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Michael Ubaldi, September 18, 2003.
How to impersonate James Lileks:
1. Put on pair of glasses.
Michael Ubaldi, September 10, 2003.
Berke Breathed is by far my favorite cryptoliberal and maintains a three-way tie with Charles Schulz and Bill Watterson (who lives forty-five minutes away from me) for the coveted honor of Favorite Cartoonist. Breathed should certainly be recognized for his ability to change mediums while delivering consistent quality over a long career. This news, however, leaves me with mixed expectations on his comic potential nowadays.
Unfortunately, Breathed committed the lamentable error of turning a silly strip about rural civics into a multimillion dollar franchise phenomenon. For an entire decade. Best of all, he ended Bloom County before he ran out of magic. So he faces a sort of Sinatra curse: if you so much as step foot onstage, you had damned well better bring down the house like old times.
Any chance of failure is not from lack of talent, either. When interviewed, Breathed always gave his artistic abilities short shrift - I never understood that. The mark of an artist's ability, second only in importance to longevity, is how well he performs in his medium. Once Bloom quickly shed that natural, initial unfamiliarity of repetitively drawn characters, Breathed's pen was free to explore his world of highly politicized podunk. Opus' nose grew over the decade, as did Mike Binkley's and Milo Bloom's hair, Oliver Wendell Jones' glasses, Portnoy's feet, and even everyone's eyes (Steve Dallas, too, after he dumped the shades following his Saul-like transformation to a rosy neolib).
By the mid-1980s Breathed had trimmed his cast; old guard characters like Bobbi Harlow and Senator Bedfellow disappeared, the latter by way of a tragically hilarious prison sentence and the former, mysteriously. Milo's grandfather went the same way as Bobbi. Even Cutter John, the disabled Vietnam vet who bore a striking resemblance to Breathed himself, receded into nothingness. For a while it was Opus, Binkley, Milo, Steve, Bill and Oliver - with supporting characters, story guests and the occasional Sunday gag with greasy corporate apparatchik W.A. Thornhump III.
We wouldn't find our pals in the schoolroom any longer, and the bar lost its plot leverage long before Dallas swore off liquor. The trees and hills and watering holes were Breathed's favorite sets, their features gradually dilating along with everything else. The Boarding House remained Bloom's standby: the fridge, the roof, Binkley's Anxiety Closet, the basement, the toilet Steve cornered Opus in while trying to kick cigarettes; and poor Mr. Binkley's bed, where less than a year's-worth of nights were spent restfully lacking in interruptions from his celebrity-gossip obsessed son.
Along came Rosebud the Basselope, Ronald-Ann, and Milquetoast the Cockroach. Opus, who began his tenure as Binkley's eccentric pet - "Two dips and a Dad," went the famous punchline - became Breathed's favorite early on, and assumed the lead and prevailing perspective for most of the strip's run. As the Eighties waned, daily drawing characters established through zany storylines left Breathed a choice between lunacy and minimalism. He often chose the latter, leaving the comic potential in headline events to Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury and concentrating instead on Cheez-Wiz in Opus' shorts.
And still Bloom stayed funny. Yet Breathed knew how to get out of a strip - or at least wanted out pretty bad by the last years of the decade. Bill the Catt, once a mangy litigation magnet for Jim Davis' Mafioso entertainment lawyers, took quite a ride over the years: he became a drugged-out Hollywood superstar, played frontman for Billy and the Boingers (nÚ Deathtongue), joined a cult, suckered millions of dollars out of 700 Clubbers, before finally ending up an unwilling physical shell for the brain of an anchor-maimed Donald Trump. Trump in a zipperless cat suit stumbled around for a few months before snapping back into a tycoon's mindset. He - Breathed and Trump - did the unthinkable. Trump bought out the strip. The last year of Bloom was comic strip seppaku, quick and honorable: the characters lampooned then accepted their fate, put a thumb in the air and hit the comic job market. Milo went to Larson, Oliver to Keane, Portnoy and Hodge-Podge took on scooping up after Marmaduke. They had a wrap party. In August of 1989, it was over.
Before Bloom's last Sunday, Opus had followed the enigmatic Ronald-Ann into a fantasy world called Outland - to become Breathed's eponymous second strip. I was disappointed with Outland; its Sunday-only schedule only emphasized the flippant treatment of subject matter. Breathed mastered stuffing politics into four frames and a punchline in Bloom, and it was a shame to see him miss the mark week after week from a lack of development room. Characters were cardboard and did little to pump life into a strip premise filled with potential - a premise which, interestingly enough, Breathed quickly abandoned. Away from the goofy landscapes and nutty characters he went and back to, well, Bloom. But on only one day a week, minus the edge. Like the vanilla Star Trek: Voyager, the shark had jumped immediately for Outland and I tuned out.
Like I said, Breathed can't be counted out. His heartwarming watercolor stories like A Wish for Wings that Work started out as faux children's books largely marketed to Bloom fans. In recent years he moved entirely to serve a younger audience, on some projects providing illustration only.
So Breathed is none the less for experience, artistically or substantively. Opus was Breathed's dearest fictional creation, and the comic strip is where he is known best, so we could very well be in for a treat with Opus.
Michael Ubaldi, September 1, 2003.
Michael Ubaldi, August 11, 2003.
Three of us will be flying ourselves down to Mansfield-Lahm this morning (ain't she a beaut?). I assume the world will go to hell in a handbasket by the time I return, at which point some earnest blogging will be in order.
UPDATE: A wonderful flight to and from the airport. Departure from Burke Lakefront threw us into weather that was the picture of "scuzzy," but temperatures were reasonable; the thirty-minute voyage south uneventful and enjoyable (to be fair, a sullen stratus is good fun to fly through). From the front right seat, I was struck for the first time by a certain organizing perspective one gains when airborne. Ohio, like any other state (excluding New Jersey), is urban only where it isn't farmland - so once we left Cleveland airspace, the rows of suburbia receded. What I noticed was the truly strict delineation of rural property; of course, on the ground, you notice hedges, treelines and other remnants of the landscape used to demarcate ownership. But up in the Cessna, my view unobscured by topography, the patchwork of fields fit together like a city block set to a coarser scale.
When business concluded we took off for the return to Cleveland at one o'clock. Heat had begun to punch updrafts into a broken ceiling; thunderstorms, of course, make for a bumpy ride. Fortunately, the 3,000-foot altitude and bearings ordered by air traffic control kept us away from the rising columns. Following a course that hugged the periphery of Cleveland's airspace, we swung over the lake, around the north end of the city and made final approach to Burke from the northeast.
During our landing we noticed a B-17 parked on the apron. According to the newspaper, explained one of the other two fellows, a B-24 wouldn't be far behind. Sure enough, after we had parked and tied down and were making our way across pavement to the terminal, a three-plane line abreast formation drew from the west: the expected Liberator, a P-51 Mustang and a DC-4 lookalike we couldn't immediately identify. They passed over the airport - quite a rare sight and sound, believe me - then rolled off to the north to circle around and land in turn. We lost the P-51 - it must have immediately taxied over to a hangar out of our view. The DC-4 counterfeit taxied back onto the runway to take off and depart.
The Liberator trolled its way towards the B-17. Having just parked an aircraft, we had good reason to be on the apron - but with a grin, we stretched our privilege just enough to watch the B-24 sashay its hulk into tiedown position from little more than a hundred feet away. Orange sticks crossed, the pilot leaned the mixture and the bomber shook itself dead.
We turned away as the scent of fuel came on a breeze. Passing a small group of old men who stood with their wives just outside the terminal to watch the same spectacle, I didn't need to read logos on their hats or jackets to guess that they'd seen it before under far different circumstances. But I'm certain they enjoyed the sight just as much.
Michael Ubaldi, August 10, 2003.
And you thought Gary Coleman and Gallagher were the dark horse candidates.
Michael Ubaldi, August 3, 2003.
A beautiful evening sky.
It's just as well, because the morning spent itself teetering between hazy, broken and overcast before it tripped up and spilled right over into rainy during church. Grey and lazy; wet and foggy. No, not my favorite. I found myself things to do around the apartment after picking up groceries: finished a couple of Weekly Standards left over from - amazing! - the last two weeks, cleaned up, fiddled with the local intranet, and then played some guitar before banging the pots and pans for dinner.
Afterwards, I was continuing to putter to some African-heavy National Geographic television show in the background, when the view from the balcony window finally caught my eye. The clouds had broken an hour before, and the rain system was well-contained enough to be visible from the backside: right there, stretching from end to end of the horizon above the valley, was a massive, airborne mountain of cumulous. I hadn't heard any thunder, so it was to no surprise that the cloud peaks themselves weren't of any notable height. But the girth! It looked at once like an enormous, golden slug and a pile of boulders you'd find in a quarry. It slowly sunk away while strings of purplish stratus hung half in, half out of a reddish sun refraction while they tracked obliquely to the northeast.
Hot damn! I keep my grandfather's old Nikon F on an endtable in the living/family/dining room. Yet without even a couch, I don't entertain much and haven't felt beholden to buying the requisite lamps and Ming vases (filled with flowers, I presume, then accidentally broken in comic hilarity). So the camera bag sits there, just ten feet from the balcony's sliding-door window. Within five minutes I had cashed out the fifteen or so exposures left; some details with the zoom, interesting croppings with the 50mm, and the quarry-slug's entirety captured with the 30mm lens. With any luck the ancient light meter successfully guided the F's "free-spirited" aperture and shutter. It should be fine; I overexpose and usually end up with the saturation I want anyway.
