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Remembering Arnold Jackson

Gary-coleman Gary Coleman is dead and I'm left wondering about the relative substance of fictitious characters that people our pop culture memory.

With all due respect for Gary Coleman's family and loved ones, I understand that he was a real life man who was much vaster than the character he embodied from 1978-1986. I didn't know him. This is not about him. This is about the character he embodied from 1978-1986.

Oh, Arnold.

I was 6 when Diff'rent Strokes premiered and, as far as I knew, Arnold Jackson was as real as you and me. His Mom died and he was adopted by her former boss, Mr. Drummond. From Harlem to a penthouse on Park Avenue. Not too shabby. He had a brother named Willis and a black goldfish named Abraham. Mr. Drummond had a daughter named Kimberly who I received indifferently in the beginning. However, as I grew into my lust, she emerged as its object. Oh, Kimberly. You are quite a different matter.

These people meant something to me. They factored into the way I imagined my life as potently as my own Mom and brother, Jeff.

Of course it was just TV and these characters weren't real. But, yes they were. Their stories are woven inside my story, wrapped around my bones. When me and Jeff walked home from school, we ran the daily risk of a beat down from Gary Lockard. Do you ever Google yourself, Gary Lockard? You were such a dick. I hate you, man. Arnold was terrorized by The Gooch. Same diff. In the theater of my memory, neither of these recollections has more substance than the other. They both happened.

I loved watching Diff'rent Strokes. Arnold Jackson cracked me up. I looked forward with anticipation to what he would do from week to week. Remember when he dropped water balloons off the balcony? Or when he pulled that disappearing act by climbing on the penthouse ledge? Or how about when Mr. Drummond found Abraham in the hot tub and they put Arnold on trial? I remember these things. The same way I remember everything. As ghostlike psychic images that drift in and out of consciousness.

And the death of Gary Coleman brought all this imagery bubbling to the surface just like memories I have of Dan Parker, Bryan Bagdol, and other people supposedly realer than Arnold Jackson.

I miss Arnold Jackson. I'm gonna go buy the whole series on DVD and play them with my kids. Let Arnold's story become their story, our story, and maybe my kids will remember Arnold Jackson when they consider using drugs or joining a gang or when they're wondering what someone's talking 'bout.

I know we're supposed to look down on popular culture as something way beneath all our thinky thoughtfulness. But then something happens. Gary Coleman dies. And I realize that these silly TV shows are the stuff my memory is made of and they matter in ways I never understood. Will Arnold fight The Gooch? Will Charlene let Willis bang her? These are our myths. These are the stories we never stop telling ourselves.


A couple gems from the archives:

Now where the hell did Robbie score an upper?

And, Good God, run Dudley!

. . . . .
BHJ still gets the heebs when he sees Gordon Jump.

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My sister and talk about that "very special" Diff'rent Strokes to this day!!

Good idea about the dvds--I'm going to get them for my kids too.

Bitchin' Amy

Jeezus, that second one gave me the fucking willies. Was that the "very special watch-out-for-pedophiles episode," because I do NOT remember that one.


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