Wednesday, March 24, 2010

5 Comic Books That Changed My Life

There were more than 5 that changed my life, of course, but these are the ones I remember best.

The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet and Cato 

He had it all.  Biomimicry, gas gun that made a wierd sound, a big, fast car, called the Black Beauty, an Asian sidekick and The Flight Of The Bumblebee.  I listened to The Hornet on the radio; read the comic book; watched the movie serial on Saturdays.  Van Williams played the Hornet and Bruce Lee played Kato on TV.  There's a great scene of Lee taking a Green Hornet set apart in the Bruce Lee bio-pic: Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story.  Looks like a Green Hornet feature film is on the way.

Frontline Combat

Frontline Combat 

One of the EC comics I read religiously.  It was published during the Korean War.  I was waiting at the Interurban Queen news stand in Galveston, Texas, when it came in every other month.  I had to have the first copy.  I elaborated on the stories and tried to draw like Jack Davis.  By today's standards, it was politically incorrect.  But it, and its companion comic, Two-Fisted Tales, often showed the futility of war.  They provided some balance to the rantings of my father, who was convinced we should drop the atom bomb on China.  The guy on the cover is "bugging out."

R. Crumb

The Devil Girl and R. Crumb 

The Devil Girl is my favorite Crumb character.  She has a fantastic body.  The Crumb movie is a terrific film, especially if you like to get creeped out and can get into kinky sex with big women.  

Wonder Wart-Hog

Wonder Warthog 

Gilbert Shelton's Hog of Steel.  800 pounds of pissed off hog.  In the 60's, when things got dicey, we asked each other what Wonder Wart-Hog would do.  Usually, it was beat the hell out of somebody.  Pound somebody's face into strawberry jam.  Twenty years ago, I found a couple of mint-condition Wonder Wart-Hog comic books at a shop in Haight Ashbury. 

The Punisher

The Punisher 

Comic Book noir.  In my mind, I consign my enemies to an issue of The Punisher instead of to hell.  The movie was a letdown.

No telling who I might have been if I hadn't read these comic books.

Tomorrow:  5 Blondes Who Changed My Life

5 Dreams That Changed My Life

For a long time, I thought Fritz Perls had the best way to look at dreams.  Everything in the dream is you.  I used to write whatever I could remember of my dreams down, then play the different parts.  If I dreamed of a woman walking up a flight of stairs, I'd be the woman, then I'd be the stairs.   This one came at the end of a marriage.

It's 4:00 A.M. and I'm sitting in a hotel room with a friend and his wife.  She has lifeless eyes.  The number on the room key is 434.  I could never love you, I tell my friend's wife.  It's the eyes, she says.  I leave the hotel, end up walking down the street in Georgetown.  I pass a corner grocery, look in the window, see four cops inside.  I open the door.  A cop looks past me at something across the street.  There's a wino over there, drinking from a bottle inside a brown paper bag.  Cop says: What's that say?  The wino slips the bag down the bottle and I read: "Mateus Rosé."  Cop says: We better get some people on the street.  I see I'm standing next to a cart of groceries.  I can't find my wallet.  A blond woman says:  See that wall? Guy in cowboy boots kicked it in when I asked him for money.  Are we going to do that, Mr. Glad?  I say no.  She says:  Do we have an appointment at 12:15, Mr. Glad?  Her name tag says Rosa.  When I get home, my wife is pissed off.  I say something.  She says: Does your friend count?  Has he been coming on to you? I ask. I've been giving him an opportunity to, she says.  He's been carrying me around on his back on a ladder, and I've been sliding up and down on it.  It turns him on.

I never lose in my dreams.  I can be running in mud or water up to my knees, get lost, get tied up, try to wake up and can't, but I never wake up until I win.

I'm running down an alley, something is chasing me.  It's a couple of ugly guys, driving a big combine.  The blades are right behind me.  I'm running out of breath.  All of a sudden, I dance up the blades like Gene Kelly, doing a little dance on every blade.  I grab the guys and toss them into the blades.  Blood and gore hit me in the face and I wake up.

Now that's a good dream, if you don't analyze it too much.  I like the feeling of that gore hitting me in the face.  I like being me and the combine and the blades, even the alley.  But the two guys?  Not so much.  I had that dream in the middle of a negotiation to settle a contract dispute.  It cost the other side an extra million bucks. 

I'm carrying  my own body around, eating on it.  Across streams.  Under bridges.  There's a castle full of women, eating carry-out orders from a restaurant.  I lose my body; find a stray dog in the basement. 

I awoke from that dream feeling too disturbed and elemental to understand the simplest rules of human behavior.  I wrote: Nothing is true.  Everything is permitted.

Nowadays, I think most dreams are so straightforward they don't need free association to make sense.  Suppose you're making love to a woman.  You reach down and feel teeth inside her vagina.  That's the old vagina dentata.  The vagina with teeth.  I've had that dream a time or two.  It's a good dream if you like to wake up scared. 

My father died in the winter. He was in a hospice in Mississippi, where he had a warm room with big windows and four women to change his pajamas and his sheets every night, laughing and singing while they put the old man to bed.

When he lapsed into a coma, I drove over from Houston, and he was still alive, but breathing in a labored way that lifted his shoulders off the bed with every wheezing breath. I sat with him for nine or ten hours, talking to him and wetting his lips with a piece of gauze, soaked in cold water.

I was holding his hand when he suddenly opened his eyes and squeezed my hand, and I said hey, he's awake, then no, he's gone as he died. And I felt that something had just left that body. Took one last look and moved on, leaving me next in line.

For an entire year after that, I had a recurring dream.

I'm being roasted slowly, like a pig in a pit. It hurts.  I can feel the intense heat from the coals, charring my skin.

It took a year for the fire to burn my skin away and prepare me to carry on in my father's place.

I had another recurring dream that lasted a couple of months.  It was the kind of dream you can wake up from, go back to sleep and pick up where you left off.

I'm a prince in exile on another planet or in another dimension.  There's not a vestige of the modern world.  Everything is medieval,  10th Century maybe.  We fight with swords and bows and arrows -- with axes.  I have a wife and a couple of kids, and a band of loyal followers.

Sometimes I feel like I fell to earth.

Up next:  5 Inventions That Changed My Life, Including Female Condoms


5 (Make That 6) Inventions That Changed My Life

The Salk Polio Vaccine

The Salk vaccine is one of the great success stories of Immunology.

I grew up in the time of polio. I remember the desperate pseudo-science that mothers and fathers held onto. I couldn't eat bananas or play outside in the heat of the day. I saw kids my age in iron lungs. And, suddenly, it was all over. It turned out polio wasn't caused by bananas or heat exhaustion. It was caused by a virus.

In spite of the success of the polio vaccine and other vaccines, the debate about childhood vaccinations seems no closer to a resolution than it was when my son, now a father himself, was a child. As a concerned parent who has had to make decisions about childhood vaccinations over the course of two generations -- my grandson is older than my nine-year-old daughter -- I can say I chose to have both my children vaccinated, but I have no idea how I would feel about that decision if one of them had turned out to be autistic. And I don't know how I would feel if I had made the other decision and one of them had died from the complications of measles or any of the other diseases we routinely vaccinate against.

I recent poll, conducted by the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, found most U.S. adults are either reluctant or unsure about whether they or their children will get vaccinated for the flu formerly known as swine.

Swine Flu Virus

Another poll shows the opposite. According to a survey by the Harvard School of Public Health, more than half of U.S. adults say they will get the vaccine for themselves and 75 percent will get it for their children.


Without television, I would never have seen a political convention, McCarthy would have ruined even more lives, the Vietnam war might still be going on, and Richard Nixon would have been elected 8 years sooner. Without television we would have had no way to recycle books, magazines, plays and films the way the World Wide Web recycles those things and television to boot. What will recycle the World Wide Web remains to be seen. Something will for sure. My first browser was Mosaic. Since I first used Mosaic to access the card catalog at Stanford's library from my desk in Houston, the web hasn't changed much. It's fast, vast and glitzy, but it's still just an information retrieval system with chat rooms here and there.

The IBM OS/360

If you're looking for the origins of the web, the IBM OS/360 is the place to start. It was the first commercially successful time-shared, multi-user operating system. Everything started there. Without the success of OS/360, Fred Brooks wouldn't have been a success and I wouldn't have read his The Mythical Man-Month. Without Fred and his mythical man-month, I wouldn't have made a good living rescuing projects by cutting back their scope instead of hiring more programmers.


