I wasn’t listening very closely to the teaser for the Mister Food segment on the noon news Friday. I thought the guy said he was going to show off a “dessert that would be worthy of the Renaissance”. So that kept me hanging on for the whole commercial break. What would this be? My best guess: a slab of honeycomb on top of marzipan, covered in nut-megg and tobacco leaves, bludgeoned the one tymme with a sugar-cayne.
Anyway it turns out they were doing a Kentucky Derby tie in. They had said a “dessert that would be worthy of the Winner’s Circle”. You can see how “Winner’s Circle” and “Renaissance” sound similar, what with both things being made up of words composed of syllables and all. Anyway I’m annoyed because I wanted Mister Food to tell me I was right.
Hey, are they going to have a Kentucky Derby this year? I should look that up. They hold those in prime-numbered years, and also some of the others.
Gil Thorp was in the fight of his life when I last checked in. The fight for his professional life, anyway. Former student-assistant-coach Robby Howry was blogging mean stuff about his coaching. And teaming up with radio sports reporter Marty Moon to say mean stuff about his coaching, but on the radio. And Gil wasn’t fighting. He was waiting for all this to get done. It’s as if Gil Thorp, deep down, didn’t really care.
Coming back into the strip was Maxwell Bacon. He was part of the storyline that set off Robby Howry’s quest for revenge. As senior, Bacon had wanted adderall, the better to manage whatever. Howry gave him baby aspirin, filed off, and told him it was adderall. Thorp found out about this, suspended Bacon, and threw Howry off the team-management thing. Bacon’s back from State University to see his mom. But he’s glad to break the silence about Howry’s motivations. Thorp refuses his help. He argues Howry isn’t worth Bacon making a dumb scandal public right as he’s looking for, you know, a job. Bacon leaves, without affecting the plot further.
It’s a neat development, I thought. It seems obvious that Bacon could deflate the Howry bubble. That Thorp won’t do that says something about his character. First, that he won’t screw up even a former student’s life, not on purpose. Second, that he’s confident he’s not going to lose his job to Robby Howry.
Because Howry isn’t after Thorp’s job. Mimi Thorp lays it out for Marty Moon, and everybody else. Howry wants that sweet local-sports-reporter job. And he’s going about it by saying interesting things in a forceful way about local sports.
The Gil Thorp snark-reading community has a consensus opinion about Marty Moon. He’s a hilarious, bumbling fool. He has the ill grace to be kinda right that Thorp’s teams never do great in their divisions. He’s somehow always finding new little ways to be a jerk. (I mean, dropping in Gil Thorp’s wife when she’s hanging with friends? And to say “nothing personal about my daily guest wanting your husband fired”?) But still. He’s kind of a dope.
Ah, but, swiping his job? Doing something about that is within Marty Moon’s set of powers. He and Howry settle in for their next broadcast. Marty casually turns eighty-four microphones over Howry’s way and asks, “So, how much do, Robby Howry of RobbyReport, declare that Milford sucks? As a town, that is. But also as a collection of super-sucktacular individuals? Please freely express your honest opinion while you’re here under no compulsion or duress of any kind.” And Howry must admit, he’s run some metrics and has rarely seen a town better living up to its potential suckitude than Milford. Then learns he was on the air.
Now, I’m from New Jersey. I went to grad school in Troy, New York. I currently live in Lansing, Michigan. What I mean by all this is I have never lived in a place that had self-esteem. The closest I ever have is when I lived in Singapore, a city-state that takes considerable pride in itself. But it’s also aware that, jeez, it’s only as important as it is so long as it does containerized cargo and hosting a US Navy base well. So I don’t feel the Milford community’s outrage at being called a “Podunk town” he figures to use as a “launching pad”. I’m more inclined to expect people to say hey, but we’re a great “dump”. And were only better before the gentrifiers tore down the abandoned dance studio that used to be a gas station.
Marty Moon expects thanks from Gil Thorp for bursting the Howry bubble. Thorp won’t give it. Robby Howry himself thinks, he guesses he’ll finish school. But he knows, he’s got talents and this town will never forget him. As he says this, the strip shows his billboards papered over. It’s a funny end.
Will Milford forget him? I don’t know. It’ll be a while before I do. He’s got a great story-comic personality, that of being far too involved over a petty issue. And students do return for new storylines, sometimes. It wouldn’t be absurd for Howry to make some new attack on the Milford high-school sports ecological balance. But, yeah, nobody in town would remember him three months after this.
The new, and current, storyline started the 11th of March. And it’s focused on the girls’ sports. It’s softball season. The centerpoint student seems to be Linda Carr, who’s playing softball and volleyball. And is very busy. She has to beg off a Saturday scrimmage, for softball, on the grounds she already has a volleyball tournament. This causes one of Linda’s teammates to snap at her for some reason. In all four girls say they can’t make Saturday. Three of them beg off for “family stuff”. It’s a lie.
Molly Hatcher, for example, was performing in a synchronized ice skating team. She didn’t want to talk about it because whenever she talks about it people make fun of her. Nancy Kaffer’s “family stuff” was that she was going to a comic convention. She says it’s because she writes a blog about female superheroes. I’m not sure if she was running a panel or if it’s just that she’s interested in comic books. She gets about 30,000 visitors a month so excuse me. I need to step over into the breakfast nook and fume about being one-tenth as popular as a fictional high school girl. All right. I’m back.
Anyway, Linda feels the softball team is lacking a needed unity. It’s a good diagnosis. Everybody has other things they like doing, which is fine. Everybody’s getting snippy at other people for their things, though, which isn’t.
At the season opener, Jocelynn Brown takes a moment to rally the team’s spirits. She gets the team through a tough spot and into a win. And her teammates admire her neat hat, which she knitted herself. She had missed the scrimmage because she and her mother had a booth at a craft show. In admiring the hat Molly Hatcher says everyone on the team is “too cool for school”, and for a moment her entire life hangs in the balance.
But the other teens decide this is such an uncool thing to say that it falls over the edge and comes back around to being cool. It becomes their rallying cry for the next month. Jocelynn and her mom knit matching hats for everyone, which Molly declares they’ll wear on game days.
After a close loss to Tilden, Jamila brings out a Rally Hippo, a plush doll from her collection. She declares that to be her contribution to being too-cool-for-school. And, you know? These things can work. Weird thing about sports psychology is that having anything you can do for luck works, even if you don’t believe in luck. Having a thing in your control helps you get bigger control. The Rally Hippo’s only had one outing, but the girls did come back from being down 3-1 to win.
Less sure, and what seems to be the actual problem this story: Linda has gotten bored with volleyball. But it’s the sport that she has a scholarship for. So, what to do about that?
Fair question. Won’t know until the next few weeks of Gil Thorp transpire. We’ll have to see.
There was no secret volleyball. It was synchronized ice skating being kept secret. Also disenchantment with volleyball kept secret. Volleyball itself was always known to all interested parties.
Milford Schools Watch
So here’s the towns or other schools named as competitors to Milford the last several months. Tilden and Oakwood have turned up twice, and in that order, for basketball and for softball.
Burke (the Bulldogs)
Benson (the Mighty Bunnies)
And again, of course, Milford isn’t anywhere real. But if “Nebraska City” isn’t the name of someplace in Pennsylvania, it should be.
And a warning before I get started. The antagonist in the major storyline of the past three months is presented with multiple personalities. If you aren’t comfortable with mental health problems used for comic-strip villainy this way, you are right. Skip the plot recap below the ‘Continue reading’ link, and we’ll catch back up in June.
Some well-intended but dumb schemes were under way last time I checked in. Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen’s family transferred him from New Thayer to Milford when his old gang of friends went bad. The gang got into vandalism, burglary, assaulting Jansen for ditching them, that sort of thing. Jansen’s family had rented but not used an apartment to give Jansen a technical address in Milford. Joe Bolek, that kid who wants to talk about the cinema, figured to help. Record the New Thayer gang beating up on Jansen and boom, Coach Thorp will be glad to let him stay on the team, right?
Coach Gil Thorp sees the video and doesn’t really seem to care. Whoever it is decides these things rules that Jansen’s eligible, so, he plays. With the note that he might transfer back after a year when the seniors in the gang graduate. And Joe Bolek goes meeting up with Kelly Thorp. Both are glad to know someone else who’s interested in Movie Nerd stuff. Gil Thorp is a good partner, but his interest in movies is that they’re important to his wife. That’s great, but a primary interest is still different.
Monday, the 10th of December, opened the new plot. Its main action promised to be glorious and it has been holding up. It’s a sequel, and to a storyline from before I started doing regular recaps. That’s all right. The text fills in all the backstory you need.
It opens with a young man buying space on two billboards. So right away you know it’s a 20-something-year-old who actually falls for the billboard company ads about “See? Made you look!” or “our texts go to the whole Milford area”. Still, it’s exciting. The “Billboard Advertising: It Works” sign comes down, a month before reaching its six-year anniversary. The replacement message: “Is Mediocre Good Enough?” And with that bold demand on the commuters of Milford … nothing happens and nobody much cares.
The other plot thread. It’s basketball season. Milford’s off to an indifferent, one might say mediocre, start. And guard Nate Filion is having a bad time of it. He’s not hanging out with the other basically well-meaning if dumb kids on the team. Or much of anything else. And the billboard takes on a new message: “Don’t Our Kids Deserve Better?”
Filion’s teachers get worried. All that seems to engage him is quoting That 70s Show. That’s no way for a healthy teen to live. Thorp prods a bit, but can’t get anything. And then the billboard goes to its newest message: “Save the Kids — Fire Gil Thorp”, and includes a link to the blog of Robby Howry. Also his podcast. Howry explains his motives to a reporter for the Milford Star who turns out not to be Marty Moon. I don’t know the reporter’s name. You can tell he’s not Marty Moon because his hair is a little different and Marty Moon’s sideburns don’t grow down to join his goatee. I don’t keep doing the six-differences puzzles in Slylock Fox for nothing.
Howry explains to the reporter that he was more than an equipment manager, he was “unofficial assistant coach” for Thorp years ago. And that his conscience would not allow him to let Milford “wallow in mediocrity” any longer. And that he loves the comic strips and wants the story strips held to high standards of plot, character, and art. Anyway, he left because Thorp “didn’t share my commitment to winning.”
And that old incident I think serves as a good example of the Gil Thorp storytelling style. It has a lot of stories driven by how teenagers are kinda dopey. But there’s almost never actual malice involved, not from the kids anyway. They don’t think of being truly nasty. And they’re limited in how much trouble they get into anyway. Partly because as teens they have limited resources. Partly because as teens they’re a little dopey, so their lack of foresight saves them. That’ll come back around.
And yes, also saving them is the writer. Part of the Gil Thorp style is that nobody’s really involved in serious wrongdoing. Several years ago there was a storyline about a guy selling the kids bootleg DVDs. Except, it turned out, they weren’t bootlegs. The guy got legitimate DVDs. He put them in bootleg-looking cases so his teenage customers thought they were getting away with something. It was a bizarrely sanitized minor transgression. I wondered if Rubin and Whigham were mocking someone who’d sent them a letter about what it was acceptable to portray teenagers doing. Or if they were trying to see if they could fool Luann into imitating it.
So we already had a delightful story about Robby Howry’s quixotic lurch for vengeance going. What takes it up to glorious heights? The involvement of Marty Moon, of course. Moon is delighted to read of someone dishing Gil Thorp-related dirt. Howry is glad to tell Moon at length about how Coach Thorp just lost the game to Jefferson by six, or whatever. And Marty feigns understanding what Howry is going on about when he talks about these pre-measured mattress kit delivery eyeglasses who sponsor the podcast.
Thorp tries his best to ignore Howry, focusing instead on what’s bothering Filion. This goes so far as to remind the whole team about a suicide hotline number and insist they put it in their phones. Possibly overreacting (“Coach, we only lost to Jefferson by six!”) but he does insist he’d rather overreact.
Thorp gives two-game suspensions to the participants and calls Filion in to his office. This is exactly the sort of stupid thing Filion should have done; why wasn’t he? Which is an odd tack but, yeah, I’ve known people I had to deal with that way. Filion finally opens up. With the end of high school coming, he feels like everything is ending. He doesn’t know how to handle that. Now Thorp’s able to hook him, and his parents, up with counseling. And there’s the promise that the team might play better too.
