Opinion | Biff America: Devil at the gym
Decades ago I was at a local gym and noticed three kids, who looked to be in their teens, checking me out. I had assumed it was because of my pickle barrel pectorals: it wasn’t. It was because they were told to stay away from me.
I used to be Biff America — many friends still call me that.
The name came from a character in a series of commercials I wrote and voiced in the early ‘80s. When I later began working in TV and radio I kept it because much of what Biff said would not likely come from the mouth of a guy named Jeffrey.
Had I known I would have lived this long I might have invented a moniker with a better shelf life. “Biff” sounded cool in my 30s, not so much 30+ years later.
Biff was a conglomeration of crazy and colorful guys I knew back east while growing up. He was ribald, occasionally crude, insensitive, sexually suggestive and sometimes funny. Whatever the case, the character worked. I did not have a real job for 30 years.
Sensibilities have adjusted. When I think back at some of the content, I cringe but I can’t say I feel shame. Decorum and propriety are subjective and often emblematic of the times.
“Of all the blackface crew, the finest man I knew was the regimental bhisiti Gunga Din.”
That is from Kipling’s “Gunga Din.” I can recite that entire 600-word poem from memory. Get some bourbon in me, I’ll do it in a cockney accent.
Gunga Din is a classic, written in the late 1800s and read by high school students of my generation. But what Kipling was suggesting is, of all the guys who were black-skinned, Gunga was the finest. Notice he was not put in the same category as whites … kind of like winning a beauty pageant at a leper colony.
The poem later reads, “And for all his dirty hide he was white, pure white inside, when he went to tend the wounded under fire.” So it is not a stretch to say that the British soldiers Kipling was writing about were happy to have a brown man risk his life for them, but were unlikely to consider him an equal.
It wasn’t long before that was published when America was a country of slavery and bigotry. Though I’m reluctant to admit this, I believe (at that time) there were otherwise decent people that were guilty of both. Well over half of those we call “Our Founding Fathers” owned slaves.
My mother, until she died, held a grudge against a local family, who, a generation before, owned a factory that posted a help wanted sign ending with “Irish need not apply.”
Seems every generation is shocked and embarrassed by ones before and rightfully so. The brave men and women who fought in our two World Wars served in a segregated military.
Enlightenment from generation to generation is nothing new. Perhaps more subtle is a personal awakening over a particular lifetime.
“You favor Biff America…”
“We’ve been watching your show even though we know we shouldn’t.”
“Shouldn’t? Why not?”
“Because our pastor said you work for Satan.”
At the time I worked for two stations: one in Denver and one in the mountains. I had never met the owners, but I was fairly certain they were Methodists.
The kids were from a Southern church group and were visiting a sister church in Colorado. Seems a local pastor was not a fan. During a sermon on the temptations of the debauched ski resort world, he warned of the devil’s influence of liquor, sex, drugs and …well, ME.
I’m not and never was in league with Satan. If I were, I would have aged better. Admittedly the Character Biff and even the one named Jeffrey from 35 years past might not play as well through a lens of 2019. Moreover, I would suggest we cut our leaders and public figures some slack and consider their long past behaviors through eyes of the then place and times, while being mindful of the foolishness of youth. What I’m more concerned about, in a person, is the finished product, not the progression of successes and missteps that brought them there.
After our workout I offered those three Southern boys a ride back to their condo. At the time, I was driving a 15-year-old Oldsmobile Royal 98 covered with road grime, rust and primer. I had replaced the back seat with plywood and cut out the firewall of the trunk so I could sleep inside.
When we got to that fine ride I said, “If I worked for Satan I wouldn’t be driving this sh@$ box.” They agreed, but decided to walk……….
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff’s new book “Mind, Body, Soul.” is available at local shops and bookstores or Shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul.
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