Refusing to read any more essays that want you to have an opinion on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”.
Trying to insist the problem is they just don’t write good Christmas songs anymore and it’s not that you imprinted on the songs of your childhood and aren’t taking in new ones.
Minor-key acoustic cover of “Wonderful Christmastime” makes you exit for the kitchen, open the freezer door, stick your head in, and scream into a bag of frozen peas-and-corn.
Wishing you still had the emotional baseline that allowed you to be genuinely upset about “Santa Baby”.
Karaoke night has a group that starts out singing “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” but ends up making a fair fraction of the bar actually weepy.
Entire afternoon spent reading the lyrics to Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Jingle-o The Brownie” and pondering dumb mysteries like why Jingle-o has such a broad and, honestly, unfocused portfolio
Attempt to fuse an argument about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to the question of whether pigs-in-blankets count as sandwiches somehow backfires and gets you stuck among people trying so hard to insist that Back To The Future II is somehow a “Christmas Movie” that you can’t tell exactly where the put-on is. You scream into a bag of frozen peas-and-corn-and-carrots, the extra carrots doing much to absorb the sonic blast.
Watch about 65 minutes of the movie Auntie Mame before working out that oh, the version with songs in it is just called Mame and it stars different people, it’s not just that they did some weird and very wrong edit that missed out on songs like “We Need A Little Christmas”.
Entire day lost to trying to convince people you heard a song titled “Captain Santa Claus And His Reindeer Space Patrol”. You are imagining things.
Hey, they snubbed “Father Christmas” again, didn’t they? Ray Davies is not going to be happy.
If I were to make up a story about Rankin/Bass having created a Christmas special built around the song I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, and claim that it was suppressed for being so weird and crazypants and indistinctly sexy that even the 70s couldn’t put up with it … how many of you would back me up? I’m not asking for the level of, like, making fan art. But would you insist on social media that oh, yeah, there was totally a crazypants sequence where Mommy’s brought to the North Pole for what is a sanitized, Love Boat-but-a-cartoon version of a swingers party where there might not be anything you can actually say is racy but it’s still like forty times the entendres that a kids’ animated special should have? Just doing a quick little headcount is all.
I’m flattered that you’re still coming to me for advice about Christmas decorations after learning I used to be a teenaged boy. It’s not what I would do, but, what the heck. I guess the worst that can happen is a family that’s fled some aesthetic catastrophe within the house, huddling together, promising that no, there’s a reason all those Star Trek comic books were on the wall. Hey, here’s a real thing that really happened in real reality for real: the second issue of the Star Trek: The Next Generation comic from the 80s was about Captain Picard having to save the Spirit of Christmas from some leather-clad Alien Space Grinches.
Anyway a holiday is always a good excuse to decorate. Not without limits, of course. There are only so many things you can put up to commemorate, say, Washington’s Birthday without people asking questions. And not the good kind, like where you can show off what you know about George Washington’s presidential tour of all thirteen states. They ask questions like “… the heck?” And most anything you put up for the August Bank Holiday will get you strange looks. The New Jersey Big Sea Day seems like it ought to have great decorating potential, but most of that is water. Maybe flip-flops.
Ah, but Christmas. And New Year’s. These are holidays that have no socially accepted limits for how much to decorate. You could festoon your house with enough Christmas lights that structural elements crumble, and the building collapses under this load of twinkling merry. Survivors would stagger out of a heap of belongings, drywall, and ornaments. And people would just say, oh, they’re maybe a little much but it makes up for the other houses on the street. It’s one of the few chances you have to festoon things in a socially acceptable way. Heck, it’s one of the few chances to even talk about festooning. Go ahead, list three other times this past year you were able to festoon a thing without authorities getting involved.
Which gets to something important about Christmas decorating. Make sure that you’re decorating someplace or something that you have permission to. Once the authorities get called in you don’t get to enjoy a giddy night of adorning things with tinsel. You have to start sneaking around instead, hiding behind the Christmas tree or unusually wide coat-stands whenever a bunch of people in, I’m assuming, tall blue hats tromp past. Then they hear a suspicious cough off somewhere. One of your confederates, no doubt, if you’ve got this well-organized. And you have to throw a ball of tinsel at a thing you hope is a tinsel-bearing decorative structure unit, like a tree or a wreath or a cat.
That’s not the right way to do things. That won’t get you decorations that festoon a thing. The best you can hope for is that you’ll have decorations strewn about. And strewning is great, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that strewning is great in the right context. The context you want for decorating is that you aren’t trying to dodge people who want you answering questions. You want to have some beloved Christmas special that you’ve watched so often that you no longer watch it. You just have it on in the background while forming questions about the worldbuilding.
After a couple decades of this you start to wonder exactly how much thought the writers put into the mythology behind, oh, the one where Frosty the Snowman creates a wife, and then they have to go create a snow-parson who can “legally” marry them because the human parson voiced by Dennis Day isn’t sure he can do that? And somehow creating a new snow-life is less problematic? And you never see what happens to the snow-parson after that? And it’s not about getting answers to these questions. If you wanted answers go out and become an authority yourself. Not saying about what. An authority on Christmas specials would get you the answers faster, probably. But becoming an authority on, say, tidal pools? Graphic design? It’ll take longer to get answers, but maybe the joy of the season is discovering these things.
While doing the laundry the other day I encountered this Post-It Note, and I admire it because after a half-week of working on it I am starting to have an idea what this could be about, but not the faintest idea why this note has survived.
Also I wanted to scan the note so you could appreciate all this thing somehow worthy enough of memorialization to end up in the hamper three months later, but I had just upgraded my computer’s operating system and the scanner software didn’t work anymore. So I had a couple extra days while not dealing with that to ponder why I kept this note.
This episode, next to the last in the series’ run, originally aired the 13th of October, 1957. That is, not quite ten days after Sputnik launched, which would give the premise for an unusually timely sketch. It’s also got a reference to the Brooklyn Dodgers moving. There was another reference to the Dodgers moving last week. The move had been officially announced the 8th of October, although baseball had approved the move in April, and the Dodgers had played some “home” games in New Jersey in 1956 and 1957.
And here’s the rundown:
Open. The show is billed as “brought to you by Stan Freberg”.
Opening Comments. Stan Freberg promises advertisers frightened by last week’s sketch that there’s almost no werewolves in advertising. He tells Daws Butler paid $100 to sponsor today’s show.
Commercial for Stan Freberg. The jingles are surely parodies of specific ads, although I don’t know what for. Little lines like “the all-American dog” and such suggest dog food, car, and drain cleaner. It’s hard not to wonder if Freberg was letting advertisers know, hey, he had some free time and a good comic sensibility ready for advertising by doing so many ads for himself.
Miss Jupiter returns. She’s back from the third episode. Includes a stray reference to the International Geophysical Year, which ran from July 1957 through December 1958. She’s “returning your basketball”, Sputnik. This has to be among the first comedy sketches recorded about the event. There’s a reference to “red tape at the Pentagon”, which has got to be alluding to the idea that the United States space effort was too bureaucratized to work swiftly. I’ll go on about this below. Miss Jupiter’s computer goes into action deliver a fortune cookie from her ear that’s surprisingly explicit about the Space Race being a game.
Peggy Taylor sings “Love is Mine”.
Freberg goes to World Advertising. Meeting with advertising executives is a big, weird muddle of daft business-creative types and baffling metaphors, which is a standard take but offers nice goofiness. World Advertising claims to represent nations, and showcases an advertisement for America that’s a takeoff on Lucky Strikes tobacco, which is a nicely wicked joke the more you think about it. Another reference to moving the Dodgers. The commercial also ends with “Can It Be The Breeze”, which closed The Jack Benny Show when he was sponsored by Lucky Strikes (reruns of which ran right before Stan Freberg’s show). There’s a reference to Freberg having a hole in his shoe, making him more homely and “a cinch to win”; Freberg asks if he’s heard from Adlai Stevenson. There was a moment in the 1952 campaign when reporters noticed a hole in Stevenson’s shoe, and he riffed “better a hole in the shoe than a hole in the head”. “You’ll wonder where the Freberg went” riffs on a Pepsodent jingle still current when I was a kid in the 70s.
