I mean, it’s not a total loss, except to what I had hoped for my lifetime count of blue consumed liquids. It’s still pretty tasty and is still a great phrase for Zippy the Pinhead to chant. It’s just that, like, Diet Faygo Red Pop is more blue than this.
Also while our streetlamp remains unpainted, I did use it the other night to watch a big ol’ skunk trotting merrily across the street, down the neighbor’s yard — past a rabbit who just stayed uncannily still, possibly for fear the skunk would ask for that money back — and finally off towards the woods. So I have to rate this a net positive to the community so far.
The eruption of the smallcano was a surprise. There were rumblings, yes. But they were tiny ones. Even those nearest the eruption site just thought maybe they were hungry. Or there was a truck on some street nearby. Or the truck was hungry. Anyone would need great foresight to realize what was coming.
But then once it surfaced! People who found themselves in the active caldera-minima zone couldn’t help it. They would shrink to as much as one-tenth their ordinary size, if they found themselves somehow unable to escape the microclastic flow. Which, since the flow never got faster than a quarter-of-an-inch per day, you’d really think they would be able to. Heck, at its maximum the whole effect zone was maybe eight feet across, and that the long way.
You hate to say it. But you have to suspect at least some of the affected wanted to be caught up by the smallcano. You can see some of the appeal. Be small enough and you can have bunnies push you around. Be smaller still and you can see whether it’s possible to ride on a fly, like in a cartoon. Be just the right size and your liverwurst-and-onion sandwich can last you months, even years. The only other way to get an effect like that is to not like liverwurst-and-onion sandwiches very much but feel like you shouldn’t let that go to waste. So apart from people trying to make these sandwiches last, it’s hard to explain the people rushing toward the scene except those hoping for a little more smallness in their lives.
Now, when the tallcano erupted, that was a different story. You can’t blame anyone not being able to outrun its effect zone. Not unless they were already gigantified enough. And if they were, well, there’s only so many ways to explain how they got that way. And sure, the caldera-maxima got pretty crowded but that’s what everybody expected so what’s one more person making the joke about how the average person was now 2.3 persons? (This was a funny joke because the average was actually closer to 2.2 persons, but 2.3 is a funnier number, according to a study that compared it to 2.2, 1.75, and 1.0625, but did not test it against 3.7.)
The ballcano, well, that was different. Just this fount of baseballs, basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, beach balls, medicine balls, pouring out of the mountain’s top? Balls bouncing and rolling for miles? Many even landing in the sea? That was just great for everybody except the sporting-goods manufacturers. Oh, they weren’t all regulation size or stitching, yes. But they were good enough for casual play. Or to fill the need people didn’t realize they had for spherical toys. It wasn’t even thought of as a hazard until it started shooting hockey pucks. This was seen as an unforgivable variation from its brand. But the ballcano insisted that it had to follow its creative energies where they lead and that it didn’t have time for the haters. We all agreed we could learn something from it, except we didn’t want to be anywhere a hockey puck could bonk us on the head. People who came in hoping to be turned into volleyballs were disappointed yes. Worse, when people asked them what they were expecting, and told honestly, got looked at like they were the weird ones. Kind of tragic, really.
The mallcano should have been seen as a greater threat than it was. The hillside just spewing out Foot Locker Juniors and Spencer Gifts and shuttered Radio Shack storefronts and kiosks demonstrating toy drones wasn’t at all economically sustainable. The flow just didn’t have enough anchor stores. And the flow was steady enough to keep a proper food court from congealing. Signs that there might be somewhere to get a pita, or burrito, or something else that’s food wrapped inside dough never panned out. Even so, people flocked to the epicenter, since “Epicenter” sounded so much like the kind of name a mall ought to have.
All things considered, it was kind of a strange week in town. And all that before the open-floor houseplans of a whole subdivision were ruined by the wallcano.
All right, all right, don’t worry. Since I know you’re all too shy to ask the question I left waiting for you: something like five-sixths of the New Jersey state government’s revenues came from the Joint Companies, through much of the 19th century. And yes, in the 19th century the state government didn’t have many expenses. A state was mostly expected to pay for a psychiatric hospital, a home for the blind, and continuing to renovate the statehouse without it ever getting better. It’s not a lot, compared to today where the state’s supposed to have, like, roads and police and a university and all that. Still, one railroad and one canal company could cover nearly all the contemporary responsibilities with just the annual tribute for their monopoly privileges. Isn’t that wild? I know!
My experience of last week suggests that I’ve got the hang of linking to files that aren’t the first in an archive.org collection. Please say something if my posting here today, or any future ones, go wrong.
Here’s the rundown for the show this week. I haven’t yet decided whether this is better organized as a list, as a table, or some other syntactic scheme. If you have a thought how to organize this information, what the heck, let me know. Maybe I can work it.
Cold Open. No riff on an old record; instead, it’s a woman demanding to speak her peace. This instead teases one of the coming sketches.
Opening Music. They have a mock advertiser this week, “Screen Finders Swim Fins”. Might be a teaser for the seal and the diving jokes later on. I suspect “Screen Finders” is a joke about something contemporary, but I don’t know what.
Introduction. Stan Freberg gets a smattering of applause and investigates the matter. He has an audience of seals and if the Funday Pawpet Show has never used that joke, then the world makes even less than no sense.
Interlude. The start of a running sketch for this week, as a man and woman listening to the show comment on it. He’s unimpressed; she thinks the trouble is he keeps missing all the setups.
Miss Universe Contest. Zuzu, Miss Jupiter, is upset. An alien wanting to enter is probably the first sketch to think of once you’ve decided to do a Miss Universe sketch. It’s set up in a way that could only work on radio, though, as Freberg keeps unspooling more bits of Zuzu’s anatomy. I do like Zuzu’s confident claim, “Some girls got curly antennas, other girls got cute suction cups. I got shapely wheels.”
Skin Divers Mandolin Club at Laguna Beach. The absurdist-club setup feels like a Bob and Ray premise to me. It’s another of those pieces built by radio’s techniques: declaring a thing exists and tossing in some special effects.
The Zazzalov Family. Radio acrobats. Which is another bit about how you can do anything on radio by claiming you did it and having a sound effect. There’s a line about how the Zazzalov Family was Swiss. Freberg explains that “this way we don’t offend anyone”. So an eternal complaint among creative types is how the censor barely lets them do anything. And fair enough. But to get specific complaints. A lot of what network censors warned was to not needlessly insult races or nationalities. It’s hard to call that a bad scripting note. If the joke of making foreigners Swiss was a riff on the arbitrariness of specifying the ethnicities of characters where it’s not needed, then it works. If the joke was, oh gosh you can’t even laugh at the Romani anymore, then I’m not comfortable.
Interlude. That couple returns to discuss what they think of the show.
Robert E Tainter, historical researcher. Calls back to the Barbara Fritchie sketch last week and sets up the historical spoof. I’m not comfortable with the premise that he’s out to find the clay in every hero’s feet. I understand thinking it’s funny to suppose these historians who go about deflating historical mythologies are doing it to be spoilsports. But I’m also the sort of person who thinks we’re better off appreciating where even the greatest figures were screwed up, lost, and struggling on as best they could.
General Custer’s Scout. So one old-time radio drama I heard once had a life insurance company as sponsor. Their advertisement pitched that you should use the sort of foresight as General Custer and buy insurance with them. Have to say, there’s a lot of social attitudes that have changed from the 50s, but Custer-as-a-man-of-foresight? That’s a big swing. (And, yes, his end is more complicated than modern snarking about it suggests.) Anyway, sick jokes about how the Battle of the Little Bighorn developed have probably always been a solid premise. Here, we get a scout figuring to dig out before stuff gets really bad.
Robert E Tainter again. Connecting the runaway scout to Tainter with a pretty easy punch line.
So yeah, we’re all heartbroken to lose that great roadside attraction. They tried to hold a candlelight vigil for the lost lamp on Saturday night, but, you know. The new streetlamp is pretty bright and I don’t think anyone could see.
Hi, readers interested in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom. I’m writing here about the weekday continuity. It’s a story separate from what Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel have going on Sundays. Both storylines get their recaps at this page, although we’re about six weeks from the next Sunday-strips recap. Also at that page should be any recaps that I write after this one. So if you’re reading this after about December 2018 there’s probably an essay recapping more recent plot elements there.
