Tuesday, April 30, 2013


 Hey, it's the 70's! I can smoke a cigarette...on TV...while driving!

After ten days of snow and rain, followed by a couple days of high wind warnings, then going back to snow and rain, I started going stir crazy not being able to do much of anything outside. So I broke down and turned on the TV.          
          Other than in the evenings with my wife, I seldom, if ever, watch TV. We have a dish, not being able to pick up any TV stations out here in the sticks otherwise, but even when I’m really bored I can’t seem to find anything worth watching while flipping through the approximately 9,432 channels available.
          In desperation one day last week, as the sleet came down horizontally against the window, I just happened to surf through the old TV series available on Netflix Instant. It wasn't looking a whole lot better than the dish. Most of the series I saw fell into the category, "Hated it when it was on, why the hell would I want to see it again?"
          Suddenly, there was James Garner's face, looking kind of cocky and bemused, an orange Pacific sunset in the background, and over it all were transposed the words The Rockford Files. Things suddenly seemed a little brighter. I sat down with the remote, picked a random episode, and started watching.
          It was kind of like catching up with an old friend. They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. James Garner as private investigator Jim Rockford was always the epitome of cool; women wanted him and men wanted to be like him. I still love to hear that Mike Post/John Carpenter theme song with the electric guitar and harmonica. Yeah, the loud 1970’s wardrobes are appropriately cheesy, the cars are old road-oiling Detroit dinosaurs, and the haircuts atrocious, but so what? It was just as good as I recalled, perhaps even better now.
          For starters, I didn’t remember the show being so gritty. The world is out to screw you and people can’t be trusted; Jim Rockford knows this well and acts accordingly. He’s not a glamor boy; he wears cheap sports jackets and lives in a piece of shit old trailerhouse on the edge of a parking lot at the beach. Creditors and bookies fill the telephone answering machine, something that was state-of-the-art technology at the time. 
          "This is the message phone company. I see you're using our unit, now how about paying for it?"
Jim is definitely his own man. Jim is a smartass and does not play well with others. When it pays to be tough and sarcastic, Jim is tough and sarcastic. When it pays to be tactful and polite, Jim is tough and sarcastic. Even if he knows the toes he steps on today are attached to the ass he will have to kiss tomorrow, he goes right ahead and stomps on those toes anyway.
          We know Jim served time in prison, San Quentin, something unheard of for a television good guy at the time. I don’t remember the show ever coming right out and saying what he went to prison for, but we get the distinct impression it was a bum rap. Jim is more than happy to put to good use all those little cons’ tricks of the trade he learned in prison in his new profession.
Jim fought in Korea, where we get the idea he was one of those soldiers who got promoted in combat and busted as soon as his unit pulled back far enough to be out of earshot of small arms fire. Field Marshall Sir Earl Wavell once defined the ideal infantryman as “cat-burglar, gunman, and poacher” with“ a seasoning of devilry.” He was talking about guys like Jim Rockford, guys who win the war against the enemy but lose the peace against the system.
          When the beautiful young damsels in distress used to come up to good old Thomas Magnum, P.I. with fluttering eye lashes and a sob story, he used to fall for them instantly, hook, line and sinker. When one comes to Jim he immediately starts grilling her and trying to trip her up on her story to see whether the bitch is actually just trying to run some kind of con on him. Actually not a bad policy when it comes to strange women, or even not-so-strange women for that matter. My wife excepted, of course.
 Jim doesn’t trust anybody, not easily, except for his dad Rocky, a retired trucker who’d rather be fishing. Even old prison or army buddies who come to Jim for help usually don’t get much traction until they show him some cash. If it’s a check, they have to wait till it clears the bank.
 Wisely, he doesn’t even trust cops or government agents whom he doesn’t know, only his long-suffering old buddy LAPD Sgt. Dennis Becker. I’m kinda getting that way myself, when I get out of my own county where I don’t know the sheriff and most of the deputies on a first name basis. Especially in big cities. Big city and federal prosecutors often prefer “easy-to-catch” to “actually guilty” when it comes to resume building or preparing to run for office.
          The Federal agents Jim meets are sometimes crooked and almost always arrogant and overbearing. They are more than happy to overstep their bounds and step all over Jim’s Constitutional rights simply because they've gotten away with such behavior in the past. Jim is always quick and loud in reminding them of his rights, as is his attorney Beth Davenport (whom someone around here used to have a crush on when he was a pup) and I've even heard them say the "C" word right out loud. On television! Jim is also more than happy to trip up the “friendly” feds to get them out of his way and ready to figure out how to set the crooked ones up to get busted, with a little help from honest cop Dennis.
          In today’s television world, cops and government agents are expected to shit all over the Constitution in every episode. They stomp all over everybody’s Civil Rights, deliberately break every rule in the book, and get extra points for every Amendment they ignore and all the while we've been conditioned to cheer them on as they do. All is forgiven as long as you catch the bad guy in the end, even if you destroy the Republic and leave behind entire cities in cratered ruins in the process.(Just don't falsely accuse a Muslim, the one cardinal sin!)
          On the other end of things, Jim knows that the rules which the system tries to enforce upon him are bullshit. He knows damn well he’s breaking the law when he takes that little Colt .38 snubbie revolver out of the cookie jar and slips it into his waistband. And he doesn’t care. Neither does Dennis when nobody else is looking. Permit? We don' need no steenkin' permit.          
          Jim can handle a gun, but he can't shoot it out successfully against a half a dozen Mafia enforcers with sub-machine guns and chopped .30 carbines (AK-47s were restricted to use by Commie guerrillas in distant lands in the 1970's). Although I did see one episode where Producer Stephen Cannell must have been smoking a little weed; Jim takes out a guy clean at about a hundred yards with his 2-inch .38 snubbie. Hey, not even I'm that good. Maybe Chuck Norris.
          Jim’s a tough guy, but he can’t take out a half a dozen bad guys at once with perfect right crosses and roundhouse kicks in a 2-minute brawl.  In fact, Jim gets the shit kicked out of him on a fairly regular basis. When Jim fights, he fights dirty to inflict hurt on the other guy to keep that other guy from doing the same to him, which is what fights really come down to in the real world.
        Car chases were a bit more realistic in those days. Jim’s a wheel man, but doesn’t perform any flaming five hundred foot jumps through streams of tracer fire between exploding parking garages. He drives that famous gold Pontiac Firebird, and supposedly James Garner did his own driving for the show, as well as other stunts. When pursued, he’d power brake to a stop, throw it in reverse, race through the bad guys backwards, then crank the wheel hard right over and spin around. It's a real evasive driving move and we actually used to call the maneuver “whipping a Rockford”. 
          Not that Jim always got away. The pursuers were, after all, driving those big old lumbering 1970’s gas-guzzling American-made tanks, when engines were defined by horsepower rather than voltage, and people actually wanted to purchase them.
          So, the next time there's nothing good on television (which is pretty much anytime Duck Dynasty or Swamp People isn't on) time-travel back to the 70's and give ol' Jim Rockford a call. If he's not there, leave your name and message and he'll get back to you.

No comments: