Finding the Right Motivation to Read

A few years ago I wrote about my unsupervised television viewing as a kid. I watched quite a few PG programs where “the content is geared toward a mature audience and parental discretion is advised.” That disclaimer only made the presentation more enticing, and somehow I thought if I started talking loudly when the words came on the screen that no one could hear the announcer’s dire warning.

I doubt my feeble attempts at subterfuge had anything to do with my getting to watch whatever I wanted. Network censors heavily edited the adapted films, and all the bad words were bleeped out. By today’s standards, Prime Time was tame, but I was the only one in my class to see Maude, Soap, and other so-called scandalous programs airing at the time. Those two shows were considered especially racy, as were Cher’s outrageous, revealing costumes.

Produced by Norman Lear, Maude covered social topics that whipped the “Clean Up TV Campaign” people into a frenzy. All in the Family wasn’t as high on their hit list, but that show’s themes were just as controversial. I don’t know if the TV cleanup people were a real group, but someone had printed and handed out all those bumper stickers I’d been seeing on cars around town.

A little over a decade ago, the organization I worked for was preparing to honor Norman Lear at an event I was organizing. As I assisted in writing event speeches and prepared to meet Mr. Lear, I decided to binge-watch the first two seasons of Maude. There were rarely any reruns of the show at the time, and I was curious as to why the lead character had been so demonized during its first run. Within five minutes I had the answer. Maude was an unabashed liberal who expressed herself loudly. Archie Bunker was an arch-conservative who was also loud, but the skirt-gathering brigade who clutched their faux pearls and derided feminism roared at the punch-lines when the longsuffering Edith Bunker occasionally bested her husband’s provincial attitudes. Lear often made the same point on two separate shows, but in different ways. It has been noted that many of Archie’s fans never realized that he was the butt of the joke, but it seems clear to me that a bigoted blowhard from Queens was more acceptable to certain viewers than a “loud-mouthed broad” from Westchester County.

I was allowed to watch all of these episodes because no one thought I could possibly understand the topics at my age. I was an expert at feigning naïveté, so was never asked to leave the room. I kept hearing sermons about all the smut on television, but I never saw any. I had an old TV in my room at age nine. It had no remote control and only picked up three channels. I wore down the cogs on the dial by constantly searching for some of this illusive smut, but a tobacco commercial from that era was the only thing we’d find scandalous today.

I realize now that I was fortunate to have grown up when we only had three channels and Pong by Atari to encroach upon adolescence. My brain wasn’t completely compromised, and the family had hope when they discovered I liked to read. My sister was an English teacher by then, and she recommended a few appropriate books. I enjoyed most of them, but I was soon more interested in what my peers were reading.

My First Edition paperback of “Interview With the Vampire.”

A transfer student named Darlene had a lightly worn, first edition paperback copy of something called Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice. On the penultimate day before spring break, our first period teacher didn’t show up, and the counselor came to announce a study hall. I had nothing to do, and Darlene was seated next to me completing some assignment. The book sat between us, and the cover captivated me. On the backside, there were two gaunt looking gentlemen with a child in a Victorian dress. I asked if I could take a look; Darlene nodded her assent. I was tempted to thumb through, but started reading from the beginning. The following morning our teacher didn’t show up again, and with another study hall, Darlene worked while I read more of this captivating novel. When the bell rang, she told me to go ahead and take the book over spring break. She’d be traveling with no time to read, and she noticed that I rather liked it. I had a study hall for fifth period where I read even further. I don’t think I’d ever read a book so quickly. I’d certainly never read a book over spring break! I finished the book by Monday, but it turns out that I could’ve taken more time because Darlene never returned. Her name is still written in cursive on the inside cover, but after more than 40 years, she’s never found me to claim it.

The following spring break I borrowed The Amityville Horror from a girl I had lunch with every day. My mother soon began to notice my questionable taste in books, which had spread to Stephen King. She might not have given three hoots about what I watched on TV, but she was quick to voice her opinions on my choice of supernatural thrillers containing cursed characters headed for damnation. “You’re going to ruin your mind if you don’t stop reading all that crap!”

