Revolution #209, August 15, 2010

From Ike to Mao and Beyond
My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist
A Memoir by Bob Avakian

from Chapter 2: One Nation Under God – A '50s Boyhood

Froggy the Gremlin

We got a television when I was fairly young. Saturday mornings I used to like to watch "The Andy Devine Show, brought to you by Buster Brown Shoes." Andy Devine was this old, somewhat over-the-hill actor, and he had this kids' show; they used to advertise Buster Brown Shoes and some other things. But the main thing I remember about it was a puppet named Froggy the Gremlin. The highlight of that show was when Andy Devine would say to the audience, "Okay, kids, it's time now." And all the kids would get excited and start cheering, because they knew what was coming. Then he'd say, "Okay, pluck your magic twanger, Froggy," and there'd be this little puff of smoke and then this little miniature puppet of a frog would appear: "boing, boing, boing." He had this low-pitched sort of frog voice and he'd go, "Hiya kids, hiya, hiya hiya," and the kids would come back, in their high-pitched voices, "Hi Froggy." Froggy was an imp and they'd bring on guests who were shills for him. There would be Mrs. Pillsbury, say, who'd give a lecture about how to bake cookies. She'd go "Now, kids, you take the flour and you put it in a bowl, and then you put in some eggs and milk, and you stir it up and . . ." Then Froggy the Gremlin would say, in this low, insinuating, mischievous voice, "And you pour it on your head." Then Mrs. Pillsbury would say, "That's right, you pour it on your head"—and she'd pour it all over her head. Then, when she realized what she'd done, she'd yell, "Oh Froggy!" and he'd go "Haw, haw, haw." You had to be there as a nine-year-old kid at the time, I guess, but to me it was hilarious. I looked forward to that every Saturday morning. Every kid—at least the ones I knew—wanted to be like Froggy the Gremlin. But I think I actually carried that more into practice than some other kids.

When I got into junior high school, I developed this unique voice of my own, which was kind of like the Froggy the Gremlin voice but a little different, and I would cut up in class and disrupt the class in this voice whenever the teacher would turn his or her back. Then I taught a friend of mine to do the voice. At one point we were taking a test, and he did that voice. He was sitting two seats behind me in the same row and ironically the teacher made me stay after school in detention, because she was convinced that only I could do this, and no one else. I tried to just tell her I didn't do it—I wasn't going to rat out my friend, but I kept insisting, "I didn't do it, I didn't do it, somebody else did it." She wouldn't believe me, of course. But I got a lot of inspiration from Froggy the Gremlin.

One Nation Under God

... When I was 13 or 14, my father took me on a trip to L.A. One day he had to go off to a meeting or something, so I went downtown to an area modeled after Hyde Park in London—I think they even called it Hyde Park. People gathered around giving talks, up on little soap boxes. Anybody could get up and talk, and some people were giving talks refuting the existence of god and putting forward atheism. I think that's the first time I heard somebody put forward a coherent atheist position publicly like that, and even though the people were adults, I got up and argued in refutation, or attempted refutation, of their atheism. That's one of the first public speeches I remember giving. I wasn't one of these religious fundamentalist reactionaries, but I was raised to be fairly strongly and fervently religious. And while it wasn't a big deal to me on a day-to-day basis, when it was hit at, I would hit back, because the things I'd been raised to believe deeply were being hit at, and this was like hitting me.

One time, when I was about 12, I met a Jewish kid while I was taking swimming classes. This was the first time I talked with a Jewish person about what we believed and didn't believe. And I remember saying very ingenuously—naively, and not with any malice, but just being shocked—when it finally dawned on me as he was telling me what he believed, "You mean you don't believe in Jesus Christ?" He very calmly and patiently explained to me that he didn't, and why. That was a shock to me. That was the first time that I'd heard someone put forward, face to face, in a personal conversation, that they didn't believe in the Christian religion that I'd been raised with. I wasn't outraged, I was just taken aback, I just sort of didn't believe it.

In elementary school we used to say the pledge of allegiance, and I didn't question it. I actually remember, when I was something like nine or ten years old, literally thinking to myself—I didn't physically do it, but I thought it—that I should get down on my knees and thank god for living in this great country that we live in, and I should be grateful that I don't live in one of those awful countries that so many people seem to have had the misfortune to be born in.  This is literally what I was saying to myself. And talk about being religious, I remember I used to tempt god—I would say things like "fuck" to myself to see what god would do, then I'd pray for forgiveness because I'd said something awful.  But I couldn't resist doing it again. A few minutes later, or the next day, I'd say "shit," because I'd already heard all these words from the older kids I was playing sports with. So, yes, it was very patriotic, very strait-laced—it was middle class America in the '50s.

To be continued

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What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond