Monday, December 31, 2012


New Year's Eve has always been a little odd for me. No real traditions per se, alot of different things though makes New Year's Eve rather interesting to me, though not nearly one of my favorite holidays. So today I will be using my smoke signals column to share some of my more memorable New Year's Eve's. 

-I do have 1 tradition that I started back in 1996 I believe that I still do every year. I write a note to myself reflecting on the year. Nothing too deep or major, just things that happened to me in the year.  I re-read the old ones to reflect on other times. Don't know why I started but still like to do it.

-When I was younger my Aunt and Uncle and cousins from New Jersey would come to visit on New Year's Eve, or we would go to their house. We had some fun times. One year we decided to dress up in silly costumes. Not just the kids but the adults. Using clothes we had in the house, and make up as well.

-I spent the 1999-2000 New Year's eve in New Jersey. Everyone was freaking about Y2K, and it was the new century so the networks were running their coverage of New Year's Eve all over the world and remberances of 1900-1999. I had just gotten my first ever car and this was my first real solo drive. My mom and stepdad left before I did. Yet I beat them to Jersey on New Years Eve. Got there at 3pm. The roads were dead. We were then going to go to a friend of theirs house near the beach and hang out. I was the youngest one there. Had fun though. Watched the fireworks on the beach. We went back to my Aunt's house and she wanted to get up like 4 hours later to watch the sunrise on new Millennium. So we got up went to the beach and could not see a thing. Fog socked in all over. had a chanpagne cheer then went back to bed. That night we had dinner at another of their friends house and I got really sick. Food Poisoning possibly needless to say it was a horrible night and we were leaving the next day. I felt better and made it home in one piece.

-Also when I was younger, on my neighborhood lived the Bakers. Their youngest son Craig was a few years younger then me but we were friends. One NYE he came over to my house because his older brother Chris who went to the University of Maryland and was in the Marching band was having a party. But what was cool was not only was that the first year I ever saw Gremlins, but at midnight Chris and his friends in the marching band, now slightly intoxicated would get their instruments out and played Auld Lang Syne outside of their house. Then they played the Maryland fight song, and then decided let's have a parade. So the marching band began to march through out neighborhood playing all kinds of music. People came out of their houses to watch, or join the parade. We went around the block and they stopped and played Auld Lang Syne to some folks who came out and kept marching. They would do this for two other years as well. That was always cool. i do have a audiotape of one of their parades somewhere in my house.

-Senior Year of High School I was hanging out with some kids a year or so younger than me. One of them decided to have a NYE party at her house and we were invited. My first real party! So I went and had a blast. Then when we left we went and hung out at someone elses house. Then others began to leave, soon my friend Matt and me were all that was left and we decided to walk around the neighborhood and chat. When I got home about 3am or so my mother was freaking out since I did not tell her I was going to hang out with others. She thought I would be home after the party. She called a bunch of people after midnight trying to figure out where I was. Needless to say I never did that again.

-NYE 2000-2001 was probably the best one I ever had. I had just started to date my now wife and her and her friend who set us up and her boyfriend got two hotel rooms at The Renaissance Hotel which was write on Baltimore Harbor by Harborplace. There was going to be a parade, and then the fireworks and we had rooms right there. But that's not all. That afternoon was the Ravens first ever playoff game in their history. (This was the game that started them on their Superbowl win). They were playing Denver in Baltimore and my dad had snagged us tickets to it, albeit not sitting together. It was freezing cold, but it was a great game, we won and then I knew i would be with my wife at a nice hotel and have a nice dinner and see cool fireworks. The only downside was I was fighting a cold that day, but still a great night and an even better New Year's Day, but we will not get into that! ;)

-During the early part of the 2000's my wife and I and our friends had a tradition. We would go to Nichi Bai Kai a Japanese steakhouse for dinner on NYE, usually around 930ish since I was working a late shift during that time 11-8 and we never had off NYE. Then go to a local club called Padonia Station. That was the closest we did to tradition.

-The last NYE before kids was memorable also. My wife and I went with our same friends on a Dinner cruise out of Baltimore Harbor and anchored near the Key Bridge and Fort McHenry. We had free buffet, free drinks and music. When it was time for fireworks the boat took us just outside the main harbor, near Fells Point and we watched the fireworks from the water. Then returned to our perch by Key Bridge while the downtown revelers left and they cleared up the firework equipment. So it was close to another 90 minutes before we could get back to our car. We also had a guy sitting at the table in front of us pass out and vomit.

-NYE with kids has really been uneventful. I think we've had get togethers, one year we had our Christmas with my in-laws on NYE. This NYE is not really any different. We are going to my sister in laws house for a get together and may spend the night. We'll see.

Anyway I may have forgotten some other NYE's but those are the most memorable ones. So be safe. Get a designated driver if you had to much, and have a good New Year's Eve!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Conspiracy of OZ

I like the Wizard of Oz. I saw it in a movie theater when they re-released it 13 years or so ago and watch it plenty of times when it shows up on TV. I own the DVD, but I don't think I have ever watched the DVD though. But I Digress. So 13 years ago I saw this in a movie theater and I discovered something about it that i never thought I would ever think. The whole film is one big conspiracy theory. Yeah it is. What's the theory though Dylan?

The Wizard of Oz is about how Glinda the Good Witch uses an unwitting pawn to cement her place as the one true ruler of OZ. And I am going to prove it to you. I am using just the information i gleaned from the film. i never read the books, I have never seen or read Wicked so of anything sounds familiar it just means I am not the only one who believes this. I also discovered this picture while prepping this blog that proves others know what I know:

I started writing this since it was going to air on TNT last Saturday, but time got away from me and the holidays arrived so now I will try to finish before the end of the year.  Anyway there are a few key points that prove my point.

1. Glinda tells Dorothy that she always had the power to go home:

Why not tell her this at the beginning of the movie so she could go home. She obviously doesnt belong there. She is scared and yet this good witch tells her the only way to get home is to see the Wizard. By the end of the movie after she succeeds in destroying the Wicked Witch of the West Glinda tells her she could always could go home by clicking her heels three times. Why keep this from her?  Glinda needs her to destroy the witches.

2. There is no witch on witch violence:

To me it appears that the witches in Oz cannot kill each other. Glinda who is desperate to take over OZ needs to figure out a way to get rid of the other witches. So she calls a patsy in Dorothy to come to OZ. Her house drops on the Wicked Witch of the East, and then she needs to have Dorothy take out the Wicked Witch of the West since she cant do it herself, so she gets the Wizard to send her on this asinine trip to retrieve the Witches broomstick.

3. The Wizard is a political puppet of Glinda:

Glinda discovered him, built him up as the faux ruler of Emerald City (which she basically runs) and then when the assignment is successful, finds a way to get rid of him. That is why she picked Dorothy, who came from the same area as the Wizard. There is a bond between them so she knew they would probably head back home after installing another puppet regime in the Scarecrow, Tin man, and the Cowardly Lion.

4. You have no power here:

After The Wicked Witch of the West discovers that her sister was killed by the house she threatens the munchkins and Dorothy but Glinda shouts "You have no Power here!" Do the witches only have power in their territorries? If so I assuming since Glinda's power seems to work fine in Munchkinland that is her territory. So why was the Wicked Witch of the East there in the first place? Did she discover Glinda's plan and was trying to get the Munchkins to help her overthrow Glinda?

5. Why are the Munchkin groups named Leagues and Guilds?

Those are usually names used for armed forces groups who do war. Were the Munchkins Glinda's army?

6. Water:

If you know that Water can kill you why have a giant bucket of it in an easy to access place that could accidentally get on you. Glinda had an inside man who set it up. Makes sense to me. Because the evil witch's army at the castle (not the flying monkeys) are very happy when the Witch dies. So how hard could it be to plant an inside man to set up the water and generally lead Dorothy to the water as well as the witch?

