After many years of being alternately teased and exhorted by her family into stepping into the 90s by getting cable TV and high-speed Internet, she’s plunged all the way in. Gone are the 40-year-old TVs (I am not kidding, although that was the oldest one), the Pentium III Dell, and the Earthlink dial-up. The past month has seen the installation of cable, a digital high-def cable package, one 52″ and four 19″ high-def LCD TVs, a laptop computer, wireless router, new printer/copier/scanner/fax, new cordless phones, and a digital camera. No DVD player, you ask? Don’t be silly – what would she do with a DVD player when she’s not sure what that other black box is, the one that says VC-something-or-other?
That’s enough new technology all at once to scramble anyone’s brains, especially when the person who’s acquired it all isn’t the least bit interested in the technology behind all that satin-finish, shiny, blinky-light goodness and wants to, understandably, just push the On button to make it all work. If only there were On buttons. As she has said, after listening to her husband explain, in characteristic mind-numbing detail (if you have plans for the evening, don’t ask him where stars come from), how to work the climate-control system in the car, she’d slide all the levers to one side, then slide them all back to the other side when she got home, lest she be accused of not listening.
She rarely reads fiction because she thinks that’s cheating, that she’s not learning anything by doing so (I know, I know). Her bookshelves belong in the reading room of the International Pestilence and Calamity Society: Everything you’d ever want to read on flood, famine, epidemics, pandemics, brutal regimes, genocide, and selected titles from the Oprah Schmaltz Series.
She likes documentaries for the same reason: If you’re going to watch TV, you might as well be learning. Which is why her family encouraged her to get cable TV. As a TV critic for The Seattle Times said years ago, “Give me cable TV and a remote and I’ll show you the world.” Her phone would ring: “Turn on the History Channel. There’s a really interesting show on, if you can believe it, Hitler.” Or, “Quick, turn on the Discovery Channel. You won’t believe the spectacular nature footage of— Oh, that’s right. Never mind. You don’t have cable.”
Last night I get a call:
Quick! Turn it to channel 42.
I can’t. I’m watching House.
Just for a few minutes. You have to see something.
Why? What’s on?
Oh, just turn it on. You should see it.
I didn’t fall off the back of the truck just yesterday, I know her penchant for certain topics, and I know how to use all the buttons on my remote. So instead I checked the program guide, because that way I can still see Dr. Crankypants in the upper corner of the screen and not miss a bit of him being – surprise! – misanthropic.
Channel 42 is TLC, The Learning Channel, the channel of grotesque disfiguring medical oddities. I have nothing but sympathy for people so afflicted and there but for the grace of and all that, but I cannot handle skin problems. If I had to I could probably muck about knee-deep in guts and blood, but show me an assertive rash and I have nightmares for weeks. So when I saw that “The Man With No Face” was on (“For the past 35 years he has been losing his face to a massive growth”) I knew then that there will be no time for Masterpiece Theater in her future.
Please excuse me for now; I can’t miss Love Me, Love My Doll, a BBC show about “a group of men who have fallen in love with their life-size dolls.” As if you didn’t know.