Thursday, July 20, 2006

To TV or not to TV, That is the Question

My television is dying. There was a time in my life going without a television would have been akin to going without food. Okay, that may be overstating things just a bit, but I craved TV just like people crave sweets. As a young unmarried adult I watched a lot of television. I was even one of those individuals who set his VCR to tape shows I would miss if I had to work or was out on a date. (The work thing happened a whole lot more than the date thing.) As much as it pains me to admit it I even watched thirtysomething every week. I have changed a lot over the years. The desire to save the expense of replacing the television may actually out weigh the desire to have a television. (If my children read this there will be a groan of displeasure similar to the one uttered by the John Wayne fan when he figured out what kind of western Brokeback Mountain actually was.)
Shopping for a television sounds like a rather daunting task nowadays. I have had my TV for quite a while. When I bought it the choices were color or black and white, cable ready or not, what kind of remote (a remote is as necessary as food, especially for the male of the species) and how big the screen was to be. Now there are more choices than the early bird buffet at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. There are flat screen TVs which you can hang on the wall like a painting. The problem is for the price you might as well buy a Van Gogh. Granted there is less variety of images but the re-sale value is much greater. There are high definition televisions. These high tech marvels make it possible for the viewer to see the individual trails of sweat as they travel down Shaquille O’Neal’s forehead as he clanks yet another free throw. That is actually kind of gross. Then there are plasma screen televisions. What the heck is a plasma screen? Plasma is something you donate to the Red Cross not something used to watch reruns of The Love Boat.
Since I am officially a cheapskate and also somewhat overwhelmed by the choices involved in shopping for a TV, buying a replacement may not happen. I inadvertently have already gone through a sort of twelve step program to overcome my unhealthy addiction to television. It started with the birth of my children. They became more and more in charge of the channels the TV would be tuned to. Before kids, if I had the choice of watching Jeopardy or reading a book I would watch Jeopardy. I could at least rationalize to myself I was doing something of an intellectual nature as I tried to beat the contestants to the proper response. Where else can my fabulous knowledge of comic books of the late seventies come into play? Then we had children. Now the choice became do I want to watch Teletubbies or have a ten penny nail forced through my ear lobe. I choose the nail.
The next step was getting rid of cable. We have been without cable or satellite channel options for over five years. With only three or four channels to choose from television loses some of its allure. Channel surfing is a misnomer. There is no “cowabunga” as I use the remote to flip up and down three channels. It takes about thirteen seconds to see each station five times and decide watching NASCAR, golf or golf does not interest me on a Sunday afternoon.
The final step actually happened quite recently. I was given the opportunity to watch television all afternoon on a set which did have cable. This seemed like a great idea to me at the time. What I found out was there are about twenty-seven different shows with fake judges telling people completely devoid of common sense how to solve their problems and eleven or twelve talk shows hosted be mid-range used-to-be stars like Tyra Banks or Tony Danza. Next there will be an entire network of talk shows hosted by the likes of former stars of the Facts of Life and, from the minimum security prisons of southern California, the stars of Different Strokes. I then decided I would go to the safe home land for men all over the country – the all sports network. What did I find there? Championship dominoes. Actual commentary from the guys covering this: Play-by-play guy “Oh! He cut the trey. Why did he cut the trey?” Expert color commentator, “Sometimes Brown’s out to lunch.”
I rest my case.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Land of the Free and Home of the Third Degree Burn

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” – Thomas Jefferson, Statesman, Inventor, President
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” – Emma Lazarus, Poet
“You’d see ‘em wearing their baggies, Huarachi sandals too, a bushy, bushy blonde hairdo, surfin’ USA…” Brian Wilson, Beach Boy
The preceeding words were quotes meant to bring to mind the high values, the sense of freedom, the spirit of the American dream. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
Just yesterday the United States of America celebrated its 230th birthday (it doesn’t look a day over 215). How do Americans choose to commemorate the birth of a nation built by such brilliant minds as Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison? What do they do to honor a nation created to give its citizenry freedom unmatched around the globe? What is the celebration for a nation where every little boy and girl can dream of becoming whatever they want to be? There is only one natural choice. We blow stuff up.
I have to admit I have never truly understood the attraction to fireworks so many people have. The big, up-in-the-sky glittery ones are pretty, but the ones people light themselves which make loud noises with destructive force puzzle me. The phrase “playing with fire” usually means someone is doing something unwise. Yet during early July people all over the country intentionally play with fire.
There are certain memories of July Fourths past which always come to mind. There was a man I saw who only had one hand. He was not letting that stop him from participating in the celebration. He had a cigarette in his mouth and he was using the good hand to light small firecrackers on the smoldering tobacco and would then toss them away just before they exploded. This may explain why he only had the one hand.
I know the state of Kansas has taken some guff from the national press about the theory of evolution recently. But it was right here in the Sunflower State I witnessed Darwin’s concept of natural selection at work. There were two young men lighting firecrackers. That by itself is not the scary part. They were lighting their Black Cats as they held them in their hands. Problematic, but not as bad as it got. They would then hold the tube of gunpowder and watch the fuse get shorter and shorter and at the last possible moment they would throw the miniature explosive. Dangerous? Yes, but they were getting it away from their person before it blew up. However, they were throwing them at each other. I averted my eyes and went away from what appeared to me to be impending carnage. Now these young men have probably grown up to be fine upstanding individuals, but part of me hopes since they seem to have missed out on the DNA strand reflecting the sense God gave a goose they did not become parents and pass on that character trait.
Actually, when you stop and think about it fireworks probably do epitomize our country. This is the country of Rock and Roll, so it is obvious we like to be loud. Fireworks are loud. We are a country of ingenuity. What other country would desire the creation of a small disk of an unknown compound that when brought to a certain temperature with the help of a match grows long black snake-like things which leave stains on the driveway able to withstand the elements longer than any paint or siding one puts on one’s house? (Do they still make those things?)
The big fireworks extravaganzas which light up the skies for miles around with their colorful explosions exemplify our nation better than anything. Next year, do not look at the sky, but rather watch the people who are watching the man-made comets. You will see individuals with slack jaws making unintelligible noises, simply vowel sounds which indicate amazement. The powers that be on Madison Avenue know this quite well. Spend big money on something that only lasts a short time yet causes people watching it to become slack-jawed and mesmerized. This concept has caused everything from people buying tickets to yet another movie starring Ben Affleck, products like plastic razors with four blades when three blades were the ultimate just weeks ago and various individuals being put into elected office who many of us would not hire to feed the guinea pig and water the plants while we were gone on vacation.