After-School Special

May 10, 2009 at 12:30 pm (The Easy Chair)

I crack wise about being old, but 47 isn’t that old.

I live with a fifteen-year-old, and think of how tortured he’d be if he had to amuse himself the way I did. (“Library? Why would I want to go there? I can use your computer!”) Not only did I read more than he does, there were fewer electronic amusements to distract one from an education. He’s got DSs, Wiis, Playstation3000s, etc… I didn’t even have Pong. “Get up off your ass and play real ping-pong!” Dad would say.

And then there’s television. We have about 130 channels to choose from. In my day, there were about five. I remember the afternoon routine well…

Until we outgrew neighborhood pickup sports, as soon as school was out we’d meet at the neighbor kid’s house, the one with the really big back yard. (Our property had a big back yard, but it inclined downhill slightly. Great for offensive play; a bitch to run an interception back.) After he’d have three bowls of cereal and watch half an hour of cartoons, we’d commence to play whatever sport was in season. Rainy days, or days when nobody felt like playing? It was TV time.

When my little sister wasn’t obsessing over Sesame Street or Mister Rogers, (“Hey neighbor!”) I would watch Gilligan’s Island, Star Trek, The Flintstones. I could only tolerate reruns for so long, so I began clicking around. I became a closet Mike Douglas fan.

Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin both had afternoon chat shows; basically popcorn-lite versions of what Johnny Carson was doing at 11:30 PM. While I watched both, I had a preference for Mike Douglas.

There was nothing outrageous about Mike’s shows, other than that they pressed up against the boundaries of what “straight” America considered proper afternoon entertainment. Gene Simmons coming out in full KISS gear, and Totie Fields saying, “I’ll bet under all that makeup there’s a nice Jewish boy.” It was funny at the time; come to find out she was right.

He featured African-American entertainers. Della Reese and Sammy Davis Jr. were regulars. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was interviewed. Bill Cosby sang scat with Mike, and Bill surprised himself at how good he sounded. Mike was all about helping his guests look and sound good. While he hardly brought down the race wall, he took some of the mystery out of race relations for white America.

One special week had John Lennon and Yoko Ono co-hosting. People tuning in to ‘stare at the freaks’ found themselves listening to common-sense emissaries of peace. Guests that week included Bobby Seale, Jerry Rubin, George Carlin. When given the floor and asked what they intended to cover during their week, they replied, “Peace, love, racism, women’s lib.” All catch phrases from the ’60s & ’70s, but to look back and see how far we’ve come makes me feel proud for humanity.

Of course, it wasn’t all social responsibility. Stan Kann the Gadget Man? I’m pretty sure he’s Carrot Top’s father. My favorite Mike Douglas moment of all time? When Blue Oyster Cult lip-synced Burnin’ for You. While the publicity was probably good for them, they seemed to be having a Spinal Tap moment. I wish I could find it on YouTube somewhere.

It was a trip back in time to watch the DVD of his Moments and Memories. A great way to lull an old guy away from the Sunday morning insomnia. A word of warning to all dads though; beware the song at the end. It’s called ‘To all the Men in My Little Girl’s Life.’ Any guy with a daughter will have a hard time holding back the misties on this one. It’s a two-hankie song.

But, to leave you on an up-note of sorts, I will share a Totie Fields joke that made it past the censors back in the day:

Why do (people) eat beans on Saturday night?

So they can take a bubble bath Sunday morning.

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