The Back Page Of The Sunday Comics

The other day Kish and I were wandering through a thrift store. On a shelf stuffed with old Saturday Evening Posts and long forgotten board games, I saw this Dondi puzzle.

Dondi? I haven’t thought of Dondi in years. For those of you who never encountered the little guy, he was a “goody two shoes” type who appeared on the back pages of the Akron Beacon Journal Sunday comics section. Dondi was one of those darkly colored, continuing story comic strips that had a more serious bent — like the severe-looking, judgmental Mary Worth, who always seemed to be meddling in other people’s lives, or Brenda Starr, Reporter, the glamorous, starry-eyed journalist who never seemed to actually sit down at a typewriter.

I never actually read any Dondi comics, because it was one of those back pages strips. I read the front page, with Peanuts and Dagwood and Blondie and Beetle Bailey, and would read back past Andy Capp and The Lockhorns and Cappy Dick, but Gasoline Alley was as far back as I would go. The last pages of the Sunday comics were forbidding territory, with strange adult themes. If Dondi was placed back there, with all of that drama and angst, that told you all you needed to know.

What kid would want to read that stuff? It would be like telling your Mom on a fine summer day that instead of playing outside with your friends you wanted to sit down with her and watch The Days Of Our Lives or As the World Turns.

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Piloting The Boat

Dad was a car dealer.  He ran a Columbus Ford dealership from 1971 until he retired in the late ’80s.  As the manager of the dealership, he had the option of driving cars with dealer plates, the better to show the Columbus driving public some of the new options that were available in the showroom.  As a result, it was not unusual to see a different car in the driveway every night when Dad came home from work.

2f8b1531b9932fa2cad0abc8ca022eb6The good news:  that meant UJ, Cath and I got to try out some new cars when we started driving.  The bad news:  they were all ’70s-era Fords.  Ford produced some of the ugliest cars, from a design and paint job standpoint, in a decade that will be forever known as the low point for American style — whether you’re talking about automobiles, haircuts, or clothing.  Every American manufacturer lost their marbles and churned out products that had none of the sleek, appealing features of cars of the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, or ’60s, and Ford, too, produced models — like the Pinto, the Maverick, and especially the box-like Granada — that were the vehicular equivalent of the leisure suit.

For the most part, UJ, Cath and I stuck with the small cars that we’d take to high school, but from time to time we’d drive one of the big luxury cars that Dad would bring home.  During that time period, Ford had taken the Thunderbird — which started out as a cool, spiffy little roadster — and turned it into a huge, grossly overpowered monstrosity.  The 1975 Thunderbird had an enormous front with a hood that covered approximately one square acre, a half-vinyl top with tiny rear windows, a big hood ornament, and front seats that were wide enough to comfortably sleep a family of 6.

We called it “the boat,” because when you took it out on the street it was like trying to steer an ocean liner.  If you took a corner at a speed exceeding 5 m.p.h., you’d see that massive front end oh-so-slowly make the turn and you’d find yourself sliding all over that sprawling front seat.  You had to wear seat belts, a recent safety innovation, just to avoid being pitched out one of the windows.  Some cars could turn on a dime; “the boat” could probably manage to turn on a $100 bill.  In short, “handling” was not one of its top selling points — and in retrospect, I’m not sure exactly what the selling points actually might have been.

I thought of “the boat” when I ran across a news article about people who rave about American autos of the ’70s.  It’s an example of nostalgia overwhelming reality.  Me?  I’ve got no desire to return to those days of vinyl and velour and gas-guzzling enormity.  I’ll take the sensible, maneuverable cars of the current era any day.

A Tale Fit For Aesop

You may remember reading one of Aesop’s fables when you were a kid.  Aesop was the ancient Greek — believed to have been a slave on the island of Samos — who lived around 600 B.C. and wrote short tales, often involving sentient animals, that always imparted a simple, direct moral lesson.

rat-for-rat-info-page-on-website-14-15Some of Aesop’s best-known efforts include the Fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant, in which the industrious ant works hard and saves for the winter while the shiftless grasshopper messes around and ends up starving (moral: look ahead and be prepared, or pay the consequences), or the Fable of Belling the Cat, where mice have a meeting to discuss how to protect themselves against a predatory cat, decide someone should put a bell on the cat so that the mice will know when the cat is approaching, and then realize that no mouse would be capable of attaching the bell (moral:  it’s easy to propose impossible solutions and harder to come up with remedies that actually can be accomplished).

