Tempus Fugitive


Sorry to be late, but I’m still trying to process how it is the satellite radio playing “Monster Mash” at me the other day. This is the time of year the satellite radio should be playing “Alice’s Restaurant”. What is “Monster Mash” doing out of its season?

MiSTed: Safe Fun for Halloween (Part 4 of 4)


And now, let me bring this particular Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction to an end. So far “Safe Fun For Halloween” has suggested a bunch of merry pranks for the season. These include giving your friends electric shocks, blackening their eyes, sitting them on collapsing chairs, and stirring up confetti blizzards. That last doesn’t sound so bad, really. Still, it all sounds like a fun way to cut down on those pesky invitations to Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s events.

A Day In The Life Of Dennis Day was a radio, starring Dennis Day, all about how to make the most generic sitcom possible. Day won’t marry his longtime girlfriend, who loves him despite how every week he has to get out of a scrape with her father by doing some schtick where he puts on a foreign accent. This went on for five years at like 39 episodes a year.

Next week, and next month, I figure to share the final quarter of the MiSTing of Carrie L—‘s “Reboot: Breaking the Barriers”. Enjoy!


>
> Ideas for Halloween costumes are pictured in Figures 9 and 10.

TOM:Let me guess: executioners and axe murderers?

> The frog suit is an ordinary union suit dyed a light green,

CROW: For everyone who’s got extra union suits laying around.

> with
> dark green cloth spots sewed or cemented on.

TOM: Cemented on, so your friend can sleep with the fishes.

MIKE: That *concrete* you’re thinking of, not *cement*.

TOM: Thanks ever so for saving me from my snarky ignorance.

> Cardboard,
> plywood, wire and doth are all that is necessary to make the
> turtle costume.

CROW: Or every movie we’ve ever seen.

> By cutting the back halves as indicated and
> joining along the ridge with adhesive tape, a very convincing
> shell can be made.

MIKE: Do it fast, before Roger Corman makes a movie out of you.

> The anchor is simply made of plywood and
> cardboard,

TOM: For those ‘floating’ and ‘falling apart in water’ properties every anchor needs.

> and the wearer should be clad in trunks and have
> tattoo figures on arms and legs painted with harmless coloring,

CROW: Harmless? Why start on harmless *now*?

> such as fruit juice.

MIKE: Or strychnine. Sheesh.

TOM: Time to blow this popsicle stand.

MIKE: [ Picking up TOM ] Mercifully.

[ ALL exit. ]

[ 1… ]

[ 2… ]

[ 3… ]

[ 4… ]

[ 5… ]

[ 6… ]


[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. The desk. TOM, MIKE, and CROW are behind it; the decor is much as before, but a bowl of almonds wrapped in aluminum foil is on the desk. ]

MIKE: So.

CROW: [ Calling, as in the introduction ] MIKE!

MIKE: Bowl of tin foil to chew on, I saw the “dance floor” of greased roller bearings you wanted, and yet, you come out of this party pranking activity with what thoughts?

TOM: I ended up wondering how your grandparents survived to the age of marriage.

CROW: Heck, how did they survive to the age of six?

TOM: Yeah, I mean, magazines telling everyone how to kill each other in wacky party games?

CROW: No concept of avoiding nutritional deficiencies when you ate mounds of butter slathered on fried lard.

MIKE: Wait, that —

TOM: Trolley cars running at 35 miles an hour through packed city streets, never stopping or slowing down except when the piled-up corpses derail the train.

CROW: Black death sweeping across the continent because you won’t stop rubbing rat corpses in your eyes.

MIKE: That was like the 14th century and it didn’t happen.

CROW: Parents figuring the only time they had to touch their kids was for spanking and one handshake when they turned 14 and could drop out of school to throw hay into steam locomotives until the railroad police caught them.

TOM: Feeling a little off? Drink some mercury and drain a gallon of blood.

CROW: Dennis Day starring in _A Day In The Life Of Dennis Day_.

MIKE: OK, at this point I don’t even know what point you’ve wandered away *from*.

TOM: Well, fortunately, humans have robots now, so you don’t have to be stupid on your own.

MIKE: We can be stupid together.

CROW: Yes, and let’s make that our New Year’s Resolution.

TOM: Agreed!

MIKE: [ Shaking his head ] Sure. Thanks, everyone, and from the Satellite of Love, let’s all look into the New Year being a little less stupid together.

TOM: Yay!

[ MIKE pushes the button; the screen blanks out to … ]

CROW: [ Calling ] MIKE!

                            \   |   /
                             \  |  /
                              \ | /
                               \|/
                            ----O----
                               /|\
                              / | \
                             /  |  \
                            /   |   \

Mystery Science Theater 3000, its characters and situations and everything are the property of Best Brains, Inc, and don’t think anyone is challenging that at all. The original article is used in what is honestly thought to be a spirit of fair comment and clean sportsmanship.

However you remember the Rankin/Bass special to be, it’s actually a
weirder thing than you remember. And let’s be carful out there.

> The result is a sudden shock which is surprising but
> not harmful.

[ The End ]

MiSTed: Safe Fun for Halloween (Part 3 of 4)


I hope you continue to enjoy this Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction. Those who’ve missed the end of Carrie L—‘s “Reboot: Breaking the Barriers” have not; I figure to get back to that in November. For now, I want to finish off looking at a Popular Mechanics article from 1936, “Safe Fun For Halloween”.

If you don’t want to go back and re-read the whole thing, here’s what you’ve missed: a lot of stunts to shock, embarrass, or humiliate partygoers visiting your house for what will be the last time. It only feels like all these stunts are about getting your friends to touch exposed electrical wires. There’s also ones about getting lampblack around their eyes or pretending to take a picture and instead blasting a cap gun at them. Fun!

Uneeda Biscuits, mentioned here, were the first big hit product for the newly-formed National Biscuit Company. Say the name aloud and you get the advertising hook for them. Also now if you encounter an early-20th-century humor piece and someone talks about having a Ueata Meal or buying a Udrivea Car or something, now you know what they’re riffing on. Nabisco was still making Uneedas through about a decade ago. They were kind of an extra-thick club cracker. Not quite salty enough to my taste but, I could get it. Cottolene was a brand of shortening and one of the first mass-produced alternates to lard. So these references are well-researched to this article’s original publication and are therefore funny.


>
> Figure 4 shows an elaboration of the popular “grab-bag” idea.

CROW: So we just jumped out of order for Figure 11?

> In this case a large carton is equipped with three shelves,
> which fold up against the sides of the box, giving free access
> to the favors for guests in the bottom.

TOM: Ah, the giddy fun of playing The Refrigerator Game.

MIKE: Now that your friend’s inside the cardboard fridge, close the door up and abandon him in a junkyard to suffocate!

> Lights are arranged so
> that the inside of the box is dark.

CROW: Arrange the lights so they’re not on the inside. Got it.

> After two or three
> merrymakers have drawn prizes from the box, an attendant “in
> the know” lets down one of the shelves by means of a concealed
> string.

MIKE: Dropping a 16-ton anvil on your so-called friend.

