Tuesday, May 5, 2015

First Baby

Well, this is fun! Ive been running my Finding Your Story workshops at the San Francisco Writers Grotto for a few years, and Ive had some great experiences helping other writers pull their books together, but this is the first of those books to see print. Its from a smaller publisher, but its legit: on sale in bookstores and airports, carried by Ingram and other major distributors. Its a memoir, a funny and touching one, called Karma, Deception and a Pair of Red Ferraris, and its author, Elaine Taylor, was one of my favorite students. She came into my workshop with a lot of rich material and a determination to get the book written but not a clear enough focus on the direction, and I loved helping her zero in on the heart of the story. Its gratifying to see it all together in a real book, and to see that the storytelling is so strong. (And, of course, to see myself thanked in the acknowledgements.)
      The last couple of years Ive been emphasizing my own writing much more than my teaching and coaching, and I generally expect to keep going in that direction. I developed that “auxiliary career during a period when the writing was slow, when I was buried by the research and organization of whats finally evolved into the next book. But this does remind me of why I dont think Ill ever stop working with new writers. Its a lot more lively than being lost in my own narrative for days on end, and it makes me glad to see that someone has genuinely benefited from my help. And I have other past and present clients out there, clearly moving toward publication in both fiction and nonfiction. Its not quite like being a parent—actually writing my own book is the more parental jobbut a proud godparent, at least.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Emily Post's Guide to Etiquette and Transcontinental Highways

Last year I blogged about my tentative plans to drive the length of the Lincoln Highway on its 100th anniversary and write about it. That first designated automobile route across the breadth of North America has fascinated me for a long time, as an important element in American history, as a road I love to drive, and as an odd piece of my family history: my parents both grew up along it, 1000 miles apart, during its early heyday. 
     The year I counted as its 100th anniversary was 2015. The route had actually been laid out in 1913 (which is why the Lincoln Highway Association celebrated its centennial two years ago), but 1915 was the year that the first caravan of cars actually went the distance from New York to San Francisco. (Which the Lincoln Highway Association is also celebrating, in more muted form.) Last summer, my son and I took a driving trip from San Francisco to Chicago, and we covered some long stretches of the original road. I thought of that as sort of a scouting trip for the centennial.
     Sadly, Im not going to be able to make the drive this year. When I shelved The Undressing of America to write its prequel, I committed myself to a lot more workand meanwhile, Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson and I are getting rolling on Lost Hero. Next year, though, I should be able to make it work. Which means I can either change this to a 99th anniversary tribute...or, more satisfying to my sense of narrative, come up with something from 1916 that it can be the 100th anniversary of. And I think Ive got it.
     The hardy caravan of 1915 called attention to the highway, but people were not immediately convinced that this 3,389 mile drive over mountains and across deserts, much of it on dirt and gravel roads, was really a plausible undertaking for the normal American. It wasnt until the next year that ordinary vacationers began to work up the courage to try it and that the idea of a cross-country road truly became part of American culture. Specifically, July 1916 saw the publication of the first commercial travel book about the highway, By Motor to the Golden Gate, written by Emily Postwho was then just six years shy of becoming famous as the author of Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, the most popular and influential book ever about good manners.
     What especially appeals to me about this is that Emily Post figures (not significantly but, in her brief appearance, heroically) in my Undressing of America. That book is mostly about the early 20th century battles by a wide range of truth-tellers and free-speakers against the censorship and culture of reticence that had dominated American culture for decades, and very early in the century Emily Post struck a significant public blow against hypocrisy and shame. The whole story is pretty ornate, but its basically this: the sleazy publisher of a gossip magazine, who made more money by blackmailing New York socialites than with the magazine itself, threatened to expose Edwin Posts affairs with chorus girls unless he paid up. Post, who had squandered his own money on said chorus girls, rushed home to his wife Emily, whose father was rich, and begged her to pay the blackmail so his shenanigans wouldnt be publicized and humiliate them both. And Emily said, Fuck you.
     Well, she probably didn't literally say Fuck you, what with being the future queen of American etiquette and all. But in essence she said Fuck you. She called the cops, got the sleazy publisher arrested, publicly dumped Edwin for screwing around, and basically said that she didnt see why a woman should be shamed because her husband was a dick. Then she picked up her own career as a novelist and journalist, which eventually ended up with her and a couple of relatives driving the Lincoln Highway for Colliers magazine.
     So next year I hope to drive, as closely as possible, the length of the original Lincoln Highway, and then I hope to write about the road and what it says about America and how the country has changed in the last hundred yearsall of it at least partly in honor of the fearless Mrs. Post. And if I work things right, the book will come out in 2019, which happens to be the centennial of the highly publicized first US Army convoy along the road, the moment when the federal government gave its stamp of approval to the idea of national highways. And in that convoy was a very young Dwight D. Eisenhower...but thats the next part of the story.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Watership Down

