1433. Birth of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, died 1477 before anybody could make font jokes at him, which is just as well, because after forty years of those he’d probably throw boiling serifs over the ramparts before anyone even got near him.
1551. Wait, is that just someone wandering through the background of the ‘Mister Food’s Test Kitchen’ segment on the noon news? She can’t just be wandering up to the fridge there for no reason, right? No, wait, she is. The heck? And there she goes again and Mister Food doesn’t acknowledge her at all? Oh, I guess she’s come in at the end to sample the macaroni-and-cheese he suggests people try cooking. Is it, like, her job to wander around in the TV kitchen and then eat macaroni and cheese at the end? How do I not have that job myself? Sorry, TV distracted me there.
1662. A daring attempt by that Old English letter that looks like an o with a tiny x dangling precariously on top of it to sneak back into the alphabet is foiled. An alert guard at the Tower of London notices something “funny” about the tic-tac-toe game the letter was trying to use as camouflage. But since it was the 17th century he explained his suspicions in a sentence that ran on for over 850 pages of court testimony. The letter was able to escape to Flanders and lead similar attempts to get back into the alphabet in 1717, 1896, and whenever it was they made up Unicode.
1774. Benjamin Franklin’s first, primitive, USB cable is connected to one of his stoves. Nothing much happens, causing the inventor and statesman to admit that he “didn’t know what I expected, really”. Sometimes you just get “a case of the giggles” and have to run with the idea.
1871. Henry Morton Stanley locates Dr David Livingstone, near lage Tanganyika, after a long process that I had always figured amounted to Stanley going into Africa and asking, “Hey, anybody seen any other white guys poking around?” and then following wherever they pointed. And then I heard that yeah, that’s pretty much what he actually did. And I’ve never gone to look up just how he did go searching for Livingstone because I don’t know if I’d be more annoyed if it turned out my joke actually happened or if I’d be heartbroken to learn it didn’t.
1929. Toontown’s so-called “Valentine’s Day Massacre” happens when a truckload of rapid-fire erasers falls into the hand of calendar reformers who think that we don’t have enough February in our lives.
1956. Aberdeen, Scotland, and the Malay state of Negeri Sembilan agree to end their technically never-resolved state of war dating to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. When spoilsports note that neither Aberdeen nor Negeri Sembilan had anything to do with the Austro-Prussian War to start with they were helpfully shoved into the Old North Creek. Organizers then put up a memorial there to remind everyone what happens when you go knowing actual history in front of people.
1983. After a furious round of rewrites and arguments Dan Aykroyd agrees to shift the focus of his years-in-development labor-of-love project from a quirky comedy about animal control officials over to some guys who shoot special effects at ghosts. While the new project is successful the pre-revision script kicks around Hollywood for several more years before being finally kicked out again. It’s finally picked up and made as an indie project in 2014. Goosebusters goes on to win the East Lansing Film Festival’s coveted “… The Heck Am I Even Watching” Medallion With Dabs Of Cooking Oil Grease On The Ribbon.
2001. Stern Pinball signs a license to make the popular video game Roller Coaster Tycoon into a pinball machine. This is one of the early triumphs of the game company’s “license stuff picked at random from the US Trademark Office database” program. Other successfully licensed games include: CSI, Uneeda Biscuits, the Wendy’s Where’s The Beef Multiball Frenzy Arcade Experience, Cinerama, and Bally Pinball Games: The Pinball Game.
2008. The day’s Slylock Fox mystery doesn’t draw any complaints from anyone about the solution being contrived or requiring we make assumptions like, yeah, while dogs in this world can talk and wear clothes and hold down actuarial jobs they’re nevertheless still red-green color-blind.
Thanks for asking! If you read Dick Tracy, by Joe Staton and Mike Curtis, with (I think) art support from Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher on Sundays, you know how often events happen these days. This is an attempt to keep track of what’s been going on. If it’s much later than early November 2017 when you read this, events might have gotten much more progressed. This essay might be too out of date to be useful. If that’s happened then please try out this link. If I’ve written a later story summary, it should be at or near the top of that page.
And if you’re intersted in comic strips generally please try out my mathematics blog. I talk some about the mathematically-themed comics of the week, each week, and this week was one of them.
14 August – 4 November 2017.
Crime had promised to pay last time I checked in on Dick Tracy. (Spoiler: it didn’t.) Movie-forgers Silver and Sprocket Nitrate were sprung from jail by the quite ellipsoidal Public Domain. Domain’s hired them to forge a recording that legend says Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville made on his experimental phonautograph of Abraham Lincoln. The work goes well: Silver discovers a new thrill that he wasn’t getting from film fraud anymore and hopes to do more work with Domain. Sprocket thought this was their last scam before getting out of the business. Domain thought this was a good way to get money from the matronly Bea Thorndike before leaving the Nitrates to take the rap. Bea Thorndike thought she was paying basically-good-but-emotionally-cowardly money for a recording of Abraham Lincoln asking “Is this on?” and reciting the Gettysburg Address. And Tracy thought that Silver and Sprocket Nitrate were relatives, what with their being siblings.
Then came a revelation whose significance I still don’t quite grasp. Lizz discovered that Silver and Sprocket were adopted, separately, by their film-production-scammer parents. I think the point of that revelation was to explain the Nitrates’ history. And that they grew up moving from town to town, camping out in the local theater of each mark. I guess that explains Silver knowing where to find a hidey-hole in a city theater. But I admit when I list crime-detection plot points I need justified, “villain knows a secret place to hide out a couple days” isn’t usually among them. So I don’t get why Lizz figures it’s a big revelation that they’re “merely” siblings by adoption. Or any of the backstory, really. Team Tracy understands the Nitrates’ scam pretty well, and the reader does too. The extra background is nice and interesting and humanizing. But it seems of marginal relevance to the investigation. Maybe she figured it might be something to get inside either Nitrate’s head during an interrogation. I don’t know.
Domain’s doing a good enough job getting in Sprocket Nitrate’s head anyway. He insists on her staying behind when they close the scam with Bea Thorndike. His argument: Sprocket’s hippie-ish Mother Earth stylings are too ridiculous to show to real money. These are meetings in which real grown-up people with names like “Public Domain” who look like Moai statues do serious deals. Silver Sprocket at least looks normal. He means normal for a Dick Tracy universe character. That means he could be slipped into the backglass for the 1991 Williams pinball machine The Party Zone without drawing attention. But Sprocket? Why, she goes barefoot. Silver sticks with Domain, and the promise of money. And shatters Sprocket, who spends a whole Sunday strip singing the Carpenters’ “Another Song”.
But Silver does have his skills. He talks Thorndike into paying a half-million for the recording, when Domain had been hoping for only $50,000. And I’m surprised Domain went to so much trouble when he was figuring to net at most $50,000. You know, you always hear about people leaving money on the table in business negotiations. I should see if he’ll represent me when I pick up some freelance work, in case I ever get some freelance work. (Does anyone need a lance freed? Send me a note.) And yet he only wants $20,000 of that extra, he says. He tells Sprocket how they’ll use that money to vanish.
Ace crime-fighting scientific detective Dick Tracy figures out who the Nitrates are trying to scam and how they’re doing it when his granddaughter comes in and tells him who they’re scamming and how they’re doing it. With that tip he heads to Bea Thorndike’s. So does Silver Nitrate, who’s shaken his Domain bodyguard with a phony tale of emergency dental needs. (I so expected the dentist would be the guy from Little Shop of Horrors, either version, but no. He’s just a dentist.) Silver offers Thorndike a “genuine 1857 phonautograph machine” for a mere quarter-million. She’s thrilled at the chance to fall for this, and the Nitrates get out just ahead of Dick Tracy’s arrival. Fearing they were spotted, the Nitrates make for the Lyric (movie) Theater. Silver’s got a hideout under the seats somewhere.
Tracy, having had enough of this, arrests Domain and refers to Silver Nitrate as a bunko artist, just like he was on an old-time radio detective program. I mean, he was, but it’s still delightful. Domain takes three panels to go from “I’ll never talk” to “I talked”. Tracy is soon hanging around waiting for someone to come in and tell him where the Nitrates are.
Silver Nitrate hides out, looking for some way to pass the time waiting for the new movie to start its run. The movie is Midnite Mirror. It’s based on a fictional series-within-the-strip based on Dick Tracy that isn’t Fearless Fosdick. Silver takes up “making the theater staff think the place is haunted”. It’s a fun pastime, but carries a high risk of attracting meddling kids. But he fools some human-form cameos from Mike Curtis’s longrunning Shanda the Panda comic book.
On a coffee run, Sprocket Nitrate cute-meets Adam Austin. He’s the renowned author of the Midnite Mirror book. And he’s what might happen if Funky Winkerbean‘s Les Moore were ever to deserve not getting that smirk knocked off his silly face. She is full-on smitten. They make a date to the premiere of Midnite Mirror: The Motion Picture. She agrees to wear shoes for the event. The most open shoes ever, basically a couple of straps looped around each other, but still, shoes. Silver is aghast.
Tracy takes a moment to reassure Bea Thorndike that many people have fallen for even dumber scams than this one. Ace crime-fighting scientific detective Dick Tracy figures out where Silver Nitrate is hiding, when the guy Silver Nitrate contacted for help fleeing the country tells Tracy where Silver Nitrate is hiding. The squad closes in on the Lyric Theater and makes ready to nab the bunko artist. And that takes us to this week’s action.
As you see, it’s been a straightforward plot. There’s no baffling motivations or deeply confusing networks of double-crossing to turn the story to chaos. Well, Silver Nitrate keeps changing his story about what he’s doing. But it makes sense he’d tell whoever he’s talking to what they were hoping to hear. Note how he told Sprocket he planned to do more scams with Domain and, after she didn’t want to do that, how he was going to take the $20,000 and vanish.
Tracy hasn’t really done much detecting on-screen. I suppose there’s something to having a good net of informants and identifying relevant gossip quickly. But that does mean the two big driving revelations were things he learned by not covering his ears and shouting “LA LA LA LA I CAN NOT HEAR YOU” is all.
There have been threads of other stories. Let me see if I’ve got all the major ones.
Speaking of Mister Bribery, the crime boss has checked in on his niece Ugly Crystal at finishing school. She’s learned much. She can cover her eyes so as to make her nostrils and lips look like a very tiny face, and she can blow out multiple precisely-aligned candles using a slug from a slingshot. So she’s ready for a life of super-crime. (the 4th and 5th of October).
