Tag Archives: Laverne and Shirley

David Ortiz Ate Here: Confessions of a Grown-Up Red Sox Fanboy

Read "I Am a Red Sox Fanboy," my opinion column for CNN.com, by double clicking Dustin Pedroia's beard.

Read “I Am a Red Sox Fanboy,” my column for CNN.com, by double clicking Dustin Pedroia’s beard.

Journalism has brought me close up with political leaders, CEOs, inventors, scientists, actors, musicians and even Squiggy from “Laverne & Shirley” fame.

But only baseball players can make me feel 12 years old again.

Timed for the World Series, I wrote a fun column for CNN.com about the thrill of spotting Red Sox players out of uniform — without the help of baseball cards.

Here’s a sneak peek:

“Is baseball hothead David Price right? Are the millions of us who never pitched beyond Little League just a bunch of starstruck wannabes?

During the American League Divisional Series, the Tampa Bay Rays star lashed out at the media after giving up seven earned runs in seven innings. “Nice questions, nerds!” he hissed at reporters. Then Price got mean. On Twitter, he called Sports Illustrated scribe Tom Verducci a nerd who wasn’t even a water boy in high school.” He stopped there, passing up the temptation to mock Verducci’s prom date or how much he can bench press.

Price’s snotty attitude exists for one reason. Many of my fellow baseball nuts DO think players are cooler than the rest of us. The fact is, no matter how successful we may be in our professional lives, many of us would instantly trade in our careers for a (your team here) uniform.”

Oddly, a tongue-in-cheek column like this has attracted some angry comments directed at Boston and Bostonians. I know writers are advised to NEVER read the anonymous comments beneath their stories, but I always touch the Third Rail.

Check out my column, “I am a Red Sox Fanboy,” and please share it with fellow baseball fans. Even though it’s focused on the Sox, you really could fill in the blanks with players from your favorite team — or characters from any celebrity watching endeavor for that matter.

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Filed under Celebrity Watching, CNN Columns, Red Sox, Red Sox Schlock, Sports

My Day With Squiggy — Yes, That Squiggy!

Actor David Lander as Squiggy

Actor David Lander as Squiggy

CULTURE SCHLOCK — By Darren Garnick
“Squiggy’s Secret: Even Pop Culture Icons Can Get MS”
Originally published in The Telegraph
May 18, 2001

One of the Golden Rules of Journalism is “Thou Shalt Not Ask an Interview Subject For an Autograph.” The rationale makes sense. Reporters who giddily ask for autographs are unlikely to ask tough questions.  Editors also  resent the idea of their publications being confused with fan club magazines.  Lacking self-control, I broke that sacred rule last week.  I broke it for “Squiggy.”

David L. Lander, who played the quirky character in the 1970s sitcom “Laverne & Shirley,” was in town to discuss his 17-year battle with Multiple Sclerosis and why he hid his condition from the public until 1999. I was working behind the scenes for a TV network doing the typical “Celebrity Disease of the Week” feature. President Bartlett (Martin Sheen) on “The West Wing” revealed he had the same illness this month, giving MS enough temporary status to merit media coverage.

Our day began at Squiggy’s hotel and wrapped up at Fenway Park, where we shot footage of him watching the Red Sox and Mariners during batting practice. Lander’s publicist shared Squiggy stories to kill some time. Earlier that morning, at the Philadelphia airport, a fan rushed up to him with a baseball and blurted, “David Lander?  I have autographs of every ‘Laverne & Shirley’ cast member except for you!”  Lander signed the ball, not bothering to ask why the fan happened to have a baseball at the airport. The publicist suspected there might be a Squiggy stalker on the loose.

At the end of our assignment, we were in the Red Sox press box with Lander as he filled out his scorecard. I pulled a baseball out of my pocket and said in an ultra-serious tone, “David, at home I have autographed baseballs of every cast member of ‘Laverne and Shirley’ except for you. Would you please sign my baseball?”

He nodded without hesitation, but neither he nor his publicist picked up on the joke. “I was kidding,” I said. “I was referring to the psycho you met today at the airport… But I still would like to get it signed.” Lander smiled, thinking it was a strange coincidence, but was too polite to compare me to his stalker.

The conversational banter continued to flow naturally until I said I wanted the autograph because I was a “big pop culture buff.”

“Oh, is that what I am?” Lander replied.

Following an awkward moment of silence, I felt instant guilt. From Squiggy’s perspective, I had just reduced him to Archie Bunker’s chair or Dorothy’s ruby slippers. I may as well have built a glass display case around him.  But it was true: I would have been far less gung-ho about meeting a non-celebrity struggling with MS.

The whole time I was with Lander, most of our small talk was about baseball. He seemed ecstatic that I not only had heard of the Portland Beavers (the AAA minor league Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate), but mentioned Luis Tiant’s comeback there. Turns out that Lander had paid some of Tiant’s salary when the team couldn’t afford it, making him a five-percent owner. It was genuine sports talk, but for me it was sports talk with Squiggy.

Squiggy loves the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Squiggy loves the Pittsburgh Pirates.

I wasn’t the only one.  At the ballgame, a few fans recognized Lander and asked him to sign their Red Sox programs, insisting that “Squiggy” be written in addition to “David.” Perhaps unaware that “Laverne & Shirley” was scripted, one guy said, “You always seemed to enter at the right time!”

Lenny (Michael McKean) and Squiggy were the forefathers of characters like Kramer on “Seinfeld.” The socially awkward best friends would enter a room unannounced whenever Laverne and Shirley would daydream about their missing Romeos.  Squiggy had the honor of triggering the laugh track. “Hello!” he’d say in a nerdy voice, which is simply not as funny on paper.

What happened to Lenny after that show is well known. Part of the Rob Reiner-Christopher Guest-Harry Shearer collaborative team, he’s been churning out clever comedies (“This is Spinal Tap,” “Best In Show.”) ever since. What happened to Squiggy is outlined in “Fall Down Laughing: How Squiggy Caught Multiple Sclerosis and Didn’t Tell Nobody,” his autobiography released last fall.

MS first strikes people in their 20s and 30s and gets progressively worse with age. It is a particularly scary disease because it causes muscle weakness and extreme fatigue without warning.  Some people first lose strength in an arm or leg; others later feel numb in all four extremities.  MS wreaks havoc with the central nervous system, stripping people of their balance and eventually, their freedom to walk.

For 15 years, Lander let people think he was an alcoholic every time he stumbled at an inopportune moment. That image was more preferable than being known as a victim of MS, a stigma he feared would make him unemployable in Hollywood.

Watching Lander limp around the batting cage at Fenway Park, his balance preserved for now with the help of MS drugs, made me a little less cynical about “Celebrity Disease of the Week” stories.  Squiggy was still smiling.

In Lander’s eyes, I saw him as a walking, talking 1970s relic to be auctioned on eBay. Sure, I devoted more brain time to Laverne & Shirley in a few hours than I had in my entire life. But I also spent much of the day thinking about Multiple Sclerosis. For that alone, Lander’s post-Squiggy role is a huge success.

**

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Filed under Red Sox, Red Sox Schlock, Sports, Squiggy