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 Gasoline Alley? Wait, if Slim’s here then who’s playing Santa Claus? September – December 2019


Hi, person who wants to catch up on Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. This plot recap gets you up to speed for early December 2019. If you’re reading this after about March 2020 there’s probably a more up-to-date plot recap at this link. Good luck finding what you need.

Gasoline Alley.

16 September – 7 December 2019.

Gasoline Alley had started the story of Peter Glabella, substitue physician assistant. He’s supernaturally good at his job. He has “mirror-touch synesthesia”, allowing him to feel what patients feel. This gives him a real edge in figuring out where someone’s ache comes from. This turns out to be a real actual thing that really exists in the real world, for real. I know, right? Wikipedia says something like one person in fifty has this to some extent. In the real world, it’s more like people who will feel it themselves when they see one person touch another. This can extend to empathy, strongly feeling the emotions someone else shows, or feeling the pain they’re experiencing. As with most things about how the brain works, it’s amazing and it takes clever experimental design to sort out what is happening. So I apologize for being too snarky back in September about the thing.

Glabella, walking through downtown with Chipper Wallet: 'See that postal carrier's bag? I can 'feel' the weight of it on my shoulder! And that fellow over there has a toothache!' Wallet: 'Wow! It's good you don't live in a densely populated city! You'd be bombarded with unbridled feelings all day and night!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 1st of October, 2019. Am I a bad person for wanting to put Glabella in a room with someone else who has the same mirror-touch synesthesia and see what happens? I’m a bad person for wanting to put Glabella in a room with someone else who has the same mirror-touch synesthesia and see what happens.

Glabella spends a couple weeks explaining the condition, trying to convince the reader this is on the level. He stops short of telling snide readers like me to look it up on Wikipedia. And trying to establish that he isn’t magic, he can just tell at a glance that somebody’s back hurts. Me, I have to look up if the person is more than 38 years old first.

Chipper Wallet takes Glabella to Corky’s Diner. They arrive the 3rd of October and that sets the scene for the new story. Glabella notices Terry, their server, has some heart trouble. Chipper urges her to make a clinic appointment, as if someone working in a restaurant could afford medical care in the United States. But she does, and gets an appointment with Glabella. Who by the way finally lets us know what his name means: it’s “the space between your eyebrows and bridge of your nose”.

Getting back to the clinic from the restaurant. Wallet: 'Hey, Ruthie! We're back.' Ruthie: 'Peter [Glabella]! Your 1:30 patient is patiently waiting!' Glabella: 'I'll go right in!' It's Terry, their waitress from lunch. 'Terry! How'd you get here ahead of Chipper and me?' Terry: 'I don't mess around! Besides I know a shortcut!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 21st of October, 2019. “While you were walking through every panel for a week, I ran in here in the gap between panels! It’s a great time-saver if you don’t trip on the copyright sticker.” Which might actually be how she did it, come to think of it.

The diagnosis: it might be acute angina pectoris. She needs a couple weeks off from work. So we shift to Corkey, trying to figure out his staffing problem. Stepping in is Baleen Beluga. She’s a good fit for Jim Scancarelli’s comic world. She starts in with tales of an adventurous past, with a lot of sailing on ships. She claims to be heading to Texas to join a cattle boat. That plan’s messed up when Terry’s diagnosis comes in. She needs surgery, about a month of recovery time, and some time of light work after that. Beluga’s willing to stay on, trusting that there’s a lot of cattle boats in the sea.

Corky: 'Listen, Baleen ... may I call you that?' Baleen: 'Sure! That's my name!' Corky: 'I'm up against the wall for two weeks!' Baleen: 'YOU listen! If you can't make th'payroll, Sonny, I'll set sail outta here right NOW!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of November, 2019. I like when a new character actor comes in. I’m not sure who plays Baleen Beluga, but it’s definitely someone likable and somewhat familiar from 60s sitcoms.

That’s not many events — there was a lot of characters saying funny things to each other instead. It takes us to the 21st of November, when Scancarelli noticed he haven’t even started his Christmas plotting. Luckily, a train breaks down right outside the diner. The Mistletoe Express has a burst water line. It’s a tourist-attraction locomotive now. It works for the Gasoline Alley Railway and Kitchen Cabinet Company. It’s bringing kids to see Santa. Beluga brings them a section of their stove exhaust vent. This probably won’t raise the diner’s carbon monoxide levels to dangerous heights.

Engineer: 'Hey, look, here comes the press!' Ballew, coming up to the train; 'I'm Hulla Ballew from the Gasette!' Engineer: 'This is embarrassing! Our engine broke down and the Corky's Diner folks pitched in to help with the repairs!' Ballew: 'What a great story!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 29th of November, 2019. I admire all the work Scancarelli put into illustrating that train engine. I don’t know how train art fans feel about it. They can demand a lot of precision. But me? I know if it has a lot of straight lines in it then it has to be great drawing. Also it’s only today that I realize Hulla Ballew writes for the Gasette. Mm.

And the stopped Christmas train brings out the press. It’s the Gasette’s Hulla Ballew. She fails to mention she’s the suspiciously young sister of Wally Ballew, on-the-site reporter for the Bob and Ray Show. Good for the diner. Maybe getting better: the locomotive needs even more emergency repairs. Corky invites the kids and parents in to the diner for ice cream. And calls Slim Wallet, telling him he needs a Santa Claus. Slim leaps into action and gets his red coat out. He makes fantastic time, too, and that’s where we’ve gotten.

Santa: 'Ho ho ho ho!' Corky: 'You got here fast, Slim! You look great!' Santa: 'Thanks! Mrs Claus made me go on a diet!' Corky: 'Nice touch, Slim! Keep up the ho-ho-ho's! The kids are on the train!' Kids, on the train: 'Look! It's Santa! Yea!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 7th of December, 2019. So, Santa just overheard Corky calling Slim and decided this was a good chance to race to Gasoline Alley again? … I guess he does all that watching what everybody does business, so that checks out, but then he’s really dissing Slim’s ability to wear a red coat and laugh in a jolly fashion for kids on short notice. Unless Slim can’t get there after all, in which case was Santa just aware of the delay before anyone could be? Or did he … cause … Slim’s unfortunate delay?

Golly jeepers, you don’t suppose there’s anything … curious … about Slim as Santa Claus here, do you? Mm? Hmmm? HMMMMMMMM?

Next Week!

Shall have to ponder that in about twelve weeks. For now? I look at comic strips with some mathematical theme, on my other blog. And on this blog, in one week (barring surprises), we journey to the Himalayas … In Search Of … James Allen’s Mark Trail.

Without Committing To What I’m Going To Be Doing This Coming Week


If I were to make up a story about Rankin/Bass having created a Christmas special built around the song I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, and claim that it was suppressed for being so weird and crazypants and indistinctly sexy that even the 70s couldn’t put up with it … how many of you would back me up? I’m not asking for the level of, like, making fan art. But would you insist on social media that oh, yeah, there was totally a crazypants sequence where Mommy’s brought to the North Pole for what is a sanitized, Love Boat-but-a-cartoon version of a swingers party where there might not be anything you can actually say is racy but it’s still like forty times the entendres that a kids’ animated special should have? Just doing a quick little headcount is all.

Today’s Baffling Distraction In A Rankin/Bass Animation


Sorry, it’s the time of year I can’t do anything because I’m busy watching Rankin/Bass animated specials again. Today’s distraction: noticing in The Year Without A Santa Claus, and the scene where Santa talks about “by my charts and maps!” So he stands over by his charts and maps. From this I learn that Santa uses the Mercator projection for his work. Defensible given how much navigation work he has to do, certainly. Although I would have expected him to use something centered on the North Pole, you know, his entire base of operations, which is located at one of the only two points in the world that can’t be rendered on a Mercator map. And yes, I know what you’re thinking: what about a transverse Mercator projection? Nuh-uh, thank you, who here is watching the special instead of whatever it was I was supposed to be doing today? Exactly.

Thoughts While Pondering The Year Without A Santa Claus, Plus Trains


What if Santa isn’t always cancelling Christmas because he’s kind of a jerk and instead he’s just wracked with the sort of Imposter Syndrome that my whole generation is dealing with all the time? Like, “This mouse wrote something mean in an upstate New York newspaper in September! A competent Santa doesn’t have to deal with issues like that! … And it’s snowing too? Oh I can’t even.”

Which I’ll grant is not all that deep an observation, but the alternative is to fret about the ways the rules of that snowfall magic seem to get tossed willy-nilly about in Frosty’s Winter Wonderland. I mean there’s something about just tossing in a snow-parson into things that seems dangerous. So let me conclude with this observation from Wikipedia’s page on Frost’s Winter Wonderland:

The engine on the train is a 2–4–2 or an American type steam locomotive. Locomotives of this wheel arrangement were used most common during the 1800s on American railroads, and from the 1830s until 1928, were given the name “American” in 1872, because of how they did all the work of every railroad in the United States. These types of engines have eight wheels (two leading wheels, four driving wheels, and two trailing wheels).