My words alone might not express how much I’ve enjoyed this plot. I’d said last week how I love when story comics get a preposterous character in them. And this is a great one. It’s the story of Robby Howry, a maybe 21-year-old guy, seeking revenge on his high school basketball coach. And going to great effort about this, starting a blog and podcast and talking daily with Marty Moon. And laying out hard cash. I don’t know how much it costs to rent two billboards for a month-plus, but boy, that’s got to run into the dozens of dollars. Add to his mission fanaticism some grand self-obliviousness. He’s confident nobody will mind his whole fake-prescription-drug-pushing thing. Not if the alternative is losing buzzer-beaters to Arapahoe High School. Probably it won’t be as grand a comeuppance as happens to Marty Moon in every Marty Moon story. But it’s so promising.
Milford Schools Watch
People sometimes wonder where Milford is. The real answer is nowhere, of course; it’s meant to be a place that could be any high school. And then mucks things up with the idiosyncratic use of “playdowns” where normal people say “playoffs”. Anyway, here’s some schools or towns named in Gil Thorp the last several months. I offer this so you can work out your own map of the Milford educational system.
Okay, “Danbury” really sounds Connecticut. But then there was the thing a couple years ago where they name-checked famous Ohio I-75 highway sign Luckey Haskins.
I was cleaning my car. It was at that point where it looked like there was more stuff in the back seat than could be justified. Like, why would I need jumper cables? Or a first-aid kit? Or the receipt for two sour-cream-and-chives baked potatoes plus a medium-size pop from Wendy’s from 2017? Or a bright reflective orange safety vest?
Along the way I dug out a summertime issue of the Lansing City Community News. This is a six-page ‘special edition’ of the Lansing State Journal that’s tossed for free once a week onto everyone’s driveways. It’s part of a service to the community, so we know which of our neighbors haven’t been home since Saturday. I must have picked up this one and forgot it existed until now. It usually features about two and a half of the human-interest stories from that week’s State Journal, plus a third of a page of classified ads to meet singles having yard sales to sell old beds and masonry repair. Sometimes they forget to include the ends of articles, the way the mothership State Journal does. But they included all of this one, and the headline should have caught my attention sooner:
Ax-Throwing Business Opens In Lansing
So it explains that this is the source of the dull thuds from behind the headquarters of Quality Dairy. That’s a local convenience store chain, the place where all metro Lansing comes together to obtain qualities. Some of their popular ones, year after year, include ‘peppermint’, ‘cream-filled’, ‘mooshy’, and ‘evocative of ducks’. I hadn’t heard a thing, but I don’t claim to be on top of all the mysterious dull thuds behind Quality Dairy headquarters and I would like people to stop pretending I do.
But the opening of this axe place has got me wondering where on the gentrification path “Axe-Throwing Businesses” are. It’s got to be somewhere after “person on recumbent bicycle pedals east every day at 2:35”. I’m pretty sure it’s before “can’t get across town through all the ukelele festivals”, but that might just be because we’re close enough to the Interstate I don’t have to deal with the street traffic. I think I have to place it between “coffee shop menus talk about geography”, but before “everything on the block is a restaurant or a knick-knackery”.
The people running this axe-throwing business got into it like you expect. They were having fun one day, throwing axes at things. Then someone piped up with “you know what would make this even better? If we had to satisfy building inspectors and file 1099 forms!” So they made it into a business and I guess that’s working out for everyone. They still get to throw axes, and now there’s safety regulations they have to follow, and they’re getting two-thirds of the front page of a summer issue of the Lansing City Community News. Really no downside.
Still, it’s not a fulltime job because, I mean, why would you expect running an axe-throwing center, or “axeterium” as they say in the trade, to be enough business to live on? No, this is just a side job. They really run a blacksmith supply shop, it says in the article. This makes me want to know more about the challenges of blacksmith supply operations, especially in an area like Lansing, where we just don’t have that many animated coyotes hoping to drop an anvil from a cliff face. Also not that many cliff faces. Cliffs can’t be counted as blacksmith supplies anyway.
If we can believe the article — well, a lot of things follow. Among them, that “[Baker] spends his weekdays making Lord of the Rings-inspired metal helmets and custom cornhole sets”, at least until his boss finds out. But also that axe-throwing is a competitive sport. Apparently there are “more than 4,000 leagues in 50 cities across five contries, according to the Toronto-based National Axe Throwing Federation”. You could go to some axe-throwing event, and take home a trophy. You don’t even need to be big or muscular. You just need to have good form. Or to refuse to put your axe down until someone gives you a trophy.
Yes, I am bothered beyond all reason that the newspaper spells it “ax” in the headline and body of the article, but “axe” in the photo captions. And that the place and the National Axe Throwing Federation spell it “axe”. Sheesh.
Hi, fans of Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. I know the current storyline’s been a bit confusing. It started out so strongly establishing one character, then jumping to another, that it wasn’t clear what they had to do with each other. The past week the threads have come together more strongly. And, must say, the narrative logic was easier to follow when I re-read several months’ worth of story all at once. The narrative was harder to follow chopped up into three panels a day.
Last time I checked in in Milford it was golf season. Coach Thorp was lightly occupied in his summer job, coaching Wilson Casey and Tony Paul in the game. Thorp’s realized that the kids from the Pine Ridge and the Blackthorne country clubs have been turning in false scorecards. The cheaters can’t be shamed. Thorp tries consoling his honest students.
Gil Thorp’s solution: organize his own, Milford Invitational, golf tournament. Only Pine Ridge and Blackthorne aren’t invited. And those kids have a mediocre outing at another tournament where scorers accompany the quartets. We never actually see the Milford Invitational. Just Thorp’s reminding his players that if they’re playing with integrity, the scores aren’t important. Good life lesson. Not one I’ll be sharing with my love next time we’re at a pinball tournament though.
The 3rd of September started the current story. Or set of stories. One is about Joe Bolek, student, and that kind of teenage film buff who watches Reservoir Dogs every other week just in case it’s changed. I can’t be smug. At that age I was very busy watching The Wrath of Khan every Friday night. The other is Thomas Kyle “Tiki” Jansen, recently transferred from New Thayer. They knew each other in middle school, when Bolek did stunts like making his own movie in the middle of the street until the cops showed up.
This is part of the football storyline for the year. Thorp’s problem: Sam Finn is his best punter. But he’s also his best snapper. And it’s bad form to have a player snap the ball to himself to punt. So Thorp has an actual coaching problem, since he can’t put together a punting team that works. He has a lead: Joe Bolek, allegedly, was a pretty good athlete before he got swallowed up being that film guy.
Thorp approaches Bolek. Thorp sighs inwardly as Bolek wants to talk about his life in terms of movies. Thorp tries pointing out that they both hated The Legend Of Bagger Vance, a movie I once saw because I was flying from Newark to Singapore. My recollection is that it was a series of shapes moving in what seemed to be patterns. Thorp is able to communicate slightly in the language of referencing movie titles. Gil Thorp doesn’t actually know that much about movies, but his wife does, and he’s learned things from her. Along the way it’s revealed Gil Thorp’s been allowed to hold a position in adult society without ever seeing Paths Of Glory, which, I just don’t know. Anyway, Bolek watches the Milford team play a game, figures he can punt better than that, and joins the team.
Next plot point. Jansen shows up late to class. A lot. Enough that Thorp has to warn him this could screw up his eligibility. Jansen talks about his sister and her needs. How her needs make him late, or force him to leave events early, or stuff. And tries to avoid saying anything independently confirmable about her. It doesn’t go well: he says enough about his sister that one of his teammates can confirm she doesn’t exist. Or at least she isn’t going to school where Jansen implies she is.
His teammates ask Jansen where he lives. He names an apartment complex, slightly wrongly, and doesn’t notice he put it on the wrong street. In the world of story strip narrative economies that shows he’s bluffing. But I have to admit, I’ve lived at this house in Lansing for six and a half years now and I could not name the streets two blocks to either side of me. And I’m pretty sure I’m not pulling a fast one with my residence. Still, his teammates watch him driving off the wrong way for the home he claims to be going to.
Jansen’s tardiness reaches the point Coach Thorp has to do something about it, though. Jansen’s twenty minutes late for a game. He claims it’s because his car broke down. Thorp points out Milford is, like, four blocks across. He could’ve walked.
Thorp and his assistant coach, who probably has a name, check Jansen’s paperwork. It says he lives in the Pine Trace Apartments. Pine Trace Apartments say that address is a one-bedroom apartment. For a family of four. So Thorp swings into the exciting world of student-athlete regulatory compliance and asks Jansen where he does live. Jansen says it’s complicated. Thorp hasn’t got time for this. Jansen explains he had to leave New Thayer, but the family couldn’t afford to move, not all at once. So they rented a cheap, empty apartment that could be his address for the sake of school. And a cheap car that could get him from New Thayer to Milford. Mostly. I’m not sure this actually makes economic sense, but, eh. Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham know what housing prices are like in the Milford/New Thayer metropolitan region, I don’t.
Thorp sidelines Jansen while figuring out whether the kid is eligible to play. The school administrators conclude that he is. Thorp’s still got doubts, admitting that part of it is that Jansen turned out to be a good player. I honestly commend Gil Thorp for being aware of his motivated reasons to let Jansen play. That awareness is one of the ways to support procedural fairness.
Jansen explains that back at New Thayer he fell in with a bad crowd. Started as small stuff, vandalism and petty theft and whatnot. When they started getting into burglary, Jansen bailed on them. They whaled on him, and warned him not to come back to New Thayer. They’re still there. But there’s no way to prove to Thorp that he’d be in danger at New Thayer’s high school.
Except that Joe Bolek, film nut, has the idea of let’s just have Jansen go to his old school and get beat up, on video. And Jansen’s cool with this idea. Well, the plan is that Bolek will interrupt the savage beating before it gets all that savage. And that’s the point the story has reached as of the 24th of November. Jansen’s old gang has come out with battery on their minds, and now they’ve got a film nerd, with a big ol’ video camera set up on a tripod, waving at them.
This is sure to develop exactly as well as Jansen and Bolek could possibly have hoped.
I have seven days to try to condense the plot of Francesco Marciuliano and Mike Manley’s Judge Parker into a coherent essay. Will I make it? Find out here in seven days, barring surprises.
The eruption of the smallcano was a surprise. There were rumblings, yes. But they were tiny ones. Even those nearest the eruption site just thought maybe they were hungry. Or there was a truck on some street nearby. Or the truck was hungry. Anyone would need great foresight to realize what was coming.
But then once it surfaced! People who found themselves in the active caldera-minima zone couldn’t help it. They would shrink to as much as one-tenth their ordinary size, if they found themselves somehow unable to escape the microclastic flow. Which, since the flow never got faster than a quarter-of-an-inch per day, you’d really think they would be able to. Heck, at its maximum the whole effect zone was maybe eight feet across, and that the long way.
You hate to say it. But you have to suspect at least some of the affected wanted to be caught up by the smallcano. You can see some of the appeal. Be small enough and you can have bunnies push you around. Be smaller still and you can see whether it’s possible to ride on a fly, like in a cartoon. Be just the right size and your liverwurst-and-onion sandwich can last you months, even years. The only other way to get an effect like that is to not like liverwurst-and-onion sandwiches very much but feel like you shouldn’t let that go to waste. So apart from people trying to make these sandwiches last, it’s hard to explain the people rushing toward the scene except those hoping for a little more smallness in their lives.
Now, when the tallcano erupted, that was a different story. You can’t blame anyone not being able to outrun its effect zone. Not unless they were already gigantified enough. And if they were, well, there’s only so many ways to explain how they got that way. And sure, the caldera-maxima got pretty crowded but that’s what everybody expected so what’s one more person making the joke about how the average person was now 2.3 persons? (This was a funny joke because the average was actually closer to 2.2 persons, but 2.3 is a funnier number, according to a study that compared it to 2.2, 1.75, and 1.0625, but did not test it against 3.7.)
