So, on to something I noticed while looking at pictures of the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Vox Sola”, and don’t go asking why I’m looking at screen grabs from Star Trek: Enterprise episodes.
Look, I just need to do things like that, because if I didn’t, how would I find pictures like this? Exactly. I’d have to wait for someone else to find the pictures for me and that’s just inefficient. Let me have this. And by letting me have this, I mean letting you have this from me. So here it is:
“And that, Captain, is why we have a regulation against leaving ship without the giant box of Kleenex.”
Have a better thought for this? I’m not surprised, and please, take some space here to fill it in:
Thank you! Yes, I see the risque jokes too.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index rose seven points today but nobody was able to feel good about it. You know why? They started thinking about the other timeline, you know, the good one. You know what’s going on there? Over there leading Republicans are already calling her “King Hitlery” and demanding Clinton and Obama be impeached. And you know why? It’s because of this refugee Libyan orphan who sang at Clinton’s inauguration ball and did this rendition of “America The Beautiful” so haunting that the whole world was reduced to this blubbering mass of joy. Like, for a week-plus the whole Internet was happier than it’s been since Pokemon Go came out and everybody felt so good about that. It broke V-E day’s record for strangers hugging each other in public. And now there’s a bunch of unfounded — and, a 20-month investigation will concede, after the midterm elections, utterly false — allegations that the singer got preferential admission just so that she could sing at the inaugural ball. And it’s the start of taking this wonderful transcendant moment and dragging it into mud. And they’re dealing with that over in the good timeline and can’t believe how they can’t have nice things, and look where we are now, and when you look at that what does trading volume on the Another Blog, Meanwhile index even matter?
I know, I bet you all thought I was going to go from The Amazing Spider-Man over to The Phantom, as that’s the other newspaper-syndicated superhero comic strip. I admit I’m not sure when’s the last time I saw Alley Oop in a newspaper. It might have been decades ago at my grandparent’s house, when I also saw The Amazing Spider-Man there on the cover of the New York Daily News comics section and nowhere else. (People with records of the Daily News comics page offerings, please write in to let me know if that’s possible!) Big deal. It certainly used to run in newspapers, and for all I know it still does. It looks like one. Plus it’s easier to explain than The Phantom and I had a week far to distracted to deal with complicated strips.
So, Alley Oop started in 1932 by V T Hamlin as essentially a sitcom/adventure strip. It was about Alley Oop and his prehistoric land of Moo. He’d do caveman-type stuff, like adopting a pet dinosaur Dinny and being alternately indispensable to or on the run from Moo’s King Guz. Sometimes they’d be in the sort of low-scale war with Tunk’s neighboring kingdom of Lem that you got in those days when the world had maybe twenty people in it. Hey, caveman comics and cartoons were a viable thing back then, and if the whole genre’s been taken over by The Flintstones that’s not the fault of the properties working a generation before them.
And surely Alley Oop would have gone wherever rambling story comics go if not for a 1939 tale (recently reprinted by Dark Horse, so you can read it in book form). In that, the brilliant 20th-century scientist Dr Elbert Wonmug, testing out his time machine, plucked Alley Oop into the present day and suddenly the strip had that touch of madness that allows for greatness. A mildly humorous adventure strip about cavemen is fine enough. But a mildly humorous adventure strip about time-travelling cavemen? That’s brilliant. I don’t know how the thing has resisted adaptation into a goofy 70s live-action show or a modern movie.
So it’ll say something about the strip that the 20th, now 21st, century scientist is Dr Elbert Wonmug. Do you get it? Because I had been reading the strip reasonably faithfully for like six years before someone, I think an essay at the front of a collection, explained it to me. How would you translate won (one) mug into German?
I mention that not for it being the record-holder in me only belatedly getting the joke, as it’s not. There’s a Far Side cartoon that holds that record at something like 15 years before I got it. I mention it to calibrate the sort of humor the strip has. It’s never a thoroughly serious comic, and a lot of silly business does go on, especially slapstick. But it’s not primarily a joke strip. If something’s funny it’s because there’s an absurd situation, such as (last year) Guz deciding that the fantastically unqualified Alley Oop should be the kingdom’s doctor. Alley Oop didn’t do very well. But I think that’s because the whole storyline was (in-universe) done in a couple of days, and nobody’s at their best their first week on the job. He’s pretty good at picking up stuff; anyone who can go from primitive Moo to 1939 Long Island with only a few missteps has got solid resources.
The current storyline started around October of 2016. (There wasn’t a clean break from the previous story, a common feature of Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s writing.) And it’s built on a premise designed to shake seven-year-old me out of watching In Search Of and reading the paranormal-events section of The People’s Almanac 2. Aliens have come to invade Moo.
Oh, they didn’t talk about invading at first. Volzon, of the planet Jantulle, spent some time showing off his superior technology and negging on Alley Oop’s sensor readings. Volzon then declared ancient Earth to be just about perfect for their needs: the Jantulle population’s exploding and their plant-frog-men need colonies. Earth will do nicely. Alley Oop pointed out that their superior technology was no match for his big stick. And it must be said, he’s quite good with sticks. And punching. Alley Oop does pretty well satisfying the gap left by Popeye not really being a comic strip anymore. And then Volzon went and spoiled things by whipping out his mind-control device. That’s about where things stand just now.
Of course the Jantulle invasion is going to be foiled. For one, comic strips like this just don’t end in aliens conquering Earth. Not permanently, anyway. For another, we know that since Earth isn’t a colony world of alien plant-frog-men the invasion does come to nought. And it’ll be up to Alley Oop and his team to do something about that. The comic strip, as best I can determine, doesn’t try to pull any nonsense about time travel resulting in alterante timelines or histories or anything like that. There’s the history of how things worked out, and it works out that way because the protagonists of our stories did something about it.
