Saturday, July 29, 2006

Five Degrees Of Separation

Yesterday was a day full of connections, reminding me of the old saying that there are only six degrees of separation between any of us. Reading my newspaper in the morning I saw an obituary for Denny M., who was a high school classmate of mine from the class of '65. I didn't hang with Denny; he was buddies with a crowd of rowdies including my wife's cousin, Steve. I haven't seen Denny for over 40 years, but Steve has talked occasionally of Denny's stint in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam conflict. Denny's obit mentions that he earned the Bronze Star in Vietnam for "exhibiting uncommon courage and fierce determination." Yep, that was Denny, all right. When we were in high school together he used a lot of that fierce determination to get himself into trouble.

Later in the morning I was at the Post Office, going back to my car when I saw a pretty woman power-walking up the sidewalk. When she got closer she waved at me. It was my sister-in-law, Nancy.

After Nancy breezed on by--she didn't stop; exercise walking, y'know--I visited a local thrift store looking for books. I found a couple of good ones, but on my way to the checkstand caught a glimpse of a magazine I've looked for for several years: Salt Lake Magazine from March-April, 1999 with cover model Brittney Lewis, who has been seen around here in print ads and television commercials since she was just a tot. Besides being a beauty, Brittney is a shirttail relative.

How is someone a shirttail relative? Well, I've prepared a chart:

1. Sally is married to El Postino.

2. Randy is brother of Sally, married to El Postino.

3. Cyndy is married to Randy, brother of Sally, married to El Postino.

4. Nancy is sister of Cyndy, married to Randy, brother of Sally, married to El Postino.

5. Brittney is daughter of Nancy, sister of Cyndy, married to Randy, brother of Sally, married to El Postino.

See? That's only five degrees of separation, and that's how you make a shirttail relative.

Adding to all of this connectedness is my brother-in-law, Dave, who is married to Nancy, making him Brittney's stepdad. My connection is Dave is married to Nancy, sister of Cyndy, married to Randy, brother of Sally, married to El Postino.

Dave and Randy are brothers. Nancy and Cyndy are sisters. Two brothers, two sisters, which makes them their own brothers and sisters-in-law.

And what does it make me? Well, somehow connected.

I had a hard time getting a decent picture of Brittney's cover of Salt Lake Magazine, but here's the best of several digital photos I took. From the cover you can see why Brittney gets noticed when she is in the room.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

How I Went Mad In The 1950s

As a kid I never kicked and fussed when Mom took me to the grocery store, because it gave me a chance to stand near the magazine rack and paperback book spinner, ogling the sexy covers.

On one occasion in 1955 or thereabouts I spotted a book I'd never seen before. It was The Mad Reader. I opened it up to the first panel of Wally Wood's "Superduperman" story, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The problem is, as much as I wanted this book, and I wanted it really, really bad, Mom wouldn't buy it for me. Mom was aware of stories in the press about evil comic books turning children into juvenile delinquents, and while she let me read comic books she approved of (Uncle Scrooge, Little Lulu, etc.), she wasn't about to go over the line to something like Mad.

I went home disappointed, but then my obsessive-compulsive disorder kicked in. When I wanted something as bad as I wanted this book I usually kept up a whining, obnoxious pleading until my parents caved in. Since Mom had said no, I went to my dad. Dad was usually more easygoing when it came to things like this. Of course, listening to me bellow, snivel and whine for about an hour was all it took. He got into his 1955 Ford company car and went to the store to find the book for me.

It's said that Mad, in its original comic book incarnation was a flop saleswise until issue #4, which had the aforementioned "Superduperman" story. From that time on Mad became a cult favorite. Even my future brother-in-law, who was in in high school in the early '50s, bought Mad, as did his buddies. I didn't know any of that, though. I just knew that I recognized who Superman was, I knew who the Lone Ranger was, I knew the comic book character, Archie, and I was absolutely fascinated by the grotesque and funny artwork of Wally Wood, Bill Elder and Jack Davis, which took all of those characters and turned them inside out and upside down. It turned them into jokes! All of it was new to me at the time, though. From that book I went on to seek out other Mad paperbacks, like Mad Strikes Back, Inside Mad, and Utterly Mad. From the time I first held these books in my trembling junior-size paws I was totally hooked, a junkie to the drug of Mad-ness.

Mom's problem with Mad was the effect the drawings had on her, which was the exact opposite of the effect they had on me. She claimed they "made her head spin." They did that to me, too, but in a good way.

Take Bill Elder's version of Archie, called "Starchie." The art is very close to the original. The people who produce the Archie comic books like to tout their comics as being "wholesome," but there was no doubt that the whole subtext of their comic books was some sort of triangular sexual thing going on between Archie, Betty and Veronica. The author and editor of Mad, Harvey Kurtzman, always went for the most obvious satirical elements of what it was he was lampooning, and that is the crux of this story, behind its more obvious elements of Starchie and gang being juvenile delinquents.
The Lone Ranger was a guy who traveled around with a Native American companion and wore a mask. As in this Mad version called "The Lone Stranger," he steered clear of womenfolk. One might ask why…? And did he and Tonto share body heat around the campfire? Anyway, when I saw this Jack Davis panel of the Lone Stranger being chased by the ugly "girl," I laughed my guts out. Yes, the lady chasing the Lone Stranger is actually a man in drag. Hmmm. I was a big fan of Mad in the 1950s, but the two entities, the Mad paperback books and the regular Mad Magazines being published every couple of months were entirely different things. I wondered why, but didn't know what made them different until a few years later when I found out about the stories of the two editors, first Kurtzman, then Al Feldstein, about the Comics Code, about the color comic book after 23 issues becoming a 25¢ black and white periodical. Much to my mom's chagrin, and despite a lot of yelling, public burnings of my magazine collections, and even outright theft of mail-ordered copies of early Mad comic books, I didn't give up on Mad until I was ready to, which was sometime in the early '60s.

