Friday, June 23, 2006

The Curve of the Universe

Let’s talk about the curve of the universe.

When I was a kid there was this thing called local television. Cities had their own channels that produced local programs other than the news. In the afternoons there’d be cartoons and kid shows hosted by actual people, mostly men and usually in character, who did live commercials and sketches with puppets and stage hands, talked about looking both ways before crossing the street, then showed The Three Stooges or Betty Boop or, if you were lucky, Laurel and Hardy.

The best of these shows and hosts took the kids seriously. These were the guys who liked to fool around with the medium. Sort of Ernie Kovacs for the pre-puberty set.

The host I liked best on New York television was an all-around guy named Chuck McCann. For one thing, he turned me onto Stan Frieberg by staging elaborate puppet pantomimes to Frieberg’s classic Capitol records. Funny, inventive, goofy, friendly. Just the thing when you’re transitioning from Popeye to Mad Magazine.

Years go by. Chuck goes off the air. He shows up in “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” and in an astonishing independent film from the early seventies called “The Projectionist.”

I grow up, relatively speaking. Thanks to good fortune and a steadfast refusal to learn a normal trade, I carve out for myself a career as a writer. Now I live in Studio City and one day I look up across the coffee house I’m in and there’s Chuck McCann. In his seventies now, but looking good. I go up, I say hello, I thank him for being there when I was a kid and especially for “The Projectionist” and he’s gracious as hell.

Turns out he lives in the neighborhood. I see him in there every once in a while and I say hello when he’s not in the middle of a conversation. I’ve introduced him to my wife Beverly.

I think I’m incredibly lucky to run into this man and get a chance to thank him.

But here’s the kicker.

A couple of days ago I was sitting at a table in the coffee house writing. I don’t usually do coffee house writing. I think writing for the most part is a shameful thing that should be done in a closed room with the window shades drawn, but that’s another discussion. On this day I am writing in a coffee house. I’m writing a script for the television series I work on.

Chuck McCann comes in, sits at the table next to me. He’s meeting a friend, so I don’t impose.

But it dawns on me that I am sitting there writing, making a living as a writer, less than five feet away from one of the imaginations that shaped me as a kid and nudged me toward becoming a writer in the first place.

There’s this circle and it runs through me and I get to know about it and that strikes me as very cool indeed. A little pat on the head from the universe, which is better than a poke in the eye.

So, let’s all embrace the wisdom inherent in the title of Chuck McCann’s show on WPIX Channel 11, the station of The New York Daily news. The show was called: “Let’s Have Fun.”


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