For a premise that’s got time travel baked into it there’s refreshingly little talk about paradoxes, or fixing up a solution by planting the stuff you needed to escape it afterwards. It’s rather like (most of) the old-school Doctor Who serials that way. The time travel is a way of getting to interesting settings. Mostly, of late, they’ve been ancient Moo, or the present day. There was recently a curious story where Alley Oop and his partner Oola travelled to 1941 and left a message with then-contemporary Dr Wonmug. This didn’t threaten the stability of the spacetime continuum or threaten paradoxes or anything; it’s just, history worked out like that.
And yeah, somehow, 1941 Wonmug wasn’t impossibly young nor 2016 Wonmug impossibly old. All the characters are holding at about the same age and if you don’t want to accept that maybe you should read some other comic strip about time-travelling cavemen and their dinosaurs.
Oh yeah, the dinosaurs. Dinosaurs and cavemen never lived together, never even got close to together. To my delight the comic strip acknowledged this back in 1939 or 1940, when Hamlin was discovering he had a new premise taking over his comic. They explained how there could possibly be dinosaurs in Moo: they don’t know. Obviously things are more complicated than they realize. So far as I’m aware Hamlin and his successors writing the strip haven’t gone back and filled in some explanation for how this impossibility came about. It’s just part of how this fictional world works. I’m honestly impressed that they resist filling in some explanation. You could come up with any number of explanations that work as long as nobody thinks through their implications. “We don’t know; the world is more complicated than we realize,” though? That’s irrefutable. And it’s even what an actual scientist would say to an unanswerable mystery like that. (Oh, they’d work up hypotheses and start testing, yes, but it would start from an acknowledged ignorance.)
A last note. I’d mentioned with The Amazing Spider-Man the problem story strips have with Sundays. All the soap opera comics adopted a Sundays-as-recap-days policy. The Sunday strip would repeat the action of the Monday through Saturday preceding, a mercy for people who get only the Sunday comics but killing the pacing. Amazing Spider-Man just barrels through Sundays as though nothing weird were going on and trusts people to fill in the blanks. Alley Oop works closer to the soap opera model. Sunday strips largely recapitulate what happened the previous week, but in a clipped, notes-for-class version. The daily strips have more texture, more of the fun little asides filling in plot points. If you were to adapt Alley Oop to another medium, you’d use the Sunday strips to guide the plot and the daily strips to write the scenes.
And the Sunday strips don’t recap the previous Monday-to-Saturday. They recap, roughly, the previous Tuesday to the coming Tuesday. That is, the Sunday strip tells you what’s going to happen the coming Monday and Tuesday. (More or less.) Of course a comic strip about time travelling cavemen would be a little out of synch with the weeks. That just makes sense, surely.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index dropped five points overnight. No one really knows why but the leading hypothesis is that it’s related to the neap tides because everybody agrees “neap tides” are the best tides. Neap.
Source: The C E Hooper Radio Survey of the 2nd of June, 1939.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose sharply as everyone took the what-the-full-moon-reveals-about-you test and more people came out “were-dragon” than even they had secretly hoped. Even Mopey Pete who figured he couldn’t hope to do better than were-hyena and would have been okay with that came out were-sea-serpent and yes, that ranks below were-dragon but it’s still pretty cool, especially if it comes with a bay or major lake to were- in.
OK, first, more comic strips over on my mathematics blog, because darned it I am not going to let a 1959 installment of Hi and Lois toss in a bit of calculus without explaining just what is meant by it. I hope you enjoy because there’s not going to be another of those comic strip explanation posts until Saturday.
Otherwise, I was reading the Comics Curmudgeon blog. The advertising server suggested a couple books. They came out as:
A book of Slylock Fox mystery puzzles.
A book of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith comics.
A book of Slylock Fox “brain bogglers” which are different from mystery puzzles in six ways and can you find them all?
A book titled A Do-It-Yourself Submachine Gun.
I have some snarky views about Tom Batiuk and, separately, the comic strip Luann. But I think a submachine gun is the wrong way to handle them. They should be handled in the traditional way of making YouTube videos in which the dialogue from the comics is read aloud by people who inflect the lines in the most uncharitable ways.
Still, I guess at least they made an advertising impression, which is a triumph in this day and age.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index was rising when someone came up from the basement and announced they’d found their copy of Ian Shoales’s Not Wet Yet and now everybody’s busy reading their favorite bits, like the essay about how Dracula is the perfect movie because it has stuff for guys (procedures, tools, men off to complete a task) and women (seedy romantic decadence, ancient mansions, food preparation). Also the essay on Elvitude.
I’d like to talk about craft hobbies. It’s not much, but it’s the best idea I had this week. These come in a couple of varieties. One of the most satisfying is the hobby of joining things to other things. This is a particularly fun thing to do since when you’re done you have fewer things around. This saves valuable inventory space in your home, car, office, or bag-of-holding. It may make the joined object more unwieldy, but who pays attention to wieldiness? With everything that’s going on in the world these days? Wieldiness of household items can’t possibly rank below the loss of confidence that the Price Is Right producers could cheat contestants by changing the “actual retail price” of prizes whenever those things are shown on a computer monitor rather than revealed by sliding away a panel to show a fixed sign. So somewhere in the fourth dozen of things to worry about.
You can make a craft by taking two or more things and affixing them to one another. Or prefix them, if you like, as long as you’ve taken care to get the order of them correct. You could suffix them too, if you dare. It all depends on the level of confidence you have in your fixing abilities. So I’m still on the “affix” level. I have hopes of prefixing something, someday, but I know I’m all talk on this issue. The things I might prefix other things to know it, also.
There are many ways to join things together. You can use glue, for example. Or epoxy. It’s hard for the newcomer to understand the differences between glue and epoxy. Fan web sites won’t clear things up at all because adhesive-substance fans want you to know that you don’t appreciate adhesion correctly. The important difference is that glue won’t finish setting until you’ve accidentally broken the thing apart testing to see if the glue has set. Meanwhile, epoxy will set before you’ve managed to fit together the things you wanted to stick together. Evaluate which would better serve your object-adhesion needs, and then use whatever you had already anyway.
