Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sesame Street? Give me the City Dump

Sesame Street turns 40 today, eh? So Google tells me, anyway. Is there no end to notable 40th anniversaries this year? Obviously, 1969 was a year of consequence, more than just the summer of Bryan Adams' first wet dream. I was 7 when Sesame Street rolled onto the scene and a bit too old to really get into it (by that point, I was more into superhero cartoons and just starting to grow out of my J.P. Patches phase). But who am I kidding? I never grew out of my love for the world of J.P. Patches, as god awful as it may have been. Awfully good, that is.

For those of you who didn't grow up in the Seattle/Puget Sound area in the 60's or 70's, you're not likely to be familiar with J.P Patches. Let me enlighten you.

J.P. was a tramp/clown played by Chris Wedes who presided as "Mayor of the City Dump," a world that was vaguely Sesame Street-like, in its own low-rent way. The show took place almost exclusively at the same, single-set location (appropriately made to look like the grimy corner of a city dump). J.P. held court there, showing us cartoons and interacting with the wacky gaggle of heroes ("The Swami of Pastrami"), villains ("Boris S. Wart!"), lovers (J.P.'s "girlfriend" Gertrude the Clown), and friends ("Ketchikan the Animal Man") who rounded out this alternate universe of magic and filth.

Except for J.P., virtually all of the characters on the show - whether they be male, female, human or otherwise - were played by Bob Newman wrapped in sundry cheesy, cheap costumes and bad vocal gymnastics. So of course, J.P. could only interact with one at a time since Mr. Newman didn't have a twin or clone and was thus bound by the laws of physics (and trapped in a time and with a budget that did not allow for even the most primitive of special effects).

Wedes and Newman, both now in their eighties, made an appearance last year to witness the unveiling of twin bronze statues of their alter egos on the 50th anniversary of the show's debut (that's them at the ceremony on the left). Of course, these two are still regulars at county fairs, supermarket grand openings and pretty much any other public gathering you can imagine, almost always in full costume (though Newman confines himself to playing just Gertrude these days). The end of the show on television merely meant that they were freed up to take the act on the road up and down the highways and byways of the Great Northwest.

When I was a kid, J.P. was on for an hour and a half on weekday mornings before school and again for an hour in the afternoon. And he popped up for still more on Saturdays. Jeez, that's a lot of show! His morning time slot led up to the national Captain Kangaroo program, but I never got into the Captain all that much. Too polished for my taste, I'm guessing. J.P. was raw, the production values non-existent, with "acting" that would make Keanu Reeves proud. I mentioned that it was a lot of show? Well, it took a City Dump's worth of bullshit to fill up all that air time and the dynamic duo of Wedes and Newman could shovel it steaming and thick while still making you want for more.

Despite - or perhaps because of - all the cheese and really, really, really bad costumes, the world J.P. Patches and crew created seemed very real to me as a young boy. And actual honest-to-goodness people stopped by "The City Dump" nearly every episode to reinforce the suspension of disbelief: local scout troops, CBS Seattle affiliate news and weather personalities, local politicians, national celebrities that happened to be in town, etc. All were welcomed to the Dump by His Honor, that ultimate clown prince of bums. (With apologies to Chaplin, his Little Tramp wouldn't even rate a meal from J.P.'s trashcan, fuckin' silent English twit.)

So, it's not their anniversary or anything, but when I think of Sesame Street, my mind turns to J.P. Patches.

For those interested in more, and aren't satisfied by Wikipedia's entry, visit the J.P. Patches home page.

For those who are baffled by this post, well - ya hadda be there, I guess.