Thursday, July 29, 2010

Farewell to the Fifties

The Evolution of Annette

I owe it all, I’m afraid, to Jack Benny.

It was in discussion with a 30-something  that I learned that the 1950’s had officially died.

We were talking about comedy, and I mentioned my hero, the great skinflint, the perennial 39 year old, the “Oh, fella?” ~ “Yes-s-s-s-s-s” American institution and legend, Mr. Jack Benny. I expected smiles and nods and gushes of recognition, if not a personal homage in the form of her crossing arms, turning her head slowly aside, and exclaiming “W-e-e-l-l-l-!-!-!”

But what I got was “Yeah, I know who he is! That British comedian who was always doing those goofy chases!”

“Umm, Cheryl,” I choked, “that was …. Benny Hill. Comparing Benny Hill to Jack Benny is sort of like comparing Paris Hilton to Paris France!”

Though Jack Benny was active in show business for much of the 20th Century, on TV his heyday was the 1950’s. In that moment, I learned that Benny’s heyday had become a nayday. As a child of the 50’s, references and allusions from that period have tripped off my tongue “faster than a speeding bullet” and “like a fiery horse at the speed of light.”

But no more. As a source of reference, comparison, or commentary, I come to bury the 50’s…. and to praise them:

Taking leave, Leave it to Beaver! Growing up 50’s, Beaver, I measured my life against yours and consistently found it wanting. You got in and out of trouble in 30 minutes, learned well your parental lessons, and made life within the confines of a picket fence look copacetic and cool. But as I leave, Beav, please do me one favor: tell Ward and June to stop dressing for dinner,  for Pete's sake,  as if they’re headed out for a job interview with Halliburton!

Au revoir, Annette! As the Mickey Mousketeer with the prematurely developing bust line, Annette Funicello, you morphed into the most seismic force for male sexual awakening since the invention of masturbation. Though a millennial hearing your name would most likely presume you an Italian desert, I’ll always think of you as the main course to a fantasy that had me glued to a show which was supposed to be about a mouse.

Hasta la vista, Howdy! Though your creators should have learned the meaning of the term “no strings attached,” Howdy Doody, you introduced us to an endearing ensemble that foreshadowed the generations-later Sesame Street. Buffalo Bob, Mayor Bluster, the Flub-a-Dub, Princess Winterfall Summerspring, Clarabell, Chief Thunderthud, Heidi Doody, and more …. Hey, thank you, guys! The Peanut Gallery is closed.

Happy Trails, Roy! Happy trails to you, Roy Rogers, until we meet again.  Happy Trails to you, which will be never, my friend!

Our paths diverge, Davy! You may have been King of the Wild Frontier, Davy Crockett, but on the Web Frontier, you’re not even a pawn. With coonskin cap aloft and “Born on a Mountaintop” playing in the breeze, it’s time for you to once again go down swinging --- this time not by the hands of Santa Anna’s men but by the Santa Anna winds of time.

Adios, Adlai! You, Adlai Stevenson, were my first political memory. Going with my father to vote for you for President in 1956, we knew you had as much chance to win as to set off a national craze of male babies named “Adlai.” You were beloved by liberals and everyone we knew, but the country liked Ike. Would I get a quick resonating response to your name in 2010? Sadly, think I’d have to wait until hell freezes over. 

Gotta roam, Lone Ranger! With a "hearty hi-ho, Silver!" and Tonto by your side, you, Lone Ranger, were the oddest of heroes. You started off with a handicap of your own making. You had no secret identity, you needed no mask, and everywhere you went the greeting was the same: "Look, it's an outlaw, kill him!" Your mask was on the side of the law, but it didn't need to be on your face at all!

Ciao, Raleigh Coupons! In the 1950’s Cigarette commercials on the air were as prevalent as cigarette smoke in the office. But amongst them all, Raleigh Cigarettes, you puffed supreme. Why? Because of the golf clubs, toasters, and manifold marvels one could obtain “Free for Raleigh Coupons!” The trick, of course, was to stay alive long enough to collect the coupons to get any of them.

Cheerio, Cherrios Kid! Along with Annette, my Cheerios Kid, you fueled a childhood fantasy. When you’d eat those “O’s,” you'd acquire a bulging bicep, powered by a colossal Cheerio! I ate your wares diligently, eagerly awaiting the muscle and the mighty “O.” Finally one night in a dream, there emblazoned upon my still spindly arm was a Cheerio indeed --- actual size and soggy from milk.

Sayonara, Superman! Many others have played the role, George Reeves, but nobody else ever inhabited it as fully as every 50’s kid once inhabited your cape. The stories were stupid, the production values atrocious, but when you flew, we did too. Greasy hair notwithstanding, you were the Man of Steel. If only Kryptonite had been all that could harm you ….

So fare thee well, Fifties!  You shall live on in memory and history, if not in my metaphor and simile.

Now, I’m off to drop in on the Sixties.

There's a 32 year old I know who thinks The Monkees --- OMG! --- are in the Philadelphia Zoo ....


I'm a bit nostalgic yet; it's the plight of the Boomer, I think.  So for one more time, here's  A Further Farewell to the Fifties.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


The Attack of the Killer Cheeses!

Everyone has a certain food they don’t like, and for me that food happens to be cheese. I not only dislike the taste of cheese, I hate the look, smell, and feel of the greasy, gooey, god-awful stuff.

I call it “Fromage-a-Phobia.”

These are days of great tolerance in America. It’s perfectly acceptable to be an atheist, a socialist, or even a fan of ABBA.
But it’s not OK to hate cheese.

“So glad you could join us tonight” said Len Farbman the evening I dined at his home. “In honor of the occasion, Sheila has cooked her No. 1 specialty.  Ready, honey?”

