"Oh, st - st - st - cut it out! I'm serious!"

-- Porky Pig to Daffy Duck, "Robin Hood Daffy"

And the world is, once again, slightly darker. It got dimmer when Douglas Adams left us last year (to whom my good friend, Ghost Rider, and I, still have a tribute song in process...). It got dimmer when George Harrison left us last year. Before that, it was Phil Hartman, and Jim Varney, and Dr. Seuss, and Mel Blanc, and Jim Henson (with a great many of high significance in between!), and the list goes on. I can even claim some personal ones in my life, and I think they probably make a more profound dent in my consciousness than most of those with theatrical or cinematographic accolades.

This time, it was Chuck Jones' turn to sit under the ridiculously small cocktail umbrella, waiting for the anvil from the sky to land with a self-satisfying TOONK that only a master of animation of Mr. Jones' calibre would appreciate in his final moment.

If only that were the case. Apparently, he passed away from something much more mundane. Congestive heart failure, from what I am told.

From time immemorial (okay, from about 1978), I can remember sitting up on saturday mornings with my Brother and my Dad and, occasionally, my Mom, watching Wile E. Coyote plot various acts of revenge upon that embodiment of pure luck, the Road Runner. The one with all the blueprints -- including the one that came to life and karangued Wile E. upside the head with a blue-printed rock -- is probably the one most vivid in my memory. Other treats, such as Marvin the Martian disintegrating Daffy Duck with a casual ZORCH! from his portable disintegration ray, or the episode in which Daffy Duck is shown being animated (by, as it turns out, Bugs Bunny), became instant hits with my own off-beat sense of humour.

The one which hit my funny bone most recently depicted Sylvester trying, of course, to get Tweety from his cage without getting hopelessly mauled by this ocean of bulldogs. Sylvester's final solution was to paint a white stripe down his back in the hopes of quelling the onslaught -- which it did, only to produce a last-minute cameo appearance by Pépé Le Pew, who has now decided upon the silent -- and apparently skunk-like -- Sylvester as a lust object just before Sylvester can grab the pesky canary. The timing was brilliant, as usual.

All this is to say nothing, of course, of his longer animation achievements, Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and Gay Purr-ee, the last a full-length feature having been produced in tandem with his wife, Dorothy. There may well be others I have missed.

Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese made the perfect Supervisor/Animator team. Between them there must be at least a score of cartoons to their credit, and there's not a dog in the bunch (outside of the one that keeps popping up and thrashing the tar out of Sylvester, poor hapless feline). Very few people have the gift of timing of being able to affect the public at large so poignantly for such a long period of time.

Chuck made his debut at WB studios, under the tutelage of none other than the first God of Speed Violence, Fred Avery (later billed as "Tex Avery"), and I quite vividly remember seeing Charlie M. Jones as the name on the credits for the cartoon. It was a black-and-white, probably the only one in which I've seen Jones' name listed in the credits. I could be wrong about this, but I'm reasonably sure (without having done extensive literary research) that this is correct. Avery later left Warner Brothers for MGM, where he animated a good many Tom and Jerry cartoons.

Chuck animated Bugs and Elmer a few times, danced Daffy in rings around Bugs, and gave us some of the best gut-busters (the lack of memory of titles for which I apologise profusely) as he began to blur the commonly accepted lines between characters and, as shown in "Duck Amuck", the line between animator and creation.

His most noteworthy contributions were the original characters Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, Pépé Le Pew, and Marvin the Martian. Backed by musical composer/director Carl Stalling and vocal wizard Mel ("Man of 1,000 Voices") Blanc, he created what were to be some of the most memorable cartoon interactions to hit the screen, including some adventures with the Abominable Snowman ("Gosh, it's hot, George!").

From what I can gather, he took a small breather somewhere in the middle to animate what has become one of the most beloved winter holiday animations, Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Narrated (and sung!) by, appropriately, none other than Boris ("Man of 1,000 Faces") Karloff, this gem instantly and irrevocably wove its way into the hearts of young and old alike to be a mainstay of what would otherwise be a trite collection of Christmas animations. Let's face it, how many times can you watch "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" followed by "Frosty the Snowman", followed by "Rudolph and Frosty"? It's enough to make a hairless cat cough up a furball.

