It was the summer of ‘86 and Eddie couldn’t hit a dog’s ass with a fistful of TV Guides. He spent long stifling nights on his porch, coaxing clear signal from his portable black and white Japanese television set. Had particular trouble getting channel 32 from out Waterville way. Horizontal lines, verticals not holding, frequencies fighting frequencies on the inside of the little Shibaura’s picture tube. He crawled around behind the tray table the TV rested on, the screwdriver slipping out of his sweaty palm as he tweaked back panel adjustment screws he didn’t fully comprehend, cursing the limitations of the set’s built-in telescoping antenna. He’da given his left you know what for one of those rooftop Yagis but it just wasn’t in the cards.
Always fiddling, he reshaped the rabbit ears, taped on coat hangers, wrapped it all in tin foil, even tried to incorporate the aluminum flag pole mounted on the side of the porch, but nothing took. Finally ended up hooking ‘er to the water pipes in the house with a spool of speaker wire. Still didn’t satisfy him. Eddie wanted crisp. Eddie wanted sharp. Eddie wanted clarity. He learned that if he held the UHF knob between 32 and 31, the picture marginally improved. He would hold it and hold it and hold it until he had to slap away a mosquito. When he let go it went hinky.
He had simmered at first, soon came to a boil, finally phoned up the station’s main office and scalded them for their part in the conspiracy to send him weak signal. The roundish, perfectly pleasant middle-aged receptionist, Miss Berube (privately nicknamed “Doughnut” by Stan Meeks, the station’s sole cameraman), informed Eddie that his request to have the TV32 transmitter pointed directly at his house was a request the station could not honor. Some five, ten minutes of hinky-knob ranting later she was left with no alternative but to hang up on him, deeming his proposal to have his television set hardwired directly to the TV station via A Real Long Cable to be overreaching and unrealistic. Mind you, that’s some thirty-five-odd miles as the crow flies, never mind the logistics on how to get it over Cullyard’s Creek, or across the railroad tracks. Eddie slammed the phone back on the cradle and wished and hoped and prayed that everyone who worked at TV32 would die in front of their mothershitting children and Satan himself would impale their mothershitting faces on the red hot stalagmites of Hell by jumping up and down repeatedly on the back of their heads with his evil hooves. Especially Doughnut, whom he referred to in his head as “That 32 Whore.”
Eddie drew hard lines on his wrists with the jagged edge of a soup can lid during The White Shadow, right before the boys began singing in the locker room showers. His body temperature had dropped considerably by Dick Harvey’s 6:00 TV32 weekend weather update, and his skin had become downright cool by the time the end credits of Rat Patrol filled the static-infested screen. His sweat evaporated and the mosquitoes paid him no mind. Summer spun out its plot on the little Shibaura as the oppressive humidity of Barney Miller pressed down on Cumberland County.
* UHF is featured in my collection Everything You Didn’t Ask For.
* It was originally written in 1992-ish for a college book project (which also included Glass and Metal and Boundaries.)
* Read more short fiction.