Lost in “Lost”

Lost in Lost

After enduring a year-long addiction to the serial television drama “24”, I voluntarily submitted to Serial Television Addiction and Recidivism Eradication therapy (STARE) at Silver Hill.  Serial TV addiction effects every demographic ranging from college students and women addicted to soap operas and weekly black comedies like Desperate Housewives to middle aged  “Nick-o-loadies” that spend days watching reruns of Dark Shadows and Peyton Place. Therapy was intense and included a 12 Step program written in the format of a TV Guide.  We were forced to learn the real names of actors and actresses, unsuccessfully locate places like Port Charles ( General Hospital) and watch eight consecutive of hours of Gomer Pyle USMC.  Aside from  a slight gag reflex every time I hear Jim Nabor’s sing Christmas carols, I have suffered no long term side effects from my Clockwork Orange shock treatment.

I have now sobered to the dangers of watching highly addictive weekly TV series. I break into a sweat if I watch the evening news for more than ten minutes. I took an oath to my “24” Home group to never again watch any show or film with Kiefer or Donald Sutherland.  Fanaticism is particularly harsh in this age of overloaded advertising.  The serial TV addict wastes hours on their habit – – often consuming thirty minutes of carbohydrate commercials just to get to the more meaty half hour fix of weekly programming.

My family had also succumbed to the intoxicating weekly dramas of “24” and “Heroes”. In 2009, our house transformed into a den of neglect and weak intentions. We were like something out of the disturbing A&E show “Hoarders” –  a bizarre world of shut-ins, trapped in denial where garbage was piling up, the dog had eaten the cat and bills had gone unpaid.

We resolved to attend therapy sessions as a family – agreeing that we would shake the dreaded vidiot monkey together. Initially, our intervention went well. Yet, I noticed my eldest son was restless and irritable in group therapy.  He took a month to concede that Jack Bauer and CTU were fictional characters but he remained insistent that President Obama was not a US citizen and that the Bermuda Triangle was indeed a real phenomena.  “There are places in the Pacific where electromagnetic forces can create alternative realities.” He asserted. I dismissed this as too much exposure to Bill O’Reilly.  That afternoon,  I blocked the Fox channel on our TV.

Yet, something was not right. I overheard my youngest son talking about some new friends: Jack, Hugo and Sayid. I heard my daughter discussing “The Others” and a “smoke monster”. As a high school junior, I assumed these were euphemisms for kids that were on the fringe of her social circle and a fellow teen with a nicotine habit.

I arrived home one Monday evening to an empty kitchen, family dog licking dinner plates left on the table and no sign of human movement. From a distance, I could hear mechanical thumping and screams as if a person was being mangled in an industrial accident.  I raced to the door of our bedroom and burst in on an opium den of junkies. In the flickering darkness, I found my four recidivists abandoned in the television series, “Lost.”

“I thought we agreed no more TV series” I said to my spouse, recalling our stolen evenings of 2009 as we watched 7 consecutive seasons of “24”. “Oh, don’t be such a poop.” She laughed. “Sit down and watch with us.”

“Shhhh!” hissed my oldest son. “What just happened?” She asked him anxiously.

“Your dinner is in the oven” she said absently not taking her eyes off the screen.

I sullenly shuffled to the kitchen with the family dog patterering behind me, a tri-color remora shadowing me in hopes of feasting on my leftovers. As I sat eating dinner alone, my Aussie rested his head on my loafer and sighed that deep heave that only a dog can muster. He understood the pain and abandonment of addiction as he had probably not been fed in days. Off in the distance, I could hear a muffled cacophony of mayhem as some mysterious mechanical monster savaged another castaway.

I mindlessly ate and pondered a future of weeks without companionship as my brood descended into scattered DVD boxes and arguments over who jumped ahead to watch another episode. It was not enough that they were in the grips of their own mania. They were determined to corrupt me. Like dime bag drug dealers they whispered. “Oh, come on. Try it. Don’t be afraid. You’ll really like it, Dad.” My youngest son grabbed my arm.  Even the dog was now intrigued by a Golden retriever that was regularly featured on each episode. Et tu, Brody?

As I resisted, I became alienated from them in little ways.  I resented their  private inside jokes and “Lost” conversations. “Mom, what is up with Locke and why did he not push the button?” “Do you think Libby is real or fake like Hurley’s other friend from the insane asylum?”. ” Who is Ben, really ?”

My wife tried to rationalize their addiction. She explained that developing this common time with our teens could create valuable paths of communication. I wasn’t buying what she was selling.

” That’s what you said about ’24’ and I ended up having dreams about wanting to cut my boss’s head off and carry it around in a bowling bag.I was convinced the guy at the convenience store was a hostile terrorist cooking enriched uranium in the bathroom.” It was true. Overexposure to Jack Bauer had left me convinced that torture was a perfectly appropriate way to discipline anyone – including a child or an insubordinate employee. ” You may not like my methods,” I would say to my victim, ” but this company needs people like me.”

