Saturday, August 22, 2009

TV Times

My parents had a Zenith black and white TV, maybe a twenty-inch. They kept it on a rolling cart in their bedroom. You turned it on with a satisfying clockwise click. I got to lay in their bed and watch that TV on days when I was sick enough to stay home from school. Lots of Lucy was watched on that TV.

It had been our only TV and it had been in the living room until it was moved into secondary service in the bedroom by the new Magnavox color console. I couldn't be contained the day the Magnavox was delivered, and I remember we watched "I Dream of Jeannie" that appropriate a show as any, come to think of it, to be one of the first shows we ever viewed in color. Barbara Eden was very colorful, and so was the inside of her bottle.

The Magnavox turned on with a pull-out knob, rather than one you turned to the right. You had to pull it out increasingly gently over the years, as it had the tendency to come off in one's hand, especially mine. Dad would huff as I'd sheepishly hand it to him to screw back on.

I don't think the Zenith made the trip when we moved up from the city to P'son, but the Magnavox did. We acquired a new rotating antennae in short order, which provided us reception to all the channels, two through thirteen. The exception was channel four, which for some reason never wanted to come through no matter how many times you rotated that antenna dial. By necessity, my mother switched her allegiance from Days of our Lives and Another World to The Young and the Restless and The Guiding Light.

My sneaky TV watching strategies also changed by necessity, as we moved from apartment to apartment to house. When I was very small--four or five--after bedtime and lights out, I'd climb into my sister's crib which was flush against the slatted folding door that separated our dining room-cum-bedroom from the living room, where my parents would sit, comfortably watching their evening's selections. Dr. Kildare was a favorite. The configuration of a later apartment allowed me to hatch a better plan, which provided a better sight line and was much easier on my neck. Lying across the back of the living room where the hallway entered in worked well, as my parents' chairs faced away and I could dash back to my room if necessary when one of them jumped up for a quick snack during the commercial break. Once we were in P'son in the two-story house, I had to relegate myself to the stairs, where, if I positioned myself just right midway down, I could see through one kitchen door, out through the other, and into and across the living room, where I could catch about three-quarters of the screen. Not ideal, but it was the best I could do.

Of course, my plans were foiled under any of these these three circumstances if I fell asleep where I lay, which I often did.

It was back to black and white, and a little portable, when I went off to college. The TV perched on top of my dresser, and we girls on the eighth floor of Cone Dorm crowded around it every afternoon at three to watch Luke and Laura work their way through outlandish situations on General Hospital.

TV watching changed in quite dramatic fashion during my college years.

Cable! The breakthrough from channel thirteen to heights theretofore unimagined. HBO! We sat at my boyfriend Will's place for an entire summer and watched endless repeats of Richard Pryor concert movies.

Remote control! We visited Will's grandparents once. They had their TV perched high on a shelf. They sat in their chairs and changed channels from afar! No arguing over whose turn it was to get up. And you could switch from one station to another... instantaneously! No flipping! I sat by myself for a good hour changing channels randomly, just because I could. And my attention span hasn't been the same since.

VCRs! My friend Stan had a VCR. No, I lie. He had one of those video disc players, the first home player of any sort I ever saw. It was very cool, and he argued vigorously that it was the better-quality format, even as videocassettes quickly overtook the market. Then there were those who argued the superiority of the Sony Betamax format to VHS. Whatever, I really couldn't see the difference, and didn't care, and Betamax didn't last too long, anyway. Those Sony people didn't tailor their product to the demands of the market....or something like that. I had more than a couple geeky/techie movie buff friends, for whom movies at home, "on demand" from your local video store, was the Holy Grail of leisure time. Any one of them could argue a side better than I ever could over that issue.

My big issue was now there were "components" to watching television. The TV, and the player. I met Peter in the midst of of the video boom. He, of course, had the TV, the player, and then a second one, so he could dupe tapes. And he routed the audio through the stereo and geez, the stereo had like five, six components....there was the cassette player, the cd burner (sounded painful), the tuner, the equalizer, the pre-amp, and the power-amp. We had cords and wires and breakers and switchers, and, I think, routers. Peter made many good-natured attempts to teach me the ins and outs of our "entertainment system," but try as he might, I'd always have to call him at work if I so much as wanted to play a record.

And the TV. For goodness' sake, we had four remote controls now! What had been a neat novelty was now a daunting hurdle to be overcome.

"I have the picture on Peter, but no sound. what do I do?" Peter usually tried to keep things set so I could turn on the TV in as few steps as possible, but it didn't always work; as often as not, I'd bungle something up. I'd get picture but no sound, or sound, but a blue screen. On the phone, he'd have me rummage through the basket of remotes to find the right one.

And those four remote controls? I should have said four active remote controls. Peter had a penchant for keeping out-of-use remote controls as he occasionally replaced components. Not only did I have to figure out which one I needed, I had to fish it out from a basket of eight or nine. What this meant for me, as often as not, was that if I couldn't reach Peter on the phone, I would just give up, and not watch TV.

I'm not asking anyone to feel sorry for me. I know it was and is my responsibility to keep up with the technology, with the ever-changin' times. But at some point, it just seemed to not be worth the effort. If there was something I wanted to see badly enough, and I was alone, I'd track Peter down somehow, or call the neighbor in to help me. And beyond that....

...well, over the years, while I still hunker in occasionally for a good Food Network fix or a Mayberry Marathon, I've kind of lost interest in TV. It's something to say, now as we're in what I sense might be remembered as another "golden age" of TV dramas, on the good old networks, and on cable. My friends, they all rave about The Sopranos, Lost, CSI-Wherever, Mad Men, Big Love....and I'm sure they're all terrific. But I just can't commit anymore. I have other things I want to do.

Which may, granted, be an issue that extends beyond my TV habits. I want to write more, I want to read more, I want to go more places and do more things and see more people than I used to.

And sometimes I want to sit quietly on the couch and just think.

But I will still stop everything if I stumble on good ol' Lucy.

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