If adhesive semi-fluid goos aren’t your thing I don’t know that we can still be friends. I’ll try to overlook it. We have bigger problems right now. Anyway, you can make things adhere to one another by other techniques. You could use nails. The big advantage of nails is that you get to take the thing you’re dealing with and drive a thin shard of metal into it while hitting it repeatedly with a separate heavy chunk of lever-mounted metal. OK, I’m starting to see why someone might turn away from adhesive semi-fluid goos. The drawback of nails is that if you handle the thing enough the nails will slip loose and some chunk of your craft project will fall down and I just bet it’s onto your toe. If this hasn’t happened, try handling your project some more. Wear shoes, if you have shoes that aren’t horrible mistakes.
A screw is a good way to affix something to another thing in a way that it won’t come loose. This is because the screw has the mechanical advantage that … uhm … and the thing with the threads … something … friction for the thingy. But you have to get the screw into the thing somehow. This is a good excuse to apply a power tool to your project. If you haven’t got a power tool, this could be the excuse you need to get a power tool. Probably a screwdriver. The power tool gives you the chance to press the power button and hear the thing whirring around some. This can be so soothing you don’t even need the tranquility of completing a project.
You might want your thing painted. You can paint it before affixing things together, or after, or both. If you paint before affixing things together this will keep the glue or whatever from working quite right. If you paint after affixing then there’ll be little cracks and crevices that never get painted to look right. If you do both, then you can have the flaws of both in your project. Choose the aggravating and unavoidable flaws that work for your neuroses.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index rose another six points over the course of the day, but it doesn’t trust any of those points. “How can we believe that’s structurally stable, anyway?” asked the index. It’s a good question. We have no answer.
It was your typical sort of dream, by which I mean typical for me. One of those long, rambling, confusing dreams shuffling back and forth between offices as cramped and overstuffed as a used book store’s aisles are. I was doing the best I could to help a friend interview for a job he wasn’t actually qualified for but could probably get up to speed on fast enough that people wouldn’t catch on. The way all of us do.
But dragging me down was one of the people with an actual job there, who kept demanding I explain how it was Ogden Nash wrote such a fantastic book explaining nuclear fusion. And to be fair it did look like a great book. Even in the ancient, falling-apart copy they had, all the illustrations were still animating very well. Had to agree the publisher had a lot of confidence to publish a book quite that lavish. She wanted to know when Ogden Nash was going to publish another science book and I had to say, I was pretty sure he had died. Even found in the preface that the book hadn’t been quite finished as Nash died just after turning in the first draft in December 1956. I felt like a bit of a heel dashing her hopes for a follow-up book on brane theory. In the non-dream worlds, Nash died in May 1971, so my powers to accurately pluck dates out of nowhere seem not to extend to writers of amusing verse.
I have no evidence that Ogden Nash wrote any science popularizations of note.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index woke today to find it was the close of trading and it was seven points higher than it was that time yesterday. It has no explanation for this mystery.
So given that the International House of Pancakes we went to over the weekend saw these phenomena:
They were “out” of crepes, a thing made on-demand from eggs, milk, and butter.
They could not split a check between three people at the table because, the server told us, that old policy made it too easy for dine-and-dashers.
According to the sign at the register they no longer sold gift cards by credit or debit card but by cash only.
The server asked us for advice on where in the area to buy a new SD card for his phone because apparently he took it in for servicing and they swiped his old bigger card for a smaller one.
The server also talked to us a bit about how his phone’s news app normally required him to log in to stream any programs but for the inauguration it didn’t.
Another sign at the register asked for comments to be sent to an address at Yahoo that had number in the user name.
So check me on this: there’s, like, at most a four percent chance we were at a legitimate IHOP and we were really at some weirdly elaborate counterfeit, right?
In short: always go to pancake places late nights on the weekends. You’re missing something otherwise.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index stayed level through most of the day of trading until someone pointed out this would make it look like they weren’t doing anything. “Well,” said someone, “why don’t we raise it by three points?” This was reduced to two points in committee. The someone was Louis, who’s been taking the blame for breaking the George Foreman grill last week.
Let me preface this by pointing out my mathematics blog, where yesterday I did another of those comic strip reviews. Last week saw more jokes about anthropomorphized numerals than usual, although in fairness, the usual is probably “one, at most”. So it doesn’t take all that many to be more than usual. Two is all you need. I hope you aren’t disappointed by this. It’s just how the numerals worked out.
Anyway. The recent Mark Trail story has finally ended. Mark escaped Explosion Island with his friends intact. All the invasive-species ants that made it to Explosion Island were burned alive by lava, except for the three pregnant queens Mark that snuck into Mark’s pants cuff and that have now set up in the Lost Forest. So it’s a good ending for everybody except for Explosion Island’s now-extinct varieties of hog, brightly-colored birds, and Polynesian Tortoise Or Whatever. Mark’s editor couldn’t believe that he managed to blow up Explosion Island, but that’s all right, because exploding islands make for interesting stories too. And then Saturday we got this:
I don’t want to understate the danger here, gang. Mark Trail is being all self-aware. The world is in serious danger of ending right here and now, in an explosion of lava and invasive ants. Please take whatever actions are appropriate to this sort of thing, whatever those are.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
Trading in the Another Blog, Meanwhile index reached as high as 108 before this whole Mark Trail Self-Awareness thing came to everyone’s attention. The index dropped briefly below 100 before traders started to rationalize how there’ve been moments in the past when the comic strip seemed self-aware or at least to be a little gently self-mocking. They rallied after that, so the day closed up two points, but everybody still feels a bit uneasy about it all. I don’t blame them.
Sunday has always been a problem for story comics. Sunday newspapers reliably sell more copies, and to a slightly different audience, than the Monday-to-Saturday papers. So how to tell a story when part of the audience gets one strip a week, another part misses one strip a week, and another part gets all seven strips a week? All the soap opera strips make Sundays a recapping of the previous week’s activities. It’s death to pacing; not much can happen on the weekdays so that it can all happen again on Sunday. Gil Thorp doesn’t run Sundays at all. Mark Trail runs a story-unrelated, informational, piece on Sundays. The other adventure strips … have other approaches. Here’s one.
