Over the weekend, our oldest son, Alexander, came up from his secret underground lair and confronted me with my past. See? This is yet another reason the Internet is evil! No, he didn’t find my Senior Class Photo proofs which looked like a pepperoni pizza topped with brown moss, in a beige three piece suit. Or the candid shot of me doing a rather lewd thing in the wings of the class play. No, the kids found that stuff long ago. I’ve been struggling for their respect ever since. This was information from the memory tubes known to some as the World Wide Web or www, for short. To my way of thinking, www actually stands for wicked-wicked-wicked. Alexander found a newspaper article from many years ago that mentioned a comedy show I had been a part of back in Madison, Wisconsin. Why isn’t Alex using the cyber-resource for mindless games and inappropriate content sites and disgusting chat rooms, like a young man of 19, should? What’s he doing looking up info on his pater familias?
The story goes this way: After college, I got a job as a legislative assistant for a state representative at the capitol. Wisconsin has yet to recover from my dabbling in state government. I answered constituent mail, researched potential legislation, took phone calls and, more or less, did whatever needed to be done. I was the staff. The representative I worked for was absolutely terrific. Patient. Bright. Genuinely concerned about the people back home. I even played piano at one of her fund-raisers. It was at that event future four-term Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson requested that I play “Far, Far Away.” I asked him to hum a few bars and he replied “No, I mean play far, far away. Like in the next county.” Later, Mr. Thompson became Health and Human Services Secretary. I heard he felt his experience in hearing my piano playing helped him in dealing with other potentially hazardous or nauseating health concerns.
During my time in state government, I saw an ad asking for volunteers at a local cable access station. This was back when not everybody had cable. In fact, most did not. At this stage of the game, I was still planning on being a school teacher and figured some broadcast experience would be a good thing to share with students in communication courses. When I got to the studios of WYOU, I was told that the only position still available was as co-host of a weekly public affairs program, called Good Evening, Madison or GEM. My work, however, was not much of a jewel. Payment for volunteering on the show was the chance to do your own program…one time only. I decided to attempt a comedy show. Something like SCTV…the show that introduced Eugene Levy, John Candy and Martin Short to America. I got in touch with some of the Act-eletes performing in the local, and still rather new, ComedySportz troupe.
Over the course of several days, using equipment that was only slightly smaller than, but, in some ways, as damaging as, a howitzer, we put lots of goofy stuff on tape. As I recall, the silly skits I’d written were made funny by the actors. When Alex asked me about some of the actual bits on the show, my sole recollection was something involving Gerald Rivera and a trench coat. Basically, for every question asked by my son, I responded like a witness at a congressional hearing….”I don’t quite recall”….”to the best of my recollection”….”I don’t believe”….”not sure if I was present.” At one point I had to cover the microphone and consult my attorney, sitting next to me at the table. Alexander decided to press the issue and handed me a subpoena demanding I produce the actual video. Well, it wasn’t really a subpoena. He just threatened to hide the Double-Stuf Oreos.
Under the basement stairwell, there is a plastic crate filled with video tapes. Beta-Max. Yes, I guessed wrong on the format of choice. VHS vs BETA? I chose the latter. BETA didn’t sound fishy to me. It sounded like the future. Like something George Jetson would use. So, I am left with a pile of tapes. Mostly, they have Andy Griffith Shows recorded and logged. But, down at the dusty bottom, not to be confused with the Chevy Chase character in Three Amigos or any other 1920′s cowboy actor: “The Cow Moos At Midnight starring Dusty Bottoms and his trusted steed, Stumpy!” As I was saying before I interrupted myself, at the dusty bottom of the crate was a tape labeled Madison: A Capitol Offense. Because, it is on Beta, we can’t watch it. That makes it my best work, ever.
While searching for the lost, and only, episode of the so-called comedy show, I did come across a VHS of my last weather cast in Madison, at WMTV, Channel 15. Against my better judgement, we popped it into the VCR. This thin boy with brown hair appeared. He was wearing some sort of tweedy jacket and a pink tie. He was smug and appeared to think he was pretty amusing. He annoyed me. That young whipper-snapper. Who does he think he is? Just give the weather and get out of the way. For his feature photo, he showed a picture of his dog, Jingles, and mentioned that Jingles would not be changing his name to Toto despite the move to Kansas. “However, I will be changing mine to Dorothy, oddly enough,” said this juvenile delinquent. He gave a list of job requirements for the weekend weather position which included “Must be able to look pleasant while saying the word ‘Apalachicola.’” Boy, he was getting on my nerves.
Of course, as aggravating as it was to see this younger version of myself, it was even more disturbing to realize that I’ve not gotten one iota better at this job. I’m older, grayer, chubbier. Unless one of those is a synonym for “wonderful,” I’m in trouble. Over the years, I’ve gotten my share of calls, comments, letters and, in this evil Internet era, e-mails advising me that I’m not funny and should stop trying to be “some kind of comedian.” Boy, after seeing that old video, I think I’ll send myself a message along those lines.
In my dimly-lit cerebellum, I had been able to convince myself that once upon a time I was, at least, mediocre at this stuff. Now, thanks to the iniquitous Internet, that sinful cyberspace, the wrongful web, the nefarious net and my oldest son’s couch potato surfing, I’ve had to face this fact: Today, at my current age, I can do everything, just as well as ever, that I used to do back when I was in my 20s…which just goes to show you how pathetic I was in my 20s.