“Between the Lines of Age”

And now, a word from our sponsor…

When I was a kid watching too much television — though wholesome affairs like Bewitched, The Big Valley, Captain Kangaroo, and The Andy Griffith Show — I complained once, or a thousand times, about all the commercials I had to endure.

“Don’t you understand,” Nanny, my maternal grandmother, said to me, “The commercials are the most important part of the program. Without them, there wouldn’t be a show.”

“No,” I shouted. “That can’t be true. The commercials aren’t important. They’re stupid!”

Nanny looked at me hard then. I was her favorite, her “darlin’,” but I had done the unthinkable:

“Don’t you dare dispute my WORD,” she said.

She kept staring at me and then stomped off, leaving me with Opie and Goober, and maybe even Aunt Bee.

This, I believe, was my first lesson in capitalism, though its nuances, theories, and disputation wouldn’t solidify for me until a friend in college, who didn’t consider “socialism” to be a four-letter word, got me thinking.

I had much to learn back during these commercial days with my Nanny. One thing I learned was the word “bastard,” uttered by Heath Barkley in reference to his own engendering on The Big Valley. I still can’t believe that in 1965, when I was nine, that word could be uttered over our commercial airwaves. My memory about this moment, though, is infallible.

Bastard Barkley Son

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After our grinding days — though mine this summer are spent walking my Carolina Wild Dog, Max, and writing blogs like this one — my wife and I like to settle on the sofa and watch The Andy Griffith Show on MTV-owned TV Land. We’ve set our DVR to record every “Andy” that pops up, and I can’t think of anything more relaxing than revisiting Mayberry over and over again. I don’t even need a shot of bourbon on these nights.

Yet I can’t entirely relax because episodes that in their prime lasted 22–24 minutes, with the rest being “brought to you” by Maxwell House or Post Cereals, now last 15–18 minutes, meaning, of course, that not only does TV Land lop off the “tag,” that piece at the end that is like a coda or epilogue and that usually ends with an ironic or nurturing touch, but it also lops off pieces of the show that executives somewhere at MTV don’t believe anyone cares about, notices, or that “advance the plot.”

Instead, TV Land uses the extra time to promote its supposed must-watch hit series, “Younger,” starring Hillary Duff, of “Lizzie Maguire” fame. “Lizzie” used to air on Nickelodeon, a kid’s network also owned by MTV. My daughters loved that show, and who knew Hillary could also sing? I, for one, didn’t, but when she went on tour with her equally-adept sister, Hayley, and decided to add Greenville to her concert tour, my girls begged me to take them. So there we sat for two hours in our former Bi-Lo Center watching the pair cavort around the stage. At the end of every number, Hillary would assure the audience that we were “awesome,” a word that I no longer understand.

I don’t know what was so awesome about us that night, but in our patience, our squealing, and our love for our children — why else were we there? — I understand that we were much more awesome than the two performers whose “work” I never knew and wouldn’t remember if I did.

Maybe someone watches “Younger” now, but at least my daughters don’t.

The other commercial time on these reruns of “Andy” comes from sponsors like the Reverse-Mortgage people. I just don’t have time in my life to wrap my head around these words, which I can only assume don’t mean that I could possibly set interest rates for my bank.

How awesome would that be!

Last night, one of the great moments severed for us on “Andy” was one between Opie and his Pa. On this episode, Barney had been given a chain letter, and under pressure of being deemed superstitious by Andy, threw it in the trashcan. Barney claims he isn’t superstitious, merely “cautious.” Nevertheless, he becomes more accident-prone than usual after breaking the chain, which doesn’t bode well for his marksmanship test on the following day. In his frustration with Andy, he utters one of my favorite all-time lines of the entire eight-year series. As Barney stalks out of the courthouse, Andy says, “Well where are you going?” To which Barney laments over his shoulder:

“Swept into the dustbin of history, exit Barney Fife!”

Barney, though, is more than a chain letter.

Just an aside here. Imagine how quaint this show was back in 1964 when we all laughed and thought so little of a deputy who was allowed one bullet only and kept it in his shirt pocket because his trigger finger was so slippery that he kept accidentally shooting ceilings, floors, and once, Floyd (just kidding).

Barney does pass his shooting test, actually obliterating the bullseye, to the wonder and love of Andy and Thelma Lou. I don’t know what to conclude from Barney’s prowess with a gun, but it does make me think awesome things about gun use.

But back to what the commercials left out. As Andy frets about how to help Barney before the test, given that Barney believes that Andy is the one responsible for his bad luck now, he speaks to Opie about the dilemma. He pauses a moment and then he looks at his nine-year old son, and you can see the gears in the sheriff’s mind turning:

“Ope, if you were Barney and had thrown away the chain letter, what would you do?”

“Well, I think I’d go out to the dump and look for it.”

Which is, of course, what Barney has chosen to do.

Last night we didn’t see that conversation between Andy and Opie because Hillary Duff and Empire Carpets (988–2300 EMPIRE) had to tell us something about what they could do for our homes if only we would let them in. So out of nowhere we see instead Andy joining Barney at the dump.

I know, so what? But if you love “Andy” as I do, what you might especially love are those quiet moments where a character shows understanding and complexity — where he or she really becomes someone you know in your own life. Where you can see yourself understanding just exactly how your best friend’s mind works.

At this point, I would like to tell those commercials where they can go and what they can do with themselves. But I don’t want to shock anyone reading this, at least not yet.

One other part of last night’s episode that seems so quaint today: as Andy and Barney sift through the debris in the dump, Andy finds a magazine, something called “Love.” He calls Barney over and then unfolds the center part, the “centerfold,” and the pair then exchange appreciation and embarrassment as Andy asks, “Now who would subscribe to a magazine like this?” He looks at the label:

“BARNEY!”

Barney, of course, comments on how good the writing and the photography are. Andy, still looking up and down the centerfold, says, “Yeah, quite a month!”

It’s an odd thing, thinking/seeing the Mayberry duo admiring a girlie magazine, and I think again about what audiences thought back in 1964 during the show’s original airing.

Boys will be boys?

Even Patriarch and Pastoral Andy likes to look?

That while they are very good men, they are still “men?”

Everyone knew what Playboy was back then. Many of our fathers no doubt bought them or subscribed. My dad brought his home from the office — his boss subscribed — and kept them where they belonged: on the upper shelf of his closet. This was before the days of Hustler and even Penthouse.

Simpler times?

Most of us found our father’s stash, and when my daughter was nine, I heard her say that she and one of her friends saw where the friend’s father hid his Playboys.

This was in the late 1990’s, another age between us.

Though “playboy” had morphed into “player,” many men still knew about hiding what they also knew wasn’t really proper.

I’m thinking that nothing much is being hidden today, except those scenes in “Andy.”

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“If I were a junkman, selling you cars…”

So here comes the shocking part:

Last night before we reran “Andy,” my wife and I watched MSNBC’s Hardball.

Host Chris Mathews was taking us through the day at the White House and especially the interview new Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci gave to The New Yorker magazine which, I’m sure you know, isn’t the same genre as Playboy.

I am not going to go deeply into The Godfather, here, though I’ve heard Scaramucci compared to characters played by Joe Pesci, though Pesci is not in The Godfather. The Mooch, however, reminds me of James Caan’s “Sonny Corleone,” though I don’t wish Sonny’s fate on anyone.

In any case, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Hardball had to decide after The Mooch’s interview whether or not they were going to quote him directly. The former two decided to go ahead. Hardball decided to bleep out the one word said that had everyone astounded.

Sorry Hillary, the word wasn’t “awesome,” though it was quite awesome to see that, as Mathews was discussing The Mooch’s interview, someone back in the editing room had gotten really confused.

I yelled at my wife, “Come quick,” because on a network news show — something decidedly not HBO, Showtime, or even Nick at Nite — there it was, shown on the screen text as large as real life,

Scaramucci’s word:

“Fucking.”

It actually isn’t so hard to type. I’ve said the word myself many times. I still haven’t said it in front of my own mother, however. I know my mother watches Hardball, so I’m sure she saw that word yesterday. I know she knows the word, but I wonder if she remembers when I first saw that word.

We were out walking one summer night in 1965, when I was Opie’s age, nine. On the sidewalk, someone had marked a puzzle and trail in orange neon chalk, or at least it seems neon to me now. At the end of the trail, this someone had chalked the word “fuck” in a weird scrawl as if he knew that not only was it wrong to write it publicly, but that the person who saw it first wouldn’t understand and so would turn to his parents and ask, “What is fuck? It looks like ‘luck’ but I don’t know it.” And then that person would get slapped across the face by his father, as his mother stood by.

Later, my mother consoled me, though I don’t remember what she said. What she didn’t and never said, though, was that word. My father never apologized for hitting me, but he did yell at me to never let him hear me say that word again, which I didn’t (let him hear it, that is). He told me the following day that he was going to take me to my first Alabama Crimson Tide football game that coming fall, and he did.

So at age nine, I forever attached Fuck and Roll Tide in my mind.

Words.

Undisputed words.

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I am so sorry Barney thought he was being swept away. The show survived without him for three years shortly after actor Don Knotts really did leave.

I am not naive. I know grown-ups say such things, even politicians and presidents. Americans have known this at least since the Watergate transcripts were released.

We will survive, too.

And maybe to do so, we don’t need to bleep out, censor, or cut short anyone’s speech. Maybe we’re all better off for having our “sponsors” speak their minds, for allowing them to bring us just another word. Hiding things on a closet shelf can only work for so long, true.

Yet, this morning I’m not feeling any better or freer or more enlightened by seeing that word on my TV screen yesterday. Or considering just what else might erupt from The Mooch’s mouth. My Nanny would have advised washing his mouth out with soap, an awesome idea.

For now, I’ll keep thinking of dustbins and how much refuse, how many chain letters and commercials and leaders they can hold.

So green

I write about music, culture, food, and my Alabama past in One Table One World, The Riff, InTune, FanFare, SongStories, Rock n”Heavy, Counter Arts, and Pop Off.