Tuesday, January 30, 2018

SOLTuesday: Getting Moving

Last week I was feeling bogged down by the pileup of objects in my life that were breaking—and I was doing almost nothing to take care of the problems. (See my Essay #4 here.) Yesterday, the dam broke, in a good way.
            First of all, I found the receipt for the printer that no longer prints, and discovered that I was within the period of the 2-year product replacement protection I had bought for $10. Next,
I tested the stuck bureau drawer, as I’ve been doing randomly for weeks, and it opened! Did it fix itself? So, I took the printer back to Best Buy and got a new one, and paid another $10 for replacement protection. Easier than getting it fixed because I would have been without it for as long as it took them.
            Now all I have to do is send off the shoulder purses with broken zippers to be fixed with the lifetime guarantee the company offers. I’ve had these purses for many years and have gotten them fixed many times. Just felt stuck this time. Once that gets taken care of... what new obstacle will present itself to me to be overcome?

It’s Slice of Life Tuesday over at Two Writing Teachers. Check out this encouraging and enthusiastic writing community and their slices of life every Tuesday. And add one of your own.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Essay #4: Breaking Down

           It started last summer. Actually, maybe it was the beginning of last year. Here's the setup. Many years ago I bought a handbag made by Eagle Creek. First, it held everything I needed to carry with me, yet was still small enough that I wasn't tempted to carry more than I needed. Plus, the manufacturer said it has a lifetime repair guarantee. Should a zipper or the brackets holding the straps break, I could mail it to a designated repair place, and it would be fixed. So I bought a second, identical bag, so when I had to send the first one off for repair, I'd just start using the second, and vice versa.
            After years of happily doing this, I noticed that the times between breakdown were getting shorter. When the zipper on bag2 broke just a few months after repaired bag1 had been returned to me, I started using repaired bag1, but didn't send bag2 to the repair shop. Why not? Did I think the repair people were getting tired of fixing my bags? Did I think they weren't replacing the broken zipper with a new one, but were simply straightening out the old zipper so it would work—for a while? Whatever, bag2 sat on my desk, and still sits there.
            Meanwhile, last summer, the main zipper on bag1, which used to zip either to the right or to the left, is now only zipping in one direction. Which means, oh, I won't go into the OCD details of why this matters. The fact is, both bags need fixing now, and I can't send both of them to the repair shop unless I have another handbag to carry my essentials. And I'm not buying a new bag.
            But it's not just these two broken-zipper bags. About a month ago, I wanted to wear a long-sleeved shirt, but when I went to open that drawer of my bureau, it wouldn't move. Ah, that explained the odd loud, unexplained noise I'd heard the night before. I jiggled the drawer—no change. I removed the drawer above and the drawer below, but there was no way to access whatever had broken inside to block that drawer from opening. I should add that about a year earlier, a piece that ensures smooth opening of the top drawer had also broken, but that drawer still opens and closes. I should further add that this bureau is older than I am. Blond wood, Heywood Wakefield, circa 1940, one of the first pieces of furniture my parents bought after they got married, I think.
            My first impulse was to replace it with an identical bureau. An Internet search revealed that all such bureaus are used, and who knows what shape they are in, if I can "inspect" them only via computer screen. Further Internet research revealed that no bureaus I can inspect in a store have exactly the dimensions of my old bureau. Plus, they are really expensive. Finally, I took a long (subway plus bus) ride out to Ikea in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where I saw a couple of bureaus that might work, but I have to write out their dimensions and compare them to what I have to make sure I am making the absolute correct choice—especially since what I really want is a replica, not something different. (Is this more OCD?)
            And wait, there's more. A couple of weeks ago, my printer stopped working because the yellow cartridge was empty. The cartridges of this Epson printer do seem to run out frequently, Was it annoyance over this apparent fact that prevented me from going out that day or the next to buy more cartridges? Whatever, it took over a week for me to buy the required cartridge and another few days to replace it. Once I'd made the replacement, I clicked "Copy," the first task I needed done. The printer made its usual sounds, paper came out—but nothing was on it. Meanwhile, I'd left the printer open (so I could remove the old cartridge and take it to the stationery store to show what I needed; doesn't everybody do that?). Had that caused some harm to the printer's innards? I don't know, because I have neither taken the printer to a repair place nor called Epson for repair help; I'd have to dig out my receipt to see if the printer is still under warranty, and the longer I wait, the more likely it won't be.
            So, three major parts of my daily living are broken, and I'm making little to no progress in getting them fixed. What is wrong with me?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Essay #3: Letters, Keeping in Touch with Comics, Part 2

Other comics we (my brother and I, at least) read included Pogo and Mad magazine. It wasn’t until years later that I learned we may have been reading Mad from its inception in 1952. When you’re a kid and you find a new comic or magazine, it doesn’t occur to you that it never existed before.
            Mad was obviously subversive, making fun of everything in sight. Was it the take-offs on TV shows that made them silly, or sillier? Was there political satire I might, or might not, have noticed? Being the child of semi-closeted lefties, I already knew not to believe everything I saw on TV; I wasn’t reading newspapers much until I was a senior in high school.
            But how did we know Pogo was subversive? Was it the reworking of Christmas carols (“Deck us all with Boston Charley,/ walla-walla-wash and kalamazoo/Nora’s freezing on the trolley/Swaller dollar cauliflower, alley-garoo”)? Was it the recurring character protesting, “Destroy a son’s faith in his father?”
            Once I left home, I probably kept up with the comics in the Washington Post the two years I lived in that city. And we read the few comics that were in the New York Post once Jack started working there, and continued to get the Sunday Daily News for our full fix until the 1990 strike at that paper, when we got out of the habit and never went back.
            As an editor at the now defunct publisher Bobbs-Merrill, I was happy to include comics in Pepper Schwartz and Janet Lever’s 1971 book about the early years of women being accepted as students at Yale, Women at Yale: Liberating a College Campus. They suggested we use comics from then-student Garry Trudeau. Working at the Village Voice, I got to copy edit the comics of Jules Feiffer, Stan Mack, Mark Stamaty, Matt Groening, Lynda Barry—just to make sure their words were spelled correctly, nothing more.
            But I wasn’t a big fan of comix or zines. The misogyny of the drawings of women had become repugnant rather than an element to be overlooked. But didn’t Dykes to Watch Out For run in Ms. magazine? I know I read that comic. And there were lots of feminist political illustrations that I think of as “comics,” like the famous on of two women walking down a staircase in the background, while one of their dates waits nervously; the overline: “Careful, honey, he’s anti-choice.”
            Of course, I read the graphic “novels” Maus, in 1986; Harvey Pekar’s Our Cancer Year, in 1995; and Persepolis, in 2003. Why of course—because these comics had literary claims? Many of these new graphic “novels” were personal, which seems especially suitable to the combination of illustration and text. Maus’s subject, the Holocaust, lent its gravity to the format. The image of young Iranian girls turning their hijabs into horse reins or robber masks in Persepolis demonstrated a perhaps unconscious subversion. Graphic novels are now an established form of literature, comics grownup.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Essay #2: Letters 2, Keeping in Touch with Comics, 1

In my second week at Antioch College, October 4, 1960, I wrote to my brother, showing off my dissipated life. After the Josh White concert (see last week’s essay),
“some boys from Siwannee, one of the better boys dorms asked us to a party. It was really dead. One fellow was drinking beer out of a mug, and every time he opened a new can it dripped all over the floor. The other one kept talking about the importance of comic strips and how you shouldn’t let yourself get out of touch with that is going on in the world of funnies.”
            This is one of those scenes I have no recollection of. I don’t remember the name of that boy, so no way to learn whether he ended up in the comics field, either as writer, artist, or critic. From my dismissive tone—the party was “really dead”—I must have thought “the funnies” were childish fare not worth the attention of a college student.
            But I liked “the funnies.” Our Philadelphia newspaper had, I think, two pages of comic strips ranging from Dennis the Menace to Prince Valiant. And my interest in reading comics goes way back to early childhood.
            I still have a battered (and much marked up) copy of Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby (Blue Ribbon Books, 1943), a collection of the cartoon that ran in the left-wing New York newspaper PM. During World War II, a small boy named Barnaby wishes for a beautiful fairy godmother, and instead, one night, a cigar-smoking, fat little fairy godfather with pink wings flies in his window. Naturally, his parents try to convince him that Mr. O’Malley is only a dream, but stranger and stranger things begin to occur. For instance, an old abandoned house in the neighborhood is believed to be haunted. Mr. O’Malley’s attempts to rid the house of “fiends” accidentally uncovers a gang hijacking trucks carrying bags of coffee and hiding them in the haunted house—and the parents and police all believe Barnaby and his friend Jane are the heroes for uncovering the thieves. I read this book multiple times, colored in some of the drawings, wrote comments in the margins.
            The barbershop on our block of 20th Avenue in Bensonhurst discarded out-of-date comic books in a box outside the shop, and neighborhood kids would sit on the sidewalk reading them. There were Classic Comics (classic stories like Treasure Island and The Count of Monte Christo told in comic book format), Blackhawk (a World War II comic with a crew of pilots from central casting, as well as stereotypical Japanese enemies), and Superman. Our mother didn’t care if we read comic books; any kind of reading was reading, and was good.
            The newspaper comics I remember most were the “soap operas”: Mary Worth, Brenda Starr, Mark Trail. I also read Terry and the Pirates, Steve Canyon, Dondi, as well as Peanuts, Archie, Lulu, Nancy, and Pogo. There are surely others, but I don’t remember whether any of the superheroes were syndicated in the newspapers in West Haven and Philadelphia suburbs where I lived through the 1950s.
(to be continued)

Friday, January 5, 2018

Essay #1: Letters, 1

It’s a cliché by now that nobody writes letters anymore. They started saying it when e-mail took over, and e-mail became email when txts took over. No one saves either e-mail or texts, unless they are old obsessives like me. But back when people did write letters, other people saved them, on whatever pieces of paper, or stationery, or notepads they were written on.
            When I went off to college in 1960, I wrote letters home, to my parents, and occasionally to my brother and/or sister. My mother saved them. Sometime in the past, [possibly when they sold their house in Pennsylvania and moved south, eventually landing in Florida,] she sent them back to me. [I’m guessing about the timing because one folder is all my letters from the 1960s, and they moved south in 1970, but maybe I’m wrong about this. Need to check what other letters of mine are filed away]
            I only recently began to reread them, and that is a fascinating exercise. First of all, I can see the seeds of my eventual career as a copy editor in my first letter questioning the spelling of the word “dillys” (I was describing the evaluation tests all the freshmen took to see what courses we would have to take for general education credits, which I said were “real dillys”; without looking it up in a dictionary, I’m guessing it perhaps could be “dillies,” though that looks wrong, too). On the other hand, I misspelled other words without wondering about them: “dissapated,” “deroggatory.”
            Second, all that ancient slang! “Kooky characters,” “they are all nuts,” “skuzzy bunch of boys.” And not so ancient I definitely used “hysterical” to mean “hilarious”—is that when that started, or have people been using hysterical instead of hilarious long before 1960?
            Then there are the scenes I don’t remember. In my letter to my brother, I mention meeting another freshman from the next town over from ours outside of Philadelphia. He knew many of my brother’s friends and said he was their business manager; I think they were in a band. And I express astonishment that one of those boys is a Merit Scholarship semi-finalist.
            And the scenes I do remember, once I read what I wrote about them. One night at dinner that first week an upperclassman sat at our table and introduced himself as a foreign student, though it was obvious he wasn’t. This is what I described: “Then he started talking Russian to me. He had a glass of water, and suddenly he put it to his lips and tipped his head back, as though he were drinking. But the glass was empty. He said he was looking at the lights, that’s the way they did things in his country. Then he asked us what country we came from.” My roommate and I thought this was one of the funniest things we’d ever seen, and I do vaguely remember it.
            Then there are the scenes I remember, but which I remembered in widely different circumstances. The Josh White concert, for instance. In my memory, this was probably my second year, or even third year, and I was on a date. I remembered this because during one of his encores, a string broke, and White continued singing as he restrung the guitar, without missing a beat. But the evidence from my letters says this happened my first week at school, and I know I did not have a date that early in my college career. This is one of many experiences that have taught me the fallability of memory.
            I plan to continue writing about my discoveries in my letters that I hope will be interesting to strangers. 
This year there is another essay a week challenge, 52EssaysNextWave. If you’d like to try it, go to the Facebook page for 52EssaysNextWave and sign up. Or just read some of the essays that will be linked to there.