My Kupp Runneth Over

I’ve been asked the question 657½ times in my life. A precise number. I know, but I kept count. “Did you ever have a crush on a teacher growing up?” the plethora of inquiring minds wondered, wandering into TMI territory.

To begin with, 123 people with whom I attended school have asked as have 288 other gay men who hoped to validate their young boy attractions to a male teacher. There were the 246 times other teachers asked in conversations exploring the complicated student-teacher dynamic. And there was the half when a telephone survey-taker asked, but I hung up before the question was completed. I will not be interrupted while watching The Bachelorette!

The simple answer to the question is no. I never had a crush on a teacher. But I did have one on a teaching intern. It was the seventh or eighth grade. We were lined up in our gym clothes at the beginning of P.E. Attendance was about to begin. An unfamiliar man was standing with Coach Lang, our teacher, facing us. And, oh, was that young man handsome.

“We have a student-teacher from the University of Washington School of Education with us for the rest of the semester,” the teacher announced. “This is Mr. Kupp.”

A collective gasp echoed through the cavernous gym, reflecting the boys’ recognition of him. I, too, gasped. But my reaction was internal, stifling my puzzling attraction.

Jake Kupp had been one of the stars of the UW football team and a two-time Rose Bowl player. And UW football was followed by nearly everyone in early 1960s Seattle, even me, who didn’t understand why some linemen were considered offensive. Was it their smell, their language? But I did understand that I did not find Mr. Kupp offensive. He was cute.

I don’t recall ever interacting with Mr. Kupp. I don’t remember peeking at him with confused lust after that introduction, although I probably did. Obsessively. But then, after several weeks, he was gone.

Kupp went on to play in the National Football League. So did his son, Craig. And today, his grandson Cooper Kupp plays for the Los Angeles Rams. Every time the third-generation Kupp makes a reception, and a play-by-play announcer calls out his name, I am reminded of that day when I first saw his grandfather.

There were other male athletes and entertainers of that era that teased my confused sexual awakening. I thought teen idol Ricky Nelson was very cute. There was Tommy Sands. I found Father Knows Best‘s Billy Gray to be strikingly handsome for a young teenager. There even was an original Mouseketeer I found very attractive, Lonnie Burr.

And there was green-eyed Fabian, not to be confused with Fabio, the long-haired romance novel cover-boy who came along 30 years later. I was initially attracted by Fabian’s face, but it wasn’t until the teenager was interviewed on Ed Murrow’s Person to Person that I saw beyond his exterior. Fabian began the interview by announcing he was exhausted, having just returned from a lengthy tour. As a result, the tired teen seemed to me to be more vulnerable, genuine, and human than he had in any previous TV appearance or Tiger Beat photo-spread. In my mind, I became Fabian’s care-giver and wanted to scream at Murrow, “This interview is over. Fabian needs to go to bed.” Fabian’s welfare became more important than my curiosity and I learned that night that lust and caring for someone could be combined. That interview helped me understand myself better and irrevocably changed my life.

But there was one young man before Fabian and the others, from the mid-1950s, that drew my attention. I’ve saved him for last because, now, sixty-plus years later, he is doing it again.

I have discovered several cable networks re-airing classic sitcoms. Among them is Antenna; it airs The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. Although dated in its depiction of woman, marriages, and male-female relationships, I love that show as much now as I did as a child. I still am amused by the convoluted storylines and fascinated by Gracie’s brilliant comedic timing.

Several seasons into the show’s run, George and Gracie’s adopted son Ronnie was added to the cast as their womanizing, charming, college-age stud of a son. And the show became appealing in an entirely unexpected way. I became mesmerized by Ronnie. As young as I was, I was attracted to his smile, physique, and, yes, his ass.

As I stare at those black-and-white images, a marker of sorts in the chronicle of my life, I recall how many attractive men, beyond those initial childhood fantasies, I have known in my real life. So many were beautiful men, both externally and internally, and were fascinating, admirable and inspiring people. And so many are gone, taken prematurely by AIDS or now by the normal life-cycle. Most were part of my social life, primarily in the 1970s and ’80s.  Others were from gyms to which I belonged. Some just meandered in through jobs, neighborhoods, and countless other connections.

As a result, whether I am watching young Ronnie Burns from decades ago or reminiscing about a teaching intern, I know how fortunate I’ve been to have known all these men and had them as part of my journey. And I realize my Kupp runneth over.

A Medication Spelling Bee. . .or Be

“Mother, please! I’d rather do it myself.”

“I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”

“The nighttime sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy head fever so you can rest medicine.”

Catch phrases from television commercials for easily accessible products for simple, common ailments from the 1960s and ’70s. The first promoted Anacin, for headaches. The second was for Alka-Seltzer. Nyquil was the product praised in the final one.

It was a simple time, innocent in many ways. Commercials didn’t discuss personal health issues or serious conditions, but rather touted products we all use or need at some time for minor ailments. They sold remedies for disorders that, while possibly embarrassing like bad breath or acne, they could be discussed among friends, That, however, was then. This is now.

Today the most private medical conditions are part of the television viewer’s advertisement diet, whether the viewer is six or sixty. And this could be problematic. For the young, these commercials might raise awkward questions that could lead to answers for which most kids are not ready. Imagine explaining vaginal dryness to an inquisitive lad of eight.

Unlike Anacin, Alka-Seltzer, and Nyquil, the personal products promoted in many of today’s ads cannot be snatched unassisted from an Aisle B shelf; they require a doctor’s prescription. They necessitate interaction with another person. Maybe more.

Whether they are for menopause, erectile dysfunction, menstruation, pre-mature hair loss, or accidental urination, the products and the conditions they treat are personal. Therefore, some of these commercials, while they expose and educate onlookers about serious subjects, may cross the line that some might consider TMI (Too Much information).

I, personally, don’t. I find these ads interesting. But not for the right reasons. I am not interested in the product itself or the condition it treats. Nor am I interested in the commercial’s production value. Instead, I find the names of all these new medical products fascinating, mysterious, entertaining, and often quite funny. I wonder if these products’ names are simply a random linking of letters or if they have a logical, medically-based entomology. I say “medically based” because I cannot connect the product names to the ailments they treat. At least with Alka-Seltzer one could see how the bubbling action of seltzer could aid in digestive problems or the “Ny” in Nyquil implies night relief. The names of some new medications, on the other hand, seem to come from the languages of gibbons, whales, or Klingons. I am talking about medications like …

Ocrevus, Skyrizi, Dupixent, Nuplazid, Cosentyx, Tremfya, Kisqali, Trintellix, Rybelsus, Ozempic, Breztri, and Vemlidy.

I am not mocking the diseases and conditions these products cure or alleviate, nor am I unsympathetic to those who need them. I am merely pointing out their gobbledygook names and wondering how thy came to be. In fact, I take medical advancement very seriously, so seriously in fact, I, along with my lab assistant Igor, am developing three new medications for embarrassing ailments and are giving them logical, appropriate names.

The first medication is for actors who develop heartburn from the pressure of having to memorize extensive dialogue. It is called Serabyrnhardtd. For the elderly couch potato, we are developing Geriatrofi. And we are proud to announce the recent approval by the Food and Drug Administration of our cure-all for French wine hangovers, Avotresanté.

To your health.

Casting the President’s Cabinet

The United States has had a president, Donald Trump, who hosted his own reality TV show, The Apprentice. Ronald Reagan, who was both an ex-president and former California governor, was a movie star in the 1940s and ’50s. California had another governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, prior to serving, also was a Hollywood film star. Al Franken went from comedian and Saturday Night Live cast member to the US Senate. Show biz personalities, all. Minnesota even elected a pro-wrestler, Jesse Ventura, as its governor. And what exemplifies show biz more than pro-wrestling?

What, I wonder, would a presidential cabinet or gubernatorial advisory board look like if it were made up of show biz personalities, albeit fictitious ones, characters from the silver screen or TV? And what would their meetings sound like?

