Charlotte Andrews is thirteen. She watched television
Today in American History Mr. Delacy gave us a big
lecture about how we're all beautiful people and the
trouble with beautiful people is that they never really
have to learn to hold a conversation. You're lazy! he
said. All of you! stomping his little foot for emphasis.
But I'm not beautiful, I thought. Neither is Mr. Delacy.
He wears sandals with socks. He is small, old, crooked
and excitable. He once told us that he washes his hair
with a bar of soap. He seemed proud of that. After those
opening comments he lectured about manifest destiny for
half an hour. It's a dumb idea, and it goes like this:
westward expansion of the United States was meant to be.
As if God had anything to do with it. As if.
That's all I wrote in my notebook today.
When I got home, Dad was on the couch watching the
nature channel like always. He likes the nature channel
much more than he liked having a job, I am beginning to
Until a few weeks ago he dressed for the job he no
longer had and spent his days listening to classical
music and staring out the window. Then when I got home he
would talk to me quietly about my attitude problem, which
I really don't think existed. He called those talks
"family conferences." We would face each other
across the kitchen table. He would talk calmly and I
would try my hardest not to yell at him. He usually had a
list he referred to in order to make sure the information
he presented was complete. It was all very businesslike.
Things like "playing the same song over and
over" and "failure to take adequate care in
stowing your possessions" were on the list. Noise
was always a big issue. I can't help it if I talk loud.
My mom talks loud, so loud that even though she is two
thousand miles away in Alaska I have to hold the phone
away from my ear sometimes. She gets really worked up
about the lack of good role models for me here in
So I lost all my "privileges" in the course
of those family conferences. The first time it was no
phone, no allowance, no friends for one week; then the
second time it was two weeks, then three weeks, and so
on. He used a red pen to mark them off on the kitchen
calendar at the end of each conference. By the time he
got turned on to TV, I'd "earned" thirty-nine
weeks of punishment and I had started to develop a very
bad attitude. I felt that I should do something truly
wrong, something that would make me feel deserving of
this punishment. I wanted to make Dad lose his cool.
So, on the last morning of this terrible time, I got
up early and programmed the CD player to play Santana's
"Oye Como Va" thirteen times. I love that song.
Before I started the music, I hurried around the house,
turning on the blender, the mixer, the vacuum cleaner,
the dishwasher, the metronome, the washer and dryer. The
whole house was humming. I picked up my coat and paused
in the front hall to take it all in. I clicked on the CD
player and, as an afterthought, I turned on the
television. On the nature channel turtles were laying
eggs on a warm beach far away. I put the remote control
in my bookbag and stepped out the door. I was high on
All day long I imagined my father running around the
house turning things off. I pictured him disheveled and
untucked, and so angry that he couldn't possibly form a
list. I could practically see him turning the house
upside down looking for the remote. I knew he would look
for it even though he never watched TV, because with him
each thing has to be in a certain place.
I couldn't keep it to myself; I told two friends. At
first they just thought I was nuts, but as I explained my
reasoning and gave more details, the beauty of what I had
done became clear to them. They told others, and now I am
a minor celebrity. Soon I hope to be a ringleader,
guiding small groups of my peers on ne'er-do-well capers.
I loitered for a long time after school that day,
putting off the family conference that seemed inevitable.
At six I walked in the door and discovered my dad still
in his pajamas, watching a show about peat-bog
ecosystems. The metronome ticked slowly on the piano.
Everything else had been turned off; I guess the TV
distracted him before he reached the metronome. He didn't
notice me. He reclined on the couch, calm in a fuzzy
absent way. I only knew his tense variety of calm, and
couldn't quite believe that this was different. I stood
in the entry hall, waiting for his lecture, watching a
time lapse of moss growing in a Canadian bog. Five
minutes passed like that. Then there was a commercial
break, and he noticed me. "Oh, hi Charlotte,"
he said, yawning. "A show about cheetah society is
on next. Should be great. Pull up a chair."
I shrugged and sat down like it was no big deal that
his personality had completely changed after just one
long day of lying around blissed out in front of the TV.
Since then, our conversations rarely last longer than a
dozen words. We only talk about food, drink, and whether
that last one was a good commercial. I think we deserve a
Nielsen box. Yesterday I tried to explain to Mom how
great it is that Dad and I can agree to sit quietly on
the couch and watch grass grow and slick furry babies
being born. That sure made her talk loud.
Today when I walked in the house and dropped my books
on the table Dad said, "Shhh! This is a good
one." I sat down. He was right. The show was called
"Pitcher Plants of North America." Pitcher
plants are brightly colored tall narrow vessels that grow
in the acidic soil of bogs and crave the sweet blood of
living things. Each pitcher plant has a leaf flopped over
the top opening to keep rainwater out and to trap its
victims. A pool of enzymes inside the pitcher digests
them. It takes three to five days for the plant to digest
each insect. When the plant is full, it closes its hood
flap and rests.
For one hour we watched ants march in lines up the
nectar-coated sides of pitcher plants. They would reach
the top, peek inside the hood, and fall in, one after
another. One variety has hundreds of white spots on the
side of the pitcher, like windows, so that when the ant
peeks inside the hood, it's not dark or scary at all. It
looks like a cathedral. It looks like manifest destiny to
the ants, I suppose, and so even though each ant sees the
ant before him fall in, he leaps to meet the light.
Dad has chosen life on the couch. Today I decided
that's not the life for me. I'm not sure what to call my
choice, but my first course of action is clear: early
tomorrow morning I will call two friends and run down to
the freeway. We'll sprawl out on the embankment and
pretend to be dead. At first the sleepier commuters will
cruise by, oblivious. The less sleepy commuters will slow
down, rubbernecking to see us. Then one sleepy
driver-that's all it will take-will rearend one of the
rubberneckers, and somebody else will run into that
person, and who knows, maybe'll cause a ten-car or even a
twenty-car pileup. And all the while I'll recline by the
side of the road, my mouth sagging open, my eyes closed,
imagining my future: stealing from bad people, rigging
elections, killing my enemies one by one.