Sam Spilayed Mystery. Freberg tries to do a radio mystery. It’s nailed the over-expository yet mournful tone of shows like Pat Novak for Hire. Some nonsense about pronouncing “bracelet” wrong along with the over-written metaphors and impossibly complicated exposition and the sound effects either wrong or mis-timed. You can see the Firesign Theatre’s Nick Danger in formation already. And then at 20:45 a commercial interlude for Instant Freberg. At 22:45 he goes into his own commercial, one where he beats up someone who doens’t like the show, and then back into the main plot. There’s multiple references to stuff from earlier this episode. There’s also a reference to “Little Orphan Annie at an Aquacade” which I believe references one of the comic strip discussion panels in past episodes. The femme fatale being named “Yours truly, Jenny Dollar-ninety-eight” is a reference to Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. That mystery show’s gimmick was that Dollar was an insurance investigator and the episodes were framed as his expense reports, itemizing costs and what they were for, so the close of each episode was a summary and signature, “signed, yours truly, Johnny Dollar”. The sketch closes on another commercial for “Stan Freberg, the falling comedian”.
Closing Remarks. Freberg asks for cards and letters about what to do for the final show.
Okay, so the Space Race thing. Something that baffled many people in the early days of the space race was why the United States didn’t launch a satellite first, the way everyone would have expected. A lot of complaints boiled down to the US didn’t take it seriously. Contemporary thinking in space historians is that President Eisenhower did not think it all that important to launch the first space satellite. His priority was establishing the idea that, while nations might control their own airspace, outer space was a different thing and free to all passing vehicles. Specifically, so that spy satellites could be allowed. But how to establish the precedent that satellites may go about their business? Well, that would be a scientific satellite, launched as part of a major international cooperative effort, by an agency with a long history of research for the public good, on a rocket with no military value. That is, Vanguard, launched as part of the International Geophysical Year, by the Naval Research Laboratory, on a rocket derived from the Viking and Aerobee sounding rockets. His other priority was not spending a crazy amount of money on it, thus, not going any too fast. The Soviets launching a satellite was fine by him; they can’t complain about a satellite launch if they’re doing it too, right? That it set off a American paranoiac panic was probably inevitable but somehow not anticipated.
Sorry, it’s the time of year I can’t do anything because I’m busy watching Rankin/Bass animated specials again. Today’s distraction: noticing in The Year Without A Santa Claus, and the scene where Santa talks about “by my charts and maps!” So he stands over by his charts and maps. From this I learn that Santa uses the Mercator projection for his work. Defensible given how much navigation work he has to do, certainly. Although I would have expected him to use something centered on the North Pole, you know, his entire base of operations, which is located at one of the only two points in the world that can’t be rendered on a Mercator map. And yes, I know what you’re thinking: what about a transverse Mercator projection? Nuh-uh, thank you, who here is watching the special instead of whatever it was I was supposed to be doing today? Exactly.
I know everyone’s interested to see Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon’s take on Alley Oop. It’s not coming until January. Here I’m recapping the last couple months of Jack Bender and Carol Bender-produced reruns. I figure, at least for now, to keep Alley Oop in the regular story strip rotation. So my first recap of the New Era should come around early March 2019. And it should be at this link. If there’s news updates warranting more articles, they’ll be there too.
Dr Wonmug has a job! A client is paying him to gather samples in 1816 Switzerland. I honestly didn’t know the Doc took jobs like that. The client’s never named, but that doesn’t seem to be a plot element. It’s just an excuse for why he has to “hurry” to travel in time. Anyway, Doc pops in to Ancient Moo, interrupting Alley Oop’s and Ooola’s picnic. And annoying Ooola, who teases that “maybe I’ll have a little adventure of my own”. This hasn’t paid off yet and I haven’t checked whether it ever does.
Oop thinks this “scientific research” is a new game, but what the heck. He’s up for it. 1816 is a good year for for science research; you might faintly remember it as “the year without a summer”. After the explosion of Mount Tambora the previous year the northern hemisphere suffered widespread cold, leading to food shortages and even more poverty. And a pretty boring summer retreat at the Villa Diodati, in Cologny, Switzerland. There Mary Shelley is fed up with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron going on about electricity to each other. She decides to take her chances walking outside in the cold rain. Oh, should say, nobody’s last name gets mentioned. This is probably to set up the punch line ending. It’s a good punch line for someone who doesn’t know about how Frankenstein was originally written.
Mary sees a flash atop a mountain. It’s the arrival of Doc Wonmug and an underdressed Alley Oop. She’s wondering how they survived what she took to be lightning. Also wondering what’s with this gigantic, incredibly muscular figure surrounded by glowing light. Alley Oop and Doc Wonmug realize they’re being followed. But they figure they can evade this past-dweller long enough. They’re hilariously wrong. But they just need a soil sample, a plant sample, and some insect. It’s an oddly plausible enough scientific mission. I can already imagine the science team very cross that there wasn’t enough soil and they didn’t provide enough photographs to understand the context of the plant sample. Mary Shelley watches them digging up soil and wonders if they’re burying something. Or digging something up.
Wonmug explains about the harshness of the year. Oop asks, reasonably, whether they’re doing something to help the starving population of the world. Wonmug says they can’t. I don’t know whether Alley Oop has an unchangeable past built into it or not. If Wonmug and company are wise they’ve never tested it. But I know barely a tiny bit of the strip’s long history and what stories they might have explored.
Plants and insects are harder to find. They spot a small scraggly plant growing on the edge of a cliff. Oop’s able to climb cliff faces like that, even in the freezing rain. While he does, Wonmug sets up a little science kit to measure the atmosphere. And Mary Shelley watches all this strangeness. She gasps as Oop slips (but does not fall). Wonmug follows her, using his iPod’s flashlight feature to spot her in the gloom. She’s afraid of him, for reasons Wonmug can’t understand. As a scientist Dr Wonmug hasn’t got the common sense that God gave scraggly plants growing on the edge of a cliff in the Year Without A Summer.
You know what else climbs cliff faces like that, even in the freezing rain? Mountain goats. An ibex watches Oop grabbing at the plant that’s maybe the only food around, and takes action. Oop’s able to grab onto one leaf, at least, before he’s knocked down the hillside. He takes a nasty fall, landing right outside the cave where Wonmug is trying to figure out why Mary Shelley looks somehow familiar.
Wonmug can’t feel a pulse. Shelley fears he’s dead, but still wants to take him to a doctor. I guess this is on the grounds that 19th century medicine couldn’t make the situation worse. Me, in the 21st century, is pretty sure they could. But her naming Dr Polidori gives Wonmug the clue to who she is, and the punch line that this Mary Shelley. Anyway, Wonmug’s got a portable defibrillator. He warns about the dangers of the electricity, gives Oop a couple good shocks. He brings this gigantic, impossibly strong human to life. He, grunting, confused, and disoriented, lunges toward the woman he had seen following them. She flees. So you see the joke here. I think the joke’s better when you consider that Alley Oop’s a fundamentally kind, good person being shunned for looking like a monster. Shelley flees back to the villa, where she learns the men around her are going to hold a writing competition.
Oop asks why they don’t check that she’s okay. Wonmug promises that he knows she’s just fine, which seems like he’s pretty confident they can’t accidentally alter history here. Anyway, Oop has the leaf in his hand yet, so that’s the plant sample. And a butterfly’s landed on his head, a good insect sample and a time-travel joke nicely underplayed. They return to the present.
And Wonmug explains stuff for Oop and anyone who didn’t know the story already. He presents a copy of Frankenstein and suggests, hey, where did she get that idea, after all? And this feeds to a couple strips just laying out the story of how Shelley had a vision of the story. Hm. Oop figures he’d like to read this, sure. Wonmug also offers that they could watch the movie. I’d also like to speak up for the Mister Magoo adaptation. This seems to end the story with a month left to go before the reruns end. But just this weekend we got Wonmug refusing to let Oop go back home again. He was “actually dead” for a couple minutes, after all. He needs some time of observation. And that’s where the story stands.
I’m mostly content with the storyline. The particular time-travel venture makes good sense. That it can intersect with a real historical figure at a real historically important moment is a bonus. But I personally dislike “here’s where a writer got their crazy idea from”. Writers get their ideas by thinking about things that give them ideas. Those ideas are fed from sources, yes, including writers’ experiences. But they’re created by the writers working. To show the “real events that inspired the writer” replaces that hard work with stenography. (Which is, yes, another kind of hard work, but hard in a different way.)
This motif is at least as old as Flash Of Two Worlds, the comic book where the 1960s Silver Age Flash met the 1940s Golden Age counterpart. Silver Flash had read Golden Flash comics when he was a kid. He speculated that the writer of those Golden Age comics was somehow cosmically attuned to Golden Age Flash’s world and could transcribe that. But there, Flash Of Two Worlds was written by Gardiner Fox, who wrote (most of) the Golden Age Flash comic books. He could be having a joke on himself.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender and John Wooley don’t quite do the writer-as-transcriber idea, at least. As presented in this story, Mary Shelley sees a story about electricity bringing a hulking brute to life. Fine; allow the premise that she took this inspiration from something she witnessed. She’s still presented as turning that one great idea into a novel, with so much happening that she doesn’t witness here. So that tempers my complaint.
I haven’t gone back to check the storyline’s original run in 2013. I want to be as surprised as you are and also am lazy. I’m supposing that Wonmug’s assertion that Oop needs observation will give us a couple weeks of puttering around in the present. And that should lead up to the 7th of January, 2019, when Alison Sayers and Jonathan Lemon take over.
So earlier this week Comics Kingdom sent me an e-mail. I assume they sent it to other people too. It just had that tone to it. It said King Features was “excited to announce” the launch of Popeye’s Island Adventures. It’s part of an effort to bring Popeye back into the pop culture. They say it’s with “a fresh update on the original characters and storyline”.
All right, then. I’m game. Stand near me for about twenty minutes and you’ll work out that I’m a Popeye fan. And I’m sad that he hasn’t got much of a place in the public consciousness these days besides weird appearances on T-shirts sold at kiosks on the Jersey Shore. I’m not sure why he hasn’t had much traction since, well, the live-action movie came out. It’s easy to complain that Popeye’s just this dumb violent character, but, c’mon. Other cartoons get away with punching. And dumb is a matter of context. Give a character interesting things to do and they’re interesting. And Popeye has this forthrightness and moral clarity that I still think admirable.
It was maybe halfway into the two-minute cartoon that I realized, oh, they’re not just being drawn to look young. This is supposed to be some adventures of a Young Popeye and company. All right. I’m not sure if this is what it takes to appeal to a new generation. But, I also like variants on established character sets and I don’t think there’s been a “young Popeye” series before. At least not an important one. I’ll give that a try.
I’m glad to see Eugene the Jeep. Eugene’s the top of the many weird, interesting creatures in the Popeye universe. (Cartoons and comic strips.) Only sad point is he doesn’t really have anything to do with the story; he tickles Bluto’s feet and that’s all?
The short feels oddly paced to me. The story’s thin, but a two minute cartoon doesn’t have time for a deep plot. Still, it has Popeye eating his spinach at the halfway point in the cartoon. I’m more comfortable with it as the climax. You know, after Popeye’s had all he can stands and can’t stands no more. However, he’s also got to have time to do things, so maybe this couldn’t be pushed any later in the short. It puts more work on the introductory minute, though.
More time would help, surely. But that would surely be more expensive, and I can’t imagine there’s a huge budget for making Popeye cartoons in 2018. It shows in a couple ways. The voices, particularly. Reducing all the characters to little grunting noises avoids the problem of dubbing for different language-speakers. (This is proven by the variety of languages already in the YouTube comments. Also from this I learn I can tell when someone is whining about “political correctness” in Spanish.) But it requires either simpler plots or demands more elaborate expository artwork. I mean, try to explain the Jeep’s powers using only pictograms. Plus a lot of what’s fun about Popeye is listening to him talk. I’m not sure how long I would enjoy listening to Popeye, Olive Oyl, and Bluto grunting at each other.
It’s got a fair bit of the stuff I like Popeye cartoons for. Particularly the feats of ridiculous exaggeration, as when the spinach-charged Popeye spins his ears into helicopter propellers. Or Popeye, skateboarding across the sand, picking up a train of bicycle, washing machine, walrus, and donkey.
The animation looks, to me, like a Flash game. That is, it looks cheap, to me. But if it weren’t cheap the short wouldn’t exist at all, so, fine. I thought the scene cuts were too quick, spoiling the comic effect of some shots. Why have Popeye haul a bicycle, washing machine, walrus, and donkey through the sand if there’s barely the time to see it? Also, in what seems like the exact opposite gripe, that the camera panned too slowly when a character moved quickly, such as when Popeye leaps into the tree at about 0:23. But, for example, I didn’t get why the spinach on Bluto’s fishing rod kept moving when Bluto set the reel down. That the reel was still spinning I didn’t catch until a repeat view. This is all probably stuff the animators (not credited in the video, by the way, nor on the YouTube page caption) will get the hang of with experience.
I’m not sure what I think of the character designs, or the choice to make this Young Popeye. It does give a pretext to quietly drop Popeye’s pipe. If that’s the compromise that gets us Popeye cartoons without protest from well-meaning people, all right. His blowing a bosun’s whistle is a decent replacement. That, based on the YouTube comments, this infuriates the sort of person who complains about SJW’s makes the substitution a double bonus. And Eugene’s cute. I hope he gets to be in a cartoon soon.
So, I’m glad to see King Features trying to make new Popeye cartoons. I’ll here for new ones.
I’m flattered you come to me for advice about Christmas decorations. Don’t go thinking I’m happy about it. If you take my advice it won’t turn out well. The best we can expect is groups of people huddled together, in the snow, too tired from yelling at each other to resume yelling at each other on a nice day like this. That day is probably Groundhog Day or something like that.
See, the first reason I shouldn’t really be trusted on Christmas decorating advice is that I procrastinate. It’s not that I don’t ever want to get around to doing things. I feel this complete lack of urgency about getting stuff done. This is great for stuff that doesn’t really need to be done, like preventative maintenance. It’s not so good for stuff with inherent deadlines, like making dinner or Christmas. But deadlines are flexible things. What does it matter if we have dinner now or fifteen minutes later? Or a half-hour later? Or early next morning? Similarly, when we think carefully about the problem, do we actually know when Christmas will be? December seems likely enough. But we do hear talk about Christmas in July, which suggests we were trying to get things six months wrong and were still late. You can’t convince me that there isn’t plenty of time to start decorating, even if it’s already well past 4 pm on Christmas Day, whenever that may be.
But if you’re still looking for advice from me? … Really? All right. I should warn you that I’ve decorated things in my life and you probably don’t want to take up my example. I used to be a teenaged boy, you see, and I’ve been struggling my whole life to overcome that background. I fully accept responsibility for the dumb things I’ve done, and I think I know better now. But consider that I used to think it was acceptable to line the walls of my bedroom with Star Trek comic books in plastic bags. Yes, they had cardboard backings. I wasn’t a savage. And it did express an element of actual good decorating. Good decorating should say something. And a wall of bagged Star Trek comic books says: “This is easier than ever knowing a person who would want to visit me”.
Still even as a teenager I knew Christmas would come, sooner or later. One year I got possession of the family’s old artificial tree. By fair means, I should add. Our parents got a new artificial tree and as the largest brother I was able to punch my other brothers more. But now I could set up in the corner of my room an artificial Christmas tree. It was at most ten years old and there were many branches that weren’t yet crumpled up by having been put away for ten years by pre-teen boys in-between their punching sessions. Add to it a couple strands of older lights, no longer needed for front-line service, that were enough for at least the third of the tree not facing the wall. And you had this awesome sight: an ancient artificial Christmas tree, strung with a couple lights trying their best in the circumstances, sitting in the corner, backing a wall of the existing Star Trek comics of the 1980s. It was the hot new look for the summer, based on what the guinea pigs I kept in my room said about it. They said, “Wheep”.
At one point it struck my teenage-boy mind that it would be a good idea to take down the bows, but leave the two-foot-tall conical top of the tree up. This solved the problems of not really having enough lights and of blocking access to the Star Trek comics behind the tree. It just meant I had a bare, five-foot-tall metal pole sitting in the corner of my room. My recollection is that at one point I also managed to lose the pitiful remnants of this tree, and was startled to rediscover it. I have no idea what it could possibly have hidden behind. It’s not like I had tall stuff in my room other than me. I mean, this was when I was going through the mattress-on-the-floor phase of my life.
I hope that this has answered every possible question. If it has not, allow me to offer “North Dakota in the year 1822”. I don’t know what question that answers, but it must be something.
I don’t have a lot of stuff on my calendar, because I’m a very disorganized person and am kind of reckless with my tasks. But sometimes something comes on, and yesterday was one of those days, and here’s what my calendar notifications wanted to make of it:
And honestly, no, “Furnace” had not started over an hour ago. It’s been chilly but it’s not been that chilly. The furnace was going for like maybe five minutes at the max. I don’t know where it gets these things from.
You maybe noticed these recordings of The Stan Freberg Show haven’t had any advertisements, nor spots where the action comes to a halt for a sponsor’s plug. This is not because they were edited out, nor because these recordings come from recordings made for the Armed Forces Radio Service. (Armed Forces Radio at the time had a prohibition on advertisement. Shows transcribed for rebroadcast on this would often fill out the time with music.) The show ran as a “sustaining” program, without a sponsor.
