01 Feb The commercials started talking to me.
I haven’t watched cable television since I was a kid, those commercials that seemed to run on forever turned into thirty-second ads on the internet. What used to be an obstacle that kept me from my Saturday morning cartoons became something I could just click away.
Yesterday, I came to visit my parents and I was reminded of the droning commercials selling half-baked products. My parents were both retired so they went to bed early and stayed in that bed as long as they could, they’d done their fair share of working. So while I did agree to hang around their house and fix some things up, I thought I’d be spending more time with them. I found myself alone more often than not though.
As my list of repairs widdled down I came across a request to fix the tv, one of those bulky old sets that were a TV and a cabinet all in one. It was large and dusty but as far as I could tell the television was working just fine. The picture was grainy and the colors were diluted but that was par for the course on the older models.
Just to entertain the notion I reached back and pull all the cords out and gave them a quick wipe and then I proceeded to clean the rest of it. I turned the television back on and stepped back from it too, I thought maybe the issues was something that would only occur every so often. Like the channel would randomly change or the picture would cut out, something along those lines.
Like I said I haven’t watched cable television in a long time so I wasn’t familiar with the program that was playing, though it looked like something local. A preacher was going on and on about how our sins will be carried through generations, that was until the picture cut out. I was just about to reach for the TV controller when the picture came back.
There was a family sitting around the dining table with what looked like a Thanksgiving feast in front of them. They were having a conversation, I don’t remember about what, I wasn’t really paying attention. The mom asked for the gravy and with a smile, a young boy lifted a bowl with a red label printed on the side. “Dan’s Gravy,” it said and the bowl hung in the frame for a moment, a plume of steam still pouring from the top. Then the screen faded to black and only the logo remains.
“So good, you’ll get the whole family talking.” Spoke a robust male voice, I wasn’t certain but I could hear a small impact behind the slogan. Like the bowl had dropped and hit against the table. I remember the logo remaining on the screen for an uncomfortably long time before it finally switched to the next commercial.
This one was a car commercial, I could tell right off the bat by the way a sleek and black SUV managed to have the city streets all to itself. In the front seats of the car sat a man and woman, both dressed very well, like they had just left an event. “For when you need to get from point A to poin-” A male narrator’s voice became muffled as the camera zoomed in the car until it became an interior shot.
“I just don’t understand why you always do this.” The man spoke, he said it calmly but by the way, his hand lifted from the wheel I sensed aggression. The woman just sat still and look down at her feet as the man shifted in his seat. “Would you talk to me?” He asserted as the camera panned out and the logo for the car company appeared on screen, it wasn’t one I was familiar with.
I was definitely put off, I haven’t seen tv ads in a while sure but I didn’t understand what the tone was. It wasn’t funny or insightful, I wasn’t getting any information about the products that I was seeing. Once the car commercial ended I was brought back to the rambling minister, he paced around the room spouting off scripture. He was an overweight man and I could see sweat starting to form on his face.
He stopped speaking and paced over to a water bottle that was resting on a nearby stool, when he picked it up he spun the bottle until the label faced the camera. Lifting the bottle to his lips he began drinking the water and the camera zoomed in. An uncomfortable amount of time passed as he drank from the full bottle until it was empty, he looked stressed as he did this. Once the drink was empty he pulled the bottle away and gasped. “That’s refreshing, Garland water is the cleanest.” When he finished he started to cough up some of the water and the image once again went black.
I lifted the heavy controller up and pressed down on the channel up button and while the TV acted like it changed channels, the number itself remained the same. Channel 91. I continued to fool around with the buttons while another commercial started playing. “What the hell are you doing?” A female voice rang out from the speakers. It felt so loud and direct like someone was in the room with me that I instinctively looked up.
It was the family from the gravy commercial, they were all still in the same position they had been in except the bowl had dropped and splashed gravy on the mother’s hands. They were all looking right at the camera, my arms lowered to my side and my body grew slack. “Stop looking at us.” The woman spoke and the logo for the gravy showed up briefly, disappeared and came back as the screen faded out to black.
Needless to say, I was stunned, I was pretty confused about the whole thing and I wondered if this is what my mom was referring to. Another commercial started, two classically dressed men were walking through a clothing store, but all the clothes were hanging from the ceiling by fishing wires. I decided even before the commercial started that I would just buy my folks a new tv, I’d go out and get it while they slept upstairs.
Walking forward my arm outstretched to press the large silver power button on the bottom of the TV. “I wouldn’t touch that if I were you.” I looked up once again to see one of the gentlemen had turned to face the camera but when I looked at the screen he turned away. “Boy, there sure are a lot of fancy clothing here.” He spoke, this time his voice was much more indirect and like he was reading off a script. The two men continued to walk and run their hands along with the clothing until one of them stopped abruptly. Pulling his hand away from the clothing it was revealed that one of the hooks holding up the clothing had punctured his finger.
He stood for a moment like he was in shock, the other man leaned in and started whispering into his ear. “Say your lines, Paulie.” His voice was a whisper but the volume of it didn’t change. The man with the hook in his hand started to shake and the screen cut to black before returning to the preacher.
He was screwing off the top of another water bottle and when the camera dipped enough to see the floor, I witnessed at least a dozen empty and discarded water bottles. Sure enough, he lifted the bottle and started to drink, label out. Shifting to another commercial I saw something I was finally familiar with, it was one of those “as seen on tv” Ads. Except this one had “As seen on YOUR tv.” In the bold red logo.
The man in the video was holding a mop handle that didn’t have an actual mop on it, but he moved it across the floor without a word like he was cleaning something. The white tile that the mop ran across had deep and black grooves scratched into it. “Watch the cleaning power of the Garland mop with your own eyes.” He spoke, his words were chopped and said through tightly clenched teeth, I could see his body visibly tensing up. His skin was red and his hands were littered with blisters that were seeping white, viscous liquid.
“You can buy this for the low price-” He took the mop handle and lifted it above his head like a broadsword. “Of fuck you!” He screamed and brought the handle down on a stove that was part of the kitchen set and as he continued to assault the stove, sounds of whining metal coming from the tv’s speakers. I realized that the kitchen was really familiar and sure enough, shaking from the impact of his assault was a pot of gravy on the stove. Then the commercial went black.
The screen stayed black longer than it had before, I could hear distant mumblings still coming from the television, like a conversation in a neighboring room. The tv was lit up once more and there was a father standing by his daughter who was sitting on a swing. They were in a playground but it was completely empty apart from the two. “Aren’t you going to start swinging?” The dad warmly asked.
“No, you have to help me.” The girl replied, turning to face the camera as she spoke. The dad stepped behind her and for thirty seconds I watched as he pushed her back and forth on the swing, the both of them expressionless and still. She was getting pretty high and when she swung back the father put his hands on the chains of the swing and pushed her forward, only this time, he didn’t let go. The girl started to leave the seat of the swing and with all the momentum she surely would have been sent flying but the screen flickered. It was the beginning of the commercial again.
“Aren’t you going to start swinging.” The father spoke, this time his words were agitated and his hand was rubbing his forehead.
“No, you have to help me.” She replied, turning towards the camera with tears gathering in her eyes. The scene skipped over and over showing her turning towards the camera repeating the lines “You have to help me.”
It did this for another thirty seconds before the commercial finally ended and started up another commercial. I must have already been standing there for five minutes at the least and I hadn’t seen any show or network plug. Just one commercial after the other, I started to wonder if I was watching some experimental film but none of the buttons were working and it felt like two of the commercials had tried to talk to me. I looked back to the stairs that led up to my parent’s room and decided I would try to figure out what was going on with the TV.
I know it’s stupid, but I was just uneasy about the whole thing, at that time I didn’t feel threatened by it. Just perplexed. Almost like the TV was reacting to the sense of security I had instilled in myself the next commercial started to play. An old woman was sitting an a small and round wooden table facing the camera. She had a steaming cup in her hands and a familiar kitchen set behind her. “I’m getting old.” She spoke and lifted the cup to her lips, the sipping noise was much louder than the rest of the commercial. “So I thought I should look into Garland’s life insurance.” She leaned towards the camera like she was whispering a secret. “Before something happens.”
When her sentence ended the screen switched to a flicking street light with the dark sky behind it. The camera started to pan out “For when you need to get from point A to point B in style” A bold announcer proclaimed as the camera revealed more and more of the scene. A sleek and black SUV had its front folded around the thick metal pole, steam was piling out from the engine and the car doors were wide open. A well-dressed woman crawled across the pavement as the camera lowered to the ground ahead of her.
A hand came in from off screen and place a bowl on the ground with the label that read “Dan’s Gravy.” She looked up, blood was streaking down her face and she was breathing heavily, her mouth was moving. Lips miming ‘please’ repeatedly. The commercial flickered showing the old woman dropping the coffee cup spilling a thick brown liquid out before the commercial’s end.
The next commercial started- it was a commercial with terrible graphics and charts and an announcer that detailed the terrible housing economy. The camera panned over a block of houses and immediately after this I reached down and shut the TV off. As soon as I saw the camera stop scrolling and hover in front of my parent’s house, my illusion of safety vanished. I quickly made my way to the windows that overlooked the front of the house. Peering out I couldn’t see anything that was out of the ordinary.
“They won’t leave you alone.” A soft and feminine voice rang out from behind me, I turned around to face the family I had seen earlier. The TV had fuzzed to life once more and they all sat looking at the camera. All the fixing I had seen early were replaced with large lumps of brown sludge and the lights in the kitchen were dimmed. “Hope you like Gravy.” She said with an almost vengeful smile.
The commercial ended and when the next one started I was frozen. I stood in the living room, watching myself standing in the living room. “Are you in need of a new TV?” An excited announcer spoke from the TV. My gaze timidly shifted to the lower portion of the TV where the brand that made the TV put their logo. In fancy silver writing, the word ‘Garland’ was printed on the matte silver border.
“Of course not! Garland is the only TV you need!” The announcer continued. I slowly turned my head towards where the camera was but when I could see the entirety of the living room, it was empty. I quickly shifted glances between my living room and where the camera should have been in order to be filming me. When I looked at the TV the image quickly shifted from me to my sleeping parents bundled up in bed, and then back to me.
A rush of nervous energy filled me up and I ran to and up the stairs heading towards my parent’s bedroom. I swung the door open, but there was nothing there. They were just laying in bed with their glasses of water on the nightstands. I didn’t remember them getting water from the kitchen before they went to bed though. There was a discarded water bottle sitting on the floor by my mom’s nightstand and I had a suspicion on which brand it was.
As I walked back downstairs I heard the TV beginning another commercial. The same robust announcer started to chime in as the scene shifted through all the commercials I had witnessed. Each time the commercial cycled the people turned their heads more and more to face the camera. “Do you want to pursue a career in acting?” The announcer questioned as I stepped towards the TV. “Do you want to make money.” A scene flashed of the man who was advertising the mop handle, he had bruises all over him and his arm was twisted out of its socket. From out of frame a green brick of cash was thrown at him, sending the bills flying everywhere on impact.
“Do you want to make a name for yourself?” The scene changed to show the father who was pushing his daughter on the swing. He was bathed in flashing blue and red lights as two officers escorted him through the playground. The camera zoomed into a paramedic in the background that was zipping up a large black bag.
“Do you want to be part of a family?” I saw the family from the Thanksgiving feast all sitting at the table talking to each other. But they weren’t saying anything, just mumbling nonsense as the camera panned over them until it reached the mother who was gripping a knife in her hand. She stared at the camera for a moment before bringing the knife up to her throat, the scene cut to black.
“And finally, do you want to save your loved ones?” The next scene showed the door to my parent’s room opening, the scene skipped as it did for the swinging girl. The door opening over and over again like an attempt to hypnotize me. “Than give yourself to Garland acting agency.” I listened to a phone number being read off, one that had far too many digits. The number ingrained itself into my head like a parasite as I watched my parents on TV.
This all happened just an hour ago, I’m going up to bed after writing this and when I wake up tomorrow I’m going to make a nice breakfast for the three of us. We’ll catch up like I was hoping to do when I drove down here. After that, I’m going to order my mom a new TV and I’ll make sure to destroy that piece of crap they have now. And after that-
I have a call to make.