Whatever happened with The Mad Reader, though, I'm sure happened with a lot of people in my generation, aspiring cartoonists, comedians, actors, whomever. It was an epiphany for me to know that such brilliance could exist in parody and satire and looking back on that book today I still see the sort of genius I saw many years ago the first time I pulled it off the paperback rack.

Ciao for now, El Postino

*The copy of Mad Reader at the header of this article is not my original Mad Reader, which was destroyed at some point by my mother in the mid-to-late 1950s. This is a copy of a first printing I picked up in California 20 years ago.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

World Of The Wars

Tonight Sally and I watched Spielberg's version of War Of The Worlds. I saw it last year during its theatrical release and was impressed enough to watch it again because I like the storytelling in this film. At the root of any good story you've got to have characters the audience cares about and identifies with. I'm also glad that the special effects, as impressive as they are, weren't allowed to completely take over the movie.

In that sense Spielberg is lightyears ahead of filmmakers who make dopey films like Van Helsing and The Brothers Grimm, both of which I suffered through on On Demand recently. Why is it, when a filmmaker has millions of dollars with which to make a movie, he often forgets the most simple thing of all, that there has to be a story? I don't want the kitchen sink thrown at me with every special effect the computer boys can muster onto the screen. All the special effects in the world can't save a bad story, but a good story will save a movie with no special effects.

War of the Worlds has been one of my favorite H. G. Wells stories since I was a kid. Sometime about 1955 or '56 I was in a drugstore and saw the Classics Illustrated version on a shelf. A young teenage girl, at least a half head taller than me and twice as wide, had just put it back and turned to talk to her friend. I snatched it away just as it came to rest on the shelf. "Hey!" she said. "I was looking at that!"

"Tuff titty!" said I, mustering up a rusty-sounding squeak from my 9-year-old throat, knowing the girl could have punched my lights out. She looked that big to me. Luckily she just shrugged and walked away.

Anyway, the picture you see of the cover of that Classics Illustrated is the very copy I snatched away from that teenager in 1956. I still have it, and still look at it and re-read it every decade or so. I have also re-read the original Wells novel a couple of times since the 1950s.

One thing has always bothered me about the story, though, and seemed more obvious in this latest movie version. If the Martians (unidentified as to origin in Spielberg movie) were brought down by common bacteria, why not send home to the Martian Pharmacy for some antibiotics, or just wear spacesuits next time they plan an attack? Hey, they figured out how to get to earth, and they're obviously pretty clever with their weaponry. I'm sure it'd only be temporary before they could solve the problem of earth bacteria. So watch the skies…they might just be back.


I wonder…is the movie War Of The Worlds in any way a reverse reflection of our invasion of Iraq? Naw, couldn't be, could it? I mean, we all know that an enemy invasion of someone else's country often doesn't work because of insurgencies, and troops bogged down trying to fight an enemy on his own turf. Or at least I thought we all knew that until we got the Bush gang in office. Apparently they don't know any rules but the ones they've made up in their own heads. They obviously missed out on the lessons learned in Vietnam, but wait, of course they did! Five-Deferment Cheney and Mr. My-Daddy-Got-Me-In-The-Air-National-Guard President were just too busy living their lives while our soldiers sacrificed theirs. They didn't learn one damn thing from that debacle because they didn't have to go through it. And as for actually listening to generals or military men who would know, well, Bush already has showed he only listens to those who just say "yes" to him.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Monday, July 24, 2006

Daze of '47

Today was a Utah state holiday, Pioneer Day, or as we know it around these here parts, the Days of '47. It commemorates the day in 1847 when the Mormon pioneers topped the mountains, looked down at the Great Salt Lake valley, and Brigham Young said, "This isn't the place, drive on to San Diego." No, I'm lying. That's what I wish he'd said. I could have been born in Southern California. As it was, he's reported to have said, "This is the place," and my ancestors ended up in landlocked Utah.

Pioneer Day kicks off the hottest two weeks of the summer, although it's hard to imagine how it could get any hotter than it has been. Yesterday in my hometown of Sandy it was 107º. Today officially it was 99º. Hey, we’re not setting any records, so we gotta try harder! Let's get that temperature up a few degrees. In this election year we can get our local Republicans running for re-election to Senate and Congress to kick start their usual campaigning, enlarging the ozone layer, melting glaciers in the Arctic with the hot, fetid air and poisonous, gaseous emissions from their mouths. That ought to get the temperature up to around 125º or higher. I'll keel over dead from heat exhaustion, and I won't have to put up with either the heat or re-election bullshit.


I have already mentioned my granddaughter's baptism yesterday, but failed to mention that when we left the church we headed for breakfast at Village Inn and passed a sign outside a local Baptist church that said GOD LESS AMERICA. I wasn't sure if that was a missing "B" or an editorial comment.


And speaking of babies, our son's childhood friend, Elizabeth, had her first baby girl just one hour after our son's wife had their second baby girl. We got a chance to visit with Elizabeth, her mom and dad, and the baby, Alexana, on Saturday.

