PART 1: Shadowy Eye: based on the TV Mania Project

That shadowy eye on the right-hand side of the screen peers through me, burning through my clothing like a laser, right down to my skin, milky white from years of voluntary incarceration. I stopped the heat lamps and tanning beds after the doctor warned me off of them, for the cancer risk. These thighs haven’t seen the light of day since the turn of the century. The only thing differentiating me from these bare walls is my silvery, shimmery couture gown, hand selected by the show’s producers. I didn’t realize scientists had such exquisite taste! Little did I know these were no longer scientists I was dealing with, but unscrupulous entertainment sharks, bound and determined to x-ray every facet of my waking life, and even my dreams. Oh yes, I felt the electrode patches on my temples as the sedatives kicked in, guiding me to a fuzzy, furry land of slumber, of wish fulfillment and colorful surrealist fantasies better than anything Salvador Dali could’ve dreamed up.

Oh, indeed, my master and creator was the all-seeing, all-knowing TV eye. He took my beloved Ray on a hunting expedition through the African Sahara, without ever leaving our home. He locked Ray up into a darkened room for two whole weeks, with only the large plasma screen for a companion. I used to turn him on in my stiletto heels and updo, but now the TV is his preferred mistress. 

It was all because of that infernal game show. The “scientists” decided to allow Ray’s delusional fantasy to come to life, and he believed he “beat the devil” on that damned game show he kept dreaming up. The grand prize? You guessed it! An African Safari, all expenses paid. Well, what sort of expenses could one possibly have when you never even leave the house, I ask you?! 
Our love song went from an angelic, sweeping aria to a bad jingle in ten seconds flat from that day onwards, and it hasn’t been the same. They say that being cooped up indoors for too long eventually gets to you, plays tricks with your mind. That’s certainly true in Ray’s case. Somehow I fared better. Just ask my pharmacist!

So where did my love’s mind go, you ask? How did he transform from a god-fearing, churchgoing mama’s boy to a depraved, adrenaline junkie, stuck in a virtual reality of his own design, plagued by delusions of grandeur? Why do I let the scientists prop me up every day like a Chatty Cathy doll? An empty shell. When did our fantasies become such a nightmarish reality?

Before I answer, let me take you back a bit, to the flower-laden spring of 1974. We only had a sixteen-inch analog screen, and a healthy, happy life in our marital home. Ray and I had only just met a year before, our eyes meeting across the church pew, and we fell in love instantly, like a pair of teenagers. Our families got along. There was no fighting, no drama. It seemed like fate, or a happy coincidence. After a whirlwind romance, we married in a small ceremony with our closest family and friends, and a cheap, dime-store ring. But we didn’t care. We were too crazy about each other to care about money. My sister Dimensia was my maid of honor. All our friends were there, cheering us on. Even my mama and papa, Ray’s biggest rivals for my affection, were behind us. 

“Too much religion becomes a drug in the end,” mama used to say. She was an atheist. 
Ray and I were an unlikely pair for sure! Yet somehow, it worked.
We couldn’t wait for the honeymoon to consummate the relationship. We spent the wedding night at the Happy Acres motel, sharing all of our hopes and dreams against the heavily starched sheets and free cable TV. We went to church the next day, to atone for our lustful ways. I bathed for four hours in saltwater afterwards, and Ray burned frankincense. Then we left for Hawaii the following morning; clean, pure and full of hope for the future.
We really had the picture book romance in those early days, spending our honeymoon in Honolulu, days and nights lying on the beach, our hearts and souls in perfect tandem, among the hibiscus flowers. Our parents spared no expense, and gave us a five star vacation, a brief respite from reality. But it wouldn’t last. How could it? Even paradise was lost eventually!
We had no marital home of our own, so until Ray could get that promotion at the Stylustrious technology factory, we lived with my folks. It was admittedly a bit of a letdown, after the total freedom and privacy of our little Hawaiian love nest, but we made do. I worked as a seamstress’ assistant, and did other little odd jobs along the way, and we tried our best to save what little money we made. 

We finally saved enough to buy a cute little bungalow, just perfect for two. Everything was coming up roses for us. Until the cutbacks started. 
The day the first workers were laid off Ray came home in a foul mood, slamming doors and drawers.

I didn’t want to tell him, but I knew that I was pregnant. I didn’t want to add to his burden. So I kept it hidden behind closed doors and open, flowing dresses until my mother paid us a visit, and sussed me out. 
“Why are you wearing such frumpy frocks lately, lady?” She said, lowering her coffee cup and her eyes in one fell swoop. 
Ray peered at me from behind his uplifted bible, letting his reading glasses slide further down his nose as he did so. 
“Well, Cathy? What’s going on?” He finally inquired.
I blushed pinker than a May bud in bloom and after a cautious pause stammered, “well…maybe I’ve just been eating too much. After all those luaus, I’ve never quite gotten used to eating like a Cathy-shaped woman again.” 

Why does it always feel like I’m living my life backwards? In slow-motion? At that very second, Ray lifted himself up out of his chair and stood in front of me, at eye level. 
“Now Cathy. There’s something you’re not telling us and by Job you’d better start talking, missus. I’ve got no time for games, and that’s a fact. Now, let’s hear it. You know God hates liars!”

I sighed heavily, stirring more sugar into my tea, “well, Ray. You said it yourself last week, ‘I’ll be a devil’s uncle if I’m wrong, but I swear you’re with child. So…you aren’t wrong.”

Ray saw right through my disguise. It was true I was with child and I could not deny it. Despite the perilous state of his job, Ray was delighted by the news of the blessed event, and he promised we would keep the house and the family together.
We welcomed our delightful little bubbly bundle of joy, Sassy, into the world on June 7th. We had a heck of a time getting her to lie still for her first pictures. Even then, she was a vocal little firecracker!

“And the 7th angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne.” 
Ray read these words from the Bible as he doused little Sassy with holy water and burned frankincense the day I brought her home from the hospital. Of course, she screamed bloody murder. 
“Looks like we’ve got a little hell raiser on our hands, Mother” Ray declared. “We’ll have to keep a close watch on her!” 
He doted on her, but kept a firm hand from day one. I dressed her up like a little princess, and encouraged her to perform like the little star she was from the moment she could walk and talk.

Our son Seth was born two years later, but he soon became known as “Snoop” when he started rummaging through my clothes as soon as he started to crawl! I could never keep a handle on that boy! Of course by then I was too busy popping the latest antidepressants and taking Sassy to toddler gymnastics and baby ballet lessons to notice our precocious son’s antics. Ray wasn’t much help either in the baby rearing department. It was all I could do to stop him from bleaching little Snoop’s bottom every time he changed his diaper! He’d plonk Snoop in front of the TV from morning to late afternoon. The only channels he’d allow the children to watch was of course the religious ones. 

It was one of these programs, “Children’s Rainbow Theater,” which held the key to our future life behind the screen. During the “Rompy Rainbow” segment a contest was announced, for your “little angel” to be featured in an episode, and to win an endorsement contract for a full season’s broadcasting! The product? “Little LuLu’s heavenly hair detangler”. The winning contestant must have the bounciest, shiniest, purest and cleanest hair in the Tri-state area. We knew our daughter was a shoe-in, with her bright and springy blonde ringlets and adorable dimples. 

So our dearest starlet, whom you might know better as “Sassy,” started out her illustrious career in commercials from the tender age of five. 

Dressed in a pinafore, with a blue ribbon in her hair, Sassy wickedly stole the hearts of all the judges and won the contest! We celebrated over a pitcher of “Jesus juice” at the “Sanctified Pig.” The children gorged themselves with ice cream sundaes. We would atone for our sins on Sunday! 

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