Armagideon Time

Sit on it

June 15th, 2012

Thanks to the content singularity basic cable has become, tuberculosis it is now possible to spend one’s entire day watching nothing but repeats of Happy Days.

That does beg the question “Why would one want to watch nothing but Happy Days repeats?” A vaild inquiry, to be sure, but one which neglects the fact that the former sitcom darling of ABC’s prime time schedule is an astoundingly multifaceted subject for retrological study.

The show was the product of late 1960s/early 1970s nostalgia for a softened and romanticized iteration of the 1950s — long on poodle skirts, hot rods and doo wop, while short on crushing social conformity, institutionalized racism and red-bating paranoia — which also gave us things like Sha Na Na, Grease, and American Grafitti. Much like the coterminous “prairie chic” phenomenon (think Little House, Gunne Sax fashions, and Holly Hobby), it was a sentiment that responded to recent socio-cultural uhheaveals by hearking back to a perceived-if-not-actually “simpler” time.

In the case of Happy Days, what began as a slightly risque (and spun out of a Love, American Style segment) coming-of-age story about a geeky midwestern teen trying get laid mutated under the pressures of its own success into a popcult religion for the kiddie-to-tweener set. Attention to period detail soon fell by the wayside, leaving a bizarre anarchronistic stew of remedial 1950s nostalgia filtered through the schmaltzy, socially conscious lens of a 1970s sitcom propped up by the astronomical popularity of a supporting character thrust into the foreground.

Before Urkel, before Spike, before River Song, there was the Fonz, the hawg-riding hoodlum even your grandma could love. The reasons why the viewing public latched their affections on the family friendly “King of Cool” are less important than the unforgiving nature of the commercial entertainment industry, which dictates that any success must be milked until the udders squirt blood…and then milked for a couple additional seasons after that.

If the original premise of Happy Days was lost or the quality of the content took a nosedive as a result of the rush to capitalize on Fonz-a-mania, that decision was more than validated by show’s consistently high ratings and flood of merchandising revenue. Puerility can sometimes be a virtue, especially when the kiddies are your driving demographic.

I’ve mentioned this in a few previous posts, but it is difficult to describe just how huge Happy Days was to the tots of my generation. Multi-episode arcs like Fonzie’s bus stunt, the demoltion derby with Pinky Tuscadero and the Malachi Brothers and, yes, even the infamous shark jump were the stuff of playground and cafeteria line legend. From eight-year olds trying to look slick in plain white t-shirts to the mass rush to get library cards in order to better emulate our idol, the “Fonzie effect” was a very real and widespread phenomenon.

As a result, watching these old Happy Days episodes has made me feel like a lapsed Catholic attending his first mass in twenty-five years — that disconcerting resurfacing of long-dormant yet indelible memories I’d long since shoved to the furthest corners of my subsconsciousness. It has also rekindled my childhood bewilderment about one very specific component of the Happy Days universe…

…namely the mirror in the Fonz’s apartment.

I puzzled over it when I was seven years old and I’m still puzzling over it today.

What the hell is up with that thing? Why does it look like a guillotine crossed with a British toilet? Why is painted the same hue as the LNG tankers which used to dock on the Everett side of the Mystic River? What’s the deal with the symmetrically placed coathooks near the top, and why to they look like they’re throwing Ronnie James Dio-style “devil horns?”

I lived around enough older relatives in my lifetime to have seen my fair share of odd and unusual home furnishings, but none of them — including the contents of my third cousin’s ancient farmhouse in rural Maine — have come close to resembling that nightmarish excuse for a vanity table.

My preliminary hypothesis that the Fonz — being a working class stiff with limited means — plucked from a junkyard or curbside pile on garbage day was shattered when I caught the episode where he moved into the Cunninghams’ garage and the mirror was already there. Creepy.

Based on this new evidence, I’m now leaning toward the notion that the mirror is actually an eldrich artifact which uses the energy from Chuck Cunningham’s trapped soul to empower the Fonz’s mystical ability to control Arnold’s jukebox and the wills of Milwaukee’s female population.

I never though I’d type this, but this is one of the times where I wish the Happy Days/Laverne and Shirley/Joanie Loves Chachi/Mork and Mindy/Blansky’s Beauties canon had been as meticulously annotated as that of the Star Wars universe. If that were the case, my curiousity could be slaked by a quick read of the eight-volume Fonz’s Mirror “trilogy” of novels.

Recommended listening: As it turns out, the Fonz’s mirror is only the second-most unfathomable thing to emerge from the Happy Days phenomenon.

There are deeper mysteries, children. Questions which defy all attempts at explanation. To ponder them is to descend into the screaming vortex of primoridal madness from which no soul may emerge intact.

You have been warned.

16 Responses to “Sit on it”

  1. David

    It’s an antique hall stand. My grandmother and several other elderly relatives used to have them — albeit not painted that hideous institutional green color. They came in all kinds of strange configurations:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=hall+stand+mirror&hl=en&safe=active&prmd=imvns&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=TozbT77wA-ru2gWA6YC0CA&ved=0CJwBEPwFKAE&biw=1120&bih=620

  2. bitterandrew

    Huh!

    (I’m going to stick with the horrible mystic artifact explanation in my fanfic, though.)

  3. Mike Zeidler

    Yeah, it was probably a grandparent’s hall stand that Howard painted up with remaindered paint from the hardware store so that if Chuck* wanted to move into the apartment they’d have a place to hang their coats.

    *or a rental tenant, in case another economic downturn came around.

  4. Pete

    David’s discovery does not necessarily mitigate Andrew’s theory. Chuck’s tormented spirit could very well be haunting said hall stand, And, in addition to granting Fonzie the abilities mentioned above, this future bit of inventory from the Curious Goods antique shoppe could have very well been the thing that enabled him to travel through time from the ’50’s to the 70’s soley to teach the Sweathogs how to dance.

    I do have one question, though; I VAGUELY remember watching Blansky’s Beauties as a kid but don’t recall just how it was connected to Happy Day’s. Where exactly was the bridge constructed?

    BTW, anyone else remember “Out Of The Blue”?

  5. damanoid

    I admit, I was more troubled by the giant poster of James Dean that Fonzie seemed to worship and occasionally spoke to for guidance. As a kid, I had no idea who this person was supposed to be. Also, I had already absorbed the vague notion that keeping pictures of other guys on the bedroom wall was not quite typical behavior for such an apparently committed skirt-chaser.

    Then there was the time that Henry Winkler guest-starred on the Great Space Coaster, sort of in character but not really, where he offered an instructively explicit demonstration of what the euphemism “Sit on it” really meant.

    Centuries from now, when my tannin-cured carcass is dredged from a peat bog and my shrivelled brain tissue is scanned for the data it contains, scientists of the future will be treated to the memory of Henry Winkler playfully threatening to anally violate Goriddle Gorilla with his thumb.

  6. bitterandrew

    Pete,

    Nancy Walker’s character had made an appearance as Mr. C’s cousin from Vegas, which was set up in a Happy Days episode right before the show’s debut.

    They never did explain how she didn’t apparently age between 1950-something and 1977, though.

  7. Monzo

    “Chuck’s tormented spirit could very well be haunting said hall stand, And, in addition to granting Fonzie the abilities mentioned above, this future bit of inventory from the Curious Goods antique shoppe could have very well been the thing that enabled him to travel through time from the ’50′s to the 70′s soley to teach the Sweathogs how to dance.”

    Wait, what?

  8. bitterandrew

    Monzo:

    You did ignore my warnings and click the link at the end of the “recommended listening” part, right?

  9. Pete

    Thanks Andrew. Perhaps Nancy Walker used the hall stand as well. I’m beginning to think “The Annotated Happy Days” would not be such a bad idea.

    BTW, I’ve been watching the Happy Days marathons on The Hub alot as of late, and your really hit the nail on the head when you described how the whole experience can effect someone of our generation who’s seeing again after decades of not. It’s all very comforting and unsettleing, all at once.

    I’m watching alot of Laverne And Shriley, too, and I’m noticing that alot of the re-runs The Hub is airing are from the 8th (and I believe final) season, which very well may be the single most depressing season of any TV show (despite Jack Mack And The Heart Attack’s awsome-in-my-opinion take on “Higher And Higher”).

  10. Snark Shark

    “Why would one want to watch nothing but Happy Days repeats?”

    Because it’s better than watching nothing but Too Close for Comfort repeats?

    ” and why to they look like they’re throwing Ronnie James Dio-style “devil horns?””

    even antique furniture loves DIO! 😀

  11. Jonny Smith

    The mirror was also featured on an episode of Love American Style: Love and the Lie with Loretta Swit (MASH). I suspect this mirror made the rounds in the prop department and eventually ended up as Fonzie’s.

  12. bitterandrew

    That’s pretty amazing…and makes a lot of sense.

    Someone needs to make that hall stand an IMDB page.

  13. Jeff

    I saw the holly grail in person about 10 years ago. My wife and I took a paramout studio tour which included a tour thru the Prop room/building….and wouldn’t you know it, there it sat. The tour guide pointed it out and it had been repainted a dark color to be used in another production. I have to say it instantly brought me back to the 5th grade and why I loved my jean jacket so much. I felt like I saw a celebrity. It was COOOOL!

  14. Rik

    I just saw it in a 1973 TV movie called “The Devil’s Daughter” which was (coincidentally?) a Miller/Milkis/Paramount production. It’s prominently displayed in the background of a scene between Belinda Montgomery and devil-worshipping Shelley Winters (!) with the reflection of original Barnabas Collins Jonathon Frid (!!!) as Shelley’s mute manserveant displayed in it. It’s at 37:45 to 38:10 in this YouTube version:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXJAzCa-Qb4

  15. Greg McKee

    I am watching “The Green Mile” and there is a mirror similar to Fonzie’s in one scene where Tom Hanks arrives at home after being “helped” by John Coffee…the mirror is in Hank’s character’s house. Interesting thing that mirror…..

  16. Bruce

    About the green mirror . . . The pilot episode of Happy Days, Love And The Television Set, was aired as an episode of Love American Style. Now here’s the weird part – that green mirror is also seen in a Love American Style episode titled Love And The Sensuous Twin. I just happened to see both episodes back to back!

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