Thursday, March 29, 2012

Life Without Television

Today begins my sixth day without a working television in my apartment.  I used to have two TVs – a big one in my bedroom (big by 80's standards: modest-sized screen housed in a box the size of an easy chair), and a small one in my kitchen/dining area (small by 90's standards: small screen housed in a box the size of a large microwave).

The bedroom set died about 1½ years ago (it’s still there, because it’s hard to find someone to cart off a 100 lb. relic), and it didn’t bother me much; I’m too old to lay in bed and watch a movie, I doze off fairly immediately.  Besides, I’ve come to view my bedroom as an escape from media, a quiet place to read and think and nap without TV waves seeping into my brain.

But the small TV – which breathed its final breath Saturday night – was my friend and companion.  It kept me company while I cooked, while I ate, paid bills, washed dishes and more.  It brought some of the news of the world up here to the Tower, and comforted me with old movies and comedy and the vast wealth of public television.  I loved it.  I depended on it.  Now it’s dead, still on the small counter it’s been on since 1993, shrouded with a pillowcase, because the sight of it makes me want to reach out to it, but it’s just an empty shell now.

If you’re not a “TV person,” this probably reads like a big So What? to you, but for me, the lack of it intensifies my loneliness.  I miss the news; I missed the last Monday night of “Cutting Edge English Films of the 60s” on Turner Classic Movies; I’ll miss Real Time With Bill Maher on Friday, along with the lineup of Britcoms on PBS.  It’s like someone left town without even saying goodbye.

Fortunately, I was able to order a new TV, a 24” flat screen HDTV (you can’t buy the old kind anymore); should be here by the end of the week and I’ve already arranged for new cable equipment and installation next week.  So I’m not hysterical, just a little impatient and discombobulated.

In fact, I was determined to take this traumatic No TV event in stride.  I dusted off my old boom box and discovered that radio, FM and AM (which I stopped listening to in the 90s), is worse than ever – at least based on the poor reception I get here in the canyons of Manhattan.  Lots of mediocre music, endless talk and news, and a wide assortment of foreign-language stations.  Yuk.  Then I found a box of old cassettes, including a 4-tape set of Garrison Keillor telling Lake Woebegone stories.  That’s been fun.

It’s also been fun surfing more of the Net and discovering that You Tube shows movies.  The free ones are a largely motley assortment (and I won’t pay for the better ones), but I found a few bearable ones.

Mostly I’ve been reading more.  Over the last few years I’ve been reading more in general, but this week’s technical difficulties have increased my hours with books: actual paper books you can hold in your hands, which is how I like them.

But the point of this story – besides conveying the fact that I, a fully-addicted TV person, am handling its absence well – is that I nonetheless can’t wait for the new one to arrive.  I miss my friend and companion.  I miss its distinct sound and vivid pictures, which I hear will be more vivid in high definition, but I’m not sure.

Back in the 90s, before HDTV came to retail, I attended a demonstration of HDTV in the Capitol building in D.C. along with a few hundred other TV pros.  Maybe it was my poor vision, but I couldn’t see any difference whatsoever.  And when I heard it would hit the market for about $2,000 I was incredulous.  Who’s going to pay that kind of money for a television?, I thought.  Just another example of how expertly I have my finger on the pulse of the nation…

That said: while TV may indeed have killed radio (at least FM), the Internet has not and will not kill TV, because TV is “passive,” and because, even in its new form, it’s steady and stable and sits in your home like a combination of furniture and guests, and you don’t have to “interact” with it: you just switch it on and it interacts with you.

I suppose that in the same way, people who are organically attached to their pods and pads and berries feel the same way about their devices.  Many of them grew up with cell phones and beepers and segued happily to all that’s come since.  But I don’t like all those devices.  I don’t like seeing people in the street and on the bus, heads down, tweeting and texting, Facebooking and Kindling and calling, always calling, who knows who or what for.

