60s Popeye: Wimpy’s Lunch Wagon so why is it about Popeye?


We have seen the name W Schmidt before. He was credited or co-credited for the story for Popeye the Popular Mechanic, for Popeye the Piano Mover, and Popeye the White Collar Man. The Internet Movie Database also credits him for the story for Popeye the Fireman, though the title card says otherwise. Given that pedigree it’s odd to see a cartoon suggesting Wimpy gets a job instead. Volus Jones gets the animation direction credit, and Jack Kinney produced. Here’s the 1960 sort Wimpy’s Lunch Wagon.

Why is Wimpy in this? I trust Wimpy enjoys rare expertise in the eating arts. But in cooking? Why not Rough House, who does run a cafe, and who in the 1960s was finally allowed into animation? It’s got me wondering which studios got to use which minor Thimble Theatre characters, although it’s far too late for me to start tracking that. All the character does is leave Popeye in charge, and then come back to see the aftermath of the chaos. That doesn’t have to be the more familiar Wimpy.

But also, why does Popeye need an excuse to be in charge of something? W Schmidt was comfortable giving Popeye jobs like piano-mover or fireman without explaining how he got there. Why not short-order cook too? It would make more sense out of pleasant little jokes like Popeye observing how the newspaper guy never misses.

In the kitchen, Brutus laughs at Popeye, who's fallen and is covered by a set of pots and pans and strainers and such. Popeye's oversized spinach hoagie sits on a table.
My friends with kitchen jobs tell me it’s like this all the time.

The conflict, once it starts, is Brutus pushing a juke box into the restaurant and shoving the organ-grinder (and monkey) out. This is surprisingly realistic, given how vicious the coin-op business could be back in the day. Popeye’s lucky not to have got shoved into a pinball machine. Brutus moves in, to “protect me business interests”, and we get a quick version of the Brutus-grabs-Olive-Oyl, Popeye-rescues-her storyline. It’s all ordinary enough, but well done and nicely decorated. There’s fun bits like Olive Oyl calling “save me, sir knight!” to a Popeye covered in tin pans. Or Olive Oyl answering Popeye “we’re out of duck … oh, that kind!” when she has to dodge. I don’t have any serious complaints about any of this; it does its business well. I just don’t see what Wimpy adds to the events, besides a punch line that everybody forgot the organ-grinder.

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? Did Baleen leave Gasoline Alley or what? December 2019 – February 2020


Baleen said she was leaving Gasoline Alley. She came back, though, saying that it was an accident. It was sentiment. She’s moving toward a romance with T-Bone, the cook. I say moving toward because I write this in the closing days of February 2020. Sometime after May 2020 there’ll likely be new plot developments. So if you want the most up-to-date plot recaps and news about Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley please check this link. And if you like comic strips with a mathematical theme please check in on my other blog. Thank you.

Gasoline Alley.

9 December 2019 – 29 February 2020

I last checked in on Gasoline Alley in the weeks before Christmas. A train full of kids were riding the Mistletoe Express to see Santa Claus. But it broke down in front of Corky’s diner. Corky put in a call to Slim Wallet to get his Santa gear on and entertain the restless kids. And what do you know but he got there in record time and put on a great show, never breaking character, and giving everyone a merry time. Even talking in rhyme the whole day. And there’s nothing mysterious or ambiguously supernatural about that at all.

Slim, dressed as Santa, running up: 'Corky! I'm sorry I'm late! I had a flat tire and forgot to bring my phone!' Corky: 'But you were just here and did a fabulous job!' Slim: 'Whadyamean? I just got here!' Corky: 'Then who was that other Santa?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 20th of December, 2019. If you don’t like this sort of lighthearted old-time-radio/60-sitcom holiday magical realism then maybe Jim Scancarellis Gasoline Alley is not a comic strip for you, all right?

Well, the day after Christmas started the new story thread. It’s still focused on Corky’s diner. Terry, the regular waitress, is back. She’s completed her treatment for the actue angina pectoris that Peter Glabella had diagnosed. With Terry back, guest waitress Baleen declares she’s off. But Corky and T-Bone (the cook) beg Baleen to stay. She has none of it.

Anyway, the diner’s doing great business. It’s crazy crowded. The strip never says their hotcakes are selling like hotcakes, but Jim Scancarelli is kicking himself for not doing that joke. They put up a fresh sign begging for more wait staff. And who shows up again but Baleen? She claims that she caught the wrong bus, and this is where it stopped for lunch. And she missed them all.

Woman carrying in the 'Waitress Wanted' sign: 'Uh! I'd like to apply for the waitress position!' Corky, recognizing her: 'Baleen! You're hired! Get your apron and get to work!' Baleen; 'Aye aye, Captain!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 15th of January, 2020. And as usual I’d like to mention the work put into the art here. That there is any visual appeal at all to these scenes show the work Scancarelli puts in to staging scenes. The first panel could have as much mystery if it were just an off-screen voice geting Cookie’s attention; focusing close on a walking Baleen from down low gives the scene a sense of motion. The shading of the lead characters, too, gives a neat composition. This strip would be very easy to draw lazy and it’s just not done. I know I always say this about Gasoline Alley, but I’m going to keep saying it until people agree with me. I can accept people not liking the way Scancarelli designs characters, especially as there will be mixes of characters drawn to different levels of photorealism. But I won’t accept people not acknowledging that he stages them well.

So Jim Scancarelli has realized that Baleen’s a pretty good fit for the gang at Corky’s Diner. She steps back in, and we get back to restaurant jokes. And a bit of story development: a jerk customer starts mocking Baleen’s name. T-Bone leaps to her defence. Terry had said that T-Bone had a crush on Baleen. The first real evidence we get of this is the hearts in his eyes when Baleen kisses her thanks. But then she gets all cold, particularly saying she missed him “like the bucolic plague”. Which when you look at it is a hard thing to parse. Terry gives T-Bone the advice to be patient and let Baleen find a comfortable spot.

But, it’s Valentine Season. Baleen starts getting cards. She’s been popular with the customers, to the point of sometimes sitting down with them. This is pretty much my deepest restaurant nightmare. There’s a Wendy’s I can’t ever go to again because the cashier recognized I always order the baked potato. A server feeling comfortable enough to sit down with me might well cause me to burst into embarrassment flames.

All the attention is making T-Bone jealous. Terry recommends he send her flowers. He feels like that’s hopeless. Terry claims Baleen sent the (anonymous) cards to herself and made up a Valentine party she was going to. I don’t know on what basis she deuces this other than that “Valentine party”? Well, T-Bone at least sends a card. And then a wreath of roses arrives.

Baleen, looking over a wreath of red flowers: 'Ooh, T-Bone! What a lovely Valentine gift!' (She kisses him; he gets hearts in his eyes.) T-Bone, thinking: 'Gulp! I did't send this wreath! One of Baleen's secret admirers must have!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 14th of February, 2020. It’s a small artistic touch but the sort of thing I think emblematic of Scancarelli’s work that there’s so many valentine hearts in the second panel there. Not just the three floating above the actual kiss, but also the heart in T-Bone’s eye and the two hearts making the centers of the O’s in the sound effect ‘Smooch’. It’s the sort of little thing making a panel funnier to look at that Scancarelli reliably pays attention to and I’m glad for it.

