Monday, July 26, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 131

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 44
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 18
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 14

“The Big Family Cruise”

While Mal and I were on a Caribbean cruise in 1997 we thought it could be nice to celebrate our upcoming 25th wedding anniversary by taking a cruise with all of our siblings, their spouses, and our parents. We had a nice wedding all those years ago but it wasn’t very expensive or “fancy” because we had no money at the time. Now we had a little bit and we wanted to share this milestone anniversary with the people we loved. We had negotiated a reasonable price with Carnival Cruise Lines for fifteen cabins on the outside of the ship because we wanted all of our family to enjoy a window view. The location of these cabins weren’t the greatest since Mal and I were paying for this trip and we were trying to make this trip affordable. Even in the “less desirable” location this vacation was going to cost us over $30,000.

A few weeks before we were scheduled to set sail, our travel agent, Elsa, called to say that Carnival had upgraded all fifteen cabins to suites with private balconies on the top deck at no additional charge! No explanation was given for this great upgrade but we were happy to take it.

The ship, “The Imagination,” was “sailing” out of Miami, Florida and since we were coming from several different parts of the United States we all planned to meet on the ship near the main pool. Travel arrangements were the responsibility of each of our family members because we couldn’t really afford to pay for their airfare, too. Several family members used accumulated “frequent flyer miles” and another group just drove to Miami because they lived nearby. A bunch of us flew out of Boston, Massachusetts together since that was the most convenient airport for us. Surprising, even though there were thirty-one in our group, we all found each other soon after we boarded the huge cruise ship.

After the mandatory “lifeboat muster” drill, we all spent some time exploring this luxurious “floating hotel.” This ship was twelve-stories high and it was almost 1000 feet long. It contained several nightclubs and lounges, two huge dining rooms, a large casino, a health club, swimming pools and much more! This ship carried over two thousand passengers and almost one thousand crewmembers. My wife and children had no problem finding their way around this ship since we had taken numerous cruises on similar ships but many of our relatives found themselves intimidated by the enormous size of “The Imagination.”

After the ship headed out to sea and our initial exploration was done, it was time for dinner in the main dining room. Since our group was so big, we were seated at three large tables next to the windows looking out over the ocean. We decided to change our seating arrangements several times during the seven-day voyage so that we’d get to spend time with as many of our relatives as possible. As usual, the food was delicious and beautiful to look at. Most of our group enjoyed the opportunity to sample foods that they had never tried before including snails, cold strawberry soup, and several Caribbean dishes.

This cruise offered lots of activities onboard while the ship was at sea and there were dozens of tours available for the days that we were scheduled to be the islands. With such a large group I knew that it could be much too difficult to be their designated “tour guide,” so we decided to be available to offer suggestions without putting pressure on them to do what my immediate family was planning to do. Each evening, I’d explain several tour options and I’d tell them what I was going to do. Anyone who wanted to travel with us was welcome. If they wanted to do what I was doing, they needed to meet in the lobby at a specified time. No pressure at all. This was their vacation and they should do whatever they wanted to do.

Our first island stop was in Cozumel, Mexico. Most of us took taxis to the beautiful Chankanaub Park where we snorkeled in crystal-clear, fish-filled water, explored a small botanical garden, and relaxed in the sun.

Our next island stop was Ocho Rios, Jamaica where I chartered a private bus to take us to the famous “Dunn’s River Falls.” This is a huge series of waterfalls that you walk and climb, (holding each other’s hands) through rushing water with the help of an experienced tour guide. Although there were a few very challenging parts of this climb, we all managed to survive and we had a fun time. The family members who had decided not to go with us to “The Falls,” went snorkeling and reported that it was even better than Cozumel.

Our last island stop was in Grand Cayman where most of us went on a tour of “Sting Ray City.” This tour takes you to a sandbar about twenty minutes out into the ocean. When you get into the water you are suddenly surrounded by dozens of stingrays that measure as much as four feet wide. These strange, gentle creatures would glide under your feet and brush up against you as you swim around this sandbar. The tour guides gave us pieces of squid to hold between our fingers so the stingrays could suck it out of hands. This was an exciting tour, and although I’d done this once before, it was fun to watch our relatives experience this.

One night, before dinner, a group of us went to a lounge for a Karaoke session and we were entertained by several of our own family members including Lori Howley, Madeline Paladino, Carol Walsingham, and our son Adam and daughter Cassy.

Another night, my daughter Cassy, and Mal’s sister Carol, participated in the “Passenger Talent Show” in front of almost one thousand people. Cassy sang the theme from Walt Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.” Carol sang a song by Ray Boltz titled, “The Anchor Holds,” that explained that during times of crisis and trial, the power and strength of God will remain constant if we rely on Him. This was an interesting choice of songs to perform for a “cruise-crowd” but she certainly did a great job.

On another evening, while the ship was at sea, our relatives surprised Mal and I by reserving a function room and throwing us a twenty-fifth anniversary party complete with many thoughtful gifts. It was great to have almost our entire families together in one place. (The only relative who wasn’t invited on the cruise was my brother Jay and his wife, Annette. Although we love them, we knew that they couldn’t afford to spend any money on shipboard or island activities and they wouldn’t enjoy the “cruise-atmosphere.” We didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable) As it turned out, this would be the last time we’d all be together.

Next chapter: Adam goes to college and we move to New Hampshire.
Pictures: Our 25th anniversary cruise
We swim with the stingrays
We climb Dunns River Falls in Jamaica

Friday, July 23, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 130

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 44
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 18
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 14


“We make a “crazy” decision.”

My son, Adam, was preparing for his high school graduation from Lexington Christian Academy and he still wasn’t sure which college he was going to attend in the fall. He had been offered a decent academic scholarship for the University of Cincinnati but he had not yet been accepted into the musical theatre program. He would need to audition for the theatre department and his confidence had been shaken because of a few unsuccessful recent college auditions. This university was recognized as one of the top schools in the country for theatre and Adam was seriously considering going there even if he didn’t make it into the theatre department. He figured that once he was there, he could keep trying until he got into this exclusive department. He was also offered a generous theatre scholarship to attend Eastern Nazarene College in Massachusetts, based on his credentials as a good student and actor as well as a good recommendation from his high school drama teacher, Chris Greco. Adam wanted a change and really didn’t want to go to a private Christian college, so he declined the offer. He also didn’t want to be separated from his girlfriend, Meridith, who had already been accepted at The Boston Conservatory in Boston, Massachusetts. With a last-minute audition and a recommendation from Adam’s private voice teacher (who was also a teacher at The Boston Conservatory) Adam was accepted into this highly acclaimed school. When we asked Adam how much the tuition was, he admitted that he had no idea. It never occurred to him that it might be more than we could afford. Our agreement with both of our children was that we would pay for half of their college expenses and the other half would be their responsibility. Any scholarships that they earned would be deducted from their half of the cost of the tuition. This seemed fair to us because any scholarships would be the result of their own hard work. Unfortunately, since Adam had waited so long to apply to The Boston Conservatory, there were no scholarships offered to him. He was just to consider himself lucky to be accepted.

