And meanwhile, in the non-competitive portion of the paper…
And meanwhile, in the non-competitive portion of the paper…
When we last saw Dok’s Dippy Duck, he was heading off to vacation. So where did The Kid take off to? It depends on whether you read the Seattle Times comics page or the weather forecast cartoon on the front page.
In the funnies, you were expected to figure it out yourself…for prizes! Just send your guesses to the Duck Editor.
Meanwhile, in his other gig as the Umbrella Man‘s sidekick, it was a little more straightforward. And maybe a little bit more ambitious. There was certainly more writing involved, anyway…
Where were we again? Oh yeah, ducks…
As for that vacation, we’ll get to that next time. And it might even get posted before Christmas, too!
(Or “How To Finish Writing A Story In Ten Easy Years”)
This story used to be about Joan.
That was about a dozen drafts ago. For the purposes of this testimony, I’ve moved past Joan as a character, but since this used to be herstory, I feel compelled to tell you that Joan was a sweet-natured, mildly trippy woman in her mid-to-late 20s who had just given up smoking and her boyfriend of seven years. It was over a clash of life approaches. For Joan, life was about singing the song of herself, because she contained multitudes, and what was true for her was good for anybody. Dennis, on the other hand, was hung up on the world. Petty things like keeping the power bill paid. Food in the refrigerator. You know, crap like that.
Since Joan was a free woman again, she’d gone back to her default mode of dressing like the best rack at Goodwill and furnishing her apartment like the worst end of large item pick-up day on the garbage route. She had dark bangs that she’d finally gotten right, just like the woman on TV. She was going to get an iPhone just like her (and that should tell you how long this has been on the to-do pile) until she realized that she’d screwed up her credit rating several years ago when she wasn’t paying attention to what she was signing. You see, she was really into textures at that particular moment, and the feel of the paper was a monumental distraction. Besides, minimum service agreements were tools of corporate hostility, and she felt the same way about paying early termination fees. Sunk again by philosophical differences.
In fact, it was as she was walking back from the cell phone store, tripping along to music that only she could hear, that she found a puppy, the kind her mom used to call a “Heinz 57 mutt”. It was sitting in a cardboard box which was apparently its current home, foraging in the garbage for its breakfast…which, being in the bin behind an appliance store, is drilling a dry hole, but dogs find a way. Joan picked up the little guy and got a flood of instant-validation affection. The decision was made. The dog was coming home.
From there, Joan’s story would be heading into the adventures being a single pixie in a fair-to-middling town and how she has to adjust to the puppy way of doing things, pulling Joan out of herself and dealing with the needs of another living thing for the first time in her life—never mind that she’d just shared a life with another living thing for seven years, because continuity is for cowards. The story would’ve been warm and kind, full of the wonderful lessons that animals can teach us, because they’re so like us, you know? In other words, it would’ve been a copy of Chicken Soup For The Soul soaked overnight in an indie rock soundtrack until it was a soggy mess that just fell apart in your hands.
So you see why I had to ditch that crap with great speed.
Then I started thinking about the previous owner of the puppy. After all, somebody finds a puppy, somebody loses a puppy. Either that or somebody tells a puppy to get lost. So now we were on the story of a brown-haired boy with skinned knees and a crooked smile who promised his dad that yes, he could take care of a dog. His mom went behind the old man’s back and helped the boy pick out a dog from the shelter.
While the boy was in the process of losing his mind, Liz, mother of one (“but some days it feels like two,” she usually tells her friends), noticed that her husband was looking on with an almost rictus grin. “It’s going to be fine, Tony,” she said, resting her head on his shoulder as they settled into the porch swing. “A boy that age needs something to get out of his own head. Care about things other than himself. Y’know?”
Tony finally snapped out of it, just enough to wrap his arm around Liz. “Yeah. We’ll just see about that.”
The first three days were filled with the type of kid/dog romping that used to be underscored in family movies with a lonesome harmonica and guitar accompaniment. On day number four, however, the boy left the back gate open, and the puppy (who, even as a puppy, had become rightly freaked out by the boy’s strenuous, hands-on type of love) made a break for it.
It took the boy awhile to notice his mistake. He was busy burning ants with a magnifying glass, and wondering how long it would take to burn the squirrel that had ruined his pine cone bird feeder. When he finally figured out what had happened, an ungodly piercing wail of misery went through the air. The old man was on deck first. “What’s got into you, champ?”
“Daaaaaaddy, the (blub) puppy (blub) got (snort) awaaaaay!” Through blubbing and snorting and snot bubbles, he relayed an edited version of the past hour that he thought would let him off the hook. “Help me find him?”
A kind of hardness crept into the father’s face, possibly because he had heard nothing but the puppy and the puppy and the puppy all week, and he was the one feeding the dog and cleaning its “peeps and poops”, as the rest of the household insisted on calling them. If this is a test, the boy’s failing, he told himself. And here comes a teachable moment. “I dunno, champ, this dog is your responsibility, so maybe it should be your responsibility to bring him home.” Then, just to twist the knife, “Better get your umbrella. Looks like a storm’s coming.”
What was coming was a torrential downpour that flipped the child’s cheap plastic Ninja Turtle umbrella inside-out almost instantly. Because of the miserable visibility, he ended up walking well past his “safety zone”, calling for the dog with a name the animal would never recognize because the baby genius had never bothered to tell the dog what its name was. That was the least of his worries, though, because when he was barely 100 yards from his subdivision, the driver of a tractor-trailer, fresh as a chemically-preserved daisy on his 30th working hour without sleep, suddenly lost control of his rig.
