What’s Going On In Alley Oop? What’s With All The Time Travel Suddenly? April – June 2018.


I know what you’re wondering: Did I review any of last week’s mathematically-themed comic strips? I sure hope so, although I really have to get to writing that essay right now.

Also at least some of you are wondering what’s going on in Alley Oop. This is my recap for basically spring of 2018 and it should get you well-grounded for at least another couple weeks. If it’s past about August 2018, that might not be a big help. But an essay at or near the top of this page might be. Good luck. Let me know if it doesn’t do anything for you.

Alley Oop.

1 April – 23 June 2018.

So I left Oop somewhere near Philadelphia on the 31st of July, 1781. OK, Jack Bender and Carole Bender did, but still. Alley Oop and Wizer were sent there by well-meaning rich idiot M T Mentis. Mentis had responded to Oop’s transport-request beacon. He didn’t notice how all the screens in Dr Wonmug’s Time Lab read “DESTINATION: JULY 31, 1781”. This is one of those subtle big events in history. It’s when General George Washington commissioned Alexander Hamilton to command several regiments. Great time to toss in some confused Moovians.

Private Isaac Holmes, carrying Hamilton’s commission, runs into Oop and Wizer. In the collision both the sealed commission and Oop’s time-signalling necklace fly loose. Holmes suspects spies, or something, anyway. But they come under enemy fire, and by the time they find some quiet they realize the letter’s gone. Oop and Wizer start to worry they’ve changed history, a risk that hasn’t been a major concern in the strip so far, best I know.

[ 2018 ] Wonmug: 'Why would the transport be set for the Revolutionary War?' Mentis: 'I guess I forgot I'd been researching that as a trip we might take to find out more about Alexander Hamilton (gulp) ... you know, since he's so popular now.' Wonmug: 'POPULAR? You must be joking!' [ 1781 ] Alley Oop: 'I promise you we're not a threat to you!' Holmes: 'Well ... I guess I'll have to trust you, since I must deliver this urgent letter from General Washington! ... WHERE'S THE LETTER? YOU MADE ME LOSE THE LETTER!' Oop: 'Relax! It's just a letter!' Holmes: 'JUST A LETTER? LOSING THAT LETTER COULD MAKE US LOSE THE WAR!' Oop, whispering to Wizer: 'Oops!' Wizer, whispering: 'You think we just changed history?'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 15th of April, 2018. In fairness, Wonmug had been talking with Mentis about planning out a time-travel trip. So having a particular place and time in mind, and practicing setting the time machine, is not a dumb thing to do.

Meanwhile in 2018, Mentis tells Wonmug about Oop’s signal. And that Oop isn’t there. Also that maybe it’s kind of because he had set the time machine to 1781 because he was thinking about Alexander Hamilton, “you know … since he’s so popular now”. Wonmug gets a Revolutionary War outfit from somewhere I seem to have missed, and figures to set off to try fixing whatever’s gone wrong. He leaves Mentis at the Time Lab with orders to stop breaking all time and space already.

Meanwhile in 1781, a desperate Holmes enlists Oop and Wizer to help recover the letter. They borrow outfits from a couple wounded Continentals. Wizer applies some healing potion in trade. And they get a funny little training session about how to load and fire a musket. This pays off a bit; later Oop’s able to tell someone a fresh-discharged musket is harmless except as a club. Oop’s more into using the thing as a club which, fair enough. He also gets the bayonet, too. Oop, Wizer, and Holmes follow the tracks of the letter-thief and find the shaded figure in Redcoat custody. Oop gets a daring raid on this small party started. But that’s broken up when Dr Wonmug materializes right in the midst of things. The Redcoats and their captive get away in the confusion.

Wonmug knows what the letter must have been. Hearing that it’s Alexander Hamilton’s commission orders makes Holmes suspect spies. Fair on him. Also at this point Mentis wandered over to ask me why I go off on him being the dumb one when Wonmug, with 80 years of experience at this, is acting like that. Fair enough. Wonmug says that the British spy to actually watch for was likely James Moody, who’d intercept Continental couriers. I’m going ahead and assuming that’s legit history because I don’t have the time to research that myself. Ah, yes, Moody was born in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey. I’ve been there. Story Book Land’s a great little kiddie amusement park there. He wrote one of the few memoirs of the Revolution from the Loyalist perspective. Hm.

Mentis: 'Oop, did you say you know who has the ltter from Washington to Hamilton?' Oop: 'Yeah! Two enemy scouts have it, my necklace, AND an American prisoner! We've got 'em outnumbered, so let's go get it back!' [ Meanwhile ] Redcoat: 'It looks like we lost those Yanks!' Other Redcoat: 'Good! We're almost to the camp, so we can relax now!' Alley Oop falls on them, yelling 'ALLEY OOP' as he does. Oop, to the Redcoats' prisoner: 'You're safe now! Stay back!' Prisoner: 'Thank you!' [ Meanwhile, not far away ... ] (ZANG! and a cloud as someone appears from the Time Lab.) Holmes: 'Not again!' Wonmug: 'What now?' (Mentis appears, in Continental garb.) Wonmug: 'Mentis?!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 27th of May, 2018. … So I guess that one of the Redcoats should be identified as James Moody. But that hasn’t been directly established by someone who could know, on-screen. It’s just Wonmug’s surmise so far unless I’ve missed a reference.

Oop and Wizer chase after the Redcoats and their prisoner. Wonmug and Holmes hang back long enough for Mentis to pop in from 2018. Mentis asks why they don’t make a copy of the letter, since Wonmug knows its contents and all. Wonmug says there’s no time; they need to go in and help Oop in his fight and recover the real letter.

Mentis time-transports away. But that’s all right. Oop’s already clobbered the Redcoats into unconsciousness. This lets him recover the time-signal amulet, but the letter is still missing, as is the prisoner. Given the hopeless muddle this all seems to be, Wonmug decides to go with forging the commission after all. They race to deliver the letter and, along the way, find Oop’s time-signal amulet again. This isn’t a continuity error in the story; Oop notices, he already has his recovered amulet. Wonmug figures to worry about it later because, yeah. Mentis is right. I shouldn’t be calling him the strip’s dunderhead. In fairness, Wonmug’s had a bunch of crazy stuff happen today.

Also his forgery doesn’t work for even a second. Alexander Hamilton may be kind of a dope w/r/t William Duer, but he knows legitimate commissions are going to have a proper seal. Hamilton orders Holmes, Oop, and Wizer arrested when the mysterious Contental prisoner races in with the real letter. Also a startling revelation: the prisoner was M T Mentis all along. Mentis explains to Hamilton that when the first letter was lost, his friends made that duplicate. But here’s the original, with the seal, and the content seems to match so everything’s all right with history and all?

Alexander Hamilton: 'WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS? GENERAL WASHINGTON WOULD NEVER SEND COMMUNICATION WITHOUT HIS SEAL!' Wonmug, slapping his head: 'The seal! I forgot the seal!' Hamilton: 'This letter is a fake! Guards, arrest this spy and his friends too!' (The Redcoats' prisoner races into Hamilton's tent.) Prisoner: 'WAIT!' Wonmug, recognizing the prisoner: '(GASP!) Mentis!' Mentis: 'Here is the real letter from General Washington! General Washington's original letter was lost! My friends made a copy so you would have the information! Meanwhile, I found the first letter! I had trouble getting here, but I assure you it is authentic, sir!' Hamilton: 'Hmmm. This letter does have the right seal ... and the two letters do match!' Guard: 'Are these the spies you want me to take, sir?' Hamilton: 'There are no spies here! Only patriot heroes!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 17th of June, 2018. But really isn’t the amazing thing that Wonmug doesn’t doubt he would be able to plausibly forge George Washington’s handwriting and style of composition to a person who had served as his aide-de-camp for years? Even by the standards of white guy scientist types that’s some remarkable self-confidence.

With that straightened out, Mentis starts explaining to Oop, Wonmug, and Wizer what’s going on in Alley Oop. It turns out while Wonmug and Oop and all tromped around whatever they were doing in 1989, Mentis was paying attention to Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure. He didn’t use the time machine to run off. He used it to pick up the commission right when it was first lost. And thus was the mysterious shadowy figure that set Oop and company were pursuing.

So, this story. I’m surprised by the direct talk about the chance Wonmug’s Time Lab might change history. My impression was the comic strip had always taken that as something not to worry about, at least since I started reading it with attention. But then it’s also only in the forerunner to this story that they worried about time travellers bringing diseases. It looks as if they’re setting up one of those closed-time-loop adventures. These can be a particularly satisfying sort of time-travel story. Also the rare Alley Oop story where time travel more than how they get from one story to another. And, yes, I’m glad that it’s given Mentis the chance to recover some needed intelligence points. It’s a pity that Wonmug lost a bunch along the way. But he’s got some to spare. And I am also impressed by the grain of historical detail being put into the minor parts. Apparently there was an Isaac Holmes, too, who’d be a prisoner of war in Philadelphia. This might be a spoiler. I’m not sure this is the person who’s made a character here; the Wikipedia article on him doesn’t list things like when he was a prisoner or how, precisely the historic Holmes served in the army. There’s room to not worry about it all.

Next Week!

They say there’s a ghost who walks. They’re right. Next week I see what’s happening in Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity.

Advertisements

What’s Going On In Alley Oop? And Why Is He In Philadelphia? January – April 2018


Hi, people interested in the lighthearted, pleasant stories of an unbeatable man from a mysterious land travelling through time and solving the various problems of people who’re in over their head at historically significant moments, but who forego sonic screwdrivers in favor of a good solid axe. My most recent essay on Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop should be at or near the top of this page. Here, now, is my most recent essay as of early April, 2018.

And over on this page is my discussion of comic strips with mathematical content. Or themes. Or name-dropping sudoku. They’re not all deep discussions.

Alley Oop.

7 January – 1 April 2018.

Where were we at the start of the year when I last checked in on Moo and its associated areas? The well-meaning but dumb rich guy M T Mentis III was on his way back to Dr Wonmug’s Time Lab and hoped to become a new supporting character. May not sound like much, but a part in a longrunning comic strip is nothing to sneeze at. Mentis tried, though, getting a faceful of snot all over Alley Oop as he disappeared back to the present day.

I guessed that was the start of a story, and so it was. Alley Oop gets a cold in record time, something neither Oop nor anyone in Moo has ever got before. Wizer understands what it is right away, though, and tells Oop to sit still a while so he can whip up a cure. Which includes echinacea, by the way, something Wonmug recommended as he zipped back to the 21st century. Wizer explains to Ooola that if Oop spreads his cold to the never-exposed population of Moo it could be disastrous and wipe the population out. Oop overhears exactly enough to figure Wizer’s said he’s dying. And figures Ooola is telling a comforting lie when saying Wizer’s getting the ingredients for a cure.

Oop: 'You've always been a good friend to me, Foozy! I hope you'll never forget me!' Foozy: 'Forget you? No! I'd gladly swear! Do you plan to go somewhere?' Oop: '(Sigh!) It's more permanent than goin' somewhere, Fozzy! I'm dying!' Foozy: 'No! Dear Oop, that can't be true! We exist because of you!' Oop: 'Here, Foozy! Take this! It's the only real thing of value I have, and I wouldn't trust anyone else with it!' (Foozy gasps at being given Oop's axe.) Oop: 'Take care, Foozy!' Foozy: 'My heart is broken, Alley Oop! We'll miss you in our tight-knit group!' (Oop, sitting, encounters Dinny the dinosaur.) Oop: 'You're free to go live your life the way you want to now!' Dinny: '?' [ Meanwhile, Wizer's quest for ingredients continues. ] Wizer, talking to himself and holding a bag of stuff: 'This willow bark will take care of Oop's headache!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 28th of January, 2018. I like that Wizer’s sack keeps to the comic-art convention of seeing something poking out the top so you know what’s inside. A part of me is thrilled anytime I have to buy celery because then I can arrange the top of it to poke out of the shopping bag, just like in the comics.

So Oop goes around Moo saying his goodbyes to everyone. The first: to Ooola, saying how he regrets they never got married and had kids and all. To Foozy, the relentless poet, he gives his trusty axe. To Dinny, the dinosaur, Oop gives his thanks and the command to go off and be free now. To Guz, Oop gives his honest opinion of the way the King of Moo runs things. In exchange, Guz gives several solid punches and a banishment for life. This all takes about as long as Wizer needs to gather a bunch of leaves and branches and bits of tree bark.