I sat down and rewound the roll. Then I just let the camera sit in my lap and watched the cell roll off, over Cleveland and Hopkins International. These days, with so many thoughts and tasks circling about the mind, I feel almost uncomfortable just sitting in one place and watching the world. When aren't we on a schedule - even vacation? Not that I mind keeping busy; I hate idleness. But I miss out when I don't stop once and a while: again, it was beautiful. Jets were taking off from Runway 24 (23 now, due to magnetic declination), so every ascent gave me a profile. A 737. DC-9. Or a 717? MD-80? Another 737. The stratus strands rolled, a formation of clouds about fifty miles southwest appeared, the quarry went deep gold; then lavender, then blue.
The moon's out. Back to the balcony. I'll stay tuned to this show for as long as it lasts.
(Sky photoblog coming soon. Soon.)
Michael Ubaldi, August 1, 2003.
Who finds good, clean laughter more offensive than a bawdy night of, say, the Diceman? Christopher Hitchens. His support for the ouster of Saddam Hussein threatened to declassify him as an autonomous liberal. Not to fear: he's made a go of shouting down a mountain with some post-mortem calumny against Bob Hope, the man whose humor routinely separated people between those who enjoyed him and those who were dead at the time. This is the comedic equivalent of telling people that you hate chocolate.
Spit into the ocean, Hitchens. I bet Bob's laughing.
COMMENTS: [February 20th, 2004. I've still got them, and Demski put an excellent defense of Hitchens. For your perusal.]
DEMSKI:Ubaldi-- Hate this to be my intro to your site, but here goes... I must confess, I don't post on politics and other issues b/c frankly I'm not as well informed as I would like (but I try). But 'funny'? I think I know 'funny,' and one thing that is not funny is Bob Hope. God Bless Hitchens for saying what many people think but are afraid to say b/c it's not 'polite.' Do you actually find Hope funny? Who does? His humor, if you can call it that, is scattershot and weak-- I wouldn't know a signature Hope joke if it hit me in the forehead. Why? Because there's no signature. He hosted the Oscars for so many years not because he was funny, but because he was the most recognizable, bland, harmless face out there. And there was a team of writers behind this! He always quipped about never getting nominated-- what a shock, check out his movies! Being nice and an ass-kiss doesn't equal funny. And don't get me started on his USO shows. In short, Hope won't be missed by yours truly. But what do I know? I like the Diceman.
Michael Ubaldi, July 24, 2003.
Sordid news, however welcome, is never to be dwelt upon. For lunch today I walked to beloved Westgate Mall. A series of adjacent parking lots separates my office building from the closest mall fašade. An urban veldt, the yellow-stroked asphalt plain extends in a few directions for several hundred meters, punctuated by cars, moving or stationary; and curbed-in, trimmed oases with a single tree glittering green in the summer. It's a good five minutes in either direction. On a snowy, wintry day or a beautifully sunny one like today, the stroll is magnificent - just be sure to bring the heavy jacket or sunglasses, respectively.
Today was a meteorological reprieve, with only a fraction of the kneading humidity Cleveland has endured for nearly a week. The blue sky was a purer blue, undiluted by haze, and allowed for the most wonderful sight off to the southern horizon as I drew towards the mall: sixty to one hundred miles away, cumulus clouds had begun vaulting upwards without the pacification of cooler, Lake Erie air. They all stood in a line, west to east, some further developed or more vertically brazen than others; a few shaped like overgrown bushes, most like geysers caught in a freeze-frame. All of them glowing yellowish-white against a deep cerulean. I looked straight up and saw an infinite clearing, counting my momentary blessings to observe a skyborne tumult from a distant perspective.
After eating, I exited the mall and began my return to the office. Lake air had begun to condense, finally; winds aloft had begun draping cirrus and altocirrus across the sky above me - again, west to east. Though I observed that blue sky and gold sun had become scarcer in supply - I detest a flatly cloudy, grey canopy - I couldn't deny the timeless allure of the spotty, aggregate streaks. Against that same cerulean from an hour before were broken lines like scumbled, impasto zinc white from a Post-Impressionist's palette knife. A stoic and a dreamer in one, I intended to breathe in deeply and relish the moment.
I settled with writing about it afterward. I'll enjoy this more.
Michael Ubaldi, July 23, 2003.
Leave the iron on? That's nothing:
Papers among thousands of files captured from the Stasi, the secret police of East Germany, claim tons of live Second World War munitions were buried in concrete bunkers beneath the runways of Schoenefeld airport in East Berlin. It is now the main destination for discount airlines, such as Ryanair, and numerous charter companies.
Berlin, with its sandy, dry soil, was perfect for the bunker-building of the Third Reich. Hundreds of thousands of them were constructed during the 12-year lifespan of the Nazi government: for every one metre of building above ground in modern-day Berlin, there are three metres below ground.
Michael Ubaldi, July 13, 2003.
Now then: who's the regular from Darmstadt, Germany? That you, tanker Sergeant from Canastota?
E-mail me if you're bashful. I'm curious.