The President: The issue with China continues unresolved. We must find a solution before we leave. Secretary of Agriculture Lisa Douglas of Green Acres, where do you stand on Red China?

Secretary Douglas: Vel, dahlink, I am oppost to red china. I vill not sit down at a table vit red china. Eet must be a neutral shade. Off-white, maybe. Vot do you tink, Mr. Kotter?

Secretary of Education Gabe Kotter: I disagree. As my student Barbarino says, ‘Up your nose with a rubber hose!’ Neutral tones are boring. Red china is fine with me. Or another strong color, like—

Secretary of Commerce Gordon Gecko: Green! Green is good. It’s the color of money. You can’t have too much money. Greed is good. What do you think, Secretary Potter? You come from Bedford Falls where that red is so popular.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs Potter: I hate Bedford Falls red. It’s everywhere. In the bricks. In the chairs at Bailey’s Building and Loan. Even the ornaments on George Bailey’s Christmas tree are that damn color. But green? Yes. Green. It’s a wonderful color.

Secretary of Defense Mr. T: I pity da fool who wants green. I’d go for a neutral color. Maybe a light gray. Yeah. I’m on the gray team.

Secretary Douglas: I steel don’t tink red china vud be gud. Vat do you tink, Madame Secretary of State? Didn’t you bake dat vunderful sheet cake all Mississippi vas talking about? Even the help.

Secretary of State Minny Jackson: No, Secretary Douglas, it wasn’t a sheet cake. It was a shit-pie. They thought it was a normal chocolate pie, but—

The President: And that is why she is the Secretary of State.

Secretary of Homeland Security Barney Fife: (Impatiently, nervously) What’s it gonna be? Red? Or green. Or neutral. Hmm?Hmm? Chop chop. I don’t have all day. I have a country to keep secure. Right Andy?

Secretary of Health & Human Services Doogie Houser, MD: (His voice cracks) Who’s Andy? Oh, damn. My voice is changing.

Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs Radar O’Reilly: Has anyone considered camouflage pattern dishes?

Attorney General Atticus Finch: Wait. Are we talking about Red China or red china? Because if it is the former, the dishes must be neutral, like eggshell or ivory. We must appear neutral, unbiased. But if we are discussing plates, we can’t be choosing between colored and white. It can’t be an either/or situation. We must be inclusive. Finch pauses and taps his pipe on the table. I’m curious what do you think, Mr. Secretary of Labor? Your work in Modern Times certainly qualifies you to lead the Department of Labor, but I don’t know what to call you, sir. Charlie Chaplain? Or the Little Tramp?

The Secretary of Labor shrugs his shoulders, shuffles his feet under his chair, and looks bewildered.

Attorney General Finch: And why are we still calling it Red China? Didn’t we stop doing that decades ago?

The members of the Cabinet gaze around the room with “I don’t know” faces.

Secretary of the Interior Alvy Singer: (Breaking the awkward silence) My ex-girlfriend Annie Hall and I had lobster once. Yeah. Annie Hall and me. Lobster. Oy, was that an ordeal! The pot. The bibs. The boiling. My shrieking. Anyway, I’m sure she served it on gray Chinet. And my mother used Chinet. She served gefilte fish, latkes, kreplach, everything on it. She would only use the red china for the Passover seder. As if we didn’t deserve the good china every day. And you wonder why I’m so insecure, such a nebbish. You have no idea the mother-baggage I carry. It could fill an airport carousel. Secretary Singer pounds the table with a fist. He startles himself. Secretary of Labor Chaplin/Little Tramp tumbles from his chair. So, if Chinet is good enough for my mother and Annie Hall, it should be good enough for our visitors from Red China. I mean China.

The President: OK, then. I’ve listened to your input and I’ve made a decision. Chinet it will be. Some red. Some green. Some off-white. Maybe a few gray. Now, what about the wine? Red?

It Takes Two, Baby

It was Winter 1966-67. Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston’s “It Takes Two, Baby” was high on the R&B and pop charts. The lyrics, of course, were about love. But many other things require two people. They can’t be done alone. I, after living alone for much of my adult life, have learned this the hard way.

