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Sally Forth: Poster Child, Poster Adult

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on November 12, 2017

With the exception of time for air travel, from mid-October until now Sally Forth has taken place on a single day. That is almost certainly the longest “comic day” in the strip’s history (unless you count the time I wrote a three-month-long story about the day Ted Forth’s escaped enemy spies only to realize I was in the middle of a high-fever dream and had actually never written it at all).

And as in the strip, a great deal happened the day my father passed. And only at that day’s end—after the call from the hospital, after the gathering of relatives, after the talking with the hospital staff about our options, after my dad’s eventual passing, and after finding and visiting the funeral home to make all necessary arrangements—did I realize how much had occurred within a few hours.

Then suddenly, it stopped. There was nothing left to do but wait until the funeral. And so that night I went back with my brother to our childhood home. (Not yet knowing then this would eventually lead to the start of my saying, “I’m visiting my Mom” instead of “I’m visiting my folks.”) And like Ted says, everything in the house was both the same and different. It’s as if you had been nudged a few inches to the left and now you had a strange new perspective on the familiar.

My old room had long ago been turned into my dad’s home office/hoarding central. (And my brother’s room turned into the guest room.) But the wall of my old room is very much trapped in amber, featuring the same photos, artwork, and my brother’s initials which he had carved into the wood as a kid in an act that I can only describe as 70s claim-jumping. Of course, not everything remains. For starters, the Farrah Fawcett poster is long gone, which was fine since I wasn’t the one who put it up in the first place. And naturally most of the old furniture has been replaced with file cabinets. On the other hand, the bookshelf still holds some of my old toys and my collection of Star Wars Dixie Cups, which was a thing that happened and a ten-year-old me immediately decided he must have.

The R.E.M. poster (seen on the left in my previous apartment) wasn’t there, because I didn’t get into the band until college. Though once I started listening to them I never stopped (well, until the Up album), to the point that my constant playing of Lifes Rich Pageant—and The Smiths Louder Than Bombs—is something for which I still need to apologize to my roommate Andrew. (Side Note: Remember the Kevin Mitnick hacking scandal in 1995? Andrew was one of the very first people to raise the alarm.) I came across the poster during a junior year fall-break trip with friends. It was a limited edition, it was the first such poster I had ever purchased, and apparently it was inadvertently my last shot at an investment before the world’s economy collapsed.

On the last day of that trip, Tuesday, October 20th, we were heading back to Duke, our group split between two cars. One car went straight back. Ours stopped by a nearby dump to deposit the trash from the four-day weekend, only to then realize the car would no longer start. And so two of our friends—Tony and Charlie (Charlene, and combine their names, first and surname, to get the news reporter Toni Bowen in Judge Parker) went off to find a phone to call for a help (this being way before cellphones but way after civilization had spread far enough that apparently shouting did not work). When they eventually returned we learned two things: 1) Tony and Charlie had come across a diner, wherein they placed a call only after leisurely enjoying some homemade blueberry pie and 2) Something apparently had happened just the day before, thanks to a newspaper they brought back with them from the diner.

But as I said, fortunately I had thought ahead and started diversifying my investment portfolio with concert posters (and Star Wars Dixie Cups). That poster remained in all my dorm rooms, in my various apartments, and eventually in Ted Forth’s childhood bedroom.

In college the poster was a musical taste statement. In my apartments it was happy nostalgia (and a reminder of the volatility of stocks). In the comic it’s a little detail in a larger life. Our treasured possessions change in meaning over the course of our lives. Our surroundings, when they don’t change completely, keep changing in appearance even when not a single piece of furniture has been moved. It was my home, now it’s my childhood home. It’s where my folks live and now its where my mom lives. It’s still home, I just keep looking at it from different angles.


Sally Forth: Thank God for the Rabbi

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on November 11, 2017

As I have mentioned throughout the current Sally Forth strips, most points on this story arc were informed by my own experiences when my dad passed away last November. Some were based on location. (Almost all events occurred within the hallway of the palliative wing.) Others on particular issues. (No prior funeral arrangement had been made.) And some on various people’s quirks. (My mom saying hospital sandwiches are way too expensive and promising somehow she’d make us lunch right there with what I could only imagine would have involved vending machine corn chips and gauze.)

But on one occasion I lifted the dialogue verbatim from real life. Once everything had come to pass, once I had finished scanning Google for a funeral home, and once I had chosen a casket and decided on various other details, it came time to discuss payment. Now, I must stress that the funeral director I worked with was exceedingly helpful and patient. And while I know that is the product of a professional demeanor and it is in their interest to behave as such, I did not experience any of the very hard-sell tactics or ghoulish indifference you witness when a funeral home is portrayed on TV (Six Feet Under aside).

