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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Video Difficulties

This is another one of my early efforts (since updated, with the reference to 24 hour cable TV)—I believe I wrote it when Bigler and I were enrolled at Scottsdale Community College, just out of high school.

Our creative writing professor would tell us that we could leave when we finished our first drafts of a short story and Bigler and I would set to writing and be finished in ten or fifteen minutes, competing with each other to see who could complete his first draft first. We would turn our stories in and leave, then turn in the first draft as the completed project when it was due. We passed with flying colors and minimum effort. But then again, those were simpler times.

Video Difficulties

In the predawn morning in 1978, still years away from 24 hour cable TV, the “Star Spangled Banner” waved yet another broadcasting day to its patriotic finish. The last notes of the national anthem faded into the incessant him of a test pattern and Charles sat unfulfilled, needing another dose of video—one more rerun.

It was 2:15 on a Thursday morning, and another two and a half hours before he would be able to tune in to Sunrise Semester or The R.F. D. Report. The empty Strohs can in his hand fell to the floor as Charles looked at the half-bag of Doritos that sat on the coffee table in front of him. Charles rose from his barcalounger and shuffled to the set, mumbling under his breath. With little hope, he flipped through the soundless, snowy channels one last time, hoping to catch a last-minute reprieve of Andy Griffith, The Untouchables, or even local news before the mounting anxiety would force him to eat every Valium in the house and chase them with a slug from a large-caliber handgun.

“Shit,” Charles barked, flipping the channels so ferociously that he nearly snapped the plastic dial between his sweaty fingers. “Nothing…” Charles spat at the set. Charles was tense. His pupils began to dilate and a light froth formed at the corners of his mouth.

“The Three Stooges, God-damn it!” Charles yelled, cuffing the set. “Oral Roberts—anything!” Charles heard the baby cry and took a deep breath, trying to calm down. He glared at the television and it hissed back at him, noncommittally.

“Honey,” he heard Evelyn call from upstairs. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, Dear,” Charles said, clearing his throat, his voice amazingly calm, despite the sweat running down the back of his neck. “Just a little problem with the set…” Charles gave the glowing box the finger. “Bastard,” he muttered.

He heard Evelyn go into the baby’s room to coax him back to sleep. “Smother the little beast,” said Charles to himself as he paced back and forth. The baby wailed and Charles gnawed his index fingernail down to the painful quick. Finally, he walked to the staircase, re-carpeted as of January with an expensive Burberry, worth more than twice what the entire staircase was worth. Not an extremely brilliant move, Charles thought, considering that the baby would be urinating and vomiting on it within months. “Honey,” Charles called up the stairs. “I’m going for a little walk…”

“It’s 2:30—where are you going?” Charles heard his wife ask as he picked up his coat and slipped out the front door. In the cold winter air, Charles’ breath left his mouth in frosty plumes that dissolved into the night as he hauled his overweight, middle-aged body into a lethargic jog.

Charles was wheezing and sweaty when he stopped at the corner to light a cigarette. “George Ferman,” he suddenly grunted, then about-faced and began to chug toward Crenshaw Avenue. As Charles huffed and puffed his way toward George Ferman’s house, a police cruiser pulled up to the curb. “Uh-oh,” Charles wheezed.

“How’s it going, Champ,” the officer asked as Charles coughed to a stop. “It’s a little late for track and field, isn’t it?” Charles nodded, laughed, then coughed so hard it hurt his testicles. “What are you trying to do, get yourself a heart attack?” asked the officer.

“No,” Charles searched for his breath as the sweat ran into his eyes. “I’m…looking…for…my dog.”

“Really,” the officer said. “What kind of dog is it?” Charles frowned. “A spaniel, or terrier,” he said, distracted. “Or something…”

“Look, are you alright?” The officer looked concerned. “It’s 2:30 in the morning. You look tired.”

“Thanks,” Charles said, impatiently. “Look, I’ve got to find my mutt, okay?” Charles began lumbering toward Crenshaw Avenue as the policeman drove away. His vision began to blur and his black loafers pinched his toes and ankles as he came up on the sign for Crenshaw Avenue.

“Jeez, it’s about time,” hacked Charles. His head was pounding. “Why the hell would George Ferman want to live so far away?” Charles approached the door and wiped the sweat off his face with his sleeve. He knocked, coughed six times and began to worry about serious damage to his internal organs. A light went on upstairs and Charles laughed, spat and coughed some more, still trying to catch his breath.

George Ferman opened the door and tightened his robe. “Chuck Greenwald?”

“Howya doin’, George,” Charles smiled, wiping more sweat off his red face. “Sleepin’?”

“A little,” George Ferman said, picking a stray crusty from the corner of his eye. “What’s the matter? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Charles began to get tense again. “Look, George—can I borrow your video machine?”

“What, tonight? It’s three o’clock in the morning!” George opened his crusty eyes a bit further.

Charles was getting a bit tired of people telling him what friggin time it was. If he wanted to know what friggin time it was, he’d look at his friggin watch. “I know what time it is, George,” Charles said, his smile fading fast.

George started to close the door. “Look, come back tomorrow. Go home and get some sleep.”

Charles grabbed the door. “Look, George—I’m serious. Just the player and a couple of tapes…Maltese Falcon, Deep Throat, anything! I’ll give you five bucks!” Charles held white-knuckled onto the door with his left hand as he dug into his pocket for his wallet with the other.

“Chuck, this is crazy…You need some sleep—and maybe a doctor.”

“I need the God-damned video machine is what I need!” Charles yelled, all pretense of civility gone. “I’ll watch ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’, for God’s sake!”

“Jesus, Chuck…” Charles and George played tug of war with the Ferman door as the police cruiser pulled up in front of George Ferman’s house. Charles saw the police car out of the corner of his eye, cursed and broke into a middle-aged sprint as the policeman crouched by his open door, gun in hand.

“Freeze, Dog Lover!” the policeman yelled.

Evelyn was unreasonably quiet on the drive home from the police station, Charles thought. Maybe it was the $375.00 bail, or just the arrest in general. Whatever the reason, Charles saw no reason to be a bitch. Evelyn stormed upstairs and closed the bedroom door. Charles turned on the set and flopped his aching body into the barcalounger. He stared at the snowy screen. It was 4:30 a.m. and the morning news would be on soon. Charles sought out a cigarette, leaned back and smiled. The news
would be on in no time at all.

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