It started, as everything involving the internet does, with cats. Kara was apprising me of possible absences from work when she said, matter-of-factly, that she might miss a day due to Cat Fest.
“What?” I asked, sure that I had heard her wrong. No, that’s what she said: Cat Fest. I finally said, “I have no idea what you’re saying to me.” This woman, who for years — years! — has mocked me for my past attendance at Star Trek conventions, yesterday told me with a perfectly straight face that she is considering going to a three-day festival to watch cat videos. If she and her friend can still get tickets. Because it sells out.
She also said this festival can include “celebrity” appearances by cats like Grumpy Cat and some other cat I can’t remember now, and here’s how sad my life is: I said, “Isn’t Grumpy Cat dead?” It turns out yes, both her celebrity examples are no longer living, but in an even sadder turn, I told her about a new cat celebrity that she hadn’t heard of.
I had just watched, yesterday morning, a feature on CBS news about a cross-eyed cat from San Francisco who is gaining quite a following and using this fanaticism to raise money for causes like animal shelters and wildfire recovery. I thought he was a Russian Blue, but it turns out his name is Belarus. Same difference, right?
But while I was trying to search out this cat, which was stupid, because Kara is going to outsearch me by a matter of magnitudes on anything internet, I learned that actor Robert Conrad had died of heart failure at age 84.
This caused me to immediately text my sister Terri — you have no idea how hard we work at Pat’s Screen Printing — and she replied, “This actually makes me a little sad. Probably my first serious celebrity crush.”
Both Terri and I spent a lot of time growing up with Robert Conrad. We loved watching reruns of Wild, Wild West, where a tight-panted Mr. Conrad leaped and swooped and punched the bad guys (and, in the animated opening, a woman he had just kissed who then pulls a knife on him). According to his obituary in the New York Times, he claimed to do all his own stunts but didn’t really. He did some, and this is why you don’t squander the “talent” on dirty work like stunts: one time he leaped for a chandelier, missed and landed on his head, nearly dying after he cracked his skull.
He also complained, in an oral history he gave in 2006, about those pants, which he said they “glued on” and which caused him to start wearing dark-colored underwear because they split so often while he was leaping, swooping and punching.
Terri and I also watched him in Black Sheep Squadron (still in fairly tight pants), which was also called Baa, Baa Black Sheep in its two-year run. If you watch it now, it seems to consist of a lot of stock footage of dog fights, but at the time we really enjoyed this show about misfit pilots in the Pacific during World War II, based on the real-life adventures of flying ace Greg “Pappy” Boyington.
My favorite role of his, however — and it sounds like it was his as well — was as the voyageur Pasquinel in the “mini” series Centennial. (At 26 hours, it lasted longer than a lot of non-mini-series.) If you’ve never watched this and are at all curious about Colorado, this is a fairly painless — although it is 26 hours (probably only 13 without commercials) — way to learn about the history of Colorado’s Front Range. Mr. Conrad made a fairly indelible impression as the jaunty, fearless French Canadian setting off all on his lonesome from St. Louis to collect beaver pelts in the 1830s.
[Marrakesh says “gvbhff” to you all in our own version of Cat Fest.]
Mr. Conrad, who turns out to have launched his entertainment career as a singer, came across as a total badass, despite the part where he was probably my size or smaller, and Terri and I totally bought into his tough persona, because we were way into our tough guys.
Which then, yesterday, made me realize that I lied to you all the other day, when I said my family never owned a four-wheel-drive vehicle. I completely forgot about — and I don’t know how I did this — the Jeep my dad “won” in a sealed bid process from the school district.
If you’ve never participated in a sealed-bid auction, it’s not like a regular auction where you can see who is bidding how much; you just write your offer on a piece of paper, seal it in an envelope, and when all the envelopes are opened at once, the person who pledged to pay the most gets the item. Which in this case was a (probaby) Jeep CJ-2A with an M-38 (M for military) top and a plow on the front.
My dad bid $505.05, which I think was $150.05 higher than the next highest bid, but he assured my mom that the plow alone was worth that much. This was probably not his best purchase, because the entire engine needed to be pulled out of the Jeep and massively overhauled, and then we had nothing to speak of to plow.
The first time he used it to plow, he, with me riding along, cleared our short urban driveway in a matter of seconds, and then he went looking for neighbors he could plow out. Sadly, he got to the Ruffe house two doors down just as several Ruffes finished clearing their three-car concrete by hand.
He may have taken it up to the Sweetkind house a time or two, where it really would have come in handy, but as a useful purchase, it really wasn’t. Except for when Terri and I and her friend Angie used it to play “Brat Patrol.” We based this on another very macho TV series we used to watch in reruns, Rat Patrol, with actor Christopher George leading an intrepid group of four across the sand dunes of northern Africa (also during World War II) in a couple of bad-ass Jeeps.
Theirs were more open-air and more heavily armed than my dad’s Jeep, but that did not stop Terri, Angie and me from setting out to keep the neighborhood safe from marauding villains.
Our run with the Jeep didn’t last any longer than the run of Black Sheep Squadron, and after my dad died the Jeep was sold (or maybe given) to the high school art teacher, who did have a driveway that needed plowing. He also drove it to school often, perhaps enjoying his time in it as much as the Brat Patrol had.
After all, it was a vehicle that could make you as cool a cat as Robert Conrad, which is way cooler than any cat you’re going to find at Cat Fest.
An epitaph for Robert Conrad, delivered by Robert Conrad (as Pasquinel).