Tuesday, September 30, 2008

In the News

Here is an online news story about my day job.

I really like some of the interactivity of this piece, and the writer was responsible and thorough.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Remedial Student Held Back

Remember the bag-sewing class that I took at Flirt Brooklyn? I was amazed that I personally made a bag, and it did not suck.

That was before I attempted to replicate the process at home.


Sheepishly, I skulked back for a repeat class. But this time Liz and Denise came along. And this time, I paid attention.

I think I can do it on my own now, but if I can't, maybe my pals can help me out.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Crime Was Fishing

I realize that now I am getting REALLY obscure, but this was on one of the cassette tapes I was digitizing. I didn't record it; surely Jim "Rev. Cool" Carter of Dayton did back in the mid-eighties. But I probably played it a few times on my college radio show.

If memory serves, and sometimes it doesn't, I think the crime in question was fishing without a license.

The band recorded here really spoke to me in college. They would have even if my then-boyfriend's band hadn't covered their song "Rebel Kind." Even if I hadn't snagged the Rank and File Sundown promo LP from the giveaway pile at the radio station I interned at in high school. No secret why the True Believers spoke to me. I was on full financial aid.
Some folks are born to walk,
While others get to ride.
It sure looks easier
On life's other side.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Repatriating Cowie

I won Cowie—a stuffed cow—by shooting a bullseye with a bow-and-arrow at a Coney Island game some 18 or so years ago.

Or maybe it was the San Gennaro Festival. My mind wanders and falters, remembering bus schedules and plumbing tips, but cannot remember where I won Cowie. I know David Wohl named Cowie, because David also named Bearie and Fishie. I know it was an archery shoot because I kept the pierced target for years, to show off how I'd won Cowie. I remember my shock when I actually succeeded. I am only an adequate marksman, so I assume I had help from luck.

Cowie lived in my office for many years. Sometimes others would borrow or steal Cowie, perching him trophy-style behind their desks down the hall.

When I left my staff editor position to become a contracted colorist in 1995, I threw Cowie in the trash.

Polly retrieved him and took possession for years. Then I lost track. When I started swapping jobs with Polly in the late 90s, editing collections while she was on tour with her band, did Cowie live in her (my) office? Or had Cowie already gone roaming around the company?

I left Marvel for good at the end of 2000, and Cowie embarked on a solo tour of shelves and offices. I don't know where he went or how long he stayed in each new destination, but a few weeks ago, I received a text from my friend Sue, who still works at Marvel.

"Ralph has Cowie. U want him back?"

And eight years later, 13 years after I rudely tried to throw away my stuffed prize, Cowie has come home to me. He's filthy, covered in dust, and missing one horn. But now I will clean him up and perch him in my new office, this time the trophy not advertising my marksmanship, but rather being a testament to the silliness of my former colleagues, and the resilience of one particular stuffed cow.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wouldn't Be the First Time

As regular readers know, I currently have a day job. One with a lot of responsibility, in a labor-intensive field. I go to an office every day, spending 17 minutes standing on the train while reading a book. At night, I get another 17 minutes of reading in before the PATH doors open and a big, constipated mob of people bursts forth out of the sliding doors, scrambling for access to the stairs that will take us all above ground.

But as regular readers also know, I've been searching for some kind of meaning and inspiration in my routine. I criss-crossed the world so many times from 2001-2008 that I no longer have a home, don't have many local friends, and missed out on the things that others complain about—family, partner, house.

I'm not one to sit still, and ultimately, I am a problem-solver. I've tackled my worries head-on, searching for answers in social events, workshops, gatherings, and classes. Surely there is a way to stay home and still get the charge I find in challenges on the road.

Results have been limited. Still, I try. What other answer is there?

Right now, I am taking a Monday and Tuesday night writing workshop. To be honest, it's been ludicrous so far, but it's only happened twice. That runs until June, with regular school-style holidays (a winter break and a spring break). I am also teaching comic book coloring on Wednesday nights at a visual arts school. That is also continuing until June. That has been more successful, but I have been disappointed that I'm not a natural in front of the kids.

I won't have the opportunity to travel much while I am taking/teaching these courses, so I already planned ahead for winter break. I'd like to go to Bolivia, and I had enough frequent flyer miles to get to Peru, so I booked a free ticket. I'll fly from Lima to La Paz, returning by going first overland to Peru at Lake Titicaca. And given my tight schedule, I plan to travel with a small group operator, such as GAP or Intrepid. (Added bonus: I'll be gone for New Year's. It's never too early to start avoiding New Year's.)

