Saturday, December 09, 2006

What the Sam Scratch is goin' on here?!? #19

Carl & Larry Christmas Special, December 1988

Friday, December 08, 2006

Bully's Fantastic Christmas, Part 5

Bully's Fantastic Christmas

If you're starting with Part 5, there's four fantastic chapters you've missed: Catch up here with the chapter index!

Part 5: Fantastic Find

Each and every time he stepped through the door Bully considered that there was no place he'd rather be on the island of Manhattan than shopping at Jim Hanley's Universe. The store was busy on Christmas Eve, but not busier than a Wednesday New Comics Day later afternoon, and Bully drew a breath of relief at being on familiar, friendly territory after the hectic streets outside.

He practically ran in excitement up and down the long aisles stocked with colorful comics, following his usual A-Z path tracking the titles alphabetically from The All-New Atom to Zombies vs. Robots—up and down, spinning with excitement, checking the "NEW THIS WEEK!" shelf-talkers to make certain there was nothing he had missed this past New Comics Day, or whether there was something he'd read about on Mister Church or Mister Sterling or Miss Tegan's blogs that he hadn't picked up but desperately wanted to read now.

The toy aisle was a specially exciting attraction this close to Christmas morning, and Bully sighed in longing at DC Direct and Marvel Legends figures of nearly just about character he loved and dearly wanted a plastic representation of. It was long past time, he decided, since he'd dumped all his action figures out on the living room rug, Marvel and DC and Image and whatever, and had Crisis on Bajillion Earths in and around the coffee table-slash-Darkseid and Dr. Doom's Fortress, constructing elaborate and death-defying scenarios of cliffhanging thrills all the way until bedtime, even after Marshall had wandered away with Wonder Woman to have a tea party. Such a massive universal crossover would definitely be improved by that foot tall Sentinel figure, he decided. I wonder if it's too late to send Santa another email?

As he did each week, he checked the t-shirt selection, seeing if maybe this week would be the time that Hanley's finally, finally got in stock an XXXXXXS Spider-Man or Daredevil insignia t-shirt that was just his size. No luck yet, but hope sprung eternal.

He sighed and looked up. Outside the big store windows, the shadow of the Empire State Building was falling across 33rd Street. It was getting later. Time, he regarded sadly, to brave the streets back to Macy's. Unless...


Everybody likes comic books. Bully mused, sucking on his hoof in deep thought. Why don't I get everyone comic books for Christmas?

It was quite the best idea he'd had in a long time, and it made a logical sense to focus his Christmas presents into one-stop shopping. That was it! He'd be foolish not to buy everyone comics for Christmas! Why, Blackie would sure enjoy Newsboy Legion, and an issue of Simpsons Comics for John would certainly be appreciated, and why not a nice western comic for Ox...Marshall, hmmm, that was trickier. He well knew that girls liked comics too, but wasn't certain what book his kid sister might appreciate. Not one of those gloomy goth comic books, not Ms. Marvel, not even some manga. Hmmm, maybe Green Lantern...sure, why not? Miss Ragnell sure seemed to like that one. Perfect!

Bully practically giggled to himself in delight at his completely excellent idea. Comics for Christmas? Why, he'd be the most popular gift-giver around the Christmas tree tomorrow. And the very best part...he would be able to read them all, too! "Whee!" he declared aloud, and a couple customers glanced around in surprise at the high-pitched exclamation with no apparent source.

He thumped his hoof in impatience to get to his shopping task and whirled about, but the sight that met his little black button eyes almost instantly drove out any thoughts of excitement and pride to replace them with amazement and wonder.

He was standing in the back issue aisle. But his eyes were not caught by the multiple Spider-Men or Hulks or Force Workses but by something altogether unexpected and different. There, directly across the aisle, sitting unfiled on top of an open shortbox, exactly at eye-level to a little stuffed bull, were a trio of bagged comic books, three early-seventies Marvels tossed in a casual spread to show off each of their bright, brilliant covers. Bully blinked and stepped closer, standing on tip-hooves to look at the covers. He'd never seen this Marvel title before, never even heard of it: Marvel's Greatest Comics? Even Bully was familiar with the usual ol' Bullpen hyperbole and he internally scoffed to himself how great can they be if I've never even heard of this series before?. He picked up the comic in the middle and regarded it carefully. It had Galactus on it.