I glanced at the TV screen as it flickered the letters L-O-S-T.  I became combative.”How do you expect me to believe that all these good looking people ( except Hugo ) were actually on the same plane? The average commuter flight is filled with overweight Americans all hit with the ugly stick.”

“Come on, it will be fun. It can be our date night.” She shoved me in between two boys and the dog.  My “date” then crawled back in between the corner of the couch and my daughter.

From what I could ascertain, in 1974, a clandestine research group was transported to an island in the South Pacific where they began to track, monitor and even tap into a mysteriously powerful magnetic pulse.The project — known as Dharma – flirted with Einstein’s theory of relativity and distorted concepts of space and time. It was on this remote cay that something went terribly wrong, resulting in a catastrophic vortex that wreaked havoc on the cosmos and an unfortunate commercial airline bound for Australia. The island and Flight 815’s seventy-one surviving passengers share sinister secrets and a bizarre relationship that feels as though every character has died and is somehow trapped in an inexplicable purgatory.

The scene opens to a torn fuselage of a jet resting on a tropical beach as passengers mill in indecision.  Two male underwear models, Sawyer and Jack, argue over some trivial matter. Ok, I now get why the girls are drawn to the show. Two seconds later a scantily clad girl removes her blouse to sunbathe while another twenty-something relives her checkered past in an action packed flashback.  Check! Now I get the boys’ motivation.. A golden lab trots down the beach. Our Australian shepherd tilts his head and gives a nuetered “woof” at the television. Yes, it seems there is something for everyone on this mysterious island.

I am worried about being manipulated by the producers of “Lost”. I know I am going to get sucked in to a somewhat plausible plot that will disintegrate into a plot line that ends up like the Weekly World News with a picture of an alien shaking hands with ex-President Bill Clinton or a Batboy on a rampage. The fear of losing all those precious emotionally invested hours to some fantastical Captain Nemo comic book plot compels me to leave the room. Must – re-sist-temp-ta-tion!

Our house is silent except for that incessant thumping and screaming. I pretend to leave, shouting.  “Ok, I’m going now. Cindy Crawford is at the door and we are running away together to start a beauty mark clinic in Laguna Beach! I won’t be home until 2019.

(Silence)

“Ok, I’ll see you guys next month. I’m off to film a reality TV pilot on latch key husbands”

(Crickets)

Disgusted, I plop in my favorite chair and stare at a vacant flat screen. Framing the television is a bookcase of classical literature whose protagonists are shipwrecked, shanghaied, imprisoned, cuckolded and left for dead. I rise and pick up Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. I clearly recall my first reading of Edmond Dantes, his imprisonment and improbable escape from Marseille Bay’s island prison, Le Chateau D’If.  Yet, all I can think about is Jack Bauer. What would agent Bauer do to those French bourgoise after they unjustly jailed him? It would definitely involve a cattle prod.

My “24” addiction is returning. I can feel it. My palms are sweating. I need a fix. My family is not here to prevent my descent into a roller-coaster ride of adrenaline.

I suddenly recall it is Monday night. “24” will be on in less than a half hour.  Relief falls like soft rain. My nose stops running. I can almost hear Jack Bauer on his head set, “We’re ten minutes out. The Tac team is on its way. Hang on, damn it. Just hang on!”

Jack Bauer Must Die

 

Jack Bauer Must Die

 

It’s midnight on a Tuesday.  The laundry is a massive multi-colored heap lying unattended on the mudroom floor.  The computer flashes, “you have 312 new emails”.  The dishes ferment slowly in the sink of what looks like a neglected soup kitchen.  The dog gnaws on a Ferragamo shoe while the cat temporarily passes out in a fetid litter box reeking of ammonia.

 

Upstairs there is thumping indicating the resident adolescents have yet to fall asleep.  The absence of authority permeates the house like the smell of a recent fish dinner. The television beeps like digital clock and a monotone voice announces, “The following takes place between 2am and 3am.”

 

My wife looks at me and asks rhetorically, ” You think the kids are asleep?” With my best codependent face, I reassure her. “Oh – – yeah. I’ll check them in a minute.”

We  hit the “play episode” button – pathetic addicts in a deep cocoon of denial.  We are in the middle of a debilitating video blackout watching the television show “24”. I cannot sleep until I find out whether the president will call back the bombers or he will permanently excommunicate his annoying, conniving Lady Macbeth ex-wife.  My wife is praying a new character – an urbane, handsome middle-eastern Oxford graduate will not be killed.  ” Oh, I hope Raiza lives,” she squeals anxiously clutching a pillow.  I am not jealous.   He has that “ I am a dead man “ look written all over him. I give him two episodes tops. I have become conditioned to not get attached to anyone on this show.

We are together but alone – each trapped in our own inescapable web of emotional knots tied to this soap opera serial drama starring Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, a seemingly indestructible instrument of US counter terrorism in a world that demands morally ambiguous actions to defeat the forces of evil that threaten our American way of life. 

