What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? What is the deal with this blue balloon? November 2020 – January 2021


Pouch is this balloon-seller at the city zoo, by day. He’s also an informant, passing messages along to the criminal and, sometimes, cop worlds. The current storyline had him forced to sell a blue balloon. Why is Pouch so freaked out about selling the blue balloon? Because that balloon held information for a job, for one of Pouch’s clients. They need it back within an hour. Why was Aquarius, the buyer, so determined to get the balloon? He doesn’t know why it’s important, but it’ll be leverage. How did Aquarius know there was any reason to care about any of these balloons? … I don’t know. Maybe he reasoned Pouch would have something if he was still hanging around the zoo at sunset.

So this should catch you up on Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for late January 2021. If you’re reading this after about April 2021, I hope to have a more up-to-date plot recap here. That link also will hold any news about the comic strip which I get.

Dick Tracy.

1 November 2020 – 23 January 2021.

My last plot recap coincided with the end of a story and start of a new one. Lucky for me. Also lucky for Mark Bernard, guest writer for this story. Not so lucky for Rabbit, delivery man for Elegance Fragrances. Rabbit mistakenly included some of the boss’s poison with a legitimate perfume delivery. The boss — Yeti — kills him. And sends Daisy Dugan to recover the poison. Daisy recovers it, but comes close to Dick Tracy, who’s investigating a string of poisonings. Daisy shoots at Tracy, causing the scientific detective to wonder why someone’s shooting him. Other than, like, half the town is relatives and remakes of crooks he’s killed.

Daisy Dugan: 'We're after a ROCK?' Yeti: 'Precisely. That 'rock' is composed of several unique alloys. Broken into pieces and sold, it should fetch me a substantial fortune. Enough to shore up my enterprise until tastes in murder swing in my favor again. Here is how we will acquire it.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Mark Barnard, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of November, 2020. You know, sitting around hoping something will turn up is a classic stage of business decline. If you have good reason to think the trend will turn back to you, all right. But anyone who’s studied corporate history will tell you this is the time to find a new market. Develop your product lines or use your resources to buy something that is selling now. Just saying.

The poison business isn’t what it used to be. Yeti has a plan to tide himself through the slump: stealing a million-dollar meteorite from the city museum. The plan is to drive one of the well-marked Elegant Fragrances trucks to three blocks away from the museum, sneak in through the sewers, and grab the rock. It’s our first clear hint that Yeti may not be Dick Tracy’s most ingenious opponent ever. The delivery van’s noticed by the cops’ drone camera network. Also, the cops have a drone camera network. It’s an element that fills a much-needed gap in Dick Tracy’s surveillance-state dystopia.

Grabbing the meteorite goes well, though, since Yeti and Daisy can just step over the security lasers. Climbing back down into the sewer goes less well, as Daisy slips and breaks something. Yeti leaves him to die. Yeti puts the meteorite in the back of the truck, takes off, hits the curb, and loses the meteorite right out the back of the truck. He doesn’t notice until he gets home.

Yeti, driving furiously: 'I'm still on schedule ... now to get clear before this truck leads them to me!' He drives over a curb, knocking a door open and causing the meteorite to drop out the back.
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Mark Barnard, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 26th of November, 2020. All things considered, this maybe wasn’t a case that needed Dick Tracy’s Major Crimes Unit.

So, ah, good job, Yeti. He gets his gun ready to shoot Dick Tracy; Sam Catchem shoots it out of his hand. Yeti flees to the back room, telling himself that he’s survived far worse. I would like him to name two examples. He won’t, though. In his haste to gather his papers and flee, he lets loose a giant poison spider who kills him.

And that, the 5th of December, closes the story. I’m sorry to see Yeti go, since he had a weird name and a snooty attitude about poisoning being elegant while guns and knives suck. And there’s his whole vendetta to destroy Dr Harvey Camel’s life. That’s enough for a character. It’s disappointing that he so completely foiled himself. Dick Tracy hardly had to show up.


The 6th of December, 2020, started the still-running story. And this is by Staton and Curtis on their own. It’s the one with, yes, a hippie commune. It starts at the city zoo, where balloon dealer and information-seller Pouch growls at a cocaine dealer name of Dollar Bill. Pouch — one of the few Dick Tracy characters to have got away with murder — doesn’t want drug dealers messing up his businesses.

Pouch calls on Tiger Lilly to rough Dollar Bill up a bit. Lilly roughs too much up, and snaps Dollar Bill’s neck. Pouch leaves Lilly to clean up his own problems. Lilly leaves the body to be discovered, figuring it’ll send the signal to keep the drug deals out of Pouch’s park. Dick Tracy gets the signal too, and suspects the start of a drug war. “It looks serious,” says Dick Tracy, “Prilosec and Meclizine have lost patience waiting for the Rolaids Empire to crumble. They might maneuver Cimetidine into giving a push.”

Sam Catchem, running around the farmer's market, trying to find a guy: 'Darn it! I've lost him in the crowd.' Wildman's Organics farmer: 'Hey there! You looking for somebody?' Catchem: 'Yeah, a guy in a black vest and purple flame head rag.' Farmer: 'Oh, that's Ty.' Catchem: 'Did you see where he went?' Farmer: 'He's prob'ly on his way back to the commune for lunch.' Catchem: 'Commune?'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 27th of December, 2020. OK yeah commune whatever, do you have those lavender sugar cookies? Because those are good and we should examine them more.

Aquarius, who runs the dealing network Dollar Bill was part of, replaces him with a guy named Ty. And warns Ty to be careful of the cops. Ty is immediately spotted by Sam Catchem. Ty runs into a farmer’s market, though, disappearing in the crowd. One of the farmers tips Catchem off to the commune, though. Catchem and Tracy go to the commune at 1312(!) Bedwell. They ask Aquarius for information and get nothing, not even his name.

This does send Aquarius to Pouch, to figure out his deal. He does this by asking Pouch where to find Dollar Bill and Pouch is having none of that. Aquarius offers to buy one of Pouch’s balloons, though, the blue one, which he refuses to sell at any price. It turns into an argument that park cops come in to break up. Aquarius offers to make peace by buying all the balloons, including the blue one. Given the scene, Pouch can’t refuse.

Tiger Lilly: 'This stinks! It's freezing, and I'm out chasing after balloons!' Aquarius, carrying a bundle of balloons: 'Pouch was holding out on me. But I've got the upper hand now. I don't know what's special about this blue balloon, but he'll have to bargain with me to get it back.'
Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelly Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy for the 12th of January, 2021. The tag of ‘Blue’ is funny every time it appears, yes, but because we’re seeing the colorized dailies. The strip can run in black-and-white. It happens that for some reason the last week and a half it’s run in black-and-white on GoComics, too; I don’t know why. I still have no idea how Aquarius knew there was anything special about the blue balloon.

Tiger Lilly follows Aquarius. So Aquarius is incredibly aware of Tiger Lilly’s pursuit. Aquarius returns to the commune, and Lilly breaks in after everyone goes setting up an ambush. Lilly’s overwhelmed, and captured, and Aquarius demands to know who sent him and what he’s after.

And that’s where we stand. It’s on a lot of characters noticing the people following them. Also thinking people were following them who weren’t. It’s a curious little motif for the comic. We’ll see where it leads in about twelve weeks.

Next Week!

My schedule calls for Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. But I realize I may want to postpone that for … let’s say two weeks. So I will have a Gasoline Alley plot recap at this link, but around the 16th of February. So I’ll go to the next strip on my routine instead, then, and that’ll be … ooh! Jules Rivera’s Mark Trail. Should be fun. See you then.

What’s Going On In Prince Valiant? Wait, Aleta is Queen of the Witches? May – August 2020


Yeah, she said on Sunday that she’s Queen of the Witches. That she’s a witch hasn’t come up much lately. But when Valiant first saw her he was enchanted, and they teased a while about whether that was literal or figurative. And she’s done magic stuff lately. I don’t know if this Queen of the Witches thing is established or whether that’s a bluff, though. So that catches you up on Mark Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant as of early August 2020. If you’re reading this after about November 2020 there’s likely a more up-to-date plot recap at this link.

