Memories Put Back in Disorder

“Our memories are card-indexes consulted, and then put back in disorder by authorities whom we do not control.” Cyril Connolly.

I was wiped out on the first days when I had Covid. I mostly slept and ate. By day three, I had regained some strength. I read a lot, but I always read a lot. I watched a lot of television, but I always watch a lot of television. As the days hit mid-afternoon, however, I got tired enough that I could not concentrate for long on anything. By evening, I was tired and incredibly bored. I was too tired and bored to read any more, but not tired enough to fall asleep through the night. No streaming shows or movies held my attention. I just kept clicking the remote, and that is my explanation as to how I was on an obscure cable channel secreted in the 1270s on my system. I had landed on a half-completed episode of The Rockford Files.

Fifty years ago Rockford was one of my favorite shows, and I regularly watched it on NBC on, I think, Friday nights. Seeing Rockford’s car (a Firebird?) and hearing the theme music, I instantly recognized the show, which was confirmed when Jim Garner stepped out of the auto, windows always rolled down, wearing a trademark off-the-rack sports coat. Memories flooded back to our first Brooklyn place, which was referred to as a garden apartment (aka basement). We had little money, and we had built a loveseat and other seating out of milk crates, for which the spouse had made foam rubber cushions covered in maroon suede. I had found the suede in a leather warehouse in a part of Manhattan that now has multi-million-dollar homes. (We were not what you’d call sophisticated about upholstery. One evening a guest wearing white pants left our place with red suede dye all over the back of her pants. The spouse and I exchanged a look that indicated we would keep to ourselves what her backside looked like.)

Seeing Rockford brought back the memory of a real-life shooting incident. Back in the ‘70s I never felt particularly unsafe, but this event was a semi-serious one. One Friday night during a Rockford commercial, I went to throw out the garbage, and I found our street lined with police cars. I asked one of the officers what was going on, and he told me to go back inside because there was a report of gunshots down the block. I was concerned mostly for my car which was parked across the street with a cop crouched behind it using it for cover. It was a scrap heap, but still. I heard another cop very hyped-up say that he thought the shooter was on a rooftop on my side of the street and had fired his gun at him. It turned out whomever he saw was not the shooter but probably another cop. It turned out that the shooter was in an apartment building halfway down the block on the other side of the street. That man apparently had let off some random rounds not aiming at anybody. Negotiators came, but the shooter committed suicide without harming anyone else.

These half-century-old memories did not make me feel young, but then scenes from rest of the Rockford show reminded me further how old I am. At the beginning of this episode Rockford had been hired to do something, and he had felt set up by whatever had happened as a result. He sought out the woman who had hired him. She was another private investigator who was using Rockford to decoy police officers. After he learned that, Rockford told her that the two of them were going to the scene of the crime (or someplace). She was not happy about that but, protesting, got into the Firebird, with, of course, the windows rolled down. I began to wonder when air conditioning in cars became common and wouldn’t Rockford have had AC in Los Angeles? But, of course, the weather was always perfect wherever Rockford went. And besides riding with the windows down was super cool. When Rockford stopped at a light, his reluctant passenger pulled on the door handle to escape. He smiled that great James Garner smile and held up that little rod-like thing that you used to push down to lock the doors. He had apparently unscrewed it, and she could not get out. (Clever, that Rockford!) And so I wondered when that locking device (which some of my criminal defense clients knew how to spring open with the use of a bent coat hanger) had been sensibly replaced in cars. I could not remember the last car I had that had come equipped with them. But my attention returned to the show. I was intrigued what Rockford was going to do to keep the woman in the car when he pulled into a gas station. I thought that when he went to the gas pump, she would be able to scoot across the front bench seat to get out. But, of course, this was fifty years ago. A station attendant came to the car, and Rockford remained behind the wheel. Back in the day, you did not pump your own gas. (Still true in New Jersey, but nowhere else that I am aware of.) And Rockford said what–sick as I was–almost made me laugh. He told the attendant, “Three dollars’ worth.”