I suggested that she should be happy that I liked to read, but inwardly feared she might be right. What if I started having seditious thoughts because Lestat was a hedonist? What if I insisted that we have our house blessed against demonic possession by a priest even though we were Baptist? As far as I could tell, The Amityville Horror’s greatest impact on me was an aversion to Dutch Colonial architecture. I still can’t look at half-moon windows without thinking that glowing eyes are going to stare back at me.

I decided to seek out some weightier literature. I headed to the school library where I was drawn to a copy of The Scarlet Letter. We’d discussed it in eighth grade, and I got it into my head that a novel about adultery would present a nice change from those sexy vampires who never got beyond a few good necking sessions. The student library assistant had already stamped my card when Mrs. Sharp jerked the book away, shook her bouffant furiously, and snapped “You’re too young for this!” If she’d only seen that ruby embedded in Cher’s navel the previous week, she would’ve realized the futility in fussing over a big red A.

Now that the censorious librarian was keeping an eye on me, I’d never get the Hawthorne even if it made it back to the shelf. As I sat on the bus wondering why the school had purchased the book in the first place, I noticed that my friend Robert was reading Louis Lamour. I’d satisfied my curiosity after two westerns even though my friend swore by Louis. I wanted more vampires and hauntings, but spaceships and slimy creatures grunting unearthly languages didn’t interest me.

A girl in my English class, who had never been known as much of a reader, had lately started keeping one paperback after another on her desk. With Interview With the Vampire, I’d had great beginning gambler’s luck with snatching my neighbors’ books off their desks to see if they were any good. I’d been disappointed a few times, but S.B. had somehow latched onto a genre that old Mrs. Sharp would never have stocked. Where had S.B. gotten this wonderful book that seemed relatively harmless (and void of any meaningful plot) until you reached the last two pages of every third chapter?

The prudes were spending all their time on television censorship when they would’ve snapped their garters to have a good old-fashioned book burning had they only known about the books S.B. was bringing to school. It seems the girl pilfered R-rated romance novels from her aunt without the woman finding out. “Don’t tell on me,” she pleaded. “They sent a note home about my grades. I’ve been challenged to get the certificate for reading twenty-five or more books this school year. I’ve only got seven to go!”

© 2020 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, including the three 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

Mine Is a Cautionary Tale

09-11-2005 08;54;22PM

Innocent and dressed for church (center), I still knew all the popular catch-phrases on  NBC’s Laugh-In.

When you read the next few paragraphs, you’ll question my upbringing, but I promise that I wasn’t the least bit neglected. It’s just that I was the youngest child, and parents are more relaxed when they see that their earlier experiments turned out so well. In my case, there was more on TV than when my sister was the same age, and what the networks allowed in Prime Time was much different when I was in pre-school.

Without giving away our ages too quickly, my sister was probably watching Red Skelton, Jack Benny, Ed Sullivan and Beaver Cleaver. Television then got a little wilder for the next few years. Gone were the longer skirts of Mrs. Cleaver to be replaced by the mini of Marlo Thomas. It was recently brought to my attention that Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, while undoubtedly the most wholesome television show ever produced, premiered the same year as Laugh-In.

 In those days, the state of public television in my neck of the woods was sorely lacking, and I didn’t even know about Mr. Rogers until I had outgrown his target audience. No one that I knew ever talked about him, but I was such a regular viewer of the questionable comedy show airing on Monday nights that I knew all the catch-phrases: “Verrrry interesting,” “Here comes the judge,” “That’s the truth,” and “Sock it to me!”

I was intrigued by the joke wall and often wondered how I might empty out lower kitchen cupboards and hide behind doors so that I could pop out and be funny. This colorful world of miniskirts, go-go dancing, and short comedy bits held my attention even though for years I didn’t understand most of the jokes, and kids my age didn’t even understand what I was referencing in our play.

I lived for the moment when I could fill a bucket with water to toss on my cousin after convincing her to say “Sock it to me!” but she would never take my stage directions properly. She seemed to be avoiding my cue while suspecting that I was up to no good with that suspicious looking garden hose.

