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The Ghost Of Fred Rogers

2003-03-04 - 2:56 p.m.

Mood: Mournfully Nostalgic

Listening To: Zombie Smurf Mix

Quote: "I can't believe I'm dressed up as Bikini Boy." - Jon, circa March 1993

Friends, Sachems, Countrymen, unlike Marc Antony, I come here not to bury Fred Rogers, but to praise him. Fred Rogers, after being diagnosed with stomach cancer shortly after the holidays, died on Thursday at his home. He was 74.

Fred Rogers is dead and I find myself saying his name more times in the last week than I have in the past 10 years. 10 years almost exactly actually. 10 years ago next month some friends and I started work on a video project for our Freshman English class. Spring 1993 saw the end of our freshman year of high school at LHS and, for me at least, the beginning of my last job free summer - I don't count part part-time at Collectibles bagging comics for $3.75 an hour as a real job.

My first exposure to Mr. Roger's Neighborhood and The Land of Make Believe came in the early 1980's via Channel 11, NH-PBS, out of Durham. Though my parents didn't let the TV "babysit" me, it should come as no surprise to anyone that I watched a lot of TV as a child. I would memorize the TV Guide before I knew my multiplication tables. An oft-told story in my family is that of my reaction to Bozo the Clown. Specifically the end of each of his episodes. At the finish of each Bozo, it would show this clip of Bozo at some train yard (somewhere in Boston is my guess, as each big city had it's own Bozo production) tied down to the tracks trying to escape while a rapidly approaching train barreled towards him. This scared the living snot out of both me and my ever-growing blond bowl cut. I would freak out, run into the kitchen and hide behind the refrigerator. Every. Single. Time. You'd think my parents would stop letting me watch this traumatizing tripe. But they didn't. And good for them, because it forced me to face up to my fear. I'm proud to say as of 3 years ago I can watch Bozo reruns and stay dry. The things that would excite me to no end though were the beginnings of 4 shows. The band striking up at the start of The Muppet Show. Big Bird searching out Barkley as the first notes of Sesame Street began. Catching a rare episode of Danger Mouse on Nickelodeon, signaled by that great THAMES logo all those British shows had. And the sound of trolley making his way down the miniature house-lined streets of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.

