Monday, December 30, 2013

1986 - the cartoonist's new apartment

My cartoons really started to percolate about the same time that I did. Sometime in 1985 or 86 all of a sudden I became very happy, and productive.

I took an apartment in the "East town" neighborhood of Grand Rapids which sort of fancies itself as Greenwich Village west, providing that Greenwich Village east is populated with uptight dutch people. Marvin, my landlord, I've discussed him earlier, was an outstanding influence to come under in many ways. His name wasn't really Marvin, by the way.

Marvin rented me the upstairs apartment of his Genessee Street home. The rent was something like $125.00 per month. Interestingly enough he'd only been charging the previous tenant, Bill, fifty bucks. I guess he thought is was time to up the ante.

But before I could start entertaining in ernest I had to move into and clean out my new apartment. What a disgusting job lay ahead of me.

Bill, the former tenant (of many years) was only interested in one thing:

Fishing was Bill's big passion. He'd fish day and night. He got a job at the local hardware/sporting goods store to be near the equipment that his employee discount put into his reach.

One of the problems that he left for me was the detritus of his hobby. The musty, musky shag carpeting (orange, thank you) was a mine field of fish hooks, long lost and embedded in the shag just waiting for an unsuspecting foot to happen by.

That carpeting was also saturated with Bill's favorite bait - salmon eggs. Like electric orange BBs made of jelly these fragrant little fertility bombs were liberally mashed into every highly trafficked area of the floor. I spent the next month cleaning salmon eggs out of every nook and cranny of the apartment.

A stinky essence pervaded every inch of that apartment.

Having my sister Fran along for the initial recon of the apartment was very helpful...unlike me, she could see beyond the filth, stench, and degradation. She insisted that the place had real possibilities, especially for a young man in my position. Trusting in my sister's judgment I held my nose and gave Marvin the check.

When Bill moved out I moved in and the frenzy of cleaning began.

(only slightly exaggerated)

Though daunting, the task of cleaning this stable was nothing that time, ammonia, vinegar, and elbow grease (and a strong stomach) couldn't accomplish. Eventually I'd established a pretty nice little roost for myself to take the best of what life had to offer.

Marvin and I also became pretty good pals and we spent many a happy hour on his front porch watching the wanna-be bohemians of East Town promanade by. The Pembroke strip below was informed by some lazy afternoons on that sagging but cozy couch on the porch.

And it only gets better,

Stay tuned (and turn down that music!)


Sunday, December 8, 2013

When smoking was fab

Two smoking vampires walk into a bar...

When I was working a Acraforms back in the early and mid 1980s, it seemed like all of us smoked, or at least bummed smokes while trying to convince ourselves that we didn't really smoke anymore. This was also reflected in my cartoons of the era.

Here's about half of the Acraforms slide department:

Nancy, Chuck, me, and Pete. Chuck was the only nonsmoker. In the background is that famous photo of Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald as Willard Scott looks on

 I think I did the original "Bad Santa" twenty five years prior to his arrival in theaters.

The human zippo has an FDR sophistication.

A cartoon drawn for On-the-Town magazine in Grand Rapids Michigan.

A three-dimensional cartoon I did in Clay, called "Corporate Structure 1"

After years of normalizing smoking through my cartoons the big irony came along when I found myself doing gratis work for the American Lung Association. Like second-hand smoke; what goes around, comes around.

I've been smoke free for over thirty years now, nary a puff. I made a deal with a gal I was dating back then: I'd quit smoking if she'd start using her seatbelt. Decades later, I don't know if she stuck her end of the deal, I'm just glad that I stuck to mine.

By the way, for me, it was like throwing a switch. One moment I smoked, the next I didn't.

Here's this week's installment of Pembroke. This one's really dated. Tony Randall the actor had an equally high profile as an anti-smoking crusader. I guess you had to be there.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em, just not upwind of me, thanks.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Friday, December 6, 2013

Three-dimensional cartoons

Many years ago I ran across a sculptor in Gettysburg, Charlie Caldwell, who worked exclusively in Sculpey, a wonderful polyform plastic modeling clay.  His figures were whimsical and quite delightful and prompted me to get some Sculpey and get to work.  That was nearly thrity years ago and although Mr. Caldwell's Gettysburg shop is shuttered, I still fondly recall my conversations with him every time I break out the Sculpey.

These sailors and Marines of the "golden era" of the U.S. Navy, made of Sculpey, represent my memories of the years I served with the U.S. Fleet as a young 3rd class petty officer on the island of Guam and aboard Destroyers.

These figures all average about six inches in height and though they have a lot of detail they're not intended to be photorealistic but rather, three-dimensional cartoons of the guys I remember serving with back in my version of "the old Navy".

This sculpture represents one of those greatest of pleasures, the mass consumption of cold beer at what were termed "Beach Parties".


Held as morale-boosters, a beach-party would be proclaimed by a division officer or a skipper in recognition of a period of hard work, a successful operation, or as a general "well-done" to the crew.  This  celebration of a cohesive crew, the beach-party, would usually occur during regular working hours and might comprise an entire afternoon of baseball, burgers, steaks, swimming, and the ubiquitous swilling of a designated number of beers per man.

Warm beer of a local or otherwise cheap pedigree would be tumbled into a GI can and several large CO2 fire extinguishers would be expended to hose down the brewskis and get them serviceably chilled.  Then the drinking could begin in earnest. 

At a beach party, sailors who didn't drink plied a lucrative business selling their alloted four beers for whatever price the market would bear.  As a result a good time would be had by all!

I was a non-drinker by the way.

A picture of hard-earned satisfaction as this first-class petty officer draws deep the sweet elixir of life.

San Miguel was a staple in the Philippines and on the Islands of Guam and Midway.

Back in the "Old Navy" every lifer had a church-key on his key ring for just such eventualities.

Sculpted by yours truly, this is the first of a few of my old shipmates...

that may appear on this blog from time to time.

Art imitates life, and this was a part of my life so many years ago.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Have I told you about my cat?

Actually, it's not my cat.  It's a feral cat that cruises the neighborhood and usually stops by my place a couple times a week and stares at me through my French doors.

 It's a prostitute feral cat.  On its first visit, two years ago, it let me pet it in exchange for a piece of salmon patty.  Over the months I've developed a good enough of a relationship to get "freebies" though an occasional slice of pepperoni helps to keep things on a business standing.

I'm also good friends with a you see the conflict coming?

The catbird has its own view of how I should be interacting with the cat.

And the cat has it's own unique perspective -

I'm just the poor guy in the middle trying to get everyone to get along.

The baseball bat's not real, by the way.  It exists in the bird's imagination.  What I'm actually holding is an umbrella, a la Neville Chamberlain.

Still hoping to achieve "peace in our time",


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Have I told you about when I got hit by a car?

It was 1974, I'd been out of the US Navy a scant three months and I was happily enrolled at Delta College outside of Bay City Michigan, collecting my GI Bill college education and having a blast finally being a college kid (after a four-year delay).  

I was the head cartoonist on the student newspaper the Delta Collegiate and everything was going swimmingly.  I was the sage veteran, finally out of the disciplined life of the military and enjoying the company of many fun people, including some really cute girls.

One October night the Collegiate crew decided  to head out to a nearby pizza and beer joint for an evening of fun.  What a treat!  The evening was to take quite an unexpected turn however.

(The staff of the Collegiate.  That's my sister Francie at left with her feet up on the desk.  The beautiful Marsha Ross is at top third from right - I had a crush on her.  I'm represented by a sketch, at right, that was done from my hospital bed.   Hmmmm.   Finally that's me a few months later, lower left, wearing my "spare" glasses.)

