Tears for a clown: Why boomers mourn J.P. Patches
Every year on my birthday, J.P. Patches let me down.
I got up, tuned the TV to KIRO and waited for J.P. to move over to the ICU2 TV set where he claimed to be able to see his viewers in their homes.
I didn’t think it was creepy. And I’m not sure I really believed he could see us. I just wanted to know where my present was hidden.
Maybe this is a baby boomer thing, but the person who hosted the kids show on local TV was a big part of our lives. This was way before anyone suggested TV was bad for us, and such shows were a virtual baby sitter both before and after school.
We even divided up over which host was the best. I, for example, didn’t hang around anyone who thought Captain Puget was cool. And I think only Norwegians were allowed to watch Stan Boreson. Wunda Wunda? Are you kidding? What, am I 3?
In Tacoma it was OK to like both J.P. and Brakeman Bill because Bill was local and there was a chance you knew someone in the Boy Scout or Brownie troops that made appearances there.
But mostly you were either a Patches Pal or you weren’t. There really wasn’t any point discussing it.
So all year long I’d watch J.P. (which stood for Julius Pierpont) and hear him mention a kid’s name and often suggest they look somewhere to find a hidden present. It was usually in the dryer.
Year after year I watched on my birthday. Year after year there was nothing. After a while I stopped expecting to hear my name. After a while I stopped looking in the dryer – you know, just in case.
Had my parents or siblings forgotten my birthday, which they never did, I would have been more upset. But J.P.’s neglect was almost as jarring.
As I said, the kids show was a big deal. Ask any baby boomer the name of the host in their town and they’ll remember. We didn’t realize at the time that these shows resulted from local TV stations needing cheap programming. They all seemed to follow the pattern of a clown or a cowboy or a ship captain who would show cartoons, talk to kids in the studio and, of course, peddle local products, then give way to the news.
Once the shows took off, that host was the most familiar face in town and spent a lot of time cutting ribbons at new car dealerships, promoting some new sugary food at the supermarket or leading the parade.
Then, the adults got involved and decided too much TV was harmful. Apparently it wasn’t OK to let these hosts get us to trust them and then tell us what stuff to buy – or more likely ask our parents to buy.
Soon the kids shows all were canceled. An important part our childhood was gone. We took it out on our own kids by making them watch PBS.
J.P. – actually Chris Wedes – died Sunday at age 84, and it hit a lot of boomers pretty hard. Younger folks probably wonder what the big deal is, figuring it’s just another of those things they are supposed to care about because the boomers still run the world. To them I say: Your time will come.
I’ve learned to live with the fact that there was nothing in the dryer. But the disappointment from Patches Pals must have been something he heard about a lot over the years. Last summer he made a special video for a woman that she posted on YouTube. It features him tuning in the ICU2 TV, wishing her a happy 45th birthday and advising a look in the dryer.
In the video he explained why this was the first time he’d wished her a happy birthday, even though she was a loyal viewer as a kid.
“You know why I missed her?” he said. “Because her mom didn’t send me her name. Yeah, you can blame your mom.”
Which is a relief. Most of us would much rather blame our moms than blame J.P. Patches.