Baby, You’re the Greatest!

Discovering something new at the right time in your life is a kind of harmonic convergence. The planets weren’t aligned when I took my first sip of coffee (I was three — yuckie!) listened to the Mahler Five (twenty-two) or read Olivia Manning’s “Balkan Trilogy” (thirty-five.) With age came discernment, thank God. I mean to say:life without coffee?

We’re the kind of annoying people who say “We don’t watch much television.” Part of it is geographic — our one set, aka The Jumbotron — lives upstairs, so watching a show or a movie is a choice. We won’t pay for cable, and until we sprung for The Jumbotron last fall, we could pull in only one network station, no matter how much we wiggled the attic antenna. Digital technology allows us to, (OMG!), pull in all the free channels ,with crystalline reception and that big badass picture. PBS cooking shows! Tennis finals! The Olympics! And that’s about it, except for the network news at 10:00. Yeah, we’re wild and crazy kids. I’ve yet to see episode one of, say, CSI, whether Miami or Moose Jaw.

Because I don’t think Dave, Jay and what’s his name are remotely entertaining, and I had a half hour wait before BBC News (Yeah, I know, but I’m not a foguette, honest) I decided to run the channels one night. Except for the late Olympic wrap-up on NBC the last week or so, I’ve had a steady date with a fat blowhard every night since.

Oh, thank heavens I met, at last, Ralph and Alice and Norton! (Trixie too, but she doesn’t get much screen-time.)”The Honeymooners” has to be over fifty years old, and it shows its age — in a good way.It may be the only place a modern kid will ever see an icebox, or a housewife in heels. When Alice and Trixie go to a double feature (before my time) they stop to don a perky hat. Your buddy and you belong to a Lodge, and the sight of Ralph and Norton in their ritual Raccoon hats makes me giggle every time.

I’d heard forever about how politically incorrect “The Honeymooners” is. Well, yeah, Ralph expects his dinner on the table the minute he comes home, and barely removes his bus-driver cap before he tucks in. (Norton was way ahead of his time — he never takes off his beat-up fedora indoors, like our sons and grandsons in their backward baseball caps.) Yes, Ralph regulary threatens to send Alice “To the moon!” but he never does. (And humor is funniest when it’s not PC, as everyone from Jonathan Swift to Chris Rock have proved.)

It took me a week to understand the running joke: Alice always wins. Every, every time. Ralph isn’t the smartest raccoon in the woods, and Gleason brings such brainless braggadocio and bombast to the part that I wait breathlessly for the (beautiful) Audrey Meadows to cut him down a few sizes. And why did I never know how funny Art Carney could be? He’s the breeziest, most scene-stealing second banana in the history of television.

Talk about cheap: one room set, maybe two costume changes per character. Talk about cheerful — I’m guaranteed at least eight giggles and three full-out LOLs every episode. And talk about timing — you need those endorphins as you slog through a Midwestern winter that feels as long as Dubya’s administration. To paraphrase Ralph, as he says at the end of every episode as he engulfs Alice in an embrace, “Honeymooners, you’re the best!”

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