Saw the best documentary the other day. “I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story”
If you aren’t familiar, Caroll Spinney is the puppeteer who created Big Bird, and Oscar the Grouch, for Sesame Street. In fact, he is the Only actor to play Big Bird in the past 46 years.
Brilliant guy. I actually met him once….
Maybe I should start at the beginning.
My father is an engineer.
Not the kind who conducts trains, like I thought when I was in grade school. He’s the guy that determines how a 1000 foot skyscraper….doesn’t fall over in the wind.
In the earlier days of his career, my dad worked on constructing amusement parks. Sounds cool, I know. But he had the ability to unintentionally suck the fun out of the happiest places on earth. Imagine, if you will, being an 8 year-old kid at Disney World for the first time with a father who explains, in exacting detail, how there aren’t really any ghosts in the Haunted Mansion ride.
(Read this part in a Walter Matthau voice. My father always talks in a Walter Matthau voice in my memory)
“There’s a film projector on the other side of that mirror. A 2-way mirror mind you, that projects the image of a ghost on the back of it so it looks like the ghost is actually in the cart with us from the front.”
He did engineer work for several big amusement parks; Kroft World, Hanna Barbara Land, and Sesame Place.
My dad’s Sesame Place was here in Irving, Texas. By the airport. It’s long since closed and the former parking lot is now a Wal-Mart Super Center. Couldn’t make that up.
The park opened in the summer 1982 and my whole family was there for the grand opening ceremony. So was Big Bird. He cut the ribbon to “Big Bird Bridge”, the entrance to the park through Big Bird’s mouth.
As one of the older kids there, I positioned myself pretty close to the ribbon cutting. Close enough, in fact, that I could reach out over the velvet rope and touch Big Bird.
“But just touch him?” I thought.
Not nearly enough. I wanted more….
I reached out and plucked him. Just snatched a feather right off his ass. Did I expect him to feel it through the suit? Because he didn’t, and kept right on walking past me.
I wasn’t the only brazen Angus boy that day. My 7 year-old brother Ben pushed and shoved his way to be the third kid ever in the pool of balls. The Count’s Ballroom it was called. (He reminds me that he jumped in right after our 18 year-old cousin Jon)
Let’s get this out of the way, right now. My brothers and I had our picture taken that day in a bathtub with Ernie. Oddly inappropriate, don’t ‘cha think?.
But well worth sharing with the internets.
I think y’all know which one of us has the “Dorothy Hamill” hair cut…….and I’m not quite sure how we managed to color-coordinate our shirts. But there we are.
(BTW, There wasn’t enough room in the tub for all 3 of us boys….so I’m just squatting behind it)
The park had a room full of semi-educational video games, and everyone attending the grand opening was gifted a handful of tokens to play games with.
Being the delux-hoarder that I am……I saved one. I still have it too.
But then, y’all knew darn well that I did.
I don’t remember what happened to my feather. I must have given it to someone to hold for me while my brothers and I were running and climbing around the park.
Many years ago I was at my dad’s office, when he still lived here in Dallas. On his wall, – among his degrees, and pictures and awards – there was a map from that opening day of Sesame Place. The kind of glossy paper map that they hand to you with the admission tickets at any amusement park. I guess he’d had it framed at some point.
At first, I thought the printing in the bottom right corner of the map was a little smeared.
But it wasn’t the print at all……..
It was a fuzzy yellow feather pressed behind the glass.
Big Bird’s tail feather.
So that’s what happened to it.
I never knew my father to be sentimental about anything. Nothing really. That’s a quality I was quite certain that I got exclusively from my mother.
Until that day……
(Wanna know more about Sesame Place? My newly-acquired friend, Guy, has a site dedicated to the park. Aptly called; Big Bird Bridge Check it out)