A cool internet thing: About six years ago, while engaged in a conversation in the comments section of Farran Smith Nehmes wonderful film blog, Self-Styled Siren, I expressed my long-time fondness for Martin Rosens animated Watership Down. And somehow, when the people at the Criterion Collection were preparing their restoration of the movie last year, their fabulous editor Liz Helfgott discovered those remarks, buried deep in the Sirens archives, and asked me to write an essay of appreciation as the introduction to the DVD and Blu-Ray.  
       Which felt kind of miraculous, considering that the movie isnt just one I admire but one that holds a fairly meaningful place in my life. Heres an excerpt of my Criterion introduction, describing what I love about the movie and what it means in the context of my family. The full essay includes more behind-the-scenes filmographic stuff...but this is the essence of it.

When the British Board of Film Classification gave Watership Down a U for Universal, it opined that, although it “may move children emotionally during the film’s duration, it could not seriously trouble them once the spell of the story was broken.” It’s an opinion that has inspired a fair amount of derision over the years, and I understand why. This movie has troubled me ever since I first saw it—and I first saw it at twenty-one.
       In most ways, Watership Down is a children’s movie of the classic shape. A group of lovable characters are forced into a perilous journey, come up against a terrifying enemy, win an unexpected ally, and join together for a triumph against all odds. Its tone is earnest and muted, its rhythms gentle, its setting an English countryside of watercolor hedgerows and meadows warmed by flute and oboe. There’s violence in it, some blood, some pain, some brief but stabbing suspense. What’s most haunting about it, though, is also what sets it apart from nearly everything of its type: its sweet, sad wisdom about the nature of life in the shadow of death.
       That wisdom comes straight from the original novel by Richard Adams. More than any other writer of talking-animal fantasies, Adams was committed to letting his animals be animals, to postulating what life might feel like if experienced through a consciousness comparable to ours. His creatures don’t drive cars like Kenneth Grahame’s Mr. Toad, they’re run over by them and left flat and bloody on the roadside. They then do their best to make sense of these murderous but indifferent hrududil based on what they know of the world, as we humans have always tried to do with our own symbols of death.
     Adams’s speculations reached beyond the intellectually amusing and touched on the genuinely profound when he asked what existence must feel like to not only a thumbless, burrowing quadruped but also a prey animal. What myths would we create, what philosophies of reconciliation would we embrace, if we were fitted by evolution or God to be yummy morsels for countless other creatures, able to survive only by running, hiding, and breeding rapidly? 
       To me, the most impressive thing about Martin Rosen’s adaptation of the book is the fact that he did not sacrifice that essential question. It would have been the easiest and most tempting of elements for a moviemaker to abandon, especially a moviemaker eyeing a “family” market. He could have used death only as a threat to the hero, a resolution for the villain, a tear-jerking mechanism, or a way of raising the plot stakes, as movies typically (cynically, reductively) use it. But he was brave enough to let it be what it was in the novel: a defining element of existence, an ever-present note of melancholy, the sleep that rounds our live
       Death is an emotional, visual, and philosophical presence in the story from the start. The most memorable and unusual character, and the one who does the most to drive the plot forward, is a trembly little rabbit named Fiver, who has visions of “something bad” coming—visions that we see as a flow of dark blood across the green meadow. When he and his friends flee through the wooded night, we follow their journey through the eyes of prey; it’s not just that a badger bursts from the brush to threaten them but that they are grateful to see that it has blood on its lips, proving that it has just killed some other small creature, because otherwise “it would have been faster.” When the group’s only female is taken suddenly by a predator, all the rest can do is move on more quietly.
      Their experiences subtly but steadily make us see the commonplaces of our own world as deadly dangers in theirs. That ordinary lump of roadkill in the foreground of the car scene reminds us disturbingly of our protagonists. The farm dog loose in the woods is no red-eyed Baskervillian monster but a goofy, floppy-tongued mutt who could well be the comic hero of some other cartoon. We catch on fast, however, that to our heroes, he represents a quick, bloody death.