That’s a slightly odd status, today. The only shows run on United States radio without a sponsor are some public-service, breaking-news, or educational programs (and the occasional publicity stunt). It was not unheard-of in the days of old-time-radio. Mostly this would be for programs meant to experiment with the state of the art, such as the CBS Radio Workshop; or to serve educational and cultural support roles, such as the NBC University Theater. But it would also be for shows that filled a dull time slot. Or that were good but hadn’t yet matched up with a reliable sponsor. Vic and Sade, for example, ran its first two years without more than temporary sponsorship. Stan Freberg claimed that a tobacco company had offered to sponsor the show and he turned them down, which if true speaks well for his principles. Running the series for three months, as they did, suggests CBS figured they had a good show that might match up with a sponsor. Here, from the 6th of October, 1957, is the moment when Freberg maybe realized they wouldn’t match one, and he decided to just make fun of the people he also needed.
And here’s the rundown:
Open. No pre-show sketch once again.
Opening comments. Freberg just promises something for everyone and there’s not clearly a bit going on.
Billy May playing Cocktails for Two. Just the prologue; “everyone knows the chorus of this turkey”.
Questions from the Audience. On the topic of the circus. One wants gifts and is fine with the circus as is. One thinks Freberg might be Steve Allen. The topic gets dropped and the rest of the sketch forgotten.
Peggy Taylor asks if the Dodgers are really bums; a bum wanders around and has nowhere to go. Then sings “And The Angels Sing”.
20th Century Freberg films: Grey Flannel Hat Full Of Teenage Werewolves. Goofy little fusion of I Was A Teenage Werewolf with How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. Freberg has a great squawky teenage voice. And it has the great lines “This is America, where any kid can grow up to be Dracula!” and “My head filled with senseless metaphor!”. Werewolves by night and advertising executives by day is a solidly goofy idea. The agency name of “Batton, Barton, Rubicum, and Thompson” is a riff on Batten, Barton, Durstine, and Osborn, a corporate name I think Fred Allen once said sounded like a trunk falling down stairs. (Wikipedia can find where Mary Livingstone said this on a November 1948 Jack Benny Show, and that it’s not known if Fred Allen ever did.) They’re still around, as BBDO. I don’t know if this sketch came from a fusion of trying to riff teen-horror and young-exec movies. Having werewolves to fall back on really helps when the advertising part gets dull. The advertisement for “Food!” at about 18:45 is (of course) a precise parody of a then-current radio advertisement, for Quaker Mills Oh! cereal (which opened on a reverb-heavy “Oh! Oh! OH!”. And the mock-movie is a goofy story about love triumphing, really.
Closing Comments. Freberg answers the people who sent “many card and letter, to say nothing of countless phone call” congratulating them on a sketch from the fifth show, making fun of The Lawrence Welk Show. He announces and advertises that the sketch, is out as a comedy record, “Wun’erful, Wun’erful”. Also this means I was wrong to say that the sketch was an adaptation of this record; it’s the other way around. Also Freberg announces that the show is ending in two weeks. So he asks what people would like them to do for the final show. I take it to mean to nominate favorite sketches, but he doesn’t actually quite promise that.
I like taking a day near the start of the month to look over what WordPress tells me was popular around here. It’s usually a nice, low-key way to fill the content hole with a lot of numbers followed by a heap of other numbers, some of them including decimal points. It’s great.
In September there were 2,644 page views around here. They came from 1,436 unique visitors, who left a total of 174 likes and 50 comments. In October there were 3,070 page views and I do so like getting above a big round number like that. 1,681 unique visitors, who left 173 likes and 67 comments. And for November?
I was surprised to have a very slight increase in page views, to 3,077. My mathematics blog had a drop in readers in November and I expect the two blogs to stay synchronized. (More accurately the mathematics blog had an extra readership boost in October.) The number of unique visitors rose more than slightly, to 1,681, more than I’ve had since this five-month streak in early 2018. Likes fell to 150, the first time in seven months that they’ve been outside the 165-to-180 range. The number of comments rose to 88, the fifth month of increase in a row and the greatest number since February 2018.
As in October, all the most popular stuff here was comic strip updates. Also as in October, the most popular pieces weren’t actually published in this past month. At the top were:
And it won’t matter for December. But Alley Oop is scheduled to go into new strips the 7th of January. Alison Sayers is to write and Jonathan Lemon to draw. And apparently the Sunday strips are to be about “Li’l Oop,” a preteen version of Alley Oop. I have no idea if that’s going to be a separate storyline or just standalone gags.
The country count: there were 60 countries sending me readers in September. 69 in October. For November there were 66 countries, if you count “European Union” as a single country. The exact roster:
Hong Kong SAR China
Papua New Guinea
There were 16 single-reader countries in September, 17 in October, and in November, 16. I guess I have my level, then. Maldives have been a single-reader country two months running now. Bangladesh, three months.
According to Insights, for the end of November I had published 334 posts and a total of 212,977 words this year. That’s an average of 638 words per piece, up from an average of 634 from the start of November. It’s also by the way a total of 17,378 words over the 30 posts. So I’m doing really well at getting my Monday-Wednesday-Friday posts down to short, snappy pieces.
As of the end of November I’m averaging 2.5 comments per post, up from 2.4 at the start of November and 2.3 at the start of October. And an average of 6.0 likes per post, down from 6.1 at the start of November and October. December opened with my having 105,666 page views total, from 58,125 unique visitors. And 2,129 total posts, by the way.
Last time I checked in on Judge Parker I figured we were getting near some retrenchment. There had been a bunch of craziness going down, mostly in Los Angeles. Neddy Spencer and work-friend Ronnie Huerta were trying to figure who killed Godiva Danube. They learned Danube had been fronting a drug-running scheme. And that someone in the CIA wanted Danube dead, so they got April Spencer to do it. Except, we learned, she didn’t do it. Someone else, who’s now killed Danube’s boyfriend, the guy who gave Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta as much exposition as they have. Meanwhile, April Parker’s father Norton was betrayed by his aide and was in the hands of maybe a dozen CIA agents. I know this is confusing; I’m trying to summarize a summary here. My summary article last time has the space to explain more of it. Anyway, I figured we were coming near some drawing down of the craziness. Possibly a jump several months ahead in time. An incomplete resolution of what’s been going on and a bunch of new story elements. Let’s see what happened.
Well, Neddy and Ronnie get out of Danube’s boyfriend’s apartment. April Spencer’s dropped in to kill the CIA agent who was killing the boyfriend anyway. Ronnie declares she’s had enough of Neddy’s crazy life and wants out. Can’t fault her that. Also it turns out Norton is not dead, but just in Super-Duper-Secret CIA Jail, being interrogated about what’s April Spencer’s deal already.
Meanwhile back in Cavelton, Judge Randy Parker calls off a date with Toni Bowen. She’s the local-turned-national-turned-local-again newscaster. Her life’s been tied to the Parkers’ since Marciuliano took over writing. Randy uses the excuse that he’s swamped with judge work. She pretends to believe him, and further, agrees to babysit his-and-April’s daughter Charlotte for the night. Randy picked such a lucky night to be absent I wondered if he was up to something. Because April Parker stops in. April demands Charlotte. Bowen refuses to give her up. Randy Parker finally gets home in time for this scene, and for April to knock him unconscious for dating in her absence. And then who intrudes but … Candice Bergen?
So, turns out she’s April Parker’s Mom. She’s been absent something like thirty years with her business and all. And it turns out she’s the partner Wurst was reporting to last time. Canice Bergen warns that no, April can’t take Charlotte. She’ll have to wait and come back to her sometime later. Maybe after the new series of Murphy Brown wraps up. On Canice Bergen’s promise of safety, Bowen lets April hug Charlotte, for maybe “the last time she can hold her as a child”. And then they leave before they can kill even more CIA agents.
Maybe. We don’t see that. The 15th of October had the much-anticipated-by-me “We Jump To Mid-Fall” narrative caption. The changes: Bowen’s had enough of the Parker craziness and is done with Randy. Can’t fault her that. Katherine and Alan Parker have gotten back together. They’re at that stage where every floor in their house is filled with boxes labelled for some other room. Norton is dead, according to Sam Driver’s Super-Ultra-Secret contact at the CIA. So they’re all safe, right?
And Katherine Parker learns something interesting at the publishing house where she works. Also I learn she works at a publishing house. Toni Bowen’s publishing an autobiography and it’s going to have a bunch of stuff about Randy and April. She brings word to Alan. Alan brings word to Randy. Randy already knew. Bowen had talked about it with him before submitting the book proposal. So he roughly knew what would get published and what it might do to him. Also, Randy has to admit he would never do anything to hurt his father but …
So Randy confided to Bowen how Alan Parker had helped Norton fake his own death some time ago. Randy meant this to show that Norton wouldn’t be coming after them. Now, well, they don’t know if it’ll be in the book but it’s going to be an awkward conversation. Still, at least Norton’s not faking his death this time. Super-Hyper-Duper-Secret CIA Prison is.
