Yeah, it’s been a not-so-bad weekend, and it’s coming to a close fast. I’ve almost finished Part Ten of Diners at the Memory’s End, and I went to sleep knowing that I’ll probably finish up that part in less than five hundred words today. I mean, after what one of my characters did last night, not much else for them to do now, save go somewhere and blow off some steam. Which is one more, it’s Part Eleven.
So there is that. But today, I’m of a different mind today. On about something else, I am.
If you’re on Facebook–and who am I kidding, you are, just admit it–you know that 3 July, Andy Griffith died. You couldn’t help notice it because just about everyone was posting things: links, pictures, cats–yeah, everyone posts cats, that’s a law on the Internet.
Anyway, there was a lot of emoting about how childhoods were shaped by the TV show, and how it was a great time, and how fond everyone was of Mayberry.
Yeah, about that . . .
First off, the show in question, The Andy Griffith Show. It was only funny when Don Knotts on was. Search your feelings, you know this to be true. You found Goober funny? You’re amused by car wrecks, aren’t you?
Second, the thing I always remember Griffith for was A Face in the Crowd, which remains brilliant to this day. ”Lonesome” Rhodes is everywhere today; just flip on Faux News, and you’ll see him in the flesh.
Now, thirdly, that feeling of living the idyllic life, the sense of peace that comes from growing up in a small town . . . yeah, sorry. I’m gonna call bullshit on ya, ’cause there was nothing idyllic about growing up in a small down in the 1960′s–
See, that was me. I grew up in a small town in Indiana through the 1960′s and 70′s. Some might argue that with a population of 6,000, it wasn’t small enough to be a small town, but we were one of those strange places where we were cut between two different school systems, so while I went to school in town, a much larger segment of the town actually went to school in a town about 10 miles away. There was even a small part of the town that went to school in another town, but we never speak of Lowell.
So it was a small town, with a small school system. There were 165 people in my graduating class. I attended 6th Grade in a building that had alarms that went off whenever the pressure in the main boiler became too great, and when that happened, the building would have to be evacuated because said boiler might explode within the next half hour. A pastime at my high school was calling in bomb scares, and when that would happen we were immediately sent onto the football field to wait to see if the school was going to explode. This once happened during January, when the outside temperature was hovering around zero, and we weren’t allowed to grab coats before being marshaled outside–where we stood for almost two hours.
Can’t complain, however. One of the things I spent time doing in school was trying to make nitroglycerin from some home-made formula one of my friends discovered. I think we came very close to blowing ourselves up once, but it’s hard to say: when it started smoking like hell we dumped it down a sink, and abandoned our attempts for that year. We didn’t start up again the following year because one of the guys I was working with moved to Colorado with his white-supremacist family–which is not a joke when I remember his father–and the other guy was busted for selling drugs, and was kicked out of school. I decided that I’d go it alone, and spent a couple of years learning how to build pipe bombs. No, really.
I lived 30 miles south of Gary, and in pre-EPA America, it was pretty common that when looking to the north you’d see, not a blue sky, but one that was a muddy brown. It was even worse during the summer, when you could almost taste the crap in the air, and I remember several times when a murky fog would drift around the town, and people would go, “Oh, it’s the mills,” and accept what was happening.
Minorities didn’t exist in my school, or in most of my town. It was all white kids, with families divided between farmers and factory workers, with a few people involved in home construction here and there. There were a few “wealthy” kids in my school: a couple whose parents were doctors, and a couple of kids whose family owned a very successful marina. The rest of us got by. I didn’t go without, but by no means did my family have a lot of money.
Speaking of my family . . . my father was from Tennessee, and my mother was from Chicago. Racists, both. My grandparent: racists. The majority of my relatives: racists. But I shouldn’t hold this label on just my parents, ’cause the majority of my friends, and my friend’s families, were like that as well. But that’s another story, so lets stay on what I know . . .
Everyone close to me feared the following in this order: Negros, Mexicans, “foreigners” (I know, they really keep those options wide open), hippies (1960′s, remember?), radicals, and anyone who wasn’t like them. It was a wonder anyone could go outside due to fact there was a good chance they might run into someone who fit any of the prior criteria. Needless to say, growing up I heard a number of things about killing minorities, or harming minorities, or beating up hippies and radicals–or killing them . . . yeah, that’s how it was.
And if I wasn’t happy with small town life in Indiana, for a few weeks every summer I was hauled off to small town Tennessee life, where damn near everyone lived in a state of mind that started with losing the Civil War, and thinking that, any time now, they South was gonna Rise Again. A place where I was once told I couldn’t listen to a transistor radio inside my aunt’s house, because it might offend them (apparently they were way off in batshit insane religious territory, but I didn’t know about that until much later), and where I was once publicly castigated by relatives, at what would have been the ripe old age of nine, for saying something nice about Dr. King.
Small town life, for me, wasn’t idyllic. It was fraught with being looked at as something of an outsider. It was being set up as someone who didn’t fit in. I’ve blogged before about how my musical choices in high school had people calling me a freak because I wasn’t listening to Top 40 pop. I was even beat up once in, 1976, by a “friend” who got pissed off at me for saying that British bands seemed better than American bands, and then having the temerity to back up my statements.
I also walked away from everything my parents believed and feared. I went to college with all the sorts of people they hated. I even went out on a couple of dates with a girl from Jamaica, and at the end of each night, kissed her. Oh, yes! I kissed a black girl! Something my parents told me would force them to, and I quote, “throw you out of the family.”
Consider myself tossed, ‘kay?
TV is not meant to be reality. Not even reality TV, which is just as scripted as any other program you might see. And during the 1960′s, TV was about as far from reality as you could get. It might make you feel good, but all one had to do was look out their front window and see that the real world was nothing like the small towns portrayed on the tube. It’s all a fiction. It’s all unreal. It’s meant to entertain, not be a blueprint for life.
Remember all you like about how great your life was, but I’m pretty certain you’re not remembering your life–you’re remembering the life you wish you had.
Good think my dreams these days are of the future . . .