Television played a big role in the Poet’s early development. His earliest memories are of TV Shows he watched. The Lagana’s lived a few doors down, and Frankie Lagana had an older sister that babysat. One time he got to stay at their house, and she let them stay up and watch The Twilight Zone. The episode was about a pilot who had dreams about his crew being lost in the desert. This had happened, and he felt guilt that he was the only survivor. The one was called King 9 Will Not Return. It was kind of anticlimactic, but because it was his first Twilight Zone, it was indelibly etched in his memory.
Frankie was running in the hall and he tripped and his head smashed a hole in the sheetrock, and they had to fill the hole with plaster, which looked really ugly with the wall paper pattern so rudely interrupted. The hole in the wall, not in his head! I guess Frankie was all right. Anyway, one other thing I remember is that his sister liked The Beatles, and she had their first album. At first the younger kids didn’t like The Beatles, but that would change later.
On another occasion, Frankie’s sister was helping Christopher’s mom wash dishes and do laundry, and he asked them when his favorite show would be on, Kukla, Fran, & Ollie. This was a puppet show and Kukla was a dragon puppet, Ollie was a bald man puppet, and Fran was a real person, a lady. Christopher wanted to see it so bad, so just to shut him up, Frankie’s sister said it was on channel 4. Christopher ran to the other room and spun the big knob on the Zenith Black & White Television that his family had been given by their Uncle Bill, who was an early adopter of technology and had already replaced it with a newer model. It had kind of beige plastic with black strands of plastic filaments fused to the plastic to give it a kind of Jackson Pollack design effect. Christopher didn’t know what a 4 looked like, or indeed, how to read letters, let alone numbers. He ran back and asked what a 4 looked like. Then when he had switched the knob to channel 4, he didn’t see the program, and he ran back and asked what time was it on. Frankie’s older sister said it was on at 4 O’Clock. Great. He knew what a 4 looked like now. But when he ran back and looked at the clock, he couldn’t understand how to tell time. He ran back and they told him “When the big hand is on the 4, and the little hand is on 12.” This was still confusing, like the description of the bunny had been when he was trying to tie his shoes. First of all, by ‘big’ did they mean short and fat or long and thin? Also, he only knew what a 4 looked like. He didn’t know what a 12 was. So, I think that he did learn the numbers, but only the bare minimum, enough to change channels and tell time. Actually, I don’t think he did learn to tell time. Because there was an incident later that demonstrated that he was still unaware of it. I guess that also, everything that Frankie’s older sister had said was false. Channel 4 was NBC. Kukla, Fran & Ollie wasn’t on NBC. And it wasn’t on at 4 O’Clock, either. They just told him that to shut him up.
Christopher’s family all loved Ravioli, but Christopher thought it tasted like vomit. He made his mother get him Chicken Cacciatore instead, even though it had essentially the same tomato-based sauce, with the same acidic pH level, just as redolent of vomit as the Ravioli. Anyway, Christopher remembered the contentment of eating chicken cacciatore, and they were watching The Honeymooners, starring Jackie Gleason, and Art Carney. The theme song was an instrumental featuring a trumpet solo backed by an orchestra. Christopher really dug the trumpet sound, and responded emotionally to the music. There was a segment on Rocky and Bullwinkle where Peabody and Sherman went back in time in the Wayback Machine, and made horrible puns. During the Revolutionary War chickens were trained to find British spies. You never heard of Chicken Catch a Tory? So, anyway, The Honeymooners had a cool theme song, even if it was interrupted by the announcer.
Christopher went to kindergarten and he brought some cardboard cut-outs of The Flintstones for Show and Tell. To his horror, chagrin, and embarrassment, Susie Allison had brought the same Flintstone cut-outs. He had planned to explain what he had noticed immediately, regarding The Flintstones, and that was that they were a complete rip off of The Honeymooners. Fred Flintstone = Ralph Kramden. Betty Rubble = Trixie Norton. Audrey Meadows. Alice Kramden = Wilma Flintstone. Barney was nothing but a prehistoric Art Carney, or Barney Rubble = Ed Norton. But set in prehistoric times, and a cartoon. Furthermore, the theme song of The Flintstones used the chord structure of I Got Rhythm, especially the bridge. But his carefully constructed expose of The Flintstones was undermined by Susie Allison having the same set of Flintstone cut-outs for Show and Tell, so that he didn’t want to even Show, much less tell. Susie’s father owned a Chevrolet dealership, and her older brother led a pack of bullies that would later molest his friend Robert Pasina, as he would overhear in their first grade parent teacher meeting. Luckily, the bullies would all go to the Catholic School, St. Christopher’s, so Christopher wouldn’t have to endure, or even meet them until much later. For High School they would go to Belarmine, which was the school that Bing Crosby’s kids would attend.
There was another show that Christopher liked to watch, and that was The Friendly Giant, a show on Channel 9’s KQED, a PBS station. The show was filmed in Wisconsin, and it was a children’s program where the giant would read kids stories. Christopher was enthralled by the show’s theme song that the giant would play on a recorder. Da da-da bu-da da da da da da da da da da. How could the giant remember where to put his fingers, which holes to cover and uncover? Look up. Way up. They filmed it with forced perspective so the giant looked enormous. He had a set of dollhouse furniture and he would explain that here was a sofa that two kids could curl up on. There was also a giraffe puppet and a chicken in a bag, like a Christmas stocking hung on the mantle. The giraffe reinforced the feeling that the giant was very tall, since you only saw the giraffe from the neck up.
Christopher remembers one of the stories very well, because it was one of the first times he noticed that plots were used over and over again by writers, and he speculated that certain stories must have magical powers, that once they discovered the magic formula, they would tell the same story with minor variations, because it worked. This story was about the king’s barber. Most of the barbers who were hired to cut the king’s hair only lasted a day, and then they disappeared. This barber was very clever, and when he was hired, he resolved to keep his wits about him, so that he wouldn’t meet the fate of the rest of the barbers who had gone before him. When the king took off his helmet the barber noticed that the king has goat ears. So, after finishing the job, when the king asked him if he had noticed anything unusual, the barber flattered the king and just said that he looked unusually handsome. He was told to return in six weeks for another hair cut, paid well, and sent on his way.
Every six weeks the same ritual was reenacted. But the burden of the king’s secret began to weigh heavily upon him. He had to tell someone, so he dug a hole by the river and whispered his secret into the hole: “Tsar Trojan has goat’s ears.” Relieved he went about his business. But then, a song swept the populace. It was on everyone’s lips, from the postman to the paperboy. The refrain was “Tsar Trojan has goat’s ears.” Who had written this admittedly catchy but blasphemous tune? Tsar Trojan’s henchmen traced it to a shepherd who claimed that he had just fashioned a flute to amuse his flocks, from a reed that grew on the banks of the river. The barber shuddered. That was where the hole was. The next time he was summoned for the royal haircut, he could hardly keep his hand steady. Still, he managed to finish the job. Afterwards Tsar Trojan questioned him unmercifully. No one else had ever seen him without his royal helmet. He showered with it. He even slept with it. So, in fact, the barber was the only one who could have seen it. He must be the source of the leak. Finally, the barber was forced to confess. He told him he had only whispered it into a hole in the ground. The reed was what had betrayed him. I think in this version, the barber was rewarded for his honesty.
Now, this story was also the basis of one of The Brothers Grimm tales. This was made into a movie and shown in a Cinerama Theater. There was a chain of theaters, and this was the first, but there would eventually be two more. They were located across from Town & Country Plaza, by the Winchester Mystery House. More on that latter. Anyway, the Brothers Grimm movie had several segments, and one of them was about a cowardly knight, played by Terry Thomas, a British actor who had a wide gap between his front teeth. His faithful servant was played by Buddy Hackett. Through a series of pratfalls and mishaps, he had killed the dragon while the knight had cowered in fear. Yet, once the dragon was slain, the knight took full credit and was hailed as a hero. The faithful servant made a flute as well. I think it was fashioned not from a reed but from the thigh bone of one of the victims of the dragon. So, once played, it also told the tale of the cowardly knight.
The point here is that it provided a glimpse to young Christopher of what went on behind the scenes with scribes. Well, even Shakespeare himself had fashioned his plays from earlier material. He could see into the workshop as they sawed and hammered away, crafting the tales to keep a drowsy emperor awake, or a gullible populace entertained. Christopher felt he could do as well, of course first he would have to learn to read, and also how to type really fast. But for now, he just kept the stories in his head, and remembered them.