The Life and Times of Chip Douglas

Tige Andrews with Mod Squad co-stars, Michael ...
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The Life and Times of Chip Douglas

Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your home.  ~David Frost

I grew up with three caregivers – a mother, father and a black and white Admiral 21″ surrogate baby sitter.  My electronic aupair was a warm, friendly spirit whose tubes and wires glowed piping images of perfect nuclear families, communities where morality always triumphed over self-interest and colorful paragons of law and order who went by names like Mannix, Rockford, Kojak and McGarret.

Many a generation Joneser grew up as the seventh child of the Brady Bunch, the fourth kid in My Three Sons and the sixth kid, second row percussion in the Partridge family. While later generations would be Saved By The Bell or snared by Family Ties, I learned about the give and take of life in a large depression era family from The Waltons.   I registered everything that I saw on television and tried to bring these core values into our home.  At night, I would stare into the dark at bedtime and envy how the Waltons all said “good-night” to one another.  The simple act of wishing one another a safe slumber seemed to consummate that deep bond that any family should feel toward one another.  I recall screwing up my courage to introduce a new fraternal bond among my brothers.  I sat silent as the final bedside lights dimmed straining my eyes into the darkness of my older brother’s bedroom, watching for any sign of movement.

“ Night, Tom!” I whispered.  No response.  In a slightly louder voice, “ Good-night, Tom”  Still no reply.  “ Good…” A high top sneaker flew through the door and hit me in the face.  “ Shut-up, you goon.  What do think you’re on, the Waltons?“

I was Chip Douglas, the disturbed vidiot cableman in The Cable Guy, emulating much of what I saw in movies and on television.  I had great empathy for single parents after watching Bill Bixby in “ The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.”  It seemed in the 70’s people who were divorced wore a sort of scarlet letter on their foreheads.  We would listen undetected as parents gossiped on the phone about the nature of marital break ups and “divorcees”.  Kids often got labeled as “bad” because they had the misfortune of growing up in a broken home.  I wondered if these same gossipy paragons of virtue had watched Brian Keith struggle as a single dad in “Family Affair” or Dihann Carroll in “Julia”, whether they might realize that most single parents sacrificed more for the sake of raising their children.

We were introduced to Archie Bunker who revealed the comical shortcomings of provincial bigotry.  “M*A*S*H” reminded us of the futility of war. The teenagers of “Room 222” at Walt Whitman High School were bright, driven kids navigating the treacherous shoals of life’s personal, social and political shores.  Each week, a small boat would brush against a difficult issue such as tolerance, drugs and gulp, sex.  These students were guided by a progressive American History teacher, Pete Dixon, who steered them through difficults straits toward adulthood and commanded his crew with velvet understanding.

And then there was my favorite show,  “The Mod Squad”.  This hippie detective drama offered up the three ultra-cool undercover officers:  Julie Barnes played by gorgeous Peggy Lipton, Pete Cochran played by Michael Cole and the fly guy of all-time – Linc Hayes played by Clarence Williams III. I idolized Linc and his teflon indifference to the injustice of society.  Linc had it all going on.  His signature line was a celebration of urban simplicity, “ solid, man.”

I waited endlessly for the day that I could say “ Solid man.“  I finally laid this multicultural affirmation on my father after he told me to sweep out the garage.  Expecting a fight, he was confused by my response. He hesitated and squinted at me as if I had uttered some disrespectful epithet.  We stared at one another.  I could see his wheels turning wanting to reprimand his son for calling him “man” but clearly he was in the deep end of the generational pool.  He shook his head and walked away.  I swaggered to the garage having known that on this day, I stuck it to The Man.

Television shows of the late 60s and 70s offered you families and lives that you wanted to emulate.  Characters were kind, comical, sympathetic and predictable. These were the kind of people with whom you’d vacation, invite to your BBQ and ask to watch your children while you took a vacation to the Poconos.  TV tied America up in a neat little bow and gently walked you through the difficult social and cultural issues that tore at the fabric of its family values in the newspapers, on college campuses and across a great green ocean in Vietnam.

In 1973, the top shows according to Nielsen were: All in the Family, The Waltons, Sanford and Son ,M*A*S*H, Hawaii Five-0, Maude, Kojak (tie), The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour (tie), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (tie), Cannon (tie), The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bob Newhart Show (tie), The Wonderful World of Disney (tie) ,Gunsmoke and Happy Days.

