Tuesday, May 31, 2011

To Boston, and beyond...

I just got back from a fun weekend in Boston and Maine. Jeannine invited me to go with her to attend an awards presentation by the Boston Authors Club, held at the Boston Public Library, where her book "Borrowed Names" would receive a "HIghly Recommended" honor.

We decided to stay overnight in Boston the day before the event, so we had some time to do a few things, like walk to the Museum of Fine Arts from our hotel, and take a "Duck Boat" tour of part of the city. I must confess to being somewhat underwhelmed by the MFA -- I was expecting something that would blow my mind with the depth and breadth and quality of its collections, but I found it to be somewhat lacking. Perhaps if I spent more time poking around and looking at everything more closely I would feel differently, but from this visit I saw nothing there that was any more impressive than what I'd seen in smaller museums like the Clark in Williamstown, MA or the New Britain Museum of American Art in CT. Still, it was fun to see the art -- and there was one piece, a sculpture in marble, that greatly impressed me with the technique required to create it. I believe it was called "The Blind Girl of Pompei". Here's a photograph I took of it:

And another one, a more closeup view:

Take a close look at the way the clothing on the figure is done, especially the upper edges. That's marble, and the sculptor was able to take that hard stone and turn it into those thin, delicate shapes, all from one solid block. Pretty amazing.

On the walk back to our hotel, we decided to stop for lunch at a "Cheesecake Factory". It's a chain restaurant that Jeannine had been to before, but I had not, and we lucked out with some nice outdoor seats. I was impressed by the scope of their menu -- there were at least five different entrees that I wanted to try, but I settled on something called a "Luau Salad". I had to take a photograph of it when it arrived…

… and it was as tasty as it looked.

The following day, before the Boston Authors Club event, Jeannine and I went on a "Duck Boat" tour, something she'd done with our daughter years ago. We made reservations for 9:30AM the previous night, and showed up at the embarkation point to be greeted by an obnoxious cacophony of quacking duck sounds, made by most of the kids who were waiting to go on the tour. Apparently there is some vendor nearby who sells these little plastic "duck lips" things that when blown into produce a pretty accurate -- and pretty loud -- rendition of a duck's quack. I confess that hearing the nearly-incessant quacking while we waited for about half an hour for the tour to start kind of put me in a grumpy mood.

What didn't help that mood was the appearance of our tour driver -- a bundle of energy calling himself "Plucky Ruffles". Imagine a stand-up comic wearing a powder blue ruffled tuxedo (with matching shorts). I was thinking this was NOT going to be my day, but as the tour got underway, things got better, the kids stopped quacking (except when "Plucky" directed them to) and it turned out to be pretty interesting and informative.

I especially liked the part where "Plucky" piloted the "Duck Boat" into the Charles River, and we spent about twenty minutes cruising around on the water. Here are a few photos from that…

I thought it was interesting that this rotting pier has been left to… rot, I guess. I wonder if it has some historic significance?

If you look closely at this one, near the tip of "Plucky'"'s outstretched hand, you will see the life-sized Tyrannosaurus Rex model which stands outside the Boston Museum of Science. I was trying to get a better shot of that, but I was a bit handicapped by the fact that my camera was not working properly. 

(It seems that at some time during the previous day, I had leaned on it with enough force to crack the LCD panel, rendering that display almost completely inoperative, except for about a three-quarter inch-square section. That made it REALLY difficult -- if not impossible -- to use the zoom lens or see much of what I was pointing the camera at. I ended up having to guess a lot at what the camera was taking shots of.)

It was Memorial Day weekend, and on the tour we passed a park where what appeared to be hundreds if not thousands of small American flags had been installed on a gentle slope. I caught the edge of it with my camera in a still image, but what was really neat about this display was the movement, the tiny rippling motion set up by all of these little flags being moved around by the breeze. Quite lovely. 

Not too far from this, we passed the relief sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gauden of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the men of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first troop of free black soldiers to fight in the Civil War on the side of the Union. What a great piece that is!

I feel that I should, at this point, apologize to my wife for not being a more consistently cheery companion. Even though I had cheered up and was having a good time by about the half-way point of the "Duck Boat" tour, I did start it acting grumpy and sour. Part of that is my natural disinclination to enjoy being in large cities, and even though Boston isn't as bad as, say, New York, it still has those qualities which grate on me (too many people in too small a space, too much traffic, not enough nature, etc.). I also get anxious when I am in a place which is unfamiliar in the way a big city that you don't know can seem unfamiliar. And part of it was being rattled by cacophonous duck quacking at an early hour. So… sorry, Jeannine! I will try to do better the next time. (And I wouldn't mind taking another ride in a "Duck Boat".)

After that excursion, we went back to the hotel to check out and walk to the Boston Public Library (which, conveniently -- thanks to Jeannine's planning -- was just across the street from our hotel) and had a nice lunch from the library's cafe while sitting in a beautiful courtyard. 

Then it was time for Jeannine to appear and do some book signing along with the other authors who were to be honored, before the presentation ceremony. While she did that, I wandered around the library a bit. Eventually I found myself in the original section of the library, where the midday sun coming through the windows created a wonderful light around two statues of lions in the main staircase.

I made my way back to the hall where the ceremony was to be held, and sat with Jeannine and a couple of writer friends of hers. It was cool to hear the accolades for Jeannine's book, and once again I felt really proud of her for what she has accomplished with her art.

Soon, the event was over, and we started our trek out of the city and towards points north. I was concerned that it would be a hellish drive through awful traffic, but it turned out not to be so bad. It did take us about an hour to go twenty miles or so, but once out of Boston proper, the roads cleared and we were on our way to the coast of Maine.

More later…! -- PL

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

After the rains

On reflection, I would rather have a bit more rain than we need than a drought, but it has gotten a little tiresome over the last couple of weeks. However, the extra water has helped to produce a lot of lush greenery around here, and things like this...

... Jeannine's patch of Lilies of the Valley with azaleas in the background on the edge of our lawn. Lilies of the Valley are some of my favorite flowers -- I remember being fascinated with them as a kid, when we had a small patch near my mom's clothesline. The flowers have such a cool shape. -- PL

Saturday, May 21, 2011

More fruit salad

From a few days ago... two views of the fruit salad before mixing...

... and after.

 I added two new ingredients -- honeydew melon and grapes. -- PL

Thursday, May 19, 2011


I saw the new "Thor" movie with my daughter Emily this past Friday, and I have to say, it was pretty good. Not great… but definitely pretty good. Okay, maybe more than pretty good.

But not a LOT more.

As someone whose interest in comics seriously blossomed with his exposure as a teenager to the "Silver Age" of Marvel Comics, of which "The Mighty Thor" (by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee) was a large part, I was looking forward to seeing this big-screen adaptation of one of my favorite Marvel characters. I'd seen the trailers and thought it looked pretty impressive, though I was a bit concerned about some of the details of the adaptation which I'd read about online.

One significant one was the dance that the writers of the movie apparently felt they needed to do to fit the "gods" mythology into the more science-oriented new Marvel movie universe, exemplified by their most successful comic adaptation of recent years, "Iron Man". So instead of being actual mythological/supernatural beings, the gods of Asgard are… uh, aliens, I guess. Or some kind of humanoids with super-scientific weaponry and enhanced abilities… or something. They never get terribly specific.

For me, this was all too reminiscent of the tragic waste of time that was the second "Highlander" movie, which basically ruined the mythology and mystery of the Immortals from the first "Highlander" by revealing that they were all just aliens from the planet Zeist.


I really don't see why the gods could not have just been left as gods. Does it REALLY take that much more of a suspension of disbelief to accept actual gods in a universe in which cosmic rays can transform a quartet of explorers into superheroes, and a radioactive spider bite can turn a teenager into a human with spider powers? I think it would have been better left as a mystery -- are these guys real gods, or do they just look and act like gods? What ARE gods, anyway? I think the writers wimped out on this one, which is too bad, as it might have made for some interesting plot bits in later Thor movies as well as the upcoming "Avengers". Can't you just see Tony Stark/Iron Man trying to puzzle out the science/technology/magic behind Mjolnir, Thor's mystic urn metal hammer?

(I shudder to think what they might do to the supernatural adventures of "Dr. Strange", if that character ever gets out of "development hell".)

Anyway, on to "Thor", the movie. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and look forward to seeing it again. The acting was excellent, and the special effects worthy of the concept. I was hoping that the scenes in Asgard would capture some of the delirious splendor of Jack Kirby's vision of that home of the Norse gods, and I was not disappointed. The bed in which Thor's father, Odin, sleeps the fabled "Odinsleep" seems to be directly lifted from the pages of the comics.

I absolutely LOVED the fact that Thor's boon companions from the comics, the "Warriors Three" -- Fandral the Dashing, Hogun the Grim, and Volstagg the Voluminous -- and Thor's future girlfriend, (at least in the comics), the goddess Sif, were included in the movie, and not just as background characters. Although I missed Hogun's trademark horned and furred helmet, those characters were very well-rendered.

