Oscar Goldman

Growing up in a world that's as inundated with media as ours is -- it's easy for kids to get caught up in the stories and mystiques surrounding iconic characters they see in movies and TV. For example, my son is totally hooked on Ben10, Spiderman, and Darth Vader right now -- to the point where when we go to the park, these are the characters he likes to play. But not so much in the sense that good guy Spiderman squares off against villain Darth Vader -- but more like him as Ben10, me as Darth Vader, and an imaginary version of Spiderman frequently "team up" to take on hordes of invisible bad guys who are crawling all over the monkey bars and going down the slides on the playground.
It's a shaky alliance, but rest assured when the swingset needs to be liberated -- we take no quarter.
Of course when I was growing up it was much the same, only the names were different. Cartoons were on TV, but they're certainly not as pervasive as they are now -- so the characters I was into growing up came from more varied sources. Like for a long time I was really into a book character named Johnny Swift, which was basically like Johnny Quest in space. But in the end, the holy trinity that ruled the playgrounds of my youth were Spiderman, Han Solo, and the Six Million Dollar Man.
Oh, how I loved that show.
For those of you who might not know, The Six Million Dollar Man was the story of Steve Austin, a former astronaut who is severely injured in a test airplane crash and is then "rebuilt" in an operation that costs six million dollars. His right arm, both legs and the left eye are replaced by bionic implants that enhance his strength, speed, and vision far above human norms -- giving him abilities that he uses to fight off a series of bad guys, robots, and of course ..Bigfoot (and yes the character was called Bigfoot -- so don’t any of you noobs come up here and tell me it was Sasquatch, because it frikkin' wasn't!).
Of course the real key to the show wasn't the plot, but the idea that if you could somehow dig up six million dollars (which for a 4 year old in 1976 seemed like an impossible amount) you could go somewhere to get a souped-up leg, arm, ear, and eye. And why would you need these things?
To crush tennis balls, of course.
Now here's where things get dicey, and it's probably gonna make me sound like a loser -- but the thing about this whole Bionic Man concept was that it was really easy sometimes (especially at that age) to confuse the abilities that the Six Million Dollar Man had with the abilities that the Bionic Woman possessed.

The Bionic Woman was Jamie Sommers, a tennis pro hurt in a skydiving accident and then rebuilt by the same people who fixed Steve Austin. While basically a mirror-image of the original show, the bionic woman's opening sequence featured her running fast, pushing her feathered hair behind her ear to use her super hearing, and crushing a tennis ball with her bare hand.

This was important because as a 4-year old, I didn't really have access to falling steel building girders to practice my pretend bionic strength on, but could easily get my hands on my parent's unused sporting equipment.

See, Steve Austin strapping on a red jumpsuit and running around 60 miles an hour was sort of an unrealistic concept. Sure I understood he was going fast, but when you're a little kid I don't think that means as much -- because you have no concept of what speed really is.
Hell, I could run really fast when I was 4 (especially if I
moved my arms back and forth when I ran -- look, dad, look!)
Things like that are only really impressive to me now. I'm 34 years old, I don't like to run for shit if I don’t have to. But if I knew a guy who sorta looked like Elvis who could keep up with most cars on the freeway, that would be pretty damn impressive.
Which is why crushing a tennis ball trick was such a big deal.
You saw her do it on TV, and like the first thing you did when the commercial came on was find that one ball you normally threw for the dog to fetch and tried to crush it. And then when you couldn't do it you'd look back at The Bionic Woman on the television screen and think, "Man, that's AMAZING!"

The other thing about it was that even though the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman were different shows, they were essentially the same thing with different theme music. It was never a big deal for Steve Austin to show up on the Bionic Woman, or for Jamie Sommers to show up on his show. They fought the same villains, they had essentially the same supporting cast, if I remember correctly they both came on about the same time in the afternoons.

But above all of this was the fact that back in the day the lines between children's shows and prime-time entertainment were a lot blurrier than they are now. Now kids shows are played on kid's networks. If a kid show is on a local station, it comes on during a specific time along with a block of other kid-oriented shows.

But growing up that wasn't always the case. I mean if you ask me, The Six Million Dollar Man was aimed at young audiences -- but I clearly remember watching it with my dad. And it wasn't like he was doing it to make sure he was available to discuss questionable topics if he saw them affecting my young unprepared mind -- he was into it. In fact, considering just how hot Lindsay Wagner was (and kinda still is), I'm pretty sure he was a bigger fan of the Bionic Woman than I ever could have been.

