Friday, August 31, 2007

Lazy river

Although I have visited Townsend, Tenn. hundreds of times, till earlier this month I had never gone tubing there.

Which is something. The hamlet just outside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park bills itself as The Peaceful Side of the Smokies, which is city officials' coded way of promoting the fact that Townsend largely forgoes the garish, Wisconsin Dells-like attractions of nearby Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. But Townsend does seem to have a lock on one popular tourist activity: Floating down the Little River in giant inner tubes.

There are tubing concessions all along Townsend's main drag -- which runs alongside the Little River -- and the arguably most popular one, River Rat, is just down the pike from my family's place. As our vacation unfolded, Ereck and I drove past River Rat again and again, and by its competitor across the street, River Rage. We agreed we would tube. (Ereck is a native of the area and an experienced tuber.)

But I was apprehensive. Tubing seemed vaguely hazardous. "Do you get a personal flotation device?" I asked Ereck. "The tube is your personal flotation device," he counseled.

Finally, as the vacation was drawing to a close, we went. We paid our $13, grabbed our yellow tubes, made our way down the path to the river and hopped in. And I'm here to tell you:

Tubing is delightful.

I somehow had envisioned it as an almost violent experience, all white water and rapids. In fact the pace was glacial because the drought had made the river quite low, as the yellow T-shirted concessionaire warned us. "You'll drag in parts," she said.

But I loved the pace. I loved slowly drifting and spinning and relaxing. I entered a trance-like state as I journeyed through my ancestral hometown of Townsend. I looked at birds, and greeted a guy as he hosed off his deck. I listened to dogs barking. I studied a cow grazing near the river, and the cow calmly gazed at me. I marveled at the shimmering patterns of light reflected from the water onto the undersides of leaves. It was a gorgeous day. And the periods of drifting alternated with brief interludes of fast water, which were exciting enough.

After a couple of hours -- and too soon -- we came to the rendezvous spot: the swinging bridge where a River Rat employee driving an old school bus collected us and brought us back to our truck. "Did y'all have fun?" queried the apple-cheeked lad. Yes, we did.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Good grief, indeed

Speaking of cartoons and the tears of this clown, I nearly wept when I read yesterday's installment of "Hi and Lois":

Whatever happened to daily newspaper comics? This one is so unspeakably unfunny, and it's very much par for the course. True, I know my response is partly informed by the fact that I've gotten a little older. I used to drool over the Sunday color comics in the newspaper (and, BTW, now that color comics aren't just on Sunday, at least on the web, then what's the point?) -- especially "Cappy Dick". Now I throw that section out with the Boston Store circular. But I mean, really.

Daily newspaper comics have been on my mind of late, largely because on my recent vacation I read a biography of "Peanuts" creator Charles Schultz I found at my grandparents' old house. (Okay, if you must know, it was a Reader's Digest condensed biography of Charles Schulz (Rheta Grimsley Johnson, Good Grief: The Story of Charles M. Schulz). My grandparents loved Reader's Digest condensed books.) Reading it I was reminded of what most people already probably know: That his massive success and vaguely unseemly marketing and licensing strategies notwithstanding, Schulz was kind of a troubled guy who wrote strips that were genuinely, often darkly, funny. I loved "Peanuts" when I was a kid and still have many "Peanuts" books, several of which I've just re-read. This strip is exemplary:

Schulz' material is so thoroughly familiar at this point that it's hard to imagine how revolutionary it must have seemed when it was new in 1950: Little kids cracking bleak jokes about psychotherapy and the Pauline epistles.

Schulz's draftsmanship was also, I think, radical in its simplicity for the time. Compare it to the lush shading and detail of a 1953 "Pogo" strip by Walt Kelly, my favorite newspaper cartoonist ever:

Now I haven't researched this, but I would accept the premise that "Pogo" and "Peanuts" seemed as unusual and superior in their heyday as they do now, and that the comics page then also had its fair share of lame shtick of the "Hi and Lois" variety. (I'm surprised to learn from Wikipedia that "Hi and Lois" dates back to 1954. Was it as forgettable then? (Except I always did like the drunk guy.))

Still, as we read more and more bad news about the newspaper business, I can't help but wonder: Why not try to attract and retain readers by spiffing up the comics page with material that's actually funny?
It's not just Police concerts that make me cry

This Gawker mashup of Playboy and New Yorker cartoons made my sides hurt.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Good word

"Twice in his statement, Craig, speaking beneath sunny skies, apologized for the 'cloud over Idaho' caused by his arrest. Actually, the cloud is over Craig, not his home state.

But it's easy to see how Craig might overestimate the size of his shadow: He has a wide stance."

-- Dana Milbank

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Good word

"At the front we used to have a lot of teenage females fainting. Now we have grown men weeping."

-- Police drummer Stewart Copeland, on concertgoers circa 2007

(P.S. I wept at a Police concert last month.)