Everything There Is To Say About Hurt Feet Except For What I Forget To Say


Do your feet hurt? And, come to think of it, who do your feet hurt? And if who, then what do they hurt? You might choose to stop them if they’re hurting someone else. Whether you want to do that depends on your history together. If your foot is emotionally hurting them instead things are also going to be more confused and difficult. Expect a long session of being scolded for not taking their side in your argument with them.

If your feet hurt you then the problem is more immediate. Giving your feet a good talking-to may be appropriate. There are times when you could want your feet to hurt. Those are when having a small but not provable ailment will get you out of something. For example, if there’s a spirit in the air that someone should move the fold-out couch up seven flights of stairs. If your feet are starting to hurt, then don’t waste time. Hang around eight-story buildings and make friends who have couches. You may as well get the credit for being totally willing to help, if only your feet allowed.

If you have got sore feet, there’s a process to follow. Check first that they are your own. Perhaps you were confused this morning and put on someone else’s by mistake. Perhaps you put them on deliberately. Are you one of those rotters trying to mess up a good thing for everyone else? We don’t need that. Why are you being that person? Did they hurt your feet so now you’re hurting your feet in retaliation? How does any of that make sense?

Which part of the foot hurts affects what to do about it. The foot has many parts, including the ankle, the toes, the arch, the support, the drawbridge, the toll booth, the pier, and the starling. Consult a team of expert engineers to identify structural weaknesses. If necessary they might design the complete replacement of your foot, perhaps with one of those elegant new cable-stayed feet. These can be most lovely with their long, graceful tapering curves of supporting wires. They’ll draw to your foot steady traffic of grateful tourists. You’ll want to dress appropriately. You’ll expect to find me make some crack about footbridges. That would be silly. It’s more profitable to have freight tunnels under your ankles. Fund this new foot with thirty-year construction bonds financed by tolls.

Should there be spare money it’s also a good idea to bring in a team of inexpert engineers, who’ll be funny to watch. You can get a team of inexpert engineers going for hours by pretending to not be certain which ones are your feet. You can ask them to prove those on you are actually your feet. Make sure you have your original receipt on foot lest they nab you for Grand Theft Navicular. That last joke was researched and is therefore funny. Ask if you’re supposed to identify with feet simply because you were physically attached to them. Should they instead be your feet because of the strong emotional connection you have with them? If they say “emotional connection” then grin. You have them. Point out how good the cat’s feet feel when you’re half-awake and the cat is patting your belly. Watch the inexpert engineers try to claim they were supposed to help the person the next house over.

If you rule out complete structural replacement of the foot then it’s on to repairs. There are several routes to fixing a sore foot. For example, you can apply pressure to it. If that doesn’t work, try removing pressure on it. You can try applying heat to it. If that’s no good, try not applying heat to it. You can go on pretty near forever trying to be sure whether the other approach would work better. If it keeps you occupied and feeling productive that alone is an accomplishment and you shouldn’t ignore that. There are all sorts of body parts that you have that aren’t doing as much. What’s important is the sense of participation.

Above all else, though, do remember that in 1923 BF Goodrich sold almost half a million Zipper Boots. This has nothing to do with your situation, but it is something researched, and therefore, is also funny.

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A Friendly Reminder Before You Mail Those Cards Off


So I know everybody’s rushing to get their valentine cards in the mail and I’m sorry if this is too late for you. But, thing to remember, when these cards are received and unpacked they’re left in the stock room for goodness knows how long. And even a store that’s being nice and tidy is still going to have insects wandering around, rodents, the occasional bird that gets in and doesn’t know how to get out, or figures the stock room is a better way to spend the winter than the outdoors is. So, y’know, don’t overreact to the threat of animal-transmitted diseases, but be sensible. Wash any cards before you mail them out. If you aren’t sure your sender is washing the cards, run them through the dishwasher or the laundry before you open them. You’ll be glad you did!

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? Did Alley Oop End? June – August 2018.


I had last week promised to look into Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. Given the surprise announcement of Jack Bender and Carole Bender retiring from Alley Oop, though, it seemed important to change the schedule up.

Daily Cartoonist says that the comic strip will continue in reruns through the end of 2018. They’ll be deciding what to do with the comic. Perhaps it will be taken up by new writers and artists. Perhaps not. Any future news I get on Alley Oop, including plot recaps if appropriate, I’ll have tagged so they should appear at or near the top of this page. Thank you.

Meanwhile I continue to look at mathematically-themed comic strips on my other blog. You might like those. Not all of them are reruns.

Alley Oop.

24 June – 1 September 2018.

Last time I checked in, money-man M T Mentis was explaining what’s going on in Alley Oop. It was the wrap-up of the storyline where Alley Oop and Wizer, trying to get to Doc Wonmug’s time lab in 2018, ended up in 1781 Philadelphia. Mentis explained how he had used the powers of a “time machine” to recover Alexander Hamilton’s stolen commission. It had stolen by … well, himself, because that’s how time travel would work if it could work. Anyway, Hamilton gets his commission. Storyline guest star Isaac Holmes — a real person — gets named as his aide-de-camp. I don’t know if that’s historical. But Hamilton and Holmes did have impenetrable professional correspondences later on, so, what the heck. That wraps up the story.

The 4th of July they return to the present, where Oop and Wizer get startled by all the fireworks. Wonmug explains it’s celebrating the war they just left. And since it’s late and everyone’s tired they figure to go to bed. Wizer’s amazed by the light switch in Wonmug’s home. Wonmug’s amazed that Wizer hasn’t been in the 20th-or-21st century before? I would have assumed he had been. This time travel business has been going on about eighty years now. I’d have thought all the player-characters had visited one another’s times by now. Wonmug’s assistant Ava Peckedge recognizes Wizer, anyway. Of course, she also thinks the United States is looking great ever since Operation Butterfly Stomp got up to full speed, so, you know.

Wizier: 'What magic did you use to summon the light, Doc?' Wonmug: 'I forgot! You haven't been here before, have you, Wizer? It's the magic of harnessing electricity! Go ahead! Give it a try!' Wizer switches the light off and gasps.
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 9th of July, 2018. A little thing to watch for in the art is Wizer’s hat. It reacts, sometimes, to the action.

Oop and Wizer take up Wonmug on his suggestion they “help themselves” to anything in the kitchen while he slips into something more comfortable. That clears the stage for some physical comedy. Wizer burning himself on the toaster (a four-slice model, so you know Wonmug’s living the dream). Oop smashing open a can of tomato paste. Spilling open a bag of flour. Wizer cries out “Why’s it so hard to find something to eat?” and there’s an answer. From Alexa, or something at least as good. It makes sense that Wonmug, pioneering technology of literally history-shaking importance, would keep a device that monitors every sound near it. And that sometimes transmits recordings of those sounds to one of the evil megacorporations leading society to its death. It’s good operational security.

Oop (holding a coffepot): 'Doc sent us to the kitchen, so htere's gotta be food somewhere in this room!' Wizer: 'There's something in here!' (He burns his finger on the hot toaster element.) Wizer: 'OK, if there's food in that box, it's not worth going after it!' Oop: 'Aha!' Wizer: 'Did you find the food?' Oop, holding a can of tomato paste: 'Maybe! There's a picture o'food, anyway!' Wizer tries chewing the tin can. 'Is this what folks in this time eat? They must have awfully strong teeth!' (Patting a bag of flour.) 'Maybe this is something! At least it's softer than what you found!' (He pats it, spraying flour everywhere.) 'WHY'S IT SO HARD TO FIND SOMETHING TO EAT?!' Alexa: 'Searching-for-something-to-eat..." Oop: 'Who was that?!!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 22nd of July, 2018. Oh, I guess if they have a coffeepot then Doc Wonmug hasn’t got a Keurig. Good. I have no idea who turned the toaster on.

They accept Alexa-or-Siri-or-whoever’s offer of the “usual order”. Then they find how to turn the gas burners on the stove. And I don’t want to be too snarky, but, like, in the Disney Wonderful World Of Color movie The Hound That Thought He Was a Raccoon, the raccoon needed way less time than this to accidentally set the whole toolshed on fire. It was like two minutes tops from going inside to escaping the flames. Charming film except when you notice where the raccoon was chained to the ground to film the scene. Stuff like that. Anyway. Between the can and the flour and opening the fridge Oop and Wizer make a pretty solid mess before Wonmug gets from the living room to the kitchen.

