- Yes, I own a Ziggy Christmas ornament.
- No, I am not joking.
- No, I did not get it ironically. If I am not mistaken I got this in 1977 or 1978 and President Jimmy Carter only deregulated irony in 1979.
- Yes, I hang it on the tree.
- Every year except when I forget.
- Yes, somehow however I hang the Ziggy ornament it turns around to face the wall.
- Yes, I have spent more than fifteen minutes trying to get Ziggy to not face the wall.
- No, I am not sure that I’m not the one with the problem, what with how I don’t respect how facing the wall is part of the Nature of Ziggy.
- No, but really, isn’t not respecting the Nature of Ziggy the truest possible way to respect the Nature of Ziggy?
- No, it is not.
Not included: Arthur Christmas, because we have it on DVD but our DVD player just broke. Also not included: Robert Rossellini’s 1971 Blaise Pascal because that’s really not a Christmasy movie, right?
Reference: Wind Tunnels of NASA, Donald D Baals, William R Corliss.
Maybe the reason the guy sitting opposite me at the Christmas party was rubbing his chin so much isn’t that I was completely failing to brush something out of my beard. Maybe he was thinking that my brushing my cheek was an attempt to warn him that he had something in his beard. Well, the only way out of this would be for either of us to say something to the other, or to ask another person if we had anything in our beards. So, I’m sorry, but this is my life now. I bequeath my blogs to whoever first correctly identifies the best Sparks song ever. Be fair to the story comics.
The key to Christmas decorating is gathering in the most emotionally important room in the house. Then fill it up to your chest in boxes. This should ideally be a labyrinth, but it’s all right if you can’t, what with the high price of minotaurs these days. The spirit of the season is satisfied if during the decorating process a quick visit to the bathroom requires five minutes of maneuvering and, at some point, someone ducking backwards into a closet. Mind, the spirit is really tickled if in the process of getting out of the way someone falls backwards onto the sofa. Just an advisory.
It’s not really a full decorating job until everyone involved in the decorating is worn out and has turned to shouting at one another over questions like where to hang the stockings and whether the stockings were hung in the correct order. Done fully, Christmas decorating gives everyone the experience of moving to a new home. It’s a precious experience, all the more precious if you’ve been living in the same place for so long you find it a little weird that you aren’t, like, fifteen years older. I mean, you’re supposed to just move from one place to another every couple years, right? It’s weird that you’re not doing that?
But maybe you don’t have the time or you aren’t up for quite that raucous a fight. Decorating doesn’t have to be complicated. The simplest way to decorate is to snatch the magic wand from a Christmas Fairy. Then wave it around CLOCKWISE FOR THE LOVE OF CHEESE and point it at a surface. Poof! You’ll have ribbons and baubles and merry stuff like that and be walking in drifts of tinsel up to four feet deep. It’s quick and easy. But it does mean getting involved with the fairy folk. That always starts great and then it turns out there was some fool rule that if you ever said “mustard” three times the night of a lunar eclipse then the devil gets to take everything in your life that’s blue or starts with the letter ‘w’. I know, you’re figuring, how could that really spoil anything? Consider one example: ‘when’ is a thing that starts with the letter ‘w’. Lose ‘when’ and it becomes impossible to establish the time of anything. So you’ll be simultaneously late and early and on time for everything you might do. Every social encounter will be a stressful, confusing melange of apparently unmotivated interactions. But different from how it already is.
So maybe just as well to go about it the hard way. The Christmas tree has been a centerpiece of Christmas decorating in a Christmas tradition that Christmas dates Christmas to — sorry. Something got jammed there. But Christmas trees are great. You can get a natural tree, which you put in a tree stand full of water that spills on the skirt every day. If you’re lucky, it’ll make alarming crackling noises that sound like it’s on fire, or there’s maybe a squirrel still in it, or that your squirrel is on fire. Or you can get an artificial tree, which avoids the problem by coming in a box that’s objectively too small for all the tree parts to fit inside. Nobody knows how they work. But its only major drawback is eventually it wears out, and if there’s a teenaged boy in your life, it might fall into his possession.
Augment this with lights. You can take out the Sure-Lite Never-Die Extremely Heavy Use Commercial Grade incandescent bulbs with the ten-year warranty you bought last year. They are all dead. But with the help of a handy little light-bulb tester you can turn these unworking light strands into unworking light strands you’ve held up a handy little light-bulb tester to. The tester is so obvious that it includes no instructions to tell whether it indicates the bulb is dead or not, and you’ll never figure out how to tell. Or you can go to a modern LED-based strand of light bulbs, if you’d rather have light bulbs that want permission to use location services and send audio recordings of your home back to some corporation that’s bought the Polaroid, Studebaker, Philco, Peek Freans, Coleco Adam, and Uneeda Biscuit trademarks. Don’t worry about whatever that company is up to. The lights will send whether you give permission or not.
Next get to the ornaments. Each ornament is a little time capsule, a chance for you to remember where you were when you got this ornament. You were in the Christmas ornament store, or “ornamentorium” as they call it in the trades. And then read the scrap of last year’s newspaper you wrapped it in to stay secure. Oh, that great restaurant you never get to is closing in two weeks, fifty weeks ago. Probably too late to get their iconic Fish And/Or Chips basket. And then every time you’d hung the ornament in the past despite the terror that you might drop and break it. And then argue about whether it should have been hung somewhere else, like not right in front of the green light. Temporarily, the tree is nothing but green lights. No one knows why we put green lights on a tree that is, basically, green.
