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  • Writer's pictureSusan Welsh

Tomboys & Antenna TV

There are a ton of things I’m looking forward to once the world opens up again. Travel, for instance. Paris and Barcelona are on the list, as well as a trip along the Kolache Trail in Texas and revisiting my collegiate stomping grounds in Malibu.

Many of us are still spending a great deal of time in a “virtual” world—one that centers around the adventures and lives of fictional characters on screen. Here, in the Welsh/Petrone household, is no exception. We are watching a variety of programming cobbled together through trial subscriptions that we invariably forget to cancel plus a multitude of fully committed memberships to Netflix, Apple, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

To me, the most exciting, recent broadcast news is Apple’s green-lighting of the animated series "Harriet the Spy," based on Louise Fitzhugh’s book, first published in 1964. The book’s main character, Harriet M. Welsch, is the OG tomboy of my generation. Harriet wore high tops and hoodies, carried around a magnifying glass and a notebook, and aspired to be a writer and a spy. So naturally, like Harriet — I, too, decided to become a writer and a spy. I’ve long since given up the spy career, but I once delighted in my role as editor of our 6th-grade newspaper, The Stockton Stinger—a two-paged, stapled mimeographed affair in which I debuted one of my poems and felt the real ego-satisfying thrill of my first byline. This was in 1976, some 100 years after Thomas Edison received the patent for the mimeograph. Just thinking about the smell of that purple ink on a freshly pressed copy is enough to bring on a Proustian Effect (mentioned more than once in my blog—the powerful phenomenon of “involuntary memory” triggered through the senses).

Harriet had a thing for tomato sandwiches and egg cremes and writing in her journal. After said journal is discovered by classmates, revealing all the hurtful (but true) observations she has made about them, she seeks counsel with her nanny, Ole Golly who tells Harriet (and this is worth repeating) “Remember that writing is to put love in the world, not to use against your friends.”

From Harriet’s home on East Eighty-seventh Street to my suburban home was a fictional 50 miles or so, but her attitude and dreams and aspirations were all so relatable. Keep in mind, this was a time when there were 3 major networks and UHF was a channel you were lucky to receive only if your antenna was powerful enough (ours was not). I relied on going to my friend Nicole’s house to watch the “good shows”—syndicated episodes of “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Nicole also had the good snacks—like Breyer’s Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream and always, a tin of Charles Chips—the ones in the distinctive gold and brown tin that came by deliveryman to the house —something that intrigued me then and made me believe that Potato Chips were just as essential as milk to the American diet. Neither my love for milk or potato chips has diminished. Nor, obviously, my love for television and fictional lives and fictional worlds and, I guess, escapism in general. Who can blame me? Reality, at least circa 2020, has been stranger than fiction and far more challenging. . .

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