Scenes from a Life: Felix the Cat

When we’re little, sometimes we embarrass our parents with public whining, grocery story tantrums, primitive restaurant manners, and obnoxious airplane behavior. But they get the ultimate revenge by embarrassing us in front of our friends when we’re teenagers, and sometimes they need not even be present to win.

One day in sixth grade I discovered that my Dad was a total dork. It rebounded very painfully upon me, and ever after, I carefully weighed my reaction to anything he said.

We used to watch morning cartoons before school on a 13-inch black and white TV on the end of the breakfast table. We sat at a standard rectangular redwood picnic table with a vinyl tablecloth because of the way it fit both the kitchen niche and a family of six. Breakfast cereal was eaten in a daze while “Underdog” or “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” or something else early seventies-era entertained us. Those were the pre-cable days when your set got four channels plus public broadcasting if you had a UHF antenna.

One ill-fated morning, the truly ancient cartoon “Felix the Cat” began a syndicated run. It was full-on nostalgia time for my Dad, who forgot all about his wilting rice krispies and was instantly transfixed by this character from his own childhood. “Wow. Felix the Cat’s back on!” he exclaimed. Clearly this was something wonderful, a miracle in our time. We were privileged to be alive at such a juncture.

Caught up in the glorious moment, as soon as I arrived at school, I announced to one of the cool blond girls in my class, “Guess what? Felix the Cat’s back on!”

She stared me down for a moment, like I’d announced I’d had worms for breakfast. Then she spun on one tanned leg, advanced on the rest of the class working their locker combinations, and passed on my news in a mocking tone that left no room for interpretation.

Do I blame her? Not really. If I’d thought for one second about how likely it was that anyone else found a thirties cartoon a cause for celebration, I would have filtered. I usually wasn’t so careless with words, and I vowed never to be so again. Exit innocent childhood stage left, enter painful adolescent self-consciousness stage right.

Do you remember the first time your parent fell from grace?