In which some Red Green fans are accepted into the Possum Lodge fraternity and come face to face with their duct-tape loving hero…Red Green himself.
In 1994, I was living in Houston, Texas, and hanging out regularly with a couple of friends from a 12 step recovery program. We had also started playing on a softball team together and had begun to get together every two weeks to talk about where our world was headed — our dreams and aspirations. We’d meet at a small Chinese buffet where we could talk and graze, talk and graze. That was the advantage of the buffet — they never rushed us off. After a while they got to know us and would bring us our regular drinks when we walked in.
One of the guys, Pat, was a bearded mountain man type and a rugged outdoorsman. He came in one evening and started chuckling as he described this TV show he’d watched on PBS. Something about a bunch of guys in the woods of Canada who congregated at a place called the Possum Lodge.
We didn’t think much about it, and went on with our conversation. A couple of nights later I was at home and, just out of curiosity, turned on the show he’d mentioned – “The Red Green Show”. It sort of reminded me of a combination of the Beverly Hillbillies and the Three Stooges. It seemed kind of dumb at first, but after a few minutes, I found myself chuckling. The head guy, this Red Green character, started talking about how men are and how we have to bond together. I related — it had a ring of humorous truth to it.
Then Red was out in the middle of Possum Lodge place talking with his nephew Harold – dork defined – and they were going through an Abbott and Costello type of routine. I found myself laughing several times. This was followed by a silent routine with some white-haired guy named Bill, which was a real hoot, and I started really laughing. Then this Red guy came back on and did a segment called “Handyman Corner”, where he used mostly duct tape to create some bizarre invention. Having worked on maintenance crews and wheat harvest crews where duct tape held the operations together, I found this really funny! Finally they had a meeting of the Possum Lodge, whose motto was “Quando omni, flunkus mortati” — “When all else fails, play dead!” That really seemed like a wonderful send-up of the way guys did things! It reminded me of Ralph Kramden and the lodge.
The next time we met for dinner, I reported I had enjoyed watching the Red Green show. Our other buddy Mike said he would give it a watch. Within three months, we were all hooked! And it was not lost on us that our buddy Pat could be a twin of Red Green! Pat’s big vacation each year was to go tubing — floating down the river on an inner tube — on the Frio River out in the Hill Country of Texas.
He invited me to join their group – his family and relatives all went camping together, sleeping in tents. There were electrical hookups, and after a long day of tubing, Pat would bring out a little TV and tape VCR and we’d sit around the campfire watching taped episodes of Red Green. Ridiculous, yes, but something about watching the dufus clan in the Canadian woods as we were sitting out in the middle of the woods ourselves felt really congruent.
Then Pat showed up at dinner one time and said, “Hey, there’s even a Red Green Fan Club.” We looked at each other, smiled, nodded, and several weeks later received our membership cards in the Red Green Fan Club. What the heck, it was all a lark, and to be somehow officially accepted at Possum Lodge felt humorously right.
These were the days of the Men’s Movement — guys going off into the woods for “Hairy Man” gatherings — to find themselves as men. Part of that movement had been invaluable for me, as I recounted in Ghosts of the Wheat Harvest, because it led me on a journey to heal old wounds with my Dad.
Yet there was much of the men’s thing that felt a little over inflated to us, and somehow the Fan Club was a way to keep us balanced and not get sucked in to the whole “finding yourself” thing too much. We would even hold our fingers up by our heads like moose antlers, and say “I’m a real man, right!” in a high pitched voice (think Possum Lodge meeting).
In one way, this was truth, because we were still in the process of claiming our true power and somewhat unsure about it all. That was underlying our reasons for gathering at the table regularly. On the other hand, it was helpful to take some of this Men’s Movement with a grain of salt. We had all seen various movements come along claiming to be “the fix” and were a bit leery of anything with that claim.
Then one day Pat called me at work. “Hey, guess what? They’re having a fundraiser telethon at the local PBS station, and I just got contacted that Red Green is going to be there. They’re inviting all the local members of the Red Green Fan Club.”
I had an immediate vision of sitting in some bleachers with a group of guys, some dressed up like Red Green, and watching this character drum up pledges on local TV. Hm! Could be entertaining, and maybe we’d even get to shake hands with this guy I decided to do it.
I thought about doing the dress up thing – we had all gotten Red Green suspenders. He wore them every show – one red, one green, and they were kind of like his signature. (I still have mine today.) I decided that would be too much and I’d just go in regular clothes, sit up in the bleachers and watch.
Pat had a conflict that night and couldn’t make it, so Mike and I agreed to meet each other at the studio. We got there, went inside, and told the receptionist we were part of the Red Green fan club, there for the telethon. She got kind of a funny look on her face, and told us how to get back to the studio. We went around a corner, through a door, and there was the telethon – people sitting at phones, evidently waiting for the next commercial break.
We looked for the bleachers and the fan club, didn’t see anything. Some guy came over and asked if he could help us. We told him we were with the Red Green Fan Club. He got the same funny look, and waved us to follow him. We went back to what looked like a break room with some cokes and snacks set up, and there was Steve Smith – Mr. Red Green himself. The Guy introduced Mike and I and told Steve we were there as part of the fan club, and now Steve got the funny look.
He shook our hands and began visiting very naturally with us. On the show, he had a sort of grizzled rough voice, but off camera he spoke in a very mild quiet voice completely unlike the onstage character. He thanked us for being there with the fan club, and then explained the funny looks we’d been getting.
The Guy came back in and told Steve it was almost time for the next break. Steve started walking back to the studio, and The Guy motioned us to go with him. The next thing we knew we were standing next to Steve as he began the next pledge drive break, riffing about how these loyal members of the Red Green fan club came out in droves tonight to support PBS! By the time we realized we were on TV, he had moved over to talk to the host, and we just stood there, almost in shock.
That was the trend that was to continue throughout the evening. We’d go back to the break room while they ran episodes of The Red Green Show. Listening to Steve back there was like a show itself — he told stories that I only wish I could remember, and had everyone in earshot laughing helplessly.
During the next break, we stood next to him while he told some Handyman story. We guessed we were supposed to just stand there quietly, but Steve was so funny we were cracking up, the same as the cameramen, the phone people, and everyone in the studio. Only we were on TV right next to him.
Then during another break, we saw some of the production people huddling up, and The Guy came over and asked me to come with him. They put me behind a camera, put the headset on and told me I’d actually be running this camera for the next break and pledge drive segment. Then they took another camera and focused it on me.
While Steve was on camera, he talked about how involved the Red Green Fan Club was tonight, even helping in the production of the show. They switched to the camera showing me, and through the headset someone told me to look at the other camera. I didn’t know what to do. Then it just came to me, and I waved the silly wave, smiling the silly smile, that Bill the guy who never talked did on the show! Cracked up the whole audience.
Finally the whole thing was over, and we laughed as we went out to our cars to drive home. We were sure that since it was a PBS fundraiser, probably none of our friends would have seen us — the odds were slim in a town as big as Houston.
Of course that didn’t happen.
I had two messages when I got home asking if that was me on the pledge drive with the guy in the funny suspenders. The next day several more friends let me know they had seen me. I’d had my moment in the sun, and the Red Green Fan Club had done its part. They might not have found us handsome, but at least they found us handy!
Speaking of which, this would not be complete without a little bit of Red Green himself! Enjoy!
Photos courtesy of The Red Green Show
Fan Club photo courtesy of Dan L. Hays