Really what you do doesn’t matter. The important thing is to have a process, and be upset that you aren’t following it. Any of us can do that.
I’m flattered that you’re still coming to me for advice about Christmas decorations after learning I used to be a teenaged boy. It’s not what I would do, but, what the heck. I guess the worst that can happen is a family that’s fled some aesthetic catastrophe within the house, huddling together, promising that no, there’s a reason all those Star Trek comic books were on the wall. Hey, here’s a real thing that really happened in real reality for real: the second issue of the Star Trek: The Next Generation comic from the 80s was about Captain Picard having to save the Spirit of Christmas from some leather-clad Alien Space Grinches.
Anyway a holiday is always a good excuse to decorate. Not without limits, of course. There are only so many things you can put up to commemorate, say, Washington’s Birthday without people asking questions. And not the good kind, like where you can show off what you know about George Washington’s presidential tour of all thirteen states. They ask questions like “… the heck?” And most anything you put up for the August Bank Holiday will get you strange looks. The New Jersey Big Sea Day seems like it ought to have great decorating potential, but most of that is water. Maybe flip-flops.
Ah, but Christmas. And New Year’s. These are holidays that have no socially accepted limits for how much to decorate. You could festoon your house with enough Christmas lights that structural elements crumble, and the building collapses under this load of twinkling merry. Survivors would stagger out of a heap of belongings, drywall, and ornaments. And people would just say, oh, they’re maybe a little much but it makes up for the other houses on the street. It’s one of the few chances you have to festoon things in a socially acceptable way. Heck, it’s one of the few chances to even talk about festooning. Go ahead, list three other times this past year you were able to festoon a thing without authorities getting involved.
Which gets to something important about Christmas decorating. Make sure that you’re decorating someplace or something that you have permission to. Once the authorities get called in you don’t get to enjoy a giddy night of adorning things with tinsel. You have to start sneaking around instead, hiding behind the Christmas tree or unusually wide coat-stands whenever a bunch of people in, I’m assuming, tall blue hats tromp past. Then they hear a suspicious cough off somewhere. One of your confederates, no doubt, if you’ve got this well-organized. And you have to throw a ball of tinsel at a thing you hope is a tinsel-bearing decorative structure unit, like a tree or a wreath or a cat.
That’s not the right way to do things. That won’t get you decorations that festoon a thing. The best you can hope for is that you’ll have decorations strewn about. And strewning is great, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that strewning is great in the right context. The context you want for decorating is that you aren’t trying to dodge people who want you answering questions. You want to have some beloved Christmas special that you’ve watched so often that you no longer watch it. You just have it on in the background while forming questions about the worldbuilding.
After a couple decades of this you start to wonder exactly how much thought the writers put into the mythology behind, oh, the one where Frosty the Snowman creates a wife, and then they have to go create a snow-parson who can “legally” marry them because the human parson voiced by Dennis Day isn’t sure he can do that? And somehow creating a new snow-life is less problematic? And you never see what happens to the snow-parson after that? And it’s not about getting answers to these questions. If you wanted answers go out and become an authority yourself. Not saying about what. An authority on Christmas specials would get you the answers faster, probably. But becoming an authority on, say, tidal pools? Graphic design? It’ll take longer to get answers, but maybe the joy of the season is discovering these things.
I’m flattered you come to me for advice about Christmas decorations. Don’t go thinking I’m happy about it. If you take my advice it won’t turn out well. The best we can expect is groups of people huddled together, in the snow, too tired from yelling at each other to resume yelling at each other on a nice day like this. That day is probably Groundhog Day or something like that.
See, the first reason I shouldn’t really be trusted on Christmas decorating advice is that I procrastinate. It’s not that I don’t ever want to get around to doing things. I feel this complete lack of urgency about getting stuff done. This is great for stuff that doesn’t really need to be done, like preventative maintenance. It’s not so good for stuff with inherent deadlines, like making dinner or Christmas. But deadlines are flexible things. What does it matter if we have dinner now or fifteen minutes later? Or a half-hour later? Or early next morning? Similarly, when we think carefully about the problem, do we actually know when Christmas will be? December seems likely enough. But we do hear talk about Christmas in July, which suggests we were trying to get things six months wrong and were still late. You can’t convince me that there isn’t plenty of time to start decorating, even if it’s already well past 4 pm on Christmas Day, whenever that may be.
But if you’re still looking for advice from me? … Really? All right. I should warn you that I’ve decorated things in my life and you probably don’t want to take up my example. I used to be a teenaged boy, you see, and I’ve been struggling my whole life to overcome that background. I fully accept responsibility for the dumb things I’ve done, and I think I know better now. But consider that I used to think it was acceptable to line the walls of my bedroom with Star Trek comic books in plastic bags. Yes, they had cardboard backings. I wasn’t a savage. And it did express an element of actual good decorating. Good decorating should say something. And a wall of bagged Star Trek comic books says: “This is easier than ever knowing a person who would want to visit me”.
Still even as a teenager I knew Christmas would come, sooner or later. One year I got possession of the family’s old artificial tree. By fair means, I should add. Our parents got a new artificial tree and as the largest brother I was able to punch my other brothers more. But now I could set up in the corner of my room an artificial Christmas tree. It was at most ten years old and there were many branches that weren’t yet crumpled up by having been put away for ten years by pre-teen boys in-between their punching sessions. Add to it a couple strands of older lights, no longer needed for front-line service, that were enough for at least the third of the tree not facing the wall. And you had this awesome sight: an ancient artificial Christmas tree, strung with a couple lights trying their best in the circumstances, sitting in the corner, backing a wall of the existing Star Trek comics of the 1980s. It was the hot new look for the summer, based on what the guinea pigs I kept in my room said about it. They said, “Wheep”.
