I Dream of TV

As regular readers of this column can attest, I’m a member of the original TV generation. Through most of the seventies and the early eighties, I would spend my after school hours watching syndicated sitcoms while doing homework on the shag carpeted floor of our various apartments and mobile and stationary homes. Likewise, I passed a good many Saturdays delighting in the antics of Rocky and Bullwinkle, shaming the Really Rottens for cheating at the Laff-a-Lympics, and singing along with Schoolhouse Rock!

Since there were only four channels and one of them was PBS, there was no need for a remote. And since we had only one TV and I was the oldest kid in the family—not including the step siblings that came and went over the years—my two brothers had to suffer through whatever I wanted to watch or find something else to do.

One of the programs I devoured regularly was Gilligan’s Island. Seeing it now on TV Land—where the Jarhead is known to park the remote when Family Guy, American Dad, and The Big Bang Theory are off the air—I am moved to wonder what attracted me to it, but as a kid I found it the height of hilarity.

Like many people, I’ve wondered why Mr. and Mrs. Howell packed so many outfits for what was supposed to be a three-hour tour. I’ve also pondered how all seven of the castaways kept their hair so neat and tidy, and how the men were able to stay so clean shaven. Perhaps what baffled me the most, however, is that these people were smart enough to keep themselves clean and fed, and talented enough to avoid pregnancy despite the lack of modern contraception, but they couldn’t fashion a boat or other floatation device with which to transport one or more of them back to civilization.

Another one of my favorite shows as a kid was Bewitched. For the young and/or otherwise uninitiated, Bewitched featured a witch named Samantha Stephens and her advertising executive husband, Darrin. Like her counterpart, Jeanie, from I Dream of Jeanie, Samantha was not ‘allowed’ to use magic. Apparently Darrin Stephens and Major Nelson were far too noble and decent to exploit their partners’ superpowers and, thus, would rather have them slaving over a hot stove, poking their fingers with sewing needles, and driving sensible ugly cars than allow them to whip up meals or mend their clothes with the wrinkle of their nose, or conjure fabulous clothing and sporty convertibles with the blink of their eyes.

So there’s no confusion, let me state that if those were the options in my house, things would have been far different than they were at the Stephens’ place or Major Nelson’s home. In fact, I not only would use my powers to save time, energy, and money—so I could spend it feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless, of course—I would also use it to feed my ego and shelter my income from taxes. Overnight I would become the best-selling author of life-changing novels, and would cast spells on the IRS, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, and our township so that everyone would think I’d paid taxes on my imaginary earnings.

And unlike Darrin Stephens and Major Anthony Nelson, the Jarhead would be right there with me as I conjured groceries to fill the pantry, charmed the house into cleaning itself, and earned both critical acclaim and vast sums of money for my brilliant, award-winning books. That is because, along with the fully stocked pantry, the sparkling clean house, and the fantastic fame and fortune, would come a state of the art video gaming center, a limitless supply of his favorite scotch, beer, and cigars, and a personal recreation center complete with a rifle and pistol range.

Of this, Darrin Stephens and Major Nelson clearly would not approve. For some stupid reason, they would rather do things the hard way. So although Jeanie could have transported countless astronauts to the moon—or anywhere in the known universe—and back without spending millions of dollars or wasting thousands of gallons of fuel, Major Nelson would have sooner banished her to the bottle than tell anyone but Major Healy.

Of course, like the energy crisis and the AMC Gremlin, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeanie were products of their time. Back then, many men didn’t think women should have the right to work, vote or drive a car, so the idea of them having and using magical powers was bound to be a no-go. Knowingly allowing a woman to have and use magic to them would seem as dangerous as letting one have a gun or a bomb, only worse—because you wouldn’t need money, a permit or photo ID to get them.

Unlike Gilligan’s Island, I still find Bewitched—and I Dream of Jeanie—to be as funny now as I did when I was a kid. Perhaps that’s because I find it more amusing to watch a woman use her brain to get by in a sexist society than I do seeing seven castaways trying and failing to get off some stupid island.


Helpful Hints

If you’re like me, Sunday mornings consist of sitting down to a nice hot breakfast and reading a newspaper or two. Of course, I am always the one who cooks said breakfast, but the Jarhead does his part by feeding the cats, making the coffee, and retrieving the papers from the box outside. And while I’m serving up the flax jacks and bacon, he’ll set the table and divide the papers into two piles: One for him, and one for me.

His pile is always bigger but includes only this: Two complete sets of circulars and two complete sets of comics. Fortunately the papers are from two different publishers and represent two different cities, so there is little overlap in the contents of the funnies, and almost no duplicates within the stack of store advertisements. The smaller pile—my pile—may be where the meat is, but like a Subway sandwich, that portion is dwarfed in both weight and volume by the bread and filler in the Jarhead’s pile.

Among my favorite features of the papers are the advice columns, including Dear Abby and Hints from Heloise, which are currently run by the daughters of the women who originally started them. Now I don’t know if Tom and Ray Magliozzi—the Massachusetts brothers, also known as Click and Clack, who offer fun but factual advice on car care—had a mother who wrote about auto mechanics in her day, but I can’t help but feel disadvantaged as a writer since my mom passed away before she could set me up with a sweet gig as a syndicated columnist.

Despite my love for advice columns—which feature heavily in the plot of my novel, Unmatched, if you’ll forgive the shameless plug—I find the title Hints from Heloise a bit misleading. A hint, according to different sources, is a subtle, slight, or indirect indication; an insinuation, or a small trace of something. Thus, if Heloise is actually offering hints, her advice would be far less specific and much more like the clues offered by Alex Trebek on Jeopardy!

For example, instead of instructing readers to “lay a placemat over your keyboard to protect it from dust, dirt, and pet hair,” she might say, “to protect your keyboard from dust, dirt, and pet hair, you can place this everyday item over your keyboard.” Such a sentence would not only better suit the definition of a hint; it would also make for a more interesting column as readers wrote in with feedback pertaining to the success or failure of their answers, such as “What are mashed potatoes” or “What is a shower curtain.”

Alternatively, she might say, “Use this clear, odorless liquid to moisten your plants or rinse your dishes,” followed by either five boxes, five underlined spaces, or even a five-letter anagram, such as R W E T A. This would increase my enjoyment of her column by combining it with one of my other favorite features of the newspaper: the crossword puzzle.

I don’t just look to the newspaper for helpful tips—as I think Heloise’s advice should be called. I get them from books and TV as well. For example, I recently received a very helpful idea from the AMC series—and Diersen family obsession—Breaking Bad. Specifically, I learned that you can dispose of a body by dissolving it in hydrofluoric acid.

This notion, if you will, has since been debunked by the wonderful folks at Myth Busters, and by a handful of chemistry experts online—one of whom offered perchloric acid as a more effective alternative. This advice, were it to be expressed as a hint, might be phrased as, “To dispose of a dead body, place the deceased in a large plastic bin, and cover with this superacid, which is can also be used to etch chrome, and to produce rocket fuel.”

Not that I have any need to dispose of a dead body; but neither do I have any plans to lay a placemat over my keyboard.