Jonathan has lunch in a cafeteria.
Mystery Show is produced by Starlee Kine, Alex Blumberg, Wendy Dorr and Eric Mennel. Producing help from Kaitlin Roberts and Melinda Shopsin. Eli Horowitz is contributing editor. John Delore engineered this episode. Thanks also to Matt Lieber. Logo by Arthur Jones. Special thanks to Jonathan Goldstein, Dave Chernin, Beverly Burge, Alan Sacks, John Erickson, Dan Hosse, Colt Cabana, Joe Smith, Marty Scurll, and Doug Williams.
Closing song “Go Far” written and produced by Emmy the Great, performed by Emmy the Great, Leo Abrahams and David Gardener. Go Far was mixed by Dave McCracken. Additional score used in the episode was written, performed and mixed by Emmy the Great too.
Opening theme song “Those Mysteries” was written and performed by Sparks and licensed with permission from Imagem Music.
Our ad music is by Build Buildings.
Squarespace (use offer code “Mystery” for 10% off)
Starlee: From Gimlet, I’m Starlee Kine and this is Mystery Show. Every week I solve a new mystery. Mysteries that can’t be solved online. Mysteries you can’t solve yourself. Up until now, there hasn’t been anyone to help with this. That person is now me.
(Theme song starts)
Jonathan: Shall I start from the beginning?
Starlee Kine: Does the beginning mean childhood?
Jonathan: Not that beginning.
Starlee Kine: This mystery belongs to my friend Jonathan.
Jonathan: A couple weekends ago I I went to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, I didn’t do any of the smart things like go see documents, i looked at Dorothy from Wizard of Oz shoes, Archie Bunker’s chair, the dumbass part of the museum. Saw that stuff and ten minutes later went to cafeteria to get something to eat
Starlee: How many minutes spent at lunch and how many spent at museum.
Jonathan: I probably spent more time at the cafeteria. It was a good lunch etc.
Jonathan: And on the way in behind glass they have all these lunch pails and what caught my eye was a Welcome Back, Kotter lunch pail, the sitcom from the 70s starring Gabe Kaplan, John Travolta. It was about a group of four guys from high school, i guess they were learning disabled? Youth at risk?
Starlee: Juvenile delinquents?
Jonathan:Yes, they were juvenile delinquents I guess. With learning disabilities. Definitely Arnold Horshack either had a learning disability or was just Jewish. But back then it was funny and they called them Sweathogs.
Jonathan: I was a huge fan of Welcome Back, Kotter. I loved it so much that not only would I watch it I would tape record, I had an audio tape recorder and I would tape episodes and listen to them again later as though they were radio plays.
Jonathan: And I would memorize lines that I thought were cool I could use in school. Like “Your mom is so low so could play handball against the curb.” There was a lot of mother jokes. Like John Travolta’s character Vinnie Barbarino would say “Not about my mother. My mother was a saint.” Remember that?
Starlee: Nope. Absolutely not.
Jonathan: In fact I think I just used that line on you last time I saw you. I said “hey” like you brought up my mother and I said “my mother was a saint.” I was quoting Vinnie Barbarino.
Starlee Kine: At this point it seemed harder to believe that Jonathan had ever said anything to me that wasn’t from Welcome Back, Kotter.
Jonathan: So I was studying the scene depicted on the lunchpail and there was something in the image that made no sense to me. And I just stood there for quite a while holding my tray full of food just staring at this lunchpail.
Jonathan: Trying to figure out what the image was. What I’m going to do is summon it up. I took a photo of it for you.
Starlee:A photo? On Jonathan’s phone? Now that peaked my interest.
Jonathan: I can show you my iphone. I have only taken like four pictures, one of my niece, one of my nephew. Maybe a picture of parking sign so I remember where I parked and then this Welcome Back, Kotter lunchpail. I don’t like to waste memory.
Starlee: Said the man whose childhood memories are filled to capacity with Welcome Back Kotter episodes.
Jonathan: In the scene you see all 4 Sweathogs and Mr. Kotter, they are all standing outside locker bank and Juan Epstein and Vinnie Barbarino look as though they are about to get into a fight. And that is the moment immortalized on this lunchpail. I was like that is really odd Juan would never fight with Barbarino they were all friends. I looked at it more closely and I realized Juan Epstein was holding a jacket, a jean jacket, kind of jacket a juvenile delinquent in the seventies might wear and the sleeves of the jacket have knots in them. Like someone has taken the length of the sleeve like a length of rope or shoelace and has tied knots in it.
Starlee Kine: Epstein is dangling the jacket in front of Barbarino accusingly, as though it were a dead pet left on his porch by a mad man.
Jonathan: Freddy Boom Boom Washington is behind them and Arnold Horshack is behind Barbarino and looks like he is holding Barbarino back.
Starlee Kine: If you need a visual, picture one of those huge Renaissance paintings of Christ being taken down off the cross, crown of thorns on his head, lifeless body cradled by his disciples. The lunchbox scene is a lot like that. Except instead of Christ, it’s a jean jacket. With knots in the sleeves.
Jonathan: What makes it so inscrutable to me is the presence of the sleeve knotted jacket. Have you ever heard of that? Like jacket sleeve knotting. What is that about? Was that a thing, a prank that people pulled in the 70s.
Starlee Kine: Jonathan had thought museums were places you go to grab a nice lunch. Turned out they also contained mysteries.
Jonathan: I can’t find it on the internet. I looked up all kinds of permutations: knotting jacket sleeves, knots in coat sleeves, knot sleeve joke.
Starlee Kine: While the knots in the sleeves might have been what most confounded Jonathan, it was the injustice that most wounded him. Millions of years from now when the world has turned to dust and nothing but the wall of lunchboxes is left standing, this is how Welcome Back Kotter would be regarded by future civilizations.
Jonathan: I don’t think it was an image taken from the actual tv show, whoever the artist was who created the picture might never have seen the show.
Starlee: Have you seen all the episodes?
Jonathan: Yes, many times over.
Starlee: And listened to the audio
Jonathan: And listen to the audio after.
Starlee: You dont remember the sound of denim being pulled taught
Jonathan: What would that sound be?
Starlee Kine: And like all the great armchair lunchbox designers before him, Jonathan had some ideas of his own about how it should’ve gone.
Jonathan: They could have put Freddy Boom Boom Washington doing the air bass, boom boom. Could have put Arnold Horshack raising his hand, ooh ooh ooh. Barbarino doing the Barbarino dance…why this? I’m wondering where does this come from. Was it a thing, a national craze like the Charleston in the 20s, jacket knotting in the 70s and just lost to us. So I’m curious about that and also curious about whoever the artist was who created the picture on the lunchpail whether it was drawn from his own history or something he invented wholesale. So I am imploring you to get to the bottom of this mystery.
Starlee: Doesn’t sound like you are imploring me?
