I am happy to offer good news in my continuing series picking on one of the world’s most successful comic strips for having difficulty rendering animals in its particular style. This Sunday saw Zero feeding a squirrel that I accept as a successful depiction of a squirrel, within the bounds of the evolved Mid-Century Cartoon Moderne style that the comic uses.
I’m also glad to bring the news that a butterfly, rabbit, a blue and a red bird were depicted successfully. I think the opossum was depicted successfully too, but I accept that people might in good faith have a different opinion.
I’m sad to say that the groundhog situation isn’t looking good. This is a bit peculiar as groundhogs are a kind of squirrel. But the poses and volume of tail are different and that affects styling.
Yes, a white rabbit the size of a blue-grey squirrel is improbable, but this isn’t Mark Trail. Photorealism is not the standard. “Is styled compatibly to the regular characters” and “is recognizably the animal it’s supposed to be” is.
Oh, that migratory shopping cart that’s been going up and down the street has fallen over. Sad. Tipped on its side like this, it’s sure to be easy pickings for the abandoned disreputable lawn predators out there. Even a single tireless rusted-out Chevy on cinder blocks will be able to get it. If it were in range, that is.
Huh; yeah, this store used to be a barber shop, looks like. A long time ago. Oh, and just next to it, spot that used to be a convenience store. Also a long time ago. Building permit on it … mm. They’re replacing the floor and carpet by August of 2016. Well, I’m sure they have big plans for the reopening.
So here’s a spot where the road was torn up and re-patched. It intersects another stretch where the road was torn up and re-patched. There are cryptic markings in spray paint all over, pointing at the manhole from five directions. They’re not uniformly spaced around the manhole. They evoke a portolan chart, perhaps mapping the routes by which traders from the Hanseatic League will bring staple goods to port, and then lose them in the potholes surrounding the patched streaks.
Interesting to see another former barber shop, and so close to the last one.
Well, hey there, squirrel. Yeah, you’re looking happy that someone’s left a nearly whole loaf of slightly moldy bread out for you. Boy, would you even know what to do with bread that wasn’t a little moldy? I barely know what to do with it. Sandwiches, I guess. Dip some into soups for an experience that’s not as good as I think it ought to be. Got your slice, huh? Yeah, hop over there and you can enjoy it in private. … Or … you can just drop it there and go back to the loaf. No, you go ahead, pick your slice carefully. I’m fascinated to see how this’ll come out. Yeah, I go back and re-make decisions all the time. A squirrel should have as much chance to … go running off without any bread at all. All right. I feel like I’m being insulted somehow and I’m not even really in this.
Another former barber shop? This seems like a lot of barber shops to have ever been in this neighborhood. Did we sometime used to have a lot of people with beards, and they all got rid of them at once, and then we didn’t need so many barber shops anymore? I should ask my barber, who I drive to, two towns east of here.
You know, that shopping cart is kind of near the Chevy House. Maybe it is in danger.
A free boat? Oh, that’s interesting. Gorgeous, even. It looks like the kind of boat you get when you’re doing a low-effort movie from the early 60s and they have to have a fishing scene. … No trailer, all right. No motor either. The windshield’s come off but it’s sitting in the boat. It’s nice to know we’re in a neighborhood where someone can just leave their motorboat windshield laying around loose and nobody will come and take it. Oh, there’s no seats in the boat, though. There’s that pole where the driver’s seat should go. Probably some way to replace that. I’ve seen that Popeye cartoon. Still, if someone’s giving a boat away free, it’s got problems. Maybe leaks. Maybe rust. Maybe it’s somehow on fire. Maybe it bestows on its owner a mild curse, causing them when setting up appointments on the phone to always fail to hear the critical word in the question, however many times they get it repeated to them. Anyway we don’t have anywhere to store a boat. Our goldfish pond isn’t big enough to need one, either.
OK, so this is a barber shop that’s still open, across the street from the other barber shop that’s still open. I wonder if they get together and talk about the days that a squirrel could run from the Red Cedar Creek all the way to the Grand River from barber-shop-roof to barber-shop-roof, never touching the ground.
Another former convenience store. Maybe we’re just not a neighborhood for convenience. Oh, they’ve left all those two-liters of Faygo sitting around. Dangerous. That’s how you get Juggalos.
Hey, the migratory shopping cart is back up on its wheels and put out on the lawn extension. That’s great; maybe it’s going to survive, and become the leader of a new clan of abandoned shopping carts. But … how did it get upright on its own?
Going outside is one of the popular things to do when you mean to go somewhere. It ranks almost up there with “going inside”. It’s no “meaning to go outside but then rolling over and groaning”. But, you know, what else are you going to do? Stay inside with your intrusive thoughts? Including that one about the time in 1997 your friend was excited to have noticed Team Rocket’s names were Jessie and James and you acted all cool about that, as if you’d noticed long ago, when you really had never put that together? No, the only way to avoid imagining that they’ve been hurting for 23 years over that thought is to go outside, anywhere, and keep going.
I have to preface this by admitting I’m not one for going outside much. Oh, I do it, but only because somehow the topic keeps coming up. I’m not even much for going to the other room. For that matter I need motivation to get to the other side of the table. Even reaching my arms out to their full length needs some motivation. In my defense, there’s plants I might hit if I just tossed my arms around wildly and they don’t need to be involved in whatever my issues are.
Still, the outside offers over four things that the inside just can’t. Unlike the inside, for example, outside there’s no way of controlling the temperature, humidity, precipitation, or light levels. You can find that you’re uncomfortably cold. Or warm. For part of the year you can be uncomfortably medium, with your outfit just making you bigger than you’d otherwise be. With the rain, you can get wet in ways you don’t want. Or you can put on water-resistant clothing, so that only your face, hands, and feet, the things that you most immediately use to interact with the world, get wet. I feel like I’m not making a good case for outside here. Let me slide a foot or two down the table and think this out.
It was only half a foot. Ah, but here: outside, you’re able to get to places. Like, you can go to a Jersey Mike’s sandwich shop. Or, if you’d rather, you can go to a Jersey Giant sandwich shop. I mean if you’re around my area of mid-Michigan. Which, you can see, has a bunch of places to get Jersey sandwiches. There’s maybe more places to get a New Jersey-branded sandwich here than there were when I lived in New Jersey. I confess I’m not sure precisely what it is that makes something a New Jersey-branded sandwich. From observation, I think it’s “having a picture of the Shore at Sea Girt in the bathroom”. And oh, there’s something. There’s much more of the Jersey Shore that’s outside, compared to inside. That’s not likely to change unless someone goes and turns a door inside-out.
