Oct 7, 2014

Fall 1972: How M*A*S*H Saved My Life

I hated my childhood church.  Everything was a sin: movies, comic books, rock music, books beside the Bible, games with cards, games with dice, restaurants that served alcohol, stores that sold alcohol, dancing, mixed swimming, carnivals, circuses, theaters, curse words, premarital sex, extramarital sex, nonmarital sex, thinking about sex....

Plus we had to sit through three services per week, on Wednesday evening and twice on Sunday, and they were all the same: tedious hymns from Victorian times, 45 minutes of the Preacher pacing and screaming and literally pounding his Bible, and then an endless exhortation to come down to the altar and "get raht with God."

We usually skipped the Wednesday service, and I didn't mind Sunday morning so much; the service ended at 12:00 sharp, and there was nothing good on tv anyway.  But Sunday night services had no limits -- they could go on for two hours or more, with a tv paradise back home: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, It's About Time, Flipper, Land of the Giants, The Young Rebels, Hogan's Heroes...

How to get out of going to church on Sunday night?  When I was in grade school, I tried four tactics:

1.  "I don't want to go!!!! I hate it!!!!"

That didn't work.

2. "I have a lot of homework to do."

No.  Nazarenes were forbidden from working on Sunday, including homework.

3. "I have a stomach ache."

Stomach aches were foolproof...there was no way to prove that you didn't have one, and you weren't necessarily sick. Maybe you just ate something that disagreed with you.

That worked once.  But my parents picked up pie and ice cream on the way home, and some jello for me.  Nazarenes weren't supposed to buy things on Sunday, but...

4. "Bill invited me over for a sleepover.  I can go to his church."

Nope.  Bill was a Presbyterian, and Nazarenes couldn't set foot in a "liberal so-called church."

When I started seventh grade at Washington Junior High, my parents began to watch me carefully, searching for any sign that I had "discovered" girls and thereby become a man.  Did I hang out with girls?  Did I mention any girls, even in passing?  Did I sign up for a mostly-girl club?  Did I notice an actress on tv?

Notice an actress on tv!

The biggest buzz in the 1972-73 tv season was M*A*S*H, a comedy-drama about doctors sexually harassing nurses and getting drunk during the Korean War.  TV Guide was particularly ecstatic over the sexually promiscuous Hot Lips Houlihan, played by Loretta Swit (right).

5. "I want to stay home and watch M*A*S*H.  It sounds good...."

I didn't even have to mention Hot Lips Houlihan.  My parents nudged each other, beaming with pride, and joyfully gave me permission to stay home.

Turns out that I hated M*A*S*H (except for Gary Burghoff as the cute Radar O'Reilly), and there was nothing else good on Sunday nights anymore.

But anything was better than being screamed at for 45 minutes.

And I learned a valuable lesson: my parents were so anxious for me to be heterosexual that they would give me permission to do anything, if there was even a hint of a girl involved.

See also: Slow Dancing at the Canteen

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