I plan to spend some time this weekend watching television. If the television will let me. Last weekend it wasn't so willing.
On Sunday, I was all set to watch National Football League playoffs. I couldn't wait to see those burly players flash across the screen in liquid crystal-display clarity. I looked forward to hearing the distinctive pop of tackles amplified on the six-speaker sound system. I was giddy at the prospect of hitting the mode button that made the flat-screen TV picture jump from zoom to partial zoom. Such joys, I figured, represent the pinnacle of modern civilization.
Yet as I stretched out in my favorite chair, I realized I had a problem. I didn't have a picture. The menu of programs was visible on the screen. But when I issued the command that said, in remote control lingo, "Show me the action," the screen went blank.
Being new to this highfalutin TV technology -- until recently we relied only on a rooftop antenna to deliver the miracle of television into our home -- I immediately felt dumb.
This was getting to be a familiar feeling. It was how I had felt a month earlier when a "no signal" message appeared on the screen. Our 20-year-old son bailed me out of that dilemma. He had tightened a loose cable, and the picture was restored. Now, however, this kid had vamoosed. Like many college juniors, he had fled the country, traveling to England to study for a semester. His parting words to us about our new audio-visual system were, "You guys are in way over your heads."
My backup plan, tapping the Dorsey brain trust at Soundscape where we had purchased the equipment, wouldn't work either. There are a passel of fellows whose last name is Dorsey who work at this Cold Spring Lane store. One of them had talked me out of a dark TV moment two weeks earlier. The HDMI cables -- I have no idea what they do -- had apparently been removed by some painters working in our house and reattached in the wrong slots. A member of the Dorsey brain trust had been able to figure it out in a telephone conversation. When I had switched the positions of the cables on the back of the receiver, the TV screen had jumped back to life. My latest trouble, however, had struck on a Sunday, the day that store was closed and the brain trust was resting.
Eventually I swallowed what remained of my pride and called the help desk of Dish Network, the outfit that is somehow beaming signals from a satellite to our home. After punching a bunch of numbers into the telephone and waiting for several minutes, I was connected to a very patient woman, a satellite TV mistress. She talked me through this trial. Once again I got down on my hands and knees, a supplicant in front of the system. Following her instructions, I tried to pop open the hidden door on the top right front of the satellite receiver. Time and time again I tried, but the door wouldn't budge. I fumed. My wife intervened, pressing the top, not the bottom, of the spring-loaded door. It opened. I counted to 10.
A reset button was pushed. The system did a countdown on the screen. I summoned a channel with the remote control. Suddenly the Colts and the Steelers were tussling before us. Apparently last weekend's high winds had somehow disturbed the workings of the satellite system, putting it in a dormant mode until it was revived with the reset button.
There are several lessons that I could take from this episode. One would be that rather than being served by technology, I have become its servant. Another would be that I should never let my children leave home until they have left me written instructions on how to work the new TV.
But I am trying to take a different view and see this tussle with technology as a journey on my learning curve. It is giving me fresh opportunities to appreciate everyday experiences. In other words, every time I turn the television on, and it works, it is a cause for celebration.