Friday, January 14, 2011

So Far, So Good...

Well, it's a new year and nothing catastrophic has happened to us yet.

That sounds a bit on the negative side, but if you had been in our position for the past 18 months, you would be a bit more understanding. It's been nothing but one disaster after another, financially, healthwise, and otherwise. The one saving grace for Magi and me has been our wonderful daughter, Sera.

It's almost been like having a fever for a year and a half, and just before winter recess (Christmas break to us old folks) the fever broke. I finally sold off the inventory of my comic book business, as well as the bulk of my personal comic book collection.

I worked all summer long, like I usually do, and then with 12 days off between summer school and the beginning of the normal school year, I used the time to prepare to sell comics at Wizard World Chicago, the large comic book convention that used to be the Chicago Comicon. I had part of a large booth, and I brought every box of comics that I have had in my garage for the past five years. Unfortunately, for the first time in over 20 years, the convention was going to start after my school year began. I had to take two personal days during the first week of school, something I never wanted to do, but I had no choice. It was either that, or be out all of the money I had put down for the booth space. So, on the day in question, I loaded a rented U-Haul with 60 boxes of comics weighing about 50 pounds each, and drove to Chicago. I unloaded all 60 boxes of comics and then re-stacked them all like a fortress of boxes at the booth. So, basically I moved 9,000 pounds of comics in about three hours.

After I settled in and the show opened, I was selling comics for $1.00 each, but I soon discovered why business wasn't more brisk. Another dealer was selling at 5 for $1.00 on the very first day. It was pretty much the same stuff I had, so I was forced to lower my prices far sooner than I planned to. I hadn't seen so much as a quarter box at that show for about five years, so this came as quite a shock. I planned to economize as much as possible. I had a discount hotel room that I shared with a couple of friends that cost me $120 total for all three nights. It even included a free continental breakfast, which I took advantage of. I brought canned and boxed food and my own bottled water to eat and drink at the convention so that I wouldn't have to pay $7.00 or something for a sandwich and $3.50 for a bottle of water. The only thing I splurged on was $20 on both Friday and Saturday nights for a nice dinner out with new friends that I made at the show.

It was a long four days, as the dealer across the way from me was like a carnival barker. He kept shouting about how they were going out of business after 30 years. It's an old trick, and it was not the truth. He ended up going home with virtually the same number of boxes that he arrived with. He bought stuff left and right from people.

I ended up lowering my prices again and again, until on Sunday, I was literally giving away the unbagged bulk comics that no one wanted. I had rented the U-Haul truck for a one-way trip and Magi and Sera came to pick me up on Sunday. At the end of those four days, I was so happy to see them that I teared up. And the bottom line at the end of the show? I lost $100.

The good news was that on my way out, I met a convention organizer who took an interest in Sera, who was dressed up as Wonder Woman. He was now working to acquire comics for another venture. We struck up a conversation while Magi took her to the restroom, and when I told him I had sold 60 boxes but had at least that much better stuff at home, his eyes lit up. He was interested in buying it all! He told me he'd be there at the end of the week, and I worked nights to get the stuff ready. I went through it in detail, so I'd know what I had and what to ask for. I organized comics all week, and at the end of that week...he didn't show. He had even called and said that he was out of small bills and asked me to go get $40 in twenties for his tolls and he'd bump the check up by $50. Now this guy is well known in the comics world. I'm not a sucker. I knew he was good for it. I stayed up until midnight waiting for him to show up on Friday night, and then he called. His truck was full and he didn't have enough room for it. But he promised he'd be by in a few weeks to get it. Meanwhile, our air conditioner had stopped working and we didn't have the money to fix it. We'd used our mortgage money to get the car fixed and we were in a bind. Medical bills were starting to pile up too and then I had a scare with what doctors thought might be an aneurysm. One $3700 test later, we knew it wasn't, and the doctor suggested that it might be stress related. I said, "Hmm, I think it's possible."

We were getting promises from the guy to come and buy all the comics, but he kept reneging. These promises came and went every week. He said he'd be there, and then he'd have a reason why he couldn't come. A trip to China. A sudden illness. Then the promises were once a month. He'd make an appointment and cancel. I'd return his call because he'd always call when I was in class and couldn't answer. And when I'd return his call, his voice mail would pick up and the mailbox was full. It started getting ugly. So we scrimped and started paying off stuff as fast as we could. Waiting for this guy was looking dimmer and dimmer. Well, he finally showed up in mid-December. He paid far less than what I would have liked for the rest of the comics and tried to pull the "Well, these will sell for only a dollar" stuff on me, but I knew better and said so. I finally got him up to a fair price, almost double what he had intially offered, and breathed a sigh of relief. We were able to at least catch everything up, pay our medical bills, get reimbursed for our flex spending accounts and buy a few Christmas presents for Sera and the rest of our families. I had my first vacation since spring break during the first week of April, and did it feel great! The stress was gone, thank goodness. I still owe Magi's dad and stepmother for the inital outlay for the comic collection, but I can make progress on that during summer school.

Just after we went back to work, Magi got some great news. She got the Culinary Arts instruction job at the career center that she had applied for in October! This is her dream job. I am so happy for her, I can't begin to say. It was a struggle to get the people who interviewed her to see that she was the best candidate that they were likely to see, but after meeting her at the school, they have already learned things that they didn't know about her that show them just how perfect she is for this job.

When I returned to work, I found a fresh perspective on things. I'm not using the nightmare of a textbook that our corporation adopted for math. We are teaching the Indiana standards, like we should have been doing the whole time, and have been released from the cookie cutter recipes of the Connected Math Project. We can use whatever materials we'd like to get the job done, just like we should have been able to do the whole year. Some damage has been done to the kids by forcing that text on them early on, but I'm confident we can target their weaknesses now and vary our instructional strategies beyond fake context that they can't relate to.

I'd really been down on the teacher bashing that's become part of the national conversation for some time. Reviewing some of my blog posts from last year, it was getting ugly. My solution was to stop reading it. I made the mistake today of reading a presentation by state superintendent Tony Bennett, and I slid backward. I only read it because it was embedded in an email. I won't make that mistake again. Instead, I'm working on my comic book project, which will be published shortly. I will at least have an ashcan printed by C2E2 in March, with a full-color, actual comic book done by Wizard World Chicago in August. The next time I go to the convention center in Rosemont, I won't be carrying thousands of pounds of boxes. I will be sitting in a whole different section of the convention floor, carrying the hope for a brighter future for my family and me.

This is going to be fun!