My Take by Jim Carl - May 17, 2012
The console TV in my grandparent’s house in West Texas was shaped like a coffin. It was about two feet tall, dark-brown, ran the entire length of the wall in our den, and had a built-in record player. There were speaker cabinets on either end. And drawers which could hold my collection of Superheroes action figures which, I doubt, is what Sylvania had in mind when they added them. The TV screen itself was centered in the middle of this contraption. My grandfather worked in construction. My grandmother was a homemaker. In retrospect, I don’t know how they could have afforded such a TV. It was undoubtedly the most-expensive piece of furniture in their house. This was the early 1970s.
Most late evenings would find my Aunt Eva listening to her favorite 45s. Janis Ian’s At Seventeen. Sister Janet Mead’s The Lord’s Prayer. Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe. Most Saturday mornings, I would carefully drag all of the chairs from the dining room table and yank all of the bedspreads from my grandmother’s linen closet to form a tent around the television where I’d lay on my stomach and spend the break of day watching Land of the Lost or The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show. My grandmother would cater these cockcrow events. She’d slide a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, and freshly-made tortillas under the canvas, careful not to disturb my activities because, you know, she was an adult and knew how these things worked, having all ready raised three kids of her own.
There were three networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC. I think PBS aired on the weekends. The TV console had one of those big round knobs that had to be manually turned to switch stations. Click-click-click to the appropriate number on the dial, all the way to 13. If you held the knob midway between the numbers 3 and 4, for example, all you’d see was a bunch of static. There was no remote control because although the TV was expensive and in color, it was not futuristic. Remote controls existed only on Star Trek.
I remember the time my aunt thought it was a good idea for us to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Even in the 1970s, the film was considered too violent and dirty to be shown during primetime. To watch Psycho, you had to wait until The Late Late Show which played after the 10 o’clock news and The Late Show but before The Star Spangled Banner and the sign-off. I guess this would be around 1:00 a.m. in modern times. In West Texas in the early 70s, only cattle mutilators, insomniacs, drunks, and lapsed Baptists stayed up to watch The Late Late Show. If my grandmother had caught us, my Aunt and I would surely have been sent to a nunnery, no matter whether they accepted West Texan boys or not. I mean, the movie was called Psycho. It might as well have been rated X and called Watch This and Become a Satanic Whore.
I have no memory of a single thing that happened in Psycho. If you’d held a gun to my head, I would have sworn on my dog’s grave it was a nature documentary about hyenas. What I do remember is being terrified at every noise I heard in the house that night while watching the damn movie with my teenaged aunt. Each shuffle became the sound of my grandmother advancing toward the den. Each creak betrayed her presence as she slid open the cabinet door and reached for the cutlery. This is what happens to clever kids who get caught watching The Late Late Show. Saturday morning would never be catered again. I spent the entire movie looking over my shoulder. Norman Bates may have been a psycho who would never hurt a fly, but his looney tune couldn’t hold a candle to my grandmother's righteousness. She would have kung-fued his black-and-white ass to color, make no mistake.
All these years later, I still think of my grandmother whenever anyone mentions Psycho. I imagine her standing there in the kitchen, making scrambled eggs, bacon, and tortillas, and chuckling to herself at my naïveté. After all it turns out, Psycho was one of her favorite movies of all time. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense.
An Alfred Hitchcock Retrospective begins this Friday at the Carolina Theatre. What’s your favorite Hitchcock memory? Tell me about it.