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As you know, I don’t really think that most people really understand the comic strip Funky Winkerbean is less what Batiuk calls a quarter-inch from the reality you and I live in and more a quarter of an inch from where he thinks that reality should be. Case on point: we have to contend with the fact that a burned-out hack of a teacher like Les who radiates contempt for his students and almost seems to see it as his job to destroy any lingering interest they might have in the written word is seen as a tragic hero because teachers ‘should’ be allowed to just tear people apart because they get pissed off. After all, the horrible mass of children dare to ask what record players are and why it is that they should stress over the sixties so they’re vermin, not kids like he used to be.

That’s right. I went there. Les is a hero because he represents a big-ass wad of bug-eyed greed that wants very much to not feel sympathy with or for the generations that have to clean up the mess his generation made being soft, weak, entitled, stupid and heartless. Caring about them and wondering what kind of world they have to live in is not ‘on’ because it means that boomer dickholes like Les and Batiuk are not the measure of all things.

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There is, of course, another reason why it is that the idiotic worship of the very dull Lisa has destroyed the strip: doing so seems to have destroyed Batiuk's ability to understand what a sympathetic character is. In any other creator's hands, the title character would be the person everyone looks up to and respects. Not only has Funky successfully battled alcoholism and survived a bitter divorce, he's got himself a happy, stable family that looks up to him, he works hard, he employs a lot of people and his restaurant is where everyone meets. He should be the axis about which the world rotates but he's not.

That honor goes, bafflingly enough, to the character Batiuk most identifies with: Les Moore. Les is a terrible writer who procrastinates and milks the death of his first wife. Les is a terrible husband to his second wife. Les is a lousy teacher. Les has never met a social norm he liked or understood. Les is a negligent father. Les is a pompous dick who insults his friends because he let his fifteen minutes of fame go to his head. Any other creator would make Les the asshole no one really likes but Batiuk makes Les the star because he's the prophet of the cult of Victim Sue. Batiuk can't write worth shit any more because he let Lisa eat his talent.
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As you might not know, Batiuk seems to have finally gotten around to collecting all of the old stories that set up Les's marriage to Westview's answer to Gwen Stacy, Lisa Crawford Moore. The reason that I compared the two characters is that someone else made the damned good point is that the only thing both very boring people are known for is dying. Just as the pallid blond who wound up getting her neck snapped because Webhead was too angry at Gobby to remember physics was one of the dullest people Marvel created, Lisa might as well have been named Mary Sue because everyone was always talking about how great she allegedly was.

The reason that this seems like a fatal miscalculation is that by doing so, he's going to remind people what a boring person Lisa was when stupid shit wasn't being made to happen to her. She started out as a sort of female Les (owing to her also having an ugly hairdo, glasses too large for her face and no fashion sense) when Batiuk decided that she was someone Bad Things would happen to so that Les could show what a stand-up guy he was. The problem is that the more crap happened to her, the worse Les started to behave. He began as a sort of lovable loser type and ended as Dick Facey, The Man We Wanna Punch.

What makes this worse is that everyone else seems to be in the process of being punished for not Giving Her Her Due Respect When She Was Alive. Bull's brain is mush, Funky is a neurotic mess, Holly is stuck minding him, Crazy really lives up to his name now and Cindy has regressed to junior high mentally and all because they treated her like a regular person instead of someone to be blindly worshipped. Simply put, Batiuk introduced a pernicious tumor named Lisa into his strip and killed it.
dreadedcandiru2: (Snarky Candiru2)
As you probably don't know, the current pointless and sad exercise in tedium that we call this week's Funky Winkerbean is all about how Crazy Harry is confused and outraged that iTunes told him that if he loved Robert Plant, he'd also like Emmylou Harris. While he's willing to concede that if you had to think about it, maybe they'd be connected but not officially because back in 1978, they were in different genres. Factor in the fact that when the title character looks in the mirror, he can't help but see the dime-store Archie Andrews he started out as, we end up dealing with the irritating reality that is a bunch of middle-aged guys so stuck in the past that they don't realize that they're seen as having aged before their time. It might seem ironic that denying that one has aged ages you but to paraphrase P J O'Rourke, life is full of irony if you're stupid.

