Some, more inclined to snark than I am, will say nothing happened. Hardly so, but I’ll grant that much of the last twelve weeks read like setting up for new things to happen. These things divide into four major focuses and I’ll take them as separate pieces.
First: Neddy Spencer. Her plans to hang around Los Angeles and someday find a place get kicked up when Ronnie Huerta and Kat get engaged. Which makes it even harder for her to keep crashing at Huerta’s place. She picks out a “beautiful little 1930s Hollywood-style bungalow apartment” that’s not guaranteed to not be haunted. As her first visitor, Huerta points out Spencer has been doing Los Angeles stuff for three years and not had a romance plot yet. So I’m looking forward to Neddy Spencer finding whoever is the exact opposite of Funky Winkerbean main character Les Moore.
Second: Alan Parker, original Judge of the strip, and Sam Driver, who took over the comic in the 60s. Alan’s been hit hard by the loss of his son and granddaughter, finding comfort in drink and misanthropy. He also blames Sam Driver for not doing something to keep Randy out of CIA Jail or a Norton plot or whatever. Driver pushes his way back into Parker’s life, arguing that they need a mission and he has a useful one. This in forming a new law partnership, one that can sue Cavelton Mayor Sanderson for gentrifying the people out of the city. Parker, in time, accepts. And it gives him a new energy and purpose.
Their first lawsuit starts great. They file on behalf of tenants arguing they were wrongly evicted so Sanderson could sell property to a corporate donor. This catches Sanderson off-guard at a press conference. And it lets Deputy Mayor Stewart add to his collection of faces of pouty concern.
Third: Sophie Spencer. She’s facing a second year at college having made no friends in New York City. And her only serious friend in Cavelton is Honey Ballenger, who she hasn’t been talking with much. Ballenger calls, though, and they reconnect. Partly over lunch, more over early-morning jogging. They never meant to stop talking, they just lost the power to call the other first. It’s a feeling I know and I wasn’t even ever kidnapped by Abbey Spencer’s previously-unknown half-sister. One early-morning jog they’re almost run off the road by fire trucks, heading …
Fourth: Abbey Spencer. Her bed-and-breakfast, made out of converting (part of?) the horse barn, has been a money pit, from doing the renovations and from opening at the start of the pandemic. Indeed, its first event — a rally for Alan Parker’s mayoral campaign — brought Covid-19 to Cavelton (17 August). So is it a good thing that the whole structure burned to the ground in a catastrophe that hurt no person (or horse)? Is it a suspicious thing? Mayor Sanderson was happy to assert, on TV, that the city would investigate every reason Abbey might burn the place down for the insurance money (18 August). We have yet to see what caused the fire, or that it was the CIA trying to make Randy Parker’s family suffer enough that he turns in April Parker. Or that something else happened. (Now I like the notion that Randy and all have been in Secret CIA Jail as we assumed April’s super-spy super-skills got them super-out of super-trouble.)
The relationship-wrecking catastrophe was the start of Francesco Marciuliano’s run on Judge Parker. This was the collapse of a clothing factory Danube and Neddy Spencer were opening. It fell into a sinkhole right in front of the press, particularly local reporter Toni Bowen. The factory idea was the last story of former writer Woody Wilson. Wilson had a lot of stories where people lavished riches and wealth and good fortune on the main characters. Here, for example, Danube had pressured her ex-boyfriend and head of Europa Aerospace to just give her the factory site. I have no doubt that Wilson meant the giving to be sincere. (On the characters’ part. When I re-read strips from that era I suspect Wilson was having fun seeing what it would take to make an editor say that was a bit much.)
Marciuliano has put into the backstory that “everyone suspected” Danube was running drugs. Or otherwise cheating on people to fund the project. Danube did flee after the sinkhole, on Marciuliano’s watch. Her relationship with Neddy collapsed then. We saw all that. But wanting to flee a disaster like that is human enough. And it’s hard to see how the sinkhole could be blamed on Danube or Neddy. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s whoever failed to survey the grounds properly. Or whoever covered up the grounds results. Which would be a decent retcon explanation for why an aerospace company gave up a brand-new factory to a minor movie star and a young woman with money.
Establishing that Danube was a narcissist, though, is no great stretch. She had a job that selects for narcissism. And a problem dealing with narcissists is it’s hard to distinguish between their thinking of you and their wanting you to think of them. (It’s hard to know this for anyone. But when you see the narcissism you realize how much you don’t know the person.) When you suspect a relationship with a narcissist has gone sour, or become abusive, it forces a lot of difficult memory-parsing. Were they helpful at this delicate moment to be kind to you, or to teach you that kindness comes from them? Your answer depends on your feelings about them, and that affects your future answers about how their motivations. It’s always hard to tease out motivations, and when the narcissist is impossible to cross-examine, there’s not much to do but yell in your head.
Sophie won’t be completely alone in New York City. Toni Bowen will be there too. Her failed bid to unseat Mayor Sanderson drew enough attention for University of New York to hire her to teach a course on local politics. Unfortunately that’s about as not-alone as Sophie gets. It’s hard meeting people at all, and in pandemic times it’s even worse.
With the kids gone Abbey wonders whether she and Sam should downsize. Or even leave Cavelton altogether. She’s lonely, yes. And regrets the bed-and-breakfast, “a money pit” and business the mayor’s determined to make fail. She talks of wanting a change, although to what and where is open.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Neddy faces several challenges. One is that Ronnie Huerta has a new roommate, Kat. (I’d give her last name but can’t find it.) She’s playing the Neddy role in the April Parker TV series. Kat is very eager to help Neddy move out, shoving hard in that way people who think they’ve figured out how to solve your problem do. But Kat does have some fair observations. The poor little rich girl whose problem is doing her dream job can maybe find an apartment in the second-biggest city in the country. Also that Neddy not doing this writing is screwing up her, Kat’s, job. (One leitmotif in Marciuliano’s writing is characters explaining how one of the main cast looks to people who have to live with them. And how the main cast needs to get over themselves.) While talking this out with Ronnie, Kat lets slip that she wants to spend the rest of her life with Ronnie. That was something they didn’t realize they were ready for.
And Neddy does get down to work work, as opposed to househunting work. The TV producers want Godiva Danube to be a bigger part of the show, so they need Neddy to write more of her. And Neddy is still angry with the dead Godiva. How do deal with that? Hallucination is a good, tested method. That and my favored technique, a good argument with someone who can’t outwit you.
Ghost Godiva Danube refuses to play fair, though, insisting that while she fled, Neddy didn’t chase either. That she had to recover from the disaster herself. That she was “always there for” Neddy. Which Neddy admits, but argues was because Danube wanted to be the star of Neddy’s suffering. The one that guided where it went. Neddy comes out of this convinced that what she needed wasn’t to tell Ghostdiva off, but to face her own anger. And as Ghostdiva storms off, Neddy feels triumphant that she has.
And then the 1st of March started the current and exciting thread. Charlotte Parker, Randy’s and April’s couple-years-old daughter, says she didn’t see Mommy “today”. You know, like she sees her every day. Which was a development catching Randy by surprise. April’s been busy with that super-hyper-ultra-etc assassin agent nonsense. I did see this excite a bunch of comics snarkers pointing out the idea that April Parker had been secretly visiting Charlotte made no sense at all.
The next week of the strip — the last full week, as I write this — showed Marciuliano explaining how this might make sense. That this was going on for only the last two weeks. That April, if it is April, had signalled to Charlotte to keep it secret. That Charlotte could recognize April because they keep pictures of her in the house. And yes, it may be dumb but it’s a recognizable human dumbness. And that they can’t find anything on the security cameras. Randy got rid of the network of security cameras when he realized April had tapped them all. (I’m not sure we saw that it was April and not the super-hyper-ultra-etc spy network that was holding Norton in mega-secret spy hyper-jail.) This implicit threat to take Charlotte does quite good, fast work in driving Randy crazy. But Randy is right that it’s within April’s demonstrated power set to do something like this, even if it is only to mess with Randy’s head. And, as Alan Parker noted this Sunday, they don’t yet know it is April.
Well, yes. Things are happening. Terry Beatty had started “Lockdown Stories” in the middle of August. Each was a small bit of story, checking in with the major characters of recent years to see what they do during the Covid-19 crisis. This has continued. There hasn’t been any overall plot, and few of the characters have been able to interact much.
Also, mostly, everybody’s staying out of trouble. Maybe a bit bored. This is a difficult condition to write. I know from reading the popular comic-strip-snark-blogs that there are readers who find this all boring. I won’t tell you how to feel about this. But it has made Rex Morgan, as a comic strip, much closer in spirit to the semi-serialized comics like Luann or Funky Winkerbean. These are ones where the strip picks one of several sets of characters to advance for a week. (I don’t generally recap those strips, since the strips usually provide a refresher when they start the week.)
