KTTV Fox-11 Los Angeles
I was hopped up all the time. A steady flow of RC Cola and Mountain Dew. Skittles, Doritos, packets of Top Ramen seasoning. I’d break out my stash and get high as fuck. I was 8 years old. My mom was asleep. I could hear the freeway outside. Late night balladry. A shitty top ten hit heard a million times before, after awhile becoming a simple, comforting presence. A security blanket of strange sounds passing by, each night, long after rush hour. Gnarly old trucks going from the ports to the mines and the factories. Vehicles of every kind racing through the finally empty streets. Sirens here and there. Deserts and seasides smothered by every human sound. Southern California without any makeup on.
For all my curiosity concerning the lonely machines humming by, I was focused on the television. Tomorrow’s annoyances and anxieties were buried somewhere far away. I was awake and alive. And sleep is for narcs and busters anyway. Crack open another can of caffeinated corn syrup. Smash me over the head with it. Feed me red dye, sucrose and monosodium glutamate. Stab it straight into my jugular vein. I’m going to rage. I’m climbing the top rope. No one can touch this high flying maniac.
I would make shapes out of the cracks in the drywall or imagine strange faces appearing in the stucco in the ceiling. Dim yellow light from the alley peered through the Venetian blinds. I was bored. The apartment was small enough to hear the TV in the living room, where my mom usually slept. She would preemptively set up a bed on the couch and insist she wasn’t asleep anytime I attempted to turn off the TV or when I asked her if she wanted the bed. I wasn’t tired. I’d plead but ultimately fail to articulate my need to stay up all night. It wasn’t some childish fear of the dark. I wanted to feel grown up. I wanted to watch stand-up comedians and snake-oil salesman on late night TV. It was a safe and quiet rebellion. I could have wanted instead to sneak out and climb on to the roof of the carport like some of the other kids, mostly older boys around the apartment complex, to throw rocks up onto the freeway, causing certain destruction. But I didn’t know how to tell my mom that I would rather be indoors watching benign and mindless entertainment. She was perpetually exhausted but always looked forward to relishing in the 5 to 30 minutes she had to herself, on the couch, TV blaring, before falling asleep.
“Get your ass back in bed. It’s late,” she said. I wouldn’t argue. I would bide my time and try again a few minutes later. “What the hell? I just told you to go to sleep.” “I can’t sleep,” I would say, trying to sound older, more mature, hoping that simply not whining like a shitty little kid would convince her to let me stay up. “Count sheep! Or...something. I don’t give a shit. Just...you’re going to bed. Now.” She would turn the knob on the ancient microwave we inherited from Aunt Vera to 1 minute on HIGH, allowing the noise it made to drown me and my whiny pleas out of the room. She liked to eat microwave popcorn. She had a stash of candy bars in the cabinet above the refrigerator. I only vaguely realized at the time that she smoked mad weed in the bathroom, with the fan on, blowing it out the tiny window in the shower.
We each had our stashes and our rituals, our shifts, our time slots, our easing of the pain and tension of being alive. My frustrations were immediate and had to do with staving off the morning. I can only imagine now (on my personal episode of Remember the 90s) how much next day bullshit my poor tired mother was avoiding. The dread was far deeper and more profound than mine but she didn’t complain or say anything about it. She had work to do as soon as the alarm went off. Several jobs, most unpaid. But until then, it was marijuana and popcorn. TV and deep sleep. It was important to live momentarily. And in that moment, for me, the game was staying up all night. Like my Uncle Lalo’s friends out in Yucca. Weirdo outlaws, wired, playing dominoes, blasting Judas Priest, shooting guns, working on motorcycles, neighbors never saying shit. But my own meth-fueled frenzy didn’t involve gunplay or loud music. Just reruns and other late night TV sounds. Nothing to frighten the neighbors over. No ATF surveillance operation. None that I knew of anyway.
From 8-10 p.m., I’d watch TV with my mom. Usually Fox-11 because it came in better than the other stations. We mostly liked the same shows. Martin, Living Single, New York Undercover, In Living Color, Married With Children, Melrose Place, 90210. The local news came on at 10. I’d brush my teeth and physically go to bed, but lie wide awake. I’d eat chips and candy and wait for my mom to fall asleep. Listening to the robotic cadence of the news anchors, as they told of drive-bys and carjackings and high-speed pursuits. Cops shot a woman asleep in her car in Torrance. A brush fire raged near Lake Elsinore. Then a slightly less alarming voice says Mike Piazza went 3 for 5 with a solo homer but the Dodgers lost 5-2 in Milwaukee. Stay tuned for the 5-day Forecast on Fox-11 News at Ten, The Southland’s most trusted source for weather, after the break.
Having to eat so methodically quiet, chewing lightly, I ran the risk of getting Dorito shards stuck in my throat. And with my mom nearly asleep and TV light dancing across the room out there, I potentially had a good thing going. I didn’t want to ruin it by doing something irresponsible like choke to death.
When the time came, I’d sneak into the living room and throw a blanket down. Coupled with the thick carpet, it was a comfortable makeshift bed. Strategically, it was not only in front of the TV, but more importantly, the coffee table obscured me from my mom on the couch. If she stirred, I figured I would frantically, and comically, roll up in the blanket, trying to hide. I had no plan beyond this. Maybe just scream and jump out the window. Or bolt for the door and run, start a new life somewhere tropical. Fortunately enough for me, my mom falls into a coma when she sleeps. Even the big earthquakes never fazed her. Fox-11’s 5-day Forecast with Rick Takahara. Scenes of sunshine at Venice Beach, a surfer shredding a 3 foot wave, rollerbladers on the boardwalk, highs in the 70s at the beach but 90s inland. Air quality: Unhealthy. Especially in those valleys. Beach scenes now bright across the room. I knew the news would be over soon. I was almost free to watch TV all goddamn night. I didn’t risk startling her by changing the channel or opening another can of soda. I couldn’t change the rhythmic white noise of my mother’s nightly couch slumber. I’d risk landing on a local commercial where the volume blares and screams at any dozing loser across Southern California with the TV still on about a Labor Day Sale at some appliance liquidation warehouse. Or a commercial for Monster Jam at Anaheim Stadium FEATURING GRAVE DIGGER, volume cranked to 11, SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MATINEE GET TICKETS AT YOUR LOCAL TICKETMASTER LOCATION. I was terrified that the odious voice of the narrator and the roaring engines of the monster trucks would wake my mom up. All it would take is a glance at the clock and the sight of me still up would groggily enrage her. I’d be shunted back to the bedroom, listening to the freeway again, TV sounds muffled in the distance, nothing to do but literally stare at the wall. Nothing was worth the foiling of my crime.
I’d usually start my late night journey with The Arsenio Hall Show, unless my mom stayed up for a musical guest she wanted to see. Sometimes she would let me stay up and watch too. Otherwise, I would have to play it cool, wait for her to fall asleep immediately after Arsenio, and sneak out there then, just in time for reruns. And no way was she staying awake during MASH. Even the theme song was rough. A very breezy and boring jam. It’s a sedative, even for me. If I survived the episode, it would be smooth sailing upon the mysterious seas of late night programming. After back to back reruns of The Simpsons, it was Roller Derby, local pro-wrestling, B-movies from the 50s with insect monsters and shit. I Love Lucy, The Outer Limits, Sanford and Son, Rescue 911. Then, the scummy realm of infomercials. Get rich in 30 days. Lose 20 pounds in 7. Are you bald? Old? Lonely? Tired? There is a quick and easy serum for you, limited time only, money back guarantee, 5 easy payments of 19.95. Call now. And all of this while seemingly nobody else in the world is watching TV at this hour, except me.
First glow of dawn, I’d wander back to my actual bed, before my mom could wake up and find out her son is a freakish insomniac, likely with an ulcer or some other serious ailment caused by chemical snack abuse. As far as anyone else was concerned, I had been sleeping there all along. Closing my eyes for real now, as the TV played loudly, continuing to poison my mind with jingles and slogans, car lots and psychics, Hot Singles in the LA area waiting to talk to me now for 4.99 a minute, the sounds greet the dawn with the early morning noise outside, the freeway erupting slowly, as I finally drift to sleep.