Besides the usual annual celebrations lately endured, The Trying Times wishes to add a new one: Year 61 A.T.V, or sixty six years into the Age of TeleVision. We have calculated that the seminal rise occurred in the year 1955. Statistics put television in 90 percent of homes by 1960. But taking in numerical polls, along with astrological charts and the casting of gree gree powder derived from ground up toads and the brick dust of deserted churches— we have determined the year 1955 to be when Cyclops TV was born into the Great Commotion Opera, there to reside in our homes and in our hearts.
So we offer this piece from our Faibles collection— bedtime stories for adults— in celebration of that pivotal moment when the people relinquished their imagination to a higher power.
Watching television as he grew up had naturally accustomed him to a passive sedentary nature with his set for company. Over the years the outcome developed into a quietly mutual agreement between his chair, his TV, and himself. The set had been so compliant— first by dial, then by remote— it only went into submission when it needed repair. So then it’s not so difficult to imagine his surprise when the set began to show signs of restlessness by sputtering furiously. It went on, the sputtering, on and on, blinking and hiccuping images of an unbelievably aggressive nature.
The viewer first presumed the trouble to be indigestion caused by the putrid commercials it fed upon, morning talk shows. A passing thing. Shortly, he opined, it would cure itself. But those annoying hiccups persisted. And not long after, the original minor agitations built into spasmodic and unbeckoned channel changes. The remote control had in fact self-destructed. It just melted into an ugly plastic mass of vile smoke, leaving the television set to convulse on its own, disgorging violent random patterns, while the audio alternated between orgasmic human gasps and the music of Mozart.
The viewer, fixed motionless, was just about to get out of his chair and call the repairman when he noticed that the set had begun to manifest actual physical agitation. It trembled mightily, heaving a few times before it jerked itself right off the TV stand. There it hovered, inches above the surface.
Hardly believing his own eyes, the viewer finally surmised that the only control on the television set was the cable it was tethered to. He pulled for more slack, as much cable as he could draw out of the hole in the floor. With added length, the viewer watched fascinated as his television set drifted right out the open window of the living room. Trailing its cord, he could see it float just moments over the lawn before lifting upward. Incredulous, he watched it ascend to the tree tops, wanting to lift higher, swiveling in the spring wind like a Japanese kite.
He ran outside to behold the set twirling and looping above, tugging, straining at the end of its cable. This was all so amazing, to see his TV set flying like a creature of the air. And all the while, straining taut on the line, it kept its screen pointed directly skyward toward the heavens. It obviously wanted to go higher, but the viewer had payed out all the available cord through the hole in the floor.
More cable was obviously wanting. The viewer’s task, as he saw it, was to construct a longer tether. If needed, he was ready to assemble every fiber in the house. Clothing was shredded, cottons, woolens. Blankets cut into strips. And towels. Any piece of rope or cord, of course. Nylons were handy, so he plundered his wife’s drawers and snatched up every pair. Underpants, too. Wasn’t much to them, but at that point anything would do. Electrical wire was employed, though it became clear by then that the delirious TV had outgrown its need for electricity. Each new strand lengthened the cable, and after much tying, braiding, and knotting, the TV gained its desired altitude.
It gained the heavens and floated aloft, basking in the ionosphere all day long and past the sunset. At night it appeared as the shadow of a tadpole swimming through the sky, like a spermatozoan into a uterine moon. Then, the following morning it lowered itself obediently to its expectant viewer and showed what images it had fetched.
From the happy spray of scenes on the screen the viewer could see that the set had floated above ponds, way above valleys and mountains and woods, skirting the clouds, the seas. It had flown upwards of the sun as though beyond the ethereal confines of the starry spheres. It had overseen ships at sea, planes in the air. One airplane passenger was actually caught looking out her window instead of watching the in-flight movie. The TV caught her gawking, jaw hung wide, as though looking at something strange at thirty thousand feet.
It was all strange, but not as strange as the images of oddly dressed people the TV retrieved from faraway places. Some rode to market on donkeys and camels. It found images of thin women frolicking together, models who had forsaken scents and lotions to kick up heels in grassy meadows. The beautiful women filled their skirts with roses and violets and pansies— Veronica skirts we could call them because they unfolded with imprints of flower petals forming something divine, like faces of Christ. All in all, the set had so faithfully fetched such wonderful images from its journey that the viewer affectionately named him Fido.
The viewer could not but help admire Fido flying at such a brave height above morbid crevasses and purifying himself in superior air. He could not help but be pleased— if not a little jealous— to see his own television bathed in the pure liqueur of dizzying heights, to see it frolic in the light that fires limpid spaces.
But on the other hand, it was getting pretty tough to keep Fido alive. Neglecting his family bothered the viewer immensely. His wife showed signs of leaving, not to mention the anger of a boss threatening termination. Neighbors had already shunned him, and his own children went to live with relatives so they could watch TV.
Yet the viewer labored on, feverishly braiding Fido’s cable. He was determined to pay out whatever lengths it took. Fido must ascend even higher. It finally came down to stringing carpet fibers together with dental floss.
His marvelous TV had hopelessly consumed him by then. And what was worse, the pride, the reward for keeping this miracle going was being steadily replaced by a nagging resentment, stirred not just by envy but profound jealousy.
Behind the boredom loading his life with its heavy weight, he would have been just as happy if he too could have darted like Fido on vigorous wing over fields luminous and serene. Doubtless, he would have been as happy to feel images of wonder inside, like wakened larks taking free flight in morning skies. His imagination— no less than that of a warm electronic box— would certainly have reveled in the moments he could glide and understand effortlessly the language of flowers and silent things.
Throughout these petty anxieties, though, the most the viewer could really understand about the situation was his duty to pay out more cable. He knew he had to do that or Fido would no longer be Fido.
It was thus the matter had been settled— him waiting for Fido, each one at opposite ends of the tether. By that arrangement, Fido was set free as the air waves to retrieve on his own what beauty he might sniff out for his viewer.