Minor Update on the Closing


So about that hardware store that’s closing. They’re still closing. But as I understand it they’re busy enough at the closing sale that they’re taking on employees who, I guess, know they’re even more temporary than usual.

But also apparently they’re figuring they can keep the store open through Christmas Eve. And now I’m all delighted thinking of them holding the place open, minutes before 5 pm in that dark-of-winter cheery seasonal gloom, watching the last couple people rush in saying, “I need something for my mother! Do you have any billhooks left?” And they have, but it’s not returnable. Just saying.

(Also, billhooks are great. I do not know that I have seen my love happier than when using our closing-sale billhook to hack down dead rose bush branches. If you want one, I know a place that’s open through the 24th. A billhook is a thing you can get from a hardware store. Well, I can. I know a place.)

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The Seventh Talkartoon, And The One Anyone Knows Anything About: Dizzy Dishes


Finally maybe back on track. I’m up to the seventh of the Talkartoon series. It’s arguably the most famous one. It’s one I’ve already reviewed, because it’s the debut of Betty Boop. But, heck. I’ve seen the cartoon many times. What’s one more? From its original release the 9th of August, 1930, here’s Dizzy Dishes.

Bimbo’s looking different from how he did in his debut in Hot Dog. It’s a common fate of characters in those days. It’s a small change, mostly: his head’s black rather than white. Or maybe I was wrong in Hot Dog and Bimbo was supposed to be the cop. As mutations go this isn’t a big one. Betty Boop would change much more between this, her first prototypical look, to the iconic image and then a bit more to her final appearance in her own cartoons.

Bimbo does a fair job driving the action this short. Everything that goes on relates to how he’s the waiter and apparently chef of this cabaret and not all that interested in being either. It’s a strange choice. I mean, it’s amusing, yes. Fair enough he should find a flood of rhyming orders annoying. That he goes the long, ridiculous way around actually preparing roast duck? That he puts it off for a dance number? The internal logic is weird. Granted that Gus Gorilla (if the Internet Movie Database is right in identifying him) looks menacing. How is he going to be less dangerous if he’s served his roast duck? How does hacking a chopping block into a locomotive engine help matters any?

And I guess the answer has to be that Bimbo, this cartoon has a personality. And that personality is the zany screwball. He’s not as fast-paced or as wild as black-and-white Daffy Duck. But try imagining this cartoon done with that early Daffy Duck as the waiter. It kinda fits, doesn’t it? … And then it makes sense that Bimbo doesn’t even try to placate a menacing-looking customer. A screwball doesn’t work if he cares.

The cartoon devotes a lot of its time to a song, like all these shorts have done so far. And that gives what everyone agrees is the debut of Betty Boop. She hasn’t quite got the form that would have her eighty years later still be put on bumper stickers I’ve never seen on an actual car. Really, her original, Grim Natwick-designed model is kind of hideous. Bimbo’s smitten, although I can’t say that’s due to her inherent charisma. It seems like any singer-character put in this role would do just as well. Her voice is appealing enough, but I might think that because of later associations. There is a weird little irony that in Betty Boop’s debut Bimbo steals nearly all the chances to sing “boop-oop-a-doop”. I’m not sure anyone could look at this and realize, yeah, that singer’s the character who will take over this series and then get her own cartoon series after that.

But the cartoon’s got a decent flow to it. There’s fewer dull segments, and few bits where the cartoon is clearly just repeating an amusing gag until everybody in the audience gets it. There’s a suspiciously Mickey-like mouse back in this cartoon, applauding at about 4:30 in. The roast duck laying an egg that hatches into another roast duck (about 4:10 in) is such a weird moment. When I showed a friend this, back in 1998 when we only had episodes on videotape — nobody had solved the problem of sharing video online back then — he was horrified enough he nearly refused to watch the rest. You don’t get cartoons like that anymore.

And as long as I’ve got Betty Boop under discussion: I just discovered that Comics Kingdom has started reprinting the Sunday installments of the Betty Boop comic strip. They started this months ago; I hadn’t heard is all. I hate to admit, but the strip — about Betty Boop’s foible-filled life as a movie star — is pretty dire. But at least you can make out where the jokes are supposed to be. I have my suspicions that possibly Max Fleischer didn’t actually write and draw every panel.

The Counting Thought


We’ve reached the season that Meijer’s self-checkout cash registers start giving out gift receipts. But they’re a little sharper this year. They will give a gift receipt for a set of surely-made-by-adequately-paid-workers-in-environmentally-safe-conditions-as-far-as-I-know art supplies meant as a Toys for Tots donation. They didn’t give a gift receipt for a pack of toilet paper and three bars of Ivory soap. They were correct in this. The soap is totally my gift to myself and my excessive hand-washing compulsion. I’m just glad they’ve got the system understanding this.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? September – November 2017


I know, I know, I’m the Internet’s leading resource on recapping the plots of story strips like Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. Believe me, I’m doing my best to keep my modesty at an appropriate level. My professionalism compels me to warn you: this is a recap written at the end of November 2017. Stories move on, though, and if it’s much past November 2017 these stories won’t be more than deep background for you. If it’s sometime after March 2018 when you read this, then (all going well) I’ll have another, more-recent-to-you story summary available. You should be able to get it here. Thanks for looking to me for help with exactly what my subject line says.

Also, if you’re interested in my talking about mathematical comic strips, I have a review of last week’s comics from that perspective. One story strip, this time, although it’s not a syndicated newspaper-grade comic so it doesn’t get included here.

Mary Worth.

4 September – 26 November 2017.

We had a real, proper, soap-operatic situation going on last time I checked in on Mary Worth. Dawn Weston, working for the Local Medical Group, is outright smitten with Dr Ned Fletcher. Medical assistant Jared, himself a-smitten with Dawn, discovers that Dr Ned is still married. He reports this to Dawn, who doesn’t want to believe it. Also I’m not sure whether Dr Ned is open with his wife about his side thing, or whether he’s lying to her about what he’s doing those late nights at the office. I suppose he’s lying to her. The Mary Worth universe can support adultery. No way can it support poly relationships. (Plus, even if it did, Dr Ned’s a serious heel for lying to Dawn about his status.)

Dawn: 'You told me you were divorced ... and I fell for you ... believing that!' Dr Ned: 'If I told you the truth, that I'm still married ... I KNEW you wouldn't give us a chance! And as we got to KNOW each other better ... I fell deeper in love with you. I KNOW you feel the same about me, Dawn. My being married DOESN'T have to CHANGE what we have!' (As Dawn flees the restaurant.)
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of September, 2017. So not to show off the two years in middle school and two years in high school that I took French, but Google Translate points out how “L’escargot Mensonger” means “the false snail”. So points to Moy and Brigman for the small points like that. It’s a nice bit of thematic awareness.

At a L’escargot Mensonger dinner, Dawn asks and Dr Ned fesses up: he is married. He doesn’t think that has to change things, because it’s never the guy who lied about his relationship status who does. Dawn runs out on dinner and into the gardening-tool-handling hands of Mary Worth. Mary advises sticking to principles like “not dating married men”, even if it costs the job, and that a man who’s “available and doesn’t trouble her conscience” will be along. Since Dawn was only working for the summer and it’s already a September strip this is a financially viable decision to make, at least. Dawn quits, and tells Jared that he was right all along, and maybe they’ll talk or something later. Mary shows up with muffins and hugs and the confidence that comes from knowing yeah, she’s still the center of the strip.

But there’s other people in the comic. Wilbur Weston left Charterstone and threatened to leave the strip altogether some time ago. He’s got a new gig, interviewing survivors of disasters around the world about their experiences and about the sandwiches they eat now that they’re not dead. And his story returns the 2nd of October. He FaceTimes Iris, his girlfriend back home, with the news he’s staying out a while longer. He’s met someone in Bogota he’s got feelings for, and you know, it was her idea they put their relationship on pause while he globetrotted some more.

Iris is devastated and falls into a long self-inquisitive spiral about whether she could have saved their relationship. Mary Worth, writing Wilbur’s “Ask Wendy” advice column, pontificates on the idea that love is all around, no need to waste it, you might just make it after all, thank you for being a friend, sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, and brother Dick was lost at sea without his water wings; now he is an angel, and he tries to do amazing things. But that’s all just for the audience; there’s no hint Iris reads the column or knows this advice is out there ready to be heard.

Zak: 'When ZAKIKS exploded in the gaming world ... I created my company, the Zakiks Studio, which is doing Gangbusters!' Iris: 'A new look, a new business ... Zak, I'm impressed! I always knew you had it in you!' Zak: 'Aw, thanks. Iris, though it all ... I thought about you, and I'm glad you're proud of me!' Iris: 'I am. And so happy for you! You deserve it!' Zak: 'You deserve to be happy, too. Are you?' Iris: 'I experienced a recent breakup. 'Happy' hasn't been in my vocabulary for a while.' Zak: 'I'm going to change that.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 5th of November, 2017. So, yes, since spring Zak has had a lot of good life dropping onto him. But what’s he doing being aware of “Gangbusters” even being a word? For crying out loud the radio show ended sixty years ago and this is a guy who didn’t recognize “Here’s looking at you, kid” as a reference to anything. Can the Soap Opera Personality Transplant Fairy instill in people an awareness of old-fashioned catchphrases and slang terms? Well, yes, that’s how the Personality Transplant Fairy works. I just think Zak would say whatever Millennials say for “going like Gangbusters”, if anyone knows what that would be. Oh, ‘Zakiks’ was the game he made, and I got the vibe it was supposed to be a computer game that took off, but the text never actually commits to that. It might be a trendy board game or something.

Anyway, while walking around in a good healing mope, she runs across Zak. You maybe remember Zak. We last saw him early in 2017, taking some classes with Iris at Local Community College. Iris liked him, what with his being attractive and having a pleasant, natural dopiness, but she decided she was waiting for Wilbur. And hey! What do you know? Zak is doing well, having made a game that got popular and buying a briefcase and a car and everything. And he’s up for coffee and dating, so, lucky them.

Meanwhile in Bogota, Wilbur’s been busy having a life, and who saw that coming? His relationship with Fabiana has gotten quite serious. Wilbur’s taking dance lessons and buying her Green Lantern rings. He’s embracing his new life, and her, with an enthusiasm previously reserved for pork roll. She’s consistently looking not quite at him. But he doesn’t notice this until one day when he arrives for salsa lessons early and finds Fabiana deep in the arms of her cousin Pedro. Wilbur begins to suspect that they aren’t even cousins, and that he’s been a fool. There’s no salsa here. There’s not even any chips. Poor guy.

Wilbur: 'Do you believe me now when I tell you I love you, my love?' When Wilbur buys Fabiana an expensive piece of jewelry. Fabiana: 'Wilbur ... I LOVE it! I LOVE it!' Wilbur: 'I like making you happy.' Fabiana: 'I'm VERY happy NOW, mi amor!' Wilbur, thinking: 'Although my BANK ACCOUNT my not like it as much ... Eh! What's money anyway? Compared to AMOR? And I have SOMETHING in the works that will make you even HAPPIER ... '
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 19th of November, 2017. Can’t lie: after the L’escargot mensonger bit of slyness I’m disappointed the jewelry store is just named what Google Translate tells me is “jewelry”. Also wasn’t the dubiously-sourced quote of the week something Milo Bloom told Opus one of the times the penguin tried dating? I’m pretty sure Moy and Brigman could quote Milo on that one.

And there we are. It’s easy to suppose the situation is exactly what it looks like. Fabiana hasn’t been showing having a conversation with Wilbur that wasn’t about how he could buy her things, for example. But it also seems early in Wilbur’s little story segment here. After breaking up with Iris on the second of October his story went on the backburner. The Wilbur-Fabiana thing has only had primary focus since the 13th of November. It seems like there should be time for some twists and turns yet. On the 26th as Wilbur storms out Fabiana does chase after, swearing it isn’t what it looks like and begging her love not to go; so, what the heck. I’m willing to see. Plus, you know, after the last bit of Wilber-Iris-and-Zak storytelling we got CRUISE SHIPS. I don’t know what can match them, if anything, but it’s a good omen going forward.

Dubiously Sourced Quotes of Mary Worth Sunday Panels.

Auto Surgeon message sign: Knowledge Speaks But Wisdom Listens -Jimi Hendrix.
Oh yeah, so the car care place down the corner has had this as the quote for a couple months now. It’s not telling nearly as evocative a story as the usual auto-care-sign messages go, but it really feels Mary Worth-ready.
  • “Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t going away.” — Elvis Presley. 3 September 2017.
  • “And if that isn’t the truth, it would be a lie.” — Colin Mochrie, 10 September 2017.
  • “Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.” — Victor Hugo, 17 September 2017.
  • “The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.” — Hubert H Humphrey, 24 September 2017.
  • “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” — Albert Einstein, 1 October 2017.
  • “Let go. Why do you cling to pain?” — Leo Buscaglia, 8 October 2017.
  • “Love can sometimes be magic. But magic can sometimes … just be an illusion.” — Javan, 15 October 2017.
  • “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” — 1 Corinthians 13:13, 22 October 2017. OK, I’m like 60 percent confident this one is legit.
  • “Love is like the wind. You can’t see it, but you can feel it.” — Nicholas Sparks, 29 October 2017.
  • “There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.” — George Sand, 5 November 2017.
  • “Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.” — Satchel Paige, 12 November 2017.
  • “Money can’t buy love, but it improves your bargaining position.” — Unknown, 19 November 2017.
  • “Life is full of surprises.” — John Major, 26 November 2017.

Next week!

I return to the challenge of doing these recaps without fear or favor, despite knowing that Tony DePaul reads them, as I get to his and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom, Sunday continuity. A new storyline had started shortly after my last update, so this is a much-needed refresher.

Statistics Saturday: 89 Most Popular Words You Can Make With Bilaterally Symmetric Letters


  1. TAXI
  2. WHY
  3. OVUM
  4. WAVY
  5. MOUTH
  6. XI
  7. THOU
  8. MIX
  9. WAX
  10. IVY
  11. YOUTH
  12. VIM
  13. WAXY
  14. HIT
  15. UH
  16. VOMIT
  17. A
  18. WHOM
  19. TUX
  20. AH
  21. YOW
  22. MOW
  23. HA
  24. HAM
  25. OW
  26. WHAM
  27. YOU
  28. TV
  29. WHOA
  30. YUM
  31. HAT
  32. VOW
  33. THAW
  34. UM
  35. OX
  36. MU
  37. WHAT
  38. HAW
  39. YO
  40. OM
  41. HAY
  42. MI
  43. MAXI
  44. VITA
  45. MY
  46. VIA
  47. WHO
  48. HOW
  49. AM
  50. MA
  51. MAW
  52. OH
  53. HO
  54. HUT
  55. MAX
  56. TWO
  57. TOW
  58. WOT
  59. MAY
  60. HI
  61. YAM
  62. OVA
  63. AVOW
  64. THY
  65. AT
  66. TAU
  67. VAT
  68. HUM
  69. TAX
  70. I
  71. OHM
  72. IT
  73. TI
  74. TO
  75. THO
  76. HOT
  77. TOM
  78. MOT
  79. AW
  80. HIM
  81. TOY
  82. YAW
  83. WAY
  84. AX
  85. WHIM
  86. OUT
  87. AY
  88. MIXT
  89. YA

Source: Symmetry in Mechanics: A Gentle, Modern Introduction, Stephanie Frank Singer.

