The evening news is on. I watch as the television reporters begin to slog through the swamp of the day's insoluble problems.
In the Falklands, the death toll of ships and planes and people is calculated. On diagonal ends of the Atlantic, ministers and military planners are quoted. None of them can figure out how to end this thing.
The scene on the television screen shifts and I am greeted with another problem. Here is a woman who would just love a cup of coffee. But, alas, caffeine doesn't agree with her. What a dilemma! And yet in less than 30 seconds we have an answer: fill it to the rim with Brim!
The scene shifts next to Washington. A man with a chart is talking about raising the ceiling on the national debt. A figure turns up on my screen: $1.275 trillion. My eyes begin to glaze as senators and economists try to figure out what can't be done about it.
Then suddenly I am alert again. On the television set a strange man is sprinkling white stuff across the surface of the food that passes on the conveyor belt toward his stomach. The man is, I am told in dire tones, a Saltaholic! But even this dread addiction can be overcome. In half a minute he will be saved by: New No-Salt!
I sit through a half-hour of these mixed messages. At the end, it finally occurs to me that I have begun to actually like the commercials that punctuate the evening news. What tidy little problems, what lovely little dilemmas! For years I mocked them.
Now I find myself soothed by them. Actual live answers in a world of questions.
The next night, I watch reports from the mire of John Hinckley Jr.'s madness and motives. There are baffling issues about psychiatry, about the law.
But only moments later, I am asked to think long and hard about "the oldest question in the world: what'll I have for dinner?" For this, praise the powers, there is a solution. You can "set yourself free with Stouffers!"
I see a gruesome tale about cigarettes that start fires and manufacturers who refuse to make them a safer way. But then comes the message from our socially responsible sponsor: The washable paint on the wall saves our freckle-faced, jam-fingered boy from mommy's wrath. Hosanna!
I am not alone. I swear, in my new delight with television commercials. About a month ago a Yale Ph.D. candidate named Mark Edmundson published his thoughts on why people remember commercials. He described them as powerful myths: "They tell us things we like to hear: that the world makes sense, that quandaries have resolutions."
What better place for what he described as our "version of Utopia" than in the murky middle of the real world? On the evening news, few things make real sense, fewer quandaries are resolved.
I worry, however, that I have come to prefer the commercials to the news. Edmundson warned that, of course, "commercials don't address the major questions the way myths did. . . ." But I have even begun to fantasize about a world in which foreign and domestic policy is made on Madison Avenue.
How lovely if relations in the Middle East could all be made "better with Burlington." What bliss if Reagan could have his budget, his tax cut and his lower national debt by merely adding a little Metamucil to his diet. What joy if Maggie Thatcher and Leopoldo Galtieri could get through all the gunk and break open negotiations with a bit of Drano.
Every problem would be solved in 30 second. Guaranteed happy endings.
I know, I know--I'm asking too much. In a nation beset with anxiety about unemployment, I should be grateful to know that Martha Ray doesn't have stains on her dentures. In a world worrying about nuclear holocaust, I should rejoice that we can at least protect our pooches with a collar that reflects in the headlights of a car while it protects them from ticks and fleas.
But what I want is "worldwide acceptance," and they told me I could have it. Just last night I heard it on the news. Right before the report on disarmament, they said: "You can have it the way you want it with Visa." Honest.