I’m happy to report that I’ve gotten up the energy to make the trip downtown to where a TV is on. Down here they’re flipping channels like they’re flipping burgers, which is to say … that they are flipping them.

“It’s a travel show, a family show, a show about problems,” claims a narrative voice.

I settle in, unwrapping what may be a lozenge from what must be a wrapper. Some image of a church spire in Krakow, two church spires, passes through me and out the window.

The show starts in with a report about a family — two gals (mom, girl) and two guys (dad, boy) — that’s gone to the remotest province of Uzbekistan on a two week summer break. It has its time there, then returns.

It seems to take a while for the show to convey this. I’ve already eaten several courses by this point.

What happened to this family, it transpires, is that a third child (and fifth member) has entered its midst, returning to Connecticut with them at summer’s end. A feral, sloth-eyed, uncontainable steppe-child, a child not at all of a type they’ve encountered before, not even in lapse or reverie. A child that’s barely a child, barely countable within the species of which this family has long considered itself a definitive part.

And not an orphan, the show continues, neither a stowaway nor any otherwise adopted child. A fresh child, a biological, regular-made one. Somehow sewn into the family unbeknownst (it’s claimed) to any of them. Whether the father had any involvement in the insemination is unknown to the show’s narrator, and even whether the mother delivered the child cannot be determined. “All that’s known,” concludes the narrator, “is that this steppe-child is as much a member of this family as is any other member, indeed, as much a member as any individual can truthfully ever be said to be a member of anything.”

A red-band trailer slasher flick image of the steppe-child’s face, caked in dust and weeds and what looks like pollen, grinning with dagger-teeth and nostrils flared like a Barcelona bull, flashes across the screen.

THEN it’s the next segment, which takes us to a family reunion somewhere in Michigan. I’ve had like thirty plates of food by this point. The reunion is at a lake house; the kids are playing with bottle rockets, the grown-ups drinking and talking. Everyone looks healthy in that pale, average way. It’s all going fine, until, around a family game of Monopoly on the last night, a shocking discovery is made: the discovery of intergenerations, shadow generations, people inextricable from the lineage but impossible to track down.

“What this means, for those of you just tuning in now,” summarizes the narrator, “is that this family has discovered a series of shadow-members between the generations, slid like — I don’t know what, but like something you slide — in between the established lines of paternity and maternity.”

I think what he’s saying is this:

Everyone who’d appeared to be a father is in fact a grandfather; same with mothers/grandmothers. IE, if I’m a kid, hanging out there in Michigan with my dad, it turns out that that guy’s actually my granddad, and some other guy I’ve never met and may never meet is actually my dad. And same for my “dad” (granddad): his supposed “dad” is in fact his granddad too, and his actual dad nowhere to be found. If I believe someone is my son, or daughter, it turns out they’re actually my grandson, or granddaughter — and my actual son, or actual daughter, is someone I don’t know.

Hence the secret generations, the breaks in lineage, the absent but necessary other progenitors and progeny.

This bit goes on for a while, the narrator and various interviewees trying to get clear on what happened.

THEN we get a guest appearance from Harrison Blake, seeker after the long-lost. These are rare and intense. Harrison, since way before my time in Dodge City, has been employed by the county to roam at large, on no fixed route or schedule, in search of the long-lost, those who’ve been missing so long there’s no real hope of ever finding them, those who, in most cases, were declared dead decades ago.

Harrison is paid a pittance, just enough to sustain a single oldster of his variety, to wander and wander, with his backpack, water bottle, sneakers, and   birch walking stick, the back roads, trails, neglected patches, and overgrown miles of track and cattle-path, in search of whatever he can find. I don’t think he’s ever found a human, but, from time to time, he stumbles past the headquarters of Dodge City Community TV (DCCTV), and, if they’re taping or running live, checks in with us all on-air.

So here he is now, holding up two rocks and a bag of dandelions, thistles, and sumac, explaining where and when he found them, how long he’s been carrying them, and what his thoughts so far consist of. He starts talking about a dream he had while sleeping in a patch of heather …

THEN, someone changes the channel to “Something Violent With People”:

“We’ve got a great evening lined up for you folks,” goes this new narrator, taking his stab at it. “Something Violent With People is followed tonight by a very-special encore presentation of Something Violent With Ghosts!”

A light cheer goes up from the tables around me. I see I’m eating a kind of ice cream cake, or pie a la mode.

Some knife things are up on screen: a man comes up behind another man in a gym locker room and stabs him in the spine. As the paramedics rush in, the man says, “I don’t know what comes over me sometimes. I just get these thoughts, out of nowhere, and I have to work so hard to restrain myself.”

“Can you give us an example?” asks the paramedic.

“Well, sure,” says the man, thinking. “Like, just now, I sort of fantasized about stabbing this other man in the locker room in the spine with my knife. I really felt myself on the verge of doing it. I came so close. I had to hold myself back by the skin of my teeth.”

The paramedics all look like they feel foolish now, having raced in to save a man supposedly stabbed in the spine when now they’re learning that the spine-stabber only thought of doing it, then held himself back by the skin of his teeth.

Then there’s a cut to a dingy street scene, late, under buzzing lights. A college kid is walking along with his headphones on when a masked man creeps up behind him, takes out his knife and an old-fashioned sharpener, and sets to work sharpening it. The college kid just stands there, bopping faintly along to his music. The masked man sharpens for what seems like five or six minutes, removing his glove to test the blade on his fingertip several times, before putting the sharpener back in its case and putting that case back in his backpack, and only then stabbing the college kid in the spine.

THEN a commercial break.

Then an ad for “Something Violent With Ghosts.” The first segment tonight looks to be about a man who’s strapped the brain of his enemy over his own brain, as a victory gesture, making of himself what the narrator terms “an amalgam of unrestrained proportion.”

The segment looks like it plans to center on the slippage that has started to occur with the strap, the ways in which the enemy-brain is starting to chafe.

Looking down at my ashtray, I remember why I came here, or at least what my coming here had to do with: Blut Branson, the biggest writer in town.

Advertisements