Also on my other blog I’m explaining words from the mathematics glossary. No promise of comics there, but you might find something interesting. Thanks, and now back to the time of King Arthur.

Prince Valiant.

10 May – 2 August 2020.

Prince Valiant and team were just outside Camelot, dealing with local issues. Imbert, local landlord, died. His son Gareth died shortly after. The suspect: Afton and Audrey, with whom Imbert was quarreling about some land. Sir Gawain had arrived in the story to sort that out, but he hasn’t been much use to anyone. The locals figure Afton and Audrey are witches, what with how they have good crops and aren’t dead of the plague. Valiant’s son Nathan believes the women are good students of nature and learned how to farm.

Audrey lead Valiants and Nathan to the cave, key to the land dispute. Some say it contains eternal youth. What it mostly has is bats, loads of guano that are indeed good fertilizer. Valiant also notices it has a curious yellow ore, and he keeps a sample.

Audrey had brought Nathan and Val to the bats' cave, with the task of gathering fertilizer for her and Afton's gardens. As she and Nathan put their backs into shoveling the bat droppings, Val peels off to look farther along. He finds strata of tin ore running along the walls --- not uncommon in this part of Arthur's kingdom. And there is another stratum. This of a dull yellowish color, which angles down into the spring waters. The prince digs out a chunk of the yellowish ore and inspects it closely --- suddenly he believes he has found the answer to the mystery surrounding this place. He returns to assist the shoveling and the loading of the guano. When the wagon is full, the three begin their return ... while in the dark thickets outside Afton's cottage, menacing figures skulk forward. Next: The nightjar.
March Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 24th of May, 2020. This made me wonder whether guano is something you really have to gather at night. But then I guess at night most of the bats will be out, so you don’t have to worry about disturbing them? So I guess that’s an advantage? So anyway, if you somehow didn’t know what kind of person I am, now you know, it’s “person who wonders about the best guano-gathering practices because of reading a comic strip”.

Meanwhile the villagers have had enough of this, and attack Afton and Audrey’s cottage. Gawain tries to defend it, but he’s just one person, and not main cast(?) I guess(?). Afton escapes being feathered. But the mob burns her cottage. Valiant sees this and races to the scene. He bellows that the women are innocent and he can explain the deaths. As soon as they get back to Imbert’s estate, anyway.

The proof is in Imbert’s kitchen. The cook recognizes Valiant’s ore. It’s arsenic. This gives Schultz and Yeates the problem of having characters who think this is a good thing not advise newspaper readers to take poison. Valiant settles on saying how “it is rumored to aid good bodily health”. So Imbert was stealing ore from the cave, and taking it for his health. But Valiant knows arsenic is a poison, used “by assassins in the court of a distant land”. So Imbert arsenic-poisoned himself. Gareth, trying to have the same meals as Imbert, had the same poison.

With Val having solved the mystery of Imbert's death, Gawain announces his verdict to the gathered villagers: 'Matter the first: the royal archives prove Afton's claim on the land in question. Lord Imbert had no right to take possession of anything on Afton's land. Matter the second: Afton and Audrey are blameless in the deaths of Imbert and Gareth. Imbert's theft from Afton's land was responsible for his and Gareth's inadvertent deaths by poison. As the representative of the court of Camelot, I forbid any further persecution of these two women!' Then, unexpectedly, Aleta's voice rises above the crowd's murmuring 'You have accused Afton and Audrey of using witchcraft for evil purpose but I assure you, they are no more witches than are any of you! I know this because I am a witch! A witch queen from the far south! And these are my familiars, who will watch and assure that no harm comes to those I protect!' The crowd gasps as two huge creatures suddenly appear at her call! Next: the greater fear
March Schultz and Thomas Yeates’s Prince Valiant for the 26th of July, 2020. Aleta’s not a stupid woman. So we must ask, then. What are the experiences she has had which make her believe this is an effective way to protect women reputed to be witches?

