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The Arrow That Is Aimed But Not Fired

Growing up without a male role model, I was forced to turn to the world of television.  It was 1980, and I was either looking in the wrong place, or there were not that many viable broadcast options for a 12 going on 13 year old wanna-be-rebellious mama’s boy.

I guess I was also a sister’s boy too, if there even was such a thing.

There were other boys at school, but, being my peers, they were equally uninformed – but hopefully not as pathetic as I considered myself to be.  Except for Mr. Bishop (who told a couple of harrowing stories of the Watts Riots), the teachers were all dicks and were therefore unapproachable.  Where would I turn to find an older guy to show me how to avoid the pitfalls of my teen years?  To show me how to, you know, just be a guy?

And what about girls?  I knew I couldn’t trust anything my mom or sisters could divulge to me on that subject!

Does THIS look like a guy raised among men?

Does THIS look like a guy raised among men?

I watched a lot of TV, I learned a lot about the world and therefore myself via the channels 2,4,5,7,9,11 and 13 in Los Angeles.  A lot of options, even without SelecTV or ONTV, right?  Was there anyone I could see on TV and say, “Hey, I wish I was that guy!”   Well, let’s pick a broadcast night, say Thursday, and see if there are any available mentors…..

7pm- The News; “Streets of San Francisco rerun;” “MASH” rerun.

 The news guys were old fogies and not personable at all.  Karl Malden seemed from not only an older generation, but from an ancient civilization; and Michael Douglas was just a dumb young silly guy.  Alan Alda in “MASH” was cool, he had a sense of humor and a way with the ladies (how I always saw myself, you know, eventually); but was surrounded by guts and blood and getting fired upon by angry Koreans.  I didn’t want to be THAT GUY.

8pm- “Mork and Mindy;” “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century;” “Prisoner…Cell Block H.”

     Mork was so hyper I couldn’t understand him half the time, and his alien back story was too confusing.  If Jonathon Winters was his son, then wouldn’t they both age into infanthood?  I didn’t want to be an old baby, man, no way.

Now Buck Rogers was cool, and he sure had the right girl in Col. Wilma Deering (played by Erin Grey)!  But it seemed like he always had to do so much work to get by and I couldn’t really relate to flying around in space (let alone being frozen for 400 years).  There was just too much…business… there, and I didn’t like all the work.

“Prisoner…Cell Block H” was an engaging Australian show (I never missed it), but it was about a women’s prison, and the cast was almost exclusively female.  So, I think we’re done there.

9pm- “Barnaby Jones;” “Barney Miller;” “Quincy.”

   I liked all these shows but the guys were too old and old fashioned.  Ron Glass, as Det. Ron Harris, was pretty hip, and I could relate to the nerdishness of Steve Landesberg’s Det. Dietrich, but New York seemed like a horrible place to live.  All shows set in New York in those days had graffiti covered buildings in their opening credits.  I decided I’d probably never live there and therefore didn’t want to be one of those guys.  Barnaby and Quincy seemed to be trying to squeeze through the same door, that being the door of death.  But I had to admit Barnaby had a great job, he was a Private Eye!

10pm- “Knots Landing;” “Rockford Files.”

  I never watched “Knots Landing,” it was just a bunch of boring older rich people walking around saying nasty things to one another.  I may have been lazy but I needed at least a little action!  Jim Rockford was cool because he was a Private Eye, and he seemed to have good friends and flexible hours, but money seemed to always be an issue for him, he needed help from his dad a lot.  He was a smart-ass, which I liked, but the deal breaker was that my mom was really into James Garner.  Creepy.  Sometimes I just watched a “Night Gallery” rerun on 13.

James Garner, mom heartthrob.

James Garner, mom heartthrob.

Every night had similar programming pitfalls.  So I wandered on aimlessly, taking in approximately 12% of the “How To Grow Up And Be A Man” advice from my mom and two sisters.  It sure was tough filtering out all their useless information.

Then, in December 1980, I found my answer in the person of Thomas Sullivan Magnum.

“Magnum PI” premiered Thursday, December 11, 1980 with the episode “Don’t Eat the Snow in Hawaii.”  I decided to give it a try.

I liked it immediately.  It was set in the paradise of Hawaii (not some graffitied urban center), and its star was a young guy who didn’t even really have a job (unlike the stressed-out Buck Rogers).  He was always surrounded by pretty girls and he had great loyal friends.

But wait, there’s more!

