The Night The Lights Went Out--And The Soup Was Left On The Stove, Cold
(originally posted August 16, 2003/Fred Sez)

A massive blackout, ranging far and wide. No power, no electricity, no creature comforts. Scampering for candles, batteries, and a transistor radio that actually works. In times like these, there's only one name that immediately comes to mind:

Soupy Sales.

Okay, to MY mind, let's be clear--I never said I expected YOU to think of the former Milton Supman first under these precarious circumstances! That's just me, and if you'll hang on for a bit I'll explain. As best I can, anyway...

Y'see, I have the ability to be, shall we say, somewhat compulsive? Nothing for the clinical journals, mind you, but anybody who's into collecting in any more than just a casual manner--and I'd have to plead guilty to fitting THAT description--has to have that curious capacity within themselves. I had it. I still have it. I'll probably never get rid of it, and the only thing I can do with it is harness it in unique and original ways. And back in 1965, I thought I'd found just such a way...

I'd loved Soupy Sales for years by the time I was twelve. Heaven help me, but I still do. I'm not entirely sure what it was that appealed to me about his kiddie-show-for-grown-ups, as the jokes were older than my parents by the time Soupy got ahold of them (the jokes, not my parents...). I think it was the absolute infectious delight Mr. Sales had in delivering his material--good, bad, or ancient--in front of a television camera. Simply put, he broke himself up, and that in turn broke ME up! And the crew!--Soupy worked with a couple of hilarious hand puppets, but you almost never saw another human on screen with him. Still, you were well aware he wasn't in that studio alone, though, as the cameramen and other crew members could always be heard laughing at Soupy's antics. It was a big ol' party, one obviously aimed at a more sophisticated brand of kiddie konsumers, not unlike Stan Lee's early Marvel Comics. Stan and Soupy--is it any wonder I loved 'em both?

So what do you do when you worship something? Why, you make it as much a part of your life as humanly possible, of course. With the comics, that was relatively simple--you buy all of 'em, read and reread 'em, and safely sock 'em away. With Soupy, well, you watch him every chance you possibly can! Now, that was no small order in 1965, as he was at the peak of his popularity, and was being broadcast six times a week. WNEW Channel 5 in New York beamed his program out to us frantic fans from 6:30 until 7pm Monday through Friday evenings, and then gave us a full hour of our hero on Saturdays commencing at 6. And on Sunday? Not meaning to offend, but not unlike other deities before him, on the seventh day, he rested...

I watched him often and I watched him eagerly, but somewhere around September of 1965 I got this peculiar notion--why not watch Soupy EVERDAY without fail, amassing a consecutive streak of program viewing whose total would someday go down...well, exactly WHERE, I couldn't really say. I don't think the Guinness Book of World Records was widely known in those long-ago days, if even in actual existence. But it didn't matter--I was gonna set a record for Soupy viewing that'd be unrivaled anywhere, anytime, by anybody!! Or so I liked to think. And since there was no real official organization to share my ongoing quest with, I instead chose to share my progress with my friends!...

You know WHY they're called "friends"? Because who else would put up with a daily update on the previous evening's serving of Soup, with a hopelessly smug emphasis on the ever mounting total reached by young Fred, Soupy Fan(atic) #!? They liked me, honestly they did, but as the days wore on and my inanely empty accomplishment grew momentum not unlike a rock rolling down a mountainside and heading straight toward their woe begotten homes, I must shamefacedly admit I became more and more insufferable! Bragging is a bad enough quality in a person, but bragging about the number of consecutive episodes you've logged monitoring the Soupy Sales Show? It's a wonder I had any friends left at ALL after a while!?!

Remember, please, this was back in an era when we kids had to walk to school two miles in the snow without shoes--AND had to watch our favorite TV shows when they were on, with no VCRs or TiVos to fall back on as a crutch!?! It was, truly, the dark ages of home entertainment. Of course, in the fall and winter, being home by 6:30 wasn't much of a stretch--the summer might prove to be problematic, if things ever reached that far..

The first true glitch occurred one Saturday afternoon when my best buddy Chris invited me to go shopping with him and his family. Hey, how can you pass up hanging out with your pal on the weekend, I ask you? And besides, we started out way early enough so that I figured there'd be absolutely no problem getting home in time for the ol' Soupster. Little did I know...

Chris's folks were always great to me, understand, but I hadn't taken into consideration just how casually they went about their weekend shopping. I was far more accustomed to my own parents more direct, no-nonsense, get-in, get-out way of doing things. Alas, as the hour of six was fast approaching, we were nowhere near home--in fact, we weren't even in the car HEADING there!?! I'll always remember Chris--probably the number one person I inflicted my ridiculous record repeatedly on--sincerely pleading with his father, "But dad, we've GOTTA get home!! Fred's CAN'T miss Soupy Sales--he's working on a record, y'know--!?!" And bless 'em both--it worked! I may've missed the first 15 minutes--acceptable, it was soon decided by all--but I made it! I ALSO vividly recall Mr. V muttering under his breath as we drove home, "Soupy Sales..." with some choice Dutch curse words added for proper effect...