Elizabeth's Alexana, top; our Gabby, bottom.

Elizabeth's dad, Carl, was there. Carl is quite a character. He's a man in his early 60s who just can't hold a job. He's a nice enough guy, but I think his religious devotion may hold him back. He's a truck driver who can't work around other guys that are, in his word, "vulgar." In other words, all the other truck drivers in the world. Carl got a new job a week or so ago driving deliveries for a pallet manufacturing business. Carl is one of these guys who always has ideas. He was complaining about his footgear, steel-toed safety shoes, being too hot in this excessive heat we've been experiencing. He showed us the shoes. He had taken a razor blade and cut out 1" sections of the shoes along the sides so they resembled sandals, except the steel toes were intact.

I looked at the shoes with amazement, while Elizabeth and her mom rolled their eyes. Who knows? The guy might just have something there, and maybe he should take out a patent. I didn't mention to him, though, my first thought: sure, it's hot now, but what about December and January?

Knowing Carl, though, he probably won't be working for the pallet company come December and January. Someone will make a dirty joke in his presence and he'll quit. People, no matter how religious they are, have just gotta lighten up. It's a big old sexy world out there, and other people can't be bothered by those who take easy offense to what is said.

You know the old saying, fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Baptism Day For Baby Gabby

Today, on a hot day in July, our granddaughter was baptized as Gabriela Uyen Nhu* Holman. We call her Gabby.

Father Thuy and Daddy David are partially hidden by the plant, but the rest of the family is eager to witness the baptism.

My wife and I aren't religious and not much for churchgoing, but our son became a Catholic, with our blessings, when he and his wife married in 2003. He has been very happy in the Vietnamese Catholic community. I usually just show up at his church for this type of special occasion, or for Easter or Christmas services. Having known Father Dominic Thuy now for about three years I can say he is one of the most dedicated clergymen I have met. Not only is he dedicated to his religion, but is a community and spiritual leader for his immigrant people, far from their home country. Waiting for the big moment are the godmother, the mom and baby, and the dad.

As our family grows, so does our love for each of them. We are most happy that Gabby, born just three weeks ago, is healthy, thriving, and now baptized. It was a really good day for us.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Grandma Sally and Gabby's mom, Loan, in the lobby after the service. Gabby never woke up at any time. I guess she missed the significance of the occasion!

*Near as I can tell from my son's explanation, her middle name is, by custom, her first name in Vietnamese, so in American she's Gabriella, to the Vietnamese she's Uyen Nhu, which is pronounced U-Win Nyoo. I hope that's close to the pronunciation, anyway.

Be good in church! Someone is watching.

Grandma Sally and Gabby's sister Bella wait for the ceremony to start.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Weirdest Of Them All...


I hadn't heard of H. P. Lovecraft or Weird Tales before picking up these books off the stands in the 1960s. I just thought they had great covers, and I've always been interested in anthologies.

Weird Tales was a magazine which had a lifespan of just over 30 years, from 1923 to 1954. Farnsworth Wright was editor for about half its run, during the latter part of the 1920s until a few months before he died in 1940. It was during his tenure as editor that the issues that are so desirable to collectors today were published. As an editor, Farnsworth Wright was described as quirky, and one writer described him as claiming his editorial policy was to have no editorial policy, which could explain why the quality of each issue could vary from story to story. He was also known for rejecting stories and then asking for them to be resubmitted, not a tactic designed to endear any editor to any writer.

The first book of Lovecraft stories I ever read is The Dunwich Horror And Others, from 1963, which reprints some of Lovecraft's better stories, including the title story, "Rats In The Walls," and "Pickman's Model," which I think are genuinely creepy stories despite the florid, outdated writing style (outdated even when he wrote them). I think the cover leaves something to the imagination. Why the tortured look on the character's half-hidden face, what are those disembodied arms in the air? It makes for some disturbing interpretations.

Weird Tales (the Pyramid Books compilation) has a publication date of May, 1964, so I picked this book up when I was a junior in high school. It contains "Pigeons From Hell," by Robert E. Howard, which scared me, and me a hotshot 17-year-old! I described the story to my friends and they said, "Oh yeah…that was on Thriller." (An anthology television series hosted by Boris Karloff.) To this day I haven't seen that episode and wonder how I missed it in the first place.A follow-up volume, Worlds Of Weird, is listed as being published in January, 1965. There are some genuinely fine stories in this volume, including "Valley Of The Worm" by Robert Howard (by then I was very familiar with Howard's work, having searched out some of his Conan the Barbarian stories), "He That Hath Wings" by the perennial favorite Edmond Hamilton, and "Roads," by Seabury Quinn, which is a straight-faced Weird Tales-style biography of Santa Claus!

These books caught my eye with their great covers by a true master, Virgil Finlay. I was familiar with Finlay from seeing pulps magazine illustrations he had done, specifically from Famous Fantastic Mysteries, a fine anthology magazine in its own right, which mainly reprinted classic material. The volume, The Spell of Seven, (unfortunately, my copy is damaged) with a publication date of June, 1965, was edited by L. Sprague De Camp, but reprinted only two stories from Weird Tales, "The Dark Eidolon" by Clark Ashton Smith, and "Shadows In Zamboula" by Howard. De Camp went on to make an industry out of Robert E. Howard's stories, including the Conan books which he edited and some he even co-wrote.These books opened the door to a world of wonder to me, and have led to a lifelong fascination with Weird Tales, a magazine I believe will only grow in reputation even as the existing copies become brittle and crumble to dust.

I think 100 years from now people will still read H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard and others of the famous stable of Weird Tales writers of the 1930s. It was one of the most specialized pulp magazines of all time, and was never a big selling magazine, often on the verge of bankruptcy, which just adds to its mystique.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Mickey Spillane Puts The Hammer Down

Mickey Spillane is dead at age 88.

I only have two Spillane books, both first editions: My Gun Is Quick, a Signet original from 1950, and Tomorrow I Die, a compilation of Spillane's short fiction, published by Mysterious Press in 1984.

Tomorrow I Die has the advantage of a really nifty dust jacket illustration by Jim Steranko, which anticipates the look of Frank Miller's Sin City series of graphic novels. I'm also including the biographical piece from the back cover of My Gun Is Quick, which claimed that Spillane had "25 cats." I visualize him trying to pound out a chapter with several cats climbing over and sitting on his typewriter while he worked. That information belies the two-fisted, hardboiled image of his books. Spillane's most popular character, Mike Hammer, was a violent, tough private eye on the side of the law. Kinda. He was an anti-hero with heroic tendencies. The books had 1950s sex scenes (i.e., the bedroom door closed just before the hot stuff), killings, beatings, all the fun sleaze of early paperback books.

Spillane inspired a fine writer, Max Allan Collins, who more than anyone kept Spillane's name out there. As far as I'm concerned, the student outdid the master long ago, and it was due to Collins that I read Spillane at all.

I remember seeing a TV interview with Spillane years ago where he said, "I write what I like to read." Apparently a lot of people liked to read what he wrote.

'Bye-bye, Mickey.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Paranoid Squint

For years I worked with a guy I called Whispering Willie. When we were inside our building Willie spoke In a hushed whisper. He usually talked of conspiracies by our employers against us as a group or against him.

Finally, after several years of this I asked why he whispered inside yet talked in a normal voice when he got outside the building. He glanced up at some radiant heating units that were suspended from the ceiling. "Ain't them things microphones?" he asked.

Willie thought that everything the employees said was being piped right into our bosses' offices. Why anyone would want to listen to us was up for conjecture, but on Willie's part that was paranoia, of course. In those days I didn't recognize it like I do today, but I didn't read body language as well, either. When Willie spoke in that whisper he moved in close and his eyes narrowed into what I came to call the paranoid squint. I noticed that often when people talked of subjects that made them paranoid they often narrowed their eyes, and looked furtively side-to-side, making sure no one could overhear what they were about to say.

Over the weekend I watched a really great old time noir film, Detour(1945) which is famous for being made so cheap (reputedly $66,000) in six days of filming. It's also a classic of paranoia, which is what the best noir is. It's actually one of the great themes of movies and literature, too, that someone is after the main character. Usually it's a murderer, but oftentimes it's the police, or "the government," or especially a government agency which is mysterious to us, like the CIA. Detour is more about events beyond his control propelling the main character into a paranoid nightmare, and has several incidents of one character being suspicious of another--and for good reasons, too.

The 1940s and early 1950s were good for telling this type of story, because of the way the world changed after World War II. Paranoia is nothing new. I'm sure that 50,000 years ago Og was paranoid about his brother, Zog, conking him with a stone ax while he slept, and taking over the whole cave and all of the women.

In real life we dismiss peoples' paranoid fears* as fears without justification, but in fiction paranoia is a great plot device, and the mysterious "they" chasing the main character are very real.

Some early paperback authors, Jim Thompson and David Goodis, were great at telling this sort of story. Going back even earlier, Cornell Woolrich, who also wrote as William Irish, was excellent. You wonder whether it takes a paranoid to tell a paranoid's story.

Detour is good because the paranoia is real. The main character is looking for an old girlfriend and becomes caught up in a swirl of events beyond his control, and gets in deeper and deeper with every scene. He and his leading lady also give each other the paranoid squint, which is a dead giveaway.

Ciao for now, El Postino

*It's hard not to be paranoid about our government nowadays, with all of the technology making it easy for them to look in on us when we don't know it.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Heat Is For The Birds

It's too hot. It's 104ºF outside today. It usually gets this hot in Salt Lake City on average about four or five days a summer, but we've had summers where we've racked up a lot of days at 100º or higher.

How can people stand to live in places where temperatures like this are common? Like Dallas/Ft Worth, Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Tucson, for chrissake. Stand still too long on a sidewalk and watch your feet catch fire. Or your hair.

I know this probably doesn't qualify as global warming, but it's too damn hot for me.

It's 77º inside my little suburban house right now, not uncomfortable, and not bad for cooling from an evaporative cooler, like I've used since we moved here in 1975. I figure if it's at least 20º cooler inside than outside then I'm doing all right. All around me people (including my son) have switched to whole-house comfort systems, furnace and air conditioning all in one. I've heard that people usually love it until they get their first electric bill…then they love it again once they've gotten over the sticker shock; or at least turn it up a few degrees to try to keep the cost manageable. My swamp cooler uses about as much electricity as a light bulb; we never even notice it on our power bill.

