Sometimes I’d sneak a peek at him sitting on the couch, with this glazed-over look and frozen grin plastered on his face. It could be the fourth time he’d seen that episode or the 12th, and he’d still be wearing that grin, which made me smile as much as Sponge Bob himself.
Sure, it’s not like “Sponge Bob” was some amazing, groundbreaking material that ranked up there with educational legends like “Sesame Street.” It didn’t teach him letters or numbers or how to sound out big words, but it’s not like it didn’t hold any merit either.
The world is constantly bombarding us with awful news that can be sad, upsetting and frightening. We are busy, we are stressed, we are tired, and sometimes, we don’t want to have to think. We don’t want to learn a lesson or know the moral of the story. Sometimes we just simply want to laugh. That’s what “Sponge Bob” gave us, and continues to give us to this day.
My son became a master at interjecting “Sponge Bob” quotes at opportune times throughout daily occurrences, somehow conjuring up lines that fit perfectly into the context of any situation. It’s an art that he’s perfected, and one that, yes, still makes me laugh. I myself picked up on a lot of “Sponge Bob” quotes over the years, and while slightly embarrassed to admit it, actually blurt one out from time to time, too.
So you can imagine how saddened I was by the news that Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of “Sponge Bob,” passed away at such a young age not long ago. It made me suddenly have the urge to break out our “Sponge Bob Game of Life,” in which the highest possible career path involved yielding a spatula and flipping crabby patties. I thought about my son’s pre-braces, spot-on imitation of Sponge Bob — and, lately, every time his subwoofer shakes the ceiling below his room, I’m reminded of him and his friends jamming to “I’m a Goofy Goober” and “Now That We’re Men,” singing as loudly as they possibly could to the CD player turned up as far as it could go.
All of it has made me realize that this silly animated show had actually brought us a great deal of joy — not just in watching it, but also the memories it created — and the difficulty I still have repressing a smile when something reminds me of a particular episode or my son delivers a quote with impeccable timing.
A huge Patriots fan, my son couldn’t wait for the Super Bowl. But the game wasn’t the only thing he had been looked forward to — a rumor had been floating around that there would be a tribute to Stephen Hillenburg at halftime with a rendition of “Sweet Victory,” a song Sponge Bob infamously performs at the Bubble Bowl, Bikini Bottom’s version of the Super Bowl.
Sure enough, the recognizable music began to play, and as I peeked over at my son, I saw a hint of that plastered grin I loved from so long ago begin to appear on his face. However, much like Hillenburg’s life, the “tribute” was over far too soon, along with my son’s grin. It was disappointing, and we were left feeling like the creator of the world’s most famous fry cook deserved more.
So, the Super Bowl may have sold you short, but this article’s for you, Stephen Hillenburg. After a busy day, after sad news or stressful times, when I’m tired and don’t feel like thinking and I just simply want to laugh, thank you for giving me fun and silly memories, for making every day the best day ever, for letting me know when is the best time to wear a striped sweater and telling me of a place called indoors, for pointing out that you can indeed be late for being early, and teaching me the proper way to blow a bubble, care for a baby clam, live like Larry, and speak with an accent.
Thank you for all this, and a litany of other things that will always make me smile — not the least of which is a goofy little grin on a little boy’s face. Thank you especially for that.
— By Kelly Kalis, Tribune community columnist