Finger on Remote Control, We are Wired to Your Soul


Nineteen years ago my love bought a TV set. Nobody thought that exceptional, but the thing is we were still watching it until last month. My love and I share an attitude toward durable goods, which is they ought to be. So we’ve had about five years of people asking, “seriously, you don’t have an HDTV yet?” But we were fine. TV shows would just assume we had more horizontal space than we did, like when The Price Is Right changed the Showcase Showdown wheel into a fat ellipsoid, but we rolled with it.

All was fine until one Tuesday after I’d watched a Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD and then my love noticed the screen was flickering and the TV softly hissing. Then it got to hissing a lot louder, and the picture on screen contracted to a temporal anomaly letting through alternate-history episodes of Voyager. Friends who seem to know about this stuff told us the flyback transformer had broken, and that needed to be replaced or else it would explode and cover a four-mile radius with a black, sticky tar, made of the substance left over from leaving How It’s Made on as background noise. Fair enough.

And as we promised, finally time to get a brand-new High Definition set. We shopped around until finding the right set for us: one that a friend had and wasn’t using and that didn’t require us to put the back seat of the car down to fit in the trunk. My love and I grew up in the picture-tube era when a 14-inch set was respectable, and 21-inch meant you’d really made it. In the modern era a 21-inch set is the one you put in the bathroom so while showering you can watch steam. My parents picked up a bed-sized TV set for the living room, and demoted that to bedroom purposes when they got an even larger one, I believe folded up many times over and included with a box of cereal. A large box, mind you, they’re not giving those things away in a mere 12-ounce box of Honey Nut Cheerios. You need the 20-ounce at least. And maybe Golden Grahams instead. We had to rearrange the living room furniture is what I’m getting at.

The hard part was moving the bookshelves, which had been where they were since they were first put in place by glaciers in the Wisconsin Glaciation. This let us discover there wasn’t as much dust as we expected. There was evidence of mice, though. A few years back we had some of the least efficient mice in the world in the house. You know the thing where mice are quiet and kind of shy? They were prowling around, coughing loudly and demanding attention and sitting up next to our pet rabbit looking for all the world like rowboats approaching a dreadnought. We found accommodations for them where we don’t have to hear them all the time.

No mice there. But we did see a few pages, all that was left, from a chewed-up copy of the Consumer Reports Buying Guide for 2008. As best we can work out, the mice were diligently researching which microwave oven to get. I guess they chose wisely. We haven’t heard any complaints.

The other challenge was getting the old TV out of there. I know everyone has problems with power cords and antenna cables and all tangling together. But our house has some special space-warping power around it. I’m fussy about plugging stuff in, and I still have stuff where I plug in my iPod and the digital camera and the cables instantly knot together and there’s fourteen separate USB end plugs, most of which don’t even exist. Between the TV, the cable box, the DVD, the Wii, the record turntable, the CD player, and the audio thingy that I have to keep pressing buttons on to get sound out of, I’m still behind the TV stand now, screaming at wires. It’s been over a month. Send help.

The tangling and twisted mass of power cords, power bricks, and dust that was behind our TV stand. It's quite the mess.
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?” Scrooge trembled more and more. “Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was as full and heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!” Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing. “Jacob,” he said, imploringly. “Old Jacob Marley, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob! I mean wholeheartedly that I shall watch that like season and a half of Doctor Who that’s been piling up!”

Thing is it wasn’t that awful a movie on that Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD. If I had known the trouble it would cause I’d have watched something more epic.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose six points responding to market information that there were abundant Reese’s peanut butter eggs and they were all discounted fifty percent, which means it’s just fine to eat a whole package of six of them in under a minute, okay?

132

After The End Of Everything


To conclude my Mystery Science Theater 3000-based reminiscences:

Everything ends. I guess we can’t put a stop to that. In early 1999 the Sci-Fi Channel decided not to renew Mystery Science Theater 3000. There were a bunch of ideas for continuing the show, most of them floated by the regulars on Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. There was moving to another cable channel. Or maybe going to PBS. Maybe releasing stuff direct to videotape or that newfangled DVD. Maybe forget about fangling stuff and just release stuff online. Maybe save the we-imagined pricey business of recording host sketches and stuff and instead just release audio tracks that people could match to movies they’d buy. Maybe just go to doing live shows on new, never-ending college tours. Maybe even transcend the movies thing altogether and do comic books or something. Maybe do some fundraising scheme to buy new episodes. Not interested in this: the people who actually made the show, far as we could tell. It went off the air in August 1999 with the final episode, Danger Diabolik, and then went off the air again in September 1999 with Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders which had been sitting in some kind of rights quibble for months. The show went off the air once again with The Screaming Skull a bit over four years later, when the Sci-Fi Channel stopped airing reruns.

But losing the original show hurts a group of fans gathered for stuff. And yes, the group’s focus expanded; we got to talking about movies and TV shows and books and all sorts of pop culture, viewed with that perspective of loving good stuff, but also loving looking for what’s enjoyable about the bad. Or looking at the bad and trying to find stuff enjoyable about it. If Mystery Science Theater 3000 has any positive insight, it’s that there is something worth sharing that can be made out of most anything.

Still, it hurts a group to lose its TV show. And it hurts a group to be on Usenet. The great thing about Usenet is it was designed in the early 80s, for anyone who likes to run a server to set up and run and share with people. The thing that kills it is that who wants to set up and run a server for talking about cancelled TV shows? If there’s any money in it, it’s in proper web forums that can show advertisements or at least harvest user information. Usenet can’t do that. Servers dwindled out of operation, probably because they broke and nobody knew they were even there or how to fix them. A couple of big ISPs dropped Usenet on allegations the system was used to pirate movies and TV shows and music and while that may have been true we also used it to legitimately talk about urban legends and pinball and comic strips and stuff like that. Still, with each month, there was a little less Usenet, and some people drifted away not to be seen again, and so there was even less Usenet, and some more people drifted off, and then suddenly there wasn’t anything left but a few people who refuse to turn off the lights.

My community dwindled away. Web Site Number Nine, the center of the MiSTing community, went down for a weekend of maintenance sometime in 2004 and hasn’t come back yet. rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc I’d say had its final collapse around 2007 or 2008. I stick around, checking in some and talking occasionally. I try to write at least one new MiSTing a year and post that, but I admit a lot of it feels like putting in designated at-bats to keep alive some abstract streak no one but me even knows exists.

There’s still fans, though. One time I had a rare chance to meet in person some friends from the Seattle area; they spent nearly the whole weekend talking in MST3K quotes, to the point I felt like I was being quizzed. Did I recognize the episode with the jingle about “when you want the flavor of bacon in a dip”? Well, of course I did, but … is this everything we have to talk about? Somehow it felt alienating and I started taking dives, claiming I don’t recognize episodes that I actually do. Boy that’s screwy.

Weirder stuff happened. Really, every crazy plan we had on Usenet in 1999 to save the show came true. There’s live shows, as Cinematic Titanic and as Rifftrax. There’s recorded audio-only tracks, for Rifftrax. There’s episodes made direct for DVD release. There’s episodes brought back on air, sent to PBS stations or some of those weird digital sub-channels on broadcast TV. I remember somewhere seeing a plan to license an MST3K comic book, but goodness knows if that’ll come about.

And so we come to today, when the Kickstarter-funded, Netflix-backed season debuts. I haven’t seen it yet. Don’t have Netflix. We used to get Internet through AT&T, and they don’t want working-class neighborhoods in the state capitol as customers, so we couldn’t get Internet nearly fast enough to stream videos. They were bad enough that Comcast was the improvement. We probably have fast enough Internet to stream videos now. But the habit built from getting ten minutes into a show and stuff freezing up, until I call tech support and demand someone answer “Why?” dies hard. I recommend asking tech support “Why?” It’s at least as productive as saying what your specific problem is, and we do need more people working out exactly why we’ve let society come to this.

So I don’t know what I feel or what I expect exactly from the new season. I want to be enthusiastic, but I’m not good with enthusiasm. Especially if it’s something lots of people are enthusiastic about. It makes me worry something’s going wrong. So here’s what I can manage, before ever seeing Season Eleven: I really hope they don’t screw this up.

I don’t know if I want you to tell me whether they did.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Light trading today as investors were paying much more attention to the discovery of the Candy Land wiki and that it allows comments and that the comments can include stuff like “HOW DARE YOU REPLACE MR. MINT WITH SOME STUPID LOOKING GARY-STU!!!”. The index rose one point.