This means something. (It means I’m very tired.)

What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? May – August 2017


Do you know what time it is? Or what day it is, anyway? Because if it’s later than about December 2017, this isn’t an up-to-date report on the current plots of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. I’m writing this in mid-August 2017 and try to avoid making unfounded guesses about where stuff is going. So if it’s gone far enough that I’ve written a newer story summary, it should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for reading.

Also thank you for reading my mathematics blog, where I reviewed some comic strips which had mathematical topics about six hours ago. There’ll be more.

Gasoline Alley.

29 May – 20 August 2017.

The Gasoline Alley for the 29th of May, 2017, shows Santa Claus getting tossed in the air by a water wheel. There’s reasons for this. One of Jim Scancarelli’s stock plots is the weepy melodrama, and that was in full swing. Comic-relief dopey characters Joel and Rufus had run across a desperately poor family living in the old mill and decided to bring them Christmas presents as Santa Claus Running Late.

In accord with the Law of Christmas Mysticism, the attempt to play Santa Claus crashes on the shoals of physical comedy. But a mysterious figure dressed as Santa Claus and explaining that of course he didn’t forget about the children delivers a pair of bicycles. But wait, you say, Joel is still dressed as Santa Claus and stuck on the water wheel! Who was that mysterious Santa-y figure giving presents to children? Hmmmmm?

Santa: 'I brought you two bikes! I hope you like them! Ride Safely!' Emma Sue And Scruffy: 'Wow!' (Crashing noise.) Emma Sue: 'What's that?' And Scruffy: 'It's Mr Rufus and some ol' geezer!' (Joel, dressed as Santa, caught on the water wheel) 'Ol' geezer?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 3rd of June, 2017. This features one of the rare times I don’t think Scancarelli drew the comic very well. From the staging, it seems like Santa must have been visible to Joel and Rufus. The earlier strips suggest that too. But Joel and Rufus go on not knowing who that strange Santa-like figure giving away presents might have been. I’m not sure how to stage the action so that the reader could have been misdirected about which Santa was on-panel while the characters wouldn’t see what was up, I admit. Maybe there’s nothing to be done but this.

Hm. Well, Rufus goes back home to find his cat’s had a litter of kittens. Emma Sue And Scruffy, the poverty-stricken kids he tried to give bikes to, see them too. Rufus’s reasonable answer to whether they could adopt them (“you have to ask your mother”) inspires Joel to ask why he doesn’t try marrying The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom. Rufus tries to dodge this plot by going fishing. Emma Sue And Scruffy do too, biking to the fishing pond.

There they find a codger, drawn realistically enough that when he tells them to scram they scram. Or they do until And Scruffy drives his bike down the embankment and learns it was a mistake not to also ask Santa Claus for bike helmets. Rufus did warn them about biking without protection, and honestly, when Joel and Rufus are the voices of wisdom …

Codger Elam Jackson, talking to camera: 'Many problems will solve themselves if we just forget them and go fishing!' He sees the accident-stricken And Scrffy. 'Hey! What's that up there? A head? It looks like a problem I won't be able to forget!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of July, 2017. Oh, I don’t know about this problem not being one to forget, Elam. Have you ruled out staying at home and eating sheetcake?

Emma Sue goes seeking help. The codger, bringing his fish back through the fourth wall, finds And Scruffy. This promptly melts his heart, so the codger picks up the crash-victim and moves his spine all around bringing him back to the old mill. The codger — Elam Jackson — introduces himself and offers the fish he’d caught for a meal. Plus he offers to cover the medical bill to call a doctor for And Scruffy.

The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy's Mom, to Elam, who's working on their water wheel. 'Why are you doing all this work around here, Elam?' Elam: 'The Good Book says we are to look after widows and orphans ... and that's what I intend to do!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of August, 2017. I don’t try often to project around here where stories are going to go. Usually, if a plot development seems directly to follow, I’m happy to let the writer try and fool me, or choose to do the obvious thing in an entertaining way. A story doesn’t have to surprise me; it has to be interesting. Still, at this point, I became convinced that Elam and The Widow Etc should be expected to set up home-making together. Rufus can try winning the affections of Miss The Widow Etc. But he’s one of the long-standing comic-relief characters. He’s not getting married off, not to someone who’s been in the strip less than three months.

