How wonderfully nostalgic it’s been for me … finding a 24/7 Johnny Carson channel on Pluto T.V.. Shows from the mid-70’s through 1992 appearing before my so-much-after teenage year’s eyes. Those times – when I would come home after a late evening shift at McDonald’s – were so relaxing. A comedic and timely monologue followed by a possible skit, then three guests: one promoting an upcoming movie, another first time (or returning) comic, and an odd-ball act, or musician. Star after star, couch sitting their way through life with cigarette in hand, year after year in fabrics too large and too noisy even by today’s standards. Bob Newhart, Joan Rivers, younger versions of Jay Leno, Elizabeth Taylor, Anthony Hopkins, Tony Randall, Victoria Principal, … most of the stars who are now, well, dead graced the deep green shag carpeted dias back then, as the master of all talk shows reigned supreme. Speaking of … , I believe Diana Ross did make an appearance.
These days, we need nostalgia. Boy, do we need these look-back moments. At least I do. Life is hard. I need to sit back in my sectional sofa these days and be comforted by the bits and pieces of my past. The Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford cut monologues and Doc Severinsen outfits I saw last night pulled me into a wood paneled room and a polyester brown outfit with big yellow M’s on the sleeves.
I could wait only a few seconds to toss off that plastered on, odorous hamburger uniform so unpleasant even by that time-dated standard. My job wasn’t too demanding. Front-end sales – reserved for, possibly, the nimblest or those who were safest away from equipment 🙋🏻♂️ – found their way into my heart as I thoroughly enjoyed customer interactions and money transactions. With all that, I still needed to be done when arriving home at 11:15 on school nights – twenty minutes before “Heeeere’s Johnny” rumbled forth from Ed McMahon’s oversized pipes.
So relaxing it was. So fun to watch over incomplete math homework, likely never to be done History assignments, and English sentence deconstructions that likely, to this day, still lie un-erected on the thin, red basement carpet in my dad’s house. Pajama bottoms and t-shirts for an hour. A comforting, peaceful end to another day until that 6:33 alarm bell went off. Homeroom at 7:50, classes, then back to the Arches … only to return, five evenings a week, to an hour of a really cool friendship with someone who didn’t even know I existed. Someone who I cared about in a deeply comedic way … and who brought me to tears when he died on January 23, 2005.
Fifteen years. A lot since then. So much more from the years spent wondering why Burt Reynolds had long sideburns or Don Rickles found it so necessary to scorch everyone with his words. Many nights without any silly solace from a reportedly shy man who retired, gracefully, in 1992. Twenty-eight years without a show. Fifteen years without the always well-dressed host-pitable man who meant so much to my late adolescent years.
“That was then. This is now” as the lights go on in my mind. Heeeere’s Johnny!! I’m on air. Literally.
The challenges. Aches and pains are in different places. I study life, not History, English, or Math. My pajamas bottoms are not Batman and the paneled walls have been replaced by mortgaged, egg-shelled colored covered walls of my own. McDonald’s is a memory when I pass on the way to either the pharmacy or grocery store to buy apples, snacks, or Clif bars. I still need to answer to my dad, however, because he’s older and requires my attention … that hasn’t changed. He’s in my life just as he was many years ago.
And, so is Johnny Carson once again. I’m so happy – at least for a few, uhm, hours each night. Yes, the subjects in his monologues and most of the guests are gone now. Mickey Rooney, Charlton Heston, the gas shortage, Iran-Contra, Billy Carter, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, “It’s so hot … how hot is it?” audience relays, and Tommy Newsom’s dry comebacks … all pretty much gone in today’s three-dimensional realities, though I’m so glad they’re here, now, in my two-dimensional t.v. box 24/7 … any freakin’ time I want.
And, let me tell ya, those times are so, so often the past two weeks.
Thankfully, polyester is gone. Some material possessions I don’t want to revisit. Johnny? I do. As often as necessary during these last few weeks of a quite challenging year. He didn’t know me. Writing honestly, I’m not sure I knew myself as I immaturely sat on edge waiting for “Johnny’s Theme” – composed in 1962 by a, then, young Paul Anka – to begin. Daah-dam-dam-da-da … da-dum-da-de-dah! It’s not a blur. As clear as a trumpet’s bell these many years later. I hum it in my head every time – on key, being the musician I am – while Ed begins …
“And now, heeeeere’s….” And now is 2020. And now, here’s a year none of us expected, right? I’d love to sit back at 11:35 just one more time to hear Johnny tell us what to think about all this. One more time.
It can’t be. He didn’t know me, but he knew us. He knew what made us laugh. Boy, do we need that now.
I have a piece of that in my life every night, again. It’s not real time, but it’s real to me and that is what’s important at the end … when the final curtain comes down as it did on May 22, 1992. Over 6,000 shows, 29 seasons, and a final message:
“And so it has come to this: I, uh… am one of the lucky people in the world; I found something I always wanted to do and I have enjoyed every single minute of it. I want to thank the people who’ve shared this stage with me for thirty years. Mr. Ed McMahon, Mr. Doc Severinsen, and you people watching. I can only tell you that it has been an honor and a privilege to come into your homes all these years and entertain you. And I hope when I find something that I want to do and I think you would like and come back, that you’ll be as gracious in inviting me into your home as you have been. I bid you a very heartfelt good night.” May 22nd, 1992
Good night, Sir. I’ll see you in a few hours. Thank you so much. Heeeere’s to life!