Anyway, the pizza — the “usual order” — arrives. I don’t know whether to be more impressed by how fast the pizza place is or by how much time Wonmug spent dithering around before helping his caveman visitors work out the Keurig. I’m also a little surprised Alley Oop’s had so much trouble. He’s been to the Present Day a bunch of times. But even in his first modern-day adventure (collected by Dark Horse press a couple years ago) he handled 1939 Long Island pretty well. But then I have never gotten a Keurig to produce anything but rage and weak, grounds-bearing almond amaretto. And I don’t even have “coming from a prehistoric land” as my excuse.

Pizza’s a hit with Oop and Wizer. Soda pop less so, since it goes all foam-explody in Wizer’s face. Anyway, the 3rd of August — a month, reader time, since they arrived — they get down to business. Wizer’s worried about the threat of time travellers bringing disease to Moo. The story before the Revolutionary War one was about Mentis’s cold spreading through Moo. Wizer cured it fast enough. But what about the next disease?

Oop, looking at a hazmat suit: 'We really need t'wear all this?' Wonmug: 'It may be more protection than you need, but if we want to prevent the spread of illness, with this suit there is no doubt! If you haven't gotten sick in seven days, you should be safe!' Oop: 'SEVEN DAYS? Sheesh! ... C'mon, Wizer! Hurry up and put your suit on so we can go home!' Wizer: 'Wait, Oop! I want more time to talk to Doc about his 21st-century powers!' Wonmug: 'What powers, Wizer?' Wizer: 'Why, you have power over light and dark! You can control the climate, and you can summon fire instantly!' Wonmug: 'Oh ... THOSE powers!' Wizer: 'Doc, you MUST teach me your powers so I can use them in Moo!' Wonmug: 'Sorry, Wizer, but taking that knowledge to your time would change all history! We can't risk that! ... But Oop said you have a cure for the common cold! Is that right?' Wizer: 'Of course I do! Don't you?' Wonmug: 'No, we've never found that! Would you share it with me?' Wizer: 'Hmmph! NOT A CHANCE! Think of the change to history if I shared that with you!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 12th of August, 2018. But just imagine! If the modern day had Wizer’s cold-cure potion then Mentis would have gotten over his cold in time for the adventure in … 1781 … Philadelphia. Hey, wait a minute.

Wonmug has an idea. He’s got a couple hazmat suits that time-travellers could wear, at least for a reasonable quarantine period. He suggests seven days. That settles the concerns about cross-time disease, since nobody asks how they’re supposed to eat or go to the bathroom in these things. And so Oop and Wizer go home to Moo.

They’re greeted with cries of recognition! Also rocks! Because they were recognized as space aliens trying to invade Moo. This calls back to a couple storylines ago, when pantsless alien frog-plant Volzon and his mind-control ray tried to take over Moo. It’s an innocent mistake. It’s cleared up when Oop takes off his hazmat suit. Wizer warns this could make the Moovians sick; Oop argues they deserve it.

[ Wizer refuses to share the cure for the common cold with Doc. ] Wizer: 'I guess I deserved that, but I wish you'd ... ' Oop: 'Give it up, Doc! I wanna go home NOW!' (ZANG!) Wizer: 'It's nice to be back where no one is shooting at us for a change!' Oop: 'You can say that again!' Moo guard: 'Oh no! The aliens are back!' (And he throws a rock, hitting Oop in the head.) Moo Guard: 'King Guz, come quick! Volzon's back!' Guz: 'Send the word to everybody! Prepare for attack!' Oop: 'I've got a bone t'pick with you, Guz!' Guz: 'Attack! It's the pit for you two, whoever you are!' (Moovians all over throw sticks and rocks and arrows at Oop.) Oop: 'That it! I'm leavin'!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 19th of August, 2018. Wait, why does Wizer has a cure for colds if the people of Moo’s time don’t have colds?

Oop goes off to sulk. It’s one of his minor and realistic habits. He gets a lot of gripes, not all from me, about his day-saving hobby and sometimes it’s too much. He thinks of leaving Moo, starting over somewhere else. Maybe put together that rock band and record that song that’s been stuck in his head the last sixty years, something. But while moping he runs across Dinny, his dinosaur. He’s all caught up in vines and needs Oop’s help getting free. “Just like the day we met! Remember?” I guess. I never read the original storyline. Yeah, he figures, and says to a concerned Oona. He’s not leaving. What’ll he do? He doesn’t know, but he’ll relax and enjoy the view a while. Jack Bender and Carole Bender, though, they’re retiring, and there you go.

Oona: 'So what's next, Alley?' Oop: 'Hmm .. I dunno! Let's just relax and enjoy the view a while!' Oona: 'Good idea!' (They look out over the Mu swamp, with dinosaurs in the setting sun. Caption at the bottom of the strip: 'Ah! Retirement! Thanks to Alley Oop and our readers for a great ride! J + C!')
Jack and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 1st of September, 2018. Since I don’t have a better place to mention this, I’ll say, on the 7th of August — anniversary of the strip’s 1933 syndicated debut — the Benders reran a piece of fan art made in 2008 by Connor Ross. Ross has since become an art and history major in college. The panel explaining all this also teased people with the challenge of finding Alley Oop in this picture of a (realistic) dinosaur, the Saurophaganax Maximum, eating another’s tail. For those who didn’t find it, select this next block of text for the location. It’s Oop’s face, and it’s traced out in the lines of the leftmost tree, starting about center of the left edge of the dinosaur panel. There you go. You’re welcome.

So the comic strip is slated to go into reruns to the end of the year. (The first, starting the 2nd of September, is sending the gang to 1816 Switzerland in a storyline from 2013.) The syndicate will figure out what to do. Yes, I hope they find new people to produce the comic strip. I don’t like comic strips ending. Not just because the bulk of my readers are here for story-strip recaps. Alley Oop has a neat, slightly bonkers premise and I think it’s still got interesting storylines to run.

I did see commenters suggesting maybe they could rerun the earliest Alley Oop strips. I understand the desire. The early days of a successful comic strip are often most interesting. They’ll show what the cartoonist did before finding what worked best. So there are all sorts of imperfect variants on the strip’s best ideas, and odd turns and cul-de-sacs and situations that didn’t work out. It’s fascinating reading. But … look, it took six years for V T Hamlin to get time travel into the comic. Nobody reminisces how they loved reading the antics of that comic strip caveman who didn’t travel through time, because they forget that B.C. used to be a pretty good strip. But it’s okay to jump into a continuity somewhere other than the beginning. It’s especially fine if it took some time to get good.

But, given the (good as) boundless page space available on a web site, it would be interesting to see an Alley Oop Classics rerunning ancient comics. Or, if a curator could be found, something like the Doonesbury reruns. Those show samples of the storylines which shaped the major characters. This would be harder than Doonesbury, where stories advance in discrete weeklong chunks. But it’s imaginable. So it must be easy for someone else to do for me. We’ll see.

Next Week! For real!

I’ll pick up where interrupted, with Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If nothing else goes weird and crazy and wrong.

Looking Back: I Do Not Have A Cold


I haven’t got a cold. This stands out. It feels to me like I always have a cold. Mostly that’s because I do have a nagging cough that’s persisted from about 1994. The doctor’s ruled out asthma, and maybe sometime I should go back to find out what might be ruled in for it. Mostly it doesn’t impair my life any. I mean I haven’t yet coughed intensely enough in the shower to actually black out.

Anyway, this has been reflected in a bunch of essays posted here so I thought I’d share a couple years’ thoughts on the colds that come back to me.

From 2013: Some Ineffective Ways of Treating Colds. (Which is not a bad premise and maybe I should re-write the thing.)

From 2015: Cold Comforts (where I see I go on about zinc again.)

From 2017: Hack Work for May 2017 (no zinc mention this time; huh.)

From 2018: Explaining The Common Cold (and I don’t remember whether I had a cold back in April, but I wrote about it, so I probably did?)

Stay healthy, everyone. Somewhere in here I’ll find my 2014 and 2016 bits about colds.

A Tip for Rabbit Health and Happiness in the Hot Weather


So suppose you’re going into your fourteenth continuous year of the temperature being consistently above 586 degrees. And your pet rabbits are showing signs of strain from the heat, such as extremely rapid nose-wiggling, shallow breathing, making picket signs that read “HEAT UNFAIR TO” and then the crayon melts, and even more disapproving glares at the window than usual. Well, just take an emptied bottle of soda or pop, as you prefer, fill it with water, and freeze it. Then set it in the rabbit’s enclosure and look! Within minutes you’ll have a rabbit nose-bump the thing until it rolls some, and then staring at you and asking what that was supposed to accomplish. And the answer is, nothing, really. It’s just important that you have a process.

Explaining The Common Cold


What is a cold, and if it is, then what is it not? Furthermore, how many? This last question doesn’t seem to fit at all and maybe it belongs in a different piece, one that’s three words short.

