I hate stories about growing up. Childhood is stupid and the people who make money off of it annoy me to no end. I remember my Grandmother flying into our living room when I was a kid, screaming for me to stop watching a Shirley Temple movie. She literally pulled the power cord so hard that my dad had to have the TV repaired. My grandmother was always breaking my Dad’s televisions. They pretty much hated each other anyway, so the fact that the TV was going to be out of commission for two weeks caused another huge fight. My dad was German, and didn’t really appreciate being a called a Nazi sympathizer, nor having her explain to him that it was the Nazi’s who first put children on television for propaganda, and it was their model that the moguls in Hollywood were using to put children on TV today. Furthermore, if my grandfather (who was also German) had not died in WWII, they would have certainly had a son, who would have kicked my father’s ass up and down, long before he even thought of dating my mother. I don’t remember much more of the fight, but it ended with my father storming out of the house, swearing up and down that he was going to find a nursing home.
After my father left, my grandmother gave me the entire breakdown of evil child stars from the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Apparently, when she was seven, one of her aunts has taken her to a studio in New York to audition for some type of television variety hour. She was up against this family of black kids who had made a name for themselves in Tennessee playing the spoons and tap dancing with only one leg. Needless to say neither she, nor the black kids got picked, and instead this little girl from Brooklyn ended up going on that week, eventually winning third runner up behind a singing dog act and someone related to the future Frank Sinatra.
Because of this, my grandmother hated all kid actors, and forbid all of us from watching, listening, or talking about anyone younger than 16 who appeared on television or the movies. It took my mother three hours to prove to grandma that Judy Garland was 16 when she made “Wizard of Oz” and that it was okay for me to watch it on Thanksgiving, namely because that was the only thing our TV would pickup because she had broken the antenna again. Because of the poor reception, Dorothy arrived to an all black and white Oz, causing my grandmother and father to have yet another screaming match. I’m not going to get into the whole “munchkin” argument, let’s just say that my grandma died thinking that they were part of a government experiment for submarines.
It was probably my grandmother’s hatred of child actors that gave me my first shot of being on television. When I was five and a half, my father drove me into Queens to go visit the set of Sesame Street. A buddy of his worked on the lighting crew there, and every once in awhile they were allowed to bring their kids onset to watch. Since this buddy didn’t have any kids, he told my dad to bring me. Apparently there had been a rash of Latinos recently, and there weren’t enough non-bilingual kids for Maria to teach Spanish to. The only trick was getting there by 5:30 am, which was convenient for me, because grandma wasn’t awake yet and couldn’t ask me where I was going.
I didn’t get to spend much time with my Dad, and it was pretty great, except for the fact that he kept telling me, “now don’t act stupid”, which basically meant that I had to remember the alphabet and not tell any of my grandmother’s jokes. His big fear for me was that “S” would be the letter of the day, and because I was missing my two front teach, I’d get bumped from the show. It didn’t matter anyway because my dad’s friend apparently didn’t have the “pull” that he had bragged to my father about, and only had tickets for us to watch the show, not be in it.
“So I dragged my ass all of the way down here for nothing?” my father bellowed in an alleyway outside of the studio.
“I thought your son would like watching the show.” His buddy looked nervously from the stage door to the group of union guys sipping coffee before their shift started.
“He can watch the freakin’ show at home. What the hell were you thinking? I told my wife that my son was going to be on Sesame Street. Do you know how much crap I’m going to get if that doesn’t happen?”
“Okay, Jesus, calm down, let me see what I can do. Maybe he can stand in the background or something.” Fifteen minutes later, a wardrobe guy came out, put a green shirt on me and I was taken backstage and told to be quiet while they gathered the cast and puppeteers. It wasn’t long before I saw Kermit, Grover, and the Restaurant Guy, all being brought in by the scraggliest group of people I had ever seen. They lined up behind the set, which was above their heads and proceeded to put the puppets in place for the camera test. It was at that moment that I realized that puppets didn’t wear anything below their shirts. I always figured that they would at least try to cover them up below the belly button. My mother insisted that I do so with my sister’s dolls and even my Mr. Potato Head. As I sat there, I remembered all of the jokes my grandmother told me not to tell my mom, trying not to laugh to myself, wondering if I looked cute enough for them to pick me to do a segment and get on TV the way my father wanted.
I guess I did okay, because I was assigned to sit in the background of Big Bird’s nest as he sang a song about different colored feathers. When you watch the episode, I’m on the far left, the side of the TV my grandmother hated the most. I even got paid a little, which made my father’s victory that much sweeter.
“Now I can get the TV fixed properly and shove it so far up your grandmother’s ass that she’ll have an antenna sticking out of her nose.” Grandma hated antennas, especially car antennas, which is why we couldn’t listen to the radio on the way home.