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Alley Oop
Alley Oop lived a long, long time ago. Perhaps it’s time to let him die.

I can’t say that I’m a big, long-term fan of the comic strip, but it is one of several which are still around from my youth. As such, it has a special place in my cartoon universe. That’s what makes this so hard for me to write.

The attraction of the strip for me was its characters — particularly Alley Oop himself. For a Neanderthal, he is quite good-looking: thick chest, complete with hair. No neck, but a great haircut. And those forearms! They’re huge, like a gorilla’s. Alley is the original monkey man; for that, I give him high honors.

And he’s monkey strong, too. “He rides thru the jungle tearin’ limbs offa trees,” says the only rock and roll tune ever to star a cartoon character. “He’s the toughest man there is alive,” it goes; practically a super hero.

Or used to be. In 1971, “Alley Oop” began the slow decline that most strips suffer when their creators let them go. V.T. Hamlin launched the strip in 1932 and saw it through to its modern, evolved state. After he quit, it has continued under a number of hands. To my eyes, though, it is now nothing more than a cartoon zombie. No personality, no center of gravity, no reason for being. Even Alley’s monkey strength and toughness are gone. He languishes these days in the Classified section of my local paper — normally the last stop before the abyss for a comic strip.

I wish we could nudge him into that abyss and put him out of his long, attenuated misery, but that won’t happen. He’s still running in over 600 papers around the world, though I can’t imagine why. The NEA syndicate and Jack Bender, who currently draws him, will keep the zombie lurching forward as long as he can make them money.

I can’t fault them, I guess. That is the sad reality into which cartoon characters are born. But it does feel wrong for this noble savage to suffer such a fate — trapped in a twilight world of lame plots and edgeless characters, possibly forever.

The king of the jungle jive deserves better … including a decent burial in a deep, deep cave.
The End
I had a dream last night about the end of the world.

You know about the Gyre, don’t you? That’s the Texas-sized island of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean. It’s a vortex of mostly microscopic plastic bits: tiny pieces of styrofoam, polypropylene, and other synthetic refuse too small to be strained out and too unnatural to biodegrade.

It may even be Alaska-sized by now, and there appear to be four other, similar vortices growing in the South Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. In my dream, they are five gigantic mouths, like plastic black holes, relentlessly sucking in every other bit of plastic on the planet.

The Gyres coalesce, joining to form one irresistible, all-consuming maw. And so, we too will be drawn in — slowly, inexorably — along with our entire plasticized civilization.

The end. Eaten alive by our own garbage.

Hey, it was just a dream; that could never really happen. Although, the Gyres will probably coalesce eventually into a single, swirling mass. It might even grow so large that it will make the Earth ever so slightly lopsided. That will be just enough, perhaps, to cause continental plates to be hurled into space and the Earth to spin out of its orbit and into the sun.

But I wouldn’t worry. Before that happened, we’d surely develop some super plastic-eating enzyme to devour the Gyre and save us all. But what would stop that mad molecule from then turning on us? Humans are probably half plastic at this point; the enzyme would simply do what enzymes do and catalyze us into extinction.

Still, I’m confident we could survive an enzyme apocalypse. As long as we all lived in perfectly airtight domes. And wore impermeable, double-walled suits. And traveled in hermetically sealed vehicles.

Made of plastic. So don’t worry.
My Apologies

First, let me say that, as a fully accredited liberal, I love my fellow men and women, all seven billion of them. I care about them, I feel their pain, I welcome them all to dinner at my place (please call first).

The tricky part of such a position, of course, is that so many of these people are hopeless boneheads. Let me explore a few areas of concern.

Religion. Let’s not talk specifics about religion; that would only end with hurt feelings. Let’s just say that all faiths have their share of crazy stuff you’re supposed to believe without question. That is precisely the problem. I distrust any system that requires me to do things without question. Do we really need all the dogma? What’s wrong with just trying to do right?

No offense, but I’m tempted to chalk it up to laziness. Doing right is a personal responsibility; you can’t palm it off on your spiritual leader, no matter how big his hairdo is. I worry when we consign all the tough thinking to someone else without asking at least a couple of questions. I suppose we do this all the time with experts of every kind. Still, shouldn’t we at least retain the veto power over an idea that seems crackpot on its face?

As it is with religion, so it is with economics. Some guy says we’ll all get rich if we give our money to rich people. Cut tax rates and the government will take in more money. When I first heard these supply side notions, I thought, “That’s too good to be true.” I still think that. Why is it that so many of my fellow citizens immediately swallowed them whole, without so much as a “Hey, wait a minute”?

