I Had a Feeling That I Was Missing Out

I eventually made it to a few Hollywood parties.

Having recently read an account of Puritan life in 17th-century Massachusetts, I have greater respect for my childhood. I tended to pout about life in the country, and felt I was missing out on a great deal. Not that an elementary school student could get into Manhattan night clubs or phone up a studio to get a film role, but I walked around with the ominous feeling that I was missing out on an interesting life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my anxiety was partly Madison Avenue’s fault.

Saturday morning advertisements had me convinced that I should be swinging from a rope into a creek while holding a can of Mountain Dew. Honeycomb cereal left me feeling that I needed my own clubhouse, but as the only child still at home and living miles from my closest friends, I can’t think who would’ve been in my club. Shasta commercials showed a group of cowboys sitting around a campfire and strumming guitars while drinking one of their many cola flavors. When I suggested such a trail ride, I was told I could do more work around the place or help one of our paunchy tobacco-chewing relatives with his cattle. I was appalled. Our people were the furthest thing from a Central Casting cowboy, and I’d not seen a single one of them strumming a guitar by a fire!

As I got older and left Saturday cartoons, I discovered variety shows and the occasional old movie on TV. The audacious characters on the screen were nothing like the adults in my life. The performers seemed so young, and when I found out later that they were anywhere from two to twenty years older than my parents, I couldn’t believe it! My dad had never once in his life tap-danced with my mother as she dressed in a sequin-trimmed tuxedo. They had never waltzed together or told jokes. Carol Burnett was older than my dad, and she was zany! I was even more convinced that life in Middle America somehow extracted any traces of what I considered to be glamour.

I’ve never been certain if there was an official campaign to dissuade me of the notion that a coastal existence was preferable to our way of life, but I sensed there was an ongoing promotion of wholesome values along with some mild character assassination regarding the people I watched on TV. Phyllis Diller kept us laughing, but someone would get around to mentioning her wild hairstyles. There was certainly unpredictability in that! Elizabeth Taylor would appear on one of the channels, and I’d be reminded of her marriages. Nope! No stability for her. When Laugh-In was on, I’d be told that Jo Anne Worley was too crazy to be believed. The show’s party segments were just too wild to be considered, and people didn’t go around throwing water on others even though I had a list of people I’d like to hose down.

I don’t recall on which variety special that I discovered Mae West, but it might have been a Dean Martin Roast. She was probably a bit too racy for Bob Hope’s audience, and I was never much of a fan of his. Give me Dean Martin’s cocktail-swilling crowd any old day. My first exposure to Mae West was when she was about 81. As Tammy Wynette sang, “…If you like ’em painted up, powdered up, then you’re gonna be glad…” Miss West was girded up, tightened up, and propped up for her appearance. In her familiar drawl, she spouted a few of her famous old punch-lines, but they were brand new to me. I was gobsmacked, and I wanted to see more!

For those who grew up before the Internet, we only had encyclopedias if we wanted to find out more about a particular subject. Even though Mae West had been around since the late 19th-century when Queen Victoria was at the end of her life, I instinctively knew that this was one American that didn’t make it into World Book or The American International Encyclopedia. Just to be sure, I confirmed that there were no interesting entries between Wesleyan Methodists and Westchester County where she would have appeared had the editors possessed a single ounce of appreciation for a vulgar old vaudevillian.

I couldn’t stop repeating those hilarious lines. When the straight man in her act said, “My goodness those are lovely furs” and Mae responded, “Honey, my goodness had nothing to do with it!” this twelve year-old was rolling in the floor. “It’s not the men in your life, but the life in your men” left me breathless. I don’t think they aired the one about one leg being Christmas and the other New Year’s as Mae issued a standing invitation to visit her between the holidays. But anything she said had me roaring while wondering why I hadn’t seen this bawdy beauty before.

My mother was on the sofa and my dad read the paper in his chair as I sprawled on the floor. This divine creature was made up like Ru Paul and saying the most shocking things. I have no doubt that my parents sensed trouble ahead. It wouldn’t be long before I forgot my Sunday School lessons and filled my head with racy one-liners written by a woman old enough to be their grandmother.

“Isn’t she hilarious?” I asked.

My mother didn’t miss a beat. “She’s nothing but an old prostitute!”

That shut me up. I recognized the tone, which indicated there was no point in arguing. I knew full well what a prostitute was. They showed up in Sunday School lessons occasionally and had some of the most interesting scenes in the Bible. Well, if that is what Mae West is, as far as I was concerned, it certainly didn’t dim her star. If anything, I was even more convinced that people in California and New York were having fun without me.

© 2020 by Patrick Brown

I eventually lived in Los Angeles, and drove daily past Mae West’s former apartment building in Hollywood. To learn more about me, check my bio page on this site. For my books, including the three crime thrillers featuring Maggie Lyon, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1



Ad Costs of a Free Press

To be honest, I gave up on television news a long time ago. It started about the time that I read an article stating that Americans were going to see news programs designed more as entertainment than hard-hitting journalism. We had been seeing this in morning television, which has always had the reputation of being lighter. The stigma must be true as so many hosts have fled or have tried to flee from their friendly sofas to those coveted evening anchor chairs.

Cable news gets accused of abusing the term “breaking news,” and this wolf-crying technique has trickled down to local news stations. It’s difficult enough to watch local news at its designated times, especially in Los Angeles, without frequent interruptions throughout the day to announce that they’ve learned nothing more about the high-speed chaser, the shooter, the missing hiker, the armed standoff or the kidnapped kid.

Rather than bother us with nothing to report, how about returning to an earlier style of journalism where reporters find out who, what, how, where, when and why, write it up and report it at an agreed upon time, say at 6:00 and 11:00 each evening?

As we have it now, with reporters who look like fashion models, it’s like having a glamorous friend who goes to the scene and Skypes with you while describing everything that’s not going on while getting the opinions of the people walking by. The passerby on last night’s news who arrived at the beach right after a sheet was draped over a dead body is probably a very nice person, but what does her opinion about the arrival of the coroner’s van have to do with the story? And we could’ve done without her speculation as to the cause of death when her statement began with “I don’t know, but…”

Then there are the anchors in the studio. I have serious doubts about the quality of news when it looks like one of the Real Housewives of Wherever has dropped by the station to take a seat behind the desk. Last night’s anchor was wearing a silk number with spaghetti straps and darts so pronounced that it appeared her bosom was reporting the low temperature of the studio. Could it be that she had just come from a very elegant pool party in Beverly Hills in time to present the news?

And on the subject of physical appearance, if you don’t live in Los Angeles, you should see our weather girls. There are a few meteorologists still checking the Southern California skies, but the majority have been replaced with former lingerie models whose only qualification for the jobs is having mastered the difficulty of working with a green screen. A recent visitor from out of state exclaimed that you would never see someone giving the weather report in a miniskirt and a Wonder Bra where she lives!

Los Angeles weather is very much the same, so constantly hearing about clear skies, ocean breezes and a high of 75 requires bare thighs and prominent cleavage to break up the monotony of our unchanging weather. I grew up in Tornado Alley where a girl doing the weather dressed in a tight outfit would’ve caused the demise of an entire county by not hearing her say to get in the cellar.

Looking at floats from the Pasadena Rose Parade on a beautifully clear day.

Looking at floats from the Pasadena Rose Parade on a beautifully clear day.

Of course, it must be said that Los Angeles has its share of bad weather. About four times each winter, the clouds roll in from the Pacific Ocean, and we feel the first sprinkles of a winter rain if we’re lucky. An overcast day is uncommon enough that you turn on the TV to see Stormwatch, Stormcenter, Mega Doppler or some other indicator that the Great Flood is coming and you didn’t build an ark. TV stations send vans of reporters all over the county to various points to check the weather conditions. The reporters for these non-stories are usually rookies or veterans who’ve upset management. One reporter who had an affair with an interview subject found herself donning rubber boots and a parka as she sat in a van in the mountains hoping to see a few snowflakes on a cold, damp night.

Before smartphones brought us the five-day weather forecast and traffic report at the push of a button, I relied on early morning local news. I gave up when it finally dawned on me that I would get more information if I took the anchors’ advice and visited their website. They weren’t lying. There were stories about things we’d never hear of on TV.

I returned to morning TV news just once more to compare what they had online to what they gave us during their 30-minute program. I turned on the news just after the top of the hour. I’d missed the headlines and was given the traffic report at 6:12 a.m. That was not particularly useful for me at that early hour, but I hung on for the weather. The girl whose vintage miniskirt indicated that she was honoring a Haigh-Ashbury love-in came on the screen to tell me that she would provide me with full weather details upon returning from commercial break. Why couldn’t she tell me right then?

More than five minutes of commercials, and the anchors came on to give a rundown of the morning’s headlines, which I’d missed. That was nice of them, and then we could get on with the weather. What? Another commercial break? Was I watching a show about TV commercials that was being interrupted by the news?