The Ghost Who Walks had got back to his cave and gotten sewn up last time I checked on the daily strip. It was part of a story, A Reckoning With The Nomad, that began the 19th of February. It’s the 250th weekday-continuity story. Eric Sahara, supercriminal terrorist known as The Nomad, had lured The Phantom into a raid on his bungalow. The Nomad wasn’t there. Many gunmen were. The Phantom got out, but with serious injuries. He wondered: Where is The Nomad?
He’s in Manhattan, it turns out, visiting his daughter Kadia. She’s attending the prestigious Briarson School. Her roommate is Heloise Walker, daughter of the current Phantom. Also twin sister of the Phantom-apparent. Heloise would rather like to be a Phantom herself. It’s not a ridiculous plan. The Chronicles of Skull Cave record Phantom-connected women donning the purple-and-stripes for various missions. And not only in stories told recently, as we might expect a decades-old comic strip might try to downplay old casual sexism. Comics Kingdom runs 1940s and 1950s-vintage Phantom strips as well, and those have had stories of women acting as the Phantom. (The story linked to there, from 1952, is neat as it talks about that Phantom’s twin sister who decides to get into the superhero game, much as Heloise has been saying she could do.)
Still. Phantom has known for a while his daughter was roommates with The Nomad’s daughter. He’d kept this secret from his family, the better to not worry them. He had a change of heart after the ambush made him go horse-riding with a massive wound in his neck. Walker tells his daughter exactly who she’s roommates with. “Better late than in the middle of the dinner your loved one is having with the international supercriminal terrorist”, goes the Old Jungle Saying.
Because the Nomad is figuring it’s time he disappear. So he’s visiting his daughter for one last weekend before he vanishes. His pleasant tourist weekend with Kadia and Heloise was that last weekend. It’s also a neat bit of plot rhyme to the weekend Kadia and Heloise spent with The Phantom and his wife, by the way. Heloise gets this news in the middle of dinner with him. She’s ready to tell her father where The Nomad is. Fear overtakes her: if he knew, Walker would jump on an airplane right then, despite the risk to his life. She figures she can do at least as well by sticking close to the Nomad and if lucky getting an idea his plans. Pass that on to her father when he’s well enough to fight, and everything will be in great shape.
The Nomad’s got plans for Heloise too. He’s learned Heloise Walker was for a time the young ward of Bangallan President Lamanda Luaga. And that this is something she’s never found worth mentioning to Kadia. His conclusion: she’s a young agent of the Bangallan government, sent to get to him through his daughter. It’s wild but not absurd. It depends, for example, on ascribing deep meaning to Kadia and Heloise being roommates. In-story, that was set because the school’s headmaster thought it cute. Or why Heloise reveals so little about her past, or her parents. Well, there’s other good reasons for her to be quiet about all that.
So he figures to kill her before she kills him. He forms a plan that seems, at first, confusing. But the indirectness is for good reason. He doesn’t want Kadia distressed about Heloise. And also doesn’t want her asking questions about Heloise’s disappearance. So the next day he goes to the Transportation Security Agency with a report of how he’s heard Heloise goes making pro-terrorist statements like “terrorists are great” and “I love that terror stuff”. He tells them he’s glad to keep Heloise busy while they ready to arrest her. But he’ll have to act like he protests when they take her, for the sake of her daughter. You know he donates so much to the TSA’s widows-and-orphans fund? (Which is a heck of a sick joke that DePaul left there for you to realize was there.)
The Nomad treats his daughters to dinner on his own private jet, on the runway yet. Heloise steps out to text her father about how she knows who the Nomad is and how she’s going to get his trail. She’s barely done giving the cavalry pretext to arrive when she’s arrested. Kadia demands her father do something. He does: he pretends to talk with the Chief. And that the Chief told her Heloise is going to federal custody. He takes the batteries from Kadia’s phone and tells her to rest. And to process the news that Heloise is some kind of terrorist and going away to Federal custody. Thus he has this goal: Kadia has a story to why Heloise will never be seen again.
Meanwhile the security apparatus has done some investigating. They’ve worked out that Heloise Walker may be a Bangallan national. But she is white and rich and I’m guessing Anglican. (I mean, the original Phantom was born in England in the 16th century, so there’s an obvious guess but also plenty of room for that guess to be wrong. And there’s five hundred years since then, even if the family’s settled on some strong traditions. Doesn’t seem to be practicing any European religion strongly, anyway.) They let her back into the Nomad’s custody. This seems quick. But a cop that The Nomad encounters on the airport tarmac does say how Heloise checked out, and it’s worth reporting people anyway. You never really know.
The Nomad brings Heloise back to his plane and explains that of course he’s dismissed all his servants. Also Kadia’s totally on the plane. She insists on calling Kadia first. When she only gets voice-mail, she fears The Nomad has killed Kadia. And lets slip that she knows who he is. She flees. He catches her and knocks her out. He takes her into the plane. He’s going to fly her to somewhere he can throw her into the sea.
(One of her shoes fell off, since high heels are always doing that. The cop I mentioned earlier drives up when The Nomad’s picking up the shoe. He considers killing the cop, to cover up that possible thread. But the cop only talks about the importance of keeping everyone under surveillance, and doesn’t seem to notice the shoe, so The Nomad lets him go.)
The unconscious Heloise dreams of sparring with her brother Kit. His dream-image is urging her to wake, now. The Nomad’s holding for clearance to take off.
It’s time to check in on Mark Schulz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant. Has the strip been invaded by the Byzantine Empire under Justinian? You’ll know soon!
Really looking forward to next week, gotta tell you.
(This past week, Mopey Pete and Boy Lisa were told by their boss at the comics company that they needed a new flagship character. Mopey Pete’s girlfriend who inexplicably hasn’t shoved him over a cliff yet suggested “Atomic Ape” and the boss loved it. Then since the boss figured Atomic Ape needed a sidekick, she suggested “Charger Chimp” and the boss loved it too. Then Mopey Pete spent half the week yelling at his alleged girlfriend about how they were trying to do SERIOUS stuff here and he always hated kid sidekick characters and I guess somehow a chimpanzee has to be an annoying kid sidekick? Anyway, his alleged girlfriend was gone from the strip Saturday and if she has any sense, she’s put in for a transfer to some three-generations-and-a-dog strip like Ben or One Big Happy where they avoid focusing on the hateful characters quite so much.)
Reference: The Frozen-Water Trade, Gavin Weightman.
When I wrote yesterday “you know what it was like in 1831” I may have confused people. I mean confused in ways I didn’t mean. I don’t mean you know from personal experience what it was like in 1831. I mean you know because you’ve asked around. Yes, I assume you occasionally ask people of your acquaintance, “Hey, what was it like in 1831?” and keep on the topic until they give you a satisfactory answer. It’s a natural curiosity and basic involvement with the world around us. By 1831 I mean the year, like you’d expect.
I am not perfectly sure whether I’ve read The Bicentennial History of Ingham County, Michigan, a local history published in 1975 and written by Ford Stevens Ceasar, before. I recently got it from a used book store, yes. And it seems like the sort of thing I might have borrowed from the library, since I have tried to learn some of the local history of my new home. I can’t go trading forever on stuff like how much of New Jersey’s 19th-century state government was funded by the Joint Companies, who monopolized railroad and canal travel across the Garden State. I couldn’t even do that when I lived in New Jersey. Still, I’m stuck on a couple of points:
Wait, his last name was “Ceasar”? Not “Caesar”? Are you sure, book? I mean, really, really positive? Because you put that on the cover and on the author bio on the jacket’s back flap and I mean … oh, it looks like he signed the front page and he spells it “Ceasar” there and … I mean, he can’t be spelling his own name wrong? Right?
