Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Magic Pee Wee Suit

By Jim Reed

After many decades of living, loving, and getting by, I’ve come to the conclusion that everybody feels cool at least once in a lifetime–maybe even a few times in a lifetime, for the lucky ones.

Coolness is a state of mind, which means that you may feel cool to yourself, but you have no idea how you might look ridiculous–uncool–to others.

There’s the time in my life when I owned and wore an exact replica of the Pee Wee Herman suit–you know, his trademark outfit–which consisted of this form-fitting neatly pressed narrow-lapeled suit complete with white dress shirt and bow tie. In my case, I wore the obligatory Mad Men thin necktie. Also, in my case, I wore black wing-tip dress shoes instead of Pee Wee’s white loafers. But in all other respects, I looked like Pee Wee Herman. I was skinny as a rail, still had my hair, wore hornrimmed glasses, and thought the coolest thing in the world was my then-fashionable suit.

You might have guessed by now a couple of things:

1. This was back in the 1960s, long before Paul Reubens had ever conceived of Pee Wee and his suit, so in essence, Pee Wee wore an exact duplicate of my suit, rather than the other way around.

2. This was the era of Mad Men, when we all smoked and drank and caroused too much, and had miles to go before we became enlightened about the wrongness of smoking and drinking and carousing too much.

Anyhow, I worked as an on-air personality at Tuscaloosa’s fledgling television station, then known as WCFT-TV, Channel 33. I would snazz up in that suit, grab my loaded, hand-wound 16-millimeter movie camera, and go off to cover some news event, hoping to get back to the station in time to have Curtis Lake develop and edit the film while I wrote the story to go with it. Then, I’d get ready to host the daily live Noon broadcast interview show, called “This is the Show that Starts at Noon,” which remained on the air for four years.

Back in those days, you could look cool while out in the public being recognized as a TV personality, but there was no way to be cool, once you got back to the station. At the station, you were just another employee, trying to keep your job, stay out of the way of the more hostile pointy-haired folks, and just having fun doing your job. It is thus with virtually all jobs: as long as you can concentrate on and perform the tasks you love, you’re happy. But office politics and office politicos will be working full-time trying to spoil it for you. Denial is your only weapon.

Anyhow, for a few minutes at a time during those years at Channel 33, I could overcome my insecurities and self-doubts, don the Pee Wee suit, leave the station to cover a story or host a panel or judge a beauty contest or make a personal appearance, and just plain forget the other facts of life I had to put up with.
The Pee Wee suit was my magic time machine, my way to beam up and away each time conflict threatened to douse me. It made me feel like somebody, even though I wasn’t. It made me feel stylish, even though I wasn’t. It gave me a few chuckles many years later, when I saw Pee Wee himself wearing that outfit and feeling like a million dollars.

I wonder if Pee Wee found my suit at a thrift store

Jim Reed is the proprietor of Reed Books in downtown Birmingham.
http://www.jimreedbooks.com

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