Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Big Day

Today was the BIG day at work. This leadership contest that I have been working on for the past couple of weeks started today and finishes tomorrow. What a roller coaster ride. Basically my role was to develop one of the key PowerPoint presentations and to run all the video, music and power points for the rest of the show. The lead up to the show was an exercise in frustration.

But to back up some, if I had to list my strengths at work near the top would be my level head and ability to stay calm in a crisis. I’ve been told this many times and I think it is part of the reason I get asked to help with these things. Working on these presentations is usually really fun. After all, I get paid to stretch my creativity a little. Also, a lot of the other people that get tagged to work on these things are pretty fun.

The frustration comes into the equation when we need input on the presentations. Basically what these things are for is to celebrate the management team’s accomplishments from the past year. That means all six of the various areas at my work have to write up what those accomplishments are. Then those write ups are translated to a presentation, which is then reviewed by the same people who wrote them up and they inevitable have changes. All this would be fine if they could actually get the changes done in a timely manner. In past years, we made changes to these presentations as late as the break in the conference right before the presentations were supposed to be shown. This is all the more ironic since the upper management of our area has a nasty habit of expecting responses to thier emails with ridiculous timeframes (All too typical example - please survey your employees for interest in such and such. Response is required by noon tomorrow. ) This year we had the finals a few days in advance which was really nice. Getting them done by then was a battle. We actually never had a rehearsal that included a final script or had all the performers in it.

While I do have a somewhat calm demeanor, I am a bit of a control freak so not having everything rehearsed and planned out can drive me a little nuts. I guess I can’t deny my nature a momma’s boy Italian. You know how dramatic those can be. But I have learned how to keep it inside and try to stay calm when things go pear shaped. Going into today’s show, I felt really good about all four of the power points I had to show. The problem was there were actually five power points I was supposed to show. But for some reason, until about five minutes before it was supposed to be shown, I had forgotten all about this one power point. Now 5this power point that I did not even have on the computer was no ordinary power point. No my friends this was the power point for the director of our entire branch of the IRS. The big kahuna. And five minutes before he was going to start talking, I realized I did not have the power point. So in between trying to plan my new career as a clerk somewhere, I managed to get around the security measures on my boss’s computer to extract a copy of this power point and with a delay of about 20 minutes, we were back in business. I felt horrible because my boss was the organizer of the whole shebang and she is a friend of mine as well. I thought I had totally let her down. Luckily it seemed to be ok once we got it going. The crisis passed but I had aged about ten years in the process.

From there the rest of the show went off without a hitch. I even was totally surprised to win an award as the Most Appreciated Manager for my group. I have never actually won an award like that other that the usual B.S. awards when they give EVRYONE and award. Those are a lot like trophies for perfect attendance in gym class. Anyway it was nice and I got a huge round of applause.

The day was a roller coaster from beginning to end. Actually it started last night when I got some bad news about a friend of mine. Then I realized I had lost my worry crucifix. It must have fallen off of my chain sometime during the day. Then I could hardly sleep worrying about the power points (oblivious at that point to the missing one). Then the ups and downs of the actual conference. Then to top it off, when I got home, a friend of mine pulled into my driveway behind me. I was so burned out I was looking forward to an hour of staring at TV with my cat but since I had not seen this friend in so long, I ended up playing the Wii with him.

Here are a few pictures from today. I hope tomorrow is a little more balanced.

At this point I was desperate to get the dang power point loaded.

This is a look at some of the crowd. That's my friend George in the foreground.

This is a lousy picture of the award they gave me. Sweet!

The view from backstage during the big opening number.

My friend Gale working the registrations tables

All smiles after the presentations were done.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Return

My buddy Les Wallace came back to my work today. I spoke about his last visit a while back. He is a sort of management consultant type speaker. I really enjoy his presentations. I won’t get too into what he spoke about since it was all related to management and work performance. Not exactly Blog material. Back when I wrote my original entry about his visit, Les wrote me an email thanking me for mentioning him. I thought that was very classy though I doubt he got any new business from my readers. He was great as usual.

Well today he mentioned to my Boss that I have a blog. Actually he mentioned it a few times in his presentation so a lot of my co-workers asked me about it. Not that I keep things secret. I just keep my severely geeky hobbies on the down-low at work. It helps to maintain my image (whatever that is).

Actually on the geek ladder at work I am not quite at the top. I know a few folks who are REALLY into civil war recreations and a few others who do Renaissance Fairs. There are a lot of comic book geeks in my building but I think the king geek is a friend of mine who is a HUGE Space: 1999 fan. I remember how excite he was when as a birthday gift he got a scale replica of a Space: 1999 Eagle spaceship. So me and my love of Egyptology, Paleontology and comic books don’t seem so bad. Right? Please?