The Amazing Spider-Man
I came to know The Amazing Spider-Man like many in my age cohort did, through the kids’ educational show The Electric Company. In segments on this Spidey battled delightfully absurd villains while staying mute. The show was about teaching reading skills; Spidey’s dialogue was sentences written in word balloons superimposed on the action. In keeping with the show’s tone the villains would be things like an ambulatory chunk of the Shea Stadium wall. Who beat Spidey, soundly. I’ve liked comic books, but somehow never got the bug to collect any normal books like Spider-Man or Superman or anything like that. (But I was the guy to collect the Marvel New Universe line, which, trust me, is a very funny sad thing of me to do.) So that formed my main impression of Spider-Man: a genial sort of superhero who nevertheless can’t outwit a wall.
(Yes yes yes the Wall was a little more complicated than a piece of baseball park wall just do we really need to argue this one? I put up a link to a YouTube copy of the sketch that I’m sure is perfectly legitimate.)
The newspaper Amazing Spider-Man comic strip started the 3rd of January, 1977. It’s credited to Stan Lee for the writing, with the daily strips pencilled by Larry Lieber and inked by Alex Saviuk. The Sunday strips are pencilled by Alex Saviuk and inked by Joe Sinnott, a division of labor that I trust makes sense to someone. The strip is its own little side continuity. It’s separate from, but influenced by, the mainstream Marvel universe. The result is some strange stuff because, even over the course of four decades, they haven’t had a lot of time to have stuff happen. Last year saw Spider-Man meeting Doctor Strange and the current Ant-Man for the first time. I don’t regularly follow Marvel Comics. But I imagine in them Spider-Man and Doctor Strange and Ant-Man spend so much time hanging out with each other they’re a bit sick of the company.
Story strips have a challenge in that the first panel has to give some hint where the story is. Amazing Spider-Man handles that like you’d expect. A lot of captions, which fits the 60s-comics origins of the character, and characters explaining the situation to each other. The problem of Sunday strips? Amazing Spider-Man just lets Sundays happen. The story progresses on Sunday at about the same speed it does the rest of the week. Monday strips often include a little more narrative incluing than, oh, Thursday’s would. But the comic trusts that if you miss the Sunday, fine, you can catch up. Or if you only see the Sundays, you can work out what probably went on during the week.
However much that is. A superhero-action comic has some advantages over, say, a soap opera strip. The soap has to clue in who’s who and why they’re tense about each other. A superhero comic can get away with tagging who’s the villain and letting characters punch each other. Amazing Spider-Man doesn’t do quite as much punching as you’d think. Well, all-action is boring too.
And a lot of what’s appealing about Spider-Man as a character is not the action. It’s that life keeps piddling on him. There’s something wonderful and noble in Peter Parker’s insistence on carrying on trying to save a city that doesn’t like him. So every story invites putting him through petty indignities of life. Another lot of what’s appealing about Spider-Man is that he’s not fully sure he wants to do this. He’d like to just skip it all, if he could. Or at least take a break. Who wouldn’t?
Thing is, the newspaper strip overdoes these. Maybe it’s hard to balance the comedy and self-doubts with the action. Maybe the strip has given in, at least partly, to its ironic or snarky readership. The occasional time I read a Marvel Universe comic book with Spider-Man he’s a bit of a sad sack, but not so much more than anyone with an exciting but underpaying job is. In the newspaper comic … well, it’s funny to have Spidey call up the Fantastic Four or the Avengers or Iron-Man for help on a problem that really does rate their assistance only to be told, ah, no, sorry, we’re helping someone move that day. It’s a good joke that he happened to pick the day that Iron-Man has to be out of the country. But there’s also something pathetic about it, especially when that isn’t the first time other superheroes ditch him on suspiciously vague pretexts.
It’s understandable that Peter Parker, freelance news photographer, would feel insecure about his job especially when Mary Jane Parker is a successful Broadway and minor movie actor. But with two or three panels a day to spend on character he can’t get into much depth. He comes across as whiny instead.
It’s reasonable that Peter Parker would get tired of what is, objectively, a pastime that’s physically and mentally brutal. Or that would be if the strip didn’t pull out a figure named Clown-9 who wants to be the … most hilarious … clown … that ever broke into a … Broadway show? It was a little weird. I liked that one more than many commenters I noticed did. But when I do read superhero comics, I like them broad and goofy in that Silver Age style. But how much emotional recuperation do you need from a guy whose menace is a more-powerful-than-usual water pistol, a duck-headed car, and a loud siren attached to his nose? You come out looking dopey.
Also, Spider-Man gets hit on the head. A lot. There’ve been multiple storylines in which he gets clonked by a brick. If it’s not a misplaced love of Krazy Kat then maybe it’s a riff on the attacking wall of Shea Stadium. It’s easier to understand Spidey’s tendency to nod off if you remember how many blunt head traumas he endures.
It’s all strangely loveable and ridiculous. Some of the characters are new. Some are minor villains of the real Marvel Universe. Some are curiously-poorly-synchronized references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe; last year they did a Doctor Strange storyline months ahead of that movie’s release. And an Ant Man storyline just after we all kind of forgot about his movie.
And that gets me to the current storyline. Remember Guardians of the Galaxy? Really wildly popular movie about three years ago? That’s finally drifted over to the comic strip, with Ronan the Accuser landing in the middle of Arizona Or Some Other Desert State just as Peter Parker and Mary Jane happen to be driving through. Fine enough. Ronan went harassing the patrons of a diner and tossed Peter Parker out the window. Just after that another spaceship, bearing Rocket Raccoon, landed.
I was delighted by that. A lot of the fun in the Spider-Man comic strip is people ragging on Spidey. And Rocket is just the kind of person to deliver no end of cracks about him. I wasn’t disappointed. They met in the traditional way of superheroes meeting one another for the first time, by fighting until they remembered they have no idea why they do that. Then they engaged in the tradition of teaming up to try finding the villain, who’s gone a couple weeks without appearing and might have escaped the comic altogether. We’ll see.
