Wednesday, August 5, 2009

And all the herring you can eat...

Photo by John Doman, Pioneer Press

Sparky the Sea Lion died. He was 31, which is crazy old in the sea lion world.

Back in the day, I was a video teacher for the local cable access station. I used to certify people on the three-chip cameras and I used to teach video to summer school students. In a desperate attempt to find a project for one of the add-on classes, I decided we’d do a remote shoot. A documentary about the long-time trainer at the Sparky the Sea Lion show, Norm Byng.

Mr. Byng had been working as a trainer at the Como Zoo in St. Paul for 20 years. My group of Hmong girls and I called him, he agreed to be interviewed and we set up a time to tape the Sparky show, along with his commentary, and ask him questions afterward. We prepped interview questions and finally met up with Mr. Byng. It was hard enough getting the girls to speak on camera…it was a nightmare interviewing the trainer.

Mumbling girl: How hasmdnthe reljrjmbrlsn?
Byng: What?
Me: Cut.

Replay that about 17 times.

The end knowledge that we gleaned was that the Sparky show had not changed in 20 years. Mr. Byng said the kids would know if even a word was changed, so he had said the exact same words, four times a day for two decades. That might’ve explained his deadpan, monotone delivery. He looked like lovechild of Nick Nolte and the Skipper and he had the vocal charms of Tom Carvel, yet he was beloved.

I don’t know if Norm Byng is still of this world, but today we mourn the Sparky that so many of us remember. He is saving baby dolls and balancing beach balls in the sweet hereafter.


SMarty said...

You know from Tom Carvel?? Extra special bonus points for you LOL

Velma said...

Fudgie the Whale? Cookie Puss? Of course I know Tom Carvel! I spent a good amount of my childhood listening to his gravelly pitch whilst drooling.

But now I'm wracking my brain...what else identifies me as East Coast?