Free Comic Book Day May 6 – Capes take two

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Bozo is in town. Streets around the Hellmouth are fittingly lined with sanitation trucks. Knowing blondie is surrounded by garbage trucks makes me almost as joyous …

as all the lovely comic books hot off the press and ready for our eyeballs.

This Saturday is Free Comic Book Day, the happiest day. Repeat: If it’s for free, it’s for me. Every year I find a few gems for my nieces. Last year, Science Comics! were a hit. This year they’ve requested stories with … capes. I tried so hard to steer them from superheroes and I failed big time. So instead of fighting it we’re making them capes to go with the reading.

This is my second round of cape-making for them. The first round didn’t turn out as I pictured them in my head. Still don’t know what I did wrong, possibly sewing them by hand in poor lighting. This time will be different because I begged my sister to sew them with her machine. She asked for the pattern like an amateur.

The pattern is just sew two capes with snaps at the collar and maybe a hood. I sew the way I bake, which is not always the best approach as it produces not always the best results, but when something does turn out it’s magical because it’s certainly not due to hard work and know-how.

In lieu of a sewing pattern, I’m busy barring the door from villains like, oh, slimy bigots in suits wielding executive orders and golf clubs. My buddies must harness their own powers, along with all the rest of us.

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Giant Days … pillow fort reading until Twin Peaks

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I started watching Community whilst sick and now all I want to do is build a pillow fort on a rainy day. Inside there will be a room for eating pie and damn good coffee, a place to roll around in Twin Peaks anticipation. Two hours of glory on May 21st. Possibly later for us as Showtime isn’t one of our three channels, but my sister’s recording it for me or she’s out of the family.

Also in my pillow fort will be a room for reading Giant Days and eating crumpets. I ate a crumpet nearly every day when I lived in London. Now I can’t watch or read anything set in England without aching for one lightly toasted with a little butter and preserves.

Unfortunately there are only 4 volumes of Giant Days so far. Discovering how fantastic this series is so early in is almost like watching Twin Peak for the first time and getting really excited that there are two whole seasons of wonderful strangeness only to arrive at the second season and find the party long over, all the magic gone save for the dreamy opening sequence, which I’d live on were it chewable.

Giant Days and Twin Peaks have nothing in common other than that I want more of both RIGHT NOW. I’m ringing my sick bell for them. Ideally Special Agent Dale Cooper brings me volume 5 and then we fly away.

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dalecooperBoom! Studios publishes Giant Days and Lumberjanes so I expected to like it, though the intended audience is older for Giant Days. The series follows three close friends, Susan, Esther and Daisy, in their first year at university. The stories are small slices of their lives – dating, yearning, looking for an apartment too late. It’s best to go in with no expectations. I was told Giant Days is hilarious. So funny. So when I read the first volume and didn’t harm myself laughing I figured it was another overrated comic. It’s not.

I read it again because the colorful characters and lively artwork are too good to put down. Giant Days is universally amusing addictive eye candy. The characters are wildly entertaining. I’m not into fashion, but even their detailed outfits are fun. The whole experience of reading each volume is total joy.

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Curious to see a fresh reaction, I handed them over to my boyfriend without saying anything. He laughed a lot and I think he has a thing for Daisy. Everything I like about the series, he likes, too. The characters are so different from each other. Then there’s a handful of side characters who are just as endearingly flawed.

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There’s so much to like about Giant Days. I missed the hahas the first time I read the first volume because my arms were crossed demanding to be delighted. Every character has their own sense of humor. Their stories are grounded in reality while the tone is heightened in silliness. The dynamic of every relationship varies and evolves. It’s a pleasure to read because the series hits so many different notes and the friends have genuine moments of regret, loneliness, delusion, lust, hope, failure and other good time emotions. You can even read it in my imaginary pillow fort.

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Life Of Agony show and new album

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We took the subway to 14th street. The train smelled like stale beer and Friday’s pepperoni pizza re-discovered on the fire escape Sunday morning. I checked my bag and was relieved to discover antibacterial stuff my nieces gave me for Christmas. I put some on my hands and wiped the excess on Raj. Seconds later I realized what I’d done. We were on our way to a Life Of Agony show covered in sparkles and smelling like candy.

Many years ago we saw Mina Caputo on the street somewhere in the Lower East Side. This was before or maybe during her transition. LOA wasn’t on my radar for a long time. Anyway my boyfriend melted into a giddy 14-year-old and just opened his arms (which Mina graciously dodged), expressing his love in happy expletives. It happened again last night only this time Mina was on stage and larger than life, holding an entire ballroom of lifelong fans.

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We were in the presence of greatness. All at once the crowd surged forward and around and some very enthusiastic fisty dancers broke through into their happy place. This incredible band thrilled a lot of people yesterday as they finally gave the world new album. A Place Where There’s No More Pain is everything I didn’t know I needed.

Mina Caputo performed with such confidence and swagger. Her voice is as powerful and gripping as ever. You can argue it’s even better but why bother comparing when all that matters is that they’re making great music again and now it’s coming from a good place. After months of empty horribleness, seeing them live filled me. I felt so lucky to be there. I never thought I’d get to see them perform. Now here they are right when we need them with a brand new album.

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My sisters call me The Pusher. When something is good I just want everyone in the world to read it, hear it, taste it, do it, go experience it. I’m not allowed to push things on them anymore, they say. We have different tastes, they say. Fine, I say.

Their loss. But the show’s magic bubble hasn’t popped yet and I’m feeling the urge to … push. Listen to Life Of Agony. Check out their new album over and over. Go see them and have a good time. You don’t need to be a lifelong fan to appreciate the new album. This isn’t a nostalgia trip. They still have so much to say. And if you’re ever lucky enough to see any of them on the street, please give them our thanks and love but maybe don’t try to hug them.

 

I demon NYC

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I thought I saw the best license plate this morning. I was alone and doing something I haven’t done in so long on a neighborhood run – listening to music. Volbeat. We’ve traveled hundreds of miles together, me on foot and them in my ears driving me on with big theatrical sound and lyrics full of drama. I used to worship the bands I loved. Now they feel like friends. They’ve been there through every incarnation. When we’re together I’m more myself.

So basically I was running with some of my friends, my singing playing friends, when we passed this truck and had to stop for a laugh. Clear as my eyes could see the license plate said: I DEMON NYC. Only all squished together.

For a moment this made me very very happy. Some special soul used “demon” as a verb on a license plate. For a moment I lived in a city where people declare they demon. I want to demon, too, if it involves anything more than tearing up the streets and filling my lungs with the yummy taste of hot tar. Okay. I read it wrong. The plate actually said something about Demo.

The blurred world is magical. This is why I don’t ever wear my glasses. They’ve never been the same since I sat on them anyway.

 

 

Guess who doesn’t have a little toe anymore

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A phrase came to mind as I completed this year’s taxes. It’s one of very few Bangla phrases I know and usually save for bad restaurants. It translates to “They slapped us in the face and took our money.

This was a frustrating year to pay taxes. I just didn’t want to do it. Who does, knowing the money could actually go toward a wall ordered by a born millionaire who didn’t have to pay his own taxes for 18 years? Wouldn’t it be nice for those of us who do pay taxes if we could indicate where we want at least a percentage of our dollars to go? Filing would be more engaging than stressful, more fulfilling maybe.

But it’s done. I’ll have my reward now.

Does anyone else reward themselves for doing their taxes? This year someone special (ME!) is getting hiking boots. I’m tired of slipping on boulders in old running shoes. Lyme disease-spreading ticks are supposed to be at an all time high this year in the Northeast, which they say every year, but I’m treating myself to more insecticide, too. Chemicals!