At one point it struck my teenage-boy mind that it would be a good idea to take down the bows, but leave the two-foot-tall conical top of the tree up. This solved the problems of not really having enough lights and of blocking access to the Star Trek comics behind the tree. It just meant I had a bare, five-foot-tall metal pole sitting in the corner of my room. My recollection is that at one point I also managed to lose the pitiful remnants of this tree, and was startled to rediscover it. I have no idea what it could possibly have hidden behind. It’s not like I had tall stuff in my room other than me. I mean, this was when I was going through the mattress-on-the-floor phase of my life.
I hope that this has answered every possible question. If it has not, allow me to offer “North Dakota in the year 1822”. I don’t know what question that answers, but it must be something.
A friend brought to my attention this Mystery Science Theater 3000-themed Christmas moon ornament. (Or “Moonyament” as they call it in the trade; yes, the sounds get elided in weird ways, but it’s what happens naturally when you try to say it.) It looks nice, I’ll agree. I’m not saying this in order to hint that I want one, mind you. I’ve reached the point of my MST3K fandom where I’m not sure I need anything from the show anymore or even necessarily to watch it, since there’s so many demands on my time otherwise. I just hope to answer a question raised by its description.
So … why do they tell us it has a ten-inch circumference, instead of the much more obviously useful measure, that it has a surface area of approximately 16.9 square inches? I mean, c’mon, we’re all completely normal and unexceptional hew-mons here, let’s express our communicativity like such.
So if there is one thing we may agree on, it’s that this is October. Unless you’re reading this more than eleven days from now. We’ll see. But I remind you that we have a rabbit around here, sometimes two rabbits. So we sweep, pretty regularly, as otherwise every surface in the house would be covered thirty feet deep in fur. So if you understand the setting, then, please answer me this: how did I just now sweep up a Christmas-tree light?
I really should’ve had this thought the 15th but I lost the slip of paper its inspiration was written on. My love and I went to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. It’s a grand, wonderful place. It’s a huge building, the kind you could host a good-sized flea market in, and it’s filled with Christmas decorations (plus some bits for other holidays). If you ever need a variety of guinea pig ornaments this is the place to go. If you ever need to fill a tree with different peacock ornaments, this is the place to go. I’m not saying a large tree filled with unique peacocks. But still, a tree of any size with only peacock ornaments is amazing.
They pass out a little trivia card about how big the place is and how much Christmas it merchandises and how many people it employs and how far away they advertise and everything. (They advertise all over Michigan, including Florida.) Here’s the one that would have been great to think about like two weeks ago:
Movie star John Wayne ordered a Santa suit from Bronner’s by telephone on December 15, 1976.
I don’t fault them clinging to a celebrity encounter from four-plus decades ago; I’m still telling people about that pizza party I attended alongside Don “Father Guido Sarducci” Novello in 1995. And I absolutely love this piece of trivia because the claim is both exact and vague. What were the machinations of Fate which caused John Wayne to wake one day and say, “I’m movie star John Wayne! Today, the 15th of December, 1976, I want a Santa suit! I should phone Bronner’s in Frankenmuth, Michigan, to order one”? I assume this is a direct quote. How could the Hollywood-area costume and holiday shops be out of Santa suits already? Or was he just in Michigan for something, maybe poking around Bay City to see if he had to do anything about it, and realized he was Santa suit-less? Did he know someone at Bronner’s who could get him a discount? If so, how much? So those are the exciting thoughts racing around me and I’m just sorry I didn’t schedule them for the 15th when they would have been kind of timely-ish.
Bronner’s doesn’t give out enough trivia for me, but I don’t blame you for thinking Broner’s gives me too much trivia.
I hope that you and yours are enjoying a pleasant, happy moment in what has been the second year in a row that’s going to be written about in books with the subtitle ‘Twelve Months That Changed The World’. And I hope to enjoy it too. But I keep getting caught up thinking: that one house where the Grinch stole the ice cubes out of the Who’s freezer. I mean, stealing the Christmas meal, sure. But ice cubes? That’s not Christmas stuff. That’s event-neutral content. Why pick on the ice cubes. Get your head in the game, Grinch. I can’t believe the quality of thought I’m having lately either. Another one: in The Chipmunks Christmas Song is Alvin in fact a little flat? I can’t tell. But it’d be great if the singer did make sure he was despite the challenge of recording at a ridiculously low pitch and tempo. See? This is what I’m thinking. I blame 2017. Also I’m trying to work out why I gave everybody flat presents this year. I wasn’t planning on it.
- Thurl Ravenscroft, singer, “You’re A Mean One, Mister Grinch”.
- Thurl Bailey, basketball player, Utah Jazz/Minnesota Timberwolves.
Source: Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery, Stephen J Pyne.
(Note: results are different in Thurl Bailey’s social circle.)
While we’re still waiting on the upstate returns it sure seems like we’re going to have a Christmas this year. So it’s a good chance to talk about putting up decorations for Christmas like three weeks ago. But who’s had the time? Those who would like to discuss putting up decorations against Christmas may apply for equal time care in care of this station. This will let us see just what sort of care they have been taking of their time. This should be good for a solid laugh all around.
