So if you’re in my age cohort you grew up seeing the opening credits of Tales From The Darkside. You know, where the camera pans across footage of a forest while the foreboding voice of Perilous McDoomenough intones, “Man lives in the sunlit world of what he BELIEVES to be … reality.” And then the screen fades to a posterized negative image about how there is “unseen by most an underworld”. And then you changed the channel because whatever was coming next would have to be way too frightening to watch.
I got thinking, you know, this has to be like slasher movies were. The hype makes it sound like this intense and barely-comprehensible experience. And it turns out to be about as scary as an SCTV episode. I was too much of a coward to watch horror movies as a kid. I mean, except the one time that they had us do a sleepover for Vacation Bible School and we camped out in some of the classrooms off in the CCD wing. And one of the things they showed was Friday the 13th. I thought it was pretty good. Also I don’t understand how this could have happened. We went to a pretty liberal diocese but still. I think we also watched Heathers. I know Vacation and European Vacation we watched at my friend Eddie Glazier’s bar mitzvah. I’m not sure I should be talking about this 35-plus years on. I might be getting somebody in trouble.
But that’s sort of how terror was for a white middle-class kid growing up in the suburbs in the 80s. And yes, I mean New Jersey-type suburbs, which in other states are what you would call “urbs”. Or “great undifferentiated mass of housing developments and corporate office parks stretching from the Amboy Drive-In to the Freehold Traffic Circle, dotted by some Two Guys department stores”. Still. I grew up a weenie and I would be glad for that if I didn’t think being glad about myself was kind of bragging.
And we knew how to be recreationally scared. We just had to think about the nuclear war. New Jersey enjoyed a weird place for that. I know in most of the country you came up with legends about why the Soviets had a missile aimed right at you. One that would be deployed right after they bombed Washington and New York City. “Of course the Kremlin knows Blorpton Falls, Iowa is the largest producer of sewing machine bobbins outside the New York City area. They’ll have to bomb us so the country can’t clothe itself well after World War III.” It was a way to be proud of your town and not be responsible for surviving the nuclear war.
Central Jersey? We didn’t have to coin legends. We knew, when the war came, we’d be doomed. It wouldn’t be for any reason. It’s just we’re close to New York City, we’re close to Philadelphia. Nothing personal. All we were doing was being near something someone else wanted to destroy. This turned out to be great practice for living in 2020 that I don’t recommend.
Oh, sure, there was the soccer field what they said used to be a Nike missile base that would have protected New York City from the missile attacks. Maybe the Soviets would have an old map, or refuse to believe that they built a soccer field in the United States in the 60s. That former-Nike-base could be a target, if the Nike missiles to intercept the missiles didn’t work, which they wouldn’t.
You might ask: wait, why didn’t they put the base that was supposed to protect New York City in-between New York and the Soviet missile bases instead? The answer is that in-between New York City and the Soviet missile bases is Connecticut. The construction vehicles for the Connecticut site set out on I-95 in 1961 and haven’t made it through traffic yet. Central Jersey was a backup so they could build a site that couldn’t work but could abandon. Anyway I don’t know the soccer field was ever actually a Nike base or if we just said it was. If it really was, I suppose it’s a Superfund clean-up site now. Makes me glad I realized I didn’t want to socc. I wanted to type in word processor programs from a magazine into my computer.
Anyway after thinking about that long enough, it turns out the movie threats we faced were kind of cozy. Yeah, they might turn you into an Alice-in-Wonderland cake and eat you, but at least you’d be singing all the way.
So back to Tales From The Darkside. You know what you find if you go back and watch it now? Tales From The Darkside never even had episodes! They knew everybody was going to be scared off by those credits. Each episode, for all four seasons, is one frozen negative-print posterized image of a tree while someone holds down a key on the synthesizer.
It is way more terrifying than I had ever imagined.
You know something I got with some pack of cracked 80s video games? A Smurfs game. I’m not sure what genre it was. It was like a platformer, except that nothing happened. All that you had to do was not step on a dangerous spot. The thing was, the cracked version had this thing where you could turn off one or both of the sprites that made up Generic Smurf. One of those sprites was the upper half of his body, and the other the lower half. So if you turned off the lower half of his body, you wouldn’t ever hit the dangerous spots. You could just have the torso and arms and head of Generic Smurf floating over very many slightly different terrains, all while the tra-laaaaaa-lala-lala song plays over and over and over again, until you go mad.
I wanted to share my experiences in home computing in the 1980s. I may not remember it quite right, but I remember it at all. You, I can’t trust to remember my experiences at all. I mean apart from my dad, who tells me he reads these things. But as I remember it, what he would remember is I disappeared into my room for up to 84 hours at a stretch. I’d emerge just because the groceries needed to be put away. And by putting them away myself I could put things in the freezer correctly, unlike everyone else.
Also I could get dibs on the microwave fried chicken. The microwave fried chicken was awful, understand. But it was convenient. Also the thighs would taste weird, which is not to say the same as good. But if I didn’t get away from the computer, someone else might eat that first. I don’t know whether my dad remembers this, but it’s got little to do with my computer experience. It would have looked the same to him if I spent all that time in my room re-reading the Star Trek comic book where the Excalbians went to Space War with the Organians because they were bored.
Big thing to remember is that how you got software was different. There were all these magazines that offered the promise of neat stuff, like, going around riding a dragon. And anyone could play this, if they just typed in six pages of three-column column text and didn’t get too much of it wrong. Then it turned out to be fun for maybe one-fourth the time you spent typing it in. Not everything was games, no. If you had a Commodore 64 you could type in programs that would let you use the graphics and the sound on the Commodore 64. It wouldn’t help you have anything to draw or … sound out. But if you ever thought of something, you were ready. Sometimes we would swap out the ROM version of the computer’s operating system for a RAM copy that was identical, except it didn’t throw a fit if you tried to find the ASCII value of an empty string. There were reasons this was important.
Still, games were great, because the only other software out there was spreadsheets and word processors. It still is, but now the spreadsheets and word processors are in a web browser so annoying ads can flash at you. But if you didn’t want to type in a game, you could get a professionally made game.
