The Reader's Eye on Television

People don't talk in real life the way they do on TV. In real life nobody makes a statement then waits for the other person to speak. Nobody answers a question directly. People don't listen then react to the conversation in sequence. In real life people talk over each other, forget what they're saying, and make speeches that promote their personal agenda. The couple seated in front of me, on a jumbo jet destined from San Francisco to London, are having a "TV" conversation. I die a little inside when I remember that our flight is nine hours, and I'll have to listen to this the whole time.

"Did you speak to Penny last night?" the tuft of blond hair sticking over the seatback asks.

"Yes, I did," answers the thin covering of black hair. "And, do you know what she said?"

"No, what?" It's all very neat and tidy. Orderly and polite.

If this were an actual, real-world conversation, it would go like this.

Blonde: Hold this.

Black: What's this?

Blonde: It's a sack.

Black: I know it's a sack. What's in it? I talked to Penny last night, do you know what she said?

Blonde: A banana.

Black: What? Penny didn't mention a banana.

Blonde: No, ass. In the sack. It's a banana. Get me a club soda from a stewardess, would you?

Black: Don't you want to know what Penny said? And, they're called "flight attendants" now.

But that's not how the bobbling heads in front of me are talking. Instead, they're performing a rehearsed act just loud enough for everyone in three rows to hear.

"Penny said her psychologist regressed her memory or some such thing," Black says, raising his voice a little more. "She remembers she was kept in a pit as a child."

This is why. This is the payoff to why their conversation is scripted. It's a show. They do this several times a week in different places to gauge the reaction of their audience and then replay it when they get to the bedroom or gas-station bathroom or backseat of a car -- the closest private place adjacent to their impromptu stage.

"Penny says we killed the pizza boy and buried him in our back yard," Black continues in his best TV voice. "Can you believe it?"

What's more unbelievable is that these people think no one sees through their ruse. I suspect that 15 minutes after takeoff they'll lock themselves in a vacant lavatory, slapping each other and asking, "Did you see the look on her face?" Slap.

"They think you're sick." Slap. "They think you killed the pizza boy." Slap. Slap.


  • Thursday, June 9
  • Totally Spies
  • TOON 5:30 p.m.

Have you ever heard of an old TV show called The Man from U.N.C.L.E.? It's a spy show patterned after James Bond. As a kid I thought the show was called The Mad Fermungle. I even nicknamed a friend of mine The Mad Fermungle, which is way cooler than The Man from U.N.C.L.E. What does that mean anyway?

  • Friday, June 10
  • Scooby Doo
  • XEWT, 3:00 p.m.

How does my cell phone ring when it's in my back pocket and I'm sitting on a soft couch?

  • Storm Drain Pollution Awareness commercial
  • Any local channel
  • Usually during dinnertime

There is a storm drain pollution commercial that features -- not one, but two --close-ups of fresh dog poop. How revolting. Why is it that I'm always eating when this commercial airs? It's as if there's a conspiracy to make me cover my couch in spit-up yogurt.

  • Saturday, June 11
  • When Stand-Up Comics Ruled the World
  • VH1, 12:00 a.m.

While ironing last weekend I realized my shirt is the perfect size for ironing boards. I could spin the shirt, hook a sleeve on the tapered end of the board, and the front panel lay perfectly before me. They must've made this shirt specifically to be ironed, I thought.

Wait a minute. What am I doing? This capsule is like a bad observational comedy routine. I've been watching too much stand-up.

  • Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
  • On DVD

Somebody owes me an apology for this movie. We thought we were being funny and hip and ironic when we rented this movie. "Oh, think of it. Us. We, the young, hip, urbane intellectuals are going to stoop so low as to rent Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle just to watch Demi Moore stretch the bottom of her sweater out, catch a gust of wind with it, and fly off of that building like a squirrel." It was a battle of wills to make it through to the end, and it required more than a couple shots of bourbon to steel our resolve against switching it off. When it was over I had finished my fourth drink and was grinding ice between my teeth to soothe my nerves.

  • Monday, June 13
  • Sesame Street
  • KPBS, 10:30 a.m.

Anything that requires measuring time can be done according to the Counting to Twelve song we all learned when we were six. Measuring out detergent? Just tip the bottle and sing, "One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, TweeeEEEeeelve." Done. Cable modem needs to be reset? Push a paper clip into that little hole and sing, "One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, TweeeEEEeeelve." Done. Watering a plant? Warming up the car? Adding milk to cereal? For brushing your teeth, sing it once for each section of your mouth. I'm not exaggerating when I say it's all you'll ever need.

  • Tuesday, June 14
  • T-Minus Rock
  • MTV2, 8:00 a.m.

I recently tried to describe a song to a friend, and after she asked, "How does it go?" I caught myself spewing this ridiculous chain of meaningless statements: "Well, the lead singer's a woman who sounds a little like the Divinyls lead singer, yeah, 'I Touch Myself,' like that song. And on this song she repeats the words, 'I'm automatic.' And after that there are lyrics that rhyme with automatic. Then there's some other stuff."You don't say? Dumbass.

  • Wild Rescues
  • ANIMAL PLANET, 5:30 a.m.

There are feral parrots in Ocean Beach. The telephone wire outside my bedroom window must look like Niagara Falls to the exotic birds because every morning I'm squawked awake by some young avian couple consummating their nuptial vows. I'm starting a war that will escalate from propaganda pamphlets (written in parrot) to hot water thrown from my window to the "nuclear" option: a pellet gun. You parrots are messing with a SON OF A BITCH now!

  • Wednesday, June 15
  • High School High (1996)
  • TBS, 8:00 a.m.

In tenth-grade Civics class we were taught the "Old Lady Microwaves Poodle" urban legend as if it were the gospel truth. After graduating I had to unlearn 13 years of California public education.

  • Thursday, June 16
  • Sighting in With Shooting USA
  • Outdoor Life Network, 5:30 p.m.

I met Trigg in the parking lot of K-Mart. You don't meet a Polish gunrunner behind the building in the dark, you want him out front, under the lights. He barked at the short, curvy Mexican gal, and she pulled a lever next to the driver's seat to pop the trunk. In the trunk was a heavy olive green lock box that ran the entire width of the navy blue Lincoln Town Car. "Come Fly with Me" rattled out of the tinny dashboard speakers.

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