There were some thing I simply felt were beneath my dignity. I tried explaining that to Johnny M_____ the day our first grade class went to appear on The Foreman Scotty Show. Since it was my birthday – my sixth, making me several months younger and shorter than most of my classmates – it was expected that I would join the other kids on the birthday pony. I refused to call it a pony since it was just a sawhorse with a papier mâché head. No, I had no desire to sit on that thing with a bunch of smelly six-year-old overzealous Foreman Scotty fans.
I did appreciate that Foreman Scotty was a reasonably handsome man who wore skin tight Wrangler wheat jeans, but I felt he sort of talked down to the kids. The only reason I was going was because Johnny M_______ made such a big deal out of it. And my parents had promised to take my entire class to Uncle John’s Pancake House on Lincoln Boulevard afterwards. I was anxious to see if their new watermelon-raspberry syrup was as good as the other kids claimed.
Johnny and I rode in my parents’ powder-blue Sedan de Ville that led a convoy of Impalas, El Caminos, Valiants and Mercury Satellites to the studios of WKY-TV on North Kelley Boulevard at NE 142nd Street. WKY had billboards all over town bragging that they were the only station in the state to broadcast all of their programs in living color, with the NBC peacock proudly showing its plumage in the lower right corner. WKY was owned by Mr. Gaylord who also owned the Lazy E Arena, WKY-AM radio and the daily newspaper. My father called Mr. Gaylord a “wacko” which he said was sort of a cross between a bad clown and a bad politician. Mr. Gaylord ran editorials on the front page of his newspaper warning about the widening of the Arkansas River to link it to the Mississippi and the Gulf Port. Mr. Gaylord said that this would make the state vulnerable to Soviet sub invasions. “And if Tulsa goes, the whole nation will fall,” my father said, after which my mother told me was my father practicing his irony skills.
When we arrived at WKY studios, a short chubby man named Stu who was chewing on a cigar looked down at his clipboard, walked us down a dark hallway painted a murky shade of green until we entered the small studio that I immediately recognized from the broadcasts from 3:30 to 4 p.m. each weekday. There were tumbleweeds in front of the living color TV cameras. To the right, a woman with glistening peroxide hair wore a pink smock and had a Pall Mall dangling from her lips. She was gingerly powdering Foreman Scotty’s face and humming “Johnny Angel” as my class was herded towards two rows of rickety bleachers. I stopped for a moment to admire the familiar cowboy in tight Wranglers having his face powdered. “Wow, did you see that,” Johnny M_______ whispered, as if he’d just learned that the Easter Bunny was really his Aunt Agnes. “Yes,” I said, wanting to add that I thought it was just great.
Minutes later, Foreman Scotty grabbed a mike and said, “Are ya kids glad to be here today!” Everyone waved their arms and screamed” “Yeah!!!” I pursed my lips, waited a second, and said, “Yes.”
“Are y’all lookin’ forward to the Golden Lasso?” Foreman Scotty asked. “Yeah!!!” The screams were louder this time. “I can’t hear you!” Foreman Scotty said. “YEAH!!!!” “Well, we’ll get right to it after this segment with Miss Fran from Story Land.”
“Ahhh….” The kids wheezed, like stale air coming out of a dying balloon.
I loved Miss Fran, and her show was my second favorite after the one with the other Fran of the nationally broadcast Kukla, Fran and Ollie’s “CBS Children’s Film Festival.” Miss Fran read real stories from real books, and you could follow along while she read. I had been watching her show since I was three and had the entire Miss Fran library that included books about a dachshund in Amsterdam named Ferdinand that loved tulips and a little girl named Marta in Lisbon who could recite the names of 24 flavors of gelatos and sorbets. Miss Fran’s show aired at 6:30 each weekday morning, and then she had a short pre-recorded segment on The Foreman Scotty Show. Miss Fran didn’t have to resort to cheap tricks such as a golden lasso or a birthday pony.
But it was my birthday, and I didn’t want to complain about how silly I thought this was in front of Johnny M_______. I didn’t want to spoil the fun I knew would have sitting together with our pigs in a blanket and multiple syrups at Uncle John’s Pancake House after this stupid TV show was finally over.
I decided to just quietly endure the Golden Lasso segment. This was supposedly the high point of the show. A golden lasso was superimposed on the screen as the camera panned the kids in the bleachers. The crazier, more animated the kid, the more likely she or he was to win the prize, a spray-painted golden horseshoe with Foreman Scotty’s name on it. “And thar she goes!” Scotty shouted as the camera began to spin. I refused to lower myself to participate in such a ridiculous spectacle. Instead, I sat motionless, staring straight ahead as if I were having my school portrait made. I knew that thousands of people throughout the great plains were watching me on this, my first television appearance, and I certainly had no intention of making my debut with my eyes crossed and my tongue hanging out of my mouth. I crossed my hands in my lap, took in a deep breath to assume perfect posture and did not even let out the air in my lounges as I heard my idiotic classmates scream “Me, Scotty! Me, Scotty!” as the living color camera swirled so wildly that the NBC logo was now just a blur. Johnny, who was pulling on his lower lips and twitching his nose like a rabbit nudged me and whispered. “Are you gong to just sit there?” “Yes,” I said, managing to barely move my lips. “I am going to just sit here.” I continued to sit motionless until all I could see was my reflection in the large single glass eye of the TV camera that was now as still as I was. It sat like a wolf assessing its prey and then moved right next to the front of the bleachers and pointed its gaze straight at me. I was transfixed, thinking about how many Zeniths and Motorolas were bringing my image into homes throughout the Sooner State. My expression was the same as it had been at the beginning of the ridiculous Golden Lasso episode and I refused to change it as if to say, “This is me Oklahoma. I don’t care what you think."
I sensed warmth and a distinctly adult male scent within inches of me. I also felt Johnny M_______’s strong hand on my left thigh as he leaned in gasping. “You won it! You won it, Gregg! And you didn’t even try.” Wanting to grasp Johnny M_______’s hand that was gripping my thigh, I instead saw a large male hand and an arch of gold with “Scotty” inscribed in stark, western script leaning towards me. Scotty’s large right hand moved forward with the golden horseshoe looming before me, twinkling under the studio lights with the same metallic glimmer as the rivets on his light-colored jeans.
“There ya, go little feller,” Scotty said, handing me the horseshoe. I looked down at it glistening in my hand, as if it were a gift that aliens that had dropped from the heavens. Something I’d never asked for and had no idea what I would do with. “Now what do we say?” Scotty asked. I mouthed the words “thank you,” but he obviously couldn’t hear. My hands were shaking as I held the heavy horseshoe that I feared I might soon drop on the floor. I turned and handed it to Johnny, whom I knew longed for this unwanted gift that felt so cumbersome and unwanted in my hand. “No,” he said, almost a bit peeved, “it’s your birthday.”
“He’s shy, Scotty! He’s shy,” Johnny M_______ shouted as Foreman Scotty walked back to the front of the bleachers. Looking up from the horseshoe, I stared straight at Foreman Scotty and stuck out my tongue. His back to the camera, he glared back at me and then did the same. My entire class turned and scowled at me.
“Okay, kiddos,” Foreman Scotty said. “Ya’ll ready for Gumby and Pokey?”