Shortly after, he and his wife directed and animated "Gay Purr-ee", a tale of two kitties (actually, a lot of kitties -- the animated cast is entirely feline) in two different worlds; Jaune-Tom (voiced by Robert Goulet), a cat on the French countryside who's content to zero in on mice and leave their senses reeling just before he lets them go; and Mewsette (graced with the voice of Judy Garland), a country cat who has her sights on becoming a high-status cat in Paris. I cannot describe the entire story line here due to the lateness of the hour and the sieve-like nature of my memory of late, so I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to go to their local video store and rent it, or keep an eye on their Extended Basic Cable Channels. Occasionally, Toon Disney will plop it on. Voice talents also include Maurice Chevalier (or is it Robert Jourdan?) and Red Buttons.

Of course, how could I forget the animated interpretation of Rudyard Kipling's Rikki Tikki Tavi? Rikki zips around from scene to scene, nose twitching, eyes twinkling in typical Chuck fashion, as he heads in to eventually take Nag and Nagaina out of the picture. It is a half hour to be remembered.

After that, to be honest, I have no idea what he did. He was almost sixty by that time, so maybe he retired -- after forty years of constant production and collaboration, he certainly deserved it. He was Daffy Duck, having entered the Genie's cave and claimed all the riches, beating Bugs senselessly back into the dirt tunnel from which they had emerged, only to determine that they probably should have taken that left turn at Albukoiky. He was Marvin, disintegrating the foes from the Earth in the name of Mars. He was the Road Runner, always stopping just short of the scheduled désastre du jour.

This year, Wile E. Coyote has caught the Road Runner, and the world is just a small bit dimmer for it. Never mind that nine decades is a good chunk of time to spend on this spinning blue-printed rock.

Here's to you, Chuck. Thanks for giving this world some light and laughter while you were here. May the legacy you've foisted upon us through some dark times see us through many more years.

And to the parents out there: Introduce your kids to the wonderfully zany work of this fellow. It is no less than genius. In these dark, socially uptight times, laughter is of vital importance.


So, What's The Day About, Again?

(It's not what it should be.)

[Sorry, I've been a bit remiss, again. The Great Temporal Devourer has been visiting of late. To catch you up, briefly, I'm employed, somewhat gainfully. I thank whichever deity it was that decided to drop a credit card into my lap, as dangerous as it is. Without it, I'd not be able to fix my car.

But I digress.]

So here I am. February 14th. What's this day for, exactly?

Growing up, I remember it being about colourful pink, red and white cards in the shapes of hearts named after some guy who got sainted after being martyred for some reason. I'll have to re-read the history in order to understand it fully.

I remember it being a day where candy hearts, chocolate-covered cherries, chocolate-covered caramels, chocolate-covered rocks...and, of course, chocolate-covered faces and hands (and clothes!) by the time we were all done.

I liked the cherries and the conversation hearts, myself. I remember when they were made by the Stark Candy Company (recently (as in the last decade or so) eaten by Necco. It could have been worse. It could have been the other way around. But I digress...). DIG IT. YOU'RE COOL. BE MINE. All those quaint little sentiments of which I could neither make heads nor tails.

Of course, I think I was between five and thirteen, a time when sharing things with (ew!) girls was fraught with cooties and who knows what else.

Truthfully, I didn't have a problem with girls back then. Any of them that would give me the time of day were usually okay, and my interest in them was purely on the level of a friendship. I'm beginning to wonder if that's simply the best way to go in the first place.

Now, today, I see Valentine's day, and it's another day, marred only by the marketing campaigns of the Candy, Lingerie and Jewelry companies. It's a pity, these images that are put out regarding how to behave on Valentine's day, as though it were something truly special.

First off, let me point out that if a guy goes shopping for their girl or whomever, if they're picking up any of the aforementioned categories, they're not doing it altruistically. They're not going to give a box of chocolates or a diamond ring/necklace/whatever to their sweetheart purely out of the goodness of their heart. Come on, guys, admit it. You're in it for something. You want your sweetheart to put out. And if you're shopping for racy clothing (if you can call it clothing...), you're really shopping for yourself. You don't want her to appreciate it, you want to appreciate her in it. (For those of you who are same-sex-oriented, please substitute where appropriate above, if you happen to fall into the description. a) I don't mean to slight you. b) You probably have more sense than this anyway.)

If you're going to go shopping for something that has anything to do with her, take her out shopping with you and let her look at things. Pay attention to what she likes. Nothing says you need to pick it up with her still there. Get an attention span.

But I digress.

I guess where I'm going with all this is that I'm still baffled about how most people treat Valentine's day so strangely. If you're single or unattached, chances are that Valentine's day sucks because nobody is going to do anything special with you. If you're attached, and especially if you're a guy attached to a woman, chances are that if you don't do anything special for her, she's going to be very put out.

