Chester’s Broadcast Day
For Chester, it was always
time for television. Good television, bad television, sometimes even just the
television itself. When it was nine o’clock and time for bed, and the oversized,
overheated and newly purchased 1974 Zenith Color Console was switched off, Chester
ignored the unfounded warnings of radiation, sitting as close to the set as
possible, watching the glowing white dot fade into obscurity, leaving nothing to
view but the dust from the olive green shag carpet jump up and attach itself to
the purplish television tube.
school year, Chester
began his television viewing day at 6:55AM, rising and dressing only a few
minutes earlier. He slumped in front of his usual bowl of cereal and glass of
juice in his usual seat at the kitchen table, just in time for the closing
credits of Sunrise Semester, a few public service announcements, and finally,
the geometrically animated opening of the local morning program.
Chester would linger in front of the set, until
he was put out of the house by his mother, and would linger again by the
kitchen window, peering thru until his mother closed the heavy shades.
At school, Chester would spend
longer than necessary in the hallway extending his walk between classrooms to
include a stroll past the teacher’s lounge, where he pressed his ear against
the metal door, struggling to hear the faculty television, hanging above the
pop machine. Sometimes he would get lucky and catch a glimpse of the screen as
the door was opened.
Chester did not eat lunch with the rest of
the students. Instead he raced past the cafeteria, milk money clutched in his
palm, to the pay telephone around the corner from the gymnasium, where he
dialed his home number. His much younger brother usually picked up, and, in
exchange for a portion of Chester’s milk money, he would lay the receiver on
the kitchen countertop, next to the television, so Chester could hear every
word of the mid day talk show. Rarely did their mother emerge from the basement
laundry room during that time to catch them, and sternly disconnect the call.
would complain of an upset stomach and ask to be sent to the nurse’s office,
across the hall from a small audio visual storage room. Chester would lie on a low cot under a worn
blanket, and watch the janitor rewind and fast forward educational programs on
a tall rolling television.
Chester jumped off the bus, and headed towards home as fast as he could, to
avoid the teasing and bullying of other boys, but mostly, stepping over the
mail on the porch, to catch the last few minutes of the only remaining
afternoon game show. He sat, cross legged on the floor, taking in every bell,
buzzer, flashing light and applause cue, before his mother awoke from her
afternoon nap on the nearby sofa. Beside him was his battery charged cassette
recorder, saving each broadcast moment for replay at a later time in the safety
Chester ate his dinner lifelessly, then offered
to clear and wash the dishes and set the table for the next day’s breakfast, so
he could return to the kitchen set, and watch a muted
western or horror movie as he worked. His much younger brother would stand
guard by the door, earning more lunch money in exchange for alerting Chester if their mother
was in the area.
absently finished, and, by prime time, Chester
was back in the now dark living room, his silhouette lit by the ever changing
images from his favorite variety show, or situation comedy, or outer space
broadcast day would end with the flicking on of the overhead light, followed by
his mother ordering him to bed, where he would lay awake for hours with his
cassette recorder, recalling the varied televised wonders from the day.
One cold winter afternoon,
running from the bus stop, as usual. But instead of, stepping over the mail, he
was stopped by a note taped to the front door. “Read this, Chester”, his mothers sloppy handwriting
commanded, “Your brother and I are going to lunch with friends. Find someone to
play with until I come home.” Chester
turned the locked doorknob, turned it again, then, panicked, banged on the
heavy wood to no avail. He then quickly circled the house, only to find that
every window was locked, as well as the storm door leading to the basement
Chester began to sweat, and
then shiver, in his thin windbreaker. It would be getting dark soon, and he had
nowhere to go, no one to play with, and no television. Around him, a light frozen
rain began to fall.
Hours later, Chester’s mother and
younger brother sat snugly at the kitchen table, absently wondering who he had
chosen to spend the afternoon with. Little did they know that Chester had
walked a blistery mile to the local strip mall, and was about to be put out
into the cold by the owner of the local appliance store, after standing silently
in the center of the showroom, engrossed in the different programs being shown
on the many varied television sets for sale.
That night, Chester lay in his bed
under layers of blankets, his mothers hand on his hot forehead. “You have a
fever and the sniffles, Chester.
Do you know what that means?”
Chester gulped and replied, hoarsely. “That I
can stay home from school, and…watch…television?” He shivered with excitement,
and patted his cassette recorder.
“No, I’ll dress
you in an extra sweater and you can take a box of tissues with you. No one
stays home from school in this house!”
His mother snapped. Chester
began to cough uncontrollably, and then fell into a deep, restless sleep.
That night Chester quietly passed
away, and stepped into a bright light, a light that would keep him transfixed
for all eternity. His broadcast day had just begun.