“What, me worry?” – no more

July 6, 2019

I recently read that – after 67 years of existence – Mad Magazine will soon be ceasing publication of new material.

A few more issues will be published through October. Then, the magazine will be limited to reprints with new covers. But it will not be the same.

All good things must come to an end – to quote a cliche. But that doesn’t mean one has to like it.

Mad Magazine first saw the light of day as a comic book in 1952. Published by William Gaines and Harvey Kurtzman, Gaines’ publishing house – EC Comics – created Mad as an  additional source of income to give his editor, Kurtzman, more money.

Due to space considerations, I can’t go into too much detail here concerning Mad’s history. However, I can say that in its more than 60 years of existence, the magazine became one of the most influential in American history.

In 1955, Mad converted from comic book to magazine format, and from there things really took off. Under the direction of editor Al Feldstein – along with Gaines – Mad eventually saw a peak circulation of over 2 million in 1974 – making it one of the most popular print publications of all time.

I first became aware of Mad Magazine in the mid-1960s. I read a copy that was on the rack at the local supermarket. It contained a parody of a Tarzan television show called “TVarzan.” It was so funny that I went and told my brother all the jokes. He in turn told them to my parents. Which in turn got me in dutch with my dad, who informed me that those magazines ‘were not a library for my amusement.”

Problem is, I know if I’d have bought one, I would have gotten into trouble anyway. My mom shared the same opinion as millions of other moms at the time – that Mad Magazine was filled with nothing but junk – and why was I wasting my money on such things.

Well, lots of other kids like me – and not more than a few adults – did not share mom’s views. Many people read Mad surreptitiously on the side – or if we did it was under the disapproving glare of the more sensible. But read it we did, always enjoying the biting satire, the gentle parodies, and the numerous jokes and articles from Mad’s “usual gang of idiots” as the masthead proudly proclaimed with each issue.

Who can forget the movie and television parodies of our favorite – and sometimes not-so-favorite – shows. We all laughed with Dave Berg as he poked fun of Americana in “The Lighter Side of…” We all wondered what Al Jaffee was going to pull with the fold-in at the end of the issue. We roared at Don Martin’s caricatures as he exposed the often ridiculous side of human nature. We wondered who was going to win in Antonio Prohias’ ‘Spy vs. Spy.” And we always scanned the margins for the seemingly endless jokes provided by Sergio Aragones – along with his other great articles.

Concerning the Aragones’ “marginals,” I recall one which clearly summed up how he and the other writers and artists never took themselves too seriously. The picture was an adolescent boy, on his knees, his hands raised and clasped in front of him, begging piteously. Standing next to him was a woman – obviously his mother – holding her nose, and dumping various issues of Mad into an incinerator. Although it was just one little picture, it spoke volumes about how Mad was viewed.

And of course, the cover of each issue featured idiot boy Alfred E. Neuman, engaged in some ridiculous practice. One featured him at the beach, holding an electric guitar, which was attached to a kite as he waited for a lightning storm. Another showed him walking with a sandwich board with a picture of a donut painted on it. Trouble was, the hole of the donut – located in the middle of Alfred’s body – clearly showed the street behind him.

Through it all, though, Alfred always maintained a cheerful composure, and his slogan of “What, Me Worry?” became one of America’s catchphrases.

Incidentally, I keep saying America, but at its height, Mad was not limited to this country. Many editions were published in many foreign countries in their native languages, giving the rest of the world a glimpse that we here in the U.S. did not take ourselves too seriously. Well, many of us, anyway.

One time, a group of friends and I were returning home from a field trip in Washington, D.C. To pass the time, we started each other telling funny stories. I had just read Mad’s parody of “The Empire Strikes Back” (The Empire Strikes Out) and my companions, who had not yet read it, roared with laughter as I recited the entire article to them.

A revelation hit me about that time – namely that the better the movie, television show, article, or whatever – the better the satire. Classic films such as Patton (Put-on), The Sting (The Zing), The Godfather (The Odd Father), and Star Trek (Star Blech)  all became classic parodies that were reprinted over and over again.

