Monday, August 6, 2012

    What I'm trying to say is that it was ultimately much more like the evangelist girlfriend with the boots' own experience than I could have ever admitted at the time. Obviously, through just the 2,235-word story of a memory, I could never convince anybody else that the innate, objective quality of the substitute's lecture would also have glued anybody else to their seat and made them forget about their final review in American Political Thought, or of the way that much of what the Catholic father (I thought) said or projected seemed somehow aimed directly at me. I can, though, at least help explain why I was so 'primed' for experiencing it this way, as I'd already had a kind of foretaste or temblor of just this experience shortly before the mistake in final-review classes' rooms occurred, though it was only later, in retrospect, that I understood it - meaning the experience - as such.
   I can clearly remember that a few days earlier - meaning on the Monday of the last week of regular classes for the Fall '78 term - I was sitting there all slumped and unmotivated on the old yellow corduroy couch in our DePaul dorm room in the middle of the afternoon. I was by myself, wearing nylon warm-up pants and a black Pink Floyd tee shirt, trying to spin a soccer ball on my finger, and watching the CBS soap opera As the World Turns on the room's little black-and-white Zenith - not Obetrolling or blowing off anything in particular but essentially still just being an unmotivated lump. There was certainly always reading and studying for finals I could do, but I was being a wastoid. I was slouched way down on my tailbone on the couch, so that everything on the little TV was framed by my knees, and watching As the World Turns while spinning the soccer ball in an idle, undirected way. It was technically the roommate's television, but he was a serious pre-med student and always at the science library, though he had taken the trouble to rig a specially folded wire coat hanger to take the place of the Zenith's missing antenna, which was the only reason it got any reception at all. As the World Turns ran on CBS from 1:00 to 2:00 in the afternoon. This was something I still did too much during that final year, sitting there wasting time in front of the little Zenith, and several times I'd gotten passively sucked into CBS afternoon soap operas, where the shows' characters all spoke and emoted broadly and talked to one another without any hitch or pause in intensity whatsoever, it seemed, so that there was something almost hypnotic about the whole thing, especially as I had no classes on Monday or Friday and it was all too easy to sit there and get sucked in. I can remember that many of the other DePaul students that year were hooked on the ABC soap opera General Hospital, gathering in great avid, hooting packs to watch it - with their hip alibi being that they were actually making fun of the show - but, for reasons that probably had to do with the Zenith's spotty reception, I was more of a CBS habitue that year, particularly As the World Turns and Guiding Light, which followed As the World Turns at 2:00 P.M. on weekdays and was actually in some ways an even more hypnotic show.
   Anyhow, I was sitting there trying to spin the ball on my finger and watching the soap opera, which was also heavily loaded with commercials - especially in the second half, which soap operas tend to load with more commercials, as they figure that you're already sucked in and mesmerized and will sit still for more ads - and at the end of every commercial break, the show's trademark shot of planet earth as seen from space, turning, would appear, and the CBS daytime network announcer's voice would say, 'You're watching As the World Turns,' which he seemed, on this particular day, to say more and more pointedly each time - 'You're watching As the World Turns' - until I was suddenly struck by the bare reality of the statement. I don't mean any sort of humanities-type ironic metaphor, but the literal thing he was saying, the simple surface level. I don't know how many times I'd heard this that year while sitting around watching As the World Turns, but I suddenly realized that the announcer was actually saying over and over what I was literally doing. Not only this, but I also realized that I had been told this fact countless times - as I said, the announcer's statement followed every commercial break after each segment of the show - without ever being even slightly aware of the literal reality of what I was doing. I was not Obetrolling at this moment of awareness, I should add. This was different. It was as if the CBS announcer were speaking directly to me, shaking my shoulder or leg as though trying to arouse someone from sleep - 'You're watching As the World Turns.' It's hard to explain. It was not even the obvious double entendre that struck me. This was more literal, which somehow had made it harder to see. All of this hit me, sitting there. It could not have felt more concrete if the announcer had actually said, 'You are sitting on an old yellow dorm couch, spinning a black-and-white soccer ball, and watching As the World Turns, without ever even acknowledging to yourself this is what you are doing.' This is what struck me. It was beyond being feckless or a wastoid - it's like I wasn't even there. The truth is I was not even aware of the obvious double entendre of 'You're watching As the World Turns' until three days later - the show's almost terrifying pun about the passive waste of time of sitting there watching something whose reception through the hanger didn't even come in very well, while all the while real things in the world were going on and people with direction and initiative were taking care of business in a brisk, no-nonsense way - meaning not until Thursday morning, when this secondary meaning suddenly struck me in the middle of taking a shower, before getting dressed and hurrying to what I intended - consciously, at any rate - to be the final-exam review in American Political Thought. Which may have been one reason why I was so preoccupied and took the wrong building's entrance, I suppose. At the time, though, on Monday afternoon, all that hit home with me was the reiteration of the simple fact of what I was doing, which was, of course, nothing, just slumped there like something without any bones, uninvolved even in the surface reality of watching Victor deny his paternity to Jeanette (even though Jeanette's son has the same extremely rare genetic blood disorder that's kept putting Victor in the hospital throughout much of the semester. Victor may in some sense have actually 'believed' his own denials, I remember thinking, as he essentially seemed like that kind of person) between my knees.

- David Foster Wallace
The Pale King

No comments:

Post a Comment