Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., the TV series, is a treasure trove of financial tips. I’m not kidding.
If I’m ever stuck for financial stories to write about for The TV Professor, I should just watch a few Gomer Pyle episodes for inspiration. Of the many messes Gomer was getting himself into, financial problems come up quite a bit in the series, and there was Sergeant Carter, to help him. Help him, that is, make things worse.
One of the many excellent examples of this comes in the form of, “The Prize Boat,” which aired deep in the fourth season. (Gomer Pyle lasted five seasons, airing from 1964 to 1969.)
The episode’s main lesson is, admittedly, one that’s similar to the Seinfeld money lesson that I wrote about last week. In that one, George Costanza gripes to Jerry Seinfeld about how he can’t possibly accept free Super Bowl tickets. It would cost him too much.
Twenty-eight years earlier, “The Prize Boat” illustrated exactly what George was afraid would happen. Heck, maybe George watched Gomer Pyle as a kid.
The plot of “The Prize Boat,” In a Nutshell
The plot is pretty simple. Gomer Pyle wins a very sporty motorboat in a contest. He sent in a jingle that he wrote for the fictional Frost Flip Bottling Company, which makes Frost Flip soda, apparently Pyle’s drink of choice.
The jingle went like this:
"Here's a tip... Take a nip of Frost Flip. It's got flavor galore and much, much, much more, with vip and zip in each sip."
Carter is naturally incredulous: “For that, you won a boat?”
Carter’s also incredulous that Pyle plans on sending the boat back to the soda company.
“Well, I hope they won't think I'm too ungrateful, but I've come to realize that a boat would be just too much for me, what with the expenses and all, so it's best I send it back,” Pyle says.
“And end up with nothing?” Carter asks.
“Oh, just the joy of winning is reward enough for me, Sergeant,” Pyle says.
(Side note: Has anyone noticed that Gomer Pyle and Sergeant Carter’s relationship is almost a mirror image of another relationship years later – that of SpongeBob SquarePants and Squidward Tentacles? There’s also a bit of a Dennis the Menace and Mr. Wilson vibe going on, but I can’t imagine Dennis the Menace saying, “Oh, just the joy of winning is reward enough for me,” but I can completely imagine SpongeBob SquarePants saying the same line to Squidward.)
Well, long story made shorter – Carter suggests that Pyle keep the boat, and Carter will take care of the ancillary costs.
“I'll take care of all the expenses,” Sergeant Carter says. “I mean, what could that be? Gas and oil? I pay the whole freight. You don't have to do anything except supply the boat.”
Of course, it doesn’t exactly work out that way, and seriously, the rest of the episode is basically a how-to manual on why you should research the expenses related to any big purchase – or free gift.
It’s also a lesson in greed. Sergeant Carter, especially as the series goes on, likes Pyle and isn’t out to cheat him, but he is pretty excited about getting to use a free boat. Carter’s greed is often his downfall throughout the series.
The Extensive Costs of a Boat, According to Gomer Pyle
So, again, the main financial lesson in this episode, and an excellent one to follow in real life – before you buy something expensive, or accept a free gift, do a little research first to see if there are related costs involved.
For the rest of the episode, Sergeant Carter gets his bank account battered in the follow ways:
His car isn’t prepared to tow a boat. He valiantly tries, but his bumper is ripped off. The show doesn’t say how much it costs to fix, but he goes to a garage and presumably spends a pretty penny to get it fixed. Not long after, with a new bumper, Carter and Pyle are driving with the boat attached to his car, and a cop pulls him over.
Carter’s car doesn’t have an extended rearview mirror, to help him see the boat behind him. He’ll have to pay a ticket for that.
Carter also lacks a safety chain on the hitch. Another ticket.
He also gets a speeding ticket for driving 60 miles an hour. With a boat, he isn’t supposed to be driving over 50.
"It could be worse," the cop says. "If it was night, you'd get another one for not having side lights."
Sarge has to pay for the boat license. But, of course. Fortunately, that’s not too much. Just $5. In today’s dollars, that’d be $38.37. (It should be noted that Gomer repeatedly tries to share the expenses with his sergeant, but Carter, too full of pride and optimism, won't have any of it.)
Life preservers. Carter is first talked into buying six of them for $50, and then Sarge decides to buy 12, after the salesman talks about all the beautiful women he’ll have as passengers on the boat. Ah, there’s a sucker born every minute.
A compass and bailing pump. The law requires both. So that’s more money.
A bait tank. If they want to fish, Gomer mentions that they’ll need to buy one for the boat.
Docking fees. Sargent Carter will have to pay $5 every time the boat goes into the water at the marina or $40 for dock space.
Insurance. The boat will need to be insured, Gomer mentions to his fellow Marines. By this time, Carter is trying to get the rest of his platoon to pony up some money and become part owners in the boat.
Income tax on the boat. Because the prize boat is seen as revenue for Gomer Pyle, the IRS will want a cut of that. Unfortunately, Carter mistakes an IRS agent for an interested buyer. So Carter inflates the worth of the boat, and makes it clear that he is Pyle’s business partner, and he basically talks the IRS into giving him a huge tax bill.
The Lesson for All of Us
The lessons of this episode are pretty simple.
- Boats are expensive.
- Greed is just going to get that boat sunk (yeah, that happens, but because of the loss, Carter’s able to write it off on his taxes and not get stuck with a huge bill).
- And if a friend is eager to share the expenses of a boat with you, take him up on it. After all, it worked out just fine for Gomer Pyle, who somehow made it through this episode without spending a dime.
Where you can watch this show (at the time of this writing): MeTV airs Gomer Pyle on weeknights at 9 p.m., EST.