So everything went along swimmingly until--oh, you're ahead of me, are you? Yup, the power went out all over the Northeast that cold November afternoon back in '65. In those more innocent--albeit stupider--times, my first thoughts weren't, "Is this terrorism?" No, I had a far more urgent--and hopelessly trivial--concern: "Will the power be back on in time for Soupy??" Well, as history teaches us, it wasn't. Not even close. And to say I suffered all the while--waiting and hoping for the flicker of the television screen to return so as not to have my dubious record wiped out of some non-existent record book--well, that would be all too true. No lights I could deal with--no Soupy, I COULDN'T!

But no Soupy there was, and the next morning, electricity restored and school back in session, I ambled out of my house, a defeated and depressed man (boy, actually), heading off to meet Chris at the bus stop. Best friend or not, he could barely contain his glee as he practically gloated at the premature conclusion of my ongoing obsession and by now constant source of his annoyance. Yes, all in all, it was a sad, sad day--UNTIL I got home!!

That's when I discovered the fact that the WNEW broadcast facilities had been knocked out the previous evening, just like everything else had been!! Hallelujah!! You know what that meant, don't you? I couldn't have missed the Soupy Sales show because of the big blackout, because--well, BECAUSE of the big blackout, there'd BEEN no Soupy Sales show! My madness was intact, my friend's weariness with my compulsion continued, and Soupy? Soupy was as funny as ever, which was a good thing, since I'd sentenced myself to watching him each and every day, with no possible reprieve. Yes, Soupy was funny, and I laughed, even if I had to occasionally force myself...

How did it all end you ask--or DID it end? Yeah, it did. I'd notched over a hundred consecutive episodes by early February of 1966--and frankly, after hitting the three digit mark, I was weary of the self-imposed pressure. Soupy should be enjoyed, but I had inadvertantly turned watching him into a chore, one met with less and less enthusiasm each passing day. Still, I couldn't just STOP. I needed a legitimate out of some kind.

Luckily, that's where my buddy Greg came in. He was having a birthday party, y'see, but it wasn't gonna be just any party--GIRLS were gonna be there!?! This was seventh grade, remember, and inviting girls to your birthday party, well, it just hadn't been done before, at least not in MY circle!! There were even some amongst us who didn't wish to attend for that very reason--and a debate of sorts ensued--but I was not among the naysayers! No, I assure you, there was virtually NO question regarding my attendance, so I gladly dropped my Soupy Quest for the chance to stand across the room from a handful of 12 and 13 year old girls, and eye them with a mixture of awe, fear, and suspicion. Naw, I didn't actually TALK to 'em--hardly any of us fellas did--but it was enough just being in the same room with females outside of a classroom setting! But I'd be lying if if the thought of asking Greg to turn on the TV so that maybe--just maybe--I could take in a few minutes of that night's Soupy shows and keep my record intact didn't at least cross my mind. (Oh yeah--THAT would've impressed the ladies no end! "Wanna hear about my record, Joanne? And I do a GREAT White Tooth imitation, Christine--listen!...")

And as for the blackout of 1977, well, I was visiting my lovely bride to be, Lynn, at her home not far from here. I know this because that dastardly lightning bolt struck the very day before her birthday, so where else would I be? No other memories, though (Soupy was off the air by then, y'see...)

Thursday I was out in the pool, chatting with my mother-in-law, Terry, when the circuits went dead. It was a particularly hot day, so she'd come over earlier to swim. I'd stayed inside working on some drawings, but finally joined her around 3. Neither of us knew what had happened until close to 5 when I went in the house to check the time and prepare dinner in expectation of Lynn's eventual return home from IBM. Lynn did arrive home soon thereafter, but it took close to an hour for her to wend her way through the powerless streets as opposed to her usual 20 minutes when the lights were operating in both their green and red modes.

We ate some cold food, listened to the radio, lit a few candles, and went to bed way too early for my tastes. Grandma slept over, using Julie's vacant bed--she was finishing up her last night at camp when things went dark (no good stories there, either). The power returned at 4am, eleven hours and forty five minutes after it went away, and I can't say we suffered overmuch. Oh, I missed taping the 4th episode of "West Wing" on Bravo, since this was a series I hadn't begun watching until midway into their second season, but no problemo--it'll turn up soon enough during the next repeat cycle, no doubt. No, my happy little family made out relatively okedoke--we even had running water. Our experience was nothing like the many trials and tribulations so many other folks out there were put through.

And it was certainly nowhere NEAR as painful as laboring under the impression that I'd missed a crucial episode of the Soupy Sales show, believe you me!!

(Now THERE'S a phrase you don't hear every day--"Crucial episode of the Soupy Sales show"!?! What OTHER site's gonna give you a blackout anecdote like the preceding? If we're all lucky, very, very few!?!...)

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