≡ Menu

Over the Air

When my body disobeys, that proves it’s mine. Someone else’s doesn’t have to obey me. And these days my body refuses the simple ordinary things it is supposed to do. It doesn’t want to get out of bed, does so reluctantly, only to lie on the couch watching junk TV. These days my body has a preference for lifelessness without dying. I lie with my head propped up on the arm of the couch twisting my neck to view the screen in a way that fogs and exhausts my vision till I fall asleep no matter how many hours I’ve already spent sleeping.

Someone—Neil Postman?—wrote, or maybe I made it up, that while watching TV cognitive output approaches zero.

If I were thinking, I might ask why I don’t watch something more interesting. No Netflix, no cable, an extravagance beyond my means, so here I am with reruns and news, free over-the-air TV. And who watches OTA? You can tell from the ads. Burial insurance, adult diapers, Medicare Advantage—for people with a past whose bodies now know progress means decline.

Years ago I tried sitting zazen, which may be redundant as I seem to remember zazen already means sitting. To be still, in a meditative state, 30 minutes at a stretch, I don’t have to leave home. I can sit right here and tune out any sitcom in half-hour increments of nothingness.

For years I lived without a TV and was damn proud of it too. When I signed up on dating sites, the only thing I asked for was a partner who did not watch television. I didn’t want to be stuck with someone who couldn’t appreciate the body, who preferred the tube to sex.

On the other hand, back when hormones began to rage I was still a TV addict.

If I were to get up now and walk down the block—and while walking, unlike TV—you, or at least I, do the cognition thing. I wouldn’t call it thinking, there’s no intentional cogitation, words come, thoughts wander.

Walking, I would pass A.O.C. which does not stand for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez but is a wine bar/restaurant where the valet parking fee comes close to my weekly budget for food. I would have to see in real life some of the scenes that numb me on the news. I would see people camped out on the street, and other people taking selfies to memorialize themselves, the whole world as backdrop.

A.O.C.-the-restaurant would remind me that Alexandria O-C is a Democratic socialist and that years ago I went to socialist summer camp because I wanted to meet the scholarship kids flown up from Mississippi where they’d been on the front lines of the struggle.

My parents needed reassurance that the camp was merely socialist and not Communist. Turns out there was indeed a Communist camp, several miles away where we competed against the Red youth in softball and tennis and which was later bombed by a rightwing militia. Even they knew the difference. Aside from some rock throwing at the black kids from Mississippi, the locals left us alone.

And those kids from SNCC didn’t impress me as much as Jerry and Linda, the married—or maybe not—counselors who lived in Greenwich Village. We all wanted to grow up to be like them. Except that none of us wanted to miss The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

“There’s some really good things on TV,” we said. We couldn’t believe Jerry and Linda lived without one.

Joey Schrank was there on scholarship too, not as a civil rights hero but as a townie. If we could sneak out of the cabin, he’d take us to his house where we could watch. But we got caught.

“It’s a really good show, a spy show,” we told Linda.

“Cold War propaganda,” she said.

“No, the American spy has a Russian partner. They work together to defeat THRUSH.”

“What’s THRUSH?”

“It’s evil. An evil organization.”

“Evil is a theological concept.”

“They want to take over the world.”

“Like capitalism?… And once they take over the world, what will they do?”

“Evil things! They kill people!”

“Look, killing is wrong, OK? But people who kill—most of them—don’t think they’re evil. They think they’re doing the right thing. You can say they’re wrong, or scared or confused, or drunk with power or led like sheep. But don’t call them evil. Understand?”

I understand how lucky I am.

I lounge on the couch. This is the sort of simple nervous breakdown that doesn’t require hospitalization or meds or intervention. Here’s a theological concept—I feel blessed. Some people can’t miss work. Some people can’t stay home. Some people don’t have one. If falling apart is a luxury, as long as I lie here I’m rich.

If I got up, I could go to the computer, check Facebook and express my outrage with angry-face emojis. But to click and not act would be hypocritical and I’m glad to state I’m not that.

When the weather is fine, a perfect day is wasted unless I can make my legs do as they’re told. Unless I get dressed, get up and go out. Once I start walking, it shouldn’t be so hard to continue. Forget about progress. Just one foot in front of the other, forward, forward.

Not as lethargic as her narrator, Diane Lefer is back from Tijuana where she interpreted for migrants needing safety but trapped in limbo. In LA she works with survivors of torture and persecution as they seek asylum and begin to heal. Read more at her website.