Outside also offers the greater number of bank drive-through stations. This is valuable because the outer lanes used to have those great little tubes you’d put bank stuff in, and it would go into the bank using what you always supposed were pneumatic tubes but probably were not. That’s all right. It’s so much fun to think of having, like, a savings passbook that’s shuttling around in a pneumatic tube. Now, I don’t know, I think it’s all just drive-up ATMs. So you can go up there and think how much more fun this all used to be. I’m doing a lousy job promoting the outside as something.
Oh, the outside is great for animals. You can see squirrels and more squirrels and different-colored squirrels and pigeons and none of that makes you nervous. If you see them inside you have an issue that you have to deal with, and you haven’t had time to deal with a new issue since October 2014. But outside? They have every right to be there, as do you, and all’s at peace. Oh, you could see some of these from inside, if you look through a window. Or if you’re not interested, looking through a wall. But then they’ll go off somewhere a little obstructed when they’re being the most interesting. Outside, if you see them hiding, you can walk around and then they’ll notice you and leave. From inside, you can’t have that experience of squirrels deciding they don’t want to be involved in whatever your issues are.
Six more weeks of winter. This occurs when the duly appointed groundhog for a region emerges and sees its own shadow. This commits us to six more weeks of cold weather. There is also an option on snow, freezing rain, and your car being somehow glazed. This is all per an ancient agreement that nobody remembers why humanity made. It must have solved some problem, but what?
Six fewer weeks of winter. Unless that should be six less weeks of winter. This occurs when the duly appointed groundhog for a region emerges and sees its shadow. Or … no, wait, that’s supposed to be more weeks of winter. Maybe it’s you get more winter when the groundhog doesn’t see a shadow? Well, it’s one of those cases. This is what we have a research department for.
Six wider weeks of winter. This occurs when a groundhog emerges and sees its shadow through the distortions of an anamorphic lens. It’s a great chance for everyone to wear horizontal stripes and to play out their favorite scenarios of not being able to fit through door frames.
Six more eggs of winter. This happens when the groundhog emerges but is dressed in either a chicken or an Easter bunny costume. Extremely rare but valuable as it lets you make two more cakes than you otherwise would have. Alternatively, you can poach a couple of eggs in up to six bowls of ramen and that adds a little bit of joy, even when you’ve already gone to the Asian grocery and gotten some of those strange ramen packets with flavors like Spicy 3-Chili Artificial Pork With Broth.
Six more beeps of winter. This is what to expect when the emergent groundhog is a robot of some kind. I don’t make any assertion of why the groundhog would be a robot. Maybe they’ve cut back on the budget for squirrel-family payroll. Maybe the area is too environmentally challenging for groundhogs to be there in person, and they have to be telepresent instead. Maybe you just live in the robo-ecosphere. I don’t judge.
Six more shrieks of winter. Foretold when the groundhog emerges and gets a good, clear, direct look at the state of anything in the world. Not a winter for anyone with any anxiety.
Six fewer eggs of winter. The terrible flip side of more eggs. This happens when the groundhog completely lacks a chicken or an Easter bunny costume, and can’t be coaxed into wearing that great peacock costume. “How could a peacock lay an egg?” the groundhog demands to know, and not completely unfairly. “It should be a peahen!” You try to answer: peahens are lovely birds. If it weren’t for peacocks stealing the spotlight they’d be rated among the most beautiful of birds. It doesn’t matter. Nobody even understands what this argument is supposed to gain. And there you are, deprived of the ability to make up to two cakes or six poached-egg bowls of ramen. You have within you the strength to survive this.
Six more weeks of winter, all stacked on top of each other. When the groundhog emerges and turns out to be several groundhogs sitting on one another’s shoulders. No, not wearing a trenchcoat. So you think some years it just feels like February 24th goes on for like 48 hours? Wait until you spend forty-two days on the 24th of February. Stockpile some books and at least sixty pointless quarrels to have with your loved ones.
Six more tweaks of winter. The groundhog does not emerge, as it is busy fiddling with a couple of inconsequential details in the confident hope that everything will be perfect when they are done. They are never done, so nothing ever has to be done, which is perfect.
Six more beaks of winter. BIRDVASION! RUN! RUNNNNNN!
Six more feet of winter. This we can expect when the groundhog turns out to be one or more spiders collaborating. This is great news for the hosiery merchants. It’s not so good for people who’ve laid in a huge stockpile of two-legged clothing. This is nature’s way of reminding us that it’s never worth hoarding pants. Last observed in Syracuse/Utica’s famous Leggy February of ’78.
So my brain has been trying for two weeks now to convince me to write a follow-up note to that essay about the axe-throwing business in town. Particularly it wants me to riff on the “scurrilous rumor” that I have some responsibility for mysterious thuds outside Quality Dairy headquarters. My brain, which is working hard at making sure that I can be a humor blogger but never, ever a successful humor blogger, is convinced I should make some kind of squirrel joke here. This is because my brain is convinced I can do some oblique multi-lingual and taxonomic pun built on how scurrilous sounds kind of like “sciurrilous”, which seems like it ought to be a sciencey word for “squirrel”. And it will not be convinced otherwise. “Knock it off, brain,” I tell it, in the shower. “There is not a successful pun to be made out of this and you’ll only hurt yourself if you keep trying.” Then my love asks what I’m mumbling about in there, and I have to insist I’m not, and follow it up with an alarming coughing fit to cover up what I’m doing.
The punch line to this is there isn’t anywhere in the essay I talk about a “scurrilous rumor”. The first draft did, but I realized I had put the words without thinking, and rewrote the sentence to be better-considered easily minutes before deadline. So my brain’s been busy two weeks now trying to make me form a joke that could not possibly have worked in order to follow-up a joke that did not actually exist except for a couple-hour stretch of time on the 10th of January, 2019. I’m glad I have perfectly resisted the urge.
I know there’s exceptions to this next statement. But, generally, going to an amusement park is fun. I mean for the people going to the park for the purpose of fun. Just let me have this point, please. Where I’m going is that there are other things that are fun, too. Like, there’s going to karaoke night and singing the one song you’re kind of able to sing with mostly the right tones and pacing. That’s fun. So is making clicking noises back at a squirrel who seems to be trying to work out what your deal is. That’s fun. Again, if you want to do that.
But here’s where I’ve gotten. All these kinds of fun are very different activities. You can’t swap one out for the other without noticing that something is very different. One could not mistake chatting with a squirrel for talking about how you can’t imagine someone riding anything where you go upside-down. That is to say, fun is not fungible.
And so continues my lifelong discovery in adulthood of, oh, yeah, that’s why everybody treated my like that in middle school.
The holiday season is coming soon. It may even be here already in certain parts of the time zone. Here are some good ways to react.
Affix A Thing To Another Thing. This is a good one to learn because it is one of the fundamental units of crafting projects. Most anything you can see can be affixed to some other thing. You can start very simply, just by taking something you have and placing it atop something else. In more advanced classes you set something, such as a light cloth, between the things. This makes for fun activities like peeling up the cloth to see how much dust has got all over the things. In expert classes you can adhere things together using tape or acetylene torch welding or glue or sewing or strings. Graduate students in crafts learn to snip something off of another thing.
Make A Food Of Some Kind. This is a very good project because at the end of it you will have food or a good story about how food failed to exist. To do this you wil need:
Some more bowls
Indeed more bowls than you have ever imagined owning in your life
Exotic utensils kept in the kitchen drawer you never use, things that look like wispy high-dimensional mathematical constructs that have something to do with string theory
Bowls that you dimly remember from buried childhood memories of boring afternoons and grandmom’s that somehow emerge from the kitchen’s Scary Cabinet that you never open
A box of plastic wrap on which the metal tooth blade has fallen halfway off and has gone to attack thumbs, fruits, the occasional kitchen tile, etc
Two, maybe three more bowls
Take any of the ingredients and read the recipe. Then glance down and see that somehow all the bowls have gotten covered in a strange putty-like goo which tastes faintly of vanilla, cilantro, lemon, and sugar crystals. They will never all be successfully clean again.
Get some more bowls
If you’re doing well this will attract the attention of some adorable cartoon animal such as a raccoon, who’ll try grabbing at some of your food. And you toss him out and he’s right back at the counter before you even get back to it yourself. And this escalates until you blow up your whole house using a pile of dynamite sticks the size of a roller coaster and the raccoon’s still there. He holds out an adorable little cookie as peace offering and when you start to accept it he eats it instead. Directed by Dick Lundy in pretty good pastiche of Tex Avery.
Decrate an Animal in Some Fashion. Your experience in affixing things to other things will help some here. At least it will if you want to do something like set a bow on a dog, such as setting a bow on a cat. But “decorate” suggests some broader ideas. For example, why not fling balls of paint at squirrels until they’re much more colorful? Because that won’t work. You’ll just get squirrels with even better reflexes. If you want to go this way take some drops of food dye and dab them on the heads of local mice. The mice will groom from their heads on down — they’re very careful about this — and rub the dye into all their fur. Then you can set the mice around your neighbors. When they come to you and say, “There’s a bunch of green and purple mice that moved into the neighborhood!” you can exhale a world-weary sigh and say, “I know.” Trust me, this will play as really funny if you keep a straight face.
Just Wrap Some Thing. See how your affixing practice comes in handy here? Take something you can use for wrapping, such as wrapping paper, or wrapping plastic, or wrapping blankets, or wrapping vinyl shingles, or wrapping polymer foams, you get the idea. Then take something you already have and paper it up until you can’t get at it anymore. This will show them, this will show them all. Place the wrapped thing under a thing, or on top of a thing, or hang it from something such as a tree, wall, or aggrieved squirrel in blue.
Arrange for a White Christmas. White Christmases are regarded as the sine qua non of Christmases. They’re among the top days to have be White, too. A White New Year’s Eve is a distant second in popularity. A White Fourth of July is regarded with suspicion at best. White Whistuntide is regarded as somebody trying a little to hard to be funny or maybe to filk Billy Joel. The most natural way to get a White Christmas is to appeal to the ice phoenixes by setting out bowls of warm miso for them. If that fails, you can try washing the paint off your animation cells. WARNING: Stop before erasing your ink.
If that doesn’t work, I don’t know. Maybe tweet out at companies until a customer service bot answers you.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The Another Blog, Meanwhile index rose five points today and then slid two points over to the left. Those aren’t being counted because we just aren’t thinking two-dimensionally that way. It’s hard enough keeping thoughts in order; who can deal with thoughts for which the very notion of order is undefinable? Exactly.
Contestant on The Price Is Right playing “That’s Too Much” all wrong.
The bird feeder.
The trim brakes added to this roller coaster at Holiday World amusement park in Santa Claus, Indiana, where we do not live.
Web sites that give you the mobile version even when you’re on a regular computer.
This sparrow that wasn’t even looking at the red squirrel, honestly.
The shockingly narrow limits of human empathy for other humans even.
Cracked spines on paperback books.
The temperature drop overnight.
That it’s still so warm for this time of year.
How long it takes favorite podcasts to post new episodes.
Honestly this is making me feel a little better.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The … main index? Yeah. Pretty sure it’s the mainstream Another Blog, Meanwhile index that’s reporting today. I don’t know why I’m having so much trouble keeping this straight. I think it’s because the alternating of indices is matched up with which ear our pet rabbit is supposed to get some medicine in. And I have a little note on the calendar to keep that straight, so why don’t I keep the index-reporting on a calendar like that? I don’t know, I’m just daft that way. Anyway, the mainstream index rose a point in trading that was pretty halfhearted, must be said. I think they were just going through the motions since they knew this all just got them back where they started.
“Changing your mind’s a good thing to do occasionally. The newest model minds are compatible with 1080 i, which is apparently good for some reason. I understand some of them are able to let you get as many as five songs stuck in your head simultaneously. Not forever, of course, just until they all end at the same moment, which will never happen.” — cut because I did some further investigation to the 1080 i-compatible brains and it turns out it’s really only four songs plus a jingle. Hardly seems worth it, does it? But maybe you see something there that I don’t.
