Karin and I once had a small dog named “Honey” who was a faithful viewer of “Days of Our Lives.” Her morning routine was to prowl the house annoying the cats until she heard the soap’s theme song. Then she’d scurry to the front of the set, tilt her head back, and let out a long and mournful howl.
I think she was moved by the violin music.
This was our signal to get into the front room and see what the Horton family was up to. Almost 30 years has passed since Honey’s howls, and I was wondering recently—do people still watch soaps?
What set me to thinking was a story last week reported the passing of another “daytime drama” star at age 94. This gal was a regular on The Young and the Restless, and according to her daughter, the woman died peacefully in her Beverly Hills home.
Being in salacious show, it seems, leads to a long and prosperous life.
My earliest memories of soaps are when I was a tyke, sick with the mumps, and they were the only thing on other than game shows. Mom would turn on Password and then head to the laundry room. Once she was out of sight, I’d switch the tube back over to the soaps.
This stuff was fascinating.
Who needed educational TV? These shows taught me the finer points of marriage, child rearing, career planning, and money management. Clearly, this was what adults did all day while I was at school. They were all Caucasian, cruised in cool cars, lounged in swanky restaurants, and had business empires. The NEEDED their life of leisure to allow ample time for double-crossing one another while sleeping with their business partner’s wife. In between all this HARD WORK they argued with their ungrateful relatives. And, like rabbits, they spawned hordes of offspring who went through puberty in a single season. But the stars themselves never aged.
This was why America was the envy of the free world!
By age 10, I understood what soaps WERE, but they still puzzled me. WHAT was their appeal? WHY did people tune in, day after day? HOW could people treat one another that way, and WHO could care about these awful people? I learned the answers to these questions on an otherwise-ordinary summer day.
School was out, but it was it was too hot to ride play outside. I’d been over to my best friend’s house, but he was gone. So I came home. The TV was on, and I tucked myself into a corner to read when I heard Mom speaking in a loud voice.
“Don’t do it,” she yelled.
I was puzzled. For a change, I wasn’t doing ANYTHING that should be getting me in trouble. So, I put the book down and walked over to talk to her.
“Oh, you’re gonna be sorry.”
I was worried, and stood just out of sight, wondering what I should say.
“Maggie’s going to find out,” Mom said. “I can’t wait to see the expression on your face THEN.”
Maggie? My mind raced through a list of all the people I’d annoyed recently who might have called Mom. It was a long list, and it took me a while.
“And if you break her heart, Tom will KILL YOU.”
I was relieved. I was no heartbreaker, so she clearly wasn’t talking to me. Mom must be chatting with one of her friends. I looked over at the wall phone, with its twisted cord that could stretch clear from the kitchen into the laundry room.
It was still on the hook.
“You’re such a snake, Victor,” Mom said.
And then it hit me. She was talking to Victor.
Victor on the TV.
Yep. Mom was a soap opera junkie. I could see that she watched TV the same way that Grandpa listened to the radio while hiding behind his newspaper. This was the same woman who’d told me I would ruin my eyes by sitting too close to the Boob Tube, and my ears by turning the Rock ‘n’ Roll up too loud. Anytime she saw ME watching TV, she’d turn it off—since it was “rotting my brain”—and hand me a book. That’s how I came to read from cover-to-cover, the Encyclopedia Britannica Volume “Z.”
But it did help me play Jeopardy!
So I kept her secret. But the truth came out when I entered college. I was often home for lunch, and I’d catch her taking a break with a cup of coffee.
“What’s Victor up to now?” I asked.
“Shhh,” Mom waved a dust cloth at me, “he’s trying to eavesdrop on Maggie.” I sat down and waited for an opening. But it never came. Each time I’d be shushed, and I’d wait, watching…. This went on for a few weeks.
By then my mother had me hooked.
“Why does Maggie put up with him,” I asked after the show had ended.
Mom shook her head sadly. “You don’t know her story, do you?” So she dished up all the dirt on the Hortons and the Kiriakises.
It was a mother-son bonding experience.
When I moved away, my dorm room lacked a TV. So I’d call home to see what Mom was up to and to catch up on Victor, Maggie and their clans. I could go months without watching, but Mom could always catch me up in five minutes.
Weird? Yes. But there were only three networks then. It wasn’t a matter of whether you’d watch a soap, just a question of which one. We managed to choose the one that never won an Emmy.
It’s programming almost-worth watching. TV to clean view while cleaning your toilet.
Eventually, I got my own apartment and bought a television. I’d leave it on in the background because the yammering kept me from being alone. I kept this odd habit up into the early years of our marriage.
That’s how I corrupted an innocent dog into being a soap-opera addict.
And as time passed, our family grew. With the birth our first child, Amanda, we experienced both joy and sorrow. Honey took an immediate dislike to Amanda, and so she had to go.
Honey that is.
We ran an ad, and a grey-haired woman named Arby Mc Cudder came and fell in love Honey. They seemed like a perfect match.
Then, a week later, we got a phone call from Arby.
“How she working out?” I asked
“Just fine. Most of the time Honey is a perfect little lady,” Arby said, “except for one small thing….”
Oh, oh. I thought. Honey must be chewing on the sofa.
“She howls every day,” Arby said, sounding distressed.
I was worried. “All the time?”
“No. It’s the strangest thing. It’s only at noon when I’m making lunch. She runs away from me, over to the television set, and makes a ruckus.”
I laughed. “Is that why you called?”
“Maybe… Honey doesn’t like me,” she said in a soft voice.
“Do you watch Days of our Lives?”
Arby gave a little gasp. “Why, yes.”
“Then it’s not you,” I reassured her, “Honey’s just mad at Victor Kiriakis.”
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. He has two humor books in print, The Doggone Christmas List and The Stupid Minivan. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County, Northern California.