When you get right down to it, there were a lot of shows that danced that line between kid's show and grown-up entertainment back then. Shows like Knight Rider, Dukes of Hazzard, The A-Team.. It's really hard to think of those as anything other than kids shows. But they had enough mindless action and grown-up ideas in them to appeal to adults as well, so it became sort of an instant bonding opportunity -- because it wasn't like I was forcing my dad to watch my favorite shows, it was more like I felt like my dad was letting me watch his shows with him, which was like the ultimate privilege.
Hands down, there was nothing cooler than my mom coming into the living room and saying "Do you know what time it is -- Why isn't Dan in bed yet?" Only to have my Dad wave her off and say "Relax, as soon as we're done watching S.W.A.T. I'll tuck him in myself."
But the absolute BEST part of the whole thing was the day my mom came home and presented me with the coolest of the cool -- a white t-shirt with a big sign on the front that read:
The Person Wearing This
Shirt is a Bionic Man.
Approach at Your Own Risk.
Anyone who knows me (or was once married to me) knows about my embarrassing tendency towards having favorite shirts that I will wear until they die. From the hardly-breathing held together by a string of safety pins remnants of the Dead Milkmen tour shirt that the band gave me for working lights for them during three shows around Florida, to my absolute favorite black button-down shirt that's literally unraveling at the edges but still gets worn almost every week when I go to the clubs -- If I own a shirt I like, it's gonna get worn until it literally falls off of me. In fact, one of the original reasons my ex-wife dragged me on a nationally syndicated talk show for a makeover was to complain to Queen Latifah about the lack of variety in my wardrobe.

Well guess what -- this is where it started.
Because I. Wore. That. Shirt. Everywhere.
Apparently my mother had to steal the thing from me to wash it. Apparently I wore it everywhere we went. Not only that, but whenever I wore the shirt I wouldn't answer to any other name than Steve Austin, the Bionic Man.
You want more proof?
..I still have it.
Of course an obsession like that can't come without consequences. And the classic story of the bionic man shirt comes back in day, when my mother took me, my brother, and one of her best friends on a road trip from Longmont Colorado where we lived all the way to Englewood so we could do some Christmas shopping at Cinderella City, which at the time was the super-duper shopping mall in the area.

Cinderella City was like five or six stories high, crammed with stores, and during the late 70's was apparently the Mecca of suburban shopping experiences for Colorado's working middle class. This trip was a very big deal, so naturally I dressed for the event -- donning my Bionic Man t-shirt and whatever mixture of Osh-Kosh/Toughskin pants and Keds shoes that we wore at the time.

The way my mother used to tell the story, the place was totally packed. It was the height of Christmas season and it was a big place, so she kept a close watch on me and my brother -- but somewhere along the line we got separated, and either a security guard found me unattended or I made my way to the security desk to get help.

But when they asked me my name so that they could page my mother to come get me, there was only one answer I would give them:
Steve Austin, the Bionic Man.
Apparently after a while of unsuccessfully trying to get my real name out of me, they gave up on that and started to ask me what my mother's name was so they could page her. This of course was an answer that I was more than happy to provide, because when you're a Six Million Dollar Man, who else could your mother be but Wonder Woman.

I have no way to know if this is actually true or not, but the story goes that after apparently hours of trying to shake me from these answers the security crew gave up, and actually got on the Cinderella City Mall loudspeaker and said:
"Can Wonder Woman please report to the security
to pick up her son Steve Austin ..The Bionic Man."
At which point my mother instantly realized the situation and came running to get me.

The older I get the more holes I find in the details of this story, but I swear it's one my mother would tell more than any other tale of what I was like as a kid. At this point it doesn't even really matter whether it's true or not -- it's become the stuff of legend among the people who know about it.

It's been a long time since I believed I was a bionic kid -- and some days when I wake up after having driven all night to get to and from a mosh pit in Tallahassee in time to go back to work at 8 am the next day, I find myself cursing the fact that I'm not -- but it's really cool the way all those memories come flooding back whenever I think of that stuff.
Which is exactly what happened when I came across this little doo-dad.

[Listening to:    DevilDriver"Digging Up the Corpses" ]