My sister Sharon’s daughter, Emily, was graduating from a small, private Christian school in Laconia, New Hampshire a week or two before Adam’s graduation and we were invited to attend the graduation ceremony.

Emily was supposed to be born a few weeks before Adam but since Adam was born seven weeks prematurely, he was born first. Emily and Adam ended up in a good-natured “competition” during their youth. Who would walk first? Who would talk first? Who would start school first? Who would get their drivers license first? Now, Emily was graduating high school first.

We noticed some unusual things as we listened to the speakers at the graduation ceremony. The “special guest speaker,” Bill Broughton, was a teacher from the school and although he was a quiet, soft-spoken man, his message was an encouragement to all of the students and the audience. The principal of the school, Dave Borchers, (also known as Mr. B.) introduced each of the twenty graduates to the audience. He shared some of his personal thoughts about each student and then listed some of each student’s accomplishments and aspirations for the future. My wife and I were surprised that this principal seemed to really care about these students and personally knew so much about them. The other thing we noticed was something that didn’t impress us. It seemed as if most of these students had rather unspectacular life-goals. One girl hoped to become a secretary. One boy hoped to work in his family’s excavation business. Some expressed interest in some form of missionary work. Several students were planning to go on to college after graduation but none were accepted into prominent “Ivy League” colleges. Those that were going to go to college had chosen small private Christian universities or state schools. I wasn’t very impressed.

The next week we went to Adam’s graduation from Lexington Christian Academy. The ceremony was a formal affair with all of the “pomp and circumstance” you’d expect from a serious college preparatory school with the outstanding reputation of Lexington Christian Academy. Many of the teachers and administration proudly wore their robes adorned with sashes indicating their educational credentials. The list of colleges and universities that Adam’s classmates were going to attend included Harvard, Yale, Princeton and other top schools. Very impressive indeed. This school had certainly prepared these graduates for the next part of the educational process. If I’m not mistaken, every student in the graduating class was attending a four-year college the following fall. That is quite an accomplishment for both the school and the students. But after experiencing Emily’s graduation ceremony and comparing it to Adam’s ceremony, we couldn’t help but notice a significant difference. At the time, it was hard to put my finger on exactly what the difference was, but I knew that I wanted my daughter, Cassy, to be a part of the small school in New Hampshire instead of the school that Adam had attended. Cassy had been put on a “waiting list” at Lexington Christian Academy but we weren’t comfortable waiting any longer for a spot to open up for her. We needed to make a decision. Only half seriously, I made a crazy suggestion.

In the unlikely event that a spot did open up for Cassy at Lexington Christian Academy, we’d be paying about $10,000 per year for tuition. We loved my sister Sharon and her whole family and we’d enjoy being closer to where they lived. When Adam went off to college in Boston, the rest of us could move to the Laconia, New Hampshire area so that Cassy could attend Laconia Christian School. The tuition was so low (about $2800 per year) that we could rent an apartment or condo and pay the tuition for less money than just the tuition for Lexington Christian Academy. I was rarely needed at my comic book stores because I had a good staff of competent employees. We could keep our home in Bolton, Massachusetts, just in case this situation didn’t work out. If it didn’t work out, we could just move back to Massachusetts.

After discussing this for a few days it started to seem like a real possibility. We called the school in New Hampshire and the school secretary, Judy Downing, arranged for us to come up for a mandatory student and parent information night and interview. After a brief interview we were asked to prayerfully consider whether this was the right move for us. Convinced that it was, we called a few days later and were told that Cassy would be allowed to attend this school. This meant that we needed to deal with a lot of major issues before the summer ended, like finding and renting a place to live in New Hampshire. But first, we were leaving on our huge family cruise soon!

Next chapter: The cruise.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 129

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 44
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 18
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 14


“The California Trip: Part Four”

In 1998, my son, Adam, and I spent three weeks in California together because, as part of his high school graduation requirement, he was interning for my friend Kevin Burns who was a vice president at Twentieth Century Fox Studios. I was quite concerned that spending three weeks together in a small hotel room could cause conflicts between us so I tried to plan some fun things for the time that Adam wasn’t working.

I allowed Adam to chose a restaurant each night for dinner. Most of the time he was happy to eat at “Taco Bell.” As long as there was plenty of food to eat, Adam was satisfied. We also spent several nights searching local used clothing stores on a hunt for an authentic “Zoot Suit.” Adam was very interested in swing-dancing at that time and he knew his best-friend Phil Doreau would get a kick out of seeing him in a real “Zoot Suit.” Adam finally found something pretty close to authentic. Although I hated to spend time shopping, Adam loved to shop, especially when his parents were paying. Shoes, clothes and music were his favorite things to buy. I didn’t always understand this. I figured most men only really needed one pair of shoes and a pair of sneakers. Adam had dozens of pairs of shoes. It was obvious that Adam and I were different, although many people thought we were quite similar.

We were the same in one way though. We both missed the women in our lives. I missed my wife, Mal, very much, and I certainly missed my “little princess,” Cassy. I called them every day that we were away. This was before the convenience of inexpensive cell-phones so every call had to be made from our hotel room at great expense. As important as these calls were for me, I knew that Adam needed to talk with his girlfriend, Meridith, each day too. Over the three weeks we were in California I’m sure we spent hundreds of dollars on phone calls to our loved ones. It was an expense I was certainly willing to spend and Adam appreciated it.

Adam and I both loved to go to see movies and we decided we “needed” to see a major film while we were in Hollywood. The huge blockbuster, “Godzilla” was opening one night so we chose this as the movie to see and found a state-of-the-art theatre that was showing it on a 90-foot-long screen with “surround-sound.” I contacted Tony Russo, a good customer and a friend from my Worcester store who had recently moved to the Hollywood area, to see if he’d also enjoy going to the movies with us. Although the movie wasn’t a great film, it was nice to see it in such a beautifully equipped theatre.

