Score One for the Eagle Scout

SUSAN TRAUSCH

March 26, 1991|By SUSAN TRAUSCH

BOSTON. — What's the hottest issue in Washington?

Mark Trail.

The comic strip, yes. Some might say, ''the boring comic strip.'' And executives at the Washington Post said exactly that last month when they axed the old boy.

That's how things got very hot on the issue front, or ''politically sensitive,'' as the phrase goes in our nation's capital -- generally translated to mean, ''somebody turn off the fan.''

After announcing on February 10 that Trail had come to the end of his in the Post comics section, the paper received 14,700 phone calls and 1,500 letters demanding his return.

Irate fans at Lanman Systems Group,the design firm in the building across the parking lot from the Post, put a big sign in their window: ''BRING BACK MARK TRAIL.''

Executive editor Ben Bradlee responded with a big sign in his window: ''OKAY.''

The Lanman employees scrawled: ''WHEN?''

Mr. Bradlee wrote: ''SOON.''

So this week Trail returned triumphant, and the paper is publishing all 42 strips withheld during the unpleasantness. Democracy lives! And so much for those weighty matters of our time on Page One. Did a Senate subcommittee hearing ever get 14,700 phone calls?

Meanshle, I say thank God there are people in Washington who can get whipped up over silliness that will do them absolutely no good except make them happy.

People get whipped up over silliness down there all the time, of course, but it usually involves an amendment to give the town of East Frigit a traffic island. And nobody has much fun passing it.

Reading Mark Trail may not be a rip-snortin' riot exactly, but it is pleasant, which is more than you can say for a lot of what passes for entertainment today. There always has been something comforting about this unlikely hero -- steady, predictable, a little dull, maybe, but then, a lot of us are a little dull.

We don't have to be hip to understand him. We don't have to feel politically incorrect if we miss an episode. We can just kind of plug in when we want to. I haven't read him in years, but felt that the Post was yanking my chain messing with him.

Mark Trail is like Smokey the Bear -- an American institution, square, environmentally solid, an Eagle Scout. To cancel him is to say:''Well, we're all just a bit too sophisticated for little birdie tracks in the snow now, aren't we?''

No!

Another reason for the rising up of the 14,000-plus is that comics connect us with our past. Blow Mark Trail out of the water and you blow a lot of memories of mellow Sunday afternoons with a favorite uncle or a sister who read them with us.

I remember rediscovering ''Nancy'' in book form a couple of years ago after not seeing her since I was a kid. Took me right back to summers on the porch, trading comics with friends and chewing Jaw Breakers.

Comics and gumballs always went together for some reason. I guess if our mothers felt loose enough to spring for junk reading, they figured, ''What the heck -- might as well rot their teeth, too.''

A friend who has a 10-year-old son recently told me with some pride that he wanted a subscription to MAD magazine for his birthday. ''He's got taste,'' she said. We both had grown up on the wisdom of Alfred E. Neuman, saving old issues for years, finding funny little asides in the margins that we'd missed the first three times through, and hoping they'd never become extinct.

Ritual, continuity, corn -- the comics give us that and we need it. Especially in Washington.

Susan Trausch is a Boston Globe columnist.

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