Eventually, I started getting this pain in my neck from holding it in weird positions to see flat-screens for both my office work and my exercising.
This was diagnosed as Thoracic Outlet Syndrome by both my TV and my work computer. Morning and evening, my TV warned me with his plastic frame bowing and squeaking like a mouth surrounding the giant, cyclopean eye of its flickering screen: “Watch out now, braa. An important nerve leading out yer chest, through your shoulder, and into your arm is getting snagged somewhere inside you.” But I didn’t listen. TV said a lot of stuff, after all.
The result of ignoring him was that it hurt for me to sit down. When I sat, I felt this shooting pain down my right arm. Sometimes when I rode the train up north to visit my parents, I’d be in the window seat having a nice conversation with a girl, faking smiles and in my head I’d be like: my arm, my arm, my arm. I’m left handed so this didn’t stop me from checking technical documents even though sometimes the pain would force me to check them standing up or on my knees.
I frequented the doctors and physicians assistants for different types of drugs. We tried Meloxicam along with a muscle relaxant and then went on to various steroid treatments. Being that I’m your typical control-freak, I made sure to line them up neatly inside my kitchen cabinet next to the others and never to take any of them.
TV would be my comfort.
I flipped on the twenty-incher and found a documentary on the history channel. Two minutes into it, a commercial about restless leg syndrome bloomed with pastoral colors, a babbling brook, good intentions—then back to the show. Five minutes later, an advertisement for some new hybrid drug to treat depression. Twelve minutes later, CGI blood platelets struggled past a clot and a hospital gurney chased a salt-and-pepper man across a New York street. A distinguished voice-over spoke:
“While you’ve been building your life, plaque has been building in your arteries.” Later, the voice-over continued: “Do not take this medication if you take nitrates for chest pains . . . may cause excessive sweating…stiff elbows…dry mouth…restless leg syndrome and, sometimes, depression. Cannibalistic nightmares and tendencies were reported in some instances. In clinical studies, a small number of patients experienced complete, chromosomal unzipping and molecular disassociation—(goblins devoured double helixes into organic compounds before star-wiping into a calm pastoral scene)—This extremely rare condition, known as human-salt-pillar transmutation, was, in many cases, almost completely reversible. The un-reversed salt pillars—the bravest heroes of us all—may be viewed at the Chicago’s Smithsonian for eight dollars and sixty-seven cents. Exact change only.”
I rolled my eyes and turned my head to the right, then winced from the pain in my shoulder and neck. “TV—” I summoned.
The lights dimmed, flickering to a voice coming from absolutely everywhere. “Yah,” TV said. “What you want, braa?”
I stood up from my lying position and paced around. “I summon thee!”
“Are you sure? I mean, are you absolutely sure, braa?”
“Yes, I am completely sure,” I said. “We’ve been putting this off for too long, haven’t we? And these commercials and shows are starting to get out of hand. I summon thee!”
“All right,” TV said. “Chill. One sec. One sec, braa. I’m punching up the Southern Virginia-channel.” Ka-bling-zaps and Doppler-stretched, double-laser blasts emanated from behind the couch and to the right: Zhew—Zheew—Zheeeeew! Green and blue puffs of smoke wafted and vortexed from patches of pizza-stained carpet. I wasn’t sure if this was all necessary or if TV was doing it for his own amusement. Whichever was the case, it was working because I wondered what TV would look like. I hadn’t seen him in human form in years and as far as I knew none of my friends from up in New Hampshire had either. Nobody talked about the human-form of TV anymore. It was as if he had been completely forgotten since the 1984 Sidney Olympics where he had decided to go on walk-about and left 80-million viewers without coverage of the games.
Laser blasts crescendoed—warbled.
My neighbor pounded on the wall. “Too loud!”
“I’m summoning TV,” I yelled back.
The laser blasts died down.
“Tell that mother-fucker—! Ahh, he—he never listens to me.”
Black, shadowy feet poked out from the bottom of the Sony console.
“It’s like talking to a brick wall, talking to that dude.”