Overall, the strip is a bit goofy. I like goofy, especially in superhero stories. The newspaper Spider-Man has a couple motifs which are perhaps overdone: Peter Parker’s whininess, his strong desire to just go back to bed, everyone in the world insulting him every chance they get. The number of storylines in which Spider-Man’s participation isn’t really needed as the guest villain and guest hero keep everything under control. The oddly excessive white space between panels of the Sunday strips. I don’t care. The stories generally move at a fair pace. The villains are colorful or at least ridiculous. The heroics come around eventually. There’s a lot of silly little business along the way. I have fun reading it. I am so looking forward to when they get an appearance from Squirrel Girl.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index starts the week up six sharp points owing to how surprisingly good the one-year-old Big Wheel cheese from the farmer’s market on the west side of town is. “Seriously,” one of the traders said under conditions of anonymity, “if we could eat nothing but this cheese we’d have lived our lives correctly”. It was Lisa.
I picked up a biography of P T Barnum because, I don’t know, I had some strange desire to read about a renowned showman and humbug artist who chose to go into public service and did his best, despite hardships, to stand for the working class without compromising his Universalist faith. I don’t know. Anyway, in chapter seven of A H Saxon’s P T Barnum: The Legend And The Man came this, from his first tour of Europe, which just delights me so:
While they were in Brussels, Barnum decided to visit the site of the Battle of Waterloo, to which he and a friend set out one morning at the early hour of 4 am. He could not help being impressed by the brisk traffic he saw there in reputed “relics” of the battle and by the whopping lies told by the guides who swarmed about them. After one of these had pointed out with great authority the place where Wellington had his station, the spot where Sir William Ponsonby fell, etc, Barnum asked if he could show them where Captain Tippitimichet of the Connecticut Fusileers was killed. This the guide promptly did. The precise spots where some twenty other fictitious officers from such exotic locales as Coney Island, Hoboken, and Saratoga Springs had fallen were also obligingly pointed out, following which the showman could not resist asking where “Brigadier General James Gordon Bennett [ editor of the New York Herald and an unshakeable Barnum-hater ] had given up the ghost”. This time the guide, who claimed to have been present when Bennett died, excelled himself and recalled the famous general’s last words: “Portez-moi de l’eau!”
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index reached the psychologically baloney level of 100 today as the traders compromised on buying the new, larger, George Foreman grill and tabling the panini press issue. Supporting the decision is it turns out the sale on panini presses ended last Sunday so spending all this time on it was kind of dumb.
I need to preface this by explaining I’m a big fan of clothes. I think they’re one of the top ideas humanity has come up with. I’m not sure which is exactly on top. Clothes, the equality of people before the law, any scene where Homer Simpson gives a false name, and the curried tofu the farmer’s market on the west side of town has are in the top ten. I’m happy to wear most any kind of clothing. If I run across one while at home I’ll just toss it on, which works out better in winter.
There is one point at which this clothes-appreciation stops. That point is my feet. Not socks. I retain a love of socks even though I am still afraid to read about their history. They belong to the class of clothes that feel wonderful to put on, to have on, and to take off, along with bathing suits and long underwear. They don’t feel so good when they’re wet or have pebbles in them, but that is the fault of the water or pebbles and not inherent to the socks themselves. Also not so good if they have holes, but that’s again not the fault of the socks. Ask a pair of socks to vote on whether they should have holes or not and they would flop over, helpless in their inanimate sock natures. But I expect they’d want to have only the one authorized hole for slipping the entire foot in. I almost wrote “whole” foot there, but I didn’t want to distract people by thinking of foot-holes. That’s unsettling, which socks are not.
No, my problem is with shoes. I say it’s the fault of shoes. I’ve owned literally more than a dozen shoes and they’ve all been made of pain. Some just a little bit of pain. Others, especially boots, are vast, highly organized networks of intensely concentrated pain. Shoe-makers insist the problem is that since I am tall, I have feet that are large, toe-to-heel, and also rather more curved than the average. So either my big toe or my … part of the foot on the other side of the big toe … falls outside the normal bounds of a shoe. I say the shoe-makers are at fault, for installing in every pair of shoes ever made small, pneumatically fired mallets battering every part of my foot every moment that I wear them. So I’m always finding excuses to take my shoes off. “Why, wouldn’t it be impolite to wear my shoes in your house?” “We’re going to be on this plane nearly two hours, why not slip my feet out?” “Oh, I’m at the hipster barcade so much it’s almost like home, I can leave my shoes behind.”
Yes, in time, I get used to the pains of any particular pair of shoes and they get familiar enough to be sort of pleasant-ish. And that lasts for minutes, because that’s when the soles start to collapse and I end up walking on the pile of jagged spikes ordinarily hidden in them. Then I go on for another couple months hoping something will turn up. Meanwhile the shoes grow holes large enough to let my toes through and if you think I’m exaggerating this I will include a picture of my recently-retired boots unless it turns out I’m lazy.
So I went shopping for new shoes which I figured wouldn’t be better but would at least be different. This is not a metaphor. There was this promising rubber pair that went up nearly to my knees and had no laces. But it was too tight and as I tried taking it off I realized a cartoon might happen. Society escaped without a pair of size-12 knee-high rubber missiles firing from the shoe store towards the half-price calendars kiosk. At another store, another day, I tried one and found … something … wonderful.
They didn’t hurt! My feet went in and no particular part of my body was in agony. They just felt warm and as waterproof as you can tell from inside a Payless Shoe Store in the wing of the mall I never go to because there’s no bookstores there. It’s a wonder. I bought the shoes as fast as I could and I’ve just been delighted ever since. It’s like nothing I’ve ever felt before.
The shoes are a size 14. That’s bigger than I’ve ever worn before. It’s a size more generally associated with kangaroos who play basketball. It’s large enough if I ever took my boots off inside, say, a Best Buy I’d be able to sneak a Smart TV or a sales associate or maybe the water fountain out in them. I’ve never seen size 14s in a normal shoe store before and I may never see them again. I don’t care. I have shoes that work as shoes. I may never take them off again, except that it feels so good to take them off.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
Although the Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose seven points over the trading day there’s little reason to think it’s because anyone was doing anything not connected to the panini-press debate. So few people were paying attention to what the index was doing that it might well have risen seven points entirely on a stiff breeze. Someone broke the George Foreman grill.
So suppose some alien agency does find the Voyager 1 and 2 space probes and finds the golden record on them. That’s fine enough. And I imagine that they’d be able to work out what the disc was for, since aliens skilled enough to catch a space probe like that probably understand sound waves well enough and can work out what engraved wiggles probably are. And going from a long spiral wiggle to, you know, playing the sound is probably straightforward enough. But what happens if they take that recording of the sounds of Earth and play it backwards? Huh? What then?
Again I’m not saying we have to do something about this right this minute. We can wait until we have some idea what to do about it. I’d just like to know that somebody’s got the problem under control.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
After several more hours of arguing the panini press only one-quarter of the traders are still talking to one another. In the scrum another four points went missing from the index and nobody seems to have even noticed. This is surely too high a price to pay however good people figure the sandwiches would be if they ever used one. The debate is expected to resume in the morning.
What if the sign in fact asked “What If Corn Knew Its Density” instead? Somebody or something has to know the density of corn. I don’t suppose most corn knows, what with it generally not being at all sapient and being involved in matters of density really only when it’s tossed into water. And at that point it probably has more urgent considerations than density qua density. I’m thinking, anyway. At least you could have a movie about some corn hero rising up to change its density and have that be a meaningful concept.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index dropped four points as the trading floor was wracked by an argument about whether they had reached the point in life it was responsible for them to buy a panini press or whether one would just go collecting dust and shredded cheese again and they should stick to the George Foreman grill the occasional time someone wanted a warmed sandwich. The debate looks set to resume tomorrow as there’s one on sale that seems to have triggered the whole debate in the first place.
Well, I wrote down the day of the week and it came out “Thursday”. I wrote down the day of the month and it came out “22nd”. I wrote down the month and it came out “September”. And the year? That turned out to be “2016” because remember that? Yeah. So in that big flaming pile of fantastic wrongness I just have to ask: wait, was the 22nd of September a Thursday last year? … It was. How the heck did I get that right?
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped … no, wait it didn’t. I’m sorry. The index rose … oh, no, wait, it didn’t do that either. Well, it did a little of both, but it did just as much of both, so it ended up where it began, is what I’m saying. I think? Maybe everybody took off to commemorate Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. They should have. But they should’ve said something about that, too. Nobody tells me enough anymore. It’s all mysterious, that’s what I’m saying.
With Judge Parker last week I’ve wrapped up all the syndicated story comics that have had major changes in the writing or art staff recently, by which I mean within like the last five years. But there are more story strips out there, and chatting with my Twitter friends suggest people find them baffling. Plus, what the heck, these pieces are popular.
I want to share a bit about a piece of art that did that most precious of things: make a lifelong (so far) change in my attitude about something. It wasn’t Gil Thorp. It was this high school comedy/drama called Ed. One episode Ed was trying to help a bright student get a scholarship, and needed just a slightly higher grade in gym. Surely his colleague would help him help out a bright kid who just didn’t care about phys ed, right? “Yeah,” said the coach, “because it’s not like I’m a real teacher or anything.” (Something like that, anyway.) It stung Ed, and it stung me, because the coach was right. I’d sneered at gym class, mostly because it seemed to be 86 weeks per year of Jumping Jacks Only More Boring and twelve minutes of things someone might actually do, like softball or volleyball or archery or stuff. And because even as a kid I had the dynamic physique of a medieval cathedral, only with tighter hamstrings.
But the coach was right. If school has a point it’s to make people familiar at least with all the major fields of human endeavor. And being able to be healthy and active is part of that. It’s as real and serious a subject as the mathematics or English or arts or science or music classes are. (In the episode, Ed came back humbled, and the gym teacher allowed the student to earn the “needed” grade by doing extra work.) And that’s stuck with me. I may not much care for sports, but that’s my taste. I should extend to it, and its enthusiasts, the same respect I give enthusiasts for other stuff I’m just not into.
Gil Thorp has not changed my attitudes on anything important nearly like that. The comic strip — which dates back to 1958 — has been written by Neal Rubin since 2004 Wikipedia tells me. It’s been drawn by Rod Whigham since 2008. So they’ve got the hang of what they want to do. There are other comic strips set in schools, such as Jef Mallet’s nearly joke-a-day Frazz and Tom Batiuk’s continuity-comedy-bathos Funky Winkerbean. But this is the only story strip that I guess gets into newspapers that’s set in high school. It’s also the only sports-themed story strip, and one of only a few remaining sports-themed comics at all. Why this should have survived and, say, Flash Gordon didn’t I don’t know, but what the heck.
Rubin and Whigham have a pretty clear idea what they want to do. Pretty much every season of the year has a story about the season’s appropriate sporting activity. One or two student-athletes, often new people but sometimes characters who were supporting players previous years, dominate the storyline. They go through some shenanigans trying to be students, or athletes, or teens. The important thing here is that they are teens, and even smart teenagers are kind of dumb. Eventually they’re dumb enough that Coach Gil Thorp has to call him in to their office and explain to them to knock it off, which they mostly do. On to the next season. Often the starts of one storyline reappear as supporting players in later storylines, for a year or two. This implies Rubin and Whigham keep careful continuity records so they know when each student entered the school, what they played, how they were doing, when they left and under what circumstances. I admire the craftsmanship involved.
Dumbness is important. The Gil Thorp kids don’t tend to be stupid in malicious or obnoxious ways. Just dumb in the way that people who aren’t used to thinking through the situation are. For example, a few storylines ago the problem was one of the athletes getting the idea in his head that ADHD medicine would help his performance. So he pressured one of the kids who has Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder to share his medicine. After resisting a while, the pressured student starts passing along … aspirins with the name filed off. The kid buys it. It’s the sort of thing that you do when you grow up thinking you’re in a sitcom filmed before a live studio audience and this is the sort of thing that makes the tense audience gasp and then applaud. When Thorp finally found out, he suspended both, on the correct grounds that they were being dumb. Well, that one was trying to get drugs off another student, and that student was passing him drugs, even if harmless ones.
