TODAY'S RANT: “Comfortably Vietnumb”By Philip Drucker, Constitutional Law Professor
Staff Writer, Los Angeles Free Press
With the fall of Saigon, the Vietnam War ended. The significance of the event was not without its immediate consequences. A part of my family’s daily ritual also ended. No more would our dinner begin with a flip of the TV on switch just in time for the day’s Vietnam body count. With the ubiquitous nature of broadcast television, some began calling Vietnam the “living room war.” The room with the “good” TV. The color TV. The TV without the rabbit ears extended by tin foil. The TV that no longer required Dad to climb up on the roof every now and then and yell down to Mom “Is there a picture yet?” To which Mom replied, “A little right, no, no that’s worse, better, keep moving, there, hold it.” You get the picture (sorry).
Very few people threw out their old TVs in those day. The older, usually black and white, smaller screens were moved to various less significant places around the house. If a TV needed a new tube or two, they were easily tested and replaced at the local Thrifty’s. The “good as new” old set becoming part of a multiple-room, house-wide, different channels all at once superior viewing experience. The Java Man of Cineplex. How many TV sets you possessed became a sign of status. Screen size mattered. For my family, Vietnam was the dining room war watched on CBS Evening News. The kindly and trusted face of Walter Cronkite on the screen every time we looked up from the scratchy, plastic, yellow and orange floral pattern plates. There he was on the old, unflattering 13” B&W TV having been ousted from its former preeminence in the front room to serve its remaining days in exile on a lesser isle of suburbia. This was my family’s version of quality time. Honestly, Walter was a lot more interesting than any of us.
My first impression of Walter Cronkite isn’t associated with the Vietnam War. My earliest newsworthy TV memory has WC presiding over the televised coverage of JFK’s assassination. John Jr. saluting his fallen father’s flag-draped casket. A little boy like me on TV. He seemed very brave for his age. I hoped that someday I would be cool enough to be on TV, too. I understood nothing about his underlying situation. A few years later, Life magazine published a picture of that moody, gritty, black, white and grey little boy. I discovered he was dressed in a sissy light blue coat with sissy red shoes. Very disappointing.
Forgive me my blissful ignorance. I was from the “just missed” generation. I remember the LA Times with its “you-first” birthday draft list. My parents always looked up my number. If your birthday was outside of the first 150 drawn you were considered “safe.” If not, I remember talk of a doctor willing to “diagnose” anyone’s son with a 4F “knee-injury” if necessary. I remember a teenager living on our block getting such a note. He was drafted anyway. His name was Jerry. He came back injured. He had long hair and a motorcycle. He committed suicide.
In an odd Oliver twist of fate, neither the LA Free Press, nor the Beatles for that matter, were allowed in my home. My parents thought anyone listening to the “long hair music” or reading the FREEP (I believe they referred to it as “trash”) had to be a drug addict and if they weren’t they would be soon. That would make my column here the equivalent of a gateway drug. I wonder what my parents would think of that.
Next week, Bedtime for Donzo.