“Here it comes!” called Sheila Farbman, foul smell preceding her as she emerged through the kitchen doors.
“It’s my very special Chicken a la Cheese, combining Parmesan, Muenster, and Limburger cheese blended in a tangy sauce!” exclaimed Sheila.
"Oh, my, how nice,” I sputtered. “But you see, I’m awfully sorry. I’m afraid I don’t eat cheese.”

“That’s crazy - everybody likes cheese!” croaked Farbman.

“Gee, I’m really, really sorry,” I stammered, growing increasingly uncomfortable with the toxic cheese fumes pervading the room. “I just don’t like cheese.”

“You’ll like this!” insisted unfazed Sheila as she cut a world-class size piece of Chicken a la Cheese and plopped it squarely on my plate. Cheese strings connected to the serving dish trailed the piece all the way over to my plate, a good foot and a half in length.

How truly appetizing, that quality of cooked cheese to behave like silly putty!

I really don’t know how I survived the evening though I suppose the ten minute gagging fit may inhibit future dinner invitations to the Farbman abode. Which is fine, because the prospect that I might be served cheese ice cream absolutely terrifies me.

I have a dream! 
I dream of a day when cheese-haters no longer face discrimination and oppression.  A day when we may proudly and freely and right out loud proclaim:
"I hate goddamn pizza!"

Until then, I search for others like me.

There!  Over there:  That woman at the seminar buffet, performing an emergency cheesectomy on a pre-made sandwich, delicately extricating that most execrable substance from its foul and unnatural points of forced contact with the edible meat, lettuce, and tomato. 

I approach, faint of breath but heart pounding with excitement.

“You too?” I murmur, looking nervously away.

“Yes,” she whispers, “I hate the damn stuff!  But please, I’m married.  I have children.”

“I’m discrete. Meet me clandestinely for lunch this week

I want to not eat cheese with you! 

Fortunately for those like us there is one true haven. One oasis of sanity and liberation from noxious cheese fumes and obnoxious cheese lovers.

There are Asian restaurants.

And no one, except for maybe the Farbmans, has yet to find a way to make General Tso’s Cheddar.

The above drawing by Brian Peters, 1988. 

That's me running from all the terrifying cheeses. 
I have nightmares just like that.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Case of the Main Line Liar

"Tracy, time to put the house on the market.
Perry Block has moved next door!"

I admit it.   You’ve got me.

I am The Main Line Liar!

You see, I live in Havertown PA --- an unassuming little community not far from Philadelphia where you can acquire a home, live, work, raise children, and drop dead all very unpretentiously and without more or less placing yourself into involuntary servitude.

For many years now, I’ve casually advised out-of-towners and geographically na├»ve area residents that Havertown falls squarely in the midst of that internationally renowned enclave of blue-bloodedness and gentility known as the Philadelphia Main Line.

In truth, humble Havertown lies only a stone’s throw away.  A good earthquake and my Havertown backyard would be resting on a Main Line back porch!  

So why the Main Line Lie?  Let’s consult no less an authority than that 21st Century oracle known as Wikipedia:

The Philadelphia Main Line,” it rhapsodizes, “is …. home to some of the wealthiest places in the United States …. the setting for the classic Hepburn/Grant/Stewart motion picture The Philadelphia Story .... (featuring) diverse topography, steep cliffs along the Schuylkill River, rolling hills, and open meadows …. known for its multimillion-dollar stone Colonial homes, exclusivity, and .... upscale shopping at celebrated destinations ....”

Alright, already!  Never knew an online encyclopedia was capable of falling so hopelessly in love with a plot of real estate, even if Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn do happen to be setting up housekeeping there.

Now let’s point and click our way across County Line Road to:

Havertown --- widely referred to as H-Town,” Wikipedia mumbles, “is notable for being the birthplace of Swell Bubble Gum, which closed its doors in late 2004. Havertown is one of the few towns that have a Superfund site caused by a timber mill that finished telephone poles; the chemical that was used to coat the telephone poles was dumped into the ground.”

Gee, it’s kind of amazing how Wikipedia forgot to mention that Havertown is also home to the nation’s only work-release program for comic book arch-villains who’ve tried to kill Green Lantern!  No wonder the banner across the top of the entry reads “Please help improve this article by saying something nice!”

Yes, to Wikipedia, as well as to the rest of the world, life on the Main Line is to Havertown PA like spending a shimmering evening with the young Elizabeth Taylor is to Shelley Winters showing up positive EPT in hand.  (Sorry to mix movie metaphors.)

With cachet like that, it’s hard not to want to cash inSo when the question turns to "where do you live?” my reply oft returns with 

“Havertown PA.  It’s ... umm ... on the Main Line.”

And then I'm treated to:

"The Main Line! You must be doing GREAT!”
        Well, actually fair to middling as always. But I’ll let the real estate where I don’t live do  the talking.

The Main Line, by god! Is it as charming as they say?”

       Oh, yes indeed! I daily enjoy the rolling hills, open meadows,  and upscale shopping at celebrated destinations!  And hot-footing it back across County Line Road before nightfall before anyone's the wiser!

“The Main Line! I heard about that problem with the school district spying on children with school issued laptops! Were you incensed?!”

       Boy, was I!  Incensed that the school district in Havertown doesn’t hand out pencils, let  alone laptops!

To be frank, though, all this Main Line mendacity is taking its toll.  

It’s time to fess up.   

Main Line or not,  I love Havertown PA.   It’s friendly, welcoming, and affordable.  Which is a good thing,  because the money I’ve saved by living here has enabled me to buy myself a swell vacation home.

And as you know, the French Riviera is tres expensive!