The Hot Seat

In Essay, Magazine by Amanda WolkinLeave a Comment

I’m convinced that Regis Philbin was placed on Earth because he has the perfect voice for television.

Forget the newest string of robberies on Channel 3 or the catfights on The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Regis, in his thousand-year-old glory, takes over the small screen and makes it big.  Every time I turned on the TV in elementary and middle school, my life blurred into the television’s flashing lights, and my troubles were lulled away by Regis’s deep bass register.  For once, I had a valid reason not to talk, but just to listen.

I first remember hearing Regis when I was seven, the night my dad lost his job. He and my mom were sitting at the kitchen table, talking in hushed voices over an untouched dinner. I stumbled down the stairs in my Disney nightgown, overhearing their conversation, but still angry that my mom had forgotten to kiss me goodnight at 8:40, as per our nightly routine.  As I approached the table, my dad looked at me with sunken eyes and slowly shook his head. My mom stroked my back and said, “Not now, Honey. If you can’t sleep, go watch TV in the living room.”

Never one to turn down extra TV time, I sat down in the crook of our couch, watching the letters, numbers and new faces blur together until Regis’ voice began narrating my dreams. When the buzzer sounded, signaling the end of the show, I awoke to find my dad next to me. I opened my mouth to ask if he was okay, but he held up an authoritative hand. I sank back in my seat, content just to watch the show next to him. Time together was a rare opportunity; he always left for work before I woke up for school, and it wasn’t unusual for him to come home long after I went to sleep.

Every Friday night after that, Regis’ voice filled the empty spaces of our living room, sealing up the ceiling’s faint cracks from last year’s water damage and brushing past the forced smiles of the family portraits sitting on our mantle. His voice swelled before bursting into the kitchen where I sat at the wooden table, struggling with my weekend math homework. My mom stood near the oven, pretending to cook but really just popping a pre-made chicken from Costco inside. The smell of spices and the show’s theme song mingled together in the air before Regis startled me from my multiplication tables, knocking the pencil out of my hand when he boomed, “Welcome to Who Wants to be a Millionaire!”

Like clockwork, my dad walked in from his daily job hunt, acknowledged how great the chicken smelled and plopped down on the couch. Abandoning my math, I sat down next to him, the couch cushion tilting like a seesaw from the weight of his beer belly. He had just started the Atkins Diet round seven, but we both knew about the stash of nuts hidden beneath the pillow next to him. That was our little secret, just as this was our little tradition. For us, bonding without eye contact came naturally. He did not want to think or talk about his grownup problems, and I did not want to inconvenience him with my petty problems about unfair spelling quizzes and being picked last in gym class.

We sat, his sturdy arm encompassing my ten-year-old-frame as he held me close. We didn’t feel the pressure to talk. Regis had plenty to say to fill the void. Me, him, and Regis. My scrawny body lurched forward each time I knew the answer, my dad’s eyes flinched behind his thick glasses each time a contestant used a lifeline and Regis’s voice dropped an octave each time he said, “Is that your final answer?”  It was the three of us in the living room one night a week, our time together in the Hot Seat.

Amanda WolkinThe Hot Seat

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