Fred Rogers. Those of us who grew up in the United States are suddenly conjuring up mental images of a tall, gawky, slender man. He stands very erect—so much so that his chin always seems to be tucked far back into his neck, and the narrow folds of the flesh beneath his chin duplicate the perpetual smile on his face. He is associated with a comfortable-looking sweater that zips up the front, and that eternally repeated scene of him coming into his “house,” removing his well-shined work shoes, and exchanging them for a pair of what I grew up calling “boat shoes,” which he laced with care.
As a child, we had two televisions in the house. One was the color set on which my mother watched her daytime soaps and that the family gathered around to watch The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights. The other was an ancient but still-working, black-and-white set that stood in our toy room. It was, in a way, my television. I was the only one of six children who watched it. Our toy room had a single light bulb and no light switch. The light had to be turned on by means of a short chain, and at 5 years old, I was by no means tall enough to reach it. So after kindergarten, I would retreat to that room, with only a little light coming in through the open doorway, turn on that set, wait for what seemed hours for the tubes inside it to heat up and the screen to wink on, fidget a little with the tuning and volume knobs, and watch, with rapt fascination, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
I liked the puppet scenes and the scenes where he took us to some factory or other to show us how things were made. I distinctly remember the segment about the crayon factory. I can still hear the background music for those segments.
The truly unique thing about Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was how Rogers broke the fourth wall, always addressing his television audience as if they were in the room with him. We traveled all through the neighborhood, visiting the gravelly-voiced Chef Brockett, Handyman Negri, Neighbor Aber, the intrepid Mr. McFeely, and many others. Most of those neighbors would show up at one time or another in the imaginary Neighborhood of Make Believe, populated by a dozen or so hand puppets—King Friday XIII, Prince Tuesday, Daniel Striped Tiger, and Anna Platypus among them.
Rogers knew something. He knew how important human connections are. He knew that the fourth wall being broken was the thing that made his series so long-loved. He made us feel important. He made us feel a part of something.
He once said, “If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet, how important you can be to people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
This month’s stories are all about the human connection. Some turn out better than others. But all are worth reading.
A piece of advice, by the way: if you’re cheating on a lover, don’t order takeout.
From Redfern Jon Barrett, “Delivery”
From Melissa Goodrich, “Ivy”
From Joe Parker, “Trinkets”
From Mitch Berman, “To Be Horst“
And a new writing article from Jason S. Ridler!
We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.