goodbye, captain pissgums

I had just finished reading "Transgression: An Elegy" by Laura Kipnis, when word arrived that S. Clay Wilson had died.

Wilson was always my favorite of the "underground/Zap comix" writers. A little more than 12 years ago, he suffered a traumatic brain injury, and suffered for the rest of his life. His wife, Lorraine Chamberlain, has been steadfast at his side all of those years, and her dedication to him has been awe-inspiring. In a time of transgressing, Wilson was pre-eminent.

Kipnis concluded her essay:

We used to know what transgression was, but that’s not plausible anymore. Maybe violating boundaries was a more meaningful enterprise when bourgeois norms reigned, when liberal democracy seemed like something that would always endure. The ethos of transgression presumed a stable moral order, the disruption of which would prove beneficial. But why bother trying to disrupt things when disruption is the new norm, and permanence ever more of a receding illusion?

In my years in the factory, I had one co-worker, good man, a Jehovah's Witness who took his religion seriously. One day I brought in a Zap Comic that featured Wilson. My friend checked it out ... as I recall, it was Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates that made him laugh. ("They came from every crud-crusted corner of the globe, these lice-infested losers. Some were sadists ... some were masochists ... some just licked stinky ol' boots. And the captain settled for having his crew whiz into his mouth while others looked on delighted.") The prose told the story, but it was in the drawings that Wilson's genius was expressed. And transgression? Even now, I hesitate to put a sample of his drawing here. (Check him in Google Images if you'd like, or click on the "Captain Pissgums" link above.)

Anyway, my religious friend thought Pissgums was funny. But then he turned the page to the next story, which featured perhaps Wilson's most famous creation, the Checkered Demon. Wikipedia describes him:

A portly, shirtless being generally seen wearing checkered pants, the Demon emerged from Wilson's experience of watching Federico Fellini's 1965 film Juliet of the Spirits while on LSD. The Checkered Demon's gap-toothed grin was inspired by Mad magazine's mascot Alfred E. Neuman. It is also rumored that Wilson's inspiration for the Checkered Demon was artist and friend Alfredo Arreguin.

The Checkered Demon is frequently called upon to kill the various demented bikers, pirates, and rapists who populate Wilson's universe. The Demon is unbeatable in combat, but prefers to copulate with rapacious women—such as Star-Eyed Stella, Ruby the Dyke, or Lady Coozette—or to sit around drinking Tree Frog beer. He has no concern for human life.

When my friend saw the Demon, he threw the comic in the air and jumped back, shouting. I know this sounds like an exaggeration, but it is not. You see, my friend's religious training took special interest in representations of the devil ... at least that's how it seemed. Whatever, the same person who had laughed at pirates chopping off limbs and fucking and drinking and biting each other's cranks was disgusted, even frightened, at the sight of the Checkered Demon.

Which shows that transgression has many faces.


smith-rubio family xmas update, 19th annual edition

Our lives in 2020 were a lot like everyone else's during this pandemic. On March 11, we went to the movie theater to see Emma. We haven't been to a theater since. We've hardly been anywhere since, just a couple of visits to family in our "pod". We got refunds for the plane and apartment tickets for our planned trip to Spain. Boo hoo ... there are a lot of people suffering far more than we are. But we couldn't have predicted the direction our retirement would take. (That is a definition of the pandemic: no one could have predicted what life would be like.)

Oh, Spot wasn't much affected by the virus:

Spot

Count your blessings and all that.

I started using a CPAP machine:

Cpap shadow

Another sign of the times: almost every picture we took in 2020 was of cats, since we didn't have to leave the house to take the photos:

Starbuck robin 2020 edit

Of course, when everything else brought us down, there was Félix:

Robin félix 8th birthday

What does it mean that the musical moment that had the biggest effect on me in 2020 came from the performance of a James Bond theme song for a movie that because of the pandemic has still not been released? When Billie Eilish suddenly dug down and expanded her voice as if she were Shirley Bassey, she gave the lie to everyone who thought she could only whisper. Fool me once, fool me twice, are you death or paradise? Now you'll never see me cry.


wrexham and me

Lots of this stuff I've written about on this blog, but time to put it in one place. Don't want to bury the lead, though, so first:

"'Deadpool' star Ryan Reynolds completes Wrexham takeover with Hollywood's Rob McElhenney"

Wrexham A.F.C. are a Welsh soccer club that plays in the English soccer system. They are not a big club ... they currently play in the fifth level of the English system ... but they are an old club, the third-oldest in the world.

In the buildup to the 1994 World Cup in the USA, I read a book called Twenty Two Foreigners in Funny Shorts by Peter Davies. It was written for the American market, a way to introduce us to the world's game. Davies broke his story into three basic parts: a history of the sport, and two ongoing sagas, one of European soccer at the time, and one of his local club. He wanted the reader to get a sense of the scope of soccer, from the top to the bottom, so he included that local club, which was in the fourth tier, telling the events of the 1992-1993 season, which saw the club winning promotion to the third tier. That club was Wrexham.

In those days, there wasn't much soccer on U.S. TV after the World Cup had ended, and the Internet as we now know it was a much smaller affair. So it was hard to keep up ... our own league, MLS, didn't start until 1996. I did my best on the old CompuServe sports forum, and because they were as available to me as the biggest clubs in Europe, all things considered, I adopted Wrexham, feeling I knew the players after reading Davies' book. I asked around, and a man named Rhys Gwynllyw was kind enough to update me on Wrexham (he later founded The Webbed Robin, and I believe he is now a Math Professor). I started an email list with his help. Here is something Gareth Collins wrote about that list in 2018:

Rhys and Steven were the Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's of their time. I can still remember being totally overjoyed when I first came across The Webbed Robin, I seem to remember Rhys used to type up (or perhaps OCR?) Wrexham news articles from the Evening Leader and Daily Post that I think his Dad used to mail him. This is in the days before either of those publications had a web site. So if you lived say 100 miles from Wrexham at that time you'd get no detailed news and would have to rely on 2 sentences on Teletext. The Webbed Robin was amazing in its day. Tons of detailed match reports and detailed news stories all lovingly curated. The Webbed Robin and the ISFA e-mail list were like going from the stone age to the electric age in one massive leap for fan-kind.

I have followed Wrexham from afar for more than 25 years now. Saw them on TV a couple of times, and these days, even small clubs have an Internet presence, so I can watch highlights and interviews of them. And that game I mentioned last week, Football Manager? Every year, I try my hand at running Wrexham. (Confession: I have always sucked at FM.)

The most famous match in Wrexham history is probably their FA Cup match against Arsenal in 1992. The previous season, Arsenal had won the championship, while Wrexham finished last in the lowest division. The match was sure to be a blowout. In an amazing example of what you can find online in 2020, here is the entire match from 1992:

If you don't have two hours to spare, here are the highlights:


because you're different

This will be short. Talking about today, Election Day, is best done before we hear anything. I blame myself for everything, no matter how it turns out. I talk a big game about taking care of the underprivileged, but in my darkest heart I am still that childish fearful anarchist who anticipated the social apocalypse. Reading about the possibility of right-wing fascist racists taking to the streets if their guy loses, I am not like those reasonable folks who say they go low, we go high. If Trump wins, I hope the streets burn. I'm an old retired guy married to a fine woman who made sure we were taken care of in our dotage. I'm not going to be the one setting the fires ... hell, I've barely been out of the house for months. But I am so dumb that I romanticize destruction. Blame me when it all goes to hell.


negamco and me

My grandson just turned 8, and he never seems to run out of things to do or to think about. Part of this comes from his parents, both of whom know a lot of different things that they love to pass along to him. So he is already a bigger expert on all sorts of subjects than is his old grandpa. I tried to remember what I was like when I was 8, and what my parents passed along to me. And no wonder I don't know anything. We learned a love of music from our parents, and my dad introduced us to sports simply by being interested in them himself. Once in a while he'd come out on the front lawn to throw a ball around. But that's it. I mean, my mom taught us how to play the piano, but that didn't really stick. I'm not saying I had bad parents, but they were a lot different than my grandson's parents.

I was left to my own devices a lot of the time. One thing I looked forward to every year was the annual release of new rosters for the Negamco baseball game. I'm pretty sure I played this when I was 8.

Negamco baseball ad

Each year, you would get rosters with all of the players from the previous year, rated so they would perform in the game as they did in real life. While it seemed pretty complicated, once you got the hang of it, there was nothing to it. The box looked like this:

Negamco baseball box

There were classier (i.e. more expensive) games ... among other things, they used dice to determine outcomes. Negamco used a spinner:

Negamco spinner

The box, the spinner, everything was pretty cheap, so after about a week, the spinner dial would get bent and the spinner board would get warped, so you'd get 17 all the time, which kinda destroyed the notion that you were using random variation.

It all seemed so real when I was 8. In 2020, games are a bit more complicated. That game I had, it had very few player ratings. A batter would be rated on how many hits he got, and how many of those hits were home runs. Pitchers were ranked from 1-7. No pitchers experienced fatigue, and there was nothing like lefty-righty matchups. So the results would resemble real life a little bit, but not too close, and of course that #17 would screw things up. Now, simulation games like this are computer games, with every possible detail built into the program. Negamco is a thing of the past. (A few of the better board games are still being made, although as I understand it, many of them have moved to computers.)


ah, radio

I'm sure I've written about radio many times. I could search for relevant posts. But what I'm thinking about today is the category I assigned to Radio. Categories on this blog are there to help you find things. There's a category for Baseball and Bruce Springsteen, for Film and Film Fatales and Geezer Cinema, for Music and Pink and Sleater-Kinney. Recently, I added a category for African-American Directors ... haven't yet turned it into something "official" like my Film Fatales posts, but I tagged a lot of appropriate movies from past entries.

Well, the first time I tagged a post with "Radio" (and thus, the time I invented it as a category for the blog) wasn't as long ago as I might have thought. The post was called "Serial Radio", and it drifted from the Serial podcast to some thoughts about Old Time Radio, with examples. The date was November 13, 2014. Like I say, I know I've talked about radio before, especially FM "Underground" Radio in the 60s. I may have to go back and tag a few posts, make the Radio category relevant. Because after that first post, I wrote one Radio post a year for three years, with the last one being in 2017, when I talked about William Conrad and Gunsmoke.

The other two posts were tied to my life with radio. One came when longtime Bay Area sports announcer Lon Simmons died. Baseball fans develop close, interesting relationships with the people on the radio who describe the action for six months out of the year.

The other Radio post was the most personal of them all: "Al Collins, Grasshopper Pie, and Me". I think it's a good one, so I won't quote it here ... check out the link. Al Collins was a legend, but a good half of that post is about the grasshopper cocktail and grasshopper pies.

What would I write about radio today? The main place I listen to the radio is in the car, and guess what? There's a quarantine, and we never drive anywhere. Spotify playlists are what pass for music radio in 2020, and I will still listen to Giants games when I'm not watching them on TV.

But perhaps what I'm saying is there's a reason why I have so few radio posts. Radio just isn't as important to me any more.


our house

One way we are privileged is that we paid off the mortgage on our house. Retirement is thus a lot easier than it would be otherwise. I have my wife to thank for this, as for so many other things.

I feel like I've gotten to know our house especially well over the past months, because I never leave it. OK, my hermit-like tendencies have always meant I'm home a lot, but since March 11, when we went out to see Emma. as part of Geezer Cinema, the quarantine has kept me almost entirely indoors. I have more warning signs than my wife, so she is in charge of actually going out, although it's limited. Once a week we order take-out breakfast from Homemade Cafe ... I drive, she picks up. One morning, my sister and brother-in-law joined us at a nearby park for half and hour or so. A week ago I left the house on my own for about an hour to have some blood tests. And then, finally, we drove up to Sacramento Friday for the grandson's 8th birthday ... their home is part of our "pod".

Other than that, I've been in this house for almost all of 135 days and counting.

Have I learned anything about our house in that time? Not really ... we've lived here in 1987. We have friends staying in the basement, although the virus means we rarely even see each other. My wife did buy an air conditioner for the attic, which was about 30 years overdue. That is probably the main difference between our house now and what it used to be like.

I may have posted this before ... here is my wife, the first time we did breakfast take-out:


religion, sisyphus and me

An excerpt from a piece I wrote in 2011 for Souciant:

I spent several weeks during Xmas season in 1972 in Indiana, where I had lived in 1971-2. My friends and I would stay up until all hours, drinking wine and smoking weed, going on “adventures” like a trip to the supermarket to count the number of items containing garlic. One night, we were sitting around, probably high on some combination of things. I started talking about Camus’ Sisyphus, how he was condemned by the gods to push a rock up a mountain. When he got to the top, the rock rolled back down the mountain, followed by Sisyphus, who, when he reached the bottom, would once again push the rock up the mountain. This punishment was eternal. Sisyphus would perform his task forever, and would know as he performed it that he would be pushing that rock into eternity.

Something about the telling of that story got to me. I had a flash of insight, perhaps the only one I have ever experienced. I didn’t understand Camus intellectually. Rather, I connected in some visceral way. In that instant, I thought I understood the meaning of life in a deeper way than I ever had, before or since. We are all Sisyphus … this is the message that filled me with emotion far more than it filled me with an intelligent recognition of the facts.

I started to laugh.

I was always prone to giggle fits in those days (I’m still susceptible; perhaps we all are.) But this was not that; I was not giggling. No, I was laughing with awe and sadness at the wonderful absurdity of human life. We push the rock up the mountain, it rolls back down, we push it back up, indefinitely.

I am very suspicious when people say something changed their life. It seems to me that life-change is a process, that if we change at all, it takes a lot more than a moment, that it must be spurred on by more than just one event. And, in any case, I have no idea what was actually occurring as I rolled on the floor in uncontrollable laughter. But I do know that to this day, I think of my life in terms of what happened before that night, and what has happened since.

Of course, at the time, I wasn’t really thinking about what would happen down the road, or what the implications were for my laughter. But something happened that night, and whether I knew it then or not, part of that something was my spiritualism flying out the door.