Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Sunday Memory Drawer - The First Time I Watched the Oscars

If I saw this TV Guide ad for the Oscars year ago, I probably salivated.  As I normally do every year when it comes to the pomp, circumstance, and all-around ridiculousness of the Academy Awards.  

I can remember many late New York nights tuned into the awards which seemed to run for five or six hours and often ended just as the Today Show was signing on.  I've been to Oscar parties and dinners.  It was almost required that you view this event with other folks who would crack wise right along with you.  You would get almost bleary-eyed as you waited endlessly for the announcement of the Best Picture of the Year.

Here, in Los Angeles, it's a lot easier to endure because of the time difference.  The whole shebang starts at 5PM and it's best that you get your delivery order for pizza or Chinese food in early, because it's the biggest day of the year if you sell take-out food.  As for me today, I will be cooking up a vat of chili for a friend or two.  And waiting anxiously to see how I did in my Oscar pool with NY pals Lorraine and Dennis.  Somehow, we will get through the ramblings of this year's obnoxious host, Seth MacFarlane and longing for those years when we had Johnny Carson, Bob Hope, or Steve Martin.

And I might also be thinking about way back when.  To a time when a little movie fan went through great machinations to watch the Oscar telecast for the very first time.

Even then, I was weird.  I was all about the movies.  I couldn't wait to go to them on a weekly basis.  Friday afternoons after school with Mom.  Sunday afternoons with Dad.  Actually, I learned to read at a very early age simply because my father would bring home the Night Owl edition of the New York Daily News and I would pore through the movie advertisements.  I didn't need Dick and Jane.  I had Richard and Elizabeth.

And I knew what a big deal the Academy Awards were.  I probably was the only second grader who could tell you what the Best Picture was in 1945.  It was "The Lost Weekend," by the way.  But I never got to see them given out on television.  

My bedtime on school nights was 8:30PM.  In order to stay up past that hour to watch my favorite TV show, "The Andy Griffith Show" on Monday nights required negotiations that would rival those need to avert the last NYC Transit strike.  Getting an additional night one week was virtually impossible.  Plus, in those days, the Oscar telecast started at 9 or 10PM.  I'm already supposed to be on my second nightmare by then.  Nevertheless, I would always try to float the notion.

Mom, can I stay up to watch the....


The exchange took less than three seconds.

I was always sunk.  Three thousand miles away, they were giving out Oscars.  In Mount Vernon, New York, I was reluctantly on a journey to Dreamland.  

When I was in the third grade, the matter became more annoying.  On the day of that year's Academy Awards, my foxy teacher, Mrs. Popper, devoted part of her lesson plan to the current nominees.  Besides her looks, that's what I liked about Mrs. Popper.  She was a real human being who liked the same stuff us kids did.

But, her pre-show comments about the Oscars made my bedtime that day even tougher to take.  How could I possibly participate in her post-telecast conversation tomorrow?  Here I am, a bonafide movie fan and I would have absolutely nothing to say about the Academy Awards which were unfortunately not being telecast on the back of my eyelids.

As I stumbled home from school in despair, I had an "A-ha" moment that has since been unequaled in my life.  Sort of like "bang, I could have a V-8."

Hey, stupid, haven't you forgotten?  Your parents aren't home at night anymore.

My mother went back to work as soon as I turned eight.  She worked until midnight at the Union Pen Company on McQuesten Parkway in Mount Vernon.  Dad was working at Mt. Vernon Die Casting, which inexplicably was now in Stamford, Connecticut.  He never got home until 1 AM.  The last I would see of my mother each day was when she sometimes picked me up at school around 3PM.  Luckily, she had not done so on this day as my mind was working overtime.

I could probably watch the Oscars for the first time.  The only obstacles?

Grandma and Grandpa downstairs.

Piece of cake.

The household routine in the "parents working nights" scenario was simple.  I'd eat dinner with my grandparents and do whatever homework I had.  Then, Grandpa would grab his nightly bottle of beer and take me upstairs to watch TV in my family's part of the house.  He was fairly loose about bedtime.  8:30PM could easily morph into 9PM.

On this night, I would need to work that magic and make it last until midnight.  But, to begin the charade, I would attempt to be the model grandchild and not put up a battle when 8:30PM rolled around.  I yawned.

Gee, Grandpa, I'm tired.

I went into my bedroom and ducked underneath the covers.  I closed my eyes and waited.  Grandpa was a Swiss watch.  

Ten minutes after I went to bed every night, he would pick up his empty bottle of beer and head back downstairs.  And where, like clockwork, Grandma and Grandpa would hit their own hay at 10PM.

I had to be a cat burglar.  Just like I had seen Cary Grant in "To Catch a Thief."  I waited several minutes to be sure and then crawled on all fours in the dark into the living room.  Luckily, there was a sliding plastic door on that room.  It was the only place in the house that had an air conditioner.  The door kept the cool air in during the summer.  This night, it would be my noise barrier.

I put the TV on with the volume very low and laid down in front of the set.  There was nobody to say "you're sitting too close to the screen."  I was right where I needed to be.  With one ear absorbing the soundtrack of the Oscar telecast and the other ear at the ready to discern any sounds that would get me thrown into parental prison.

Truth be told, I remember very well of that year's Oscars.  I was simply in rapture of it all.  I felt like an adult.  I knew my mom would be home by midnight so I turned off the television at 1145PM to be safe.  I might have missed some of the bigger awards but I had seen enough.  I was completely hooked.

And totally successful with my devious scheme.

The next day in class, Mrs. Popper, as expected, prattled on about the Oscars.  And I was delighted to be able to participate in the conversation.  I looked around at some of my classmates who had very easily watched the Academy Awards.  Oh, if I could only trade their living rooms for the stalag I was forced to live in.

After school, my mother picked me up at the door.  And, as was usually the case with parents, the teacher would use that opportunity to talk to them about their kids.  Mrs. Popper approached my mom and I suddenly had a sinking sensation in my stomach.  Crap, I know where this is going.

"Boy, Lenny really enjoyed those Oscars last night..."

I didn't wait around to hear Mom's response.

I was in bed by 7PM that night.  Not my choice.

Dinner last night:  Turkey burger at the Pig N' Whistle.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Did Mom give you daggers? That's the real movie moment - the slow burn.