13 January 2013

Mr. Squish, and giving up on your dreams.

When I was a kid, I used to watch The Love Boat. The parents tended to go out Saturday nights, which meant a neighbor girl would babysit us, and we’d get to stay up and watch Love Boat. And maybe we could talk her into staying up for Fantasy Island if we promised we’d never, ever tell on her. Sometimes she would.

The Love Boat, if you’ve never seen it, is about a cruise ship, its personnel, and the tons of celebrity guest stars. The formula is pretty basic: Each hourlong episode has three plotlines, which sometimes overlap. There’s the serious romantic story, the lighthearted romantic story, and the wacky hijinks story. Usually the personnel were involved in the wacky hijinks story, ’cause for all you could tell, their jobs were ridiculously easy and they had lots of free time. Come to think of it, the only one I ever saw actually doing his job was the ship’s bartender. Maybe the doctor once or twice, when a character on the show was actually sick. The captain’s job seemed to be solely to greet guests, and invite some of them to the captain’s table for dinner.

I didn’t learn what a purser did till college, because on Love Boat, the purser never had to actually do his job. His name was “Gopher,” and his entire job was to get in, and out of, wacky hijinks. To my knowledge there was never an actual “Gopher’s gonna get shot in the ass by the invisible chimp with the harpoon” story, but the way Love Boat was written, it’s plausible. All Gopher ever appeared to do on these ships was goof off. Which was the perfect career path for Leonard. Hence:

Mr. Squish, CSUS Hornet, February 1991.

Of course, nowadays we know there was some rampant cocaine use going on behind the scenes of The Love Boat, which is why those episodes don’t really hold up. But what do seven-year-old kids know?

So this was the backstory I had for Leonard Squish: There are Trekkies who have watched every single Star Trek episode and memorized it in great detail. And Leonard was precisely the same way—except the show he idolized was The Love Boat. He was a “boatie,” so to speak; he memorized that show in great detail. Now, while Trekkies would love to be in Starfleet someday—despite most of them never, ever being able to pass the physical—it’s not gonna happen. Starfleet is never gonna exist in their lifetimes. (Nor, realistically, in anyone’s.) But Leonard’s dream of working on a cruise ship actually could. ’Cause cruise ships really exist. Who says he can’t do it?

And that’s why he was majoring in Recreation and Leisure Studies at Sac State: He was gonna work on the Love Boat. Only once he found out what a purser actually is (i.e. the person who handles all financial transactions on board) he realized his math skills weren’t anywhere near up to that, and decided to become the cruise director. On The Love Boat, it appeared her job was to hold a clipboard when people boarded, and to get on the loudspeaker whenever they landed at Puerto Vallarta, and tell them that they were in Puerto Vallarta. And then get involved in the wacky hijinks. And then, behind the scenes, snort mountains of cocaine. Seemed easy enough.

Originally, I hadn’t made Randall part of Leonard’s backstory. Theirs was more of an antagonistic relationship in the Solano College Tempest. At the Hornet they evolved into buds. So why not have them watching Love Boat together when they were seven?

But time marches on. And though Leonard hadn’t changed any (still wearing the shades, still sporting the spiky hair, still wanting to work on a cruise ship) Randall opted for the “real world,” in which bartending on a cruise ship wouldn’t provide for him the lifestyle that a nervous young yuppie might feel secure in.

Whether you want to read this strip as a “Don’t give up on your dreams” kind of motivational story, or to laugh at how Leonard still hasn’t joined the real world, is pretty much up to you.