I have written before about my elementary school, but I will recap with a single sentence. It was a freaky 1960s experiment where all the rooms were shaped liked hexagons and the classrooms had no walls.
One of the things I remember vividly from my years at Harris Hill Elementary, was a movie we watched called, For The Love Of Fred. For this film to have burned itself so clearly into my mind, it must have been shown with great frequency. Either that, or my unofficial position as school’s “projector whisperer” exposed me to more viewings than most.
My research has revealed For The Love Of Fred was originally broadcast in 1971 on something called NBC Children’s Theater. I was reminded of the show two weeks ago when, at the Democratic National Convention, they sang a song featured in the movie, What The World Needs Now Is Love made popular by singer Jackie DeShannon.
The story is described as follows:
Fred is a frustrated caterpillar. He would love to sprout beautiful butterfly wings, but she doesn’t know how to weave a cocoon.
All Fred needs, the doctor says, is “a little hope, but mostly lots of love.” So, with a little help from Albert the Chipmunk, Sir Geoffrey the Giraffe, and Magnolia the Ostrich, Fred begins a treasure hunt for love.
The movie was not animated, but rather made entirely with puppets. By today’s standards, I’m sure it would seem rather crude, but I remember the experience being somewhere between off-putting and downright creepy. Given the clarity of my memory, I was actually surprised at how little information was out there. It doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.
In the end, Fred (with the help of his friends) successfully makes the transition from caterpillar to butterfly, but he pays a heavy price. As he emerges from the cocoon and spreads his beautiful wings, he no longer recognizes his friends. 🙁
As the DNC performance of the aforementioned song awoke the memory of Fred in my memory banks, I found myself remembering two other “Freds” in my life who were a party to as many, albeit very different transformations.
One weekday evening in the second half of my senior year of high school, my sister Sarah and I went to the mall. I don’t recall specifically why we went to the mall, but I do remember the trip was inspired by a need for “retail therapy.” Given what transpired that year, it could have been any combination of, girl trouble, academic stress, athletic performance pressure, or good old-fashioned teen angst.
No matter the root cause, my sister and I headed to the mall to blow off some steam.
At the time I was working as a delivery guy for a local pizzeria, so I was fairly flush with cash. I don’t know what we were after that day, but I clearly remember what we ended up bringing home.
As we walked the halls of Eastview Mall, we happened onto a clothing store going out of business. Never one to pass up a bargain, I poked around looking for a score at pennies on the dollar. We came up empty on traditional merchandise, but then I noticed a sign stating, “All mannequins for sale… make us an offer!”
From all those available, I picked out faceless male torso with no arms. I offered $5… they accepted.
Driving home, my sister and I seat-belted our bounty into the backseat of the family Ford Pinto. Somewhere between the mall and home, the mannequin became “Fred.”
I had no particular plans for Fred other than, in a random act of teen defiance, to plunk him down in my bedroom and wait for reactions from the establishment. However, after a few days, his purpose in my world became clear.
In high school, I used to tinker with telephones. I had wired up phones all over our house and I even dabbled in some “experimental” wire-tapping. One day looking at Fred, sitting lifeless next to my 1980s era slimline telephone I had a flash of brilliance; “Why not make Fred into a phone?
Although the “Maker Movement” was still decades away, I got busy taking the phone apart and grafting the bits and pieces onto my new fiberglass friend. I removed the keypad from the phone and mounted it to Fred’s sternum. Where his left arm would have been I fashioned a cradle of sorts where the receiver would hang. The ringer was placed somewhere in his head.
Fred stayed with me through the balance of high school and my college years, but when I moved to New York City in 1992 I left him behind since my apartment on the Upper East Side had room enough for only one man.
I don’t know what ever became of Fred, but I’d like to think he got a proper burial. I do know in 1987 he was headed for a dumpster at the mall, but with my five-spot and a little imagination I gave him five more years of purpose; and for that, I am certain he was grateful.
As previously stated, in the spring of 1987 I worked for a local pizzeria. I started out as a delivery guy, but as spring turned into summer, my job moved from the from the font seat of the station wagon to the back of the pizza counter. Although I eventually came to manage the joint all by myself, for a few of months I worked alongside a guy named… well, Fred.
Thinking back, I think Fred must have been in his thirties, but his personality and experiences were so foreign to me that his age seemed not to matter at all. On the surface, he seemed like a perfectly nice guy, but so do most people.
I will admit that I grew up in a sheltered place called the suburbs, where things were clean and every adult had a good job. Fred came from a different world. Just to paint a mental picture, Fred was about 5’ 5” with a curly mop of brown hair and a mustache. In fact, he looked a bit like the “Doritos Guy” Avery Schreiber.
Fred drove a 1973, canary yellow Corvette. It was a pretty cool car, but as I got to know Fred and his priorities, the Corvette became emblematic of his personal decision process.
One Saturday afternoon, Fred and I were portioning out pizza dough. While we cut, weighed and rolled, we talked. We weren’t discussing anything in particular, when in the course of conversation I mentioned my sister.
Keep in mind in 1987 I was eighteen and my sister was sixteen.
Without getting into the untoward details, Fred suggested that due to his cool car and his prominent position as a pizzeria manager, that my sister should swing by so that she might meet him and (of course) want to, um, “have relations” with him. I continued weighing dough balls and immediately changed the subject. From that day forward I forbade my sister and her friends from ever visiting me at work.
On another occasion, Fred and I were once again chatting while we attended to the busywork of the pizzeria. It turns out that Fred at one point had owned his own pizza shop. According to his account, “things didn’t work out” which is how he had come to be working with me. Fred went on explaining how having your own shop was so much better than “working for the man.”
This conversation went on a for a few minutes when Fred turned to me and said, “Hey, here’s an idea. Why don’t you go get your college money and we can open our own pizzeria together!”
Apart from the absurdity of going into business with this guy, the funnier part was that Fred had this idea that somewhere in my parent’s house there was a room. In this room, there was a table, and on that table was a pile of cash labeled “Steve’s College Money” with a yellow sticky note. I politely declined his offer.
A few weeks later, we found ourselves out of lettuce for subs. Fred asked me to run down the street to the grocery store to grab a half-dozen heads of iceberg. Since I no longer delivered the pizza, I had ridden my bike to work. Fred reached into the pocket of his inappropriately tight jeans and tossed me the keys to the Corvette.
Truth be told, I was psyched to drive the Corvette.
I hopped in the car, fired up the V-8, and eased it onto the road. I gave it some gas hoping to enjoy the 1.5-mile drive to the store, but as the car climbed through twenty-five miles an hour, it began to shake and rattle in a fairly violent manner. The Corvette was as unstable as Fred.
After pulling into the Wegmans parking lot, I slid the shifter into park. I grabbed the handle of the parking brake and pulled up, but instead of the expected resistance and its accompanying ratcheting noise, I found myself holding a fourteen-inch hunting knife.
My gut had been pretty good at assessing Fred up to this moment, but as I slowly placed the knife back into the center console and pulled the other handle, I had all the evidence I needed to steer way clear of this fellow for good.
Not long after, Fred moved on and for the balance of the summer, I managed the place on my own.
Our brains are funny things and the connections therein often defy our understanding. All I know is two weeks ago, someone at a political convention decided to sing a song and it fired off a crazy series of synapses in my noggin. I hope you enjoyed this little stroll down my own personal memory lane.
Fred the caterpillar became a butterfly. Fred the mannequin became a telephone. I have no idea what became of Fred the pizza guy, but in that case, the transformation was in me… from a secluded suburban teen, to a semi-adult with a keener eye for trouble.
As you go through your week and you encounter things that frustrate you, stow your favorite expletive on the shelf and instead use a favorite expression of mine…
OH FOR THE LOVE OF FRED!
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved