A few things you might not know if you nil missed the recent Couch Potato Convention at the Lincolnwood Hyatt:
(1) There are 12 types of TV twins. So says Dr. Gregory Young, a psychiatrist who has devised a system of television enlightenment that consists of finding the television character you most resemble, then watching that character to see how he or she deals with people and problems.
"When I was working on my theories of personality, I'd be going to my room to do more research and there would be my wife, Sheila, watching TV And I'd be saying something like, 'I was just reading this theory by Freud,' or 'I just came upon this idea of Jung's of how people interact,' and she'd say, 'You know, I just saw that on The Honeymooners.' And I began to realize that maybe, just maybe, people have the same personalities as characters on TV. In my waiting room I found that I had a lot of Sonny Crocketts and Ralph Kramdens and Krystle Carringtons. And that got to be exciting. So first thing I did, I asked Sheila to make room for me on the couch!"
Immediately upon learning this I set out to find Sheila, who was entering an elevator when I tracked her down. I was anxious to find out how much input she'd really had on her husband's theory, but she dismissed me on the third floor when I told her I didn't believe I resembled anyone on television. "Everyone," she told me coolly, "resembles somebody on TV."
(2) Celeste's pizza has a really long freshness date. The first floor of the hotel was jammed with booths, video monitors, couches, and camera crews from all over the world who wandered the hallways searching for obese illiterates to interview. Among the souvenirs you could purchase and store indefinitely in your refrigerator were television dinners, potato chips, and frozen pizza. While nibbling on a slice of Celeste's I was told the freshness date was "really long," so I peeked at the box, expecting the code to read something like "August 2010." I walked away in disappointment when I learned it was only good through part of 1989.
(3) They don't have anything like this in Cleveland. "We don't have anything like this in Cleveland," said Alice, a 23-year-old student who had moved here several years ago. This was at the "Haute Potato" Tasting, a sort of wine tasting for tubers. "My friend Carla here talked me into coming along," Alice continued. "She said we'd have a fun time and meet interesting people." I looked around at the mostly empty chairs. As we talked and nibbled on boiled spuds, plastic forks were passed out with a great deal more dignity than was strictly necessary by a young woman wearing a shirt that said YOUR FRIEND THE POTATO.
(4) It's OK to exercise while watching TV. "There is nothing wrong with flexing those muscles with a can of soda in one hand and a sandwich in the other," said Mary Iondola, leader of the isometric exercise session. She recommends working out during commercials but cautions against overexertion. "Begin by committing to two TV commercials a program, then work your way up to every break."
(5) Media loves media. That's what one of the hotel people told me when I asked what the real attraction of this event was. MTV, PBS, and media from Australia, Japan, Italy, and England were either present or in contact, wanting to know what those zany Americans were up to now. The representative from Germany was talking about the seduction of his country by U.S. television. "It used to be that from 4 o'clock in the afternoon till 11 o'clock there would only be educational and informational shows run. But now with cable TV, Americans are infiltrating."
Infiltrating? Isn't that a little strong for people who just want to take root on their sofas? A guy from Cicero was lying like Dionysus on a huge bed while a camera crew from Seattle filmed and interrogated him without mercy. "I have two stereos," he confessed, "I have three VCRs, one in the living room, one in the dining room, and one in the bedroom. I just like to stay at home and watch things." So much for world conquest.
(6) The woman responsible for all this was Kathy Goldblatt. She doesn't see herself originating the idea so much as being one of the "New Conformists"--a person who sights and adopts a trend. Asked what kind of people came, she replied, "People would call up and reserve rooms from Indiana, from Missouri, from Massachusetts or California and identify themselves as Couch Potatoes. You know, I think a lot of them just came here to be given something to do." Soon after cooking up the idea, Kathy said, she found herself working 12 hours a day. "I dreamed I was being interviewed on the radio and found myself saying, 'I dig Couch Potatoes, they're the salt and pepper of the earth.' It was a nightmare."