In the true spirit of the American way, this column chooses to remain open and retain its usual light-heartiness.
Hopefully, in today's carefully selected topic...our children are our future...you will read between the lines of glibness and be further inspired to persevere when all seems lost.
My tiny prize is old (I have it, over twelve years). It's broken, dented, faded and has a trace of rust. At it's best it was worthless, but now, to nearly everyone but me, it is a treasure. I cherished it immediately and wore it proudly at work, for all to see. When an erudite individual would notice it, recognize it and appreciate it, my prize made a great conversation piece.
About six years ago, my employer banned extraneous personal items from our uniforms. Although my bauble was removed from public sight, I decided to keep on my person. It may seem relegated to my work pants pocket but it more importantly, it remained with me. Plus, it was handy to show people and tell this story.
Since then, the only time it has ever seen an extended period in full view was on February 24, 2007 when I wore it, (with the help of a magnet), on my lapel, at my son Andrew's Bar Mitzvah.
GRANDMA AT THE CANDLE LIGHTING CEREMONY. IF YOU SQUINT OR USE A NUCLEAR-POWERED MICROSCOPE, YOU CAN SEE THAT BLUISH DOT ON THE LEFT SIDE OF MY SUIT JACKET ISN'T A BORSCHT STAIN, IT'S MY PRIZE.
It all started at the, "KIDS FAIR," in Atlantic City's Convention Hall. Designed as an inexpensive, indoor family destination to break-up the winter malaise, the Kids Fair, was jam-packed with games, demonstrations, shows, free samples and other gimmicks. Sponsored by area and national vendors, this annual, all-day event filled the huge space with education, adventure and fun.
(MARCH 1, 2002). IN ANDREW'S DAY, THE KIDS FAIR, IN CONVENTION HALL, HAPPENED IN LATE FEBRUARY OR EARLY MARCH. IT HAS SINCE MOVED TO SANDCASTLE STADIUM, IN LATE APRIL.
Andrew and I only missed one year between 1998 and 2002. We went alone, with friends and took grandma there once. The last two times, we added to the excitement by taking the train in from the Absecon station.
Once inside, this bigger than three football fields space is eye-candy for children and adults. Lined up like streets, one booth after another captured the little one's imaginations with a wide range of entertainment. Andrew liked handling animals like iguanas, goats and crabs. He also climbed in fire trucks, military vehicles and a helicopter, (going up to the ceiling in the power company's bucket truck was only thing he ever refused).
My boy participated in dance contests (one year, he taught the teenage volunteers a couple of Macarena steps). He also took part in various sports, did projects with hammers and screwdrivers, used musical instruments, painted, did over sized puzzles and met and interacted with the real Miss New Jersey and McGruff the Crime Dog...as well as several other cartoon characters in costume. However, for some odd reason, the first year, Andrew was afraid of Capt'n Crunch...go figure.
In the back, temporary bleachers surrounded a stage. Then announcements were made when shows started. We usually waited until we were getting tired to go there. One year there was a Nickelodeon TV Network presentation of a game show. Child and parent teams played against each other but along the way, the heavy-set bald dad (not me, we tried but weren't picked) got a pie in the face and was attacked with water guns.
Another year, a Ronald McDonald impersonator on a unicycle, told jokes and clowned with the audience while he juggled running chainsaws that were on fire...wait...I think it was bowling pins...NOT on fire. Another year, girls from the Disney Network did a tumbling exhibition.
Before leaving, Andrew and I would get something at the snack bar as we began to wind down. By that time, the empty, plastic goodie-bag that he was given when we came in was filled with promotional items. I think if we turned my house upside down, we would find a few pencils, an Atlantic City Surf baseball bat or the caterpillar cage my boy built. But of all those remnants, only one is significant and only one has any sentimental value to me...and I've know exactly where it has been, for over twelve years...my work pants pocket.
In March 1999, Andrew and I were heading out from the fair. A dab of ketchup was on my five-year old's nose as he picked at his last few French fries. Then up ahead, someone in a Johnny Bravo costume summoned us. Back them, our cable-TV package didn't include the Cartoon Network so we were Johnny Bravo-illiterate. But because of the absurdity of his look and the magnetism of his charisma, we gravitated to him.
