November 6, 2001
Muted


5:45 a.m.

Freshly showered, newly caffeinated, I am perched on the edge of the bed holding the remote control in my hand. Somewhere, buried beneath the mound of blankets next to me, my bed partner slumbers peacefully.

With great care, I push the "On" and the "Mute" buttons on the remote control simultaneously.

Instantly the darkened bedroom is flooded with light from the television. The Channel 4 Morning News Puppet is blathering soundlessly into the camera. I quickly flip through the local channels, one by one. News Puppets on Channel 2 ... News Puppets on Channel 5 ... News Puppets on Channel 7. All of them looking perky and overstimulated, all of them precision-coiffed.

All of them smiling.

Satisfied that the world hasn't exploded overnight, I hit the "Off" button, and the room goes dark once again. This is how I watch TV these days: in silent, five-second increments. Just long enough to make sure that everything is OK -- that the Golden Gate Bridge is still standing, that the Space Needle is still in one piece, that Dick Cheney still registers a pulse -- and then I immediately switch it off again. I do this at all hours of the day and night. I figure that if I turn on the TV and there's a football game in progress, or a margarine commercial, or Vanna White spinning letters ("_AR_ELONA, S_AIN") ... or, most tellingly, if the local news puppets are SMILING ... then the chances are pretty good that no fresh new catastrophe has struck since the last time I checked.

We do what we have to do to stay sane, these days.

Part of the problem last week, I realize now -- a significant factor in my perilously toxic mood -- was that I was suffering from an overload of news. Within about a two-week span I'd gone from watching virtually no news at all to watching it every non-sleeping/non-working moment. It's a pretty human reaction to an inhuman situation, I think: the closer this war creeps toward my side of the country -- the more specific the threats become to California and Washington and other Zip Codes I hold near and dear -- the more rabidly I find myself devouring news, any news, even the unreliable and the unsubstantiated. At work, I kept the radio playing all day. Whenever there was a lull in the activity around The Dirt Company, I logged onto Yahoo News to check for updates. Added to all of the other stressors in my *In Basket* last week  --  the time change, the PMS pre-menopausal nonsense, lack of sleep, lack of writing time, trying not to look like an idiot at the new job  --  I felt like a walking/talking/ticking/tocking time bomb, ready to detonate at any moment.

Now that things have calmed down a little, internally  ...  now that the emotional/hormonal tsunamai has subsided again  ...  I realize that I'm probably going to have to watch my television news intake, the same way I have to watch my caffeine intake, and my salt intake, and my AOL message board intake. 

Too much of anything that unhealthy is going to make you sick.

But you know what? It isn't just TV news that I feel like avoiding right now. It's TV in general. TV as a whole has stopped being one of my best friends. Shows I used to love no longer seem as important or as interesting as they used to, just a couple of months ago. Watching "Entertainment Tonight" suddenly makes me feel uncomfortable and icky. I just don't CARE what Kristin Davis wore to The Emmys, or which Baldwin brother is directing his first feature film, or whatever happened to the fat chick from "The Facts of Life." "Friends" lost me the minute it turned out that Ross was the father of Rachel's baby. (I was hoping it would be David Crosby.)  And "Survivor Africa" is more annoying than involving, this time around.  (I just want to send Silas and his entire slacker clique to their room without supper ... but if I root for the other team, that means I've got to root for Butt Crack Guy. It's a no-win situation.) Only two of this season's new shows have captured my interest in even a marginal way -- "Scrubs" and "Pasadena" -- and even so, I'm not heartbroken if I accidentally miss either one of them.

(Although I will tell you that I'm loving "The Cazalets" on PBS. Anyone else watching this one? I discovered it by accident, over the weekend, and I was hooked within thirty seconds. It's a lovely, beautifully written, thoroughly engrossing miniseries about a British family during World War II. Their sentiments and their reactions to the war -- especially as it creeps closer to their home in England -- are eerily parallel to things we're hearing and feeling today.)

Maybe someday I'll get back into the TV habit. I don't know. Maybe someday I'll give a shidt about "Will and Grace" again. Maybe one of these days I'll tune into "Malcolm in the Middle" on Sunday nights. Maybe I'll eventually start caring about my pals in Eric Foreman's basement again. But for the moment I think I'm probably happier -- and healthier -- sticking to library books and Tom Petty for entertainment.

David wakes up suddenly, just before 7 a.m.

"What's going on?" he mumbles, adorably rumpled and confused. And he reaches for the remote control. Instantly the bedroom is filled with light and noise. It's the Channel 4 News Puppet again, still blathering ... only now, unfortunately, I can actually hear her blathering. She's explaining the phenomenon of The Northern Lights ("Big balls of gas exploding in the sky") while the two meteorologists sharing the news desk with her smile politely. David, wielding the remote like a king wielding his scepter, begins his ritual morning channel-hop.

"You might as well leave it on Channel 4," I say, standing in the bathroom doorway with a mouthful of Pepsodent. "The Today Show starts in two minutes." 

What can I tell you? TV may have temporarily worn out its welcome in my life ... but Matt Lauer will always have a place in my heart.

But in the meantime ... can we PLEASE keep it muted in the morning?



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