Tag Archive: entertainment

While we were overseas, there was very little to do in life during the evenings. We had our old black & white TV which offered up two channels – in German. There was nothing like watching Hoss from Ponderosa ride up on his horse exclaiming: “Vas is los!”.  And I like how they packed all their commercials at the end, and like sweets, sprinkled a little cartoon between them.

But what really saved us was Armed Forces Radio – and a reel-to-reel tape player that my dad had gotten in Thailand to record missionary spiels on.  In that collection of endlessly boring and droning voices was a tape of Bill Cosby’s earlier shows, the ones he’d done while he was young, and, I guess, touring for the G.I.’s on duty over there.

By this time – the time we’d found the tape – I was suffering from some pretty bad depression.  Shifting from base to base, living on American military bases in a foreign nation; no friends I could count, nobody to know me – or I them, and no time to do it anyway before we’d be separated, yanked apart . . .

I read books, I counted time till “the end” when we would return to Stateside (and I wasn’t the only kid doing this!) – usually bored nearly out of my mind, especially during the winter months when night started earlier – we’d sit and listen to those tapes, their contents unwinding from one reel to another, laughing at Bill Cosby’s outrageous stories of Fat Albert, Suicide Hill, and the Chicken Heart.  How I loved that tape!  It was double sided, and long.  We’d get lost inside those stories, watching the cop’s cuff’s slide off those kids signs, imagining rubber baby wheels gone, and home-built carts with those wheels.

He saved me.

There were times when, despite being 13, I had developed a cynical mind. I’d seen too much already: I knew about sex and gunfire, I had squatted and eaten with the  G.I.’s.  I’d ridden tanks and learned to fire machine guns; I’d learned survival.  I was reading ten to twenty novels a week, and could march 20 kilometers at a time.

I was hurt inside by the loss of my friends, and being stuck in a foreign land.  I had withstood school bomb threats (new to my experience), grown tired of the racism (something I couldn’t understand, but which had recently occurred to me).  My family – a shattered one at best, each individual plodding along as best they could, nobody for someone else.  You were expected to make it on your best bet, your best decision.  Your emotions were up to you, and it was up to you to control them – or at the very least, not express them to anyone . . .

In three years I had gone from an open, happy-go-lucky kind of child (“Gregorius”, my mom had called it) to a silent kid.  I’m sure I appeared sullen some of the time, but it was merely watching, mixed with a growing depression.  I kept on having nightmares all the time – not just the ‘normal’ ones (I had nightmares for 48 years) – but nightmares about what I feared was coming. A returning to something new with everything I had known gone.  The ‘end’ was approaching, our tour was fast running down.  And I knew it.

And I wanted to kill myself before the end.

And I can kinda blame Bill Cosby for reversing that when I’d get desperate,  feeling so bad . . . I’d kinda want to go bury myself in a road and let some tank run over me, take one of those .30 caliber rounds and set it off pointed at my head – do something stupid, something to get rid . . . of me.  End a deepening misery I could not understand nor articulate.  I guess I didn’t know anything was wrong – but felt it.  Hell, I was just a kid.    I suppose Debbie kinda helped me with that, in the end.

But nothing helped like putting that old Bill Cosby tape on and listening, doubling up with laughter again.  Interspersing it with some Armed Forces radio shows (“Suspense”, “The Shadow”, etc) we’d find ourselves coming back to that long reel-to-reel in the end.  It helped settle some of the violence in me that was struggling to come out, easing my on-coming rage issues (both inside and out), helped keep the depression and that tearing sense of loneliness – one that was growing every day – ever since I’d lost my best friend over there even worse . . .

and I had forgotten how to cry anymore.

I had done that when I was 13 – once.

After that it was all kept bottled inside.  For over forty-five years plus.

The Magic Box

The Magic Box

When I was a kid, TV was a miraculous thing. We weren’t allowed to watch much TV, and for the most part we didn’t miss it. Cartoons only came on Saturday morning; none of this “Cartoon Channel” and Nick specials that run 24/7 like today.  And we were only allowed to watch an hour or two of cartoons before we were shooed outside like so many annoying flies to go play in the woods or chase each other in ever tightening circles. “War” was one of our most favorite games; building forts another.  (More on that later, in some other post . . . for we were a warrior’s child, and raised and bred for war, it appears . . .)

