Archive for July, 2015

July 26, 2015

Post 71 — Highs and Lows

Larry on TV in a village classroom.

Larry on TV in a village classroom.

Larry sat on the front steps of the house, waiting for dinner. Man, he was tired. He thought about going back in for his cigarettes but then decided against it. The last bill from the general store showed he had been buying far more Winstons than he thought, and he should probably think about cutting back.

A young Samoan boy walked past the house, paused, then waved and shouted “Hi, Larry.” He walked up and said he was from the village of Ili’ili and was just visiting in town. Larry had never quite gotten used to being recognized on the island but he had to admit it was flattering.

The boy was thrilled to meet one of his teachers in person and began a long complimentary monologue on how much the TV program had done for him. “I have learned more in the past two years than I ever have in school!” he declared. His English was very good and he gave credit to the Oral English programs that ran daily. He also said he thought the Hygiene program had been great for keeping the villages clean, although many of the kids found it hard to convince their elders to follow the guidelines.

“We realized we probably wouldn’t be able to reach the parents,” Larry explained, “but we hoped that the kids would pass it on down to their kids.”

The boy nodded and shook his hand, and then headed off toward the malai in town for a football game. Larry went in the house to find his cigarettes.

April 17, 1966 

“George Pittman is back . . . George is the language specialist from Australia who designed the English curriculum. About a week ago, I conducted a testing program with him to see how the Oral English program is fairing. Pat L. and I tested a group of kids from a TV school and George tested kids from village schools which haven’t started TV yet. The kids from the TV school were so far ahead in English speaking and comprehension that even George was amazed. He told me he felt this program would work, but he didn’t realize how quickly and how well it would take effect.

We haven’t gotten much done at the studio this week, even though the whole staff worked while school was out for spring vacation. Vernon Bronson is back after a year’s absence and he’s raising hell because he feels the project has been deviating from his master plan. We’ve been snowed under with meetings, discussions, and re-organization. Actually, the elementary section has been operating smoothly, but the high school program has been receiving a great deal of criticism about not meeting the needs of Samoan kids. The long break after the hurricane enabled us to get several weeks ahead in our taping schedule and Bronson is angry about this because he feels we should be doing programs one day and sending them out the next day so we can keep modifying as we go along. Unfortunately when you’re sending out about 175 programs per week, that cushion gives you a nice feeling of security. “


Jean wandered through the wards full of hospital beds, looking for her husband. Larry had been admitted yesterday after feeling light-headed at the TV studio. Weeks of worrying about the program and sleeping badly had finally caught up with him. He had gone to the doctor for a quick visit and had been checked in immediately, after being given an ultimatum: he could walk in on Friday or be carried in next week. His last experience at the hospital had been over a year ago when he had hurt his back and Jean had called for an ambulance; two men had arrived with a pick-up truck to take him into town. So walking in was definitely preferred.

The doctor believed that he had completely exhausted himself and simply needed to stop everything and rest. Vitamins, sleeping pills and no cameras in his face were prescribed, and the cure seemed to be working. Apart from the times when the nurses turned on all the lights during the night to make the roaches scatter from the pillows, he had been sleeping soundly and had even had time to read a bit. Tests had been completed and the results showed that he was in fine health, just very, very tired.

Jean finally found her husband’s bed in the large room and saw that he was napping. His color was better, although he was still pretty pale by comparison, being the only palagi in the ward. She found a chair and pulled it up next to the bed, waiting for him to wake up. The room was cool and quiet, with ceiling fans set at a drowsy speed. Her eyes slowly closed and as she drifted off, she wondered what she would have to do to get admitted, too. This was so much nicer than home.

July 18, 2015

Post 70 — Smells Like Teen Spirit (Part 2)

Chrissie looks on as Kathy gets made up for the lead in "Harlequin", wondering why her sister gets everything and she has to be in the ensemble.

Chrissie looks on as Kathy gets made up for the lead in “Harlequin”, wondering why her sister gets everything and she has to be in the ensemble.

Chrissie flicked the cigarette butt out of the treehouse and pumped her fist in triumph as it sailed across the yard and landed in the drainage ditch, sinking with a little sizzle. She pulled out another unfiltered Winston from the package and lit it with a sigh. It was easy enough to charge cigarettes to the family account at the store, but it had to be the brand her dad smoked to avoid calling attention to the scam. She wished he smoked Kools – those sounded so much better.

She thought about actually inhaling with this one, but changed her mind. She was mostly interested in how dramatic it looked to gesture with a lit cigarette in her hand; she would worry about the actual smoking part later.

Her sisters mocked her treehouse but it was nice to have somewhere to go to be alone. Their new house was huge but it always seemed to be filled with Kathy and Carolyn’s friends, and it was tough trying to keep up with that crowd. Here she could be alone with her thoughts and the two small trolls she had brought up to keep her company. She had passed her troll house and the extensive collection of accessories down to Karen, stating that she was bored with the silly dolls and would rather play with Barbies now. But for some reason the busty dolls didn’t make her as happy as the trolls had. Barbie always seemed a little too judgemental.

“Chris is having her group over during the day. There are seven sixth grade girls that are bosom buddies, and I use that word carefully about that blossoming group. There are also five brave seventh grade boys that aren’t afraid of them. The difference in numbers doesn’t seem to bother anyone . . . the whole group is slightly nutty and have fun together. I think they will have a weenie roast and an egg hunt, plus other activities Chrissie is supposed to organize. “


Her heart stopped, along with the bottle, right in front of Kevin, the boy she had been crushing on all year.

