Monday, March 24, 2014

The secret of Batman’s Utility Belt—revealed at last!

One of the reasons I’ve been holding off on ‘cutting the cable’ is a weekly show on the Travel Channel called ‘The Toy Hunter’.  This dude (Jordan Hembrough) travels back & forth across the country in search of vintage toys—for upcoming comic-cons, celebrity collectors or himself.

Last week he was in London looking for American toys (of all places) and came across something that made me sit up and take notice: a 1967 ‘Batman Utility Belt’ made by Ideal.  Jordan’s eyes bugged out as he exclaimed “Do you know how rare this is??”  

He wound up paying a couple thousand dollars for it & then MY eyes popped—because once upon a time, I owned one myself.  And not only that, seeing this again after all these years finally solved a decades long mystery in my own family!


The 1967 Batman Utility Belt by Ideal Toys; a lot of Bat-belts have come & gone since then, but this was the original!

This all started a lifetime ago, October 31, 1967.  It was Halloween, and my sixth birthday.  That’s my baby brother Steve’s crib in the corner, our brother Duke in the closet, and me looking wearily into Mom’s camera.  Batman watches over all.

My thoughtful parents (knowing what a Bat-freak I was) killed two bats with one stone—they got me a Batman costume for Halloween, but added a pair of groovy ‘Batman Boot Slippers’ and the ultimate accessory to make my costume complete:  BATMANS UTILITY BELT.

batbeltThis awesome contraption came with two ‘dart bombs’, a batrope with grappling hook, a Batarang, mini Bat-Light, a pair of Bat-cuffs and dartgun

When my know-it-all brother saw it, he said “this is all wrong, Batman doesn’t kill!  He’d never carry a gun!”  I went ballistic:  “IT DOESN’T SHOOT BULLETS, it’s for sending emergency messages or dispersing gas bombs!!” 

After teaching my brother that crime doesn’t pay, a stern looking caped crusader stands guard over his birthday cake…

And finally, another with Duke, Shawn, myself & Dad with our baby brother Steve; he was a little over 1 1/2 years old and responsible for this age old mystery

A week or so after my birthday, I came home from school & rushed upstairs to get into my Bat-gear; as I picked up my utility belt, I saw the grappling hook lying on the floor.  Wait, what happened to the official bat-rope it was attached to?   I ran downstairs and told Mom, and we searched up & down the house.  It was gone.

Later, when my mom went to change my brother Steve’s diaper, we came upon a grisly sight and I’ll never forget it:  MY BAT ROPE WAS IN HIS SOILED DIAPER, COILED IN HIS POOP. 

Now with any other kid, you’d think “well, they probably jammed it down in there” but not with Steve.  At the time, he had this disturbing habit of eating string.  No fooling, remember when you bought lunchmeat or chops at the meat counter, and they’d wrap it up in orange paper & string?  We were always instructed to bury that twine in the garbage before Steve could get his hands on it, but sure enough the next day it’d turn up in his poop.  

You couldn’t leave a YO-YO sitting out, he’d eat the string right off it.

So when we saw that bat-rope in Steve’s diaper, Mom panicked & said they had to take Steve to the hospital—but Dad assured her the boy was fine, and couldn’t have eaten it.  Mom told me how sorry she was, and promised to bleach it until it was white again, but I would have NO part of it.  

As time went by, we would sometimes laugh about that poopy batrope and wondered if Steve had eaten it after all.  Mom would ask me if I remembered how heavy or long it was.  As I never got to play with the damn thing, I couldn’t.

That is, until the other night when I saw ‘Toy Hunter’ and my Utility Belt again for the first time in over 45 years—that rope was LONG, and heavy-duty (and had to be, it was for scaling walls!)  Shawn & I agreed there’s no way Steve could’ve eaten it and survived.

Mom—this case is solved; the “Mystery of the Poopy Bat-Rope” is now CLOSED

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Insect Queen, and other things that shouldn’t be flying over my head


Once upon a time, in the town of Smallville (home of Superboy) Lana Lang was in the woods behind her house picking wildflowers when she came upon a curious sight:  a six-limbed spaceman trapped under a fallen tree.

