Notes From The Ol’ Scout

Notes From The Ol’ Scout

Trump’s Latest

September 8, 2020

My wife is a veteran. Nadine dislikes claiming that because her records were lost in a fire many years ago. My partner-in-YEET Mike is a veteran. Several of my uncles and cousins were in the military. Obviously because my right arm was amputated when I was 13 days old I was never in the military and since the Vietnam War was raging when I was in college I would have had hard decisions to make. Interestingly some of the harshest critics of the war I knew were veterans, just as John Kerry was. Now it turns out Donald Trump thinks that anyone buried in a military cemetery is a loser or a sucker. To the extent that he has threatened to disinherit any of his children who volunteer to serve in the military or even join the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps. 

It turns out I too have a dog in this hunt. When he was trying to produce a military parade Trump demanded that all disabled veterans be eliminated because “nobody wants to see that.” Just as he chose to attack a disabled journalist at an early press conference who had some kind of nerve affliction. So no parade for me. 

Donald Trump is our President.  Oh. My. God.


August 26, 2020

It happened in Junior High, what we all now call Middle School, in Lincoln Junior High. It was so long ago I could be logically told to ‘just get over it.’ Except that stuff about it keeps coming up. I guess I’m not very logical. 

It was that golden age of the early sixties. We were all middle class, all white, and yet we were driven to divide ourselves into cliques and classes. This was the first year we had a home room and from there sent into other specialized classrooms. This was new and looking back it probably put more stress on everyone. 

Our class’s particular home room was the gym and we met on the bleachers, girls on one side and boys on the other. We would all talk really loud, and it being a gym, it hurled back harsh roaring echoes. It wasn’t long until three of us sought a quieter space to talk and finish our homework. We were all science nerds; Ronnie was a Chemist, Mike was as close as you could get to being an electrical engineer and I was planning on being an Archaeologist (it turned out I missed that target but landed on Historian, which is not bad aiming from Junior High.) We made good friends and got a lot of homework done, but then things changed. 

The rest of the boys in class started coming up in waves of eight or ten to fight with us, scream like fiends, wrestle and… what? Drag us down? Make us sit with them? I don’t think they had a plan. We had the high ground and we were all that age and weight where we would fight for the sheer joy of fighting. (Just thought of this: back on my home turf, if we got more than seven boys in one place two of them would start a random fight. And the chanting would start: “A fight, a fight! A n-r and a white! Hit him, trip him, bite, bite, bite!” I cannot stress strongly enough we were ALL white, in fact mostly German and Swedish. I don’t think any of us even knew anyone Black. But there you go. You don’t need to know people to hate them. We would fight them off and it would be over, until the next day. 

Then one day at an assembly we were shown a film strip on India, with an emphasis on the Caste System with its prejudice against the lowest Untouchable Caste. I think the idea was to show us the Caste System was wrong. It didn’t work out that way. From that moment, by general consent, Ronnie, Mike and I were all Untouchables. And in an odd twist the fights changed. Not always, but often, two or three of the larger group were deputized to fight us. Again, none of us were very effective fighters and nothing much happened (though my seventy year old self considers a fall from the top of those bleachers and shudders.) Our main opponents were two; Roger, a heavy set, possibly slightly older kid, who might have been autistic, and had other health issues, and Tim, who was lean, mean as a snake, and to me the personification of pure evil (once again I remind us all he was twelve.) I found them both terrifying. They were told to punish us so they wouldn’t be considered Untouchables themselves. 

On the way home one day I saw Big Roger following me. I moved towards him. He moved back. He started following me. He retreated as I approached. Months of conflict enraged me. I began to bait him, insult him. Finally he came at me. We wrestled. He collapsed and I staggered up, half unbelieving my triumph. I floated home buzzing with victory. It didn’t occur to me he might have let me win. It didn’t occur to me he might have been trying to make friends. When I blurted out all the details to my mother it occurred to her. When she wasn’t receptive to my song of victory I tried to get her to understand. Of course I had to fight him… he was an ENEMY.  She was deeply horrified. She called our Well-Intentioned but Basically Clueless Principal. He gave the home room a lecture on brotherhood and decency. Nothing changed. 