The activity she had organized had been put on hold until her mother went over to a neighbor’s for coffee, but now the group was deeply invested in a game of Spin the Bottle, which was way more fun than the egg hunt had been.

Kevin grabbed her hand and she followed him into the closet. The cramped, dark space was even hotter than the room, with a funky teenage boy smell that was only slightly masked by the overpowering aroma of English Leather, the scent of choice for all males under the age of 15 on the island. Her hands were sweating and she wiped them surreptitiously on the back of her shorts.

Chrissie’s thoughts were all over the place as she prepared for her first kiss. How exactly was this supposed to work? What position was the nose supposed to be in so it wouldn’t be in the way? Should she lick her lips first? She had just decided that when the party was over she would start a diary so she could record this memory but she wouldn’t begin with Dear Kitty because Anne Frank had already used that and look what happened to her when Kevin grabbed her and kissed her full on the mouth. She stood frozen for a moment, and then relaxed a little as their mouths shifted, trying to find a better fit. She started to feel a little tingly and was thinking that this might be okay when, out of nowhere, his tongue slipped into her mouth. She pulled back in horror, and frantically wiped the shared spit off her lips. No one had told her about this part! This was almost too disgusting to contemplate and she pushed past him and out of the closet and went to sit next to her friend Liz in the circle.
“What happened? Did he try to grab something?” she whispered?
“He stuck his tongue out!” Chrissie hissed, trying to look calm but wanting to wash her mouth out with orange Fanta.
“He’s supposed to do that!” crowed Liz, much louder than was necessary. “I can’t believe you didn’t know that!”

Kevin sat down across from her looking embarrassed and the group seem to find the whole thing entertaining, with the boys smacking each other and the girls giggling nervously.

At that moment, Chrissie would have welcomed a tidal wave; a big wall of water that would wash through the room and carry away all of her friends and deposit them on the other side of the island where she would never have to see them again. French class was going to be hell on Monday.

July 13, 2015

Post 69 — Smells Like Teen Spirit (Part 1)

Kathy poses for the camera.

Kathy poses for the camera.

“The girls are all fine, still fighting and being adolescent but I hope they will outgrow it. We have had an addition to the family TV watching; Ken D., Kathy’s boyfriend. He is fifteen and a nice boy. I guess once Kathy realized we would behave ourselves and not embarrass her, she started to invite him over here. Actually we are quite a nice couple. I wonder how long it will be before Kathy and Carolyn realize it. Carolyn wants so desperately to be “cool” but hasn’t quite managed it. She is coming along, but we are a big trial to her. “


The move into town seemed to cross the line of demarcation between the sweetness of childhood and the raging hormones of adolescence. Kathy and Carolyn had both become teenagers while the family lived in Tafuna, but they started acting like them once they were in the big city. Back in the states, rock n’ roll was everywhere and the music exploded across the ocean so quickly that even the smallest trickle down to Samoa gave a new soundtrack to the lives of the teenagers on the island. The Coconut Hit Parade was a local radio program that stayed fairly current with the rock n’roll sound back home, and the island kids combed the stores for that rare shipment of records that might show up and be shelved between the papayas and powdered milk.

Kathy had been sent into to town to pick up a few items for dinner, and as she slouched through the store, she happened to notice a milk crate filled with records in the corner of B. F. Kneubel’s, a store that sold just about anything that came in on a boat.  She casually flipped through the pile of albums, not because she was particularly interested in them but because the longer she stayed away, the higher the odds were that Carolyn would have to peel the potatoes.

Halway through the stack, she paused and gasped, and then looked around quickly to see if anyone was within grabbing distance. Sandwiched between Great Samoan Siva Songs and The Royal Tahitians Sing Minoi Minoi Minoi was a brand new copy of the Beach Boys Summer Days. Although the album was a year old in the states, finding it here felt like she had just been invited to a party at Capitol Records. She charged the prize to her family’s account and floated home, blissfully unconcerned that she would be babysitting for the next month to pay it off.

“Next weekend Kathy is having a party. These are very large noisy affairs, I am told. With a band and something like a hundred kids. The house will be able to take it; I hope I can!


“Friday night was the hottest night of the year. It was absolutely still and terribly humid. Unfortunately, that was the night Kathy had picked for her “little party”! She’s gone to quite a few teenage bashes since she joined the “in group” and has bugged us to let her give one. I’ve been using the convenient excuse, “well, if we had a bigger house . . .,” but now that we’ve got the much, much bigger house, we ran out of excuses. It wasn’t the idea of the party that bugged us so much as the extent of it. It seems like a teen brawl isn’t complete here without a rock and roll band and 100 or so screaming participants. So that’s what we ended up with. My God, the noise! These rock and roll groups all use amplifiers on their electric guitars and they have one setting —LOUD. The party group was made up of about 50-50 Samoan and palagi teen agers from the high schools. The noise was unbelievable even though the group was pretty well behaved. What got us was the sloppiness. We had several hundred cupcakes and about 30 gallons of Kool Aid, all of which was consumed, except the stuff that got on the floor or got ground into the mats. I don’t think any of these kids ever picked anything up in their lives. They spilled Kool Aid, dropped cupcakes, got gum on their shoes, and heel marks on the walls, since no teenager can stand on two feet. The only way they can stand is to perch on one leg like a flamingo and rub the other foot on the wall behind them. Kathy was thrilled with the turnout, and the crazy kids danced all night despite the heat. Jean and I played cards with another couple in the kitchen and we could feel the floor swaying with the fruggin’ and the jerking or whatever the hell they call what they do. Now that Kathy has fulfilled her social obligations, we can all rest easy for a awhile. “