Thursday, April 30, 2009

Theme Thursday: WATER

A lot of the Blogger-bloggers who link to Theme Thursday are poets. Therefore, although most of my recent writings consist of prose works, I decided to resurrect a thirty-year-old poem entitled "A Summer's End." Something decidedly different for me, even then... but it fits the "WATER" theme in two ways: The story takes place on a cliff overlooking the ocean, and a summer thunderstorm begins and increases in intensity, mirroring my characters' conversation.

(And in all honesty, I must admit to a few editorial "tweaks.")


* * * * *

A Summer's End

A summer's day, so fine and fair,
Brought summer's eve, so warm.
The moon was shining through her hair.
No hint of coming storm.

The day'd been spent eventfully.
New vistas had been sought.
I showed her what she meant to me
And spoke my inner thoughts.

She told me "I've found peace with you.
You mellow out my life."
I answered "Dear, I've thought things through.
I want you as my wife."

She smiled but firmly shook her head,
Which puzzled me a lot,
Until she softly, gently said,
"Let's not ruin what we've got."

The summer moon its dom'nance took
And siphoned off the day.
She climbed the rocky overlook
To view the ocean spray.

On this high cliff she took my hand.
The sea raged far below.
She begged "Please, darling, understand.
I care for you, you know!

"It's just that marriage is passé,
An out-of-date-ideal."
Light rain began, and all I said
Was "No, it's not. It's real."

"You wonderful romanticist,"
She cooed, to keep things light.
But I could not adjust to this.
I knew that I was right.

The summer rain beat harder now;
The ocean sprayed its foam.
I kept the argument alive,
Refused to take her home...

"It's not how I would live," she said.
I said "I'll ask again..."
"You're asking something I can't give!"
"Don't say you can't. You can."

She searched for words, then found the sea.
"Dear, watch the waves withdraw.
They love to touch the shore, like me,
But freedom is their law.

"They need not stay upon the sand
To smooth it free from scars."
I shrugged those words off. "Take my hand!
What's mine may yet be ours."

The summer storm, a tempest spread,
Almost drowned out her plea.
"You haven't heard a word I've said!
How stubborn can you be?"

The storm's force ruled my actions then,
Heart pounding like the waves.
With sorrow for what might have been,
I knew no hope was saved.

I turned and left her, boldly.
Shocked, she never said a word
As I strode away so coldly.
Rain and surf were all I heard.

But swift remorse came; back I looked,
To straighten out this mess...

But she had jumped.

Her life she took.

She did love me...

I guess.

* * * * *

Mm. Cheerful.

By the way, long-time readers of my blogs will recall my running joke that every time I wonder "Hey, whatever happened to So-and-So? Haven't heard anything about him (or her) lately," the person in question either does something newsworthy shortly thereafter... or dies.

Anybody remember my lame joke about Bea Arthur on April 11th?

Yup. Killed another one.

Thanks for your time.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Golden Mask: The Story Behind the Story

Nope, don't worry. This is not another post explaining the "voting" process that led to the creation of "Meet Mark," Parts One, Two, Three, and Four!

I received one public comment and two private emails saying approximately the same thing -- I'll quote from Blunoz' comment, here -- "I was intrigued how you wove yourself into the background of the story, too. How much (if any) of the story about you was truth? Did you ever really have some idiot try to rob you with a knife at That's Entertainment? Did he really threaten the comics with a Bic lighter?"

How much of all that was true? Not much. Quoting -- and slightly editing -- from Part 3 of "Meet Mark," here's the genesis of the original, non-psychic costumed hero named Golden Mask:

Paul Howley and I had been talking about publishing a "real" comic book, based in Worcester. I went home and came up with a character -- a so-called 'costumed athlete,' no one with real powers -- named Golden Mask. A guy based right there in Worcester. A simple uniform, all black, except for a gold-colored mask which gave the character his name.

Not long after, I showed up at the store again and started telling Paul Howley about the character I was developing. I didn't even get to say the name before Paul said something to the effect of, "Oh, I already
have a character. Insect Man!"

After Paul had said that the so-called "Worcester comic" was going to be
Insect Man, nobody ever got to hear about my Golden Mask character...

....until "Meet Mark," of course. (David M. Lynch's Oft-Quoted First Rule of Writing: "Never Throw Anything Away.")

Part of my mid-1980s plot for Golden Mask's origin, designed so that the comic could "plug" That's Entertainment, was that a would-be robber (not a strung-out addict, just a run-of-the-mill idiot) would attempt the "lame" robbery I described, armed with only a knife and a Bic lighter.

In this earlier version, the non-psychic Golden Mask (who was not named Mark Arthur, although I don't recall what his name was) visited the store in his civilian identity to see if there was a comic book superhero named Golden Mask before him. My storyline established that there was such a character & title -- although, to my knowledge, there wasn't a "real' Golden Mask Comics title in reality -- but since he was a fictional character whose copyrights and trademark had expired, "my" Golden Mask decided to use the name anyway.

Golden Mask foiled the pathetic robbery attempt in the old-fashioned way. He beat the crap out of the guy, and the clerk -- who I may have intended to be me, but was more probably T.E.'s owner, Paul Howley -- called the cops.

(In my original version, neither eggs nor an umbrella were involved. Sorry.)

A few weeks later, Golden Mask returned to the store in his civilian garb and bought the Golden Mask comic he'd found during that earlier visit.

Hmm. Wonder how much Golden Mask #1 would be worth today on the collectors' market?

Thanks for your time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

David'Z RantZ -- Short Shorts (No, Really!)

(Regular, long-time readers may want to skip all but the last four paragraphs of this italicized introduction.)

Once upon a time, I had only one blog, known as David'Z RantZ. It was a place I'd go to for... well... ranting, meaning over-the-top ranting with humorous intent. Sometimes I'd be serious, but... not so much. The RantZ were broken up by occasional tributes to celebrities whom I had admired, when those celebrities died.

In early June of 2008, I decided to write a week-long, seven-part tribute to a friend named Patty, who passed away several years ago.

Yeah, right. Seven daily chapters. One week. That was the plan.


Roughly ten weeks and twenty-eight chapters (plus an epilogue) later, I finished the story. That tribute, entitled My Island, got a huge positive response. Several people said, in effect, "Nothing against your RantZ, but we want to see more stuff like My Island."

Problem was -- to my mind, anyway -- "more stuff like My Island" wouldn't really "fit" within the structure of David'Z RantZ.

So I decided to come up with a blog for my "real" writing. You're reading it. So now I had two blogs.

About a month ago, while this blog was being ignored for lack of available time to keep up with both, I all but retired David'Z RantZ. I basically cited burn-out as my reason.

