Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The TV

When I was young, my parents had a very peculiar old TV in their bedroom. While it wasn't so old that it had its own built-in hutch, it was old enough to be a relic. It was given to my parents by my grandparents and, since the early 1970’s, had remained perched atop a rickety TV stand at the foot of their bed.

In his working days, my mother's father was a successful home builder with his own construction company and is, to this day, known for being a very kind and generous man. When his friend, the owner of a competing company, fell ill and lay dying in the hospital alone with no family to care for him, my grandfather was there to comfort him. He would get his sick friend anything he needed, my grandfather. He wanted a color TV, his friend.

Despite the fact that the sick friend was bleeding rich and could afford about 100 TV’s with enough chump change left over to buy a fast car, my grandfather granted his request by buying him the best TV he could find, a very state of the art color TV with remote control, and installed it next to his bed in his private hospital room. Sadly, the TV didn’t get much of a workout, as the friend passed away shortly after the TV’s introduction. The TV was given to my parents, still a young couple.

The TV was peculiar because it was a color TV in a black and white TV’s shell, in that it couldn’t hold a signal, was blue around the edges, was just as archaic as any old black and white. It was heavy, made of metal and plastic, with a column of big silver dials. The remote was a big black plastic box with one big white button on it that, when pressed, would make a loud clicking noise that would turn the top channel dial. It would turn the TV on, cycle through all 12 channels, and then once the rotation was complete it would turn the TV off and so forth. A sound activated remote—the Clapper’s predecessor.

After a while, the TV started to fall apart. The antenna broke off, in its place went a metal wire dry cleaner hanger propped up against the door molding. And the knobs eventually fell off exposing a scary metal shaft that would only turn with the aid of my father’s strong hands and a wrench. So often, when I wanted to watch TV in my parents’ room in myself, I would need to get creative. By this time, the cover of the remote had also broken, exposing a metal coil that would make that loud clicking noise to which the TV would respond. After a few years of manually clicking the TV on and off, the coil came out and was lost.

This presented a problem; the TV could not be turned on and off unless my father volunteered to stop his hard-earned maxing and relaxing and come up to be my TV slave. “Yeah. Right.” So I did what any normal TV-grubbing child would do and I reached into my dad’s big glass jug filled with spare change and I shook the hell out of it until it made the same frequency of noise that remote made and the TV would spring to life.

I would like to say that I am the genius who discovered this, but alas, I am not. It was discovered by accident; whenever my father would shake the jar to add up his change, the TV would pop on.

Watching TV in my parents’ room took a lot of practice as the channels would erratically change at seemingly arbitrary moments when the many coins were clanging around. The worst was trying to turn it off. Sometimes, the shaking would mean that it would click off, and then on again, because it is hard to shake a jug of coins with precision. But by the time I got to middle school, I had perfected the art of channel “changing.” (Pun totally intended.) I discovered that you could get more control if you put a piled a bunch of change on the floor and dropped several quarters at a time into the pile. That seemed to do the trick just fine. But it took many frustrating attempts at watching Wheel of Fortune to get to that point.

The TV remained a fixture in my parents’ bedroom until the early 1990s, when my father and mother got a divorce and much of the house was dismantled and re-decorated as the households shifted. The old curtains went down, new ones went up and new furniture was brought in to fill in the gaps left by the old half leaving. The old TV was put out to pasture, along with other childhood relics; green plastic tubs filled with Lego blocks, baby dolls and tea party sets. But there is still a place in my heart for that damn TV.

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