I’M NOT WRITING to report that, blah blah, we’ve all been busy around here, for busy is the norm. I’ve been knocking down walls and digging holes in the ground (too many) and scribbling (not enough) and riding the motorcycle (not nearly enough). By the end of the week, I hope to dump a 140,000-word novel manuscript on my old friend Larry Stanley, and then I’ll get into another edit once I have his critique on paper.
I’m trying to time this with a scheduled interruption in his teaching duties at Brown. Larry knows writing, and story; indeed, he’s Oxford-trained at Piling it Higher & Deeper, except over there they call it a D.Phil. instead of a Ph.D. Same deal. I read his doctoral thesis way back when, “Metaphoricity and the Sublime Moment,” a heavy theoretical yarn with deconstructionary challenges to Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man. So now Larry’s returning the favor. But that’s not why I’m writing.
For our stewardship of the Phantom universe, my King Features colleagues, Paul Ryan and Terry Beatty, and I, have been nominated for a Harvey. That’s fun because the nomination comes from other writers and artists, so, if they’re enjoying our yarns, that’s good to know. If Lee Falk were still around, I believe he’d like what we’re doing with the characters he created in 1936.
Lately, two traitorous moles in Naval Intelligence, minions of Chatu the Wambesi, have been waterboarding a captive President Lamanda Luaga. They’re trying to find out where the terror master has been secretly imprisoned. On cue, the Phantom crashes the party and delivers a complimentary keg of whup ass.
I’ve been writing the strip since 1999, when Lee Falk finished his earthly journey. Paul works his magic on the daily art, and Terry’s our man on the Sundays, always a separate narrative.
The Harvey is named for Harvey “What? Me worry?” Kurtzman of Mad Magazine fame. I’m automatically a fan of anybody who had the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency trying to put him out of business. Our editor in New York, Brendan Burford, alerted us to our Harvey nomination in the Best Syndicated Strip category. We’re up against Dick Tracy at Tribune Media, Fox Trot and Get Fuzzy at Universal, and Mutts, one of our compadres at King Features. Voting ends August 18. But that’s not why I’m writing.
The Wall Street Journal recently mistook me for Jamie Dimon, or some kind of 1 percenter, or 1 percenter wannabe; hedge fund guy, maybe; inventor of worthless financial instruments; enricher of self to the ruin of others, etc. Tried to force me to take a free subscription, one that, from my reading of the fine print, automatically matures into a paying deal for them. As the Not-So-Big Lebowski would say, This aggression will not stand, man. Here’s a transcript of my chat concerning the strong-arm marketing technique. After four attempts to raise someone at the WSJ, I happened to draw the divine “Angelique,” very possibly a 260-pound lug with hairy shoulders.
￼WSJ Live Help
You are now chatting with Angelique
Tony: I received a card in the mail saying the WSJ is going to start delivering a free subscription to my house on July 12. I don’t want it, won’t read it, and don’t want to load up the recycling bin with it. Can you cancel if I give you my address?
Angelique: Hi, Tony. I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sorry to hear that you would like to cancel your account. We’re always concerned to lose a valuable customer. For security purposes we are unable to cancel subscriptions via Chat. Please call Customer Service at 1-800-568-7625 Monday – Friday, 7AM – 10PM or Saturday, 7AM – 3PM, Eastern Time.
Tony: I’m not a customer.
Angelique: May I have the address please?
Tony: 110 Fairweather Avenue, Cranston, RI, 02910
Angelique: Thank you for that information. There is no active subscription upon checking the address.
Tony: Correct. And I don’t want a free subscription. Can you prevent delivery of the free subscription I didn’t request? The card I received said I’ll be getting the WSJ Weekend starting July 12. I don’t want it, didn’t request it.
Angelique: Oh, I see. The account is still on process. We are unable to process your request. Please contact us effective on July 5 for further assistance.
Tony: What account? I don’t have an account. There is no account to process. I don’t want the WSJ creating an account for me, understood?
Angelique: Is there anything else I can help you with today?
Tony: You haven’t helped me with anything today. I want a supervisor on the line.
Angelique: I do apologize. The account is still on process. We are unable to process your request. Please contact us effective on July 5 for further assistance. If you want to cancel your free subscription please contact us again on July 5.
Tony: Why am I wasting my time not only today but again on July 5 to cancel a free subscription I never requested? I’m still waiting to speak with your supervisor.
Angelique: The reason why you were chosen to receive this subscription, we would like to introduce our former subscribers to the value of a WSJ Weekend subscription. We want to invite you to read the paper and discover all that WSJ Weekend has to offer.
