Tissues. Check. The scratchy kind. I’m going to get that red nose and irritated upper lip anyway, so why should it cost me two extra bucks?
Ginger Ale. Check. Not diet. Loaded with natural sugar was good enough for Mom.
White bread for toast. I can go whole years without needing toast but a scratchy throat requires white toast. Well-done. Nearly burnt. Butter. Tea.
Medicinal sticky cough drops. What the hell, I can’t taste them anyway. Artificially flavored “Wild Cherry.”
A summer cold makes it absolutely imperative to be eco-unfriendly and to pour preservatives down my unhappy throat.
Later, there’ll be ice cream.
You know what else pre-packaged, unhealthy and ecologically unsound I need right now?
Television. Scripted, soapy, tear jerker “dramas” which are to my usual reading what the white toast is to my usual seven-grain nutrition breakfast bar.
Of course, just because I’m on a high-fructose binge doesn’t mean I have entirely lost my senses. I still do textual analysis of the TV shows. Narrative fiction is narrative fiction no matter how little it resembles wholesome fare. The ginger ale quenches my thirst and the toast and butter provide calories.
I know; you’re disappointed. I’m supposed to re-read Jane Austen or Henry James or Dickens or something while I lie in bed and blow my nose. Isn’t going to happen. When I was eight, there was Channel 9, WOR, and reruns. Now there’s Netflix on my Kindle but not much else has changed.
I love science fiction, books and movies and TV, but that’s not what I’m taking about right now. Right now I need what I suppose the marketing people would call “family dramas.” Not the true soap operas, either the daytime or nighttime kind. I’m not much for intensity, backstabbing, evil twins, whose-baby-is-it and who-shot-JR. We’re kicking you out of the firm. You’ll never operate in this hospital again as long as I’m Chief of Medicine. No, not that kind of soapy. I watched ten minutes of “The Good Wife” earlier this year and I think I have reached my quota of tense ultimatums muttered from behind clenched teeth.
No, give me a good upper respiratory infection and I will explain to you why family dramas work, textually speaking. For one thing, I’m probably going to cry every forty-two minutes or so anyway, so why shouldn’t it be over a lost (or recovered) or dead (or dying) dog, a photo album crammed in a drawer, a visit to a gravesite, or Nana in the nursing home calling somebody by their father’s first name? Why shouldn’t I find myself answering the characters’ questions to one another with, “Because it’s the right thing to do”? I love recognizing character tropes and then thinking back to their forebearers in Shakespeare or Homer or Swift. I love figuring out who isn’t really dead because that’s a famous character actor in the picture and the credits so he’s bound to show up — or maybe just in a flashback. I can usually tell which critically ill child will survive and which is doomed. I get a sip of ginger ale or a spoon of ice cream whenever somebody goes back into AA and says, “Hi, my name is Carl” after an evening pounding the bar with an empty whisky glass waiting for Jerry to come over and ask him if he hasn’t had enough and should’t he call him a cab. Two spoons of ice cream for the phrase “at-risk pregnancy.” I score extra points for spotting the teenage gang-banger who will be dead; double points for predicting which episode and how many bullets they find in him. Bonus for when his little brother finally cries.
I don’t care about my job. I have to do what I can to protect my family.
It isn’t about the money. It’s what your mother would have wanted.
If that’s how you see it, then go ahead and walk out that door, but don’t come back.
You know she loved you, don’t you?
When I study fairy tales with my Myth & Culture students we talk about repetitions (times three and times four, depending on the culture), stock phrases, prototypical characters, journeys and homecomings. These dramas have the same structures with modern American motifs like alcoholism, dysfunction, domestic abuse, parent-child estrangement, irresponsible debt, drifter-dreamer family members, aging parents, workaholic fathers, suburban fantasies unfulfilled.
Next week my body won’t remember being sick, and I’ll go back to salads and whole wheat and seltzer and fresh fruit. I’ll also go back to James and Dickens and Descartes and Hume. I will be unharmed by the little sugar indulgence and might even have a new insight for George Eliot that I got while watching “Judging Amy.”
Hey, didn’t he play a demon on Supernatural? Or was it on Charmed? Or maybe both. Next week he’ll murder somebody on Castle and then everybody will talk about their feelings.
Excuse me while I blow my nose.