Sunday, June 07, 2009

T.V. in the Kitchen

Tools of distancing members of my small family were plentiful in my house growing up. The pets were always good - talk to the dog when nobody was speaking to each other (which was often). The television however was the most popular tool of 'keep away'. There was a television in the livingroom, one my parent's bedroom, a small one in my bedroom and of course one in the kitchen. Given the fact that we were three people living in a small two bedroom house I'm going out on a limb here to say: that's a LOT of televisions.  

The fact that my father was a notorious miser, it may seem more than surprising that there were so many televisions. Ah-ha! Stay with me as I decipher the logic here. 1) my dad had a television repair license, something he got in high school or just after so he was greatly enamoured of fiddling with the machines. There were tubes (kids, google it - televisions used to need things called 'tubes' in order to operate) of all shapes and sizes all around the house. So having multiple television sets was something he enjoyed. Also please note that each and every one of these were of the B&W variety until I was... um... I think I was in college by the time that house saw a color tv. And believe me, there was an aeriel antenna on the roof until the day my father died. Cable? Please. And 2) it was a great way not to have to talk to anyone. So here we are, three people who have a deep seated need to be apart with a tv in practically every room - and in the summer, my father would run an antennae line out the window so he could hook up the tv outside. I kid you not.  

My parents had divergent tastes in televised programming, so the only one who went both ways (as it were) was me. In an attempt to 'connect' I would, when the chill in the room wasn't too frosty, watch with them whatever they happened to have on. Star Trek, The Twilight Zone and Fawlty Towers with my father (the latter of which was watched in its entirety outside in the backyard during a PBS fundraising marathon and followed by a raucous fun weekend of Dad's famous violent rages... well, watching tv never stopped anyone from downin' their beer now did it?) My mother on the other hand was a Daytime Soap or as we called them back then 'serials' fanatic. I cannot tell you the number of actors I have seen on stage or on the street that I grew up watching on 'the serials'. She was also big on the half-hour sit-coms. And let us never forget that she used I Love Lucy re-runs as my baby-sitter, teaching me at a very early age how to speak with a Cuban accent.

Now me? I'd watch anything, other than sports. I was a bored child in the suburbs in a bad family situation - if my head wasn't in a book, I was glued to the television. Can I just say right now how much I loved the Bowery Boys growing up? I mean really, I was so crazy about those goofy East Side kids solving crimes and hanging out in the soda shop that it was... well... it wasn't right. But of course not much about me was 'right'. I had a foot in so many different decades it's no wonder I didn't fit in where I was.

Now aside from the soaps and sit-coms, my mother did have one totally out-of-character show that she was very much addicted to, for a time. It was called Sunrise Semester and was broadcast at the crack of "why the hell is anyone who doesn't have to milk a cow up at this hour?" My mother being the earliest riser known to humanity, and my father being the night owl of all time... oh I digress. Sorry. So my mother's up at the crack of - and the television is turned on before her eyes even open all the way. Seriously.  

Being the competitive insomnia champ of the house I was up all night and still up at dawn so when I heard her puttering around - meaning when I heard the t.v. go on - I'd head out to the kitchen. Because that one summer Sunrise Semester was on. I missed the first episode, but by the second I too was hooked. You see the 'semester' was spent dissecting a novel. Hello - t.v. + book = get the popcorn! As I said, this was not my mother's typical show so I found it fascinating that she was so hooked on it too. Well, turns out it was the professor's voice she was really addicted to. Ah well... whatever works, huh? I don't remember exactly how old I was but I'm guessing maybe 9 or 10 years old. The novel up for study was Emile Zola's Nana. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend you do - it's amazing. However, I don't think it was ever intended for the 9-10 year old market. Yet I stuck with the show, fascinated as Dr. Zulli talked about Zola's life, the characters in the book and the story line. When it was all over I was a bit blue - the next course up was something about ... I dunno, science maybe? Didn't have the hold on me that Nana did. Many years later, when I was in college, PBS's Masterpiece Theater ran a two-part dramatization of another of Zola's books Thérèse Raquin. Oh my GOD I wanted to be Kate Nelligan. What a great role, what a great story!

Seeing it reminded me that I had never read Nana. I actually went to the bookstore and could only find Thérèse, so I read that. Some time later I got my hands on a copy of Nana from the library. I cannot explain how odd it was to finally read this book when I had spent so much of my life with it 'in my head' from such a young age. The world of that story... it was already embedded in my brain, reading the book was like filling in the lines in a coloring book. Again, I highly recommend it.

So while the television was a tool of interpersonal avoidance, it was also a window to new worlds, at least for me. It may not have been much, but I worked with what was available to me. I still have a special place in my heart for Zola, and for Dr. Zulli (who did have a really nice voice). I tried to find some video of him on the 'net but came up with nothing. But you can see him here.

1 comment:

Gary said...

of course there was also the afternoon showings of Valley of the Dolls which we both watched (you in your home, me in mine)

Television is a perfect tool for being together, but not. It is a great babysitter too. Thank goodness you liked to read. Although your children's books were perhaps not the same ones I am giving my students.

So, should I break out the Zola??