“Peace and quiet” was the totality of my father’s birthday list when he was my age. As a kid, I viewed his curt response as awfully grumpy but, now that I’m as old as the Rolling Stones’ hit single “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” I see his lack of
jubilance a bit differently.
Sure, this year my dad sent an almost-witty Hallmark card and almost-serious check; my brothers’ children sang me songs in the key of off; and my family cooked a square meal and offered tokens of their affection, but something was definitely lacking. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. The truth of the matter is that, as a working class hero, I can afford to buy the things I truly need and the things I secretly want are no longer good for me, my family or my Facebook page.
I am fortunate to have friends a decade younger who don’t yet understand that getting lucky at my age means locating my car in the grocery store parking lot. One of these young hipsters (whose Iranian name my daughter lovingly mangles into the moniker Po-Cheese) told me she had a surprise for my birthday. Po-Cheese instructed me not to answer my cell phone or it would ruin the suspense of whatever it was she had planned. Ignoring my phone was no sacrifice so, the next day, I checked my voice mail. At first, the rounded consonants and distorted voice that turned “Rob” into “Wob” felt oddly familiar. I quickly scanned my friend files for folks with speech impediments or partial hearing loss but, before I finished, the caller identified himself.
“Hi, Wobby,” he said, using a nickname I rarely hear now that I wear big boy pants, “it’s Lou Ferrigno.”
I could hardly concentrate as The Incredible Hulk cracked jokes about old age, stated how much he “loved me, man,” stuttered trying to pronounce Po-Cheese’s proper name, and mumbled something about The Hulk getting stronger as he advances. I played the message over and over in my car, which I had located fairly easily that day in the grocery store parking lot.
“Could it really be The Hulk?” I wondered more seriously than anything else I pondered that day: more than the Faulkner novel I was trying to teach my reluctant students, more than the ideal way to coerce a 14-year-old girl to be kind to her brother, even more than how to delicately explain to my dad why I can’t watch a YouTube video of a Filipino boy playing drums even if he is the next Keith Moon.
Was this a celebrity impersonator somewhere in a sketchy one-room apartment in LA?
Better yet, did Po-Cheese plug my personal details into some futuristic software program that could replicate the voices of our former beloved television stars?
Could the computer do JR Ewing from Dallas or Arnold Horshack’s seal-like laugh from Welcome Back, Kotter?
I listened repeatedly while Lou’s muffled diction triggered flashbacks of my whole family huddled around the TV on Friday nights, watching as Bill Bixby lost his temper like our own father and turned into a monster with a green complexion and a wig made from yak hair, just like our Aunt Doris from Reno after a few drinks.
Even more recently, we’d rented our son London the series from Netflix and he, too, fell deeply in love with the low-rent special effects and 1970s melodramatic soundtrack. After he’d watched a few episodes, London answered our requests for teeth-brushing with Dr. David Banner’s classic lines, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” I even had to surrender some of my old T-shirts for him to rip after math homework. So when Po-Cheese confirmed that the voice on the other end was bona fide, the joy was not limited to me but spread throughout the generations. And that, my friends, is the true spirit of rebirth.
Robert Wilder’s most recent book is Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge
. Daddy Needs a Drink appears the first Wednesday of each month in the Santa Fe Reporter.