For me, one of those comforts arrived at 3:30 p.m. every weekday on channel 2 out of Cedar Rapids.
I miss you Dr. Max! And Mombo the Clown, too! I even wrote a column about you a few years ago! Here it is again!
Take it easy, play it safe, and be careful
A Blast From The Past: Originally published August 10, 2007
When I paid for my lunch today, the guy at the counter startled me a little bit.
“Be careful,” he said as handed me my change.
I guess I wasn't expecting that.
I was expecting him to say something along the lines of “Have a nice day” or “Thank you, come again.”
Be careful? I didn’t see that coming.
I worried that maybe he was clairvoyant, or maybe he just knew something I didn't. If I were a fireman, or a soldier, or even a race car driver, “be careful” would have seemed appropriate. But I’m none of those things. What do I need to be careful about?
But then I got to thinking. That guy was actually giving me some pretty good advice, and I’m grateful for that. It was a very kind and considerate thing to say.
My grandmother, bless her heart, would always say “safe home” whenever we left her house. Her words are still repeated often — they are a common farewell among many members of my family. Granny’s words will outlive her for at least a generation or two, which is nice.
I recall the big, tough sergeant from the old 1980s television show “Hill Street Blues,” who, to start every show, told his cops, “Let’s be careful out there.”
He was a hard-nosed cop — but an honest one with a sensitive side. His biggest concern was the safety of his fellow officers. It was a nice touch to his character.
But the guy at lunch today actually reminded me of Dr. Max.
If you grew up when I did, and you lived in eastern Iowa, you probably recall Dr. Max. He was the best reason to hurry home from school.
He had a sidekick — Mombo the Clown — and the two of them put on a show of cartoons every weekday afternoon on WMT television out of Cedar Rapids.
Actually, Dr. Max didn’t call them cartoons, he called them “colortoons.” I really don’t know what field of medicine Dr. Max studied, but his show was the best. He and Mombo would entertain us between the Warner Brothers clips — you know, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and my personal favorite, Foghorn Leghorn.
“Boy — I say — boy! Put away — I say — put away that egghead book ...”
I loved that giant redneck rooster.
The few times I’ve ever brought up Dr. Max in mixed company, someone who grew up in central Iowa will always bring up “Duane and Floppy.” I’m sure the two shows were very much alike, but for my money, you just couldn’t beat good old Dr. Max. Some 30 years later, I can still whistle the theme music to the show.
He had a “magic board” that he played the cartoons on. A different name would appear on the magic board at the start of the show, and the show would be dedicated to that person.
Sometimes Mombo the Clown did magic tricks, and sometimes he read poems or stories. Regular guests included Paulette the Puppet Lady, while someone from a local animal shelter brought down a puppy or a kitten about once a week. Sometimes a local police chief or fireman would stop in and talk with Dr. Max about some things kids could do to stay safe. We never got a lecture, just an informative conversation. Often some local youth group was on the show, and the kids got to wave to the camera during the closing credits.
Dr. Max always ended his show with the words, “Take it easy, play it safe, and be careful.”
And he meant it. It was sincere. Dr. Max never talked down to his audience. When you’re in grade school, and spend most of your time being talked down to, it’s refreshing to spend a half an hour with an adult who talks to you as if you are his equal.
He never lied to his audience, and never let any of his guests lie to his audience, either. Once when I was watching, one of the puppets got into an argument with Dr. Max. As part of some gag, the puppet insisted that the world was flat. Dr. Max corrected the puppet, but the puppet wouldn’t yield.
For the sake of entertainment, Dr. Max decided to abandon the argument and allow the puppet to go on with his bit, but for one brief moment, Dr. Max looked directly into the camera, shook his head and whispered to all of us at home, “The world is not flat.”
Dr. Max wasn't about to let anyone on his show lie to us, not even a puppet. It’s unfortunate that the cable news hosts and others on our TV screens coast-to-coast these days don’t have that same kind of integrity.
I don't know what became of Dr. Max, and I don’t know what happened to Mombo the Clown either. They've likely both passed on — they seemed pretty old to me at the time, but of course, everyone seems old when you’re seven.
Wherever they are, I miss them sometimes.
We didn't know it back when we were watching Dr. Max, but the world can occasionally be a frightening place. There’s a war going on. Bridges collapse. Mines cave in. Violent crimes and car accidents happen every day, while health care is becoming more and more expensive and less and less accessible. Our government lies to us, and far too often, our mass media allows it. Some folks I see every day are perpetually angry, and a few others are constantly afraid.
I believe we’re all here on this earth to help one another get through this thing, whatever it is. I guess there aren’t many clever and wise words out there to help us do that. That guy at lunch today and Dr. Max are two among a select few who got it right.
“Let’s be careful out there.”
“Take it easy, play it safe, and be careful.”
Simple advice, but pretty good. And not just for kids.