Click. Phil sat on his couch, the static sizzling off the TV screen as the power drained out. He felt numb, a sludgy film glazed over his brain. How long had he been sitting here, watching? More importantly, when wasn't he sitting here, eyes forward, face blank, mesmerized by the same five characters in different bodies entertaining him in tidy little half-hour blocks?
Sleep. Eat. Shit. Work. Eat. Shit. Watch. Sleep. Repeat. That was his life, with little or no deviation on a seasonal basis. As a child he would play, imagine and dream of the day when he would be all grown up and able to make his fantasies come true; travel to far off lands, meet exotic and fascinating people, tame wild horses and have goddesses fall in love with him. Today, he was really looking forward to a new season of Friends.
What had happened to that wide-eyed kid? Sixty-two channels and a remote. He'd grown content to simply watch; there was always tomorrow to start making his mark on the world.
Enough was enough. Phil tossed the remote aside. Tonight was the beginning of the rest of his life. Starting right now he was in the game, no longer an observer, but an active participant. Food.
Yes, a gourmet meal! Phil had always felt quite comfortable in the kitchen. Friends and family had encouraged him to go to culinary school after he graduated. What if he opened his own restaurant? He'd have a really cool menu with surrealist pictures of John Candy and poultry on the walls. It would surely be a roaring success, and then he could grow it into a nationwide chain. He'd donate lots of food to homeless people and invite inner city kids to come learn how to cook in his kitchens. Keep them off the street and give them direction. What was it the Frugal Gourmet said on his PBS show? "A family that cooks together eats together."
Striding into the kitchen, Phil resolutely pulled open the fridge door and searched for his first signature dish. Some Catalina dressing, teriyaki sauce, a plastic lemon, withered celery and a partially rotting head of lettuce. Perfect! This combined with a can of tuna would make for a really unique salad. He'd call it Oriental Riviera Salad.
Turning to the cupboard, Phil reached for a can of tuna when a warning light flared. Wasn't there a story on Dateline last week about tuna processing plants? Didn't they leave fish sitting out on the docks, in the sun, sometimes for up to 48 hours? Didn't many of the countries that netted tuna have little or no regulation as to the quality of the catch that made it into the cans? Wasn't there a story on Hard Copy a few years back about some Canadian company that packaged cat food as generic label tuna? Canadians were almost like Americans. If they were trying to pull that stuff, imagine what the Asians were doing?!
Perhaps cooking wasn't the answer. Besides, you had to walk before you could run. Three minutes after turning off the TV he had himself heading the next Bennigan's. It was going to take more than one night to bring about some real substantive change in his life. He had to start nice and easy; maybe a brisk jog was just the thing to get him going. Start working on the cardio, get the blood flowing, build energy levels ... the body had to be strong if the mind was to follow. Donning his shorts and a T-shirt, Phil grabbed his dusty old sneakers out from under his entertainment center and took a seat on the couch. Lacing up, he nonchalantly glanced over at the blank set. "Huh," he scoffed, "I'm feeling stronger already. What took me so long?!"
Shoes tied, he rose off the couch, purposefully using just his legs. Bands of steel, or at least they had the potential to be. Slowly he began stretching his ordinarily sluggish muscles, quickly learning his toes were farther away than he recalled. Well, he always did have a disproportionate torso.
Continuing with his flexing routine - Kiana on Body Shaping always said being loose was vital to a good workout - Phil could feel a sweat building on his brow. As he swiveled his torso back and forth, believing this was somehow sturdying his hips, he felt himself getting winded. God, this was just the warm up! No matter, the first steps were always the toughest, regardless of the objections he was feeling from his major muscle groups.
"Just Do It," "No Fear," and "Life's A Sport, Drink It Up!" he told himself as he turned for the door. But come to think of it, just a couple of weeks ago Stone Phillips had done an investigative piece on the many ill side-effects related to jogging. Shin splints, blown kneecaps, jostled organs ... there was so much that could go wrong. Maybe he should hold off on the run and join a gym. Then again, the local news had just run that piece on the poor ventilation and ease in which germs and infections are spread at health clubs ... public showers ...
A good book. Yes, why not crack open a novel and enjoy the simple pleasure of reading. That would get the creative juices flowing and the synopses firing - a workout for his most important muscle, the mind. Phil even had the perfect tome in his collection. On the Today Show about a month ago, Katie Couric interviewed this author, a cute little redhead with hypnotic green eyes, and the detail with which she had described her futuristic tale of love, intrigue and deception had inspired him to buy it.
Stepping over to the television, whose top served as Phil's bookshelf, he picked up "Fortress Of The Heart" and began reading the synopsis on the back cover. "It's the middle of the 22nd Century and the world has fallen into complete chaos. Governments are now run by South American drug lords via the Internet and satellites track the movements of every human being on the planet ... except one. Josef Cersiña is a loner vigilante on a one-man crusade to right the world's wrong. With his discovery of the ZeE2 Circuit he is well on his way to do just that ... until he meets her."
