In context, Mark Trail was pressed to say something interesting about a cricket, on no notice. It would be natural to pick up something weird that caught his mind once. So I guess that’s what happened. He remembered an odd bit about trying to sell cricket-eating and the line was popular.
Mark Trail had returned home. It wasn’t happy. His father, Mark “Happy” Trail, has made a successful trail-mix company. He’s done that, in part, by despoiling the former farm of his and Mark’s old friend Jolly Roger. Mark’s already stolen his father’s speedboat and led the maritime police on a chase that sure seems like it should have got him arrested. There’s only one way to finish his agribusiness story for Teen Girl Sparkle: interview his father.
Mark approaches Happy Trail with backup. The harm speedboats do to manatees. Jolly Roger and his daughter Niecy. Cherry Trail and their son Rusty, whom Happy Trail seems not to have known about. It changes things.
Niecy makes the case for economic and environmental justice. Jolly Rogers’ land was appraised about one-third what it would have been for a not-Black landowner. It’s now poisoned by algae blooms. Niecy proposes selling it back, at cost, and letting Jolly fix it. Meanwhile Mark Trail looks at the crazy number of hunting trophies Happy has. His mother never allowed that. And Happy doesn’t have any, like, friends’ photos on the walls. Is he alone? And where is Mom Trail?
Faced with how he’s done a lot of harm and driven away many people who cared about him, Happy Trail makes an extraordinary decision. He tries to do better. He sells Rogers’s farm back to him, and works to help him clear the algae blooms. He’s delighted to know that Rusty, like he, is adopted. He makes up with Mark.
With friendships and family healing many things get better. Happy Trail’s even able to arrange for the long-term care that Cherry Trail’s mother needs. Turns out having health care makes Cherry’s relationship with her sisters rather better. And Happy himself is able to work with Jolly Rogers in fixing that farmland.
Mark also asks Amy Lee, his editor at Teen Girl Sparkle, if she knew she was sending him to investigate his father. She allows that yes, she had an idea that Mark Trail, a nature guy from Florida, might have some relationship to Mark Trail, a nature guy from Florida. That settles the question of how she could have not known that. But it raises the question why she sent him to do investigative journalism against his father.
Still, that, the 6th of March that closes the story of Mark Trail facing his family shame.
The current story started the 8th of March, though pieces of it were set up earlier. Those pieces would be Rusty Trail making little BikBok videos. Rusty shows Mark how it’s done, challenging his father to say something about this cricket he found. Mark offers, “Crickets are land shrimp,” a declaration so odd it goes viral.
And it catches the attention of eco-rapper Reptiliannaire. The hip-hop artist sampled Rusty’s Bikbok video and that’s been popular. Reptiliannaire is re-shooting the video and wants Mark Trail for a cameo. Teen Girl Sparkle sees that as a great brand-building opportunity and all right, Dad, I see what you mean about not connecting with this strip any more.
Reptiliannaire is glad to meet Mark Trail and takes him into his weird but fun-looking home. The video’s getting a budget, too, from “Cricket Bro”. He’s a guy who turned his dumb tech fortune into a cricket protein powder startup. Turns out Mark knows him: it’s Rob Bettancourt. Rob knew Mark all the way back to grade school, when everyone called him “Marky Trail”.
Mark also knows that Rob’s inspirational self-start origin story is nonsense; Rob’s parents are rich and that’s why he is. But Rob is also throwing a party and invites Reptiliannaire and Mark Trail and all.
All includes Professor Bee Sharp, a science video guy that Reptiliannaire geeks out over. Rusty, too, when he hears about this. Rob ostentatiously offers Mark help in building his career. Mark, harboring old pains, is not having it.
Meanwhile, Cherry Trail gets irritating news about her landscaping. The Sunny Soleil Committee, a homeowners association, wants her to take down the palm trees she and Mark Trail planted. Mark, scared by Cherry’s fury, downplays how the trip to Los Angeles is for something ridiculous and fun. He volunteers to send the committee an e-mail on her behalf.
Cherry meets with Violet Cheshire, who oversees the society. Cheshire explains that palm trees are prohibited, as exotic plants don’t belong. Cherry explains how there was one exotic palm, but the sabal palmettos otherwise planted are native. Cheshire says the society won’t have the villagers’ gardens looking like “unkempt jungles”.
So that’s rather a standstill. And that’s where things stand as of the start of May.
Sunday Animals Watch!
Cicadas, 31 January 2021. Got any?
Barred Owls, 7 February 2021. Plus tips on how to get barred owls, in case you need some barred owls.
Lovebugs, 14 February 2021. Some more animals who’ve come to Florida, although apparently on their own initiative.
Virginia Opossums, 21 February 2021. They’re pretty great, really. Should give them a break.
Feral Hogs, 28 February 2021. They’re invasive, of course, and they’re probably smarter than us.
Southern Toads, 7 March 2021. They seem to be cute enough.
Crickets, 14 March 2021. The strip pushes the line about how crickets might replace cows as a source of protein, which they will not. The cricket-eaters will never accept this.
Foxes, 21 March 2021. It’s got three panels where a fox steals something, which is fun.
Eastern Black Rat Snakes, 28 March 2021. Which is the species of Ralph, one of the snakes Mark Trail talks with regularly now.
Beavers, 4 April 2021. OK, but have you ever seen a video of a beaver in a zoo carrying a bunch of carrots around? Look it up sometime. You’re welcome.
Ed Dodd, 11 April 2021. A special biographic panel to celebrate the strip reaching 75 years.
Five-Lined Skinks, 18 April 2021. They’re the ones with blue tails, as juveniles, that are able to drop off as decoys when predators come predating.
Striped skunks, 25 April 2021. Mark Trail feels they compare favorably with honey badgers.
