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This writing gig, this is my Neighborhood of Make-Believe, where it is easy to be bold and honest and confrontational. But in my real life, I have always been shy and wussy, and Mr. Rogers' gentle-Americana Buddhism made me feel as if that was good. He knew that the only reassurance in the face of the Sendakian horrors of childhood--the uncertainty, the lack of control--is acceptance. His neighborhood wasn't a utopia--he lived alone in a small apartment with a fish tank--but a community where every type of person was nice to him because he accepted them.
I'd assuage my loneliness by jamming to my Mr. Rogers album all the time, but it wasn't until high school that I learned how politically radical Fred Rogers was. One of the toughest kids in the school, drunk, his gold chain hanging halfway down his already hairy chest, told me his dad would lock him and his brother in the closet every time he caught them watching Mr. Rogers, fearful the show would turn them into homosexuals. But even years later, at 18 years old and miles from a sweater vest, this kid still loved Mr. Rogers. And I realized how much worse my high school, and my world, would have been without him. --By Joel Stein