In December of 1987, CBS promoted the premieres of two brand new Christmas specials back to back. Usually, a tried and true classic would air before a new special, so we figured these must be really good. Then again, how could you go wrong with an hour including Garfield and the California Raisins in the latter half of the 1980s?
It was a good thing we had a VCR by then. What we thought would be a quick night out for a fun dinner ended up becoming one of the most stressful nights of my childhood.
When my brother and I were kids, our father traveled frequently for work. Whenever he went out of town, my mom would take us out for dinner. Sometimes it was fast food, other times it was a sit down restaurant. That night, Mom was willing to take us to Showbiz Pizza. Dinner and a show!
Everything was going fine. Rock a Fire Explosion was putting on a great show (as usual), hot pizza always tastes delicious, and after dinner we got to play games. Everything was going great until I got curious about what time it was. I don’t have a natural sense of time and as I mentioned in my Tribute to Big Bird, I couldn’t wear a watch.
Somehow I had realized that if we didn’t get home soon, we were going to miss both of the brand new Garfield and The California Raisins specials. Our VCR was still pretty new and I don’t think I trusted the timer function. Also, the holiday specials were always event television. Part of the fun was watching them while you knew everyone else was watching them.
Also, (as I now realize) I’m a highly sensitive introvert with a tendency to get easily overwhelmed. I’ve never been a huge fan of crowded places, bright lights, and a lot of noise. I can enjoy it for a little while, but after an hour or two, I’m usually exhausted and anxious to get back home.
We both enjoyed Garfield, but my brother loved that lasagna eating cat even more than I did. I knew if I reminded him that Garfield was going to be on, there was a good chance he might agree to leave whatever it was he was busy doing.
Just as we were getting ready to leave, a crowd gathered in front of the glass doors. There was a beer truck stuck in the front entrance to the parking lot. Even if we had gone outside, we would have just been stuck in the parking lot. The manager gave away tokens to keep the customers entertained, but all the males (including my brother) wanted to do was watch the beer truck.
The boys were excited because it was a truck. The men were excited because there was beer on the truck. I can’t speak for the other girls or women in the restaurant because my main priority was to get home to watch the Christmas specials.
Eventually, a tow truck came and lifted the beer truck. The pavement at the front entrance to the Showbiz Pizza was at an angle. The beer truck apparently got one of its wheels stuck on the angle.
Once the tow truck finished its work and the beer truck was dislodged, there was no way we would make it home in time to watch the specials. We had friends from church who lived in a neighborhood halfway between the restaurant and our house. They were an older couple with teenagers and they were originally from Massachusetts.
My mom told the wife what happened and she invited in us in to watch the television specials. My mom told me the woman’s teenage children thought this was funny. Since they were teenagers, they probably understood the significance of watching holiday specials “live” and that if we didn’t see it that night, we may not have been able to see it.
There were so many things to love about both Christmas specials. The dream sequence in the beginning, (Christmas morning breakfast lasagnas and the telepathic Santa hat). A Garfield Christmas had Grandma Arbuckle (Pat Carroll) of course. I’d like to give some special recognition to Jon’s brother, Doc Boy, voiced by David Lander, “Squiggy” of Laverne & Shirley.
Over the course of the special, Jon and Doc Boy go back and forth between bickering and teaming up to get their father to read them the story of Binky, The Clown Who Saved Christmas. Also, Doc Boy was given the honor of saying the blessing before the family meal. He starts slow, but once he gets into it, it takes Grandma giving him a bonk on the head with a serving spoon to wrap it up.
The Claymation Christmas special had both humorous and beautiful segments. The funniest parts were the dinosaur hosts debating the lyrics to the wassailing carol. I also really enjoyed “Maestro Quasimodo” conducting “Carol of the Bells” and “O Tannenbaum” inside tree ornaments. The true showstoppers though were headliners The California Raisins and their rendition of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”.
When we got home, we rewound the tape and were relieved to find both of the specials did tape. Just a week before, ABC aired Muppet Family Christmas and we recorded the Garfield and Claymation specials right after it on the same tape.
We watched this tape every year, both during the holiday season and sometimes in the middle of the summer. Unfortunately, we loved this tape to the point where the VHS ate it. That was a very sad day, but the tracking on the tape had been showing the wear on it for a long time.