Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Big Fish, Little Ponds

There was a Bob Newhart routine in the 60's on his The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back album called "School For Bus Drivers." The monologue is a lecture by the course instructor, encouraging the students to become not mere good bus drivers, but "one of the great all-time bus drivers.  Drivers like the legendary Larry Strickland.  The greatest bus driver of our time, and perhaps of any era: Neil Norlag."

A little later when I was in college, a group of us from theater would ironically go roller-skating a few towns away. (Had fun, though.)  As I had also noticed in high school, each rink had its stars, its special couples, whether skaters or announcers.  Others would bask in their reflected glow, if they could demonstrate an easy familiarity and friendship with one of these.  "I'm usually the one who signals to Benelux when to Shoot The Duck," one odd gentleman confidently assured me.

Every little corner of the world has them, these giants in their respective arenas which seem unimportant - or at least arcane - to outsiders.  The Saturday morning men's Bible study had several members who became enamored of the men's movement and Iron John, speaking in admiring tones about Robert Bly. This all grew into retreats and weekends over the next few years, with Bly becoming an important enough figure that participants would become bitterly disappointed if his presence could not be arranged.

Come to think of it, everything that goes into the weekends and retreats mode likely has its figures which inspire at least a little awe.  Every hobby or area of study, every obscure sport or competition has names instantly recognised by the others, carrying with them an automatic prestige of association.  There are women who speak at Christian conferences, whether humorous or as authors of serious studies (or both) who have regional, topic, or national prominence.  Their names are not much recognised outside of evangelical circles, somewhat restricted in generation, and by males only vaguely or inaccurately.

I belong to a small but national denomination - we have our stars.  I have seen a dozen sets of heroes and heroines come and go in mental health.  Many of these figures deserve their minor fame, however unimportant or even ridiculous they may seem to outsiders.


Sam L. said...

All little ponds need big fish--someone(s) to look up to.

Sponge-headed ScienceMan said...

Ahemmm - Speaking as a long-standing, card-carrying member in good standing of the New England Moxie Congress.....

james said...

It seems almost inhuman to have a flat hierarchy of honor with vast masses and a few illustrious stars. Why shouldn't a county pop singer be as famous in her own county as one of the over-tabloided national singers? (I suspect the difference in talent is probably not that great. There's not that much room for national stars, but there's plenty of competition.)

It isn't very hard to find local pundits with more insight than the nationally syndicated ones. In their defense the latter have to turn out regular columns, which may reduce their quality. The local people don't have national megaphones, but when they start talking in the break room, or posting on the web, you pay attention.