He didn’t send them. Also they’re a funeral wreath. Terry reveals she ordered the flowers on T-Bone’s behalf. She didn’t order a funeral wreath, though. It’s one of those zany screw-ups that happen at florist’s in the 60s-sitcom world of Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. T-Bone thinks fast for once, and says it shows how he’ll love her until she dies. And this wins Baleen’s heart.

That seems to put their story at a good resting point. The last couple days have been jokes about Baleen painting signs for the diner, advertising their hours and whatnot. Oh, and hey, is there something ritualistically special about Leap Year in proud-to-be-old-fashioned comic strips like this? Mm?

Next Week!

So, seriously, did Mark Trail leave Dr Harvey Camel out there to die in a snowbank? James Allen’s Mark Trail gets its recap in a week, if all goes to plan. It is hard to read what Mark Trail did any other way. I’m unsettled too.

What’s Going On In Mary Worth? Is Iris pregnant? Is Estelle daft? September – December 2019


No, Iris is not pregnant, according to the information we’ve been given to date. Is Estelle daft? That depends on your feelings about plunging into dating someone after you know he’s got a lot of problems. People with problems deserve the chance at dates too, though. The issue is how they cope with their problems, and what their potential partners are able to cope with.

So as that warns you, I’m getting you up to mid-December 2019 in Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth. If you’re reading this after about March 2020 I likely have a more up-to-date Mary Worth plot recap here. And I should have, this week and any week, some mathematically-themed comic strips to discuss on my other blog. Now on to Charterstone in detail.

Mary Worth.

29 September – 21 December 2019.

When I last checked in, end of September, Mary Worth was ready for a new story. It’s been on that story ever since. It’s a story about Wilbur Weston.

Wilbur’s returned home. He was interviewing Mozambique cyclone survivors for his column about people who aren’t dead. He’s glad to see Estelle again. They’d started dating after Estelle’s whole Internet-Romance-scam debacle. He didn’t stay in touch like he meant while out of the country, despite the Internet being a thing. I can’t snark here, since I’ve got e-mails dating back to 2007 that I keep telling myself I’ll answer someday.

That said, all Wilbur wants to do is stay in with Estelle. He brings over some wine coolers and they watch a boxing documentary and the news that he used to be a sports writer. I didn’t know that. Also she hates boxing, which she doesn’t bother mentioning. So she counts that a lousy date and wonders if she’s wasted her time with like three Wilbur dates. Mary Worth reassures her that Wilbur is great, you have give him a chance. They have a couple dates singing together, like they used to do.

Mary Worth: 'Take your time to get to know Wilbur. He's a great guy!' Estelle: 'I'm doing that. And I'm not rushing into anything. Sometimes, though, I wonder about us.' Mary: 'If you spend more time with him, you'll see he's an earnest guy with a few endearing quirks.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 10th of October, 2019. “Look, you don’t become one of Santa Royale’s leading survival-and-mayonnaise bloggers without making a long string of life choices. Anyone understands that.”

Meanwhile, Iris. She used to date Wilbur. But their relationship-pause while he was off interviewing world survivors turned into a breakup. (That was in time for him to fall for a romance scam in Colombia.) She’s taken to dating Zak, and quite likes the arrangement. He’s pleasant enough, and enthusiastically supportive of Iris when she complains of exhaustion.

Iris and Wilbur run into each other at the pharmacy. Wilbur says how he’s dating Estelle, who’s great in every way and would Iris and her toy boy like to double-date at this My Thai restaurant next week? Or every single week until Iris sees how way awesome a catch he is? Three times a week until she sees it? Mmm? Iris can’t think of any way this might go wrong, somehow.

Zak: 'A double date? Sure, sounds cool.' Wilbur: 'We'll get together next week! I want to show Estelle off to you guys!' Iris: 'Okay.' Wilbur: 'I'll call you, Iris.' Iris: 'Take care, Wilbur.' Wilbur: 'I look forward to seeing you guys then!' (Thinking) 'That'll teach her to look at me with pity! She'll see that I'm over her ... and dating an amazing new woman!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 27th of October, 2019. So, first, between this and the daily strip that it’s recapping, you get some idea how much more into the idea Wilbur is than Iris is. But also … who is it says the double date sounds cool? That is Zak, right? In which case, it’s a little embarrassing he’s not picking up on Iris’s uncertainty about whether this is a good idea. But I do like that he values being on good terms with someone who used to be important to Iris and that she’s still communicating with.

Ahead of the double date, Wilbur realizes he doesn’t know what the heck he’s doing. He has a drink, and another, and follows it with 82 more while berating himself for breaking up with Iris even though he’s lucky to be with Estelle. Estelle finds Wilbur ranting while drunk, and somehow doesn’t imagine calling off the date.

It’s the fiasco you might imagine. Wilbur starts obnoxious, mocking Zak’s order of tofu pad Thai. Then he gets offensive, asking if the Zachary he was named for wasn’t his mothers friend but actually his father. Then he gets both clumsy and creepy, knocking wine onto Iris and getting handsy cleaning it off. (And, in the tradition of dull white guys, he does it while trying to imitate Something Cool From The Matrix.) Finally he passes out. Estelle pours him into his apartment.

After this mess Estelle wonders if she and Wilbur have a future. Or much of a past, since they’ve been on like five dates total. Her nightmare includes some funny pictures of Wilbur Babies boxing. Glorious nonsense.

[ When Estelle hears music coming from outside her window ] (She looks out at night, hearing the Pina Colada song. It's Wilbur, standing in the rain, holding a boom box over his head, doing the 'Say Anything' boombox scene.
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 20th of November, 2019. Put aside the warning sign that Wilbur — whose day job is advice columnist by the way — thinks it’s ever an acceptable idea to emulate a romantic comedy character’s behavior. The reason he’s doing The Piña Colada Song is that it’s one of the songs he and Estelle first bonded over, so that at least is paying attention his actual relationship.

Between the fiasco and the nightmares Estelle wants a break from Wilbur. He sends her apologies and begs for a fresh chance. She turns to Mary Worth for help, since she’s broken into her apartment and asked what Estelle needs to be told to do already. Estelle explains about the fiasco. Mary Worth explains how oh, yeah, you’ll get a certain amount of humiliating public drunken spectacles from a Wilbur Weston. Which you’d think Mary Worth might have dropped a warning about. I like, in principle, that Mary Worth isn’t comfortable saying bad stuff about a friend, even to protect another friend. But Mary Worth’s defining power is setting relationships right. To not have warned Estelle of a hazard this big violates her brand. I’m not saying alcoholics can’t have relationships. I am saying their potential partners have to know what they’re getting into and be able to judge whether they’re able to handle that. Mary Worth isn’t shocked that he was disastrously drunk. She says “that tends to happen”. Not communicating “that tends to happen” warnings is how your boyfriend’s friend can assault you in your home.