Mike broke. He made a deal. What could he do to not be an Untouchable anymore? The master class conferred. All he had to was meet the whole class (the boys) after school and lick the shoes of the three top dogs (the innocence of all this still makes me drop a jaw. It was bad enough certainly, but if we had been seniors in High School or even really past puberty it could have been so much worse). Ronnie and I were there as witnesses, quietly appalled that we were losing one of the Musketeers, but sort of envious he would be free. Mike licked the shoes, then got up off his knees and stuck out his hand, ready to begin his new life. The head guy extended his hand, then jerked it back and laughed. The whole class laughed. Of course they wouldn’t touch him. He was an Untouchable. He would be an Untouchable till the end of his Life. Choking with laughter they explained no stupid ceremony would change that. Mike stumbled off with us.

There was a coda to all this. I had never shown anyone my notebook with my drawings in it. I was much too shy for that. One day a couple of weeks later a few of the guys saw me sketching. I thought they would mock me, but they were fascinated. They were friendly. A few days later the bulk of the class approached me. I could be a regular guy. I just had to walk away from Mike and Ronnie. I turned them down. Was my Moral Sense offended? Did I  love my friends more than the Mob? Perhaps. Had the months of daily battles embittered me? Maybe a little. But mostly I just didn’t trust them. I had learned a hard lesson from all this. Once a man decides you have to lick his shoes for him to like you, he will also decide he can lie to you. Every time. Insert whatever lesson from current events you care to.

Coda number 2. I was let out of school early because Chrysler was loaning my dad to the Space Program in Huntsville Alabama. Ronnie and Mike we’re coldly furious with me for deserting them (again, we were twelve.) When I returned to Michigan in my third year of college I couldn’t find Ronnie or Mike. When I was thirty I ran into one of girls from my home room, the ones who were all the way over on the other side of the bleachers. They hadn’t even seen the fighting, or any of the world ending drama. Nothing. But she did remember Evil Tim. He died in Vietnam. 

Diana Ross

August 17, 2020

Just a couple of thoughts about Diana Ross and the peculiar nature of power. When I was going to high school in New Orleans my favorite teacher was Mr. Perkins in Social Studies (A warning: Some of these names and facts may have gotten blurry in the ensuing fifty years, but not in a way that affects my main point; at least I hope not.) I liked Mr. P because he was easy-going and snide and hated the administration as much as we did. More than we did. He talked to us like adults and we often found out what was being said in the faculty lounge and in the principal’s memos just by going to Social Studies. And he certainly didn’t hold back his opinions. We learned that the principal was a disorganized dithering idiot and that Martin Luther King was probably assassinated by the Nation of Islam. Neither of these turned out to be true, but when you’re seventeen just knowing about extreme opinions was delicious. 

One day someone laughed nastily and asked Mr. P if he had watched the Supremes on the Ed Sullivan Show the night before. “Huh,” snorted Mr. P. “That’s like watching gorillas prancing around on the stage. Why would you watch that?” I stared at him. He was utterly serious. Now I was only vaguely aware of the Ed Sullivan Show. That was what your parents watched. And girl groups in general had zero interest for me. I wasn’t even that aware of boy groups like the Beatles. Really.  I was so into monster movies and Doc Savage and James Bond and comic books and musicals there wasn’t much room for anything else. Except…. Gorillas? Now that he had my attention I could see Mr. P was just dead wrong. To me The Supremes were skinny, glossy, overproduced, frothy and really boring girls, but they were nothing like gorillas, and for the first time I realized my favorite teacher wasn’t just exaggerating for effect. He was  seeing things.

And of course he was not alone. In every class we were a captive audience for the occasional random and wacky opinions of our teachers. We were told that US soldiers were ordered not to shoot Viet Cong, that ugly women had two inch hairs growing out of their ears and nostrils, that Chinese people ate sod, that surfers were secret nazis because of the surfers’ crosses they wore, that Jews were rich and ran everything , that Jews were poor and stole everything, that Jews were forbidden by the Jewish Mafia to celebrate Christmas, that sucking on pencils would give you blood cancer, that toilet seats could give you gangrene of the testicles and when we got to college we would all have to wear suits and ties and write everything with ballpoint pens (not in the sixties when I  got to college!). And of course that every act of disobedience would go straight into our permanent record.