In the 70’s, kids played outside because there was no cable TV.  Programming was spread across 11 channels offering a narrow adolescent primetime on cartoon Saturday mornings and early evening sitcoms. Mornings were filled with game shows, soap operas and Jack Lalanne exercise classes. 70’s afternoon television was filled with talk shows, news and boredom. Friday and Sunday nights were primetime slots as 80% of all families were assembled to share an evening meal together and then watch their favorite show. TV was an acceptable companion.  While futurists like Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov portended the intellectual downfall of mankind from the boob tube, we watched a Sunday evening double header of Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and the Wonderful World of Disney.  We did not feel stupid.  We felt entertained and informed.

I confess to still carrying on my affair with my television although I am overwhelmed by my cable selections and offended by our lowest common denominator preoccupation with all things forbidden.  Each night, out of habit, I turn on the tube. My spouse turns off the TV when I leave the room.  This annoys me. I turn it back on.  She turns it off.  She hates television.  Being the son of an advertising man and having a sardonic preoccupation with the decline of society, I watch dark things and cable sitcoms.  When no one is watching I turn on “Lock Up – Behind Bars in America”.  I am beyond schadenfruede.  I am now actively seeking to consort with all of life’s undesirables – its blemishes, warts and shame

The Center for Media Literacy has tried to reach out to me.  The CML recently published a five point manifesto attempting to help Americans realize that television is not a magic lens to the world.  Reality TV – it seems – is not so real.  News is more entertainment than objective reporting. To those couch potato adults and their chubby pre- diabetic progeny who now have over 400 hundred channels from which to choose 24/7 television, the CML laid out a simple set of truths:

1) You are smarter than your TV

2) TV world is not the real world

3) TV teaches us that some people are supposedly more important than others

4) TV does the same things over and over

5) People use the TV to make money

I know this is a shocker but over 100M Americans do not understand these basic concepts or know that Belgium is in Europe.

The Waltons have been replaced by the Gosselins. TV detectives are no longer all male, fat, bald or based in Hawaii. Mary Tyler Moore and Newhart have moved on or out of therapy.  The Western is dead and Disney is an entire channel. Sonny died in a ski crash and Cher is still dating 20 year olds. We long for Happy Days but now realize the Six Million Dollar Man is a golden parachuted CEO of a failed bank.  Along the way, we are now warned of enlarged prostates, restless legs, sleeping problems and situational anger.  All of this could result in vomiting, severe bone pain, abdominal bleeding, chest palpitations, or suicidal thoughts – – and if all fails, go out and buy a snuggie.

Goodnight and sweet dreams. “Buenos Noches, Tia Tequilla.” “Buonanotte, Snookie.” “Bonne nuit, Housewives of Beverly Hills.”

Where the hell is John Boy?

October Country

chaneyjrlon03

“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright…”

“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright…”

Curt Siodmak

There’s a shaded glen on the edge of any small town where apparitions and dimly lit phantasms move with the silent uncertainty.  It’s a shadowed meridian separating the Indian summer days of September and the twilight chill of a dying November.  The celebrated science fiction writer Ray Bradbury called it “October Country” — a slate gray world where things happen out of the corner of your eye and life seems to be just a quick gasp away from the extraordinary.  It’s along these foggy back roads and footpaths of the unconscious mind that a young boy is likely to meet things that go bump in the night.

Monsters represent our first collision with life’s deep mysteries – forces that we cannot control but might possibly be controlled by how we respond to them.  Later in life, our childhood preoccupations – dinosaurs, sharks and imaginary beasts fall away and are replaced by temporal threats – terrorists, financial insecurities and a world that seems to always be on the cusp of chaos.  While we have grown gray, we have never forgotten those first feelings of irrational adolescent fear when we were forced to confront the creatures and demons that lived in the deep forests of our imaginations.

In 1969, the movie “The Wolfman” prowled the foggy roads and villages of the television countryside.  Lon Chaney Jr. played Larry Talbot, a poor American unfortunate warned by a traveling gypsy that he would be bitten by a werewolf and would transform into a carnivorous monster at the next full moon. “The Wolfman” scared the dog dirt out of me. Once bitten by a werewolf, you would be doomed to become a creature of the night.  The fact that you would kill by a full moon and then wake up the next morning refreshed could mean anyone could be a werewolf.  Since I had a bad habit of sleep walking, I would often wake up in unfamiliar parts of the house.  Had I killed an old woman the night before? Was that hair in my teeth mine?

Were others werewolves?  I watched to see who ate the extra hamburger and who seemed to enjoy their steak rare.

Yet, after seeing the movie, Dracula, I was uncertain if werewolves scared me more than vampires.  The early vampires of film were hardly the young, swarthy teens of the Twilight series.  In 1922, creepy FW Murnau filmed the German silent film “Nosferatu”.  To say the ugly stick had hit this Teutonic vampire was an uber understatement. How this gangly ghoul got any fräulein to show her face, let alone her neck, was beyond the rules of the natural world.  Later, actors like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi starred as leading vampires seducing women and leaving a trail of blood and perfume in their wake.  In a strange way, these ugly middle-aged actors gave men hope.  If a pallid 40 something guy that looked like a grocery store manager could get a gorgeous woman to surrender her neck and about five pints of plasma by saying, “ look into my eyes, my eyes “ in a faux eastern European accent, there was a chance that paying that $60 cover charge for a NY night club was not in vain.

Between my own preoccupation with these scary stories, horror movies and comic books with names like “ The Unexpected” and “ Tales from the Crypt”, my imagination had no room for rational thought to filter the ghosts, demonic possessions and phantasms.  My obsessions turned inevitably to irrational fear and I began hearing noises under my bed and seeing monsters in scabrous shadows.

The fear became so acute I literally found it impossible to walk the ten feet of hallway from my bedroom to the restroom.  So, like most red-blooded eight year olds, I improvised.  If awakened during the black hours between midnight and five am, I would relieve myself behind the bedroom door.

For weeks, my new solution worked beautifully until, to my horror, the cat started to also relieve herself in my spot behind the door.  At first, I whisked her away but I realized that during school hours she would be using my room as a litter box.  I decided to kill the increasingly stinging odor of ammonia with a bottle of my father’s English Leather cologne.  The mixture of cologne and urine created a pungent scent reminiscent of a loo in London’s Waterloo Station. The new aroma was successful in repulsing the cat that would not even enter my bedroom.

“What-the-hell-is-that-smell?” My dad asked as he came into my room.  I was jolted with a consequence I had not contemplated.  What if my parents discovered that I had been peeing behind the door? Being a young boy, I was highly skilled at the art of diversions and redirected his attention to my recently organized desk drawer and numerous questions about his job.

He would shake his head still unable to find the epicenter of the miasma.  “I swear to God if I catch either that cat or dog upstairs, I am going to tie them to the back of a truck.” I thought about implicating the animals but loved them too much to risk the potential that he might leave them tied to a moving van  I went to bed each night declaring that this would be the night I would brave the darkness for the sake of hygiene and yet, each time I awoke, I could not risk getting my trachea ripped out by Larry Talbot aka Wolfman.

Each night, I would stare at my Aurora plastic models that I had constructed with the glowing faces and hands – the Wolfman, Creature From the Black Lagoon and Dracula. I would turn on my radio to listen to the voice of midnight DJ’s as if to reassure myself that others were awake somewhere. Like clockwork, the song “Nights in White Satin” would moan like a dirge out of the weak illuminated light of my AM radio.  The Moody Blues would croon hauntingly, ” breathe deep, the gathering gloom, watch lights fade from every room…Cruel orb that rules the night, removes the color from our sight…” By the time the British voice asked the listener, “ and which is an illusion,” I was utterly freaked out and convinced that outside my room the undead waited patiently to eat my face.

By day, I was a young, invincible fear junkie wanting to hear every gory detail about every scary thing that ever happened to anyone – particularly kids my age.  My brother was very accommodating – sharing stories of escaped insane asylum inmates with hooks for hands. He told me of ghostly hitchhikers that warned drivers of dangerous roads and people buried alive.  By the time you finished a fireside autumn monster story session, you would more likely let your kidneys fail than venture by yourself into a darkened toilet.

The day arrived when my mother decided to pull up all the shag rugs to take advantage of the wood floors that rested unappreciated under the bedroom carpets.  In the corner of my bedroom was a rotted hole where the permanently wet wood had yielded my relentless nightly assaults.  Instead of being implicated, my mother mistakenly presumed that the shower was leaking.  When I arrived home,  she was moments away from paying a plumber to tear up the floors to find the leak in the shower tray.  In a moment of moral crisis, I confessed that I had been fouling the bedroom corner for eight months.  Instead of punishing me, she just sat down and started to laugh until she literally cried.  “ Please just use the toilet,” she said. “ And stop reading all that garbage that scares you at night.”  She never did tell my father.

I stopped my midnight number one runs but occasionally a bad dream got the better of me and I found myself racing into my parents’ bedroom to sleep on their floor.  My father hated this invasion of privacy.  It was bad enough to have four boys and no intimate time with one’s spouse but I also had the annoying habit of thumping my head on the pillow when I was scared.  On a typical night, one could hear a rhythmic pounding from my room as I soothed my anxieties and quite possibly damaged my brain.

My Dad would know I had arrived as he was soon awakened by the THUMP-THUMP-THUMPING of my head pounding the floor at the foot of his bed.  In a half stupor, he would say, ” Jesus Ruth, the workers are here awfully early!” Then he would slip temporarily back into slumber.  At the next THUMP-THUMP he would bolt awake recognizing the cranial percussion.  If an anthropologist were studying the scene, he would explain my head banging as the innate warning system of an animal trying to terrify its antagonists – both real and imagined. Eventually, the concussive noises would die down and I would pass out from sheer exhaustion.

” Michael, cut that crap out.” He would hiss in the dark.

I was relieved that he was awake. If I could just fall asleep before him, all would be well.  At first, I was too anxious and felt too much pressure to sleep.  Soon, his snores indicated that he had left me behind to find my way through October country.

Thump! No reaction.

I could not stop myself but wanted to avoid another rebuke. THUMP-hesitate -THUMP! “Damn it, Michael. Cut that out or you have to go back to your room.”  I smiled. I could tell he was more awake now.  I would be able to fall asleep before him and would live to see another dawn.

It seemed in October country the sun came up later and the night arrived well before it was welcome.  However, if you could keep your dad awake, at least until you fell asleep, you just might make it to your ninth birthday.

Dude, Where’s My Party ?

They say women talk too much.  If you have worked in Congress you know that the filibuster was invented by men.  ~Clare Booth Luce

I just renewed my license at the DMV and was once again asked to register to vote.  I reviewed my two choices – – the party of Pelosi, “we’re all going to get free healthcare” and “look, there’s an investment banker, get him!” or the party of Sarah “ run Nana, there’s a death panel truck” Palin, dyspeptic John Boehner – (actually can you even name five Republicans ?) and Blackwater. I checked the box marked: “Independent”.

Yes, I know that raising politics in a small town is tantamount to taking enriched uranium yellow cake out of your pocket and saying,  “check this out Bob, look what I made in my garage.”

The dictionary defines politics as “ the art and science of administration of government.“ It seems no one disagrees on the serial blunders of W (for some it takes several drinks) whose administration seemed to employ neither art nor science.  Somewhere along the way, compassionate conservatives became passionate conservatives.  (Where did the “com” go?) I still have close friends who stick by the Grand Old Party even though they are disgusted by the party’s state of affairs.  They act like someone whose family member was found to be a convicted serial killer, “ yeah, I know George killed 12 waitresses.  But hey, he’s family.”

Some could take it no longer and moved left into a new protectorate – one that talked of social equity (higher taxes) and tough love (higher taxes).  The migration away from the conservatives led to the election of a new President and some freshman blue dog legislators.  We tossed out a few tired, pieces of aged red and blue cheese who had been sitting on the Congressional counter too long. When the dust settled and the echoes of “yes, we can “ faded, suddenly Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were in charge.  Some intoxicated by the possibility of a course correction had not read the fine print that indicated these ardent ideologues came with the package.

Many moderates were drawn to the charisma of Obama and the possibility of change.  For others, it was less about moving toward something as it was the need to distance themselves from an ethos that had lost its allure. With the exodus of many Moderate GOPs to Blue Dog Dems, the Conservative Caucus lost critical mass and its chorus was diminished of gentler voices.  The former chorale suddenly screeched with bellicose arias and exaggerated solos of the party’s more hyper-orthodox prima donnas. When I now drive by the Grand Ole Party I see an angry lynch mob.  The GOP is spending less time telling me what it stands for and more time acing like Nostradamus portending our imminent doom.  It is not a party to which a Moderate would want to return.  It’s like seeing your former neighborhood go to hell.  The GOP that I knew – is gone.