Thing to understand about computer games back then is that nobody ever bought them. You just … got them … somehow. Not really clear how, or who from. But they came on tape cassettes or on discs that a friend loaned you and that you copied, or that they copied and gave you. There were stores that claimed to sell software, yes. They had welcoming names like Professor Technofriend’s Software Empori-fun. Doesn’t matter. They never sold anything. The top-selling game of the 80s, Broderbund’s Karateka, saw sixteen copies sold in stores. There was never a game for the Amiga that sold. Game companies didn’t even try. They just gave the gold master disc to someone who knew this guy who worked(?) somewhere (??). He’d crack the copy protection and then make a kabillion copies with a fun message on the first screen. Every playground would have copies, although there was only one kid in school who had an Amiga. So that oversaturated the market.
The traded tapes, though, they’d have like 428 games on them. This seems like great value, what with them being free. The drawback is the games were mostly boring. There’d be, like, tic-tac-toe only it’s a grid of four rows and columns. Or Blackjack, except there’s no graphics or placing bets and you can’t do that thing where you split a hand when you’re dealt doubles. You’d just press space and watch numbers come up in a row until someone busted. In hindsight, I don’t know how it is I spent so much time on this. Oh, well, there was a Wheel of Fortune game that was great. It was even better after I memorized all six puzzles and could start solving puzzles after five letters. I typed it in from a magazine.
I know this all sounds ridiculous. But if it weren’t ridiculous we wouldn’t have done it. This is still true.
I’m sorry, but I was busy thinking how I might explain to my niblings why we as kids watched the Circus of the Stars. “What better chance,” the best I can think of goes, “will we have to see Heather McNair step out of her role as Roxanne Caldwell on the greatest TV show of all time ever, Automan, before it ends what will surely be a twelve-year network run followed by a series of smash movies?” They have never asked about Circus of the Network Stars and I have no reason to think they will. I expect if they have questions, then their relevant parents can handle the matter. But so much has caught me unprepared this year. I don’t want one more thing to.
So far as Wikipedia is aware Heather McNair never appeared on Circus of the Stars. Automan did not run for twelve years and inspired no movies, although I’m going ahead and guessing there’s a reboot of it that’s already in its third of eight-episode seasons on … uh … let’s say HBO BlortStar+, that sounds like a streaming service name.
It’s looking like it’ll be in the 70s all weekend. It’ll creep up into the 80s on Monday, but then it’s going to drop into the 50s and stay there the rest of the week. So you might want to look at getting your poodle skirts out of the attic since there’ll be plenty of chance to wear them. And that’s your time forecast for the week ahead.
Alley Oop and Ooola were in the 1980s, searching for Dr Wonmug’s mixtape. It was stolen. The ransom note demanded three items for ransom. They’d gotten the first, a President Reagan jellybean. Now they were in San Francisco for the second: the master disks for shareware game Caves of Zfgrhkxp. They’re off to the home of 1986-shareware-video-game-famous programmer Steve Hobbes.
Before I go farther, a question for you. Do you find this gather-the-zany-tokens plot pointless? Are you annoyed by whimsical names like Caves of Zfgrhkxp and Steve Hobbes? Then probably the Jonathan Lemon/Joey Alison Sayers era of Alley Oop isn’t for you. It’s still a serial-adventure comic about a time-travelling caveman. But the story has been much more goofy, with a punch line in every strip. That has a good, respectable heritage in the comics. But it’s different from the way Alley Oop was. If you liked the old way and can’t get into the new, hey, you’re right. I’m sorry this isn’t working for you. Maybe Lemon and Sayers will evolve into a creative team you like better. Maybe they’ll only work the strip for a short while. Maybe you’ll come to like the different style, as a different take on a really good premise.
But for those who do like this, or are willing to see where it leads, here’s the story. Oop, Ooola, and Wonmug enter the ominous headquarters of Hobbesware Inc. The door locks behind them. The are no exits visible. On the table are: rope, box, envelope. Wonmug recognizes the genre of puzzle he’s in. He chooses to pick up envelope, getting ready to open envelope and examine contents for a puzzle lasting about six hours. I’m glad he’s having fun. Me, I could never get out of the first room of any of these text-adventure puzzles.
They try to prove they’re from the future, like, by dancing the macarena. I have not checked that this is when I got a flurry of comments from people who hate the new Alley Oop, but I get it if they did. Wonmug makes a more convincing case that they’re from the future by showing off his phone. Ooola’s worried this might screw up the timeline, if timelines are a thing that can be screwed up by Alley Oop time-travel rules. Wonmug’s confident. He left the phone locked, for one, and besides the older Hobbes invents some important smartphone and … uh … Wonmug concludes this must have been inevitable, because “time is a trick science”. Ooola thinks Hobbes has unlocked the phone and that maybe the timeline is changing?
That peril, like most, is played for a joke. One of the first gags of the new continuity was that this was an alternate dimension, just like the original except that tacos are never invented. Showing Hobbes the smartphone of his future design makes some kitchen staff hypothesize about inventing a taco. Anyway, Hobbes gives them the disk and they’re off to the third piece of mixtape ransom.
They don’t know what to get. The ransom note just says “Gator Gertie’s Miasmic Swamp”. It’s in Florida. Oop and Ooola don’t want to deal with that nonsense, and point out how this entire project seems like a colossal waste of time. Wonmug bribes them with a roller coaster ride. And, y’know, as a roller coaster fan I have to say: in 1986? There were like three roller coasters in Florida back then. The place is lousy with amusement parks now, but if Sayers and Lemon aren’t thinking of visiting the now-defunct Circus World park then they Didn’t Do The Research. Sorry to be all snide about this.
They find Gator Gertie’s. Gertie’s a pleasant, weird-in-that-roadside-attraction-way kind of person. She rents alligators and bakes treats. She can’t think what someone might send them there for. Oh, she has a secret human/alligator dinosaur lab. She doesn’t have a geneticist, but she has taught some gators to wear pants. Oh, and she has this haunted gator-tooth scone, baked ten years ago and containing an alligator tooth and a malevolent spirit. She’s happy to give it over since it’s only caused her trouble and made pants disappear. I’m sorry that Gertie was in such a rush to get out of this storyline; I liked her attitude. And who doesn’t love a daft roadside attraction? Maybe she’ll pop back around.