Poking Around The Body Shop When You’re Getting Old


You know you’re becoming an adult when you go browsing at the Body Shop, and you spend some time looking over the newest stuff, but. Yeah, the webbed hands are always kind-of desirable. Wireless ear hotspots. The extreme-heat-resistant tongue, just great for those most extreme coffees. Laser nostrils. In-wrist bag-of-holding pouches. A detachable belly button that you can leave at home when you’re afraid of losing it.

And then you go down and put “non-squeaking knees” down on your wish list. That’s when adulthood is getting to you.

You know you’re really old when you don’t even care that they’ve got finally got eyestalks this year that work right.

On This Date: November 24, If You Will


2019. Highly disappointing opening of the canal between the fifth and the second floors of the West Mall in Bukit Batok, Singapore, with critics saying the whole system seems to be “just a slightly large elevator” and “not really better than riding a couple escalators would be”. The complaints are harsh but fair because riding escalators is a really grand thing. If there were some way to fix the problems of having to step onto or off of them then we’d really have something.

2020. The Internet has one of those weird spasms where everybody gets hung up on how the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, Kent, England, was renamed “Benbom Brothers Theme Park” in the 1980s just because that sounds like the name you’d create if you were in the 90s and doing a bad translation of a Japanese RPG. Within 14 hours, it passes, leaving no harm done.

2026. The “Inbox Zero” e-mail productivity fad gives way to the “Inbox Infinity” model as this turns out to be a great deal easier for everyone and their nerves needed it by this point.

2064. Last specific reprinting of Art Buchwald’s column about introducing Thanksgiving to the French, which is a shame since that bit about translating Miles Standish’s name as “Kilometres Deboutish”? That’s solid enough.

2065. Mutual occultation of Venus and Jupiter happens, two days late, following last-minute negotiations when the planets can’t agree about whether it should be the occultation of Venus by Jupiter or of Jupiter by Venus, and a furious debate on the Wikipedia talk page about “Crayons”, where the debate somehow settled in a process people were still trying to explain to their great-grandchildren.

2085. We fix the problem of having to step onto or off of escalators with the invention of shoes that can’t get caught in the teeth of those things but keep you pretty stable when you’re stepping into the belt.

2121. Bigfoot’s job hunt lands him a career as the mascot for the Jersey Devils. He lasts nearly eight years at the post before going on to greater fame as the official public greeter for Baltimore, Maryland (starting the 26th of July, 2129) and sees the Devils to two World Series appearances when their bus gets lost.

2200. The Universal Postal Union agrees that next year shall be 2200: The Gold Edition”, although it will be labelled as “2201” for the sake of not breaking anyone’s database software.

2243. 186th anniversary of the 24th of November, 2057, passes without turmoil but with many people asking “Huh?” and “Why?” and “This is a thing because of why?”

2371. Deep in a star system nearly 75,000 light-years from Earth the locals begin producing a program known as Star Trek: Voyager. It’s purely coincidence, though, as the vastness of the universe and the enormity of the number of peopled worlds and the relatively small number of sounds that are likely to be made into words cause a program that happens to have that name without actually being a remake or continuation of the United Paramount Network classic program. It is in fact a shot-for-shot remake of Star Trek: The Original Series except in this one Lieutenant Uhura gets along great with Elaan, the Dohlman of Elas, and critics say this one little change drastically improves the whole body of work.

2618. After years, maybe a decade, of cruel taunting about what work it does exactly that ‘S’ and ‘K’ don’t do just as well the letter ‘C’ declares it’s had enough and leaves the alphabet. While people are able to carry on mostly fine, what with having both ‘S’ and ‘K’ there, it does leave words such as “church” pretty well stuck. The letter ‘J’ steps up to remind everyone that it could totally do the hard ‘ch’ sound, and is told to sit down because it’s done “so much already” and is really appreciated “right where it is” by letters that are rolling their eyes.

4211. No end of discussion about the way the dates of the year line up, if you’re in the United States, and a lot of arguing that the United States way of listing the dates is just stupid and dumb and wrong. By the time it’s over very few people are still talking to each other. It’s a good way to figure out who you need to stop interacting with, though. Consider it.

In Which I Explain My Work-Related Anxieties


Me, thinking: “So, in a Star Trek style universe you kind of have every intelligent, spacegoing species having that thing it’s best at. Like, Vulcans are the best at logic. Zakdorns are the best strategists. Klingons are the best at hollering at fake swords. Deltans are the best at 70s-style sexy sex sexing. Ferengi are the best at sounding like YouTube commenters. Pakleds are the best at making everyone else feel better about their own abilities but also kinda awful for feeling like that. Cardassians are the best at honeypot intelligence sting operations luring Federation spies into captivity. But how far does this specialization go? Like, is there a species that’s the best at practical jokes? A species that’s the galaxy’s greatest prank-phone-callers? A species of unmatchable pumpkin-carvers? The quadrant’s naturally greatest bird-watchers? The best house-cleaners in the known reaches of space? A species that’s the go-to people for watching old game show episodes while sighing and feeling like they can never be as happy as that first year out of college again? A species that’s unmatchable in their ability to read Wuthering Heights? A species that just draws the best comics? A species that’s the greatest at actually watching DVDs from the library before it’s time to return or renew them? A people who can make microwave hot chocolate taste the least weird that it can possibly taste?”

Also me, thinking: “Have I checked my work e-mail this week?”

The Fifth Talkartoon: Fire Bugs (with a surprise musical visitor)


OK, this time I think I have this pesky “order” of things worked out. With luck, I’ll soon do two Talkartoons in a row in the way they should be. We’ll see. This week’s is Fire Bugs, originally released the 9th of May, 1930. If Wikipedia’s right this is the first Fleischer Studios cartoon to credit the animators. So we know two of the people responsible for its look and humor: Ted Sears and Grim Natwick. Sears would go on to be the first head of the Disney story department. Natwick is famous for something coming up next week if I can do time right. I give that a 50-50 chance of happening.

So. First thought. There was a time when nobody had thought to use Franz Liszt for a cartoon. There was, incredibly, a first time that the strong beat and wonderfully varied melody and great, riotous structure of the Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2 was first set to an animated creature clowning around on the piano when something more urgent was under way. This was not that time. The earliest I’m aware of is the 1929 Mickey Mouse cartoon The Opera House. It’s hard to imagine there are many earlier cases. Still, Fire Bugs is one of the early examples of this song becoming the Golden Age of Animation composition.

I had stopped tracking when suspiciously-Mickey-Mouse-like mice appeared in these cartoons because we went a couple weeks without any. This cartoon more than makes up for their absence. Kind Of Mickeys are all over the first scene, in many of the subsequence scenes, and pretty well fill out what would otherwise be negative space in this cartoon. They never quite do much, but they run around, and that can be enough. At least one gets a good gag of being picked up by the fire hose.

There is a lot of fun in this cartoon. It’s a great example of the rubber-hose style where nothing just moves. It has to be wrangled out of shape and then it consents to move. It’s a look I really enjoy. It feels lively.

The title makes sense; it’s a cartoon about a fire fighter that I suppose is our second Bimbo cartoon. And the story parses too; the fire call comes in, Bimbo(?) and his horse Sparky make their way to the scene; they rescue the longhair musician despite his best efforts to finish his piece. It ends at a logical point, as the Hungarian Rhapsody does. Sensible.

There’s not really a blink-and-you-miss-it joke, or else I blinked. (The ‘Fire Water’ barrels in the basement are on-screen too long to really count.) I do like the swapping of positions between Bimbo and Sparky as they slide down the firepole. There’s also, yeah, some dull bits where they drag out a bit of animation, maybe to make sure we saw the pansies dancing, thank you, now move on. Maybe to make sure the cartoon didn’t come in too short. You’d think an apartment fire would be enough for a good cartoon.

The musician at the end saying “My father thanks you, my mother thanks you, I thank you, goodbye” is a pop culture reference. It’s riffing on the tagline of The Four Cohans, or as we know them if we watch a lot of Turner Classic Movies, James Cagney as George M Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The horse’s name is surely a pop culture reference too. Sparkplug, or Sparky, was the name of Barney Google’s flea-bitten horse in the comic strip that, back then, was incredibly popular. I mean, like, popular in a way you’d think I was joking if I told you about. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was nicknamed “Sparky” after that horse. I haven’t read the strips of the 1930s so I have no informed opinion about whether everybody was just crazy back then. But Comics Kingdom has been running the Barney Google strips of the early 40s, and yeah, they’re pretty interesting. The strip, like many back then, was a serial adventure comic. I could believe it being justifiably a craze.

I already was enjoying the cartoon, even if it stalled for time before getting to the apartment building, when the Liszt kicked in. After that I was fully delighted. Glad to see it.

How Everything’s Turned Out (So far)


So, the Silver Bells parade was not destroyed by heavy rains, or even inconvenienced by severe cold, this time around. There was a little drizzling midway through but they were able to get through all ten or maybe eleven high school marching bands festooned in lights and playing “Jingle Bells” or “Angels We Have Heard On High”. Only two played “Jingle Bell Rock”.

We are now on what I believe is our fourth HD DVR since we had to switch to the modern era after our old TV exploded. I’m not sure about them all but I think the first one we sent back by mistake because apparently the company just assumed we had a HD satellite receiver what with it being 2017 and all. The second had this thing where the hard drive made a sound at about the same level as a jet engine taking off, all the time. The third was fine from April to about three weeks ago when it decided to put a spot in every program where it’d freeze up and crash. Tech support delighted me by suggesting that the problem might be how the DVR was plugged into a surge protector rather than the bare well. I’m still, a week later, occasionally thinking of that and grinning. I like bunkum when it’s imaginative and fresh and admire whoever had this preposterous idea all ready to deploy. It makes the hassle of trying to think of all the shows we set to record, and losing out on the season of Doctor Who we recorded and never got around to watching, kind of worth it? I guess?

I am still not reading about the history of socks.

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? August – November 2017


Greetings, fellow creature who fears nature. If you’re interested in the current storyline in James Allen’s Mark Trail, great! I describe it here. At least I do if it’s not too much later than mid-November 2017 for you. If you’re reading this after, like, February 2018 things have possibly moved on and this won’t help you any. If I’ve written a follow-up explanation of the stories I should have them at or near the top of this page. Please check there to see if that’s more useful. If it’s not, well, try this and we’ll see what it can do for you.

And on my other blog, there’s mathematically-themed comic strips. Please consider that too, if you’ve got the time for another blog in your life.

Mark Trail.

28 August – 19 November 2017.

Twelve weeks ago I last reviewed James Allen’s Mark Trail. I predicted then the story was near its end. I had good reason. The story had already been running since something like the 25th of February. (There were a couple weeks of apparently extraneous character setup that looks like teasing for a later story. But it could yet intervene in this story.) And the major story elements seemed to be all set out. Mark Trail, held hostage by an unnamed Rapid City, South Dakota, bank robber, had got to the point where he punches people. He’d also worked out the big plot twist. The woman held hostage with him was not just a snarky comics reviewer but also, secretly, Bank Robber’s accomplice. Trail had arranged his friend Johnny Lone Elk to fake being lost to a ravine accident, the better to come back and punch people. The FBI in cooperation with the local sheriff were closing in on the ghost town to which Trail lead Bank Robber. And severe weather was closing in, ready to fill the story’s quota of “Nature: Too Deadly For Humans” narrative. Also, there may or may not be a bear.

We’re still in this story. I’m as startled as you are. Maybe eight percent more startled. What all has Mark Trail been doing with his time? Let’s recap.

Johnny Lone Elk teamed up with the Sheriff into the bear-bearing caves that lead to the ghost town. While they do have to pass the notoriously cranky Samson, the grizzly is content to let them on their way in exchange for a couple of odd-brand candy bars. So all you people teasing me for stockpiling Zero bars and Squirrel Nut Zippers? Go get eaten by a bear. Johnny and Sheriff get to the tunnels underneath the ghost town. Sheriff fills in some backstory about why the empty town has enough tunnel space to build the Second Avenue Subway.

The spinning blades rip off a windmill. Accomplice shouts 'Look out!' The spinning blades fly toward Mark Trail. Maybe. The perspective seems weird.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 8th of September, 2017. Of the action sequences the last couple months of Mark Trail I think the windmill collapse was the least effective. It’s cinematic, sure. But if the reader has a vague idea how big an Old West Ghost Town windmill is (like I do) then it’s really hard to judge how threatening the thing is. And in still pictures it’s hard to judge how fast it’s moving, or how futile dodging might be. I’ll accept easily that one of them falling loose and flinging at a person would be catastrophic, but it also seems unlikely. Fair enough to have bad luck throw your characters into peril, but it did mean I started out not quite believing what was going on, and then the art didn’t sell me on it.

Mark Trail leads Bank Robber and Accomplice into the ghost town, ahead of the tornado. They’re just in time for the windmill to come flying off the tower and chase them down. But Mark outwits the loose windmill vanes. The horses bolt, but Bank Robber’s able to grab the sack of money off one of them. They take shelter in the town saloon. Across the street, in the bank, Johnny Lone Elk and Sheriff emerge from their subplot, just in time for the rain to clear.

Sheriff shooting at the crooks and Mark Trail. Trail: 'You two should just give up now!' Bank Robber: 'SHUT UP, TRAIL! EVERYBODY STAY DOWN!' Accomplice: 'I'm not cut out for this!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 19th of October, 2017. You know the midlist has gotten bad when Sir Arthur C Clarke has to take up bank-robbing and hostage-taking.

Bank Robber whips out his iPhone, in what looks like an Otter protective case. Have to say, I’ve had good experiences with the Otter cases, so, good decision and all. He’s calling for his pickup. Still, Trail warns there’s no reason there can’t still be a tornado, and maybe a hurricane, and maybe a swarm of killer bees piloting tiny F-18s for good measure. Accomplice warns Trail could be right. Bank Robber’s having none of it, and forces Accomplice and Trail to the nearby abandoned airstrip. Sheriff orders them to freeze, and they do, except instead of holding still Bank Robber shoots back. Accomplice does take the chance to run out of the conflict and into Johnny Lone Elk’s custody.

