Helping Those Who Will Not Help Themselves

Hello, I’m Gary Owens. You may remember me as the voice of beloved cartoon superhero Space Ghost, or from my many appearances on television’s Laugh-In. But what I’d like to talk to you about tonight is no laughing matter.

It’s Labor Day Weekend, and as I do every year at this time, I’m hosting the MAA Labor Day Telethon. What is the MAA? It’s the Muscular Atrophy Association. And what is muscular atrophy? It’s a terrible affliction that claims more victims every single year. We get together here annually at the Flamingo Hilton in Las Vegas in order to have some laughs, sings some songs, enjoy some top-quality saloon entertainment, and most of all, increase understanding of — and hopefully, someday, find a cure for — this debilitating ailment that now affects one out of every five Americans.

Muscular atrophy strikes without warning. Sometimes early detection is effective, and telltale signs such as widening buttocks, unexplained bedsores, clicker’s thumb and exasperated groaning noises can tip off a physician to the early stages of MA. But just as often, it comes from nowhere, and renders a previously young, healthy person completely incapable of moving from their couches, recliners or futons. Ladies and gentlemen, I have worked with victims of muscular atrophy since this telethon began in 1977, and it still breaks my heart to see these brave souls. Their suffering is something I pray none of you ever have to experience, and it’s a testament to the courage of the men and women, boys and girls I like to call Gary’s Kids that they haven’t blown the tops of their heads off with a shotgun. I know that’s what I would have done.

MA renders you exhausted, achy and cranky; many victims come home from a normal day at a routine office job and are simply “too wiped” to cook a meal or do housework. You have not seen pain until you have seen a 29-year-old tax attorney futilely flailing his hands in the air in a desperate attempt to get his wife to hand him a remote control, or a 19-year-old college student pleading with her roommate to “get me a Diet Coke, as long as you’re up”. Muscular atrophy makes even the most routine tasks an agonizing struggle; our poster child, Wilkie Adkins, confesses that often, he’ll find himself saying “I’ll wait ’til the next commercial” simply to get up and go to the bathroom.

As well as trying to find the cause of — and, hopefully, the cure for — MA, this telethon is about clearing up misconceptions and dispelling myths about this terrible affliction. For example, no one knows exactly what leads to muscular atrophy. Clues are everywhere, taunting and teasing our researchers like a pesty child: the high incidence of MA amongst families with big-screen televisions; increased rates of MA in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Mississipi and the Atlanta metropolitan area; so-called ‘adult onset’ muscular atrophy that strikes men over 40 and women after their third child; and the mysterious spike in MA rates following the invention of the universal remote control. Another myth about MA is that it’s contagious; this is not true, although it does seem to occur in clusters. Gary’s Kids are not ‘freaks’, ‘mutants’ or ‘spazz-moes’; they’re normal people exactly like you and me, who, because of the occurrence of this awful ailment, require our help, or patience and our understanding. And finally, to dispel by far the most common myth about muscular atrophy, MA sufferers are not lazy. They are hard-working, disciplined, normal people who have been stricken by an affliction no less real than heart disease, chronic fatigue syndrom or swimmer’s ear; and while it may make them act lazy, it doesn’t mean they are lazy. What they need is less blame and recrimination, and more understanding from people stopping by the fridge on their way back.

Throughout this telethon, we’ll be flashing a number on your screen. Call that number and pledge as much as you can afford, or as little as you can spare. Only ten dollars buys an extra-long-life battery for a PlayStation 3 controller; fifty covers the cost of a quality wheeled entertainment center; one hundred buys an assortment of full-season DVDs to take a muscular atrophy sufferer’s mind off his or her terrible condition; a thousand gets three months worth of really top-notch Meals on Wheels; and five thousand snags some lucky sufferer one of those snazzy Lark motorized carts to help prevent the embarrassing heartbreak of experiencing exhaustion while at GameStop.

But hey! You didn’t set your TiVos just to hear ol’ Gary yakkin’ about some sick kids. You tuned in for entertainment, and you’re going to get entertainment! In the first hour alone, we’ll hear from crooner Mac Davis, see a clip from the upcoming CBS sitcom Axis & Allys starring Ally Sheedy and Callista Flockhart, witness the reunion of Oingo Boingo, thrill to a dance number featuring me and Joan Lunden, and listen to legendary actor Chevy Chase’s own account of his struggle with muscular atrophy. Please, ladies and gentlemen: give generously.

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