There were handwritten stickers on each of the comics with pricing and a small notation. Bully peered at the one he held and read the label:


In the next aisle over, Hanley's clerk Larry the Golden Age Guy looked up from his restocking task. It was the second time he'd heard a high-pitched excited squeak echoing through the store in the past few minutes. He hoped the store didn't have mice.

How's that for a cliffhanger, true believer? Join us on Monday for Part 6!

Blogs will live. Blogs will die. And the Bullyverse will never be the same again!

If you subscribe to my blog using a RSS feed, you may have been baffled by some recent massive Bully-posting...several dozen posts dated December 2005! Don't panic, bull-buddies...I've simply completed moving all the posts from my older, abandoned personal blog ("The BULLog") into this blog for posterity's sake. Before you get too upset, this blog will continue and stay where it is, so in the words of Chrissie Hynde, stop your sobbing!

Think of it as the Bullyverse equivalent of the mergings of Earth-1 and -2...except without all the headrolling, arm-ripping, and Krypto abuse. We here at "Comics Oughta Be Fun!" take abuse to Krypto very seriously and speak out publicly against any instances of kicking a small super-powered dog.

The vast majority of the newly-added blog entries concern my Christmas 2005 holiday in London, so if that's your cup of tea (ooh! I made a British pun!), then scoot yourself over to my December 2005 page, scroll down to the December 20th entry and then work your way up. And if you like those entries, I've got a treat for you coming up later this month...

Anyway, Bully-Crisis over, Bully-Crisis averted. The Psycho-Pirate is now apparently the only one who remembers the old blog. Well, and Grant Morrison. But that guy never forgets anything.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Are you ready for your Mystery Date?

"Bully's Fantastic Christmas" returns with a new chapter tomorrow. In the meantime...let's play Mystery Date!

Will she be a dream...

from Superman Confidential #2, script by Darwyn Cooke, art by Tim Sale

...or a dud?

from All Star Batman and Robin, The Boy Wonder #1, script by Frank Miller, art by Jim Lee

Need to take another turn? Go ahead!

Dud? (ewwwww!)

Or Dream? (oooooh!)

Open the door...for your...Mystery Date!

Say, anybody know what song Lois is singing? (Googling the lyrics turns up squat.)

Bully's Fantastic Christmas, Part 4

Bully's Fantastic Christmas

If you're starting with Part 4, you've already missed some of the Christmasy candy-cane-flavored fun: Catch up here with the chapter index!

Part 4: A Slight Detour

The city streets were even more hectic and crowded in Manhattan than they were in Brooklyn. Bully emerged from the subway, pushed and pressured in multiple directions at once. He let out a sharp squeak as boots and shoes clattered around him, and he ducked and weaved his way through the maze of shoppers, peering up at the flashing neon lights shining from shop after shop across the darkening of the late afternoon.

He looked up and spied right above him the familiar sight from his newspaper clipping, a store towering above him and billboarded boldly: THE WORLD'S LARGEST STORE. Funny, it didn't look as big as he'd pictured, but there it was. "Macy's!" he exclaimed aloud in excitement. "Macy's...Macy's!"

"It's only a model," corrected a passer-by, barely glancing down, and sure enough, as Bully blinked and rubbed his button eyes he could see it was no more than a window decoration, just a scale model of the World's Most Famous Store, surrounded by pretty mannequins perched on pedestals around it, and Bully craned his neck backwards until he nearly fell over staring at them. Most of the manikins were in skimpy underwear, and gosh, that was skimpier than most. Bully tilted his head back further and read the sign above the window: VICTORIA'S SE...but that was all he read before he covered his eyes and ran on a little quicker, a bright blush showing from underneath his white fur. He certainly didn't need to see that, he reflected, allowing himself only a little quick glimpse back at the pretty redhead one who seemed to be smiling at him.

He had come up on the wrong side of the street, up the wrong subway staircase, he knew that now. Bully could see Macy's just across Herald Square, but with the sea of people and cars and taxis and pedi-cabs it might have been a mile away. Even through the throng of pre-Christmas activity it was quite the most amazing view. Bully did not think he had every seen anything as wonderful and as magical as Macy's. The store towered above the Square, more impressive than any building he had ever been in, and, to a little stuffed bull, even smaller buildings are pretty darn impressive. Flashing holiday lights in long elaborate strands outlined the shape of an illuminated Christmas tree the size of the Jolly Green Giant, and every window was brilliantly spotlighted from within with fancy tableaux and dioramas that Bully could only imagine were salutes to famous Macys through the ages: Macy Gray, William H. Macy, Bill Macy (who was not the same person, Marshall had once passionately explained in great detail, more detail than anyone in the apartment needed or wanted to know). Bully rocked in excitement from hoof to hoof: so near, so far! He turned and pushed his way through the crowd, pressing against foot traffic, moving down the sidewalk.

