Archive for September, 2005

The Funny Papers

The saying goes that you can tell quite a bit about a person from the section of the daily newspaper they turn to first.  People usually expect me to turn to the sports page first, but actually, I’m a Comics Page man.  It was the first section of the newspaper that I learned to read, and it is still my first stop.  The latest bad news from around the world can wait until I’ve gotten my Snoopy on. 

As such, here are one man’s opinions about some notable comic strips, past and present: 

Time to move on – Comic strips that were great to lift off the page with Play-Doh when I was 10 years old, but that don’t make me laugh any more

Garfield

Family Circus (I grew up calling it “Family Circle”)

Marmaduke 

A comic that probably should be on the above list, but I can’t bring myself to put it there: 

Peanuts 

Political cartoons worth reading: 

Doonesbury (Garry Trudeau sprinted over the line between social commentator and blatant political advocate long ago, but his wit and talent still shine through) 

Political comics that go to bed at night dreaming that one day, they too could be Doonesbury: 

Non Sequitur (I have stopped even reading this one)

Boondocks (This one is funny when the grandfather is yelling at the boys)

Mallard Fillmore (Never even a little funny) 

A comic strip so incredibly hip that I don’t understand it, so I’ve stopped reading it: 

Zippy the Pinhead (Ok, so there are some big landmarks that talk to people and….never mind) 

Strips that are hidden in your daily paper (please, let’s move the comics back to the Comics page): 

Dilbert (in the Business section)

Doonesbury (in the Opinion section)

Tank McNamara (in the Sports section…even on Sundays) 

Comics that I actually look forward to reading when I open the paper nowadays: 

Zits

Arlo and Janis

Foxtrot

Get Fuzzy (no matter what Bob Lobel thinks)

Mother Goose and Grimm (my wife’s favorite) 

A comic that is cool until your friends see you reading it: 

Rose is Rose 

Comics where the characters age and before long you care about them more than you’d like to admit: 

Gasoline Alley

For Better or For Worse 

Comics I’ve never read, but that older people still seem to remember fondly: 

Lil’ Abner (Who hasn’t heard of Dogpatch?)

Pogo (“We have met the enemy and he is us”) 

Serials that I have never cared about in the least: 

Brenda Starr

Mark Trail

Gil Thorpe 

Occasionally good, but incredibly overrated: 

Cathy

Dilbert 

You’ll be missed (Ok, not really): 

The Big Picture (But, really sorry about your cat and all) 

And finally, the Big Three – the three best comic strips of my lifetime: 

3.  Bloom County:  Berkeley Breathed (great name) retired this comic and has since tried to recapture the magic with a couple of strips featuring Opus the Penguin, but they haven’t been close.  Give me Mike Binkley and his Anxiety Closet any day. 

2.  The Far Side:  Gary Larson stopped writing this comic, yet continued to sell calendars and books for years afterwards.  He was like the Tupac Shakur of the comic strip world; well, except for the gangs, rap music, and violent death. 

1.  Calvin and Hobbes:  Unquestionably the king of all it surveyed until Bill Watterson walked away from it on December 31, 1995.  The troublesome tot and his tiger recently made an appearance in a few Sunday newspapers, but it was merely to pump up a soon to be released volume of old strips. 

Football fans talk about how Hall of Famers Jim Brown and Barry Sanders walked away from pro football while they were still at their best, thus avoiding the inevitable downward spiral of their careers.  Bill Watterson and Gary Larson are the comic strip fan’s equivalent of that story.  When they left, it broke their fans’ hearts, but at least they left on top.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 30 Sep 2005 No Comments

Hot Flashes

Random thoughts I had recently while watching the morning sun glint off of the hundreds of car roofs in front of me on Route 2:

The new television season is upon us, which means that we will be assaulted by a number of new shows that copy the format of current shows. I would love to be in the meetings with the people who think up these “new” shows:

“Ok, so reality television and crime drama shows are the biggest thing right now. Why don’t we combine the two? We could have a reality show…with real police officers and REAL CRIMES! We can call it COPS! Wait, that one’s taken, how about THE FUZZ?”

…Another issue that needs to be discussed is the use of laugh tracks on sitcoms. Any time the networks aren’t sure whether a sitcom’s jokes are going to fly, they try to guilt the viewers into laughing by throwing laugh track resources at every line in the show.

For example: A man opens the door of his house and says, “Honey, I’m home!” The laugh track machine then laughs so hard that it spits its gum into the hair of the video editing machine.

I guess they figure that the average viewer will think, “Gee, there is a machine laughing at something that is in no way funny. I guess I had better laugh, too, or the machine will think I’m not cool.”

Note to any studio executives that happen to read this newspaper: Shows are funny or they are not funny, and no amount of computer generated laughter will convince a viewer otherwise…

…The Massachusetts Lottery has sucked me in recently with these huge Mega Millions jackpots. I have bought 5 quick picks for each of the last 4 drawings or so, and I think I have had a grand total of one number come up.

Despite this, I know that the next time the jackpot goes over $100 million; I’ll be there buying tickets again. I’ll do it because, you know, when I play the lottery, everyone wins. Except me…

I have recently decided that when I drink coffee, which is not that often, I will drink it black. I think that it is cooler to drink black coffee than it is to drink coffee with milk and sugar. My friends who are coffee aficionados tell me that drinking coffee black allows them to actually taste the coffee.

So, after a lifetime of enjoying coffee with milk and sugar, I have made the change.

I have only been drinking black coffee for the past two months, and I have to say that I have started to like it. Of course, my wife thinks that I am insane, and has taken to rolling her eyes when she hears me order black coffee. She says, “Why would you switch from milk and sugar if that’s what you like?”

Simple: Because I want to be a guy who drinks his coffee straight. That’s the only reason.

Iced coffee, however, must continue to have milk and sugar. There are some extremes that even I am unwilling to explore…

…It needs to be said: The Red Sox are giving me an ulcer, but I would support a Big Papi candidacy for governor…

…As I was typing the above, I accidentally knocked some of my lunch on my keyboard. That makes it official: My keyboard has now made the leap from “gross” to “truly disgusting”. Is it wrong to buy a new keyboard just because it’s cleaner?…

…And finally: My friend Dan’s 5-year old nephew was showing off a recently carved pumpkin around Halloween last year. Dan, trying to be supportive, said, “My, that’s a really nice carved pumpkin you’ve got there.”

The nephew scrutinized Dan for a second before correcting him: “Uncle Dan, it’s a JACK-O-LANTERN!”

Dan says that the “You idiot!” at the end of the nephew’s reply may not have been spoken, but it was there.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 23 Sep 2005 No Comments

The Toughie

Who is the toughest person you have ever met? Was it a soldier, a firefighter, or perhaps an athlete? The toughest person I have ever met is a cute little brown-haired girl named Leanna.

Leanna

Leanna had continually suffered from high fevers in the months before her second birthday. Trips to the emergency room would result in prescriptions for antibiotic medication, and the fevers would subside, but never for long. Her doctors were stumped, until the day that a blood test revealed the truth: Cancer.

Leanna’s second birthday was not spent eating cake and opening presents. Instead, she was on an operating table while surgeons attempted to remove a tumor that had been found near her liver. The surgery was unsuccessful. The tumor, which was the size of an adult’s fist, had practically wrapped itself around the little girl’s liver and could not be safely removed.

Further tests revealed that the cancer had also spread to Leanna’s brain and bone marrow. The official diagnosis was stage 4 Neuroblastoma. The doctors told Leanna’s grandparents that her chances of survival were about 15 percent.

Supported by the prayer of her family and friends, along with a number of local churches, synagogues, and senior citizen groups, Leanna began her fight. “There were so many people praying for her, it was like an ecumenical movement,” her grandmother says.

First came 4 treatments of chemotherapy, to reduce the size of the tumor around Leanna’s liver. The treatments caused her hair to fall out, but her grandparents reassured her that it was merely her “baby hair”, and losing it, much like losing one’s baby teeth, was not that big of a deal.

The chemotherapy successfully reduced the size of the tumor, and surgeons were finally able to remove it. The surgery was followed by a stay in Boston Children’s Hospital for mega-doses of radiation and more chemotherapy.

This type of treatment is usually designed to kill the cancer just before it kills the patient, and Leanna’s 2 year old body suffered mightily. But, no matter how sick she got, Leanna charmed the doctors, nurses, and fellow patients with her bright smile and positive attitude.

The treatment involved the use of a central line, which was inserted into Leanna’s chest. One day, another little girl – who had been diagnosed with leukemia – came into the hospital and was scheduled to have a central line inserted. The little girl was being reassured by a nurse and was obviously still nervous about the impending procedure; that is, until Leanna whipped up her shirt to show off the central line, saying, “It’s no big deal…see?” The little girl was immediately put at ease.

The staffs of the hospitals were wonderful. “It restores your faith in human nature,” Leanna’s grandmother says, “to see a world-class oncologist come in on his day off, wearing a red nose and clown shoes, to play the ukulele for these kids. The doctors and nurses at all of the hospitals were as nice in the 11th hour of their shifts as they had been in the 1st hour. There is a high place in heaven for those amazing people.”

Because the treatment had destroyed her immune system, Leanna was not allowed to play with other children or be in any sort of crowd of people. She was only allowed to eat food right out of the packaging.

Potato chips were a particular favorite. Leanna’s taste buds had been dulled by the treatments, and she could only taste very salty foods. As a result, when she could be convinced to eat, she would be seen munching away on a handful of potato chips. If a bag of potato chips had been opened and not finished, they could not be saved for later, due to germs.

“The doctors told me to feed her whatever she would eat, since she was getting her nutrition intravenously. It felt a little strange to order potato chips and pretzels as the main course for every meal, but she loved them,” her grandmother says.

When the chemotherapy and radiation treatments were finished, the doctors attempted to re-grow Leanna’s bone marrow with stem cells that had been harvested from her earlier. Luckily, the marrow soon began to grow back, this time without the cancer.

After 3 months in Boston Children’s Hospital, Leanna was finally allowed to return home, where she was welcomed enthusiastically by her older sister, Mackenzie.

In time, the central line was removed from Leanna’s chest, and she could begin to play outside again. Almost a year after being diagnosed with cancer, Leanna was once again allowed to swim in her family’s pool and play with her dog.

Since that time, Leanna has continued to fearlessly live her life to the fullest. At age 4, she began swimming the length of the pool without “floaties”, and also began riding her bike without training wheels (her then 7-year old sister Mackenzie removed them on the sly when Leanna felt she didn’t need them any more). This past summer, at age 5, she began doing backward dives from the diving board.

“The doctors told us that her recovery had as much to do with her positive attitude, spirit, and toughness as it did with the treatment,” her grandfather says.

Leanna has been cancer-free now for more than 3 years, and was designated as a cancer survivor this past spring. She goes back to the hospital every year for a checkup. The checkups are both to check for cancer and to monitor any damage to her lungs, teeth, eyes, and height that could have been caused by the treatment. So far, she has a clean bill of health and a beautiful head full of curly brown grown-up hair.

To help out some outstanding organizations that benefit children with cancer, please visit the below web sites:

http://www.whyme.org/

http://www.dfci.harvard.edu/how/danafarber/

http://www.wish.org/

http://www.gktw.org/

http://www.rmhc.com/rmhc/index.html


The Day to Day Grind Tim 09 Sep 2005 No Comments