The basic unit of Christmas decoration is the poinsettia. This lovely plant has been cherished for several centuries, a couple decades, a bunch of years, a pair of months, a peculiar number of hours, and a strangely specific number of shillings and pence. They’s cheerful and when viewed from any angle and from a wide range of lighting conditions they appear to be spelled wrong. This allows us to spend much of the Christmas season slightly rearranging any existing poinsettias. In case their spelling ever does look right, the pronunciation looks wrong. If both the spelling and pronunciation are sound, then it’s time for the flowers to fall over.
There is a longstanding tradition of putting lights on trees. This grew out of the tradition of putting candles on trees. This itself grew out of the tradition of putting trees on candles. This tradition came to an end when the fire department started sending out stern letters and disapproving looks. Even so there are some neighborhoods where the fire department has to drive around delivering stern looks and disapproving letters, just in the hope the change-up catches anyone’s attention. In any case the lights are much easier to work with, what with how they can be turned off. You leave the trees on because it’s so hard to get something to exist again once you’ve told it to stop. At the least you get accused of being fickle, and can’t make an honest dispute of it.
Stands of lights grow in the hardware and in the discount department store. They find a natural habitat on what certainly seems like the wrong shelf. You expect them to be set up next to the artificial trees or next to the laser projectors that shine sparkly lights on an unsuspecting house. Instead they’re off in like row 13, between paint supplies and dowels and grommets. In some bigger stores they’re kept next to the grummidges and copper-plated hurk mounts and other wholly imaginary pieces of hardware. It’s a little prank they play.
You can buy new lights every year while cursing the light manufacturers. Or you can keep lights from year to year, taking the old ones out and cursing the light manufacturers over those. This is because any light strand more than three months old has a half that doesn’t work. Fortunately every strand of lights has two fuses embedded in the plug. And it’s easy to change these just by sliding the plastic panel open and then screaming in frustration at the fuses, since they’re in pretty tight and there’s no getting it out without using a needle that you drop on the floor to step on later. Replacing the fuses will not make the lights work. It’s just a way to pass the slow, unhurried times ahead of Christmas.
A good thing to pick up is this tool that extracts Christmas light bulbs. It should also have a button to press to test whether a given light is working. Nothing will ever tell you how to use this button, though. Do you hold the suspect bulb up to the side near the button? The side near the indicator light that flashes? Does the bulb have to be out of the light strand? Can it be left inside? What’s it mean when the indicator light flashes? Or when it stays on? There’s no telling. This all gives you something to do while pondering the futility of existence.
Tinsel is, in truth, no such thing. What we call tinsel is actually an artificial tinsel created by chemists who had pondered the saying “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear” and so did not. They had hopes that this artificial tinsel would help America in the war effort and it might have had they not done this all over the summer of 1926. Nevertheless, the work is well appreciated by anyone who would like things to look and feel the more stranded.
Once you have your Christmas decorations up, stop putting them up. This is most important as your ceiling isn’t tall enough to keep putting them ever-farther up. Enjoy them while wondering how it is the light strand over the doorway isn’t falling down. Nobody knows.
|Song||Played How Much?|
|I’m Getting Nuttin’ For Christmas||Too Much|
|Sleigh Ride (Instrumental)||About The Right Amount|
|The Muppet Twelve Days Of Christmas||Not Enough|
|Christmas Eve In Fairyland||Not Enough [*]|
|I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas||Too Much [**]|
|Sleigh Ride (With Words)||Too Much|
|The Twelve Pains Of Christmas||About The Right Amount|
|The Snow Miser/Heat Miser Song||About The Right Amount/Too Much [***]|
|Every Other Novelty Version Of The Twelve Days Of Christmas Ever||Too Much|
|Chrissy, The Christmas Mouse||Not Enough [****]|
[*] It doesn’t need to be played a lot, but it is under-performing so far.
[**] Without its use in that commercial for whatever it would still be too much, but much less too much.
[***] The Heat Miser side of the song is just so much weaker.
[****] At this point it’s so un-played I’m forced to wonder if I imagined the whole song.
Source: Box Boats: How Container Ships Changed The World, Brian J Cudahy.
What if Santa isn’t always cancelling Christmas because he’s kind of a jerk and instead he’s just wracked with the sort of Imposter Syndrome that my whole generation is dealing with all the time? Like, “This mouse wrote something mean in an upstate New York newspaper in September! A competent Santa doesn’t have to deal with issues like that! … And it’s snowing too? Oh I can’t even.”
Which I’ll grant is not all that deep an observation, but the alternative is to fret about the ways the rules of that snowfall magic seem to get tossed willy-nilly about in Frosty’s Winter Wonderland. I mean there’s something about just tossing in a snow-parson into things that seems dangerous. So let me conclude with this observation from Wikipedia’s page on Frost’s Winter Wonderland:
The engine on the train is a 2–4–2 or an American type steam locomotive. Locomotives of this wheel arrangement were used most common during the 1800s on American railroads, and from the 1830s until 1928, were given the name “American” in 1872, because of how they did all the work of every railroad in the United States. These types of engines have eight wheels (two leading wheels, four driving wheels, and two trailing wheels).
This means something. (It means I’m very tired.)
You know you’re becoming an adult when you go browsing at the Body Shop, and you spend some time looking over the newest stuff, but. Yeah, the webbed hands are always kind-of desirable. Wireless ear hotspots. The extreme-heat-resistant tongue, just great for those most extreme coffees. Laser nostrils. In-wrist bag-of-holding pouches. A detachable belly button that you can leave at home when you’re afraid of losing it.
And then you go down and put “non-squeaking knees” down on your wish list. That’s when adulthood is getting to you.
You know you’re really old when you don’t even care that they’ve got finally got eyestalks this year that work right.
Do you know what time it is? Or what day it is, anyway? Because if it’s later than about December 2017, this isn’t an up-to-date report on the current plots of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. I’m writing this in mid-August 2017 and try to avoid making unfounded guesses about where stuff is going. So if it’s gone far enough that I’ve written a newer story summary, it should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for reading.
Also thank you for reading my mathematics blog, where I reviewed some comic strips which had mathematical topics about six hours ago. There’ll be more.
29 May – 20 August 2017.
The Gasoline Alley for the 29th of May, 2017, shows Santa Claus getting tossed in the air by a water wheel. There’s reasons for this. One of Jim Scancarelli’s stock plots is the weepy melodrama, and that was in full swing. Comic-relief dopey characters Joel and Rufus had run across a desperately poor family living in the old mill and decided to bring them Christmas presents as Santa Claus Running Late.
In accord with the Law of Christmas Mysticism, the attempt to play Santa Claus crashes on the shoals of physical comedy. But a mysterious figure dressed as Santa Claus and explaining that of course he didn’t forget about the children delivers a pair of bicycles. But wait, you say, Joel is still dressed as Santa Claus and stuck on the water wheel! Who was that mysterious Santa-y figure giving presents to children? Hmmmmm?
Hm. Well, Rufus goes back home to find his cat’s had a litter of kittens. Emma Sue And Scruffy, the poverty-stricken kids he tried to give bikes to, see them too. Rufus’s reasonable answer to whether they could adopt them (“you have to ask your mother”) inspires Joel to ask why he doesn’t try marrying The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom. Rufus tries to dodge this plot by going fishing. Emma Sue And Scruffy do too, biking to the fishing pond.
There they find a codger, drawn realistically enough that when he tells them to scram they scram. Or they do until And Scruffy drives his bike down the embankment and learns it was a mistake not to also ask Santa Claus for bike helmets. Rufus did warn them about biking without protection, and honestly, when Joel and Rufus are the voices of wisdom …
Emma Sue goes seeking help. The codger, bringing his fish back through the fourth wall, finds And Scruffy. This promptly melts his heart, so the codger picks up the crash-victim and moves his spine all around bringing him back to the old mill. The codger — Elam Jackson — introduces himself and offers the fish he’d caught for a meal. Plus he offers to cover the medical bill to call a doctor for And Scruffy.
Rufus calls Chipper Wallet in from the Physician’s Assistant public-service storyline. Chipper examines, judging And Scruffy to be basically all right, and leaves without charging. This short-circuits the attempts of both Rufus and Elam to win the heart of The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom by paying her family’s medical bills. Rufus shifts to bringing two of the kittens as gifts to Emma Sue and Scruffy. Elam shifts to fixing the water wheel, offering The Widow Etc the chance to grind cereals as the public needs. I admit I’m not sure whether The Widow Etc and family are actually legit tenants of the old mill or if they’re just squatting.
And that’s where the plot stands at the moment.
The Sunday strips have been mostly the usual grab-bag of spot jokes. The one curious, possible exception: on the 6th of August we see Walt Wallet at the Pearly Gates, being checked out by Angel Frank Nelson. It’s hard to believe that Jim Scancarelli would allow for the death of Walt Wallet, one of the original cast of a comic strip that’s 99 years old, to be done in a single Sunday strip that’s mostly a spot joke. The strip hasn’t got most of the signifiers that something is a dream or a fanciful experience, though. On the other hand, neither did Slim Skinner’s encounter with a genie. And Walt turned up again just today, anyway, talking about the advantages of dying at an early age. So, I guess Sundays really are just a day for merry gags.
Next week: I check in on how nature or car-rental anecdotes will kill us all, in James Allen’s Mark Trail. Call your friends, if your friends know any prairie dogs! Word is that prairie dogs are making a comeback.
Sometimes a throwaway gag is too good to dispense with. In this installment, from the 12th of December, 1941, Vic’s boss has given him a list of people to buy Christmas presents for and twenty dollars to do it with. Sade expects she’ll have to do all the bother and that it will be an incredible bother. She’s right, as she makes Vic read the list and consider the complete lack of guidance into what sort of thing any of these people might want or how much they should spend on it.
The last name introduced is that of Rishigan Fishigan, of Sishigan, Michigan. It’s such a catchy name. It’s a catchy town name. It seems like it always attaches to the end of his name, so he’s spoken of as “Rishigan Fishigan of Sishigan, Michigan”. And I am sad that there is no such place as Sishigan, Michigan. We should rename something to be it.
The name must have caught Paul Rhymer’s imagination. Rishigan Fishigan would reappear, in mentions, and eventually as a friend of Vic’s. In later incarnations of the show he would even be a regular character, with dialogue on-microphone and everything. Given how many catchy names Rhymer created I wonder why Rishigan Fishigan (of Sishigan, Michigan) took such hold, although I suppose to say aloud it is to answer the question.
