Friday, November 20, 2015

Bobby's Down the Well

Bobby's Down the Well

Curiously, a female collie named Lassie appeared way back in 1859 in Elizabeth Gaskell’s book “The Half-brothers.” More recently, the TV show “Lassie” ran for 591 episodes, between 1954 and 1974. There were a few additional outbreaks of Lassie in the 1990s. The show featured a female collie named Lassie (played by at least nine different male dogs).

Timmy, played by Jon Provost, appeared as a runaway in the Miller’s barn in the 4th season. That same year, the actor who played George Miller bought the farm (pun intended). The show was reorganized and the Martins bought the farm (pun not intended). Evidently Timmy and Lassie came with the deal as the Martins adopted him and kept the pooch too.

Cloris Leachman (who, admittedly, has talent and continues to find work) initially played Ruth Martin. However, the very next season, June Lockhart magically showed up as Ruth. [I consider this to be an improvement; I once had a bit of a crush on June Lockhart.]

June eventually went on to fame and fortune as Mrs. Robinson in the iconic science fiction saga, “Lost in Space,” in which the Robot was a lot like Lassie except he got better lines such as “Danger Will Robinson,” which became a popular catch-phrase.
June was also in 45 episodes of “Petticoat Junction” and played numerous additional parts including Ma in “Dead Women in Lingerie” and, more recently, Grandma in “Holiday in Handcuffs” and Hester in “Zombie Hamlet.” You can’t make this stuff up.

When Jon Provost (Timmy) wrote his memoirs in 2007, he titled it “Timmy’s in the Well,” which also became a popular catch-phrase. In the TV show, Timmy fell off ledges and into rivers, lakes, quicksand and mine shafts, but never, actually, down a well.

This short story started as a mildly-amusing probe at the simplistic and predictable plots of early television drama. And then, as will happen, my muse went wild and something went terribly surreal. I want to extend my regrets to all the nice people who brought us all those nice shows. It was terribly nice of them.


Ma had just finished cleaning up the dishes from breakfast. She had started the laundry at dawn and was finally hanging it out in the side yard. Butterflies flitted from place to place like drunken sailors. Bumblebees bumbled, indicating their ever-present… presence. Birds sailed through the air, chirping their joyous songs as they dropped loads of slimy white bird-turds on the guilty and the innocent alike.

Pa was on the porch, rocking in his chair and chewing a plug of Red Man. He contemplated Ma as she repeatedly bent to her basket and lifted a garment up to fasten it to the line. Her hem rose and the muscles of legs tightened as she elevated slightly to her toes. Her breasts, also rising, strained against the light cotton fabric of her summer dress. Pa smiled to himself. He had insisted on installing her clothesline on the east side of the house. He didn’t know that Ma had figured out why. Rays of sunshine traced her profile through her dress and Pa stopped rocking. Ma smiled to herself; she liked it when she could make Pa stop rocking.

There was still moisture on the grass from the morning dew, but the sun had come out and it promised to be a bright sunshiny day. The weight of the clothes caused the line to droop, threatening to drag Ma’s lace tablecloth toward the dirt below as the birds cruised for targets from above. Brother turned to Ma and said, “We’ve got to get a better clothes line.” Ma grumbled, “What we need is rural electrification and an REA loan to buy a #%&*# washing machine.”

At that moment, Tassie, the family’s dog came bounding around the corner. She stopped in front of Brother, panting slightly from her exertion, and sat facing him expectantly. Brother wasn’t paying attention. Tassie barked — once — sharply. Brother, startled, stopped what he was doing, turned to the large collie and paused to admire her billowing blond fur, which glistened as if it was fresh from a $50 wash and blow-dry grooming.

Brother reached down to scratch just behind Tassie’s left ear — just at that just-right spot that made her get all dreamy looking. Tassie responded, dropping down onto her side, and squirmed expectantly in the dampish dew and the dusty dirt. Brother got on his knees to stroke the stria of her toned and tawny trunk. His hands moved lower to tease and tickle the shallow mound of a mamma. Tassie’s leg twitched in rhythm with his vellications. Pa, watching from the porch, squirmed uncomfortably in his chair.

Ma, seeing that she had lost Pa’s attention, turned to discover what else was going on. Discovering what else was going on, Ma barked, “Hey!” Brother fell on his butt. Tassie jumped to her feet. Pa adjusted himself surreptitiously. The universe had put itself aright and Tassie remembered her lines. Tassie barked sharply, paused, and barked again.

Brother asked, “What is it girl? Is Bobby down the well?” Tassie lowered her front-quarters, barked twice more with conviction and bounded away and back around the corner the way she had come. Brother got himself up, dusted off the seat of his trousers, turned to Pa and said, “We’ve got to get a better well cover.” Pa grumbled, “What we need is a federal grant to remediate that #%&*# public hazard.”

Brother chased after Tassie and Pa chased after brother. Ma ran inside to ring up the operator to call for the fire department. Within moments the local volunteer department arrived accompanied by all of their neighbors and half the town folk. They milled about nervously and chattered incomprehensibly while shaking their heads and furrowing their brows. Firemen established a perimeter using a barrier constructed from a length of rope and several dozen freestanding wooden stanchions that some generous soul had evidently donated from several episodes before.

Firemen in full turnout gear rushed hither and yon fetching flashlights and ladders. Grandmas rushed hither and yon distributing ham sandwiches and pouring lemonade into canning jar glasses. Tassie just rushed hither and yon.

When the drama reached a sufficient climax, the Fire Chief called for a flashlight, which his lieutenant immediately slapped into his palm like the best surgical nurse. The lamp wouldn’t turn on. Several volunteers insisted on fiddling with it. Nope, it wouldn’t turn on. The Fire Chief turned to his lieutenant and said. “We’ve got to get a better flashlight.” The Lieutenant grumbled, “What we need is a larger allocation of the #%&*# county budget to cover upgraded equipment and supplies.”

Unwilling to lose the moment, the Fire Chief urged the crowd to silence, approached the hole and bellowed, “Bobby, are you all right?” From the back of the crowd, Bobby’s pubescent voice cracked as he answered, “Yeah, I’m good, what’s it to yah?” Brother turned to Pa and said,” We’ve got to get a better plot line.” Pa just spat out his Red Man chaw and grumbled something about #%&*#.

David Satterlee