So, now I have more time to devote to this blog, The Lair of the Silver Fox.

And you know what I recently realized?

To re-word an old, borderline racist Saturday Night Live routine, all Chinese are Asians, but all Asians are not Chinese. In that spirit, it occurred to me that while David'Z RantZ may not have been the best showcase for some of my so-called "serious" writings, but The Lair of the Silver Fox was, I could -- and can -- very easily justify putting anything I write on my Silver Fox blog!

Including stuff which would have been suited to David'Z RantZ.

So, I can have one blog. And I can have my RantZ and eat it, too.

Or something.

* * * * *

1. Just in case you're one of the four people in the world who doesn't yet know who Susan Boyle is, check this out. Everyone else can meet me on the other side of the clip.





Even a cynical s.o.b. like myself finds this story to be inspiring, but I was somewhat appalled by the actions of the judges before and even after her performance. Their admissions -- personal admissions in which they included the audience -- that "everyone was laughing at you" and "everybody was against you" are kind of a slap in the face to what these shows are supposed to be about, aren't they? (Simon Cowell -- he of the rolling eyes -- was quoted in The New York Times as saying "She came out and she looked a bit odd, and the dress looked odd. I gave her five seconds at most.")

I read a very good article by Dennis Palumbo in which he stated that it's a fortunate thing that Susan is a talented singer. And I agree with his sentiments enough to link to his article. However, I'd like to take it a step further and say that it's lucky for Susan that she's not just "good," but that she is an incredible singer.

She had to be.

I've sung lead in various rock bands and a few other places here and there over the years, and I think I'm not too shabby (on a good day)... but no one, myself included, would ever go so far as to describe my voice with any of the superlatives that have been heaped upon Susan Boyle. I'd never stand a chance of winning a tough competition like the one in which she's entered.

I just think -- okay, I know -- that anything short of great wouldn't have been sufficient to wipe those smirks off the judges' faces. So, I'm glad she was every bit as amazing as she was and is.

And, as an aside to those columnists who have gone so far as to describe the admittedly plain-looking Susan as "ugly": So many people have referred to the whole Susan Boyle phenomenon as being proof that beauty is only skin deep, that she has "inner beauty," and the like... but your casual insults show me that some people possess a certain ugliness below the surface, as well.

Or to phrase it in another way: F**k you.

2. On a lighter note...

It's becoming annoying that almost every time I read a "newspaper" article (or something similar) online, I get to a really interesting part and find that the article is interrupted by one or more links to what we'll call "pages" for lack of a better term, as well as (usually) a link saying something to the effect of "view all on one page."

Thanks for wasting my time.

Of course I want to view it all on one page. If I wanted to turn pages, as opposed to just scrolling down, I'd be reading a book or a magazine.

Why do they do this? I assume it has something to do with the ubiquitous advertisements in the sidebar. I dunno.

The least they could do is put the link for "view all on one page" at the top of the very first page, as a warning of sorts.

*sigh*

Thanks for your time.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Meet Mark -- Part 4 -- "Do-Over"

A little aside:

At the tender age of three, Mark Arthur -- the almost/kinda/sorta hero of our story -- attended the 1967 World Series with his dad, with his Uncle Bob, and with Bob's thirteen-year-old son.

We can safely assume two things here. The first is that Bob is Mark's uncle by virtue of his being Mark's dad's brother. The second is that Mark's cousin is "Bob, Junior," which would explain why Mark, referring later to that cousin, said "we always called him 'B'." (Families do weird things like that. Both Bobs are actually Roberts, but "Bob, Junior" gets shortened to "B," etc.)

If those two assumptions end up being true -- and I'm the writer, so I say that they are -- the upshot of all this is that Mark Arthur's cousin is actually...

"B" Arthur.

I wasn't sure if anybody caught that.

Anyway, gang...


Previously: Our story has dwelt on the budding friendship between Mark Arthur, a self-proclaimed psychic, and John MacArthur (a/k/a "Jack Mac"), a lifelong fan of comic books. After being brought home to meet Jack's family, Mark has just explained his claim that he was once -- almost -- a real-life superhero.

Almost twenty-five years ago, after a vivid premonition showed Mark that he would literally die if he followed through with his plans to join the Navy, Mark decided on a whim to try to use his psychic powers as a comic book character would. He planned to become a costumed hero called Golden Mask! While doing research of a sort in a local comic store called That's Entertainment, Mark actually ended up foiling a haphazardly-constructed robbery.

* * * * *


Jack was incredulous. "Lemme get this straight: You caught up with this junkie who tried to rip off the comic shop, and the police arrested both of you?"

"Well, I suppose I can't blame the arresting officers. Upon their arrival, they saw two guys sitting on a lawn. One was a barely-winded golden boy -- me -- and the other was a disheveled, dope-sick disaster covered with egg! And I was the one holding an almost-empty carton of eggs."

"Almost-empty?"

"Yup," Mark answered, nodding. "I'd only had to use eleven to stop the guy in his gooey tracks."

"But once they got your statements, plus the one David at T.E. must've given 'em, didn't they just let you go?"

"That's where it got... complicated. Seems there is -- or at least, was -- a law on the books about the hurling of 'projectiles,' with an attendant five-hundred-dollar fine... per offense..."

"And a dozen eggs..."

"Eleven..."

"Would be 5,500 smackers! But what about self-defense?"

"Technically, it wasn't self-defense, because at that point, I'd followed the junkie out of the store. Evidently the Worcester police frowned on vigilante justice, so someone decided to make an example of me."

"Geez. I can only imagine how much opposition you woulda got from the cops if you'd actually gone ahead with the whole Golden Mask idea," Jack said, shaking his head. "So, what happened with the court case?"

"Well, once Paul Howley, the owner of That's Entertainment, got involved, and hired a high-priced lawyer for me, out of gratitude... the whole matter quietly went away."

"Well, I can still see how it woulda soured you on the whole deal. No wonder the Golden Mask thing never happened."

"Oh, that had nothing to do with it. I never did become Golden Mask for real, but that's not the reason."

"No? Why not, then? Did you find out there was a comic character named Golden Mask? Cuz you coulda come up with another name."

"I know. But think, Jack."

Jack did so. "Ohhh, another vision?"

Mark nodded. "You got it. One day, I was preparing my outfit..."

"Costume."

"What?"

"Costume. Or even uniform. But... not outfit."

"What earthly difference does...?"

"Guys don't wear 'outfits,' is all."

"Oh, really. More words of wisdom from some comic book seller?"

"Now that you mention it..."

"Whatever. Anyway, I was preparing my uniform, and wondering how I was going to announce Golden Mask to the world... if at all. I was also considering operating as secretly as possible, especially at first. I was getting my suit ready. I'd gotten ahold of a William Shatner mask and painted it a metallic gold, and..."

"A William Shatner mask?"

"Yeah, he played..."

"Don't you dare insult me by finishin' that sentence."

"Right. Of course. Anyway, I thought it would be funny to use one of him, because I'd read somewhere that..."

"Halloween."

"How'd you...?"

"Please. How could I be a stereotypical comic'n'fantasy geek if I didn't know they used a Shatner mask for the movie Halloween?"

"I guess you're right. Anyway, I had the mask, I had the outfit... I mean, the costume... and was admiring it where it was hanging in my closet, and all of a sudden I got this vivid image of myself chasing two guys into a corner at the end of a dark alley."

"As Golden Mask, you mean?"

"Yup. And man, did it seem real! I could feel my own sweat building up between my skin and the inside of the mask. My heart was pounding. I was practically on top of them; they both turned around to face me. One looked panicked. The other pulled an automatic out of his jacket, shoved the barrel of the thing right up against my chest... and pulled the trigger."

"Ouch," said Jack.

"Ouch? Ouch? In real life, I screamed! I dropped to my knees, as if someone had belted me in the stomach. But it wasn't my stomach that hurt, obviously. I felt like I was having a heart attack, or... " Mark paused, then took a couple of deep breaths to regain his composure. "It was ten times worse than seeing myself drown. I don't curse much, but I just looked up at that costume hanging there in that closet and said 'fuck it' under my breath. I closed the closet door before even getting up, and although I wore the other clothes in that closet for years afterward, in terms of that costume... I closed the door forever right then and there."

"When you say you 'wore those clothes for years afterward,' do you...?"

"Well, I don't still live there. It's been twenty-five years."

"Right, I get that. But what did you do with the costume?"

"I kept it. Not sure why. I almost wore it to a Halloween party once, but decided against it at the last minute."

"Why?"

"I thought back to the feeling of being shot, and figured that with my luck, I might be wearing it to go to a party, and get shot for real by the same guy from my vision."

"That's dumb. You said the visions that you let come true always happen like you saw them happen in your premonitions. All you'd have to do is just go to your stupid party, and not chase any crooks into alleys. Geez."

"Whatever. I've still got it. But I'll never wear it, Jack."

"That's dumb."

"It isn't 'dumb.' "

"It's dumb! Look, Mark, you said yourself, you're still in pretty good shape..."

"Did I say that?"

"And you've been whinin' about a wasted life..."

"When did I...?"

"So you need to pull that thing out o'mothballs, and air it out, and put it on, and make a freakin' difference in the world while you're still young enough to do it!"

"And you need to...!" Mark caught himself before saying something he knew he'd regret later. He stood up and started walking to the door. "This conversation's over."

Jack got up and started following Mark. Mark was halfway down the hallway before Jack reached the door. "It's not over!" Jack yelled at Mark's back.

When Mark reached the kitchen, he almost turned right. That would have aimed him toward the kitchen door, which connected to a breezeway which opened in turn onto a driveway shared by the occupants of the building's two first-floor apartments.

Instead, Mark turned left, exiting the kitchen's back door. He was now standing in the small back yard which was also shared by the tenants of the two first-floor apartments. Several feet away from the house was a swing set with three swings. Jack's daughter Shari was pushing her two-year-old daughter on the middle swing.

Nodding and smiling a mute greeting at Shari, Mark sat down on the little girl's right. "Want some company, kiddo?" The girl smiled and nodded.

All the while Shari pushed her daughter, the girl stared at Mark. Finally, she raised her head to look up at Shari. "Mommy, stop?" Shari stopped the swing.

The girl looked at Mark. "You want Mommy push you?" Mark laughed, as did Shari. He shook his head, and kicked off, swinging like he hadn't done in thirty-five years, at least. Shari resumed pushing her daughter, keeping up with Mark's relaxed pace.

"She's a pretty child," Mark said to Shari. He'd forgotten the two-year-old's name from their shared supper a couple of hours ago. "What was her name again?"

"Sierra."

Mark recalled an incident from about twelve years earlier, when the label on a bottle of "7 Up" briefly morphed -- in Mark's mind alone, of course -- into a label reading "Sierra Mist." This was a good three years or so before the latter product was introduced. Mark thought it was a strange, off-putting name for a soft drink.

But he thought that Sierra was just fine as a name for an adorable little girl.

"Now, you see there?" called Jack's voice from where he was standing, just outside the kitchen doorway, "I just knew you had it in you to be a swinger!"

Without turning to face him, Mark spoke to Jack. "That's a pretty lame joke, even coming from you."

"Mm."

"How long have you been standing there?"

"Long enough to come up with a question."

"Which is?"

"How old were you when you got... I mean, when you chased those guys into the alley?"

"I didn't really..."

"I know that!" Jack snapped. His voice was getting closer. "You said it was 'vivid,' wasn't that the word?" Mark nodded. Jack was now standing on Mark's right, next to the swing set. Mark's peripheral vision couldn't help but spot Jack as Mark's body drifted back and forth on the swing. "You said you could feel your sweat, and the poundin' in your chest... So how old were you, in that... scenario?"

Mark finally understood. He answered Jack in a way that he hoped wouldn't tip Shari off as to what they were really talking about. "Not much older than I was when I envisioned it. Twenty-three, twenty-four maybe... no more than that. Why?"

"Cuz you're a lot older than that now. It didn't happen. You prevented it just by waitin' two or three years. That's all it woulda taken. But you waited an extra... what? Twenty years?"

Mark lowered his feet and brought himself to a stop. He stared at Jack, open-mouthed.

Jack was staring back, shaking his head with an odd mix of disappointment and anger. "But it wasn't just a matter of waitin' twenty years, was it? No! It was more like wastin' twenty years. But it's still not too late! Not if you get off your... swing."

* * * *

Several weeks later, Jack and Mark were together in Jack's library. Jack stared briefly at his cell phone, before closing it and shoving it unceremoniously into his right hip pocket. "Well, that was a waste of time."

"What did your Mr. Lynch have to say, then?" asked Mark.

"All sorts of things. He's just as wordy as ever. Bottom line was, he says that if I'm literate enough to read comics, I oughtta be your 'Dr. Watson,' cuz he don't have the time... unless we're gonna pay him."

"Which isn't too likely, because I need a job... you need a job... "

"All God's chillen need jobs!"

"Cute. Do you really think we can make any money at this?"

"You're askin' me?"

"Jack, I keep telling you, I can't just conjure up visions of whatever I want to see."

"And I keep tellin' you that we're gonna try to work on that!"

"Great. So you're going to be Professor X, and I'll be one of your students?"

"Sorta. Heyyy... I thought you didn't follow comics."

Mark grinned in spite of himself. "I saw the movie." He looked away from Jack, almost guiltily. "Okay, I saw all of the movies." Mark reached into a backpack and pulled out a plastic bag containing a brightly-painted mask.

"So, Jack, what do you think? Will anybody be able to figure out that this was originally supposed to be William Shatner?"

* * * * *

Ahhh, done! And I hope it was not too obvious that I had absolutely no idea where this story was going when I began it. I only knew that I was determined to include everything my readers voted for in the comments section of "I Dunno... Whatta YOU Wanna Do?" and even some stuff that they didn't vote for... but mentioned!

I hope you like(d) Mark and Jack. We'll see them again, sooner or later.

And here's some good news for those "Theme Thursday" bloggers/followers who may have resented last Thursday's EGG theme being shoe-horned into a larger storyline... That was only a one-time thing, necessitated by Theme Thursday's being suggested in that wacky "voting" I keep mentioning! And I will do more Theme Thursday entries in the future, as the whim strikes me.

S'awright? S'awright!

Thanks for riding shotgun with me on this one, buckaroos (and... buckarettes? buckarines?)!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Meet Mark -- Part 3 -- "Golden Mask" -- A THEME THURSDAY Entry!

This introductory segment is for my regular readers who are about to encounter Meet Mark in media res, as well as those "Theme Thursday" followers who've never seen my blog before.

As author of this blog, I recently decided to ignore not one, but two of this site's unfinished projects and take some time off. Then, before I officially "returned," as it were, I threw an informal challenge at my readers and asked them to help me choose my next topic. Should I resume by finishing one -- or the other -- of the two unfinished stories? Should I come up with something entirely new, on my own? Or should I do something that would not only be entirely new, but also based on a reader's suggestion?

The response was somewhat... lackluster, shall we say? But as a line from an old joke goes (more or less), "if I take a load of hay out to the field and only one cow comes to be fed, I feed her."

(Umm... I really wasn't trying to call my faithful readers "cows" just then, I truly wasn't! I only meant that I was going to cater to those few who did bother to vote.)

Unfortunately, there were approximately as many suggestions as there were voters -- not including a couple of "suspicious" votes toward the end of this not-so-serious process -- so rather than play tie-breaker myself, I decided instead to make everyone a winner... and Meet Mark is the result!

One last thing: A single voter had suggested that I get involved with the "Theme Thursday" Blogger-bloggers, so I was faced with the additional fun task of making Part 3 -- and only Part 3 -- an egg-related post!

Let's see how I do!

Previously: We began our tale in the waiting room of a temporary employment agency, where we met Mark Arthur (a self-proclaimed psychic) and John MacArthur ("Jack Mac" to his friends, or so he insists). Jack is a lifelong fan of comic books, and as for Mark? Well, in addition to being a psychic, Mark claims that he was once --
almost -- a real-life superhero.

* * * * *

Mark and Jack now stood in the parking lot of the temp agency they'd left somewhat sheepishly. They made an odd-looking pair. Jack was a bit beefy, with a dark VanDyke beard and a shaved head, while Mark was almost too good-looking for a man, with his clean-shaven face and his short, straight, blonde hair.

"Okay, now what?" asked Jack. "You're the fortune-teller."

"Don't be a wiseguy. I told you, I can't turn it on and off like a faucet."

"Maybe you could have learned to control it if you'd taken the time to train yourself."

"Oh, really? What makes you think I never did try, Jack?"

"Maybe I'm psychic!" Mark didn't reply. "So, am I right or wrong? I mean, did you ever try to control it?"

"Not really." Mark admitted. "I... I didn't think I could."

"What a waste. And you're how old? Forty-five?"

Mark decided to change this uncomfortable subject. "Where are we going to go? I'm not going to stand around in this parking lot all day."

"Well, then, can I buy you a drink, sailor?" Jack asked, teasingly. Mark's eyes narrowed. "Hey, hey! Don't get like that. That was a joke. You know, the old cliché, plus you did say you almost went into the Navy... "

"Yeah, yeah! I got the joke. Geez!"

"Besides, I don't drink, anyway."

"Really?"

"Yeah, really. Why, somethin' wrong with that?"

Mark shook his head. "No! In fact... neither do I."

"Well, okay then. Why don't we both get in our cars, and you can follow me home so I can introduce you to my lovely wife and my five-year-old son."

Mark recalled what he'd said earlier when telling Jack about how his psychic abilities worked; Mark had idly mentioned Jack's having a wife... and a five-year-old son. "Oh, my... You really have a five-year-old son? I wasn't... "

"Calm down, Mark, I'm just messin' with you."

"Jerk," Mark said under his breath, purposely loud enough for Jack to hear it.

Jack grinned. "I do have a son, but he's fourteen. And his older sister -- the mother of my granddaughter -- is nineteen."

The conversation seemed exhausted at this point, so the two men got into their respective cars and made the twelve-mile journey to Jack's spacious apartment.

It wasn't until nearly two hours later that Jack and Mark were able to resume their discussion. By then, Mark had met Jack's wife, children, and granddaughter, had shared supper with them, and had watched with amusement as the teenagers had argued over whose turn it was to get "stuck with the dishes." Mark's amusement was caused by the fact that the argument in question was merely to settle which one of the two had to load the automatic dishwasher.

Mark followed Jack to a room at the end of a short hallway. Opening the door, Jack cheerfully announced, "And here's where the menfolk retire to the library for brandy and cigars! Only you and me don't drink brandy, and neither of us smokes... "

Mark felt a slight chill. This room's thermostat seemed to be set a bit lower than those in the rest of the large apartment. "Not that I'd let anyone smoke in here, anyway... " Jack continued.

As he entered the room, Mark spun around very slowly. It was indeed a library of sorts, but one that consisted of wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-ceiling, glassed-in bookshelves filled mostly with comic books and magazines, each in their own protective bags. There were some "real" books as well, mostly paperbacks, and some ancient-looking, leather-bound hardcover volumes.

"Wow," said Mark softly. And he meant it. Jack smiled to acknowledge the oh-so-brief but heart-felt compliment.

Although Mark couldn't put his finger on exactly how Jack seemed different suddenly, there definitely was a difference in Jack, possibly because now, and only now, he was truly in his element.

Mark surveyed the room visually. There were several free-standing lamps in the room, and a small desk with a high-backed wooden chair. There were only two other chairs in the library. These were lushly-upholstered chairs positioned relatively close together in the center of the room. Jack sat in one, and motioned for Mark to be seated in the other.

"Now," began Jack, "Finish your story. And I won't interrupt... much."

That's Entertainment, in the 1980s!

Mark inhaled, then exhaled, trying to recall where he'd left off in his narrative.

"After having bought the ingredients for a hearty breakfast, I spotted the 'We buy comics' sign in the window of That's Entertainment. I was actually kind of surprised that a hobby shop like this -- I mean, what else would you call it? -- was open on a Sunday. This was the mid-eighties, after all, and there were still a lot of problems with the so-called 'blue laws... ' "

"Mark, you're doin' it again... "

"Sorry! Anyway, the door was unlocked, and in I went.

"It was fairly crowded, I thought, not that I would have known what an average-sized crowd would actually be for that kind of store, and on a Sunday morning. There were shelves lining the walls with new comics, and several banquet tables holding dozens of boxes of back-issue comics... But then again, I don't suppose I need to describe the place to you."

Jack shook his head. "No. You don't."

"There was only one guy working there, in his late twenties, I guessed. Chubby guy, with brown hair and a beard."

"Hm. Mid-1980s... Kinda tall, with a long beard? Named Steve?"

"No. Medium height, close-cropped beard."

Jack nodded. "David."

"Yeah, that's it! Dave."

"No, David." Mark looked at Jack strangely. "Sorry. Go on."

"This guy Dave -- or David, whatever -- was talking to the people as he rang them up, and talking to a couple of guys who were checking out the record albums, and talking to... Actually, he talked a lot. To everybody. But he was funny. Even after some of the people had made their purchases, they hung around for a while, like they were enjoying the show.

"He even talked to me, just to ask if he could help me with anything. He good-naturedly told me that I looked lost, and I had to laugh at that, and say that I was, in a way. He told me that if I could figure out whatever I did want, to ask him.

"Then he turned to this other guy -- David had come out from behind the register by now -- and said basically the same thing to him. The other guy didn't even acknowledge him. He was in his own little world. I thought he looked kind of strung out, actually. His forehead was sweating.

"Then it hit me. I got a clear image of the strung-out freak waving a knife in David's face. I couldn't very well say anything, not really, but I promised myself I wasn't going to leave that store while Freaky Guy was still there."

Jack leaned forward in his chair. "You could have said somethin', couldn't you?"

"Like what? 'I think this guy's going to try to rob you?' How would you have replied?" Jack shrugged, and sat back. "I thought so.

"The crowd was thinning out somewhat. By this point it was only myself, David, Freaky Guy, and three other people. Two of the three left, and I finally spoke up.

"I'd gone in there with a crazy idea: What if I tried to become a superhero like Batman or Superman? It could actually work! I figured I'd combine my mental abilities with my own athleticism. I mean, I work out, even to this day, and I lift weights, you know...

"Anyway, I was standing in That's Entertainment, envisioning the costume of this unnamed superhero that I could actually become. I'm no fashion designer, certainly, so I figured something loose-fitting in a basic black from head to toe, with matching boots, and gloves... It would give me almost a camouflage effect at night. So no big brass buttons, nor any bright chest insignia. And I wanted nothing impractical like a cape, or anything else that would stick out and be easy to grab... Just one flashy quality about it: a mask that would look like it was made from solid gold. It would look... I don't know... pure somehow?

"But I had to make sure that there wasn't already a hero with whatever name I came up with. I'd feel pretty stupid if I started my crime-fighting career by getting sued by some comic company. So I started telling this guy David that I was looking for any comics featuring a hero named... and I paused. He looked at me in anticipation, with kind of a smirk on his face, and the name 'Golden Mask' just popped into my head.

"When I asked if they had any comics featuring a character named Golden Mask, I thought he was going to be sick. I mean really, physically ill. He looked me right in the eye and said 'Is this some kind of joke? Where the hell did you get that name? No one knows about Golden Mask!'

"I realized it had just come to me, not unlike my little premonitions, but this was evidently more like telepathy... or maybe more like something else I can't even put a name to... because, as David told me, he had come up with that name first.

"He started rattling off a bunch of little facts. He said that a couple of years earlier, he'd been talking with the owner of this place... "

"Paul Howley," interjected Jack.

"Yeah. They'd been talking about publishing a 'real' comic book, based in Worcester. David went home and came up with a character -- a so-called 'costumed athlete,' no one with real powers -- named Golden Mask. A guy based right there in Worcester. A simple uniform, all black, except for a gold-colored mask -- I think he made a remark about a 'shining example' or a 'shining inspiration' -- which gave the character his name.

"Not long after, David showed up at the store again and started telling Paul Howley about the character he was developing. He didn't even get to say the name before Paul said something to the effect of, 'Oh, I already have a character. Insect Man!' "

Jack burst out laughing. "Worcester's own superhero," he said, rolling up his left sleeve. There was another tattoo.

Mark smiled. "I assume that that is Insect Man?"

"Uh-huh. Traced from a sketch by Gene Colan. You prob'ly don't know who he is either, huh?"

"Sorry, no." Mark continued.

"Did David tell you he wrote an amateur comic featuring Paul's Insect Man?"

"No. We didn't get that far in the conversation."

"He blew up the space shuttle."

"What?"

"Months before the Challenger exploded, David wrote an Insect Man story where some villain blew up a space shuttle. Who knows? Maybe David was the psychic! Maybe he read your mind, and came up with Golden Mask!"

Mark was almost irritated. "You're 'messing' with me again, aren't you?"

"Mm-hmm."

"If I may continue... ! After Paul had said that the so-called 'Worcester comic' was going to be The Adventures of Insect Man, or whatever... nobody ever got to hear about David's Golden Mask character. Not until I came along, and... and now, David rightfully wanted to know how I knew about it."

"You didn't tell him, didja? I mean, about you bein' psychic?"

"Never had the chance, Jack! There were only three people left in the store by that point: David, myself, and the all-but-forgotten Freaky Guy! And Freaky Guy, who was standing at the register, decided that he wanted immediate service. He yelled something about wanting to cash out, so David excused himself and walked to the register...

"And that's when Freaky Guy pulled out the knife I'd already 'seen' ten or twenty minutes earlier. He actually yelled 'This is a stick-up!' like something out of a bad movie.

"David just looked at him and said, 'This is a joke, right?' kind of like he'd said to me a few minutes earlier.

"Freaky Guy screamed that it was not a joke, and that David had better hand over all the money in the cash register.

"I was only a few feet away from the two of them, but I didn't dare try to get closer. Not yet, anyway."

Jack was literally on the edge of his seat. "This is great! But didn't you get any visions about how this all might end?"

"Oh, hell, no!" said Mark, cheerfully. "That would have been far too convenient! Anyway, by this time, David had taken a few steps back from the counter, and had picked up a closed umbrella from somewhere. The freak yelled something about David being too stupid to be scared. David looked at him and very calmly said something to the effect of how he wasn't scared because the guy only had a knife, and not a gun, and although an umbrella wasn't much of a weapon, it gave David a longer reach than the freak had. Then David pointed at me and said that Freaky Guy was already out-numbered by one person, unless someone else came in to increase the odds against Freaky Guy!