"JOHNNY BRAVO," AIRED ON THE CARTOON NETWORK FROM 1997-2004, (67 WHOLE EPISODES, 178 SEGMENTS AND 2 SPECIALS). JOHNNY WAS A DULL-WITTED, STEROID-STUFFED, SKIRT-CHASING BEEFCAKE. HE SOUNDED LIKE ELVIS PRESLEY, ALWAYS HAD SUNGLASSES AND WORE A POMPADOUR HAIRCUT. ALSO FEATURED ON THE SHOW WERE: HIS NERDY FRIEND, CARL CHRYNISZZSWICS AND HIS SOMETIMES TOUGH, SOMETIMES DOTING "MOMMA," BUNNY BRAVO.
Andrew was really laughing after Johnny shook his hand and mussed-up his hair. Then we were lured to the CARTOON NETWORK booth. Inside, the curtained walls were adorned with photos of their biggest stars. A perky young lady led my boy to an unsophisticated roly-poly game that looked like they built it ten minutes before the doors opened.
This "skill" game was so juvenile that my boy balked at the opportunity. When he hesitated, the encouraging lady said, "Everyone wins a prize...some people get two prizes and the luckiest kids win three." On the far side of the apparatus, other giggly winners were at a table filled with dozens of little trinkets to pick from.
My Mr. Too-Cool took the small bouncy ball from her. Without even pretending to aim, he rolled the ball down a ramp that led to a series of holes. The biggest holes had a yellow flag with a number-one on them. The smallest ones had green flags with a three and the medium holes had red flags with twos on them.
Andrew's shot went into a medium a hole. The young lady made a big deal of his two-prize victory...Andrew was indifferent. She led him to the Utopian prize table and said, "You can take two." Andrew looked at me with a blank expression. I looked at the toys and guessed that they were so chintzy, he didn't want to dignify any of them by accepting it.
The lady might have recognized his dilemma and sweetly tried to glorify her favorites. Andrew took a closer look. I was momentarily distracted by Johnny Bravo doing his schtick on another kid. Three seconds later Andrew got my attention and said, "Can we go now?" I said, "Sure but what did you choose?" He shrugged and looked back into his loot bag. With a sigh, he handed me a pin, (the size of a quarter), with the cartoon character Wally Gator on it. He started poking around inside the bag and came out with a similar pin, of Droopy.THE CARTOON NETWORK RAN RE-RUNS OF DROOPY. IT WAS A THEATRICAL CARTOON SO ONLY 24 EPISODES WERE EVER PRODUCED, (1943-1958).
Andrew must have seen the brighter expression on my face and said, "Hey dad, you like Droopy...right?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Why don't you take him and I'll keep this one, (Wally Gator). What might have been chintz to him was gold for me. My next day at work, I pinned it to my uniform.
A FEW MONTHS AGO, I CAME ACROSS THE WALLY GATOR PIN. IT WAS IN PRISTINE CONDITION. BUT I COULDN'T FIND IT AGAIN, TO BE INCLUDED IN THIS ARTICLE. IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT DESPITE BEING BLACKBALLED FROM HOLLYWOOD DURING THE McCARTHY-ERA, WALLY RETURNED TO SHOW BUSINESS, WELL PAST HIS PRIME AND STILL MANAGED TO EKE-OUT A DECENT CAREER. AND YES, HE WAS ONE OF THE FEW ANIMATED STARS OF HIS TIME THAT DID HIS OWN SWIMMING STUNTS.
I had no problem finding the Droopy pin, it was exactly where it was supposed to be, in my work pants pocket.
I THINK THE BRUISED PATINA GIVES MY PRIZE AN ADDED ELEMENT OF TIMELESSNESS. THOSE BLEMISHES SCREAM OUT THAT NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS OR WHERE WE GO, IT WILL SYMBOLIZE MY ETERNAL RELATIONSHIP WITH MY SON AND THEREFORE, ALWAYS BE WITH ME.
I hope when Andrew gets married, I uphold this tradition and remember to wear it on my jacket during his wedding. Then when he becomes a father, I look forward to having it with me each time. Finally, when I'm a hundred and one...I would be honored to wear this gift that keep on giving...on my lapel again...when I'm buried.