Jim Backhaus killed the grizzled old prospector character in The Grand Canyon episode of The Brady Bunch. Which, incidentally, is the episode that in my opinion killed The Brady Bunch. Prior to that Hollywood had a rich history entrenched in hootin’ & hollerin’, heel clickin’, der’s-gold-in-dem-dere-hills, scruffy forty-niners. Like 1956’s Day The World Ended, with his trusty mule Diablo, 1958’s Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman & pretty much everybody in Pale Rider just to name a few. Even in the art world like The Old Prospector (oil on canvas) by Alfredo Rodriguez. Or in comic books. But it seems that after that fateful 1971 episode of The Brady Bunch the prospector all but vanishes into dem dere hills of television history. Almost missing forever like the Lost Dutchman’s Mine. The character is merely detected from time to time after that, making comical appearances like Jack Starrett in Blazing Saddles or touched upon by Jack Palance in City Slickers II. Both actors were named Jack, both movies were their last major motion pictures appearances & both actors died 10 years after taking on the role. With the exception of a 1981 “walk-on” in Return To Gilligan’s Island (suffering from Parkinson’s & propped up like the corpse of a grandfather in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) Jim Backhaus also dropped off the radar. Leading me to believe that the role is cursed. Very much like the role of Superman that coincidentally destroyed the careers & lives of two men both named Reeves. But that’s another story.
When I was in high school I was living in an apartment complex with my mom in Arizona. The property bordered a desert where my friends & I used to party & where some of the other kids that lived in the neighborhood had built a track for riding their bikes. One part of that track had a huge mound of dirt that they would catch some pretty good air off of.
One of those kids just happened to live right above me. He was an arrogant fuckin’ prick that you just wanted to grab by the shirt & slap around. There was a little patch of dirt beneath the stairs going up to his apartment that was directly outside of our door. My mom had decided to brighten things up a little bit by planting some flowers in that area which also just happened to be where the kid liked to park his bike. This became a major source of grief for us as he was constantly crushing the flowers that she had planted there with his bike.
This went on for a time with clearly no end in sight. Even the kid’s own mother was powerless over this little SOB. Their arguments were clearly audible through the paper-thin walls that are common in units like that & nothing was sacred. Having enough, I decided to take matters into my own hands. One afternoon I grabbed a wrench, slipped out the front door & loosened his front tire. And although I knew I wouldn’t be there, I took comfort in the knowledge that someday it would fall off.
Weeks went by & we frequented that patch of desert less often. Since one of the guys in the group had bought a car, we would usually drive up to a cul-de-sac in the mountains that looked out over The Valley of the Sun at night to get high. The lights of the city twinkling through the pollution & haze was a much more appealing view than Phase 1 of the Villa Encanto apartment complex that I called home. Still, we didn’t drive up to the mountains every time we wanted to smoke a bong. So one day we decided to park in the cul-de-sac that ran on the west side of my complex & overlooked the same desert that we used to sit in. The same desert that the local kids would ride their bikes in. On that same track. With that same mound. Just as they were that day.
My friend & I sat in his ‘79 Monte Carlo passing Chico back & forth between us. Chico was the name we had given to his little red bong. To this day we still don’t know why. While he was hitting Chico I looked out at the kids catching air on their bikes. As he let go of the carb, he inhaled a dense column of smoke that quickly vanished into his lungs. In the distance I watched a boy fly up in the air & nail a perfect landing. Through a cloud of smoke as he exhaled, I watched another do the same. He passed Chico to me & I took a long draw. As I released the carb & inhaled I looked up & out over the desert. As I held in a monster hit, another kid caught air off of the mound. While air-born, his front tire fell to the ground as his bike was landing front first. His forks planted firmly in the dirt & his balls planted firmly into the frame. I slowly exhaled handing Chico to my friend as the boy lay on his back after flipping over the handlebars & said, “That was my neighbor, man! I did that.” Never did I think that I would see my fiendish plot come to fruition. Not if I lived to be a thousand years old.