Sabal palms, 2 May 2021. I did not realize they weren’t native to Southern California, and were imported to make the place look better. All right.
Why is Wimpy in this? I trust Wimpy enjoys rare expertise in the eating arts. But in cooking? Why not Rough House, who does run a cafe, and who in the 1960s was finally allowed into animation? It’s got me wondering which studios got to use which minor Thimble Theatre characters, although it’s far too late for me to start tracking that. All the character does is leave Popeye in charge, and then come back to see the aftermath of the chaos. That doesn’t have to be the more familiar Wimpy.
But also, why does Popeye need an excuse to be in charge of something? W Schmidt was comfortable giving Popeye jobs like piano-mover or fireman without explaining how he got there. Why not short-order cook too? It would make more sense out of pleasant little jokes like Popeye observing how the newspaper guy never misses.
The conflict, once it starts, is Brutus pushing a juke box into the restaurant and shoving the organ-grinder (and monkey) out. This is surprisingly realistic, given how vicious the coin-op business could be back in the day. Popeye’s lucky not to have got shoved into a pinball machine. Brutus moves in, to “protect me business interests”, and we get a quick version of the Brutus-grabs-Olive-Oyl, Popeye-rescues-her storyline. It’s all ordinary enough, but well done and nicely decorated. There’s fun bits like Olive Oyl calling “save me, sir knight!” to a Popeye covered in tin pans. Or Olive Oyl answering Popeye “we’re out of duck … oh, that kind!” when she has to dodge. I don’t have any serious complaints about any of this; it does its business well. I just don’t see what Wimpy adds to the events, besides a punch line that everybody forgot the organ-grinder.
I turned on the 80s music station because look, I try to be interested in things that I wasn’t already interested in when I was fourteen but sometimes I just want to not try, all right? It’s been a rough year and the first really great light is that I’m scheduled for my first vaccination tomorrow afternoon. So this afternoon they were playing The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated”. It was exactly 24 hours to go until I get my jab.
On the one hand, I would like to speak with whoever’s in charge of my soundtrack because that is trite. On the other hand, what else could fit the scene? Obviously no music I have. But, like, somebody must have done a concept album about overthrowing the dystopia that banned rock music only to have it revealed at the end it was a story about leukocytes fighting off tetanus, right?
Sorry to be distracted like this. I just got to wondering, like, how often does Paul McCartney or Ringo Starr, like, just freeze up in the kitchen and think, “I was in the Beatles! And now here I am, peeling an orange! How does something like that happen?” I’m assuming that they occasionally peel oranges. The only reason I can imagine they wouldn’t is if they don’t like oranges. I realize that no life can be all transcendant experiences, but, you know,every now and then Buzz Aldrin must think, “I walked on the Moon and here I am peeling a banana. How?”
An alternate history where the big change is that “Entrance of the Gladiators” never gets arranged to play at circuses as the “Here Come The Clowns” music, because “Pomp and Circumstance” got that treatment first.
December 5. You realize you’ve made it this late in the month without hearing about Wham!ageddon this year. Starts a good argument online about whether you can join in late since you think you heard “Last Christmas” a couple days ago but don’t remember if it was in November or not.
December 7. Debate about whether it has to be Wham!’s version or if a cover of “Last Christmas” counts. Two friends stop speaking to one another.
December 8. Running through the grocery store run to minimize exposure to Your Local Christmas Hits Station and also Covid-19.
December 10. You were gone for 35 minutes, how is everybody you know angry about whether the “Sleigh Ride” carol “really” has words?
December 12. Remember that you forgot you were doing Wham!ageddon this year.
December 13. Your bad-movie podcast is about Last Christmas. Debate about whether you can be exempted for the time necessary to listen to the episode. This generates three new factions among your friends, who engage in a Talmudic debate about whether you heard the song if the podcast hosts do a brief, a capella, rendition unburdened by any musical key.
December 14. Get 1600 words into a deep-dive essay about what it means that people do these avoid-the-ubiquitous-thing contests for the fifth time before realizing the author hasn’t gotten to a thesis statement yet and give up on the whole thing.
December 18. Remember that you forgot you were doing Wham!ageddon this year.
December 19. You were gone for 25 minutes, how is everybody you know angry about the “Monster Mash”?
December 20. Debate about whether it counts if you catch yourself starting to hum it to yourself in the shower but are legitimately not sure whether you were just singing in your head.
I absolutely should not ask questions about It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. The cartoon barely has a plot, just a bunch of scenes abutting one another. And that’s great, because usually the more a Peanuts cartoon has a plot the worse it is. But, watching the DVD again this year, something new nagged at me.
Do you think Schroeder was invited to provide music for Violet’s Halloween party? Does he just carry his piano to every social engagement he ever attends, holding it all casually under his arm, waiting for an excuse to say, “Hey, you know, I just happen to play a little” and then whip out a bit of Für Elise? What was the plan?
You maybe heard NASA want to announce something astounding discovery about the Moon. I bet it’s something about water. They’re always astounded by discovering water on the Moon. If you put all the water they’ve found on the moon together you’d have, like, six ounces of water. I know that’s not much, but it’s a lot considering the Moon is made out of rock. Anyway, while we wait for them to announce how they’ve spotted four micrograms more water let’s consider some real astounding facts about the Moon:
Because of the way the Romans set up their calendar, and defined the ides at the middle of the month to lunar phases, it’s impossible to have a full moon on the 16th of a month. If it looks like the 16th is going to be a full moon anyway we insert leap seconds as appropriate. There’s a risk of a full moon on the 16th of September, 2800, despite all these corrective measures. Most experts think we’ll solve the problem by doubling up the 15th of September, the way we did with the More-15th of February, 684. Note, as the experts do, that the 15th is not the ides of September and if you make that mistake they’ll know you’re an impostor.