[ As Mary leaves her friend's place ] Mary Worth: 'Estelle, I know Wilbur, and he's a better man than he displayed at dinner the other night!' [ Meanwhile, speaking of better men ] Estelle, pulling on pants: 'AUGGH! These USED to fit!' Zak: 'They probably shrunk in the dryer. Just change your pants, Iris! I'll see you after my meeting!'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 25th of November, 2019. Warning sign that you’re really screwed up: when the Mary Worth Narration Box starts mocking you. Yowza. Anyway, maybe we snarky readers were jumping implausibly to the “Is Iris pregnant?” question, given the default social mores of the Mary Worth comic universe. But then what activity is being coded here by her putting her pants on in the middle of the day?

Back to Iris and Zak. She’s not only tired. Her pants don’t fit. And every snarky reader got to asking: wait, is Iris pregnant? Outside wedlock? In Mary Worth? Awesome! Then her hair starts falling out. She checks with her doctor, Riverdale’s Archie Andrews, who explains nah, it’s menopause. Well, he doesn’t say the word “menopause” for some reason, but that’s what he’s getting at.

Iris decides she can’t bother Zak with how she’s old. It would drag him down. Zak tries to be supportive considering she won’t tell him what’s wrong. She says she needs space and that they need time apart.

Zak goes to a bar to mope. Wilbur walks in. They sit together and talk some while watching the US-Cuba soccer match. The US team wins. Their resolve inspires Zak to not give up on his relationship with Iris. It also inspires Wilbur to do give up on his drinking. And, having had a normal human interaction, the two kind of like each other.

Meanwhile Estelle’s lonely and admits missing Wilbur. Mary Worth stops in with a bowl full of fruitcake and meddle cream. Estelle says, even putting aside Wilbur’s drunken fiasco, he’s still way too hung up on Iris. Mary Worth admits yeah, he is, but he might get past that. Also past the drunkenness. You like him anyway, right? Mary Worth means, like, he’s unique. Estelle grants he is. She just doesn’t know that he’s lasting-love kind of unique. Yet she has already invested in this relationship, like, a half-dozen dates over the course of seven months now. Why give that up?

[ When Estelle visits Mary ] Mary Worth: 'How are you, my friend?' Estelle: 'I've got the blues.' Mary, pulling a bundt cake pan with gloppy stuff in it: 'I know just the thing to cheer you up! Would you like a slice of fruitcake, Estelle?' Estelle: 'Sure. Tis the season.'
Karen Moy and June Brigman’s Mary Worth for the 17th of December, 2019. So you know I’m not taking any hack jokes here about fruitcake being bad. I want hack jokes about Wilbur being one of Santa Royale’s leading mayonnaise bloggers.

That’s brought things to this weekend, and to what’s got me annoyed this time. Estelle is having correct and reasonable doubts about Wilbur. She’s the one getting Mary Worthed, though, into not paying attention to some big warning signs. Maybe she is judging Wilbur too harshly for a particularly bad day of his. We have all had a day that would give a stranger the exactly wrong idea of who we are. But I’d like her to get reason to think the dinner date was an exceptional event.

And then here’s where the strip is going wrong. First that Mary Worth is giving advice that muddles someone’s clear thoughts about a problem. It’s that Mary Worth is overlooking Iris, who’s screwing up her own relationship. Zak’s this almost implausibly supportive, eager, understanding man. She’s running away because she doesn’t want him to find out she’s older than he is. The strip is showing some major weakness in Mary Worth’s meddling focus here. I can only hope it gets straightened out soon. We should know by March 2020, when I expect to check in here again.

Dubiously Sourced Mary Worth Sunday Panel Quotes!

I’ll fix the name of this section yet. Here’s things from Brainyquotes that it’s possible that the credited person said at some point in their lives. And yes, the auto care place is still on the same message of “You Can Make A Difference If You Try”, which they’ve been on since April. I’m starting to worry.

  • “Distance means so little, when someone means so much.” — Tom McNeal, 29 September 2019
  • “It’s a good place when all you have is hope and not expectations.” — Danny Boyle, 6 October 2019
  • “Exploring the unknown requires tolerating uncertainty” — Brian Greene, 13 October 2019
  • “Love is the flower you’ve got to let grow.” — John Lennon, 20 October 2019
  • “I think about you, but I don’t say it anymore.” — Marguerite Duras, 27 October 2019
  • “If you always have a crutch, you don’t learn anything.” — Ben Savage, 3 November 2019
  • None! I know, I was shocked too. 10 November 2019
  • “Reality is never as bad as a nightmare, as the mental tortures we inflict on ourselves.” — Sammy Davis Jr, 17 November 2019
  • “Life is a question and how we live it is our answer.” — Gary Keller, 24 November 2019
  • “My doctor gave me six months to live, but when I couldn’t pay the bill he gave me six months more.” — Walter Matthau, 1 December 2019
  • “Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets.” — Paul Tournier, 8 December 2019
  • “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, 15 December 2019
  • “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” — Alexander Pope, 22 December 2019

Next Week!

Did the Ghost Who Walks ever get around to freeing Avaria? Next week, barring surprises, we’ll check in on Tony DePaul and Jeff Weigel’s The Phantom (Sunday continuity) and find out. Thanks for reading.

The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage Five


Stage one. Before the trip.
Stage two. Getting started.
Stage three. Seeing malls and sheep.
Stage four. Trying to remember things.


OK, but is this the sheep district of the country or what because this is getting to be far too many sheep.

Dan tried to get away without calling it “Diet Pupsi” and couldn’t. But he did realize that over this trip everyone had tried, one time or other, just saying the name of it right. The implication is that everybody’s ready to let this in-joke go, but nobody wants to be the one to say it. Dan resolves to bring this up at a good moment, but hopes so very much that someone else brings it up first.

Sophie starts the practice of deliberately misreading the highway signs now. Taking “Williamsport” as the game of Williams promises some great fun, but all it really leads to is stories of times their satellite navigator had no idea how to pronounce a street name. “Malcolm the Tenth Street” is judged the best of those. There’s just not enough good towns in the area, though.

It seemed like this should be a good way to pass a few miles. But sharing the most important thing in their lives that they’ve given up correcting their parents about? Like, where it’s just too much effort to explain what’s really going on, and it’s easier to let them go about being wrong and correct people whom their parents in turn mislead? Yeah, so it turns out that for everybody it’s just “exactly what it is we do for work”. That’s weird itself. Like, you’d think for someone it would be a relationship or some important aspect of their personality or something. No, though. It’s just what everyone does in exchange for money. This seems like it says something important about modern society, but who knows?

All right, but that is definitely a two-story strip mall, putting to rest an earlier squabble.

Josh is irrationally offended by the name of the Creekside Inn Hotel, citing “redundancy”. His status is not helped when it turns out to be near the Riverfront Cemetery Memorial Park.

The historical marker turned out to be a surprisingly good stop. It’s just a note that this town was somehow too small for Lincoln’s Funeral Train to stop at, but they have this amazing picture of the train just going through town. It’s not a very good picture but for an action scene in 1865? That’s pretty amazing anyway. But the real question is how everything in town is covered in black crepe. Where did that all come from? The town isn’t anything today, and back then? It was so nothing it couldn’t even get the funeral train to stop. Why would they even have enough crepe to shroud all downtown? Or if they didn’t, where did they get it? Did they have enormous quantities of regular crepe and just dye it black all of a sudden? Amanda’s joke that maybe it was crepe of all colors and it just looks black is judged to be “too soon”. But that doesn’t answer the real question.