This morning I looked out at my overgrown lawn and decided to crank up my old Sears Craftsman mower. I waited until about 8:45 a.m., when it was still cool enough to work outside, but not early enough to wake my neighbors on a lazy summer Saturday morning. First thing that happened after the usual tugs and cursing that accompany starting the old beast, was that the belt broke on the self-propel drive. I swore a few more mighty oaths and then ended up just pushing the mower to cut the grass. God, what a pussy I've become. When I was a kid I mowed my parents' lawn twice a week, going over front and back lawns twice each time I mowed them, for $1.00 a week, and I used an old-fashioned push mower. No motor a'tall. Nowadays if parents made a kid do that he'd have them thrown into jail for child abuse.

Of course, this morning after pushing the Sears Craftsman (a lot heavier than a push mower), I came inside and waited for signs of a heart attack. When no cardiac arrest happened I figured it was time to go shopping.

My wife is gone for the weekend, taking care of her brother's pets, and the older of our two granddaughters. She's having a ball, sitting in a newly remodeled, fully air-conditioned house, in a cool basement family room, on a new sofa, watching a 52" TV. Rough job! I hope she gets extra money for the deplorable working conditions.

What this means is that I have to do my own cooking and feeding myself. That's easy; I'm a guy. That means junk food, easy to fix stuff, like microwave pizza. I told you I was a pussy. No standing over a stove for me. Why cook in this heat when there are so many things you can just pop into the micro for five minutes?

When I walked into the local Albertson's supermarket I saw a bird, a magpie, sitting on the ice machine. A store employee yelled, "Don't scare him!" then got on the loudspeaker to say, "Josiah, he's on the ice machine." I saw who I assumed to be Josiah approaching, a teenage bagger holding what looked like a butterfly net. The whole time I was in the store poor Josiah couldn't catch that bird. I overheard a checker tell a customer that the bird got in through the loading dock door. At one point all of the lights went off and the manager got on the loudspeaker to tell the customers that everything was working, they were just trying to get the bird to go to the light of the open doors. Apparently that didn't work because while groping my way through the dark aisles looking for the canned peaches I'd hear the voices of different employees making announcements, "Josiah, he's on the magazines." "Josiah, he's on the medicine." "Josiah, he's in the cereal aisle." I left the store thinking of all the jobs to have, one of the strangest would have to be bird wrangler in a supermarket.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Girl Most Likely...


I found these books in a Powell's Books kiosk at the Portland, Oregon Airport in June, 2005, and they cost me a whopping 25¢ apiece!

In the early 1950s Gold Medal Books ran a series on famous murder trials, all featuring the word "Girl" in the title. It was an interesting series, and produced at least one best seller that I know of, The Girl In The Red Velvet Swing, about the murder of turn-of-the-Twentieth Century architect Stanford White by Harry K. Thaw for the love of Evelyn Nesbit. It was even made into a movie.

Three of these covers are by an artist named Barye, of whom I know absolutely nothing. He used an earth-tone palette, with lots of browns and greens. I find it gives these covers, greatly reduced from the original art, a muddy look. I've seen it on other Gold Medal books, and it might have been a personal preference of the art director. In the early 1950s with a lot of paperback covers looking garish and pulp magazine-styled, hoping to catch the eye of the consumer, the more muted tones of these Gold Medal covers might have stood out.

Book #9, Girl On The Lonely Beach, is a departure, using a photograph with posed models.

My favorite of the four is The Girl In The House Of Hate by Charles and Louise Samuels. The Lizzie Borden case, along with Jack The Ripper and a few others, still has interest for the public, and every few years someone comes out with a new book "solving" this century-old crime. The cover of House of Hate is eerie, a visualization of the moment before the events told in the old children's rhyme: "Lizzie Border took an ax and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done she gave her father forty-one."

The cover of The Girl On The Gallows might be a portrait of an actress. Maybe Susan Hayward? Book publishers weren't above using movie stars as unauthorized models on their covers. Marilyn Monroe's image was used in an unauthorized manner several times.

Someday someone ought to reprint these books. In today's more sensitive political climate, though, they'd have to substitute the word "woman" for "girl."

Ciao for now, El Postino

Monday, July 10, 2006

Midway Between a 49er and a 69er

The other day a local newspaper sports columnist wrote an article on Leroy "Satchel" Paige, the great Negro League baseball pitcher who went on to a newly integrated Major League toward the end of his career. Among sayings attributed to Paige are, "Never look behind you. There might be somebody gaining on you." (Here at the Paranoia Strikes Deep blog we like to say, "Always look behind you, because there is somebody gaining on you.")

But that isn't the only thing Paige said. He also said, "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you were?" Hmmm. Fair question, and my answer would be, sometimes I feel twenty years younger than my years, sometimes exactly what I think I should feel like at my age, and sometimes I feel more like my mother's age.

My 59th birthday was Saturday, and the annual ritual of cards, birthday presents, a little party with pie and ice cream (we're iconoclasts here…no birthday cakes). I enjoyed my birthday, except it was the last one of my fifties, and now I'm facing--choke, gag--my sixties. There was a big deal made out of Bush turning 60, and the others of us baby boomers of the 1940's hitting that 60 mark. They like to point to people like Bush and Clinton, actresses like Cher, Susan Sarandon, Goldie Hawn, as examples of people who look great in middle-age. Ah, bullshit. Those actresses have lots of plastic surgeons to thank, lots of time with personal trainers, too. For the rest of us who can't afford plastic surgery or even time in the gym, 60 means a paunch in front, bags under the eyes, lines in the face, gray hairs where the dark hairs used to be…if we have any hairs left, that is.