> This shelf may have on it a shallow pan of lard, or a
> sheet of paper coated with lampblack or graphite and oil,

TOM: Whale blubber and bauxite.

CROW: Uneeda biscuits and cottolene!

MIKE: Greased slime and detonator caps!

> or red
> grease—anything that will not flow when the shelf is in the
> vertical position.

MIKE: What do you have in congealed blood?

> In the laughter which follows the victim’s
> predicament,

CROW: The shrieking, howling laughter of the mad.

> the attendant draws up the shelf and another guest
> is invited to draw from the box,

MIKE: He tears out a fistful of hair.

TOM: Maybe rip off a nose or two.

> this one of course brings out a
> favor.

CROW: A nose or two?

> Eventually the other two shelves are let down to provoke
> more laughter.

TOM: This is in case your parties don’t end in enough brawls.

>
> A collapsible chair can easily be made from a common kitchen
> chair,

MIKE: And set up above your conveniently available tiger pit.

> and, if others of the same design are placed in the room,
> the tricky one will not be noticeable.

TOM: Apart from how everyone who has dinner with you, dies.

> Remove the legs and
> round off both ends as in Figure 6.

CROW: Figure 5 was lost in a tragic “collapsible Linotype” prank.

> They are then joined in two
> pairs consisting of one front and one back leg connected with a
> rung.

MIKE: The rung snaps open, releasing cyanide gas.

> Coil springs, concealed inside of thin tubes are
> substituted for the front and rear rungs.

TOM: Sure, for *this* we have springs.

>
> The tubes should fit into the holes formerly occupied by the
> rungs, and are painted to resemble them.

MIKE: You sneer, but this is how the Italian resistance
got Mussolini.

> As soon as a guest
> sits on the chair the tubes pull out and the chair sprawls.
> Strong tension springs should be used.

CROW: Grab a tube and beat your friend even more senseless!

>
> A most surprising effect is afforded by the “X-ray” helmet
> shown in Figure 7.

TOM: Here, we put 500,000 roentgens into your friend’s brain.

> This, briefly, is a cardboard box with two
> mirrors arranged to throw the vision directly behind.

MIKE: Painted with radium.

> The user
> of the helmet will have the strange sensation of seeing what
> appears to be the foreground receding from him as he progresses,

CROW: He’ll never suspect unless he’s ever looked at a thing before.

> and although there may appear to be an open door ahead, more
> likely he will fetch up against a wall.

TOM: Cover the wall in foot-long pointed daggers.

MIKE: ‘Fetch up’? Did people back then just not know what words mean?

>
> For a confetti blizzard,

CROW: Only at Dairy Queen.

MIKE: The best 15,000 calories of your between-meal snacks.

> an electric fan is rigged as shown in
> Figure 8. This also can be operated by an extension switch.

TOM: Jab your friend’s fingers into the spinning blades.

> Make a large cardboard cylinder to fit over the fan frame,

CROW: Man, you could do everything with cardboard in the 30s.

MIKE: Also cylinders.

> paste
> a disk of tissue over the front end, just enough to hold it
> until the blast strikes it,

MIKE: Stand out of the way of the shock waves.

> and then fill the space half full of
> confetti.

TOM: No, no, only half. Six-elevenths would be too much!

> When the unwary guest steps in front of the fan, he
> is deluged with a shower of confetti.

CROW: So, this article. Here. This explains the irony of people who read _Popular Mechanics_ magazine not being popular, right?

TOM: Also not being mechanics.

MIKE: Also not being magazines.

CROW: Yeah, that … what?

[ To continue … ]

MiSTed: Safe Fun for Halloween (Part 2 of 4)


Welcome back to my Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction riffing on the Popular Mechanics article “Safe Fun For Halloween”. The whole of the MiSTing should be at this link, as I finish posting it over the month. And you can read all the MiSTings that I’ve posted here at this link.

In Part 1 the author suggested a fun thing for your Halloween party is have your guests submit their fingerprints. But it’s not just the fun of a simulated arrest: the ink pad’s to be rigged up to give electric shocks! The author swears this is “surprising but not harmful”. If that isn’t fun enough for you, just read on …


> To offset suspicion, it is a good idea to place
> the left-hand electrode under a tablecloth.

TOM: Plus, the tablecloth helps you cover up the fried corpse.

> Direct contact with
> the metal is not necessary.

CROW: Just ramp it up to 186,000 volts there, Tesla.

> A long strip of metal along the
> edge of the table is better than a small plate

MIKE: As it’s a much easier cudgel to wave about.

> as any one seated
> at the table naturally rests the left hand somewhere along the
> edge.

TOM: [ In a nerdy voice, as the Victim ] “Do you electrocutify *all* your friends?” [ Whimper ]

>
> Another shocking episode, which may take place right on the
> “welcome” mat,

MIKE: [ Making air quotes ] “Welcome” mat.

TOM: No solicitors or emergency medical technicians. Thank you.

> is shaking hands with the “ghost host” who is
> a head taller than anyone in the party. See Figure 11.

CROW: Figures 2 through 10 omitted for the giddy fun of it.

> He
> stands near the entrance and extends his hand to the guest who

TOM: … who foolishly came to the party not expecting to struggle for his life.

> takes hold of a cloth glove having four wiggly coil-spring
> fingers.

MIKE: Ah, the Six Dollar And Thirty-Nine Cent Man.

CROW: Hey, in the Depression that was a lot of money.

> These and a metal door mat are the electrodes, and are
> connected to a vibrating coil or a toy shocking machine operated
> by someone behind the ghost.

TOM: I just think it indecent this is how they killed Bruno Hauptmann.

> The ghost has pearly eyes, which
> look as if they were suspended in void space of an empty hood.

CROW: [ As the Victim ] “I’m haunted by Muppets!”

>
> The next job to get the records straight is mugging.

MIKE: First, fashion your brass knuckles and find a stick as in Figure 24.

> This is
> done in a semidarkened room with a cardboard camera as in Figure
> 2.

CROW: A cardboard camera?

TOM: Yeah, my kid made it in second-grade art class. You get a Polaroid from it by drawing with magic markers.

> The startling effect comes when the light is suddenly
> flashed and a cap pistol is fired at the same instant.

MIKE: Ha ha! Now you’ve shot your friend in the face!

> After
> this, everything tried on the newcomer will be looked upon with
> great suspicion

CROW: [ As the Victim ] “Well, the mugging and the electrocution may have been accidents but *now* I suspect something’s up.”

> but he may be convinced to observe Mars without
> a shock or a scare.

TOM: Yeah, heck, why not?

MIKE: In the 30s you could not lose money asking people to observe Mars.

> He will actually see something through the
> enchanted telescope, pictured in Figure 3.

CROW: Now we’re on Figure 3?

MIKE: The “enchanted telescope”.

TOM: [ As the Victim ] “Are we entering your magic fantasy land?”

> When the star gazer
> first puts it to his eye he sees nothing, and is told to revolve
> it until he does.

MIKE: Ooh hoo.

TOM: I smell the bubbling-over of wacky.

> The eyepiece has a felt rim dipped in
> lampblack, which leaves an interesting ring around the eye.

CROW: Lampblack?

MIKE: Yeah, you know, so you don’t have those pesky “bright” lights.

> However, the victim has his reward for with one complete
> revolution of the telescope,

TOM: I have the sad feeling this isn’t just gonna be a ring around the eyeball.

CROW: I’m stuck on ‘lampblack’ still.

MIKE: It’s for offensive minstrel show light bulbs. Move on.

CROW: Oh.

> a swinging switch lever makes
> contact

TOM: Well, of *course* it does.

> and a small light inside reveals a witch or comic
> figure.

MIKE: And a 75,000-volt discharge right into the corneas!

> To make the telescope, use a mailing tube about 14
> inches long and 2-1/2 inches in diameter.

CROW: Like the dozens you have around your house already.

> Cardboard partitions
> hold the lamp bulb and the revolving switch, which are joined by
> a copper strip.

MIKE: Won’t they notice the little witch figure hanging off the front of the telescope?

> The switch must work freely. By making the
> tube in two parts, the assembly is easy.

TOM: Would it be even easier if I made it in four parts?

CROW: No! That way lies madness!

> Paper wrapped around
> it completes the joint. Four bands of black paper are wrapped
> around the telescope to make the sooty eyepiece less
> conspicuous.

MIKE: The lampblack doesn’t seem to be an important part of this.

[ To continue … ]

MiSTed: Safe Fun for Halloween (Part 1 of 4)


I hope you’ve all been enjoying my Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction treatment of Carrie L—‘s Reboot fanfic “Breaking the Barriers”. I want to put that on pause, though, to bring you something more seasonal.

“Safe Fun For Halloween” was an essay published in Popular Mechanics 85 years ago. It’s got a staggering variety of activities, all billed as safe, all of which seem to involve electrocuting your friends. So I’m giving you the chance to enjoy these wild and, the magazine insists, safe pranks with homemade electrical-shock devices.

In the early part of the last decade ModernMechanix.com had a regular feature of showcasing odd stuff from old magazines. Sometimes it was fascinating, like 1960s plans for the city of tomorrow. Sometimes it was hilarious, like advertisements for potato-peeling machinery that supposedly would net you money. And sometimes it was an article like this that makes you wonder the heck was going on in 1936 anyway.

I meant this to be a low-key piece, which is why there aren’t even Mads sketches. Just a simple introduction and closing sketch. I published it near the end of the year and got a fair bit of mileage out of using that fact.

The whole of this MiSTing should be available at this link when I post it all>. And if you want to see all of the MiSTings I’ve posted, they’re here. And I’ll get back to “Breaking the Barriers” in November.



[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. The Desk. The decor is “several days past Christmas” with lingering wrapping and such cluttering the set; wrapping paper even covers the movie/commercial sign lights. TOM and CROW are behind the desk; MIKE is off-stage. ]

TOM: [ Eagerly ] Mike! Hey, Mike!

CROW: [ Gleeful ] MikeMikeMikeMikeMikeMikeMike!

TOM: C’mon, Mike, it’s important!


[ MIKE, carrying some plastic electronic gizmo that’s not working, and a screwdriver which will not improve matters, saunters on screen. ]

TOM: Mike! Mi–

MIKE: Yyyyyyes?

CROW: [ Still calling ] MikeMikeMikeMike!

[ MIKE puts a hand on CROW’s shoulder, making him stop. ]

TOM: Okay. Mike —

CROW: [ Quickly ] Mike!

TOM: Have you given any thought *what*soever into plans for our Halloween party for this year?

MIKE: It’s December 29th.

CROW: Exactly! We have to hurry!

MIKE: The 29th day of *December*.

TOM: Yes, yes, your true love gave to you and stuff. But we can’t just stand in an awkward line in front of haphazardly strewn decorations and call that a party.

CROW: [ Calling ] Mike!

MIKE: Two days to New Year’s.

CROW: So, *MIKE*, we called Pearl —

[ MIKE groans. ]

TOM: Yeah! And she promised to send us a bunch of fun ideas!

[ MIKE groans louder. ]

CROW: And, ah, it’s going to be from a _Popular Mechanics_ article from, like, the Great Depression.

[ MIKE covers his head as he groans. ]

TOM: Plus we have to get into the theater and read it when movie sign goes off or else and you know what else that else is or of.

[ MIKE, face-covered, groans and doubles over. ]

CROW: And, ah, Movie Sign went off like five minutes ago so we’re in *real* trouble.

MIKE: What?!

[ MIKE puts the gizmo down and pulls the wrapping paper off the signs, which start flashing MOVIE SIGN. General alarm among the BRAINS. ]

ALL: MOVIE SIGN!

[ 6… ]

[ 5… ]

[ 4… ]

[ 3… ]

[ 2… ]

[ 1… ]

[ THEATER. All file in. ]

MIKE: Haven’t I told you about having ideas without me?

CROW: Well … no.

TOM: You should tell us about it sometime.

> http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2011/10/28/safe-fun-for-halloween/
>
> SAFE FUN for HALLOWEEN (Nov, 1936)

CROW: Halloween in November! The best time of year.

MIKE: December 29th.

>
> Source: Popular Mechanics ( More articles from this issue )

TOM: Well, I hope so.

MIKE: There’s just the one article, thinnest edition they ever printed.

>
> Issue: Nov, 1936

CROW: Halloween ran a month late in 1936 because of the Depression.

MIKE: 29th day of the twelvth month.

>
>
> SAFE FUN for HALLOWEEN

MIKE: New, joy-less fun occupies time while leaving spoilsport parents secure.

>
> UPON arriving, every member of this Halloween party must be
> fingerprinted and “mugged” as regular routine for
> identification records in the archives.

TOM: Well! Already it’s a merry time.

MIKE: Last party I have planned by J Edgar Hoover and Meyer Lanski.

> The newcomer presses
> the thumb of his right hand down on the “ink pad,” for which
> purpose ordinary carbon paper will do.

CROW: Alternatively, ink pads may be used as ink pads.

TOM: Crow, that’s mad talk!

MIKE: You know, they were hard years, we had to make a single ink pad last through four years of Halloween safe fun!

> This is pasted to a
> piece of sheet metal on a small box which contains two dry cells
> and a Ford vibrating coil,

MIKE: A vibrating coil?

TOM: Man, these Model A’s were *kinky*!

> connected together as shown in Figure
> 1.

CROW: Figure omitted for clarity.

> The “guard” presses a push-button switch

TOM: Shouldn’t he *push* a push-button switch and *press* a press-button switch?

> the moment the
> guest touches the carbon paper and has his left hand on the
> table

MIKE: Oh, did I mention you need a table?

> directly over another sheet-metal plate also wired up as
> indicated.

CROW: A table and *another* sheet-metal plate? Man, fun is too complicated, this is why I like boring.

> The result is a sudden shock which is surprising but
> not harmful.

MIKE: B F Skinner sez, “That’s the Halloween for me!”


