So, no, things did not just reset in Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker the last couple months. There were storylines in which characters’ ambitions failed, and they have to start over. But that’s different from a reset where it doesn’t matter what happened.
Ronnie Huerta was moving back to Los Angeles, last time. The first week in this plot recap’s timeframe was her going to the airport and Neddy Spencer choosing to stay in Cavelton. Staying home again doesn’t make Neddy any happier, but it does give her time to realize nothing much does seem to help. Ronnie’s new roommate is the actor playing the character of Neddy Spencer in the TV show. And, what do you know, but the producers want the real Neddy Spencer back in Los Angeles, to work with the character of Godiva Danube. She doesn’t know that she wants to deal with that, but she does need to do something.
Then there’s the mayoral election, Toni Bowen versus Phil Sanderson. Bowen’s behind, but gaining. It’s revived Sophie Spencer’s spirits. Not just the campaign but learning that she needs to know a lot more of everything. So she jumps from one online course with Local College to six classes to getting ready for University In New York.
It’s hard keeping up interest in the local mayoral election when there’s, you know, everything else going on. But Sophie works hard at it, to the point that even Toni Bowen gets a little sick of the mayoral race. Bowen gives Sophie a guitar, an “epiphone casino”. I must trust Francesco Marciuliano that this means something to guitar people. And promises her that it will all be good, whatever happens on election day.
What happens is Toni Bowen loses. She takes it in good grace, and good stride: she made it a nail-biter election, coming from nowhere, and this won’t be the last mayoral election. Abbey Spencer’s particularly horrified. Sanderson’s got a pet, revenge, project. It’s a boutique hotel downtown that he’s directing corporate visitors to. She sees this as draining what visitors Abbey might draw to her bed-and-breakfast. (The revenge is for Abbey not taking his offer — back in August — to support his campaign. Sanderson had not actually wanted her support, but that’s no reason not to be vindictive.) I’m not sure a downtown boutique hotel and a horse-farm bed-and-breakfast are quite in the same market. But there’s probably not a shortage of Cavelton-area hotel rooms. Especially during the pandemic and with the TV show’s location shooting done.
So Abbey feels particularly down in the post-Thanksgiving wash. Her bed-and-breakfast is a mess. Sophie is moving to New York City when that’s safe, which the comic is supposing will be the spring semester. And Neddy decides to move back to Los Angeles, to work on the show and with the Godiva Danube character concept again. She’s feeling desolate.
Sophie and Neddy are sensitive to this, and do something to help Abbey feel appreciated. So while Sam Driver takes her for a long walk and she talks about everything she’s anxious about, Sophie and Neddy decorate the house for Christmas. A nice bit of family.
A less-happy bit of family: Randy Parker and his daughter Charlotte decorating. Charlotte wants to know whether mommy — April Parker — will be there for Christmas. It’s hard to answer since last any of us saw, April Parker was teamed up with her Mom in deep super-secret hyper-spy undercover nonsense. Randy Parker still would like to know what’s happened to her. Alan Parker warns him, that’s going to make all sorts of trouble. Somehow this is still a hard question for Randy, though.
What trouble will this make, and will Randy learn better? We’ll see in a couple months, I hope.
Yes, I did see the official video for Sparks’s new song, The Existential Threat. If you’d like to see it, it’s here. Content warning: the animation has the style of 70s-underground-comix grand-guignol body horror. Consider whether you’re up for that before watching. I’d recommend listening anyway.
With that wholly unrelated topic taken care of let me get to business. This plot recap gets you through early July 2020 for Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot summary at this link. I’ll also put any news I have about the comic strip at that link.
Yes, it’s hard to remember as long ago as mid-April. Let me try anyway. Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s series, based somehow on April Parker, had started filming in Cavelton. Sophie Spencer crashed filming, protesting Mayor Sanderson’s politics. And then Covid-19 hit the comic strip, the first of the story strips to address the pandemic at all. This was an amazing feat of work by Marciuliano and Manley. It has to have involved throwing out completed work to rush stuff out at deadline.
Neddy and Sophie barely start arguing the dragging of politics into decisions about how to spend public money when the show shuts down. Part of the lockdown, in the attempt to contain the pandemic. Ronnie stews about how she can’t even see her new girlfriend Kat, who’s to play Neddy on the show. And then Neddy’s ex-boyfriend Hank calls. She fumbles over the conversation, talking more and more enthusiastically than she would have thought. Why did Hank call? Why was she eager to talk to him?
Well, because of the pandemic. Everybody we know got locked in the Total Perspective Vortex. Enough of that and you start to ask, “was I really so upset with this person that it’s worth never having anything to do with them again?” You’re going through it too. Remember that you had reasons, and think about whether those reasons are still things of value.
