The Television Diaries
I’ve been at my parents’ house in Milwaukee for about a week now. I enjoy coming to Milwaukee to see my parents, but it’s impossible, while I’m here, to lose count of the days, because nothing happens in them. I have been here for almost six days. My mother and my aunt Sue met me at the airport, my mother because she was excited to see me, my aunt Sue because she was eager for me to see—and perhaps more eager to see me react to—her recent face-lift. And I did. And she did. And it looks good. A little saggy around the jaw line, but she looks quite a few years younger, not exactly like someone you’d see on TV, but still pretty good, and although in truth I am relatively indifferent to whether or not my aunt Sue looks this good, I played up my sense of awe for a very specific reason: I want her to give me her Volvo.
Hers is a very nice Volvo, approximately three years old and with 55,000 miles on it, which is approximately 70,000 fewer miles than my car has on it, and it is not simply newer than my car but was much nicer to begin with. It has wide leather seats, and you can control the temperature separately for driver and passenger; and the seats themselves have heaters and massagers in them in case you or your passenger are feeling chilled or uncomfortable. Most important, you can control the stereo from the steering wheel. This means something to me. Whenever I think about the difference between doing poorly, economically, and doing much better economically, I always excuse the fact that I’m doing poorly economically by arguing to myself that unless you’re a part of the small class of people whose money is practically infinite, the difference between those of us who are doing poorly economically and those who are doing better economically—in other words, the difference between somebody like me, a writer, a part-time college teacher, adjunct faculty, a good-for-nothing, a traveler, an occasional gourmet, and my friend Andy, for example, the same age or, actually, a year older (as I remind myself from time to time) and an up-and-coming associate at a prestigious Silicon Valley law firm—is negligible. It’s not a fundamental difference, I tell myself, but simply a slight difference of scale, and I tell myself that a slight difference of scale does not warrant giving up on the things you believe in and the things you love. I tell myself: The difference between somebody like me and somebody like Andy is that somebody like me will drive a Honda or a Toyota and somebody like Andy will drive a BMW or, perhaps, a Volvo, and I tell myself that this is a negligible difference: both, or all four, are cars, and both, or all four, are charged with the primary labor of getting you from point A to point B, and all these cars do in fact do this, and in the end perhaps the BMW or the Volvo does it more smoothly, more prestigiously, and with better acceleration, but I tell myself that you only notice these differences at first. I tell myself that when you have been driving a Toyota and you suddenly get behind the wheel of a BMW, you may notice how much smoother the ride is, and how much easier it is to merge in traffic on the highway because you can accelerate so quickly, but that shortly thereafter you have adapted to these changes, you’ve begun to take them for granted, and now the vehicle is simply a car again, the same as any Toyota.
I tell myself that the difference between a car and a car, when you get down to it, is no difference at all, and so I will not become a lawyer in Silicon Valley; I will remain a writer in mid-city Los Angeles, the author of several unpublished novels, and work as a part-time adjunct faculty member for the regular paycheck, in order to pay the bills or, more often than that, to not come up as short as I otherwise might.
But then when I come home to Milwaukee, I often have the privilege of driving my aunt’s Volvo, and I must admit that I want that privilege. I want the whole Volvo, but what I especially want—or perhaps this simply becomes my image of what it is that I want, of what is somehow at stake—are the stereo controls on the steering wheel. With them you can adjust the volume on the stereo, or even advance to another song on the CD, without even having to move your hands. Imagine: a life without wasted motion.
So I compliment my aunt’s face-lift, tell her that she looks at least twenty years younger, and hope that, come the end of the summer, she decides to take pity on me and give me the car. My car, after all, is carrying around 125,000 miles. I put 25,000 on it this past year, driving twice a week from the loft in mid-city Los Angeles that I share with several roommates, to the college at which I function as adjunct professor in Orange County, and twice a month from my loft in mid-city Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, 120 miles north along the coast, where the girl, or woman, with whom I have been involved romantically lives and goes to graduate school.
My old Toyota car suffers from a weak set of brakes and peeling paint, but what really matters to me is this: about nine months ago, the key chamber on the driver’s side of my car broke, which means that you can no longer put the key into the key chamber on the driver’s side of the car, which in turn means that, from the outside, you can only unlock the car from the passenger door. Which means that even when I am alone—and I’m often alone—I can only unlock my car from the passenger side. What I do is walk around to the passenger side of the car, unlock the door, then walk back around to the driver’s side to get into the car. It may not sound like much but it is a small humiliation, a reminder of what I am not, the comforts and prestige I do not have, the difference between one car and another, every time I have to pace around to the wrong side of my car and then march back around to the right side. Why should I have to waste my life?
When I’m home in Milwaukee I watch TV. I do other things, as well, of course: I play Wiffle ball and catch, and eat crackers and cheese, and make up songs for the dog, and read and reread the hundreds of Archie comic books that I read and reread as a child, and later as a teenager, and which are now stored in a milk crate in the basement. But mainly I watch a lot of television. Especially yesterday, when I wasn’t feeling well. I don’t know what it was. The day before, my father asked me to take a tree that had fallen in our backyard and chop it and saw it and clip it into small pieces that could be stuffed into brown plastic bags, and then stuff all those small pieces into those brown bags—bags that are specially marked for the disposal of yard (not household, not pet) waste, bags that can be purchased at True Value Hardware or Ace Hardware or the Home Depot—and then carry those bags to the front of the house and set them where Public Works will retrieve them some time later in the week. I did this, and later, in the stultifying Wisconsin summer humidity, I went for a run, and after that went out to dinner with my mother to an Italian restaurant in downtown Milwaukee where I had chicken parmesan and bread, the problem in a place like Milwaukee being that they give you too much chicken and no end of bread. My chicken parmesan consisted of two steroidally enormous slabs of chicken, and I also had two balloon glasses of wine, and because the waitress kept bringing more bread when I finished the bread she had already brought me, I ate far too much, and by the time I got home from dinner I was feeling very ill. At first I thought I had simply overeaten, but the sensations of having overeaten pass with digestion, and when the sensation of illness did not pass, I came to the conclusion that perhaps, chopping and sawing and clipping and bagging and dragging and then running, or jogging, in this Wisconsin summer humidity, I had become dehydrated, and so I consumed ounce upon fluid ounce of electrolyte-bearing sports drink, and a number of ounces more of unmodified water, and did it all over again, and when I still did not feel any better I was forced to conclude that something more serious might be wrong with me than dehydration. By the time I went to bed, my throat was raw and my glands were pulsating.
I woke up at 2:30 in the morning to a prank caller on my cell phone asking me how I felt about “big penises.” All my muscles ached, and my throat felt as though it had been sandpapered, and my head throbbed, and my ears were ringing. My heart was beating hard with anger at the prank caller to whom, I did not realize until too late, I should have said: “I like my own big penis.” I hung up and lay awake thinking, over and over, of how good that would have been if I’d said that, and did not sleep again.
At 5:30 in the morning my phone rang a second time, and this time the prank caller was threatening to “fuck me up.” By now I’d had enough, and besides, the number carried a Los Angeles area code and I was in humid Wisconsin, so I knew how little I was risking.
“Let’s go, baby,” I said. “Tell me where you want me to meet you and I’ll be there. I’ll be there and I swear to God I’m going to fuck you up. I’m going to rip your face off. I’m going to break your kneecaps. Let’s go.”
There was an awkward pause.
“Why are you handing me this?” I heard a girl say at some distance from the telephone.
“Because,” I heard a guy say—the same guy who had been making the threats, I think, but now sounding much less threatening—“I was just messing around. I don’t want to get beat up.”
So it was all something of a misunderstanding. The girl, who pleasantly introduced herself as Valerie, explained to me that her stupid friends had found a cell phone earlier in the evening and had been calling people all night acting stupid but that they really didn’t mean anything by being stupid.
“Listen,” I told her, softening. “I’m not really going to break their kneecaps, in fact I’m not feeling very well over here, to be honest with you I think I might be under the weather. So I really don’t need these people calling me in the middle of the night asking me if I like big penises.”
There was a pause.
“They asked you that?” she wanted to know.
“Because I like big penises,” she said.
And, finally, after the pause that precedes inevitability:
“Do you have a big penis?”
I would like to say that at that point I hung up my phone. But I did not. Valerie and I talked to each other, about subjects other than my penis, for a number of minutes after that. And then there was still the matter of my body, which was exploding with the sensations of sickness. When I got off the phone, at nearly six in the morning, I went into my parents’ room and told them what had happened and how I was feeling.
“So you got tough with the guy?” my dad wanted to know.
“In a way,” I said.
He put out his hand so I could give him five.