The ballcano, well, that was different. Just this fount of baseballs, basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, beach balls, medicine balls, pouring out of the mountain’s top? Balls bouncing and rolling for miles? Many even landing in the sea? That was just great for everybody except the sporting-goods manufacturers. Oh, they weren’t all regulation size or stitching, yes. But they were good enough for casual play. Or to fill the need people didn’t realize they had for spherical toys. It wasn’t even thought of as a hazard until it started shooting hockey pucks. This was seen as an unforgivable variation from its brand. But the ballcano insisted that it had to follow its creative energies where they lead and that it didn’t have time for the haters. We all agreed we could learn something from it, except we didn’t want to be anywhere a hockey puck could bonk us on the head. People who came in hoping to be turned into volleyballs were disappointed yes. Worse, when people asked them what they were expecting, and told honestly, got looked at like they were the weird ones. Kind of tragic, really.
The mallcano should have been seen as a greater threat than it was. The hillside just spewing out Foot Locker Juniors and Spencer Gifts and shuttered Radio Shack storefronts and kiosks demonstrating toy drones wasn’t at all economically sustainable. The flow just didn’t have enough anchor stores. And the flow was steady enough to keep a proper food court from congealing. Signs that there might be somewhere to get a pita, or burrito, or something else that’s food wrapped inside dough never panned out. Even so, people flocked to the epicenter, since “Epicenter” sounded so much like the kind of name a mall ought to have.
All things considered, it was kind of a strange week in town. And all that before the open-floor houseplans of a whole subdivision were ruined by the wallcano.
Last time Gil Thorp was starting up a sequel to a story from before I did plot recaps. So let me recap that one from the distant, relatively happy times of 2016: Milford boys’ softball star Barry Bader’s father Del was on trial for drunk driving. While that trial was underway, he’d had a liquid lunch and got into a minor accident with beloved Milford girls’ softball star “Boo” Radley. She wasn’t hurt by that. She died when another car crashed into Radley’s stopped car. Del Bader has been in jail since. Barry Bader has been angry, pretty intensely so.
Two years later. Milford Trumpet reporter Dafne Dafonte nags Barry Bader into an interview about how everybody hates his Dad and doesn’t much like him. She mentions him being short-tempered, and he complains about how society casually spits on short guys. To that point I honestly didn’t realize he was supposed to be conspicuously short. Rod Whigham’s art has always avoided straight-on shots, and casually varies the angle. I didn’t attach any particular importance to apparent size.
Eventually Dafne nags the elder Bader into an interview, too. This promises to be a glorious fiasco. Mr Bader was a ball of rage even before his drunk-driving convictions. He was also a bundle of sexist rage, offended by the discovery that a mere woman could be in charge of a courtroom. And now some teenage girl he never heard of wants him to talk about all this. I wouldn’t blame Bader for refusing to have anything to do with her. If any character ever asked Dafne what precise public service was being done by poking the Baders I never saw a good answer. It’d be interesting? I guess, but that’s not by itself journalism.
Del Bader starts off all right: his wife and son are struggling without him, and he’s treated as an awful person, for an accident. He points out how “Boo” Radley being an attractive, popular teenage sports star makes people view him more harshly than they would “if I’d hit a 50-year-old named Joe Smith”. But he also tries arguing, like, he was not a repeat drunk driver. He hadn’t been convicted for his first arrest yet. “I got railroaded”. Sometimes the literal truth does not make your case better.
Dafne writes a story leading off, “three hours from his comfortable home in Milford, Del Bader is in prison — and in denial.” It’s a catchy start and I hope someone ran it past the school paper’s attorneys. Barry Bader is furious. But his mother — she asks Dafne to come over. She wants to do an intervention. Mrs Bader has Barry sit down and hear about how his father really screwed up, and is screwing up Barry. And Barry needs to think seriously about being something besides a weirdly intensely angry high school athlete.
I’m not sure the exact role Dafne serves by being there. I suppose just that having an outside yet semi-involved party can keep a family dispute from growing too intense. Anyway it all seems to have a good effect. Bader returns to the team apologizing for being such a jerk. And he gets to close out his senior year hitting a three-run inside-the-park home run. Not bad, yeah.
There is — well, not really a subplot. Subplot, to me, suggests something that highlights the main plot, either by contrast or by reinforcement. This is just other stuff going on along the side. Senior Kevin Pelwecki got crazily obsessed with setting records and getting a college baseball scholarship. Coach Gil Thorp, rising above the cliche that he doesn’t really care, helps Pelwecki get his play up to form. But he’s not that serious about finding a college team that’ll offer Pelwecki a spot. He’s able to get Pelwecki a tryout, although as best I can tell the same tryout anyone would. That’s all right, though. Pelwecki finishes the season with 11 home runs, third-highest for the team, and comes to realize that he didn’t really want to play college ball. He wanted to be good enough that he could. I can understand that.
So Bader’s and Pelwicki’s storyline finished off, the 28th of July. with the 30th of July started the new, current storyline. It features the Official Sport of Comic Strip Artists For Some Reason: golf. (I think the reason is that golf was The Sport for Army officers in World War I. So Army enlisted men tried it in World War II. And since every comic strip from 1946 through 1969 was started by someone who’d been enlisted in World War II they carried their interest over.)
Wilson Casey and Tony Paul are really interested in golf. And seriously interested too: they’ll play in the rain, because hey, they get course time nobody else wants. They’re not Milford students; they attend St Fabian, and there’s mention that Gil Thorp is coaching them as part of his summer job. All right. Casey and Paul are really into the game. They just wish those snobs from Pine Ridge weren’t so obnoxious. And this sets off my Jim Scancarelli alarm. “Pine Ridge, Arkansas” was the setting for long-running old-time-radio serial comedy Lum and Abner. Probably just coincidence, though. The defining traits of both Lum and Abner — and most characters from Pine Ridge, Arkansas — was their complete lack of guile. This is not an accurate characterization of these kids.
In qualifications for the Valley Juniors golf tournament the Pine Ridge kids are teamed up with Blackthorne Country Club kids. And they together start cheating, cutting a few strokes off their holes. The St Fabian kids are ruthlessly honest about their play. In an earlier game one had counted a bunker as two strokes because he believed he felt his club strike the ball twice. Paul hits for 83; Casey for 82, scores Gil Thorp said should qualify them easily. The cheaters turn in scores in the 70s, and bump Paul and Casey out.
They’re stunned. They know the guys were playing in the 90s the previous week. I admit I’m stunned too; I had just assumed in this sort of contest some tournament official would follow each group. Shows what I know. Well, there’s stuff at pinball tournaments you probably wouldn’t guess happened either.
Thorp goes to the Pine Ridge Country Club pro with the question: come on, srsly? The Pine Ridge guy shrugs, saying, hey, golf is a streaky game. Sometimes a group of eight teens will all happen to play fifteen strokes better than their average all at once. Thorp tries to honor-shame the Pine Ridge guy, and goes back to his players with talk about how good their performance truly was.
And that’s the current standings: a summer storyline about cheating in golf. I realize it’s easy to snark about the insignificance of the subject. But it’s resolutely the sort of thing Gil Thorp is the right comic strip to write about. Really I’m still getting over learning that cheating in tournament golf play is apparently just that easy.
Keeping a scorecard is a time-honored tradition of attending baseball games. It’s slightly newer than attending baseball games. But then attending baseball games is only slightly newer than playing baseball at all. This is a statement that can get you into a good fight about what people mean by “attending”. Consider this for sometime when you’re at a party and everyone has run out of things to talk about.
Still, it is a tradition. It lets participants combine their love of a game predicated on suspense and anticipation with the natural thrills of multiple-entry bookkeeping. An experienced scorecard-keeper can reconstruct, pitch-by-pitch, a whole game from 139 years ago simply by glancing at the card, working at it for 138 years, and then reading how the newspaper reported the game. Now and then I try. Here’s how it usually goes.
I get a pre-printed scorecard blank. This can be had for under four dollars if you have the special scorecard endorsement on your vehicle registration. There are people who create their own scorecards, using notebooks or such. But such people are wildly unpredictable in their ways and I don’t need that sort of trouble. At the top I would write the teams, the date, the weather conditions, the time of play, my own name in case I forget, my homeroom section, and my name again so that the columns even out. My pen runs dry.
The first batter comes up and I write out his name, letting me discover that the column assumed people had shorter names. So in the next box over I write the number from his shirt, and the number from his position. This I use interchangeably, because I forget which way I started and it’s too late to fix that all now. Each at-bat, real or potential, has a lovely little greyscale diamond, there to record the action. By the time I come out of the hypnotic trance these engender he’s already out. I guess he struck out, since it didn’t seem like all that many people were moving around, and write in a K in the column for his position number.
The second batter comes up. I write five letters that I incorrectly think are in his name. I thought I was looking at the scoreboard. It’s an advertisement for one of the metro area’s leading motorcycle attorneys, insisting they’re one of the area’s best. While I imagine attorneys motorcycling through the courtroom, scattering writs and stuff, he makes a base hit. I darken the diamond line from home to first base. It’s not dark enough, so I run the pen over several more times and break through the paper.
I’m distracted trying to figure if I can somehow make the napkins I swiped from the soda stand into a desk. There is not. But while trying, something happens that I miss. The runner leaves the field, though. So I write down that this was a Fielder’s Choice, off in a little box by itself where the graphic design is well-composed. I’ve always liked the name of the “Fielder’s Choice” as a thing that might happen in baseball. And I’ve never known anyone who knew exactly what constituted one, so perhaps this was one.
The third batter. I listen carefully to the loudspeaker to get his first name (Thorny). The echo makes me think this is his last name too. It would be odd to have a name like “Thorny Thorny”. But if he’s come to peace with it, then who am I to argue? I like my name, and nobody knows what to make of it except a nervous pause before pronouncing it wrong. He hits a foul ball that goes off to a fairly empty part of the stands. A young child 35 feet away from this screams and covers his head. This doesn’t need my scoring, so I write in an ‘X’. Thorny Thorny gets hit by a pitch and takes his base; I record this as ‘F’ as my backup pen dies. I don’t have a better idea for a letter to use in this context.
I try making little spirals to get the dead pen to write again while the next guy hits a grounder that makes shortstop, second base, center field, and right field converge. None of them bonk their heads into each other, a disappointment, and someone tosses a ball to first, where the runner’s tagged out. But Thorny’s on second.
My calculations say this should end the inning, but everybody’s staying where they are. They seem like reasonable professionals and like they know what they’re doing. On my card I draw a line from first to second, jot down the batter’s jersey number, and draw a circle around a 9 that I think is a position number, but has nothing whatsoever to do with whatever just happened. The next batter hits a fly to center field. I write down nothing, as I try to ponder how this has all gone wrong.
I have fun, in my way. But also don’t feel like I need to do this often.
Baseball! Say the word (baseball) and right away you’ve conjured thousands of rhapsodic essays about baseball that you won’t read. The sport attracts a lot of writing. To write you only have to be awake and have run out of everything to do except writing. To play it as a sport you need a bat and a ball and maybe like eighteen friends and crowds of tens of thousands of fans. Getting enough people together to supply concessions alone is a chore. Far easier to just write essays about how awesome it would be to play, or maybe watch, or maybe just not worry about.
Still, baseball puts up some good statistics here. Baseball enthusiasts create an average of 49.5 pretentious essays about its inherent greatness for every 12.1 that football enthusiasts create. There’s alo 62.7 essays about baseball for every 25.3 about basketball. There’s 88.5 pro-baseball essays for each 56.2 about cricket. There’s nearly two baseball essays for every one about some silly made-up sport that appears in science fiction shows. That’s a pretty good ratio for the made-up sports. But remember that lots of those essays are snarky. Their major thesis is how the games never look like anything anyone would ever plausibly do for fun, unlike real sports, a category which includes “competitive shin-kicking”.
But just that paragraph gets at some of the joy of baseball. You see even a mystical aura given to its numbers and how easily they can start arguments. Try out 61, for example, or 2632. Toss in a 755, or an 1981 if you’ve got it. If these don’t start an argument, you’re not being persistent enough. Try them again, with greater emphasis. Some numbers get so contentious that there’s nothing sensible to do except retire them. Usually only baseball teams will retire a number. But if you want to do it, go ahead and retire one yourself. If you pick some number that doesn’t get called on much, like 441, they might never catch you. The National League discovered in 1994 how someone had retired 2538 on them over five decades before and they never noticed.
