Deeper into fall and winter, the calendar controlled the networks. For situation comedies as well as western and urban dramas, Halloween was optional. Kids asking strangers for candy could lead to disaster. But Thanksgiving and Christmas were obligatory, especially on variety shows with famous singers or actors. Dancers not so often, maybe one Arthur Murry Open Studio in Miss Kitty’s Gunsmoke saloon.
At that time in Colliery, there were two important viewing religions, and both had their champions. There was Pat O’Brian and Perry Como for us Catholics, and one or two genial Protestants for the misled and the damned. Later I would discover that, whatever the target denomination, the shows were produced by secular Jews.
Thanksgiving was less stressful than Christmas, the latter drawing strict distinctions between sects. Ordinarily, Perry Como’s Thanksgiving Special would conclude with a monumental but uncontroversial “Bless This House.” One Thanksgiving, however, he closed with “Our Father,” and I asked Dad to cover his ears when the hymn veered into “For Thine is the Kingdom,” a meretricious play for an ecumenical demographic. Dad scoffed at what little difference that or I might make in life.
Other media also seized a theme until the public tired. I remember the season of circus life. There were several films about the Big Top -- Dumbo, of course, then some spectaculars with high wire acrobats and trapeze artists. These aerial feats often involved refusal to perform with a net either to stifle incipient cowardice or to attract spectators from rival companies. Almost invariably a no-net performance ended in splattered death.
Movies were okay but too expensive to enjoy more than once. Our favorite media for circus intrigue were graphic novels, adult comic books. I say our favorite because Mom bought them and let me read ones that disappointed her or in which her interest waned. I may have forgotten why one performer hated another, but I can’t forget certain frames: the Burt Lancaster look-alike executes a triple vault high above the Center Ring, the weaker, jealous Tony Curtis lets his partner fall, simulacra of the bombshell sorelle, Gina and Sophia, hang dead from listless trapeze, while matching swords protrude from pointy tits. I credit their murders with my first ejaculation.
Cancer, construction collapses, cattle rustling, catastrophic droughts, Thanksgiving and Christmas -- all these seemed important for a week or so at a time. But treachery and lust in adult comics made a real difference in life. Not that any of us actually ran away to join a circus, but we did cross uneven thresholds into flesh.