There was an age, a simpler age, an age when the chirping of birds added a spring to a nation's step, a time when kindly motorists would yield at four-way stop signs to the point in which everyone would be late for work and the bosses would understand, a time before the good-old backslap was forcefully relocated to the city limits by the sardonic guffaw, an age before swaggering fools would make presumptions about previous ages.
An age when — hold on ... wait a sec ... I forget where I'm heading with this.
"Honey, where was I heading with this? ... What? ... I need you to speak up."
I can't hear her because she's crying her eyes out in the living room, having just watched a movie from a different age. Yes, right, that's it! ... An age when you could be darn sure that when a likeable young lad picked up a .50-caliber black powder rifle and shot a dog named Old Yeller, a nation would bawl its eyes out.
The year is 1957. The film is "Old Yeller." The producer is Walt Disney, that sly, sleeper cell of a rascal of a gentle gent who hid behind modest suits purchased off-the-rack while his Pinocchios and Dumbos and Bambis and Old Yellers took a nation that otherwise had kept its emotions in check and threw it under the bus.
Again, I'm forgetting where I'm heading with all this.
"Honey, you gotta help me. Where in the world am I heading with all this?"
"Old Yeller is dead," she yells from the living room, "and he's not coming back."
Boy oh boy, what a mess. I have a wife and a 10-year-old boy sitting in the living room claiming to have "something" in their eye.
"It's maybe a piece of fuzz from the blanket," my boy says, rubbing his eyes, his voice a little shaky.
It's all my fault. I was simply curious. In a jaded age, an age when chirping birds can go to heck in a handbag as far as we're concerned, I wondered: Can "Old Yeller" — that once foolproof barometer of a moviegoer's good integrity — still make an average American cry? (And, minus our fondness of Mongolian throat singing, I consider my family "average.")
The plot, quickly, is this: There's a stray dog, and he's yellow, and he wags his way into the hearts of a Texas family of homesteaders living in the 1860s. And then at the end the kid takes aim and shoots the dog dead. Wait, no, the yellow dog contracts rabies first (that's important to know), and then the kid shoots the dog dead. Wait, no, the dog is not just a "yellow dog," he's the "best doggone dog in the West." Picture Gary Cooper in a dog suit.
With my little stunt, I had created two criers on a couch, stunned in the blue glow of rolling credits.
"Old Yeller" did not make me cry, and, for that, I'm ashamed. But hear me out: I'm still really messed up by "My Dog Skip," another boy-and-his-dog movie, but this one made in our jaded age when a Jack Russell terrier can get whacked over the head by a bad guy with a shovel for no other reason other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time — and it's still considered a children's movie.
Skip didn't even have rabies. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm just at the wrong place at the wrong time.