My conservative friends regularly remind me that my move toward the left will expose me to a dogma that I never experienced in my moderate greenbelt.  And to a degree, they are correct.  I admit I do not feel at home among the Democratic Caucus.  My GOP pals smile assuming I am having second thoughts. My liberal friends encourage me to give it time. Like a child at his first sleep away camp, perhaps I am just homesick for my mother’s cooking.

I understand the Democrats anger and zealous desire to move with lightening speed to enact legislation that reverses, in their minds, years of great social inequities, visited by a testosterone charged administration that overspent and under-regulated. Dems know that 2010 midterm elections may swing the political pendulum back toward the middle – reducing the chances to pass health and immigration reform, tax increases and the expansion of entitlement programs.  Their clarion cry for equity and moral responsibility falls unevenly on a population that is suffering from a massive case of economic uncertainty.  We see an estimated $9T in public debt and a future where our children’s inheritance is a massive promissory note to foreign investors. It scares us to spend more.

After a year of hanging out with the Southpaws – I feel disingenuous. I do not track with all the high-fiving and grand plans for massive social change.  When we speak of focusing more on those who can’t help themselves and my need to pay higher taxes to finance vital repairs to a ragged social safety net, I am very supportive.  Yet, when the conversation turns to the cost of financing a dramatic transformation of healthcare, education, economic stimulus and immigration, I start to get a little uncomfortable.

My days of Macro and Micro Economics 101 flash back and I can not see how a fragile recovery can shoulder more public debt, higher taxes reaching into the middle class through pass through assessments and a continuation of “put off until tomorrow” monetary policies.  No one is talking tough choices, personal responsibility or austerity.  I start to get nauseous and leave the Donkey’s lair to get some air.  Nobody really notices I am missing.  So what do I stand for?

I subscribe to the ancient Greek saying, “the mark of a great society is when old men plant trees that they know they will never rest underneath.” I believe if you do not have the money to buy what you want, you must pull in your belt and purchase only what you need. I think everyone should have a roof over their head but not everyone should own a home. To quote one pundit, ” if 15% of Americans were homeless, we would not solve the problem by putting the other 85% in Federal Housing.”

I believe “a great society is defined by how it takes care of the least among them.”  The dividends of free market capitalism do not fall evenly on all heads like soft rain. When people fail they do not always reinvent into better versions of their former selves. People don’t “go out of business”, they need a hand up or become wards of a system – a criminal justice or welfare system.  When the economy tanks, it is often the most vulnerable among us that suffer. Its up to us to decide what kind of system we can afford to offer and how we can finance these vital entitlements with a dollar for dollar reduction in non-essential government spending.

If we do not make some tough choices, we could end up with sustained double-digit unemployment, hyperinflation and social unrest. Many politicians simply lack the political will to acknowledge this dangerous climate change.

The best domestic and foreign policy is to create a viable consumer class.  A rising tide of prosperity lifts all boats and drowns out the bellicose extremists that seek to advance agendas ranging from authoritarianism, communism, social Darwinism -any theology that divides people while centralizing power.  Americans are spoiled.  They do not take the time to learn the facts and want rapid resolution.  We don’t live well with pain. We gorge on the empty carbohydrates of TV and radio sound bites.  Charisma and character are often confused.

I am ticked off at Republicans and Democrats for so completely abandoning a doctrine that promised reduced deficits, effective regulation and social investment that expanded the middle class.  We were not supposed to preside over a period where the economic chasm between those at the top and the bottom of society exponentially expanded.

So who do we hold culpable? The Dems want their incumbents (rap sheets and all) reelected.  Meanwhile, the Party of W presided over massive increases in our public debt and now suffer from collective memory loss saying its all Obama’s fault.  A few are even showing grainy photos of what looks like the President firing RPGs with Osama Bin Laden while on holiday in Karachi.   If it were up to me, I would toss the lot of them out on their ear.  Who is buying this garbage?

As someone who still clings to aspirations to leave the world a better place than when I came into it, I am flummoxed. I scan the political horizon line for fresh faces that attempt to honestly frame reality while at the same time having the political courage to attempt to change it.  It’s grim.