Ham radio operators are allowed to bounce any signal they like off the Moon. However, the operators are held responsible for any damages or for any settling the messages do while in transit.
The Moon has never actually listened to Pink Floyd. It acknowledges that Pink Floyd’s probably played on the radio at some point and they didn’t turn it off, so far as they know. But the Moon is more of a Strawberry Alarm Clock fan. At least the early days, when they got on stage riding magic carpets their roadies carried. The Moon claims to be a big fan of Walk The Moon, but still hasn’t listened to the copy of What If Nothing that it bought in 2018.
The Moon won $27,500 in the Rhode Island lottery in 2014, but never roused itself to collect its winnings. It’s still getting in arguments about this.
The Moon believes itself to have a great sense of humor. This isn’t so astounding since everybody does. But the Moon is in there trying. Unfortunately all it’s discovered, as a premise, is the antijoke and boy does it hit that button a lot. It’s not even good antijokes, either, just something that denies the premise of the gag as fast as possible. If you stick it out, and make the Moon carry on a bit it eventually digs into interesting or weird antijokes and there’s something there. But it insists that the first, instinctive response is the good one and it’s just, you know, you could do so much more.
The concave surface of the Moon is why it always seems to be looking at you.
The Moon insists on tipping 20%, which is fine, but insists on doing it to the penny. This is all right, but the Moon also has absolutely terrible group-check etiquette, insisting that it’s fine if everybody just tosses in money until it reaches a pile that is the bill plus 20% exactly. The protests of everyone that this is making it take longer, with more stress, and come out less fair, than actually figuring out who got and who split what with whom fall on deaf space-ears.
Monday was not named after the Moon. The day was named first, and then someone happened to notice the Moon on a Monday. Yes, this implies an alternate history in which we call the Moon “the Day”. That timeline must be quite confusing.
The Moon has heard about those Quiznos advertisements back in the 2000s that everybody found weird and confusing, but never saw them and thinks it would be a little creepy to go look them up now.
The Moon claims that when it finds those “disruptive” scooter-rental things abandoned on the sidewalk it picks them up and tosses them in the street. We can all agree that, if we must have dumb tech companies wasting investor money on “disruptor” technologies, they should be punished for leaving their litter in the sidewalk. But pressed on when the Moon last actually did this it turns out it never has, but it’s totally going to start next time it sees one.
The word “Moon” did not rhyme with “June” until the Tin Pan Alley Crisis of 1912. It had the vowel sound of “Mon” in “Monday” before then.
While in mythology there are rabbits living on the Moon, in fact the Moon is living on rabbits, who are still really upset about that lottery ticket thing. I can’t say they’re wrong, either.
Maybe it’s five micrograms more water. That would be astounding. We’ll see on Monday.
So you know about the speed of sound, right? Don’t worry, it’s easy to catch up. Turns out sound travels at some speed. It’s like 750 miles an hour at normal temperature and pressure. Slower at temperatures and pressures that make the speed of sound slower. Faster otherwise. I told you it would be easy to catch up.
But how fast can you make the speed of sound? I don’t mean you particularly. I know you’ve got enough projects, what with looking at the news and then screaming at the wall. I mean you as if you were someone who wasn’t you, and who had to do something about the speed of sound. I admit I don’t know what I’d do about making the speed of sound faster. Maybe drop a loudspeaker from a helicopter and check how fast that sound hits the ground. I know, you’d think, what if we just made the sound louder? But it turns out loud doesn’t convert into fast. Loud just converts into nervous.
So we need better schemes to make fastness. The trick is that sound works by the elasticity of the thing it’s moving through. You know elasticity well, from all the time you spend bouncing. Me, I know it from trying to get the elastic band off this bundle of radishes. I don’t know how but the elastic band winds through every stalk, so there’s no taking it off except by going into higher dimensions of space, from which the radishes are still banded together.
This fastest possible sound happens if you send sound through solid atomic hydrogen. You don’t have any solid atomic hydrogen, I’m know, because that only exists when you have, like, a million atmospheres of pressure. And I checked. The atmospheric pressure on Earth is one atmosphere of pressure. Maybe physics works a little different in Troitsk. Probably it does, or why would they have a whole institute for the high-pressure physics of Troitsk? But I bet none of the people with the institute are reading this. They’re doing things like figuring out the fastest speed of sound. They don’t have time to read me going on like this.
Or do they? We have to consider some of the benefits of making sound really, really fast. Like, at 36 kilometers per second, Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans would zip by so fast you could hear it a third time in your life. So there’s time savings involved. I know, you could just hit the thing on your iPod that makes songs play faster. You can. I can’t. My iPod is in the shop, being repaired. I hope it’s an iPod repair shop. I know you wonder why I didn’t check that first. The answer is that I have spent parts of five consecutive months now trying to get a Nintendo repair shop to repair a Nintendo Switch. No part of that process has gone well. You know that deep bone-weariness you experience when, like, you see “Suncoast Video” is Trending under Politics for some undoubtedly awful reason? That’s what I feel when considering consumer-electronics repair. Entering a storefront at random and wordlessly shoving my iPod at a person who turns out to be the hummus manager at The Pita Pit can not be worse.
What other benefits are there on the sound thing? Oh, I bet if you had sound the fastest it could travel, then inhaling helium would actually lower the pitch of your voice. I wrote that as a joke, but I think that would actually work? Except you have to start out encased in solid atomic hydrogen at more than one million atmospheres of pressure. I don’t know what you’d say in that case.
The article said it turns out the fastest possible speed of sound depends on the fine structure constant and the proton-to-electron mass ratio. The mass ratio is what you get from looking at how often protons and electrons are commented on compared to retweeted. The fine structure constant is a general agreement about how nice it would be to have some direction in our lives these days. How this gets back to sound I’ll never know.
I’m sorry, I’ve been busy going to lyrics sites again and changing `dance` to `pants`, although I admit I’ve been trying to do better because I know everybody’s making pants jokes these days. But there’s limits to what fits there. It really looks like `hands` ought to fit, but only if you say it `hants` and you just don’t do that unless you think your audience will think they must have heard it wrong.
So you remember The Association’s great kind of ear-wormy 1967 hit, “Everyone Knows It’s Windy”? It’s a nice bit of sunshine pop, one of those songs that’s doing really well until it runs out of lyrics about one minute in, and then goes on for another minute and forty seconds. Anyway, a bit of conversation this weekend confirmed that the younger folk are not familiar with this song. So I must appeal to whatever members of The Association are still out there to please record an update, “Not Everyone Knows Everyone Knows It’s Windy”. Thank you.
Also I am starting to suspect Mary is never coming along.
Yes, I did see the official video for Sparks’s new song, The Existential Threat. If you’d like to see it, it’s here. Content warning: the animation has the style of 70s-underground-comix grand-guignol body horror. Consider whether you’re up for that before watching. I’d recommend listening anyway.
With that wholly unrelated topic taken care of let me get to business. This plot recap gets you through early July 2020 for Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker. If you’re reading this after about October 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot summary at this link. I’ll also put any news I have about the comic strip at that link.
Yes, it’s hard to remember as long ago as mid-April. Let me try anyway. Neddy Spencer and Ronnie Huerta’s series, based somehow on April Parker, had started filming in Cavelton. Sophie Spencer crashed filming, protesting Mayor Sanderson’s politics. And then Covid-19 hit the comic strip, the first of the story strips to address the pandemic at all. This was an amazing feat of work by Marciuliano and Manley. It has to have involved throwing out completed work to rush stuff out at deadline.
Neddy and Sophie barely start arguing the dragging of politics into decisions about how to spend public money when the show shuts down. Part of the lockdown, in the attempt to contain the pandemic. Ronnie stews about how she can’t even see her new girlfriend Kat, who’s to play Neddy on the show. And then Neddy’s ex-boyfriend Hank calls. She fumbles over the conversation, talking more and more enthusiastically than she would have thought. Why did Hank call? Why was she eager to talk to him?
Well, because of the pandemic. Everybody we know got locked in the Total Perspective Vortex. Enough of that and you start to ask, “was I really so upset with this person that it’s worth never having anything to do with them again?” You’re going through it too. Remember that you had reasons, and think about whether those reasons are still things of value.
Meanwhile in changing values: Honey Ballinger drops out of Toni Bowen’s mayoral campaign. She had joined Sophie’s plans for Bowen to do something meaningful, working therapy for her post-kidnapping stress. But now, with even the candidate not that enthusiastic, and the world shut down? She wants something else. The collapse of Sophie’s campaign-manager ambitions sends her talking again to Abbey. They had fought over whether Sophie going to college even meant anything after the kidnapping.
Meanwhile, Alan Parker’s mayoral campaign hits a problem: he and Katherine have Covid-19. While both look to recover, Alan Parker acknowledges he doesn’t want to be mayor enough to take him away from his family, whom the virus keeps him away from. He calls off his campaign, endorsing Toni Bowen on the way out, to her surprise. And to Sophie’s rejuvenation. She can’t wait to get the campaign going again.
And things are a bit tough for the Drivers. Sam Driver hasn’t got any lawyer work, and Alan Parker hasn’t got a campaign to manage anymore. Abbey’s bed-and-breakfast, finally completed, was ready to open as the lockdown hit. It’s cut into their finances. Abbey mentions how they were hit hard when they had to sell on the stock market, which is interesting. I mean, I know I’m bad at finance. I have two Individual Retirement Accounts, one a Traditional and one a Roth, because I could not figure out which was better for me. This way I’m sure to be at least half-wrong. But even I knew to put my spare thousand bucks into buying at crash prices. This is why I’m today the tenth-largest shareholder in Six Flags Amusement Parks. So how leveraged were the Parker-Drivers that they had to sell stocks into the crash?
Sam can’t get a rebate or early cancellation on the lease for his useless downtown office. Mayor Sanderson, who partly owns that office building, is reopening the town, the better to get everybody infected and dead sooner. So Sam turns to Sophie, offering his help in the Toni Bowen campaign.
And these are the standings, as of early July. I hope to check back in after a couple months to see what develops.
We had just left the satellite-radio music channel running, and then looked up at each other when we heard it playing Entry of the Gladiators, you know, the Clown March. As if one person we demanded to know what prog rock band was pulling these shenanigans. “Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, you sit down and think about what you’ve done,” I was starting to say. Anyway it was Three Dog Night, The Show Must Go On, but I think our vague and pointless indignation stands.
Yes: Rex Morgan, M.D., is not doing a Covid-19 plot. Its writer and artist, Terry Beatty, chose this. A story strip like this, with Sundays tied in to weekly publication, needs about two months’ lead time. Beatty did not think he could write a medical story that could plausibly track whatever happened by publication.
I also imagine that when they reopen Comic Strip Master Command he will be stabbing the Judge Parker team in the kidneys. But, there, Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley took on an incredible emergency workload, throwing out a story to replace it with a pandemic one. And they don’t have to write a medical story; their focus is people whose lives stopped.
While I understand Beatty’s reasoning, I’m not sure it’s the decision I would make. It’s not as though anyone expects Rex Morgan and June Morgan to find a vaccine. Stories of them pressed into the longest work they’ve done would seem enough. Even if they were “merely” taking over the caseloads of doctors and nurses put on Covid-19 duty, I’d think the strip would better fit the role cast for it. Still, I trust that Beatty knows his workload and how to manage it.