Another five minutes passed in which I learned the best places to buy new cars, mattresses, flooring and amusement park tickets (Disneyland is promoted by ABC and Universal Studios by NBC). The anchors appeared on the screen mid-banter as if I’d interrupted their best stories at a cocktail party. “Oh, you’re back again,” they had probably wanted to say. “We gave you the headlines already. You want weather? Fine.”

The weather girl came on the screen, turned to a flattering angle, and told me that I could expect a “change in the weather.” When might I find out the details? “When we come back!” If watching channel five, a commercial tells me to read the LA Times. Both are part of the same company, so this comes as no surprise. Following the next commercial break, the bantering anchors appeared to be focused on something. Could Breaking News preempt the actual news?

“I just posted pictures of me participating at the fun-run last weekend,” said the female anchor. “I’ve already got forty likes! Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!” I felt as though I’d interrupted a slumber party for teen girls, but before they forgot what they were there for, they yelled out “Time for that update on traffic!”

The traffic report at this hour of the morning always seems to start off with “We’ve got an overturned big-rig at the ten and Azusa…” I don’t know what it is about I-10 at Azusa or the 210 in Irwindale, but either the truck drivers lack the skills to make it safely through these treacherous stretches of highway, or else it’s the Devil’s Triangle of freeways. I’m so distracted by pondering what’s causing this near daily occurrence of flipped semis that I forget to hear the thirty-second, five-day forecast for all five Los Angeles regions.

Southern California during winter. No sign of a Pacific storm today.

Southern California during winter. No sign of a Pacific storm today.

Is it going to rain? Will the Santa Anas blow? Should I prepare to house my friends who might be threatened by mudslides or fire? I’ll be able to find out for sure if I forget about watching TV and go on Facebook to see the meteorologist’s latest posts. The report is right there between the post on finding the best café latte on the west side and how to find the best Pilates coach in the Valley. If you scroll slowly enough you will see it: “IDK when rain will come, but x-pct a mess! #traffic #forecast #405 #carmageddon #buildanark Follow me!”

And for anyone who thinks the evening news broadcasts on the major networks are going to provide you with fresh information, think again. Cable news runs 24/7 and gives the headlines though they, too, have very little real news to report. It’s mostly opinion from people whose opinions don’t matter. Still, they blather on round the clock.

The thirty-minute broadcasts on the networks are actually far less than that, and in case you weren’t aware, those news broadcasts are  now sponsored. They’ve always had commercials, but now they have sponsors who run incredibly long commercials in between segments. Why so long? Do the anchors need to make costume changes between stories on school shootings and rescued kittens?

As I say, I don’t watch TV news very much, but I thought I should if I were going to write about it. I really wanted to know who was sponsoring the news. It appears that pharmaceutical companies have gotten a firm foothold, and the target audience is senior citizens who are probably the only ones still loyal to this medium.

Right after a report on the Supreme Court, a commercial came on for a medication for post-menopausal vaginal pain. Several nicely dressed mature women with beautifully styled hair came on the screen to describe how they feel. Obviously these women are actors because I can’t think of anyone their age who would shed all dignity to provide such intimate details. Then it occurred to me: if there are enough sufferers for “Big Pharma” to research and develop a drug, PMVP, as it surely must be called, must have reached epidemic proportions.

After the complaints, the announcer promises that all of this discomfort can be gotten rid of if you see your doctor and he or she agrees to prescribe their medication. Then he rapidly listed all the side effects, which was quite literally aegrescit medendo (the remedy is worse than the disease). Prevention would be far better than taking the medication, but what could be causing this outbreak of pain when we’ve gone so many years without hearing a single complaint from little old ladies who used to dwell on their arthritis?

At the next commercial break, an older couple was walking along the beach. Again, it was clear that the drug companies know their audience. The ad’s subject was vague at first, and then I heard “For erections lasting more than four hours, seek medical attention.”

Years ago, scientists were quick to find solutions for erectile dysfunction. Some questioned the swiftness of FDA approval. Could it be that there is another side effect that has not been mentioned within the confines of the commercial? It’s obvious to me that there is a connection between PMVP and ED.

These poor women who had once thought they’d be left alone after a certain age are now being bothered by their husbands long after they thought possible. Is cutting off the Viagra supply the best cure for PMVP? If you’re waiting to hear the latest findings on the news, you’re out of luck.

© 2014 by Patrick Brown