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A True-Life TV Love Story: How a Stroke Stopped Old Video Viewing Habits In Their Tracks
July 21, 2011  | By Tom Brinkmoeller
 
Tom-and-Linda.jpgYou won't find note of this in a any medical journal, but an after-effect of stroke is an unreasonable addiction to... Emeril Lagasse. Though not a neurologist, I conclude this from experience -- and, it has to be noted up front, with the bemused approval of my spouse.

A quick background. Linda, whom I met in 1964 and married in 1967, experienced a major brain aneurysm in 1999 --12 years ago this week. Experts told us immediately she probably would die. They don't know this remarkable woman. When she didn't fulfill their initial prediction, they pronounced with certainty that her life had virtually ended. She would be in a hospital bed and a wheelchair and be dependent for the rest of her life. Wrong again, doc.

So many wasted predictions about a person who is stronger and more determined than anyone I've ever known. I didn't need the experts' opinions about these not-to-happen calamities.

I just wish I would have been warned about how her television tastes would change...

Oh, how they changed -- in a way that could have derailed a person who has been a student of television longer than I've known Linda. Another important note, though: It's been a happy, but wholly unpredictable, adjustment. As Linda has continually progressed from a huge setback, I have had to readjust my horizontal and vertical holds, so to speak, when it comes to video.

three-stooges.jpg

This surely was the last adjustment I expected after finally bringing Linda home, seven weeks after the event. The first clues came when we turned on the set one morning and the channel we had last watched was showing a Three Stooges short.

Larry, Curly and Moe had carried record amounts of opprobrium in Linda's life previously; she would look at me questioningly (perhaps weighing the chances of an annulment) when I laughed at their routines, and if our son was discovered watching them, the power of absolute parental censorship was invoked. But that morning, as Moe hit Curly's head with a hammer and stuck his fingers in Larry's eyes, Linda laughed.

Clue No. 2 came during a Seinfeld scene in which Kramer burst into Jerry's apartment, his hair smoking. Another big laugh. I was not prepared for this.

Linda's sense of humor always had been lively, but was more refined than mine. A James Brooks or Nora Ephron movie was more to her taste than, say, Dumb and Dumber. Taxi and M*A*S*H worked for her; Green Acres didn't. She did the Sunday Times crossword with a ballpoint; Mad definitely was not her magazine.

Amazed as I was by the change, I thought it could be nice to have a partner who suddenly enjoyed the "nuances" of slapstick. I didn't yet know how massive the change had been, though.

emeril.jpg

I got an idea when she started to develop an Emeril addiction. The Food Network had been added to our cable lineup during Linda's hospitalization. She loved cooking, was great at it and could spend a long time reading monthly copies of Gourmet and Bon Appetit. She's not a snob by any means, but Lagasse's shtick, I'm guessing, would have ranked him, in the old days, alongside Curly and Moe.

Reruns of Emeril Live finally left the air a few weeks ago. Because I have a rule that the person who can't get up independently and leave the room chooses what show to watch, Emeril has been on a lot in our home over the last decade. If David Bianculli hadn't invited me in 2009 to revisit television writing, I'm not sure what I might have done to find alternative recreation. Since caregiving keeps one close to home, I'm guessing he didn't save me from a life of crime.

Every brain event leaves different results. Linda's aren't heartbreaking or massive. But they still strike me as odd in the person I met 47 years ago.

Regis-Philbin-Kelly-Ripa.jpg

Her love of Live with Regis and Kelly is every bit as powerful as it is for Mr. Lagasse. Anything Ellen Degeneres does is great with Linda. I bet she has watched more Paula Deen and Giada De Laurentis episodes than their closest relatives have. And the biggest thing I ever have learned from the former "Learning Channel," TLC, is that the wife of mine who hated shopping (but still looked fabulous every day when she went to work) can watch What Not to Wear and Say Yes to the Dress for more hours in a week than she spent over her entire life, collectively, in department stores.

Conversely, this woman, who sat engrossed as we watched heavy drama in the old days, has a hard time with it now. So while the other writers on this site regularly praise shows about zombies and meth dealers, I recuse myself from those deliberations, citing insufficient exposure to the product.

Good points to note: Linda enjoys as much as I do screening the programs I write about. And her feedback often helps me in forming an opinion.

ellen-dancing-degeneres.jpg

But the best thing about this (and you're allowed to dismiss this as too Lifetime Movie-like for a serious website like this one) is I don't regret forfeiting heavy dramas that cause viewers to lose sleep (as a reader commented to David recently about Breaking Bad). And I have built up a snake-venom immunity to Ellen, Kelly, and Emeril, so no harm is done there.

The most important person ever in my life didn't check out, as predicted, 12 years ago. And she didn't remain where a calamitous health event dropped her. So if listening to Emeril yell endless "Bams," or watching Regis complain about his gripe du jour, or watching Ellen dance as badly as I do -- if that's the trade I made to have selfishly kept Linda these past dozen years -- that's OK with me.

Just so she never develops a taste for Minute to Win It.

 

3 Comments

 

Eileen said:

What a love story, Tom. The real kind, not, as you note, a Lifetime movie.

How lucky Linda is to have such a wonderful soul mate. In this day of disposable relationships, it warms my heart to know there are still people who take their marriage vows seriously.

And, Linda, you have certainly exposed Tom to the real world. Sure, Ellen jumps around, but I can't think of a nicer person on tv. Regis -- a pain to be sure, but always comes through for Hayes Catholic Boys School, even winning them $50,000 on Jeopardy.

And I love your mention of The Three Stooges. Having grown up on them, I still marvel at their antics. When some critics blame tv for all the juvenile violence well, I never felt the need to hit either of my brothers over the head with a hammer, but God knows there were times they deserved it.

So thank you, Tom & Linda, for making me smile with my heart this morning.

Comment posted on July 21, 2011 11:04 AM


Shauna said:

What an incredibly sweet story, Tom. Thanks so much for sharing it and giving me a much needed smile during my day. Best wishes to you and Linda for many more happy years of defying doctors.

Comment posted on July 21, 2011 12:23 PM


Laurie said:

I had a significant life event that got me watching TV after more than 20 years of not tuning in at all. Now my tastes run from Deadwood to Dancing With The Stars. My spouse, like Tom, has the same loving appreciation of my tendencies. As the Senate yesterday hosted hearings on DOMA and the question of what defines marriage, I can testify that it really all boils down to loving someone while they are cheering on the next Master Chef or dancing along with Ellen. Solidarity Linda! Thanks Tom (and my own TV partner Elisabeth!)

Comment posted on July 21, 2011 3:40 PM
 
 
 
 
 
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