Meanwhile in changing values: Honey Ballinger drops out of Toni Bowen’s mayoral campaign. She had joined Sophie’s plans for Bowen to do something meaningful, working therapy for her post-kidnapping stress. But now, with even the candidate not that enthusiastic, and the world shut down? She wants something else. The collapse of Sophie’s campaign-manager ambitions sends her talking again to Abbey. They had fought over whether Sophie going to college even meant anything after the kidnapping.
Meanwhile, Alan Parker’s mayoral campaign hits a problem: he and Katherine have Covid-19. While both look to recover, Alan Parker acknowledges he doesn’t want to be mayor enough to take him away from his family, whom the virus keeps him away from. He calls off his campaign, endorsing Toni Bowen on the way out, to her surprise. And to Sophie’s rejuvenation. She can’t wait to get the campaign going again.
And things are a bit tough for the Drivers. Sam Driver hasn’t got any lawyer work, and Alan Parker hasn’t got a campaign to manage anymore. Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast, finally completed, was ready to open as the lockdown hit. It’s cut into their finances. Abbey mentions how they were hit hard when they had to sell on the stock market, which is interesting. I mean, I know I’m bad at finance. I have two Individual Retirement Accounts, one a Traditional and one a Roth, because I could not figure out which was better for me. This way I’m sure to be at least half-wrong. But even I knew to put my spare thousand bucks into buying at crash prices. This is why I’m today the tenth-largest shareholder in Six Flags Amusement Parks. So how leveraged were the Parker-Drivers that they had to sell stocks into the crash?
Sam can’t get a rebate or early cancellation on the lease for his useless downtown office. Mayor Sanderson, who partly owns that office building, is reopening the town, the better to get everybody infected and dead sooner. So Sam turns to Sophie, offering his help in the Toni Bowen campaign.
And these are the standings, as of early July. I hope to check back in after a couple months to see what develops.
So here’s the thing about comic strips: they have lead time. Cartoonists can work as far ahead of deadline as the like, but deadline for weekday comics is about two weeks ahead of publication. It takes time to distribute and print. Note that comic strips are usually in the sections of the paper that are not so time-sensitive. Especially the Sunday comics. So they get printed when the presses are available. Sunday comics, with color done on purpose, need more time: on average about two months.
Cartoonists can respond to emergencies. A few months ago Patrick McDonnell cancelled a Mutts sequence in which Mooch dreamed of being in Australia, in deference to the wildfires. Story strips have a harder time doing sudden changes like that. This especially since most of them have weekday and Sunday continuity tied together. Terry Beatty, of Rex Morgan, M.D., recently wrote about this lead time. The just-begun Truck Tyler storyline will not even mention Covid-19 until its end, the 31st of May. This even though it’s the story comic for which the pandemic is most on-point.
So, that Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker mentioned social distancing means they are doing some astounding last-minute rewriting. But that’s also happening in my future too. If you’re reading this essay after about July 2020, and there is a time after July 2020, you’ll see how the pandemic plays out in an essay at this link, I hope. For now, let me catch things up for the last three months which began twenty years ago.
Alan talks with his son Randy Parker about his mayoral ambitions. Randy points out the idea is stupid and crazy. But, hey, what’s life for if not doing the stupid and crazy thing? Alan wants Sam Driver as campaign manager. Sam thinks it over. This gives Sophie the idea it might be fun to run a campaign. She works up a Leslie Knope file of campaign plans, and Sam takes that and the job.
In Hollywood, Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta have mixed news. Their April Parker-based show is developing into a pilot. Nothing of their work is getting in, though. Except that the studio likes Cavelton, as a place, and figures to shoot on location. At least for the pilot. And use Neddy especially as scout for good locations and bits of local color and all. They get a story-by credit and a mission of finding places that will look good on screen. Ronnie mourns the loss of her Los Angeles apartment and their move to Cavelton. This seems to me premature; even if they do have to live in Cavelton for months, that is only months. They could at least ask the studio to cover rent.
Alan Parker announces his “possible” run. Local News anchor Toni Bowen reports this, while showing footage of him going into custody for helping an arms dealer. And interviews his judge, who Sam Driver got blackmailed off the bench. Alan’s hurt. Driver asks what he thought was going to happen. And that Alan has to make clear what it is he thinks is so important that it takes him to do it.
Sophie tries to recruit Honey Ballinger, another survivor of the kidnapping plot, to campaign. Ballinger points out she should research the other candidates and not just support the one who’s family. Sophie wonders why Alan Parker isn’t volunteering to support someone then, instead of going straight for power.
