My son Cory died in his sleep on Jan. 3, 2019. Complications from Muscular Dystrophy. “Natural causes,” it says on the certificate. Cory also had been diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder. It’s on the autistic spectrum. His lifelines were listening to music on his iPod and watching DVDs on his laptop player. He watched a lot of old television shows during the last year of his life. Cory watched complete series. In episodic order. No exceptions. I’d seen some of the shows, on my own or with him, but not many. They were his shows. I watched a lot of them in 2019.

I’ll take these 10 with me wherever I go.

1. The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams — Season 1, Episode 4: “Unwelcome Neighbor” (1977)

In this episode, a greenhorn settler and bigot (Ronny Cox) learns to not be a complete dick after his distrust of others and lack of respect for nature nearly kills his hip-to-the-wonders-of-the-wilderness son.

Cory got this series from my brother Tim for Christmas in 2018, and he was watching it in the early morning hours of the day he died. Grizzly Adams was the last thing Cory and I talked about.

“Is this show interesting?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said.

I said goodnight and told him I loved him.

“Yeah,” he said.

Grizzly Adams (Dan Haggerty) to the greenhorn settler: “These mountains will feed you if you just give ’em a chance. You don’t have to cut nothin’ down, dig nothin’ up, or kill anything.”

2. Fringe — Season 3, Episode 21: “The Day We Died” (2011)

There’s war brewing between twin universes (long live the psychology of duality). Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) had entered a doomsday device and ended up 15 years into the future. The device destroyed the parallel universe, and now his universe is disintegrating, too. His father, research scientist Walter Bishop (John Noble), believes he’s figured out a way for Peter to save both worlds: “It’s a paradox—I can’t change it because it’s already happened, but YOU can make a different choice within what happened,” says Walter, who also extols the virtue of swivel chairs and swiveling in this episode. Peter does this thing, makes a different choice and (I think) merges the universes, which changes or reverses some things. A lot of things.

Cory was into Fringe. Reading was hard for him, but he read several of the Titan Books novels that came out after the show became popular (“Fringe: Sins of The Father,” “Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox,” “Fringe: The Burning Man”). I know he cared about the Fringe universes and at least a few of the characters, who were subjects of his frequent questions and assertions (often one and the same) about death: “Did Olivia (Anna Torv) make this episode before or after she died?”

Ella Dunham (Emily Meade): “There aren’t any happy endings nowadays, are there?”

Walter Bishop: “No, I suppose not.”

Ella (pausing): “I remember the cow that stayed over. She had kind eyes.”

Walter, welling up: “She did, didn’t she? My Gene, I miss her.”

It is this exchange that triggers something in Walter’s swivel of a brain to figure out a way for Peter to save both worlds. And this exchange—Ella, seeing Walter in his world of hurt because of the destruction he’s caused... Ella, stepping out of her own pain… Ella, reaching out to this broken man, reaching out because that’s what humans sometimes do—breaks my heart. I wish I could have watched it with Cory. I wish I could see those kind eyes.

3. Circle of Fear aka Ghost Story — Season 2, Episode 4: “Doorway to Death” (1973)

Twins (Leif Garrett and Dawn Lyn, brother and sister in real life, but they’re not twins) discover and befriend an axe-swinging murderer’s ghost in what’s supposed to be a vacant room above their San Francisco apartment.

Cory liked shows that were supposed to be scary; shows that were supposed to be scary, but weren’t; and funny-scary shows. Circle of Fear features a few of each. I liked watching all the ghost stories in this short-lived series, many hosted by the elliptically present Sebastian Cabot.

There isn’t much to this tale, but the cast—especially the soon-to-be-pop-idol Garrett and Lyn (Dodie in “My Three Sons”), as well as the fab Susan Dey—is enough for me. And there’s the thing about an axe-swinging murderer’s ghost only children—twins, maybe—can see because of course. Ghosts, it turns out, are as lonely as pie, as lonely as the sun. As lonely as not-ghosts.

Jane (Dawn Lyn): “If his wife was dead, I wonder why he brought her back here.”

Robert (Leif Garrett): “’Cause he wanted to be with her for ever and ever.”

Jane: “Is that why he bricked her up in the closet?”
Robert: “I guess so.”

4. M*A*S*H  — Season 3, Episode 14: “Private Charles Lamb” aka The Spam Lamb Episode (1974)

We watched this many times. Radar O’Reilly (Gary Burghoff) tricks Henry Blake (McLean Stevenson) into giving a lamb a medical discharge so it won’t be served as part of an Easter celebration. (“I didn’t want to see him killed, sir,” Radar says. “I’d rather be barbecued myself with an apple stuffed up my face.”) Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) and Trapper John McIntyre (Wayne Rogers) provide an alternative main course, one artfully shaped out of that versatile-precooked-ham-pork-whatever-it-is-foodstuff famed of song (I’m pretty sure there’s a song) and story (there are many, many stories).

There’s a photo of Cory, his brother Sean and me. We’re standing in front of the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. “SPAM SHOP NOW OPEN,” a banner shouts behind us. Sean and I are looking toward the camera. His little arms crossed behind his back, Cory is looking off to his right, wearing his I-won’t-be-tolerating-this-photo-thing-much-longer face. He did get a Spam® t-shirt out of the deal.

Henry: “I gave a discharge to a sheep…”

Radar: “He’s on his way to Tokyo now.”

Hawkeye: “On Bo Peep Airlines.”

Radar: “A buddy of mine will reroute him to Iowa to my folks. I’ve already radioed them. They’re expecting him.”

Trapper: “He can sleep in your room.”

Hawkeye: “Your pants will just fit him.”

Henry: “I may be losing my mind…”

Hawkeye: “Don’t fight it, Henry.”

Henry: “I’ve got command on my tail and a hospital full of Greeks waiting for a lamb who’s sitting on a plane on his way to Iowa to become Radar’s little brother.”

5. The Twilight Zone — Season 3 Episode 17: “One More Pallbearer” (1962)

An unrelentingly vengeful millionaire named Paul Radin (Joseph Wiseman) offers three people from his past—people he believes have wronged him—space in his bomb shelter so they can survive a (faked by Mr. Radin) nuclear war. To save themselves, all they have to do is get down on their knees and say they’re sorry.

I saw this one a few times with Cory.

“I’m not like that,” he’d say, the way he did when he’d see TV characters (or real-life ones) exhibiting behavior he thought was “inappropriate” (a favorite word of his). “I’m not mean like that. Am I?”

Mrs. Langford (Kathryn Squire), the unrelentingly vengeful man’s grade-school teacher: “Try not to get too lonely, Mr. Radin. Use mirrors. They may help. Put them all around the room. Then you’ll have the company of a world full of Radins. It’ll be a fantasy, of course, but then your whole life has been a fantasy, a parade of illusions—illusions about what people have done to you, illusions about what justice is, illusions about what is the dignity of even the lowest of us. A fantasy, Mr. Radin, and now you can have it all to yourself.”

6. The Incredible Hulk — Season 1 Episode 2: “A Death in the Family”
aka The Return of the Incredible Hulk (1977)

As Dr. David Banner (Bill Bixby) continues to try to figure out why Gamma rays have done what they’ve done to him (and how to reverse that damage), he continues to run into people who he thinks need more help than he does. In this episode, he is kind to a young heiress (Laurie Prange) who he suspects (correctly) is being poisoned by her stepmother and others. The Incredible Hulk moments in this one are varied and great. In addition to hurling a bear, the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) samples alcohol (scotch? Ripple?) and doesn’t like it at all.

Cory liked all the TV and movie iterations of the Hulk. It was the rage thing, mostly, I think.

“I don’t have rage, I’m not like that,” he’d say.

There also was the underlying sadness. This man. This Hulk. Rage and how it can change you. The world around you. How you walk away from this world again and again. Sad music following you everywhere. Cory would ask about that sad music, the show’s closing theme, which he knew I liked. (“Why is it sad?”)

The ailing heiress to David Banner: “Trust you? I’m scared to death of you. I mean, one minute, you’re a nice, gentle man… but I saw, I saw what happens to you, what you turn into. My god!”

7. House — Season 8, Episode 22 (series finale): “Everybody Dies” (2012)

We never talked about this episode, which features remembrances of death, a faked death, the could of death, an imminent death, and the Warren Zevon song “Keep Me in Your Heart.”

But that episode title.

Cory: “You’re going to die?” he’d say/ask me.

Me: “Everything that lives, dies,” I’d say.

Cory: “Everything dies,” he’d say. And say. And say.

I want to say Cory was drawn to main character Gregory House’s otherness, but that’d be projecting (probably). I know Cory thought the guy who played House (Hugh Laurie) was funny, but mean.

“House isn’t very nice,” he’d say. “I’m not like House.”

James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), eulogizing House, who people believe has died: “[Gregory House] saved lives. He was a healer, and, and… in the end… House was an ass. He mocked anyone: patients, co-workers, his dwindling friends, anyone who didn’t measure up to his insane ideals of integrity. He claimed to be on some heroic quest for truth. But the truth is, he was a bitter jerk who liked making people miserable, and he proved that by dying selfishly numbed by narcotics without a thought of anyone. A betrayal of everyone that cared about him.”

8. Dark Shadows — Season 2, Episode 416 (1968)

Cory: “Who is Ben Stokes?”
Me: “What?”
Cory: “Who is Ben Stokes?

Me: “Who?”

Cory: “Is something wrong with him?”
Me: “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Who is ‘Ben Stokes’?”

I started watching the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows with Cory, who had as many of the seasons as were available at the time he was interested in the show, so I found out who Ben Stokes was. Sometimes angsty, usually kind and always honest, Ben Stokes (Thayer David) was a character in the show’s travel-back-in-time (to 1795) period.

Billed as a “servant” and never near the top of the credits, Stokes was pulled in different directions by his employer, the Collins family of Collinsport; and various Collins family members, who had a range of personal agendas. He also served and was bullied by a witch and a vampire. Children (and ghost children) took to Ben; they weren’t wary of him the way they seemed to be with other adults on the show. Ben spoke softly, simply, and said “aye” a lot. I could see why Cory wanted to talk about who Ben Stokes was.

I could have picked any of the episodes that featured him—he was dependably Ben in all the ones I saw. But I kept thinking about this one. Ben, who never forgot that pre-vampired Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) had been good to him, tries his best to do this hard, hard thing the now-vampired Barnabas has asked him to do: drive a stake through the vampire’s heart.

Barnabas: “Free me. Bring me peace at last. Do not condemn me to wander forever in endless agony. Give me to the waiting arms of death. End my torment. Please. I beg of you. Let me hear you say the word. Say it! Yes!”
Ben, reluctant and teary-eyed: “Yes.”

But Ben is unable to grant the vampire’s request. Angelique (Lara Parker), a witch who’d put the vampire curse on Barnabas, prevents Ben from doing this thing. Barnabas gets mad at Ben for failing to bring him peace, and Ben feels as if he’s let Barnabas down. This is Cory’s Ben. 

9. The Bionic Woman — Season 3, Episodes 3 & 4: “Fembots in Las Vegas” (1977)

That this two-part episode exists. That Cory watched this show, where slow motion means fast (or mad strength, mad jumping skillz, mad something). A show where the skitch-skitch-skitch of someone playing a wooden fish provides tinfoil-like tension in in-case-you-aren’t-watching-this-scene-is-supposed-to-be-tense moments.

Watch “Fembots in Las Vegas” with a partner. Watch it with someone you used to love. Watch it with a casual acquaintance. Someone you’ve just met. An enemy. Or by yourself, if you’ve ever believed you’ve thrown someone a rope, but when they played back the tape, there you were, sitting on the couch, in the dark, the rope looped around your neck, unthrown, the horizontal hold on the fritz and the rabbit ears listening to you breathe while an unlit candle, the one balancing on your nose, flickers. Or at least watch the freakin’ trailer.

Fembot Callahan (Jennifer Darling): “We have come for the energy weapon. And we’re going to get it.”

Jaime Sommers aka The Bionic Woman (Lindsay Wagner): “I still feel there’s a lot more to me than your glorified wind-up toys here.”

10.The Mod Squad — Season 1 Episode 23: “Keep the Faith, Baby” (1969)

Father John Banks (Sammy Davis Jr.) is suspended by his diocese because he won’t stop speaking his mind. “[Churches] must be a crucible from which change comes,” he says during a press conference. “Churches must attack racist attitudes, the racism of indifference, the racism of paternalism.” Meanwhile, Father Banks is being stalked by a murderer (Robert Duvall) who believes he will reveal something the murderer told him under the Seal of Confession.

Cory first saw The Mod Squad when he was four or five—it ran on a New York City channel (WWOR) that we had on our Milwaukee cable system. He loved the opening credits and theme and sometimes acted it out, half-running, the way he did. He also tried to mimic the expressive faces The Mod ones make during that opening.

This episode was an early favorite. We used to say “Keep the faith, baby” around here, or at least Cory and I did (it was mostly me). And he’d started rewatching the series in the fall of 2018.

The fall colors break, then break us in two. There he is, he’s running home—no, Cory never did run, when he could walk, he walked with something that resembled a purpose, swinging his arms some, the way the other kids did when they ran. No, Cory’s running—to the door to see me, or I think it’s to see me. But it’s not. He runs to the door, then out the door, then across the front lawn. He stagger-steps around a rose bush, jukes the sunburned birch tree and somersaults into the end zone. I’m in the end zone, too. The two of us, standing in the zone.

Father Banks: “Hey, brother, would you mind if I said a little prayer for you? It might make you get well a little quicker.”

Linc Hayes (Clarence Williams III): “I’d like that.”

Father Banks: “Then I’ll lay one on you. (Puts his cigarette out, then pauses.) Later.”

Linc: “Father John? Keep the faith, baby.”

Father Banks: “Yeah, Linc.”

Pat joined us in 2019 as a reader and we still can’t believe how lucky we are. We published him in our 2018 flash fiction issue and he joined us for last year’s top tens. I’ll repeat what I said then: Pat knows his way around a list. What I know now: he also knows his way around what being human is all about: being kind, caring, and having great taste in tv show end credits music.


© 2011 - 2016 Little Fiction | Big Truths. #FuckYeahShortStories

Top Ten Episodes of TV Shows 
I Watched in 2019 on DVDs That Belonged to My Son Cory

by Pat Foran