I was probably 9 years old when I travelled down to Clearwater, Florida, for a summer vacation with my Great Aunt Della, my Great Uncle Biffo and my cousin Cheryl. It was probably the closest I ever got to “summer camp” but it wasn’t really all that bad because that was the summer that I fell in love with the girl in the white, green and red floral-patterned bikini. She was probably no older than 19 and she was captivating, which was baffling because I knew that I was supposed to be catching lizards, feeding seagulls, building sandcastles and generally being a little boy. But somehow all I could do was look forward to seeing the girl in the bikini showering herself off outside our window after a swim in the warm Gulf waters. It didn’t hurt that she’d save a friendly smile for me…
In between my trysts at the window with Bikini Girl I was a traveling man. One day we’d go to the local radio station for a tour, the next we’d head down to the marina to see what people were catching. I still remember the time we went to the local auction house to watch a lot of old stuff being auctioned off and I still remember Aunt Della’s frazzled frustration at my tendency to make a bid attempt every time that the auctioneer offered an incremental price increase. Of course we were never in danger of actually winning as the auctioneer wisely chose to ignore my shouted bids, and I’m fairly sure that everyone could tell that Aunt Della was frugal.
Some would say “cheap” but frugal is much kinder and captures her spirit more appropriately. A young adult during the depression, Aunt Della knew how to stretch a dime and one of her favorite tricks was going to the Nilly Noo Sto. It helps to understand that Aunt Della had what I call the “royal Southern accent” which ends up sounding more British than anything else. In middle-American English you’d have pronounced that place as the “Nearly New Store”, which was essentially a Salvation Army outlet. As I grew older it was a little embarrassing to know that she liked to shop there and I never shared the enthusiasm that a lot of my college friends did when they’d talk about shopping at the discount recyclers because for them it was a lark, for me it was a part of family history.
But if at any time in my life I was ashamed of Aunt Della, it has well and truly departed me because I now realize the value of shopping there. Case in point? The paperback book “Max Smart and the Perilous Pellets”, a riveting tale of espionage, intrigue and my first introduction to the work of Mel Brooks through the pen of writer William Johnston, found in a Clearwater Nilly Noo Sto.
I recall the incredible joy I felt after escaping to the world of Agents 86 and 99 as they travelled around the world in their atomic-powered helicopter with their pilot Lance Chalfont, silent birdman…
“Bail out!” Lance Chalfont screamed. “Hit the silk!”
“Isn’t that a little loud for a silent birdman?” Max commented.
“I panic easy,” Lance Chalfont replied, regaining his calm. “But it don’t last. Once that first panic is passed, I get like a rock.”
“Strong and sturdy, you mean.”
“No, I mean I can’t swim. I sink like a rock.”
You see? Genius. To a little boy anyway.
That book was one of the cornerstones of my concept of comedy; the running gag, the pun, general wordplay, crosstalk and nonsense. Like when Max finds himself subjected to the terrifying lie detector machine created by KAOS’ infamous The Professor.
“Now, here’s your first question. If there are fourteen apples in a dozen, and you bake twelve of the apples into a cherry pie, how long is a piece of string?”
Max puzzled for a moment. “A long piece of string or a short piece of string?”
“It doesn’t make any difference,” The Professor replied. “What is your answer?”
“A peach pie,” Max replied.
I know, it’s pretty wince-inducing, but it was fantastic material for a young, bored mind and over the years I’ve re-read the book on the odd occasion. Naturally, the re-reads weren’t as entertaining as my first time through the book but every re-read has brought along a bit of nostalgia for the show, the characters, the age in which it was aired and the people who were around at that time, who are no longer with us.
All of those feelings converged one day several weeks ago when I decided to find, purchase and read an issue of every Max Smart paperback ever published. The books came flying in from every corner of America… Ohio, South Dakota, Montanna, Washington (DC), Tennessee and Hawaii.
I haven’t read them just yet, but I will… even if they’re not as scintillating now as they might’ve been some 30 odd years ago. Wouldn’t you?
Let me put it to you this way:
“If beetles are bugs, and the Beatles are boys, how many boy beetles does it take to bug a Beatle boy until he boils?”
Comedy Silver. I love it.
[tags]Max, Smart, Max Smart, Agent, 86, 99, Agent 86, Agent 99, KAOS, CONTROL, Get Smart, get, smart, perilous, pellets, lance, chalfont, silent, birdman, fling, flung[/tags]