7. TOTO KNOWS: Animals are pretty smart. I truly believe Toto knew what Glinda had up her sleeve. Only because the only cat in all of OZ happens to be at the final farewell of Dorothy. Toto knows that Glinda is up to something and perhaps if Dorothy were to stay it may screw up her plans. So the dog decides to chase this one cat and jumps off the balloon just as it takes off stranding Dorothy in OZ. Then Glinda jumps in and tells her she always had the power to leave. Why put up with the whole balloon shenanigan when she could have told her, even after she killed the Evil witch that she could always go home. Why wait until after the Balloon strands you there? Was Glinda lying when she said she always had the power? Or was it a last ditch effort to get her out of OZ? We may never know.

I wrote the original conspiracy theory 13 years ago and have no idea where I put it. So these items were the ones I most remembered. I may have had more in there but I think this small segment gets my point across.

Again I wrote this before I even knew of Wicked so if anything is silmilar to what is in Wicked it just goes to show you that more than one person believes in this conspiracy. Not so crazy after all huh?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Want To Believe

I will be upfront with this right now. I believe in Aliens, UFOS, Ghosts, Bigfoot, Monsters, etc. I believe, but my rational mind keeps popping in and whenever I see a show about these things the rational side of me is all like, they are lying, it's not real, it's a hoax. There have been to many of these hoaxes that you have to start believing that nothing supernatural or paranormal exists.

I love watching Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters and sometimes they get some good evidence of Ghosts, but the majority of stuff they get can usually be explained away, or even hoaxed by them. I am not saying they are hoaxing but again the rational side of my mind is like if they never found anything the shows would be boring and the show cancelled very quickly. I want to believe that everything that is photographed, or talked about is real. But my rational mind just won't let me.

I've always believed in these things wholeheartedly but recently that darn rational part of my mind is starting to say it's not real unless you experience it yourself. You will know for sure that it is real if it happens to you.  Rational mind, you may have just met your match. I believe I have had two paranormal experiences in the last week. I'm in a war with my mind because the Rational part is all ready crafting debunkers for the first experience. The second happened this morning and my mind has only just started to try to debunk it. So I wanted to write about it before it overcame my mind and I debunked it has not being true.

My wife and I have lived in our townhouse for 8 years. It was built relatively recently, in early 2000. One other person lived in it before we did. But she was moving to Florida for her work and we got it just before it went on the market. This was during the housing boom and we bought it for a good price. It has dropped since then, but we love the house and do not plan to vacate for a long time. We are undergoing a refinancing right now as a matter of fact. But I digress. So as far as we know no one has died in our house, there has been no horrible events in the area that we are aware of so it makes these experiences even more confusing and gives my rational mind a means to easily try to debunk this.

Last Sunday into Monday (9th-10th of December) I was awoken by something. It wasn't a noise but something woke me up. It was about 2:50am. My wife was sleeping soundly and our cat Jinx was on our bed. I saw her when I woke up. So the first thing I do is look to the door to our bedroom because it mght be one of my kids who is scared, or sick, or needs to go to the bathroom. So my eyes are adjusted to the dark and I swear i see the door to our bedroom crack open and I notice what appears to be a little girl peering through the opening. My first thought was it was my daughter. But I didnt say anything. Instead I got up and opened the door to see if I could see my daughter. Darkness. Both kids doors were closed solid. I turned on the hall light to make sure and once my eyes adjusted the doors were still closed and no one was hiding in the bathroom also upstairs. I turn off the light and go back to sleep. Experience # 1

My rational mind has debunked that as, the door was all ready open because the cat obviously opened it earlier to come into our bedroom and my adjusting eyes just thought it saw it move. And the girl figure could have been something outside that resembled it, maybe the combo of shadow and stairs or something. Plus on Sunday morning my daughter came into our bedroom at 7 am a similar way, opened the door and peered in then came into bed with us. Maybe I was still in a dream state and it was replaying what I saw earlier. Stupid rational mind.

However, this morning something else happened. At 4:50am I was awoken by one note of a what I could only say was a harmonica or a toy trumpet. But neither kids have those, they were still asleep, and it was only one note. If the kids were doing it they would play a symphony. The weird thing was a day or so after my first experience, my wife heard the same noise when she was exercising in our basement at about the same time but only a week before. It was rather odd.

Now rational mind is like, you were hearing things, it was noise from outside, you were just imagining it and using what your wife told you to make it real. Who knows. This one is a bit more of a stumper. So for now i am calling it an experience and I still believe in the paranormal despite what my rational mind may say.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving: the most underrated holiday of the year

Thanksgiving has the unlucky spot of being between Halloween and Christmas. But Thanksgiving is one of the best holidays out there. It gets overlooked all the time because of everyone's insanity when it comes to Christmas.

In the old days no one even mentioned Christmas until the day after Thanksgiving. Christmas music did not get played until then. Malls would decorate for Christmas the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and finish up on Black Friday. Santa would show up right after thanksgiving as well. Thanksgiving was it's own holiday and it had respect. Now Christmas stuff replaces Halloween on November 1st. Christmas movies that normally did not arrive until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving now were showing up the first friday after Halloween. Christmas music has started on local radio stations at least a week before Thanksgiving. Advertisements on TV are now all about Christmas. Christmas is the popular big brother, Halloween is the spoiled younger child, and Thanksgiving is the cliched Middle child. And that is wrong.

Yes Thanksgiving is an American holiday. Most countries have a version of Thanksgiving, but it rarely overlaps with America's version. But we are Americans and this is our TV we are watching, our music we are listening to, our movies we are seeing. We should treat it has an American holiday and get it's popularity back instead of jumping right into Christmas as most of the world does.

I love Thanksgiving. It's not flashy like the other holidays, but it is still a very nice time, and until recently it was the point where I really started to get excited for Christmas because I knew that starting on Black Friday the Christmas season officially started. We would start seeing Christmas ads, Christmas tv, Christmas movies, listening to Christmas music. Now when Thanksgiving arrives, the excitememt of Christmas is not as prevalent since we have been knocked over the head with it.

Nowadays I really like it because it is a 4 day weekend, and I get to spend time with family and just rest. I've also had a lot of good memories of Thanksgiving. When I was younger and my parents were still together Thanksgiving always meant going to my Grandparent's house down in Oxon Hill Maryland near Andrews Air Force Base right outside of DC and Virginia. Most of the time my cousins and Aunt and Uncle from New Jersey would come down and we would have a good time. My grandfather who loved making fires in the fireplace would have one roaring for us, we would watch Football, when not watching tv we would play football in my grandparents yard or hide and seek in their upstairs. I remember one year I ate so many Andes Candies that I threw up. Now I never eat Chocolate and mint anymore. I tried radishes for the first time their before also. But as we all were getting older and my folks soon split, we would go to New Jersey for the Thanksgiving weekend. I remember one year getting terribly sick during Thanksgiving at my Aunt and Uncle's house. My stomach was so bad that on Black Friday when we decided we wanted to go to the mall and I wanted to go with them to get out of the house I could only walk hunched over. Now I know that sounds like a horrible Thanksgiving, and it was, but it was memorable. There was also the year of the snowstorm on Thanksgiving day (when we usually drove up) and the car in front of us spun out into a 360 and almost hit our car. But we got lucky.

When I was in College we stopped going up to NJ and stayed home. Sometimes we went to my Grandparents, but at this time they were in the twilight of their lives and not doing so well. In 1993 my sister got married on November 20th. She had a Thanksgiving style wedding dinner. So when Thanksgiving hit the next week, we ate Italian. Once I graduated and was still living at home, we stayed home and did a no fuss Thanksgiving dinner so I got to watch a lot of TV. At that time SYFY (which was the Sci-Fi channel at that time) aired Mystery Science Theater 3000 that was a classic show and set the stage for my involvement with the SnarkAlecs. It was a show about a guy and two puppets who watched really bad movies and made comments about it. Funny as hell comments. On Thanksgiving Sci-Fi always did a marathon Turkey movies for a Turkey day.  It was also around that time for the first time ever I saw Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The Godfather and The Godfather Part 2. Because other channels ran marathons also and I finally watched these and enjoyed them. Football was still around as well.

One constant throughout all the Thanksgiving's is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, an annual ritual that I always watched and still watch. Here in Maryland we also had the Turkey bowl, Loyola vs Calvert Hall high School football (huge rivalry) and before they stopped doing it on Thanksgiving (City vs. Poly) another huge local high school football game. 

And surprise Comics also had an impact on Thanksgiving. I remember reading Gotham by Gaslight on Thanksgiving at my aunt's house (the year I got sick it just came out with art by one of my fave artists Mike Mignola). Paul Dini and Alex Ross would produce a fully painted big size graphic novel every Thanksgiving week and they were all gorgeous.

Recently the day after Thanksgiving has been the time that my wife and I take our kids to the Festival of Trees, a great event that helps give money to Kennedy Krieger a group that helps sick children. Local companies commision artists to decorate Christmas Trees and make them as artistic as possible and then sells them with all proceeds going to Kennedy Krieger. They also have vendors selling things, Christmas choirs, Celebrity Christmas story readers, a huge train garden, Santa Claus, a kids area with Pony rides, bouncy houses, Carousel's, and crafts. A great event that gets you into the Christmas spirit, the day after Thanksgiving. it goes all weekend so you can hit it at any time.

It is just a pleasant all around time of the year with the only stress being self imposed if you have issues with your family. Otherwise it is just a pleasant meal, good company, and fun. And hopefully relaxiation for those who don't go Black Friday shopping. The food is always good, the drink is always good. And you have leftovers that last awhile. It is purely and simply FUN. No huge anticipation that brings you down after it is done like Halloween and Christmas, there is no real build up to Thanksgiving it is just there. And it is wonderful. The day after Thanksgiving you can go all the Christmas crazy you want, but til then please give Thanksgiving some props.

The Thanksgiving Song from Adam Sandler.

Friday, November 16, 2012

3pm on a Friday. It's time for It's Dylan A. Lange's radio Show

Alot of you may not know this but in my senior year of college I was a DJ on our College radio station. WXAC 91.3 FM READING PA.  I had 2 two hour shows in the Fall and Spring semester, and one massive 3 hour show during January Interium. I hadn't thought about it in awhile but for some reason today it popped into my head. You see my shows were on from 3pm-5pm on Fridays and 10pm-12am on Saturday nights.  My January show I think was 9pm-12am on Saturdays.

When I first went to Albright College we had the radio station but it was not very powerful so they only did a few shows so the guys and girls who were really into it got the shows, so I never went out for a show. At the end of my Junior year, a bunch of my best friends from College were picked to run the station. AND we were getting a new state of the Art, more powerful Antenna that will allow us to expand, which we did our Senior year. So many slots opened up and since my buddies were in charge, why not? So I went to the meeting and we signed up for slots. I was lucky enough to be allowed to slots. I would do two different shows to keep things interesting.

The main show I wanted to do became the 10pm-12am Saturday night show It's Dylan A. Lange's radio show. A radio show that would play nothing but music from Movie soundtracks and scores. I had accrued a large amount of them since I loved movie music, so I had more than enough to do a different show every week. Plus I would buy new soundtracks anytime I wanted to, or got some for the holidays. We also had a movie soundtrack section in our record collection. (it was 1994-95 we still had vinyl and tape recorders and CDS). It was a blast. You could also tape record your show from the station, so I did that a number of times. I was told one time that my show was the only show that a local jail would play, because they always played the radio from 10-12am and our station was the clearest??? HUH? It was not a joke because I actually got a phone call from them a few times requesting songs. So go me!

I have an ecclectic taste in music so my Friday 3pm-5pm show And now for something completely different (yes I used two Monty Python jokes for the names of my radio shows. Sue me.) showcased that. I would start off with say an 80s song, then jump to a 90s grunge song, to a new age song, to an Indy rock band song, to opera, to a disco song, etc. and so forth. My radio show was like a box of chocolates, you never knew what you were gonna get. I had a 2pm class on Friday so I would pack up my backpack with a ton of CDS and tapes and my books were in there also. Then when I was done at 5pm go right to the cafeteria for dinner since dinner started at 5pm and then would be free for the weekend.

We did everything. We had PSA's. Community calendar's. Station ID breaks and my voice was actually going out over the airwaves. We were located in the basement of the Library, but it was still great fun. We hosted concerts on campus, it was a great time to be a senior in college. oh by the way. I also wrote a colimn for the school newspaper my Senior. But that's a story for another time.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The End of an Institution

I grew up in an area called Rodgers Forge/Anneslie/Stoneleigh in Baltimore County, the same area great olympian Michael Phelps grew up. It is a group of three neighborhoods between Baltimore City and Towson, MD. We have the main road York road that runs through the neighborhoods. We have rowhomes, stand alone houses, a mansion, swimming pools, churches, shopping areas, schools, we have everything. And we had Harry Little's.

Harry Little's wasn't anything special to look at. A corner sub shop at the intersection of York and Register. It was family owned by a family who lived in my neighborhood of Anneslie. It had been there for as long as I remember. It served greasy pizza, crisp fries, onion rings, and Mozzarella sticks. It has your typical sub menu, cold subs, hot subs. you get get whatever you wanted to on it. It had an ice cream freezer and a cooler that had soda's and snapple in it. You could eat on the inside if you want, except there were no tables, a few years ago it appeared that they had put some inside and also outside if you wanted to eat outside. The scent of fried onions wafted through the area whenever you drove by or walked by. The workers were very nice never really bitter or mean. You could call ahead and pickup if you wanted to or just drop in and order something. Prices were reasonable, food was good sized and delicious. They came wrapped in an unimpressive white paper, though I will always remember it as sub paper. If you had a warm sub, they would wrap it in aluminum foil then the sub paper. They had gumball machines, and it was within walking distance of my house. It was an institution, always had been there for as long as I remember. When I moved away I occassionally got a hankering for a Turkey Club sub, or a fried shrimp sub, or even a BLT with extra meat. I would call up and drive up to get it. Or when I went to get my haircut, (I still go to my old haircut place even though it is far away from where I live) I may pop in for a sub. It was always there whenever I drove by on my way to my mom's house. Now it's history.

I found out about this through what else Facebook. One of my old friends who lived behind my house Angela Lacey nee Armstrong posted a picture of a sub she was eating. Captioning it the last Harry Little's sub ever. I was surprised and wrote a comment on it. She responded by stating that someone else bought the store and closed it down and will be putting something else in it's place. Sadness, an institution gone. I suppose you could blame progress, but still an unexciting local sub shop closing gives me pause and a deep sense of nostalgia. Sure there are tons of locally owned sub shops. There is one near where I live, which I go to every once in awhile. it's good food, but not quite like Harry Little's. Nothing ever will be. An institution that has been around since I was born almost 40 years ago, is now...History.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Smoke Signals 3: Movies, Wine, and Death

Hello and welcome to another installment of Smoke Signals my micro Blogging in my blog. Huh? Just little thoughts I have had that do not warrant full blogs. Not too many today but some good stuff.

-The Avengers came out on Blu-ray and DVD this past Tuesday. And as a huge comic geek I will state here and now this is the best comicbook movie I have ever seen. It is a real life comic come to life. Funny, dracmatic, action packed, hits all the comic book beats. It's a winner and a movie I will probably watch multiple times a year.

-Speaking of movies I was thinking of these two movies the other day and came to the realization it would be an amazing mind blowing double feature. LA Story and Joe Vs. The Volcano. Both are bizarre magical films that use LA as a magical place, but the artistic vision of the directors is what makes them a great pair. Two films that are unlike any films you have ever seen. With actors Steve Martin and a host of cameo apperances in LA Story and Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (playing 3 roles!) in their first film together. Both are romantic comedies, but instead of your typical Rom-Com's they are more like Fairy Tales. Though both are funny. 2 original movies in an era when original movies are no longer around too much. Case in point:

-Looper and Dredd. Everyone complains about the fact that their are no original movies, or strong R-Rated action and or horror films for older people. PG-13 is the cashcow with the teenagers going to these action and horror films that are mostly retreads of things you have seen before but can't go to the next level due to the rating. If some PG-13 movies were rated R, and were able to get away with more maybe things wouldn't be so bad. But here we are with Dredd which is a great grown up movie. A hard R-rated action film much like Die Hard or Robocop or Total Recall (the original with Arnold) with lots of violence but strong visuals and story. It maybe comic book burnout or the fact that not a lot of people in America know who the hell Judge Dredd is since he is a hugely popular character in Great Britain but the film is tanking here. Looper comes out on Friday and I have heard from people who have seen it and I know that it is an amazingly original film one that needs to make a lot of money so Hollywood will not be content with cookie cutter films. People always scream about how there are no original movies in Hollywood anymore. This one is so you better go see it. If not Hollywood will see the box office and say no one wants to see orignal films and we go back to getting films about boardgames.

-Browsing through Wal-Mart the other day I discovered from Hallmark their Halloween treat of the year. My Pet Ghost. A plastic bottle with a oval window in it and a button you press at the top. When you do a ghost appears in the bottle in a painted background and makes noises at you. There are three different phrases/noises. There are 3 different kinds and they are awesomely fun. Bought one for myself and have it on my desk at work. Worth a look see for under 10 dollars.

-Heard the sad news of crooner Andy Williams passing. He will always be remembered by me for his Christmas songs including the most wonderful time of the year. But his claim to fame is Moon River which is a great song. RIP Andy. My dad really liked you and so did I.

-Finally I just wanted to let everyone know one of my all time favorite wines is the Coppola wines. Francis Ford Coppola director of the Godfather Movies, Apocalypse Now and more is a fantastic winery manager and has turned his small winery into an award winning behemouth taking over other vineyards and releasing them under his imprint as well. But I like it not only because it's Coppola, but he really knows what he is doing with the wine. Available at all wine and liquor stores, I reccommend you pick some up.  Cheers.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why Autumn/Fall is the best season EVER!!!

I was taking my son into Daycare the other day and we ride through horse country out here in Baltimore County. Gorgeous farms, nice sceneary. Noah was talking about seeing a tractor and I was pointing out horses to him when I noticed a flock of Canadian Geese flying overhead. I immediately pointed it out to him and he was excited to see them. As was I, because that is the first real sign of Fall coming. During the Fall we get flocks of them flying overhead and it made me think this morning that despite the hot humid air now, FALL IS COMING. And I could not be more excited. Autumn/Fall is my favorite season of all time and I cannot believe that we are finally on the cusp of this gorgeous season. Why do i love thee Fall? That's what this blog is about.


It's no secret that I hate warm weather. I can't focus, I can't sleep when I am to hot. I feel draggy, worn out, grumpy. I don't like to sweat to much, I just can't stand the heat. Summer in Baltimore is notorious for having at least a few 100+ degree days, sometimes more sometimes less. And yes we have air conditioning but in my house the air barely reaches the upstairs. Plus I work in a hot environment in a warehouse so that makes things uncomfortable. Fall though, when it starts we get 70 degree days which are perfect for me. Then the cooler air rolls in and you start feeling renewed and refreshed. I don't mind wearing jackets, or hats. And for the first half of Fall you really do not need jackets and hats. Everything just feels crisper. And it is perfect sleeping weather. You get to cold you wrap up in a blanket which will not suffocate you with heat like the summer does. That is a good warmth.


I love seeing the trees shift from green to bright vibrant Oranges and Reds and Yellows. It makes the whole area come to life in vibrant color. Riding on highways become more interesting as the trees are no longer the dull green and grey colors of summer, they are gorgeous bright colors that, as Julie Delpy states in Before Sunrise, To feel happier look at bright colors. Bright colors make you feel good and happy.


Baltimore has always been a Football town. I hate to say it but it's true. When we lost the Colts in the 80s we made sure that our Baseball team would not leave us and we became a Baseball town. Then in 1996 we got the Ravens and at the same time the Orioles were playing good ball. The Ravens not so much going 4-12 in their first season. The peak of the Orioles was in 1997 and then for 15 long years the Orioles started to decline while the Ravens started to rise including a Super Bowl victory in 2000. (On a sidenote the Orioles are doing awesome this year and though I still believe Baltimore is a Football town, our town still rallies around the Orioles when they are playing great ball.) Football is fall. The season goes throughout the fall and winter. It's played in cold weather, it's 16 weeks of pure adrenaline in a league that has parity where any team could be a Playoff caliber team. So all NFL cities look forward to Football because this year may be their year.


Anyone who knows me knows that Halloween is my favorite holiday. I really don't know why that is, but it is. The build up to Halloween with all the creepy decorations, the rows and rows of pumpkins, the candy, the creepy shows on tv, like Walking Dead, The Simpsons Halloween special, or any of the Ghost Hunter/Ghost Adventures shows, the crisp air getting crisper, the sky getting darker. The colors of the leaves are starting to descend as more appear on the ground but the colors are still there. Everyone who wears costumes and what they wear. And there is also a very personal reason why I like Halloween that I will not share here, but all of that together creates a great holiday for me. I used to watch a scary movie a day the month of October, I used to take Halloween off from work and decorate the house and even make my wife dinner. I don't do that now because my work as an awesome Halloween BBQ and costume contest on Halloween, which adds to the excitement of the holiday for me.

To me also Thanksgiving is an underrated holiday, granted nothing really crazy happens, but it's a day off and I am lucky enough to have a four day weekend that weekend so that is a great time when we spend time with family and eat very well and watch cool stuff on TV like the Macy's Thanksgiving day Parade, marathons of movies and shows, (I saw Godfather 1 and 2, and Willy Wonka on these Thanksgiving marathons), Football is on (see above) and it was always the official for me anyway beginning of the Christmas season. Just a nice time all together. I will be getting into Halloween and Thanksgiving a bit more down the line when I do some special Smoke Signal blogs about them.

Fall brings us Apples, Pumpkin (which is actually good in soup or ravioli), Turkey, Chili, Candy or Caramel Apples, Apple Cider,Candy Corn, Frankenberry and Boo berry cereal,  Pumpkin spice lattes, Pies of all kinds, and more. Good heavy foods to bulk up for the coming winter are amazing. Bigger meals pop up and it is delightful. The Renaissance Fair also is in the fall and it usually has all kinds of amazing food and beer as well.


Fall has always been the traditional time to release your Oscar Bait movies, the film industry believes that more adult films should be in the fall because more adults go to the movies then, whereas in the Summer it is kids who are off for Summer who make up the majority of film viewing audience, So you get more of the big bang brainless films. The fall is also a time where many of the franchises get to shine such as Harry Potter, and Twilight, you also get great family cartoons from Disney, and of course the deeper oscar bait films. You get Christmas movies, horror movies around Halloween, it's a great time. But you also get the best of the Summer films because they finally start to make their way out onto DVD/Blu-Ray just in time for Christmas, so the Summer movies you loved earlier in the year you can watch over and over now. So you get the best of both worlds.


This has been watered down a little as of late with networks spreading the new seasons of shows throughout the year now instead of jamming them all in September. But there are still many shows that do this. New seasons of your favorite shows appear, so you no longer have to watch the reruns of the previous season that you have all ready seen. You get new never before seen episodes of your favorite shows.  You also get a chance to find new shows that you may like or may be the next big thing.


I first started dating my wife in the fall, we got married in the fall, went on our honeymoon in the fall, and had our first child in the fall. My sister got married in the fall and had her first child in the fall. So personally that was some good stuff.

FALL OR AUTUMN is a wonderful time for me, my absolute perfect season for the reasons stated above. I am so happy that Fall is almost here. Every person has their personal favorite season and I know there are probably people who hate the Fall, but not me, the Fall is perfect for me and a few other people I know as well.  Now it's time for me to stop writing and get to enjoying the upcoming fall season before the cold vicious snowy winter rolls in. Cheers.

Monday, September 10, 2012

It was just another gorgeous Tuesday Morning...

I know everyone has done one of these rememberances, but I just was thinking about it this year especially since for the first time in a while September 11th this year falls on the same day as September 11th 2001. It got me thinking about it and I decided just to write down what was going on with me during that terrible day.