The 14th of September checked in with Kelly and her mother, Summer. Summer works in Rex Morgan’s clinic, which had closed while he worked in the hospital. That’s all.
The 19th of September looked at Buck and Mindy Wise. Her antiques store is closed, but Buck can do whatever the heck his work is online. And help her in selling stuff online, too. They listen to an online concert from Truck Tyler, starting the 25th of September.
And what about Doug, the manager and maybe owner of the Glenwood Motel? We check in on him starting the 4th of October, and the most dramatic conflict of these stories. A young woman comes in, without a mask, hoping to rent a room. He dimly recognizes her. Readers might, too, although I didn’t until I read the comments: it’s Nancy, one of the mean girls from high school. I don’t know her last name. It wasn’t said on-screen and there’s been too many characters for me to track down everybody’s full names. Nancy and her clique have been trying to get a Covid-19 party together. Her parents sent warnings and her photo to … I guess all the local hotels. So he refuses to rent, and she goes off in a huff. He calls her parents to at least give them this data point.
Some Comics Kingdom commenters were upset Nancy’s parents had not talked to her about this kind of offensive and dangerous stunt. This makes an interesting comment about how people see the stuff left out of stories. My assumption is to suppose that they had. I’d based this on imagining myself as a parent. And I know the generally pleasant, low-melodrama nature of Terry Beatty’s writing. But that they also knew Nancy was likely to try sneaking out, and took what safeguards they could. I’m willing to suppose that even excellent parents know that sometimes their kids will be stupider than they can be protective. Other readers took this as evidence of Nancy’s parents being awful at communicating with their daughter. Or being awful at managing their daughter’s behavior. There’s nothing in text indicating one way or another, though.
Nancy is the older brother of Edward, owner of that unseeable ugly dog. He gets some attention from the 12th of October. He’s in school with Sarah Morgan, and they like each other now that he’s outgrown being a bully. They hang out some.
This gets us back around to the Morgans. Rex Morgan was working in the hospital, in the Covid-19 center, and so was quarantined from the rest of his family. Reading the kids stories over video chat and all that. It’s exhausting work. Sarah Morgan’s working remotely, working a triage phone line. And she’s trying to cope with the kids being kids and doing stuff like accidentally cutting their hair. This is a lot to ask and there’s no real managing it all. She and Rex consider options in a world where they can’t get a babysitter or relatives to help.
Rex proposes that he leave the hospital’s Covid-19 unit, and reopen the Morgan clinic as telemedicine. It would let them both watch their kids. And we don’t need to worry about Rex ducking out of doing doctor stuff in the greatest public health crisis in 102 years. Glenwood’s infection rate was falling and the hospital planning to cut his hours anyway. But he still has to quarantine for two weeks, so there’s a pause before that state can change any.
The 30th of November got us back to Buck and Mindy. It’s the one that seems most to be going somewhere, although it’s hard to say where. What we’ve seen are that he’s tired, finding computer screens blurry. And looks like he’s lost weight. And he’s thirsty all the time. Since we know how narrative works, we know he’s being set up for something. But what? Too soon to say, as of the 6th of December anyway.
“It’s perfectly safe to go trick-or-treating while the pandemic’s out of control,” say parents who for the past ten years have had the cops X-ray their kids’ Jolly Ranchers. Sure. All right. I’m calling your bluff. I’m handing out popcorn balls.
Related issue: I have no idea how to make popcorn balls. My best ideas for how involve, spraying a handful of popcorn with glue? Maybe rolling some kernels with silly putty until it all coheres? There’s some trick to it, I’m sure. Oh, right, of course there’s a trick, because it isn’t trick exclusive or treat. Don’t mind me, I’ll run out of whatever mood this is soon.
And the TV show based on Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s notes gets under way again. It’s all a little weird, especially as Ronnie sees again Kat, who’s playing Neddy on the show. Neddy’s also freaked out to meet Michelle, who’s playing Godiva Danube. Partly from memories and reevaluating her friendship with Godiva. Also because it’s a clue that the production is changing out from under them.
Mayor Sanderson meanwhile is mad. The local TV won’t apologize for running a poll showing Bowen surging. His staff won’t even remember to take their masks off in the office. But he is aware of Bowen’s weakness as a candidate. He calls Abbey Spencer, whose bed-and-breakfast plan, and renovations, were a fair idea for a money pit in normal times. During a shutdown? They’re a bleeding ulcer. Sanderson offers that he might be able to do her a favor. Since Sophie started the Bowen campaign, and Sam Driver supports it and used to date Bowen, this seems weird. But he offers: the campaign’s drawing a lot of coverage. Out-of-town reporters need to stay somewhere. Why not a place struggling but surviving thanks to a supportive local government?
The offer could hardly be better-designed to enrage Abbey. She promises to make sure everyone knows she’s on Team Bowen. Which Sanderson wants, in the first moment that makes him look like a skilled politician. Bowen’s weakness is that she can look like a tool of the Parker-Spencer-Driver clan.
Bowen’s got some good instincts, though, aware that this kind of unsolicited support can be trouble. She lays down the law to Sophie. If they want to support her, all right, but they have to know what she’s about. Which would likely make for a better campaign. Also a better campaign plot, must admit, as it’s not clear what issues there even are in town. Equitable gentrification is a great challenge, and goal. But it’s a danged hard thing to fight for in any intelligible way, especially in this medium.
Bowen’s law-laying helps Sophie with another problem, though. She looks into Local College courses. This is a step in her realizing that she doesn’t know everything she needs. And that she’s been blocking herself from that learning. And, after a lot of hesitation, she calls Honey Ballinger and apologizes.
And the TV show continues to change. The showrunners have decided Godiva and April Parker’s lives make for better stories than Neddy’s does. This makes for an interesting bit of story commentary by strip writer Francesco Marciuliano. Marciuliano has, mostly, done a good job at having things go crazy and then rationalize some. But it would be strange if he didn’t consider some storylines to have gone awry, or to regret not having done more with characters than he did. The revelation that Godiva was also running drugs was a shocking turn of events, sure. But to make it a shock to readers meant we had to not see it. It’s plausible Marciuliano didn’t consider it until he needed the twist. This frame lets him, if he wishes, build a new storyline for Godiva. It may not be what “really” happened to her, but if it’s interesting, who cares?
So the studio figures that April and Godiva is the true-crime drama that’s the real series. And that’s that. The shooting in Real Cavelton wraps, with the rest of the series done in Los Angeles and Vancouver. And Neddy decides she isn’t interested in moving back to Los Angeles. Ronnie is, though, and that makes the transition into autumn all the harder.
And that’s where things stand now. Bowen’s campaign seems to be going well. Sophie’s reconciling with Honey Ballinger and looking at Local College. Neddy’s staying in town. Ronnie’s off to Los Angeles and, it’s teased, out of the strip. (It’s very self-referentially teased, with talk about sitcom characters who vanished. I am old enough to sometimes speak of myself as if I were on a sitcom. But I am also young enough to sometimes speak of myself as if I were a podcast host.) And if all goes well, we can come back together in a happier December to see what has changed.
We dip into the comic strip most inexplicably in reruns with Roy Thomas and Larry Leiber’s The Amazing Spider-Man. (I mean, you wouldn’t think Marvel would be unable to find someone who can draw Spider-Man, right?) That’s if all goes well, and here’s hoping that it does. Good luck to you all.
Terry Beatty had decided he couldn’t do a pandemic story without the lead times for Rex Morgan, M.D. making it too dated. So the first story he wrote after the pandemic hit the United States was a flashback, Rex and June telling young Sarah how they got together. After that, Beatty decided he could tell some stories. And so since then we’ve had vignettes of the major characters and how the disaster has hit them.
As Rex Morgan told the story to Sarah, things were really fitting together for him a couple years ago. He had a nice spot at Glenwood hospital. His mentor, Dr Dallis, is ready to retire and offers to sell his practice to our young protagonist. (The Dr Dallis thing is an in-joke. Psychiatrist Dr Nicholas P Dallis created the Rex Morgan, M.D. comic strip. He also created Judge Parker and Apartment 3-G.) While jogging and considering the offer, he bumps into June Gale. He claims (to Sarah) that he apologized. June claims (to Sarah) that she only thought about calling him a jerk.
A couple days later he runs into her again, this time metaphorically. She says hi. This distracts him, and he stumbles, fracturing his ankle. She gets her first-aid kit and takes him to the hospital. He’s impressed by her professionalism, and how she’s not intimidated to give medical instructions to a doctor. This attitude surprises him because Rex Morgan has never spoken to any nurse at any time for any reason, ever.
