staring at the Mac anymore, that is.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Near Miss

"Cool! I think I get to go back to Cairo for a few weeks. Really soon. Maybe even next week. I'll go post that on the blog as soon as I finish exporting this 1996 Director animation to Quicktime."

I thought that yesterday, just after lunch.

Then I couldn't get the sound to come along with my Quicktime movie. Which isn't really surprising. I'm running a UNIX-based Tiger iBook and don't even own a current copy of Director or Quicktime Pro. So I was loading up Director 4 on the system's OS 9 emulator.

Still no sound.

"Cairo is going to be hot. I don't want to wear sleeves. How can I get around that? Maybe something flowing and linen."

I booted up in OS 9 for real. My laptop is old enough to still have the real thing.

Still no sound.

I started rummaging through old CDs. The kind burned from old Zip Disks. One is even labelled "Old Floppies, 1993." I found a bootleg copy of Director 7.

"Where did that come from? But more importantly, should I head up to Petra this time? To Jerusalem? I've been to these places but it's been years. I'll take the passport with the Israel border stamp."

Then, nothing. The iBook seized up as the questionable software sputtered and froze.

Damn. Hard restart.

But I couldn't get the iBook to restart. It spun and spun. I'd lost my startup disk. Scrambled something in the directory. Restarts with various key combinations did nothing. I couldn't see my Tiger anywhere.

Swearing, I pulled out various legal CDs and went to work.

Sixteen hours later, an archeological find--a copy of DiskWarrior from before cats took over the Mac OS--saved the day. It gave me the right choices under "Startup Disk" and let me click my OS, something I hadn't found using my Tiger install, Techtool disk, or by holding down X or Option at startup.

Bleary-eyed but having backed up my entire system now as well as having assembled all my new white IKEA furniture (I was productive since I couldn't get online), the iBook is back and ready to get some work done on this Sunday morning.

But first, maybe I'll just go look at some airfares to Cairo.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Big Overland Truck in the Sky

JetCity Jimbo was both my inspiration and competition, sometimes both at once. But he became ill right before MariesWorldTour, and it was eventually discovered that he had cancer.

I knew it had gotten bad when his "It Will Be So Awful, It Will Be Wonderful" website went down while I was living in Cairo. His online diary about his overland African tour had been up since... well, I don't know, but I think I stumbled over it in 1999. Except he stumbled over me. When he found my first overland trip website, he didn't tell me that he and his "spousal unit" were en route to New York. He waited until he'd found a hostel to stay in. He'd read that I hated having houseguests and he didn't want me to think he was angling for an invite.

Jimbo's stories made me laugh. His tales of diarrhea in the minefields and being dubbed "The Dickhead" during a cranky moment in Tanzania were funny. He always encouraged me to write a book. He'd talked of writing one, but then the cancer came and his story was put aside.

On May 8th, four months after he'd joked about scoring a book deal using self-pity as a gimmick, Jimbo's long fight with cancer ended. I last heard from him on January 30th, when he mentioned having bags of saline running through him. But only a month before, he'd talked about taking a freighter to Oz (20 days) while knitting the world's largest sweater. His wife wrote that he kept up his good cheer until the end.

"It Will Be So Awful, It Will Be Wonderful" won't become a book now. But the good news is this: His spousal unit, SueBee, put the website back up. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Unpacking Part Seven

I guess this doesn't need an explanation.

I was 12. Cut me some slack.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Tales of Heartbreak and Recovery

Commuting, I'd thought, was a bad time to read Amanda's Greece story.

I'd seen an early draft of "At the Seashore With Medea," which was now in front of me, published smack in the middle of the anthology "Greece: A Love Story." I'd originally cried while reading it. Such a sad tale.

But then today I'd been squished into the PATH train, and one of my arms was snaked around a businessman to grab a distant handhold. I couldn't both hold my book open and turn a page. I was stuck reading Amanda's story, where my bookmark was, where I'd stopped on the ride home the night before.

I tried to remain stoic during the tale of Amanda's divorce. But then I read on, and when I became teary-eyed, it wasn't over the content.

It was the perfection of the words. It was nearly my story. My entire next book, beautifully encapsulated into just a few lines.

An unexpected divorce in a foreign country with no money and no friends? Perfect storm. I scraped for words, the, finally, spat: "You. You're not worth suicide."