Am I a Libertarian? A Populist?  A Demoindependican? My political meandering seems to piss everyone off. I have been accused of being a bleeding heart liberal, an idealistic windsock, a Republican in sheep’s clothing or a political ronin – you name it. Most are usually quick to tell me why an idea won’t work but tend to stumble when asked to offer a viable solution.  It isn’t easy stuff.  Is Obama really a closet socialist hell-bent on massive income redistribution or is he a neophyte liberal politician with incredible charisma whose desire for greater social equilibrium is running into a two party buzz saw that categorically refuses to split the solution down the middle? Is he in control of a headstrong Democratically controlled Congress or is he painfully learning on the job?  Is he Valdemort or Voltaire ?

So here I sit – an Independent.  Do we Independents have a mascot? May be we could choose an eagle – strong, resilient and self-sufficient.  Are eagles taken? Are they, like the Independent, still endangered? Other than Joe Lieberman, I actually don’t know any Independents.  Where do they hang out?  Do we have a convention? Or at least a clubhouse with a small gym?

As I sit with my chin in hand on the proverbial curb, the great red and blue political machines churn, polish, manage and crank out Teflon candidates to challenge one another’s incumbents.  And I can’t find a single member of my new tribe.

Dude, where’s my party?

Walk It Off

broken ankle
Image by freeparking via Flickr

“Pain is weakness leaving the body” – Tom Sobal

In 1000 AD England, King Elthred was supreme ruler on earth. To villagers and peasants, life was a fragile gossamer strand that could be snapped by a sudden invisible hand as easily as one might brush aside a spider’s web.

Healers relied on sacred and profane remedies to exorcise the physical demons that brought plagues and misery. In darker times, giving in meant giving up. People learned early to chide and cajole the injured and infirmed ( gettest thou out of bed, you are fine !) as if to acknowledge the severity of their condition would make it a self fulfilling prophesy.

In the late 1500’s, an unusual illustrated journal maintained by an 11th century monk revealed much about life and death in the dark ages. In one protracted pictograph of medieval medicine, leaches were applied to the legs of individuals with circulatory and psychological ailments.  With their parasitic poultice in tow, the afflicted were expected to walk great distances – presumably to increase circulation – which in turn would swell the growth of the leach until it would literally burst off the patient’s skin.  This bloody explosion was said to mark the point at which the bad blood had been extracted, improving the odds for a speedy recovery.  It was theorized by one etymologist that this was the genesis of the Anglican stiff upper lip expression – “walk it off.”

Centuries later, I recall being beaned in the right leg during a high school scrimmage by Jim Gott, an all-county pitcher who threw laser fastballs in excess of 90 mph.  Gott went on to enjoy a decade long career in Major League Baseball with stints as a reliever for the Blue Jays, Giants and Dodgers. On this day, he all but fractured my femur with a low and tight slider that chose not to break.  I am reminded of the blinding flash of pain as well as the taste of red dirt on my tongue as I writhed in the chalk of the batters box. I distinctly recollect the unsympathetic cacophony of fathers and coaches who all yelled out precisely at the same moment, “walk it off, Turpin!”

As I got up limping on one leg, I shot an indignant leer through the chain-linked backstop. I saw distain on their ancient faces and could almost divine their prehistoric thoughts.  “that kid, what a milk toast. “ and “It’s just as well his father isn’t hear to see this.”

Injuries were common in the era of free-range kids. There were road rash bicycle accidents, sandlot football broken arms, Fourth of July firework burns, and new scout knife gashes. We knew emergency room nurses on a first name basis. Yet these ladies only saw a fraction of our maladies as with most families of our generation, we used the “O Squared” method to triage medical events.  The O squared rule simply stated that one must have been bleeding from at least two orifices to merit professional medical attention. This therapeutic best practice was not unique to our family.  It was an indispensable axiom for our entire neighborhood including the Del Santo family, a classically prolific, eleven-kid Italian Catholic family that lived directly diagonal to our back yard.

The Dels kitchen was a 24-hour MASH hospital. I can distinctly recall one of the Del Santo boys breaking his finger and attempting to get treatment from Mrs. Del, a saint of a mother who, while holding a screaming child, cooking bacon and eggs and dragging two other toddlers attached to her ankles, adroitly administered a field dressing with the detached calm of a battlefield corpsman.

In a treatment torn from the page of a survivalist field manual, Mrs. Del grabbed a long plastic Lego, scotch tape and set the finger.  Both patient and parent seemed content with the makeshift splint although, I was personally stunned that the stopgap remedy became permanent and was never replaced with the popular metal splint encased in white gauze and athletic tape.

In the days of  “man up” medicine, athletic coaches did not get sued for pushing athletes to the point of heat exhaustion or vomiting. Having survived the Army with a crusty Master Sergeant who was the only survivor of a platoon overrun in North Korea, my father considered pain an essential process in forging stronger character.  Through suffering, one could achieve a higher plane of consciousness where pain ultimately subsided.  (We now know this higher plateau to be known as shock.) However, in the days of ” tough it out” and shake it off”, no one iced a monkey bump the size of a golf ball, paid attention to the bruise on your left quad that resembled the continent of Australia or woke you up every hour after taking a shot to the head in football.

It was not uncommon to come into the house balling uncontrollably after you had just pounded a nail through your hand while building a primitive fort or plunged an ice pick into your thigh while removing grout from shower. Parents of the 60s would actually hit you to calm you – perhaps influenced by war movies where the tough officer slaps the hysterically wounded man. ” Get a hold of yourself, Bob. You still have your other leg.” Once slapped out of your self-pity, your parent would proceed to pour stinging rubbing alcohol on your gaping wound causing you to shriek and leap uncontrollably out of your chair.  Another therapeutic slap reduced you to a drooling, blubbering, shaking mass of blood stained clothes.

In days before the over prescription of antibiotics created superbugs and killer staph infections, a boil would not be considered life threatening but instead be lanced with a sterilized sewing needle and protected with a simple 3 inch Band-Aid.  A summer splinter was dug out with that same needle as you were screaming, “ no, I can walk with this in my foot, no!”

One would think with this tough love education that we would have grown into a society of practical homeopaths eschewing formal medicine for crazy glue, anti-bacterial ointment and a rubber belt to bite on. As we became parents, we changed from Darwinian fatalists into empathetic hyperactive helicopter parents.  Actually, the opposite occurred.  At every sniffle, sneeze or throaty cough, we rushed our first-borns to emergency clinics and to pediatricians begging for antibiotics because we could not stand the uncertainty of an illness.  We wanted instant resolution and it contributed to creating a healthcare system that was all too eager to accommodate our anxieties.

As we got older and realized our children were more or less indestructible objects, we became part of the cavalcade of “ walk it off “ parents.  After our son fell while swinging on his pull up bar, we chastised him and sent him to bed – despite his complaints that his hand was hurting.  Two days later, he was diagnosed with a broken bone in his hand (ok, so maybe it was four days later).  Our daughter took a bad spill while playing soccer – again there was whining about a sore shoulder and neck.  “ You’re fine,” we told her as she complained about being too sore to practice.  Three days later we were looking at the X-Ray that revealed the broken collarbone. Oops!

It is a cool autumn football night as I wander over to midweek practice fields that buzz under an eerie glow reminiscent of alien landing lights.  There is a symphony of yells, whistles, smacking helmets and tribal clapping followed by a singular outburst  “break!”

A padded adolescent warrior lies on the ground and is slow getting up.  As players take a knee in a sign of solidarity, a coach sympathetically touches the players shoulder pad and coaxes him to sit up. Across the turf field, a father paces uneasily. His large build and slight limp suggest a lifetime of contact athletics.  I am secretly critical as he is obviously barely restraining his need to run on to the field to hold his son. He moves closer to the sideline straining to see his player, attempting to ascertain the nature of his injury.  As a veteran “ tough it out” parent, I start towards him to reassure him that his progeny will be fine.  He can hold it in no longer. Cupping his hands to his mouth, he screams,  “Come on Jimmy, you’re fine.  Get back in there!”

I feel a sudden chill and for a moment, sense my father is right behind me, seated on wooden bleachers urging me to suck it up and get back in the game.  I turn, expecting to see him restlessly pacing, waiting for me to dust myself off and hustle down to first base.

There is no one there.  As I turn to return to my observation post, I stumble over an equipment bag tossed on the sidelines and hit my knee on the gurf field.  Dusting myself off and limping over to the fence, I glance up hoping no one has witnessed my gaffe.  In the shadows lurks another late 40’s father.  He is obviously an alumnus of the “suck it up academy”.

“Walk it off, dude” he says with a chuckle.