‘Sex, snatches of old TV shows’



From Threepenny Review:

Another moment in the dark: early December, the end of the year creeping near, not the object of immediate attention but visible in the distance. I was fifty years old. At around four in the morning I lay in the dark next to my wife, who was sound asleep while I, not for the first time recently, or the second, or the third, was unaccountably but completely awake.

One’s mind in these circumstances—mine, at least—is the way I picture outer space: a black, orderless non-place where thoughts, like comets or debris or light from dying stars, crisscross and collide. No beginning, no end. One point as good as another. Let’s see:

To my relief and my anguish, the days of playing on the floor with our two daughters, of making up bedtime stories to tell them every night and sitting next to them while they went to sleep, were behind me. One daughter was fifteen, bright and funny and just as introverted as her old man—and, come to think of it, the exact age I was on that first bus trip, a year older than Mary (she of my first kiss) had been at the time, nearly as old as the worldly, lonely, pregnant Tawana. (What was Tawana doing now? Or her baby, now thirty-four?) Our other daughter was now twenty, this grown person who was somehow my child, who liked jazz and hip-hop and Johnny Cash, who read Hemingway, who aspired to be—of all the things the daughter of an introvert could try to become— an actor. Had I done a good job by them? All I could say for sure was that I had tried as the years slipped by, and that the job, done well or badly, was just about done.

I was just about done, too, emotionally if not otherwise, with another job: the editing career that had fed us while, in my off-hours, I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. Writing was the route I had chosen to the destination I imagined so long ago. It had led me through miles and years of wilderness, a no-man’s-land whose end I had finally reached, or not. My recently published book of essays, much of it criticism, had appeared to an explosion of quiet—and then, miraculously, caught the eye of an award committee, and so transformed me from an aging, highly obscure writer into an aging, highly obscure writer with a prize. I was pleased and grateful for this award, given to those who show “promise” (promise!), but I wasn’t sure what, at this stage, that meant, or even what this stage was, or what was next, which was true of my life generally at this moment, that possibly being one reason why, at four-something in the morning, I was wide awake.

In the dark I thought of other things, too, many and small and random: grievances now two decades old that I should have long forgotten, things I wished I’d said back to this or that person, sex, snatches of old TV shows… I wondered sometimes what effect TV had had on me, on us all. Things had changed a bit lately, but in general, through TV’s history, life had tended to go well for its characters, provided they were decent folks—and didn’t most of us think of ourselves as decent folks? What unconscious assumptions had we all taken from this? How many of us, because of TV, had spent our lives waiting on things that would never come? Was I among them? Well, hey, at least my formative years had coincided with Seventies TV, which had little touches of reality. Mary Richards of The Mary Tyler Moore Show never did find Mr. Right—didn’t marry him, anyway. The dad on Good Times died, and so did poor Henry Blake on M*A*S*H, on his way home from the Korean War.

And, of course, for evidence of things not working out as they should, one need not look to TV.

“On the Bus”, Clifford Thompson, The Threepenny Review