Gawain reports that the royal records confirm Afton’s claims on the disputed land. Also, that Imbert and Gareth’s death was their own fault, and there’ll be no further persecution of Afton and Audrey. Aleta steps in to support Afton and Audrey against the claims of witchcraft. She declares their innocence and she would know, as she’s Queen of the Witches. She summons her raven familiars to put Afton and Audrey under her protection. Aleta thinks she’s helping. Our heroes leave. They trust Afton and Audrey will have a good time next week, when I look at Joe Staton, Mike Curtis, Shelley Pleger, and Shane Fisher’s Dick Tracy.

Next Week!

You know, I did get the Prince Valiant plot summary finished way ahead of deadline. I should be getting to work on the Dick Tracy plot recap like, four days ago. Well, shall try to have that for next week. Thanks for reading.

What’s Going On In Dick Tracy? Will the Green Hornet Remain At Large? January – April 2018.


Oh, all kinds of things are going on in Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy. (Also, Shelley Pleger and Shane Fisher routinely work on the Sunday strips. I’m not sure how often they work on daily strips. I want to be fair about crediting the people who make the comic but I don’t always know.) This is my best attempt at bringing you up to speed for mid-April 2018. If it’s a lot later than that, try at or near the top of this page. If I have later-written summaries they should be up there.

Over here should be my latest discussion of mathematically-themed comic strips, if you like those too. I do, and that one’s my blog.

Dick Tracy.

28 January – 21 April 2018.

Back in late January, Dick Tracy and the Major Crime Unit were arresting Mister Bribery. The crime boss himself was going mad after his meeting with the former Governor of the Moon. The Lunarians had abandoned their city in the no-longer-habitable valley on the moon and gone into hiding … elsewhere. The Moon Governor himself was just poking around to figure out the deal with Honey Moon Tracy and the surgically-created Second Moon Maid, Mysta Chimera. Can’t exactly blame him for not taking all this well.

In the forest Preserve, during a snowstorm. Honey Moon, thinking: 'My wrist wizard is showing a life sign not far from here!' She shouts, 'CRYSTAL! Dad! I've found her!' Crystal Ugly: 'M-Moon girl?' Honey Moon, cradling her: 'Here, take my jacket. I don't feel the cold.' Crystal: 'C-Can't w-walk. F-freezing.' Honey Moon: 'Don't worry, Crystal. My Dad's coming.' (Thinking) 'Hurry, Dad! She needs to get warm. Fast!'
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 4th of February, 2018. If Honey Moon doesn’t feel the cold, why does she need a jacket? … Well, I saw commenters snarking about that when the strip was first published. Me, I figured it was Honey Moon saying something assuring so that she could cover up Crystal Ugly without Crystal feeling guilty. And it may be more than that: later in this sequence Honey Moon manages to generate a little circle of heat, enough to melt the snow around them. So this may be presaging Honey Moon developing new Lunarian super-powers. Introducing it in a low-key way that doesn’t seem like anything more than a friend accepting (possibly dangerous) discomfort to help another.

Sawtooth, hired by Mister Bribery to kill Dick Tracy in a slow and painful manner, skips town. Tracy wasn’t killed slowly nor painfully. Lee Ebony breaks her months-long cover as bodyguard T-Bone to arrest Bribery. Meanwhile Honey Moon rescues Crystal Ugly, Bribery’s niece and a new friend, from where she’d fled in the snow. All seems settled. The 11th of February there’s a coda about the Moon Governor meeting Diet Smith and Honey Moon Tracy. And about Lee Ebony going on vacation.

And that starts the next big plot, the one that’s dominated the last several months. It’s at Pepper’s, a popular restaurant apparently unrelated to the setting of the ended Tina’s Grove comic strip. Billionaire Simon Stagg — whom commenters identified as someone from DC Comics that I don’t know about — has a briefcase full of cash to buy Pepper’s restaurant. But Pepper declares he’s got no intention of selling. He’s poisoned the billionaire, after establishing that Stagg had eaten fugu earlier in the day. The coroner thinks it’s blowfish toxin, accidental poisoning. But the mayor has doubts, and calls Dick Tracy in from his fishing vacation with Popeye and Alice the Goon.

