Garage - Track
Apr. 19, 2007 - 7:00 p.m.
The Big Chill
For those wondering, NewWifey(tm) is still alive. Sore, but alive. Unfortunately not cured yet either though, so more tests and possible surgeries await. But I haven't invested in a wood chipper to dispose of the corpse just yet. All you fine ladies who wrote with offers to "console" me will have to keep buying batteries for a while longer, sorry. Don't worry - I'll let you know if there's any change in her condition. Hope springs eternal, and all that.
Now to business.....
I'm a kid, see, hanging out with my buddies in the schoolyard during lunch break:
Buddy A: "Did you guys catch 'TJ Hooker' last night? What a blast!"
Buddies B, C, D and E: "HELLS YEAH!"
Dangerspouse:"...who is TJ Hooker?"
Strained silence, after which I have to find new buddies. Again.
For a long time growing up our family had no TV. I have a vague, static-y memory of an old black and white set that used to squat on our Formica counter back when I was around 5 years old, but after that...nothing.
Surprising though it might seem, particularly if you're a parent and you've watched your kid(s) literally implode when they've had TV privileges revoked after microwaving the gerbil or some other outrage, starting out with no TV did not produce any angst at all for me or my 4 sisters. We were actually extraordinarily happy. Not to be smug about it, but...we were far, far superior to everyone else. Including you and your kids.
Of course there was that obvious downside when talking to one's peers about Pop Culture items. We did have a radio at the house, which I adored. But rushing to school bursting with the news that "Guys! Guys! NPR is broadcasting old BBC episodes of "The Goon Show" on Saturday nights now!!" didn't seem to gain me much status in those circles.
Still, I was blissful in the way that the Innocent Ignorant stereotypically are.
And then came college.
Ah, college. Halcyon ivy'd halls, ramen noodles and....TV.
Yeah, I broke down and got one. I dunno, it just suddenly seemed earth shatteringly important that I nod knowingly when conversation with my peers turned to how badly the band sucked on Saturday Night Live that week.
Of course, being a kid, when I broke down and got a TV...I got a motherfuckin' TV, beyotch.
Completely disregarding both the dimensions of my dorm-cum-closet, and my roommate's need for occasional sleep, early one Thursday during first semester found me struggling down the dorm hall with an 800 pound, 12 foot by 12 foot box. Inside was a 36 inch CRT television set and over sized stand/VHS cabinet. Old school cutting edge technological bling, baby!
In order to shoehorn that sucker into the Lilliputian space allotted me I had to toss out certain non-essentials (books) and sleep sitting bolt upright on half a bed.
And then....I never ended up turning the stupid thing on. What with classes, fencing practice, fencing matches, hangovers, parole hearings, etc., I just didn't have time to watch TV. And the VCR (4-head, woo hoo!) I hooked up to it for the express purpose of watching larger-than-life-sized Asian fetish porn? Well, my roommate turned out to be a lot more prudish on the subject than I was led to believe, let's put it that way. (Plus, the stains sometimes landed on his sheets. I think he had a germ phobia or something. Whatever.)
FINALLY, when I got out of college and moved to a place of my own, I was able to wallow in the multi-chromatic glory that was my behemoth set.
And wallow I did.
Wallow wallow wallow. Night and day, day and night. I really made up for lost time.
You know something? There is GREAT programming on TV. I had no idea! I mean, for years I'd heard people bitching about how embarrassingly vacuous the reality show scourge was, how biased network news was, how infantile the humor on sitcoms was, how blah blah blah blah blah. And I believed it all. It dovetailed nicely with the air of smug intellectualism that I affected, after all.
But when I actually sat down and watched the stuff, I was hooked. It only took one episode of "The Simpsons". My ass spent every waking hour not at work planted 5 inches in front of the screen from that day on. And once I got cable and discovered The Food Channel, it was all over. I seriously considered quitting my job so I wouldn't miss "Iron Chef" (the original, not the US-produced abomination).
(Can I also mention here my undying devotion to SpikeTV's "MXC - Most Extreme Elimination Challenge"? If I ever grow up and become a humor writer, I wanna work for those guys.)