Wizer, talking to himself: 'With this willow bark, that's everything I need! Time to go brew the cure and get Oop well!' [ Meanwhile at the Royal Palace of Moo ] Oop: 'Just one more person I need to talk to before I die! (Sigh!) King Guz: 'Oop! You look awful! What's goin' on?' Oop: 'I've got something to say to you, and I don't have much time left! Your leadership skills stink, and I think you should step dow nand let Umpa take over all the duties!' Guz: 'WHY YOU ... ' [ And they fight. ] [ Meanwhile, at Wizer's place ... ] Wizer: 'Hi, Ooola! I'm back, and I have all the ingredients for Oop's cold cure! Oop's cure will be ready soon! I ... Ooola? What's wrong?' Ooola: '(Sob! Sob!) Alley broke up with me!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 4th of February, 2018. Among the things I like about the strip is that Oop and Guz have a relationship that’s largely basically friendly, but they do keep annoying the other even without quite meaning to, and that does get them into bouts of early-human fisticuffsmanship. It can be a good story-generating conflict that isn’t arbitrary, but also isn’t automatic.

Wizer mixes up his potion which works great. Oop’s recovered even faster than he got sick, and explains what he did while he thought he was going to die. After rolling his eyes all the way into Dick Tracy and back, Wizer mixes up enough potion for all the people Oop contacted. I’m not sure whether I’m more impressed that Wizer knows how to cure colds or with his advanced understanding of infection vectors.

Anyway he sends Oop out with the potion to apologize to people and, where needed, get his stuff back. It’s easy to apologize to Ooola, who teases for a moment holding Alley Oop to his declaration that they should have gotten married. But Moo exists in a land before there were reach-of-promises suits.

At his cave Oop finds Foozy’s kids playing, and figures “I must’ve told Foozy he could have the place”. He didn’t say this on-panel, by the way. Also Foozy has kids I guess? Beau, Moe, and Joe. They take after their father by speaking in rhymes across one another’s dialogue. Foozy’s sick, but he and Wizer have the healing potion, so there we go. He’s glad to return Oop’s cave (“You never gave away your house!”) and also his axe except the kids kind of broke it (“cracking coconuts”).

All that’s easy, since who wanted it to be hard? King Guz is a tougher case because besides calling him an incompetent, Oop also gave him the cold. The cure brightens Guz’s feelings, but he still insists on an apology from Oop before lifting the banishment and all that. And Oop doesn’t see why he should apologize for calling Guz out on his incompetence. Wizer encourages Oop to think of the long history he has with Guz, and to apologize anyway. And Oop apologizes for telling Guz he’s a bad king. That’s close enough to peaceful for Wizer to get on his real point.

[ Wizer gives Guz the cold cure. ] Guz: 'Wow! It worked!' Wizer: 'If I told you how, you'd think you could make it yourself! I'd rather keep my job, if you don't mind. Now we must talk about how to prevent a future epidemic!' Guz: 'What? No apology?' Oop: 'Heck, no! Wizer didn't say I had to apologize!' Wizer: 'Oop, I think an apology is a fair request! You were sick and not thinking clearly when you insulted Guz!' Oop: 'Oh, all right! ... Sorry I said you were a bad king, Guz.' Guz: 'That's okay, Oop! Deep down, I knew you didn't mean it.' Oop: 'Hey, I didn't say I didn't mean it! I just shouldn't have said it out loud! Right, Wizer?' Guz: 'Why you ... ' Wizer: 'Stop! (Sigh!) I never had kids, but I've got a pretty good idea what it'd be like after refereeing you two! Now that we're all 'friends' again, we have important business to discuss!' Guz: 'Okay, what is it?'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 11th of March, 2018. The reason the dialogue in the first panel doesn’t make sense is because it condenses from the 5th of March. There, Guz says, “Wow! It worked! What’s in that stuff?” and Wizer says “If I told you how, you’d think you could make it yourself! I’d rather keep my job, if you don’t mind.” And then Guz says “I wouldn’t hafta worry about how to make a cure if you weren’t goin’ around makin’ people sick!’ Oop protests it wasn’t his fault, but Mentis’s, and that’s what Wizer uses to get to his discussion about the infection vectors of time-travel.

