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TSA

Dear TSA: I am a sixty-seven year old writer from Fort Collins. On 9/2, I flew from Denver to Atlanta. Agents pulled me aside after passing through the metal detector and with my permission, stuck their hands down my waist and patted every part of my body. They waved me through. Then another TSA agent, Mark Broeren, pulled me aside and went through my luggage, pulling out every item of clothing. They took out my toiletry kit and handled my toothbrush, razor, and pills. Agent Broeren took me into a private room. I unslung my suspenders and was about to drop my trousers. Agent Broeren said, “Stop! You do that and I’m going to have to call some other guys in here and then it becomes a whole other deal.” I took this as it was intended, a threat for unlawful detention. In the absence of any threat or illegality. I said nothing. Agent Broeren felt every part of my body including the soles of my feet. When he was finished he said was free to go. He never explained why I’d been subjected to his scrutiny and he did not apologize.

Yours,

Mike Baron

Life On Two Wheels by Mike Baron

LIFE ON TWO WHEELS

Young men want to go fast. I couldn’t wait to get my first motorcycle. I was so eager to ride I pulled Chuck Roberts off his mini-bike as he roared by on a dirt road in Mitchell, SD. Chuck, I hope you have forgiven me. My first motorcycle was a Honda 90. Oh, what a powerful machine! It almost went sixty downhill! In Mitchell, there was only one cycle dealer, a guy who sold Hondas out of his garage. When Honda introduced the massive, world-crushing 450, we could not conceive of such an enormous machine! It looked like Shamu, the killer whale!

I no longer desire to go fast. For those who wonder why we ride, I can only say it is a sublime experience. Watch Easy Rider. Many years later, my next motorcycle was a Honda Hawk 400. Oh, what a powerful machine! I swapped out the mini-apehangers for a flat bar that made a huge difference. Then I co-owned a Honda 400 Supersport (the four cylinder engine) with a girlfriend. When I sold Nexus, I got a Kawasaki Gpz 550, the ne plus ultra back in the day. Because of federal regulations, the speedo only went to 80. I had the Kawi over a hundred numerous times, but I never knew how fast I was going because of that federal speedometer. Many years later I sold the Kawi and got a Honda Hawk 650, a water-cooled vee-twin. I wish I still had it.

Then I got a Shadow 750, which I am still riding, and a 1979 CB650 given to me my Tom Delaney on my 65th birthday. My friend Kim, who is smaller than I, rides a Valkyrie. Once he dropped it in gravel and it took two of us to pick it up. A couple months ago we went to Fort Collins Motor Sports to test ride the new Indian Scout. The Scout is the greatest motorcycle ever made. If you ride, you will agree. We were both ready to deal until the manager informed us that virtually every motorcycle they sold involved a two thousand dollar “set-up and documents fee.” I understand that dealers have to put the bikes together and that a set-up fee is legitimate. But two gees? The Shadow Sixty, supposed to retail for nine thou, became eleven thou. The regular Scout, which is supposed to retail for eleven, became thirteen.

Pox upon thee, Fort Collins Motor Sports!

I will continue to ride my miniscule motorcycles and enjoy the experience, which is not so much what you ride, but the ride itself.

mike motorcycle new

The Mohs Opera Sedan by Mike Baron

THE MOHS OSTENTATIENNE OPERA SEDAN

One day Roger and I were out biking through the rolling hills of southern Wisconsin when we came upon a long, low industrial building yclept Mohs Motors. We pulled over to check it out. Bruce Mohs, who was then in his sixties, came out to meet us and offered to show us around. Inside the long low building sat his masterpiece, the Mohs Ostentatienne Opera Sedan, an immense, grotesque automobile built on an International Harvester chassis. The only entry was through the massive, top-hinged rear door.

The Ostentatienne was powered by an International Harvester truck engine. Entry into the car was from the rear; solid steel side rails (designed to protect passengers during a crash) prevented doors along the vehicles sides. The Ostentatienne could be ordered customized to suit its buyer’s wishes; Ming styled oriental rugs, refrigerators and sealed beam taillights were some of the options available. Production was reported to be three to four vehicles per year, only one was ever built.”

The vehicle weighed over five thousand pounds. Mohs had other inventions including the world’s longest motor-scooter, capable of seating There was also the Safarikar, finished in naugahyde. Mohs tried to sell us his book, The Amazing Mr. Mohs, but we were too stupid to bite. How I wish I’d bought that book.

mike odd car Mike motorcycle

Comic Cons by Mike Baron

The convention season is upon us, my friends. And with it, certain exhibits will use boom boxes to advertise their wares. Nobody likes them. Nobody. Not even the people who are playing them. They only serve to make conversation more difficult and to cause headaches due to that incessant, infernal throbbing, the same sound you hear when some self-obsessed asshole pulls up to you at a streetlight blasting Beasty Boys or Li’l Wayne from the giant speakers in his trunk.