Baseball enthusiasts like to embrace the sport’s mythic origins. According to those, the rules were the creation of Paul Bunyan, who wrestled John Henry’s locomotive. This dug out the finger lakes and uncovering Cooperstown. There Johnny Appleseed emerged from the ground. From this first Home Plate he would walk the Old Northwest, planting Cardiff Giants everywhere. And from these steps small semi-professional teams would grow. Then Mike Fink would come along and punch them. The legend may have grown confused in the retelling.
More serious baseball enthusiasts like to point out the game actually derives from the British game of rounders. This turns out to be fictional too. It all comes from one guy reasoning that he liked baseball now, and when he was a kid he liked rounders. So they must be the same sport at different stages in his life cycle. When he wrote it down this seemed to make sense to everybody, which shows what the standards for making sense were like back then. Please remember that “back then” was generations before baseball was so well-organized that its players could be poisoned by socks. But it inspires questions. Like, what if he had written about this rounders-baseball thing later in life, when his interests had moved on still farther?
What if we saw baseball as merely a transitional sport between baseball and holding a cane while disapproving of the young? How different would the sport be? Would it earn publicly-funded stadiums in all the major cities? Would we have teams of nine scowling old men competing to see who can most be disgusted by some youthful frivolity? Would we be tracking the range and performance of the nation’s greatest complainers? Would the 60s have seen carefully-reasoned critiques about what makes a good crack about how with their long hair you can’t tell boys from girls anymore? Would the American League in 1973 have introduced a Designated Grumbler? I don’t know, but isn’t that an experiment worth running?
My point has gotten away from me, leapt over the back fence, and is running off toward the bridge over the highway. If found please return to this address, or any other needy place which you believe will provide a good home.
Thanks for wondering what might be happening in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. I’m writing this when the Summer 2018 storyline has barely begun. So if you’re reading this too late into summer, or after Fall 2018, sorry, this won’t help. If I’ve got a more recent summary it should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for checking. And, you know, if you want to just subscribe to Another Blog, Meanwhile, and get these updates in your WordPress Reader, there’s the blue strip to “Follow Another Blog, Meanwhile” on the right side of this page. At least until I change the theme as if I could find a theme that will make me happy.
[ Record scratch. MARTY MOON, in voice-over. ] “Yup, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.”
Yes. But nobody wants to hear what passes for introspection in Marty Moon’s mind. I’ll do it instead. It started with Jorge and Paloma Padilla, transfer students fleeing Donald Trump’s enthusiastic drowning of Puerto Rico by joining Milford’s basketball teams. Marty Moon, covering a game, says Hurricane Maria was the best thing that could’ve happened to the Milford basketball team and also to “Georgie”. And talks how Georgie “earned his burritos” with that great play. How he’s a regular “Mexican jumping bean”. He figures this weird, faintly-racist-in-that-way-60s-food-mascots-could-be stuff might help the radio station land a big advertising deal from a Mexican restaurant. Paloma’s Disgruntled Students Group comes to the station to ask what the deal is. Moon mansplains that they need to remember the one key thing in the world of high-school-sports radio-journalism: shut up. So they take seats right behind Moon’s broadcast table and heckle him. He runs off.
Moon recuperates in the time-honored fashion of white guys. He whines about political correctness gone mad and determines that it’s someone else’s fault (“or I’ll eat my sombrero”). Moon identifies coach Gil Thorp as the problem. It is a common thought in Gil Thorp commenting communities that Gil Thorp doesn’t really care about what’s going on. But in this case, well, yeah. He wouldn’t intermediate between Moon and the Disgruntled Students Group. But how is students protesting Marty Moon’s racist on-air jokes any of Thorp’s responsibility? But he rallies to action, and in a way I thought crafty. He tells the Disgruntled Students Group that they shouldn’t be drowning Moon out. But also there’s no reason Marty Moon should be the only coverage of sports games.
The Disgruntled Students Group sets up the “Milford Pirate Network” on YouTube. Cute nerd Duncan Levin, wearing a pirate hat and fake parrot, narrates the game. He has the condescending nerd attitude that calls “sportsball” any game that doesn’t involve miniatures and weird-marked dice. No matter; the Milford Pirate Network’s real game is bear-baiting, and Marty Moon hopes to someday be sharp as a bear. Levin’s a hit, which, yeah, I can see. I don’t buy the strip’s claim that this would draw away people who would like to hear coverage of a high school basketball game. But I accept there’s people who don’t care about basketball who would like to watch a nerd heckling a clownish local-media personality. I’m going ahead and assuming he pads his reporting with Monty Python quotes and lines from the new Mystery Science Theater 3000 series.
But there’s still the hecklers, taking Gil Thorp at his word that the occasional outburst is normal. And Levin, poking his head in to ask if Marty Moon’s wife is a goer, knowwhudImean. And his boss complaining that this whole mess is Marty Moon’s own fault. Even Jorge has limited sympathy. It’s not that anyone threw Moon under the bus. It’s that he dug a pit for himself in the asphalt and then hugged a bus over top of himself. And then hired another bus to come and run over that bus. And then hired a third, bigger bus company to run a bus over that buspile. Then he got back to the first bus company and had them put monster truck tires on top of their tallest bus and drive it over them.
On to an away game. The Milford Pirate Network is there. Levin asks how Moon can possibly transmit without a fake parrot attached to his shirt. Moon curses out Levin live and on air, using even the # word, and gets an indefinite suspension for his troubles. Even though he totally sent an e-mail saying he apologized if there were any fragile snowflakes out there who were too sheltered in their safe spaces to able to tolerate his honest truth-telling.
The suspension has its downsides. It turns out that without Moon to heckle, Levin isn’t much of a sports commentator. I know, weird that someone who’d talk about how their big sweaty guy is better than our big sweaty guy doesn’t know how to craft a good sports narrative. But likely it would have petered out in any case. It’s easy enough to make fun of something once, maybe twice. Keeping at it after that requires work. You have to have writing skills. You have to run out of stuff to say and care about the subject enough to think of new stuff to say. And deep down, Levin doesn’t really care about basketball.
The YouTube coverage winds down. And there’s no radio coverage either, which I guess is a bad thing for the basketball team for some reason? I don’t know. This may be my background showing. I grew up in central New Jersey. A high school basketball game would not make the evening news unless something noteworthy happened, such as the Governor accidentally crashing a light aircraft into the gymnasium and transforming the six people nearest the crash site into superhero tiger-sharks, as happened in Egg Harbor City the 22nd of July, 1986.
So coach Gil Thorp puts aside his not really caring and intervenes again. Moon’s boss confirms that if they can do something that gets the Disgruntled Students Group off their backs they’ll put Moon back on the air. So Thorp goes to Paloma. He explains how this has all been jolly good fun, but now a white man is suffering a consequence. Surely she doesn’t want to be responsible for that? Which is where in this storyline I started yelling back at the comic. I may need to take a break.
But they work out a deal. The Disgruntled Students Group will drop their protest, if Marty Moon apologizes, takes an online course about Latin American history, and covers at least one girls game each season. I’m not clear if this is only girls basketball, or all the major sports. But the lack of media coverage of girls sports was mentioned, early in the story, and was one of the injustices Paloma noticed. Moon’s boss buys the deal for him. Moon says “I can’t believe you let those kids get away with this.” Thorp answers, “You sound like the villain on Scooby-Doo”. This moment endeared Thorp to me. It got the Scooby-Doo quote wrong in the way that a middle-aged guy who really doesn’t care about Scooby-Doo would. And that, with the 21st of April, ends the Marty Moon/Jorge Paloma story.
The current story, softball season, started the 23rd of April. Senior Kevin Pelwecki has got obsessive in that endearing teenager way about batting just right. And lecturing his teammates on the proper swing. Gil Thorp, spotting trouble early this time, steps in. He drills Pelwecki on batting, keeping him too busy to instruct his teammates, and away from where his teammates can flush him down a toilet. That’s all right; Pelwecki will find the time to teach his teammates about his new batting stance. In fairness, he is getting better pretty fast.
Meanwhile at school newspaper The Milford Trumpet, they have a plotline. Dafne, spunky young reporter who probably has a last name, has noticed Barry Bader. Bader’s a weirdly intense player on the team. She digs around and what she can find is interesting but incomplete. She learns that Bader’s father is in jail for killing a student while driving drunk. The story’s more complicated than that [*], but she can’t get much, since it happened the summer before I started doing these plot recaps. She figures: well, why not ask him about it? And in case of the one-in-a-million chance he doesn’t want to talk about it? Why not ask him again and again until he says something newsworthy?
[*]: While driving home drunk Bader’s father crashed his car into Milford girls’ softball star pitcher “Boo” Radley’s. Both were okay at first, but a truck that didn’t stop in time hit Radley’s car, killing her. The salient part starts here, the 2nd of June, 2016 and goes about a week. Also relevant: Bader’s father was already standing trial for driving drunk when this happened.
This goes well. A provoked Bader argues with an umpire until Thorp carries him back to the dugout. Later in the game Bader takes a runner’s slide into second as a personal affront, slugs him, and gets suspended for two games. His teammates laugh through his anger, because remember, guys are awful. Bader figures to channel his anger into interviews with Dafne. He says, “it can’t make things any worse”, apparently forgetting that he was calling his father’s judge in the first trial an “ugly cow” that someone ought to “smack” and that things said to reporters sometimes get reported. No matter; he’s busy this weekend. He’d told a bunch of Greek gods how he could perform a more beautiful melody on the lute than any of them. Now they’re going to have a little contest to see who’s right.
So we’re ready to see the interview happen. There are all sorts of ways this can go well; which will it be? I’ll know tomorrow; you’ll know, I don’t know. Next essay, probably.
Last time I shared what I knew of Milford, the story was centered on Rick Soto. Rick’s a promising offensive lineman: in just one story he’s gotten an ankle injury and taken a knee to the head. Watching over this is his uncle Gary. Gary tries to argue that Rick’s repeated injuries suggest maybe he’d be better off being the superstar singer that he wants Rick to be.
Gary presses the whole “concussions are bad stuff” angle even after the strip brings in an expert to say that Rick’s fine. This exhausts Gil Thorp’s reserve of not caring to the point that he steps up and gets someone else to google Gary Soto. He gathers Rick, Gary, and Rick’s Mom together for a conference in which he reveals the shocking facts of the situation. Gary’s law license was suspended and he’s bankrupt. His only career prospect is finding talent, eg, Rick, and managing him through his friend’s talent agency. Also Thorp brings Rick’s Dad back from his construction project in Dubai. Rick’s Dad apologizes for letting Gary get in the way of watching out for his family. And berates him for all this trying to push Rick from football into music. And throws Gary out of his house. So, uh, yeah. It may take a while to get Coach Thorp riled but when you do, you’re jobless, bankrupt, and homeless at Christmas. So maybe I’m going to go do some editing around here.
And that wraps up the Rick Soto plot, with the 1st of January. With the 2nd of January Rick announces his intention to move over to the basketball plot, which is the one we’re in now. Likely we’ll see Rick some more, but in supporting roles. One thing Gil Thorp does it keep characters around for plausible high school tenures. I list the dates because it’s weirdly useful to have the starts and ends of stories logged somewhere.
This story starts with Marty Moon, local radio sports-reporter jerkface. Moon notes the number of football players on the basketball team this year, calling it a lack of depth on the basketball team. Coach Thorp gets asked if he’s going to complain about the insult to his multi-sport athletes but remembers that he really doesn’t care.
The team’s depth problems have a temporary respite anyway. Jorge Padilla and his sister Paloma are temporary students. They’re staying with a cousin after their home in Puerto Rico was smashed by the hurricane and the Republican party. Paloma is angry in the way young student activists often are. She’s not only upset by her personal loss but by the willingness of mainland residents to be fine with abandoning Puerto Rico. Jorge is just happy to be somewhere safe and warm and playing basketball.
