See You on the Other Side, Tony

I learned today that Tony Ruggerio died this past Friday. He was 40.

Tony and I grew up together, and, like many childhood friendships, grew apart over the years.

After we graduated high school, I occasionally ran into him at Rowan, and we actually had a class together (along with Kim Clements — now Duffy — another Hammonton alum; they were dating at the time, if memory serves): Chemistry of Everyday Life, more aptly known as Chemistry for Idiots. It was a fluff class that fulfilled a lab requirement which is why we all took it, and freely passed our notes back and forth to help each other out.

After that class, I’d frequently run into him around town. The last time was shortly after his father died, and it was clear he was struggling.

Not long after that he made a very poor choice with disastrously tragic consequences, and it took him almost eight years to repay his debt to society.

As I understand, he never learned how to live with the events of that day — events which I will not get into here — and now, a year after coming home, Tony’s gone.

I choose not to think about that when I remember him.

Instead, I remember my friend in second grade, with whom — and with Jim Mento — I was in the talent show, and the three of us performed a Ghostbusters routine, seen here for the first time in more than 30 years:

I choose to remember the friend who — again, with Jim — was one of two people to come to my birthday party that summer.

I choose to remember my teammate on the Think Day 92 team, where we won first place.

I choose to remember his spot on impressions of Chris Farley, living in a van down by the river.

I choose to remember our class clown, who went out of his way to make others laugh.

I choose to remember a man with a good heart who fell, and didn’t know how to get back up, but who still helped others smile.

I choose to remember my childhood friend with fondness. And I will continue to remember him — as I have with every single viewing for the last 32 years– whenever I watch Ghostbusters.

It was a privilege, Tony.

See you on the other side.

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Some Idle Tuesday…

Seventeen years ago. Bob Craig and I were sitting in a pub at London Heathrow. We were on a five-hour layover coming back from Poland, where we had attended the wedding of Christopher and Aga Schleyer.

At first we thought they were showing a movie. Then we saw it was CNN. We thought it was an accident.

Then we watched the second plane hit. And we knew.

The pub became silent. Everyone was transfixed.

Then the first tower fell. And we all screamed. All around us, people were crying. Others were in shock. And we all waited for the inevitable.

Then the second tower fell.

We learned of the plane in PA, which the BBC reported had been shot down. We learned of the Pentagon, supposedly the most impenetrable fortress on Earth, and we were terrified at the ease with which it was attacked.

Then the US closed its airspace, and we knew we were stranded. We didn’t know how long. A day? A week? Longer?

We managed to find lodging at a YMCA in Surbiton. Others weren’t so lucky: one girl on the flight from Poland with us had bright pink hair. A few days later I saw that same girl on the BBC. She, and thousands others, never left the airport.

In the midst of it I had a panic attack. My first. Stranded. Virtually no money. Nowhere to go. My country attacked. Separated from my family and my home by an ocean I had no way to cross.

Bob talked me down from it. Helped me gather my wits. Gave me perspective. Showed me his credit card; I was broke, but HE had money. I had never before felt so lost. So small. Bob talked me through it, and he has my eternal gratitude.

Five days later we made it home. We took a last minute flight to JFK. My sister Debbie picked us up, and as we drove home we could clearly see the devastation. The hole in the sky. The dust cloud that hung like a pall over the city.

We made it home, but home was never the same.

Never forget? How the hell could I?

“The real troubles in your life are apt to be things thatnever crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you… on some idle Tuesday.”

— Mary Schmich

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Shore Leave, Here I Come!

Finally! After a two-year absence, I’m pleased to announce that I will once again be travelling to Maryland as a guest at Shore Leave Convention, now in its 40th year.

I’ll be arriving Friday evening with the rest of the riffraff, and you’ll probably see me and my wife R3wandering around until Meet the Pros at 10 p.m. in the Hunt Valley Hallway, where I’ll have copies of all my books available for purchase.

My panel schedule for Saturday is as follows:

11 a.m. to 12 p.m. — Sci-Fi from the Parents’ Eye (Salon E): We all love SF/F, but how do we pass the torch to our children in an age appropriate way so that they can enjoy–or even love–a genre that we’re so passionate about?
Russ Colchamiro (M), Jenifer Rosenberg, Dayton Ward, Joseph F. Berenato, Kathleen David

2 p.m. to 3 p.m. — ATB Publishing (Salon E): Meet the contributors to these essay collections on the likes of Doctor Who, Star Trek, Buffy, and more.
Laura Ware (M), Bob Greenberger, Amy Imhoff, Derek Attico, Lorraine Anderson, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Joseph F. Berenato

5 p.m. to 6 p.m. — Continuity v. Canon (Chase): The sign in front of the table will read “Stories don’t need canon. Change my mind.”
Bob Greenberger (M), Lorraine Anderson, Dayton Ward, Joseph F. Berenato, Susan Olesen

6 p.m. to 7 p.m. — Meeting Your Idols (Chase): One of the great thrills of fandom is getting to meet beloved stars and creators. Let’s discuss encounters that exceeded expectations and those that let us down.
Hildy Silverman (M), Howie Weinstein, Diane Baron, Michael Jan Friedman, Joseph F. Berenato, Roberta Rogow

My Sunday schedule is wide open, and will consist of lots of roaming and money-spending.

