That’s great Junior. I love it when you force me into a gag reflex…

The look on Mommy or Daddy Pelican’s face is classic, as the Pelican Chick pushes the right button, and up comes partially digested fish- probably the bait that it mooched off of Mark…  Does the Adult bird ever get to keep any stomach contents for itself?  I wonder.  We do what we do to sustain our species…

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Mark, really?  Would you entrust a small child to clean fish?  Who knows?  Maybe he’s really good at that… or maybe you are just making small talk, letting the non-fisher-people in on one of your “rules” of fishing- ‘High Hook’ or ‘Low Hook’ is what we called it… mostly for bragging rights.  The duty of cleaning fish was shared as the catch was laid out one last time, pictures taken, then turned onto fillets.

I keep looking at the log in the center of the scene and it keeps reminding me of a crocodile, laying low, still, waiting to turn and make a lunch out of the young.  Anything for excitement; I suppose I have to be patient.  Some evil element will show up soon…

How exactly does one know the age of a Pelican?

Count the rings…  no that’s on a tree.  Look at the Teeth?  That’s right, birds don’t have teeth…  And now that it has cleaned you out of bait (sucker!!) I guess you will have no choice but to head in…  So it’s Pelican one, Human beings zero, after one inning of play…  we’ll be back right after this…

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By the drawing it appears that this is a Brown Pelican, which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever since there isn’t a brown feather anywhere on it… the oldest Brown Pelican on record lived to be 43 years old!!   Whataya bet Jessica Canupp is a saucy babe that will try to steal Mark’s heart… only what’s Mark going to do with Rusty in tow??  Like it matters!!  Pay attention, Rusty, you are about to see your “Ol’ Man” in action…

Mooching… that’s something you know quite a lot about, huh, Mark?

“A little fishing” “That old bird.” Those of us who (sadly?  Tragically?) follow this strip every day know that this is all part of the patter that envelopes the scenes and characters in the Trailverse.  But let’s review the last couple of days… Mark and his irritating ward have put themselves on the water in record time.  Normally there is a day or two spent in the International Harvester Travel-All without seatbelts or head rests, where Mark and Rusty engage in some dialogue meant to set up the next story… But not this time.  No sooner have they slung gravel in the driveway of Lost Forest than they are out on the water.  We don’t know what they are fishing for or with.  This is all highly irregular…

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And normally, the bird in the panel one would be the “throwaway” wildlife that shows up in every strip, meant to keep us all aware of the Importance of Nature…

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But no, we are introduced to “Jessica Canupp”  who lives on “Pelican Point.”  Again, first and last names, and would appear to be a real person… And It would seem now that she and the bird are now central to our story.

A couple of points, though:  Mark, how do you know that this is a Male Pelican?  And don’t you realize that once you feed a Pelican, it will attract other Pelicans and pretty soon you are re-creating a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds?”  And finally, who is calling who a mooch?  Look who’s been living off the largesse of one Dr. “Doc” Davis for years, only finally submitting to marrying his daughter Cherry just to make it all seem “right?”

Mark has his “go bag” in his hand

Get your gear, Rusty.  Now.  We have to leave.  Right away.

Mark has his bag ready and packed for these moments when he feels like his past is catching up with him…  “Doc, Cherry, you coming?”  “Oh no, we are staying home, Mark.”  What ‘s with the big grin on Doc’s face?  Just knowing that he won’t have to deal with Rusty?  Did Mark even sleep in his own bed?  Probably not, all the better to avoid Cherry’s advances…

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Yes, “have fun,” come the words from over Rusty’s left shoulder… Off he goes to fish for the second time in recent memory.  You know, sort of like the tension that builds when a guy is pushing 30 and has never “known” a woman, all the tension regarding “Rusty going fishing” has been let out of the balloon.  No more playing with his trust or affection.  What fun is that??

The Return of Rusty

And it appears as though he is pulling a Benjamin Button… Aging in reverse…  Rusty looks to be about 8 years old, where in other shots he is bordering on puberty…  but no matter, let’s count the inconsistencies:  (1) Rusty was abandoned by his clan for close to three months and now “appears” out of nowhere as if nothing was strange or amiss; (2) Rusty claims to have a friend…  a friend with a lending library, and we know that Rusty has no friends; (3) Eggs sunny-side-up are no longer allowed based on USDA/FHA/CFPB/DOE/DOJ/OCC/LMNOP guidelines.

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More Fishing??  These people are more one dimensional than the canvas they are inked and colored upon…  OK, let’s go with that.  More fishing.  But of course we remember the last (and first) time Mark took Rusty fishing… it resulted in a bad acid trip that had Rusty being chased by a T-Rex and harassed by a Pterodactyl…

And we’re back…

MTTLF = 73 days  (for the uninitiated, that’s Mean-Time-to-Lost-Forest) or how many days, not counting Sundays, did we spend away from Lost Forest, the home of Doc and Cherry (nee Davis) Trail… And that freeloading nature writer Son-in-Law Mark… So let’s think about this for a minute…  That’s nigh on three months, and it would appear that the elves have done a great job keeping up the place!!  I wonder if there are any shoes by the hearth…  And everyone looks so damned happy around the table… Strong black coffees- all around!!  On me!  Even Andy looks happy as hell…  but really.  How did they get back??  The magic of comic strips, I suppose.  And assuming, in real life, that the return trip would have taken weeks, would they still be prattling on about Dunlap and his stupid artifacts?  And what exactly is the “local Native American tribe” going to do with the money that Jeff ‘n’ Jared had their eyes on??  Who knows…

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But seriously.  Rusty.  Where in heaven’s name is Rusty.  It’s like he never existed?  He hasn’t been spoken of or seen since they all decided to go on a little canoe/ fishing trip last November…

All’s well that, uh, flaps well??

Of course, Mark’s hungry!  He hasn’t eaten in weeks!!  Poor guy!  Why, his jeans are about to fall off his withering frame.  While Doc and Cherry have been enjoying the hospitality of Ed Dunlap, Mark has been subjected to all manner of incarceration and torture!  My and how fast the Wheels of Justice turn in the Trailverse!  Jared’s in jail?  You mean maybe he is being held as a person of interest pending his indictment hearing?  And there’s Ol’ Jeff Baucom!  Folded like a cheap tent!  Still tied up and leaning against the house in the corner of the first panel.  I almost didn’t see him!  Makes me wonder if Rusty has been hiding in the corners all the while, maybe emitting muffled cries for validation and love…

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Ed, you are so full of it…  You thought Mark was a Bad Guy for sure…  Or at least you did not know WHAT to think about what had just gone down…  won’t be so trusting now, will you??

And there’s Andy… Nothing like a good dose of hot, steamy, rancid dog breath to whet the appetite… bon apetit!!