134

Me, MST3K, and Marissa Picard


So what to do after finally seeing, and getting into, Mystery Science Theater 3000? It being 1996, the answer was: Usenet. The medium is all but dead now, but attempts to reinvent what was great about it continue, without success. I suppose the nearest analogue is Reddit. Or if you imagine the web forum for whatever your favorite subject is. Or the Facebook chat group for your favorite podcast. There’s big technical differences in how they’re organized and administrated. But the important social thing was: here was a way to find and talk with people about stuff you liked. So I got to the newsgroup called rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc. The name meant it was part of the big group about recreational topics; then the subsection of recreational topics that are about the arts; the subsection of the arts known as TV; the subsection of TV known as MST3K; and then … uhm … miscellaneous. Well, there was a rec.arts.tv.mst3k.admin that just posted “administrative” stuff like show schedules.

It was, like many newsgroups in the mid-to-late 90s, a lively place. Hundreds of people delighting in how they liked something, and how much they liked something, and how they liked it more than other people, and how other people didn’t like the right stuff about it, and how other people should stop liking the wrong stuff about it. You know, like people do. This sounds bog-standard now, but it was new to us all back then.

Some of the most fascinating stuff going on back then was a kind of flame war with a Star Trek fanfic writer. The fellow was named Stephen Ratliff. So far as I know he still is. You remember that episode where the Enterprise crashed into an Irwin Allen Disaster Movie, and the crew has to endure adventures like Worf helping O’Brien deliver her baby and Data popping his head off and Picard getting some kids to climb out of a stuck elevator? Stephen Ratliff was inspired by the kids of that episode and wrote some fan fiction. It has the kids start playing Star Fleet Officer on the holodecks and all that and forming their own little Kids Crew of under-twelve-year-olds. Anyone could have that idea. Ratliff had an idea of pure genius. He came up with some reason to put these kids in charge of the actual starship Enterprise. And then do it again, in more fan fiction.

There had been Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfiction — taking the text of something and inserting jokes, using the characters from the show — for a couple years even then. But when one MiSTer (get it?) discovered Stephen Ratliff the genre was made. The stories had this magnificent natural absurdity told, in the earliest stories, with remarkable ineptitude. These flame wars on rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc amounted to people decrying the offensiveness of the Kids Crew premise — ten-year-olds put in command of starships, even Next Generation starships where nothing all that bad ever really happens? — and Stephen Ratliff defending his premise with remarkable patience and grace and the not-quite-off-point argument that kids used to be inducted into the Royal Navy so why not have that happen again?

Sure, even without Stephen Ratliff there’d probably be a good MiSTing genre. The idea is too good. But he made it part of the fandom. Partly by writing stuff that was so joyous to read, and to riff on. Partly by being so interesting to talk about. Marissa, the girl from the elevator, gets adopted by Picard and becomes Princess of Deep Space England and travels in time to hook up Wesley Crusher and Chelsea Clinton before sending a space shuttle to Mars and becomes Lord High Admiral of the Federation and all that? (I swear.) How do you not want in on that?

So I got in, despite having — then — only seen a handful of episodes. I had a good source text. There was this cartoon series based on Sonic the Hedgehog, the video game character. In it he and the gang are rebels trying to save the world from the evil Doctor Robotnik and his robots — you know what? Doesn’t matter. It was popular in the 90s, and a lot of people wrote fan fiction. I found a piece and asked the author for permission to riff it. Asking permission was an important part of MiSTing culture. I mean, we didn’t ask for permission to riff spam. But if it was something someone identifiable wrote, it was at least bad form not to ask permission, and to give the author the chance to veto any truly unfair lines — or, in principle, the whole thing — before publishing. No sense being a cad.

It was well-received. One of my friends who’d written his own Sonic the Hedgehog fanfictions asked me to riff his. Other people in the group started looking to Sonic fandom and finding volunteers. There was much more to the MiSTing community than Stephen Ratliff and Sonic the Hedgehog, of course. There was a lot of fanfiction. There were the bizarre rants and conspiracy theories that people published on Usenet without regard for whether that made any sense. My favorite was someone accusing the English department of my grad school, an engineering school, with working to bring down civilization. (Did we even have an English department?) There was spam. So much spam. There was more normal yet poorly-targeted commercial messages. Someone did a whole Tom Swift novel. We did a lot of writing. I learned from it, a good bit about timing and pacing and how to write host sketches that could plausibly be done on the actual show. (Two or three minutes at most, few characters, few entrances and exits, as little editing as possible. This was my taste. Others wrote sketches that could only be done in fan fiction, where budgets and staging action and all aren’t issues. Their tastes.) Stephen Ratliff continued writing Marissa Picard stories that were gradually getting better, in internal logic and in fundamental writing technique. And sending out announcements so people could organize who’d get to riff his newest work.

He won us over. How can you not like someone who listens to you telling him why his stories suck, and thanks you, and writes stories that stop sucking those ways? We won him over. How can you not like an alert and obsessively responsive set of readers for your every word?

There was a lot that was great in the 90s. Mystery Science Theater 3000, Usenet, and MiSTing, were big parts of my great 90s.

Friday: I bet I have some more of this talk in me.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose five points on exciting news that astronaut Peggy Whitson is expected soon to become the most experienced United States astronaut in terms of time spent in space, and also on learning the name of a current astronaut.

142

In Which I Blame Ren And Stimpy For My Missing Out On Something Cool A While


Friday comes the release of the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s a show that was important to me so I thought I’d talk about my relationship with it some. It’s a nearly one-sided relationship, although I do follow Frank Conniff on Twitter, where he has never noticed me. He’s had other stuff to do.

My first clear memory of knowing about the show was during one of their college tours. I think it had to be 1993. Some friends told me I had to go see it because I would love the show. They were right, but I didn’t believe them. I was still feeling burned after a lot of buildup for Ren and Stimpy, which I tried and learned was so utterly inappropriate for my tastes as to make me wonder if the people who recommended it to me knew anything about me. So I skipped it. Probably just as well. I’m sure whatever I was doing that night was more important anyway. It would have been playing Civilization I on the Macs in the office of the unread left-wing student weekly I wrote for. And I had nowhere to watch the show anyway, as I didn’t have cable, and even if I did, no cable systems had Comedy Central in those days. Yes, yes, there was trading in videotapes but I didn’t have a videotape player at college, because it was 1993.

A couple years pass and I hear occasional bits about what a great show it is. I go off to grad school. Mystery Science Theater 3000 begets a syndicated hourlong version, made by cutting each episode in half and airing them successive weeks. It doesn’t air in my grad school’s TV market. But I get to try out some episodes when I’m home for some break. The first half of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The first half of Pod People. Both are classic episodes, although Pod People was the harder to watch. The underlying movie is really sluggish, with muddy audio; if you’re not paying close attention the thing is gibberish. Still, I’m intrigued. The syndicated version goes off the air without my ever catching the second half of an episode.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 begets a movie version. I’m glad to give that a try. There’s some nice publicity drives that make the show sound appealing, or at least worth trying out. The movie is finally released, although not to theaters. The studio makes maybe two-thirds of a print and circulates it for literally minutes. If it ever, ever appeared in a theater in the Albany area I never heard about it.

Ah, but! My grad school changes its cable provider to one that’s got Comedy Central. Finally I can give the show a try. By that time the show’s been officially cancelled from its Comedy Central home, but it’s still running a bunch of episodes ahead of the move to the Sci-Fi Channel. It occupies a couple timeslots early Saturday and late Sunday. I try out my first episode: The Magic Voyage of Sinbad. It’s a fine episode, still one of my favorites. It’s a foreign movie, a Ruso-Finnish coproduction telling one of the legends of Sadko, whom I don’t know anything about either, which is why when the movie was imported it was redubbed as “Sinbad”. It’s a gorgeous film, full of practical effects and telling about a hero trying to bring happiness to his people and sailing to India and encountering magic and wonder. If it all comes out a little weird that’s probably because legends are a bit like that, especially when it’s legends from another culture and then made into a movie and then redubbed and probably reedited and all that. But it’s beautiful if odd and delightful. By the time I was forty minutes in I was sold on the show. It was also 2:40 am and I theoretically had classes the next day, so went to sleep, still never having seen the end of an episode.

Next Saturday there’s another episode. The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, 10 am. I forget to set the VCR. (I know which episode it was because MST3K fans, incredibly, have kept track of the broadcasting of episodes.) Also somewhere in this time I’ve gotten a VCR. I set the VCR for Kitten With A Whip, 7:00 the next morning. Finally, finally I get to see an episode all the way to the end.

So, yes, I’m sold. Also I’m there at the last three months of the show’s Comedy Central run. I’ll have the chance to catch two episodes a week of a show that’s run for (then) seven seasons, and then probably never see them again. Mystery Science Theater 3000 exists in a complex battlefield of airing rights; there were already, then, episodes that everyone knew could never be legally shown again. There’s still some episodes that it looks like might never be legally released. But three months of the experience is far better than not having the experience at all.

I splurge, and start recording episodes in LP so they’ll be of higher fidelity. Not SP, though. I was a grad student. I didn’t have SP kind of money to spend on blank videotape, come on.

Tomorrow, unless I forget: my new MST3K fandom gets worse.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose two points today as it turned out the shampoo thing was no big deal and nobody really thought I was going to make a go of it, and I’m not hurt but I shall be in the corner weeping, thank you.

137

On This Date: March 25


March 25th is the 90th day of the year or so. Something like that. Good grief, is the year that little done? It feels like more. Anyway there are some six days remaining in the month unless we find a stray Tuesday that rolled under the couch? Something like that.

1409 — Opening of the Council of Pisa following the belated discovery of the can opener. In resolving the Western Schism between the popes in Rome and Avignon the council settles on the innovative approach of declaring everyone who passes by the front door, including four stray cats and a flock of pigeons, to be Pope. The problem is left unsettled but it is still a major holiday in Rock Dove Orthodox Catholicism.

1584 — Sir Walter Raleigh receives a patent to colonize Virginia, catching him off-guard. “I thought I’d get a copyright or maybe a service mark on Virginia, but you know, I’ll make do with what I have,” he says in a telephone interview by Bob Newhart. Unfortunately unsettled trade conditions and unstable capitalization foil his efforts to make money in the manufacture and trade of Virginias, and by 1792 he admits it isn’t working out nearly like he figured. Today only the prototype Virginia and one late-run production model Virginia still remain, preserved in a special museum-grade display with inert gas.

1802 — By the terms of the Treaty of Amiens, France and England resolve to stop fighting and never go to war ever again for all time except for this one more time for last licks, that’s fair, right? Sure it is.

1821 — Traditional start of the Greek War of Independence, which actually began over a month before, but they say it’s this for symbolically important reasons, and that isn’t even me making a whimsical joke but just how things are really done if Wikipedia isn’t fibbing me.

1894 — Coxey’s Army begins its march on Washington to establish that unemployment is a failure of society to provide for its citizens and not the result of personal immorality among the jobless. Oh lord we’re not living up to the moral standards of the 19th century, what are we even doing?

1950 — 25th anniversary of March 25, 1925.

1979 — Delivery of the first fully-functional space shuttle, Columbia, to the Kennedy Space Center, although the vehicle is not launched for over two years owing to the keys being locked inside and nobody knowing how to get them out without breaking a window open. They ultimately have to wait for the completion of the space shuttle Discovery and hope the keys for that fit the first, and they do, with a little jiggling around. Discovery’s first launch is delayed while the space program finds a Two Guys that will grind out a duplicate set of keys. “Look, we just want to be sure someone else can open the trunk, all right?” explains Kennedy Space Center director Richard G Smith, reminding us how there used to be a whole different key for the trunks and why was that exactly? The past is weird, that’s all.

1995 — Establishment of WikiWikiWeb, the first user-editable web site, opens an innovative new way that people who read way too much of The Straight Dope as kids can argue about David Rice Atchison in the Talk page.

2000 — 50th anniversary of the 25th anniversary or March 25, 1925.

2017 — I’m like one day ahead of deadline.

Born On This Day:

Religious troublemaker John Calvin (maybe?), Army marcher Jacob Coxey (like a one in 365 chance), Vulcan inventor D C Fontana (Star Trek if I got lucky), probably some European royalty with a name like John IV or Jacob III or Katerina The Rather So (here I’m just playing the odds). You know what, let’s say Howard Cosell too, just so there’s a name that anyone can recognize if they’re not like four months younger than me.

Died On This Day:

Do we need this installment? It’s so depressing.

Special Observances:

This is the earliest day on which Seward’s Day can fall. Seward’s Day is the day when Alaskans observe William Seward. It should not be confused with Alaska Day, but I bet it is all the time and is fed up with it. It is observed as Wright Brothers Day by confused aviation enthusiasts. Until 1752 it was the start of the New Year in England, Wales, Ireland, and the American Colonies, which raises disturbing implications about just how many days there were between March 27, 1751 and March 22, 1751. Don’t stare to hard into that one. You won’t like what you find.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell five points today as everyone was busy watching the trailer for the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 and torn between bits that made them figure this was going to be as good as they needed it to be and bits that made them figure it was going to be off in all those ways that non-hardcore-fans can’t understand. The mood on the floor is described as “hope mixed with a sense that, really, the children of the original Mads is the fullest re-thinking done? But there’s a lot of people who know what they’re doing and maybe the Ready Player One guy can be harnessed to a good cause?”

125

What’s Going On In Mark Trail? December 2016 – March 2017


Mark Trail was the second story strip I reviewed as having had a sea change considerably improving it. And I’ve talked in passing about the major event of November and December. But let me recap the whole of the last few months as best I understand it.

Mark Trail.

4 December 2016 through 18 March 2017

When I last talked about Mark Trail he was off on a remote Hawai’ian atoll, there to document an invasive species of ant that was bothering the local birds. While human-induced carelessness will create ecological problems nature has its ways of restoring the balance. In this case, nature chose to go with “titanic volcano explosion that destroys the island, the invasive ants, and everything else on it”. Nature has a real problem figuring out the appropriate scale for its responses. This by the way isn’t the first time in James Allen’s tenure as Mark Trail author-and-artist that an invasive species has been solved by fire. Some kind of beetle boring into woods was solved by a particularly well-placed bit of semi-controlled wildfire.

At the smoking ruins of the island: 'I've been a charter pilot through the islands for many years and I've seen coral atolls rise and sink from time to time, but I've never seen one totally erupt, crumble, and sink into the sea before!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 24th of December, 2016. And yes, this may look bad, what with Mark Trail having declined the insurance on Firecracker Island. But look on the bright side: now that the island has erupted, crumbled, and sunk into the waters there’s probably someone looking to build a Monty Python reference on the spot already.

Anyway, the volcano exploded a lot, and then exploded some more, and then went on exploding to the point that some readers got a bit cranky wondering if there was even any island left to explode. It reads better if you look at a week’s worth of strips at once, which Comics Kingdom’s web site makes easy to do, at least if you have a paid subscription. Once again, I recommend subscriptions to both Comics Kingdom and to GoComics if you like newspaper-grade syndicated comic strips. Both web sites do their jobs very well.

With the island escaped, Mark Trail observed the ritual of cleansing between storylines: eating pancakes while sharing stilted dialogue and promising his son Rusty that they’ll go fishing someday.

Cherry: 'I made your favorite!' Mark: 'Pancakes! - Indeed you did!' Rusty: 'I enjoy pancakes too! Thanks, Mom!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 30th of January, 2017. So yes, that friend of yours who’s way too much into Mystery Science Theater 3000 would like to know whether any of these people would say “I like coffee”. (It’s a reference to the episode Red Zone Cuba, but I’m going to say it’s from The Skydivers in order to trick MST3K fans into commenting to tell me I’m wrong. I’ve always been an awful old-school Internet troll that way.) The rest of us are busy pondering the exact differences between the curls in Cherry Trail’s hair and the wisps of we-hope-that’s-steam coming off the mound of pancakes. Are they a life form trying to communicate? Surely not or Mark Trail would have known what to make of them.

Meanwhile, Lee Hunter, whom I don’t know anything about either, arrives in West Africa for a licensed safari hunt. In the West African village of Village, where all the lionesses and cubs have been shipped off to zoos, there’s an elderly male that’s turned human-eater. Possibly from loneliness; he’d hardly be the first person to go a little crazy at work because of an unsatisfying home life.

As she arrives she bumps into Chris, nicknamed Dirty, a guy who’d been in some Mark Trail story a couple years ago when the strip was all about poacher smuggling. He’s on his way to the United States, and we haven’t seen Lee Hunter again since that encounter. I don’t have any guess whether Village is going to have anything to do with the current storyline, or whether James Allen is setting up a future storyline, or whether the strip just wanted to put in a good word for licensed exotic-animal hunting. (It feels out of character for Mark Trail, but it is a difficult question of ethics, and a character is under no obligation to make choices that even the author thinks correct. A character is only obliged to make choices that the author thinks credible for the story.)