I’m still not all that familiar with Mr. Rogers. I know there were sweet songs, puppets that didn’t move their mouths, a message about acceptance and respect, and the changing of shoes and sweaters. The truth is that I spent my time thinking about Gary Owens with his hand over his ear, that Lily Tomlin was both a little girl in a rocking chair and a telephone operator, and I lived to watch Joanne Worley wearing feathers and beads during the latest “The Party” sketch. Her punch-lines were incomparable, and something to the effect of, “If you like downtown Burbank, you’re going to LOOOOVE Paris!”

Television was such an influence on my life, and I still retain so much of what I saw back then. We had a lot of westerns playing in our house, but I was always more attuned to the background than what was happening with the plot. One morning when my mother was working in the kitchen, I was about four and pulling bottles from one of the lower cabinets. I had aligned unopened bottles of catsup, Worcestershire sauce, a steak sauce and a couple of soda bottles. She was stirring something (it may have been the summer that she made peach jam) and glanced over: “What are you doing?” she asked. I can’t imagine what she thought I was doing with my imagination. Aligning rockets since it was the Space Age? Without looking up and very matter-of-factly, I replied, “Playing saloon.”

Even that response didn’t seem to affect my viewing habits, but I’m sure it raised her eyebrows. Even if my favorite shows had been suddenly banned, I would probably have tried finding a way to watch. I couldn’t un-see what I’d already seen, and even though I wouldn’t know the joke behind Tyrone Horneigh (pronounced “hor-NIGH”) for years and years, there seemed nothing wrong with watching Ruth Buzzi in a hairnet beating him over the head with her purse week after week. At age four I could understand that he was a masher even though I didn’t comprehend what being a masher meant. Nor could I have understood the complexities of the future #MeToo movement and why women needed to defend themselves in the first place.

Laugh-In is tame by today’s standards, but for some who watched it, they felt like they were getting away with something. Though I did not see Mr. Rogers during my formative years, I don’t think I turned out too depraved. I try to use good manners and remember the importance of every individual (even though I have to be honest that this notion is more difficult with certain individuals). However, PBS really should have me on during funding drives and testifying before Congress during budget talks on educational television for I am a cautionary tale.

© 2018 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, especially the two 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

 

Headline Overload

I had a post in mind for this week, but with so much going on in the news I decided that I would save the article for another time. Like many people, the continuous news cycle has drained me, and I find myself stopping short of a complete self-imposed media blackout. I know enough to stay informed and involved, but I will not give parts of myself away as the networks chip at my soul in an attempt to leave me shouting at the television like a curmudgeonly shut-in.

I’m not advocating for a media blackout, as I got an up-close look at such an approach when two of our summer visitors were unaware of a single current event, as if cultural ignorance is a good thing. I doubt that either will ever read this so I can write without worrying I’ve offended them, but if they do, then I’m thrilled they’re finally poking their heads out. Becoming aware of federal investigations, hurricanes and all the other recent tragedies will make them seem less like they’ve just emerged from a bunker.

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Murdered Justice by Patrick Brown is available from W&B Publishers, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

In Murdered Justice, Maggie writes about her frustration with the media, and in her next adventure due in early 2018, she’ll say even more about the news in Pennington’s Hoax.

I’m not sure that Maggie can help us, but what we need from the press is accurate information while we apply our critical thinking skills to the facts. That would be our own critical thinking skills, not some pundit’s idea after being processed by pollsters and propagandists. Figure out what’s going on and return to civil discourse. Many of us will never agree, and it’s a myth to think that Americans ever have. In spite of our differences, we once had respect, but I see very little evidence of it today. Our best bet is to turn off the TV and give the networks no incentive to shout at each other while the same footage plays repeatedly in the background.

Once I stop reeling from the headlines, I’ll be back with something more entertaining for you to read.

© 2017 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

A Time to Watch

I wouldn’t say television is a major part of my life, but let’s face it. Without TV, I wouldn’t have had much of a story in Tossed Off the Edge with Sheila’s many references to classic television. The truth is that I hate morning television, which caters to shallowness, and daytime TV—now that soap operas barely exist, sorely lacks in merit. I’d much prefer the fictional lives of well-dressed people worrying about the paternity of their children as opposed to the uncivilized shouting by people with too much exposed flesh waving around DNA tests. At least in soap operas the mothers could narrow down paternal candidates to a couple of men.

