Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tense situation.

[NB: Another "Best of Fred," if you will be so kind; this one I've always thought of as a companion to "Silent Jimb," which I ran on Sunday.]

"Tense Situation"

by Frederick Key

Along the high escarpment the secret agent creeped,
While 'round the gloomy edifice the chilly zephyr sweeped.

Then to a higher window ledge the agile agent hopt,
And with his slender crowbar, the window quickly popt.

Across the darkened offices, while all the city sleeped,
The agent found the cabinet in which the files were keeped.

He pried them open, glad the staff were home and peaceful dreamt,
Then, shock! Him, suddenly exposed! A brilliant flashlight beamt!

He jumpt up to escape, but had no means to go, he feeled.
An agent’s life is dangerous; he plays the cards he’s dealed.

“Who are you?” growled his captor; from the angry voice he relt.
“I know you’re up to varmintry; that’s why my eyes are pelt!

I’ve spended most nights peacefully, although I’m always wary.
Why break in the offices of Webster’s dictionary?”

“I’m on a mission,” said our man. “Our language is polluted!
I’m glad you didn’t pull that gun! I feart I might get shooted!”

“Polluted language?” said the guard, as on the wall he leaned.
“I’m sure I haven’t got a clue about what you have meaned.

Sure, many things are spelt all weird, and stranger are the verbs,
But nothing here can compensate all those whom this perturbs!”

“I’d hoped to change the pages,” the saddened agent spake.
“Upon these awful tenses, my vengeance would have wrake!

I thought I’d standardize the verbs with all their weird past tenses!
And thus I used my spying skills and breaked in through your fences!”

“Alas,” wistful said the guard, “I fear the dictionary
Is well beyond your means to fix; it’s wrote too arbitrary.

The lesson here, it's often telled---the wise man learnt it fast---
Is saddest of the pen and tongue: You cannot change the past.”

Monday, April 24, 2017

Not an age of heroes.

Is it really possible to have a secret identity, like they do in comic books? Asking for a friend.

I guess it's the kind of thing you wonder about as a kid, if you read comics or watch the characters in other media. 

When comic book crusaders arrived on the scene in the late 1930s, it was believable that a vigilante in a weird outfit operating under cover of darkness could occasionally go out and wreak havoc among the criminal underclass. Especially a guy like Bruce Wayne, who was wealthy and could afford great stuff. And fellows like Superman or the Flash had superpowers, which would be helpful in hiding their true identities. If you're flying at 10,000 feet or running at 500 mph, no one can get a good look at you. And Billy Batson, mentioned in this space last Friday, had the best second identity as Captain Marvel, essentially a distinct and older human being. 

Later it got harder to believe. Private Steve Rogers (if I recall correctly--a bit before my time) supposedly kept that big round Captain America shield hidden under his army shirt during the war. By the 1950s, the cops knew the heroes and were pals with them, and you had to accept that the entire police force respected their privacy. Superman hung around with the same people as Clark Kent. A pair of glasses is not a bad disguise if no one has a good idea of what you look like in your other, secret life. It is not great when both your personas are close with the same people. 

In his first appearance, the master villain Ra's al Ghul shows up in the Batcave. He had easily deduced that Batman had to be a wealthy young Gothamite with time to devote to crimefighting---and I don't recall Ra's mentioning this, but the public information that Wayne's parents had been killed by a mugger could not help but make the case. Commissioner Jim Gordon couldn't have guessed the same thing? 

Writer Marty Pasko once tried to explain Clark Kent's disguise as being an inadvertent and helpful offshoot of his superhypnosis power--while disguised as Kent, Superman so wanted to project the image of nebbishy weakness that he actually made people believe it. I think it's an example of why Superman has too many powers, but I'd rather believe that than that the Daily Planet hires only imbeciles. 

Sorry, spoiler alert. (Image courtesy of DC Database)
Clark Kent also was smart enough to have a job that would explain his being out of the office quite a bit---although not for days or weeks, as some of his adventures required. Any job I ever had I would have lost if I had spent enough time away from it to fight villains three or four times a month. Ditto for Peter Parker and Diana Prince. Bruce Wayne was smart to be really wealthy, freeing him from the ol' 9-to-5, but as a handsome young billionaire he'd have paparazzi shadowing him all the time. (Back in his early days he was just a generic rich guy, not a super celebrity with his name on buildings; easier to blend in that way. Lots of trust-fund babies in New York are unknown to the populace at large.) 