So now everyone knows I have a blog so I am giving out the URL to the blog. I hope to get some new readers! Please check out my podcast while you are here at

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Well I obviously have been finding it tough updating the blog with any regularity. Most of my hobby time is spent on reading and the podcast so as a compromise, I am essentially transferring the blog to the podcast web page. My buddy Gabe and Rob will be doing entries on there as well so if you check it our on a regular basis, you should find different content through the week.

Thanks to everyone for reading and remember to update your links to the podcast blog at:

Strangers With Comics

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Strangers With Comics

I promise to update the blog this weekend with some Longbox of Lovin but for now I want to share with you guys that I started a podcast with Rob and Gabe. We generally spit them ot once a week and though we have failed miserably to this point, we try to stay positive and relatively clean language wise.

Check it out at

or find us on the iTunes store.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Squid Hat!

Halloween is approaching and at my house, we are getting ready for our annual costume party. My wife and Rob tend to get really passionate about these things and every year, our garage accumulates more and more decorations. It’s pretty fun. Every year the family picks a theme. One year we did The Prisoner, mainly because it is Frank’s favorite TV show. So Liz dressed up like a villager, complete with stripped blouse and groovy white tennis shoes. Frank was Number 6 of course. I started the night as Number 2, but like every episode of The Prisoner, as the night wore on, Rob, who started as like Number 16, moved up until he took over as Number 2. Fun times but if you don’t like The Prisoner, you probably have no idea what I am talking about.

The next year we did the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (The comic not the movie) Liz was Mina Harker, Rob was Dr. Jekyll, and I was Captain Nemo. I think Frank dressed like Malcolm McDowell from A Clockwork Orange that year. Fun Fun Fun.

Back in the day I came up with an idea for a High Priest of Cthulhu costume. I was telling my LCS friend Dave about this so I thought you might enjoy a long ramble about Renaissance Faire Politics and the Squid Hat.

My family and I used to be part of the Renaissance Fair Circuit here in California. In California, there are two kinds of Renaissance Fairs. The first is the professional or commercial fairs which are run for profit. These shows have paid performers, auditions, producers, the whole bit. If you ever see Robin Williams at a Ren Fair, he is probably at one of these because they tend to be huge week long events. Then there is the"small" faire circuit. These are smaller fairs put on by municipalities or non profit groups. Most of the performers are not paid. They do it for the fun. The circuit runs up and down the state all summer long.

We used to do about six faires a year with our group. Places like San Luis Obispo, Hanford, Modesto, Sacramento, Tulare and Fresno. When you are young this is a fun hobby. Basically you set up camp, interact with the crowds in your costume, and then have fun with your buddies when the faire closes. We stopped doing this because the lifestyle was getting too much for our older selves. We sort of retired about 5 years ago.

During my time doing fair, I was a member of the planning committee for the Hanford Ren Fair. If you think your average committee meeting is dull and boring, wait till you attend a Ren Fair Committee meeting. When you put “actors” in charge of a production, you are basically giving control freaks something to control and discuss at length. Never a good idea but you need volunteers since most local fairs don’t pay anyone to do this stuff. These meetings were just H. E. Double Hockey Sticks! Man, just try listening to a puffed up wanna be actor discuss what NEEDS to happen to make the show a success. So it was during one of these meetings that I started doodling on my pad and I came up with something.

Squid Hat! No idea where that came from. But I showed it to my friend who was also trying not to sleep and he thought it was funny. So I went home and decided to make my squid hat into a Halloween costume. The first squid hat was fun. I took it to Ren Faires. It was like a member of the family. It ended up getting a little ratty so I had to throw it away. This year I decided to make another one and a more elaborate costume to go along with it. This might make for an amusing Blog entry so I took pictures during the process.

Besides a sewing machine and scissors, here’s all you need.

About a yard and a half of squid colored felt. A square of Black and a square of White felt. A half a yard of clear plastic. Two big sheets of craft plastic (stiff). All this stuff can be bought at a good fabric store for under 10 dollars total.

You need a pattern so grab a piece of paper and take some measurements of your skull like this.

The fabric will need to be cut to a width equal to half of your measurement plus one inch. Here is a pattern you can copy.

So basically you want to fold your squid fabric in half and then trace the pattern. Freehand patterns rock! You want the fins to extend about three inches, and the total length should be about 14 inches. Cut out the pattern. You should have two squid shaped pieces of felt.

Next up is the eye. First cut a round circle out of the white felt square about 6 or 7 inches across. Next you want to cut an eye slit out of the black fabric. I think real squids have human type eyes but cat’s eyes are funnier. Cut a slightly smaller hole in one of the squid pieces.

