Sunday, November 18, 2012

"This world is awfully big..."

When I was growing up, Saturday night was a very fun night for TV. My older siblings and I would watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnett Show in succession. My parents went out to dinner virtually every Saturday night of my adolescence (and beyond), usually returning as The Carol Burnett Show was starting, smiling tipsily as they joined us in watching it. (Once in a while they'd come back early enough to watch The Bob Newhart Show, but, in adherence to some sort of suburban cosmic law, the episode would never be a particularly funny one.) In my memory, I slot episodes of M*A*S*H and All in the Family into these long nights of television enjoyment, but a quick perusal of the network television schedules of that era proves my memories suspect. As in, that usual suspect.

Reach for that future, Mary!
The Mary Tyler Moore Show went off the air in 1977, and around the time of its final episode (March 19) I was hanging out with one of my older brothers in our driveway. I loved the theme song to the show, especially the little drum fill in the opening bars before the proper melody begins. I used to hum the song to myself on the way to school and back, out playing in the yard or on my bike, dumm-dumm-ing that cool drum part out loud. It occurred to me that soon I was going to hear that drumming for the last time in my life. I told my brother that I couldn't wait for it and he told me, in suitably Older Sibling Unkindness, that he was going to talk out loud over that part so that I'd miss it.

The agony! (My brother knew what he was doing.) My last opportunity to hear that drum fill! I was despondent. (I can't remember whether or not my brother did what he so villainously promised; Dali: "The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant." This jewel, though, I've lost for good.) In retrospect, I was also silly because within months of The Mary Tyler Moore Show's final airing the show would begin its assault on our afternoons via syndication; at one point, channel 5, the local Washington D.C. NBC affiliate station, was airing up to three episodes in a row in daytime, under clustered themes such as "Lou's Lu-Lu's!" But at my age I didn't really understand reruns, where they came from, who was in charge of them, why they happened —if they'd happen—except that Get Smart! and My Three Sons were great and we were blessed when they were beamed into our rec rooms every afternoon, the broadcasts originating from far-away Baltimore caught, tenuously, by a movable antenna on our roof that we activated from a console atop our TV set.

What's striking about that boy on the driveway and the misery his older brother created is how utterly archaic the tableau has become. Even my childish waiting for the inevitable reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show involved, well, waiting, and for who knew how long I'd have to wait! I've written before about this blend of anguish and pleasure, and how that's lost in this century, or anyway so changed as to be unrecognizable. In Plutarch's "Consolation To His Wife," written in the first century, the philosopher and his wife have to stoically bear weeks and months as their missives to each other arrive, awash in their grief of losing their small child. Try and imagine such an interval as you and your loved one are forced to deal separately with a loss of that magnitude. Now, when something—virtually anything—happens in, say, the remote countryside of France, I can know about it within seconds. This is, of course, both a staggering and, by now, not terribly fresh development. We're all aware at the hyper speed by which we live our lives, but none of us can understand the implications of it. Waiting as a fact, as a condition of being alive, as a kind of simmering that allows desire and anticipation and fear and regret and imagination to steep as their maddening flavor profile matures, has virtually been eliminated from contemporary life. Will we ever come to regret this organic, inevitable leap into the narrowing gap between seconds, minutes?


The Internet would have allowed that pathetic kid in his driveway to listen to and love the theme song anytime he wanted, as many times as he wanted. And the web might've rendered impotent his older brother's teasing. This is what I had no access to in 1977:


Anonymous said...

great post.

I remember tormenting my 2 years younger brother in a similar way. He was nuts about the song "The Rapper" by the Jaggerz and he patiently waited for WLS to play the song. As soon as they did I recall taking the portable radio from him, turning it off and running through the house with him in hot pursuit. What makes us do such things?

bob in Peoria

Joe Bonomo said...

The less-better angels of our nature.