October 16th, 2009

What I Really Know About Television

I submitted this essay to AARP (quit laughing!) for a competition they do in each edition. They give a topic and ask for essays of 400 words or fewer about it. It did not get published, so I'm publishing it here, myself. Take that.

What I Really Know About Television

I really know that I cleared my house of televisions on March 17, 2002. I know that over the course of the last seven years, my ability to resolve television-related cultural references has been diminishing; however, over the past three years particularly, I’ve been able to resolve more and more of them with a quick visit to youtube.com.

I know that the number one thing people say to me when they find out I don’t own a television is, “Oh. I hardly watch my TV at all; Mostly leave it on in the background to keep me company.”  I know they say this even though my statement about not owning a television myself makes no value judgment about people who do, which makes them sound a little defensive,or perhaps guilty, about owning and watching one themselves.

I know that people I meet—who usually find out within a week or two of knowing me that I have no television—will continue, often for months,saying to me, “Oh, have you seen that commercial about…” or “You know the guy that won on the second season of…” but eventually get to the point where they cut themselves off halfway through the question with, “Oh, nevermind.”

I know that surveys that have a question about how much television you watch rarely have an option such as, “I don’t watch television at all,” and practically never have one that says, “I don’t own a television.”

I know that without a television  I read a lot more,that I’ve never seen a reality show, and it miffs me that televisions are appearing in public places—airports, my gym, and even the city bus I ride back and forth to work every day. And I know that I’m mostly annoyed by the assumption that, of course, everyone would welcome a television in a public place to keep from having to entertain themselves of their own accord, or more unlikely yet, choose to be quiet and alone with their own thoughts.

And, finally, I know that the increasing confluence of television and the Internet—with offerings such as hulu.com—is making me have this philosophical debate with myself more and more: “If I watch The Office on the Internet, is that considered watching television?"

John Martin
July 20, 2009

These are the three entries they did publish:

  1. What I Really Know About Television: High-Minded Pursuits
  2. What I Really Know About Television: Meeting Lois Lane
  3. What I Really Know About Television: Time Together

What do you really know about television?

The Wofline bus, theater of the absurd at the post office, and a subatomic party...

~Friday~  I caught the Wolfline bus in again today and it was the last bus that would get students to a 9:00 class, and as is usually the case in that situation, at about halfway into the route, it was nuts to butts down the center aisle and the "Bus Full" light went on passing disappointed hopefuls along the last half of the route.

I went to the post office during lunchtime, and when I arrived there were two people in line and one being served. The girl being served was sending a very large box either to a country, or in a way, that the computer screen that was coming up for the clerk to fill out didn't accommodate the address the way it had to be written to make sense at its destination.

I grabbed a $.39 envelope that was sturdy enough to hold the proximity card and key to Kevin's condo, and from a free dispenser sitting on the counter, I tore off a four-inch piece of colored scotch tape with some post office jargon on it and put it along the back flap of my envelope to ensure that it didn't come open in transit.

The wait continued. The clerk (at the only window open) called a "Help Desk" to get help with the screen he was trying to fill out. Everyone in line shifted their weight to their alternate foot. The line grew. Ten minutes later, in addition to the two people in front of me there were two people behind me.

Before I'd left my office, I'd seen that it was National Boss' Day and I also wanted to get my boss a gift card from Laziz Biryani Corner, and a greeting card, while I was out. Noting that the next lady in line had two big packages with her—one of the boxes with AMAZON.COM splashed all over it and with enough clear scotch tape encasing it that it must have consumed an entire roll—I decided to give up my place in line to run those two errands, taking two chances that:

  1. The clerk hadn't seen me take that envelope off the shelf. I was pretty sure he hadn't, as he was deeply engrossed in his task at the time I grabbed it, and

  2. No alarm would go off when I left the post office without paying for it. I fully intended to pay for it when I returned, but since I'd already filled it out and put stuff in it, I couldn't return it to the shelf while I was gone.
When I returned ten minutes later, the lady who was there when I'd left evidently had just left as she was nowhere to be seen, but the clerk was shaking his head (as if to say, "That was a doozie!") as he walked toward the back with that huge package she'd left, and the girl with the two packages was still in the front of the line.

He returned to his window, said, "Next?" and the lady with the mummy-taped amazon.com package stepped up. Her other package was wrapped in yellow birthday paper. He said about the amazon.com package, "For $7.05 it'll take 5-7 business days. For $7.10, it'll be there in 2-3 days."

Incredulously, she said, "The $7.05 is fine." I don't think his eyes could have rolled back any further in his head, and it was accentuated by a collective groan from those in the long line. Off and running...

Everyone knew, including the clerk, that she had to have misunderstood him. And this was interesting from a communications perspective (my business), instead of clarifying by saying something as simple as, "Did you understand that for a nickel more, it'll get there twice as fast?" he said, "For $7.05 it'll take 5-7 business days. For $7.10, it'll be there in 2-3 days," (so a repeat of what he'd just said that she obviously didn't get), and then added, "Not for $7.10 more, but for $7.10."

After processing that for a moment, she finally said, "Oh, $7.10, then," to which he replied, "I thought you must have misunderstood me." As if we'd all been drawn into the drama—if only with asides or noises off—everyone in the line smiled or sighed with relief that common sense had prevailed.

When I got to the window, he looked at the tape I had put on the back of the envelope and shook his head while pointing to the jargon on it. "You can't put that tape on this. It says 'Priority Mail.' This isn't priority mail. It's first class."

"Oh sorry," I said sheepishly and I cringed while, like fingers on a chalkboard, he dug his fingernails under the tape and started ripping it off. In one spot, it took a layer off the thickness of the envelope in such a way that it wasn't actually a hole, but you could see through what was left. Eying a roll of plain scotch tape right next to him and indicating it, I asked, "Would you please put some of that over that spot. I'm afraid that key in there will poke through if not. I'll pay for the tape."

"The tape's free," he said, and I had to bite my tongue from saying, "Hey I've got an idea. Why don't you put that tape over there on the counter so people will use it instead of this specialized tape that isn't appropriate 95% of the time people use it?" I'm just saying...

I went out to Flex at about 10:00, where it was "Atomic 80's Super Dance Blowout" or some such nonsense. It was neither a blowout nor was there any dancing. Discuss.

I talked with Ken most of the night on various and sundry topics, such as: "raising" a cousin, hair products, investing, age, and other people in the bar. One time this evening, I went into Smoking Police mode, and sent a girl with an ash about to drop on her shoulder out to the Smokers' Patio.

I wasn't out very late as I have to be up at 7:30 in the morning.