The great escape

My friend Henry Littlefinger did what he did after he read that a survey that asked 4-to 6-year-olds which they preferred, "Television or daddy?" found that 44 percent replied "Television."

And at the same time he became the first person to achieve The Great American Dream: escaping into the television set.

I found out about it from his wife, Tillie.She told me she came downstairs to make breakfast one morning not too long ago and noticed that the set was still on. "Don't tell me you sat up and watched tee-vee all night again, Henry," she called from the kitchen.

But it turned out that he wasn't in his chair when she finally went into the living room. When she reached to turn the set off, Henry's familiar voice cried , "Tillie, don't touch that dial!" And there he was, she told me, on the screen, big as life.

"Henry Littlefinger," Tillie demanded, "what are you doing in there?"

"I don't know," he said. "I was watching the late late show when suddenly I was in here looking out at my empty chair."

"Well, you just come out of there this minute."

"Why? There's nothing I want to watch."

"Nothing you want to watch! Well, there's something you can lookm for -- work! So we can feed the kids and . . ."

"The kids prefer tee-veem to me," Henry muttered. "So it's obvious that the best way for me to be a good father is to join the opposition."

"Don't be silly. They need you out here. And I need you to get the car fixed and pay the bills. We got a second notice on . . . "

"Ummm," said Henry. "Sorry, I've got to make room for the test pattern."

And he disappeared.

Since then, Tillie and the kids have seen him quite a bit on the tube. She's mad at him but she won't turn off the set. "What kind of a wife would I be," she says, "if I pulled the plug on my own husband?"

Of course, the kids like him better now. "Let's go watch daddy," they say. "He's better than the Flintstones."

During the day, Henry can usually be found on the soap operas, especially "Another World," but Tillie tells me with a sigh she never watches him on these because he's always the romantic lead.

She likes him on the game shows, though. He's always the smart one who wins all the money. And she's proud of him on "Meet the Press" and "Face the Nation." "He's so informed," she says, eyes aglow. And often she sees him striking out batters and hitting home runs. Other times he's busy for hours out-smarting, outfighting, and outshooting assorted crooks.

All in all, beneath Tillie's anger, jealousy and envy, there lies a certain pride. For as she says, "Henry's done what the average American spends more than five hours a day for years trying to do. And is a better father now, to boot."

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