Which is: what are they going to do about infections passed back and forth between eras of history? The cold was nothing big, but what’s next? Guz figures the cure is to ban time travel into Moo. Oop says that Guz has finally found an idea even stupider than his border wall. Wizer suggests that maybe Wonmug has an idea and proposes visiting the Time Lab. Oop’s only supposed to use his time-travel device in an emergency. But surely this counts in a way the invasion of mind-controlling plant-aliens didn’t, right? So he hits the button and starts a new story. Let me log that as the 17th of March, admitting that there’s some leeway in when you pick.

Meanwhile in the 21st century Wonmug’s headed out to do some contracts stuff with a lawyer guy and all. When Oop’s time beacon calls for a pickup, Mentis is alone in the lab. Wonmug’s forgotten his cell phone, which yes I do all the time too. Well, Mentis does his best to respond to the message ‘URGENT! ALLEY OOP REQUESTING TRANSPORT’ while studiously ignoring the declaration `DESTINATION: JULY 31, 1781 40.0285 ° N 75.1750 ° W’. Mentis hits Enter and so far has shown no signs of wondering what that whole ‘JULY 31, 1781’ business might be about. He stands there waiting for Oop to appear. I mean, I know, he’s barely even seen the Time Lab. But when Phineas Bogg is more on the ball you have to step up your “noticing things” and “drawing reasonable conclusions” games.

Meanwhile in the 18th century Alley Oop and Wizer have popped in just in time to have boats shooting cannonballs at them. By the way, the given latitude and longitude are inside Philadelphia. So I guess there was more action on the Schyulkill River in July 1781 than I had remembered? Also meanwhile Alexander Hamilton is turning in his commission if George Washington. He says only a field command will keep him. Of course we all know how that turns out. Washington writes out Hamilton’s assignment to command the 1st and 2nd New York Regiments and two Connecticut provisionals. Meanwhile at the same time, Oop and Wizer hide from the Redcoats.

At the Time Lab, Mentis sees Alley Oop requesting transport. Mentis: 'See you soon, Oop! This should please Doc!' [ He hits enter; nothing seems to happen. ] 'Hmmmm ... I thought Oop would get here immediately! I guess it must take a while.' [ Meanwhile, in Moo ... ] Oop: 'That's the sign! Doc's bringing us in! Hang on tight!' Oop and Wizer disappear. [ Somewhere in Time, in a different forest. ] Wizer: 'Where th'heck are we oop?' [ Sailing ships fire cannon at them. ] Oop: 'Uh ... this is just a guess, but I don't think we're at Doc Wonmug's Time Lab! Those boats are shootin' at us!'
Jack Bender and Carole Bender’s Alley Oop for the 25th of March, 2018. So yeah, when I talk about stuff happening meanwhile in the 21st century or meanwhile in prehistoric Moo or so, yes, part of me is just being funny. But there is some synching between Oop’s time and Wonmug’s time that they mostly respect, although there was a storyline recently where Oop went to the Time Lab of the 1940s. I’m not sure there is a clear logical rule for this but what it mostly means is that the strip is not doing the events-happening-out-of-sequence story that Doctor Who does once a season.

That’s where we stand, right now, about two weeks into the Revolutionary war, and at a curious point. I mean, you say Revolutionary War and 1781 and where are you going but the Siege at Yorktown? I mean, obviously the action the Caribbean and in India was important but this is for an American audience. One might speculate that Alexander Hamilton’s recent return to the popular consciousness has something to do with this story. I cannot promise that this story will end with Alley Oop attempting hip-hop but I don’t know that we can be sure this will not happen, either. So, you know, prepare yourselves.

Next Week!

So how was that weird religious cult and the crazy(?) aliens-are-watching-us guy hanging out on Kit Walker’s pillar of New Mexico rock? We’ll look back in on Tony DePaul and Mike Manley’s The Phantom, weekday continuity, and see just what The Locust was up to with his returning and all.

Things To Stay Home From This Weekend


Weekend events to celebrate the Fourth of July:

Fireworks Spectacular. The attempt to confront Lisa with her self-centeredness sprawls out of control. Featured side-fights include arguments about who was driving who to that concert in 2005, every remaining issue from Junior Year in the Suites, a squabble that somehow compares Babylon 5 to Star Trek: Voyager, that dispute about the duck pond from two years back, and who told Terry’s mom about the tablecloth after all. Scheduled to begin Friday at 9 pm. Reverberations may last for months, or longer. It depends how long it takes people to start speaking to one another again.

Music Endurance. Once more challengers attempt to turn off Johnny Rivers’s Secret Agent Man instead of kind-of-grooving all the way through it. The last successful Secret Agent Man-stopper was in 2008, so, maybe we’re due? Friday at 10 pm.

Washington Crossing The Delaware Reenactment. The lawsuit about who owns the usufruct of the oars for the reenactment boat was finally settled. The estimated seven Revolutionary War Reenactment groups agreed to have the case mediated by a Court of Oyez and Terminer re-enactors. They’ve been waiting literally since the 1947 State Constitution. That’s the document that asked if we even had oyezes around anymore. They’re some of the more re-enactor-ish groups you can find. The court ruled in favor of hitting with an inflatable squeaky mallet the first person who said “usufruct”. This they revised to anyone saying “usufruct” who wasn’t in the Court re-enactors. Jeremy couldn’t stop giggling. Anyway, now they have all that sorted out and it’s only a little over six months late. Also moved to no river anywhere near the Delaware watershed because that was just too controversial too. Cancelled, due to bad weather.

Annual Doubleheader. Joining the regular debate between “semimonthly” and “bimonthly” is the traditional July treat of “biannual” versus “semiannual” versus “biennial”. Phyllis has promised this will be the first year she doesn’t get into a frothing, screaming fit where she cries out “what would you people make of `centannual’ anyway?” Organizers promise the event will be worth seeing anyway. We don’t buy it either. Punch and small, flavorless sandwiches to be served. Good chance someone will be punched, too, so there’s that. Saturday, 1 pm.

Marching Band. So, funny story. You remember how nobody remembered to arrange a Memorial Day parade until the last minute? And we had to lean on Jeanne to call in some debts with the high schools to put together a respectable marching band? And because of the texting mishaps they started out on Eight Street instead of on Eighth Street? And they started marching a half-hour before everyone else was ready to go? Well, they’ve been spotted on the outskirts of Edmonton. We’ve texted as many of them as we can to tell them to stop and we’re putting together a potluck to raise money to get them back home. Saturday, 7:30 pm. Bring your own sheet music.

Geography Bee. Identify the capitals, populations, economic bases, and interesting features of nations of the world. (This world.) Or try to come up with plausible-sounding alternatives. Championship rounds include making up plausible-sounding countries out of whole cloth. Championship awarded to the person who can compose the most plausible-sounding yet unrealistic continent which isn’t Australia. All are welcome. $4.65 entry fee because the Geography Club has too many 35-cent pieces hanging around. Cloth available $0.65 (city-states and small island countries) to $3.65 (regional powers). Eighth Not Eight Street High School. Sunday, 2 pm.

Grouse Hunt. Hourlong contest to celebrate the diverse set of things people can grumble impotently about. Celebrity categories to include: the roads, newspaper comics pages, piles of things in the corner, record stores, picking your seats when you buy movie tickets, newspapers, how many layers of packaging there are around bananas somehow, those cars where the dashboard instruments are in the center for some reason instead of in front of the steering wheel, and Freestyle. Pitchforks provided, although not the good kind they used to sell in hardware stores, back when the hardware stores were any good and they didn’t have metal detectors even on the entrance doors for some reason. Sunday, 5 pm.

To-Do: Check that this is all happening in the United States. Or the Philippines, we heard that was a thing once. Maybe Liberia? Some of them probably celebrate the fourth as something other than the fourth day of the month, right?

Comic Strip _Momma_ Not Neglecting George Washington, Either


OK, so, something first: on my mathematics blog it’s the “19th Century German Mathematicians” edition, although it really only mentions two 19th Century German Mathematicians by name or any detail, and one of them thought he could prove that Francis Bacon wrote William Shakespeare’s plays. So, you know, being good at infinity doesn’t mean you know everything.

Something second: Mell Lazarus’s Momma. The comic strip recently turned to Almanac-based humor, and last week raised questions about Abraham Lincoln as well as Canada’s “Heritage Day”, like, “does Canada have a `Heritage Day’?” And, since the comic strip gave us Abraham Lincoln just hanging around for no particular reason, would George Washington get the same treatment? Sure he would.

