Here are some things worth explaining about the 1980s, or that are getting explanation anyway.
The decade was heralded by an argument between seven-year-olds who were friends, yes. But the question was whether the year following nineteen-seventy-nine would be nineteen-eighty or whether it would be nineteen-seventy-ten. And whether the decade would have to get all the way up to nineteen-seventy-ninety-nine before it flipped over to nineteen-eighty. The party taking the nineteen-seventy-ten side was very cross at the calendar-makers for not leaving the matter up to the public to dedide.
The President had a press spokesman whose name was Larry Speakes, and it seemed like it was amusing that he had a first and last name that sounded like you were describing what your friend Larry did for his job. His middle name was ‘Melvin’, but nobody could come to an agreement about what it was to Melvin a thing, or whether ‘Larry Melvin’ was a credible name. There was similar but baffled delight when we noticed that Buzz Aldrin’s mother’s maiden name was ‘Moon’. This was very important because lists of trivia about people and their names could point out that Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon. And while it’s possible he walked on his mother, we’re pretty sure she wasn’t a maiden when he did it. There was also a bit of a flap about how if you took Neil Armstrong’s name and discarded the ‘rmstrong’ part, and then spelled it backwards, you got ‘Alien’. This seemed like it ought to have something to do with his job, although by the 1980s, Neil Armstrong’s job was “chair of a company that made drilling rigs”. This seems highly significant.
Although we had pop culture, it was seen as really swell to make a kid version of popular. Looney Tunes as kids. The Flintstone Kids. Scooby Doo, but a puppy. The trend reached its peak with the 1989-90 Muppet Babies Kids, the exciting follow-up adventures to the animated adventures of the toddler versions of the live-action-ish Muppets. The show was a computer game, because why not? You know? Why not?
With the advent of the pizza-on-a-bagel American society finally handled the imaginary problem of not being able to get pizza anytime. But by putting pizza-related toppings on a bagel we did finish off the problem of bagels not being terrible. I think the problem is bagels had just got introduced outside the New York City metro area. I mean, there was a little stretch in the late 30s when Fred Allen was talking about them. But that was in joking about people who mistook bagels for doughnuts as part of the surprisingly existent controversy about dunking doughnuts in coffee. So explaining them as a pizza-foundation technology let people understand bagels in terms of things we had already accepted, like putting pizza on French bread. Also we could put pizza on the bottom halves of French bread. We don’t know what was done with the top halves. There’s an excellent chance someone at French Bread Pizza headquarters is going to open a forgotten cabinet door one day and get buried under forty years’ worth of abandoned French bread tops. People will call for rescue, but however many times they explain it to 9-1-1 the dispatch operator hangs up.
We had movies, back then. They were a lot like movies today, except everybody’s cars were shoddier. I mean, not that they were 80s cars, although they were, but they were more broken-down 80s cars than you’d get in a movie set in the 80s now. It was part of the legacy of 70s New Hollywood. We might have gotten rid of the muddy sound and action heroes that looked like Walter Matthau, but we were going to keep the vehicles looking downtrodden until 1989. And there was usually a subplot about smugglers who’re after some stolen heroin diamonds. Anyway, when going to the movies it was very funny to observe the theater had, like, six or even eight whole screens. For example, you could say “I’m going to the Route 18 Googolplex” to describe how amazing it was you might see any of four different films that were starting in the same 45-minute stretch of time.
The decade closed with an argument between seven-year-olds about whether the following year was nineteen-eighty-ten or not. These were different seven-year-olds from before. It would have been a bit odd otherwise. You’d think they would have remembered.
Some well-intended but dumb schemes were under way last time I checked in. Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen’s family transferred him from New Thayer to Milford when his old gang of friends went bad. The gang got into vandalism, burglary, assaulting Jansen for ditching them, that sort of thing. Jansen’s family had rented but not used an apartment to give Jansen a technical address in Milford. Joe Bolek, that kid who wants to talk about the cinema, figured to help. Record the New Thayer gang beating up on Jansen and boom, Coach Thorp will be glad to let him stay on the team, right?
Coach Gil Thorp sees the video and doesn’t really seem to care. Whoever it is decides these things rules that Jansen’s eligible, so, he plays. With the note that he might transfer back after a year when the seniors in the gang graduate. And Joe Bolek goes meeting up with Kelly Thorp. Both are glad to know someone else who’s interested in Movie Nerd stuff. Gil Thorp is a good partner, but his interest in movies is that they’re important to his wife. That’s great, but a primary interest is still different.
Monday, the 10th of December, opened the new plot. Its main action promised to be glorious and it has been holding up. It’s a sequel, and to a storyline from before I started doing regular recaps. That’s all right. The text fills in all the backstory you need.
It opens with a young man buying space on two billboards. So right away you know it’s a 20-something-year-old who actually falls for the billboard company ads about “See? Made you look!” or “our texts go to the whole Milford area”. Still, it’s exciting. The “Billboard Advertising: It Works” sign comes down, a month before reaching its six-year anniversary. The replacement message: “Is Mediocre Good Enough?” And with that bold demand on the commuters of Milford … nothing happens and nobody much cares.
The other plot thread. It’s basketball season. Milford’s off to an indifferent, one might say mediocre, start. And guard Nate Filion is having a bad time of it. He’s not hanging out with the other basically well-meaning if dumb kids on the team. Or much of anything else. And the billboard takes on a new message: “Don’t Our Kids Deserve Better?”
Filion’s teachers get worried. All that seems to engage him is quoting That 70s Show. That’s no way for a healthy teen to live. Thorp prods a bit, but can’t get anything. And then the billboard goes to its newest message: “Save the Kids — Fire Gil Thorp”, and includes a link to the blog of Robby Howry. Also his podcast. Howry explains his motives to a reporter for the Milford Star who turns out not to be Marty Moon. I don’t know the reporter’s name. You can tell he’s not Marty Moon because his hair is a little different and Marty Moon’s sideburns don’t grow down to join his goatee. I don’t keep doing the six-differences puzzles in Slylock Fox for nothing.
Howry explains to the reporter that he was more than an equipment manager, he was “unofficial assistant coach” for Thorp years ago. And that his conscience would not allow him to let Milford “wallow in mediocrity” any longer. And that he loves the comic strips and wants the story strips held to high standards of plot, character, and art. Anyway, he left because Thorp “didn’t share my commitment to winning.”
And that old incident I think serves as a good example of the Gil Thorp storytelling style. It has a lot of stories driven by how teenagers are kinda dopey. But there’s almost never actual malice involved, not from the kids anyway. They don’t think of being truly nasty. And they’re limited in how much trouble they get into anyway. Partly because as teens they have limited resources. Partly because as teens they’re a little dopey, so their lack of foresight saves them. That’ll come back around.
And yes, also saving them is the writer. Part of the Gil Thorp style is that nobody’s really involved in serious wrongdoing. Several years ago there was a storyline about a guy selling the kids bootleg DVDs. Except, it turned out, they weren’t bootlegs. The guy got legitimate DVDs. He put them in bootleg-looking cases so his teenage customers thought they were getting away with something. It was a bizarrely sanitized minor transgression. I wondered if Rubin and Whigham were mocking someone who’d sent them a letter about what it was acceptable to portray teenagers doing. Or if they were trying to see if they could fool Luann into imitating it.
So we already had a delightful story about Robby Howry’s quixotic lurch for vengeance going. What takes it up to glorious heights? The involvement of Marty Moon, of course. Moon is delighted to read of someone dishing Gil Thorp-related dirt. Howry is glad to tell Moon at length about how Coach Thorp just lost the game to Jefferson by six, or whatever. And Marty feigns understanding what Howry is going on about when he talks about these pre-measured mattress kit delivery eyeglasses who sponsor the podcast.
Thorp tries his best to ignore Howry, focusing instead on what’s bothering Filion. This goes so far as to remind the whole team about a suicide hotline number and insist they put it in their phones. Possibly overreacting (“Coach, we only lost to Jefferson by six!”) but he does insist he’d rather overreact.
Thorp gives two-game suspensions to the participants and calls Filion in to his office. This is exactly the sort of stupid thing Filion should have done; why wasn’t he? Which is an odd tack but, yeah, I’ve known people I had to deal with that way. Filion finally opens up. With the end of high school coming, he feels like everything is ending. He doesn’t know how to handle that. Now Thorp’s able to hook him, and his parents, up with counseling. And there’s the promise that the team might play better too.
My words alone might not express how much I’ve enjoyed this plot. I’d said last week how I love when story comics get a preposterous character in them. And this is a great one. It’s the story of Robby Howry, a maybe 21-year-old guy, seeking revenge on his high school basketball coach. And going to great effort about this, starting a blog and podcast and talking daily with Marty Moon. And laying out hard cash. I don’t know how much it costs to rent two billboards for a month-plus, but boy, that’s got to run into the dozens of dollars. Add to his mission fanaticism some grand self-obliviousness. He’s confident nobody will mind his whole fake-prescription-drug-pushing thing. Not if the alternative is losing buzzer-beaters to Arapahoe High School. Probably it won’t be as grand a comeuppance as happens to Marty Moon in every Marty Moon story. But it’s so promising.
Milford Schools Watch
People sometimes wonder where Milford is. The real answer is nowhere, of course; it’s meant to be a place that could be any high school. And then mucks things up with the idiosyncratic use of “playdowns” where normal people say “playoffs”. Anyway, here’s some schools or towns named in Gil Thorp the last several months. I offer this so you can work out your own map of the Milford educational system.
Okay, “Danbury” really sounds Connecticut. But then there was the thing a couple years ago where they name-checked famous Ohio I-75 highway sign Luckey Haskins.
Improvised mockumentary about Stanley Kubrick trying to make a movie, except that everything’s going just wrong enough that the whole project is impossible, and there’s no way he can get out of the project either. Except I’m like 65% sure that was just his life anyway.
So what I should be doing is working out some messes with web site APIs. An API is a thing which is supposed to let your web site do a thing, but that doesn’t work. Then you search for explanations of why it doesn’t work, and you find people who’ve had a problem that seems like it might be the same one you have. It has some answer that the original poster says worked, but when you read it, there’s somehow just enough words missing that you can’t be sure quite what you were supposed to have set up already and what was supposed to change and what’s a completely different conceptual framework from your traditional ideas of “working” and “not working”. It’s all good fun.
What I am doing is watching a bunch of low-effort gangster movies from the 1930s with ever-growing fascination at the intense nasal twang with which actors of this era would say, “HEL-lo, in-SPECT-or”.
Like anyone who pondered it would have guessed, the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! for today was about itself. It’d be strange to focus on anything else. I suppose you could make a fair argument about whether Ripley’s is a comic strip or a feature panel. I’m not sure it’s an argument that would advance our understanding of comic strips, though. Let’s call it a comic strip and celebrate what I think is the third (United States) comic strip to make it to a century of publication.
But to John Graziano’s own tribute. As a kid, as a young nerd, I was of course fascinated with Ripley’s and its kin. You have no idea how important David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace’s The People’s Almanac 2 was to me. All these fussy little esoteric bits of information, ready for the absorption into a mind that … maybe didn’t actually need that. There is a certain kind of nerd mindset that sees information as a kind of game. A power play, really. The chance to show that, by knowing a thing which is true, you are superior to someone who does not. It’s a dangerous attitude. It’s one thing to know esoteric stuff. And it’s one thing to be aware of subtle distinctions. It’s another to lay traps for other people to show you can correct them. One running theme of my journey towards maturity has been my realizing that the only time anyone likes my bringing up a technical point is when I’m being funny about it. Quibbling over a definition is not funny. Being funny about caring about a definition can be funny. That’s why I’m still workshopping my bit that blows the lid off the so-called “International Date Line”.