Have you ever tried to fold king-size sheets by yourself? Nearly impossible. So is lifting the king mattress when making the bed and trying to tuck the sheets under the foot end.

Without a second person, spreading sunscreen or lotion on your back is impossible. It demands pretzel-like flexibility. But even with that ability, globs of goo end up everywhere but on your back.

Using two-fer coupons at restaurants is problematic. Apparently invisible dinner companions don’t count.

Playing Solitaire is impossible. Yes Solitaire. Oh, I know it is a game-for-one. But if you don’t know how to play, there is no one available to explain it to you.

Hanging drapes or a shower curtain is a challenge. But that is nothing compared to hanging art. Too high. Too low. Crooked. More crooked. Upside-down. Backwards. Years ago, I had an apartment wall adorned with two paintings. It had 37 nail holes. And I had no Spackle. That is when I switched to white toothpaste.

Doing the tango around the living room while watching Dancing With the Stars is impossible because…it takes two to tango.

While I have put up many a Christmas tree, it really is a two-person job, one to hang the ornaments and the other to rearrange them.

Likewise, putting holiday lights along the roof is a two-person job. One attaches the lights. The other stays on the ground and catches him/her when he/she falls off the ladder.

Playing strip poker needs at least one other person. Otherwise, it is just called undressing.

Washing the car requires two people. One washes and the other is needed to repeat, “You missed a spot.”

Putting together a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle is definitely a team project. As one person searches for pieces, the other serves as back-massager.

Shopping for clothes is a two-person task. One person is needed to try on the clothes and step out of the dressing room. The other person’s job is to laugh uncontrollably.

Lip-syncing to any record by Simon & Garfunkle, The Righteous Brothers, Hall & Oates, The Indigo Girls, or Peaches & Herb by one’s self is impossible.

Playing catch or frisbee by yourself is challenging, unless you have a dog.

Playing “Heart and Soul” on the piano needs a second person, unless you have four hands.

Washing dishes after a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal demands two people, one to load the dishwasher and the other to groan from overeating and then say, “You know, I could use another bite of the pumpkin pie. And cheesecake.”

Airline travel by yourself is not easy if you pack, as I do, like Cher on Tour.

Installing wiring or doing other electrical work definitely needs two people, one to do the work and the other to call 911.

Bicycles-built-for-two never should be rented by one person.

Watching a football game on TV alone means never being able to do “The Wave.” OK. Two people wouldn’t make it impressive either. But when one person stands and raises his arms, it is either for a back stretch or to clear the air from a fart.

Whether you call it a see-saw or a teeter-totter, it needs two people, one to teeter, the other to totter. Or see and saw.

Assembling IKEA furniture requires two people. The handier one does the assembling. The other person is needed to find the misplaced screw or Allen wrench.

And meaningful, satisfying, passionate sex requires a second person. Who else is going to film the act and upload it to the porn site?

Not Tonight, Dear. I Have a Headache.

She gets migraine headaches. She’s had them all her life, she says. She tells us this in a commercial for Nurtec ODT, a new medication to combat migraines. We, I believe, are supposed to sympathize with her, feel her pain. But I don’t. She doesn’t come across as a sympathetic soul.

She is Khloé Kardashian and is standing in front of a white backdrop and appears to be in the midst of a photo-shoot. She is wearing a low-cut dress, probably more expensive than the average viewer can afford. She is gloss-lipped and professionally coifed, with her cleavage flowing into her decolletage like the northbound Willamette River as it merges with the Columbia. Her look, it seems, is more important than the message.

Nurtec ODT and its parent company Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, its advertising agency, and Ms. Kardashian all have made a choice. And it is, I believe, a poor one. It isn’t the choice of the dubious celebrity as pitchman, per se. It’s the priority of promoting the Kardashian brand—glamour and wealth—over the product.