Now, I'm a hopeless romantic. I'm about as far down that path as they come. I like chick flicks. I can just enjoy spending time with a lady. But no person out there is worth that amount of trouble.

A friend of mine once told me, point blank, that romance is a means of manipulation. The flowers, the chocolates, the nice night out, the champagne, they all have strings attached to them. I had to examine this very closely, and I had to insist that it wasn't true.

But this was four months ago. The more I think about it, the more I think that she had a very valid point. I don't think it's ENTIRELY accurate. I mean, every now and then, it does feel nice to do something sweet for someone else, and it feels nice when someone does it for you, but there cannot be any strings attached. Just take it for what it is -- a nice time for the moment. Enjoy that moment. It doesn't strengthen or weaken what has been or what is to come, per se. One nice night does not a beautiful world make, although I think it helps once in a while.

I also happen to think that Valentine's day should not be used as an excuse for it to happen.

Now, maybe, due to my experiences (or lack thereof) in life, I'm jaded beyond cure.

Something else that's been pounding about my craneum lately has been the fact that we are conditioned to look at a relationship with someone else as an objet d'amour -- just that, an object. Being involved romantically with someone else by and large seems to be an endpoint, a step, a milestone. Once we get the girl/guy, things change. We take each the other for granted.

Why do we do this? Why does a romance carry a different weight than a friendship? By "different", I don't mean "more" or "heavier", because obviously it's going to be heavier. I mean different. We don't go out on the first day of school with the objective of "I'm going to make me some friends". It's something that just sort of happens. You meet people, and you're friends with them, and if you're good friends, your paths in life will overlap. A lot. You will share the a lot of the same bumps in the road, and the laws of physics will apply in the realm of emotional space as well, on occasion ("Two pieces of matter can not occupy the same space at the same time"). But notice that at no time has it ever come into the picture that, "Great, now I have a friend". I'm not saying you won't take each other for granted now and again, but it's less likely to happen with a friend.

I've heard it said that friendships bond much more strongly. I'd like to define that a bit and say that friendships bond not all that deeply, certainly not initially, but it's the breadth of the bond -- how much surface area you share, emotionally and mentally speaking -- which creates the strength.

Now, romantic relationships are almost always treated a bit differently. I think it's something to do with the 'tab A fits into slot B' bit. But while that's within the scope of the relationship, it should not be necessarily a contributing factor. The bond created by such a relation- ship usually initially is not all that broad, yet we allow it to go deeper. This is not a healthy approach, and it is why relationships will go south especially under stress. It gets even worse when the relationship is entered under lust, and you carry it forth when everything else is saying you should let it go.

I'm not all that much for the "dating" scene, certainly not the "I'm going to spend money and try to impress this girl/guy" kind of deal. In fact, honestly, I've been on as many dates as the number of women I've had in my life. I wouldn't know what to do on a date if it was neurologically transmitted to me by someone else.

I mean, is going out, dressed casual, for coffee and sitting and talking really a "date"? I've always been shown that dates involve much primping and preening and face-painting and perfume-spraying and cologne- splashing and spending of money. I can't get into that. It's just not my scene, and to play in that way would be pretending to be something I am not. In short, it's lying. No, thank you.

I'll probably throw on a nicer shirt (but nothing too stuffy), a cleaner pair of jeans, and I might shave, and if the mood suits me, I *might* even braid my hair.

Let's go have some coffee or tea, and talk, and find our differences, our similarities and take it from there. Be my friend. Ask any of the people who are my friends and who have been never more to me than friends, and you will find that I treat them well, by and large (else they wouldn't be friends, of course!). Maybe we can hang out and hack on something, or sing and play some music together.

Help me learn about what I've just said above, as I've been quite guilty of treating a relationship as an endpoint. It's just a friendship with a little more involvement.

Be my friend.

Learn about me.

I'll do my best to do the same.

But I digress.

The best part of this Valentine's day was listening to the gratitude pour forth from my children as they opened a pair of piggy banks and their own boxes of chocolates. No doubt, they'll remember the cute cards with Cinderella and Pokemon and Buzz Lightyear that they'll get from the other kids in their class. They probably aren't even being told what Valentine's day is all about. But that's okay; they'll get that later. They'll meet someone erudite who will be able to tell them who Valentine was, why he was sainted and where the heart came from.

In the meanwhile, they can enjoy the chocolates and the cherries and the candy conversation hearts. Hopefully, they will cherish these memories and expound upon them to their children someday.