Paloma’s the first to play, although she can’t get through the first game without fouling out. She grumbles that the referee just keeps calling on the Puerto Rican girl. Other, whiter members of the cast roll their eyes at the implausibility of that idea. As if authority figures might disproportionately identify “problematic” behavior from a person of a minority ethnicity when they’re there to spot actual violations of the objective, clear rules about unsporting behavior. Anyway.
Jorge fits in great on the team and sees them to a couple strong showings. And then Marty Moon goes and opens his mouth, which is always his problem. “That hurricane was the best thing that could have happened for the team — and for Georgie Padilla” he says on air.
A couple students from the vaguely-focused politically-active group that Paloma’s joined visit Moon. He laughs at the idea he ought to get Jorge Padilla’s name right and besides, “I’m just trying to help him seem more American”. The kids point out (a) he is American, and (b) by the way, no, having home destroyed by a hurricane is not good for him. He considers how in an excited moment he said something pretty obnoxious. So Marty tells the kids they’re big dumb dummyheads who are big and dumb.
Here, by the way, let me share one of the about four things I’ve learned in life. Nobody has ever said of someone, “She’s a great person except for how she owns up to it and backs off like right away when you call her on her bull”. If someone’s angry that you said something insensitive and a little cruel, refusing to apologize will not ever convince them that you aren’t insensitive and cruel. If you didn’t think you were being insensitive and cruel? Typically you can, with honesty, say, “I apologize for sounding like that. It’s not what I wanted to express”. Both you and they will be better off.
In fairness to Moon, he does ask Jorge if he’s got problems with how he says his name, and Jorge doesn’t. “I don’t get into that stuff,” you know, political stuff like what his name is. I can understand not getting worked up about this. The guy who runs one of the pinball leagues I’m in has some mental block that has him keep pronouncing my name “Newbus”, and I never stop finding this amusing. Any chance that I might tire of it was obliterated at the 2017 Pinburgh tournament finals, lowest division. The tournament official announced my name as “Newbus” too. I’ve lived my whole life with my last name mispronounced. Or dropped altogether as the speaker reading my name freezes up when they somehow can’t work it out. I understand you think I am joking here but no, there’s something in the pause of public speakers what I can recognize as warming up to my name. Anyway I’m delighted that my being part of a thing is enough to make ordinary routine stuff go awry.
Paloma asks Jorge why he doesn’t care whether the sports reporter gets his name right. He says he’s got other things to think about. This is another character beat. Jorge’s got a Georgian accent and Paloma a Puerto Rican one. He explained to someone that the family moved when he was a bit older than she was. But he added the thought, also she wants to sound like that.
Next men’s basketball game Marty Moon considers the people he unintentionally offended, and doubles down. They always do. He talks about “HORR-gay Pa-dee-ya from the beautiful and utterly flawless island of Puerto Rico”. Les Nessman phones in to ask, dude, what’s your problem? Well, Marty Moon’s problem is he’s Marty Moon. It’s something Marty Moon has struggled with his whole life. Also he’s Marty Moon trying to show his power over a bunch of teenagers. Also he’s trying to help the radio station land some advertising from a Mexican restaurant. This results in an overworked, weeping neuron causing Marty to say “Padilla earned his burritos with that one” after a good field goal. “That was a two-burrito shot for Padilla.” And then, “Padilla snags the rebound! He’s like a Mexican jumping bean out there!” At this point Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder leans into frame to say, “Yeah, I’m not with him.”
So. Paloma and, if I’m not misreading it, most of the women’s basketball team take up seats behind Marty’s desk next game to chant “No More Moon” over him. (Also I don’t know if this is going to pay off. But the women’s team has noticed they never get radio coverage.) Marty scolds the kids to shut up and finds that somehow doesn’t work. He then turns to Coach Gil Thorp, telling him he’s got to make them stop. Coach Thorp digs deep into his bag of not really caring and announces he doesn’t really care. And in this case, at least, I’m not sure how it would be his business. I don’t think he’s got any responsibility for the women’s teams. He certainly hasn’t got any for the students who aren’t on any team. Marty tries to start again after halftime, and can’t. So he runs off, promising that the protesters will regret this.
And that’s where we stand. I was annoyed, some might say angry, with the end of the Rick Soto story. I expect the stories in Gil Thorp to assume that organized sports are good things that people should support. All right. But look into Rick Soto’s story. The only person who expresses doubts that football is an actually safe thing to do is presented as a scheming grifter trying to lure a kid out of football in a daft scheme to wallpaper over his own repeated personal failures and who only spreading doubts to further his own agenda. The two times that Rick got injured badly enough to need medical care? Oh, that’s nothing; he can almost walk them off.
Rubin and Whigham have an indisputable vantage point here. They can decide exactly how bad Rick Soto’s injuries are, short-term and long-term. If they’ve decided those injuries aren’t anything to be particularly concerned about, then they’re right. (And they can come back around later and change their minds.) And I trust that they know the generally accepted high-school-sports understanding of what kinds of injuries are likely to result in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. And how head injuries would be evaluated today. But I am at a point in life that when I read a story whose through-line is “EVERYTHING FINE HERE, DON’T WORRY”, I want to see how the work was done.
The Marty Moon story, meanwhile, is tromping through even stickier grounds. It’s presented Paloma as this outsider who’s stirring up trouble over issues that the real people don’t care about. Jorge doesn’t care if Marty Moon can say his name right. Nobody but her Disgruntled Students Group was shown objecting to that hurricane-was-good-for-Jorge comment. And it’s Paloma and her group actually protesting Marty Moon during a game.
So the story has a motif of “Everything would be swell if those interlopers would just stop telling people it isn’t”. It’s not an attitude I can get behind. I don’t think this is what Rubin and Whigham mean to express. Story comics work under some terrible constraints. Too many characters in any story, in any medium, confuse the audience. A story comic has maybe three or four panels a day to show anything. Readers can be expected to have forgotten or missed all but the major threads of a story. And Gil Thorp generally keeps stories to about three months long, in order that they better fit the sports seasons. Many of the things that would defuse the “we’d have nice things if only agitators stopped whining” theme are difficult to fit into the story at all. And, after all, Rubin and Whigham could have shown Marty Moon not being a jerk. At least insofar as Marty Moon is capable of non-jerk behavior. But he is the one who responded to a “hey, not cool” like he was Donald Duck noticing that Chip and Dale were sniffing around his hammock. It’s his choice to escalate the conflict. This is how you end up straitjacketed by your hammock, dangling from a tree over the edge of Death Ravine, while an angry bulldog the size of a Packard Super Eight bites at you edging your way back to safe ground all night long, and two chipmunks get to drink your lemonade. He could have saved so much effort if he’d just said yeah, sorry, he should’ve got Jorge’s name right in the first place.
So, first, no, I still haven’t seen hint of my Peanuts calendar and I haven’t heard anything from Amazon and I’m starting to think this whole “calendar” thing is a hoax anyway. Just saying.
Also, regarding Kieran Meehan’s syndicated comic strip Pros and Cons from this Tuesday: uhm. Kieran Meehan’s Pros and Cons is definitely a syndicated comic strip that exists and is not something that I make up in one of my bouts of challenging my friends to figure whether a comic strip is real or just something I’ve made up. It was originally titled A Lawyer, a Doctor, and a Cop and that should clear up any questions about it except for question about it:
Yeah, I don’t know whether the comic is in reruns or if it’s just that comic strip writers sometimes get really weird, vague ideas about when the heck their strips are going to run, especially if they’ve got a couple months ahead of deadline.
Thanks for finding me in your search for an explanation of what’s going on in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp. This is, for me, the middle of December. So if you’re reading this much past December 2017 the story might have resolved and gone on to the next, or even one after that. If it’s far enough past December 2017 there’s, I hope, a more up-to-date description of what’s going on. It should be at or near the top of this page. Good luck.
Gary’s pushed his program of getting Rick out of football and into music. His first strategy: concern-trolling. That was a great touchdown, Ricky. “Do your eyes look cloudy? Cloudy eyes can be the first signs of a major problem. You know my wife Dead Lisa died of death. And her eyes were cloudy at some point I’m going to suppose.” That doesn’t get Rick or his mother to think about dropping football.
The football season carries on like like football seasons do. There’s a couple games and the action seems to be football. I admit I’m not a football fan. I’m aware of it and only have the normal moral objections to it. But I grew up in the New York City media market in the 80s, with the Giants and the Jets, so grew up without professional football except for 1986. And I went to Rutgers, which played in the first intercollegiate football game in 1869 and is hoping to someday play in a second game. So I missed a lot of exposure back when I was young enough to learn things. When I watch football what I see is:
Somebody kicks the ball toward the field goal posts.
Somebody catches a passed ball and runs, then stops.
Everybody collides into a huge pile, and then the person with the ball runs straight into the pile as if that should help clear matters up.
After any of these there’s three yellow flags, two red flags, a checkerboard rally flag, and a Klingon insignia tossed on the field. Then everyone has to wait about eight commercials to straighten it out before the next play. It’s all jolly good fun and if you like that, please don’t let my ignorance stop you. I’d like to see if the sport could be played with less brain injuries. Anyway the talk between Coach Thorp and other people about how they’re going to improve their strategy doesn’t mean much to me. I will trust that it’s relevant to football. But I’ll defer to fans about whether it’s sensible to say, “we’re adding pieces of the veer offense. It’s sort of like the read-option, but the running back and the QB go the same way”.
Gary doesn’t understand the football talk either, and points out to Rick that cat videos are popular things and he should try going viral. Rick rolls his eyes and I did not mean that, but you’ll notice I let it stand. And now I’m curious if the whole arc was built out of Rubin or Whigham thinking of those words together and figuring “why not?” Gary suggests Rick sing the National Anthem to Coach Thorp, every ten minutes. And he offers to e-mail the suggestion more often if it’ll make this happen. Coach Thorp digs deep into his reserve of not really caring and decides he doesn’t really care. And even if he did care, he couldn’t have one of his linesmen singing the National Anthem when he’s needed right after that on the … line.
But Gary has a stroke of luck when Dead Lisa phones in a bomb threat to the airport (some December 2010 silliness in that comic). Plus, Rick has a sprained ankle and has to skip a game, so he’s free to sing. Gary arranges a camera crew. They make a video that goes viral among the National-Anthem-before-high-school-football-games crowd, a group I accept exists. Gary seeds the video with the story of how the concussed Rick wanted to sing and had a father posted overseas and all that. Rick’s father isn’t in the Army. He’s a contractor in Dubai, helping the United Arab Emirates build the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. It’s a prestige project that, when done, will allow them to smother the workers building the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete beneath the world’s largest slab of diamond-clad concrete. Rick’s annoyed, Gary’s proud, and Rick’s mother is a person who exists and has feelings about all this, I would imagine. Rick’s father might, too.
In his next game Rick takes a knee to the helmet, when Gary arranges to have a squad of knees thrown at Rick’s helmet. The team doctor doesn’t see any reason Rick shouldn’t keep playing. But Gary explains how they should cover Rick in a soft, protective layer of foam and bury him in a cube of feathers eight feet across to rush to the hospital. And his new round of concern-trolling does give Rick’s mother reason to doubt this football stuff is a good idea. Rick’s pediatrician says this looks all right. And a concussions expert says Rick’s all right. So Gary has to go back to the closet of Dead Lisa videotapes to see what advice she has about quitting football and being a professional singer.
And that’s where we have gotten: to multiple people in this comic strip about sports issues saying “don’t worry about all those blows to the head”. Part of me is sympathetic: we should act on realistic estimates of risk. To respond to a long time of under-estimating the risk of head injuries with a period of over-estimating the risk does not make things better. But part of me also thinks: there’s a lot of money which would very much like it to be believed football-caused head traumas aren’t so bad. If nevertheless we’ve heard they’re this bad, they’re likely worse. I will accept the author’s intention that Rick’s injuries are routine and unthreatening. And that the medical professionals who’ve cleared him repeatedly are acting according to the best evidence they have. Neal Rubin would know. It’s still a weird tone. The premise of the athlete being pushed out of sports by a noodge of a relative is good enough. I would feel less weird about it if it weren’t about football-caused head injuries. I feel weird that my essay about all this has been so merry, considering.