“Oof! You’re free now, sir!” exclaimed Lana as she struggled to lift the tree trunk off the alien.  To show his appreciation, he gave Lana a mysterious ring before taking off in his corny spaceship.

Soon, Lana discovered that the ring gave her special insect powers, and using “stretchy materials” she sewed a sexy superhero costume, complete with mask.  Long live the Insect Queen!

Shortly thereafter said event, Lana used her new powers to transform into a “Bee Girl” to rescue an armored truck.   Superboy comes to the rescue—“I heard there was trouble with the money shipment… HUH???”  Lana (in her elaborate guise) says “Too late Superboy, it’s been taken care of by the Insect Queen!  Ta ta!”

 As she flies away, a flummoxed Superboy thinks “Who is this Insect Queen?  Of course I could use my x-ray vision to look underneath her mask, but that wouldn’t be… er, cricket!”

I was around 8-9 years old when I first read this story, and I remember wondering why Superboy used such a curious word, what did it mean?  After looking it up in the dictionary:  cricket (krik-it): fair play; honorable conduct.

Now I remember this well, because a couple days later I brought said book with me to school, for my speech class.  (I had problems with the “S” sound and a slight stutter, and met with a ‘speech instructor’ every Wednesday.  He’d have me read aloud to him, and encouraged me to bring in my favorite books—so I brought in comic books, which he seemed to get a big kick from.)  So when I read this story to him (using different voices for the cast of characters, naturally) I stopped and asked Mr. Branthill if he knew that “cricket” also meant honorable conduct, and how I had to look it up & why did Superboy pull that particular word out of his hat.  Branthill said “Well, cricket’s an insect too… like Lana Lang in her bug costume” and I wanted to slap myself.  How the HELL did that fly over my head??

I shared all that, because in the last few days I’ve been somehow missing the obvious and everything’s been buzzin’ right over my brain like that Insect Queen.  Thursday in the office, a few of the women in my group were laughing over ‘Ballroom Jeans’ and just couldn’t get over their concept.  I asked “what are ballroom jeans?” and Gwen said “they have a gusset, Doug!” and Candace sent me this video:

Hmm… they looked pretty roomy, I said I wanted a pair.   Candace asked me if I’d wear ‘em to work and crouch in them too.  I said I would.  I walked back to our coworker Julie’s desk & asked her if she heard the women up front laughing over “the jeans with the elastic crotch” and then I said “So why do they call ‘em ballroom jeans?  Are they designed for line and square-dancing?  Ballroom sounds kinda formal for jeans, don’t you think?” and as Julie raised an eyebrow at me, it hit me.  Aargh!!!  It’s Superboy & his cricket all over again!

Okay I know this isn’t exactly newsworthy stuff, but it happened again the next day, and the day after that.  On Friday, another department contacted OUR department, and reported ‘invalid adjustment codes’ were showing up on claims.  My service-call shift had just ended that morning, and I thought “glad I don’t have to worry about THAT” and sent it off to my team-lead to investigate. 

(Of course, right around the same time I realize I’M the one who manages those adjustment codes & the invalid ones were MY doing, I get a call from that other department asking why I handed it off to someone else—“I’M ON IT, OKAY!?”)

And finally, on Saturday as I’m getting a haircut & doing my customary lament about my thinning mane, I notice this older gentleman shuffling past the shop’s front window.  I’ve seen him around town for as long as I can remember, he walks with a slight hunch and wears a 1984 ski jacket year-round.  I ask Angie (the woman who cuts my hair) if she saw him too, and how is it that he still has such a full head of hair. 

