My TV went out to be repaired a couple of weeks ago; it left an empty space in my living room and, truth be told, in my heart. I couldn't help staring at the dust-free spot on its stand. I felt as though a family member were in the hospital, except that there were no visiting hours.
It came back, though, and it feels much better now. I don't really know what the problem was. The repairman said it just needed a new tuner, but there must have been more to it than that. I envision exorcism or else some heavy group-counseling sessions, with appliances getting up periodically to get another cup of coffee, or chain-smoking unfiltered cigarettes. I imagine that being a television is less fulfilling than other occupations, and that the potential for neurosis is great. I am glad that it and I are getting along better.
For a while - ever since it came into my home, in fact - the television had been operating rather capriciously. It had a pretty good picture, when it felt like it. But much of the time, it seemed lost in a depressed funk, tuning in for a while, then fading out to static, its attention drawn elsewhere. My housemate and I were at great pains even to predict the TV's mood swings, let alone do anything about them.
We found several behavior-modification techniques that, at first, worked fairly well. Most of them (I am not proud of this) involved intimidation - you might even say abuse. We would change the channels relentlessly until it gave in and brought the picture back. That sometimes worked. Turning the power off and then back on seemed once in a while to panic the set into compliance. Occasionally, a good sharp rap on the side let it know who owned what.
Gradually, though, these approaches ceased to have any effect. The TV became ever more recalcitrant and rebellious. Its power grew. We started pleading with it, bargaining and cajoling. "If you just let us watch Mad About You straight through, we promise: no more McDonald's Sports Fan Guys commercials, ever again." It would consider our offer for a while - actually, it was more like an offering, as to the gods. If it found favor with us, we got to watch an evening of TV without the sudden slashing hiss of static interruption. Of course, it was never a relaxed evening of television; it would never allow us to become too complacent, too confident. We had to be ever-vigilant, making sure to change the channel when something came on that it didn't like. And we had to make sure not to make any sudden moves, especially toward the remote. It had us walking on eggshells.
We ended up being almost religious about the television, mollifying its tempers, doing what amounted to voodoo rites to obviate the tantrums. Our primary offering was devotion. We discovered that, the longer the set had been on, the less likely it was to go haywire. So every day, when I got home from work, I would turn the TV on and let it warm up, or calm down, whatever. It demanded nothing less.
"I just want some attention," it said. "Is that so much to ask?" For all the joy and richness it brought into my life? Of course it wasn't too much to ask. "You don't have to watch," it said. "Just be here in the room with me. Let the images flicker, like animated wallpaper. It's soothing."
But it's difficult to do anything else when a television is turned on in the room. TV is just so ... great. There's pictures and sound. Of course I watched. That's a euphemism. I worshipped.
I'm much better now, too. The night sweats are pretty much gone, now that the repairman "replaced the tube." (Think what you will. I saw the rosary around his neck, the stack of Rorschachs in the back of the van.) We have a much healthier relationship now, the TV and I. In fact, we have no relationship; now I just have a TV, which is even healthier. The altar is still there in the dining room, with the rabbit ears and incense burners, but other things have begun to clutter its surface. I've all but forgotten the incantations, and I'm beginning to remember how to blink. I'm thinking of signing up for a reading refresher course.
I'm also thinking about going to the library and asking for another card. I'll just tell them the old one got burned up accidentally. They wouldn't understand the truth. That'll stay between me and my television repairman.