So, yeah, I was in Vicarious Experience Heaven.
And that, ultimately, proved to be my beloved TV's undoing. Very quickly I found myself having ONLY vicarious experiences, as opposed to actual experiences. I stopped fencing. I stopped boxing. My weight room became my compost room (carrying garbage to the curb made me miss some of my favorite commercials), and I even came damned close to stopping my motorcycle racing.
The transition was surprisingly quick, and certainly painless. One day after work I drove the 40 minutes from East Rutherford, New Jersey to my gym in Mount Vernon, New York, changed into ratty sweats, taped my hands up, then jumped rope and hit the speed bag for 20 minutes before my sparring session. The next day I didn't. It was as easy as that.
And I was happy happy happy for at least three years.
Until...I walked past a mirror in the mall one day.
That night I was lugging a 36 inch Sanyo CRT television to the curb.
I never looked back. For almost 12 years I was happy happy happy...and thinner.
Then I met NewWifey(tm).
"Where's the TV?" she asked on her first visit to DangerPad. "I wanna catch 'Trading Spaces'."
I told her I didn't have cable.
"That's ok" she said. "Just turn on the news then."
It took probably 15 minutes before I was able to convince her that I really, truly, honust-injun, did NOT have a TV hidden somewhere on the premises and this was all some cruel joke.
When I got down on one knee 2 years later, before saying "yes" she asked, "Can we have a TV in the house??"
So now we have a TV in the house. It was my Big Concession.
For the first couple of years, though, we only had a pair of rabbit ear antennas to catch the programming.
I would come home from work to find NewWifey(tm) balanced on one toe as she held an aerial with aluminum foil clad hands, contorting her body trying to get a decent signal. Invariably when she found a position that cleared the snow, her head was facing 180 degrees away from the picture. She ended up putting a mirror on the other side of the room and watching the show through that most days. I spent a lot of time massaging the inevitable muscle cramps later.
This went on for the better part of 6 months until NewWifey(tm), never exactly a stickler for domestic chores, decided to vacuum the living room rug for the first time. While on her knees culling some of the mushrooms growing from the baseboard first, she made a startling discovery. One of the larger fungi was attached to a cable tucked into a small hole in the wall! Out of curiosity, she attached it to the back of our VCR.
Bingo! Cable TV.
FREE cable TV.
The cable company never shut off service to our house after the old owners moved out.
When I came home from work that day, NewWifey(tm) was melded into the recliner surrounded by empty bags of chips, beer bottles and Slim Jims. Her eyes were glowing red and she was already 15 pounds heavier, and arthritic.
"I am so happy!" she chirped. "I can watch 'Trading Spaces' 24 hours a day now! Make me more coffee, will ya?"
"Um, honey, stealing cable is illegal, you know...."
"Who's stealing? They're sending the signal out free. If I didn't hook it up to our TV it would just be going to waste."
"Yeah, but see, there's this thing called 'theft of services' that - "
"Oh hush. If our neighbor was lobbing apples at you, you know damn well that you'd gather them up and make a pie or curry or some such out of them. This is no different."
"It IS different. The neighbor's intent - "
"I said HUSH."
I learned long ago that arguing situational ethics with a stereotypically short fused redhead was futile, and possibly dangerous. So I hushed. But I spent the next four years crossing my fingers hoping some wonk accountant at Cable Headquarters didn't discover a 40 dollar a month bleed-out and trace it to Dangerhouse. Where I would then receive a bill for back services approaching NASA's annual budget, as well as a state sponsored sabbatical from society for anywhere from 5 to 8 years, with time off for good behavior.
During those next 4 years, by the way, I did indeed become re-addicted to "The Powerpuff Girls", "MXC" (Most Extreme Elimination Contest!), "Iron Chef" (Japanese), beer, chips, Slim Jims, and sloth. In reverse order. I knew I would.
Then one day last July while coming back from work I heard a curious, high pitched keening as soon as I pulled off the main road onto my little side street. Every home I passed seemed to be emanating loud, lamenting, heart rending wails, as if thousands of kittens were being simultaneously tortured inside.
It didn't stop when I pulled into my own driveway, either. I was holding my ears by the time I reached the front door.
Which I opened to find the source of the cacophony. NewWifey(tm) was on her knees, doubled over with her forehead jammed into the carpet, tears and snot pouring from her face, and screaming with the force and pitch of an air raid siren. Just in front of her the TV was on, but projecting only static and grey noise.
Almost not wanting to know, I lightly tapped her hunched shoulder and asked, "Honey? What's wrong? Can you calm down a bit and tell me why you're making my ears bleed from sound compression?"
There followed a 20 minute gradual reduction in decibel levels escaping her, culminating in a 5 minute series of gasping sobs as she fought to regain control.
"TV....gone..." she finally managed.
"What do you mean, 'gone'? What's that big grey box in front of you?"
"No...no....the TV itself is here. But...but...no cable!! WAHHHHHHH! The cable company truck went up the street this morning and stopped at every utility pole, disconnecting everyone!"
I poked my head back out the front door and glanced up and down the hill. Every single house was still blaring out a china shattering high pitched wail.
It turns out the entire STREET had been getting free cable for the past four years or so, not just Dangerhouse. The cable company, finally realizing their accidental generosity, decided that morning to rectify matters. And housewives from one end of our block to the other began their lamentations as it dawned on them that they would now have to spend actual face time with the walking bologna loaf they'd married.
"Alright, alright. Calm down. We'll call them up in the morning and have them re-connect us. I'm sure we can come up with the 40 dollars a month somehow. There must be something we can do without. Can you use dish towels instead of tampons, for instance? They're absorbent and can go in the wash...."
"Fuck that. I refuse to pay for something that I should be getting for free."
Er, ok. I wasn't about to argue the fine points of her logic, though. For one thing, we were back where I wanted to be in the first place: sans television. So...whatever.
However the next day I came home to ANOTHER amazing scene.
NewWifey(tm) was up on top of the roof of Dangerhouse, securing a fifteen foot high TV antenna to a brace she'd strapped around our chimney.
What the hell?
"HI POOKIE!!" she bellowed down at me. "I WENT TO RADIO SHACK THIS MORNING AND GOT US AN ANTENNA! WE SHOULD HAVE TV AGAIN IN AN HOUR OR SO."
I sighed and went inside.
After the antenna was bolted up NewWifey(tm) emerged wearing safety goggles and carrying a power drill with a 4 foot long bit. She walked right past me and began boring a hole through our living room wall to the outside world. After she was done there she did the same thing to our bedroom wall.
I didn't say a word.
Finally she unspooled what looked like a quarter mile of antenna wire, attached one end to the antenna and fed the other through the hole in the living room. At that point she attached a splitter and a signal booster, ran one end of the split cable to the living room TV and the other through a new hole in the ceiling, along the rafters in the attic, and then down the hole into the bedroom to her little 13 inch job.
And just like that, we had TV again.
Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.
Now granted, we could only get seven UHF and three VHF station - and that only after NewWifey(tm) rigged the antenna to a remote controlled rotator. But at least now she could watch the network shows she was jonesing for...and for free again. She settled back to her life of inert observation.
Then came our trip to Memphis and the attendant ovary defection I detailed in my previous post. And with that, NewWifey(tm) finally had a legitimate excuse to sit eyeball to CRT for hours, days, months at a stretch. Internal napalm, vivisectional surgeries, and continuing courses of equine strength narcotics all left her with barely enough functioning muscle mass to even work the remote.
I, meanwhile, eschewed the whole business at first. Without Bubbles or Chef Sakai, there WAS no quality programming as far as I was concerned.
But of course I was ministering to her needs the entire time, so I found myself watching some of her dreck for long stretches of time despite my abhorrence.
And...I got hooked.
But only on one show.
