in, Turn on, Tune in. . .
I never got the television gene. For a dozen or so years now,
I have been trying to watch more TV.
Even as a little kid I watched only sporadically. I liked
The Addams Family and The Wild Wild West. I
liked Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which I usually
watched sitting on my fatherís lap because it could get pretty
scary down there beneath the waves.
I liked Bonanza. And yes, they did call me Little Jo.
After my father died, I used to watch the late movies all
the time once my mother had fallen asleep on the couch. Movies
are meant to be watched lying on your stomach, propped up
on your elbows, a book in front of you for when the commercials
During college I did go through that artsy-fartsy, semi-intellectual
phase when I thought TV was just brain-rot.
But eventually I managed to develop sequential close relationships
with selected nighttime dramas. It was kind of like serial
First came Remington Steele and Pierce Brosnan. After
that there was NYPD Blueótill Bobby Simone died. But
ER made a pretty good substitute and offered double-trouble:
the brooding eastern European intensity of Luka and the pixie-ish
sexiness of Carter.
Overall, though, Iíve been a TV flunkie. When the rest of
the world is staying current with TV show and moviesóincluding
my daughters, upstairs in our study where the TV isóIím sitting
on our living room loveseat, reading.
After a certain point thatís not admirable, itís annoying.
So Saturday afternoon I went out, bought a little TV and DVD/VCR
player and set them up in my bedroom. Now I could watch all
those movies Iíve been wanting to watch for years, as well
as all those movies other people think Iím nuts not to have
seen: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Dead Man Walking.
Forrest Gump. Babetteís Feast. Any of the Peter Jackson
movies. The second half of The Matrix.
But by Saturday night, sitting alone in my bedroom watching
a movie on TV just seemed like kind of a pitiful thing to
do. So I went out and sat in the living room with a book.
The next night, Sunday, my daughters asked me if I wanted
to come watch Desperate Housewives with them up in
the studyóa scary room really, with its clutter of dirty dishes,
mis-matched pillows and bits and pieces of any one of a dozen
craft projects Linnea is working on.
No, I didnít want to watch Desperate Housewives. I
wanted to watch something arty, uplifting. I went into my
bedroom and popped in Babetteís Feast.
For years people have been telling me Babetteís Feast
is my kind of movie. I guess because itís about delicious
food and Danish Lutherans who speak French, people think it
will be right up my alley.
But boy-oh-boy, it was not up my alley. The story is basically
Two beautiful Danish Lutheran girls live on an island way-the-hell
out in the middle of freaking nowhere and they grow old and
unmarried because their father was a pastor who wouldnít let
them see men. Babette, a refugee from the Prussian war and,
unbeknownst to the sisters, a famous Parisian chef, is sent
to live with them. The sisters teach her to cook the local
Danish specialties. Beerbroth, fishslush, that kind of thing.
After 14 years, Babette wins the French lottery. If she had
had any kind of sense at all she would have taken the money
and run. Instead she decides to prepare a Real French Meal
for the islanders.
Itís a smash-hit mealólots of wine and figs and dead quail
in pastry. Everybody is as happy as Danish Lutheran North
Sea islanders get, which is to say there is some smiling and
a fair amount of tippling.
Anyway, feast over, dishes washed, the sisters say theyíll
be sorry to lose Babette. But Babette tells them that, no,
sheís not going back to Paris; she doesnít have any money.
The lottery money?, the sisters ask her. But Babette has spent
all her winnings giving these dim-bulb Lutherans the feast
of their lives, which they were too uptight to realize until
it was all over.
Feast is supposed to be sacramental and uplifting, but
trust me it had all the lift of a worn-out bra. And when I
went to sleep I dreamed of quail.
When I woke up Monday morning, the first thing I saw was the
television remote, a mere foot away from my pillow. I pressed
As near as I can tell I get ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS and about 13
stations with generic-looking, heavily-hair-sprayed, vaguely
30-something women hawking weight-loss products. This was
a lot to take in before my first cup of coffee. But did I
turn the television off? No.
Television is going to be a whole new world for me. I may
end up like Proust, in bed, writing all seven volumes of Remembrance
of Things Past. Only Iíll be in bed watching the Oxygen
channel or slow-moving films about distraught Swedes, a bed
tray full of cocoa and tuna fish sandwiches sitting on my
Iím not sure itís the future Iíve envisioned for myself. Iím
not sure the switch from text to television is the right one
for me. Iím afraid Iím going to end up using too much hair
spray and quoting sitcoms.
But itís time I get with the program. Itís time I learn to
surf. Itís time I learn that when Oprah makes a book selection
I should just sit tight and wait for the movie.