That’s also just about all we’ve seen from Chris Dirty, too. Since that airport encounter Mark Trail’s been talking about how his old buddy Johnny Lone Elk spotted a pair of gray wolves and some cougar tracks at the Cheyenne River Reservation. Also evidence of a bear, which is quite exciting stuff when Mark was just thinking about getting in on some black-footed-ferret and prairie dog census work. Cherry Trail mentioned that it isn’t tornado season, so we can look forward to a tornado catching on fire and blowing up in the near future.

Doc: 'Johnny found evidence of a bear? Does he have any idea what kind?' Mark: 'It's probably just a black bear. Not likely to be a grizzly!' Cherry: 'Wasn't someone out there doing a black-footed ferret and prairie dog survey? A bear isn't going to help that at all!' Doc: 'How's Johnny doing? We haven't seen him in years!'
James Allen’s Mark Trail for the 2nd of March, 2017. You might ask if Cherry Trail is too quick to judge the bear’s unwillingness to help with the black-footed-ferret and prairie dog survey. Perhaps. Me, I wonder if in the third panel that’s Lampy, finally finding work after the end of Apartment 3-G.

Cherry’s also mentioned some water park incident that I don’t know anything about. Trusting that it’s something that really happened back when Jack Elrod was writing and drawing the strip I’m going to suppose that someone was smuggling otters down the lazy river. I have no further information about this incident.

Animals or other natural phenomena featured on Sundays recently have included:

  • The Pink Frogmouth, 12 March 2017
  • Toucans, 5 March 2017
  • The Western Pacific Biotwang (whale noise), 26 February 2017
  • Flying Lemurs, 19 February 2017
  • Amethyst, 12 February 2017
  • This Leaf-Shaped Spider In Yunnan, China, 5 February 2017
  • Hooded Nudibranches, 29 January 2017
  • New Zealand Keas, 22 January 2017
  • Spiders and Giraffe Assassin Bugs, 15 January 2017
  • Good news for bats affected with white-nose syndrome, 8 January 2017
  • Pyrosomes (which are these giant glowing sea-dwelling worms so don’t say I didn’t warn you), 1 January 2017
  • Blue Nawab caterpillars, 18 December 2016
  • Frog rescue and this amphibian-threatening fungus, 11 December 2016
  • The Great Blue Hole off the coast of Belize, 4 December 2016
  • Dodder Vine, 27 November 2016

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index fell five points when someone saw a tweet talking about a Victorian epidemic of “poisonous socks” and thought we ought to be spending more time hiding under furniture about this.

127

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter V


Previously:

  1. Chapter I
  2. Chapter II
  3. Chapter III
  4. Chapter IV

And now the conclusion of my MST3K treatment of The Tale of Fatty Coon.

>
>
> V

TOM: It was.

CROW: Maybe the real punishment was having to be Fatty Coon all along.

>
> FATTY COON GOES FISHING

MIKE: A very special episode.

>
> One day Fatty Coon was strolling along the brook which flowed
> not far from his home.

CROW: Swift Creek?

TOM: Foster Brook.

MIKE: That’s … actually too new a reference for this.

> He stopped now and then, to crouch close to the
> water’s edge, in the hope of catching a fish.

CROW: ‘What if a fish was a goshawk egg pie?’

> And one time, when he
> lay quite still among the rocks, at the side of a deep pool, with his
> eyes searching the clear water, Fatty Coon suddenly saw something
> bright, all yellow and red, that lighted on the water right before
> him. It was a bug, or a huge fly.

MIKE: Or a tiny flying saucer.

TOM: Fatty eats the aliens’ peaceful expedition before they get started.

> And Fatty was very fond of bugs—to
> eat, you know.

ALL: We *know*.

CROW: As opposed to the ones he trains for pets.

> So he lost no time. The bright thing had scarcely
> settled on the water when Fatty reached out and seized it.

CROW: But he already seezed it! It was right in front of his eyes!

> He put it
> into his mouth, when the strangest thing happened. Fatty felt himself
> pulled right over into the water.

MIKE: Finally he crosses the Chandrasekhar limit and collapses into a black hole.

>
> He was surprised, for he never knew a bug or a fly to be so
> strong as that. Something pricked his cheek and Fatty thought that the
> bright thing had stung him.

CROW: Then this family of nutrias comes up and slaps Fatty silly.

> He tried to take it out of his mouth, and
> he was surprised again. Whatever the thing was, it seemed to be stuck
> fast in his mouth.

TOM: He’s delighted by something wanting him to eat it for a change.

> And all the time Fatty was being dragged along
> through the water. He began to be frightened.

MIKE: Hungry and frightened: the Fatty Coon story.

> And for the first time
> he noticed that there was a slender line which stretched from his
> mouth straight across the pool. As he looked along the line Fatty saw
> a man at the other end of it—a man, standing on the other side of the
> brook!

CROW: ‘I don’t know how but I caught a human!’

TOM: ‘That’ll be eating for *hours*!’

> And he was pulling Fatty toward him as fast as he could.
>
> Do you wonder that Fatty Coon was frightened?

TOM: He didn’t have a license to catch men.

> He jumped
> back—as well as he could, in the water—and tried to swim away.

CROW: ‘Dive! Dive! Dive!’

> His
> mouth hurt; but he plunged and pulled just the same, and jerked his
> head and squirmed and wriggled and twisted.

MIKE: *Extremely* Chubby Checker!

> And just as Fatty had
> almost given up hope of getting free, the gay-colored bug, or fly, or
> whatever it was, flew out of his mouth and took the line with it.

CROW: I wonder if Fatty Coon will go on to learn nothing from this?


> At
> least, that was what Fatty Coon thought. And he swam quickly to the
> bank and scampered into the bushes.

MIKE: And ate his cover.

TOM: ‘Needs peanut butter!’

>
> Now, this was what really happened.

MIKE: Our story begins with the Algeciras Crisis of 1905.

> Farmer Green had come up
> the brook to catch trout. On the end of his fish-line he had tied a
> make-believe fly,

CROW: For the discerning fisher who doesn’t exist.

> with a hook hidden under its red and yellow wings.
> He had stolen along the brook very quietly, so that he wouldn’t
> frighten the fish.

TOM: He brought some presents in case he did, to reassure any scaredy-catfish.

> And he had made so little noise that Fatty Coon
> never heard him at all.

CROW: [ Fatty ] Hey, it’s hard to hear someone over the sound of my deep-fat fryer!

> Farmer Green had not seen Fatty, crouched as
> he was among the stones. And when Fatty reached out and grabbed the
> make-believe fly Farmer Green was even more surprised at what happened
> than Fatty himself.

TOM: Sammy Squirrel falls out of a tree, laughing.

MIKE: Fatty eats him.

> If the fish-hook hadn’t worked loose from Fatty’s
> mouth Farmer Green would have caught the queerest fish anybody ever
> caught, almost.

CROW: Well, there was that mermaid-cerberus this guy down in Belmar caught but that was something else.

>
> Something seemed to amuse Farmer Green, as he watched Fatty
> dive into the bushes; and he laughed loud and long.

TOM: See? Fatty Coon brings joy to the world, at last.

> But Fatty Coon
> didn’t laugh at all. His mouth was too sore;

MIKE: And full.

> and he was too
> frightened.

CROW: And awful.

> But he was very, very glad that the strange bug had flown
> away.

MIKE: And he learns the most important lesson of all, which is …

CROW: I dunno. Preferably food things.

TOM: Let’s blow this popsicle stand.

MIKE: Yeah, before Fatty eats it.

[ ALL exit the theater. ]

[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. TOM SERVO, MIKE, and CROW at the desk. ]

MIKE: Well.

TOM: So.

CROW: Well *and* so.

MIKE: So in his defense —

[ TOM, CROW groan. ]

MIKE: OK, but name something Fatty did that a real raccoon —

CROW: Don’t care.

TOM: Look, we already know Nature sucks. That’s why we have indoors. And animal stories where we like the animals.

CROW: And that is *all* the reminder of the cruel nature of the world that we ever need. Thank you.

MIKE: I .. well, over to you, Pearl.

[ CASTLE FORRESTER. PEARL, OBSERVER, and BOBO cackling. ]

PEARL: They don’t even suspect!

OBSERVER: Why would they?

BOBO: Suspect what?

[ PEARL, OBSERVER glare at BOBO. ]

BOBO: What?

OBSERVER: Chapters Six …

PEARL: Through Twenty.

BOBO: [ Not getting it. ] Oh. [ Getting it. ] Oh!

\ | /
\ | /
\|/
—O—
/|\
/ | \
/ | \

BOBO: [ Off screen ] Of this?

Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its characters and settings and concept are the property of … you know, I’m not sure. It used to be Best Brains but now I think that’s different? Well, it belongs to the people it really and truly belongs to and this is just me playing with their toys. _The Tale of Fatty Coon_ was written by Arthur Scott Bailey and published in 1915 and accessed via archive.org, which is why I am reasonably confident they’re in the public domain and can be used this way.

Keep Usenet circulating.

> Fatty Coon’s eyes turned green. It was a way they had,
> whenever he was about to eat anything

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped four points today, in trading that people suspected was just a repeat of yesterday’s. Some are speculating that the leading traders are hoping to make a regular thing of taking the weekends off and while I can’t blame them I also don’t think we want to encourage that sort of reckless talk.

101

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter IV


Previously:

  1. Chapter I
  2. Chapter II
  3. Chapter III

And now the next part of my MST3K treatment of The Tale of Fatty Coon.


>
>
> IV
>
> FATTY COON’S MISTAKE

TOM: Not getting editorial approval on this hit piece.

>
> Fatty Coon was very fond of squirrels.

CROW: Oh, Lord.

> And you may think it
> strange when I tell you that not one of the squirrels anywhere around
> Blue Mountain was the least bit fond of Fatty Coon.

MIKE: Is there anybody here that likes Fatty Coon?

CROW: There’s flocks of locusts that admire his work.

TOM: But even they won’t share a room with him.

> But when I say
> that Fatty Coon was fond of squirrels, I mean that he liked to eat
> them.

CROW: Yeah, yeah, we kinda saw that one coming.

TOM: People reading other stories saw *that* one coming.

> So of course you will understand now why the squirrels did not
> care for Fatty at all.

MIKE: Because the last three chapters didn’t make it clear?

> In fact, they usually kept just as far away
> from him as they could.

TOM: It’s as though they aren’t looking for chances to die.

>
> It was easy, in the daytime, for the squirrels to keep out of
> Fatty’s way, when he wandered through the tree-tops, for the squirrels
> were much sprier than Fatty.

CROW: But then the trees are sprier than Fatty.

> But at night—ah! that was a very
> different matter. For Fatty Coon’s eyes were even sharper in the dark
> than they were in the daylight;

MIKE: And his mouth was twelve hours bigger.

> but the poor squirrels were just as
> blind as you are when you are safely tucked in bed and the light is
> put out.

CROW: Now I want to get squirrels their own night lights.

MIKE: I want to check I’m not going to get eaten by a raccoon in my bedroom.

>
> Yes—when the squirrels were in bed at night, up in their nests
> in the trees, they could see very little. And you couldn’t say they
> were SAFE in bed,

TOM: Are they literally beds or nests or? I’m trying to work out the anthropomorphism level here.

> because they never knew when Fatty Coon, or his
> mother, or his brother, or one of his sisters, or some cousin of his,
> might come along and catch them before they knew it.

MIKE: Oh, good, it’s not just his protagonist he hates, Arthur Scott Bailey has it out for every raccoon.

TOM: The important thing for children’s animal fantasy is make your lead character as much like a serial killer as possible.

>
> Fatty thought it great sport to hunt squirrels at night.

CROW: He loves his reputation as an unstoppable random death-bringer!

> Whenever he tried it he usually managed to get a good meal.

TOM: So frogs stump him but squirrels are easy?

> And after
> he had almost forgotten about the fright the goshawk had given him in
> the tall hemlock he began to roam through the tree-tops every night in
> search of squirrels and sleeping birds.

CROW: It’s like they say, when you fall off a bike you have to get back up and eat it.

>
> But a night came at last when Fatty was well punished for
> hunting squirrels.

MIKE: At this point any punishment is a good start.

> He had climbed half-way to the top of a big
> chestnut tree, when he spied a hole in the trunk. He rather thought
> that some squirrels lived inside that hole.

TOM: ‘I’d leave then in peace but it’s been two hours since I ate the last five hundred passenger pigeons!’

> And as he listened for a
> few seconds he could hear something moving about inside. Yes! Fatty
> was sure that there was a squirrel in there—probably several
> squirrels.

CROW: Maybe one squirrel, two chipmunks, and a groundhog serving in an advisory capacity?

>
> Fatty Coon’s eyes turned green.

MIKE: Whoa!

TOM: Cyborg raccoon!

> It was a way they had,
> whenever he was about to eat anything, or whenever he played with his
> brother Blackie, or Fluffy and Cutey, his sisters; or whenever he was
> frightened.

CROW: Or when his laser batteries are running low.

> And now Fatty was so sure that he was going to have a fine
> lunch that his eyes turned as green as a cat’s.

TOM: Cyborg cats?

MIKE: This is why nature just isn’t a good idea.

> He reached a paw
> inside the hole and felt all around.

CROW: ‘Hey, there’s nothing in here but a paw-remover!’

>
> WOW! Fatty gave a cry; and he pulled his paw out much faster
> than he had put it in. Something had given him a cruel dig.

TOM: A … ?

CROW: Somebody really got at his paw’s emotional weaknesses.

> And in a jiffy Fatty saw what that "something" was. It was a grumpy old tramp
> coon, whom Fatty had never seen before.

MIKE: Buh?

CROW: What makes a *tramp* raccoon?

TOM: Raids the trash bins on a freight train I guess?

>
> "What do you mean, you young rascal, by disturbing me like
> this?" the ragged stranger cried.

CROW: He can call Fatty that because ‘rascal’ is a raccoon word.

TOM: They’ve reclaimed it.

>
> "Please, sir, I never knew it was you," Fatty stammered.
>
> "Never knew it was me! Who did you think it was?"

MIKE: I dunno, but I’m reading this with a W C Fields vibe.

>
> "A—a squirrel!" Fatty said faintly. And he whimpered a little,
> because his paw hurt him.

TOM: He sees what it’s like to get eaten some.

>
> "Ho, ho! That’s a good one! That’s a good joke!"

CROW: [ As the tramp ] ‘Thinking a squirrel might be hiding in a squirrel-hole in a tree! A rich jest, yes. Now let me get back to eating these squirrels.’

> The tramp
> coon laughed heartily. And then he scowled so fiercely that poor Fatty
> nearly tumbled out of the tree. "You go home," he said to Fatty. "And
> don’t you let me catch you around here again. You hear?"

MIKE: Or your paw shall get more digs and a few sharply barbed comments!

>
> "Yes, sir!" Fatty said. And home he went. And you may be sure
> that he let THAT tree alone after that. He never went near it again.

TOM: Wait, was that his well-punishment?

MIKE: Sometimes having to talk to someone is punishment enough.

[ To Conclude ]

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

While the Another Blog, Meanwhile index did drop four points in the course of trading, analysts are optimistic, insisting that those four points were just holding everyone back and that things are going to be much better now that they’re gone.

105

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter III


Previously:

  1. Chapter I
  2. Chapter II

And now the next part of my MST3K treatment of The Tale of Fatty Coon.

>
>
> III
>
> FATTY DISCOVERS MRS. TURTLE’S SECRET

TOM: Oh, tell me this is about lingerie.

>
> After his adventure with the goshawk Fatty Coon did not go
> near the tree-tops for a long time.

MIKE: Not until the trees put some elevators in.

> Whenever he left home he would
> crawl down the old poplar tree in which he lived;

CROW: Achieving speeds of up to 400 miles per hour.

> and he wouldn’t
> climb a single tree until he came home again. Somehow, he felt safer
> on the ground.

TOM: ‘You know, nobody ever drops a pie onto a tree. The ground, though, that’s some prime stuff-being-dropped territory!’

> You see, he hadn’t forgotten the fright he had had, nor
> how the goshawk’s claws had hurt his back.

MIKE: Emotionally.

>
> It was just three days after his scare, to be exact, when
> Fatty Coon found himself on the bank of the creek which flowed slowly
> into Swift River.

TOM: Suppose that’s named for how fast it is, or for its discoverer, Carol the Swift?

> Fatty had been looking for frogs, but he had had no
> luck at all.

MIKE: The frogs’ early warning system was in good shape.

> To tell the truth, Fatty was a little too young to catch
> frogs easily, even when he found one;

TOM: Except for the one he grabbed last chapter.

MIKE: Hope somebody got fired for that blunder.

