Weird Tales: ‘Late Night TV’

CandlelightWeirdTalesLogoBy Heidi Logothetti
Heidi Logothetti was born in Northern California and attended Santa Clara University. She currently lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and works in Washington, DC. She is an omnivorous reader, enjoys hiking, and loves old movies and anime.

Today’s weird little tale concerns a woman and her television.  What’s the TV saying? Listen. It has something on its mind.  Through the chatter and between the channel surfs, is it trying to say more than you think?

Adult Themes – Not Intended for Young Children

Late Night TV

The vicodin has damped down the pain, but not quenched it entirely, so I leave my bed and go to the spare room. A needless move, since Mike hasn’t been home for days and the TV in our bedroom gets a better picture than the TV in the spare room, but I’ve read that you should only use your bed for sleep and sex. (I suppose I should have been avoiding my bedroom altogether, seeing how little of either I’ve gotten lately.)

A man in a lab coat is holding up a bottle and explaining how its contents naturally work with your body’s own natural mechanisms to promote natural weight loss. I flip the switch.

Black-and-white movie. A familiar-sounding waltz is softly playing. The scene is a large room, in darkness except for some light spilling (apparently) through a round, multi-paned window. The shadows upon the floor look like prison bars. A man carrying something on a tray walks across the floor unhurriedly but resolutely. He starts up the stairs, and I can see his face. My guts clench. I change the channel.

A man in a hockey mask is using a chainsaw to dismember a blonde with tight clothes. I relax. She looks just like the hundred or so blondes who hung out on the Senior Lawn in high school; I never could tell them apart.

Commercial. “Hi, I’m Dr. Amanda Gillis, and I want to tell you about a totally new, revolutionary product that will erase your wrinkles….” The woman looks very much like the chainsaw victim. I chuckle. After explaining that the product is based on an ancient Japanese secret, she introduces the creator, Dr. Cushing. He is pale and dark-haired, and his deep-set eyes glitter. It’s the same man as the one in the weight-loss product commercial. Click.

Bombs, palm trees, and men with helmets and guns running. Nope.

Not another black-and-white thing. Is that a really young Robert Redford? He’s dressed as a cop, and he’s talking to an old woman. Meh.

Godzilla! Yes! Who’s his opponent? Ghidorah! Ah, there’s Rodan (yawn) and Mothra (boring). At least those stupid miniature twins are nowhere in evidence. Ghidorah spews lightning from his three heads. Godzilla utters his trademark cry, which I last heard coming from the office photocopy machine when I tried to duplicate a 50-page document. I close my eyes, and I must have dropped off, because now Rodan and Mothra are swimming away and it’s the end of the movie. A commercial comes on, and I’m not surprised when it’s Dr. Cushing again. This time he’s promoting an entirely natural sleep aid that is guaranteed to….

A skinny white woman with a British accent has her arm around an African child dressed in a white t-shirt and tattered gray shorts. She earnestly explains how our donation of just 70 cents per day will provide food, clean water, and education for these children. I move my thumb over the control, but stop; even in my painkiller-and-insomnia-induced daze, I am ashamed because my first reaction is “Not another one of these Starving Brown Children appeals. I’ve heard this a million times.” I watch the woman point out the trash heap where the children search for food, the filthy river from which they take their water. It all bothers me vaguely, though I am unable to work myself up into feeling much emotion. The commercials feature a gray-haired couple talking about Your Final Expenses, Billy Mays hawking an amazing cleaning method, and a middle-aged woman who completed her online education in medical billing and now makes triple her previous salary. I am relieved and slightly disappointed when I don’t see Dr. Cushing. The woman comes back on, now surrounded by a couple dozen smiling children in school uniforms. I almost call the number listed prominently on the screen, but decide that it would be far too much effort to get up, find a pencil, write the number down, get my wallet, go to the telephone, etc. Also, I had read that you should research charitable concerns before you give to them; you should see how much of their funds actually go toward the cause. Right, now that I’ve been socially responsible, it’s time to change the channel.

A Lifetime Original Movie about a woman coping with the death of her child, who is being framed….Next.

A man with thick-rimmed glasses is holding a flaming bunch of newspapers and waving it toward some leafy vines that are reaching out to him. The color is bright and a bit grainy; looks like a 60s movie. The vines jerk back; the man flings down the newspapers and bolts. The vines slither around the still-burning newspapers and beat out the flames. They close in and fill the screen….The scene changes to a close-up of a different man on a train. He looks pale and disturbed. The camera pulls back and shows other people watching him, among them a bearded man with fingerless gloves and a dark cloak and hat. The bearded man tells him that this future can be avoided and turns over a tarot card; it depicts a skeleton, the death-card.

This is not one of the commercial-less movie channels, and now my friend is onscreen, explaining how his product can take away your pain without any need for pills. This is actually interesting, though I snort skeptically. I hear testimonials from various real-life people (not actors!) who have been cured of their acute or chronic pains with this stuff. I surf.

Another black-and-white movie. An oddly hollow, old woman’s voice, and a young man with a little smile and crazy eyes.

News—a bombing in Indonesia.

Title credits—The Grapes of Wrath. That commercial has to be over now; I navigate back to the horror movie.

I learn that the bearded man is called “Dr. Schreck.” Cheesy. Another of the train passengers, a cheerful but slightly nervous blond man, taps three times on a stack of Tarot cards, snapping his fingers after each tap. Dr. Schreck lays out the cards, and the scene fades to a story about a voodoo curse. I do not change the channel, and in the successive commercial breaks, Dr. Cushing pushes products that will take away anxiety and depression, acne, and rheumatism. (The FDA has not evaluated any of the claims made for these products.) I have now entered that odd state of clarity experienced during a dream, a fever, or an extended waking period, and it does not occur to me that this doctor’s ubiquity is unusual even for late-night television.

It also does not surprise me when, at the end of the movie, Dr. Cushing interrupts his sale of an acid-reflux treatment to ask me if I had enjoyed the movie. I say that I had, but that it didn’t take me very long to guess the ending. He then asks me if I was clever enough to guess what sort of treatment cured obesity, wrinkles, insomnia, pain, anxiety, depression, acne, and rheumatism. I didn’t know.

“But wait! There’s more!” he says, and his eyes glitter more than ever. “My product will remove loneliness, loss, betrayal, joblessness, money problems, madness, even, eventually, war and famine….”

“Oh. Clever. When do you turn into a skeleton?”

“I hope you don’t think that was a witty remark.”

“I don’t. I don’t quite get it, though. Am I already dead, or are you trying to make me kill myself?”

“Neither. You’ve taken a lot of those vicodins; your breathing has gradually slowed, and it’s about to stop. You’re—forgive the cliché—at death’s door.”

Cary Grant—that was the name of the actor, the one in the first movie, who looked so much like Mike. Mike had, after I’d been laid off and gotten fat and pregnant, gone off with the blonde admin in his office. Talk about cliché. I had not told him about the miscarriage.

At this point, I should be going toward the light or having some life-affirming epiphany about how life is worth the struggle and pain and whatnot. No light, except for the bluish glow of the screen. I checked my addled brain; no epiphany, just a bleak sense that it would be really depressing to rot here for days until my bloated corpse stank enough to attract attention.

Oh, well, I suppose vanity can be life affirming. The drug and lack of oxygen are obviously playing tricks on me, but it is my impression that I am hoisting myself to my feet, stumbling over to the phone, picking up the receiver, and dialing 9-1-1. Dr. Cushing is grinning from the TV. “Fuck off,” I mumble, and turn back to the phone.

The End

Late Night TV” Copyright © 2009 by Heidi Logothetti, All Rights Reserved

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