Jonathan: I’d like you to help me get to the bottom of this
Starlee: There you go.
Starlee Kine: As someone who’s been in the mystery business for weeks, this case, frankly, seemed a little beneath my experience level. The knotted jack had probably been on the show and Jonathan had just forgotten. Just like how would have forgotten where he parked that one time if he taken a picture of the space. Or just like how he’d forgotten to document the rest of his whole entire life. But nonetheless, I agreed to take on the case. I’d spend a few hours on it, you know a favor for an old pal. Besides I’ve always been a sucker for a good imploring.
Starlee Kine: Welcome Back, Kotter was on for four seasons but the last season was shot in 1979 and the lunchbox came out in 1977. That meant the scene couldn’t be in season four. So I was making brisk work of this already. There were twenty two episodes a season, each episode twenty four minutes long without commercials. That’s fifteen hundred and eighty four minutes. Or a little more than one full day. I didn’t have that kind of time. Not without it cutting into my watching other television shows. So I enlisted the help of two of my investigators.I told them ideally they’d find the scene itself but they were to be on the lookout for other clues too. Anything knotted. Anything denim. And of course any pranks, hijinks, escapades, capers, antics or larks of any kind. If there was so much as a banana peel out of place, I wanted to hear about it.
Lisa: Whatever is going on in that picture on the lunchbox is way too complicated for the typical plotline of a Welcome Back, Kotter episode.
Starlee Kine: Lisa took the first shift: season one. Did she spot the knot tying prank?
Starlee: Do they wear a denim shirt.
Lisa: Oh my god, denim is so pervasive in Welcome Back Kotter.
Starlee: Now we are getting somewhere
Lisa: When they have all the extras and Sweathogs in the room its just a sea of denim, I made notes on this. There are denim jackets, denim jeans, denim shirts, bellbottoms that are denim with patches of other kinds of denim. People who wear outfits where the top is denim shirt and bottom is jeans. Lot of them have jeans with not back pockets. That’s weird. Vinnie Barbarino has denim jacket that is actually, I didn’t know that was ever cool, but more like barn style jacket cut with bigger pockets, like mom jean jacket, you know what i am saying? But he has such a long torso I don’t know if they had any choice. I have to say, one of the top ten things that stood out to me was length of John Travolta’s torso.
Starlee: Are pranks a significant part of the show?
Lisa: They are definitely there. There are pranks, so a typical prank from season 1, we took signs off bathroom and put sign for girls on boys bathroom and put sign for boys on girls bathroom.
Starlee: That is a solid prank.
Lisa: (laughs) you like that. Let’s see when watch your season.
Starlee: Believe me I will.
Starlee Kine: Wait. Because first I had to check in with Eric about his season.
Eric: As far as I can tell that jacket thing never happened in season 2. I’m a little afraid it is going to be a situation where i am watching it so closely I was going to miss it. I finished them at 12:15 at night and go to the end and was like, alright I didn’t see it. …did I?
Starlee: I can’t believe you are not sure.
Eric: I know. I got really excited, I think it was episode 3, the vice principal character was rummaging through sweat hogs lockers and get to Barbarino’s locker and they open it up and he pulls out jacket. And i’m like this has got to be it, there has got to be something here. I’m watching it really intently, so close to the jacket
Starlee: Did you lean in closely for that one?
Eric: So close
Starlee: Was your nose pressed to the screen.
Eric: It was not pressed to the screen.
Starlee: Thats what watching intently looks like
Eric: Sorry to have let you down again.
Starlee Kine: It was my season. Season three. By season three the cast of Welcome Back, Kotter were some of the biggest stars in the country. In interviews from that time, the Sweathogs acknowledged the danger of becoming so famous so young. They knew they wouldn’t be twenty six playing sixteen years old forever. The trick to staying relevant said Robert Heges who played Epstein, was to do it all, act, direct, produce. He’d already started a film production company called Sativa, which was Latin for marijuana. Sort of. That year John Travolta starred in both Saturday Night Fever Grease. I kept looking for indications of lack of commitment to the role of Barbarino now that he’d become a movie star, such as in the phoning in his catchphrase, only doing the who and the what but not bothering with the where. Welcome Back Kotter takes place on four sets, more or less. The classroom, the hallway by the lockers, the school yard and the Kotter’s living room. The same articles of clothing appear over and over again. One shirt in particular, a t-shirt with a bald eagle ironed on, kept showing up on different Sweathogs, as though they were real life friends who shared each other’s clothes. There was no knotted jean jacket in Season Three. I did find, however, an important bit of Kotter pranking philosophy. In episode 18, a new girl, Angie, enrolls in their one room schoolhouse. James Buchanan High. She walks into class and the Sweathogs go nuts. I’m pretty sure you can see Epstein’s heart beat out of his chest, through his shirt, all Bugs Bunny like. But Angie’s not interested in dating the Sweathogs, she wants to become one of them. She drops paint on the vice principal as a way of impressing the guys but calls her an amateur “Our stunts always have two things,” he tells her, “They’re original and they leave no evidence.” The knotted jean jacket prank satisfied both criteria. It was so original no one had ever heard of it. And apparently it left not a shred of evidence behind.
I needed to talk to someone who worked directly on the show. Maybe the lunchbox image came from something that happened on the set, like an inside joke. But five out of six of the main Welcome Back, Kotter cast members were either dead, turned me down when I asked for an interview, or, were John Travolta dealing with the release of Going Clear on HBO. The sixth was Gabe Kaplan, who played Kotter himself. As in Welcome Back, comma. I was given his cellphone number but didnt hear back. So I tried the man he co-created the show with, Alan Sacks. “Dear Mr. Sacks,” I wrote, “There’s an image on the Kotter lunchbox that we just can’t understand.” Alan got back to me right away and gave me his address so I could come talk to him about it in person.
Alan: How are you doing?
Starlee Kine: He had just one question though. Who was we?
Alan: So before we get started, though maybe we are started, I wanted tell you something.
Alan: When you said we in the email, and I responded to you, who is wee. It struck something that was really one of the interesting events in my life. I was held at gun point by Phil Spector for like 5 hours.