The air was crisp and cold and smelt of roasted chestnuts. Bully eyed a "Nuts to You!" vendor carefully, sizing up his desire for delicious sweet candied peanuts or cashews in crinkly little wax bags, but with a shake of his head and a short sigh, he turned from the aromas and kept going. Shopping first, he decided firmly. Nuts later.

The stores along Broadway were dressed up in cheerful holiday decorations, and the crowd was busy and bustling, like something out of one of the old Warner brothers Hollywood musicals Blackie liked to watch on TV. Windows were bright and shiny, with flashing lights and tinsel strung from corner to corner. Carols played loudly but did not drown out the buzz of people talking and laughing and complaining and shouting. It felt like Christmas, and Bully thought he was only a moment or two away from Mister Bob Hope stepping out of the crowd and singing "Silver Bells" to him.

But Macy's wasn't getting any closer. In fact, it seemed to be somewhere behind him. Bully paused to catch his breath and to peer up at the street sign, wishing he'd thought to bring his opera glasses with him—that sign was immediately above him and a long way up, but Bully was fairly certain it said 33 STREET. He stood for a moment thoughtfully sucking his hoof and trying to remember, musing aloud: "Miracle on 33rd Street." No, that didn't sound right. "Miracle on 32nd Street?" Definitely the wrong direction. "Miracle on 34th Street?" Ah, yes, that was it. "And the original too, not the remake," Bully announced aloud, just in case anyone was eavesdropping and was in doubt about his taste in motion pictures. He needed to be on 34th Street to get to Macy's, not 33rd Street.


He peered down 33rd Street towards Fifth Avenue in the distance. On the left-hand side of the street the Empire State Building towered above, ape-free for at least one more night. But on the right-hand side, nearly three-quarters, oh, maybe even seven-eighths of the way down, Bully's eyes focused on a familiar shop, one of his favorite stores in all of Manhattan, the home of many a happy afternoon and many a shiny dime spent...

Jim Hanley's Universe. Quite possibly one of the best comic book stores in the city. Bully squeaked in recognition of the recognizable landmark. And it was so very close, too...

He turned and trotted down 33rd Street towards Hanley's. Macy's could wait...for a while at least.

Tomorrow, Part 5: Fantastic Find.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Bully's Fantastic Christmas, Part 3

Bully's Fantastic Christmas

Just joining us? Don't miss Part 1 and Part 2!

Part 3: "You can never be too careful."

It was a very cold day and the snow was falling heavily, so it took Bully longer than he expected to walk down Eighth Avenue to the F Train subway stop. Not every portion of the sidewalk was shoveled, and even on those that were, a thin layer of slick crystal ice had begun to form. Bully skidded and slid down the shiny patches, pretending he was Iceman. Though he moved slowly through the snow already packing the pavement, no one moving past him noticed him, and he often had to leap to the side or dodge to the edge of the sidewalk to avoid being stepped on or pushed. It was a very busy day, Christmas Eve. There were many people out and about, and no one had time to notice a little stuffed bull underneath their feet.

Aside from waiting for green lights to cross the streets, Bully only paused once, at the mailbox on the corner of Eighth and Eighth, to shimmy up the cold metal box and slide his letter to Santa Claus inside. He banged the door open and closed a few more times just to make sure, absolutely certain, that it had dropped to the bottom. Although he had already sent an email with his Christmas list to the week before (cc'd to just to make sure), Bully had since then thought of a few extra Christmas gifts he wanted. And anyway, he wanted to make absolutely, positively sure that Santa got his list. You can never be too careful, not with Santa.

He paused on top of the mailbox and peered into the darkness below, hoping that Santa would have time to read his letter tonight before he set off on his world-wide rounds. He was certain he was going to get wonderful things for Christmas, but there were a few things he wanted most of all.

At the very top of his list Bully had written "A PONY." And then, after sucking on the tip of his crayon thoughtfully for some time until his tongue had turned quite green, he had added, beside it, "(A REAL ONE)." You can never be too careful.

