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Hey! A Little Help?
I had thought that we had a deal. A deal between me and nature shows, that is. The deal, as I understood it, went something like this: predators would pursue their prey. The tense music would swell, there would be long, protracted scenes of cold-eyed menace from the predator and flop-sweat terror from the prey. The suspense would build to a climax…and the lucky herbivore would finally escape. Barely.

The narrator would always make clear that the prey was lucky…this time. If I wanted to dwell on the horror of that hypothetical killing and eating, I could, but they would not permit the slaughter to happen on screen. They agreed (or so I had thought) that no animals would die in agony while I was still digesting my own dinner.

Well, it appears I was mistaken about that deal. Last night, on Planet Earth, a pack of African wild dogs, after a long chase across the Zambian grasslands, pulled down a wildebeest while I was watching and put some serious hurt on the poor bugger. I assume they went on to devour it on the spot, but at least I was spared that unpleasantness.

I suppose there must be a clause in our agreement that allows David Attenborough to do this if the predator in question is the focus of the show. If the stars are a family of kinkajous, say, or marmosets or meerkats or manatees, they will not die during the show. In a show about a predator, however, we know that its main job is to kill and eat other animals. I suppose you have to cover that part of the story no matter how bloody.

For some reason, though, I found this one depiction of the cycle of life to be particularly objectionable. I have seen nature shows, for instance, in which lions are the lead characters. As with the wild dogs, their line of work involves chowing down on adorable plant-eaters, but the king of beasts has the good grace to simply glom onto the victim’s neck until it suffocates. Still gruesome, to be sure, but I appreciate the exercise of noblesse oblige in allowing it to die before starting to eat it.

The wild pooches are not so polite, but I suppose that I can’t really blame them. They’re just doing their job. I am even willing to let Attenborough off the hook…this time. What really sticks in my craw, however, is the wildebeest itself. That’s right, I’m blaming the victim.

And no, not because it’s ugly, although that is hard to deny. It’s certainly no zebra or impala or dikdik, much less a meerkat or big juicy bunny. But let’s not dwell on appearances. Rather, I am down on the wildebeest because of the crowd it hangs out with. Specifically, the wildebeest tends to pal around with other wildebeests.

Whole herds, in fact, and that is where the problem lies. The wildebeest who was being pursued in this instance was desperate to get back to his herd. There, we were told, he would find safety in the numbers of his kinfolk, and the dogs would give up the chase.

There was suspense, of course, or I wouldn’t have been watching. The victim gets closer and closer to safety. Will he make it? Or will the bloodthirsty pack pull him down? He’s almost there! We can see some of the herd raise their heads and take notice. “Oh look,” you can imagine them thinking. “It’s Bob, and he’s about to be devoured by wild dogs. Bummer.” But do any of the herd lift a hoof to help? No sirree, Bob.

Now, a wildebeest herd can claim more than a million — yes, a million — of these brutes. And they’re big, too, with some of the bulls weighing as much as 400 pounds, complete with big hooves and horns. Couldn’t a few of them take a moment from chewing their cuds to go on a rescue mission? Maybe some young males looking to make a reputation? All it would take would be numbers, after all. No dog is going to hold his ground against a gang of gnus looking to rumble.

That doomed wildebeest might even be forgiven for thinking, as I had, that he had a deal. His deal would go something like this: if any one of us is threatened by a pack of dogs — or any predator — a pick-up squad of my fellow ‘beests will be dispatched to save me. In other words, the kind of herd immunity you can count on in a pinch. Maybe Bob should have gotten it in writing.
The Boss
Over the last 20 years, I have not drawn more than a sketch or two of the Boss. The Boss, you might know, is the main character in my comic strip, Subconscious Comics. For the twenty years prior to that, I had drawn him almost every day. Now that I am once again drawing him regularly, I am enjoying the process of getting re-acquainted.

When you don’t see someone for along time, there is a tendency to stop thinking about them, even if you were once close. It’s the same with a made-up character. As is often the case with real people, if you were close, sometimes the old, easy familiarity can return pretty quickly. That’s the way it’s been with me and the Boss.

