I never saw Peter Gunn because it was 1958, I was nine years old, and my folks sent me to bed well before the show came on. But the sounds of television used to filter up the stairs to my bedroom, and there was just no way I was going to sleep through Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn theme music. If this was not one of the all-time great TV themes, I don’t know what was.
I was usually still awake anyway, reading Uncle Scrooge, Mickey Mouse, and Archie comics by flashlight–and the light went kind of orangey as the battery ran down. Not good for my eyes.
I heard a lot of great theme music in those days. And Mancini was the greatest of them all.
I couldn’t find a picture that was even close to what I want to write about here–the once-upon-a-time children’s game that my friends and I called “Russian bulldog.” Just try to find a picture of kids playing without uniforms, without coaches, without every single ethnicity self-consciously included. It can’t be done. Look, I’ve got a picture of a Brontosaurus. But no Russian bulldog.
The game was simplicity itself. No equipment needed. No supervision. No freakin’ sponsor! Somebody’s back yard would do for a field. And you needed was five or six kids.
One would be the Russian bulldog. I have no idea how it got that name. He’d stand in the middle of the field and the others would try to run to the opposite end of the field. He would try to tackle somebody; and whoever he succeeded in bringing down would remain on the field with him as Bulldog No. 2. The rest of the kids would then run down the field again, this time trying to avoid two tacklers. The game would go on until there was just one kid left untackled, and he’d be the Russian bulldog in the next game.
We were really into this game, in my neighborhood, at around the ages of 12-13. We played it a lot. And although it consisted of tackling, and running into each other at top speed, nobody ever got hurt. Maybe because we didn’t wear any equipment.
Did you play Russian bulldog with your friends? And if you did, what did you call it?
P.S.–Patty found this antique photo of English schoolboys playing a game called British Bulldog–very similar to Russian bulldog, only the kids get tagged instead of tackled. Here’s the picture.
We’ve been talking about games kids used to play. Not video games. No–ancient games, most of which involved running or hiding. Games like Red Light-Green Light, Mother May I?, Hide and Seek, Duck-Duck-Goose, and Huckle-Buckle Beanstalk.
We had a lot of kids in our neighborhood and my mother taught us how to play all these games. She was by far the coolest mom on the block. Although Huckle-Buckle Beanstalk was played mostly at school. Remember? Someone–it can be several kids, or just one or two–goes outside the classroom to wait while “It” hides the box of paper clips. Then the others come back in and try to find it. The object must be hidden in plain sight! And spectators are allowed to shout “warm, you’re getting warmer!” or “colder, colder, freezing cold!”, etc., to help the searchers along.
Mother May I? had the other kids asking “It” questions like, “May I take two baby steps?”, or else “It” would volunteer a command, “Johnny, take one giant step.” There were umbrella steps, scissors steps, spinning steps, crab steps–probably as many local variations to this game as there were localities.
These games were folklore, genuine folklore, handed down from one generation to the next. You wonder how far back in time some of them go. One expects to see a picture by the Limbourg Brothers showing peasant children in the background playing a game we’d recognize as Red Light-Green Light. Only of course they wouldn’t have called it that in the 14th century.
I wonder how much longer we can keep this lore.
Oh, I almost forgot–Statues! Players advance stealthily toward “It,” but have to freeze instantly whenever she turns around. Anyone she catches moving has to go back to the starting line. I really enjoyed Statues.
These were among my very favorite toys as a kid–Miller Co. wax dinosaurs. I’m so glad I still have two of them left–a big Stegosaurus and a smaller one. These wax toys had a regrettable tendency to break. I’ll bet the Dimetrodon’s and Triceratops’ tails broke off while they were taking this picture.
Our snow is turning into slush today–but not to worry, we’ve got some more snow in our forecast–and if I were ten years old, today I’d be building skyscrapers with our plastic skyscraper kit and working out stories involving dinosaurs and skyscrapers. We also had a Cape Canaveral play set whose rockets came in very handy when you had to defend the skyscrapers. A rubber-tipped Atlas rocket would take out even a Tyrannosaur with a direct hit. But I usually rooted for the dinosaurs, so they had spring-powered missiles, too.
Ah, the imagination! Cavemen lined up on the roof of a skyscraper, armed with rocks and spears, fending off a giant Pterodactyl, commanded by a plastic figurine of Davy Crockett–even the movies couldn’t match it. With Sir Lancelot riding out in armor to do battle with creatures he supposed, not unreasonably, to be dragons.