       And then there’s the movie’s one musical interlude, a central moment in the narrative, when the ghostly image of the Black Rabbit of Death appears in the sky, and a song rises about that most terrible of mysteries. “Is it a kind of dream / Floating out on the tide / Following the river of death downstream? / Oh, is it a dream?”
       What keeps all this from being simply depressing—what makes it comforting, even—is that three-minute myth at the very beginning, before the credit sequence, before the first wistful notes of the theme music. Old-school funny-animal gags and Australian aboriginal art are pulled together in a telling of Adams’s lapine creation story that still hits with the freshness of a living myth. We laugh, but we also understand why the sun god Frith gave the rabbits “a thousand enemies,” why he made them speedsters and tricksters, why the Black Rabbit is not only to be feared but also to be welcomed.
       Watership Down delivers all the stuff of a solid animated adventure. Its visual style is naturalistic, even cautious, but often quietly lovely. There’s clever interplay among the nervous Fiver, the gently heroic Hazel, and the blowhard Bigwig. The climactic battle is ingenious and exciting. General Woundwort is one of the truly scary cartoon villains. That solidity gives us a comfortable place to stand while the story opens up to less familiar terrain.
       When I first saw the movie, my biggest disappointment was its hasty treatment of Cowslip’s warren, that haven of boundless carrots, empty burrows, and hints of unnamed wrongness that nearly snares our heroes early on. That was one of the best developed episodes of Adams’s novel, one that led us deep into an eerie culture of death and gave our heroes’ journey far more meaning, but here most of it was sacrificed to the conventional plot demands of popular cinema. Watching it again, though, I’m grateful that Rosen so clearly understood why losing the sequence entirely would have hurt still more. Although it’s only a brief pause between plot turns, Cowslip’s poem on the “dark journey” and “the silence” is the moment when we realize what this story is ultimately all about.
       The British Board of Film Classification drew a lot of heat for that U certificate, mostly from parents who learned the hard way that the idea that Watership Down could not trouble a child past the end of the movie was ridiculous. And ridiculous it is, but there’s also something a little ridiculous in the implication that a “family” movie should aspire to tell a story that children will promptly forget. What is most troubling (and haunting and moving) about this film is that it asks us to spend time with those elements of existence that we will always find most troubling (and haunting and moving), and that we so rarely allow our children’s culture or our own entertainment to dwell on. Because as much as we try to cajole our kids into assisting us in our own denial, as much as we use their fantasy lives as pretexts to create our own neverlands where we can pretend to forget what we know about life and death, the truth is—they know too.
       They understand very well what the brief lives of pets, the savage play of dogs and cats, and the meat on the family table signify. They know this whole thing is temporary. They know, and we know, that even the most arrogant, upright, thumb-wielding predators are no mightier than little Fiver and his friends when the Black Rabbit comes. My wife and I read Watership Down with our son when he was ten, and soon after we finished, we showed him this movie. Twelve years later, he still says it’s his favorite novel, and he still feels the movie does well by it. He admires it most because its makers were “willing to be dark.”
       That word dark is used a lot in movie talk, but usually to mean some combination of the self-consciously cynical and the manipulatively cruel. In the fantasy business, it’s worn as a badge of tough-mindedness and sophistication, although usually with that adolescent look-at-me-not-being-childlike pose. Few movies embrace the real dark the way this one does—the dark of night, of dreams, of sorrow and terror and peace. And, of course, it’s against that darkness that the light looks brightest. Which is why the bright moments of Watership Down can be so simple, so understated, and yet so transportive. It’s why the ending—which I won’t reveal but which you’ll know, long before the movie’s over, is inevitable and right—is as joyous as it is poignant. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

God, the Flesh, and America

I really like “The Undressing of America.” One of my personal favorites among the titles I’ve come up with for my own books. And titles I like aren’t easy to come by—I like “Men of Tomorrow” a lot, and so far “Lost Hero” feels good for the book Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson and I are starting to write. But “Killing Monsters” was one of those “best the editor and I could come up with before we ran out of time” titles, “The Comic Book Heroes” is fine but none too thrilling, and “The Beaver Papers” was the publisher’s suggestion, not bad when people still remembered the Pentagon Papers but not so evocative now. I’m fond of “The Trouble with Girls” because it’s such an odd match with the subject matter (and the subject matter is so odd), but it doesn’t have that perfect-title-for-the-project punch that’s always so nice to find.
      But “The Undressing of America” had that, and it had the additional appeal of coming to me slowly, after a series of other titles that never quite cut it. So I’ve clung hard to it, continuing to use it as the working title of this book even as the book evolved and evolved. I still think it’s the perfect title for that book.
      The trouble is, this book ain’t that book no more. It’s evolved so much over the years that it’s become an entirely different story, with a subject matter only partially overlapping the original’s. And that title, while still an intriguing set of words, no longer matches it. It’s like calling a creature Tyrannosaurus rex and thinking what an awesome name it is, but 65 million years later you discover it’s evolved into a house finch. It’s still a great name, but calling that bird stealing crumbs off your picnic table a Tyrannosaurus rex somehow just doesn’t...ring.
Tyrannosaurus rex
      I’d probably still be tempted to try to get away with using Undressing (and it does almost, kind of, work), except that I actually intend to finish that original book one of these days. I wrote a whole rough draft of it, after all, and polished up quite a bit of it. It’s still a very appealing story: a bodybuilder/health guru who accidentally creates the whole “true confessions” approach to publishing while fighting with Christian moral reformers for his right to show pictures of women doing calisthenics and so changes the course of modern media. (That’s a bit glib, but it’s more or less it.) It’s just that the current book, which started as a sort of prologue to that one, demanded to be finished and published first. The Undressing of America has become the perfect sequel.
      So I’m saving that title for the book it was meant for, which means I have to come up with a new one for this book. It’ll only be a working title, of course, because the editor and the marketing department and several other people will want to have some input into it before FSG commits to it. But I find working titles powerful. They shape what I’m thinking about the work, standing as a sort of micro-mission statement for the whole project, and they affect how I feel when I tell people about the book in progress. Saying a title I don’t like makes me feel lame, and saying I don’t have a title yet makes me feel lamer.  
       To find my way toward a new title, I wrote a list of the things the book is most about. There are quite a few—media, morality, censorship, exposure, privacy, social reform, church vs. state—but there are three that, more than any others, drive what the people in the story do and send them into interesting collisions. There’s all that stuff about sex, desire, and the body, including prostitution, pornography, health education, and a lot else. There’s religion in all its forms (in which I include a certain kind of secular political idealism). And there’s the forming of the United States—politically, culturally, religiously, morally—in its first sixty or so years.
      Those are each boil-downable into quite a few pithy phrases, but I kept coming back to “the flesh” for the first. Broad in scope but with an archaism and a slightly Biblical edge that evokes the people and times I’m focusing on. For the second, I liked the monosyllabic punch of “God.” For the third, “America” felt a lot stronger and brighter than “the republic” or “the United States.
      I like three-word titles. They’ve been done to death, of course. Guns, Germs, and Steel is only the best of many, and now we're seeing a lot of the Elizabeth Gilbert variation: Noun, Noun Noun, no conjunction. But still, there’s something so intrinsically, almost biologically satisfying about the rhythm of three that I’d hate to abandon it just to seem different. I also like the flow of starting with a shorter word and building to something longer. All of which brought me to the title I’m calling this book by, starting today: God, the Flesh, and America
      And that’s the title I intend to keep calling it by until...well, until I change my mind. Or my editor talks me out of it. Which could be tomorrow or never. I have to admit, it doesn’t hit me with the instant on-the-nose perfection of The Undressing of America. But it does resonate strongly with the story I’m telling and the voice I’m using to tell it. It focuses me when I say it to myself, like a little mantra. And that’s the most important thing about a working title. That it helps me work.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Happy 125th, Old Man

One thing Ive learned about myself as a writer is that I cant write well about someone unless Ive come to care about them. Theres a process of building compassion and connection I have to go through thats not unlike the process of building a friendshipand unless I hang in with it, the story I tell is going to be too cool and too distant to make anyone care.
       Ive also learned that the strongest bonds are built (and I think this may be true in real-life as well as literary relationships) when Ive started off by misjudging the person. So it was with with Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, whom I initially dismissed as a colorful oddball who sort of accidentally founded DC Comics and so laid the foundation for the American comic-book industry. It was only after Men of Tomorrow came out that some of the Majors descendants, especially Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson, made me see him as quite another person entirelya military hero and extraordinary non-conformist, a writer and liver of great adventures, and the true father of the comic book as we know it. A man worth writing a whole book about, in fact. Which is just what Nicky and I are doing now, with a book called Lost Hero.
      So it is with affection as well as respect that I wish the old man (as his family still calls him) a happy 125th birthday. He was born in another world, the Tennessee of 1890, but he went on to discover and build some things that are still vitally part of the world we know. He was a complex guy, capable of great invention and boldness but also of great overreaching and self-sabotage. He possessed extraordinary knowledge and competence in a wide range of fields, but at the same time a strange naïvété about how the world worked. But it was those contradictory qualities that make him, for me, worth caring about and writing about. I think they were also what enabled him to play such an important role in the complex and often contradictory history of popular culture.
      He never did get his due. His company was taken from him, right before the character he discovered, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shusters Superman, saw print. His role in history was buried and distorted by the people who took over the industry he founded, then neglected by generations of fans and historians (like me) who didnt yet realize how deep the roots of comic books run and how far they branch through the soil of American history. Discovering his life has helped me understand a great many things about my country and its culture, as well as about the medium in which I worked for so many years. Im remembering, today, that it will be good to give a little bit back to him by helping to tell his story to the world. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Who Wrote the Beaver Papers (Yet Again)?

Ok, were going to do one more Beaver Papers 2 quiz. Heres the deal, in case youre new in town: about 30 years ago, Will Jacobs and I wrote a book called The Beaver Papers, in which we posited what the results might have been if 25 great authors had written episodes of the old sitcom, Leave It to Beaver. This year, something possessed us to write a sequel to it, which has just been published by Atomic Drop Press (and is available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback). We had tons of fun writing it and are excited to have it out there.
      Below are excerpts from five of the 25 parodies in The Beaver Papers 2. After that comes a list of six authors and titles. Your job is to see if you can match each of the five excerpts to one of those authors. (Actually, your job is to buy the book. But were hoping this tricks you into it!)

1. As they climb back into the car, June whispers, “Ward, I’m worried that your uncle’s stories may be a bad influence on the boys.” “Oh, now, June,” he says, “I’m sure he’s run out of tall tales by now.” But as soon as they drive off, Uncle Billy says, “Did I tell you boys about the time a bull gored a lady right in the heart? Killed her deader than a mackerel. It happened near here. Folks used to say that bull was really Christ.” “Uncle Billy, please!” Ward hollers, but Wally quickly puts in, “Aw, gee, dad. Don’t go ape on Uncle Billy. I want to hear more about the bull that’s really Christ.” “Me too!” Beaver shrills.

2. June opens the door and smiles that the pot roast is ready, but his eyes fix absurdly on the pearls against the rodlike bones of her neck, snowballs of glamor trying to hide the winter trees of her age, and he wonders if he’ll eat the pot roast because his wife made it or if he made her his wife because he likes pot roast. As he follows her toward the kitchen he feels himself topple into the idea, as moist as it is desiccated, that maybe what’s missing is what his marriage had in the beginning, whatever that may have been.

3. Beaver counts six of them. Feeling the curved recessed grip of the Glatz beste Zwillengabel in the palm of his hand, and carefully taking into account his elevated position, he takes aim and slings off a shot that shatters Blanco’s sternum. He aims again, but just before he cuts loose the remaining four gang members whip their bikes around and speed back the way they’d come, leaving a slack-jawed Lumpy alone in the middle of the street. “Up here,” Beaver calls. Lumpy looks up and his eyes goggle as he spots him inside the giant soup bowl.

4. On the way out of the school, Beaver sees Judy Hensler. He doesn’t know why he wants to talk to her, because she’s a boring, phoney girl, but the thing about girls is that when you feel crumby you can fall half in love with one for no reason, even the boring, phoney ones, because that’s just how it is with girls. But when he says he wants to talk, and she asks why and he says for no reason, she tells him he’d better give her five dollars first, and he calls her a crumby pain in the ass, and she punches him in the stomach.

5. After school that day, Beaver asks June how best to survive an atomic blast in the house. June cheerfully points out all the various tables in the house and explains that all Beaver has to do in the event of a searing, blinding flash of light is to duck under any one of them and cover his head and neck with his arms. She goes on to say, “I can stop the bleeding from every part of your body except your throat, Beaver, so make sure you cover up! Of course, your hands and arms might incur hideous radiation burns, but they won’t necessarily be life threatening.” Reassured, Beaver grins broadly.

So who wrote what?

A. J. D. Salinger, The Beaver in the Rye
B. Henry Miller, Tropic of Beaver
C. John Updike, Beaver, Run
D. Elmore Leonard, Beaver Is Coming
E. U. S. Office of Civil Defense, Duck and Cleaver
F. Flannery O’Connor, A Good Beaver Is Hard to Find

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Gotham Memories

Theres been a lot of talk about DC Comics leaving New York City for California next yearand it really is a huge shift, since the comic book business was born in New York and has been so completely shaped by its city from the startso a while ago my old colleague Bob Greenberger was soliciting memories of DCs Midtown offices from old-timers for his blog. He was kind enough to ask me, and I really wanted to participate. Unfortunately I was overwhelmed by work (i.e. managing my time badly) so I missed his deadline, but it all got me looking back on my first major experience with the DC offices. Which was, in some ways, my first real experience with New York.
      It was the spring of 1984, I was 26 years old, and I was researching The Comic Book Heroes, a book Will Jacobs and I were writing for Crown Publishers. Book-length comics histories were rare enough then that just about everybody in the business was willing to drop everything for an hour or two to talk to me, and Id arranged several interviews at DC, then in the shiny aluminum building at 666 Fifth Avenue, corner of 52nd Street. 
      Id been to New York a couple of times as a tourist, at seventeen even visited the Marvel offices as a fan, but Id never been to the city on business, never really spent time there, never gotten under its carapace. This time I went out to lunch and dinner with Crown staffers as one of their writers,and the next day I walked into 666 Fifth with an appointment. The sheer urbanness and grownupness of the whole thing was thrilling and intimidating, never mind the fact that I was going to meet Julius Schwartz Himself.
      Im not one of these people who grew up on Julies comics (Id been a Stan Lee loyalist as a kid and saw no point in learning the names of anyone at the competition), but in my rediscovery of comics as an adult Id fallen in love with the precise craftsmanship and ingenious whimsy of his Flash, Adam Strange, and Green Lantern, and as a nascent comics historian I knew that he was a very big deal in the development of the form. 
      I was also a quietly alienated son of the California suburbs of the 1970s, and I couldn't help feeling as though New York City was the real America, and the people who had lived through the 30s, 40s, and 50s were the real adults, and very little could be realer or more American or just generally, cosmically above me than an old Jewish guy in Manhattan whod helped create the comic book business. Which made it a very big deal when he not only let me sit in his office and ask him all kinds of questions about his life and career but then actually invited me to lunch. 
      So there I am eating a pastrami sandwich in the delicatessen on the ground floor of the 666 Fifth building. Not a very good delicatessen (even I can tell that), and everybody who works there is either Chinese or Puerto Rican (none of the old Warner Brothers character actors who would have been spouting weisenheimer dialogue in the delicatessen of my imagination). But still. Its a delicatessen. In New York. With Julius Schwartz. 
He asks what Ive been doing in town, and I tell him Ive gone to some restaurants and I heard some jazz at the Village Vanguard, and he starts talking about the jazz he used to listen to, mentions how he and his friend John Broome (my heart skips a beat) used to go to nightclubs to hear a guy named Maxie Kaminsky. And I say, Oh yeah, Max Kaminsky. The trumpeter. And he says, You dont know who Maxie Kaminsky was. And I say, Yeah, I do. Well, I dont know him well. But Ive heard some of his stuff with the Dorsey band.
      Then suddenly, impossibly, Julie Schwartz is impressed with me. Or, if not impressed, then at least curious and affectionately amused in that way thats almost the same as impressed. I say impossibly because this was not a calculated moment. I did have some general awareness that he was a Dixieland jazz fan, but that sounded so cornball, it hadnt occurred to me that he could have been one of those hepcats following hot-swing-cum-early-jazz-revivalists like Max Kaminsky. Or Bobby Hackett or Jack Teagarden or the other musicians I mentioned to keep that affectionately amused smile on his face.
      That happened to be one of my geeky things at the time, swing music and its offshoots. Just the night before my girlfriend and I had gone to the Rainbow Room to hear Sy Oliver (who used to arrange for the Dorsey band around the same time Max Kaminsky was cutting his few sides with them). That had been a lot of fun, but we were still outsiders, young tourists who paid for one of those souvenir photos they insist on taking of out-of-town rubes. But today I was sitting in a delicatessen with a cool old Jewish guy (the cool old Jewish guy of all cool old Jewish guys) talking about Max (I wouldnt presume to call him Maxie) Kaminsky and his hot horn in the late-night sessions at Jimmy Ryans clubwhich, I happened to know, had been right there on 52nd Street, less than a block away from where we were sitting.
      We went back up to his office, and I got back to the business of asking him questions about comics, but it felt different than before. I felt like I belonged there somehow, in a way I hadnt before. And just a few minutes later, a young guy popped in, gushing enthusiastically about some project he was working on, clearly enjoying Schwartzs attention. Julie asked me, Do you know Frank Miller? Which I certainly did, by name. Frank was the hot writer and artist of the moment, finishing up Ronin, rumored to be starting on some thrilling new rendition of Batman. But he was also, at least it seemed to me, another guy my age, also from somewhere less interesting or less real than New York, still excited to feel like he belonged in the DC offices talking to Julius Schwartz. 
       Julie introduced me as an author of a book about modern comics, Frank gave me his phone number and told me to call him if I had any questions. And it was right then, in the presence of Julie Schwartz, Frank Miller, and Maxie Kaminsky, that I knew I'd be coming back to those offices soon enough; and that, one way or another, I wouldn't be coming back as a tourist.