Next up comes the crucial part of the design. The hat gets all of its charm from the bored expression in the eye. It’s as though the squid is tired of sucking your brains. So first you need to cut the clear plastic so it is large enough to completely cover the white disc. Finally you need to make the eyelid. Freehand draw a crescent piece of the squid fabric large enough to make an eyelid.

So all that’s left is assembly. Lay the white disc down on the table, arrange the eye slit in the center, and lay the clear plastic on top of it. Arrange the hole in the squid fabric over the eye. The hard part is sewing it all together. The plastic makes it all slippery but you can always rip out the stitches until you get it. Use pins to hold it in place.

When you finally have that bit done, lay the two halves face to face and sew a seam around the edge. Cut the stiff plastic to fit inside the hat. Turn it inside out and there you go! Squid hat!

You can add tentacles made from the left over fabric or wear it as is. Find some robes to compliment the hat and your Halloween is ready to rock!

Next time we make another visit to the Longbox of love.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Rock On!

I saw this in the window of the theatre by my work and it made me smile.

Last night Black Sabbath rolled into Fresno. I am not ashamed to admit that I am a head banger from way back. Yes during the 80’s I was a heavy metal fool. Of course you can only go so far with the head banging in Fresno. Not too many tours come this way. Fresno is just not a big event town. That’s why we don’t have any pro sports teams and most headliners don’t schedule us though lately that has been changing.

Back in the day, THE place to see shows was Selland Arena.

I remember seeing Iron Maiden there. What a great time. Of course the pickings were slim so I also had to see Def Leppard there. Surprisingly I enjoyed the Def Lep show even though I was never into the pop metal bands. I also saw YES and INXS at the arena. Of course this was about 20 years ago.

These days, I am almost 40 and the last concert I went to was about six years ago at the much smaller Warnor’s Theatre. The band was Tesla.

So it was with great pleasure that I found out that Black Sabbath was coming to town. Well a version of Black Sabbath anyway. Technically the band is called Heaven and Hell and features the classic line up from the Mob Rules era of Black Sabbath. Something about Black Sabbath being associated with Ozzy Osbourne in the line up as opposed to Ronnie James Dio. I didn’t care because I love me some Sabbath and I did not want to miss the chance to see Tony Iommi live.

I also took the chance to get some bonding time with son number two, Frank. I talked about Rob earlier. Frank is younger and while Rob shares a lot of tastes with his Mom, Frank likes some of the music of my youth and he tagged along with me. Yay!

Actually the first thing we noticed when we got to the arena was that a LOT of us old guys were dragging their kids along to the show. Check this out.

This guy brought his wife and three little kids along. How cool is that? Especially when the little kids were wearing their tiny Black Sabbath T-Shirts. As we entered the arena, the theme was repeated over and over. A lot of times, whenever we saw a young boy walking past us, close behind would inevitably be an older version of the boy in the form of his dad. I guess a lot of guys my age had the same idea I did. We get to see some Sabbath and include the younger generation.

The show was good. There were three bands on the bill and the first was Queensryche. There was a time when Queensryche was my favorite band but they kind of went the Metalica route and started slowing done and getting tamer after the Empire Album. I had seen them once before and they put on a good show again playing sings from most of their albums. Next up was Alice Cooper. Gawd I hate Alice Cooper but his show started off very strong with three rockers, including No More Mr. Nice Guy and 18. Then the crap started with Alice and his theatrics. So Lame! In this phase of the show, Alice witnesses a satanic baby being born so he takes it upon himself to kill the baby. For killing the baby he is hung by a rope mid-stage. Looked just so silly. Bad acting and worse effects. How exactly did he manage to get by doing this for 30 years?

Heaven and Hell took the stage at last and Frank and I were in Sabbath ecstasy. It was exactly what you want mood-wise from a Sabbath concert. Long heavy songs with cool lighting effects. Totally rocked. Of course the big downside was that they only played songs from the three Black Sabbath albums that they recorded with Ronnie James Dio. No “Iron Man’, no “Paranoid”, no “War Pigs” and especially, no “Black Sabbath”. Oh well. Maybe when they pull thorough California with Ozzy.

This was easily the tamest concert I ever went to. The first time I saw Iron Maiden (with opening act The Vinnie Vincent Invasion no less) we almost got into a knife fight with some stoners on the arena floor. For this concert, the worst behavior I saw was a guy openly smoking a joint in the restroom filled with about 30 men.

Next up:It's Halloween so I show you how to make a squid hat.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Who Wants to be a Geek?

Who Want’s to Be a Superhero? Such a polarizing show among comic geeks. It appears either you think the show is a fun silly take on the reality show genre, or you think it is so dumb you wouldn’t watch it if someone paid you. Today on Strange Visitations, I want to talk about geekdom and the deeper meaning that it has for a lot of us, especially yours truly.

