Mr. Rogers and Koko make friends.

Mr. Rogers and Koko make friends.

“I like you the way you are. There’s no other person in the world like you. You are unique, and valuable."—Fred Rogers, 1928-2003

Ode to Mister Rogers
I remember like it was yesterday: sitting Indian-style on the rug of a ‘70s art-deco-style basement, waiting for a beat-up Chevy station wagon to pick me up for my carpool ride to nursery school. Smiling on the television as we finished our Sugar Smacks was a familiar man, his meek frame usually draped in a comfy cardigan sweater (emo fashion before it was hip). The man moved and spoke slowly, like a frontier town priest on nitrous, and would always remove his loafers carefully before kicking back with his “neighbors"—namely, imaginary friends and hand puppets. Still, there was something comfortable about his demeanor and the way he addressed the camera like he was talking right to “you.” He had respect for kids.

This was back in the day before cable TV, video games or the pathetic, purple Nazi crap that passes for children’s entertainment these days. Back then we had only a few choices: stuff like Captain Kangaroo, The Electric Company, Romper Room, Sesame Street and Mister Rogers—all time-honored classics.

Of course, as I grew into a rotten teenage punk I became cynical when it came to Mister Rogers, the butt of more than a few adult jokes. After all, here was a grown man who hung out with children and whose magical fairy dust trips could easily be clowned as drug-induced freak-outs. Then there was Eddie Murphy’s hilarious ghetto spoof on Saturday Night Live (we all laughed at that one).

But after Rogers’ recent death from cancer, I bet many children of the ‘70s found themselves in a slightly sentimental way. Mr. Rogers was a good guy after all. Sure, he was a little dogmatic for some, but at least he never got busted for child molesting or some Internet porno ring. Instead, he stood for something sorely lacking today: sincerity and an uplifting message that YOU as an individual are important within the cogs of the machine. What an important message for kids to hear at that age (especially today)!

You did a good job, Fab Freddy. I thank you for whatever messages of self-confidence I may have gleaned directly or indirectly from your lifelong career aimed at making the little people happy.

Now, with that stirring tribute out of the way, I believe I’ve earned the right to be a Grouchy Gus for the remainder of 2003.

Weekly props
1. Turkish parliament

2. March Madness

3. Merle Haggard at the Crazy Horse 3/21

4. Six Feet Under rentals

5. Lysistrata at Moxie’s