The reason that I mention this is that the very interesting thing about the only real time that Phil and Mrs Baird actually encounter one another is that he refers to her as being that old fogy from next door. While the strip in which this is revealed has as its premise the fact that children are evil embarrassments who live to make their elders look foolish because the alternative is watching your damned mouth in front of your kids because they're going to repeat things because they don't know better, the thing that interests me is that, as I've said, Phil seems to be suffering from the same sort of mental peculiarity that defines the idiots from Funky Winkerbean.

After all, what is this annoying tendency of his to call marriage 'going down in flames' and acting as if he's being asked to kill what makes him a friendly, happy person but a denial of the fact that he isn't a kid any longer? He varies only in degree and not in kind from Ted and his living his life so as to emulate a hero from his youth; fortunately, he's saved from having to live in the past by his sensible spouse and doesn't end up becoming a ridiculous idiot like Ted who wound up the subject of Liz Patterson's mild disgust. This saves him from being a deluded older fellow who, in the quest to cling to the past, ages himself. While this might be a horrible fate for Funky and the gang, they're at least better off that those in the Patterverse who think of themselves as being older than they really are.
dreadedcandiru2: (Snarky Candiru2)
Imagine, if you will, a typical ten year old boy. Let's call him Caleb because there's a lot of that going these days. He's not a saint, he's not a monster, he's just a regular kid living a regular life in this world. Now imagine that he has a maiden aunt Muriel who really doesn't have much of a grasp on how children behave. There's a lot of that going around too and always has been. You know the type, don't you? She's kinda pudgy, kinda out of touch and kinda convinced that despite Caleb's clearly stating otherwise, little boys really do love being kissed by fat idiot women who don't get kids nohow.

Imagine her trying to buy the kid a present. You just know that she's going to move heaven and earth to get Caleb something he outgrew years ago. Subtle hints from his mother don't penetrate her defenses because she's sure the boy is going to love something that leaves him confused and vaguely disappointed when given to him. It's going to be forced smiles all around in order to placate the poor dear because flat out telling her that he isn't interested in something any longer is going to be taken the wrong way.

The reason that I mention this is that we see much the same scenario taking place in Funky Winkerbean. While we initially thought Batiuk would go for the image of Corey's hand holding a funny book while the rest of him was scattered all over Iraqistan, what he's actually doing is having Holly totally lose her shit at him because he sold the collection she worked so hard to get despite it being well within his rights to do so. What seems to have shut her up is his waving the engagement ring he's planning on giving his girlfriend so he, she and a kid can live in the craphole apartment over the depressing pizza place most everyone in the strip has lived in at one point or another. This means she will have a different means of proving to herself that she was a more attentive, clued-in and loving mother than she actually was: being presented with a grandchild because everything's a referendum on what people think about a self-absorbed boomer mental defective.
dreadedcandiru2: (Snarky Candiru2)
As whoever it is that might still bother watching the exercise in boring futility that is hoping that Batiuk pulls his head out of his ass within our lifetimes knows, he thought that he was some sort of brave front-runner talking about having an openly gay couple at a senior prom despite the fact that Doonesbury, Foob and Archie Comics had openly gay characters and thought of it as being not especially a big deal. Sain people also knew that said Long Lost Uncle Aesop's reason for existing was to build up the credibility of an adult and then politely disappear behind the curtain.

What this tells me is that Batiuk's being at least ten years behind the times at all times means that the bullying we'll be facing will have the prefix 'cyber' attached to it. What we're going to be dealing with is a long, boring, pointless and factually inaccurate exercise in brainless Luddite malice that's has little to do with actual cyberbullying and everything to do with Batiuk's fear and hatred of a technology that seems to exist for the sole purpose of allowing terrible people to suddenly appear out of nowhere and call him a terrible writer and his characters terrible people because the stupid bastard doesn't realize that we've always existed but had our complaints intercepted so that the failed freshman comp teacher writing this boring exercise in pointless hardship doesn't have to be told where to stick his stupid ideas.
dreadedcandiru2: (Snarky Candiru2)
Now that it's turned out that the whole thing is Les's panic-induced nightmare brought on by the news that the horrible DJ bailed out on him, you might think that Les is off the hook for passive-aggressiving and obfuscating Lisa to death. You'd be wrong because despite not actually having foreknowledge of all the crap that happened to her over the years, we're dealing with the fact that a normal person would at least be conflicted about the stupid temporal prime directive thing that the time travel genre insists upon using as a reason for not changing history for the better.