And at this point, with the steel behemoth close to spilling its presumably-toxic-to-humans cargo all over the suburbs, its indifferent headlights staring down a child who didn’t think he’d have cause to regret not mulling over his life insurance options this early in the school year, and two years away from the divorce hearings that would take the boy upstate with his mother while the dad dedicated his basement to a massive train set that he was convinced would make everything right again, let’s take a brief intermission.
You might have noticed that I never named that child, and there’s a good reason for that: the little punk was a unsentimental aggravation. In a “write what you know” sort of way, I used to be that kid…and I couldn’t stand me either. At the same time, if I actually did the kid in, I’d either be drawn and quartered by a sentimental public, or I’d run the risk of clicking with an audience who kind of gets off on stories about kids being run over by diesel-fueled death. Since their money spends just as well as anybody else’s, I’d have to find new and “exciting” ways to flatten children, and who wants that on his head? If that makes me a coward, then fine, I lost my nerve.
(Occasionally someone reminds me that there’s a third much more likely option, that people could continue to ignore all this noise. My response is always the same: “Who the hell gave you this address?”)
Anyway, this is the point where I started thinking about the truck driver. At the time there were reality shows, news reports, and darkly amusing YouTube videos about truckers and the grueling lives they lead. Why not the truck driver?
His name was “Sweet William” Dallas, entering his second decade of cross-country freight hauling. William’s nickname was from a Leon Redbone song, and he had a tattoo of the man himself from the cover of Double Time on his left bicep, both of which he regretted once he decided Lynyrd Skynyrd was a better fit for him.
Bill, as he now begged friends and coworkers to call him (which was the primary reason why they didn’t), was trying to finish a big-money run a day ahead schedule because his silver-haired mother was fading fast. At least that’s the way she put it after spending a week dealing with his aggravating brother, who had broken an arm trying to fish the TV remote out from behind the big dresser. “Get Richie out of here,” she had texted him a few days ago. “He’s really screwing up the schedule for my krav maga lessons.”
That gave William at least two deadlines to beat, and to that end, a twitchy neighborhood kid sold him a cluster bomb of caffeine pills and other stimulants, which our driver had been popping like M&Ms since Fredericksburg. Bill was either so tweaked or so zonked that he thought Unnamed Kid was a deer (a deer in jeans and a Polo shirt) when his truck told him to screw off and turned itself into a telephone pole flattener.
(At which point I tell myself “Now that’s a pathetic way to put a button on a story. What about the drug dealer? Yeah, the dealer, let’s roll with that for awhile.”)
Andy was as thin as nothing squared, wearing a Make America Great Again cap pulled down tight over his sweaty forehead and an army jacket from the dumpster behind Goodwill buttoned to his neck, even in summertime. As far back as he could remember—that’d be last Tuesday—he wanted to launch a career in recreational pharmaceuticals, and attempted to jump-start a weed concern. Unfortunately, not only did he have a “black thumb” for agriculture, but no sense of effective camouflage, as his arresting officer told him. So he ended up in the bottom-feeding world of ordering pills from the ads in the back of High Times and selling them with a markup to people who couldn’t find a better connection. His primary clientele was desperate people on a deadline (mostly reckless college students), but sometimes he got special cases, like a young twentysomething woman who was just coming off of a long-term relationship…
Hold on a minute. That’s Joan, isn’t it? You do remember Joan, don’t you? This used to be her story, you know.
Not only is Joan more tenacious than I thought, but she turned out to have a few more jagged angles than she appeared to on first blush. She claims that her plot refused to launch because it kept blowing sunshine up my ass. No argument there, but to remedy that, she decided to go dancing on a patch of ice, screw her back up, and get hooked on under-the-counter pain killers…a shocking number of them homeopathic, which is a hell of a trick if you can pull it off. Joan insists all that had nothing to do with me, but there’s this hopeful look in her eyes when she says it that, under the circumstances, scares the crap out of me. So negotiations with Joan have resumed, because as much as I don’t want fictional people to wreck themselves for attention, there’s a mercenary streak in me that wants to see if this goes anywhere marketable.
So watch this space. Maybe the next time you read this, it’ll be about Joan again. Who knows?
That kid’s not coming back, though.
–enw, January 2017
Seattle Times, June 13, 1923:
Three more days and then The Times Fun Frolic, the great annual girls’ day at Woodland Park.
Ushering in summer vacation with a three-ring-circus program of games, races, prizes, baseball, track, story telling and entertainment, the Fun Frolic this year will be the “day of days” for every girl in Seattle.
By the time the opening parade winds in a picturesque procession around the park until the last pretty dancer in the Junior Girls’ Dancing Frolic has made her bow, there will be something doing every minute. This is the assurance of the Fun Frolic committee headed by Miss Iphigene Banker of the city playfield department and of the other organizations who are cooperating with The Time and the committee to make the Fun Frolic a real carnival of fun for Seattle girls.
And yes, they put it together for a few decades.
Drakeville has a criminal element. His name is Jerry.
It’s hard to say if he sold those bootleggers their mustard gas, since he was notorious about not leaving a paper trail, but it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s getting his webbed toes wet in the prize fighting racket.
Anyway, since this is a Seattle cartoon, Green Lake was named for its naturally occurring algae blooms. Random Extra Duck was convinced the color was added by contractors and paid cash for his ignorance.
Historical spoiler: Eugene Criqui didn’t hold that belt for long.