The Six Million Dollar Christmas

If you’ve never grown up in the Salvation Army tradition, I suggest you try.  They have a pretty unique worldview as far as religions are concerned. Nobody dies in the Salvation Army; they are all “Promoted to Glory”.  I grew up in the Salvation Army, and I hesitatingly say I “attended” temple each week as a boy, however, dear reader, that is an exercise in hyperbole.  I no more attended the Salvation Army then HRH The Queen “attended” a Vancouver Canucks hockey game in 2002.  I was “there,” let me say that and be the more honest for it.

When I was 8, I sang in the “Songsters”, a sort of youth choir, where in simple black trousers, a white cotton shirt and a home-made sash made of a one-inch strand of ribbon with “Songsters” written across it in Black felt-tip, I sang and did the motions of “his blood, splatters over me, with love,” or something like that.  The Army did have an abundance of violent imagery but then they were The Salvation Army.  Unlucky for me that my parents were never swayed by the Salvation Peace Corps.

Services involved a Major or Lieutenant (pronounced Left-tennant, of course), playing away gainfully on a Hohner piano accordion whilst the congregation would sing hymns, listen to sermons (2 of them, in one night) and occasionally to break up the variableness, members of the congregation would stand up, at random it seemed, and read a Bible verse aloud that approximated their sin for the week.

As the services went on for some 3 hours each Sunday night, I suppose you have to fill it with something.

There are many reasons why we develop the particular religious outlooks we do. Some folks rail against hypocrisy and nail 95 complaints to a church door, others go to Utah and start caffeine-free universities. My path to spiritual corruption began on a Sunday night in 1976. Satan’s vehicle was the television, his disciple, Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man.

Colonel Steve Austin, a military test pilot, was involved in a horrible crash crushing both legs, breaking his right arm and injuring his right eye. In another time, Col. Austin’s career would have been over. But these were the 1970’s, damnit. Gerald Ford was in charge and optimism was everywhere you had to look hard to find. They could rebuild him; they had the technology and apparently access to six million bucks.

Fortunately, Steve came in under budget, so there was enough leftover to fix up a lady skydiver and a German shepherd, but Steve was the first. He fought all the great villains. Who needs Pussy Galore, when you have John Houseman and his Fem-Bots? Darth Vadar would wither before the might of the Sasquatch. And who could forget Maskatron?

So you could see how 3-hour church services would be no match. Oh sure, Christ died for my sins, but did he take orders from Oscar Goldman? Christ faced temptations from Satan for 40 days and nights, but he never fought two Martian probes that got loose on Earth. You see my point?

It became almost a ritual, if not a test of wills.  Me wanting adventure.  My parents seeking salvation, or a the very least, a night out.  The Sally Ann marathon would start around 7pm and The Six Million Dollar Man started at 9:30.  (Yes, I know that’s late for an 8-year-old to be up.  Go raise your own children!)  So, it was a bit of nervous thing to be looking at the clock in the back of the Church and watch it creep away from 9pm and make it’s way to 9:30.  Sometimes we left early, and sometimes I’d get home to see the show 15 minutes in.

So, all I wanted for Christmas in 1977 was a Steve Austin, The $6 Million Man Action Figure. Very adamant that it was an action figure, not a doll. And because the golden age of anything happens whenever you’re between 8 and 12 years of age, it was also important to have the accompanying merchandise, the Rocket Command Center, where applied stickers and empty plastic tubing was designed to perform complex bionic experiments.

My mother called every store in town looking for this, but I worried she would make a mistake and wind up getting Jaime Sommer’s Bionic Beauty Parlor.

But on Christmas morning there he was, Colonel Steve, securely twist tied in place in his space age transport carton. Resplendent in red jumpsuit, plastic hair and kind of screwed up right eye.  On the carton’s rear information panel, a detailing of other action figures and items to help complete the set.  Now it was time to check out the Rocket Command Center.  The box seemed a little large, but no matter, adventure awaits.

To my naive horror, outrage, and – I might as well mention as I’m here – ungratefulness to my parents for working so hard to find and provide this toy, the box inside the wrapping did not contain the Rocket Command Center.  Instead it was a Mission Command Center!? A cardboard cubicle encased in a plastic bubble for Steve to do “office work(?)” in. What kind of Action Figure works in a cubicle?  The invincible Bob Newhart and his Radio-Active Sweater Vest?

This must be a test.  By not getting the Rocket Command Center, Steve – the brilliant guy – was teaching me a great lesson in patience.

When I returned to school after Christmas break, I brought my Mission Command Center in for my friends to see, and boy was I ever glad I did. There they were like me, with identical Steve Austin’s ready for action, and unlike me four Rocket Command Centers. Lucky is the boy with just the one Mission Command Center.

My parents, although essentially ending my religious curiousity for a long number of years, gave me the gift of imagination. And because the Command Center was partly inflatable, I got off on smelling the plastic for a long time thereafter.