Caves & Cucumbers # 10
February 1995

Caves & Cucumbers #10

The Let X = 10 or Family Values Circus or X Marks the Generation Issue

All text and artwork copyright 1995, 1996 by Scoats. All rights reserved. Most wrongs unintentional. Published by Scoats, 6235 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19135-3404. To receive current/future/past issues of C&C via USPS send an SASE for each issue. Originally published - February 1995. Reformated for HTML - March 1996. E-mail: "If more of us valued food and cheer and song over hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world" - JRR Tolken. [Aaddzz Counter] [Aaddzz Counter]

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Back in Black and White

Hello, this is the second issue in two months, so I guess that means C&C is officially back. I expect future issues will be smaller but more frequent. I think that this is probably one of the funnier issues. I wonder if I will think so 6 months from now.

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True Life Tales #1

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Advice for Aspiring Fascists

There are a lot of aspiring fascists out there. I know; I've met many of them. My real advice is abandoning fascism for the middle way, but fascists don't tend to want to hear that, so here is some other advice just for them: You HAVE to make the trains run on time. Most of you aspiring fascists seem to overlook this. People will only accept your all-knowing, all-controlling megalomania power trip if you are able to deliver the goods. Recap: First make society run efficiently or at least have a plan, THEN oppress the population.

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Theories on the Family Circus

The retirement of the Far Side's Gary Larson, made me think. I am one of those people who take the comics very seriously. Charles Schultz, Peanuts whore, said that Larson's retirement wasn't fair to all those who worked to make him successful. Schultz believes in plowing on well past you have any original or funny ideas and whoring your characters to anyone who is willing to pay. Schultz's whoring of Peanuts is truly inspirational. Who would have thought a multi-billion dollar insurance company would want to be represented by a cartoon dog. I am confused by those billboards showing Snoopy driving around in a big car. The caption is GET MET. IT PAYS. Did Charlie Brown die and Snoopy get a windfall from the life insurance? Vacuum cleaners are endorsed by Pig Pen. My local independent super market has a Snoopy Pet Center display. I must commend Gary Larson for giving it up while he is still good. Coming up for 365 funny or insightful ideas a year is hard, which brings us to the Family Circus.

I have been analyzing the Family Circus (FC) for many years now. FC used to contain one of nine constantly recycled jokes. 1) Dolly mispronounces a word, Bil Keane calls these "Dollyisms", 2) Billy has to go somewhere, and a dotted line shows his merry route through the neighborhood, 3) havoc is wreaked by the invisible gremlins, Not Me and Ida Know, 4) Mother and Father Circus imagine how quiet the house will be when the kids are grown up, 5) the family goes somewhere and one of kids says "We must be the first people to ever come here or do this" while ghosts of people from olden times revolve around them, 6) Billy takes over drawing the comic and fills it with stupid puns, 7) the dead grandfather helps the family from heaven. 8) one of kids answers the door naked, 9) preachy pablum about how reading is morally superior to watching TV.

A few years ago the pattern stopped; the strips appeared to have no punchline or sappy sentimentality. I would spend (and sometimes still do) many minutes trying to figure out what the humor was supposed to be. I finally concluded that FC was really a two panel comic and the Philadelphia Inquirer just constantly omitted the second panel. This second panel obviously contained the punchline and explained FC's appeal and longevity. This theory was disproved after I saw FC in single panel format in some other newspapers.

Possible New Story Ideas for the Family Circus

To help add some new life to FC, here are some possible story ideas. Bil Keane, feel free to use any of these; I won't sue.

