From Keith Knight’s Mouth to God’s Ear, Please

Cartoonist Keith Knight is a regular contributor to my favorite monthly magazine, The Funny Times. To break the routine from his main comic strip, called The K Chronicles, he occasionally does a strip called “Life’s Little Victories.” He builds these strips from ideas submitted by readers — little one- or two-panel ideas describing the little things that make life worth living.

From the weekly Funny Times “Take a Break” cartoon email newsletter, here’s a recent and highly relevant collection of such victories (numbers 265 through 270), applicable across the political spectrum:

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What’s in a Song: Blue Moon

[This is the first in a series of every-now-and-then posts about popular songs with long lives.]

Some great songs go through subtle changes over time: the original lyrics are updated to correspond to more modern diction and taste; rhymes get improved or dropped altogether; refrains are added and subtracted; and of course new arrangements can, with the slightest addition of an instrumental passage, change our very understanding of what a song means.

“Blue Moon” didn’t begin as a classic — not in the form it eventually acquired. While the music remained unchanged, its lyrics didn’t simply evolve: they mutated almost overnight, going through three versions before finally settling down into their fourth and (more or less) final variation.

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Perfect Moments: Stone Harbor; Late ’70s; Night

Stone Harbor beach

A series of professional and personal disappointments. A young man on the brink of his 30s. No idea where his life is bound — forward, over the precipice? or backward, over that one? — or what he’ll find once he gets there. A motorcycle.

The details of the disappointments aren’t important. (Once you reach a certain age, they never do — and not just because the memory isn’t as reliable as it once was.) Suffice it to say, I really had no freaking idea what was going to become of me. It wasn’t quite despair, this feeling — not the stereotypical “my life is in the toilet,” you know. More like fear, maybe: was my life in the toilet?

Nothing seemed to be working out quite as I’d imagined it would, and a large part of that failure translated to: I myself wasn’t working out quite as I’d imagined.

Nothing doing on the writing front. Interesting but crapola jobs, plus an interesting but decidedly not crapola job that I’d still managed to fail at. Friends and classmates settling in to comfortable niches. One marriage flushed away after just a couple years. Nothing like a satisfying relationship within the horizons I could see. I had the bike, yeah, but I’d already taken the “finding-myself” tour on the road with it, camping around New England. Found some great photographs on that trip, and then of course I’d found New England itself (which I still love). But myself…?

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Seeing Things

From whiskey river:

Then away out in the woods I heard that kind of a sound that a ghost makes when it wants to tell about something that’s on its mind and can’t make itself understood, and so can’t rest easy in its grave, and has to go about that way every night grieving.

(Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)

Shadow

So the dead are among us again
even here where Halloween is not celebrated
and the moon flies through the skeletons of trees
and men in rowboats fish for souls on the river
There is a woman with spidery hair swinging a lantern
disappearing down the colonnade
a row of buildings tilted like gravestones
in which a single window is lit
a wall from whose depths shadows emerge
assuming the contours of bodies they will follow
all night and abandon at dawn:
a revelation to you
that each day we take on a new shadow

(Nicholas Christopher, from Crossing the Equator: New and Selected Poems 1972-2004)

Not from whiskey river:

Fezzik: Why do you wear a mask? Were you burned by acid, or something like that?
Man in Black: Oh no, it’s just that they’re terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.

(The Princess Bride)

Also not from whiskey river: Jim Carrey’s not to everyone’s taste. But this is pretty memorable:
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Democracy 101: Great Apolitical PSA

Courtesy of Steven Spielberg and, well, pretty much everybody.

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Oblig Region-of-Birth-Loyalty Post

I don’t pay much — well, all right, any — attention to baseball. In practice, this means for example that in the photograph at the left, if you masked the team names and logos, for all I knew I’d be looking at… gee, what are those other teams with red in their uniforms? Cardinals? (I hear they’re not in St. Louis anymore, right?) Red Sox? Braves? (Uh… Milwaukee? Atlanta? When did that happen?)

They are, of course, none of those other teams. They are the Philadelphia Phillies, 2008 last-game-of-World-Series edition.

Not only the city of Philadelphia itself, but within a wide circle around William Penn’s statue atop City Hall — into other areas of Pennsylvania, probably Delaware and Maryland — there is much rejoicing. Including South Jersey, my ancestral (and until 1990 or so, my real) home.

As of several weeks ago, I had a vague sense that the team was involved in something-or-other in the postseason. So I’m pretty embarrassed. (Well, not really. Just help me out here wouldja, I’m trying to save face.)

Here’s what a message from one of my siblings said, at 10:42 last night. (I myself had been asleep for an hour by then.)

THE PHILLIES WON!!!! OH MY GOD! Mom’s probably havin’ to have her heart checked! Can you believe it!!!

(I didn’t even know our mother ever even watched baseball, let alone to the point of rooting for someone. Football, heck yeah. But baseball?)

And then we have the following. This is from a nephew, recently transplanted from the East Coast to the West. The title over this blog post (time-stamped 12:40 this morning, presumably Pacific time and not Eastern) is, “And Nearly Three Decades Later…”:

BAM! The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions! Neither rain nor snow nor Bud Selig nor Joe Buck could stop the most efficient and charismatic team in baseball from claiming what was rightfully theirs. 28 years in the making, goddamn… CONGRATULATIONS, PHILLIES!!