This tribe of nearly twenty jolly jokers had just begun the evening, parking across a busy street from the pizza-joint in question.  It was dark, and had been raining.  As we crossed the rain-slicked pavement in a pack little did we, or I, know that a motorist was about to intersect our path.

The motorist in question was a young guy with a clean driving record, and was completely sober.  As he rounded the bend of the blind curve he was presented with the sight of a gaggle of collegians mere feet from his front bumper.  With fate casting its ironic smile upon me, I was the one selected for stardom that memorable evening.

I lost consciousness seconds prior to becoming this airborne.

Later, the police report revealed some fascinating details:

[official photo, Bay County Sheriff's Department]

My glasses and boot were found two days later in a cornfield and returned to the custody of my mother.

From the point of impact, I was able to actually fly, if only for a moment, a distance of 37 feet.  Considering I was unaided by wings, I think that my flight compares very favorably with the 1903 maiden flight of the Wright Flyer which stayed airborne for 120 feet.

My sister got her wrist broken in that same accident, not by being hit by the car, but by the impact of me as I collided with her upon my takeoff to the stars.

Mercifully, I was never able to recall any of this event.  Its all a total blank, save for the vague memory of a very deep pain and someone resting my head upon a spare tire or something.

The result?  A broken pelvis, a broken collarbone, a severe laceration to my left upper thigh (still somewhat misshapen), a concussion, and abrasions too numerous to remember, let alone mention.

I was in the hospital for seventeen days learning about numbness, anxiety, and boredom.

Eventually, I healed, unlike my poor glasses. 

A month later, I limped back in to the office of the Collegiate, too behind in my classwork to continue on that session.  As years went by I finally stopped freezing up at the thought crossing busy streets,  I graduated from college, and I became the superhero that that guards over all of you today.

Sleep well...

and look both ways before crossing streets.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Have I told you about when I almost got killed on a bicycle?

Bicycling on Guam in 1971 was one of the many pleasures of being stationed on that beautiful island. 

 One day, after watch, I set out for the beach that was near the Naval Communications Station.  It was at the foot of a long and winding steep road.  It was fun to coast down that road, gaining great speed only to plunge into the surf at road's end.  I'd done this once before.

Guam is rich in culture and history,

A. the mysterious latte stones, left from earlier cultures on the island, or

B.  The  remaining Japanese holdout who wasn't captured until 1972, the island was, and remains, one of wonder.

C.  I was pedaling, then coasting, then careening down the coral-surfaced road toward...

D. NCS Beach.

E.  Needless to say I was making great headway.  According to the cigar I was using as an air-speed indicator I was going about thirty-five miles per hour, when, quite unexpectedly, I hit...

F.  some minuscule discontinuity in the road surface which turned the bike into a catapult, sending me hurtling over the handlebars and onto the abrasive coral road surface still at a great rate of speed as the bicycle crashed, rolled, bumped, and clattered down hill with me.

I ended up heaped in a ditch as the bike landed on top of me.  I've no idea how long I was in that position, when I heard an approaching car.

A very nice Chamorro lady, driving by, stopped to give me some water and to summon an ambulance from the base.  Within thirty minutes I was at the base dispensary, quite dazed, having a hospital corpsman removing the coral particles from my bleeding road-rashed arms with a laundry scrub brush.

Although the bike was totaled, I was back to work at my regularly scheduled time, arm in a sling for about three weeks.

And that's what I did in the war children.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Everybody likes maps

These long winter evenings find me making another series of Maps for the new book on the Battle of South Mountain by my friend, Civil War historian, John Hoptak.

The maps are coming along swimmingly, and its always fun to render in two dimension that which John does so well in three dimension.

Though John, is tiny in stature, (only eight inches tall) he looms as an authority on the Battle of South Mountain and I always enjoy working with him.

Life is good

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Have I told you about when I almost got killed in the Navy?

How can you tell when an old sailor is lying?

his lips are moving.