That’s pretty much the way things go, though. There’s kids puttering along into mostly minor scrapes, as followed by updates in-between sporting events. There’s a developing crisis in which Gil Thorp is finally pulled into the storylines of his own strip to tell everyone to knock it off. And there’s the steady beat of how the team finishes the season in football (in the autumn), basketball (in the winter), softball (in the summer), and whatever sport catches Rubin’s fancy (in the summer). Sometimes it’s the boys’ team that gets the focus, sometimes the girls’. Sometimes the story involves trading off the focus. Now and then the teams get into the playoffs, or as the dialect of wherever the school is has it, “playdowns”, sometimes they fall short. They do well enough that nobody really calls for Thorp to resign. Perhaps they know that would end the comic. Or end their part in it, since he’d presumably go on to some other high school to sort of coach.
There will be surprises. 2016’s spring storyline grew to encompass all summer when one of the students was hit and killed in a messy, stupid car accident. Given the genially dopey nature of what had been going on before, a dose of actual blood was shocking. It scrambled my expectations. Good that I could have expectations and that they could break them in a credible way.
So, the current storyline. It’s about new basketball team star Aaron Aagard. He’s a solid player, a good student, charming in a weird way. At least he’s trying to be. I don’t know how you feel about 17-year-olds who make excuses to juggle. Anyway, that’s all on his good days. On his bad days he’s distracted, unconnected, and maybe falling asleep. Perhaps he’s just exhausted. He goes to raves, even on school nights, which is the sort of low-key scandalous behavior that fits the Gil Thorp worldview.
Maybe a bigger problem is some of his teammates overheard him talking about “taking Molly”. They believe that’s slang for ecstasy. Maybe it is. I don’t know. I’m what the hep kids call “a square”. So while I don’t know I’m willing to accept that any otherwise unaccounted-for word is slang for ecstasy. The kids think it over and after Aagard has a couple more unreliable days they pull the coach in. This seems early. The story only started the 12th of December. Maybe the story’s going to spin out in stranger ways. Maybe they want to start softball season early.
Aagard said if he could just have a few days he’d clear up this whole “taking Molly” thing. That’s again the sort of dumb thing you do if you think you’re living in a three-camera sitcom and setting up a big reveal that Molly is your generically-disabled niece or something. Thorp seems to have gone along with that, which is dumb. Unless Aagard explained stuff off-panel and clearing this up is about explaining it to his teammates. Which I expect, but could be wrong about.
Someone on, I think, the Comics Curmudgeon blog found there actually is a region of the United States where the high school sports postseason is called the “playdowns”. I forget what the region is. But, hey, I’ve been places where they label water fountains “bubblers”. I can take “playdowns”. It says something about Rubin’s determination to stick to a specific kind of craft that he’s holding on to the term “playdown”. Nobody would complain if they switched to “playoff” like everybody else says. People would stop making jokes about the comic’s little weirdness in saying “playdown”. Rubin’s decided the comic strip will be what it is, even if they’re made fun of for it. That’s an important thing to take out of high school too.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index dropped five points as traders reported a night of unsteady, broken sleep, constantly interrupted by thoughts of Donald Trump and the theme song to Vacation being stuck in their heads. The editorial staff extends their deepest condolences.
So maybe raccoons in drinking glasses wearing eyeglasses.
Or any animals in drinking glasses wearing eyeglasses.
3-D glasses would work too.
Oh, uh, I dunno, maybe you as a kid doing that Calvin and Hobbes “Let’s Go Exploring” final-ever panel? That’s art, right? I bet that’s art.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index found itself at 103 today and fell into a quarrel about whether the trading floor was suffering from deja vu, from plagiarism, or was just victim of an astounding coincidence. The matter was not settled by press time, but the arguments have got into who was showing disloyalty to who in a bitter fight eighteen years ago so this is sure to turn out well.
I wanted to finally give in to the inevitable and officially switch my e-mail model from “things I will someday answer” to “a pile of text composting”. I’ve got some fine little queries dating back to 2014 that will surely make a rich, natural creative soil someday. But to get my inbox properly designated a compost e-mail bin I had to send the state office for this sort of thing you guessed it, an e-mail. And I see from their FAQ that even if they do ever answer it I’m going to have to answer some follow-up questions and e-mail them back. I bet it’s one of those psyche-out tests where you have to declare the correct thing to do is not follow the rules. I hate those. Expect stern letter to follow as soon as I’ve looked up that question about McDonald’s stock valuation my dad was wondering about back then.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index dropped four points today, which rolled underneath the stand we keep the TV on and which is too much trouble to move for anything less than the pre-Thanksgiving major cleaning the house gets. We’d do something about that but there’s somehow more cables than there are pairs of things to be cabled together back there even though everything is plugged in on both ends. Even if we cared about a measly four points we wouldn’t care about them enough to deal with that. Check back with us in mid-November and maybe we’ll have them then.
Four Flats. This newly opened concept bar charges a flat four dollars, serving up just as much volume as your four dollars is worth. This simplifies the problem of working out what you can afford but complicates the problem of how large a glass you’re going to get. Fair selection balanced by more variable-sized glasses than you can possibly imagine. Tour groups are admitted to the stock room for two hours before the open of business every day. Do not ask for the complimentary water as that’s just delivered by fire hose. 4 pm – 2 am except Sundays we think. 118 E Quarrel St.
The Can Trader. Just the spot for the beer fancier looking for something new and unexpected: before the bartender fills your order any other patron is allowed to swap your order for hers or his. The trading doesn’t stop there as in the ten minutes leading up to the hour anyone is allowed to swap their drink with someone else’s yet again. Add to that the lack of labels and you could easily spend a night having some fantastic pale ale or IPA or something you never heard of before and never have the faintest idea what the heck you’re drinking. Opens 2 pm daily, closes after the brawl. 44 Upper Pridmore’s Swamp Road.
