Back in 1979, as a five year-old, I appeared in a brief Sesame Street segment– one of those interstitial bits that doesn’t take place on ‘the Street’ or involve any of the signature characters, but instead is shot from real life and generally has a straightforwardly educational premise (‘real-life films’ is what these are called in Sesame Street fan parlance, I’ve learned). In my bit, a group of kids go to visit a printing press. I presume that many educational and edifying tidbits are also learned along the way, although I can hardly remember anything about it now (more on this below). I’ve never actually seen the segment, and had come to suspect over the years that perhaps I’d fabricated the whole thing in my mind (unlikely) or that it had never in fact aired (more likely). But then, over the holidays, I was talking to my uncle and he suddenly mentioned having seen it– I guess he was watching Sesame Street with my little cousin and the segment suddenly popped on. This spurred me on to track down some info about the segment – or better yet, footage – using the vast resources available along the Information SuperHighway.
My first stop was the Muppet Wiki, which includes user-submitted synopses of lots and lots of Sesame Street episodes. Unfortunately, the episode guide is very much incomplete and misses large chunks of the ’79 and ’80 seasons. When I couldn’t find my segment in the episodes covered from this season, I began to leaf through later seasons, hoping that I would find it as a re-run. This process soon became obsessive. An hour later, having paged through 12 full seasons, I tore myself away, by now immersed in the era when hip-hop culture began to infiltrate ‘the Street’ and kids started sporting high-top fades. By this point, my mind was whooshing from scanning hundreds of summaries of various skits, some of which started to sound like zen riddles and/or fortune cookies:
- A man illustrates ‘between’ in various situations throughout his work day.
- Why can’t we see the wind?
- A man laughs out loud as an alligator uses the telephone to call his wife – then he eats the phone booth.
- A man talks about going to the city, without noticing he’s walking right through it.
- Everyone has the same feelings, “No Matter What.” Kids of all types play with a huge beach ball.
That’s a good question about the wind. Anyway, at this point I had to face the music that the Muppet Wiki wasn’t going to hold any answers for me, so I moved on to Muppet Central Forum. This has a certain section called ‘The Official “I’m looking for/trying to remember a sketch” thread’, where I posted a comment describing my episode. Several helpful people wrote back with recollections of episodes involving printing and/or newspapers, but none turned out to be mine. I continue to get email updates any time someone posts to this thread, even when it has nothing to do with me– for example:
Does anyone else recall an episode (from the early 1970s) in which one of the adults spots Mr. Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street? Snuffy was wearing striped pajamas at the time, which causes confusion when Big Bird asks where his friend has gone. (The adult character agrees that Snuffy is real, but mistakes the stripes for a natural body covering; when Big Bird tries to correct the description, he gets ignored as usual.)
If you remember this show…could you please tell me (1) which season it aired in, and (2) who the “Snuffy sighter” was. I’m thinking it’s Bob but I could be wrong!
Anyway, the upshot of this story is that I still haven’t found the episode I appeared in. But, the experience of scouring my mind for tell-tale details of the episode made me think again about some weird aspects of human memory: when I try to remember the filming, I get two distinct mental snapshots (walking down a rural Vermont road to the printer; a moment of running forward excitedly towards the camera with two other kids at the printer’s). Did these actual moments happen? If so, why do I remember them and not a snapshot from, say, 20 seconds later? Or, are they just amalgamations of dozens or hundreds of different moments that happened over the course of the afternoon?
Final comment: I happened to talk about this whole Sesame Street hunt with about four people, and two of them happened to be Canadians by sheer coincidence. Both Canadians reported hating Sesame Street as children, which I found shocking. One explained that the street itself looked too dingy and rundown to be what he would have considered a safe place in the context of 70s suburban Toronto.
Photo: Stevie Wonder’s unlikely cameo that yielded a version of ‘Superstition’.