October 11, 2001
Empty Calories


Sally Jessy Raphael is looking kinda scary these days.

She reminds me of a Tammy doll I had when I was a little girl ... a birthday present from Grandma and Grandpa. One summer, my best friend Anita and I buried Tammy in a red cardboard shoebox  --  we were playing "Dark Shadows," and Tammy was Joan Bennett, buried alive  --  and then we accidentally left her there for most of a rainy June. When we finally dug her up, sometime around the Fourth of July, her hair and her plastic skin and her blue jumpsuit were permanently stained blackish-red. Plus she was soaking wet, stinking of mildew and fertilizer, and her face had caved in from the weight of all that damp soil piled on top of the shoebox lid. She looked like she'd melted.

That's how Sally Jessy Raphael looks.

Has she always looked like this? Or have I simply been away from daytime TV so long that 'natural' looks 'unnatural' to me?

I don't know. I don't care.

I don't like daytime TV. I don't watch daytime TV. In fact, I generally try to avoid daytime TV at all costs. (I was just about to write "I generally try to avoid daytime TV like the plague" ... but under the circumstances, I'd really rather not toy with fate that way. Seriously.) Watching daytime TV, to me, is a form of surrender. It says, I give up. It says, I have nothing better to do with my time/my life/my *brain molecules.* And it takes me back to a time in my life when I viewed the world all day, every day, from a ratty vinyl armchair ... usually with a baby or two parked in my lap and a half-case of Rainier parked in the fridge.

(Not a terrible time in my life, mind you. It had its sweet moments. But it was a time when words like 'personal responsibility' and 'self-esteem' clearly hadn't made it into the lexicon yet.)

Of course, avoiding daytime TV is easy when one is gainfully employed. It becomes more problematic when one is temporarily (albeit voluntarily) NOT gainfully employed, especially when one has no job-search appointments or errands to run that day ... and when one has already done every speck of housework possible within the confines of ones dinky 400 square foot apartment ... and when one is required to stay off the computer in order to keep ones solitary phone line open. (Just in case, you know, the Perfect Potential New Employer is trying to call or something.)

In a moment of weakness, though,  I flip on the bedroom TV while I'm making the bed. Maybe I'll watch some news, I tell myself. Even though I'm home a lot more at the moment, since leaving the Totem Pole Company, I've tried to adhere to my "Limited TV News" policy. I watch The Today Show in the morning, and a couple hours of local and national news in the evening ... but that's it. Any more than that would run the risk of fear overload. But I figure that if I'm going to break one of my own cardinal rules and turn on the TV in the middle of the day, I might as well watch something relevant.

Amazingly ... there is no news on TV at 10 a.m., on any channel. (We don't have cable, so our viewing selections are limited to the network affiliates, plus the handful of Bay Area stations not requiring a cable hook-up. David and I are probably the only two people on the planet who have never seen an episode of "Sex In The City" or "The Sopranos.") Instead, Sally Jessy Raphael and some British guy are showing amateur videos of people exhibiting *travel rage* in public places: parking lot disagreements, angry highway incidents, those twin sisters engaged in drunken meltdown aboard an Orient-bound airliner. I listen carefully for a few minutes, waiting to see how this ties in with the terrorist attacks  --  perhaps a call to ban alcohol on all commercial flights?  --  but eventually it becomes clear that the British guy is simply there to promote his book or his TV show or whatever the heck it is he is there to promote.

I change the channel.

Three people in a soap opera hospital room: Jennifer Aniston's dad, hobbling around on a single crutch, some overdressed/overglossed/overeverythinged woman, playing his wife, and a teenage boy laying in the hospital bed, looking wan and long-suffering. The thing that annoys me the most? Even more than the stilted dialogue, the cloying music, the unnatural lighting, I mean? All three of them have perfect hair. I'm talking picture perfect -- not a single strand out of place. Even the kid laying in the hospital bed with tubes running in and out of him.


While I fold David's clean socks and underwear, I watch a few minutes of "The View." I've heard about "The View," over the years, but I'd never actually seen it until today. (I think it went on the air right about the same time I was trading in my homemaker's Keds for a pair of ridiculously uncomfortable high heels.) The women are discussing a new book about Madonna, which apparently includes unauthorized interviews with members of her family. Among the revelations in the book: Madonna has had eleven abortions. The ladies on The View quack and sputter indignantly over the abortions ("Maybe she should watch tomorrow's segment on birth control!") ... but not a single one of them says anything about the fact that Madonna has been sold out by people she supposedly loves and trusts.


Re-runs of "Matlock" and "Scarecrow & Mrs. King." Another soap opera ... this one in Spanish. Japanese-language public service announcements. A toupeed TV evangelist offering up an 800 number. While I struggle to sew a button on David's jacket, I check out the talk shows: Brooke Shields on Rosie, waving her green-fingernail-polished hands around in the air, talking about starring in "Cabaret" on Broadway. Later in the afternoon, Oprah sitting next to the Deputy Editor of "In Style" magazine, previewing the hottest looks for fall. (I'm not going to wear a cape to work, forcryingoutloud. I'm sorry. I'm just not.) Theme for today's thrilling panel discussion on Maury Povich: "I'm Terrified To Tell You My Three Secrets." (The first two secrets are "You're not really the father of our baby" and "I've actually got the hots for your cousin." I didn't stick around to hear the third secret.)  Rikki Lake (why is she fat again? did she just have a baby?) counseling teens hooked on prescription drugs ... the teens in question gazing into the camera with that desperate, deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression.


Commercials for solid air fresheners, telephone psychics, low-cost auto insurance, intimate cleansing foam.


No "Judge Judy" or "Divorce Court," on any channel I can find ... but another, less familiar courtroom drama -- this one featuring two former best-friends, now suing each other over $2300. "If she were to pay you the $2300 today, right here in the courtroom," asks the judge hypothetically, "would you forgive her?" "Bleep no," responds the angry plaintiff. "I ain't never gonna be friends wif that bleep again."


Not one but two shopping channels: The Shop At Home Network (overly-ornate ladies "dress watches," $149.95 but available through something ominously called "stretch pay"), and The Home Shopping Network (Barielle 9-Piece Natural Nail Care Kit, $24.95). I feel a shiver run down my spine as I watch  ...  not because the shopping shows are tacky and weird and obviously geared to people with too much time on their hands (and too many Capital One cards in their wallet), but because I know that *I* could get hooked on them in an instant. And this is probably not a good thing for me to get hooked on right now. (See: Temporary Voluntary Unemployment.)


"Blind Date." A young couple eating dinner in a trendy Southern California restaurant. He is bragging about all the bar-room brawls he's been engaged in, over the years, while her little *thought bubbles* say things like "I can't believe I gave up watching 'Survivor' for this" and "I wish I had a barstool in my hand right now." He gets a polite hug goodnight -- and a closed door in his face -- for his efforts. The emcee cackles in mean-spirited delight. "Boy," he says, "if HE won the fight, it makes you want to see what the other guy looks like, doesn't it? Harharharharhar."

Click click click click click.

Eventually,  feeling sick and disoriented and overloaded on empty calories, the way I used to feel as a kid when I'd come home from one of Debbie Fitzwater's birthday parties, I force myself to turn off the TV. Dispiritedly, I wander into the kitchen, where I pour myself another cup of coffee and another bowl of Cap'n Crunch Peanut Butter Cereal.

I need to get a job.


throw a rock