And there might be fresh deaths. In Super-Mega-Hyper-Ultra-Duper-Secret CIA Prison the bureau chief has bad news. April Parker is dead. They have a photo and everything. Norton’s willing to pretend to believe them long enough to look at their photo. And he thinks how “April may be in even better hands than mine”. The phrasing reads as though he’s considering that April has died, but is still way open to reading as though he’s admiring his wife’s work in the field of Honestly Just Exhausting At This Point Super-Hyper-Ultra-Duper-Mega-Looper-Secret Double-Crossing. The agents reviewing his reaction figure Norton “may not know where April is, but certainly knows who helped her get out”.
The 18th of November introduced another plot thread. Neddy Spencer’s flying home for Thanksgiving. And ignoring Ronnie Huerta’s repeated texts to call back. Neddy’s life has been a mess since we saw it turn into an enormous mess. Huerta’s trying to reconnect, but Neddy won’t have it, suspecting Huerta of being the same kind of false friend Danube was. Sophie Spencer points out, correctly, that withdrawing from the craziness is not wrong. After major drama — the word seems trivial for what they went through, but what is there to say? — you may need time away. Neddy’s the bad friend, ignoring the attempts to reach out and assuming malice. I get Neddy’s anger, but that’s still a good way to create malice.
Meanwhile Sam Driver isn’t sure Neddy should move back home. He thinks she responds to every setback by running back home, and that she shouldn’t be doing that now. Which has enough truth in it to be credible. But, especially since Marciuliano took over, Neddy hasn’t been through “setbacks”. She’s seen family twist someone by their neck until they’re dead. I’m not sure what she does need, except that it involves professional care. So this is probably something that will get further discussion. Maybe a jolly fight over Christmas. We’ll see.
Well, The Amazing Spider-Manjumped the queue a bit. So I’ll get back on schedule with a recap of Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop repeats. Which looks like it’s just wrapped up the story, a month ahead of my expectations. I don’t know what they’re going to do while waiting for the new writing team to take over. Should catch up to Prehistoric Moo in a week, though. And by Prehistoric Moo I mean 1816 Switzerland. You know how it is.
I’m happy to report the Meijer’s cash register computers are now giving out gift receipts for anything. So they figure, eh, I might not be giving a carton of rock salt, two jars of discount peanut butter, or a pack of Morningstar Farms vegetarian sausages to someone as a gift, they want to be ready in case I do, and in case that person would rather have something else instead. I’m going ahead and guessing they imagine someone’s feeling more like getting a transparent vinyl shower curtain or a box of club crackers instead. Except what good are the club crackers without peanut butter to put on them? I suppose there’s cheese, cream or otherwise. Hm. Must think about this sometime.
A thing to understand about my area of mid-Michigan is that there are sandwich shop chains. Particularly there are two sandwich shop chains with a New Jersey theme. There are good reasons for this. If you know them please submit them in writing care of an office. These events happened while I was eating lunch in one of them.
There was a kid sitting at the table next to mine. Well, sitting in the way that a young kid does, which is, hovering around the table and hopping onto and off of the chairs and putting her chin on the back of a chair and then calling out to an adult who existed somewhere about the prospect of having a cookie. She didn’t talk about the “prospect” of a cookie. That’s me putting words into her mouth, as she only had the promise of a future cookie. I’m not sure how old she was. Once they’re old enough to stand up reliably all kids look to me like they’re either four, ten, or sixteen. This kid was at the four-year-old level.
I wasn’t worried about the kid. Whatever she was up to, it wasn’t my fault, and the worst that you can really do at that age in a sandwich shop is spill your soda. She didn’t have a soda, so she must have got around to spilling it before I even got in. And then suddenly she asked me, “What’s that?”
I would have been happy to know what what she wanted the that to. I’m sorry, I feel seasick and have to lie down a bit. Okay, I’m back. I guessed she was pointing to the picture on the wall and tried to explain it was a woman sunbathing. This seemed to satisfy the kid so I thought, great! I’ve had my unplanned interaction with a stranger for the week. Now I don’t have to talk to anybody anymore. On later examination it turns out to be a picture of a woman on a sailboat.
“What’s that?” asked the kid again, pointing at about the same spot. I tried to follow her finger and guessed maybe she meant what the woman who was not sunbathing was part of. It’s a replica of one of those “Welcome To ____” postcards. This seemed like a vast conceptual universe to get across to a kid. I did my best: “It’s a picture of Point Pleasant. That’s a town on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a neat place. They used to have a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster and a beautiful merry-go-round there.” I was bluffing. But, like, it’s a Jersey Shore town. If they didn’t have a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, and a merry-go-round they weren’t even trying. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: Jenkinson’s Boardwalk! No, that’s in Point Pleasant Beach, a technically different borough in the same part of the Barnegat Peninsula. The kid was very interested in all this right up until I started answering. Still, she seemed satisfied so the world was all in order.
“What’s that?” the kid then asked again and I was running out of things to that about. My book? “It’s a book about Popeye,” I said and hoped that the kid would not be at all interested. I mean, I’d love for someone not-old to be interested in Popeye. But the book had a collection of strips from the 30s and 40s. And in those days comic strips had about eighteen panels each weekday, none of them with fewer than 600 words per panel. If the kid had any idea I was looking at comics she might want to read along and I won’t live long enough for that. But I could at least give an answer and hope that satisfied.
“What’s that?” she asked again. And I gave up. And now I must face knowing that, for all I think of myself as a self-confident and self-assured person, any four-year-old kid can break me with one question repeated four times. Maybe five if I wasn’t quite listening to start with. “What’s what?” I asked back and the kid wasn’t intersted in whatever I had to say.
She perhaps felt she had triumphed. She did not ask me “What’s that?” again. Instead she sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. When she reached the end, I told her, “That’s a very nice song. Did you make it up?” She didn’t dignify me with an answer. Fair enough although I’m like 85% sure my niece would have let me get away with asking that when she was four years old. I was honestly intending to give her the chance to call me silly for thinking she had made that up, or let her get away with saying she had. She’s the one who out-thought me entirely.
So I have to credit the sandwich shop kid for handily winning whatever social game she was playing with me. I’m completely defeated and I might never be allowed to buy a sandwich from anyone ever again.
I was wondering why it was CB radio got so big in the 70s, rather than some other decade, and so went to Wikipedia where I found nothing useful. But I did get to the article about C W McCall’s 1975 novelty song Convoy. And now, you might not have listened to Convoy recently and remember it only as a catchy yet dumb song. This might make you wonder how the distorting lens of nostalgia has made your recollection of the song drift from the actual thing. So I would like to let you all know that it is, in fact, a catchy yet dumb song. Sometimes nostalgia gets these things dead on right.
But along the way I discovered a 1976 novelty song, by “Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks”, Convoy UK. Here, its appearance on I’m going to guess the BBC’s Top Of The Pops, because the only other British music show I know of is that one about picking your records for being stranded on a desert island and this doesn’t seem like this could be it:
So, some thoughts.
First. “The biggest blooming convoy outside the USA”? Oh now come on. Let’s put aside there was surely some goofball Soviet prestige project to line the whole population of Tajikistan into trucks. There’s Australian truck-trains that have a single vehicle hauling a load that’s longer than the whole British Isles. One behind the other for any cause would be a longer convoy than could possibly fit on the M1. So the premise of the song is wholly implausible.
Second. Gads, Argentina has to be so embarrassed they lost the Falklands War to these people. I’d still be waking up three mornings out of seven fuming about it. I can’t imagine.
If you’re fascinated by early space race stuff you’ve probably seen Colonel John Stapp. His face anyway. He’s the guy there’s this black-and-white footage of a man being accelerated so fast that his face becomes this rippling, fluid shape. He was a physician and flight surgeon who became famous-in-the-right-circles for his work in understanding what acceleration (and deceleration) does to human bodies. He tested this, including on himself. In December 1954 he took a deceleration of 46.2 times the force of gravity. And lived through it, and thought human bodies could take even more than that. Much of what we understand about how to protect the human body from crashes traces to work he was part of.
And here’s the rundown:
Open. No pre-theme sketch this time again. There’s also no introductory comments; they go right into a sketch.
Rocket Sled. Herman Busby (which I think is a new name here) interviews Leroy Straddle, hoping to bring reactions to Colonel Stapp’s rocket-sled experiment. Stapp’s admirably uninterested. The premise is that Straddle hopes to run alongside Stapp and the sketch commits to being about that. And then Busby’s spotted in Portland, Oregon. This initially made me think they were doing a follow-up to that UFO bit where Orville came from the Moon. I’m not sure what point Herman Busby serves in framing this sketch, except that it lets Straddle describe what he means to do in the face of Stapp’s indifference. But then why not write the sketch so Stapp is at least a bit interested?
