Saturday, January 4, 2020

Terrifying Wholesomeness

Rahnee and I were eating dinner in a restaurant, just minding our business and having a grand old time, when I saw something that scared the living hell out of me. It triggered severe PTSD flashbacks.

A guy sat at a nearby table and he wore a red preppy sweater over a white shirt. I gasped and muttered, “Oh Dear God! It’s Up With People!”

Rahnee’s face twisted up, inquisitively. She had no idea what that out-of-the-blue comment was all about. It hit me that she’s much younger than me and since Up With People was a phenomenon mostly of the 1960s and 70s, she might not have been subjected to them. So now I had to explain to her what Up With People was and what made them so terrifying.

I told her that when I was a teenage inmate at the state operated boarding school for crippled kids, which I affectionately refer to as the Sam Houston Institute of Technology (SHIT), they took us on a field trip to a theater. The performers were the Up With People troupe. And they were just as I’d seen them on TV, performing at football game halftimes and on hokey variety shows. As I remember, the guys wore red or blue preppy sweaters over white shirts and the females wore matching red or blue jumpers with white blouses. The performers were all as white and pure as could be. They all had permanent, lobotomized smiles and they sang relentlessly upbeat songs about how we all need to be nice to each other while they performed stiff, synchronized choreography.

It scared the hell out of me in the same way the guy on the Quaker Oats box scared the hell out of me when I was a child. I wasn’t scared of the Quaker Oats guy in the sense that I thought he would break into my room and stab me to death or anything like that. When I look back, I realize what terrified me was his overpowering wholesomeness. I’ve always reacted that way to people who are unabashedly wholesome. I get paranoid that they’re coming after us all. Their agenda is to release a tidal wave of wholesomeness that will drown us all and when it recedes we’ll all be as wholesome are they are.

That’s how Up With People affected me as a teen. I just wanted to get the hell out of that theater before their ingenious form of torture broke me down to the point where I’d surrender and become one of them.

Seeing the guy in the red preppy sweater made this all come rushing back. I explained all this to Rahnee and her face shifted into a new look that said, “What kind of drugs have you taken?” It was a look of pity.

When we got home, I sent her an internet video of Up With People performing in the 1960s and 70s. So at least she knows I didn’t make it all up, though she probably still wonders what kind of drugs I’ve taken.

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