“The President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution's Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case."
– John Dowd, private lawyer to the President of the United States in an
interview with Axios on Monday, December 4, 2017.
Alright, young people. Stay with me.
In September of 1969 the world was introduced to a Saturday morning kids’ show called H.R. Pufnstuf. This was a live action mishmash of life-sized puppets and actors who inhabited a psychedelic magic land called Living Island, wherein everything – rocks, trees, houses – came to life and danced around. The main characters were a shipwrecked kid named Jimmy and his talking flute named Freddy. (Freddy’s falsetto voice was so high that I think he should have been a piccolo, but I’ll not quibble.) Jimmy and Freddy were in constant danger from an inept witch who flew around on a rocket-powered broom. Her name was, of course, Witchiepoo. Everyone on Living Island was protected from Witchiepoo by the benevolent mayor, an exhausted looking dragon with huge green bags under his eyes, H.R. Pufnstuf.
The show was bizarro.
H.R. Pufnstuf was yet another testament as to how quickly social norms moved in the 1960s and ‘70s. The great countercultural, animated Beatles epic Yellow Submarine had been released in theatres less than a year before. A great many mammas and daddies were already initially uncomfortable with those loud, long-haired Liverpoolians – even in 1965 when they performed wearing tidy matching collarless suits and skinny ties – but the outré hippy mess of Yellow Submarine was... well, as my dad said to my sister Sally as she begged to go see the movie, “NO! No daughter of mine is going to see that druggy freak show!”
But H.R. Pufnstuf came right into our family rooms on NBC, the home of the sensible and serious Huntley – Brinkley News Report. (CBS’s Walter Cronkite was too liberal for my father.) As I watched Pufnstuf the not-found-in-nature yellow of the Quisp® cereal I was shoveling into my mouth blended harmoniously with the garishness of Living Island’s fluorescent world – made all the more alarming as it was viewed on our first-generation RCA C O L O R television.
Okay, if you’re around my age and your parents let you watch too much TV, I hope you’ve enjoyed this dose of nostalgia.
But what’s my point?
Consider this lyric from the opening theme:
Who's your friend when things get rough?
Can't do a little ‘cause he can't do enough.”
I have been guilty of overthinking things. And perhaps as the cereal was rotting my teeth, the decay was leaching into my brain. But I was confused by these four lines. I would ask myself, why are they saying “Pufnstuf can’t do enough?” Why can’t he even do a little? If he can’t do enough, how does he ever get anything done? I had a tendency to take things literally.
I didn’t get it.
I ran it by my mom who patiently explained to me that declaring so-and-so “can’t do enough” was a common thing to say in order to compliment a person who is exceedingly helpful.
As it is when one is taught something well, I got it. I am grateful that I could ask my mom stuff.
And nowadays I incorporate that saying when I want to say something nice about somebody who is generous with their time and talents – someone who is good and steadfast and attentive.
• • •
“Curiouser and curiouser.”
These are words uttered by Lewis Carroll’s Alice as she makes her way through Wonderland. Oftentimes what Alice witnesses is off-putting. It is always otherworldly, and – except that she is witnessing it – impossible.
That’s what this last year has felt like.
And – my, oh my – how quickly social norms are moving, once again! Remember that simpler time when a politician could make a gaff with something namby-pamby like, “Corporations are people, my friend!”
Alas, the olden days.
• • •
Anyone who knows me well knows I think like a child. Sometimes too much so.
Which brings us to what the President’s lawyer said:
“The President cannot obstruct justice...”
Wait. I am confused. This is taking me back to my pre-Pufnstufian definition of “can’t” (or “cannot”).
Like, a mom cannot leave a kid in a locked car on a hot day.
Or like, a subway operator cannot go to sleep at the controls.
Just like a governor cannot close a bridge out of childish spite.
My grammarian mother is speaking to me from Beyond. Again, she is explaining it all to me.
Ah. She says, once again, I am confusing “cannot” with “may not.”
We shall see.