College? I was so kicking ass. 3.8 my first semester and I procured a good-looking boyfriend – not bad for someone who didn’t have a date to Senior prom, eh? I killed it in my non-performance music classes. I was solid in my Gen Ed. Classes. Yeah, I was a rock star. When I was in junior high school, one of my family members made a crack that the only “A” I’d ever see was the one in my name, and the rest of my family chuckled knowingly. Now? 6 As and one B on my first report card from college. Hell yeah! I thought I had the college thing figured out.
Of course, figuring out college wasn’t just about getting good grades and attractive boyfriend procurement; like other freshman, I had to figure out how to live on my own. I had to figure out how to do my laundry without getting clumps of detergent stuck on my clothes, or how to eat when all sorts of fried and Alfredo-dipped options lay out in front of me. I had to figure out how to live in a 10X10 cell with another human being without shanking them or being shanked. Finally, I had to figure out what was essential, and what was non-essential.
There was one thing I deemed essential that was sorely lacking from our dorm room fall semester: a television. For four months, I lived without my beloved soap opera – the soap opera everyone’s grandma watched since 1937: “Guiding Light.” The summer prior to college was one of the finest in GL’s history, and damn it, I was missing out on all the plot resolution. What happened with Bridget and Hart? Did he learn about her having his baby in secret? Did he return her affections? I needed to know these things. I missed out on a variety of plot points, and in soap opera years, a few months meant you missed out on someone’s entire childhood. Jesus, Bridget’s little baby was probably running Spaulding Enterprises now, and I was missing it!
Following winter break, I flew back to Arizona and walked back into my little cell in the Manzi-Mo dorm. Emily and her boyfriend Tony were in the process of setting up a small television on her desk. My eyes widened with glee. I felt like I was transported back to the 50s, when a television was the centerpiece of one’s living room and social life. Emily and I could finally reconnect with the world outside of campus! We excitedly discussed what we’d watch – Fresh Prince, Animaniacs, Guiding Light! Well, I was excited about Guiding Light. Emily was not a fan of soap operas, but she was kind enough to give me 2-3pm to watch my show. I had Music Literature at that time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but that was fine – everyone knows the best soap days are Fridays and Mondays.
As soon as the antenna was adjusted, a warm, seductive glow filled the room. Emily and I stopped our conversation mid-sentence and stared at the moving pictures in awe. Oh, Television…where have you been?
Catching up on lost time, I started watching my soap again. I was surprised to find out goody-two-shoes Julie turned bad after sleeping with Hart on her wedding day and was promptly dumped by then-fiancée Dylan. She now had her sights set on Frank, who was going through a rough patch in his marriage to Eleni (played by the lovely Melina Kanekredes). When I first watched, Emily rolled her eyes, but surely enough, she began to get engaged. “Eleni’s pretty…” she said. “How did she wind up with Frank?” I told her the torrid history of boring, dopey Frank, amazing Eleni, and their entire wacky family, gladly answering every question to come my way. After coming back from Music Lit one day, Emily nearly tackled me when I walked in the room. “Girl, you won’t believe what happened today!” She proceeded to tell me about the results of the beauty pageant that pitted sweet Lucy (Frank’s kid sister) against evil Julie, and all the chaos and underhandedness that ensued. Yes – I had her hooked!
In reality, we both became addicted to television – before you know it, soap operas, Rikki Lake and The Price Is Right became a higher priority than class; I mean, what if they played Plinko today? You don’t want to miss that, do you? We became fond of the NBC affiliate’s elderly weather guy. Every Friday night, he’d celebrate the weekend by pulling five pieces of confetti out of his beige blazer pocket and let out a mild “yay” as confetti and old blazer lint unceremoniously scattered across the news desk. Within a month, we went from a reaction of “what the hell is this?” to declaring him a national treasure. We were Podlings and TV was our Dark Crystal – it captured our gaze, and we were unable to turn away until the last drop of essence was sucked out of us.
One afternoon, Emily and I lay on our beds and stared like zombies at the television. A rerun of MASH came on. To most people, that would indicate there was nothing left on television. The natural response to this predicament would be to go to class and get the education we were paying so dearly for. But that would involve getting up and leaving the Boob Tube for a couple of hours.
As the theme for MASH played in the background, Emily and I looked at each other somewhat desperately. “Doot do-do doot do doot do…” No. No. Can. Not. Watch. Where’s the remote? “Doot do-do doot do doot do…” Damn, it’s on top of the television – who put it there?? Hurry! Emily weakly lifted her arm up and attempted to retrieve the remote via Jedi Mind powers. She released a meek “ehhh,” expending all of her energy to will the remote into her hands. It was not working. The force was weak within us. “Doot do-do-doot-doo, doot do-doot doot! Doot!” Shit, I don’t want to watch Alan Alda! DO SOMETHING, DAMN IT.
Emily was still frozen, fully focusing on her Jedi powers, letting out a more desperate “ehhh!!!” with her fingers outstretched. In a jolt of energy, I burst out of bed and ran to the television, simultaneously grabbing the remote and hitting the “down channel” button on the television. I tossed the remote to Emily and collapsed back on my bed, exhausted from my effort. Emily’s arm relaxed and fell over the remote. She sighed in relief, as if her Jedi powers worked after all. Our panic over the prospect of watching MASH put us in a semi-catatonic state, so we settled on the channel I had switched it to. Tucson PBS. Sigh.
We stared quietly as a forgettable, non-offensive melody on the acoustic guitar played and cheap font lettering appeared on the screen: “Sewing with Nancy.” A blonde woman in an 80s-era blouse came on to tell us in a soft, monotonous voice that today we would be making a children’s quilt with little wagons on it. She pronounced “wagons” as “waygins,” which immediately qualified her for mocking by Emily and I. Way better than MASH. Nancy was gifted with the whole sewing thing – she was most certainly a Publicly-Funded Martha Stewart, except she seemed terrified of the camera. We watched and giggled at the cheap production and “waygin”-making. At one point, Emily lifted the remote to switch the channel and I protested. “Wait! I want to see how this ends.” Ultimately, Emily won, and she found an infomercial for us. We regained our strength, reassured that we now had an alternative to MASH.
We continued in our Podling state well into the night, watching Conan O’Brien and whatever extra late night show they had beyond him. A few infomercials and Bewitched episodes later and we were stunned. A US Flag came on the screen and the national anthem began to play. It shook us out of our state. I turned to Emily, confused. “What?”
She calmly watched the screen, deeply analyzing what was happening. I was in denial. What’s going on? What’s happening? Something seems wrong here.
Then? Bars of color. Is this a new show? What is this? Nothing else happened. No sound, no moving pictures. My jaw dropped. We came to the end of television! What the hell is this, 1977 Romania? This is America – television doesn’t just end! I turned to Emily, baffled. “I…I didn’t know this could happen in this day and age.”
Emily shook her head. “Tucson.”
Tucson? Tucson?!? That’s it? “But…where did the television go?”
“There’s no more programming!”
My mouth remained agape. “They can’t put an infomercial on? There isn’t a rerun they can show? The Honeymooners? The Odd Couple? Something?” …Just not MASH.
“All the old people in this town are in bed by now, so they turn the station off.” Her lack of concern was upsetting.
“Who does that??”
“Arghhh! What are we going to do?”
Emily turned off the television and hopped into her bed. “We sleep.”
I crawled into bed and we turned out the lights. The room was quiet and dark for about five minutes. “Anne-Ma-RIE?” Emily would often say my name with an amusing rhythmic cadence when she wanted something or was about to tease me.
“Do your Sewing with Nancy Voice!”
“I have to turn the light back on, because you have to see my face.”
I turned on the light on my side of the room. I touched my comforter like it was going under a machine. “…and then you put the little way-gins on the quilt…”
We laughed and mocked our TV shows for a good hour until we finally fell asleep. In our slumber, the stations magically turned back on, resumed programming, and the universe seemingly returned to its proper order.
Every so often, I’ll come across something that reminds me of one of the classes I didn’t attend; I’ll hear a musical piece that I crammed in my brain before a test in Music Lit, yet I can’t quite place it and can’t tell you anything interesting about it. A news item will cover something in the world of anthropology – the topic will seem vague to me, yet I have no real knowledge to provide background or insight on the news item. In those moments, I sit and wonder about that semester; I wonder if all those hours watching “The Price is Right” was worth it. I mean, if someone actually won the 25 grand in Plinko, it totally would have been for sure… but obviously that didn’t happen. [Total side note here: a Virgin to Life Mini-Event is when Plinko goes from being the best game on The Price is Right to the worst game on The Price is Right. I think that moment is the first indicator you’re becoming a grown-up.]
I then think about my friendship with Emily. In some odd way, as we were delighting in Julie’s conniving ways on Guiding Light or mocking an inarticulate self-righteous audience member on Rikki Lake, we formed a family-like bond. Because of that television, we actually chose to hang out together in that 10 x 10 cell. In our mocking and joking, we’d start to talk about life – where we came from, where we wanted to go, and where we didn’t want to end up. Emily became that rare kind of friend you can lose contact with for long periods of time, but pick up right where you left off at any time. Just like a re-run of The Fresh Prince.
So, yeah, the TV was worth it.