Saturday, February 09, 2013
It's late summer in 1981 and Hall and Oats, Blondie, and Rick Springfield are tearing up the airwaves. I am 9 years old, looking forward to 4th grade and, while riding in the back seat of my mom's Plymouth, we were probably listening to Dolly Parton or Eddie Rabbitt and barreling east on US 70 toward the beach.
Most of the summer memories from my youth take place in or around Atlantic Beach, NC. This town is at the end the Bogue Banks barrier island that separates Bogue Sound from the Atlantic Ocean. I have many fond childhood memories all around the Crystal Coast area of NC, but my mother's uncle had a trailer that was a short walk from the ocean in Atlantic Beach, so that area became a sort of stomping grounds. Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle, Salter Path, Indian Beach and all points between were my summer home. Halfway between my home and the beach we would always stop for lunch and a bio-break in Kinston, NC at a little place called The Neuse Sport Shop. Now, I say "little place" because in 1981 it was about 1/4 the size that it is now. This place sells all manner of sporting equipment: rod/reels, bait/tackle, guns/amo, camping gear, you name it. Think of a mom-and-pop Bass Pro Shop and you'll have the idea. They knew they were a weigh-station for North Carolinians heading to the beach and made the most out of it by selling beach gear, too. At the back of the joint, they had a little greasy spoon counter that sold the best cheeseburgers a 9 year could ever want. I know: "What the hell does this have to do with a comic book character that has fire for hair?" Calm down, son, I'm getting there! Go play some Farmville on Facebook if you don't want to hear me set a stage!
Now, each time we would head to the beach, my mom would let me pick up some reading material for the (usually) week-long stay. Mom is an avid reader and I suppose that passed on to me and my sister. The Neuse Sport Shop, in addition to the wide selection of sporting equipment, had a large area (two isles) set aside for magazines, books, and such. As I said, catering to the beach-going vacationers. Now, in the 80's, direct market distributing of comic books to specialty comic shops had not begun in earnest in NC. Even if it had, my 9 year old ass wouldn't have known it. I retrieved all of my comics off of something called a spin rack. Now, younger folks might not know about these, but every kid growing up in the 70's and 80's knew about these spinners of comic goodness. It was the ONLY place you could find comics, but they were everywhere. You couldn't get away from them. There was always one in the grocery store, gas station, mall, and, yes, sporting goods shops. The Neuse Sport Shop, however, had no less than 6 spin racks with nothing but comics on them. I don't know if Julius Schwartz and Stan Lee actually owned this place or what, but I almost wet myself whenever we would get within 10 miles of Kinston just thinking about all of the options on those racks.
I had my want list of items in my head when we walked in the place. However, I was not allowed to even look in the direction of the periodicals until I had "taken a tinkle" and eaten lunch, both of which I did as fast as I possibly could. I remember booking it to the comic racks to start grabbing as many comics as I thought my mom would let me get. Most comics at this time had a cover price of 60¢ and, if I didn't ask for any snacks or anything else, I could usually get mom to pony up $10-15 bucks for reading material. That is a shitload of comics, my friend, even if you subtract the fact that I would probably throw a MAD magazine or Sports Illustrated or video game magazine (to see what's new in the Atari 2600 world) on the counter with the comic stash. My usual list would include Flash, Green Lantern, Thor, Hulk, Action Comics, and a few team up books such as DC Comics Presents, Fantastic Four, or Teen Titans. The one item that was 1st on my list each and every time, however, was Justice League of America. The pinnacle of team up books, dude! This was the Super Friends and then some. All of the heavy hitters on the same team fighting for Truth and Justice, kicking asses then playing cards in a satellite in geosynchronous orbit 23,000 miles above the Earth! The issue that I saw on the rack stopped me in my tracks! It was a huge, white gorilla straddling triumphantly over the chest of an older Superman. The rest of the League was spread around on the floor, obviously just having their asses handed to them by this same white ape. I kind of recognized some of the characters, including this gray-templed Superman, as "those other, older Justice League-types from the other Earth," that the cover called the "Justice Society!". This was, of course, JLofA #196.
But I also saw that new Leaguer on the cover. The one with the flaming hair. I'd been keeping an eye on him lately and really liked him. Firestorm was just a kid and was hanging out with Superman and Batman and that was freakin' cool! Plus, he had a look unlike any of the other heroes. Fire! For hair! And some old dude talking in his head all the time? You mean this dude had TWO secret identities?!??!? Flash and Green Lantern only had one! I also found JLofA #195 on this rack and, because it was a month old, it was marked down to 35¢. How do I know this? I still have that issue with the pricing gun's sticker on it. "WHAAAAT?!??!?? Stickers on the front of comics? Blasphemy!!!" Look, comics were just throw-away periodicals back then, not really collector's items (or so I thought). I had a stack in the closet back home, but those were for reading and re-reading. I'd never heard of bagging and boarding. But I'm digressing.