Without Versed, we'd remember the horrible things doctors and dentists do to us. As I grow older, I get poked, prodded and explored more all the time, and I've come to appreciate drugs like Versed and inventions like CT-Scans, MRIs and tests that have virtually eliminated "exploratory surgery." If you want a real treat, the next time you have Versed, go home and watch a complicated action-adventure film.

Female Condoms

Female condoms are the lastest invention in a long line of products, dating back to the contraceptive sponge, that have given women more control over their bodies. Women used sponges in the 19th Century. The tiny hat was introduced to America by Margaret Sanger at the turn of the century. It was followed by the pill, IUDs and an improved version of the sponge that led to the creation by Seinfeld of the "sponge worthy" man. Woman-initiated contraception made it possible for me to date and marry a different kind of woman than the men of earlier generations did.

Now, a new female condom is coming on the market.

Female Condom

The FC2 Female Condom from Female Health Co. is billed as the first woman-initiated device that protects against both pregnancy and STDs like AIDS. The new version is quieter than it's squeaky predecessor. The original version failed to gain a foothold in the male condom-dominated U.S. marketplace in part because it was noisy to use.

Too noisy? Quieting them down is heading in the wrong direction. Why not make them even noiser, but with better sounds?

How about the Flight Of The Valkyries?

Or something wet and squishy, like rubber boots slogging through the mud of a rice paddy?

Proton Therapy

Proton therapy, which MD Anderson describes as a "190-ton cancer-killing machine that can zap a patient's tumor with sub-millimeter precision while sparing healthy tissues around the tumor and causing very few if any side effects," is a relatively new and expensive treatment option.

I had 38 treatments for prostate cancer at MD Anderson and, so far, I can vouch for the "few if any side effects" claim. Time will tell if my cancer has been killed or not. With cancer, there are no guarantees, and it's possible that some cancer cells had already spread beyond my prostate before I started treatment. That's the nature of the beast. But, if that's the case, at least proton therapy will have saved me from suffering the effects of debilitating and futile surgery. Proton therapy is painless. I didn't even need Versed.

Coming on Foodie Tuesday: 5 Cookbooks That Changed My Life

5 Cookbooks That Changed My Life

The Talisman Italian Cook Book was my first cookbook.  I bought a copy when I moved out of the dorm my first year in college, and I still refer to it now and then.

Ada Boni's recipes were different from the ones my grandmother gave me.  Boni uses carrots in her chicken cacciatora.  We used celery.  We never cooked with wine, and my grandmother skinned the chicken before she browned it.

Mastering The Art Of French Cooking by Julia Child, of course.  The only Child recipe I still do is her roasted chicken.  She thought roasted chicken was the true test of a cook, and I agree.  Except for slow smoking and an occasional bird done standing up with a half-full beer can in its cavity, I don't do whole chickens any other way.

Julia's book led me into French wine, and Alexis Lichine made French wine fun.

The Minimalist Cooks Dinner was my introduction to Mark Bittman.

In the trade-off between time and taste, Bittman strikes just the right balance for me.  By now, everybody in the world has linked to Bittman's New York Times article about Jim Leahy's no-knead bread recipe, but one more link can't hurt.

Everyday Greens by Annie Somerville was my bridge into Vegetarian and Vegan cooking. 

Express Lane Meals by Rachael Ray is my daughter's cookbook. 

Because of Ray and the other Food Network foodies, I have a 10-year-old who eats everything and concocts her own recipes, including interesting dressings, some of them actually edible.

5 Science Fiction Novels That Changed My Life

Glory Road by Robert Heinlein is unforgettable.

I read Glory Road, Starship Troopers and The Puppet Masters at about the same time. There is a certain pomposity and chauvinism to Heinlein's writing, and he never got down with the drugs of the '60s the way Herbert did -- I always picture Heinlein dropping acid in a hot tub with a bevy of beauties -- but magic, heroes and exciting dangerous worlds, entered through secret portals, is the stuff great adventure stories are made of.

