In the very early morning we watch the snow. It’s not outside, most of the time. Flecks of it scatter in grainy grays across the television screen, accompanied by a loud even whisper, a constant shshshshsh, like the rush of unvaried water.
On the floor in front of the television, munching cinnamon toast, sleepy-eyed and expectant, gazing into nothing but the snow.
Then when it suddenly appears, staring at its mysterious symbols, anxious to catch the exact moment that it will be replaced by what we are truly waiting for: Saturday morning.
Off/on and volume knob, station-changing knob to click from WDTV channel 3 to WJAC channel 6. Little knobs in the middle for clearing the picture, and also for making lines go up and down fast or bend across slow--not supposed to play with these (but do sometimes.)
Captain Midnight--at first just a guy in a leather flying cap introducing old movies, then a series—the Silver Dart, Secret Squadron, SQ1 to SQ2, Icabod Mudd (“with two ds.”)
One year, one after the other: Tom Corbett, Space Cadet; Rocky Jones, Space Ranger; Space Patrol; Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers. Ovaltine, Nestles’ Quick.
School overflows with kids, crowded classrooms. We hear adults talking about building new bigger schools, and some of us soon go to one, or more.
Afternoons: Kukla, Fran and Ollie; Hoody Doody at five o’clock.
Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Disneyland: Man in Space.
Saturday afternoon movies with neighborhood pals at the Manos and Strand movie palaces uptown, 24 cartoons, serials or comedy shorts, newsreel, double feature. Fueled with popcorn, licorice, Milk Duds, Good & Plenty, Dots, Spearmint Leaves, malted milk balls, along with apples and sandwiches brought from home, to watch:
Sledding down Jankowsky’s hill all the way down Grove Street, Captain Midnight leather cap, flying like Superman.
The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Day the World Ended, Beginning of the End, The Space Children.
Before TV there were books-- The Little Engine That Could, Little Toot, all the illustrated rhymes and stories in the blue volumes of My Book House.
And records-- Tubby the Tuba and old records I could play on my Howdy Doody phono-doodle.
After that a torrent: Hardy Boys mysteries, books on Annapolis and West Point, sea stories, sports books by Joe Archibald and John R. Tunis (The Kid Comes Back) along with Space Cadet (and anything by Robert Heinlein), Islands in the Sky (and anything with the Winston Science Fiction logo.)
Alone in my dark room in the carapace of light from my study lamp over my desk, where I was supposed to be doing my homework, I interrupt the story I was writing (“The Desert Menace”) to record in my brown school notebook: "The Russians, Conquerors of Space. Oct.4, 1957. I have just heard some news which will affect my whole future. Russia has just successfully launched the first man-made satellite into space…How did the Russians do it? Out of their own ingenuity? Did they get information from a spy in America? A traitor? All the work our scientists and top brains did, what for? Will the Russians take advantage of this and use it to start a war?"
Zorro, the Buccaneers, West Point Story, Annapolis, Science Fiction Theatre.
Colds, flu, measles (twice), mumps, chicken pox...days in bed with comic books bought at half price, half the cover torn off: old Captain Marvels, Swat Malone, the Little Wise Guys, as well as newer Superman and Batman. Classics Illustrated: From the Earth to the Moon, The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds.
Errands to the neighborhood store for bread (20 cents a loaf) milk (a quarter for a quart) and penny candy with the change.
Rocky and Bullwinkle, Beanie and Cecil, Tom Terrific and Manfred the Wonderdog.
Summer and after school hanging out and fooling around at the soda fountain counters and ice cream places in town. Vanilla cokes, ice cream cones (each a nickel), skyscraper cone or Klondike bar at Isaly’s, splurge on a butterscotch sundae (25 cents) or a banana split (30 cents.) Nothing like the malt shops on TV though.
Hennesey, The Twilight Zone. Harvest of Shame.
Staying with cousins never met before, freezing along Constitution Ave. for the Inaugural Parade, seeing the sights the next day, first bowl of clam chowder. On Sunday, the right church, the right time, and the out-of-body moment: shaking the hand of the new President of the United States.
JFK: TV press conference wit, the Peace Corps, physical fitness and fifty-mile hikes, touch football and sailing in Hyannisport. America is young.
Trip to New York for high school journalism conference at Columbia. First Broadway play: Camelot.
Chosen as an usher for President Kennedy’s speech in Pittsburgh, told how to identify Secret Service and to report anything suspicious. Watching the crowd as much as the President.
That week television and radio monitored Soviet ships approaching the U.S. Navy quarantine line.
Changing classes, into an empty classroom to see on the blackboard someone had drawn in white chalk a large mushroom cloud.
That Sunday the news that Soviets will withdraw the missiles—the crisis is over.
The Defenders, The Law and Mr. Jones. Howard K. Smith: News and Comment. This Land is Your Land, Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Blowin in the Wind.
JFK’s nuclear test ban treaty and Civil Rights speeches, bold historic moves for peace and justice.
Bye Bye Birdie, PT 109, Captain Newman MD, It’s A Mad Mad Mad World, The Ugly American. Outer Limits, The Lieutenant, East Side/West Side.
On the floor in front of the constant television coverage for three days, as if it would change what happened.
One break to help dad drape the Singer store window in black crepe, Main Street silent in the cold, every store closed, with every storefront window draped in black.
I see accused assassin Oswald on TV being moved through the parking garage, startled to see a gun—but no, it’s a microphone. Seconds later, sound of the shot, and the chaos. Oswald is dead. I've seen a man shot to death on live TV.
Out of the black emptiness of many months, That Was the Week That Was, Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America, Robert Frost and Shelley, Growing Up Absurd, The Hidden Persuaders, The Other America, J.D. Salinger and John Updike, James Baldwin and James Thurber, Please Please Me, The Sound of Silence. The Times They Are A-Changin.
Greenwich Village, first off-Broadway play: The Zoo Story.
We—the young men of our generation—will be called in the draft to fight this war, possibly to die. Catch-22 becomes the book we carry. The society around us doesn’t want to hear about it, goes its merry way: Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Gidget, Peyton Place.
From grade school we knew the future could end in a thermonuclear moment. Later we learned it could founder on an assassination. Now for my generation there was to be another way to stop the future, one at a time, for nothing that made sense. And no one seemed to question, to care. It was all huge gleaming cars with giant tail fins, floor wax and power mowers.