The Adventures of Terrific Man

Last week, I hurtled into the past via the time machine known as my Mazda3 Hatchback, as Diane and I returned to our old stomping grounds in Montgomery County, Pa. I visited the area for a single day last fall, during the pre-omicron covid lull, but that whirlwind trip wasn’t long enough to indulge in full-fledged nostalgia. This time, however, we made use of the current covid lull (and that, I fear, is all it is) to get back to where we once belonged. We spent most days with family and friends, but carved out some time to drive by our old apartment in Oreland, where we spent our first 24 years together, and visit Joe’s Meat Market in Glenside, which has the best roast beef in the region; it’s run by an old high-school classmate of mine. We also cruised past the old homestead, where we lived until moving south at the end of 2018. We also drove down Hatboro’s main street, York Road—the same stretch of road that housed the now-dormant Hatboro Music Shop, where I bought many 45s and LPs as a young teen in the late 1970s. It was, in some respects, my home away from home. (The photo below is from 2016.)

Newscastle Chronicle 7/11/1778

The history of Hatboro is not, sad to say, rife with legendary figures, though it was home to both a young Jill Biden and the diplomat Kurt Volker, who found himself enmeshed in the Trump-Ukraine scandal a few years back; I once cat-sat for his family, believe it or not, as they lived across the street from mine. (He was a grade ahead of me in school so I didn’t know him well, but he seemed liked a good guy.) The town’s main claim to fame, however, is likely the Union Library, which is the third oldest library in the state; the Revolutionary War-era Battle of Crooked Billet, when a surprise British attack forced Continental Army troops to retreat to nearby Warminster; and the bumbling heroics of the caped clown known as Terrific Man™, whose funny face-offs with the nefarious Puzzler (“ah, ha, ha, ha!”) made many a bystander laugh. Yet, sad to say, while plaques about the library and battle are visible for all to read, a monument to TM™ is nowhere to be seen!

Let me trip through the decades for just a moment: On Halloween 1981, Hatboro-Horsham sophomore—and future one-day Jeopardy champ—Keith Parrish arrived at school in a homemade costume that included 3D specs, a jester’s cap and a towel from his family’s linen closet. Not long thereafter, based on the backstory he devised, he and fellow sophomore—and budding filmmaker—Todd Erwin filmed a Super 8mm short movie that included another friend, future aviation safety expert Ed Wandall, as a super villain who called himself the Puzzler. It was silly, to be sure, but funny—at least, funny to 16-year-old me, who shared classes with Todd and Keith.

Todd claims that I cajoled him into making another Terrific Man™ installment. Though I have no memory of that, it rings true—I once had a silly film screened at a 9th grade assembly and, by 11th grade, had aspirations of one day writing the Great American Novel (not that I did), so likely was itching to do something along those lines. For the next good while, we collaborated on the screenplay during and outside of a shared study hall, whose proctor allowed us to pass our pages to one another. The intent, I should mention, was to create a parody of the superhero construct, somewhat along the lines of the old Batman TV series. At one point, and this didn’t make the final product, I wrote a choreographed fight set to a song that borrowed its melody from the “Old McDonald Had a Farm” song—“with a punch-punch here and a punch-punch there”; I envisioned it with Batman-like BAMs and POWs splattering overtop the scene. (The grandness of my idea was likely too expensive to implement.) I digress, of course, but the gist of everything is this: To 16-year-old us, our creation was laugh-out-loud funny.

That summer, Todd brought back the original cast, added a few new players (including Keith’s mom and high-school guidance counselor Bill Hickey, who sadly passed away in 2011); it eventually premiered at Cinekyd, a Willow Grove organization for kids interested in all aspects of media production.

Flash forward to the present: After a painstaking process to transfer the film himself, Todd brought together myself, Keith and Ed for a round-robin remembrance of the shared experience and, too, to record a commentary track. While the film may not be great or even good, I still find it funny as all get-out—especially when Terrific Man™ rides his Terrific Bike™ through Hatboro. (It has to be seen to be believed.) It’s somewhat akin to an episode of The Goodies, a fanciful British comedy series from the 1970s and early ‘80s that aired on our local PBS station, just not as professional. (We were kids, after all.) I do wish, however, that Todd had included more of Hatboro-at-large, setting scenes with wide shots of York Road and the surrounding neighborhoods.

(The Adventures of Terrific Man.)

In any event, any and every former Hatter of our era (the early 1980s), plus Cinekyd alum, should find much to enjoy with the recent DVD release—if not for the film itself, then the bonus content, which includes the aforementioned round-robin discussion, a commentary track, outtakes, bloopers and a short film that Todd and I (and a several others) made one fair autumn afternoon. It’s a bunch of geeks having geek fun, basically.

For those classmates interested, it’s available to order via Facebook Marketplace.  

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