> and he was a good deal too fat,
> for he was so plump that he was not very spry.

MIKE: Also last week he ate the creek.

CROW: ‘Well, last week we had nacho cheese popcorn seasoning to sprinkle on it!’

>
> Now, Fatty was hiding behind some tall rushes, and his sharp
> little eyes were looking all about him, and his nose was twitching as
> he sniffed the air.

CROW: ‘Wawa has paninis? This changes everything!

> He wished he might find a frog. But not one frog
> appeared. Fatty began to think that some other coon must have visited
> the creek just before him and caught them all.

TOM: The lifeless pond can have only one explanation.

MIKE: Raccoons: nature’s own little neutron bombs.

> And then he forgot all
> about frogs.
>
> Yes! Frogs passed completely out of Fatty Coon’s mind. For
> whom should he spy but Mrs. Turtle!

CROW: What do you suppose her maiden name was?

TOM: Oh, she kept it when she married Dr Lesser Brown Bat.

> He saw her little black head
> first, bobbing along through the water of the creek. She was swimming
> toward the bank where Fatty was hidden.

MIKE: She loves the bank with its little chained pens and deposit slips.

> And pretty soon she pulled
> herself out of the water and waddled a short distance along the sand
> at the edge of the creek.

TOM: ‘Well, at least I don’t have to worry here about getting eaten by a raccoon!’

>
> Mrs. Turtle stopped then; and for a few minutes she was very
> busy about something. First she dug a hole in the sand.

CROW: Um?

TOM: [ Giggles nervously. ]

> And Fatty
> wondered what she was looking for. But he kept very quiet.

MIKE: Should we be watching this?
[ TOM, CROW look conspicuously away. ]

> And after a
> time Mrs. Turtle splashed into the creek again and paddled away. But
> before she left she scooped sand into the hole she had dug.

TOM: Oh dear, she *is*.

> Before she
> left the place she looked all around, as if to make sure that no one
> had seen her.

CROW: What was her plan if someone did see her at this point?

MIKE: Take the eggs back?

> And as she waddled slowly to the water Fatty could see
> that she was smiling as if she was very well pleased about something.
> She seemed to have a secret.

TOM: Quick, call in Garry Moore to help!

>
> Fatty Coon had grown very curious, as he watched Mrs. Turtle.

CROW: ‘I wonder if I can use this to become an even less pleasant person?’

> And just as soon as she was out of sight he came out from his hiding
> place in the tall reeds and trotted down to the edge of the creek. He
> went straight to the spot where Mrs. Turtle had dug the hole and
> filled it up again.

MIKE: Gotta say, Mrs Turtle does not come out looking good here.

TOM: Yeah, her scouting process could really use some scouting.

> And Fatty was so eager to know what she had been
> doing that he began to dig in the very spot where Mrs. Turtle had dug
> before him.

CROW: Mmm, turtle poop.

>
> It took Fatty Coon only about six seconds to discover Mrs.
> Turtle’s secret. For he did not have to paw away much of the sand
> before he came upon—what do you suppose? Eggs! Turtles’ eggs!

MIKE: No, she’s the last Galopagos Island Tortoise, it’s the only hope of avoiding extinction!

> Twenty-seven round, white eggs, which Mrs. Turtle had left there in
> the warm sand to hatch.

CROW: ‘Turtles are goshawks?’

> THAT was why she looked all around to make
> sure that no one saw her. THAT was why she seemed so pleased.

TOM: *That* was why Mrs Turtle wasn’t part of her Species Survival Plan.

> For Mrs.
> Turtle fully expected that after a time twenty-seven little turtles
> would hatch from those eggs—

TOM: Each egg.

> just as chickens do—

MIKE: Did kids in 1915 need eggs explained to them?

> and dig their way out
> of the sand.

CROW: Again, good job checking, Mrs Turtle.

>
> But it never happened that way at all.

MIKE: Fatty Coon cackles delighted at his schemes.

> For as soon as he got
> over his surprise at seeing them, Fatty Coon began at once to eat
> those twenty- seven eggs. They were delicious.

TOM: Do we know whether Arthur Scott Bailey *liked* his protagonist?

> And as he finished the
> last one he couldn’t help thinking how lucky he had been.

MIKE: Now we have nobody to foil the evil Shredder’s attacks!

[ To Continue ]

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose 7 points, or 6.73 percent, whichever comes in higher after rounding. That would be 7 points, if the percent is taken from where it was yesterday (104) and not from where it was at the end of today (Philadelphia’s airport, there to gather stories about the worst airport experiences anyone has ever had).

111

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter II


Previously:

  1. Chapter I

And now the next part of my MST3K treatment of The Tale of Fatty Coon.


>
>
> II
>

TOM: Episode II: Attack Of The Coons.

> FATTY LEARNS SOMETHING ABOUT EGGS

CROW: ‘Hey! These things break open!’

>
> When Fatty Coon started off alone to find something more to
> eat, after finishing the fish that his mother had brought home for
> him, he did not know that he was going to have an adventure.

MIKE: He just hoped adventure came with cheese fries.

> He nosed
> about among the bushes and the tall grasses and caught a few bugs and
> a frog or two. But he didn’t think that THAT was much.

CROW: [As Bug] Oh, thank goodness, that frog was gonna eat me and now … Wait, what are you doing?

> He didn’t seem
> to have much luck, down on the ground. So he climbed a tall hemlock,

TOM: A hemlock?

CROW: I dunno, it’s probably some nature thing.

> to see if he could find a squirrel’s nest, or some bird’s eggs.

MIKE: ‘Maybe I can eat a hemlock?’

>
> Fatty loved to climb trees. Up in the big hemlock he forgot,
> for a time, that he was still hungry. It was delightful to feel the
> branches swaying under him, and the bright sunshine was warm upon his
> back.

CROW: ‘You suppose the sun might be cookie-flavored?’

> He climbed almost to the very tip-top of the tree and wound
> himself around the straight stem. The thick, springy branches held him
> safely, and soon Fatty was fast asleep.

TOM: The tree tipping over, cracking under the weight.

> Next to eating, Fatty loved
> sleeping. And now he had a good nap.

CROW: ‘A nap with bacon cheese!’

>
> Fatty Coon woke up at last, yawned, and slowly unwound himself
> from the stem of the tree. He was terribly hungry now. And he felt
> that he simply MUST find something to eat at once.

TOM: Why is Mitchell a raccoon?

>
> Without going down to the ground, Fatty climbed over into the
> top of another big tree and his little beady, bright eyes began
> searching all the branches carefully.

CROW: ‘Too flimsy, too weak, that one’ll snap, that one broke yesterday, that one snapped when I thought about it too hard, hm. Ground broke under me there.’

> Pretty soon Fatty smiled. He
> smiled because he was pleased.

TOM: It was a quirky habit of his.

> And he was pleased because he saw
> exactly what he had been looking for. Not far below him was a big
> nest, built of sticks and lined with bark and moss.

CROW: ‘Garnished with bark and moss!’

> It was a crow’s
> nest, Fatty decided, and he lost no time in slipping down to the
> crotch of the tree where the nest was perched.

TOM: Thud!

>
> There were four white eggs in the nest—the biggest crow’s eggs
> Fatty had ever seen.

CROW: Ostrich!

MIKE: That’s an ostrich egg, look out!

> And he began to eat them hungrily. His nose
> became smeared with egg, but he didn’t mind that at all.

TOM: Yum, egg-flavored nose!

> He kept
> thinking how good the eggs tasted—and how he wished there were more of
> them.

MIKE: You know in the _Tale of Squawky Crow_, Fatty is one of the villains.

>
> There was a sudden rush through the branches of the tall tree.
> And Fatty Coon caught a hard blow on his head. He felt something sharp
> sink into his back, too.

TOM: There it is!

MIKE: Squawky Crow takes over the narrative! He’s getting to be the hero!

> And he clutched at the edge of the nest to
> keep from falling.
>
> Fatty was surprised, to say the least, for he had never known
> crows to fight like that.

TOM: They normally confined themselves to snarky comments, often on the Internet.

CROW: The cowards! Hey, wait.

> And he was frightened, because his back
> hurt. He couldn’t fight, because he was afraid he would fall if he let
> go of the nest.

MIKE: And there was still that meteoric crater lake from the last time he dropped four feet.

>
> There was nothing to do but run home as fast as he could.

CROW: Fatty’s greatest challenge: running.

> Fatty tried to hurry; but there was that bird, beating and clawing his
> back, and pulling him first one way and then another.