Damn you, Castleman. You've set the bar high.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Making the Doughnuts

It's hard to believe I've been home for six weeks already.

Fifty days ago, my fingers clenched the dust-embedded seat of a 25-year-old Fiat as my Cairo taxi driver yelled directions to his colleague, both keeping a casual eye on the road as they sped along while conversing through open windows. A few weeks before that, I giggled at Craig for having to eat a raw artichoke heart in the front seat. A month earlier I was flashed by the Zamalek bridge, and before that battled wits with owners and real estate agents as I attempted to find a decent apartment for a short-term let. (I lost.)

And now, I am in New York, crushed below the day job. I am it--editorial and production rolled into one. Editor-in-Chief, USA, in charge of me and my alter-ego, who scans, sets up files for color, then shows them to me the busy editor to ask if they are okay.

Most readers probably have some vague idea that I make comic books. I'm an editor. I used to be a colorist. Before that, an editor. Before that, a colorist. Sometimes I'd do both, the day job and the freelance job. That led to me having zero social life, which in turn led to me realizing I didn't care so much about many of the trappings of modern life. At some point, I realized that you can have a day job and one other thing. Will that other thing be a sport? A family? A social life? A condo renovator? Or a career as a book writer?

At the moment, I'm a comic book editor and interior designer/unpacker.

But what, you may wonder, am I doing all day? What comic books are worth moving to Cairo and Kuwait for?

Wonder no more. You can learn all about it here on this YouTube trailer for a documentary about my boss.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Mission Partially Accomplished

I've acquired a new desk and a bookcase. Both are on top of Henry the Ford Taurus in my garage, because I couldn't get anyone to help carry the boxes up the stairs until Tuesday night.

When we were doing renovations on my old place, Turbo and I bought a roof rack for Henry. I've never used it without Turbo or Michael Kraiger before. It felt satisfying to install the roof rack by myself and have it actually work. But I was petrified driving home, worried that the fragile-looking twine would break on Route 1 and my new desk would be scattered across the highway.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Furniture Anxiety

Ever since Turbo put the finishing touches on my last apartment, I've hated my dusty old furniture, which seemed tired and worn-out by comparison.

I finally worked up the nerve to throw some of it away and buy newer (but still cheap) IKEA furniture. I succeeded in buying half a desk and a chair on Friday.

Yes, half a desk. IKEA had the legs in stock, but not the table top. So I am going to IKEA on a Sunday--yes, a mobbed Sunday--to acquire the top.

I'm stressed about it because my ugly old desk has the exact right size keyboard tray. It holds both my keyboard and my Wacom tablet. The IKEA trays only hold the keyboard. It will take some getting used to. I don't know if I'm overreacting to my ugly old furniture problem. I don't even know how long I'll be living in Yancey's apartment. But I do have a job and an income unlike the last six years where I was scrounging for money to pay my accountant to put it in writing that I've been living under the poverty line, so I've justified buying a desk, a bookcase, and a $25 chair.

(The chair turned out to be so comfortable that when I sat down in it to test it out, I fell asleep.)

While cleaning out my old desk, I've come across lots of little slips of papers. Here are some of them, currently destined for my new IKEA wastebasket.

Friday, May 18, 2007


1992 wasn't just about me buying condos, signing trading cards at comic book conventions, and getting on the guest list at Maxwell's.

It was also the year that a good puppy named Guppy was born to my sister's bassett hound-mix. My sister picked him out immediately as the sweetest, most gentle puppy of the litter. She house-trained Guppy and sent him off to live near Washington DC with my mother. There was talk of changing his name to Guthrie when he became older and more dignified. But his name stuck.

Guppy got to travel a lot. He had his own seatbelt in the back of my mother's car, and he'd go to see my sister in rural Virginia or come up to see me in the East Village. He didn't like stairs, so I had to carry him up and down to my third-floor Avenue B apartment, but he loved the Tompkins Square Park Dog Run. The first time we took him there, he immediately was knocked over by another dog. He looked shocked, then jumped up and started running with the rest of the pack.

He was also the first dog I knew who made his own web site. These days, all the dogs are doing it. Cats and hamsters too. (The cartoon no longer works. Browsers of the early 90s were a little different than they are today.)

Guppy died today at the age of 15. He'd been getting weaker and weaker and had been having seizures over the last year. Finally, he couldn't even eat. My mother had to hand-feed him soft foods, because he had no more jaw muscle. He spent his last night in the vet's hospital kennel, but he didn't move. He only slept.

