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These are difficult days in the universe of baseball. Or at least in my universe. The San Francisco Giants, world champs in three of the last seven seasons, can’t catch a break this year. They don’t stink, exactly, but they don’t smell of roses either.

As we emerge from the All-Star break, it is the universe of the Los Angeles Dodgers that gives off the fragrant aroma of good fortune and high hopes. With the irrepressible Astros of the American League, they share the best record in major league baseball. At the points where L.A.’s universe overlaps the Giants’, interestingly, we lead 6 wins to 4. That, however, is faint consolation to me and my last-in-the-West team. We can’t hit, we can’t pitch, and our world-class horse Madison Bumgarner hurt his pitching arm…dirt biking.

The Dodgers, by contrast, can do no wrong. Their horse, Clayton Kershaw, is his usual dominant self. Their starting third baseman has the highest batting average in either league. Last week they came from behind to win with a walk-off walk that was preceded by three other walks. The baseball gods aren’t just smiling on Da Bums, they’re grinning from ear to ear.

Now, I have friends who are Dodgers fans. Everybody knows a few. They’re always very nice about the Giants. Root for them outside the rivalry and all that. At the very least, I appreciate the gesture. This year, though, it is L.A. who is on the crest of the wave, and now my friends wish to seduce me into rooting for the Dodgers. “Your boys are out of it,” they say. “Why not root for us?”

As I say, these are difficult days in my baseball universe. I am not a Dodger hater, but I know that I cannot root for them to win it all. It would run counter to the fundaments of my rooting philosophy. I recall that my father stressed a geographical rationale in his rooting patterns. Once his team was eliminated from contention, he rooted for the team whose ballpark was physically closest to ours. That, in this case, would be the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Sorry Dad, but no. I’m not sure where L.A. ranks in my hierarchy of second choices, but it is not near the top. Could the Bosox swear allegiance to the Evil Empire in a similar situation? Would Auburn ever root for the Crimson Tide? Of course not. And to my bluish friends: it’s not personal, it is an axiomatic rooting principle — right there in your copy of the Rooter’s Bible.

Things have changed since my father’s day. The Giants/Dodgers rivalry has evolved since moving west. It was a spirited match-up in New York, but now a whole new dimension has been added. In The Big Apple, neither team was ever going to dislodge the Yankees as the alpha dog. But now the Yanks are out of the picture, and the Giants and Dodgers contend for bragging rights to the biggest state in the union. It has turned into, if not a blood feud, then the kind of classic rivalry that divides the universe into opposites. Like matter and antimatter, those two realities cannot intermix.

So I must focus, as Buster Posey does, on the next pitch. I cannot be distracted by yesterday’s game or “maybe next year” or solicitations from the antimatter universe. I am caught between my default position (hang tough, we can still win this thing) and mathematical elimination. I’ve just got to keep playing.

If I were to look forward (though it would be a violation of the proper rooting posture), I can imagine that mathematics might well catch up with the Giants this year. For the sake of this writing, then, let me entertain the possibility that I might end up rooting for some other team to win it all. Who would that be? As a nod to my father, let me suggest one geographically appropriate answer: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

So you see, my Dodger friends, it’s not personal. I’m rooting strictly by the book. If the Giants fall, it’s go Angels. The Rooter’s Bible tells me so.
Low and Slow
It is certainly an animal to be reckoned with. It is among the largest of its kind. It boasts a prodigious libido and glorious coloration. Yes, truly a magnificent beast. For a slug. And even if you don’t particularly like slugs, you have to give it up for Ariolimax californicus, the one and only banana slug.

That said, it’s a hard animal to cozy up to. I’m used to my furry friends being furry. And warm. A lump of slimy, room-temperature squrmishness is not my idea of man’s best friend. It looks like an internal organ that has somehow escaped the body of a larger animal, a raccoon gizzard that decided to strike out on its own. How could such a creature even manage to exist so naked and exposed to the world?

I saw one on my front porch today, and he/she (they can switch) did nothing to calm my concern for these gastropods. (Yes, concern. I am not heartless, you know.) It seemed to be making a beeline (a very, very slow beeline) for the doorknob side of my front door. I passed the slug several times during the morning, each time noting that the trail of slime had lengthened slightly, all the while remaining true to its course.

I’m not sure what mission the creature was on. The two main categories, I am told, are food and sex. There is food in my house, but not too much of the dead organic matter slugs are so fond of. I suppose my entire home might represent a possible meal to the slug, once the nails, resins, and plastics were removed, but it didn’t seem as appetizing as the leaves, moss, and animal droppings that were so abundant on the nearby forest floor. And if this slug had notions of a possible mating opportunity within my walls, I could have assured it that I do not run that kind of establishment.

It is possible, I suppose, that it harbored some other motivation. Perhaps it longed for a life with more meaning, or it had set itself to discover the purpose of its own existence, or it simply had a wild hair up its tentacle. Still, there was nothing inside my house (even if it did manage to open the door) that would be of much help with any of these goals.

No, it was on a fool’s errand. At these speeds, the whole project seemed like a huge waste of the slug’s time. It was taking forever, it seemed, to slide across my porch on a mission clearly doomed to fail. That was the root of my concern — the sadness of time and opportunities lost. That, and a return trip across the porch filled with regret and self-recrimination. I could have intervened and spared it all of that heartache. I could have picked it up (perhaps rolling it onto my handy copy of Field and Stream) and transported it to a more promising environment. But that seemed wrong. The slug had taken great pains to climb the stairs of my porch, and it clearly had a vision of where it wanted to go. Who was I to second guess its sluggish heart?

