Friday, November 27, 2009

Full circle

I remember as a little boy standing in our yard, looking up at my Dad perched precariously on the roof line of our house adjusting a television antenna. All rooftops in the fifties sported them, long upright slender rods bristling with short horizontal wires.

He was up there in his socks, turning the antenna this way and that. I worried that he might slip and fall, because all small children know that socks are slippery. I hadn't learned yet that on sloping roofs, penny loafers are even more slippery. I had this image in my head that if he fell, I would run inside, grab a mattress off a bed, drag it outside and put it under him to break his fall, before he hit the ground. Too many Saturday morning cartoons, I guess.

From his perch above the attic, my Dad called out to my Mom who was on the first floor watching TV. The windows were open.

"Barbara, is this any better?"

"Jim, it's fine! It's good! Please come down!"

"Come on Barbara, tell me if it's better or not!"

"It is, it's better, I can see the station perfectly. Now please come down!".

My Dad rotated the rod a quarter turn. "How's this? Better?"

"Jim, come down!""

"Barbara, try CBS."


I was five. I watched and listened in wonder as my parents tried to adjust our over-the-air TV.

The day I resigned from my running club, I went to Best Buy and bought a digital TV. Since I wasn't coaching anymore, I would have plenty of extra time each weekend to watch TV.

I don't have cable and my analog TV hadn't worked since the conversion to digital in June. Oh yeah, I had tried to hook up the government-sponsored conversion box I had bought with the coupon subsidy. That was a wasted 2 hours, and a squandered $10. What a scam.

I told the sales clerk over and over that all I wanted was something that I could take out of the box, plug into the wall, turn on and watch NFL football on. Lke in the olden days when you brought a TV home from the store, plugged it in and it just...worked.

Oh yeah, yeah, she kept saying. She sold me a Dynex 22-inch LCD TV HDTV 720p High Definition Multimedia Interface. I kept asking, Is it a TV and will it work right out of the box? Oh yeah, yeah.

Upon the clerk's recommendation, I also bought a TERK Amplified HDTV Indoor Antenna for seventy dollars. At home I set up the TV, plugged it in, attached the antenna to the set and turned it on. A menu came on the screen that indicated the apparently sentient being was scanning the area for channels and asked me to please wait. The clerk had told me about this procedure.

After a couple of minutes, the set came to life and presented me with a rugby channel. I had a very clear picture of a giant Australian amoeba undulating around the pitch in a scrum. It wasn't quite Tom Brady to Randy Moss but my TV set was alive again after many months of pure snow. I kept cackling, "Houston, we have liftoff!" as I clicked through the channels.

You're supposed to get all sorts or extra, extraneous over-the-air channels with HDTV. A bountiful boon from the government, upon mandating conversion, to us citizens too cheap or poor to purchase cable TV.

They were there alright. Two cooking channels. The rugby channel. A Japanese channel in Japanese with Japanese subtitles. Al Jazeera. Two weather channels. Two shopping channels. An African channel. RTV showing obscure 50s television series.

No NFL football. Round and round the channels I surfed. No CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox.

In frustration I called my bother-in-law, the college professor with an Ivy League doctorate. He can figure out anything. I spent the next hour on the phone with him while he researched TERK and Dynex on the Internet. I did exactly what he told me to do.

Yes, I had read the manual. No it was not helpful. I even read it to my brother-in-law but it was not helpful to him either.

He conjured up from the Internet a template on his computer screen with my exact remote on it. After half an hour he determined that the problem was the set was programmed to scan for channels only the first time it was activated. We had to fool the set, antenna or remote (I'm not sure which) into thinking it had to conduct another scan for available channels. I kept thinking of the Star Trek episode where Kirk and Spock destroy the supercomputer threatening the universe by tricking it into questioning itself endlessly.

My brother-in-law told me to pick up the the antenna and said, "Hold it pointing exactly north, northwest."

"Excuse me?"

"Just hold it up, pointing north, northwest until I say otherwise."

I thought of CPR protocol, to keep doing chest compressions until a qualified person tells you to stop. I've been there, doing compressions upon a dead person.

I so love the Redskins, apparently. I thrust this metal column aloft, alone in my living room. I held this short thick rod bristling with horizontal flanges pointed north, northwest. Towards Fairfax County, I guess, where the TV transmitting towers for the Washington stations are, I suppose. I'm sure my brother-in-law had already researched that information in the last hour.

A minute passed. I felt foolish, like I was engaged in a secret initiation rite during Rush Week.

The voice of NFL announcer Phil Simms suddenly came from the TV set. I looked, and Sunday Night Football was on the screen! I thanked my brother-in-law for finding NBC for me and hung up.

I discovered that when I moved the antenna even 15 degrees off the direction I had it pointed, the channel blinked out. When I lowered the antenna, the pixels broke up and the picture disintergrated into a set of herky jerky disjointed still images.

Now I watch TV with the antenna perched atop a towering contraption I have built next to the set. Atop a box resting upon a footstool which stands on a chair sits the amplified antenna, pointing exactly NNW. When I move in front of the antenna, the picture momentarily fails. If the rube goldberg device gets jostled, the picture blinks out. Then I have to pick up the antenna and rotate it just right for the picture to come back. It seems our society hasn't progressed very far in 52 years.

"Barbara, try CBS."


Personally, I have given up. I ordered cable.


Anne said...

This post made my day, Peter.

Danielle said...

Haha, I sold my TV before the move and my roommate doesn't have cable and I'm a little afriad to brave her bunny ears...

Just_because_today said...

I kept waiting for you to get on the roof in your socks.
Thanks for a good laugh

Rainmaker said...

Slowly by surely, you're moving into the digital age...

Digital camera..

Next thing we know you'll be blogging or something.