I naturally didn’t stand up in class and tell Mr. P his opinion about the Supremes was nuts. The Ed Sullivan Show was not the hill I wanted to die on. And over the years in comics I’ve found myself in conversations with editors and publishers and powerful artists, who it was generally easier to let rattle on with some stupid opinion than to cause a scene. This was either wisdom or cowardice. I’ve done my share of arguing. Everybody has an opinion about, say, Trump and everyone knows what I think at this point. I am at least a little well known and there is a temptation to go to dinner parties and hold forth and MAKE people listen to me. Make them squirm for a change. But I remember what it felt like to have to swallow your opinion. It’s tastes like bile. No point of view was ever changed by humiliation. And if someone really believes they (or their president) can permanently defy gravity, nothing I say will make the fall harder. 

I was a senior that year in High School and the next year the school was going to be integrated. Mr. Perkins said all the teachers should hang themselves. I wonder if he did. I wonder how miserable he made the lives of the Black kids coming in if he didn’t. I wonder if I should have said something.

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia

August 10, 2020

So now the amplified Social Security payments, paycheck replacements and the rest are being allowed to expire and people are apparently being forced to go back to work outside in virus dangerous environments (unlike cartoonists who can work and shelter in place) it somehow reminds me of Commodus, Marcia and the Mines of Sardinia. 

Commodus (182-193 CE) was Roman Emperor and the spoiled and way nutty son of the previous emperor Marcus Aurelius. You may remember him as the villain of the Russell Crowe movie Gladiator. His chief mistress was named Marcia. At this time unwanted female babies were exposed to the elements to die and various entrepreneurs would harvest said kids and train them as Sex Workers. Marcia came through this training and was legendarily beautiful and charismatically attractive. (A word of warning here. This was a long time ago and History, like the Movies, is written by the winners. A lot of this educated guesswork. As Historians we do the best we can.) 

Everybody liked Marcia. She worked her way through the layers of Roman officials and imperial bureaucrats and finally attracted the brass ring, the Emperor himself, Commodus, High lord perv boy. She organized his various bisexual harems and ran his orgies. She was in fact the centerpiece of his orgies. And one other thing. She was a Christian, or at the very least sympathetic to Christians. Christianity, like Judaism, was illegal. Just how illegal varied from year to year and official to official, just like today. Marcus Aurelius had been pretty stiff necked about any religion other than the official Roman one – Jupiter, Juno, vestal virgins, sacrifices to the Emperor, Hercules…that one… and Commodus was continuing his father’s ferocious persecutions, pretty much because persecutions are fun, if you ain’t the one being persecuted. 

Commodus as Hercules

Well a guy named Victor was Bishop of Rome at the time and somehow he knew Marcia was simpatico to the cause. He contacted Marcia in desperation. Several hundred Christian confessors had been rounded up and were going to be sent to the Sardinian Mines…they were essential workers, you know and for the good of the economy they needed to be worked to death. 

We don’t know exactly what Complex Philosophical Arguments Marcia used on Commodus that night but in the morning he had converted to religious toleration, at least for that day, and all the prisoners were pardoned. If Marcia had prayed for a miracle or chosen to die in the mines with them, there might be shrines to “St. Marcia” today. 

The rest of the story…? Commodus decided to appear as a gladiator in the arena dressed as Hercules and declare himself a God. This was a terrible idea and everyone including Marcia knew it. She argued against it, but Commodus hated to be opposed. He went into a drunken, self-pitying rage and scratched out a secret list of all the people who had argued against the God-thing. They were all to be executed in the morning. Marcia’s name was at top of the list. Commodus’ favorite bath boy saw the list and brought it straight to Marcia. Everyone liked Marcia. “We’ll see if a drunken sot is stronger than a sober woman,” she remarked. She put a conspiracy together and had Commodus poisoned and then strangled by his favorite wrestler, Everyone liked Marcia. 

Marcia knows she’s everyone’s favorite.

Various Grandpas

July 27, 2020

It’s always a little surprising when my bland, suburban past joins in any way with current events and I find myself saying, “Oh, wait. That’s me too.” A case in point, my biological grandfather died on the back porch of his house in 1918 from what was called ‘the Spanish Flu’. Yes, THAT pandemic. A lot of people died, so it’s not really a huge coincidence that Albert Franz Loebs and I should be bookending similar medical crises, but it is interesting.