Rex Morgan tries to take June Gale to dinner, and to flirt. His clumsy efforts offend her. An elderly woman pops up behind him and orders him to marry her. And the weird thing is it’s not Mary Worth. Rex and June deny knowing who she was. Long-time readers recognize her as Melissa Claridge, who’d been in the comic strip for decades, most recently appearing in 2012. Claridge spent decades trying to make Rex and June pair-bond already.
I didn’t read the comic before this past decade. So I don’t have a particular allegiance to the old continuity. But: why this retcon? Terry Beatty had already established that this is not my father’s Rex Morgan. (My father is more a Mary Worth reader.) This on-screen Rex and June Morgan just happen to have the same names as an earlier Rex and June who happened to be doctor and nurse in the same town decades ago.
I am reluctant to play the “Unreliable Narrator” card. It’s too easy a fix for any continuity question. But here? It’s defensible at least. Rex and June are describing the story of how they met to their daughter. They have reason to avoid confusing sidelines. This justifies skipping decades of June considering other suitors and coming back to work for Rex. But then what benefit to Sarah to say that some strange old woman told Rex to marry June? Rex and June swear they don’t know who this woman was. If they’re fibbing for Sarah’s sake, why?
Well, Rex buys Dr Dallis’s clinic. June takes the job as clinic nurse. Eventually they marry. And everything’s happy ever after. With that comforting conclusion, the flashback ends, the 9th of August.
After that, and with panels explaining to the reader, the strip begins “Lockdown Stories”. These are vignettes of what all the characters do during the crisis.
First up, from the 10th of August: the Morgans themselves. Their clinic is shut down for the crisis. June is doing triage over the phone. Rex is back at the hospital supporting the Covid-19 unit. The story’s main concern: how to set it up so Rex can work without infecting his family. Rex will be sleeping in his study, using the downstairs bathroom, and going into and out of the house through the garage. And he’ll have to see his family online, but, that’s the best of options.
And that’s it. The 17th of August we switch to Jordan Harris and Michelle Carter. Jordan’s restaurant made the shift to doing take-out orders. Michelle is a nurse, though, and wants to go back to the hospital’s Covid-19 unit. But there’s no safe way they can live together for this. Jordan moves into the apartment above the restaurant for the duration, and they’ll have to make do.
With the 23rd of August we move to the next vignette. This is about Rene Belluso. He had been Sarah Morgan’s art instructor back before Terry Beatty took over the writing. This was back when a rich mob widow was setting Sarah up as the next Leonardo da Vinci. Since then Belluso’s been hiding from mobsters he owes money. And forging comic strip art. And he ran that Celestial Healing scam that Rex and Lana Lewton busted up. He’s still working a scam, with a web site offering the secret cure for Covid-19. Also cold-calling people for a stimulus check scam. He’s barely got into his vignette before officials bang on his hotel door and take him away. So he’s now leading the Trump administration’s pandemic response team.
And the 30th of August moves to “Horrible” Hank Harwood and his son Hank Junior. “Horrible” Hank’s a comic book artist from way back, so his life isn’t changed: he’s spending his 90s redrawing magazine covers for pay. Hank Junior’s missing doing stuff. At his dad’s suggestion, he starts building plastic model kits. And they give each other haircuts. That’s about all.
With the 11th of September — a rare midweek transition — we move over to Niki Roth, one of the teen cast. He delivers food to the Harwoods, which is how we make the segue. And then to his girlfriend Kelly and her mom. Kelly’s also the Morgans’ babysitter, but that’s off for the time being. We only got to them this past Saturday, so, there’s not much guessing what they’re up to.
So, yeah, I call these vignettes but that might be too strong a word. It’s more going around the horn and establishing that everybody has some situation. Even Rene Belluso’s scam got introduced and then resolved in a week. It’s nice to go around and see everybody, but none of these have been real stories. There is of course a story problem when characters have to be apart. And, like, there’s almost no reason for June Morgan to chat with Hank Junior online. At least if he came into the clinic for something they would talk.
Dethany Dendrobia, the pale Goth guest star is from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. I’ll get to what she’s doing in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy some paragraphs down. On The Fastrack is a longrunning workplace-humor comic strip. It turned up often enough when I was Reading the Comics for my mathematics blog. Dethany Dendrobia is the comic strip’s third protagonist. She took over the strip about a decade ago from the previous lead character, Wendy Welding. Dendrobia is Goth, yes, and I forget whether her paleness is makeup or her nature.
Holbrook’s three comics (On The Fastrack, Safe Havens, and the web comic Kevin and Kell) go in for a cartoony world. In it, for example, the Computer Bug, source of so many problems, is a real literal character, who can speak with and negotiate with you and all. Dendrobia, hardworking and cheerful, is also Goth, fascinated by death and time’s ravages. So her “freakish”, Morticia Addams-influenced, appearance codes her in Dick Tracy as a villain. But in her home comic strip this is how a normal person looks.
While the characters are crossing over there are some differences between the comic strip universes. Dick Tracy is carrying on as though the Covid-19 disaster weren’t happening. Except for the Crimestoppers tips at the top of Sunday panels, which carry warnings about scams. People faking being from the IRS asking for stimulus check information. People running fake health screenings. Scammers telling you the schools are “safe to reopen” for in-person classes. People claiming that employers should not be legally liable for their employees getting the coronavirus at work. People selling fake vaccinations. The frauds you would expect.
On The Fastrack, meanwhile, has made the characters being locked down an important part of the story. The easy way around this is to say the Dick Tracy events happened, like, last year or so. Except both strips have built in how Dendrobia is preparing for her wedding, to Guy Wyre, this coming Halloween. (Dick Tracy also recently made a guest appearance in On The Fastrack, there as a hologram, to avoid spreading non-ironic death.)
It gets more “inconsistent”. In Holbrook’s other newspaper comic, Safe Havens, Fastrack built and launched a spacecraft to Mars. That crew went and bioengineered that planet into new life. In that strip, Dethany is the chief flight director for Fastrack Inc. There is no good reason I haven’t been doing plot recaps for that comic. But that’s even harder to reconcile with what we’ve seen here. Especially since Holbrook decided to freeze the On The Fastrack characters’ ages, when Dendrobia took over. But Safe Havens continues aging the characters in loose realtime. You never hear this mentioned by people who say they can’t understand the relationship between Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean.
(Tom Batiuk’s Crankshaft and Funky Winkerbean both take place in the present day. But Funky Winkerbean is also a decade “ahead” of Crankshaft. That is, if a Crankshaft character appears in today’s Funky Winkerbean he’s ten years older than he “should” be. A Funky Winkerbean character appearing in Crankshaft is about a decade younger. That’s all.)
Dyer bails Shaky out of jail, a surprising fast return for last story’s villain. Shaky’s uncle, the original Shaky, was married to Breathless Mahoney’s mother. Dyer says she wants more background on Mahoney. So he’s got a job now, that’s great. The job seems to be talking about their relatives over dinner with Dyer. That doesn’t cause any conflict at all with Edison Lighthouse, Shaky’s girlfriend, whom he starts missing date nights with.
Lighthouse, annoyed at her abandonment, turns to her one friend: Ugly Crystal. You know, whom she met while fleeing the cops last time around. Over coffee at the mall Crystal recommends dumping Shaky. She doesn’t know what his deal is. But she knows someone sending his signals is not good. Lighthouse challenges Shaky, who admits to what’s going on, even though it’s a little weird.
Meanwhile Dick Tracy learns that Shaky’s out of jail, when Sam Catchem notices Shaky at the filming location.
In another mall hangout, Ugly Crystal mentions how her dad’s got a cool Oklahoma Days centennial belt buckle. And there’s a whole world of belt-buckle-collectors who’ll pay good money for that sort of thing. Shaky, eavesdropping, hears how this could be worth thousands. He forms a plan. Shaky is confident in his plan, even though his plan is quite bad. He needs cash. Dyer’s been pumping him for information, but all she’s delivered is the promise of a movie cameo. When she puts off a dinner date, he breaks in to Ugly Crystal’s home to steal her dad’s belt buckle.
Tracy goes to the movie set to arrest Shaky, who’s doing his cameo as Uncle Shaky. The arrest is for “harassment”, and I’m not sure who he’s harassing. But he’s got the belt buckle on him too. There’s a short fight, and a new arrest, and that’s it for Shaky.
Also maybe for Dyer. On Shaky’s arrest she drops her method-actor pose of demanding everyone call her Breathless. .
Oh, and that $2,000 buckle was actually a $20 buckle. Ugly Crystal was “worried” about Edison Lighthouse being with Shaky. And Shaky thought that baiting Shaky into stealing from Austin might “[help] save Fortuna Dyer”. Which … I guess succeeded, but it feels like some class of entrapment at least. Also it’s not clear that Tracy did much besides have the matter solved for him.