Alan: When was this, it was 1980. I was producing this pilot for abc and who better for me to get to do music than Phil Spector and I got him on phone and he says great-come over. So we set up time, he and I and his secretary calls me to confirm and she said “who’s coming?”, and I said “I’m coming myself” and she says “ok I’ll let phil know that, come at 7:30.” But as I am leaving office the casting director is there says “what are you doing-lets get some japanese food.” I said “Okay lets do that but have to go to Phil Spector’s house tonight why dont you take ride with me, we will go up there, we will listen to some music and then out to eat afterwards.” We get in my car, start driving down the sunset strip, smoking joint, listening to Dire Straights on radio, on the way to Phil Spector’s house, very excited. So we get to the end of Sunset he lives up cul de sac in Beverly Hills, as getting closer there is barbed wire , signs that say no trespassing protected by Smith and Wesson, press buzzer, gate opens up, drive my car in, park it, we get out, two dogs come charging at us, oh my god. , The door opens up and there is a guy standing in karate suit, a giant, he says “Hi i am George I am Phil’s man.” “Hi George, I’m Alan, this is Cathy.” “Come on in.” George closes door and locks with key from the inside, click,click, click and puts key in pocket. So I look at Cathy and the only way I know we can get out of there is that George has to open the door. He brings us into this beautifully appointed living room, tiffany shades, leather bound books, leather chairs, pictures of Lennon, the Ramones, pictures of Ike and Tina, the Righteous Brothers and suddenly at very far end of the room, this huge huge room, we hear rustling then Phil Spector comes down steps and he looks over at cathy and I and screams at the top of his lungs “There is too many people here ahhhhhhh. There is too many people in my house.” See he wasn’t expecting Cathy. This is the we. He is screaming “too many people here.” I go “no no wait it’s just me and Cathy she works for me.” He goes running out. He comes down about half hour later, sits down at coffee table, shakes my hand, and looks at me and says “what are you doing here.” I said “you know what I am doing here, I called you, we spoke on the phone. I want you to do the music this pilot i am doing.” He says “no no no, you are here because you want to go back and tell people I drink to much, I take drugs and play with guns.” With that he stands up, he takes off jacket and he is strapped with biggest gun i ever been in a room with in my life. And now the gun comes out and I say “put that shit away I got to get out of here.” He said “no no we are not ready to go yet” and for the next six hours, all sorts of waving the gun around insanity. He asked me if I knew karated. He says “come on I’ll show you karate.”
Alan: And then he says “Do you like Leonard Cohen?” I say “I love Leonard Cohen.” He says “Good I want to play you some tracks.” So now we have to go and lay down in his music room. I am on the floor, he is on the floor, Cathy is on the floor, the gun is between us, we have the headset on, and we are listening to Leonard Cohen singing, you like Leonard Cohen Death of a Ladies Man, that album? I’m listening to tracks of Death of a Ladies Man, you know with Spector with a gun between us.
Music: Leonard Cohen
Alan: He says “come on I wrote the music for you.” “You wrote the music for me, are you kidding?” So we go up to the piano room and he starts playing on the piano a dirge. And I can’t sing but it goes like-we’re all rock and rollers, rock and rollers all, trying to earn a living before final curtain call. And the gun is on piano and he would pick it up every once in a while and go hahaha, come on Alan sing it with me-we are all rock and rollers, rock and rollers all, trying to earn a living before the final curtain call. Hahahahha. This went on for hours. Till finally some guy who worked at radio station, working the lobster shift and was getting off and called Phil and said “Hey I want to come by, with this woman I am with.” Phil said,”yes, come on by.” So when this guy came were able to scurry out of room like kittens and then we were gone. The next day he sent me all sorts of gifts, Phil Spector cocktail napkins and the note that said – Hey Al, I really had a swell time with you last night, let’s do it again soon.
Starlee: Did you use the song, the dirge?
Alan: No, but the president of ABC said to me “Well did you get Phil Spector to do music, does he want to do it. I said, “You know what,he does, but I will tell you something, Marty, you have next meeting with him, cause i am not.” So when you said we, who is we, I didn’t want a surprise. I was doing my Phil Spector. So now we can talk about Kotter.
Starlee Kine: I decided to get right to the point. Lest I let another cheerless pronoun slip out. I asked Alan if it wasn’t too much trouble would he please tell me every single thing he knew about the Welcome Back, Kotter lunchbox.
Alan: Oh that i don’t remember.
Starlee Kine: Of course he didn’t.
Alan: i didn’t really care about the merchandise in Kotter.
Starlee Kine: Didn’t care was one way of putting it. Another was…
Alan: I got screwed on that show.
Starlee Kine: Alan had sold the pilot for Kotter within six months of moving to Hollywood. He had no idea what he was doing. He didn’t get syndication rights. He didn’t get merchandising rights. He did get a lot of hotel pool lounging time in though. But until that counts as legal tender, as I’ve often petitioned for it to, there wasn’t much he could do with that now. I showed Alan the image on the lunchbox.
Starlee: What do you think is happening in that?
Alan: This is Epstein’s jacket. He is accusing somebody of doing something to his jacket.
Starlee: Okay, do you see the knots in the sleeves?
Alan: Oh yeah. What is that all about. I don’t know why that happened. He is saying to Travolta “you tied this up, tied knots in my shirt.”
Starlee: Why would they tie knots in the shirt, was this a thing in your childhood?
Alan: I have no idea.
Starlee: By the way, you are wearing what is on the lunchbox. You are wearing a denim button down shirt and jeans.
Alan: This is from Japan.
Alan: This is Japanese denim shirt.
Starlee: It is very nice
Alan: I haven’t even worn this shirt in like four years. It was in the back of my closet.
Starlee: So you didn’t dress for the lunchbox, you just happened…
Alan: I didn’t dress for the lunchbox. (laughs) That would have been fucked up. That is funny. It is spring, I wanted to wear a transitional shirt that will get me from winter to spring in a subtle way. And I wanted it to be soft.
Starlee Kine: I left Alan’s house no closer to understanding the purpose of putting knots in a jean jacket’s sleeves but much more opened minded about the versatility of denim in general as an option all year round. Alan was still in touch with Gabe Kaplan and he connected the two of us by email. I updated my client.
Starlee: I talked to Alan Sacks, co-creater of Welcome Back Kotter. Great guy.
Jonathan: What about Gabe Kaplan? Unavailable? What? You spoke to Gabe Kaplan? No you didn’t.
Starlee: From Gabe Kaplan to Starlee email right here. Sent at 1:02 am. “Hi Starlee, I think you’re making way too out of this. The images are solely from the mind of the illustrator. He probably saw a couple of shows and came up with his ideas. If you asked me to guess what action the picture is trying to detail, my guess is that as Kotter and the Sweathogs look on, Epstein is challenging Barbarino in some way.” I like that he refers to him as Kotter. “There’s nothing behind the grassy knoll,” Gabe. There is definitely something behind the grassy knoll.
Starlee Kine: Nice try Gabe Kaplan but your clever attempt to call me off the case had backfired. I now had a new direction to head in. Toward the mind of the lunchbox’s illustrator. It was none too soon either. As the lunchbox mystery seemed to be tightening its grip on Jonathan’s already Kotter clogged mind.
Jonathan: When i’m on the subway going to work I’ll look at people sitting across me and I think which of them has jackets whose sleeves would lend themselves to being knotted the easiest. Like I see someone in a fur coat and think, that would be a really hard one to jacket sleeve knot.