Right below that was his second most-wished for gift, and although Bully was especially looking forward to riding his little baby pony around the apartment even he had to admit it was unlikely that John would let him keep it. So he had done what Blackie called "hedged his bets" and added right below that "THE GALACTUS TRILOGY."

Bully had wanted Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Galactus Trilogy comic books for so very long, so very badly. He kept a careful watch on eBay for used copies of Fantastic Four #48-50, even occasionally cautiously bidding in the first minutes of an auction when the price was measured in a few rather than hundreds or thousands of dollars. But the precious trio of classic comics were snatched away from him every time, sniped out from under his little ringed nose, and not for a few dimes more than his maximum spending price, but for what seemed like it would take one bazillion wastebaskets emptied to even approach. Each time one or two or even all three of those comics escaped his eager grasp Bully would go and sit down in the corner and count his marbles or suck on a Jolly Rancher or pet Gus the Cat until he had stopped shaking with overexcitement and disappointment.

John had pointed out that Fantastic Four #48-50 were among the most collectible of Jack Kirby comics, and it was unlikely that Bully would find them affordable at his limited budget, and anyway, he could read them on the computer screen with the big DVD of complete FF adventures. But it wasn't the same to Bully; he wanted to hold them in his hands, to smell the paper and turn the pages, and clicking at the mouse (which is difficult enough with hooves) to see what the Silver Surfer was up to next, oh look out Mister Surfer, here comes Ben Grimm! was not the same sensation that Misters Lee and Kirby had intended he read that story in, was it, now?

So the thought hit him: in the absence of a rich eccentric uncle with a magnificent comic book vault, who better to ask for FF #48-50 than Santa Claus? Bully doubted that the elves would have much problem getting their little hands on three slim comic books, and in fact they would probably see it as a delightful and refreshing break from making Playstation 3s.

Bully's horns quivered in anticipation of comic books under the Christmas tree as he slid down the side of the mailbox and trudged onwards, the last block to the subway station. He shivered in the cold. Bully wrapped his arms around himself and plowed his way through the snow, now nearly to his waist. He had bundled up when he left the house: his pair of yellow rubber boots, his bright red Christmas sweater and red felt duffel coat, his long colorful striped scarf, and his brilliant blue stocking cap with the big soft white pompom on the top and the name BULLY embroidered on the front. He was very glad he had worn all these winter clothes, and by the time he reached the long deep steps of the Seventh Avenue subway he was cold and shivering.

But the subway station was toasty, and he soon warmed up as he trotted down the long concrete corridors, gazing up at the bright colorful posters as he headed for the turnstiles. It was easier to stay out from underfoot inside, and Bully trotted alongside the wall as big galoshes and boots and shoes and sneakers clomped past him in both directions.

He had his MetroCard out when he reached the turnstile, and was lucky enough to have caught a momentary lull in traffic. It took only a blink of an eye for Bully, quite an accomplished climber, to shin up the side of the turnstile, and, with both hooves, swipe his MetroCard through the scanner. The little screen lit up in bright blue letters: GO—and Bully went, with a sprint and a leap, thumping down with a bounce onto the turnstile arm. It moved down with a heavy clunk under his weight as he landed upon it, and Bully landed neatly on all fours down on the floor, pulled himself up to standing position, and trotted off for the steps marked MANHATTAN TRAINS, stowing his MetroCard back safely in his little clutchpurse and holding it tightly to his chest.

For the very excited and anxious Bully, the subway ride to 34th Street seemed to take forever. At the best of times the F Train is leisurely and unhurried, and today, with each car jam-packed to overflowing with people loaded down with armfuls of brightly-wrapped parcels, it was even slower than usual. At each stop the conductor explained, at first patiently, then gradually losing his calmness, and then final with weary resignation, to RELEASE THE BOARS. At least, that was what it sounded like to Bully over the crackling intercom. He perked up and looked about him for giant hogs, but none were to be seen, if you didn't count the plus-size guy eating a dripping gyro sandwich as he sat in the seat reserved for the elderly and the handicapped. Bully fixed him with a particularly strong stare of disapproval, but the man buried himself in his sandwich, hot sauce dripping down his chin.