“Johnny Quest” was one of my favorite cartoons, and “Gentle Ben”, “Danial Boone”, and “Flipper” were standard fare.  How I wanted to become like that boy with the dolphins! – and yes, I fell in love with him.  There were “The Monkeys”, and the wild psychedelic children’s show, “The Banana Splits”.  You can’t tell me those guys weren’t stoned!  I remember (faintly) episodes of “The Laugh-in” and how much I loved Cher.

But there is a HUGE hole in my TV viewing history, courtesy of being overseas for years. There was no “American” TV – only poorly dubbed American shows featuring “Hoss” from Bonanza riding up and yelling “Vas ist los heir?”. And there weren’t one-hundred and thirty two channels to choose from; there were only two, with a fuzzy UHF channel if you were lucky. And there was no color, only black and white. My parents didn’t buy a color TV until the mid-70’s.

When a black and white TV show comes on today, I tell any children watching that “this is from before we invented color.  It used to be the world was black, white, and gray.  Then we discovered color.  And that’s why the films are that way.”  The look of amazement is well worth it as they stretch their imaginations . . . and regard me with something like awe . . .

Watching the old movies, I’ve come to realize something. Back in the old days, it was the story that mattered.  Not the special effects – unless you count the clay-mation effects of “Jason and the Argonauts”, and stuff like that.  Many of today’s stories just rehash old stuff, albeit they may throw in a twist or two, courtesy of CGI. But it seems nowadays they rely too much on flashing lights and motion (“look at the pretty colors, children!” I often say – albeit with a hint of contempt – as my grandchildren cease to play and stare in bland fascination at the TV screen – no matter what may be on . . .)

I’m not saying great films aren’t still made; they are. But in the old days the directors relied on their own creative juices and their actor’s skills along with a heft sprinkle of a viewer’s imagination and their own artistic eye – not CGI and a computer programmer’s skill at manipulating pixels. (I’ve done that work before.)  They had to find or build REAL scenery to suit their story; not a green screen (which used to be a blue screen).  There were no computer renderings afterward, no ‘touch up’ and after-effects.  They had to rely on having a story which grabbed the audience, not a bunch of flashing lights and booming sound to grab their audiences’ eyes.

I never got to see “Red Skelton”, the comedy show – it came on at bedtime, and bedtime was strictly enforced by my parents. Having seen some of his shows since then, I can’t say that I really missed it – I don’t much care for his brand of humor – but I remember my brother and I lurking in the hallway, peeping around the corner, trying to see what was going on. It didn’t take but once or twice before we’d be shooed back to our bedroom permanently – you didn’t disobey my parents for long, or else you’d suffer the consequences, and those were never very pretty.

The night of the moonshot, when Armstrong first set foot on the moon – even that night was difficult. It happened long after our bedtime, but I KNEW something special was going on – something I didn’t want to miss – and fortunately I didn’t miss that one. By begging and wheedling, coming out of my bedroom every five or ten minutes (and getting a few spankings along the way) – I managed to watch that historic moment. It cost me in bruises, but it was well worth it.

I can barely remember when Kennedy got shot – I was such a young child at the time – but I remember well the grownups reactions – milling around, their confusion infecting me, since I didn’t know what they were so upset about – but well I remember sitting in front of the TV, watching it with them, and hearing the cries of upset all around.

One movie – or actually two – I remember REAL well, for they were to haunt my childhood nighttime, filling every corner with terror, every shadow with fear.

One was the classic everyone has heard of. “The Blob”. The other, a less heard of movie – “H-Man”. Both about the same sort of thing: a being that could slip under doors, through the narrowest cracks, and lurk, dripping down from the shadows.