I was working at Rainforest Cafe at this time. Tuesday was when we got our weekly delivery of inventory. I was for all intents and purposes the assistant manager of the Rainforest Cafe Retail Village. My good friend Ellyn was the manager,who had just gotten the official title, though E and I did our prespective jobs for awhile before they even decided to give Ellyn the Manager job. Since she had just gotten the promotion she had to spend a week in Houston where the Headquarters was to train on how to be a manager. So I was for the most part the manager. Though she was getting ready to come back on Wednesday. I was in charge of setting the schedule, and doing the managerial work we she had trained me on all ready. So I was opening that morning. I was also in charge of our stock room so my day was going to be doubly busy. I was living with my at the time girlfriend Dawn (now wife) in our apartment out in Cockeysville, MD with our two cats Bonnie and Clyde. She was ping-ponging back in forth between University of Maryland and her job at McCormick during this time. That morning she was down at the University of Maryland and would make her way back before noon to go to work full time. My sister was (and still is) married to an FBI analyst who was working at FBI HQ in Washington DC. My aunt (and Godmother) was an FBI agent out of the DC office as well.

It was an absolutly beautiful morning. Cool temps, blue sky, sun, when I rolled into work about 830 I guess. Now I had a CD player in my Honda and was playing a CD so I had no knowledge of what was going on. I strolled into the Cafe and one of the cleaners was on a ladder cleaning the fish tank talking to someone on the phone frantically about such and so being down there and not knowing what happened to them. I didn't even think about that since it was a personal call and none of my business. I get into the back office to pick up the till for the day and there on the news was the story about the plane hitting the WTC. I don't remember if both had been hit at that time, or only one. Everyone in the office was watching the tv and let me in on what was going on. After a while I had to go out and get things prepped for the day. Rainforest was in the Towson Town Center Mall so down the hall was a Radio Shack where a number of Rainforest employees were watching the news. I would occassionally saunter down to see what was going on and saw some of the other craziness going on. But we were still open and i was the only one working the Retail village. So i was getting updates from various people about what was happening.

I learned about the Pentagon, and that there was one other one that was heading for DC as well. I started to panic a little. Now remember this was before Cell Phones were everywhere, I did not have one nor did my wife who was driving home away from DC but I was a little panicked not knowing if the traffic would be bad or if planes would fall out of the sky on her. I called her work phone and left a message telling her to call me at rainforest to let me know if she was ok. Then we got the word. We were shutting down the mall because we did not know where else an attack would take place. However i needed to stay a little longer to make sure we get the delivery on time. Luckily they came soon after the announcement of the closing of the mall and it was a small delivery. So I got it into the stock room and left it. Then called the others scheduled to work that day and tell them the mall was closed. Then I had to take the till back to the back.  Then I left.

When I got home there was a message from Dawn saying she was fine and at McCormick. I don't think they closed it so she was going to stay and work. I also had a message from my mom so i called her and she was freaking out because she had heard there was a car bomb that exploded by the FBI Building. Turned out that was a false statement. But still the panic was there. I turned on the news and just watched as I learned about the plane crashing in PA, the twin towers falling down, and more. Dawn got home earlier then usual which was fine with me and we just watched the news and the horror.

Later on we learned that her aunt was supposed to be on one of the planes that crashed into the WTC I think but the meeting she was going to go to was cancelled and she stayed at her home in Jersey. Ellyn was stuck in Texas for three extra days since they shut down the airlines. Her fiancee (now Husband) Kevin drove to Texas non stop to get her and bring her home. My Aunt was one of the agents put in charge of the Pentagon investigation.

Not very interesting but still something that I will never forget though may not remember all the facts. So here we are 11 years later hopefully a little safer.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The New 52 one year later

On August 31, 2011 DC Comics unvealed the beginning of their new universe which they called the New 52. They cancelled all their previous comics, some of which had been in the 600s and 700s to have 52 new series starting over with #1 and changing the status quo of the DC Universe forever. It reeked of despair from a comic company who was getting thrashed by rivals Marvel. And it worked (for the most part). Their sales numbers went up and eventually levelled off. They are still better than they were, but despite that there have been a number of situations come up in the last year which puts them at a disadvantage.

To celebrate the one year anniversary DC is releasing all #0 issues this month that will delve into the past of the characters. It will also introduce a few new comics as well. The reason, the original 52 do not exist as they did a year ago. A number of titles have been cancelled due to low sales. New comics have been introduced to keep the comics titles at 52, some of those are on the verge of getting cancelled and some comics that survived the first cut are not making it through this time. And more titles are being introduced to keep the 52 number alive.

The strife has been more on the creative side this time around. Creative teams leaving books after only doing 4-5 issues? Unheard of. Their biggest complaint was that the Editors were too hands on and were having the creative teams make changes that they deemed neccassary to fit the comics into the new continuity.  Another complaint was Superman. He had two series one was Action Comics which focused on Superman in his early years, the second was Superman which focused on his contemporary adventures. However there appeared to be no correlation between the two series. Big things that happened in the past in Action were not referenced in the present day. The two different writers appeared to be working in their own worlds where never the twain shall meet.

Not to pick on Rob Liefeld, though he deserves it, but he was the artist on Hawk and Dove one of the first titles to get cancelled. DC then decided to have him take over 3 books. Knocking a great writer in Kyle Higgins off of Deathstroke so Liefeld could write and draw it. had him co write Grifter, and write Hawkman and draw covers. Not 3 issues in Liefeld started calling out DC on their editorial control and left the company burning bridges with him in a twitter war with not only DC but a few other well respected writers still on the DC books. So now DC has to scramble to find replacements. It just seems a little out of control.

DC is still fighting with women about their lack of female characters, or the way the characters are hyper-sexualized. Also the fact that they do not have a lot of Female creators working on the books. But attendence figures are showing that more Women are going to Comic Cons and not just to dress up, but to buy things, to talk to creators about their favorite books, and more.

There are still some good books out there. Batman by Scott Snyder is still outstanding. The Green Lantern corps of books are doing well. The DC Dark books are doing well. Such as Justice League Dark, Animal Man, and Swamp Thing. There has been praise on Aquaman, All Star Western, and GI Combat, Earth 2,  50/50 on the new Wonder Woman, but disappointment on the flagship title Justice League. Some of it could be equated to just great writers working on the books, while mediocre writers are toiling on other books. Or it's just that the new versions of the characters are just not doing it for the regular reader. Whatever it is the New 52 seems to be in a state of disarray though there are some solid foundations in place and maybe in the second year they can start to stabalize a little and see what comes. We'll see.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My (very) Brief career as a Television Extra

The late 90s was a good time for the film industry of Baltimore. Homicide Life on the Streets was a critically acclaimed show that lasted I think 6 seasons on NBC. Filmed entirely in Baltimore it brought mucho dinero to the area and employed thousands. Also movies were being filmed not only in Baltimore but in the surrounding area. During this time I was working at a Bagel shop. My hours were abyssmal, 330-1030 or up to 1200 depending how busy we were. But it was a job and I was making money. I was still living at home and had no car. My interest in comics had waned, but I was obsessed with movies. When I got to leave at 1030, usually on Fridays I would head up to Towson Commons and watch the new movies that came out. At night before bed I would watch movies in my bed. I was writing screenplays, had visions and dreams of being in the film industry. Then one day I saw it, an ad in the employment section of the Baltimore Sun. Extras wanted for local filmmaking please send resume and screen shot. So I did. And one day I got a call.

Homicide was filming an episode that was supposed to take place at the Naval Academy. They were not allowed to film there but were able to film at St. John's also in Annapolis. They need men about my size and age to portray students on the Naval Academy campus. So I said yes and my dad drove me to Annapolis Mall where a bus would pick up the extras and ship us to the shooting location. For those who may not know an extra is one of the people in the background moving around or doing things that do not affect the main shooting scene. It's to make it look like the scene is taking place in a real location and not some set.
So we got bussed to the shooting location. We were told that actors Andre Braugher and Kyle Secor would be the only members of the show shooting a scene there. It was our job to dress as Naval Academy midshipmen and walk in formation or in straight lines around the scene. They would also be shooting some exterior stuff of us walking around in our uniforms to set the scene. So we did the scene a bunch of times. And we broke for lunch. Andre Braugher who was the breakout star of the show went back to his trailer, while Kyle Secor hung out with us at the craft services area where we were eating lunch. Then we filmed a few more scenes of us marching around and that was it. They let us know when the show would be tenatively airing and to just keep an eye out for it. We were also paid 50 bucks for it. So I waited. Finally I saw the episode was coming on and told everyone to watch it. And the scene we filmed with the actors was literally about 10 seconds long. No exterior shots were used and I don't even think any of the extras showed up in the scene. So ok that's fine. It was an experience I can talk about.