The current story began the 5th of July. It brings in Dethany Dendrobia from Bill Holbrook’s On The Fastrack. Fastrack itself is a company with a slightly vague portfolio, but a lot of what it does is data warehousing.
Dendrobia’s in Tracy Town because Fastrack is buying a new warehouse. Dendrobia’s investigating the string of construction accidents. Someone’s following her, and took a shot, tearing her overcoat. The warehouse is one that used to belong to Stooge Viller, whom GoComics commenter Neil Wick writes was the fifth-ever Dick Tracy villain, back in 1933. Viller survived a couple stories and died in 1940.
The antagonist is someone named Coney, a rotund fellow whom we meet buying a double-wide ice cream cone. And the motive: there’s a rumor that Viller hid millions somewhere in the building. But after a month of work Coney’s gang hasn’t found anything.
Tracy and Dendrobia investigate the warehouse. They find Coney and his gang. Coney insists he’s the building’s owner. So, all right. That stalls things for a couple days. Coney goes to Wilson Properties, complaining about these snoopers. Alex Wilson says the warehouse was sold by mistake and they haven’t been able to negotiate anything with Fastrack. It’s … a heck of a mistake. But, don’t worry. The real estate investment trust that fraudulently sold the building? Whose mistake results in the attempted murder and actual kidnapping and possible death of several people? They will never face a consequence.
Still, it gives underling Howdy a new chance to get rid of Dendrobia or else. Howdy by the way looks rather like Howdy Doody. This makes me think we’re supposed to recognize Coney from something, but I don’t know what. He looks generically like an ice cream mascot but that could just be good character design. He also doesn’t look anything like the iconic “Tillie” caricature of Coney Island showman George Tilyou, which knocks out the other obvious association.
Yes, I did see the official video for Sparks’s new song, The Existential Threat. If you’d like to see it, it’s here. Content warning: the animation has the style of 70s-underground-comix grand-guignol body horror. Consider whether you’re up for that before watching. I’d recommend listening anyway.
With that wholly unrelated topic taken care of let me get to business. This plot recap gets you through early July 2020 for Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot summary at this link. I’ll also put any news I have about the comic strip at that link.
Yes, it’s hard to remember as long ago as mid-April. Let me try anyway. Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s series, based somehow on April Parker, had started filming in Cavelton. Sophie Spencer crashed filming, protesting Mayor Sanderson’s politics. And then Covid-19 hit the comic strip, the first of the story strips to address the pandemic at all. This was an amazing feat of work by Marciuliano and Manley. It has to have involved throwing out completed work to rush stuff out at deadline.
Neddy and Sophie barely start arguing the dragging of politics into decisions about how to spend public money when the show shuts down. Part of the lockdown, in the attempt to contain the pandemic. Ronnie stews about how she can’t even see her new girlfriend Kat, who’s to play Neddy on the show. And then Neddy’s ex-boyfriend Hank calls. She fumbles over the conversation, talking more and more enthusiastically than she would have thought. Why did Hank call? Why was she eager to talk to him?
Well, because of the pandemic. Everybody we know got locked in the Total Perspective Vortex. Enough of that and you start to ask, “was I really so upset with this person that it’s worth never having anything to do with them again?” You’re going through it too. Remember that you had reasons, and think about whether those reasons are still things of value.
Meanwhile in changing values: Honey Ballinger drops out of Toni Bowen’s mayoral campaign. She had joined Sophie’s plans for Bowen to do something meaningful, working therapy for her post-kidnapping stress. But now, with even the candidate not that enthusiastic, and the world shut down? She wants something else. The collapse of Sophie’s campaign-manager ambitions sends her talking again to Abbey. They had fought over whether Sophie going to college even meant anything after the kidnapping.
Meanwhile, Alan Parker’s mayoral campaign hits a problem: he and Katherine have Covid-19. While both look to recover, Alan Parker acknowledges he doesn’t want to be mayor enough to take him away from his family, whom the virus keeps him away from. He calls off his campaign, endorsing Toni Bowen on the way out, to her surprise. And to Sophie’s rejuvenation. She can’t wait to get the campaign going again.
And things are a bit tough for the Drivers. Sam Driver hasn’t got any lawyer work, and Alan Parker hasn’t got a campaign to manage anymore. Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast, finally completed, was ready to open as the lockdown hit. It’s cut into their finances. Abbey mentions how they were hit hard when they had to sell on the stock market, which is interesting. I mean, I know I’m bad at finance. I have two Individual Retirement Accounts, one a Traditional and one a Roth, because I could not figure out which was better for me. This way I’m sure to be at least half-wrong. But even I knew to put my spare thousand bucks into buying at crash prices. This is why I’m today the tenth-largest shareholder in Six Flags Amusement Parks. So how leveraged were the Parker-Drivers that they had to sell stocks into the crash?
Sam can’t get a rebate or early cancellation on the lease for his useless downtown office. Mayor Sanderson, who partly owns that office building, is reopening the town, the better to get everybody infected and dead sooner. So Sam turns to Sophie, offering his help in the Toni Bowen campaign.
And these are the standings, as of early July. I hope to check back in after a couple months to see what develops.
Yeah, so, as of the end of June, 2020, Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp has not mentioned Covid-19 at all. The story strips, as I’ve mentioned, have trouble addressing fast-moving real-world events like this. Even a strip that only runs dailies, like Gil Thorp, has a lead time of at least two to three weeks. And a whole storyline should be sketched out months ahead of time. Granted I suspect that the word “should” there carries a large load. I’m sympathetic to wanting not to throw out large amounts of work, and putting off addressing the pandemic until later. Possibly the summer storyline.
The spring storyline had just begun the week before the last recap. We hadn’t even met its star, Mike “The Mayor” Knappe. Like most Gil Thorpe teens he has a dumb but harmless eccentricity. His is eating weird. Like, eating a normal thing (scrambled eggs) in a weird way (out of a baggie, using a spoon). Or weird stuff (orange juice with banana slices) had normally (drunk from a thermos). But he’s popular and outgoing. And keeps celebrating his teammates, and the girls softball team too. So he’s easy to get along with.
This goes on for like a month, inspiring the question: is there even going to be a story? We finally reach “yes” the 29th of April, when Knappe shows off, in English class, today’s weird meal. Sesame bagels with peanut butter. I know people who find peanut butter bagels to be the worst. But as weird goes? If you can get it prepackaged at Wawa it’s not weird yet.
What is weird is that Knappe’s English teacher goes to … I’m not sure. I guess the guidance counsellor, although it might be the school physician or an assistant principal. Dr Pearl, anyway. Pearl joins Gil Thorp at softball practice, and they have Knappe in for A Talk. Knappe realizes his mistake right away, and worries that someone had an allergic reaction to the peanut butter. No, the problem is he brought a knife to school. At this point, if you ever read the comments on Gil Thorp, you should stop. No thread you read will ever lead you to joy.
Because the thing is that a knife is a weapon. Yes, even a butter knife is a knife. And bringing a weapon to school is a bad thing. Even if it is a butter knife. There’s a zero-tolerance rule: mandatory expulsion.
Knappe is devastated, reasonably. His classmates are, too, and there’s some short-lived talk about a student walkout. This comes to nothing, which is a pity. It’s good for high school students to do walkout protests, so they can learn what a walkout protest gets. It gets one paragraph in the local newspaper, which quotes no students and carries the principal’s lie that the walkout disrupted no classes and ended within five minutes.
The Knappes consult a lawyer, but there’s not much hope. The point of a zero-tolerance policy is to allow officials to harass minorities while using the formalism of equality. It’s regrettable when a popular white male kid suffers a consequence. But making an example of Knappe means the institution will get to torment dozens of Black boys and girls for a decade or more and claim it’s impartial treatment. The Knappes can’t do anything effective.
Knappe figures his life is over. He’s been expelled, his admission to Generic State University is threatened. And it’s for lousy reasons. Coach Gil Thorp settles in to doing something. He talks with Knappe, explaining how moping can’t make anything better. Going to the alternative school, Valley Modified, can. And being with other people will. Knappe bows finally to the inevitable.
Within minutes he’s making friends, though. And finding that his old friends still like him even though his new shellac of Drama. Within hours, Knappe has a plan. Valley Modified doesn’t have any sports teams, but they’ve got individual athletes. Why not a Milford versus Valley Modified softball match?
OK, it’s weird, but weird is Knappe’s thing. Thorp turns down the request to use Milford’s field and equipment; that’s against the rules. But he does point out places they could play and ways to scrounge equipment, so there’s that. Milford’s varsity team wonders … why waste a day beating juvenile delinquents, and the best argument is, Knappe’s a cool guy and it’s better playing than not playing. About the same argument works for Knappe’s new gang.