Adam and I started each weekday morning by watching a television news show called “Good Day, Los Angeles.” The show was a standard mix of news and entertainment but there was a difference. There was a female cast member named Jillian Barberie who seemed to understand how “cheesy” the show was and she was frequently sarcastic to the other news-anchors. She was so entertaining that it was the perfect encouragement to get Adam to wake up on time each morning for work. We were both eager to see what she would do or say next. One morning while we were watching, there was a story about a murder in Encino, California and the police believed that the murderer was still in the victim’s home. It didn’t take long before the reporters on the scene revealed that the murdered man was Phil Hartman. Phil Hartman was an actor that Adam and I enjoyed because of his work on “Saturday Night Live,” “News Radio,” and as the voice of Troy McClure and Lionel Hutz on “The Simpsons.” Sadly, we watched the television while it was reported that Hartman’s wife, Brynn, was revealed to be the killer. She shot him while he slept and then committed suicide with her two children in the home.

There was another celebrity death while we were in California. On May 14, 1998 Frank Sinatra died. Adam was at work and I was sitting in my hotel room when I heard the news of Sinatra’s death on the television. I called my wife, Mal, to ask her if she’d heard the news. Mal knew how much I loved Frank Sinatra’s music and we talked about what a significant influence he had on the music world. Later that day I got a phone call from my brother-in-law Greg. He had heard the news about Sinatra and he called me “just to make sure I was okay.” I was very touched that he was so thoughtful but I explained that this wouldn’t affect me in the same way as the death of John Lennon. Lennon was murdered and he still could have created music for several more decades. Frank Sinatra had lived a full life. His health had deteriorated. The last time I saw Frank Sinatra in concert (in 1992 or 1993) he needed huge “tele-prompters” because he had trouble remembering the lyrics to songs that he had been singing for almost forty years. Soon after that, he was no longer physically able to perform in concerts or record new music. Every bit of music that Frank Sinatra would ever create was already done and, thankfully, it was readily available for music fans. If there had been a possibility that Frank Sinatra could have gotten his health back so that he could sing again, I would have been sad because of the loss of potential. In this case, knowing this was not meant to be, I felt sympathy for Sinatra’s family but not for me. I’d still have his music. In hindsight, it still surprises me that out of all of my family and friends who were all aware of my “obsession” with Sinatra, only Greg called to see how I was affected by his death.

The very next day, as Adam and I were visiting with my friend, Kevin Burns, he received a phone call from a close friend of Nancy Sinatra who asked if they could meet to discuss something important. This man came rushing over to Kevin’s beautiful Beverly Hills home to “pitch” a television idea to Kevin. We all talked a little bit about Frank Sinatra and the man told us some of the details about the funeral arrangements. It was eerie that I was suddenly privy to information that most of the general public would never know.

The visitor was also the manager of Stefanie Powers, the actress from the television shows of “The Girl From Uncle (a short-lived spin-off of “The Man From Uncle”),” Hart to Hart,” and most recently, the “Hart to Hart Reunion” television movies. He explained that the “Hart to Hart” movies were coming to an end and then proceeded to “pitch” an idea for a potential new series of “The Girl From Uncle” in which Stefanie Powers would portray the head of the Uncle organization. Kevin respectfully listened to the ideas, gave some advice to Ms. Powers’ manager, and the visitor left. During our three-week stay in Hollywood Adam and I met some very nice people who were connected to show business in various ways but we also noticed that there were some people who seemed to use the friendship “angle” to constantly try to get something for themselves out of the relationship. We both felt badly for Kevin sometimes. I was glad that Adam wasn’t getting paid for his intern work for Kevin so that I wouldn’t be taking advantage of my true friendship with Kevin.

When Adam’s internship was completed, we returned home to Massachusetts with good memories. Kevin Burns was a wonderful and entertaining host. Adam wrote his “journal” report that was part of the requirement for his high school graduation and received an “A” for his effort. His graduation was coming soon. He was almost done with his high school experience but he had still not made a final decision about where he was going to go to college. We also had not found a high school for our daughter to go to and we didn’t have any reasonable options.

Next chapter: We come up with a “crazy” idea!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 128

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 44
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 18
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 14
Kevin Burns: a friend and a vice president of Twentieth Century Fox Studios


“The California Trip Part Three”

As a requirement for his high school graduation, my son Adam, needed to “intern” at a job related to his future career. Adam contacted my friend, Kevin Burns, who was now a vice president at Twentieth Century Fox Studios in California. Since Adam was too young to rent a hotel room or a rental car, I decided that I had to go there with him. Although Adam worked as an employee during the day, Kevin arranged lots of entertainment for us for “after hours.”

The first Saturday we were in Los Angeles, Kevin took us to the home of Bob Burns (no relation of Kevin), the world famous collector of Hollywood science fiction and horror movie props. Bob Burns met us the door and gave us a short tour through his museum/home full of original motion picture props including a full-sized “Queen Alien” model from the movie of “Aliens,” the original feet from “The Creature of the Black Lagoon,” the working model from “Mighty Joe Young,” the fully-restored original 1960’s Time Machine from George Pal’s “The Time Machine,” and the actual “ball and socket” model from the 1930’s movie of “King Kong.” This model was used to create the stop-motion action of King Kong. It was originally covered in a fake fur but it now had deteriorated so much that there was only one small bit of fur left on it! There were also hundreds of other rare items displayed and stacked up all around the room. It was a delight for me since I was such a big collector of memorabilia. Adam enjoyed it too, even though he wasn’t much of a collector.

Bob Burns brought us upstairs into his residence and introduced us to a few of his friends who were visiting him for the day. One of the guests was Dan Roebuck who had just finished a regular co-starring role on the popular television show “Matlock” starring Andy Griffith. Dan played Ben Matlock’s assistant, Cliff Lewis, and I was happy to meet him, as Matlock was one of my favorite TV shows. We sat around with this interesting group of people, discussing old movies and television shows.

Later that evening, Kevin Burns treated Adam and me to dinner at the restaurant where one of Adam’s favorite movies, “Swingers,” was filmed. We were joined by Forrest J Ackerman, one of the creators of the most popular magazine about classic horror movies, “Famous Monsters of Filmland.” Mr. Ackerman wrote, edited and managed this publication from the late 1950’s to the 1970’s. He was also the owner of the world-famous “Ackermansion.” This was actually his seventeen-room home filled with some truly amazing science fiction and horror collectibles. Forry (as he was called) was a true fan of these genres and he was quite a “pack-rat.” He had thousands of rare pulp magazines from the 1930’s, vintage science fiction paperback books and lots of original artwork from these publications and he enjoyed sharing his collection with other fans. Unfortunately, Forry was too trusting and several unscrupulous people took advantage of his kindness and actually stole many of his prized collectibles over a period of several years. Although Forry was in his very late seventies, he was “sharp as a tack” and an entertaining dinner companion.

