He wanted to tell children that what starts out little can sometimes become big, and so that could devote themselves to little dreams without feeling bad about them.
“If Mister Fucking Rogers can tell me how to read that fucking clock, I’ll watch his show every day for a fucking year”-that’s what someone in the crowd said while watching Mister Rogers and Maya Lin crane their necks at Maya Lin’s big fancy clock, but it didn’t even matter whether Mister Rogers could read the clock or not, because every time he looked at it, with the television cameras on him, he leaned back from his waist and opened his mouth wide with astonishment, like someone trying to catch a peanut he had tossed into the air, until it became clear that Mister Rogers could show that he was astonished all day if he had to, or even forever, because Mister Rogers lives in a state of astonishment, and the astonishment he showed when he looked at the clock was the same astonishment he showed when people-absolute strangers-walked up to him and fed his hungry ear with their whispers, and he turned to me, with an open, abashed mouth, and said, “Oh, Tom, if you could only hear the stories I hear!”
It was late in the day, and the train was crowded with children who were going home from school
He didn’t have an umbrella, and he couldn’t find a taxi, either, so he ducked with a friend into the subway and got on one of the trains. Though of all races, the schoolchildren were mostly black and Latino, and they didn’t even approach Mister Rogers and ask him for his autograph. They just sang. They sang, all at once, all together, the song he sings at the start of his program, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and turned the clattering train into a single soft, runaway choir.
Once upon a time, Mister Rogers went to New York City and got caught in the rain
He finds me, of course, at Penn Station. He finds me, because that’s what Mister Rogers does-he looks, and then he finds. I’m standing against a wall, listening to a bunch of mooks from Long Island discuss the strange word-cariz -a foreign word-he has written down on each of the autographs he gave them. First mook: “He says it’s the Greek word for grace.” Second mook: “Huh. That’s cool. I’m glad I know that. Now, what the fuck is grace?” First mook: “Looks like you’re gonna have to break down and buy a dictionary.” Second mook: “Fuck that. What I’m buying is a ticket to the fucking Lotto. I just met Mister Rogers-this is definitely my lucky day.” I’m listening to these guys when, from thirty feet away, I notice Mister Rogers looking around for someone and know, immediately, that he is looking for me. He is on one knee in front of a little girl who is hoarding, in her arms, a small stuffed animal, sky-blue, a bunny.
“Remind you of anyone, Tom?” he says when I approach the two of them. He is not speaking of the little girl.
Then he turns back to the little girl. “This man’s name is Tom. Its name was Old Rabbit. What is yours named?”
The little girl eyes me suspiciously, and then Mister Rogers. She goes a little knock-kneed, directs a thumb toward her mouth. “Bunny Wunny,” she says.
“Oh, that’s a nice name,” Mister Rogers says, and then goes to the Thirty-fourth Street escalator to climb it one last time for the cameras. When he reaches the street, he looks right at the lens, as he always does, and says, speaking of the Neighborhood, “Let’s go back to my place,” and then makes a right turn toward Seventh Avenue, except that this time he just keeps going, and suddenly Margy Whitmer is saying, “Where is Fred? Where is Fred?” and Fred, he’s a hundred yards away, in his sneakers and his purple sweater, and the only thing anyone sees of him is his gray head bobbing up and down amid all the other heads, the hundreds of them, the thousands, the millions, disappearing into the city and its swelter.