Thursday, June 02, 2005

death and kojak

In my memories of my long-departed grandfather he is always played by Telly Savalas. The resemblance was there—the baldness, large frame, flattened and brad nose, thick lips and heavy forehead—as was the fedora and deep rolling voice, though my grandfather had a definite southern accent and could never be mistaken as a Greek immigrant. I always picture my six-year old self with a large and chain-smoking Telly sitting together at the dinner table, in church, at the park, and mainly in front of the television, where the bulk of our time together was spent. It isn’t a stretch for an association, as the man, a retired butcher and gifted cook, loved his television. I don’t recall ever sitting through “Kojak”, but do remember countless nights of “The Incredible Hulk”, “Dukes of Hazzard”, “Barney Miller”, “All in the Family”, and even a few episodes of the forgotten Freddie Prinze, Sr. vehicle, “Chico and the Man”.

Now, people with near death experiences always talk about going down that long, dark tunnel towards the light, and when they reach that light they always find dead relatives waiting to welcome them to the other side. In my childhood years, when I thought about my own impending death, I pictured Telly Savalas waiting for me on the other side. He had a lighted cigarette and wore a tuxedo. I think what I pictured then was the Telly Savalas from those “Player’s Club” credit card commercials, thus giving heaven a swank and Vegas-like feel, as if grandfather had a scotch and soda, a seat at the blackjack table, and complementary tickets to Siegfried and Roy waiting for me on the other side. Even now, when I think of death, I think of Kojak.

I haven’t bothered to watch the new “Kojak” with Ving Rhames in the title role; though it isn’t for fear that I’ll begin confusing him for my grandfather instead. Nor do I linger when I flip by an episode of the original series. I was never much of a Kojak fan, preferring the cigar chomping and trenchcoated Columbo to any of the other seventies detectives. He was no Magnum, but one must look at the television detective from an evolutionary standpoint. It still bothers me to this day that he wore the trench coat at all times—whether interviewing some young and bikini clad suspect on an obviously warm beach or on those occasional episodes where he was supposedly vacationing—and that that roughly a third of the episodes featured Robert Culp as a different character—always the one guilty of murder and suspected from the get go, if for no other reason than he was Robert Culp—but ones has to have a healthy suspension of disbelief to enjoy television.

No one in my family looks like Peter Falk, with the possible exception of my mother’s Yorkshire terrier. Nobody looks like Magnum, Mannix, McMillan and Wife, Beretta, or the blonde brother in Simon and Simon. Now that I think about it my dad actually looks a little like Gerald McRaney, the other Simon.

I never picture “Rick Simon” when I think of dad though, and doubt that I ever will. The whole Kojak thing undoubtedly has something to do with childhood imagination and way too much television in my formative years, though there really are much worse afterlife scenarios to contemplate than Kojak waiting in the sky.


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