Home alone with the doggies last night, so we climbed into bed right after dinner for a little reading and a nice long episode of the fifties’ TV western ‘Cheyenne’. I love watching this stuff on my laptop as a special treat from time to time. Last night’s episode was first aired in June 1958 and saw Cheyenne Bodie ride into town to find an old friend about to be hanged for a killing Cheyenne could in no way believe he had committed. The usual western fare, no doubt very far removed from what life was actually like on the American frontier, but it takes me only a few seconds to slip comfortably into the illusion that it’s real. Late 1950’s and early 1960’s TV, in fact, is one of my own most reliable antidotes to the toxic ferocities of the world of today. Any adult who lived through those times will be happy to tell you what horrors actually lurked behind the ‘Father Knows Best’ façade of the period, but I lived through those years as a child and knew nothing about any of that. For me everything before the assassination of JFK, Vietnam and genetically modified Republicans was a serene world of ‘I Love Lucy’, tree houses, mass in Latin on Sundays and still living great-grandparents who had grown up in the 19th century. I have always found the mere thought of that world so reassuring, in fact, that when the terrors of September 11 crashed in upon us I stopped watching the evening news for several months altogether and switched to episodes of ‘Leave It to Beaver’, a program which could have been filmed in my own childhood home, so faithful was it to the feeling of the time in which I grew up. So last night’s ‘Cheyenne’ episode was another such experience of hunkering down in the night to forget about imploding cultures, kindergarteners cannibalizing their teachers and governments unleashing bomb-laden drones upon their own populations–stuff the average third grader of today probably takes cheerfully for granted, but which I cannot bear to consider without several reliable coping mechanisms–like dogs and books and old TV shows–within convenient reach. There are indeed several things which puzzle me about those old westerns: did they really bust up all those saloons on a daily basis? where did they get the new window glass and furniture, in the middle of nowhere, to replace all the items shot to smithereens? could the saloons really have had those inevitable swinging half-doors? did people say ‘I reckon!’ and ‘Much obliged, ma’am!’ and of course Indians and Mexicans were never the faceless stereotypical puppets, figures of fun and always in the wrong, our Apartheid society trained us from infancy to believe they naturally were. But, all such considerations aside, the escape offered by these shows is just as complete, or even more so, today as it was when they were made. Just climb into bed with your laptop and your dogs next free evening you can find and tune in to one of the ‘Cheyenne’ or ‘Rifleman’ or ‘Virginian’ episodes which abound on the internet for free. Just make sure you’re able get back to the present mentally when the episode ends. That’s important, right? I’m finding that harder to accomplish all the time, or even to imagine why I should try.