But now, the State Department has issued a Bolivia advisory. We're supposed to defer all non-essential travel to Bolivia.

Just my luck.

I'll keep an eye on it and decide in a few months.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Last Day of Summer

You know all those cool things I wanted to do this summer? Checking out the neon in Wildwood, chasing the Jersey Devil, walking the Morris Canal, canoeing the Meadowlands?

I managed exactly one of them. The chief playmate ditched resolutely and early, while others were busy with kids and life. Alone and numb, I lacked inspiration, and so avoided the fun things I had been hell-bent on doing. Summer slipped away this past weekend, while I sat alone in Two Boots in the East Village, mulling over my eternal questions that never rest. How the hell did I get here? How did I screw up this badly? Did I even screw up? Why does everyone who is in a stable life with family and partner tell me how lucky I am? Is freedom just another word for nothing left to lose? What if I'm the lucky one after all?

I have about eight months to line up people to do things with next year. I hope the Jersey Devil waits for me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Office

My pal Chip Mosher was annoyed with me for posting an image of my office with no one sitting in it, when he had perfectly good photos of me behind my desk from when he dropped by a few weeks ago.

And then there's this. My office at Marvel, circa 1994 or so.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Words of Wisdom

By now, everyone has probably heard enough about the next-door neighbors.

Moving right along...many years later, after I'd finished college and gone off to work in comic books in the big city, my sister moved from Alexandria to the Shenandoah Valley. That's in Virginia, and it's the valley between two mountain ranges. Most of us are familiar with the Appalachian Trail part, which runs along the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive.

My sister lives in a trailer there, on a small patch of land. About ten years ago, before everyone carried cell phones, she heard a knock on her door.

A woman stood outside. "May I please use your phone?"

Sure. My sister let the woman in, and she made a call and then left.

My sister went out for a while. When she returned, her answering machine light was flashing. She hit "Play."

There were a half-dozen threatening messages from some jerk, all along the lines of "I'm going to kick your @ss unless you tell me where my wife is. My Caller ID shows she called from this number."

My sister called the police. A deputy came over, listened to the messages, and gave her some advice.

"You have a gun?"

"I have a small gun my father gave me."

"You know how to use it?"

"Yeah, I think I do."

"Okay, well, if he comes around, shoot him. But don't wait until he's in the house and trying to hurt you. Shoot him when he's outside. Then drag him in and beat the sh*t out of your lock so it looks like he broke-and-entered."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Mom's Take on the Neighbors

On her blog, my mother has explained the origin of the tape of the obnoxious neighbors, the one I used in the multimedia piece earlier in the week.

Mom says:

"I had complained to the police about the noise but usually it quieted down around the time they drove up, although there were a few times in which a fight was in progress and they actually hauled someone off to the police station. But the screaming and fighting continued, especially on weekends when it went out past 1 o'clock in the morning, making sleep difficult.

So I decided to make tapes of the noise and take them down to the police station and have a talk with the captain. It turned out that I never had to go there. They arrested Billy for firebombing a car. But first they had to find him.

He had climbed onto the roof, crossed over to the hatch-door in my roof (which a painter had failed to lock), and hid in my attic. I heard someone in the attic, didn't know it was him... terrified, I locked myself in the bedroom, pushed a dresser against the door, and called the police.

The dispatcher took my address. "The police are outside your house," she said. "They are there to arrest your neighbor." I looked out the window and sure enough, several cruisers were out there.

"He's in my attic!"

I moved the dresser back, flew down the stairs and let in the officer who was at my door by that time. He brought in a police dog. He put up a ladder to the attic door.

"Billy, come on out! I know you don't want this dog coming in after you."

That was true. They took Billy away and he went to jail for a few years. By the time he got out, I had moved across town to a single-family home."

Friday, September 19, 2008

My Office

Have I really been back here for almost a year?

That bothers me. It doesn't seem like that long.

Here is where I sit all day on weekdays. I can't say that I love to go to work, but it feels healthier than sitting at home freelancing all day.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Remember the Titans?

My mother sent me this photo the other day. I look reasonably normal at 18 in spite of urban trauma.

Meanwhile, she's posted an embarrassing photo of me on her own blog. Those of you who have been around a while have already seen it. It's the shot of me all glammed up on the QE2 in 2001. Have a look.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Multimedia Fallout

Things I'd forgotten, that my multimedia piece stirred up in me, my mother, or my sister:

-Most of the neighbors who were terrorizing my family during my youth are dead now. Some of them were killed even then—car accidents, fights, knifings.

