Sometimes writing a weekly column is like being a cast regular on “Roseanne.” Or like scoring a walk-on part on “Gilligan’s Island,” or being one of those dorks with feathered hair and a neck chain on “Three’s Company,” but during the late seasons, after Chrissy has gone off to become a brain surgeon or whatever.
Get your hand away from that clicker, channel-surfer, I have a point to make here.
Five or six years ago, I walked into a party of strangers only to be accosted by a drunk guy sitting alone at a table. “Oh, here comes that #@@!$# column-writing #@%$!! from the $#@@#$! newspaper,” he snarled, stringing together an insult so filthy, the smoke alarms went off.
We got to talking about my #[email protected]#@!! column and the drunk guy — whose breath alone was enough to make Milwaukee famous — put forth the opinion that I had jumped the shark.
You know the concept. Back in the early 1980s, the creators of “Happy Days” were so desperate to regain their earlier glory that they sent the Fonz out to the beach to jump a shark on water skis, sort of like he had jumped all those barrels back at Arnold’s but not nearly as cool.
So there’s the once-great Fonz, on the beach wearing a leather coat, boots and black socks, trying to convince the viewing public that he was still cool in spite of the fact that he’s on the beach with, you know: black socks and a leather coat.
The sight of Fonzie riding on water skis and trying to jump a shark cage became the ultimate symbol of desperation, the entertainment equivalent of a Hail Mary. And my new drunk friend was of the opinion that I had done this very thing by writing a windy column about my view from the clock tower above Lewiston City Hall.
It really was a nerdy column and I distinctly remember wearing black socks when I wrote it.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had jumped the shark, not once, but many times during the roughly 100 years I’ve been writing this column. Those eighth, ninth and 10th pieces I wrote about the mysterious street-wanderer known as The Magic Man? Why, that’s a lot like the “Six Million Dollar Man” graduating from bad guys and going off to fight Sasquatch, isn’t it? And if that wasn’t shark-jumpy enough, ol’ Steve Austin was then presented with a love interest in the form of a bionic Jaime Sommers with her six million dollars … But let’s move on.
At least once each summer I write about the thrills of draining the Lewiston canals and when you get right down to it, isn’t that a lot like Sam Malone trying to impregnate Kirstie Alley? The bawdy flirting is over, the relationship has blossomed and become mundane and now there’s nothing to do but write increasingly inane scenes involving Rebecca Howe’s reproductive cycles.
Or, you know. About the rusty shopping carts and old bikes found in the canals.
I once wrote an entire column about the travels of a Lewiston street cat, and isn’t that akin to “The Brady Bunch” bringing in Cousin Oliver because the Brady kids are all grown up and not cute anymore?
I wrote about the horrors of the ice cream trucks and tried to follow it up with a piece about the horrors of the flea market. But that’s like trying to replace Radar O’Reilly with Klinger, Trapper John with Winchester or Fox Mulder with that really boring guy whose name I never did catch.
I used to write about my battles with a local city manager, and then the city manager left and I was like Archie Bunker after Meathead moved to California and all that was left was some dumb girl who wasn’t even funny.
Sometimes I try to change my style completely, ditching the rambling, inane voice with one that’s serious and somber. And that, my friends, is the newspaper column equivalent of Dan and Roseanne Conner winning the lottery, becoming different people and then announcing that it was all a work of fiction to begin with.
I hope I didn’t just spoil the ending to “Roseanne” for anybody.
“Little House on the Prairie” was on for eight years before they jumped the shark by allowing Laura to grow up. “Scrubs” made it nine years before everybody got pregnant and the laughs stopped coming. “Frasier” was great for five or six years before Niles finally bagged Daphne and then what was the point? “The Golden Girls” …
But you get the idea. The point is I’ve been writing this column for 11 years and I still wear black socks at the beach. I’m like Gilligan and his idiot friends, failing to get off the island time and time again in spite of being sent boats, a spaceship, a jet pack and a packet labeled “How to Get Off the Island.”
I’m a lot like Blanche Devereaux, when you get right down to it. Although that’s mostly just a hairstyle thing.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer, and that’s like replacing Seymour Hersh (look it up) with Kent Brockman. Email Mark at [email protected]