What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? What did happen for Skeezix’s 100th birthday? February – April 2021


I’d delayed my last Gasoline Alley plot summary a couple weeks back in February. This so I could say what was happening for Skeezix’s centennial. His discovery on Walt Wallet’s doorstep changed the strip and made it into something that would last a hundred-plus years. And I was startled that nothing particular did happen.

That did change. We got a story revisiting a few moments in Skeezik’s life. This from the perspective of Walt Wallet, a fair choice. The retrospective was shorter than I expected. This both in its duration, which was only a week for the readers, and its scope, which only covered up to World War II. But it is an observation, albeit late, of Skeezik’s centennial.

So this should catch you up on Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for late April, 2021. If you’re reading this after about July 2021, or if news about the strip breaks, I should have a post here.

On my other blog, I do write up comic strips with mathematical content sometimes. Yesterday, for example, I got to bring up a 1948 panel of Barnaby. You might like seeing that.

And now, what has been going on in Gasoline Alley since February?

Gasoline Alley.

14 February – 26 April 2021.

A lot of stuff at the supermarket. Gertie, Walt’s live-in caretaker, stops to help Mim, a woman who’d lost her glasses. Gertie can’t find them, but throws her back out searching the floor. She pulls on a shelf to straighten up, knocking over bottles of floor wax. And then we get a bunch of slapstick as characters fall over, drawing in more bystanders to slip and fall over, drawing in — Well. We are fortunate the slipping wave stops before it encompasses all humanity in the dreaded Global Pratfall Event. And in comes Tim, who’d found Mim’s glasses when he got home. He surmises that they fell into his basket and he hadn’t noticed. Since they’ve met cute and have matching names, they need to go off and date and reappear in stories to come.

Mim: 'Oh, my! I can see again! Thank you! Thank you! How can I repay you?' Gertie: 'Not me! He!' Tim: 'Aw! I was glad to help!' Mim: 'No! I insist!' Tim: 'I insist! No!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 4th of March, 2021. By the next day, in-character time, Tim is calling Mim ‘honey’, so I suppose things are moving fast. Or I’m mistaken in saying that’s happened the next day. Though Gasoline Alley tries to age characters in roughly real-time, there have to be gaps in time we readers don’t see. Otherwise the characters live, like, one or two days per month.

So, come the 10th of March, Gertie heads home and into the next story. She calls Walt to let him know she’s running late, but gets no answer. She fears the worse, speeding home. A cop stops her for speeding, but concedes these are good reasons to rush home and check on an unresponsive 115-year-old. They call in the fire department and the ambulance and find … that he was just watching the TV and couldn’t hear the phone.

Young Walt, holding an infant Skeezix: 'Skeezix! What're you doing here?' Infant Skeezix: 'I live here! Don't you remember?' Walt: 'But, you're grown up and married and live across town!' Skeezix: 'Married? At my tender age?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 31st of March, 2021. I liked this retrospective-in-a-dream frame. It excuses jumping to good parts without transition or explanation, for one. (And doing such a jump makes the dream more authentic.) And it lets a moment like this be a dialogue, usually more interesting.

From the 24th, Walt talks about the lost stamina of his youth. He goes to bed, and wakes up the next morning … looking and feeling 20 years old. He’s dreaming, of course, but chooses to enjoy that.

Teen Skeezix, pointing out a car to Middle-Age Walt: 'Want to go for a ride in my new jalopy, Uncle Walt? Hop in!' Walt: 'Skeezix! You can't drive! You're just a baby! ... [ They're in the car, racing down the street ] Well, at least you were yesterday!' Skeezik: 'Baby? I'm 15 years old!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 31st of March, 2021. I liked this retrospective-in-a-dream frame. It excuses jumping to good parts without transition or explanation, for one. (And doing such a jump makes the dream more authentic.) And it lets a moment like this be a dialogue, usually more interesting.

