THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF JEAN SHEPHERD, HUMORIST
“This is a kid story, so you can turn your radio
on again, call your friends, because
Shepherd is telling a kid story.” –Jean Shepherd
For many fans of Jean Shepherd’s writings and radio broadcasts, his kid stories, first improvised on the air and some published in print, are their favorite part of his work. Shepherd was very proud of how some of those stories were woven into the hilarious and justifiably loved A Christmas Story. Narrated by him and based on some of those stories from two of his books, In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories: And Other Disasters, this 1983 film is a constant reminder of how popular his stories about kids remain to this day.
So nothing brings such a shiver of anticipation up and down our spines as can even one newly encountered Shepherd story about kids. Only a portion of his radio stories ever made it between book covers or into the pages of decades-old magazines. Many others remained heard but not seen–until now. The book you hold in your hands as you quiver with anticipation, contains dozens of funny and mind-tickling fictions Jean Shepherd told on the radio about life as a kid. Previously unpublished, they contain unread, essential chunks of kid-life—never before in print!
The fundamental enthusiasm of Jean Shepherd’s creative life was his need to communicate to us his thoughts and his experiences through the medium of ham radio, broadcast radio, television, film, public appearances, and the written word—especially as those brainstorms burst forth from his fecund and irrepressible sensibility in stories. Stories focused in varied directions, but especially in army life, his travels, and childhood.
MORE KID STORY INTRODUCTION TO COME
An ingenious preparator in the Exhibition Department was Ray Mendez, an expert in the life, times, and making-exhibits-about small animals, including amphibians, reptiles, various invertebrates, and naked mole rats.
(Among Ray’s non-Museum interests was studying and making habitat exhibits for tiny mole rats–with them, he was one of four guys with strange interests portrayed in the 1997 film, “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control.” As film reviewer Roger Ebert put it: “Consider Ray Mendez. Here is a happy man. When he learned of the discovery of the naked mole rat, he felt the joy of a lottery winner. There are not supposed to be mammals like this. They have no hair and no sweat glands because they live always in a controlled environment — their tunnels beneath the African savanna, where they organize themselves like insects. Mendez lives with mole rats in his office and creates museum environments for them. That means he has to ask himself a question no scientist before him has ever asked: What makes a mole rat happy?”
Also, away from the Museum, he got moths to perform as required in the film “The Silence of the Lambs,” earning himself credit in the film’s end-titles as “Moth Wrangler.”)
For a temporary Museum exhibit, I supervised the design and installation of a half-million army ants in an enclosed corner of the Museum’s main entrance. How does one collect those ants? The curator and his assistant, Ray Mendez, flew to Panama with a generator and a vacuum cleaner. They sucked ‘em up and they brought ‘em back alive. The public gawked. The New York Times, on October 1, 1974 reported the news.
A couple of weeks into the two-month exhibit, a Museum guard left the main entrance door
open and cold wind killed off most of the army.
(Reminds one of Napoleon’s disastrous winter defeat in Russia.)
Charles Joseph Minard’s map—Napoleon with army of 422,000.
Crossing into Russia, on left in wide tan, June, 1812.
Army moving to right toward Moscow’s winter, dying.
Ever-narrowing black, army returning to border on left,
What then? Ray returned to Panama with his generator and his vacuum cleaner.
Sucked up a few thousand more to soldier-through till the exhibit’s closing.