Since filing was especially annoying this year thanks to the electoral college’s president, I’m also baking me a pumpkin chocolate chip loaf. They say pumpkin isn’t in season right now. I’m going to share a deep dark secret. Our pumpkin that we got back in October is still on our mantle. It’s fine. I keep waiting for it to liquefy or reveal itself for the alien pod it is. I check it for rot every day and every day it’s fine, a little lighter like it’s hollow inside. I’m not baking the actual pumpkin. We kept it up over the holidays by our leg lamp and hung streamers around it for New Years. We put a hat over the curled stem for St. Paddy’s and now there’s a bunny on top. Maybe the fountain of pumpkin immortality is the corner spot on our mantle? We’ve come so far together, been through so much. The pumpkin is a part of the family. It’s like the lazy aloof cat we can’t have because of allergies.

With all the distraction of taxes and rewarding myself, I completely forgot about April Fools’. So when my little sister I called I answered with the first thing that came to mind.

“I cut off my little toe.”

She screamed, “What?” Then there was a glorious stunned silence, followed by “How?” And more horrified questions. My answers were just vague enough and I said I’d send her a picture because if I did cut my toe off I would take a picture for my Dead Stuff newsletter.

The picture was a drawn toe with “April fooled you” written, but I guess it took her a while to open because she thought it was a picture of my real severed toe. She called my dad before I got to him so for a little while both of them thought I’d cut off my own little toe and was sending around the picture. For good measure I included my other two sisters in the horror.

I got them. It’s funny how effortless it was to make my family to believe I cut my toe off. Good times.

 

Here is New York by E.B. White

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Elwyn Brooks White, better known as E.B. White, gave us Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. Journalism students may recall his work from a slim writing bible he co-authored, The Elements of Style. All three have a place of honor on what I introduce to guests as Grandpa’s Shelf. My paternal grandpa built this modest oak shelf in the early 1930s. It’s sturdy with a dark wood stain and three slightly upturned shelves. When my dad gave it to me I finally had proof that I’m his favorite child. This is the thing I grab if ever there’s a fire. Its very heavy so a brave, fireproof volunteer will be needed to grab the other end and make sure none of my books fall off while we haul it down the steep, narrow stairs.

I’ve lived in the city so long I’ve stopped counting the years. Yet White’s apparently famous 7500-word essay, since printed into a book, is new to me. ‘Here is New York‘ was first published in a 1949 issue of the lavish travel magazine Holiday. For his contribution, White left his home in Brooklin, Maine and returned to the city where he made his name.

I don’t usually seek out NY-centric reading, feels redundant, but spring is the hardest season for me to live here. Reading this essay is part of my on-going effort to enjoy the city again. May as well while we’re here. While not exactly the upper I was hoping for, it’s a quick (30-minute) read well worth checking out of the library.

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I expected to follow White on a long, nostalgic walk through Manhattan’s various neighborhoods. I don’t know why I had such a specific assumption of this essay, there’s at least as much analysis of the city’s essence and people as there are physical observations. White writes gorgeous descriptions though. He details walking past a free evening concert in Central Park. Brass horns fill the evening and, as if in response, The Queen Mary blares it’s own off-key horn. You feel like you’re walking beside him, pleasantly aware there’s no other place you’d rather be.

I’ve seen this essay described as a love letter to the city. While his fondness is evident, his tone seemed like one of someone glad to be gone. New York is much easier to love from a distance.

The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines.

White stays in the city during an August heatwave. For this he has my sympathy. Summers are abusive here. Even reading about summer in the city makes me itch. If you’ve never had the pleasure of walking through New York on a sweltering day, imagine every drop of will and hope oozing from your eye sockets while the grit and fumes off millions of well-dressed sweaty flesh bags seeps into your pores and solidifies until there’s very little of you left in your own body. Why not come in October instead?

So New York in August, 1948. White arrives to experience and reflect on the New York he used to know. Alas, visiting his old city is impossible; it’s already gone. Any longtime or former New Yorker can probably relate. The city you first meet is fleeting. Before you know it, walking down a block is consumed by remember whens. Looking at new buildings and businesses and people only reminds you of the ones no longer here.

White circles back to change being the only constant in a place always reinventing itself and never quite catching up. There’s nothing in this essay that doesn’t ring true. He captures it all in this thorough, timeless representation of the city as a living machine. It still feeds on yesterday’s dirty dogs. Today it spits out sleek predictability and $5 “punk rock” Popsicles, but has no clue what to do about the cracks, and there are so many cracks. Cracks and ghosts.