"I was kind of impressed, really. If David was scared, he wasn't showing it. And the freak was getting rattled. He was either high, or more likely, dope-sick. He looked at me, then back at David. 'What if I go for him?' he said. 'You gonna take a chance with the life of one of your customers?'

"David burst out laughing at that one. 'You're kidding, right? You see the size of his arms, dude? He'll kick your ass!' Without looking away from the would-be robber, David reached under the counter, for the telephone. 'Okay, this is over now. I'm calling the police, so you need to leave.' "

"Neat," said Jack. "Then what?"

"Still waving the knife around, this Looney-Tunes... "

"Looney-Tunes?" echoed Jack.

Mark shrugged. "I got tired of calling him Freaky Guy... Anyway, he kept waving the knife around, but he took a few steps away from me and pulled a cigarette lighter out of his pocket with his other hand. He flicked it to light it, and held it a few inches above a box of expensive back issue comics. He said if he didn't get the money, he'd set the whole place on fire. Plastic bags, old paper... Big threat, right?

"David didn't seem to think so. 'Maybe if those books were soaked with frigging gasoline... ' Then David looked directly at me. 'And maybe if that lighter wasn't a Bic... '

"A Bic disposable, I thought. Of course. I moved several steps forward and punched the sweaty idiot right in the face. He dropped the lighter; as soon as he let it go, naturally, it went out! So much for torching the comics."

"What a dork!" exclaimed Jack.

Mark nodded. "Lamest robbery attempt I've ever seen."

"So then what happened?"

"The freak bolted for the door. I wasn't expecting him to do that -- don't say it! -- and he got by me. I heard David swear, and I told him, 'Call the cops! I'll either stop him or slow him down!' "

"Did you really think you'd be fast enough to catch him?"

"I didn't have to be! I grabbed my bag of breakfast goodies and charged out of the comic shop. I yelled at the top of my lungs for the junkie to stop. He didn't, of course, but he was stupid enough to twist around so he could see me, running several feet behind him. And that's when the first egg hit him. Hard."

"The first... egg?"

"You bet. An egg. And I had a whole dozen to throw at him. That first one caught him right in the side of the face, and he let out one hell of a scream."

"A scream? What a candy-ass!"

"Hey, have you ever been hit with a high-velocity egg? Or a high-velocity anything, for that matter?"

"Well... "

"Look, Jack, I was in my prime. And I'd been a ball-player for almost my entire life. If you got hit with something I pitched at you, you'd know it!" Jack shook his head, half from disbelief, and yet, half with admiration, as well. "I kept after him, running a few steps, then stopping completely to wind up and throw another... I caught him in the back of the head with one or two, and two or three times in the face because he was dumb enough to keep looking back -- first time I've ever seen anyone do that outside of a movie or a TV show -- and I landed a few real stingers on the back of his neck... He finally collapsed in a gooey heap on the over-grown lawn in front of a closed-up restaurant. "

"Wow. Did the cops ever show up?"

"Yeah. Heh. They sure did... " Mark shook his head, ruefully. "And they arrested both of us."

* * * * *

Next: The wrap-up... and a hint of things to come. See you on -- or before -- Monday!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Meet Mark -- Part 2 -- "What's So Funny About Funnybooks?"

Hey, folks! This is not the "Theme Thursday" post! That will be posted at 11 AM today (Thursday, April 9th). This part -- Part 2 -- was posted at 11:15 PM on Wednesday, April 8th!

Last time: We began our tale in the waiting room of a temporary employment agency, where we met Mark Arthur (a self-proclaimed psychic) and John MacArthur ("Jack Mac" to his friends, or so he insists). While Mark politely answered questions about his psychic abilities from skeptical Jack, Jack casually mentioned having enjoyed comic books (and superheroes) as a boy. Mark then told Jack that "when I was a much younger man... I almost became one."

* * * * *

"You almost became a superhero?" said Jack, eyes and mouth agape. "What woulda been your super power?" he asked, mentally answering his own question even as it escaped his lips. "D'oh!" (And yes, Jack actually said "D'oh!") "The psychic thing. Of course."

"Of course."

"So, why didn't ya?"

"Slow down, slow down. Don't you want to hear anything about my childhood, and about how I became aware of my powers, and my... ?"

"Actually, Mark, I'm mostly interested in the superhero thing. But if you insist on givin' me the whole 'secret origin' bit, I... "

"My what?"

"Your secret origin. All the comic book superheroes got 'em. It's how and why Bruce Wayne became Batman, and Hal Jordan became Green Lantern, and Barry Allen became the Flash... "

"Wow, Jack, you must have read a lot of funnybooks when you were a kid."

"You mean comic books, and... uhhh... yeah. I guess so. Anyway, when did these 'powers' of yours hit? When you reached puberty?"

"Puberty? That's a strange question. Why on earth did you ask that?"

"I dunno. That's usually when mutants like the X-Men discover theirs." Another comic book reference. Mark just stared at Jack. "Okay, I'll shut up now."

"I was incredibly young when I first started getting these visions. So young, I can't recall exactly when they began. But the first one I remember clearly happened when I was only three."

"Three?"

"Yup. My Dad was a big-time Red Sox fan. He placed a ball and glove in my hand while I was still in my crib. He put in a lot of overtime hours at work, and pulled every string he could pull to insure that he and I got to attend all four home games of that year's World Series, along with my cousin and uncle."

"Lemme guess: The '67 World Series? Wow!"

"Of course. My thirteen-year-old cousin held up a sign that said 'YAZ for Mayor' during one of the early games. We had a great time, right up until sometime during the seventh game, the tie-breaker. It was during the second inning, before either team had scored, and I started crying, uncontrollably."

"Aww, no. Cuz of a vision?"

"Yup," Mark said, nodding. "I started screaming, 'They're gonna lose, Daddy, they're gonna lose!' Over and over again, until my Uncle Bob finally yelled, 'Hey, will you shut up, you little jinx?' Man, it was awful! But as young as I was, I knew what the outcome would be after 'watching' that grounder roll through Buckner's legs!"

"Buckner? Buckner? That wasn't the '67 series, that was... Oh. My. God." Mark just nodded again, grimly. Jack literally got chills.

Neither man spoke for almost a minute.

Finally, Mark broke the silence by saying, "When you said my abilities aren't very useful, you didn't know the half of it. If anything, they've set up a series of stumbling blocks for me, all my life."

"How's that?"

"There've been a lot of times when I was about to do something, or go somewhere, or otherwise try something that a vision told me wasn't going to work out in one way or another. So I ended up not bothering to finish the job, or whatever it was I was doing. A lot of people thought I'd just chickened out. I mean, it's not like I could possibly know something was going to screw up, right?"

Jack laughed sympathetically.

"Then, when I was around twenty, I was this close to joining the Navy" -- Mark was holding his right hand in the air, thumb and index finger almost touching -- "and I got an intense, horrible image of myself, drowning. I broke into a cold sweat and left the recruiter's office before he could put the paperwork in front of me to sign."

"Boy, that was close!" said Jack. "I mean, if you'd actually signed up, you might never have had the chance to prevent... " Jack's voice trailed off, as he and Mark suddenly realized the same thing.

"You're really starting to believe me, aren't you, Jack?"

Jack sighed. "Maybe I am."

"Well, try to imagine how I felt after running out of there like that. I'd wanted to join the service to do something productive while I could still direct my life in a positive way. Maybe that sounds corny and old-fashioned... "

"Maybe to some people. Not to me."

"...but my Dad was very 'gung-ho America,' the type who backed the man in the White House regardless of his party, a fan of John Wayne movies, and a lover of baseball, the All-American sport... The hippie '60s and the Watergate years weren't good to him, or my family in general. My Uncle Bob's son, Bob Junior -- we always called him 'B' -- ran off to Canada during the 'Nam years. And now my dad's only son wasn't turning out to be anything special. It bothered him; I could see it. And it bothered me. And with powers like mine, I figured I shouldn't be such a loser. If anything, I should be better than other people! Well, not 'better,' exactly, but... "

"It's okay, Mark, I know what you mean. 'With great power comes great responsibility,' and all that."

"Huh? Yeah... I guess so. Whatever. Anyway, to make a long story short... Did you ever hear of a comic book shop called That's Entertainment, on Chandler Street?"

"You're kiddin', right? Of course I have! But they haven't been on Chandler for... I dunno... fifteen, twenty years." Jack suddenly realized that Mark was staring at him. And smiling. Jack shook his head and chuckled. "Okay, okay, I'm busted. I didn't just read comics when I was a kid. I still do. Ah, hell, lemme show you somethin'," Jack added, rolling up his right sleeve. On his bicep was an absolutely beautiful tattoo of Spider-Man.

"Wow, that's... pretty impressive."

"The guy who did it traced it from an old Romita illustration. I wanted Ditko, of course, but he didn't have any in his shop, and I wasn't about to let him trace any of my original comics. It was either Romita or McFarlane. Of course, I thought of some of the Marvel Tales Ditko reprints later, but... " Mark was staring again, this time blankly. "You don't have the slightest idea what I'm talkin' about, right?"

"Riiiight."

"Fine. Then you tell me about That's Entertainment."

"Okay. I was about twenty, twenty-one. It was a Sunday morning. I'd stopped at a little convenience store to pick up a few things so I could make a late breakfast. Walking home, I saw a sign made up of individual letters, saying something to the effect of, 'We buy comic books, records, baseball cards... ' Like I said, something like that. And I thought of the comic books I'd read when I was a kid. Mighty Samson, Magnus, Dr. Solar, Turok, Tarzan, Space Family Robinson... "

"Holy... ! Those are all Gold Keys!"

"If you say so. Who cares? I just liked their covers better than the other ones."

"Where the hell did you shop?"

"Can we please stay on the subject?"

"Fine. Sorry. Geez!"

"So I started thinking about superheroes. And super powers. And I figured, what have I got, if not a super power? But what kind of superhero would use nothing but his mind?"

Jack was almost bouncing up and down in his chair. "Ah-hah! See? If you'd read DCs or Marvels, you wouldn't even have to ask that!"

"Oh, for... ! Will you calm down, Jack?"

Between Jack's enthusiasm, and Mark's exasperation, neither of them had noticed that the dividing door between the agency's waiting room and the main office had opened. Several members of the agency's staff were standing there, staring at the two men who were having such an animated conversation.

Mark looked pointedly at Jack. "Umm... Maybe we should finish this discussion elsewhere?"

"You read my mind," said Jack. Mark just shook his head.

* * * * *

Next time -- in only a few hours! -- a "Theme Thursday" entry, the "secret origin" of Golden Mask... and I get to appear in my own story!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Meet Mark -- Part 1 -- "Nothing But Time"

Welcome to Part 1 of Meet Mark. This is what I've come up with after the very strange "voting" that recently went on in this blog's comments section!

This first segment -- a very sedate beginning, admittedly, just laying some groundwork -- will be relatively brief, because I wanted to have something up for today, Monday. I'll post the second installment when it's ready. And as far as how many parts there will be... I have no idea, nor am I overly concerned about it, frankly. Maybe two, maybe three... maybe twenty-eight, plus an epilogue. (It wouldn't be the first time, right?) I'm going to relax and let this story unfold at its own pace, and if it starts getting too jumbled, or boring, or whatever... Feel free to tell me, and maybe I'll just chuck the whole thing at some point.

But... probably not. We all -- and "all" includes me, too -- need to have a little faith in me as I get back in the swing of things!

* * * * *

During the last few weeks, Mark had learned more than a little about the various temporary employment agencies in the Worcester, Massachusetts, area. They all had basic similarities, of course, but each had its own unique points as well. He liked to bounce from one to another, just for the freshness of the experiences.

(Well, there was that, and at least one other reason he chose different agencies on different days... but we're getting ahead of ourselves.)

Today Mark sat in the sparsely-decorated waiting room of an agency he'd utilized only once before. The waiting room was a windowless room at the end of a dark corridor. The agency's main office consisted of an uncertain number of cubicles beyond a solid door that connected to the waiting room.

The door to the main office remained shut, except for when one of the agency's employees magically appeared to hand a newly-arrived job applicant a form to fill out, or whenever an applicant was summoned into -- or returned from -- the inner sanctum, as it were. And for some strange reason, the agency's staff always escorted applicants out through a door in the rear of the main office once said applicants were done for the day.

The waiting room's decor consisted of a dozen or so metal folding chairs, most of which were positioned around either of two round tables. Each of the tables had a plastic cup filled with tiny pencils. A television which showed a mix of daytime talk shows and afternoon infomercials sat on a high shelf in a corner of the waiting room. The television's volume had been set at a slightly uncomfortable level, a bit too high.

There was only one person in the waiting room other than Mark, and that was a bald man with a dark brown VanDyke beard who looked to be in his mid-forties. Mark's age, more or less.

The door to the main office opened, and a short, average-looking young woman with light brown hair emerged, softly calling out what sounded to Mark like his name. He stood; so did the bald man.

The bearded man and Mark looked at each other quickly, then at the woman. She glanced at the sheet of paper in her hand quizzically, muttered "Ahhh," and said, much more loudly, "Which one of you is John?"

The bald man said "That'd be me," as the woman giggled. "Mind lettin' me in on the joke?"

She pointed at John. "When I came out, I only called your last name, MacArthur," she began.

Mark finished her thought, extending his hand to John. "And my name just happens to be Mark. Mark... Arthur."

John shook the proffered hand, nodding. "Got it. I don't need no houses to fall on me."

Mark sat back down, positioning his chair to face the television, as John followed the woman into the main office.

An infomercial for an unusual dating service began. Mark broke into a broad grin as the program's angle became clear. The dating service was run by a small group of self-proclaimed psychics, who promised to work together for their clients in order to steer them toward those who were sure -- destined, even -- to become their most successful matches.

Mark shook his head at one point, thinking, What a racket! I must have missed my calling.

After ten minutes or so, John returned to the waiting room, accompanied by a different, older, and somewhat prettier woman. She wordlessly motioned for Mark to join her as she returned to the main office.

Mark's interview only took about five minutes because they had his information on file from his last visit. After the interview, he exited the main office the same way he'd come in, instead of using the rear door.

John MacArthur was watching the psychic dating service infomercial, laughing softly. He looked over his shoulder at Mark.

"This is such a crock," he said, meaning the program.

Mark sat down at the same table as John, nodding. "It sure is. It gives a bad name to real psychics."

John looked at Mark as if he were unsure whether Mark was joking. "Isn't that like sayin' real ghosts, or vampires, or maybe leprechauns? I don't suppose you believe in the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny too, do ya?"

Mark smiled amiably, but asked "So... umm... John, was it?"

"Nahhh, call me Jack. Everybody does. It's my nickname since high school, 'Jack Mac!' "

"Okay. So, Jack," Mark continued, "I take it you don't think there are any real psychics?"

"Course not. Load o'crap."

"Are you sure?"

"Pretty sure, yeah. I mean, as much as you can be about anything, y'know." Mark nodded again. "I mean, what's that old expression? You can only be sure of death and taxes?"

"Something like that."

"Especially in this state," John -- that is, Jack -- added, referring to the certainty of taxes in Massachusetts.

"And if I were to tell you that I'm a psychic... ?"

"I'd say you're either full of it, or just pullin' my leg," Jack said good-naturedly. He looked Mark in the eye. "Are you sayin' that?"

"Yes," answered Mark.

"No kiddin'. Okay, tell me what I'm thinking right now."

"I can't. I'm not telepathic; I don't read minds."

"I know what 'telepathic' means. But anyway, how about you tell me what's gonna happen in the news tomorrow. Or are you one o'those guys that bends spoons an' stuff?"

"No, you were right the second time. I'm precognitive. A fortune-teller, you might say."

"Stop definin' stuff for me, willya?"

"Sorry."

"Just cuz I don't really believe in it doesn't mean I don't know nothin' about it. I usedta like comic books when I was a kid, but I never hadda believe in Spider-Man to know he could stick to walls, and shoot webs, and all that other stuff."

Mark apologized again, and made a mental note not to judge Jack solely by his speech patterns.

"So if you can tell the future," Jack began, resuming his good-natured grilling, "how come you're unemployed? Get hit with a lay-off you didn't see coming? Or maybe... " He paused.

"Or maybe," Mark said, smiling, "I'm one of those psychics who had his own shop, but didn't see that it was going to fail?"

Jack teasingly acted shocked. "Oh my God! How'd you know I was gonna say that? Are you psychic, or somethin'?" Both men laughed.

"No," admitted Mark, "My abilities had nothing to do with my saying that. I just get asked that a lot."

"I'm not surprised, if you go around tellin' perfect strangers that you can see the future."

"Actually, I don't tell too many people. But I knew you'd be willing to have an open-minded discussion about it."

Jack's eyebrows raised. "I assume that when you say you knew... "

Mark nodded. "Yes, this time I am talking about my... I hate to call them powers, but... " Jack shrugged. "As it happened, right about the time you made your comment about death and taxes, I was seeing a very strong image of you saying 'How did you know I'd say that?' followed by another image of the two of us laughing about it."

"Image? Like, a vision?"

Mark nodded again. "That's generally how it works for me. Let's say you and I hit it off so well that you take me home to meet your family."

Jack grinned. "Okay, let's say that."

"Five or ten minutes before arriving at your home, I might get a vision of your wife, standing in the middle of your living room. Or maybe I'll see an image of your five-year-old son, playing in his room upstairs. It's usually short-term, inconsequential things. Sometimes it's long-term. I might see your son at his high school graduation, instead." He thought for a moment. "Once, I got a really strange image, totally out of the blue, of the guy who played Gopher on The Love Boat standing around with a bunch of congressmen. This was years before he actually ran for office and got elected."

"Why'd you get that picture? Were you watchin' the show?"

"No, that's just it. I was actually in the middle of a baseball game. Playing in one, that is, not watching one."

"This so-called power of yours doesn't sound very useful."

"It usually isn't," Mark agreed. "It's often just plain distracting. But sometimes it comes in handy. I'm occasionally shown something that might happen, but that I can prevent. Usually small things. Someone's walking toward me, and I get an image showing them stumbling and falling because of a cracked piece of sidewalk. I yell, 'Hey, watch your step, there!' and he or she avoids tripping."

"Huh."

"And it's not something I can channel in any useful direction, ordinarily. So if I'm buying lottery tickets... " Jack started laughing. "You're thinking of the old line about how we never see a headline reading 'Psychic wins lottery,' right?"

Jack nodded vigorously, still laughing. "Yeah! Who said that, anyway? George Carlin?"

"Jay Leno. Carlin gets credit for everything, somewhere along the line. But actually, there have been headlines like that. Google the term sometime."

"I will, I will," Jack agreed, composing himself. "So, you ever get to prevent somethin' really important? Save a life, or somethin' like that?"

"Oh, I've made a difference, a few times... " Mark paused for a moment, and looked at Jack very seriously. "You mentioned comic books a few minutes ago. I don't suppose you believe in superheroes, do you?"

Jack smiled, "Yeah, about as much as I do vampires and leprechauns." Mark laughed. "And psychics," he added, playfully. "Why?"

"Well... When I was a much younger man... I almost became one."

* * * * *

Next time -- maybe -- another one of those oh-so-subtle plugs for my comic retailing alma mater, That's Entertainment! Or maybe that will come in Part 3. Or Part 4. Or Part 6. Or Part 14. Or Part 23. Or Part...

Join me here soon for "Meet Mark -- Part 2 -- "What's So Funny about Funnybooks?"

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