Sometimes that's true but here's a tale from the high-seas that happened to me when I was a young sailor-boy on the USS Dehaven back in 1972.

Here I am on the good old Dehaven (DD-727) a Sumner class destroyer from World War Two.  It was a fine old ship with quite a  remarkable combat record.

Be patient, this will get more interesting as you go along.

The Dehaven

What a beautiful ship.  Note the gun-mounts forward (toward the pointy part)  each contains two five-inch guns.  They can hurl a 55-lb projectile up to ten miles or so with great accuracy. You can imagine that to achieve such a feat the gun must be complicated, well-engineered, and HEAVY

(above) Charlie Boothroyd stands at the rear of one of the guns, the sliding breach-block.  It weighs a couple of tons, and when the breech "clicks" shut the gun fires and the  block instantly (instantly) recoils about three feet rearward as the empty shell casing is ejected.  So you certainly would not want to be standing behind it when it fires, right?

Although I was a Radioman on the Dehaven, I found myself working in the forward five inch gun mount for a couple of weeks.  It was normally the battle station of the lowest ranking radioman on the ship.  Unfortunately he, and the next lowest guy were both on leave, so I was called down to fill in.  

At first I was down in the handling room sending projectiles and powder casings up into the mount.  The handling room is a small piece of hell on earth, where you try  to keep your balance on a greasy, moving deck, trying to not get your fingers crushed as you manhandle heavy projectiles from the magazine elevator into the ready racks and chain hoists which run them to the gun above. 
Sounds like fun, right?  Right.

As we were firing, from the small hatch above, appeared the grimy face of one of the gunner's mates up in the mount. While he was shouting the type of ammo to send up he spotted me, or actually, the petty officer insignia on my sleeve (the "crow") and inquired

"Hey a**hole, what the f@#k are you doing down there!?  You're a godd%##ed petty officer, get up here with us."

Seeing this as a welcome reprieve I  gratefully scrambled up the narrow ladder through the scuttle above and  emerged into the ear-splitting, bone shuddering, deafening, reeling and jolting world of the gun house.
My gunner's mate deliverer, realizing I'd never been in a mount before, gave me the simplest possible job - that of the "hot shell man".  Handing me one asbestos glove (instead of the required two) a glove, may I add, that had a large hole burned through the palm, and instructed me on my new job.

As the hot empty shell casings were ejected from the breach I was to grab them and toss them out a little scuttle that got them outside, out our way and out from underfoot.

They would pile up on the deck outside the gun mount.  Sometimes, after a sustained period of firing,  there would be hundreds of them out there, rolling back and forth with the motion of the ship

About ten guys worked the mount.  It was so noisy that the only communication was done with hand signals;  hand signals like the one I gave to the guy indicating that a casing had been lodged below the mount, impeding the elevation.  I gave him the "finger across the throat" signal and indicated the jammed casing.  He grinned, nodded, and gave me the "thumbs-up".  The fact that he'd been toking reefer all morning had some bearing on what happened next.

As I bent down, head behind the giant breech block, remember? the breech block that instantly hurtles rearward the moment the breach "clicks" shut and the gun automatically fires?  Yeah, that breech block.

Despite the smoky assurance of my shipmate of the "thumbs-up" signal, 
I heard that most frightening sound:

You know what happens at the click.

Instantly I felt myself flying backward; two huge, powerful, hands at my belt providing a jarring jerk clear of the breech block.

It all happened in the blink of an eye. I watched as the breech block rocketed before my eyes, filling the space where my head had been an instant before.
The guy who insured my continued future was a gunner's mate who I only ever knew as "Cracker".  A greasy, portly, and altogether unkempt sailor who was, for me, the man of the moment.

As I thanked him profusely, he shrugged it off with " Yer lucky that was the last shot or I'da been too busy to bother"

The guy with the bowl haircut: "Cracker"

And that's how I helped to defeat the commies.