Newscaster Karaoke Brew Pub. Taking the karaoke-bar concept up just that one extra notch this spot lets patrons sit at a real working news desk. They can try to work their way through the local, state, and national news, then on to weather, sports, human interest features, Mister Food’s Recipes For People Who Guess They Like Food As A Concept, a recap of weather, and the humane society’s adoptable pet of the day in-between batter-dipped mushrooms and $2 PBR’s. 3 pm to 2 am except between 6:00 and 6:30 and 11:00 and 11:35, or any time the security guard is noticed down the hall. Channel 6 broadcast studios, back door, password “Chris Kapostasy sent me”.
Molecubrew. You know that Carl Sagan quote about making an apple pie by starting with a universe? People who can’t get enough of that are believed responsible for this new experience in being surrounded by test tubes. No brand names, but patrons get to pick quantities and amounts from over 4,500 flavor compounds. And, gads, yes, you have to tell them you want ethanol and water and carbon dioxide and good lord. Though it’s been going only a month they’ve got a thriving community going on Telegram with all sorts of recipes that range from “kind of PBR-ish, if I have to pick something” through “an experience you probably will admit you had” and on to “Diet Pibb Xtra”. Act cool. Best menu item: fried stringy things most of which are potatoes, although if you get one that is an actual fried shoestring your entire tab is free. An evening here will let you know which of your friends think it’s the height of hilarity to speak of “dihydrogen monoxide”, so you won’t have to spend time with them anymore after that. If they start talking about the hazards of dihydrogen monoxide you can shove them under the safety shower and flee. 12 noon – 12 midnight except Mondays. Gibbs Alley, Science and Educational Store District.
The Introverted Turtle. This charming former abandoned laundromat has joined the city’s growing Introvert Chic movement. Its concept, perfect for the country’s newest self-identified self-satisfied community, lets one spend the night hanging out with almost no social interaction. Patrons, bartenders, and kitchen staff alike spend their experiences hiding underneath the cloth-draped tables and never speak to any other person out loud. Submit orders by crumpled-up pieces of paper tossed in the general direction of the bar without looking or by Twitter direct-message to an account they swear no living person is monitoring. Instead of attaching a name to your order list the name of your table’s mythical South Seas island. Hours not listed because the staff kept whimpering whenever we asked them. Sorry. 2250 Lower Plank Lake Road, Upper Level.
A Space. A combination sports bar and live-action roleplaying experience, this newest addition to the Shops That Used To Be Part Of Muckle’s Department Store has the look of a partly-open-plan office floor for one of those companies where nobody really knows what they’re doing or why. Settle in pretending to be part of the sales, marketing, IT, administrative support, or janitorial sections, and enjoy a different selection of food, drinks, prices, and of course programming on the highly realistic computer or TV screens at every desk or corners of “break” rooms. An extra feature described as “Orwellian” and “a nightmarish intrusion on privacy but also strangely comforting” is that the TVs in the bathrooms show footage of the most recent employee to use the bathroom, proving they did indeed wash their hands before resuming service. 10 percent discount if the maitre d’ can guess your actual job. Must bring W-4 for verification to collect. 11 am – 1 am, 111 Canal Street, Lunch Entrance.
Curious about a new place? Contact us care of some office for more!
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index stayed at 105 today as none of the surrounding numbers looked any good at all.
So now I’ve had some time to look over my WordPress statistics for December 2016 and I can share them with you.
It was a busier month in December than in November and I have to credit my string of explanations of what’s going on in the story strips for that. You think of the story strips as the part of the newspaper comics nobody reads, but the Internet is so vast that even nobody is a lot of people. That came out to 1,396 page views from 818 distinct visitors. That’s up from November’s 1,219 views from 708 visitors. It’s down from the October figures, though, of 1,507 views from 974 visitors. I have no explanation for all that.
The number of likes was 137, barely up from November’s 134, and down from October’s 160. There were only 20 comments, which seems like an undercount. But that is up from November’s 14. And down from October’s 32. September had 69; I’ve got to go back and figure what the heck went on there. I don’t know.
As I say, what really brought people in for December was talking about comics. I’m a little surprised since it isn’t hard to find comics snark out there. But maybe just catching people up on what they’ve missed is of reliable interest. We’ll know when I try to explain what the heck is with Gil Thorp anyway.
What Is Going On With Mark Trail? and I just realized I was inconsistent about using “What Is” or “What’s” for my story-strip explanation posts and don’t think that isn’t going to drive me crazy for the rest of my life. Augh.
Now for the ever-popular list of countries. There were 18 single-reader countries in December, down from 21. There were 42 countries listed altogether, down from 50. My readership in Singapore dropped 50 percent. C’mon, guys, I thought we were friends? Well, here goes.
Hong Kong SAR China
Trinidad & Tobago
United Arab Emirates
Colombia and Croatia were also single-reader countries last month. Nobody’s on a three-month single-reader streak. No sign of the mysterious “European Union” viewer.
The month started with my blog having 44,707 page views from 23,682 viewers. I didn’t keep track of how many people were following on January 1st and I’m feeling too lazy to work out how many added or dropped since then because guh who could? The Insights page … I’m not sure how to get the statistics for December alone. Right now it’s saying Tuesday was my most popular day, with 19 percent of views, a slight increase from November’s lead for Tuesdays. The most popular hour remains midnight, 8 percent of views, but that’s about what you’d expect if every hour of the day.
If you’d like to follow this blog, by WordPress or by e-mail, there’s buttons in the upper-right corner of the page to do that. They’re just underneath the search bar. My Twitter feed, @nebusj, is also sitting in the upper-right corner. Yes, I finally turned my vague and unfocused dissatisfaction with the “Truly Minimal” theme into actual switching to the “Twenty Sixteen” theme. This is because everybody loves when web sites just change their look. But I like what it does with comics images better. Oh, wait, it does different stuff based on how wide your web browser is. I didn’t know that. Well, it doesn’t seem to do anything bad yet. Will have to think about this more.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rushed upwards nine points, nearly making a first down, before being pushed back down three points by an aggressive ground game. Must admire the spunk on the opposing team, though. Good sportsmanship all around.