Here comes everybody: divorced, gays, sinners, a couple saints
Ashes for the unabashedly Catholic
Poverty rates reflect ‘serious moral failure’
News By Month
Bridgeport native John Ratzenberger, center, laughs with his fellow actors during
a break in production forthe short film "Local Commercial" as part of the Connecticut
Film Industry Program at Quinnipiac University in Hamden on Wednesday, June 27,
2012. Photo: Brian A. Pounds / Connecticut Post
BRIDGEPORT -- For anyone who's in their mid-50s, like me, or older, you knew exactly what John Ratzenberger was talking about.
Growing up, you didn't grab your cell phone, text your mother a message and then drive through the take-out window at McDonald's before meeting your friends. You made two or three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, left your mom a note, tied the bag of food to your handlebars and rode your bicycle with your buddies for hours on end, sometimes only to find yourself miles from home with the sun going down and a broken bike chain.
What did you do?
You fixed the chain. Or you walked home in the dark. But whatever you did, you adapted to the situation. You adapted because you couldn't do anything else. You faced the problem head on and figured it out.
"We called it playing back then," said Ratzenberger, better known from his role as the know-it-all postman from Cheers, Cliff Clavin, "But now I see very clearly that we were learning. We were learning life skills and we've taken that away from our kids."
Ratzenberger was the guest speaker at the 25th annual Shehan Center Celebrity breakfast at the Holiday Inn Wednesday morning, and the former Bridgeport native spent close to a half hour talking about that change in the mindset in today's society.
"I remember when I played in the Black Rock Little League, and if you stunk, the coach would say, `You stink,' and you'd go, `OK,'" Ratzenberger said. "I have to deal with it. The beauty of that is that, at 8 years old, you have to deal with that crisis yourself. You don't have to wait until you're 30. Eight years old and you have a choice: `Do I practice more? Do I find another sport? Do I play the cello? I got to figure it out.'
"Eventually, I became the ultimate right fielder, just stood out there looking at butterflies. Today, if a coach told you that you stunk, you'd go for counseling."
And with that, Ratzenberger went into a story about a conversation with a businessman who hired a young kid, fresh out of college, but after three days, fired him because he couldn't and wouldn't work with others. The day after the kid was fired, he returned -- with his mother -- and the mother demanded that the boss apologize to her son for "hurting his self-esteem."
"I hear variations of that all across the country," Ratzenberger said. "We're not affording our kids the opportunity to go out and make those mistakes. We have to at least be aware of the value of hands-on learning."
Like Ratzenberger did. As a student at Bassick High, he took carpentry classes and learned how to make things with his hands, and he mowed fairways at D. Fairchild Wheeler golf course before he was old enough to have a driver's license. The greenskeeper put him on a tractor, showed him how to work it and let him go.
"At that age, we were operating heavy machinery and sharp blades. (Today) social services would be called," he said. "Someone would investigate. Those kids might get hurt. Yeah, we might ... but we could have gotten hurt climbing trees and building tree houses. There's a lot to be learned from doing things yourself."
According to Ratzenberger, the president of one of the largest aircraft companies in the country has said that a lot of kids that came to him looking for a job don't know how to read a ruler. They couldn't even point to 5¼ inches or 8¾ inches.
"Think about that," Ratzenberger said. "We have to teach kids the value of measuring something, cutting something. There aren't any home economics courses anymore. We have to understand that shop courses also taught us about mathematics, because you had to work with angles."
Ratzenberger has provided character voices from every Disney Pixar movie, including the piggy bank from "Toy Story," Mack the truck in "Cars" and P.T. Flea from "A Bug's Life." But as he related over and over again during his talk, it all began in Bridgeport.
"I want to thank Bridgeport for getting me through all these years," he said. "I went to St. Ann's, I went to Bassick and Sacred Heart (University). My journey started right here."