Les, as this idiotic cheat and moronic stunt proved, had no such conflict at all. The reason for said eagerness to let history play out as it's supposed to is not due to his thinking that despite everything, everything works out for the best. What it's due to is his characteristic defect of character: a need to have decisions made for him because he doesn't want to be blamed when things go wrong. Oh, he can be condescending and supercilious when he's not on the spot but when it's him that could face the least bit of censure, he either physically or mentally runs from the scene. By proving to us that he'd do so in a Westview minute, Batiuk has stupidly destroyed his main character.
dreadedcandiru2: (Snarky Candiru2)
As we know, Mike is a socially awkward dork who thinks that he was somehow born better than anyone else despite not having a clue as to how normal people actually behave. This is why he at one point wailed about how awful it was that he had to be the glittering but misunderstood genius his inferiors cruelly mistreated as well as why he confused having to be treated like one of said beefwitted nonentities who weren't as excellent as himself as a demeaning form of torture inflicted by the incompetent on his excellent self. Add in the tendency that this self-absorbed nitwit has to smirk like an idiot when he triumphs over the inferiors who want to enslave him with their family politics and his pathetic mewling when he doesn't get his own way and you quickly realize that you're dealing with a Canadian Content version of another eminently punchable human being that goes a long way towards explaining why newspapers are dying: Les Moore from Tom Batiuk's Funky Winkerbean.

Much as it is with Mike, there isn't a social norm Les is able to wrap his pea brain around. The same man who says gibberish like 'solo car dates' never quite manages to figure out that most of why his students don't thrive like he wants them to is that he's a droning jerk who radiates contempt for anyone not in love with the crap he loves. Rather than accept that he's an incompetent well past his sell-by date, Les joins his fellow failures in blaming the children they can't teach for the poor grades they get. Also, we had to spend a summer in agony watch the mewling nincompoop whine because some poor fool movie director tried to make his beloved book of cancer, loss, heartache, despair and wounds that can never heal into something people would watch without succumbing to darkness-induced audience apathy. Worse, the dick tried to sabotage the thing because the bone they threw him wasn't nearly big enough. It's like watching Mike moan because Gluttson asked him to actually act like a senior editor when that might expose him to criticism. Granted, Michael has yet to make a snippy comment about how people who can't stomach abuse porn are silly people denying reality but that's just because the curtain came down on him before he could whine about the beefwits.

Worst of all, both men are married to a passive-aggressive jerk who cheers on their every stupid move while at the same time tormenting them like a cat does a mouse. Granted, Les had to wait longer because his real wife told him to wait until he was sixty to remarry but both of them found their enabling tormentor. Cayla grins as she allows Les to slobber over Saint Dead Lisa and torments him with scary and wrong expectations that he'll act like a member of society instead of a bizarre freak who can't and won't understand the real world while Deanna allows Mike to fort himself away because she's a G-rated version of the freak from Misery.
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To conclude my look at why I am not saddened by having to say farewell to the people of Westview, I'd like to talk about an incidental character who was given his own strip: busdriver Ed Crankshaft. Back in the parent strip, he was a crusty old goat who prided himself on being a smug incompetent who made life miserable for those around him. When he got his own strip, he didn't change much. Most of the humor related to his being a surly old man who felt no great need to concern himself with the rights, property, needs or happiness of those in his immediate vicinity and had no real capacity to learn from his mistakes. What's more, any attempt to save people from having to deal with the incompetent old fool backfires. The woman who tried to get the old boy fired because of her realistic concern that he'd kill himself and a busload of children was fired in the most humiliating manner possible and the only reaction to his insistence that gasoline is a barbecue starter instead of a geezer-killer is an impotent scowl on a younger person's face. The reason for his jerkassery is much the same one Les and Funky give for being a pair of unpleasant, arrogant sacks of crap who also happen to be knuckle-dragging imbeciles: a life of mostly self-induced misery and baffling misfortune.

As I've said before, I foresee the two of them also becoming burnt-out shells who push people around and whine about the cruelty of the world; too bad that Crankshaft isn't the only reason I don't much care for whatever Batiuk is limping home to the barn with. What really irritates me is that it's 2012 in both strips but at the same time, the people in the parent strip are fifteen to twenty years older than the people in Crankshaft. This results in Crankshaft himself being a man in his mid eighties being a hindrance to the daughter he freeloads off of while also being a man in his early hundreds trapped in a wheelchair while hooked to an oxygen tank. This being in two places at once extends to his immediate family, Mooch Myers and even Les's fiancée Cayla. Since Batiuk doesn't seem to see this failure to maintain any sort of consistent chronology as a problem, it's time for us all to drape the sheet over the ravaged carcass of what used to be his talent and slink away in horror and disgust.

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As you already know by now, Tom Batiuk is engaging in yet another attempt to get a nifty plaque from a special interest group by having Becky's misguided, angry, backbiting moron mother save the innocent children of Westview from yet another thing that they neither want or need to be saved from. The last time the belligerent glory-hog rushed the public stage in order to impose her ignorance on an unwilling world, she'd had a dog-eared copy of "Corruption of the Innocent" by Dr Worthle....Wertham in one hand and a megaphone in the other as she tried to steamroll Comic Book John under so that she could stop him from doing something that horrified her: sell comic books that allow as her values have no value. As we all know, the Lisa who didn't passively wait for death out of a need to die both theatrically and futilely pointed out the holes in the woman's alleged logic and she cursed angrily as the judge, who was as sick of the lard-headed old biddy as the rest of us, told her that, no, she couldn't use the legal system to nag people. This time around, she's going full-on Fred Phelps as she tries to save the children from gay people because she doesn't understand that, no, they're not on a recruiting drive and no, they don't want to force everyone else to have same-sex marriages. Also, this time, she'll get her ass kicked, not learn her lesson and be an unlikable bitch and watchword for screwed-up crank soccer moms who'd be better off darning socks and baking cookies instead of being in a public sphere where they don't belong.