[ To continue … ]

Reposted: The Ninth Talkartoon: Swing You Sinners!


I’m not sure why my original review of Swing You Sinners, the ninth Talkartoon, was so circumspect in its content warning. I remember a tedious argument with someone about how “eating watermelon and fried chicken” could be a racist stereotype against Black people when basically everybody likes watermelon and fried chicken. I may have been giving too much credit to people who claim to not understand how something could be racist-coded. My original 2017 review — another one out of order, so that it could coincide with Halloween — was rather close to the start of the modern discussion about how much of The Classic Cartoon Look derives from minstrel shows. Anyway, this is a short cartoon that’s a great example of what’s fun and exciting and glorious about black-and-white cartoons, with movement and music and pacing and surreal images and a plot that makes impressionist sense. If “Bimbo’s Initiation” didn’t (deservedly) get in the way, this is probably the Talkartoon that would get on best-cartoons-of-all-time lists.


I’m not figuring to wholly abandon order in these reviews of Fleischer Studios Talkartoons. It’s just that it is Halloween, and it is the Fleischer Studios, and surely they’ve got some cartoon with a nice dose of spirits and demons and graveyards and the sorts of merry gruesomeness that makes for the fun of Halloween. If I’m not overlooking something in the titles they don’t have an actual on-point Halloween cartoon. But spooky-enough stuff? Oh yeah. They got plenty of that.

So let me start with the first that’s clearly Halloween-ish enough. It’s Swing You Sinners!, originally released the 24th of September, 1930. The credited animators — they were finally getting some attention — were Willard Bowsky and Ted Sears. Wikipedia reports that also animating were George Cannata, Shamus Culhane, Al Eugster, William Henning, Seymour Kneitel, and Grim Natwick. That’s a heck of a power lineup there. Think of any mid-20th-century cartoon whose animation impressed you and at least one of that set was one of its animators. I exaggerate only slightly.

About 3:30 into the short is a weird Jewish-caricature spirit. Apparently this specific scene was drawn by Culhane and in his memoir (Talking Animals and Other People, as I remember from Like 1992 well worth the read) he worried about that. But, you know, he knew a lot of Jewish people, some of them on staff, so surely that was fine.

Not mentioned so far as I remember: this is a cartoon in which Bimbo, drawn in all black apart from his shoes, gloves, eyes, and a patch around his mouth, starts out by stealing a chicken, gets pursued by a cop, and stumbles into a surreal jazzy environment. I don’t think I’m over-interpreting the cartoon to say there’s some racial coding going on here. Not that chicken-stealing in the comics is an exclusively black pastime. If it were we’d have a major reinterpretation of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith to do. But when I hear lines of dialogue delivered like Amos and Andy characters would I know something’s going on. I’m not that clueless.

If I haven’t put you off the short altogether, then, let’s watch now.

So. There’s a somewhat similar, famous cartoon, Bimbo’s Initiation, that we’ll get to in time. It’s more famous because of a Betty Boop cameo that gets it attention from her fans. In it Bimbo gets roped in off the street and subjected to a long, strange series of surreal and slightly horrifying experiences. I didn’t quite realize how much “Bimbo In A Nightmare World” was a recurring theme for the Talkartoons.

Have to say it fits him well, though. He’s a pretty generic character; going out trying to steal a chicken is more active than I’m used to for him. But it does make it easier for the audience to identify with the lead character if he isn’t trying (or even able) to do anything about the situation. The world’s gone mad for him, and that makes for some fine nightmarish imagery.

As Bimbo-In-A-Nightmare-World cartoons go, I think this is less frightening than Bimbo’s Initiation. That’s due to the plot setup. Here, Bimbo starts out trying to steal a chicken; so, his being plunged into a demon-haunted world makes sense as moral balance. In Bimbo’s Initiation he doesn’t do anything to earn his torments; he’s literally just walking down the street and falls in a hole. (A manhole, but something something evoking Alice’s rabbit-hole something something literary reference.) Stealing a chicken is disreputable, certainly. It’s forgivable, if the person has to steal or starve. But it gives moral justification for Bimbo’s torments.

And they’re a good set of torments, must say. There’s some astounding animation effects here. This cartoon came out seven months after last week’s entry, Radio Riot, and it feels like it’s years ahead. You really get a sense of how fast sound recording and cel animation were improving to watch a pair like that. The fight between Bimbo and the chicken is fantastic, with the spinning of the background a trick so good I’m surprised more animation studios didn’t rip it off. From about 6:50 on there’s no real story left; there’s just astonishing scenes.

Wikipedia claims the cartoon was animated by a “complete new staff” following several animators quitting, and that makes it all the more amazing. But they did have a heck of a talent pool with Culhane, Eugster, Kneitel, and Natwick. I don’t really know anything about George Cannata (almost nobody does) and William Henning, but still, that’s a heck of a team to have.

Unless I blinked and missed it there’s no suspiciously-Mickey-Mouse-like characters in the short. The title may be uninspired but it makes sense; the action is built around singing “Swing You Sinners” and it’s hard to think of a more logical name. Has it got a logical ending? Yeah. There’s an arbitrariness to why have the action stop now rather than ten seconds sooner or later on. But given the setup the story has to end with Bimbo either atoning for his sins or being trapped in them forever, and since the Fleischers were a New York City studio, it’s the latter option. Disney or Warner Brothers or someone else on the west coast would have let him out.

It’s hard picking out a best blink-and-you-miss-it gag. The format inspires stuffing the screen full of weird little bits. I think I’d pick out the double ghosts sleeping in the stairwells, seen at about 6:05 in. But there’s so much great stuff happening. There’s the animate scythe at about 5:25. There’s the underpants that turn into an extra ghost at about 6:25. It’s not a gag — it’s part of the nightmare — but the graveyard walls enclosing Bimbo at about 4:50 is is fantastic. Good solid scary cartoon.

In Which I Just Get Mean About Trick-Or-Treating During The Pandemic


“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.

In Which I Evaluate Some Phobias


As this is a time of year to celebrate what scares us, let’s review some phobias.

The Fear that You Will Not Find Any Of These Greeting Cards Has The Right Tone to Send. The most common fear of all, outranking fears of death, falling to death, public speaking while dead, and dentistry while dead (receiving or performing). Take comfort. The last greeting card with the right tone was a Father’s Day card last sold in 1992. Just write something nice and apologize for the card being too flippant or too gushing and, I don’t know. Include some stickers or a ten-dollar bill or whatever. You’re fine.

The Fear that You Will Need To Handle The Toilet Paper While Your Hands Are Still Wet. It happens to us all, we’re in the shower, we need to something unsuitable for the shower, we have to face the consequences. Very good phobia, combining as it does a plausibly common scenario and an inconvenience we somehow take to be embarrassing. I’m not rating these, but seriously? Four out of five, unless you have that extra-soft toilet paper in which case five out of five.

The Fear of A Hole. Not the fear of any hole, mind, or the fear of particular patterns of holes like you see in morels or something. Just the fear of that one Hole. You know the one. But the world is huge, like, almost Earth-size. What are the odds you’ll ever be near that one Hole?

