Friday, February 25, 2011

Gomer the Good

When I was a child, Gomer Pyle was one of my favorite programs.

Maybe that was because Gomer and I tended to see things at the same level. He always did have a kind of childlike mentality.

Anyway, as a child, I didn't really understand some things, like war and military service and things like that so the stories that dealt with Gomer and his activities as a Marine made little sense to me until I was older.

But the stories that focused on Gomer's often peculiar sense of ethics I could understand.

A good example of that is the episode that first aired 45 years ago tonight. Seen from the perspective of 2011, it's almost a cautionary tale about automation.

Gomer and his buddies were in "town" (whichever town was near their base) for an evening out. Upon their arrival, they did something that logically should have been done before they ever got on the bus that would take them into town — find out how much money they had between them.

(But, for the purposes of the plot, I suppose, it had to be done the way it was.)

Anyway, they concluded that they had a little over $3 between them. It is an indication, I suppose, of just how much things have changed that they actually had options for what the three of them could do with that amount of money — one observed that they could each get a hamburger and a piece of pie, another that they could all go to see a movie but couldn't afford any snacks and a third suggestion was that they could go swimming at the YMCA and have enough money left over for a burger but no pie.

They decided to call the theater and find out what was showing. They were using Gomer's "lucky dime" to make the call so he did the honors. He got a recording and recited it to his buddies. Then he hung up.

When he did, the phone began shooting out dimes like it was a slot machine — more than $40. In 1966, I'm sure that three Marines could have had a real night on the town with 40 bucks.

And Gomer's buddies were making plans before they had even finished counting the cash — but Gomer wouldn't hear of it. "Honesty is the best policy," he said, declaring his intention to return the money to the phone company.

His friends thought he was crazy, and they seemed to be right when Gomer tried to return the money but kept getting the runaround from phone company employees.

When he told his story to his buddies back on the base, Gomer was told there was no reason not to keep the money. But he insisted that there was just as much reason as there had been before, and he went to his sergeant for help.

Sgt. Carter recommended going back to the pay phone and putting all the money back in it, and Gomer tried to do that, but his effort went wrong and he wound up in police custody.

The police were just as skeptical of the situation as Gomer's buddies and sergeant and the phone company had been, but, eventually, the matter was resolved.

In gratitude for Gomer's honesty, the phone company decided to reward him with free long–distance phone calls for everyone in the platoon.

Then lightning struck again — and, of course, Gomer was ground zero.