The common cold, as it’s known to everyday experience (outside Wednesdays), is one of daily life’s more reliable chores. It serves a valuable biological purpose. Without it how would we remember that we don’t really like going to work, and aren’t necessarily that fond of a lot of our coworkers, and we come down to it we’re not so fond of leaving home either? Home has so many nice things, like how it’s not work, or how you know which channel it is has the show that’s just about paint. Blocks of clay-ish matter being chopped up into powders. Powders being stirred into transparent or white-ish fluids and stirred. Colored paints being poured into shiny metal buckets. Shiny metal buckets getting lids stamped down on them. Shiny metal closed buckets getting wrapped up in paper labels. Worry that the right labels aren’t getting put on the right cans. Buckets being loaded into trucks, never to be seen again. They must be going somewhere. Maybe a paint store. Maybe an awesome paint-bucket fortress in the woods. But it’s not your concern, and it’s so good when you’re working your way through a cold.

The first sign of a cold is the one on the highway telling you which exit is for the airport. Colds spend a lot of time at airports, since they like to pass time watching the airplanes taking off and landing and pretend that they’re part of crew alert systems instrumentation. Colds were very strange as children, not often being played with by other relatively minor diseases. When they did, they were forced to be the navigators. And they liked it, because they knew all kinds of things about magnetic declination. “Did you know magnetic variation changes over the day, from its most easterly around 8 am to its most westerly around 1 pm?” they’d ask to fellow kids who clearly did not. “The variation is greater in summer than in winter!” That teaches you a lot about what you’re dealing with, when you have a cold.

When a cold encounters someone at the airport they know it’s one of two cases. It could be a person who’s travelling for business. In which case, latching on to that person lets the cold share thoughts of how they’d rather not be travelling for business. Or it could be a person who’s travelling for pleasure. In that case, hey, wouldn’t you hang around someone who’s apparently doing something fun? So that’s why colds pounce on people at airports, wrestling them to the ground and telling them about how besides the diurnal and seasonal variations there’s also a secular variation in the compass. Sometimes you might think about the irony of saying you “catch a cold” when it’s the other way around really, but it won’t help.

Are there good ways to prevent a cold? Oh, now why would you go and spoil a cold’s fun, when it’s going to all that trouble to find you? Well, you go and be you. I’d like to say you know what you’re doing, but I know better. It’s 2018. Anyone who had any idea what they were doing has fled to some better time, like 1998 or the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Still, there’s many people who swear that large amounts of vitamin C will prevent a cold. Just how it’s supposed to do that is controversial. The leading theory is that you should take a great heaping pile of vitamin C and build a fortress around you for it. The colds will be curious, of course, and poke their way through the door. That’s when you reveal that you were never inside the fortress at all and instead slam the door shut.

The plan might seem odd. But it’s only because it makes you realize you don’t really know what vitamin C looks like. You know what those candy drops with vitamin C look like. But the bulk of those are candy; the vitamin C is just, on average, four molecules per tablet. What would a wall of the stuff look like? What color would it have? You know vitamin C is “ascorbic acid”. Is it acidic like soda, sticky but harmless to touch? Is it acidic like H2SO4 that kills Johnny in that rhyme your chemistry teacher told you? There’s no way to know. Maybe there’ll be something about it on TV after the paint documentary finishes.

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? And Why Is He In Philadelphia? January – April 2018


Hi, people interested in the lighthearted, pleasant stories of an unbeatable man from a mysterious land travelling through time and solving the various problems of people who’re in over their head at historically significant moments, but who forego sonic screwdrivers in favor of a good solid axe. My most recent essay on Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop should be at or near the top of this page. Here, now, is my most recent essay as of early April, 2018.

And over on this page is my discussion of comic strips with mathematical content. Or themes. Or name-dropping sudoku. They’re not all deep discussions.

Alley Oop.

7 January – 1 April 2018.

Where were we at the start of the year when I last checked in on Moo and its associated areas? The well-meaning but dumb rich guy M T Mentis III was on his way back to Dr Wonmug’s Time Lab and hoped to become a new supporting character. May not sound like much, but a part in a longrunning comic strip is nothing to sneeze at. Mentis tried, though, getting a faceful of snot all over Alley Oop as he disappeared back to the present day.

I guessed that was the start of a story, and so it was. Alley Oop gets a cold in record time, something neither Oop nor anyone in Moo has ever got before. Wizer understands what it is right away, though, and tells Oop to sit still a while so he can whip up a cure. Which includes echinacea, by the way, something Wonmug recommended as he zipped back to the 21st century. Wizer explains to Ooola that if Oop spreads his cold to the never-exposed population of Moo it could be disastrous and wipe the population out. Oop overhears exactly enough to figure Wizer’s said he’s dying. And figures Ooola is telling a comforting lie when saying Wizer’s getting the ingredients for a cure.

Oop: 'You've always been a good friend to me, Foozy! I hope you'll never forget me!' Foozy: 'Forget you? No! I'd gladly swear! Do you plan to go somewhere?' Oop: '(Sigh!) It's more permanent than goin' somewhere, Fozzy! I'm dying!' Foozy: 'No! Dear Oop, that can't be true! We exist because of you!' Oop: 'Here, Foozy! Take this! It's the only real thing of value I have, and I wouldn't trust anyone else with it!' (Foozy gasps at being given Oop's axe.) Oop: 'Take care, Foozy!' Foozy: 'My heart is broken, Alley Oop! We'll miss you in our tight-knit group!' (Oop, sitting, encounters Dinny the dinosaur.) Oop: 'You're free to go live your life the way you want to now!' Dinny: '?' [ Meanwhile, Wizer's quest for ingredients continues. ] Wizer, talking to himself and holding a bag of stuff: 'This willow bark will take care of Oop's headache!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 28th of January, 2018. I like that Wizer’s sack keeps to the comic-art convention of seeing something poking out the top so you know what’s inside. A part of me is thrilled anytime I have to buy celery because then I can arrange the top of it to poke out of the shopping bag, just like in the comics.

So Oop goes around Moo saying his goodbyes to everyone. The first: to Ooola, saying how he regrets they never got married and had kids and all. To Foozy, the relentless poet, he gives his trusty axe. To Dinny, the dinosaur, Oop gives his thanks and the command to go off and be free now. To Guz, Oop gives his honest opinion of the way the King of Moo runs things. In exchange, Guz gives several solid punches and a banishment for life. This all takes about as long as Wizer needs to gather a bunch of leaves and branches and bits of tree bark.

Wizer, talking to himself: 'With this willow bark, that's everything I need! Time to go brew the cure and get Oop well!' [ Meanwhile at the Royal Palace of Moo ] Oop: 'Just one more person I need to talk to before I die! (Sigh!) King Guz: 'Oop! You look awful! What's goin' on?' Oop: 'I've got something to say to you, and I don't have much time left! Your leadership skills stink, and I think you should step dow nand let Umpa take over all the duties!' Guz: 'WHY YOU ... ' [ And they fight. ] [ Meanwhile, at Wizer's place ... ] Wizer: 'Hi, Ooola! I'm back, and I have all the ingredients for Oop's cold cure! Oop's cure will be ready soon! I ... Ooola? What's wrong?' Ooola: '(Sob! Sob!) Alley broke up with me!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 4th of February, 2018. Among the things I like about the strip is that Oop and Guz have a relationship that’s largely basically friendly, but they do keep annoying the other even without quite meaning to, and that does get them into bouts of early-human fisticuffsmanship. It can be a good story-generating conflict that isn’t arbitrary, but also isn’t automatic.

Wizer mixes up his potion which works great. Oop’s recovered even faster than he got sick, and explains what he did while he thought he was going to die. After rolling his eyes all the way into Dick Tracy and back, Wizer mixes up enough potion for all the people Oop contacted. I’m not sure whether I’m more impressed that Wizer knows how to cure colds or with his advanced understanding of infection vectors.

Anyway he sends Oop out with the potion to apologize to people and, where needed, get his stuff back. It’s easy to apologize to Ooola, who teases for a moment holding Alley Oop to his declaration that they should have gotten married. But Moo exists in a land before there were reach-of-promises suits.

At his cave Oop finds Foozy’s kids playing, and figures “I must’ve told Foozy he could have the place”. He didn’t say this on-panel, by the way. Also Foozy has kids I guess? Beau, Moe, and Joe. They take after their father by speaking in rhymes across one another’s dialogue. Foozy’s sick, but he and Wizer have the healing potion, so there we go. He’s glad to return Oop’s cave (“You never gave away your house!”) and also his axe except the kids kind of broke it (“cracking coconuts”).

All that’s easy, since who wanted it to be hard? King Guz is a tougher case because besides calling him an incompetent, Oop also gave him the cold. The cure brightens Guz’s feelings, but he still insists on an apology from Oop before lifting the banishment and all that. And Oop doesn’t see why he should apologize for calling Guz out on his incompetence. Wizer encourages Oop to think of the long history he has with Guz, and to apologize anyway. And Oop apologizes for telling Guz he’s a bad king. That’s close enough to peaceful for Wizer to get on his real point.

[ Wizer gives Guz the cold cure. ] Guz: 'Wow! It worked!' Wizer: 'If I told you how, you'd think you could make it yourself! I'd rather keep my job, if you don't mind. Now we must talk about how to prevent a future epidemic!' Guz: 'What? No apology?' Oop: 'Heck, no! Wizer didn't say I had to apologize!' Wizer: 'Oop, I think an apology is a fair request! You were sick and not thinking clearly when you insulted Guz!' Oop: 'Oh, all right! ... Sorry I said you were a bad king, Guz.' Guz: 'That's okay, Oop! Deep down, I knew you didn't mean it.' Oop: 'Hey, I didn't say I didn't mean it! I just shouldn't have said it out loud! Right, Wizer?' Guz: 'Why you ... ' Wizer: 'Stop! (Sigh!) I never had kids, but I've got a pretty good idea what it'd be like after refereeing you two! Now that we're all 'friends' again, we have important business to discuss!' Guz: 'Okay, what is it?'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 11th of March, 2018. The reason the dialogue in the first panel doesn’t make sense is because it condenses from the 5th of March. There, Guz says, “Wow! It worked! What’s in that stuff?” and Wizer says “If I told you how, you’d think you could make it yourself! I’d rather keep my job, if you don’t mind.” And then Guz says “I wouldn’t hafta worry about how to make a cure if you weren’t goin’ around makin’ people sick!’ Oop protests it wasn’t his fault, but Mentis’s, and that’s what Wizer uses to get to his discussion about the infection vectors of time-travel.

Which is: what are they going to do about infections passed back and forth between eras of history? The cold was nothing big, but what’s next? Guz figures the cure is to ban time travel into Moo. Oop says that Guz has finally found an idea even stupider than his border wall. Wizer suggests that maybe Wonmug has an idea and proposes visiting the Time Lab. Oop’s only supposed to use his time-travel device in an emergency. But surely this counts in a way the invasion of mind-controlling plant-aliens didn’t, right? So he hits the button and starts a new story. Let me log that as the 17th of March, admitting that there’s some leeway in when you pick.

Meanwhile in the 21st century Wonmug’s headed out to do some contracts stuff with a lawyer guy and all. When Oop’s time beacon calls for a pickup, Mentis is alone in the lab. Wonmug’s forgotten his cell phone, which yes I do all the time too. Well, Mentis does his best to respond to the message ‘URGENT! ALLEY OOP REQUESTING TRANSPORT’ while studiously ignoring the declaration `DESTINATION: JULY 31, 1781 40.0285 ° N 75.1750 ° W’. Mentis hits Enter and so far has shown no signs of wondering what that whole ‘JULY 31, 1781’ business might be about. He stands there waiting for Oop to appear. I mean, I know, he’s barely even seen the Time Lab. But when Phineas Bogg is more on the ball you have to step up your “noticing things” and “drawing reasonable conclusions” games.

Meanwhile in the 18th century Alley Oop and Wizer have popped in just in time to have boats shooting cannonballs at them. By the way, the given latitude and longitude are inside Philadelphia. So I guess there was more action on the Schyulkill River in July 1781 than I had remembered? Also meanwhile Alexander Hamilton is turning in his commission if George Washington. He says only a field command will keep him. Of course we all know how that turns out. Washington writes out Hamilton’s assignment to command the 1st and 2nd New York Regiments and two Connecticut provisionals. Meanwhile at the same time, Oop and Wizer hide from the Redcoats.

At the Time Lab, Mentis sees Alley Oop requesting transport. Mentis: 'See you soon, Oop! This should please Doc!' [ He hits enter; nothing seems to happen. ] 'Hmmmm ... I thought Oop would get here immediately! I guess it must take a while.' [ Meanwhile, in Moo ... ] Oop: 'That's the sign! Doc's bringing us in! Hang on tight!' Oop and Wizer disappear. [ Somewhere in Time, in a different forest. ] Wizer: 'Where th'heck are we oop?' [ Sailing ships fire cannon at them. ] Oop: 'Uh ... this is just a guess, but I don't think we're at Doc Wonmug's Time Lab! Those boats are shootin' at us!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 25th of March, 2018. So yeah, when I talk about stuff happening meanwhile in the 21st century or meanwhile in prehistoric Moo or so, yes, part of me is just being funny. But there is some synching between Oop’s time and Wonmug’s time that they mostly respect, although there was a storyline recently where Oop went to the Time Lab of the 1940s. I’m not sure there is a clear logical rule for this but what it mostly means is that the strip is not doing the events-happening-out-of-sequence story that Doctor Who does once a season.

That’s where we stand, right now, about two weeks into the Revolutionary war, and at a curious point. I mean, you say Revolutionary War and 1781 and where are you going but the Siege at Yorktown? I mean, obviously the action the Caribbean and in India was important but this is for an American audience. One might speculate that Alexander Hamilton’s recent return to the popular consciousness has something to do with this story. I cannot promise that this story will end with Alley Oop attempting hip-hop but I don’t know that we can be sure this will not happen, either. So, you know, prepare yourselves.

Next Week!

So how was that weird religious cult and the crazy(?) aliens-are-watching-us guy hanging out on Kit Walker’s pillar of New Mexico rock? We’ll look back in on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, and see just what The Locust was up to with his returning and all.

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp? September – December 2017


Thanks for finding me in your search for an explanation of what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. This is, for me, the middle of December. So if you’re reading this much past December 2017 the story might have resolved and gone on to the next, or even one after that. If it’s far enough past December 2017 there’s, I hope, a more up-to-date description of what’s going on. It should be at or near the top of this page. Good luck.

Also, I review mathematically-themed comic strips of the past week over on my other blog. Thank you.

Gil Thorp.

25 September – 16 December 2017.

My last update came about two weeks into the current Gil Thorp storyline. What we knew back then: Coach Thorp had tested all his players’ brain function so parents will stop asking questions about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Rick Soto is a promising offensive linesman with musical talent. His uncle Gary — really Les Moore, taking some time off Funky Winkerbean to see if he can be the most punchable person in two comics at once — hopes to move from his attorney job into being a pushy stage-mother agent for Rick. And since then?

Gary’s pushed his program of getting Rick out of football and into music. His first strategy: concern-trolling. That was a great touchdown, Ricky. “Do your eyes look cloudy? Cloudy eyes can be the first signs of a major problem. You know my wife Dead Lisa died of death. And her eyes were cloudy at some point I’m going to suppose.” That doesn’t get Rick or his mother to think about dropping football.

Rick's Mom: 'If it's NOTHING, why did you tell Rick his eyes looked cloudy?' Gary: 'Ease up. He barely heard me.' [At lunch.] Rick: 'Hey, Pelwecki, do my eyes look weird?' Pelwecki: 'Vacant, empty ... nope, same as always!' Somebody: 'Yo, Soto! Get up here and sing the Milford fight song!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 9th of October, 2017. There is no Milford fight song that anybody knows, which is fine by me. Rick Soto goes on to sing something or other that my research indicates is a correctly-formed tune that’s popular with the kids and so we shall accept this as correctly formed. Also, wow but it’s annoying how teenage boys can only talk to one another in insults, but that’s not the comic strip’s fault.

The football season carries on like like football seasons do. There’s a couple games and the action seems to be football. I admit I’m not a football fan. I’m aware of it and only have the normal moral objections to it. But I grew up in the New York City media market in the 80s, with the Giants and the Jets, so grew up without professional football except for 1986. And I went to Rutgers, which played in the first intercollegiate football game in 1869 and is hoping to someday play in a second game. So I missed a lot of exposure back when I was young enough to learn things. When I watch football what I see is:

  1. Somebody kicks the ball toward the field goal posts.
  2. Somebody catches a passed ball and runs, then stops.
  3. Everybody collides into a huge pile, and then the person with the ball runs straight into the pile as if that should help clear matters up.

After any of these there’s three yellow flags, two red flags, a checkerboard rally flag, and a Klingon insignia tossed on the field. Then everyone has to wait about eight commercials to straighten it out before the next play. It’s all jolly good fun and if you like that, please don’t let my ignorance stop you. I’d like to see if the sport could be played with less brain injuries. Anyway the talk between Coach Thorp and other people about how they’re going to improve their strategy doesn’t mean much to me. I will trust that it’s relevant to football. But I’ll defer to fans about whether it’s sensible to say, “we’re adding pieces of the veer offense. It’s sort of like the read-option, but the running back and the QB go the same way”.