“If it’s warm enough then your ceiling will be a semi-molten surface which holds back oceans of liquefied lead and clouds of sulphuric acid vapor. This is a sign that your room is on Venus.” — cut because I can’t find evidence that anyone from Venus reads my blog. Maybe someone with a broader audience can use this, which I think was supposed to be part of a string of house-cleaning tips. That sounds like me anyway.
“Ours is the leading open academy for teaching people to be a bit more uncomfortably warm. Any school can give you the experience of being unpleasantly hot, simply by pouring any academy-certified lava down your throat. But we specialize in a simple warmth that makes you feel like you should have stopped dressing sooner than you did. It’s a rare talent.” — cut when I realized I had no idea where I was going with this even though it’s been sitting around in my scraps bin for like half a year now. It seems like it ought to be something more than that and maybe it could, who can say. If nobody uses this in the next, say, two months I might bring it back in the shop and try it out again.
“No matter what time it is there’s someone in the world who’s dizzier than anyone else in the world feels dizzy. And there’s someone in the world who’s been dizzier longer than anyone else in the world has been dizzy. And if those traits are ever manifested by the same person, just watch out! And clear some space so the poor person doesn’t trip. Someone could get hurt.” — It’s all true enough, but is this going anywhere funny? I don’t want readers to think I lack empathy for folks who trip over stuff even if they are holders of current dizziness records.
“The door is a domesticated version of the `wild’ or `undomesticated’ door. The wild door evolved in southern India, where the naturally solitary but not unfriendly creatures would often stand upright and swing just enough to let people and animals walking at night crash into the side. Almost uniquely among home furnishings (only lighting fixtures and half-walls share this trait) the door is warm-blooded, and so never truly falls into torpor even in the hottest or coldest weather, which explains its usefulness in all climates.” — cut because I did some fresh research and learned many more home furnishings are warm-blooded than was believed as few as two years ago, when I last took a course in this stuff. Doors still don’t truly hibernate, but they’re happy to perpetuate the rumor they do in order that people leave them alone. It’s fascinating stuff, certainly, but requires more research than I’m able to do this week.
“It’s never easy to say just how long the biography you write should be. To make the respectable kind eligible for prizes it should be at least ten pages for each year of the subject’s life, or 532 pages, the winner to be decided in a best-of-seven contest.” — cut when I learned there’s not even close to agreement in writing circles about what contest should be used to establish the biography’s length. I like baseball, myself, although not so much that I think to go see games or watch them on TV. I guess I like the principle more. But I know there’s people who would root for basketball or hockey or one of those weird sports that the sign at the town border says the high school team won two years ago. I suggest someone with strong ideas about what to use as a contest might use this.
“all sorts of squirrel Instagrams” — cut from a conversation I overheard while entering the library because while it’s not my conversation, I like the notion of there being a wide variety of squirrel Instagrams. I only follow two squirrels on Twitter so I don’t know how representative those can be.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index dropped a point in trading and blame that on the World Series ending in such thrilling form. Analysts are pretty sure it just rolled under the counter and as soon as they get there with a broom they’ll find it again. You don’t think they’re fooling themselves, do you? We remember when the index dropped to numbers like 94 or 90 or 91 or other dreadful things and why isn’t anyone worrying about that?
I know this will get me in trouble but I have to say something. It’s fall here. That’s not the part I expect to get in trouble about. The problem is the leaves. There’s leaves falling all around the neighborhood in about the right amounts. Three houses up the street the leaves are a tidal pool eight feet deep, rustling only as someone drives the car to the detached garage, with tethered rowboats bringing people from the garage to the main house. It’s like that all around. Except at our house, and the neighbor’s. Here we’ve just got little scatterings of leaves, not even enough to run the lawn mower over. I don’t know where the leaves are and why they’re not here. But I know this isn’t going to last either. It’s ominous, that’s what it is.
Another Blog, Meanwhile Index
The index dropped to an all-time low of 97 today and traders do NOT want to talk about it. They’re all grousing and grumbling and saying the whole thing was the stupidest idea they ever had. And they do NOT WANT TO HEAR about how there’s always a turnaround and things change and all the people who shorted are feeling pretty smug. One guy slugged someone who just said the word “short” and they were talking about stacks of pancakes. It’s pretty nasty out there.
It’s a common longing. You run across a WordPress blog that’s thanking its 10,000th subscriber and its millionth page hit. The blog’s been around almost three months. You look at your own, soldiering on for years now and sometimes getting a comment besides your father saying “it’s great, I wish I understood a word”. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I’ll explain.
I know why some blogs, some performers, some experience providers catch on. It’s personality. We pretend “personality” is something everybody has, but we’re fibbing. What we mean by “personality” is “stuff somebody does that other people wouldn’t choose to do themselves in that position”. It’s easy to form one. Just pick something other people wouldn’t do themselves, and do that. Then keep at it.
For instance, I like my mathematics blog. It’s comfortable writing and sometimes I do something I’m proud of. But I know it’s got this pleasant air of something safely ignorable all over it. If I wanted to change that I could. I’d use squirt mustard to write every equation on bread, and post photographs of that. The end of each post would be me eating this. Suddenly I’d have a blog people found interesting, if only to see when I eat enough mustard bread to regret my life. It would be a quarter of the way into explaining the Fredholm Alternative. I’d leave my readers in suspense about whether the Fredholm Alternative is a real mathematics thing or if I’m writing a 1970s political technothriller about fascist clones with space computo-germs. It’s both. INCLUSIVE OR! IT’S AN INCLUSIVE OR!
I won’t do that. Mustard photographs lousy and it’d be too much work to fix. And that’s part of why having a personality sucks. It’s a lot of effort to keep up. Edwin Land said, “do not do anything that anyone else can do readily”. While he was talking about making consumer cameras he’s right about making personalities too.
Even achieving personality isn’t an unvarnished good. When we say of someone, “he’s got quite the personality” we’re using all our available politeness. We’re trying to not continue, “that he’s using to bring the conversation back to common yet mistaken beliefs about the manufacture of float glass, again”. It’s fascinating, sure, but watching people do stuff we would rather not always is. It doesn’t matter whether it’s dressing in a bright green outfit so eye-catching you can be seen through walls — “all part of my Chroma-Key cosplay, my dears”, you absolutely purr — or grabbing live porcupines and zerberting their bellies before they can file a stiff letter of protest. It’s thrilling to be part of such exotic goings-on, by which I mean being the part that watches without affecting it.
