A time when TV view­ing op­tions — not the pop­ping of pop­corn — were sim­pler

Lodi News-Sentinel - - OPINION - Chris Piombo is a lo­cal fam­ily man, coach and marathon run­ner.

Ipaused the other day when I heard a tele­vi­sion pro­ducer men­tion there are 500 “tele­vi­sion” se­ries on dozens of “plat­forms” (tra­di­tional net­works, cable, Net­flix, Hulu, etc.) to­day. Dozens of plat­forms? There were only three tele­vi­sion net­works when we were grow­ing up: ABC, CBS, and NBC. There were no VCRs, let alone DVRs, so if two of your fa­vorite shows were on at the same time, your fam­ily had a ma­jor de­ci­sion to make: M*A*S*H or The FBI, a Quinn Martin Pro­duc­tion? Hawk­eye Pierce or In­spec­tor Lewis Ersk­ine? The pil­grims de­cid­ing upon which rock to land had less im­por­tance.

Chil­dren were the clos­est thing to a re­mote con­trol back then. Our dad, in an av­o­cado green chair with emer­ald green pil­lows seated un­der­neath a mint green paint­ing of a mata­dor in a sham­rock green out­fit next to our thick for­est green liv­ing room cur­tains would bark, “Turn on Carol Bur­nett, Butch.” Un­less I could el­bow my younger sib­lings Ann and Joe into ac­tion, I was forced to get up from our lime green shag car­pet, de­tach my­self from the greasy brown Al­bert­sons gro­cery bag con­tain­ing a moun­tain of pop­corn that had been popped in a well-worn yel­low pop­per still smol­der­ing in the kitchen. There were no lit­tle pre-mea­sured bags to gen­tly place in the mi­crowave back then. No, it was Amer­ica in the ’70s and we earned self-re­spect by mak­ing our own pop­corn the hard way. No one, in­clud­ing the gov­ern­ment, was go­ing to give it to us in a neat lit­tle bag. Free­dom isn’t free my friend.

We’d pour the du­bi­ous amounts of veg­etable oil into the pop­per, the bot­tom of it scorched like the heat shield of Gemini 7 after reen­try into the earth’s at­mos­phere. We’d dump a fist­ful of golden ker­nels into the dented pop­per gues­ti­mat­ing the proper ra­tio of oil to corn. Fi­nally we’d plug in the pop­per’s black cord, as thick and dan­ger­ous as an asp in the weeds next to the Nile. There was no timer to tell us the pop­corn was done — we ei­ther waited un­til the com­mer­cial for Marl­boro cig­a­rettes wel­comed us to Fla­vor Coun­try or we smelled smoke com­ing from the kitchen. “Pop­corn’s ready! Where’s the ex­tin­guisher?”

Since I’d been sen­tenced to change the chan­nel, I’d get up and slowly trudge The Green Mile to the brown Zenith tele­vi­sion con­sole the size of the Ark of the Covenant and start turn­ing the dial. Click, click, click. I felt like a Gotham City safe­cracker at mid­night wait­ing for the tum­blers to fall into place. Click, click, click.

Work­ing the dial pro­duced the same sound and the same anx­i­ety as if I was play­ing roulette next to Sammy and Dean at The Sands in Ve­gas. Click, click, click. The fam­ily was on edge, es­sen­tially plac­ing a bet there was some­thing watch­able on the chan­nel at the end of our jour­ney. One never knew if the show was go­ing to be any good and I’d have to con­tinue the process. Sure there was the TV Guide that ar­rived every week at every sin­gle house­hold in the United States and her ter­ri­to­ries (it was the law) but the one line sum­mary of the show, “An out­law gang tries to stop Matt Dil­lon and take the money he’s re­cov­ered from them” in the show’s list­ing didn’t cut it. Come on TV Guide per­son, I need more info. Is Claude Akins or Den­ver Pyle in this episode?

I fi­nally clicked over to the de­sired net­work but The Rule of One (par­ent) could in­stan­ta­neously make my ef­fort a mon­u­men­tal waste of time. The state­ment “Oh, I hate that guy” from ei­ther Mom or Dad meant I had to con­tinue my dial-aride.

The top dial on the tele­vi­sion was sim­ple and trust­wor­thy. It had the num­bers 2-13 which cor­re­sponded with the same num­bered VHF chan­nels. Then there was the mys­te­ri­ous sec­ond dial below it. It had 70 UHF sta­tions on it. Most of them pro­duced noth­ing more on the screen other than gray static but spin­ning that dial fast was fun and it sounded like a Goose Gos­sage rookie card flap­ping in the spokes of my or­ange St­ingray as I played chicken in the street with John Je­washack.

Watch­ing tele­vi­sion in the 1970s was chal­leng­ing and could spark an oc­ca­sional visit from the Tuxedo-Coun­try Club fire de­part­ment. But it brought the fam­ily to­gether and the pop­corn was the best. We wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

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