World enters 2000 without a close friend, Charlie Brown
When I emerged from my underground bomb shelter into the dawn of a new millennium last weekend, I looked around to see if the black helicopters had landed in Carson City. They hadn’t and all was right with the world … for the moment.
On Monday, however, something happened to change my optimistic approach to the 21st century. No, I don’t mean the 330-point drop on Wall Street (although that was worrisome); rather, I’m referring to the end of the “Peanuts” comic strip, which as far as I’m concerned means the end of the world as we’ve known it. How can we go on without Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of that unforgettable gang?
Legendary cartoonist Charles Schulz, who had drawn “Peanuts” for nearly 50 years, asked a similar question in the final panel of his final daily comic strip. “Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy … how can I ever forget them?” And the answer is, we can’t because they were with us through thick and thin during the second half of the 20th century, through good times and bad, from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton.
Whenever we thought things were going badly, Charlie Brown was suffering a worse fate. After all, in nearly 50 years of trying, he never did kick that football. The hateful Lucy always jerked it away at the last instant. Charlie never flew that kite either, and the Great Pumpkin never showed up in that pumpkin patch where Linus waited so faithfully every October.
And now, the 77-year-old cartoonist has finally retired in order to fight colon cancer and to spend more time with his family in Santa Rosa, Calif. Although Charles Schulz has earned his retirement, we’ll miss him a lot. Like his alter ego, Charlie Brown, Schulz is a good man. “I did my best,” he said last week in a tearful interview with Al Roker of NBC’s “Today” show. Did he ever!
Accolades poured in from around the globe, where “Peanuts” is published by 2,600 newspapers in 75 countries (We read it in Spanish for many years). “Aack! I can’t stand it!” shouted Cathy in a tribute by one fellow cartoonist. And in “Doonesbury,” a drug-addled Zonker in a Charlie Brown-style striped shirt stretched out on the roof of Snoopy’s doghouse. “Peanuts” also made the cover of Newsweek’s first issue of the new millennium. “Charles Schulz’s characters mirrored our lives and taught us timeless lessons about faith, hope and love,” wrote Sharon Begley of Newsweek
They sure did. In my own case, like Charlie, I wanted to be a successful baseball player. But after giving up some of the longest home runs in Seattle playground history, I knew that I wasn’t destined to pitch for the West Seattle Indians. So I could relate when Charlie stood out there on the mound in pouring rain, giving up runs by the dozen but still hoping for eventual victory.
“Peanuts touches something deeper than the funny bone,” wrote Newsweek’s Ms. Begley. “It embodies a world where first innings last so long the outfield goes home for lunch, where ‘the meaning of life’ is to go back to sleep and hope that tomorrow will be a better day and where beagles writing the great American novel struggle to get past, ‘It was a dark and stormy night.”’ That’s the way I feel sometimes when facing a column deadline.
In essence, Charlie Brown was a great philosopher searching for order in a chaotic world. “What do I do about this loneliness?” Charlie asked Lucy the amateur psychiatrist. “Get more friends. Five cents, please,” she replied. In another strip, Charlie confessed to deep feelings of depression and asked what he could do. “Snap out of it,” Lucy advised.
John Podhoretz, a New York Post columnist, described Lucy Van Pelt as “the nation’s prime example of too much self-esteem.” When Charlie asked Lucy whether it bothered her to know that some people didn’t like her, she responded, “Dislike me? How could anyone dislike me? There’s nothing to dislike!” End of discussion.
According to Podhoretz, “Charlie Brown isn’t like the others. He’s just trapped inside his own head, and he can’t get out.”
“I only dread one day at a time,” Charlie said, but he had moments of pure happiness watching his dog Snoopy live an active fantasy life as a great writer or a World War I flying ace. “Happiness is a warm puppy,” Charlie concluded. Come to think of it, that’s probably as good a definition as any. “For that thought alone, Charles M. Schulz deserves his little corner of pop immortality,” Podhoretz opined.
In his final strip, Schulz said Peanuts “has been the fulfillment of my childhood ambition.” Well, I’m a journalist, not a philosopher, so I’ll end this column by wishing Schulz a full recovery and the rewarding golden years that he so richly deserves. You’re a good man, Charles Schulz. We’ll never forget you, and thanks for the memories.
CONGRATULATIONS to the Gaming Control Board and slot machine manufacturers for agreeing to ban cartoon-based slots in Nevada casinos. Good decision!
Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.