We like this sort of thing when we’ve got a safe distance from it and can flee without social penalty. It’s why personality does so well on stage and TV and online and in other places that have comforting, safe borders. When they venture outside those borders we’re dazzled and then disappointed, even if we’re smiling in the selfie they let us take. Too much personality’s a hard thing to take. If you have to deal with it all the time it gets to be kind of a prison.
But it’s a prison having a personality too. Once people know you’re going to react to something a particular way you have to keep doing it. A normal person can hear that chemists have discovered a new kind of industrial-grade blue dye and think anything they want about that. Someone with personality has to fit this news into what everyone expects. Suppose you’re the guy who knows a Yes song for every occasion, including karaoke night and the debut of new Tron movies. You know exactly what everyone you meet will talk to you about, forever. What if you somehow don’t have a Yes song relevant to industrial-grade color dye technologies? You’re doomed, or have to guess maybe They Might Be Giants have something on point. They don’t.
There’s some good news, anyway. If you show personality long enough it sustains itself, without your involvement. I know at least two people with such renowned interests in squirrels that they get every bit of squirrel-related toy, news item, or movie or TV show forwarded to them. Their friends do all the squirrel-appreciation for them. They don’t ever have to think about squirrels the rest of their lives.
So that’s why I’m not complaining about other blogs being way more popular, way faster, than mine. I didn’t even say I felt that. I just said it’s commonly felt. I don’t want to contract personality for that sort of thing. Should I have a personality at all? I don’t know; I’m doing well enough as it is. But then look back to Edwin Land’s advice, and consider the fate of Polaroid. It’s universally beloved and doesn’t really exist. How many of us will ever achieve that much?
To sum up: the concept of “personality” is a good idea, but it needs considerable work before it will be practical.
OK, so, what’s worse than seeing any city’s name trending on Twitter? Seeing your city’s name trending on Twitter. So, thank you, Twitter, for putting ‘Lansing’ right there as the third item under Trends for most of the last week.
Don’t worry. There’s, as of my writing this, nothing to worry about going on in Lansing. This has to be them Helpfully Localizing my content experience. It’s all been about normal recently. There was a power outage downtown last Friday during lunchtime and that’s been the big news. Sure, that’s the sort of thing that’s fun to go through, especially since it hit the capitol and the state office buildings and stuff. Power failures are the snow days that office workers get. So there’s the understandable thrill of, like, seeing State Supreme Court justices just wandering down Washington Square Street with nothing particular to do.
But is that thrilling enough to last a week? So a State Supreme Court justice figures he might as well head to the downtown peanut roastery. That’s not all that exceptional. Who doesn’t like peanut roasteries? Even the people deathly allergic can appreciate the carpet of expectant squirrels staring at customers who don’t know whether to follow the signs warning DO NOT FEED SQUIRRELS or whether there’s no way they’re getting out alive without dropping at least a four-ounce bag of cashews and running. We would go on about that for a while, sure, but a week? Not worth it.
And there’s one of the smallest measurable bits of excitement coming out of East Lansing. There’s been a ball python on the loose since the weekend. Channel 6’s article about calls it a “runaway” snake, which suggests the lede’s writer does not fully understand snakes. But it’s not an aggressive species, and it’s not venomous. It would eat small animals, but it’s way far away from the peanut roastery, so even the squirrels don’t get bothered by it. So while that’s kind of interesting again there’s no way this is trend-worthy.
One of the top items under ‘Lansing’ was remembering the birth of actor Robert Lansing, 1928 – 1994. Remember him? (Correct answer: no. I’m sorry but there is a Ray Davies song about this.) He was in the original Star Trek. In this backdoor-pilot episode he played alien-trained super-duper-secret-agent Gary Seven, the United States adaptation of the Third Doctor Who. Terri Garr played his human female companion. And if you want to protest that the episode (“Assignment: Earth”) was made and aired in 1968 (1968), years (2) before the Actual Third Doctor was even cast (1970), then let me remind you, time traveller. Sheesh.
And it isn’t like Lansing doesn’t have some stuff worthy of quirky Internet fame. I was reading Helen E Grainer’s Pictorial Lansing, which in 1976 put in book form the school field trip tours she gave kids. It mentions:
One of the early trains to Lansing brought a piece of coal as big as the front seat of a car. It is still sitting by the train tracks on Grand River Avenue east of Cedar Street.
I submit that even in this jaded age, a piece of coal as big as the front seat of a car, and that’s been sitting on the street for a century, is worth looking at. They have a picture of it, sitting in front of the train tracks and some house. But I’ve been to that spot. As best I can figure there’s no huge lump of coal there. The house is gone too. So Lansing apparently had a right big lump of coal that sat on the street corner for a century, and then someone went and took it. Also someone took the house. Taking a house is normal, although good luck explaining to a six-year-old why anyone thinks that’s normal. Taking a huge lump of coal? That’s noteworthy and is anyone tweeting about that? That’s getting freaky. You know, it would be a scandal if a State Supreme Court justice had pocketed both house and coal under cover of the traffic signals all being out.
Oh yeah, we had that thing where the world was coming to an end. Let me check if it did. Um. No, looks like it hasn’t. If the world has then there’s a lot more squirrels underneath the bird feeder than I would have expected. Let me check the seven-day forecast. Well, it’s supposed to be in the mid-60s tomorrow, even though this is Michigan. That’s a bit unsettling but it isn’t precisely postapocalyptic. I’ll leave a granola bar out for the ice phoenix, who I can’t imagine is happy about this.
Also, you know where we had that problem where time kept stopping? The mantle clock kept stopping, the Christmas lights timer got broke, my love’s watch stopped, all that? The watch was just jammed and we could start it again by shaking. Well, it’s gone on and stopped, once again at about the same time as on the stopped mantle clock. Also, the kitchen clock, the one that sets itself based on the radio signals of … some … atomic clock … somewhere? That one stopped too. The battery ran out, it looks like. Still, unnerving, that’s what it is.
