Dad always said it was his favorite time of the week, and for a guy who worked two jobs I can understand it. It is mine too. You have that buffer of two whole days before back to the work or school grind. It has a sense of freedom to it that is just what you need after a week at the pointless job or boring classes. Even as a child, without too many cares in the world, it was the best. And being an Ortolano, it came with its own set of rituals.
Two components made up what to me was the optimal Friday night, and yes of course one had to do with food, and the other with television. Specifically a tuna fish hero (here in Philly they call them hoagies) and The Wild Wild West. There are many television shows I have loved over those childhood years, some quite good, some not so much when I look back. But that one was it for me; intelligent if a bit far-fetched, imaginative as all hell; a period piece about the beginnings of the US Secret Service, and being as it was the 60’s there had to be a handsome star in the lead. Cue Robert Conrad, formerly of Hawaiian Eye, a detective show. He played James West, and with his partner the versatile Artemus Gordon (brilliantly played by Ross Martin, a true gentleman regrettably no longer with us) they embarked on a five-year run of some of the most enjoyable viewing I have ever experienced. Part straight drama, part surreal experiment it had Bond-like villains (Migilito Loveless played brilliantly by Michael Dunn with his lovely singing voice and his huge henchman Voltaire -Richard Kiel soon to become more famous as Jaws from the Bond franchise, and of course Count Manzeppi with his magic and deception); the only other show at the time that experimented like this was a British import, also one of my favorites, The Avengers with Patrick MacNee and Diana Rigg (still to this day to me the most beautiful and desirable woman who ever lived – and that’s even after seeing her on Game of Thrones!). It was a daring thing to challenge a viewer’s perceptions of reality at the time and that is what these shows did. Plus it didn’t hurt that both also had an abundance of pure style all their own, unlike anything else on television at the time. Ok I forgot for a moment about The Prisoner but that was in a league all its own.
Ok so back to Friday Nights. Now we were brought up in a Catholic household and that meant you didn’t eat meat on Friday nights. I think that was another rule that was changed by the Second Vatican Council, but we didn’t pay any attention to it in our household. So Fridays were tuna fish nights; we hadn’t quite caught on that you could have other kinds of fish on days other than Christmas Eve, so I grant you there was a certain lack of variety to the Friday fish menu. I do remember sometimes having warm bagels and cream cheese for dinner a few times; something that probably only a New Yorker would not find strange as a dinner entrée. So for the most part it was tuna fish. And I looked forward to it every week even though I enjoyed Sunday spaghetti and meatballs and Tuesday pork chops and Wednesday Meat Loaf, but those tuna sandwiches on Friday night….well it’s still my favorite choice for dinner on that night. Plus if we pleaded efficiently enough, we were allowed to eat in front of the TV, which came in handy if Dad was late getting home from work.
And so there I would be, little Eisenhower fold out table in front of me, tuna on a roll with pickle relish, tomato, lettuce and lots of mayo watching that inspired graphic that introduced the show each week. Those of you who have seen it will know what I mean, those who haven’t, do yourself a favor and find it on YouTube or Netflix or whatever and see it for yourself. It has legs as they say. It is still an impressive opening even now; no one does that kind of print graphic style for television any more it being more common to the swinging sixties. Too bad.
But I digress. So there I am sitting there and that wonderful beginning unfolds and that original distinctive theme song kicks in and before you know it I have tears in my eyes. It simply didn’t get better than this for me as a kid. It was one of my versions of Heaven ( I won’t say the obvious- that it still is- I have a low bar for Heaven).
And you know the fun part? Thanks to the boxed set of DVDs and an understanding wife, I can recreate it all on any Friday night I choose, and do often. And as Leslie can attest, I still get tears in my eyes.
It’s nice to experience Heaven on the best night of the week.
Dad as usual had it right again.