It was a Saturday night, and there wasn't anything on even by NewWifey(tm)'s standards ("low"). After cycling impatiently through the entire lineup seven full times she stopped at VHF Channel 68, WMBC-TV Newton, NJ. They air Korean and Japanese programs at night. In Korean and Japanese.
We happened to tune in near the end of the news hour and saw footage of Hyundai's being assembled by union robots, dignitaries in 19th century British waistcoats complete with red sashes cutting a ribbon to open a kimchee factory or something, and a weather report (stay out of Seoul in summer if you stroke easily from the heat). The anchor was a perfectly motionless young lady who looked too young to have started menses.
"Do Korean women not have tits?" NewWifey(tm) asked.
"You're just used to American tits, which are artificially inflated from a lifelong ingestion of bovine hormones in our milk and beef products. Their perky little paps are probably more in line with how humans actually evolved before we started poisoning and distorting our bodies."
"Get me a glass of milk, will you?"
We continued watching after the news ended, partly because the commercials were so hilarious. The Simpson's "Mr. Sparkle" episode had nothing on the real animal.
After the last spot (featuring two young girls morphing into cats, one of which joined a shuttle crew flying to the moon, the other running into a zoo where she pointed and laughed at a caged lion, who could do nothing but glower at her in impotent rage, and ultimately turned out inexplicably to be an ad for a brand of nylon scrubby) the evening's Feature Presentation began.
It started out promising enough, with a warning printed in Korean and English that the "Show Content Is Inappropriate For Anyone Under 15". Alright! Korean porn! Don't touch that dial.
Then the music potted up and the title splashed across the screen: "THE INFAMOUS CHILL SISTERS".
Oh boy, it was Korean porn!
Alas, Korean porn is pretty tepid stuff. It became obvious 10 minutes into the first episode that just holding hands with one's spouse in public was enough to earn one the slanted infamy badge of "Abject Self and Family Dishonor". The show's title comes from the fact that all the girls' names end in "chill" (Deukchill, Tenjchill, Seolchill and Michill) and they are infamous for...for.... well actually, we haven't quite figured that out yet. One of them got divorced, which seems to be a biggie. Judging from the family's reaction, they would have rather have heard that she'd gone out and shot up a bunch of Virginia Tech preppies. And another sister got knocked up by the campus playboy and had to get married. That caused mom to publicly drink bleach in penance. But other than that, we were hard pressed to explain the "infamous" moniker.
Still, I found it funny as hell in that "foreigners are unfathomable" kind of way. And hey, it had scads of hot Asian chicks - stars AND extras. I was hooked.
NewWifey(tm) liked it for the chick stuff. Relationship drama, fashion drama, food pics, that sort of shit.
We haven't missed an episode since.
We almost missed a few episodes in December though, when FBI, NSA and State Department officials all showed up on our doorstep one morning demanding to know why we were trying to contact a charter member of the Axis of Evil.
It didn't make sense to me at the time either. But now it does.
What happened was, NewWifey(tm) became particularly engrossed in one of the sub-plots of "Chill Sisters". It was the subplot where Seolchill has a crush on Ilhan. But Ilhan, being a guy (and guys are the same the world around) is oblivious to her subtle entreaties and thinks she's just a buddy. Seolchill is then crushed when Ilhan confides in her, friend to friend, the he is going to propose to Seolchill's hot but spoiled sister, Michill. Seolchill promptly executes the classic rebound maneuver and impulsively contacts an old flame, Lieutenant Bang of the South Korean navy. (I should mention here that Seolchill is a Captain in the Korean army, and underscores that status by insisting on saluting everyone she meets and barking "Attention!" before proceeding on to pleasantries.)
Lt. Bang is a nice, if somewhat ramrod stiff, fellow. He is thrilled that Seolchill has had a change of heart. An incurable romantic, he tells her "You will always be number 3 in my heart. First is god. Second is country. Third comes you." How could a girl not swoon?
Meanwhile, a former enlisted man who used to serve under Capt. Seolchill has ALSO been harboring intense desires for her. This is Hanam, a pathetic lapdog character who goes to any length, suffers any debasement, in order to curry her favors. I found him to be the most annoying member of the cast, devoid of both self respect and testicles. NewWifey(tm) has the opposite opinion. "He's sooooo dreamy! He'll do ANYTHING to win the woman he loves. That's true love." She started getting visibly upset when the plot began spinning more and more in the direction of a Seolchill-Bang nuptial, leaving poor Hanam weeping in the rain at the end of every episode.
Mind you now, NewWifey(tm)'s defenses were down a bit. She was recovering from two surgeries, waiting somewhat less than calmly on the results of the biopsies, dipping into the Percoset and Xanax M&M's several times an hour, and still maintaining her strict diet of 20 percent carbohydrates, 20 percent proteins, 5 percent fats, and 55 percent alcohol. Korean love triangle soap operas were really making sense to her.
Finally on that Monday morning in December it became too much for her to bear. The previous night's episode famously had Seolchill confront Hanam head on, excoriating him for his unwanted attentions and threatening to rub kimchee in his eyes if he ever darkened her doorstep again. In a heightened snit, she impulsively ran to Lt. Bang's house and proposed marriage. (Lt. Bang, in Lt. Bang fashion, immediately pulled a scrap of paper out of his pocket and studied it intently. "This throws my timetable off" he tells her. "At our next date we were planning to hold hands. If that went well, the next date we were to hug. This is not on the schedule!")
The scene then cuts back to Hanam, who in lovelorn despair has taken work as a common laborer - the Untouchable caste of South Korea. He is not on his first job more than 10 minutes when he falls off a ladder while carrying a full hod of bricks. The next we see him he's lying in a hospital bed, a 40 foot long bandage wrapped dramatically around his head, one leg and one arm in a cast, each suspended in the air with the stereotyped hospital pulley system, and a doctor clucking his tongue and shaking his head as he reads Hanam's chart. Hanam appears insensate, but as the camera slowly zooms in we see a single tear escape a closed eye and trickle down his cheek. Fade to black, roll credits.
Well, NewWifey(tm) is bawling to beat the band. Just absolutely wracked with heaving, convulsive sobs to the point where her surgical scars are starting to tear open. I finally got her to down a fistfull of narcotics with her glass of Jameson's, and twenty minutes later all was calm again. Crisis averted.
Or so I thought. Turns out, it was merely deferred.
The next morning Wallace & Grommit Alarm Co. blasted me out of bed at 3am with their rousing theme song as usual. I waved a stick of deoderant over my teeth, made pan seared lamb shoulder chops with a red wine and currant jelly glaze for breakfast, put my clothes on (I eat breakfast in the nude so I don't stain my good ensembles. Don't laugh at my scars if you ever have breakfast with me) and went to work. So far, so typical.
Work was nothing out of the ordinary either. I opened my mic, I told people to buy soap products or chicken nuggets or whatever else my copy told me to tell people, I mispronounced my name twice, I told infantile jokes stolen from yahooligans.com. Same ol', same ol'.
Drive home: ditto.
And then, rounding the corner at the top of the hill that leads down to Dangerhouse, it all changed. I saw a long line of sedans, black, with blacked out windows, parked up and down the street. Each sedan had a small circular emblem on the front doors, although not every sedan had the same one as every other.
'What the hell is going on?' I wondered.
I found out as soon as I opened my front door.
My entire living room was filled with 6 foot tall men wearing black suits, black sunglasses and earpieces. There must have been thirty of them packed shoulder to square jaw.
And they were all looking at NewWifey(tm), who was propped up at the far end of the room in the recliner she has not budged from since her surgeries. None of them turned to look at me as I wedged myself inside.
I tapped the nearest mannequin on the shoulder. "Ahhhh...can I help you?"
He turned his head the merest fraction, just enough to bring me to the edge of his peripheral vision. He wasn't going to chance NewWifey(tm) escaping on HIS watch, I guess.
"Are you Mr. Spouse? Mr. Spouse, perhaps you could tell us why your wife has been trying to get in touch with North Korean naval command."
"Mr. Spouse, the NSA intercepted several phone calls your wife made this morning to military agencies of the government of North Korea. When she reached someone at Naval Headquarters, she used the word "Bang" numerous times. As you might imagine, this is a matter of extreme interest to the U.S. State Department and the Department of Home Security, as well as the FBI. Again, do you have any idea why your wife is in contact with the military establishment of a hostile foreign regime, Mr. Spouse? "
Yes, yes I did as a matter of fact.
I excused myself and wormed my way to the front of the pack. There NewWifey(tm) was waving her arms wildly and shouting at the sunglasses nearest her that "Lt. Bang must be stopped!!". The faces behind the glasses showed no signs of...anything.
For the first time in our relationship I did something I never thought I would do. I clamped my hand over NewWifey(tm)'s mouth.
That was it. I was a dead man. I mean, you haven't heard from Clay Aikin in a while, have you?
Actually though, she just drifted back off into a Perco-anax haze. I took the opportunity to explain to the nice men with concealed shoulder holsters what I thought had happened. Which was, in a nutshell: she woke up still upset over Seolchill having the temerity to reject dreamy ex-subordinate Hanam for Mr. 2x4 Up His Ass Lt. Bang (as she calls him) and cause Hanam to be mortally injured. So she called the GODDAM NORTH KOREAN NAVY TO YELL AT HIM!
Yes, I know, the soap opera take place in SOUTH Korea. But NewWifey(tm), aside from being under the influence of probably 3% of the annual output of Merck Pharmaceuticals products, has a typical American's grasp of world geography. That is to say, zero grasp. South Korea....North Korea...what's the difference? It's like the difference between North Dakota and South Dakota. They're both cultural wastelands that feature undigestible cuisine and unitelligible accents. There was no distinction between the two as far as she was concerned. So when she dialed the international operator and asked for "North Korea" was because that was the first thing that popped into her head. It wouldn't have made a difference if she'd been told otherwise anyway.
It took about 45 minutes of back and forth questioning before one of them finally got the bright idea to contact WMBC and confirm that yes, there was a show on called "The Infamous Chill Sisters", And yes, Seolchilla dumped Hanam for Lt. Bang, and Hanam was now in the hospital as a result. The guy in the black suit didn't even say goodbye, just flipped his cellphone closed and resumed his statue stance.
To clinch the deal I pointed to the fishbowl of various colored pills next to the recliner, the 7/8 empty 1.75 liter of Jameson's Irish Whisky and the snoring redhead in the recliner. I pulled her shirt up a bit to show the fresh surgical scars, hiking her sweat pants at the same time just low enough to show a few downy red pubes. Being in the media, I know a little T&A can't hurt.
I guess it did the trick. There followed a 10 minute stretch where all of them began dialing their cell phones as one, calling back to the mothership at the Pentagon, or the J. Edna Hoover building, or Cheney's cave, or wherever they got their respective marching orders. A buzz of 30 simultaneous conversations drowned out NewWifey(tm)'s snoring for about 5 minutes, and they all - again in perfect sychronicity - turned and filed out the door. The last black suit turned just before he left though, and said "Mr. Spouse, maybe you should get your wife to watch 'American Idol'." And then he was gone.
I tucked a blanket around NewWifey(tm), filled her water jug, emptied her bedpan, and went to the kitchen to make dinner. When it was ready I roused her from sleep and set the tray in her lap. She turned on the TV.
"Some guys came by when you were at work" she said. "I know this sounds strange, but I think they were connected to "The Fabulous Chill Sisters" somehow. That's all they wanted to talk about, anyway. I think they were probably from WMBC, out taking a survey for the station. They seemed nice. Did you happen to run into them?"
"No. I must have missed them."
I put my head down and kept eating my kimchee.
Well, gotta scoot. American Idol comes on in 10 minutes.....
Sorry this entry was so long and unpolished, even by MY standards. I write a few sentences, tend to wifey, go to work, tend to wifey, sneak out for porn, write a few sentences...day after day after day. I only realized today how long it had gotten (insert obvious porn joke here). So...less later, promise!