Category Archives: heroes

Heroes of Yesteryear… Part 1

Guy Williams as Zorro

He was the “Fox” that no authorities could ever catch or unmask. In Spanish, Zorro, the fox.

He was the intrepid pirate/adventurer Captain Sinbad, in the 1963 movie of that title.

He was Professor John Robinson in the 60’s TV series, Lost in Space.

And he was briefly Cartwright nephew Will on Bonanza.

All of those were shows I adored as a boy in the 60’s (Though I really only saw Zorro as an after-school syndicated show in the early 70’s.)

Guy Williams was, in many ways, the character I myself truly wanted to be.

Guy Williams as Captain Sinbad

He was the swashbuckling hero, never afraid to take the leap into danger, to face any monster, or take any risk to save his town, his family, his people, or his crew.

His character led from the front and took a bullet or a sword wound now and then to protect the weak. And he got the chance, as Disney’s Zorro, to romance Annette Funicello in a few episodes.

And I particularly wanted to be the kind of explorer he was as the head of the Space Family Robinson in the Lost in Space TV series. Those were still the days of my astronaut-and-rocket-ship daydreams.

Guy Williams as John Robinson

But my hero worship was never about the actor, Armand Catalano, whose screen name was Guy Williams. He was a TV and film actor who started out as a fashion model. He made himself famous with good looks and acting ability. He was, I suppose, a decent hardworking fellow with dreams of being a movie star, a goal he came close to, but never quite reached. It was not him I wanted to be. I wanted to be the real-life embodiment of the characters themselves that he played.

I could probably end this essay by saying something sappy, that by becoming a public school teacher, I became the swashbuckling hero I always wanted to be. Sure, teachers do have to be swashbucklers to do the job right. But that claim is an argument for another day… another post. My point for this essay is that this is what constitutes a hero in my book; a brave person who can smile in the middle of a sword fight, even if he is losing, a man or woman willing to sacrifice themselves for the good of others, and a hero for whom the chance to be a hero is the real reward. And I learned that romantic, idyllic crap from TV in the 60’s and 70’s, when I was but a boy.

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Filed under autobiography, Disney, heroes, humor, inspiration, review of television, TV as literature

The Peak Year

Last night I watched the movie version of Jersey Boys the musical. It touched me deeply. And the band was asked to each answer the question,
“What was your best year as a member of the Four Seasons, your peak year?” Frankie Valli’s answer got me thinking about the answer to that question as it applies to who I am and what was the peak year of my career.

Now, I can’t deny that, having been a successful public school teacher who loved teaching for more than 30 years, there were a number of very successful years I could point to. But scoring well on State writing tests and reading tests despite teaching in a poor rural school district in South Texas, nor competing in the Odyssey of the Mind creativity contest with my gifted students were really what I would call my peak year. That honor has to go to the year I was twelve (for most of the year), 1969,

That was the year that men walked on the moon. I had followed the whole thing for several years, since Mom and Dad had gotten me excited about space by trying to spot John Glenn in his Mercury capsule crossing the blue sky in our back yard. I had watched religiously as Walter Cronkite and Wally Schirra told us on CBS about Mercury and Gemini and finally Apollo.

It made me believe in myself and the power of people for the first time since the tornado and the sexual assault from 1966 had toppled my world.

I had numerous self-confidence issues after 1966. I really, deep down, blamed myself for what happened to me. I was convinced that I was worthless and evil. But watching Neil Armstrong step onto the surface of the moon on that late July evening made me yearn to reshape the world the way he did, even if I could only do it in a much smaller way.

’69 was the “Summer of Love” in more than one way for me. I wasn’t really able to think about myself as a virgin in ’69 for… reasons. But it was the summer that I got to see a girl who wasn’t my sister naked because she wanted me to see her. We were not able to actually do what both of us wanted to do, and my double-clutching at the last moment destroyed any chance of her ever even talking to me again for the rest of my life, but it proved that I was at least desirable to girls. And music from that moment on began to underscore everything in my life. She had “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies playing in her bedroom. And the same song was playing again at the roller rink in Lake Cornelia the night she refused to do the couple’s skate with me, and I asked Leslie instead. Leslie accepted. I was not a monster made from the horror of ’66. i proved that to myself to the beat of “Sugar Sugar”.

And, of course, even though I was a Cardinals fan, the New York Mets proved to me that year that the impossible can happen. Of course, I rooted for the Orioles. You know, a team with a bird for a mascot.

But 1969 was also a year of big decision for me. I already knew at that point that I was destined to be a storyteller. But that was the year of the My Lai massacre. I remember looking at the photos in Life and Look magazines of the dead bodies of women and children, killed by American bullets. I could not, at that point, stomach the idea of going to war after turning 18, a possibility that became very real to me that year.

It was the year I made up my mind I would never kill anyone in my lifetime, never pick up a gun to harm others, or be a part of any such atrocity. I still have great respect for soldiers and what they do, but if I had been there, I would’ve been moved to lay down my weapon and stand with the victims in front of the machine guns. They would’ve had to kill me too. And I was determined to go to jail sooner than fight in the war. Luckily, that was never put to the test. The war ended in 1975, before I graduated high school.

The peak year was not for me a year of great personal success or wealth or accomplishment. 1969 was the year I chose who I was going to be in life. The year of decision. The year that brought me all the way through from there to now. It was 50 years ago. It was the year I was 12.

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Hidden Kingdom(updated)

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So, there you have the weekly update of work on this graphic novel.  I intend to extend it further next week as I work on the scanning and the putting pieces together to get a clear and well-reproduced comic product.  I will re-post these pages and the added pages each Saturday as I work towards completing this unfinished work.

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Filed under artwork, comic strips, fairies, heroes, Hidden Kingdom, humor, Paffooney, pen and ink

More Powerful Than a Potassium-Rich Banana

20141204_133754It is a time when we need a hero to step forward.  We lost one when Senator John McCain .headed off to Valhalla this week.  I didn’t agree with practically any of his political positions.  But the man stood up for what’s right and what’s wrong.  He took stances routinely that went against some of the worst drivers of Republican actions.  He prevented them from doing a lot of worse evils.  My Republican friends in Iowa disparaged McCain just as Trump did as a RINO (Republican In Name Only).  But he stood up for  us with the thumb down gesture when the evil Republican Oligarchs were voting to take away the gains in health care that we made under Obama.

It is a time when we need a hero to step forward.  Of course, we are always in need of heroes.  There is so much in our little lives that depends on the strong among us to shield us from the darkness that fills the universe.  And heroes come in many forms.  There was a time when I needed a hero to step forward and deliver me from evil in the Emergency Room in Pearsall Texas.  I was there because I was suffering from a severe lack of potassium in my bloodstream.  You don’t realize how important balanced potassium in the bloodstream is until you don’t have it.  The shakes, the pain, the fog interfering with my cognitive functioning would all have overwhelmed me permanently if the banana doctor had not run a potassium-rich IV directly into a vein in my arm and then proscribed bananas and apples in my diet when he let me go home without an expensive hospital stay.  I never learned his name, hence the epithet of “banana doctor”, but he was a hero to me when I needed one.

I think the real point here is, though, that we are forever needing heroes to step up.  More than once, as a school teacher, it was me who was called on to step up and do the hero job.  Talking on the phone late on a Saturday night to a suffering, suicidal teen, getting between two middle school girls and a leering stranger on a field trip in San Antonio, facing down a berserk child with real metal ninja throwing stars in a school hallway and getting him to run away rather than pursuing his target… gawd, looking back, I should’ve been scared out of my wits.  Don’t tell my mother that those things really happened.

And maybe that is the only place we should really be looking for heroes, inside ourselves.  Believe me, there is no Superman or Wolverine in the real world outside of the one in your own heart.  And that one will step up and answer the call if you sincerely need him… or her.  Take it from a guy once known in high school as “Superchicken”.  Now there’s an inspiring superhero name!

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I’m a Kangaroo Kid

Bob Keeshan, better known as Captain Kangaroo, would not like my title.  He wanted them to be referred to as “children” not “kids”.  The reasons were obvious.  “Kid” refers to a baby goat.  It’s all about the words.  It’s all about respect and propriety.

4e087cfa232cf.image But Bob Keeshan, though a TV personality, was much more of a teacher than anything else.  His show went on air before I was born, and I don’t remember a moment in my childhood that he wasn’t a part of it.  He was like Mr. Rogers, but came into our lives even before Fred Rogers appeared on the scene.  I watched the show in the mornings before school started, at a time when I walked all the way across our little Iowa farm town to get to school.  He taught me important early lessons in life that were just as impactful as the math and language and social skills I was getting later in the day.  Of course, I had to leave home for school before the show ended at 8:00 a,m. But just like school, watching and participating in any part of it was capable of teaching you something good.