Migraines are a serious issue. For those afflicted, relief is a necessity. Watching Ms. Kardashian, with her luscious lips and seductive glances, posing for a fashion photographer who seems to float around her, distracts from the seriousness of the message. Had Ms. Kardashian pitched the product in a nondescript t-shirt, with no make-up and a mussed ponytail, and announced “This is what I look like on my migraine days,” I would have been more attentive, more sympathetic. If her eyes reflected migraine pain, rather than glamour, she would have been more believable.

But this mixed-message advertisement got me thinking. What if the airways were filled with other mis-matched pitchmen—I mean pitchpersons—and products, like…

Shaquille O’Neal promoting those darling, dainty Smart Cars

Ellen DeGeneres and haute couture designer gowns

Anderson Cooper and Just For Men hair coloring

Justin Bieber and Harvard or MIT online classes

Judge Judy and Nice & Easy hair color

Mark Zuckerberg and the boardgame Monopoly

Nancy Pelosi for Frederick’s of Hollywood

Danny DeVito and Big & Tall Shops

Donald Trump promoting the TV series Orange is the New Black

Duane “The Rock” Johnson and Head & Shoulders shampoo

Madonna and virgin olive oil

Greta Thunberg and AARP membership

Andrew Dice Clay and Gideon Bibles

Vladimir Putin and American Girl Dolls

Kristin Chenoweth and a line of plus-sized clothes

OJ Simpson and Isotoner gloves

Queen Elizabeth II promoting RuPaul’s Drag Race

Melania Trump and Goodwill Industries of America

Football Superstar Tom Brady and wife Supermodel Gisele Bündchen for Weight Watchers

Kamala Harris, of Jamaican and East Indian descent and married to a Jew, promoting any white bread

and…and…oh, dear. All this racking my brain for advertising mismatches has given me a migraine headache. I’m in pain. I need help. I could use Nurtec-ODT. But I’ll search for another product, one that takes migraines more seriously.

This is No Jock

Anyone who has known me from my childhood or teen years knows that I am not an athlete. Until I began working out at age 24, the most athletic thing I had done was run amok. OK. I also was known to throw a tantrum on occasion. But my aim was terrible. And, I am proud to say, I did kick a habit. Don’t worry, though. No nun was in it at the time as it was lying on the floor in a Halloween costume shop.

But I am an armchair athlete. I watch a lot of college and professional football. I watch college basketball, too, particularly during March Madness. I did have an interest in pro-basketball until the Seattle Sonics were kidnapped and held hostage in Oklahoma City. As a result, I don’t even watch the NBA Championship Series.

Although I am not a great baseball fan, I do watch the World Series. I do not, however, have any interest in ice hockey or rugby as they are far too rough and I do not want to witness a player breaking a finger nail. I should enjoy soccer as my uncle was quite a good player in his youth and was considered a potential member of the German National Team in pre-Nazi Germany. But my uncle was disqualified once Hitler rose to power because Hans had a circumcised penis. I know this, not because I’ve seen it, but because I’ve seen his yarmulke.

I have been known to watch golf if I need a nap and figure skating when I need to be reminded that I am a card-carrying homosexual. But my favorite sport to watch is tennis.

I began watching during the Jimmy Connors-John McEnroe Era. They were the best at the time, were from the US, and had a rivalry. So, I watched them play. I didn’t particularly like them as people, though—each struck me as a bit of a jerk. But I learned to understand and like the game through them and that era. Years passed. Their careers faded. I watched an occasional major match, but was not a fanatic. Nor did any players, male or female, grab my attention or warrant my devotion.

Then, in the early 2000s, a Spaniard, Rafael Nadal, stepped into the World of Tennis. And my world. Even though Rafa was young enough to be my son, even grandson, I was mesmerized by his beauty, impressed with his athleticism, and fascinated by his game-time quirks and rituals. For nearly 20 years, I have been a devoted fan.

If Barbra is my goddess, Rafa is certainly my god. And, oh my god, what a god.

