Jason Kunkler of Columbia wrote to me recently in my capacity as cornerstone of the Comics pages.
First, let me say that although my column appears here, I hold no special sway over these three illustrated pages. I am a consumer of comics. I even hold strong opinions about them. (Among my favorite strips are "Zits," "Baby Blues" and "Get Fuzzy." I could do without "Classic Peanuts," "Beetle Bailey" and a few others. The saddest thing I ever saw, comics-wise, was a daily newspaper in Denmark that featured a single strip: "Hagar the Horrible." To think that the land of the Viking felt some kinship with that toothless, bearded has-been. . . )
Still, I am willing to entertain the occasional observation about the funnies. (Those interested in a regular appraisal of The Post's comics should check out the master class run by Gene Weingarten during his Tuesday chats on washingtonpost.com.)
Which brings us to Jason, who writes: "With regard to the practice of using characters such as !@#$%& to replace swear words in comics, wouldn't it be a handy thing to come up with a system by which we knew which swear word was meant by a given combination of" symbols?
Jason thinks that "seasoned adult comics readers" such as himself would like to know which characters employed such mild expletives as "egad" or "yikes" and which ones were more, shall we say, vice presidential in their choice of language.
"We wouldn't have to tell the kids what they meant until they were old enough," he says.
Well, @*&! yeah, as they say.
I asked Stephan Pastis, who does "Pearls Before Swine," what he thought of Jason's notion. "That's a good idea," he responded in an e-mail, "but man, once most papers found out about it, they'd start killing those strips or subbing them out."
Stephan said some cartoonists telegraph what word they mean by the number of characters they use. Of course, that only gives the most general of indications. It wouldn't tell you exactly which four-letter word Mr. Dithers had barked.
I worry that our little secret wouldn't be safe for long. Remember "Jurassic Park"? Chaos theory suggests that even the best-planned systems will fall apart.
It reminds me of when I was in the choir at Rockville High School. Our madrigals group was renowned for performing a mildly multimedia version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." It featured various hand motions, patter and other cutesy business. For example, whenever the lyrics called for "nose" (as in "had a very shiny"), we would point to our nose. Rather than saying that said nose "glows," we would waggle our fingers as if they were sparkling and chant, "Eveready batteries." You get the idea.
Our favorite part was where the other airworthy quadrupeds, after disinviting the crimson-snouted Rudolph from their games, would "laugh and call him names." Rather than say "names" we were supposed to mumble to ourselves as if we were muttering unkind words. However, many of us would string together a set of salty epithets in a very specific order, safe in the belief that the staggered way we said them and our sotto voce delivery would keep us safe. It was the thing every teenager loves: an inside joke.
I can't remember at which nursing home we were performing, but at just the instant that "laugh and call him names" came up, the planets aligned in such a way that everyone said the exact same eight-word oath at exactly the same time. This had a sort of force-multiplying effect that made it very clear to the audience that Santa employed some very rude reindeer indeed.
I like to think that it made the reindeers' eventual acceptance of Rudolph all the more dramatic.
Catching Some Zzzz's
Who has even more time on his hands than Jason Kunkler, who ponders the coded utterances of fictional, two-dimensional characters? Step forward, please, Bruce H. Burnside of Rockville. And yet who's to say Bruce hasn't stumbled on a bit of history?
"Baseball keeps stats on all sorts of oddities," Bruce wrote me. "How about this one?" He included a carefully annotated box score cut from this paper of the Aug. 8 game between the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs.
Every member of the Giants' infield had a Z in his name: Feliz at first base, N Perez at second, D Cruz at shortstop, Alfonzo at third and Pierzynski behind the plate. Three of the Cubs -- second baseman Grudzielanek, shortstop RE Martinez and third baseman A Ramirez -- also had Zs in their names. Wrote Bruce: "8 Z's around the infield on one game!"
In the absence of proof to the contrary, I am willing to state that this is a record. I know that the National Baseball Hall of Fame can't refute me. Claudette Burke, a research librarian there, said: "That's not something we would keep track of. We do have some statistical records, but we don't have that one."
Cicadas Roasting on an Open Fire
We had our furnace serviced the other day. After ducking into the basement and cleaning out the flue, the furnace guy emerged with a handful of cicadas, the desiccated bodies of more than a dozen luckless members of Brood X who went looking for love in all the wrong places -- namely, our chimney.
We can't be alone. Don't be surprised if come autumn, when you fire up the furnace for the first time, it suddenly starts to smell pretty *#@$! bad.
Researcher Alex MacCallum contributed to this report.