Saturday, September 19, 2009

Mister Rogers, The Saturday Light Brigade & Me

My Blackberry otherwise soothing "Notifier ChiGong" alarm rattled me from brief, dreamless sleep exactly fifty-nine minutes ago.

It took a minute to get my bearings: 'You're in Vermont,' I thought. 'Time for your Saturday Light Brigade interview.'
I tiptoed around the bedroom, quietly putting on a few layers of clothes; with a dozen friends sleeping in bedrooms on every floor, I'd have to do the interview outside where the current temperature is 46°. I pulled on a cap and gloves, slipped my headphones into my ears, dialed the radio station's number, and stepped out into the crisp, morning air.

"Hello," I said, half asking. "This is Benjamin Wagner calling for my 'Mister Rogers & Me' interview."

"Oh, Benjamin!" the woman at the other end of the line said. "I was just about to call you. Good morning! May I put you on hold? We're just finishing a puzzle segment, then Larry will take a call, then he'll speak with you. Ok?"

"Ok!" I said, endeavoring to make sense through my gravelly, three hours of sleep voice.

She put me on hold where I was able to listen to the show. The host, Larry Berger, was reading a brain teaser over acoustic bluegrass music in a cadence and tone not unlike Mister Rogers himself.

"Imagine that you're in a room with only two exits. One is blocked by a thousand magnifying glasses that focus the sunlight to a super-hot ray of sunshine that will burn you alive. The other is guarded by a fire-breathing dragon that will also burn you alive. What do you do?"

He paused a second, then said, "We have Benjamin on the line. Benjamin, what would you do?"

"Oh my," I said, startled, confused and scrambling to make sense of the riddle. "G'morning, Larry! Well, I suppose I would try to make friends with the fire-breathing dragon and ask him to make an exception and let me pass."

Larry too was startled.

"I'm sorry, this is Benjamin Wagner on the phone, kids. I thought you were a listener calling in with the answer. Hello, Benjamin."

"Hello, Larry!"

"Well, Benjamin, the answer is, leave at night."

As I struggled to make sense of the riddle, Larry explained to his audience that, just as they were Mister Rogers' neighbors there in Pittsburgh and on Public Television, I was his neighbor in Nantucket. I stood looking out over the backyard, the woods, and mountains beyond just a few beats behind it all on account of the odd juxtaposition of geography and technology. Here I am in the mountains of Vermont with a radio show in my Blackberry headset speaking with a host in the basement of the Pittsburgh Children's Museum broadcasting to three states about a television icon I met in another state and time altogether.

Our conversation was brief. My explanations were simple, if a little studied from years of describing how I met Mister Rogers, how we set about making the film and fundraising to finish it. I refrained our thesis three times: Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.

And then it was over.

Afterwards, I sat on the back steps and listened to the show's next segment ("The Saturday Light Brigade is brought to you by the Pittsburgh Children's Theater production of 'Aladin & The Magic Lamp'), before quietly disconnecting.

I'm sitting in the back room overlooking the valley now. The leaves seem to be turning from pale green to a thousand shades of yellow, red, orange and brown before my very eyes. The clouds drift slowly to the east. And time marches on, just a tiny bit more meaningfully than a few minutes before.

I still think the dragon would have helped me out. As Mister Rogers used to say, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers.'"

1 comment:

Steve said...

Thanks for the fun post, Benjamin. I agree with you that the dragon could have helped you out. Or at least, it wouldn't have hurt to ask. :)