Ingham County, which contains most of Lansing, was named for Samuel Ingham, Andrew Jackson’s Treasury Secretary. Lansing also extends into Eaton County, named for John Eaton, Jackson’s Secretary of War. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re correct. That is the John Eaton of the Petticoat Affair. I know, isn’t that great? Anyway Ingham and Eaton hated each other, Ingham even claiming that Easton tried to have him murdered, a charge which Ingham substantiated by fleeing to Baltimore. Kind of an ambiguous argument, I think, but you know what it was like in 1831. Anyway, wow, I’m living in a place connected very loosely to Peggy Eaton. This excitement. This. This is why I’m not a popular humor blogger.
Number of words used to explain how Malcolm X was a drug-dealer and numbers-runner and burglar and totally lied when he said his family home in Lansing was burned down by white men and that a white guy shoved his father into a trolley car’s path, and the official records don’t say white guys did anything particular to his father or his home: 162.
The first (Western) doctor known to live in the county was named Valorous Meeker. The town he lived in was called Meekersville, until at the prompting of a Doctor A J Cornell it was renamed for a family named Leslie that lived in eastern New York State. I think there’s a story not covered here.
Number of words used to explain the Lansing General Strike of 1937: 146, of which 32 were giving the names and credentials of some academics who wrote about it for the journal Michigan History 28 years later.
Oh wait, OK, I guess the township was called Leslie to start with and the village Meekersville until they stopped calling it that and … look, just, what did Cornell have to do with this? Why did he go messing up a decent enough name? And how did they not start out by calling the town Valorous, anyway?
Number of words used to explain the fallen streetlamp next door, which isn’t attracting so many sightseers as it used to, but which they have got the traffic cones both set level on the ground again for: none, which is fair enough since the lamppost fell over 43 years after the book was published. Really it’s unfair to expect them to have any words about it at all.
So the chapter about the city airport starts with a page about this announcement made the 10th of June, 1921, about how the Michigan Aero service of Lansing would start running sightseeing tours on the 25th, and even have a parachute drop above the Pine Lake amusement park and everything, and then it says “Monday’s paper indicated the airplane failed to show up, and the Michigan Catering Company was embarrassed”. Which is the first that anyone mentioned the Michigan Catering Company in this anecdote at all. It’s not even clear we should have expected them to have anything to do with it. It sounds like the Michigan Catering Company was just standing nearby when they noticed there wasn’t an airplane and started to blush. I understand, I’m a little like that myself. I just wouldn’t expect a county historian to be writing about that embarrassment 55 years later, which just makes it all the worse somehow. You know?
Anyway, sorry, I’m still hung up on Ceasar with an a-e. And yes, I have about a 45% chance of someone hearing my name going on to spell it correctly. And somehow that percentage is declining as fast food workers want a name for my order and they don’t know what to do with “Joseph”. And it’s crazy for me, a person who lives with recognizing my name being called out more for the weird little awkward pause people make before attempting it, than actually hearing it, to think someone else hasn’t got their name right. Still.
Note about methodology: in counting the number of words used to explain stuff I have counted repeated uses of a word, such as “the”, separately, since there are only a certain number of ways to say whatever it is exactly the word “the” means and that’s, like, one, maybe two if you’re doing eye-dialect and can write th’ instead.
I know, I can feel how excited you are too. There’s several great reasons to. For one, it allows me to finally truthfully increment my lifetime count of “blue fluids consumed”. For another, “Diet Faygo Arctic Sun” sounds exactly like the sort of thing that Zippy the Pinhead would start chanting for three, maybe four panels straight while standing near miscellaneous roadside attractions. It’s something that just keeps on giving.
Archive.org has this really nice system to embed media in other pages. Both videos and audio files. The scheme works really well if there’s a single file on the archive.org host page. If there’s multiple files on the page, though — if it’s an archive page with whole collection of something, like, every episode of a radio series — then it gets harder. The simple “Share This Item” link gives code that shares the whole collection. And that defaults to the first item in the collection. A bit of URL hacking can fix that. But I’m never completely sure I’m doing it right. So if you play this, and it’s just last week’s episode again, please let me know. I’ll try fixing it.
So here’s the rundown for this episode, from the 21st of July, 1957:
Opening Theme. So now you see how this quiet bit of customization is going to go.
Interview with the Abominable Snowman. This instance of the Abominable Snowman turns out to be ten and a half feet tall and wears size 23 sneakers. I do, really, have a friend with enormously long feet in real life and I’m not sure they don’t wear size 23. Not quite that tall, though. The narrator’s introduction about how the show “goes everywhere, sees everything, does everyone” riffs on newsreel hype.
Great Moments In History: the story behind Barbara Fritchie. Quick little sketch based on a poem that I only know because of a Rocky and Bullwinkle sketch, this bit, and a sketch from the Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America albums. The sketch shows that sort of cheery, lightly cynical existentialism that at least I see all over cartoons of the era.
Song. Peggy Taylor sings “Birth of the Blues”.
Carving A New Statue At Mount Rushmore. Absurdist bit about carving a 400-foot oleomargarine statue. The sort of sketch you can only do on radio or the cartoons. Mary Mararet McBride did a daily housewife-advice chat show on radio for decades, including what sounds like an admirably eclectic line of interview subjects. This sounds all respectable enough, although by 1957 she’d been on the air for roughly a quarter-century. Likely she served well as an old-enough-to-be-square reference. My favorite line is the carver declaring of someone, “I hate her but she’s a lovely girl”.
Wrong number. The major sketch this piece, without the political energy of last week’s Incident at Los Voraces. It’s a simple slow-build, slow-burn sketch where a onetime common accident just keeps getting bigger. My favorite line is its most instantly dated, the man declaring he’s so tired he “wouldn’t go out to see Davey Crockett wrestle Marilyn Monroe”.
Stephen Foster Medley. Is there any dated comic premise more wonderfully dated than the late-50s/early-60s hate-on-rock-and-roll bit? I say there is only if you divide the early-60s-hate-on-the-Beatles into its own genre. This sketch revives a record-producer character from Freberg’s record “Sh-Boom”, mentioned early on, who’d helped a recording get to true modern greatness by avoiding problems like the audience being able to make out a word the singers were performing. This is the same premise, doing a rock-and-roll version of Stephen Foster songs. It’s more cleverly done than funny, and I don’t think just because Freberg writes for clever. Nor because the premise is hilariously dated, embedded as it is in a moment when American popular music styles changed to what is still the default mode, and writing from the perspective of the now-obsolete styles. I think Freberg (or his writers) got caught in an authenticity trap. They got so committed to making plausible arrangements that, actually, “Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair” set to the tune of “Rag Mop” works. I’ve been caught in this kind of authenticity trap myself. I suspect it’s caused by certain nerd personality traits. Particular strains of cleverness and industriousness and perfectionism can combine to where the goal becomes executing an idea perfectly. It’s easy to forget that you haven’t developed or escalated the idea past the original premise.
Closing Remarks. No teaser for next week; the first episode said the Barbara Fritchie bit would be here.
I read a lot of nonfiction. Mostly history, it turns out, although sometimes also biography. I don’t know why, but the most interesting stuff to me these days is either histories or, like, collections of children’s comic books from the 50s and 60s. There’s stuff you never imagined Hot Stuff got into. Anyway, while I don’t remember specifically writing this bit from my archives, I do remember why I write it, as opposed to something else.
I was reading a biography of David Sarnoff, because, who wouldn’t? Besides Edwin Armstrong, obviously, and we’re not even going to get into television. Let’s not even get into Philo Farnsworth. There was a stray mention of a little, short-lived project that didn’t go anywhere. My mind quickly thought of the phrase “Intercontinental Ballistic Muzak” and I had to write everything else to fit that. So that’s why it exists, or ever could exist. I loved finding circa-1960-era-appropriate references to go along and bulk the piece out, but this is really a bit made because I wanted one string of syllables introduced to the world. The world, so far, insists it was fine without them. History will vindicate me.
So with that fairly answered let me get back to recapping the plot of Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, and Alex Saviuk’s The Amazing Spider-Man. Any plot recaps — or other news that seems worthy — about the comic strip that I post later on should be at this link.
When I last checked, Spider-Man and Iron Fist were enjoying the Ritual Fight Until They Realize They’re Both Heroes all superheroes must do. They were outside the 14th-floor window of the hospital where FBI Agent Jimmy Woo recovered from a clobbering. I guessed Spidey and Fist would stop fighting and team up by Wednesday. By Wednesday Spidey had stopped fighting on the grounds his Spider-Sense told him Woo was in peril. Iron Fist smashes through the building wall, interrupting the woman trying to inject Woo with poison. She and her henchman try holding Doctor Christine Palmer hostage, but Spider-Man webs them. The heroes vanish.
