San Diego, 1979.
Near the end of my time there—late Oct or early Nov, I think—I came into class one day to find that all of the other guys had brought stuffed animals in. Dave had a Kermit the Frog doll; Bill had Fozzy Bear, I believe – or possibly Gonzo; Ray had something I don’t quite remember – a generic bear of some sort, I think; and Wayne had a six-foot Pink Panther. I was the only one in class who didn’t have a stuffed friend with me.
During one of our breaks they all decided to bring their dolls with them later that night to our usual hangout:
The Whirlybird Inn
They also decided that I needed to bring a friend with me, so I had to go get one after class was finished that day. I don’t remember which store I went to back then, maybe a K-Mart or a Shopko or something, but there wasn’t much of a choice there. There were both Sesame Street and Muppet Show dolls there, and in the end it came down to either Oscar the Grouch or The Count, being as they had always been my two favorite Sesame Street characters and I really didn’t have a favorite from the Muppet Show back then. I ended up getting an Oscar doll and we immediately had an adventure.
First of all, the dolls proved to be very popular down at the Whirlybird, and ended up spending quite a lot of time with many of the customers. At one point, while I was busy playing a game of pool, Ray came up in the middle of the game to tell me that someone put my Oscar doll in a pitcher of beer. When I got back to my place at the bar, sure enough, there he was, floating in the middle of a full pitcher with everyone standing around and laughing and calling him a souse and stuff.
It was hard not to laugh, but I pretended mock outrage and lamented his condition and took him outside to spin him through the air, trying to get as much beer out of the doll as I could. He was friggin’ soaked through.
That, thankfully, was the worst that happened to him there, but the adventure wasn’t over. After the bar closed, I was feeling hungry and stopped at a Denny’s that was out at the entrance to the highway (I-5). I took Oscar in with me, partly as an excuse to order two plates of food because I was really hungry, and partly because I was feeling goofy at the time and it seemed like a fun thing to do.
The waitress was entertained by it, (I’d put the first plate in front of Oscar when I was done with it) even asking me if Oscar wanted some too when I ordered apple pie for desert. But the two Start Patrol officers who were also there getting something to eat were less entertained. They followed me for almost ten miles when I left the restaurant and pulled me over just as I signaled for the exit to the naval base. Oscar was strapped into the passenger seat.
I passed the field sobriety tests as far as I remember but they arrested me anyway, (it was justified, of course. My bac was later confirmed at 0.15) and I got to spend the night in one of San Diego’s drunk tanks where they did not discriminate between violent on non-violent offenders. The night passed peacefully enough, though (there was some pushing and shoving and yelling and stuff, but nothing serious) and in the morning I was released to the Navy rep who went around every morning to gather the previous night’s miscreants.
He took me back to the base where I had to report to the weekend duty officer, a Chief Petty Officer (E-7), actually, who said something along the lines of, “So, you got in a bit of trouble last night, eh?” After I admitted I did he said, “Well, if you don’t tell anybody, I won’t.” which of course got a big smile and immediate agreement from me.
Later that day I went to get my car out of the impound lot, where it had been baking all day in the hot sun with the windows rolled up. Oscar was completely dry by then, but the car had an overwhelming smell of stale beer in it and it took several miles of driving with the windows open for it to dissipate. I had to run him through the washing machine three times to get the smell out.
From that day on, and for the next fifteen years or so, Oscar sat stuffed between my driver’s seat and the center console of every car I owned. The Celica then, the Mustang, the Datsun 310 for a short time, and finally the Plymouth Horizon.
Sometime in the mid nineties I lost my driving privileges for a time (long and different story) so Oscar came up into the apartment on Mount Vernon with me. Then, one winter, someone who shall remain nameless, left him out in the yard over the winter. When I found him in the spring, one arm, part of his body and the opposite leg, were yellow instead of green and he was missing an eye. I kept him anyway, for nostalgic reasons, but somewhere along the way he disappeared.
I might get a new companion someday (either Guy Smiley or the Muppet Newscaster, I’m thinking) but for now, I miss Oscar.