More to come in the sober – but still glorious, because THE PHILLIES WON THE WORLD SERIES – morning. See you then!

I don’t know. Maybe I — or they — have some sort of rare mutant recessive gene.

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The Flames. The Smoke. The Highway. The Terror.

[Today’s post is my contribution to travel writer Angela Nickerson‘s Blogapalooza blog party. The theme of Angela’s Halloween Blogapalooza is “What a Strange Trip It’s Been,” for which her instructions are:

…put a photo of a pumpkin at the top of your post and tell us the story of your strangest or scariest trip ever.

Be sure to visit Angela’s site and explore the other participants’ pages, listed in the right-hand menu under “Blogs-a-Palooza-ing on October 29.” And keep your eyes open for blog posts today headed with the blog party’s signature pumpkin — even if they’re not listed on Angela’s site.]

Flaming pumpkin in the woodsIt was the year of the wildfires.

Everywhere in Florida and south Georgia the forests burned, blazes started by God, Nature, human accident or intent. In the quiet of the nights, even from dozens of miles away, you could hear the distant roar of the flames, the whir of the helicopter blades, the shouts and screams of the firemen. The smell of smoke clung to every surface.

The Man and The Woman did not know in advance that this would be a time of fire from which they might need to escape. They had planned in advance not an escape, but a simple weekend trip. A celebration. An anniversary.

It was early June, 2007.

The trip itself had been pleasant, uneventfully pleasant. Fun. Their destination was a charming old harbor city in the Deep South. The Man and The Woman had eaten their fill on more than one night; they had toured the old river plantations nearby; they saw the headlines about the wildfires, but the fire and smoke and ash were too far distant to concern them. They were on vacation. Nothing could frighten them on vacation. Nothing could harm them.

Oh, there were signs that things were not normal. There was the evening walking tour of the old cemeteries, during which ghostly lights bobbed and flickered above the ground until you looked directly at them. There were the scraps of conversation overheard at nearby restaurant tables, from behind the hotel’s front desk: Interstate… still burning… shut down… no end…

But nothing could harm The Man and The Woman. The trip had been a success. They were untouchable. They were loading up their luggage; they were setting forth on the trip home.

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Placeholder Post: Defeating the Aliens

[Working today on tomorrow’s post — my contribution to tomorrow’s Halloween Blogapalooza blog party, hosted by travel writer Angela Nickerson.

In the meantime, I thought you might find this useful. For, y’know, when They land and we have to, like, fight our way out of impending intergalactic apocalypse and stuff. Dude, these people know.]

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Has John Cusack Ever Made a Bad Movie?

Kidding. Sort of.

I mean, look, the guy’s made almost 60 movies, in a career spanning more than 25 years (per his Wikipedia filmography, at least). It’s pretty much impossible to make that many films and have nary a stinker in the bunch.

Granted, I haven’t seen all or even most of those five dozen films. (Which surprised me, actually; I’d been prepared to open this post by flashing my Cusack credentials, daring anyone to challenge me.)

But I’ve seen a lot of them. And I honestly cannot think of a single film, even the ones he hasn’t “starred” in, which he has not boosted by a sly, assured performance.

Lord knows, there’s nothing conventionally movie-star about his looks — his soulful-hangdog looks (like in the above photo) or (as at left) his crazy looks or (as below right) affable, laughing, and apparently relaxed. (I’ve never seen Rachael Ray’s talk show, but I’ve seen her manic 30-Minute Meals routine. It’s hard to imagine anyone could ever really be relaxed around that person, but I remain open to the possibilities of an infinite universe.)

And Lord knows, in one of his profession’s true injustices, he doesn’t have shelves full of acting awards.

But damn, the guy is a pleasure to see on the screen.

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The Sunday-Morning Debate: Sweet or Savory?

When I was a kid, the family habit was to stop on the way home from church at the L&M Bakery. (I’m so happy to see they’re* still in business and still getting rave reviews.) For the six of us, a reasonable guess might be that we’d get, say, a dozen doughnuts and be happy, right?

Oh, no. Nonononononooooo. Not my family. And not when buying from L&M. Try:

  • Six or eight doughnuts, including at least one jelly doughnut and a couple chocolate-covered cream doughnuts (which were not the same thing as Boston Creme Doughnuts, you Philistines). Filled, so it seemed, from surface to surface. You’d bite into one of these suckers and you’d have to mop up all around your mouth, sometimes even your cheeks.
  • Sticky cinnamon buns, with raisins. Maybe a half-dozen of these. The owners of the Cinnabon brand would fold up their franchises if they knew these existed.
  • Crumbly cinnamon-topped “crumb buns.” A favorite of my kid brother, which (as I recall) indicated to me a certain lack of imagination. Until I tried one myself.
  • A slab of something called “butter cake.” (I’m still not sure what exactly this was; I’ve never seen it anyplace else. Flat, pan-baked, maybe ¾-inch thick. Sweeeet topping, not quite icing… The topping cracked irregularly during baking, so each piece of butter cake looked like a miniature map of the continents just after they’d started to break up jillions of years ago.)

Now, we didn’t get ALL these things every week. But every week we did get enough, really, for ourselves and a couple neighbor families. Whom we’d never have dreamt of inviting unless they brought their own.

And it would all be gone by Sunday night. **

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