I went to see my dermatologist the other day. After years of working in the sun I go to him about once a year to check for any suspicious growths. I'm pretty good at keeping up with things like that. My doctor is a few years older than me and like me has hair growing out of places where you wouldn't think it would grow, and that's despite losing hair where it's supposed to grow. As he put it, "I am convinced we're all turning into werewolves."

We boomers like to kid ourselves. We like to say, "Sixty is the new 40!" but I seem to remember them saying, "Fifty is the new 40!" so I guess it will follow that as we move along however many decades we have left we'll be saying things like, "Seventy is the new 40!" or "Eighty is the new 40!" Did I say we kid ourselves? No, we lie to ourselves.

I guess we have to keep track of our birthdays. It's important to keep a record. People need to know birthdays so they can judge when a person is an adult. The watershed year when I turned 21 was 1968, which was a pretty eventful year in our country's history. By far my personal best decade started when I turned 40, and according to my fellow boomers I'll get a chance to repeat it when I turn "the new 40" at age 60.

Right now I'm sort of hanging on by my fingernails, not wanting to give up anything I've gained, especially knowledge or whatever wisdom I might have collected in the dusty file cabinets of my brain, and not turn into a memoryless person like my mother. That's true paranoia, folks. My wife's family all worry about cancer, which I admit is a pretty big worry (and why I go to my dermatologist every year), but I'm paranoid about getting Alzheimer's…

…where was I? Oh yeah. We were talking about aging, weren't we? About losing our minds? Jeez, my short-term memory has gotten shorter. Anyway, if we can say that "Sixty is the new 40!" then it should follow that "Fifty-nine is the new 39!" So I've joined the Jack Benny club, and if you remember Jack Benny it gives you automatic membership in that club with me.

Ciao for now, El Postino

A really fun card done by my talented pal, Dave Miller. For a large image click here. Through the marvel of modern special effects, Thrilling Birthday Stories features El Postino as the Evil Elves!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Pinning Up Postino

For my recent birthday my buddy Dave sent me a couple of great books: The Pin-Up Art Of Bill Wenzel and the Pin-Up Art Of Dan DeCarlo.

Both of these softcover books from Fantagraphics Books sell for $18.95 and are worth the price; you're not likely to find such collections of old-fashioned girly cartoons anywhere else.

In the late 1950s-early '60s, while still a kid, I used to spend a lot of time at By's Magazine Shop in Salt Lake City, a downtown institution which is--now unfortunately--long gone. After scanning the rows of paperback novels, Mad, true crime and monster magazines, then the science fiction digests, I'd head for the back of the store with the shelves of comic books. On my left next to the comic books were stacks of men's cartoon magazines with titles like Breezy and Girls 'n' Gags. Most all of them were published by Humorama, which was part of Martin Goodman's publishing empire. Goodman also published the Marvel Comics line of Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, X-Men, etc. I used to wait until Leila, the old lady who clerked at the store had her back turned, then I'd grab a couple of the cartoon magazines so I could gawk at the pretty girls. If Leila caught me she'd make me put them back, scolding me about looking at "men's magazines," so I made a game of looking at them while pretending to look at the comics.

Even with the quick looks, just a glance was enough to sear this sort of pin-up into my mind. Oddly enough, when I became old enough to buy them I didn't. I either thought they weren't worth it or that I'd outgrown them. Luckily for me, now that I'm getting older I'm just the right age for the real adolescent humor.

Bill Wenzel is someone I've admired for a long time. I like his quick, spontaneous ink line, and the way he captured girls. But then, all of the pin-up artists had to capture girls. The best of all the artists was Bill Ward, who really poured heart and soul into his drawings. The girls anyway. Most of the artists didn't pay much attention to the guys in the drawings, since no one was looking at these books to see pictures of guys. Dan DeCarlo died in 2001, but for many years he drew Betty and Veronica for Archie Comics. He also created Josie And The Pussycats, which was the end of his association with Archie when he sued the publisher for royalties he felt were due him from their licensing of the characters for movies and other things. Even in Comics Code-censored comic books, Dan DeCarlo's girls had a sort of sexuality that appeals to us.

I've reproduced a couple of DeCarlo and Wenzel cartoons from the pages of these Fantagraphics collections. The Bill Ward cartoon is from an original I bought over 20 years ago. Ward solved the problem of even drawing a guy for this cartoon; he just dropped the guy through the boardwalk and concentrated on the long-legged, bathing-suited lovely.

Click here for full-size image (192K)

The cartoons were pretty corny for the most part, concentrating mainly--and repeating endlessly--jokes about nurses, secretaries, gold-diggers, and couples on dates. The punch was in the drawings, not the punchlines.

This sort of innocent pin-up cartoon, once thought risqué, has gone the way of the rest of our innocence in a pornography-soaked Internet age. Still, it's nice to be able to look at pictures of girls and admire them, even with their clothes on.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Thursday, July 06, 2006

No More Mickey Mouse Flag Amendments, Please!

When did the term "Mickey Mouse," referring to something petty, ticky-tacky or rinky-dink, come into popular usage? As I recall from reading old comic strips and watching the old cartoons, Mickey Mouse was a plucky little guy who did pretty well using his native intelligence and tenacity. (He did OK with the chicks, too. That Minnie is quite a babe. And any mouse who can own a dog is OK in my book.) Anyway, I don't know where the term came from, but its current usage describes well how I feel about yet another ploy to get everyone's mind off the illegal war in Iraq.