During the next business week Kevin closed his office for the day and took his assistant, his secretary, Adam and me to Disneyland for the day. Adam was thrilled because although he had been to Disney World many times and he’d been to Disneyland Paris, he had never been to Disneyland. We had a great time together.

The next weekend, as we were driving around Los Angeles with Kevin, Adam and I mentioned that we had been searching the local McDonald’s restaurants looking for the newest release of the “Teeny Beanie Babies” animals. My wife, Mal, and my daughter, Cassy, were collecting these as part of their “Beanie Babies” collection and we didn’t have any McDonald’s near where we lived in Massachusetts so Adam and I thought we’d find these in California for them. Kevin remembered that his friend, Bill Mumy, the actor who portrayed Will Robinson on “Lost In Space,” was also looking for these Beanie Babies for his wife’s collection. Kevin called Bill and told him that we had found a few that he might want and Bill invited us to stop by his home. I had met Bill Mumy several years previously when he appeared at my store as a guest but I was surprised that he remembered me.

Bill introduced us to his family and gave us a “guided tour” of his collection of golden-age comic books. He also showed us his impressive collection of rare “Pez” dispensers. We talked about his long career in Hollywood, including his roles in “The Twilight Zone,” “Bewitched,” “Lost In Space,” and “Babylon 5.” After a very pleasant visit, as we were leaving we noticed his young son excitedly playing with vintage G. I. Joe dolls that were from Bill’s childhood. I told Bill that there were great reproductions of these G.I. Joe’s available at my store and I promised him that I’d send him one so that his son could enjoy it without worrying about the “collector’s value” of Bill’s originals. Bill expressed his “thanks” and we left. On the way back to Kevin’s home, Kevin called Jonathan Harris on his car speakerphone. Jonathan was the actor who portrayed Dr. Zachary Smith on the TV show of “Lost In Space” and he was one of Kevin’s good friends. We all laughed when Jonathan expressed his brutally honest opinion of the recent theatrical remake of “Lost In Space” that starred William Hurt. He certainly didn’t like it!

Later that evening, we were all invited to dinner at the home of Dan Roebuck and his family. After a delicious home-cooked turkey dinner, Dan gave us a tour of his fantastic collection of monster collectibles, including lots of rare Dracula, Creature of the Black Lagoon, and Planet of the Apes items. We visited with him long into the evening, and just before we left, he asked us if we’d be interested in seeing one of the original seersucker suits worn by Andy Griffith in the TV show “Matlock.” Adam actually asked if he could try on the suit and Dan allowed both Adam and me to do just that!

For all of the years since our visit, I have followed Dan Roebuck’s career with great interest. He has had dozens of movie roles and played in several television series including “The Fugitive” with Harrison Ford, “U.S. Marshals” with Tommy Lee Jones, “Nash Bridges” with Don Johnson, “A Minute With Stan Hooper” with Norm MacDonald, “ER,” “Cold Case,” “Becker,” “NYPD Blue,” “Boston Public,” “Judging Amy,” “Malcolm In The Middle,” “The Drew Carey Show,” “The Pretender,” “The King of Queens,” and “Monk.” Dan has also been seen in three episodes of ABC-TV’s hit series “Lost” and is currently in a recurring role on the huge hit “Desperate Housewives.” He’s such a nice guy and deserves all of the success that he’s had in Hollywood.

Next chapter: The conclusion to our California trip.
Pictures: Adam and I wearing the actual suit that Andy Griffith wore on "Matlock"
Adam with Dan Roebuck, co-star of Matlock.

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 127

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 44
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 18
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 14
Kevin Burns: A friend and a vice president at Twentieth Century Fox Studios


“Adam and I spend three weeks in California: Part Two”

While my son, Adam, was working as an intern at Twentieth Century Fox Studios, I was checking out the comic book and collectible stores in the Los Angeles area. I wanted to buy some vintage comic books for my customers back in Massachusetts but I hadn’t been successful. The stores just didn’t have good inventories of older comics.

There was a good-sized, monthly flea market near the hotel that Adam and I were staying at and we decided to go to it after Adam’s first week of work. We looked through dozens of booths full of glassware, military souvenirs, postcards, and lots of Disney collectibles. We also found two separate guys who dealt in comic books. As I looked through the stock at each of the booths, I was surprised to find a nice selection of comics from the 1950’s and 1960’s. One of the dealers was rather high-priced on most of his stock but I was able to buy a handful of vintage comics from him that he had dramatically under-priced. I knew that these would sell right away at my stores. My customers would be eager to buy these comics and I’d be able to make a little bit of profit on the sale too.

The other dealer had his comics priced fairly but as I was looking through his boxes of inventory, I asked the “all-important” question, “If I buy a bunch of these will you give me a better price?” He eagerly offered me a fifty-percent discount if I spent over two hundred dollars. That was going to be pretty easy to do since he had multiple copies of “Mystery In Space” issue #53 (the beginning of the Adam Strange storyline) and these were priced at almost $100 each! Within a half hour, I had already spent over $1000 at his booth and I was almost out of money. When I was done, I was smart enough to ask him if he had any more comic books back at his house. He gave me his address and phone number and we made plans to meet at his house during the next week while Adam was working.

The next day, after bringing Adam to his workplace, I called the comic dealer and got directions to his home that was about 75 miles away. Since I was almost out of cash and I still had almost two more weeks to be out in California I went to a local bank to get a cash advance on my credit card. I took out $4000 to (hopefully) spend on much needed vintage comics for my customers. I had never taken a cash advance before so I was surprised to find out that I would be charged a three percent fee, based on the amount I withdrew, and that the interest would begin from the day the money was withdrawn. Even with these high costs for this borrowed money, it still was worth doing.

