I normally jump at any chance to leave work early, but when I did it yesterday, I felt a little guilty–mainly because, after years of very intermittent and spotty projects at work–I came back on Monday morning and found myself inundated by reports waiting to be transcribed, in addition to the steady flow of ex parte and other orders awaiting me. It seemed to be that all the doctors had conspired to dictate their reports over the weekend.
Despite that, I left work at noon yesterday. I considered telling my supervisor that I had left to “visit a sick friend,” but the reality is completely 21st century. I was waiting for a technician from WOW! Internet to deliver a new cable box. As usual, their customer service representative could only tell me “between 12:30 and 5 p.m.,” so I was resigned to wasting an entire afternoon.
The worst part of this was that they were replacing another defective cable box. My original box–a silver Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300–had suddenly stopped most of its functions. I could still watch TV programs, but could not pause them, or record them on the DVR. So, about two weeks ago, another technician brought a new box, identical to the previous one, and the same problem came within 12 hours.
So far, the new box is holding together. The technician came around 3:20, and installed it, and Susie and I were able to watch the season premiere of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit while, at the same time, I was recording Return to the Wild on WOSU.
Unlike my parents and grandparents, I never knew a world without television. I was born in the spring of 1963. General Hospital debuted four weeks before I was born. Three weeks to the day before my birth, Pete Rose made his professional debut on Opening Day in Cincinnati. When I was almost six months old, television changed forever when Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered in everyone’s living room. Nine or 10 weeks before I was born, the short-lived TV series It’s a Man’s World was cancelled. (The latter is significant because Marietta, Ohio was the basis for its setting, where some buddies attending college lived aboard a houseboat moored in the Ohio River.)
The first TV set I remember was a black and white Zenith that took up most of the coffee table in our living room. As a toddler, I showed no interest in sports (which continues to this day) except for bowling, and I was particular excited by a forgettable game show called Reach for the Stars, which ran for about 12 weeks before NBC gave it the axe.
My parents did not really let the TV become a babysitter, but it was a way to keep me from being underfoot during my preschool years. A milestone in my life was my fourth birthday, the first time my name was ever spoken on the air. Luci Gasaway, the host of WBNS’ children’s show Luci’s Toyshop, said “Happy birthday!” to me.
The night Apollo 11 landed on the moon was the first time I was allowed to stay up late. I didn’t really see that much. On our set, we saw shadows moving about on the screen, with the caption FIRST LIVE PICTURES FROM MOON at the top of the screen. This was way before the era of the VCR, so my parents aimed the camera at the TV screen and took pictures as they were broadcast.
When cable television became the fad nationwide, Marietta was far ahead of the curve. The Mid-Ohio Valley was not conducive to receiving television signals by air. We could pick up two Columbus stations, the Parkersburg station 12 miles away, and WTRF from Wheeling, and that was about it. Cable was a necessity for any variety, so around 1968, the Ohio Valley Cable Corporation came and most people in the city limits were “on the cable.” Devola and the little townships around Marietta were a little slower to come around. (Maybe Marietta should have had a cable project analogous to Franklin Roosevelt’s Rural Electrification Administration.)
Even though it was almost impossible for me to sit still as a child (the same is still true as a middle-aged man), I could sit, captivated, by the cable company’s weather channel. It did not feature forecasts, or blurry satellite maps. Instead, it was a row of dials about the size of the gauges on a car dashboard. A tabletop camera moved from one end of the row to the other. (To this day, I can still remember the order of the gauges. From left to right: Time, relative humidity, barometer, wind direction, wind velocity, and rainfall. The latter measured the cumulative prescription for the month. During one month in 1974, there had been so much rain that the needle had gone all the way around the gauge. I wrote in my diary that night, “The rain gauge on the weather channel went past the 0!”)
I did not get my own TV set until I was 17. When my dad and stepmother married, my bedroom was an afterthought. I slept on a couch in the basement, and the color TV there was the family’s. After bedtime, I often stayed up–even on school nights–watching Nite Owl Theater, and on weekends continuing my habit of watching WSAZ’s All Night Theatre.
The first TV that was truly my own fell into my lap (not literally!) by accident. A friend of mine had been unsuccessful in selling a black and white Admiral at her family’s yard sale. She and I were watching 20/20 at her house, and she offered the TV to me. Proudly, I lugged it home, and–since it would mean more hours of self-imposed exile from him, his wife, and her kids–my dad happily installed a cable tap in my room.
Television fell by the wayside for me during the 14 months I lived in Boston. My housemates on Commonwealth Ave. did not have one, and my dad sent money so I could buy an inexpensive portable at RadioShack. I watched it the least of the three of us, since I was usually at The Crimson from 6 p.m. until about 7 a.m. most days of the week. The set was stolen six or seven weeks after I brought it to the apartment.
Ironically, two popular programs–St. Elsewhere and Cheers–were set in Boston and, had I watched, I would have seen many familiar sights and local allusions. When I was in high school, the then-controversial drama James at 15 (later James at 16) took place in Boston. When I moved to a small room at the YMCA in Cambridge, a shorter walk to The Crimson, I bought a black and white portable from a co-worker, and set it up on my desk in my room, visible from the bed.
I watched very little TV at Ohio University. Like Marietta, cable was a necessity in Athens. Most of the dorms were not wired for cable, and the cost of the service was beyond the reach of many students who did not get big checks from Mom and Dad.
I did not own a color TV until Steph and I were married. During my five years in Cincinnati, my TV was a huge black and white Zenith that I had salvaged from a dump. (All that was wrong with it was a missing channel selector. I used a pair of pliers to change channels, but other than that I had no complaints.) In 1995, when I was working for the Internal Revenue Service here in Columbus and the Federal Government shutdown took place. As I was leaving the Federal Building, a reporter from WBNS, Mike Russell, interviewed me about the impending shutdown. (“IRS employee Paul Evans left the Federal Building in downtown Columbus tonight not sure if he would have a job tomorrow.”) My memorable line was, “None of us got into government service with dollar signs in our eyes.”
Russell asked if he could come to my place and videotape me watching the news about the shutdown. I consented, and on the 11 o’clock news that night, Central Ohio learned I had a black and white TV. With my brow knitted in concern, I watched Dan Rather speak of the fact that the Federal Government would have no authority to spend money after 12 midnight.
I have acquired more TVs than I have ever bought. My current giant TV in the living room was left behind by the previous tenant on E. Maynard Ave., and I brought it with me here to Blake. I have one in my bedroom (smaller, enough to fit on top of my dresser), but about the only time I turn it on is when I wake up in the morning and reach for the remote to check the temperature on The Weather Channel.
Whenever I’ve surfed through the “reality shows,” especially Survivor and Big Brother during the summer, I wonder if Elvis had been right when he changed channels with his .45.