My Sundays From 1991 Just Died
It's often said that famous deaths come in threes. Those deaths are usually disparate; an actor here, or an octogenarian politician there. There's usually very little in common between any of them, much less among all three.
This week, Heavy D, Andy Rooney and Bil Keane (creator of The Family Circus) all died. Professionally, a 44-year-old rapper, a 92-year-old curmudgeon and an 89-year-old cartoonist have nothing to do with each other.
But in the early 90s, they were my Sundays.
Waking up on Sundays was my favorite thing in the world when I was eight, because they were days unlike any other. They lacked the hectic to-do and heavy decisionmaking of watching Saturday morning cartoons, the fun-but-still-obligatory activities of Saturday afternoon, even the aimless chaos of Saturday nights spent playing or reading or visiting a friend or begging mom to finally let you order pizza because it's been soooooooooooo long since you got to order it and all the kids at school eat pizza like every night.
Sundays, you see, had structure.
I loved to draw when I was kid (and still do, despite professional life getting in the way). Sunday mornings were beautiful because the comics were in color, and huge. This was before they were half-full of ads and shrunk to two pages, too. Six pages of full-color comics, with some strips you never even saw on weekdays. At that age, my favorites were Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes, because they hinted at the melancholy and frustration of being small in a grownup's world. Family Circus was a saccharine glop of sitcom-style punchlines, but there was something about the intricate detail of a dotted-line strip that put everything else to shame. You may have a T-Rex in space, Calvin, but this, this was something special.
After comics, my mother and grandmother would often pack up for the grocery store, and I would head out with them. When you're a kid going along for that ride, the purpose and function of the grocery store turns on its head. The most interesting parts for me were, in order:
1) The magazine/comic rack.
2) The checkout lane.
3) The cereal aisle.
4) The cookie aisle.
5) Whatever else was in the store.
After that sojourn, we headed back home. Not particularly caring about sports, Sunday afternoons became homework time. After that, some reading, maybe some playing, but it was all a countdown (for me, at least) to 60 Minutes. I remember liking the show because, unlike other news shows, it featured a big ticking stopwatch. It also had people with radio voices, and oftentimes covered things I was interested in, like Michael Jackson or Nintendo. And I remember the frazzled slouch of a man at the end of each episode who would often leave me with more questions than the rest of the show combined. I didn't even know enough about what he was complaining about to feign comprehension of his weariness. I did, however, understand the playful nature of his complaints, and that he wasn't really mad about whatever he was complaining about. It was a nice bookend to an hour of world troubles, and a way to recontextualize the adult worries and horrors I'd just seen.
Then, 8 PM hit. More importantly, the opening theme to In Living Color hit.
In retrospect, a lot about the show was problematic: its approach to women and its approach to homosexuality, to name two things. But for a young black kid who spent most of his television time watching white people clown around with other white people, who thought the best sitcom on TV was Roc and who refused to watch the last episode of The Cosby Show because I didn't want to admit it was over, In Living Color was subversive and wild and amazing, the place where my Sunday dotted line was going to end up.
That theme song was the first "adult" song I memorized. It was the song that kids at school used to determine who watched good TV and who didn't, who was down and who wasn't. It was also the end of my Sundays.