Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Your favorite TV detective: Do you have a clue?

From Sunday's Times and News-Star

Before the current Golden Age of television’s CSI franchise, there was the Golden Age of TV’s Detective. It was heady fare for children of the 1960s and 1970s. What we didn’t have in ESPN we made up for in Cannons and Columbos.

James Garner, who passed away this week at 86, was one of the last of the breed. After being a cowboy in “Maverick” – he always wore great vests – he became James Rockford in “The Rockford Files,” a just-getting-by private investigator who would rather make jokes than have to shoot or wrestle a law breaker. Rockford was more wisecracks than brass knuckles.

I seldom watch TV so I don’t know if I miss old-school TV detectives or if I’m just sad that most of the actors are passing away. And that I’ll never watch the old Book’em-Dano “Hawaii Five-0” with my original family again.

In honor of Garner (who was wonderful in “The Great Escape” and “Support Your Local Sheriff”), here are the Top 10 TV Detective Shows, Golden Age Division, According To Me. Again, this was pre-CSI, back when evidence was the way a bad guy said something or didn’t say something. Evidence was seldom a thing; evidence was mostly a good guy (think Andy Griffith as a criminal defense attorney in “Matlock”) figuring something out about the bad guy, (sort of like Andy Griffith would do as Sheriff Andy Taylor.) Nobody had a computer.

Also, all these guys had a shtick. James Rockford was an ex-con who was mostly broke, for instance, and wore bad plaid jackets. The shticks below will be (in parentheses); you’ll remember.

10. “Murder She Wrote,” starring Angela Lansbury (as a writer and woman who would show up with her ink pen and somebody would die), “Ironside,” starring Raymond Burr as the paraplegic San Francisco PD Chief of Detectives), and “Kojak,” with Telly Savalas as New York City detective Theo Kojak, (who was bald and loved lollipops.) I’ve lollipopped these three together; is that a crime?

9. “Spenser: For Hire” starred Robert Urich as a (sophisticated P.I. in Boston, who quoted poetry and mainly knew how to cook different cuisine), just as Spenser does in the Robert B. Parker novels. Sidekick was super cool Hawk.

8. “Shaft” starred Richard Rountree as a (black P.I. who was off the cool charts). The movies fared better than the TV movies/shows. Only “Hawaii Five-0” can give it a game for best theme song.

7. “Barnaby Jones,” starring Buddy Ebsen (as a PI who came out of retirement) when his son was killed. Lee Meriwether (hello!) starred as his daughter-in-law (and she helped him solve crimes.) Barnaby was a milk-drinking, retirement-home headache for bad guys.

6. “Cannon” starred a (rotund) William Conrad as an Los Angeles detective (who drove a big Lincoln Continental Mark IV and could make the tires screech on a dirt road.) Sometimes, I swear, the tires would squeal if he just sat in the car.

5. “Mannix” was a vet (of Armenian descent) and an LA detective played by Mike Connors. Peggy Fair (Gail Fisher, one of TV’s first regularly appearing black actresses), was his loyal secretary. Peggy was the bomb dot com and Mannix loved his open-collar sport coat look and common sense.

4. “Columbo” was the ever-loveable Peter Faulk, yet another LA detective who (wore a raincoat, always had one more question, played dumb and didn’t invent disheveled but did perfect it.)

3. “Magnum, P.I.” made Tom Selleck a huge star, especially with my own personal mother. Of course Magnum (lived in Hawaii on, through reasonable and fortunate circumstances, a posh estate. He wore a Detroit Tigers ballcap.) His investigations were often just a backdrop for the true heart of the series, his arguments with Higgins, which I’m sure reminded my mom of Doc and Festus going at it on “Gumsmoke.”
2. “Moonlighting” was the tail-end of the era and was more about (Neil Simon-like witty conversation) than crime solving. Cybil Shepherd and a then-unknown Bruce Willis starred. There was blatant (sexual tension), a new thing for detective shows, unless you had a thing for Angela Lansbury, and not counting Lee Meriwether (hello!).
1. “The Rockford Files” was basically a comedy and its hero was Sheriff Taylor in a bad sports coat. One writer said Rockford’s character provided “a refreshingly new take on the American hero,” one who avoided violence by using wit. Clint Eastwood with jokes instead of the .44 Magnum. There’s something to be said for out-dumbing people.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dying, to Forgive (E-thought, 07/22/14)

"They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow." Psalm 144:4 (NIV)

A few days ago, I was 'Right There' when a brother and sister were caught in an uncomfortable moment from the pain and confusion of an argument, old and deep and real. Probably no way the wounds could have been patched up right there, right then, but I hope they will be and believe they will be. Hope is a good thing.