But there is still good in the Ripley’s sort of trivia. One thing that always distinguished Ripley’s, I was told when young, is that the strip would occasionally include hoaxes and leave it to the reader to find them. Or work them out. And that’s great. Collecting trivia needs to be done with a skeptic’s eye. If you can learn how to work out the truth of whether, as this particular panel offers, Charles Lindbergh was the first man to fly across the Atlantic, then you’re building skills that help you evaluate information that might ever matter. Mind you, though, I’ve never come across a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not where the correct answer was “not”. That is, I’ve never seen a panel with a deliberately fake “fact” in it. Not in my reading the strip, and not when I’ve seen retrospectives of it. I’m prepared to say the presence of hoaxes in Ripley’s is itself a hoax. At the least, it’s much rarer than publicity would make out.
A better thing, though. Look at the clickbait-ish Charles Lindbergh claim of this panel. Everybody knows Lindbergh was the first person to fly across the Atlantic. This is because of historical compression, though. Dozens of people flew across the Atlantic before him. Some on airships. Some on airplanes that made stops along the way. Some flying to Brazil instead of North America. At least one flying across the Arctic. Lindbergh’s flight was several major firsts. But you learn something in looking at what those firsts were. In particular, you learn that history is messier than you thought. That pretty any “first” is really one event that happened to draw our attention, out of a bunch of competing plausible alternatives. That there is an arbitrariness in what we choose to celebrate. If we take the right lesson from this we learn to appreciate the world as vaster and more complicated and possessing more gradations than we easily remember. Even the simple stuff has complications and we should notice this, and understand why other people might see the same thing differently.
For example, this Ripley’s asserts that 66 other “men” flew the Atlantic before Charles Lindbergh. The Straight Dope article I link to in the previous paragraph notes that different compilers have found numbers from the high 60s to the low 90s. Its author, Bibliophage, had been able to track down 84 people, and acknowledges there may be others. Bibliophage found a list of 18 by airplane and 66 by airship. 66 at least agrees with John Graziano’s figure.
The Ripley’s trivia about (in 1929) the United States having no national anthem was true enough. At least, no anthem recognized by any action on the part of the federal government. There’s a neat short subject, one featuring Ripley himself delivering trivia, that Turner Classic Movies has run at least once. And in that he presents some history of The Star-Spangled Banner and points out it never had any official recognition as anything but a catchy, extremely singable little jingle. The Warner Brothers archive has this and about two dozen other shorts available on DVD.
Hi, fans of Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. I know the current storyline’s been a bit confusing. It started out so strongly establishing one character, then jumping to another, that it wasn’t clear what they had to do with each other. The past week the threads have come together more strongly. And, must say, the narrative logic was easier to follow when I re-read several months’ worth of story all at once. The narrative was harder to follow chopped up into three panels a day.
Last time I checked in in Milford it was golf season. Coach Thorp was lightly occupied in his summer job, coaching Wilson Casey and Tony Paul in the game. Thorp’s realized that the kids from the Pine Ridge and the Blackthorne country clubs have been turning in false scorecards. The cheaters can’t be shamed. Thorp tries consoling his honest students.
Gil Thorp’s solution: organize his own, Milford Invitational, golf tournament. Only Pine Ridge and Blackthorne aren’t invited. And those kids have a mediocre outing at another tournament where scorers accompany the quartets. We never actually see the Milford Invitational. Just Thorp’s reminding his players that if they’re playing with integrity, the scores aren’t important. Good life lesson. Not one I’ll be sharing with my love next time we’re at a pinball tournament though.
The 3rd of September started the current story. Or set of stories. One is about Joe Bolek, student, and that kind of teenage film buff who watches Reservoir Dogs every other week just in case it’s changed. I can’t be smug. At that age I was very busy watching The Wrath of Khan every Friday night. The other is Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen, recently transferred from New Thayer. They knew each other in middle school, when Bolek did stunts like making his own movie in the middle of the street until the cops showed up.
This is part of the football storyline for the year. Thorp’s problem: Sam Finn is his best punter. But he’s also his best snapper. And it’s bad form to have a player snap the ball to himself to punt. So Thorp has an actual coaching problem, since he can’t put together a punting team that works. He has a lead: Joe Bolek, allegedly, was a pretty good athlete before he got swallowed up being that film guy.
Thorp approaches Bolek. Thorp sighs inwardly as Bolek wants to talk about his life in terms of movies. Thorp tries pointing out that they both hated The Legend Of Bagger Vance, a movie I once saw because I was flying from Newark to Singapore. My recollection is that it was a series of shapes moving in what seemed to be patterns. Thorp is able to communicate slightly in the language of referencing movie titles. Gil Thorp doesn’t actually know that much about movies, but his wife does, and he’s learned things from her. Along the way it’s revealed Gil Thorp’s been allowed to hold a position in adult society without ever seeing Paths Of Glory, which, I just don’t know. Anyway, Bolek watches the Milford team play a game, figures he can punt better than that, and joins the team.
Next plot point. Jansen shows up late to class. A lot. Enough that Thorp has to warn him this could screw up his eligibility. Jansen talks about his sister and her needs. How her needs make him late, or force him to leave events early, or stuff. And tries to avoid saying anything independently confirmable about her. It doesn’t go well: he says enough about his sister that one of his teammates can confirm she doesn’t exist. Or at least she isn’t going to school where Jansen implies she is.
His teammates ask Jansen where he lives. He names an apartment complex, slightly wrongly, and doesn’t notice he put it on the wrong street. In the world of story strip narrative economies that shows he’s bluffing. But I have to admit, I’ve lived at this house in Lansing for six and a half years now and I could not name the streets two blocks to either side of me. And I’m pretty sure I’m not pulling a fast one with my residence. Still, his teammates watch him driving off the wrong way for the home he claims to be going to.
Jansen’s tardiness reaches the point Coach Thorp has to do something about it, though. Jansen’s twenty minutes late for a game. He claims it’s because his car broke down. Thorp points out Milford is, like, four blocks across. He could’ve walked.
Thorp and his assistant coach, who probably has a name, check Jansen’s paperwork. It says he lives in the Pine Trace Apartments. Pine Trace Apartments say that address is a one-bedroom apartment. For a family of four. So Thorp swings into the exciting world of student-athlete regulatory compliance and asks Jansen where he does live. Jansen says it’s complicated. Thorp hasn’t got time for this. Jansen explains he had to leave New Thayer, but the family couldn’t afford to move, not all at once. So they rented a cheap, empty apartment that could be his address for the sake of school. And a cheap car that could get him from New Thayer to Milford. Mostly. I’m not sure this actually makes economic sense, but, eh. Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham know what housing prices are like in the Milford/New Thayer metropolitan region, I don’t.
Thorp sidelines Jansen while figuring out whether the kid is eligible to play. The school administrators conclude that he is. Thorp’s still got doubts, admitting that part of it is that Jansen turned out to be a good player. I honestly commend Gil Thorp for being aware of his motivated reasons to let Jansen play. That awareness is one of the ways to support procedural fairness.
Jansen explains that back at New Thayer he fell in with a bad crowd. Started as small stuff, vandalism and petty theft and whatnot. When they started getting into burglary, Jansen bailed on them. They whaled on him, and warned him not to come back to New Thayer. They’re still there. But there’s no way to prove to Thorp that he’d be in danger at New Thayer’s high school.
Except that Joe Bolek, film nut, has the idea of let’s just have Jansen go to his old school and get beat up, on video. And Jansen’s cool with this idea. Well, the plan is that Bolek will interrupt the savage beating before it gets all that savage. And that’s the point the story has reached as of the 24th of November. Jansen’s old gang has come out with battery on their minds, and now they’ve got a film nerd, with a big ol’ video camera set up on a tripod, waving at them.
This is sure to develop exactly as well as Jansen and Bolek could possibly have hoped.
I have seven days to try to condense the plot of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker into a coherent essay. Will I make it? Find out here in seven days, barring surprises.
They had Wayne and Garth impersonators at the thing?
The 90s, huh?
All right but how can Wayne’s World be part of a whole Kings’ Dominion? Are we to believe the dominion encompasses more than a single world? Given the difficulties in establishing a functioning imperial bureaucracy over even a single planet?
Is this a bit?
OK, but the “Mid-No-Way” is worth a chuckle at least the first time you hear it.
Reference: Functional Analysis: A Short Course, Edward W Packel.
So, like, imagining some Hero who’s gone to the underworld for whatever fool thing ancient heroes were always going into the underworld for. And they’ve got to get out past Cerberus, the three-headed dog guardian of the afterlife, right? So what I’m thinking now is the Hero trying to get past Cerberus by warning, you know, if we fight I’m going to kill you. Wouldn’t Cerberus just have to laugh because, “Oh, yeah, you’re going to send me right here where I already am? I’m going to be trapped staying within sight of me?”
Anyway please send me $200 million to make this movie thank you.
So while I was thinking about how many people would forget what it means for a country to demand its young accept the horrors of war had Hi and Lois not reminded people of Memorial Day, I learned the hipster bar near us is having 90s Karaoke Night this week. So I’m thinking about dropping in for when they’re going to be playing nothing but “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”. If karaoke night is at all representative of the real 90s, they should be playing this from about 9:23 through 11:15 without stopping. I might sign up for it myself since I’m not really sure what the verse is like. I’m assuming it has one. But in that regard it captures the experience of having watched Breakfast At Tiffany’s, since I’m awfully sure I’ve done that and I kind of remember there was something about a something or other happening and then at the end she’s not marrying the rich guy in the rain. This also matches my recollection of what the 90s were like. Might check in.
With the days getting a bit warmer than they were two weeks ago it’s worth spending 819 words talking about air conditioning. Air conditioning is — please hold your questions until the essay has come to a full and complete stop — where some air is conditioned so that it’s less like air and more like conditioned air. It’s probably safe to toss in whatever your questions were now.
Why Should We Condition Air? Many reasons. The air that you get all around you is free and as such, that’s great. But it’ll often be too hot, or too cold, or too clammy, or be filled with too many feathers from an exploded pillow, or some other problem, such as that it’s too dry. And it’s never any of these at the right time. For example, it would be great if just before your history midterm the air were filled with sparkly confetti and party favors. At the least it would distract from thinking how you have no opinions about the Reform Act of 1832 except that it’s probably good they got that done before 1833 started or it would have needed a snappier name.
How Can One Condition Air? This depends what you want conditioned. If you want the air hotter, for example, all you need do is gather enough lumber. Trying to get it into the fireplace wil make you as warm as you want, as you determine by the sixth time you check every room that the house hasn’t got a fireplace and you’re now quite mad about that. Fuming mad, as they say.
But cooling down has always been a different problem. In ancient days the Romans noticed that the same room might be perfectly chilly in the winter and too hot in the summer. Their ingenious engineering minds started a system in which each winter they’d seal one room up tight in the middle of winter and leave it that way until the middle of summer. Only then would they open it up to enjoy that stored winter air. This never worked, but after all the trouble they’d gone to sealing the room up and then opening it again, they weren’t going to stop. They kept at it year after year, insisting to themselves that they did feel a lot cooler and saying maybe next year they would try this with three or even eight rooms. Eventually the Roman Empire fell, but I wouldn’t say the air conditioning was the only reason. There was also their calendar.
What Scientific Breakthrough Made Air Conditioning Possible, And What Important Spinoff Came From It? The most important breakthrough was the discovery of Charles’s Law by Boyle, unless it was Boyles’s Law by Charles. It was Towneley-Powers’s Law, and was discovered by Mariotte. However it turned out the discovery was simplicity itself: if you spray a can of antiperspirant the spray will be cold, and the can will be cold, and your hand will be cold. The implications were obvious. By the end of the century scientists all over Europe were trying to invent a spray can of antiperspirant.
The antiperspirant part and the spray part would be challenges, sure. But the practice was an immediate success, a century later. And it had spinoff benefits. The cans proved to be great ways to can food, for example. This allowed people to take the peaches that they weren’t going to be able to eat before the end of summer and turn them into a fine aerosolized powder that they’d spray on their armpits or, if their aim was off, the bathroom door. This solved some problem. And considering that tells you a lot about what life was like back then.
How Does This Affect The Movies? Well, by the 1920s all the major problems of air conditioning had been solved. Soon industrial-grade air conditioning was popping up all over, like it or not. Cities began building movie theaters around the air conditioning so that at least it would go to some purpose. The air conditioning would stay on full-blast all year, so that wintertime movie patrons had to dress in parkas and carry shovels to help the usher scoop out a trail through the snow. Often patrons would be lost in snowbanks and not be discovered for days or weeks until they emerged in the concessions stand. Over one in five ushers didn’t survive the first year of work, which is why we now regard it as tasteless to expect ushers to ush at the movies. We may ask them to ush in other non-movie contexts and then they can show us their ush stuff.
Is Air Conditioning A Form Of Skinnerian Behaviorist Stimulus-Response Training? No. You are thinking of air hypnosis, which has been discredited as a scientific method but can be a lot of fun as a party trick. It’s a common mistake and you need feel no shame for making it. 818, 819.
Turner Classic Movies has sometimes been showing cartoons before the Tarzan movies on Saturday mornings. Whoever writes the cable guide summaries described one, airing before Tarzan Putters Around In Manhattan For Some Reason, like this:
In this early-1930s precursor to the cult tv series Lost, Popeye and Olive Oyl find themselves shipwrecked on a… New.
So, Wild Elephinks is not a good cartoon. It’s from early on, before the Fleischers realized that Popeye had a personality. It’s also one of the surprisingly many cartoons that start with Popeye shipwrecked, one of those little recurring things that make you wonder exactly how good a sailor he is. He and Olive Oyl wash up on an island with a bunch of animals on it, all of which Popeye beats up, because what’s more attractive in your hero than punching a mink to death?
I appreciate whoever wrote this caption having a bit of fun given how much nothingness the cartoon’s real premise had. But why do they have to cut off all the TV show summaries that early? Has anyone told the summary writers that they have, like, 130 characters to work with? If they haven’t, why haven’t they? Don’t these summarizers ever go home, check on their work, and realize that everything after the first twenty words was cut off? Does that make them angry? Does that make them sail to a remote island and punch every animal? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.
Last time in Mark Trail there were a bunch of animals in weird places. I mean weird by Mark Trail’s standards. A giraffe eating Rusty’s apples. An ostrich with an organ-grinding monkey teasing Doc. A rhino chasing down a couple of Mark Trail cartoonist James Allen’s friends. Mark could be baffled by these goings-on while we readers weren’t. And not because Mark or anyone was being dumb. We had information that they didn’t: “Dirty” Dyer read about how the Tingling Brothers Circus was making its last tour. How or why their animals were loose might be a mystery, but why there should be a giraffe at the Lost Forest at this time of year was not. Oh, also, Dyer is figuring to kill Mark Trail. But he’s taking his time and working up to it.
After hearing of Rusty and Doc’s weird-animal reports, Mark steps out on the porch and sees a tiger. He swings into action and steps back inside, to toss a ham outside. A big old ham, too, like you see in 1950s humor comic books. The tiger eats the ham, proving to Mark that this isn’t some hallucination, somehow? After that odd moment, though, Mark calls the authorities, who it turns out were coming to visit anyway. The Sheriff explains. The Circus train derailed and most of the animals got loose.
Then he launches into what’s almost a shaggy dog story. It’s built on the premise that the clown car took it hardest: “You should have seen it, Mark — greasepaint and rubber chickens on the tracks for miles!”. The story then goes into the clowns, who were all safely in the bar car, in full makeup and dress. The dazed group, led by the eldest and most respected clown, the Great Wilhelm — “the clown that never spoke, he just screamed a lot” — wandered away. They stumbled through a graveyard and toward a bonfire where some kids were having a camping night and telling monster stories and stuff. So you can imagine how well a pack of dazed, disheveled clowns stumbling out of the graveyard were received. The clowns, frightened by the kids’ screams, turned and fled. Old Man Basil, overseeing the bonfire, fired a load of rock salt and hit The Great Wilhelm in the back. “They said you could hear Wilhelm scream from the other end of the valley!”
Okay. So. First. I’m not afraid of clowns. Not in the slightest. I don’t get what is supposed to be frightening about clowns. I think the pop culture default assumption that of course clowns are evil terrifying monsters who have to be stamped out of society is a sickness. I’ll grant there are people afraid of clowns, but, I mean, there are people afraid of any living matter that has lots of holes in it, like some kinds of fungus have. We don’t grant that phobia a privileged place in society and tell each other that of course the phobia is correct. “But wait,” people trying to talk me into fearing clowns say. “What about the clown from It? Aren’t you scared of that clown?”
I’ve never read It, nor seen the movie. But as I understand it, the clown from It is an unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death. The scary thing there is “unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death”. That he manifests as a clown doesn’t enter into it. I would not feel less menaced if the unstoppable supernatural monster dragging people to a horrible death were a freelance insurance-claims investigator.
Second. Wilhelm Scream? As in the scream that I guess is in every movie nerds like. James Allen put into Mark Trail a nerd-culture riff like that? And I didn’t notice? Even though he quite fairly set it up and underlined it several times, talking about The Great Wilhelm who “just screamed a lot”. And I didn’t notice. Well, fair enough. I’ve never noticed the Wilhelm Scream sound effect even though it’s apparently in every movie I’ve watched more than three times, including the Marx Brothers’ Monkey Business and Mister Bug Goes To Town. (Don’t @ me. I’ve listened to the scream in isolation, and I’ve listened to scenes with it in. I’ve learned that it turns out I just don’t care.) I’m not sure how I feel about Mark Trail making nerd culture jokes. But he put in a good one, and did it well, laying out the setup where anyone could see and trusting people wouldn’t notice.
Anyway. Back to the story. Mark and Dusty go looking for animals. There’s the ground rumbling. Mark says “I’ve got a bad feeling about this” and I see what he did there. It’s an elephant. Mark gets to the tranquilizer gun and knocks out the elephant before anybody can come to particular harm.
Then a new, bearded, bald guy comes in. In Mark Trail tradition this signals that we’ve finally met the villain. But no: he’s Marlin Creed from the Eden Gardens Zoo. There is no villain in this piece. He and his assistant Jim are here to help trap the animals and to ask if you get the reference there. Well? Do you? BETTER SAY YES! (2 points to the first person who gets what my reference there is. That person will be Roymark Kassinger.). (5 points to the first person who figures out what I’m referencing with this points-to-the-first-person-who stuff.)
With the arrival of Marlin and Jim, and the news that the circus people are getting organized again, the story looks like it’s finally ended. Mark mentions he’s going to have a vacation in Mexico soon. And then it turns out there’s a ruckus off-screen. There’s a tiger fighting a rhinoceros, because hey, how often do you get to justify having a tiger fight a rhinoceros? I mean outside March Mammal Madness? (I have not forgotten #Unsettlegate. Don’t ask what this is all about. You’re better off not knowing.)
The tiger runs off in one direction, the rhino in another. Mark, Marlin, and Jim chase the rhino in a cool zebra-striped jeep. Meanwhile Joel Robinson in the corner of the screen whispers out, “Daktari”. After the Wilhelm Scream thing I’m not getting nerd-snookered again. Marlin sends Jim out to annoy the rhino with a stick. Mark asks “is that safe?” Marlin says “No.” Like in the jokes about Wild America made back when we made jokes about Marlin and Jim and Wild America. The rhino is successfully annoyed and smashes the jeep. But Mark’s able to shoot him with a tranquilizer dart.
With the 14th of April this story is officially closed. We’re told the circus has recovered all their missing animals. This includes “Twinkles, the flaming-log-juggling hippo”. I assume this is a reference to something and I’m waiting to see what it is in Dick Tracy.
The 16th of April starts what might be the current story. It’s in the Bahamas where Dirty Dyer has been lounging on the beach and scaring resort guests with his knife-throwing practice. Also shooting off guns. Also reading Weapons For Dummies, Calvin and Hobbes, and To Serve Man. Dyer glad-handles the guy sent to report on how he’s alarming the guests into becoming his assistant.
I say this might be the current story. We’ve seen one or two-week interludes with Dirty Dyer before. James Allen is letting this story simmer. I don’t know whether Mark Trail is going to encounter Dirty Dyer yet.
So the 26th of April starts what is unambiguously the current story. The Trails are flying to Mexico. Rusty has an honestly endearing moment where he’s amazed at the size of the airport. “We’re only going to Mexico — I didn’t think we’d need an airport this big!” I sincerely like the kid-logic that how far you’re going should affect the size of the airport you go to. It’s even got enough bits of truth to it to make sense. Rusty Trail comes in for a lot of jokes about being a terrifying homunculus. I’m glad to see him being a normal-ish child.
Yeah, me neither. Mark explains, “Interestingly enough, Santa Poco was saved from bandits in the silent movie era by three American cowboy actors!” So I do thank James Allen for explaining he was making a Three Amigos reference. Rusty’s already wandered off to meet someone named Mara, whose family is also going to Tulum. And that’s where we are as of Saturday.
So all in all, I don’t know why Mark Trail is making so many nerd movie jokes lately. I think Allen’s just having fun with the strip’s hip-because-square reputation.
Sunday Animals Watch
What bits of nature have been showcased on Sundays recently? These have been:
Sea Turtles, 11 February 2018. Really, really endangered.
Bougainvillea, 18 February 2018. Not endangered except by spelling bee contestants who’ve just been knocked out.
Prairies Dogs and Black-Footed Ferrets, 25 February 2018. Finally. The Black-Footed Ferrets are incredibly endangered. Prairie Dogs are making a comeback.
Spiders and Great Heights, 4 March 2018. While public-speaking on an airplane naked in front of the House Centipede convention.
Blue Tarantulas, 11 March 2018. Freshly-discovered and so very popular so we’re going to destroy it any day now.
Rhesus Macaque Monkeys on this island near Puerto Rico, 18 March 2018. They survived Hurricane Maria and the future disgraced former president hasn’t ordered their gizzards drilled for coal yet!
Black-Footed [wild] Cat of southwest Africa, 25 March 2018. Really, really endangered.
Feral Pigs, 1 April 2018. Endangering you. Seriously. That bit at the start of The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy falls in the pig pen and the Cowardly Lion’s farmhand’sona rescues her? That’s showing off his bravery. The movie thought that part out.
Tiger Sharks, 8 April 2018. ThunderCats, but for sea life, why wouldn’t this be a hit? Because it didn’t make sense even by the standards of the SilverHawks universe is why. I mean, when your show would have been less baffling if you didn’t include the pilot episode laying out how everybody came to be Tiger Sharks and what their powers and all were you have world-building problems.
Chameleons, 15 April 2018. All my attempts to learn about how their faces fluoresce were obliterated by noticing Mark Trail calling them “squamates” and I have to sit and stare at that word for a long while even though (a) I know full well it’s a legitimate way to refer to them and (b) I knew the root word “squamous” before Mark Trail got onto it so there.
Marbled Crayfish, 22 April 2018. You know, those crayfish that are doing way better since they stopped dealing with the males of the species.
Orange Crocodiles, 29 April 2018. Probably Just About Dead.
Harris’s Hawks, 6 May 2018. Not endangered yet, but just you wait.
I don’t know how closely you’re following the public debate about Lansing’s municipal infrastructure. I admit having suspicions. Anyway the biggest debate, as measured by height above street level, is about the David M Hollister City Hall. They named City Hall for Mayor Hollister last year. Mayor Hollister was mayor back a couple decades so he’s in the sweet spot right now. Nobody remembers what the heck his big scandal was, but they do remember he’s alive. That latter one puts him up over the guy who succeeded Hollister, whom Wikipedia tells me was Mayor … Mayor M Lansingmayor…son?.
They’re talking about moving to a new City Hall. This seems like a dis on Hollister, but nah, he’s fine with it. He never liked the building to start with, which makes naming the place after him seem like an even bigger dis. I’m starting to wonder if somebody does remember whatever the heck his scandal was and is playing headgames. But the major talk about moving is that the current City Hall was last maintained in any form in 1973. This was when they painted over the sign reading “Court of Oyer and Teminer” after learning Michigan has never had one of those.
The alt-weekly had a piece last week about how bad the building is. The building’s from 1958, so it’s got that swinging mid-century modernist style like a setting for one of those Chuck Jones Tom and Jerry cartoons. And it’s great for regrouping after heavy rains destroy a parade. But I have to admit some of these problems seem dire. For example:
Stalagmites. There’s those steady water leaks through the cement causing trouble all over. Last month somebody voting in an absentee ballot came back to the basement garage and found a limestone iceberg had completely enveloped his 2017 Buick Verano and also a wooly mammoth. And the vote was on whether to extend participation in the regional 9-1-1 service agreement. The vote passed but was it really worth the loss of his car and mammoth? Oh, probably. Regionalization is good for this kind of thing.
The Eighth-Floor Bathroom. It’s got faded orange walls. It’s also got that thing with a cloth towel looped into some kind of metal dispenser that’s been rusted in place since 1959. It’s like, it’s supposed to turn so you aren’t wiping your hands on the filthiest piece of fabric known to humanity, but it doesn’t? Also there’s a four-by-five-foot hole in the floor that looks over a hole in the floor below that’s the same size. Also the floor below that, and so on, down to the second storey. Yes, yes, on that second storey there is a trampoline. The city isn’t reckless. Oh, but also when you enter, some phone navigator voice calls out, “Please continue on the current route”. No one has any explanation for this phenomenon.
David Hollister’s Middle Initial Is ‘C’. I know, that hardly seems to make sense, does it? It would flow so poetically if his middle name started ‘M’. But he insists on ‘C’ and there’s no arguing him out of this. They are saying if they move to a new city hall it’ll be the David C Hollister City Hall and I guess we’ll swallow our tears over the ‘M’.
Climate Control. The building’s original, dials-and-levers, steam-based control system hasn’t worked in decades. Instead management has to use a set of signal flags, based on a code book used by the Royal Navy at the Battle of Ushant 1778. I know, you’re giggling thinking about how well that worked out for the British, right? It causes so much confusion. People on the maintenance floors have to keep stepping away from their big, rusty blocks of metal that makes alarming banging noises to clarify things. “Do you really want us to send the sixth-rate frigates to lee?” “No, no, we just need the property tax appeals to be about three degrees cooler.” It’s a lot of trouble.
The Upper Floors. Between the strong, hypnotic horizontal rows of alternating blue and black windows, and the regular vertical aluminum linings, there’s definitely a Saul Bass credit sequence forming. This isn’t by itself a problem. But it does need someone to extract the credits. Zoo officials recommend placing it at the start of a tight 95-minute thriller about a man who saw a book about the Byzantine Empire in the wrong section of the library, checked it out on a whim, and found himself on a wild transcontinental race for the secrets of an atomic supermarket that were hidden on a folded sheet of paper on between pages 383 and 384. Movie goof: you can’t fit a sheet between pages 383 and 384! The book is only 352 pages long.
The Lobby Escalator. When the state put up a spite office building right infront of City Hall the town had to wall off the escalator. The partitions are still there. Two years ago the courts ruled that the city had to open enough of a hole in the drywall to let the people trapped on the escalator free. “We don’t know how this happened,” said the assistant city manager. “We would have sworn the escalator was too far from the courtroom for any judge to hear them.”
There’s more, but it gets into some weird territory. But now I understand more why they figure they need a new building. They’re not figuring to demolish the current City Hall, though. They figure they can turn it into a hotel. That sounds like it’ll be a much more interesting place than the last Red Roof Inn I stayed in. They barely even had any weird candy in the vending machine.
Turner Classic Movies, at least in its United States feed, is spending a bunch of this week showing strings of movies. Many of them were adapted from or into old-time radio shows. Let me see if I can find them all.
Tuesday evening, the 1st of May, are a bunch of Blondie movies: Blondie (1938), Blondie Meets The Boss (1939), Blondie Takes A Vacation (1939), Blondie Brings Up Baby (1939; they really cranked them out when they realized they had something back then); Blondie On A Budget (1940), and Blondie Has Servant Trouble (1940). I’ve never seen any of these that I remember. They do all star Penny Singleton, whom you’ll remember as the female voice actor who wasn’t June Foray on every cartoon, 1940 – 1965. (Yes, yes, Bea Benederet. It’s hyperbole.) After the first movie, based on you know exactly what, this got turned into a radio series. That starred Singleton and Arthur Lake, a man who sounds like he should have been Allan Young but wasn’t. This is nowhere near the whole Blondie movie series, which ran until 1950 and came out with an estimated four hundred million films. Previously unsuspected Blondie movies are still being unearthed to this day, at a rate of one film every 56 hours.
After that is a bunch of Mexican Spitfire films starring Lupe Vélez, but I don’t think that was ever made into a radio series. I know nothing past the existence of the series and that I remember some people talking about someone as “a Mexican Spitfire” when I was a kid. I’m sure there’s nothing uncomfortable to see in an early-40s Hollywood film series about a temperamental Mexican woman!
Wednesday the 2nd there’s a run of Masie movies, starring Ann Southern. That’s the original Masie (1939), then Congo Masie (1940), Gold Rush Masie (1940), Masie Was A Lady (1941), Ringside Masie (1941), Maisie Gets her Man (1942), Swing Shift Masie (1943), Masie Goes To Reno (1944), Up Goes Masie (1946), and Undercover Masie (1947). Ann Sothern and the character would go on to the radio series, The Adventures Of Masie. That, as the movies, are nominally about about Masie trying to break into show business. The movies I haven’t seen but the plots cover what seems like the normal spread of 40s comedy film series topics. You know. Helping a ranch foreman beat a murder rap. Getting stranded in the African jungle. Hanging around a boxing camp. Working at the war plant. Saving a beleaguered inventor. Exposing a phony psychic. The usual.
After that Wednesday comes some films I’ve seen. The first is Look Who’s Laughing (1941). This was 1941’s much-needed crossover between Fibber McGee and Molly and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. There’s a plot for some fool reason. Fibber McGee and Molly was a proto-sitcom. There’d be some theme for the week. Each regular character would come in and do some jokes about that with Jim Jordan and Marion Jordan and then leave. Here, I don’t know, they wanted to tell enough of a story that a boring couple could have a romance. It’s got Lucille Ball. More important, Edgar Bergen’s the only ventriloquist to ever appear in a movie or TV show and have his character not be the psychotic killer, so, enjoy. (Yes, yes, Paul Winchell in the Three Stooges clip show Stop! Look! And Laugh. Hush.) If you don’t already like either big, long-running radio show I’m not sure this would sell you on them. But if you want to know what the Fibber McGee and Molly cast looks like here’s a good chance. They don’t quite look exactly right. Well, Harold Peary does. Peary was The Great Gildersleeve on radio and in here. Later on, he’d portray Big Ben, the whale with the clock in his tail on some of the crazier Rankin/Bass Frosty-and-Rudolph specials. This is why his voice sounds familiar from somewhere. You’re welcome. He also did some wild Faygo commercials in the 70s, but who didn’t?
And after that comes Here We Go Again (1942), the title one of Molly McGee’s catchphrases. It’s the second Fibber McGee and Molly crossover with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. This time they’re at a resort hotel without a lot of the regular Fibber McGee and Molly supporting players. I think the plot had something to do with the Great Gildersleeve and a super-gasoline formula that might be important to the War Effort but, you know. Just, there’s some charming stars of radio doing their business here. Nobody cares about the plot.
That leads to a bunch of movies based on The Great Gildersleeve. The character started out as Fibber McGee’s best foil, and then spun off into his own show. And one of the first fully-fledged sitcoms. Gildersleeve became a bachelor father with a couple of vaguely related kids, trying to date and deal incompetently with work. TCM’s showing the movies The Great Gildersleeve (1942), Gildersleeve’s Bad Day (1943), Gildersleeve on Broadway (1943), and Gildersleeve’s Ghost (1944). I think that I’ve seen the last of these. It’s about Gildersleeve’s run for mayor and the assistance he gets from a couple of ghosts. You can’t imagine you saw something like that, right?
Now, what of all that do I plan on watching? Oh, I don’t know. I’m at the point where I’m kind of glad when my talk shows and The Price Is Right go into reruns so I don’t feel like I need to catch up on those. And this is a lot of old-time-radio-branded extruded movie product. I mean, the movies (that I’ve seen) are pleasant enough. I’m not sure any of them would show off why, like, Fibber McGee and Molly was such a pop culture catchphrase factory for about twelve years there.
My personal taste is to say that Fibber McGee and Molly‘s the best of the shows. Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy is reliable fun, but with a smaller cast of good characters (Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, really). The Great Gildersleeve, Masie, and Blondie are second-tier interests to me. You can, with sympathy, see why people liked them. It’s that as pioneers of sitcom conventions, a lot of their best tricks were worn down by imitators. Or done better by sitcoms that could learn from their example and their imitators. If you like the characters, and it’s really easy to like Harold Peary, Penny Singleton, or Ann Sothern, that’ll carry you through. But I have to listen to them partly in the spirit of historical appreciation.
So I’d recommend, of this, Look Who’s Laughing and Here We Go Again. Then whatever of the other series sounds most appealing. I’m inclined toward the ones that put Masie in the Congo and the Great Gildersleeve teaming up with ghosts for the potential craziness of the scenarios. If you can’t judge, go with the first in the series. Or leave them on the TV while you’re going about your business. They’ll be easy enough to drift in to and out of. If this doesn’t bring the cartoonist for Gasoline Alley out of hiding nothing will.
I’m not sure who I’m asking this favor from. But I know out there at least one of you is in an Internet community that’s talking about movie sequel subtitles. And that’s looking around for what’s the right all-purpose movie sequel subtitle to use now that we’re moving past Electric Boogaloo and even The Squeakquel is starting to wear out. I’m not saying that anyone is wrong in supporting The Secret Of The Ooze or The Legend of Curly’s Gold as all-purpose subtitles either. And I don’t dispute you putting those in as your votes for all-purpose sequel subtitle.
It’s just that I think we’re forgetting about the second Cats and Dogs movie, which is a shame, as its subtitle The Revenge of Kitty Galore is clearly ready to be put underneath all sorts of movie franchise titles. So whoever’s in that discussion for all-purpose movie sequel subtitles? If you could enter The Revenge of Kitty Galore for me, I’d be grateful. Thanks and take care, please.
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.