About a year later they actually called me and requested me to join them for another episode of Homicide. Why not I thought.  So I got off the day from work and this time it was filming at Coppin State University. I was a college student. And the episode was set during Valentines Day. (We were filming it in January). It was also directed by Clark Johnson who also had a roll on the show. He played Detecticve Meldrich Lewis, and he was one of the stars of the ensemble who also happened to direct. So thatr was a bonus one of the actors directing us. Then the cherry on top was that the special guest star of the episode was none other than Neil Patrick Harris! (Before he had his renaissance, he was playing the bad guy) I ended up filming three scenes in the episode. So right off the bat I thought Great now I will actually get on!

The first one had me being a student walking down a hallway around Neil Patrick Harris who was being questioned by Brody the semi regular character played by Max Perlich who appeared to be the star of the episode. He was a cameraman who would film crime scenes and this episode a friend of his was killed. So I was supposed to walk around the actors as they were doing their lines then stop at a bullentin board and pretend to be reading something on it.  The second scene had me being a cast member of the theater troupe who was rehearsing the play Eqqus while Brody was questioning another student. I was told to wear a sheet and a horses head. (Since if you read Eqqus would know why). What was cool about this scene was that when we were waiting on the lighting to get fixed or the camera to get reloaded Max Perlich would talk to us about anything. I had never had an actor before talk to me like a regular guy, and go out of their way to talk to you as well.

The third scene was the best. As mentioned before the episode took place on Valentines day. We were filming in the cafeteria. Here Clark Johnson was front and center in his directing shouting our orders for us on how to act as he filmed. He set me across from a woman. We had to pretend we were madly in love with each other. Holding hands looking into each others eyes. ETC.  Apparently I didn't do a great job because the actor turned director Clark Johnson started calling me out on things, in a playful manner mind you. Any other director would not have been a big deal but this was one of the leads on the showing telling me what to do and making fun of me. So he panned across all the tables and passed ours and did it two or three times then we were wrapped. The shoot was over and I got to collect another 50 bucks. But it was cool because of the interactions with the actors and the fact that Neil Patrick Harris was there as well.

So right around Valentines day the episode aired and the storyline they were filming with us was relegated to a B story, so not a lot happened. They cut the EQQUS scene to shreads, they cut the scene in the cafeteria RIGHT BEFORE IT WOULD HAVE PANNED ON ME!!!! Finally the NPH scene, you can see me, barely. I was the big guy in shadow looking at a bulletin board. You would not know it was me unless I told you.

So a few months later I get another call. Species 2 is filming in the area and they were wondering if I was available for an overnight shoot. Now at this time I was working at the bagel shop and really could not take off. So I turned them down. I never heard from them again. Sigh. Well there was my touch with Hollywood. All in all a neat experience, but a little disappointing since I was never seen. Oh well. Them's the breaks.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My History with Comics part Two: Working the Business

Since this is my oral history of comics I am going to jump around all over the place. The last blog I ended with stopping collecting comics while in college. I will revisit that in a bit, because during my quick early history overview I skipped some parts which I will tell you about...NOW:


I am one of those people who really doesn't have a plan. I do not have a career path that I am dying to take. (Well I would like to be a writer but that takes time, practice, and talent). And I still have bills to help pay and other things, so I have had many jobs. Some I have stayed on for 4-5 years, some only 6 months to a year. One of the axioms you always hear is you should work with stuff you enjoy. So enjoying comics, I should be working in the comics industry in some form correct? BEEN THERE DONE THAT. I have had 4 jobs in the industry. None of which were actually creating comics for sale. I did create my own comics but they were for my own enjoyment and I think I still have them in my basement somewhere. But flashback to the mid 80s. I'm a young kid again. My first ever job was as a paperboy. I used to deliver the Evening Sun (before they dissolved it) and the Sunday Sunpapers. Did that for a couple of years. But I was not making  alot of money, so I decided to try a different job. Now in the early 80s Speciality comic shops just started to appear. These were stores that all they sold was Comic Books. In most cases these stores were the only places you could buy back issues of comics, or even experience some of these upstart Independent Publishers. There was a store up in Timonium/Cockeysville called Alternate Worlds which I would frequent sometimes. Well the old axiom work with what you like popped in my head and I asked the owners if they needed any weekend help. Surprisingly they said yes. And it was my first experience working retail. The fact that it was a Comic Book store was a plus. So I got to work at (for the time) my dream job. Spend all weekend with comics, talking comics. It was great. Then during the summer I would work during the week. Brillant. I did everything, run the cash register, re-stock, bag and board books, inventory, customer service. We would shoot the breeze about comics and I was surrounded by people who liked the same things I did. It was great. HOWEVER, the owners of the store were married and had a daughter about my age, maybe a little younger. She started working there also, and I noticed that my hours started getting decreased a little at a time. Then they just stopped scheduling me. To this day they never told me I was fired. So maybe technically I still work there. But I was never told by them that I was fired. I just assumed since they stopped scheduling me I didn't have a job. And maybe they told me I was no longer needed. I don't remember.

Fast forward to Summer 1993. The Orioles were hosting the All Star Game, Jurrasic Park was in Movie theaters, and I had just completed my Sophomore year of College. Now during the last few summers I had been working at the SuperFresh grocery store in Towson. (this was the job i got after Alternate Worlds). I had been there all toll about 3 years off and on. On weekends and after school I worked there. This summer though I wanted to try something different. My sister was on the verge of getting married and she had a summer job up at Hopkins where my mom worked. So they car-pooled together and I was able to have access to my sister's car. My mom I had discovered a job opening at the Diamond Comics Distribution Center in Baltimore City. Now Diamond is the only distributor of comics to the entire world. They distribute all comics to the multitudes of speciality stores out there. Since it is headquartered in Maryland, this warehouse was the first one they ever opened. They then expanded to Los Angeles and Memphis. They had one in Sparta as well for awhile. So I got an interview there as a warehouse worker. they knew I was a college kid and would be leaving near the end of August, but they hired me. And for almost two months I worked in this Distribution Center, distributing Comic Books. It was my first exposure to Warehouse work. Which coincidentally is what I do for a living now. So it was helping pack orders for stores, do inventory, and more. And it was fun. Kind of. Being around the comics I loved, being able to see the inventory we had and then being able to buy some of these comics direct from the warehouse was excellent. It was a hot summer and the warehouse was not air conditioned. The offices were however and I sometimes found myself taking orders from customers and pulling the orders for them. (This will come into play later). Every Friday after lunch we would do inventory of the warehouse. That was kind of fun. Tuesday nights I would work overnight to help pack up orders for delivery and pickup the next day. One of those days I drove past Camden Yards the day of the All Star game. One of those nights my sister's car broke down on me. I remember gettting hazed into the warehouse staff by getting duct taped to a plastic trashcan. There were also sometimes where my mother would have to drop me off and pick me up as well. I also helped load speciality store owners cars with their boxes of books, including my former employers at Alternate Worlds. We used to call Jurassic Park Jur-asshole Park. Fun stuff like that. However it was my only time working there since my sister moved away fo Virginia and my mother could no longer take me to work or pick me up. So I worked there only about 2 months still interesting though.

Coincidentally my never working at the warehouse again coincided with my no longer reading or collecting comics so it all worked out. So fast forward to I guess it was 1998, I graduated in 1995 and got a job where I lasted for about a week before I decided to quit. (I'll tell you about that sometime). I was still living at home paying bills, but I needed a job fast. I started working at a bagel shop and the hours were killer. 330am-1030am-12noon depending on how busy we were. I ended up there almost for two years. One plus to that job was that on Fridays it was slow so I was off at 1030am after working a full 7 hour day. So I had the rest of the day until 8pm when I needed to go to bed. So I decided to go to the movies. In Towson there was a movie theater in a building called Towson Commons. The Commons also housed at the time a brand new Borders Bookstore which was one of my favorite hangouts. They sold comic trade paperbacks there so I would also look at what I had been missing and read them a little at Borders. Then one day I discovered that a Comic Store has opened in the Commons. So since I was up there alot I started looking around. I didn't buy anything but would still browse what was going on. In the Spring of 1998 I got a job as a promotions assistant at WLIF 101.9 FM headquartered in the Commons. So I would be in the Commons alot. I still felt myself drawn to the store and would go in. One of those times I noticed a comic called Marvel vs. DC written by one of my favorite writers Peter David. So I of course bought it and was sucked back in. The store moved to Towson Town Center soon afterward. I walked by once and noticed that they were building a Rainforest Cafe right near it. Now the Radio job was only part time though  I worked more than usual there, but I still needed a full time. So I interviewed and got hired to work Rainforest Cafe full time in the Gift shop. Now I had money and a comic store right next door. I was happy, so i was buying more comics. Then they moved again to a storefront across from the Commons, which was still not to far away from me and i could still go to it.

Fast Forward to 2002. I was collecting again, and I was in a relationship with my future wife. We were also living together in an apartment out in Cockeysville. I was still not collecting alot because now I had rent to pay, electrical bills, food bills, car insurance, college loans, car payments. But I was still able to collect a little bit. Though not as much as I had before. Rainforest was doing ok but not great and my hours were getting cut drastically so I was losing money. I still worked for the radio station but still i had a lot more responsibilities. So i needed to find another job that paid more. Since I was near Timonium I remembered that Diamond Comics Headquarters was in Timonium. I went to their website and saw that they were looking for help. So I applied for the job and got an interview. The job was for Customer Service Rep. I nailed the interview, due i think mostly to my crazy comics knowledge. So I was now a Customer Service Rep at Diamond. My shift was 11-8pm since I was on the West Coast Team, which meant my customer base was on the west coast and since they are three hours different it was like working 8-5pm. By this time there were hundreds of speciality comics stores across the country and they needed customer services reps to help them with their ordering, any problems that arose with their shipments, calling in damages and shortages, basic Customer Service stuff. My account base was widespread. I had stores in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Seattle, Alaska, and other portions of California. Some were big stores, some were small, some were owned by a former Seattle Seahawk football player. And I also became the personal Customer Service rep for author Harlan Ellison who was friends with the owner of Diamond Steve Geppi, (he who owned Geppi's Comics World, and is also a minority owner in the Baltimore Orioles). I worked at Diamond for 4 years doing two different jobs. Both of which I will tell you about...NEXT TIME. To Be Continued...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My history with Comics part One: In the Beginning

One thing you need to know about me is how much I love my comic books. It is a deep seated love that harkens back to my childhood days. Throughout my life so far I have had numerous connections with the comic world. It's a part of my being. I never really thought about how much comics were a part of my life and then the slightest thing occurs and it flips a switch in my head and I come up with this concept. An oral history of my Comic Book life. Things that happened to me and that I have not thought about in a while started popping into my head. So I felt I should write something down, maybe more for my memory, but I hope you enjoy it. The first part is about what I can recall about the beginning of my love affair with comic books.


I don't quite remember the exact time I became a Comic Book Geek. The past is a blur with some memories stronger then others as the want is. I remember my dad collected nothing but Spider Man Comics and had quite a good amount of them. A lot were Marvel Tales which were reprints of earlier Spider man comics. The one thing I do know is the oldest one my dad has that is in good shape is 137. To put that in perspective Spider Man is still running and is getting close to issue 700. I think he also has issue 75 but he has three holes in it where he used to put his comics in Binders. I don't remember how but I just started reading comics. It very well could be I read his Spider man comics first then started getting my own with whatever allowance money I had. Back then there were no Comic Book Speciality Stores like there is now. Nowadays there are close to a Thousand probably in the world if not more. Back in the olden times when I started collecting, which believe it or not could be as early as 79 or 80, you could only purchase them in newstands. There used to be a ton of those that sold magazines, books, cards, candy, you name it. The one near me was called News Center. I would go there and pick up Spiderman and anything with Spiderman on it. I think because of that I was introduced to other characters and my obsession grew.

Since Spiderman was my first hero, I never really looked at any DC comics. To me Marvel was the best one since hey they print Spiderman. But then Man of Steel showed up. Back in 1986 DC was losing ground to Marvel because DC has been around longer and their continuity was more complex then Marvel's, so new fans probably did not want to pick up any DC books since they were a little behind in the characters histories. 1985 came and DC decided they wanted to start fresh, so they created Crisis on Infinite Earths which was a 12 issue maxi-series that changed the DC universe forever and made it more accessible. They also made some changes to their big three. Wonder Woman was rebooted by the multi talented and good writer Artist George Perez, Batman not only had the classic Dark Knight Returns comic written by Frank Miller, but he also wrote the classic Batman Year One story which rebooted Batman into a more serious character after years of being the butt of jokes with the campy tv series starring Adam West. Then there was Superman. John Byrne one of my favorite writer artists was tasked to reboot Superman, and in 1986 he did with his classic Man of Steel miniseries. Being a huge fan I bought them as well as Wonder Woman, Batman, and some other DC comics. Now I was both a Marvel and DC zombie.

My parents did not miss my comic book obsession so they fed me more. On a family trip to New York in 1985 I believe they took my sister and I to a guided tour of the Marvel Comics HQ and my God I was in heaven. My tour guide was Eliot Brown who acted goofy since I was 12 years old. Eliot was a fantastic artist whose speciality was machinery and buildings. He would show how the interior of say Avengers Mansion looked in detail, how some of the scientific weapons worked as well. Fully detailed realistic drawings. He never did draw a comic, he was an editor I believe who drew these pictures in the Official Marvel Universe Handbook, an encyclopedia comic that detailed the history of Marvel through its characters.

For my birthday one year my dad promised to take me to Chicago Comic-con which at the time was one of the biggest comic conventions out there. He was able to get us a room in the same hotel that the con was in and we drove out there and spent about a week out there I guess. My dad would go to the pool or sleep or read while I wandered around the convention and bought stuff and had many of the comic artists and writers sign my books. So somewhere in my massive collection I have a number of signed books by the creative teams, but for the life of me I could not tell you which ones they were. After I was done at the con we went into Chicago proper and went sightseeing, ate at some restaurants in town, and even went to a White Sox game. (The Cubs were on the road at that time.) It was a nice trip that I took with my dad.

I used to live near Towson, Maryland. There used to be a Holiday Inn in Towson that had what they called a Serendipity. Basically a monthly comics convention where for one day a group of dealers would get together in one of the ball rooms at the hotel and just sell comics. Now this was before the direct market comic store skyrocketed and there were only a few comic book stores around. So this was a way for stores in PA, MD, VA, DE, etc could reach out to some comic fans who may not have a comic store near them. I had 3, Alternate Worlds in Cockeysville (where I worked for a while but that is a different blog), Geppi's Comic World at Harborplace, and the best of bunch, the biggest, most amazing store Geppi's Comics World near Security Square Mall. ( I will get into the stores at another time). But I still enjoyed going to Serendipity every month and just hanging out with other comics geeks and getting interested in other comic books. At these events they also sometimes had comic artists there so I got to meet Tom Lyle who was a local guy who eventually worked on a few comic books, and Chris Sprouse who also still works in the biz.

