Muppet Fan Testimonials: Josh Hankemeier

Josh Hankemeier – What can I say that hasn’t already been said by fans of Jim Henson and the Muppets?

Thanks to Jim Henson and his colleagues, I have developed a great appreciation for the arts. Muppeteers aren’t just “doll wigglers.” Frank Oz is a director, Fran Brill is also known for her voice-work in commercials and other places. Jerry Nelson was a musician in his own right (Truro Daydreams). Caroll Spinney was an illustrator and animator years before he set foot on Sesame Street. Most Muppet fans know this, but Caroll Spinney’s most famous illustration appeared in Sesame Street‘s most memorable moment. I refer to, of course, the caricature of Mr. Looper… I mean Hooper.

While thinking about what to write for this testimonial, I considered mentioning some of my favorite collectibles, Muppet moments in TV and movies, even the day I heard that Jim Henson had passed away. I thought about mentioning a list of Muppet-related things I think of during my daily routine. (To cite a single example: there are frequent thunderstorms during the summer where I live. When these storms occur, a bold Transylvanian laugh, “Ah, ah, ah,” either runs through my head or slips out of my mouth).

After some thought, I decided to zero in on one specific date and time: August 4, 2012, 1:00PM. This was when I married my sweetheart Jeni Rizio. Although the wedding had some very traditional elements, it also had subtle (and not so subtle) Henson influences. The regular attendee would not catch most of them, but to those with fine-tuned “Muppet senses” could easily detect the influences interwoven throughout that hour.

First up, Jeni and I are friends of Caroll and Debi Spinney. Jeni has known Caroll since 2001 and runs Caroll and Debi were present when I popped the question on June 19, 2010. Caroll was nice enough to make a little drawing of Jeni and I as “Big Birds” and told us (in Oscar’s voice) “Normally, I’d say have a rotten day or rotten anything, but I ain’t saying that. Have a beautiful, loving, never forget to tell you how much you love each other marriage.” Then he pointed to Debi and (in Big Bird’s voice) said “This is Little Bird, so we know what it’s like.” Debi agreed by saying “Don’t have a rotten marriage!” The illustration Caroll drew was reprinted (with Caroll’s permission) in the order of service bulletins for the wedding.

The wedding ceremony began with some prelude music. One of the pieces played was “Gelfling Song.” Kira’s voice never sounded so beautiful as it did coming from the ceiling speakers. It was my turn to walk down the aisle first. Long ago, I had chosen the song “Music Box” from Fraggle Rock to be “my” wedding march song. Fraggle fans will know this is song was from “The Lost Treasure of Fraggle Rock,” composed by Phillip Balsam (or if you prefer) by Dwight at the Time of the Third Drafting.

As I walked down the aisle, I wore a tuxedo and a top hat. Back when I picked my tuxedo to rent, I showed the owner of the shop a photo of the type of tux I wanted: it was a traditional one… worn by Luis (Emilio Delgado) from the wedding of Maria and Luis on Sesame Street. A gold pin featuring Kermit on his bicycle was on my lapel.

My top hat was not exactly like a Fred Astaire top hat, but one with a curled brim and a flared crown. Except for being black, it closely resembled the hat worn by the only version of Charles Dickens with a wise-cracking rat as a companion. Tucked in the hatband was a tuft of bright yellow: an authentic Big Bird feather. Speaking of our favorite blue weirdo, I was reminded of the many times Gonzo wore a black tuxedo, whether it was in action figure form, imitating James Bond or preparing to marry Madeline Kahn. In a way, that’s what I was: the eccentric, silly weirdo lucky enough to find a beautiful girl.

I walked slowly past the custom-made wedding cake. It was a replica of Ma and Pa Gorg’s wedding cake from the Fraggle Rock episode “Ring Around the Rock.” My Ma and Pa PVC figures stood on top, just as the same type of PVC figures did in the episode. Thanks to Muppet Wiki, a photo of Junior accompanied it to show people the comparison. I even made Ma a bridal train and some flowers for her hair and hand, just like in the episode. I’ve heard of a few Kermit and Miss Piggy-themed wedding cakes, but never a Gorg one… well, until now!

I paused before approaching the Justice of the Peace. Next to my Best Man, a large table was filled with photographs. My wife and I had decided to honor those dear to our hearts who were not there for the wedding. It was a mixture of those who had passed away, those who couldn’t make it due to their distance and those who we never even met, but who meant a lot to us all the same. I silently thanked my late mother, my father, and great grandparents. Near to them were the following two photos: one was of Caroll and Debi Spinney. The other was of six guys (Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Richard Hunt, Jerry Nelson, Dave Goelz, and Steve Whitmire) whom I’m sure regular readers of this site would recognize. I thanked the people in those photos as well. No one reading this article needs me to explain why those pictures were there. Muppet fans understand.

As I put the purple arc anthurium and upright heliconia flowers in the vase next to my mother and father’s picture, the Fraggles chanted to the tune of “Music Box.” Between the flowers, I saw a miniature radish… Geraldine, lovingly cradled in Junior Gorg’s hands. It was part of a sculpture I created for my aunt and uncle some years ago: Marjory the Trash Heap peered at the wedding party through her lorgnette with Philo and Gunge on her shoulders. The miniature replica of the Gorgs’ Castle, garden and even the exterior of Fraggle Rock surrounded them all, including Ma and Pa. The onion dome of the bell tower loomed behind the pictures and a box meant for cards for the bride and groom. On one side of the box was a photo of Milton the Golden Toad and Ruth from “Song of the Cloud Forest.” (GoldenToad was my name on the dating website where I found my wife).

“Music Box” came to its end just as I turned around to face the congregation. My bride, led by her father, walked slowly down the aisle to her own song. Ultimately, she chose a song not related to Jim Henson, but one of the songs she seriously considered was the Phillip Glass piece from “Geometry of Circles.” When the Justice of the Peace began to speak, I was reminded of a portion of the text my wife an I had chosen. Along with the simple vows and the Lord’s Prayer, a few lines were included. Again, to those in attendance, it sounded very basic. To us, however, it was yet another Muppet-related reference. Except for the names, this passage was directly quoted from Maria and Luis’s wedding:

“Josh and Jeni are making a promise today… a promise to share their lives together. A promise to help one another and care for each other and love each other for the rest of their lives. They are celebrating this promise in front of you, the people they love most: their friends and their families.”

The recessional music was not very audible, but was scheduled to be “Funky Chimes” by Joe Raposo. Since the wedding was catered, no one had to worry about any suspicious dishes made by certain unintelligible, Scandinavian cook. The Maid of Honor made a very flattering speech, including this quote by Kermit:

“I really do believe that all of you are at the beginning of a wonderful journey. As you start traveling down that road of life, remember this: There are never enough comfort stops. The places you’re going to are never on the map. And once you get that map out, you won’t be able to re-fold it no matter how smart you are.  So forget the map, roll down the windows, and whenever you can pull over and have picnic with a pig. And if you can help it never fly as cargo.”

When my bride and I left the building, I tipped my top hat to the crowd. As I did, I took one last look at the gathering of family, friends and interspersed references to my heroes. It was a lovely day. One year has passed since then… and my wife and I continue to cherish the fond memories of that day, and look forward to future Muppety adventures. As it said on our wedding order of service, “Life’s a happy song when there’s someone by your side to sing along.” Indeed it is.

My love to you forever and always, my lovely wife…my dear, sweet Jeni.  Happy first Anniversary.

The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier,

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