Like 11:30 (am). The snow started already, like four hours ahead of projections. Exciting start. It’s light, energetic snow considering some of the flakes are the size of nuthatches. I don’t mind. Cheery snowstorms like these are the results of frolicking ice phoenixes. These are majestic and magical birds, quite like their more famous fire-based counterparts except these ones never go in for stealing Baby New Year. Also they spend more of the summer sweating and wondering why it has to be this muggy and who even had the idea of letting a magic bird sweat, anyway. I toss some garlic croutons, from the bag we use to make salad less boring, out as a treat.
1:00 (pm). We go out to lunch. I know, the mayor, the governor, and the county Commissioner of Drains, who just happened to be nearby, all asked everybody to do only essential travel. But it’s only like two blocks, and we had to mail a letter anyway. And it’s to this restaurant that’s trying to use the Subway build-your-own sandwich model for Middle Eastern food. There may not technically be an emergency need to get falafel and baba ghanoush over rice at any particular time but I stand by the decision. Three-quarters of an inch of snow gathers on the car while we eat. We forgot the letter.
2:15. Checking the animal feeders in the back yard. I fill up the bird feeder, so that the squirrels have something to eat. I fill up the squirrel feeder, so that the raccoons have something to eat. Also since we should totally have a fire I take a big tote bag full of lumber off the pile in the garage. The mice living far underneath the pile complain that this is “totally bogus” and they paid their rent, why are we taking the tenth storeys off their woodpile now. I leave a handful of sunflower seeds and fill up the water dish so they don’t have to venture out to the raccoon feeder.
2:25. I stare out the kitchen window at my car. I tried doing that thing where you leave the windshield wipers up, instead of against the car, this storm. I’m not sure why people do that and I wanted to see what difference it makes. Mostly I feel anxious about it. Are people walking past the house looking at my Scion tC and laughing at the wipers? Or are they just laughing that I have yet another car from a marque that’s been discontinued? In my life I’ve had two Mercuries, a Saturn, and now a Scion. I don’t go looking for car marques to drive to extinction. They follow me. Maybe I should put the windshield wipers back down.
4:45. There’s way too much snow to put the windshield wipers back down.
5:20. The snow is doing that thing where it’s a perfect field of white out the front window. Out the back window there’s a couple scattered flurries and an ice phoenix taking a drink from the pond heater. It’s eerily tranquil. I think about tossing out some leftover chow mein noodles but don’t want to risk it.
7:00. The remote control’s batteries have gone dead, foiling our plans to catch up a backlog of Stephen Colbert episodes dating back to when he was a bright twelve-year-old reporting the 2004 Republican Convention for Comedy Central. We leave the TV on the station it was last on, hoping to see school closing reports.
8:15. In the pantry. We’ve got a half-eaten box of Peanut Butter Bumpers. That would be a great breakfast tomorrow except who wants to eat cold cereal on a snow day? I am a genius: what we need is something that’s as good as milk for pouring onto cereal but that’s warm and hearty, like … um … warm milk, or maybe miso soup or something? This could revolutionize eating and in the good ways.
8:17. Experiment over. I am an idiot. The raccoons examine a bowl of Peanut Butter Bumpers mixed with warm almond milk and miso powder and just shake their heads sadly, then shuffle away into the snow, pausing only to be berated by a red squirrel.
9:20 Maybe I could clear off enough of my car to put the windshield wipers back down only what would I tell my love I was doing out there?
10:50. But couldn’t something else serve to replace the warm milk in the snow day cereal experiment? Maybe history will vindicate me after all.
So, let me start off by saying that while I’ve only lived in Michigan a smidge and two whiles, this is looking to be my fourth winter here. Also let me point out that I’m not some wimp who can’t take slightly abnormal weather. Weather-wise, I’m better-experienced than you maybe think. I lived almost my whole life in central New Jersey. There we get every kind of weather although not in such intense amounts as to be really inconvenient. Give or take the odd Superstorm Sandy washing away Ocean County. And I went to graduate school in upstate New York, with wholly different patterns of having an extra month of the lousiest parts of winter.
And then I even lived a half-decade in Singapore, which has a daily high of 92 Fahrenheit and a thunderstorm every afternoon between 1:30 and 3:00. If it doesn’t rain you can go to the Ministry of the Environment and get your hand stamped for a day’s free admission. Though if you tell them you’re there for a rain cheque they won’t smile. There, winter is kept in well-supervised ice-skating rinks. It’s available for S$6 the first half-hour and S$4 every half-hour afterwards. Or you can walk by a 7-Eleven because the doors are open and the air conditioning set to Popeye strengths. To find a 7-Eleven in Singapore first go to Singapore (critically important! Do this first!), pick a direction, and walk up to 250 paces in that direction.
But what I’m getting at is this has been a freaky December. I was expecting it to be a little colder than this. Like, I was expecting it to be cold at all. It isn’t that I have a particular love of the cold. The winter outside Albany for 1997-98, for example, was chilly enough that my toes still haven’t thawed out. And back the winter of 2013-14 Michigan put up a bravura performance of coldness, with a string of 84 days below freezing in January alone. The 16th of January that year (2014) was so cold the sun refused to rise because the lock to its heavenly chariot had frozen solid.
This December, though, has been bizarrely warm. The only time we’ve gotten near freezing was when I passed out from heat stroke over the ice cream counter at Quality Dairy. And while Mackinac Fudge Cider might be a great flavor, it’s just not wintery. It’s made a mockery of my putting up storm windows. And it’s hurt the feelings of my rushing to put the Christmas lights up outside when we had that nice day in the mid-40s. We’ve had date trees blooming into new fruits, and I’m pretty sure there aren’t even any date trees in Michigan. I think.
And it isn’t just making me feel silly doing household chores. It’s had major effects on the wildlife. For example, the squirrels are supposed to stuff themselves silly all autumn. Then they sleep it off through the coldest of winter. Then they sneak into the attic and try to burrow through our excess supply of Suave shampoo. But without a hint of cold weather they’re trapped in stuff-themselves-silly mode. It’s getting hazardous to step outside. Squirrels fattened up to sphericity keep losing their grip and plummeting. We have to take the groceries inside between cannonballs of angry rodents.
Even if we’ve waited for a good breeze to knock the squirrels out first we’re not out of danger. Red squirrels are cantankerous critters in the best of circumstances. When they’re stuck howling at the world for someone to roll them over onto their paws they get downright vicious, not to mention personal. I left middle school for many reasons, but mostly because I don’t need the kind of hurtful comments I’m getting from the red squirrel community. We’ve seen some similar results from the mouse community. And we suspect there’s a raccoon waiting for us to put the heater in the pond so he can hurl it back out of the pond and remind us who around here knows how to hurl stuff out of the pond.