Ghost Pepper: 'You had blowfish for lunch, didn't you, Simon?' Simon Stagg: 'H-how did you know?' Pepper: 'One of my chefs prepared it.' Stagg, poisoned: 'H-he didn't!' Pepper: 'You're right, he didn't. Your fugu was safe. *I* prepared your *dinner* myself. There's no antidote for my 'secret ingredient', so relax, Simon, and enjoy the trip.' (Stagg falls forward, dead.)
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 17th of February, 2018. I confess I don’t understand the appeal of fugu. I grant I’m a low-risk thrills person; my most dangerous pastime is riding roller coasters, which just isn’t dangerous. But exactly how awesomely good would fugu have to taste for that to be worth the risk of death? Especially when, based on the story comics and crime or mystery shows I’d see when my mother has control of the TV, eating fugu gives you a roughly one-in-one chance of dying from it? And again, I grant I don’t have a sophisticated palette. I once managed to eat half a Reuben sandwich before realizing I didn’t order a Reuben. I’m content with a Taco Bell cheesey potato burrito. But still, fugu seems like a needlessly dangerous lunch. I don’t understand it.

Tracy goes to Pepper’s with just a few questions, and Pepper allays them by chasing him off the property, the way innocent people with nothing to hide do. Tracy returns, hoping to talk with the chefs while Pepper’s caters a political dinner at the Winrock Mansion. One of the cooks offers that he can talk, if Tracy will meet him outside, away from witnesses, over by Ambush Rock. Tracy’s good for it, and the cook’s good for clobbering him with a bowling pin, like he was in a George McManus cartoon.

Pepper takes Tracy’s own handcuff and hooks him up to his trailer hitch. This raises several questions, like: wait, would a handcuff actually keep someone on a trailer hitch for a twenty-mile ride by country road? I’m never confident those things are secure with actual proper hitches and it sure looks like the handcuff should pop right off the first good bump in the road. The second question: wait, so Pepper figures he’ll get away with murdering Stagg if the city’s most famous detective, whom the Mayor and the Major Crimes Unit know is investigating Pepper, goes missing and maybe turns up dead? (Although, in fairness, it was barely two months since the last time Dick Tracy was abducted and left for dead so maybe his murder would be lost under a buffet of suspects.) Third question: what does Pepper hope to gain from killing Tracy instead of, like, actually hearing any of his questions?

Despite the high speeds Tracy’s able to call Sam Catchem. And to get his handcuff key, maybe to get free. Before he can, Pepper has to stop short, avoiding a deer in the road. Tracy gets free and shoots out the truck’s tire before Pepper can run him over. Pepper’s truck crashes down the ravine, and the restauranteur makes his escape before Tracy can follow.

[ Ghost Pepper stops for a deer in the road, and Tracy gets loose. ] Pepper: 'I better check on Tracy. ... Uh-oh!' (Looking out of the truck.) Dick Tracy: 'PEPPER! YOU'RE UNDER ARREST!' Pepper: 'I'll run him over!' [ Starts the truck in reverse, aiming at Tracy. Tracy takes his snub-nose gun and shoots! ]
Joe Staton and Mike Curtis’s Dick Tracy for the 11th of March, 2018. That’s some really well-composed scenes, and great action. It’s just that I’m still stuck on how that handcuff stayed on that trailer hitch for miles(?) of travel on country roads.

Pepper finds a hideout with Phishface, who — reluctantly — sets Pepper and his fugu chef up in an unused part of the city aquarium. That’s good for almost days before, fleeing staff, Pepper falls into the tank hosting the new Portuguese Man-of-War. And so, the poisoner himself dies with appropriate dramatic irony but not the particular involvement of Dick Tracy, who was busy arresting the fugu chef.

And this highlights a bunch of other questions. First: wait, what the heck? Second, like, what did Pepper hope to gain from killing Stagg in the first place? Simon Stagg’s money seems like a good enough motive, and (on the 28th of March) the fugu chef does think he’s making off with Stagg’s briefcase full of cash. But it seems weird to kill a guy for money he was going to give you in an actual legal and above-board transaction. I guess keeping the money and the restaurant is good, but, sheesh, having a restaurant grow successful enough to be worth selling out is winning the lottery. What more does he want? Third, so, the final toxicology report (delivered the 22nd of March) is that Stagg died of blowfish toxin. I take it this is meant to signify that Pepper got away with it, killing Stagg in a way that looked like it was an unrelated accident.

