Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Assman Cometh

If you asked my 74 year-old father what the funniest show on television is, he’ll tell you, without hesitation and with much gusto - “SEINFELD! I love that Jerry Seinfeld and Kramer and George and the parents, they’re all just nuts…just nuts.”

Now, this gushing review isn’t because he’s nostalgically reliving the series in reruns, it’s because he’s watching it all for the first time.

Each night, regardless of the day of the week, he watches the 10 p.m. news on the local FOX affiliate so that he catch two back-to-back episodes at 10:30 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. I never would have caught on, had I not visited over the tail end of April break. Usually, when we’d talk on the phone and he’d tell much how much he liked the show and how funny it was, I always thought it was small talk, like talk of the weather or his beloved Philadelphia sports teams or the number of weddings or funerals he went to that week. It was all just part of the background, things he did and talked about now that both he and my mother are retired.

For those of you who don’t know my dad, he is a serial funeral-goer. He trolls the obits of 3 different local papers looking for friends or relatives of friends, or friends of friends or relatives of friends of friends, that have passed on…then he cuts out the article, attends the service and then like baseball cards keeps them in a neat pile by the computer in his office. It’s a bit macabre I suppose, while some people save old lottery tickets or used movie stubs, he saves old friends. 

So the question is -- where was he at 9:00 p.m. on Thursday nights from 1989 to 1998?  I mean, he knows a lot of people, but there is no way he was booked with viewings, wakes or sitting shiva the whole time....

I’m not sure, but I’d bet money that at that time, his “Must See TV” was probably UHF reruns of “Sanford & Son” or “Chico & The Man." Now that Seinfeld is on his radar, I don’t think he realizes that his watercolor recaps are coming over 10 years too late. For example, we happened to catch one of my all time favorite Seinfeld shows “Fusilli Jerry.” Before Kramer could make his first entrance, I enthusiastically stated, “Oh it’s the Assman episode!”

“What?” my father said, clearly not listening, already pondering the crazy predicaments the Seinfeld gang was going to find themselves in this time.

“It’s the Assman one.” I repeated.

“What?” my dad said.

Assman,” I said louder and just as the funky transition music faded and the commercial came on I screamed “ASSMAN!” My father whipped his head around, clearly hearing me this time. From his countenance, I could tell he was assuming that I was screaming some new-fangled obscenity at him.

“Dad, calm down, it’s the Assman episode, you know, the guy with the license plate is a proctologist….” My voice trailed off and my father had a forlorn look, like I had just read him the last pages of a novel he was trying desperately to finish. I suddenly realized that he had not seen the Assman coming.

I sat quietly for the remainder of the show and when Kramer delivered the final payoff punch line just as George impales his backside on fusilli Jerry, he looked over at me incredulously….as if I had gazed into a crystal ball to foresee the ending, instead of simply owning the complete series box set.

I slinked out of the room to find my brother to compare “weird dad” notes and leave the man to watch the 11:00 p.m. episode wondering what could possibly top the wackiness we just observed. While his behavior was a bit odd, it was no where near the experiences I have had watching television with my husband’s octogenarian grandparents (the same ones he recently visited in Scottsdale) who frequently mute commercials, switch between watching "Rumpole of the Bailey" on PBS and "Radio Days" marathons on VHS, and often watch the reflection of the television in a large mirror on the opposite side of the room, because they refuse to move their seat to a more conventional place.

I was soon drawn back to the room by my father’s infectious laughter. The Assman had come and gone and now “Malcolm In the Middle” was on. I sat down next to him on the sofa with a smile. I had never seen any episode of "Malcolm" and relished that we had finally reached father-daughter rerun bonding nirvana….

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