Rufus calls Chipper Wallet in from the Physician’s Assistant public-service storyline. Chipper examines, judging And Scruffy to be basically all right, and leaves without charging. This short-circuits the attempts of both Rufus and Elam to win the heart of The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom by paying her family’s medical bills. Rufus shifts to bringing two of the kittens as gifts to Emma Sue and Scruffy. Elam shifts to fixing the water wheel, offering The Widow Etc the chance to grind cereals as the public needs. I admit I’m not sure whether The Widow Etc and family are actually legit tenants of the old mill or if they’re just squatting.

And that’s where the plot stands at the moment.

Walt at the gates of heaven: 'Excuse me! Am I at the Pearly Gates?' Angel Frank Nelson: 'Oooh, yesss, indeedy! What's your name?' Walt: 'Walter Weatherby Wallet! Are you Saint Peter?' Frank: 'No! He's stepped out for a millennia! I'm filling in for him! Let's see! Waldo ... Walnut ... Ah! Here you are ... Walter Wallet! Now! What's the password?' Walt: 'Password? I didn't know you need one to get in here! Uh! Will my phone, computer, or credit card passwords work?' Frank: 'I'm afraid not!' Walt: 'What can I do?' Devil Frank Nelson: 'Psst, bud! We don't need passwords to get in down here!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 6th of August, 2017. So, things I like here: That topper panel with the angel dog, cat, and mouse sequence. Angel Frank Nelson’s halo being this head ring. And the heaven-as-a-bureaucracy thing that was kind of popular-ish in movies and industrial shorts and stuff in the 30s through the 50s. What I don’t like: there’s no time for a good Frank Nelson-y put-down of Walt Wallet? ‘He’s stepped out for a millennia [sic]’ could be delivered nasty, but it’s not an insult by itself. What’s got me baffled: with an entry line like “psst, bud!” how is that devil not Sheldon Leonard? I am curious whether Scancarelli started out with the idea of Jack Benny’s Racetrack Tout trying to lure Walt Wallet to a warmer fate, which seems like a good premise. But maybe the setup took too long however he tried to write it, and Scancarelli figured to switch over to a Devil Frank Nelson to avoid muddling the surviving joke? I am not being snarky here; I’m genuinely curious how the idea developed.

The Sunday strips have been mostly the usual grab-bag of spot jokes. The one curious, possible exception: on the 6th of August we see Walt Wallet at the Pearly Gates, being checked out by Angel Frank Nelson. It’s hard to believe that Jim Scancarelli would allow for the death of Walt Wallet, one of the original cast of a comic strip that’s 99 years old, to be done in a single Sunday strip that’s mostly a spot joke. The strip hasn’t got most of the signifiers that something is a dream or a fanciful experience, though. On the other hand, neither did Slim Skinner’s encounter with a genie. And Walt turned up again just today, anyway, talking about the advantages of dying at an early age. So, I guess Sundays really are just a day for merry gags.

Next week: I check in on how nature or car-rental anecdotes will kill us all, in James Allen’s Mark Trail. Call your friends, if your friends know any prairie dogs! Word is that prairie dogs are making a comeback.

In Which I Question Santa’s Staffing Decisions


Recently I got to visit Story Book Land, a small nursery-rhyme-forest and amusement park in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. Also there’s a place called Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. Yes, it has that name for the reason you’d expect: it’s a township. Story Book Land is a grand place, lots of displays of fairy tales. So this Santa Claus’s Workshop scene caught my eye:

Reindeer at Santa's Workshop in Story Book Land. One holds a pencil and makes notes. The other is at the adding machine. Both are dressed in office-casual pajamas.
A lot of Story Book Land’s displays have moving parts and buttons along the walls that kids can press. The buttons here make the deer up front move the pencil back and forth, and I think the reindeer in back pats at the adding machine. (I just grew uncertain as I wrote this.) If you need to keep a kid amused, put lots of buttons in walls they can push. The Roadside America model railroad in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania, learned this years and was why as kids we insisted on going to it like forty times a month.

Clearly I’m not in a position to tell Santa how he should run his business, and I shouldn’t disparage anybody’s qualifications before I know what they’re good at and what they like doing. It just seems a little cruel to give a lot of writing duties to a species that hasn’t got fingers. And I’m not too sure it’s considerate to put a reindeer on adding machine duty either, given, again, the whole hoof issue. Maybe Santa knows something I don’t. I just expect there’s all kinds of dropped … things, and probably shouting, involved.