Like other Americans I'm unhappy when I see our flag desecrated, but when it happens, it's usually in other countries, outside of our control. Even when it happens in the U.S. it's pretty rare. As most observers have noted, it's not like there is an epidemic of flag-burning going on in this country.

So why the movement for an amendment to protect the flag? Politics, of course, which is what I see in all of this sort of talk, playing to a conservative base in an election year. Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch is usually in the middle of it, but even his junior partner, Senator Robert Bennett, also Republican of Utah, wouldn't vote for the recently defeated senate bill.

But then, Hatch is running for reelection, and Bennett isn't. What was strange to me was that Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, definitely no conservative, helped Hatch co-sponsor. Actually, it'd be odd until you realize that Hatch and Senator Ted Kennedy are good friends, and an odder couple it's hard to imagine. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised he can find some support even amongst the most liberal senators.

I'm an Army veteran, I've pledged allegiance, I've saluted the flag, accepted it with my mother when it was presented by the honor guard who did a ceremony at my dad's burial. I have my personal feelings for our flag. But I also believe that the right to free speech and the right to demonstrate trumps the feelings even the most jingoist Americans have for the flag.

Like my question on the term "Mickey Mouse", when did burning something, a flag, a draft card--a bra?!--get to be a symbol of disapproval and rejection? Why not just cut these objects into pieces with scissors? I guess it looks pretty good for the cameras to have something burning. Don't bring cameras and the demonstration usually burns itself out, literally.

Along with the flag amendment is the rightwing drumbeat of disdain for critics of the war and failed policies of the Bush administration. I don't like fire-breathing, snorting conservatives, or any group for that matter, trying to define to me what makes a citizen patriotic. When a group wraps itself in a flag I become suspicious of its intent. It's been the Bush administration's go-to strategy: When someone questions their decision making, call into question their patriotism.

Is it patriotic to lie us into a war that has killed thousands of Americans and many times more Iraqis? Is it patriotic to give tax breaks to the richest among us and take it from the poorest? Is it patriotic to give contracts to giant companies using no-bid procedures, who are overcharging us taxpayers to the tune of billions?

I don't think so, and draping a flag in front of those lies to try to hide them just makes them all the worse, a really cynical trick. If they're hoping to dupe the public, at times this administration has done a really good job. Well, they have to be good at something, and if lies and obfuscations were gold bricks we'd all be rich.

Despite the rightwing definition of the term "patriotic," here's what I think a patriotic American is. (But then, why be so provincial? It could be true of any citizen of any country. We aren't the only country on earth with patriotic citizens.) A patriot is someone who goes to work every day and does an honest day's work. He doesn't try to rip people off. He raises his kids to be good citizens. He has faith in his government that they will be there to protect him in times of need, but he keeps another eye out to make sure they're doing their jobs correctly. A really patriotic citizen doesn't just assume that because someone says they are working for him that they really are.

It's the right, the duty, of a patriotic citizen to hold all elected officials to their word, and their feet to the fire. It's the duty of a citizen to ask questions, to keep checking on those elected officials to make sure they are doing their jobs, and if they aren't, it's the job of a citizen to vote them out and put someone else in.

All of these are patriotic acts, the very minimum expected of a citizen. Whether or not you have a flag decal in the rear window of your car, or fly the flag over your house on the 4th of July, you have more duties in this country than to protect a piece of cloth, even an iconic piece of cloth like the American flag.

After all, the American flag has flown over some pretty awful and awesome places. It was raised at Iwo Jima and it was planted on the moon. It doesn't need protecting; we need protecting from those of us trying to sell us on a flag-burning amendment.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Addendum: The latest New Yorker just came in. The cover reminds me of the immediate post-9/11 days when people were sticking little flags on their lawn. Turn those flags over and they said, "Made In China," a country we had serious problems with 40 years ago. Now we let them make the symbols of our national identity. Stuff changes...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Vintage Paperbacks Part IV

I read once that in the paperback publishing world that romance sold the best, followed by Westerns. I don't have any romances because I never read them. I don't have too many Western novels in my paperback collection, since I only occasionally read them. I guess I got my fill of Western movies when I was a kid, and about the only thing about the West that intrigues me is actual history. I think reading about Lewis and Clark, or Wyatt Earp, is much more interesting in an historical rather than fictional context.

The first of these paperbacks fill that bill, except it doesn't look like it. A Texas Cowboy by Charles A. Siringo, is a 1950s reprint of a book originally published in 1885. It's marketed as a novel until you get inside and see that they've reproduced the original 1885 title page, and then you know you're not reading the latest Max Brand or Louis L'Amour.

All of these books have something in common on the covers: the gun. What would a Western novel be without a gunslingin' cowboy? Hey, podnuh, too bad that image is mythical. If you watch old movies you think that half the people who lived in the west were gunslingers and the other half were ranchers. In real life people who lived in the West were a lot like you and me, just trying to earn a living, and the violent people were like violent people nowadays; nobody wanted to be around them.

For some reason I like the cover on Dell #227, Ernest Haycox's Trail Town. It's got a design simplicity I like, a color scheme almost akin to a paint by numbers kit. No subtleties here. It's just a picture of a sheriff shooting it out with an unseen enemy. Dell "Mapbacks" are popular collectibles. They have a map of the town or location of the events going on in the novel. Ernest Haycox was a very popular author in his day.

