My Search For A Role Model
By Lou Blodgett
I won’t say that I started modeling myself on particular popular icons because I was despondent. That’s how most stories like this start, but it wasn’t the case with me. Most problems are solvable, I understood, but I’d found myself in a large funk. I stood at the crossroads of my life. I considered my options.
I wanted to cut through the constant skeptical hum that surrounded me, and sort better through language and symbols which literally made no sense. I needed a new method of communication to counter that- and an overall style itself- to present myself to the world. After some research and soul-searching, I decided to model myself after Lawrence Welk.
When I was young, The Lawrence Welk Show would begin with the sound of a champagne bottle being opened. Then, what passed for music would follow. I’m not saying that what followed wasn’t music; there was a tightness and virtuosity. The show had very good musicians who played what some thought were mediocre arrangements. Lawrence Welk had a great band, but the entire show had a very conscious style and motif that threatened to create a state of unconsciousness in most people who were exposed to it.
Watching it, one could see that it was very much Lawrence Welk’s show. His cursive logo was seen everywhere. Sometimes, in a medium-shot, Lawrence Welk spoke to the camera as he held a baton with a thumb-and-forefinger pinch at either end- saying something like: “And now our own Theresa Holcomb will sing a beautiful rendition of ‘Tammy’- hm.”
Lawrence Welk was very impersonable, but most of the impersonations were inaccurate, centering on his accent and a bright, yet inscrutable demeanor in the face of schmaltz. Through his impersonation of Welk, it was Robin Williams who was able to tap into wild complexities that we didn’t know Welk had, then toss the piece aside to go on to what he believed were meatier subjects. Either way, his “Lawrence Welk” should not be viewed on a full bladder. His impersonation was an exception though, needless to say.
Lawrence Welk impersonations and the real thing blended into a cliché in our minds. His accent really wasn’t very thick, and the world he created was what was flamboyant- not him. He simply enforced the light, bubbly aesthetic which was an extension of the overall Cold War standard. There may not have been a loyalty oath, but all the performers behaved as if they’d signed one. I’m willing to guess that the morals clause on their contracts stretched to at least two pages. The colors in the set and costumes did vary, but were typically muted. They were the type of colors that could be found on packages of sugarless desserts. This bland tone extended to the people in the show; the musicians, singers and dancers, as they filled the evening with polkas and symphonic renditions of mid-20th century pop. The male singers seemed to be seeking a proper, worldly experience. The female singers seemed to be waiting for them to find it, so that relationships could proceed according to the rules, tacit or overt. His featured female singers, his ‘Champagne Ladies’, were beautiful, and were made to look very standard. Taffeta and organza, with Aqua-Net hair spray topping. Later, when they would show reruns, I would watch the Champagne Ladies sing and want to rescue them from that synthetic world. There seemed to be an air of melancholy to their airs. In that respect, ‘The Lawrence Welk Show’ had an element of true tragedy for me.
So, why did I choose Lawrence Welk? He was an auteur. Whether he intended to or not he wound up circling the wagons around a threatened subset of popular culture. His show reflected an attitude, though, which was dominant. Further into the ’60’s, when culture took on other dimensions, Welk adapted, shifting things just a teeny bit to the left, reflecting the degree of willingness his conservative audience had toward experimentation. Through that, he anticipated, perhaps, society shifting back just a few years later. And, he did it all with a firm hand and with serious whimsy, reflecting what happened when ‘The Silent Majority’ wanted ‘to party’. I felt that I could adopt and use his style, and those talents, for good.
I studied the man, and decided that the essence of Lawrence Welk, and not the cliché, would suffice. However, I decided to make moderate use of the ‘hm’ verbal hiccup that he seldom used but which could be found at the end of every sentence uttered by his impersonators. And using Lawrence Welk as a model worked well for me right off the bat. At the bank, it was: “I was wondering if I could cash a check- hm.” In the mall food court: “Beautiful pretzel, wonderful mustard- hm.” People were thrown off at first, but took to it eventually. It was a kind of personality, you see. I think that most people thought that that was just one way that an old guy behaved. And, in many ways, it was.
And, I’m not saying that I was always acting like I was Lawrence Welk. At times I thought it was appropriate to go the whole Welk, but those times were rare. I just considered what he would do during my every waking moment, and, even later, in my dreams.
For example, well into my Lawrence Welk life-strategy, I was working with a new kid, cleaning the common areas of the Briscoll tower (which, by the way, doesn’t). He told me about his dreams, and it was not for me to crush them, but he had a hard time cleaning. He wanted to be a star in reality television. He would, he told me as I trained him, become as big as ‘The Situation’, but without the tax mess. My job became teaching him to clean so that he could then fund the lavish lifestyle needed to be a reality star, (i.e. driving a fast luxury car of current model, and enjoying the atmosphere of drinking establishments where access was limited to ‘cool people’) until the day when the pay for being a reality star would cover those expenses and he would no longer be vacuuming up popcorn- that activity being ‘too real’ somehow.
But, one night, I saw that Cliff had been through the main foyer, and hadn’t gotten to a straw paper that was wedged against the trim. A major oversight. It was, ironically, the straw paper that broke the camel’s back.
So, I told Cliff that we all have our dreams. I, for example, am a semi-retired semi-professional juggler who now posts his own brand of squirrel-driven fiction. Far be it for me to crush Cliff’s reality dreams- we all have our dreams- but he needed to pay more attention when vacuuming.
And I didn’t bring my new style to bear so much. I just told him all of that myself, or so I thought. If I were Lawrence Welk, perhaps I would’ve just pointed out that Cliff had hair over his ears, and had an assistant fire him. But, Cliff responded to my instructions well, reaching down and snatching the straw paper up in a ‘The Situation’ like gesture. And, a week later, I spied him doing the same with the top of a yogurt cup he’d found. He even took the time to wipe up where it had been thrown down. And, I had dealt with the entire issue without calling up the ‘Lawrence Welk Style’.
Or had I? Thinking about it later, I could see that, although lacking cadence and accent, it was the joie‘d vivre I used during the straw paper conflict that was the clincher. I had kept everything firm, but light, like a glycerin bubble, and that was the key. After a few weeks, I had internalized Welkism. Perhaps I would make it in life. I could, I thought, manage cleaning projects in a way that didn’t turn off older audiences. I could line up soft, non-threatening arrangements of popular cleaning, bring ValuSolv All Purpose Industrial Cleaner into the family of products advertised, and dance my way to the top of Facility Services.
But things were deteriorating at home. Clarissa had had enough. One afternoon she found me looking for the perfect tie to wear to Burger King, and told me that it was good that I’d found the confidence to become an assistant manager, with three cleaning sites to my name, but the Lawrence Welk thing was becoming too much. Her eyes were opened, she said, the night before, as I serenaded her with an up-tempo rendition of ‘I Started A Joke’. Specifically, she said, that it was good every once in awhile to hear that she was a beautiful lady and it was a wonderful song (hm), but always? And leading her in a polka could also be nice, but not when we’re visiting her parents or in the buffet line at the Sirloin Stockade.
She was basically confessing, and I could see the embarrassed expression that she had. For me. I can still remember her tears. She told me that we all have our schemas, and that Lawrence Welk was obviously working great for me, but that the constancy was wearing thin for her. Perhaps I could ‘cut down’. Maybe I could find a less obvious personality, she said. Like, say, Les Brown or Arthur Fiedler.
Well, her telling me that she felt it was enough was enough. I thought she was envious of my success. If I was outclassing her, perhaps, I thought, she needed a model herself. Like Cyndi Lauper, or even Cher. Me, I would succeed. I would create the office-cleaning equivalent of leading the Honolulu Fruit Gum Orchestra at the Roosevelt Hotel Ballroom. I was drunk on where these baby steps in Welking had brought me- this confidence and the resulting success. But I wanted to stay with Clarissa. All I could hear at that point was wind in my ears, although she’d cornered me in the closet at the time. I just didn’t want to hear what she was saying. So, I got flustered, panicked, and introduced the Lennon Sisters.
So, that’s how that ended. Clarissa did not react well. She was my Champagne Lady no more.
Days later, needing food in my new apartment at two in the morning, I went to the 7-11, and, in my despair, in my vale of pain, I didn’t notice that I was placing a family pack of Tostitos, not on the counter, but right on top of a slurpee recently purchased by a large man. Which fell, spilling all over his waffle-stompers.
The man looked down, then up, with surprise. Then dismay. Then he asked me what (the hell) I thought I was doing. The clerk groaned, but groaned with the kind of lilt that acknowledged that he was watching a tellable tale unfold. I tugged a little spicy sausage from an impulse display, held it Welk style, and told Slurpee Man:
“I’m terribly sorry for spilling your Slurpee-hm. Please allow me to replace it at my own expense and buy you the pastry of your choice-hm.”
And, it seemed touch-and-go for awhile, as the man, end-of-work-day funky in his jeans and bright day-glo t-shirt gaped at me, then pointed, and said:
“They need a host for the karaoke at the Alibi, and I have a feeling you’d be fucking perfect!”
The audition went well, and if this keeps up, I won’t have to supervise popcorn-vacuuming much longer. All I need now, and I’m putting the word out, are the proper suits. A dusty pastel of any color, with standard cuffs. Oh. And with those wide lapels.