The sky was grey on this dreary cold day in 6th grade. It actually, in a weird way was of some solace to me. It summed up loneliness, melancholy. Precursors, I guess, to depression. Life long companions I’ve learned to let go of to some extent. It was a deliciously sickly sweet, intoxicating feeling that at the time I just drank in. It was beautiful. I let it envelope me regularly. I had found early on, this was my personal emotion. It, he and I, were friends. Sometimes I thought maybe my best and only friend.
As I said,…it was a grey skied day. This sky would color the whole day, my whole perception of life, during the fall and winter months. Texas may be known for blazing hot weather but I believe Abilene has a private corridor of cold air from the jet stream that runs through it, or however that works, that lets you know there’s something cold up there.
It was a Friday in 6th grade. My class would go across the hall some mornings and join Mr. Wilson’s 6th grade class. It was kind of a dead time for teachers and students that they would never allow in schools today. Odd that this non structured, non instructional time is one of the moments I remember most in all my early schooling. It was, I guess in retrospect, a detoxing time from studies, and I know now, just a time to breath for the teachers. Another thing that is not allowed anymore. I saw my sky as I looked out the window of the old style, brick, three storied school building with radiators on the wall and metal firescapes that went all the way to the ground. We would stay in this combined class format for about an hour before lunch. Just sit and exist and watch TV while the two sixth grade teachers talked and sometimes left the room all together. This was about 10:30 which was when “The Electric Company” came on. I was always excited to see ‘Spidey Super Stories’ on it. I would conceal my excitement from my classmates, but it was s bright part of the morning. ‘Spidey Super Stories’ were weak offerings of the character even if it was a kids show. But it was a take on my favorite character and it was on national TV. I’d take it.
After that, the channel would get changed and we’d watch “The Gong Show”. It seemed that everyone else in the room was oblivious to what was on the TV. Or that it was even on. Mr. Wilson had been in World War II. He had discipline. He had order. That was known to everyone,…so it wasn’t bedlam. But everyone was talking and it was definitely what would be called free time today. Another thing that doesn’t exist much anymore. They were all carrying on conversations and just enjoying socializing. I was not oblivious. TV was my refuge. I studied and understood what was being shown. “The Gong Show”. An odd choice to show to children. I watched the judges interacting on the show. Jamie Farr, crazy Pat McCormick, and resident ‘dirty chick’ JP Morgan, with her suggestive dress and manner, and who was regularly bleeped on camera. Even if I couldn’t hear everything that was being said on the lone little TV and the noise of the room, I could tell it wasn’t exactly kid fair and was more adult behavior than one should see at that age, let alone in school. Again, I seemed to be the only one who noticed or was actually watching. Through all the chaos and noise there was a strange sensation of seeing through to the real prize. I have noticed throughout my life that when there is a breakdown and disorder around me I suddenly have a focus that none around me seem to possess. For whatever reason I have found I thrive in this environment. I was repulsed by most of the people I went to school with and didn’t count any of them friends. Truly. But this day I had another friend in the room in the form of Chuck Barris, his guest judges, their dirty jokes and the bad acts on display. Showbiz! And I studied it like it was the template of life.
There was a book club that we could place orders from every week. I had almost forgotten I’d put in an order the previous week. This particular day our order had come in while we were in Mr. Wilson’s class. While all the other kids were getting their Curious George books and such,…. at the bottom of the box was my order. A Dynamite Magazine with Farrah Fawcett on the cover and my Marvel Supereroes poster,… drawn by Sal Buscema. It was a big fold out poster with Captain America, Spider-Man, The Hulk and others. I knew better than to bring it out amongst the base civilians I was around. Never take anything to or out in the open at school that you want to keep in new order and one piece. I did peek a little under the table and noted it was Sal Buscema art when I noticed his big characteristic Hulk feet he drew. Even then I was getting to the point I could identify different artists. I had plans of putting it up on the wall in the room between our bedrooms when I got home in the adjoining room we called “The Comic Book Room”.
Among the feeling of loneliness and just existing in school everyday, as the noise and confusion of the room surrounded me, and I sat amongst the rabble I attended school with, – I sat there with my prize, knowing that I was the only one in the school who could appreciate it’s significance; it’s superior worth. A warm glow suddenly came over me and an inexplicable feeling of,…. a kind of safe pocket of safety and warmth enclosed me. It was like drinking hot chocolate on a cold day. I have seldom felt that way again.
I don’t believe I ever placed an order through the book club again. There could never be a better selection offered than what I had already perceptively and cunningly snatched up that day. I had mined all there was from that well. I mean, what was the point?
Edit: and an addition here,…because it makes me so happy to see it. The Gong Show at it’s best (depending on how you look at it) and it reminds me of of those times…..