TOM: [ As Fatty ] Ow! Look, if you want me to go *one* way then don’t tug me *another*! Sheesh!

> He began to
> think he would never reach home. But at last he came to the old poplar
> where his mother lived.

CROW: ‘Home! Safety! Security! Oatmeal cookies!’

> And soon, to his great joy, he reached the
> hole in the big branch; and you may well believe that Fatty was glad
> to slip down into the darkness where his mother, and his brother
> Blackie, and Fluffy and Cutey his sisters, were all fast asleep.

MIKE: You my believe this … If you dare!

> He
> was glad, because he knew that no crow could follow him down there.

CROW: To fit Fatty the hole has to be just wide enough to let a Space Shuttle slp through.

>
> Mrs. Coon waked up.

MIKE: Waked?

> She saw that Fatty’s back was sadly torn
> (for coons, you know, can see in the dark just as well as you can see
> in the daylight).

CROW: What if I need glasses?

MIKE: Well, then she wears glasses.

CROW: That … Would be adorable.

>
> "What on earth is the matter?" she exclaimed.
>
> Poor Fatty told her. He cried a little, because his back hurt
> him, and because he was so glad to be safe at home once more.

TOM: ‘Well, come here, son, let me lick that all. Nothing like raccoon spit to clean open wounds.’

>
> "What color were those eggs?" Mrs. Coon inquired.
>
> "White!" said Fatty.
>
> "Ah, ha!" Mrs. Coon said. "Don’t you remember that crows’ eggs
> are a blueish green?

MIKE: Oh no!

TOM: Fatty’s failure to prep for his Raccoon SAT’s haunts him!

CROW: *My* eggs are painted a lovely variety of colors in intricate patterns!

TOM: Ya freak.

CROW: What?

> That must have been a goshawk’s nest. And a
> goshawk is the fiercest of all the hawks there are. It’s no wonder
> your back is clawed.

MIKE: [ Mrs Coon ] ‘Why is this scratch covered in Superman ice cream?’

CROW: [ Fatty ] It was an experiment, okay?

> Come here and let me look at it."
>
> Fatty Coon felt quite proud, as his mother examined the marks
> of the goshawk’s cruel claws.

MIKE: ‘I got attacked and ran away just fast enough! Heck, I ran!’

TOM: I ran so far away.

> And he didn’t feel half as sorry for
> himself as you might think,
> for he remembered how good the eggs had
> tasted. He only wished there had been a dozen of them.

MIKE: So what did Fatty learn about eggs, exactly?

CROW: That … He can eat them?

[ To Continue ]

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose another two points in trading as the floor stopped worrying quite so much about whether “to rare” is a verb and got into wondering about its participles, like, “to have rared” or “will have rared” or stuff like that. One suspects not everyone is quite back from holiday yet.

104

MiSTed: The Tale of Fatty Coon, Chapter I


The only fan fiction I’ve written and shared on the Internet has been Mystery Science Theater 3000 fanfic. It’s a fun genre. It grew from the MST3K newsgroups on Usenet, which I knew as rec.arts.tv.mst3k.misc and its affiliates. Mostly it grew in response to the famous “Marissa Picard” stories Stephen Ratliff wrote as Star Trek: The Next Generation fanfic. But it’s always included other stuff.

A couple years ago I ran across a series of children’s books from the 1910s. They were written by Arthur Scott Bailey, which exhausts what I know about him. And they’re little tales for kids about life as animals see it. And they’re just … off, in that way that I think makes for great MST3K material. I had wanted to do a whole book, and I just don’t have the time for that. So this week I hope to feature the first five chapters, at least, and I’ve put that together into a little MiSTing experience I hope you enjoy.

Before that, though, I did some more mathematics comics in my other blog. No pictures, sorry.


[ SEASON TEN opening. ]

[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. TOM is reading a newspaper and chuckling as MIKE and CROW enter. ]

TOM: Hee heee!

MIKE: What’s up there, Thomas?

CROW: He finally noticed they print the ‘Jumble’ answers upside-down.

TOM: I’m now a happy subscriber to the Ironic Comics page.

[ MIKE takes the paper from TOM’s hands. CROW peeks at a corner, letting the paper flap over his beak. ]

TOM: ‘Beetle Bailey’ as Wagnerian opera! Fred Basset portrayed by a very long duck! ‘The Lockhorns’ with neither lock nor horn!

MIKE: Hey, I like this Clip-Art ‘Cathy’. She married Irving Berlin.

CROW: Wait, this is just ‘Henry’. What’s ironic about that?

TOM: What’s *not* ironic about ‘Henry’?

[ MADS sign flashes. ]

MIKE: Ahp. Agatha Crumm is calling.

[ CASTLE FORRESTER. PEARL, PROFESSOR BOBO, and the OBSERVER are at a table. ]

OBSERVER: I love ‘For Better Or For Worse, And It Turns Out, Worse.’ [ To PEARL’s withering indifference. ] It puts at the end of every strip Anthony whining how ‘I have no home!’

PEARL: OK, Mark Trail. We’ve tried everything to break your spirits. We’ve tried bad movies.

BOBO: We’ve tried telephones!

PEARL: We’ve tried fan fiction.

OBSERVER: We’ve tried advertisements!

PEARL: We’ve tried the most Ruby-Spearsish Hanna-Barbera Christmas specials!

BOBO: I love that one with Goober and Gumdrop!

OBSERVER: Now let’s try … young-reader animal fantasy!

PEARL: Your experiment for today is the first five chapters of Arthur Scott Bailey’s 1915 piece of ouvre _The Tale of Fatty Coon_.

BOBO: See if you learn something special from all this adorable animal fantasy!

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE. MOVIE SIGN and general chaos. ]

MIKE: Oh, no! Animal fantasy!

TOM, CROW: AAAAGH!

[ 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1.. ]

[ THEATER. ALL file in. ]

> SLEEPY-TIME TALES

TOM: So … uh … good night?

> THE TALE OF FATTY COON

CROW: From Buster Keaton through learning there *is* such a thing as bad publicity.

> BY ARTHUR SCOTT BAILEY

TOM: o/` Arthur was born just a plain simple man o/`

> ILLUSTRATED BY HARRY L. SMITH
> NEW YORK

MIKE: Illustrated by Harry L Smith and the New York dancers!

>
> 1915

> I
>
> FATTY COON AT HOME

TOM: Just sitting around the home …

>
> Fatty Coon was so fat and round

CROW: Oh come *on*.

MIKE: Man, 1915 and they’re ahead of our lead joke.

> that he looked like a ball of
> fur, with a plumelike tail for a handle. But if you looked at him
> closely you would have seen a pair of very bright eyes watching you.

CROW: From the tail?

TOM: Raccoons can see very well through their handles.

>
> Fatty loved to eat.

CROW: And that’s all the personality he’ll need!

MIKE: Pretty much all the personality I have.

> Yes—he loved eating better than anything
> else in the world. That was what made him so fat.

TOM: ‘I’m getting ready to hibernate for winter!’

CROW: ‘It’s May.’

TOM: ‘I don’t want to get caught by surprise.’

> And that, too, was
> what led him into many adventures.

CROW: Like the adventure of Waffle House At 3 am.

MIKE: Taking his life and his maple syrup into his own paws.

>
> Close by a swamp, which lay down in the valley, between Blue
> Mountain and Swift River,

TOM: Burger King on the right and if you come to the old middle school you’ve gone too far.

> Fatty Coon lived with his mother and his
> brother and his two sisters.

CROW: And his mayonnaise.

> Among them all there was what grown
> people call "a strong family resemblance," which is the same thing as
> saying that they all looked very much alike.

TOM: What, because all raccoons look the same to you?

> The tail of each one of
> them—mother and children too—had six black rings around it. Each of
> them had a dark brown patch of fur across the face, like a mask.

MIKE: _Clonus: The Ranger Rick Project_.

> And—what do you think?—each of them, even Fatty and his brother and
> his sisters, had a stiff, white moustache!

CROW: This is getting near body shaming, Mister Arthur Scott Bailey.

>
> Of course, though they all looked so much alike, you would
> have known which was Mrs. Coon, for she was so much bigger than her
> children.

TOM: And she had that ISO 9000 consulting job for Lockheed.

> And you would have known which was Fatty—he was so much
> rounder than his brother and his sisters.

CROW: And he had a bear claw in his mouth.

MIKE: The pastry?

CROW: We’ll see.

>
> Mrs. Coon’s home was in the hollow branch of an old tree.

