Anatomy of a Nightmare in TV Land

By Russell Baker

     NEW YORK- Nightmares by a roaring television screen:  I am wandering in the desolate wilds of the American stomach. It is located at the southern extremity of the American esophagus, and it would be harder to imagine a more forlorn place.  Stomach acid sloshes about at all hours.  The entire landscape is obscured by impenetrable vapors, which I instantly recognize as the notorious “stomach gas”

          From far above I hear the esophagus shouting to the stomach.  “Potato chip with cheese dip coming down!” It cries.  The stomach groans furiously.  In an instant there is a thunderous roar overhead.  Potato chip and cheese dip shoot through the gas like meteors from the blackest space and plunge into the acid. 

      Then without warning, a drenching torrent pours down upon me.  The stomach snarls in rage at the esophagus. “Why didn’t you warn me this bum was about to drink half a martini?” It cries, “I’ll fix him.”

      In a murderous act of treachery, the stomach produces a dense mass of stomach gas and forces it back up the esophagus.  I am caught in the updraft and am forced up, up, up, until I am wedged right under the breastbone.  There, trapped, I hear the esophagus calling again.  “Brace yourself down there!  A whole anchovy coming down!”   

     Looking up, I see a gigantic salted fish plummeting upon me.  I struggle to race back down the esophagus, but my feet are stuck in cheese dip, and the anchovy is gaining rapidly….

      I AM JOLTED briefly into blessed wakefulness, then doze again.  I have retained a baby sitter named Mrs. Marsh for the evening. She has brought a huge suitcase containing toothpaste, toothbrushes, sticks of chalk, glasses filled with dyed water and a Thompson submachine gun, which she is pointing at me with one hand while dipping chalk into dyed water with the other.

      She is determined not to let me go out to the movies until she has shown me how deeply her toothpaste will penetrate the enamel of my children’s teeth. She is demonstrating with the chalk sticks.  Sure enough, the dye is turning the chalk bright hues all the way through.  “ You wouldn’t do that to my children’s teeth?” I am pleading.  She cackles insanely,  “Hah” I cry.  “Your toothpaste may



penetrate chalk, but chalk isn’t tooth enamel!” Mrs. Marsh fires a burst of machine-gun fire over my head to remind me to keep my hands up.

      “My toothpaste,” she gloats, “will penetrate anything.  Look!”  And she rubs it on the television set, which turns bright purple.

          Is there nothing I can do to stop her mad plot?  One thing, she tells me.  If I agree to stay home and sit with her until midnight while she demonstrates her toothpaste’s penetrating power on the Queen Anne chairs…

      I OPEN MY EYES and close them again, then reopen them wide because standing right there before me, is my blue pinstripe suit.  It is in an ugly mood.  “I’ve got something to tell you, stupid,” says the suit.

      “What’s holding you up?” “Do you have the invisible man inside?”

      “I wish I did,” says the suit.  “He’s probably got enough sense to realize a man needs twice as much protection.”

      “Where do you talk from?” I ask the suit.  “Your voice seems to be coming from your right pocket, but I don’t see the flap moving.” 

 The suit says it has not come there to talk about suit anatomy.  “Well, flip off then,” I say.  “I don’t hold with  wool that talks.”

      THE SUIT MAKES a terrifying grimace with its left lapel and calls for reinforcements.  IN AN INSTANT, I am surrounded by angry clothing- sweaters, underpants, socks – all prancing around the room and jabbering  furiously.  I swing a right hook at a pair of socks, and miss, and in the next moment the clothes have all leaped on me and are about to break my arm, when I awake. 

     Breathing heavily, I lumber off to bed and put out the light. There is a stranger in the room.  I demand to know what he is doing there.  He says he is looking for the washing machine so he can surprise me next time I do the sheets by showing me a soap that gets white things twice as white.

      I lead him to the cellar.  He thanks me.  On the stairs I am mugged and robbed of all my vacation cash.  When I get back to bed Karl Malden tells me always to carry traveler’s checks.