“Now get out of here,” he said. “I’m trying to get some shut-eye.”
I did eventually fall asleep, but not until half past eight, and I slept until almost noon and then spent the remainder of the day taking my temperature and watching television on the couch in the living room. I watched the same SportsCenter several times over, in the constant expectation that it would somehow become new again. I turned on the ESPN Classic network and watched, in anticipation of that night’s Mike Tyson fight, a number of old Mike Tyson fights. That guy really was incredible. He fought fifteen times during the first year of his professional career. He was fighting once every other week, at one point during that first year, and knocking out everybody he faced, not just knocking them out but knocking them flat, knocking them silly. I felt inspired. The old Mike Tyson fights gave way, on ESPN Classic, to replays, in anticipation of the next night’s second game of the NBA Finals, of old NBA Finals games, including Game Four of the 1984 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, a game I now watched in its entirety, thinking all the while of how when Robert Parish, the Celtic, was caught with a pound of marijuana he claimed it was all for personal use.
Eventually, I tired of watching old basketball games from the ’80s—the short shorts and all that—but luckily the Milwaukee Brewers baseball game was coming on. I watched that as well. The Brewers came from behind to take the lead, thanks to some nifty hitting on the part of their 23-year-old prospect Ricky Weeks, but ended up losing to the Philadelphia Phillies when a former Philly and current Brewer by the last name of Bottalico gave up a three-run home run in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Luckily, there was another game to watch after the Brewers game, and so disappointment gave way to eagerness. But they were giving updates on the Mike Tyson fight—it was $50 to actually get that fight live—on ESPN’s evening edition of SportsCenter, and having seen all those early Tyson fights I had become somewhat invested in this Tyson fight, and so I was having trouble deciding between the baseball game and SportsCenter.
My father, who had come into the living room to join me at some point, became irritated with my constant switching back and forth between channels and went to serve himself a glass of red wine.
They keep red wine in the refrigerator at my parents’ house in Milwaukee.
You can’t do this, I tell them. One does not keep red wine in the refrigerator.
“I know what you’re getting at,” my father says to me, “but we don’t drink our wine at quite the same rate as you. If we don’t refrigerate it, it’ll go bad before we finish it.”
Joined by my father, I kept my vigil in front of the set. Sick or not-so-sick—although watching TV always makes me feel a little sick all by itself—this is what I do when I am home.
For the last six days, I have been measuring my chances for the Volvo like a meteorologist rating the likelihood of rain. I call my lady friend in Santa Barbara with occasional bulletins.
“Twenty percent chance of Volvo,” I tell her.
“Three hours ago you put it at thirty-five,” she says.
I think there is a part of her that does not want me to get the Volvo, because she knows that there is a part of her that would hate me for it if I did.
I’m willing to take that chance.
I tell her: “My aunt went to the dealer and saw that they were selling one just like hers, the same mileage and everything, for twenty-one.”
“That’s right,” I say, and think it over. If she’s checking prices at the dealership, that means that she wants to give me the Volvo but isn’t sure if she can afford it, but she can afford it. If she could afford a face-lift, she can afford to buy herself a new car, and if she wants to give the Volvo to me, there’s a good chance that she’s going to find a way to give the Volvo to me.
“Thirty-five,” I say, revising my estimate, on the phone to my lady friend.
“I thought it was twenty.”
She tells me that I’m putting pressure on my aunt to do something that she probably can’t afford to do, and that it’s not fair because now she’s going to have to feel bad about not doing something that she should never have been expected to do in the first place.
This is true, but I like to think that things in my family are a little different. Around here we’re free to beg and we’re free to tell each other no. That way everything is out in the open. Even my lady friend has to admit that much. If my aunt gets sick of me asking for the Volvo she’ll tell me that she’s sick of me asking for the Volvo and that will be that, and I may or may not stop asking. If she gives me the Volvo, I’ll probably run a lap around the block with my shirt off and then start wondering how I’m going to afford the gas when I get it out to Los Angeles, and if she does not give me the Volvo, I certainly won’t harbor any ill will toward her for that. It all seems fair, but then perhaps it always seems fair when you’re the one doing the asking.