Also I wish I had the courage to go to work wearing outfits like these reindeer do. And I work from home.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose four points in trading, and then fell right back again. Then it dropped four points, and rose the four points to right where it started. Analysts credit this movement to the purchase of a new swingset. Surely someone has purchased a swingset, somewhere, at some time, right? Sure.

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When My Parade Got Rained Upon: A Quick Photo Essay


So, Lansing has this little downtown event the Friday before Thanksgiving. Silver Bells in the City. An after-dark parade ending with Santa arriving before Thanksgiving because who’s crazy enough to do a nighttime event in mid-Michigan weather after Thanksgiving, a little street festival, Santa Claus holding court in the City Market, that sort of thing. And then this past weekend …

Truck towing a lit-up ... I'm not sure; it looks like a porch wrapped with lights and wreaths and stuff. Light rain, nothing too bad.
The Silver Bells electric light parade has been going for twenty years now, not continuously. Normally it’s on the coldest night of the winter, but this year it started on a night that was like 70 degrees.

At the Silver Bells In The City electric-lights parade and State Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. 7:13 pm.

Light-decorated float with Lansing Lugnuts ball players and their mascot, Big Lug, in heavier rain.
Apparently the Lugnuts were going to be named something like the River Dragons until someone pointed out there were already about fourteen teams named “Dragons” in our division of minor-league baseball. Also there used to be a companion Little Lug dragon that has just been missing and unremarked-upon for decades now.

At the Silver Bells In The City electric-lights parade and State Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. 7:17 pm. The walrus-y figure there is Big Lug, the kind-of dragon-y mascot for the Lansing Lugnuts minor league baseball team. The tusks are lug nuts or something poking out. The team name made more sense back when they were playing at Oldsmobile Park.

In the heavy rain people race towards City Hall, we figure, or something about that good. Blurry and unfocused.
And at this point I just started snapping pictures wildly because it was so funny and most of them don’t get that spirit of running crazily for what we hope is going to be shelter somewhere. I’d apologize that the picture is blurry but the night was blurry at that point.

At the Silver Bells In The City electric-lights parade and State Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. 7:19 pm. Like twenty second later on as we all race for any kind of shelter. Where? We had no idea. My love saw a single isolated shoe left on the flooded streets. I didn’t see it even though I was following close behind. It was a bit mad.

Meanwhile this reassuring tweet went out. You know you’re having a good time when you get the instruction, “Please get to safety”.

Crowds of people inside City Hall trying to dry off a bit. My camera's fogging up and there's raindrops on the lens and everything.
And here inside City Hall there was relative dryness and shelter and off to the right a fife band that I guess they’d had standing by for just this sort of contingency? I don’t know. Also they had a popcorn stand because again huh? By the elevator bank they had stockings hung, each with the name of some municipal department — Finance, Public Service, that sort of thing — on them.

At the Silver Bells In The City electric-lights parade and State Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. 7:23 pm. Also so apparently they had emergency fife bands ready just in case everything outside was cancelled and they had a slice of a hundred-thousand-person mob in City Hall who needed something to mill around in front of?

The still-unlit tree, in the dark. The five-foot-tall star topper is tilted way over, looking a little drunk.
So this was the first year they had a topper for the Christmas Tree, this nice five-foot-tall three-dimensional star. A half-hour after the storm front moved through it wasn’t quite so level as it had been.

At the Silver Bells In The City electric-lights parade and State Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. 7:43 pm, after the worst of the winds had blown through.

So we were laughing about being through all this through to about mid-day Sunday when we were finding dollar bills in our wallets were still damp and we’re still seized with a couple giggles. In the meanwhile have you seen my humor blog and its talk about comic strips? It hasn’t got any nearly so dramatic pictures, I admit.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Although the Another Blog, Meanwhile index remains below par the alternate index did rise five points on the day. Analysts credit this to traders finding and doing an archive-binge on Jonathan Larsen’s fantastic newsletter that we’ll just call The Fing News because we are careful about the sort of language we use here. More perceptive analysts point out they’ve known about the thing since it started way earlier this year and there’s no reason to pretend they only just discovered it now. Both are legitimate points to make. Anywhere here’s Larsen’s main Twitter account if you’d like to see that too.