This amazingly sexist civics lesson at least has the benefit of presenting an idiotic scold who has no place in the halls of governance as an antagonist to be feared, hated and derided as an imbecile as well as a nuisance. The same cannot be said of For Better or For Worse. That's because Elly Patterson's unpopular and idiotic crusade to save the old town hall succeeded because it got high-jacked by a venal creepola politician who greeted the bludgeon she'd provided him to smash his enemies with as if it were manna from heaven. Not, of course, that she was aware of it; she ended up feeling martyred because she couldn't take the credit for keeping them from demolishing the place and, worse still, they still built that awful sports arena so that the athletes can plan for the terrible day when they can rise up and kill the arts community. The other difference is that losing didn't encourage her to strike back at the people who simply want her to shut up until she knows what she's talking about. This means that the Deadliest Idiot Crusader has to be Mrs Blackburn.
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As I said when I first started talking about the Batiukverse, Funky isn't doing so well lately; he started Phase Three looking as if he was on top of his game but, well, it was sort of obvious that there were hard times ahead. I first realized that Funky was headed for a fall when he started blathering about what a big deal he was; that's because I remembered that Lisa's fatal brush with cancer was preceded by her boasting about how she was cancer-free. Simple as paper, Batiuk has it in for people who tempt fate. Let's see the four avenues of failure in Funky's life:
  1. He fails primarily as a business man; I remember reading the exercise in boasting that was his interview with a trade publication and thinking "Does this guy even know how to run a restaurant?" Not only did he malign the man who gave him his start in life, he smirkingly told the interview the secrets to his illusory success: practices that would have made the business fail in a good economy and thus deprive him of a fall-guy to pass the buck to.
  2. He also fails as a husband and father; what I see when I look at Funky is a dry drunk who can't find it within himself to provide his wife and stepson with what they really need: his emotional support.
  3. He fails as a cousin: When Wally came home last year, Funky treated him like something he dug out of his ear; the man could have wound up killing himself or lighting up the paper boy for all Fat Boy knew.
  4. He even fails as a friend to Les; instead of his being the chief source of support in his pal's life, he takes a back seat to Bull and Crazy Harry.
What bothers me the most, of course, is his need to deflect blame; he didn't destroy Montoni's as a franchise because he witlessly exposed himself to a loss when the franchises went kablooie or because he sold frozen pizza or because he let stores that could have thrived collapse so he could prop up his money-losing New York operation: it was the banks that did him in. At least when Cranky grouses about how bad his life was, he didn't do it to himself.
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As I mentioned a while back, Phase Two found Harry Klinghorn and Funky Winkerbean working for Tony Montoni; while Harry became a letter carrier, Funky stayed behind. He also ended up marrying the poor man's Veronica Lodge: Cindy Summers. While she would eventually try to make amends to the people she picked on in high school, back in Phase One she was something of a jerk, Phase Two found her as a reporter for the local ABC station. The problem, of course, was that at one point Cindy got a job offer from the New York affiliate; Funky's hostile refusal to leave Westview, animated primarily by his need to be the alpha male, was one of the factors that led to the dissolution of their marriage. The other factor, of course, was a secret he kept from everyone else: he was and is an alcoholic. His addiction and need to deny he had a problem darkened his personality, alienated his friends and threatened to ruin his life and the only reason he joined AA was because he ran a kid over. Part of his putting his life back together was remarrying breast cancer survivor Holly Budd. The two of them bonded because Phase Two had mauled her as badly as it had him; not only was she divorced from the idiot rat bastard who date-raped Lisa, the former perky baton girl had no real prospects, a child she couldn't handle and no idea how to turn her life around. What she did have was a second husband whose addictive personality was channeled into a temporarily more productive habit; the problem was that without Tony holding his need to come up with one dubious innovation after another in check, Funky's expansion plans were doomed to fail. More on that tomorrow.
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Now it has come time to discuss the most annoying of all the idiots that populate the strip: Funky himself. As we know, he wasn't and isn't even the central character of the strip; that dubious honor goes to Les if it goes to anyone. The purpose Funky served back in the day was to be a sort of Everyteen as if he were Archie Andrews with a more realistic lovelife and more true-to-life hormones. He wasn't the Big Man On Campus because that honor went to Barry Biderman and he wasn't that successful with the girls. What he was was the reassuringly dull presence that helped Les steer his way through the rapids, so to speak; he also made idealistic remarks about how he wasn't going to the sort of bitter, resentful, beaten-down old goat Crankshaft was. Time and a hidden darkside put paid to that; more about that tomorrow.
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The interesting thing about the Harry of the Third Phase is that the youngest of his three children is more or less a female version of the odd human being he was in high school. Sure, she inherited her looks and red hair from her mother but she inherited her need to spout non-sequiturs and wear a hat at all times from her dad. More interesting still is that, unlike most of the second generation, Maddie's life isn't filled with too much drama; she isn't like Summer or Keisha who are probably destined to watch as Suicide Girl does what she did back when Les and Lisa were floundering romantically: playing the "I want my beloved to be happy" card. She also isn't wandering around like Jinx Bushka wondering why her adoptive father frets about how athletic she isn't. What she's got is a father who might finally have to deal with a touch of the same stresses that his peers do; that's because, as we know, the postal service is falling on hard times. Since the iron rice bowl has rusted through, we're probably in for Harry coming in and cleaning up the mess Funky made of Montoni's.
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I'd like to pick up my look at Crazy Harry at the beginning of Phase Two; when it began, we found him and Funky working at Montoni's Pizza. Since the first few years of the second phase weren't as down-beat, he could still play pizzas on a turntable and get music and all the other sort of weird crap. The interesting thing is that he wound working for the Post Office as a letter carrier and, since it was before the Internet threatened his livelihood, had a security his friends sort of lacked. About the only time he figured for more than a reminder that not everyone lives angst-filled existences was when his friend John was targeted by a bunch of the same sort of idiots who cheered when the Ohio National Guard broke discipline and fired into a crowd of protesters; this particular band of gutless wonders tried to padlock the Komix Korner out of blind fear. When they deposed him, he told them to basically shut up and mind their business; the neat thing is that sweet reason triumphed over Momism.
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Now that I've gotten my hatred of how Batiuk has made his characters look haggard and aged off my chest, I'd like to talk about the other member of the Core Four who isn't a mess: 'Crazy' Harry Klinghorn. He bears a distinct similarity to Bull in that he was able to transcend who he was in high school and carve out a decent life for himself. His beginnings were not all that auspicious; what greeted our eyes back then was a shy, somewhat eccentric young man wearing a cap who really didn't seem to fit into the blackboard jungle. Just as Les's machine gun turned out to be a prop, his living out of his locker seemed to draw not on his being the fun-personified character we saw but on, well, his having a rather unhappy home life. Where he really excelled was at the local arcade; the problem, of course, was that even there he faced an uphill battle. That's because he always had to face another gamer: a mysterious figure wearing a motorcycle helmet called the Eliminator. 'He' was tough competition. 'He' was relentless. 'He' was a young woman named Donna. More about the two of them in the next installment.
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Before I get to Harry, I'd like to talk about another thing about the Batiukverse that bothers me along with a lot of other people; the fact that while the main characters are in their late forties, they look as if they're the same age as Batiuk himself: sixty-two. Not only that, they look an old, decrepit, beaten-down and haggard sixty-two. Why this is is obvious; Batiuk can't help but make extensions of himself look a lot like the man he sees in the mirror. The effect is something that he does not intend; it makes it look as if life in Westview is so traumatizing, it ages one long before one's time. What makes it even more annoying to see is that on Sundays, he ages them even further; on Sundays, Funky looks like Ed Freaking Crankshaft without the damned ball cap. Since Cranky is pretty much eighty-five (and a year or so away of ending up in a wheelchair because of Alzheimer's), having to see a man who's not even fifty look and act the same way he does is not, as Batiuk might think, a reminder of how hard life can be and how idealism must give way to harsh reality. What it is is a reminder of what I really hate about the strip aside from the smirking: the drama ISN'T realistic. It's like looking at the crap we all go through blown up to billboard size.
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We conclude our look at Bull by catching up with him nowadays; we start off, of course, with his being the sort-of unwilling coach of the girl's teams. The reason that his being in charge of a group of young women alarms him is, strangely enough, a tendency towards chivalry; he worries about saying or doing the wrong thing and hurting the team. He's also troubled by his inability to relate to Jinx as well as he'd like to; it's sort of difficult for him to talk on her level because, well, he's still something of a jock and she's not. Good thing for both of them that Linda is there to keep things from getting too out of hand. Better still, he's got the sense to be grateful for what he has. He's not crippled by neuroses or hampered by an addiction so he's more or less in the same reasonably happy place as my next subject: Harry Klinghorn.
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As we know, Batiuk made a bit of jump when he aged the characters the first time around; when he did so, we found our friend Bull working as a coach at Westview High. As I explained yesterday, he was a calmer version of the belligerent ignoramus who bullied Les into letting him cheat off him; not only was it due to his seeking therapy, Batiuk also needed to deliver an Aesop about how coaches tend to downplay their charges' need to study. The interesting thing about Bull was that he and Linda Lopez had fallen in love and gotten married; he had to work out how awkward it was to relate to her daughter Mickey and, well, deal with his low sperm count. I have to say that he handled both a lot better than Les or Funky would have; after debating the issue with himself, he shrugged off worrying about how things looked, talked it over with Linda and adopted Jinx. He was also there for Les during Lisa's cancercancercancer; I wonder if he realizes that Les took his joking comment about slugging him in the arm if he messed up seriously. I also wonder if he sometimes envies his predecessor his happiness as a salesman at Foot Locker.
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As promised, I'm about to do a character study on Bull Bushka. First, however, a bit of background; he seems to come from a long line of asshole athletes. His grandfather, Beanball Bushka, was a teammate of Toledo Mudhen Ed Crankshaft in the fifties; given that his nickname was given because the filthy sadist loved throwing baseballs at his opponent's heads at skull-cracking velocities and he was an unapologetic racist, you'd assume he'd be filled with petty malevolence. You'd be right; that's because his crowning achievement was to exploit Crankshaft's illiteracy to deny him his one chance to make the Majors. You'd also assume that a man that malevolent would raise his son to a blazing ball of hate as well; you'd also be right. The drunken arsewipe took out his frustrations on his son in spasms of alcoholic rage while filling Bull's head with the notion that the only way to succeed was to smash aside the weak; this, of course, made him the bane of Les's existence in high school. Things would have persisted had not Bull not finally stood up for himself; he, unlike the rest of his mostly nasty family, sought out therapy and quelled the rage inside him. This, of course, is lost on Modern-day Les who, unknown to Bull, still dreads being pulverized.


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