The normal frustrations of modern life are here multiplied and amplified-

The people who come here do so for a reason. Many find their tribe or relish the city’s “gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy” that White refers to in his opening line. Others tap into a bottomless source of inspiration and drive. With some chutzpah you can still get your foot on a stage or in a fancy office or wherever it is you want to be.

-but New Yorkers temperamentally do not crave comfort and convenience – if they did they would live elsewhere.

One section refers to the people who live or work here as composing three different New Yorks: that of commuters, of natives and of transplant dreamers. In considering post-war atomic fears, his thoughts on the city’s vulnerability to airplanes is an eerie prophesy of 9/11. A part that stood out addresses the city’s growing diversity. Imagine if we had a president today capable of believing and articulating this same sentiment:

The city has to be tolerant, otherwise it would explode in a radioactive cloud of hate and rancor and bigotry.

It was fun to learn that E. B. White and I have something small in common. We both worked as ushers in theaters – he at the Metropolitan Opera and me on Broadway. I loved ushering in college. Through it I met all sorts of people, had time to read and got to swap shifts to see tons of different shows. Highly recommended for students.

This little book gives its audience much to chew on. Readers who love the city will find more reason to love it. Those of us who no longer feel at home here will find camaraderie and validation. Still, like White and countless others, I’ll always remember the city as I knew it when I knew it.

 

Sunday morning and I won, I won

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On a blue sky Sunday morning I ran out to brush the snow off our car while Raj made banana pancakes and ground two of our favorite coffee beans into one smooth weekend blend. I waited five days to deal with the snow on our car because I could – alternate side parking was suspended. Also I had high hopes for a second shot at a real blizzard. Leaving the snow was like keeping the welcome mat rolled out. Then I remembered what the windshield guy said this past December.

On Christmas morning at my sister’s in Jersey, I stepped outside to find the back windshield of our car smashed. The shattered glass was still in place until a slight vibration, from some innocent angel closing one of the doors, triggered a festive shower of broken green glass into our back seat. Ours was one of several windows smashed on Christmas Eve. It took days to get it replaced and when the man finally came he gave us this big lecture on clearing snow from the glass otherwise risk the wrath of opposing temperatures when the sun hits it like a laser. His point didn’t apply to our situation (temperatures were nowhere near freezing and there was no snow). He didn’t have much to say about the guys who hang out at night in the woods behind her complex. Pretty sure they’re not roasting marshmallows. Anyway, I’ve been better about clearing our car when it snows just in case.

Okay, I’m not that much better. And the snow I intended to quickly shoo from our glass was actually sealed by a thick crust of ice. Our little scraper was no match. The funnest part was cracking the crust up like crème brûlée. Only instead of tapping deliciousness with dainty silver I punched through, feeling like one of the toughs who order their chocolate peanut butter recovery drinks with vanilla soy milk.

After pancakes we roamed. Weekend mornings are my favorite time for roaming. Sometimes there’s a fellow carrying two cups of coffee and a paper bag full of somethings you know are going to be good. He’s bringing those treats and coffee back to someone he loves or likes enough. Parents look less harried pushing strollers or watching a little one on a wooden bike with no pedals ride off on scurrying feet Flintstone style.

We roam in bright synthetics because it doesn’t feel like Sunday without going for a run. Sidewalks are my least favorite running surface, in case you’re wondering. Soon we reach the park and opt to run on the slushy trails. I’m happy for the breathing room and no piles of trash to hurdle over. Races are aplenty in the park starting around yesterday and continuing through November. They flood the park with Woo-ers and plastic cups. The best part is when runners stand around blocking the paths after they’re done.

Runners are my peeps and races are a huge source of encouragement for many. That’s great. I’m just not a fan of the ones in the local park every single weekend because they’re all so loud and messy. Oh, well. I recently discovered a new-to-me running route for most weekends. It’s much longer, race-free and spans a number of waterfront stretches.