As the years passed, Mad’s status evolved from an amusing vulgarity into a cultural phenomena as well as a cherished institution. It became a status symbol for many filmmakers, actors, public figures – and others – to be parodied in Mad. It told the public that you had “made it” in your particular field. Many times, celebrities such as Larry Hagman (Dallas – Dullus) wrote to Mad, expressing their delight at how they were portrayed.

Of course, not everything was gentle good humor. Many times the gang at Mad took aim at various sacred cows, often puncturing our most cherished institutions. Such actions demonstrate that Mad was never simply the piece of frivolity contended by the more serious crowd. It clearly showed one of American’s most cherished characteristics – the ability to laugh at ourselves. Hopefully, we will continue to use the examples set by Mad Magazine to never take ourselves too seriously.

Like it or not, Tunkhannock Township needs zoning

July 15, 2109

The question of zoning recently came up again in Tunkhannock Township.

Many residents, concerned about the possibility of silica sand plant being located in the area, showed up at the supervisors’ meeting on July 8, asking why zoning has not been incorporated into the township.

At previous township meetings going back over a year, residents voiced both support and opposition to the idea of incorporating zoning into the area. Eventually, the board decided to let the matter drop, on the grounds that the company behind the silica sand plant had let the matter drop, so zoning would not be necessary.

As a person who lives in Tunkhannock Township, I believe such an action is a bad idea. A very bad idea. And I will now explain why.

Back in the early 1990s, I worked for the Milton Standard in Milton, Pa. During that time, USPCI purchased a large parcel of land in Gregg Township, Union County, and announced it was going to construct a large hazardous waste incinerator on the property.

As you might expect, such a prospect got a lot of area residents up in arms. Things go so ugly that environmental hearings required by law turned into nasty shouting matching, with locals yelling that they did not want such an industry in the area, and the company should pack up and get out.

This of course didn’t have any affect on the company. Many people went to the local supervisors, saying “do something!” The supervisors in turn went to the county commissioners who replied that they could do nothing. Appeals were made to the state and federal levels, but the answer was always the same. “There’s nothing we can do.”

Why? The answer was always the same. The township had no zoning in place. Because of this, the company in question could use the land as it pleased, as long as certain guidelines were met – which were.

When the supervisors and other local people protested, they were informed that it was the township’s responsibility to having zoning in place – and without zoning, nothing further could be done.

I’ll finish the story in a bit, but first, a few observations.

I’ve heard the arguments from people who are against zoning. One of the claims is that it is too expensive – that the township simply cannot afford to have it incorporated, nor hire a zoning officer to oversee the rules.

To which I reply, if you think zoning is too expensive, wait to you see what happens when it is really needed – and not there.

Because it’s not a question of if a big industry wants to bring a “not in my back yard” operation to the area, it’s a question of when. Corporations have a tendency to keep an eye open for such communities and snap up land when it is available. They know it’s much easier to bring a NIMBY in when there’s no zoning, as opposed to where zoning is in place.

Think about it. You’re a farmer and an industry wants to bring in a hazardous waste incinerator. Or a smelting plant. Or a waste dump. Or any one of a dozen or more industry that people will not want near them.

I heard arguments at the Tunkhannock Township supervisors’ meetings from those in opposition to zoning that the county, state or federal governments will protect them. To that I say, no. Gregg Township made the same arguments to the same institutions, and they were told then the problem was theirs because they did not have zoning in place.

Going back to Gregg Township, the situation was so bad that I went down to Harrisburg at the time and spoke to the head of the Department of Environmental Protection about the situation. I was informed – which I incorporated into a story – that he was willing to listen, but his authority was limited in such matters.

So what happened in Gregg Township? Well, eventually, the opposition grew so strong that the company finally threw in the towel because it realized that the community would fight it tooth and nail every step of the way. But the cost was high – it took over two years, thousands of dollars in legal fees, plus a great deal of time and effort on the part of many in the community.

