Night fever

Tonight is the last of four nights that I’ve had the house to myself, and it’s crunch time at work, so I’m aiming to pull an all-nighter in my home office — a prospect that daunts me, because I’m no longer twenty-something (I’m no longer even thirty-something), and all-nighters were hard even then.

For example… (Now I’m about to relate a story about college when I should be working. See what I mean about focus?)

During the first several decades of TV and movies, if you ever wanted to watch a particular title, you had to wait until it came to you. No video streaming back then, no pay-per-view cable, no movie-rental stores — well actually there were movie-rental stores during the time I’m about to describe, but their inventories were limiting at best to someone with eclectic tastes in entertainment (what today we’re calling “the long tail”). Instead you had to wait, and wait, and wait for your favorite movie or show to appear in a local retrospective theater or on one or another broadcast TV channel, edited for sensitive eyes and ears and to fit in the time slot, and panned-and-scanned for good measure. Compared to what we have today, it was, to this keen consumer of filmed entertainment — in a way you young whippersnappers can’t properly appreciate — hell.

So there I was in college in the mid 1980’s, flipping, as I occasionally did, through the TV Guide, looking to see what the broadcast and cable gods deigned to deliver this week, when one of the highest-priority titles I’d been waiting to find leapt out at me.

Underdog.

O the nostalgia! My very earliest TV hero, back on the air!

…At six o’clock Sunday morning.

I knew there was no way I’d ever wake up to watch a cartoon at six o’clock on a Sunday morning. Even the most obnoxious alarm clock didn’t have sufficient power to get me out of bed in those days, even at a decent hour. But I had to see Underdog; so I contrived to stay up all Saturday night, watch Underdog, and then sleep until the afternoon.

When I pitched this plan to my friends, they were game, if not quite as eager as I was. So that Saturday we gathered at Bruce’s to hang out and watch the clock.

The night went by easily enough for the first couple of hours. Perhaps we watched some TV, possibly an old Route 66 rerun. Perhaps we played a board game, possibly Pente, or a computer game, such as the trippy Mindwalker. At some point, as the hour grew late, the night began to drag.

Then Bruce brought out the vodka.

Hours later — at ten minutes before six, in fact — I woke up groggily on the floor, a horrible crick in my neck and a big dry tongue in my mouth. Around me the others were passed out too. I focused on the clock and was overjoyed to have gotten up in time for Underdog. “Wake up,” I told my friends. I tried gently to shake them awake. “It’s five minutes to Underdog!” I shook them some more. I could not rouse them, no matter how I tried. I put on the TV and figured the sound would wake them up. I hoped they’d be up in time to sing the theme song with me:

(God, the ease with which I can now find and include that clip just kills me.)

But they slept through the whole show, while I watched, just as riveted to the screen as I’d been at age four. At six thirty I turned off the TV, quietly let myself out, and stumbled home satisfied.

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