The Son, The Backpack and the Angry Parents

Every morning, I drive my 12-year-old son Thomas to middle school.  He sits in the front seat with me.  He keeps his weighty backpack in the backseat.

When we get to the school, he gets out of the car, shuts his door, and opens the door to the backseat to reach for his backpack.

That’s when I reach over the front seat and grab one of the backpack straps.  When he pulls on the backpack, it doesn’t move.

A tug of war ensues.

This is a little embarrassing for him because he’s in junior high and we’re right next to the central quad where all the “cool” kids hang out before school.  So while they do whatever it is “cool” kids do, Tom’s playing tug-of-war with his dad.

Today I made a point of holding on to the strap longer, to the point where he was about to give up on the backpack altogether.  I call it my “death grip extraordinaire.”

That’s when I heard the car horns.  A lot of them.

I looked back.  We were holding up a huge line of cars.  Cars filled with parents trying to drop their kids off at school.

I can only wonder what these parents behind me we’re thinking as I maintained my death grip on Tom’s backpack.

Actually, I can do more than wonder, because I could see their faces in my rear-view mirror.  And they were not big fans of tug-of-war.

That’s too bad, because the Olympics begin tonight, and you’d think the thrill of athletic competition would be in the air.

Save the Zebras! (And Improve Your Love Life)

You may have seen this story this morning.

The headline says it all:

Kenya rounds up zebras for starving lions

Yes, the country of Kenya says its lions are starving.  So they’re herding up zebras to feed to the lions.  That is going to ruin many a zebra Valentine’s Day.

Little did I know the message on my Valentine’s Day crocodile would be so prophetic:

Not to mention the message carried by Rat:

Then there’s poor Zebra, begging for peace in light of Kenya’s decision:

And angelic Cupid Pig, hoping to spread the love:

So if you want to help the poor zebras of Kenya, just go HERE or HERE and buy one of these fine Valentine’s Day gifts for that special someone in your life.

And how will that help the zebras of Kenya?   I’ll tell you.

For each plush you buy, I will think about doing something to help the zebras of Kenya.

So do the right thing this Valentine’s Day and buy these Pearls plush.

You’ll be helping your love life.  And more importantly…

You’ll be helping me.

When Is the Right Time To Retire a Comic Strip?

It’s always tough to know when to retire a strip.  If you use as your example Calvin & Hobbes, The Far Side or Bloom County, the right amount seems to be somewhere between ten and fifteen years.

But if Peanuts had retired at that point, we’d have no Flying Ace or Woodstock or Peppermint Patty. In fact, Schulz’s most famous Sunday strip, the one with the characters lying on their backs identifying cloud formations, did not even come until the 10th year of the strip.

For me, the decision is a tough one.  I have to balance the freshness of Pearls with financial considerations, because after all, I’m only 42, and need to make money for a number of more years.

But the decision was made a whole lot easier for me last week, when I received this:

From: “BARR JAMES ALFRED”

Date: February 5, 2010 1:28:48 PM PST

To: unlisted-recipients:; (no To-header on input)

Subject: Notification of Bequest In Your Name

Notification of Bequest In Your Name

On behalf of the Trustees and Executor of the Estate of Late Scott Kennedy ,I hereby attempt to reach you again. I wish to notify you that late Scott Kennedy made you a beneficiary to his will.He left the sum of thirty one Million five Hundred Thousand Dollars.($31,500,000.00 ) to you  in the codicil and last testament to his will.  This may sound strange and  unbelievable to you, but  it is real and true.

Late Scott Kennedy until his death was a very dedicated Christian who  loved to give out. His great philanthropy earned him numerous awards during  his life time, Late Scott Kennedy died at the age of 71 years.According  to him this money is to support your activities and  to help the poor and the needy.   Please You should fill the information below for more directives

1.Full Name

2.Telephone number,

3.Age

4.contact address/Country

5.occupation

6.identification

Yours In Service,

Barr.James Alfred (Esq)

At first, I questioned the email because I found it strange and unbelievable.  But he knew I would think that.  Look, he says:

“This may sound strange and unbelievable to you, but it is real and true.”

Then I started thinking, “But why would this Scott Kennedy guy leave me this money?”  But he explains that too.  See, it says Scott Kennedy was:

“…a very dedicated Christian who loved to give out.”

But then I was like,”Wait, wait, wait… how does Scott Kennedy know me?”  But he obviously does.  See, he says:

“According to him this money is to support your activities.”

See, he knows I have activities.  Which I do!  I like to sit on the beach and drink, and I want to do that for the rest of my life.  But that takes money.  Which now I have!

I know what you’re thinking.  There’s still the formality of sending him the information he wants.  But I’ve already done it!  And to be extra thorough, I threw in my social security number.

So when is the right time to quit a strip?

When Scott Kennedy dies.

Rest in peace, friend.

Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say Saints gonna win Super Bowl back in his book introduction in 2006?

Four years ago, in February, 2006, I wrote an introduction for my treasury, “Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My”, in which I discussed my inability to predict whether a given strip I write will be liked or not.  I added, “I could better predict the winner of the 2010 Super Bowl than I could the funniness factor of an unpublished Pearls strip.”

And then I added a footnote.  I’ll let you look at it yourself.   It’s at the bottom of the page.

I suppose there are a whole host of possible explanations for why I was able to predict what I predicted, from dumb luck to my knowledge of the game.  I prefer this one:

I’m a prophet.

So way to go, Saints.

I was with you all the way.

Shotgun Blues; Honeymoon of the Damned, Part Five

When you’re waiting in line in America, and your wife kicks a man in the back, you’ve got trouble.  In Greece, it’s called “being in line.”

So the man that Staci kicked did nothing.  He barely looked back at us.

It was tempting to start punching him in the back of the head, just to see how far we could push it, but our boat for Santorini arrived.

When we docked in Santorini, the boat was greeted by a massive swarm of people.  And I mean massive.  Think United Nations rice drop in Chad, but not as orderly.

Each person carried a placard.  And on each placard was a picture of the person’s house and a few words about how close it was to the beach.  We took the one that looked the closest to the beach.

We got in the man’s van.  It began to go uphill.  Up a long series of narrow switchbacks with no rails.

I don’t know who the person in Greece is that determines how wide you make the road on the side of a cliff, but apparently they decided it should be no wider than a Yugo.  God forbid someone is coming in the other direction, because you’re not gonna fit, and eventually you’ll be forced to draw straws to determine who pushes whose van into the Aegean.

I suppose that’s why they don’t have rails.  It makes pushing the other guy’s van into the Aegean that much harder.

But the Gods didn’t want us dead.  At least not via car accident.  So we got to the man’s house.  It was late at night.

I could not hear the shore.   Which is bad when you get a house that is supposed to be by the shore.

Either the Aegean was the only ocean in the world without waves, or we had been ripped off.

It was too late for a fight.  So we went to bed, ready for one good night of sleep.

Then we heard the shotguns.

Booming shotguns, each of which rattled the glass doors of our upstairs bedroom.

I looked out our window.  Three Greek men were drinking beer and shooting shotguns.

I didn’t remember them advertised on this guy’s placard.

I knew at this point I was going to die.  Not from these guys.  But from Staci, who was sitting up in bed.  She hadn’t talked to me since Italy, but at least now she was glaring at me, and that was progress.

When we got up in the morning, the owner of the house told us in his broken English that it was bird-hunting season and his house was in a field where they shot birds.

Staci wanted to kick him, but she had already kicked one Greek man that week, so it was my turn.  So I kicked him where it really hurts.  I told him we weren’t paying.

Before I tell you what he said, I should mention that I am Greek.  But growing up, I was the only kid in the family who didn’t have to go to Greek school and learn the language.  So I rarely understood what anyone on this trip was saying.  However, my wayward cousins had always been quick to teach me one thing:  every bit of Greek profanity one little Greek-American’s brain could hold.

So when I told the man we weren’t paying, his reply was the only time in Greece that I understood every word someone was saying.

He also let it be known he would not drive us back to the port.  And we could not use his mopeds.  So we packed our bags and walked.

And walked and walked and walked.

Until we got to a bus stop.  When the bus came, it was so filled that there were people on the roof.  I thought that only happened in India.  But no, it also happens on Stephan’s honeymoon.

Thus, when the door of the bus opened, there was no room.

So Staci made room.

She pushed the people down the center line of the bus so hard that I think one of them got shoved out the back window.  She was now Greek like the rest of us.

When we got to the beaches, we sat on the black sand and had Heinekens and gyros.

It was the only nice moment of the trip since London.

So I thought I’d push my luck.  I told Staci we should rent a kayak.

She shook her head.

So I rented the kayak myself.  And went out into the ocean.  And was amazed at how fast you could go in a kayak.

In my drunk mind, I was very fast with an oar.  Heck, I was more than fast.  I was magical.

And so Magical Me looked back at the shore and saw that I was hundreds of yards away.  Being pushed by a very fast current.

So instead of being magical, I was just lost at sea.

I wanted to see Staci’s face one last time.  But I was much too far away.

Which was probably good because if she saw that the husband that had engineered this fine honeymoon was now lost at sea, she’d surely celebrate with another Heineken.