The longest delay of the ride occurred at Carroll Street. The train sat and sat and sat in the station so long that Bully was afraid the F Train was changing to a G Train, an exasperating but not unprecedented event that was less a magical alphabetical transformation, more a too-frequent commuter annoyance. But when the conductor finally came over the intercom, his voice drowned out by static and electrical hum, Bully could have almost swore that he said: ...BEING HELD IN (static)...UNTIL WE RE...(buzz, crackle)...NEL PIGS ON THE TRACKS...(hum, pop)...AND CLEAR THE DOORS, and then the intercom fell quiet once again and with a whoosh and the familiar friendly ding-dong of the closing doors, the train lurched forward again.

Bully stayed out of the rushing crowds' feet by sliding beneath a seat and curling up with his back against the rumbling car's wall, checking his Christmas list again and again and staring up at the subway advertisements far above him,. for such wondrous and magical products as Sprint, Cap'n Morgan's Spiced Rum, and Doctor Zizmor. So intent was he on reading a New School poster and contemplating taking a course in January, possibly theoretical philosophy, photography, or maybe cookie baking, that he very nearly missed it when the conductor announced IRTY-FOURTH STREE, and he leaped up excitedly and was pushed by the wave of the crowd out onto the platform and up the long stairs out into the cold Manhattan afternoon.

Tomorrow, Part 4: A Slight Detour.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bully's Fantastic Christmas, Part 2

Bully's Fantastic Christmas

Did you miss Part 1? Here it is!

Part 2: Avoiding Mister Victor

Of course, whenever you declare your intention to go Christmas shopping, it's always hard to stay on schedule. Many minutes were lost while Snuckles and Blackie raced around in excitement, helping Bully find his warm red duffel jacket and boots and scarf, poking his change purse to make certain he still had his money, and pointing out exactly what color iPod nano they wanted. "I would like da black one, Bully," said Blackie.

"Pink for me!" declared Snuckles.

"Chee!" scoffed Blackie. "Pink is fer dames!"

"It is not!" Snuckles shivered in indignation. "Pink is for pigs!" He lowered his voice. "A pink cashmere sweater would be nice, too."

They bustled around Bully in tight circles, jumping up and down and giving him advice and instructions. "Don' fergit t' buy a sweater fer Marshall!" "Or anyone else who likes sweaters." "If some goon looks at ya funny, just poke 'im in da snoot!" "Be careful on the subway!" "Don't take no guff offa nobody!" "Look out for the tunnel p..."

Bully slammed the big apartment door behind him as his friends jabbered on inside, and took a deep breath. Shopping was harder than he thought, and he hadn't even left the building yet.

There was the quiet sharp sound of a metal shutter sliding open, and Bully looked up in surprise at the apartment next door. The ancient crystal spyglass eye mounted in the center of the door lit up dimly with a cold yellow glow, and Bully flattened himself against the wall to try and stay out of vision's way. He shivered a little. He didn't much care to run into Mister Victor from Apartment Five today.

"Bull!" came a cold voice from behind the door, and Bully started to carefully tiptoe towards the stairs-not easy to do quietly with hoofs on tile. "Bull!" the voice called, and the apartment door creaked open exactly two inches on its chain, and the cold gaze of Mister Victor fixed on him out of the shadow between the door and its jamb. "I know you're out there, bull! I can hear you skulking."

Bully froze. He had been trying to avoid catching Mister Victor's attention, but the man in Apartment Five was especially canny at hearing Bully's comings-and-goings. John had warned Bully not to bother Mister Victor, but Bully often inwardly sighed that he wished Mister Victor would stop bothering him. He never set foot outside his apartment—all Bully had ever seen of him was his eye, gleaming in the darkness. He kept to the shadows and Bully even though his face might be bandaged, but it was hard to tell. He spoke sharply and harshly and with a middle-European accent. Marshall had one announced out of the blue that the next door neighbor was a man of great importance and a refugee from someplace in Europe, but when Bully questioned her where she'd heard that Marshall pretended not to hear and kept on watching Winx Club. Certainly Mister Victor got the most interesting mail in the building: bulky, bulging parcels addressed in large letters of grease pencil to V. VICTOR, with a patchwork quilt of interesting and exotic foreign stamps in some unrecognizable language on them, but all of them featured a picture of some kind of iron robot guy. He also had a subscription to many, many magazines: Sky & Telescope, Military History, The Economist, Popular Mechanics, Everyday with Rachael Ray.