Starlee: But an interesting challenge.
Jonathan: An interesting challenge yes. See someone with an overcoat or one of those sleeveless jackets and think we’ll what are you going to do with that?
Starlee Kine: What am I going to do with that? Find out. After the break.
Commercial Break: Squarespace, Kind Bars (Blueberries)
Starlee Kine: Welcome Back, Welcome Back, Welcome Back. I’d moved onto my next person of interest, the creator of the lunchbox. I needed to find this outsider, this dilettante who’d waltzed in and got Jonathan’s role models all wrong. I quickly found his name online – Elmer Lehnhardt. Not the author of Get Shorty. Lehnhardt with a “t”. And Elmer with an “er”. Elmer work for thirty years at Aladdin Industries. Aladdin made lunchboxes, lots of them. If you were a child before you were an adult and you relied on food for sustenance, chances are good that you carried a lunchbox illustrated by Elmer. Interrogating Elmer about the Welcome Back, Kotter lunchbox, though, would be difficult. If not, impossible. Elmer wasn’t alive. I take back the part about calling him a dilettante. To solve the mystery I would have to assemble a dossier based on eye witness accounts.
Starlee Kine: If Elmer was the Don Draper of lunchboxes, which he was, i just said it….Beverly, was his Peggy.
Beverly: When I first started working with him I was twenty three. He loved doing lunchboxes. His sketches and concepts were just unbelievable. He was just good.
Starlee Kine: So I understand you lived across the street from Elmer Lehnhardt.
Joe: I did.
Starlee: This is Joe, the neighbor kid.
Joe: My family built a house right across the street from his house when i was four years old. These were big southern neighborhoods, big lots. His house was up on a big hill in clear sight from my home. Had a paved driveway and above the garage was his studio and I remember going into his studio as a kid walking over there on my own. I don’t even remember if he invited me or if I invited himself. He would let me watch him paint.
DAN: at the time I was married to a woman that it didn’t work out in the long run. But I was freelancing and she wanted me to have a regular job.
Starlee Kine: This is Dan, the late in life friend.
Dan: And I went down to interview for Aladdin, they were looking for an illustrator. And I actually met elmer the first day.
Beverly: Elmer was a very unique, very talented individual.
Joe: He was not unpleasant but he wasn’t gregarious at all.
Beverly: He was very demanding.
Joe: He was very quiet.
Beverly: He was gruff.
Joe: Very reserved.
Beverly: Some people had a hard time with him but Elmer and I got along great. Really in fact Elmer was a teddy bear.
Joe: I unlike, Mr. Lehnhardt, am very talkative, very verbal kind of personality but I don’t recall him acting annoyed by my questions and he certainly talked to me a lot.
Dan: One of the first things he asked me was “did you carry a lunchbox when you were a kid?” I said, “Yes, I carried Davy Crocket.” And he said “I did the artwork.” That is one of the reasons i took the job – I liked the idea of working with Elmer. Here is the guy that illustrated the lunchboxes that I admired as a child. Made me feel like in the presence of something.
Joe: I actually owned the Dr. Dolittle lunchbox so I brought him my lunchbox and mom says you did this painting. And he goes “I did.” And he pulled out the illustration boards with those paintings on them and the illustrations had litle tick marks and instructions.
Starlee: And did it look just like your lunchbox?
Joe: It did but I don’t know if you’ve seen a poster of a Monet painting and seen it in person. The vibrance of the real thing is incredible. But I loved my lunchbox but here was this original painting that was the same size but much more vivid. He spent so much time and took so much pride in what doing, he very much loved his work. That really sent me on a path ultimately. I can attribute the fact that I wanted to become a commercial artist because of him.
Beverly: He said “Don’t run away from something you are good at. Go at it, learn it.” Like when I was building my house, I said “Elmer I need to build a retaining wall.” So Elmer brought me in a book how to lay block and brick. And so then I studied how to lay brick. One night my dad was calling me about midnight saying “what are you doing, Bev?” And I said “I am pouring footing for my retaining wall.” And he went “you are doing what.” My father went through WWII, the man was the head of the household and I never resented my father for that it is just that is the way he was brought up. But when Elmer came along in my life he convinced me there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do.
Starlee Kine: One time Beverly told Elmer that she was terrible at drawing hands. He told her that she should practice drawing them fifteen minutes every morning, over and over again. You could always tell an Elmer lunchbox by the characters’ hands. While other artists only showed fists or hands that were one meshed together unit, on Elmer’s, each finger was individual, defined. It’s true, on the Kotter lunchbox you can see every last Sweathog digit. Mr. Kotter’s hands are on his hips, his fingers splayed, as he shoots his students a “what are youse guys up to now” look. Epstein’s left hand grips the knotted jacket sleeve while his right hand points its index finger at it. The pointing finger, in fact, seems to have been one of Elmer’s go to moves. On the Beverly Hillbillies lunchbox, Jethro points out the family’s fancy new digs as they pull up in their jalopy piled high with everything they own. On the Adam 12 box, a terrifying little girl clutching a teddy bear points gleefully at her brother who’s gotten his head stuck in a gate. And it goes without saying that Elmer was the perfect artist, to capture in tin, the most famous pointing finger of 1982: E.T’s.
Starlee Kine: Since the lunchboxes were commissioned before the actual film or TV show came out, the Aladdin illustrators were sent footage that they then chose images from. Sometimes they were invited to secret screenings. It was Elmer who created Aladdin’s signature style, to have the images on the lunchbox tell a story, so that the kid who it belonged to would want to look all over it. Like miniature, portable versions of the films and shows they loved. And Aladdin, based in Nashville, was a miniature version of the Hollywood studio system. There were trips to LA to meet with big wigs.
Beverly: I went in this huge off and it was all glass.
Starlee Kine: That is Beverly again.
Beverly: In walks this guy, he was all really disheveled. He looks like someone who had been cleaning up, you know what I mean. And he turned around and it was Spielberg.
Starlee: Spielberg himself had to approve the lunchbox?
Starlee: He wanted to?
Starlee Kine: There were the fragile egos of movie stars to consider.
Dan: Rex Harrison was on every surface of the lunchbox because he was Dr. Dolittle. So five different instances of Rex Harrison standing there with a push me pull you and the big giant snail. And we spent some time looking at it and he showed me a few things and says “you see the color of his eyes?” and I say “yes”. This tiny little dot of paint and he says “I had to redo that several times because Rex Harrison told me that his eyes were not that color.”
Starlee Kine: As well as the fickle, impossible to please taste of network executives.
Dan: Every year I had to come oup with a new concept for Mickey and Minnie lunchboxes. I had Mickey and Minnie in Paris, Mickey and Minnie in a nostalgic soda fountain, Mickey and Minnie cave man, Mickey and Minnie. It was a long process doing one illustration because there is approval from Disney at every stage, you would send concept after concept and no let’s see some more. One one I ended up doing about 30 different concepts til I got so frustrated I did Mickey holding the leash looking down at Pluto squashed on the road with tire tracks down his back.
