I didn’t think I was ever likely to get past first base with her, but even in the early days I knew she was much more than a mere baby sitter.
Her name was Channel 6. These days she’s also known as XETV and The CW but she’s always let me call her Lady Six. A lot of people are celebrating her sixtieth birthday this year. Count me among them.
Unless you can date your own acquaintance with her to pre-1957, do please keep in mind that I had her first; you’ll just have to live with that. You’ll be fine.
In those late fifties she would reveal to me “Walt Disney’s Zorro” every Thursday night and that show really messed me up in a good way. Anything that could convince a little boy that his bicycle was actually a horse or that a white bath towel was really a black cape would have to be magical. Lady Six sure was and the magic she was willing to share with me seemed limitless, persuasive, hypnotic.
One day when she was feeling especially generous, she introduced me to what I still call “monster movies.” (“Horror movies” has come to represent the blood-soaked, gut-spewing slaughterporn so currently popular among the repressed sadists in our violent society; I’ve little interest in such product or its disciples.) My very first scary film turned out to be Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster. I was totally fascinated by the foreign-sounding lead actor, and my mom identified him as “Bela Lugosi, who played Dracula in the movies, too!” “What’s a Dracula, Mommy?” Her explanation filled me with anticipation unlike any I had experienced before. And Lady Six would soon begin to reveal it all to me, piece by piece.
And she’d hook us on some locally produced, in-house shows as well. Weekends we had Uncle Russ, and weekdays our own local Bozo show! It was this very hyperactive clown who would steer me toward my first sweet, personal embrace with Lady Six.
For several weeks (months?) there was a big contest on the Bozo show. It was a drawing contest; send in a drawing or a painting of something you like, print your name, address, and telephone number on the back and mail it in, one per kid! All envelopes received would be put into a big revolving drum and on a certain date one of them would be randomly pulled out, opened, shown to the viewers, and declared the winner and that lucky kid would win a big above-the-ground swimming pool (courtesy of Stardust Pools) for his or her family. Gee, Lady Six, that sounds neat-o!
My entry was a crayon portrait of Dracula, which I had unwisely used as an opportunity to experiment with shading for the first time in my young life. It had been a frustrating, tragic experience in my studio (the kitchen); the more I tried to shade various areas of the face, the more detail I’d lose as Drac just got darker and harder to identify. But I was determined to enter the contest. I wanted that pool. The only way to possibly salvage it, I reasoned, was just to darken further the entire face and title it (in my innocent desperation) “Negro Dracula.”
Now, I swear Lady Six did not rig the contest in my favor, but on the big day, Bozo pronounced my name properly and read the title correctly, and showed my winning entry to a few thousand viewers. How many of them, I’ve often wondered, were able to grasp the politically progressive essence of my work – its naked plea for tolerance and unity? Hopefully none, since of course there was nothing of the sort within a thousand miles of my own capabilities.
On the other hand, this was a good 12 years before Blacula and its sequel…
Lady Six had someone call us to confirm the win and invite us to be special on-the-air guests on that Friday’s Bozo show, to be presented as the Winners of the Stardust Pool! Because of my drawing, I’m pretty sure it was assumed we were an African-American family; we weren’t asked to describe ourselves so that the guy who portrayed Bozo could easily recognize us when he picked us up Friday at a San Ysidro parking lot and then drove us all over the border and up the mountain to the Channel 6 studios.
Sure enough, the man who played Bozo, now looking like a regular guy, was on the lookout for (presumably) an African-American family consisting of one mommy, three boys, and one little princess. My older brother saved the day by swiftly identifying the bewildered, worried man and calming him, saying we were the winning artist’s family.
When he looked a bit surprised, I told him we were all wearing white greasepaint just like he’d be doing himself a bit later. He caught on to my weirdness right away.
We were indeed treated like celebrities on the show that day and were recruited to join with Bozo in a live commercial for a local shoe company. Mom did her lines beautifully. Later in the show Bozo lost his voice suddenly and started choking and thrashing about before they mercifully cut away to a cartoon. He soon recovered, after having freaked us (and the viewers) out and everything was soon back to Happy.
From that day and for many years six became my lucky number, winning me a lot of prizes at carnivals and at the Belmont Amusement Park. We ended up being screwed by Stardust Pools, though; they ended up leaving town. (The bad guy’s name I’ve never forgotten: Mr. Orange. Dude, where’s my pool?)
About four years later my dad bought us an identical swimming pool, which we all enjoyed for several weeks until the latest addition to our family, little Geewee (brother #3) nearly drowned in it. Dad (and God) pulled him out and were able to resuscitate him. We got rid of the pool post haste and started spending more of our playtime with Lady Six again. She had Superman back up and flying through our weekdays and the very strange House of Morgo and its fresh supply of monster movies stalking our weekends.
The Lady was as close as she could get to being an actual member of our family. I had fallen shamelessly in love.
Next month in the conclusion, Lady Six is determined to take her relationship with Hose to the next level; Jay Curtis and Bruce Mueller ignite delirious insanity; Hose appears on Channel 6 nightly for over a year; De Niro is uncut; a new trinity at Christmastime.