I GATHER from the news of Sunday night’s Emmy Awards that we’re in the midst of a new golden age of television and that I am a foreigner in my own country since I stopped watching TV in 1982. No wonder I’m having a hard time understanding younger people. I never saw “Flu Bug” or “Name of Stones.” I may as well be an undocumented guy from Guatemala.
I quit TV around the time I stopped smoking, the two being psychologically linked, and also I was writing a novel at the time and working a day job and there simply wasn’t time for sitting and staring. So this golden age goes on without me.
I don’t miss smoking, though I remember how elegant a cigarette felt between my first and second fingers and the expressiveness of exhalation. And I doubt I’ll return to TV, though I enjoy watching people watching the screens in airports, their petrified faces as if they’ve been shot up with novocaine. I don’t see them laugh or show emotion, they just sit stunned as if concussed. Whereas, sitting this morning in a café in Washington with my friend Heather, looking at her eight-month-old Ida Rose, is a fabulous show, the intensity of an infant’s curiosity about morsels of food, her mother’s fingers, my attempts to get her to smile by making soft flatulent sounds. I take her on my lap and she chews on my finger. She has sharp teeth. The avid interest of this little being, her curiosity about every ordinary thing in the immediate vicinity, is how I want to live my life.
I never watched a single episode of “The Apprentice” and so I am ignorant of American government. Nothing I learned in Political Science 101 is operative anymore. But that’s okay. I’m sitting in a café in an enormous hotel atrium, eating generic oatmeal and drinking black coffee, with my friend and her beautiful child. There are three TVs within fifty feet of me, morning news programs, hosts chatting behind a desk, very amiable, chuckling, gesturing, showing intense interest. The sound is off. It’s a silent puppet show and it tells us that the world has not ended, no cataclysm has occurred, men in suits and a woman in a pale blue dress have a handle on things.
Meanwhile Ida Rose is looking intently at me. I offer her a slice of banana. She takes it with delight and enjoys the sweet squish of banana against the roof of her mouth. She seems to be on the verge of speech.
Heather is a friend and longtime duet partner who’s become a sister, and now and then we do a show together, singing classic Everly Brothers stuff and passionate love songs like “Unchained Melody.” She has a great voice and I sound okay singing harmony. She has perfect diction and I can read her lips if I forget the words. She and her family live in the woods so it’s good for her to get out and sing, as we did last night in a blues club in D.C. People paid to come see it. I text a photo of the child to my wife in Minnesota. “I want to squeeze her,” she texts back.
The Brits are going to have to figure out Brexit on their own. It’s a mess of their own creation. The Christians who are driving this country toward lawlessness and chaos will pay a terrible price for it and there’s nothing I can do to stop them. Their man is an embarrassment to our country and they’ve never been prouder. I was brought up by fundamentalists and it’s instructive to watch them wholeheartedly support dishonesty, corruption, adultery, narcissism, treachery, and boastfulness in violation of everything Jesus taught.
But the immediate vicinity is a thing of beauty. The waitress comes over to greet the baby who takes her finger in hand and studies it. The kindness of the woman, her wishing us a good day, the kindness of the women at the next table when I walk over and say, “I’m trying to think of the name for this enclosure. It’s not a courtyard, it’s a —” and one of them says, “Atrium.”
The beauty of living each minute aware of the surroundings is enough for me. We’re surrounded by goodness if we will only look for it, so say I. It’s sitting on those knees, bouncing, studying my solemn expression. Praise God, little girl, and enter into his courts with thanksgiving.