Another character I always liked in the comics was Heimdall, the guardian of the fabled Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge between Asgard and the other realms… and he was well-realized in the movie, with some really neat costuming.

Sadly, I cannot give as high marks to the way Bifrost was depicted, which sort of ended up being something you might describe as "Star Trek's" transporter room if it had been built by a "steampunk" designer. This is another place where allowing the mystical, magical, supernatural nature of Asgard to be just that would have been preferable. It wasn't horrible, mind you -- just kind of pedestrian.

The Destroyer was also realized very well, though it might have helped to know more about what it was and what it could do. Actually, the more I think on it, the more it seems to me that they made the form of the Destroyer too tall and slim -- I prefer the more squat and brutal looking version that Kirby originally drew. But it was still pretty cool to see it in a movie.

One small thing that I got a huge kick out of was that several times, Thor spun his hammer really fast and the filmmakers gave it that "spinning propeller" look that Kirby originated in the comics, a nicely-observed detail. And I was very glad that they allowed Thor to fly as he does in the comics (pulled along by the force of his hammer after it has been spun with great force). It may not make a lot of sense in terms of physics, but it worked in the comics and it works in the movie.

So the movie looked really good. What about the story? Well, that was… okay. It hit a lot of the requisite beats needed to establish Thor and his supporting cast, but it was nothing terribly unique. Perhaps a more interesting tale will come in the sequel.

Actually, there is a message at the end of the movie, a "screen card", which I believe said something like "Thor will return in "The Avengers"", and THAT is something that I am really looking forward to. I hope that they can pull it off, but even if it is a disappointing failure, it will still be amazing to see Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, and Hawkeye sharing big screen time. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

Oh, I just remembered two nitpicks I have to mention.

One, Thor's beard. I know that he has been depicted with a beard in many of his comic book adventures in recent years, but I have to say that compared to Kirby's clean-shaven Thor, the bearded Thor always struck me as thuggish. Kirby's version had a more noble, almost innocent, look.

And two, Thor's helmet -- you know, the one with the wings on it? I loved the fact that they showed him with it in one of the first scenes, but then it goes away and I don't think it ever shows up again in the movie. That's unfortunate, in my opinion. The helmet is an important part of Thor's "look".

But I won't say its absence ruined the movie. -- PL

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blast from the Past #368: "Thrilling Hepburn Tales"

A few months ago, in "Blast from the Past #352, I posted a cartoon drawing I had done of John Morrison, then-owner of the Pleasant Street Theater in Northampton (I'm not sure if he still owns the place) flying with some reels of film in a biplane. In that post I mentioned "Thrilling Hepburn Tales", one of the posters I'd drawn years ago for a series of Katherine Hepburn movies John was showing at his theater.

Well, I managed to find it in my files, although -- truth be told -- if I'd really wanted to post it sooner I could have taken it down from the wall where it hangs in our house, in the passageway between the front door and the kitchen. It's one of the things I've drawn that Jeannine really likes, and we have had it hanging there for quite some time. I think we've even had it hanging in previous places we've lived, but I'm not completely sure about that.

In any event, I could have taken it down, gotten it out of the frame and photographed it, but I guess I was too lazy to do that.

I did several hand-drawn and hand-lettered posters (some of the lettering on this one I did with "PressType", but the logo is hand-drawn) for the Pleasant Street Theatre, and this is one of my favorites. I am pretty sure that I came up with the concept for this one, which is a riff on old "Golden Age" comic book covers... with maybe a bit of old "pulp" magazine covers thrown in for good measure. I think it worked pretty well. -- PL

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sometimes people baffle me

        Look at the bicycle in this photograph. Study its lines, its geometry.

Okay, now imagine that you see this bicycle chained to a post outside a pharmacy. You go into the pharmacy and see two people in line, waiting to pick up prescription refills. One of them, the second in line, is holding a bicycle helmet. You don't know him, he doesn't know you. You walk up to him and say "Think you ought to lose some weight?"

Did that make any sense to you?

Right. It didn't to me, either, when it happened a couple of days ago. I had ridden a bicycle identical to the one in the photo above (except for the color and additional saddlebags) to my local pharmacy to pick up a prescription. I was standing behind another person, waiting my turn, when this guy got into line behind me and said to me "Think you ought to lose some weight?" I starred at him for a moment, wondering what the hell his problem was. Then he kind of gestured at the bicycle helmet under my arm, and said "That your bicycle out there?" Still not grasping what he was getting at, I nodded. "Looks like you're so heavy you've bent the seat post way out of line!" he continued.