This readiness not to think has got to be more than just laziness. We all hope we can find simple solutions to complex problems. We all prefer not to worry. But come on, people! We’re supposed to worry. It’s a democracy; we’re in charge. So get a grip.

Okay, I’m sorry I spoke in such a disrespectful way. As a liberal, I am not supposed to do that. I intend to apologize for this insensitivity, but first, let me discuss another disquieting problem area: reality TV. And by reality TV, I mean “reality” TV. I understand that this is a rather narrow topic, but it is emblematic of an ugly theme that permeates our culture: utter stupidity.

Reality TV. I hesitate even to mention this topic because the probability of offending people is so great. Everyone watches reality TV of some kind, be it sports or politics or these silly, scripted, poorly acted dramas in which ordinary people humiliate and degrade one another on national TV. It is the last category, though, that I am griping about here.

There are still good, honest portrayals of fiction available, even on the telly. We can witness degradation and shame just by going to the mall — without commercials, it should be noted. So why do we have to have clog up my TV with this stuff?

It may sound as if I’m a bit of an elitist, as if I think I’m better than everybody else. Well, yes I am and yes I do, but be assured that I know this and also that it is wrong to feel this way. Believe me when I say that this bitter self-knowledge is part of the pain I feel so deeply. Oh God, the pain.

All right, now for the apologies; first, let me apologize for this apology. I know they can make some people uncomfortable, and that makes me feel guilty, so I have to apologize. Sorry. Furthermore, I apologize if I have bruised your feelings in the slightest way, even if your feelings are a by-product of your own boneheadedness. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Those on the right are not burdened in this way. They feel superior and wear it as a badge of honor, as if they actually were superior. The tragedy of such a position is that the right (where it now sits on the political spectrum) is so often wrong. Worse, they do not sense the irony of their position (that capability is a left-wing exclusive, it appears). Let me say, however, that I even care about these misguided souls (with the possible exception of Newt Gingrich). It’s part of the liberal ethos.

That is, in fact, the great liberal dilemma: we care so deeply about people we don’t really like. We suffer by caring too much, both for our fellow elitists and for the hopeless boneheads. That is our cross to bear, and I accept that. I would only ask of those boneheads: haven’t we suffered enough?

Sorry, I had to ask.

Here and There
It is a place like no other. There are no worries there, no distractions, and no interruptions of your perfect experience. Actions need only be imagined, and they come to pass. There is no stress, no doubt, no calculation; only effortlessly being in the moment, in the happiest of happy places.

That place, of course, is The Zone. It is an enchanted latitude where we enjoy instantaneous access to all of our skills, where events flow freely, and where we can do no wrong.

Ah, but would you want to live there full time, forever present in the present?

It certainly sounds attractive. Many of the most enlightened among us have set that very state of being as their life’s goal. Follow their wisdom, and you would no doubt find fulfillment. Yes, very tempting, but you go ahead; I don’t think I’m ready for it. I just couldn’t handle All One all the time.

For one thing, you actually need to acquire skills before you can exercise them like a god. If you’ve never played ping-pong, for instance, you will still suck at it in The Zone. To be good there, you first have to learn what it means to be good here, in The unZone. There is no substitute, in other words, for doing the hard, repetitive labor of figuring out what works.

Even then, once you can pronounce yourself as “good” at something, wouldn’t you want to get even better? That means more grunt work picking up skills in this mundane, uncertain world. And if you ever hope to be really good, I think the fundamental breakthroughs such a jump would require could only come through trial-and-error struggles right here in The unZone.

I confess that I would also miss the long periods of random thought that are so common in this world. I know they don’t really count as meditation, and I can’t point to anything concrete that they are good for, but I’m quite sure I couldn’t live without them. In any case, I do like staring out the window.

Furthermore, there is something unhealthy about The Zone. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but it troubles me. That shutting out of everything but the task at hand seems a little selfish somehow, and sterile. There’s no room for chance or serendipity, and I just can’t trust an accomplishment that doesn’t involve struggle.

I like being in The Zone; I wish I could go there anytime I wanted. If I could buy a ticket, I would; but the thought of getting there and never coming back scares me. I see the All One as something to ponder, to strive for, but I wouldn’t be happy being there forever. I’d just end up missing my angst-ridden life here in The unZone. Besides, if I don’t feel lousy sometimes, how can I appreciate feeling good?

So punch my ticket to The Zone, by all means, but please ... make it round-trip.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee