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Classic Television Rundown: Salute Your Shorts (Ep. 1-2), "Zeke the Plumber"

A parrot bit off his nose in the Philippines. Consequently, he couldn't smell the gas leak as he went to strike a match...

Besides part of his upper lip, all they found left after the explosion was a toilet plunger.

So goes the story of Camp Anawanna's resident ghost – Zeke the Plumber - a monster that Ringu-ed his way out of the television and into my childhood. My siblings and I could terrorize each other simply by picking up a plunger, and thinking back on it, the fact that we sometimes would threaten each other's faces with the used household tool is pathologically terrifying.

Still, I defy you to find a children's villain more disturbing than this:
Augh! You can see the blood soaking through the bandages! I don't know if the creep factor comes through in a still shot, but Zeke embodies a quorum of traits sufficient to scare any sheltered pre-teen, most notably his ability to steal your secrets. If word gets out that I pushed my sister that one time she was playing with her dolls, I'm doomed.

In the realm of Anawanna, Zeke is resurrected by who else but Bobby Budnick during a campfire (sic flashlight) story hour. Our moral beacons Michael and Telly unwittingly touch the cursed plunger artifact, and so begins the haunting. Michael “wakes up” later that night to find his cabin empty sans Zeke and a toilet - a toilet from which is pulled a soaking stuffed animal. “Harry the Hippo?” Michael asks, recognizing his friend. “Where'd you get him from?”

“From inside your head,” crackles the voice Jigsaw wishes he had. When requested not to reveal Michael's secret safety toy, Zeke pulls out a megaphone and broadcasts it to the camp, then moving his plunger in for more gray matter before the sleeping victim awakes. With the cabin back to normal, Michael gets out of bed, grabs Harry from his luggage, and dumps him in the garbage. Innocence lost.

Returning to the beast's weapon, I have to admit that plungers bother me a bit even today. Outside of its (un)cleanliness, I feel there's an inherent embarrassment in having to use the tool, especially if you're not at your own house. It's inconsequential, I know, but I don't want to have to walk down to the front desk of a hotel and ask for a plunger. The transaction itself is simple, yet for a moment you're back in diapers, depending on another's assistance to facilitate your defecation needs.

Then again, whoever keeps using public restrooms ahead of me doesn't seem to care. In fact, he seems to be trying to clog the toilet. If so, well done. Now please stop.

Upset at Budnick's engineering of their anxiety (and at his general jerk-wadness in general), the others dare him to stay out all night in the forest where Zeke supposedly died. I won't spoil the details, but everyone attempts further efforts to scare Budnick while he's out there, and all of them are thwarted... until Budnick runs into a pansy little spider web.

This unfortunately leads to a rather weak conclusion, in which the bully completely drops his guard and screams for help. It's a nice gesture to humanize our bad boy, but it's not developed very well... unless you consider that Budnick, on this show for kids, is supposed to be a kid himself. I'd almost forgotten that after the pitch-perfect first episode and the introduction of a monster plumbed from the abandoned journals of Guillermo del Toro. I don't think David Simon was on the writing staff until the second season (if at all), so I guess I'm okay with suspending my disbelief. At least it helps to wash away the all-too-realistic stench of Zeke the Plumber... a stench he could never smell himself.

I have one more point of order here in my attempt to beatify this series, and that is authentic groaning. In the modern world of Demi Lovato, comedy sometimes works as such:

1) Side character says something unfunny.
2) “Audience” laughs.
3) Starlet tells side character that what he/she said wasn't funny (despite the aforementioned laughter).
4)“Audience” laughs again.

In this episode of SYS, Donkey Lips asserts his sincerity by saying, “Cross my heart and hope to die. Stick a pizza in my mouth.” His campmates respond with a groan. They move on. It's just a little taste of realism, and it's incredibly pretentious of me to point it out, and still I stand by it as a crucial moment. A small touch like this is part and parcel of the prime position this show holds in my memories.

I don't care how deep Zeke plunges. He's not getting himself out of my head.
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Great insult names used in this episode: Jaboney, wuss, priss, melonhead.

Memorable Quotes

Sponge – This is camp. This is what's known as the big gray rock, cuz it's big and gray. This path that I'm walking on is called “the dirt path.”

Zeke
(with megaphone) - Attention everyone. Michael Stein sucks his thumb, and he has a stuffed animal at camp. Heh... You baby!


Budnick - I'm the Master of the Universe! Nobody can scare me!


Dina (to Budnick) - And even knowing what a jerk you are, we still came to the rescue.
Budnick - Why?

Michael - That's a good question.
Budnick - Because you're my friends?

Telly - No.

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Salute Your Shorts, Season 1, Episode 2
"Zeke the Plumber"

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  1. Blogger Papa Thor | 6:43 AM |  

    I don't remember this show at all, it certainly is too scary to let Brigitte watch it.
    Regarding plungers, I used to play "Invaders From Mars" running around with a plunger (you have to see the original to understand that.)
    Also, it is embarrassing to be at a house warming party and have to ask "did you unpack the plunger yet?"

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