Childhood = 100 Years Ago

Aaay! It’s Fonzie Day


Growing up on that particular Oregon street was innocent, quiet and, if I’d known what a Beaver Cleaver even was, maybe even Cleaver-esque. Hillsboro was the sort of Nilla wafer-flavored suburb that angsty teens hated for its lack of anything interesting that ever happened, and the neighborhood cops loved to patrol for the exact same reason.

The self-centered, myopic life of a child is all about living in that particular moment, playing an endless number of games, using anything and everything as a toy and basically overworking one’s imagination like it were a Dickensian workhouse orphan. At 4 years old, life was simple, fairly straightforward and free of the obstacles that life would present in the following years (obstacles like telling time and learning to write a capital Q.) Each day was (if the system of mathematics I made up was correct) 132 hours long and a week was made up of, like, three months.

“Oh yes, sir. That’s is absolutely right. Going into space was way easier than writing a capital Q in cursive. That’s just damn near impossible.”

I would wake up, have breakfast, play some games that I may or may not have made up and, more or less, go to bed feeling that I’d accomplished something noteworthy if I’d survived the day without bathing in any sort of way. In my mind, even a single food-stained finger and the slightest case of bedhead was worthy of some reward. A key to the city? Maybe not, but I at least earned a Pez to the city, if nothing else.

Of course, I was fortunate in that my childhood was overseen by the most learned, indulgent and versatile of caregivers. One who would take my hand, show me the world in all of its diversity, its beauty and its horror, introduce me to right and wrong, broaden my understanding of morals and ethics and expand my awareness to a world that existed beyond the street on which I lived. Alongside nail biting and an insatiable need for peanut butter on crackers, TV was my constant companion. NBC and ABC weren’t simply station letters, they stood for Never Bored Companion and Absent Babysitter Childcare. Without TV, I would not be the person I am, today.*

all in one
“What are you trying to teach me, TV? This product being sold? This product is better than other products of the same type? Oh, TV, you’re so wise and I’m so unworthy.”

Through TV and the magic of syndicated re-runs, I saw the outside world through a variety of windows, most opened in half-hour increments if you include commercials. Each of these half-hour worlds was in itself its own reality to me, in each a version of me existed that conformed to that particular narrative. Whether it was Father Knows Best, a black and white show about a family whose dad wears a suit all of the time, or Happy Days, a show that blurred the line between 1950’s and 1970’s culture, these were the familiar faces of my days, the adults that oversaw my morning to dinner time reality. Five days a week, these worlds magically appeared to me and helped define and mold my days.

One day, I went outside to play with Brian, a neighborhood kid who, like me, was too young for school. That day, as we sat on the curb picking up pebbles off the street, I looked over and noticed that Brian was wearing a white t-shirt. “Why’re you wearing a Fonzie shirt?” I asked.

He stared at his shirt for probably a good minute or so. It seemed we were both perplexed and caught off guard by the delayed awareness of the white shirt. “I dunno. My mom putted it on me when I gotted up.”

Immediately, I worried that I had missed some vital in-the-know information, that maybe my inability to read had caused me to miss a newsletter from the Social Norm Society. “Was I as’posed to wear a Fonzie shirt, today?”

social norm society
“So, every member of the Social Norm Society is in agreement, then? We will send our newsletter to everyone in the world except that 4-year old boy in Oregon. Cheers.”

Brian shrugged.

Now, I was really growing concerned. “Is it…” I struggled to get the words out, fearing the worst in the answer. “Is it Fonzie Day?”

Again, Brian shrugged, which was proof enough for me that that particular day was, in fact, Fonzie Day. Despite its never having existed before that very moment, I suddenly found myself openly and publicly in defiance of the holy recognition of Fonzie Day.

I ran what must have been dozens of feet back to my house. Throwing the front door open, I ran into my room and began calling, pleading, to my mom. “Where is the white shirt?! I need my white one!”

My mom came to my room and kneeled beside me as I dug through my dresser drawers. “You want to wear a white shirt?”

I looked at her with a mixture of blame for having overlooked the holiday and fear of my being forever relegated to the outskirts of society, where lepers and animal-people hybrids live a sad existence alongside those of us who forgot to wear a white t-shirt. “It’s, it’s…” I said, struggling for breath as I began a seatbelt-required ride on the anxiety train. “It’s… Fonzie Day!”

“Hey, sit on it! I’m a deity. Aaay!”

Within minutes, I was back outside on the curb with Brian. Yup, just me and my white t-shirt hanging out with my friend and his white t-shirt. Thus began the official Fonzie Day ceremonies.

Anyone driving down our street that day was greeted by two 4-year olds in white t-shirts, thumbs held out in respect and repeating the word, “Aaay! Aaay-y-y-y! Aaa-aaa-y!”

