The death of the bedroom TV



It’s been a long time since I’ve actually watched a TV die.


It’s like watching a family member get sick.  You notice odd little things – cough, weight loss, pallor – and all of a sudden they’re thrashing in delirium.


Well, the bedroom TV has evidently decided that it is reaching the end of its days.  We were watching some stupid movie on Saturday morning, and all of a sudden Partner said, “Look at the corners of the screen!”


Green.  Bright green.  The picture was bleeding outward, and the four corners of the screen were bathed in an eerie Shrek-colored glow.


It’s not all the time.  I think it only happens after the TV’s been on for a while.  It’s an old TV anyway – probably between ten and fifteen years; Partner bought it from a coworker some years ago for twenty-five bucks, I think.  It’s a real dinosaur anyway, big and fat and heavy, the way TVs used to be as a rule.  And it generates heat like a sumbitch.


It makes me remember the black-and-white TV I grew up with.  It was probably purchased not long after I was born – a big console model, a Zenith, I think.  Then, after ten years or so, for no apparent reason, its picture began to shrink, bit by bit, the longer the set was on.  Finally, after four or five hours, the picture would disappear completely – kapow! – into a demonically bright little pinprick of light in the middle of the screen.  (I held my eye up to that tiny spot of light more than once, and I swear to you that I was sure I could see the entire TV image in there.  In retrospect, of course, putting my eyeball directly in line with a pure beam of cathode-ray emissions probably wasn’t the smartest thing I could have done.)  You had to turn the TV off and let it cool down when that happened, and sometimes, if the moon was in the right phase, you could resume your viewing after a while.


But we all knew the TV was doomed.  That’s when we bit the bullet and got our color TV.  The sick black-and-white model moved into my dad’s den in the basement, where it lived in fitful retirement for many years; Dad mostly watched “Bonanza” and “Gunsmoke” anyway, so the picture quality didn’t make too much difference.


TVs don’t seem to break down the way they used to.  I somehow don’t believe they’re better made than they used to be, so there must be something else going on.  But then, we don’t use them up the way we used to; we replace them.  In the old days, a TV was a serious investment, and you used it until it broke or exploded.  Nowadays you’re always shopping for a good deal, or a better model, or something a little sleeker.  You’re not replacing a broken device; you’re just buying a slightly better/newer one.


Partner and I are of two minds on this subject.  Partner likes to replace things.  I, on the other hand, am a grim Calvinist, and believe in riding the horse until it whimpers in exhaustion and dies.  (Well, not always.  The lure of shiny new things speaks to me too.)


But the TV in the bedroom is spitting up rancid electrons as we speak, so there’s not too much debate over what happens next.


See you at Best Buy.



The continuing story of Peyton Place




The late lamented Harry Golden wrote that, when he was a boy, he kept a scrapbook of all of the top news stories of the day. Years later, when he rediscovered it, he found that the news stories weren’t really that interesting; the really interesting stuff was on the reverse side of each clipping – peaches for two cents a pound, a fire on 43rd Street, a birth, a death. History is one thing; everyday life is another thing, and a greater thing.


A few weeks ago I found a DVD set of the first season of “Peyton Place” – thirty-one episodes – for a couple of bucks. Peyton Place! My god, my mother and sisters used to live for that show in the mid-1960s. I wasn’t allowed to watch; it was too racy. Since the 1960s, the show has mostly been just a memory; there have been a few airings – apparently the Romance Classics Network (!) showed it some time back. But getting my hands on this DVD set was too good to be true. Finally, at last, forty-six years later, I was going to get to see what my family wouldn’t let me see in 1964.


It has been a revelation. The pacing is slow, much slower than modern shows, and the dialogue goes in misty circles. It is amazing how much gets said without even using the right words. One of the characters, Betty Anderson (a lovely young Barbara Parkins), gets P-R-E-G-N-A-N-T by town playboy Rodney Harrington (handsome Ryan O’Neal) – and somehow the show gets the message across without using the word, or even a euphemism. Betty looks troubled. She walks around the old pillory in the town square and meditates on being shamed publicly. She goes to the doctor. She’s upset. “Does Rodney know?” the doctor says sympathetically. And there you have it.


