My Summer of Bulgarian Television

One summer, I sublet two rooms in my apartment to students who had just finished a semester abroad at Columbia. They were Bulgarians visiting New York City. After graduation in May, they needed a place to stay for for three months. I assumed they would make great roommates because they would likely never be home. I put myself in their shoes as a guest in a major city for a few short months. If I were them, I would be a tourist at sites during the day and partying at clubs during the night. That’s what I was like when I first moved here, and a part of why I still live here – being a tourist in my own city to discover its uniqueness. Perfect roommates, I reasoned, they would likely never be home.

However, they were the opposite of what I expected. Instead of exploring New York City, they stayed at the apartment all the time. When I would leave in the morning, they were already on the couch watching television. When I returned home, it was as if they did not move the entire day. They watched a lot of what I thoughtfully refer to as “the shows my Grandma likes to watch.” NONE of our tastes overlapped in television shows, and the one who had possessed control of the remote the most never volunteered to let other roommates watch.

At one point, I felt like asking them, “Does television exist in Bulgaria?” I knew it did, but it felt like my roommates were so mesmerized by these reruns of 90s sitcoms. Perhaps they just never saw them growing up like I had, and that could explain their cult like obsession? It was not as if my tv had thousands of cable channels, it was just a basic package with a box. How could they watch so much of it? While one of the roommates actually had a job (I’m not sure how she kept it by always watching tv), the other roommate was “looking” for a job as if it would come up on a commercial between daytime soap operas.

The cable box got so much use that summer that one day it just stopped working. Unfortunately, I had to call the cable company because I was the one listed on the account. When the cable guy arrived to assess the issue, he was shocked. He was unable to repair the cable, and proclaimed that our cable box had been worn out from too much use.

Once replaced with a new cable box, my roommates returned to their addiction of watching television nearly twenty four hours a day, seeming to forget about the previous incident. A few weeks later, they were gone. I contemplated unplugging the cable box to celebrate their departure. I had absored enough television to last me through the fall. But, then I remembered all of my shows I had not watched for months, I turned the tv on….

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