Life begins here. I don't remember the carrying in of the Zenith. Not sure if it is delivered or what. Suddenly it's there in the living room, situated near the windows.
It is chrome, mirrored on all sides. It's like a spaceship, an exotic passageway to other dimensions. I am up early one morning, before my parents. It's a weekend. I am watching these three men. The men are together in everything they do -- riding horses, getting thrown into prison, running through doorways. The men are often hurting each other -- pulling teeth out with pliers, yanking hair, poking eyes. I suspect this is old. That the things these people are doing happened a long time ago. It seems like I am visiting that time though. Like I am there. If I make cups of my hands and blind the sides of my eyes, I am almost completely there. Only things missing are smells and touches. Otherwise, I have time traveled with this giant silvery orb in front of me.
One day my mother, sister and I are together watching TV. A cartoon is on that I like a lot -- Quick Draw McGraw. Quick Draw has a persona he changes into called 'El Kabong'. El Kabong has a Zorro-type mask, a cape and a guitar that he uses to club evil-doers over the head with. When he performs this last action, he yells "El Kabong!"
I love this show, especially when he yells his trademark line.
For some reason, my mother has purchased my sister and I guitars. Lisa has a big yellow acoustic and I've got a ukelele. Neither of us can play these things but we like to hold them. This one particular day I am holding my ukelele while watching this cartoon. My mother and I are on the couch and my sister is sitting on the floor in front of us. At a critical part of the show, the part where El Kabong is smashing his guitar on the heads of others, I have a break with reality or something. I have no other explanation for what I do next -- without warning or provocation, I lift up my ukelele in front of my mother and bring it crashing down on my sister's head while saying, what else? "EL KABONG!!!!"
The ukelele shatters, my sister cries out, my mother smacks me.
Ernie and Bert are talking. Bert decides to make a peanut butter sandwich. I see Bert eating the sandwich. Suddenly I want a peanut butter sandwich. My mom agrees to make me one.
General Hospital. One Life to Live. Love American Style. Little House on the Prairie. The Waltons. I fall asleep to the wah wah song that informs me my mother is spending time with Jim Rockford.
Batman, the 60's TV show, is on. My heart begins to race with pure adrenaline caused by the intro music. Within minutes I am Batman. I am jumping off the couch with a blue bath towel pinned around my neck, punching out leather-capped flunkies.
Sonny and Cher's variety show is on. There is a cartoon interlude. A cave girl is introduced. Her name is "Furl." Furl is very pretty. I have an erection. I am in love with Furl.
Surf forward three years.
Steve Austin. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we have the technology... I am The Bionic Man, age seven. I act out the beginning rocket ship crash in a chair on the patio. I make rumbling noises and quaking motions. I eventually fall down on the ground where I will be taken away to be "rebuilt." I call my mother out to witness this one act play. I think it's brilliant.
We're getting moire patterns on the TV. My father is trying to fix this. His solution, like all of his around-the-house solutions, is jury-rigged. He is attaching huge flags of aluminum foil to the rabbit ears. This never works, of course, but it allows him to do something. I have been called downstairs from my room by his shouting.
"Come down here! Look at this!"
I reluctantly come downstairs and stand in the living room where my father is positioning the antennas this way and that, twisting the foil as tight as he can make it. On the TV there are some native African people apparently building homes out of clay.
"Look at 'em," my father says. "They're actually mixing the mud with cow dung!"
This is why I am never enthused when I am called to witness something on the TV. Last time I ended up watching alligators mating.
There's a party at the house. People are drinking. I am upstairs in my parents' bedroom (the quietest room in the house). I can't sleep because of the noise downstairs. I turn on the black and white and watch Ned Beatty getting pushed in mud in long underwear in a forest. He's scared. I have never seen a man that scared before. This is unsettling.
I'm on the couch with a fever in the living room. It's late on a Saturday night. My mother is watching a Jodie Foster movie -- The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. Jodie Foster is a creepy little girl. Martin Sheen is a creepy detective. The girl has buried her father beneath the house.
Saturday morning is Christmas time each week. Superfriends, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, Shazam. Oh mighty Isis. I drink the sucrose milk from my cereal dish. Come to the Honeycomb Hideout.
My dad is Barney Miller. My dad is Archie Bunker. My dad is Louie from Taxi.
Gunshots. Reagan goes down. Trench coats push him violently into a limo.
Twilight Zone, The Honeymooners, Saturday Night Live, Late Night with David Letterman. Tylenol murders. Empire Carpet commercials. DeVry. Victory Auto Wreckers. That car is worth money... Surf forward.
The movie Halloween is on TV. Holy shit. Holy freaking shit. Surf forward.
Now for something completely different.
I am drunk for the first time in my life. Screwdrivers. I'm sixteen. I'm puking my eyes out. It's a Saturday afternoon. I return home as my dad is bringing in a new TV. He won a trifecta at the horse track. This is a pattern. New appliances arrive in the house when he wins trifectas. I am supposed to be excited by the TV. I go upstairs and pass out on the bed.
There is a Kentucky Derby party at the house. Everyone's standing around the basement with Mint Juleps and bottled beer. The Zenith remote is busted. To change channels, you have to jingle a set of car keys. No one knows why this has the magic ability to change the station but it has been so as long as we've had the TV. The race is on. As the horses near the finish line, the TV becomes a field of white noise.
I have taken acid. My room is a dollhouse room -- fake and small. A half hour ago a pterodactyl flew over a tree in the backyard. Machine noise is churning in my ears. The walls are breathing. I am looking for normalcy. Reality. I try to read but words slide off the page. I turn on the black and white at the foot of my bed. The Bowery Boys, this old comedy series, is on. I know that it should be immediately obvious what the plot is, what the laughs are about, but so help me God, I can't comprehend it -- none of it. Actors say lines and there are pregnant pauses laden with sinister intent. Incomprehensible actions ensue. I try to understand but my efforts are in vain. My last hope is gone. I fear I will be permanently insane. I grip the corners of my bed like it's a life raft and clench my eyes shut.
Surf forward four years.
President Bush is explaining how ruthlessly Kuwait has been trampled and how he hopes for a "New World Peace." There are times when it looks like a smile is creeping onto his face but just as quickly, it disappears and I am only looking at his cold, robotic eyes, unsure I detected anything at all.
At night my friends and I gather in the basement around the Zenith, drinking beers. We're in college. There is talk of moving to Amsterdam. Fuck America.
I am not a number. I'm a free man!
Chicago floods. L.A. burns. O.J. runs.
I order a videotape of a local director's low-budget horror movie, Mummy A.D. He calls occasionally to let me know of his latest releases, dates when he will be interviewed on TV. One day I run into him at a horror memorabilia store opening. He has a video camera with him. He's wearing a rubber monster glove. He films his hand choking me.
Surf forward three months. I get a call informing me that the choking sequence may be shown on The Daily Show on Comedy Central. My brother tapes it. A week later I see myself on TV, getting mock strangled by a monster hand.
I am pixels. I am photons. I am light.
About the author:
John H. Matthews has had seventeen stories published in small literary magazines including Strong Coffee, Inkburns and The Whirligig. He runs a celebrity dream resource called FamousDreams.com and lives in Chicago.