I’ve been on a writing hiatus for a while now. Rather than spending time staring into an irradiated laptop screen, my days have been filled with outdoor pursuits such as sea turtle patrol, swimming pool maintenance, or people watching at the local beach bar. It’s a tough life, huh? One could rightfully argue that outdoor activities and writing are not mutually exclusive; so let it suffice to simply admit my laziness and move on with renewed resolve to improve. As with past literary “dry spells”, inspiration to write again rises from frustration with the world around me and the need for a good rant. This time around, the object of my ire is the forty-two inch rectangular device in my living room, commonly known as the television.
I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with TV. Being reared by parents better suited for the nineteenth century, my father refused to buy a TV until I was eight. By that time, sports and outdoor activities consumed me to the point of TV being an occasional distraction rather than an obsession. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll claimed my teenage and young adult years, leaving limited time for TV. It was not until after graduate school that boredom, work, and a bad relationship led me to a sedentary existence where primary comfort was found in front of the goggle box. Movies, documentaries, and sports on TV filled the emptiness of my “grown up” years as I worked to conform and adapt to the suburban lifestyle to which I attempted to be accustomed. It was only after divorce and a move back to a tiny apartment in the city that TV again took a back seat to more intellectual pursuits such as pub crawling, chasing women, and drinking till dawn. My life was once again on a TV free track. But, alas, one day while nursing a particularly bad hangover, I stumbled upon an MTV show called “The Real World”. Ever heard stories of a coke head discovering crack for the first time? That was me. I was hooked. From there I expanded my habit to include “Road Rules” and “Cops”. “Survivor” and “Big Brother” soon followed. I started planning my social life around these time slots. If it were to have stopped there, my life might have become manageable but nooooo! A cultural phenomenon was in full blossom. “ Reality” TV was in full revolutionary mode and there I was riding the wave. Be it “Paradise Island” or “I Married a Quadraplegic Orangutan” I was there. This shit was real! No more half-assed writers driving the action, unscripted, regular people were doing stupid human tricks for my entertainment every friggin day! Everyone said it wouldn’t last but I knew better. I wanted to be one of those people “being themselves” in front of a camera for millions to see. My obsession even led me, video camera in tow, to the James River on a January day. Sporting a leopard thong, I jumped rocks, bit the heads off rubber chickens, spewed fake blood, nearly blew myself up with flash powder, and dove into the icy winter water bringing up market purchased fish and lobster in my teeth. Why you ask? I was creating the ultimate audition tape sure to land me a spot on Survivor. I often wonder where that tape is. It would make a great You Tube. But, I digress. I was obsessed with Reality TV.
As I assess the early years of my addiction, certain events stand out as landmarks in the downward spiral. One of the most important was the emergence of small cable networks as “power players” in the Reality TV marketplace. It was during this Reality TV renaissance that I discovered… Food Porn. Having always been a bit of a food connoisseur, cooking competition shows like Top Chef became an obsession. Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern became my food porn idols. I spent countless hours binging on their bizarre food shows and later countless thousands of dollars travelling the world in search of the delicacies that would make the ordinary man puke in disgust. My insatiable addiction landed me in China where I sampled treats such as donkey, scorpion, camel paw, sea snake, and an endless variety of insects and worms from street vendors on the seedy back streets of Beijing and Chengdu. Following celebrity chefs like a Deadhead on tour, I made pilgrimages to most of the major US cities, blowing money like a horny rock star in whatever new restaurant was being featured on my favorite food porn shows. I was riding high. The world was my oyster and my appetite was endless. So it seemed at the time.
Despite the layovers, cancelled flights, ten-page AMEX bills, and empty bottles of Imodium AD, it never occurred to me I had a serious TV addiction. This realization would come later as my Reality TV appetite would lead me to new heights of viewing euphoria. Actually, Annie (name changed for anonymity), my partner in crime, led me to the final frontier of Reality Hell; but, already an addict, I was a willing follower. Hand in hand, we entered the world of fashion. Tim Gunn, Heidi Klum, Michael Kors, Manolo Blahnik, Christian LouBoutin, Hugo Boss, and Prada nearly destroyed my life. Inspired by the endless hours of fashion themed reality shows like “Project Runway” and “What Not to Wear” trips to New York became not only an opportunity to visit Nobu, but to shop as well. We were on a first name basis with most of the retail clothiers in Manhattan. Angie had personal shopping assistants at Sachs and Bergdorf Goodman and I had a plush parlor to lounge in while I sipped wine and waited patiently, chatting with some pretty cool celebrities waiting for their spouses as well. When Annie finished shopping, it was my turn and Soho was my playground. Price became a non-issue. If it was good enough for all my TV heroes, by God, it was good enough for me too. Drunk on a stack of Robert Graham shirts and John Fluevog shoes, I had no inkling of the abrupt changes on my horizon.
In a hotel room, on a snowy January morning in 2008, I awoke in horror to the scene around me. The entire suite was littered with bags of clothing and shoes, the sheer volume of which would require a UPS truck to get it back home. This would prove to be the last New York culinary and clothing binge. We finally reached rock bottom. Nursing a hangover that only obscene extravagance can engender, I headed home to Richmond, Virginia with a resolve to make some serious changes.
As with other addictions, cessation of the addictive substance is required. I reluctantly cut off cable service and began a steady climb out of the dark world that is Reality TV. Detoxified, I went on to leave the corporate world, buy a motorhome, and live a simple unfettered existence on the road. I travelled from coast to coast sightseeing, hiking, fishing, and enjoying the simple pleasures of life for several years, all without the “luxury” of cable television. Although now officially off the road and settled in my simple island life, my addiction to Reality TV is never far below the surface. Trading RV life for a condo, I now have cable TV again. “Survivor” is still my favorite show but I have no plans to audition again. I still watch Top Chef and other food shows but I watch for inspiration to cook new dishes at home. I don’t care too much for fashion anymore. Thrift stores suffice for me now as my everyday outfits consist of a pair of shorts, T shirt, and flip flops. Truth be known, I still do occasional Reality binge watching but TV mostly pisses me off now. I truly believe television is largely a waste of time and will make you stupid. Watching what passes for news or entertainment is designed to sell the viewer either a product or lifestyle. In my case, now at least, it provides fuel for my frustration with the many things I perceive to be wrong in our Corporate States of America. But, I’ll address that in a second installment. I have to go now. Pawn Stars is coming on.