Gary doesn’t understand the football talk either, and points out to Rick that cat videos are popular things and he should try going viral. Rick rolls his eyes and I did not mean that, but you’ll notice I let it stand. And now I’m curious if the whole arc was built out of Rubin or Whigham thinking of those words together and figuring “why not?” Gary suggests Rick sing the National Anthem to Coach Thorp, every ten minutes. And he offers to e-mail the suggestion more often if it’ll make this happen. Coach Thorp digs deep into his reserve of not really caring and decides he doesn’t really care. And even if he did care, he couldn’t have one of his linesmen singing the National Anthem when he’s needed right after that on the … line.

Rick, watching his video on a phone: 'What IS this?' Friend: 'Some website that my grandpa goes to with his old Marine buddies. Check it out --- Rick's singing at the homecoming game!' Someone: 'You sound even better than you did on the field. But what are you doing online?'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 10th of November, 2017. That last panel is also my face when my father tells me how he read the thing I posted last week, the one that included my annual kind-of-racy slightly off-color joke, and he’s making sure all his friends and all my aunts and uncles see it.

But Gary has a stroke of luck when Dead Lisa phones in a bomb threat to the airport (some December 2010 silliness in that comic). Plus, Rick has a sprained ankle and has to skip a game, so he’s free to sing. Gary arranges a camera crew. They make a video that goes viral among the National-Anthem-before-high-school-football-games crowd, a group I accept exists. Gary seeds the video with the story of how the concussed Rick wanted to sing and had a father posted overseas and all that. Rick’s father isn’t in the Army. He’s a contractor in Dubai, helping the United Arab Emirates build the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. It’s a prestige project that, when done, will allow them to smother the workers building the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete beneath the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. Rick’s annoyed, Gary’s proud, and Rick’s mother is a person who exists and has feelings about all this, I would imagine. Rick’s father might, too.

As Rick Soto watches the last four minutes, Milford holds off New Thayer, 30-20. Rick's Mom: 'You can ride home with us.' Rick: 'Thanks, but I'd rather ride the bus an act stupid with my friends.' Rick's Mom: 'We just want you to be with us, in case you ... you ... ' Gary: 'Have to go to the hospital!'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 1st of December, 2017. “You know, my dead wife Dead Lisa had a videotape about how great it would be to have her football surgically removed before it could kill her! Would you like to read my three-volume graphic novel collection about that?”

In his next game Rick takes a knee to the helmet, when Gary arranges to have a squad of knees thrown at Rick’s helmet. The team doctor doesn’t see any reason Rick shouldn’t keep playing. But Gary explains how they should cover Rick in a soft, protective layer of foam and bury him in a cube of feathers eight feet across to rush to the hospital. And his new round of concern-trolling does give Rick’s mother reason to doubt this football stuff is a good idea. Rick’s pediatrician says this looks all right. And a concussions expert says Rick’s all right. So Gary has to go back to the closet of Dead Lisa videotapes to see what advice she has about quitting football and being a professional singer.

And that’s where we have gotten: to multiple people in this comic strip about sports issues saying “don’t worry about all those blows to the head”. Part of me is sympathetic: we should act on realistic estimates of risk. To respond to a long time of under-estimating the risk of head injuries with a period of over-estimating the risk does not make things better. But part of me also thinks: there’s a lot of money which would very much like it to be believed football-caused head traumas aren’t so bad. If nevertheless we’ve heard they’re this bad, they’re likely worse. I will accept the author’s intention that Rick’s injuries are routine and unthreatening. And that the medical professionals who’ve cleared him repeatedly are acting according to the best evidence they have. Neal Rubin would know. It’s still a weird tone. The premise of the athlete being pushed out of sports by a noodge of a relative is good enough. I would feel less weird about it if it weren’t about football-caused head injuries. I feel weird that my essay about all this has been so merry, considering.

But that’s where things stand for the middle of December, 2017. The story feels at least a couple weeks away from resolution to me. I’d expect the basketball-season story to start in around a month, unless there’s a major twist coming. And we’ll see; sometimes they happen. The softball-season story took such a major twist last year. These things happen.

Next Week!

Spies! International intrigue! Prison drama! Divorce, kidnapping, and deliberately smashed cell phones! What else could it be but Judge Parker, the most “What” of What’s Going On In comic strips for 16 months running! Francesco Marciuliano’s writing has brought a lot of changes to the strip, but don’t worry. He hasn’t gone so far as to make Mike Manley illustrate any judge work.

Last Notes About The Cold


First, a note about my mathematics blog: it’s a thing that exists. Gads, I hate writing all this hype.

So my cold that’s been dominating my whole program of breathing the past week seems to actually be bronchitis and that seems like it’s on the way out. Friday I gave in to the fact I hadn’t finished a sentence since Monday without a coughing fit and went to the urgent care clinic. Their best guess was bronchitis, and prescribed some antibiotics and some cough syrup. The antibiotics were for an ear infection that had caused everything to sound like it was a woodcutter’s axe driven into my brain by a picric acid explosion. The cough syrup was your usual stuff, given in a bottle with instructions to take three times a day for five days, and which after the first day looked already half empty. I’m on day three or four now, depending on whether you count Friday, and it’s still only half empty. I do not know how this works and can only sit there, watching and pondering the bottle’s description of its contents: “a(n) clear, yellow, orange-pineapple-flavored syrup. (Pineapple menthol aroma)” May cause dizziness. I can’t say it’s wrong, just that it reads like they started thinking of words that could describe syrups and didn’t know how to stop. I’m impressed they didn’t end up “a(n) clear, yellow, orange-pineapple-flavored, viscous, revelatory, non-partisan, trouserless, analogue, costumed nighttime, obedient voiceless wet syrup”. Maybe the label was too small.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped over 23 points today on the discovery that the local movie theater was doing a Saturday midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show which would be great to go see except the audience will be full of people who’ll go to a Saturday midnight screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

183

Statistics Saturday: Milestones In This Current Cough


Day Event
Sunday Little nagging sensation that I’m coughing a bit more than normal and feel all achy and hot.
Monday I hear nothing after 11:18 am because of my uninterrupted coughing fit
Tuesday Temporary suspension of the tooth-brushing routine because the sudden spasms from my lungs and the toothpaste foam and the irritation in my throat lining create such a bad situation, such a bad situation.
Wednesday Boss excuses me from the planned two-hour conference call with a promise that he’d call back and catch me up and wrap up some loose ends, which he has yet to do.
Thursday Broke the key by trying to wind up the clock and I coughed at the wrong moment and do you know how many different size keys there are for mantle clocks? There’s easily more than six.
Friday Sleep is a lie, a distant faded memory never to be attained again in my life.
Saturday Oh, that’s a good bit better actually.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped eight points as investors’ attention was captured by rumors the bagel place had the tomato tortellini soup today and what implications this might have for the flavored cream cheese they’re offering for bagels.

200

Hack Work for May 2017


I have my tradition of setting free the scraps of writing I couldn’t use the previous month for the big Thursday/Friday-ish piece of the month. And I want to do that too. For example, here’s a bit I couldn’t do anything with all May: “you remember trituminous coal from how it got used to blow up the Amargosa observatory in Star Trek: Generations”. I don’t know what you would do with it either but let me know if you do.

Thing is I’d just got back to something kind of normal-ish with my computer woes when I got a cold. It’s not much of a cold. I’ve been lucky the last couple years in not getting really big colds. Not the kind where you have to stay in bed all day, no longer wiping your nose because the tissues hurt too much and even the lotion-filled ones have abraded your face to a smooth, featureless mass of weeping flesh. Nor the kind where you get a fever that can’t be measured because your thermometer melts into a puddle and your loved one repeats the mention of liquid crystal display until you finally holler that yes, you got it the first time, you just don’t have the power to giggle at a line like that even if you did feel like giggling at it, and then your loved one apologizes for trying to make light and you have to spend the rest of the day everyone in a sullen silence over how they each failed a little bit to be empathetic enough and nobody knows how to apologize exactly.

No, my cold has been the typical sort of light one I get. I spent a while feeling warm, which is nice, because I haven’t really felt warm since 2006 when I last lived in Singapore. Singapore is on the equator, and it has the climate you’d get if you jumped into the middle of an open-faced kiss between a fire-breathing dragon and a smaller ice-breathing dragon, all humidity and heat and sudden surprising blasts of air conditioning and sometimes the food kiosk has an offering that looks like some kind of organ meat. Not everyone’s taste. But at least I didn’t need to wear a little something extra over my shirt.

