Friday, January 16, 2015

The Adventures of Letterman (In memory of my mother, Linda Lee Maxwell)

Erik's mother passed away on Tuesday, January 13. So we are reprinting a column he wrote in 1997 about one of his favorite memories of his mother, learning, and cartoons.

As a father, I worry about things I never did as a bachelor, and instead think as a parent: Are the kids healthy? Are we feeding them right? Is that Barney the Purple Dinosaur on TV?

I also worry that my daughters are going to start dating earlier than I want (about 40 years too early), or that she is going to make me known across the world as "the father of the biggest serial killer in the entire world," or worst of all, marry an accountant.

When I was a child, my biggest concern was that I didn't miss Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. My baby sister and I watched them every day. But we never, ever missed The Electric Company.

My favorite segment was the Adventures of Letterman. Letterman, voiced by Gene Wilder, was a literary superhero whose costume was a leather football helmet and varsity letterman's sweater. And the letter on his sweater would be the very letter featured in the Electric Company episode. I could never get over the serendipity of it all.

Letterman's nemesis was the evil villain, SpellBinder, who looked like Boris from the Bullwinkle show, and was voiced by Zero Mostel. Spellbinder liked to change items into other items by using his magic wand to change a letter or two in the word — light into night, pickle into tickle. Many of these items had captions, telling the viewer what they were.

In one episode, a container of French fries had the word "snack" above it. One unlucky man sat down at the table, ready to enjoy his "snack" of fries. But Spellbinder had other plans. He zapped his magic wand, changing the "snack" into a. . . "SNAKE!"

The snake wrapped itself around the poor man, and he squeaked out a choked "help," as Spellbinder chuckled evilly. (I never figured out Spellbinder's real goal, but he seemed to enjoy himself.) It seemed the victim's cries would go unheard, but wait! One person did hear: Letterman!

"Faster than a rolling O, more powerful than a silent E, able to leap a capital T in a single bound, it's a bird, it's a plan, it's LETTERMAN!" the narrator, Joan Rivers, shouted. Letterman was attending Calvin Klein University this week, because he sported a 'CK' on his varsity sweater.

But Spellbinder was ready for him. Not only was the snake big enough to crush one helpless victim, he wrapped himself around Letterman too.

"Oh no, what will happen to our literary hero?!" my sister would shout. Actually, she made gurgly noises and pooped in her diaper, because she was a year old, but I knew what she meant.

Letterman wasn't the brightest bulb in the box, so it didn't immediately occur to him that his salvation was on his own chest. But soon, inspiration struck, and he acted.

Joan Rivers said, "Tearing the 'CK' from his varsity sweater, and placing it over the 'KE', he changes the snake. . . back into a snack!!"

This was the coolest thing ever, so I told my mom I wanted to be Letterman. She cut out a few letters — two M's, an L, and an O — and taped three of them to the wall, spelling LOM. She taped the other M to my chest.

Spellbinder had changed my mom into a LOM! I didn't know what that was, but it was nasty — purple and green, with tentacles and eyes growing out of its neck. My mother, always willing to play along with my insanity, even did Joan Rivers' part.

I coached her on her lines for several minutes, so when she started shouting, "faster than a rolling O, stronger than a silent E, able to leap capital T in a single bound!" I raced from the kitchen into the living room, chest puffed out to show off the "M" emblazoned on (taped to) my varsity sweater (Kool-Aid stained t-shirt).

"It's a bird, it's a plan, IT'S LETTERMAN!"

I did the rest of my narration: "Tearing the 'M' from his varsity sweater, Letterman places it over the 'L', changing the Lom back into Mom!"

I had saved the day, the city, and my house. My mom clapped and cheered, and thanked me profusely, assuring me she was very happy to no longer be a Lom.

Which was good for me, because Lom's don't give cookies to their sons.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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