Introductory Comments. Maybe? Freberg lays out the “agenda” for the show.
Faucet Repair. Sketch about the “average American husband” fixing a faucet. June Foray gets to play a nag. The faucet repair turns to actually making a wrench, a nice bit of expansion on the premise of following repair directions. There’s a weirdly big laugh at 09:33; maybe one of the performers had a great expression. It turns into Freberg trying to buy an electron microscope. There’s also a bit about the peculiarity of buying something cash. There were a lot of jokes and science fiction stories about credit cards in the 50s and it seems to reflect a cultural attitude about these exotic means of finance. The diversion from home-repair-going-awry to cash-as-a-threat-to-commerce seems weird and I’m not sure they didn’t stitch two half-written sketches together.
Peggy Taylor sings “I’ll Buy You The Moon” (I’m guessing).
Robert Tainter is back. Freberg introduces him by mentioning his research behind Paul Revere’s Ride, Washington Crossing the Delaware, and his grandfather at Custer’s Last Stand. There are several more Tainter sketches not mentioned here; I think his might be the most-done sketch in the show’s run. Tainter feigns not knowing Freberg. Tainter’s gone from exposes to something “even lower”, going into labor racketeering and demanding payment from Freberg for whatever he’s doing. I think this is riffing on Estes Kefauver’s televised investigations into organized crime. This was six years in the past by the time this episode aired, but they did make an impression.
Sh-boom. Adaptation — after several weeks of putting it off — of the comedy record. It’s also a commercial for Freberg’s album compiling a dozen comedy bits. The premise here is that a successful song has to be much less comprehensible. It does all get pretty raucous and fun to my ear. June Foray’s character is named Stella, I’m going ahead and guessing to make a Streetcar Named Desire joke.
Hi, fans of Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. I know the current storyline’s been a bit confusing. It started out so strongly establishing one character, then jumping to another, that it wasn’t clear what they had to do with each other. The past week the threads have come together more strongly. And, must say, the narrative logic was easier to follow when I re-read several months’ worth of story all at once. The narrative was harder to follow chopped up into three panels a day.
Last time I checked in in Milford it was golf season. Coach Thorp was lightly occupied in his summer job, coaching Wilson Casey and Tony Paul in the game. Thorp’s realized that the kids from the Pine Ridge and the Blackthorne country clubs have been turning in false scorecards. The cheaters can’t be shamed. Thorp tries consoling his honest students.
Gil Thorp’s solution: organize his own, Milford Invitational, golf tournament. Only Pine Ridge and Blackthorne aren’t invited. And those kids have a mediocre outing at another tournament where scorers accompany the quartets. We never actually see the Milford Invitational. Just Thorp’s reminding his players that if they’re playing with integrity, the scores aren’t important. Good life lesson. Not one I’ll be sharing with my love next time we’re at a pinball tournament though.
The 3rd of September started the current story. Or set of stories. One is about Joe Bolek, student, and that kind of teenage film buff who watches Reservoir Dogs every other week just in case it’s changed. I can’t be smug. At that age I was very busy watching The Wrath of Khan every Friday night. The other is Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen, recently transferred from New Thayer. They knew each other in middle school, when Bolek did stunts like making his own movie in the middle of the street until the cops showed up.
This is part of the football storyline for the year. Thorp’s problem: Sam Finn is his best punter. But he’s also his best snapper. And it’s bad form to have a player snap the ball to himself to punt. So Thorp has an actual coaching problem, since he can’t put together a punting team that works. He has a lead: Joe Bolek, allegedly, was a pretty good athlete before he got swallowed up being that film guy.
Thorp approaches Bolek. Thorp sighs inwardly as Bolek wants to talk about his life in terms of movies. Thorp tries pointing out that they both hated The Legend Of Bagger Vance, a movie I once saw because I was flying from Newark to Singapore. My recollection is that it was a series of shapes moving in what seemed to be patterns. Thorp is able to communicate slightly in the language of referencing movie titles. Gil Thorp doesn’t actually know that much about movies, but his wife does, and he’s learned things from her. Along the way it’s revealed Gil Thorp’s been allowed to hold a position in adult society without ever seeing Paths Of Glory, which, I just don’t know. Anyway, Bolek watches the Milford team play a game, figures he can punt better than that, and joins the team.
Next plot point. Jansen shows up late to class. A lot. Enough that Thorp has to warn him this could screw up his eligibility. Jansen talks about his sister and her needs. How her needs make him late, or force him to leave events early, or stuff. And tries to avoid saying anything independently confirmable about her. It doesn’t go well: he says enough about his sister that one of his teammates can confirm she doesn’t exist. Or at least she isn’t going to school where Jansen implies she is.
His teammates ask Jansen where he lives. He names an apartment complex, slightly wrongly, and doesn’t notice he put it on the wrong street. In the world of story strip narrative economies that shows he’s bluffing. But I have to admit, I’ve lived at this house in Lansing for six and a half years now and I could not name the streets two blocks to either side of me. And I’m pretty sure I’m not pulling a fast one with my residence. Still, his teammates watch him driving off the wrong way for the home he claims to be going to.
Jansen’s tardiness reaches the point Coach Thorp has to do something about it, though. Jansen’s twenty minutes late for a game. He claims it’s because his car broke down. Thorp points out Milford is, like, four blocks across. He could’ve walked.
Thorp and his assistant coach, who probably has a name, check Jansen’s paperwork. It says he lives in the Pine Trace Apartments. Pine Trace Apartments say that address is a one-bedroom apartment. For a family of four. So Thorp swings into the exciting world of student-athlete regulatory compliance and asks Jansen where he does live. Jansen says it’s complicated. Thorp hasn’t got time for this. Jansen explains he had to leave New Thayer, but the family couldn’t afford to move, not all at once. So they rented a cheap, empty apartment that could be his address for the sake of school. And a cheap car that could get him from New Thayer to Milford. Mostly. I’m not sure this actually makes economic sense, but, eh. Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham know what housing prices are like in the Milford/New Thayer metropolitan region, I don’t.
Thorp sidelines Jansen while figuring out whether the kid is eligible to play. The school administrators conclude that he is. Thorp’s still got doubts, admitting that part of it is that Jansen turned out to be a good player. I honestly commend Gil Thorp for being aware of his motivated reasons to let Jansen play. That awareness is one of the ways to support procedural fairness.
Jansen explains that back at New Thayer he fell in with a bad crowd. Started as small stuff, vandalism and petty theft and whatnot. When they started getting into burglary, Jansen bailed on them. They whaled on him, and warned him not to come back to New Thayer. They’re still there. But there’s no way to prove to Thorp that he’d be in danger at New Thayer’s high school.
Except that Joe Bolek, film nut, has the idea of let’s just have Jansen go to his old school and get beat up, on video. And Jansen’s cool with this idea. Well, the plan is that Bolek will interrupt the savage beating before it gets all that savage. And that’s the point the story has reached as of the 24th of November. Jansen’s old gang has come out with battery on their minds, and now they’ve got a film nerd, with a big ol’ video camera set up on a tripod, waving at them.
This is sure to develop exactly as well as Jansen and Bolek could possibly have hoped.
I have seven days to try to condense the plot of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker into a coherent essay. Will I make it? Find out here in seven days, barring surprises.
[ That cryptic alien squiggle thing from that one Doctor Who episode a couple years ago. ]
FBI Surveillance Van #69
. – – .. ..-. ..
Bill Wi The Science Fi
bobby tables privat wifi
Paul Blart, Mall Jeb!
[ something incomprehensible that just feels like it’s probably a Rick and Morty reference but you can’t imagine ever being the sort of person who could possibly work up the energy to figure out whether it is ]
NSA Surveillance Van 420
Reference: Skyscraper: The Search for an American Style, 1891-1941, Roger Shepherd.
Gasoline Alley, as of Saturday, is a century old. If I haven’t overlooked something, it’s the second (American) syndicated newspaper comic strip to reach that age without lapsing into eternal reruns. (The Katzenjammer Kids was first; it started running in 1897, and was still producing new strips once a week until 2006, and we noticed that in 2015.) And I’d like to add my congratulations to it, and to Jim Scancarelli for being the cartoonist there at the milestone. He’s only got to keep at it through 2027 to beat Frank King’s tenure on the strip. (As credited artist and writer, anyway. Scancarelli was assistant to Dick Moores, responsible for the comic from 1956 to 1986.)
There are some more comic strips that, barring surprise, will join the centennial family soon. The next one, if it counts as a comic strip, will be Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Robert Ripley’s panel first appeared the 19th of December, 1918, as a sports-feats panel. It mutated by October 1919 into the general oddball-stuff report that it still is.