Spider-Man suggests they team up, the better to find the “Golden Claw” behind the attacks on Woo. Iron Fist resists the idea, but wonders if Spidey might be right. He reveals himself to be Danny Rand, billionaire CEO of Rand Enterprises, survivor of a plane crash in the Training-White-Guys-To-Have-Mystic-Powers-Of-The-Inscrutable-East district of the Himalayas and recently returned to civilization. Went to school with The Shadow, Mandrake the Magician, Kit Walker Junior, and the 90s-animated-series Batman. Peter Parker responds to this show of trust by running away. Also by collecting the camera he’d secreted away to get photos of his Fight Cute with the Iron Fist. His are the first photographs that prove Iron Fist exists, and they make a front page photo-and-story for Peter Parker.
Petey mopes, though. He feels guilty not responding to Iron Fist’s trust in kind. And for proving Iron Fist exists, when he’d been working sub rosa against The Hand, another of those criminal syndicates I guess. Robbie Robertson, managing editor of The Daily Bugle, gives Parker the tip that Iron Fist has something to do with the martial arts studio. Parker swallows his conscience enough to go there and ask for its manager, Colleen Wing. The woman running the place sets an appointment for him at 11:00, on Crouching Dragon street.
It’s in the Chinatown district of the comic strip. The National Authors Advisory Council on Unconscious Racism dispatches an observer they dearly hope they can spare from Mark Trail. The women from the dojo lead Peter Parker through the twisty passages deeper into Chinatown. And then turn on him, attacking him with swords he dodges by using his spider-powers. He worries how to keep dodging them without giving away his secret identity when someone clobbers him with a giant metal mace. I know it’s a standard joke in Newspaper Spider-Man snarking circles to mention how he keeps getting hit in the head. But, boy, he keeps getting hit in the head.
So the woman apparently running the dojo was not Colleen Wing. She was Suwan, grand-niece of the Golden Claw. Golden Claw has the real Colleen Wing bound. And he figures that Peter Parker, as the husband of Broadway actor Mary Jane Parker, is too important to simply make disappear somehow (?). Golden Claw demands to know what Parker knows of Iron Fist and Spider-Man. He claims all he ever did was get close enough to Iron Fist to take a photograph. Suwan searches Parker enough to find his boarding pass, showing he did just get back from Miami. She doesn’t search enough to find the Spider-Man costume he’s wearing under his clothes. She does discover Jimmy Woo was the FBI agent her grand-uncle ordered killed, though, and that’s a problem. She’s always loved him. Golden Claw has given her clear orders to get over him, but no.
And then in comes wide crime boss The Kingpin. He got released from jail at the start of this story. It’s part of the Superhero Parole Board’s longrunning, popular “Let’s Just See What They’ll Do” program. What he’ll do is order Wing and Parker taken to Wing’s studio where they can be set on fire. Iron Fist interrupts their murder, and punches the henchmen’s truck into Apartment 3-G. But they’ve still got Colleen Wing, and are ready to shoot her. And then Suwan does her heel-face turn, tasering the henchmen. She feels no loyalty to her grand-uncle now that he’s broken his pledge to not hurt Jimmy Woo, so, that’s nice to have settled.
She won’t explain the plot in front of Peter Parker. And that’s all right. He’s wanted to get into his secret identity anyway. He walks off, muttering, “Gosh, I wonder where Spider-Man, that excellent superhero everybody loves, is” and then coming back in costume. Iron Fist, Suwan, and Wing sigh, roll their eyes, and say, “Jeepers, it sure is lucky Peter Parker was able to get in touch with you by some mysterious means so fast”.
So what’s going on: Suwan leads them all to the Mammon Theatre. It’s the temporarily-closed location of Picture Perfect, the play Mary Jane Parker’s starring in. It’s also where Golden Claw and Kingpin booked their crime summit. Their plan: they’re going to tell everyone they’re taking over everybody’s rackets and this solves their problems, see? But Kingpin and Golden Claw are really going to kill them all. The first part of the plan goes great. All New York City’s gangsters are thrilled by this opportunity to be taken over. They’re fired up with enthusiasm and bullets. And that’s where the story’s reached now.
Not counted: two instances of pies shown on display in the window fronts of bakeries. My reasons for this are that pies are appropriate items to have on display in the window fronts of bakeries, even in real life; that said windows are not shown open and so the pies cannot be considered even loosely to be on a sill; and that there is no way to know the temperature of said pies on display and therefore whether to ascertain whether they are cooling relative to the general decline of the universe.
I know, I’m shocked too. And you know what else is shocking?
I mean, if anyone still wants to at this point. I understand if you’ve just decided to write off the whole project. I’m not convinced that starting from scratch wouldn’t be less work myself. But then there’s this letter just run in the local alt-weekly:
Your August 22 issue highlighted an amusing dichotomy in Lansing City finances: on page 6 you report that residents of various neighborhoods are upset with the City’s continuing failure to enforce its overnight parking ban, and that the Mayor says, “We don’t have the resources to have a police officer dedicated specifically for overnight parking.”
Yet on page 5 you note that the City budget this year is giving the money-sucking black hole that is Common Ground Music Festival $140,000 — easily enough to fund TWO parking enforcement positions.
We recall that in the heyday of the Roman Empire, there was a reliance on bread and circuses to keep the rabble pacified. It’s heartwarming to see that over the millennia, a few things have not changed.
T E Klunzinger, Haslett
I had not seen the spotty enforcement of the municipal ban on overnight parking as a serious issue. I’m a little excited to hear that we do have law again. I’d like people not to be parked on the street if they’re going to be plowing the snow. But I live on a tertiary street. This means can only expect the snow to be plowed on the third day after the third storm of the third year after the last time our street got plowed. So it doesn’t matter whether there’s any cars in the street, not before February 2020 anyway. And I’m not complaining about this. I understand there’s higher-priority roads. I only need my street to get down to the corner anyway. (That line sounds like it should be a joke, but I can’t defend it. I think if you read it exactly the way I imagine delivering that line in my head it has enough of a joke shape to pass. I apologize if it’s not passing you.)
I also haven’t been to the Common Ground Music Festival in a couple years, but that’s just because they seem to schedule it when we’ve already got a week out of town planned. Maybe they’re avoiding us. I enjoyed it last time I was there. We watched the Violent Femmes performing their renowned album “Why Didn’t I Get To Have Sex”. We also heard, wafting in from over the gentle hill that divided us off from another pavilion, MGMT playing their instant classic “That MGMT Song That’s Always Playing”. Also a Michigan-area band named Flint Eastwood because that’s just the way we make band names anymore. Anyway if it’s not snowing, I don’t much care if people are parked on the street overnight, since I’m not on the street overnight either.
Still, if all it takes to avert the imminent collapse of civilization is cutting the city’s underwriting of the music festival and hiring two parking-rule-enforcement-cops? That seems like a small enough effort to make. Heck, I could even be coaxed into hiring a third parking-rule-enforcement-cop, as long as they understand they’re expected to issue, like, eight-dollar citations for parking, and are not to issue reasons they had to gun down that black person.
Except. This week one of the lights on our street fell down. It looks to me like it was knocked down. I would assume by a careless driver, but it’s just one house away from ours and I didn’t hear anything. This signifies nothing. Back in college I slept through when they set off fireworks in the dorm hallway, I am told. Anyway Tuesday I looked out the window and there was the lamppost, fallen over, with the glass dome rolled over on the sidewalk, and some guy at the next house over re-blacktopping the driveway. I don’t think he had anything to do with the lamp.
And here’s the thing. People keep going out and taking pictures of the lamp. I did. My love did, too, which is how we learned the glass dome covering it was actually plastic. This discovery left us feeling like we had been ripped off somehow. People walking up the street have been taking pictures. People have stopped their cars, parking on the wrong side of the street — of course, the No-Parking-This-Side sign was on the lamppost, so people can fairly claim there’s no way to know they were on the wrong side — to photograph this fallen lamppost.