-My sister ran into the surviving one years later. Billy was delighted to see her. He'd seen screaming all night in the yard and fighting not as a bad thing that hurt others, but as good fun.

-A different neighbor had been with my mother and sister when they were jumped near the ball park, and that neighbor just split when the others attacked. She had run home and hid. She didn't call the police. She just wasn't equipped for this kind of urban nightmare. My mother had to call the police from someone else's phone.

-There was another time when my sister went ballistic over all the bottles that the trashy neighbors had thrown into our front yard. She went out into the yard and threw a Jack Daniels bottle back into their yard, yelled "Keep your trash in your own yard" and turned around to come back into the house. But she'd hit Billy in the head with the bottle and cut him. This resulted in a fight, and in the process of fighting, Billy ripped (not on purpose, I think) her shirt off. He knew this was trouble and started yelling "Patty, come out here and get this girl off of me."

Or at least that's what my sister says. But she forgets that I was there. I watched the whole thing. She was fed up with them terrorizing us. She picked up a baseball bat, smashed out the glass in our front screen door in anger (um, that is our property, duh, why'd you do that?) and then went after Billy. She threw the bottle AT HIS HEAD on purpose, and seems to have been stunned that it actually hit him. Maybe she thought it was an accident.

But I was there. And I vividly remember it. It was no accident, just a surprise. The police came and took my sister downtown, where she reported that they howled with laughter that this 17-year-old girl had hit Billy H****** with a bottle. They let her out immediately. My mother was pissed. She'd thought the police would be sterner, maybe teach my sister a lesson. Instead, she got a heroes welcome.

-The neighbors' ultimate insult for us? "The Dictionary People." Yeah, that's us, the friggin' geniuses. Sis says: "I can remember Patty making fun of me saying "where'd you learn to talk like that, in school" because I was actually presenting an argument and making points instead of exchanging f*ck you, no, f*ck you."

And we all had the same reaction to the audio recording. Took us right back, in an instant. We knew the voices so well. After all, we heard them screaming outside in the night for more than a decade. I felt a twang of fear, then remembered: They're all dead. You don't have to shrink up and quietly turn near-invisible as you'd learned to do back then. They aren't here. Anyway, they taught me skills that have enabled me to move among cultures quietly, to hover above the fray and avoid dipping into it. Currently, more a hindrance than a skill, but sometimes quite useful.

Then there was this: "Marie, do you remember the time you broke your arm at the playground and your father still left and went to the turkey shoot? We had to get a neighbor to drive you to the hospital."

Oh yeah. But one can o' worms at a time, please...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Elevator (Inter)Action

I got on the elevator at work yesterday morning. Late, as usual. Feeling guilty. I punched the #6 button just as another woman walked on. She hit button #3. She was an attractive African-American woman in a print dress, shortish and pudgy, her sunglasses perched on her slightly beehive-style, curled hair.

"It is SO hot," she announced. "Yesterday was worse."

"Yeah," I agreed.

"And I'm going through menopause, which makes it even worse."

Uh? (Marie thinks for a minute, says nothing.)

"At least we're not in Texas," she declared as the elevator stopped at 3. "Have a good day!" She smiled cheerfully and walked off, leaving me to mull my fortunes over.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Turning Bad Memories Into Art

For the last three years, I have struggled around this time of year. What, 9/11? No. Three years ago today, I endured the worst day of my life. Also, the week before was nothing special. The month after was indescribably bad. I did get a Chapter One out of it for Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik, and an entire Curse of the Hippo if I ever work up the nerve to write it.

But enough wallowing is enough, and I am SO DONE with feeling sorry for myself. Today, instead of wallowing, I took care of some metaphorical housekeeping and dealt with some awkwardness. And this past week, I harnessed my black mood, borrowed my friend Denise and Thanos' new Zoom digital audio recorder, and made a little art out of an old cassette I'd found in my garage.

The cassette was recorded by my mother in the early eighties, I think. We had these insane next-door neighbors who would sit outside, drink and get stoned all night, and screech and yell at each other and at anyone who passed by. They were violent and would get into fights with each other and passerbys. They would harass us for fun. Once, after I was away at Antioch, they actually tried to burn down our house, starting with the backyard. Hilarity ensued.

Maybe not hilarity, but the funny part was that my then-boyfriend's mother had dragged me from Brooklyn to an "Est" meeting, one of those feel-good groups where you stand up and talk about throwing a party. I was 19, and some guy was giving me the hard sell as I told him that my puny salary I earned writing obituaries as an intern at the Staten Island Advance newspaper truly did not give me enough disposable income to join his program. "But it's an investment in your future!"

I weaseled out of the meeting and called home.

"The neighbors tried to burn down the house."

I looked back at all those loopy people paying thousands of dollars to pump up their egos, and laughed at the world.

WARNING: DO NOT watch this with children nearby. DO NOT watch this at all if you are offended by foul language. DO NOT watch this if you are my mother and hate to hear this shit. Don't say I didn't fucking warn you.

And turn up the volume.

Click here if you prefer to watch high res on a fast connection.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sign o' the Times

The dollar store at the mall is now selling products for $1.29.

I don't drive much, I don't buy much food, and I sold my condo when property was still selling. But now this ridiculous oil-war/housing bubble economy is starting to hit me where it hurts.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Atlas is Out

A copy of the 3-D World Tour & Atlas showed up in the mail today!

It looks so good. I'm quite proud to have written it, though Andrea (the editor) gave me a lot of direction.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Retro Photos

Three years ago, about this time (September 9th, to be precise), I fled Uganda.

There was romance involved, or rather a sudden and severe lack of it, and the only answer was to get far, far away. But I wasn't ready to skulk home yet with my tail between my legs, so I went to Namibia to lick my wounds on my own terms.

Of course, you don't need me to tell you that. I was already blogging at this point. If you go to the 2005 entries and read from the beginning, you'll get the whole story. Or almost the whole story. If you are good with subtext, you can read the unwritten stuff as well.

I put up some Uganda photos a while back on Facebook. Have a look.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Restless Gene

"I have a theory about dopamine and boredom," said an older man in the audience to my right.

Huh? That wasn't a question.

"If I'm not doing something extreme, I become depressed. I have low dopamine. Extreme sports or adventures raise my dopamine level."

I don't know one biochemical from another, but the basic idea...yes, it has merit. I was feeling it today, walking to the train feeling so lackadaisical from routine and work. Do I self-medicate through novelty? Travel, balloon-riding, bag-sewing...when I don't find novelty or innovation, I fall into a kind of mild despair.

Kelly and I were at the Rubin Museum of Art, in the Q&A part of writer/photographer Alison Wright's promotional reading of her new book, Learning to Breathe. I bought the book but haven't read it yet. She'd written an amazing article a few years ago, which became the basis for this book.

Alison Wright was in a horrific bus accident while traveling in Laos some years back. She was so close to dying. Here, don't let me retell it. Just go read the articles.

When the event ended, I asked the dopamine-guy to explain further. To my disappointment, he was all about extreme sports. Kayaking, parachuting, biking in Manhattan. That's not what I do. Same idea, though.

And then I read this passage in God's Middle Finger, by Richard Grant. "Yes," I thought. "That's exactly how I would phrase it. I'm not proud of it, but that fits."

    But I was prepared to stake my personal safety for a different reward: the heightened awareness, the thrill of the unfamiliar and the melting away of boredom that comes with going to dangerous places where I didn't belong. And I was beginning to wonder if this too was a vice.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Home Sweet Home

I came across these photos of my old building, from when I lived on Avenue B in the 90s.

I didn't remember it looking quite like this, but I guess there's a reason it was so cheap back in the day.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Happy Hippo Day

Today is the third anniversary of the day I was chased by a hippo on the banks of the Nile.

But I couldn't have known that would happen when I snapped this photo on Disney's Small World ride in Anaheim in March of 2000.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

More Silliness from the Mid-80s

Along the same lines as yesterday's post...

We then played Johnny Cash singing "Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog."

Friday, September 05, 2008

Snippets of the Mid-80s

I've become part of a huge Facebook community of former Antioch students. I was skeptical at first; what is the point in nostalgia? Was I not alienated enough the first time 'round? (We're getting there...slowly...to my background and how bizarre urban nightmares in my teenage years influenced my strengths and weaknesses. Give me time. It's a long story and I've only been blogging for three years.)

But being a part of a like-minded community has brought me more than nostaligia. It's got familiarity, sure, but there are certain commonalities among us all. I've reconnected with my tribe, in all its freaky and dysfunctional glory.

A guy named Mike—who for reasons that escaped me both then and now was called Miami Mike—reminded me of my college radio days. Lisa Whipple reminded me of how she would come into the studio and take the calls that came in from a prisoner. I was also reminded of a sad kind-of corporate takeover, where the healthy community station was ripped from local control and turned into what was essentially a satellite feed station. Local news became NPR. All things change.

