The first television I ever saw was the decrepit black and white Zenith we kept in the middle of the combination living room/bedroom that my grandmother and I shared growing up. It was the only television in the house, if you don’t count the other larger, broken television it was precariously perched on. The stupid thing had a sixteen inch screen, weighed sixteen tons, and had no remote control. Instead of buttons, it had two knobs: volume and channel. Anytime I wanted to change the channel, I had to use all of my might to pinch the knob with one hand while wrenching it with a pair of pliers. Somehow, my family was more afraid that my four-year-old self would catch a cold than stab myself in the head with pointy metal tools.
This horrible television was my prized possession. I spent almost every waking moment watching one of the four network channels that came in clear. I learned most of my English from watching Bobby’s World, which is probably why I’m the only one in the family that has a Midwestern accent. I even invented a tin foil/coat hanger antennae TV attachment, which worked better if held it above my head while standing on one foot. Of course, this drove my mom, nuts.
“Stephie, nap time!”
“Anyu, The Smurfs are still on!”
“Don’t stand so close to dah TV. You’re gonna burn your eyes out!”
“Please Anyu, it’s almost over!”
“Dat’s it! I’m calling your fadder!”
For some reason, despite my father living thousands of miles away, my mother always called him whenever I needed a “talking to.”
“Apu, I’m not trying to be bad. I just want to watch cartoons and they’re all fuzzy and mom wants me to go to sleep and my cartoon isn’t over,” I plead over the phone.
“Vhat you need is a new color TV vith an antennae and VCR,” he replied in a thick accent reminiscent of Bela Lugosi. “It records TV so you can vatch it anytime, Stephiebaba. I’ll buy you von tomorrow and mail it vith some tapes so you can record your cartoons.”
Ignorance truly is bliss sometimes. I was never allowed to go to my friends’ houses, so I assumed that big color televisions only existed in “fancy department stores” like K-mart. I had never seen a VCR or even heard of any way to save television so I’d never miss an episode. My father opened my eyes to the possibility of modern technology and endless entertainment.
For the next week, I waited patiently by the window for the UPS truck. Every day, I jumped and ran to the door hoping for that brown truck to bring me a package. After about a month of this, I started to get really anxious and asked my mom when the packages Apu promised were coming. Before I knew it, I was hiding in the hamper as my mother screamed at my father over the phone. “Vhy did you promise all dis sh*t if you already spent all your money? She’s a kid, she doesn’t understand! You alvays do dis… hold on, you tell her yourself….vhere dah hell did she go?”
Mom pulled the long coded phone over to the hamper and handed it to me. “Your fadder vants to talk to you.”
My father mumbled a few things into my ear. I burst into tears and hung up the phone.
“Stephie! Vhat did he say to you?”
“Apu said…he said he bought a new pretty color TV and VCR and all of these mermaid and Barbie toys…and the mail man lost them! He thinks he sent it to another little girl.”
My mother furrowed her brown. “Son of a-”
Anyu immediately created her patented whipped cream sundae and I calmed down for a while. She went into the other room and had a muffled conversation in Hungarian. About an hour later, my aunt showed up to the door, struggling to carry a large square object wrapped in a blanket.
“Stephie, I vant to talk to you,” she said, as she placed the mysterious object on the living room floor. “I know you vant new toys and a VCR very badly, but they are very expensive…”
I looked down at the floor and bit my lower lip.
“Listen, don’t cry. If ve all save up our monies, maybe someday you can have many new tings. But for now because you’re father…vell…because your fadder vas lying again, that son of a-”
“Sari…” my mom interrupted.
“Yah, so listen,” my aunt continued, “I’m going to give you sometink very special to make it up to you, ok?”
My eyes opened wide in shock as my aunt unwrapped the blanket to reveal a color television, complete with rabbit ears and a remote. She was tired of seeing me disappointed, so she took her own TV out of her upholstery shop and gave it to me. It was dusty, scratched, and a little sticky for some reason, but I didn’t care. I didn’t even let them take the old TV down before I plugged it in…just in time for the last few minutes of my show.
“Stephie!” my mom said with her hands on her hips. “Your aunt just brought you a present! Vhat do you say to her?”
“OHMYGOSH, LOOK! The Smurfs are BLUE?!?”