On this final day of winter, Raj and I race each other on the home stretch. We’re nearly to the end when I hear the first bagpipes. They might be for the St. Paddy’s Day parade in our neighborhood. They might be Woo-ing me to the finish line seconds ahead. He says it’s hard to say who won. I say it’s easy: I won. I WON.

 

 

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons

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First published in 1991, Summer of Night by Dan Simmons is a horror classic. Stephen King and I like it a lot. “Stephen King and I” is a fun way to begin a book review. Fun for me and that’s what matters.

Reading Simmons reminds me of Shel Silverstein’s “Boa Constrictor” song. Remember?

I’m being eaten by a Boa Constrictor
A Boa Constrictor
A Boa Constrictor
I’m being eaten by a Boa Constrictor
And I don’t like it one bit

His stories swallow you and you do like it. You’re fully aware that they’re swallowing you and yet there’s nothing to be done about it. I discovered this just last year with The Terror, a  historical fiction/ monster/ adventure epic that blew me away. I shoved the tome into my SO’s arms confident he would love it as I did. It took him 3 weeks to make it through 50 pages before giving up. He’s drunk on depressing nonfiction lately.

I guess, like all authors, Simmons isn’t for everyone. Hey, neither is Crack. Open Summer of Night and you’ll know in the first 50 pages whether you’re on board with Stephen King and I. We have room for more and I’ll even share my bubble chocolate.

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This book is made of everything I love. Set in an idyllic, small Midwestern town in the 1960s, it follows a group of boys through one terrifying summer. When we meet them in their final moments of class it’s impossible not to share and envy the boy’s enthusiasm for that endless freedom that seemed to lie ahead. The opening is steeped in nostalgia, not just for childhood summers, but the simple glory of disappearing on a bike with friends until dinner time. (In his new intro, Simmons broods over this loss of unsupervised childhood adventures. I usually skip intros, but this one is masterful.)

Simmons writes in expansive layers with such nuance it makes my brain giddy. His descriptions of a spontaneous game of King of the Hill are as vivid and lingering as the moment you learn there really is something in the closet. Things under the bed can get you. There was a face at your window.

After a classmate disappears, the boys gather to investigate. They divvy up the town’s creepiest characters and agree to secretly follow their assigned and report back. Teachers aren’t your usual suspects, but the boys’ school is no ordinary school. The town is finally closing down Old Central with plans to bus the students come fall. Meanwhile, the massive structure casts a heavy shadow over the town due to its dark history and revolting physicality, “a hulking fortress tinged with the mahogany scent of coffins.”

As evil overtakes the town, the boys have their bikes and each other to rely on. Maybe they’re in over their heads, but it’s also clear that they’re the only ones who may be able to stop whatever is happening. Unlike adults in town, the kids don’t dismiss gut instinct.  The friends seem to be the only ones who recognize that bad things are happening. They don’t cower. They step into dark basements, reach into strange holes. They fumble and can’t peddle fast enough. It’s not a fair fight and Simmons offers no safety. As terrifying creatures are set loose on the town we’ve come to know, the story grows a coming-of-age appendage, highlighting how vulnerable innocence is. Once lost, it’s gone forever.

This book reads like a movie with a lot of variation and steady pacing. Some scenes are disturbing. It’s not a quickie. I finished feeling exhausted but intensely satisfied, kind of like how you feel coming back from a camping trip. I had to take a break from horror after because others just weren’t measuring up.

I read this shortly after watching the Netflix hit “Stranger Things”. While the show is a drama with supernatural elements, it hits many of the same us-against-them notes. It seems like an obvious influence on the show’s creators. Whether it is or not, Summer of Night is a meaty snack to tide fans over until the second season.

Did I mention how good Dan Simmons is with words and horror? Did you know and not tell me?

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

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Newbery Medal winners and honorees are always so good. We seek them out often enough to abbreviate them as Newbs. When I checked Clare Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest out, the librarian talked about her kids’ favorite books. I thought we were talking books, but we weren’t. She was struck with a bad case of presuming-I’m-a-parent-itus. Nope. For a second I felt like a weirdo fraud for being in the kids’ section without a kid. I read kids’ books for pleasure. Take that, friendly librarian.

