Thanks to presidential debate, Big Bird is today's word on the street

OK, now, let me see. There are nearly 315 million people living in the United States, and the Center for Public Broadcasting gets $445 million a year from the federal budget. That means each person pays a little more than a buck a year, or, to be a bit more precise, $1.41, to watch Antiques Roadshow, The Mormons, and any number of programs you can't find anywhere else.

But the center's member stations, the Public Broadcasting System, were roundly dissed during the Oct. 3 presidential debate by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. He said that under a Romney administration, PBS would be sacked. OMG. That means all the muppets of Sesame Street would lose their jobs. Hmmm. I thought we were all trying to be job-creators.

Let's look at it this way. For less than $2 per year, Sesame Street provides educational entertainment for little bitty kids. It can be watched and appreciated without regard to race, color, religion, creed, national origin or income. Children across the board can learn from it as long as they have a television set that gets basic channels and parents who pay their electric bill. Cable costs are not necessary.

Back when my kids were small, I was a great fan of Sesame Street, which was a far cry from Captain Kangaroo. I thought it was exciting, thrilling in fact, to have a kids' show placed in an urban setting with people-sized handpuppets and youngsters that looked like mine, my neighbors and my friends.

But later on, I noticed that kids were kind of hyper and, rightly or wrongly, I placed the blame squarely on Sesame Street. Those cartoonish voices and all that jumping around was nerve wracking to me. But you know what — I wasn't a kid. So I fell out of love with the grating Oscar the Grouch and the ever-snacking Cookie Monster. The only ones I really liked were Big Bird, who reminded me of my tall friend Pete, and The Count, whom I thought was cool.

Then my family moved to Germany, and I found myself living in a country where I didn't speak the language. Still, I got a job working at a German company, in French and English, no less. However, my boss told me he would speak to me in English and German for one week, and then only in German.

That's when I discovered Sesamstrasse, or the German version of Sesame Street. I watched it whenever I could, and very quickly, I learned to pronounce the alphabet, I learned words and I discovered that past-tense verbs come at the end of the sentence. I learned our V was their F; our W was their V. Never again would I pronounce Volkswagen the English way. Rather, it would forever be Folksvagen. With the help of Bert und Ernie, Koekiemonster und Bibo (Big Bird), I learned as a young child does.

How on earth would our iconic Sesame Street become a symbol of budget cutting? I wonder. An unnecessary expense on borrowed money from China, I've heard. Or is it simply a desire to eradicate public broadcasting? Now there's a thought — if it's privatized it'll rely on ads, like hair clubs for muppets or big bird down-filled mattresses or Cookie Monster's new and improved bake-it-or-else goodies.

Big Bird, an overgrown canary nesting on a small screen, has shown up in the president's anti-Romney ads. PBS has asked the Obama campaign to cease using the bird's image. After all, public means he's for all of us. And frankly, BB just wants to do his job and get paid at the end of the week. I've always gotten the feeling that, despite his bright yellow presence, he's a bit shy. Dagnabbit. Maybe Romney should have chosen to pick on Elmo. Elmo's not shy at all.

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