A few weeks ago after dinner, Sister-in-law told us about a fun game she had played at work. Or, maybe it was a work-related event, because while guessing TV themes is no brain surgery, I wouldn’t want the actual brain surgeons humming the X-files tune when they ask for the scalpel.
She had her iPhone in her hand, and she played the tunes one by one. And Wife, me, and Brother-in-law shouted out our guesses.
And then, after the first few bars of another tune, while I was still trying to put the familiar tune together with the show, Brother-in-law yelled: “ALF!”
And I kicked myself under the table. Alf! I should have got that one. After all, I still quote jokes from Alf. Oneliners like, “Noses run in my family,”, “I kill me”, and “I guess you had to be there … I WAS!”
But out loud, I said, “Oh, of course … Alf … for Alien Life Form, but he was really Gordon Shumway from Melmac,” I said, in an attempt to show off my vast Alf knowledge, because, yes, my dinner companions just had to know that one 1980s orange puppet was “really” from “Melmac”.
TV has always been an important part in my life, and only partly because my father worked at a store that sold TV set. In each of the stores he worked, they always had one wall with television sets stacked up on shelves that went from the floor to the ceiling, and I’d stand there, watching the same image flicker in front of me 25 times, or 30 times in 14-inch or 20-inch, or 28-inch versions. First in black and white, and then in color.
I played my first videogames on a TV that was on a wall like that. We called it “tennis”, but it must have been Pong. The single-player version was “squash”.
Before Pong, when Dad worked at my uncle’s store, they would leave those black and white sets on in the store window, so people could watch TV. Maybe there was a hockey game on, maybe Allison kissed Rodney on “Peyton Place”.
At home, it was mostly Mom and I who spent their evenings in front of the magic box, as we went through the shows from the Happy Days to the Love Boat, from All Creatures Great and Small to Sapphire and Steel, from the Six Million Dollar Man to Columbo, from Shogun to the Thorn Birds, from the Invisible Man to … well, glimpses of the Kenny Everett Show.
On the Buses was the funniest show ever because I loved hearing my father roar with laughter when he saw the funny inspector getting beat once again. These days I like to sit in my armchair, watch How I Met Your Mother with Wife and listen to her laugh on the coach slightly behind me.
Without exception, Mom would fall asleep at some point, and then demand a recap of what she’d missed. That is also a part of the family routine.
And then there was Mork from Ork. Robin Williams’s show was a part of my Wednesday night schedule, just after two Finnish TV chefs. Unfortunately, so was our weekly sauna, not something you’d skip lightly, and I was delighted when Mom and Dad agreed that Mork and Mindy was a good enough reason for me to miss the first 30 minutes of our sauna – as long as I came down right afterwards.
Since Dad worked at a TV store, my access to good and interesting sets was excellent. Since he knew that I probably wouldn’t have followed on a family boating trip had there not been a TV onboard, he came with a portable set. And then another one that had a five-inch screen and looked like a Walkman. (Had there been Walkmans then).
I had a set in my room, as Dad drilled through the walls from the living room to my room, so he could get the antenna cable all the way through. Long after I had moved out, gone to college – and watched Alf in my dorm room – Dad showed up at my apartment with a satellite dish. It was so huge – almost two meters in diameter – that it covered half of my balcony, but it also gave me access to overseas channels! How exciting.
Unfortunately, the only channels I could get were Polish ones, and Swedish TV4. I tried watching Columbo in Polish, but “Um, jeszcze jedno pytanie…” just wasn’t the same as “Um, one more question…” However, the Swedish channel brought me the X-files, and every Thursday, after hockey practice, I’d watch Mulder and Scully not trust anyone.
And every Wednesday, I left work early to get ready for Matlock. I’d get home, make two hotdogs, with ketchup, mustard, and onions – the way Matlock, the lawyer played by Andy Griffith had his – and I’d see how he cracked the crime cases. Occasionally, I’d leave work early to see the latest episode of Quantum Leap, in which Dr. Sam Beckett, a quantum physicist got lost in time following a time travel experiment, and temporarily took the places of other people”.
(To a possible future employer, those shows have been cancelled. Don’t worry.)
I was raised on television. When I was just a toddler, and my mother was a business school student, she used to tie me into a chair with a scarf, and put me in front of the TV to watch the Thunderbirds so she could study.
I don’t think I suffered any psychological damage. Sure, I was scared of the Thunderbirds then, and I’m scared of them today, but I still like TV, scarfs, chairs, and Mom, who herself tells the story as a funny anecdote from my childhood.
And the idea of a baby tied to a chair to watch the Thunderbirds is sort of funny.
Although, I guess you had to be there. I WAS!