That’s all stuff I suppose I can get used to. I mean, I got used to “winter” in Singapore, by knowing where all 42,000 island 7-Elevens were and maneuvering around the arctic blasts. What’s got me nervous is the sense of the other shoe waiting to drop. What kind of retribution is a month of outright balmy weather going to get us? Cold and snow is only going to go so far. This kind of weather earns us, like, a hail of frogs made of hail howling the things we’re afraid our loved ones secretly find disappointing about us.
So I want to say I’m enjoying the weather being so warm that it actually feels chilly, because it feels too silly to dress like it’s been December. But I’m afraid of what you have in store. I’d want to get out of this with retribution that’s nothing worse than, like, one blizzard they’ll be talking about for years and maybe a single weekend where the argon liquefies out of the atmosphere. Is there some way to get the winter adjusted so we don’t have anything worse than that coming up?
I know it’s a long shot, but I thought it only fair to ask. Thank you for your time and attention.
My love and I don’t go for the expensive shampoo. We like our hair, it’s just we don’t see the advantage of paying Big Shampoo more than we need to for it. And then Meijer’s went and put Suave on sale. Suave already comes in bottles of up to 282 English ale gallons, for a suggested retail price of “the lint-covered coins you dig out from under the car seat when you didn’t know there was a toll coming up”. And then Meijer’s went and put it on sale. Three dollars off if you buy at least ten dollars’ worth of Suave.
What I’m saying is we’ve been able to build a little winter house out back entirely of bottles of Ocean Breeze and Waterfall Mist and Almond Verbena-scented hair care products. And that’s after re-insulating the attic with conditioner. Which should be a gift that keeps on giving in case the squirrels get back in there and try to nest. We’ll know if we get squirrels with well-managed tail fur, I suppose.
Also I’m not perfectly convinced that “verbena” is a thing. It sounds a little like an obscure grammatical construct or Zippy the Pinhead’s girlfriend or something. Advice on this point is welcome.
I like my father-in-law. I don’t think that’s a weird quirk of my personality. So I want to send him a decent Father’s Day card. He does a lot for us as a couple, much of it related to worrying about our light fixtures, and he deserves some note for that.
So I’d like to know why greeting card companies don’t have Father’s Day cards for father-in-laws. There’s some for couples sending a joint card. But greeting card companies, the people who put in every supermarket card rack cards for a 90th birthday, for someone returning to work after being away somewhere, and cards from the cat to its “dad” don’t figure an individual might have his own relationship with his father-in-law.
I’m exaggerating. Of course I am. Just this week I got back from the Hallmark store that seems to be closing or renovating or something, we guess, because they haven’t got so much stuff in there anymore and what is there is 40 percent off except the cards. They had three Father-in-Law Father’s Day cards. Well, two of them were the same design, except that one was smaller than the other. I suppose that’s for people who want to express how they feel the same way they did about their father-in-law last year, only not so biggishly.
All I need is a good-quality photo of a cute dog or a squirrel doing something amusing that isn’t tied to a bad double-entendre. Is that too much for greeting card companies to make? Yes, by far.
Guinea pigs, if you aren’t at least a little bit suspicious of their front paws having four toes while their back have only three. And how they give birth to cubs fully-furred, with open eyes that see perfectly well. Oh, and they get scurvy. If you don’t feel unease about calling something with that slate of anomalies a rodent, fine, guinea pigs are rodents.
Skunks, ferrets, otters
Capybaras, if we absolutely have to name something else.
OK, and we’ll give you beavers. Did we say squirrels already?
November 2014 was, according to WordPress’s statistics, a pretty good month for readership around here. It wasn’t as overwhelmingly popular as October, but the month wasn’t accidentally juiced attention from Kinks fans directed over from kindakinks.net. “The Secret Life of Ray Davies” is still popular, mind, and even got more readers than my astounding facts about Turbo page, but it’s not even in the top twenty for November.
While the number of unique views dropped — from 1,389 in October to 1,164 in November — this is still a pretty big increase from September (827) and marks two months in a row with more than a thousand readers. The number of unique visitors dropped from 895 to 676, but again, that really reflects the Kinks fans not noticing me this month; views per visitor, for example, rose from October’s 1.55 back to 1.72, which is about what I’d had in September (1.77) and August (1.85).
Also I noticed that I had a full thirty-day stretch of at least twenty views each day, which I don’t believe has happened before. I feel nervous about doing something that screws up that streak. I start the month standing at 11,242 page views all-time, which is a nice round number to somebody, I’m sure, somewhere.
The most popular articles this month — each with 26 or more views; I’d meant to just list the top ten but there was a three-way tie for tenth — turned out to be:
And now for the most popular thing I do: list countries. The countries sending me the most readers in November were the United States (1,014), Australia (25), The United Kingdom (23), the Netherlands (15), and then a bunch of countries that don’t work “the” into the name. Sending only one reader each were Belgium, Finland, France, Kuwait, New Zealand, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, and Spain. Singapore’s the only one that was a single-reader country last month, and that was also a single-reader country on my mathematics blog, so I’m wondering what the problem is over there. Guys? We’re cool, right?
India, meanwhile, after a catastrophic drop from eight down to one reader between September and October, recovered tolerably by sending me three readers. Per capita, yes, I’m still doing better with Austria, Argentina, and Singapore, but this is the readership I’ve got.
Search terms that brought people here for some reason include: what did charlie chaplin have to say to george melies, how to write in words 44,928,923, towering inferno theme morse code, things to argue about, and demolition derby pinball. I hope you’ve all found what you were looking for.
We’ve got a bunch of planters around the yard, since this is a good way to get a little extra soil space for growing carrots or flowers or those slightly smelly plants that our pet rabbit likes to eat, and they turn out to be a little more fun as the early stages of fall set in because of the squirrels that hop into the planters, sniff around the soil, determine that it won’t do for their various squirrel-related needs, and hop off again to chase off other squirrels who’re also examining the planters.
