Once, I think I was two or three, I completely astonished my family: I could spell “aardvark.” Gasp.
And I could also read.
And not just in the “oh, I’ll sit here and open the page and stumble over the words” manner like other first-time readers. Oh no no. Not only could I read with clarity (or as much clarity as a child who can’t pronounce L’s or R’s or S’s can), they observed, I could read even when the book was turned upside down.
And without turning the pages.
Without turning the pages.
I could read an entire book by just looking at one page upside down.
An Arthur fanatic with a decent memory, actually (the “smart girl” façade began early on). Turns out I had requested to have Arthur books read to me so frequently that I had memorized a few lines, and also pretended that I had the ability to make sense of the words and sentences on the highly-illustrated pages.
In addition to supplying a super hilarious anecdote and photo, my obsession with the cartoon aardvark and friends introduced me to the ultra-catchy theme song that I may or may not still know every word to. If you need a reminder of the lyrics, they basically discuss that differences make the world go round:
Everyday when you’re walking down the street
And everybody that you meet
Has an original point of view
And I say HEY! (HEY!)
What a wonderful kind of day.
If you can learn to work and play
And get along with each other
You got to listen to your heart
Listen to the beat
Listen to the rhythm
The rhythm of the street
Open up your eyes
Open up your ears
Get together and make things better
By working together!
It’s a simple message and it comes from the heart
Believe in yourself (in yourself)
cause that’s the place to start (to start)
And I say HEY! (HEY!)
What a wonderful kind of day
If we can learn to work and play
And get along with each other.
Hey what a wonderful kind of day hey!
Which all-in-all isn’t the most terrible mantra to brainwash into the minds of 1990s toddlers like myself. Love your neighbor, work hard, believe in what you’re doing, do your own thing, etc. etc. The basic array of principles we were supposed to learn about and keep applying beyond the playground. (Even though I’m almost 20 and still have to suppress the desire to hurl fistfuls of wood chips at some folks.)
And it’s not that I had totally forgotten about the show or song – let’s be real for a second, and admit that yes, it has not-accidentally been on my tv this summer – but I haven’t exactly watched it religiously for an hour every afternoon from 5 until 6 since 1999.
So it made me super excited to come across Chance the Rapper’s cover of the song a couple of weeks ago. It has an old-time jazz feel, and for a girl who has Otis Redding and Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole on vinyl, it’s kind of a dream-come-true track. Add on the fact that I heard it on the last day of my first internship ever, and I was overcome with waves of “wow this is spectacular” and “wow I’m really old” and “wow this is important.”
Arthur is an aardvark, with aardvark siblings and parents, and a pet dog. His sister has an imaginary friend who’s a squirrel. Arthur’s best friend is an asthmatic white rabbit. His peers include a wealthy cream orangutan and a super athletic orange one, as well as a ballet-loving and clarinet-playing bulldog, intelligent and Kwanza-celebrating bear, and a (somewhat older) fortune-telling poodle, just to name a few. When you’re little though, it’s just Arthur, DW, Baby Kate, Mom, Dad, Pal, Nadine, Buster, Muffy, Francine, Binky, The Brain, and Sue Ellen. They like different things and look a little different from each other (miraculously they don’t speak differently), but the show wouldn’t be the same without each one of them.
I moved off to college, and immediately took up writing for the school paper. I’d visited the school three times before, and learned my way around via interviewing an assortment of its people. I met my own Francines and Binkys and Brains and DWs, and never failed to learn something more about Tuscaloosa (and the world) each time that I did.
I fell in love with interviewing and writing, and by some wonderful stroke of luck, I ended up at Atlanta magazine over the summer. I got to write about a variety of things and interview everyone from a skydiving and triple amputee war veteran to a football-playing filmmaker to a contestant on my all-time favorite TV show (hint: think dance). Once again, more of my own Baby Kates and Binkys and Sue Ellens.
I worked with other interns, writers, and editors. I spoke with people in person and over the phone. We got along. There were deadlines to be met, but every day was wonderful.
All of this to say: Arthur had it right in 1996 and still has it right today. Believe in what you’re doing. Cool things happen. Simple as that.
Also, 1990s cartoons are the best ones, and I’ve looked the same for two decades.