The magical time was 3:30 pm. That was what time my elementary school got out on every day except Thursday, when we were dismissed at 2:30. I never figured out what we had one day of the week that we got out early but I also never really cared. It broke up the monotony… before I knew what monotony was.
My sister, who is three years older, and I went to a very suburban cozy elementary school a short walk from our house. We didn't have to cross any major roads, no stoplights to deal with. In fact if you did it right you could get there by only crossing one street.
From the time my mom went back to work when I was about 7, pretty much until I was about 12, my routine was very much the same.
I would run out of the school like I had been trapped in there for a year, and flee the school premises to hurry back to my house to do the same very important work I did every single day:
Sit on the couch and watch cartoons until my parents came home.
It was the first period of true independence in my life. My parents judged that my 10-year-old sister and I were old enough to survive on our own between the hours of 3:30 pm (2:30 on Thursdays) and 5:30 pm when my mom would get home from work.
We weren’t allowed to have friends over, or to go wandering around the neighborhood. The rules were actually quite clear. We would come straight home, let ourselves in the side door with our key, and then call mom at work to let her know we were at home.
And if we forgot our key that day, there was usually one in the shed. And if somebody had forgotten to replace that, our neighbors always had one.
So once we had made our way home and actually made our way into the house, we had the place to ourselves for two (three on Thursdays) whole hours!
It was like we had been given the keys to the castle. We didn’t have to start our homework. Nobody could tell us to stop lying on the kitchen floor or stop eating the margarine straight out of the container.
Freedom doesn't necessarily breed creativity. I found myself extremely focused on only ever wanting to do one single thing. Which is why every single day that we came home, we would change out of our school clothes into our "after school clothes" and plop down on the couch in the living room and watch 30-minute cartoon shows until mom came home.
At which point we would hear the key in the door, shut the TV off and run into another part of the house to pretend like we were doing something productive with our lives.
I don't think either parent ever believed that.
But it was hard not to revel in our own personal TV watching time. Having complete control of the remote (which was a new invention when I was 7 year old) and choice of television shows, was a power we didn’t get to experience we didn't typically get when our parents were home.
So the routine was the same every single day. Our two favorite shows were Tiny Toons and Anamaniacs.
Tiny Toons took the traditional Warner Brothers cartoons like Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny and created similar, smaller, younger versions of them. Making the story lines slightly younger and topical, but with the same amount of semi-adult pop culture references.
Anamanics took what Tiny Toons did and exploded it to a whole other level. The amount of obscure historical pop culture reference and pure unadulterated irreverence is something that still blows my mind.
I still maintain, to the very day, that a large chunk of my pop-culture knowledge comes from those shows. My ability to reference everything from Shirley McClain to Lake Titicaca served me surprisingly well throughout my young life.
High School clubs and sports arrived around the same time I was starting to outgrow some of my favorite cartoons. I began staying later at school for meetings and rehearsals and practices. My parents got home before me as often I did before them.
So it was no wonder that by the time I got to college in Arizona the same habits started to find me. Except the temperature outside was about 40 degrees hotter than I was used to, and cartoons were replaced with free dorm cable, something I had never experienced before.
I would come home from class and change into my "after class clothes." This was just me stripping off my sweaty clothes down to my boxers and laying on my bed to watch MTV and Family Guy.
The feeling of freedom had returned. Sure I had homework but I could do it whenever. Mom and Dad weren't coming home so I could make time for my responsibilities whenever.
I look back now and wonder how much time I actually spent lying on my bed watching crap TV. If I had to guess, I would say way too much.
For a handful of years now I have successfully avoided watching much TV outside of sports. This came as a result of again not having cable along with the realization that when I watch TV, I just don't do anything else.
All of the time I have spent watching cartoons came back to mind this weekend, when after running around buying groceries and prepping for a Super Bowl party, I plopped down on the couch to zone out with some TV.
And then Anamaniacs came on, and it all came rushing back to me. The feelings of freedom after school, the realization that I had hours before mom came home, the desire to put my hand in to our big green dinosaur cookie jar to see what was waiting to be consumed.
All of it just making me realize that if the cartoons are good enough, you are feeling lazy enough, and your parents aren’t coming home any time soon… there's no limit to how much time you can spend on the couch.