Hope to see you there!

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Wild About Harry…

We lost Harry Anderson today. He was 65. And it feels like learning about the death of an old friend.

It’s no secret to those of you who read my stuff that my life has been heavily shaped by Star Trek, Batman, Ghostbusters, The Monkees, Universal Monsters, and any of a host of other geekish passions. Harry Anderson and Night Court are also on that list, and right near the top. His portrayal of Judge Harold T. Stone — and, to a lesser degree, Harry the Hat on Cheers — were far more influential on me than I realized.

First and foremost, from Harry the Hat, I learned to always keep an eye out for a con man. If I shake with my right hand, wear my watch on and hold my wallet with my left.

From Harry Stone, I learned to always be compassionate. Always hold confidence. Be true to your friends. Be fair. Be kind.

Harry also taught me that it was okay to be silly as an adult. Harry was a sitting New York City judge who kept googly glasses and a stuffed armadillo in his chambers. He did magic tricks. Cracked jokes and made terrible puns. Upon turning 40 — a milestone I’ll hit in two months — he lamented being older than Spider-Man.

He even, you’ll recall, taught for a while at Ed Koch Community College.

Harry’s music tastes also informed mine. Though I could take or leave his idol, Mel Tormé, I have a great affinity for the great crooners — and an illogical dislike of Barry Manilow (a fact I just mentioned to my wife yesterday).

And Lord, did Harry have style. Cardigans, sport coats, ties, jeans and sneakers. And hats, of course. Harry loved his fedoras, and so do I. And, like Harry, the jewel of my collection is my Borsalino.

Harry’s characters, and his stand-up routines, and his magic tricks, meant a lot to me when I was growing up. They’re a beloved part of my past, and I look on them with fondness. They shaped my tastes, they shaped my style, and they shaped me.

Thank you for all of that, Harry. I’ll miss you.

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New Berlin Diner – Berlin, NJ

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Originally posted on Diner Nation:
Hi Everyone! Joe and I were hoping to venture into a new county but a weekend full of grandkids, teenagers and errands kept us close to home. We did however get to venture a bit…

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Silver Coin Diner – Hammonton, NJ

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Originally posted on Diner Nation:
This week, Joe and I stayed close to home and visited the Silver Coin Diner on Route 30 in Hammonton, NJ. The menu is about 7 pages including a full list of chef specialties. Honestly,…

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New Blog Post! New Book!

Good heavens… has it really been fourteen months since my last update?

Unacceptable. Simply unacceptable, Joe.

48full500At any rate, today — yes, today! — marks the release of the latest collaboration between me and the inimitable Rich Handley: Bright Eyes, Ape City: Exploring the Planet of the Apes Mythos, put out by the goodly folks at Sequart Organization.

Picking up where The Sacred Scrolls: Comics on the Planet of the Apes left off, Bright Eyes, Ape City (and boy howdy, do I love that title) covers every iteration of Apekind from the original 1963 novel to the forthcoming film, War for the Planet of the Apes. It features a foreword by David Gerrold and fantastic essays by Dave Ballard, Corinna Bechko, Stephen R. Bissette, Ian Brill, Joseph Dilworth Jr., Matthew J. Elliott, Robert Greenberger, Ed Gross, Rich Handley, Zaki Hasan, Jim Johnson, Neil Moxham, Steven J. Roby, John Roche, Paul Simpson, and Dayton Ward.

Or, as the landing page puts it:


“A planet where apes evolved from men?”

With those horrified words, Charlton Heston’s Colonel George Taylor summed up exactly what viewers were thinking in 1968 the first time they saw Planet of the Apes in theaters. Loincloth-clad humans reduced to mute savages, living in cages or in the wild? Xenophobic orangutans, militaristic gorillas, and curious chimpanzees with a rigid class structure, Greco-Roman names, religious dogma, and the ability to speak and reason? What goes on here? It’s a madhouse!

Audiences were hooked — and they remain hooked almost five decades later. Planet of the Apes (based on Pierre Boulle’s French novel Monkey Planet) has spawned eight films, with a ninth currently in the works, as well as two television series and several novels. It’s one of the most respected franchises in pop-culture history, thanks to the talents of writers Rod Serling, Michael Wilson, Paul Dehn, John and Joyce Corrington, William Broyles Jr., Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback; directors Franklin J. Schaffner, Ted Post, Don Taylor, J. Lee Thompson, Tim Burton, Rupert Wyatt, and Matt Reeves; makeup artists John Chambers and Rick Baker; and a long list of beloved actors who have breathed life into some of the most memorable science-fiction characters ever to grace the large or small screen.

Bright Eyes, Ape City: Examining the Planet of the Apes Mythos, edited by the same team behind Sequart’s Sacred Scrolls: Comics on the Planet of the Apes, examines every Apes film, TV show, and novel, from 1968 to the present. This anthology features insightful, analytical essays about the franchise’s long history, from popular film historians, novelists, bloggers, and subject-matter experts. If you’re eager to learn more about Apes lore, then you’ll need to get your stinkin’ paws on this book.

Rich and I are immensely proud of the work that everyone put in for this book, and would be mighty obliged if you gave it a looksee. It’s available in paperback or on Kindle!

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