By Tim Mollen
Journal entry: March 7, 1987 (age 17)
Each generation struggles to define itself. As part of that struggle, it must elevate certain people into icons that represent the mores, illustrate the dreams, and inspire the actions of an entire age group. My generation is just coming of age in the late 1980s. We are collectively searching through the broader culture, looking for symbols of our emergent zeitgeist. The World War II generation had John Wayne and Eleanor Roosevelt. The Baby Boomers had James Dean and Muhammad Ali. We have Fred “Rerun” Berry, star of the rerunning TV program What’s Happening!!
Why Rerun? My answer is that he is the ultimate individual. Rerun taught us that you don’t have to look or act a certain way to be cool. Despite his extra-large physique, Rerun was a fantastic dancer; his flashy moves were a precursor to the breakdancing phenomenon. He encouraged racial harmony by welcoming the Doobie Brothers to his inner city high school.
Rerun also showed great courage in continually facing the blistering attacks of the greatest villain in the history of television: Shirley, the cranky waitress at Rob’s Place. Whenever Rerun and his pals, Raj and Dwayne, went to the neighborhood hangout, Shirley would try to bring our man down, particularly by demeaning his weight. Rerun would always greet her cheerily, saying something like, “Hey Shirley, what’s the scoop?” Inevitably, Shirley would reply with something nasty, like “Here’s the scoop – you’re fat!” But Rerun would not respond in kind, despite the fact that Shirley herself was grossly overweight. He continually turned the other cheek, and happily munched down his burgers and fries.
The man’s name, alone, sums up my generation. What pastime has been more beloved to us than watching TV reruns? And now, thankfully, we have new adventures of Rerun and company to enjoy with the sequel series, What’s Happening Now! This gives us the option of watching “New Rerun” or “Rerun Rerun.” Can Broadway, a movie franchise, or a tell-all book be far off?
The rest of my generation hasn’t really acknowledged the ascendancy of Rerun – yet. My close friend, Jim Root, and I intend to change that. This afternoon, we held the first official meeting of the What’s Happening Fan Club. In preparation, we went to the Philadelphia Sales store on Clinton Street to buy supplies. After lingering in Philly’s entrance to soak up their patented “old popcorn” smell, we found what we were looking for – two bright red berets like the one worn by our hero, and a cart full of snack foods.
Upon returning to my house in Vestal, we staged a photo shoot. My brother, Dan, agreed to snap a few shots of Jim and I acting very, very Fred Berry. This basically involved wearing the berets, stuffing pillows up the front of our shirts, and saying things like “What’s happening, Raj?” We’re not sure what we’ll do at our second meeting, but it will probably be a comforting repeat of what we did at our first meeting.