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

 

 

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