  1. Billy Circus gets a radical haircut and Father Circus gets pissed.
  2. Thelma Circus is arrested for constantly letting her children answer the door naked. Father acts as her lawyer, just like in the Brady Bunch.
  3. Billy decides to murder the family in their sleep with an ax, but dead grandpa saves the day (or night).
  4. Thelma's mother, sick of that giant pug nose she has, gets a nose job. When Medicare won't pick up the bill, she and the living grandpa are forced to move in with the Circus Family causing many comic tensions.
  5. A pervert kidnaps Jeffy, but dead grandpa leads the cops to him before anything happens.
  6. The cat gets rabies and terrorizes the household.
  7. Dolly gets rabies and terrorizes the household.
  8. PJ falls into a deep hole. Hundreds of reporters appear. Kid in hole becomes national news. Someone offers to pay his college tuition. Billy steals Sam Donaldson's toupee. Millions of children living in poverty get no media coverage nor free tuition. Years later PJ remembers that falling down the hole was the luckiest day of his life.
  9. Father has an affair with the teenaged pyschohosebeast baby sitter. She shoots Thelma in the face. Thelma survives, but with an amusing facial twitch which becomes an running gag. Father has to spend nine months in jail. In an ironic twist, his cellmate is the pervert who kidnapped Jeffy. They find their love for Jeffy to be a common bond and become fast friends.
  10. Father and Thelma go on a cruise. Widow grandma, who is supposed to take care of the children, drops dead in the pumpkin patch in back yard. Nobody notices and the kids are HOME ALONE for a week. Madcap antics ensue. In a happy ending, it turns out that Grandma isn't dead, she only collapsed and survived on dew and raw pumpkin.
  11. Dolly breaks the baby Jesus statue while in church on Xmas. Billy tells Dolly that she is going to go to H-E-double-hockey-sticks. Dolly slips on ice later that day, has a near death experience and actually goes to hell. The devil quickly tires of Dollyisms and sends her back. Father says that Dolly's resurrection is the best Xmas present ever. Jeffy disagrees and thinks that his Mighty Morphine Addicted Power Derangers are the bestest Xmas present ever.

Family Circus Mysteries (Some solved, some still unexplained)

Q: Why does FC annoy us so? A: Because we read it

Q: Why do we read FC? A: 1) Because reading it requires very little effort. If it was three panels and filled with a lot of text and no humor like Kathy we wouldn't even look at it. 2) After years of reading we still have hope that one day it might be funny. I will always remember the day that after years of finding no humor nor any redeeming aspects, Henry (the bald kid) was funny. Not just a little funny but really funny. Of course, it was never funny again. Actually FC was funny once. Billy was looking at the Elvis postage stamp and said that they would have a lot of Michael Jackson's to choose from.

Q: Why do the Circus's have modern technology like minivans and cordless phones, but Thelma still has a Jackie Kennedy haircut? A: Still unexplained.

Q: Why has the dead grandfather been in it a lot lately? A: Theory: Bil Keane is old and close to death, and thinking of his father being in heaven makes his own impending dirt nap less scary.

Q: How many child labor laws are violated every time Billy fills in for a week? A: Still a mystery. We need a lawyer to answer that one.

Q: Why is the neighborhood always very different when Billy does one of his shortcuts? A: Two theories: 1) the property values in their neighborhood are so high, that buildings are constantly being torn down and replaced, or 2) the Circus's are in the Witness Relocation Program and are constantly moving.

Q: Why does PJ walk around with his eyes closed 98% of the time? A: If you lived in that family wouldn't you want to block out as much as you could?

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Amusement Ratio

I have come up with a way to rate comic strips. This measurement is extremely subjective since amusement is very personal and extremely subjective. Here is the amusement ratio formula, higher is better:

Number of times you are amused
Number of days read

For example, I find Peanuts to be amusing once a month. So we take 1 and put it in the numerator. There are approx. 30 days in a month, so we put that in the denominator. My current Amusement Ratio for Peanuts is 1/30, or 3.3%. This an improvement, previously I only found it amusing three times a year (3/365 or 0.8%). This measurement isn't perfect because it has the potential to favor those that are consistently crack-a-smile amusing (singles hitters) over those that mix laugh-out-loud home runs with frequent strike outs (power hitters). Calvin & Hobbs was one of the rare ones that both hit home runs and had an impressive average. To compenate, I suppose you could compute a Level of Amusment Ratio and mulitply it by the Amusement Ratio to get a Total Amusement Ratio, but that would make this pointless exercise even more pointless.

Here are some of my personal amusement ratios, your milage may vary.