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Moon Over Manifest, 2011 Newb winner, was worth the moment of mild awkwardness at the library. This is the kind of book that pokes your heart. The story is about 12-year-old Abilene Tucker and the summer she spends in her dad’s hometown of Manifest, Kansas, a town of many Eastern and Western European immigrants. Set in 1936 and 1918, in that order, the story follows lonely Abilene as she tries to reconnect with her dad by learning about Manifest as it was in 1918, when he lived there.

Abilene enjoyed nomadic life with her dad, Gideon. She’s still not sure why she couldn’t accompany him to his railroad job like usual. He wanted her to go to Manifest and live with Pastor Shady for the summer so she did. The town’s not what she expected based on her daddy’s stories, but he’ll be back for her at the end of summer, sure thing.

Memories were like sunshine. They warmed you up and left a pleasant glow, but you couldn’t hold them.

In Shady’s former Baptist church-turned-speakeasy/home, she finds a cigar box of trinkets, letters from 1918, and a hand-drawn map of the town.The letters are between Ned, a soldier fighting in France, and Jinx, the friend he left behind. In addition to reading the letters, Abilene learns about the town’s rich history through local newspaper columns published during 1918 and by listening to the stories of a Hungarian “diviner” named Miss Sadie.

From losing young men to the war and growing tensions between immigrant communities, to the Spanish Flu, Ku Klux Klan and something about a spy, Abilene and her two friends get to know Manifest in a way many of the older residents seem to have forgotten. And how can they resist trying to find out who the spy was? The girls get themselves into some genuine mischief, looking for clues to the past and finding them everywhere.

I adore the warm woven texture of Vanderpool’s writing. Her storytelling style is perfect for children’s historical fiction.

And if someone pays you such a kindness as to make up a tale so you’ll enjoy a gingersnap, you go along with that story and enjoy every last bite.

Reading this got me thinking of my dad and older relatives, none of whom ever talk about their past. Ever. Letters were never saved. Photo albums disappeared in moves. And they don’t understand the curiosity. As if wanting to know more about the people who gave you life and attempted to shape that warm, needy lump of flesh into a good person is a bad thing. Parents. Today my sisters photograph and document every breath of their kids’ lives. When our present becomes the past there will be few mysteries.

My dad is a closed book until one of his grandchildren or some friend is in the room. Then out comes a story my sisters and I never heard before. Where do these stories come from? We call it the far side of the Dad. Similar to the far side of the moon, any glimpse is a rare gift.

I love the side I get to see, but can’t help wondering if there are really alien bases over there. At least with Moon we have satellites to photograph the mysterious dark side. How beautiful.

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Parting words are kind of my forte

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Curses to my lousy afternoon Internet. The only thing reliable about it is it’s flakiness from 2 pm to 4 pm every weekday, a.k.a. the danger zone. As a freelancer working mostly from home I try to schedule what few meetings I have well before the danger zone but sometimes it can’t be helped.

Google hangout meetings with cameras and mics are rough enough, even when the world outside cooperates – no sirens, no screaming children on the stairwell, no locked out neighbor buzzing and buzzing my bell. The word “meeting” sounds so formal when really these are casual-ish check-ins, but not THAT casual. Still, nothing to stress about.

Today’s was something special. I should’ve expected as much when the meeting popped on my calendar for 2:30. All was fine for the first five minutes. Then the big red X blinked over my connection. I reconnected, hadn’t missed anything. Nothing to miss until I noticed the big red X flashing again. I reconnected for long enough to catch my client say “Where’d she go?” Then another big red X.

My mistake was trying to type something in a panic before my connection cut out. I meant to write “I keep getting BOOTED”. I wrote:

I keep getting booty

My fingers type like jerks when I’m frustrated. It took me years to reconnect. Only to add:

*booty

You know, in case they didn’t understand me the first time.