I generally think of soap operas as slow, slow, slow. Not “Peyton Place.” In the first couple of episodes – the first disk of the set – I was treated to teen pregnancy, infidelity, spousal abuse, alcoholism, and “frigidity,” not to mention broad hints about intimations of illegitimacy, mental illness, and lots of other spectator sports. (Am I the only one who thinks Norman Harrington was maybe gay? Or as close to gay as 1964 TV could make him?) Censorship is jabbed at early on by Constance Mackenzie, the owner of the town bookstore, who wishes that a book would be “banned in Boston” so that it would sell better. (Don’t forget that the original novel was pretty scandalous in its day, with heaping helpings of incest and rape on top of everything else.) Matt Swain, the avuncular newspaper editor, makes a thoughtful little speech about the Bill of Rights. Rodney joshes about joining the Peace Corps. We get constant reminders that, in a little New England town like Peyton Place, everyone knows everything about everyone, and scandals and rumors lie thick on the ground.


Now I understand why my mother and sisters ate up this show so eagerly. It was real life, everyday life, dressed up with a fancy hairdo. It was actually smart sometimes. The young people are dreamily beautiful. The older people, like characters in a mystery play, look exactly the way they’re supposed to look: tired, intense, severe, gentle, thoughtful, troubled, angry. The street scenes and exteriors are Anytown USA. There are pregnancies, and marriages, and romances, and breakups, and estrangements, and reconciliations.


At one point, Alison Mackenzie, talking about her dreams for the future, says: “I want everything to happen.”


And everything does.


And that’s everyday life, in the continuing story of Peyton Place.



Goodbye, VHS

Partner has been watching “Hoarders” a lot lately, and it is having a very salutary effect on him; he’s been cleaning and throwing things away like mad.  Believe me, I’m not pointing fingers.  About a year and a half ago I watched a couple of episodes of “Clean House,” which is basically a more low-key version of the same thing (the people are just as crazy, but they don’t seem quite as maniacal as the people on “Hoarders”; also Niecy Nash is very funny, and I found Matt Iseman very restful to look at), and it inspired me to clean out the entire basement storage space.

But I have also become uneasily aware that I need to do something about the huge stack of VHS tapes sitting next to the television cabinet.

I never watch them.  But never.  I put away a big box of really unwatched tapes in the basement last year, and I have resolved to give most or all of those to Partner’s mother’s nursing home very soon.  The tapes that I keep in the living room are (ostensibly) favorites, things I really don’t want to get rid of – but they’re really just taking up space.

So what’s my resistance all about?  Well, I do tend to accumulate things in a “Hoarders”-like way, though maybe not to the point of pathology.  And I spent $$$ on all those tapes, and if I actually counted up all the cash I spent on videos, I would probably burst into tears; getting rid of them is an admission that I wasted my money, a little at a time, over a whole bunch of years.  And there are a few tapes that I will certainly keep no matter what (nothing but Grim Death will part me from my copy of John Waters’s “Desperate Living”).

There was a halcyon period in the early 1990s when everything – everything – was suddenly appearing on VHS: old movies, new movies, old TV shows, cartoons.  It was wonderful to own them, and the prices seemed moderate.  The flaw in this reasoning became apparent to me very early on, when I joined a mail-order video club in the late 1980s and tried to pick out my introductory stack of six videos.  Naturally I included “The Sound of Music.”  Who wouldn’t want to own that?

And I literally never watched it.

How often do you come home from work and say, “I really feel like watching ‘The Sound of Music’ right now”?

Netflix, and streaming video, have freed me.  So long as I’m reasonably certain that I can find (let’s say) “The Sound of Music” somewhere out there in the cloudy firmament, my pathological need to own it is considerably diminished.

Now I just need to overcome my hoarding instinct, and get a box, and start pitching tapes into it.

And then I can start thinking about that little cupboard full of unwatched DVDs.

A moment with Mehitabel: “Lousy and enjoyable”




This blog is still brand-new, so I can still set some ground rules.


Ground Rule #1: Sundays I’ll take as a day for contemplation. Instead of Something Original, I’ll just post a little text written by someone else.  Also, maybe I’ll bake something.


Today’s selection is from Don Marquis’s “The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel.” Archy was a human being who’d been a bad poet; when he died, his soul went into the body of a cockroach. He still managed to write poetry by jumping around on the keys of Marquis’s typewriter at night (he had trouble with capital letters and punctuation, as you’ll see). Mehitabel was the office cat; she was very disreputable, but full of spirit, and always a lady.


This section was probably written 1934-35, soon after the Hays Code had cleaned up the “immoral” movie industry.


mehitabel the cat

says she is not scared

by the cleanup in the moving pictures

cheer up says mehitabel

television is coming some time

and who knows but what television

will be lousy and enjoyable

and by the time television is

cleaned up

the pictures will get immoral


there is always hope says


if you don t weaken

the artistic purpose

of these periods of reform is

to give

greater zest to the relaxation

which follows




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