One of my favorite things about growing up was taking sick days. Even as early as elementary school I would figure out the number of absences I was allowed before it penalized my grade, then spread them out over the course of a semester. I’d say maybe about 10 percent of the days that I remained at home I was actually ill. The rest of the time I just wanted to play Final Fantasy or read Stephen King novels or partake in whatever nerdy infatuation I had at the time. The first thing I would always do after my Mom and Step Dad’s cars had pulled out of the driveway was go downstairs and turn on the television. I would leave the set on for the entirety of the day, sometimes following the programs and other times letting them fade into the background. Because we didn’t have cable, and only received the four network channels, I would watch variations on the same shows from age 6-15. Here’s what a program schedule looked like during those days.
8:00 A.M. – 10:00 A.M. These were the best TV-watching hours because cartoons were still playing. I might start by watching Bobby’s World, an animated show voiced over by Howie Mandel, the comedian turned host for the most mind-numbingly basic game show, Deal or No Deal. I don’t remember much about the show minus the fact that Bobby had an overactive imagination and his Uncle Ted liked to give noogies and farted in public swimming pools. Next, I would watch Gargoyles, Captain Planet and with luck, reruns of Boy Meets World. Anyone who grew up alongside Corey Matthews in the 90’s had a crush on Topanga. It was mandatory. She was the curvacious, intelligent, and independent girl next door.
In that time slot there were also reruns of Saved By the Bell, a show that is difficult to look back on without thinking about the fact that Samuel “Screech” Powers, played by Dustin Diamond, would later release a sex tape entitled: Screeched: Saved by the Smell.
10:00 A.M.-11:00 A.M. 7th Heaven. Even as young as age nine, I realized how horrifying this show was. Living with the Camden’s – a wholesome all-American family in the suburbs that consisted of a reverend father, a stay-at-home mother, four (and later five) blandly obedient children and a dog named Happy – would be a living hell. For starters the kids couldn’t so much as illegally download a song without getting caught and forced to repent. By the final season, the reverend discovers that his daughter Mary is smoking weed and forces her into rehab. Also, the family is too perfect. There must be something sinister, something dark lurking beneath the surface. Or maybe I just wanted there to be.
11:00 A.M. – Noon. Anyone who stayed at home sick, or was around a TV set at this time of the morning knew what show to turn to (if you guessed the 700 Club you need to be sterilized.) I’m talking about the Price is Right. On lucky days they would play Plinko or mountain climber at a point over the course of the show. On unlucky ones, the showcase showdown would amount to a living room set, a trip to Miami and a scooter. Of course I’m talking with nostalgia about the version of the Price is Right hosted by Bob Barker. Now that Drew Carey has taken the reigns the show is uncomfortable as hell. I think the saddest aspect about watching the Price is Right were those days when a contestant was called down in the first minutes of the show and by the end still hadn’t placed a correct bid. I always imagined that the pinnacle of their life might have very well been being summoned to that podium only to have other contestants bid above them by a single dollar every time.
Noon- 3:00 P.M. This was when things became particularly awful. By this point in the day instead of reruns of syndicated programs, the networks began airing soap operas, small claims court shows and of course, Jerry Springer. This was when I would generally turn my attention to a book, or video game and occasionally glance up toward the set.
Immediately after lunch Passions would come on. This was essentially just a normal soap with the exception that it was witches and werewolves and other fantasy creatures locked in love triangles. Beyond that, Judge Judy, Judge Brown, and Judge Matthews aired, collectively deciding who was responsible for damages to the above-ground swimming pool or the broken Styx collector’s addition box set. Maybe with luck I could catch a day-time movie, but this was exceptionally rare, and even when it did occur, the networks would air the least interesting movie a pre-teen could ever imagine, and I would have to sit through Beaches or How to Make an American Quilt. More than likely though the day would move in a normal trajectory that ultimately ended on Jerry Springer.
Even as a young boy, Jerry Springer was only interesting for a couple months. Initially it’s wonderful. There are entanglements and scenarios you couldn’t even invent if you tried. Some episode titles include, “My Sister is Sleeping with My Dad,” “My Husband Left Me for his Sister”,”The Mole People,” “Mom Will You Marry Me?” “I Slept with 251 Men in 10 Hours,” “I Cut Off My Manhood,” “I’m Happy I Cut Off My Legs” and “My Day as a Dog” (I really wish I could keep on with this list forever.) The best thing about the show is that after the black, transvestite member of the KKK and the sister he was engaged to until she slept with his grandfather tear off each others clothes while fighting and are ultimately separated by a man who looks a shaved pair of testicles on steroids, Jerry gives his final thought. The former politician delivers a soliloquy that is poignant, thought provoking and concise. He cuts to the heart of the human condition and his words resonate long after the screen goes black and you think to yourself why can’t Jerry Springer be present in your life to interpret your problems, your fears and anxieties so capably and with such compassion. As I said though, the show is only interesting for a couple months. Then you get desensitized to it. The man who has slept with all 17 of his cousins isn’t quite as shocking as the man who proposes on live television to the crocodile who bit his penis off.
By this point in the day the afternoon was ending. I’d know that my mom’s car would pull into the driveway soon and that when she entered the house she’d expect me to be in bed, mending my imaginary ailments. Depending on age, I’d need to put away video games, clear my Internets’ search history and cookies, and turn off the set. I’d climb under my sheets and consider the prospect of maybe taking the next day of school off.
What shows accompanied the days you played hooky? How do you remember them?