Bully knew this because Mister Victor never ventured outside his apartment while anyone was looking, so it was Bully's (unpaid) job to fetch the mail and place it on the rough doormat for the man in apartment five. Mister Victor often confronted Bully going in and out of his own apartment, and demanded various errands be run, so despite his better judgment, Bully often found himself running down to D'agastino's on Seventh Avenue to buy a pint of vinegar and some cotton gauze, or a half pound of rolled tempered aluminum from Home Depot, or a packet of transistors from Radio Shack. Mister Victor never, never let him keep the change from these ventures, and frequently even argued about how much he had given Bully.

"What are you doing, bull?" Mister Victor growled.

"Sissmus cropping, Mister Victor," Bully admitted reluctantly. Mister Victor always made him nervous.

"What?" Victor shot back. "Don't be impertinent, bull."

"I mean Christmas shopping!"

Victor's eye narrowed at him through the dark gap. "So you're going outside then, bull?"

Bully's face fell. He knew having to run a chore for his mysterious next-door neighbor was imminent, and he fixed Mister Victor with one of his especially strong-willed stares. "Very quickly, Mister Victor," he said, shifting from hoof to hoof nervously. "Barely a few minutes. In fact I'm coming back now."

"Then you can run me an errand, then!" Mister Victor's eye disappeared as he ducked back into the apartment, and Bully hesitated, wondering if he should high-tail it down the stairs and out onto the street before his neighbor came back. But Mister Victor was back in a flash, pushing a crumpled bill out of the shadows with gloved fingers. "Pick me up a packet of 470 ohm resistors, bull. The industrial kind, not from the grocery store. I'm giving you ten dollars and I will count every penny of the change, so don't get any ideas about candy!!"

"It's Christmas Eve, Mister Victor," Bully said plaintively. "I'm not certain the industrial electronics will be open when I get back."

"Then you'd best hurry! Don't just stand there, get a move on. Doo...I demand it!"

"Yes, Mister Victor," Bully stifled a sigh and took the ratty ten dollar bill, tucking it away in his change purse. "Do you want any eggnog or fruitcake or do you need any Christmas lights, p'raps? 'Tis the season, fa la la la la?"

"Bah!" the eye narrowed and glowered at Bully. "No Christmas trappings are needed."

"Okay, Mister Victor." Bully decided that if he and Snuckles and Blackie went caroling later, they would definitely skip apartment five. "I'll look for your transistors."


"Resistors." Bully sucked on his hoof nervously. "They should have them at P. C. Richard's, right?"

"Richards?" Mister Victor's voice rose in timber and volume. "Richards? Richards?!?"

Bully spun on the tile and scampered down the steps, his tail and scarf fluttering behind him, as down the stairwell Mister Victor's voice bellowed in frustration and rage: "Richards!!!!" And Bully didn't stop running until he was halfway down Eighth Avenue to the subway station.

Tomorrow, Part 3: "You can never be too careful."

Monday, December 04, 2006

Bully's Fantastic Christmas, Part 1

Bully's Fantastic Christmas

A serial Christmas story in (probably) twelve parts, running each weekday through December 19. Collect 'em all!

Part 1: Making Lists, Checking Twice

A snowy winter day can be a lovely thing, even in run-down, drab Brooklyn, when the bright chilly snow covers the cracked sidewalks and the dirty stoops. But when this snowy winter day is the day before Christmas, well, then, that is a magical thing indeed.

Young Bully, the little stuffed bull, gazed out of the window that looked over Eighth Avenue in Park Slope and watched the snow fall down. Alongside him, crowding his space on the windowsill and bunching up the curtains, were his two very best friends, Snuckles the Pig and Blackie the Tuff Li'l Brooklyn Bear. Their breaths steamed the windowpane as they gazed out at the thick flakes of falling snow.

"Wow!" said Snuckles, peeling his snout away from the cold window. "I can't believe it's going to be Christmas tomorrow!"

"Yeah!" said Blackie enthusiastically, jumping down off the windowsill, bouncing onto the armchair and scrambling down onto the rug to peer under the Christmas tree, still only a vast, presentless landscape of red and green flannel. "'Dat's swell. An' Santa's gonna bring us a whole buncha loot!" He and Snuckles almost quivered in excitement at the thought of the piles of presents the next morning would bring.

"Where's Santa?" Snuckles exclaimed plaintively.

Bully, however, paused, thoughtfully sucking his hoof before he spoke. "Oh jeepers," he said suddenly, "I haven't bought presents for anyone yet!"