They get back to Wonmug’s 80s apartment and wait for instructions. Not long. Someone behind the door orders them to give the items over. Oop looks inside. It’s raccoons. They’re wearing lab coats. One has eyeglasses on. They’re building something.
Yeah, so it turns out Dr Wonmug did some experiments where he created superintelligent raccoons to do chores. And their intelligence went beyond what he anticipated. Now they’re building their own time machine. The floppy disk has code that solves some of the equations of time-travel. The haunted scone opens a dimensional portal. The jellybean satisfies Gunther’s sweet tooth. And with these final components their time machine is complete and … they’re off! To where? And when?
No idea. The story seems to end on that beat, with the Time Raccoons leaving. Wonmug drops off Ooola and Oop back in prehistoric Moo, and home. They putter around a bit and it all looks like the start of a new story. There hasn’t been talk about the Time Raccoons. It seems like rather a cliffhanger. I don’t know if Alley Oop has done that before, though. It didn’t happen when Jack Bender and Carole Bender, the prior creative team, were working the last couple of years.
Is leaving something like the Time Raccoons unresolved new? I talk a confident game. But the truth is I am not well-versed in Alley Oop lore. I’ve been reading the daily strip for a couple of years now. I’ve read a couple collections with storylines from V T Hamlin’s day, and enjoyed them. Still, I don’t know whether the Alley Oop universe has ever had a party with a time machine independent of Dr Wonmug’s before. This can be narratively perilous, especially if you’ve bought the idea of a changeable history. There have been stories with rival time-travellers to Dr Wonmug before (one story had a character kidnapped to another era, for example), and the comic strip stayed intact.
Will the Time Raccoons come back? Certainly if I were writing the strip. (I’d thought there was a good chance they’d show up in Moo by the end of this past week.) Rivals are good ways to generate stories. It’s obviously good to have parties who can drop in and add chaos to storylines. Uplifted animals with only casual interest in the plans of humans only heighten the fun. But I’m in no privileged position here. I’m just reading comics and talking about what I see. Indeed, my other blog gets into mathematically-themed comic strips, as here. If I encounter any news about Alley Oop, I’ll pass it on here.
I need a low-key, low-effort week so I’m hoping next on the roster is something easy to recap. Maybe one of the Sunday-only strips. The Sunday Alley Oop comics, the Little Oop adventures, have all been spot jokes. There hasn’t been an ongoing story. There’ve been some things mentioned in the Sunday strips that went on to mention in the weekdays. Like Alley Oop joining the Dino Guides, a Scouts-type group, used after that mention. So the Sunday strips aren’t part of the continuity, but they haven’t needed recapping. So let me just check what’s next on the schedule.
So if Leader-One was all that great why didn’t they ever make a Leader-Two? So far as I know. I haven’t really followed Go-Bots at all. Mostly I remember this episode where some scientist worked out a gimmick that could scoop up and store a billion people into a crystal ball the size of a beachball, and what do you know but the Evil Go-Bots grabbed this and stole the whole world’s population for two days. But I’ve read lists of Go-Bots episodes and it seems I completely made this episode up somehow? But what piece of any of that makes sense? You know? Anyway so I don’t know they didn’t have a Leader-Two in, like, the comics or the CGI reboot or something.
(Thank you for being here as I fulfill the promise made last week. Please visit next week when I ask why they never did a goofy pure-comedy prequel series where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are in kindergarden, unless it’s that they can’t think of a show title. I mean so far as I know. It would make sense if they had made one, right? Maybe they did make that already. Anyway somebody check on that and if they didn’t, then I’ll ask about it.)
The earliest personal computers begged you to program them. Or they would, except the earliest personal computers weren’t sophisticated enough to do that. They’d print out a line like ‘OK’ and hope you picked up the hint. It wasn’t much to go on. It was like the computer wanted to say “WhatEVER”, except the computers didn’t have enough memory to be snide. Please remember back then it was spiffy that the computer had sixteen colors, three of which were grey. Anyway there was fun with programming.
You could write your own programs. These programs would print out the word ‘POOP’ and then repeat forever, filling the whole screen. This took under a second and then continued until you got bored. If you became a more advanced programmer, you’d add spaces to the end of ‘POOP’. This way as the screen scrolled you saw lines fluttering around instead of a long, static, column. This was less boring. Some of us got the chance to be forced to use Logo in school. This was a graphics programming language that let you draw a square. If you were an advanced Logo programmer, you could draw a square and then another square at an angle. Sometimes computer magazines would run an article about the language PILOT, which was a hoax.
If you didn’t want to write your own language there were magazines with programs you could type in. I mean computer magazines. Well, maybe there were computer programs you could type in from, like, Tiger Beat or Family Knitting ’83. I never checked. Maybe I am prejudging the situation. Anyone with specific information otherwise I ask to write in to Mister Food care of your local TV station.
But the type-in programs were great. You could flip open the magazine, set it in front of your computer, and then have the magazine close right back up again. Oh, there’s an ad on the back cover for some game that’s like Wheel of Fortune except all the contestants are aliens. I’m sure the graphics looked as great as the advertisement’s airbrushed art, only with more grey. Well, you flip open the magazine again, weight the edges down with some other magazines, and get to typing! It would be hundreds, maybe thousands, of lines, but that’s all right. If you typed anything wrong it would only make the entire thing not work at all.
Some of the magazines tried to help you out. They came up with these automatic proofreader programs. This make a little checksum appear each time you enter a line. The magazine listed what the right checksums were. So when they didn’t match you could complain the automatic proofreader was broken. I know what you’re thinking: since you had to type in the automatic proofreader how did you know you got that right? We didn’t. We had to hope. In hindsight we probably should have spent more of the decade crying.
You didn’t have to type programs in. You could load them in from a storage medium. Trouble is the storage medium we had was cassette tapes. For short programs it was faster to type them in again. For long programs it was faster to hold your computer up to the night sky and let cosmic rays randomly trip memory cells into the right patterns.
The typing could get to be fun. In like 1987 I typed in SpeedScript 3.2. It was a word processor that included advanced features. If you ended a paragraph by hitting shift-return, it put in a return, a blank line, and a tab to get the next paragraph off to a rousing start. I’ve spent the last 32 years looking for another word processor that would do this for me. It had other features, I assume.