So getting back to that bread-and-circuses thing. Our neighborhood must have a major circus deficit if a fallen streetlamp is this interesting. I’m not saying that we need to have MGMT coming around every few weeks. But it does look like we need some entertainments.
Anyway they’ve rolled the lamppost off the sidewalk, and put orange traffic cones on either side of it. And I’m figuring to set up a souvenir shop and go into business as my own little roadside attraction. I don’t figure the boom time for my street’s tourist trade will last, but there could be something good while it does.
So it turns out there’s an 8th Avenue here in Lansing. Also an 8th Street. They don’t connect. They’re not near one another. They’re both north-south streets. And if you extended either, they’d pass less than one city block away from one another, but they wouldn’t touch. 8th Avenue is a tiny street, maybe two blocks long. 8th Street used to be named Kerr Street until, legend goes, its residents got fed up with how trolley passengers would laugh at being told they’d reached the “Cur Street” stop, and wanted to live somewhere that didn’t suggest they were mongrel dogs. So, in short: the heck?
So my big idea what to do next was The Stan Freberg Show. This ran from the 14th of July through the 20th of October, 1957. It was a half-hour sketch-comedy show. And it ran after The Jack Benny Show, Sunday nights at 7:30 Eastern. Or, at least, it ran after reruns of the The Jack Benny Show. By 1957 the United States broadcast networks were shutting down scripted fiction radio. They wanted people to be watching television, with better advertising revenues, instead. By 1962 the last entertainment shows of this kind were off the air. There’ve been attempts to bring scripted fiction radio back. But it’s never lasted.
The Stan Freberg Show‘s interesting for being one of the last major original new programs. It’s built around Freberg, a writer and performer of wit and musical talent and a sort of gentle anger that everybody’s a fool. He’d become a voice actor on arriving in Hollywood. You might know him from the classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies as the male voice actor who isn’t Mel Blanc. (Or the guy who did Elmer Fudd.) In the early 50s he started recording comedy albums, many of them spoofs of popular music. My generation may know him best through a long-running commercial featuring him and his son, who had a report due on space, then he got the new Encyclopedia Brittanica, something that he thinks he made … abundantly clear.
00:00. Cold Open. Short bits from several of Freberg’s musical comedy albums, which start talking to one another and back to the “real” Stan Freberg. Good reminder to an audience that might know they remember this voice from somewhere, but not where.
01:31. Opening Theme. We’ll come back to the lyrics.
02:15. Opening Remarks. When Stan Freberg says “Goodnight, folks” and they start playing Hooray for Hollywood, it’s riffing on Jack Benny’s closing theme.
03:00. Musical Sheep. A surprisingly Muppet Show-ready sketch, based on whalloping sheep to play a tune. It’s got me idly curious just how far back the “hitting animals to make music” bit goes. I suppose at least as far back as bones were used for percussion instruments. It’s also got me a bit surprised that Freberg — a puppeteer on top of everything else — didn’t ever guest-host the Muppet Show.
07:15. Freberg’s Fable: Incident At Los Voraces. So, back in like 1995, The Dana Carvey Show opened its brief run as a prime-time sketch-comedy show with a bit where Carvey, as President Bill Clinton, breast-feeds live kittens. Long after the show’s cancellation one of the writers, I think Dino Stamatopoulos, described to Conan O’Brien how they had ratings reports, broken down by six-second intervals, and could just watch the size of the audience plummeting before they even got to the opening credits. Prime-time sketch-comedy was always a long shot. But it’s easy to imagine the show might have had a better chance had they opened with This Week With David Brinkley On A Roller Coaster.
So, this sketch. I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s kind of wild. It builds off something already crazy, Texas Oil Millionaires. In the 40s and 50s, when not funding insane right-wing paranoia, they’d also build ludicrously oversized hotels, often in Las Vegas. To turn that into a parable about atomic war, though — that’s getting crazy.
It’s earnest, certainly. It shows a desire to say something important about the most important thing there was to talk about. Along the way it has a bunch of great exaggerated jokes. The woman hoping to swim across the hotel pool, accompanied by naval escort, fits the American tall-tale comedy tradition. (It also reminds me, at least, of a commercial Freberg did for his own ability to make radio commercials. As a stunt for it, he would drain the Great Lakes, fill them with hot chocolate, and have a fleet of fighter jets cover them with whipped cream a mile deep, in under eight seconds, and try getting a spectacle like that on television.) The suggestion of airlifting a chunk of the Israel-Egypt border, and hosting a war for entertainment, is audacious. I’m still not sure if it’s in good enough taste for the laugh it earns. Still, it’s working at being crazy big. And there’s a lot of bits along the way that are wonderfully weird, like the Inaugurieties of 1960. Or that Rock-and-Roll-Romeo bit.
But it’s also a twenty minute sketch about a pair of Las Vegas hotels that blow each other up. It’s well-made satire. But it’s grim stuff. I think the best you can say at the end of the sketch is, well, I’m not such a short-sighted fool as to use a neutron bomb for a firework. I’m more intelligent than the idiots of this world. It’s cold comfort, even if you’re completely sure of yourself.
I can’t say this sketch killed the show at its start. I don’t know anything about how it was received at the time. I can say my reaction to this. I’ve listened to this episode a couple times. And my reaction was, oh gads, I already feel bad enough. This might be environmental. I don’t remember the sketch feeling quite as forlorn when I listened to it a couple years ago, before the current hyperfire started. Still, credit to the show for wanting to say something.
The most prominent is Henry, created by Carl Anderson. The one featuring the pantomime kid with a peanut-shaped head. Who lives somewhere there’s probably pies cooling on windowsills. Anderson had to step down from the comic strip in 1942, but other people drew it until … maybe 1990 for the dailies and 1995 for the Sunday strips? Nobody seems to quite know, which is one of the many baffling things about the comic strip. The web site claims Carl Anderson as author and that’s just a lie. At least the Sunday strips would often have Don Trachte’s name on the title panel. But I don’t know if he wrote all the dailies too, or when he might have stopped, or when the current reruns are from. Trachte, who died in 2005, was one of Anderson’s assistants. He took over the Sunday strips in 1942 and made them through to 1995. So that’s an amazing run, too. Wikipedia claims the comic was still run in about 75 newspapers, but I don’t know any of them. Henry‘s last day of weekday reruns is to be the 27th of October, and the last Sunday rerun, the 28th.
Also ending: Ted Key’s Hazel. This comic strip started as panel cartoons for the Saturday Evening Post in like 1943. The strip got made into a live-action sitcom in the 60s. It’s been with King Features since the collapse of the Saturday Evening Post. Ted Key — who also created Sherman and Mister Peabody, so show some respect — retired from the strip in 1993 and I guess it’s been in reruns since then? At least there’s no explicit statements from anyone that someone else took over writing, and Key’s signature is still on the panels. Wikipedia thinks it ran in fifty newspapers in 2008. Goodness knows how many it’s in now. It’s to end the 29th of September.
Also ending are two comic strip-like things I never knew existed. One is Sally Huss’s Happy Musings, an illustration-and-a-maxim panel that’s been going since 2006, Degg reports. It’s to end the 29th of September. And Play Better Golf With Jack Nicklaus, a thrice-a-week illustrated feature about furniture repair, is to end the week of the 15th of October. Its writer, Ken Bowden, had died in 2017, and its artist, Jim McQueen, died in 2016. Degg thinks the strip was in reruns before then. I couldn’t say anything to the contrary. Jack Nicklaus isn’t dead as far as I know, although I admit I don’t have anyone checking on that for me.
I’m sad to see any comic strip ending, of course. But Hazel and Henry ended long ago, really. It’s maybe nostalgically comfortable to see them around, but that’s something for web site reprints to do. Henry, also, serves as a weak thread of inspiration to all of us who dreamed of being a cartoonist and then discovered cartooning was hard work. Anderson — who was born while the Seige of Petersburg was still going on, for crying out loud — had his hit comic strip character picked up by King Features in 1934, when he was 69 years old. It suggests there’s time for all of us yet. This overlooks that Anderson had been working as a cartoonist and commercial artist for decades before hitting what we’ve arbitrarily named “success” here. Still, Henry got to be in a Betty Boop cartoon. That’s the kind of accomplishment few people will ever get to enjoy.
