“DID YOU KNOW…?!” ~ The Wizard
State Fair, early nineties. The Gin Blossoms – local boys make good! – are riding a wave of popularity rivaling the entire grunge movement of the day. But it’s hot. Phoenix hot. And half a dozen friends and I are crammed into this indoor venue with thousands of other hot and cranky young adults. Tempers are flaring. Yeah yeah, we’re here for the band, shut up. Things are getting tense. Where the hell are the Blossoms, anyway? God but it’s hot in here.
Then this music starts. Only it’s not the Blossoms. What the hell, man? This is like…like some kind of jangly pop thing they’re piping in over the sound system, a happy dirge, if there be such a thing. Is that . . . is that a flute? What is going on here?
Then it dawns on us all. We know this song. We can sing this song. Simplest, best chorus ever:
Ho ho, ha ha, hee hee, ha ha.
Everyone’s looking around at everyone else. If this is some kind of joke, it’s in bad taste. The Gin Blossoms are from Tempe, man, they should know better than to play the theme song to the TV show every single last damn one of us grew up with. This is tacky. Tacky.
Until . . .
Down on the stage, the first thing we see is the tall gray top hat. Before we even see his face, we know who this is.
“Hi, everybody!” our hero cries, and man . . . we lose it. We cheer ourselves hoarse, the roof damn near collapses. It’s Ladmo.
Then comes the greatest sentence ever spoken on God’s green earth, as far as we are concerned:
“I have a seating chart!”
I’ve seen Pink Floyd live, from the sixth row. I’ve seen Social D more times than I can remember, and loved every second of every show. I even saw them on a double bill with the Ramones once. But Ladmo’s got a seating chart, and me and thousands of other guys and girls just like me are completely and utterly losing our shit. A seating chart can only mean one thing:
Someone’s getting a Ladmo Bag.
Ladmo Bags are paper sacks filled with Twinkies, candy, coupons for Slurpees . . . everything a growing boy needs. I never got one myself – one of my great life disappointments – but not long from this night, I won’t mind so much, because history is being made right in front of me.
It’s the last public appearance Ladmo will ever make. He passed away not long after. And it hurt. It hurt hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of us here in Arizona.
This was some twenty years ago. It was just a few month ago that I got one of The Wallace & Ladmo Show triumvirate’s autographs on an 8 x 10 black and white: Pat McMahon. It was years ago that I got to meet Wallace, the other third of this uniquely Arizonan trinity. Arizona makes headlines a lot on The Daily Show, and with good reason, but we got one thing absolutely, perfectly right: We got The Wallace & Ladmo Show.
This children’s show lasted some thirty-five years in the Valley of the Sun, and made television history along the way. My feeling has always been that if there’s a Heaven, Ladmo will be easy to find in it because that’s where all the world’s children are going to flock. And if he’s not there, then I don’t want to go anyway.
Now the show can start up again in whatever Heaven there may be. I just found out we lost Wallace. I can’t – yeah, I can’t write this without goddam bawling because these three guys – Wallboy, Ladmo, and Pat a.k.a. Gerald and a dozen other characters – they raised me. They raised a lot of us. A lot. If I want to come up with happy memories of my dad, they start with Wallace & Ladmo.
When I met Pat McMahon a few months ago, I got to tell him (and I hope he heard me) that I get to talk to young people now as part of my job, and I hope I can do at least half as good a job as he and Wallace and Ladmo did during all those years. I hope I can love those students as much as the three of them all loved all of us; kids, adults, black white and brown, smart and not so smart, rich and not so rich. Wallace and Ladmo leveled the field in a singular way, a way I’m afraid will never be seen again in my or anyone’s lifetime.
But I’m sure going to try. It’s the least I can do. It’s the only way I can really say thanks.
Thank you, Wallace.
Thank you, Ladmo.
We sure could use you around here. Now more than ever.
Thanks for tuning in.
(If you’re not a native, please take a look at this article from the Arizona Republic, which does a better job with the history than I’m doing here. To give you an idea of how big a deal this guys are, their parody band Hub Kapp & The Wheels outsold the Beatles…only in Phoenix. http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2014/07/23/wallace-ladmo-bill-thompson-dies/13016035/)