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Posts Tagged ‘living color’

It seems important for young people to have a place to congregate, somewhere convenient to “hang out” as we commonly say today. In cities it might be a street corner; in the country it could be a barn, maybe even a communal fence post. For my friends and neighbors in the Hamilton Gardens subdivision of Somerset, N.J. in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, it was the fire hydrant at the corner of Poe Avenue and Hawthorne Drive.

No matter what went on during the day, there was an unspoken expectation that after supper, by early evening we’d all gather by the friendly hydrant and talk about who knows what. Mark and Lenny and Eddie and Sylvester (later just “Sy”) and I would just stand around, passing time and talking.

I have no recollection of what our conversations were about, but probably a sizable percentage of them had to do with the Yankees and Mets, or if in the fall the Giants or the Knickerbockers (now just the Knicks). College football wasn’t the all-consuming passion back then that it is today – Rutgers and Princeton had an annual rivalry then, for goodness sake! But I suspect the Scarlet Knights, football and basketball, eased into our discussions from time to time.

The fire hydrant had no particular magic. It even was painted different colors through the years, but it served as a central location for everyone to assemble. As time passed and we boys came to the realization that, contrary to previous belief, girls didn’t have “cooties” after all, we were joined by Ann and Janet and Susan and one or two other members of the female gender whose names I can’t recall.

Winter evenings, however, the fire hydrant maintained a lonely vigil as we huddled inside our homes keeping warm and choosing from the limited range of TV programming in those days, sometimes in black and white and sometimes in “living color.” But during the spring and summer months, when light lingered longer, our parents never needed to worry about where we were. They could glance out the window and see us congregated around the fire hydrant, kids being kids thinking kids’ thoughts and saying kids’ things.

One summer evening was a bit different from all the rest. We noticed a bright light up in the distant sky, a light we initially thought was an airplane passing overhead. Except it seemed to stall, holding its position in the gathering dusk. Then it seemed to divert from its horizontal course and shoot downward for a few moments – and again hover in place. Finally it resumed its path across the sky, heading wherever unidentified flying objects tend to go.

Certainly it was an optical illusion. Perhaps our observational capacities had been influenced by “Twilight Zone,” “The Outer Limits,” or some science-fiction movie, but for a few brief minutes we shared a sense of certainty that we had just witnessed the appearance of a UFO. (Cue the weird music.)

Then, just as quickly our thoughts reverted to the Yankees or Mets, our summertime dice-baseball competitions, or whatever else had been occupying our minds that night. If any green men had been inhabiting that strange, unexplained light afar off, they certainly didn’t stop to visit us in Somerset. They might have proceeded to Piscataway, or Highland Park, or Woodbridge. Maybe they even went for a night at the beach 

We’ll never know.

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“The following program is brought to you in living color.”

If you can remember hearing those words, you might not be older than dirt, but you probably grew up with its grandkids.

I still remember the “good old days” when TV screens were small and most of the time the programs – like “Howdy Doody,” “The Honeymooners,” “I Love Lucy,” “Father Knows Best,” and even “The Wonderful World of Disney” – were presented in black and white. When something was broadcast in color, the announcement would be made: “The following program is brought to you in living color.”

(It never occurred to me to wonder if that was in contrast to “dying color” or some other condition. Maybe the announcement was to prepare people so they didn’t die of shock.)

Of course, if your family didn’t have a color TV, the announcement did little good – other than to make you envious of families that did have the luxury of “living color.” And even for those of us that did acquire color TVs as soon as they became affordable, the color was no comparison to what we enjoy today with our high-def, huge-screen monitors. But back in the 1960s when I was growing up, color of any kind was a wonder.

Actually, the first “color TV” I remember was when I visited the home of a friend and they had laid a sheet of transparent green plastic over the TV screen. It made everyone look kind of green – not very good because many people still believed there might be little green men from Mars back then, but at least there was some color other than black and white. (Purists, of course, will even tell you that black and white technically aren’t even colors, so I guess in the early days we watched no-color TVs.)

Today we can still watch black-and-white programs from the past, including one of my favorites, Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone,” and regard them as quaint examples from entertainment history. But as a boy, I found TV of any kind, color or not, a special treat.

We had just three channels – how did mankind survive, right? And they didn’t all come in clearly. Rooftop TV antenna and “rabbit ears” atop the TV would improve reception somewhat, but often we still had to put up with “snow” – fuzzy pictures in which sometimes we could barely make out the characters.

And programming wasn’t 24/7 as it is today. I’m not sure when the shows first came on in the morning, and stations always signed off after the evening news. After a scene of the American flag waving in the breeze to the tune of “the Star-Spangled Banner,” a test pattern would be projected on the screen where it would remain until the next morning. It too, of course, was only in black and white.

I’ll always remember the “living color” days. If you were watching the NBC network, the NBC peacock would appear, displaying the primary colors to prepare you for the technological marvel of a full-color TV program. How could anyone ever forget the spectacle of Tinker Bell flying across the screen, waving her wand and turning the images from black and white to “living color”?

Walt Disney would then appear, his mustache in living brown, ready to introduce the featured program of the evening, whether it be Davy Crockett, a nature film, or Mickey Mouse cavorting with his friends. As Archie Bunker would say years later, “Those were the days.”

Oh yes, we didn’t have remote control “clickers” then, either. We had to physically get up from our chair or couch and turn the channel selector knob. It’s a marvel more people didn’t suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome with such frequent torque to their wrists. But that’s a story for another day.

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