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1985

"Hello Friend"

This is a different episode from the very beginning. After the opening credits, as usual, TXL says, "Today's Special is . . ." but then she pauses. There are no words on the screen. Instead there are a circle, two arrows pointing at each other, an upside down T, a heart, a plus sign and an exclamation point. "Gee, I don't know," says TXL at last, "What do you think?"

This very same cryptogram is on a sign in the children's department and when Muffy comes across it, she has no idea what it means either. So she goes to ask Sam.

Sam is losing his 20th tic tac toe game to TXL (according to his tally, he's won 3). "I've never known a computer to be that lucky!" he says to himself. Then Muffy comes in, in a quite a state.

"I've seen something in the store, like I've never seen before. Well, take a look! On the children's floor!"

So Sam focuses TXL's screen on the children's department. He's stumped, too, so Muffy invites him to come down and see it for himself.

"Sure I'll come and take a look-see. Give TXL here a break from the whoopin' I'm givin' her at Tic Tac Toe!"

Meanwhile, Jodie is arriving at the store, but not alone. She's wheeling in front of her a cute little boy in a chair much smaller than a normal wheelchair. The boy has a support brace around his head.

Now Jeff, Muffy and Sam have converged on the children's department to puzzle over the strange sign, but none of them have a clue as to what it might mean. So Sam goes off to do his rounds. Jeff and Muffy remain until Jodie comes in with her friend.

"I would like you to meet my friend Levi."

"Hi, Levi," says Jeff.

"Hi, guy. Gee, it's nice to have you in the store, have you ever been here before?"

Jodie answers that he hasn't, she's brought him here to show him where she works.

"Levi," asks Jeff, "how long have you known Jodie?"

There's a pause. We see a "2" on the screen.

"Two? Has it been two years already?" says Jodie.

Jeff takes Jodie off to the side and asks quietly, "Jodie, how come Levi doesn't answer?"

"Oh, he answered you, Jeff," Jodie says.

"He did? But I didn't hear him." says Jeff.

"Oh, you just didn't understand him," Jodie explains. "Jeff, Muffy - Levi has cerebral palsy, so he can't walk around or speak like you and I, but he hears and understands us just fine, and when he wants to speak, he uses these!" She shows them a tray that's fixed onto his chair in front of him. That's where the "2" we saw earlier is, along with other panels with words, symbols and pictures. "They're called Bliss symbols, because they were invented by a man named Mr. Bliss. Children in Canada were the first ones to use them to talk."

Jeff is intrigued, and so is Muffy, who thinks it looks like fun. Jodie holds up a card that looks like a headless stick figure and invites them to try and guess what it means.

"Oh, I think I can!" cries Muffy. "I'll bet it's a man."

She's right. Jodie shows that it's a man, wearing trousers. That gives us a clue on the next one, which is similar, but with a triangle where the legs had been.

"Well, um, it looks like a woman wearing a skirt." says Jeff.

"Right. It means woman!" Jodie says.

Jeff says it's just like a guessing game, but Jodie says usually there's no need to guess, because the words are printed with the symbol, like on Levi's board.

"Well how come they're not on these cards?" asks Jeff.

Jodie shows him that she has printed the meanings on the back of the cards. They're going to post them in the store for customers who don't speak English, or who can't speak, like Levi. Jeff takes a look at the cards and then holds up one that looks like an upside down T.

"Unless it's a trick," Muffy guesses, "It looks like a stick."

Jeff reads on the back that it means "person." "It does?"

Jodie explains that it's a person standing with his feet turned out.

Jeff is quite excited about this way of communicating. He realizes that whole sentences can be made using the symbols. That's the whole idea, Jodie explains. Then off she goes to give Levi a tour of the third floor. She suggests that Muffy and Jeff try to decipher their "secret message" - the blue card they've been staring at now for quite awhile, while they're gone.