For years my bedroom was a place of terror after the lights went out. My parents were firm – hard, actually – and they were determined to harden us. No night lights were allowed, no open door to let the hall light in. And in the darkness I would watch, the covers drawn up to my chin, waiting for the shadows to move. “H-Man” – so thin and oily that he could fit between two sheets of paper, and “The Blob”, thick and gelatinous, able to squeeze under the crack of my door. And sooner or later the shadows would start to move in my child’s imagination, terrifying me. And you didn’t cry out at night, not for anything. As young children my brother and I had both learned better. Cries in the night would only bring you pain; real pain when my parents came in, either my father bearing a belt, or my mom her wooden spoon. Those terrors were more real than any we could imagine; despite our imaginations, we’d rather the monsters eat us than have our parents come in.

Young minds are easily affected; I’ve seen that with my own kids, and now they have kids of their own. They believe so much of what they see on TV, taking it all in as “real”. I had to comfort my grandson when we watched the zombies attack, reassuring him that this was all ‘make believe’, and those were actors in suits getting eaten (or run over by buses) – and no more real than “Spongebob Squarepants”. My daughter believed that the world used to BE black and white before she was born; that what I had said about the TV was true. And TV emphasizes so much of what is bad, so little of what is good – and sometimes I think we adults fall into the same trap.

I don’t see kids running around in the woods anymore; no one playing in the street. Here it is, the middle of summer, and all those kids are inside – watching that TV, playing their video games, and imagining that they are socializing through the internet and its chat rooms. Social media has had a great impact on everyone and their attitudes, their outlooks, and judgment of the risks (however real or imagined). In some ways this has been beneficial, helping to reduce prejudice, right injustices, and spread knowledge. But in other ways it has made us more fearful – we believe too much of what we see. For every ‘missing child’ case there are ten thousand kids who never went missing, and if there were as many murders in ‘real life’ as they show on TV none of us would ever set foot outside (or at least not unarmed!). Media shapes society now; of all the influences, it is the greatest one, especially visual media. And media is getting increasingly visual, yielding faster, greater impact – not just here in the United States, but all over the world. It can be ‘the great equalizer’ – but it can also be a subtly persuasive tool in the hands of manipulative politicians – or movie directors. The media influences our thoughts, our actions, our beliefs, our morals, our decisions. I know it has influenced mine. But how many people, I wonder, actually question what they see with what is real; make accurate risk assessments versus assessments based upon TV reality shows – which often depict reality in a very different scale than what it really is. I’ve seen so much ‘false science’ on TV that I’ve had to laugh – while being sickened, knowing that too many people believe what they see – and how the perceptions of risk have change from ‘real risk’ to ‘imagined risk’ – the root of real risk analysis, and how people regard the world around them. It hasn’t always been for the good.

I know things in the future are going to be different; I have no problem with that. Media is going to get more ‘personal’, more immersive, blurring the distinction between perceived reality and reality itself. We are in the midst of one of the greatest social experiments of all time, using ourselves as the guinea pigs – and it is happening all over the world. There’s a lot of places it can take us. But sometimes I wonder where we are going.


Army Day: Armed Forces Day

Army Day

“Army Day.” That’s what us kids called it. I suppose for Air Force kids it’s “Air Force Day”, or in the Marines “Marine Day” – or maybe even “Daddy Day”, though in these days “Momma Wears Combat Boots Day” might be more applicable.  But in reality it was Armed Forces Day, a day to pay tribute to men and women who serve the United States’ armed forces.  But for us kids – especially us military kids – it was something different.  It was a chance to play with the toys of war.

All us kids would pile into the car – a Ford Grand Torino station wagon with it’s prerequisite nineteen-sixties V-8 (289 up under the hood; my dad didn’t know what he was doing). There was a backseat which would fold up or down depending upon the circumstances – allowing the back seat passengers to see where they’d been instead of where they were going. It was good for that sometimes. I often got tired of ‘seeing where we were going’ and would camp out in back of that station wagon instead – falling asleep while we crossed endless roads on our way out west to see our grandmas.

