Mrs. Twiggs had grown old, frumpy, and frail in front of her television set. She loved watching her favorite shows in a way that she could never love her lazy husband or her selfish daughter. The annual renewal of the networks’ prime-time lineups served a ritualistic function for her not entirely dissimilar to that of the religious festivals staged by her superstitious ancestors.
On one particularly cold December evening, Mrs. Twiggs became engrossed in the frippery of a “Santa and the Elves’ High-Stepping Christmas” special. For reasons that were at best tangentially related to the impending holiday, the producers of this program trotted out a series of special guests hand-picked from the ranks of Hollywood’s top celebrities. These worthies were as familiar and comforting to Mrs. Twiggs as the baby blanket that she kept in her long-departed daughter’s bedroom, and seeing them assembled in this manner brought an unspeakable joy to her heart.
This joy was unspeakable not because it was greater than words—for it undoubtedly operated at a level well beneath language—but rather on account of Mrs. Twiggs’ inability to think about what she was watching. She had passively consumed this cold media for so long that it seemed to her that there was no alternative.
All of the presenters on this show, from the teenaged country-and-western sexpot Boogie Crackerjack to the sixtysomething political icon the Handsome Senator, gleamed with the polish of their carefully maintained youth. Mrs. Twiggs, who lived vicariously through the frivolous goings-on of this leisure class, emanated dullness in same unremarkable way that her artificial fireplace emanated warmth.
She slipped into reverie, imaging herself standing alongside these ageless heroes. As she joined with them in singing some time-worn Christmas ballad, she thought about how millions of her fellow Americans would gaze longingly at her through their own television sets.
Her husband’s coarse voice roused her from this narcotized state. “When you going to cook that hamburger steak dinner, mom?” he shouted at her from the bedroom, where he was watching whatever game the sportscasters had fleetingly labeled the big one.
“When my show ends,” Mrs. Twiggs replied, praying that it never would.