Randy Parker goes to ask Toni Bowen what her deal is, exactly. Why so mean to his father? I mean, Randy and Bowen used to date, so what’s wrong? She unloads on him: he may be the protagonist but that doesn’t mean everyone he hurts doesn’t count too. After telling him off and leaving, she realizes she’s still ranting at him in her head. She wants to do something useful with this anger at entitled elitists. But she settles for writing an op-ed piece instead.
Identifying the ways society is screwing up for everybody but the elites does bring some response. Her boss at the station is upset that Bowen’s getting unauthorized attention, and puts her on leave. Meanwhile, Sophie notices Bowen’s editorial and thinks: now that’s a mayoral candidate. She goes to Bowen, who wants to know why everyone in the Parker-Spencer-Driver nexus is stalking her. Sophie argues that if Bowen believes in what she wrote, then, she’s got the chance to do something. And, a few weeks (story time; reader time it’s the next day) the Toni Bowen for Mayor campaign office opens. This despite the candidate not being completely sure this is a good idea.
Alan Parker’s campaign gets under way too. This with a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser at Abbey Spencer’s newly-opened bed-and-breakfast. The one that was formerly a barn. Channel 6 reporter Not Toni Bowen sets up a nice softball, letting Parker present this as celebrating local small business owner. You know, Abbey Spencer, millionaire and mother of Toni Bowen’s campaign manager.
And the TV crew finally settles into town, ready to start filming. Kat Alyson, playing Neddy Spencer, is thrilled to meet Neddy Spencer. Alyson bubbles over in that excited, outgoing way that makes me terrified of someone. Huerta finds Alyson surprisingly attractive too. I’m sure this will not make for any weirdness in her relationship with Neddy or anyone else, ever.
Filming is a big deal for Mayor Sanderson, who insists it’s a great deal for town. Sure, the TV production isn’t paying taxes. But there’ll be all kinds of money that falls out of the pockets of wealthy people as they waddle around filming. That’s just how tax incentive plans work. Then Sophie crashes the set, holding up a protest sign and chanting, “Mayor Sanderson is the real actor here!” She got help from that guy on Conan O’Brien’s show with the bad chants. She tries to complain about the deal, and gets distracted by it also being so cool to see Neddy on a film set.
And that gets us to the start of this week, which saw the first mention of the pandemic in the story comics. I know what you’re wondering: well, isn’t the film crew staying in Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast? My guess for that is no, because the renovations kept dragging out and the film crew would need reservations they could count on. Would have been great for Abbey if it worked that way. That’s my guess, though. We’ll see how it develops in the next months.
Under the Plesstown council-manager-mayor system, designed for communities wishing to call themselves villages without having to pay the state Office of Geographic Services’ notorious V surcharge (originally imposed as a temporary measure to help pay for the Second World War, and now used to nearly completely cover the state’s share of expenses from calling up New York City and asking who owns Ellis Island every night), the municipality’s council gathers on the first Tuesday in January after the 2nd of January following an election meeting, with each of the five heads of the municipality’s departments and two ringers. From this body of seven a city manager and a mayor are selected; and the entire body must determine which two aren’t really supposed to be on the council by the end of the March meeting. The guts of this pleasant tradition were spoiled in response to voter anger over the state sales tax in the 1970s when the legitimate councilors just started asking, “whoever’s the fakes, please raise your hands” and they did. Now the fakes are routinely spotted as being the persons on the board who don’t seem to have any hands on them, resulting in most towns moving to alternate schemes of governance. Four villages in Gloucester and Salem counties and the City of Elizabeth still use this system.
The Quick-Jervis form of municipal government is designed specifically for townships in the Kittatinny mountain range of New Jersey, in the scary parts far in the northwest where the old New Jersey Bell phone books suggested they didn’t offer phone service and should maybe ask Pennsylvania for help. Under this scheme, designed for the ridges and valleys that are pretty steep by New Jersey standards, town council meetings are held in those buildings where on one side of the hallway it’s the third storey and on the other side it’s two storeys up to ground level. In accord with these needs, these municipalities will sneak over to Pennsylvania to steal cable TV and to taunt Pennsylvanians about their state liquor stores. As satellite TV is not mentioned, obviously, the measures are somewhat out of date, and Pennsylvanians don’t understand their state liquor stores anyway.