I have a handful of air-check cassettes from those days. (Eww, how old is that fingernail clipping in the cassette case?) I wince when I listen to them, and that which was already embarrassing has suffered terribly in sound quality from the ravages of time. I wasn't a bad radio host at all. It's just that what was innovative in southwestern Ohio in 1986 is pedestrian now.

Here's a snippet of me on the news. Almost all recordings of me anchoring All Things Considered were on reel-to-reel tapes, which I threw away during the last move. I had only this one local story on cassette. I hear awkwardness in my voice.

Speaking of awkwardness, this is even worse! And who the hell cares if something is on yellow vinyl? I hear bits of a Nick Hornby character in 1986-Marie.

Then I stumbled over this gem.

It's a clip from Chuck King's interview with a few of the Dead Kennedys. (Chuck was from Dayton and had a show the night before mine.) They played at Antioch...this somehow happened because I attended a meeting of local music supporters in Dayton, and the grand poobah (then) of Dayton music was looking for a venue for his pals the Dead Kennedys. I didn't really think Community Government would take the offer seriously, but one of them (was his name Jon?) took the ball and ran all the way to the theater building for the most legendary show the region would see in...well, who knows. A long time.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

This Little Piggy Was Geographically Challenged

I was in Brooklyn Bridge Park last week when I spotted these strange pets out for a walk.

And then I looked up and realized Marc was right when he asked "Why is Brooklyn Bridge Park right by the Manhattan Bridge?"

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Brand New Bag

Steve told me that he's reading a book about brain plasticity. And that I might be forgetting things due to too much multi-tasking, and that we need to learn new things all the time to keep our brains working right.

Which isn't exactly news. We all know that. But what I didn't realize was that my definition of learning was skewed.

"The book says that if you read a book about something new, it's not enough. Because you already know how to read. You're not challenging yourself, though you might gain some useful information."


"What can I do to energize my brain?" I thought. I know I could use it. I always feel so alive when I'm solving problems on the road. I've been trying to find new things to do at home, but it's harder than it looks to find things that teach totally new skills.

Plus, I can't commit to much right now. I'm already enrolled in a writing workshop (two nights a week) and teaching coloring (one night a week). So anything I try that is new has to be a one-shot deal. Like what? A one-day intensive class, maybe. Climb a small mountain or hike a trail. Tube the Delaware. Learn to use my watercolors for something besides comic books.

Or sew a bag! Flirt-Brooklyn had a workshop yesterday. So off I went to learn a totally new skill (okay, not TOTALLY new—I learned to sew a button in 7th grade home ec) and get a new bag out of it.

Since it was a holiday, I took Henry the Ford Taurus along. We cruised right into the Holland Tunnel (on my E-Z Pass, of course), straight through Manhattan, and right over the Brooklyn Bridge. I parked around the corner from the class 20 minutes after I left my house.

A nice woman named Patti patiently walked me through the bag-making process. Pin the pattern. Cut the fabric for the inside and outside. Stiffen it up with an iron-on inner lining. Sew. Backstitch. Sew some more. Turn a corner. Sew again. Add a strap. Add the tie for closing the bag. Turn it all outside in. Iron.

I couldn't believe it when I stepped back and looked at my work.

It didn't suck. I'd sewn a bag.

I didn't even have to turn Henry on after that. We flew home, right over the East River and then the Hudson, coasting on air and pride.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Happy Ramadan

Here's my company's Ramadan card:

Great work by the artists. Unfortunately, when I look at it, I see that someone screwed something up while inputting it into the mass e-mailing software. It appears that it was made into too small a web file—or maybe someone made it low res and then tried to make it high res again—and this damaged the appearance. But not many people will notice that. The colorist sure will.

Here are the steps involved in producing comic book art.

First there are pencils, a kind of blueprint. June Brigman drew this.

Then the pencils are inked. Roy Richardson works as a team with June, and he inks her work almost all the time.

Then Monica Kubina colored the image. She colored the yellow background, but I put in a mask so that the designer could change it to whatever color he needed for his card. The masked out part shows here as black on the far left, and I dropped a blue on a layer to show the designer how he could change the colors.

And that's it! That's how a comic is made. Except for the writing, scripting, lettering, compositing, marketing, and all that sort of stuff.

Did anyone notice that Noora is holding my personal Ramadan lantern?