Interested in catching up on Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker? Enough to tolerate being put back a week for fast-breaking Alley Oop news? Not enough to wait for news about what’s happening to Henry? Then you’re in a correct enough spot.
Plots keep moving. If you’re reading this after about December 2018, I’ll probably have written another recap. And that’ll get the strip closer to whenever you’re reading this. That essay, when it exists, should be here. Where the essay is when it doesn’t exist is a problem I’m not competent to answer.
I have noticed a certain strange rhythm to Francesco Marciuliano’s Judge Parker plotting. There’ll be a crazification stage, where all sorts of big, Days Of The Week style explosion messes up everybody’s status quo. Characters run around, often yelling at each other, often through pop-culture terminologies. They act like they would in a movie about the events. Then there’s a retrenchment. It reads like Marciuliano has let the soap-opera craziness grow enough, and then stopped to think. Allow the crazypants thing to have happened. How would responsible authorities and reasonable grown-ups, the people whose task in life is to make things boring, handle it? (This is not to say boring is bad. The point of society is that people can be bored. They should be able to live without an endless fight for shelter and food and warmth and affection and stimulation. They should be able to take stuff for granted.) Some common sense comes in, and some of the plotting that makes sense for a soap opera but not for real life melts away. The story becomes a bit less preposterous, and the characters get a little breathing room. Sometimes there’s a flash-forward a couple months. And then it’s time for a fresh explosion.
Godiva Danube is dead, killed in time to mess up my previous plot recap. Shot in a hotel room. Neddy Spencer is shocked. She’d had a big and public fight with Danube days before. Prominent enough that the police ask about it. Besides the fight at the restaurant there is how they were partners in that clothing business swallowed up by a sinkhole. And local-tv-news footage of Spencer yelling she’d get even with Danube for throwing her under the bus. That Danube had asked Spencer to be her assistant before moving to Los Angeles, and Spencer refused, and then moved to Los Angeles anyway. That Spencer was alone the night Danube got shot.
This gets Neddy Spencer freaking not. I mean, it’s crazy to imagine the United States justice system convicting an innocent but available person. But crazy things happen in soap operas. Anyway, Neddy’s work-friend Ronnie Huerta has other suspicions. The police interrogated her about whether she knew of Spencer using or dealing drugs. Huerta’s also used the Google and realized Danube’s talk about movies she’s making was nonsense. Why would Danube want an assistant for a fake movie shoot? Why is the press asking the police department about rumors of CIA cooperation on the hotel murder of a minor actor? What if Danube was drug-trafficking? And needed some warm bodies?
Spencer and Huerta do the one thing you do, when you’re plausibly the suspect for a murder. They go trying to solve it themselves. At least investigate it. I don’t read cozy-mysteries often. Too much to do. But if someone out there knows of a cozy-mystery where the protagonist, having taken time away from her job as a part-time book reviewer for the Twee County News to solve the murder, gets yelled at by the sheriff for screwing up an investigation that otherwise was going fine and actually obeying rules of admissible evidence and all that, please let me know. I can dedicate a weekend to reading that.
Anyway, they follow their two leads. One is Sam Driver, who’s way off back in the strip’s original headquarters of Cavelton. They ask if he knows anything about Godiva Danube running drugs or anything suspicious like that? He gets back to them while they’re talking with their other lead, Danube’s boyfriend, Steve Clarke. They went to his apartment figuring, well, they don’t have any leverage and don’t know anything. But what the heck. They’re attractive women. He’s a guy. He might blurt something out. It goes well: in bare moments they’ve knocked out his roommate and have him in a hammerlock. He explains what he knows: nothing. But the cops wanted to know everything, so all he could offer was that he knew Neddy Spencer’s name. And that was all he knew, at least until they broke into his apartment “and made a plausible connection between the two of us”. Which is a moment of retrenchment. This is one of the reasons it’s stupid to go investigating the crime you’re suspected of.
Oh, also, Clarke knows that Danube was shipping drugs around. She’d fled a fading Hollywood career and the factory collapse by making low-budget Eastern European lousy movies. Her studio was a front for a drug cartel. Danube’s boyfriend-producer was also sleeping with other women. She ran off with a big chunk of his shipment. But the East European cartel wouldn’t have shot her, not in the United States: it would cross territorial lines and open a turf war they want. But other than that, he doesn’t know anything. (This is sounding like the informer scene in an episode of Police Squad, I admit. Maybe Angie Tribeca.)
As they’re getting this exposition Sam Driver calls back. He’s got news. The CIA figures Danube’s boyfriend is the head of an Eastern European drug cartel. One who gives the CIA information, and takes payment in favors. He wanted Danube dead as a new favor. The CIA’s happy to arrange this because they figured they could someone specific to kill Danube. And then capture the murderer. That would be April Spencer.
Who’s the other party who was freaking out at Danube’s death. And the other major plot thread going crazy here. She was there to kill Danube. She found Danube already dead. She and her father learn Danube had changed hotels for no obvious reason. And checked in under the name “Renee Bell”, one of April’s old fake identities. April’s father Norton goes crazy trying to get in touch with Wurst, their reliable big strong guy with a beard and tie.
It takes a couple months, reader time, to find why Wurst isn’t returning Norton’s calls. He’s in some posh Austrian manor house, where Danube’s ex-boyfriend/producer has kidnapped Wurst’s sister. But Wurst arranged for the murder of Danube, so here’s his sister back, and all’s well, right? Well, except that the ex-boyfriend/producer is figuring to kill Wurst as soon as he can. Wurst takes a cue from the Ghost Who Walks and breaks right back into the ex-boyfriend/producer’s lair. He goes a bit farther than The Phantom and kills them all, including killing the ex-boyfriend/producer with his bare hands. And then reports to his partner (he has a partner?) that it’s successfully done.
Norton gets in touch with his own CIA contact. Of course Wurst, his go-between, double-crossed them; who else could? And for all the work he’s done for “rogue” and illegal CIA operations, what could they do but turn on and eat their own? And if it takes trapping April to get Norton, why not? The CIA contact says he totally wasn’t trying to take Norton down. He even gave the Los Angeles police that tip about Neddy Spencer, to confuse things and buy Norton time. Also that, well, now there’s like a dozen CIA agents outside Norton’s cabin. Retrenchment: you can’t run around being crazy-superpowered killers for hire, not forever. You get attention. You get caught.
He tells April to save herself, like by using the tunnel out the back. One might think the CIA would have someone posted to watch the tunnel out back. But, c’mon, we can allow in a work of fiction the idea that the CIA might make a blunder that a modest bit of intelligence-gathering would avoid. And, I suppose, they cared about Norton, who goes out in the open to keep their attention. April was only of passing interest, as merely being an escapee from Super Duper Top Secret CIA Agent Jail. She sneaks out.
Neddy Spencer and Huerta have second thoughts about leaving Clarke alone. He swears he’s had enough of police and isn’t going to tell anyone anything. But: he has a lot of information about Danube’s death and if he doesn’t tell anyone anything, and he gets killed, then what happens? So they go back to his apartment. The find him and his roommate, on the floor, in pools of their own blood. They start to back away when they’re confronted by a sinister-talking man in an brown suit. He knows who they are. And says he was leaving, but this is great for him. Killing them right now will clear up a lot of things. Less great for him: April Parker’s there, and ready to kill him. This is another by-hand killing. Huerta, who doesn’t know April Parker even exists, is horrified by this, and that Neddy knows this. April says, “I heard the CIA set you up. Sam helped me once. So consider us even”. … All right, then.
There are comic strips it’s safe to make guesses about storyline shapes. Judge Parker, these days, is not among them. But I think we are getting into retrenchment on the Murder of Godiva Danube. One where people who have authority in investigating murders take the lead on the investigation, and about arresting the people who can be arrested and declaring innocent the people who are. I’m expecting a narrative bubble to the effect of “Months Pass … ” soon. We’ll see how that works out.
