Thursday, August 4, 2016

Stupid Things I Used to Think

The old marquee for the Brunswick Square Mall
in my hometown of East Brunswick, New Jersey.
From the titles of the films, I know that this was June 1981.
I was 11 1/2 years old, and lived half a mile down the hill.

When I was a kid, I thought some things that seem ridiculous now.

I thought my father's parents lived next-door to each other in Newark. Grandma's house was separated from the house next door by a driveway that led to a parking lot in back of the houses on Woodside Avenue. Since her house shared a driveway with the house next door, I figured that house next door had to be Grandpa's house. And the man who lived there was certainly old enough to be my grandfather.

So, one time, I must have been about 4 years old, I looked up at him, and I called him "Grandpa." I don't remember his reaction.

Grandpa Mike -- I wasn't actually named for my father's father; my mother liked the name "Michael" -- smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish and ate like a pig. He only lived to be 57. My father stopped smoking in his 30s, and rarely drank, but ate bacon and eggs for breakfast pretty much every day that I knew him. He lived to be 71.

Even at the age of 4, I remembered hearing my parents say that Grandpa Mike was dead, and was no longer living with Grandma Dot. Did I get what that meant? Maybe not. Maybe that's what confused me. He had lived with her in that house for about 30 years. He had lived there, but wasn't living there anymore. Maybe knowing that part led me to think that maybe he was living next-door.

I never did learn the name of the man who lived next door. Even if he was only in his 50s then, he's almost certainly dead now. And that neighborhood, mostly-white in the mid-1970s, is now nearly all-Hispanic, mostly Central and South American. So even if he is still alive, he's almost certainly not living there.


I thought the camera and operator at the opening of The 4:30 Movie on WABC-Channel 7 was a frog. I thought the reels on top were the eyes, and the back of the chair was the tail.

I thought, "Why are they playing the Channel 9 Million Dollar Movie theme in this promo for Gone with the Wind?"

I thought it was crazy for newsmen to switch networks. When Harry Reasoner left ABC for CBS in 1978, I thought that was very, very wrong. I had no idea that he had started on CBS, and so had former ABC anchorman Howard K. Smith. Or that Barbara Walters, very recently, had left NBC for ABC.

I also thought it was crazy for actors to leave successful TV shows. Why did Sally Struthers, Rob Reiner, and then Jean Stapleton leave All in the Family? Why did Gary Burghoff leave M*A*S*H?

I thought it was crazy for there to be a New Dick Van Dyke Show. My parents loved the old Dick Van Dyke Show. Well, if the old one was so great, why was there a new one? And why did Lucille Ball have 3 different shows? (Little did I know that, when first-run, they were on 3 different networks. That would have really confused me!)

I thought James Brown was a character that Eddie Murphy created for Saturday Night Live. It didn't occur to me that a man that over-the-top could actually exist. (Even though I had seen Liberace and Elton John on TV. God only knows what I would have thought of George Clinton... or Sun Ra!) I didn't know that James was a real person until I saw Rocky IV. Uncle Mike was so white! (How white was he?) And so suburban.

I thought it didn't make sense for the Yankees and Mets to be on other channels. WNBC-Channel 4 would broadcast The Game of the Week on Saturday. WABC-Channel 7 would broadcast Monday Night Baseball on, well, Monday. And the Yankees would frequently be on it -- because, being successful at that point, they were in demand. Lots of people wanted to see the Yankees. Lots of those wanted to see them get beat. The Mets were on each less often because, at the time, they stunk, and everybody knew it.

But wait! Aren't the Yankees supposed to be on Channel 11? (WPIX.) And aren't the Mets supposed to be on Channel 9? (WOR, now WWOR.) I thought that if a channel showed a TV show, only that channel could show that show. So how could the Yankees be on Channel 4 or Channel 7?

Back then, channels like 9, 11 and WNEW-Channel 5 (now WNYW) would show reruns of old shows, like The Honeymooners, Gilligan's Island, Lost In Space, Star Trek, The Odd Couple, and the aforementioned original Dick Van Dyke Show and the aforementioned referred-to shows starring Lucille Ball: I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy. Okay, I got that. I figured a show could only be on one channel at a time.