Small aircraft pilot in storm clouds and rain: 'Boy, that wind is getting fierce ... I sure hope he knows what he's doing! ... Seems like we could've planned a less complicated way to pull off this job and get away with it!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of October, 2017. Really not sure how there could possibly be a simpler bank-robbery getaway plan than ‘take a hostage at the airport rental counter and have him drive to a remote town that has an abandoned airstrip where you can fly in and recover him’. I mean, what else could they do, go to some bus-and-train terminal and buy two dozen tickets to random other cities while driving out under cover of being in a 2014 Chevy Malibu too boring to even appear in security camera footage?

Bank Robber keeps Trail hostage, though, walking to the airstrip where his escape pilot — a young-looking Judge Alan Parker sporting a ponytail — ponders how surely there could have been a less complicated getaway plan. But before a vehicle can be safely used for its intended purpose, nature intervenes, and the plane is smacked down by a tornado. Trail tries to use the chaos to grab Bank Robber’s gun, but Bank Robber answers with fists. But a punching match with Mark Trail is almost dumber than force-feeding Popeye a can of spinach. So Bank Robber grabs his pistol. Sheriff throws an axe at Bank Robber, smacking him hard and breaking his hand. (By the time Sheriff could get a clear shot on Bank Robber, his rifle jammed, is why he’s diddling about with an axe.)

Mark Trail yells 'LOOK OUT!!' as he and Bank Robber are thrown forward by the exploding small-aircraft.
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 3rd of November, 2017. If I were to claim that BOOOM was a short-lived early-60s Mad Magazine imitator noteworthy mostly for once featuring a script by Alan Arkin and a couple spot cartoons by Crockett Johnson of Barnaby and Harold and his Purple Crayon fame, would you believe me? I thought so.

And aircraft pilot Alan Parker? He bailed out just before the plane was destroyed by the tornado. And his parachute was working all right until the tornado turned and hit that, sending him plummeting into a barn. Parker says he’s surprisingly okay, though: “I’m lucky there was still some hay in this old stable!” So he is. Come this Monday the tornado’s going to drop four cows and a cruise liner on him.

So. Like you see, that’s a lot of stuff happening. It seems like it’s got to be near done now. Accomplice gave herself up to the guest star. Bank Robber’s had all his guns cudgeled out of his hands. Alan Parker’s a shoe-in for a forthcoming Ripley’s Believe It Or Not panel. What really makes sense is for someone to eat pancakes and to do something about counting up the prairie dogs near Rapid City. I still haven’t forgot that was the reason Mark Trail came out here. I’m not leaving this story until I hear about the comeback the prairie dogs are making.

Sunday Animals Watch!

Animals or natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • Coqui Frogs of Puerto Rico, 3 September 2017. They’re invasive in Hawaii and soon California.
  • The 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, 10 September 2017. Oil-eating microbes seem to be making things less awful than expected.
  • Hurricane Season, 17 September 2017. This was a couple weeks after Harvey, right after Hurricane Irma, and just as Hurricane Maria got started.
  • Nile Crocodile, 24 September 2017. They’re dying
  • Dracula Orchids, 1 October 2017. They’re terrifying.
  • Black rat snakes, 8 October 2017. They’re eight feet long and emit musk when threatened.
  • Bobbit Worms, 15 October 2017. They’re horrifying.
  • Hydnellum Peckii fungus, 22 October 2017. They’re a “ghoulish” fungus.
  • Trapdoor Spiders, 29 October 2017. Gads, yes, but we need them.
  • Mysterious cross-species altruism, 5 November 2017. It’s not just for social media anymore.
  • Quolls, 12 November 2017. They’re dying.
  • The Purple Frogs of Bhupathy India, 19 November 2017. Too soon to tell but I bet you they’re dying.

Next Week!

Is there life after cruise ships? No, not really. But Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth has been doing its best to carry on as though there were. All goes well, next week, I’ll see what dubiously-sourced quotations from famous people they have to talk about a cruise-less story. Only connect to us, won’t you?

Statistics Saturday: Least-Likely Dates For (US) Thanksgiving


  1. November 17th
  2. November 31st
  3. Kevin’s Birthday (Kevin was born in February)
  4. November 9th
  5. Maundy Thursday
  6. The Feast of St Ailbe
  7. The New Jersey Big Sea Day (second Saturday in August, Manasquan, New Jersey)
  8. November 0x2AAth
  9. Black Friday
  10. Other Kevin’s Birthday (Other Kevin was born in December)
  11. It’s not tomorrow is it? We can’t go to the farmer’s market today, it’s going to be madness!
  12. September 4, 476 AD

Can Someone Please Give Twitter A Good Shove?


Not looking to sound ungrateful here for a free web site that keeps me in touch with like four people I knew on Usenet in the 90s and a lot of reasons to call my Congressman and tell him how disgusted I am. But it’s still, today, trying to feed me the line that “Veterans Day” is a trending topic six days after the holiday. All I can say to that that is “you’re a rotten liar”.

Trends for you: FridayFeeling, MMSayThanks, VeteransDay, U.S.Senate, NationalTakeAHikeDay, FlashbackFriday, NCTE17, VoxUnion, James Fowler.
Taken at like noon the 17th of November, 2017. I don’t know what the ESPN thing is all about, but I figure that’s all right, the people who need to know understand it well enough. I’m not worried about that and I am willing to trust there is still such a thing as ESPN.

The kindest I can work out is maybe Twitter is stuck in the mud and can’t get traction. If someone could get it out I’d appreciate the help. I rely on Twitter’s Trending report to let me know what I won’t be reading about on Twitter Moments under any circumstances.

On This Date: November 17, If You Like


765. Date of the historical incident believed to have inspired, in distorted form, the fable of Jack the Giant-Killer, when seven flies were indeed killed in one blow by a giant rampaging through a middle-Uressexshire hamlet. Less famously the incident is also credited with creating the village of Flattstone-Under-Stompenhedge. It’s a little baffling how the story ended up like we know it today. Most historians of legend suspect “political satire around the time of the Commonwealth or Restoration”. But we’ll admit that’s their answer to everything.

797. Kanmu, Emperor of Japan, changes his residence from Nara to Kyoto but the student loan people find him anyway.

1602. Birth of Agnes of Jesus, who’d go on to become a nun in what seems like typecasting but there you go. Sometimes you just know what your course is in life.

1777. The Colonial Congress sends the Articles of Confederation to the British Parliament for ratification in a deliberately-arranged “accident” that both sides fail to use as a chance to apologize and try to come to some reasonable settlement of the whole matter. It ends up making everybody feel eight percent more awkward.

1810. Sweden declares war on the United Kingdom in order to start the Anglo-Swedish War, since it seems like a shame to have such a snappy name for a war and nobody declaring it or anything. The war ends two years later when they notice everyone’s been so happy with the stylish name and the idea of Sweden and the United Kingdom being at war that nobody ever bothered to fight the other side, and that isn’t even my joke.

1858. Day zero of the Modified Julian Day scheme so that’s why your friend who does all this database stuff with dates is staring wistfully out the window and wondering why we have to have a February even today. We do not; we have a February in-between January and March.

1869. The Suez Canal successfully links the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. Backers fail to reach their stretch goal of connecting the Mediterranean with either the Pacific Ocean, the Baltic Sea at Brunsbüttel, or Albany, New York. But they’re happy with what they did achieve and give out some commemorative coasters.

1933. The United States recognizes the Soviet Union.

1935. The United States recognizes the Soviet Union a second time when Guatemala explains how the two of them used to stand at the window outside the League of Nations building in Geneva staring inside and sometimes putting pickles from the burger stand down the way onto the window to see if they’d freeze in place there.

