Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Life Without Television

Our television set died last weekend. Oddly enough, its demise occurred unnoticed and unlamented, in the midst of a crowded house. One minute there was the overture from Doctor Zhivago on Turner Classic Movies and then next time we checked, just a horizontal white line, a faint buzzing and the odor of burned electronics. How such a death could go unnoticed requires some explanation, as there were 12 of us in the house at the time--myself and wife, our son, and an assortment of 9 in laws. Our den is in a separate room off a hallway, so that one would have to go to that room to watch television, and more importantly, the noise from same does not intrude into the rest of the house. After the meal, my wife and her family remained in the kitchen, engaging in one of their favorite past times--nostalgia. From their telling, the golden age of our little community apparently occurred during their youth, and they never tire of revisiting their schooldays. While I have a passion for history, at some point in my life I realized that I have absolutely no appetite for sentimental nostalgia. And as I now know these stories better than they do, my son and I quietly slipped off to the front of the house where there are books and armchairs. It was during this period--our eyes averted--that our television gasped its last.

Faced with a dead television on our hands, I suddenly realized, as I approach the shady side of middle age, that I have never actually purchased one. My parents bought me a set when I left for college, I think. It sat on one of those metal rolling stands. This set got me through college, bachelorhood and well into early marriage. At some point, my in laws decided we needed a better television and presented us with a new set for Christmas. My sister-in-law was incredulous that we did not have a VCR player, so one of those ended up under the tree, as well. Thus endowed, the wife and I sprung for an old-Englishy-looking console to house our new technology. As we lost the remote within the first year of ownership, we continued to change channels and volume the old-fashioned way--by pushing the buttons. I suppose these buttons were not meant to be pushed, for they all fell out after about 10 years or so. We discovered that you could stick a pencil in the hole where the button used to be and that this would work just fine. During the Christmas of 2000, my nephew brought Fiance' No. 1 down from Virginia, on a meet-the-family visit (Sadly, neither she nor her successors have been able to transition from fiance to Mrs.) I think he was a bit embarrassed by his eccentric uncle and aunt who changed the channels on their television with a No. 2 pencil. So, that Christmas Eve they went into the city and returned with new television set, the now lately-departed.

In theory, my wife is much more of a television person than I am. In actual practice, however, I am more culpable. She enjoys relaxing on the sofa in front of the television before bedtime. She also enjoys watching the Hallmark Channel, Lifetime Channel, or that perverse channel that seemingly shows Grey's Anatomy 24 damn hours a day. None of these channels were meant to be watched by men, so I usually return to the study and my books. My wife watches one of these channels before she falls asleep--which is 10 minutes at best. (She is the same way on airplanes, being sound asleep before we can even taxi to take-off position.) So all told, she logs slightly over an hour a week with the television.

My television time is mainly in the mornings. I enjoy watching Joe, Mika and Willie go at it on MSNBC's Morning Joe. I catch snippets of this show, while sitting in my wife's grandmother's rocker, all the while balancing a newspaper, coffee, oatmeal and toast. During the 2008 election, I watched far too much talking-heads on MSNBC, but since then my enthusiasm for this sort of thing as fallen off markedly, now confined basically to Joe and Mika. I follow the Glenn Close mini-series, Damages, on FX. I am also a sucker for Masterpiece Theater on Sunday nights, though their historical adaptations are increasingly rare. So, in a week's time, I probably spend more time in front of the televisional box than my wife does.

Our interests converge when it comes to classic movies. We spent the night of "Superbowl Sunday" watching one of my all-time favorites, The Pink Panther, on TCM. If we watch anything together at all it is usually along these lines--that sort of thing, and of course Diners, Drive-inns and Dives on the Cooking Channel.

I have been interested to see how our schedules have changed these last few days by the absence of the box. There's clearly more conversation and more reading by each of us. The first night we were both in bed early, she reading Pat Conroy and me reading Boris Akunin. Last night, I seemingly had endless time. After my prayers, I read an entire book. I could get used to this schedule.

I suppose I will eventually have to replace the television. There is a satellite dish on our roof and a monthly payment for same. In time, my wife will probably insist upon it. Me....I am holding-out for someone to buy us another one.


elizabeth said...

:) You could just get rid of the S. dish (or are you on a contract?) :)

I would enjoy some of these but I am so culpable of wasting time if there are mystery shows on, that after renting a room years ago for 1 school year that had a living room with cable, and seeing how easily I am sucked in, I am glad that I don't have a TV and never plan to. Besides, having internet is enough of a time-stealer for me...

enjoyed this post fyi!

BelleArtMom said...

My husband could have written this post! Our last TV was purchased for $40 at a neighbor's garage sale about 5 years ago. On the morning of January 30th I turned it on and...nothing. We were having friends over the next day on the premise of watching the Super Bowl, so we really needed a new one. My husband went to Target to buy a brand new one, his first ever. Both of us had parents give us TVs when we were in our 20s because they "felt sorry for us" because we didn't have a TV.
Like you, we had to replace ours because we have a satellite contract.

Milton T. Burton said...

This was beautifully written.

s-p said...

I stopped watching TV in 1959 when my dad was transferred to Taiwan and they didn't have TV technology there yet. When we moved back, I didn't pick it up again. Essentially I haven't watched hardly any TV except what I'm constrained to by being hospitable and being with people who do for 50 years. My households have had TVs and my spouse(s) and kids watch, but when it went digital last year we cancelled our cable because we couldn't afford it and didn't get "the box". My wife and daughter don't miss it a bit. My daughter now comes home from friend's houses and says "Sheesh, all we did was sit around and watch stupid TV shows... no one likes to DO stuff." When I do watch, I am stunned at what passes for entertainment now. Stuff that was X-rated when I was a teenager is prime time viewing now. sigh.

Becky said...

Love this! We didn't have a TV for about 4-5 years when the kids were tiny, and it was a blessing. We now have a nice TV, but we're not really television watchers per se...we're movie/DVD watchers. We have no cable/reception at all, we just watch what we own or borrow from my folks and the library. Lots of old musicals. All my kids' favorite movie stars are dead. ; )

Steve Hayes said...

Thanks for that bit of nostalgia!

Kontiki said...

absence of that magical box means more time for reading,phone calls , family talks & some times family fights :D