But that’s where things stand for the middle of December, 2017. The story feels at least a couple weeks away from resolution to me. I’d expect the basketball-season story to start in around a month, unless there’s a major twist coming. And we’ll see; sometimes they happen. The softball-season story took such a major twist last year. These things happen.
2019. Highly disappointing opening of the canal between the fifth and the second floors of the West Mall in Bukit Batok, Singapore, with critics saying the whole system seems to be “just a slightly large elevator” and “not really better than riding a couple escalators would be”. The complaints are harsh but fair because riding escalators is a really grand thing. If there were some way to fix the problems of having to step onto or off of them then we’d really have something.
2020. The Internet has one of those weird spasms where everybody gets hung up on how the Dreamland amusement park in Margate, Kent, England, was renamed “Benbom Brothers Theme Park” in the 1980s just because that sounds like the name you’d create if you were in the 90s and doing a bad translation of a Japanese RPG. Within 14 hours, it passes, leaving no harm done.
2026. The “Inbox Zero” e-mail productivity fad gives way to the “Inbox Infinity” model as this turns out to be a great deal easier for everyone and their nerves needed it by this point.
2064. Last specific reprinting of Art Buchwald’s column about introducing Thanksgiving to the French, which is a shame since that bit about translating Miles Standish’s name as “Kilometres Deboutish”? That’s solid enough.
2065. Mutual occultation of Venus and Jupiter happens, two days late, following last-minute negotiations when the planets can’t agree about whether it should be the occultation of Venus by Jupiter or of Jupiter by Venus, and a furious debate on the Wikipedia talk page about “Crayons”, where the debate somehow settled in a process people were still trying to explain to their great-grandchildren.
2085. We fix the problem of having to step onto or off of escalators with the invention of shoes that can’t get caught in the teeth of those things but keep you pretty stable when you’re stepping into the belt.
2121. Bigfoot’s job hunt lands him a career as the mascot for the Jersey Devils. He lasts nearly eight years at the post before going on to greater fame as the official public greeter for Baltimore, Maryland (starting the 26th of July, 2129) and sees the Devils to two World Series appearances when their bus gets lost.
2200. The Universal Postal Union agrees that next year shall be 2200: The Gold Edition”, although it will be labelled as “2201” for the sake of not breaking anyone’s database software.
2243. 186th anniversary of the 24th of November, 2057, passes without turmoil but with many people asking “Huh?” and “Why?” and “This is a thing because of why?”
2371. Deep in a star system nearly 75,000 light-years from Earth the locals begin producing a program known as Star Trek: Voyager. It’s purely coincidence, though, as the vastness of the universe and the enormity of the number of peopled worlds and the relatively small number of sounds that are likely to be made into words cause a program that happens to have that name without actually being a remake or continuation of the United Paramount Network classic program. It is in fact a shot-for-shot remake of Star Trek: The Original Series except in this one Lieutenant Uhura gets along great with Elaan, the Dohlman of Elas, and critics say this one little change drastically improves the whole body of work.
2618. After years, maybe a decade, of cruel taunting about what work it does exactly that ‘S’ and ‘K’ don’t do just as well the letter ‘C’ declares it’s had enough and leaves the alphabet. While people are able to carry on mostly fine, what with having both ‘S’ and ‘K’ there, it does leave words such as “church” pretty well stuck. The letter ‘J’ steps up to remind everyone that it could totally do the hard ‘ch’ sound, and is told to sit down because it’s done “so much already” and is really appreciated “right where it is” by letters that are rolling their eyes.
4211. No end of discussion about the way the dates of the year line up, if you’re in the United States, and a lot of arguing that the United States way of listing the dates is just stupid and dumb and wrong. By the time it’s over very few people are still talking to each other. It’s a good way to figure out who you need to stop interacting with, though. Consider it.
I’m not saying I’m not still wondering about that pretend football game’s scoreboard. This is the one at the Cherry Republic store in Traverse City, Michigan. Fun place, lots of cherry-based food things you can put in your mouth if you so desire.
Anyway besides the football scoreboard and a bunch of mocked up movie posters with bear or cherry stuff inserted into it, they’ve got a pretend old-timey baseball scoreboard and it looks like this, because this is a picture of it:
So. Yes, I am incredibly disturbed that the home-team Cherries are put on the top of the scoreboard there. I’ve seen this sort of thing done in like high school ballparks and football … parks … and stuff and it always looks unsetting and wrong. Never mind that. Here’s my question.
After eight innings the visiting Apples had nine runs, and the home-team Cherries had 11. That’s a plausible enough score and it sure looks like it was a fun game to that point. But then, and this has been bothering me for four months now, is: why did the Cherries play their ninth inning?
Yes, yes, I know. Up until the 1950 revisions of the rules of baseball the home team could choose whether to bat first or second. And maybe this scoreboard’s just been up there since that time in 1946 when the Cherries manager figured going first would be a great way to throw the Apples’ manager off. Of course I thought of that. But even I don’t buy it. What is going on?
The 17th of July saw the start of a new storyline, one that took nearly two months to unfold. It features Heather Burns, a student who’s likely to be a great trainer or coach someday, and Jaquan Case, an alumni of Gil Thorp here for his tenth-anniversary storyline. I should say, I was not reading Gil Thorp with enough attention ten years ago to say whether Case really was a basketball star in the strip back then. It would make sense if he were. The comic has a surprisingly strong continuity. Stars of one storyline often appear as supporting players in a later one, and even make cameos after that. So I will accept Case as someone who was probably part of the basketball stories in the mid-2000s.
And then, mm. Well. There’s events. I just never got into the story. Case and his friend Trey Davis, another ex-comic-strip-character now working as a private coach, hang around the kids playing coach some. And Case is working through some stuff. He’s doing fine in the NBA, but he’s feeling like he lost something when he quit football sophomore year of college. Case wants to move back into football. A couple sessions with True Standish, a more current Gil Thorp quarterback, suggests that yeah, if he really worked at it, Case could be a plausible football player.
So, with this, Coach Thorp makes his excuses to be somewhere not involving athletes having personal problems. Heather Burns steps up, figuring out during a series of workout sessions that Case’s real problem is he doesn’t feel people’s expectations of him in basketball are in line with his idea of himself. So she does some digging and works out that Case could definitely get his Master’s degree in US History, a thing he would totally want. Maybe even go on to a PhD. He even gets ideas of maybe becoming a professor, which shows that even professional athletes in the major leagues who could plausibly switch to another major league have comically unrealistic career dreams. And Case shows his gratitude by hooking Burns up with someone at Iowa who might be able to get her a coaching gig.
And that, the 9th of September, closes out a storyline that really looks like it was something happening. But reading it daily, ugh. It just felt like people standing near sports equipment talking about how they might do a different sport instead. And it seemed to go nowhere. Every day I looked at the strip and all I saw was eight months of wandering through Featureless Manhattan in the final year of Apartment 3-G. I think the core trouble might be the premise. 30-year-old professional athlete who feels adrift going back to the High School Coach Who Made All The Difference for advice? Plausible. Getting life advice from the 17-year-old teenage girl with a talent for coaching who knows that she’ll never get a real job at it? Less so.
OK. So. The 11th saw the new storyline start. It features Rick Soto, who yields to his Uncle Gary’s pressure to play at the Elks Club Talent Show. There, apparently, his version of “Mack the Knife” steals the show. If I haven’t missed anything they haven’t said what instrument Rick plays, but that’s all right. He’s also a left tackle, which gives the Gil Thorp comic strip jurisdiction over his life story. Also, Coach Thorp is for the first time testing his players for brain function. This seems to set up a storyline about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is certainly the sort of thing this comic strip should talk about. (I do wonder, too, if the current moral imperative to Take A Knee won’t disrupt whatever Rubin and Whigham have planned.) But two weeks in there’s no guessing where any of that might go. I just include this so I have the first paragraph written of my next Gil Thorp plot summary written.
My love and I spent last weekend at the State Games of America in Grand Rapids. We were in the pinball competition because there’s a pinball-contest organizer who’s a genius at getting bigger events to host pinball tournaments on the side. The pinball competition was in Ballroom B, as were the darts and the billiards contests. There was also a bar set up in the ballroom. I honestly don’t know if there was supposed to be or if gathering enough pinball, darts, and billiards players in one room caused it to spontaneously manifest.
In the fourth corner of the room they also had a boxing ring. That was inspirational, watching people holding up the championship belt. Boxing championship belts combine two great traditional guy interests, that of celebrating our ability to hit one another and that of celebrating how we can do take something ordinary and make it so large and dramatic that it’s useless for its original purpose of controlling the rate at which our pants fall down.
It turned out Michigan’s were the National State Games and the organizer told us that while Michigan residents could just show up and compete, residents of other states had to win their own state games first. I looked this up and it’s slightly off, not in important ways. If your state has games in that sport you’re supposed to win that first before going on to nationals. But per their Qualifying Standards document:
Due to National Congress of State Games neighboring state policy, athletes residing in Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Ontario, Canada are allowed to compete in SGA 2017 without qualification
My obvious question: so, wait, Wisconsin doesn’t border Michigan suddenly? Guess not. But Wisconsin only borders the upper peninsula, the whole population of which is abandoned copper mining platforms sinking into contaminated lakes. I can understand overlooking that. Not answered: Wait, so Illinois borders Michigan somewhere?
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index dropped nine points as the trading floor felt mixed emotions following the City Council primary vote. On the one hand, the guy whose campaign site was just one page, half of it a picture of Neptune, won’t be in the November election. On the other hand, we ain’t voting for a novelty-act candidate for anythingever again and we’re going to kick in the shins anyone who says they are, thank you.
Greetings, high school-ish sports-like fans. If you’re looking for a recap of what’s happening in Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp good news! You’re in a reasonably right spot. If you’re reading this much later than July 2017, then there’s a good chance they’re on to a new story and one that I might have recapped yet. The most recent essay describing plot developments should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for reading and we’ll see you not in the playdowns.
17 April – 8 July 2017
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp typically runs in seasons, matching the major sports seasons. In April it began the softball-season storyline. This featured two plot threads: transfer student Ryan van Auken, who’s overcome his anger issues and large face to pitch rather well, and Dafne, reporter at the school’s Milford Trumpet, uncovering a school board official padding his expense accounts. Now on to the action.
Ryan pitches pretty well, closing out one win. Guys from the track and field team meet up with girls from Central High, who after some trash-talking their sport get into some light dating. And then action heats up when Dafne gets the anonymous tip to ask why it was Ryan transferred from a private high school to the public Milford.
She finds the answer: he hit a girl, during an argument, and by the time the scandal shook out he had to transfer. Her editor is interested, but doesn’t think it’s a story they can run, what with Ryan being a high-profile athlete and his victim only being a girl or something. Well, her editor puts it in a better-sounding way: there’s no police report, there’s no charges, their whole idea of what happened comes from social media gossip at his old high school, and that’s not a lot to hang a story that could trash Ryan’s life on. I’m skeptical of the “won’t someone please think of the star athlete’s career prospects?” line of reasoning. I am open to the argument that it’s not obvious that whatever did happen between two underage people should necessarily be broadcast to the world.
Word of the story leaks out when she leaks the story out to friends who promise not to spread gossip. Protesters start popping up with banners showing the girl he’d hit and signs like “Remember Me?” When this rattles Ryan into completely blowing a game Gil Thorp sighs mightily and decides he has to ask what the heck’s going on and why it should involve him. Ryan’s parents explain: the pictured girl, Alyssa, was Ryan’s girlfriend at the private school. In a fight, according to his parents, Ryan tried to push her out of the way and caught her cheek instead. Ryan admitted he shouldn’t have done that; Alyssa agreed it wasn’t hitting, but by the time the story got around school it was battery.