My obsession continued through High School and College. In College there was a Comic store in the nearby mall that I was able to walk to, and also there was an old fashioned news stand that sold them as well. So I was set. But College was an awakening. I was working at the College Cafeteria, only getting paid once a month, had lots of bills to pay while at school so I had to cut somewhere. And comics is where it was at. So I stopped buying so many of them not only due to cost but time, I was busy in college and couldn't really read them too much as well. And maybe I also started thinking that I was turning into a grownup and I should stop reading them anyway. At the same time the industry was starting to struggle with the advent of the speculators and the sheer numbers of comics that came out a month, so thinks looked bleak for the comic industry as well. What better time to quit then during that time. So that was what I did. I quit my hobby that I had been doing for years. And didnt look back...for a few years...


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Smoke Signals: Birthday Edition

Welcome to another fun filled edition of Smoke Signals, my micro blogging within a blog series. Today I will be doing some quick and random looks back at my previous birthdays. Since today June 20th is my birthday.

- At Hanover Uniform where I work it is always a fun filled birthday, filled with cake, singing, and cards. And today no Ridgeway!!

-I love my birthday because every 4 years it is the first day of summer (like today) and every once in a while it is father's day. I am also on the cusp of Gemini and Cancer which is pretty odd since Gemini' s are pretty outgoing and Cancer likes to be left alone. So now you know why I am screwed up.

-My Grandmother Parks passed away in I guess it was 1998, her funeral was the day before my birthday. It's not the only time she pulled something like that. On my 21st birthday she had to have a triple bypass operation. So thanks Grandma. (Kidding, she knows it to)

-When I was younger we used to pick what movie we wanted to see in the movie theater. One year I picked:


Yep I was an idiot when I was younger.

-I also watched Howard the Duck one year also as well. So nyahh!

-When I was younger I remember going to Orioles games around my birthday as well. One year I went when they were still at 33rd street and I remember trying to get Elrod Hendricks' autograph but he had to get to the bullpen but he invited me to come to the Orioles Club after the game and he would sign whatever I wanted. I never went.

-I always felt lucky that my birthday was in the Summer because in College we used to have a tradition where your friends would carry you to the campus pond and throw you in. My friends never had a chance. My friends whose birthday's were in the winter, we did it. One year we even iced someone when the pond was frozen over. Nice.

-One of the best birthday's I ever had was in 2010, it was actually the day before my birthday but it was still great. I took Noelle to see her first theatrical show. It was a live action version of 4 episodes of some of her favorite Nick Jr. Shows, Dora, Wonder Pets, The Backyardigans, and Ni-hao Ki Lan. We went to the Hippodrome just the 2 of us. While we were out, my wife set up a surprise party for me and I had lots of family up, including my sister and Brother in law and nephews.  Needless to say I was surprised. We had BBQ from Andy Nelson's. For dinner, my daughter and I went to Arby's to get food and that was great. That night the wife and I celebrated in our own way (nudge Nudge Wink Wink Say no more). The next day was Father's day and my actual birthday and we went down to my in laws and that was fun as well.

-I had my fair share of parties at my house. I don't recall ever going anywhere special for my birthday when I was younger. But I could be wrong. When I was older, Dawn took me to a Japanese steak house and surprised me with a little party there. That was cool as well.

-On my 30th Birthday, my mom and Dawn set up a party for me and some friends at the Stoneleigh Bowling alley. It was one of the only times I got to see my Rainforest Cafe Friends Ellyn, Jeanette, and I think Kim was in there as well who came to my party. That was fun.

-For Valentine's day my wife got me flowers, but I kind of recall that when I worked at Diamond, she used to get me flowers for my birthday and that was always a nice treat.

I'm sure I am forgetting some things but that is all I can recall at this time. Good Times.

Monday, June 18, 2012

You sure have gotten Fat Dylan

My Grandmother passed away on May 12th, a day before Mother's Day. She was 86 years old. She had not been doing that well and to be honest it was not a huge surprise. It appeared to most of us that she was waiting for all her children, (all 6 of them) to get together from the different parts of the US they lived in. Once they did they all said their goodbyes and she passed away the next day. A lovely funeral occured on May 16th and she was finally laid to rest to reunite with my grandfather, whom I never I met since he died when my dad, who is the oldest child turned 13. My Uncle Frank who is the youngest was only 1 year old when his father passed away. My grandmother never remarried though she had an interesting relationship with Father Smith a pastor friend of the family. Who passed away from Prostate cancer 3 years ago.

I've never been one to have real close relationships with my grandparents. We went to visit them often but most times I was busy with my cousins or sister or being by myself. So I never really got to know them I guess. I mean I knew alot about them but I never really sat down and just spent a lot of time with them. Do I regret it, maybe a little bit, but to me it did not seem that big of a deal. I loved my grandparents, but I never went out of my way to spend time with them, and I guess that could make me an ungrateful grandchild. But i did visit them when my parents went to see them, I just very rarely went off and spent time with them myself.

With my Grandmother Lange who just passed it was a little easy to not visit since she had 6 children who in turn 4 all had families. I have 10 cousins that range in age from 36 (I think) to about 20ish I would say. Whenever we all got together at my Grandma's house or any of my Uncle and Aunts houses the cousins all went off on their own and played various things. One of the big things we played when I was younger was Indiana Jones. Quite the experience, and can be it's own blog posting someday.

Fourth of July was our big holiday. We always got together on 4th of July (or as close as we could get it) and had a really nice picnic which included our annual games of Badminton, something that had been going on in the family since my dad was a young man. We also had some horseshoes and Bocce Ball at times as well. But badminton was our game, and I like to feel having that experience encouraged me to try out for my High School Badminton team which was a Varsity sport and in which I played for 4 years with one of the best teams in Baltimore County. Thanksgiving seemed to be big as well, but I always ended up going to my other grandparents house and then to my wife's family's house. Once in awhile we were there for Thanksgiving, and I heard after the dinner there was rough and tumble Poker going on, which I never played. We always also found ourselves at her house usually on Christmas Day as well. So each time I would end up playing with my cousins while my aunts and uncles all sat around chatting.

One year I went to the OBX with my Grandmother. The majority of her family was down there and the very first time I ever went to OBX was with them. A good amount of my cousins and my aunts and uncles were there and it was a blast. Before we left for OBX I spent the night at my grandmother's house and drove down with her and Father Smith. I think that was the only time that I remember being with her for any length of time and it wasnt even just the 2 of us since Father Smith was driving. At the beach I spent all my time with my cousins again.

The only other time I really remember visiting her when it was just her was when Dawn and I took Noelle over for a visit. At this time Noelle was a baby and my grandmother loved it. I always wanted to take her and Noah to see her but things just never came together for whatever reason, possibly from the fact that I never really spent much time with my grandmother.

Finally the reason for the title of the blog. Dawn and I got married in October 2003, that Christmas we went to my Uncle Phillip's and I remember distinctly after hugging my grandmother she looked at me and said Boy Dylan you sure have gotten fat. Now my grandmother was always one to never hold her tongue on anything and my shocked look on my face must've startled her because she then added it was a compliment, I meant it looks like married life has been good for you. Sure you were Grandma, but I still loved you. It is a memory I will have of you and I can laugh about it now because I do not think my grandmother was trying to be insulting, I think she really believed she was complimenting me. And yes I was a little chunky since my job at the time was to sit at a desk for 8 hrs a day on the phone with customers and I exercised very little but drank lots of soda and ate lots of snacks.

Are there regrets? Sure. I always wanted to learn more about the Scottish Castle that she inherited then gave away, I discovered she worked for the FBI when I was at her funeral, never knew that. I wouldve liked to hear more stories about my grandfather, my dad has some but he was 13 when grandad died so I would've liked to hear more from Grandma. I'd like to know how she was able to raise 6 kids practically on her own. I'd like to know how she was able to afford 6 kids when I don't even remember her working, and even if she was working who looked after the kids? I know my dad was a surrogate father for them, but still it would've been fascinating. I would like her to know that I did love her though I was not the greatest grandson in the world, but she always got me something for Christmas and my birthday and even got stuff for Dawn and the kids as well. One thing I do not regret is that she lived long enough to see my children, and meet my wife and spend some time with her. I was not as lucky with my other grandparents since they passed away before I was married or had kids. So at least she was able to have 5 great grand kids (my sister's, mine, and my cousin Jenny are the only one with kids) she could spend time with. I know you are in a better place grandma. I love you.