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January 14, 2005

Welcome, welcome new year. Welcome 2005.

I am pleased to have survived 2004. If you are alive and reading this, consider yourself lucky. Perhaps think for a moment about the 150,000 plus whose lives were literally washed away by the astonishing power of the Asian tsunami. The number killed is astonishing--roughly fifty times the number killed in the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001.

The September 11 attacks burned in my mind for something like sixteen months. Too often my thoughts would turn to the morning of September 11 when I, like millions of other Americans, headed into work for the start of what was otherwise supposed to have been an ordinary day in working-class America. I stopped at the bagel shop for a cup of coffee before taking the elevator to the eighth floor of the Penn Mutual Building which overlooks Independence Hall. It was sunny and clear in Philly on September 11. I still think of that morning--hearing the news, at first thinking it a terrible accident; later realizing our nation was under attack and feeling frightened and vulnerable—feeling as if the tall buildings that were all around me were now, themselves, weapons to be used against us. In the hours, days, weeks, and months ahead, images of the Twin Towers’ collapsing, images of ordinary folks like you and me dressed in slacks and button-down shirts jumping to their deaths gouged into the memory center of my brain. Sometimes I'll stop and contemplate about the people who had the misfortune of being on the toilet just as the plane struck the first tower. I try to console myself by thinking that, if nothing else, death was probably quick for these folks, though it's of course very little consolation at all.

Three years and three months after the September 11 attacks, Mother Nature shows the world what real power is all about. I think about the tsunami victims daily, but it's not the same. It's not the same because the images displayed on TV and the Internet don't even come close to capturing the tsunami's magnitude. Perhaps I'm wrong, but to me at least, watching the tsunami waves crash inland is, visually, a lot less disturbing an image than that of the collapse of the Twin Towers. There were no massive plumes of smoke and dust, no live voiceover dramatizing the events, and it happened outside of the US. In short, I feel a lot more far removed from the natural destruction caused by the tsunami than the physical damage caused by a group of terrorists with a few hijacked airplanes. But still, that number has been nagging at my mind lately—150,000 plus...dead. I mean, I grew up in a town with a population of far less than 1,000. Thinking about it like that, I realize it's the equivalent of everyone in my home town being killed 150 times over. Or consider it from the perspective of the Vietnam War. The Pentagon reports an estimated 47,072 US servicemen were killed in action. The tsunami wiped out an estimated four times that amount, and did so over the course of minutes, not years.

The devout among you will argue that the September 11 attacks, the Vietnam War, the Asian tsunami, the reelection of George W. Bush, and the creation of reality television are all part of God's plan. Maybe so. But perhaps it's not a plan, per se, but a smack on the back of the head to each of us to stop whining so much and enjoy our lives while we have 'em, cause while we think we're immortal, we are to the planet as an insect is to us. This isn't a soapbox, and I'm not a preacher—that license was, um, revoked following an incident in Reston, Virginia, decades ago (and is clearly a tale for another time). But I've been hearing a lot about what a terrible start we're off to in 2005. I guess that all depends on where you live. Here in Los Angeles, heavy rains fell for five consecutive days. We had so much rain and humidity in Venice that on the evening of the fourth day of rain several dozen earthworms simultaneously emerged from the dirt of an indoor plant. I'd never seen anything like it and hope I never will again. Around 10:30 pm, I walked into the bedroom and saw what I first thought was various strands of thread on the floor. Then I realized they were moving. One of my first thoughts was, "The worms are sick of the rain—they've decided to come indoors through the window," which is a silly thought, of course, because, as everyone knows, earthworms thrive in water and on muddy earth. It was while assessing the window for openings that I noticed the earth within the planter was moving. I quickly carried the planter downstairs determined to have it out of the house asap.

However, as I opened the front door I couldn't help but notice that it looked a bit odd. Indeed, it was covered in leeches. Black leeches on an orange door—it was quite Halloweenesque. The leeches had to go, so I set the planter outside and then quickly disposed of them. I reentered the house, returned to the bedroom, and did what I had to do. It was a nasty, albeit necessary, task. I then walked into the bathroom to wash my hands, but my work was not quite finished. Ants had overrun the bathroom, apparently to escape the inescapable rain. I spent the next half hour disposing of the fast-moving insects and sprayed the room with pesticide to discourage their relatives from stopping by. Now, if you know me at all, you know I have no love of bugs, worms, spiders, or snakes of any kind. But I removed the worms, leeches, and ants with little, if any, concern. The only thoughts that filled my mind were related to the tsunami and its victims. I realized that I'd gladly pick up a million worms and leeches if I had to—provided I didn't have to experience first-hand the Asian tsunami or the very recent mud slides that tore apart the Los Angeles hillside landscape and consumed a few innocent lives (and many homes).

Since mid-December I've been battling a cold/virus that has settled in my chest and refuses to leave. I've hacked up more disgusting objects in two weeks than my cat has in five years. At times I become extremely frustrated and wonder why it's taking so damn long to get better. During those times I try to reel myself in, because honestly, it's just a virus. It'll be gone soon.

I am thankful that international relief efforts are underway to aid the cities devastated by the tsunami, but I sense that most of us haven't paused to reflect upon the enormity of this disaster which, is among the most tragic occurrences in recent history. Yes, it's dwarfed by such catastrophes as the 1931 flood that claimed an estimated 2,000,000 lives in the People's Republic of China or the drought that claimed more than 1,200,000 lives in the Soviet Union, but it's an astonishing event and one that should not soon be forgotten.

We are a nation that thrives on entertainment, be it cinema, television, music, comics, games, etc. But, ya know, tragedy does occur at times, and while I’m not suggesting we all form a circle and circle and engage in a nationwide cry-a-thon, we ought to at least try to keep life in its proper perspective from time to time. So remember kids, the nipples on Frank Cho's T&A Shanna the She Devil limited series may have been edited by the Marvel powers-that-be to make the series accessible to all ages, and you may feel cheated for having been denied a glimpse at the comic book jungle gal's exposed hooters, but try to remind yourself of two things—it's only a comic book, and there's nipples a'plenty on the Internet. Who knows, perhaps Marvel will issue a new Try-Out Book in which budding artists will be given the opportunity to adorn the lovely Shanna's engrossed bosom accordingly and in the mighty Marvel manner.

Happy 2005.

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