Starlee: You killed Pluto.
Dan: (laughs) Yeah I ran him over. He had the little crosses on his eyeballs. And I sent it to Disney and the art director at the time, she said ” you know we are not going to approve that but all the artists here passed it around and had a good laugh.”
Once the art for a lunchbox was done, Elmer and Beverly would often hand deliver the illustrations to the set of which TV show or film they were working on. They used to fly to LA all the time back then.
Starlee Kine: There was the ever present risk of producing a flop.
Beverly: Dukes of Hazzard. When we first saw that show out in California we thought, oh my God, that is the stupidest show and all of a sudden it became one of our top sellers.
Starlee Kine: Or of passing on a hit that could then go to a competing studio, or in Aladdin’s case, a rival lunchbox manufacturer, Thermos.
Beverly: When Star Wars came out me and the girl from marketing said we got to go with Star Wars. Space has never done well for us, Star Trek didn’t do that well, Lost in Space didn’t do that well. Black Hole, Black Hole was and bomb and we kept saying, but this is different, it’s different. We ended up not taking it.
Starlee: You passed on Star Wars.
Beverly: We passed on Star Wars and Thermos took it and it was one of the most popular of all time lunchboxes.
Starlee Kine: And in between there was the lounging by of hotel pools. A few years ago, Beverly also visited the Smithsonian cafeteria.
Beverly: And I was looking at all the TV stuff straight out and then I turned around and then here’s just this wall of lunch boxes. Here’s my Sesame Street, there’s Gremlins, there’s Goonies. My brother, he lives in Knoxville, but he is a banker and he always saw my art as a hobby, you know. Because my father, he would say we can’t afford for both of you to go to college so your brother will go cause he will be the breadwinner of the family and he needs to go. And my brother, he finally said to me, he said “Bev, why don’t you to and get a real job and I said “I have a real job I got to illustrate lunchboxs for almost 30 years, I got to do something I really loved doing. Besides I’m in the smithsonian and you’re not.” And he just kind of stopped.
Starlee: Did you like doing it?
Dan: I loved it – thats the only job working for somebody else that I looked forward to going to work every day, especially when I was working on an illustration. It was merchandising and licensing and all that stuff but at the same time it was smiling faces on a ½ million kids.
Dan: Elmer and I did the last one together. That last year was when he seemed to really need a friend. He was kind of being pushed into pasture and there was no work for him. He called me and asked if there was anything he could do down here and I think that was maybe two weeks before he died.
Beverly: It was in July of 1985 and I had gone to Florida with a bunch of girls and right before I left Elmer and I were talking and I said “you always do a portrait of other people and when I get back I want you to do a portrait for me.” And he goes “OK”. The day before I came home he died. He had been out mowing his lawn that day and he came and sat down in the chair to rest up on the porch, the patio, and that’s where he died. He left me over 400 of his books. He said he wanted me to have them because he thought I would use them.
Starlee Kine: Elmer was a private person. When he died, there wasn’t an obituary published at his request.
Starlee: When did you go to high school? What decade?
Joe: The 70s. I’m 52 now
Starlee: Was jacket knotting a big prank in your day.
Joe: No. I don’t think so.
Starlee: Elmer painted the Welcome Back, Kotter lunchbox
Joe: Did he really? He did that one too?
Starlee Kine: So I guess the neighbor kid wasn’t going to help me solve my mystery. Dan had no memory of it either. But Beverly, she was working with Elmer the year he got the Kotter account. I was sure If anyone would know why he chose to put the knotted shirt prank on the lunchbox, it would be her. But when I asked her about it she said she had a vague memory of him working on it but couldn’t recall any actual specific details beyond that.
Starlee: There is an image on it, the lunchbox that has one of the characters holding up this denim jean jacket with knotted sleeves. I can’t figure out what the jean jacket means.
Beverly: It might be a joke.
Starlee: But what is the joke?
Beverly: The joke is that if you try to put on your jean jacket and the knots are in the sleeve and you can’t get it on.
Starlee: Do you think that’s a good joke.
Beverly: I think it’s a joke. (laughs) There were times when you didn’t question Elmer.
Dan: I don’t think i’ve got the Kotter box.
Starlee: Do you have a lot of lunchboxes?
Dan: When I first went there I started saving each one that I illustratated.I’ve probalby got 50 or 60 hanging from the rafters in the kitchen.
Dan: Yes, I live in a old log house. It’s 150 years old and the rafter runs across the room and just has nails with rows of lunchboxes. (laughs) Looking at them right here, most of them.
Starlee: Can you see a bunch of Elmer’s right now?
Dan: Yes several. Let’s see, there is Mousketeers. I don’t know if you ever saw the Bicentennial lunchbox. The little cartoon characters of signers of the Declaration of Independence. Those characters he based on himself and his wife.
Starlee Kine: Aha! Elmer painting himself into the Bicentennial image was the first tangible piece of evidence I had that he’d made something up on a lunchbox. Unless he really was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Dan: I’m reaching up here, I’m getting it right now. That’s Elmer and that’s his wife as Betsy Ross. She is sitting there sewing stars on the flag and he is holding up his shirt with star shaped holes in it with a gruff look on his face. And that is his sense of humor.
Starlee: What the cut stars?
Dan: Yes. That is the kind of humor he put in his illustrations.
Starlee: I can’t help but point out another shirt based gag just like Welcome Back Kotter.
Dan: Hadn’t thought about that.
Starlee: Maybe that is his wheelhouse.
Starlee Kine: Elmer’s son was on the Dr. Doolittle lunchbox, as an islander holding a rope attached to the giant snail. Beverly posed as the bionic woman, standing in Elmer’s office pantomiming ripping a phone book in half. It’s her body in the final image with Lindsay Wagner’s face.
Starlee Kine: In The Land of the Giant lunchbox, Elmer apparently just went for it. The stars of the show are so tiny, you can’t even make out who the actors are. They’ve been captured by a giant and it is his face that takes up most of the image. That’s Elmer’s face, it’s huge. The only thing that takes up more space are all ten fingers of his giant hands. At Aladdin, illustrators weren’t allowed to sign their boxes. Everything you did at Aladdin, belonged to Aladdin. Perhaps the Kotter scene was another way for Elmer to insert himself into his illustrations. By creating an image that was both original and left no evidence. But if that were the case, where had he gotten the idea for the knotted sleeve prank in the first place? Had it come from his own life?
Beverly: He was one of TV first wrestlers.