My friends, don’t let this happen to you! I’m calling on each and every one of you to go up to the blasters and ask them, politely, to turn it off. I am asking con organizers to not permit this noise pollution.

Another irritation, about which we can do nothing, are the illegible public address systems the organizers use for—for what? Most of the time the distortion is so great I can’t understand a word they’re saying. It’s so loud you can’t hold a conversation while the announcer is blasting. Conventions need jumbotrons to broadcast their messages.

WATCH FOR THESE HAZARDS: Double-wide baby trams. Groups of cosplayers gathering in front of your table preventing access. The Joker. The little boy eating a jelly doughnut who likes to flip through your comics. Cosplayers with five-feet-wide costumes. Corn dogs. Funnel cakes.

The Art of the Insult by Mike Baron

THE ART OF THE INSULT 

The perfect squelch. The withering put-down. The witty slander that leaves folks gasping in disbelief and delight. D.H. Lawrence on James Joyce: “Stewed-up fragments of quotation in the sauce of a would-be dirty mind.” Winston Churchill: “Unless the right honourable gentleman changes his policy and methods and moves without the slightest delay, he will be as great a curse to this country in peace as he was a squalid nuisance in time of war.” Dorothy Parker: “Their pooled emotions wouldn’t fill a teaspoon.” Mary McCarthy on Lillian Hellman: “Every word she writes is a lie including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”

High school, for me, was an unending search for the withering put-down. Like Eric Harris, I had no use for humanity and it had no use for me. Unlike Eric, I lacked that black toxin which caused him to mow down a dozen classmates before turning the gun on himself. I used to memorize what I considered witty put-downs. Many young men go through a phase where alienation causes them to judge harshly. Most of them grow out of it.

However, Facebook breaths new life into this adolescent movement. There’s something about Facebook that brings out the worst in people. They say things on Facebook they wouldn’t dream of saying to your face. You actually have to struggle to keep a thread on track without degenerating into “Fuck you!” “No! Fuck YOU!” I posted that Lady Gaga had killed it at the Superbowl, and within twenty posts it had degenerated into name-calling.

Serial insulters are witherers. Wither the witherer? The latest rage seems to be fabricating faux nineteenth century insults without the wit. “Hoofwanking bunglecunt” has a certain cachet, as does “twatwaffle”  But it has no meaning. Oh insult, where is thy sting?

They will never replace the classics. “Fuck you!” “No! Fuck YOU!”

My friends, I have five rules for arguing on Facebook. 1: No sarcasm. 2: No personal attacks. 3: Be brief. 4: Keep your sense of humor. 5: Know when to quit.

Digital Smigital by Mike Baron

DIGITAL SMIGITAL

It took me years to get a CD player. I had an enormous collection of vinyl culled from twenty years writing about music. I finally got the CD player because so many musicians weren’t issuing vinyl anymore. The first CD I got was a three-disc Duke Ellington collection, The Webster/Blanton Band. And then the horse was out of the barn and I got everything in CD, selling my vinyl collection for the ridiculous price of twenty-five cents a disc. The CDs were a poor excuse for albums because the reduced size had a huge effect on the art. I love album art. Look at the many books of just album art.

A lot of bands urge me to listen to their new tunes on download. Many bands are forgoing physical product altogether in favor of digital. This works for a lot of people, but not for me, and not for a lot of people I know. We’re collectors. We like to have an artifact we can hold in our hands, read the personnel and album notes, if any. Album notes provide astonishing information and if you don’t believe me, read the album notes for Tower of Power’s Dinosaur Tracks.

Most of these bands perform live. A lot of people would like to buy their albums, but are surprised when there are no albums. Directing your fans to a download, free or not, is not the same as selling records and CDs right at the venue, when they’re all keyed up. At the very least, bands must have CDs to sell at performances. Here in Fort Collins we have Bohemian Nights in August, hundreds of local bands performing for free. I pick up a lot of CDs at these things. Not only is it a good way to support the band, it’s a good way to remember what you heard.

Sure you can have an iPod with several thousand songs on it. But are they arranged like an album? There’s a reason for the song sequencing in albums like Sgt. Pepper, Jellyfish: Spilt Milk, Marco Joachim’s Hidden Symphonyies. The music industry has changed, and albums aren’t as important as they used to be, but my friends and I still listen to albums. Like the Who’s Tommy. You’re supposed to start at the beginning and follow the sequence.

Vinyl is back. Analog grooves simply produce a warmer sound than CDs, which are digitally mastered and digitally translated. Everything old is new again.

When that giant Chinese electro-magnetic pulse hits, a lot of you are gonna be SOL.

Paul Martin Smith by Mike Baron

Mike & Smitty

SMITTY AND ME

I first saw Paul Smith’s artwork on X-Men and was gob-smacked. Back in the day I wanted to work with every artist whom I admired. And there were a lot! Paul Smith is one of nature’s gentlemen. I was surprised to learn he was a fellow biker, and visited him several times at his garret in Santa Barbara, and later at his brother’s house. Paul had gone through several bikes before settling on BMW’s “Flying Brick,” and loaned me his Honda V45 for a memorable ride.

Of all the replacement artists who worked on Nexus, Smitty was the best ,(37, 38, 43, 44, 49, 51-55,) and “Kreed’s Arm” is his masterpiece. He also drew The Spirit, Starman, Sun Runners, and Leave It To Chance. His last comic book work was Kitty Pryde: Shadow and Flame, in 2006. Then he pulled a disappearing act.

I tried locating him for years. Several months ago, while visiting my partner Steve Rude, the Dude mentioned that Smitty had phoned him from his new home in Colorado. A little sleuthing tracked him to Colorado Springs, 120 miles south of my home in Fort Collins.

It has become a tradition to spend New Year’s Eve at my publisher’s house in Monument, five miles north of Colorado Springs. I asked my publisher if I could invite Smitty. Cool. My publisher’s house is impossible to find. Nevertheless, Smitty found it and there he was–older, grayer, but the same. Paul used to have bright ginger hair. It is now all white. We talked for hours and I reminded him of the time he loaned me a motorcycle and promised to return the favor. Paul is without a motorcycle for the first time in decades. I hope to see him on one of my projects soon.

His website is www.paulmartinsmith.com. 

The Silence of the Scams

THE SILENCE OF THE SCAMS

For twelve years I drove a ’99 Maxima. On the way back from the high country it started making awful noises and the power cut out. It had over 120,000 miles on it. I took it to my mechanic. “Looks bad,” he said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I’d have to tear the engine down.”

It was time. Using money I made defrauding widows and orphans I purchased a ’14 Maxima with 32,000 miles on it. The dealership tried to sell me a supplemental service contract. “Let me think about that,” I said.

Two weeks passed. Then the notices began. I threw some of them out but I have eight rightchere at my elbow and I’m sure there will be more today. The notices said, “REQUEST FOR ACTION—IMPORTANT VEHICLE INFORMATION ENCLOSED.” And, “FINAL ATTEMPT TO NOTIFY, RE: 2014 NISSAN MAXIMA.” And, “REQUEST FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION—TIME SENSITIVE MATERIAL ENCLOSED.” And, “IMMEDIATE RESPONSE TO THIS NOTICE REQUESTED.” And, “VEHICLE ALERT NOTICE—PLEASE RESPOND WITHIN 3 BUSINESS DAYS.” I got three of those. And, “IMMEDIATE RESPONSE TO THIS NOTICE IS REQUIRED.” And, “THIS IS ABSOLUTELY YOUR LAST CHANCE—RESPOND OR DIE.” And, “THE END IS NIGH, REPENT NOW.”

Okay. I made the last two up. But you get the idea. Oddly enough, none of these desperate appeals came from a legitimate business. Only one, EWS, has a return address. The rest just seemed to be anonymous threats to get my money. I have received at least twelve. I expect more. This time they will be my FINAL, FINAL NOTICES.

Weekend at Dude’s, by Mike Baron

Nexus 35 years

WEEKEND AT DUDE’S

I went to Phoenix recently to plan the next phase of Nexus with artist Steve Rude. I flew Frontier. Once again I was singled out for extra scrutiny by TSA. Happens every time. “Why me?” I said. “You have an anomaly in your groin area,” replied the agent. “Must be my enormous johnson,” I said. Actually, it’s the titanium brace in my hip which I acquired when I fell through a trap door in my own house in 2000.

Frontier’s seats are made of a single unit of plastic that doesn’t hinge. The little fold-out shelf was the size of a postcard. Water was free. A bag of chips cost seven dollars. However, the plane arrived more or less on time. Dude picked me up at the airport and we drove to his house which lies on the far western fringes of Phoenix in a weird neighborhood consisting of giant houses, many with thirty foot tall garages, surrounded by desert. As we entered a big dog, possibly a fox hound, rushed up to greet us. Dude chuckled and said, “Ha, the giant blowhard.”

Jaynelle found Daisy wandering the neighborhood and took her in. Now they have two dogs. Designer and graphic artist Mike Jones was there as well working on the Nexus Compendium which will provide behind-the-scenes looks at Nexus’ history plus a lot of never before seen art. I signed 500 posters, also signed by the Dude and the Big G (Paul Gulacy,) which are going out as premiums to kickstarter participants.

Just the other day I received a desperate plea from the Big G, along with everybody on his FB list, that he’d been mugged in Ankara, Turkey and needed money to get home. Of course he’d been hacked and it was a scam but Chuck Dixon and I had some fun stringing the hacker along with promises of money.

We also discussed the next phase of Nexus, following the current storyline which debuts in January. The current storyline is loosely based on Nexus vs. Galactus. It is epic! Dude took us on a tour of the environs and introduced us to his barber and the saleswoman who sold him his car. We ate at a nice Mexican/Italian restaurant that night which had outstanding shepherd’s pie. Then it was back to Spaceship Dude for more brainstorming. Dude hauled out page after page of original Kirby as well as paintings by Harry Anderson and Drew Struzan.

We plotted all day Sunday and went for a walk around the neighborhood. Very little grass and what there was has those damnable underground watering systems. I used to have one. Then we got Mack. The first thing she did was chew up all the underground tubes. There were little parks here and there, half acres of greensward surrounded by palm trees. I asked a guy why so many houses had those thirty foot garages and he told me, “for people to store their stuff.” The only reason I could think for those garages was to house sailboats, and there is a big lake about thirty miles away.

Sunday night Jaynelle made a delicious clam and pumpkin chowder, and on Monday morning Mike Jones dropped me off at the airport on his way back to Texas. And that was my weekend at the Dude’s.

Existential Thrillers by Mike Baron

EXISTENTIAL THRILLERS

In an existential thriller the protagonist is doomed. Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear is the archtype. “In a squalid South American village, men are hired to transport an urgent nitroglycerine shipment without the equipment that would make it safe.” You come to know these men and care about them, especially Yves Montand’s character. Yet you know their heroic efforts are futile. They know it too. You can see it in their faces.

William Friedkin followed The Exorcist with Sorceror, a remake of Wages of Fear. This is white-knuckle film-making at its best as the mismatched Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, and Francisco Rabal struggle with ancient trucks and harrowing rope bridges across bottomless chasms while transporting  nitroglycerin to an out-of-control oil fire. Sorceror is red meat for socialists who can condemn not only capitalism, but racism and colonialism as they wait for the inevitable denouement.

The Naked Prey directed by and starring Cornel Wilde, is another great ET. The twist here is that he actually survives the movie, which you would never guess from the harrowing introduction. It’s difficult to believe he was allowed to get away with these scenes of African torture in 1965. These are not your father’s noble savages.

Sam Peckinpah directed two of the greatest existential thrillers, The Wild Bunch and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The Wild Bunch, like Ride the High Country and The Ballad of Cable Hogue, is a eulogy to the dying west, in this case a group of aging, over-the-hill train robbers looking for their last big score. Peckinpah eschewed pretty boys. The faces of William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Ben Johnson and Warren Oates are portraits of stubborn desperation, covered in sweat and bristles. Near the climax, when the scumbag general slits Angel’s throat and Holden automatically shoots him dead, all action freezes. Hundreds of the general’s cutthroat followers can’t believe what just happened and there’s a chance they’ll let the Wild Bunch walk out of town. Borgnine looks around, chuckles goofily, and they open up in one of the bloodiest shoot-outs in cinema history. They’re doomed, but they’re going down guns blazing.

Warren Oates makes a similar decision at the climax of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Peckinpah’s cracked existential masterpiece. Alfredo knocked up the daughter of a rich man, who promises $50,000 to anyone who brings him Alfredo’s head, setting off a treasure hunt among such spectacular low-lifes as Gig Young and Kris Kristofferson. Oates’ seedy piano player plums the death of Mexico’s sewers on his way to collect but when the pay-off comes, Oates chooses to kill the fat cockroach who has caused so much heartache with his cynical offer.

The most recent truly great existential thriller is The Grey, in which Liam Neeson’s gang of oil field roughnecks crash lands in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. A pack of wolves gathers and starts picking them off one by one. The Grey has a unique beauty as well as a story that will pin you to your seat.