The TV Static
He was young, the first time he tried it. His older sister had said it would be okay to try. It would be good if he knew what it was about, when other people were doing it and talking about it. She couldn’t have known what it would be like for him. She would have certainly warned him strongly against it, if she had, and that might have helped him avoid what followed. But maybe not. It might have been inevitable.
In any case, if he wrote about it years later, he wouldn’t blame her or anyone else, including his parents and their friends whom he regularly observed consuming the socially and legally acceptable alternative. He does wonder what might have been different, if he had made other choices, but who doesn’t?
He grew up in an average middle-class suburban home. A nice home. A good home. He made friends with a kid living in a nearby apartment. The friend’s circle had a “less than good” reputation, but this friend was a good kid. A good friend. Yet it was through this friend that he had his first opportunity to try it. The friend’s sister’s boyfriend brought it over. The friend didn’t try it and didn’t want to try it. The friend had never tried it, and was open and upfront and proud of this.
But he wanted to try it. He really, really did. He was very smart. Why was he so eager to try it? Was it as a bard wrote, “The suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth?” Years later when he doesn’t feel so smart anymore, he doesn’t have an answer.
That first time didn’t take. He didn’t feel it. He had heard it might happen that way. He wasn’t sure at the time, but later learned, no, that clearly wasn’t it.
Undeterred, he later acquired some of it from the friend’s sister’s boyfriend to bring along on a camping trip with another friend and the friend’s family. This friend had tried it once or twice before, and was surprised when presented with it as they rode in the truck camper on the way up to the Canadian border. He had also acquired by then the knowledge to assemble the necessary contrivance from an empty toilet paper roll, tin foil, and tape.
One night, they went off at dusk to a trail along the shore of the big lake. They lit it up. This time he could feel the disconnection, or the changing connections. There was a strange feeling of disassociation as he followed the friend back down the trail to camp. It was like nothing he had ever felt. A waking dream. He didn’t feel scared. He trusted the friend who was also a good friend. They were safe out there together.
It was getting duskier. The friend said, “Look at the trail, man.” He looked at the trail. “It looks like TV static,” the friend said. And it did. It really did. He would always remember the TV static. He would remember the way he felt walking along that trail, and he would try for so many years to feel it again.