I looked at the back cover of The Singing Scorpion, wondering why it wasn't called The Stinging Scorpion, since I think scorpions are more apt to sting than warble "Red River Valley." I checked the back cover blurb. There's a character who has masqueraded as someone named The Singing Scorpion. I thought, "That sounds like the plot of an old Western movie." Sure enough, when I read the names of the characters I saw they were Tucson Smith, Lullaby Joslin and Stoney Brooke. For those of you in the know, those were The Three Mesquiteers, characters in a very popular Western movie series that played for several years. The copyright information says it's originally from 1934, and the Graphic Books edition I have is from 1950. Checking the listing for Three Mesquiteers I found that the first of the series of 51 movies with those characters was made in 1936, based on an idea and characters by William Colt MacDonald. So there you go, but the Three Mesquiteers name doesn't appear on the cover or back cover, so by 1950 apparently the publisher decided the audience for the now defunct movie series was not the audience who was going to buy the book.

Stormy In The West by Norman A. Fox is another Dell book, but not part of the Mapback series. The cover art seems confusing. About the only thing immediately apparent is that the cowboy is shooting. On a closer examination you see he is coming out of the broken front window of a saloon. I like the blurb on the first page: "She was like a mountain cat, full-bodied and supple; and she was pretty; the prettiest girl that Sabin had ever known. She brought the horse around and rode it up to the boardwalk till she was beside the porch. She said, "You'll keep your hands off Pitchfork's men!" and she raised her quirt and brought it down hard across Sabin's shoulder."

Oboy, sounds like a little s&m playing out there. It's been a long time since I saw the word "quirt" anywhere. Sounds nasty, doesn't it?

I'm also fascinated by the cover blurb, "He traded blue whistlers with a gunsmoke gang." Blue whistlers? Isn't that when junior high kids or frat boys light their farts on fire?

Mosey on down to the local corral and rustle up some Western readin'. Think I'll go to the local waterin'-hole for a drink. This a'goin' through old paperback books is hot, dusty and dry work.

Ciao for now, El Postino

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Domo Aregato, Mister Roboto!

Walking into a public school during the summer you're likely to encounter a lot of cleaning going on, and young people called sweepers, who are working for a couple of months helping the custodian. I can usually tell when the custodian is there because either a country music station is blasting over the schoolwide intercom, or some form of classic rock from the '70s or even '60s. When the kids are there without adults they are usually playing something harder and more modern.

I walked into a school the other day and heard classic rock: Styx singing the song with the line, "Domo aregato, Mister Roboto," which is one of those catchy lines and tunes that stick in the head of an obsessive-compulsive type like me and drives me practically to the point of committing mayhem.

Luckily I've learned to channel that destructive energy in more creative ways. I thought about the robot toys my son and I gathered over the years. David grew up in the early '80s watching TV shows like Robotech, Voltron, et al, and while I really didn't watch them with him, I ended up shelling out $$$ for Christmas and birthday presents featuring those characters.

David has left his toys at my house, to pick up sometime in the future. He took care of every one of his toys and the best of them (most expensive, that is) are still our basement. In the meantime I keep the robots on a display shelf in a room where I keep most of my books.

The first is what I call Voltron and Son...two different metal and plastic versions of the same robot. The tall one is pretty tall! He's heavy, too. I don't dare take things like this apart and fold them into the origami designs the clever Japanese designers created. David can, and could when he was a kid. I used to be dazzled watching his deft fingers change the configurations of these characters in seconds. Unlike his friends, who usually broke even indestructible toys like this in a short time, David was able to preserve his, and found out quick not to let his buddies play with his toys.

I don't know the name of this guy, who is about 6" tall, metal, heavy. The wings and chest ornament, or armor, are made of plastic. I seem to recognize the character, but not quite. I think I've seen some manga or noticed him in the past. Anyone? Name?

In 1980 I worked for a bookstore and helped set up a booth at the 1980 San Diego Comicon. That year several artists from the Japanese comic book and animation industry were visiting and had booths. Among other things, they were selling these little toys like Astro Boy and pins for about a buck apiece. In case you don't know, Astro Boy is a robot, an important figure in the history of Japanese comics and animation. He's the ancestor of the more complicated and intricate robots pictured above.

The Robot Captain is something I bought many years ago from a toystore. It reminded me of when I was a kid in the '50s and Mom used to buy this sort of thing for me. Next to outer space, spaceships, flying saucers and such, I thought robots were the coolest. Too bad the box hasn't fared as well as the Captain himself. Incidentally, the Captain is basically plastic which disappointed me...

...but the next guy didn't. He's the Rocket Racer, mostly lithographed tin except for his head, which is made out of rubber. Yeah, this is cheating because he's not Japanese, but a newer toy made in China in the old style, but he was an especially nostalgic buy for me. Like a lot of people, I wish I had back all of the cheap toys I had during the 1950s. I had several things like this that I just discarded because I didn't think they were worth keeping.

Besides, how could I resist something that is RICTION, with siren?

Ciao for now, and domo aregato for reading this, El Postino

Welcome To The World, Baby Gabby

We'd like to welcome Gabriela Uyen Nhu Holman to our family. She was born Friday, June 30. She weighed 7 pounds 5 ounces and measured 19.5 inches. She is healthy and looks terrific.

Gabby's decided the lights in her new world are a bit bright. Bella meets her sister, Gabby, for the first time.

What an incredible person Loan is. We are grateful her labor was 4 1/2 hours, compared to the 60 hours with Bella!

Mom and baby doing just fine!

What a wonderful way to start our Independence Day weekend. Now this is something worth shooting off fireworks for.

Ciao for now, El Grandpa Postino