I’m about to become a regional television star—Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky. I will sign autographs and receive marriage proposals. I will fly to Disney World, Hollywood, and Huntsville, Alabama’s U.S. Space and Rocket Center.
But for now I’m simply the twelve-year-old son of fundamentalist Christians who caved and got cable. Cable! A boy sitting on a couch on a Saturday night in Nashville watching television for the first time in his life with the option of more than a single public station.
I’m an excited boy, a wide-eyed boy, amazed and stimulated and overwhelmed by kung fu movies and (oh my God!) MTV. A remote-controlling boy who absorbs like a dry sponge dunked into pure neon, who keeps the clicker from his big brother. The brother grows red in the face and angry. A boy who can’t get enough, wrapped in a blanket with brand new cable and who clicks and clicks and then, suddenly, there is a man, his face filling the screen, his hair and beard a single unit, pulled over his head like a balaclava, frizzy and thick, the consistency and loft of couch-pillow stuffing. The man is amazing. He is huge and happy. I am a boy who just discovered Hillbilly Jim.
Hillbilly Jim is about to wrestle the Earthquake. The Earthquake is angry. He is yelling and spearing at the camera with his meaty pointer finger, talking about all the things he will do to Hillbilly when he gets his hands on him. The Earthquake is enormous, blue spandex, thinning hair. He says he is going to kill Hillbilly Jim, and I believe him.
But Hillbilly Jim doesn’t seem nervous. He is all smiles and drawl, waving at the fans and doing a little dance on his way to the ring.
I am a boy who can’t remember ever being so scared for another human being. The announcers are talking all about Earthquake’s special move, the “Sitdown Splash,” and the potential for human carnage once Hillbilly reaches the ring.
“I don’t think Hillbilly has ever seen anything the size of the Earthquake before,” says an awed announcer.
I can hardly stand it. And when Hillbilly Jim turns in the ring to lay his lucky horseshoe over a corner post, and the Earthquake uses the opportunity to rush at the unsuspecting wrestler, I sit at the edge of the couch and white knuckle the glass coffee table and whisper through clenched teeth, “Oh no!”
They fight. It is back and forth, a seesaw of advantage. But then Hillbilly falls to the mat, and I hear an ominous forecasting of what will come next.
“There are the tremors!” says an announcer, as the Earthquake begins stomping around Hillbilly in a circle. And then—so quickly for a giant—all three-hundred pounds of Earthquake bungees from one side of the ring to the other, landing directly on Hillbilly’s chest.
“Oh my God!” screams an announcer.
I have stopped breathing.
The referee slams his hand against the mat one, two, three times, and Hillbilly Jim is not moving.
“He can’t do that,” I say to my brother.
“You’re a dumb ass,” he replies. “Give me the clicker.”
I will not. Not as a stretcher rolls toward Hillbilly Jim. He has been destroyed. His career might be over, say the announcers. The big man from Mud Lick, Kentucky, has been done in.
“Then I’ll take it,” says my brother as he lunges toward me, grabbing for the remote control.
Hillbilly Jim has been destroyed and my brother is trying to click back to MTV to see the dancing girls. I fight back, mimic moves I have just witnessed on cable television—a headlock, an attempted body slam. We wrestle and it is part fun, part serious and then, suddenly, I am a boy who sees his brother slip from the couch and go crashing through the glass coffee table as if he were trying to make a snow angel among all the translucent splinters.
He’s fine! There was hardly even any blood. But when Mom came home and saw the destruction, it sparked a serious conversation with Dad, an I-told-you-so tirade about how she knew television would be a gateway to all kinds of violence and sex and other things generically labeled “worldly.”
“Just look at this coffee table,” she said.
But the cable stayed. Mom already had her garden shows mapped out, so her objections were halfhearted. And Dad insisted that the religious broadcasting would balance out all the secular stuff.
Tomorrow: “When Cable Got Me.” Josh MacIvor-Andersen lives in an old house in Wilmington, North Carolina with his wife, a cat named Baby Kitty, and a second-trimester child named, for now, Baby Human, forthcoming in May.