cunctabundus

a new way to kill time.

Category: short stories

remarkable things in half-hour intervals – part 4

What follows is part 4 of a true story of a girl (me) and her on-going battle with addiction.

[continued from part 3]

My father believed that television sets should be like Americans: huge. I can’t recall what the screen dimensions were, but I remember it seemed enormous. Then again, I was very small.

I remember the furniture in the living room was arranged so that the television was the focal point. Every seat was angled in such a way that we would all get a good view of the set. For the greater part, this was an ideal setting. The only time this caused a serious problem was during the occasional prime time viewing of Hollywood Squares.

For some reason, I was extremely disturbed by the presence of Wayland Flowers, and more particularly his puppet Madame. The wicked looking Madame was considered to be quite a wit. Perhaps this was true. I don’t know. You see, every time she appeared on the screen I would scream in terror. It was a combination of her skull-like features and extra large nostrils that sent me into conniptions. Seeing her was torture; I did not know what I had done to deserve such agony.

Madame would arrive in my world completely unannounced. There I would be, lying calmly with my head resting on my mom’s leg when this witch of a puppet cackled her way into my line of sight. Everywhere I turned, her evil eyes and giant chin seemed to follow me. I knew that if I didn’t escape, she would bonk me across the temple with her grotesque head, and then chew off my fingers. That’s right. She nosh on my digits like they were 98° vienna sausages, with Mr. Flowers holding the jar of mustard. Rather than soothe my 5-year old soul, my parents would laugh at my discomfiture. Or perhaps it was howling. Who could recall such details?

My only recourse was to cover my ears while screaming bloody murder and run upstairs to my dear grandmother’s room. There, I would be reassured that no matter how much she seemed to want to, the carnivorous Madame could not climb out of the set.

The following morning, I needed to be certain that Madame was no longer infecting my airspace. I would walk past the television, double back, quickly turn the knob, and dive behind the couch. If she couldn’t see me, she couldn’t see my delicious fingers. Thankfully, her cackle was not for the morning. She was probably off terrorizing another little girl.

Or perhaps working off a hang-over.

continued in part 5…

remarkable things in half-hour intervals – part 3

What follows is part 3 of a true story of a girl (me) and her on-going battle with addiction.

[continued from part 2]

How did it pass that by the age of four my sister and I were speaking in full, if slightly juvenile sentences in both English and Korean? I believe the credit might belong to the Helena Rubenstein Foundation and the Children’s Television Workshop.

Grover was always my favorite monster. From the moment I saw him flying through the air with his knight’s helmet and “Super Grover” cape, I was smitten. He was cute, funny, fuzzy, and blue. With his exhaustive yet hysterical repetition, he taught me near and far. With the help of John-John, he taught me to count backwards. He was the main reason I sat still for Sesame Street, and still do on occasion.

To be honest, I can’t think of any other reason to watch Sesame Street these days. Maybe I’m too old, but I don’t remember this show being so boring. I blame it on the introduction of the ubiquitous Elmo, whose only redeeming value is that his segment’s Mr. Noodle is played by the brilliant Bill Irwin. Rather than being showered with baby talk, watching classic episodes of this show reminds me of a time where monsters spoke to kids like they were little adults. And what is with the “Elmo loves you” junk? Sure, Grover doesn’t use contractions, but at least he does not refer to himself in the third person. But I digress. With the help of Grover and his pals, English seeped into my mind, as did my affection for the television set.

Growing up, I remember thinking that our television was beautiful. I am not saying this from an addict’s perspective, but from a strictly aesthetic point of view. The picture tube lived within solid maple housing. The simple design offered but three knobs: the on/volume knob, the knob for VHF channels, and the last for UHF channels. The design was simple, yet versatile. Everything was placed in the exact location it should have been. It came with no instructions, save for the warning label stuck to the back saying “Removal of this panel WILL cause electric shock.”

I loved that set. It was functional art. Those were the days where you were expected to crochet a vast doily to protect its delicate surface. It was a time when built-in sound was the only option. It was an era where picture quality was adjusted by hitting the side of the cabinet, but only after failing with the tuning rings. It was the decade when cable was only for perverts.

My father believed that television sets should be like Americans: huge. I can’t recall what the screen dimensions were, but I remember it seemed enormous. Then again, I was very small.

continued in part 4…

remarkable things in half-hour intervals – part 2

What follows is part 2 of a true story of a girl (me) and her on-going battle with addiction.

[continued from part 1]

So where did I go wrong?

It’s not like there was a carrefour, or as the less imaginative might call it, a crossroad. I can’t put my finger on one point and say, “Ah yes. If I did this instead of that, my life would be much better.” Rather, there was a parade of tiny missteps and readjustments that led me to this less than astonishing life. I am not saying that it is bad. Just a little ordinary.

So how is it that a child full of dreams and possibilities, a child who had the complete map to a charmed life, take so many wrong turns? It is after deep reflection and with full conviction that I can say in truth, my world might be a fully realized dream had it not been for television. No really.

To drop a bit of science: as I understand it, language acquisition begins as early as two months. We begin with single words that identify our needs, such as mama, up, and cookie. By 18 months, we are stringing together a few more words to express more complex issues: all gone, no bed, and where puppy. We begin to understand the basics of syntax and sentence formation. By the age three, the hardened skull of a little genius has developed an early mastery of spoken word, albeit with an extremely limited vocabulary. All of these little miracles are made possible by the repetition from nurture and the wonders of nature.

In my case, the repetition that came from my nurture did not remotely resemble the words you read now. You see, as is common with immigrant families, my parents worked long and hard hours all the while speaking a language that was not their native tongue. When they returned from their respective jobs, they grew tired of the effort English required and relaxed into the comfort of Korean. They knew that they weren’t teaching us English, but they figured that as babies in America, we would learn it eventually. So how did it pass that by the age of four my sister and I were speaking in full, if slightly juvenile sentences in both English and Korean?

I believe the credit might belong to the Helena Rubenstein Foundation and the Children’s Television Workshop.

continued in part 3…

remarkable things in half-hour intervals – part 1

What follows is a true story of a girl (me) and her on-going battle with addiction.

I was the American Dream in progress. I was the second daughter of immigrant parents. A surprising child, I was cute, bilingual, articulate, and charming. I had an abundance of friends and the teachers were wild about me. I was an I.G.C., which was New York City public school-speak for smarty-pants. I soaked up knowledge like a sponge, and my penmanship was excellent. All signs screamed “THIS CHILD IS SOMEONE!”

Even my artwork, lovingly attached to the refrigerator by a rainbow of magnetic letters, suggested that my future held great promise. So with all of this before me, I can’t help but acknowledge that things have not turned out as well as they could have.

It wasn’t that my parents didn’t encourage me. On the contrary, they believed not only that all of my dreams could come true, but that indeed, they would come true. Further, they stressed that by my choice, I can make things happen. While they were not nearly as optimistic about my sister’s prospects, they wholeheartedly believed that everything in life was mine for the taking. And why wouldn’t they?

I had a game plan.

By the age of six, I decided that I wanted to be President. First, I needed a very big house.

By the age of eight, I realized that to make this happen, I must learn how to fight crime. Also, I should probably go to an Ivy League School.

By the age of nine, I understood that I should probably major in History, or as I called it, Social Studies. Oh, and it is very important to learn to pick a lock.

By the age of ten, I was certain that it was absolutely necessary to become proficient in a musical instrument, as all spies and academics were skilled in that way.

All of these thoughts were not the product of enthusiastic parents, but of my own precocious mind. As I knew it, these dreams were well within my grasp.

So where did I go wrong?

continued in part 2…