I used to visit my grandma when I was a kid. I might stay a night or two, or, in the summer, up to a week. There was yard work to help out with and other basic household chores, but most of the stay was very relaxing.
The pay was ridiculously high, but that’s what grandparents do. I might do nothing more than pull a few weedy mint plants in the side yard and rake the driveway (no, I wasn’t a fool, it was a dirt driveway) and I’d pocket enough coin for a couple of comic books from the corner store down the street with plenty left over to taunt my friends once I got home.
My friends were never too fond of me when I returned from Grandma’s house.
But while there I ate whatever I wanted; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I would have chosen waffles, BLTs, and stuffed meatballs every single day, but Grandma had me expand my gastronomic curiosity a bit. She didn’t want me to grow up an embarrassment to the family—though I’m not sure if she succeeded.
There was lots of time to relax as well. I’d read books, do puzzles and play games, and watch TV. Grandma and I would careen around town occasionally in her Plymouth Fury III to run errands. The schedule was very flexible, except for one brief period every afternoon.
During this time I was wise to stay out from under foot and to keep my trap shut. It was time to choose a chair or sofa cushion and sit for the only thing that had to happen every weekday, Monday through Friday, at one-thirty. As The World Turns was on the telly, and interruptions were frowned upon.
As soon as the show was over, Grandma would call her friend on the telephone and they would discuss what just happened as if the characters were their friends. I would wander away and wonder what was so interesting about it, but the seeds were planted.
When I moved into my own place at the age of 20 I fell into a slightly different routine than Grandma. I had to work every day, so I couldn’t watch TV in the afternoon. Fortunately, we had these crazy machines call VCRs, which allowed us to tape programs to watch later. It was a technological revolution!
I would get home from work around 5:30. I’d curl up in the recliner I had in the corner of my bedroom, grab a bag of corn chips and a pitcher of Long Island Iced Tea, and watch . . . yep . . . you guessed it . . . As The World Turns. I was hooked.
The soap opera is a funny thing. The plot takes months to go anywhere. One day the character of Bob is played by a tall fellow with dark hair, and then magically the next day he has dropped several inches in height and dyed his hair blond. Oddly enough, his face also looks entirely different.
Days go by and the characters are suffering the same problems they were last week, or last year. Nothing ever gets resolved. Sometimes the evil folks turn good, but that’s usually for ratings and not because they are suddenly good. Viewers have become accustomed to them and their evil ways and they seem almost charming.
Until they kill someone.
But don’t worry, because dead people always come back to life in soap operas, and there is always a mysterious twin confusing who is really doing what to who.
I never really discussed the show with Grandma once I became a watcher on my own. I wish I had. I don’t know what the attraction was for her. It seemed somewhat compulsive and addictive for me, at least until I stopped. Eventually it just seemed like a silly way to spend an hour every day (or 48 minutes by zipping through the commercials).
At some point my passion faded.
I turned it on the other day to see what was going on. Many of the same actors were still on the show, although they had definitely aged in the past twenty years (unlike me). There were lots of young actors scampering around being sexy. Some had familiar character names but new faces.
Which is to say that everything had stayed relatively the same. The only thing different is that in a few months it all ends. As the World Turns has been canceled, like every television show that loses viewers and no longer makes as much money as it used to. It will air its last episode on September 17, 2010.
I’m almost glad that Grandma doesn’t have to witness the show’s demise. Otherwise she might have come to realize that soap operas are just escapist pabulum and not worthy of her time and interest. It makes me wonder if perhaps she had just the tiniest shred of an addictive personality, and once she started watching she couldn’t stop.
I wonder, though, if she would have fallen prey as easily for our new national television shame: the reality TV program.
I shudder to think so.