1946. Last use of a Murphy bed except in a black-and-white sitcom.

1952. Soap magnate Dr Emanual Theodore Bronner, serving his jury duty obligation for the civil court, is asked whether he is familiar with the law regarding trees and shrubs which overhang the property line. Both sides’ attorneys excuse him 36 seconds later. He finishes the first of many extremely considered sentences about the matter in December, and his whole thought about fallen branches by 1954 (estimated).

1961. The United States recognizes the Soviet Union again, but pretends to stumble and have to fiddle with its shoelaces a couple minutes while they pass on the sidewalk.

1973. One of the most successful weight-loss plans of the 70s gets started when Eater’s Digest publishes this compelling bit of reasoning. The reasoning: you can burn off more calories simply by going about your business while wearing weights. But what is fat except excess weight? And, better, weight that you can’t take off even if you want? Therefore simply by walking or standing or breathing or sleeping on your chest you’re burning off excess calories, thereby causing yourself to lose weight on the whole deal. And therefore being fatter is the quickest way to being thinner and, therefore, being overweight doesn’t exist and within two years everybody is.

2015. ‘Bob and Bert’ create the only podcast advertisement ever recorded that makes listening to the podcast sound appealing or desirable or even something other than just a bit of sadness. After the successful advertisement their Wheeler-and-Woolseycast releases one more episode, then misses four months for an unannounced hiatus, returns with a 15 minutes apology and explanation that it’ll be two months before they get back to their twice-a-month-schedule, and then never be heard from again.

Friday Is Coming, We Hope


I don’t like to make promises of things I’m not sure can happen. I mean, I do it anyway, because work will send me tasks and if I started admitting how little I’m sure that I can accomplish anything this might encourage everyone to admit we’ve been bluffing our way through the world since fifth grade at the latest, and then where would we be? Sixth grade?

But. Here’s the important thing. Friday is supposed to be the next time the Silver Bells In The City parade marches through downtown Lansing. And the forecast has rain as a real, serious possibility. I can’t promise that the results will be as spectacular as last year, when a major storm rolled through and blew away dozens of marching bands and created a TV show experience I still want to give each and every one of you. I still haven’t seen if they have DVDs of last year’s parade. But yes, I’m hopeful, going in to this year’s spectacle. I mean, it’s already raining and so dark that a raccoon knocked on the side door and asked if we could turn on a light so she could see. So maybe we’ll get a fun dose of chaos, maybe.

Also I’m thinking of ways to weatherproof myself better, perhaps by wearing eight layers of raincoats, or perhaps getting a giant vinyl ball to move in. No, that’s probably a good way to end up washed down the street and into the Grand River. Must think seriously about this. You first.

Also, hey, I looked over some more mathematically-themed comic strips today so you can think about those instead.

The Sixth Talkartoon: Wise Flies


Just that string of words — “sixth Talkartoon: Wise Flies” — looks weird to me. This is because I know from time immemorial that the sixth Talkartoon was Dizzy Dishes, the famous introduction of Betty Boop. I think the problem is Marriage Wows, which I had to skip a couple weeks ago because I don’t know any way to see it. Wikipedia mentions that as a cartoon that turns out not to be lost. I suppose the books I read as a young cartoon enthusiast were unaware of Marriage Wows, so didn’t count it in their list of cartoons.

Now some of you may wonder what happened to the fifth Talkartoon, Fire Bugs. Nothing in particular. I just somehow missed it when I started preparing this, and now it’s too close to deadline for me to have a bunch of other thoughts about a whole other cartoon. I’ll try to loop back and get it next week. I’m sorry for the confusion.

So here’s the sixth Talkartoon. As ever, it’s credited to director Dave Fleischer. Two of the animators get credit, though: William Bowsky and Ted Sears. They didn’t do it all themselves; Wikipedia credits Grim Natwick with animation too. From the 18th of July, 1930, here it is:

Some cartoons keep surprising. I had this one pegged after the first scenes: it’d be a couple flies taunting the guy they’re skiing down, until eventually the spider pokes in, scares everyone, and after a frantic music nuber gets tied up by the blandly pleasant male lead fly. It’s an unexciting story structure but it’s a good, functional one.

I was a little surprised the spider poked in right away to interrupt a fly picnic. Didn’t throw my expectations too badly, though. We’d need to meet the blandly pleasant male lead and the female who’d get abducted by the villain, after all. But the female fly squirts the spider into embarrassed submission, and the spider trots back home, defeated. And turns out to have a wife and to be hungry. That’s a sympathizing touch. It’s easy to hiss at the villain who’s just out to cause harm. When they’re shown to just want to eat? That’s harder. That he’s got a family — in something I didn’t see coming, including kids to feed — makes the narrative stranger. The spider ends up the protagonist, possibly by default as none of the flies seem to be in successive scenes. (Perhaps this reflects different animators taking over the successive scenes.)

But the flies do get some nice odd scenes. A picnic is normal enough for anthropomorphic insects. The fly in a plane is weirder. I imagine it reflects how plane-mad the public was in the early 30s. Maybe it’s whimsy. Maybe it’s thoughtful: the scene is basically that of a guy cruising in his car and picking up a woman. But would a female fly even in principle be impressed by a car? A plane makes sense for that role.

The plotting’s a bit curious. It’s partly spot jokes about flies and a spider, fine enough. And it’s partly about, clearly enough: spider needs to feed himself and his family, but he can’t catch anything. Then about 3:54 in all that’s put on pause so the spider and fly can perform “Some Of These Days”, Shelton Brooks’s toe-tapping hit from 1910. (It had, Wikipedia tells me, got rerecorded by Sophie Tucker in 1926. Sold a million albums that way. Then it got into 1928’s Lights of New York, another candidate for the title of “first talking motion picture”. The cartoon came out in that while the song was inescapable.) But that turns the last scene from hunter-and-prey into an odd infidelity-romance bit. That’s an interesting surprise to me too. It’s a shame that got resolved with the spider’s wife coming out in battleaxe mode. But it does add a nice sad touch to the final chorus of “No flies!”

This isn’t a cartoon with big laughs, at least not for me. There’s a few nice small laughs, like the spider reading the Fly Paper. But overall it’s a curious short that’s not quite plot-driven, but feels like it has more story than just a couple jokes about flies doing things.

Does the title make sense? Absolutely. It’s a little punny, but not absurdly so, and it’s definitely a fly-driven cartoon. Does its ending make sense? Here, too, yes: there’s good reason to end the cartoon at this point rather than another. There aren’t any really good weird body-horror-ish jokes, things where people come flying apart or something crazy like that. The spider’s teeth hopping while he dance and I guess that’s about it.

I don’t know whether to read the sleeping man at the start of the cartoon as a black figure, or just a guy with a heavy beard.

Next Tuesday! I ought to do Fire Bugs. Maybe I’ll do Dizzy Dishes. Maybe I’ll get hopelessly confused again and go review the fifth episode of the Disney’s Hercules Saturday Morning Cartoon for some reason. I don’t know. I’m just doing the best I can.

In Which I Ponder The Thinking Of Criminals In Inspector Danger’s Crime World


This has been nagging at me since last Monday. It’s the Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz. It’s sort of a Slylock Fox for people who like a touch more narrative. Also to have the crime be murder a lot. Also for the victims to often be dot-com millionaires or academics. (The latter makes me feel a bit personally targeted, but the academics always give a hint who murdered them by, like, typing out the number of letters in their killer’s name or something like that. So they probably were terrible to their grad students, if any, and deserved it.) In last Monday’s installment cartoonist Werner Wejp-Olsen put Inspector Danger through one of his routine methods of criminal-catching: going somewhere, leaving, returning, and noticing something. It’s an old gimmick but it works surprisingly well. And here’s what he saw.

Inspector Danger: 'Bud Norton has been on the run for two weeks - let's check out his hideout in the city.' He knocks on the door. '- Or his place in the countryside.' The countryside. 'No smoke from the chimney. But he have to make sure he's not hiding in this dump. Withered flowers! Apparently nobody has been living here for weeks. Maybe we should give his city place another shot.' Assistant Alfie: 'Are you sure, sir? You know how hard it is to find a parking space.' Danger, back at the city place. 'Here we go again.' Knocking to no answer. 'Not a peep - maybe this is just another wild goose chase? OK, let's call it a day. WAIT!' (The new front door mat indicates that the place is inhabited. Bud Norton is now back in the slammer.)
Werner Wejp-Olsen’s Inspector Danger’s Crime Quiz for the 6th of November, 2017. And hey, good contribution to the investigation with your observation about parking spaces there, Alfie. Really shows why Inspector Danger needs you to work at his best. Sometimes he gets to be relevant to the story. It’s just Danger gets on these rolls with his checking-out-two-hideouts business and there’s not even any point talking to him.

I admit I am not a person who takes great care with domestic niceties. Yes, once, when I lived in an apartment I did have a doormat. And I did even take it once, when I had to move from that building to another owned by the same company just because the first building was collapsing and probably dangerously unstable and the floor tilted, probably, only about five degrees downhill, even if the size of the living room made it feel like it was eight or nine degrees. But I only took the doormat because the new apartment didn’t have one, and then I left it in the trunk of my car because lazy, until my sister ended up owning the car and I think she lost it when the car was in an accident that left it too damaged to bother repairing.

What I’m saying is, were I a fugitive, I’m not sure I would bother replacing my apartment-door doormats even if they were in terrible shape. And this one doesn’t even look that bad. But I’m not sure I’d have bouquets of flowers either, not without someone to nudge me into action. In which case I’d expect that someone to replace the flowers in a timely fashion because goodness knows I’d never notice.

And yet I appreciate that in Inspector Danger’s world, criminals on the run worry about whether their doormats are nice enough. And replace them in the hours after the detectives have been around. It suggests a world of depravity on the level of the Adam West Batman, where the greatest expressions of human depredation are, like, a squat fellow who quacks a lot and has many specialized umbrellas, and all their worst crimes are stuff like stealing an unusually large violin. Don’t you wish that was as bad as humans got?

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? August – November 2017


I got back to Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley a bit quicker than I figured! Last time around I predicted I’d get back to this strip in December 2017, and here it is November 2017, way ahead of that. But the point I made in the preamble there stands. This is a recap of the comic strip’s most recent developments. But if you’re reading this later than, oh, let’s say April 2018 then the strip has moved on. I’ll be out of date. And I may have some more recent-to-you post about what’s going on. You should be able to find it at or near the top of this page.

If you like comic strips that aren’t necessarily story strips you might look at my mathematics blog. There I regularly discuss the recent syndicated comics that did something mathematical. Ideally I don’t ruin the jokes.

Gasoline Alley.

21 August – 11 November 2017.

Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley has, since the 27th of April, been running a very dangerous story. Not that the stakes in it are that high. But in that it’s a crossing of two of the strip’s styles of stories. One is the weepy melodrama. Poverty-stricken kids Emma Sue And Scruffy, and their widowed mother, The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom, moved into the abandoned mill. The kids ran across the curmudgeonly codger Elam Jackson, who softens when he meets them all. Elam Jackson starts repairing The Widow Etc’s mill. Also he begins acts of courtship with The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom.

The danger is that it’s crossed with another of the strip’s story types. This is the Joel And Rufus Story. Joel and Rufus are preposterous, silly characters. They’d make sense on Green Acres. They can have adventures easily. Attaching emotions to them, though? That’s a tall order. Still, Rufus had encountered Emma Sue and Scruffy. He and Joel played Santa for the impoverished kids, back before the August update. Rufus gave some newly weaned kittens to the kids. He’s also got romantic designs on The Widow Etc.

Rufus, to Emma Sue and Scruffy: 'I'll see yo' kids soon! Right now I'm goin' t'say bye t'yo'momma!' Emma Sue and Scruffy: 'Thanks fo' th'kitties! We love 'em, an yo' too!' Rufus at the mill: 'There's Mrs Ruffington over by th'mill wheel with m'friend Elam Jackson!' In the third panel Rufus sees The Widow Etc and Jackson kissing.
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of August, 2017. The terrible moment that sends Rufus off to the circus, ultimately. Can’t fault him for being heartbroken after seeing that. But then we the reader know a bit more about what’s going on, such as — a few weeks later — the strips from the week of the 11th.
So this storyline has to balance its absurdist-clown streak with its weepy-melodrama streak. It’s tricky. Anything goes wrong and all narrative could collapse. When we left off Elam Jackson’s courting of The Widow Etc had reached the point of actually kissing, in silhouette, off where Rufus could see. Rufus immediately despairs, a state not at all natural for this goofball. He storms home, puts a note on his mailbox that “I’ve gone away! Ain’t comin’ back! Pleze hol’ my mail!” and even leaves his cats without supervision. Well, he leaves them to Joel, about the same thing.

Jackson: 'I'm sure hot and thirsty, Leela!' The Widow Etc: 'Oh Elam! I appreciate all the work you're doing on the mill! How can I ever repay you?' Jackson: 'How about a kiss?' The Widow Etc: 'How 'bout some iced tea? It'll quench your thirst and COOL you off!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 11th of September, 2017. A fair sampling of the ways The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom politely but unmistakably turns any talk away from romance. Which, given how much she turns away kisses this time, makes one ask what the heck was going on in the previous strip? That the embrace is in silhouette allows for all kinds of mistaken-identity shenanigans. But they also require putting in some character who hasn’t been in the story so far. So, you know? The heck?
The news of Rufus’s disappearance spreads slowly. Scruffy recovers from his bike accident and with Emma Sue visit Rufus’s place to find him missing. They go back home to hear Elam Jackson talking seriously about marriage with The Widow Etc. The worldly Scruffy explains how he knew it was coming to that. But Jackson’s leading questions are left hanging in the air, the 16th of September, and we have not seen these characters since.

But Joel knows things are awry, and so, starting the 19th of September, begins searching in the logical place: other comic strips. Joel and Rufus are at the core of this slapsticky, absurdist, fourth-wall-breaking streak of the comic strip. Why can’t he pop over to Dick Tracy if he likes? So Joel meets up with Tracy slapsticky hillbilly character B O Plenty and then the super-scientific detective himself. Tracy has enough of this within a week and sends Joel back to his own comic strip, right where he left off.

Dick Tracy: 'Joel! What're you doing in my comic strip ? Are you lost?' Joel: 'No! Rufus is! I was lookin' for 'Mr Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons', but reckymembered WE and HE ain't on radio no mo'!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 25th of September, 2017. Mister Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons ran on the NBC Blue Network/ABC from 1937 to 1947, and then CBS from 1947 to 1955. It’s mentioned because Jim Scancarelli is trying to get himself installed as an exhibit in the Museum of Old-Time Radio. Also, yes, Gasoline Alley was on radio several times. In 1941 (NBC, Red and then Blue) the daily serial even adapted the then-current storylines to the air. It also ran in 1948-49 in transcribed syndication. There’s some evidence that it was produced in regional radio as early as 1931, but John Dunning’s On The Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio doesn’t pin down where or when. Also, Dick Tracy ran as a kids’ police serial, starting on NBC New England stations in 1934, then bouncing between CBS, Mutual, NBC, and NBC Blue/ABC through to 1948. And this doesn’t matter but there was from 1932 to 1935 a syndicated comedy-mystery serial titled Detectives Black and Blue, about a pair of shipping clerks in Duluth who try for something more.
Just in time, too, since he’d left Becky (his mule) right by a poster for the circus. And Joel knows what this means. He hasn’t become one of YouTube’s top hosts of ‘Let’s Play’ JRPG videos without learning how to recognize the plot rails. He makes his way to the circus tents to see if he can get the next plot point going. It’s hard work, including swinging hammers around, sleeping with the elephants and mules, being haunted by visions of Rufus at all the sideshow posters, and being pressed into clown duty by owner P T Beauregard’s son, a Young Ralph from Sally Forth. This sends Joel to an encounter with another of the Gasoline Alley universe’s many Frank Nelsons. Also it offers some name-drops of Emmett Kelly, Otto Griebling, and (in Joel’s confusion) Walt Kelly. And gives Scancarelli an easy extra 25 points in his bid for installation into the Museum of Old-Time Radio.

Joel, on his mule-drawn wagon, looking very small amidst close-up pictures of tiger and lion and elephant and giraffe heads, while the ringmaster continues his spiel about the circus's offering: 'Lions, tigers, an elephant or two; this isn't all --- it's our pre-view!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 26th of October, 2017. Part of the entry of the gladiators and all that, and taken less because it’s key to the plot and more because I like the composition. There’s not enough craft in the drawing of newspaper comics and I’m glad Scancarelli resists the considerable pressures to put up simple, functional panels.
The show begins! And we get a good week or so of acts and animals and Joel cringing before some well-rendered lions and the like. And then, finally, the 27th of October we learn what’s come of Rufus. He’s the Human Cannonball, like it or not, and over Halloween he’s shot out of the cannon, through the Big Tent’s walls, and into Joel’s haystack. He explains: after seeing Elam Jackson kissing The Widow Emma Sue and Scruffy’s Mom he was heartbroken, ran away from home, and joined the circus. Along the way to the human cannonball job he’d been the beareded lady, the thin man, the four-legged dog, all the stuff Joel saw posters for. It’s not that complicated a story, but it had been two months since readers last saw Jackson or The Widow Etc or the kids. I don’t blame Scancarelli for giving a recap like that.

This week Rufus, deciding he’s had enough of the circus, rides with Joel back to the normal Gasoline Alley continuity. And Joel has hopeful news for Rufus. After getting the mill up and running again, The Widow Etc “done canned yo’ ex-‘fr’end, Elam!”. This is consistent with my reading of The Widow Etc’s reluctance and talking around Jackson’s questioning. It also raises some good questions. For one, how could Joel know that? Based on what we’ve seen on-camera, anyway? For another, what is the difference in pronunciation between “fr’end” and “friend”?

So that’s how the comic balanced the weepy-melodrama and the goofy-slapstick sides of things. Stepping out into another comic strip is going to work for some readers. Doing a month of circus jokes should work for others. But it forgot the weepy melodrama for several months. That’s probably as best as can be done. I’m not sure Rufus (or Joel) can sustain the pain of unrequited love. His getting shot out of a cannon fits him more easily. I’m surprised that Elam Jackson seems to be getting sent back to the primordial xylem of supporting characters from which he came. But I was also surprised to learn Rufus considered him a friend. I had supposed they were people in town who didn’t have much reason to interact.

The story reads as though it’s coming to its conclusion. This extends the strange synchronicity between story strips concluding stories around my recaps. (Of course, a story ending two or three weeks before or after my recap seems “around” my essay. With a margin like that it’s amazing a strip is ever not in synch with my recaps.)

The Sunday strips, not in continuity, have been the usual bunch of spot gags. Can’t say that any of them really stand out. And there’s no story, so, if you want to read one just go ahead and read it; you won’t be confused.

Next Week!

Prairie dogs are making a comeback. Mark Trail came to South Dakota to count these coming-back prairie dogs and blow up vehicles. And he hasn’t got near a prairie dog yet. Stop in here next week to, I hope, see bank robbers, abandoned mining towns, and vehicles exploding, all the important pieces of James Allen’s Mark Trail. Also, never ever EVER go outside. The parts of nature that aren’t trying to kill you are filled with weird life forms that can poison you or be really, really eerie. And the parts that aren’t trying to kill you and aren’t full of horrible lifeforms? The parts that are adorable little creatures like quaggas or obscure variations on hamsters or sharks that look like puppies? They’re dying. (Recommended soundtrack: Sparks, “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth”.)

Statistics Saturday: The Local News For Some Reason


Headlines from the Towne Courier, an advertisement-bearing special edition of the Lansing State Journal for the 5th of November, 2017, with “for some reason” suffixed.

  • Center City Project May Be Back On For Some Reason

  • Officials Put Cash For and Against East Lansing Tax Proposal For Some Reason

  • Throngs Flock To New Costco in East Lansing For Some Reason

  • Haslett-Okemos Rotary Announces Students of the Month For Some Reason

  • Okemos High School To Present ‘An Ideal Husband’ For Some Reason

  • Tri-County Office on Aging Dinner and Auction set for November 9 For Some Reason

  • Michigan State Unveils Tom Izzo Hall of History For Some Reason

    (This one probably makes more sense if you can be interested in college football, which I can’t, because I went to Rutgers.)

  • East Lansing Kiwanis Welcomes Sparty to Meeting For Some Reason

  • Youth One [ Library ] Card Gives Access to a Multitude For Some Reason

  • Barnyard Mystery has Bit of Romance, Dark Humor For Some Reason

  • Plan to Eat 100 McChickens in a Day is a Failure For Some Reason

  • Proposed 10-Story Building Draws Parking Concerns For Some Reason

Meanwhile In Local Fast-Food News


I was looking through the free weekly advertisement-carrying special edition of the Lansing State Journal that they give away free at convenience stores and laundromats and stuff. Here was the headline, sitting there on page 8A of the single-section thing:

Plan to eat 100 McChickens in a day is a failure

And it goes on for 21 paragraphs. The official version in the actual newspaper that people would choose to pay for titles it differently. This Michigan State student tried to eat 100 McChicken sandwiches in 24 hours, it says, in a headline that’s less punchy but is at least as good if you suffix “for some reason” to it.

But the plan was simple enough. He was going to go back to the McDonald’s near campus over the day and get a couple McChickens at a time, eat them while going about his business, and return to the McDonald’s when he needed more, while keeping SnapChat informed of the whole affair. The most startling thing to me about this is the discovery that apparently McDonald’s will just sell you ten McChicken sandwiches even if you go there before 9 am. Also that he picked a class day to do this even though it meant bringing McChicken sandwiches in to a 9 am class.

The whole affair ended in failure, like the better headline said, with the guy topping out at 24 McChickens. Also one of his friends is quoted as saying, “I had him at 16 or 17. He definitely surpassed what I thought he could do.” So I have no idea what we’ve learned from this, other than that I guess there’s a chemical engineering major who can eat seven more McChicken sandwiches in a day than one of his friends imagined he could.

Still, this does mean I’m gathering material for my Vic and Sade reboot.