A surprising number of people turn out for the game. And you know how it goes, if you’ve seen any movie about the scrappy upstarts versus the elite snobs. Valley Modified gives up like 2,038 runs in the first inning, with the upstate returns not in yet, and then starts to falter. It’s embarrassing enough that Gonzalo “Gonzo” Aceves defects from Milford, joining Valley Modified to give them a bit of pitching help. Also equipment advice. It’s an act of kindness and mercy of the sort we all wish we had done for others in school. But he’s repaying Knappe for giving him an upgraded nickname.
Will the game turn out non-humiliating? Will Knappe get accepted into some college? And will Covid-19 hit Milford? We’ll see.
Milford Schools Watch
Who else is in the Milford school district? Or at least rates a mention in the sports comic pages? These schools, the past couple months:
Yes: Rex Morgan, M.D., is not doing a Covid-19 plot. Its writer and artist, Terry Beatty, chose this. A story strip like this, with Sundays tied in to weekly publication, needs about two months’ lead time. Beatty did not think he could write a medical story that could plausibly track whatever happened by publication.
I also imagine that when they reopen Comic Strip Master Command he will be stabbing the Judge Parker team in the kidneys. But, there, Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley took on an incredible emergency workload, throwing out a story to replace it with a pandemic one. And they don’t have to write a medical story; their focus is people whose lives stopped.
While I understand Beatty’s reasoning, I’m not sure it’s the decision I would make. It’s not as though anyone expects Rex Morgan and June Morgan to find a vaccine. Stories of them pressed into the longest work they’ve done would seem enough. Even if they were “merely” taking over the caseloads of doctors and nurses put on Covid-19 duty, I’d think the strip would better fit the role cast for it. Still, I trust that Beatty knows his workload and how to manage it.
I’m writing this recap in middle June 2020. If you’re reading this after about September 2020, if there is a September 2020, I’ll likely have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. It’ll also have any news about the strip that seems worth my mentioning. Now to the story.
Rex Morgan, M.D..
29 March – 21 June 2020
Buck Wise was off to see Truck Tyler’s concert, last we looked in. Tyler’s a roots country player and he’s touring without a band, just himself and his guitar. Also his scratchy throat. He has to switch to instrumentals, and even cut the show a bit short. Wise checks in on Tyler, who knows him, and finds him coughing up a lung. Tyler says it’s a cold and asks Wise to handle the merch table while he recovers. Sure thing. Wise passes him his card, in case he wants a doctor in town.
So you maybe see where this is going. Tyler isn’t touring with a band because he can’t afford it. He can’t even afford a hotel room; he sleeps in his car in the bar’s parking lot. And he’s sick. So he’s living the American dream: choose medically-induced bankruptcy or unemployment-induced bankruptcy. Overnight his cough gets so bad that he seeks medical care, or at least Rex Morgan.
This all happened, for us readers, in late April. Given that his big symptom was coughing nonstop, boy did it seem like a Covid-19 story. No. Truck Tyler had walking pneumonia. He needed antibiotics and complete rest. Which at least avoids medical bankruptcy but still threatens him with unemployment bankruptcy.
Tyler asks Wise for help. And owns up to his poverty. Wise can’t put him up in his own home; they have a baby. But he has a friend, Doug, who manages a motel when he’s not Griffy from Zippy the Pinhead. The motel always has some extra rooms, and Doug’s a fan, so, what the heck, he can have the room for a couple autographs and stuff.
Meanwhile Wise has an idea about how Tyler’s music income is all derived from his music career. What if they sold Truck Tyler merch online? Tyler doesn’t see how that could work, but Wise listens to podcasts. He knows you can set up web sites. Tyler’s even got a new album almost ready to publish. Wise proposes crowdfunding and Tyler has no idea what this is all about. That’s all right; Wise can set it up for a cut of revenues. Tyler is cool with a friendly person taking a cut of a big new project whose exact details he doesn’t understand. This may give us insight to why, after decades in the music industry, Tyler doesn’t have the cash to stay in a motel for a week. It’s because he joined the part of the industry that makes music. It’s the other side that makes money.
Anyway Wise is enthusiastic and, we readers know, a Good guy. So that’s all great and Tyler can get back to writing some new songs as he finishes recovering. And that, the 30th of May, finishes the Truck Tyler storyline. And the last storyline Beatty wrote before the pandemic smashed up everything.
Instead they’re doing a flashback: little Sarah Morgan asking how Mom and Dad first met. Rex explains it was when he was first in Glenwood and working at the hospital. One of the older doctors, Dr Dallis (get it?), too him under his wing. What you’re supposed to get is that Rex Morgan, M.D. was created in 1948 by Dr Nicholas P Dallis. The real Dallis was a psychiatrist. He also created Judge Parker and Apartment 3-G.
According to Rex, Dallis was planning to retire, and wanted someone to take over his practice. He offered it to Rex Morgan. (This seems abrupt to me, but Rex could be condensing events for Sarah’s sake.) While thinking this over the next day, during his regular run, he bumped right into June. He apologizes, but she calls him a jerk. June disputes having said that out loud.
And that’s the flashback story so far. Do Rex and June get together? If so, how? We’ll see over the next several weeks. But how about for …
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp? Surely the story strip about high school athletics has adapted to events that shuttered high schools and athletics, right? We’ll see next week, if things go well. Thanks for reading.
Me, from the middle of March through this past week: You know, it’s weird that the remote-login system I use to get in to the office computers has been this sluggish ever since the pandemic and everybody else having to work from home too. I wonder what’s changed.
Anyway we bought a new router for our house so I’m sure this will fix everything.
I write this for some future reader. I suppose I always have to, but this is more specific. Particularly it’s for readers who, after the Covid-19 pandemic wraps up, don’t remember how to shake hands anymore.
You may laugh. I hope you do. But you think that shaking hands is like riding a bicycle, you never really forget. Ah, but have you tried bicycle-riding after a long time away? You start with a sensible helmet, judging the wacky helmet in poor taste for these times. Then you try putting both feet on the pedals, but the kickstand is in the way. You put a foot on the ground and try pushing the kickstand back. But you have to push it in and press backward while letting it slide out and before you know it you topple over. You fall into the bag of leaves the city isn’t collecting yet so it doesn’t hurt. But you’re making no bicycle-riding progress.
It’s like this with handshakes too. Try it now, by yourself. Reach your right hand to your left and shake. Ah! You see, right? You can’t shake a left hand and a right hand! What you have done there, my friend, is applaud. This is why you need my guidance.
I’ll get to specific instructions in a moment. But you need to know a long-range goal. A handshake done well will be both good and firm. It’s obvious why you want a handshake to be good. We all strive for the good through the limitations of our understanding and perceptions. Plato’s students wrote three false Socratic dialogues about the nature of a good handshake. (That was because they needed publication credits, though.)
But why firm? I don’t know. I think it’s to be sure we understand what it’s like being handled by an adjustable crescent wrench. It may not be comfortable but it’s better than an unadjustable crescent wrench. It also could be just that guys set the standards, and the guy standard for everything is that it should be done until someone weeps.
So that’s the long-term goal. Now to practical steps. First, with your handshakes, check that you have at least one hand. No one, however much they want a handshake from you, will fault you if you haven’t got hands. This is an out, by the way. If for some reason you can’t bear handshakes, then “accidentally” leave them back home when you go out. I don’t know how you’ll lock your door, sorry. Maybe you live in a good neighborhood.
Ready for a handshake, though? With the help of at least one other person — remember the lesson about applauding — get ready. First, hold up your handshaking hand. Spread your fingers out and then close them back until you feel comfortable. You feel comfortable when you can hold your fingers at that separation for at least 120 seconds without feeling strain. (Practice this before your actual handshaking! You want it to look automatic.) Reach your thumb out perpendicular to your hand, then touch your palm, at least two but not more than three times.
Reach your hand towards your handshake-partner’s, starting with your palm held vertical. Turn it slowly horizontal. Your model here is the Space Pan-Am spaceship space-docking in the Space Hilton from 2001: A Space Odyssey. With your space hand — sorry, hand — accidentally slipped into your partner’s sleeve, apologize. Tap your forehead and say you don’t know where your thoughts are today. You are “spaced out”, as they say. Smile with a glint in your eye. After a hearty chuckle go on about your post-handshake business.
Does it seem like the handshake’s gone wrong? You have good insights, my friend. The handshake has gone wrong, but this is what you want. By sharing in a “blunder” you’ve shared a very mild embarrassment with someone. They now see you as the partner in a special little moment of common humanity. They’ll like you more even though they have no actual reason to. And that is the secret true goal of shaking hands.
[ Me, thinking I’ve closed the essay file. ] Ha-ha! Got them all now, didn’t I? Now I can reveal my intrigue! They have forgotten that I am incompetently germ-phobic! I have always hated handshakes! I am using this as a chance to quash the habit for once and all! They have no choice now but to try hugging or just nodding nervously!