My affair with the television is mutual: in fact it pursues me perhaps even more doggedly than I it. In the afternoons I use my membership card for the Hollywood YMCA to gain admittance to the downtown Milwaukee YMCA, but the two are very different. In Los Angeles—and perhaps this tells you everything you need to know about that city—all the treadmills and exercise bicycles and other exercising machines face mirrors, so that as you exercise you are always looking at yourself, and yet many if not most of the people looking at themselves either are, have been, or would like to be on television; whereas at the YMCA in Milwaukee, all the exercise machines, the treadmills and bicycles and rowing machines and so forth, face television sets, so that everybody watches television as they exercise despite the fact that very few, if any, of the people exercising at the downtown Milwaukee YMCA have any interest in or realistic hope of ever actually appearing on television unless they are the perpetrators or victims of some hideous crime. You’d think it might make more sense for the YMCA in Los Angeles, television land, to install television sets in front of its exercising devices. And yet the reverse will make more sense to you once you’ve lived in LA.
The televisions in the downtown Milwaukee YMCA hang above the windows, and the fifth-story windows look out across Milwaukee Avenue, toward buildings that could, from the angle at which you are seeing them, just as easily find a place in downtown New York City or downtown Los Angeles. Of course the people in the downtown Milwaukee YMCA would have no place in downtown New York City, but I can tell you, although it might surprise you, that for the most part the people in the downtown Milwaukee YMCA are in far better condition than the people you will find working out in Hollywood or New York or any other place that thinks it’s more attractive.
I try to run with my head down, paying attention to the seconds turning into minutes on the clock that ticks away on the treadmill’s information panel. But I can’t stop looking up at the televisions. To my left, just close enough that I can see it, is a TV tuned to ESPN. The others are set to various news channels. On my first day back in Milwaukee, running on a treadmill at the downtown YMCA, all these news channels were busy documenting a car chase through Los Angeles. The chase had begun, sometime around nine in the morning, in Thousand Oaks, and then proceeded south down the 405, and then east on the 10, at one point passing through mid-city, past the Arlington exit, just blocks away from my apartment. Hey, that’s my exit, I thought. The chase headed east into the Inland Empire while I ran and sweated and looked out the windows toward what could be downtown New York City, and as I looked around at the pasty, unfashionable, somehow unmistakably midwestern and yet all the same extraordinarily fit people who could not be in downtown New York City, Hey, I wanted to say to them. That’s my exit. On TV.
I could not even escape what the television was saying. All the TV sets in the downtown Milwaukee YMCA offer closed captioning, so that even if you don’t plug a pair of headphones into the headphone portals available on every machine, you still have to know, if you are watching, what they are saying.
“I’m not sure,” one of the news readers on one of these indistinguishable news channels was saying at this point. “It’s been a number of years since I’ve been out to LA, but I have been there, my wife does have family there . . . but I think he’s heading in the direction of Pasadena.”
Of course he’s heading in the direction of Pasadena, I wanted to say, but there was no one for me to say it to, everyone being plugged into their iPods or portable CD players or into the portals at every exercise machine, all of which can be adjusted to transmit the audio from any of the available television channels. Of course, I wanted to say, but he’s a long way from Pasadena, and right now he’s passing my exit. I exited at that exit yesterday.
But no one wanted to know, so I was stuck with it.
The car chase through Los Angeles fluctuated, even as I watched it; at times high speed, at other times low speed. Cars along the I-10, most of them well aware, from radios and the people calling on cellular phones, that a man was fleeing in a white van, of course, down the I-10, and was believed to be armed, all rather antiheroically pulled to the side of the highway when he passed, to let him through, to protect themselves, I suppose. It must be strange, I thought, to find yourself suddenly in the car chase, but I imagine as well that it must be powerful, a kind of theater of cruelty: We all enjoy the show when we’re at a safe and uncrossable distance from it, but what happens when that distance is eradicated, or that boundary between inside and outside destabilized? Artaud wanted to know. Brecht wanted to know. When the car chase being broadcast on television and radio suddenly pulls up behind you, you probably know. But did these people know what they were knowing?
I ran. In place. The guy next to me was running as fast as I was. 7.6, treadmill speed. At the Hollywood YMCA, more often than not I’m the fastest runner in the room, but not so in Milwaukee. You wouldn’t think so, what with this city’s reputation for obesity, but Milwaukee, in addition to being one of the most obese cities in the country, is also one of the fittest. A city of contrasts . . .
