Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Happy Birthday, Neighbor!

March 20 is Mr. Rogers' birthday. The other day I read this article about him and I kind of started crying a little.

Go ahead. Read the article. It's hyperlinked. And go ahead and watch all the videos, too. It's well worth it.

So I got to thinking about Mr. Rogers, who exists in my pre-conscious memory and so as far as I'm concerned, there has always been Mr. Rogers. Apparently, I used to call him Mr. Go-Rogers and also I had a lisp so my parents will assure you this was adorable. Probably Mr. Rogers would have thought so, too.

Also booze.
Did you read the part in the article where it says he answered every single fan letter he ever got? No? Just read the goddamned article already. I've hyperlinked it again so you don't have to scroll up. Get on the same page with me here, even if you're not Gen X, or one of our parents. If you're one of our kids, run and go check with your parents if it's okay to read stuff that says "fuck" in it, because for sure I will say "fuck" after this. I'll also refer to sex and drugs, and I might make them seem cool.

Look, in the 70s and 80s, there was a lot of stuff for kids that was bullshit. At my school, we had IALAC week. IALAC stands for I Am Lovable And Capable, and it's one of those well-intentioned things grown-ups come up with that kids can see through in a second. We had races and special pins and there was even a song, but the only advantage any of us could see to it was that it was a break in the usual routine because of the races and the song.

It was bullshit and we knew it was bullshit. Kind of like Officer McGruff and Users are Losers...

Only users lose drugs.

and Just Say No...

The 80s were rad because people offered you drugs all the time.

 and Free To Be, You And Me.

A star-studded cast of cameos!
Okay, Free To Be was catchy, but wasn't it all just to tell us there's no shame in girliness and girls are as good as boys? Because some of us knew that already and didn't get why we needed to sing songs about it.

Since the olden days.
As for drugs, weed is a slippery slope to what now? Masters degrees and living in Turkey and being mama to a gorgeous little boy. Plus a bunch of other cool stuff?

Come to think of it, my gorgeous little boy informed me yesterday that women can't be professors. Doctors, lawyers, soldiers, cops-- fine. But professors? I'd show him Free to Be, but I'm pretty sure he'd be right onto that bullshit and never trust me again.

But Mr. Rogers? Maybe you wanted to believe it was bullshit, that he loved you and that you were special and that there was no one else in the world like you, but you never could quite make yourself believe it was bullshit, could you? That's because no one on TV was sincere-for-real like Mr. Rogers. Sure, the pre-Internet urban legends went around that he was a pedophile and a tattooed Marine sniper who had killed men with his bare hands (okay, I admit I *really* wanted to believe the second one, because that throws some good old-fashioned Redemption into the story and also it would be fucking cool if it were true), and even though we didn't have Snopes in the olden days, I couldn't quite believe it.

And I'll bet I'm not the only one who, deep down in my real heart of hearts, felt kind of bad for slagging off Mr. Rogers just because it seemed like the cool thing to do. Hating Mr. Rogers is a lot like puppy-kicking because, like the puppy, you know he loves you no matter what. And it's in part because of Mr. Rogers, and my parents, and some other relatives, and Sesame Street, that I believe I have a real heart of hearts.

As for Mr. McFeely, well, I'm still kind of suspicious about that guy, though on some level I'm sure he's actually very nice.

Photo courtesy of Lee Leplaw Deichmann
An aside about the kind of childhood I had: I once asked my parents why Mr. Rogers kept telling me I was special and wonderful when it was obvious that was already true. He did go on about that an awful lot. My mom told me he said that for kids whose parents didn't tell them as much as mine did how much they loved me and how special I was. I felt really sad for those kids.

The other day when I read the article, I felt sad for LE that he doesn't have Mr. Rogers. So I showed him some Mr. Rogers on You Tube, which he was all set to hate because there's no fighting, but within seconds he'd gone limp and he loved it. Except for the singing.

When I was a kid, I always thought Mr. Rogers was a businessman who'd come home for lunch to hang out with me and maybe some other kids who might have been watching TV, but mostly it was for me. He changed out of his business coat into his cardigan and he had all the time in the world. When it came time for the field trip to see cool stuff, I started to get worried that he'd stayed away from work far too long, and there was no way he'd be able to stay for the whole thing about the baby goats or whatever.

Isn't that such a kid thing? When we were little, my dad came home from work for lunch sometimes, to hang out with us. Or maybe it was for some other reason, but when you're a kid, it's all about you. It was super-great. But then he had to go back to work. Except sometimes he wouldn't go back to work, and that dreaded moment of him putting on his business coat and going back to work never came. Mr. Rogers held that delicious tension every day.

My life is fucking great. Just like this.
The grown-up version is watching the guy you're sleeping with get dressed, how he carelessly strings his belt around his waist with the elastic of his boxers showing crookedly as he gets dressed to go off and do whatever it is he does when he's not with you. You think for those few moments maybe it would be nice if he stayed for an hour, or maybe for the day, even though you know in your head it's better if he doesn't stay at all. It's a delicious tension of a different sort.

Is that too psycho-sexual? Probably. And I learned this past summer my parents blame themselves for many of my life-failures, relationships especially, so that last paragraph and its placement probably didn't help. Also I learned I have a world of mama-guilt to look forward to that I can't even conceive of. Why is it so easy to know my own fucking problems are my own and so hard to not blame myself for everything I've done wrong with my kid?

See Stranger. See Stranger write things away. Oh, oh, oh. Away, away, away. Writing things away.

For a long time, I was mad at Mr. Rogers for being such a Christian. But then I thought, "Fuck it." If more Christians or other religious folks adhered to their religion like Mr. Rogers, we'd be a whole hell of a lot better off. Hell, I'm ready to adhere to Mr. Rogers' religion, except for the God part. For the last few days when LE goes on one of his adolescent trips, I've been trying to think, "What would Mr. Rogers do?" It's kind of like "What would Jesus do?" but it makes a lot more concrete sense because who the fuck knows what Jesus would do? He lived two millennia ago in an entirely different culture, and clearly a lot of people are doing the opposite of what they supposedly believe he might have done. Would Jesus have tattooed how much he hates faggots across his back? I think not. If Jesus' kid were kicking up a fuss because he wanted to take toys to school when it wasn't Toy Day, I'll bet you anything Jesus would have made that the kid's mother's problem.

I dole out punishments now.
By the way, I'm cezalı (being punished) right now for singing in the street (I'm only allowed to sing and dance in the kitchen, though I've been working on pushing that boundary to the entry hall, at least for mornings when I have dream-songs stuck in my head), and I'm not supposed to use the computer for 10 days. So please don't tell LE I broke my punishment after he was asleep. I warned him this might happen, but still.

Anyway, it's Mr. Rogers' birthday. He would have been 85 today. And for sure he made the world a better place.

Thanks for that, Neighbor.


Nomad said...

Lovely article to a really wonderful piece.

As a kid, Mr. Rogers was never my cup of tea, but I think people like this man were a touchstone for so many families. As if he were telling people "THIS is what it is all about, people. Not all that advertising nonsense and it's not all about rules and obeying them!"

Now it's so much harder to find this kind of standard commonsense humanitarian values. (A lot of so-called Christians seems only to serve as negative examples.) As soon as we lost that common ground, values like what it is to be a neighbor, then society got all screwed up.
It ended up becoming how to find a way to get what you want from people, no matter how, but with a little time and effort as possible.

Bill said...

It felt like you got mad at the end of the post.

Stranger said...

Hmmm. I don't think so.

Lee Leplaw Deichmann said...

Hi, do you think you could credit me for the artwork I created that you are using in this post? The link back to the page where I originally posted it is here:

Thanks in advance.

Lee Leplaw Deichmann

Stranger said...

Done and done.

Thanks for the heads up. I probably just nabbed it off Google images without even going to the original site...

I credited the image to your name with a hyperlink to the original post. Hope that's all right.