TITLE FIGHT: ME VS NEW TV IN 1953

QueenI was going to do a sweet piece of nostalgia to commemorate the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, but any such remembrance is inextricably linked to what went down at my childhood home, circa June 1953—namely a title fight between me and a new TV.

My parents were not exactly keeping up with the Joneses. If I wanted to watch a shoot-’em-up, I had to go to Bob and Chuck’s house and find a spot on their floor, because they and their parents had already claimed the couch and easy chairs.

But not having a TV had its advantages. For one thing, I learned to entertain myself.

I had these dorky hand puppets, Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd, that Aunt Rita had given me. With a puppet consisting of a rubber head and cloth skirt on each of my hands, Porky and Elmer took pokes at one another and did a lot of head-knocking until they learned to talk through different registers of my larynx, where they began making fun of everything under the sun, including the very aunt who had entrusted the puppets to my care.

Porky bumped my forehead and said, “She gave you me, instead of a new bike or a football.”

“Yeah,” Elmer agreed. “What a cheapskate!”

“Well,” I said, “we do have her to thank for ending our boredom.”

“Right,” said Porky, his rubbery head bobbing on my left hand. “Boredom is a thing of the past. No need to run off and watch the Howdy Doody Show.”

“Because we’ve got our own little show right here,” said Elmer, speaking with rubbery certitude from my other hand.

It was true. The three of us, nestled on the landing at the top of the stairs, had everything we needed to entertain each other forever.

But just then the doorbell rang. Mom ran from the kitchen to answer it, discarding her apron along the way. From our spot on the landing, my puppets and I could see a jolly fellow in white overalls on the porch: “A new TV for the Beukers household,” he announced. “Welcome to the modern age!”

“Come right in,” said Mom. “We’ve been expecting you!”

Well maybe she had. But I sure hadn’t. From time to time there had been parental mumblings about buying a TV—so I would be more inclined to stay at home instead of going next door to see what kind of mischief Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob and Clarabell the Clown were getting into. But now that my puppet buddies and I had unlocked the door to infinite creativity, the mere idea of a television—the one thing that could spoil our fun—was shockingly repellant.

Our misgivings notwithstanding, a portable, streamlined, turquoise-and-cream TV set was now sitting on a small round table formerly used to display a spread of magazines. The deliveryman flicks the TV on, fiddles with the rabbit ears of the antenna, achieves perfect reception—“It’s so clear!” exclaims my dad—and departs, leaving us to enjoy the evening’s programming, which at the moment is identical across all three networks: a news show featuring Queen Elizabeth’s stately procession down the center aisle of Westminster Abbey, where she’s about to be crowned.

Mom was transfixed. “She looks just like a queen should look,” she said, “so beautiful . . .” Although Mom was an American through and through, she still had plenty of Collins and Cadwallader flowing through her veins and was understandably proud of this female icon. The two women, my mother and the queen, were the offspring of  a common history, with ancient roots curling into an age of enchantment. And when that crown was placed on Elizabeth’s head, Mom had her box of Kleenex ready.

I squinted at the new queen, who didn’t look all that beautiful to me, not back then anyway, obscured as she was by pomp and circumstance and many layers of finery—besides which, I was still feeling the effects of having my creative world blown to smithereens by the new TV.

It would be a while yet, several years at least, before a majority of those fragments settled down . . . a while before they reassembled themselves in a creative vision equal to the daily trouncing that came marching out of the device that delivered one icon after another in a continuous parade of spectacular moments not to be missed.

WEEPING AT THE FEET OF THE HAG

A few weeks ago, on the occasion of Merle Haggard’s passing, rising country music star Drew Cooper posted: “I pledge allegiance to the Hag . . .” Well, that noble sentiment from a gifted newcomer got me thinking about all the times I saw the Hag—from … [Continue reading]

WRONG WAY, RITA!

In the summer of ’64, on our way home from a job at a dude ranch in the hills outside Santa Rosa, I had a bright idea: “Let’s stop in town to see Aunt Rita. She’ll probably spring for dinner!” “Dinner?” said Kevin, my work buddy whose old red … [Continue reading]

A CONNOISSEUR OF SUNSETS

beautiful sunset kodachome

Oh jeez, what was it with Grandpa Erle and sunsets? He had his hobbies—collecting plume agates for the Smithsonian, growing Grand Slam dahlias for the church, and deep-sea fishing out of Princeton Harbor. These pursuits, however, were slo-mo at best. … [Continue reading]