My Grandma Nellie was left with two little kids, my dad William and my Aunt Helen. I seem to remember Nellie was employed for a time, then she remarried a rough, tough lumberjack named Otto Falk, who walked down from Canada and into the Edison Lightbulb factory, and married Nellie. Family lore is a funny thing. You know things because you’ve heard them all your life, not necessarily because they’re true. But I did see an ancient light bulb that Otto got when he left the factory and became a chicken and vegetable farmer in St. Charles Michigan.

Because I was born in 1949 I obviously never know Albert Franz. Otto was the only Grampa I ever had. He did whatever raising he could. I bit him once and he bit me back. He showed me grubs under a rotten log. He taught me to mix all my food together on my plate. “Utt all gets mixed oop in der belly anyhoo.” He tried to give me a .22 rifle. My father made me give it back. He tried to give me a switchblade knife. “It belong to a Negress in Detroit. She wore ut in her garter. Kepp you safe.” At least I think that’s what he said. His German accent was so thick I could only catch every four or five words. My father made me give it back. I think some of this was part of the life long culture war he had with my dad. God, I wanted that knife. He taught me how to find and pluck eggs from the nests in the coop and not be grossed out by the poop. Probably my most useful skill.

Both my Dad and Aunt Helen would talk about how he loved to tease them, to the extent that they would throw their buttered toast at him over breakfast in the morning. My dad was a hard and enthusiastic teaser as well. As am I. In fact it has taken me years to learn to censor myself when I’m jousting with my friends. There are too many times I meant to raise eyebrows and instead left a welt. So that is in a way an inheritance from Grampa Otto too. When he walked down…

Wait a second. If Grampa Otto really did walk south across the Canadian border to that factory would he have then been an illegal alien, taking the jobs of “real” Americans? There’s no family lore about a citizenship ceremony. I was once shown a 2000 Mark note from 1922 which would have been about the time of the Weimar Republic and its famously destabilizing inflation. Was there even a real immigration policy then? Or just the Chinese Exclusion Act and whatever rules were cobbled together to deport Jewish union organizers? That’s the trouble with Family Lore. You never get to ask the hard questions.

 But what am I worried about? Grampa Otto can’t have been an illegal Immigrant. Grampa Otto was white.

Everything Old is New Again

July 21, 2020

In 1900 San Francisco suffered through years of a bubonic plague outbreak made much worse by the denial by the Republican Governor Henry Gage that the plague even existed. Gage fired health officials, including Joseph Kinyoun, first director of the National Hygienic Laboratory (progenitor of NIH), claiming that plague samples were being injected into corpses to cause panic. Because the outbreak centered in Chinatown, Gage and others used racist tropes, claiming that Chinese were inherently dirty and that a Rice-based diet made them more vulnerable to diseases like Gonorrhea. Eventually as the epidemic spread large numbers of Chinese were forcibly injected with untested vaccines causing horrific side effects. Although Gage was rejected by the Republicans in the next election, the episode helped to promote the Chinese Exclusion Act and more punitive immigration policies toward Asians.

You can check this out on Wikipedia “San Francisco 1900 Plague “. Fortunately this could never happen today.

Donald Duck Forever

July 17, 2020

Whenever I’m faced with a complex moral or philosophical issue I always turn to Donald Duck. Somehow he has a way of cutting through lies and deliberate obstacles, all while jumping up and down and screaming.

Back in the sixties sometime I read a comic book treatise called “Donald Duck in MatheMagicLand. The plot had Donald scammed out his pay somehow by Scrooge McDuck and Mystically sent backwards through history to witness the development of various branches of Mathematics through the ages and in various countries. I was never able to find my copy again and I suspect it would be worth more now than the twenty-five cent cover price. But it would be worth it.

The climax of the story and what made me think about it was the lesson Donald learned in China about Geometric Progression. You see the Emperor had wronged a small farmer and offered to pay him back by way of rice on a chessboard: one grain on the first square, two on the second square, four on the third and so forth. Turns out it’s a lot of rice. When Donald returns to the present he offers to settle Uncle Scrooge’s debt by using pennies on a chessboard. His Uncle jumps on it. Only after signing the paperwork does The McDuck set his personal Univac to computing the results. “Whhhhhaaaaaatttt?, screams Uncle Scrooge. “How many millions of trillions of dollars! There’s not this much money in the Universe! In the Galaxy!” It was very satisfying, especially when you consider how badly the impulsive Donald usually came out in these deals.

I immediately dug out my kiddie chessboard and did the same exercise. It was shocking and amazing how quickly the numbers added up, to the extent I didn’t even have names for them.

What made me think of the chessboard today was COVID19 and how quickly it has spread through various Red States once they opened up. Some folks around here even find the rapid spread to be suspicious, a manufactured story of the Fake News Media. After all if one infects two and two infect four and four infects eight, how can we end up with hundreds of thousands infections over a couple of weeks ? HOW is that even possible?

Donald Duck could tell them how.

Frank Yerby

July 7, 2020

In college one of my best friends was Terry. He was a rock-ribbed Republican who was often exasperated by My mealy mouthed “New York limousine liberalism” (despite the fact that I had never been to New York or ridden in a limousine.) He had gotten to college through endless work and the insurance payout from an automobile accident and very much felt out of step with the leftist college leanings of the time. In his view we were  all pampered, radic-lib pets being paid for by our parents. And we kinda were. He delighted in baiting me. “You can’t tell me one original idea a Black man ever had he didn’t copy from a White man,” Terry would say. And I wasn’t smart enough at the time to counter with the many original Black inventions, or to point out that everyone learns from somebody else. 

Still we were friends united by our shared interest in history and and the novels of Frank Yerby. Frank Yerby and his swashbuckling historical romances were hugely popular in our crowd and we both desperately longed to be The Golden Hawk. One day I saw a hardcover volume of Yerby’s latest novel “The Foxes of Harrow” and on the back cover was a full color photograph of Yerby. He was Black.

I’m not sure how deep a secret Yerby’s race was at the time. At 23 I certainly never knew it, but it’s easy to miss a thing if you’re not expecting to see it. I didn’t know what Robert E. Howard or H.P. Lovecraft looked like either. But I wasn’t going to keep this to myself.

“So, Terry,” I inquired at our next meeting. .”Do you think Frank Yerby writes original stuff?”

“Sure I do. He”s great!”

“Do you know he’s Black?”

“He’s not either. He can’t be!”

“He is.”

“You’re making this up.”

“There’s a picture of him on the cover of his new book at the Little Professor. “

“And you saw this? You saw it yourself? Didn’t just hear about it?

“Absolutely saw it myself. He’s Black.”  A long pause followed. Terry groped desperately for some logical explanation. 

“So is he really BLACK or is he… Mulatto?” Now I paused. This was the first time I’d heard the word Mulatto used in a sentence since High School and a lesson on the slave laws from before the Civil War.

“Come on, Terry. He’s Black.”

“Yeah, well… I mean…” Even Terry couldn’t make himself say,” Only his white blood wrote those books.” But today with the country so polarized, l wonder when I’ll hear it next?

By the bye The Foxes of Harrow was the first novel written by an African American to sell a million copies. But I still love the sweet pirate action of the Golden Hawk more.


July 6, 2020

A couple of decades ago Nadine and I were invited to join the Jackson Muster, a Civil War re-enactment organization, based in Jackson Michigan. Each year folks get together from all over the country and refight a particular battle of the civil war. They design their own uniforms and strategy and organize into units, often choosing to portray individual soldiers or types, like medical officers, surveyors or cooks. It’s like Cosplay, but without elves or talking trees or light sabers. We were behind the scenes folks, helping to decide which battle would be portrayed, making sure all the clubs from around the country were invited, figuring out where the food tents and the tables where you can buy costumes and weapons and books would be set up. Nadine studied crowd flow and I drew that year’s T-shirt. We were doing The Great Skeedadle, The First Battle of Bull Run.

On the day I wandered around, taking pictures and grooving on all the authentic uniform details and the tent set ups. You see for period accuracy the Southern troops actually camped in the park overnight and I could plunge into the trees and watch soldiers cooking their breakfast in pots and preparing for the upcoming battle. Everyone was very welcoming and to a semi-professional historian it was fascinating. I talked to one guy for about an hour and he described how hard they all worked to make things accurate. Just one thing bothered him: no slaves.

“Just look around. There had ought to be at least a scattering of black faces through here. People forget the soldiers would bring their servants to the battle. Some of ‘me would even fight. I bet some were even sharpshooters.”

