I was reading Parade magazine a few Sundays ago and came across an interesting article about a new book Henry Winkler had written called “I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River: Reflections on Family, Fishing, and Photography”. Henry Winkler. Now there was a name I haven’t heard in a long time.
As I read about his new book and passion for fly fishing in Montana it suddenly occurred to me that this man had a profound impact on me growing up. But Henry Winkler is no ordinary man. He was; well let me rephrase that, IS the coolest person I ever knew while growing up.
I’m sure by now he is tired of hearing about it but to me and to thousands of others Henry Winkler will forever be remembered as Arthur Fonzarelli aka The Fonz. Quite possibly the greatest character to ever appear on a fictional television sitcom (and also another reason how influential television can be and why we as parents need to always be conscious of what our children are watching).
Some where in the 1970’s is where my story begins. A time when “Happy Days” was the reason for my existence. I couldn’t really tell you all of the story lines or dialogue and quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter. All I knew was that Fonzie was my hero.
From the moment I saw that 45″ record spinning and the ”Sunday, Monday… Happy Days” theme begin playing I was hooked. And when they showed the Fonz giving me the thumbs-up as he appeared in the middle of that record I knew all was right in the world. Because whenever Richie, Ralph and Potsie got into trouble, The Fonz was always there to help bail them out.
No matter how tough their assailants may have been when The Fonz showed up they all turned to mush. The bigger they were the harder they’d fall. My personal favorite episode was the one where the dude with the iron claw hand came at him. The Fonz just grabbed him by that metal hand and bent it straight back, fingers and all. I don’t even think Superman could have done that. Just the presence of The Fonz was powerful enough to instill fear into even the meanest of people, my own family included.
As most young siblings do, my brother Bones and I used to fight like cats and dogs. Bones was one tough cookie back then. In fact, Bones was even considered one of the most feared kids in the entire neighborhood.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Who could possibly be afraid of someone named Bones”? Trust me, we all were. Most of the time me and the other kids on our block would be afraid to even approach him out of fear of what he might do to us.
Any attempt to invade his space on a bad day might result in a head lock, noogie session, punch in the arm or some combination of the three. Yeah, I knew my bro was a bad ass but the only thing that really got to him was The Fonz. Because when Happy Days was on his eyes didn’t move from the TV. He was in awe just like I was. Oh I’m sure he would like you to believe that he was on the same level of cool as The Fonz but I knew the truth. Yes sir, Bones was scared of The Fonz and really, who could blame him?
Fonzie had these awe-inspiring powers. He could just snap his fingers and all the girls would be drawn to him like a moth to a flame. In retrospect, I sure wish I had that ability in high school. I might have gotten out more.
And then there were the times that The Fonz would be in the bathroom preparing to comb his hair and then realize, every time of course, that there would be no need. It was always perfect.
And I can’t even count the number of times I hurt my hand trying to pound the jukebox and get it to start playing a tune like he did. C’mon, now tell me that’s not cool! And only The Fonz had that ability.
But of all the powers The Fonz possessed there was only one that I still desire. I mean, who wouldn’t want to walk into a room and hear nothing but hand clapping, whistles, cheers and girls screaming while welcoming your arrival? I’m still not sure how he pulled it off but on every episode, when he walked on set that’s exactly what happened. Coolness sure has it’s advantages.
The Fonz was not only cool but he also had the ability to ward off evil. Growing up, I used to have to sleep in the scary attic of my grandparent’s house. A real turn of the century type house with creaky steps. More than enough to scare the crap out of a young boy. But I was not afraid.
For as I ascended the stairs each night to climb into bed a huge poster of The Fonz greeted me. Dressed in his trademark leather jacket, wearing a smile and giving me a big thumbs up. HEY!
It was all I needed to protect me from any monsters that might be lurking under my bed. As far as I was concerned, if Bones was afraid of him there was no way the Boogie Man would mess with The Fonz either.
Fonzie and the gang ended their run in 1984 just as I was starting high school. It was bittersweet to say goodbye but I knew that it was time for me to take care of myself and find my own cool. Something I think we all have to do on our own.
But if there’s one thing The Fonz has taught me it’s that there are actually many different ways to be cool.
Living our lives to the best of our ability and raising our children right tops my cool to-do list. I’m sure Fonzie would agree and give me a thumbs up for the way I turned out.
After reading the Parade magazine article I decided right then and there that I’m going to buy Mr. Winkler’s latest book and get a glimpse into his human side as well. I know it will be a good read. I’m looking forward to the adventures he has with his family.
And even better, I really can’t wait to tell Bones how cool it was to go fly fishing with The Fonz.