Blue Mr. Tobin
My Bitmoji and me
A few years ago, a sixth grader said to me, “Why are you the only teacher without a Bitmoji?” I was irritated at myself for only catching onto the new tech craze after everyone else. Old Man Tobin with his rotary telephone and UHF knob? I’m not on the cutting edge, but I’m a smidge edgy. And being smedgy made it all the more irritating. I resented having to make a Bitmoji, as if it was an onerous administration ask. Sign out with the office if you want to leave the building and make a digital avatar.
But I made one. And partly in that rebellious spirit, I made myself blue. But I also kind of had no choice.
I have a fairly dark complexion, especially in the summer. My college girlfriend’s mother said I looked “ethnic.” Mitch Hurwitz, creator of Arrested Development, said I was “omni-ethnic,” and his running joke was, “What language that, Azerbaijani? No offense, Dan,” for whatever nationality arose. But I tend to confuse. In LA, a Mexican guy said he wanted to speak Spanish to me, and a clerk in Boston actually did. In Cuba, a hotel worker said I didn’t fit with that North American group, and in Portugal a server couldn’t believe I wasn’t native. But I swabbed my DNA and I’m Zelensky: a 40-something Ukranian Jew with a background in comedy. And my deeper ancestry was a variety of other cabbage-eating Eastern European countries.
So the avatar colors that looked right didn’t feel right. I don’t want to misrepresent who I am or offend anyone. Plus blue made me laugh and fits how I do sixth grade.
Now I put my avatar everywhere, in every situation. Hats off to the Bitmoji team, they make “me” look funny. Sometimes I match it to the situation, sometimes I recline in a bowl of ramen. Sometimes I hang with a cow, sometimes I am a cow. When kids ask why I’m blue, I might say, “That’s a great question, excellent question” and move on. Sometimes I say, “Why are YOU blue?” Sometimes I say I’m not blue, there must be something wrong with their eyes. Occasionally I say I’m paying tribute to my Smurf heritage. It’s just another bit.
I forget Blue Mr. Tobin until another adult sees it for the first time: “Oh… you’re blue.” It’s fine to be intentionally irritating with the kids, but only to select teachers (Hi, Katie!) so I usually just say I’m just having some fun. And I am. My wife laughs any time she sees my slides, thinking of slides she see at her job. And I say, Yeah, sixth grade is fun.
The Week in Dog Poo
World Cup fever has yet to claim me as a victim, and maybe it won’t; I can’t get excited about a sport that routinely takes 95m to reach a nil-nil tie. But I decided to imagine my rare two-dog walk was a World Cup match. Ginger usually is the Messi of the pair, so Winnie was a huge underdog heading into the walk. It helps that she looks a bit like Underdog. But early on, maybe the equivalent of the 15th minute, Winnie struck first and jumped out 1-0. I knew Ginger had it in her to catch up, and maybe she did it. I thought I could tell the difference between a pee squat and a poo squat, but either both her #2s were actually #1s or the leaves hid all. I shuffled through the leaves both times and couldn’t find anything.
Then in the equivalent of the 85th minute, Winnie sealed the victory 2-0. No extra time was added, as we were already walking by the trash barrels. A dominating win for the Win, any given Sunday anyone can be a winner. There may be an asterisk for a poo or two we had to leaf behind. But do you believe in dog poo miracles?
The Urban Blah
Back in 2009-11 I collaborated with the brilliant Lovisa to make a webcomic that failed to become syndicated across the globe. I am pro-recycling.
It used to be that we’d have just a couple of weeks between summer and winter — it’s snowed the past two Halloweens. But Earth’s climate death spiral has netted us a lovely fall. Temperatures still hit the high 50s as late as this week, and we’ve had a series of Final Warm Days that kiss 70. Not sure it’s worth losing a couple of arctic ice sheets that will render much of the planet uninhabitable. But fun to wear shorts in November! In 2010, it felt like fall still put in just a brief appearance, so this comic made more sense in its time.
Also, Lovisa has a substack, you should subscribe!