Jeff and Muffy recognize the symbol for "person" in the message, and Jeff finds out that the circle at the beginning, means "mouth." But they still can't make much sense of it. So when Jodie comes back, she explains that the circle means mouth and the arrows mean "meeting." So it's something you say when you meet someone: "Hello."

The next part starts with the symbol for "person," then the heart, which means feeling and the plus sign and the exclamation mark mean good. A person you feel good about. A friend!

So the message is: "Hello, Friend."

"Aw, we could have figured that out!" Jeff says to Muffy.

It was the first thing Levi said to Jodie with his board when they met, and now, it's their secret greeting.

"Hello, Friend," Jodie sings to Levi, "How are you? So happy to see you, today." Levi's whole face lights up with a big smile. Jodie helps to control his flailing arms as she sings, "Hello, friend, do you know, you brighten my life every way? When I see you, I start smiling, I don't even have to try, and when we two are together, well the hours just seem to fly by! Oh, hello friend. Don't go, friend. You know I would never pretend. Oh, you make each day, a joy, so I say, 'Hello Friend!'"

When Sam comes into the children's department, later, Jodie shows him the computer she set up for the kids to play with in the store, and introduces him to Levi, who is playing with the little computer. She explains to Levi who Sam is, and that he keeps an eye on everything with his security camera.

Sam is clearly uncomfortable as he speaks to Levi. "Hello there, Levi. Well, uh, Muffy told me all about you. Yeah." There is an awkward silence. Then he asks to have a word in private with Jodie. So they step to the side.

"Jodie," Sam whispers, "I - I know this Levi is a friend of yours and, but uh, but do you think the store is the best place for him to be?"

"Sam, what are you getting at?" asks Jodie.

"Well - I'm kind of responsible for everyone's safety around here and uh," he draws closer and says quietly, "These people. They can get confused easily, you know, I mean they're not like you and me or anything."

Jodie holds up her hands. "Hey, ho-hold it! Hold it! Wait a minute, Sam, I think you're a little confused. Well, just because Levi can't talk like us doesn't mean he can't think or understand. He's just as smart as you or I."

"Yeah, but. If something ever happened, Jodie -"

"Oh, Sam, except for the stairs Levi gets around just fine, and besides, I'll be with him all the time. So just relax!"

"I don't know, Jodie."

"You should get to know Levi, Sam. You both have something in common."

"We do?"

"He loves computers . . . and there's even a program that uses Bliss symbols!"

"There is?" Sam asks, really surprised.

"And Levi loves games, too. Hey, why don't you play one with him, Sam?"

"Oh, no, Jodie. I-I don't think I could!"

"Oh, come on, Sam!"

"Oh, Jodie, I don't know."

"You can finish our tic tac toe game."

"No! It wouldn't be fair. I mean, I'm a grownup and he's just a little kid. Anyway, I don't have any time for games now -- I've got important work to do! Oh, Jodie, you just remember what I said - if anything happens!" and then he walks off, mumbling. Jodie is distressed as she watches him go, but Levi is tickled by something and starts laughing.

Later, Jeff, Jodie, Muffy and Levi are getting ready to put up signs around the store. Jeff is particularly intrigued with the Bliss symbol for elevator, "a room that goes up and down."

Muffy, however, has a complaint. "You know these signs cover everything from hamburger to house, but I've only got one question, where's the card for mouse?"

"Oh, Muffy!" Jeff laughs. But it turns out, Levi and Jodie have taken care of that one, too, by making up a composite Bliss sign which literally says "an animal who likes cheese."

"Satisfied, Muffy?" asked Jeff.

"Uh-huh! Well, there's woman for Jodie, and boy for you - now, thanks - I've got a card for me, too!"

Jeff asks Jodie how she learned the Bliss symbols. Jodie explains that she learned them at the Hugh McMillan Medical Center, where she met Levi. It turns out she goes up to the Center once a week to spend time with Levi. She helps out in the classroom, learns new Bliss symbols, plays computer games with Levi ("and Levi usually wins!"), and helps him with school work. As she speaks, we see still photographs of her doing these things with Levi. We also see her and Levi sharing a snack, taking a walk, reading a story in the park and having a swing together.