Those drivers must have approached us with caution, no doubt worrying whether they were about to be assaulted by  a group of thugs weighing a combined 75lbs. For these adults, it should be assumed (and rightly so) that fear immediately gave way to outright terror, which took the form of perspiration and began to run for its life down their arms and lower backs. But, just as they began to pray that their deaths at the hands of this street corner gang would be quick, they were given a thumbs up, a reprieve, an approval that insured the scales of Cool had shifted in their favor. With a quick honk of thanks or a toot of Fonzie Day awareness, the cars continued on their way.

fonzie day danger
The Carlson family discovers the ramifications to be had by anyone failing to receive an official thumb’s up and ‘Aaay.’

We determined that Fonzie Day would be a weekly holiday held every whatever day that day was. Since we had no idea what the days of the week were, though, every 3-4 days a new Fonzie Day would sneak up on us. As the Fonzie Days went on, our numbers grew. By the end, there were three of us. Carrie, a girl from a few doors down, had joined us on the curb to insure that all drivers knew that not only were they worthy of a thumbs-up, but that they were, “Cool! Aaay!”

As most historians can attest, the frenzied tradition of Fonzie Day came to an end as the rain season began and forced us indoors. And anyone who has lived in Oregon knows, rain season is 72 months per year, so the fact that there ever was more than one Fonzie Day can be chalked up to a miracle.

An honest to goodness miracle.

A miracle brought about by the gods of destiny who looked down upon us, gave us a thumbs-up and said in their bellowing god voices, “Aaay!”

“Alright, Faraday, I think I’ve got the Fonzie thumb thing, now. Is this correct?”
“Despite your being well within your rights to fire me, I cannot stand by and say nothing, Mr. Wellington. You, sir, are an unmitigated square.”

*Someone with far too much knowledge of far too many pop culture references from the past 60+ years.

98 thoughts on “Aaay! It’s Fonzie Day”

    1. I have been drowning in adorable my entire life, then.

      Believe it or not, the complexities of Happy Days were understood and appreciated. Each episode, a guy walked up and went, “Aaay.” What else was there to get?


    1. You are the Fonzie of your own destiny, Four Eyes. If Fonzie were here, now, he’d probably tell you to have at least one day in his honor, even though you’re an adult. Then, he’d probably snap his fingers and you’d swoon.


  1. Fonzie was the shit. I remember watching it when I was little, but, sadly, I never had a Fonzie day.
    I was in love with Kojak when I was 4 years old. Lollipop in mouth, I would kiss the tv whenever he appeared. Imagine the cleaning my ocd mother had to contend with.

    Btw, I had to google a cursive Q to make sure I remembered it correctly.


    1. I think a group of adults enacting the rituals of Fonzie Day would just be seen as a bunch of drunks. “Hey, cop. Take your hands off the threads. Don’t you know it’s Fonzie Day?” “Let’s go. Into the squad car, drunky!”


    1. Ha. I did try that, but it never worked. I was convinced I was just doing it wrong and not once did it cross my mind that it was based on fiction. Did you do that, too?


          1. At the time he was in the first grade, after having failed three times. THREE. TIMES. How is it even possible to fail the first grade? What are they even teaching besides how to get through an entire 8 hours without nap time? Maybe he’s something truly epic now.


  2. Delightful reminiscences of my favorite fake holiday this side of Stranger’s Day, Mike! About 20 years ago on a Sunday morning in fall I was walking on Upper Broadway here in Manhattan when I saw a guy that reminded me so much of the Fonz in Autumn (I know, culture vulture you, that’s one of your all-time favorite recordings by the Ray Conniff Singers). Yep, that guy was indeed Henry Winkler as Henry Winkler. For a moment I wondered, “Gee, how often must people see him and shout, ‘Aaay!’? Since I’m an uber cool New Yorker, that’s not my shtick, but I was wearing a white tee shirt, leather jacket and jeans. When he and I exchanged eye contact he resisted saying, “Aaay!”


      1. It was actually still working fine then, but should I run into him again now, I’ll keep that in the forefront of my thoughts along with hoping he doesn’t have me arrested for harassment.


  3. I couldn’t help hearing Jean Shepherd narrating this post. Here’s what I want to know, though: Fonzie was a guy living in Milwaukee, so why did he have a New York accent? I mean, do all motorcycle toughs have to have New York accents?


    1. I’ve received the Jean Shepherd comparison before and it is flattering to say the least. So, thank you.

      Lenny and Squiggy also had New York-ish accents, so maybe it was something that came with the Garry Marshall school of acting.


  4. I was on Ramblin’ Rod more than once but I don’t know how many more times but I was. I had an orange sweatshirt with a Ramblin’ Rod iron-on on it. There was no Fonzie Day in Raleigh Hills but I was 4 five years before Happy Days started and then my dad wouldn’t let us watch it b/c Fonzie wore a black leather jacket.

    Do you want to go toe to toe on nerdness???


    1. Seriously? You were on Ramblin’ Rod? I have seriously scoured ebay in search of a RR iron-on, but no luck.

      That’s funny about your dad. I read that ABC didn’t want Fonzie to appear in a leather jacket because it made him look like a hoodlum and the only way he could appear was if he was on his motorcycle because it was then considered safety equipment. Ha.


