Watching MTV with my Dad Over Lunch

Artist name: Health E. Schwartz
Description: Personal Essay

Watching MTV with My Dad Over Lunch

By Heather E. Schwartz

My dad had an office in our house when I was growing up. We didn’t call it work from home or working remotely. It wasn’t either of those things, plus it was the late ‘70s. He had an office in our house.

When our garage was transformed into office space to make this arrangement possible, my life became awesome for several reasons. First, I didn’t have to go to a babysitter’s house after school anymore. The teenage sitter across the street was fun, but she always wanted me to say, “Milk” in a deep voice like Morris the Cat for her friends. Sometimes she’d shake me inside a blanket till I laughed so hard I peed my pants. I didn’t really want to perform or pee my pants after school. I really just wanted to read.

Also, that babysitter’s boyfriend was a vampire. No lie. I saw him bite her neck, and she bled.

When we moved to a split-level house in another neighborhood, the finished basement became my dad’s new office. I was a teenager myself by then, with plenty of friends who’d come over and hang out. If we wanted to order pizza and one of my parents was already on the phone, the in-house office arrangement proved awesome once again when I explained that we could use “the other phone.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen of the early 1980s, my house had two separate phone lines.

Unheard of! The novelty!

If I wanted to, I could characterize the summer of 1984 as a low point. I know I had scalp surgery around that time, which I remember specifically as being frightening, disgusting, and embarrassing. I’m pretty sure my boyfriend (thankfully a non-vampire) had either broken up with me by then or had at least started the slow, painful process of ending things. Well, painful for me, anyway. My grandfather—my father’s father—died in June. All of these things were on my mind, troubling me and weighing me down. I’m sure the last one was troubling and weighing down my dad, too.

But when I think of my day to day life as a 14-year-old, that’s not how I remember that summer. Instead, I think of how my dad enjoyed the freedom of preparing a meal in his own kitchen at lunchtime, and I remember how we’d sit together, trays set up in the family room, and we’d watch MTV.

There before us were the sights and sounds of a new, strange artistic landscape. Twisted Sister sang and posed aggressively through a suburban house, the lead singer in clownlike makeup with hair much bigger than the average ‘80s perm (which was saying a lot). Next up, the camera panned in close on Billy Idol’s sneer as he worked his way through the intense and moody “Eyes Without a Face.” Flames flickered behind him. Next, he appeared in a strange empty, angular space. Then we saw a woman in leather inexplicably being sprayed with water.

My father bit into his slice of reheated Papa Gino’s pizza.

“It’s like watching someone’s nightmares,” he remarked, matter-of-factly.

I nodded in agreement. Neither of us could look away. What would come on next? “Jump,” by Van Halen? “Legs,” by ZZ Top? “Round and Round,” by Ratt? Each video told a story, but my dad was right—they were dreamlike stories you couldn’t tell anyone without realizing as you were talking that they made absolutely no sense.

They were mesmerizing. And that lunch hour we spent together each day that summer, hypnotized by the television until the clock told my dad that his freedom was up, seemed to occupy a space outside of time and reality.

It was awesome.

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