A couple months later I found the magazine with SpeedScript 1.0, a worse version. And spent an afternoon typing that in because, hey, what else am I going to do? Not crush my median nerve against the carpal tunnel? But it was all worth it: after typing in SpeedScript 1.0 I could see for myself that it was kind of like SpeedScript 3.2, but not as good. I think it still had the shift-return thing, though. And I know what you’re all wondering: Wait, where was SpeedScript 2.0? I’ve spent 32 years fuming about that.
But don’t think all this typing didn’t have lasting effects, even if I haven’t yet completely destroyed my wrists. To this day, when I open a program and then close it right away I think about if this were 1988. I’d have had to spend like eighty minutes typing in that program and I just threw it away, only the modern version of it was good at its job except for the shift-return thing. Then I feel guilty.
So to summarize, I understand why everybody treated me like that in middle school.
Not to brag but I was right. During the Switzerland expedition Alley Oop fell off a cliff and got dead a little bit. (Wonmug had a defibrillator which somehow helps with falling from great heights.) Wonmug wants him checked out by a real doctor in a doctor’s office and all. The doctor’s receptionist won’t let him in without an insurance card. Alley Oop laughs at this, as if health care were not a fundamental right of all humans. Doctor Lambert tries getting some of Oop’s basics down. But they haven’t got a clear answer for what Alley Oop’s birthday or age should be. Wonmug seems to be keeping quiet about how Alley Oop’s from prehistoric times, and I don’t know why. Maybe he was keeping his time-travelling stuff quiet? Except, like, he has a sign pointing “To Time-Travel Laboratory” on his mailbox.
The doctor diagnoses Alley Oop with a lot of head injuries, which, fair enough. He wants to give Alley Oop an MRI. But it’s hard enough to get a blood sample, since his skin is so tough. There’s talk about a colonoscopy, quickly written off. Dr Lambert puts on a rubber glove with the intent of checking Oop’s prostate. When Wonmug whispers what that is, Oop gets up and storms out of the doctor’s office. This is a funny idea that doesn’t have any homophobic connotations. And it’s not like a prostate ever causes actual heath problems for a person anyway! Doctors are being all weird when they want to check it.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s reruns end on that unhappy note. Wonmug sends Alley Oop home in a sequence that, back in 2013, started a new adventure. Instead, we start a new adventure … with new artist and writer.
That new adventure started the 7th of January, 2019. With, at the risk of being cliched, someone waking up.
Alley Oop thinks he’s had a crazy dream about time-travelling and scientists from the future and all. I was not at all comfortable with this. One of the benefits of a long-running character is the building-up of a continuity. Its mass and often apparently contradictory nature give it verisimilitude. Sometimes you get caught in an actual contradiction that can’t be rationalized away. In that case I’m usually willing to give the creators the tool of “just don’t bring up the contradictory stuff again”. Or start repairing things and pretend the older problems never happened.
A clean-slate reboot has advantages when the core idea is good, but there’s stuff that can’t be reconciled or repaired. Often this is a difference in attitude. There’s no fitting the Adam West Batman and the 90s cartoon Batman in the same continuity, and no sense trying. So … would this be such a different approach that it didn’t make sense to treat them as in-continuity?
Ooola comes in to assure Alley Oop that it wasn’t a crazy dream, he just got hit in the head by a coconut. The time-travel stuff is real and they’ve been doing it for years. But … something happened and they’re in an alternate universe. It’s much like the knew, except that tacos will never be invented. Oop drops to his knees and cries out in agony.
Do you find this funny? Because this is the major writing difference between the old Alley Oop and the current one. Sayers and Lemon are still telling a serial adventure comic. But there is much more emphasis on joke-telling. Every strip ends with a punch line, even if it has to be forced in there. It’s an effect quite like Dan Thompson’s Rip Haywire, a strip I’m thinking about adding to these what’s-going-on-in reads.
If this style isn’t working for you, then you’ll probably find the new team to be a bust. To my tastes, the punch-line-panel bit has been getting better, as the jokes have been more based on character and situation. A zany, out-of-nowhere punch line can be great fun. We wouldn’t have had web comics in the 90s without them. And a story can be good with this sort of wackiness. Readers love to accept stories. All they demand is some combination of the characters, plot, writing, and concepts to be interesting enough. Where wacky, zany punchlines disappoint me as a reader is when they aren’t tied enough to the characters or the situations. If you could reassign a joke to another character, or another day’s strip, without making it less funny? That’s often a symptom of a weak joke. To my tastes, that’s been happening less as Sayers and Lemon inhabit the characters longer.
So the story. After a week of Ooola explaining the premise of the strip to Oop, Dr Wonmug popped in. He has a mission. They need to venture to the far-off world of 1986 to retrieve a mixtape. This isn’t just zany wackiness. Wonmug asserts it’s “very important and extremely time-sensitive”. So far he hasn’t explained what’s important. We’ll leave aside how a time traveller can face a time-sensitive problem. So far as I can tell, time travel in Alley Oop works like it would in Old Doctor Who. You know, where you don’t do that thing of coming back to your home time after fewer days than you spent in the other time.
They get to Wonmug’s old room. But the mixtape is gone. There’s a ransom note. Whoever took it wants three things. First is a jelly bean from the desk of President Reagan. They take a bus to Washington, DC. Wonmug has a plan for sneaking in to the Oval Office. They’ll deliver his Presidential Portrait. Fortunately Oop’s whipped up one of Reagan with a chimpanzee.
Things are going their way. Ronald Reagan wakes up senile, racist, homophobic, and missing his eyeglasses. So he’s in a great mood when Wonmug, Oop, and Oola come in. He identifies them as George Bush, Mikhael Gorbachev, and Nancy Reagan. While Reagan hangs the picture of “a sunset”, Oop grabs a bunch of jellybeans, and eats all but one of them.
The next item is in San Francisco. They need to grab the master copy of the game disk for Caves of Zgfrhkxp. And they’re going to get there in good time. Reagan agreed to let Wonmug, as “George Bush”, take Air Force Two to San Francisco. This is a fun historical shout-out. That’s what they nabbed Bush’s chief of staff John Sununu on, back when there were consequences to things. And this week they’ve landed in San Francisco.