Most of us have been in similar situations. Sometimes it takes hard, unforgiving clarity to make the human heart understand how draining and wasteful and useless such standoffs are in the light of eternity.

This week I had a friend who escaped death in a horrible auto accident. I stood by my uncle's grave. And I stood by the grave of his grandson, forever a toddler. Another friend lost a newborn granddaughter who'd shown no sign of being in danger before her birth.

Even when the time is long, the time is short. Sometimes the only thing that will buy today's time, otherwise wasted, is a humble heart that will forgive, even when the forgiveness is undeserved and unasked for. It's not easy, but Christ showed us perfectly how that can be done, and how life comes after such a sacrifice.

Maybe today we can choose, for at least a small while, just to be happy breathing air, to be happy being alive, while it's still not too late to start living.

"Do everything in love." 1 Corinthians 16:14 (NIV)


Sunday, July 20, 2014

At least for this moment, it’s not too late to start living

From today's Times and News-Star

Use the one chance you’ve been given,
’Cause once you’re in the ground and cold,
It’s too late to start livin’,
You see you can’t dig out of the hole.
n “The Hole,” writers, Skip Ewing and James Dean Hicks

Country crooner Randy Travis recorded that song in 1998, about a guy digging for happiness, as we all do. Whether we get there or not depends less on what our shovel is – a guitar, a typewriter, business -- and more on how we use it.

Either way, none of us gets to dig forever. But in the meantime, every spade of dirt thrown gets us closer to either the bottom or the top.

How often we think of that theme depends on circumstances. Human nature’s like that. No one wakes up thinking about The End, but there are days when many of us go to bed thinking about it, because the day decided to carpet bomb us with the question of mortality.

Earlier this summer my friend Jimmy was driving to watch his son play golf when his car flipped several times on interstate. He wasn’t hurt; the car sure was; she’s a goner.

Jimmy said he was glad of three things: that he didn’t get killed, that he didn’t kill anybody, and that no one was riding with him because there’s no way they could have survived. To make matters worse, he felt sorry for his brother, who was in the car immediately behind Jimmy and witnessed it all.

Jimmy didn’t tell me until two weeks after it happened because he knows I don’t take bad news well. At all. I am a realist who has a hard time dealing with reality, if that makes any sense. But reality is that people we love end up dying. Or we do.

Last week I stood at the grave of my uncle, who passed away less than two years ago. Had he lived another month, he’d have been 82. Seems unfair that he’s gone, because he’d loved having the family around at the annual reunions and because he so loved laughing and being the “patriarch.” But beside him is the headstone of a grandson, a little boy who never reached age 6.

Who knows why that was.

In late June a friend missed an annual weekend get-together because of gall bladder surgery. Except when the surgeons made the incision, they found stomach cancer. Our friend lived three more weeks, and was buried at age 62 last Saturday, a day of the week he’d long ago reserved for covering ball games and cracking jokes while working late. Another friend described him as the most inherently decent man you could ever meet, and the funeral as the most perfect one he’d ever attended. Still, it was a funeral.

We never know.

Finally, last Friday another friend, a pastor for more than 30 years now, walked away from the gravesite of a newborn. He said later, “I never thought in a million years I’d ever have to bury my granddaughter.”

Even when the time is long, the time is short. The temptation is to dig for the wrong things or the wrong way, all the while thinking we have all the time in the world. Maybe today we can choose, for at least a small while, just to be happy breathing air, to be happy being alive, while it’s still not too late to start living.