Today it looks like it would be virtually impossible to have a secret identity. People would be online every minute of the day trying to figure out who the mystery person was. Any photos would be analyzed to death. Why is Spider-Man seen in Queens as well as Manhattan? There's nothing in Queens. Every human in Queens would be a suspect. The police would devote huge resources to figuring it out---they don't like mysterious figures doing things, even nice things. Anyone who disappeared from work without advance warning would be a suspect. Half the people at the office would think Karl the rummy is Superman because he can't make it in on Monday or Friday.

Unless your superpower enables you to be in two places at once, or virtually so (the Flash can run to China and back before his lab assistant can take a pee break), you're not going to be able to get away with it forever. There are security cameras and phone cameras everywhere. People talk. You leave DNA all over the place. A mask and gloves are not going to be enough. And you'd have to be willing to break a lot of noses the first few times you appear, because every fun-loving prankster is going to want to pull off the mask---until word gets around that that's a punched ticket to Hematoma City. Will the cops still love Captain America if he keeps sending non-criminals to the ER? 

It looks bad for secret identities.

You may say: What about Banksy, the mystery artist? Or Anonymous, the mystery hackers? Well, Banksy doesn't commit public acts of violence as superheroes must, or believe me, he or she or them would have been found. And Anonymous does not appear outside their lair, which is generally required for superheroes. 

It seems to me that the only routes for superheroes are: A) Give up on the idea of a secret identity, and just be a celebrity like the Fantastic Four; or B) Be a real nobody in real life and don't let people know much about you even when you're heroing away. 

Like. just stay home and don't make waves. That's one way to keep private.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Silent Jimb.

[Another "classic" from the old Web site, placed here for your edification or at least so it doesn't get lost to time.]

"Silent Jimb"

by Frederick Key

Silent Jimb was a cheerful ladd
A most congenial chumb,
Who’d stop to share a meal with you
Or take a glass of rumb.

He had one knasty habit
(Or knifty, some might thinck)
Of obsessing on silent letters--
It could drive a man to drinck.

“I always mull it over,
It fills me to the brimn,”
He told me over a slice of hagm,
When I asked what troubled himn.

“I knever know when they are right;
It always seems a blunder.
So how I get through life this whay,
I tell you, it’s a whonder.”

“Kno man can know all things,” I said,
“And this can baffle themn.
I’m gualled to say good spelling would
To me be quighte a gemn.”

He sighed and said, “My humbdrumb life
Whould not seem such a shagm,
If I were half as smart as sometimes
Others thinck I agm.”

“Be strong!” our old pal Jon put forth,
“I no of that bad luk.
I’m haf as smart as all my frends.
I spel lik a dum cluk.”

Saturday, April 22, 2017


If you've looked at this page over the three plus years since we got the big dog, Tralfaz, you'd have heard plenty of whining as I detailed how much trouble he was. Well, I don't care how much you whine, we're going to discuss it again!

No, really, I complained a lot about his puppytude, running at people on the street, refusing to come when called, chewing on the wall, fighting skunks, scaring people, ripping every toy to garbage immediately. At one point I complained so much here that my wife made me write something nice about him, which I did, and it was all true. And he's a hero. Somewhere along the line I came to love that dog, and think he's just great. 

Meanwhile, Nipper, the new baby, is struggling through a lot of the same annoying and frustrating behaviors (for him and us). But one thing he knows how to do is: frolic. 

Tralfaz has forgotten the art of the frolic. We used to go in the yard and play Tug, or Keep Away (him keeping things away from me -- his version of Fetch), or I'd just throw toys around and he'd go after them. It was a great way to get him some exercise. When he got tired he's just sit down with a toy and chew the hell out of it. But now he barely chews any toys, never chases any, and when we go in the yard he just sniffs around and flops down. He loves a good walk, but frolic? Meh.

I guess my little boy is all grown up. 

The kid still frolics, though. He even rampages. 

Sometimes it kind of feels like a waste to get Tralfaz out in the yard, or to the dog park. Charlie Brown knew that feeling. 

But now that he's an adult, he may want to stop playing and go to work. He's from working dog stock. Maybe I should get him a wagon to pull, charge the local kids for rides. I thought about hitching the plow to him a couple of years ago and discarded the idea; maybe I should reconsider.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Stays dangerous in milk.

As a fan of breakfast cereal from childhood, I would like to take a moment to discuss one of the strangest breakfast cereals ever devised. 

No, not Kaboom. I will not go into Kaboom in this forum, because Ace of Spades has done more to Kaboom cereal than I can ever do in a lifetime. 

And I'm not getting into the strange saga of Orange Quangaroos, which was originally a miner named Quake who fought an alien named Quisp, then Quake became a cowboy in a cape as new and improved Quake, then Quake got a spotted orange kangaroo, and it was orange-flavored cereal, and Quake went away, and someone was on drugs. 

No, I'm referring to another Quaker product, Mr. T brand cereal:

Mr. Breakfast, the genius site about that most important meal of the day, has this to say about Mr. T cereal, which was introduced in 1984 and de-introduced not long after:

Mr. T Cereal hit grocery stores in 1984, capitalizing on the success of actor/wrestler Laurence Tureaud's Mr. T Character. Mr. T had become recognizable to most Americans through his roles in Rocky III (1982) and The A-Team (1983-1987). His kid-friendly persona was strengthened though guest appearances on Silver Spoons (1982), Diff'rent Stokes (1983) and Alvin and the Chipmunks (1983).
Mr. T Cereal was a "Crispy Sweet Corn And Oats Cereal" that tasted somewhat similar to Cap'N Crunch. The cereal pieces were shaped like the letter "T". Commercials for the cereal used the catch-phrases, "Teaming up with Mr T. (Cereal)... It's cool" and "I pity the fool who don't eat my cereal". 

All this is fairly pedestrian, except that I want to note that prior to T showing up on family programming, he was considered a terrifying presence in pop culture. That was the point of Rocky III, to give the champ a determined, huge, mean, strong opponent who kicks the living crap out of him five ways to Sunday when Rocky dares show up without that old hunger. And T also kills Mickey. And yet two years later Mr. T has a breakfast cereal... and is rapping about how you should be nice to mom.

I never got to eat Mr. T cereal, to tell you the truth, but having been well acquainted with Cap'N Crunch I am certain I know exactly how it tasted. I'm just dazzled by the fact that the scary Mr. T was turned into a big teddy bear so fast.

It would be like Bane showing up two years after Dark Knight Rises with a cereal called BaneO's, a sugar-frosted oat cereal that stays crispy in milk. "Now is not the time for fear... of sogginess!"

That said, I like Mr. T myself. Why not? He's a Christian and he sincerely has tried to help kids of all races, creeds, and colors grow up to be responsible and caring people. I hope he made a million off the cereal. I'd eat a box now. Not, like, 33-year-old cereal, but a fresh nostalgia box?

I'd be a fool not to.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hung up.

What do you do with these?

Of course that's a wire hanger, the type one might get from your dry cleaner, or buy in bunches of 200 for whatever reason.

Unlike the legendary Joan Crawford, I have no problems with wire hangers. You have to hang up your shirts on something, and these work fine. But I get too many of them. Like Christmas lights, they tend to tangle up when nobody's looking. Eventually you get this clanging wire clot on the closet pole.

When I lived in the city, the laundry I used to go to had a dry cleaner attached and they welcomed the return of your hangers. But the dry cleaners around here don't want your old skanky hangers, even if they gave you the hanger in the first place.

They're not wanted for the town's recycling collection, although knowing how bad my neighbors are at following recycling directions, I suppose they do it anyway.

No one seems to need wire hangers for television antennae anymore, thank heavens.

Back in the 90's it became a big thing to turn trash into treasure! by reusing, reducing, and recycling in schools -- mainly by using garbage for craft projects. I never thought much of that, as -- let's face it -- it was just postponing the inevitable. Most kids' craft projects wind up in the trash anyway. Although in a way everything is postponing something inevitable, so I'd rather not dwell on that too long.

The one craft project with wire hangers that was awesome can't really be done anymore. Back when Mobil, the gasoline giant, had a line of plastic consumer products, Baggies (which is still a live trademark, my drug-addled friends, so always cap Baggies in formal writing) were somewhat different than they now are. Baggies were originally invented by the Spotless Plastics Corporation in the 50's; when I got to know them they were still commonly found in supermarkets, but not so much now. They were thin plastic bags that closed with twist-ties rather than a zip top, and they had a slightly rough exterior, like alligator scales. Now they are a smooth plastic, but they still use a cartoon alligator for their mascot. And they're owned by Reynolds, sold under their Hefty label.

What a lot of us did back then was bend the hanger into a circle and tie gallon-size Baggies to it, dozens of them, which made a fluffy plastic wreath with its own hook. You could decorate them with ornaments, spray paint them green, or otherwise Christmas them up. It was a fun project and they lasted for years.

Unfortunately you can't even do that now. Since Reynolds made the plastic smooth instead of rough, they don't look right on the hanger. They don't seem to fluff out properly. What were you thinking, Reynolds? Geez.

So now I don't know what to do with wire hangers, except hang a few shirts, straighten some out to get things that can't be reached or as backscratchers, stuff like that. Every now and then I have to ball some up so they don't poke holes in the bags and get them in the trash.

What do you do with YOUR old hangers?