Tuesday, June 23, 2015


It's nice to feel justified, even when it takes years. And this past week, it happened to me twice.

The first event involves an obscure cable network called MeTV. This isn't for narcissists; the call letters stand for Memorable Entertainment Television. Its entire schedule is made up of TV shows from the '50s to the early '80s. I never heard of it until quite recently.

Other than the uniforms, this is what
Bronx cops still look like.
Now, say "classic old shows" to some people, and the first thing they think of is M*A*S*H, All in the Family, or Mary Tyler Moore. Feh. To me, "great TV" was mostly in black & white, and rarely seen in syndication after 1969, if at all.

So I was thrilled that MeTV recently began running Car 54, Where are You?, the short-lived sitcom about Gunther Toody and Francis Muldoon, two idiot cops working in a forgotten Bronx precinct. 

Having grown up in Rhode Island, I never realized how authentic Car 54's atmosphere was. Location shots are real, while the interiors were shot at Biograph Studios, built on East 175th Street in 1913. The characters -- Italians, Irish Catholics, Jews -- reflect the neighborhood.

My daughter has always been open to old entertainment, and, true to form, became a fan of Car 54 after only one episode. She has no idea that its stars, Fred Gwynne and Joe E. Ross, came from Broadway and burlesque respectively. All she knows is that they (and the rest of the cast) don't look like anybody on TV today -- and that she can't get enough of Ross' desperate "Ooh! Ooh!"  

What impressed me about Car 54 in 1962 still impresses today: not only does it have black characters, they're accepted as equals. The last episode I caught had six black actors -- three men and three women, probably more than any prime time series today. 

And you know what else? The damn show is still funny. You can keep Mary Tyler Moore.

Justification comes in other ways as well. Like most kids, my daughter used to think I was a complete numbskull. So you can imagine her surprise that, even now, her female friends think I'm funny and cool. Even better, her male friends in high school used to find me intimidating. If you told any of this to the kids I went to school with, they'd think you were out of your mind.

But what puts the coolest icing on the cake for her is that young black men compliment me on my retro headgear. "Nice hat, man" -- I get it all the time, or at least some of the time. 

And I'm da bomb.
I was wearing my Panama chapeau on Father's Day when my wife took a photo of us. My daughter posted it to her Instagram account. A moment later, she reported that her friend's brother ("He's black, you know") wrote, "Ya Pops is JIGGY!"

"What did I tell you?" I responded self-righteously. "I'm jiggy! I've been saying it for years!" -- even before the word was invented. Or I knew what the hell it meant.

Comedy authority. Cool to girls. Intimidating to boys. A fashion plate to urban youth. It took decades, but I've become a recognized figure in all these fields. By the time I'm dead, I should be a Pulitzer Prize winner.


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