Often, when you’re looking really hard for the answer to some question that should have an easy answer, it’s useful just to stop and look at what’s right there in front of you, telling you—as it always does, though we almost always ignore it—just what’s what. Sometimes it’s something as simple as, “Where did I put my sunglasses?”, when you’re running around with them perched on your head. Other times, it’s a more existentially difficult question like how you’re going to make it through another work week, and in the meantime, the stack in your inbox keeps piling up, tacitly reminding you of how one gets through any day, whether one likes it or not, because liking has nothing to do with it.
Sometimes, though, the answer isn’t so straightforward. That is, you think you’re looking for one thing but reality insists you’re looking for something else. It’s the most difficult kind of truth to accept because it looks like you’re getting the wrong—at times even wholly inappropriate—answer, so you tend to overlook it. Apparently, I once threw just such a bedeviling answer in the lap of some friends looking for help. It seems to have been exactly what they needed.
It was roughly twenty-five years ago. My friends Russ Rogers, Mike Nelson, and Bridget Jones had written a brief comic play with a smattering of songs. It was crafted as a light entertainment with, I’m told, one foot in The Partridge Family and the other in Three’s Company. The immediate problem was what to call it. They’d come up with the working title Come and Knock on Our Door but didn’t really like it. Nothing else was coming.
I’d been involved with a different project with Mike and Russ before, so I know how quickly naming something could go south with these guys. We’d been developing a comedy sketch revue for a local radio station, which eventually, and thankfully, was called The 3D Radio Theatre. But that was after an incredibly long and alcohol-fueled brainstorming session that included such gems as The Johnny’s Shame under the Sheets with a Flashlight Radio Show. I recall one friend, another co-creator of the show, who was more mature than the rest of us (he was roughly twice our age), leaving at some point in disgust.
Having arrived at an impasse, Russ, Mike, and Bridget decided that they would ask me, and whatever I said would be the show’s title, no more discussion. Now anybody who knows me knows that such a play would be anathema to me. Sure, when I was young, I watched The Partridge Family with some enjoyment, in part because I took pleasure in the goofiness of Reuben Kincaid but mainly because the show was forbidden in my house due to my stepdad’s rather expansive definition of what a hippie was. As far as I could tell, to my stepdad, hippies were about as loathsome as the abject creature from Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, and The Partridge Family was overflowing with them.
However, once I reached an age when I started to distinguish the good from the bad from the ugly, my opinion of The Partridge Family could best be encapsulated by Harlan Ellison’s terse review of the show: “Mother of God.” As for Three’s Company, for me it epitomized all that was wrong with sitcoms in the 1970s. And I’m sure my revulsion is exactly why the three of them chose me to name their show. To say the least, I wasn’t going to get precious about it.
So Russ told me of their dilemma and asked me what the show should be called. I mulled it over for ten, fifteen seconds, before answering: “Spring Frogs of Death.” And there it was. Disfigured. Panting. Stinking. Barely alive. Almost impossible to look at. It was precisely not what they were looking for. And yet, that’s when Russ realized: “Maybe Come and Knock on My Door isn’t such a bad title after all.” Truth be told, though, he could only really see that by looking the wrong way first.