He got to stay gratis in a rich man’s estate (the author Robin Masters, who he had once done some security work for) and he spent a lot of his time there antagonizing the stuffy British estate caretaker, Jonathan Higgins.  After the pilot episode I not only knew I wanted to be Magnum-ish, but I even liked Higgins, with his love of history and “been there done that” ‘tude.

The key to a great show is a charismatic cast.

The key to a great show is a charismatic cast.

OK, it’s not that Magnum didn’t have a job; he just got to call his own hours.  He was a Private Eye (though TM bristled at that name and preferred the term ‘Private Detective’).   He got to sleep in every single morning (just what I always wanted to do!).  And unlike Jim Rockford, money was never really a problem when you were living on an estate (Robin’s Nest) for free and could borrow things like money, cameras and, most importantly, time from Rick and TC.

I watched all the episodes going into 1981 and the show somehow just got better and better.  You see, Magnum and his pals Rick and TC were Vietnam vets who’d settled in Hawaii after their tours were over.  They all had a mysterious military back story but were relatively safe now and were no thus longer being fired upon by angry Vietnamese.  I liked that.

Though the pitch of his laughter and the hem of his shorts were both a little high, of Thomas Sullivan Magnum I thought, “Hey, I wish I was THAT GUY!”

The character of Thomas Magnum had so much that was right that it was actually even ok (not creepy) that my mom was really into him (but not as much as James Garner, who was more her age).  Tom Selleck was younger, more my age group (well…..).

On Friday mornings at school my friend Rory and I would dissect the previous night’s episode.  Rory just seemed to get TM too.  We Junior High buddies really admired Magnum’s facility with the female guest stars and (seeing ourselves as now erudite) tried to emulate the witty banter of Higgins and Magnum.  To us Higgins was like a real life version of the old cartoon Professor with his little globe of the earth.  He was worldly and connected and his stories were a little fantastic and hard to believe (that was one of the in-jokes of the show).

Though I couldn’t yet grow a mustache; my voice was still high and I could emulate Thomas’ (at times) embarrassing laugh.  My mom bought me my first Hawaiian shirt and web belt.  I finally felt like it was OK to emulate someone and my confidence was beginning to soar.  I began to notice things… like girls.  Like Genie.

Genie Maderas was a fellow Eighth Grader.  She was cute and mysterious.  Here’s why. She hung out with the “Tree People” (the surfers who hung together by a tree in the middle of the courtyard).  But, unlike the people of the tree, she was always really nice to me.  She was part Mexican and had a little Mexican clique that she hung with.  Not totally a surfer, and not totally Mexican, she was impossible to stereotype.  She looked like the classic “All American Girl” but also looked ethnic and that was fascinating to me.

"Treepeople" hangout at LeConte.

“Treepeople” hangout at LeConte.

I noticed I was starting to get scared when she’d say hi to me.  I always felt compelled to say something more than “uh, hi” in return… but what?!  Could Thomas Magnum help me?  Could Rory?

I may have decided by then I wanted to move to Hawaii to become a Private Detective when I grew up, but what knowledge could I really glean from Thomas Magnum’s experiences now?  It is mentioned in Season 1 that Magnum had been married before, but the episode that introduces his wife (“Memories Are Forever”) and their backstory was yet to be written and would not air until November 5, 1981.  Too late to help me.

Another episode, “The Arrow That Is Not Aimed” would air on January 27th, 1983.  It was one of the best of the whole eight year series. It was about a valuable lost plate and a samurai’s effort (with Magnum’s help) to recover it; and his lost honor.  The episode’s message about effort vs. non-effort and of being able to accept the unfolding of events could have really helped me in February of 1981, but that air date was almost two years later and, man, I was in Florida by then!  To an early teen that was like a lifetime later…..

Tozan and Magnum-san in "The Arrow That Is Not Aimed"

Tozan and Magnum-san in “The Arrow That Is Not Aimed”

In early 1981 I couldn’t relax and felt (hormonally) compelled to just do something.

In early episodes of “Magnum PI,” Thomas has flings with stewardesses and lonely widows.  I, on the other hand,  was an eighth grader at LeConte Junior High School, still being called “Billy.”  I just had no frame of reference to match that.  I thought maybe I should ask Rory.  Especially because the only thing my best friend Enrique could offer was to laugh at me when I talked about Genie.  But maybe that was because I blushed so easily.  Although he did let me know that in his opinion Genie was “good” (I guess, short for “good-looking”).

