SHERIFF JOHN, R.I.P.: Every year on Jan. 12 for a few years, we would roll the ottoman up close to the Magnavox and sit there waiting for Sheriff John to sing "Put Another Candle on My Birthday Cake" (or "The Birthday Cake Polka," as it was published) on KTTV Channel 11. The Sheriff personalized his song each day, reading the names of about 100 birthday boys and girls.

And each year, he recited the names of all the Jan. 12 birthday kids in the country except ours on "Sheriff John's Lunch Brigade."

It was a bitter, scarring experience, marring our special day each year. We would weep silently as we unwrapped the mountains of gifts our grandparents would tote over to the house. The birthday cake tasted bitter in our mouth.

And it only got worse as affection for Sheriff John dwindled measurably annually as he rambled on about Cindy and Susie and Tommy and Tammy.

We pictured each kid wearing a little party hat, covered in confetti and streamers and beaming like an idiot as the cartoon show host gave them their own personalized shout-out while omitting us. We put it off as an accident for a year or two. Sheriff John, we reasoned, was a busy man. But after a few omissions it became more apparent to us that it was a vendetta.

We hated to be a snitch, but we finally reported him to our mom. "Sheriff John keeps not wishing us a happy birthday," we whined.

"You have to send in your name and birth date," she explained. "He doesn't just know.


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What, do you think he knows every kid's birthday? Try using your head sometimes."

"Really? And it never dawned on you to send in our name? You don't see how crushed we are when he doesn't mention us?"

She'd tell us to go outside and play on the freeway, which we could actually do because the San Diego (405) Freeway was still under construction a couple of blocks from our house. But still ...

All of this will go into our horrible-childhood memoir.

What eventually became our salvation was the fact that, for as long as we can remember, which sometimes stretches back to the mid-1970s, our sister has sung "The Birthday Cake Polka" to us. And it was highly personalized, without all the other riff-raff names of lesser children growing older.

"Sheriff" John Rovick died Saturday at 93 without ever once mentioning our birthday, but he leaves us with plenty of happy memories - we weren't mad at him on other people's birthdays.

He kicked off every program (as did "Romper Room" over on KCOP/Channel 13) with the Pledge of Allegiance, and he would intersperse cartoons of Crusader Rabbit and Underdog with tips on good manners, safety and health. It seemed more rollicking in retrospect than we're making it out to be.

Only this weekend did we realize Sheriff John had a last name. We didn't know him as John Rovick any more than we knew Bozo the Clown as Vance Colving Jr., or the Pancake Man as Hal Smith or even Chucko the Clown, who lived in Long Beach in real life, as Charles Runyon.

But we got a big bang out of all those cartoon show hosts, as did virtually every kid who finds herself or himself doddering along in their 50s and 60s now. It was all we had, really, for TV entertainment, along with the Saturday morning bonanza packed full of maximum-quality horse-laden fare like "Sky King," "The Roy Rogers Show," "Fury" and "My Friend Flicka."

But we're not going to get all weepy eyed with nostalgia about it now. Programming got a lot better over the years, especially with the the advent of the conservative-targeted Public Television, which brought such tax-squandering shows as "Sesame Street" and "Mister Rogers" to the homes of happy little children.

When we started having kids at a rapid clip (two in six years!), we got to do the whole kid-TV all over again. Each morning we got up to make their breakfast and then sat with them watching the Nickelodeon network. Shows like "Rocko's Modern Life," "The Rugrats" and "Doug."

Our childhood was better the second time around.

Even so, just to show there are no hard feelings, we'll sing a special song to Sheriff John on his birthday, Oct. 2, each year.

Along with the names of everyone else born that day.

tgrobaty@yahoo.com, 562-714-2116, http://twitter.com/grobaty