Guppy was a great dog. Vive la Guppy.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Collectible Me

Once upon a time, I was a comic book editor that lived in Jersey City. I worked too many long hours near the PATH line in Manhattan, and at the end of the day, I would go home and work on my freelance projects.

2007? No. 1992.

In my former life as a Marvel Comics editor, I had boxes full of Marie Javins trading cards. This admittedly seems odd, but all the editors had their own trading cards.

No, it wasn't vanity. Us editors needed something to sign and hand out at conventions. Kids would line up to get something from us. Maybe they weren't even sure what. For lack of anything else to talk about perhaps, they'd ask for an autograph. Some kids thought to bring comics that featured our names, but others showed up sheepish and empty-handed.

"I like your work. Aren't you Marie Severin?"

"No, Javins. I'm Marie Javins."

(Marie Severin is a marvelous comic book artist.)

"Oh. What do you do?"

"Some comics by Warren Ellis. You've never seen them because your mother won't let you read them."

No, that's not true. I mean, it's true about their mothers, but no one cared what I edited. They only cared that I was also a colorist. On books that started with X-. My normal book was X-Force, but at any given moment I'd be called upon to color something else in the X-Men family, because deadlines were pretty tight, and the work was spread out among a few of us depending how close the print date was.

When I left Marvel in 1995, I didn't know I'd be back a few years later. I threw away a ton of Marie Javins trading cards (reasoning that my comic book days were past and my mother would not want all of them). I kind of regret that now. Maybe I can ask the Bucce to draw me a new one.

Everyone's A Winner

I just tried to open high-res versions of my Luxor balloon photos and discovered, to my horror, that while moving files around and backing things up on hard drives, I somehow managed to save only small versions of my Egypt photos.

And then dumped the rest, because I thought everything had been backed up.


Anyway, I was nosing around because I wanted to upload large photos of my balloon ride over Luxor. I guess I won't be doing that now.

But I did scan in my certificate from that day. It was Luxor's highest honor. I am so proud. And all I had to do was fork over $70, stand in a basket for a while, and let a Welsh woman sit on my knees. But I did it very well.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Unpacking Part Six

I pulled this out of a box today.

Daniel Johnston used to send me the funniest notes.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Writer's Dilemma

Somewhere along the way, the job engulfed me.

I am a writer. I left my job behind years ago, because I didn't want to be an editor or a colorist. I wanted to be a writer.

Then I ran out of money.

As my friend Edward says, "The number of people making a living solely off travel writing wouldn't even fill an airplane." He does, but for the first seventeen years that he wrote, his spouse earned regular income. So many travel writers have other jobs. Some teach. Some write puff pieces that are thinly disguised advertiorials. Some copyedit. Some married money, or at least salaries and health insurance.

So I find myself engulfed with the day job. There is no time for writing the proposal for my next book, Curse of the Hippo. No time to find out if my publisher wants it, or if perhaps some agent might be interested in representing me, or if I can get enough money for it to actually survive while writing it. No time to set up Dik-Dik readings. No time to plan the overland trip through West Africa. I spent the weekend doing day job work that didn't fit into the day job regular hours.

No one gets what they want. Others go to work every day too. Some never get to follow their dreams even a little. Maybe that makes me a whiner.

But I'm alarmed. Because I'm not a writer at the moment. I'm an editor. But if I quit the day job to write another book, where does that leave me in six months? 41 and blending a Frappucino for tips? Or launching the West Africa trip to lead to another book that leaves me penniless but proud?

Penniless but proud has a nice ring to it.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

My Favorite Martian

Unpacking dilemma of the day:

I loved Quisp cereal as a kid. I had a Quisp piggybank though I broke one propellor off it.

This is my Quisp watch. Do I buy a battery and wear it, or do I sell it on eBay? Course, it's only $24.95 new on the Quisp website, so maybe the question is more should I wear it or give it away?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Scan Iran

I still have a few boxes to unpack, but one casualty of the move was my old scanner. It was squarely dropped along the way (not by the movers) and it now makes a squealing noise when scanning.

But I ordered a new scanner and it arrived yesterday. I got a refurbished Epson 4990 Photo, which while cheap for what it is, still cost a bundle ($279). My old scanner was twenty dollars. The Epson is the high-end of the consumer flatbeds. I'm hoping its negative scanner is good enough for archival scans of my old negatives.

While I was at work, the FedEx guy left my new scanner under the steps, by the garbage cans. I'm lucky it was still there since it was trash pick-up night.

I celebrated by scanning a few Iran photos. Here is me buying a carpet, Esfahan, the tombs of Darius and Xerxes, and Persepolis. The "Down with USA" was in a hotel lobby. I only encountered nice people in Iran though. I suspect the sign was left over from the seventies.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Unpacking Continues: Bam, Iran

I came across a photo CD of images from my 1998 overland truck trip from Kathmandu to Damascus.

This trip went through Nepal, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Jordan. I was on an overland truck with 8 people.

During the Iran section, we visited the mud brick city of Bam. The Bam Citadel was about 2,000 years old, standing tall above the ancient city. We walked around the walls and listened to a guide's lecture. My mind wandered and I ended up talking to the guide's son about the illegal satellite dish his friend had, and about Batman.

Sadly, Bam was destroyed in the tragic 2003 earthquake which killed around 30,000 people. Officials are determined to rebuild it, but at the moment it is a pile of rubble.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Dik-Diks of the Tundra

What is going on in Scandinavia? Is there a big dik-dik herd that I am unaware of?

First, Eliza covered Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik in the Icelandair in-flight magazine. Now, Dik-Dik has popped up in the May 2007 SAS in-flight mag.

The first one I can explain. Peter Moore mentioned my book to Eliza and now we're e-pals. The second? I'm pleased to see it but have no idea how it came about. You can't even buy Dik-Dik in Sweden, though I can't think of why someone hasn't thought to release it there yet, given that dik-diks are kept as pets in northern Sweden since all the dogs have to work hauling the kiddies to school.

The review writer seems to be a sensible fellow named Evan Rail, who wisely chooses to carry a plastic spoon with him everywhere. I concur! I always have a Lexan trio with me when I travel--a fork, knife, and spoon on a ring.

Monday, May 07, 2007

He's Got Radioactive Blood

Somehow, in the early nineties, I ended up with a five-and-a-half-foot tall inflatable Spider-Man.

Otis blew Spidey up after the Other Marie and I gave up, our lungs too weak and our interest too minimal. Spidey hung in the window of our Mercer Street (JC) duplex for a few years, watching over indie rockers fresh in from Hoboken, asleep on our living room floor.

"Look, it's Spidey!" I'd hear people call up from the street at night when our apartment lights were on.

Spidey has spent the last twelve years deflated and crushed into the bottom of a box. I unpacked him yesterday and tried to inflate him, but gave up quickly. I put Spidey in the shower to get the dust off him so that he can move to Kuwait or Egypt in a few weeks. The company I work for translates Marvel, Archie, and DC Comics into Arabic and sells them in the Middle East and North Africa. Spidey can be a guest star next time there's an event at Virgin Megastore in Kuwait City or Cairo.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Biking through Africa

For a guy who spent four years on a bicycle saddle, Alastair Humphreys sure has balls.

I mentioned his book and his round-the-world-by-bike quest in October, back when AH's book "Moods of Future Joys" came out.

I bought his book—which is about the Africa part of his journey—then promptly packed it into a box, left the box in my garage, and moved to Cairo. I totally forgot about his unread book.

Unpacking brought the book back to my attention, and since I have a day job, I get about a half-hour a day to read on the train back and forth to work. I picked up this book to read first as it's a lightweight paperback.

Here are a few of the reasons Alastair Humphreys has cojones:

1) He didn't mess around for years like I did, trying to get published while wishing I'd thought to take a fridge along on my trip round the world. He just went for it, publishing himself, publicizing himself, and saying "To hell with the approval of The Man."

2) He freely admits his fears and inadequacies without trying to portray himself as a larger-than-life hero.

3) He doesn't hold back on his opinions for fear of alienating a publisher, an editor, or the public. There is sincerity and a lack of pretentiousness throughout the book.

4) He doesn't take shortcuts, make things up, or gloss over the parts where he isn't proud of his actions.

5) He doesn't exaggerate, doesn't claim to have answers, and doesn't pretend to have a comprehensive insight into people's lifestyles simply from having visited them briefly. He admits to having more questions than answers.