And most intriguingly: the person you get by making Buster Crabbe and Alley Oop share a transporter pod has landed a Space Coupe in a derelict farm outside the city. He’s taken out a box of “old currency” and hopes to find “our errant moonling”. (the 18th through 20th of October)
Nothing’s been said about the suspected haunting of the B O Plenty residence. Crime Boss Posie Ermine hasn’t apparently done anything about recovering his daughter, brainwashed into the Second Moon Maid. I will count the appearance of Buster Oop as an update on the Lunarian who visited an Antarctic valley in investigation of the Second Moon Maid.
I’ll keep you updated in case anything breaks on these plots. Meanwhile, I encourage you to find someone who will call you “my errant moonling”. You deserve such luxuries in your life.
So we begin with the Ken Russell’s 1975 documentary Tommy about the pinball cult growing out of Roger Daltrey mostly not looking directly at stuff. The cult was going great with people showing up at pinball holiday camps right up to the point they were expected to play pinball. I agree some of those old electromechanical games were brutal, but the mass riots were overreacting. Not really sure what they were expecting. They were expecting free love, by which “they” I mean “guys” and by which “free love” I mean “women don’t get to say no”.
Thing is, it was a worldwide utopian cult. The movie only shows one getting rioted into oblivion. But they showed the giant world map with light bulbs for all the camps all over the place. That sort of stuff doesn’t die easily. Not if you’ve reached the point you have a giant world map with light bulbs. When you’ve got past where you can do a poster from Staples with push-pins you’ve got too much momentum for one day to bring you down. There’s going to be true believers who aren’t going to be shaken off. They’re going to gather somewhere. So it’ll be in some place just rural enough that they can afford the property taxes, but just urban enough that people who want to join the utopian cult can rest assured if the free love doesn’t work out they can still find a department store.
So we follow one in I’m going to go ahead and say west Michigan. A bunch of dreamers who figured they were gonna take it, and go on having pinball contests for tourists who wonder why it doesn’t look like it did in the movie. “We’re fundraising to build a garish arena,” the guides would say. “We’ve almost got enough to build a shoe.” The tourists look on, wondering why the competition still doesn’t look quite like the movie. “Have you had anything at our snack bar?” the guide tries to direct people. “It’s quite good.” It isn’t, but it’s cheap and what, you’re going to schlep all the way to Ludington for lunch?
Anyway, they would offer “silverball” hoagies. They’re meatballs tinted silver. Well, they’re vegetarian meatballs, made of cracked wheat or something late-70s like that. They do something to so it seems exactly like meat when the right person makes it, and just an exotic substance someone can put in their mouth if they choose to, whenever anyone else makes it. Comes with cheese and, if you also buy a roll of color film, a 15-cent discount. Also, yes, baked beans, but you mark yourself as a total doof if you ask for them.
The color comes from a shocking amount of colloidal silver dosed into the “meat” balls, and eventually results in an investigation by the state into just what they’re doing buying that many boxes of dragees and grinding them up. “We don’t eat them regularly, we just feed them to strangers!” is the embarrassing quote that makes every statewide TV station during the 1985 trial for whatever the heck they were up to. The cult gets vindicated when the jury establishes that no, nobody takes the dragees off a cookie or cake before eating it, why would you do that? But it’s a blow to the cult’s attempts to get out of the “free love” image. Figures.
And there’s schisms, of course, because there always are. Electromechanical versus solid-state, obviously, because the early solid state games are totally different from electromechanical pinball machines in ways that are obvious to someone who’s not a pinball aficionado, what with the solid state games having electronic buzzing noises instead of bells. And then I bet when they got into modern games, with dot-matrix displays and complicated rule sets. Let me explain that to people who aren’t pinball fanatics: these are pinball terms. They mean things.
So I figure this gets to the present day, when the unleashing of the new Star Wars game — a game of such unbridled complexity that the only response to it is to sit down and weep some — the camp decides, yes, they’ve done all they can do. It’s time to close up. The last days of the last utopian pinball cult present scenes of such John McPhee-esque piquancy that they’re not even remotely pleasant to read.
My beta readers described it as “I guess what we were getting in for when we let you know we picked up that Murakami book we never did read” and “shocklingly involved arguments about whether it’s ethical to tilt your own ball away as seen from the perspectives of different decades so I guess that’s a thing?”, so hey, I’m in a good place now!
I’m sorry, Uncle Albert, but I’ve been stuck thinking about something I witnessed when I was getting my car registration renewal and license plate tags at the Secretary of State office nearby. I avoided any embarrassing presumptions about what one might or might not do at a Secretary of State office. What’s interesting is as I was leaving, a woman came storming out, telling her companion, “My license is suspended — indefinitely!” And he then made this into my favorite genre of accidentally overheard conversation, People Telling Other People They Totally Have To Get A Lawyer. “They can’t do that to you. You should get a lawyer.”
“I haven’t even been in trouble,” she went on to explain, “not since I got those three tickets in one day.” And he agreed that this was outrageous and he bet any lawyer would love to take the case, since this could get a million-dollar settlement. “I’m not even dealing anymore!” And that’s when I realized that I was one of the background characters in the establishing scene of a comedy about a couple people who are about 75 percent capable of handling the caper they’re about to undertake.
So I want to know what the plot is, and whether the movie turns out to be any good. I think I’d make a great background character in this sort of story, what with how I have nice expressive eyebrows and always look like I don’t know why I was brought in to this meeting.
I realize we have bigger problems right now. But I’m stuck on this one: how is it that we, as a society, never made the movie Face/Off 2? The original was a popular yet dumb thing featuring people we weren’t really tired of on screen while stuff blowed up. And we were sated by this? Huh? In fact, up to this paragraph didn’t you just assume someone had made a Face/Off 2 that you never paid attention to?
I’m not sure what exactly the bigger, dopier, somewhat less likable sequel would be, but I imagine Face/Off 2: Facier/Offier would need to take any of the many chances to be more preposterous. Since it would have to come out in the late 90s I bet there’d be some hilarious Internet component to it. Like, there’s some info-highway site where criminals of all kinds can upload their faces for downloading onto other bodies to commit face-crimes, and John Travolta has to go on a cyber-hunt through a 3-D rendering of a Sears portrait studio to find the master computer allowing all this, before the super-villain — I’m guessing Jon Voight — can merge with the Y2K bug, and there’s a climactic scene where his face blends with a polygon rendering of Jon Voight’s face in the end? And a lot of other stuff blows up. Somehow we did not make this movie, and how did we not? Someone has to explain something to somebody else, is what I’m saying.
I suppose this is properly speaking a dream. But it’s a cryptic note from the dream world. It was mostly just a “graphitic content” warning for the dream to come. I’m excited by what that means. My guess is some of those neat charcoal-sketch animation like you see in Disney cartoons from back in the 70s that nobody cares about, or cared about when they were making them. I like the aesthetic.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index popped up seven points today as some leftover chocolates were found and the whole trading floor agreed that things just don’t get better than this.
Remember back when the world was young and Star Trek IV: The One With The Whales first came out in theaters? Me too. There’s this scene where Kirk and Spock are riding a bus because it’s the mid-80s, and there’s this young punk playing annoying music too loud. So Spock neck-pinches him, and he falls over, knocking his boombox off. Everyone on the bus applauds because, hey, so far as they can tell this man wearing a bathrobe in public has choked a kid to death for being snotty! And everyone watching the scene chuckles too because, hey, don’t we all want to choke the youth to death? Yes.
What’s haunted me, as an annoying Star Trek fan, is the lyrics for the punk’s music. They run like this:
Just where is the future, the things we’ve done and said
Let’s just push the button, we’d be better off dead
‘Cause I hate you, and I berate you
And I can’t wait to get to you too
The sins of all the fathers been dumped on us, the sons,
The only choice we’re given is how many megatons?
Thing is, in the universe of Star Trek, that kid on the bus is less than a decade away from the Third World War. So is whatever British Punk Band That Works “Berate” Into Its Chorus that recorded the song. (In the full version they let “eschew” into the verse. My music tastes run more towards “sounds like that theremin’s calving”, but I can appreciate solid punk writing when I hear it.) And I keep thinking: what did that kid, and what did that band, think later on when The Bombs were falling?
(Yes, yes, I am very aware that as this was an Original Series movie the Third World War that bus punk would experience was explicitly non-nuclear. It was conventional warfare that killed 37 million people and that’s better I guess? It wasn’t until the more optimistic and utopian Next Generation that they rescheduled the Third World War to the mid-21st-century and killed over a half billion people.)
We’ve been thinking about a civilization-wrecking nuclear war for a long time. Or at least we’ve been thinking we’re thinking about it. We don’t really picture nuclear destruction, though. We don’t even picture ordinary destruction. What we imagine is a tense half-hour listening to news anchors trying to keep it together while the camera keeps drifting off-center, and the newsroom is weirdly quiet apart from off-camera voices sometimes shouting. Also taking phone calls from estranged friends with last-minute repentances for wronging us. Good luck those getting through. Even if the phone lines weren’t jammed apparently we’d all be having consequence-free sex with people we’d never see again anyway? Or so you all might. I’d be busy trying to download my Twitter archive so I could re-read some choice digs I got in on someone back in May.
We’ve got vague thoughts about what happens after, too. Post-apocalypse planning works out to be thinking we’ll get to pick the best stuff out of the landscape. Maybe go into business as a local warlord, trading supplies and shelter with trustworthy-looking stragglers. This from people who can’t handle there not being a dividing bar on the checkout conveyor belt at the farmer’s market. What if the guy ahead of us gets my two bunches of curly parsley? These aren’t the thoughts of someone up for handling the thirtieth day in a row of eating cream-of-celery soup. It was the only thing left that better scavengers didn’t get to first at the Neighborhood Market that mostly sold cell phone cards and lottery tickets. It’s reconstituted using water from where the now-former paint factory is leaking toluene into the aquifer. And it’s cold.
We’d need help, that’s all there is to it. And I don’t know what to do. On my bookshelf alone I have enough World War II books to teach how to win the war, except for how to fight. But they all end with lots of people in rubble-strewn cities. Even the ones about the postwar situation skim over what there is to do in it. There’s dramatic photos and talk about people clearing away rubble. Then it’s 1948 (for Europe) or 1950 (for Japan) and the United States decides the rubble cities should have an economy again. That’s over three years of people clearing away rubble. They had a lot of rubble, yes. But they also had to agree on where to put the rubble. And that takes social organization. And I don’t know where that comes from either.
This may be controversial, but I say ending civilization and destroying the world is a bad move. We should tough out our problems as they are and try fixing what we can. Thanks to YouTube you’ve seen all the footage of news anchors trying not to lose it that you could possibly need, and it’s about the same every time. Trust your estranged friends when they drop hints that they’d take an apology happily. Drop your estranged friends a hint that you’d take an apology happily. Stop looking for consequence-free stuff to do with or to people. For me, I’m going on TrekBBS to yell that they do not build the whale tank out of transparent aluminum. They build it out of the six-inch-thick plexiglass they traded the transparent aluminum formula for. Come on, people, watch the movie you’re watching. We can at least get that right.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index fell eleven points today as traders started getting all giddy thinking about how they used to be at, like, 80 points and now they’re up so way high nobody can even see 100 or even 200 anymore, which doesn’t sound at all like the sort of hubristic declaration that leads to incredible pain.
I’m going to get my review of what was popular and why around here in June soon. I’m just thrown off my game yet again, this time by the local noon news. Yesterday during the weather reports they tossed in mentions of the ultraviolet index and then some reports about what to expect for people “going to mid-Michigan beaches” and now I’m stuck pondering that. I mean, there are some right fine beaches, fully equipped with large bodies of water and sand that’s too hot to actually be comfortable on and, in select cases, carousels to ride that are accessible from mid-Michigan. But they’re, like, on Lake Michigan, which is mid-Michigan in about the same way that Ocean City, Maryland, is in South Jersey. At least so it seems to me. But after the multi-part fiasco that was my just talking about Michigan’s Secretary of State offices when I got my license plate tags last year maybe I shouldn’t say anything with too much certainty. I could end up looking quite the fool again.
The index rose eleven points despite investor anger at seeing a DVD of Bambi in the store with a note on it that Rotten Tomatoes certifies the movie Fresh. “What the flipping heck,” they would cry out, not in unison. “Bambi gets a Rotten Tomatoes sticker like it’s flipping Monster Trucks or something? What is wrong with the world like this?!” It’s hard to know what to say.
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.
I’m running late on stuff this week. I always am, which raises questions about the use of “late” as a concept. Never mind. For this week I blame that I got to reading an article about the 70s Disaster Movie genre. And that lead me to the 1976 spoof of the 70s Disaster Movie genre, The Big Bus. There’s many shocking things about this, starting with the idea that 70s Disaster Movies were somehow not already their parodies. The difference between The Towering Inferno and SCTV’s spoof of The Towering Inferno is mostly that the SCTV version opens with fewer scenes of the violently 1970s lobby of the doomed building. I mean, the Towering Inferno lobby looks great in a 1974 way. It’s only hard to watch because of thinking how it would look if it were a real building. I can’t see it without imaginaing what soul-destroying monstrosity it would have decayed by 1988, before its mid-90s renovation into something too lacking in personality even to be ugly.
Also startling: I remember nothing of this movie (The Big Bus) even though it seems like it should have been filling space whenever channels needed to have a movie throughout the early 80s. Yes, yes, Airplane! seems to have been as much spoof as the whole 70s Disaster Movie genre ever needed, in case we were taking it seriously, but between Airplane! and Airplane II! that’s only like four hours of programming. Even the rudimentary cable channels of the 80s needed as much as six hours before going over to “weird foreign cartoons” and “public domain Three Stooges shorts”.
Wikipedia describes the movie in fascinating detail. The plot summary makes it sound like the movie was trying about three times too hard and on all the wrong subjects. It comes out sounding whimsical in the way a gigantic iron woolly mammoth in a potato sack race across a field strewn with creme pies is: my metaphor is trying way too hard to cram in funny-flavored stuff.
Also, per Wikipedia: look at that movie poster. That’s your classic style, the kind of poster they don’t make anymore. Back then, movies were still mysterious things and we audiences just wouldn’t go to it if we didn’t have some proof that there were actors in the movie, as demonstrated by passport photos or, better, caricatured illustrations of the principal actors. Today movie poster style has moved on to showing abstract patterns of shadow and light, possibly featuring ruins where the villain blew up the plot. And that’s fine and stylish as far as it goes, but then you get surprises like last year where Star Trek Beyond turned out to be 105 minutes of kaleidoscope patterns and then a four-minute scene of Spock and McCoy trash-talking each other. Not saying it wasn’t good. I’m saying, back in the day, we’d get a big old grid of Actor Face staring out at us.
Then where I get permanently hung up by the Wikipedia article is in the sections about the movie’s production. Specifically this:
According to articles in 1976 issues of both Motor Trend magazine and the now defunct Bus World magazine
I’m sorry, I can’t finish that sentence or anything else, really. I’m assuming that Bus World was a trade publication for the large-person-road-transport industry. But it would be only eight percent stranger if it weren’t. What if it was a fan magazine? Don’t tell me there aren’t bus fans. There are fans of everything, including fandoms. What kind of journal was Bus World, though?
The difference between a trade journal and a fan magazine is in how they spin the articles. The point of a fan magazine is to follow up every bit of news with the question, “Will the industry ever manage to be more awesome than this?” The answer is, “No way, but we’re looking forward to them trying”. The point of a trade journal is to follow up every bit of news with the question, “Will the industry be able to recover from this?”. The answer is, “Conceivably, but likely not”. I don’t know that there are fan magazines for trade journals, but I hope there are. Also I hope there are trade journals for the fan magazine business, because the politics involved in everything would be awesome.
What do I hope the reality of the now-defunct Bus World was? I don’t know, and I’m too busy pondering that.
In short: Bus World.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index dropped another five points today which we’re willing to blame on that Access World/London Metals Exchange/zinc warehousing scandal. It’s probably good for another couple of points off the Another Blog, Meanwhile index. Just you wait and see.
If you’re like my wife and I you respond to a pretty snappy troll about the movie Blank Check by thinking of mid-90s monkey-based movie product Dunston Checks In. Naturally we looked it up on Wikipedia and found this under the “Reception” section:
The film had received overwhelming negative reviews from critics, and holds a 6% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite this, the film received positive reviews from several professional film reviewers, Desson Howe and Rita Kempley of The Washington Post referred to the film by saying “It ain’t half bad,” and “Plucky, prank-filled family farce” respectively. Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times stated that ‘Dunston Checks In’ “is a delightful and funny family film of exceptional high style.”, “as light as a souffle and just as delicious.”, and “plays like a tribute to the resourceful, unpretentious studio productions of the past.” giving the film five out of five stars. According to an article published in the Chicago Tribune, “The cast is talented, the hide-and-seek action is silly, and the bond between a sweet little boy and the adorable ape is touching.” Faye Dunaway’s performance in the film and in The Chamber earned her a Stinkers Bad Movie Award nomination and a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actress. The film was also nominated at the 18th Youth in Film Awards (Young Artist Awards) for Best Family Feature Film: Musical or Comedy, and Eric Lloyd for Best Performance in a Feature Film – Actor Age Ten or Under. The film was successful at the box office in India, where it was dubbed as Ek Bandar Hotel Ke Andar.
Are we correct to read this, especially that copy-editing mess that is the Kevin Thomas statement, as the syntactically-scarred battleground of an edit war between factions who insist Dunston Checks In was critically acclaimed and ones who insist Dunston Checks In was not? Also, either Wikipedia doesn’t mention it or else Dunston Checks In has somehow not spawned a complicated cinematic universe of like twelve direct-to-DVD sequels you never heard of but get tangled up with the universes of Air Bud or Alpha and Omega or something like that. Is that a relief or somehow a weird shame? Didn’t The Land Before Time get so many sequels the last one was about the dinosaurs at the Battle of Manzikert or something? Please show your work.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile slid sideways four points today, but since we haven’t any way of measuring that it remains at the same old 116 as last time.
So you know that extreme ping-pong sport where the competitors and table are all suspended from a beam extended from a skyscraper, far above ground? Sure, we’re all interested in that. OK, so apparently the dream world wants me to see a documentary about the crews that set up and test the harness and frames to make the game safe and playable. Including some daring footage of how they lasso a steel beam to get the first elements installed. And I’m not all that bothered by heights, but you want to see people tossing cables out to grab a steel beam 400 feet up some North Korean(?) skyscraper and I’m starting to get nervous.
The dream also included some relevant segments from one of those odd little 20-minute making-of documentaries narrated by that deep-voiced guy which they used to make for 60s and 70s films so that … decades in the future Turner Classic Movies would have some filler. I don’t know what their business model was. Anyway, they included clips from that because a lot of the fundamental technology for skyscraper-suspended ping-pong was developed for the famous(?) zipline sequence of John Wayne’s Chisum, a movie that I will now go my entire life without seeing, thank you very much.
I understand it might be odd to make a life choice, including a small one like whether to ever see Chisum, on the basis of a dream like that. But it was a documentary in my dream and therefore must be accurate.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index rose twelve points today out of fears that — wait, no, it doesn’t rise on fears. It rises on hopes. Must have got something caught in the copy filter. Let’s try again. The index rose twelve points today out of hopes that there were grasshoppers in the basement and getting up higher would avoid the issue. Ah, yes, I see where the ‘fears’ comes in then. Some people are just afraid of grasshoppers, is all. That’s normal-ish. Carry on.
With the upcoming Valentine’s Day it’s worth reviewing some proper romantic gestures. Before attempting a romantic gesture check with your physician and stretch all major muscle groups. Also have your otolith examined. While there are few ear bones whose health is really necessary for romantic gesturing how often have you ever called off work because of an otolith appointment? Exactly and now you’ll never be happy again until you have. I’m sorry. Check on some minor muscle groups if that helps you feel better.
And to preface the rest of this: don’t listen to me for romantic gesture advice. I’m the sort of person who checks book stores to see if they have a new history of the containerized cargo industry because then I might own three books about it. I once gave my love a video game file for a present. In my defense, it was for Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, a game my love describes as “as good as we can hope for since they never ported Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 to the Mac”. It was a pretty good roller coaster too.
Romantic gestures are fundamentally simple. Think of the person you want to gesture at. Don’t wave! You haven’t checked that they’re not in a spot where you might hit them in the face by accident. There’s not a good time to hit a romantic partner in the face, but the immediate run-up to Valentine’s Day is a bad one. It sends the mixed messages of “I like how your body feels and wish to feel it more often and, indeed, right now” with “swiftly, and without your even suspecting my intentions”. Why so swift? “Because I have to get back to reading this thing on the Internet”? Your partner knows better. The Internet is the place we spend all our time and attention reading things, none of which is important.
Anyway, think of your partner. Now think of a thing your partner enjoys. Now think of a way to do a lot of that thing. Not too much! Having some restraint is important, especially if you’re, like me, a guy. The normal failure mode for guy thinking is to take something pleasant and then do so much of it that somebody weeps. That’s fine if we’re talking about contests where you drink mustard until someone’s tongue shrivels up and falls off. It’s not all right if we’re talking about giving your partner so many roses that it explodes, scattering the faint scent of good wishes over the entire Eastside. This will leave the roads all slick and make the evening commute an impossible mess. So if you do want to go ahead and destroy a loved one’s house with excessively many roses do it when Valentine’s Day in on a weekend so the evening rush doesn’t take the brunt of the chaos.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, think of a movie you and your loved one have seen together. Then get that on some shiny disc. This lets you remember how you enjoyed being together watching a movie like this. And since you’ve already seen the movie you aren’t going to have to make the time to watch the shiny disc. Which is good since nobody’s had the time to watch a movie since 2009. The bookshelves are starting to groan under the weight of still-wrapped copies of The Tale of Desperaux and whatever else you have fond unchecked memories of. The point when they collapse will be excessive and someone may weep, so I guess that satisfies the need to do something guy-ish with the holiday after all.
Warning! One time I tried this, picking a bunch of used DVDs for movies we’d seen. My concept was that since these were experiences my love and I had already had it was only fitting that they be used discs. Do you get it? I had to explain this in a two-hour presentation using charts and a guest speaker and it got from my love the romantic statement that my argument that this was a romantic gesture was logically valid without making any statement about whether it was sound. It would’ve had greater impact if I had made pretend roller coasters out of them.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index dropped nine points, nine points mind you, because everybody realized they forgot it was open-mike poetry night and got a little panicky while trying to work out a reaction.
What’s on TV when I’m feeling a little lonely and drifting between channels as they in turn disappoint me.
Oh No, The Contractors Sent The Wrong Kitchen Cabinets. As seen in the lounge at the Toyota dealership waiting for the mysterious tire-pressure problem to be diagnosed as “mysterious” and “something to do with the beads”. Charmingly white couple buy a house and then demolish all its interior surfaces. Then they wait for the contractors to do something wrong, usually with the kitchen cabinets. Sometimes it’s simple: they send cabinets too big for the house, ones that overflow the kitchen, the dining area, the living room, and reach out into the street, proving a hazard to taller traffic. Sometimes it’s also simple: they send cabinets too small. These wrong cabinets could fit one of those old-style coffee mugs grandma had, the ones that are smaller than the teaspoons you’d stir sugar into them in. Most often they’re the wrong shade of white, shades of white that the TV show host says he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy. He seems in earnest. They’re going to have to make severe cuts in their $625,000 renovation budget, which means they use a cheaper tile for the splash area behind the kitchen counter.
That’s A Lot Of Informercial About Some Collapsible Ladder Thing. And it’s on like half the channels? What even is this?
Rebooted Season Of A Cartoon I Liked In The 90s. Oh, it’s Flash-animated now. And they redesigned the characters so they all look like they were caught in an airport baggage carousel and squashed flat by one of those weird huge cardboard boxes taped shut that someone has on every flight somehow. Also they changed two of the voice actors. And they can say “poop” now, or maybe have to. And everybody’s a lot meaner than they were before. Raises questions about whether the original was quite this obviously gender-essentialist too. Or was it just obliviously sexist? Were we that awful in the 90s? A quick check. YouTube has an episode of the original, only the proportions are weird and there’s some unearthly station logo in two corners. Yeah, the original kinda was. Should not have checked.
Two Guys Laughing At How They Totally Said A Thing. They’ve got a great show tonight and their first guest will be Seth Rogan, they say, evincing a confidence in the inevitability of events that doesn’t seem less obnoxious to me just because it was true, since they taped the episode this evening and now know how things turned out.
Old Timey Movie With Actors I Kind Of Recognize From Bugs Bunny Cartoons. Black and white. Something about a man and a woman who live in San Francisco and have a wonderful time even though they go to bed wearing more clothes than we use today to venture to Antarctica. Features numerous montages during which they walk though multiple-exposure scenes and don’t make eye contact with anything, especially not each other. Also even the driver gets into the car from the passenger’s side. I think maybe one of them is trying to kill the other, possibly because the other thinks the first is trying to kill them and it seems like a violation of trust not to reciprocate. Worth watching for how well everybody articulates in the middle of a heated life-or-death fight.
Simpsons Episode All About A Character I Never Saw Before. I guess he got to be important after I kind of forgot to watch regularly again? Also did Homer always get battered like this in the old days? And deserve even more injury?
History Explored By Wide-Eyed Astonished Guys. Might be about the fabled “Money Pit” of Oak Island. Might be about that World War II plan to make icebergs into aircraft carriers. Might be about the shooting of President Garfield. Doesn’t matter. A couple of guys have eager interviews to do with experts who’ve heard there’s an artifact related to it somewhere in the area. And when they ask another expert they hear about how it’s totally the case that artifacts are things that exist after historical events. Someone at the historical society confirms that historical events happened and some of them even involved other places than the historical society building. The hunt for the artifact drives them to hold up grainy old photographs in front of new buildings and then go inside. The building is being renovated. The floors are all torn up. None of the people working on it know anything about the historical event but they say they didn’t see anything suspicious, just some water-damaged old floorboards. There’s a subbasement they can crawl into if they like, though, and the wide-eyed astonished guys think that’s even more awesome than their old tree fort. I bet the contractors are about to deliver the wrong cabinets. It would be just like them.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
Traders brought the Another Blog, Meanwhile index up nine points today when they settled on that old-timey movie as the thing to watch. There’s this surprisingly tense scene where a wind-up toy dog is walking off towards the woman hiding in the closet and they don’t make movies like that anymore.
I’m still in an old-time radio mood. So here’s a 1941 installment of Fibber McGee and Molly. The show’s got great name recognition, if allusions to it on Mystery Science Theater 3000 are any guide. Granted, by that standard, Averell Harriman still has great name recognition.
But it’s of historical importance. The show was one of those that created the situation-comedy genre. As often the case with those that create a form it doesn’t have the form quite right. The show tends to have very loose plots, to the extent it has plots at all. There’s typically just a gimmick for the episode and then riffing around that. The bunch of wacky neighbors and friends come on, usually one at a time, to add their riffs, and then after 25 minutes of this, two musical numbers, and a minute spent praising Johnson’s Wax, something ends the situation. It hardly seems like the same sort of entertainment as, say, Arrested Development.
But I think it’s of more than just historic importance, at least in some episodes. The one I’ve picked here, “Leaving for Hollywood” and originally run the 24th of June, 1941, closed out the broadcast season. It’s built on the McGees closing up their house and saying goodbye to everyone because they’re off to Hollywood for the summer … to make one of the movies based on the Fibber McGee and Molly show. The movie, Look Who’s Laughing (mentioned in the show as the Old-Timer worries about the title) featured most of the radio program’s cast in a story that intersects with Lucille Ball and Edgar-Bergen-and-Charlie-McCarthy and some story about the town’s airstrip.
And there is something almost strikingly modern. We have the fictional conceit that we’re listening to the stuff happening to the McGees and their acquaintances. And yes, it breaks the fourth wall a couple times each episode for the needs of commerce or just to let Jim Jordan get in a good side crack. But here’s a story all about winding up the “real” affairs of the McGees for long enough to let them make a movie about themselves. It’s a weird blending of layers of fiction. I don’t think the 1941 audience was confused or blown away by this; it just feels too natural that the listeners are in on the artifice of the show. (Note the biggest laugh of the episode is one that subverts the show’s best-remembered joke. And its next-most-famous running gag appears just to be mocked too.) I imagine someone listening to the show for the first time would find nothing surprising about the structure, except maybe for the conceit that perfectly good half-hour radio comedies should be adapted into 80-minute movies with far too much plot and nothing happening. It’s only weird if you stop and point it out, which I hope you see now that I have.
Minor note: the second musical number within the show, about 19:30 in, is the Kingsmen singing “The Reluctant Dragon”, based on the Disney partly-animated Robert Benchley vehicle and that’s fun.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
So here we are, trying out reporting just the breakaway alternate Another Blog, Meanwhile Index and that’s up two points from where it was yesterday. And I don’t want to say anything to the traders who are trying to work out why it is there’s been no divergence in the indices since they split off all that while ago. But I will say that based on what I have they’re in for a nasty surprise regarding today’s mainstream index returns.
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped three points back to 100, which it’s been seeing a lot. However, the mainstream traders explained they figured dropping by three would finally shake off the copycat alternate traders. The alternate traders, meanwhile, had the same idea and their Another Blog, Meanwhile index also dropped by three points. You’d think this would help encourage talk of reconciliation between the groups but so far that’s not getting anywhere.
So let’s say it’s a 1930s cartoon. Is it actually legally required to include an Al Jolsen “Mammy” hook? Let’s find out.
The cartoon is from Ub Iwerks’s Flip the Frog series. Iwerks was one of those great cartoonists and inventors to orbit Walt Disney. With Disney he was able to create Mickey Mouse as well as some of the lesser characters like Clarabelle Cow. And he had a knack for technical innovation, with the live-action/animation effects of Song of the South his doing. Outside Disney’s orbit, Iwerks … well, you can see. The cartoon’s from his own studio. And it’s technically proficient, smooth and competent in a way not common in 1931 except from Disney studios. And there’s fun in it, but it is slow-paced. Could use stronger editing. I imagine if it ran five minutes this could be a really solid cartoon.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
Well, the index dropped another eight points over the day and isn’t that just like it? There’s no sense of gratitude, of loyalty in this business anymore. Many traders say it’s a different world from the one they started in. They don’t see where the old mores even fit in anymore.