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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Dancing electrons

March 1st, 2006

BY ALAN ALBRIGHT

My father’s hobby was photography, his college major was art — and the next thing you know Dad found himself behind the camera filming commercials for the new postwar television industry. We grew up on Kookla, Fran and Ollie, Hopalong Cassidy, and the rest, with winks at Ipana toothpaste, Noxema, and Cover Girl. My sister and I sat in the Peanut Gallery, Dad got me a few jobs in the industry — and that was television for us.

“Stay away from it,” Zollie Vidor recommended. He was one of the star cameramen for MPO, the summer I spent working on set as a go-fer. “There’s too much money and it’ll wreck your life. Mine is a mess!”

But it was the long commute from the suburbs, not the prospects of vast riches, that discouraged me. The forty-minute drive to the train, the hour’s ride, the half hour of subway afterwards — and back the same route, afternoons.

It was a lot more fun hiking across Eighth Street, from East Village to West, to hawk bamboo flutes to adventuresome tourists from the New York suburbs. A lot of us college kids tried such things, exploring alternate lifestyles in the Seventies, through the Crafts Movement.

Television captured my full attention when my wife and I moved from San Francisco to her native France. “The audio-visual landscape,” I should say. It was a class act, government-run, no commercials and… well… good stuff. This was before François Mittérand threw it to the dogs, who in this case were my fellow Americans, who flooded the new French commercial station with dubbed-in reruns of everything fromjeannieinparis.jpg I Dream of JeanieMa sorcière bien aimée — to the cowboy series of your choice. The shows had long since been paid for, so these Frenchified re-issues could be sold at far below cost, thereby undercutting any potential Gallic schlock enterprise. The new Channel Five proved immensely popular and soon France found itself very comfortable with a televised lowest common denominator, even if none of the actors looked French.

It was about this time — 1988 to be exact — that my wife decided to spend the summer in Vermont, leaving me to hold down the fort, and watch television, in the City of Light.
I tried mightily, for I was lonely. Television masquerades as company, and so I dutifully watched Bernard Pivot’s touted Apostrophes and other heady presentations. The eight o’clock news with Bernard Rapp was always a pleasure, and I gritted my teeth with the rest of France over the persona of Christine Okrent. But try as I might, it was just not working. The télé was not filling its end of the bargain. The more I watched the dancing electrons on the glowing screen, the more I listened to the vibrations of the paper on the loud speaker, the lonelier I got. I finally realized why. There was no one there but me. No living being, that is.

So I put the TV away in the closet. When I’d get lonely, I’d take a hike, sit down in some café and watch real people walk by. Or read a book. If that didn’t do the trick, I sought out people I knew. I got involved in volunteering, began a project I’ve been working on ever since. In short, I traded watching for living.

Sounds hokey.

“Did you see…?” people ask me.

“No,” I answer, and without regret. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Albright, All Television Issue | Link to this Entry

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