He talks with Baby Skeezix. Relives going on the first drives with a 15-year-old Skeezix in a mid-30s jalopy. Waves Skeezix off to the Army, and back from World War II. And, while he’s feeling young, goes for a run. It’s a moment that touched me. I don’t yet have the experience of being old. But I did used to be quite fat. When I was losing that weight there was one day I realized I could go from walking quickly to running, and that the transition felt good, and the running felt good, and I imagine Walt’s dream felt like that. I hope everyone gets to experience that good feeling.

Adult Skeezix, hugging: 'Goodbye, Uncle Walt!' Walt: 'Where're you going Skeezix?' Skeezix, showing his ARMY shirt: 'Off to WWII! I enlisted!' Walt: 'Be careful! Don't worry! We win the war!' Skeezix: 'How do you know?' Walt: 'Been there! Done that!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 5th of April, 2021. “Oh, I’ve played like 300 crazy scenarios in Hearts of Iron III and, let me tell you, you have to seriously nerf the Allies to lose.”

But it is a dream, and only a dream. He wakes the next morning with the usual sorts of aches and indignities of age.


Walt wakes back up the 13th, has breakfast, and they discover they’re out of eggs. While Walt naps, Gert goes back to the store. She’s been trying to find a box of eggs without any cracked, without success. The egg delivery guy is handling the packages roughly. Also she sees Mim again, who’s there with Tim and contact lenses.

Next Week!

Hollywood glamor! Rappers! Childhood bullies! Homeowners Associations! Viral videos! It’s Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail, if all goes as planned. I still don’t know how Mark Trail didn’t get arrested after stealing that boat in Florida. Sorry.

Also, if you’re a little curious somebody built a Smokey Stover web site … I’d estimate in summer of 1997 … updated the copyright notice in 2003, and forgot about it ever since. So please enjoy some vintage comic strips on a very vintage web site. It’s got an image map for its front page, if you can imagine.

In Which I Ask Not To Be Given An Eight-Million-Dollar Dinosaur Skeleton, Please


I know I have a birthday coming up. This isn’t to brag. I mean, we all do. That’s how time works. I know I’m also a difficult person to buy stuff for. This is because people don’t believe me when I say “oh, any nonfiction book will do”. If you need more guidance, “any nonfiction book my Dad would read will do”. I grant this helps only if you know my Dad, but that’s OK. He’s very approachable and would love to meet you. Ask him what he’s reading, that’ll go great.

So if you’re in a bookstore explain that you want a nonfiction book where someone explains, like, lithium or the Jagiellonian University or competitive stamp-licking. If you ask the bookstore staff for nonfiction, they’ll take you to fiction. It turns out most people asking for nonfiction in fact want made-up stories. Yes, I am angry about this. So are the people working at the bookstore.

What I am saying not to buy is a dinosaur. Any dinosaur will do, but I’m thinking specifically of this tyrannosaurus rex that Reuters says is going up for auction at Christie’s. Christie’s plans on selling this dinosaur skeleton in October. And, yes, it’s charming that they’re still trying to plan for things a whole two weeks away. I’ve given up planning anything as far out as “in ten minutes when the noodles should be done boiling”.

Anyway I do know that I absolutely, no question, do not need a dinosaur skeleton. I don’t even have a decorative or symbolic use for one. And there’s no place to store it. I don’t even have places to store all my books about dinosaurs or October. And don’t go thinking I could give it away again if I really have no space for it. First, I can’t give away gifts. The last things I will ever own in life, after I finally become able to de-clutter my life, will be stuff I don’t like from people who didn’t really know me.

But also I couldn’t get rid of it because, hey, what if I needed a tyrannosaurs rex skeleton? No, I can’t imagine what I’d need a tyrannosaurs rex skeleton for either. But you know how hard it would be to get one in an emergency? You can’t pop down to the thrift store district and hope you get lucky, even if you have a truck to take it home in. Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons don’t go up for sale that much.

In fact this one wouldn’t be up for sale at all, if I understand this right, except for an accident. The dinosaur was found in South Dakota in 1987 by an amateur paleontologist, Stan Sacrison. But scientists weren’t much interested in it because they thought it was a triceratops. Also it turns out professional paleontologists think triceratopses aren’t that interesting? Experts do live in a different world from us lay people.

