"Shut your mouth and sit still, you look like a retard..."
That's dad, he's reading the paper. I'm watching Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory . Christmas Day, 1973. Mom's fixing dinner. I had a habit of rocking back and forth, breathing through my mouth while watching TV.
To Dad, the shoe salesman, outward conformity was an obsession. We lived way out by the airport on the North East side, in a middle class suburb. Always on the verge of losing it financially, trying to keep our status in the consumption treadmill; the typical living above your means/credit spiral left Dad over-stressed and mean. The only group activity was television. We were miles from the trailer trash, but the distance to me didn't seem too far in the mentality department.
Yeah, maybe I've got too much chlorine in the gene pool, but we're talking suburbia in the early seventies. Television became just the cheap sensation I needed to keep me from a fatal depression. So I wrapped myself up in this fantasy, inventing whole worlds for my TV friends to live in. At night, trying to fall asleep, I would make guest appearances in these scenarios. My imaginary cross-pollination of situations and characters were unique hybrids, and often carried over into my dreams. I was often a biker and my biker babe was always a mousy/librarian Sandy Duncan type. I was losing it.
Especially during the winter school break. The general mania of the holidays made the folks as pliable as an overcooked noodle. As long as I didn't bum down the house I could zone in front of tube all day and night. Every TV series had an episode with a holiday "message" that felt friendly and warm. Holiday specials were quasi-religious over-sentimentalized filler, which I liked. I thought God was cool, and felt he was somehow responsible for TV. I wanted to be a sort-of religious biker when I grew up.
My therapist says I'm doing some very good work in uncovering these "repressed memories". I still have years I can't account for, false memories that were programmed into my mind by TV. It took three years and more than three thousand dollars to remember what a fucked-up childhood I had. All along I thought it had been just plain idyllic. Honestly. Before, I sort of pictured myself up in tree houses singing, riding motorbikes up dirt hills, sneaking into movies and stealing candy. It turns out I saw all that stuff on TV in the second grade. No wonder it's so hard for me to order a cup of coffee.
As I said before, Christmas was my time of year. Here are some of the favorite Holiday Specials of a recovering W junkie:
A Charlie Brown Christmas
The saddest, most depressing tale ever. Even the Vince Guaraldi music is downbeat. The offspring of the kite-eating tree is a deformed dwarf that can't even hold up one single Christmas tree bulb. How sad. Charlie Brown, in one of his most stirring performances, adopts the pathetic shrub, allowing Linus to deliver one of his "brick wall sermons". Neat. I must've watched this 60 times.
It's a Wonderful Life
Isn't it? "Every time a bell rings an angel gets their wings." That always made me cry, because everyone in that scene is crying; even the angel who got his wings. Whatever that means. They used to call it Capra-com. Today, you can only find this level of sentimentality in a Saturn commercial. Some band calls themselves "Zuzu's Petals" I saw it on a flyer.
Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer
A classic from the great Saul Bass, who got into film production after designing some of the all-time best film titles ever (he's still at it - he did Scorsese's Casino). That Abominable Snowmonster used to scare the bajesus outta me. You know the story - bright nose, no reindeer games, etc. After Rudolf's success, Saul did Frosty the Snowman and The Little Drummer Boy. They were okay, but no Christmas was complete to me without checking this one out again. Burl Ives singing and voice-overs will never be matched. A non-secular delight.
The Walton's Christmas Special
I think the Walton's existed as a sort of a massive attempt for white America to empathize with the Negro condition. Every Walton's special got harder and harder to watch as their hardships and problems became more and more devastating. John-Boy, the family philosopher, would attempt to make sense of the Walton's devastation, but what hope is there if the world's against you? Will Geer was a gem.
A Very Brady Christmas (1990)
This special reunited the whole cast (except for Cindy) for the first time since the ill-conceived Brady's Variety Hour. All a bunch of yuppie-scum, I knew they'd turn out that way. Robert Reed looks nearly dead, yet in the "climax" he miraculously gets the strength to escape from a collapsing building by lifting a thousand ton I-beam off his legs (then running out), because the "bunch" is singing O'Come All Ye Faithful real loud. A Sherwood "The Putz" Schwartz production.
Christmas Variety Shows
Back in the day, you weren't a star unless you had your own Christmas show. Sonny & Cher, Avery Shreiber, Andy Williams, The Hudson Brothers, you name 'em. Fake snow, classic songs and "special guests", those were the days ... I'm just an old fuddy-duddy, I guess. Also, I remember a special about a ghetto kid who befriends a little homeless cat and harbors him from all the cruel elements and feeds him stolen tuna, you remember that one? I loved that show...