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Jim At The Republican Convention (1972)

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I promised nothing political on this blog, and I plan to keep that promise, but this is more a funny story than a political one.

In 1972, I was going to college in Boca Raton during the time of the presidential election. Richard Nixon was running for re-election against George McGovern. My assignment for class was to write a paper on the graphics of campaign literature, so my roommate and I drove down to Lauderdale to get some signs and pamphlets at various political headquarters.

At a Republican senator’s HQ, we were picking up some pamphlets when a well-dressed guy came up and said, “Hey; are you college students?” and we said we were art students. Then he asked, “Going to the convention tonight?” He was referring to the Republican National Convention in Miami. We said, “No.”

This friendly guy said, “Tell you what: Get a bunch of your friends together and we’ll send a bus up to Boca and you can attend the convention. We’ll even give you hot dogs and Cokes on the way down, and maybe some beer on the way back!” My friend and I were amazed. We looked pretty scruffy, being art students in those days. I was skinny, wore wire-rim glasses, big sideburns and a pony tail and my friend had an Afro. I said, “I couldn’t dress for it; my suit’s over in Naples.” The friendly man said, “No problem; casual is fine! The more casual the better!” So we agreed to go and spent the afternoon rounding up a dozen or so friends to go on this insane jaunt. We didn’t care much about the election but we thought the convention would be fun to see. The bus came, and away to Miami we went.

At the convention, we were given very good seats on the balcony overlooking the speaker’s podium. The curtains behind the podium blew wide as President Nixon’s helicopter landed, and he came to the podium waving his V signs with both hands. My friends and I were having a great time.

A few minutes into his speech, President Nixon– reading from his notes on the pre-teleprompter lectern– looks up, points to my friends and me, and says something like, “And you long-haired anti-American radicals, who burn flags and don’t support our military . . .” and the whole place just goes nuts!

My friends and I were stunned. We weren’t in the least political but we did have long hair. A bunch of crew-cutted Young Republicans in suits on either side of us began yelling at us and shaking their fists and we felt very uncomfortable.

As the president went on with his speech, we realized we’d been set up!!! We were window dressing; some operative probably had an assignment to get a certain number of seats filled by hippies so the president would have someone to point at.

The photo here is from the Net. Inside the red circle is yours truly, with big sideburns, a ponytail and his best Gant shirt. This photo looks to be from after our moment of infamy, as I appear to be talking to one of the Young Republicans at the time the photo was taken.

John Buscema: Giant Artist, Giant Heart

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As a high-school kid, I’d fly up from Naples to New York City in the summers to do what I could at the comic-book publishers there. DC and Marvel were the biggies. DC was at 575 Lexington Avenue, and they wouldn’t give me the time of day; they were corporate. Marvel, over at 635 Madison Avenue, was more welcoming.

The wonderful man who took me under his wing, for some reason, was John Buscema. He was big, bearded and a bit scary at first to a green kid. And, man was I green. Within a few minutes, though, I realized that Mr. Buscema, in spite of his being a “real” comics artist– and one of the very best– was also a sweetheart and remembered what being green felt like. I worshiped him. I don’t know if he usually worked at the Marvel office, or was just there hanging out, but I was glad he was around!

He didn’t give me a lot to do and what I did do I probably did to excess. I bought an electric eraser and some various eraser sticks for it and reported in every day. I remember cringing whenever I saw a Jack Kirby page ready for erasing after being inked. Mr. Kirby drew with the softest pencil imaginable on a plate-finish board and it was all a smudgy grey-graphite mess for me to clean up!

The prime memory I have of that time was the day artist Gil Kane came to the “Marvel Bullpen,” which wasn’t a bullpen at all. I worked in a crowded closet using a cardboard box for a drawing table. Mr. Kane sat at one of the real drafting tables in the bigger room and started roughing out something in pencil. I sneaked over to watch, and was stunned. Kane could draw faster than I could think. It shattered me. I slunk back to my little closet and burst into tears. Here’s one of Kane’s rough sketches found on the Web:

Mr. Buscema found me and sat me down for a lecture: “Jimmy, we get paid by the page, not by the hour; no salary in this business. Gil’s fast and good because he’s smart and talented, but also because he’s been doing this for 25 years. Don’t over-react; you’ll get there.”

But I knew in my heart that no; I would never get there. I didn’t want it bad enough. As I went back to Newark that evening I knew my comic-book career was over before it really started. But I also knew that I had gained a friend who was a rare person; a giant with a giant heart.

John Buscema was called the Michelangelo of comics and take a look at some of his work to see why. His anatomy’s as good as Kubert’s and his ability to frame a scene is almost scary. He also had some of Jack Kirby’s ability to convey power and force:

A wonderful man; best known today, I guess, for his work on the early Silver Surfer and Conan the Barbarian.

The wonderful coloring on this Buscema Conan drawing is by a fellow in Morocco who goes by the name of bekkouri, and he did a stunning job:

And I still have my old electric eraser:

Flying Boats

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My dad was in love with the idea of flying boats; we’ve seen photos of his small float plane earlier in this blog. In this photo, taken by him in 1958, we see a Catalina PBY flying boat which was then owned by the Brazilian Air Force. It was in the U.S. being converted to a cargo plane; the plane itself was probably built in 1944. I don’t know where this was taken, but it was probably an airfield in Texas (NOTE: Please see Bill Bailey’s comment; this was taken at New Orleans Lakefront Airport in front of the Pan-Air hangar):

These planes are large; the photo doesn’t convey a sense of scale. The lovely blue-and-white plane also shown is a Piaggio P-136-L1 seaplane, and it isn’t small. I’m willing to bet Dad was there trying to buy that smaller plane when he took the photo.

This photo below gives a better idea of the size of a Catalina PBY; these two men are standing on the horizontal and vertical stabilizers of a Catalina; the rudder of the plane is missing:

Dad wanted to own one of these planes in a bad way; the second photo was taken by either my dad or me at an airplane graveyard out West. I was dragged there by my dad on a search for a PBY he could buy, but that’s a story for another day. Today, we’re discussing one particular aircraft.

Here’s what I found on the Net.

This PBY was in air-force service in Brazil until the late 1980s, from what I can find. Here’s the same plane seen in the first photo above, wearing a different paint livery:

Planes can have a very long service life, as we are seeing today! At some point in the last 20 years, this Catalina was purchased by the U.S. Navy and given a new registration. U.S. planes have a reg number with the letter N in front of the numbers; Brazilian aircraft use two letters in front of their registration numbers, but they all start with a P.

In this final photo, we see the same plane recently, being lovingly restored by volunteers at Floyd Bennett Field, in Brooklyn, New York. She’s currently at the National Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, Florida, though she was in Long Beach, California for at least a while. Pretty cool for a plane that’s at least 68 years old. I’ll try to find a photo showing the plane after this restoration.

Ladies And Gentlemen . . . The Beatles! And A Theory!

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When The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night, February 9, 1964, it was a very big deal, at least to the kids in this country. Our family was living in Fernandina Beach, Florida, and for once, I put my foot down and told my mom we had to have a new TV. Our old one had conked out a couple of months before, and I wanted to see and hear The Beatles on TV.


At that point, I was on the fence about whether I liked them or not, but I wasn’t going to miss out on the chance to see them and make up my mind. Amazingly, my mom caved in and bought us a new GE 19″ portable, and, of course, it was a black-and-white set, with the nifty stand as shown in this ad. Television wasn’t usually in color in those days; the first primetime TV season broadcast totally in color wasn’t until 1966.

This was arguably the most important television session The Fabs ever did; it was their first chance to perform in the United States and Ed Sullivan was the (then) most popular show on TV.

Now here is something I think is pretty obvious, but I’ve never seen it written about or discussed elsewhere: I firmly believe John’s mike went out on him during the last song (I Wanna Hold Your Hand). The key to this: Watch George! I can hear the audio change about 11:22 in this clip and after that point, all I hear in the vocal mix is Paul. I also think you can see at about 11:55 George is starting to realize something is amiss. If you don’t want to watch the whole clip, just move the slider at the bottom of the view to the time markers I indicate!

Listen carefully to the vocals beginning at 11:58; that should be a two-part harmony but all you can hear is Paul’s part.

I contend that George realizes at about 12:00 that John’s singing into a dead mike and starts laughing at about 12:05.

No matter; they sounded great and by the end of that show, The Beatles had done what they had set out to do: Become the first British rock-and-roll band to be taken seriously by U.S. kids. As for me, I was convinced The Beatles were something new, different and exciting, and thus began my quest to switch from playing an alto saxophone to an electric guitar.

That theater, on Broadway between West 53rd and West 54th in Manhattan, has a wonderful history. Opened in 1927 as Hammerstein’s Theater, it was converted in 1950 to use for television and was renamed CBS-TV Studio 50. Now it’s called the Ed Sullivan Theater and it’s home to David Letterman’s Late Show.

Fernandina Beach Long Ago

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Here are some old photos of Fernandina Beach, Florida, where my brother and I were born, and where we lived during the summers as kids. Our family’s farm is on the mainland, in Callahan, which is about 25 miles away. My grandmother lived there and there were always a few uncles, aunts and cousins around. These photos are from about 1958.