Henrietta, Mr. Rogers, and X the Owl

Peter Pinckney made us all sign contracts. I know, it seems funny now and it seemed funny then. But we had to sign them. Jeff and I had been itching to tape some funny skits with his dad's video camera for several months but we didn't have any focus. It wasn't due to lack of ideas. Quite the opposite. We'd come up with these grandiose ideas that involved a cast of 12, props, a live chicken and some WD-40. So the respective muses were all present, but then again, so was our increased workload that came with being in the big bad high school. But now came the opportunity to do a video project for school. There wasn't actually a video option on our project contracts. But there was "parody/satire" option. So we came up with the loose, very loose, idea that we could do a "parody" of "Saturday Night Live". Which, in theory would have been quite difficult due to SNL already being an outlet for parody itself. But Pinckney signed off and just told us to make sure it was no more than a half hour and that we have no more than 5 people total in the group. Jeff's biggest hurdle in his involvement with the project was a significant one: He wasn't even in our English Class. We asked Pinckney if we could have someone from outside the class help us out. He said we could, but in a "limited capacity". We took "limited capacity" to mean star of the show. We preferred to make it a group of our close friends and have it be males only, as it was our esteemed view that only boys were funny. But then we changed our mind when I decided that I didn't want to have to be in drag every single time we needed a girl. So we picked Molly. We figured, we were friends with her, she knew our humor, and she thought we were funny. Plus, we heard rumors that she had lots of blueberry muffins. Peter was a definite choice from the first second we came upon the idea of a video. While I think Jeff and I would take friendly pride in the fact that we were the (subjective) "funniest" of our group of friends, we both knew that if it came down to it, Keith and Peter were most certainly the funniest, but we were just more show-offs than they were so I think the light landed on us more. Plus, with Peter, we knew that if we were ever at a point in the writing of a script for a skit we could always just "throw it over" to whatever character Peter was playing and no matter what the line was, Peter's delivery would kill and make us laugh our asses off. Curtis was included for several reasons. Firstly, and the most high school of reasons, he was "part of our group", and secondly, if one gave Tim any sort of costume, prop, song, etc. to act with it would automatically seem that much more hilarious then Joe Q. Humor with the same piece. We may have been the same height, but no one questioned that it would be far far funnier for Tim Curtis to be the regretful burglar warbling the "I feel so dark inside . . ." song from those Mormon ads than for me to sing those same lyrics. McLaughlin was an obvious choice as well. Not only because we were friends with him but also because we knew if we had a part that none of us wanted to do we could stick McLaughlin with it. He wouldnít complain. McLaughlinís other big asset was location. Not only would we be able to use his house for filming, but we could all stay over in Mattís old room by the garage on weekends when we wanted to stay up late working on it. At the time, we had no idea that weíd end up using his parentís Law Firm for one of our best skits. The 7th member of our group was a different story. Jon. Iím pretty sure that Jon approached us about wanting to be in the group. I know he was better friends with Peter, McLaughlin and Jeff than he was with me, but we were still friendly. He even said we could use his house for filming if we wanted to. At this point in history his parents werenít under the impression that I was the Antichrist so we figured that it was a fine idea. Besides, his music knowledge would serve as a great aid considering at this point in history I had a U2 CD and Eric Clapton Unplugged to my name. All the Dylan albums belonged to my parents. We all served our purposes. And that was the group. [In recollecting all this I thought of two questions that may arise from the preceding paragraph - #1. How come we didnít think Rick was funny enough to be in the group? I honestly have no idea. Perhaps I was still smarting from him going off on video larks of his own with his personally chosen casts that didnít involve me. I doubt that was the reason, but that sounds more juicy doesnít it? And did we really think Molly was the funniest girl in the class? Again, Iím not sure. I know it helped that Molly lived so close to Peter, TC, Jeff, and me. I know the fact that Brooke was extremely annoying in class with the aid of Courtney obliterated her chances. Besides, she would have thought herself far too cool to do it anyway. No clue why we didnít ask Rachel or Kelly, and as far as Annie and Beth? I know for a fact that we didnít ask either of them because we thought they were too unknown a variable. Not that we didnít like them. We just couldnít trust that Beth wouldnít spontaneously vomit and start poking her stomach while she was on camera, or that Annie would take any sort of direction whatsoever. So yeah, thatís that]

King Friday and Lady Aberlin

Fred Rogers was born in 1928 in Latrobe, PA. From the things I've read it's my understanding Fred Rogers is revered in Pennsylvania in a way reserved only for steel and chocolate. He graduates in 1951 from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL with a degree in Music Composition. Out of college he's hired by NBC in New York City to be an assistant producer on "The Voice of Firestone" radio program. He marries his wife Joanne the following year and by 1953 he's helped to develop "The Children's Corner" back in Pittsburgh. He serves as producer, musician, and puppeteer for the show (but not host.) Several of Roger's best-known puppets would debut on "Corner" including Daniel Striped Tiger, King Friday XIII, Lady Elaine Fairchild and X the Owl. He continues to work on the program throughout the 1950's and it receives critical acclaim while airing nationally during the summer months. Fred and Joanne have their first two children in 1959 and 1961, both boys. By 1963, Rogers is ordained as a Presbyterian minister. He relocates temporarily to Toronto for his on-camera debut as host of a series of 15 minute episodes for children. The program is titled "Mister Rogers." The following year he returned to Pittsburgh and expanded the 15 minutes to one half hour and retitled the program, "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood."

Mr. Rogers, neighborhood Postman Mr. McFeely and some children practice their Karate

We had a lot of ideas. Too many ideas to be honest with you. I'm sure that depending on who you talked to, everyone would have a different idea as to how most of the skits came to be. I know that a lot of them were bore out of a brainstorming session that Peter, Tim Curtis, Jeff and I had in Tim's room. Jeff and I wanted to do everything. We didn't care if we had to play three different people in one skit. I remember that one of the skits Jeff and I lobbied for the hardest was a Three's Company skit. The only problem with it was that there was no point to it. We just wanted to do a scene from Three's Company. We weren't any good at impersonating Jack, Janet or Chrissy, and even Peter couldn't get a real good handle on either Roper or Ferly. Besides, with three main female parts including Mrs. Roper, that would call for Molly and two of us in drag. You could check with Jeff on this one, but I'm quite sure that the real reason we were pushing so hard for the skit was for two ridiculous reasons - 1. So Jeff could do his Mrs. Roper voice and yell out, "Staaaaaanley" and so we could say the words Regal Beagle as many times as possible. Not a very good reason for a skit. I knew I had an old Chia Pet in my room that Jane had given me a few years before and we were determined to build a skit around that as well. I know that Jeff stole the WMUR-Channel 9 interview directly from In Living Color, even if we didn't all know that until much later. It certainly wasn't beyond Jeff or I to steal something from an ad or TV show and try to repackage it as our own. We just assumed not everyone watched as much TV as us. 9 out of 10 times we got away with it. I remember it was tough to corral McLaughlin and Jon for most of the pre-taping meetings simply due to the fact that they lived outside our neighborhood. Remember kids, this is before any of us had our license, not just me. I know that Molly would just say, "tell me what to do and I'll do it." See? Annie never would have gone for that business. We decided that if we had any sort of idea we should just come up with a loose script, with room for ad-libbing and film it, whether everyone was there or not. Well, I think at least Jeff or I had to be there for every taping. Man, we were control freaks about this. Ok, ok - I was a control freak about it. But we really wanted this to be good. We very much wanted to make our class laugh and we wanted to do it in a smarter way then just putting on wigs and playing air guitar. Peter and Jeff came up with the idea of a skit called, "Stupid Mute". We thought it was hilarious and we went about making it the first skit we filmed. We used the McLaughlin's house. Peter was a DJ (whose radio station also doubled as McLaughlin's walk-in closet) and I was the Stupid Mute that listened to the radio each day trying to win radio call-in contests. My name was Bjardka Kinyata. A name that Jeff stole from an SNL skit, but we were sure our classmates wouldn't know that. Well, DJ Peter's brain-scratcher of a contest consisted of playing a U2 song and asking his listeners if they could identify it. I don't remember what the prize was - something like a million dollars or a trip to Hawaii. Maybe Jet Skis, we thought that was a great prize that people were always giving away. The reason we used U2 was because Achtung Baby was one of the only CD's I owned. It was either that or Tim's Wreckx-N-Effect CD but we thought Mr. Pinckney would have looked down upon "Rump Shaker". Anyway, the skit ended with me calling up and desperately trying to identify the song as "One." Except DJ Peter couldn't hear me because I was a mute. Except apparently he knew I was a mute since he screamed, "You lost! Nice going you mute! You Stupid Mute!" and then the camera cut to me in my rocking chair in tears and making gasping breathy noises. We were off to a great start.

Mr. Roger's with that devilish minx herself, Lady Elaine Fairchild

For those of you who don't know, and I don't know how you couldn't, I work in a toy store. I like to refer to it affectionately as "The Wallakers". That's not its real name, but I wish it was. Anyway, I'm here to tell you, from my experiences in working their in the last 3 1/2 years, kids just don't take to the Public Television like we did. If I hear from one more parent that their kid, "just doesn't care for Sesame Street" or that "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood" is a baby's show I'm gonna go crazy. Seriously, as my esteemed co-worker Alyson was saying to me the other night, if she could only watch one more thing for the rest of her life, she would be content if it was to be the "How Crayons Are Made" episode of Mr. Roger's. "Sing it sister!" I said. Well, I'm paraphrasing here, but I said something close to it. I loved Mr. Roger's. It is a well known fact that I am easily impressed with things from shiny glass to dangling car keys, but I don't think any kid wasn't absolutely mesmerized when trolley would drive into Mr. Roger's living room, and then watch as the screen would gently fade to black as he went through the hole in the wall. And then BAM, like Dorothy coming out of the house into Oz, we were in the Land of Make Believe and I loved, loved, loved it. But we wouldn't always go to the same place each day but you know that you always hoped you'd get to see Daniel Tiger at the clock tower and you know that the Platypus family kinda freaked you out a bit. And you knew that all the voices of the puppets sounded slightly similar and that all the women spoke with registers a little lower than they should have been. But you didn't know Mr. Roger's was giving them life. And even when you did find out you didn't care. You still loved it. And I'll come out and say that Lady Elaine scared the motherflipping snot out of me. She was so creepy and her face looked like a rotted apple! Still, her merry-go-round was pretty sweet. Throughout the 1970's Roger's would take a sabbatical from the filming of the show in order to focus on other humanitarian works, while the show would continue it's uninterrupted weekday airings with repeats. By the end of the decade he had won a slew of Emmy and Peabody Awards. In 1984, his trademark Cardigan sweater was made part of the Smithsonian's permanent collection. And yet, kids don't want Ernie and Grover stuffed animals, they want Yu-Gi-Oh cards. Kids don't want Mr. Roger's book, The Giving Box, they want Bey Blades. Consider yourself lucky if you don't know what any of these things are.

The famous routine

Well, it turns out "Stupid Mute" wasn't exactly going to win us the praise from our peers that we were expecting. Why? Well, the main reason is because they'd never end up seeing it. Mr. McLaughlin called it one of the most insensitive things he'd ever seen. Though how he saw it I'm not clear on, since we never had any intention of screening any of this to our parents ahead of time. This quickly dashed our plans for "Qwazy Quadriplegic". I'm not making this up. I think we'll go to hell for even proposing the idea. We were going to have a recurring sketch where a quadriplegic (played by either Peter or McLaughlin tied to a chair with ropes) would get into wacky adventures and each skit would end with them drowning in a cup of water. Oh God, I know that sounds so horrific, but we thought that was damn fine comedy. So we started getting annoyed and finally turned to the real SNL in order to find more inspiration. It was decided that we'd do a few Deep Thoughts segments with Peter and Jon providing the voice, as it was voted that their voices were the most "soothing". The fake ads were some of our favorite skits on SNL at the time so we felt we needed to include at least one. We all agreed that some of our favorite ads to ridicule, and more importantly - an ad that the whole class would know - were the series of Mormon: Church of Latter Day Saints commercials that ran in the late 80's every hour on the hour. It was between the Cooking the Old Man a Pizza one and Stealing Marianne's Necklace one. We figured we'd never be able to cut the pepperoni like Alan from Punky Brewster did, so we went with the Necklace one. And then we realized that dressing up like a ballerina wasn't going to do any of us any favors. Well, maybe Molly, but still, we weren't going to touch ballet. But then we came up with the plan to film Jeff and Molly as a husband and wife who were going out to dinner. We used 145 Holman as their house and filmed a quick scene with the two of them in my fully stocked dining room leaving for supper. Then, with the camera off, we totally stripped the dining room. Cabinets, wall hangings, light bulbs, EVERYTHING. ["Oh. My. God." - my mother's reaction when seeing it for the first time on tape] And then we filmed the scene with Molly and Jeff coming home. It was originally written so that Molly would come in and, not even noticing that the entire room was stripped of everything, only notice her necklace was missing. She would then exclaim the famous line, "My necklace! Who took my necklace?!" But, Jeff decided that on the occasion of us having hardwood floors, he should slide in real fast on his socks with Molly behind him, look into the camera, hold his hands up in the air in defeat, and he, not Molly, would shout, "My necklace! Who took my necklace?!" Molly didn't care that we were cutting even more of her lines and we decided to go for it. After the class watched the tape, I'd think most of them would say it was one of their favorite skits. But not because of Jeff's slick slide. But because right after that, the camera cuts to Tim Curtis, out in the snow, on my / "Jeff & Molly's" deck. He looks at the necklace he just stole and then looked up at the sky. "I feel so dark inside, I feel like I want to cry. It's hard to live with a lie." Which, as I type this now, I realize makes NO sense whatsoever, since in the commercial, the little girl lies about not having seen the necklace when she really stole it. And then decides she can't live with her lie. In our version, it's not like anyone had questioned Tim about the whereabouts of the necklace. It doesn't matter though, because everyone in the class knew the reference and I don't think anyone was really double-checking for airtight plot consistency in our project. But good God, I still laugh mightily to this day when I watch that skit. Tim knocks on the door, Jeff just says, "Yes?" as if it's not odd to have a strange man on your deck, Tim says, "I'm sorry. I stole your necklace. Here." Jeff, almost in tears, tells him, "Oh thank you, thank you," and then they embrace. And then Jeff invites him. End.

Fred Rogers and the Dalai Lama - Whoa

Fred Rogers continued to produce episodes of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood throughout the 1980's. While different neighbors would drop by from time to time the format of the show never changed. The kitchen was never remodeled, the fish in the aquarium were always fed, and the oversized traffic light continued to flash. As kids grew older they'd start to float away from Mr. Roger's Neighborhood and supplant it with other televised fare that was usually far less educational, even if it did have globetrotting ducks or pizza craving turtles. I would be lying if I said I never again checked in on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood after elementary school. Heck, I should have thought myself too old to watch it by third grade. Perhaps my mother's obsession with anything on PBS kept me mired in their programming for a little longer than most kids. But I would still stop and linger with King Friday, Queen Sarah, and Prince Tuesday if they were on channel 11 in my journey from WLVI to WSBK. Even if you didn't watch Mr. Roger's for several years one could always count on it being on forever.

"Speedy Delivery!"

Jeff was a huge Eddie Murphy fan and we had watched the Saturday Night Live Best Of Eddie Murphy video so many times that the tape probably started to wear out. Somewhere between Little Richard Simmons and Buckwheat was Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood. Murphy's take on Mr. Roger's in a ghetto setting. So one would think that would have served as inspiration for our SNL parody if we were to write a Mr. Roger's skit right? Wrong. We had filmed Stunt Double the same day we had done Robber's Remorse (the Mormon one). Stunt Double basically consisted of us showing the quick life of a Stunt Double. From childhood (one of Molly's Cabbage Patch Kids flinging itself off my ground floor deck), to young adult (McLaughlin flinging himself off of Jeff's second story deck into the snow while Jeff and Jon pleaded with him from below to turn back) and to adulthood (a dummy with a volleyball for a head, with pullies in his stomach weighing him down getting thrown out of the McLaughlin Law Firm's 4th story attic window, the tape being paused, Peter's body replacing the dummy -with the same ski hat, so as to look as authentic as possible- and then back to recording as Peter leaps up to show he survived while TC, McLaughlin, Molly and I cheer him on while Peter delivers the triumphant, "Knew I could do it, what a rush . . . that was great!"). Bloodthirsty Chia Pet was filmed over several days and we had already started the first few days of it at the DeMark's a few days before. Basically, this bloodthirsty Chia Pet, owned by Willie Lambada (Peter) went crazy and started eating people, starting with Willie. Then it ate me when I came to Willie's house to look for Willie (which had to be filmed so many times due to McLaughlin playing bungee tricks with Molly's Cabbage Patch Kid over and over. and over.) For it's next set of victims, Jeff felt it should prey on a bunch of kids playing Ring Around The Rosie. So Jeff, Molly, McLaughlin, Jon, myself (in disguise since I had technically already died, but was a camera hog and wanted to be in it more) and our special guest star Stephanie played Ring Around The Rosie until the Chia Pet attacked. At this point, the Chia Pet was supposed to be so big that we had to shoot from the Chia Pet's perspective, which was really TC on the camera. We played it that everyone saw the Chia Pet except for Jeff and I, so when they all screamed and ran Jeff and I continued to play two-man Ring Around The Rosie until said Chia Pet was almost on us. And then we ran, and then the Chia Pet devoured every last one of us. An epilogue was filmed days later in Jon's basement using a Risk board and Flight of the Valkyries to show the Chia Pet's rampage across Western Europe. It was one of the only times that I wasn't around for filming so I don't have much to comment on concerning that. Anyway, so we had just finished Stunt Double and were getting ready to tape the WMUR - Channel 9 Interview that I mentioned earlier. Like I said, it was mostly Jeff ripping off an In Living Color skit, but it didn't make it any less funny. The Law Firm played the part of a bank. McLaughlin played Tom Griffith, WMUR reporter, interviewing Jon as Mr. Prescott, owner of the bank. For some unexplained reason, the bank was giving tours at the same time as the interview, which gave Molly (as the tour guide) a chance to lead TC, Peter, Jeff, and myself through the "shoot" of Tim and Jon's private interview. And then, for the next 3 minutes, Jeff and I just start doing crazy stunts in the background, unbeknownst to "Tom Griffith" and "Mr. Prescott". Our stunts would escalate from the mundane - walking like an Egyptian, to annoying - pillow fights, to amusing - Jeff and I playing Leap Frog, to hilarious - Jeff ripping his shirt off and flexing for the camera. It was in between the multiple takes for this skit that Jeff and I were sitting on the back stairs of the Law Firm trying to think of another skit. We needed a real long one to serve as the centerpiece to the project. We had filmed Convention of Unknown SuperHeroes that morning and it was by far our favorite one so far. Little did we know at that point that we would end up taping over it days later with the Jimbo involved "Mr. Scott" skit. The world would never meet Electric Zapping Man {Me with a cape and stars glued to me}, his sidekick Conductor Boy {Tim Curtis with a mixing bowl upside down on his head with two cardboard prongs taped to it}, The Streaker {Jeff in just a trenchcoat}, The Transformer {Peter changing from a box to a fork} and Bikini Boy {Jon, with one of Molly's pink bikinis}. For some reason, perhaps cosmic chance, Jeff had Mr. Roger's theme song stuck in his head. He had been singing it for days. Seriously. When Jeff or I latched on to something we thought was funny we would milk it d-r-y. Much to the annoyance of Tim, Ben, Peter, or whoever was around. Anyway, he got the song stuck in my head as well and we wouldn't be happy until we sang the ENTIRE song. It's a long song. Trust me. It's longer than you think. Anyway, things were getting tense during the WMUR skit since it was mostly serving as yet another chance for Jeff and I to show off. All of a sudden - inspiration! I don't know who thought of it first. At that point we probably all had the theme song stuck in our heads. Someone suggested we should do a skit making pretend we were Mr. Roger's and do a shortened version of an episode. But, then we realized that we'd run into the same problem we did with the Three's Company idea. Why? How were we going to make it different? Besides, it would involve lots of puppets and that was waaaay too much work. So then Jeff and I said we should do it as if Mr. Roger's was dead, and his horrific ghost was set to come back to the same haunted mansion he had died in fifty years before at the strike of midnight! Plus, he'd have a shoe fetish. It was decided. This would be our big skit. We'd call it, "The Ghost of Fred Rogers"

Mr. Rogers, in a pensive moment with Trolley

As the 1980's ended so to did much of my generation's daily relationship with Mr. Rogers. But we'd never forget him. As the 1990's began, Fred Rogers taped public service announcements on the eve of the Gulf War. In them he assured children they were safe and that if any hostilities were to occur they would take place so far away that they would not be hurt. In 1996, TV Guide named Fred Rogers one of the 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time. 1997 sees Rogers accept the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, as well as being named Pittsburgher of the Year. In 1998, Rogers received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, while the Pittsburgh Children's Museum opened a permanent Mr. Roger's Neighborhood Exhibit. He would be inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1999. Mr. Roger's ceased production of his television program in the year 2000, with the last episode airing in 2001. The shows continue to run in heavy daily rotation on PBS.

Fred Rogers and his Hollywood Star

Like most of our skits we ended up utilizing property of the McLaughlin Family. The law offices stood-in as our sprawling haunted mansion. The story went that we were driving home from a basketball game and our car broke down, so we came up to this mansion to see if we could spend the night. McLaughlin was filming while Jon, Tim Curtis, Peter and I played the hapless kids. Jeff played Fred Rogers. Molly did the special effects. It was Jon's idea to pipe Pink Floyd's "Time" in to the beginning of the scene to set the spooky atmosphere. Each of the stranded kids decides it would be best if we took our shoes off so not to muddy up the mansion. At the point in "Time" where all the bells and clocks and whistles start a-clanging is when we all freak out and run in different directions. That's when, through the magic of editing, Jeff magically appears and with a nicely knit scarf (since we didn't have any cardigans) and starts maniacally laughing. He sees our shoes and starts bellowing, "Shoes! More shoes! More shoes!" Then he sees the camera and states "Hello Neighbor." He sits down, and starts taking his shoes off in order to change into something more comfortable, just as Mr. Roger's did at the start of each show. Then he starts slowly, creepily singing, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor, would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won't you be my neighbor?" But it didn't end there! On and on he went, "I've always wanted to have a neighbor just like you. I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood . . . with you. Soooo, let's make the most of this beautiful day. Since we're together we might as well say: Would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won't you be . . . my neighbors?!" The rest of the skit is basically him trying to eat us alive. I'm not really sure we ever established that he was a vampire or a cannibal but we definitely had him gnawing on Peter's throat after Jon narrowly escaped him with the help of a well-timed Art Dean shoulder roll. Tim and I accidentally walked in on Mr. Rogers in the bathroom and Jeff positioned it so only his long scarf would be covering his crotch as he sat on the toilet (even though he was still wearing underwear, you couldn't tell). As Tim and I ran away from the horrible sight the camera panned back to show the viewers that he has magically disappeared! Finally, by the end, Tim and I used Jon as a battering ram to crash our way through the haunted locked front doors (which was really Molly opening them at the last second). The skit ends with Jeff coming back to sing the theme song one more time as he covers himself in our left behind shoes.

The video was a big hit. Mr. Pinckney loved it and we got an A+. More importantly, everyone laughed. We'd make several more videos in future English classes, this time fully integrating Jimbo into the cast and even risking taking on Beth. I hear they still talk about Peter, Tim, and my version of The Pearl in Mexico to this day. It seems The Ghost of Fred Rogers was the one skit that people talked about more than any of the others in the time following the video. I'm thankful for that if for only the reason that it helped them forget "Seductive Serenade", which was the skit I went drag for and danced in Mrs. Farmer's clothes while Peter played the piano and Jeff and I tangoed. As Mrs. Peacock might say, "It was all too shocking." The following year, echoing the Antony I quoted at the start of this entry, our English class would perform Julius Caeser. Tim played Caeser, Jon played Marc Antony and I played Brutus. Brooke played the Cobbler. [And Peter would go around for years afterwards and constantly say in his best Richard Burton voice, "Tim Curtis is . . . Julius Caeser!" Hell, he still does it.] That summer after the video Stephanie gave me Magical Mystery Tour for my birthday. It was my first Beatles album of my own that I didn't have to share with my parents. It sparked my love affair with the Beatles that only intensified each passing year of high school. We started hanging out with Molly less and less and though we expected to start hanging out with Jon more and more we didn't actually make another strong connection with him until much later in high school. I mean, it's not like we didn't still see the both of them socially from time to time, but you know how high school works. Jeff and I always claimed we'd make a better video now that everyone knew what we were capable of. But we never did. Talked a lot about it. But nothing ever came of talk. Now, everyone involved in that video is evenly distributed in the country. Tim Curtis and Jon are both in California, Molly is stationed in Chicago, Jeff and I are forever holding down New Hampshire and Peter anchors West Palm Beach in Florida. I don't know where McLaughlin is exactly. Not through lack of friendship. He just happens to be wherever our government wants him to be. Somewhere in Kuwait. Where he's flitting about lots of tanks and giving out commands.

Fred Rogers, along with Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby were named Grand Marshals of the Tournamnet of Roses Parade in Pasadena this last New Year's Day. The theme of the Parade was "Children's Wishes, Dreams and Imagination." It was a fitting final appearance to a man that championed wishes, dreams, and imagination in children for over 50 years. Fred McFeely Rogers passed on less then 2 months later. I don't know if he'd be thrilled in knowing that the same imagination he reinforced led to some Laconia hooligans recasting him as a cannabilistic spirit from the great beyond, but if I had to guess, he'd still want me to be his neighbor. Goodbye, Mr Rogers. Goodbye, Neighbor.

Rogers, with X the Owl in tow, walks away

It's been real,

Bob Dog

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