Dirty little secret
“OMG!” I texted Leslie, my old friend back in Maryland. “McGee’s locked in a women’s prison — in a riot!”
“I’ve seen that one!” Leslie wrote back brightly.
I plodded along on the treadmill, intent on the screen.
“Oh no! They killed a guard!” I texted next, then:
“McGee’s a hostage!”
I often sent Leslie, who was ill with cancer, late-afternoon texts to say hi and make her laugh. The television show “NCIS” was just something to talk about. Leslie had seen most of the episodes, but I was a Johnny-come-lately.
I’d found the show accidentally, several years before, while checking out our town’s great new rec center. I bought a punch card, mainly for exercise in winter, when it’s dark after work.
Stepping on the treadmill, I’d flipped on the television: Wow, all those channels. Though never much of a TV watcher at home, I love to skim around stations whenever I travel for work and stay in a motel.
I lit on one of the forensics shows I’d read about. My eyes grew wide; my steps quickened. Eventually the treadmill hit its hour limit and stopped, while I stood frozen, eyes glued, to see the end. And that was that. Watching “NCIS” on the treadmill became my abashed little indulgence. I never watched the new weeknight episodes, but quietly began to plan gym time to coincide with rerun times.
“I have an appointment,” I said one day to a nice woman who stopped to chat as I picked up my son from a lawn job.
In the car Roy looked at me amazed and said, “You do not. You’re going to the rec center!”
My friend Andrea waved from a parking spot, expecting me to stop, as I drove by.
I waved, mouthing, “I have to be somewhere.”
Andrea knew. She shouted in my rearview, “You just want to watch that show!”
Just outside the rec center, I saw a friend and his wife, bearing a stroller and expressions of expectant pride, on the sidewalk. Normally, I dote on any new baby; I bellowed a compliment and shouldered past.
I don’t like only walking on a treadmill, and I don’t like only watching TV. But I like doing both at the same time.
Only later did I find out that “NCIS” is rated number one. It is certainly formulaic, but the high-tech sleuthing, with medical, lab and computer analyses, is fascinating, especially as framed in the dynamics of the ensemble cast. There are the brooding, tragic, gruff boss, Special Agent Gibbs; the beautiful assassin Ziva (“I once killed someone with a credit card,” she remarks casually); and the teasing potential of her relationship with the goofball but stalwart Agent Tony DiNozzo, although they both also keep busily falling for other people. Ziva once loved a runner named Roy, who’d been poisoned; she still sometimes wears his orange hat. Come to think of it, Tony also fell in love with someone who was poisoned, and died! The smart scientist Abby presides in state over her lab, while nerdy, moral McGee is a systems expert. In the prison episode, McGee develops from a “Probie” to an authority working with the inmates for a just solution.
The reruns defy chronology, such that I still watch Kate and Jenny, both long since shot dead in other episodes. Jenny, mind you, got off a lot of return fire, killing all four of the guys sent after her — oh, and she was going to die anyway, from an undisclosed illness. The assassins who trailed her were sent by a certain Natasha that Jenny had once been assigned to kill in Paris, back when she and Gibbs were partners and then some. I am extremely embarrassed to admit that I looked up plot background on the Internet.
The benefit of all this? It has become very ingrained to try to get some exercise each day, including through winter. On days when I run out of time, I will usually at least walk up the road by my house, even for a half hour. During some seasons I watch the colors change outdoors, and others, a very dramatic TV show. I wish I could still share my little vice with Leslie. But sometimes I text the 13-year-old daughter she left behind. Grace likes the show, too.
— Femaelstrom appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at email@example.com.
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