There are a lot of amusingly scrambled place names in the Christmas gift list — I can feel Sade’s righteous anxiety that none of this can be right, even if she allowed that she could buy anything for people she doesn’t know anything about — but I like to think that the choice of “Seattle, Iowa” was retaliation for the existence of “Des Moines, Washington”. I have a friend who lives in Des Moines, Washington, and it nags at me every time I need to send him a card or something. We need some thought put into our Des Moines requirements.
How you decide will affect the precise level of drama associated with your game of Yahtzee.
Also going on: my mathematics blog and its comic strips review. I also briefly debunk a lovely present my aunt and uncle gave me several years ago.
I’ll get back to talking about story comics next week. Or later if I feel like. For now let me share this 1936 Fleischer cartoon. It’s a spinoff of the Betty Boop universe. And it’s in color, which you just don’t think of Fleischer cartoons being. It stars Grampy, who might or might not be related to Betty Boop. In any case he was introduced in the Betty Boop series. Apart from this entry he always appeared with Betty Boop. But the character probably could have supported a series of his own, at least as 1930s cartoons go. For all that’s unusual about this short it’s a pretty good example of Grampy’s nature.
Because Grampy’s basic gimmick is that he finds some people who’re depressed about something, and he sits and thinks a while, and then he concocts a bunch of amusing gadgets using the stuff at hand. There’s a lot that’s appealing to it, since he is a genial person doing his best to solve other people’s problems. If there’s a flaw it’s that every cartoon is the same one, with just the details of the inventions differing. But they’re also good inventions. They look funny. They stick close to something that looks like it might just work, if it weren’t for the way the real world is a little messy and unpredictable.
And the cartoon starts and ends with one of the characteristic bits of Fleischer 1930s wizardry. They had worked out a pretty good system for combining live-action models with animated cartoons. They used this in all their series, and for good reason. Even eighty years on it’s startling to see the styles of a 1930s cartoon world burst suddenly into three-dimensional life.
It’s built around a catchy song. It would be, of course. The melody would turn up in other Fleischer cartoons for a while, and Popeye and Bluto would sing it (although for New Year’s) at the start of the cartoon Let’s Celebrake. I think the song was an original composition and that there’s not more lyrics to it than we get, which is a shame. It’s the sort of peppy, cheery composition that would be a good minor Christmas song.
It’s a genial cartoon. It’s never a hilarious one, which is a flaw common to Grampy cartoons. They’re pleasant and about a nice guy making good stuff out of nothing. I doubt you’d feel cheated at spending time watching this. But I also doubt you’ll put it on your greatest-cartoons, or greatest-cartoon-characters lists. That’s all right. We need simply pleasant stuff too.
- Calling bird
- Drummers drumming
- French hens
- Geese a-laying
- Gold rings
- Ladies dancing
- Lords a-leaping
- Maids a-milking
- Partridges in a pear tree, a
- Pipers piping
- Swans a-swimming
- Turtle doves
OK, so, people who have reason to expect a present from me, like, what would you say to an experience gift instead? I’m not really up on experiences people could have but I bet I could, like, come over there and alphabetize a thing. Might be something simple like bookshelves, or something that made me involuntarily giggle at my father like the spice rack, or something conceptual like the living room. “Does this piece of furniture get ordered under `couch’ or `sofa’?” Maybe alphabetize a sock? Get back to me quick care of some address.
I confess: I’m doing a terrible job Christmas-shopping this year. Oh, the big item was easy enough. Just go down to the Christmas store and pick out one December 25th and arrange to have it delivered. I got the Sunday model this year. As a kid I was always torn between whether Sunday or Monday Christmases were the best. A Monday Christmas had the great fun of Advent being as short as it could be, plus, going right from the 4th Sunday of Advent services Sunday morning straight to Christmas Eve mass in the evening. But with a Sunday Christmas you get to burn the Advent candles for the whole fourth week. In hindsight I understand why everyone treated me that way in middle school.
But past arranging to have a Christmas it’s been a rough time thinking what to get people. I blame myself. I went through a stretch last decade where I gave everybody calendars all the time because, hey, who doesn’t need large pieces of paper with a grid of numbers on them? Sure, we all do. Page-a-day calendars are great because my father could get all way to January 17th before forgetting to look at the Far Side of the day. Month-by-month calendars are great because they don’t make any sense.
I mean, you maybe don’t remember what day it is, but put up a sheet of paper with up to 31 plausible candidates for the month and suddenly you’re able to keep it straight. If that doesn’t keep you up nights wondering how that screwed-up bit of psychology works maybe it will now. I’m assuming you aren’t one of those people that crosses off a date once it’s been used and if you are don’t tell me. It’ll force me to lead a rescue expedition for your calendars and I might grab your paperback books just to make sure you don’t crack their spines and I already have enough paperback books in the basement that it’s sunk two feet from where it started.
Despite calendars’ unquestionable properties as useful things that can be given I sensed I’d reached my lifetime limit for giving them. I got to hearing sharp jokes about them, and by jokes I mean sticks, and by hearing I mean “being jabbed in the belly”, and by “about them” I mean “from family members who are not going to start reading Rob Harrell’s Big Top no matter how much I’m sure they would like the January 22nd one”. Put that sentence back together and see if it doesn’t make sense. I’ll wait.