I thought of old Aesop when I read this news story about a rat that somehow got into an ATM machine in India.  The rat crawled into the machine in the northern Indian town of Tinsukia, wasn’t detected by security cameras, gorged itself on $18,000 worth of Indian rupees — and then died.  It’s not clear whether the rat was killed by the ink and chemicals on the banknotes it chewed, or whether it became so bloated that it was unable to get out of the ATM after its feast.  In any case, the dead rat was discovered only after the ATM stopped working and technicians were sent to investigate.

Now, there’s a tale fit for Aesop!  But since he’s not around any more, we’ll have to come up with our own moral for this story of the money-loving rat.  How about:  “Gluttony is its own punishment”?  Or:  “A taste for money should only be indulged in moderation”?  Or:  “A rat with money is still just a rat”?

For Fear Of A Dangling Preposition

You learned the rule when you were growing up.  You turned in a theme or two in English class, and your paper came back swimming in a sea of red ink.  Almost inevitably, one of the comments from your teacher — maybe even with an exclamation point or two — was that you were not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition.

winston-churchill-quote-ending-a-sentence-with-aIf you did, you had crossed the dreaded “dangling preposition” line.  It was a rule right up there with the “dangling participle” and the “dangling modifier” in the anti-dangling English grammar book.  So instead of writing “What do you want to talk about?,” you were supposed to write something forced and weirdly contrived, namely:  “About what do you want to talk?”  It’s one key way in which what we were taught about the written word varies distinctly from actual spoken language.  If your wife told you that she wanted to talk about something and you responded “About what do you want to talk?,” she’d think you’ve gone off your rocker.

Why were we ever taught about dangling prepositions?  I ran across an article yesterday that attributed the rule to John Dryden, a well-known English writer of the late 1600s, who supposedly made two offhand comments about how ending a sentence with a preposition did not seem “elegant.”  It doesn’t appear that Dryden was a crusader about the issue, but according to the article, Dryden’s stature was such that his comments became embedded in the strict grammarian mind at a time when the English language was evolving and becoming more standardized, and ultimately gave rise to the hard and fast red-ink rule that was taught when we were going to school.  Others argue, however, that the anti-dangling preposition view arose because English grammarians borrowed the rule from Latin — which was the language of the learned for centuries — and in Latin prepositions can’t be separated from their objects.

So who really was responsible for that red ink on your high school theme?  Was it one now-obscure British writer who was obsessed with elegance, or was it the dangling Romans?  We’ll probably never know for sure.  The important thing is that the anti-dangling bias has ended, and grammarians now embrace sentences like “Who did you go with?” as perfectly correct — and certainly more natural sounding than the artificial constructions used to avoid some of that dreaded dangling.

Your high school English teacher, and perhaps John Dryden, too, must be wondering where this unseemly and inelegant development came from.

Boys And Toys

There’s a bit of a dust-up over in England because Prince George, the four-year-old son of Prince William and Kate Middleton, was seen in public playing with a water pistol.  The toddler, his Mom, and his sister were out to watch his Dad play in a polo match — hey, we are talking about the British royal family here, after all — and the young boy fooled around with the toy gun, as well as a toy knife and a slinky, as he sat on the grass.

prince_george_toy_gun-560x390This sparked outrage from some quarters, because Great Britain evidently has recently seen an increase in violence with guns and knives.  Some people said that water pistols shouldn’t be seen as fun toys, and it was wrong for his parents to allow Prince George to play with them.  One Twitter user fretted that playing with realistic toy guns could lead to children mistakenly shooting themselves with real guns.  Another critic, drawing long-term conclusions from the little boy’s play, said:  “Sad to see George playing with a gun when the whole country has a gun/knife crime situation. Maybe in training for killing wild life in later years.”  Really?

It’s hard for me to believe that people don’t have better things to do than worry about little boys playing with toy guns.  When I was a kid, the family toy box included a few western six-shooters and a sheriff’s badge, a cap gun, a few water pistols, and a machine gun that made a whirring noise and sprayed red sparks from the barrel when you pulled the trigger.  The other boys in the neighborhood had a similar toy arsenal in their homes.  All of these ersatz weapons came in handy when UJ and me and the other kids in the neighborhood were out playing “army” or “Rat Patrol,” cowboys and Indians, or cops and robbers.  These games were like a glorified form of hide and seek that allowed the kids in the neighborhood to get out, run around, and use up some of the energy that kids have in abundance, and having a fake gun was just part of the game.

Astonishingly, none of the kids in our neighborhood went on to become gun nuts or mass murderers.  We played with toy guns because it was fun, but it was just that — play.  And the army-style games alternated with playing baseball or football or freeze tag, or building forts, or catching lightning bugs on a warm summer evening.  Playing with guns didn’t glorify guns, or desensitize us to violence, or leave us permanently scarred because one of our gun-toting friends captured us, or any of the other psychobabble concerns that people are articulating now, they were just toys that were part of great games.  I’m not a gun person, but if I were a kid I’d do it all over again.  It was fun.

Obviously, people in England have a right to be concerned about violence, but we can be sure of one thing — whatever the cause of that violence might be, it isn’t four-year-old boys playing with water pistols.  Give the kid and his parents a break, and let him go about his play without projecting adult concerns on a little boy’s innocent fun.

Hot Asphalt On A Summer’s Day

Our house on Short Hills Drive in Bath, Ohio had an asphalt driveway.  The driveway ran up a small hill, took a right turn to the garage, and had a big open area at the top of the hill where Mom and Dad had put up a basketball hoop.

On blistering summer days, the sun would heat the asphalt, and you could catch a whiff of tar and feel the heat radiating off the black surface. On those days I liked to walk barefoot on the driveway, to take in the smell and the scorching heat and see how long my feet could stand it. It’s one of those things that will always mean “summer” to me.

I was reminded of this today as I was out walking to do a few errands. It was hot and the sun was shining brightly.  As I walked I passed a freshly paved asphalt parking lot, smelled that smell, and felt that heat, and the sensory experiences brought it all back. I started to think about how much I enjoyed walking barefoot on hot asphalt, and how I hadn’t done it in years.  So when I got closer to home, and I passed an empty parking lot that was ablaze in the sunshine, I couldn’t resist. I took off my sneakers and socks and set out across the lot, feeling the burn on the soles of my feet.

My feet aren’t as tough and calloused as they used to be, and after a few laps around the tarry surface I was ready to step off and put my shoes back on. But my little barefoot exercise felt good. In fact, it felt exactly like summer.

Extreme B.O.

Body odor — or as my prim and proper Mother would refer to it, “B.O.” — isn’t typically a topic to discuss in polite company.  But when someone’s personal bouquet is so pungent that it forces a plane to make an emergency landing, you’ve got to make an exception to the rule.

15912466-a-man-in-a-gas-mask-in-the-smoke-black-backgroundIt happened this week, on a Transavia flight from the Netherlands to the Spanish island of Gran Canaria.  One male passenger smelled so foul — with a lingering, unwashed stench that another passenger aptly described as “unbearable” — that unfortunate fellow travelers on the plane began to vomit and faint.  Flight attendants put the aromatic man in the bathroom, hoping to confine the smell and allow other passengers to recover from the onslaught, but it was no use.  The flight crew decided the man had to be removed, the flight landed in the Portuguese city of Fargo, the offending passenger was removed by medical personnel, and the flight continued.  It’s not clear what medical personnel did for — or to — the removed passenger, but presumably it involved some form of power-washing.

Transavia, speaking with a daintiness that Mom would have approved of, confirmed that the flight was diverted for “medical reasons.”  The article linked above notes that this incident isn’t the first time this year that poor Transavia has had to deal with stench-related issues; in February, on a flight from Dubai to Amsterdam, one passenger’s flatulence was so extreme that a fistfight broke out in the passenger compartment and the pilot had to divert the flight to Vienna to stop the disturbance.

In my family, the kids were taught that you always want to be squeaky clean, completely deodorized, and at no risk of bodily emanations that could conceivably be offensive to even the most discerning society matron.  Different cultures, of course, have different practices and different tolerances for the human aroma, but I’m not aware of any culture where it would be socially acceptable to board a plane emitting a stench so appalling that it causes people nearby to retch or lose consciousness.  I’m just glad I wasn’t on that flight — and Mom wasn’t, either.