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Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Incredible Hulk

June 1981. I sat in the dust on my grandparents' back porch, getting my wedding dress dirty, getting wet in a windy pouring rain, crying as I watched my friends drive away after the reception. "What are you still doing here?" my grandmother asked crossly.

Last to leave were my bandmates (left) - and by the way, I still play the very same violin that my best friend and favorite alto was carrying over her shoulder in this picture. And after many years, she moved here and we sing together now in a world music band.

Anyway, leaving my life in Cambridge turned out to be more painful than being married was good. It was a sad and reluctant relocation. I visited "Five Points" (Durham's purported downtown, destroyed decades previously by urban planning) and saw rows of boarded-up buildings. The only humans in sight were two street people shuffling along with their shopping bags. It resembled the set for a noir sci-fi planet too close to its sun. It was hellishly hot.

I enjoyed the job I landed as typesetter for "Universal Printing & Publishing Company." My boss, a huge red-headed Texan (was he really a Texan or was it just that he wore cowboy boots? I can't remember), had an expansive and free-wheeling optimism, and business was good, so it was a fun place to work.

But by mid-afternoon every day I was home, alone, in our shabby rented house with pine trees growing in the gutters and the smell of a nearby sewage treatment plant when the wind was wrong.

I developed an afternoon addiction to "Incredible Hulk" reruns.

That ancient show has recently been issued on dvd so you can see it too, though I don't recommend it. It's a 70s show, as stupid as you can imagine. It has that 70s pacing - which is to say, watch it with thumb hovering over the fast forward button. It has helpless, simpering heroines (with what Melina calls "female accents") and racial stereotyping. It's at its worst when attempting light-hearted moments. It's a show about alienation, anger and depression.

Based on a comic book, "The Incredible Hulk" starred Bill Bixby, a sweet, gentle, sad, handsome actor with a gorgeous speaking voice. I had a little crush on him. He played a doctor who'd survived a car wreck (flipped downhill, on fire, etc) but had been unable to rip the door off the car and save his wife.

His grief and obsession led eventually to his strapping himself into a very techno gamma-ray device and zapping himself to the max. It turns out the max was super-turbo-max because a technician had recently goosed the gizmo and put a piece of white tape on the upper end of the scale to indicate its new super-charged strength but had neglected to write on that tape how much juice the gizmo now emitted. Well, it was a lot.

So much that, ever after, when mild-mannered Dr. David Banner gets mad his eyes turn white, his skin turns green, his shirt rips as his biceps swell, and his slim bell-bottoms fortuitously transmute into roomy capri pants to accommodate the substantial butt and thighs of that bodybuilding behemoth, Lou Ferrigno.

Also his nicely styled hair gets long and scraggly.

After his rage dissipates, his eyes and hairdo revert to normal and also the capris turn back into bellbottoms. But he never gets the shirt back. He must keep an awful lot of shirts in that overnight bag.

Every episode is like this: having fled the last place he'd inadvertently trashed in a green and righteous rage, he arrives in a new town. Quiet, somber, knowing nobody, his jacket over his shoulder, overnight bag in hand, he finds work, makes friends, and helps people who are in trouble. Often somebody he loves or needs dies. Then at some point villainous things happen, so he gets mad and turns big and green and breaks things and scares people and shouts and flexes his muscles and runs away.

There's a reporter on his trail so he can't afford to stay once the green moment passes.

The last scene of every show is the same: David says goodbye to his new friends and goes off down the road alone, jacket over his shoulder, overnight bag in hand.

I cried and cried. Every time.

"The Incredible Hulk" had a bifurcated audience:
  1. Fans who loved Lou Ferrigno, the big green man. They judged episodes by how much screen time he had, how big the things were that he broke and threw around, and how loudly he roared as he flexed his muscles.

  2. Fans who, like me, were a little in love with the sad and lonely Bill Bixby.
I think Bill Bixby really WAS depressed and that's why he was so believable in this role. I read he was a contestant on The Dating Game 3 times, and never won a date! That makes him just as bad as Clark Kent!

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At 7:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember watching an episode in 20/20 or some such news show about a guy who would go from place to place, in each town creating a new identity, making friends, getting work, and basically creating a life for himself. Then one day, it would just be too much for him and he would slip away to another place, another identity. There's something fascinating about that. Perhaps it gets at the sense in which we are all strangers, wanderers in the world, until we find a place we feel is home.

(The reason this particular guy was newsworthy is because his work included being president of a college, and the lives he left behind included wives and children.)

At 8:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think he probably was depressed. He was going through a divorce and child custody battle over their son. Then the son died, and the ex-wife committed suicide. She was a soap opera actress and appeared in a Hulk episode. See the following link:

At 7:01 PM, Blogger Hannah said...

That is a very sad story!

At 1:44 PM, Blogger kenju said...

Poor Bixby! I thought anyone could get a date on that show, especially if you tried more than once.

Miss your writing - but will try to catch up when I get my computer back.

At 3:41 PM, Blogger Laurie said...

I used to watch that soap (it was "Days of Our Lives") and remember when his wife committed suicide. I felt so sad for Bill Bixby. I remember wondering if I could have seen the signs in her if I had known.

See, I was watching another cheesy show around the same time you watched the Hulk. We have our past!

At 2:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite agreed.


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