November 16, 2012

Cassette Story I: Charles in Charge

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What is the issue?
An obsession with Nicole Eggert taken to the extreme.

In junior high, I was deeply, irrevocably, and violently in love with Nicole Eggert, who played Jamie in Charles in Charge (1987-1990), starring Scott Baio as a live-in caregiver to the Powell family, in which Jamie was the eldest and most sultry daughter. Looking back, I can still see each grainy paused frame of her adorable face, to which I must concede to secretly/ quickly masturbating inside my parents’ upstairs bedroom while they were engaged with the grim responsibilities of modern life downstairs. My father chain-smoked to the 6 o’clock news and cursed this country while my mother chopped vegetables and gutted fish. An only child, I was free to blow my load.

Which brings us to my ponderous archive of Charles in Charge, each episode meticulously recorded on VHS, manually, i.e. I literally had to press record and stop, excising commercials (this was before digital cable, where recordings could only happen in real time). I must have filled at least thirty tapes. Should the reader think this contributor perverted to the extreme, let him say that he intrinsically enjoyed watching the show too. He laughed at the commonplace domestic drama to which everyone can relate; he filled creepy ontological silence with a laugh track, until he began thinking about her, more and more, at odd times of the day. Still, Jamie Powell was an entitled and annoying girl, abrasive and arrogant. Her clanky bookish sister Sarah — played by the plain blunt-boned Josie Davis — was the true sweetheart, but such is the demise of shallow youth, or men in general.

Jamie Powell’s father was in the Navy, whose absence was a tactful part on the writers to elevate Charles as the central father figure. Many sitcoms of this era disrupted the traditional family, e.g. Who’s the Boss; ALF; Empty Nest; Small Wonder; My Two Dads, etc. In the latter seasons, the sexual tension between Nicole Eggert and Scott Baio is apparent, and I particularly liked focusing in on the slutty looks she gave him. Again, I did not soley masturbate to the show. Like any relationship, mine with her came with the receding ebb and flow of emotions and life in general. I had sex with her usually before dinner, about three times a week, the aural evidence of my parents downstairs.

In my last week before college, my mother asked me if I wanted her to hold on to my collection. They were held in a large flimsy cardboard box in the corner of my room. She was at once trying to keep from laughing, but also saddened by the kind of person I had become. Where others form their first relationships, finding and losing love with a tender teenage kiss, I had filled a box with a rather ridiculous sitcom whose skillfully paused frames of a petty character I had tried to bury myself in. She had the most wonderful hair, as haystacks in the setting sun for this old horse. Her breasts actualized with each season, and I sucked my teeth. I told my mom to throw them away, almost bitter, convinced I would find a real girl in college. So wrong was I.

Nicole Eggert will end up on Baywatch, too womanly and not nubile enough for me, sexualized on a beach, instead of in her sexy baby-sitter’s basement; she is to gain an inordinate amount of weight over the years, and come, like many “fallen” actresses, to represent her own sadness in the same exact real life I denied her. She was an effigy of promise, cordoned off on screen, which I needed: sterile, attachment without commitment. Jamie did something to me those dumb and delicate years. She taught me the dream was better than the girl. Perhaps I was destined for loneliness, as every woman I see in real life now — on the street, on a bus, across the table from me — seems protected by the hard edge of the screen, distant and soft, each syllable manipulated into a frozen smile, safe from the torrent of my love. I wish all of them the very best. TC Mark

Jimmy Chen

Jimmy Chen writes essays, criticism, and satire. He also contributes at HTMLGIANT, among other places, and …

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