I went to school in the winter. They made you. I had an afternoon paper route for a couple of years, requiring outside activity, as I was unable to fling the papers onto the customers’ porches from my living room. Beyond that, I do not recall going outside in the winter at all. If I was invited to venture beyond my frequently lock-frozen front door, my response was inevitably the same.
What did I do instead?
I watched television.
Which, though I am not a doctor, I would readily prescribe as the most reliable antidote for frostbite. (“Antidote” may be the wrong word. That’s for when you’re, like, poisoned, you take the antidote and you get better. I’m talking about so you won’t get it. Is “predote” a word? Doesn’t look like it. My computer “autocorrected” it to “predate.”)
I don’t know if what I am about to admit to you would qualify for a retroactive support group but every Saturday growing up, minus time off – minimal time off – for eating, I watched television continuously from nine in the morning until eleven at night.
Yeah, that doesn’t sound good.
Could I have done something better with my time? No. I enjoyed watching fourteen consecutive hours of television. Yeah, I could have definitely used an “intervention.”
It began with cowboys. Not “quality” westerns like Gunsmoke and Have Gun Will Travel. Saturday morning westerns were tailored specifically for kids. Nobody died. Everyone got shot in the hand. The “Good Guys” never got shot at all.
Nine A.M., Saturday morning. While the more observant of our clan shokeled (rocked back and forth fervently) in synagogue, I lay on the carpet in front of our blond, sixteen-inch television set, my sock-covered feet grazing the warming “hot air” vent, and with the index and middle finger of my left hand set in an upside down “V”, my head resting comfortably on my upturned left wrist, I would watch,
The Range Rider. Annie Oakley. Buffalo Bill Junior.
“Buffalo Bill Junior?
Buffalo Bill Junior.
He’s the son
Of a son-of-a-gun
Buffalo Bill Junior.”
Don’t get me started on theme songs.
The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid (“Brought to you by Blue Seal Bread – The Freshest Thing in Town.”) Tales of The Texas Rangers (“Here’s the strongest man in Texas, Jace Pearson is his name…”) and Sky King. Actually Schuyler King, who, ironically, also flew a plane.
After lunch, it was kind of tough sledding. (Though more enjoyable than actual sledding. Sitting directly above snow? Why would you want to do that?) I have no memory of my Saturday afternoon viewing, though I recall I never left the set. There was, however, one terrible “low point” where even I recognized I was pathetically wasting my time, watching…
French Canadian bowling.
“Viola. Le ‘spare.’”
Without question, however, the greatly anticipated “Crown Jewel” of my “Saturday Marathon” was…
Hockey Night In Canada
(Which I watched into my twenties, unburdened as I was by the unwelcome distraction of a date.)
It began with Foster Hewitt’s inimitable
“Hello, Canada, and hockey fans on the Niagara Frontier.”
The game proceeded without interruption, save the between-period “Hot Stove League”, and Murray Westgate, dressed as an Esso gas station attendant, touting the upcoming Maple Leafs schedule, ending with his signature signoff: “Happy Motoring.”
After the game, before my eleven o’clock bedtime, there appeared the most unusual show I had ever witnessed.
Not in content. It was a standard, musical-variety show, hosted originally by “Your Pet” Juliette, later, by the married folksinging duo, Ian and Sylvia, and after that, by the married folksinging duo, Malka and Joso.
What was innately different about the show was its duration. Which can accurately be described as “Variable.”
The preceding hockey game could run short or long, depending on the number of penalties, offside and “icing-the-puck” calls (Just know they lengthen the game), the frequency of the fights and whether the goalie had to go to the dressing room for stitches. (Teams back then carried only one goalie. You had to wait for him to stop bleeding.)
Here’s the thing. The game started at eight. The National, Canada’s showcase regular news broadcast aired at eleven. Between those two, was this malleable “shock absorber” of a variety show, filling the gap between the end of the hockey game and the beginning of The National.
It could run forty minutes. It could run fifteen minutes. Possibly even less.
How, I have frequently wondered, do you deliver such a program?
You’re in the studio, watching the game on the monitor with one eye and the clock on the wall with the other. It’s 10:25. The game is still in progress.
“Cut the dance number!”
10:35 (The game continues.)
“Lose the ‘instrumental’ in the finale and the third verse in the second song. Cut the ‘chit-chat’ with the Special Guest.”
10:45 (The game drags on.)
“Cut the Special Guest. Move up the finale.”
“With the ‘instrumental’’?”
“I already cut the ‘instrumental.’ Am I working alone here? And cut the second song.
“But I love the second song.”
“There’s no time for the second song! We’ve got The National barreling up our butts! (RE: TV MONITOR) What’s going on? A giant brawl with two seconds to go? Lose the third verse of the opening number, go straight to the finale. And the tribute to the trapped miners is out.”
10:57 (The game ends.)
“Say ‘Hello’. A verse and the chorus of the opening number. Roll the End Credits.”
I have no idea how they did it. But Juliette appeared unruffled the entire time.
What a glorious night of television.
And a morning and afternoon as well.