Friday, November 20, 2009

Head Movies

I grew up with TV. When we reached the magical, albeit arbitrary age of ten, for our birthdays, my grandmother bought me, followed in turn by my brother and sister, our own TVs. They were small sets that would sit on a dresser nicely. If my memory serves me correctly, mine contributed to my immediate withdrawal from family TV viewing, as I hunkered down in my room, face lit by the pasty glow of the twelve-inch screen from my black and white set. With extendable rabbit ears and a round UHF antenna. Hey, it sounds pathetic now, but back then it was not common to have a TV in every room and my grandmother’s gift made me privileged for my time. Certainly none of my friends had their own TV sets. And when my dad got a job with the local cable company, my set was outfitted with a cable connection, along with every other set in the house. (Years later my TV would sit on a cable reel Dad brought home from work, covered with a table cloth. Call it Yankee ingenuity. Or being broke. We called it furniture.) I think we had one TV set per person by the time I hit junior high school, thanks to my grandmother’s gift giving practices. Today it’s personal computers and gaming devices that send a family to their own worlds in separate corners, but in my day, at my house, it was television.

My bedtime as a kid was 8:00. In theory at least. Beginning when I was in fifth grade, after we moved into our ‘new,’ old as dirt, looked like something from a horror movie the day we moved into it home across town, each of us kids had our own room. So sure, when I was told to go to bed, I promptly and obediently went upstairs to my room. And there, night after night, I’d stand in front of my dresser and watch entire movies on network TV with the volume so low it was barely perceptible, my finger on the power switch, ears tuned to the house noises and on high alert lest one of my parents climb the thirteen stairs and catch me out of bed. If I heard a footfall on the stairs, I would power off the TV. I had seen enough detective shows and had enough awareness of details to realize they would be able to see the TV glow emanating from beneath my closed bedroom door if I did not turn it off. With my heart pounding wildly and my fear of detection causing spikes of adrenaline to course through my body, I would slip into my bed as silently as a Ninja. If the parent on the loose was just making a visit to the bathroom at the top of the stairs, I could return to my show promptly. Often, I was watching the same show my parents were watching downstairs, so the interruption was usually during a commercial break and I wasn’t missing anything more than the latest ad for Alka Seltzer. I don’t recall ever being caught by my parents for my little TV habit. I was good. Or good at being slightly bad, anyway.

My parents could never figure out why I was always tired, and I didn’t really enjoy being tired, but there was a lot that went on in my life that they didn’t know about, and it was just better that way. Being tired was a small price for me to pay to attempt to right some of the defects of my life.

Our move meant I had been launched into a new school. Technically, it was an old school, built in something like 1899, so it is more correct to say I was the new kid at school. At my new, wicked-old school, my clandestine TV watching was strictly a matter of attempting to survive in a new social setting. There were elements I could not control, and others I could. For example, I could not control the fact that most of my female classmates looked like the 1970s equivalent of Victoria’s Secret models. I, On the other hand, looked like a pathetic and scrawny stick figure, subjecting me to endless “flat as a board, skinny as a nail” and “sunken chest” comments from the mouths of my oh so sweet looking tormentors. (It may have been something in the water on that side of town, and had we moved earlier in my life, say during my formative years, I might have had time to benefit from it.) Once, several of them even cornered me in the hallway by the milk refrigerator and put orange peels down my shirt while chanting that they were “adding to the cause.” Yeah, there were definitely things my parents didn’t need to know about my life, including what a loser I was, as they seemed to think I was reasonably okay. Moody, but okay.

I had already been ridiculed and harassed by some of my (evil) classmates after confessing that no, I did not see the fantastic movie of the week last night because my parents made me go to bed at 8:00. It only took once or twice of that before I took action to control the things I could and began watching shows in my room, in secret, so I could participate in the morning after analysis of the actors and the story. The analysis usually centered on who was the cutest male actor and if the female lead had a good haircut and wardrobe or not.

The result of my watching movies at night, in addition to my regular fatigue, moodiness, and newfound ability to participate in movie analysis as conducted by ten and eleven-year olds, was that soon, I was picturing my small-town life as if it was a movie. Granted, it was Fitchburg, so it was a really long and boring movie, but at least I got to be the star. And I could watch myself on the movie running on the screen in the back of my head. My ten-year-old self would be walking downtown to ballet class after school, but instead of my thin and breadstick-like real-life self with long, stringy, mousy brown hair and glasses, I was the sassy and curvaceous heroine of a movie. Heads would turn to follow me as I walked past, jaws would drop, and men would erupt in spontaneous applause in recognition of my incredible and flawless beauty, fantastic and stylish wardrobe, and amazing and glorious head of long, blond, flowing hair. (I was (am) a dork with a rich inner life. I still cling to the last shred of hope that my outer life will someday catch up.)

Even years later, many of my physical actions were being conducted based on what I saw on TV. If I was walking down the street, I’d be trying to imitate the cheerful stride of Mary Tyler Moore (sans street corner hat tossing). I’d sneak a peek at myself in a storefront window to see if my hair was bouncing like that of a girl in a shampoo commercial (it never did). If I was on a date and about to kiss a guy, I’d be picturing the tilt of the head of beautiful actress as the handsome leading man leaned in for a kiss, and mimicking the closing of the eyes or the parting of the lips (right before our noses would meet in a painful and embarrassing collision).

I think I’m finally over it now, mostly because I am a little more rooted in reality and I allow myself to be guided by Boyfriend’s well-considered movie choices. The movies I watch in real life now are action films and science fiction. Romance movies (and the books they are based on) tend to make me ill. Give me the comedies please. I already have enough drama and tragedy playing in my real life in an endless loop like freakish nonstop emo film festival. I really need to fire the film company.

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