Photograph from below of a miniature golf course's giant T-rex figure. The light is from underneath so it looks taller than the setting sun.
Yeah, this? Do not want. Thank you. [ From Dinosaur Adventure Golf, Niagara Falls, Ontario. Fun course. ]

And yet I bet any one of these scientists who shrugged off Stan Sacrison’s dinosaur would find it very exciting if they found a real live triceratops in their breakfast nook some morning. Even some evening. But also they got a triceratops and a tyrannosaurs rex mixed up? I understand bones are hard to understand but, like, I’ve seen the Sid and Marty Krofft documentary Land of the Lost. I could tell tyrannosaurs rex Grumpy apart from triceratops … uh … whatever his name was. You know, I bet the paleontologists called him “Steve” Sacrison too.

The dinosaur, named STAN (“Luke? I think you look like a Luke”, according to paleontologists), is 40 feet long and 13 feet high. To give some sense of scale, that’s even taller than me. But, again, that’s another reason not to get me this. It’s also longer than my house, you see, my house already being larger than me. We’d have to keep it outside and that’s no place for dinosaurs. All the original dinosaurs were kept outside and look where they are now.

Plus they think STAN will sell for six to eight million dollars. If you’re looking to spend that much on me, first, thank you, but second, I would rather have it in bookstore gift cards. Or ask my Dad about what to buy because, like, I swear, if someone’s written a book about the history of dinosaur skeleton auctioning? I’d like that instead, please. No dinosaurs.

Thoughts


Given the choice I wouldn’t have been up before noon on a Saturday that early June of 1989. But it was the day for Senior Class Photos, for the yearbook and all. My father, taking time from his birthday, drove me there, to one of a hundred identical New Jersey towns, the ones one or two layers of municipality in from the Shore. I don’t know why that was the high school’s designated photo studio, but it was, and there we went.

Somehow there was extra time, and a comic shop nearby, that I had never been to before nor would ever visit again. I picked up the Marvel Age promotional comic, and got a rare bit of news. I had been a reader of the New Universe comic books. This was a series that Marvel Comics started in 1986 as protection against some incomprehensible creators-rights problem happening. The books ran, unloved except by me, for two years before the problem evaporated and all the titles were cancelled. It was supposed to turn into a series of graphic novels, advancing the whole world, but I only ever saw one of them. The issue said that a new four-part graphic novel had been published, though, and in the current issue the New Universe Earth had a nuclear war.

I would never see the books, and I gather that the story more complicated than that. But the slug line promised that it was a stunning and realistic-for-superhero-comics depiction of global thermonuclear war. I’d liked the setting and had to conclude that it was unrecognizably gone, now. It would come back, of course, as some writers slipped it into the mainline Marvel continuity. And even do a reboot of the premise. But how would I know that at my young age? All I could know is that a fictional world I’d had a strange fondness for had burned itself up, for what (best I could gather) were stupid reasons.

And along the way — I forget whether driving there or driving home — came a breaking story on the news radio. We always listened to in the car. It was a dividend of my growing up in the last decade of Cold War, afraid there’d be a nuclear war I wouldn’t hear about ten minutes ahead of the event. The Chinese government had enough of the peaceful gatherings in Tiananmen Square, and was sending in troops to terrorize its people into compliance. It crushed the hopes for democratic reforms for a country that sorely needed them. It was a moment of needless misery and horror, out of all place in a year of liberations.

And it felt personal. I felt outraged that my father’s birthday was ruined, by this disaster. This sense of personal offense at a global outrage is part of our family’s heritage. My father’s father was born on the 1st of September, and for the last five decades of his life felt a personal grudge against Hitler for invading Poland that of all days. (No great epoch-making disaster has happened on my birthday yet, but it has at least once been too close.) History has given my father a break, recording the crackdown and terror as happening the day after; by local time, it was. But for me living it, it was all these terrible things, some petty and personal, some obviously of world important, and all arriving on a day that deserved to be reserved for small pleasantnesses and thoughts about someone I love.

Happy birthday, Dad. I’m sorry that the times suck.

