Growing up on that particular Oregon street was innocent, quiet and, if I’d known what a Beaver Cleaver even was, maybe even Cleaver-esque. Hillsboro was the sort of Nilla wafer-flavored suburb that angsty teens hated for its lack of anything interesting that ever happened, and the neighborhood cops loved to patrol for the exact same reason.
The self-centered, myopic life of a child is all about living in that particular moment, playing an endless number of games, using anything and everything as a toy and basically overworking one’s imagination like it were a Dickensian workhouse orphan. At 4 years old, life was simple, fairly straightforward and free of the obstacles that life would present in the following years (obstacles like telling time and learning to write a capital Q.) Each day was (if the system of mathematics I made up was correct) 132 hours long and a week was made up of, like, three months.
I would wake up, have breakfast, play some games that I may or may not have made up and, more or less, go to bed feeling that I’d accomplished something noteworthy if I’d survived the day without bathing in any sort of way. In my mind, even a single food-stained finger and the slightest case of bedhead was worthy of some reward. A key to the city? Maybe not, but I at least earned a Pez to the city, if nothing else.
Of course, I was fortunate in that my childhood was overseen by the most learned, indulgent and versatile of caregivers. One who would take my hand, show me the world in all of its diversity, its beauty and its horror, introduce me to right and wrong, broaden my understanding of morals and ethics and expand my awareness to a world that existed beyond the street on which I lived. Alongside nail biting and an insatiable need for peanut butter on crackers, TV was my constant companion. NBC and ABC weren’t simply station letters, they stood for Never Bored Companion and Absent Babysitter Childcare. Without TV, I would not be the person I am, today.*
Through TV and the magic of syndicated re-runs, I saw the outside world through a variety of windows, most opened in half-hour increments if you include commercials. Each of these half-hour worlds was in itself its own reality to me, in each a version of me existed that conformed to that particular narrative. Whether it was Father Knows Best, a black and white show about a family whose dad wears a suit all of the time, or Happy Days, a show that blurred the line between 1950′s and 1970′s culture, these were the familiar faces of my days, the adults that oversaw my morning to dinner time reality. Five days a week, these worlds magically appeared to me and helped define and mold my days.
One day, I went outside to play with Brian, a neighborhood kid who, like me, was too young for school. That day, as we sat on the curb picking up pebbles off the street, I looked over and noticed that Brian was wearing a white t-shirt. “Why’re you wearing a Fonzie shirt?” I asked.
He stared at his shirt for probably a good minute or so. It seemed we were both perplexed and caught off guard by the delayed awareness of the white shirt. “I dunno. My mom putted it on me when I gotted up.”
Immediately, I worried that I had missed some vital in-the-know information, that maybe my inability to read had caused me to miss a newsletter from the Social Norm Society. “Was I as’posed to wear a Fonzie shirt, today?”
Now, I was really growing concerned. “Is it…” I struggled to get the words out, fearing the worst in the answer. “Is it Fonzie Day?”
Again, Brian shrugged, which was proof enough for me that that particular day was, in fact, Fonzie Day. Despite its never having existed before that very moment, I suddenly found myself openly and publicly in defiance of the holy recognition of Fonzie Day.
I ran what must have been dozens of feet back to my house. Throwing the front door open, I ran into my room and began calling, pleading, to my mom. “Where is the white shirt?! I need my white one!”
My mom came to my room and kneeled beside me as I dug through my dresser drawers. “You want to wear a white shirt?”
I looked at her with a mixture of blame for having overlooked the holiday and fear of my being forever relegated to the outskirts of society, where lepers and animal-people hybrids live a sad existence alongside those of us who forgot to wear a white t-shirt. “It’s, it’s…” I said, struggling for breath as I began a seatbelt-required ride on the anxiety train. “It’s… Fonzie Day!”
Within minutes, I was back outside on the curb with Brian. Yup, just me and my white t-shirt hanging out with my friend and his white t-shirt. Thus began the official Fonzie Day ceremonies.
Anyone driving down our street that day was greeted by two 4-year olds in white t-shirts, thumbs held out in respect and repeating the word, “Aaay! Aaay-y-y-y! Aaa-aaa-y!”
Those drivers must have approached us with caution, no doubt worrying whether they were about to be assaulted by a group of thugs weighing a combined 75lbs. For these adults, it should be assumed (and rightly so) that fear immediately gave way to outright terror, which took the form of perspiration and began to run for its life down their arms and lower backs. But, just as they began to pray that their deaths at the hands of this street corner gang would be quick, they were given a thumbs up, a reprieve, an approval that insured the scales of Cool had shifted in their favor. With a quick honk of thanks or a toot of Fonzie Day awareness, the cars continued on their way.
We determined that Fonzie Day would be a weekly holiday held every whatever day that day was. Since we had no idea what the days of the week were, though, every 3-4 days a new Fonzie Day would sneak up on us. As the Fonzie Days went on, our numbers grew. By the end, there were three of us. Carrie, a girl from a few doors down, had joined us on the curb to insure that all drivers knew that not only were they worthy of a thumbs-up, but that they were, “Cool! Aaay!”
As most historians can attest, the frenzied tradition of Fonzie Day came to an end as the rain season began and forced us indoors. And anyone who has lived in Oregon knows, rain season is 72 months per year, so the fact that there ever was more than one Fonzie Day can be chalked up to a miracle.
An honest to goodness miracle.
A miracle brought about by the gods of destiny who looked down upon us, gave us a thumbs-up and said in their bellowing god voices, “Aaay!”
*Someone with far too much knowledge of far too many pop culture references from the past 60+ years.