Couch potato blues

Life in the Pedestrian Lane

Posted: Sunday, February 25, 2007

I suffered with the “Kenai crud” for several days during the holidays. When I was finally able to focus on something other than a wad of tissue and a handful of cough drops, I watched TV

I think I’ve mentioned that I’m from the radio generation. TV hadn’t made its appearance where I lived during my formative years so my cultural education came from Saturday morning radio programs like “Let’s Pretend,” “The Shadow” (“Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of man? The Shadow Knows”) and “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon” and his faithful dog King. In the evenings during the week was “Inner Sanctum” with its creaking door, “Fibber McGee and Molly”(remember the Hall Closet?) and “Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour,” the precursor to “American Idol” but much better.

By my midteens, TV had arrived but the programming didn’t start until early evening with the news, even on weekends, so I’m not by habit a daytime TV viewer. I watch the five o’clock news and on Sundays I watch ice skating competitions, but usually my television is limited to “CSI” and things on Discovery or the cooking channel. Finding something to watch during my enforced couch potatoness was not as easy as it sounds, but finally I settled on the “Meerkat Manor” marathon on the Animal Planet channel

“Meerkat Manor” is the perfect soap. Maybe I need to back up here: Many years ago in one of my younger lives, I DID watch a soap opera. It came on at the same time that my kids were down for naps, and it was only half an hour long (this was a real long time ago). I could fold diapers and pick up toys and still concentrate on the action in black and white splendor. Life intervened for that half hour when the kids outgrew their naps. I never did find out who fathered the baby that was about to inherit $20 million from his grandfather, but whose mother was in a coma and not expected to live and couldn’t name the father (this was before DNA testing) ... . I was rooting for the studious blond guy, but had a feeling it was Joe Slick who didn’t even like kids, or the mother, for that matter. Anyway, soap operas are a habit I never cultivated, either, beyond that short interval in my life.

Meerkats are little ferret-like animals that live in the Kalahari Desert in southwestern Africa. According to the foreword, someone spent 10 years studying and filming this particular group (herd, gaggle, mob?) of meerkats, then for lack of something better to do, wrote a story around the action, cutting and pasting at will. The “Whiskers” manor has Flower, the reigning matriarch; Zofod, her loving and devoted spouse; Tosca, a wayward sister; Yossarian, the troubled brother; lots of kids (from what I could tell, more kids every two to three months or so); and a trusty nanny. The conflict comes from a competing mob, the Lazuli, that regularly try to take over our heroes’ foraging area, steal the women and otherwise create meerkat mayhem.

Of course Wayward Sister and Troubled Brother lend themselves to the action in ways we can all relate to and an occasional snake slithers in, creating additional tension (does this sound like real life?). The kids also add to the plot at intervals by getting lost, running away or otherwise acting like kids as the extended Whiskers family valiantly goes about trying to lead a normal life, if grubbing for scorpions and dodging predatory hawks is normal.

I came into the storyline right when one of the older sons, Shakespeare, got bitten by an adder. Tosca had just given birth, much to Flower’s displeasure (Meerkats operate their family groups on the alpha female principle that only SHE can procreate). Another daughter, Daisy, had spent the night with Carlos, one of the enemy (shades of Romeo and Juliet) and marauding Lazuli were trying to take over the best part of the foraging area.

Beyond the question of why someone spent a decade studying meerkats, you have to admire anyone who would watch a decade’s worth of film and then create a storyline to go with the action In 10 years, you’d know a lot more about meerkats than you’d ever need to know and no doubt would put humanlike personality traits on the subjects. How else could you name every one of the furry little creatures?

About three hours into the marathon the cough medicine kicked in and I fell asleep. When I woke up, “someone” had changed the channel to kickboxing. I may never find out if Shakespeare survived the snake bite, if Tosca got to keep her babies or if the Whiskers finally drove out the Lazuli. Now you know why I don’t watch daytime TV.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.

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