At home I was mum on this subject; I buried myself in my MAD Magazines and tried to act normal.  How could my mom and sisters possibly help with this?  I endeavored to never find out.  So I guess it had to be Rory after all.

I broached the subject with him, it seemed like he’d been just waiting for me to ask him.  Maybe he was the go-to guy after all!  This situation had been going on for a couple of months by then and little did I know I had been training myself for an early adulthood rife with intricate preparation but no actual action.  It was time to do something.

Rory said, “What does Thomas Magnum have that we don’t have?”  “Well,” I replied, “except for our Hawaiian shirts (which we were both sporting that day); um, everything else?!”

“No,” he said, “It’s the mystery, that guy has really lived.  That’s why women like him!”  Hmmm. He then suggested something along the “secret admirer” angle, that there should be some kind of communication delivered mysteriously.  A note.  We (he, actually, I remained paralyzed by inaction) then composed a note.  He used to play up his “Irishness” and my “Englishness” so he thought the signature should reflect my proud heritage.  I should also indicate I’m mature and yet that I’m “someone from the eighth grade.”  He came up with the name “Olde English No. 8.”  He claimed later to not know it was the name of a cologne.

He told me his actual note ideas were examples and that I should come up with something on my own.  I thought about it but could never come up with anything so I folded up a piece of paper with “Olde English No. 8” written in my best calligraphy style and stuffed it into Genie’s locker later that day when the halls were empty.

Empty hallways at LeConte

Empty hallways at LeConte

I was immediately mortified after the paper went in beyond retrieval and so was really relieved when days passed and literally nothing ever came of it.  I did learn to never make another silly note like that again (this explains my refusal to get involved in the events of my story “Thank you. For Whatever Comes.”  I had, by then, ‘been there, done that.’).  I felt ridiculous and darkly suspected that Rory had tried to sabotage me.

LA’s invisible winter turned to spring and still nothing was happening.  I smoldered on, Genie unaware.  “Hi, Billy!”  “Um…hi Genie.”  Thomas Magnum would have been ashamed.  Genie and I had a couple of one or two sentence conversations, nothing, though that revealed my normally masked, roguish yet compelling personality.

The eighth grade ended, there was a week left.  Word got around that Genie wouldn’t be around for the ninth grade.  She was moving?!  Enrique told me she was not moving, she was just going to Anne Bancroft Junior High (we were in Hollywood after all), probably because it had 20 or so fewer gangs than we did.  Makes sense, but it always bothered me that Enrique was able to converse with her so normally and un-neurotically.

Enrique also found out something else.  Genie would be at LeConte’s year end afternoon outdoor fair, full of snack booths, retail booths selling yearbooks and official LeConte key chains, and…. a kissing booth.  I didn’t believe it when Enrique told me Genie would be “manning” the kissing booth.  But it was true; I confirmed this via other kids not named Genie.

Merchandise from the LeConte Fair.

Merchandise from the LeConte Fair.

I showed up at the fair with my sister Mary, Enrique and his brothers Martin and Ismael in tow.  By now Mary had tripped to my weird behavior and wanted to see if anything would happen.  I made ever shrinking, agonizing orbits around the kissing booth; enough to know that Genie was there.  I stood there, Enrique egged me on.  “Go kiss her man!  She’s there waiting for you!”  And then the ever popular, “Don’t be a pussy, man!  C’mon, do it!”

They were by now chanting “Do. It! Do. It!”  Mary joined in half-heartedly but I could tell she felt kind of bad for me.  I channeled my best Thomas Magnum and approached the booth.  She smiled at me.  I leaned in and then, and then….. kissed her on the cheek.  I thanked her and walked away quickly.

The Brothers Lopez tortured me for this, absolutely tortured.  It lasted for days, Enrique, especially, delighted in telling anyone who passed by how I’d “pussed out.”  That I had “lost my chance.”  That I’d “never get another chance.”  The last part was true, I never saw Genie again, though during the summer I imagined I would visit her at Bancroft.  Then the ninth grade started, I forgot all about it, and her.  My feelings just kind of died out.  But I’d learned a valuable lesson, and it was this.  If the opportunity ever came up again, ever again, I would still plan a lot, load up Cupid’s Bow but then still be paralyzed by fear and do nothing, to never fire.  And there for several more turns the arrow would sit.

2 replies
  1. Laura
    Laura says:

    This is great! Mom did love her some James Garner, didn’t she?

    Sometimes loves are best kept unrequited and mysterious!

    “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”


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