Tuning in El Paso

Read a Short Story | Tuning in El Paso

a short story by Ellen Fairey

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About the Author

WRITER | Ellen Fairey

Ellen Fairey writes fiction, plays and screenplays.

In 2000, she had her first play produced by the Collaboraction Theatre Company and her first short story published by Haworth Press in a collection on troubled teens.

She is a graduate of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Her plays include Graceland and Support Group for Men. Her television credits as a producer and writer include The Sinner, Masters of Sex, and Nurse Jackie


Ellen Fairey, Playwright
in The New York Times

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Oct. 12, 1974

Dear Mr. Alda,

Hello, I am writing to tell you how much I enjoy watching you on M*A*S*H. My name is Edie. I am ten. I am originally from Michigan, the Great Lake State, but as of four months ago I am from El Paso, Texas. You are on at eight o’clock here. I used to watch you with my dad who thinks that you and Trapper are very funny. Ever since we moved to El Paso, I am only allowed to watch four hours of TV a week, and I have to write everything I see on a list that’s taped to our refrigerator. You are definitely included in that four hours! I only watch shows I know my dad watches, that way when he calls on the 15th of every month we can laugh over certain episodes. Mom says television is bad for the brain and makes you not creative, plus boring to be around. Well, I would like to say to her, maybe she should try to watch some because she isn’t the most exciting person herself, especially since she started Transcendental Meditation twice a day. To tell you the truth though, I am glad she does not sit around like she did in Michigan, sighing and staring at catalogs all day. I will leave you my address and phone number in case you can write me back.
Yours Truly, Edie S.

Oct. 29, 1974

Dear Mr. Crane,

Hello, I am writing to tell you how much I enjoy watching your show, Hogan’s Heroes. My name is Edie. I am ten and live in El Paso Texas. My mom and I moved here last summer because she was tired of trying to guess what was going on in my dad’s mind. One day she even threw a jade plant on the kitchen floor. I like Hogan (you), he is really funny in the way that, even though he is in prison, he makes people laugh, and he is in charge even though he is also stuck. I also like Le Bow, (not sure how to spell), and when you talk to the lady with the blonde braids. You would make a good couple with her, in my opinion. Even though you are locked up in the show, how are you still happy and making jokes? I just wondered. If you have advice, I would like it.
Thank you very much, Good Luck! (to Hogan for escaping)
Your friend, Edie S.

Nov. 28, 1974

Dear Mr. Alda,

Hello again. I wrote to you last week, and I forgot to ask you something. When Hawkeye (you) is sad what does he do? I have never seen. But I am pretty sure he must sometimes be sad, number one: because he is far away from home, and he misses someone and number two: because sometimes I can see in his (your) eyes that he might not think everything is as funny as he acts. Just wondered. You are still on at eight o’clock here. My mom has a secret word called a mantra for meditating that she can’t tell anyone, not even me. She says the word over and over (inside her head), and it takes her to where she needs to go. If I had a mantra it would be Hawkeye, but forget that I told you or it might not work! Thank you for your time.
Your friend, Edie S.

PS. Happy (jive) turkey day, ha ha.

Dec. 11, 1974

Dear Mr. Winkler,

My name is Edie, and I am writing to tell you how much I enjoy your performance as Fonzie on Happy Days. You might not believe it, but my dad is exactly like you! He is kind of quiet and wears jeans, and people look up to him. So even though I don’t know you, in a way, I kind of do. Some people like to talk a lot about their feelings (my mom), and others are just happy hanging around by themselves being quiet (Fonzie and my dad); it’s not like there’s anything wrong with it! Right now I live in El Paso by the desert and Mexico. Juarez is only point eight miles from my house. We are supposed to go there sometime and shop for mementos. There are kids from Juarez who run through our alley every morning to get to work. Mom says it’s because the government is screwed (sorry) or something. I hope you are happy on Happy Days, ha ha. I will leave my address for you to write back if you have time.
Thank you, your friend, Edie S.

Jan. 3, 1975

Dear Mr. Alda,

Well, here we are in a New Year. Time sure does fly! (As they say). I wanted you to know that I am now officially a Transcendental Meditator! I’ve been reading my mom’s book, TM, with the picture of the old guy on the cover, and I have taught myself how to do it. (And, as I told you before, you know my secret word.) I go in the backyard very early and get myself started by spinning around in circles, this helps get me to the next plane, (as people like to do in TM). Then, I climb up on the cinder blocks or the old washing machine, sit Indian style, close my eyes and start. It is pretty much like sleeping but not all the way, you just sit there and breathe, and when you decide you’re ready, you wake up and go to school or wherever it is you go. Now I feel very relaxed and at tune with my world! I wanted to tell you in case you are ever thinking of trying this I can help, it’s easy! Goodbye for now and Happy New Year!
Your friend, Edie S.

Jan. 19, 1975

Dear Carol Burnett,

I think you are very funny! My name is Edie, and I am ten. I watch you in El Paso, Texas, located on the border of Mexico. I live here with my mom, my dad lives in Michigan. They are separated. I know for a fact that my dad thinks you are very funny too because I used to watch you with him, and he would laugh out loud. How did you get to be so funny? Do you ever get sad? I like comedies on television, like M*A*S*H and Hogan’s Heroes, etc. Do you like to watch those shows too? My mom only lets me watch four hours of television a week, so I have to be careful and write everything down for her because she doesn’t want me to be not creative. I will let you know that if I accidentally go over my limit, I can watch you through Mr. Garcia’s living room window. He and his cat, Trina, live next door, and I can see into their living room from my backyard. He watches your show and the Newlywed Game among other things. He is either watching TV or looking out the window at the mountains. I know how to say Hola (hi) to him, and that is it. I have to learn Spanish! Also, did you know that in El Paso there are kids that have to run through the alleys in the morning just to get to work? Sometimes they wave at me. I will watch you as much as I can, and please do more Tarzan calls! You are funny.
Your pal, Edie S.

Jan. 30, 1975

Dear Mr. Alda,

Did you know that M*A*S*H is my dad’s favorite show? He is forty-three and lives in Michigan. When I lived up there, we would watch you at nine and eat ice cream. He’d take the big couch, and I’d get the loveseat. I am going to include his address in case you would like to send him a letter because, like I said, he is real fan! Thank you for your time.
 Very Sincerely, Edie S.

P.S. How old are you?

Feb. 6, 1975

Dear Mr. Alda,

Hello! I wanted to say thank you for sending the picture postcard of yourself as Hawkeye. I liked your message, “be cool, stay in school,” but Mom says you didn’t write it. I checked, and it is real pen on the card, so if you didn’t write it I’d like to ask her who did!? Like I might have told you, she is not very happy about television in general. Thank you very much for your card, I was very happy to get it in the mail, as some people say, “you made my day!”
Bye for now, your friend, Edie S.

Feb. 22, 1975

Dear Mr. Alda,

I have a favor to ask you. I have a next door neighbor, Mr. Garcia, who I don’t think knows about your show. Right now I know that he is very interested in watching dating programs which I would like to tell him are most likely rigged, (a.k.a. not real). The thing is, I cannot say anything to him because I don’t speak Spanish. He has a cat named Trina and no wife; (she left with a truckload of furniture shortly after we moved here). There are two lawn chairs in his living room and a never used barbecue grill on his patio. I think watching M*A*S*H could possibly cheer him up! I know it works for me! I was wondering if you could ask about putting the show into Spanish for his benefit and maybe others. Or if you’re too busy, I could write to CBS. Who knows, it might even become a hit in Juarez because, as far as I can tell, they could really use a laugh around there. Mom says that maybe Mrs. Garcia wanted more from life, just like she did. If you’re thinking something like, why don’t my mom and Mr. Garcia get together, well that is not going to happen, he is way too quiet for my mom, that’s what drove her crazy about my dad. I don’t think he likes to talk about his feelings either. I hope you think about it! I will include Mr. Garcia’s address, in case you know Spanish, and maybe you could tell him about the show.

Sincerely Yours, Edie S.

Mar. 9, 1975

Dear Mr. Alda,

I am writing to tell you about a dream I had last night — it involves you. What happened was I was meditating in the backyard like I do every morning, sitting on the cinderblock pile saying my mantra (you know). In the dream I opened my eyes, and Hawkeye (you) were standing right there in front of me. The thing is you were feeling very sad. To tell you the truth I didn’t know what to do, so I tried to go back to meditating, and when I opened my eyes again, you were standing in the alley with the kids from Juarez telling me to come with you. Then you all started running. I woke up, and guess where I was? Standing in my backyard, sleepwalking! Well, I can tell you this has never happened to me before and it is not necessarily fun. It is confusing is what it is. I ended up sitting in the kitchen working on my TV schedule to try and come back to reality.
Bye for now, your friend, Edie.

Mar. 27, 1975

Dear Mr. Alda,

I want to tell you how upset and sorry I am about Colonel Blake. Basically, I just cannot believe how this could happen, and I really think I might write to CBS to see why they felt the need to make someone so great die. I think this is going too far, as some people say, and part of me just never wants to watch your show again. To top things off, this is my dad’s favorite character besides you, now who is he going to have to laugh at?
A Concerned Fan, Edie S.

Apr. 5th, 1975

Dear Mr. Alda,

This is to inform you that you are officially off my weekly television schedule for the time being. I don’t think I could take it again if something happened to anyone on M*A*S*H, (even though, yes, I know it is just a show. I still couldn’t take it). I thought you should know since we are practically pen pals. It is nothing personal against you; I still think you are very funny and hope you (Hawkeye) have a nice life. I have replaced you with a show about a very interesting woman called Mary Richards who has her own apartment and a job at a news agency. It is funny and realistic, and I am sure none of the characters are going to die. So goodbye and good luck. Maybe I’ll see you in my dreams again or when I’m meditating, you never know.
Sincerely, Edie.

P.S. If you are ever in El Paso you should watch the sunset because more than likely, I will be doing the same thing from my house. Goodbye.

“Tuning in El Paso” Copyright ©2000 by Ellen Fairey.
All Rights Reserved.

No part of this story may be used or reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations for the purposes of critical reviews or articles. Educators who wish to print or photocopy in part or whole this story for classroom use, or publishers who wish to include this story in an anthology should send inquiries by email to the author.