Wherever Jack Bauer goes people die – usually bad guys.  However, if you get too close to Jack Bauer – not unlike a career as a stunt man, living among New Guinea cannibals or raising a 200lb chimpanzee as your own child, your life expectancy is reduced by about fifteen years.  And for goodness sake, don’t hire Jack’s daughter Kim Bauer as your baby sitter or au pair.  This kid is a tornado of bad karma.

Kim’s misadventures make teenagers that have ended up in their hometown police blotters look like cherubim.  In just 24 hours, innocent Kim rescues a young girl from her abusive father, discovers the girl’s dead mother, gets in multiple car accidents – one that results in her boyfriend losing his leg, pulls a gun on four different people- killing one at her Dad’s urging, endures a siege as a hostage, escapes from police custody, witnesses a nuclear explosion, and is trapped inside a bomb shelter with a reclusive survivalist.  Tough day at school, hon? Throughout this entire period, Kim keeps interrupting her father on his cell phone as he is trying to save Los Angeles and/or the President of the US, David Palmer, whining “Dad, just come get me.” Kids just don’t change – they still see themselves as more important than the future of the free world.

Jack does not eat.  He does not go to the bathroom. Jack does not sleep.  He is the ultimate warrior.  He makes the tough decisions and employs brutal methods that waffling bureaucrats cannot make in the face of danger. While interrogating a smug bad guy who displays indignant bravado given the government’s weak knee decision to grant him immunity, Bauer simply shoots the creep and asks his colleagues for a hacksaw so he can cut off the snitch’s head off and use the prize to insinuate his way in with some domestic terrorists.  As we watched “the head in a bowling bag” scene, we heard a noise behind us and to our dismay, realized our ten-year-old son had been spying on the episode from the doorway.  As my wife ushered him out of the room to bed, I could hear her talking to him as they went up stairs.  “ Honey, you know that cutting people’s heads off is not very nice, right?

Each hour is a heart pounding shot of epinephrine with soap opera lack of resolution that leaves a viewer aching and feverish for more.  My wife calls the library at 1am to extend our rental.  “Hi, we rented DVDs for “24” for Season 2. Can we recheck them for another two days? I assume you are not there right now but I wanted to call anyway.” ‘I assume you are not there?’, I say mocking her.   Most librarians are not fiddling with their Dewey decimals at 1am; And yes, sweetheart, please get “24 -Season Three” tomorrow.  If I am lucky, I may get sick from no sleep.  We can stay home and put a blanket over the windows like trailer park crack addicts and do “24 in 24.”  We can parcel the kids out to neighbors and send out for pizza.  We can be Sid and Nancy.

The problem with our “24” addiction is not only the need for constant injections of Jack and his Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU); it is the fact that we are only on Season 3.  As we race to catch the “24” train, it keeps moving.  “24” is now on season 7 and in our sprint to present day, we are subordinating health, hygiene and domestic responsibilities watching consecutive episodes which leave us completely over stimulated and vulnerable to odd dreams.

After a disturbingly symbolic dream where I cut my boss’ head off and present it to our private equity owners in exchange for some restricted shares of stock, I awake in a cold sweat realizing my obsession with “24” is threatening my sanity.  When my son would not confess to using his brother’s computer, I found myself wondering how quickly he would crack if I water-boarded him.  I routinely now refer to my children as ” hostiles” and ” friendlies” and suggest to my wife that when we have teens over we establish a soft perimeter around the basement.  When my daughter claimed she was in town but was in fact, at a friend’s party, I briefly considered using Google Earth to triangulate her location, “neutralize” the entire group and then drop them off at the local police station courtesy of “A Friend of 24.”

I realized that we are now in the grip of a mania and that for the bad dreams to end, Jack Bauer must die.  The problem is the guy won’t expire. He has been injected with more drugs than a Jersey milk cow, stabbed, shot, clubbed, injured in a plane crash, suffered numerous brain damaging head blows – and like Jason from Halloween, keeps getting up.

There is a side of me that understands that art sometimes imitates life.  Does the US employ spooks and shadow agencies like CTU who fight clandestine battles right under our noses on US soil? Do I approve of Jack Bauer’s tactics? Will democracy prevail over authoritarianism? Will Kim Bauer get through a day without breaking the law or maiming her latest boyfriend? Will Jack Bauer ever shave, eat or have a bowel movement? Perhaps some fiber might loosen him up literally and figuratively.

It’s late and we have just secured the first episodes of Season Three.  As I read my column to my wife, we chuckle at our obsessive behavior and get the kids off to bed. 

We have a civilized evening – cleaning up the house, walking to retrieve the DVDs and watching just three episodes – trying to convince ourselves that we can get

the “24” monkey off our backs any time we like.  As we turn out the lights, she is still.  I can tell she is thinking.  This is our last private moment before sleep where we discuss kids, the future and any other important unattended issue.

“You know, if you tell everyone in town that they can rent those DVDs from the library for free, we will never make it to Season 7.  The secret will be out.”

That’s my girl.