DC Implosion: Steel, the Indestructible Man). Again, Killer Frost. I don't know where I got that old Firestorm issue, as the issue hit the stands when I was 5 years old (according to Mike's Amazing World), but I do know that when I got home after this beach trip in the late summer days of 1981 I began begging my mom to take me on Saturdays to the flea market at the fairgrounds. This is where these guys would bring "long boxes" of old comics to sell. The reason for my insistence on going through back issues? Well, JLofA #197, of course. Back then, a story that spanned 2 issues was not something you saw too often. But a THREE parter? Unheard of. I had spent that entire week at the beach with Firestorm and His Amazing Friends stuck in Limbo at the hands of the Ultra-Humanite and his evil Secret Society. Yeah, I'd come up with all kinds of ways for this story to end, but I wanted to know what this Gerry Conway guy had in store and I wanted to see some more of that art from that George Pérez guy. I eventually found 197 and finished the story. I also found old Flash issues (he was, after all, the hero I dug the most before Firestorm nudged him out of 1st sometime later). In the process, though, I also found out that these "guys" at the flea market on weekends actually owned stores that sold (mostly) comics! A whole store of comics? Great Caesar's Ghost! Between comic shops like Tales Resold in Raleigh, NC (which, unfortunately closed its doors in 2008) and the flea market, the world of fresh-off-the press comics, as well as back issues were opened to me. I filled in my back issues of the first Firestorm series (only 5 issues? What the heck? It clearly says at the end of #5 that there'd be a #6!?!??) and also caught up on some of the Firestorm back-up stories in the back pages of The Flash issues that I had missed.
Much later on, I even got lucky enough to score some original art from JLofA #195.
It is the page where the Ultra-Humanite was explaining his plan to get rid of all of the heroes. This piece is framed an on my wall today. Interest in that "Match-Head" character and his part in the DC Universe opened the world of comics to me. This is why I will always have a place in my heart for Firestorm, the Nuclear Man.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
It begins with me entering my hotel room. I know certain things, as only you can in dreams. I know I'm on a "guys trip" somewhere and that I'm supposed to meet up with the group to go out to eat and to hit the bars. Asleep on one of those shitty, hard love seats hotels try to pass off as a couch is one of the fellas. I don't know who my roommate is, but he's asleep. I kick his foot & tell him I'm getting in the shower & that we're supposed to meet everyone soon. He's gone when I get out of the bathroom. Everything speeds up.
I'm on the street looking for my group. I can't find anyone. Sure, there are people streaming past me, but it's like they don't even see me. I notice that they're all happy and smiling. I also see that everyone is walking in the same direction; toward a movie theater. Thinking this is where all of the guys have gone, I go with the crowd. The smiling people who do not notice me are starting to bug the shit out of me.
Standing by the concession stand, watching the smiling populous stream in. One of the people trips and falls flat on their face. Like a pack of wild dogs, 5 to 6 other people pounce on their fallen comrade and start ripping them to shreds with their teeth. This is when they notice me. They look up from the corpse, blood streaming from their mouths, smiling. But it's not an ordinary smile. It's as if they are already dead. Killed by Batman's arch enemy, The Joker. Killed by smiling too much.
My last thought before waking up: "Oh, shit! Joker-Zombies!!!"
Analyze that Jung.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
The house is almost completely quiet as I descend the stairs. There are at least ten people in this house, but I'm the first up and moving. Behind one of the doors I hear a snore that's almost like a fingerprint. He won't be up for another couple of hours. Behind door number two I hear some shuffling around and a muffled female voice giggle. I don't recognize it, but I grin and shake my head as I move on down the hall. The mystery will reveal itself in time. The sun has been up for just under an hour and it already looks like it's going to be a beautiful day.