I can tell you what I want to give people. I just don’t know that it exists. But we saw the TV broadcast of the Silver Bells parade from last month. It was mostly like what being at the event was, except we weren’t being rained on while watching the rebroadcast. As the program went on you could see and hear more and more rain pouring down. The rain got to drowning out the news anchors trying to tell us which high school marching bad was doing Jingle Bell Rock [*]. I mean the sound of the rain, but then the rain got even more drown-y and they had everyone flee the parade. Thing is the last minutes of the broadcast —
Well. They left the camera running, but didn’t have any audio. They switched to playing something that wasn’t quite any identifiable Christmas carol. It was what you probably get when Santa puts you on hold. And through all this they showed people running desperately across the streets trying not to drown in the rain. After a couple minutes of that they gave up entirely and put a text crawl on-screen explaining that unfortunately severe weather forced the abandonment of the parade, but it was still a fantastic experience. The text crawl, the not-quite-music, the images come together to look like the tag scene where the war movie tells you how many of the battalion ever saw home again. And they’re looking forward to next year!
Anyway if they sell this on DVD I’m giving that to everybody I know, possibly every year for the rest of my life. I can do that now. Most of my family now lives in other states, well outside of stick range.
[*] Fewer than we expected but the parade did get cut short.
The holiday season is coming soon. It may even be here already in certain parts of the time zone. Here are some good ways to react.
Affix A Thing To Another Thing. This is a good one to learn because it is one of the fundamental units of crafting projects. Most anything you can see can be affixed to some other thing. You can start very simply, just by taking something you have and placing it atop something else. In more advanced classes you set something, such as a light cloth, between the things. This makes for fun activities like peeling up the cloth to see how much dust has got all over the things. In expert classes you can adhere things together using tape or acetylene torch welding or glue or sewing or strings. Graduate students in crafts learn to snip something off of another thing.
Make A Food Of Some Kind. This is a very good project because at the end of it you will have food or a good story about how food failed to exist. To do this you wil need:
- A recipe
- Some more bowls
- Indeed more bowls than you have ever imagined owning in your life
- Exotic utensils kept in the kitchen drawer you never use, things that look like wispy high-dimensional mathematical constructs that have something to do with string theory
- Bowls that you dimly remember from buried childhood memories of boring afternoons and grandmom’s that somehow emerge from the kitchen’s Scary Cabinet that you never open
- A box of plastic wrap on which the metal tooth blade has fallen halfway off and has gone to attack thumbs, fruits, the occasional kitchen tile, etc
- Two, maybe three more bowls
Take any of the ingredients and read the recipe. Then glance down and see that somehow all the bowls have gotten covered in a strange putty-like goo which tastes faintly of vanilla, cilantro, lemon, and sugar crystals. They will never all be successfully clean again.
- Get some more bowls
If you’re doing well this will attract the attention of some adorable cartoon animal such as a raccoon, who’ll try grabbing at some of your food. And you toss him out and he’s right back at the counter before you even get back to it yourself. And this escalates until you blow up your whole house using a pile of dynamite sticks the size of a roller coaster and the raccoon’s still there. He holds out an adorable little cookie as peace offering and when you start to accept it he eats it instead. Directed by Dick Lundy in pretty good pastiche of Tex Avery.
Decrate an Animal in Some Fashion. Your experience in affixing things to other things will help some here. At least it will if you want to do something like set a bow on a dog, such as setting a bow on a cat. But “decorate” suggests some broader ideas. For example, why not fling balls of paint at squirrels until they’re much more colorful? Because that won’t work. You’ll just get squirrels with even better reflexes. If you want to go this way take some drops of food dye and dab them on the heads of local mice. The mice will groom from their heads on down — they’re very careful about this — and rub the dye into all their fur. Then you can set the mice around your neighbors. When they come to you and say, “There’s a bunch of green and purple mice that moved into the neighborhood!” you can exhale a world-weary sigh and say, “I know.” Trust me, this will play as really funny if you keep a straight face.
Just Wrap Some Thing. See how your affixing practice comes in handy here? Take something you can use for wrapping, such as wrapping paper, or wrapping plastic, or wrapping blankets, or wrapping vinyl shingles, or wrapping polymer foams, you get the idea. Then take something you already have and paper it up until you can’t get at it anymore. This will show them, this will show them all. Place the wrapped thing under a thing, or on top of a thing, or hang it from something such as a tree, wall, or aggrieved squirrel in blue.
Arrange for a White Christmas. White Christmases are regarded as the sine qua non of Christmases. They’re among the top days to have be White, too. A White New Year’s Eve is a distant second in popularity. A White Fourth of July is regarded with suspicion at best. White Whistuntide is regarded as somebody trying a little to hard to be funny or maybe to filk Billy Joel. The most natural way to get a White Christmas is to appeal to the ice phoenixes by setting out bowls of warm miso for them. If that fails, you can try washing the paint off your animation cells. WARNING: Stop before erasing your ink.
If that doesn’t work, I don’t know. Maybe tweet out at companies until a customer service bot answers you.
So I’m just staring that the new boxes of Christmas lights I got to replace the ones that broke over the summer when they weren’t having 120 volts of alternating current blown through them for twelve hours a day. And then at the warning: FOR DECORATIVE USE ONLY. It’s got me feeling for those poor, mad fools who hoped to string load-bearing lights this season. Or the ones hoping to make some industrial use of them. “Why, I needed to extrude pasta noodles,” they cry out, “and this set of General Electric ConstantON bulbs is of no use for the task!” They should have realized. They’re not made by General Electric, but by a company licensing the name so that we think the lights are more generally electrical than they actually are. I bet the bulbs are actually bioluminescent, and they manage their ever-on technology by harvesting firefly enzymes. In short, I’ve had a very busy last several days and am not sleeping enough. How are you, and can you justify that state of being?
