Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Moving On...

I’ve often wondered whatever became of Norm once Cheers closed. Of course we know what happened to everyone else—Cliff still lives with his mom and sometimes delivers the mail, Woody hooked up with Juliette Lewis and went on a crime spree across the American southwest, Frasier found success in Seattle, and Sam apparently went to med school and became a doctor with a questionable bedside manner.

But whatever happened to Norm? Everybody’s favorite—the funniest character in a cast of funny characters. I could relate to Norm; I too am a fat guy that drinks a lot of beer and has sometimes been less-than-fully-employed. I still use one of his best lines ever—when Sam asked, “Hey Norm, whatcha up to?”

My ideal weight if I were nine feet tall!

Still funny after all these years.

But all good things come to an end, and life goes in cycles. Norm had to move on. Nothing good lasts forever.

I first noticed this phenomenon at an early age, and it’s still true today. Radio stations are the greatest illustration of this. As soon as a great radio station comes along, you’re amazed that nobody has ever done it so well before—good deejays, a great playlist, no repetition, and very few commercials. It lasts for several months, then word gets out, popularity spreads, and then the folks that make decisions forget what got them there and start making changes—tweaking the playlist, adding a couple of extra minutes of commercial time each hour, gimmicky promotions, and the absolute killer—trying to be more ‘inclusive’, by trying to appeal to more and more people—and it goes downhill from there. Good radio stations never last. Even K-SHE 95 in St. Louis, who avoided that trap for nearly a quarter century, finally succumbed. Sweet Meat rolls in his grave…

It’s the same with all things in life. In the current lexicon of the day it’s called ‘Jumping the Shark’, derived from one of the later ridiculous episodes of Happy Days where Fonzie jumped the shark during the water ski competition and the audience collectively realized that Happy Days had run it’s course—it was no longer an enjoyable show. The People In Charge had clearly run out of ideas.

I would’ve loved to see Seinfeld go on forever—but the creative forces behind the show had tapped the well dry. People change, the fuel gauge of ideas inches closer to E, and it becomes almost too popular. The Simpsons are just about there. Same with The Family Guy. The Sopranos have suffered the same fate. I’m using tv shows and radio stations as examples because they’re easy to relate to, but it’s the same way with just about everything in life. Great restaurants—once they get discovered—find it hard to maintain their greatness. The temptation to get more recognition, to have a bigger audience, to make an extra buck or two becomes too great and quality slips. Before long the old regulars are making reservations at other places. As Yogi Berra so eloquently put it, “Nobody goes there anymore—it’s too crowded”

Which brings me back to Cheers. I’ve been the ‘Norm’ at a Cheers type of place for several years now. One of the regulars—an Original Gangster, if you will. It was a great place that I’d visit several times a week. I had lots of friends there, and I held court from my ‘barstool’—keeping folks entertained and having lots of wonderful discussions—most of them extremely funny because of the good company which kept me inspired. I didn’t own the place, but I certainly had my own set of keys, and the owner trusted my judgment.

But I noticed about a year ago that my beloved ‘bar’ was starting to change, and not for the better.

Just like a radio station or a trendy restaurant, it was almost too good and the word got out. The ‘audience’ started getting bigger, and in an attempt to be all things to all people, more than a few undesirables managed to get past the doorman and become self-proclaimed regulars. At first, it was flattering—everything I did, several other folks wanted to imitate—and imitate they have. But now it’s gotten kind of creepy in almost a stalkerish kind of way. Some of my closer friends have even complained to me about some of the people there ‘following’ them wherever they go—basically having to endure one-sided friendships because the stalker-types have no friends outside of the Cheers world… It’s gotten a bit weird.

On top of that, a few assholes have made their way in and diminished the quality of the experience. It used to be a great place to hang out, but now several of the patrons wish to do nothing but argue, debate, or just be annoying for the sake of being annoying. The spirit of the place is long gone.

On one hand, I still love the cachet that it brings me, and of course I certainly don’t mind all the free drinks and free meals I’ve gotten just for being me and being there. But sometimes even that tab is too high. I’ve told the owners my concerns over the past few months, but it’s fallen on deaf ears as the desire to get along with everyone trumps the perfectly acceptable reason of wanting to associate with folks you like. The Kum-Ba-Ya mentality has taken over. I get enough diversity and other such political correctness in real life, so escaping it used to be a real treat.

And not that there wasn’t a diversity of ideas—some of my dearest friends there occupy the far opposite end of the political spectrum as I do, but we’ve managed to become good friends in spite of such differing outlooks. But some folks there are so attention-starved that they act like monkeys in a cage, screeching and flinging feces until they get noticed, desperately wishing they could be part of the cool crowd. Unfortunately, what they don’t realize is that by ingratiating themselves into the crowd, their mere presence sucks the coolness out.

Anyhow, it’s gotten so un-enjoyable lately that I’ve decided to relinquish my barstool. I still have some great friends that still frequent the place, but the ratio of obnoxiousness -to-enjoyable company has exceeded my personal limit. As Christian Slater said in the movie Heathers, I see that they have an open-door policy on assholes.

So I’m saying goodbye to Cheers. We had a good run. I’m sure it’ll still be there years from now in a new and more modern incarnation, but the inmates have taken over the asylum. It's time to move on. Someday I might stop in for a drink and a quick hello, but at the rate it's going I doubt anyone will still know my name.

But maybe someday somebody will wonder Whatever happened to that fat guy in the Hawaiian shirt--what was his name anyways? He sure was funny.