The feet lengthened into legs, dangling beneath the Sony and then a large, shadowy potbelly pulled itself out, then the shoulders and arms. He tried for a second to balance himself as his feet pawed and made purchase for the ground but as he lifted his weighty, Sony head off the bookshelf, he fell backwards into the shelves, crashing and splintering the cherry wood planks into a crumpled mess of books, picture frames, DVDs and CDs. TV got up quickly and scanned his surroundings with his big plastic and glass head. He spotted what he had destroyed. The lower corners of his frame arched upward and he raised his fingers to the mess. “I got this: Ala Kazam! Sha-sha-blamo. Ah…hocus—hocus pocus!”
The boards remained still.
“TV, you don’t have magical powers. Are you drunk?”
“Everything has to be his way these days,” my neighbor continued. “There’s nothing anyone can do about anything anymore.”
“Am I drunk?” TV asked. “You buying, braa?”
“Yah, come on,” I said and grabbed my keys and wallet. It was summertime and I lived in a swanky, community center that had a bar within walking distance. TV took one last look at the mess he’d made and followed me out.
“You’ve put on weight,” I told him.
“You know what they say, braa” TV said. “Reality adds like ten mother-bleeping pounds and bleep.”
“They don’t say that.”
“They should though, braa.”
He stopped in the middle of my apartment’s parking lot. “What’s this place?”
“What?” I asked. “This is my apartment’s parking lot.” I pointed around. “See. Those are the apartment units, circling around us. They block the wind and snow in the winter so the cars don’t ice over.”
“It’s like a fortress,” TV said, tilting his screen to the three-tiered ring of units. “A fortress for cars. With people as walls.” TV scratched his fan vents. “I haven’t been back in reality for a long time. Are cars more important than people?”
“No,” I said. “They’re just cars.”
“Something’s different about this place.”
“You need to get out more,” I told him.
As we walked toward the bar, TV started grinning real big, especially when a group of girls spotted him and yelled, “Hey! That’s TV.”
He moon-walked—shot a robotically-stiff arm with a finger-pistol and capped it with a swan-dive bow.
“I haven’t had like a beer in forever, braa,” he said. “They still yellow and bleep?”
“Are they still yellow and bleep—” I parroted, letting TV—in his feigned modesty—bleep me out.
We came to the bar across from the giant fountain and next to the high-rise bank and the parking garage.
“Why’s this place called Big Five-Star,” he asked. “I thought we were in Virginia. We in Texas?”
“No,” I said. “Jeez. You really have been away a while. Everyplace in the US is basically the same now. Different states rip-off stuff from each other to try and scrape-up ambiance.”
“Bleeeep!” TV said.
“Yes,” I said. “Bleep.”
“ID’s. Let’s see some IDs,” the bouncer said.
“Hello.” I fished in my back pocket. “Nice night for a drink, huh? I thought I’d show my friend, TV, my favorite bar.”
“I know who he is,” the bouncer said. “IDs please.”
“Left mine in that other dimension, bri-zaa,” TV said, grinning and rocking side-to-side.
The bouncer sighed. “Not funny, dude. You know the rules.”
“Just clowning,” he reached behind himself for something. “Blam!”
“This says you’re seventy-five . . . plus or minus five.” The bartender scratched his close shaven head. “A little old to be hanging out with this crowd, huh, pops?”
He snatched back his ID and straightened his posture. “Ahh bleeeep. Whatever—whatever!”
When we walked in, TV played the movie Predator across his screen and ran up to a muscular, Abercrombie and Fitch ex-fratter and gave him the high-handshake, flexing his shadowy bicep against the young black man’s arm:
“Aaarh. Aaargh. Ha-haaaa,” TV said.
The ex-fratter looked back at his friends in annoyance.
“Office work got you soft, Dillon,” TV said, impersonating Schwarzenegger, “They’ve got you pushing around too many pencils!” TV pointed to the DJ, “Predator: HBO: circa 1986, bitch—ezzs.”
The DJ scratched off his Pit-bull, Michael Jackson, Al Green mash-up, “We can all see your screen, dude.”
“That TV set is being a dick to our friends,” a girl said.
I put my hand over my face as TV did his affectedly suburban, jailyard stroll up to the bar. The place smelled like marijuana. The lights had been dimmed and a lot of mid-thirties office-worker dudes had gold sequins and rhinestones on their shirts with straight-brimmed trucker hats.
TV flashed on a clip of Steve Carrel, “Two brewskis, barkeep, of the finest lager in this very fine establishment. Ah…let us partake of some Budweiser.”
The bartender counted back change and then picked wax out of his ear. He looked at it.
TV’s screen went blank. “Excuse me. Yo! Can I get two beers over here, braa?”
“I don’t know. Can you?”
TV turned to me, leaning his screen in and trying to whisper to me in his real, seventy-five-year old voice, “Perhaps there’s another place we could go this evening.”
“Here’s your stinking beers,” the bartender said, pushing two mugs full of head toward us. “You know something, dude? I was counting on you when I broke up with my girlfriend. And what did this guy do?”—the bartender asked me—“He made me buy this ab thing that costed a hundred bucks and—”
“Maybe you shouldn’t a put all a yo eggs in that same thing,” TV said.
“Nothing,” TV blurted. “It’s cool. Relax, braa. We’re cool.”
We started drinking hard. Every time I tried to sit down, I got that shooting pain down my right arm, all tingly with my index and middle fingers going numb. I started to look at TV through this veil of hatred, hatred because I believed that he had somehow convinced me to do all those extreme workouts in front of him, again and again, by myself, and without the right guidance. It was TV’s fault, I thought, as I downed another.
“You’ve been letting us down a lot,” I said, finding his reflection in the polished bar. “More and more people in this world are relying on you for so much—too much. And you’re giving us nothing but garbage. People are lonely and they don’t even know it. They don’t remember how they’re supposed to feel. They’re alone and hurting and, for a lot of ‘em, all they got is you.”
The lion-hunting-a-gazelle clip he’d been playing, lightning-forked with static. TV shook his head to clear up the image and slumped over:
“Don’t lecture The Tube, braa.”
“You’re too old to use the word ‘braa,’ braa.”
“That’s it, son.” TV straightened up. “I’m takin’ this tear-in-my-beer shit, right here, up a notch.” TV looked a little to his right. He brought another mug of head to his screen and slurped it between his glass and plastic frame. “Ahhh!” He wiped himself off and I glanced down to the puddles of beer over the floor.
“Why do you drink beer?” I asked. “You can’t get drunk like the rest of us; can you?”
“Naw, dawg,” TV said. “Beer works opposite for me. Instead of helping me evade my demons, it makes them more clear.” He took another swig. “Which, come to think of it, ain’t really much of an advantage. Oh, well.” He swigged and slammed down a pint. “You see those MILFS over on your three o’clock?”
TV played the pilot episode of Charles in Charge.
The three leaned in and whispered and hesitated and looked and whispered and giggled and bounced up giddily from their table, bobbling and steadying their mint-leaved martini glasses to gaze into us, knowingly, and then approach with full blooming matron smiles of carnality pulsing through each click of their stilettos. “You’re so hot, TV. You know I lost my virginity to that show? Do you know Scott Bao?”
“Yah,” TV said. “I know a lot a people all over the place and bleep. I got crap-loads a high definition, digital channels with which to do you right. I got magical powers and bleep.”
“No he—wait—no he doesn’t,” I said, about to collapse into the crook on my elbow. “He’s just some schmuck, some schmuck from off the bookshelf.”
“Come dance with us,” one of them said.
TV got up to dance with the MILFS to this Thong Song and Led Zeppelin mix.
“You know,” the bartender said, stacking racks of glasses on top of each other, “You never see TV out and about anymore. He’s always working these days. In a way, it’s good to see him out here tonight. Then, at least, I know people will have a chance to do something else other than stare at him every second of their lives.”
“Agreed,” I said. I fell into the crook of my arm.
“You gotta stay awake, dude.” He smacked my arm.
I perked up.
“I remember back during the ’84 Australian Olympics,” the bartender said, “when he went on strike: that gave me some real time to myself to think about things and get myself figured out. That’s when I decided to get out of the corporate rat-race and become a bartender.”
“Yeah,” I said. “’Cause…um…yeah, ‘cause I was too young to really know what was going on when TV went on strike back in 1984. Sometimes, I think it would be cool if TV kinda just went away for a while.” I laughed.
The bartender joined in.
“Wait,” I said. “What—what did I say?”
“You said you wanted TV out of the picture. You’re drunk.”
“Am I drunk?”
A clamor came from the dance floor as people cheered. The finest of the MILFs backed it up against TV’s crotch to Salt ‘n Peppa’s Push It and he played the music video. Everyone clapped and cheered. A sweaty-boobed woman in a low-cut, floral dress reached around TV to rake his black, shadowy chest, searching the smooth substance, her busy fingers sinking just beneath his specter-flesh as he rocked his eight corners precariously near their cakey foundation faces and fluorescent, tanning bed teeth.
The woman attending him from in front moved it around in slow, circular motions. She looked back and locked eyes with his screen, licking her lips.
TV’s screen went black. He froze up. A looping video of furry kittens flickered on. They played with yarn and rolled around, and around, and around.
“Uh-oh,” I said and glanced over at the bartender, drowsily. “This probably isn’t going anyplace good.”
A short woman near him stopped dancing and pointed at his screen. “Look! Cute little kitties.”
TV covered his screen with his fingers as the image flickered with static. “Don’t look at that!”
“Whaaat?” the short woman asked, fighting sweaty hairs out of her face.
His dancing partner pushed back into him slower as the dancers around him stopped to look up at his screen.
TV’s chest and knees crumpled inward. He grabbed the gyrating woman in front of him by her hips and shoved her, sending her sliding on her stomach. Her fall was broken by landing on top of an arm.
“That wasn’t cool!” a guy yelled.
“I didn’t want it,” TV insisted. “I didn’t want none of that bleep, anyways, braa. It’s cool, it’s cool, it’s cool, it’s cool.”
A nearby man helped the woman back up to her feet.
The DJ stopped. The lighting rose, casting soft conical shadows over bistro tables, highback chairs and used glasses.
“Kittens?” someone said again in confusion. “Why kittens? What’s the deal with…oooh. Kittens. He’s thinking about pussy.”
“No,” TV said, “It ain’t like that.” He crumpled his body and tried again to shield his screen. The image of the kittens grew snowy, washed with static.
Everyone laughed. The woman rushed over to the bartender, a cut on her chin dribbling into the lacework of her beige silk blouse.
The DJ said, “TV coulda at least helped the lady back up on her feet.”
Tears welled along his frame.
The laughter stopped. People along the edges fell back into the beat while the rest kept right on staring.
Bits of Playboy on Demand, of Skinimax and National Geographic flickered in-and-out as they stared. “Stop it! Cut it out!” he demanded. “Stop looking at me. What are you all looking at? I said that I didn’t want none a that.” He stomped his foot and turned to lash out: “While y’alls been building y’alls lives, plaque’s been building in y’alls arteries!”
They sniggered and shook their heads. “You call that a bust, dude. I’m twenty-three.” “Save it for the Boomer demographic.” “TV is so not hot this year.”
He ran toward the bathroom.
The bartender tapped my arm again to wake me. The woman with the cut chin glowered from across the bar, pressing napkins against her chin. “Some people have been saying that you’re really drunk and your friend is facing his demons too directly. I’m going to have to ask you guys to leave the bar.”
* * * *
TV ran out of the bar after slinking out the bathroom. I had to catch back up to him once we were outside and grab the back of his shoulder. “What happened? Hold on,” I said. “Slow down.” (I was perking up and getting my second wind.)
TV stopped and turned to me with tears welling and his screen of big, forking static.
“I mean, dude. You’re TV. You’re supposed to be good with the ladies.”
“I don’t know nothing about sex,” TV said. He shook his set. “I know about two dimensional, naked pictures moving around. When I get around real, 3-D women it makes me feel weird all along my spine and down there and in my soul. Sex don’t exist. It can’t exist, you see? Guns, fistfights, car explosions, kablam! Kablamo! A long train going through a simple, innocent mountain tunnel. A nice, long-barreled .357. Two nine millimeters with extra long clips: that’s what I’m money at. Nothing sexual, braa.”
“Okay,” I said. “Relax. Everyone has their sticking points. Lets get home.”
We walked for a while and TV said: “Hey . . .”
“Do real women take they clothes off?”
“Sometimes. When they feel like it.”
“Bleeeeeep!” TV said.
“Yah.” I looked up at the windows of a high rise. I wasn’t inviting this guy out again.
“I get what you was saying about me not doing nothing for people and people being all lonely and bleep. I get that, braa. And I worry about that bleep too sometimes. Especially since people’s watching more and more of me. This ain’t the best time for me right now, braa. Things’ll get better. You see this here,” TV pointed to his screen of static. “I get like this sometimes when I’m crazy drunk or mad tired. You might think this ain’t nothing, but this here is signal. The important thing’s that the signal is still coming to me. I’m still getting it from every one of you. I don’t always know what the bleep it means and what the bleep to do with it. But I’ll figure things out.”
“You need to relax and be cool,” I told him. “You need to be a little less driven and commercial.”
“Don’t you think I tried that, braa? I tried that bleep. But people love it when I sell them bleep.”
“We love it, huh?” I said. I clenched my teeth. His jailyard stroll was getting more intense with his drunkenness and it seemed like it would be fun to shove him from behind.
He walked in first and spotted the crumpled shelving unit. “Forgot about that bleep. I guess I can’t go back up there tonight.”
“There’s no rush,” I blurted. “Take a seat over there on the couch and I’ll fix us up some beers. The night’s just started.”
“Whoa,” he said. “You like to party hard, huh? No kinky stuff, braa. I told ya.”
“No,” I said. “It’s nothing like that. Just one more. No biggie.” I hustled to the cabinet and snatched out the muscle relaxant and Meloxicam and something called Oxy-something that my friends were always asking for and I grabbed us a couple Dues Eches. “So, the Moon landing,” I said, “what was it like being in Outer Space.” I unscrewed several capsules and let them fizz into his beer.
“Wouldn’t know,” he said. “They only took the cameras.”
“Touché,” I replied, handing him his over-bubbling bottle.
TV looked at his beer for a long time while I stood over him, hovering. “You wouldn’t slip ‘ole Telamundo a Mickey, would you?”
“No,” I said.
“So…you don’t blame me for what happened to your shoulder?”
I leaned a little closer. “Of course not, buddy. Drink of this potion.”
He inspected his beer as it bubbled twice as high as mine. His static filled screen went black and he looked up at me with that big, flat mug, “What’d you put in it, braa?”
I sighed. I looked to the right and took the bubbling beer back from him. “All the medications I got from the Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.” I sat down on the couch next to him.
“We’re not cool; are we?” TV asked.
“No,” I said. “I suppose we’re not.”
“You coulda killed me. Is that what you want? You wanna kill your television set?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “No.” I looked down at the beers. “Maybe. Maybe I do.”
“Holy shit.” TV said. He stood and paced, not bothering to bleep himself. “You tried to kill me and shit, braa.”
“I don’t think it would have killed you.”
“But you don’t know. And them people at the bar, them people on the street: everyone’s been real shitty—real sarcastic lately. Even the people that act like they like me, it’s just surface stuff. I can tell there’s something else going on inside.”
“People think they’re happy,” I said. “But there’s this undercurrent. People need face-time with other people and you’re muscling in on too much turf.”
“But I help-out for the community.” TV paced and counted out his points, “I watch them kids, the old folks get their snooze-time, the singles get their TV girlfriends. Without me, everything would be way messed up, like chaos.”
“What are you going to do when people get to the point when they’d prefer chaos.”
TV sat back down next to me. “I gotta call-in to work tomorrow. I need some time to get this figured out. I can’t have the world hating on me.” He turned to me, his screen blank, a frown hinting through. “I need love.”
“You can crash here at my apartment for a couple of days if you want.”
“But you—you tried to kill me.”
“I was kidding. It was a practical joke,” I lied. “I wasn’t even going to let you drink the whole bottle—”
TV looked at me.
“I swear. Besides, I’m the only one that’s been honest with you.”
“You know,” TV said. “If I go offline. They’ll come looking for me. And they won’t be cool about it. Things’ll get ugly.”
Above my buzz, the pain surfaced through my right arm, again, as I turned toward him. “I’m prepared to face that if it comes. We’ll take it one day at a time. For tonight, you can sleep on the couch. Cool?”
“Yah,” TV said. “That’s—that’s cool, I guess.” He looked around as I stood up.
I looked at the two beers in my hand as the fizz in the drugged one started to settle and I looked back up at him. “Drink it.”
“What?” TV asked.
“You heard me,” I said. “Drink it.”