It’s become so tiring to read all the highway signs that the town or towns of Portage Munster are passed without comment.

Now it’s time for the search for a place to have dinner. This is a complex triangulation of where they are, how fast they’re going somewhere, and what towns of any size are going to be anywhere near dinnertime. The objective: find someplace genuinely local to go. And after fifteen minutes of searching, success! It’s a well-reviewed barcade and they even have a menu online with four vegetarian-friendly options, plus great heaping piles of fried things. And it’s been open since like 1938. It is closed today, and tomorrow, for the only two days it’s set to be closed between Easter and Thanksgiving this year.

By now the group has gotten past making up redundantly-named landmarks and is annoying Josh with oxymoronic names.

At least everyone can agree: after all this time driving, we’re all walking like badly-rigged video game models. This is what’s so good about taking a road trip. You get to enjoy everything in new and different ways.

The Stages Of The Road Trip: Stage Three


Stage one. Before the trip.
Stage two. Getting started.


It’s still a lot of fun reading the names of the streets off the overpasses. “Fangboner Road” alone threatens to keep the gang giggling for hours. “Preventorium Road” inspires everyone to toss out out their ideas of what this could even mean. This goes on for so long and for such a merry time that by the time anyone can think to look it up they can’t remember what exactly the road name was. They know it wasn’t Vomitorium Road, but that’s as far as the consensus will reach. Amanda’s claim of knowing a “Squankum” are shaken off. It feels like a bad laugh although they’re not sure exactly why.

The fourth great field of sheep is not so much fun as the first. Dan insists the problem is the sheep aren’t trying to be interesting. Sophia asserts that few things would be worse than sheep that compel your interest. The menace of the hypnosheep masters keeps the group’s spirits up for the next two fields of sheep before they sink beneath all possible commentary.

Is that a strip mall with two yoga centers? Josh says it’s three, but he’s definitely mis-reading tea room as a yoga center. Right? We mean it’s one of those tea rooms too fancy to be comfortable. Well, there’s definitely at least two. Maybe this is just the yoga center district of town?

Well, this is a restaurant. All right, it’s not a vegetarian-friendly restaurant. It seems determined to put meat into things that don’t even need it. There’s a high-pressure gun in the kitchen. It injects chicken and processed lobster food product into everything. “We just want some garlic toast,” beg Josh and Amanda. “We don’t need animals to have died for the cause!” The restaurant tries to cope with the concept of someone who wants the tomato soup that hasn’t had a fist-sized chunk of pig flesh ripped off and unked into it. But the effort fails. There’s a mishap in the kitchen, and it sprays chicken cutlets, which are dug out even of the glove box up to three months later. At least that’s how the story goes. Really it’s more that the waitstaff has to come back to apologize that they don’t have a second black-bean burger patty, would a portobello mushroom be all right? And it really wouldn’t, but Josh would take it to not cause trouble for people who have to deal with much worse customers. It’s all right, since it turns out they don’t have portobello either. He gets a plate of melted butter with a scoop of mashed potatoes. Later he tries to insist that mashed potatoes would be a good substitute for the burger patty, earning him so much grief.

That’s a weird bunch of sheep but nobody wants to reopen the subject.

All right but serious talk. Or anyway, comparing the bathroom stuff that different hotels give you. Everyone takes turns asserting they’ve seen the most preposterous blend of things. Sophia claims to have been at a long-term hotel once that had a single tube which claimed to be soap, skin lotion, shampoo, hair conditioner, toothpaste, mouthwash, energy drink, makeup remover, transparent nail polish, shoe polish, stain remover, windshield fluid, transmission fluid, and fish ick treatment. Two miles later she says she thinks she went on too long for the laugh she could possibly get. Dan says that a combination mouthwash and energy drink is a great idea and she should patent that. Amanda questions whether you could patent … what, coffee with way too much mint? This allows everyone to learn a little bit more about each other, as they say what kinds of things they can or can’t eat right after brushing their teeth. This causes everyone to realize their friends are daft. This is worse than when they learned what podcasts everyone else listened to.

All right but is that a two-story strip mall? Is it possible to be a strip mall if it has got a second story? Yeah, we know about that strip mall with the two-story Borders that used to be there, but that was just the one place. If the mall has a second floor with different shops upstairs isn’t that … well, we clearly don’t have the words for this concept. What is it and how many yoga centers can it have?

Noteworthy


While doing the laundry the other day I encountered this Post-It Note, and I admire it because after a half-week of working on it I am starting to have an idea what this could be about, but not the faintest idea why this note has survived.

Post-it note with text 'hot hot cauliflower/ fried hot cheestos crushed pickes/ 37.63 / Joe Frazier burger / smoked bacon jalapeno beer cheesy tots'
If that wasn’t me writing out ‘Joe Frazier burger’ then what is it I could possibly have had going on there? Also if this is, as per my best guess, notes about what we’re ordering take-out, and if I’m right about where it was had a ‘Joe Frazier burger’ then I have no idea what a Post-It Note was doing there, because it was in a town a couple hours away from home and I don’t know why we’d have brought the note home after eating.

Also I wanted to scan the note so you could appreciate all this thing somehow worthy enough of memorialization to end up in the hamper three months later, but I had just upgraded my computer’s operating system and the scanner software didn’t work anymore. So I had a couple extra days while not dealing with that to ponder why I kept this note.

Statistics Saturday: Some Shapes Which You Ought Not Use As Dinner Plates For Your Trendy Restaurant


  • Triangle-base pyramids
  • Whole spheres
  • Saddle curves
  • Vertical walls
  • Great Stellated Dodecahedrons (unless you are serving a food that can be usefully jabbed on spikes, such as pancakes or lumps of cheese ripped out of a whole)
  • Square-base pyramids
  • Sierpiński sieves (that triangle-with-interior-triangles cut out thing, as while it’s a great shape it actually has no surface area, so it can only hold food by way of surface tension)
  • Bipyramids
  • Doughnut-shaped toruses (unless it is an edible container, like those soup-in-a-loaf meals, itself containing many small doughnuts within, in which case I would like to invest in your restaurant)
  • The Great Rhombicosidodecahedron not because no food could be placed atop it but because when word gets out you have Great Rhombicosidodecahedrons in your restaurant the health department will begin an inquiry which will ultimately clear you but which will generate needless amounts of bad press in the meanwhile.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose two points on reports that someone saw a pair of mice snuggled up against each other sleeping and one opened its eye just enough to yawn and doesn’t that sound adorable? We thought it was adorable.

124

New In Town


Here’s some of the new openings in town.

Four Flats. This newly opened concept bar charges a flat four dollars, serving up just as much volume as your four dollars is worth. This simplifies the problem of working out what you can afford but complicates the problem of how large a glass you’re going to get. Fair selection balanced by more variable-sized glasses than you can possibly imagine. Tour groups are admitted to the stock room for two hours before the open of business every day. Do not ask for the complimentary water as that’s just delivered by fire hose. 4 pm – 2 am except Sundays we think. 118 E Quarrel St.