      1. Yeah! I totally was on Ramblin’ Rod. Several birthday parties and I believe my Bluebird troop was on as well. His boat wasn’t real.

        My dad was a Depression-era guy and there were to be no hoodlums. I think Fonzie started out in a pale blue kinda Perry Como jacket and moved to the leatha. We also couldn’t watch Threes Company (we’re Catholic for God’s sake) or the Partridge Family because Keith’s hair was too long.

        Really, Dad?! Really??


          1. In the bizarreness that was my family, we could watch the hell out of All in the Family but not the Jeffersons. Any Sunday night movie of the week (McCloud, MacMillan and Wife, Cannon), Laugh In, Hee Haw, and when he really wanted to watch my brother and I squirm (the sisters were too young), he’d make us watch An Evening at Pops with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. I guess I should write some of this in my blog.


        1. I remember watching Ramblin’ Rod’s tugboat come out and I always worried that some kid was going to get stuck under it and get hurt. I remember keeping my fingers crossed until his boat was past the little grandstand of kids.


  5. I think every day should be Fonzie Day! In my childhood neighborhood, Arthur Fonzarelli was accorded all the honors of a minor saint. It was only much later that I learned the awful truth–Fonzie was in realitie, quite short.


    1. Ha. Yeah, it’s difficult to gauge his physical stature on the show. The other lesson about that show that I learned as I got older: feathered hair did not exist in the 1950’s. Who knew?!


  6. Thoroughly enjoy your writing and humour, Calahan. I did almost blow coffee all over my keyboard, however, when I saw, “first felony”. It just didn’t add up. At first. 😉 I’m reading that one right now.


      1. Well, I’d say it’s about halfway there. I mean, I spent last summer with lots of Greek 4 year olds, so I figure that probably happened at some point, but it was Greek, so I didn’t understand… so I’ll say halfway there. You know, like glass half full!


  7. I just want to say that I am signed up to get emails when you post, and they have not been sending and this makes me angry…because, I mean, Fonzie. The Fonz. I am all over this shit.


    1. Don’t lie to me, La La. Or should I say, Lie Lie. Yes, that’s your new name. Lie Lie!

      The same happened to a few of my subscriptions, also. I didn’t get any in the mail and couldn’t find out what the glitch was. Boo to glitches.


    1. I haven’t seen Le Clown’s face pop up on my blog in what seems like forever. That said, I would like to welcome you back on behalf of all of the communists of Calahanistan, where spreading the wealth is like spreading butter on toast.


      1. Le Calahan,
        My zapatist heart is feeling all warm and fuzzy by your welcome. I will be visiting peeps on my blogroll at least once a week. So it is.
        Le Clown


  8. Calahan,

    First of all, I don’t necessarily shower on a daily basis. In fact, I probably showered a lot more often when I was a kid (my mom made me) and definitely cleaned behind my ears more than I do now because I assume my super-cool Tom-Cruise-before-he-was-a-whack-job retro aviators do that for me.

    Secondly, the kid who lived next door to me when I was the age you were in this piece was named….Brian. Most Brians I know are kind of creepy, OK, really creepy, so if that’s your best friend’s name is “Brian” I say watch your back. Interesting trivia point: Brian was the first person outside of my parents to see me naked. For some reason we both stripped down to our birthday suits when we were about 7, refused to look at the other person, and put our clothes back on. I’m assuming he was peeking, but I can’t be sure, in which case no one else saw me naked until I was about 30. OK that’s a big, fat lie and my revelations are getting way too intimate, but I’m gonna write a new piece today so I’m getting into the groove in your comments section. Please bear with me.

    Finally, Chachi and Joanie really bugged the shit out of me back in the day. Just sayin’.

    Happy New Year, my friend.


    (P.S. I love my new dog.)


    1. Since the name Brian is pretty rare and unheard of by most people, I’m guessing my neighbor and your neighbor were the same Brian. I mean, what are the odds there were two Brians?

      Permed out Joanie and feathered hair Chachi were horrible. Their ascension into starring roles is where the show just got really off-track. Actually, my wife and I rented season 1 of Happy Days. While I liked the obvious attempt at authenticity in those first two seasons, the show really wasn’t that special. We watched the entire season and barely laughed. It was disappointing. Some of the clothes were pretty awesome, though.

      I’ve been wondering about the new dog. I’m glad he’s officially part of the family. Hooray for pets!


  9. Also, I had to change your blog “follow” from my reader to my email because I never read my reader. I only follow about 10 people via email so you might want to go buy a lottery ticket today. Or place a bet on the Superbowl (hint: Broncos). Or surprise your wife with flowers and a clean house. Or send me some money =)


    1. My wife always comes home to a clean house, actually. I’ve also planted wildflowers in our yard, so she has lots of color waiting for when she comes through the gate. Still, I will send you money. It just seems like the right thing to do.


  10. Loved this! Henry is a third cousin of mine, so much older than me I obviously haven’t gotten to spend loads of time with him, but the name relation alone had me growing up with constant ayyyy’s growing up. He’s a great man, iconic now, whether he wants it or not.


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