The car chase or, in any event, the chase part of the car chase, came to an end maybe fifteen or twenty miles east of downtown Los Angeles. I couldn’t stop watching. I wanted to stop watching but every time I looked up, there it was. It bothered me. It made me strangely nostalgic for Los Angeles despite the fact that I am, this summer, as I am every summer, glad to be out of there for a few months and headed to Spain. It made me nostalgic because something like this, broadcast into houses and apartments and gyms across America, makes something spectacular out of something incredibly banal: my exit. Life in Los Angeles isn’t like this. There aren’t car chases and helicopters and gang warfare everywhere you look. Or there are, I guess, but it’s like anything else. You’re not looking, not if the cameras aren’t. In any event, the chase ended because the police executed a spectacular maneuver. It involved a police car clipping the back wheel of the fleeing van, thus causing the van to start to spin, as though it were slipping on ice, and at that point three or four police cars all sort of came together to pin it against the retaining wall to the far side of the highway. I ran. I tried to pay attention to other things. I increased the speed on my treadmill to 7.8 and less than a minute later the guy next to me did the same.
What was this?
I increased the speed on my treadmill to 8.0.
Match that, fatty.
He did. He wasn’t fat at all. I was out of gas. I dropped back to 7.8 and dug in for another mile.
The police cars that had pinned the fleeing van against the retaining wall were replaced one at a time by black armored SUVs of the sort that you might see in a news report about governmental officers visiting Iraq to admire their handiwork. The only difference was that these SUVs were matte, whereas the SUVs you would see in the news report about Iraq would be glossy. So there were three or four matte black SUVs pinning this white van against a retaining wall. The suspect was inside. New reports suggested that if the suspect was armed at all, it was with a kitchen knife. Each of the SUVs was filled with special officers. None of them moved for a long time. Although initial reports suggested that the suspect may have had a hostage in the van with him, more recent reports indicated that he was likely alone with his kitchen knife.
So nobody moved. Most of another mile passed underneath me and, miraculously, despite the fact that I was exhausted, I still hadn’t moved. Such is modern life, you move very fast and never go anywhere. Neither had the car chase progressed; at this point it was no longer a chase at all but rather a number of cars, which were in fact not cars but other varieties of motor vehicle, gathered together in a clump against a highway retaining wall. Then, suddenly, for reasons I could not understand, something happened. Or rather I can understand why something happened; it was because something needed to happen. The situation was inexorably pregnant, it was ten months pregnant. But why did they sit there for so long, at least ten or twelve minutes, maybe longer, doing nothing? And why was this moment, of all possible previous moments and future moments, the moment of action? It happened quickly, and, while I ran—while I struggled toward five miles and then, tricking myself, decided to go a half mile more (after all, it was only half a mile, if you only run half a mile at a time, you never have to run a whole mile)—the situation was replayed over and over again, in slow motion and then slower motion, with explanation and clarification.
This was how it went down: a “special officer” reached out of one of the matte black SUVs with a long pole, which he used to smash the rear passenger-side window of the immobilized van. Then, either that same officer or, more likely, some other officer, pitched some sort of low-power grenade—but a grenade, nonetheless—through the broken window, and it detonated, releasing a gas intended to render the subject unconscious. At that point, when the subject appeared to be unconscious, another special officer leapt out of another of the black SUVs, accompanied by a vicious dog which, from what I could see watching television images filmed from a helicopter hovering in the LA sky, appeared to be perhaps a rottweiler; that special officer yanked the driver’s-side door open and fled back into his matte black SUV and the dog went to work on the unconscious body of the suspect armed perhaps with a kitchen knife. You couldn’t see much of the suspect for all the smoke in the vehicle, but you could see the dog’s head thrashing back and forth. The closed-caption text scrolling across the screen indicated to me that the news readers—now, on the second or third replay, reconciled to the fact that something had actually happened, and having already relegated that which had happened to the status of a foreseen event, even if, with the assistance of experts and analysts, they were only foreseeing it in retrospect—were actually complimenting the courage of the officers.
I’m thinking to myself, running in place: You know who was courageous? The suspect. Whoever he is, whatever it is that he’s suspected of, that guy laid it on the line.
What happened, eventually, was that the attack dog dragged the suspect’s limp body out of the vehicle and deposited it on the highway, at which point he started to attack it again, and then, finally, officers intervened to remove the dog, and then paramedics arrived with their stretcher. The scene shifted back to the newsroom where the news readers—one man and one woman—appeared shaken but also, from what I could tell, watching as I ran in place, vindicated. Once again, order had triumphed over chaos, and they had fulfilled their role in the mission of bearing witness.
Why do I want that Volvo, anyway? Perhaps I would like to seem well-made, attractive, and powerful, but modest and decent about it: a sort of Volvo of a human being. Yes, the Volvo would really improve my image in my own eyes. Now I would be traveling between my loft and school in a late-model Volvo, just as such a character as myself might drive on a TV show if you were meant to believe in his dignity and seriousness. If you were meant to see him as a pathetic person, a figure of fun, then you might require him to unlock his car from the passenger side, and circumnavigate the vehicle to its driver’s side, whenever he wanted to make even the shortest trip.
A day or two later, I was getting my teeth cleaned at the dentist. I had been tilted sharply back in the chair, the hygienist’s gloved hands and rasping instruments were active in my mouth, and perched above me—I thought how it could crush me, if it fell—was a black TV. Tuned to CNN. They’re everywhere: the bank, the post office, the airport. Every time you raise your eyes, there they are, and you’re right in the middle of it, all of it, whatever it is. The story is always half-told, even when it’s all over. (There’s the commentary.) The most important part is always still to come. Unless it’s sports, I don’t like television. It makes me itchy, uncomfortable, stuck. The same thing happens to me when they play the bad Hollywood movies on transatlantic flights to Spain. I don’t hook up the headphones, but that doesn’t help. I still find myself watching. You would think that not having the audio would render the utterly familiar experience of watching some cheap, or rather, expensive Hollywood movie unfamiliar, displacing it, perhaps even converting it into something interesting. But the interesting thing is that it’s not interesting. Watching a Hollywood movie without the audio is watching a Hollywood movie, except without the audio. You are not displaced or destabilized. You always know exactly where you are, exactly what’s happening, exactly where it’s going, and perhaps for precisely that reason you can’t take your eyes away. Or, perhaps, you do take your eyes away, but because, when you go back, you will once again know exactly where you are, exactly what has happened, is happening, and is going to happen, as though you haven’t been gone at all, not for a moment. Anybody who ever stayed home from school and watched TV all day knows what I’m talking about. What you watch when you stay home from school and watch television all day—either because you are sick, or because you are sick and tired of school—are, for the most part, soap operas. They’re what’s on from the time you wake up—late, because you haven’t had to go to school—until the time your parents or siblings come home from school or work and the regular rhythms of household life resume; during the period of time in which you are out of time. You find yourself, almost immediately, deeply involved in the soap opera story, whatever program you happen to be watching, and experiencing a vague sense of panic over the possibility of improving health, or the impossibility of faking illness and thus staying out of school forever: after all, the stories are always on the brink of resolution, and you have the sense that if you miss tomorrow’s episode you will never find out what happens. But eventually you miss school again, either because you’re sick again or pretending to be sick again because you really are sick of the kids at school again, and you find yourself at home during that strange period of the day when home isn’t home because the people who make it home and the rhythms that make it home are absent, and you find yourself, inevitably, watching the same soap operas again, and always, no matter how long it’s been—a month, a year, two years of perfect, uninterrupted health—you know exactly where you are again. It’s not a matter of minutes before you have found your place again within the narrative, but a matter of instants, or perhaps not even that. Instantaneously, you are right back in the middle again.
Months pass. That makes this a coda, or a postscript. I leave. I go to Spain. I return to Milwaukee. I go back to Los Angeles not by airplane, but by automobile, and then even return to Milwaukee again while the Volvo—now my Volvo: hurrah!—sits in a parking lot outside a hotel in El Segundo. The last time I was home I ran the toaster and the microwave at the same time and blew a fuse, of course. (The TV was already on.) I should have known better: the same thing happens when I run the toaster at the same time as any other powerful appliance in my own apartment, except that in my own apartment I know better, so I don’t do it. When my roommates do it I lament their stupidity. I must have been assuming that my parents had stronger fuses or something. After all, they’re my parents. But, alas, the fuses of Milwaukee are no stronger. The toaster and microwave blinked off. So, too, the light I had left on across the kitchen above the sink. A moment later, a human wail came from the room that used to be my bedroom but now, although it retains the appearance of my bedroom—the Nerf basketball hoop above the door, the baseball-and-glove light fixture and so forth—serves as the computer room. The computer, apparently, is on the same circuit, and so it had turned off as well.
The wail came from my mother. “No!” she wailed. “Right when I was in the middle of the internet!”