Statistics Saturday: November Birthdays Per Year


Bar chart with horizontal axis of 1 through 30, with each bar a uniform height of 1.
Huh. Hey, would you believe as far as I can tell no countries changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in their November? Go figure, huh?

Reference: Signor Marconi’s Magic Box: The Invention that Sparked the Radio Revolution, Gavin Weightman.

An Observation About The Behavior Of Humans, Including Me


The friend who can’t remember he has the same birthday as I do, so every year he’ll tell me it’s his birthday, and then I answer, “You say it’s your birthday? It’s my birthday too, yeah”. Well, I’m not going to get tired of this.

Popeye’s Island Adventures: Popeye gets a birthday without Shorty for once


King Features Syndicate has clearly decided to try reintroducing Popeye to the popular culture for the 90th anniversary of his debut and 100th anniversary of the Thimble Theatre comic strip he debuted in and took over. Part of this is a cute weekly comic feature, drawn by a host of different artists, called Popeye’s Cartoon Club. Part of this is surely this whole Island Adventures project. This week’s cartoon, Popeye’s Birthday, suggests that the two-minute shorts started publishing a few weeks late. The cartoon just missed the 90th anniversary of the character’s debut. (I don’t know whether Popeye has a canonically established birth date. I would imagine if he has, then it’s been contradicted several times. His debut date is as good a choice as we can have.)

After last week’s honestly baffling cartoon this was a comfortably straightforward story. Olive Oyl organizes a surprise birthday party for Popeye. Bluto tries to crash it. Along the way, Eugene has to delay Popeye from stumbling into the party before it’s ready. Everybody’s doing things for reasons that make sense.

So here’s something I noticed about Bluto trying to crash the party: nobody even knows he’s doing it. That Olive Oyl is able to hang Bluto as a piñata by accident is absurd in a way that I like a little bit more each time I think about it. Later, he tries to grab Popeye’s spinach(?) cake with a fishing line, and just swipes the garbage instead. Nobody cares. In principle, I like the subtle ridiculousness of his schemes failing so badly he goes unnoticed. But it does mean the first time Olive Oyl or Popeye see him is when he falls on the cake. And that’s a thing he wasn’t trying to do.

This is another good bit of situational irony. But it makes Popeye’s and Olive Oyl’s retribution disproportionate. It feels unfair, at least unless you suppose Popeye knows when someone deserves it. Which, yes, Popeye does. One of the earliest Thimble Theatre stories with Popeye has him slugging the bad guy every time he’s on panel, with no in-character justification beyond a Columbo-like awareness that this is the bad guy. Hm. Maybe I’m the one interrogating this text from the wrong perspective.

I like how Eugene’s best idea for distracting Popeye is to shove him into a chair and start juggling. And the off-screen escalation of the juggling that still bores the Sailor Kid. Bluto’s fantasy that a big can of spinach will let him turn into a giant and chase Popeye is a cute, odd bit of kid logic. Although I guess it’s not out of line with what happened to Bluto’s tooth. (It’s reusing the walk cycle from Scramble For The Egg and I would have sworn at least one more cartoon, too. The same banana model’s being reused, too.)

It’s nagging at me how much Popeye’s been a reactive character the last few storylines. In each case it’s understandable. You can’t throw much of a surprise birthday party for someone and have them be the character who drives the story, unless the story is them spoiling the surprise. But not every short has to have every character doing everything. Even if there were more than two minutes for it.

Is the project to reintroduce Popeye working? I don’t know. My love noticed at the mall this weekend a small child wearing a winter jacket with Olive Oyl and Eugene the Jeep on it. And one of the contestants had to guess the price of a can of spinach ($1.29) on The Price Is Right today. So that’s something. Meanwhile I keep watching Popeye’s Island Adventures, and leaving my thoughts about them at this link.

Statistics Saturday: How Father’s Day Card Descriptions Of My Father Compare To The Actual My Father


Trait Father’s Day Cards Say My Father Has Are They Correct?
Sloppy No.
Lazy Not really.
Sports-obsessed If “thinks there is a best professional sports venue, and that it is Fenway Park, and probably could name a New York Yankee if pressed” (we’re from New Jersey) then yes, otherwise, not really.
Beer-obsessed Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha no.
Cranky Not since he stopped working rotating shifts in like 1984.
Full of really good ignored advice Other than that one about starting a retirement account when I was still in college not really.
Mechanically inept Only if you hold against him that the dishwasher in the old house would not stop leaking even after he replaced it and everything connected to it maybe five times.
Flatulent No.
The Human ATM No.
Barbecue-obsessed If “can barbecue fine, thanks, but is really happier making broiled chicken and other grown-up meals like that” counts.
Golfing No.
Napping Yeah, although usually the cat climbs onto his chest and naps first. But I understand they have an agreement about this.
Overprotective No.
Fishing I cannot imagine my father enjoying anything less than a day out fishing, and that includes “watching the televised Congressional impeachment hearings against my brother on Fox News while waiting at the car dealership for an emergency transmission overhaul to get finished”.
Long-suffering Well, that’s fair enough.

Also, why are there no cards for father-in-laws? Or a month back, for mother-in-laws? I haven’t done a rigorous survey about this, but I’m going to bet there are more people who actually like their spouse’s parents than there are people needing birthday cards for someone turning 100.

Brotherly … uhm … Something?


My family’s got a Birthdays Calendar shared through Google I Think, which is great because with all the marriages and children added to the family the past decade-plus I’ve realized I really don’t have a grip on the birthday of anyone who joined the family after 1979. The only thing that could make this a more useful service is if I ever remembered to look at it.

So, now, this is why I’ve found it suddenly alarming that I got a mail reporting my father had made an update on the birthday calendar, to wit, “CANCELLED @ Annually” for a couple weeks from now. It’s definitely not the birthdate of any of my siblings, so I have to conclude it’s the birthday of one of my siblings-in-law that’s been cancelled. I haven’t heard of any sources of particular tension in the family lately either, but it’s easy for me to miss that sort of thing either. Part of me feels like I should be warning them not to take any blacksmithing and shaving offers they get the next couple days, but part of me does feel like, well, my father must have pretty good reasons even if I haven’t heard them yet, right?

It’s so hard to know what to do when you get a mail like that.

How Our Pet Rabbit Celebrated His Birthday


“Happy birthday,” I told him.

He was staring at some sheets of paper in his pen and just grunted a little. Or maybe he sneezed, because he sneezes a lot and it sounds like the buzzing of the restraint bars on an old-fashioned roller coaster.

“Um … and many more?”

He got up on all fours and hopped to the edge of the pen. Then he stood up on his hind legs, using the pen to brace his forelegs, looked at me, and rolled his head to the side while yawning, and sticking his tongue out. He left his tongue sticking out — the shape of rabbit mouths means this comes out from one side, and tilted — dropped back to the ground, ran back to his paper, and flopped over on his side, exposing his bright white belly in a flurry of adorability.

“What was that?” I had to know.

He pulled his tongue back in. “Homework.”

“You have homework?”

“Internet course in advanced cute.” I tried to peek at his paper, but it was printed out in rabbit, but I had some idea now why we keep running out of printer paper too soon.

“You’re taking cute classes?”

“I take my responsibilities around here seriously.” And he licked a paw, to groom the side of his head, while flopped out like that, and reaching for the end of his ears.

“Excellent work,” I admitted. “Good luck.”

He splayed his front paw’s fingers out and licked between them. “Thanks!”

It’s Somebody’s Business


The history of a company usually has distinct phases, like the step where a small team of like-minded idealists with skills in an exciting new technology realize they’ve been coming to a garage workshop garage for four years now and have almost completed a salable product none too soon because the owner of the garage almost caught them last time. And then there’s a stage where everybody gets quite tense about selecting the right sort of cake for the birthday party for someone who’s out sick anyway. It wasn’t the right day anyway. And then there are also all intermediate stages like deciding what to make for their fifteenth product, and deciding that the company logo has to be redone so it’s at an angle. It can make for fascinating reading to follow all these stages. I plan to do so by putting the logo at an angle and changing its typeface to something sans serif that badly imitates handwriting.