The Can Trader. Just the spot for the beer fancier looking for something new and unexpected: before the bartender fills your order any other patron is allowed to swap your order for hers or his. The trading doesn’t stop there as in the ten minutes leading up to the hour anyone is allowed to swap their drink with someone else’s yet again. Add to that the lack of labels and you could easily spend a night having some fantastic pale ale or IPA or something you never heard of before and never have the faintest idea what the heck you’re drinking. Opens 2 pm daily, closes after the brawl. 44 Upper Pridmore’s Swamp Road.

Newscaster Karaoke Brew Pub. Taking the karaoke-bar concept up just that one extra notch this spot lets patrons sit at a real working news desk. They can try to work their way through the local, state, and national news, then on to weather, sports, human interest features, Mister Food’s Recipes For People Who Guess They Like Food As A Concept, a recap of weather, and the humane society’s adoptable pet of the day in-between batter-dipped mushrooms and $2 PBR’s. 3 pm to 2 am except between 6:00 and 6:30 and 11:00 and 11:35, or any time the security guard is noticed down the hall. Channel 6 broadcast studios, back door, password “Chris Kapostasy sent me”.

Molecubrew. You know that Carl Sagan quote about making an apple pie by starting with a universe? People who can’t get enough of that are believed responsible for this new experience in being surrounded by test tubes. No brand names, but patrons get to pick quantities and amounts from over 4,500 flavor compounds. And, gads, yes, you have to tell them you want ethanol and water and carbon dioxide and good lord. Though it’s been going only a month they’ve got a thriving community going on Telegram with all sorts of recipes that range from “kind of PBR-ish, if I have to pick something” through “an experience you probably will admit you had” and on to “Diet Pibb Xtra”. Act cool. Best menu item: fried stringy things most of which are potatoes, although if you get one that is an actual fried shoestring your entire tab is free. An evening here will let you know which of your friends think it’s the height of hilarity to speak of “dihydrogen monoxide”, so you won’t have to spend time with them anymore after that. If they start talking about the hazards of dihydrogen monoxide you can shove them under the safety shower and flee. 12 noon – 12 midnight except Mondays. Gibbs Alley, Science and Educational Store District.

The Introverted Turtle. This charming former abandoned laundromat has joined the city’s growing Introvert Chic movement. Its concept, perfect for the country’s newest self-identified self-satisfied community, lets one spend the night hanging out with almost no social interaction. Patrons, bartenders, and kitchen staff alike spend their experiences hiding underneath the cloth-draped tables and never speak to any other person out loud. Submit orders by crumpled-up pieces of paper tossed in the general direction of the bar without looking or by Twitter direct-message to an account they swear no living person is monitoring. Instead of attaching a name to your order list the name of your table’s mythical South Seas island. Hours not listed because the staff kept whimpering whenever we asked them. Sorry. 2250 Lower Plank Lake Road, Upper Level.

A Space. A combination sports bar and live-action roleplaying experience, this newest addition to the Shops That Used To Be Part Of Muckle’s Department Store has the look of a partly-open-plan office floor for one of those companies where nobody really knows what they’re doing or why. Settle in pretending to be part of the sales, marketing, IT, administrative support, or janitorial sections, and enjoy a different selection of food, drinks, prices, and of course programming on the highly realistic computer or TV screens at every desk or corners of “break” rooms. An extra feature described as “Orwellian” and “a nightmarish intrusion on privacy but also strangely comforting” is that the TVs in the bathrooms show footage of the most recent employee to use the bathroom, proving they did indeed wash their hands before resuming service. 10 percent discount if the maitre d’ can guess your actual job. Must bring W-4 for verification to collect. 11 am – 1 am, 111 Canal Street, Lunch Entrance.

Curious about a new place? Contact us care of some office for more!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index stayed at 105 today as none of the surrounding numbers looked any good at all.

105

The First Of 2017


I want people not to think I’m starting the year lazy or timid. Not so much as, say, I want people not to think I’m running one of those mail-order scams where you send in some money every week for a year and then finally I send an associate over to spit in your nostrils. Just the idea of that makes me woozy. But starting the year lazy or timid is on the list of things I want people not to think about me. I also don’t want them starting the year trying to copy-edit that sentence. I want it to be a better sentence too, but there’s no doing it. All that even the best copy editor could do with that sentence is drag it across a mile of pavement and shoot it. I’ve tried. You can see where it left a trail of abraded participles down past the Blimpie’s and everything.

It’s a problem I have every new year. A new year offers the best chance for a new start that you can hope for without abandoning your identity completely and setting up shop under a new name in a new city in a new state in possibly a different time zone and using a transparently fake accent. That’s too much work for anybody, especially when they don’t want to lose their whole DVR queue. But you can at least start off the year doing things a little bit different and see if that delays how imminent the doom feels.

Like there’s this thing where it’s good luck to say “rabbit, rabbit” first thing the first day of the month. Probably that’s extra good to say first thing the first day of the year. I guess after waking up the next morning. If you aren’t going to say that then you want to say something that’s going to set the year on a positive tone. For me that ended up “what the heck are the people in the next room doing?” Because they had some low-level rattling noise going from about 8 am and you don’t want to hear someone practicing their small drum in the hotel. If we discount that on the grounds I fell right back asleep then my first words would be something like “the hotel Internet still isn’t working,” which didn’t get the year off on any better footing. It’s enough to make me wonder if I’d be better off starting the year with my mouth taped shut until I’m quite sure I have something worthwhile to say.

It would not, because I’d need lunch. And where to have the first lunch of the New Year? Home? Where’s the fun in that? The bagel place while reading the alt-weekly to see how its crossword puzzle has gone wrong this week? Great except the place is apparently closed for the holiday? Maybe I could wait until later in the week to eat? How about to the Obviously Used To Be An Arthur Treacher’s Fish And Chips That’s Carrying On Without The Arthur Treacher’s Name And Still Looks Like It’s 1989 Inside? That’s tempting but who can be sure they’re open on a holiday, or any other day? The sign out front might be rotating, but we’re pretty sure that’s just because it’s a breezy day. There’s the Kewpie Doll restaurant but we’re pretty sure that’s always closed. Once again, paralysis.

Or there’s just being online. Someone could start the year off right by saying just the right thing in the right social hangout. Here’s a thread arguing how on Star Trek: Voyager it’s just absurdly implausible that a Vulcan could have black skin instead of dark green skin. I check the calendar. No, it does say it’s 2017. Possibly everybody is confused on the point. I would understand, since 2016 gave us all the experience of living in a year whose every book about will be subtitled Twelve Months That Changed The World. But we do have to be going on to 2017. The alternative is taking a gap year between 2016 and 2018. I admit there’s some appeal to that. But it’ll leave us with something like twelve months of our feet dangling loose and we can’t do that either for some reason. Probably having to do with parliamentary procedure. Well, this could be just the right flame war to kick off the 2017 Pointless Online Arguments Season. Oh, the thread’s locked.

So there’s my paralysis. Get the new year off to any decent start? I can’t figure a way to do it. If you have any please write, care of some department. Use the right typeface! Meanwhile I’ll be in here, not doing anything because there’s no starting. Send help, if you can even.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index dropped two points and fears it’ll never get out of the Philadelphia airport. It would like to, and it’s been following signs to the exit, but somehow the signs always end, no longer pointing to anything, without giving any hint how to get out of anything. It’s kind of eerie and suggests that traders are caught in some fairy tale about the futility of trying or something like that.

109

Um.


From the top-of-the-town readers choice guide in the local alt-weekly.

Top Five Dining Guide: Top 4 Chinese Restaurants
Insult to injury, one of the four is PF Chang’s. I’m not saying you can’t have a fine dinner at PF Chang’s although I’ve never tried, it’s just that you know where you can get a fine dinner at PF Chang’s? At literally any PF Chang’s that exists anywhere in the United States and at least thirteen other nations is where. I just think top-of-the-area surveys like this should display some bias towards local expressions of the concept of purchasing lumps of matter which can be put into your mouth when you think that wise.

No, really, the metro area has more than four Chinese restaurants. Way more. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were eight or even ten of them. I sense the surprise closure of the House Of Ing earlier this year behind all this even though the place has a spinoff chain of fast-food outlets called Ing!credible with local TV advertisements that are twelve percent more twee than you imagine.

I haven’t mentioned it the last couple of weeks because of boring reasons, but my mathematics blog is still going on and did some comics yesterday. Should do some comics tomorrow, if you’re still reading by then, but I don’t have a URL for that yet.

On Richard Thompson


I first saw Richard Thompson’s cartoons as the occasional illustrations in Joel Achenbach’s Why Things Are books. They were these complicated, scribbly, not-exactly-attractive but still compelling sketches to go along with Achenbach’s Cecil-Adams-esque essays. But Achenbach went on to other things, and I didn’t pay attention to the artist, who went on to other things himself. Mostly that was illustrating for Washington Post features which, since I didn’t live in or near Washington, I’d never see.

Last decade he started the comic strip Cul de Sac, which just everybody I knew who cared about comic strips got to praising. My natural contrariness and memories of past times I was burned left me skeptical. But as sometimes happens everyone was right. It was a fantastic comic strip. The art was no less … weird, honestly. It took time to warm up to it. But it’s … well, here. Let me put up a link that always goes to today’s rerun of the comic strip. I’ll say this confidently: the art is funny to look at. It’s expressive. Every face is showing an emotion, a clear and strongly-drawn one. The stuff that isn’t the focus of the panel’s action is drawn funny too. The more you study the lines the more you realize it’s tricky to draw like that.

Cul de Sac was, by 2010, ready to be the savior of the comics page. The strip just had everything. Expressive artwork. Characters who, by being so outrageously implausible, become intimate familiars. Dialogue that’s logical yet surreal. The small-kid perspective by which everything in the world is a bit magical. And hyperbole. It isn’t enough that one kid’s mother is scrapbooking everything he does. It’s that she has twenty-eight (or something) scrapbooks just for the current month. Tall tales are part of the foundation of the American humorous voice, and Thompson captured that perfectly.

And then just as Cul de Sac was escaping from the notice of comic strip fans into the wider world, where it might be spoken of with the delighted reverence we use for Calvin and Hobbes or Peanuts, it was struck down. Thompson suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and had reached the point he couldn’t do the strip anymore. The comics page has been the poorer since then. There are many fine comics out there, but I haven’t seen anything that shows the apparently-easy genius that Cul de Sac did, or the promise of it.

Thompson died late last month, complications from Parkinson’s disease.

Gocomics.com reruns his Cul de Sac comics as well as the Richard’s Poor Almanac feature, which if I understand right was mostly quarter- or full-page features for Washington Post Sundays. Those haven’t got the recurring characters of Cul de Sac, but they have got the same vibrant imagination and sharp attention to detail. I recommend both comics. There’s things you’ll be sorry you missed. They will likely include jokes about restaurants.

Buffet Restaurant Scandal!


So last week the local alt weekly published their annual Top Of The Town reader-survey winners, and this week it apologized about the Best Asian Buffet winner. According to the retraction, the Ukai Habachi Grill and Sushi Bar despite being generally quite good and having apparently lots of name recognition, doesn’t have a buffet. They explained they get a lot of reader-submitted entries, which is fair. They have somewhere around 620 categories for the Top of the Town contest. This includes two separate categories for Best Coffee Shop, which isn’t even my joke[1]. But they can’t vet every place nominated for every category. They have a hard enough time rolling their eyes at every politician someone can name being nominated for “Best Comedian” which, again, isn’t even my joke.

They don’t exactly say who told them that Ukai doesn’t have a buffet. The article says the restaurant said people have stopped by asking for the buffet, which suggests the restaurant asked them to do something about people. But it doesn’t quite say that. It might’ve just been someone sidling up to the newspaper office and whispering an awkward, “Um … you know … I don’t want to embarrass you … but … like … before you do next year … uh … ” and never getting to the point.

The most wonderful thing about this? They admit it happened before. Apparently once the Knight Cap, a steakhouse, won for Best Pizza. The Knight Cap rolled with it, briefly adding pizza to their menu. I like to think they got it from Ukai.

[1] Best Coffee Shop is divided between Best Biggby and Best Not-Biggby shop. Biggby is a local chain that’s omnipresent in the same way jokes about Starbuck’s being everywhere used to be. They’re called Biggby because the place used to be called Beaner’s, and they wanted to expand like crazy, and found out there’s places that’s a racial slur so they figured better to fix that problem now rather than later, and they already had a lot of stuff with large B logos.

When The Sauces Run Dry


There’s this burrito place. We don’t go there often, maybe once a year. They had a selection of fourteen kinds of sauce, ranging from “hot enough that it cannot be held in the bottle that contains it” down to “is not quite so spicy as cake frosting”. Last year there were “retired” stickers over two of the bottles. This weekend there were “retired” stickers over three of them. Apparently they don’t get much new selectable-sauce signage in.

Also, what of the future? Will there come a time they run out of all their sauces, perhaps one at a time, perhaps in clusters? Will they look at the day they’re down to their last sauce and ponder how long they have before they must turn the lights out, lock the door, unlock the door so they can get outside, lock the door again, and walk out never to set foot in the strip mall again? Or will they manage a desperate last-minute campaign, striking out to find new viscous fluids that can be dropped on top of food? Keep sending people to the drive-through at Skyline Chili and asking for extra hot sauce until they’re caught? Will they strike out to the Tim Horton’s and come back with barrels full of maple syrup, producing a burrito that’s disastrously bad but in a way that sounds kind of interesting, really?

I don’t know. Based on past trends we’ll find out perhaps as early as the year 2026 so watch this space!

And Then At The Chinese New Year Event


The mall hosted a Chinese New Year event this weekend, much as it does every Chinese New Year that I’ve been tracking. They had some lucky-draw giveaways. Last year my love and I came achingly close to winning something. We had a block of maybe six tickets and they called the number before our block. The number after our block. The numbers ten less and ten more than ones in our block. This guy next to us was amazed by our near luck. He didn’t win either.