And then there are Sundays. Often for story comics the Sunday strip is a recap of the previous week’s. Jack Bender and Carole Bender adapted this approach. Their Sunday strip usually recapped the previous Tuesday through the coming Monday. Jonathan Lemon and Joey Alison Sayers are doing something different. Their Sunday strips are installments of Little Oop, the adventures of a middle-school-age Alley Oop and his friends.
These have been fun. Alley Oop at school. Alley Oop hanging out with friends. Alley Oop asking his parents for a pet dinosaur. They’ve been fun, and haven’t had the same sort of wacky zany punch lines. This might reflect the strips having enough space to build a scenario. What they haven’t been is an ongoing story. So I’m going to hold off on recapping those stories until I see that there are stories to recap.
This stray thought about the 1980s and the cartoons and how there was this Pac-Man cartoon and all. Also the Pac-Man cartoon technically had Pac-Man and the Ghosts running around trying to bite each other. But because of what you could show on TV at the time, and what you could animate, you could argue the Ghosts were just trying to lick Pac-Man a lot. That would totally change things, especially the episode set in prehistoric times from before the discovery of Pac-Power-Pellets, when Pac-Men were helpless against Ghost licks, much as we humans are today.
The people who made cartoons really liked the space shuttle. Every show had at least one space shuttle episode. The Jetsons made a space shuttle episode they really made for real in reality. There was an episode of the Pac-Man cartoon where every power pellet in the world was loaded into a space shuttle cargo bay. Then Pac-Man went and ate them all, when you’d think he would need one, maybe two at most. There’s an excellent chance there were four different space shuttle episodes of Kissyfur. Also I don’t know what Kissyfur was but I remember there were lots of ads for it in comic books. It was a heck of a time, but I suppose they all were.
Here are some things worth explaining about the 1980s, or that are getting explanation anyway.
The decade was heralded by an argument between seven-year-olds who were friends, yes. But the question was whether the year following nineteen-seventy-nine would be nineteen-eighty or whether it would be nineteen-seventy-ten. And whether the decade would have to get all the way up to nineteen-seventy-ninety-nine before it flipped over to nineteen-eighty. The party taking the nineteen-seventy-ten side was very cross at the calendar-makers for not leaving the matter up to the public to dedide.
The President had a press spokesman whose name was Larry Speakes, and it seemed like it was amusing that he had a first and last name that sounded like you were describing what your friend Larry did for his job. His middle name was ‘Melvin’, but nobody could come to an agreement about what it was to Melvin a thing, or whether ‘Larry Melvin’ was a credible name. There was similar but baffled delight when we noticed that Buzz Aldrin’s mother’s maiden name was ‘Moon’. This was very important because lists of trivia about people and their names could point out that Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon. And while it’s possible he walked on his mother, we’re pretty sure she wasn’t a maiden when he did it. There was also a bit of a flap about how if you took Neil Armstrong’s name and discarded the ‘rmstrong’ part, and then spelled it backwards, you got ‘Alien’. This seemed like it ought to have something to do with his job, although by the 1980s, Neil Armstrong’s job was “chair of a company that made drilling rigs”. This seems highly significant.
Although we had pop culture, it was seen as really swell to make a kid version of popular. Looney Tunes as kids. The Flintstone Kids. Scooby Doo, but a puppy. The trend reached its peak with the 1989-90 Muppet Babies Kids, the exciting follow-up adventures to the animated adventures of the toddler versions of the live-action-ish Muppets. The show was a computer game, because why not? You know? Why not?
With the advent of the pizza-on-a-bagel American society finally handled the imaginary problem of not being able to get pizza anytime. But by putting pizza-related toppings on a bagel we did finish off the problem of bagels not being terrible. I think the problem is bagels had just got introduced outside the New York City metro area. I mean, there was a little stretch in the late 30s when Fred Allen was talking about them. But that was in joking about people who mistook bagels for doughnuts as part of the surprisingly existent controversy about dunking doughnuts in coffee. So explaining them as a pizza-foundation technology let people understand bagels in terms of things we had already accepted, like putting pizza on French bread. Also we could put pizza on the bottom halves of French bread. We don’t know what was done with the top halves. There’s an excellent chance someone at French Bread Pizza headquarters is going to open a forgotten cabinet door one day and get buried under forty years’ worth of abandoned French bread tops. People will call for rescue, but however many times they explain it to 9-1-1 the dispatch operator hangs up.
We had movies, back then. They were a lot like movies today, except everybody’s cars were shoddier. I mean, not that they were 80s cars, although they were, but they were more broken-down 80s cars than you’d get in a movie set in the 80s now. It was part of the legacy of 70s New Hollywood. We might have gotten rid of the muddy sound and action heroes that looked like Walter Matthau, but we were going to keep the vehicles looking downtrodden until 1989. And there was usually a subplot about smugglers who’re after some stolen heroin diamonds. Anyway, when going to the movies it was very funny to observe the theater had, like, six or even eight whole screens. For example, you could say “I’m going to the Route 18 Googolplex” to describe how amazing it was you might see any of four different films that were starting in the same 45-minute stretch of time.
The decade closed with an argument between seven-year-olds about whether the following year was nineteen-eighty-ten or not. These were different seven-year-olds from before. It would have been a bit odd otherwise. You’d think they would have remembered.
Me, thinking: “You know, there’s stuff in my life I’d change if it were possible, and there’s stuff in my life I probably could change but that I’ve found myself unwilling to make the sustained effort that would require. But on the whole, it’s pretty good, and within the reasonable bounds you might expect for someone of my age and income and happily accepted obligations I’m doing pretty well at being master of my own destiny.”
Also me: has had the incidental background music from the Hanna-Barbera Pac-Man cartoon series running in his head for 46 hours straight now. Send help. Not from the Q*Bert cartoon.
The host of 80s/90s Trivia asked, “Which child star of You Can’t Do That On Television would go on to be a major international music star?”
And I said, “How do we know any of them might not yet do it?”
I didn’t get the two points, but they’re hoping to get me in finals for the International Slightly Viral Meme Contest for April, motivational/inspirational-quotes division. It’s a long shot for for such an offhand quip but that’s all right. December 2017’s winner for Mot/Insp was itself a long shot, and it’s all about long shots like that winning the International Slightly Viral Meme Contests.
Remember back when the world was young and Star Trek IV: The One With The Whales first came out in theaters? Me too. There’s this scene where Kirk and Spock are riding a bus because it’s the mid-80s, and there’s this young punk playing annoying music too loud. So Spock neck-pinches him, and he falls over, knocking his boombox off. Everyone on the bus applauds because, hey, so far as they can tell this man wearing a bathrobe in public has choked a kid to death for being snotty! And everyone watching the scene chuckles too because, hey, don’t we all want to choke the youth to death? Yes.
What’s haunted me, as an annoying Star Trek fan, is the lyrics for the punk’s music. They run like this:
Just where is the future, the things we’ve done and said
Let’s just push the button, we’d be better off dead
‘Cause I hate you, and I berate you
And I can’t wait to get to you too
The sins of all the fathers been dumped on us, the sons,
The only choice we’re given is how many megatons?
Thing is, in the universe of Star Trek, that kid on the bus is less than a decade away from the Third World War. So is whatever British Punk Band That Works “Berate” Into Its Chorus that recorded the song. (In the full version they let “eschew” into the verse. My music tastes run more towards “sounds like that theremin’s calving”, but I can appreciate solid punk writing when I hear it.) And I keep thinking: what did that kid, and what did that band, think later on when The Bombs were falling?
(Yes, yes, I am very aware that as this was an Original Series movie the Third World War that bus punk would experience was explicitly non-nuclear. It was conventional warfare that killed 37 million people and that’s better I guess? It wasn’t until the more optimistic and utopian Next Generation that they rescheduled the Third World War to the mid-21st-century and killed over a half billion people.)
We’ve been thinking about a civilization-wrecking nuclear war for a long time. Or at least we’ve been thinking we’re thinking about it. We don’t really picture nuclear destruction, though. We don’t even picture ordinary destruction. What we imagine is a tense half-hour listening to news anchors trying to keep it together while the camera keeps drifting off-center, and the newsroom is weirdly quiet apart from off-camera voices sometimes shouting. Also taking phone calls from estranged friends with last-minute repentances for wronging us. Good luck those getting through. Even if the phone lines weren’t jammed apparently we’d all be having consequence-free sex with people we’d never see again anyway? Or so you all might. I’d be busy trying to download my Twitter archive so I could re-read some choice digs I got in on someone back in May.
We’ve got vague thoughts about what happens after, too. Post-apocalypse planning works out to be thinking we’ll get to pick the best stuff out of the landscape. Maybe go into business as a local warlord, trading supplies and shelter with trustworthy-looking stragglers. This from people who can’t handle there not being a dividing bar on the checkout conveyor belt at the farmer’s market. What if the guy ahead of us gets my two bunches of curly parsley? These aren’t the thoughts of someone up for handling the thirtieth day in a row of eating cream-of-celery soup. It was the only thing left that better scavengers didn’t get to first at the Neighborhood Market that mostly sold cell phone cards and lottery tickets. It’s reconstituted using water from where the now-former paint factory is leaking toluene into the aquifer. And it’s cold.
We’d need help, that’s all there is to it. And I don’t know what to do. On my bookshelf alone I have enough World War II books to teach how to win the war, except for how to fight. But they all end with lots of people in rubble-strewn cities. Even the ones about the postwar situation skim over what there is to do in it. There’s dramatic photos and talk about people clearing away rubble. Then it’s 1948 (for Europe) or 1950 (for Japan) and the United States decides the rubble cities should have an economy again. That’s over three years of people clearing away rubble. They had a lot of rubble, yes. But they also had to agree on where to put the rubble. And that takes social organization. And I don’t know where that comes from either.
This may be controversial, but I say ending civilization and destroying the world is a bad move. We should tough out our problems as they are and try fixing what we can. Thanks to YouTube you’ve seen all the footage of news anchors trying not to lose it that you could possibly need, and it’s about the same every time. Trust your estranged friends when they drop hints that they’d take an apology happily. Drop your estranged friends a hint that you’d take an apology happily. Stop looking for consequence-free stuff to do with or to people. For me, I’m going on TrekBBS to yell that they do not build the whale tank out of transparent aluminum. They build it out of the six-inch-thick plexiglass they traded the transparent aluminum formula for. Come on, people, watch the movie you’re watching. We can at least get that right.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index fell eleven points today as traders started getting all giddy thinking about how they used to be at, like, 80 points and now they’re up so way high nobody can even see 100 or even 200 anymore, which doesn’t sound at all like the sort of hubristic declaration that leads to incredible pain.
Instead of city names, especially your city name. Or the name of a beloved celebrity who’s either died or declared that the people complaining about an incredibly racist thing he said are the true racists.
Change a word so a title means something else.
Fit a pop culture thing into some other pop culture thing and maybe say it’s just like your workplace.
Here’s a real word given a fake definition.
Assonance Day Of The Week!
Making Something More 80s, possibly by adding that crashing-synthesizer-piano sting from Yes’s Owner Of A Lonely Heart.
Dogs are awesome. Look at this one!
A sports team has traded a person for something that seems at first odd, like the promise of a future person or the chance to name a dog or perhaps a large bowl of tapioca. Maybe some carpeting. I don’t know. Someone with more characters to explain can explain why this makes perfect sense for everybody involved and two-thirds of the people who aren’t but it’ll still sound odd.
Somebody found a stream of the Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling cartoon from 1985 and we can’t stop talking about that because good lord is this episode really titled Ali Bano and the 40 Geeks? Oh, this is gonna hurt.
There’s something in space and we know about it!
Yeah, dogs are great but look at this bunny! Seriously!
I can’t tell you why I was looking up ThunderCats episodes, not without being ashamed. But there was a time when I was like thirteen when the show was really extremely kind-of important-ish to me and I wouldn’t miss an episode. It was a good show for not missing an episode. It centered centering on a small band of cat-people refugees on a planet the show could never quite decide was or wasn’t Earth. They’d have adventures in seeing whose voice actor could most awkwardly place the stresses in their line readings. Also there was the episode which made it clear the ThunderCats, and galactic society at large, had lost the technology of “soap”. This suffices to explain why they never went to restaurants. There’s no way Galaxy County’s Board of Health would allow anyone to prepare food under those conditions. It makes me wonder where people go to have awkward parties after business hours with co-workers.