Rafa is now in his thirties. He is tied with Roger Federer for having won the most Grand Slam events at 20. He has won the French Open, the only Grand Slam event played on clay, thirteen times and has earned the nickname “The King of Clay.” I still am mesmerized, impressed, and fascinated by him. When he plays in a tournament, I schedule my life around his matches. During that time, Rafa is as important to me as air, water, and dessert.

But several younger, attractive players have entered the scene, teasing my loyalty, trying to lure me away from Rafa. There’s Dominic Thiem, the possessor of an ass so incredible even straight sports commentators admire it, Germany’s Alexander Zverev with his gleaming smile and wavy hair, Greek god Stefanos Tsitsipas with his incredible facial bone structure, and Novak Djokovic who has among the best man’s legs I have ever seen. But the player I most relate to is Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman a fellow Jew whose short body-type is similar to mine. All are successful, accomplished tennis players. And all constantly tempt me to cheat on Rafa.

But I won’t. Even if he is married now. Maria can’t live forever.

I need help, I’ve been told, with my Rafa obsession. But those people have their own fixations: murder mysteries, the Kardashians, Hummel figures, and navel lint. Who are they to judge me? So, I say to them, “I don’t need counseling, like you think. I am not sick. Having a sports hero is normal. I have this under control. It’s harmless. So, shut the fuck up, you damn Rafa-haters!”

Oh, dear. I’ve gotten all worked up. I need to calm down. Therefore, I’m going to end this now and put on my Rafa-patterned pajamas and look at my Rafa scrapbook for the seventh time today. See you at Wimbledon.

The Dude Who Sold Sour Cream

He bounded through the high school’s halls like a giddy gazelle, greeting everyone he passed with a smile, high-five, handshake, or pat on the back. He seemed to know everyone. Countless other students rushed by, but he stood out. Who is this guy? I wondered as I stood next to my classroom doorway.

It happened again the next day. Lunch was over. Fifth period was about to begin. And there he was navigating the hall like a one-man welcome wagon. He’s just a kid, I thought, a sophomore at most. How does he know so many upperclassmen?

Weeks passed. I’d see him in the halls, joyfully rushing to class, but acknowledging everyone, he with his red hair and impish smile. But I didn’t know his name until I attended a drama department production and there he was, center stage. I perused my playbill in the darkened theater, searching for the cast. His name is Roscoe? I thought so loudly several neighbors shushed me. Seriously? Roscoe?

He had a supporting role, but he exuded an enthusiasm that drew attention away from the leads and he had a natural stage presence. He also showed enormous potential. This kid, I thought, has it, that “it” quality that goes beyond talent, that agents and casting directors look for. If Clara Bow was early Hollywood’s “It Girl,” Roscoe could be the future’s “It Boy.”

After watching him perform in several productions, I realized Roscoe took theater seriously. I had that confirmed when I finally spoke with him near the end of his junior year in a positive, upbeat conversation and learned he, in fact, did plan to pursue acting in college. But it was another snippet of that chat that has remained with me until this day. And it had nothing to do with acting.

As was the style, Roscoe’s pants always sagged, exposing at least two inches of underwear. Staff, of course, were not pleased with this trend, constantly reminding boys to “pull your pants up.” It was, however, a futile endeavor. Therefore, while I chatted with Roscoe, I was aware of the brightly-colored, whimsically-patterned underwear hugging his waist. “Why am I seeing your underwear?” I asked, hoping my question, rather than an authoritarian order, would trigger a trouser tug.

“Because they’re cute,” he said faster than a fly can be zipped.

And I learned, with that response, to let go of my old-fashioned perception of underwear. Roscoe taught me to appreciate “cute” modern boxers, to see them through the eyes of a teenager and to accept that manufacturers marketed them to be shown off.

We returned to school in September and I ran into Roscoe. He had physically changed during the three-month vacation. His boyish features were more manly. His shoulders were broader. His soft mid-section had been firmed up.