“Do you think there’s a lot of Black interest in Civil War re-enactments?”

“I bet nobody even bothers to ask. Look at these guys. They must have black friends, black neighbors, even black bosses. And it’s fun here, a family picnic atmosphere. I bet if you described it right couple folks would be glad to join in. It would be so much more accurate. “

I spent the bulk of the afternoon on and off imagining that conversation. “See, Boss, It’s like a big picnic, everybody has a great time and you get to be my slave!” I just can never imagine the line after that.

Sidebar: the other day I was telling my friend Mike how often some white guy would say to me “The blacks would all be so much better off if we had slavery back.” Mike was dumbfounded.

“Really? People say that?”

“More often than you’d think.” I don’t think they really think it through. But I would respectfully submit that us white Folks don’t really think through much about slavery.

NY Police Mugging

June 13, 2020

On my first trip to New York with Mike Gustovich, after we met working on Power Comics, my car broke down and we ended up riding a bus into Penn Station. We slept there over night on aging and stained tiles, surrounded by marginalized people in a grotty and depressing building scape. It wasn’t quite Bladerunner, but it was close enough for suburban Midwestern white guys. My friends and relatives had warned me to beware the dreadful human waste that lurked about the streets of New York. And then we had to leave. Mike had set up appointments for us. My sense of direction is marginal at best. Fortunately Mike was there to act as a guide. We interviewed with both DC and Marvel Comics. We survived.

And as time passed I was an interested observer as New York remade itself, spiffing up its streets, exiling its panhandlers and squeegee men, and buffing everything to a fine polish. A couple of years later I was back in Penn Station. It was astonishingly refurbished. Everything was bright and scrubbed and coated with neon. Sadly I was unchanged.

Just as I was dazzled and impressed I was also lost. The sidewalks were easy reach via a short stairway, but which would lead to my destination? Emerging on the wrong side of the building could add another half hour to the trip. What street should I search for? Then I thought I saw a solution. A tall black man in a suspiciously garish suit approached me. I Wasn’t sure he was a panhandler but it felt like he might be. We chatted. I asked for irections. He asked for money. I had five bucks in my pocket for just this contingency. Sensing this sort of thing should be kept on the downlow I passed the bill. And my side exploded with pain.

I don’t honestly remember if I fell to my knees or almost fell to my knees. All the warnings I had had about being approached by the homeless came back to me. Was this some kind of ambush? Would I be swarmed and have my wallet taken? I struggled to keep my balance, to catch my breath. As I turned I saw a young female transit authority officer standing next to me, her billy club out. “No panhandling”, she said.

I was stunned. Several members of my family are in law enforcement. I should be feeling safer. “Wait, you hit me?” “Sorry, l was aiming at him. No panhandling.” She didn’t look sorry. At all. She glared at the black guy. “I told you to stay out of here.” He shrugged and smiled in a conciliatory way, backing off. “Sorry, Sorry.”

She caught sight of my empty sleeve. “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” She was still talking to him while she gestured at my sleeve. “And this guy’s a cripple. You’re victimizing him.” My cheeks was hot. There was something infinitely demeaning about being taken down by someone shorter and smaller than I was. Several passerby’s were now staring at my sleeve. I was vaguely aware that everything she was doing and saying to him was really aimed at me. I was the one who needed to be convinced not to give nauthorized money to the wrong people. “No panhandling,” she said.

We all went in different directions. It took me a few minutes to think clearly again. The officer could have told me which stairs to go up. I looked around. She was gone. Everyone was gone. One advantage to New York; no matter the humiliation, in ten seconds all the witnesses have vanished. I decided I’d take a staircase at random, figure it out when I got to street level. I grabbed the railing.

“That ain’t the right door. Down that way, to the right.” The black guy had followed me. He pointed the way. I handed him the five. We smiled, complicit. It was the right door.

I’ve often thought about that day. Complicated thoughts. My rib wasn’t cracked. The black guy is probably dead by now. That had to have been that officer’s first patrol, or almost. It must have been miserable, keeping up the
appearance that New York was a cheery theme park, always being wrong, so preening political hacks can brag they’ve fixed it. She would have been the age of my granddaughter now.

I’m betting somebody is still panhandling.