Saved by cable

Violent sports, serial killers and good cookin’ soothe the savage American soul

Whenever this old world starts getting me down, which is to say every second of every waking day, at least until the medication takes hold, I thank my lucky stars for cable TV. I know, I know, 1,000 channels and still nothing on. But I’m not talking about just any television. I’m talking about sports, crime dramas and, lately, cooking shows. Here, there’s always something on.

I’ve had sports on my mind and on the screen a lot recently. Like this week’s cover story subject, George Visger (blatant plug for the feature’s author, namely, me), I suffered a football-related concussion. Mine occurred at age 3, or so the story goes, after decades of embellishment, when I did a header off the couch and cut a 3-inch gash in my forehead after the Cleveland Browns crushed Johnny Unitas and my beloved Baltimore Colts 37-0 in that era’s version of the NFC Championship game.

That was 1964, and you can still see the scar. As anyone who’s ever watched every episode of Criminal Minds, as I have, can tell you, traumatic head injury at an early age can cause an individual to later become a serial killer. Fortunately, I only became a football fanatic, a student of live, televised violence.

There’s no question that the game was more violent back in the days George Visger was playing—who can forget Oakland Raiders defensive back Jack Tatum’s vicious hit on New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley in that 1978 preseason game? Tatum was known as “The Assassin.” Stingley was paralyzed from the chest down.

This season, play on the field has been noticeably tuned down. The NFL may be balking at fully compensating retired players for brain damage, but if the new regulations are any indication, the league appears to be looking out for players today. You get even close to someone’s head, with a helmet or a heavily padded fist, and the refs throw a flag. The offensive and defensive linemen are all standing up, and there’s considerably less head-to-head contact. If the game was this tame when I was growing up and I’d shot up a buttload of steroids, I could’ve made the NFL.

As it was, I broke my collarbone playing junior-high ball, and my parents gently eased me out of the brutal world of extracurricular school sports and into the relatively safer (as long as you didn’t crash) world of amateur motocross. This dovetailed nicely with my obsession for motor sports, which is as equally long-lived as my football fanaticism.

They didn’t have anything like the Speed Channel when I was a kid, but I’m not going to bore you with the fact that today, between football, MotoGP and NASCAR, my weekends are taken, at least until the end of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Besides, there’s barely enough room left to tell you about crime dramas and cooking shows.

The veritable alphabet soup of crime dramas on cable is both a blessing and a curse. In American culture, bigger is better, and that’s why today’s anti-hero is the serial killer, as opposed to, say, Raskolnikov, in Dostoyevsky’s 19th-century masterpiece Crime and Punishment. From CBS to USA to A&E (or the easier-to-remember Channel 69—ask any guy), serial killers run rampant on cable television, strangling prostitutes, stalking co-eds and cannibalizing corpses.

That’s the good part.

The bad part is that for kids like me, who not only suffered major head trauma as children but were also raised on true-crime paperbacks depicting the atrocities committed by infamous maniacs from Ted Bundy to Charles Manson to the Zodiac, the whirlpool of forensic porn that is CSI, NCIS, SVU, Criminal Minds, Criminal Intent, etc., can suck your life right down the drain. Since getting cable in January, I haven’t left the house except to go to work. I haven’t taken the garbage out. I’ve gained 50 pounds.

Some of that poundage, of course, must be attributed to the Food Network. With all due respect to Our Nimble Chairman, I’m in love with Iron Chef Bobby Flay. In addition to his appearances on Iron Chef America, I’ve been catching him on Throwdown! With Bobby Flay. Bobby is the man. He’s actually gotten my ass up off the couch and into the kitchen.

I’ve been cooking a lot lately. Last night, I made burgers using Kobe beef, bacon, some sort of fancy mushrooms sautéed in bacon grease, sharp cheddar cheese, blue cheese, guacamole and all the other standard fixings, served on toasted sourdough buns. My girlfriend has taken to calling me “Bobby Gay,” mainly because I’ve been prancing around the kitchen with nothing on but an apron.

Come to think of it, that does sound a little gay. At least it’s a start. Now if I can just get out of the house.