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Reconsidering Penguins


OK, first, I stand by my Statistics Saturday post about the nations of the world as you find them in amusement park figures and art.

But on Saturday, after I’d had it scheduled to post, and while I was out waiting behind someone who was trying to figure out how to work a Coke Freestyle machine, I realized something. “Santa Claus” is a funny nation. “Penguins” make for a funny nation. But “The Santa Claus-Penguinarian Empire”? That would be much better. And from a start like that I could play on all kinds of Austro-Hungarian Empire jokes that readers would love.

Too late now, that’s all. Pity. Someday I’ll have my second thoughts when it’s not too late to do anything with them.

Shocking Results Of College Basketball Game


The local news reports that all of the ten people arrested in East Lansing yesterday, in a raucous disturbance with only a tiny fire that broke out after Michigan State won their way into the Final Four, were MSU students. I’m relieved. When I heard there were arrests made I feared it might include state legislators, leaders of industry such as whoever runs that mysterious electron-associated business, or maybe the jovial guy who was playing Santa Claus at the tree farm where we got our Christmas tree and who was very interested in the complex of extensions cords used to rig up the coffee machine and the space heater. (He explained how Santa was pretty knowledgeable about electrical systems.)

The report also mentioned that besides setting, it looked to me, like maybe one jacket on fire, the mob got to throwing “bottles and bagels”. This surprised me, because while mid-Michigan hasn’t got the greatest variety of bagels it’s got some fairly decent ones. Plus, what’s with throwing what amounts to wads of bread around? Yeah, they’re bagels, but we don’t get the really serious bagels, the ones protected by a crust of pumpernickel-diamond alloy inside a chewy core, around here. If they’re trying to break stuff, why throw bread? But if they’re not trying to break stuff, then do they really need to be arrested for what a top-notch lawyer would say is just aggressive feeding of squirrels? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

Why This Mouse Situation Doesn’t Need Controlling


We got a flyer offering to solve our mouse problem, and I think it’s gone and misfired in a couple ways. First, it starts by saying, “It’s cold outside. It’s warm in your house. The mice want in.” When you lay out the mice’s case like that, it’s hard to say they’re wrong. It’s one thing to be annoyed at mice if they’re up to mischievous purposes, sneaking in to place long-distance telephone calls or to hypnotize the dog, but if all they want is not to be cold, well, haven’t the mice got a point? We don’t even have a dog.

The next thing is they include a picture of an absolutely adorable mouse standing up and wearing a little Santa Claus hat. How could you turn away a mouse that just wants to be warm, but is so interested in impressing on you that she’s not a savage and is eager to participate in decorations for the holiday? Just look at the picture of the flyer, if I’m not too lazy to put it up. If I am too lazy then just imagine an absolutely adorable mouse sitting up and wearing a little Santa Claus hat.

The mouse is adorably wearing a little Santa cap, and the text points out it's cold outside, warm inside, and that mice want in.
Apparently I was not quite lazy enough. I apologize for the inconvenience.

If you told your co-workers that your house was infested with mice that put on little Santa hats they’d tell you how lucky you are to have such a precious breed of mouse prowling around. They’d be envious and people would come from miles around to see, like if you were one of those crazy houses that puts up enough lights to redirect commercial traffic, only with much less setup and take-down time needed since all you have to do is launder the mice’s caps, and that’s probably only a small load in the washing machine. And I’m not promising that the Santa-hat-wearing mice would sing adorably squeaky renditions of Christmas carols, but I think it’s plausible. Just ask.

That is, if you can find a mouse like this one, because I’m not actually sure that is a mouse. I can’t be too sure in saying that isn’t an actual domestic-type mouse of the kind that sneaks into your house and decorates and probably writes letters to Santa about you, because roughly forty percent of all the species in the world are labelled “mouse” or “rat” with some set of qualifiers, like the “grasshopper mouse” or the “lesser Wolfson’s braying mouse bat” or the “middling brown-spotted Scandinavian tactical assault mouse”, and it’s entirely possible this is one of those species. But it’s also entirely possible that some species of giraffe are identified as, oh, “long-necked tiled plains mouse” too, so all I’m getting at is that I’m not sure this is the kind of mouse you get trying to sneak into houses around here. I’m almost positive if giraffes were trying to sneak into houses I’d have noticed something, what with my bedroom being on the second floor, so I’d be able to look them in the eye.

I wanted to get that cleared up but it’s hard asking people about mice when you’re on the Internet since everybody you know will hear “mouse” and warn you that you’re going to get the hanta virus, which causes you to feel perfectly normal for up to three years after seeing or thinking about a mouse and then suddenly you explode and dissipate into a fine, peppermint-scented mist. I got warnings just for touching the picture of a mouse on the flyer, and one guy I know from Binghamton (he’s in Seattle now) came over to wrestle it out of my hand, until he realized that meant he had to touch it.

So I figured the best way to get the species of the adorable critter straightened out was to go to the mouse colony out in the garage, where we don’t mind them being at all, and ask them. Unfortunately they’re in a bit of a snit because most of them set up shop in the wood pile, and I took some in for a fire the other day. Don’t worry, we have a fireplace, and every winter we keep meaning to use it to build a lovely fire and then forget to do until it’s April, but we’re still early enough in the season we haven’t remembered to forget it yet. When I took some wood off their nesting spot they complained “This is totally bogus, man” and scurried off growling about how they’ve been paying rent. They’re still upset, so I can’t say much on that front except that apparently in the slang of garage mice it’s still maybe 1992 at the latest? Go figure.

Anyway, they didn’t seem to be dressing for the holiday.

Robert Benchley: A Christmas Spectacle


Did you miss Robert Benchley in “The Reluctant Dragon” on Turner Classic Movies last night? Possibly. Whether or not you did, please, enjoy this bit from Love Conquers All about the Christmas shows the kids put on.

A CHRISTMAS SPECTACLE

For Use in Christmas Eve Entertainments in the Vestry

At the opening of the entertainment the Superintendent will step into the footlights, recover his balance apologetically, and say:

“Boys and girls of the Intermediate Department, parents and friends: I suppose you all know why we are here tonight. (At this point the audience will titter apprehensively). Mrs. Drury and her class of little girls have been working very hard to make this entertainment a success, and I am sure that everyone here to-night is going to have what I overheard one of my boys the other day calling `some good time.’ (Indulgent laughter from the little boys). And may I add before the curtain goes up that immediately after the entertainment we want you all to file out into the Christian Endeavor room, where there will be a Christmas tree, `with all the fixin’s,’ as the boys say.” (Shrill whistling from the little boys and immoderate applause from everyone).

There will then be a wait of twenty-five minutes, while sounds of hammering and dropping may be heard from behind the curtains. The Boys’ Club orchestra will render the “Poet and Peasant Overture” four times in succession, each time differently.

At last one side of the curtains will be drawn back; the other will catch on something and have to be released by hand; someone will whisper loudly, “Put out the lights,” following which the entire house will be plunged into darkness. Amid catcalls from the little boys, the footlights will at last go on, disclosing:

The windows in the rear of the vestry rather ineffectively concealed by a group of small fir trees on standards, one of which has already fallen over, leaving exposed a corner of the map of Palestine and the list of gold-star classes for November. In the center of the stage is a larger tree, undecorated, while at the extreme left, invisible to everyone in the audience except those sitting at the extreme right, is an imitation fireplace, leaning against the wall.

Twenty-five seconds too early little Flora Rochester will prance out from the wings, uttering the first shrill notes of a song, and will have to be grabbed by eager hands and pulled back. Twenty-four seconds later the piano will begin “The Return of the Reindeer” with a powerful accent on the first note of each bar, and Flora Rochester, Lillian McNulty, Gertrude Hamingham and Martha Wrist will swirl on, dressed in white, and advance heavily into the footlights, which will go out.

There will then be an interlude while Mr. Neff, the sexton, adjusts the connection, during which the four little girls stand undecided whether to brave it out or cry. As a compromise they giggle and are herded back into the wings by Mrs. Drury, amid applause. When the lights go on again, the applause becomes deafening, and as Mr. Neff walks triumphantly away, the little boys in the audience will whistle: “There she goes, there she goes, all dressed up in her Sunday clothes!”

“The Return of the Reindeer” will be started again and the show-girls will reappear, this time more gingerly and somewhat dispirited. They will, however, sing the following, to the music of the “Ballet Pizzicato” from “Sylvia”:

“We greet you, we greet you,
On this Christmas Eve so fine.
We greet you, we greet you.
And wish you a good time.”

They will then turn toward the tree and Flora Rochester will advance, hanging a silver star on one of the branches, meanwhile reciting a verse, the only distinguishable words of which are: “I am Faith so strong and pure —– ”

At the conclusion of her recitation, the star will fall off.

Lillian McNulty will then step forward and hang her star on a branch, reading her lines in clear tones:

“And I am Hope, a virtue great,
My gift to Christmas now I make,
That children and grown-ups may hope today
That tomorrow will be a merry Christmas Day.”

The hanging of the third star will be consummated by Gertrude Hamingham, who will get as far as “Sweet Charity I bring to place upon the tree —– ” at which point the strain will become too great and she will forget the remainder. After several frantic glances toward the wings, from which Mrs. Drury is sending out whispered messages to the effect that the next line begins, “My message bright —– ” Gertrude will disappear, crying softly.

After the morale of the cast has been in some measure restored by the pianist, who, with great presence of mind, plays a few bars of “Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown?” to cover up Gertrude’s exit, Martha Wrist will unleash a rope of silver tinsel from the foot of the tree, and, stringing it over the boughs as she skips around in a circle, will say, with great assurance:

“ ‘ Round and Wound the tree I go,
Through the holly and the snow
Bringing love and Christmas cheer
Through the happy year to come.”

At this point there will be a great commotion and jangling of sleigh-bells off-stage, and Mr. Creamer, rather poorly disguised as Santa Claus, will emerge from the opening in the imitation fireplace. A great popular demonstration for Mr. Creamer will follow. He will then advance to the footlights, and, rubbing his pillow and ducking his knees to denote joviality, will say thickly through his false beard:

“Well, well, well, what have we here? A lot of bad little boys and girls who aren’t going to get any Christmas presents this year? (Nervous laughter from the little boys and girls). Let me see, let me see! I have a note here from Dr. Whidden. Let’s see what it says. (Reads from a paper on which there is obviously nothing written). `If you and the young people of the Intermediate Department will come into the Christian Endeavor room, I think we may have a little surprise for you. . . ‘ Well, well, well! What do you suppose it can be? (Cries of “I know, I know!” from sophisticated ones in the audience). Maybe it is a bottle of castor-oil! (Raucous jeers from the little boys and elaborately simulated disgust on the part of the little girls.) Well, anyway, suppose we go out and see? Now if Miss Liftnagle will oblige us with a little march on the piano, we will all form in single file —– ”

At this point there will ensue a stampede toward the Christian Endeavor room, in which chairs will be broken, decorations demolished, and the protesting Mr. Creamer badly hurt.

This will bring to a close the first part of the entertainment.

Other December 2013 Numbers


I should take a moment to look at my actual statistics for December 2013. The raw numbers are a little disheartening: the total number of views dropped from 357 to 301, and the number of unique visitors dropped from 188 to 168. Even the number of views per visitor dropped, from 1.90 to 1.79. This is even though I feel like I’m doing a better job at the writing, that is, producing bits that are more clearly my own voice and more amusing to me. I need to work on the problem of finding people who’re likely to enjoy the kinds of things I write. If you know where to find some, please, let me know.

The most popular articles for … well, I can’t figure how to get the numbers for exactly December 2013, but for the 30 days ending today, were:

The top countries for that same 30-day period in terms of sending me readers were, as usual, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Canada. Sending me a single reader each were: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, and Turkey. Repeat single-visitor countries from last time are Austria, Spain, and Turkey, so at least I’m steadily marginally popular.

Making Years Without A Santa Claus


Like most people do this time of year we’ve been watching Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated specials and trying to figure out more of how the whole Rankin/Bass Christmasverse works together. But we were on The Year Without A Santa Claus yesterday and noticed that a lot of Mickey Rooney’s dialogue as Santa is various grunts and groans and aching and paining about, which fits the whole plot about calling Christmas off because he’s too grumpy this year.

Thing is that’s got us wondering about the voice recording sessions. Did Mickey Rooney just do his dialogue for every scene in order, including his grunts about his aching ball joins and whatnot, as they came, or did they crowd all those into a single afternoon of recording Mickey Rooney go “Oooh. Owww. Ugh. Argh”? And, did he get all the groans down in one take, or did the director have to say stuff like, “OK, Mickey, that was great but could you do that round of grunting again, this time with maybe a hint of the agony from suspecting that somewhere there might be a mouse writing bad stuff about you in the local newspaper? How many feet of recording tape are nothing but out-takes of Santa groans? And who has possession of that Santa groan out-take tape today? What are they keeping it for? What do they intend to do with it?

To borrow a phrase, these are all questions I feel I cannot answer.