Snuckles and Blackie looked up at the worried Bully. "Don't sweat it none, Bully," urged Blackie. "It's still Christmas Eve. Plenty o' time to shop."

Bully nodded and bounced down off the arm of the chair, onto a soft comfy pillow, and then scrambled down the leg of the chair to stand besides his friends. "I just hope I can get good stuff," he said thoughtfully. "I want to buy nice things for everyone."

"You have to buy something for Marshall!" chirped up Snuckles. "And Gus, and Ox, and John..."

"An' us!" Blackie added.

"Yes I do," agreed Bully. "I'm going to buy you guys iPod nanos!"

Both Blackie and Snuckles opened their mouths wide and stared at Bully. "iPod nanos?" said Snuckles.

"And a cashmere sweater for Marshall and some DVDs for John and...

"And cashmere sweaters!" enthused Snuckles. "A cashmere sweater is soooooo soft!"

"How you gonna afford dat, Bully?" asked Blackie. "You bin robbin' a bank or somedin'?"

"I would like a cashmere sweater," said Snuckles quietly.

Bully paused to straighten the ring in his nose before answering, adjusting it so that the hinge didn't show. "No," he said, patting it into place with his hoof. "I have lotsa Christmas money put away." He padded off to the bedroom, his friends close behind him. Climbing up the shelf beside the dresser, he leaped into the round plastic popcorn bucket that was his bed, poked his head underneath the red washcloth he used as a blanket, and disappeared so completely for a moment that all Snuckles and Blackie could see was his little tufted tail twitching back and forth.

When at last Bully emerged again, he held his little red plastic Hello Kitty change purse. He shook it and it jingled merrily.

Snuckles whistled in surprise through his pink snout. "Wow!"

"Chee!" whistled Blackie. "Where'd you get all dat loot, Bully? Insurance fraud?"

"I've been saving my allowance," Bully declared proudly. Each week Bully got an allowance for his around-the-house chores...emptying the many wastebaskets all around the big apartment. Every Sunday afternoon John dug into his pocket and presented Bully with a shiny new dime. Although Bully liked to spend his money on comic books, ice creams and sodas, he had been saving his dimes quite diligently since late summer and now his little purse jingled like the bells on Santa's sleigh. In addition to his allowance, Bully had also saved up many of the quarters he had earned grooming the Chia Pet, babysitting his little sister Marshall, selling Grit door-to-door, and sometimes Aunt Lorrie would quietly slip him a shiny silver dollar when John was not looking. Bully knew exactly to the dime how much Christmas money he had stowed away:

"I have six dollars and seventy-three cents!" he announced (He had stayed up quite late the previous night, counting it diligently over and over again until he got the sums straight in his head).

"G'wan!" scoffed Blackie. "There ain't dat much money in da woild!"

"Yes there is," Bully said proudly, "and I have it to spend on Christmas gifts. I'm going to buy Marshall a pink iPod nano, and John that Elvis DVD boxed set, and Miss Eugenia's cat I'm going to get her one of those little gas-powered go-carts so she can zip around her apartment, and what's left I will have lunch out at a fancy Manhattan restaurant. Maybe I will order two desserts. One banilla and one chok'lit."

"Manhattan!" exclaimed Snuckles in surprise. "You're going to Manhattan to do your Christmas shopping?"

"What's wrong wit' Little Thin's?" asked Blackie. "Or Bee 'n' Enn? Dey're both just around da corner."

"There's nothing wrong with 'em," Bully explained, "for shopping on just any day. But for Christmas I should go someplace special." And before his friends could ask him exactly what that special place was, he unfolded a well-worn newspaper ad he had torn from the paper the week before and had spent hours studying, sounding out the big words and gazing at the bright colorful pictures.

"MACY'S ON 34th STREET," Snuckles read the ad aloud. His pink curly tail straightened in surprise. "Why, you can get everything there!"

"That's why I'm going!" Bully said, a bit exasperated, as if all this were patently obvious to anyone with a bit of fluff for brains.

"How you gonna get dere, Bully?" asked Blackie, concerned.

"That," declared Bully proudly, holding up his bright yellow plastic MetroCard, "is what this is for!"

Tomorrow, Part 2: Avoiding Mister Victor!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Ten of a Kind: Wanted: Dead or Alive

(More Ten of a Kind here.)