Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Keeping a Really, Really Close Eye on the TV

One of the most peculiar movie-watching experiences I’ve had took place when I was in college, somewhere between three to 30 years ago. My very last semester was over, I’d more or less passed my finals, and I was packing my things to move out of my apartment. My apartment was slightly smaller than a hole in the wall, the rooms -- living area, bathroom and bedroom -- only accessible by dancing the grapevine. The offset that was deemed “the kitchen” by the assertive landlord had likely been conceived by an M.C. Escher fan, a convoluted, seemingly impossible design in which opening the refrigerator door would result in your left elbow banging against the right side of your head.

Despite the apartment’s miniscule size, packing everything up was a grueling task. I was only there for two years, but I never discarded anything, shoving all my papers and notes into drawers and inside the closet and underneath furniture. I could have been a
participant on a spin-off of the A&E show, Hoarders: The College Years. On my final evening, anticipating a ride the following morning (with a stipulation that everything be ready for stockpiling the car), I realized that I was nowhere close to finishing. I decided to forego sleep and work through the night and early morning hours.

The problem with that plan was my eyesight. I see no greater than 20/400, which means that any person or object in my line of sight is nothing more than a blur. If my vision couldn’t be corrected, I would be legally blind. I’ve worn contact lenses for years, but back then, I didn’t have a pair of glasses for backup, at least nothing with a strong enough prescription. You can wear many contacts overnight, but my contact lenses in college were not the overnight variety, so I had to remove them and keep them out for about four hours. Consequently I worked blindly, in the literal sense. It was all a blur, but by this point, I was perusing stacks of papers and throwing away most of it. I was relatively safe. Walking ou
tside to run up and down dilapidated, somewhat misshapen steps and launch a hefty trash bag over a railing when I could barely see a foot in front of me, now that was fairly stupid.

I had turned on the TV for noise, not because I couldn’t work in quiet but because I was trying to drown out my neighbor’s perpetually thumping bass. Then, at three o’clock in the morning, a station started running Orson Welles’ 1946 movie, The Stranger. Orson behind the camera. Orson in front of the camera. Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young. That sounded good to me. Unfortunately, even sitting on a park bench with scratchy butt comforters (aka the couch) and leaning close, I was still only seeing an illuminated gray. So I knelt in front of the television, as if in prayer, the TV an altar. I planted my face mere inches away from the screen to watch Edward accuse Orson of being a Nazi and participating in war crimes. My eyes watered frequently, not so much from the dramatic engagement as from my ill-advised proximity to the TV and the cathode ray tube searing my corneas. During commercials, I would stretch my legs with a series of grapvines around the apartment, like a drunken Electric Slide (although, lets be honest, anyone who dances that looks drunk). I also performed some blinking exercises and kept looking at my hands to verify that I could still see something. I think it’s a testament to the movie’s preeminence, that I would willingly suffer through all of that just to watch it.

By the morning, I was fully prepared for my departure with my contact lenses amending my poor vision once again. I loaded my driver’s car with no help and only requested a stop at a gas station, where I proceeded to fill an industrial-sized mug with strong coffee. I’m an avid fan of Orson Welles and his movies. While The Stranger may not be his best, I have fond memories of it, as I will always remember the first time I saw it. My eyes were glued to the TV, or at least they would have been, had I not already packed the glue. I’ve watched The Stranger since then and was happy to see that it was just as good, even when you aren’t in the TV’s personal space.

3 comments:

  1. Sark, I'm having trouble with Blogger today and have left this comment twice. This version may be shorter than the previous two! Anyway, this was a marvelous post that should strike a chord with all film buffs. Your witty recount is a testament to your cinematic devotion. It reminded me of my youth days in North Carolina and trying to adjust the antenna to watch movies on Channel 7 in Roanoke, Virginia. Often, there was a blurred image barely visible in the white snow. Sometimes, we could just hear movies like HANGOVER SQUARE...but it was worth it. I have thoroughly enjoyed all your movie watching posts this month.

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  2. Sark, you have a real gift for comedy writing! (Have I said that before? I just had a moment of deja vu...) I started laughing at the M.C. Escher kitchen and hardly drew breath by the time you mentioned the cathode rays searing your corneas. What a funny story and told so well! Rick reminded me of the old days of twisting aluminum foil around the rabbit ears and practically hanging them out the window to get a picture. Wonderful piece of writing, Sark -- that kind of thing just makes my day!

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  3. Sark,
    The giant eyeball drew me to the post and now I see just how fitting that image is.
    Thanks for sharing your personal experience with The Strangers.

    I had to laugh at your hoarders reference and your half dance, half slide to adjust your eyes.
    Your colorful, very detailed posts are always a treat.
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