She says “You mean that old man with the tacky wig?  Oh Doug, you didn’t really think…”


Friday, March 7, 2014

You can say what you want, but don’t step on my blue suede shoes

This is my favorite pair of shoes.  They don’t look so bad, right?  I own three pair of dress shoes, two pair of ‘work shoes’ (Hush Puppies Mall Walkers), a pair of athletic shoes (or whatever they’re called these days) and some sandals, but these Vans are the ones I wear pretty much everywhere.  The grocery, my sister’s house, the pizza place up the street… they slip off & on almost on their own.  I bought ‘em way back in 1995 because they reminded me of the ones Kurt Cobain wore and they looked really comfortable.  (Has he really been gone 20 years?) 

The reason I shared them here is because it seems that at least once a week, one of my friends will feel the need to remind me how cheap I am.  I will then feebly protest, and someone listening in will tell me to 1) spend more money 2) live a little 3) give them money so they can live a little too. 


October 1996--yep that’s me, holding my 2 year old niece Drew while my sister Donda and our older brother Duke look on.  Drew is 20 years old now, and did you notice the shoes I happen to be wearing?

I’d like to state for the record that I’m not wasteful, but I don’t think I’m cheap either.  Hey, I add a 20% tip to my check when dining out and Angie (who cuts my hair) gets 25.  (That’s percent, not cents!)  I may be a bit more frugal than some, but I believe it’s going to serve me well in the long run. 

(Yes, I’m talking about those dreams of early retirement again—when I hear coworkers lament about the decades ahead they’ll still be working, I nod my head in sympathy but I’m rubbing my hands together in my brain and estimating my own work-sentence in MONTHS.  We’ll see!) 

So until I meet the love of my life and feel the need to impress her with a $17 hamburger at the Steel Grille for lunch, I will happily settle for that six dollar turkey-burger in the cafeteria upstairs.   And continue wearing those 20 year old Vans too.

Of course, all of that brings me to the real reason why I’m writing this—my  outrageous cable bill!  I got mine a couple days ago and why in God’s name am I paying $121.00 a month?  I don’t subscribe to any premium stuff like HBO or Showtime, but I do have 745 Latino, childrens and sports channels to choose from.  The only shows I’m watching on cable (besides my local networks) are old Waltons reruns, ‘Pawn Stars’ on History, ‘The Little Couple’ & ‘Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo’.  Jesus, I’m paying over a hundred bucks a month to watch Mama June yell at Sugar Bear.  God help me!

So last night, I googled ‘paying too much for cable’ and saw I wasn’t alone.  There’s a million couch potatoes like myself out there who can’t live without their tvs either, but also feel like they’re throwing away money.  One guy (who lives in an apartment building like me) asked what can he do, as he can’t exactly put an antenna on his roof.  Someone suggested he try an indoor ‘leaf antenna’ (it looks like a sheet of paper you tack to the wall) and someone else said “if you want to see a sampling of what an indoor antenna can do for you, shape a paper-clip into an “L” and stick it in your RF input on the back of your set.  If you get any channels, you can probably lose that cable.”   Okay, where’s a paperclip when you need one?

Here’s my newfangled “L” antenna

I wasn’t expecting much, but I set my tv-input to “antenna” and stuck the shorter end of this into the cable-input.  And as I turned around to get my remote to scan for channels, the tv suddenly sprang to life with a local NBC station in all it’s high-def glory; I mean absolute clarity.

I’m getting 12 digital channels (three of them break up at random intervals but the others are crystal clear). 

Still, I couldn’t believe it; from a paper clip??  I even unplugged the other end of the cable from the wall, just to be sure—and I suddenly felt a noose lifted from my neck that was made from coaxial cable. 

My next step here is to get a “real” indoor antenna, to see if I can pick up the rest of the local goods.  I see that Mohu Leaf on Amazon is pretty popular.  As for a DVR, I could go with a Tivo.  It’s $14.99 a month, but that’s a hundred bucks less than what I’m paying now—plus you can record 4 channels simultaneously.  Take that Comcast!

Hmm… I’m suddenly feeling a little anxious here.  Am I really ready to cut those apron strings cable hookups?  Or am I just being cheap again?   I’ll keep you posted! 

                             Oh and finally—this is my 200th post