Two Television Stories
There are other television related stories, but my mother repeats one like a broken record. She tells it so often that I wish she'd put it in written form, so I didn't have to do it. I have a vague recollection of the event. In my memory the material in question was fiberglass insulation and I made a pink fiberglass beard for myself, a disguise. I was master-of-ceremonies, or MC. I was also director, illustrator, and marketeer. I itched for days.
Here is how my mother tells the story. My father had some leftover construction material in the garage. It was basically fancy tar paper, with a layer of thin aluminum foil on the face. As a child, much as today, I mess around with things I have no business fooling with. I dragged my finger nails over the slick aluminum, noticing when I scratched through the foil the black of the tar paper was revealed. A steel nail served as my pencil to create black lines, incising the foil. I drew pictures, one and another. I kept drawing. My mind rushed forward to a really, really good use for this foil covered tar paper. I would create my own television show.
Already I had a make-believe television set, as my little brother had outgrown his walker. It was like a short table with casters on the table legs. The walker was a wooden square with a big-baby-size hole in the center, just the size and shape of a television screen. I tipped the walker on its side and voila, a blank television screen. I had already done plenty of live television shows, mainly with hand puppets and sticking my head through the screen and pretending to be a weatherman. I liked doing the weather because I could shake a metal sheet and do sound effects, such as thunder or pour water from a watering can onto a pie tin. Live television is a one-shot deal. I wanted something that could be repeated, due to popular demand. Sandy’s Foil Show could be repeated ad nauseam and it would be. The silver foil also rendered another problem with live television moot. The background was no longer the living room wallpaper. It was silver.
The aluminum foil covered tar paper would take the place of the picture tube. I would make a scroll and the opening in the inverted walker would display one frame of the scroll at a time. Somehow I figured out the best way to show the scroll was like unrolling toilet paper. Right to left wasn’t going to work. Scrolling down was easy.
The construction material was a big roll on the garage floor and Dad wasn't home, so I took off a quantity he'd never miss, perhaps ten or twenty feet. Being only six at the time, it was a considerable project to make up a story and animate a progression of cells with only a large rusty nail. If only I could remember what story I chose to illustrate. For all I know it could have been Little Red Riding Hood or a tale about a little boy who drew his own television program with a pointy nail. When the cells were finished I tested to make sure the faux-TV and movie roll worked. Then I made posters and tickets. I went door to door promoting my show. Ticket price was one cent. The entire neighborhood showed up to my show.
It makes sense they would all come to my house because back then there were no activities, no clubs, no facebook or twittering to burn up the day. Mothers happily sent their kids to see Sandy's Foil Show for a penny. One cent was a bargain for a moment of peace. Mom told me to let the kids who just arrived from Europe in for free, as they didn’t understand English. There were no words of any language in my television show, just images scratched with a rusty nail. Even the biggest kid in the community was sent with a penny. His mother was happy to get rid of him and I would also be.
No sooner did the first showing conclude when the big kid wanted his penny back. He said the show was a fake, only drawings on silver paper, not real television. He pointed to me and demanded a refund. My mother says I shook my head NO and pushed him off the porch.
Two weeks later he still wanted his penny back. I no longer had his penny, so he beat me up.
The other story is about color television. My mother had nothing to do with this one. We had a normal size black and white television set. The exterior of the television had doors on the side with the screen. You could close it up when not watching television and it looked like a big wooden box with doors on the front, like you were hiding something in a wooden box that was in your living room.. I think it was was so we could hide the fact we had a black and white television while next door was the future.
The Barzones were one of the first families in town to own a color television set. Their television did not have a big box disguise. It was proud to be a color television. We could see their television from our picture window. While my dad was friends with the husband, his wife thought we were spying on them when we all leaned against the window to watch color television. We weren't peeping toms, just wanted to see their television. When she saw us watching she drew the blinds and we went back to our black and white. It might be obvious we still needed our television set on for the sound as we watched through the window. When we weren't looking through her window she kept the curtains wide open. This was a problem. If we seemed to be watching she drew the drapes. If we weren’t the drapes were open. We could only watch if we weren’t looking through the window and if we looked through the window she’d fix it so we saw nothing. It was a predicament.
Dad used his carpentry skills to an equitable solution. No one needed to look into the house next door once he set up what amounted to a series of mirrors and easels that channeled the reflection of the color television across our living room and onto the screen of our black and white screen. When we wanted the picture to be in color we taped a sheet of typing paper in the middle of out television. The neighbors picture would magically appear on our television, even if you closed the two wooden doors, so long as the typing paper could act as a movie screen. Of course the image, by the time it reached our screen was postage stamp size, so it didn't matter that the picture was also backward and fuzzy. So, what wasn’t out of focus before the advent of high definition imagery? Back then I learned the phrase: necessity is the mother of invention. We needed color television.