In which case, yeah, Pepper committed a perfect crime and undid it by kicking Dick Tracy until the super-detective got curious. This isn’t by itself a problem. People committing crimes they aren’t actually smart enough to succeed in can make for great storytelling. Elmore Leonard, the 2016 Electoral College, the Coen Brothers, and the Florida Man Twitter feed make compelling material out of this. And Tracy (on the 31st of March) says he hasn’t met any smart criminals yet. All right, but if the point is that Pepper piddled away his chance to get away with killing a rich man for money, I’d like that made clearer. Tracy didn’t even ask Pepper any specific questions; why was he panicked already?

One of the hallmarks of the Staton/Curtis era of Dick Tracy has been rapid, relentless pacing. And that’s great; story strips don’t need to be lethargic, much as they seem to be trying to be. But they do fall into a counterbalancing failure, where the plot logic and the motivations behind things are unclear or just baffling. I have no idea why Pepper figured “try and kill Dick Tracy” was the sensible thing to do after killing Stagg. I’d like it if I did.

The 1st of April started another weeklong “Minit Mysteries” segment. This was illustrated by John Lucas. The mystery was the murder of George Reeds, actor and star of the Ultraman TV series. That runs through the 8th of April; please, enjoy working out the puzzle if you like.

The new, and current, storyline started the 9th of April. Britt Reid, publisher of the Central City Daily Sentinel, is in town, poking around organized crime. This has attracted the interest of old-time radio fans, because yes, it’s a crossover. Britt Reid was known for years on radio, and for about one season on TV in the 60s, and for about 45 minutes in the movies in like 2011, as the Green Hornet. Reid’s gimmick, then and now, was to pose as a respectable newspaper publisher — so you see how far back this schtick goes — pursuing the super-villain the Green Hornet. But the Green Hornet is himself Reid, using the reputation of being a super-villain to infiltrate and break up actual crime rings.

This is unrelated, but, there was a little bit on one of Bob Newhart’s albums where he thought about the TV show I Led Three Lives. This show was about one Herb Philbrick, who was a communist for the FBI. Not from the show I Was A Communist For The FBI. Newhart opined that he wished, just one, in one of the Communist cell meetings that someone should have stood up and said, “Say, has, ah … has anyone else ever noticed, uh, whenever we assign Philbrick to anything, we all get arrested?” I’m not one to spoil a good golden-age-of-radio gimmick, but, like, the original Plastic-Man was only able to use this same approach about four issues before the mobsters caught on that Plastic-Man’s secret gangster identity was bad luck.

Anyway, Britt Reid and Dick Tracy meet, to review what they know: Central City mobster Cyrus Topper is trying to hook up with the Apparatus, the organized crime syndicate in Tracy’s town. The Green Hornet seems to be following. Tracy’s sure that Topper and the Hornet will get justly deserted. No, neither one of them knows what’s happened to Jim Scancarelli. You’d think he’d be all over this meeting of former Golden Age of Radio crime-detection superstars. And that’s about where things stand.

There’s only a few threads left loose from the last couple months’ stories. One is Matty Squared, the artificial intelligence/uploaded semi-personality of Mister Bribery’s former accountant. He was last seen the 10th of February, planning to head to “the server farms down south”. His companion: a mouse named Ignatz that’s got to be the oddest Krazy Kat reference in a long while.

It’s never said what the Moon Governor talked about with Diet Smith, Honey Moon Tracy, and Mysta Chimera. The Moon Governor himself emerged from the Lunarians’ secret hideout (somewhere on Earth) to investigate telepathic signals. Mysta? Honey Moon? Someone else? It hasn’t been said explicitly so anything might be yet entered into evidence. And no, I haven’t forgot that someone’s trying to scare B O Plenty and family out of their estate by making ghost noises.

A thread that hasn’t been brought up, and might never be: Britt Reid was, canonically, the grand-nephew (or something like that) of the Lone Ranger. The characters have been owned by separate companies since the 50s, so allusions to this have to be more deniable or involve more negotiation ahead of time. But the comic strip did show Vitamin Flintheart and Joe Tracy watching a Vista Bill movie. I think that’s made up for the in-universe continuity. But a western hero with the wonder horse Comet crying out “Fly, Comet! And Awaaay!” is reminding people of something. Merely for world-building? Perhaps, and plausibly so. For something more? Goodness knows.

Next Week!

What’s going on in Gasoline Alley? There’s evidence that at least someone is there as reruns go into their sixth month. What’s going on with Jim Scancarelli? I haven’t heard anything today. But a whole week from now? Maybe that will have changed. Come on around and let’s see what we might find out.

The Heck Is Even With Poison Ivy: An Investigation


My love was working in the yard. I wasn’t. We have a well-agreed-upon divide of household chores. My love gardens, while I bring in all the groceries in one trip and offer to run back to the store for the butter we forgot. Anyway, my love encountered what we believed to be poison ivy.

That was natural enough. There’s been poison ivy in the yard before. We got rid of as much as we could last year in an expedition that brought us into the neighbor’s yard. A lot of ivy was growing through the fence. Somehow our neighbor was willing to accept our offer to dig a noxious weed out of his yard for free. It takes all kinds to make a neighborhood. Most of that kind are neighbors.

But we got to thinking about poison ivy. Most poison you get into your body, and then you get very sick or die, and that’s that. The whole point of poison is to stop getting eaten by heaping a pile of dead animals around where they tried eating. But poison ivy? You get it in or on you and then maybe up to three days later you get an irritating rash that lasts up to three weeks. As poisons go this is pretty incompetent. It depends on animals brushing up against it and then, a couple days later, being pretty irritated. And then the animals are supposed to peruse their travel logs and review any suspicious plants they might have passed near. And then after extensive reviews determine the element in common to all these itching incidents is being up to seventy-two hours removed from the close proximity of a bit of poison ivy. That’s asking a lot from animals, who are lousy at tracking infection vectors, except the Malayan Golden Forensic Mousedeer.

So I put “the heck is even with poison ivy” into DuckDuckGo and right there on the first page of results is a link from something called “mamapedia” and I’m not going to touch a link with a domain name like that. My most optimistic guess is it’s like Wikipedia but with the charming parts of a southern accent. According to some non-scary-pedias the thing that makes poison ivy so kind-of poison-ish is called urushiol. Turns out nearly all the itch-based plants, like poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, sumac oak, oak ivy, and so on, get their itching by liquids called urushiols. Urushiol is a kind of compound known as an oleoresin, which is a kind of resin whose name you can yodel.

It’s not a poison, though. These plants use it somehow to retain water. That it irritates skin is a side effect. The plant doesn’t get anything out of it. It’s just the plants needed to retain water and they muddled on the best they could. There’s a lesson for us all in that. I like to imagine if we explained the situation to a session of the Poison Ivy Witenagemot, in a committee of the whole, they’d apologize. “We had no idea,” surely they’d declare. “Why didn’t you say something sooner?” and then we could share with them water-tower technology. And we’d all have a good laugh about the misunderstanding that caused so much irritation over the centuries. They’ll mend their ways, limiting their irritation to watching old TV shows on modern HDTVs with the aspect ratio all wrong. I’m not saying that isn’t also irritating. But it’s a quicker kind. It’s an irritation you can resolve simply by jumping up and down and shouting, “What is wrong with you people? We spent fifteen years explaining letterboxing movies to you and you finally got it and now don’t you even notice how everybody on The Mary Tyler Moore Show looks like a pile of mashed potatoes wearing Seventies Plaid?!” and then being asked to leave the room.

It turned out our poison ivy wasn’t, anyway. It’s an easy mistake to make. Poison ivy comes in a lot of shapes and sizes, ranging from stringy vines crawling around dead trees up to functional self-service gas stations ready for the new chip cards the United States is getting in twenty years after everybody else in the world. All you can be sure of is that leaves-of-three thing, but it’s no surprise if you count up the leaves on a perfectly innocent plant it might happen to be a multiple of three. Something like a third of all the counting numbers are a multiple of three. Still, ours was a false alarm. The plant was a perfectly innocent Striated Woodsy Guiltywort vine, brought over from the old country by settlers who thought that was a good idea. And that emergency cold shower after applying all that urushiol repellant was just jolly good practice in being made miserable after poison ivy exposures.