Also I’ve spent my time coughing. I won’t pretend that I’m a world-class cougher. I never got past the state level (14th place, 2010, New Jersey; 7th place, 1999, New York, although that was later vacated as I’d had a throat infection, a purely administrative change of ruling which does not reflect on my ethics). But serious coughing is tough competition. We do some impressive stuff. Back in the cold of October ’15, without even seriously training, I coughed hard enough in the shower that I threw out my back, causing my spine to rebound off the shower wall, clobber my right shoulder blade, and then sucker-punch me in the kidneys. I think there were deeper issues at work here and the coughing just a pretext. But what a pretext! It was so painful I even admitted that it kind of hurt.

Still, the coughing’s been going on nonstop since Tuesday. It’s triggered by some events, like taking too deep a breath, or too shallow a breath, or trying to say a whole word. I’d be fine with this really, since given the choice I’d like to just sit still and not say anything out loud. But then I have to reassure my love that I’m fine, really, the coughing is just annoying and not something we need to get to emergency care for, and it can take as many as twenty-two minutes to get through a sentence that complicated. Also work wanted me present for a conference call with people who were in the main office’s Echo Testing Chamber. I don’t believe we got any work done, but absolutely everybody has a headache.

I’d like to credit all this coughing to being exercise. I can feel the burn in my abdominal muscles, and I’m all set to smash my head into the steering wheel as I drive to the emergency care clinic. Oh, also I’ve been trying to build some kind of piece around sorting the nightshade family of plants into those that are edible versus those that are deadly, but I can’t figure a way to do it that isn’t just a factually useful chart. It feels a little xkcd-ish to me anyway, and that’s fine, but it isn’t me.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped a point on learning that four percent of Michigan employers will allow their workers to bring pets into the workplace, because this is a fair bit below the national average of seven percent.

207

I Am Certified As Breathing


I had a little medical test recently. It wasn’t anything big. I don’t have any big medical issues. To date the only medical emergency in my life was when I was a toddler and managed to hoist a spare tire enough that it could roll over and break my pinky toe. That might raise the question of how a toddler could hoist a spare tire, let alone move it enough to hurt anybody.

But parents know that toddlers have supernatural abilities to move things they’re not supposed to. Look away from an eighteen-month-old for ten minutes and there’s a fair chance they’ll have tipped the detached garage over onto their cousin. NASA’s original plans for the Mobile Launcher Platform that rolled Saturn V moon rockets to the launch pad for it to be dragged by a pair of 24-month-olds who’d be told they were “over-tired” but that the rockets had “Halloween inside”. The toddlers were replaced with pairs of 2,750-horsepower diesel engines only when the necessary launch windows implied rolling out to the launchpad in the late morning, when even kids wouldn’t buy the over-tired line. And yet there was still thinking as late as 1968 that they could keep some kids in artificially lit caves so they wouldn’t know they could not be “over-tired” at 10:35 am. Even so one rogue 16-month-old made off with the SA-500F structural facilities test article rocket and it hasn’t been seen to this day.

So past that exceedingly minor emergency room visit I’ve had a boring medical history. That combination stomach flu and back pain a couple months ago was my biggest health news in decades. But I did decide finally to talk with my doctor about an ongoing little issue. I’ve had this nagging cough for a long while. I’ve had it so long I don’t really notice it. But my love did, and pointed out that when I get up I’ll get into these coughing fits that last for up to twelve hours and that get loud enough to rattle fur off our pet rabbit. In my defense, our pet rabbit sheds a lot of fur and I’m not sure we could attribute any particular cloud of fur to any stimulus.

I saw the wisdom in asking about it, though, and the doctor thought it conceivable I might have a mild asthma. It’s also possible I just have too much postnasal drip. Or it might be that I kind of want attention, but without saying things or interacting with people. Coughing a lot is a way to get public acclaim without having to actually feel anything for other people. It’s not so acclaimed as it was in the days of vaudeville, when you could have professional coughers, and I’m not even sure I’m making that up. I know there were sneeze artists on the vaudeville circuit and that totally happened. One was even in one of those Gold Diggers Of Year Here movies. Probably someone held audiences spellbound with their coughing prowess.

Scheduling my appointment got a little weird, since the original appointment last month got cancelled when someone (not me) drove his car repeatedly into the entrance of the medical center. The local news speculated he was angry with the medical center for some reason, and I suspect they’re right. But I admit I haven’t heard his side. He might insist they were the ones running their medical center into his car over and over. I wouldn’t argue, not while his car’s still running. My pinky toe’s still recovering.

The breathing test was done by breathing into this gadget about the size and shape and color of an off-brand Commodore 64 disc drive. They’d hooked up a rubber mouthpiece to it, so I’m sure they didn’t really just recycle my old Excelsior 2000 for this. The guy running the test did ask if I’d ever smoked, which I haven’t, or if I’d been exposed to second-hand smoke, which is a silly question. He could see on my form that I was born in the 70s. Back then you walked through clouds of smoke in every restaurant, office, movie theater, library, microchip-manufacturing clean room, Apollo space capsule, and anywhere within 25 feet of any street or highway. Also we used blocks of lead dissolved in benzene for automobile fuels.

But while the results haven’t been fully analyzed and the doctor hasn’t made his report yet, the first impression was that my breathing looks good. My breathing results were close to expectations. And they were very repeatable except for the time I coughed mid-test. I don’t expect mild asthma to have been the problem. Maybe I am just needy.

What I Think Of Whatever It Was I Just Got


I don’t know why they want this sickness reviewed. What the heck. There’s a chance for a $250 Amazon gift certificate, right?

OK, so, this past week’s worth of sickness has been a real treat. The high point, by volume, has to be the bug I caught on Monday that we dubbed “stomach flu”. That’s a cute, friendly name, evoking as it does the 20th Century’s greatest killer, against stiff competition. But you know the kind of bug it is. You start out the day feeling fine. Then in midafternoon you realize how appealing it would be to sit still and disgorge a two-inch-thick layer of sweat. That done, the next task is to not move for eighteen hours. The alternative, moving, runs the risk of your body exploding like a paintball capsule only worse in every possible way. And of course the rotation of the Earth about its axis becomes too fast-paced and irregular to deal with.

The bug must be awarded style points for choosing to wait until I was visiting my love’s parents to take real effect. Not only could I be sick, and worry that I was making a horrible mess in someone else’s bathroom, but it carried just the hint that somehow I had got food poisoning from their pack of store-bought Dutch windmill cookies. (They weren’t actually Dutch windmill cookies, but I forget what we actually had. I think it might have been sugar cookies. But those are much less funny to get food poisoning from, if that’s even possible.) So the cure for this was to go throw up in my car, and sleep for 36 hours, without getting any less tired.

That all would have been hardly worth mentioning if it hadn’t piggybacked on the week’s other bodily complaint, though. That was some lower back pain. I run a little stoic, and even after a pretty lousy week I don’t want to make too much of it. But the ache started out last Friday morning, got so bad by Saturday that I even said something about it, and then started to fade again. Then this morning I was showering, and coughed, and it came back in full force. I don’t want to give up coughing in the future. I’ve had a nagging cough going on since 1998 and it’d be a shame to lose that. But if showering and coughing is going to give me this kind of backache I’m just going to have to give one of them up. I guess it’ll be coughing, since I don’t need to be less pleasant to be around than I already am.

To give some idea what it feels like, my lower back feels as if it’s been hit by a truck. I don’t mean that it feels like a truck ran into me in traffic. I mean it feels like a big 18-wheeler, the kind with a trailer and some sticker on the back promising that this trucking company gives no aid or comfort to the enemy, no way, noticed my distracted eye in a bar. And then the truck, a touch belligerent-drunk, stormed over to demand I explain myself. I’m never good in these sorts of situations. I answer something like “huh?” The truck overwhelmed the friends trying so hard to hold it back. Then it pushed me up against the change machine that doesn’t give change for $5 bills printed since 2008. It punched my spine just above the tailbone, twice. And then kicked it for good measure. The truck’s friends promised it’s normally not like this and offered to buy me a drink. But I only had a diet Coke that the bar refills for free anyway. The truck got in one more punch before it could be coaxed over to the other side of the bar and berate the karaoke machine. That is the kind of “hit by a truck” it feels like.

I’m not looking for sympathy, though you’ll notice I’m publishing this where anybody can see anyway. But the ache has been a chance for me to discover all sorts of things I can do while standing like someone who’s impersonating Groucho Marx without having ever seen Groucho Marx or any impersonator of Groucho Marx. It turns out this is nothing. Or if I do have to bend the slightest non-Groucho-Marx bit, how much I can get done by groaning about the pain oh the pain oh dear lord why are there steps in this house.

To sum up: truly effective sequence of ailments. Would not buy again. Would not recommend except to some people I’m feuding with. I’m not going to win the gift certificate either, I bet.

H L Mencken’s Bathtub Hoax


So, you’ve heard about how H L Mencken created the story of Millard Fillmore being the first president to have a bathtub in the White House. Ever read it? Me neither, which is kind of a strange thing. I’ve always had a love for the mock-fact article. There is a real skill in creating something that has the cadence of actual facts, something that captures grand sweeps of events and the weird specificity of real life.

I finally got prodded to looking up Mencken’s bathtub hoax; it’s online, among other places, at http://hoaxes.org/text/display/a_neglected_anniversary_text. Reading it makes it clear why this should be such a successful hoax. It has the craggy grit of authentic history, the switch of focus from great themes to little homey details, this magnificent sense of scope delivered with a perfectly straight face. It’s great. If you haven’t read it before, take this chance now. It’s worth it.

A Neglected Anniversary

On December 20 there flitted past us, absolutely without public notice, one of the most important profane anniversaries in American history, to wit, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the introduction of the bathtub into These States. Not a plumber fired a salute or hung out a flag. Not a governor proclaimed a day of prayer. Not a newspaper called attention to the day.

True enough, it was not entirely forgotten. Eight or nine months ago one of the younger surgeons connected with the Public Health Service in Washington happened upon the facts while looking into the early history of public hygiene, and at his suggestion a committee was formed to celebrate the anniversary with a banquet. But before the plan was perfected Washington went dry, and so the banquet had to be abandoned. As it was, the day passed wholly unmarked, even in the capital of the nation.

Bathtubs are so common today that it is almost impossible to imagine a world without them. They are familiar to nearly everyone in all incorporated towns; in most of the large cities it is unlawful to build a dwelling house without putting them in; even on the farm they have begun to come into use. And yet the first American bathtub was installed and dedicated so recently as December 20, 1842, and, for all I know to the contrary, it may still be in existence and in use.

Curiously enough, the scene of its setting up was Cincinnati, then a squalid frontier town, and even today surely no leader in culture. But Cincinnati, in those days as in these, contained many enterprising merchants, and one of them was a man named Adam Thompson, a dealer in cotton and grain. Thompson shipped his grain by steamboat down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans, and from there sent it to England in sailing vessels. This trade frequently took him to England, and in that country, during the ’30s, he acquired the habit of bathing.

The bathtub was then still a novelty in England. It had been introduced in 1828 by Lord John Russell and its use was yet confined to a small class of enthusiasts. Moreover, the English bathtub, then as now, was a puny and inconvenient contrivance — little more, in fact, than a glorified dishpan — and filling and emptying it required the attendance of a servant. Taking a bath, indeed, was a rather heavy ceremony, and Lord John in 1835 was said to be the only man in England who had yet come to doing it every day.

Thompson, who was of inventive fancy — he later devised the machine that is still used for bagging hams and bacon — conceived the notion that the English bathtub would be much improved if it were made large enough to admit the whole body of an adult man, and if its supply of water, instead of being hauled to the scene by a maid, were admitted by pipes from a central reservoir and run off by the same means. Accordingly, early in 1842 he set about building the first modern bathroom in his Cincinnati home — a large house with Doric pillars, standing near what is now the corner of Monastery and Orleans streets.

There was then, of course, no city water supply, at least in that part of the city, but Thompson had a large well in his garden, and he installed a pump to lift its water to the house. This pump, which was operated by six Negroes, much like an old-time fire engine, was connected by a pipe with a cypress tank in the garret of the house, and here the water was stored until needed. From the tank two other pipes ran to the bathroom. One, carrying cold water, was a direct line. The other, designed to provide warm water, ran down the great chimney of the kitchen, and was coiled inside it like a giant spring.

The tub itself was of new design, and became the grandfather of all the bathtubs of today. Thompson had it made by James Cullness, the leading Cincinnati cabinetmaker of those days, and its material was Nicaragua mahogany. It was nearly seven feet long and fully four feet wide. To make it water-tight, the interior was lined with sheet lead, carefully soldered at the joints. The whole contraption weighed about 1,750 pounds, and the floor of the room in which it was placed had to be reinforced to support it. The exterior was elaborately polished.

In this luxurious tub Thompson took two baths on December 20, 1842 — a cold one at 8 a.m. and a warm one some time during the afternoon. The warm water, heated by the kitchen fire, reached a temperature of 105 degrees. On Christmas day, having a party of gentlemen to dinner, he exhibited the new marvel to them and gave an exhibition of its use, and four of them, including a French visitor, Colonel Duchanel, risked plunges into it. The next day all Cincinnati — then a town of about 100,000 people — had heard of it, and the local newspapers described it at length and opened their columns to violent discussions of it.

The thing, in fact, became a public matter, and before long there was bitter and double-headed opposition to the new invention, which had been promptly imitated by several other wealthy Cincinnatians. On the one hand it was denounced as an epicurean and obnoxious toy from England, designed to corrupt the democratic simplicity of the Republic, and on the other hand it was attacked by the medical faculty as dangerous to health and a certain inviter of “phthisic, rheumatic fevers, inflammation of the lungs and the whole category of zymotic diseases.” (I quote from the Western Medical Repository of April 23, 1843.)

The noise of the controversy soon reached other cities, and in more than one place medical opposition reached such strength that it was reflected in legislation. Late in 1843, for example, the Philadelphia Common Council considered an ordinance prohibiting bathing between November 1 and March 15, and it failed of passage by but two votes. During the same year the legislature of Virginia laid a tax of $30 a year on all bathtubs that might be set up, and in Hartford, Providence, Charleston and Wilmington (Delaware) special and very heavy water rates were levied upon those who had them. Boston, very early in 1845, made bathing unlawful except upon medical advice, but the ordinance was never enforced and in 1862 it was repealed.

This legislation, I suspect, had some class feeling in it, for the Thompson bathtub was plainly too expensive to be owned by any save the wealthy; indeed, the common price for installing one in New York in 1845 was $500. Thus the low caste politicians of the time made capital by fulminating against it, and there is even some suspicion of political bias in many of the early medical denunciations. But the invention of the common pine bathtub, lined with zinc, in 1847, cut off this line of attack, and thereafter the bathtub made steady progress.

The zinc tub was devised by John F Simpson, a Brooklyn plumber, and his efforts to protect it by a patent occupied the courts until 1855. But the decisions were steadily against him, and after 1848 all the plumbers of New York were equipped for putting in bathtubs. According to a writer in the Christian Register for July 17, 1857, the first one in New York was opened for traffic on September 12, 1847, and by the beginning of 1850 there were already nearly 1,000 in use in the big town.

After this medical opposition began to collapse, and among other eminent physicians Doctor Oliver Wendell Holmes declared for the bathtub, and vigorously opposed the lingering movement against it in Boston. The American Medical Association held its annual meeting in Boston in 1849, and a poll of the members in attendance showed that nearly 55 per cent of them now regarded bathing as harmless, and that more than 20 per cent advocated it as beneficial. At its meeting in 1850 a resolution was formally passed giving the imprimatur of the faculty to the bathtub. The homeopaths followed with a like resolution in 1853.

But it was the example of President Millard Fillmore that, even more than the grudging medical approval, gave the bathtub recognition and respectability in the United States. While he was still Vice-President, in March, 1850, he visited Cincinnati on a stumping tour, and inspected the original Thompson tub. Thompson himself was now dead, but his bathroom was preserved by the gentlemen who had bought his house from the estate. Fillmore was entertained in this house and, according to Chamberlain, his biographer, took a bath in the tub. Experiencing no ill effects, he became an ardent advocate of the new invention, and on succeeding to the Presidency at Taylor’s death, July 9, 1850, he instructed his secretary of war, General Charles M Conrad, to invite tenders for the construction of a bathtub in the White House.

This action, for a moment, revived the old controversy, and its opponents made much of the fact that there was no bathtub at Mount Vernon, or at Monticello, and that all the Presidents and other magnificoes of the past had got along without any such monarchical luxuries. The elder Bennett, in the New York Herald, charged that Fillmore really aspired to buy and install in the White House a porphyry and alabaster bath that had been used by Louis Philippe at Versailles. But Conrad, disregarding all this clamor, duly called for bids, and the contract was presently awarded to Harper & Gillespie, a firm of Philadelphia engineers, who proposed to furnish a tub of thin cast iron, capable of floating the largest man.

This was installed early in 1851, and remained in service in the White House until the first Cleveland administration, when the present enameled tub was substituted. The example of the President soon broke down all that remained of the old opposition, and by 1860, according to the newspaper advertisements of the time, every hotel in New York had a bathtub, and some had two and even three. In 1862 bathing was introduced into the Army by General McClellan, and in 1870 the first prison bathtub was set up at Moyamensing Prison, in Philadelphia.

So much for the history of the bathtub in America. One is astonished, on looking into it, to find that so little of it has been recorded. The literature, in fact, is almost nil. But perhaps this brief sketch will encourage other inquirers and so lay the foundation for an adequate celebration of the centennial in 1942.

Cold Comforts


I’ve got a cold. It’s a small one, as these things go. I hesitate to even mention it. Not because I don’t want to sound like I’m whining. If I thought people would listen to me I would. But I’ve learned people don’t want to hear where I have actual serious feelings about things, so I’ll keep them to myself. I don’t want to have them either.

The main reason I wouldn’t mention the cold is I have several friends very concerned I haven’t heard the Good News about Zinc. I know they mean well and I appreciate that they mean well. I try to brush them aside by explaining there’s a bad family history with zinc. Great-uncle Chuck got in trouble with the War Production Board in 1944 over allegations he was hoarding toothpaste. This joke always fails. It’s way too specific and incredibly over-researched for how short it is. Only the part about having a great-uncle named Chuck feels even remotely natural. They put zinc in toothpaste tubes back then because oh I don’t know. I have a cold. I’m pretty sure it was zinc. I don’t know why. I couldn’t tell you when they switched to toothpaste.

It’s just that zinc doesn’t do anything for me, and neither does anything else. All that really helps is to sit up very still hoping that this next time I blink it won’t hurt so much. I exaggerate. If my nose is stopped up, then some nasal spray will clear it out in seconds, which is worse. I don’t know why I do it except for the joy of doing something that definitely has an effect. I will try other cold medicines. But that’s just because I respect the rituals of doing things for a cold rather than because of any effect. The cold medicine industry goes to a great deal of effort putting out foul-tasting white pellets in white bottles inside white boxes. It would be ungrateful of me to ignore all that work.

The only cold medicine that did something besides transfer the ache from my eyelids to my fingernails was something I had while back in Singapore. I’m not sure what it was, but I’m kind of sure the name started with a soft consonant. It got me nice and drowsy right in the middle of Turner Classic Movies Asia showing Tod Browning’s Freaks. I went to bed and woke up eight hours later and turned the TV on and it was nearly back to the same scene I’d left off on. So I credit the M—- or maybe N—– something with making Freaks somehow even more primally unsettling.

Which serves to point out that colds aren’t all bad things. I appreciate some of good of this. For example, my voice is doing that thing where I sound, in my head, much more like Leonard Nimoy in the third season of Star Trek than usual. Combined with the acoustics in the shower and I can really perfectly hit some Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs songs, though I should not. The change in my voice’s timbre also warns me away from ever trying to sing anything that Sting might, including nursery rhymes. But I kind of knew to avoid that anyway. So I can’t credit the cold for that.

Another thing the cold offers: I have a socially acceptable reason to eat anything that I see. I used to have that reason, in that I used to be extremely fat. Society might like telling people they should eat less, but it also accepts that if a fat person feels like eating something they’ve got leave to. How else are they going to stay fat except by one of the 18,640 critical insights about nutrition that humanity doesn’t understand? Anyway, I got thin a couple years ago, and if I actually went and ate everything I felt like stuffing into my face I’d be the subject of scorn. But having a cold, well, everyone remembers you either starve a cold or you feed it. They won’t pick a fight over an aphorism that doesn’t mean anything useful that they aren’t sure they have right.

Still, the cold doesn’t have everything. In particular my throat isn’t doing that thing where breathing in and out makes a little rolling noise like a motor is lurching into action. So I can’t say I really approve of all this.

Modern Life As Seen Through The Prism Of Waiting For A Flu Shot At Rite-Aid


We were seated in the little waiting area. We had finished the booklet of this month’s health tips from the Rite-Aid wellness program. It tried to prove how kale has just fantastic health benefits by showing kale in smoothie form. This failed. On the little TV, CNN’s afternoon anchors explained how a guy climbed over the fence at the White House with just the right set of details that we couldn’t understand what was supposed to have happened. Next to us an elderly man with a bushy white moustache, wearing a suit possibly more expensive than all my clothes — including the suit I wore for my wedding — put together, clutched his newspaper and nodded vigorously at the business pages of the Detroit News.

Finally, finally, the pharmacy guy came out and explained, “I’m sorry. I forgot to give you an update on what’s happening. I ran your card through and your insurance company said I was doing it the wrong way. So I tried it the new way and they wouldn’t take your card. Then I tried the old way again and it went through, so we’ll be ready for you in a couple of minutes.”

We got vaccinated in just a couple of minutes, paid by the insurance company. Now it’s just a matter of waiting about two weeks, when I’ll finally be able with a clear conscience to sneeze on anybody I want.

Finley Peter Dunne: Drugs


[ Today I’d like to offer a bit from Finley Peter Dunne’s Mister Dooley Says, and a little bit about medicine. I know that Mister Dooley bits can be challenging to read, but, there’s several lines in here, including the close, that I think are worth the effort required. ]

“What ails ye?” asked Mr. Dooley of Mr. Hennessy, who looked dejected.

“I’m a sick man,” said Mr. Hennessy.

“Since th’ picnic?”

“Now that I come to think iv it, it did begin th’ day afther th’ picnic,” said Mr. Hennessy. “I’ve been to see Dock O’Leary. He give me this an’ these here pills an’ some powdhers besides. An’ d’ye know, though I haven’t taken anny iv thim yet, I feel betther already.”

Continue reading “Finley Peter Dunne: Drugs”

The Monster In The Living Room


“I can’t help sensing a certain coolness in you toward me,” the savage, bloodthirsty monster said.

I agreed with our pet rabbit. “Well, I have felt a bit put off by you lately.”

“It wasn’t my fault!” He shook his head, flapping his ears together, in that way that starts out being dramatic and ends up comic because, you know, rabbit ears flapping. “I didn’t have any choice when you went and attacked my tail.”

“Uh-huh,” I said, and scratched the part near my knuckle where the scar was. “Me, one of the two people who’s spent the past fifteen months bringing you all the food you could eat — ”

“Not nearly all!” he protested. “I could have a whole box more of raisins if you gave me a chance!”

“— and who gets rewarded for brushing you out with an attempt to sever my finger.”

Continue reading “The Monster In The Living Room”

This I Believe


That kid who was pinching his friend’s wrist over and over again really was, just like he said, very concerned that his friend was adequately hydrated while at the amusement park all day, because it’s very much in the nature of ten-year-old boys to be worried about one another’s hydration levels and not at all to be looking for chances to see how long you could pinch someone before they start hitting back.

Some Ineffective Ways of Treating Colds


  1. Listen to everyone around you tell you have to take a lot more zinc, while wearing zinc-lined clothes, eating raw ingots of zinc, in a zinc-plated room, while thinking of zinc-related thoughts such as “fluidized-bed roaster smelting technology”.
  2. Singing George of the Jungle‘s theme while your voice is briefly in the correct register.
  3. Wrapping your pillows in a blanket, your blanket in a comforter, and your comforter under that bed canopy stuff, and sneaking out to a movie.
  4. Start arguments in online forums with your innocent question about why searching for a file in Windows never, ever finds anything.
  5. Bring your cold out with you to the lake to buy an ice cream, and while it’s busy ordering, drive away.
  6. Enjoying that thing where you can just stare at a point in the wall and it feels like the universe is tumbling around and you’re twisting up into a spiral and if this carries on you’ll never get your shirt un-knotted from your stomach.
  7. Going out in your superhero guise with the face-covering mask, on the theory that it would be so horrible to sneeze or even have a runny nose while covered up that way that your body would sensibly refrain from doing so. Sorry.
  8. Get into a screaming match with the spell-check about how to correctly spell “gesundheit”. There is no way to correctly spell “gesundheit”.

Vim, Vigor, and That Other Thing


I’m getting back into regular exercise. I don’t want to make people envious of my physique, but in the past few years I’ve got into the best shape of my life, not counting that year in elementary school when I was a regular heptagon. When I say the best shape of my life, I mean the best shape for me, though. I have the raw athletic prowess of a tower of buckets. Given a reasonable time to warm up and stretch, I can pretty nearly successfully tip over and plummet onto the floor. Next week I’m hoping to get to tipping and plummeting onto the floor while wearing weights.