Jam of the Week
Spotify Wrapped is always a shock, never what I thought were my top listens. I think they reveal your #1 after the year actually ends, but the year-end favorites I saw featured plenty from my summertime electronica rut. Two albums featured prominently, specifically the upbeat Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas and the slightly more sinister Alejandro Molinari. Not sure how I found each of them, but I spent a lot of time listening to MIT radio (WMBR) and BC radio (WZBC, “The Z”) so it’s good bet it’s from one of those. But good listens, proof I listen to plenty of different stuff.
My Back Pages
From a script for a web series I wanted to make with a friend, “The Adhesive Avenger,” 2004:
JOE, late 20s, weight of the world on his shoulders, sits at the table wearing a T-shirt and sweats, drinking coffee. Joe extends his hand across the table toward a sugar bowl. Nothing happens. He tries again. MAX, late 20s, comfortable in his own skin, ENTERS.
MAX: No glue?
MAX: Doesn’t glue shoot out of your fingers?
JOE: What? No. That’s insane.
MAX: No it isn’t. You’re the Adhesive Avenger.
JOE: (LAUGHS) That’s hilarious. I’ve got to remember that. (THEN) I mean, I know the Adhesive Avenger. I could probably get a message to him.
Ah yes, the Adhesive Avenger. A recurring idea I’ve had about a lame superhero, it was a Halloween costume, and then some friends and I made a movie trailer. My cape was a pillowcase.
I have a hard time letting go of ideas that make me laugh, so ten years later I resurrected the Adhesive Avenger. That was the premise of the script, too.
MAX: Joe, we need to talk.
JOE: Not now, I’m a little fuzzy. I think I got hit on the head.
MAX: Mmm, little more than that.
JOE: Well, that’s good. I feel like death warmed over. What happened?
MAX: Just keep an open mind. (DEEP BREATH) 1986. Dr. Hole is working on a death ray, you track him down, you fight in an abandoned warehouse, Dr. Hole kills you. There’s a big funeral and everyone finds out you’re the Adhesive Avenger. Eighteen years go by, it’s the year 2004. I dig you up, bring you back to life, you take a shower and drink all my coffee. Just kidding, have all you want. Anyway, you’re back, you seem okay, and there we are.
I was drawing off The Incredibles rather than The Boys or even Watchmen. An intriguing feint at world-building if I’d fleshed it out.
JOE: This is a lot to process. (then) You’re saying Metallica is popular.
MAX: And they cut their hair.
JOE: Whoa. (semi-dazed) Eighteen years. I really thought someone from Metallica would be dead by now.
MAX: Yeah, the bass player.
JOE: Cliff, dead. (then) Me, dead.
MAX: I know, it’s messed up. But you’re not dead now because I brought you back. Okay? I reincarnated you. Are you getting this? You were dead and now you’re not because I brought you back to life!
The Adhesive Avenger keeps getting hit by a bus and reincarnated.
MAX: I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep bringing you back. You really have to watch it.
JOE: Spare me the lecture, Frankenstein. It wasn’t exactly fun dying again.
MAX (suddenly really interested) Hey, what’s death like?
Joe reaches for tries the milk behind him, trying to shoot glue again. Nothing.
JOE: This sucks!
MAX: Death sucks?
JOE: No, having no powers sucks. Death’s not awesome either.
He watches the TV documentary about his death and has an existential crisis
JOE: Why me? Why’d you have to bring me back? The world doesn’t even have superheroes any more.
MAX: I know. We need you.
JOE: I don’t even have my powers. (tries to shoot glue again) Yeah, don’t have my powers.
MAX: Maybe if you stopped dying every ten minutes they’d come back.
JOE: That can’t be helping. But I’m nothing without my stupid powers.
MAX: What’d you have besides the glue fingers thing?
JOE: I could make adhesives stop being sticky from up to forty yards away. (concentrates) See, the label should have come off this beer.
I liked the name The Adhesive Avenger, but really it was worthy of being a character in MAD Magazine or on a Letterman Top Ten List. Nothing more. But if you read this and happen to want to invest in a new production company, I’d like to sell you my pitch for The Adhesive Avenger in Space/vs Predator/Saves Christmas. Let’s go into buisiness together.
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