Momma and Francis see George Washington, who's alive and sitting angrily in a chair, and who thinks Momma and Francis don't appreciate how much hard work it is being George Washington.
Mell Lazarus’s Momma for the 22nd of February, 2015, celebrating George Washington’s birthday by making us wonder what he’s so angry about anyway.

And I’m still baffled by it all, since while I have no trouble believing that Washington has carved a dresser out of a giant block of yellow butter, I’m stumped working out why he would have triangular pennants for the battles of Concord and of Saratoga, or the Treaty of Paris, which he had nothing to do with. And where the heck is the pennant for Monmouth Courthouse? Why not the winter encampments at Morristown, New Jersey? Heck, what about Newburgh? Also, are his drapes pattern that of a bunch of clouds, or is it Keith Knight characters mooning us? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

Giants of the Colonial Era


I’ve been reading Reporting the Revolutionary War, by Tod Andrlik, reprinting newspapers, Colonial and British, when stuff was just happening. One paragraph from the Portsmouth New-Hampshire Gazette of July 20, 1764, read so:

A giant, 14 feet high (who was the same at nine years old) arrived the 14th ult at Dre[ can’t tell; it’s lost in the binding of the book ] from Trent, to make a shew of himself.

The next paragraph reports that an Ambassador discussed fishery stocks. Isn’t that a glorious treasure-trove of information about the world of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in the days before the Flood of ’42 swept its hyphen away and probably didn’t do the fishery stock any harm besides putting it up higher? Consider the article’s implications.

For one, the writer doesn’t mention the name of this giant. Why? Maybe they guessed a person who was fourteen feet high didn’t need any further identification, and that’s true in my circles. I know dozens of folks who’re over sixty feet high, but fourteen is a distinctive number and if there were any I knew, you’d just have to say “that person who’s fourteen feet high” and I’d know who you were talking about without any further bother. It’d probably go very well for me that way, really, since I’m not very strong on remembering names. I can’t remember a guy’s name I’ll just guess he’s probably a “David”. You’d be surprised how often it works. All the guys I met from 1996 through 1999 were named David, or are now anyway, and the pattern’s holding up well to today.

Here’s the next thing: our giant, David, wasn’t making a shew of himself in Portsmouth. Whatever might be going on in Portsmouth in the summer of 1764, watching giants was not drawing a paying crowd. David didn’t just have to go outside Portsmouth to earn a living, too: he had to leave Trent. Now we have a scene, somewhere near the village green of Trent, New Hampshire, in early July, as a farmer or smithy or tar-featherer or coopers-blunderbusser or something talks with his wife about David’s disappointing performance.

“Did you see, Martha, that poor David was trying to make a shew of himself by being fourteen feet tall in the public square.”

“What, again?”

“Aye,” he says, pausing to throw a rock at something he heard was a Stamp Tax collector (who in fact preferred collecting other Coercive Acts, finding that everyone was into Stamp Taxes in those days). “Fourteen feet tall and he thinks that’ll be an entertainment for us.”

“Land o’ goshen, Vermont, Henry, but isn’t that exactly the same thing he was trying to do when he was but nine years old?”

“To the inch and third-barleycorn, Martha,” cracks Henry as he indentures a servitude. “Not even a half a pottled king’s earlobe higher.”

“My, my. Someone should tell the lad, just being very tall isn’t going to get you an audience in these parts. Maybe he could attract a paying crowd in Dre[ mumbled into the folds ], but this is Trent. This is the big time.”

“We’ve got experience looking at people who are large. David has to get some kind of special advantage if he’s going to find work here.”

“Maybe he should learn to juggle or somesuch, then he can put on a proper shew.”

And around the corner of the farm tavern print-shop coffee house, a lone tear runs down David’s cheek and sees how far it is to drop to the ground. David considers finding some apples, but as Johnny Appleseed won’t be born until 1774, he makes off with a couple rocks and steals away to Dre[ something or other ], hoping he can refine his act and work his way back up to Trent, and maybe someday Portsmouth or even Worcester. He does, finally reaching the last town in 1839, as he’s ready to retire, which is just as well as he’s upstaged by the first giraffe brought to North America.

And this is why the marginalia of old newspapers is so grand: we get to see a past we’d never otherwise suspect. (PS, the United States won the Revolutionary War, sixteen feet to thirteen and a hog’s plunder in height.)