But TV addicts are no better.  While I quite dislike seeing TVs everywhere: cabs, stores, doctors’ offices, pizza parlors, et al, my home TV is as important to me as a human being.  I know my parents’ generation was hooked on radio and frequent trips to movie theaters where double-bills with newsreels were easily affordable, even during the Depression.  But they were equally hooked on newspapers/magazines and books and musical instruments and conversation and people-watching and quiet thought.  Since we Boomers were born, Americans have been addicted to devices of one kind or another, all based on electricity.  God help us if the juice is ever turned off and all we’re left with is candles and each other.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

On Turning Sixty

Today is my 60th birthday.  This means something to me.  I know there are lots of people who are indifferent to birthdays, who barely celebrate them, who say “age is just a number,” but I’m not one of them.  You can dismiss anything by saying “it’s just a:” number, movie, story, whatever; all that does is give you an excuse for not having feelings about it, and I believe in having feelings about everything.  There are also folks who hate their birthdays and won’t tell their age, because each passing year makes them feel increasingly ancient and freaks them out.  I understand how they feel, but I’m not one of them, either.

All my birthdays matter to me, especially the milestones – meaning 18, 21, 65 and anything that ends in 0.  I took 30 and even 40 in stride.  Fifty was a little wobbly, but I was a little wobbly in general; my 50s were a lost decade (I don’t care to go into why, just take my word for it).  But 60 is unique.  It doesn’t just mark the start of a new decade, it’s the true start of growing old.  This feels peculiar, because emotionally I’m still about 18.  This doesn’t mean I still feel the zest of youth, but rather, that I haven’t fully matured in some way.  If I didn’t have some sense of the wisdom that’s supposed to come with age, I’d feel like a complete moron, but fortunately, I do, so I just feel kind of…stunned.

At the same time, I also feel a sense of renewal.  This may be my last totally compos mentis decade, as well as the last one in which my lifelong bad habits haven’t totally caught up with me (of course, that remains to be seen), and I have a keen desire to make the most of it.  But I’m not aiming for Grand Old Age.  I think people live entirely too long these days.  I’d rather die than live to be in my 90s –  and I’m confident that I will…

People tell me I don’t look my age, but they’ve been saying that since I was a kid.  Today, they mean I look younger.  But when I really was younger, I always looked “older and more mature” than my age.  This was often a pain in the ass, like having to take my birth certificate to the movies in order to get the children’s price, or the time I was in 6th grade, sitting on the front steps of the school waiting for Lunch to be over, and a school aide said “you can’t wait for your child here.”  “But I am a child here!” I replied, dismayed.

But the “you don’t look your age” thing got tired when I was 22 and after being in a minor car accident, a witness described me as “tall, big, curly-haired, about 40.”  After that, I gave up trying to figure out how old I was perceived to be or give much of a damn about it.  Although, I went to the doctor yesterday for a full check-up (not deliberately timed to coincide with This Occasion) and when I told the technician who was checking my vitals that I’d be 60 today, she gave me a big sympathetic smile and said “Well, bless your heart!” which, as you may know, can mean anything from Congratulations to Fuck You, depending on the speaker’s feelings (and whether or not you’re in the south).  It just made me feel old.  And it didn’t help to find out that I’ve shrunk an inch.  I was 5’6” for decades.  Now I’m 5’5”.  So I feel old and short.  This part of turning 60 sucks.

But there is a good part.  I feel more free.  I feel more worthy of the respect I always deserved but didn’t feel worthy of.  I appreciate my accomplishments and feel less guilty about my shortcomings.  I have numerous regrets, which haunt me, but I know that’s pointless.  I’m more in touch with anger I’ve had forever but never acknowledged – and as a result, I feel more forgiving (of myself and others).  I also feel a much greater sense of gratitude about the people and things I have in my life, as well as more content and comfortable about my “circumstances” – which aren’t great, but could easily be a hell of a lot worse.

And I feel, finally, fully accepting of who and what I am.  I’ve also made my peace with the idea that some of the confusion, fear, and uncertainty I’ve felt all my life I may never resolve, and it’s okay; there’s nothing wrong with not being able to answer all of your own (let alone Life’s) questions.  It doesn’t mean I won’t still ponder them, but I’ve lost my sense of urgency about understanding them.

This afternoon, I will get a manicure and bake myself a birthday cake.  Tonight I’ll order in sushi and break open the bottle of sparkling wine I never bothered opening on New Year’s Eve.  I’ll be alone, but I don’t feel melancholy about it, which I did for awhile leading up to today; ultimately, it was my choice.  Today I feel at peace with myself, and even (however momentarily) with the world gone mad we live in.  All in all, I’m okay.  Which is good to be able to say at 60.