Thanksgiving, right? I should list all the things I'm thankful for (my health, my home, my friends, the cats, beloved beagle and, of course, Janie), I could reminisce about holidays past, I could do any number of things.
Or I could tell a story I've told before.
Because this is November 24th, the day when, twenty-three years ago, a scrappy UHF station in Minneapolis first broadcast a crudely-produced program entitled Mystery Science Theater 3000, a vehicle for local comedian made good Joel Hodgson. The premise was simple: Hodgson played a guy trapped in space, forced by his evil overlords to watch terrible movies. He did, with the help of his two robot pals, and the three of them would crack wise all through the movie.
Simple, and potentially awful. But somehow, MST3K (which got a lot better than that original intro would suggest)transcended its simple premise, ultimately running for ten seasons on two different cable channels, and bearing a profound influence on the world of comedy. It has provided its fans with an alternate way of looking at the world, has encouraged, in its small way, its viewers to never accept what is given to them, to talk back, to question. And it has provided comfort.
As on that Wednesday night, when I stumbled home dead tired from working late. When I got to my apartment, I found numerous messages on my answering machine from my sister Ann, informing me that Mom was in the hospital. Finally, a message from Mom herself, assuring me that she was okay, I could call her or stop by to see her, but she understood if I was busy.
I went up to see her. She'd fallen, and had...never mind. You don't need to know the details. The point is, she looked so small, so fragile, so...mortal. But she was still Mom, and we talked, though her voice was weak. "Have you eaten yet?" she asked, always more concerned about others than herself. No, I said, I'd probably just go home and have a pizza. "Oh, yes, it's Wednesday, isn't it? Are you going to watch an MST?" (She was, obviously, aware of my weekly ritual.) Yeah, maybe, I said, but I can stay here. "No," she said. "I have to watch Lost."
So I went home, fired up the pizza and the VCR and chose an episode of MST to watch. I hadn't seen the episode where they mock Roger Corman's Gunslinger in awhile, so that's what I picked, completely at random. Halfway through the show, there's this sketch:
I thought nothing of it, or any of the other odd reminders of mortality in this particular episode. Why would I? It's not like Mom was dying or anything. I enjoyed the episode, laughed myself silly, and went to bed.
The next morning, Ann called early. Someone from the hospital had let her know it would be a good idea to get up there and see Mom. Wait, what? She just fell. How could that lead to...to...Dear God, no.
If you've spent any time at this site, you know what happened, since this space was originally conceived as a way of working through my grief. The days after her death were spent dealing with the usual things, but it was funny. She died on a Thursday, the funeral was the following Monday...but by Tuesday, I felt cried out. I didn't want to be sad anymore.
So I turned again to MST3K, and it did the trick. I laughed, and it was as though my whole world hadn't changed, as if things would be okay again. It reminded me that there was still joy in the world, and that life, not unlike Celine Dion's heart, would go on.
When I think of my favorite TV shows of all time, I think of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or Columbo, or Wiseguy or Batman: The Animated Series or The Simpsons or so many more. But I never think to include Mystery Science Theater 3000 on that list, because, no matter what the theme song says, it's never been just a show. It's part of my life.