In the fall of 1964, I was assigned a seat next to a kid named Carlos in sixth grade. We sat on Mr. Crespo's infamous Dummies Row at Park Street Elementary.
But for the fact that Carlos was Mexican (and his mom hated me), we could have been twins: skinny, glasses, nonexistent attention spans and felonious imaginations. Worse, we were fresh from the Summer of Roth.
Carlos and I were acolytes of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, hot rod engineer, artist, writer and creator of the iconic Rat Fink cartoon character.
Rat Fink and his equally shocking motor head cronies Drag Nut, Cupcake and Mr. Gasser were horribly twisted, pop-eyed and slavering creatures who drove thundering street rods. We loved them.
Note: The word "fink" had a different connotation in the early '60s. Basically it meant any obnoxious and rebellious ne'er-do-well. "Rat" pretty much meant the same thing as it does now.
Neither Carlos nor myself had any real interest in hot rods. Such an interest required more smarts and money than we had. What we were fanatically interested in was anything that bothered the hell out of the establishment in this case Mr. Crespo. And our parents.
Rat Fink was an art form that could only be produced (and appreciated) by severe dementia, hallucinogens, or sixth-grade boredom. Carlos and I loved them. We immediately violated Big Daddy's copyright by producing our own Rat Fink stories.
Carlos was the artist. I was the writer. We collaborated on a half-dozen Rat Fink pieces, one of which featured Mr. Crespo being flattened by hot rods, reconstituted in 1919 beer, then used as a toilet seat in the teachers' lounge. It became a playground classic.
Note: It also got us restricted to the classroom for a week's worth of recesses. Freedom of speech in 1964 did not cover drawings of a teacher with a fuel-injected Pontiac emerging from his bottom.
My parents remained oblivious to my new faith until I wanted a plastic model kit for my birthday. When they bought me an aircraft carrier, I told them I really wanted one of a creature named Drag Nut.
My mother took the aircraft carrier back. She returned from the store shaken and alarmed. Why did I want a model of a monster? Where had they gone wrong? What was the matter with me?
The old man offered to fix the problem by keeping me in a footlocker until I was old enough for the draft. Mom prevailed. She let me have the Drag Nut model because it kept me indoors where I could be monitored.
Mom: "Why don't you like Mickey Mouse like other kids?"
Me: "I have better taste than other kids."
The Old Man: "I can fix that."
I couldn't explain why I loved Rat Fink. Mickey Mouse went to church. Rat Fink didn't. Minnie Mouse was overly chaste. Rat Fink's girl friend Cupcake put out. Goofy was socially inept. Drag Nut was socially feared.
All good things come to an end. I lost touch with Carlos when we moved. For years, Rat Fink existed only in my memory and on a T-shirt. But the connection was always there. Like me, Roth moved to Utah, married a nice lady and started going to church.
Big Daddy died in 2001, but his spirit lives on. This year is Rat Fink's 50th birthday. The town of Manti is hosting a "Big Daddy" gala May 31-June 2, featuring artists, rat rods, live bands, car shows, and, of course, Rat Fink.
Should be fun. Maybe Carlos will show up.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/notpatbagley.
10th annual Rat Fink reunion
The town of Manti will celebrate the 50th birthday of cartoon character Rat Fink, the creation of late Manti resident Ed Roth, with hot (rat) rods, car shows, live bands and more from May 31-June 2. For more information and a complete schedule, visit http://www.ratfink.com/rat-fink-events.php.