But then, Channel 5, then an "independent station" (now part of Fox), started showing reruns of M*A*S*H, which was still running on WCBS-Channel 2; and Three's Company, which was still on Channel 7. Channel 11 started showing Happy Days, which was still running on Channel 7. And who were these guys on M*A*S*H: Henry, Trapper and Frank? Wait, Henry is McLean Stevenson, the guy on Hello, Larry? Trapper is Wayne Rogers, the guy on House Calls? They can be on more than one show, like Lucy? I was so confused. And why did Stevenson, Rogers and Linville leave M*A*S*H?

And explaining those things to my pre-adolescent mind still didn't clear up for me why the baseball establishment (at the time, I seemed to get that concept, if not the expression "the establishment") would let the big networks show games when the local stations already did.


Which allows me to segue into stupid things I used to think about sports.

I thought baseball managers wore uniform numbers based on how they finished. In 1978, Billy Martin, manager of the Yankees, wore Number 1. Tommy Lasorda, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, wore Number 2. Martin's Yankees beat Lasorda's Dodgers in the previous year's World Series. So that's how it worked, right? If the Dodgers had won, Lasorda would have wore 1, and Billy would have worn 2.

Then, when Billy, ahem, was allowed to resign in mid-1978, and Bob Lemon was hired as manager, he didn't take Number 1, he took the number he'd always worn as a major league pitcher, 21. I didn't get it.

I thought Reggie Jackson began his career with the Oakland A's, in 1967. It said so, right there on his baseball card. And he did begin his career with the Oakland A's -- sort of. That first season, the A's were still in Kansas City. Same team, different city. I didn't know that yet.

I knew that the Los Angeles Dodgers had started out in Brooklyn, and that the San Francisco Giants had started out in New York. And I had a vague idea that there had been, fairly recently, a team called the Washington Senators, but that they no longer existed.

But when I looked in the back of the Yankees' Yearbook, they had the players' statistics, and also the teams they'd played for. Except they listed the cities, not the team names. And in his first year, Reggie was listed as with "Kansas City." I presumed that this meant that he had played for the Royals. That wasn't true.

I saw that Lou Piniella had also played with "Kansas City." But that really was the Royals. I also saw that Fred Stanley had played with "Seattle." I presumed that meant the Mariners. Since I began watching baseball games on TV in 1977, I couldn't remember a time when there was no Seattle Mariners, and no Toronto Blue Jays.

But then I got Stanley's baseball card, and it said that he spent the 1969 season with the "Pilots." Huh? The Pilots? Who the heck were the Pilots? I didn't know about this 1969 expansion team that failed after just 1 season and became the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970.

I hadn't yet read Jim Bouton's Ball Four. I only knew Bouton as the sportscaster who used to pitch for the Yankees in the 1960s, and was now making a comeback with the Atlanta Braves at age 39.

Had I known that the Pilots had Piniella on their payroll, before trading him to the Royals, my mind truly would have been blown.

And then when I read a book about Mickey Mantle, and it said he was "sent down to Kansas City" in his rookie year of 1951, I couldn't figure that out. I knew that major league teams had minor league teams in their "farm systems." But how could Kansas City be a minor-league team? They had a major league team! Not in 1951, they didn't.

I didn't yet know that, as recently as 1952, the following cities that had major league teams by 1978 were all in the minors: Milwaukee, Baltimore, Kansas City, Los Angeles (2 teams), San Francisco, Oakland, Minnesota (2 teams), Houston, Atlanta, Seattle, Montreal, San Diego, Dallas (2 teams) and Toronto.


I thought it was silly to name the mall in my hometown of East Brunswick the Brunswick Square Mall. There's no square named Brunswick Square. There wasn't then, and there isn't now. And the plot of land on which the mall was built was not shaped like a square. So why that name?

What's more, I didn't know why East Brunswick and the adjoining town of North Brunswick were south of New Brunswick. Why wasn't North Brunswick called South Brunswick, and the town to the south of that, which was (and is) called South Brunswick, called something else? Why wasn't Piscataway, which is north of New Brunswick, called North Brunswick? Why wasn't Highland Park, which is east of New Brunswick, called East Brunswick? Why wasn't Franklin, which is west of New Brunswick, called West Brunswick? And why wasn't there a West Brunswick?

Why, back where we used to live in Essex County (Bloomfield, northwest of Newark), was there an Orange, an East Orange, a South Orange, and a West Orange, but not a North Orange? (That would have been Montclair.) And if there's a town named only "Orange" up where we used to live, why isn't there one named only "Brunswick"?

This last sequence still doesn't make sense to me.

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