I had forgotten how much he reminds me of Daffy Duck. That’s not too surprising, I guess. I never consciously set out to model the Boss after him, but Daffy was always my favorite animated character: zany, melodramatic, cunning, and utterly hapless. And very funny. I see now that I imprinted that same brand of persona on my chimp-in-underpants.

I had been working in earnest on the script for my comic novel — in which he is a key player — for nearly nine months. Curiously, however, I didn’t really begin our re-acquaintance until I started drawing him again. As I wrote his parts in the script, he remained a distant figure in my mind, and only when I drew his facial expressions did he fully come alive. It’s a bit like talking to your old friend on the phone as compared to seeing him or her in person.

As with Daffy, you are forced to forgive a lot if you’re going the like the Boss. He is vain, calculating, and insincere, but oddly innocent. Maybe that’s what makes him charming (at least to me). And even though I know him pretty well, I am seeing him now with fresh eyes.

One thing I’ve noticed: he has not aged. Some comics characters do, of course, like Blondie’s Alexander and Cookie Bumstead, but not the Boss. There is a character in Subconscious Comics who stands in for the older version of the hosting human, but the boss is forever early-middle-aged. It’s hard to know what age Daffy is, but whatever that age is, he is frozen there.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I’m “friends” with either of these characters. I like them, though, and I’m always glad to see them again. In the case of Daffy, I have to settle for cartoons I’ve seen many times. I don’t count his more recent incarnations because they are not voiced by the departed genius Mel Blanc, whose depictions added so much to the character’s persona.

With the Boss, though, I can cast him in new situations with new possibilities. For me, he’s forever fresh and new… like a real person. He’s just ink on paper, though. I can’t shake his hand, or hang out at the bar with him, or have him over to the house. Come to think of it, I can’t do much of that with my flesh and blood friends, either. Maybe the Boss will have to do until the real thing returns.
Day
Wednesday
No wait
I mean Thursday
Monday? Sunday?
Maybe Saturday?
Doesn’t really
Matter day

Mater dei!
Mayday!
Cinco de
Holiday
Doris Day
Any day
All day!

Now every day
Is everyday
No other day
But today
Even payday
Went away
Day!
The Jury Is Still Out
There is no doubt that humans have an appetite for cruelty and willful ignorance. It’s never surprising to see, but it’s always disappointing.

For the past three years, that dark aspect of our humanity has been in ascendance. That is something new to my experience. I’m afraid that it is threatening the very existence of our free society. That fear is new for me too. I’m beginning to worry whether humanity might just be a failed experiment in evolution. When I see so many of my fellow humans casting their lot with someone so obviously devoid of simple humanity, it forces me to question the most basic assumptions of my worldview.

And then came last week and the murder of George Floyd. We have often witnessed the lethal, systemic racism that pervades our white-dominant society. That awful inhumanity has persisted for 400 years and for eons before that in our treatment of the other, whoever that might be. It is a reflection of the same darkness we now find at the center of our governance. This time, however, the act was so clear, so unambiguous, that it seems we all had to take notice. The footage does not lie: it was a cold, remorseless murder — by our official representative — of a helpless black man begging for mercy.

Had the story followed the usual track — as it recently has for Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery, Michael Brown — then it would have been just one more bit of evidence of the dominance of our darkest impulses. But that has not happened — at least not so far. Instead, good people from small towns and large, red states and blue, in America and around the world, have stepped up to condemn the crime and the underlying sickness in our society that allowed it to happen.

We have heard the claim that “this time it’s different” before, so I am wary. There are still plenty on the right who cannot, will not admit to the racism in our culture. “All lives matter,” they like to say, as if that is a real answer to the charge. Still, we can’t deny that there has been actual change. Minneapolis itself seems set on disbanding its police force. Other jurisdictions have banned the chokehold restraint and opened complaint files of officers to public inspection. Republicans have come out for police reform.

What heartens me most, though, is the demonstrators themselves. They have flooded the streets, risking interaction not only with the police, but with the pandemic. The protests continue even now, two weeks after the killing. There is genuine, across-the-board outrage among my fellow humans against racism and a fierce insistence that black lives do matter. I did not expect this.

That outrage may weaken over time, but for now it is enough to rescue my faith in humanity. Somehow, our better nature has managed to assert itself. That is always surprising to see, and never disappointing.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon