Watching for the apocalypse in Austin | Chuck's World

Nov 06, 2013

A theoretical 21-year-old, perhaps about now starting his or her senior year in college, has grown up in a very specific world.

A world without phones that have cords. A world that has always had Rush Limbaugh on the radio and “The Simpsons” on television. A world in which George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter have always been presidents emeritus.

And a world in which Johnny Carson has not hosted “The Tonight Show,” something that struck me recently as I was reading the new book, “Johnny Carson,” by Henry Bushkin, Mr. Carson’s long-time attorney and friend.

I found the book mildly interesting, entirely subjective and maybe questionable in terms of accuracy, but I’m not in the business of book reviews.

I read it because Mr. Carson was a constant for a big chunk of my life, a nightly presence whose monologue was an American barometer, guiding the rest of us in digesting current events.

And he was the undisputed King of Show Business, something that’s probably incomprehensible to our above 21-year-old.

Careers blossomed (and were sometimes broken) on his set and, at least among comedians, it’s hard to think of one much over the age of 50 who doesn’t owe a good part of his or her fame to Carson’s show.

Leno, Letterman, Degeneres, Seinfeld: They all got a laugh, an OK signal, an invitation to walk over to the couch from Johnny Carson, and a career.

There was an exception, and that’s also been on my mind lately. I first saw this young San Francisco comic on a New Year’s Eve TV special in 1977, and I remember laughing a lot.

He spoke with a thick Russian accent, although that was just an act, a comic character. Nine months later, I’d catch him again, this time on a new sitcom called “Mork and Mindy.”

He didn’t seem to need Johnny Carson’s seal of approval, although of course he eventually got it. He’d be the last comedian to make an appearance on Carson’s show before Johnny signed off for good.

It’s one of Robin Williams’ funny lines from years ago that I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ll paraphrase from memory: You don’t need cocaine, he said, after you have kids, because you’re already wide awake and paranoid.

This column is about paranoia, by the way. Not cocaine.

I’ve spent the past two weeks in Texas, although by the time you read this I will have returned to the Pacific Northwest, and with luck the electricity will be on and the trees in my yard will be upright.

Watching the recent windstorm news from a distance did nothing to improve my sense of impending apocalypse, but I didn’t need much help.

There’s just something about babies that inspires my worst nightmares, and I’ve had some experience lately.

My daughter gave birth a month ago, and at her request I made the trip to Austin to help out.

She wasn’t looking for infant expertise; I haven’t been around a newborn since before Johnny Carson retired, and even then my judgment was questionable (there are some stories).

No, she just wanted domestic daddy, the one she grew up with, the one who washes dishes and sweeps floors and bakes bread, the result of working at home for as long as she can remember.

My wife is the maternal one; I just take out the trash. But I’m good at it.

You know what I’m not good at? Controlling weather.

So while a young mother, her 3-week-old baby, and her father all enjoyed cohabitation while said daughter’s husband was out of town on business, the worst central Texas storm in 30 years decided to make a housecall.

How bad was it? Many communities canceled Halloween. I didn’t even know that was possible. It was sort of like canceling Tuesday. That’s how bad.

More than 14 inches of rain fell in the course of what felt like 20 minutes, much of it in my daughter’s utility room, where the roof has apparently seen better days.

Since I have a long history of believing that leaky roofs will repair themselves, I’m not very useful with this, either.

Oh, and the washing machine stopped working, coincident with but not caused by the storm.

If you’ve never had a newborn baby in your house, it’s possible you don’t grasp the usefulness of this particular appliance. Just take my word on it, then; a working washing machine comes in handy.

Not that it mattered, because we had no electricity. OF COURSE.

And I probably should mention that my daughter and I got this wacky idea about having an early Thanksgiving, so we conveniently picked this time to roast a turkey and make sweet potato casserole, etc.

It was lots of fun trying to determine by candlelight if the turkey had been completely cooked, but hey: At least we had candles. Did I mention they canceled Halloween?

So maybe I can be forgiven some paranoia, particularly when the power returned just in time to notice an impending windstorm approaching my home in Snohomish County.

Cocaine would have been redundant.

But we survived, with a story to tell this boy when he’s older, and it turns out you can shove an entire turkey in a big enough pot and make pretty good soup on a gas burner.

Halloween will come next year, I have a healthy grandson, I haven’t spotted four horsemen galloping through the sky yet, and I’m hoping the washing machine will repair itself, because it turns out there’s a lot I’m not good at.

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