“But I can’t,” TV said. “I just told you—”
“We both know that drugs don’t affect you the same way they affect us.” I held the potion out before him. “You tell us every day that these drugs are good for us. Don’t you want to know what effect they’ll have on you?”
“But,” TV protested, “If they’re good for you, then they’ll probably be bad for me.”
“But,” I countered. “If they’re bad for us, then they’ll probably be good for you.” I lowered the potion. “You know, it’s cool if you’re all, like, scared and bleep.”
“Wait,” TV said. “You don’t bleep. I bleep. I decide what’s acceptable.”
“Sorry,” I said. “I just thought maybe you were losing your touch.” I raised the bottle to him. “Drink of this potion, TV.”
“Gimmie this thing,” he said to me, snatching the bottle. “I’m gonna let you in a little secret, braa,” and he took a gulp, gulping between each word and phrase, “Drugs…ain’t…really…good…for…y’all!” He threw the bottle behind my couch. “Ahhh. It’s no big deal. Nothing will probably happen.”
“Nothing’s gonna happen to TV. Nothing, braa. Goodnight.” He stretched out on the couch and pulled a throw blanket around his shoulders and, eventually, as I checked in on him, his static thinned to a wavy line. And this was to be expected. I’d seen him doing this before when I’d check in on him on nights when I couldn’t sleep.
I tried to read some Kafka to help me sleep: The Trial, The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony but none of it helped. Eventually, I turned out the lights and lay there in my bed, listening to the TV snore. My heartbeat strengthened and quickened until I thought it might explode. I leaped out of bed and paced erratically, rubbing my arms as the chills set in. In the kitchen there was some Lorazepam in the cupboard that could definitely help me relax. But there was also Chamomile tea. The box of tea and the bottle of pills were right next to each other as my hand hovered between them and eventually snatched quickly at he box of tea. I couldn’t start that bullshit again. I managed to start fixing a glass in the microwave as the snoring continued. What was I doing? This was crazy. They’d kill me to get to him. They might kill me even for the inconvenience. TV couldn’t go offline. Certainly not permanently. A world without TV? Impossible—impossible.
I walked over to TV with my hot tea and listened to his snores and his mutterings. He was using his seventy-five year old voice, which scared me: “Love me,” TV muttered, turning his head, “Trust me. Trust me. I am relevant. Don’t walk away from me! No. Don’t shut me off. Yes. Yes. Mmmm. Sit there. Sit there. Ohh YESS! Sit there. Sit there. Don’t move. Watch it. Watch me. YESSS!” His hands moved beneath the blankets, caressing his chest and back, touching himself down there. Just another of TV’s wet dreams. But then his wavy line thinned and thinned until the waves looked like nothing more than static and I was afraid that he might lose his pulse entirely. What if I had done it? What if I had killed TV? Where would I hide the body? I picked up my cellphone and dialed.
A female voice answered, “911 Emergency.”
“I—I think, I think,” my eyes darted around the room and I sipped the hot tea, “I think there’s something wrong with my television set.”
“Stay calm, sir,” the voice reassured. “What’s his screen look like?”
“It’s almost a completely flat, white line.”
“Has TV consumed any out-of-the-ordinary substances—drugs, narcotics?”
“Well…I…the thing is, he…”
“Sir?” the voice accused. “Did you slip TV a Mickey?”
“Well—you see, ah… Yes, I—I did.”
She tried to muffle her phone: “Why do people keep doing that?”
“Excuse me?” I asked. “What do I do?”
“Sir, what did you give your television set?”
“Ahhh…I mixed it in beer. Ahhh…Meloxicam, some muscle relaxant and I think an Oxycontin or two. Some Lorazepams, there were definitely a couple of those.” I paced. “What do I do?”
Pages rustled near her receiver. “This…hmmm…this will send TV on a mystical journey.”
“But what should I do?”
“Accompany TV… Report back to Mankind as appropriate.”
“But what if he—”
“Sir, this service is for emergencies only. Please clear the line.”
I hung up.
“In a thousand years,” TV whispered in still darkness, “in a thousand years…” He tossed toward me, his white, static line pulsing slow and thin. “Candice Allgood—Candice Allgood, you’re the only woman I could ever love. Candice Allgood, Candice—I’ll find you. I will find you.”
I dropped my cup of tea.