Before I knew that I suffered from severe ADD, I watch lots of television usually 6-7 hours a day was the norm for me. My earliest conscious memory was at the age of three, asking my mother when she was completely asleep at 530 in the morning if I could watch television in the living room. These really old black-and-white cartoons went on at 6 AM -- and if I got there early enough I could catch the last 15 minutes of a show called "The Modern Farmer". This show was on between 5 AM and 6 AM and it taught farmers had to use modern methods to increase their crop production, take care of their livestock, etc. It never occurred to me at the time as to why such a show was running on a station in Brooklyn, New York.
Anyway, I got into the regular habit of watching too much television way too early. Two hours in the morning before breakfast. Two hours right after school. An hour are or so during dinner and three hours (at least) at night. My parents used to punish me by forcing me to cut back my television watching to just four hours per day -- -- a horrible fate for me.
Anything you see on Nick at night or TV land from the 1960s was what I watched with devotion and religious fervor. The benefit for me later in life: I became an outstanding player in the TV version of Trivial Pursuit. But that is another story.
Needless to say, between ADD and TV I did not read much.
So in the seventh grade at JHS 278, Mrs. Lichtenstein assigned us books to read over the Christmas holiday season. Two weeks to read a book and do an oral report on the first day after vacation. Mentally, to me that was like climbing Mount Everest. Mrs. Lichtenstein was of German background -- -- she never smiled, gave too much homework and had a stare that could melt lead. To my friend Chris, she gave "To Kill a Mockingbird". To Deborah, she gave some book about a dancer who died. To me, she gave “Fail-Safe". The thinnest book on the shelf. It was about 200 pages long and I had two weeks to read it. Work out the math yourself ---when Mrs. Lichtenstein handed me the book, she said sternly, "10 minute oral book report on January 3, Mr. Novick," I hate being called Mr. Novick -- -- even more than being called Joseph.
So, “Fail-Safe" stayed on my dresser for the first week of the vacation totally untouched. And then one morning I picked it up. An offshoot of severe ADD was severe procrastination. I thumbed through it, read about a paragraph from one page -- -- "... the president was silent after the news...". And I promptly put it down again.
For the next seven days the vision of dread grew larger and larger in my 12-year-old head. At Day Seven, it appeared in the distance like a small dark cloud on the horizon. Each day it grew longer and larger and greater in focus. By Day Three, it became a large dark gray menacing face blotting out everything in the sky. The night before it was the only thing in the sky I could see.
The night before the first day of school after vacation, I was watching TV, of course. And as I thumbed through the TV Guide, -- -- there it was on Channel 9. WOR -- TV. The Late Late Show at 3:15 AM: “Fail-Safe" the movie. In glorious black and white. "...a 1964 film directed by Sidney Lumet, based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler…”. Hey, Burdick and Wheeler? These were the same guys whose name was on the book that I had up in my room. I could do this. I could watch it take notes and give a 10 minute oral book report. There was a God.
So, promptly at 3:10 AM, I woke myself up, snuck into the living room and turn on the TV. My parents’ bedroom door was closed. And I covered my head and the TV screen with a big towel to keep excess light and sound from creeping out of the living room. I set as close as I could to the screen to keep the sound down as low as possible. As close as I was to the screen, the light from the TV could've been very good for my eyes.
There were too many late-night commercials I thought. I tried my best to stay awake and get enough of the gist of the movie. I took notes and sloppy handwriting that I hoped I could recognize the next day.
January 3: we were to do our book reports just after lunch. My heart was pounding solidly in my chest. I felt like Mrs. Lichtenstein stare was burning a hole in my head the entire morning. Chris went first and stumbled through "To Kill a Mockingbird" -- -- he was thorough but nervous. Maybe his nervousness would take the edge off of Mrs. Lichtenstein when I spoke. And then, Mrs. Lichtenstein said, “ Mr. Novick – Fail Safe please.”
I slowly walked to the front of the room, with my notes in my hand I turned and looked at Mrs. Lichtenstein -- -- I made my first mistake -- I felt cocky so I "smirked". Perhaps that smirk did me in.
“Fail Safe is the story of how the United States accidentally dropped an atomic bomb on Moscow, and the president was unable to stop it and order the plane back....". My second mistake at this point was looking over to Mrs. Lichtenstein. That second look lead her to read my body language to tell her that something was wrong.
As I began to continue to read my notes, Mrs. Lichtenstein asked me The Question: "Mr. Novick, in Fail Safe who played the president?". And then my mouth acted completely on its own: "Henry Fonda,". I tried to continue, but she just stopped me. How was I to know that Mrs. Lichtenstein read TV Guide also?
Well anyway, Mrs. Lichtenstein sent a note home with me to get my parents. They force me to read Fail-Safe from cover to cover and get a written report. And you're what I discovered? The book was actually better than the movie -- -- no commercials. And I did get punished -- -- just four hours a night of TV for the next week.