M Squad (A Cautionary Tale)

It was a warm summer night. I was washing my hair in the kitchen sink. (Yeah, the kitchen. Got a problem with that, bud? If so, keep it to yourself. I got a slow fuse, but trust me, you don’t want to see it lit.)

I turned on the tv for company and came across a station called, MeToo. Yeah, that’s what they called it. Some suit must have thought up that gem, trying to impress the big boss with the pally vibe of it, like it’s supposed to attract the masses. Probably got a raise for making their station sound like the cry of a four-year-old begging Daddy to take him along. Anyway, they’ve got this set-up going, something called Sunday Night Noir, and M Squad comes on, some show with Lee Marvin starring. I’m a sucker for tough guys. I’m a sucker for Lee Marvin. I let it ride.

Marvin played Lt. Frank Ballinger, a hard-boiled Chicago police detective. The writers even threw around real street names, streets I’ve been down and know like the back of my hand, even in the dark. Nice touch. We hate it when Hollywood types toss around two north/south streets and call ’em an intersection, but these guys got it right.

I’m no expert on these things, but from the fuzzy black and white film, the fashions on the dames, the men’s fedoras, and the hairstyles on the players, it seemed to have been made somewhere around 1959. I guess it’s got legs, but I’ve never seen it before. Superman and I Love Lucy, yes. This one, no.

This episode had Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, guest starring along with James Coburn. No way I could’ve changed the channel if I tried. Nimoy’s a legend, and Coburn won an Oscar for playing an asshole — damn good portrayal of a man who deserved the short end of the stick he’d been giving out all his life. I settled in with the shampoo.

The plot was about an investigation to catch an arsonist, and Lt. Ballinger went undercover as a mope looking to burn down a factory that wasn’t making the dough anymore. He got the needed info from the arsonist’s latest client, a sorry dame who forgot someone was in the building she wanted to lose. She was no match for Ballinger. She folded like a deck of cards.

I was into the plot, rooting for the triumph of good over evil and all that. The show was decent enough, but here’s where the picture gets to me: to lure the criminal into the deal and get the goods on him, Ballinger has to go to the dive where the bad guys hang out. Turns out this is a local ‘coffee bar.’ Coffee Bar. You learn something new every day.

Who would’ve guessed these places were hotbeds of bad behavior — criminality of the worst kind? Well, I’m here to do my bit for my fellow citizens. Be careful where you spend your time. And parents, whatever you do, don’t let your teenagers go to these places. Geez, they had singers in that joint and everything. Singing that dangerous Folk Music, playing their subversive little guitars. I ain’t been the same since I saw it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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