This one takes place in the summer of 1977, which I only remember as being a happy one. My universe at the time was a fairly quiet street in the suburbs of Toronto. It was a pretty unassuming day until my best friend Neil broke some pretty big news to me, tonight on Six Million Dollar Man, Steve Austin is fighting the Death Probe!
First, I should explain Neil because he’ll be in a lot of these. When my family moved onto the street in ’73, he was the first kid I met, because he was the only kid my age. We both had siblings five years our senior with the same first name, it was kismet.
Neil was a year older and way more mischievous than I was. He got me into some real hot water although i was a willing accomplice. He was a brighter goofus to my sheltered gallant and I learned a lot from him. We also complimented each other well, he was confident, a natural athlete and (I’m guessing) slightly dyslexic; I was smart but shy and asthmatic. We remained tight until his mom and dad split in ’83 and they moved away.
You couldn't ask for a better childhood friend and I miss him.
Getting back to the big news, Neil had seen an ad in the TV guide that CTV was running “Deathprobe” tonight. I had missed it when it ran in January but it was the talk of the school yard the next day, whcih really sucked.
I could not; nay I shall not, miss this opportunity! Mostly because as we all know, once a TV show airs, it’s gone, never to return. If only some sort of device allowed you to record a program and save it for posterity but such a futuristic device would cost hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars.
Only one slight flaw in the plan….
My well meaning parents had declared the Summer of 1977, the “TV less Summer” and save for one night where my sister and I swore we heard gunfire and Indians, even my parents had adhered to this plan.
I honestly don’t remember putting up a fight, we had a pool, I had a bike and my Dad was working from home more. He had this red “Hotline” that always reminded me of the Wolfman’s phone from “Frightenstein”. There was only one rule, white phone rings, continue playing, Red phone rings, you shutta your mouth.
I plead my case to my mother and was politely denied, we’ll try Neil’s house next. Now, I liked Neil’s parents a lot, they were kind and loving but I get the feeling he was a handful because they always had more of an edge to them. I could hear the “NO!” from my house, actually I could always hear what was going on in that house, I’ll get into that later….
So shot down twice, Neil and I turned to our only hope, the new kid...
Gord had moved into the neighbourhood in 1976, his family had immigrated from Germany years previous. Gord’s parents reminded me of my own grandparents, their house was incredibly tidy and while they were kind, there was an aura of “don’t screw around” about them.
Gord didn’t come out and play on Saturdays, he had music lessons followed by German school. He dressed mainly in slacks and button down shirts with a short, tidy haircut. I honestly don’t remember if he had any toys but it didn’t matter, he was quickly accepted into our fold.
We begged him to see what he could do, he stroked his chin and went inside and asked his “moody”. I tried to see if I could pick up the German that followed, I knew “Nein!” pretty well. Gord came back crestfallen but thanked us for telling him, as he would be watching it.
Well, Neil and I were screwed; we exhausted every TV in the universe. What could we do?
Neil turned to me and said, “Gord’s going to be watching it, so why don’t we just watch from his basement window?”. I would have never even considered that, it was a brilliant, ballsy thing to do.
But that’s exactly what we did.
Neil and I parked ourselves on the gutter of his window well and peered into Gord’s basement. There we could see Gord and sister sitting on the floor in their pajamas in front of their giant, wood encased TV. I’m pretty sure I brought some chips.
Despite the show being silent, we quietly watched the whole thing mostly because we worried Gord's folks would find us. Gord or his sister would occasionally turn, stare at us and smile, then look at each other with “What are they doing?” faces. Our behaviour was completely alien to those two.
We stayed there until it began to get dark and we could hear the warbling death knell to all our evenings, Neil’s mom screaming "Neeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwlllllllll” in her slightly east coast brogue. (A friend of my sister did a fantastic impression of this) It didn’t matter, mission accomplished, we had seen Deathprobe.
Gord would continue to roll with us and sometimes be a pawn in Neil and my little power struggles until 1981, when his parents divorce would remove him from the street. I never saw him again, Neil kept in touch.
Somehow, I never again saw Death Probe, I watched the Six Million Dollar Man in syndication every day in 1982, tagain in 1994, even skipping work at “Staples” one day to try and catch it.
It wasn’t until Christmas 2010 when my mom bought me the SMDM box set that I was able to finally see it. I grabbed my son, told him this very story and we watched it together. He loved it and has since asked to watch it again, often asking "did you really watch this through a window as a kid?".
Got a nerd therapy session you'd like to share? Drop me a line, as I'd love a break.