When my daughters were young they would occasionally, like most children, watch Sesame Street. One day while watching along with them, I noticed they had introduced a new character named Ruthie, played by Comedienne Ruth Buzzi.
Buzzi was a cast member on the 60’s variety show, Laugh In. Her most well known sketch was that of an old women who sat on a park bench. Every week this character would use her pocketbook as a weapon to beat a dirty old man that sat next to her on the park bench. This skit always made me laugh, so I was very excited to see her late one evening on my train.
Ms. Buzzi could not have been more pleasant and struck me as more of a benevolent schoolmarm than one of the flower power hippies who regularly appeared on Laugh In.
I told Ruth how nice it was to see her on TV again, and that I had two young daughters who watched Sesame Street. After hearing this she demanded that I write down my daughter’s names, as well as my home address.
While I was doing this, she told me that sometimes, (now looking around to see if anybody was listening,) Big Bird loses his feathers, when this happens, a seamstress has to sew them back on.” “Every once in a while,” she said, now in a hushed tone, “ I can get my hands on one of those feathers, and if I do I’ll mail it to you. I doubt I can grab two so your daughters will have to share the feather.”
“That would be great,” I said.
I figured that she probably would forget about our conversation as soon as she got off the train, but a week later a manila envelope arrived in the mail. Inside the envelope was an autographed picture of Buzzi, along with an index card with two small yellow feathers taped to it.
Ruthie had come through.
I raced into the kitchen to show the girls the package. They would have been much more impressed with dead scales from the hide of Barney the dinosaur, but they seemed to like the feathers all the same.
Well, I said, we’ll have to send Ruthie a thank you card.
A week passed and we hadn’t sent a thank you card, then a month, then six months.
Six months or so, after receiving our package Ruth Buzzi appeared on my train again. I was extremely embarrassed that we hadn’t sent a thank you card and wondered if she would remember me. As I collected her ticket, I reminded her of our history, the Big Bird feathers and the failed thank you note.
Apparently Ms. Buzzi is a stickler for manners. When I apologized, her eyes flashed in anger and her lips pursed. She turned her head away from me as if to say, “ you’re dismissed.” I felt much like the old man on the park bench and half expected her to start beating me with her purse.
Some years later I recounted this story to Marty, one of my regular commuters and an actor/puppeteer. He held two jobs at this time. One as a man eating Venus Flytrap in the Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors and his regular gig, appearing on Sesame Street as the giant wooly mammoth, Mr. Snuffleupagus or Snuffy as the kids call him today.
In recounting this story to Marty, I had hoped that he would diminish the value of the gift and make me feel a little less guilty for not having sent a thank you card.
Big Bird feathers! Marty said. Do you know how valuable those things are?
No, I said, I guess not.
‘I wonder what the statute of limitations is on a thank you cards?’ I asked.