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!