The next — and it’s been mentioned this week in Gasoline Alley — should be Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. That comic started the 17th of June, 1919. I don’t know whether Barney Google is planning any centennial events, but they’re missing a chance if they aren’t. Thimble Theatre, known to mortals as Popeye, began the 19th of December, 1919. The strip has only been in production on Sundays since the early 1990s, though. And Popeye took nine years to show up in it.
But to Gasoline Alley … I admit not having childhood memories of the strip. It probably ran in the New York Daily News, so I’d see it occasionally at my grandparents’ house. But I don’t remember the experience. I’ve come to it late in life, when part of my day is just reading lots and lots of comic strips, including the story strips. I’ve also heard the occasional episode of its adaptations to radio. Not enough to understand the series as a radio show. But enough to be driven crazy trying to think where I know that voice from.
It won’t surprise anyone that I like the comic strip. I like comic strips to start with. And Gasoline Alley has this nice, cozy tone. It’s got an old-fashioned style of humor that feels nostalgic to me even when it’s new. That Scancarelli shares the love I have for old-time radio adds a layer of fun as, hey, I recognize he’s tossed in a character from The Mel Blanc Show.
And then I always have a weird reaction to things. I recently read the Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, a 1977 compilation that tried to give some idea of the breadth and scope of American newspaper comics. The editors felt it impossible to show Gasoline Alley fairly by samples of the daily strips, as the stories needed too much context for any reasonable number of dailies to make sense. But it included some Sundays, which — under original artist Frank King, as with today — would be stand-alone panels. And one of them was just … this full-broadsheet-page, twelve-panel piece. The whole page, together, was an aerial view of the neighborhood of Gasoline Alley: houses, streets, parks, businesses. Each panel was just a tiny bit of stuff going on at that spot at this time on this day. And it was beautiful. The composition was magnificent. Each panel made sense, and each panel was magnificently drafted. Houses with well-defined, straight rooflines, streets that lead places, fences that have structure. And each panel fed logically to the next, so the page was as good as a map. And somehow I was angry, that a comic strip could be this beautiful.
It’s not as though we don’t have beautiful comics now. There are magnificently drafted comic strips, Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley quietly among them. The compositional conceit of a strip that’s a vast area seen at one time is hardly gone. Even the specific variant of the vast area being rendered in panels is rare but still done; indeed, I think Frazz has even done it recently in daily panels. No newspaper comic has the space that Frank King had, a century ago, true. I can’t even show you the comic; it’s too large, at the reduced size for book publication, for me to scan, and taking a photograph of the page would leave the thing illegible. And no web comic could achieve that effect of space, except for those people with the six-foot-wide computer monitors. But to be angry to see a beautifully done comic strip? That’s a strange reaction. To have that dominate my thinking as the comic reaches its centennial? That’s even stranger.
Well, may everyone who creates at least once do something that makes someone angry that it was that good.
I hope to help in preparing things for Thanksgiving. I have reason to think I can. I cook most dinners. I don’t do advanced cooking. I mostly use the cooking trick of “warm up a food thing”. Make sure it’s a food thing (very important.) Warming it up is also important. You can try having, say, an un-warmed baked potato. The results are sad to taste, plus then you have a conversation afterwards about how you reached this point in life.
Still, warming is pretty much the one trick I’m good at. Thanksgiving dinners need two or even four tricks. So its cooking is a challenge. The first challenge is getting over my offense that we find recipes on the Internet. The thing is in the early 80s computer magazines would tell us three things. That we should learn BASIC to program computers. That we could use computers to store recipes. That we needed to know what “modem” was short for. This was all nonsense and I’m annoyed we’re letting computers give us recipes. I don’t care if it’s the only way to find out what a blanched tomato might even be. We don’t need to know that much. “Modem” is short for “modulator/demonstrator”.
So I take a recipe and step into action. I check first that it is a recipe for a thing we want to have at or around Thanksgiving. This isn’t my first rodeo. I confirm the ingredients:
1 (one) loaf, adumbrated
2 5/8 cups water (rotational cut)
4 tbsp cream cheese
14-18 crackers, club
two eggs (British-style)
1 can, peas or what have you, 8-12 oz (troy weight)
yellow squash (at least two parts yellow to one part squash)
1 and 7/9th cups scuppered niblicks
some mushrooms of the “usual kynde” (Ref: Chaucer, c 1387)
2/5th cup sugar (mixed white and dark, or as it is known to professional cooks, “chiarosucrose”)
I spread the cream cheese onto the crackers, interrupted by the two crackers that break in half mid-spread. Placing the smaller half on top allows these to become tiny pyramidal cream cheese snacks. It fortifies me for the work of making food. I’m lucky not to need a snack to get the fortification crackers ready. I discard 2/7 cups of water as surplus to requirements.
There’s sure to be a need for some milk product. I look over the cans: evaporated milk. Condensed milk. Sweetened condensed milk. Unsweetened unevaporated milk. Powdered half-and-half. Half-and-unpowdered-half. Instant yoghurt [sic]. Partially assembled yogurt [sic]. Whipping cream. Whipped cream. Lightweight whipped cream. Summer-weight whipping cream. Pitted milk. Unpitted milk. De-unpitted milk. Re-pitted milk. Lots of pulp milk. Pitied milk. I take out a can of cheese soup stock and pretend to be dusting the cabinet shelf when challenged.
Anticipating a serving-spoon shortage I select some spoons, “fiiyne and trew” (Ref: Pepys, 1667), and set them in a secure spot, thereby causing the shortage.
Preheating the oven to 395 I start telling anyone who’ll listen of how I replaced the heating element in the old electric oven. The only one willing to listen is the new electric oven. I trust this story rallies it to new heights of oven skills, as like four months after I put the new element in we got rid of the old oven. Well, we had a new one. So with the old we looked through Craigslist. We found someone named Craig who wasn’t going to check their lawn any too often to see if someone abandoned an electric oven there. It has a good home now with a Craig who’s entertaining fantasies about some home-based food-making service, so far as we know.
There are instructions on one of the recipe pages printed out about fluting a pie. This is a prank and I pay it no attention.
I open the carton of bread crumbs. It’s a cherished carton, handed down in the family for decades now. The box’s design betrays its age. The lettering is in that check-numbers typeface they used for future-y stuff in computer magazines of the early 80s. Its UPC number is 4. I take a clean handful of crumbs and rub them against the loaf until the crumbs, themselves dryer than my hands if such a thing is possible, crumble. The cloud of bread crumb crumbles spreads in a vaporous movement off the counter. It settles on the floor, where it becomes a patch of the tile that never feels comfortable to walk on again, even in socks.
I set the microwave timer to 1:99, and switch it to 20 percent power, before turning it off.
The butter needs clarifying, as far as we know. We’ve been getting these “butter rolls” from the hipster farmer’s market. They’re cylinders about four inches in diameter and upwards up twenty feet long. I begin the clarification process by connecting it to our lie detector. It’s actually the old iPod Nano, with a broken pair of earbuds used as the sensors. Don’t tell it. We discuss its past and whether it feels any trauma from having once been milk. And then its feelings on converting from milk to butter. What is it to endure the process the dairy industry professionals know as milk-into-butter-converterization-processificationizing? We can only hope to know. Its alibi checks out and it is released from custody.
In a moment of whelming curiosity I look up what it is to “parbroil” a thing. It is to boil a food until it is partially cooked. This makes me rant about how “part boiled” is exactly the joke I would make about what it means. And it’s irresponsible of actual food-related people to pull a stunt like that. I start to ask whether it is a “pound” cake because of the many steps in which one punches the cake. Furthermore, I show with logic everyone agrees to be supremely correct and right and everyone else was wronggity wrong wrong wrong that the word “demonstrator” must imply the existence of a word “monstrator” which would be an explanation which makes the workings of a thing completely obscure.
Thing is there’s this recorded one tropical storm in a February between 1851 and 2015 and now I want to know its deal. Like, I’m picturing the storm getting itself all organized and put together with an eye and everything, and it comes storming its way towards the Caribbean or something, and all these islands just turn and look at it and want to know, “Srsly?”
Yeah, there’s only one tropical storm on record for April, too, but that I can understand as a May storm that came early. You know how it is, you start organizing some project and then it comes together sooner than you figured. At least I’m told that happens sometime. But February just doesn’t make sense. The heck, you know?
The big flu of 1957 was an outbreak of Influenza A subtype H2N2, a pandemic less severe than that of 1918 (but what wasn’t?). It wsa popularly referred to as the Asian Flu. I know it mostly from a Peanuts strip in 1958 where Charlie Brown suspects he’s coming down with it, and Lucy mocks him for getting the flu six months late. Smiley Burnette was one of those prolific singer-songwriters who’d get to play the sidekick to your Roy Rogers-class performer. So that’s some things you would be expected to know for this episode, which first aired the 22nd of September, 1957.