I’m writing this recap in middle June 2020. If you’re reading this after about September 2020, if there is a September 2020, I’ll likely have a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. It’ll also have any news about the strip that seems worth my mentioning. Now to the story.
Rex Morgan, M.D..
29 March – 21 June 2020
Buck Wise was off to see Truck Tyler’s concert, last we looked in. Tyler’s a roots country player and he’s touring without a band, just himself and his guitar. Also his scratchy throat. He has to switch to instrumentals, and even cut the show a bit short. Wise checks in on Tyler, who knows him, and finds him coughing up a lung. Tyler says it’s a cold and asks Wise to handle the merch table while he recovers. Sure thing. Wise passes him his card, in case he wants a doctor in town.
So you maybe see where this is going. Tyler isn’t touring with a band because he can’t afford it. He can’t even afford a hotel room; he sleeps in his car in the bar’s parking lot. And he’s sick. So he’s living the American dream: choose medically-induced bankruptcy or unemployment-induced bankruptcy. Overnight his cough gets so bad that he seeks medical care, or at least Rex Morgan.
This all happened, for us readers, in late April. Given that his big symptom was coughing nonstop, boy did it seem like a Covid-19 story. No. Truck Tyler had walking pneumonia. He needed antibiotics and complete rest. Which at least avoids medical bankruptcy but still threatens him with unemployment bankruptcy.
Tyler asks Wise for help. And owns up to his poverty. Wise can’t put him up in his own home; they have a baby. But he has a friend, Doug, who manages a motel when he’s not Griffy from Zippy the Pinhead. The motel always has some extra rooms, and Doug’s a fan, so, what the heck, he can have the room for a couple autographs and stuff.
Meanwhile Wise has an idea about how Tyler’s music income is all derived from his music career. What if they sold Truck Tyler merch online? Tyler doesn’t see how that could work, but Wise listens to podcasts. He knows you can set up web sites. Tyler’s even got a new album almost ready to publish. Wise proposes crowdfunding and Tyler has no idea what this is all about. That’s all right; Wise can set it up for a cut of revenues. Tyler is cool with a friendly person taking a cut of a big new project whose exact details he doesn’t understand. This may give us insight to why, after decades in the music industry, Tyler doesn’t have the cash to stay in a motel for a week. It’s because he joined the part of the industry that makes music. It’s the other side that makes money.
Anyway Wise is enthusiastic and, we readers know, a Good guy. So that’s all great and Tyler can get back to writing some new songs as he finishes recovering. And that, the 30th of May, finishes the Truck Tyler storyline. And the last storyline Beatty wrote before the pandemic smashed up everything.
Instead they’re doing a flashback: little Sarah Morgan asking how Mom and Dad first met. Rex explains it was when he was first in Glenwood and working at the hospital. One of the older doctors, Dr Dallis (get it?), too him under his wing. What you’re supposed to get is that Rex Morgan, M.D. was created in 1948 by Dr Nicholas P Dallis. The real Dallis was a psychiatrist. He also created Judge Parker and Apartment 3-G.
According to Rex, Dallis was planning to retire, and wanted someone to take over his practice. He offered it to Rex Morgan. (This seems abrupt to me, but Rex could be condensing events for Sarah’s sake.) While thinking this over the next day, during his regular run, he bumped right into June. He apologizes, but she calls him a jerk. June disputes having said that out loud.
And that’s the flashback story so far. Do Rex and June get together? If so, how? We’ll see over the next several weeks. But how about for …
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp? Surely the story strip about high school athletics has adapted to events that shuttered high schools and athletics, right? We’ll see next week, if things go well. Thanks for reading.
You could be the person who floats their head to the side of the screen, letting it drift sideways up and down, in every group video chat. This is what I do. Cut it out. We may be technically correct that Ernie Kovacs would do this, but only David Letterman and I care. Also, as mentioned last week, it’s most often a bad idea to do things like me. It involves a lot of books set across the tops of other books on bookshelves until the whole thing collapses.
You could, though, develop some particular niche hobby to incredible, almost cartoon-like depth. This is a great idea. For instance, I know two people who are amazingly deeply into squirrels. Everyone they know is always sending them squirrel plush dolls and videos of every squirrel being cute or clever on the Internet. Every report of where a squirrel, say, causes a stock market panic because they chewed through an Internet cable. Every time Mark Trail has a giant squirrel talk over a log cabin. They’re so renowned for being into squirrels that their hobby’s self-sustaining now. Their friends do all the work, and all they have to do is sometimes acknowledge that yeah, that squirrel sure got onto that bird feeder all right.
You could become that person with an amazing stock of music knowledge. For example: remember 1981? That year, three-eighths of all sounds were radio plays of the Theme to The Greatest American Hero. (Believe it or not!) I know, I’m surprised too. I remember 1981. I would have sworn it was at least three-and-a-half eighths of all sounds. Anyway, the guy who sang that, Joey Scarbury? He went on, with Desiree Goyette, to record “Flashbeagle”. You know, for the Charlie Brown special It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown. Yes, Desiree Goyette, the voice of Irving’s other girlfriend Brenda from the 1987 Cathy cartoon. Anyway, drop a fact like that into any conversation and you’ll have changed it forever! I’m afraid that’s about all the music knowledge I have for you. Sorry. It has to be your thing, not mine, anyway.
You could become a know-it-all, but one who tempers every statement by prefacing it with “it’s my understanding that”. This doesn’t work. Also, it’s the kind of nonsense I do, and again, you should avoid doing things like I do.
