Zippy goes out to catch a bite

… in two recent strips, first at Dippin’ Donuts and then at the Sugar Shack. Looks like sweet tooth days for our Pinhead. Both strips are strewed with allusions of all kinds, of course.



Background: where are these places? Not entirely sure, but my current best hypotheses are these:

the Dippin’ Donuts at 519 Main St. in Leominsters MA (one of three shops in Leominster, plus one in Littleton MA):


the Sugar Shack diner in Chester MT, a 10-stool diner from the Valentine Company in 1953 (“These small diners were built in Wichita [KS] for several decades from the late 1930s into the 1970s. Some are still open today.” (link)):


There are identificational complexities in both cases, though I think the visual matches are pretty good.

First, Dippin’ Donuts. Not the equally alliterative Dunkin’ Donuts, the “global donut company and coffeehouse chain” (Wikipedia link), but a collection of local shops and small local franchises (like the one in Leominster) that seem to have no connection with one another and to have originated as breakaways from the Dunkin’ behemoth.  Different shops have different building designs; even the MA set have different designs and logos, for instance:


But the shop in #1 above is the only Dippin’ place I’ve found with a sign that has a donut in the middle, between the Dippin’ and the Donuts. And the building style is right, though the colors are changed (Criffith’s drawings often alter colors).

The the Sugar Shack. The (again, alliterative) name has been used for many kinds of establishments: coffee shops, candy stores, ice cream parlors, doughnut shops, soda fountains, diners in general — and of course to cabins where maple trees are tapped. Also to “adult entertainment clubs”, where men, or in some cases, women, can get some sugar (actually, Sugar Shack is attested as the name of a variety of sexual-services places, up to and including brothels). Green’s Dictionary of Slang has US (originally black) slang sugar (also sug or shug) ‘attractive woman’ (from 1803), then gay slang ‘attractive man’ as well (from 1934).

The name could easily have been coined on its own, or in some cases it was likely taken from the American pop song. From Wikipedia:

“Sugar Shack” is a song [about a coffeehouse] written in 1962 by Keith McCormack and Jimmy Torres. Torres gave his song rights to his aunt, Fay Voss, as a birthday present. The song was recorded in 1963 by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs at Norman Petty Studios in Clovis, New Mexico. The unusual and distinctive organ part was played on a Hammond Solovox, Model J.

(I refrain from playing on “the unusual and distinctive organ part” — but not, as you can see, from alluding to the possibility of goofing off like that.)

You can listen to the 1963 recording here (with a photo of Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs).

Some remaining odds and ends: from #1, October surprise (a political/cultural reference that not all readers will get) and the allusion to a reality show host (which I will now disregard); from #2, pure cane sugar (as opposed to corn syrup, granulated sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup, and also from molasses, though not all readers will recognize that) and the expression omina.

October surprise. From Wikipedia:

In American political jargon, an October surprise is a news event deliberately created or timed (or sometimes occurring spontaneously) to influence the outcome of an election, particularly one for the U.S. presidency. The reference to the month of October is because the date for national elections (as well as many state and local elections) is in early November. Therefore, events that take place in late October have greater potential to influence the decisions of prospective voters.

Since the 1972 [Nixon vs. McGovern] presidential election (when it came into use), the term “October surprise” has been used preemptively during the campaign season by partisans of one side to discredit late-campaign news by the other side.

Three examples from the Wikipedia article that involve sex scandals:

1964 Johnson vs. Goldwater: The Johnson ship almost got caught up on the rocky shoals of the sudden scandal around Walter Jenkins, longtime top aide to Johnson. Jenkins’ career ended after a sex scandal was reported weeks before the 1964 presidential election, when Jenkins was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct with another man in a public restroom in Washington, D.C.’s YMCA (“so notorious a gathering place of homosexuals that the District police had long since staked it out with peepholes for surveillance”)

2003 California governor recall election: On October 2, 2003, the Los Angeles Times released a story about Arnold Schwarzenegger and subsequent allegations that he was a womanizer guilty of multiple acts of sexual misconduct in past decades. The story was released just before the 2003 California recall (which was scheduled for October 7), prompting many pundits to charge that the timing of the story was aimed specifically at derailing the recall campaign.

2006 midterm elections: The Mark Foley scandal, in which the congressman resigned over sexual computer messages he exchanged with underage congressional pages, broke on September 28, 2006, and dominated the news in early October. wrote, “The October surprise came early this election year….” Allegations that both Republicans and Democrats had knowledge of Foley’s actions months before the breaking of the story only fueled the speculation regarding the possibly politically motivated timing of the story’s release.

The “bloopers” involved in October surprises are not so much embarrassing errors as embarrassing statements made in private but then revealed, as recently was the case with the reality-show host.

omina. Here Urban Dictionary has a perceptive entry (by Pagano 10/16/04):

The NJ/Tri-State [NY-NJ-CT] way of saying, “I’m going to”: Omina go to the store, you need anything?

The expression doesn’t appear in DARE or in the big slang dictionaries, no doubt because people assaume that it’s just casual speech reduction, as many expressions in “New Yawk Tawk” (like jeet ‘Did you eat?’) seem to be. But we should take seriously the possibility that, whatever its historical origins, for some speakers omina is now a fixed conventionalized expression, and that Zippy in #2 is obsessively and emphatically agonizing over what he’s going to do at the Sugar Shack.

A prominent analogue to this sort of conventionalization would be the originally Black English expression /a(j)ma/ ‘I’m gonna’, most often spelled I’ma (this is now as close to a conventional spelling as we’re likely to get), but also spelled Ima / I’mma / Imma / Im’a / etc. — also I’m on — and  now more widespread informal AmE. I’ma can be produced slowly and emphatically, as I. MA, suggesting that some speakers no longer analyze the expression as containing I’m and some version of gonna ‘going to’. (Note: these speakers do also produce I’m gonna and similar variants, but as independent alternatives parallel to I’ma.)

Cane syrup. The Sugar Shack boasts that it uses only pure cane sugar in its drinks and confections. The alternative sweeteners for processed foods are corn syrup (100% glucose), high-fructose corn syrup, and molasses; for some cooking, corn syrup (for instance, Karo syrup), granulated sugar (from sugar cane), and molasses. The pure cane sugar in the Sugar Shack’s offerings is probably Steen’s. From Wikipedia:

Steen’s cane syrup is a traditional American sweetener made by the simple concentration of cane juice through long cooking in open kettles. The result is a dark, “caramel–flavored, burnt gold–colored syrup”, “deep and slightly sulfurous” with a “lightly bitter backlash”. It is sweeter than molasses because no refined sugar is removed from the product.

Steen’s syrup has been made since 1910 in Abbeville, Louisiana, by C. S. Steen’s Syrup Mill, Inc. Its packaging is marked by a bright yellow label. Steen’s has been called a “Southern icon” and essential for “sweet Southern dishes”.


2 Responses to “Zippy goes out to catch a bite”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    They’re also distinguishing cane sugar from beet sugar. Both sugars in purified form are sucrose. Because sugar cane is a C4 metabolizer and the sugar beet a C3, cane sugar has a higher proportion of the stable carbon isotope carbon 13. The EU actually uses stable isotope analysis to distinguish beet sugar, which is an EU product taxed differently from cane sugar.

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