By this point, I had mentally classified this guy as (a) an idiot, and (b) obnoxious, and proceeded to ignore him. And his subsequent conversation with another person sitting in a chair nearby confirmed my observations, especially (a). He started talking to this other person about my bicycle. "Lookit that seat post! Look how it's bent way back! Like somebody really heavy's been sittin' on it!"

Now, I think anyone of at least average intelligence can look at the photo of my bike and realize that THAT IS THE WAY IT IS MADE. It does not look exactly like a standard bicycle in the geometry of its frame, because it is not a standard bicycle. It is a slightly different type of bicycle called a "crank forward", for the fact that the crank, with the pedals, is positioned about a foot forward of where it usually is on most bikes. But take a look at those beefy frame tubes, and the fact that they are also doubly triangulated, and imagine the kind of weight, the sheer force it would take to even slightly deform them. I may have a few pounds that I should drop, but I am far from being heavy enough to even remotely come close to what would be necessary to bend those tubes. And that should be obvious to everyone except the incredibly dense.

Fortunately, I was able to get my prescription and exit without having to listen to much more of this guy's ridiculous utterances. But it stayed with me as I rode away. I kept trying to figure out what would possess someone to address someone you don't know at all in such a manner.

After mulling it over, I realized that he was trying to make a joke… but it was one of the lamest, most strained attempts at humor that I have ever mad the misfortune to be subjected to. And the social ineptitude necessary to try to build on that shaky joke's foundation by telling a total stranger, out of the blue, that you think he needs to lose weight, is just --

Well, I was going to say "mind-boggling", but it isn't, really. I'll save that description for something that deserves it. This was just really stupid and sad. -- PL

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Blast from the Past #366: "Clubs" minicomic

I recently ran across a small stash of these mini-comics in my files -- about a dozen copies, though I think I may have more somewhere. I wrote and drew this sixteen-page (of which the last two pages are text) mini in 1982, back when I was involved with the local Nuclear Freeze movement in the Northampton/Amherst area.

The comic measures about 4 1/4" by 2 7/8", and is printed in black and white. I can't at this time, recall if this was something that I printed on my own (and when I say "printed", I mean "Xeroxed") and donated to my local Nuclear Freeze group, or if the group paid to have it reproduced. In any event, I don't think many of them were made… and I have never seen one turn up in the years since.

The story is about proliferation, and while it is a simple tale, I have always thought it was one of my best efforts in comics, in terms of telling a story efficiently. I'm thinking of asking Dan to put some of these up on eBay to see if they would sell. -- PL

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Hailing frequencies open..."

I can't remember exactly how I got there, but after several clicks on links from my wife's blog, I found myself reading an essay on another blog about writing outside one's culture, and because the original "Star Trek" tv series was mentioned in the essay, I was intrigued enough to read more, including some of the comments, which were many. In fact, there were so many that the person in charge of this particular blog had blocked any further comments for that post… which was a drag, because some of the comments had me shaking my head in disbelief, and what you see here was originally intended as a comment on one of those comments. But I couldn't post it there, so I figured "Why not here?" So here goes, beginning with the line in one of those comments that I found most objectionable…

 "Um, no. Urhura can both be a groundbreaking character, and we can at the same time go, “Dude, the only black woman on the bridge of the ship, and her job is to answer the damn PHONE?”."

To say Lt. Uhura's job is "to answer the damn PHONE" is yet another spectacular (and dismaying) example of abject cluelessness. 

Think about it for a moment. She is the Communications Officer on a starship traveling through deep space, going -- as you might remember from the original series' introduction -- "where no man has gone before" (updated for a new era in "The Next Generation"'s intro as "where no ONE has gone before"). And as established in that first series and as expanded on in later series, that vast area of space is full of perils known and unknown, and nasty enemies like the Klingons and the Romulans, to name but two. In those circumstances, communication between the Enterprise and Starfleet, between the Enterprise and other Federation starships… and perhaps even MORE important, between the Enterprise and other alien vessels which may or may not be hostile, is vitally important.

Maybe Communications isn't -- in a shallow, skim-just-the-surface analysis -- as "glamorous" as flying the ship, plotting a course through interstellar space, keeping the engines running, firing the phasers and photon torpedoes, or keeping the crew healthy (and the occasional alien, even ones made of silicon), but it sure as hell isn't just "answering the phone". Without communications, and a smart, capable, tough officer like Uhura at that station on the bridge, that fabled "five-year voyage" might not have made it to five weeks. -- PL

P.S. As fans of the original "Star Trek" series know, I took the title of this blog post from one of Uhura's most-often-delivered lines. It was a line which almost always meant that something cool was about to happen, and I loved hearing it.