You could be a person with a deep-dive podcast into some small mystery of life. Like, you could be the person who finally solves why the nutritional information for a noodle packet gives you both the cooked and the uncooked nutrition. Like, are there an appreciable number of people who’ll eat the Hamburger Helper mix — dry shells, powder and all — without any hamburger or water or help or anything? Who are the people tearing open packets of ramen to eat them raw? Where are they? Are they coming after us? Are they getting nearer? At the end of fourteen deeply thoughtful segments you come to the realization that everybody runs at minimum about 25% freak and, you know? If your freak turns out to be “chomps down on raw Noodle-Roni”? That’s fine. It’s not like you’re hurting anyone like you would if your freak had something to do with, I don’t know. Enchanting poodles or anything that’s professionally titled “arbitrage” or something. The good thing is if you do enough of this series, your audience may start doing fan art or sending in tips and then the thing becomes self-sustaining.
You could become a neighborhood legend. You maybe imagine that requires an incredible load of effort, such as by stealing three golf carts from the course on the north side of town, chaining them together, and RV’ing your golf cart train around the neighborhood park. Not at all. You can make do with two golf carts chained together, if the people who are Extremely Upset Online in the neighborhood Facebook group are representative.
What’s important is not so much what you do but that you choose something that feels right to you, a person you are trying to not be like. There are ways that this makes sense.
You know, musical science tells us that there should have been a wave of annoying, acoustic covers of Born in the USA done in minor keys and being completely unavoidable even though nobody liked them that much. And we should have gotten sick of people complaining that the minor-key covers missed the point of the song. The most amazing thing is that this should have happened a decade ago, certainly no later than 2015. There is no explanation for this gap in the field.
So shy are farms like scrapbooking, but for food? A couple years ago the schoolteacher in Gasoline Alley promoted scrapbooking to the kids, as a good creative thing they should do. And Jim Scancarelli’s comic strip talked about it a lot. Or so it felt like; probably it was just a month or two of the characters being really into scrapbooking. That memory’s lodged itself in the Gasoline Alley snark-reading community, anyway. It’s a fun reference whenever a comic strip seems to start obsessing over something, whether it’s Mary Worth and CRUISE SHIPS or Gasoline Alley again and … farms. So that’s what I was on about last week.
After a couple weeks of waiting-room gags Beluga meets Aubee Skinner. She’s the three-year-old latest generation of the comic strip’s star family. And we follow her and her mother home, to Rover Skinner. (Grandson of Walt Wallet, original centerpiece of the strip.) The handoff is done … oh, I’ll call it the 24th of March. You could date it as early as the 12th, when they arrived at the clinic, if you like. Or the 19th, when Aubee climbs into Beluga’s lap.
Rover is getting ready for the Farm Collective’s meeting. And he talks his teenage son Boog into coming along. (Wikipedia tells me Boog was born in September 2004, and Aubee in September 2016. So, yeah, these ages still check out for being real-time.)
The point of the meeting: to promote “saving our farmlands”. Attending the meeting are a bunch of the local farm families. Skinner’s thesis: without family farms, they’ll pave over the land, there’ll be no food, and people will starve. Checks out; that’s what must happen. But Skinner expands on the problem: land is expensive. And that’s all he mentions before explaining his special guest speaker isn’t there yet.
The Molehill Highlanders band plays, particularly, the World War I ditty “How’re You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down On The Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)”. Boog sees in this century-old paean to the dullness of farm life a way to get people excited about farm life. His father agrees, and soon everyone is buzzing about their campaign’s theme song. Also they have a campaign, I guess. Charlotte, Boog’s girlfriend, also has a great idea. Wouldn’t it help cut down farm expenses if local teens did the farm work, but for free? It sure would!
She’s thinking internships or something. Anyway after all this, special guest speaker Eric Helmet arrives. He’s got a broken tractor and a bunch of farm-life jokes. And talks about how farming is expensive and hard. But, he figures, what if they had some kind of outreach program so that people understood agriculture? Also, Don Henley wrote “A Month Of Sundays”. That’s a fanciful ballad imagining a time in 1957 that bankers were friends to farmers.
I don’t mean to make this sound disjointed. But what we see on-camera is disjointed. And shallow, considering it went on for about two months. I’m willing to trust that in “reality” Helmet talked in some detail about being a struggling farmer, or as it’s known technically, “being a farmer”. And I understand Scancarelli wanting to tell corny but amiable jokes. It’s more readable than the screwed up parts of agricultural policy, or as they’re known technically, “all of agricultural policy”. But it did read like a slightly weird obsession.
There’s no handoff to the current storyline. It just started the 18th of May. It’s also a repeat, something I would not have noticed (at this point) without reading the comments. It originally ran from the 19th of April through the 5th of June, 2010. So that’s six more weeks of this storyline. As it is, Walt Wallet is home from the hospital, after a stretch of being a hundred and twentyten years old. Gertie looks over his pills and worries about the side effects. We’ll see what happens after the 6th of July.
You know, Mike Oldfield didn’t write “Tubular Bells” for The Exorcist. Director William Friedkin picked it when the original soundtrack was too scary, and he didn’t yet know about Tangerine Dream. So, like, in an alternate timeline, that tune doesn’t have any association with anything horrifying. It could have ended up being the sound for merry Christmas melodies of the 70s and 80s. You never see that sort of thing in alternate-history novels, though. Alternate history is a fun genre, ranging from stories about “what if the worst people won the major war” all the way to stories about “what if there were lots more moon landings”. But it never wonders about what if prog rock albums were appreciated differently.
Music. That’s something that helps in times of crisis. It’s a way to manage the feeling you’re having every feeling at once, and will never not again. Look deep into your music collection and find something pleasant and soothing, and enjoy.