We didn’t get so close to winning anything this year. But that’s all right because the raffle prizes seemed to be from a restaurant’s surplus sale. Some of the prize items were slow cookers. One, a mystery item in a huge box, was three slow cookers. Not just a tower of three slow cookers, but a huge box that contained three slow cookers together. You know, for people who realize they need to buy three of them at once and want a huge, unwieldy package instead of an unwieldy pile of packages.

Besides giving away hundreds if not thousands of slow cookers, they were giving away deep fryers. Lots of deep fryers. And I realized, a deep fryer is almost the precise opposite of a slow cooker. This must be why the pile of slow cookers and the pile of deep fryers were on opposite sides of the stage. You wouldn’t want the appliances to start fighting.

There were some non-cooking-appliance things given away. Please picture this scene: a kid maybe half the age of our pet rabbit finds out she has a winning ticket. She runs on stage. She picks one of the wrapped-up mystery gifts. Inside is what every kid most hopes to win: a heating pad. The kid had the same expression you see from a dog who was expecting a burnt sausage and instead got asked a calculus question. So this was all worth it, as we got to live-roleplay Jim’s Journal.

Now Starring … Food


I got to thinking more about Olive Garden’s big plans for Fiscal Year 2015, for which I fully expect to be thanked by the powers at Olive Garden Master Command. Like their PowerPoint slide says, they’re figuring on getting “new plateware that lets the food be the star”. The picture makes it look like the food being the star means the food has to be much closer to the eye. That’s easy enough to attain in photographing, given how starved so many cameras are for fast casual food, but how do you get the same effect in restaurants?

The new plate ware will feature being much closer to the food so it looks bigger.

The obvious way is to keep the patrons’ heads closer to the plates. The simplest way to do that, like I realized, is to take on staff who’ll keep going around and pushing heads closer to the plates. But I’ve realized this can’t work, because incidents will arise when the patrons remember they have access to knives and forks, unless Olive Garden decides to do without cutlery altogether. Perhaps they have, since their PowerPoint slide distinctly spoke about getting new plateware and many people, if you call them and ask if they think forks are plates, will answer, “What? Who are you? How did you get this number?”

Anyway, if Olive Garden is taking this course then I think it’s safe to rule out that they’re going to chopstick-based services because those still allow for a lot of poking. It implies by the end of Fiscal Year 2015 Olive Garden patrons are just going to be tearing their Chicken Somethingorother apart with their hands and chewing it down while hoping the waiter won’t rap them on the back of their necks for sitting too straight.

But that’s madness, because if Olive Garden were to hire a bunch of people to push patrons’ head closer to the plates then they’d have to start paying the employees, and there’s no place in modern business for hiring people that you have to keep paying. The solution has to be technology, because investors are always excited in buying devices and gadgets and other kinds of infrastructure, because those wear out and they can buy new ones later on.

The cheapest thing to do is to have Olive Garden go around and replace all their tables with ones that are taller. Maybe one foot taller, maybe two; it’s going to take maybe the rest of Fiscal Year 2014 to figure out how tall their tables and their customers are, and maybe a couple weeks to go back and double-check when they realize they forgot to write down which measurement was which. This is a promising approach because you just know there are going to be customers who won’t get into the spirit of the thing, and they’ll try bringing yellow pages to serve as a booster seat.

This would be profitable for the yellow pages industry, which right now has to go around stuffing phone books into the dusty spaces underneath the furniture you never move until you’re getting ready to sell the house. But the Strategic Action Plan doesn’t say a word about Olive Garden getting into the yellow page industry, so I have to conclude they either aren’t going the higher-table route or they’re hoping to get into the yellow pages market before anyone else catches on. So I guess I just spoiled it.

Affixing to each plate one of those book-magnifying type plates, I mean the kind you see through instead of eating on, seems like a good way to make the food bigger. But that’s got the objection that they’ll just encourage people to practice their sneezing. Also there’s a chance kids might eat there and there’s the obvious issues of sibling cudgeling.

So I conclude that this is going to require getting new chairs, ones with backs that arch steeply forward. By this simple act of encouraging people to lean forward faces will be that much closer to the plates, and the food will look that much bigger, and the only operating cost is in developing new ways to stack chairs. This will also solve the problem of people swinging their chairs around backwards to sit, which is a major problem, according to people called at random who thought they were finally going to get to use their answers to that plateware question.

Better Eating for 2015


I don’t think I’m saying anything too outrageous if I assert that Olive Garden is a restaurant which exists and has some definite traits in addition to its existence. I wouldn’t make many more strong assertions about it because I can’t really work up the energy to, but that might change come Fiscal Year 2015. According to the Strategic Acton Plan put forth by Olive Garden corporate overlords Darden, Olive Garden has a Strategic Action plan to put forward, and it’s easily the most gripping Strategic Action Plan I’ve read in hours. Among other things their Holistic Core Menu and Promotion Plan (page 21) says they hope to offer “New Culinary-Forward Platforms”, with a side serving of “Simple, Compelling Price-Pointed Promotions,” for which I think everyone who’s struggled to chew down the old, bland, price-unpointed promotion will be grateful.

The new plate ware will feature being much closer to the food so it looks bigger.

I also appreciate that, according to page 23, Fiscal Year 2015 will see “New Plateware That Lets The Food Be The Star”, as opposed to the current plateware, which upstages the food by pulling all those first-year drama student tricks like standing upstage and dropping props and coughing during key moments in the food’s monologue. But I also appreciate the preview from the Strategic Action Plan since, as the picture indicates, apparently the major breakthrough in Olive Garden plateware is that they’re finally using their digital cameras’ Macro feature. Either that or the plan is to have newly-trained staff keep pressing patron’s heads closer to the table, at least until they admit the stardom of their “Smashed Chicken Meatball Sandwich” or “Pappardelle Pescatore”. Either way, it’s going to be exciting.

And now I just wonder when the Olive Garden Fiscal Year starts, and I bet you weren’t thinking at all about that question when you got up this morning (Olive Garden financial affairs experts excluded from this bet). Also “plateware” is a thing that’s not just dishes and cutlery, I guess?

I Should Have Gone To Burger King


Oh, no. No. She noticed me, didn’t she? She saw.

But it’s so nice to eat in a restaurant now and then. It’s warmer than a fast food place, the furniture is cozier, there’s something more generous in it being trusted you will pay when you’re done than putting your money up front. It’s so much less likely there’ll be the guy rambling about Iraq and the Federal Reserve to the baffled university student who can’t find a graceful way out of this and doesn’t want to just bolt for the door.

But she saw me.

I just tapped my glass. It wasn’t on purpose, I was just fiddling around because the hand wasn’t needed for the book and it has to do something and it’s either fiddle with the cutlery or touch the glass. But the glass was almost empty, just soda-stained ice and the straw left, and now … yes, she’s come. What if she thinks I’m beckoning her over to demand a refill?

She dips her head and smiles and I just know she’s thinking I think she’s there to jump to my whims. Diet Coke isn’t much of a whim, but it’s the contextually appropriate one. I don’t want to be one of those customers. I want to just fade into the background and someday, eventually, pay my check. I can’t save the situation. “Thank you,” I say, before she opens her mouth. One.

“Would you like a refill?”

“Thank you,” I say, fumbling the first word so it comes out in three syllables. Two. She grins and takes the glass and I’m panic-stricken that she doesn’t remember it’s diet I was drinking. “Er, that’s Diet Coke,” I say as she recedes, marking myself as someone who beckons the waiter over and barks out refinements of my demands. Why oh why did restaurants stop putting slices of lemon in diet soda? It saves so much agony in making sure the waiters remember who the freaks are who care about the difference. “Thank you,” I pitch after that, whether she hears it or not. Three.

I shouldn’t have said anything. She surely remembers. There’s just me at the table, there’s no complicated ordering going on. I wouldn’t dream of it. I didn’t change soda mid-meal, unless now she thinks I did because I specified and now what must she think of me? At this point she’s got to have figured my only saving grace being that I didn’t demand things be sent back to the kitchen, and is working up such a sarcastic blog post about me that’ll go up on the Internet somewhere I won’t even see. Good heavens. Why don’t I flee? No, that would be worse, clearly worse.

I see her again. She’s got the soda. Maybe it’s diet. Maybe not. “Thank you,” I say, as she gets near the table, and she nods. Four. Does she mean the nod? Is she just putting up with me? Does she suspect how this is all a horrible mistake? Is she aware how much less tense I’d be if she just hadn’t noticed me? How much I wouldn’t have felt under-served? How I could’ve paid and been on my way to have something embarrassing happen at the video store instead? I can’t explain any of it, that’d just take up her time and it’s not like she can un-pour the soda.

“Thank you,” I say again, as she walks off to patrons who she hasn’t got every reason to hate. Five. I said “thank you” five times for a soda I had no reason to care about getting until it was too fraught with emotion to not get. I have to do something with it. I take a sip, and then a longer one. If she looked back at my table then she knows the soda was used for its intended purpose. The crisis is passed. I can wait a decent time and then hope she brings the check.

“Oh, you are thirsty,” she says, taking me by surprise. “Would you like another?” Something has stolen ten minutes and two-thirds of the soda, and my hands are resting on it again.

“No, thank you,” I say, and realize I forgot to say the “no” part out loud.

The Big McDonald’s Ketchup Transition


I understand that McDonald’s is dumping Heinz as its ketchup supplier. The BBC News article about this says that McDonald’s is working with Heinz “to ensure a smooth and orderly transition of the McDonald’s restaurant business” to some other brand. I suppose it’s better for the investors that way but I am kind of sad we won’t see a disorderly transition. It could be a period of fertile experimentation as people run around their local McDonald’ses, examining various things and evaluating whether they are in fact viscous liquids that might be applied to French fries.

“Could this be it?” screams one customer who’s holding up a jar of maple syrup. “No, this,” cries out her husband, who’s found some lavender paint. “I have it!” shouts a person holding up molten Chapstik, while his rival for the big promotion at the ketchup factory has snuck in some horsey sauce from Arby’s. In comes a child with a bucket full of coal slurry, only to be upstaged by someone with that butter-inspired liquid gel they have at the movie theaters and the fry cook who’s got some of that liquid metal used to make Terminator 1000’s. Tensions are high when someone spots the guy refilling the Coke Freestyle machine with Fanta Zero syrup. He’s swiftly ringed by desperate people wielding McNuggets, and then someone — protestors blame the police, the police blame Occupy Ho-Ho-Kus New Jersey — tosses the first brick. By the time the scene clears people have run off and got toasted artichoke sandwiches.

Me, I don’t really care much for ketchup.

It’s Lovable, But Is It Parkable?


Well, here’s another investment prospect I’m not sure about. It purports to solve one of the big problems of cities, that there’s nowhere to park except for parking garages. But nobody likes parking garages, because they look like parking garages, and once you’re past the age where you’re struck with wonder at how you drive around one way and you’re going up the decks and you drive the other way and you’re going down and somehow it doesn’t look like you’re going over the same decks you don’t even look at them with childlike wonder anymore. So, this company’s figuring to make parking decks that don’t look like parking decks: outside they may look like a giant roller skate (as one that they installed in Albany, New York, while the city council wasn’t looking does), and inside they might look like safari theme restaurants (to use an example from Des Moines, but not that Des Moines; it was just one of Dese Moines). They figure growth prospects are good as long as people keep needing cars and they don’t get taken over by a performance art troupe. Must consider.

Fred Allen: Correcting Alphabet Soup


Fred Allen is a comedian I didn’t discover, outside his famous quips about how committees work and about television, until I was well grown and listening to a lot of old time radio. He’s not remembered as well as his rival Jack Benny, and if you wish to point out Jack Benny isn’t well remembered I’ll come over there and spit on your driveway. Besides, Fred Allen did get a cameo in an autographed photo on 30 Rock last season.

Most of his writing defies quotability, as he liked to be very timely, and enjoyed commenting on the other comedians of the day, and so he has to be flanked by footnotes. But some bits carry through, such as this one from the Salad Bowl Revue of October 6, 1933, which is available on archive.org as part of their old time radio collection, and which I believe to be out of copyright. I can’t convey Allen’s voice in print, and unfortunately there aren’t even any good cartoons that parodied him, but he came from Boston so take your guesses and this really is what YouTube is for.


Announcer:

And now Mr Allen’s help and advice on etiquette:

Good night, ladies and gentlemen. Well, our etiquette department is going like a blacksmith’s clientele in a one-horse town, and a postcard tonight comes from Professor Merrill G Clark of Detroit, Michigan.

Professor Clark says, quote, “I am an English professor at a local college and always have trouble eating alphabet soup in restaurants. Invariably the waiter serves me a plate of alphabet soup containing grammatical errors which he expects me to swallow. I have taught English for so long that a grammatical error even in this form upsets me internally. What should I do?” Unquote.

Alphabet soup has always been a problem to grammarians, Professor Clark. Many professors finding errors correct the soup and send it back to the chef, giving him some homework besides. Other teachers send for soup censors supplied by the makers of the illiterate broth. The censors will gladly remove any objectionable words that may have formed in your soup; but generally, by the time the censor leaves your soup is cold and, while you may enjoy a grammatical triumph, gastronomically you are defeated.

The best thing to do is to order your alphabet soup with the H’s dropped and eat it as English mutton broth. Since fully sixty percent of the soup consumed in this country ends up on men’s vests anyway, you are really swallowing nothing but your pride and forty percent of the liquid insult.

If you, too, have a problem in etiquette lying unsolved in your dumbwaiter, ladies and gentlemen, why not send me the spare parts of a possible faux pas and I shall be glad to spank my mind in an effort to help you as I know I have helped Professor Clark tonight?


A bit of Internet searching reveals to me there was a Canadian diplomat named Merrill G Clark, but I can’t figure out when he lived, or if there were any reason that Allen might have heard such a name, or whether he just made up something that sounded plausible and not distracting.