So I let it be. I had to leave eventually, so I never witnessed the outcome of the drama. If it reached my front door, it either turned back or continued its quest by climbing the wall of my house. Perhaps, finding its dream thwarted, it returned to the raccoon it had left behind and resumed its life as a gizzard. I will never know.

I am comforted by the knowledge, however, that whatever its destiny was, the banana slug had fulfilled it. With patience and determination. And very, very slowly.
Make a Face
When I teach cartooning, my first lesson tries to help my students find a character they like. Ideally, the persona they create should be one they can live with, one who can help them tell their story. As a way of looking for that character, we explore different facial expressions, especially as indicated by the mouth, the eyes, and the eyebrows.

Those three simple elements can communicate a wide array of human emotions. We usually go with anger first. For that emotion, the eyes are wide, the mouth turns down at the corners, and the eyebrows slant down in the middle. It is the least ambivalent of all expressions, one that everyone recognizes immediately.

After anger, I ask my students to change one of the elements. We swap out the frown for a smile. The eyes and eyebrows remain the same, but that one change makes a big difference in the emotional impact on the face. While anger is an intimidating expression, what we have now qualifies as frightening. It is a face of evil — with an edge of madness.

This face always gets a big reaction from the 13-year-olds who normally make up my classes — especially the boys. They receive the message of that face loud and clear, and it goes through them like a thrill of electricity. Danger, menace, and fear will do that, even if the character is a little bunny. Inevitably, some of the young cartoonists will seize on this expression and make it the defining feature of their character’s personality.

Unfortunately, pure evil is not the most promising character trait for good storytelling. Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil and Felonious Gru of “Despicable Me” are evil main characters, but their evil side is played against their own cluelessness, and always for laughs. Most of my students, however, aren’t interested in that kind of complexity. They just want the danger and the menace. I do what I can to gently dissuade them, but it’s not my job to tell them their creations are doomed to fail. The stories they produce tend to be about bad characters doing bad things, and even they find that result a bit boring. That’s when I allow myself to step in with suggestions.

I don’t have that option when it comes to cartoon characters I see popping up the wider culture. When I see characters displaying wide-eyed evil out there, there is nothing I can do to warn their creators away from this course of action.

I would probably be ignored anyway; evil is wildly popular these days. You see it a lot in the universe of team mascots, for instance. I am not sure why maniacal wickedness is chosen as a desirable quality when it comes to athletics, but these demented creatures are everywhere in the world of sports. Perhaps it is thought to be intimidating. Personally, if I were designing a representative for my team, I would choose something with cold-eyed determination. That trait, at least, might contain the possibility of strategic thinking or at least guile. Such attributes have proven value when it comes to winning, and that’s the whole point, after all. Even simple ferocity would be a better choice for that purpose than batshit crazy mean.

It’s the same appeal felt by those teenage boys, I guess. People think evil is cool or hip or funny or something, and I find that disturbing. And it’s not just in sports. I see skulls (which don’t take much tweaking to look evil) appearing as tattoos everywhere these days. Surfing and skateboarding brands like Spitfire feature evil-looking characters as the face of their businesses. Isn’t this glorification and monetization of evil, like, a bad thing? Not to mention kind of boring?

If anyone were listening, I might suggest that these image creators go instead with sardonic, which is a similar expression. That’s the look Matthew McConaughey gets when he’s driving around in his Lincoln. The eyebrows are down in the middle, as they are with anger and evil, but the smile is only a half smile and the eyes aren’t wide with emotion but calm instead. A wiseguy grin under a dark brow. Sardonic. It’s still not the friendliest of expressions, but at least I’d be open to any story that character might have to tell.
The Joy of 6
I love six.

There, I’ve said it. Not only do I think that six is the most beautiful number, I genuinely care for it. And I dare to feel that six likes me back.

Six (or 6, as it likes to be called) may be matched in its attractiveness by nine, but that number projects an aggressive sexuality that I find off-putting. Others might disagree, I suppose. The eye of the beholder, especially when it’s upside down, is mysterious in its preferences.

Zero (whom no one would ever dare to address as 0) is also beautiful in its own way, but to my eye it is an aloof kind of beauty, one that does not need or want the admiration of others. It may not, in fact, even be a number at all, but I am not here to quibble about mathematics. Aesthetics is what concerns me…that, and the deep, undeniable physical attraction I feel for this lovely integer.

No, I am not thinking about having sex with 6. That is not only sick, but also dimensionally infeasible. Our bond is not about carnal knowledge. (Though I will admit to once trying to calculate 6’s cube root in my head. I got to 1.81712059 before realizing that what I was doing was wrong. I have no apologies, however, for my sweet daydreams of computing long, long, long division with 6 until there is no remainder left.) What we have, you see, is much more than the sum of its parts. It is a spiritual thing, and it cannot be reduced to mere numbers — even though one of us is one.

Now, you might be thinking, “What about other numbers? Don’t you think three is pretty hot?” Well yes, of course, but it’s not really the kind of number I want to bring home to the parents. Three is certainly worthy of love, as any number is, but I can’t imagine us in any kind of long-term relationship, mathematical or otherwise.

None of the other digits really match up that well with my needs either. Maybe I’m just a straight arrow, but two and five are just too squirrelly for my taste. They’re curvy one moment, angular the next, turning one way then the other. I need a number I can count on, something solid, and yes, safe. Number one is too self-absorbed for me to risk attachment, seven is too dangerous, four is half bent, and eight is just too much number for little old me.

No, it’s got to be 6. I want to be near to 6 and to hold it close, to cherish and protect it from the cruelty of this world. I love 6, and I know in my heart that the feeling is mutual (or at least roughly congruent).
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee