I couldn’t tell you what the dreams of comic actor Bob “Gilligan” Denver might have been. Maybe he wanted to get into feature films, maybe he wanted to be taken seriously as an actor. Or maybe he was pleased to have carved two comic personas onto whatever firmament exists in television history.
Two, because Denver’s “Gilligan” character was preceded on the tube by Maynard G. Krebs, a “beatnik” pal of Dobie Gillis and (our own state senator Sheila Kuehl as) Zelda Gilroy in “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” which aired on CBS from 1959 to 1963.
Denver’s “Maynard” was a joke on the beatnik culture, but since Maynard was in every episode of “Dobie Gillis,” he represented and defended the beat ethos even while his character was played for clown value. Growing up in Wisconsin, I didn’t get to hear Ginsberg read “Howl!” But I knew Maynard was a silly version of something that was happening where people were cool and writing poetry and talking about writers by name. Maynard wasn’t Kerouac, but he helped me get to Jack’s books.
Still, there was the clown aspect. Maynard would drop by the store run by Dobie’s father, Herbert T. Gillis (the show had some fixation on middle initials), looking for Dobie. Inevitably, the elder Gillis would offer Maynard some paying work, such as sweeping up the store. “Work!?!” Maynard would yelp, and recoil. The audience laughed because a beatnik doing work was comical.
My father would invoke Maynard’s “work” cry whenever we balked at doing household chores. But I could also hear him faintly in the background last week as the cities devastated by Katrina moved into a second phase, that of planning what would be done about the physical destruction and rebuilding.
America has been postponing infrastructure questions, and the levee collapse in New Orleans is a resonant bugle sounding time for action. Of course, to do the work that needs doing in your own backyard requires money and resources that might be involved elsewhere. Will it occur to enough people in a short enough time span that the job of “nation building” might include our own nation?
Ostensibly we’re in Iraq to bring liberty and freedom. That’s what we’ve been hearing. But the images from New Orleans have engendered the distinct feeling that not all Americans share in those precious gifts right here at home. If poverty condemns entire generations of working and tax paying Americans to a check-to-check existence reducible to mere survival by one weather event and some criminally negligent public works decisions, then, for them and us, where is that liberty and freedom? Have we won the war at home?
Perhaps that work has been postponed because the awesome scope and depth of what needs to be done causes us to reel like Maynard, who had a good philosophy of how things should be but then ran when the broom was handed to him.
We might be forgiven that kind of avoidance. But it’s another thing entirely to speak of “shining cities on a hill” (Ronald Reagan) or to bail out your friends’ savings and loan plundering (Bush the father) or to burn through $186 million per day on a war instigated on lies (Bush the son)… knowing all the while you were ignoring work that needed to be done. Maynard might have avoided work, but at least he operated from the position that there was one America, not two.
This Week’s “Know Your News” Quiz
1) The governor has plans to allow
(a) tribal casinos in Barstow.
(b) gambling in malls and schools.
(c) anything, anywhere, any time.
2) State officials have approved sale of
(a) wax lips before Halloween.
(b) winter gas for summer use.
(c) winter nuts to summer squirrels.
3) A carpool lane on the north 405 may be
(a) funded by a bill in January.
(b) named after Ed Begley Jr.
(c) used to sell oranges and flowers.
1) (a) “Gambling helps children…”
2) (b) “Emissions help children…”3) (a) “Traffic helps children…”