This week with winter setting in abruptly — last night the xenon condensed out of the atmosphere, which would cover the land with a thin layer of a mysterious lavender film if we hadn’t sold off all the xenon rights to some mysterious Dutch pinball manufacturer years ago — and I had to go about moving the planters inside so the cycle of freezing and thawing that we dearly hope develops at some point this winter won’t go cracking them.
I knew this wouldn’t be popular with the squirrels, who were busy staring angrily at me through all this, but I didn’t realize the red squirrel was going to give me the “got my eyes on you” gesture. I kind of hope that all us humans look alike to the red squirrels so there’s only a one in seven billion chance he exacts his vengeance on me. (Or her vengeance. I suppose something like half of red squirrels have to be female.)
Apparently now they sell plastic bags full of bright orange cheddar dust, the kind you mix in to make macaroni and cheese that glows bright enough you can see it from inside a black hole. It was just sitting there on the shelf, next to the Wheat Germ Or Stuff Like That and the Powdered Flaxseed Food Product I Guess and things like that. I didn’t buy it, but if I can think of something to do with it I will. I don’t need it for macaroni and/or cheese purposes, but I haven’t ruled out something like hooking it up to the tire pump so that I can have a backyard filled with cheese-dusted trees. But trying that is sure to attract attention from the squirrel community and I don’t know if I want that, exactly. I just want the magic of having some solid reason to buy a large plastic bag filled with powdered cheddar the color of public art sculptures.
I use dental picks, as dental picks, because shut up I am not old and I like the smile that truthfully saying — and showing — that I’ve been picking grit out from between my teeth brings to my dentist’s face when I see him for this decade’s appointment. But I only just noticed that my bag of dental picks invites me not just to follow them on Facebook and Twitter but also to see their YouTube channel.
I like to think that I’m a curious fellow, by which I mean I’m open to learning about things other people would write off as dull and discover they’re deeply fascinating once you start thinking about them, by which I mean without any sarcasm or exaggeration that I own multiple popular histories of the containerized cargo industry and I would be willing to buy more. And I can imagine making an informational video about dental picks.
What I can’t imagine is making a whole series of informational videos about dental picks. After about halfway through the second I’d be reduced to standing there humming and maybe pointing out how any guinea pigs you have around the house could use them as slingshots, or how you could put a piece of wax paper across the prongs and give them to squirrels to use for lacrosse. They’re surely not going to be publishing that.
So now I’m doomed again: I’m curious to know how many different things of substance they could possibly have to say about dental picks, but, what if I find it all really interesting and just have to watch more?
Also I’m wondering how many tweets they could have about dental picks. This just makes it worse.
“The floor isn’t food here!” complained our pet rabbit.
It was a complaint I knew was coming. I couldn’t realistically pretend otherwise. So I said, “I agree with you.”
He sat up and rested his front paws on the cage, the traditional pose for indicating this was a major issue or it was dinnertime. “So make it better!”
We had taken him outside a couple days ago, when it was warm and sunny and we had some work to do on the yard. So we set up his pen and then pulled him, against his express wishes, into the pet carrier for the trip outside. Once there, and convinced that we weren’t going to take him anywhere in the car, he came out of his shell, or at least the carrier, and judged that this was all not intolerably bad.
“You don’t want me to do that.”
“I know it means going in the box but it’s so short a ride in the car I’ll forgive it!”
“Yes, but it’s cold out today, and it’s rainy. You wouldn’t like having water drizzling all over your body all the time you’re out there.”
“I’m not scared! I drink water all the time.” It’s possible we haven’t let him outside quite enough to understand.
“You’d hate it. It’d tamp down all the fur you were planning to shed for a couple days and nothing would get into the air. It’d set you back by days.”
“Oh.” He’s still recovering from when we vacuumed out his cage, filling nearly two bags and reducing the amount of fur in the room not at all. “Are you fibbing?”
“ … Fibbing?”
“Because you’re afraid of what I’ll do out there!” I brushed his head, which made him squinch his eyes a little, and made enough fur shed that I had a loose glove when I took my hand off. He shook it off and said, “I’m ferocious!”
“I saw you out there. You really mowed down those dandelions.”
“I ate a tree!”
I nodded, but, “Technically.”
“All the way, too, leaves down to roots!”
It was a weed maple, something with about two leaves and maybe three inches tall, including the roots. It’s been a banner year for weed maples, with something like four hundred thousand growing in the driveway alone, and their getting even denser on the ground where there’s dirt or soil or older, less self-confident plants to grow on top of. We don’t know why; maybe it was the harshness of the winter, or maybe the local innovation center gave the maples a seed grant. Anyway, our rabbit had spotted it as a thing, and hopped over, and started eating before we could wonder whether he ought to be eating itty-bitty little maple trees.
He noticed how impressed I wasn’t. “Did you ever eat an entire tree?”
This seemed like something I’d have to answer no, but, could I be quite sure I hadn’t ever eaten something which could be taken as equivalent to a tree? I thought about whether eating an acorn could qualify as eating an acorn tree, except that I couldn’t think of myself eating an acorn, unless I did it when I was very young and so put anything in my mouth. Later, of course, I’d realize that I have eaten apple seeds, and any definition by which acorn-eating qualified one for tree-eating status would be satisfied by apple-seed-eating (I don’t share a birthday with Johnny Appleseed for nothing, though I haven’t got much out of the coincidence), but that’s the kind of idea that comes to me too late. This sort of thinking is why it can take me up to five minutes to answer a question such as “would you like to buy this pair of pants?” There’s too much to ponder about the issue of “like”.
“Look, even if it weren’t pouring out, it’d be unfair to take you outside because you scare the squirrels.” And this is without exaggeration true. There are normally anywhere between two and fourteen hundred squirrels are in the backyard. When we took him out, the squirrels all vanished. Yet within a minute of his going back in, they’d come back. None of the squirrels said they were afraid of him specifically, but, they were.
“I’m ferocious!” he said. “But I’ll let squirrels share the floor with me. Tell them that.” I nodded, but he said, “Wait! I’ll share it just as soon as the floor is food again! Work on that first.”
I peeked in his dishes. “You’ve got lettuce left over from the morning. Eat that first.”
“But that’s just lettuce,” he said.
“You’re not hungry if you’ve got lettuce left.”
He hopped over with some ka-dunks that rattle the living room floor, and said, “I can eat whole trees.”