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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wednesday's for Kids VI -- NEWSPAPERS NOT WORTH CRAP

Either a dreary duty of veterinarians or a desperate fatherly attempt to demonstrate the incalculable value of work to his kids, whenever I needed some extra cash and lawn-mowing wasn't sufficient or out of season (like in preparation for a family vacation or under the self-administered covetous pressure of the latest Lego Technic kit), I was summoned to the veterinary clinic to unfold newspapers destined to line the cages of sick and infirm house pets.  Surprisingly, I don't remember the nature of my salary for the job--surprising, because I remember acutely the value my dad placed upon my lawn-mowing prowess: a paltry four freaking bucks for buzzing down a half-acre lawn run amok with thousands of trees, shrubs, vines, flowers, fence posts, blueberry bushes, brick walkways, not to mention all the poop left by the dogs and the headless rodents or little prissy piles of entrails left by the cats.  Four dollars!  I think he paid us ("us" being my older sister and me--I don't remember any of the others ever doing this) by how thick the resulting pile of unfolded newsprint was, because paying us by the hour would've been just plain stupid--or generous, neither of which, at least back then, seemed appropriate descriptors for the old man (the latter I've since learned is very, very far from the truth).

The inherent problem with the job was the inevitable comics page for every other section or so of newspaper.  Dad would set us up in the hallway behind the examination and surgery rooms and the dispensary with a few big cardboard boxes full of newspapers donated by neighbors and clients.  The light was bad, the floor was hard, and if I'd been any older, either of these things would have bothered me.  But I was just a kid.  I liked being at the clinic.  I liked being close to my dad, and in such professional manner.  And I loved the comics!  Many of them I'd already read, since we received the local newspaper, The Times Reporter (out of Dover and New Philadelphia, Ohio, where the printed newspaper is most likely still safe), at home.  But some patrons donated old newspapers.  And these were the true treasures!  They were old, but they were new, if you know what I mean, because they contained the cartoon I hadn't read yet.

While I read all of the cartoons on each comics page, save Cathy, of course, there weren't many that I understood, and those that I could appreciate, I learned much later that I didn't really "get" back then.  I did have, of course, two favorites (Peanuts I found too dull, Family Circus too gooey, Marmaduke was okay, and I loved the pictures for Doonesbury, but didn't understand a word of it): unsurprisingly, I'm sure, Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side.  These brilliant cartoons were, and yet are, approachable by both kids and grownups, unlike most which pandered exclusively to one or the other.  Both of these, and long since the retirement of their artists, I still read; I have both of them on a bookshelf not fifteen feet from where I sit now, both in their complete, boxed, and gloriously bound anthologies.

For better or worse, my son doesn't car a lick about The Far Side, but he is captivated by Calvin and Hobbes.  He is still younger now than I was back when I unfolded newspapers for cash and pleasure, and I think he's still missing an important element of the discovery of these gems.  Thankfully he has a lot of time ahead of him, and what that time might hold makes me wonder what discoveries he'll make and how he'll come by them--and if he were to write a blog like this thirty years down the road, what stories would he tell?  

Maybe the Wii for Christmas was a mistake....


No matter the generation gap, Jacob's and my favorite C&H episodes align beautifully.  As I hunched over the old newspapers bound for the inevitable receipt of dog poop and cat vomit, squinting in the dim, I tensed with delight each time I scanned down to Calvin and Hobbes and saw, much more than just Calvin or his best friend, Spaceman Spiff.  So, too, does my son wiggle with delight at the sight of--

by Bill Waterson


(So I hope my title isn't too misleading.  When I say that newspapers aren't worth crap, I mean, well, that the crap isn't worthy of the newspapers and their noble contents.)


  1. Glad to see the last comment. The title at first made me a bit sad because I like newspapers, and they're definitely dying out.

    Anyway, "Calvin and Hobbes" is great, although I have not read my collection in about 7 or 8 years. There's this shirt on the Internet that I covet with "Calvin and Hobbes"-style cartoonish versions of John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes.

    My German professor also brought in a German version of one of the cartoons this last semester. Just as funny in German as in English.

  2. It really gets hard to write cohesively with so much going on around me all the time. Things got so crazy that I lost my train of thought but published anyway, and didn't realize I'd forgotten to tie everything back into the title. I was trying to be pithy.

    I got a sweatshirt years ago with portraits of Hobbes and Calvin, claiming them as the originals. I've still got it somewhere.

  3. Nice.

    It's hard to write blog posts cohesively anyway because if you do it diligently as you would other pieces of writing, you're probably spending more time on it than you want.

  4. I've thought that several times, and with a modicum of guilt. I go back periodically and look at old posts and think that I really should have spent more time on it, polishing, organizing, editing, proofing, whatever, because I want this to represent me both as a writer and a thinker. Then I remember, that I already spend too much time on this thing, and, really, I want books I write to do all the speaking for my true writing ability. The blog is discussion based and thought based; I think it's accomplishing that. (Fingers crossed.)

  5. Yeah, I've noticed mistakes in some of my older posts, too, but I figure that people expect that on the Internet. For the record, I think that your blog's great, and it really doesn't have that many errors.

  6. Thanks, James. And I don't recommend your blog just because your my friend.

  7. I also concur that blog writing is incredibly tedious, if done with perfection in mind. I always suffered from a nagging guilt because it seemed like such a self-involved activity. And because of a slight perfectionist bent [inclination] I could never seem to resolve my thoughts the way I wanted anyhow.


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