Dust on the Road: Sesame Street at 50

Let’s call this take on Sesame Street ‘sad comedic nostalgia’. Sesame Street, for those unaware, turns 50 this week. I, and so many others, grew up on Sesame Street and are hovering near the age of the show, so this milestone takes me back. I’ll first take a look at how Sesame Street shaped me and others, then follow it up with how its original characters will do in their retirement years.

There’s a certain melancholy sense one can have when thinking back at their childhood and how Sesame Street helped mold it as if one’s childhood were soft clay. In truth, it is. Every moment of one’s upbringing puts a mark on your childhood, like your mother or father slapping pencil marks on a door jamb to monitor your physical growth.

My childhood was sieved through a series of events: I started as a severe asthmatic who spent quality time in ER after ER (it is nice to be known on a first name basis regardless where you go); when I was nine my grandfather died of a heart attack in the back seat of the car my uncle was driving; that same year my youngest uncle, 21 at the time, came back from Vietnam only to be killed be an errant Budweiser keg that when unloaded came off the rails and hit him in the head; the following year I got meningitis; two years after that I was run over by an empty hay wagon; two years later Elvis died, where the effect on me was more due to my mother’s depression. Seriously, in my mind I thought she was going to give up.

Through most of it, there was Sesame Street. To a child, nothing is scarier than the street, the massive outside where anything can happen. As such, Sesame Street was a refuge, a safe place. There you could find all the familiarity of what was outside, yet as a child feel comfortable. Even when they tested children’s reactions to the ‘street’ scenes, there was far more comfort in mixing the Muppets with the real adults than there were with the adults alone. BTW, I am using Muppets as that is what they are – Jim Henson created them for Sesame Street, giving up the rights to profit on Sesame Street but retaining the rights to said Muppets, so any character he created outside of Sesame Street was his own to make money from, hence the Muppet Show.

The escape from everything whirling around me was paramount. Granted, as I got older, as what happens to most kids, Sesame Street became less and less important, but the lessons Sesame Street imparted were significant. Sharing. Caring. Daring.

I can imagine as Sesame Street reaches this age where initial thoughts of retirement rolls upon every character there is a sense of what’s next. What will Sesame Street characters in their dotage come to reality to those who are in the same predicament? For instance, my parents are not only are retired, but have reached a point where they have become inadvertently comedic. My mother is 78; father 80; stepfather 91. My mother recently came home from a book club meeting wearing someone else’s shoes ‘no wonder they were so tight.’ Forgetfulness like Big Bird. My stepfather decided he needed to shovel 8 inches of snow because he had to get the Tuesday newspaper. My mother threw her body at the front door, and I told him ‘it’s the Tuesday paper, you’re risking a fall for six pages of bad news… and we can print out today’s crossword for you.’ He was aggravated, but he stopped. Quite in line with what Grover would do. Watching sports shows with my father (he’s homebound and it’s nearly all he watches) now produces comments like ‘you know since Obama was president there are more black people on these shows.’ The elderly, as you may know, have no filters, like Oscar the Grouch.

What can we expect for the ‘Great Eight’ original Muppets as retirement age lurks? Let’s take a look at this iconic Sesame Street line-up (I’m using both ‘69 and ‘70 character intros, so to quote Mick Mulvaney ‘deal with it’) and see what they can bring to the table where retirement becomes the focus.

Big Bird (AKA the inquisitor)

He is not going to stop asking questions, only now his questions will lean toward ‘How can AARP help me?’ and ‘Is Medicare my best option and will Medicare for All make it more difficult for me and others as elderlies?’

In a retirement facility, The Inquisitor will become really tiresome. Other retirees will conspire to steal his daily pudding.

Alosius Snuffleupagus (AKA ‘Snuffy’ Big Bird’s imaginary friend)

If you think older people do not have imaginary friends, you have never visited a retirement facility. Eventually, on The Street, Snuffy became seen by the adults. Old folks’ imaginary friends rarely ever do as most of the ones they discuss are already dead. Harsh, but true.

That being said, Snuffy will thrive in an environment where the imaginary becomes reality as no one will doubt him.

Oscar the Grouch (AKA the pessimist)

Have you ever heard an older person say ‘back in my day…’ or ‘get off my lawn’? Of course you have. For a concrete example, I refer you to Clint Eastwood’s character in ‘Gran Torino.’ Eventually he learned though… at least as the character Walt Kowalski. In real life after schtupping countless actress wannabees, he now talks to empty chairs (thanks Obama).

I hold out little hope for Oscar to have any friends in a retirement facility.

Bert and Ernie (AKA the platonic couple)

As with the fine film ‘When Harry met Sally’ there is no platonic relationship between a male and a female lasting forever. Hence, we have two Muppet men – an ‘Odd Couple’ who, to be frank, go together like peas and carrots – not always in sync, but just fine as a duo if you can swallow them without gravy… or chewing. They have been arguing for decades, so there is no reason why they cannot venture into their retirement years having the same arguments ad nauseum.

They’ll be fine… chock full of dementia, but fine.

Cookie Monster (AKA the greedy)

If, in these times of uncertainty, you take a gander at Cookie Monster as an elderly politician who just can’t get enough, it’s understandable. He seemingly gets everything, and when he does he just gobbles it up. Frankly, he was not a very good mentor in the first place. Sharing has never been his thing and if anyone got in his way he got super-obsessed with his quest. Lesson learned was if you want the cookies, do not let anyone stand in your way… and to make it worse, if you are the one in his way, just laugh him off. Like that ever works.

As a retiree in a group environment, clearly he cannot be trusted.

Grover (AKA the obtuse)

Grover is the one who will claim to have saved the retirement facility from a spider by setting the whole thing on fire. He’s always sure he’s doing the right thing, but rarely ever is. He will also guzzle up his retirement savings like a camel does water.

His retirement, much like my uncle’s who has never left the farm, must be very carefully monitored.

Prairie Dawn (AKA the sunny ignorant)

The Street was not kind all the time. Seemed as if when anything got too heavy, she’d pop up to lighten up the atmosphere. To me, she was the Muppet version of nonfat sour cream. It may look like a great concept, but in theory is worse for you than just taking the fat. That being said, a tiny dollop of her is a fine idea.

She’ll be at the retirement facility running the elderly Muppets through short rounds of yoga. However, Prairie Dawn? Please don’t make it Hot Yoga (see Grover).

If you think I forgot a few, I didn’t. Others came later, and to be honest I have zero tolerance for someone who can’t count without losing focus (that’s you, Count von Count), or who animates the inanimate like that’s a good thing (Zoe your pet rock is a dangerous lesson), or who has to refer to themselves in third person (I will accept it from Bo Jackson as he is bigger than me, but Elmo – that’s a no).

Happy 50th, Sesame Street. Have some cake, but don’t let Count von Count carry it.

PS Thanks Wikipedia for some of the factual information. You’re the goods and as a site with factoids provided by the general public, you are a far better source than trying to navigate anywhere using Waze. Who created that site anyway? Columbus?

PPS I spelled ‘schtupping’ correctly the first time, which probably says something about me.

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