Settling into his easy chair, Phil prepared himself for what was sure to one rollercoaster of a read. Three pages later he put the book down - it just wasn't pulling him in. So far it was nothing but a bunch of rhetoric about the United State's futile war on drugs causing the country's collapse, thus upending the world's power structure and throwing control into the hands of organized crime and powerful drug consortiums.
Katie had mentioned something about the book's rights being purchased and the story airing as a mini-series on NBC. Armand Assante was going to star as the lead and Shannon Doherty was set to play the tough talking drug lord secretary he falls for. Phil always liked her. 90210 just wasn't the same since she left - Brenda made that show! It might be better if he waited, why taint his appreciation of her portrayal by reading the book.
Besides, why bother reading a novel when he could just as easily write one? English consistently had been his best subject in school, and his aunt always told him he was one terrific writer. At one point she had even paid him a dollar for each letter he wrote her she thought he was so talented.
Seating himself at his dinette, Phil pulled out the special Cross pen his Aunt had given him for graduation and turned to the yellow legal pad before him. For years he'd had this idea for a murder mystery bouncing around in his head, and now the time had come to transfer those thoughts to paper. It was about this successful lawyer whose wife gets murdered by the twin brother he doesn't know exists. Because a dozen eye witnesses say they saw him do it, he gets sentenced to death, and determined to prove his innocence, the lawyer escapes to traverse the country in search of the truth.
Pondering the perfect opening, Phil got to thinking about his premise. The more he scrutinized it, the more he realized that it smacked very much of Dr. Richard Kimball and The Fugitive. Now, he had rarely watched that show, though the big screen version with Harrison Ford was outstanding, but it still did pose a problem. Should he go and spend a year writing this thing just to be told by prospective publishers that it sounded too much like a '50s TV show? Sure, lots of shows shared story lines - just how many more times was TV going to recycle the "Kid-Experiments-with-Alcohol-and-Special-Athlete/Rock Star-Guest-Tells-Him-'It's Uncool'" episode - but this was literature. Silently, Phil considered his options.
That was the problem, it was too quiet. Music: a driving pulse, sonic rhythms, dulcet voices — that was what he needed. And appropriately enough, Phil had just purchased the perfect album for reflective thought: Songs In The Key of X, music inspired by The X Files.
Stepping over to his entertainment system, Phil dropped the CD in and prepared to free his mind. As the show's theme eerily whistled to him, he flipped over the jewel case and looked over the list of artists. He had yet to listen to the album beyond track one, The X Files' theme so masterfully composed by Mark Snow, but tonight he would take it all in, allowing his mind to drift on the pulses and tones and his pen to flow from there. Since these tunes were inspired by the show, they would surely help him find the answers ... out there somewhere.
Reclined on the couch and halfway into the fifth track, Phil came to the conclusion that the album sucked. Not one of these songs captured the plausibility of Moulder, the realism of Scully or anything that vaguely resonated in the key of X. Instead, he heard tired music produced by bands desperate to sound like every other band out there desperate to sound like no one. Maybe if he heard these songs in the context of a video he might like them, but just to listen to them he'd rather not.
Picking up the remote from where he had tossed it earlier, he turned off the CD player. Phil owned one of those universal jobs that operated almost every appliance in his apartment just short of the microwave. TV, VCR, stereo, CD player, cassette ... they were all just a click away with this magical wand.
Thumb gently caressing the worn button labeled "TV," Phil considered his options. Music wasn't going to get him anywhere, and writing was a waste of time if he was just going to get rejected. Besides, trying to compose without a computer was an exercise in futility.
Maybe something on the tube would give him some ideas. He'd turn right to the Discovery Channel or A&E for one of the documentary type shows. If not, he could at least get informed with CNN or MSNBC.
His thumb sprung to action, quickly depositing him at Discovery. Commercial. Change to A&E. This looked interesting, a biography about Abe Lincoln. After about a minute Phil switched to CNN - how was learning about Lincoln's past going to help him with his future? Two old guys debating Newt Gingrich's status in the Republican Party. Turn to MSNBC - Phil definitely wasn't going to get involved in politics. Some knock-off Peter Jennings interviewing an absent-minded professor about genetic cloning. Phil tried to watch, this most certainly was future focused, but what relevance did it have to his life? It was too late for him to become any sort of biologist, and as for the other issues involved with this topic, they were political in nature (see CNN).
The commercials were probably over by now on Discovery anyway. Phil began surfing down from MSNBC when something caught his eye. Cool! It was the episode of Happy Days where Cha Chi catches stacks of quarters off his elbow. Phil made himself comfortable; it was already past ten. There was always tomorrow. "Remote Control" was originally published in the eZine The Edifice in 1998.
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