Blesok no. 49, July-August, 2006
When My Brother was a TV Channel
James Ray Musgrave
My brother, Lonnie, would later die from alcoholism, working as a bartender in San Francisco. Yet, once, when I was in high school, I was able to visit him at a happier time in his life. This was the time period he was doing his brief stint as a student at San Diego State University, and he was living with five other guys near the TV 39 transmitter out on Montezuma Road.
The place was a small bungalow with two bedrooms and one bath, and it was stuffed with beer cans, bottles, pizza boxes, books, and the other paraphernalia that encapsulates a college bachelor’s life. However, what made this particular abode fascinating was the close proximity to the huge television transmitter. TV station 39 was the only channel you could get on the rabbit-ears antenna, 21-inch set they had in the living room. Just outside, behind a giant, impervious-to-electromagnetism eucalyptus tree stood the great transmitter, poking up into the sky like a giant swizzle stick. Its metallic and gargantuan frame was vibrating in the evening sky, and the house was actually buzzing from the transmission. Of course, the only station the guys could pick-up was 39—morning, noon and night.
As I watched the sun going down, I wondered how these fellows were able to study. There was not a single lamp in the entire house! Suddenly, Lonnie came out of the back room with an armful of what looked like fluorescent bulbs. He placed them all around the room, like medieval candles, just the way he did when he was an altar boy at St. John’s when he was younger. He then squatted in the middle of the room and put himself into a full lotus. “Come on over here and let me show you something cool,” he said, and I walked over, stooped down and took both of his outstretched hands.
“I’m a TV channel,” said Lonnie, and as I touched his hands, the room began lighting up, like the inside of a New Age church cathedral. “We don’t need electricity. More money for beer!” said Lonnie, and his long-hair was slung, from side to side, as he laughed.
As I held my brother’s hands, the joy of his channeling radiated into me for the first and only time in our lives. Pictures of him torturing me with his variety of “practical jokes” whizzed past my mind’s eye like a cartoon, and I could laugh at them. I could see Lonnie downing a pint of whiskey that mother kept in her “Scottish nook” in our house on Coronado Island, and his sad blue eyes took in our parent’s divorce when he was fifteen and I was ten. Our sister, Louise, five, stood between us, also looking sad, first staring at Lonnie, and then back at me, as if she wanted us to become one of her television programs wherein families came together at the end of the halfhour program. Instead, she would later retreat into books, become a librarian, and raise two children in Orange County. I would later finish my degree at U. C. Berkeley, serve in Vietnam, travel to India with my Dutch girlfriend, live on two different European communes, and finally become a ship’s carpenter in San Diego. Lonnie, however, was always a TV channel, broadcasting a different show to the variety of lonely people who visited him inside his tavern church in San Francisco. But, just as he would on the day I visited him on Montezuma Road near the TV transmitter, Lonnie finally gave up his broadcasting duties and gave up on life.
However, on cold and windy nights, inside my hand-constructed and craftsman-quality home, I often wish I lived with him out on Montezuma, and we could laugh about the free electricity, and drink a few beers together, forgetting, for the briefest of moments, about the pain to come.