When I arrived at his house, he showed me to a room piled high with boxes of unsorted comic books. These comics were published from the 1950’s to the 1980’s and none of them had been priced yet. This complicated the procedure. I had to select a comic book and wait for the guy to look it up in the comic book price guide before he’d quote me a price on it. If the price was too high, I’d put it back in his box. If the price was reasonable, I’d keep the book and record the price on a sheet of paper to be tallied up at the end of our time together. It was a slow and ponderous way to buy old comics but it wasn’t up to me. This was the way he wanted to do it. After several hours, I agreed to pay him almost $4000 for fourteen full boxes of vintage comic books. I somehow managed to stuff all of these boxes into my tiny rental car and returned to my hotel room to unload these treasures before it was time to go back to Hollywood to get Adam.

When I returned from picking up Adam, I spent hours going through the great assortment of vintage comics. This collection was great and I knew that almost every one of these comics were needed in my store inventory. I realized though, that now I was worried about leaving over $10,000 worth of valuable comic books in my hotel room! I requested that the hotel maids stay out of our room for a few days but I was still concerned about the security and safety of this collection. I could carefully pack these all up and ship them up to my store but it would cost hundreds of dollars and there would be no way to properly insure such a shipment. Most shipping insurance specifically excludes collectibles in their coverage, so a comic book from the 1950’s that originally cost ten cents could only be insured for ten cents even though it is currently worth hundreds of dollars! I couldn’t take that chance.

I decided to try a different option. I sorted through the collection one day and pulled out about 600 of the comics that I knew would sell right away and I loaded the rest of the comics back into my rental car. I drove to the famous comic book store, “The Golden Apple” on Melrose Avenue, and asked to speak to the owner, Bill Liebowitz. Bill was one of the best-known figures in the field of comic book retailing and his store was known all over the country. When he was told that I wanted to see him, he came out of the back room right away and greeted me with his “trademark” enthusiasm. I had only spoken to Bill once before while we both attended a retailing seminar and I was surprised that he’d even remember me. I explained to him about my newly purchased collection of vintage comics that I didn’t want to ship back to my store. I suggested that he should buy the comic books from me. I offered him the whole lot that I had in my rental car for $6000. He thought for a few moments and asked, “Is that a good deal?” I said I thought it was a great deal. Without even looking at the collection, he said, “Okay. I’ll take it.” He went out back and wrote me a check while I unloaded the collection from my car. It was one of the easiest deals I had ever made.

In this deal, everyone ended up satisfied. The man I bought these comics from got the full price he wanted. Bill got twelve boxes of very desirable silver-age comic books at a reasonable price and I ended up with about 600 fantastic comics plus a profit on the whole collection!

Next chapter: Adam’s job and Kevin Burns introduces us to celebrities in California.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 126

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 44
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 18
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 14
Kevin Burns: a friend and former customer


“Adam and I take a three week trip to California”

As part of the requirements for Adam to graduate from his high school, Lexington Christian Academy, he needed to “intern” somewhere in a field of interest for him. Adam had a serious interest in acting so he asked my friend, Kevin Burns, for the opportunity to intern for Twentieth Century Fox Studios in California. Kevin, a vice president there, was in charge of producing most of the A+E Biography television shows and he agreed to allow Adam to work there. Since Adam was too young to rent a hotel room or car, I decided to go out to California with him. On one hand, this trip could be a disaster because Adam and I didn’t always get along and it could be a nightmare being stuck in a small hotel room together for almost three weeks. On the other hand, it could be a good opportunity for Adam and I to get closer as father and son, especially since he’d be moving away to go to college soon.

I had no real idea of how much money to bring on a long trip like this, but since I don’t like to use my credit card, I brought what I thought would be enough cash to cover most of our expenses including food, gas, and some entertainment. We packed our suitcases, said goodbye to Mal and Cassy, and flew to Los Angeles. After we landed and got our rental car, we drove around Los Angeles until we located the office that Adam would be working in so we wouldn’t get lost and be late for his first day of work. Adam thought that this was a waste of time but he knew this wasn’t open for “discussion.” I liked to be prepared. With that detail out of the way, we headed to our hotel.

Elsa, my favorite travel agent booked us into a reasonably priced hotel about twenty miles from the Fox Studio’s lot where Adam would be working. I wrongly assumed that this would require about a half-hour of commuting time each morning. Although the hotel was very close to the major highway that we’d travel on, it ended up taking us anywhere from one hour to one and a half hours to make the trip each way because of the heavy traffic. It was one of the biggest inconveniences of “living” in Los Angeles. One of the nice conveniences was the selection of restaurants available to us. The tiny town where we lived in Massachusetts had no such dining options. Adam and I were not gourmet eaters (we preferred quantity over quality) so we frequently chose to eat at “Taco Bell.” In fact, one day, we ate there three times!

When we arrived (on time, of course) at Fox Studio for Adam’s first day of work, Kevin Burns had left authorization with the guard so that we could get inside the studio lot. We were directed past the soundstage where the television show, “N.Y.P.D. Blue,” was filmed (a short distance from Kevin’s office bungalow) but I was disappointed that the year’s episodes were already all filmed so the soundstage was empty. Kevin introduced us to his assistant, Scott, and his secretary. This was the only staff that Kevin employed to work with him in this office but he had many more employees at his much larger offices on Van Ness Boulevard in Hollywood. Adam spent his first day on the Fox Studio lot working mostly with Scott. Rather than just hang around, I drove around the city of Los Angeles, checking out the local comic book stores. Most of the stores had weak inventories of vintage comic books and collectibles but mainly focused on new product. This new stuff didn’t interest me much because I had access to all of same material at my own comic book and collectible stores, “That’s Entertainment,” in Massachusetts. I was hoping to be able to buy some old comic books that my customers needed to finish their collections but I had no luck at the retail comic stores in Los Angeles. I would get luckier on my first weekend in California.

Next chapter: Adam and I find a local flea market and make a great “connection.”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 125

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 43
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 18
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 13
Pat Donley: A former employee and a friend


In 1998, my tenant, Gary, who rented out part of my commercial building in Worcester, the owner of “The Halloween Outlet,” decided to buy a small retail plaza in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. He bought it at a reasonable price but several of the stores were empty. The plaza wasn’t in a particularly good location and it was hard to see from the main roads that went through the neighborhood. He jokingly suggested that I open another comic book and collectible store in one of his available storefronts. I politely declined his offer.

At about the same time, I got a phone call from Pat Donley, a former employee and a friend. He had left “That’s Entertainment” many years ago and had opened a comic book and collectible store in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pat wanted to get married and raise his family near where most of his relatives still lived. I certainly understood. But after running his store during the “lean years” of the comic book industry, Pat was interested in earning more money to support his wife and children. He contacted me and asked if I would be interested in finding an opening in our organization for him. After some thought, I called him back and asked if he’d be interested in opening and running a new store in Rhode Island. Pat quickly sold his store to an interested party and convinced his wife to uproot the family and come back to New England.