But Jodie's not the only one who goes up to help. There are lots of volunteers there.

"I wish I could be one." says Jeff.

"Oh, you'd be terrific!" Jodie says with conviction. She begins to sing.

"Well, life is a question we're all living. Why we're here appears a mystery. But the answer's all around the whole world giving, so open your heart and share with me."

They all sing together, "Come share with me a life that's full of smiles and hoping, come share with me a love that's open true and free. You can live just for yourself, hide your life upon a shelf or, you can share with me."

Now Jeff gets down next to Levi and begins to sing, "Love's the song that we're all singing. Each of us has special harmony. Together we could set the whole world ringing, so open your heart, and share with me."

They continue singing together as they walk off to put the Bliss symbol signs up.

Later, they all meet in the hallway where there are Bliss symbols on a large board. Jeff and Muffy come off the elevator and tell Jodie they've put up all the signs she gave them and are ready for more. Jodie decides to take Muffy along to another floor while Jeff and Levi finish the floor they're on. But when Jodie and Muffy get on the elevator, an alarm goes off and Jodie can't make it stop. Jeff comes in, gives the button panel a firm thump with his fist and the alarm stops.

"At your service!" says Jeff with pride. But his celebration is short-lived as another alarm goes off and the door closes. Now they're stuck. Levi is by himself in the hallway. Jodie calls out and tells Levi they're stuck and asks him to try and find Sam. But there's no way of knowing if he hears what she is saying.

Levi has heard, and he goes off to try and find help.

Meanwhile, Sam is in his computer room, still being trounced by TXL in tic tac toe and still blaming it on luck. By Sam's tally, it appears she's won over 80 games.

TXL alerts Sam that there's a circuit malfunction on the second floor. But when Sam brings up the second floor on his monitor, he doesn't see anything amiss. He figures TXL is just trying to distract him and hurries to start another game.

"Losers go first!" says TXL gleefully.

Sam growls. "I know that, TXL! There's no need to rub it in."

Levi isn't having much success trying to get to Sam. He can't leave the floor. Everywhere he goes there are either stairs or escalators. What can he do?

TXL is still monitoring the malfunction and interrupts her game of tic tac toe with Sam in order to report that there is still an electrical malfunction on the second floor. But when Sam tries to take a look at the second floor, he instead brings up a very silly looking cartoon. "Thought I took that cassette back!" he says, punching a couple of other buttons and finally calling up a picture of the second floor. He still sees nothing wrong.

"Come on, come on, stop trying to distract me!" Sam says, "Back to the game. This time I've got you!"

In the elevator, Jeff, Jodie and Muffy are passing the time by singing "100 Bottles of Pop on the Wall."

Levi, finding no way to get to Sam, comes back to the hallway. He has an idea.

Back in the computer room, TXL wins again, but Sam says it doesn't count. She kept trying to distract him with that "electrical malfunction bit."

"It wasn't a distraction, Mr. Crenshaw, there is definitely a problem on the second floor."

"Tumblin' tidepools, TXL, for the last time, look!" He clicks on the keyboard and again the picture of the second floor comes onto the monitor. This time we see Levi. "There, see! It's nothin'. Just Levi puttin' up signs or somethin'. I don't know what this store's comin' to!"

"Mr. Crenshaw, although I am not programmed to understand Bliss symbols, I believe Levi was trying to tell us something."

"Now, TXL, let's have no more of your distractions!" Sam says at first, but when he looks at the screen he thinks she may be right. He changes the view and focuses on the board with the Bliss symbol signs, at which Levi is looking intently.

Since Sam doesn't understand Bliss symbols either, he turns to us. "Do you children know what Levi might be trying to tell us? Slowly now, slowly," he says, and puts up one symbol at a time. We help him to understand "boy," "woman" and "mouse."

"It must be Jodie, Jeff and Muffy," says TXL.

