I shudder to think of what could have happened.
What happened was bad enough.
Of course, you know I was a curious child, which has gotten me in trouble ever since.
And my dad, a Korean War Marine MP knew one thing – money didn’t grow on trees.
Put those things together and we have the ingredients for a combustible situation.
Speaking of combustible. . .
Some weekday morning in the summer of 1967, upon awaking, I went down to the basement with my sister to watch TV. We were one of those families where the TV was in the basement, which was something of a family room/den (not the richly appointed ones you’re probably thinking of) and not the ‘living room.’ The living room was NOT covered in plastic and used for entertaining only.
You had to cross through the living room to get anywhere in the house. In the beginning, my playpen was there but other than that, I don’t recall it being used for much else except to hold our beat-up second hand furniture my parents were gifted when they got married.
This would change.
So here we are watching a Woody Woodpecker cartoon and I notice one of those Tupperware cups we had so many of (mom gave and attended Tupperware parties – all the kitchen wear was Tupperware, everything else was from Sears). My parents had been watching the TV the night before and what ice that had been in the cup had melted, leaving about a half-inch of water in the bottom.
By the way, the TV looked exactly like this:
It was the BIG expense when my parents moved in to the new house in 1961. Every new home had to have a TV and they were all black and white.
By 1967, color sets, which would set you back about a month’s pay, were sweeping the nation as the latest status symbol/must have item. I became aware of the wonderful world of color watching local TV shows that broadcast in color like Captain Penny.
Captain Penny was a kid’s show which starred Ron Penfound (warning: we’re going Deep Cleveland here), who would dress in an engineer’s uniform and show Three Stooges cartoons. I don’t think Penfound really enjoyed springing the Stooges on young impressionable kids. He used to say it was OK to laugh at them but don’t act like them. I think WEWS TV5 (“First in Cleveland”) got the Stooges stuff on the cheap so Penfound had to show them.
He had a cast of characters that would do various skit appearances and had ‘Jungle Larry’ (not Larry Fine) bring in exotic animals from his theme parlk, but the one thing everyone waited for was ‘Pooch Parade.’
Pooch Parade was sponsored by the Animal Protective League of Cleveland and featured dogs up for adoption from the kennel and other dogs which owners could not keep anymore. For some reason, our Springer Spaniel ‘Dutchie’ (God my dad had a way with nicknames; I won’t tell you what mine was but it was close to Dutchie) was on the show. To this day I don’t know why we had to give Dutchie away.
Man, this is getting long-winded. Stick with me, it gets better.
ANYWAY. . . Captain Penny would introduce the dog and then say, “for you folks watching at home with a black and white TV, this dog’s coloring is . . .”
Dad, why can’t we get a color TV?
“D’ya think money grows on trees, kid? Nothin’ wrong with that TV. Just be thankful ya have one.”
The resentment grew. One night, I was waiting for ‘Bonanza’ to start.
I beheld some weird psychedelic image on the screen.
|This is what I saw.|
“The following program is brought to you in living color . . . on NBC.”
No, it’s not.
Dad, why is it not in color?
“Shut up you.”
One more aside, I swear, before we get to the good stuff.
I was notorious for getting in trouble by sticking things in places they shouldn’t go (stop with the dirty mind, I was four-years-old). Example: my favorite was sticking bobby pins in wall outlets. It’s a wonder I didn’t have the weirdest hair on Golden Gate Boulevard. So my parents had to buy the plastic outlet caps which I spent hours trying to pry off.
I was curious. If I was better at math, I would have grown up to be a mad scientist.
So, here I am looking at the TV and the water in the bottom of the cup and for reasons known only to God, I wondered what would happen if I poured that bit of water down the back of the TV set?
Look, I never said I was ever mentally balanced.
My sister was curious too but I think she was just egging me on.
I don’t remember much from when I was four but I do remember this.
Remember the opening to the old Mister Magoo cartoon where Magoo lands up driving through a power plant? Remember the noises that made?
That’s pretty much the noise that was made when the water hit the vacuum tubes.
The TV went dark.
I froze in horror.
Mom came downstairs screaming at both of us. This is the part where my memory is a little cloudy as trauma tends to do that to children.
We ran from her up to our bedrooms screaming.
I remember leaning against my bedroom door, sobbing and retching, waiting for my father to get home. Because when he did, I knew, I KNEW, he was going to kill me.
It wasn’t the first time and it would not be the last.
Eventually my father came home. I was called down from upstairs (as opposed to being called up from downstairs).
I remember trembling as I came down the stairs one agonizing step at a time.
My father put his hand around my shoulder (would he crush my head?) and pointed downstairs at the dead TV and said that was something I was never to touch.
And that was it. I went back to my room believing in miracles.
It was a few years before I found out what really happened. At some dinner party at our new house, circa 1971, my dad was regaling her hosts about the time my sister broke the TV.
“Oh that wasn’t her,” I brightly said. “That was me.”
There was a moment of silence. Me and my big mouth strike again (again, not the first time, absolutely not the last).
“Wait. . . YOU?” my dad said.
My sister, hearing my screams of impending death, took pity on me for the first and last time in her life. To save me from getting my ass beat, she copped to the crime. And she got what I thought was the beating.
To this day, she has never forgiven me.
As for this revelation, the child advice columnists of the day said corporal punishment needed to be dealt out at the time of the infraction, so the child would associate the pain with the act.
It was four years later and although my father was mad for being tricked into beating the wrong child, he was not going to beat me now.
Of course, there is a bright side to this. You can tell by the title of this essay.
Originally, we were told by our parents that because of this, we would never have television again – EVER! I couldn’t fathom such an existence. Without the “Vast Wasteland,” life would be . . . a vast wasteland. My childhood would be ruined. The neighborhood kids would laugh at us.
That lasted about a week. My parents were bigger TV junkies than we were.
Dad got an estimate to fix the set. It would have cost as much as he paid for the TV originally.
Somehow, someway, dad decided to get a new TV. And it would be color. And it would be from Sears. And the only reason is because he probably got it on payments since he worked there.
I remember the day it arrived. It was YUUGE!
The photo is the 1965 model, ours was two years newer, a little longer, but still had that nifty ‘works in a drawer’ feature that refused to stay closed after a few years. It was in that ghastly ‘colonial’ style my parents loved so much. I always wanted ‘contemporary’ (being a modern, hip kid), we all hated ‘Mediterranean’ (red velvet? Really?) so we got ‘colonial.’ I had no say in the decision.
And it was placed in the living room, mostly I think so that mom and dad could make sure neither of us would approach it without being seen. It might have well been surrounded by razor wire.
It would be an entire year before I was allowed to approach King TV and only with one of my parents watching me. I always remember being allowed to switch the channel to watch ‘Flipper’ as God intended – in color.
“Everyone loves the king of the sea. . . “
|I found out later that dolphins can really be bastards|
Whenever I hear that theme song, I remember color TV.
But wait! There’s one more revelation – one I didn’t learn until well after my father died.
“Of course I knew,” she said thirty years after the fact. “I saw you standing there with that cup in your hand and your wide eyes.”
Then why didn’t you say anything?
It came out slowly. She was afraid dad would kill me and she knew dad wouldn’t kill his little ‘peaches and cream.’ I don’t know what he did to her and I never asked.
And my mother spent the rest of her life trying to make it up to her.
So she knew it all along. As Captain Penny used to say at the end of every show:
“You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool Mom. She’s pretty nice and she’s pretty smart. If you do what Mom says you won’t go far wrong.”