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A lot of what I was able to do successfully as a teacher is a result of how Captain Kangaroo taught me.  He taught me to deliver information in small bites that a young learner with a short attention span could fully digest.  He taught me how to capture attention.  He did it with puppets, a moose, a bunny, and a dancing bear all thanks to Cosmo Allegretti, a versatile and multi-talented performer.  He could focus attention by letting Mr. Moose drop ping pong balls on his head.  Whatever came next after the moment of mirth was something I paid attention to.

He also helped us learn science.  Mr. Greenjeans in his low-key, deadpan way would teach us about eating vegetables, how farmers cultivate plants, and how to handle various small animals like kittens, rabbits, and even ferrets.  Mr. Greenjeans got seriously bitten by a lion cub on camera.  He simply stuck his bleeding finger in his pocket and went on with the show.  Yes, the man was a veteran in more ways than one.  (He was a Marine in WWII.)

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And Captain Kangaroo taught me how to share a book.  I became very good at reading aloud to students because Bob Keeshan and the crew that worked for him showed me how to read with expression, separate dialogue from narration, and build the excitement with pace and voice modulation.  They were experts at reading aloud.

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So, I say this with no disrespect, only veneration.  “I am a Kangaroo kid.”  I watched the show and internalized it.  I developed deep pockets like the ones in Bob Keeshan’s jacket that gave him the name Captain Kangaroo, and I stored many treasures from the Treasure House there that I would later share with my students.

 

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Aeroquest… Canto 24

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Canto 24 – Attack on White Palm

White Sword Corsairs were long, stiletto-shaped vessels with a wicked array of pulse lasers, microwave beamers, and contact missiles.  Two hundred of the deadly craft led by Arkin Cloudstalker himself had joined Tron’s own one hundred and eighty Pinwheel Corsairs in high orbit above the desert planet, White Palm.

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“Cloudstalker?  This is Tron.  Do you see any sign of space forces?”

“None,” came the quick reply.  “Amin would be here if he intended to oppose us.”

“Do you think we took the Count by surprise?”

“Not a chance.  He knows we’re here.  If he’s not laying for us in space, he has a trap set up on the planet.”

“Do you have ground assault vehicles aboard your corsairs?”

“Sorry, Brother Tron.  We didn’t come prepared for that.”

“We have two aboard each Pinwheel.  Can you at least provide air cover?”

“Oh, most definitely.  We’re the best you’ve ever seen.”

“You fly like a bunch of girls,” said Tron with a snort of laughter.

“Women, Blastarr!  That makes all the difference!” asserted Cloudstalker.

The Pinwheels began spiraling down into the hot, cloud-free atmosphere of the desert planet.  Elvis the Cruel led the way, lasering the desert below out of sheer spite and meanness.  Sheherazade flew her pinwheel right behind.  The King of Killers was on her tail with Courtney Blake right behind him.

Cloudstalker led the White Swords in a classic “V”formation, with his only male ace, Apache Scout, on his wing.  The Lady Knights all followed smoothly in ground attack formation, spreading out in a slowing double chevron.

It became obvious what tactics Count Nefaria had chosen to employ.  The desert was covered by huge robotic walkers, some on two feet, some on four, and even a dozen or so of the six-legged battle platforms.  Plasma beams sprayed out in a flytrap pattern that took out seventeen Pinwheel Corsairs on the first volley.  The beams were hot enough to burn directly through energy shields and leave wide swaths of glass on the deserts of White Palm when they fell to the planet.

“Tron Blastarr, you are outmatched,” came the effete voice of Count Nefaria over the general com channel.  “A wise corsair would count his losses and fly away!”

“Nobody ever accused me of being wise, Old Dracula!” shouted Tron.  “I’ve come to stake you once and for all before the fall of darkness.”

“Big words!” said Nefaria, apparently commanding another volley of plasma fire.  The words had actually been normal-sized, not big at all, but Nefaria had a reputation for being very cruel and not terribly bright.

Apache Scout was hit, though not fatally.  His White Sword and crew of four arced down into the palm trees near Nefaria’s Oasis City.  A Lady Knight named Stella also caught a plasma beam, but it struck the cockpit, vaporizing all aboard.

Cloudstalker’s deadly corsairs attacked with heat-seeking contact missiles.  Four hundred missiles made four hundred separate hits.  Two six-legged battle platforms went down along with the 398 walkers.  Robot parts were splashed all over the desert.  Tron could picture Nefaria’s monocled face turning pale as he witness the robotic death and carnage.

Elvis the Cruel flew over the Oasis City shield tower, burning it with a sheet of laser fire and causing a series of explosions that caused the building to fold down into the ground, smoking and spewing debris.  Elvis’ Pinwheel curvetted and landed two cliques outside the city wall.  He was the first Pinwheel pilot to deploy his two ground vehicles.  They were tracked ATV’s with pulse laser cannons, the kind that corsairs referred to as “killer campers”.

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As Elvis personally drove towards the walls in his first vehicle, he was hailed by a downed pilot coming out of the palm trees near the reservoir.

“Hey, stupid white man!  I am Apache Scout.  Give me an ATV and I will slay these metal men for you!”

Elvis knew his old enemy, and gladly surrendered command of ATV 2 to him.  Apache Scout was a full-blooded Pan Galactican Indian, and known for his combat piloting abilities.  He could fly or drive anything on the battlefield.

Tron successfully landed his two ATV’s as well.  His beautiful wife and young son rode with him.  If they were going to die in battle, better, Tron reasoned, to all die together.  He knew he could never live without either one of them.  After landing, a battle walker with four legs, called a Road Warrior, smashed in the side of Tron’s number two ATV.  The four crewmen were killed instantly as their own missile battery gutted their vehicle.

Tron, taking offense, cut the head and front legs off the robot, pitching it sideways into the blazing wreck of Number Two.

Sheherazade’s lead ATV, the one she piloted herself, was caught between a two-legged Desert Rat, and a six-legged battle platform.  The plasma energy burned off the back half of her ATV.

In the next few moments, King Killer flew into a supernatural rage, driving down the Desert Rat and pumping the underside of the battle platform full of hot laser fire.  As the platform burned and toppled to the desert, King leaped out of his ATV and plunged into the wreckage to find Sheherazade.  Tron was certain he had just lost two aces from the Pinwheel Corsairs.  Suddenly King emerged from the smoke and flames carrying the still living dark beauty in his arms.

Elvis and Apache Scout had fifteen kills between them, the highest of any ground pilots in the battle, when they finally breached the walls of Nefaria’s Command Bunker.  The Battle of White Palm had officially ended in a victory for the raiders.  All that remained was the fox hunt for Nefaria within the tunnels of his own complex.

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P.T. Barnum

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Last night my wife and my daughter the Princess went with me to the movie musical The Greatest Showman at the dollar movie.  I was enchanted.  My wife laughed at me for how much the movie made me cry.  But it was a very touching and timely movie for me because it was about pursuing dreams in spite of economic hardships.  The award-winning songs promote with energy and stunning beauty the notion that you should follow your passion no matter the risk, and that choosing to do so will produce rewards as long as family and love are with you and along for the ride.

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Of course, one has to remember that the whole story is based on the life and work of Phineas Taylor Barnum, a man who is a lot more like Donald Trump than he is Hugh Jackman.  I really doubt he could sing and dance the way the movie portrays him.  And words like “humbug”, “fraud”, and “exploiter” apply to him in a very real way.

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Barnum was actually one of those wheeler dealers who wants to control the story.  He actively found ways to alter the public narrative about himself and used criticism to help promote his money-making shows.  The idea of bad publicity being just as good if not better than good publicity actually makes its presence felt in at least one scene in the movie.  There is ample evidence that more than a little of Barnum’s efforts were aimed at making himself a star.

And although the movie sentimentalizes his exploitation of freaks and special individuals, giving him credit for giving them self esteem and a means to make a good living, that was really only the fictional Barnum created by Barnum’s own media efforts.

The truth of the matter, though far more fascinating than the movie version of Barnum, does not make for a good musical libretto.  In the movie the theme of special people outcast from the society because of their uniqueness coming together to support each other in a circus is strongly woven into both the story and the music.  The song “This is Me” performed by Keala Settle playing the part of bearded lady Lettie Lutz is a powerful anthem for everyone who feels smaller than they really are because of prejudice, bullying, racism, sexism, or any of the other forms of moronic stupidity that humans are so often guilty of.  I have to admit, the song made me cry even as it filled me with joy.  The musical score of this movie is one that I intend to listen to again and again and again.  It makes the circus seem like an answer to life’s problems.  It is the same feeling that I got the first time, and every time, I ever saw the circus with all its clowns and jugglers, acrobats and lion tamers, bare-back riders and elephants.  And I knew it was all illusion.  All humbug.  But it was pure joy worth the price of the ticket never-the-less.

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The movie was only rated 56% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.  But I rarely pay attention to things like that.  This musical goes into the category with The Sound of Music, The Music Man, Oklahoma!, and Mary Poppins of musicals I can’t live without.  Never mind the greedy little man that it is based on.  This movie is about big dreams and even bigger achievements.  And it is well worth the price.

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