Around the time I was four my family lived in Lubbock, Texas, in a two-bedroom rental house with wood floors. I remember the floors clearly because I spent a lot of time planted on my butt in front of the television set on Sunday mornings watching a) Tarzan, b) televangelists, or c) both of the above.
To say my choices in TV viewing were limited is an understatement. We only had access to three stations at the time and two of the three featured oily preachers eager to snatch pennies from a gullible preschooler’s piggy bank. I remember begging my mom to allow me to send all of my money to these showmen who seemingly worked miracles of Biblical proportions, and who would gladly work more if they just had more funding. My mom was nobody’s fool, though, and she gave me a lesson in ‘con men for Christ,’ one I’ve never forgotten: the slicker the hair, the sicker the con.
The other available station ran a Tarzan movie every Sunday morning. I loved Tarzan, Cheetah, and Jane (in that order). I could emulate the ape man’s famous yell even better than Carol Burnett in her prime. For much of my childhood my pretend play revolved around living in a treehouse high up within the canopy of the African jungle with a chimpanzee while avoiding evil hunters and rallying the wildlife to save the day, always just in the nick of time. Like Tarzan I could communicate with elephants and lions and wrestle crocodiles and snakes. I was pretty amazing for a four year old.
While Mom and Dad had the opportunity to sleep in on Sunday I rabidly flipped between Oral Roberts and Tarzan, alternately observing faked miracles and faked animal footage. Thank goodness I never got Tarzan and Oral Roberts mixed up! Of course Mom probably would have let me send money to Tarzan, and Reverend Roberts might have been quite compelling in a loincloth.