And so it will be in Tunkhannock Township, if zoning is not put into place. Zoning is like insurance – we all grumble about the cost, but we are extremely grateful it’s there when we really need it.

And mark my words, the day will come when we do.

I saw that giant leap

July 20, 2019

“That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Fifty years ago, today, astronaut Neil Armstrong uttered those now immortal words – announcing to the world that the human race had just achieved one of its greatest achievements.

For thousands of years, humans had stared up at the moon in awe and wonder.

A few centuries ago, scholars and astronomers began to realize that the moon was a celestial body, and our closest neighbor.

Such information only whet humanity’s appetite for information about the moon, which has always excited our imaginations in literature and legend.

After the Second World War, this excitement increased dramatically. It had become apparent in scientific circles that technology was developing to the point where a trip to the moon would be feasible.

Things really came to a head at the end of the 1950s, during the Cold War. The Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made object to be sent into space.

This touched off the Space Race, as the United States worked furiously to catch up to the Soviets, as both sides worked first to get to the moon.

I was there. I remember how desperately the entire country waited, as NASA sent up mission after mission, bringing us closer to the goal with each step.

I was five years old when astronaut John Glenn became the first human to circumnavigate the globe in space, circling the earth three times in Friendship 7. I remember listening to his trip on the radio. I had a small globe, and I eagerly ran to my mother, saying “Mom, Mom, astronaut Glenn is here,” and pointing to the location on the map.

The years passed. More missions – many triumphant, and some failures. But we never lost sight of the goal that President John F. Kennedy had set for us back in the fateful year of 1961. To be the first nation to set foot on the moon.

Come the summer of 1969. There was great excitement in the air, because it was apparent the great day was fast approaching.

Then July. The launch occurred, and we all waited with baited breath. Despite all the preparations and previous missions, there was still an air of uncertainty that kept everyone on edge. Would be or would we not be able to do it.

Then on July 20, 1969, NASA announced to the world that “the Eagle has landed.” The lunar craft, launch from the mother ship, had touched down on the surface of the moon.

But it still was not over. The astronauts were still inside, waiting for the proper moment.

I was like a kid on Christmas Eve on that day. Landing on the moon with men inside the craft was great. But the real event would not occur until Neil Armstrong exited the capsule and stepped onto the lunar surface.

We waited and listened. I remember coming home that night, and we turned on the television, watching the capsule, waiting and waiting.

Finally, it was time for bed. It was reported that Armstrong would probably not take the historic step until around 3 a.m. EST. Mom told me I couldn’t stay up that late, and I remember being rather bitter at the thought. But I obeyed, because I could see the logic.

But sometimes dreams do come true. Mom woke me up around 10:30 p.m., and told me to hurry – that the great historic event was about to occur. Eagerly, I ran to the television, and watched, hoping there would be no delays.

About 15 to 20 minutes later, I saw the hatch open, and a figure encased in a space suit emerge. Neil Armstrong made that famous step and gave his famous statement. I also remember Walter Croncrite announcing “He’s on the moon.”

I’ve always appreciated my parents allowing me to see that great historic event. It allowed me to personally experience something – the likes of which may not be repeated for many generations. I’ve always cherished the fact that I was one of the millions who was there and viewed what many considered to be on the greatest achievements ever made by the human race.

2 thoughts on “SIGNIFICA”

  1. CJ–I do remember the MAD Stories about Tarzan….hilarious as I recall. However, I don’t recall getting up to see Neil Armstrong. Were you the only one that Mom woke, or do I just not remember the momentous moment in history? CE.

    1. Hi Clint.
      No, I’m sorry to say that you did not see the moon landing that night. Mom only woke me up – she told me that she felt I deserved it, given my enthusiasm. Although it wouldn’t have hurt to wake you, I guess she felt you weren’t as interested in the event as I was. Oh well…
      Thanks for your response. I’ve got to get busy and write more of the things. Hope all is well with you. Keep the faith.

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