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Search - "y u do this js?"
So, I was going to complain about JS being finicky and not making a damned bit of sense, but it turns out that it wasn't JS's fault. Not entirely, anyway. It was the halfassed JS minifier middleware (written by the legendary dev himself) that was breaking the JS while writing it to the page.
The original problem:
My code worked. I removed some comments. Big ol' block of //'s. And suddenly $() isn't a function. But if I call $(); at the top, it all works!
It turns out the "minifier" caused JS to think my code was chaining off the previous JS line in the rendering pipeline instead of being a separate statement. so all it really needed was a `;` at the start. What threw me, though, was the last line of the previous blob of (non-minified) JS was a comment, so it should be a separate statement, right?
But as it turns out...
// JS really is finicky.