So when the entire itemized bill was presented—and I hid it from my Mom who was so worried about how much it would cost me that I thought just saying, “I chose a casket” would draw the response “You did what?!?”—I asked the funeral director about payment. The director—who like the one in the strip kept referring to me my first name almost certainly to humanize the process and not make it a simple transaction—said exactly as follows…

Please note, at no point did I take that as either cold or thoughtless. On the contrary, I thought the complete opposite. This was actually sound advice. But his very direct, and I say again helpful, response did stop me for a moment until I had the same exchange with him as Ted does in the third panel.

This was not the only time I received such financial feedback that day. After my dad passed away but we were still in the hospital, the staff went to locate a priest to speak to the gathered family. (One had visited earlier to give last rights). However, they couldn’t find one, so they sent a rabbi instead. And to say he was the nicest, most straightforward yet humorous person we had met at a time we need that the most doesn’t begin to describe it. He came into the room, immediately got a read on how fractious (read: Italian) things were, and addressed it promptly and thoughtfully, calming almost everyone with a few moments. He was so helpful, in fact, that my Mom later asked if he could preside over my dad’s funeral. But both the funeral home and cemetery were Catholic (that my family has almost no idea how to be Catholic except to put up a Christmas tree and maybe exclaim in Yiddish when an ornament breaks will be explained in another post), and so that couldn’t come to pass.

But at the very end of his talk he implored not to let the emotion of the day be used against us so that we end up spending far more than necessary on funeral arrangements. He broke down a little cost analysis, stressed money would not serve as a balm, and reiterated that the most important thing was mending fences (read: Italian) and being there for each other. And I will admit—and I’m going to buy whatever excuse I can get saying this by mentioning that we’re a quarter-Jewish—that when he said all this my first thought after thinking “Thank you” was “Did the rabbi just tell us not to pay retail?” And yes, I did consider putting that in the strip, but there was no way it wouldn’t have come across as a bad joke. (And if for some reason you need to know what religion the Forths are—and you don’t—let’s just say they’re non-practicing Mithraists.)

Now, when it comes to funeral costs within the strip’s storyline, a few people have asked a variation of the same question—”Why aren’t Ted’s four brothers helping with the planning or finances?” And it’s a very good and reasonable question. It’s also one I did not forget to take into consideration. But in the end I chose to put all such responsibilities on Ted’s shoulders for five reasons:

1. When you get right down to it, this is a story about Ted and his father. It’s his journey saying goodbye while dealing with the aftermath of a complicated relationship. To bring all the brothers into the decision-making process would have greatly diminished that. Plus, readers know Ted, not his siblings, and so I wanted them to see the story through his eyes.

2. To include all the brothers (five in total with Ted) in the planning, to have them all participate, would have greatly increased the number of strips needed to complete this story. I understand that this is a tough story for some, especially those who look to a comic strip for escape and not reflection, and I did not wish to extend it further than what I thought was necessary.

3. It has been previously mentioned that three of Ted’s four brothers are going through divorces, meaning they would not presently have the money to help with funeral costs. The fourth brother has a history of inconsistent employment because I just thought of that right now, and so would in no way be able to help.

4. In my experience—and those who I talked to before writing this story—often one person takes charge of everything. Sometimes this is, as mentioned, a matter of finances. Sometimes it’s because things move much faster and smoother if one person is in charge. And sometimes, well, others can be all to quick to say, “You got this? Oh good.”

5. We can only fit so many characters in these small panels. In short, to have all the brothers involved would have looked like Flanders’ overcrowded bomb “shelterini.”

And should anyone be wondering, yes, I listened to the rabbi. And yes, my credit card company gave me a lot of points that day.

Or I Can Get a Gryphon

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on November 9, 2017

The catalog on the right—from the World Wildlife Fund—arrives every year at this time. And yet late one night when I was clearly tired but apparently determined to screw with my circadian rhythm by staying up past reason, I looked sleepy-eyed at its cover only to read “WTF Gifts” instead of “WWF Gifts.” And it was in that half-second I immediately thought, “Wait, can we actually get an elephant?”

I had held off getting a pet of any kind after my cat Natasha passed away in 2010. (Her brother Boris made it to 2007 and yes, I know what you are thinking. They were indeed named after characters in War and Peace. Well, they were named after cartoon characters who were named after characters in War and Peace, but the connection still holds.) For several years I knew that not only wasn’t I ready to have a cat or dog but also that any pet I would get would unfairly be compared to the very two that had seen me through my 20s and 30s. (“That’s not how Boris would sit on my pizza! Here, let me show you…”) But when I went looking to buy an apartment (a phrase I thought I would only ever end with “before I woke up”), I had a feeling a new home meant new roommates who once again were not going to chip in for food or Star Wars paraphernalia.

