Friday, February 22, 2019

Nostalgia and T.V. and Me and Jessica

Not everyone is affected by middle age the same way, so I don't know if this is a common experience or not, but one of the things middle age has done to me is to make me pine for things that weren't all that good the first time around.

Earlier tonight I was searching for one thing on the Internet, and, as happens so often and so easily, I got distracted by any number of other things. In the process, I came across a mention on some random guy's blog of the great -- er, "great" may be a bit generous; let's say the factually once existing Vic Tayback. Many years ago, Tayback played the cook and owner of Mel's Diner in the great -- er, again, too generous; in the late-1970's sitcom "Alice."

And, seeing that, I was overcome with a wistful longing to see "Alice" again.

It wasn't that great a show, really; definitely not one that I made sure to always see when it was on back then, and not one that I watched regularly in syndication on Nick at Nite or TV Land; in fact, I probably haven't seen "Alice" in close to forty years. But I did enjoy it when I saw it, which was at least somewhat regularly between 1978 and 1980 or so. If you were around back then, you probably remember the show's breakout star, Polly Holliday, who played waitress Flo on the series, famous for her exasperated cry of "Kiss my grits!" when Mel would get on her last nerve. You may also remember, if your head is as full of as much ancient pop-culture trivia as mine is, that Dave Madden played one of the regular customers at the diner; Madden is perhaps most famous as manager (and Danny's foil) Reuben Kincaid on "The Partridge Family" -- another show I would love to see again, despite its mediocrity.

But what I really want, of course, is not so much to see "Alice" or "The Partridge Family" again -- I feel a similar nostalgia for "The Brady Bunch," and have it in my Hulu watchlist, but I've only actually watched one episode -- as it is to be eight or ten or twelve again, in my childhood home in Lilburn, in the living room (or the den; for a time we had a TV set there, and for some reason I remember watching "Alice" there more than in the living room) with my family, watching...well, whatever happened to be on would do, actually. To be young again, my whole life before me, my parents a full decade and a half younger than I am as I type this, my only real responsibility getting through sixth grade with grades good enough to get me promoted to seventh, my grandmother still alive, my extended family still close enough that I see my cousins every couple of weeks and my cousin Scott, then my best friend, at least once a week, my vague dream of someday being a novelist not yet fully formed, and certainly not dead, as it sometimes feels now.

Without meaning to, I have infected Jessica with a similar nostalgia, though in her case I guess it can't truly be called "nostalgia," since she was not with me forty or more years ago when I originally watched the TV shows she now watches on DVD or streaming from Hulu or Boomerang: "Gilligan's Island," "The Monkees," "The Flintstones," "The Munsters," "The Addams Family"; none of them great shows (though it pains me to admit that "Gilligan's Island" and "The Monkees" are not exceptional TV shows, for I do love them so), but all of them fun and funny and entertaining and basically harmless. I do feel a little guilty sometimes that, in encouraging her fondness for these shows, I am giving her attachments that are totally foreign to just about everyone else her age: when Peter Tork passed away recently at the age of 77, I saw several remembrances of him and the Monkees from my peers on social media, but I'm pretty sure none of Jessica's peers had any idea who Peter Tork was, or that he had even existed.

I don't know if the longing for mediocre elements from your past (even for things you didn't like; sometimes I listen with great enjoyment to songs that I hated when they were first out) is common or not, but I am pretty sure it's a common desire to want to recreate some of your own youth for your children. Jessica, if you read this years from now, perhaps even when you are near my current age, I'm sorry I've done this to you, but I'm really, really glad you like "The Monkees."

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