Saturday, April 17, 2010

Could the country that gave us The Lawrence Welk Show really bomb the shit out of Laos and Cambodia?

I can't believe that any country that could produce The Lawrence Welk Show could bomb Laos!

Actually I can.

Growing up, "Lawrence Welk" meant one thing -- schmaltzy, terrible music.

While out running errands with my dad, if a car pulled up next to us a at stop light with music playing loud, no matter what it was, my dad would say, "At least it's not Lawrence Welk."

Of course, I wasn't lucky enough for that to be my only experience with Lawrence Welk.

As if Sundays weren't interminable enough, starting off with church at 10:30 in the morning.

Jeeezus, it almost seemed like a joke: the service one week nearly an exact replica of the last, as though the challenge was to sit through mass and then tick-off a questionnaire about what small details were different.

Zombifying music? Right, this week's came from page 242 of Execrable Hymns Written for Modern Liturgy by Damned Souls Who Hated Music Vol. III.

The sermon? It was probably the same illiterate meanderings as any other week, but who really knew? Who could stay awake through its entirety to determine whether it was verbatim from the week before?

All rounded out by the tomb odor of ancient candles burning, along with morning breath and piercing old-lady perfume.

Then the afternoon spent at my ultra-Catholic relatives' house, where my brother and I couldn't play catch in the backyard because the ball might go over the fence, into a neighbor's yard. The simple expediency of hopping the fence was verboten there, for some reason.

Running around was discouraged because we were in our Sunday clothes.

I'll never forget there being a perfectly serviceable -- seemingly untouched -- basketball hoop set up at the end of the cement pad leading into my relation's backyard. It was apparently there only for show because any attempt to shoot a few baskets was nixed by an everpresent voice in the screened kitchen window saying, "No . . . no, no.

In essence, my brother, cousin Marion, and myself were supposed to stand still in the yard -- after the perpetual banishment It's a beautiful day outside! Go out and play! from the house where I just wanted to watch TV -- like the transfigured Christ, Moses and Elijah, until dinner time.

Mental tedium was traded in for a jousting tournament with my gag reflex at dinner.

I'll admit, I was a picky eater as kid, trusting my eye like a bushman, unwilling to approach anything that didn't at least look good. My gosh, there are poison berries in the wild that look a thousand times more inviting than some of my family's cooking!

Overdone pork chops. Boiled steak. Science project casseroles. Fried something or other.

All of which I could grudgingly choke down, but there remained one insurmountable obstacle that stood between me and dessert: my grandmother's Jell-O salad.

Such a thing must have been conceived by the culinary contingent in the same malignant institution where the church music had been created.

Who could have dreamt up a concoction like that, with its petrified bits of shredded cabbage and carrots floating motionless in shit gleaned from horses hooves?

Again, before even tasting it, the stuff offended the eye. It was the color of pus; that flat, repellent green that every creature in nature knows to avoid.

There was no not eating it. Grandma doled it out to each of us and if she detected through dinner anyone neglecting the Jell-O salad, she would utter the offender's name with a martyr trill in her voice that we were all sure Gawd himself paid attention to -- ready to jot down that name as belonging to a person going to hell. Even the adults weren't immune. There were times I'd heard my dad's name or my uncle's name in that trilling, Why are you stabbing your mother in the heart? voice.

Somehow, I'd get through dinner; ingesting enough of the inedibles to get a "pass" to dessert.

Which, in some moments of horror, entailed more Jell-O artisanship by my grandmother. This time the stuff would be the color of urine, filled with bits of peaches. Or else there might be pie that would meet all visible specifications of enjoyment, but turned out to be a Trojan Horse filled with the guerrilla killers of all desserts: raisins.

All of this was prelude, anyhow, to the evening's entertainment.

We'd gather in the cold basement before an enormous console television that none of the kids was allowed to touch -- as though one wrong move with the dial might send its inner workings into nuclear meltdown. It was a TV, I'm sure, was constitutionally incapable of showing Three's Company or Happy Days or anything other than nature programs and detective shows.

And that prized, untouchable TV would be tuned to The Lawrence Welk Show.

Even as a kid, the show was surreal in its saccharine, phony goodness; its bizarre otherness. Everyone's grinning teeth looked like polished bones. And the corny costumes and sceneries used for each song were almost sinister in their ridiculousness.

I was a child of TV. I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt to anything that it showed to me: PBS yoga and water-color painting, incomprehensible educational programming I saw when I was home sick, soap operas, and even the bitterest thing to a kids' television palette: dramas.

The Lawrence Welk Show surpassed everything in awfulness.

Just when I'd wonder if we were all watching the terrible show as some kind of joke, my grandmother would tell Marion and her older brother to get up and dance.

Again, my mind was flashing joke . . . joke . . . joke . . . This can't be really happening!

But by gawd, my cousins would get up and not only dance, but dance in step with the dolts prancing around on the TV screen. Witnessing this gave me a sense of breathless horror and simple shock, not unlike that which was experienced by the characters in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. When had that terrible knowledge been thrust upon my cousines? It was almost as though . . . they practiced -- it was too awful to contemplate.

If I read tomorrow that The Lawrence Welk Show was the product of the infamous MK/ULTRA program, I'd believe it.

Until my mid-20s, Sundays were the bane of the week. To some extent, they still are, of course. But as a kid, Sundays were bamboo under the fingernails, Ajax sprayed into the eyes, the malevolent, crotch-bound grounder. Even Mark Twain despised Sundays.

Lawrence Welk is on right now on PBS. Of course I'm watching it.

Although I eat my own irresistible BBQ'd hamburger and eye-watering vinegar coleslaw, no amount of beer or food can banish the phantom taste of pus-green Jell-O salad from my throat.

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