We've sailed to another Fijian island, a smaller one, but without a map you'd never know that. From a taxi many things were seen, among which were palm trees like these pictured above, and palm trees of course bring to mind The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and I'm reminded of his spirit, which like a trampled blade of grass always rose again regardless of circumstance–oftentimes with a quivering lip in the face of Uncle Phil's chastisements and harsh reprimands, but never bitter, always better, for it. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air understood early on that life was a school of hard knocks, and he became head of the class in that school with his trademark quick wit, facial expressions of incredulity, and verbal japes–sometimes reluctantly, sometimes close to despair–but as we watched The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air mature with each season we saw a boy become a man, as he grew to understand that his Uncle Phil was an embodiment of order; a great big mountain of control –with just as much spirit and thirst for life as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air himself but, contained. Under wraps. Not quashed, not at all, held in check merely, and Uncle Phil's stunning mansion complete with black manservant and family in Bel-Air were the undeniable fruits of this labor of love and restraint, rewards that The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air saw first hand as possibilities he too may one day achieve as well, he realized, if he could approach life the way Uncle Phil did, without losing himself and everything that made him so fresh in the process. In one particularly memorable episode, I mean the one that I remember, these two different approaches to life that Uncle Phil and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air respectively brought to bear when interacting to the world were shown to great effect when Carlton and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air both applied to Uncle Phil's alma mater, a very prestigious university, as I recall. Carlton was well established as a hard working student, and though I don't remember any scenes from his bedroom, I can almost see the wall of scholastic prizes, ribbons of extracurricular accomplishment, trophies from chess tournaments, etc.–I imagine Carlton's room to be one of order and achievement, of promise, above all. Like Michael J. Fox's Alex P. Keaton of Family Ties, who had a poster of Richard Nixon on his bedroom wall–though Carlton was largely apolitical, Carlton and Alex were both old souls, conservatively steadfast in their resolve to achieve, well before most teenagers have finished piecing together their identities. Quite the contrast to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a deft move on the writers' part. So when Carlton, the imagined shoe-in for acceptance into Uncle Phil's alma mater was upstaged by The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when the admissions recruiter visited the boys' prep school in Bel-Air, you can imagine my surprise, and that of the studio audience, and that of the musical score, when it was The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air rather than Carlton who got accepted. Here's what happened: Only Carlton was going to be interviewed first, I believe, but as a lark, in typical The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air style, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air decided to be interviewed too. Both boys were wearing their high school dinner jackets with the school seal on the breast, but unlike Carlton, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, on one of his whims, turned his jacket inside-out, revealing a wacky dinner jacket lining, a kind of taffeta material, purple, with yellow paisley design. I'm not certain but I'd be surprised if sunglasses and a sideways baseball hat weren't involved as well. The initial incredulity of the recruiter, taken aback as he was by The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's zany caprice was quickly supplanted by an impossible to defy admiration for the lad's undeniably fresh antics and contagious joie de vivre, and as no one would have predicted, what began as a bit of fun ended up as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's acceptance to Uncle Phil's Alma Mater. Carlton, in just as surprising a turn of events, was not accepted. Up was down and down was up in Bel-Air. On their return to Uncle Phil's mansion, so overtaken with joy was Uncle Phil with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's acceptance into his alma mater, that The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air saw an opportunity, and asked Uncle Phil if he could borrow the car for a night on the town. “Sure,” Uncle Phil unblinkingly responded. Overwhelmed with the ease of the transaction, far from commonplace, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air made light of the situation by joking, saying, “I didn't mean your normal car, Uncle Phil, I meant the Jag,” displaying his characteristically light-hearted ribbing of Uncle Phil. To the audience's surprise though, so overjoyed with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's success was Uncle Phil that he again said, “Sure,” with the same prideful gaze, at his awestruck nephew. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air enjoyed a night driving Uncle Phil's Jag, we imagined, and I don't know what Carlton did, but it's likely he was massaging his temples in that pristine bedroom, brows knitted, staring at the unsullied carpet that was surely beneath bis feet, plotting his next move. The following day, Carlton gave up trying to impress the recruiter with his very real scholastic accomplishments, and as his cousin The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air did, Carlton turned his prep school dinner jacket inside-out, wore sunglasses indoors, wore a baseball hat in a unique manner, attempted to make light of the interview and life in general, but if anything, copping The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air's devil-may-care approach to an important interview made him even less a worthy addition to his father's alma mater. The recruiter, in shocked disbelief, as I remember, dismissed Carlton from the office, and Carlton was reduced to returning, begging, baseball hat in hand, and in the end, both boys were accepted to Uncle Phil's alma mater. I don't know what the lesson was, that's where it all falls apart for me.
My thanks to Margo for helping me remember by telling me that both The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and his cousin Carlton were accepted to Uncle Phil's alma mater; an important detail, though a mixed message, clearly.