16 April

Hi ya! Hi ya! Hi ya! Froggie The Gremlin Returns To My Life, A Can Of Worms

by Jon Katz
Connections To Life

Froggie is coming back to me, in more ways than one.

I have so very few connections to my early life. Trauma and abuse have blacked most of it out for me, my mother and father are dead, my sister is the only member of my family that I speak with regularly and am connected to. I have no friends from that time,  few memories and little interest in revisiting that part of my life.

I learned in my therapy work that there is little point to going backwards and relieving what was lost, life begins anew every day, and what matters is what I am doing today, not 60 years ago.

So here, sitting in my study, staring at me, reminding me that the wheel turns or turns, is an avatar from my earliest years, a concrete figure of Froggy The Gremlin (Plunk Your Magic Twanger, Friday!) one of the mainstays of a bizarre and infamous children’s program called Andy’s Gang, starring TV and film star Andy Devine under the sponsorship of Buster Brown, the dog who lived in a shoe.

I don’t mean to complain, but the only word I can offer about my childhood is dark and terrifying. One of the brightest spots of my life, if not the brightest, was Andy’s Gang on television every Saturday morning, there were different elements on the show, including Gunga Ram and an eerie cat, but the character I loved the most was a bizarre little wise-ass frog named Froggy, he was a self-described gremlin and trouble maker.

At first, he looked odd and stupid, but he was a genuine rebel, one of the first I’d ever seen.

He could vanish in a puff of smoke, and was frequently exhorted by Devine to “Plunk Your Magic Twanger,  Froggy”, which caused him to appear in a puff of smoke, usually to taunt the stuffy grownups he humiliated by putting false words in their mouth and watching them huff and puff.

Froggy was fearless, he would take on everybody he met.

For Froggy, magic twanging meant exposing authority figures as pompous fools, and  manipulating them through some undisclosed magic into revealing themselves, to the shrieking laughter and glee of the very young children in the live studio audience. He was our Liberator.

Froggy and Daffy Duck, another wise-ass incorrigible of the time, were my favorite Saturday morning characters and I waited all week to see them. How odd to say they gave me hope, their defiance of rules and decorum thrilled me in my angry middle-class holding cell.

These were simple days, and those broadcasts were shockingly primitive by today’s standards, but also purer.

They were irreverent, perhaps reflecting the outcast Hollywood writers – many of them intensely political – who wrote for those shows. In the pre-corporate era, writers could get a way with irreverence, they could go up the line, and once in a while, go over it. That was the magic of Froggy, a liberating figure to kids like me, trapped in small and miserable lives.

To my parents, he was just a stupid frog puppet. To me, he was Thomas Paine.

Imagine today if some character appeared on commercial television to show off his “Magic Twanger,” Twitter would light up like a Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, and Congress would melt down with hypocritical outrage (some things never change.).

We were young, but we got the innuendo, one of the reasons we all laughed so hard. I knew exactly what plunking a Magic Twanger meant. Froggy was a secret signal to me to be subversive, to undercut the Puritanical and mindless austerity with which we grew up in the 1950’s, when rock and roll was considered the world of the devil, and Elvis a spawn of Satan.

In my young life, that was culture, that was all we had until we figured out how to secretly listen to Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry.

This was our culture before cable TV, smartphones, online gaming, Facebook, Snap Chat, Reddit and Instagram. You will never hear me clucking about kids today, they are smart and engaged and free in a way I could only dream about. I believe they will save our world – look at the Parkland, Florida, kids, help is coming.

My generation, which is so happy to trash talk the young, failed miserably at saving the world or making it more peaceful and compassionate.  Compassionate has died as a national idea, invoked only by hypocrites and greedy opportunists. It will return, that is part of the wheel too.

The discovery of my old, painted concrete Froggy at Outback Jack’s antiques and collectibles the other day has shaken me up, opened me up, and brought me a long ways back to a time I had pushed deep down in my consciousness. I had forgotten about Froggy, now he is a concrete ghost, staring at me just a few feet away with those bug eyes, laughing at my posturing and musings.

I didn’t even recognize Froggy when I first  saw him sitting on Jack Metzger’s porch.Normally I would not be interested in a painted old concrete frog, not even a big one with a tuxedo bow tie. I wonder what Fate had in mind when she saw him first and growled, calling him to my attention.

But something roared up inside of me and told me I had to bring him home, I had to have him near me, even if I didn’t know why. I know why now.

He was important to me once, and is important to me again. I haggled for an hour with Jack, he knew I was going to get that frog.

I admit he has stirred up some bad stuff as well, that’s the danger of going backwards, it is a can of worms sometimes, a Pandora’s Bos. But Froggy will make a good muse for me, I look at him when I sit down, and I feel all sorts of emotions I have not felt in many years. For a writer, that’s a gift.

Tonight, seeing Froggy in his corner in shadow, I can see  him dancing back and forth, full of glee and mischief and subversion, I can hear him saying hello to me in the morning, “Hi ya!, Hi ya!, Hi ya!,”


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