I went back to my tenant, Gary, and told him that I was reconsidering locating a new store in his Rhode Island plaza. He offered me a reasonable rent on the space and I made it clear that I’d rent it on a month-to-month basis and I was not interested in making any long-term commitment. Gary was very easy to deal with and we shook hands on our agreement. No written contracts were necessary because we trusted each other. It was a refreshing way of doing business.

Before Pat arrived in Massachusetts my employees sorted through our massive inventory of back issue comic books and made a decent stock for our upcoming new store. They also selected lots of toys, trading cards and movies from our overstock. We had extra display racks and shelves available so we wouldn’t have huge initial set-up costs. By the time Pat arrived he sorted through hundreds of expensive “display” comic books and chose an assortment that would cover one of the walls of the new store. He also had to concentrate on finding an apartment for his family to live in partway between Woonsocket, Rhode Island and Worcester, Massachusetts. Pat found a convenient location, close to a small “downtown” shopping area, and with all of these details taken care of; we opened our Rhode Island store in early 1998.

I trusted that Pat could handle all of the assorted details that come up when you run a store since he had successfully opened and managed his own store in Pennsylvania. I had enough stuff going on in my “personal” life, so I knew I couldn’t be much help to Pat. My son, Adam, was halfway through his senior year in high school and there were lots of details to complete before his graduation. One of the graduation requirements was that all seniors had to “intern” for two weeks somewhere in a field of interest to them, preferably in the type of job they wanted to go into after college.

Mal and I discussed the many possibilities with Adam and we all decided that it might be fun if Adam could intern for my good friend, Kevin Burns. Kevin used to be a college professor in the Boston area and he had moved to California to take a job at Twentieth Century Fox. Over a period of a few years, Kevin moved up the corporate ladder and he was now a Vice President at the studio. Adam’s strong interest in theatre and acting seemed to make this a wonderful opportunity. Adam wrote to Kevin, offering his services for the two-week period. Kevin called Adam and discussed the details and soon agreed to let Adam work directly for him. Adam was very excited about this trip to Hollywood. Adam couldn’t really go out there alone because he was too young to rent a hotel room or rent a car, so I decided to go along. I hadn’t seen Kevin in quite a while so I knew that part would be pleasant. I did, however, have my doubts about Adam and I getting along for two weeks in a hotel room together.

Next chapter: The California trip.

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 124

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 43
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 18
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 13


Although I wasn’t on a regular work schedule since my “retirement” from my comic book and collectible stores, I’d still occasionally go in (usually unannounced) to check up on things. I thought we had a pretty good group of employees, all under the leadership of my long-time, “right-hand guy” Chris. Over the past year we had lost Jose Rivera (a customer favorite) and Richard Ortwein, who returned to social work, but everyone else seemed happy and professional. The stores continued to be profitable and we were all getting paid.

On one rare occasion when I was in the Worcester store, I ran into one of my customers who worked for the big city newspaper. I mentioned to him that I was confused by the newspaper’s indifference to my “press release” about our being awarded the “Will Eisner Spirit of Comic Book Retailing Award.” I explained to him that this international recognition is something that we were very proud of and it seemed to me as if it would make an interesting local story but the editorial staff wasn’t interested in interviewing us about it. He said he’d mention it in the next editorial meeting and within a week he was assigned as a reporter to write a story about us. On February 5, 1998, they published this article:

If you buy comic books in the Worcester area, chances are you know Paul B. Howley. At least you know his store, That’s Entertainment, at 244 Park Avenue.

That’s Entertainment carries 1200 different comic book titles each month. In addition to comic books, the shop deals in a variety of pop-culture items, including toys, trading cards, sports merchandise and autographed memorabilia. With 12,000 square feet of retail space, Howley says That’s Entertainment is the largest collectibles store in New England.

Howley was recently honored with the “Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailing Award.” Named after the creator of the 1940’s masked crime fighter, “The Spirit,” the Eisner Award is the Academy Award of the comic book industry.

It’s a worldwide competition for which every comic book store is eligible. Nominees are judged on their knowledge of retailing and the comics field, community activity and the quality of their store’s image.

Howley was an ordinary 5-year-old whose life changed when a friend of his grandmother gave him a “Batman” comic book. He was hooked. “I loved reading about Batman and I bought everything I could find him in. That was before the TV show,” Howley said.

As Howley’s love for the 12-cent magazines grew daily, his parents used their son’s obsession as an incentive to make him complete chores around the house and as a reward for achieving small milestones in his young life.

“My parents actually have film of me trying to pull out one of my front teeth,” said Howley. “We tied a string to the door and to my tooth. We slammed the door and yanked my tooth out. As a reward for that, I got $2.00 worth of comic books.”

When Howley started dating his future wife, the former Mal Daher, he was forced to choose between courtship and comics due to limited finances. He chose courtship.

After he got married in 1973, his wife, knowing that her husband had been a collector, asked to see his comics. Howley pulled down his well-read books from the attic. When his wife saw the beaten-up comics, she encouraged him to replace them with ones in “really nice shape.” Inspired by his wife’s support, Howley searched for an outlet to do just that. Soon, his passion for comics resurfaced.

Later that year, Howley got his first taste for buying and selling comic books, retailing at small comic book conventions in Boston. He continued to buy and sell at conventions in Boston and New York for the next three years.

Howley moved to Tennessee in 1976 to open and manage a store for a comic book retailer. A year later, a comic book retailer from Ohio offered Howley a job. He was promised an annual salary $10,000 higher than in Tennessee and weekends off. The promise didn’t pan out and, in the first year, he worked forty-two weekends, traveling around the country to comic book conventions, his loyal wife always by his side. “It just made me realize that the way to go was to be on my own. That way, nobody could break their promises,” Howley said. “I never complained because I was learning the whole time that I was doing it.”

Eventually, the grueling schedule, Howley’s desire to settle down and raise a family, and the inability to develop a relationship with his customers, finally took its toll. Howley wanted out.
“You’re selling to some faceless guy and you don’t know who he is. You’re just selling your comics. I wanted a stable business where I knew the customers by name. I know what their interests are. I know what to buy because I know what my customers want. Some of my best friends have started out as customers.”

Howley opened That’s Entertainment on Chandler Street in 1980. He moved to Park Avenue in 1992, and he also owns a store in Wallace Plaza on John Fitch Highway in Fitchburg.

“When I opened my store on Chandler Street, it was because I needed space in my house and the place was as cheap to rent as a warehouse space. It was only going to be a warehouse, and then I thought, “Since I’m here anyway I might as well open to the public.” On the first day, we made enough to pay for the first month’s expenses.”

In 1992, retail sales of comic books totaled more than one billion dollars. Those numbers have dropped by 60 percent in the last five years, Howley said. Almost 10,000 comic book stores have closed in the United States since 1992, leaving perhaps 4,000 stores nationwide.

“This is the single worst time to open a comic book business. Never in history has it been this bad. When we first opened, you could open a store for $5,000, and we know because we did,” Howley said. He said that a store like his would now cost $150,000 to start. “We started at exactly the right time.”

Howley says interest in comics is waning in light of the popularity of computer games, video games and movies. “Most kids don’t want to read. So, just because comics are great fun and exciting is not enough to make them spend $2 on it when they can rent a video game for $2 and have things exploding right in their face,” he said. “We encourage comic books because it really fosters a love for reading. Comics got me through high school.”

This newspaper article also included a full-color photograph of me holding my “Eisner” statue. The publicity got our name out to the local community again and I’m sure we developed new customers because of it. Overall, even though comic book sales had dropped, our business was better than ever.

Meanwhile, my son, Adam, was very busy finishing up his senior year of high school. We were still traveling so that Adam could audition for a slot in different colleges’ Musical Theatre Programs. Adam was also preparing to be in the school’s musical production of “Working.” The drama teacher told me that this project would be a major “showcase” for Adam’s singing, acting, and dancing abilities. He was going to play several major characters in this play. We were all excited to see this production, but two days before the performance, I came down with the flu. I don’t often get sick, but when I do it seems to be serious. I had a very high fever and on the night of his play I couldn’t go. I was lying in my bed and was almost delirious with fever but I remember Adam was so worried about me that he was crying as he stood next to my bed. This was the only one of his performances that I had missed. I heard that it was a wonderful performance.

Thankfully, a few days later, the school did an abridged performance that included many of Adam’s parts and I was able to go to see it. He was really good. Mal and I were eagerly looking forward to seeing Adam’s performances when he got to college!

Next chapter: An old friend returns and we open a new store in Rhode Island.

Pictures: Adam performs in "Working"

Friday, July 9, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 123

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 44
Mal: my wife
Adam: my son
Cassy: my daughter
Paul Dinsdale: a customer and friend
Christine Carelli: a customer and friend


Paul Dinsdale and Christine Carelli were both long-time customers and they had become good friends of mine through the store. Both collected comic books, but Paul was the “bigger” collector. He had started shopping at my store when he was a young kid and his enthusiasm for comic books grew over the years. He bought almost every comic book that DC Comics published and he also enjoyed most of the Marvel Comics. Paul came into the Worcester store a few days each week. He’d help us sort the new comic books, and do some general cleaning up while he visited with us. Christine came in once a week.

I had introduced them to each other and was instrumental in “setting them up” on their first date. They dated for a few years, “fell in love” and married in 1993. They even asked me to be in their wedding. We were all very excited in 1997 when Christine revealed that she was expecting twins!

About five months later, on September 22nd, the Dinsdales’ were changed forever, as their babies were born four months prematurely. Nicholas Dinsdale only weighed one pound, four and a half ounces and his twin brother, Daniel, was only slightly heavier. Both of these boys were in critical condition and required twenty-four hour care at the neonatal intensive care unit at Worcester’s Memorial Hospital. Although the doctors didn’t offer much hope, Paul and Christine had no choice but to trust the skilled medical staff to save the lives of their boys.

The two tiny babies struggled to stay alive. Paul and Christine spent many hours every day in the hospital by the boys’ bedside and did their best to maintain their work schedules. They were physically and emotionally exhausted all of the time. On December 1st, 1997, they got a phone call from a doctor in the middle of the night with the news they had feared the most. The doctor said that Nicholas, the smaller of the twins, was in “trouble” and he might be dead before Paul and Christine could get to the hospital.

Nicholas had struggled with breathing problems since his birth and it looked grim. Paul and Christine rushed to the hospital, praying all of the way, frustrated by the slow-moving traffic they encountered. The staff at the hospital had tried frantically to stabilize the tiny boy, but his lungs were failing. Even the sophisticated ventilator couldn’t help him. By the time Paul and Christine arrived, Nicholas was only getting half the oxygen he needed to survive.

A nurse decided to try an ancient technique that is being rediscovered in many hospitals around the world. It’s a form of skin-to-skin contact between the parent and the child where the baby is placed against the parent’s bare chest. The method is called “kangaroo care” because it resembles the way the pouched animals care for their young. For some unknown reason, it is especially effective with premature babies and there are sometimes amazing effects: a steadier heart rate, increased energy, better breathing, and deeper sleep.

As Nicholas’s blood-oxygen level continued to drop, the nurses placed the wriggling, “palm-sized” infant, with all of the tubes and monitor wires still attached, on Christine’s chest. Instantly, he started to relax and within twenty minutes his heart and pulse rates, and his oxygen level, was in the normal range! Soon he was resting more comfortably while his brother, Daniel, was sleeping in an incubator nearby. But Nicholas wasn’t out of danger yet. The Dinsdales, with the help of four family members, held Nicholas for thirty-two hours straight. Christine said, “He just responded so well to it. He loves to be held. It gives him security and calms him down.”

The kangaroo-care also gives parents a chance to bond with their babies, something that is hard to do through the thick plastic walls of an incubator. The Dinsdale twins were so sick at birth that their parents couldn’t hold them for the first thirty days of their lives. They could reach in and pat them but they had to be very careful. Their skin was like tissue paper. They also couldn’t even hear the babies cry because the breathing tubes inserted at birth kept their vocal cords from vibrating. Paul could tell that they were trying to cry though. Their tiny mouths would quiver but there would be no sound.

Two weeks later Nicholas had grown to three pounds, nine ounces and Daniel was now four pounds seven ounces. Both boys were moved out of their individual incubators into a single crib in what is referred to as “double-bedding” of twins. Paul had hope that his boys would respond as positively to this “treatment” as Nicholas had to the kangaroo-care. Paul had already learned the truth about life in the neonatal intensive care unit. Good things happen slowly and bad things happen fast.