Count Zero by William Gibson is the second book of Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy.

Gibson's references in Count Zero are more physical and violent than his references in Neuromancer or Mona Lisa Overdrive -- Survival Research and Voodoo, for example -- and his cosmology is more complex. I missed Molly, though. When she came back in Mona Lisa Overdrive, she'd lost her edge. Neither Gibson nor anyone else has created a woman like the Molly of Neuromancer.

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? is the best of the five.

The Ridley Scott film, Blade Runner, based on the Dick novel, was a travesty, devoid of the deceptive innocence that characterized Dick's novel.

The Dosadi Experiment is Frank Herbert's most interesting work.

Compared to the free play of imagination in Herbert's lesser works like The Dosadi Experiment and Hellstrom's Hive, Herbert's Dune and its sequels read like encyclopedia articles.

The Mote In God's Eye, a collaboration by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, is another book I re-read every couple of years.

Niven and Pournelle can be as pompous as Heinlein, and, like Heinlein and Herbert, they carry the baggage of vestigial royalty and militarism into the future, but their Moties are fascinating. Moties are the most perfect aliens, the most intelligently crafted "opposite of us" in all of science fiction.

5 Novels That Changed My Life

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann


Mann's narrative suspends time.  When I was a young soldier, stationed in Germany, I fantasized about contracting TB and serving out my enlistment in a Swiss sanitarium like Mann's Berghof.

Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima


Spring Snow is the first book of Mishima's Sea Of Fertility Tetralogy.  I could have picked any of the other three books in the tetralogy -- Runaway Horses, The Temple Of Dawn, or The Decay Of The Angel --  but Spring Snow was my introduction to Mishima.  When he finished the tetralogy, Mishima forced his way into the offices of the Japanese Ministry of Defense and committed seppuku there.

Julian by Gore Vidal


No historical figure is more real to me than the Emperor Julian; no historical novel more satisfying than Julian.

Up Above The World by Paul Bowles

Paul Bowles 

I read Up Above The World before I read Bowles' North African books: The Sheltering Sky, Let It Come Down and The Spider's House.  I always reread those three books together, but I reread Up Above The World, set in South America, by itself.  For the Beat Generation, Up Above The World is the ultimate horror story. 

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy


I've reread Blood Meridian a dozen times, searching for regeneration and redemption, but never found it.  Redemption eluded McCarthy until The Road

5 Pundits Who Changed My Life

Rick Newman

rick newman

I almost missed out on Rick Newman. I stopped reading U.S. News & World Report a while back, because I decided it was too slanted in favor of corporate America.

It's probably impossible to find an objective commentator now that network news has split along left/right political lines, but Mr. Newman appears on both Fox and CNN. I suspect that puts him somewhere close to the center, a personality who can be used by either side to introduce some balance into a segment.

Mr. Newman's Money blog at U.S News & World Report is the best organized blog on the web. The way he uses hyperlinks is a clinic in how to develop a topic in depth over time. Start at Why Shopping May Never Be The Same Again and follow the links. As a bonus, Mr. Newman has a sense of humor. In a world where network comedians pass for political commentators, a real pundit with a lighter side is nice to find.

Mr. Newman doesn't try to be deep. He lets the facts he selects make his points for him. But plain talk and understandable facts may be just what we need these days.

Paul Krugman


Paul Krugman is a cautionary tale. Mr. Krugman's career as a pundit demonstrates how brilliance can come unglued. The Great Unraveling -- the title of Mr. Krugman's collection of New York Times essays -- is intended as homage to Karl Polanyi's The Great Transformation, a brilliant exploration of the roots of fascism. But the great unraveling might just as well describe Krugman's mind over the last decade as his loathing for the Bush administration sidetracked him. He became so distracted by the shadow play of politics during the Bush years that he lost sight of the real threat: the ever-growing power of international corporations.

Mr. Krugman's take on the Obama administration has been just as fuddled. Unable to see that Mr. Obama is just another player in a political system that pits one slate of corporate candidates against another, Mr. Krugman began by characterizing Mr. Obama as incompetent during the primary, decided he was capable but too cautious and ill-advised after he took office, then ended up deciding Mr. Obama is incompetent after all. In the meantime, Mr. Krugman seems to have forgotten what he noticed back in 2000 when he began to write for the Times: How thoroughly corrupted the U.S. corporate system has become. Unfortunately, American politics is now part of that system. Were he less politicized, Mr. Krugman might be the right pundit to point that out.

