I watched a political town hall meeting this week, and the antics reminded me of a valuable lesson I learned as a child. In the first grade, I suddenly discovered the after-school television shows for children. For me, this was huge, because I discovered they showed cartoons.
I must have been one of the last kids in America to make this discovery, but I think my belated discovery can be excused because the family television set was not yet a centerpiece of family life...at least in our house. My parents could not quite make up their minds whether or not television was a good idea, and they warmed to the idea only slowly. For the first couple of years, the television was kept in the basement, next to an ancient ping pong table that my mother used to sort laundry. The set was rarely turned on during the week.
Then on Saturday mornings….”Out of the clear blue of the western sky comes SKY KING!”
I won’t say I was enamored of the show...exactly...but I can tell you that the first of the three airplanes named “Songbird” was a Cessna T-50 Bobcat, a Bamboo Bomber, specifically N67832. I can still quote technical specs on all three airplanes, but I have a dim memory that the show also featured a couple of kids whose main role on the show was to get kidnapped.
Eventually, the television made its way out of the basement and up to my parents’ bedroom, so that they could watch Gunsmoke on Saturday nights. On Saturday mornings, I still got to watch Sky King, but I had to do it while lying on floor of their bedroom, for I was not allowed to sit on their bed. After about a year in their bedroom, the set finally made it to the living room. (I strongly suspect that this was because my father had discovered that football games were televised on Sunday afternoon). And once the set was in the living room, we all watched it more often.
It was in that living room that I discovered the after-school programs for children. One of the few television stations we could pick up with our basic antenna was KFJZ-TV out of Fort Worth (or as I knew it—Channel 11). KFJZ was an unaffiliated network station, meaning that it had to produce a lot of its own content, interspersed with old movies, local news, and a lot of kid shows that featured ancient cartoons.
Everyone working at that television station joined in on the fun. Some of the cameramen routinely wore ape masks, and Bill Camfield became something of a local legend as Icky Twerp as he presented clips from The Three Stooges while hosting the Slam Bang Theater.
My absolute favorite show, however, was Cap’t Swabbie’s. George Nolen was the station weatherman, but every afternoon he donned a fake beard to read letters from his “Mateys” and introduce Popeye cartoons, while sitting next to a crude cardboard boat. (I was addicted).
I was also fascinated with the idea of letters. I had just recently come to understand the concept of mail and was really eager to write my own letter to Cap’t Swabbie. Unfortunately, though I was only in the first grade, I still knew that printing monosyllabic words on a Big Chief pad using a large red crayon was only appropriate for writing your congressman.
Luckily, I had an older brother. Mike was in the seventh grade, so I dictated my letter to him while he carefully recorded my every fawning word. I rushed to the mailbox and mailed the letter off to Channel II.
For the next week, I carefully watched as Cap’t Swabbie pulled letters out and read them on the air, and could hardly wait until he read mine. Finally, one day, the captain pulled out a letter and read it on live television.
“Dear Captain Swabbie”, he read. “Is that a real beard?” Nolen, paused from reading the letter, and a slight smile appeared as he slowly shook his head.
Cap’t Swabbie may have been amused, but I was horrified. Who would write such a mean letter?
“Aren’t you really the weatherman? Is that boat real?” Cap’t Swabbie stopped and looked down at the studio prop. “Nope, sure isn’t.”
I don’t remember the rest of the letter, except for the closing.
“Sincerely,” the Captain said. “Mark Milie-orn”
He pronounced the name so badly it took me a full minute to realize he was talking about me! I can remember just standing there with my mouth open. I was horrified, but I soon realized that my brother had not written what I had dictated, but had substituted his own words in my name. Naturally, being six, I promptly told on my brother, expecting swift justice for this evil deed.
The horror I had felt upon hearing the fake letter with my name attached read on TV paled in comparison to the absolute mortification I felt when my case was thrown out of “The Parents’ Court”!
And that is when I learned the great lesson of this story: You can get away with almost anything if the authorities can’t stop laughing.