The two boys suffered setbacks and underwent numerous surgeries for their lungs and eyes. Although there was some improvement in the boys’ condition, the doctors still offered little hope for their survival. Paul remained positive and always seemed convinced that they’d make it despite the odds. Through it all, it was the boys’ parent’s faith in God that made this emotional “roller coaster ride” bearable. Paul and Christine believed that God would “pull the boys through” and that they would finally be able to get out of the hospital.

On February 14th, 1998, after nearly five months, Nicholas died. Within twenty-four hours, Daniel died.

We were all heartbroken for Paul and Christine, but most of us certainly had no idea how a loss like this could really hurt.

Monday, July 5, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part #122

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 42
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 18
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 13


As 1997 drew to a close, both of my kids were involved in a musical titled “Suddenly One Christmas Eve.” A talented husband-wife team who were friends of Cassy’s vocal teacher wrote this ambitious musical. Adam and Cassy were happy to “work” together for the first time since grade school but this required both of them to commit to dozens of hours of rehearsals on top of their already busy schedules. Adam was in the middle of his senior year of high school and Cassy was in the middle of the eighth grade. Adam was working every weekend to have money for car expenses and to save money for college. At the same time, Adam was also rehearsing for his high school’s big musical in which he had a huge part as multiple characters. Cassy’s schedule was loaded with voice, dance and flute lessons, and a challenging course of studies at her school. But somehow they both made time for it all.

My wife and I were coming up to our 25th wedding anniversary within the next six months and we were thinking of something special to do to celebrate. We briefly considered a trip to Las Vegas to renew our vows with an Elvis impersonator but decided against it. While we were on a cruise in 1997 we thought it would be fun to have our entire family (sisters, brothers, and their spouses) all together on a cruise with us. We did some preliminary investigation into the cost of booking a vacation for over 30 relatives and although it was expensive, we were intrigued enough to still consider the idea.

When we got back after the cruise, we called each of our relatives and asked if they’d be interested in spending some vacation time with us on a “family cruise.” We offered to pay for everyone’s cruise but each person would be responsible for his or her own airfare to get to the Port of Miami. This would work out okay for many of our relatives because they had accumulated “frequent flyer miles” and could use these towards the trip. Even though we were planning to take our two kids with us, we decided that if our relatives wanted to bring any of their own children, they’d have to pay for them. To our surprise and delight, they all thought it would be possible to arrange the time off so they could come with us and the only children coming were my kids and my sister Sharon’s kids and they weren’t youngsters who would need lots of attention. Although none of our siblings’ kids are trouble, it would just be nice for the parents to be able to truly relax.

The next step was to contact Elsa, our travel agent, to see if she could put this all together. She tried “Royal Caribbean” first because we thought these cruise ships were a bit nicer than many of the other lines but the company wasn’t willing to give us a price that we thought was reasonable. Elsa tried “Carnival Cruise Line” and they were eager to offer us a good deal since we were booking so far in advance. We tentatively reserved fifteen cabins for a cruise that would go to the Caribbean during our 25th anniversary week. The total cost of this cruise (not counting my personal expenses) would be a bit over $30,000. This would be, by far, the most expensive vacation we’d ever taken, but since our wedding hadn’t been a big lavish affair, we thought this could be fun. Most of our relatives had never been on a cruise before and we were excited to be with them all for their first time. There would be lots of logistical details to deal with over the next six months to make this vacation go smoothly but I was eager to do it. I’ll let you know how the trip went in a future chapter.

Next chapter: The story of two of my customers and friends: The Dinsdales

Friday, July 2, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 121

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 42
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 18
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 13
My Dad


I’m not a very trusting person anymore. I’ve been “let down” and disappointed by so many people over the course of my life that it has changed the way I think about things. Most businesses have lousy customer service. Many repairmen are unable to repair things. Government officials can’t be trusted. Many clergy are twisted individuals. Many doctors don’t seem interested or qualified to take care of us. I know that I’ve let down many people too, but right now, I’m “talking” about my experience with a couple of doctors.

My youngest brother, Rick, while in his twenties, experienced severe chest pains as he was on his way to work one day. He drove himself to a local community hospital and the “head” of cardiology eventually saw him. A little while later I got a phone call from my mother who was concerned because Rick was told he would need a pacemaker surgically implanted to regulate his heart. I called Rick at the hospital and urged him to get a second opinion. Like most of us, he was reluctant to “embarrass” the doctor by doubting his expert diagnosis, but since this seemed to be an urgent situation, he got a second opinion. It turned out that Rick actually had “mononucleosis” and he didn’t need a pacemaker at all.

When I was a teenager, in the 1960’s, I remember my father suffering with pain for many years. He had been misdiagnosed and he thought he had an ulcer, but as it turned out, he had “Crohn’s Disease.” Many years later, my father was working as an electrical engineering contractor in South Carolina in the late 1990’s and he developed painful kidney stones. Knowing he’d be more comfortable dealing with his regular doctor, he endured the pain until his contract ended and he could seek medical help back home in Massachusetts. By the time he returned to Massachusetts, the problem was much worse and required surgery to repair the damage.

After the surgery, my father didn’t seem to be getting any better. He remained in the hospital for several weeks and finally, the doctor called us all and suggested a “family meeting” to discuss the situation. The doctor explained that Dad’s condition was very serious but they were doing everything they could to cure him.

We all noticed that Dad was getting worse. One evening, when I went to visit him, Dad couldn’t seem to stay awake. As he tried to talk his eyes would roll back and he’d fall asleep. I was really getting worried now, so I called the doctor on call. He calmly explained that Dad was fighting an infection that was very serious and we needed to be aware that he could die from it. I asked what was being done to fight this infection and the doctor told me that Dad had been on a strong antibiotic for the past two weeks but it didn’t seem to be helping his condition. I asked if there was some other antibiotic that could be tried. There was a long pause. The doctor said, “Well….we could try another antibiotic.” The doctor came down and administered the other drug. The next morning my father was awake and sitting up in bed and he made a full recovery. I’d like to believe that some doctor would have eventually thought to try another drug, but I just can’t be sure.

So, what’s my point? For one thing, you need to watch and listen carefully to what the doctors and nurses are doing. Be assertive and assume that you are NOT going to get the best medical attention. Get a second opinion on any serious options. Do not blindly assume that the doctor knows what he or she is talking about. Have you ever thought that perhaps your doctor graduated medical school with a “D-?” They don’t all get “A’s.”

Next chapter: The end of 1997.