Three things recently have been unexpected honors. I’m not sure if that’s the right word — “honors” — but “acknowledgements” seems too cold, “tributes” seems like I’m dead, and “gifts” isn’t exactly right either. These are three nice things that people have done out of a sense of fun and the goodness of their hearts, and I just want to turn the gestures around and say Thanks to everybody behind these “honors.”
ONE: On Sunday September 13, I sat for several hours at a table in WQED’s Studio A and signed DVD copies of several of my Pittsburgh programs that were on sale ($10 each, a really good price) as part of the WQED Flea Market event. The Flea Market was Saturday and Sunday, but Saturday was the big day: lots of bargains, lots of people, lots of sales. (The sale did NOT include copies of our PBS program called A Flea Market Documentary.)
Anyway, I was there Sunday from noon till about 4 or 4:30. But early on, probably before 1 o’clock, two snazzy young people, hipsters you might say, came up to my table, and they just stood there coyly, smiling, for a moment till I realized they were wearing shirts with my picture on them.
The shirts said, “Sebak Is The New Black.” a silly play on the fashion cliché about “Red Is The New Black” or “Green Is The New Black.” I laughed. This cool couple introduced themselves as Autumn Leigh and Ryan Hadbavny, and Ryan had designed the groovy graphics. We took pictures and some of my WQED colleagues said they wanted to order one of the screened shirts.
I later became Facebook friends with Autumn and Ryan, and you can learn about the design & T-shirt company (and more) that Ryan is starting called “These Pistons Give Life.” Looks and sounds great.
TWO: Several months ago, I was asked to be the master of ceremonies at the gala opening of the new Performing Arts Center at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA, and I said yes. Back in 2007, I got to give the commencement speech there on campus, they presented me with an honorary degree (!) and so I was happy to come back and do something else to help my friends at Seton Hill. (They had also put me on the cover of the Fall/Winter 2007 issue of their Forward magazine.) Anyway, part of this new assignment was a pre-event visit to the new building to get me acquainted with the place before the craziness of the opening night party. The Performing Arts Center is an impressive structure with a central auditorium, a smaller theater and lots of rehearsal and performance spaces for students of music, theater, and related fields. It’s already nicknamed SHUPAC for Seton Hill University Performing Arts Center.
So on this prep day, Seton Hill mastermind and event planner Molly Robb Shimko and friends from the university took me out to lunch to talk about their expectations (and their secret plotting to have an unexpected appearance by Captain Jack Sparrow — or a reasonable facsimile — to surprise Seton Hill president Joanne Boyle.) They told me that Joanne Boyle really liked the first Pirates Of The Caribbean movie a lot and had even quoted Johnny Depp’s line at the end of the movie about “Bring me that horizon” several times. OK. I was skeptical but I said I’d do whatever they wanted. And I got a private tour of the building.
In the main auditorium, there are small brass plaques on the back of the seats, bought by various supporters of the university and this SHUPAC. I was surprised when someone (maybe Molly?) told me that one of the plaques was in my name, a gift from the Class of 2007 because I gave their commencement speech. I was honored and delighted to be so remembered. I took a picture with my iPhone. It’s not great, but you get the idea.
(By the way, on Thursday, September 17, I think the gala opening ceremony went off beautifully. The surprise visit of Captain Jack Sparrow worked perfectly. Joanne Boyle hadn’t suspected anything, and when Nathan May, the Seton Hill student who played Johnny Depp/Captain Jack, mumbled and bumbled his way through a list of thank-you’s, I thought it was a great touch on a brilliant evening.)
And finally, honor number THREE:
If you saw my recent Pittsburgh History Series program called “Right Beside The River,” you may remember that the first three stories in the show were all in West Virginia, in the towns of Moundsville and Glen Dale.
We covered the ancient Grave Creek Mound, the Official Marx Toy Museum and the fascinating old farmhouse known as the Cockayne House, and all the people involved at those three locations were so nice and so appreciative of the attention that I feel bad we hadn’t wandered that way before now. (That’s me above with Mound curator Scott Speedy.)
After the show aired, my shooting and editing teams and I were invited to a sort of thank-you party and special screening of the show in Grand Vue Park near Moundsville on Thursday night, August 27. (Above is chief instigator and organizer Nila Chaddock, her daughter Leslie, me and Nila’s son Josh.)
The traffic and construction along I-70 made getting there an adventure, but it was a really great party, and we were knocked out again by the kindness and excitement shown by these West Virginians. We got all sorts of wonderful gifts, including a generous check from the law firm of Gold, Khourey and Turak, our extraordinary hosts for this evening. It would be hard to say enough thanks for all the appreciation shown by these neighbors of ours. (That’s Jonathan Turak shaking my hand in the picture.)
But the most amazing part of the evening was when Francis and Jason Turner, father and son from the Marx Toy Museum, gave me the mint condition Flintstones Play Set that I had made such a fuss over when we shot there. They had the Flinstones’ world all set up, concealed under a big cardboard box, and then the box was lifted and I was amazed. Thrilled. Touched. I had one of these sets when I was a kid.
My Aunt Mary gave it to me for Christmas one year and I think the little Fred and Barney, Wilma and Betty and friends were scattered over the years, showing up in the boxes of other toys, games and such. I mean it was just one of those things that gradually went away without a ceremony or a proper goodbye.
But seeing the whole set again was a revelation. The plastic Bedrock mat, all the houses and stores and the little gas station, the characters, the cars, all these things were so familiar, so loved and so instantly MINE again. They were things burned into my memory, my imagination, and it was comforting (?), reassuring maybe, just good to see them all again. (This set was so perfectly preserved that it included the delicate green plastic TV antennas that went on top of all the plastic/stone houses.)
I think this honor from the Official Marx Toy Museum was one of the great gifts of my life. I was amazed and honored and not worthy. (In the picture below, there’s Jason and Francis Turner from the Official Marx Toy Museum, me, along with Tom Tarowsky and Nila Chaddock — who both work with the Cockayne House but helped coordinate all our work in West Virginia — all sitting behind the Flintstones layout.)
I set up the playset in the lower lobby of WQED for several days so everybody could see it. Then to keep it safe, to preserve it, I put it all carefully back in the box. Now I’m seriously thinking about donating it to the Marx Toy Museum so it has a shelf and a display worthy of its beauty and its power to transport goofballs like me who thought Fred and Barney and friends were nearly mythological characters.