I looked at him. “Dude,” I said, “I’ve seen you in a number of roles, characters really. And now you’re ready to play leading men.” My saying this was a surprising contradiction because I had a vision of Roscoe, due to his outgoing and free-spirited personality, being cast in a TV sitcom, playing perhaps the quirky neighbor like Kramer on Seinfeld, or oddball best friend like Dobie Gillis’ Maynard G. Krebbs, or the weird co-worker like Matthew on News Radio.

Before he graduated, I took a picture of Roscoe. His red hair was shaggy, messy. His chin was covered in rust-colored scruff. He wore purple pants and mismatched tennis shoes. His belt, which rested on his hips, was a psychedelic mishmash of colors. “I want this picture,” I told him, “as proof that I knew you before you became a star.” He smiled, thanked me for my support, and went off to Southern California to study acting.

But I didn’t forget him. Several years later, about the time he graduated from college I began Googling him. Through Youtube, IMBD, and his own website, I discovered Roscoe’s determination, talent, and “it” quality had kept him afloat in Hollywood’s competitive and frustrating world.

But I did not see his commercials or small TV and film roles until I found them on Youtube. Therefore, there was no element of surprise and I longed for the day I would be watching TV and Roscoe would appear unexpectedly on my screen.

My wish came true recently. It was late-morning. I was channel surfing. And there was Roscoe, selling Daisy Sour Cream. It was but three brief moments in a backyard barbecue scene. But there he was, bearded and brushing thirty, and still flashing that impish smile.

I sat up so fast I spilled my umpteenth coffee. My heart raced. And, even though I hardly know Roscoe, I felt a special kind of joy, like the feeling a parent gets at his child’s graduation or wedding.

I then realized he’d entered that commercial’s backyard smiling and greeting the other barbecue attendees with the same joy, friendliness, and positivity he had had when I first saw him in that high school hall years ago.

Sitcoms are Funny . . . Sort of

I wake up to sitcoms. I go to sleep to sitcoms. I’m a sitcom guy. Always have been. Since we got a TV when I was ten.

Imagine my joy, then, when during the early stages of COVID-19 social-distancing and isolation, I discovered how many networks featuring old comedy shows my streaming service provides. I’ve added four to my favorites list; Antenna, COZI, Logo, and TV Land. I check on them frequently.

These networks claim to air classic comedy shows. But what constitutes “classic?” By my standards, classic implies a certain level of quality and a unique place in the American psyche. Well, according to the Oxford American Dictionary, it does mean “having a high quality that is recognized and unquestioned.” But, contrarily, it also means “typical, as in a classic case of malnutrition.” Therefore, the networks are not misleading viewers by describing their programming as classic. Some are of “a high quality” while others are “typical.” But I prefer the first definition.

I begin the day with the hilarious, unique, and original The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. I watch two episodes at 7:00 a.m. That is before I get out of bed. That is before I have my three breakfast margaritas. Not only did this show successfully transform George and Gracie’s vaudeville act into a totally different medium, but it introduced them to a larger audience, endearing them to many more Americans. Both Burns and Allen contributed to the act, and then sitcom, in a unique way. Gracie reimagined the stereotypical young, dumb blonde as a middle-aged brunette. She gave ditzy an entirely new meaning, misinterpreting the simplest statements and creating convoluted situations that defy logic. Of course, she did this with dialog. But her body language and the use of her eyes also were tools used to demonstrate her comedy genius. George Burns, on the other hand, playing the quintessential straight-man, asked questions and reacted with deadpan expressions. But he brilliantly broadened and adapted that character to television and became a national treasure, living to 100.

When I go to bed, I watch an episode of The Nanny, hardly a classic, before I turn off the light. It is just another variation of the traditional family sitcom. Roseanne depicted the lower-middle class family. The Brady Bunch followed a hybrid family. My Three Sons told the tale of a family without women. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was about a wealthy Black family. Will & Grace showed how “family” can be created by friends.

As a gay man, I watch The Nanny for the outlandish clothes. As a West Coast Jew and a first-generation American, I watch to experience the cast’s three generations of New York Jewish American Princesses. Fran Drescher’s nanny, Renée Taylor as her mother, and Ann Morgan Guilbert as her grandmother are brilliant creations, over-the-top creations, but funnier than a yarmulke made of gefilte fish nonetheless.

Countless other comedies air throughout the day. But, for the most part, they are, in my opinion, typical sitcoms. Nothing really sets them apart from other comedies. There are Dennis the Menace, McHale’s Navy, Hazel, It’s a Living, The Facts of Life, Silver Spoons, 227, The King of Queens, Father Knows Best, and That Girl among so many more. Certainly, each has a quality that is its own. Dennis the Menace,for example, has a childlike innocence. But I wouldn’t consider it classic. Hazel, while it has a wonderful performance by star Shirley Booth, has little else to make it memorable. That Girl may have given us a charming, yet irritating, lead character, but little else to enjoy. Ann Marie’s father was unbearable, her boyfriend bland, and the scripts unremarkable. McHale’s Navy may have introduced us to Tim Conway, but it was more silly than classic.

On the other hand, many of the shows aired on these networks were Emmy winners, honored with numerous writing, directing, and acting awards. They featured sharp, sophisticated dialog, original concepts, and indelible characters. Maude, Barney Miller, Soap, Designing Women, Roseanne, Everybody Loves Raymond, and The Office are a few.

But why can’t I find reruns of more quality shows like Cheers, The Bob Newhart Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Taxi, Mad About You, Malcolm in the Middle, Our Miss Brooks, Mary Tyler Moore, Leave it to Beaver, The Wonder Years, Night Court, and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman? What? You say they are available? I just haven’t looked in the right places? But finding them requires, as Maynard G. Krebbs of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis would say in a horrified squeak, “Work!?!?”

Then, there are those programs that fall in the middle, neither great, nor mindless fluff, like … oh, a Webster marathon is about to begin. I have to watch it. I gotta experience once more the marginal comedy skills of former pro-footballer Alex Karras and limited talents of cute but cloying Emanuel Lewis. Gotta go.

Say Goodnight, Gracie.

Good night.

Let’s Play Wheel of Jeopardy!

You take the Jeopardy! test You make the cut. You, with your Master’s Degree in Estonian History and a minor in Rocket Science.

You appear on the show. But alas, while you accumulate $6,500, you place third. Do you get to keep your winnings? No. You receive $1000. Only the winner keeps his winnings. The runner-up, a recent graduate of Cretonia Community College’s Automotive Detailing Program, with an emphasis on Backseat Vacuuming, earns $2000.

Your neighbor, who attended Averagelian College but dropped out during her freshman year— the pregnancy had nothing to do with it, she insists—applies for Wheel of Fortune. She gets on. During the introductions, she tells host Pat Sajak she works in digital consulting. When pressed, she clarifies, “I do nails.”

The neighbor goes on to match your $6,500 in earnings by solving one puzzle. “Hickory Dickory Dock” she screams moments after the contestant to her right erred by saying, “Hickory Dickory Cock” and triggering the longest recorded game show audience laugh in history. Like you, your neighbor places third. She, however, gets to keep her earnings.

Now, how is this fair?

It isn’t fair. Like the Electoral College, COVID-19, systemic racism, and the blatant bias against mediocre writers like me by the Pulitzer Prize judging panel isn’t fair.

These issues keep me up at night. I pace the floor over the Electoral College. I sit on the edge of the bed worrying about COVID-19. I beat my pillow thinking about racism. Likewise, the discrepancy between Jeopardy! winnings and those on Wheel of Fortune has had me tossing and turning at 2:37, 3:16, and 4:04 a.m. I have yelled, “How is this fair?” to Jeopardy! producers during many tortured attempts at sleeping. I get no response. Apparently, the program’s producers sleep in another room.

It isn’t fair, dammit.

Oh, how I wish I could go back in time when game shows like Hollywood Squares and Concentration aired. When life was fair. Ah, those were the good old days. When Nixon was president of a Watergate-torn nation. And the War in Vietnam raged on and on. And the same racism dividing AmeriKKKa today was 50 years younger.

Ah, yes, those were the good old days.