And here’s the rundown:
Opening Music. Once again no cold opening.
Opening Comments. Stan Freberg is getting over the “Swiss Flu”, so as not to offend anyone.
College Football Report. Report from the BearcatPantherTigers. Stan Freberg is doing a pretty sharp impersonation of Colgate Sports Newsreel reporter Bill Stern. The setup is easy, a long buildup to a question to which the athlete gives one- and two-word answers.
Peggy Taylor gives Stan Freberg the pretext to sing Hoagy Carmichael’s “Monkey Song”. They can’t all be “Stardust”.
How an Agent Operates. Foster Pelt, agent to 64 dogs. He gets them character parts a lot: derelicts, good-natured slobs, friend of the leading child. There’s a constrained structure here, where Pelt negates any joke that Freberg might advance. That’s okay as long as it’s building to something, like the dog that plays jazz trombone. But it does also have a tone like Pelt is trying to negate the sketch.
Question from the Audience. A guy doesn’t believe in the show so far.
Peggy Taylor singing “Famous Last Words”.
Composite Preview of TV Westerns for the Fall. “Bang Gunly, US Marshall Fields” which (as usual) catches the sounds and tones and pacing of its primary source precisely. The actual radio Gunsmoke wasn’t quite so leisurely, but did run that way. It didn’t spend quite this much time establishing plot points either, but it could feel like that. The in-show sketch for “Puffed Grass” riffs on ads for Quaker Puffed Wheat (“the breakfast cereal shot from guns”) commercials. The relentless establishment of the fact the fence was cut evokes the throwaway joke at the start of St George and the Dragonet, about that 45 automatic being checked by the lab and learning that, yes, it was a gun. The close, a quick exchange with Pedro, riffs on the comic sidekick Pancho of the Cisco Kid. He’d close each episode with a corny gag. Gunsmoke was a grown-up western; Cisco Kid a kids’ one. So it is a tonal non sequitur that he should show up here.
Closing Remarks. Freberg encourages people to write for tickets and asks for something for cold, even if it’s just Dr Christian. Dr Christian was a long-running doctor’s-office-based light drama, the small-town doctor helping quarreling lovers reconcile and wayward youths straighten out, that sort of thing.
I last checked in on Spidey at a big moment in his team-up with Iron Fist. They, with Colleen Wing and heel-turned-face Suwan have tracked The Kingpin and Golden Claw to the Mammon Theatre. Kingpin and Golden Claw are using the closed-for-repairs theatre for a crime summit. Kingpin and Golden Claw explained to New York City’s mob bosses that they were taking over everybody’s rackets. The New York City mob replied with enthusiastic bullets.
Spidey and Iron Fist are calm, though. The Kingpin and Golden Claw speaking before the crime summit were holograms, just like Spidey and Irony totally figured out. But then a gas canister drops from the ceiling. Spidey swings out to grab it, since there’s no way to guess whether it’s knockout or poison gas. That’s all right. Every crime boss in New York City is happy to start shooting at Spidey, canister in hand, even though they could draw the same conclusion. Luckily none of them can draw a bead, so Spidey is able to get backstage with the gas.
There’s a bit of a battle royale as crime bosses race Spider-Man and Iron Fist. But Iron Fist can do that thing where if a superhero punches the ground it knocks out people who are just standing on it. So he punches the ground and it knocks out people who are just standing on it. Not all the crime bosses, but that’s all right: the cops are here. Iron Fist, in his secret identity as billionaire rich man Danny Rand totally called them earlier. So there was always a cavalry on the way and he just didn’t have the chance to mention it before.
Our Heroes infer that Kingpin and Golden Claw have to still be in the area. It would take too much energy to create realistic holograms if they weren’t nearby. That’s totally a logical reason the Kingpin and Golden Claw have to be in a helicopter taking off from atop the Mammon Theatre right now.
Let me pause. I know I’m sounding snarky here. A bit of me is. The story logic is not airtight. But understand: I’m enjoying it. The Amazing Spider-Man has this airy, cheerful, upbeat tone. I’ll go along with “They’re not really here, they’re holograms! Also they’re really here!” when I’m having fun. In this I am like everybody. I grant if you feel this story’s gone on too long for the plot points established then you’re not going to be won over by the reasoning that has Spider-Man and Iron Fist jumping onto a helicopter trying to flee Broadway. That’s fine. It’s good news for the oatmeal shortage.
So. Spidey and Irony punch the getaway helicopter. The good news: this does stop the helicopter. The bad news: the helicopter was in flight. Fortunately, Spider-Man’s overcome a temporary jam in his web shooter and is able to make an emergency parachute out of his webbing. I didn’t know that was a thing, and Spider-Man admits it’s been so long since he did that he didn’t know if he could anymore. Anyway, the empty helicopter crashes into the theatre.
Spider-Man and Iron Fist land in a construction site. It’s also where the Kingpin and Golden Claw have landed. The villains had emergency escape jet packs in the helicopter because of course they have. Why wouldn’t you? It’s just good sense.
So, the fight. It’s a tough one. The Kingpin has been studying Spider-Man’s methods ever since they last fought. He’s ready for anything Spidey can throw at him. Mostly it’s punches. No webs, which seems like an oversight to me. Meanwhile Golden Claw was figuring Iron Fist would eventually punch him, so he’s wearing a metal talon that’s got full anti-punch powers.
The fight is a stalemate. Spidey and Irony can only hope to hold out until Kickpuncher can arrive. Spidey and Irony figure, hey, why not try punching the other guy’s villain? And that works out great. The Kingpin might be ready for Spider-Man’s punches, but for Iron Fist’s punches? Not nearly. Meanwhile Golden Claw might be ready to deal with Iron Fist’s punches, but when Spider-Man tries kicking? Ta-da. And you thought I was putting up a cheap Kickpuncher reference there.
Our villains are resoundingly punched and kicked. Also turned over to the cops. Spider-Man and Iron Fist go off for a little chat. Spider-Man wants to make good on earlier in the story, when he didn’t reciprocate Iron Fist’s revelation of his secret identity. But Iron Fist isn’t having it. He’s been thinking about it, and realized he was being presumptuous earlier. If he, billionaire Danny Rand, had his secret identity leaked he could still protect himself and loved ones. Spidey? Not likely. So, you know, cool. Anyway, if Spider-Man needs him he’ll be at the Rand Tower and totally answering his phone and not evading Spider-Man to go on weirdly nonspecific missions, like usually happens when Spidey needs the help of the X-Men or the Avengers or the Fantastic Four or somebody.
Incidentally, Spider-Man as he tries to unmask mentions that it’s Halloween. This is part of the weird flow of time in the newspaper Spider-Man universe. All this action since September, our time, has taken place over the same day. It could easily be under an hour of time. The strip does this sort of compression of time, naturally. But it will also sometimes throw in a reference to the date of publication. I don’t think there were any other specific days mentioned this storyline. But it would be plausible for one in-strip day to be mentioned as being, like, Labor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving at different parts of the story. Not sure why the comic strip wants to draw attention to the weirdness of time like that. I suppose the writers figure, you know, we readers should relax.
Anyway, Spider-Man looks on in dismay at the destruction of the Mammon Theatre. This was where Mary Jane Parker had been performing. No telling how long that’ll be closed now. Mary Jane’s accepting of it: now her publicity tour, which took her to Las Vegas (with Rocket Raccoon) and Los Angeles (with Melvin, King of the Mole Men) and Miami (with the Incredible Hulk), can end and she can go home.
J Jonah Jameson’s home too, as of the 10th of November. Which I’m calling the start of the new story.
The new story: Jameson is figuring to find and expose Spider-Man once and for all etc etc. But he’s got a new plan this time. He’s hired Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, to find and expose Spider-Man etc etc. After breaking down managing editor Robbie Robertson, though, Cage has bad news: he’s nota hero for hire anymore. If Jameson proves he’s a crook, Cage will haul him in. But he won’t do it for money. He’s just in it for smashing in newspaper managing editors’ doors. Well, that’s relatable. And that’s what’s happening as of today.
They had Wayne and Garth impersonators at the thing?
The 90s, huh?
All right but how can Wayne’s World be part of a whole Kings’ Dominion? Are we to believe the dominion encompasses more than a single world? Given the difficulties in establishing a functioning imperial bureaucracy over even a single planet?
Is this a bit?
OK, but the “Mid-No-Way” is worth a chuckle at least the first time you hear it.
Reference: Functional Analysis: A Short Course, Edward W Packel.