Oh, and last, he rode a bicycle around the entire world. With almost no money in his pocket. That's cool too.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Pride Goeth

Yesterday was the day I got to be the demonstration model web author for an online ad agency publishing project.

I knew there was a video camera involved and that I couldn't wear colorful stripes. No problem. I don't own any stripes.

In fact, I barely own anything worth being seen in, much less anything colorful or striped, I realized, as I surveyed my wardrobe on Friday morning. I pulled on a worn-out purple shirt that I bought at Oxford Street Selfridge's in 2002. I need new clothes, I thought for the thirtieth time this week.

I headed to the agency, where a sweet young woman met me at the front desk. She offered me strawberries and water, and then someone showed me where to go to get my makeup done.

Eh? Makeup? Before it registered completely, I was seated in front of a cool Italian woman who was smearing various powders and goos all over my face. She expertly applied lip liner and mascara.

"You plucked too close," she said of my thin eyebrows.

"They're just blond and thin, it's not me doing it!"

I had eyebrows a moment later, after she went to work with her brow pencil. Then she turned my blond lashes to brown.

"They're long, but you can't see them," she muttered.

It seemed so unfair. Hair on head not blond enough, eye hair too blond.

She told me I was beautiful, then whisked me into the studio, where a producer, director, question-asker, sound guy, camera man, and the makeup artist all worked to make me look damn good. I read a passage from the first chapter of Dik-Dik, answered questions, and then answered questions in front of a green screen (they'll key in photos). My flyaway hair was a problem, and people were fussing over me and flattening my hair constantly.

"You're doing great," they'd say. They were so nice. I felt like a star!

I was nervous, but I think it worked out fine even though we had to do four takes of me saying "My name is Marie Javins and I am the author of Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik, One Woman's Solo Misadventures Across Africa" because I couldn't remember the subtitle. The entire process took two-and-a-half hours and will be edited down to two minutes. I left feeling like a celebrity. I'm great! I'm a star! Earth to Marie! Someone was paid to powder my nose today!

Then I got home to my first negative Amazon review.

My moment in the sun was gone, and suddenly I had no eyebrows, old clothes, and a lot of boxes that needed unpacking. Diva Marie didn't last long. I was back to earth in a flash.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Souvenir from Tokyo

While unpacking my souvenirs, I came across a packet of "Nippless." You can buy all manner of strange and quirky things in Tokyo. I bought these during a stopover in 2003 when I was heading Down Under to spend the winter with Turbo in the Aussie summer.

I can't really see how Nippless would have an advantage over the plain old Band-Aids some of us wore before bra strap-showing became acceptable, but then I'm probably not in their target market.

Right to the Source

Want to help the poor? Drive over to the charity containers at the JC ShopRite.

I stopped by with a bag of kitchen junk that Yancey's last tenant had left behind. I got out of the car, opened Henry's trunk, and pulled out my bag of charity items to toss into the container.

And a smiling woman walked over and addressed me in Spanish. She pointed to my charity items. I don't know what she said, but I could see what she meant. I opened the bag and showed her the contents.

"Kitchen stuff, mostly. A few shirts." I pulled a shirt out. It could fit her.

"I'll take it," she said. Or at least it looked like she said that, as she held her hands out for the bag. I handed it over.

Talk about cutting out the middleman.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Why We Like Amanda

Travel writer Amanda C. (Ax) whizzed through JC last night, en route from Italy to Secaucus to Connecticut to Seattle. We left her newly crippled suitcase at my office in Manhattan and "pod bagged" it to JC with a mere duffel.

I forced her to go to an art opening in the church down the street (Roberta had two paintings on display), on a walk around my neighborhood, for a ride in Henry the Ford Taurus, and finally to my garage. All the highlights of anyone's trip to the New York area.

Finally, we went up to Dosa Street. It's not actually called Dosa Street, but it should be given an honorary street name. There's a block near my mechanic's shop where there seem to be a half-dozen dosa restaurants. A dosa is a South India snack, a crepe filled with spicy potato mash. We ate at Dosa Hut, randomly choosing it from the series of restaurants--Dosa Hut, Dosa House, Dosa Dreams, Dosa Express.

I ordered a mango lassi to accompany my mysore dosa, while Ax ordered a Limca, after musing "What the hell is a Limca?"

She took a sip and her eyes lit up.

"Is it good?" I asked.

"Oh yeah," she said brightly. "Tastes like a lime soda mixed with floor cleanser!"