I think every kid has a fifteen minute phase where they are obsessed with Mister Ed. It’s that weird, old-timey horse show! It’s pretty much a rite of childhood to discover the classic sitcom about a talking horse and become all-consumed by it. Okay, maybe it was only me. But I loved the idea that a show about talking horse even existed. It just seemed so relevatory.
The black and white series, which originally ran from 1958 to 1966, featured a horse named Mister Ed, who only communicated with a man named Wilber. And Mister Ed was always causing hi jinks, like the time he knocked over a barbecue grill and ate all of Carol’s plants. IN THE SAME EPISODE. INSANITY. Or that episode where Wilber ended up in a Mexican jail and Mister Ed had to come to the rescue. I am not even making that up. What a horse. Seriously, people. WHAT. A. HORSE. A horse that solved crimes, fought German spies, and naturally, saved Christmas. Jesus, I’ll take it.
Of course, by the 1980s, it was just a hoary chestnut of a pop culture reference. Yet to me, it felt like I’d discovered some uncharted territory after stumbling upon it on Nick at Nite. “Did you know about Mister Ed?” I’d ask anyone who was old. “Of course!” they would enthusiastically respond, before bursting into a rendition of the show’s theme song.
A horse is a horse, of course of course, and no one can talk to a horse, of course that is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mister Ed!
They always sang it, every time I asked. Old people are so funny!
To be honest, I got bored with Mister Ed after about two episodes. It couldn’t compete with my gnat-sized attention span finely-tuned on spastic 80s cartoons and Pop Rocks. But it made me nostalgic for something—something from the old, weird America. I’ve always had a soft spot for old, weird things, like the world’s largest ball of twine or creepy wax museums full of staring bearded-men.
I used to think the whole world once existed in black and white. I wondered at how enthralling it must have been when the world became awash in color, like the moment Dorothy stepped into the technicolor Oz for the first time. I flipped through my grandmother’s old black and white photo albums. The pictures had a gentle and aware quality about them. They were of vacations, at the beach, in parks—special occasions. I thought I was lucky to be living in the present, in the full spectrum of color, but I also thought it would not be so bad to sit at the beach and look out on a sepia-toned ocean.
Adults laughed and assured me—perhaps with a little uneasiness—that they had in fact, grown up in color, too. I found it disappointing, the same as when I found out the people didn’t live inside the television. Too bad a talking horse did not live inside of our television. That is a world I wanted to live in.
But there was something even more disheartening about finding out the world had always happened in color. Perhaps I did not exist in a special and vivid time, but instead only a time, like any time, and one that would also pass.
In the future, I’ll have kids, and they’ll imagine my own childhood existed in washed-out and faded colors, on Polaroid pictures tucked into yellow envelopes that smell pulpy and dusty. But their lives will be captured in hi-definition, in megapixels and in gigabytes, in every color on the spectrum, more than even the human eye can distinguish. They’ll believe they live in a particularly special and vivid time, and they’ll be right.
I wonder if they’ll still think people live in the television. There are hundreds of channels on the television now. We only had five, and they didn’t even air programs the full twenty-four hours, so it was entirely plausible. I wonder if they’ll even watch television channels as we know it. Whatever the mode, I’m certain they’ll find a way to stumble upon old Mister Ed. He’s on Hulu now! Seriously. WHAT. A. HORSE.
When they do, they’ll ask me if I know about Mister Ed. And I’ll say yeah, OF COURSE. And God help me, I might even start singing.