The local news at noon had some great news for the top story: the pole barn controversy was settled! The controversy was, this company built a new research building too near a neighborhood full of people who complain about these things. We’re not talking about a hideous building, the kind that parents warn children to avert their eyes from, that collects awards from embittered architectural societies seeking vengeance, and which naturally accrues collections of modern art. This is more … think of every light industrial building you’ve ever passed that was too boring to notice. Have that in mind? No, because it’s too boring a building for you to even imagine noticing it. Even now you’re forgetting how I described it. But that’s what the whole controversy was about.
I don’t argue this wasn’t right for the top story in the local news, because it’s obviously local news-worthy, unlikely to get on the national Sunday morning talk shows where elderly white men complain how nobody’s LISTENING to them enough. Plus, if it wasn’t pole barn controversies they’d have to fill the program with traffic accidents and student housing fires unexplained but possibly linked to the fireworks they might have been setting off, just wanted to get that idea of students and fireworks out there even if we aren’t sure there were fireworks, and calling the weather forecast all kinds of silly things besides “forecast”, like Precision FutureCast Doppler 8000 or some such rot.
What delights me is that the anchor went from announcing there’d been a settlement in the pole barn controversy to tossing it to the reporter in the field, who just had that there was a settlement in the pole barn controversy and hopefully there’d be more details later. Then everyone looked at the building and yawned and curled up for a nap.
Oh, yeah, the company that owns the building? They make particle accelerators. I would have thought that could have settled the argument sooner. “Stop complaining,” they could have said, “or you’ll see a bunch of kaons where you don’t expect them!” But no, they just fell back on ordinary settlement processes like painting and property tax abatement requests. Where’s the imaginative scope?
Third Ward candidate David Floche comes from a self-described innovative and job-creating background, taking credit for franchising the operations of that guy on the city buses who keeps staring at the poster on the wall behind the driver’s head, like he’s trying to drive eye-lasers through the poor driver. His licensees can be found on all buses running to and from the Two Corners Intersection Mall.
Floche supports the merger of Pompous Lakes with San Luis Obispo, California, a move he expects will catch them “completely off guard”, and believes our city, or possibly theirs, will better serve the public by instituting a policy of visiting everyone to remind them of what they forgot at the supermarket last visit. Anticipating success in both election and implementing this policy he has asked for suggestions of what that forgotten thing might be, as all he can think of is “candles”.
The 1895 Bunker Act specifies a municipal government form to ease specifically the transition and merger of two municipalities into one. In this form, on the last January 1st or July 1st at least six months before the nominal date of the township merger, both municipalities begin holding their town council meetings in conjunction. These “junction” meetings are to continue for no more than eighteen months after the nominal merger date, or until the last person who remembers the communities being separate has died, by which time the new town council is to be in normal operation or will have to answer why not. The seats are occupied by the highest-ranking conjoined or Siamese twins from the respective municipalities’ Departments of Parks, Housing, Safety, Water, and War (the act’s terminology having never been updated since the National Security Act of 1947). In the event there is no qualified Siamese twin in the department then the highest-ranking available persons in each department will serve together having first strapped themselves together in the classic three-legged-race fashion. All meetings are to open with a song, but not the same song.
New Jersey municipalities organized by the McCormick Quiet-Mayor System were formed between 1880 and 1900 as the “Boroughitis Epidemic” was finally brought under control by new public health measure including “washing”, previously confined to the Shore towns around Big Sea Day. In these municipalities the Mayor is elected separately from the Town Council, and may not be in the same meeting room during the conduction of official business, thus the name. The name appears paradoxical as in practice the Mayor shouts all her or his opinions from just outside the meeting room, but the phrase survives from the days before the invention of shouting in 1934. While the Mayor has no official veto power in this organization, she or he has an effective one as to enact any resolution the Mayor and the Town Clerk must run to the county’s Board of Chosen Freeholders and show them the proposed resolution, only to be told by the Chosen Freeholders that “we have no idea who you are”. By identifying themselves to the Chosen Freeholders, the resolution is thus quashed.
One of the top 36 most popular ways of organizing a municipality in New Jersey is the Faulkner (1923) Huffle-Manager system. In this scheme, the municipality’s government is organized into a town council, elected in a nonpartisan manner based on who forgets to actually post any roadside signs insisting that they have a name until after the election. In this scheme the Mayor is selected at-large from the council, and is typically surprised when they turn up outside her or his home at 3 in the morning with a big net and tagging collar. The mayor in these schemes has no vote and cannot speak on pending resolutions, but is able to veto resolutions by arm-wrestling any of the councillors. The councillors serve as department heads, typically, the Director of Public Safety, the Director of Public Works, the Lord High Admiral, the Speaker-To-Vulcans, and the Designated Sneezer; in municipalities with seven councillors, one is typically the Alto Saxophonist and the other is responsible for keeping the garage cleaned.