The Fear that You Know Something Almost Everybody Is Wrong About But Can’t Find The Blog Entry That Would Prove It. Endemic to know-it-alls, and terrible because then you feel this thing like shyness or reticence about correcting people. For me, this manifests with where I heard raindrops actually fall with the pointy-end down, round-end top, the opposite of the way we draw them. SEND HELP or at least good citations. Wikipedia doesn’t count.

The Fear that We are Running Out of Halloween Puns. Common and understandable. But we don’t need that many Halloween puns, and since there’s normally a fifty-week gap between times we need to use them, they’re not likely to be overused. If you do need some more, you can listen to some old-time-radio horror show like Inner Sanctum Mysteries and restock. They’ll be as good as new.

The Fear of Clowns. I am told this one is common and if that’s your thing, fine. I’m not feeling it, though. People will argue the point and say, like, isn’t the Pennywise the Clown from It scary? And, like, I guess so. But the scary thing is Pennywise is an immortal unstoppable supernatural monster out to rend the flesh of his victims. Would that be less scary if it were manifest in the form of Bob Newhart? And now that I’ve said that I’d like to see it. I figure it would have to go something like this:

“Hey — hi? Hi, up there? I — no, look down. No, not — over here, in the drain. … Yeah, the sewer. Hi. Uh, you look like a nice kid, what’s your name? … Joey? … Geordie, sorry, I thought you said … oh. Joey. … Not Joey. Could you say it slowly? … Yeah, maybe if you spell — look, Geordie, Joey, whatever … hey, would you — well, I’m in the drain for good reasons. … All right, I’m in the sewer for good reasons. … … What are they? … … Well, uh … they … hey, have you ever tried going in the drain? I don’t mean that kind of going! I mean entering, visiting in the drain. Have it your way, the sewer. Yeah. It’s better than you’d think. … No, I said think, not stink … okay, yes, have … have your little giggle. Yes, it’s very funny … I mean, it’s not that fun … Look, would you like to come down here and I can … give you a toy boat and, uh, rip your arm off and maybe give you a balloon. What? Repeat that? Give you a balloon. See? … Oh, before that … ah, there was a toy boat … Between those? Between the toy boat and the balloon … … … Look, it’s really neat down here, I promise. … Like, we all float down here. Jo … Geor … Sport-o, you’re a kid. Kids like to float, right? … … Well, yeah, it is mostly a lot of water here in the drain. … Yes, in the sewer. … Yeah, pretty much everybody floats in any water. Well, you got one over on ol’ PennyBob there … uh … hey, Georbie(?) … Are there any other kids up there? Could you put one of them on, please? … … … … He — Hello?”

All right, yeah, that is less scary. The clown thing must count for something.

I do not recommend any of these be put on a Phobia Improvement Plan.

Some Kinds Of Jack-O-Lantern, With Such Warnings As Apply


I feel my essay last year, Some Kinds Of Jack-O-Lanterns, With Such Warnings As Apply didn’t get enough attention when I first published it. So here’s the chance to give it some attention anew. Thanks for your attention, or the attention of whoever you got yours from.

Statistics Saturday: Ranking of _Nightmare Before Christmas_ Alternate Universes


  1. Jack Skellington opens the tree-door into Saint Patrick’s Day Town instead.
  2. In a Prisoner Of Zenda scenario Jack Skellington has to pretend to be Santa Claus long enough to foil the evil plot that would destroy all holidays. Everywhere.
  3. They kidnap the Santa Claus from the Rankin/Bass Specials Universe, the one who never saw a Christmas he wasn’t ready to ditch.
  4. Story is set in an alternate history where a Progressive-era reformer convinced the American culture that his, highly idiosyncratic, order for washing his body parts was the one and only one truly hygienic way to clean, and since most everybody is naturally drawn to a different order and has to train themselves out of it most folks have very slight bathing or showering-related neuroses, and while there’s modern research showing whatever order you wash your body parts in is fine, not following The Cleaning Protocol is still seen as this weird-o hippie moon-man attitude and is shunned by respectable white cis-hetero society.
  5. Sally has a specific interest that isn’t this Jack guy that I guess knows who she is but I’m not positive he does?
  6. It starts with what looks like a Freaky Friday scenario, Jack and Santa swapping bodies, only for Jack to slowly realize that in the future he grows up to be Santa Claus.

Reference: Empire Express: Building The First Transcontinental Railroad, David Haward Bain.

(Have to say I’m really interested in how #4 there plays out with the baseline story.)

Some Kinds Of Jack-O-Lantern, With Such Warnings As Apply


Jack O’Lantern. The original and still classic. Carved by anyone who’s suspiciously vague about how they acquired a pumpkin.

Jack O’Lateen. Tall, triangular net of pumpkins mounted to the patio or house by a long yard, running fore-and-aft. Popular with coastal trick-or-treaters and people confident that their houses have little need to tack.

Jackal O’Lantern. Pumpkins carved by, or for use at events organized for, the local jackal community. Also welcome are hyenas, wolverines, and (per the famous 1712 Act of Parliament) “such badgers as are haveing a rotten daye ande do not wish to tallke aboutt-itt”. Honey badgers are customarily accepted, but this is a house rule, and should not be assumed.

Jonathan-O-Lantern. Jack’s grandfather, who’s swell and all but just a little bit formal in the way nobody has been since wearing hats stopped being a default.

Jake O’Lantern. Pumpkins which mean well but which are repeating jokes about Jake From State Farm or any other insurance-company commercial. Which is all fine except that you got it right away, and were a little amused, but they’re going to keep asking if you get it until you insist you’re riotously amused. Be ready for the trick: if you concede that you’re riotously amused for the sake of getting on with things, they will get smug about how they’re just that clever.

Jock-O-Lantern. Sports-themed pumpkin ready for a good workout session and good-spirited about it. Warning: is somehow sincerely disappointed that they never made that Hans and Franz movie.

Cyberlantern. The hardcore 1990s Internet-capable carving of a pumpkin. Features a device that, when you run it over a bar code printed in a Radio Shack catalogue, will take you to Radio Shack’s web site for that thing! Also if you want to watch a video, you can spend three hours downloading an update to something called a “codec” and then another two hours of downloading the video, which will let you see a postage stamp-sized frame of a movie, with ten short green horizontal lines on the picture, and then crash.

Jack-O-Lectern. Extremely worrying configuration of pumpkins in which they grow into something that a person urgently warning you about the Pagan Origins of Halloween stands behind.

Jeckle-Lantern. One of a pair of cartoon magpie pumpkins, possibly the one with the British accent. Maybe the Brooklyn one. Really fun to remember although if you go and actually pay attention you realize it’s mostly all right, really.

Jack-O-Lectern II. Further worrying configuration of pumpkins in which they grow into something that a person enthusiastically explains to you the Pagan Origins of Halloween stands behind.