Every house on the block has had its lawn mowed the past three days. There’s maybe two houses that actually needed it, but I think everyone feels like they need to do something, and so Animal Crossing LARPing it is! The block smells pretty good for all that.
(In the next stage of Animal Crossing LARPing I catch a house centipede and set it outside, on the lawn of some other house, on a different block, the next town over.)
The quarantine month has been a pretty tough time, as measured by how often we’ve had to go to the basement and berate cinder blocks. It’s a better coping mechanism than punching the cinder blocks was. The cinder blocks aren’t taking this personally. They know they’re there as support. Emotionally speaking, cinder blocks are bricks. I don’t say that cinder blocks are also literally bricks, because I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble with the brick enthusiast community. I don’t need someone explaining how something essential to bricks is incompatible with the nature of cinder blocks, because I would find that fascinating. I would read three different books, each at least 280 pages, on the history of bricks. I’m already enough of a caricature of myself. I do not need to become even more of that.
But this lands me on my point four times as well as I had expected just three sentences ago. Honest, I was lost. My point is: a lot of us are having a rough time now because we don’t have anything to do. There’s no hanging out at barcades. You can’t even go to the pet store and stare at the baby guinea pigs. A lot of people don’t have jobs. Those who do, have those jobs gone all weird. Two months ago you would spend all morning in a meeting to resolve what five minutes of e-mail would have. Today, you spend all morning in e-mail exchanges to resolve what five minutes of meeting would have.
All these things that we would do evaporated. So now we face the gap between the stuff we do, and who we are, and who we figure we want to be. That’s tough stuff. I remember who I wanted to be, growing up: the astronaut who draws Popeye. It’s been an adjustment, learning that the person I am doesn’t want to make the effort it takes to draw Popeye. Or to convince the people who hire astronauts that they need someone on staff who’ll draw Popeye too. That one’s on me. I keep applying for astronaut jobs, but at the interviews I never ask if they’re bringing a Popeye-drawer on board. I just take it for granted that if they don’t list it on their web site, they’re not going to, and I don’t even respond to their offers. I’m only messing up my own life like this.
How to handle the gap between what kept you busy and what your identity is? This involves serious quiet, letting all the thoughts imposed from other people — well-meaning or advertisers — wash out. Think seriously about what you are when at rest, and see what residue of life remains. Then realize this is a hecking lot of work and the results are terrible. You know how, on your body, you have this indestructible nostril hair that every booger in the world condenses around? Your personality is like that, only worse. It starts with that time you were six and teased that kid Christian across the street because his name rhymes with the imaginary word “Ristian”. And it’s accumulated like that since then. No, you’re better off finding a new store-bought identity and putting that on.
There’s so many to choose from! You could be the person who cruises social media, finding folks who are screaming at CSS for not being able to do what seems like a simple CSS thing, and reassuring them that the problem is that CSS is not actually good at CSS things yet, and never will be. (CSS is that computer thing where, for no good reason, sometimes all the stuff in your web browser is 50% off the edge of the screen to the right.)
You could be a background character in a Studio Ghibli film. In these times you’ll definitely want to be in one of the lower-stress movies. Take up some role where you look over bunches of vegetables, that kind of thing. You’ll have to act nonplussed when a bunch of kids run through on some lightly daft whimsical adventure to help the ghost wolf reconcile with its family or something. So remember to look up exactly what “nonplussed” means. You want to know how to react.
Or you could try being an astronaut who draws Popeye. The drawing Popeye part should be easy, but the real trick is getting up into space. To do that, you’ll want to practice jumping until you’re so good at it you jump into outer space. Go practice right now! (Note to the rest of you: if you’re hired as astronaut they provide the outer space for you. I just want to get my competition for the job out of the way.)
The exact choice isn’t important. What matters is that you realize who you are. Then we can see about fixing that.
Is that … snow? Yes, that’s snow. I’ve seen snow before, although not so much this winter. Who ordered snow? My parents better not hear about this.
Oh, hey, the place that used to be the 24-hour diner. Then the new owners figured instead of being the diner everybody went to because it was 3 am, they could just open for breakfast and lunch. Then they fired the staff and closed entirely. And forgot to get the social media passwords from the staffers. Then they tore down the diner because they figured the vacant lot was worth more than a diner-filled lot. Well, that turned out great. Hey, this has to be the spot where J— discovered his eyeglasses had gouged ridges into the side of his head. Good times.
This … was a lot warmer, like, a week ago. We are going into spring, right? We couldn’t be going right back out of spring again, not with how much everybody agreed on having a spring.
That’s a nice clearly-marked bike lane that comes into existence and runs nearly the length of a full block before fading out again. Probably a story there. Probably also an angry Facebook group.
Oh, criminy, it’s the 50th anniversary of Apollo 13. That would be nice and timely. I did that thing for Apollo 11 and forgot to do anything for Apollo 12. Let me see if there’s anything there, let me think a while and see if I can come up with like three jokes, that’s enough to build a piece around. Oh, who am I kidding, that’s a dumb idea.
So that’s a lone coffee mug six feet from the sidewalk on the torn-up field that used to have a convenience store and now just has the telephone pole with an ‘ATM Inside’ sign on it. This seems to be the setting for some short story with too poignant an imagery to actually read.
Oh, but remember how angry the Usenet group sci.space.history got over the From The Earth To The Moon series, when its Apollo 13 episode wasn’t just doing the movie all over again but on way less budget? Everybody was so angry about it being how reporter Jay Mohr won over reporter Cranky Old Guy. I mean, not so mad as they’d be when the Apollo 16 episode. They got so mad the episode was about the astronaut wives instead of how the Apollo crew drank too much orange drink and passed gas the whole flight. Boy, but the Internet used to be fun to be angry on. What happened?
If I just took that coffee mug how much would I have to clean it to use it again? I’m kidding, I would never stop cleaning it.
Well now I’m just thinking about that report where the Mars Curiosity team had shifted over to working remotely. It’s just, like, they already kind of were. They probably get that a lot. If I ever meet anybody on the team I’m going to have to not tell them that one.
Ooh, hey, the hipster bar left their Wi-Fi on even though they’ve been closed a month now. Good grief it has been a month now. All right. Well, that’s going to be great if my iPod does that thing again where I pause my podcast and it decides to throw away the file and I have to re-download the whole thing. … And I do that when I happen to be right next to the bar. Well, they left the curtain up front open just enough that if I press my face against the window and stare I can kind of make out what have to be the pinball machines. I can stop around to do that a while.
Still thinking about how the Lansing airport listed they had four flights arriving today and only two departing. That’s got to be atypical, right? They can’t be stocking up on two extra planes a day, indefinitely. They’d fill up the parking lot.
All right that’s … nine … ten … twelve pairs of sneakers lined up on the curb, and with a locker mirror and a $4 yard sale price stick on it. There’s probably a good explanation for all of this and the only way I’ll ever know is to knock on the door and ask. They probably get a lot of people knocking on the door asking about the shoe lineup and mirror, though. Maybe I’ll check if they have a web site instead.
Oh, the guys who practice drums four hours a day are still doing that. Still … sounds like drumming. It’s nice to have that to rely on.
So here’s the thing about comic strips: they have lead time. Cartoonists can work as far ahead of deadline as the like, but deadline for weekday comics is about two weeks ahead of publication. It takes time to distribute and print. Note that comic strips are usually in the sections of the paper that are not so time-sensitive. Especially the Sunday comics. So they get printed when the presses are available. Sunday comics, with color done on purpose, need more time: on average about two months.
Cartoonists can respond to emergencies. A few months ago Patrick McDonnell cancelled a Mutts sequence in which Mooch dreamed of being in Australia, in deference to the wildfires. Story strips have a harder time doing sudden changes like that. This especially since most of them have weekday and Sunday continuity tied together. Terry Beatty, of Rex Morgan, M.D., recently wrote about this lead time. The just-begun Truck Tyler storyline will not even mention Covid-19 until its end, the 31st of May. This even though it’s the story comic for which the pandemic is most on-point.
So, that Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker mentioned social distancing means they are doing some astounding last-minute rewriting. But that’s also happening in my future too. If you’re reading this essay after about July 2020, and there is a time after July 2020, you’ll see how the pandemic plays out in an essay at this link, I hope. For now, let me catch things up for the last three months which began twenty years ago.
Alan talks with his son Randy Parker about his mayoral ambitions. Randy points out the idea is stupid and crazy. But, hey, what’s life for if not doing the stupid and crazy thing? Alan wants Sam Driver as campaign manager. Sam thinks it over. This gives Sophie the idea it might be fun to run a campaign. She works up a Leslie Knope file of campaign plans, and Sam takes that and the job.
