Sunday, June 5, 2011

Where Have You Gone Mayberry,USA ?

I had settled in for the night after cleaning up the kitchen and taking out the trash. I turned on the television to see if anything good was on but after surfing through 1500 channels I decided on an old episode of the Andy Griffith Show especially because it was one that featured Otis. Good old Otis, the Mayberry town drunk. Dude was hilarious. Alcoholics Anonymous? Otis didn’t need no stinkin’ AA. Otis didn’t beat his wife or buy his booze with food stamps. Was he even married? Otis never got a DUI, never plowed his car through somebody’s front porch. He knew exactly what to do when he was too plastered to go home. He would stagger over to the jail and let himself in with that key that used to hang on the wall right outside the cell. It was genius. Then he would sleep it off, wake up 24 hours later, catch a little hell from Barney and be on his way. The lovable drunk with the heart of gold. In Mayberry even the seedy underbelly of society was lovable. What an awesome place to live. Mayberry, North Carolina, USA…a place where even the ugliest man in town can land a hot girl. What could Thelma Lou possibly have seen in Barney Fife?

It wasn’t just Otis or Barney that made Mayberry special. The town mechanic wasn’t some shady, double-talking shyster. No, the town mechanic was named “Goober” and seemed totally without malice. The only politician in town was Mayor Pike and he was a blowhard who everyone knew to be wrong about everything. It was perfect. There was Floyd the barber who sat around all the time gossiping about everyone. There was Emmett the fix-it man, the struggling small business owner with serious productivity issues. But all was not well , even in Mayberry because of the annoying presence of Howard Sprague the county clerk and therefore only full time government employee. He with the tweed jackets and bowties. He with the artistic sensibilities. Howard was clearly the town liberal. Truth be known, I feel certain that had Howard had a car it would have had a “I Adore Adlai “ bumper sticker. Ever notice how old Howard would disappear from the show for weeks at a time with no explanation? I’m sure he just tired of the provincial Mayberry life and had to escape to the buzz and pop of Mount Pilot where he and the other government employees could plot the formation of their union. Then there were the marginal characters that filled out the place. Ernest T. Bass, the incompetent TV repairman. Raif Hollister the farmer and erstwhile bootlegger who, it was clear to everyone in town still dabbled in the Moonshine business, but was allowed to exist owing clearly to Andy’s libertarian tendencies.

Holding the whole place together though was Andrew Jackson (Andy) Taylor, the sheriff, the law. Wise, good-natured, calm and cool. He didn’t carry a gun because he was in control. Although being a single parent in a southern town in the 1950’s might have been problematic to some, Andy was not without feminine help ,what with the ever reliable Aunt Bea constantly pulling fresh blueberry pies out of the oven and his strangly creepy girlfriend Helen Crump always at his side bringing with her not one ounce of sex-appeal. If America ever really was like Mayberry it would have been a wonderful place to live. But tonight Andy was in trouble, held prisoner by a couple of bank robbers in a cabin in the deep dark woods just outside of town. Barney and Howard both try and fail to come to his rescue leaving Otis, ten sheets in the wind, to stumble and fumble onto the scene with a loaded shotgun in one hand and an open bottle of Old Grand Dad in the other. After passing out momentarily, he wakes just in time to clobber the bad guy over the head with the whiskey bottle. Otis, the man of the hour.

After watching several commercials for erectile dysfunction pills, Cholesterol medicine and the biggest, baddest pick-up truck in America, a Law and Order episode came on that featured a couple of corrupt cops who hang out in strip bars and are secretly on the Mafia payroll, not in Mayberry but New York city. I turned off the television and sat quietly for a moment as a sadness came over me.

Of course, the fictitious town of Mayberry was just that...fictitious. The writers of the show didn’t spend a lot of time examining the darker parts of American life. Race relations never came up, Mayberry being a decidedly white enclave. And despite airing throughout the entire decade of the 60’s, no anti war sentiment ever cropped up in town. But that’s not to say that the show didn’t have a culturally relevant theme. It most certainly did, and that theme was...Don’t get too big for your britches and be kind to your neighbor. The one episode that sticks with me still today was the one where the big shot banker from New York City is driving through town when his big shiny car breaks down. Stranded in this bucolic backwater, his vehicle in the capable but slow hands of Goober, (who obviously doesn’t work on Sunday), our uptight banker finds himself stranded at Andy’s house for Sunday dinner. Apparently, there is bad news coming in over the telephone from the bank, and the worry writes itself plainly on his face. Meanwhile, after dinner, Andy, Bea, Opey and Barney retire to the front porch, still in their Sunday clothes. At first, the impossible peacefulness of this scene baffles the New York business tycoon. How can these people be at such peace? Don’t they know what’s happening in the world? But, after Bea hands him a glass of lemonade, and Andy whips out his guitar and sings a mournful song he remembers from his childhood, his countenance begins to change. The worry lines around his eyes begin to soften, he loosens his tie, tips his fedora back a bit...and the scene fades to black. End of show.

Of all the shows, that’s the one I remember. Whenever I find myself stressing over some big weighty thing, I think of that banker, and I remember that there is always reason to slow down and be thankful  for my life, go out on the deck, drink some lemonade, and listen to a mournful song.