Thursday, February 12, 2009

High & Low, or My Ever Rising Temperature and My Ever Shifting Brow

With the exception of two cocks no hen, ours is a shockingly typical American home. We eat together less often than we might, we cook less than we ought, we are happiest at home, and we watch reality TV. A little embarrassed by the first two, a little self-satisfied, after 25 years together, about the third, and forthrightly unashamed of the last fact stated. Reality TV is bad, except when it is good. It is fake, perhaps even when it is real, but feels real while being watched. I like the democratic free-for-all of it; the inclusion of the invariable gay, the diversity of race and background, the regular presence of the older, the middle aged, the beautiful young. I like the competition shows on Bravo, even though I don't give a damn about fashion, or modeling, or even really cooking to the standards of "Top Chef," though I'd thrill to eat that well. We watch all together too much of the cooking and eating and travel on the Food Network and the Travel Channel. I like the rough, low-brow sociology of "Survivor" and the browless voyeurism of "Big Brother." Hell, we giggle at average people bouncing off enormous rubber balls on "Wipeout."

If our favorite shows are still the best written television dramas, now largely migrating to cable, our habits are trending toward the cheap and silly business of watching drag queens make outfits from junk purchased at The Dollar Store. I see no reason to defend this, I will even concede that our viewing behavior may be indefensible. Yes, our interest is entirely passive. No, we are not inspired by "The Amazing Race" to run around the world together. Yes, we may be responsible in some small part for contributing to the decline of network television into something almost unrecognizably common and dumb. So be it. I pay my ridiculous cable bill the day it arrives every month. I still watch every god damned BBC adaptation of Jane Eyre they run on PBS, but I'm not going to pretend that, most nights, I'm anything other than part of the happy herd, hoping one of the new boys on some two dollar competition finds a reason to take his shirt off, and maybe his pants if we're really lucky, and run up a sand dune or jump into a crocodile-infested lagoon and - then -walk - out - wet - in - slow - motion.

So being home sick with The Cold that is making my poor store manager, who does all the scheduling, gray before her time, (so sorry, P.) I will admit I have nothing planned beyond smoking less so as not to bring up an actual lung, eating canned tomato soup with saltines, and watching trash. Hell, I might catch "Jeopardy" this evening.

But the idea that I wouldn't also be reading whenever I'm awake is absurd. It's what I do, even with the TV on. Should be taken as given. Poor A., in addition to having me home sick and unwashed and cranky, must also explain to me what I miss by not looking up at the shows we're supposedly watching together, because I want to finish a chapter at the same time in the new Adam Gopnik on Lincoln and Darwin. (It's real good, real good, so far.) Even watching the two hours of the PBS Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Lincoln my lover thoughtfully taped for me last night while I was at work, I had to be reading Villette 'cause I haven't had the chance for a week or more. Television, good and bad, is fun, but books are what I do.

Dear A. knows this about me. He's learned to tolerate my enthusiasm for books intruding into every aspect of our lives together. He's eaten burned food, because I was reading, he's missed movie show times because I couldn't put a book down. Maybe the reason we never go dancing has less to do with my impaired rhythm than his fear I'd prop a book on his shoulder and let him lead so I could read. Maybe this is why we aren't racing around the world. (That, and all the pork he cooks so well.)

When single friends envy me my contented marriage, I almost -- almost -- wish they could see what it must cost my husband. Want someone to love forever? Be carefully, because you might get me.

"What?! What happened? (cough) No, I wasn't listening. Oh. (cough) Did you know Darwin delayed publication of his book because he loved his very religious (cough) wife and worried she's be made unhappy by it? This soup is good, I can taste it. Thanks, baby. What?! What happened?!! (cough)"

I am one lucky lazy sick queen.

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