Tony: I’m not a former subscriber. My name isn’t even spelled correctly on the card I received.
Angelique: Alright. I have deleted the free subscription. Rest assured that you will not be receiving the paper. Is there anything else I can help you with today?
Tony: So now you’d done the thing that could only be done after July 5? Thank you.
Angelique: Yes. You’re welcome. Is there anything else I can help you with today?
That was how it ended, despite all that Angelique and I had meant to each other. But that’s not why I’m writing.
Iron Piggy’s windshield has been looking pretty ragged. The elements take a toll, especially the UV.
Colors are bleached out. Pennsylvania and Maryland are pretty ragged at the corners.
Tennessee’s been flapping around in the breeze. Flapped all the way up to Alaska and back and then down to Georgia and back. That must be millions of flaps.
Western states are extra bleached out. Not surprising, they get a lot more sun out there.
So, with the piggy and I looking so ragged, Daughter #3, the graphic designer, printed us a new set of US state and Canadian provincial flags. Hey, is she flipping me the bird?
A bee! A bee! Run!
Safe behind the screens.
D3 printed my new stickers in mirror image this time, so I can apply them to the back of the windshield instead of the front. That way they appear correct when viewed from the front and are protected from wind and rain. Should last a lot longer. This is my old Ontario sticker to the left, the new mirror image on the right.
The stickers are see-through. I gave each one its own space, insofar as that’s possible. Last time I mostly overlapped them into a jumble of color. Very devil-may-care, which suits me, but people I met on the road would say, huh? wh-where’s my state again?
So far the iron piggy has scrubbed off rubber in 48 states and eight Canadian provinces.
The windshield isn’t why I’m writing, but note the GoPro camera case mounted behind the shield. That’s not why I’m writing either. But it leads me to the highway sound check.
I get lousy video off the helmet mount, and godawful audio. By way of experiment, I took off the shield, mounted the camera down low, near the handlebar risers, and ran a wire to a remote microphone. That disables the in-camera mic, which records nothing but wind noise anyway. I duct-taped the external mic to the back of a saddlebag. The theory was, the camera would vibrate less and the remote mic would record the exhaust note instead of wind.
It worked! For a handful of miles, anyway. And then a truly annoying buzz crept in. Until then, I had decent audio of the classic Harley V-twin sound, gear shifts, a bit of transmission whine… and then, out of nowhere, the buzz. Something at the back of the bike is rattling around as it comes up to operating temp. Rear brake pads? Dunno. But I need to track it down because I’m on to something here.
This is a quick blast, a few miles on I-95 south to I-295 north to RI 37 east to US 2 north. When I get on the interstate I’m doing 80 in a 55 and you’ll note that I’m not catching up to anybody! Lordy, traffic is fast around here. Fast and texter-ific.
The mystery buzz starts around 5:25, and gets pretty loud by the time I’m gearing down for the 37 off ramp.
All I know for sure about the mystery buzz is that it’s not why I’m writing.
Speaking of Nazis, also not why I’m writing, I recently saw the English-subtitled version of the feature film “Our Mothers, Our Fathers.” You may have read about it last year. It was controversial when released in Germany. It had people marching in the streets holding up photos of their fathers and grandfathers in uniform, with signs declaring him “not a murderer,” and the like. The film is on Netflix streaming now, retitled for an American audience as “Generation War.”
It challenges the common and comfortable German belief that a small cadre of monsters in the SS and Gestapo were responsible for the Reich’s war atrocities and crimes against humanity. The film posits that many ordinary Germans were involved as well, by commission, omission, or even just logistically. It’s about the everyday grunt, the non-party member drafted into the Wehrmacht. The film’s not much about the Holocaust; more about the routine conduct of the war, the daily loss of humanity. Executing prisoners, civilians, that sort of thing. Three 90-minute episodes. High production values. Thought provoking.
My old man served in a U.S. Army unit that shot German prisoners on the push to the Rhine and beyond. Nobody’s holy when it comes to Sun Tzu’s art of government-organized mass homicide. Not even the good guys. But that’s not why I’m writing.
Nor do I write of the fact that I’ve seen and heard from many friends in recent days.
Our rancher friend in Montana, Robyn, won approval of her design on a new cattle brand. Her border collie, Byrdee, herds cows as if they were sheep. Robyn says Byrdee must think of herself as a much bigger animal than she really is.
In reality, she’s compact enough to ride on the gas tank whenever Robyn goes after livestock grazing miles away from the house. The Byrdee dog must think: Why run when you can ride a motorcycle? And I imagine she’s hip to that bumper sticker we’ve all seen: “Bikers know why dogs stick their heads out of car windows.”
Last summer, headed north and west to the Arctic. Montana, baby! Oh, to be riding across Montana right now.
Well, but then I would have missed our friends Cathleen and Greg adopting their little girl, Annah, in Albany, New York.
Would have missed a visit from Tom and Jay, our friends from Port Orange, Florida. Interesting conversation on the front porch, with beer & chips & pretzels in the good old summertime. Tom was the first editor I worked for at the Providence Journal, in 1986.
Would have missed dinner at a nice restaurant last week, with the bride and two ex-newspaper colleagues of mine, Jen from Boston, and Amanda from here in Little Rhody.
I noticed this about babes out for dinner:
They all order drinks that disguise the alcohol with flavors from the produce department.
They all sample one another’s drinks.
They all talk at the same time, happily, and for hours.
They all order dessert.
They all sample all three desserts.
But that’s not why I’m writing.
Remember the summer of 2012? The bride’s slip & fall at work, left shoulder broken in two places? Then came October of 2013, her tumble on a rocky hiking trail in the Berkshires, two fractures in the right shoulder. Well, she never got the use of the right shoulder back. So today, we took a ride to Rhode Island Hospital for three hours of surgery. Last evening she lamented, “They told me no nail polish, no makeup—I’ll look like a homeless person!”
So of course I’m bringing the camera. This is pre-op, around 11 this morning, right after they put the IV in her hand and shot her into orbit, Wheeeeee…! Got a departing smile out of her with, “This’ll be a good no-makeup, no-hair, no-contacts shot for the blog. With an up-your-nose angle just for luck.”
She was in the O.R. for 3 hours. The surgeon fixed a couple of tears in the rotator cuff, ground down the bone where the biggest fracture had fused unevenly. He dealt with the post-injury arthritis and frozen shoulder. She’s resting comfortably at this hour. Looks like I’m on nursing duty for the next ten to twelve weeks.
But that’s not why I’m writing.
Here’s what I’ve got for actual scribble-worthy blab: Grandchild #1 is on the way!
G1 via D1. Emily’s 19 weeks along and expects to learn her baby’s gender on Friday.
This happy surprise led to a discussion of new names, and not just baby names. The bride had a great-grandmother who went by Mimi, so she’s decided to be a Mimi.
I’ll never be anybody’s grampy, gramps, grandpa, grandpop or grand anything. And Pop is out because D2’s been calling me Pops forever.
D3 nailed it with, “The baby should just call you Tony.” Upon further review, and by consensus, that was freed of a syllable and pared down to Tone. Kinda makes the baby a definite New Yorker/Rhode Islander type. Like when it needs a change: “Yo, Tone, not for nothing, but, my diaper—madonne!”
Emily and Ryan were up from New York this weekend. Actual email exchange while they were in transit:
D1: I think maybe I forgot to tell you we were driving up tonight. Anyway, we are leaving now. It’s 6:45. See you soon.
Me: I’m having second thoughts on “Tone.” Might want the baby to call me “Cool Jerk.”
D1: Haha! That might be difficult to pronounce!
Me: I think the baby could say “Cool Jerk” almost immediately, but would have to be four or five months old before it could say, “This cat they’re talking about, I wonder who could it be.”
So this, then, is the next adventure in life. Not just for us as grandparents, obviously, but for Emily and Ryan as parents. Em had an outstanding role model for a mom and is eager to start paying it forward.
Getting late, so I’ll sign off now by embarrassing Em with this card she drew for Mother’s Day a dozen years ago, when she was 20 and finding her way. She lived in northern Vermont for a few years after high school, traveled cross country, saw a bit of the world and started to figure things out. And then it was college in Boston, and work in New York, and now, motherhood.
Here’s the love on the flip side, with a transcript so you don’t wrench your neck.
Mom, thank you for every morning you woke me up so I wouldn’t oversleep. For every morning there was breakfast. And thank you for every morning you wished me a good day.
Mom, thank you for every night you cooked dinner. And wished me sweet dreams. And told me to drive carefully and have a fun night.
Mom, thank you for everything in between. Letting me know I always have a home here. And for letting me completely not know what I’m going to do with myself next year. Thank you for all the times you have felt unappreciated, when I should have said thank you but didn’t. Thank you for always letting me know I’m loved and you are thinking about me.