Here’s where this goes wrong. My music collection is mostly weird, experimental, early-analog synth experiments. Oh, yes, and 100 Hits of Frank Crumit, who recorded in the 1920s and 30s. That’s pleasant, in that everything he recorded sounds like background music for a Betty Boop cartoon. As long as you don’t hit one of the lyrics that are crazy racist. There’s one song about being an outhouse-builder that’s not bad, although it’s not as good as you’d think.
But that’s the one album. The rest? It’s daffy stuff like fourteen takes of Raymond Scott trying to perfectly represent the sound of a robot mouse passing gas. And this in the service of recording a commercial for Bendix or Ohio Bell or something like that. Or the albums of Ferrante and Teicher. These guys recorded a bunch of wonderful, goofy, way-over-the-top renditions of, like, the theme to Star Wars or whatever. It’s music that makes you go, “seriously?” And yes, yes, they did a lot of cornball stuff. But they did it because it paid the bills. It’s what let them afford their serious music, where they’d try playing a piano strung up with sheets of paper or metal chains or stuff so it sounds all weird.
But. The comforting assurance of a person who knows a particular feeling and can make that a melody? Nope. My music collection brings out the warm communion of the soundtrack to Logan’s Run.
And that’s a great reference to make because I just learned one of my under-thirty friends likes Logan’s Run. For the aesthetics of it, mind you, not for the story. This is perceptive of my friend. I like Logan’s Run, but not because of the story, because have you seen the story? It’s a lot of meandering around through settings. Eventually two masses in the shape of protagonists escape the storyline. In the vast wilderness outside then they discover Peter Ustinov. The sudden presence of an actor then blows up the whole project.
So I like the movie, but that’s because of the look and the feel of it. You watch it and admire the things set designers can do with Plexiglass. And marvel at how ingenious this all was, even if it’s nothing like the props and effects and design of Star Wars. But, like, the films were separated by so much time. Then you look it up and find out that Logan’s Run came out twelve minutes before Star Wars and you feel all confused. Why is Logan’s Run not more less-bad than it is?
Still, I like that an under-thirty friend can appreciate the movie for what it’s good at. Also I like that I have an under-thirty friend, somehow. Or any friend, period. I know what it’s like to put up with me. Be friends with me and you have to put up with this nonsense. I track how much I’m spending on shampoo so I know whether to trim my beard. I think of stuff about Calvin Coolidge or the Wilmot Proviso or whatever. I get anxious if we have a flat surface without an unstable pile of papers and magazines and small purchases on top. I stop my reading so I can tell my love something from my book.
If my love wants any peace while I’m doing this, there’s nothing to do but put headphones on. The big headphones, ones look ready for broadcasting on the WKRP In Cincinnati prequel that’s on I’m guessing CBS All Access. And listen to music. Lots of it. My love has gone through the whole Kinks catalogue. Their good albums, their bad albums, their unpopular albums, Ray Davies leaving messages on Dave Davies’s phone that he can’t be in the band. Everything. When I get to reading the second book I’ve acquired in the past twelve months about the history of the United States Post Office, my love will have to start listening to wholly imaginary Kinks albums. That’s all right. I have my own earphones and can listen to Joe Meek trying to do a surf-rock theramin version of the theme to Popeye. This is the power of music in a trying time.
Shaky is the villain in Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy right now, in late February 2020. If you’re reading this summary after about May 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap here. But this Shaky is the nephew, or nephew at least once removed, of the original Shaky. This first Shaky was a con man with a relentless shaking habit, and amazing dexterity, who died in the comic strip in January 1945. Asphyxiation, nasty stuff. The Dick Tracy Wiki helpfully explains there were a second Shaky, related to the first, who appeared in a 1986 and a sequel sometime in the 1990s. That character’s described on that page for Shaky. The current Shaky they dub Shaky II, because he is the third of that name and gimmick. I’m glad this acts as if it cleared things up.
Roper, Nomad, Dick Tracy, and Sam Catchem count it as good luck that Tuzon’s car bomb didn’t kill any of them. Tuzon and his partner, Clybourne, see it as bad luck; they don’t have the cash for another bomb. Tuzon makes some calls, though. He knows of some friends, Measles and Wormy, whom Sam Catchem busted before they could use their crime props. Why not use their gear?
Clybourne calls Roper and Nomad. He claims to be an armored car driver who saw something relevant to the bomb. He sets up a meeting at Ambush Parking Garage, and they agree to fall for this. Clybourne went to so much trouble bringing knockout gas it would be rude if they didn’t. Meanwhile Tuzon calls Dick Tracy, claiming he wants to turn himself in. He’ll meet Tracy and Catchem at the Big Cat House, at the zoo. Tracy and Catchem fall for this, too. Clybourne and Tuzon drag all four of them into the alligator pit. The ex-circus alligator Lorenzo is to get them.
Tracy wakes up moments ahead of Lorenzo getting to them, and rallies everyone. They call for help and … well, it’s able to get to them with plenty of time. Tuzon didn’t grab their wrist-radios or stick around to watch the alligator eat them because, you know. He had urgent business: getting to the aviary so he could free the original Clybourne, the crow he’d trained to pick pockets on the midway. Mike Nomad divines this is Tuzon’s plan, chases after him, and catches the guy. And, on the 28th of December, Steve Roper and Mike Nomad fly back for home, wrapping up the story.
The new story — one just recently wrapped up — started the 29th of December, 2019. This with a guy assembling a bunch of guns and a metallic face mask. He leads the robbery of Thermopolis Payroll, introducing himself as Mister Roboto. This isn’t his first robbery, but it’s the first big enough to make it grand larceny and be worthy of Dick Tracy’s attention. Mr Roboto’s gang also wears masks, “not as elaborate” in the words of the police chief, but, you know, you gotta do something.
Which seems to be Mister Roboto’s point. After splitting the payroll heist, Roboto dismisses his henchmen until next week. He resigns himself to his boring warehouse job.