TOM: They were the first wave of gentrification moving in.

MIKE: Classic cycle. Starving artists, hipsters, raccoons, rents go up.

> It
> was a giant of a tree—a poplar close by a brook which ran into the
> swamp—and the branch which was Mrs. Coon’s home was as big as most
> tree-trunks are.

MIKE: Look, it’s a tree, all right? I’m Arthur Scott Bailey, I got bigger fish to fry than specifying poplar trees.

>
> Blackie was Fatty’s brother—for the mask on his face was just
> a little darker than the others’.

TOM: *Blackie* Coon?

MIKE: Oh dear Lord.

> Fluffy was one of Fatty’s sisters,
> because her fur was just a little fluffier than the other children’s.

TOM: *Fluffy* Coon?

CROW: When Andrew WK visits Anthrocon?

> And Cutey was the other sister’s name, because she was so quaint.

TOM: I feel like I need to apologize and I don’t even know who to.

>
> Now, Fatty Coon was forever looking around for something to
> eat.

MIKE: ‘Here’s a thing!’ (Gulp)

TOM: ‘That’s a vase!’

MIKE: Needs honey mustard.’

> He was never satisfied with what his mother brought home for him.

CROW: ‘Crawdads and berries *again*?’

MIKE: ‘No, this is berries and Crawdads.’

> No matter how big a dinner Mrs. Coon set before her family, as soon as
> he had finished eating his share Fatty would wipe his white moustache
> carefully—for all the world like some old gentleman—and hurry off in
> search of something more.

MIKE: ‘Fatty, that’s a rock.’

CROW: ‘That’s a rock with ranch dressing.’

>
> Sometimes he went to the edge of the brook and tried to catch
> fish by hooking them out of the water with his sharp claws.

TOM: ‘Best case scenario, I catch a snack. Worst case, I touch a goldfish. Either way, a win!’

> Sometimes
> he went over to the swamp and hunted for duck among the tall reeds.

CROW: ‘Hey, a little deep frying and these reeds would be good.’

> And though he did not yet know how to catch a duck, he could always
> capture a frog or two; and Fatty ate them as if he hadn’t had a
> mouthful of food for days.

MIKE: ‘If I eat enough frog maybe a duck will crawl into my mouth and see what’s going on!’

>
> To tell the truth, Fatty would eat almost anything he could
> get—nuts, cherries, wild grapes,

TOM: Boring, straight-laced actuary grapes.

> blackberries, bugs, small snakes,

CROW: Large but depressed snakes.

> fish, chickens,

MIKE: Buckets of fried dough.

> honey—there was no end to the different kinds of food
> he liked.

TOM: I believe you, sugar.

> He ate everything. And he always wanted more.

MIKE: Thing is it’s fun cooking for someone who likes eating so much.

>
> "Is this all there is?" Fatty Coon asked his mother one day.

TOM: Well, you could merge with Ilia and Captain Decker maybe?

> He had gobbled up every bit of the nice fish that Mrs. Coon had
> brought home for him. It was gone in no time at all.

CROW: ‘Well, you could try the less-nice or the morally ambiguous fish.’

>
> Mrs. Coon sighed. She had heard that question so many times;
> and she wished that for once Fatty might have all the dinner he
> wanted.

MIKE: ‘Fatty, you’re a sphere.’

CROW: ‘And I could be a hypersphere, Mom!!’

>
> "Yes—that’s all," she said, "and I should think that it was
> enough for a young coon like you."
>
> Fatty said nothing more. He wiped his moustache on the back of
> his hand (I hope you’ll never do that!)

TOM: You eating raw frogs, though, Arthur Scott Bailey’s cool with.

> and without another word

MIKE: Really, what else was there to say?

> he started off to see what he could find to eat.

CROW: ‘This is delicious!’

MIKE: ‘This is an ironing board!’

CROW: ‘With marshmallows!’

[ To Continue ]

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

After the two-day holiday the Another Blog, Meanwhile index came raring back up six, count ’em, six points despite getting caught in an argument about what it is exactly “to rare”.

102

Really, Though, Comic Strip _Momma_ Going Quite Mad


I don’t mean to harp on this too much, but, did you see Mell Lazarus’s Momma for today? No, because there’s only fourteen people under the age of 50 who read the comics and most of them have better sense than to read Momma. But, well, just look at the strip for the 17th.

Momma notes yesterday was Presidents Day; someone agrees and points out it was Heritage Day in Canada. Another woman says we shouldn't compete with Canada, 'After all, they're always our allies', and two women beyond her say 'true' three times. That's it.
Mell Lazarus’s baffling Momma for the 17th of February, 2015. Also, I question whether it was actually Heritage Day in Canada.

While I criticized a couple strips last week for not making sense, I have to admit that at least the comic from the 13th is a joke-like construct: Francis talks about how his boss yelled at him for seven hours, Momma asked a question about this, and we get back a non sequitur response. Momma’s question doesn’t make contextual sense, but it at least has the grammar; the structure is right even if the humor is lacking.

Francis says he made a mistake at work, his boss yelled at him for seven solid hours and threw him out of the office; then the scene teleports from the front porch to the living room.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 13th of February, with a setup that just … I don’t know. I just don’t know.

The Lincoln’s Birthday one hasn’t got the structure of a joke, but it does have the pop-cultural-reference form of things, by showing off a thing (Abraham Lincoln) and then some things that remind you of that original thing (“four score and seven years”, “civil”, “mint julep” — well, he was born in Kentucky). This “here’s a thing that reminds you of another thing!” form in brilliant hands gives you Mystery Science Theater 3000, the movie Airplane!, and those Bugs Bunny cartoons stealing jokes from then-current radio comedians. In clumsy hands, it gives you the Scary Movie franchise and Animaniacs and the like. These might be the humor equivalent of junk food — a quick laugh that, on reflection, you really can’t justify having found funny — but it is at least a form that inspires a giggle.

Lincoln, I guess, tells Francis he's thirsty, so Francis asks Momma to bring him a mint julep, which is 'very civil' of us. It doesn't make more sense in the illustration. Sorry.
Mell Lazarus’s crazy Momma for the 12th of February — Lincoln’s birthday — 2015.

But this, well, I don’t know what there is even to giggle at. Maybe some vague nervousness at elderly people acting kind of daft? That seems cruel in an abnormal form for Momma, though.

So as not to be too negative on an otherwise decent day, let me close with this picture of our pet rabbit doing that thing where he’s nodding off but keeps waking himself up when his head droops too fast. Also he might be melting through the bars of his play area.

Our Flemish giant, nestled up against the bars of his play area, as he naps.
Our pet rabbit doing that thing where he’s nodding off, but keeps waking himself up because his head droops too fast.

MiSTed: What To Invent


Back in the days before the Earth’s crust had solidified, when Usenet was a thing, grew an art form called the MiSTing. The practice developed in the news groups dedicated to Mystery Science Theater 3000, and was our modest imitation of the show: take some original posting and intersperse it with comments, along the line of the of the riffs that Joel or Mike and the robots (collectively, The Brains) would. The first MiSTing I’m aware of was called “Hopping Mad At MST3K”, a person’s rant about how those rotten kids these days won’t even watch an old movie without talking through it and this was obviously MST3K’s fault.

Rants would be one of the mainstays of MiSTings, back when the newsgroups were active and I was in touch with the MiSTing culture. Fan fictions were another mainstay; I firmly believe that MiSTing would not have had a culture if not for Stephen Ratliff’s notorious “Marissa Picard” Star Trek: The Next Generation fan fiction. Surprisingly uncommon back in the glory days of Usenet MiSTings were examples of this group: the slightly pompous expository lump. This one is from the magazine Modern Mechanix, originally printed in 1937, and I only know of it because the Modern Mechanix blog summons old articles, some interesting, some funny, some both, to its pages.

The Thanksgiving season has always been a kind of unofficial Mystery Science Theater 3000 holiday: it’s the anniversary of when the show first debuted, and many of their movies were dubbed turkeys, and Turkey Day MST3K marathons were shown first on Comedy Central and then the Sci-Fi Channel, and today get done in organized online gatherings that I won’t participate in because our ISP doesn’t offer enough bandwidth to watch videos online. But the text form is pretty easy to enjoy at your leisure and I hope you do.

(This one is a slightly unusual form of the classic MiSTing; there’s no host sketches involved. The original material was too short to justify sketches. But a full-length MiSTing might be unreadable in WordPress form. We’ll see. Consider this an experiment.


Continue reading “MiSTed: What To Invent”