Calvin & Hobbs - 96.7%
Dilbert - 96.7%
Ernie - 50.0%
Family Circus - 0.00027%
Hi & Lois - 0.00018%
Kathy - 0.0%

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Road Trip: Lambertville, NJ

I had read some interesting things about Lambertville, so we decided to go their on a day trip. After many years of looking at Lambertville from across the Delaware River on my infrequent visits to New Hope, it was finally time to cross the bridge and explore Lambertville. I expected a cool little town that had a lot of the artsyfartsy funkyness of New Hope with much less of the pretention and the priciness that goes with it. So we crossed the bridge from New Hope and parked the car across from an cool looking ancient Acme Market. A great start. In the section of Lambertville, directly across from New Hope there are a lot of upscale restaurants and pricy antique shops.

When I go travel somewhere, I like to avoid the tourist trap crap and check out where the real people live, not the show they put on for the tourists. For example, in Baltimore, I find Fels Point and Federal Hill to be a lot more interesting than the Inner Harbor. I believe the best way to find out about a town or neighborhood is to walk through it. I didn't have to walk too far to determine that much of Lambertville is very unimpressive and downright dumpy.

Since I am part owner and full time manager of a neighborhood tavern, we decided to find a neighborhood tavern when it came time for lunch. After much walking, we finally found a place whose sign advertised "Lunch, Dinner, Cocktails". The Monday night football banner out front seemed a good indication that this was a real neighborhood tavern.

We went in and sat at the bar. They didn't have any draft beer; the taps were apparently long broken. Since we were out having an adventure, we decided to get some beer that we don't drink often, so I asked for two Dock Street. They were on the top shelf of the cooler and the bartender couldn't reach them. We would have to settle for something on the lower shelves. We decided on Molson Exel which I had never heard of. Imagine my surprise when she takes my ten and gives me two dollars change. Neighborhood bar and imports are four bucks a pop. I charged $2.15 at the time for Molson Golden at my place. I ask to see the lunch menu and she tells me that the girl who normally works the day shift is out so there is no lunch today. We drink our $4 beers, and they are skunked. Out eight bucks, no chance of getting food, and the beers are skunked.

So I decide to speak up. I do not explode. I explain that the beer has gone bad and ask her to smell the beer. She doesn't drink beer and can't tell the difference between skunked and unskunked, so she asked one of the regulars to smell it, who agrees that it is skunked. We decide to go with two Michelobs instead. She tells me that she'll have to take out more because the Michelobs are more expensive. I do not explode. She says that the Mic's are $2.25 each (I charged $1.75 pre-tax at Mugsy's). I calmly explain that she the charged me $8 for the two Molsons and that she owned me $3.50 change. I explain that I gave her a ten and she only gave me $2 back. She accepts this, gives me $3.50 and asks me if it is correct. Having been only marginally ripped off, we finish the beers and continue our quest for lunch.

Still naively wanting to experience the "real" Lambertville, not the trendy tourist trap areas, we decided on a local pizza place. The banner out front advertised "Monday-Thursday, buy one pizza or sandwich, get the second at half price". At $4, the cheese steak sandwiches seemed a little expensive, but when you factored in the half price second sandwich, it came to a very reasonable $3 each. It was about 2PM and most of the other customers looked like tourists on day trips. The sandwiches were OK. They charged me for water. They didn't give us a discount on the second one and actually charged us for fried onions. I was thoroughly disgusted with the town and decided not the fight over the $2. We managed to get hosed at both local merchants we visited. Conclusion: Lambertville has none of New Hope's charm, but the merchants hose you like it was New Hope. If you really want to go to Lambertville, go to the trendy touristy area and avoid the rest.

We wanted to visit a store we knew in New Hope and decided to walk there. Crossing the bridge over the Delaware into New Hope was very pleasurable. I gained a new appreciation for New Hope. If you go to New Hope, walk across the bridge and turn back. Bridge good, Lambertville bad.

After Lamberville, we drove up to Stockton to check out a market that a friend of mine bought. He has a very nice market. The PA towns all seem to have sister towns across the river in NJ which are reached quite easily via toll-free bridges. Stockton's sister town in PA is Solebury. It was fun criss-crossing between NJ and PA up and down the river. Solesbury is a very nice rural area. Hopefully it will be spared the suburban sprawl that has wrecked so many other once nice rural areas.

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True Life Tales #2

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