Meanwhile — in a story foreshadowed the 9th and 10th of December — the new Vitamin Flintheart play assembles. They’re doing a stage version of Metropolis. Starring as the Robotrix and False Maria? Mysta Chimera, who — just a second. I need to warm up before describing all this. OK. Mysta Chimera has the appearance and some of the powers of the Lunarians, much like Honeymoon Tracy has. But she’s not from the moon. She’s a surgically modified, amnesiac mobster’s daughter who’d been mentally programmed to think she was the Moon Maiden, Junior Tracy’s murdered wife. Chimera has learned where she really came from, and has given up on her whole past identity to hang around with Dick Tracy’s gang. Bonding with Honeymoon Tracy over having, you know, Moon Powers and those cool antennas and all that. Junior Tracy has taken all this with a sangfroid I’m not sure I could manage in the circumstance.
Mr Roboto pulls another robbery and gets into a shootout with Dick Tracy. It has a couple delightful moments in it. First, the cashier blurting out “domo arigato, Mister Roboto”, which endears her to Roboto. He declares that she can keep the money. Second, though, during the shootout Roboto declares, “Hey, Tracy! It’s a cold war!” Which confuses his underlings. Also, everyone who read the strip because the thing that defines a “cold war” is not shooting directly at the enemy. What’s going on here is that “Cold War” is one of the other songs on the album with “Mister Roboto”. So the implication here is that yes, Mr Roboto is trying to build his villain’sona around a Styx thing, but that he … doesn’t … really … have exactly the material to do it with. Or didn’t have the command of the material to do the patter smoothly. I accept this as a funny, awkward moment in the training of a young supervillain.
They get out of the shootout, though. Mr Roboto has one of his henchmen lose his costume and fake being a hostage, for safe passage. He won’t be able to use that henchman again, but, that’s better than their getting killed or arrested. And they’ll have to lay low a while, but he was thinking to do that anyway. Roboto had noticed the ads for Metropolis, after all.
And the play is just his thing. The 19th of January — the first time we see Mr Roboto’s face unmasked — he’s gazing at Mysta Chimera, and even better, Mysty Chimera as a robot. It’s an explosive mix. He’s barely left the theater when he’s worked out how he’s going to kidnap her and be with her forever until she loves him. It’s the pretext of a magazine interview, in costume as the robot, of course, handcuffed to a chair, the usual.
He has to run to a bank job. So he leaves her some Moon Snail, fresh-poached from the city zoo, which is having a heck of a winter with the baddies breaking in. Once he leaves, she moon-zaps her handcuffs off and calls Dick Tracy. Mr Roboto and his gang get back to the lair — well, a two-level house in the suburbs — only for Mysta to moon-zap them, and then Dick Tracy arrives. Roboto and crew surrender, asking only to not be repeatedly shot. And that, the 8th of February, wraps up the Mister Roboto storyline.
I’m assuming we’ll see Mister Roboto again, since he’s got this fun goofball air while still doing actual crimes. I have no idea what anyone from Styx thinks of inspiring a Dick Tracy villain. But I am absolutely on board for this summer’s villain of “hardcore Atari 2600 Swordquest adventure games fanboy”. Also, nobody has yet added this storyline to the “Uses in Media” section of Wikipedia’s page about the song. Just observing.
The new and current story started the 9th of February, with someone baking a birthday cake for Shaky, whose gimmick is that he’s always trembling. Then, some flashbacks to explain his deal. He was shaking constantly from infancy, rather like his uncle Shaky. He parleyed this in his youth to being the schoolyard bully. Then to selling exam papers and book reports. Then to blackmail, forgery, that sort of thing. And today? Today, he’s looking for revenge on Dick Tracy.
Shaky’s plan get Tracy is to go through Tess Tracy. Her detective agency provided most of the evidence used to convict James McQueen of aggravated backstory. Shaky claims he can prove McQueen’s innocence, and that he’s willing to sit on that evidence, for a fee. And if she doesn’t pay, he explains, he’ll tell the press how Dick Tracy’s wife is suppressing evidence. Think of the scandal, since in the Tracy universe there are still scandals with consequences. Think how her husband will react.
Me, I would think “obscure relative of a killed antagonist is blackmailing me to get revenge on you” would be easy to explain to Dick Tracy. Heck, it’s happened so much they have to discuss it when something doesn’t have to do with a relative of someone Tracy’s killed looking for revenge. There’ve been like over two hundred relatives of Flattop alone trying to get revenge on Dick Tracy. Tossing in another Shaky shouldn’t strain the super-scientific detective’s belief in her. But we’ll see. For now, this is where the story’s gotten.
What was, historically, the capital of the Ohio Territory?
What is the largest city to border a Great Lake?
Where’s the Cedar Point amusement park?
How are you today?
Did you know psoriasis can get into your ear? How does that make sense?
Are the Kinks getting back together?
What makes our new Terms of Service so all-fired different from the old Terms of Service that it was worth sending you a new Terms of Service to pretend to read?
Is there going to be weather tomorrow?
What’s the seat of Hamilton County, Ohio?
Back in the early 20th century when there were “traction companies” running trolley cars all along city and even suburban streets it’s … like … they were transmitting electric power for cars along overhead lines, right? It’s not like they were running gigantic ropes and pulleys dragging things through town? Because that couldn’t possibly work, but “traction” seems like a weird name for “streetcar electric power”, right?
Where was Case Western Reserve University originally located?
Which United States Vice-President swore his oath of office in Cuba?
What’s the name of your Chicago cover band?
Yes, but did you like the movie?
Reference: Science From Your Airplane Window, Elizabeth A Wood. “Cleveland” was the name of your friend from college that you never really lost touch with but never talk to either’s Chicago cover band.