Beverly: He’d go wrestling at night and then he would draw during the day. He had a big nose from all the getting beat up all the time. Starlee, he used to bring film in, 8mm film and he would put it on there, against the wall in the back. And this was him in Chicago wrestling. Back then there was always the good guy and bad guy and he was the bad guy. And he was hilarious because he would stand there with his kind of shuffle, like a rooster getting ready to attack. And I would say “Elmer, you were so mean, you were the one who sneaked up behind the referee and pinched him and made faces” and he goes “That is what I get paid to do, Beverly. I was the one who was supposed to cause the trouble.”
Dan: We grew really close. We had a lot of fun. One time we went to North Carolina together. We had a printer over there and went over for a proofing run and while we were there I wanted to go to the art museum and he didn’t want to go to the museum he wanted to go to a mud wrestling. He was not a fan of modern art and that is to put it mildly. (laughs) He was a devoted craftsman. When you lay a line on an illustration board with a #2 sable brush with the confidence to be able to make it a good, clean, sharp line that thins where you want it to and thickens when you want it to, it takes a masterful stroke to do that and then you have somebody tying a bucket on a string and poking a hole in it and swinging it back and forth over a canvas. It was all just garbage to him, you know. It was a scam that somebody had sold, you, know, to the public.
Starlee: Unlike professional wrestling?
Dan: (laughs) Exactly. And so we decided go to the museum early and go to the mud wrestling afterwards.
Starlee Kine: You know what they say. One man’s mud wrestling is another man’s cafeteria lunch.
Starlee: If I say professional wrestler, do you think of Elmer?
Joe: When you say professional wrestler?
Joe: I do not.
Starlee: Well that is what he was before…
Starlee: Yes, before he was painting lunchboxes.
Joe: (laughs) That is awesome. I never knew that. You are full of wonderful information.
Starlee: (laughs) The prank,it doesn’t seem to have happened on the show and doesn’t seem to represent the show.
Joe: It never happened on the show. So it could have come completely out of the creative imagination of Elmer Leonhart.
Joe: Now that I know he was one of these professional wrestlers, he probably did that very prank.
Starlee: Oh, you think it’s a wrestling move.
Joe: Just the fact that he went into that world which is full of pranks. You gotta to come up with creative ways of combatting your opponents.
Starlee: Wrestling move.
Starlee: I like that. Okay, I am going to look into that.
Starlee Kine: You did good neighbor kid, you did good. Okay so I just needed to find a wrestler who was equally conversant in both pranks and clothing.
Starlee Kine: That wrestler was Colt Cabana.
Colt: I make my own outfits.
Colt: Yep. It is a great craft to have as a wrestler. We deal with lycra and materials and outfits a lot. And even though I am 6′ 1″, 240 lbs. I sit at my little sewing machine and I sew away.
Starlee: That is adorable.
Colt: Thank you.
Starlee: You know that is adorable.
Starlee Kine: While the rest of us have been just going on with our lives… buying clothing in stores, cracking cases, restoring wonder to an otherwise drab universe, there’s been this whole world of competitive professional wrestling happening out there. Perhaps to fill the chasm left behind by the demise competitive lunchbox manufacturing.
Starlee: Have you ever seen a wrestling move that involves knotting a jacket?
Colt: I can’t say that I have. There is wrestling moves where you can actually put a person in a physical knot.
Starlee Kine: With some weariness I showed Colt the image.
Colt: What’s happened it’s been tied in knots at the sleeves so you can’t put your hands into the sleeves.
Starlee Kine: That part I didnt need a professional to tell me. Colt thinks the jean jacket that Epstein’s holding actually belongs to Barbarino, a belief I find confusing and wrong. But I allow him to proceed.
Colt: In this situation Travolta was in class, in a hurry and he had to leave and then he left his sweet denim jacket behind, right? So what I am going to do is tie both of his sleeves in a knot. There has got to be consequences for him leaving this around.
Starlee Kine: Wrestlers pull pranks on each other so often that they have their own word for them-ribs.
Colt: If I leave my phone in a wrestling locker room and I come back in 20 minutes and it hasn’t been tampered or screwed with I am singing to the gods.
Starlee: In wrestling world I like that putting anything down qualifies as you asking for it.
Starlee Kine: Let us never forget the cautionary tale of a prank done to a friend of Colt’s, by Colt, on the night the friend won a big championship.
Colt: So he just won the title and he was so happy, like it was a dream come true and everything he had ever wanted in his life. I would have thought sleeping with his title belt and would never let go of it but for some reason he left his championship on the desk in the back and so of course I took the belt and snuck into the wrestling right itself, climbed up the scaffold and cascaded my way up to the top of the building and hooked that title belt up there.
Starlee: When you say you climbed up the scaffold…
Colt: There were ladders and tables and chairs.
Starlee: Did you just stack 20 chairs on top of each other and climb up those to the top.
Colt: You know it is wrestling.
Starlee: It is donkey kong
Colt: (laughs) It is the greatest. And he was so upset.
Starlee: He was genuinely upset?
Colt: Genuinely upset. Yelling where’s my title? And there is a room with 50 people just casually looking up to the sky and we all look up and look down and eventually, I think after threatening to punch somebody, basically almost crying, we let him have his belt back. Those are the guys that get ribbed. Because why rib somebody who’s not gonna care. There is no fun.
Starlee: And they never learn do they?
Colt: Never (laughs)
Starlee Kine: I still hadn’t found anyone who had ever done the knot tying prank. Or anyone who had ever had it done to them. Or anyone who had ever heard of it being done. But who better than a wrestler to find out for Jonathan whether or not it worked as a prank.
Starlee: You can borrow that rib. You can use it when you’re on tour
Colt: I mean I’ll take requests, you know. I’m gonna give this a try and let you know how my opponent enjoyed it or did not enjoy the rib.
Starlee: You are really going to try it?
Colt: I wrestle for 10 min a night and I have so much time to waste.
Starlee Kine: With my partner out on the streets, I shifted to desk work. One of my investigators Eric disappeared down a rabbit hole of pranking library research. I probably should have called someone. But instead it gave me an idea.
Starlee Kine: Beverly had told me If Aladdin wasn’t sent enough source material to work from, the illustrators would use outside material to fill in details of their drawings. What if Elmer hadn’t gotten the knot tying prank from Welcome Back, Kotter itself but from another show and then had just transplanted it onto the Kotter lunchbox? I found a ten minute clip of Family Feud where the cast of Kotter competed against the cast of Love Boat cast. It was immediately apparent would be of no help but which I nonetheless watched from beginning to end and then sent to Jonathan who also watched it from beginning to end. It was oddly hypnotic. Horshack wears a leisure suit in it and Richard Dawson at one point sucks his own thumb. And then finally I caught a break, via another half hour sitcom about four misfits and the “just who’s the adult and the who’s the kid here” authority figure in their lives: Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The show hadn’t even come close to existing when the lunchbox, or for that matter when Welcome Back Kotter was on but aside from that one little technicality, everything else tracked.