First we have a random street scene from the late 1950s. Most of these homes are now gleaming jewels, but in those days many Florida beach towns were more hardscrabble, rather down-at-the-heels compared to what they are now.

Here are some fishing boats at the Fernandina docks. These are probably shrimp boats, because about the only time my mom would take us to the docks was when she was buying shrimp.

Speaking of my mom, here she is walking to the car from the old Post Office, which isn’t shown in this photo. I’d love to have one of those old cars in the background!

Another dock scene. I don’t know what that building is at the end of the dock, but the electric sign says it’s open for business. Probably a seafood shack.

Last photo: Here’s the old Fernandina train depot, which I believe is now a visitor’s center. This photo isn’t as old as the others; probably from 1977 or so. By the time this was taken, the city fathers were snazzing up the place; especially the downtown area. They renamed the main drag Centre Street and the shops began trading to the increasingly large number of tourists.

Fernandina was a cool place to grow up, as it had an old pre-Civil War fort, Fort Clinch, on the north end of the island. It was closed to the public in those years, but my great-uncle was the curator and administrator for it and he’d let us in to play and explore as long as we were careful. Outside the walls of the fort was the best place to crab using chicken necks on a string. At night it was spooky sitting there waiting for the crabs to bite; the abandoned fort’s walls looming behind us creeped us out.

Big Camera and a Whirler!

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Here’s the business end of the largest camera I ever used on a regular basis. It was a two-room Robertson copy camera. The camera back and digital controls were in a small lightproof room behind this one. The camera could take 48″ x 48″ sheets of film on its vacuum film plate.

The front end of the camera, seen here, had a 10-foot bellows that extended on the overhead beams and the vertical image/copy holder (not shown because I was standing right in front of it) could hold a paper or film sheet between glass, vacuumed flat, up to 15 feet wide by six feet high. The halogen lights shown illuminated the copy. This camera was at Martel Labs in St. Pete, Florida, where I ran the 26-person photo lab for a few years. The camera operator is shown changing lenses.

If you needed to shoot onto a piece of film larger than 48″ x 48″, you could reverse the lens to turn the camera into “blowback” mode, but I personally never used the thing that way.

This was a super-expensive piece of gear; we used it for copying engineering or cartographic imagery. Our sister company, Chicago Aerial Survey, had a larger camera, believe it or not. Made by the Brown Camera company, it was vertical and two or three stories high. At the time I worked for Martel, my understanding was that the vertical camera at CAS was the largest camera in the world.

Here’s another piece of gear most folks have never seen: a vertical emulsion whirler. Because of the weird photographic stuff we did at Martel, much of which was classified, we often had to make our own film. You can’t imagine the exotic chemistry we cooked up in this room. The film emulsions were so sensitive that we couldn’t use red lights, as in most darkrooms; we had to use dim green lights to work in.

Anyway, this vertical whirler wasn’t completely vertical, but it replaced a horizontal one we had been using earlier. The sheet film shown is probably 80″ x 64″ and hasn’t been vacuumed totally flat yet; that took about 15 minutes to do.

Once the plastic sheet was absolutely flat, the operator could flow the custom emulsion onto the rotating sheet and the slow rotation of the film bed would flatten the emulsion on the substrate. The tubular arm shown would blow a gentle flow of heated air onto the gummy emulsion, baking it onto the sheet and, after 45 minutes or so, you’d have a piece of film ready for whatever you needed it for. Usually it was used in a giant contact frame for duping large images from negs or positive film.

It Was 20 Years Ago Today!

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Actually, it was 25 years ago, but what the heck! Here are some photos of the family when we lived on North Manhattan Avenue in Tampa.

Colleen is shown here watching one of her then-favorite shows, Miami Vice. Not quite sure what a three-year-old got from watching that, but I expect she loved the music and the action of it. I love Neenie’s expression here; the photo itself isn’t all that great.

Next we have Aaron in his wading pool in the backyard. The colors are just so vivid in this Kodachrome photo. Gosh, I do miss Kodachrome film! Paul Simon had it right when he sang:

Kodachrome
You give us those nice bright colors
You give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah!
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So Mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away”

It wasn’t Mama that took our Kodachrome away, but the digital-camera revolution.

The camera used here was my Nikon Nikkormat FT3, which, in my experience, had the best internal light meter of any SLR I ever used. Nothing else ever came even close.

We wind up with a Christmas-time photo taken at Patty’s brother Billy’s house in Brandon, Florida in 1986. When I posted this photo on Facebook without specifying the location where it was taken, my sister-in-law Sheila immediately commented, “Hey; that was our couch!” Yes; Sheila; it certainly was.

Shown are Neenie, Aaron and Patty.

Boy Howdy!

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That’s an expression I’ve always used; seems to me I first heard it said as a kid in Texas.

Much later, in Naples, Florida, some of my friends and I culminated our series of bands with a lineup of John Klingler and Don Spicer on guitars, Mike Collins on drums, and yours truly on bass. We all contributed vocals and other folks came and went as time went on. We called the band Boy Howdy and we played rock, blues, Dylan, Cream, Allman Brothers and Mountain covers and whatever else we could handle.

We played the Naples Teen Center and some parties, but our regular gig was at Al Bolton’s Aquarium Bar on the Trail in East Naples, so named because he had a couple of large built-in freshwater aquariums with a giant Oscar fish in each.

The clientele was an uneasy combination of migrant workers, kids and bikers. Sometimes fights broke out and the bouncer, a gentle giant named Pabst, would settle things by falling on the miscreants like a felled oak tree. The bar was in an old Quonset hut but the acoustics were good. We played a couple of nights a week.

The Boy Howdy Band, or part of it, is shown in this photo recently sent to me by my still-best friend, John Klingler. He’s the one on the left in this photo, the drummer is Mike Collins, and I’m on the right on bass, with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth! John’s sister, Jean, found the photo somewhere.

 Taken on the evening of June 9, 1973 as we celebrated John’s 21st birthday; notice the Boy Howdy drumhead and period posters!!!

That’s why the Robert Crumb-created Boy Howdy figure is at the top of this blog. We saw that drawing as the mascot for Creem magazine and decided we’d use it, too.

John remembers some Aquarium bar madness:

Patrons of Al’s might recall an air hockey table very near the stage with a black light over it. The puck would glow, which was quite disconcerting in its own right. I shudder to think of the number of times that puck would fly off the table and hit me while we were playing. And I was on the opposite side of the stage. BTW, not present in the photo was the other guitar player in the group, Don Spicer.”

The Pleasure Was All Mine

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When I was in high school, I was recruited from a two-week stint at Winn Dixie to Publix Supermarkets (Where Shopping is a Pleasure!) by Bob DeVille, who managed the Naples store and was one of the smartest men I’ve ever known. He came to our house and told my mom and dad I would be better off working for him. I ended up spending 14 years at Publix, though I often got frustrated and quit. Mr. DeVille would wait a month or so and then call me up to see if I’d calmed down and was ready to return. I usually did.

I got into the produce department because I had read that an agricultural job could keep you from being drafted and sent to Viet Nam. After I while, I was transferred to Tampa and eventually I got my own produce department in a tiny art-deco Publix on Nebraska Avenue. I loved that store and the staff and customers. Patty and I were just married, and I was happy to have a job during a tough recession.

I’d work hard to make creative displays, using hand-lettered signs and the contrasts in colors and shapes of the produce to create excitement and interest. Fresh produce wasn’t a big deal at that time, and most of the unusual stuff I tried to sell didn’t. I’d have recipe cards and samples available but folks didn’t want to know what a Kiwi fruit was or to give a carambola a try. I was lucky to sell half a case of romaine to every twenty cases of iceburg lettuce.

Working in a supermarket was a great way to learn what ads worked and what ads didn’t; what displays moved merchandise and what displays didn’t, and I was lucky enough to work for a store manager who let me try anything that I dreamed up. I’d draw little graphs of where people stopped in my little department, what they put in their shopping cart and what they didn’t.

On the side, I’d do freelance writing, photography and graphics, and when I made more money one year doing that than I did at Publix, I left for good. But I learned a lot and met Patty there, and consider myself most lucky for the experience.

Tom Edison’s Wild Ride

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Sure, Edison is the light bulb and phonograph guy, but he also evidently appreciated nice cars. He used to go camping with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, after all, and they’d sometimes let President Warren Harding come along.

Shown here is a photo I took in 1973 of a car at Edison’s Fort Myers, Florida, home and lab. It’s a 1930s Brewster-bodied Ford Town Car. I just love the sweeping lines of that radiator shell. If I remember correctly, Edison’s son, Charles, later drove this car when he was governor of New Jersey and Secretary of the Navy. There were several of Edison’s cars there, including electric ones he had developed, but this one was my favorite.

One thing that struck me when I visited this wonderful site is that several light bulbs that Edison built by hand have been burning there continuously since about 1910 or so. Granted, they are big, low-wattage bulbs but a light bulb that can burn for over 100 years is an amazing thing to see. Also, his first phonograph is there. Since Edison was stone deaf, he had to bite the wooden case of the thing to see if his invention worked or not. You can see his teethmarks in the woodwork.

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