Just last week, I opened an email to see The Rockstar, our school’s student newspaper, not only digitized but in Espanol as well. As the former faculty sponsor for the paper (Called Scylla’s Rock when I ran it), I felt very proud that Arcard Smith-Johnson made all this happen. Arcard has been fiercely dedicated to journalism for a few years now, and it’s so exciting to see her make changes in all aspects of the course and the periodical (sorely needed!). I often hear her fellow reporters talking about her laser-like editing skills or her vision for each new issue. She is so dedicated that she decided to become a teaching assistant in the class (also sorely needed!), in addition to her myriad editor-in-chief duties. That type of voluntary involvement is a sign that she wants to “suck the marrow” from her education and her life. Arcard has a fiery passion that everyone here at RRHS recognizes. Whether she’s in class, in the newsroom, or in the community, Arcard is the kind of firecracker that shoots up into the sky and creates bright colors that everyone underneath can ooh and aah about without feeling terrified or embarrassed.
I was fortunate enough to have Arcard in my American Literature class last year and she was a lot of fun. The first thing I noticed after I inquired about her name (I thought it was a Greek or Latin derivative but turns out her father is a big Arizona Cardinals fan so he combined the beginnings of both words to form Arcard) was her wide knowledge of pop culture, especially the 1980s. She was my go-to student when I made jokes about early MTV (I can do I want my MTV! in a pretty good Pete Townsend accent) or when a novel “jumped the shark” toward the end. Arcard knew the often-coined term meant losing focus or intent and that it originated on the Happy Days show. She claimed it was when Fonzie jumped his motorcycle over a tank with sharks in it in the parking lot of Arnold’s, and I said it was when Fonzie was in California and waterskied over a shark. Our debate was full of passion and articulate argument. What a joy! Then Louis shouted that we should just look it up for Pete’s sake, only he used far less appropriate language. I said I had one better and ordered the episode right there in front of the class through the magic of technology. Louis said I should download it instantly or stream it, but I couldn’t figure out how to work that kind of techno-magic. No matter. The DVD only took a few days to arrive. Arcard and I laughed so hard when we saw The Fonz in board shorts and his trademark leather jacket. I had totally forgotten about The California Kid and the fact that Ritchie was offered a film contract in that episode. What a hoot! Some of the kids recognized Henry Winkler from The Waterboy or Arrested Development but a lot went home and told their parents they were bored, especially when I replayed key scenes for Arcard. I was called in by Admin to explain my unorthodox methods. I told them what you probably already know: Happy Days was a large part of Americana (Fonzie’s jacket is in The Smithsonian, for Pete’s Sake, next to Ted Knight’s blue anchorman jacket from The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and that “jump the shark” has become a commonly used term in the American lexicon. Downtown Milwaukee even has a bronze statue of Fonzie in his classic (and dare I say positive?) thumbs up pose. Then I waxed fairly eloquently, if I say so myself, about how hard I try connecting to students using various methods that other teachers are too lazy to execute. I think I may have gone on too long about Gardner’s multiple intelligences and Scott Baio’s brilliant turn as Chachi because they said they’d heard enough and that I needed to reimburse the school for the DVD I ordered on their account.
I don’t know about you but when I was a kid growing up in rural New Jersey, watching shows like Happy Days was a real family bonding experience. Before my parents split up on a supposed romantic getaway to Atlantic City, we’d all sit around with our TV trays and watch how each character evolved. Thinking about it now, the show seems almost literary. Ritchie had a real conscience (not at all like the moral filth what my students watch today); that’s why Fonzie respected him so much more than Potsie and Ralph, secondary characters for sure. Don’t even get me started on Fonzie. Talk about a moral code! He got so mad at Chachi for burning down Arnold’s (not unlike the barn burning in Billy Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, see?) and during the run of the show finishes high school and gets baptized to boot! I could go on and on about how the Fonz supported racial integration in the 50s (well, the show aired in the 70s but took place in the 50s) as well as being of mixed race himself (Italian, Jewish, maybe even German. Remember Grandma Nussbaum?) I have such fond memories of sitting next to my two sisters laughing at all the great catchphrases (Sit on it, Potsie!) and probably learning a thing or two about tolerance along the way.
Thematically, I think that Arcard is not unlike Joanie Cunningham: hard-working, honest, and with a balanced sense of humor. It’s funny but the actor who played Joanie, Erin Moran, is the same way. I pulled out her demo reel the other day, and I’d forgotten about all the dramatic roles she tackled early and late in her career. Even during the ten year run of Happy Days, she experienced weddings, funerals, fights and, of course, true love with Chachi. I think Arcard has the same potential to have such a wide range on life’s big screen. So I say, be like Arnold (I know it’s not cool to say if you’re a true Happy Dayzer, but I like Al Molinaro as much as Pat Morita. So sue me!) and invite Arcard to dance next to your school’s jukebox. Don’t worry, no one will tell her to “sit on it” and there will always be a Fonzie around to keep the good times rolling!
It is my great honor to write this letter in support of this most qualified candidate.
Richard Fulton Winter
1998 Arizona Junior Humanities Excellence in Teaching Award—Honorable Mention
Class Sponsor of the Alternate Student CouncilAuthor of The Bard’s Gentle Graces (poetry chapbook)