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« A literary game of "I never" | Main | Book Notes and Big Sky Country »

Square eyes

I spent a good chunk of my childhood without a television. My parents simply didn't own one. They rented a set for the 1980 Winter Olympics, but until I was five years old, when we inherited my grandparents' black-and-white portable, I had no television at home. You would think, then that I would have a healthy relationship with the box. The problem is, sometimes when you are denied something, you only crave it more.

When I was about four years old, I was visiting a friend's house, and she was watching Mr. Rogers, or Sesame Street. (Remember the days when the only children's programming on weekdays was on PBS?) As the story goes, the expression on my face suddenly froze, and I sat, unmoved, staring wide-eyed, absorbing. The mother of my friend was so frightened by my reaction to the television that she called my mother: "Is she allowed to watch television? Because she's absolutely glued to it right now, and I can't get her away..."

I have had an unhealthy relationship with television ever since. In the past few years, I have managed to refine my relationship. The DVR has curbed the urge to flick, and bit by bit I find myself settling into a habit of watching a few exclusive shows, abandoning those that don't live up to my standards for crisp, literary dialogue, challenging aesthetic, and artistic editing. (To come clean, there are some glaring exceptions, a few shows I watch somewhat religiously that fit into none of these categories, "The Girls Next Door" - the show that gives multiple meanings to the word "boob tube" - being the most obvious and deliciously tacky example.) But it took me years to move beyond that initial reaction to the television, that inescapable attraction, that mesmerism.

One of my earliest television memories is my babysitter's obsession with Luke & Laura's wedding on "General Hospital." The television was in the playroom (in my memory, it was always sunny: two intersecting walls of windows, yellow wallpaper, and orange carpet). The babysitter, probably a student of my mom's, or possibly one of the younger girls from up the road, was giddy with anticipation. She probably sat still, much the same way I had, unable to be torn away from the set with a child's pleas to play a game or to let me hide and force her to seek me out. So I must have watched the wedding with her.

Today I glimpsed an ad on the side of a phone booth announcing the return of Laura (from a coma, I believe), 25 years after the two characters were originally married. The photograph was of their wedding day: Luke in his glorious afro, and Laura in her early eighties golden sheen. I used to think these people were real, and that their wedding was a national event. It caused me to smile, that ad. Twenty-five years. Sometimes it takes my breath away to have memories so old. Even if they do come from the boob tube.

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