But this time it was “Army Day” – or as it is more appropriately called, “Armed Forces Day”. This is the day when the military invites civilians and their families – as well as all the military dependents they can raise – to come and see what they are doing with their tax dollars. And they were mighty fun – for some. Not everyone knew what they were getting into when they went on some of the rides. You might find yourself sliding down a wire in a parachute harness from a tall tower – or getting rattled around in some tank like a can of nuts in a paint shaker. You might get to shoot a machine gun or two; inspect weapons, climb around. There were always plenty of young soldiers to ‘give you the tour’ – whether that was assisting you in some tank or out of it. There were plenty of bumps and bruises to go around among the unarmed and uninformed civilians; us Army kids knew better. Tank rides were fun – as long as you held on tight to something inside. However, when the thing really got to moving – with about a dozen squealing children inside – because, you know, children can have much fun doing anything that is unique and special to them – the ride would get a lot rougher. We’d go pitching over those tank courses, everyone hanging on – and there was always one G.I. in there to keep an eye on us and yell “hang on!” over the tank’s roaring bellow and the clatter of iron against iron. The treads would spin – the tank would spin and rock on some hummock, or dive into a ditch, throwing us around – and then would launch itself in another new direction, turret swinging and motors grunting.

It was great fun. At least for us kids. But I know some of us came out crying some of the time. Sometimes they gave us helmets to wear – crew helmets, the big ones with the visors and things – but our heads were much too small, and their mighty weight kept our heads bobbing and wobbling like Weebles on steroids, independent of our own body and control.

The parachute jumps were the best; the most fun and one of the more popular things around.  First you’d climb up some tower where there’d be a line of kids (and some grownups) waiting. Then you would wait your turn – slowly shuffling forward, heels against toes, your own toes against the heels of someone else. Sometimes you had to climb a ladder; sometimes it was just footpegs set up a telephone pole. Sometimes the tower was a brace of telephone poles strapped together in a triangle; sometimes it was something else: a metal hut set way up high in the sky. Either way you’d come to the top eventually – your armpits sweating, the kids crowding close – their butts in your groin; their sweat running down on top of you, yours on someone else. The hot air was usually thick and cloying with the smell of canvas, rope and things. And then they’d bring the harness.

The harness was the same one the troopers used to parachute with, complete with all the rigging, sans parachute. You’d be given complete instructions on using the thing. Here is where the ripcord would go; here’s the emergency chute; here’s how to take it out, here’s how to know when. Here’s where your altimeter would go – you want to pull the cord at about 500 feet; no less, or else you might go crashing into the earth if your primary chute failed. There wouldn’t be time to open the other one it was tersely explained . . . but they made it clear: sometimes you could – and would – be opening come 10,000 feet, sometimes under 300 – it all depended upon the mission you were on. Later on it was explained to me (and this comes from some hidden – and therefore to me not credible – ‘recovered’ memory pile) – that we would be opening around 500 to 300 if trouble were to come. (This was later, overseas, in my different ‘career’ or perhaps even a ‘person’ inside of me.)

But these days . . . they were fun; hot and sweaty. We’d be in that tower, our static line all hooked up, nervously waiting – the kids all in a row. Instead of being connected to our parachute the static line was connected to our overhead harness – the one you normally grip while you are floating – and the end of the thing, instead of triggering the chute to open, was tied off to a pulley on a steel cable which was stretched from the tower’s opening to the ground. And it was a long way away.

We’d line up there – the kids disappearing one by one in front of me until it was my turn to go. Gritting my teeth against the drop (the parachute harness was always chaffing my legs; right in between them where the safety snap / harness would go) – I would hang on until the instructor instructed me that it was time to jump.

“Hang on!” he would yell at me. (The military spends a lot of time yelling and shouting and things; a very excitable group sometimes!). “Yell ‘Geranimo’ as you go!” And with that there’d either be a firm shove in my back – or as I later learned – to simply step out and get going.

I remember watching one of my friends – a civilian friend – take that leap of faith. It was his first time, and he was really nervous about the whole thing. Our family and his stood below to watch his first try, all of us holding our breath and guessing if he’d do this thing – but the thing was, once you started, there was no backing out. No climbing down the tower was allowed. You either went up and came down on the line (think ‘zip-lines’ nowadays, but in some ways it was quite different) – or you didn’t go up at all. Not one bit.

The thing was . . . Ben (that was his name) sorta wanted to try it – until he got up there all alone and found out what it was all about.

Funny how things look much taller when you’re on the top of them than when you’re looking from the ground. As my friend certainly discovered.

With a banshee like yell – one that drew the attention of the whole crowd – he leaped screaming into the air – legs kicking, arms flailing – then finding those cords – and hanging on for dear life. He rocketed down (you always rocket down; that’s what these things are made for – which is why you bend your knees at the end and hope to god you don’t run into the telephone pole at the end – which happened more than just one time. The thing is, these things were designed for grown men – and there were kids playing on them. As a result the ‘hill’ that you were supposed to be landing on (usually it was just a dirt mound) – was a little short of our little legs whereas a grown man would have had no trouble putting his feet down and ‘landing’ carefully – flexing in just the right position and rolling around like you are supposed to.

Instead us kids would go rocketing down – bypassing that hill by simply floating over it (legs flexed, ready to catch the ground that was coming, or flailing and unprepared) – and sail on by the G.I.s stationed there to catch us – and smack into the pole. Sometimes they caught us by the legs as we were coming down, throwing you into a twirl that left your head spinning, your guts caught in twisting straps, harness braiding itself in circles and some sweaty G.I.’s alternating between cursing between their teeth and holding their breath lest someone brain himself on that pole. It happened sometime. I remember once where some adult cold-cocked himself – just smacked into that pole like a lump of coal, snapping his head forward and smacking it with his face – mostly his forehead. He went down like a dead sack of meat, the harness all tangled around him. The G.I.’s rushed in to untangle him and revive him – I remember seeing him sitting there in one of those old folding steel chairs, sweating and looking sick and pale with a paper cup of water leaning in his limp hand. But it was no big deal to me. I just looked as I walked on by – in line. It was part of the fun; the military adventure. A bit of a taste of the real thing. And I’m sure it impressed some civilians. As for me? Unimpressed for the most part, it was just having fun. Like when the fair comes to town and you get to go. Only this fair was about army things and army ways – and how to use them.

We learned a lot in those days – I was five years old to ten years old, and we kept on going. I miss them some of the time – those military exercises, the tanks roaring around, everyone having a grand old time – seeing all the new weapons, handling the old; learning how to arm bombs, throw grenades, detonate mines (and how to make them!). We did a lot of those things . . . and later on perhaps some more. I really don’t know. Some of this stuff comes off the ‘recovered memory’ pile – some stuff that happened that I’m not sure about, including whether it happened at all. And I’m sure “Armed Forces Day” has tamed down a good bit (at least from what I heard). I guess the fear of lawyers got too loud. After all, some of those things were dangerous – but that was part of the fun. You were in the Army now – at least for one day – and seeing how it was done. It seemed only natural that there should be some risk in the thing – and we knew what we were doing. We were taking a chance and having faith that the G.I.s were going to protect us while showing us what they do. Which they did.

Time and time again.

Armed Forces Day: Saturday, May 19, 2012.

Mark your calendar.  Make some time.  Take your family.  Military or otherwise – if you live near a base you should visit to see, celebrate, and help support your troops.  Trust me – they guys (and gals) are happy to see you – and you help make their day.  I know.  I’ve been there, done that.  I used to love these ‘shows’ from both ends – when I was in the Marines and as a child.  So go see what your soldiers are doing; experience some of the thrills.  Take your kids.  I guarantee they’ll won’t forget it any time soon, and rest assured – these guys know what they’re doing, so you are safe.  Their job is to take care of you, and they’re good at their job.  You never know . . . you might just find you and your family taking an Apache ride – or coasting in a fancy new tank (I hear they’ve got shock absorbers on them now, LOL!) – or just learning more about the guys who have made your way of life possible – each and every day.

It’s your military – and a lot of young guys and gals – the ones who couldn’t ‘escape’ this duty – will be there.  Make their day happier, better and brighter by showing that you care.  By simply being there, taking an interest.  Ask them questions – not just about their jobs, but their lives.  You might be surprised to find not only are they just friendly – but they, too, are lonely some of the time.  And you being there?  Makes all the difference sometime.  Just knowing our citizens care.

Oo-Rah! Simper Fi and all that mess.  Now time to get some chow . . .