By Louis A. Zona
Kermit the Frog said it best: “It ain’t easy being green.”
Life is tough enough without the added burden of sticking out in a crowd. We all know people who love to stand out by virtue of the clothes they wear, their outgoing personalities, the volume level of their speech and other affectations that draw attention to themselves.
If you’re anything like me, you’d prefer to be the guy who stands in the rear of the auditorium and speaks only when necessary. Dad always said if you’re the guy talking, you’re not learning anything. So glad I’m not green.
The sporting world has its share of showboats, players who enjoy attracting attention to themselves or are known for their conspicuous behaviors. Often, they even talk about themselves in the third person.
My absolute favorite showboat is the late Muhammad Ali, formerly Cassius Clay, who loved to taunt his opponents before knocking them out.
He had various names for some of his moves in the ring like letting his opponent tire himself out by letting them hit him in nonvital areas of his body. He called it “rope-a-dope.”
Once he saw that the other fighter had worn himself out, Ali would go on the attack and finish him off. He’d describe his boxing style as the ability to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”
A braggart, for sure, but boy he could always back up his words with his fists.
As for not showing humility, he once said, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am!”
I had a neighbor, Al, who once told me that his lawn was his life. He absolutely had to have the greenest and best manicured lawn in the entire neighborhood. Al wanted to be identified as the man with the absolute best lawn anywhere. He achieved that goal through hard work and exceptional and costly equipment.
Al has been gone for several years now and his former home and lawn are now cared for by people who do very little in the way of lawn care, to put it nicely. To think: his lawn,
once a source of enormous pride, is somewhat of a neighborhood eyesore today.
For sure, it ain’t easy being green. Or at least easy to maintain a green lawn! Al wanted to be known for something. And he was.
When I was in high school, one of my classmates, Johnny O., could be described only as a bully. He thought that he was Fonzie from “Happy Days,” except that the TV character was harmless whereas the fellow in my freshman year of high school was anything but.
Johnny O. loved to terrorize underclassman and wanted to be seen as a super tough guy in the mold of James Dean. He walked with a swagger and spoke with a fake Southern drawl loud enough to be heard by any girl within 100 feet.
Like Dean, with his pack of cigarettes tucked into the sleeve of his T-shirt, he clearly needed to be seen as the coolest dude this side of “Rebel Without a Cause.”
Unlike Kermit, Johnny O. wanted to stand out. In the end, he did. But I couldn’t help but think that in his attempt to be something, he wasn’t.
My uncle Bill was unusual in that he always had to be slightly better than everyone. He loved to tease my dad and me that he caught the biggest muskie, got the best deal on a new roof or got to know the most important politicians.
We always let him know we were impressed by his fishing acumen, new roof and contacts.
But who really cared about such superficiality? I must admit, however, that he out-fished just about everyone I knew and I honestly praised his abilities. He’d laugh at the fact that we would get up before dawn to be on the lake, fish for five hours and catch nothing.
Uncle Bill, on the other hand, would get on the water around noon and return with a stringer full of northern pike and on one occasion, a muskie that set a regional record for its length.
As for the roof, Bill did indeed know an Amish family who could produce a new roof less expensively than anyone else. The best response was, “Wow, you’re one smart cookie!”
But if I had to choose the one person who had a need for flamboyance, it would be the late popular pianist Liberace. So many who are reading this were not around when Liberace’s name was synonymous with piano virtuosity and unbelievable showmanship.
Liberace’s weekly television show (live) featured several changes of clothes, fancy stoles and satin capes. His piano always had a Baroque candelabra sitting atop it and his never-ending smile was his way of saying, “I know that I’m over the top but it’s where I want to be.”
In his final years he moved to Las Vegas (where else?) and opened a restaurant that included his white piano and many of his costumes from the TV Show. Talk about glitter, Liberace was the personification.
Kermit The Frog preferred anonymity but couldn’t help the attention he got because of his greenness. But for every Kermit there is a Liberace. And every Liberace adds a dose of color to our world.
Decades ago, one of the greatest Detroit Tigers of all time, Ty Cobb, was the talk of baseball. He was a showman who crawled after a fan in the stands who booed him.
Cobb would let the opposition know that they had better stay out of his way on the base paths as he conspicuously sharpened his cleats in the Tigers’ dugout.
Cobb was a blend of all those traits that kept him front and center in the news of the day and who would not have cared had he been green.