These stories could go on all the way to suppertime.
Nobody likes to go outside in freezing rain. A day like today brings back memories of a plastic skyscraper kit my brother used to have. It was nowhere near as fancy as the one in the picture above, but it had hundreds of pieces and it certainly sufficed.
My brother and I used to try to construct buildings that would use all the pieces in the kit. That would keep us busy for a while. You started with a composite wood base and built up from there. It had room for two skyscrapers, which we could connect with walkways. By and by the building would become inhabited by dinosaurs, cavemen, and wild animals, and adventures would follow.
The pieces interlocked, no glue involved, you could always take a building apart and make another one. That was the only way you could get the Brontosaurus out. Hours of fun.
Lego still exists, so there must be kids out there who have the attention span required to build an elaborate plastic skyscraper. Such a peaceful, soothing game to play! Grandma used to hope that one or both of us would grow up to be engineers who built bridges. She had to settle for plastic skyscrapers. And so did we–but they sufficed. They did indeed.
“Watchman” mentioned an abortive, once-upon-a-time “plan to blow up the moon,” and a certain boyhood memory came roaring back to me. It must be said that back in 1958 there really was a plan to detonate a nuclear weapon on the moon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_A119). It was called Project A119, under the aegis of the Air Force. The Russians had a similar plan. The purpose of both was to stage “a show of force.”
And it was supposed to be a secret, only acknowledged in 2000 after 45 years of denial.
Cut to Edgar School playground, 1958: I’m nine years old, and my friends and I are discussing–in tones of awe and quiet fear–you guessed it!–“a secret plan to blow up the moon.” And I said, “Every time they talk about it, there are these dubular clouds that appear on Mars.” I have no idea what a “dubular cloud” was supposed to be, and no memory of how I’d ever come to hear about it.
But a secret? What kind of top military secret is bandied about by 9-year-old kids on the playground? My wife, a little older than I, says everybody knew about it–and flat-out didn’t like it, not a bit. Which is why the project got canceled, according to Wikipedia.
What were these Air Force willies thinking??? Did they have any clear idea of what would happen if they did this? Not bloody likely! Thank you, O God, that cooler heads prevailed. As in “Oops! Big chunks of the Moon are now hurtling toward the earth! Gee, who knew that would happen?”
A study of history will reveal an inexhaustible supply of wackos in high places. If the Lord were not in charge, we wouldn’t last a week.
It has arrived: the moment of truth. The moment I put my boots on and wade out into a foot and a half of snow. The landlord has not plowed our parking lot, nor the driveway, so I’ll have to see what I can do. My wife and my editor have both sternly cautioned me, “Don’t kill yourself out there! People like you, they might keel over…” I chose not to ask for an elaboration of that.
What we need around here, and don’t have, is… teenagers! Half a dozen teens with snow shovels could clear that driveway as quick as boiled asparagus. I know because I was a teenager once. A bunch of us would get together to clear the snow off Tommy’s Pond so everybody in the neighborhood could ice-skate.
Nobody’s going to ask a bunch of 70-somethings to do that.
Really, people need to appreciate teenagers. If they haven’t been turned into chowderheads by public schooling, Hollywood, and social media, they’re bright and lively and a good influence on adults. Good company, too.
One of my quiet pleasures, when I was a boy, was to read the TV listings in the daily paper. It was the only way I could find out about shows that came on after I was sent to bed. Later on I graduated to the summaries in TV Guide.
Whoever wrote these, they were brilliant. Here’s a movie description from 1974: “Triple Trouble” (1950). The Bowery Boys are sent up for robbery, try to find the true culprits in prison. Period! The whole movie in just 16 words!
I have to write a cover blurb for my new book, The Wind from Heaven. I’m allowed 150 words in which to encapsulate the story in a way that’s sure to provoke the reader’s interest.. while not giving away the plot. I’ve always found this very difficult.
But what if I had only 16 words? What if it was a movie on TV, and I had to write the listing? Holy moly.
Now, it’s been many years since I scanned TV listings. With a couple hundred channels out there–we had only seven in 1960, and most places outside the New York media market had just two or three–it hardly seems worthwhile to try to write listings for all the hundreds, if not thousands, of programs offered every day.
But imagine if the art of summarization had ever broken out beyond the daily TV listings. Just imagine…