So every time I went to an open house my first question was “Does this building allow cats and dogs?” (I wanted to keep my options open). And almost always the answer was “You can have a cat.” Not always “cats” but “cat.” And practically never dogs. The number of New York City apartment buildings that allow dogs—and perhaps this is common in other cities—don’t even come close to those that allow cats. Perhaps it’s a noise issue. Perhaps it’s an insurance/liability issue, because this being Manhattan if your French Bulldog even appears threatening in an elevator because it quietly belched you, the co-op, and the unfortunate pizza delivery guy who was riding up with you would all be sued. Or perhaps while dogs constantly require tenants’ attention cats remain out of sight, silently judging everyone in the building. And there’s just something very human about that to which we can all relate.

Of course, there are ways buildings can exclude practically every type of pet without saying such. One broker showing an apartment said the building allowed pets up to 9 pounds, which means you could either get a cat whose every spoonful you had to monitor until it developed an eating disorder known as “clawing your genitals at 3 am” or a breed of dog commonly known as “plush doll.” On the other hand, another building allowed pets up to “35 pounds” which, although clearly a reference to the size of dog, immediately had me wondering if I could adopt a baby cougar. I’m not sure what I would have done when the cougar became a full-grown adult weighing in at 200 lbs. Maybe sell everything, get an old Vincent Black Shadow, and ride across the country. After all, what better travel companion is there than a beloved pet who already has your hand and forearm in its mouth.

The search to buy a place in Manhattan is a long process in which, depending on your location in the city, means you can either purchase someone else’s hall closet or move to “Greater Brooklyn,” also known as “Nova Scotia.” But after several months during which I drove my real estate agent insane I did find the perfect place—a place with lots of room, view of the river and bridge, and quiet like a small town but with a subway station very nearby for when all the silence drove me batshit nuts. And in my usual fashion I thought I derailed it all.

The person showing the apartment was also a member of the co-op where I now reside, so it was important to make at least an amiable impression if I liked the place. And it started innocently enough with my standard question…

Me: Does the co-op allow dogs and cats?

Broker: Oh, the co-op is extremely pet friendly. They allow every animal.

Me: …did you say “every animal”?

Broker: Oh yes. Not only are we the oldest still-operating co-op building in Manhattan (Editor Note: I immediately feared a Rosemary’s Baby scenario vibe after moving in but that never came to pass) but we are perhaps the most animal friendly as well.

Me: So every animal?

Broker: Yes.

Me: So—I’m just thinking out loud here—could I, say, adopt a pygmy goat?

And that’s when I thought, “Ces, you f***ing idiot. Not everything has to be a joke.” It’s also when I assumed the broker would give me a tight, small smile that says, “Why do I get all the ones who think they’re comedians?” and politely escort me not only out of the building but all of upper Manhattan. Not to mention that the momentary silence certainly didn’t make me consider otherwise. But after a few beats the broker spoke up.

Broker: Well…because of the goat’s hooves you would need to carpet the entire apartment.

Me: I’m sorry, what?

Broker: Oh yes. You have to consider your downstairs neighbors. You would need some rather thick carpeting.

Me: Wait, wait, wait…Are you saying I could have a pet pygmy goat?

Broker: Well, if you’re willing to cover all the hardwood flooring and promise to maintain a very clean environment…

Me: Wait, you’re…you’re serious. You are serious, right? Because I’m on the verge of making a giant fiasco of a lifestyle choice.

Broker: Do…do you already have a goat lined up?

And it was at this point my real estate agent steered me away from the topic like someone grabbing the wheel as the driver hydroplanes towards a mushroom cloud. Actually, she thought it was best if I didn’t speak at all during showings. So no, I did not get my pygmy goat. Instead I now reside with these two lunatics:

And I think that is for the best.

Medium Large Comic: Thursday, November 9, 2017

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on November 9, 2017

Sally Forth: And So I Googled…

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on November 8, 2017

As many of you may know by now, the current Sally Forth story arc is a in memoriam/grieving process/farewell (but one never truly says goodbye) to my father, Frank Marciuliano, who passed away last November.

It has been a break from the strip’s usual humor (or usual attempt at humor), building not only on a story that started last Christmas but on a relationship that has been portrayed in the comic for almost as many years as I’ve been writing it. For many, it has been a cathartic experience and healing process, as readers have shared their own experiences and hopefully found a community of individuals who have lost a loved one but hopefully have found they are not alone when it comes to handling grief and the months/years afterwards. For others, it has been an unfunny, unending slog that has generated such comments as “Comics should only be funny. Period.” “This is not what I want to see first thing in the morning.” And “You should be ashamed of yourselves.”

To the former group, thank you very, very much for opening up to us, for reading, and for understanding what we hoped to achieve. To the latter group, I completely understand. Many people view entertainment as a means of escape from reality, not a reminder. And we cannot nor should not tell them they should perceive our work.

Now, I have found that sometimes when a show/movie/strip tackles the concept of death, often the passing is the closing chapter to the story. And in that sense seeing Ted and his mother hug in the long empty hallway should be the closure for both that arc and the characters. (Please see Jim Keefe’s wonderful post on how he drew that very strip.) But as anyone who has lost a loved one knows, that is the start of the next process. For just when you need the time to grieve, to try to grasp what has happened, that is precisely when you have to go into overdrive and address one necessity after another.

Like I said, this is based on my own experiences. It is informed by what happened to me. And so like Ted, I had to Google funeral homes almost immediately after my Dad passed away.

This is in part because just like Ted’s parents, my own never made any plans for what is, alas, the inevitable, healthy or not. In fact, my dad stonewalled any attempt to discuss such. And I understand why someone would not care to discuss such. It’s by far one of the least pleasant topics. And in some way we all need to think ourselves indestructible to get through certain periods in our lives. But it is something that has to not only be talked about but actually addressed. So a little over ten years ago I tried to broach the subject with my dad.

It did not come out of the blue. (“Can you believe this weather? By the way…”) And it was not done without a great deal of hesitation. (“Weather…weather…whether you wan’t to talk about this or not…”) But once the conversation started it almost immediately, repeatedly fell apart. Nothing was every resolved nor put into motion. There were no plans. That’s in part because my dad never liked to look forward. Planning. predicting, and preparing were not his strong suits because the future is by definition uncertain and so intimidating to some, not to mention where it all leads in the end. And it’s also in part because my dad did not believe he would die. I don’t mean not soon, I mean as in never. Logically I am sure he knew that wasn’t the case, but every conversation indicated my dad was holding on to the concept of immortality minus the vampirism or Doctor Who intervention. And so Ted’s mom’s dialogue (especially in the third panel) in the following comic is about as true of a representation of my dad’s philosophy as I could show.

But it is an important conversation to have. You do not want to be scrambling afterwards. I managed to get everything working in the end but, like Ted, it involved betting on a Google algorithm and suddenly finding myself reading Yelp-like reviews for funeral homes which do exist, do discuss service, and do let you know this is all going to be strange for a little while longer.

Medium Large Comic: Monday, November 6, 2017

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on November 6, 2017

He’s the Man: On Accidentally Watching The Six Million Dollar Man

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on November 5, 2017

Every so often—whether because it’s been a hectic day, the news just continues to get worse with each tweet or simply because we just want to—Stacey and I will watch old Columbo episodes on Cozi TV. (Which can best be described as a rerun channel for aging Gen Xers who think those teens outside are up to no good.)

Sometimes we will tune in a few minutes early and accidentally catch the end of The Six Million Dollar Man. (A show I have previously mentioned I loved as a kid.) Now, I assumed the closing credits music to the show were always a simple replay/reworking of the opening theme music. But not so, as last night we caught the end to the 1973 television pilot movie Wine, Women & War: The Six Million Dollar Man Story, which is not only without a doubt the greatest worst alliterative title for anything everywhere—unless they are currently working on the script for Spongebob Squarepants Salò—but also an absolutely bizarre attempt at piggybacking on the success of James Bonds movies, especially for something that would turn into a series about slow-motion camerawork and turtleneck/blazer combos. (Editor/Writer/My Note: Yes, we watched an old Columbo episode—well two—on a Saturday night. But one of them starred Leonard Nimoy and the other Laurence Harvey. Plus, we went out Thursday and Friday night, though. Wow, this is oddly defensive.)

And that very not-quite Bond-feel carried over to end credit sequence, as we were fortunate enough to listen to of all people the great Dusty Springfield give a full-out 70s white funk as she belted out “He’s the Man,” a song penned by Glen A. Larson, known for creating a whole host of 70s TV programming including Battlestar Galactica, Magnum P.I., Quincy M.E., Knight Rider, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, starring Gil Gerard, who my friend Sean Lynch once described as “When you wanted Lee Majors at rockbottom prices.” Not only that, but during my research (that word had such nobility once) I learned it was also the opening credit music, which is a far more appropriate Bond homage/lift.

So enjoy and let the magic wash over you as Colonel Steve Austin runs towards in direct violation of the edict “Don’t accidentally parody your own hero.”

And since the closing credit version will remind you of it anyway…

Medium Large Comic: Friday, November 3, 2017

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on November 3, 2017

He’s Back…

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on November 1, 2017

The Four Types of Clowns

Posted in Uncategorized by cesco7 on November 1, 2017

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