With great affection, my father often tells a story about my younger brother and me running around in the front yard. There’s also a slight hint of annoyance whenever he tells it, but it’s the kind of irritation that parents with young children are allowed. Especially when their kids’ favorite television program showcases the most random, sing-song ideas of a bow tie-wearing man-child.
“You two used to run around the yard and sing that damn thing over and over again,” he laughs over the phone. In the background, my mother emits an audible sigh as he continues: “‘Connect the dots, la la la-la! Connect the dots, la la la-la!‘ All the damn time.”
Anyone who grew up with their faces glued to a television set on Saturday mornings in the late ’80s and early ’90s knows the tune without clicking on the link above. It comes from Pee-wee’s Playhouse, the utterly ridiculous children’s show that featured comedian Paul Reubens’ iconic Pee-wee Herman character for five seasons. Like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood before, during, and after it, Playhouse introduced kids to a variety of characters who all lived in or near a specific community. For Rogers, these were the residents of his own typically suburban neighborhood and those who lived in the land of Make-Believe. For Pee-wee, it was a playhouse on top of a weird claymation mountain that looked like it’d been designed by artists and builders who were dropping acid more than drinking coffee.
But I was just a kid, so I didn’t think anything was wrong with a talking chair named Chairry with big googly eyes and movable arms with which she’d tickle Pee-wee regularly. Nor did I think too much about a globe named Globey whose penchant for map puns was just above my intelligence at the time. Pee-wee’s Playhouse was a big, magical world of multi-colored, fast-paced things that engaged me on a level little else could. I was a weird, loner of a kid, so when I saw this guy on television whose style of dress mirrored my own, I couldn’t help but feel some sort of camaraderie with him. Even if he was just a fictional character developed by an actor, Pee-wee was more real to me then than the park across the street whose bullies weren’t too fond of my bow ties.