Also besides not being actually all that poison, poison ivy isn’t ivy. At some point you have to wonder if the people who named it were quite sure what they were doing.

In Which I Do Not, Repeat Do Not, Poison Our Pet Rabbit


“This is poison, isn’t it?” said our pet rabbit, as he chewed on the leafy part.

I’d had the accusation before. “It’s Swiss chard again. There wasn’t anything poisonous about it last time either.”

He hopped up and shook out a little, which is the sort of happy thing rabbits do and didn’t match his tone at all. “Why are you trying to poison me?” He sniffed and then chewed some more at the leaf.

“Why on Earth would I even want to poison you? You’re too darling to poison.”

He pulled his head up, which is some new behavior he’s picked up and exposes this adorable dark-colored patch in the middle of the white-colored patches of his chin, and it’s only his quick reflexes that keep it from being tickled. “I can’t know your motivations. If I make the a priori assumption you’re a rational agent I could expect you to inevitably come to a sufficient moral awareness to keep you from choosing to poison me, but for all I know you’ve had a partial or a defective moral upbringing. And I know you’re not fully rational because I heard that awful movie you watched Saturday.”

So this explained why the bookmarks in my Beloved’s books of Kant keep getting moved around, and maybe why there was a nibbled corner of the Critique of the Power of Judgement. I should probably mention here that not all pets kept by philosophers end up acting like. Ludwig Wittgenstein, for example, famously kept a pet squirrel who did little but kick the him in the shins, less because of the squirrel’s treatise on the origins of ethics and more because Wittgenstein was the sort of person who inspired people to kick him. Also in my defense I was watching Foodfight extremely ironically and felt a little bad for even doing that.

“I can’t prove to you that I’ve got a functioning moral compass” — and he interrupted with a sharp HA! — “but if you really suspect the chard is poison you don’t have to eat it.”

He stopped chewing and looked up indignantly. “You yelled and laughed when I ate that dog food!”

“We didn’t think you’d really eat it! We thought you’d sniff at it and refuse. That stuff contains meat, you know.”

“Then why’d you put a kibble out for me?”

“Well, it’s cute seeing you sniff at things you rear back from.”

“Because you figure I won’t eat poison!”

“Again, though, you haven’t suggested a reason for me to poison you. And just saying I’m irrational doesn’t excuse the need for a reason. You need an irrational reason.”

He huffed a bit, the way he does when he realizes he’s being pulled into the pet carrier. “You envy my superior lifestyle. I can just hop around the house and eat and nap all day.”

“That argument won’t obtain,” which sounds like a smart thing to say, because it’s a weird use of the word “obtain”, one I’m not sure is defensible. “I’m a telecommuter. Functionally we’re equivalent.”

“If you’re not envious then why don’t you ever name me when you write about me on the Internet?”

Ah, that. Probably best to go with the honest answer. “I don’t want people getting your name and ringing up fraudulent credit card charges. It protects you.”

“Oh.” And he started chewing on the stalk of the chard. “You could give me a stage name.”

“I can’t think of any that could capture your personality.”

And he did that little shaking hop.

“You know, when I bought that chard, the cashier asked if red or white tasted better.”

He let the stalk of the chard drop. “What did you tell him?”

“I told her I didn’t know. We just buy it for you.”

“And she asked why you’re poisoning me?” He picked the stalk back up and started inhaling it, like a log disappearing into a buzz saw.

“She asked whether you liked it.”

“And you said?”

“I said you were still working out your policy regarding Swiss chard” — he snorted again — “but you look so adorable chewing the stalk that we couldn’t resist.” And he finished the last of it.

“I name you when I write about you on the Internet.”

“I’m flattered.”

“If this isn’t poison why don’t you eat some?”

“The last time we ate any vegetables we bought for you you called it the end of the world.”

“Well, that’s honest at least,” and he flopped out on his side.