When I was in elementary school, mainly in first and second grade, we watched Sesame Street almost every day. Our teacher would wheel in a big black and white TV on a cart and plug it in. There were no VCRs then — we watched it live. The TV plugged into an antenna outlet on the wall. My dad explained that this was called MATV (Master Antenna TV) and that it was very cutting edge for 1969. A big dish antenna on the roof brought in WCVE, channel 23, a public TV station in Richmond, about an hour east. Modern technology, or so we called it then.
I liked Sesame Street. It was corny and goofy, but it was still quality entertainment. Bert and Ernie cracked me up. Kermit was cool. Big Bird was the voice of reason. Mr. Snuffleupagus didn’t even exist yet, in those days. And the songs were very catchy. I’ll bet there’s not a kid who watched the show in those days who could not sing the entire “One of these things is not like the others” tune from memory.
Those of you who know me are aware that I have a very weird mind. When I don’t understand something I hear, it is absolutely maddening to me, and I am driven to find out what I missed. One day in second grade I remember watching an episode of Sesame Street that was sponsored in part by the number eleven. There was a song about the number eleven, and a pair of lines jumped out at me because they didn’t make any sense.
Eleven little birdies in the trees
with bright yellow beaks and pekingese.
Pekingese? Those little dogs that look like they’ve had their faces flattened with a brick? And they’re in the trees with the pretty birdies? WHAT?
None of my classmates got it either, nor did my teacher, but every single one of them thought I was a nut for even caring what the words meant in a song about the number 11. I tallied up my options, realizing that the only way I’d ever get an answer was contacting the show, somehow. For a second-grader, this would have required some parental assistance, and since my mom shared my teacher’s opinion that I was nuts for even wondering, no such help was forthcoming. But it bugged me. I saw a rerun of the show when I was a couple of years older, heard the song again, and it bugged me then too. It bothered me so much that I remember it today, though I hadn’t thought about it in a decade or three.
This morning, for no good reason, the eleven song ran through my head. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven! Eleven’s the number for me.” Immediately that verse came back to me.
It occurred to me that I now had in my possession a piece of truly remarkable modern technology, something that made MATV look like arrowheads hewn from flint. My smartphone. So I pulled up Google, searched for “Eleven’s the number for me,” and within 30 seconds I had the lyrics to that entire song in front of me.
“Pinky knees.” The birds had pinky knees. What a ridiculous lyric! It’s so unusual a turn of phrase that when I Google it, in quotes, the lyrics to the “Eleven” song come up on the first page, only five or six items down.
But how wonderful is that, really? I remembered a snippet of a silly Sesame Street song I hadn’t heard in more than 40 years, typed it into my phone, and got the lyrics! I think sometimes as I go through life, I forget what an exciting time we live in and the advantages we enjoy. When I was seven years old there was no Internet, there were no practical home computers, and a phone was still something that plugged into the wall and was owned by the telephone company. It had a dial, not buttons. If you wanted to know something, you went to the library, searched through a bunch of drawers full of cards, and then went and retrieved books from shelves. No Google. No Internet forums full of people with dubious advice and shaky information. If you were lucky, like me, you had encyclopedias. If it wasn’t in those, and you didn’t know somebody who knew the answer, you were just out of luck.
We live in the information age. It’s the kind of access to information we all dreamed of when watching Star Trek, and Spock could access a library comprising the total knowledge of mankind. All he had to do was ask, and Majel Barrett’s voice dispensed the information immediately. Siri has replaced Majel, and Wolfram and Google have replaced the library computer, but we have the same power.
May we live long and prosper.