"Yeah, well, but what about that one?" he says, showing us the sign for elevator. "What's that? What? Did somebody say 'in'? -- But in what? The elevator?" Sam says in alarm. "Well, TXL, they're trapped in the elevator, quick, switch on the emergency power!"

A weary Jodie, Jeff and Muffy are down to 34 bottles of pop on the wall when the door comes open. Jubilantly they come out of the elevator. They know Levi must have helped them to get out.

"But how did he do it?" asks Jeff.

They soon find out when Sam comes up on the elevator.

"Don't thank me, thank Levi here," he tells them. "He kept looking at those cards until I finally noticed him on the security camera. And then the kids told me what he was trying to say to me."

"Thanks, kids." says Jeff.

"Yeah," Jodie says, smiling, "smart as you or I, Sam. Maybe smarter!"

Sam is very impressed, and invites Levi to the computer room to help him beat TXL at tic tac toe. Levi responds by looking at Bliss symbols.

"White six, yellow two," Jodie says, referring to the color and number of the panels he's looking at. They read, "Hello, Friend."

Sam doesn't have his glasses on and can't read the words so he doesn't know what Levi is trying to say. Jodie says they'll help him figure it out as they put more signs. Together, they all sing, "Come share with me a life that's full of smiles and hoping, come share with me a love that's open true and free. You can live just for yourself, hide your life upon a shelf or you can share with me!" Levi smiles broadly as he watches Muffy and listens to them sing. Then they all go off together singing, "Come share with me, share with me, come share with me!"


Quizzes:

  • We see a drawing of Sam doing his rounds. Nearby there are three mannequins with T-shirts. Each T-shirt has a Bliss symbol on it. What does each symbol mean? (Man, woman and person).
  • We're using Bliss symbols to see how the mime is feeling. First we see a heart symbol next to an arrow pointing down. The mime's back is turned and we can see by her face that she's feeling unhappy (downhearted). She turns her back again and the arrow changes to point upwards. Now how does she feel? TXL asks. When she turns around we can see she is very happy. TXL wonders why the mime is so happy, and the mime holds up an adorable little kitten that she's cuddling.
  • Four people appear on the screen. One is a man, one a woman, one a boy and one a girl. Next we see four Bliss symbols. We're to match the symbol with the proper person. Two of them we know -- the headless stick figure (something like an upside-down Y), means man, and the stick figure with a triangle at the bottom, which means woman. But which one means boy and which one means girl? (We see two new symbols. One is a circle with legs, and the other is a circle with a triangle attached to the bottom. The first means boy, the second means girl).

Nursery Rhyme:

  • Little Miss Muffet (in Bliss symbols)

Notes:

  • Levi Batista is probably an adult by now, as this episode is 15 years old (as of this writing). His name is not pronounced like the blue jeans, but as "Lev-vee," the Spanish pronunciation of the name, similar to the word "levy," as in to levy taxes.
  • This episode of Today's Special really stands out. Not only does it introduce children to community service, but helps them to understand that those who cannot speak or move the way we do are not necessarily mentally handicapped.
  • Jodie's attitude throughout the episode was that of complete acceptance of Levi. She was so attuned to his way of speaking that she seemed a bit surprised that everyone else didn't. ("Oh, you just didn't understand him!) Though Sam's apprehension was understandable, Jodie responded quickly and firmly that Levi wasn't the problem here. ("I think you're a little confused.")
  • "Come Share With Me" is the most profound song in all of Today's Special, in my opinion, because it deals with the ultimate question: Why we're here. "Life is a question we're all living, why we're here appears a mystery". It also ends with a very pithy statement about the contrast between a selfish and an unselfish life. "You can live just for yourself, hide your life upon a shelf or you can share with me." Powerful messages for a children's show.
  • In the elevator, based on a visit to the store in 1999 and seeing the elevator in person, Jodie pressed the "Alarm" button, and then in an attempt to remedy the problem, Jeff pressed "Stop" and "Alarm" on the elevator, likely compounding the initial problem.
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