Pee Wee Herman (a.k.a. Paul Reubens) Made Me Unafraid to be "Weird"!
Like most children and even plenty of adults, I always thought that Pee Wee Herman was real. He was not a character and is arguably the first thespian to play a character so well that he was all too authentic. That was his name and identity. There was no “normal” person behind Pee Wee Herman who took a break when the cameras finally stopped rolling. One of the many faux clues that indicated he is real is on the credits of his two movies in the 1980s…the character of Pee Wee Herman was billed as “himself.” It has always bothered me tremendously when the public referred to him as a “cult hero.” I do not believe it dignifies the man and character to refer to him as a “cult” anything. That term implies that he was not popular amongst mainstream society and only a subculture of “weirdos” found him to be extremely entertaining. Both Paul Reubens and Pee Wee Herman were truly and sincerely beloved by the majority, however. Anyone who did have a problem with him just did not bother to understand or came to a knee jerk conclusion within two minutes time before changing the channel. Or Pee Wee Herman did not enter their lives at the right time when it would have been ingrained into their permanent imagination forever. Pee Wee Herman was the first person who taught me that it was alright to be “weird” or “just different.” None of my peers or even parental units gave me that message or did not enforce it enough. My mother and father meant well, but they sometimes frowned upon my differences. They knew that being over-the-top with these eccentricities would make life far more unbearable than necessary. In my weakest moments, I think they could have been right. While looking back on my often-unhappy childhood, I glance at old photos of myself and see a very handsome boy. Sometimes I wonder about the would-have, could-haves, and should-haves. If more of an effort was made to be mainstream in my social development, perhaps I would have enjoyed typical dating experiences and more friendships. But deep down, it would have been impossible to keep up the façade forever and would have still created more problems than were solved. Pee Wee Herman and Paul Reubens hiding inside his metaphorical skin was a reminder that things would work out over the long haul, especially in adulthood when being different would not be a social death sentence.
The first time I fell in love (not romantically, mind you) with Pee Wee Herman was during my 1980s childhood when the innocuous horror with Large Marge and disturbing clown sequences was mildly traumatic. (My poor cousin Sam had seen a lot of adult movies when he was a little boy, but after screening that movie for the first time he was afraid of any woman named “Marge!” Somehow, this part was the most frightening experience.) Most people are familiar with this film in which Pee Wee’s bicycle is stolen as he thinks this is the end of the entire world! Most other adults would have been upset for an entire day only to quickly begin the process of chalking it up to a loss followed by promptly moving on with life. Pee Wee is arrested in that type of adult maturity. He is an adult only…not! The rage, sadness, fear, anger, obsession, etc. is still as raw as the first time he saw fragments of his bicycle lock on the pavement within the mall promenade. The only thing that may possibly restore his happiness and sanity is the return of his vintage bicycle. Chances are strong that this pursuit of the bicycle would not have lasted forever even within a fictional character. Even Pee Wee Herman would have eventually concluded that chasing after something gone forever would squander the rest of his life and money. (By the way, have you ever wondered how Pee Wee even had the funds to travel all over the country because it did not seem like he maintained employment?) But the manic pursuit would have lasted a very long time. In the adult world, when we say “forever” we do not mean it literally. Pee Wee never gave up and anyone who victimized him would be at the mercy of when he decided to drop it. The self-inflicted ordeal would have prevented the victimizer from doing it again to someone else. On that note, his overweight bully of a neighbor who stole the bicycle was in such distress over Pee Wee’s relentlessness that he paid the hired thief to discard of the precious bicycle considering the entire world was hunting for it due to the promised reward of $10,000. (It would not have been much of a movie if the following had happened, although Francis should have done the right thing by returning the bicycle and offering an apology to Pee Wee. He would not have been hailed as a hero, but at least the authorities and Pee Wee would have shown more mercy. Someone who robs a bank and voluntarily returns the money a day later without having been arrested or caught will be showed more leniency than the bank robber who tries to leave town after lying through his teeth about any involvement while being a suspect not officially charged.) Pee Wee was incapable of “letting go” just like me.
I have never been obsessed with a bicycle, although there have been moments of relentless pursuits in my own life. Back when I was a junior and senior in high school, I had been victimized by a Catfishing prank. In my first book and through an overwrought sense of injustice, I had made my victimizers out to be heinous villains. In reality, they tried to stop the prank by ignoring my constant inquiries about what happened to my current “girlfriend” who had disappeared. At that moment, I thought it was an actual relationship and insisted on finding out what happened. They were a collective version of Francis in the sense they thought it would eventually go away on its own and eventually I would finally stop the chase. But my relentlessness did not die down for six months until my mother and high school principal finally forced it to end by revealing the people behind this horrific prank. (I refused to accept it until hearing the truth myself. That was the only thing to break the trance!) If they had never fessed up to their involvement in the hoax, this would have gone on forever. Pee Wee Herman was going to chase after that bicycle forever. Francis realized that his victim would never stop and this would never die down.
Even in his fantastical movie universe, I am sure there were people who did not like Pee Wee besides Francis who seemed more like a frenemy at that time. In other words, perhaps they had a rocky friendship but one that thrived in their younger years. Despite his out-of-control quirkiness and fiercely unconventional hobbies as a grown man, he still had oodles of friends and a constant support system. Everyone in town showed up at the meeting in his basement as he engaged in a futile attempt to recover the bicycle. They tolerated his ranting for three hours until they could take it no longer and finally walked outside. True friends would stay as long as they possibly could, and they all understood this was the end of the entire world for their poor friend. They could not relate to his anguish over an inanimate object, although they understood that for Pee Wee it was the end of the entire world. What mattered the most is that he was accepted among a community of extremely different personalities and even had a beautiful woman interested in him as more than a friend in the form of Dottie from Chuck’s Bicycle Shop. (This movie was truly from a different because in these days of extreme political correctness, Dottie could have faced consequences for pursuing a customer who just wanted to get his bicycle fixed!) I remember yelling in futility at the television screen telling Pee Wee to go for it even though the character’s sexuality was sometimes seen as ambiguous in this movie. Women as beautiful as Dottie do not typically throw themselves at men like Pee Wee and myself. Perhaps years later when Dottie had matured and found a husband, Pee Wee would have been obsessed with regret for not taking the chance, especially now that her feelings had completely disappeared at that point! Pee Wee taught me the importance of living in the moment and wondering whether something would be dwelled upon years later when it is too late.
In this movie and on Pee Wee’s Playhouse, it was so refreshing to see a full-grown adult acting just like me. I understood and could relate to something feeling like the end of the world such as the time when I thought that my entire DVD collection was stolen when I could not find it after returning home from my senior year at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Keep in mind that this was back in 2004 when DVDs were still novel technology and much more valuable than the ones found in the racks at Best Buy. I was in a manic state of hysteria until the collection was miraculously recovered by my heroic mother who would not stop searching in all the boxes until it was found in an obscure box that I had used to pack the collection upon emptying out my dorm room.
I want to let Pee-Wee Herman (a.k.a. Paul Reubens) know that he infused happiness within what had been a difficult childhood of loneliness and bullying. It reminded me that things could get dramatically better in adulthood, and perhaps such communities existed where others would look out for me, and there would be at least one woman like Dottie who would like me as more than a friend. In reality, there were a few Dotties in my past. I did not reciprocate due to being scared and/or thinking the woman was not attractive enough! My thought back then was that if I had higher standards and found a bombshell, this would also cure me of others treating me like a social pariah. My social standing seemed to improve overnight when attached to a beautiful woman even in the form of a platonic date to the senior prom. In reality, platonic friends could make the most amazing romantic partners because there is pre-established loyalty as well as respect. Pee Wee should have paid more attention to Dottie instead of his bicycle, in my personal opinion. But this is the whole point. Pee Wee Herman was essentially a 9-year-old trapped in an adult male’s body. Pre-teenagers are not always into romance and are more obsessed with pop culture and their age-appropriate hobbies.
One cannot talk about Pee Wee Herman without speaking of the man who embodied him so brilliantly that nobody even knew who Paul Reubens was until his infamous arrest in the pornography theatre. I wonder if Paul Reubens thought his entire life was over. It was a story that everybody would hold onto forever and the jokes would never get old. But not everybody joined the bandwagon of cancel culture back then because such a thing did not exist in the way it does today! Paul Reuben’s celebrity friends rallied to his defense and reassured him that these things always blow over. Tim Burton and the late-Joan Rivers were two colleagues that did not abandon Paul Reubens when things were at their worst. Before we all go about expelling friends from our lives simply because they have fallen from grace, we should take a minute to look at ourselves in the mirror and see whether this could possibly happen to someday. Or perhaps someone we deeply care about who is being castigated by the public in a way that makes them out to be a villain. I never exposed myself in public like Paul Reubens. On the other hand, I am forever haunted by a short-lived phase during my youth in which I ended up putting my hands down my pant in the middle of fourth grade. This stunt cost me quite dearly considering I was still facing the repercussions from this stunt long after I stopped forever. (It was always sad how my classmates never took into consideration all of the days in which I DID NOT touch myself in such an inappropriate fashion.) After analyzing why I would do such a thing, I came to the conclusion that the bullying situation would” never get better so it made sense to just say, “Screw it” and do whatever felt good at the time without worrying about the consequences. But in reality, this also was not the end of the entire world even though it felt this way at the time when the consequences outlasted the action as though it has happened the day before! Paul Reubens had to scratch his way back to the top. In reality, people remembered his good nature. Like me, Paul Reubens had a knack for remembering the birthdays of his friends and wrote some kick-ass Holiday cards. More people than we realize are always going to focus on that best part of us that truly matters the most! That is the lesson of both Paul Reubens and Pee Wee Herman...