So, they moved to a new neighborhood, new school, and Ryan went to anger management classes and to counseling. Meanwhile, Dafne argues that the protests make Ryan’s past a legitimate story. When the editor quashes the story, Dafne quits the paper, which is the sort of principled stand I’m sorry I didn’t take when the editor of my middle-school newspaper wouldn’t run my detailed report of the student walkout that year. Well, it was the last month of eighth grade anyway; quitting wouldn’t even have had a symbolic effect. Still …
Anyway, Gil Thorp calls on Central High School’s Coach Skip Farrow to figure out who the protest ringleaders are, and since they’re all seniors they can rest assured the problem will cure itself and Ryan can have at least one trouble-free year. And then he calls the protest leaders to explain that they’re all quite sure Ryan made a mistake and is incredibly sorry about it, which is sure to clear up the whole sorry mess.
Or perhaps dramatic irony will: while hanging out Milford’s Gary Meola admits to Central’s Carrie Hobson that he’s only there so Jimmy can get some time with Dafne. Dafne’s furious that Gary was putting her on, and shoves Jimmy out of the way in order to comfort her best friend. This … somehow … results in Jimmy getting a black eye, which he excuses as “I ran into a door and shut up”. He passes along as many apologies as he can to Dafne and now we understand why the track-and-field guys are even in this story. And that’s about where events rest today.
Baseball! And with a word (baseball) you’ve summoned a spirit (of baseball) renowned for its ability to talk about baseball. There are many rivals for the attention of American sports enthusiasts out there, but none come close in getting people writing rhapsodic essays about baseball. The average baseball game inspires fourteen essays about its greatness. The average football game barely gets more than two essays about the greatness of baseball written. The average hockey game does even worse, inspiring just five people to stand at the window and shout “I like baseball gloves!” And that’s before we start tracking those silly made-up sports they put in science fiction shows or movies that never look even faintly like someone plays them.
It’s easy to understand baseball’s appeal. It fuses two elements: the desire of people to hit a thing with a stick, and the desire of people to not run all that far before stopping. The bases are baseball’s greatest innovation since they promise that you have a built-in reason to stop running. People are a lot like guinea pigs that way, and vice-versa. I bet guinea pigs would love playing baseball if they had some effective way to bat. I know what you’re thinking: couldn’t they hold the bat in their teeth? I say: good luck to that. No guinea pig I’ve ever known (there’ve been like 22 of them) wouldn’t chew the bat to pieces.
Oh, maybe if they had aluminum bats. Yes, that would work. Now the question shifts to why it is we don’t see leagues of guinea pigs playing baseball. Or why we don’t if we look down, since guinea pigs aren’t all that tall. My guess: they have trouble pitching. So if we could just adapt the technologies of tee-ball to guinea pigs their play could sweep the nation. At least I bet it would get like thousands of views on YouTube.
The origins of baseball are shrouded in mystery and are imponderable and unknowable as long as nobody looks them up. When we do look them up we find that people thought baseball grew out of an English game called “rounders”. Rounders, it turns out, is just what they called baseball when the guy who first said baseball grew out of rounders was a kid. Anyway, the whole baseball/rounders thing got muddled up in the late 19th century when followers of Madame Blavatsky tried to mythologize an anti-English origin for the game and found a suitable Theosophist in Abner Doub … wait, am I doing a bit here? I can’t have this right. I mean, Madame Blavatsky? What am I even doing there? You know what this is? This is what stuffing in an allegedly hi-larious word to shore up a dull sentence looks like if you’re a know-it-all type. I don’t know how to recover. Maybe something about Madame Blavatsky contacting the spirits of baseball.
If you’re plagued by baseball spirits know that you can handle many of them by retiring a number. Originally only baseball teams themselves could retire a number, but it turns out the way the rules are worded you can do it yourself. I understand if you’re not sure about this. I never feel sure about anything I do for the first time. If you want to practice try retiring a number that won’t be called on for a while. That way by the time they even notice your pick it’ll have been retired for so long they won’t have the courage to change it. The National League was stunned last year to learn that someone had retired 32,054 on them back in 1942, and while they still grumble about it they don’t even consider reversing the decision.
You can retire a number simply by writing it on a big circle and then sticking it to a green or blue wall. Face the number side out, lest galvanic corrosion (the most corrosive of the galvanics) weaken the joists or halberds or whatever it is holds a wall up. Fo’c’sles? Something like that. Note that this has to be done with a real circle and wall. I know you’re tempted to just whip something up with a web site or maybe an app. Try that and your retirement will count, which is exactly what you do not want a retired number to do. Ask your spirits. Most of them have retirement all worked out, and it’s nice chatting with anyone who’s done worked out anything.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index dropped two points despite confirmation from someone who drove past it on the way to the bookstore yesterday that the ice cream place is too open this early in the year.
When last I checked in on the goings-on of Milford school coach Gil Thorp and his band of students it was basketball season. The story was about Aaron Aagard, who’s 46% punchable, 51% charming for a teenager and 3% basketball phenomenon or something. It’s a good enough mix. His problem was he was really good some days, really bad some others, and he’s known to go to raves even in whole other towns. Some teammates overheard he was “taking Molly”. My “hep” “cat” informants assure me this is how “the kids” refer to the ecstasy when they “rap” about drug habits. Aagard had promised Coach Thorp he’d clear up their misunderstanding. I predicted it would turn out he was taking his “generically-disabled niece or something” Molly to the raves.
Shows what I know; Molly O’Herlihy is his girlfriend who totally exists and all, he just doesn’t want to show her off because you know how teenage boys are. There’s no group less prone to ostentatious displays of deployed heterosexuality. Thorp tells Aagard’s teammates to stop trying to figure out his deal, so they continue trying to figure out his deal. They have a breakthrough when they realize Aagard lives in an apartment far below his mother’s standing as an actuary. It’s good thinking on their part. Any mathematics major who’s bought his department’s propaganda will tell you how actuaries are just rolling in cash. If I ever need a quick 25 grand I just have to walk down to the business district and mutter about how I’ve got an advanced degree in mathematics and then, like, Jackson Life Insurance supposes I might be an actuary and they should pay me something just to be safe.
Coach Thorp, roused into something like action, checks in on Aagard’s mother. She’s not even actuarying, just doing bookkeeping for a couple small businesses. Aaron Aagard, deploying the sort of pacing that indicates he thinks he’s the charming star of an occasionally-serious three-camera sitcom, explains that the problem is not drugs. It’s drugs. His mother’s opioid habit. So he does well when there’s enough money in the house for, like, food and all. This leaves Thorp some unpleasant responsibilities. Thorp tries to figure out what he can do without screwing up Aagard’s life all the more. It’s not like he can even just pass Aagard some money to get groceries without inviting a world of scandal. So he covers where he can, inviting his student for one-on-one dinners in public areas.
After being fed enough pie and I’m going to go ahead and assume cheese fries, Aagard consents to turning his mom in to the Actuary Police. Before she’s taken off to answer sumptuary charges of living beneath her actuarial station she gets to see one last, and first, basketball game starring Aaron. Pressured, he has a lousy game, at least until Thorp points out that as a person with advanced mathematical skills and training, Tina Aagard completely lacks the ability to tell whether a basketball player is doing well or badly. I agree, although the boo-ing from the rest of the audience might clue her in. Anyway, with that reassurance Aagard finishes up decently and goes into foster care with one of the teammates who did so much to change the set of hassles he’s dealing with.
Got to say, honestly, I did enjoy the story. I’m snarking about it because it’s more fun to recap stuff with a little silliness. The pacing was decent, the star was appealing, and Thorp got to be charmingly exasperated with the kids who insisted on figuring out what Aagard’s deal was. And the underlying problem was credible, and that the characters were stuck in their situation made sense too. It wasn’t anybody being stupid, just, stuck over their heads in a situation that just grew bad.
April started softball season. Its plot starts with student reporters for the Milford Journal discovering the school board’s vice-president way padding his expense accounts and he gets all angry at them for doing this. I understand. When I travel for work I live in fear the company’s going to decide I’m indulging my hedonism at their expense. And I fly United. Meanwhile in sports, transfer-student pitcher Ryan van Auken reveals that he’s handled his anger issues by putting that energy into having a large face. That’s been about all the time we’ve had for this story so far, so I don’t figure to predict where it might be going. When there’s updates, I’ll pass them along. Thank you.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index fell two points over wait Princess Lolly of Candy-Land was removed from office when Queen Frostine became a Princess herself ? Also there was a Princess Lolly? Also wait, since when are there even characters in Candy-Land? What do you mean since 1984? What is with reality anymore? What?
So you know that extreme ping-pong sport where the competitors and table are all suspended from a beam extended from a skyscraper, far above ground? Sure, we’re all interested in that. OK, so apparently the dream world wants me to see a documentary about the crews that set up and test the harness and frames to make the game safe and playable. Including some daring footage of how they lasso a steel beam to get the first elements installed. And I’m not all that bothered by heights, but you want to see people tossing cables out to grab a steel beam 400 feet up some North Korean(?) skyscraper and I’m starting to get nervous.
The dream also included some relevant segments from one of those odd little 20-minute making-of documentaries narrated by that deep-voiced guy which they used to make for 60s and 70s films so that … decades in the future Turner Classic Movies would have some filler. I don’t know what their business model was. Anyway, they included clips from that because a lot of the fundamental technology for skyscraper-suspended ping-pong was developed for the famous(?) zipline sequence of John Wayne’s Chisum, a movie that I will now go my entire life without seeing, thank you very much.
I understand it might be odd to make a life choice, including a small one like whether to ever see Chisum, on the basis of a dream like that. But it was a documentary in my dream and therefore must be accurate.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index rose twelve points today out of fears that — wait, no, it doesn’t rise on fears. It rises on hopes. Must have got something caught in the copy filter. Let’s try again. The index rose twelve points today out of hopes that there were grasshoppers in the basement and getting up higher would avoid the issue. Ah, yes, I see where the ‘fears’ comes in then. Some people are just afraid of grasshoppers, is all. That’s normal-ish. Carry on.
I’m sorry, bunch of fun pinball friends with whom we got together after league at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant to figure out what vegetarians could eat there. (We could have the Diet Coke, or we could lick the clean silverware.) But the TV was showing the World’s Strongest Man competition and I couldn’t help it. If I understood things right they flew six pyramid-shaped men to Nairobi so they could lift a wooden Viking boat. I don’t know why. Maybe Nairobi over-invested in Viking boat making and the Nairobi Viking Boat Industrial Board thought having some large men lifting them was just what they needed to get through the downturn. But you can see how watching that would be more fascinating than hearing even the latest gossip about the state’s competitive pinball community. And if you don’t, then consider that the next event was pairs of men going out and lifting giant stone balls to put atop cylinders. And that’s not even counting the harness set up to lift and set down Toyota Borings. In short, I may have a new favorite pastime, and it’s watching very big men picking things up. Send help.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index returned to 102 today as investors believed they might have left their keys behind. The keys turned out to be in the other pocket and everyone had a good chuckle about this.
With Judge Parker last week I’ve wrapped up all the syndicated story comics that have had major changes in the writing or art staff recently, by which I mean within like the last five years. But there are more story strips out there, and chatting with my Twitter friends suggest people find them baffling. Plus, what the heck, these pieces are popular.
I want to share a bit about a piece of art that did that most precious of things: make a lifelong (so far) change in my attitude about something. It wasn’t Gil Thorp. It was this high school comedy/drama called Ed. One episode Ed was trying to help a bright student get a scholarship, and needed just a slightly higher grade in gym. Surely his colleague would help him help out a bright kid who just didn’t care about phys ed, right? “Yeah,” said the coach, “because it’s not like I’m a real teacher or anything.” (Something like that, anyway.) It stung Ed, and it stung me, because the coach was right. I’d sneered at gym class, mostly because it seemed to be 86 weeks per year of Jumping Jacks Only More Boring and twelve minutes of things someone might actually do, like softball or volleyball or archery or stuff. And because even as a kid I had the dynamic physique of a medieval cathedral, only with tighter hamstrings.
But the coach was right. If school has a point it’s to make people familiar at least with all the major fields of human endeavor. And being able to be healthy and active is part of that. It’s as real and serious a subject as the mathematics or English or arts or science or music classes are. (In the episode, Ed came back humbled, and the gym teacher allowed the student to earn the “needed” grade by doing extra work.) And that’s stuck with me. I may not much care for sports, but that’s my taste. I should extend to it, and its enthusiasts, the same respect I give enthusiasts for other stuff I’m just not into.
Gil Thorp has not changed my attitudes on anything important nearly like that. The comic strip — which dates back to 1958 — has been written by Neal Rubin since 2004 Wikipedia tells me. It’s been drawn by Rod Whigham since 2008. So they’ve got the hang of what they want to do. There are other comic strips set in schools, such as Jef Mallet’s nearly joke-a-day Frazz and Tom Batiuk’s continuity-comedy-bathos Funky Winkerbean. But this is the only story strip that I guess gets into newspapers that’s set in high school. It’s also the only sports-themed story strip, and one of only a few remaining sports-themed comics at all. Why this should have survived and, say, Flash Gordon didn’t I don’t know, but what the heck.
Rubin and Whigham have a pretty clear idea what they want to do. Pretty much every season of the year has a story about the season’s appropriate sporting activity. One or two student-athletes, often new people but sometimes characters who were supporting players previous years, dominate the storyline. They go through some shenanigans trying to be students, or athletes, or teens. The important thing here is that they are teens, and even smart teenagers are kind of dumb. Eventually they’re dumb enough that Coach Gil Thorp has to call him in to their office and explain to them to knock it off, which they mostly do. On to the next season. Often the starts of one storyline reappear as supporting players in later storylines, for a year or two. This implies Rubin and Whigham keep careful continuity records so they know when each student entered the school, what they played, how they were doing, when they left and under what circumstances. I admire the craftsmanship involved.
Dumbness is important. The Gil Thorp kids don’t tend to be stupid in malicious or obnoxious ways. Just dumb in the way that people who aren’t used to thinking through the situation are. For example, a few storylines ago the problem was one of the athletes getting the idea in his head that ADHD medicine would help his performance. So he pressured one of the kids who has Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder to share his medicine. After resisting a while, the pressured student starts passing along … aspirins with the name filed off. The kid buys it. It’s the sort of thing that you do when you grow up thinking you’re in a sitcom filmed before a live studio audience and this is the sort of thing that makes the tense audience gasp and then applaud. When Thorp finally found out, he suspended both, on the correct grounds that they were being dumb. Well, that one was trying to get drugs off another student, and that student was passing him drugs, even if harmless ones.
That’s pretty much the way things go, though. There’s kids puttering along into mostly minor scrapes, as followed by updates in-between sporting events. There’s a developing crisis in which Gil Thorp is finally pulled into the storylines of his own strip to tell everyone to knock it off. And there’s the steady beat of how the team finishes the season in football (in the autumn), basketball (in the winter), softball (in the summer), and whatever sport catches Rubin’s fancy (in the summer). Sometimes it’s the boys’ team that gets the focus, sometimes the girls’. Sometimes the story involves trading off the focus. Now and then the teams get into the playoffs, or as the dialect of wherever the school is has it, “playdowns”, sometimes they fall short. They do well enough that nobody really calls for Thorp to resign. Perhaps they know that would end the comic. Or end their part in it, since he’d presumably go on to some other high school to sort of coach.
There will be surprises. 2016’s spring storyline grew to encompass all summer when one of the students was hit and killed in a messy, stupid car accident. Given the genially dopey nature of what had been going on before, a dose of actual blood was shocking. It scrambled my expectations. Good that I could have expectations and that they could break them in a credible way.
So, the current storyline. It’s about new basketball team star Aaron Aagard. He’s a solid player, a good student, charming in a weird way. At least he’s trying to be. I don’t know how you feel about 17-year-olds who make excuses to juggle. Anyway, that’s all on his good days. On his bad days he’s distracted, unconnected, and maybe falling asleep. Perhaps he’s just exhausted. He goes to raves, even on school nights, which is the sort of low-key scandalous behavior that fits the Gil Thorp worldview.
Maybe a bigger problem is some of his teammates overheard him talking about “taking Molly”. They believe that’s slang for ecstasy. Maybe it is. I don’t know. I’m what the hep kids call “a square”. So while I don’t know I’m willing to accept that any otherwise unaccounted-for word is slang for ecstasy. The kids think it over and after Aagard has a couple more unreliable days they pull the coach in. This seems early. The story only started the 12th of December. Maybe the story’s going to spin out in stranger ways. Maybe they want to start softball season early.
Aagard said if he could just have a few days he’d clear up this whole “taking Molly” thing. That’s again the sort of dumb thing you do if you think you’re living in a three-camera sitcom and setting up a big reveal that Molly is your generically-disabled niece or something. Thorp seems to have gone along with that, which is dumb. Unless Aagard explained stuff off-panel and clearing this up is about explaining it to his teammates. Which I expect, but could be wrong about.
Someone on, I think, the Comics Curmudgeon blog found there actually is a region of the United States where the high school sports postseason is called the “playdowns”. I forget what the region is. But, hey, I’ve been places where they label water fountains “bubblers”. I can take “playdowns”. It says something about Rubin’s determination to stick to a specific kind of craft that he’s holding on to the term “playdown”. Nobody would complain if they switched to “playoff” like everybody else says. People would stop making jokes about the comic’s little weirdness in saying “playdown”. Rubin’s decided the comic strip will be what it is, even if they’re made fun of for it. That’s an important thing to take out of high school too.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index dropped five points as traders reported a night of unsteady, broken sleep, constantly interrupted by thoughts of Donald Trump and the theme song to Vacation being stuck in their heads. The editorial staff extends their deepest condolences.
While writing yesterday’s bit, I looked up Madison Square Garden on Wikipedia. I probably had some good reason. It mentioned one of the teams that had played there, from 1977 to 1978, was the New York Apples of the WTT. Also, there’s something called a WTT. Or was, anyway.
WTT in this case is World TeamTennis, which I never heard of before. And it turns out World TeamTennis is still a thing, even though it was apparently developed in the 70s as a mixed-team professional tennis league. Its history is way too complicated to follow. If I follow right it started up in 1974 with a bajillion teams, then narrowly escaped extinction in 1978 by shedding the space between “team” and “tennis”, and since then tries to open and close teams before anybody can catch them. And its focus has remained, admirably, the picking of the worst possible names for teams.
I mean, team names for minor league sports are always awful. But World TeamTennis seems to be going for the awful team names championship. Among teams Wikipedia claims existed at least long enough to fold:
Golden Gate Otters (never played, although maybe they turned into the San Francisco Golden Gaters)
Los Angeles Strings
New York Sportimes
Orange County Breakers
San Diego Buds
San Diego Swingers
Springfield (Missouri) Lasers
I am delighted. And that doesn’t even mention the New York OTBzz, whose logo featured an angry bee with a raquet. Well, they turned into the New York Sportimes, after a year as the Schenectady County Electrics. They played in Schenectady all the while I was in grad school, in Troy, New York, and I never even knew. This is the value of Wikipedia: it lets you know how you missed odd stuff years after it’s too late to do anything about.
Instead of city names, especially your city name. Or the name of a beloved celebrity who’s either died or declared that the people complaining about an incredibly racist thing he said are the true racists.
Change a word so a title means something else.
Fit a pop culture thing into some other pop culture thing and maybe say it’s just like your workplace.
Here’s a real word given a fake definition.
Assonance Day Of The Week!
Making Something More 80s, possibly by adding that crashing-synthesizer-piano sting from Yes’s Owner Of A Lonely Heart.
Dogs are awesome. Look at this one!
A sports team has traded a person for something that seems at first odd, like the promise of a future person or the chance to name a dog or perhaps a large bowl of tapioca. Maybe some carpeting. I don’t know. Someone with more characters to explain can explain why this makes perfect sense for everybody involved and two-thirds of the people who aren’t but it’ll still sound odd.
Somebody found a stream of the Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling cartoon from 1985 and we can’t stop talking about that because good lord is this episode really titled Ali Bano and the 40 Geeks? Oh, this is gonna hurt.
There’s something in space and we know about it!
Yeah, dogs are great but look at this bunny! Seriously!
It’s always fun to read a review of a book that amused someone in ways they didn’t intend. Here, from Love Conquers All, is a review Robert Benchley wrote of a chess memoir.
CONFESSIONS OF A CHESS CHAMPION
With the opening of the baseball season, the sporting urge stirs in one’s blood and we turn to such books as My Chess Career, by J R Capablanca. Mr Capablanca, I gather from his text, plays chess very well. Wherein he unquestionably has something on me.
His book is a combination of autobiography and pictorial examples of difficult games he has participated in and won. I could understand the autobiographical part perfectly, but although I have seen chess diagrams in the evening papers for years, I never have been able to become nervous over one. It has always seemed to me that when you have seen one diagram of a chessboard you have seen them all. Therefore, I can give only a superficial review of the technical parts of Mr Capablanca’s book.
His personal reminiscences, however, are full of poignant episodes. For instance, let us take an incident which occurred in his early boyhood when he found out what sort of man his father really was — a sombre event in the life of any boy, much more so for the boy Capablanca.
“I was born in Havana, the capital of the Island of Cuba,” he says, “the 19th of November, 1888. I was not yet five years old when by accident I came into my father’s private office and found him playing with another gentleman. I had never seen a game of chess before; the pieces interested me and I went the next day to see them play again. The third day, as I looked on, my father, a very poor beginner, moved a Knight from a white square to another white square. His opponent, apparently not a better player, did not notice it. My father won, and I proceeded to call him a cheat and to laugh.”
Imagine the feelings of a young boy entering his father’s private office and seeing a man whom he had been brought up to love and to revere moving a Knight from one white square to another. It is a wonder that the boy had the courage to grow up at all with a start in life like that.
But he did grow up, and at the age of eight, in spite of the advice of doctors, he was a frequent visitor at the Havana Chess Club. As he says in describing this period of his career, “Soon Don Celso Golmayo, the strongest player there, was unable to give me a rook.” So you can see how good he was. Don Celso couldn’t give him a rook. And if Don Celso couldn’t, who on earth could?
In his introduction, Mr Capablanca (I wish that I could get it out of my head that Mr Capablanca is possibly a relation of the Casablanca boy who did the right thing by the burning deck. They are, of course, two entirely different people) — in his introduction, Mr Capablanca says:
“Conceit I consider a foolish thing; but more foolish still is that false modesty that vainly attempts to conceal that which all facts tend to prove.”
It is this straining to overcome a foolish, false modesty which leads him to say, in connection with his matches with members of the Manhattan Chess Club. “As one by one I mowed them down without the loss of a single game, my superiority became apparent.” Or, in speaking of his “endings” (a term we chess experts use to designate the last part of our game), to murmur modestly: “The endings I already played very well, and to my mind had attained the high standard for which they were in the future to be well known.” Mr Capablanca will have to watch that false modesty of his. It will get him into trouble some day.
Although this column makes no pretense of carrying sporting news, it seems only right to print a part of the running story of the big game between Capablanca and Dr O S Bernstein in the San Sebastian tournament of 1911. Capablanca wore the white, while Dr Bernstein upheld the honor of the black.
The tense moment of the game had been reached. Capablanca has the ball on Dr Bernstein’s 3-yard line on the second down, with a minute and a half to play. The stands are wild. Cries of “Hold ’em, Bernstein!” and “Touchdown, Capablanca!” ring out on the frosty November air.
Brave voices are singing the fighting song entitled “Capablanca’s Day” which runs as follows:
“Oh, sweep, sweep across the board,
With your castles, queens, and pawns;
We are with you, all Havana’s horde,
Till the sun of victory dawns;
Then it’s fight, fight, FIGHT!
To your last white knight,
For the truth must win alway,
And our hearts beat true
Old `J R’ for you
On Capa-blanca’s Day.”
“Up to this point the game had proceeded along the lines generally recommended by the masters,” writes Capablanca. “The last move, however, is a slight deviation from the regular course, which brings this Knight back to B in order to leave open the diagonal for the Q, and besides is more in accordance with the defensive nature of the game. Much more could be said as to the reasons that make Kt – B the preferred move of most masters…. Of course, lest there be some misapprehension, let me state that the move Kt – B is made in conjunction with K R – K, which comes first.”
It is lucky that Mr Casablanca made that explanation, for I was being seized with just that misapprehension which he feared. (Mr Capablanca, I mean.)