I happen to love Who Wants to Be a Superhero? I love the ridiculous challenges. I love the terrible acting. I love the hammy Stan Lee. I really love the weird logic used in eliminations. Most of all I love the contestants. These are truly my people. At least the ones left at the end are. How much of a comic book geek do you have to be to get dressed up in some really BAD costumes, and then humiliate yourself on the Sci-Fi channel doing silly stunts and being lectured by the 20 foot tall talking head of Stan Lee? You have to be a real geek.

This season, I was rooting for Hyperstrike. Besides the fact that he really “got” the joke, I love how he hated his new costume but quickly realized he had to say he loved it. He just seemed to be laughing along with me through the show.

I was happy with Defuser winning the contest, mainly because I did not care so much for American Maid…er…Hygena. She cried way too much. Unless you are Superman in a DC event book, there’s no crying in comic books.

During the next to last episode, the winner was probably decided during Stan Lee’s interviews with the contestants. It was at this point I realized that no matter how much I liked Hyperstrike, his story was just not the compelling tale that the show seems to love. Remember the three finalists from last year? Major Victory wanted to prove to his daughter that her daddy was a hero. Fat Momma wanted to show people that chubby people can succeed, thrive and be heroes. And the winner, Feedback, had the gripping story of feeling unloved by his father and turning to comic books, in particular Marvel books, for a father figure and someone to look up to. I found all three tales very powerful. This year’s three finalists were different. Hyperstrike basically said he really enjoyed being a superhero and it was a reaction to being picked on as a child. Hygena talked about how she had lost a baby and in that process, lost a lot of her self-confidence. Being on the show made her see her own value. Finally, Defuser talked about how he wished the superheroes in the comics he read as a child could come to life and help his sister come back from a dangerous lifestyle. Again powerful.

What I see in these interviews that for many of us geek types, be it comics, video games, paintball, airsoft, Renaissance Fairs, whatever, for many of us, some geek activity filled some kind of void at a young age and now, as adults, it stays with us, even if circumstances have gotten better. In pondering this, I realized I was really pondering my own life.

I freely admit that I am a geek. I love comic books, I collect Superman memorabilia, I collect The Simpson’s junk, and I have way too many DVD’s. You can’t hurt my feelings by calling me a geek. Not when the geek side of me was what helped me get through my early life.

When I was a young lad, growing up in the seventies, I lived in a big Italian family. I had two older sisters, a stay at home mom, and my father was the guy who wore a suit and went off to work every weekday, and took his kids to the zoo or to the city on weekends. Things began to change when Mom and Dad separated. Suddenly, Mom had to raise three kids on her own. Mom was a German immigrant. She learned English when she came here but for most of her adult life, she did not have a job other than raising us kids. So suddenly she had to find work and keep us together. She did that. My Mom was a remarkable woman. Some sacrifices had to be made on all our parts. Mainly we couldn’t have all the great new toys and clothes every year but one thing I did have was my comic books. Mom loved to let me read and she would always find money to buy me a comic book or two each week. This was before the direct market so I got my comic books from a magazine rack. Also the number of titles was somewhat small so it was easy to pick what to read.

Early on, I was a DC guy. I loved Superman and the JLA. Especially when Superman was in that month’s issue of the JLA. As far as Marvel goes, I did read Marvel Team-Up and The Fantastic Four, but I somehow missed the Spiderman phase. Oh well.

A lot of times, when Mom had to work, she would have to take me along since my sisters had school or work and she could not afford a sitter. She mainly worked in places like Diners and Bowling Alleys where if a kid was well behaved, it was ok for them to hang out. So on those days, we’d stop at the drug store and Mom would buy me a comic book. Just one. They generally cost about 40 cents back then. So we would go to her work, I would find someplace to sit, and I was off to Superman’s world.

I devoured my comic books. I could read that one book four or five times on that day. Sometimes I’d break out some paper and trace some of the images from the book. For a chubby ten year old whose family was falling to pieces, comic books were a safe place to visit. My buddy Superman understood me. Superman never lies. He never forgets to call you. He never takes your sister on trips while leaving you behind.

He never left me. If I needed Superman, there he was, in my stack of comic books.

It was not until years later that I understood that this is where my love of the genre springs from. As an adult, I have tracked down most of those books my Mom bought me back in the day and I treasure them still. Talk to me a bout the JLA versus the Construct and I may tear up a little.

Mention of Doctor Destiny and the Key may cause me to get misty.

Try and bag on Superman or the kooky satellite era JLA and you can expect an argument. It has that kind of meaning to me.

So I embrace my inner geek and I encourage anyone reading to do the same. Why fight it? Having Wolverine, the Punisher, Spiderman, Batman or Superman with you on this journey through adulthood is really not a bad thing. In fact, it’s pretty cool.

Peace out.