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. 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.
So Australia’s looking like they’re committed to not asking me to prime ministrate for them. Fine, all right. It’s time for some long-term planning. If you don’t agree it’s time for that, come back in ten minutes and see if it’s time then. If that still doesn’t work, come back in 1,425 years and then we’ll see who’s saying what. No, that’s not me tricking you into long-term planning. I’m thinking of something that’s really long term. Like, longer even than 1,430 years.
If we keep looking forward we find the Sun’s going to keep shining. This just makes sense. The costs of constructing the Sun have been nearly completely amortized. Replacing it with something else that would provide the same services would be fiscally irresponsible. Just complying with the changes in zoning regulations would make the whole project economically dubious. If you disagree I can put you in touch with the Comptroller, but do be warned, he’s a hugger.
The thing about the Sun shining that’s relevant here is that it puts out all sorts of light. A bit of it presses down on our ground. The rest goes off somewhere, we don’t know where. It’s probably harmless. But while light doesn’t have mass, it does carry momentum, as it had the idea that this would make it more popular in middle school. This worked as well as every plan to be more popular in middle school. Nevertheless, when light hits the surface of the Earth, it delivers this momentum, pushing down on the planet just like tennis balls hitting the ground would, only without the benefit of line judges.
Imagine the Earth were made of Play-Doh. This is a simplification for the purpose of planning. It’s really made of a Silly Putty alloy. Nevertheless, if you take a gob of Play-Doh out of its can you’ll quickly get distracted by that weird not-exactly-polymer smell. Push past that, though. Roll the thing into a ball and set it on a table. It doesn’t stay round forever. The pull of gravity will spread it out. This takes time, but that’s all right. You can let this run for billions of years, if that’s what it takes. You don’t have plans that far out, even though you somehow don’t have the time to do anything either.
The Earth isn’t just sitting on a table, which is a relief, since it would probably leave a stain on the tablecloth. But the pressure of that sunlight has a similar effect, except for going the opposite way. As the sunlight presses on the Earth, the planet’s also rotating, which implies we’ll eventually have the planet rolled out into a long and skinny pole, several inches wide and unspeakably long. It’s astounding enough to think of it twirling around the solar system like an enormous baton. But imagine the size of the matching cheerleaders and marching band. All Jupiter would barely be enough material to make the tuba.
What can we expect for life on this Pole World to be like? The obvious supposition is that it will serve very well the descendants of modern large cities. People who’ve gotten very used to standing on crowded buses and subway cars would be great at clinging to a pole for stability. This is too facile an analysis. It overlooks that, obviously, subway service will have stopped long before the Earth becomes a rod only a couple inches across. Bus service can continue a bit longer after subways become impossible, of course. But even that will have to end no later than when the Earth is a cylinder at most ten feet in diameter.
Without subway or bus service most large-city commuting will be impossible. This will require a major restructuring of the economy. But given how much demand there’s likely to be for hooks or straps that could catch onto the Pole World, for stability, this restructuring was probably going to happen anyway.
It’ll also be tough for burrowing animals. But they’ll evolve adjustments to these changes gradually. This means we will most likely not get a great moment where a groundhog shuffles off, confident it’s going to get away from whatever is annoying it, and starts digging, and then accidentally pops out the other side of the planet and looks stymied and confused. Reality does have a way of spoiling the cool stuff like that. But animals that cling to branches or vines seem set to do well. Two- and three-toed sloths may find the geography extremely comfortable except when someone’s trying to pass.
But who really knows? As the city-dwellers example shows, the full reality of something can have weird and counter-intuitive results. This is why it is so hard to predict the distant future. Well, we can check back in a couple dozen gabillion years and see how it’s all turned out.
It turns out that my love and I both happened to be at the same Meijer’s, the one at the far side of town that we don’t go to except for weird reasons. We were both there picking up a couple pharmacy items. We both left and drove the same path home. While doing so, we both listened to the same episode of the same dear-Lord-the-Simpsons-is-awful-anymore podcast. Along the way, we both got caught by the podcast hosts mentioning the same trivia about Homer Simpson established this episode. We both arrived home within a minute of each other. Now: could I prove, to the satisfaction of a court of law, that we were not there together? That it just so happened we both were doing the same thing two times over? No, and I don’t know how to even start, in case I should need to. I’m asking if someone out there will cover for us, just in case it comes up. Thanks.