Thursday, October 21, 2010

Put your glad rags on

I don't have much to add, to any eulogizing of Tom Bosley--he had a good run, a large part of which he spent portraying a nice dad on a sitcom encoded into my DNA and that of many of my thirty-to-forty-something peers. Linda Holmes, over on the NPR blog Monkey See, says what I would only more gracefully; I was especially taken with this bit:

There's always some temptation to put disclaimers on a remembrance of a TV
actor, as if some apology is in order for thinking fondly of something you spent hundreds of hours enjoying as a kid instead of spending all your time
mourning obscure actors appearing in the truly great plays of the world.

May you rest in peace, Mr. C...and now let me pull this back to focus on a more personal memory. Coincidentally, the Hub cable network (revamped Discovery Kids, I guess) has been airing family fare all week, including ancient sitcoms from the pilot on. So I came home one night this week to faded, Chuck-Cunningham-era 1974 episodes of Happy Days, when Fonzie sported a grey windbreaker (I KNOW!), and the credits went like this:

Bill Haley! Oh my god, the sound of that jukebox working: the coin dropping down, the flip of the 45, the needle crackling into place*...and then the drummer just tears it up, man.

*We used to make fun of my Grammy, Sis and I, when she'd offer us change for "the nickelodeon." Now I look at this entire sentence and can imagine that, if I have any readers under 21, I might as well be writing about hoopskirts and Conestoga wagons.

Anyway. It makes my eyes well up, because in 1974, when my parents were still married and Sis was an infant, my mother took a "ceramics" class one night a week. It wasn't throwing clay on a wheel, but the kind where she and the other (presumably frustrated) suburban ladies chose from molded forms and painted their own color schemes. We had multiple garden gnomes and mushroom-patterned kitchen canisters and the like, for a while there. So, once a week Mom got a night off and Dad would "babysit," what modern child-having persons might call "parenting."

I don't remember whether I went to bed on those nights with adequate nutrition (unlikely), or brushed teeth (less so). But I do know that, whatever my bedtime was supposed to be, my dad let me stay up until, oh, 8:02. Through the Happy Days credits, and we would dance. Rockabilly swing dancing to Bill Haley and the Comets; he'd twirl me around, spin me in and out like a yo-yo, jiving in front of the television. We would seriously cut a rug--the harvest-gold shag that carpeted our sunken living room, in fact. Me and my dad, rockin'. I was four years old.

"This is a show about when Daddy was a boy," I can remember him telling me. He must have loved it; the protagonist was even named "Richie." I'm not sure when I started to suspect that Happy Days was not quite a documentary lens on the 50s, what with Fonzie and the shark-jumping and Mork and what have you. I watched it through to the bitter end, though, into the 80s, when Ron Howard wanted out and so the writers packed Richie Cunningham off to Vietnam, what the hell, and then there was Arnold's and the little girl from Poltergeist. And the finale with Joanie and Chachi's big wedding. Okay then. I bet Joanie got to dance with her dad then, man. Unfair.

It's a sweet memory, though, even as it stings. My mom used to harrangue my dad for his tendency to get me "all wound up," in her terms, immediately before bedtime: rasslin', or various furniture-jumping acrobatics. "Rich. Rich! You're getting her all wound up!" I'm sure frenetic swing-dancing also qualifies, as something unlikely to send a preschooler off to restful slumber. But it's the only time I can remember dancing with my father, and I know I'm lucky just to have that.

Okay, an antidote to The Maudlin: here's Bill Haley and co. in a live performance at breakneck speed. It's not entirely clear what this show is from the notes, and even less clear why there are several little girls (and their apparently grown partners) dancing their asses off in front of the band. But look at them go! Talk about rug-cutting. If the band slows down, we'll yell for more...but it doesn't look like there's any chance of that happening.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Our appliances were also that color

My Grammy suffered from a congenital inability to tell a joke. She could be witty, or quick with a biting remark...but the formal structure of setup-beat-punchline eluded her all her life. Her attempts at scripted levity all went something like this: "A man walks into a bar, and the bartender, wait. A priest! A priest goes into a bar...and also one of! A priest and a rabbi, and the bartender, no, that's wrong. No, wait: first the priest says...oh, hell. I've screwed it all up."

So she was funny, in a way, with these epic, backtracking stories--just never in the manner she intended. You had to give her credit, really, for soldiering on. A couple of her weird non-sequitur punchlines became family jokes in and of themselves, a quick shorthand we'd repeat like a hilarious mantra. The most famous of these came about in front of all her coworkers at the UW budget office. The joke itself was a hairy old chestnut indeed, about the world's cheapest hit man, Artie, plying his trade as a bargain-rate strangler. Stop me if you've--no, never mind. Suffice to say, Artie does his thing and the next day's headlines read:


Well, Grammy tried to tell this one to her colleagues, and I can only imagine the narrative weaving around towards its inevitable end. But she got there, eventually, and said: "So, the next day in the paper, all the headlines read...

(pregnant pause)


Well. Blank faces all around. Interestingly, Grammy could remember this humiliation and repeat it to us later, as a personal anecdote; her mental block was exclusive to telling a proper joke in the first place.

And this one became legend, somehow. I've been saying "avocados-three-for-a-dollar" reflexively for probably 30 years, at the slightest prompting: both when I botch a story of my own, and every time I see a little mesh bag of avocados (with a much higher price tag) at the supermarket. It's part of my family lexicon. We have to say it; it's ingrained, like "Jinx! Buy me a Coke!"

This is my own longwinded meandering way to wonder if any of y'all are watching Fringe as avidly as I am? Because in last week's episode, set in the blighted alternate universe (not watching? just...go with it), Olivia marveled that Frank had procured apparently rare and precious avocados for their dinner. "Where did you get them? How much?" she asked dubiously...and you KNOW what I shouted at the teevee with absolute delight. Hi, Grammy! Miss you!