In Hollywood, Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta have mixed news. Their April Parker-based show is developing into a pilot. Nothing of their work is getting in, though. Except that the studio likes Cavelton, as a place, and figures to shoot on location. At least for the pilot. And use Neddy especially as scout for good locations and bits of local color and all. They get a story-by credit and a mission of finding places that will look good on screen. Ronnie mourns the loss of her Los Angeles apartment and their move to Cavelton. This seems to me premature; even if they do have to live in Cavelton for months, that is only months. They could at least ask the studio to cover rent.
Alan Parker announces his “possible” run. Local News anchor Toni Bowen reports this, while showing footage of him going into custody for helping an arms dealer. And interviews his judge, who Sam Driver got blackmailed off the bench. Alan’s hurt. Driver asks what he thought was going to happen. And that Alan has to make clear what it is he thinks is so important that it takes him to do it.
Sophie tries to recruit Honey Ballinger, another survivor of the kidnapping plot, to campaign. Ballinger points out she should research the other candidates and not just support the one who’s family. Sophie wonders why Alan Parker isn’t volunteering to support someone then, instead of going straight for power.
Randy Parker goes to ask Toni Bowen what her deal is, exactly. Why so mean to his father? I mean, Randy and Bowen used to date, so what’s wrong? She unloads on him: he may be the protagonist but that doesn’t mean everyone he hurts doesn’t count too. After telling him off and leaving, she realizes she’s still ranting at him in her head. She wants to do something useful with this anger at entitled elitists. But she settles for writing an op-ed piece instead.
Identifying the ways society is screwing up for everybody but the elites does bring some response. Her boss at the station is upset that Bowen’s getting unauthorized attention, and puts her on leave. Meanwhile, Sophie notices Bowen’s editorial and thinks: now that’s a mayoral candidate. She goes to Bowen, who wants to know why everyone in the Parker-Spencer-Driver nexus is stalking her. Sophie argues that if Bowen believes in what she wrote, then, she’s got the chance to do something. And, a few weeks (story time; reader time it’s the next day) the Toni Bowen for Mayor campaign office opens. This despite the candidate not being completely sure this is a good idea.
Alan Parker’s campaign gets under way too. This with a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser at Abbey Spencer’s newly-opened bed-and-breakfast. The one that was formerly a barn. Channel 6 reporter Not Toni Bowen sets up a nice softball, letting Parker present this as celebrating local small business owner. You know, Abbey Spencer, millionaire and mother of Toni Bowen’s campaign manager.
And the TV crew finally settles into town, ready to start filming. Kat Alyson, playing Neddy Spencer, is thrilled to meet Neddy Spencer. Alyson bubbles over in that excited, outgoing way that makes me terrified of someone. Huerta finds Alyson surprisingly attractive too. I’m sure this will not make for any weirdness in her relationship with Neddy or anyone else, ever.
Filming is a big deal for Mayor Sanderson, who insists it’s a great deal for town. Sure, the TV production isn’t paying taxes. But there’ll be all kinds of money that falls out of the pockets of wealthy people as they waddle around filming. That’s just how tax incentive plans work. Then Sophie crashes the set, holding up a protest sign and chanting, “Mayor Sanderson is the real actor here!” She got help from that guy on Conan O’Brien’s show with the bad chants. She tries to complain about the deal, and gets distracted by it also being so cool to see Neddy on a film set.
And that gets us to the start of this week, which saw the first mention of the pandemic in the story comics. I know what you’re wondering: well, isn’t the film crew staying in Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast? My guess for that is no, because the renovations kept dragging out and the film crew would need reservations they could count on. Would have been great for Abbey if it worked that way. That’s my guess, though. We’ll see how it develops in the next months.
Oh, that migratory shopping cart that’s been going up and down the street has fallen over. Sad. Tipped on its side like this, it’s sure to be easy pickings for the abandoned disreputable lawn predators out there. Even a single tireless rusted-out Chevy on cinder blocks will be able to get it. If it were in range, that is.
Huh; yeah, this store used to be a barber shop, looks like. A long time ago. Oh, and just next to it, spot that used to be a convenience store. Also a long time ago. Building permit on it … mm. They’re replacing the floor and carpet by August of 2016. Well, I’m sure they have big plans for the reopening.
So here’s a spot where the road was torn up and re-patched. It intersects another stretch where the road was torn up and re-patched. There are cryptic markings in spray paint all over, pointing at the manhole from five directions. They’re not uniformly spaced around the manhole. They evoke a portolan chart, perhaps mapping the routes by which traders from the Hanseatic League will bring staple goods to port, and then lose them in the potholes surrounding the patched streaks.
Interesting to see another former barber shop, and so close to the last one.
Well, hey there, squirrel. Yeah, you’re looking happy that someone’s left a nearly whole loaf of slightly moldy bread out for you. Boy, would you even know what to do with bread that wasn’t a little moldy? I barely know what to do with it. Sandwiches, I guess. Dip some into soups for an experience that’s not as good as I think it ought to be. Got your slice, huh? Yeah, hop over there and you can enjoy it in private. … Or … you can just drop it there and go back to the loaf. No, you go ahead, pick your slice carefully. I’m fascinated to see how this’ll come out. Yeah, I go back and re-make decisions all the time. A squirrel should have as much chance to … go running off without any bread at all. All right. I feel like I’m being insulted somehow and I’m not even really in this.
Another former barber shop? This seems like a lot of barber shops to have ever been in this neighborhood. Did we sometime used to have a lot of people with beards, and they all got rid of them at once, and then we didn’t need so many barber shops anymore? I should ask my barber, who I drive to, two towns east of here.
You know, that shopping cart is kind of near the Chevy House. Maybe it is in danger.
A free boat? Oh, that’s interesting. Gorgeous, even. It looks like the kind of boat you get when you’re doing a low-effort movie from the early 60s and they have to have a fishing scene. … No trailer, all right. No motor either. The windshield’s come off but it’s sitting in the boat. It’s nice to know we’re in a neighborhood where someone can just leave their motorboat windshield laying around loose and nobody will come and take it. Oh, there’s no seats in the boat, though. There’s that pole where the driver’s seat should go. Probably some way to replace that. I’ve seen that Popeye cartoon. Still, if someone’s giving a boat away free, it’s got problems. Maybe leaks. Maybe rust. Maybe it’s somehow on fire. Maybe it bestows on its owner a mild curse, causing them when setting up appointments on the phone to always fail to hear the critical word in the question, however many times they get it repeated to them. Anyway we don’t have anywhere to store a boat. Our goldfish pond isn’t big enough to need one, either.
OK, so this is a barber shop that’s still open, across the street from the other barber shop that’s still open. I wonder if they get together and talk about the days that a squirrel could run from the Red Cedar Creek all the way to the Grand River from barber-shop-roof to barber-shop-roof, never touching the ground.
Another former convenience store. Maybe we’re just not a neighborhood for convenience. Oh, they’ve left all those two-liters of Faygo sitting around. Dangerous. That’s how you get Juggalos.
Hey, the migratory shopping cart is back up on its wheels and put out on the lawn extension. That’s great; maybe it’s going to survive, and become the leader of a new clan of abandoned shopping carts. But … how did it get upright on its own?
A little bit before we got our stay-at-home orders I bought some pencil leads. You know, for mechanical pencils. I don’t say this to make you all envious. I know there are people out there who don’t use mechanical pencils. I prefer mechanical pencils and I won’t be apologizing for that. Yes, I have tried your fully pneumatic pencils. I don’t like the flow. Electronic pencils would be great, but they’re monitoring everything you do. And they’re sending mean notes to Facebook about your bad handwriting and how it’s ruining your wrists.
So mechanical pencils it is for me, and that means sometimes buying new leads. This is because putting in a new lead is two percent less bad than buying a whole new pen and throwing the old away. It should be a bigger gap. There’s mechanical pencils where you put the new lead in by pressing down the little cap thingy on the end and dropping a new lead in. I don’t have that. The pencils I have these days require me to take the end cap off, then remember that’s not how to reload these pencils. Then I have to unscrew the … I’m going to call it nib … from the center of the pencil. Then press down on the cap until I remember that’s not how to open it up to take a new lead either. Then I have to look up on YouTube how to put lead into my pencil, and follow that video. I might be better off throwing the old pencils away and getting a new one, but again, there’s that two percent margin. It’s a tiny bit less bad to buy a new lead.
Except. I bought this at an Office Depot. Or Office Max. I forget what it was before they merged (it was Kinko’s) and moved from one end of the strip mall to the other. The problem is, this got them e-mailing me to give my opinions about the transaction.
