Stumbling Down Memory Lane: Saturday Nights.

So, Robbie sidetracked me yesterday as I was going deep into something that did not need to be pursued--and had me rambling on about Saturday nights (actually, because last night was a Saturday night) and pushed me to take you to this point in my life--so sour, dour and my goodness, so happy to have that in the way back machine, versus my life today. Tombo, my brother will relate as he is instrumental to the fun we could derive from being parked in the Saturday night purgatory we were left in.

Saturday nights were often the night my parents would go out to dinner at their friend's house. No kids allowed. No kids invited. Kids not optional. Matter of fact, kids were never optional. These parties were couples in party clothes, drinking too much and having some sort of showy food (aspic, for example)....listening to some crazy music and the like. If they were convening at your house, "the kids" needed to come downstairs in their jimmy jammies and kiss all the smelly adults before they were bundled up to go to bed. It was a progression from one friend to the other...the kissing of people I did not know...It was very odd and uncomfortable...It was cute when we were younger, but college-aged was pushing it. No really. The concept of hiding in the shower was not an alien one.

Prior to the Saturday Party, There was lots of preparation from more makeup and perfume, to nicer clothing and of course the babysitter (who was part of the scene even until I was through college). I lived in a household that was brimming with rules (spoken and unspoken)--from how to behave to the mandated nights out curfew, and lights on wake up. No variations, no changes, no get in line. Saturday nights, when my parents went out, was formatted within an inch of it's life whether you liked it or not, this was the program. The t.v. was the same parents or not...but it was flavored by not having the grown ups around....but tragic within the context of my looking at this as a parent and as an older (56 yr old) child. Here's what it was.

Before the sitter came, the singular "babysitter night food" was taken out of the freezer, arranged on a cookie sheet and baked at 350˚ for about an hour. This food, too, was formatted. We always had frozen pot pies (from Krogers-- house brand at $.35 a piece (read--they were cheap) with a choice of either beef, turkey or chicken. They all were sublime with a side of some tortured frozen vegetable (green beans, peas)...and that was dinner. There was a trick to eating the pies--something I took up the gauntlet to master every Babysitter night...which was to eat the pie without in any way sullying the perfect foil pie plate (which were saved to use to kill the slugs in the garden with flat beer). I would eat the top--lifting it off without crumbing it, dish out the inside and then after that, scraping the inside crust of any gravy enriched goo, and then finish by eating the remainder of the crust that touched the pan. The pie was mainly flour and crisco, with the inside being mainly a flavored gravy with a few peas, frozen carrots and a chunk or two of meat like material. It was so predictable just like the rest of the evening....but what a way to start this adventure. It set the stage for all of us to settle in for an evening in front of the black and white t.v. and the lack of Saturday programming that existed in Pittsburgh for that time slot and day.

I do not know what it was about t.v. in Pittsburgh during  the mid sixties to mid seventies but it was limited to 4 channels (one being Channel 13--"Educational T.V") and the others being very regionally based and programmed. One show was hokier than the other...and insipid, dumb, or very vernacular--and that was the stuff I was most attracted to. Saturday nights were prime for vernacular t.v. that much like watching St. Peter being hung upside down on a cross, or Saint Lucy showing us her eye that had been taken out of her head, it took patience, a skewed sense of humor and of course sheer boredom to make it seem as spectacular as it was.

The only shows on Channel 13--the educational channel were "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood" (a hometown, Pittsburgh favorite with all sorts of inside banter about places we know, people we know etc.), Julia Childs and her cooking, those oil painter guys, and that was about it.  The "E" in "ETv" was horrifying--with badly dressed educators educating in a very old school way via a new media. On the other channels, some of the sidebar shows--particularly the claymation, "Davy and Goliath" (a vision of what could happen if the religious people ran the networks with sickeningly sweet homilies about how to be a "good" person with the call and response by a dopey dog and his socially conscious, friendly white boy owner. Talk about exclusionary. Gumby and Pokey were in the same vein, but their didn't have as obvious a message and the sheer wonder that someone had approved the concept of a kid who looked like a used pink pearl eraser with legs and arms--made anything seem possible.

1970s Flashback: Bill Hillgrove appears on the game show "Bowling for Dollars" with host Nick Perry on WTAE-TV Channel 4 in Pittsburgh.

We would open the evening generally with an hour of the regional, "Bowling for Dollars" with Nick Perry (who in the future was known for his "666" lottery scam (1980) , a t.v. show that highlighted regional bowlers, competing for a cash prize in front of a studio audience. No duh. Every show at that time had a studio audience on WTAE. As none of us knew how to bowl, how to score or anything having to do with bowling, it was a bit confounding to figure out who was ahead, who was winning etc...but the shirts, the verve, the energy and the way they could fling these heavy balls and yet  end with their fingers pointing to the ceiling and their back leg jauntily kicked in the air was way beyond all of us. Plus, there was alway corny Nick Perry there in his plaid jacket to remind us of what fun we were having...and how fun Pittsburgh and Pittsburghers were.

Alas, we were stuck in the living room at 130 Yorkshire Road with a dog ready to bite us (he did, inevitably), filled up with pot pies and wishing we could be in the audience with Nick and everyone. It was an impossibility that we didn't even brooch with our keepers. No One would go see Bowling let alone anything else. We would stand in front of the t.v. dumbfounded trying to be  those bowlers without the balls, or lanes--posing in front of an 18"  black and white t.v. We would really try to make this fun...but somehow missed the inside joke (as usual).

After "Bowling for Dollars" and our warm-up in the corner of the living room, striking the poses that the bowling pros did while they pitched their balls down shiny alleys for cash prizes--we would wait for the real beginning of the hour of Studio Wrestling.

Bruno Sammartino. Isn't he quite the thing.

Bruno Sammartino. Isn't he quite the thing.

It seems that we were in the middle of something singularly Pittsburgh, watching Studio Wrestling every Saturday evening after dinner (babysitter or not). I googled it...just to make sure my memory and imagination sync'ed with any reality and it did. Studio Wrestling was distinctly a Pittsburgh thing...the true predecessor of WWF (World Wrestling Federation) who produced the megastars of Hulk Hogan, Jessie Ventura, The Sheik, The Ultimate Warrior, Macho Man Randy Savage, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. It was the firm foundation that this entertainment leviathan and feeder for national politics was hatched--and there we were, at 130 Yorkshire Road, riding the wave of this nascent media segment with focus and determination not to be left behind.

We would thrill to the likes of Bruno Sammartino, the pride of Pittsburgh, or Andre the Giant--winging each other around, flinging themselves off the ropes to flatten his opponent on the mat. We loved the flying Samoans and their moves of jumping off the ropes to simulate hitting the other guy in the head with their knees. There were the tag team events, and the single events. Each guy bigger and badder than the other--each wearing skimpy bathing suit type bottoms along with leather high top shoes. They were not terribly built (especially by today's standards)--but they had "the moves"....which you can see from this video which included a whole lot of bouncing around on the ring floor (which must have had some kind of engineering to make it that bouncy). We would get up on the furniture and bounce--jumping off (sometimes a little to close to the coffee table) trying to nail either my sister or brother and bring them down like the Flying Samoans...or Tom would get me in one of the famous neck holds and wrestle us to the ground. We too could be wrestlers--right there in the living room...maybe without the audience but much like bowling, we could be there.

We loved it...with the loud, crude people shouting, the forceful brutish referees, the dapper announcers and commentators and the camera man panning the audience for all the odd people who were there, savoring the majesty of Studio Wrestling instead of being in their beige living room.

You tube bringing us a little snippet of the action. I love how bouncy these guys get.

Andre the Giant, doing his thing in the ring.

Andre the Giant, doing his thing in the ring.

Wikipedia takes us there:

"At one time, this show was considered one of the top wrestling shows in the United States. Even though the show started on Saturdays at 6 p.m., the lines started to form around the TV station at noon. The show was so popular that it revived the dying Pittsburgh wrestling market. No wrestling promotion can survive without a strong television presence because pro wrestling is not routinely covered by mainstream media."


Let's just put it there. It was art. It was inspiration. It was a pure sport. This was all pre-corporate tie in. There were no studio wrestling promotions at George Aikens (the foul chicken roasting store) or the bastion of pureness, Islays, home of the sublime chip chop ham, milkshakes, hot dogs and of course, the classic, the Klondike. There were no billboards, or even t.v. promos for this wonder. You either were into studio wrestling or you weren't-- You were either insiders or clueless. It was a sport of and for the people...though the crowd at church and the crowd at school were not aficionados. Candidly, this is the first time I have gone public with my love and admiration of the sport as it was too personal and too outside the box...but  YOLO ("you only live once"). And now you know. I hope you do not think any less of me. I would say, studio wrestling helped to form me, my loves and my inspiration.

Truly...I have always held up the posters for wrestling at that time (that I would see downtown on some of my solo safaris hopping around the Diamond Market on Market Square or down Liberty Avenue near the strip joints) some of the best graphic design (vernacular/ and primitive) out there. I have often aspired to their goodness though my corporate clients would have nothing of the sort. Look at the simple use of two color. The sheer excitement that Bruno presents with his active stance, his focus and determination, the key messaging components, easy to read and remember... After all... who would debate the clear statement that Bruno Sammartino was "Strongest Man in the World".  I sure wouldn't.

So, coming down from that sheer excitement was the final stop on our evening's tableaux vivant was the Piece of Resistance...a show that had a studio audience albeit it was not from Pittsburgh (though it was from the fabric of our city that the success of this show was sewn (I would think Buffalo, Detroit, Scranton PA, and others were also key) was the divine and truly artful, "Lawrence Welk Show". What wasn't to love? And, his music either stunned with amazement and frightened or off your feet to polka with the best of them. We Eddys did not nor do we polka at our weddings or parties let alone do the "Chicken Dance"-- though I secretly wanted Uncle Lawrence brought that unmentionable into our living rooms--and what with the management being out of the house, we could pretend.

The adorable Lennon Sisters on Lawrence Welk. So sweet your eyeballs got cavities.

The adorable Lennon Sisters on Lawrence Welk. So sweet your eyeballs got cavities.

There was fun Lawrence whose smile scarily spread from ear to ear, with his hair combed back and held in place by too much pomade. He matched his suit to those in the band and to all the festive "kids" , members of his "Musical Family". We got to know them all...Bobby and Cissy, the Champagne Ladies, the insipid Lennon Sisters with their sugary sweet voices matched with insane (!!) hair and costumes, Arthur Duncan, the amazing tap dancer was often featured, but somehow his placement felt very odd and off-putting as he was the only (I mean only) person of color in the entire show.

And there was always Lawrence ready to transition the acts, announce the new performer or when necessary, step in and do the honors with his accordion in leading his musical family in songs, dances or both. One could never resist the holidays with the Welk Family (ouch) as it was such an amazingly pure, American, and wholesome good time that we at 130 Yorkshire knew nothing about. It was a dream we could not even imagine let alone live. No one was wearing plaid hostess skirts, nor were the boys/men in matching jackets. No one was gathered around the professionally decorated Christmas Tree, singing Irving Berlin in a meaningfully, sincere way.

Our mom did not dress up like these women and present us with toasty casseroles in colorful, painted opal glass dishes with every hair in place, and a smile on her face. Our dad did not beam like our adopted uncle, Uncle Lawrence Welk--leading us in either prayer or song to just keep the fun coming....or even emulate our other uncles, wicked Uncle Nick Perry who teased us to like bowling or the other, Uncle Bruno Sammartino, who had no problem taking on the brutes, but still being a gentleman after all of that.

It was Saturday night...and we could hang  with our Saturday family. We were thankful we didn't have to kiss strangers wearing our pajamas. We were thankful to be an audience to a world we didn't live in...preparing for the already formatted day of Sunday.  And of course, there was always next week to look forward to.