Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bucket #6 wins your freedom.

As a child I hated waking up early unless it was for cartoons. Waking up at the crack of nine o'clock on a Saturday morning was a weekly ritual for me. I had my favorites. The Transformers and Ghostbusters still affect my moral decisions to this day, but there was one program that really warped my little mind in so many ways: The Bozo the Clown show.

I wasn't a huge fan and rarely made it through a whole show. I don't like clowns at all and, while Bozo and his sidekick Cookie were on the low end of the terror-ometer, my phobia wasn't the reason I couldn't sit through an entire episode. The real reason is that it was fucking boring. Bozo would throw pies and try not to get hit with things propped up on doorways. Kids would scream with glee, there'd be a cartoon, more screaming, blah blah blah. The set looked like it took place in an old auditorium on the bad side of town. I'm sure there were used needles and condoms under the bleachers where the kids sat. If you were raised in the 50's, the production values would have been acceptable but I'm from the generation of Lazer Tag; I needed a little bit more

Even though I was bored out of my skull there was one part of the show that captivated me. I'd flip through the channels until this part came on then I'd shut out all distractions around me and glue myself to the screen. If you watched the show then you probably know the part I'm talking about: the bucket toss. Oh how I loved the bucket toss. The premise of the game (which will now officially be known hereafter as The Toss) was that a kid was picked out of the audience and taken over to Bozo who was standing in front of six buckets lined in a row. There was a line at one end and the kid took his or her place there. Then Bozo would give them a ping pong ball and they'd have to toss the ball into the first bucket. If they made it, Bozo would get Cookie to show them what they'd won and then make them toss another ball into the second bucket. Repeat cycle. The further you progressed, the better the prizes got. By the sixth bucket you were winning bikes, candy, board games, all sorts of crap. The best part was you got to keep all the previous prizes too!

I loved it and hated it at the same time. I loved the concept of prizes. I hated that I would never be able to do The Toss. Why? Was it because I'd never be in Chicago? Nope. Theoretically I could convince my parents to take me there. Was it because I was too old? Hell no. When this was going on I was right in my prime Toss years. The reason I couldn't do The Toss was because I was Canadian. That's right. Canadian. At the beginning of the show (or the end, I can't remember) it said anyone could be a contestant but then had a sub-clause that you had to be an American to play.

Come to think of it, this is probably where my dislike of Americans began. I was already pissed at the prejudice being hurled my way due to being born in the wrong country but, on top of that, I had to watch these kids, these American kids win? I remember what they were like. Have you ever watched the movie "A Christmas Story"? They remind me of the kid who stands in line behind Ralphie at the Santa line up. The one who wore the goggles and smelled of tapioca. Bozo's audience was filled with kids just like that. They were winning bikes while I sat and ate cereal. Or, even worse, they weren't winning bikes while I ate my cereal. I used to get so irritated watching these kids screw up. I remember being absolutely livid when one of them couldn't even get the ball in the first bucket. I literally got up and screamed at the screen with anguish, "You didn't even try!!!"

It was so frustrating seeing these kids fail, especially when I knew I could do better. I have a hard time watching someone else do something and do it badly and that's when nothing is at stake. You put a bike up for grabs, phone in your effort, then march around in Bozo's Grand Parade smiling like nothing happened? Fuck you, you're now my enemy.

As a weird aside, I think I attached a bizarre stigma to the kids who participated in The Toss. To this day I still feel that the kids that made it to bucket #6 went on to lead successful lives and are vastly superior to the majority of the population. The ones that failed miserably are either dead, burn-outs, or on third rate reality TV shows. Perhaps that's why it was so upsetting to know I would never get to play: it was my barometer for future success and I was denied knowing my future simply because I was Canadian. Later in life I would learn that not being an American is far better than being one but at the time it seemed unfair. Health Care? Screw that, I wanted a bike.

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