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Learning from Old John

Growing up in Cape Breton, I found the rest of the world remote, strange, frightening. Then I met a man from Hungary who became a friend. The rest of world seemed closer then. It was only after he was gone that I discovered his last name. He was a European: Hungarian. And it was presumed his last name would be impossible to spell and easy to forget, so people didn’t ask while he was alive.  It was in the mid-fifties. It wasn’t unusual, so soon after the war, for people who were from Europe to be cautious about revealing their last names. A first name was usually enough for most. His first name was John. Or, as we all knew him, Old John.  When we finally discovered his last name, it was just as plain and easy to remember. Suto. He was John Suto. He showed up in my village

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Norm Macdonald, meet Joe Donovan

Saturday Night Live, not its original name, launched like a thunderbolt in 1975, at least to the younger generation. Attending Hampshire College in western Massachusetts, I would stay up to watch Carson on an old black-and-white TV with a huge “Frankenstein (on) switch” that connected to the box by a tangle of wires, and sometimes “5 All Night.” The cheapest show you could imagine, 5 All Night ran from 1:00 to 5:00 a.m., featuring a library of older black-and-white movies and announcer George Fennel (“who never made an on-camera appearance”). There are only so many Charlie Chan movies you want to see in a week. Back in the day, 5 All Night may have contributed to a rise in marijuana sales in southern New England. Then came Saturday Night Live on NBC. It wasn’t standard network fare, almost the opposite. An inside joke for young people, it was too hip

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