I'm always surprised by those charts about how the American public spends its time. After recently consulting actuarial tables, factoring in my age and accounting for necessities like sleeping, eating and other bodily functions, it was scary to realize how little time I had left over each day.
I rarely worried about such things until I hit my mid-40s, when I became slightly embarrassed by how I whiled away my free time. Like they say, tick-tock. Then I read about "Days of Our Lives," otherwise known as DOOL, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Once featured on the cover of Time magazine, DOOL is one of the longest running television programs in the world. Back in the day, it was considered quite daring, tackling such controversial themes such as interracial marriage, rape and artificial insemination.
As a child and young adult, I was a DOOL junkie. Sitting in front of our black-and-white television set, I began to learn about things never spoken of in polite company. I don't recall catching the first episode, which aired on NBC in November of 1965, but I certainly watched the show during school holidays and summer vacation beginning the following year. My mom and grandmother glued themselves to "As the World Turns." And even though I eventually added "The Doctors," "Another World" and "Dark Shadows" to my soap opera lineup, I was always partial to DOOL's Horton and Brady clans. Men may have eventually grabbed control of the remote, but women and girls were the original channel flippers.
I missed a bunch of episodes while in high school, but in college my friends and I arranged our class schedules around TV listings. Each afternoon, we'd huddle in the dorm lounge, ogling daytime TV's bad boys. In 1975, there was mass celebration when DOOL expanded from 30 minutes to one delicious hour.
Would Doug and Julie ever marry? Or Bo and Hope? Marlena and Roman? These were the problems I pondered as a young woman.
During law school, my class and part-time work schedules often interfered with the daily broadcast of DOOL, but I never lost touch. After graduation, I moved to New York City, got married and purchased a VCR. I'd never miss another episode again.
I often worked long, late hours, frequently coming home at midnight. Still, before sleep, I'd prop myself up in bed, unwrap whatever takeout I'd grabbed and luxuriate in an hour of my guiltiest pleasure.
In the early 1980s, my ex-husband and I went to Barbados on vacation where I was delighted to learn that the island's sole television broadcaster carried DOOL. So at the appointed hour, I quit the beach, plunked myself down in front of the tube and giddily pressed the on button. Barbados, however, was still airing episodes from the 1960s—which I thoroughly enjoyed again.
Back home, it was my husband's job to program the VCR to capture each day's episode for me. He didn't mind and besides, it allowed him one more opportunity to remind me he'd once dated Marlena's real-life twin sister, who also periodically made appearances on the show.
And then I had kids and, as we all know, free time became a thing of the past. I'd occasionally flip through an issue of Soap Opera Digest at the supermarket checkout to see what I was missing. Scores of DOOL characters entered and left the cast; many came back from the dead. Even without actually watching it, it was easy to catch up and weirdly comforting to think that if I tuned in, DOOL villain Stefano would still be up to his old tricks.
It's been more than 20 years since I saw my last episode of DOOL but a few months ago, the lock-in rate for my cable TV subscription expired. My monthly charges rose about 20 percent so I downgraded to a basic package. As I flipped through my new channel roster, I hesitated when I saw a listing for DOOL. Could I watch just one episode without getting hooked again? Is this the way I wanted to spend whatever precious time I had left?
I'm sad to report that I left DOOL behind.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not averse to guilty or other types of pleasure. In fact, during this past year, I've jacked up the fun factor in my life a lot. Spending time with fictional characters on TV can be great fun, but it's no replacement for the friends and family I love.