I’ve written before how I can’t stand contemporary news productions, so that leaves evening television. I don’t like reality shows unless they cover cooking and home improvement, but I’ll admit to watching a few episodes about an isolationist family in Alaska. I was curious and found something endearing about them, so shoot me. I balance that indulgence with PBS, which is a great resource though not everything is as educational as it is entertaining. I have never missed a single episode of Downton Abbey, but if there’s nothing interesting to me at other times, I turn it off and read. I make this disclaimer about TV to point out that I’m neither addicted nor am I ashamed to admit I watch.

Popping by Bette Davis's cocktail party. Thank goodness for TV where I first learned about her.

Popping by Bette Davis’s cocktail party. Thank goodness for TV where I first learned about her.

There’s nothing wrong with watching TV. It’s one way in which Society keeps up with cultural references. Through this medium, we’re able to see history taking place live around the world and beyond the planet. Man’s first steps on the moon were televised, as have been celebrations and disasters alike.

I know a book devotee who never watches TV. She claims to have a very small one tucked in the closet somewhere for emergencies. How will she know when there’s an emergency if her programming hasn’t been interrupted by the Emergency Broadcasting Service, which I believe still tests periodically? I’m sure she’s one of the honest ones who truly don’t watch because nothing of contemporary culture registers with her. Tucked away in a world of serious books, she has deprived herself of the humor, emotion and beauty, which can be conveyed through performances that happen to be on TV. She truly believes there’s no merit to Television, and it’s been her loss.

I recently encountered another woman who insisted she didn’t watch TV. We were side by side for two or three hours over the course of several days, and she had no idea what I was talking about most of that time. In an effort to be humorous, I’d referenced an iconic scene from I Love Lucy. She claimed to be unfamiliar.

“I don’t watch TV.” Ever? “No.”

I cannot think of anyone as old as she and raised in the United States who hasn’t seen the candy-making episode. She was emphatic that her lack of tuning in was religious. It’s not like I Love Lucy was a bacchanalian romp in Prime Time. Mamie Eisenhower was First Lady, and Ricky and Lucy slept in twin beds! In pajamas, and with less skin showing than she at that moment! Then we got down to it: “I’m sure it’s family friendly, but I don’t have the luxury of time to sit and watch TV.”

This remark rather perturbed me because she assumed that I can’t pull myself away from the TV when her obvious ADHD is the real reason she can’t “sit and watch.” Hell, she couldn’t take two bites of her sandwich without jumping up in between them to check her Facebook status and remind her daughter about after-school cheer practice.

I can tell when someone truly doesn’t watch TV so I pried and I continued to pry until I uncovered enough information to sort her out. I learned that her early morning job requires her to be in bed before Prime Time viewing hours, and her afternoons are busy chauffeuring three kids.

She’s one of today’s viewers who don’t count streaming or watching something on a device other than an actual TV as watching TV. What they are seeing may not be on a TV screen, and it may not come from a network, but it’s still tele-vision. This anti-TV snob finally let it slip that while she didn’t have cable or satellite, she has a 60” TV and an active Netflix account, which streams like Glory from Heaven afar! She spat out sex and violence plotlines that would curl Pastor Sorenson’s blond hair. She knew more about these shows than the people in the writer’s room. She may not have watched it at 8:00 Eastern/7:00 Central, but she had watched it and that’s my point.

And yet she carried on as if she were intellectually superior to everyone else in the room. If I think someone watches too much for my taste, I think that’s bad, but I don’t like it one bit if someone thinks the same of me. Frankly, I don’t like trying to make conversation when the other person implies that their acumen is superior to mine, their lives are somehow richer and their spiritual plane higher because they have kept TV out of their lives. I want to see proof. Exactly what have you accomplished this week with all that extra time spent not watching a Ken Burns documentary?

© 2016 by Patrick Brown

Visit my author page at http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1 to learn about my books “Moral Ambiguity” and “Tossed Off the Edge.”