Front Row Seat

by Karen Topakian

Armen 001_2

On a warm summer Tuesday evening in 1948, my father bound up the stairs to my mother’s front door on Narragansett Boulevard. He knocked quickly.

My mother answered the door and ushered him inside.

He glanced at his watch as he walked into her living room to greet her parents. Almost 7:40. He and my mother didn’t have much time. They needed to leave now to arrive by 8 at his uncle and aunt’s house for the Tuesday night ritual.

He wanted a seat in front of his relative’s much-coveted possession, a console television set, to watch America’s most popular show, NBC’s hit comedy variety program, “Texaco Star Theatre’s Milton Berle Show.”

Thousands of Americans dropped everything on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. to turn on their 12 inch black and white television sets with the tinny speaker and tune into Uncle Milty bounce, preen, clown and joke.

But my father’s relative’s small den couldn’t accommodate more than a few people on the floral print couch or in the one upholstered chair. If they arrived too late or too many people joined the fun, for 60 minutes they would have to laugh while standing.

He’d stood on his feet all day working at his family’s jewelry plating business. He looked forward to sitting.

My parents needed to hustle.

“Armen, it must be very hot at the shop these days,” said my grandmother fanning herself.

My father quickly agreed.

“Are you busy?” queried my grandfather, a jewelry manufacturer and an occasional customer of my father’s family’s business.

“Since vacation. Very busy,” responded my father nervously shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

“Are you doing much gold work?” asked my grandfather running his hand through his wavy hair.

“A little.”

“Why do people like gold so much?” mused my grandfather.

My father shrugged.

“I’ve got a customer who sells mostly silver. Nobody buys silver. I’ve told him to sell gold. He’ll make more money. Everybody wants gold.”

My mother noticed my father sneaking a look at his watch and interrupted, “We better get going. Or we’ll be late.”

My father nodded in agreement. After saying their goodbyes, they strode out to my father’s car. He drove carefully but quickly to his Uncle Dick’s house a mile or so away.

As my father parked in front of his uncle’s house on Marion Avenue, he noted a familiar car parked in the driveway.

“But I don’t recognize this car,” posited my father pointing to the vehicle in front of him. Quickly, he calculated his decreasing likelihood of a seat on the small-ish sofa.

“Maybe they aren’t visiting your aunt and uncle,” suggested my mother optimistically.

Aunt Rena opened the front door when she saw them approach. “Come on in. The show’s almost ready to start.”

My parents made a beeline through the living room into the dining room and kitchen on their way to the den, when an older couple, the Avakians, stopped them.

“Armen, is that you?” asked Fred Avakian.

“Yes it is,” responded my father pivoting ever so slightly to gain a glimpse into the den. “Of course you know Alice.”

“Armen, I haven’t see you in years, since you worked at Henry and Bebe’s store,” announced Fred’s wife, Ardie.

“That’s my brother Ted,” answered my father taking a side step closer to the door.

“How’s General Plating?” asked Fred.

“Busy,” answered my father as he stared at the kitchen clock. “We don’t want to miss the first laugh.”

“I haven’t seen your mother in awhile. How is she?” asked Ardie.

“Busy. Working.”

“Armen, seeing you reminds me of the time we sat with your parents at a banquet when our waiter dropped a whole chicken dinner on the floor,” declared Ardie. “We laughed so hard.”

My father nodded inching away from the conversation.

“But do you know whose dinner it was?” asked Ardie.

My father shook his head as he unsuccessfully attempted to see into the den.

“Be sure and ask your mother to tell you the rest of the story,” she called after my father who had exited the kitchen.

“Looks like the show’s about to start,” commented my father from the next room.

Fred and Ardie re-directed their kitchen conversation toward my mother.

In two steps, my father had made his way to the back bedroom cum TV room and jockeyed for the one remaining position on the couch just as the show opened with its standard Texaco commercial.

In a few moments, my mother entered the den. My father motioned for her to squeeze in on the couch next to him. She took one look at the person with whom she’d have to squeeze between and said. “That’s ok. I’ll stand.”

My father smiled and leaned closer to the television set a happy man.


I watched it twice. But I won’t watch it a third time. Political Animals

by Karen Topakian

Here’s the plot: Sigourney Weaver stars as the divorced wife of a philandering former US President. She now serves as Secretary of State in the administration of the man to whom she lost the democratic presidential primary. I know it sounds preposterous but that’s Hollywood.

The actual preposterous part is that her ex-husband and the Russian and Turkish ambassador frequently say she’s hot. Though as my partner Peg notes she frequently looks frumpy and slutty. Hard to pull off at the same time.

Her ex-husband, the former POTUS, lays the Southern accent on a bit too heavily. Even to these Northerner’s ears.

One of their sons is gay in an extremely stereotypical way. He struggles with substance abuse while enjoying anonymous sex.

The other son works for his mother in the family business. As her chief of staff at the State Department.

His fiancé, a beautiful Asian woman, secretly suffers from bulimia.

Sigourney’s mother, Ellen Burstyn, a former Vegas show girl drinks constantly, which unleashes her tart tongue.

Every plot twist and turn could be seen coming a mile away.

I wanted the series to succeed because the subject appears rich in promise. Unfortunately, it’s weak in delivery.

This show doesn’t have enough teeth to call itself an animal.

If they want a genuine political woman running the show, they should have hired Betty Draper. Or Carmela Soprano.

Thank you Law & Order

by karen Topakian

Law & Order saved my mother’s sanity. Literally.

After my father died in 2002, she was in her home alone, not yet ready to return to work. Whenever I called to see how she was doing, she was watching Law & Order. Morning, noon and night, it seemed.

They were reruns mind you. But that didn’t matter. The plot of Law & Order kept her mind engaged enough. In a smart way. The plots, often ripped from the headlines, provided good mental fodder. She tried to figure out the real culprit. Staying one step ahead of the detectives and the lawyers.

Often she would remember the story. Somewhat. Recognize the actors but not always the verdict. The terse dialogue, the cutting remarks, the well-developed plot drew her in.  As if she were watching it for the first time ever.

Jerry Orbach, Chris Noth, Jesse L. Martin, Angie Harmon and Sam Waterston gave her comfort. Every time.

Thank you Law & Order. For keeping my mother sane.