I rinse out a cup in the kitchen, pour half a cupful of OJ and down it. I glance around at the job that needs to be done in here. Cups of all sizes and shapes and at various stages of emptiness crowd around both sides of the sink, each looking at the other wondering who'll be the first to jump in. Looking around the kitchen, you can almost see the conversations that happened last night. More folks congregating as the night wore on and the night grew colder. Those that didn't stay the night deposited their cups by the sink on their way out the garage door. They stopped for a moment to chat with the group of mostly women gathered in the kitchen, or checked on the four guys playing spades at the table in the breakfast nook. There are dead soldiers lined up on the table beside a partially finished hand of solitaire, obviously one of the spades players didn't want to stop playing when his opponents and partner did. Looking at the score sheet, someone got their ass handed to them, but both teams kept playing. A lot of blind-nils were bet and missed, but I'm sure none of them cared. Socializing was the real event, the cards were just something to do. I pour a full cup of juice this time, grab a trash bag from under the sink, and start out of the kitchen toward the back deck, forgetting the mess in the kitchen. I hear someone flush a toilet upstairs and I know it's that loveable, snoring, OCD bastard coming anyway to clean the kitchen to an obscene degree. I'm pretty sure he'll fix us all some sausages and eggs, too. He got up sooner than I thought. I'd better get going.
I pause just outside the back door and admire the wooded area of the back yard. I breathe in the cool morning air. This is how every morning should taste. I see the keg floating in the trashcan to the right of the deck. Nice job, people! I begin picking up cups and cigarette butts, stuffing them into my bag. I undo the circles of chairs, breaking up the ghosts who are still having conversations about the meaning of life, the top 10 prison movies of all time, or the stupidity of big government. I laugh to myself as I remember having a conversation with a cute, dark-haired girl about how the downfall of society began with the passing of the 19th Amendment. She got so angry, but she finally realized that I was just trying to yank her chain. I think she came with that group from the Lawyer's office. What was her name?
I find a clean cup near the keg and put it under the tap. Well, well, the keg ain't quite dry, but almost. Still cold, too. I light up my next-to-last cigarette. As if on cue, the door to the house opens behind me. In the doorway with no shirt on and in a pair of ratty gym shorts stands a man I've known for years. Behind him I see that cute dark-haired chick from last night walk by. She's wearing his shirt and not much else. I raise an eyebrow at him and smile. With a smirk on his face, he says, "Gettin' an early start, ain't ya? Got another?" Whether he means the beer of the cigarette, it doesn't matter. I pour him a cup with a lot of head (probably the last from that keg) and I toss him my last smoke. "Let's get this shit cleaned up," he says with a laugh, "We gotta leave for the football game in about an hour 'n' a half."
It's gonna be a good day.
Friday, February 08, 2008
Way back when, I made a decision to enter Pharmacy School. For the longest time I thought that this was the worst decision of my life. You see, in high school I knew that I was going to go to college. I also knew that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was the only college I wanted to attend. Other than that, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. During high school I worked at Phar-Mor first as a bagger/stock boy, then as a video clerk, and eventually, as a pharmacy technician. (For those of you who don't remember Phar-Mor, it was in heavy competition with WalMart in the late '80's, up until one of the higher-ups in the home office ran away to the Caribbean with a sack-o-cash and the company went bankrupt.)
So, I applied to two schools; UNC and N.C. State. I applied to the latter because it was in my hometown and I wouldn't have to go far to wash clothes. (I was 17 years old! Give me a break!) I also had an application to Western Carolina sitting in my desk in case I was not accepted to either of these. I got in to both schools, went with my heart, and became a Tar Heel. I was happier than a pig in shit, but I still had no idea about what direction I was going to take with my education.
It turns out that there comes a time at college where they do not allow you to major in "Undeclared". Using my past experience as a pharmacy technician as a jumping off point, I figured "What the hell," and began on my track to Pharmacy School. After 5 incredible, wonderful years at the most beautiful campus on the face of the earth, I graduated from UNC-CH with a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy. I then went on to pass the Boards and became a Registered Pharmacist for the Great State of North Carolina. It was at this point that I began to realize that I did not want anything to do with the profession.
Like most new graduates, I went straight for the money. Since I had no real idea as to how to contribute to the betterment of the profession, I figured I might as well get paid while mulling it over. I worked 2 years in the 5th circle of Hell, also known as Revco (now CVS). This solidified my view of the profession while helping me to understand that the general public is as smart as a sack of hammers. I have since left the retail world and am trudging through the Pharmacy profession as a hospital pharmacist.
Now, I told you all of that to tell you this: I think that going to Pharmacy School was the best choice I ever made. Please don't get me wrong. It is a thankless, dying profession that is only a good choice for women who want a good paying job that'll let them take extended periods off (for maternity leave and such), or for men who want a decent paycheck with no possibility of career advancement or fulfillment. However, it has finally hit me that if I had not chosen to go to Pharmacy School, had I chosen a career path more suited for me, I would have ended up at some technical or engineering school, like (God forbid) N.C. State, and never set foot in Blue Heaven. I wouldn't have been on Franklin Street on April 5th, 1993. I would have never met some of the best friends a sorry ass like me could ever have. And, most importantly, I would have never met my awesomely understanding and forgiving wife, who is also the mother of my beautiful children. My job sucks, but my life is full of love and wonderment.
It's all about choices.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
I'm going to gradually repost some of my Rants here.
Monday, March 20, 2006
I figured everyone and their freakin' brother had a blog, why not me.
Soon, I'll post a few things about me and those around me. Because that's what blogging is all about, right? An ego-centric way to scream out at the world, "I'm here!!!! Listen to me!!!" I'll start screaming soon, so be prepared....
Thursday, December 20, 2001
For whose of you who don't know, Greenville, NC is one of the biggest cities (to use the word loosely) in Eastern North Carolina. It is located east of I-95 and north of Wilmington, NC. I know what you're thinking, "That's a pretty big area." Sure, but Greenville is all there is in this area. Therefore, let me set some definitions for you from the get-go:
- "Big City" = Greenville, NC
- "Greater Greenville" = Eastern NC
Now, I need to also let you know who lives in Greater Greenville:
- Those that were born here and will die here and don't know that there's anything better than this.
- Those that go to school here: i.e. ECU or Pitt Community College (~the same thing).
- Those that, thru stupidity or some other unfortunate incident, have become stuck in the quagmire of this God forsaken wasteland and want nothing more from their life than to leave this place in their rear view.
I fall into the 3rd category, and it is through no one's fault but my own. Let me explain (if I can).
In 1997 I was working as a retail pharmacist for Revco (now CVS). It was a nightmare and I could feel myself die a little each day I went into work. Anyway, I wanted out of retail because I figured I was on the verge of killing someone, either by an accidental misfill of a prescription or by wringing a patient's neck. I think I was much closer to the latter. I applied to several hospital pharmacies and Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville, NC was the first to call me back. "Thank God," I thought, "A hospital position in an area that isn't so bad. I did 4 months of rotations down there when I was in school. Plus, my girlfriend's from that area, another plus. It's not that bad of an area, right?"
Let me pause at this point in the story to point out that, not only was Revco working me into a state of near-delirium, but, because of said company, I was HEAVILY drinking to help me cope with the fact that I might just be a retail pharmacist for 30-40 more years.
Jump forward 2 years to 1999; I've married a wonderful woman who just happens to have grown up in Greater Greenville. I have a nice house and a job at PCMH that is probably the best job a pharmacist could have. However, I've come to realize that, if North Carolina were the human body, Greater Greenville would be the asshole. I couldn't believe that I'd ever talked myself into moving down here in the first place. It is now bordering on the year 2K2 and I'm still in the process of trying to get the fuck out of here. Why? Let me tell you. (Note: This is by no means an all-inclusive list, just those things that slap me in the face each and every day I remain here)
Traffic Makes a Big City
One of the most glaring problems with Greater Greenville hits you as you travel east on HWY 264 away from Civilization and cross I-95. You hit a taint-meat of a town called Wilson. You have to drive thru this shithole just to get to Greater Greenville. Sure, they're building a bypass around Wilson, but then they've been building it for something like 10-fucking-years!!!
So, you've made it thru the 30-minute pit-stop called Wilson, to find yourself in the Big City. One thing that is immediately obvious, upon driving around the township, is the lack of right turn lanes. Whereas a normal town has these types of lanes to prevent the buildup of traffic at intersections, the Big City seems to see traffic jams at stoplights as a sign of progress. (I can see the Big City council meetings now: "Hell, iffn' we show them out-of-towners that we have traffic 'n' such, they might figger we're as important a town as Wilson!)
Which brings me to the point of synchronized stoplights. There are none in Greater Greenville! You can not drive across the Big City without stopping at every single fucking light. The point of this? Hell if I know!!!! I can only blame it on inbreeding. Try this sometime: Time yourself from my house in Winterville (essentially, a Big City subdivision) to the sign on HWY 264 West where the speed limit changes to 65mph (which marks you leaving the Big City). I guarantee that you can get anywhere in Raleigh in that same amount of time (or very damn close to it).
ECU and the Over Inflated Sense of Self Worth
East Carolina University is a great 2nd tier State University. If you think anything other than this, you are truly deluding yourself. Sure, they consistently have a winning football program (although the embarrassing 64-61 double OT "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory" loss to Marshall in the GMAC Bowl on 12/19/01 was pretty pathetic), but it will ALWAYS be a second rate school. Don't get me wrong; by "second rate" I do not mean it's a bad school. I'm just trying to emphasize the fact that it is not in the upper echelon of universities in the state of North Carolina. It is the best university in Greater Greenville, though. You couldn't tell this to anyone in Greater Greenville. Even though the majority of ECU supporters did not go to the school and think education is for "those uppity types with their jobs and such", they will not listen to anything bad about their Purple Wave. I'm sure most of them still think they won the GMAC Bowl and that the final score doesn't really represent anything. I really don't blame these folks for supporting the local school. I mean, if you live here, you really have NOTHING else to support. If you're one of these folks, I understand your plight; just don't go giving me shit because UNC's basketball team is mediocre this year. Take my UNC degree and your ECU degree (or PCC diploma, or 5th grade remedial English certificate, et al) and weigh them side by side. I'll be waiting a week from now when you figure out which one's worth more.
Global TransPark and NC Money Drain
According to the NC Global TransPark Authority's website:
The North Carolina Global TransPark is being designed as a unique multimodal business center designed to support manufacturing, distribution, agribusiness, and transportation-related companies. A comprehensive planning effort has fully integrated air, rail, road and nearby sea transportation capabilities to serve the logistics requirements of industrial and distribution tenants and users of the Global TransPark (GTP).
This is an utter bullshit definition for the money hole in Kinston (another Greater Greenville suburb). According to a recent News & Observer article, TransPark dying a slow death (link no longer availabe), $42 million of your taxes have been wasted over 11 years on this project. It was basically designed to get investors into Greater Greenville. It hasn't worked yet, but the NC General Assembly (with the urging of the numerous Greater Greenville representatives) wants to keep throwing good money after bad to attract people to the asshole of North Carolina. I'm sorry, but you can put a pig in a dress, but that don't mean I'm takin' it to the prom! This kind of fuzzy logic typifies the thinking of everyone east of I-95. They just can't understand why anyone who's not from here doesn't want to live here. Also, if you see anyone on the road with a license plate beginning with "GTP", make an effort to point and laugh at them; they paid extra for those letters on their plate, and the money is going to this sinkhole of a program. Bwah-ha-ha-ha.
Update (6/27/10): Yeah. They're still giving money to this piece of shit. No wonder the Great State of North Carolina is in a hole. That's what happens when you chase good money after bad....FOR DECADES!!!!!
Unwed Pregnancies and "Trailer Syndrome"
This area suffers from what I like to call My-baby-daddy syndrome. For those of you not familiar with the term, "my-baby-daddy" refers to the father of an unwed mother's child. This term is becoming more popular in the Greater Greenville area. If you really want some more info on this term and what it means, just run out and rent the movie Baby Boy and you'll get the full meaning. But don't say I didn't warn you what an awful movie it is.
This invokes a profound since of horror in me and I want to get my unborn daughter out of this area ASAP before this kind of mentality seeps into her brain, making her think that such a thing is commonplace and accepted. According to figures Prepared by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, August 1999 (link no longer available), Greater Greenville is a hotbed of unwed pregnancy. Don't get me wrong, teenage pregnancy can be directly traced to the parents not educating them on the dangers of premarital sex and responsibility. In fact, in Greater Greenville, this is a vicious cycle; teenage moms having teenage moms. Kind of like the Orioles' tendency to pay washed up baseball players millions, lose, get rid of these players to free up money to sign more washed up players... you see where I'm going. What I'm saying is that this seems to have become a status symbol for women in Greater Greenville. You're nothing unless you have a baby by your drunk, out-of-work, abusive boyfriend who could give a lesser shit about you or the baby you're gonna have. This is a trend, not just in the young, but in every age group. It's just a sad state of affairs and I want to be away from it.
(Editor's note: Since this writing, it has been pointed out to me that I did not properly distinguish between Teen Pregnancy and the Unwed Pregnancy that runs rampant in Greater Greenville. Check out the Feedback section of this site for more info.)
Soon to Be "Formerly of Greater Greenville"
Because of these reasons, and many more, I will be leaving this area soon. My job here is great, but that's about the only positive in an angry sea of negatives. My goal is to get "West of I-95", preferably in the "Greater Raleigh" area (read: Zebulon, Johnston Co., North Raleigh). Like I've said, it was my decision to move down here in the first place, so I'll lie in this bed I made until I get a chance to get out of here. My current plan is to begin building a house in "Greater Raleigh" by this time next year. Wish me luck and don't let what I've said keep you from visiting me between now and when I move.