I don’t remember anymore why I stopped watching the show. I don’t think I lost interest in the basic premise. I mean, it’s cat-people refugees who manage to talk the local cyborg teddy bears into building an impractically large cat-shaped fortress for them. That’s the sort of thing everybody wants to see. And they go on to build a high-speed tank and, later, a spaceship. These are things to admire. If I were one of a half-dozen refugees of humanity thrown onto an alien planet I’d be hard-pressed to finish building a vacuum-based pasta extrusion machine. These guys would extrude one without even calling on the guy whose legs are rotary drills that I’m pretty sure I didn’t just imagine. I must have just got busy what with progressing in age to like fifteen and being very busy keeping everybody out of my room.
I kind of knew they kept making the show even after I stopped watching. I should have written to tell them they didn’t need to bother. Maybe they would’ve anyway; they had got the hang of making these episodes. I seem to have wandered off from the show sometime in its second season. They finished out that season and made two more after that. They kept adding new characters, and new toys, and at one point they even gave the characters a whole new planet to putter around in. Two whole planets seems like a lot for a dozen cat-people to share, but I understand the logic. Planets were popular back then. You maybe remember how for Christmas 1986 people were lining up for days in the hopes Toys R Us would have even a measly Kuiper Belt Object on the shelves.
“Shoo! Get Out!” Toys R Us store managers, dressed as giraffes, would say as they came in to face a line of shoppers in the morning. “We’re selling Amigas this year, if Commodore can ship any that aren’t on fire!” But they wouldn’t listen. It would be madness to ignore that sort of demand. So everybody just bought a Teddy Ruxpin, and tried to make that cyborg teddy bear build them an impractically large cat-shaped fortress, and lost it (the teddy bear).
One of the episodes I never saw has its start, says the overwritten-yet-uncommunicative Wikipedia episode guide, when “Vultureman escapes from exile by hijacking a bookmobile”. And now I have a new favorite episode summary for anything. I assume Vultureman snuck into the Exiles Bookmobile by disguising himself as a 75-cent pocket book of crossword puzzles. If he didn’t, I don’t want to know.
It can be heartbreaking to go back to the dumb stuff you loved as a kid. They’re the crushes of youth. They’re best left as the occasional mysterious smile until you’re remote enough. When the shaky animation, the many stock shots, and the nearly fourteen bars of background music are about you instead of the show then you can watch. But bear in mind, the episode guide says there’s one where annoying nephew Snarfer gets Mexican takeout from the cyborg teddy bears.
That bookmobile episode was written by Matthew Malach. The Internet Movie Database credits him for writing the 1993 or possibly 1996 cartoon Stone Protectors. This was a series about how buff troll dolls use magic alien crystals to become a competent rock band and, um, samurai wrestlers or something. This might not sound like much, but many of its episodes did get released on videotape. I hope it brings someone joy to know that.
I’m going ahead and guessing you want to know how the 80s Night came out. For me it was more dignified than the actual 1980s. It involved less weeping and much less Destro on my part. I was never in the running for the 80s Costume Contest. I did dress pretty much as I did in the actual 1980s, what with finding a shirt and a pair of pants that fit and wearing them around the correct limbs and segments of my torso. The contest was won by a women who came in a sweater so blue and puffy that it broke through previous cognitive barriers to find new yet somehow vintage colors of blue and textures of puffiness. It challenged well-known conceptual theories of blue puffiness. Everyone was outclassed, but I was outclassed the most.
Besides the costume contest there was music. If it weren’t for the music the night would just be people wearing unfashionable clothing, staring at each other, and wondering if the hipster bar wasn’t supposed to be closed that day anyway. It was and for some reason it wasn’t.
Still, running alongside the music was dancing. My love was happy to dance. I was willing to go along but am at rather a disadvantage. My love has learned such sophisticated dancing skills as “how” and “when to”. I’m still working on the part of dancing where I don’t look as though I’ve been pulled out of bed, stripped to my underwear, and shoved out onto an unfamiliar podium to give the State of the Union address. It is strong but faces great challenges if we are to remain great.
There was probably some point when I should have learned dancing. I guess when I was a teen and going to parties. Here I have to plead higher priorities. When I was in high school it was most important that I spend every Friday and Saturday night watching The Wrath of Khan. And, you know, while I was doing all that the movie didn’t change one bit. It would go on not changing for like fifteen years after that, when I was busy with other stuff and they released DVDs. I did as much as I could. I had similar results on Saturday and Sunday nights with The Search For Spock.
But my heroic sacrifice means I’m stuck for what to do when dancing. I understand that I should be moving my body, both wholly and in parts. Some part of me understands, for example, I should do something that coordinates with the movements of my love, who’s dancing in front of me. The obvious thing is to do what my love is doing. This could be in mirror — my love moves left, so I do too — or in rotation — my love moves left, so I move right. This leads me to think about the kinds of symmetry operations that are valid in dancing partners. How do they vary with dancing quartets, or trios, or arbitrary large groups of people dancing around a circle? Are they necessarily discrete symmetries or are continuous ones allowed too? This is what happens to people you let grow up into mathematics majors. By the time I’ve worked it out the DJ has finished with the Pet Shop Boys for the night.
But I’ll carry on trying anyway because I want to be a good sport. My basic move is what I learned from doing the step aerobics move on WiiFit. I don’t want to unnecessarily brag about my abilities there, but in two and a half years of daily exercise on that I got “perfect” scores on their two-and-a-half minute step aerobics literally more than four times.
None of this should imply that I raise my hands, by the way. I grant it’s theoretically possible to raise my hands above the level of my pockets while dancing. I don’t believe the rewards could be worth the risk. If I raised a hand how would I know someone wouldn’t try to shake it, or hand me the leash for a pack of werewolves harnessed together as sled dogs, or try to high-five me, or something? No, I’ll just be over here, shuffling at the steady beat of WiiFit Step Aerobics whatever the song’s beat is, circling around my love until I get dizzy and fall down. It’s what I can do well.
