ALL I CAN SAY is that when my hour strikes, I hope the nation will afford me just a fraction of the sympathy it is lavishing on bereaved football fans.
My time for the empty Monday night will be next February, when "M*A*S*H" goes off the air.
Monday night is gala for us "M*A*S*H" junkies. We get to watch it three times. That is not to say we do not plan every weekday evening around Dr. Benjamin Franklin Pierce, racing home from work and being inordinately crisp with anyone who dares to call during the sacred half-hour when he is dispensing love and lechery and wisecracks and heartbreak, ideally with Radar O'Reilly peeking over his shoulder, clipboard ready, heart on sleeve. They make me feel better about life.
Monday night mayhem has the same effect on many people. I'm not saying that we're any better because we like healers better than Steelers. But I am saying that we doubt we'll be swamped in the solicitude that has engulfed those who have been left staring at a blank screen -- or each other -- since the players decided that $90,000 pay for six months' work is not enough.
The impending strike was often the top item on the evening news. The strike was presented as a calamity, reported in the same solemn tones as the massacre in Lebanon, which did crowd it out of first position. The effects on the national psyche are, I gather, to be devastating.
I don't pretend to understand football, not to mention why it means so much to so many to see men breaking each others' bones every weekend. It seems to me there's an awful lot of whistle blowing to it, and a certain monotony about those pileups, which apparently are not spontaneous, but are carefully plotted at strategy sessions with training films and charts. From overheard conversations I gather that, due to the number of injuries that are bound to occur, football fans have to be almost as knowledgeable about orthopedics and anatomy as my beloved doctors at the 4077th.
Baseball also requires its fans to carry a great deal of mental baggage.It's better, somehow, if you can reel off statistics. I prefer it to football, because it involves fewer stretcher-bearers. One whole summer I faithfully followed the Detroit Tigers. That was due to Mark Fidrych. You didn't have to know even what an outside curve was to appreciate him. Something about the way he approached throwing that ball -- the way he manicured the mound, pawed the ground and went into the windmill windup -- spoke to me. He was acting out my apprehension when I am expected to write. But when he left, I did, too.
Hockey is a game I think I understand. Sometimes when the boys were playing on the solid black ice of Muddy Pond, and the team was short, I was allowed to fill in as goalie. We were all Boston Bruins fans. A while back, I watched hockey. I did not keep my eye on the puck. I was looking for Number 4, Bobby Orr. He was a great player, but I liked to watch him skate. He glided away from the pack, finishing every curve with perfect grace. But he's gone now, and so am I.
Tennis? It's easy to follow, I'll say that for it, but due to the number of brats who play for the United States, I often found myself rooting for a foreign country instead of my own and I got self-conscious about it in politically mixed company. If McEnroe played Connors and I asked someone whom I should be for, I just started an argument. Who needs conflict?
"M*A*S*H" has conflict, of course, if you count the Korean War, which is its setting. Its therapy extends beyond making you laugh -- and occasionally, cry. After you've watched Hawkeye in the operating room for 16 hours straight, still extracting with infinite delicacy a sliver of shrapnel from a teen-age soldier's stomach, you will think kindly of his whole profession.
I dote on them all, except for the odious wimp, Frank Burns. I don't just love Hawkeye, I love his father, back home in Crabapple Corner in Maine. And I like the replacements, too. I was crazy about Col. Henry Blake, and wept when he died. But Col. Sherman Potter is a prince, too. After Radar went home -- after Uncle Ed's death -- I had the same readjustment problem as everyone at the 4077th, but now Klinger is as solid with me as he is with them.
I don't know what I will do without them. Like football fans, I will watch replays rather than nothing, but I know it can't go on. I sympathize with football fans, in their loss, in a way. Mine will be greater.
The only thing that makes me hope that people understand is the fact that when the last episode of "M*A*S*H" is shown, advertisers will be charged $450,000 per 30 seconds. That is $50,000 more than they had to pay during the last Super Bowl telecast.
I hold that thought. It shows that, despite the hullaballoo over football, the United States has not entirely lost its sense of values.