The underlying principle of Ernie and Bert is one that applies to love, friendship and career: in any partnership one is always the Ernie and the other, Bert.
Though, at some point, we were all once an Ernie. Friendly Ernie with his big round head, large starry eyes full of curiosity, and that so very sweet demeanor. He is one that sits in the bathtub with his rubber ducky, toting an umbrella, waiting for the eventuality of downpour in the bathroom. He leaves his toys lying around wherever he goes, and when he leaves the house he takes only the absolute essential things with him: the rubber ducky, the hat for the ducky, the biscuits for the ducky, a ball and a fairy tale book — but as he reaches for his front door keys, it’s dear Bert who must think of such things. Luckily we have such Bert’s around, taking care of everything: people who are prudent and rational, explaining how the world works, raising an impossibly high climbing eyebrow in warning at the moment you as Ernie are having the most fun imaginable.
Usually these Bert’s are one scarce foot away from being called mom or dad.
Now, in reality, Sesame Street’s Ernie and Bert are not even father and son: they are two friends, brought together by fate. Whether their relationship, as long speculated, has a sexual component… uhhhh, well let’s leave their coming out plans to the imagination of someone else, shall we? What we do know for sure is: they sleep in two separate beds, they never kiss, but they like to embrace and they often confess to their mutual affection for one another. Two equal partners — of which, one is an infantile slacker and the other…well…bootstrapping — capturing the essence of “responsible”. A couple–ying and yang–encountered everywhere: among co-workers, friends, and lovers. Everywhere you look, the principle applies: if there is an Ernie, there will inevitably be a Bert, and where there is Bert, there is definitely an Ernie close by.
Think back to school times, the Ernie‘s were the ones who never arrived on time to sharpen their pencils before class (I was a child of the 70s, yes, we had pencils) and regularly forget their lunch. Witnessing this, the Bert’s merely chuckled politely, while the gracious teacher was quick to forgive and the friendly neighbor obligingly slid over half of his or her sandwich, at that, with its so delicious filling, so much better than plain ole jam. When the Ernie’s didn’t manage their homework, the Bert’s quickly wrote it out for them with silent glance of contempt. Yes, the Ernie’s of the world were invited to parties, not to run for class president – and the same applied to the Bert’s but rather the opposite.
Yes, Bert‘s aren’t loved at first glance, they are needed. And although we don’t particularly need the Ernie’s, we all love them.
But hang on a minute….if you have ever taken part on a guided group tour, you’ll know that at absolutely any moment you could be transformed into a total Ernie. With huge eyes you trot along behind the guide with the umbrella in the air, with no thought to directions, maps or planning the day. Simply amused by its endeavors. Life as Ernie is WONDERFUL: floating in a cloud of irresponsibility and all the while being so irresistibly likable. Here comes the downside: as the tour comes to an end you are left without your bearings, lost, barely able to find your way to the nearest toilet!
I know this myself. I’d like to think that I am mostly an “Ernie”, but I do display some “Bert” tendencies. Take my running group for example. After months of recovering from an injury, I slowly witnessed the demise of this well committed, organized group. All my dear, fun-loving fellow Ernie’s who love to run (and enjoy a glass of wine and a laugh after) slowly dropped off and relegated back to “spontaneity” — and the joy of being spontaneous. Proving you really do need a Bert to herd together the Ernie’s!
Think of some classic clichés of domesticity between married couples. In families with children, the role of Bert is often taken up by the mother. In the first months after birth she begins by taking on the role of Bert in order to care for tiny little Ernie in his dreamy new existence. Don’t be mistaken, it would be a misconception to think that the Ernie role is for men and the Bert a job for women. In many partnerships, it is often the case that one or the other takes control for both, cleans up and has the finances under control – while the other is somehow more laid back.
So who do you like better from Sesame Street? Ernie of course! As Bert, you occasionally experience that great feeling of knowing that you actually have your life under control; you’re successful in your job, rarely descend into chaos and most definitely never find yourself locked outside of your apartment without house keys — in your jammies — at seven in the morning! But unfortunately, Bert often enough feels hopelessly put upon by Ernie, all the while pondering the chaos of the other, with eyebrows again slipping slowly up to the base of his hairline, BUT even if he could, for the good of a GREAT party, relax and colloquially loosen that tie, Bert still comes across as stiff and sometimes a little disagreeable. But the good news is: beyond Sesame Street, no one is always an Ernie and no one is always a Bert.
Because we were all born an Ernie, and now and then it is possible to slip back into being the other, even if just for a moment, and like Ernie, talk with our rubber ducky, lose our house keys and sit with an umbrella in the bathtub. Just as we all must at times pull up our socks and be a Bert, clean up our desks, file our tax return, and bring the Ernie’s in our lives to reason. AND whoever is so lucky as Ernie or Bert to land in bed with his or her counterpart, may want to heed the cardinal rule: really good kisses have a tendency to make one lose their socks (wink)!
This little piece was inspired by two colleagues of mine, who are in their own right, Ernie and Bert, and is based on an interpretation of a funny little article about relationships that was published in the German magazine, NEON.