There’s an 80s Night at our local hipster bar. It’s tonight, Sunday night. The bar had been closed Sunday nights since about March, and, this is true, finally got ‘CLOSED SUNDAYS’ painted onto the back door underneath its hours. So you see why this is the sort of place where I fit in.
The trouble is the dressing-up portion. After decades I finally learned about dressing myself. So I don’t try picking anything that I think looks good. A solid color for a shirt, and a different solid color for pants, plus socks. It’s a fashion I like to call “minor character in a lazily designed comic strip”.
What happens if I pick clothes for myself? Well, take any picture from any group of the 1970s or 1980s. You see the person dressed most regrettably? I used to have that outfit. I still would if it hadn’t worn it until it had multiple significant holes. So all that is to say that once again, I can’t pick out clothes to look like I belong.
M J Wright was writing about the tendency of people to see patterns where there aren’t any. It’s put me in mind of something from back in my days as a teenage boy. I also spent my nights as a teenage boy, back then. It seemed the best use of my time. But you should bear in mind that as a teenage boy, I was nevertheless a teenage boy, so my judgement was bad. I don’t mean it was the kind of bad judgement that leads to stories which include non-metaphorical uses of the word “plummet”, or leave one barred from joining a military service or entering any Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips ever. My judgement was an ordinary, low-level sort of bad.
For example, I would spend hours typing in the programs listed in Compute!’s Gazette for the Commodore 64. See, back then a major draw for computer magazines was they’d give you the code for programs to do stuff like play versions of Arkanoid but with worse graphics and no sound. All you had to do was type in hundreds of two- or three-digit binary codes perfectly. Compute!’s Gazette was a really special magazine, because it insisted on putting an exclamation point just before the apostrophe s. I just know that offended copy editors, back when there were copy editors.
The work-to-play ratio got a lot better about a year after I got a Commodore 64 that was basically fine but some of the keys were wrong. That’s because I finally got a Datasette. This was a tape recorder optimized for use by the Commodore 64 by having a plug the right shape for it. So I could finally type in a program once and then re-use it sometime later. I know this doesn’t sound like much now, but remember the times. It was an era when the computer had sixteen colors, and three of them were grey.
Sometimes I’d even use them. Not necessarily. I once spent an evening typing in the code for the word processor SpeedScript 1.0, even though I had already typed in SpeedScript 3.2. Why would I do this? Well, I had the magazine with the code for SpeedScript 1.0 in it and it was just sitting there waiting for someone to type it in. And it wasn’t like my wrists could be expected to pick up a repetitive strain injury on their own. As I say, I was a teenaged boy.
Anyway. I had a small television set with rabbit-ear antennas in my bedroom. I hung aluminum foil on the ends of the ears to improve the reception a tiny bit. Mostly I wanted the thrill of having rabbit-ear antennas with panes of aluminum foil on the ends. I thought that made it more rabbit-ear antenna-y. Remember, teenaged boy.
One night I noticed that, through the light from outside, one of the sheets of foil had a clear human face in it. I realize I know what face, too: it was pretty obviously Destro, from G.I.Joe. And this annoyed me because I knew if I tried to draw a face it wouldn’t be anywhere near so well-formed as that. I never tried drawing Destro much. I did, some, in making my own awful comics. I had wanted to point out ways that minor procedural changes would have allowed many of Cobra’s evil schemes succeed. But I figured out drawing comics was easier if I just drew landscapes, word balloons, and explosions. The people could be skipped. And eventually I figured out that I had no responsibility for correcting Cobra’s blunders.
Still, this aluminium-foil Destro was there every night, teasing me. All my powers and slight concentration couldn’t do a face nearly as realistic or as expressive as this thing created by breezes and fiddling with the antenna. It wasn’t all I thought about in bed, but it was something to nag at me every night.
So finally one day I crumpled up the foil and flattened it out again. This eliminated the face for good, and I can draw a better Destro that that, I assume. I think this was the right thing to do, but remember, I was that teenaged boy.
I know what this has you all wondering. Of course I never typed in SpeedScript 2.0, because that was only offered as a special bonus to people who bought the Compute!’s Gazette Disk. So far as I know there was never anything for the public to type in.
I got to looking up the early-80s video game Dig Dug, which taught me how to better my enemies by wielding a bicycle pump at them, which has never worked for me. I’ve never got past the third board in the game, and a bicycle pump has done even worse at fending off my enemies in real life. But StrategyWiki delighted me by not just being able to tell me the names all the things in it, and revealing that among the “bonus vegetables” that pop up if you do far better than I have ever done are eggplants, pineapples, garlic, Galaxian, and green peppers, is that Dig Dug himself has a proper name and it isn’t “Mr Dug”.
Apparently his proper name is Taizo Hori, and he’s the father of “Mr Driller”, famed star of the Mr Driller series of video games that I never heard of before this. I don’t know why Mr Driller changed his family name. Maybe Taizo’s wife kept her maiden name, or they didn’t marry at all. Maybe Mr Driller wanted to get away from having a name that’s a Japanese pun, which it turns out his dad’s name is. “Horitai zo” apparently means “I want to dig”, although I’m not sure changing your name from “I Want To Dig” to “Mr Digger” isn’t just a lateral move, like going from “Mr Shepherd” to “Mr Fellow With A Keen Interest In Organizing Groups Of Sheep”. Obviously there are parts of the psychology of the Dig Dug universe that I don’t adequately understand.
It also turns out there’s backstory to Dig Dug that explains Taizo is digging around his own vegetable patch, which is why vegetables turn up, and it’s being invaded by those critters which is why he’s trying to blow them up, and now I kind of want to look up an explanation for how the Burger Time universe came to be, but I’m also afraid of finding out. I’ve almost gotten to the third board in that.
Also, garlic is a vegetable? I guess I can accept it as a vegetable. I suppose I didn’t have a clear notion of what it was, besides one of those things that comes chopped up in a bottle and that I put too much of on my burger. All right, so it’s a vegetable, then.
It isn’t that I was deliberately avoiding them, or that I was particularly avoiding social gatherings where they might be shown. It’s just that it was very, very important that I watch a videotape of The Wrath Of Khan 316 times while I was still in high school, just in case it changed on us all or something. Sometimes I’d have to watch it two or three times in a night, but I think you’ll agree the effort was worthwhile.