This is a heck of a thing to ask for in any case. What is there to rate? I go in to a store that sells pencil leads, pick up a pack of pencil leads, and pay for it, and leave. How can I rate that? Plato himself would volunteer that there is no such thing as an Ideal Form of the pencil-lead-buying experience. There is no way to perceive the difference between a mediocre pencil-lead-buying experience and the greatest pencil-lead-buying experience of your life. I guess this does mean we can treat every chance to buy pencil lead as a new chance to have a best-possible experience, so far as we know.
I concede there can be a terrible pencil-lead-buying experience. But that’s because something interferes with the pencil-lead-buying. Like, while you’re there a ceiling tile drops on you. Or you can’t remember which phone number you gave for their loyalty program and then someone insists you are too John “Ten Eyck” Lansing Jr, the indirect namesake for the capital of Michigan (Ten Eyck), who went missing in 1829. That would ruin the pencil-lead-buying. That’s the result of the other experience getting in the way, though.
Anyway I figured to ignore Max Depot’s e-mails until they gave up asking. The way Best Buy has finally accepted that I have no opinions to share about a four-USB-plug power brick. Except that they would not give up. They e-mailed me daily, asking me to please tell them about the pencil-lead-buying experience.
They sent me more e-mails than Joe Biden’s campaign has, if you can imagine, now that Biden bought whatever cursed mailing list Amy Klobuchar had. And this as the pandemic kept on panning. So I gave in and answered them. No, I would not recommend buying pencil lead at Depot to the Max, because they keep asking me to have an opinion about it, and I keep remembering how if everything starts going well, the pandemic might only kill as many Americans as combat did in the Civil War, and I have to go to the basement and yell at cinder blocks.
They e-mailed back.
And apologized that my experience was so bad and they will work to make it better in the future.
So now management dinks are going to punish people who actually work, because I said the buying was fine but the follow-up sucked. And I have to deal with knowing I’m to blame for that.
So now I can’t ever buy pencil lead at Max Office, Max Depot ever again. It’s going to hurt too much. I have, finally, found what a bad pencil-lead-buying experience is.
So, you know, despite it all I had a productive weekend. I mean I renewed the ham radio license that I never use and don’t even have a radio for and don’t know where I’d even get a radio now that Radio Shack is a disbelieved memory. Go ahead, try telling people about it. “You could go in and buy one single 47-ohm resistor, and then they’d ask you to join something called a `battery club’ for some reason.” You’ll be laughed off the nostalgia circuit with material like that.
So here’s some more on hand-washing. People ask how I, a germ-phobic slightly obsessive person, feel about learning how everyone else hates hand-washing. Like, am I grossed out to learn that other people will wash their hands only for special circumstances, like the discovery of a new Pope? That there’s a sizable contingent of people who figure washing after you pee is just some Puritan nonsense of shaming sexual organs?
Of course not. I know the average person sees washing their hands as a special event. Something that if you did too much would devalue washing or the idea of hands. I wouldn’t have a hand-washing compulsion if I didn’t believe that most of you figure you’ll get a prize for going the whole day without washing. Roughly, since I recovered from being a teenage boy, I have assumed every person and 45 percent of the animals I encounter is a cloud of … things … I must wash off as soon as it’s not rude.
So no, I’m not at all grossed out to see people remarking on how weird it is that now, they’re damp. I see it as reassurance that I have been right all along. The only weird thing is sometimes having someone apologize to me. They say now they understand why I always have that tube of hand sanitizer on me, and also that backup tube so I can sanitize the first tube of sanitizer.
Do I take joy in the world finally waking up to cleaning their hands off in the way I have? Well, no, because of all the death and disruption and stuff. I’m not a monster. I’m not like most people. I want the world to acknowledge me as right all along, yes. But I want the world to do that after waking from an unsettled night of dreams. These dreams should involve visits from the ghosts of liquid soap past, present, and yet to come. Not after any great turmoil.
I don’t have the self-esteem to want the world to go to any great fuss for me. It’s hard enough on my comfortable sense of my own triviality to learn the people at the sandwich shop know I want the cheese hoagie. This has been a week of ever more headlines and news alerts and interruptions to The Price is Right. That’s way too much focus on me for me to like. I would complain about this more, except, to who? And if whoever I did complain to listened to my complaints and stopped all this great fuss about proving me right? I would feel worse about getting that attention on top of everything else.
One thing I know people are discovering is that if they have long sleeves, then their sleeves get wet. Believe me, I’ve been there. The obvious answer is short sleeves. This doesn’t work for me as an answer because I am cold. Since I moved out of Singapore I’ve been cold. The only exceptions have come in special circumstances, usually when part or all of me was on fire. And even then I only got up to lukewarm. Part of the joy of handwashing is if I can put my hands into boiling water then my fingers are a little less frozen. I have to wear a long sleeved something, and that’s that.
So let me offer what I’ve learned about the wet-sleeves problem. If you wash your hands up to your wrists, you get water all over your sleeves. Ah, but, if you roll your sleeves up a few inches? Then they still get all wet. If you roll your sleeves up past your elbows, wash your hands, and then dry them? Now we get some great results: it turns out you haven’t dried your wrists enough and your sleeve gets wet. So now you need to think outside the box. If you take off your shirt or hoodie or whatever garment has long sleeves, and wash and then dry your wrists thoroughly?
By “thoroughly” I mean first towel them off. Then dry your hands up above where you washed on the wrists in the hot air dryer, if there is one. Or hold your hands up, palms facing you, and walk briskly back and forth for thirty seconds if there is no dryer. Then towel off again, and then put your shirt back on?
Then, your sleeves still get wet. And the whole length, too, since it turns wrists are made of hypersponges. I’m sorry. But you would know this if you had been washing your hands all along like I did, when I was right.
I am beyond happy at getting e-mails from every company I’ve ever heard of with explanations for how they clean everything now. Thanks, Best Buy, I’m glad to know that your response to the Covid-19 virus is that now you’re going to clean the store on a regular basis. United Airlines? You’re going to have the air on airplanes actually purified now? That’s fantastic. It’s really interacting well with my hand-washing germ-phobia thing.
Understand: I know that my hand-washing thing is my dumb thing. That it’s wholly irrational. And even that I don’t have a for-real germ phobia either. I know this because I will just forget about it if I’m having a good enough time. I’ll let my hands go, oh, hour without hand-washing. And not even feel anxious about it. My track record on, like, food is even worse, even ignoring the Steve “Pre” Prefontaine waffle incident. Do I hesitate to grab popcorn that’s been spilled on the shelves from the free-sample bins at the farmer’s market? Yes. I hesitate until I’m sure nobody’s watching. A germ phobia is one thing, but me passing up four pieces of cinnamon-sugar-coated popcorn? Never.
I rationalize my hand-washing thing. It’s good practice to wash your hands before handling food. Or after handling food. Or handling pets. Or handing pets food. Or after handling doorknobs. Or after feeding doorknobs to pets. That one indicates I’m extremely confused, probably from lack of sleep. Best to wash my hands and get to bed. Wash after handling garbage. Or walking too slowly past the garbage. Oh, and of course wash my hands after going to the bathroom. For a good long while. Oftentimes my love will realize that I haven’t been seen in over four hours. This is when I’m trapped where I can’t open the door to get out of the bathroom without touching the doorknob, which requires me to go back into the bathroom to wash my hands.
Still, as silly as my hand-washing thing may be you can’t argue with the results: I get sixteen colds a year. And they hurry on out of here in five or six weeks each. I get so many colds that I have to have two or more colds at once just so there’s time. Last Christmas, at my love’s parents, I had four colds stacked one atop the other, all huddled under a trenchcoat and trying to get into Rise of the Skywalkers. My love’s parents, who are in their 70s, were very happy to see me sniffling and coughing. But then I’ve had a cough since that episode of NewsRadio about the crazy rich boss’s autobiography.
Incidentally yes I know faucet handles have their issues. But those faucets that work by some kind of sensor? No. In principle I should like having more things I don’t have to touch. What doesn’t work for me is that they don’t work for me. You know the thing where you put your hands in front of the sensor and water comes on? When I put my hands in front of the sensor water does not come on. I can hold my hands still and no water comes. I can wave my hands and no water comes. I can move my hands around there and no water comes. The only hope I have is if I punch the faucet, and then water comes, until I put my hands under the faucet.
Here’s a real thing that really happened for me for real, in reality, at the farmer’s market yesterday. In the bathroom there was a faucet that was constantly running. So, great! I did the sorts of thing you expect someone to do in a bathroom, and went to wash under the eternal never-stopping fountain of unending water. When I put my hands in the water stream, it stopped. Don’t believe me? Ask the guy at the other sink who looked at this absurd scene and shrugged. He used the hand dryer, because he has the kinds of hands that bathroom hand dryers can dry, unlike mine.
Anyway if you need me I’ll be in the kitchen, boiling the four-USB-outlet power brick that Best Buy still wants me to review.