Omir the Storyteller

Stories. Music. Politics. Technology. Baseball. Friends. Family. Potrzebie.

Thursday, April 28, 2005



I was rather surprised to see this note from Eduardo Haskell in my mailbox this morning:

potrzebie! Potrzebie?? How the heck did you....? Sigh.

Here's my entry on your blog....

OMIR, how did you happen upon this term? I have to know. You see, one of my best friends ever on these internets called himself potrzebie. We all called him "Potz" for short. When I saw this label on this entry my heart skipped. Tony "Potz" "potrzebie" Granatowski died last year at age 50. I miss him still.

I wrote the "internets" eulogy for him in the link above when I learned in September of his death earlier last year. Even now, I can't hear his name, potrzebie, without tearing up.
Eduardo, I hope I can be forgiven for making you tear up, and that the tears are happy memory tears. As for the term "potrzebie," well, as often happens I'm going to take the long way around the barn to describe it.

Back in the late 1940s a young man named William Gaines, fresh out of the Army and without a lot of ambition, inherited his father's publishing company. Gaines senior owned a printing press that originally printed color funnies for the New York newspapers, but sat idle the rest of the week. He put the idle press to work during the week by collating some of those funnies into booklet form, thereby pioneering the comic book industry.

Bill Gaines started looking for other outlets for his comic books. Noting the popularity of horror movies, he started publishing comics with lurid titles like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror (and even more lurid covers and artwork). Carnacki probably still has copies stashed under his bed. Gaines published several lines of titles, but the horror titles were his best-sellers. These comics caught on like mad, and made Gaines a lot of money.

It also made him a lot of notoriety. In particular a psychologist named Frederic Wertham published a book titled Seduction of the Innocent which portrayed these horror comic books as a primary cause of juvenile delinquency. Congressional hearings were held, censoring bodies were formed, and Gaines' comics began to be returned in bulk by distributors, even when he caved in to pressure to clean the comics up.

All except one.

Remember the "other lines?" One of those lines had only one title in it, but it was a dandy. Tales Calculated To Drive You Mad was a parody of other comic books, late-night talk shows, television, itself and anything else it could get its hands on. It survived the comics purge primarily by changing to a "slick" magazine that used a different set of distributors (and reached a different and wider audience), and which not incidentally meant it didn't have to answer to the Comics Code Authority. It continues to this day as Mad Magazine.

During its days as a comic book it was loaded with sight gags and puns, and panels were crammed with jokes. One recurring theme was the dropping of odd words into the text. For instance, a sign might proclaim "Veeblefetzer" for no apparent reason, or a list of items might include something like "tea cakes, coffee cakes, oat cakes, babycakes, urinal cakes and potrzebie." (I just made that up; you'd never find a word like "urinal" in Mad in those days.) The word stuck with me, and when I needed a word in my categorization scheme to mean "stuff that doesn't fit neatly into any other category, or is about the site, or doesn't make any sense, or whatever I feel like having it mean today," naturally I turned to "potrzebie" to fill that role. And now it comes full circle with the revelation that it reminds Eduardo of his friend. Rest in peace, Potz. If you were a friend of Eddie's you're a friend of mine.

I have to say that you can blame Mad, among many other contributing factors, for the mess that is Omir today. I loved the magazine when I was a kid in the sixties, and when I was a young adult out on my own and making a munificent $2.10 an hour washing dishes at a hospital in 1975, I spent far too much money tracking down used copies of paperback collections of articles from Mad at a quarter a pop. They met their demise about a decade later when my sons discovered them and literally read them to death. I was unhappy at the time, but looking back now I can see that was the only fitting and proper way for them to die.

And as a final odd comment to this already-lengthy entry, I always just assumed someone had made up the word and it didn't mean anything. But in researching the word I found that, yes, amazingly, it actually has several meanings in the real and semi-real worlds. According to Wikipedia, Mad writer Harvey Kurtzman discovered the word in the Polish section of the instructions accompanying a bottle of aspirin. In Polish it means "as needed" (as in "take this as needed") and is pronounced "po-CHEB-yeh," not "pot-ruh-ZEE-bee" as I'd always assumed. And in 1957, Donald Knuth (who would later become legitimately famous as the author of the series The Art of Computer Programming) created the Potrzebie system of measurement, based on the thickness of a particular issue of Mad. Who woulda thunk it?


At 6:26 PM, Anonymous Eddie Haskell said...

I remember Mad Magazine well. In fact I subscribed through most of my Wonder years and had a complete collection from 1960 - '66, although the Ma pitched them when I moved out of the house at age 18 to live downtown closer to my urban college campus. I think it was her way of getting back at me for getting busted for pot.

And I am sure Tony Granatowski knew of potrzebie from Mad Magazine, as well. But he always told me he took it from the Polish, which he was by birth, and from some saying his babcia used to say to him when he was a kid.

Thanks for the story. And for reminding me of my friend, Potz. He was a helluva card player, a wonderful husband and father and one funny, fun, and terrific guy.

At 6:15 PM, Blogger sorry, that name is not available said...

Emmasnacker is also a Mad Magazine reader.
Lo these many years later, she arrives at Omir's to find that she is already registered as thelastnameonearth.
Thankfully, the ***** space is already filled in, bless the remember this password option!

Nice place you have here Omir, thanks for the invite. And the memories. Mom and Dad had some 78s...She's Too Fat Polka, and Benny Goodman. I had Henry the Chickenhawk. And Mad under the covers with a flashlight. I can't see a board with nails in it without m brain screaming "Burgler Alarm!"


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