Jack-y-Lantern. Carved in the style of that feminist newspaper that you could never figure out the publishing schedule of back in college. And that, you know, you took as being kind of flakes back in the day, but you’ve come to realize were right on all their major points about sexism and racism and ecological problems and the structures of companies and government and all that. And you’re starting to wonder if they had something about how it’s weird on Star Trek: The Next Generation people talked consistently about, like, Commander Riker and Mister Data and Counsellor Troi, but called the chief engineer just “Geordi”.

Jack-o-Lasers. Multiple thinly carved layers of internal shell allow this kind of carved pumpkin to amplify a single candle flame to the point it’s visible from the Moon. Or so they tell us, confident that we aren’t going up to the Moon to check these days.

Jack-O-Lectern III. An Internet-generated hoax. There is nothing you need do about this except shake your head at the folly of people who are not you, the lone person who never falls for dumb stuff.

Pterodactyl-Lantern. Great prehistoric flying pumpkins and they’re maybe even moving in packs! Flee to shelter!

Jack-O-Lectern IV. The most alarming possible configuration of pumpkins, in which they grow into something that a humorless STEM-type man debunking the Pagan Origins of Halloween stands behind.

Jack-O-Lanyard. A necklace-sized miniature lighted pumpkin perfect for going about to your work doing some tech stuff that nobody actually wants, but all the guys wear khakis and sometimes the group eats at Chili’s.

Selections from the October Catalogue


Emotion-Sensitive Switches. It’s fine having the lights come on or go out depending on whether the room is moving. But what if you want the lights to stay on even when you’re just puttering around in place? Or you want the lights to go out because it’s really important to be sneaking up on the cat? Emotion-Sensitive Switches allow for electric control tuned to various moods, including: cheer, frustration, the nagging sensation you left the car trunk open, overwhelmedness, feeling just how much butter is “too much” butter, and the joy of finding a twenty-dollar bill you forgot existed.

Contact Information. If we know anything about the recent system update, it’s that it has made something worse. Not a major thing. Some tiny, little thing you didn’t even realize used to happen until now it doesn’t. Somebody decided to change that. Someone broke that. For a reasonable fee, you can find out who! And how to get in touch with them! And when to show up at their home to get an explanation. (Author’s note: I’ve already ordered this, selecting for me the person who decided that when I paste a URL in Safari’s address bar and hit return, the web browser reloads the previous page and deletes the URL I just posted in. That’s such an innovative way to just screw things up!)

Dog Flume Ride. This exciting amusement park ride comes home to you, in form convenient to assemble requiring no more than ordinary personal welding equipment. It’s worth it as you settle into the car, float your way forward to the lift hill, and at the top are set upon by a pack of enthusiastic Labrador retrievers and licked all over. Also available in golden retriever, water spaniel, mastiff, were-poodle, and non-vampire beagle.

New Roman Numerals. The Roman system of using popular letters for numbers and having rules about adding and maybe sometimes subtracting them was fun, but it doesn’t begin to handle all the complexities of mathematics since the discovery of multiple-entry bookkeeping. With highly original numerals we can handle digits the Romans never dreamed of, like 75,000, as well as negative numbers, decimals, and transfinite quantities. Finally the Praetor can work on his MA!

Inaccurate Lyrics. What’s more annoying than finding a tune stuck in your head? Not being able to get it out, certainly, but another annoying thing is not knowing what the lyrics to your song are. This leaves an unresolved, semi-complete tune wending its way hopelessly through your mind drowning out all thought. Thus the solution: given the tune, get lyrics that have nothing to do with the original song but will surely match well enough that you can’t get the tune or the new lyrics out again. This will help you more rapidly go mad. It’s also a particularly efficient way to lose the friendship of people who really know and love the song.

Special, Improved Hours. Nobody gets enough sleep anymore, not since the exciting example set by Napoleon Bonaparte, for whom it got him exiled to a desolate island in the South Atlantic Ocean. If you want to avoid that fate you’ll need to cut back your policy of invading every European nation real and imaginary, yes, but you’ll also need more time to sleep. Yet it’s almost impossible to find more hours for sleeping. The solution? Hours with more minutes in them. You may only be able to sleep from 1 am to 6 am, but if each of those hours has upwards of a hundred minutes in it, isn’t that just as good as sleeping over eight hours a day? Sure it is. Don’t worry about what happens to the seconds. Warning: do not get up in the middle of the night to pee.

Self-Propelled Halloween Countdown Calendar. It’s great tracking how long we have until Halloween sets in. But isn’t it better to have the holiday track itself down? Thus this calendar, which will zip around the house letting you know how many days it is until the end of October. Go ahead and try to catch it! Also available in Thanksgiving, Easter, and New Jersey Big Sea Day editions.

The Ninth Talkartoon: Swing You Sinners!


I’m not figuring to wholly abandon order in these reviews of Fleischer Studios Talkartoons. It’s just that it is Halloween, and it is the Fleischer Studios, and surely they’ve got some cartoon with a nice dose of spirits and demons and graveyards and the sorts of merry gruesomeness that makes for the fun of Halloween. If I’m not overlooking something in the titles they don’t have an actual on-point Halloween cartoon. But spooky-enough stuff? Oh yeah. They got plenty of that.

So let me start with the first that’s clearly Halloween-ish enough. It’s Swing You Sinners!, originally released the 24th of September, 1930. The credited animators — they were finally getting some attention — were Willard Bowsky and Ted Sears. Wikipedia reports that also animating were George Cannata, Shamus Culhane, Al Eugster, William Henning, Seymour Kneitel, and Grim Natwick. That’s a heck of a power lineup there. Think of any mid-20th-century cartoon whose animation impressed you and at least one of that set was one of its animators. I exaggerate only slightly.

About 3:30 into the short is a weird Jewish-caricature spirit. Apparently this specific scene was drawn by Culhane and in his memoir (Talking Animals and Other People, as I remember from Like 1992 well worth the read) he worried about that. But, you know, he knew a lot of Jewish people, some of them on staff, so surely that was fine.

Not mentioned so far as I remember: this is a cartoon in which Bimbo, drawn in all black apart from his shoes, gloves, eyes, and a patch around his mouth, starts out by stealing a chicken, gets pursued by a cop, and stumbles into a surreal jazzy environment. I don’t think I’m over-interpreting the cartoon to say there’s some racial coding going on here. Not that chicken-stealing in the comics is an exclusively black pastime. If it were we’d have a major reinterpretation of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith to do. But when I hear lines of dialogue delivered like Amos and Andy characters would I know something’s going on. I’m not that clueless.

If I haven’t put you off the short altogether, then, let’s watch now.

So. There’s a somewhat similar, famous cartoon, Bimbo’s Initiation, that we’ll get to in time. It’s more famous because of a Betty Boop cameo that gets it attention from her fans. In it Bimbo gets roped in off the street and subjected to a long, strange series of surreal and slightly horrifying experiences. I didn’t quite realize how much “Bimbo In A Nightmare World” was a recurring theme for the Talkartoons.

Have to say it fits him well, though. He’s a pretty generic character; going out trying to steal a chicken is more active than I’m used to for him. But it does make it easier for the audience to identify with the lead character if he isn’t trying (or even able) to do anything about the situation. The world’s gone mad for him, and that makes for some fine nightmarish imagery.

As Bimbo-In-A-Nightmare-World cartoons go, I think this is less frightening than Bimbo’s Initiation. That’s due to the plot setup. Here, Bimbo starts out trying to steal a chicken; so, his being plunged into a demon-haunted world makes sense as moral balance. In Bimbo’s Initiation he doesn’t do anything to earn his torments; he’s literally just walking down the street and falls in a hole. (A manhole, but something something evoking Alice’s rabbit-hole something something literary reference.) Stealing a chicken is disreputable, certainly. It’s forgivable, if the person has to steal or starve. But it gives moral justification for Bimbo’s torments.

And they’re a good set of torments, must say. There’s some astounding animation effects here. This cartoon came out seven months after last week’s entry, Radio Riot, and it feels like it’s years ahead. You really get a sense of how fast sound recording and cel animation were improving to watch a pair like that. The fight between Bimbo and the chicken is fantastic, with the spinning of the background a trick so good I’m surprised more animation studios didn’t rip it off. From about 6:50 on there’s no real story left; there’s just astonishing scenes.

Wikipedia claims the cartoon was animated by a “complete new staff” following several animators quitting, and that makes it all the more amazing. But they did have a heck of a talent pool with Culhane, Eugster, Kneitel, and Natwick. I don’t really know anything about George Cannata (almost nobody does) and William Henning, but still, that’s a heck of a team to have.

Unless I blinked and missed it there’s no suspiciously-Mickey-Mouse-like characters in the short. The title may be uninspired but it makes sense; the action is built around singing “Swing You Sinners” and it’s hard to think of a more logical name. Has it got a logical ending? Yeah. There’s an arbitrariness to why have the action stop now rather than ten seconds sooner or later on. But given the setup the story has to end with Bimbo either atoning for his sins or being trapped in them forever, and since the Fleischers were a New York City studio, it’s the latter option. Disney or Warner Brothers or someone else on the west coast would have let him out.

It’s hard picking out a best blink-and-you-miss-it gag. The format inspires stuffing the screen full of weird little bits. I think I’d pick out the double ghosts sleeping in the stairwells, seen at about 6:05 in. But there’s so much great stuff happening. There’s the animate scythe at about 5:25. There’s the underpants that turn into an extra ghost at about 6:25. It’s not a gag — it’s part of the nightmare — but the graveyard walls enclosing Bimbo at about 4:50 is is fantastic. Good solid scary cartoon.

Nah, No Wri Mo


I apologize to everyone hoping for my latest novel that I’m not going to participate in National Novel-Writing Month except to reassure friends that it’s fine they missed the 6th, the 9th, and the 14th through 29th except for that time on the 22nd that they realized that a whole page was garbage and they made negative 620 words progress and then finished the 30th at 2,055 words. But I’ve given the world plenty of evidence of what happens when I think of stories. I like to believe I stay on the “kind of charming through enthusiasm” side of things, but, who can tell from inside their own narrative? Anyway it’s all good, the triumph is in trying and if it doesn’t work this time, that doesn’t mean it can’t work.

But to also kind of support folks without doing anything may I offer my guide from a couple years ago, a novel-writing walkthrough? If not, just let it pass and it won’t hurt anyone.

And finally, allow me to point out: it’s just a set of moves. You could do the Monster Mash to any song with the right beat, not just the one you learned it on. You’re welcome.

Statistics Saturday: Some Half-Considered Halloween Costumes


  • Uhm … Tron scarecrow?
  • Tron witch?
  • Mouse, but from Tron?
  • What about, like, black cat, only with like Tron markings?
  • Sullenly furious Tron teacup?
  • Tron scarecrow? No, wait. Scratch that.
  • Baseball player.
  • Public-domain version of something from Game of Thrones only maybe like Tron would do it?
  • Kangaroo but maybe like in Tron would make them?
  • Baseball kangaroo witch?
  • From Tron?
  • You can buy a costume of a ‘mustard squeeze bottle’ that’s just a yellow tube with a cone on top like those contestants on Let’s Make A Deal who aren’t even trying? The heck?

Some Arrogant Vegetables And Their Enablers


Because people were wondering after the spinach discovery:

An Arrogant Vegetable Its Enabler
Cress Sunflowers
Peas Apples
Radicchio Flamingos
Watercress Less watered cress
Grape leaves Jacobins
Sea lettuce Sea grapes
Cassava Status-seeking artichokes
Pumpkin Halloween

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

There are signs of imminent smugness coming from certain areas of the analyst community. Though there are no warnings yet posted residents are advised that sudden squalls of incredible self-righteousness accompanied by fast-moving clouds of “if you had listened to me in the first place then I wouldn’t have to point out how right I was about the whole thing” may break out at any moment. Be ready with an evacuation plan, including several sensible changes of clothing and two days’ water and snack foods, just in case.

102

November: Its First Impressions


It’s a strange start to November considering I haven’t put my first lip balm of the season through the wash yet. Combined with the ongoing leaf-bootleggers keeping our yard clean it’s got the month going in weird directions. Anyway, that’s all got me putting off the monthly review of what was popular around these parts because I was feeling lazy. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next year.

Mostly, I’m just glad that Halloween night I’m pretty sure I was able to take the trash to the curb without anyone photographing how I was wearing my raccoon mask. That feels like it would be a little too meme-worthy for my style of living.

Meanwhile, I started reading a book on the history of Pythagoreanism because I figured I should do more than just make jokes about it. And then right at the top of the second chapter it mentions how one story has it that Pythagoras talked a greedy bull out of eating beans. So that is going exactly and in every detail just as I had imagined.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index broke out of its holding pattern at 94 and even rose a bit, giving traders hope that they’d get it back up above a hundred, at this rate, tomorrow. And if the trend continues they might even see 200 as soon as next month, which wouldn’t that be a treat?

97

On Not Having Any Idea What To Dress As For Halloween


I stand in the midst of the Halloween store, trapped.

It’s one of those temporary stores, of course. What strip mall, however luxurious, could support having a Halloween store all the year round? With the collapse in the costume rental industry after that time in 2011 someone spread a rumor Netflix was opening a line of costume distribution by mail, anyway? OK, there was that spot in Worthington, Ohio, that had one going in May. But that was probably a fluke. They weren’t there the next year. Maybe they were just having too much fun selling fangs to stop that one time.

But what to buy? What to wear? What to go as for Halloween?

Halloween should be a great Halloween for me. There’s all kinds of things it’d be more fun to be than me. Someone who knows what to dress as for Halloween, for example. Or someone really confident wearing costumes for the sort of stuff I might be doing on a Monday, like going to the bagel place for lunch and reading the alt-weekly there.

My unsureness about what to dress as for Halloween goes way back. I think it does. I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t remember a lot of the costumes I wore for Halloween as a kid. I don’t think we made very many of them ourselves, because there were four kids in the household and my parents had a limit to how much time they were willing to spend collecting parts and sewing stuff so that we could dress up as something called an “Artoo” for three hours. Even if they got pictures.

I should explain this was the late 70s and early 80s, when photographs were something that took effort. You had to find that weird little camera that looked like a harmonica, and find where that flash bulb plug-in was, and find that it was totally spent. Then you had to wait to get to the store and buy a replacement. That would give you four or maybe eight flashes, good for up to six pictures. And then you could get the photos developed by driving around until you saw a teeny tiny little bitty house sitting in the middle of a parking lot. Then Mom drives up next to it, gives a roll of film, and then sometime later gets back dark, blurry pictures out of focus that clearly show some figures in the state’s fourth-place finalist, Most 1974 Kitchen Ever Contest. The one wearing the worst imaginable outfit in the picture? That’s me. And then we lose the photos in a minor basement flood. So it’s hard to tell what I was wearing back then.

At least a couple years we went to the Toys R Us and bought those licensed figure packages. You know the ones. You get a plastic face mask with eyes that don’t line up for some figure like The Incredible Hulk and then a T-shirt showing The Incredible Hulk going off and lacking credibility. It’s a surprisingly old model of costume, going back to the ancient Greeks and the year everyone went as Narcissus. People loved that outfit, especially Narcissus. But the costume industry learned the wrong lesson from that and figured we wanted to go as people who were fans of themselves. That breaks down when you’re someone like me who isn’t sure he can even be a fan of someone with enough self-esteem to be a fan of themselves. What you’d get is maybe me going out as The Incredible Hulk I Guess, if he wanted people to think he was always thinking about The Incredible Hulk while being confused and faintly disappointed in what I’m doing. I’m confused and faintly disappointed in what I’m doing all year anyway, so the costume always felt a bit hollow.

One year we got a new washing machine, and I seized on my rights as the eldest to claim it for myself. And I also grabbed as much aluminum foil as I felt like I could get away with. So I know one year I went as the ever-popular Kid In A New Washing Machine’s Box Wrapped In Aluminum Foil. I think it technically qualified as a robot costume. It taught me many things, like how I should have cut arm holes, and that absolutely nobody in the neighborhood would get that they would “input” candy to the big slot labelled “input candy”.

Then we moved, to a new neighborhood where they didn’t much like kids, and even if they did the neighbors didn’t much like us. And then I got into high school and even if I were invited to costume parties it was very important I spend every night watching The Wrath of Khan on videotape. In college it was more important I write incredibly detailed reports of what the student government was up to for the unread leftist weekly paper. It’s only the last few years I’ve tried getting into costumes again.

I grab a $4 raccoon mask and hope things will work out all right.

Me, wearing a raccoon mask, standing in front of our Tri-Zone pinball machine.
The weird part is that my natural beard hair looks like the mask’s grey fur. It’s a little unsettling.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Index traders would like to ask just how you know that bigger numbers for it are better? What if a lower number is better and then being down below 90 would be way better than being up above 140? Golf works like that, so why can’t the Another Blog, Meanwhile index? Huh? Is your mind blown yet?

91

Maybe The Art Wasn’t The Real Problem?


Besides writing Apartment 3-G Margaret Shulock was also one of the six women who share the Six Chix comic strip. Six Chix is a long-running project in which six women take turns drawing the daily strips, as well as the Sunday strip. It’s an interesting experiment, and I suppose it was particularly useful as an incubator for comic strip artists back before web comics and online distribution were remotely plausible channels. (One might argue whether they’re plausible today, but is one-sixth of a newspaper comic strip plausible either?) Shulock draws as well as writes her slice of the comic.

Margaret Shulock's signature sas, 'It's Christmas already! You ate all the candy, and I'm still dressed up like an idiot!' A woman in a witch costume with a Puritan hat cries for help. A cat hides behind a pumpkin. The label: 'The Halloween Witch Problem.'
Margaret Shulock’s Six Chix for the 15th of December, 2015. What does Pumpkin Cat add to the proceedings?

So here’s Shulock’s strip from this week. I admit this is one of those comics that sits on my head and makes me beg for mercy. I feel like this is very clear and understandable to the cartoonist but I’m baffled what any of it is supposed to mean. Also, that’s the least-pointy witch’s hat I’ve seen in a long time. It’s almost a better Puritan hat except for missing the buckle. And I’m going to go ahead and assume that Puritan hats didn’t actually have buckles in the era of the first Thanksgiving anyway because that’s always the way. So, any ideas, folks? Is it possible that Margaret Shulock is signalling for help in the only way that can get past her abductors?

If that’s done enough for you, then, please look over to my mathematics blog. It just did another round of mathematically-themed comic strips, including a Jumble feature. Those comics are all a lot clearer than this.

The Screaming (?) Skull


A skull, with eyes, on flame.
Also, the eyes are kind of a logical problem too.

This is one of the Halloween decorations we’ve got. It’s from the same kit that was hung up in elementary schools when my love and I were kids, and it turns out they’re still being printed and sold and all that, so that’s great. And, you know, it may look like a slightly nightmarish howling skull on fire. I find that impression dissolves just as soon as you know that the skull is actually wide-jawed with joy and surprise at learning she just won $35,000 from a scratch-off lottery card. And suddenly, now, aren’t you grinning a little and realizing that you don’t know whether it’s possible to tell whether a skull by itself is male or female? That’s because the correct answer is: it’s a skull on fire. How could she even scratch off the card?

Felix the Cat Switches Witches


So I know it’s the time of year for Christmas In July, but I couldn’t think of any good and plausibly public domain cartoons with Christmas themes, so here’s a fair Halloween one instead. It’s Felix the Cat Switches Witches, a remarkably short (three and a half minutes) cartoon from 1927, originally silent (the version embedded here plays the song “Mysterious Mose” over it, which is familiar to me from the Fleischer Betty Boop cartoon of that name), and is pretty much a string of metamorphosis gags even before Felix finds the witch. There is a bit near the start featuring a black guy getting scared by Felix, but it’s not as bad as “1920s cartoon featuring black guy getting scared at Halloween” might make you fear.

The Ballot Questions


The polling place was fairly quiet, because it turns out locally there were three races being held, and they were only able to find two candidates. To make it feel a little more like things were exciting they added a couple of ballot questions, reprinted here:

  1. How was trick-or-treating at your house?
    1. Like nobody came, what’s the problem here?
    2. Last year there were like two kids, this year about seven thousand, what’s going on?
    3. I’m still getting ready for Orthodox Halloween next week.
    4. I think I’m the last person alive who still likes eating Heath bars.
  2. That Toronto mayor with the crack video:
    1. Yeah, sheesh, what’s with him?
    2. It’s some kind of performance art.
    3. I didn’t even know they had crack in Canada.
    4. Bill De Blasio?
  3. Did you get robo-called yet today?
    1. You’re robo-calling me right now.
    2. I set my phone on fire so you’d stop calling me.
    3. I’m the one shrieking at you to stop robo-calling me already.
    4. I have a kangaroo to listen to stuff on my phone.
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