Part 1: Searching for Charley and Humphrey
But until today there was one memory of mine that no one on the internet could identify.
Here’s how I described it:
"A short spot featuring puppets, namely a white horse with a big red mouth and a fire helmet housed in a brick building (possibly a fire station?) I remember him teaching me that borrowing without asking is the same as stealing."
To improve my chances of stirring someone’s recollections, I made a sort of police sketch to go with this description; working the best I could off a fuzzy, almost twenty-year-old memory, I rendered this visual aid in MS Paint:
Yet all was vanity, to paraphrase Solomon; even with the help of my picture, no one in all the internet found any of this even vaguely familiar. And so, after many, many attempts in this vein, I gave up and became resigned to the prospect of never knowing where this mysterious memory had come from. I even went so far as to consider the possibility that it had never existed beyond my own mind: perhaps I remembered it from a dream; perhaps my memory had confused impressions from several different puppet shows and thus shaped something entirely original from their residue.
Today, however, my memory was redeemed with startling precision.
Like most good things, it happened by total accident. I was on Youtube digging up some 80’s independent Bay Area TV station nostalgia (KBHK 44 bumpers, things like that) when in the related videos column I saw something that took my breath away:
Still, I wonder how my memory substituted a firefighter helmet for a naval cap. Anyway...
As the video above clearly demonstrates, Charley and Humphrey were a product of KTVU Channel 2, the first independent television station in the San Francisco Bay Area (as we are informed by Ronnie Shell, "a local boy from Richmond"). The song at the beginning of the clip, though written over twenty years ago, resonates more than ever with today’s wistful melancholy in wake local programming's decimation: "I know yesterday is gone forever/ but my favorite dreams are still in black and white." Gone forever indeed. Gone are the days of local B-horror M.C's like Elvira, Vampira, and Dr. Gangrene, who would lovingly present the night’s schlocky horror film and answer fan mail sent from kids around the area. Gone are the local game shows you actually had a chance of appearing on. Gone are Charley, Humphrey, and the other puppets. The only thing local stations do anymore is the news, presumably because they’re evil and they know that the only thing more depressing than no local broadcasting at all is local broadcasting that pops up only to tell you that there's a serial rapist in the neighborhood.
Sigh. I don't about you, but I could really go for a time machine right about now. I want the happy back. I want to escape into my naive, unjaded fantasy world of bright city lights, cloying saxophone solos, sparkly electric piano samples, and cheap puppets. I want to go back to a world where there weren't so many haters, where men could wear rainbow suspenders and not have their sexuality questioned. I want to go back to a world where guys could look like this and still be able to "score big on Love Connection" (i.e. women would still have sex with them). And I want to go back to where I can find a pair of glasses like Perry's, goddamn it!But I digress.
As silly as it sounds, watching all this local broadcast stuff as a wee preschooler had a profound effect on my malleable little brain. How to describe it… it’s like it made me feel more connected to the place where I lived… like it made the TV seem less cold and distant and more like an integral part of the community. Okay, so that is silly, but compare that to the way we have it now: where is the familiar and friendly announcer’s voice to say goodnight to us when it’s time to go to bed and the station signs off? Where’s the part where that voice invites us to submit our questions and comments? Or the part where he gives us the address of the station so we could even go down there if we ever wanted to? And why don’t these stations still sponsor and put on events we can actually attend? As an impressionable child, all these little touches went a long way towards making me feel somehow involved. I'd see the stock footage shots of San Francisco, watch "Big Bird in Japan" on KQED, and then have my aunt (who always sent me stuff from Japan when she was living there) come and visit and take me to Japantown to get sushi and play a coin-operated Centipede machine. I was there, I was living the dream! It was like one big nebula of reality and fantasy all congealed in a delicious consommé of recycled stock muzak with one foot still in the 70's.
What I have shared here represents a great deal of what I consider to be the most deep-seeded and sacred of my personal aesthetics. What will become of them another twenty years from now, I wonder? Will they vanish further into obscurity, or will we dust them off and build something new from them? Will our culture descend into further alienation and cynicism, or will we rebuild our innocence and once more allow ourselves these tacky little gestures of community? I guess it’s important to remember that it's all relative, that one person's nostalgia is always created by someone nostalgic for something else.
Well, that's it for tonight's broadcast. Have a good night an a great weekend. And now, one last relic of Bay Area television to rock out to (in stereo):