Anyway, so, certainly dead: Godiva Danube. Danube’s drug-kingpin ex-boyfriend/bad-movie-producer. Drug-Kingpin’s bodyguards and “support network”. Mysterious CIA-affiliated man come to kill off Neddy Spencer. Danube’s temp Los Angeles boyfriend Steve Clarke and his roommate. Possibly dead: April Parker’s father Norton.
(T-shirt bought in a tragic incident where it was the last full day of the only honest-to-goodness vacation they’re getting all year and the bar had a kind of funny-ish name and it seemed like it made sense to get something as some kind of souvenir and they only had the one shirt left and who even knows what size it is because now, with perceptions un-tainted by the desperate need to have a year’s worth of fun in under 144 hours, they could never, ever wear it, and feel too embarrassed to throw it out or to donate to some needy person, who would also refuse to wear it, so there it sits, taking up the only space in the drawer next to the three pieces of good underwear.)
Reference: A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, Barbara W Tuchman.
“Curious what a Corpse Flower smells like?” asks the teaser to the plant conservatory event. I don’t know how to answer. I have a presupposition, yes. But why ask the question if the answer isn’t a surprise? Wouldn’t it be wild if, like, they smelled of vanilla lip balm, and the whole “Corpse” name was some kind of joke that got out of hand and nobody even remembers how it started anymore?
Well, I didn’t see the listing until the day after the event, so, I just won’t know unless I ask anybody who does. Too bad, I guess?
I got back to thinking of my old childhood fear. I mean the one I wrote about last week. The one caused by my misunderstanding. I mean about parliamentary governments. Back when I didn’t understand the difference between “the government has fallen” in a parliamentary government and “the government has fallen” in any given Latin American country that had decided a United States corporation should pay a tax, prompting the United States to send in some helpful young men with guns who would correct their mistake. But as a kid I misunderstood when I heard how Italy had, at that point, had more governments than years since World War II. Got the background?
I tried to imagine how you could write even that many different constitutions. If I were on the constitution-writing committee of the Provisional Government I’d run out of ideas of what to even do differently. About four governments in I’d start submitting what we used three Republics ago and hope nobody noticed. I’d be so scared I forgot to update the number and someone would ask me why this was the Constitution for the 52nd Italian Postwar Republic when we were on the 54th.
And then just today I realized what I should do, in that case. I should look at the person who noticed me reusing the old constitution and say, “You’re wrong!” (In Italian, if I spoke Italian, although if they’ve put me on the Constitution-writing committee they’re probably willing to put up with some of my eccentricities, like not being able to speak Italian and being very afraid that the restaurant staff resents the way I said “gnocchi”.) “This is the 56th Italian Postwar Republic!” Or 57th, or whatever. Any number that wouldn’t be either of our Republic counts. The point would be to confuse the matter about just how many Republics there had been. Ideally, my accuser would realize it’s so very easy to lose track of how many governments we’ve been on, and demonstrate sympathy. Or if there were several people accusing me, we might get a good argument going between them about the count. Maybe I’d say it was the 58th. I could sneak out in the confusion.
Ah, well. It’s decades since I’ve had to worry about this particular scenario, now that I know a little more of parliamentary governments. But it’s always nice to work out what you should have said in a situation however long it takes. The French have a word for it, l’esprit de l’escalier, which is three or arguably five words. I don’t know what the Italians call it. You’d think something in Italian, but what the heck, I call it something in French. And I don’t want to brag about the two years in middle school and two years in high school I spent learning French. But when I was in France for a week a couple years ago, you know who got us successfully through every social interaction? My love, who had a couple years of Spanish in high school. All I could do was affirm that the convenience store with the really great four-cheese paninis was closed on Tuesday even though its name was 24/7. All I could suggest is that maybe they meant to promise the store was open three and three-sevenths of the days of the week. There was something we weren’t understanding, and it was in French.
Also the long-time reader may have started to suspect I don’t have any life-coping strategies besides “create a distraction” and maybe “hide underneath the bed”. This isn’t so. Hiding under the bed is a privilege I temporarily have because we had a rabbit who quite liked rooting around under there and we wanted to have a chance of accessing her in case we needed to. When I talk about handling something by hiding under the bed, I am talking about hiding metaphorically underneath an allegorical bed. And good luck finding me there. I don’t even promise that there is such a thing as a bed, and I’m not sure I want to confirm to any of you that I’m here, either. I am also able to procrastinate until I can write a thoughtful enough memo, which is different from merely creating a distraction because I will either get to a point you admit is good or I’ve gotten all literary in this discussion about how to set up Microsoft IIS.
In any case, I am content to have this ancient fear resolved, and what have you done this week that was nearly as good?
So I always try to start the month with a review of what’s popular and how popular it is. I find this out by checking WordPress’s page statistics. I can guess that September 2018 will have some relatively big numbers for me as people try to figure out the Alley Oop situation. But the news of that broke the 1st of September and so can’t do anything for me for August. I suppose I could do a review of what will be popular in September, but I haven’t written most of it. And most of it will be the story strip recaps. Which, if breaking news doesn’t force me to alter schedules should be this:
Please plan how much you’re interested in the story strips accordingly.
So here’s the readership chart for the months leading up to August 2018, plus a little bit of September so far:
My slow secular decline continues! For another month the number of page views has dropped, to 2,848 from July’s 2,984. And down from June’s 3,454. I’m not sure but it looks like I’m drifting down something like 125 page views per month ever since that January 2018 high. The number of unique visitors bounced up, though, to 1,619. July had only 1,569. That doesn’t get back to June’s 1,791 but it’s a bit of a rally. We’ll see whether July or August is the fluke and which one is the trend.
Those measures of reader engagement … eh. Technically the number of likes rose, to 180, from July’s 165. But there were between 172 and 177 likes from April through to June this year. It’s as good as fixed in place. The number of comments rose to 39 from July’s 36, but again, June saw 56 and May 54. There’s just not a lot going on here.
What were the popular posts around here in August? About what you’d expect given that nobody was expecting Alley Oop to need explaining:
My most popular long-form essay in August was Everything There Is To Say About Making Art, which I think is my favorite of the essays I posted in August. If you’d like to see the long-form stuff I did write — and I started out the blog figuring those were the important things, with everything else teasers to keep me in readers’ thoughts — here’s the roster:
Now to the roster of countries that sent me any kind of readers. There were 60 countries sending me any readers at all, down from July’s 66 and June’s 71, so again, the word seems to be shrinking. 16 of these were single-reader countries, down from July’s 17. See gain, shrinking countries.
Hong Kong SAR China
Trinidad & Tobago
United Arab Emirates
Of all the world, only Pakistan and Venezuela have been single-reader countries two months in a row. Yes, I’d love to know what they read and why not any more, but that would take looking or something.
I started September with 243 posts on the year to date, and a total of 558 comments. this averages to 2.3 comments per posting. There were 1,499 total likes, for an average of 6.2 likes per posting. This is the same comments and likes-per-post average as at the start of August. Well, here’s something different: at the start of August I’d published 158,984 words here so far this year. That’s 20,725 words over the month. For the year, through the end of August, I’ve averaged 654 words per post, up very slightly from the 652.2 at the start of August. I start the month having had 96,879 total page views from 53,279 unique readers. Yes, I should do something for the 100,000th page view, but I’ll never know when I reached it. I bet.
My love wondered something when I wrote up thoughts about Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor. That was the first of the two-reelers and, by popular acclaim, the best. I opened the question of whether popular acclaim was right. My love wanted to know if I thought one of the others was actually best. I hadn’t meant anything that certain. I wanted to look at the three two-reelers and see what I thought now.
And, having watched the alternatives recently, and with some time to reflect on each … yeah. I agree with what everybody says about the two-reelers. Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor is the best of the set.
That’s not to say any of them are bad. They’re all good-to-great cartoons. And they each have particular strengths. Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves particularly has the virtue of being a really good, really representative Popeye cartoon. That is, all the things that are good about your general one-reel Popeye cartoon are present in Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves. It’s got a nice casual plot. It’s got some amusing weird nonsense. (Why would Popeye have a boat that turns into a plane? Why not, if it gets him into the story sooner?) It’s got great little mutterings by Jack Mercer, Popeye’s voice actor.
And Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp has both a tightly-crafted plot and demonstrates that Popeye can play a part while still being himself. It’s great to see Popeye playing a role; peculiarly, he doesn’t do more of that. Even in the one-reelers they might have Popeye meet William Tell or Rip Van Winkle or something. But he wouldn’t play these parts. He would play a part, in some of the incredibly many shorts King Features churned out for television in the early 60s. There’s some of those that have fair enough premises. (Popeye as the starring role in The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere? All right. In a gender-swapped Snow White? Eh, why not?) But the 60s shorts, when they succeed, do so by … being all weird and crazy rather than good.
But Sindbad the Sailor has something more. If I have to say precisely what I would have to credit mood. It doesn’t have much business, and it’s slow about that business. But it’s not boring, and the result is that the cartoon feels epic. There is an argument that Popeye is a superhero. I’m not sure I agree. But he does have many superheroic traits, like extraordinary abilities used for the protection of the needy. A superheroic figure, though, needs an epic setting to match. Sindbad claims his island is on the back of a whale. We see that massive island, if not the whale. It’s presented convincingly. Maybe it is worthwhile starting the short with twenty minutes of introductory songs.
I’d also like to compare the four clip cartoons made of these. But two of them were basically inaccessible. Popeye’s Premiere was certainly the better of the two I could review. It’s got more of the original cartoon, the most important thing. And the framing device for the clips even logically fits the original short. Aladdin was originally presented as the movie whose script Olive Oyl was writing. To see it actually made? Good sense. In comparison Big Bad Sindbad is a merely competent clip cartoon. It’s got an acceptable reason for the clips to be shown, and has maybe more original footage than Popeye’s Premiere did. But it’s a very short cartoon, with barely any of the original. Without the time to set a mood of big, epic things happening the clips are just — nothing.
If I find the other two clip cartoons — Popeye Makes A Movie and Spinach Packin’ Popeye — online I may come back for a proper review. Shall let you know.
And for the sake of convenience here’s my posts on this subject.
So, digging into my own archives I ran across this old piece about when we were thinking about getting a new television set. We had this nice big old tube TV set. Since it was providing good service we figured to let it carry on until it broke. Which might never happen, since the set was built during the second Grover Cleveland administration and looked ready to go on to become truly old. Thought folks might want to know if they missed the update about that. Yeah, so it exploded. Not so much literally as it started making this hissing sound and flashing light in patterns that people we did not think prone to hysteria told us meant it was about to explode. So I thought you might like to know, and maybe go back over how that all developed.
The 4th of July they return to the present, where Oop and Wizer get startled by all the fireworks. Wonmug explains it’s celebrating the war they just left. And since it’s late and everyone’s tired they figure to go to bed. Wizer’s amazed by the light switch in Wonmug’s home. Wonmug’s amazed that Wizer hasn’t been in the 20th-or-21st century before? I would have assumed he had been. This time travel business has been going on about eighty years now. I’d have thought all the player-characters had visited one another’s times by now. Wonmug’s assistant Ava Peckedge recognizes Wizer, anyway. Of course, she also thinks the United States is looking great ever since Operation Butterfly Stomp got up to full speed, so, you know.
Oop and Wizer take up Wonmug on his suggestion they “help themselves” to anything in the kitchen while he slips into something more comfortable. That clears the stage for some physical comedy. Wizer burning himself on the toaster (a four-slice model, so you know Wonmug’s living the dream). Oop smashing open a can of tomato paste. Spilling open a bag of flour. Wizer cries out “Why’s it so hard to find something to eat?” and there’s an answer. From Alexa, or something at least as good. It makes sense that Wonmug, pioneering technology of literally history-shaking importance, would keep a device that monitors every sound near it. And that sometimes transmits recordings of those sounds to one of the evil megacorporations leading society to its death. It’s good operational security.
They accept Alexa-or-Siri-or-whoever’s offer of the “usual order”. Then they find how to turn the gas burners on the stove. And I don’t want to be too snarky, but, like, in the Disney Wonderful World Of Color movie The Hound That Thought He Was a Raccoon, the raccoon needed way less time than this to accidentally set the whole toolshed on fire. It was like two minutes tops from going inside to escaping the flames. Charming film except when you notice where the raccoon was chained to the ground to film the scene. Stuff like that. Anyway. Between the can and the flour and opening the fridge Oop and Wizer make a pretty solid mess before Wonmug gets from the living room to the kitchen.
Anyway, the pizza — the “usual order” — arrives. I don’t know whether to be more impressed by how fast the pizza place is or by how much time Wonmug spent dithering around before helping his caveman visitors work out the Keurig. I’m also a little surprised Alley Oop’s had so much trouble. He’s been to the Present Day a bunch of times. But even in his first modern-day adventure (collected by Dark Horse press a couple years ago) he handled 1939 Long Island pretty well. But then I have never gotten a Keurig to produce anything but rage and weak, grounds-bearing almond amaretto. And I don’t even have “coming from a prehistoric land” as my excuse.
Wonmug has an idea. He’s got a couple hazmat suits that time-travellers could wear, at least for a reasonable quarantine period. He suggests seven days. That settles the concerns about cross-time disease, since nobody asks how they’re supposed to eat or go to the bathroom in these things. And so Oop and Wizer go home to Moo.
Oop goes off to sulk. It’s one of his minor and realistic habits. He gets a lot of gripes, not all from me, about his day-saving hobby and sometimes it’s too much. He thinks of leaving Moo, starting over somewhere else. Maybe put together that rock band and record that song that’s been stuck in his head the last sixty years, something. But while moping he runs across Dinny, his dinosaur. He’s all caught up in vines and needs Oop’s help getting free. “Just like the day we met! Remember?” I guess. I never read the original storyline. Yeah, he figures, and says to a concerned Oona Ooola. He’s not leaving. What’ll he do? He doesn’t know, but he’ll relax and enjoy the view a while. Jack Bender and Carole Bender, though, they’re retiring, and there you go.
So the comic strip is slated to go into reruns to the end of the year. (The first, starting the 2nd of September, is sending the gang to 1816 Switzerland in a storyline from 2013.) The syndicate will figure out what to do. Yes, I hope they find new people to produce the comic strip. I don’t like comic strips ending. Not just because the bulk of my readers are here for story-strip recaps. Alley Oop has a neat, slightly bonkers premise and I think it’s still got interesting storylines to run.
I did see commenters suggesting maybe they could rerun the earliest Alley Oop strips. I understand the desire. The early days of a successful comic strip are often most interesting. They’ll show what the cartoonist did before finding what worked best. So there are all sorts of imperfect variants on the strip’s best ideas, and odd turns and cul-de-sacs and situations that didn’t work out. It’s fascinating reading. But … look, it took six years for V T Hamlin to get time travel into the comic. Nobody reminisces how they loved reading the antics of that comic strip caveman who didn’t travel through time, because they forget that B.C. used to be a pretty good strip. But it’s okay to jump into a continuity somewhere other than the beginning. It’s especially fine if it took some time to get good.
But, given the (good as) boundless page space available on a web site, it would be interesting to see an Alley Oop Classics rerunning ancient comics. Or, if a curator could be found, something like the Doonesbury reruns. Those show samples of the storylines which shaped the major characters. This would be harder than Doonesbury, where stories advance in discrete weeklong chunks. But it’s imaginable. So it must be easy for someone else to do for me. We’ll see.
Not a thing. Nothing at all. Yeah, sorry folks, this one caught me by surprise. Shall pass on word if I get any, but I guess we’ll see what gets printed Monday and whether Olivia Jaimes takes over the strip or something. When I have more I’ll post it at this link.
It’s bizarre that they would have introduced M T Mentis as this major new character if they were only going to use him for two stories. Also that if they expected a farewell that they’d go out on a story quite as mundane as Wizer and Alley Oop getting confounded by Alexa and having pizza. (I’ll get around to that shortly.) But I hadn’t even heard rumors of the strip ending, or of the Benders considering retirement, before this.
I shall choose to remember the incident as “the endtable lamp cast so little light that we weren’t able to use it to find the flashlight four feet away from it that was turned on and pointing at the wall”.
It does speak well for the quality of the darkness we got in the room, in any case. I should see if we could rent it out to any astronomers who find things too generally bright.