Starlee: The episode I want to talk to you about is in Season 5, Episode 12, the season finale.
Dave: Yeah sure, it’s the first episode I ever wrote. It’s the first anything I ever wrote.
Starlee Kine: This is Dave Chernin. In the episode he wrote, the character played by Glenn Howerton and Danny Devito, have a rivalry with a local bar. They break into the bar owner’s house and start pulling pranks.
Starlee: What were those pranks?
Dave: I remember they did his taxes, I remember they nailed his shoes to the ground of his closet. I believe they cut his shower curtain at waste high.
Starlee: Good one.
Dave: They tie his shirts in knots. They tie his shirt sleeves in knots.
Starlee: Now where did you get the idea for Frank to tie the shirt sleeves in knots?
Dave: Oh man. Honestly, I have no idea.
Starlee: So you wrote a scene with a knotted sleeve prank and you don’t know where that came from?
Dave: No, it came from my mind…I guess.
Starlee: Did that make sense to you why that is a prank?
Dave: I’m not going to sit here and say it was an amazing prank but yeah I think I got.
Starlee: What are your feelings about Welcome Back, Kotter?
Dave: You know, it’s a distant memory.
Starlee: There is a lunchbox that Welcome Back, Kotter had and on the lunchbox Epstein is holding up a jean jacket, the sleeves of the jacket are tied in knots. There has been a mystery about what that jean jacket means and your episode is one of the only pieces of evidence that I have ever seen that it is a prank. What does it mean?
Dave: Yeah I can’t help you there but I swear I’m going to go back and watch Welcome Back, Kotter. I would love nothing more than to hold the key to your mystery but it sounds like I’ve made your life even harder than it was before you started this phone call.
Starlee: I’m beginning to suspect conspiracy.
Starlee Kine: Before starting this case, I had never realized Kotter was so dangerous to the establishment. Of course the real question was why? Ask yourself was it no one at Aladdin remembered a single detail about the Welcome Back, Kotter lunchbox getting made. Ask yourself why did Jonathan appear to be the only person who’d ever wondered about the knotted jacket? Ask yourself why didn’t anyone seem to know there was a comma in the title of the show? To quote Donald Sutherland paraphrasing a fictional amalgam of real life people in the film JFK, there was an air of – I don’t know – make believe to the whole thing. How else do you explain what happened to one of my investigators Alex, in the midst of us working the case.
Alex: I have something to show you. So I was at a coffee shop near my house this morning. I was meeting somebody to talk about something. We don’t need to get into the details.
Starlee Kine: And that’s the least suspicious thing he said.
Alex: Anyway, I looked up and saw this, just above the espresso machine just sitting there.
Starlee: So weird.
Alex: The exact Welcome Back, Kotter lunchbox where he knotted the jacket up. Just randomly perched on top of an ice machine in this coffee shop I happened to go to this morning.
Starlee: Did you ask them about it?
Alex: Yeah I did. I asked what was it? They were like “it was this show back in the seventies.” I was like “no no no what about the lunchbox?” Since they started working there it had just been sitting there. They didn’t know where it came from. Yeah were like “yeah I have no idea.”
Starlee Kine: Or so they said. Who knows what they found out before their minds were erased.
Alex: It was really like, you know the Led Zeppelin album, Presence, like this big double album with all these domestic scenes, sort of Norman Rockwelly sort of scenes like people eating breakfast in stiff poses and then there was this weird little black monolith that was just placed in different places all around it. And that was what this felt like, oh my god it is tracking me. The weirdest thing, trying to remember now what it was…
Starlee Kine: Just as I’d feared.
Alex: Yeah I totally forgot.
Starlee Kine: They’d gotten to Alex. How else do you explain the email I got shortly after from Alan Sacks that read, quote, “Just received this from a fan in Missouri, asking for my autograph. Have never received a request via mail asking me to sign a picture. What kind of voo doo you working?” The picture he’d been sent to sign was, naturally, of the lunchbox. But you already knew that. It had been scanned onto a piece of paper, the lunchbox just floating, without comment, without explanation, in the middle of the page. How else do you explain the following exchange between me and the company that held the original merchandise license for the lunchbox, Wolper Productions. Wolper Productions is no longer but I wrote to the curator of it’s archives asking for any information related to the lunchbox. She responded that she’d done a search of the quote “Kotter merchandising binder” but hadn’t come across any mention of the lunchbox at all. She’d be happy to set up an appointment for me to come visit the archive in person, though, to look through “larger sets of folders pertaining to publicity, marketing and miscellaneous for Kotter at large.” Terrific, I said and suggested a date. At which point I received another email,, “I actually had a chance to go through the [other] Kotter files in question. I wrote back again saying, basically, that my idea of a good time. Sadly, I was not able to find any documents that addressed the specific question you were seeking to have answered. I will keep an eye out for you, however. I’m really sorry for this news.” as combing through files that more than likely led to nothing and could I please still set up an appointment. “Sure,” wrote back the curator, “except the reading room would be closing in a couple weeks for some months.” “Well, then, could I make an appointment before it closed?” “Unfortunately”, came the reply, “the reading room was all booked up for remaining days it was open.” “Maybe there’d be a cancellation?” I tried, I asked, “Could she let me know if so.” That was the last I heard from her. I doubt she was ever heard from by anyone ever again. I did get an email from her colleague though: “The material that you originally requested is not part of the collection. I’m not sure what you are expecting us to produce for you to look at.” I had no idea emails could make the sound of a slamming door.
I had arrived at the point that all investigators come to when confronted with a mass conspiracy: the obsessive revisiting of evidence, while your family moves out. I found myself returning to the Kotter episodes, hunting for that one clue I must have missed.
And that’s when I saw them: lunchboxes. You could just barely make them out, they were perched on a shelf in the Sweathogs classroom back and to the left of John Travolta’s hair: Planet of the Apes and the Disney bus. Both Elmer’s. In the next episode, a third box appeared. And then a fourth. I watched more episodes, fast forwarding until I got to the classroom scene. Sometimes the boxes moved to the window. Sometimes they went back to two. The Disney bus was a constant. Always there. Always watching. Never learning.
Still think there’s nothing behind the grassy knoll, Mr. Kotter.
(Music: Wrestling Announcer)
Starlee Kine: Meanwhile, somewhere in a sea of spandex, some of it handsewn.
Colt: This is Colt Cabana, I am in a locker room right now. With Marty Squirrel. You don’t know what we are doing right?
Marty: I have no idea really, no.
Colt: You agreed to play..
Marty: Going to end up getting me in a lot of trouble, ends up quite a lot anyway.
Colt: Here is what we are going to do, Doug Williams, 22 yr veteran of professional wrestling.
Marty: I used to watch him when I was like 12.
Colt: Will you bring that over to us. Rob has brought back his coat.