So, Lansing has this little downtown event the Friday before Thanksgiving. Silver Bells in the City. An after-dark parade ending with Santa arriving before Thanksgiving because who’s crazy enough to do a nighttime event in mid-Michigan weather after Thanksgiving, a little street festival, Santa Claus holding court in the City Market, that sort of thing. And then this past weekend …
At the Silver Bells In The City electric-lights parade and State Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. 7:13 pm.
At the Silver Bells In The City electric-lights parade and State Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. 7:17 pm. The walrus-y figure there is Big Lug, the kind-of dragon-y mascot for the Lansing Lugnuts minor league baseball team. The tusks are lug nuts or something poking out. The team name made more sense back when they were playing at Oldsmobile Park.
At the Silver Bells In The City electric-lights parade and State Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. 7:19 pm. Like twenty second later on as we all race for any kind of shelter. Where? We had no idea. My love saw a single isolated shoe left on the flooded streets. I didn’t see it even though I was following close behind. It was a bit mad.
Meanwhile this reassuring tweet went out. You know you’re having a good time when you get the instruction, “Please get to safety”.
At the Silver Bells In The City electric-lights parade and State Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. 7:23 pm. Also so apparently they had emergency fife bands ready just in case everything outside was cancelled and they had a slice of a hundred-thousand-person mob in City Hall who needed something to mill around in front of?
At the Silver Bells In The City electric-lights parade and State Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. 7:43 pm, after the worst of the winds had blown through.
So we were laughing about being through all this through to about mid-day Sunday when we were finding dollar bills in our wallets were still damp and we’re still seized with a couple giggles. In the meanwhile have you seen my humor blog and its talk about comic strips? It hasn’t got any nearly so dramatic pictures, I admit.
Here’s a picture of a Christmas tree decorated, back in December, by the Gravity Works Design and Development group at the local zoo. Questions this raises:
So that is Darth Vader merged by transporter accident with a Christmas tree, right? Or did he just fall and he’s making the best of his dignity the situation will allow? Or is he sneaking up on dryads? If so, why would the Dark Side of the Force care about dryads one way or another? Also what kind of firm is “Gravity Works Design and Development”? Is it a technology firm? Is it a graphic design studio? Maker of weightlifting equipment? A special effects house? Flying saucer gone awry? Is it a roller coaster manufacturer? Why am I going through my Christmas photos in April? Am I that far behind? Is there any chance I could be a tiny bit more timely? No, there’s not.
In questions that I can answer: mathematics. What’s the deal? I explained a bunch of mathematically-themed comic strips yesterday. And who knows what I did today? Or what I figure on for tomorrow?
I felt like sharing a little old-time radio this weekend. So here, please enjoy the fifteen minutes of Bob and Ray Present The CBS Radio Network. This episode’s from the 15th of December, 1959.
Besides some experimental new sound effects the episode includes an installment of One Fella’s Family, all about the search for the missing Christmas ornaments. There’s a happy ending to it.
Also, there’s another comic strip review over on my mathematics blog. Do enjoy, if that’s your taste.
Based on a transcript that sees “Christmastime” as two words so that’s why. Yes, there’s one time when Lucy refers to him as “Charlie”, not “Charlie Brown”, and that does feel like an incredible violation of the order of nature. Most surprising: Snoopy is named that little.
I’ve been struggling with the gift-giving equivalent of writer’s block this season. I found stuff to give people, understand. It was just nothing inspired. And then I realized what everybody really wants anymore. We want things that don’t make life more difficult, especially when they break. If they do a thing, they should do it without a hassle. If they stop doing that thing, they should stop doing it in a way that we don’t care about. Ideally, you don’t have to register the new item, and no company should be asking you to have an opinion about it.
So this is all to explain why everybody’s getting chunks of pyrite from me this year. They’re lumps of matter, and as such will continue to be lumps of matter unless proton decay is a thing. If proton decay is a thing we won’t notice for 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years. By that time there’ll probably have been a garage sale. The chunks of pyrite are shiny in parts. My siblings’ children can throw the chunks of pyrite at other children. And someday, they (the chunks of pyrite) can be thrown out.
And they’re even low-stress when you throw them out. They need no special disposal. If you just throw them out the window, that’s fine. They’re rocks. They belong outside. Just don’t hit anybody or anything breakable. That would add hassle to somebody else’s life, which they would bring back to yours. So this is as perfect a gift as it’s possible to give. I recommend chunks of pyrite to anyone else having gift-givers’ block.
Just a reminder to readers in the United States or observing United States holidays. Thanksgiving falls on the 26th of November this year. Therefore after 3 pm local time on Tuesday, November 10th — two weeks and two days ahead — it is officially acceptable to stop doing any dusting or mopping on the grounds that “we’ll just have to do it all over again right away” for company coming the 26th. You may shove it all into the frantic and stressful pile of cleaning done the 25th and early the 26th.
Similarly, as of 3 pm local time on Monday, November 16th — ten days ahead — it is officially acceptable to stop minor clean-up and pick-up chores on the grounds those will be done again anyway in the Taz-like whirlwind of cleaning and hollering that will occupy the 34 hours before the guests are scheduled to arrive.
You are not actually required to tell anyone when they should arrive, and just trust that they will go about their business without you, if you want to put off the dusting and mopping and general picking-up until Christmas. The pre-Christmas deadlines will be announced when we get around to it.