Walter Cronkite


The 1972 Oliver Quayle poll that declared Walter Cronkite the most trusted public figure in America may have been bogus -- apparently, most of the choices other than Cronkite were politicians -- but there is no doubt that during the Sixties Mr. Cronkite was viewed as an objective voice. The power of that perceived objectivity was demonstrated when he turned against the Vietnam war. Instead of being viewed as an American victory, the failed Tet offensive in 1968 was viewed by Mr. Cronkite's vast audience as the beginning of the end in Vietnam.

To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past, Mr. Cronkite said. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.

Mr. Conkrite's moral authority came in part from his objectivity -- he anchored the CBS news at a time when opinion was clearly separated from news reporting -- and in part from the legacy of Edward R. Murrow. In using the words "mired in stalemate," he was, at the same time, both reflecting and influencing America's definition of victory in war.

Edward R. Murrow


When the New York Times condemned CBS News for caving to CBS corporate by gutting Lowell Bergman's 60 Minutes exposé of the tobacco industry, the Times editors could think of no charge more devastating than that CBS News had betrayed the legacy of Edward R. Murrow. Mr. Murrow believed in the power of words and facts to sway public opinion. He was always eloquent and factual, seldom histrionic. And his integrity was beyond reproach.

Anyone who actually saw a Murrow broadcast will understand what I mean when I say that Keith Olbermann's attempts to imitate Murrow's style are worse than a betrayal of the Murrow legacy. That legacy was never Olbermann's to betray. Olberman's hysterical rants are travesties. Compared to the reasoned discourse of Murrow and his peers, Olbermann's outbursts demonstrate all too clearly how far journalism has strayed from Murrow's path.

Walter Lippmann

walter_lippmann ,

The founder of the New Republic. Walter Lippmann's The Good Society was published in 1937 while Karl Polanyi was busy writing The Great Transformation. (Polanyi's autopsy report on 19th Century capitalism wasn't published until 1944.)

Lippmann and Polanyi both recognized facism as a totalitarian solution to the conflict between society and individual freedom. Lippmann's conclusion, that fascism is simply the policy of modern nations when they go to war, is less interesting than Polanyi's idea that fascism has it's roots in our denial of the reality of society. But Lippmann was one of the first pundits to recognize the threat of giant corporations to freedom. We could use him today.

Cowgirl Romance or Billy To The Rescue

 At long last, I find out I'm not alone.  It's a scientific fact.  Men take more risks when pretty women are around.

Debbie Cowgirl 

When I met The Cowgirl in Austin, I was at the top of my game, way above it all.  I was fond of  saying about myself:  This is not my first rodeo.  She was 25 and I was in my 40's.  We became good friends.

I had a girl friend younger than she was, and she was in love with a part-time politico named Rex.  He was a real cowboy.  Broke horses and took rich people on hunting trips in Montana.  She used to tell me:  Billy, I could never respect a man who didn't wear a suit and tie to work, and I could never love a man who wasn't a cowboy.  When I'm with Rex, I feel like I'm the luckiest girl in the world. 

She was a fantastic dancer with long blonde hair and that perfectly smooth skin some blondes have.

But I was above all that.

I ended up on my knees in a parking lot, using a little fire extinguisher from a shoe store to battle a fire that was blazing around the muffler of her white Pinto.  I had it whipped, too, until the fire extinguisher ran out of foam.

I was walking away from the car in disgust when a fire truck pulled into the parking lot.

The firemen put their truck between them and the Pinto and drowned the fire with a million gallons of water or so.  They got a kick out of my little fire extinguisher.  They'd look at me, then they'd look at the young blonde and say things like:  Was probably good the tank was full.  Not as likely to explode that way.

The cowgirl warned me not to marry my girlfriend.  Texas women do that.  Even if they don't want you, they know they're the only women good enough for you.  I didn't heed the warning, but, after 30 years of marriage, when my wife composted my white bread the other day to keep me from eating it, I remembered the Cowgirl's warning.