Marty: His new coat.
Colt: Just bought this.
Marty: Just bought this nice robe, lovely British union jack robe, only worn twice.
Colt: So we are going to tie this in a knot.
Marty: Oh no.
Colt: And we are going to have to get his reaction.
Marty: I feel bad already.
Colt: I’ll take all the blame.
Marty: You say that know, feel like that is going to backfire on me.
Colt: Here we go.
Marty: Oh god.
Colt: You have one end, I have the other. Now we are both going to pull kind of tight.
Marty: I am worried we are going to break it now.
Colt: It’s not going to break cause it is out of spandex.
Marty: The stitching I am worried about.
Colt: This pretty tight.
Marty: Maybe we should do more.
Colt: You want to do three knots?
Marty: Yes, there we go.
Colt: That is Doug talking about his match afterwards. He doesn’t know yet.
Marty: He looks like he is blowing up, hot and sweaty so he might be mad.
Colt: Yes, we will see.
Doug: Someone messed with my robe. I’m not impressed.
Starlee Kine: I now knew the knotted sleeves could be done as as a prank but the mystery was where the prank had come from and I still didn’t have proof that anyone besides Colt Cabana had ever done it before. And Colt could not have been the inspiration for the lunchbox because that is not how time works. And then there came the day that my investigator Eric resurfaced, pale and unshaven, clutching a page from a book called “The Modern Cowboy”.
Starlee: I have a question for you about a prank that is done that involved tying shirt sleeves in knots.
John: I’ve done it many times. Uncountable times.
Starlee Kine: This is John, the cowboy comma modern.
Starlee: So what is the prank?
John: First they struggle to get their arm in, not expecting it to be tied in a knot.
Starlee: Is it a satisfying payoff when somebody can’t get the shirt on?
John: All of us think in simple cause and effect. Arm won’t go through the sleeve.
Starlee: It is a disruption to the normal flow of events.
Starlee: And that is enough to produce laughter.
John: They just can’t get there arm in it. When cowboys go out on a round up day they usually start at daylight and as the day gets war, guys shed their long sleeve shirt and that makes it easy.
Starlee: You just lie and wait.
John: I am a patient man.
Starlee: First person I have ever spoken to who has not only heard of the know tying prank but who has done it. As far as I know you invented this prank.
John: I probably learned it from an old rancher. Most of them were jokers who had impish senses of humor and we are all capable of pulling pranks.
Starlee: If you see an article of clothing just laying there it is hard for you not to think of tying that in knots.
John: Yes, you must seize the opportunity. You can tie a knot in a church choir robe pretty easily. The ladies in our soprano section are never suspecting a prank.
Starlee: How do they react?
John: Well, they always know who did it.
Starlee: (laughs) Is it easier to tie a choir ladies robes in knots or a cowboys shirts.
John: Shirts are easy, choir robes are more difficult. The ladies in the choir, they are not vengeful.
John: Although one of them did staple my music folder together and I didn’t know it.
Starlee: Your sheet music together.
Starlee: That is a good prank.
John: That is a good prank.
Starlee: Do you think this is a distinct cowboy prank, the knotted sleeves?
John: There are the only people I ever knew who did it.
Starlee: Now it could be considered a church choir prank.
John: I guess so. Seemed a pretty good addition to my repertory.
Starlee: So you are satisfied it is a prank?
Jonathan: I am satisfied that this knotted sleeve prank has a history in this country that is as old as the cowboys who tilled the soil with there pranks. Makes sense that cowboys would think to do that because they are always thinking of ropes and knots and lassos and stuff, so I guess they are the ones to really see a rope in a sleeve where other people don’t. Do you think the cowboys made the knots so tight, if you get 2 guys to play tug a war with that sleeve and make the knot as tight as you possibly can maybe you could never get it out again. Then maybe it would not be such an innocent prank because, let’s say you do it in both sleeves and the person freezes to death cause they can’t get their coat on.
Starlee: Like if you were stranded on a mountain.
Starlee: If you were climbing Mt. Everest and someone removed their coat and then you chose to do it then.
Jonathan: And then your friend would be like “why would you do that?” And they would be so angry. And then they would continue to climb and have to cut it off. Then their arms would get frost bite and they would have to lose their arm. That is a terrible prank.
Starlee: Truthfully, do you find this satisfying?
Jonathan: Not at all. (laughs) Just kidding. No this is very satisfying – this is great.
Starlee: I did this all for you.
Jonathan: Normally lunch pails are filled with just sandwiches you throw in the garbage cause your mother makes bad sandwiches.
Starlee: We are talking about a generic mother her right?
Jonathan: Yes, not my mother. My mother was a saint.
Starlee: I get that reference now.
Jonathan: Thank you. Wow. Do I get to keep this?
Starlee: You do.
Jonathan: Wow, come on. I was just being obnoxious saying that. Really? Are you kidding?
Starlee: I would it wrapped it but it is already kind of in a box.
Jonathan: This is fantastic. It is going to turn my home into the Smithsonian.
Starlee Kine: Mystery Show is produced by Alex Blumberg, Wendy Dorr, Eric Mennel and me. Producing help for this episode from Kaitlin Roberts and Melinda Shopsin. Eli Horowitz is contributing editor. John Delor engineered this episode. Thanks also to Matt Lieber.
Original score for this episode by the band White Dove, who are so talented I need all of you to make them famous immediately. Emmy the Great did my tremendous closing song which is available on spotify for all of you who have been asking.
Opening song by Sparks. Thank you to the Smithsonian, Laurence Weschler, Kent Bochlin, Kurt Leonard, Ann Wyatt, Emily Condit and Heather Rowe.
Arthur Jones made our logo which is now on a t-shirt. You can get the Mystery Show t-shirt if you sign up for a Gimlet membership. The front of the t-shirt has Arthur’s logo, the back has a Jake Gyllenhaal height chart in case you see him while you are wearing it and need a handy way to measure him. The sleeves of the t-shirt are probably too short for knot tying purposes but hey if you are feeling confident who am I to stop you. And if you haven’t listened to the Gimlet show Reply All you should.
Okay now this is the hard part, guys, this is the last episode of Season 1 of Mystery Show. Did you think I was going to say last episode, period. No way. I will be back soon with new mysteries for Season 2 as quickly as I can. Some of those mysteries might be yours so keep sending them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I know you all waited a while for this one and I threw out some dates that turned out to be, I guess, red herrings. But you guys were all very kind and very patient and I wanted to you to know how much that meant to me. I read every tweet, every email, every message and I will miss you guys while I am gone.
There isn’t a new clue this time but I did want to give you an explanation for the old one. The opening credits to Welcome Back, Kotter featured a sign: Welcome to Brooklyn, 4th Largest City in America. Honorable Sebastian Leon, Borough President. None of you guys got it, which is okay, your guesses were even better.