An Ode to Watching Television, Old-School

unnamed-1To be clear, I got it for free. A postdoctoral fellow in mathematics had posted it on the university’s classifieds page.

27”, I read in the ad.

27”, I thought. The perfect size for our humble living room (which, it should be said, has an orange vintage settee in place of a couch because, let’s be real, I’ll choose orange tufted velour over practicality any day of the week).

But I had forgotten: 27” was much bigger a decade ago than it is today.

Especially when said 27” comes in the form of an old-school tube television that a skinny, bearded mathematician has to wrestle into the back of your economy-sized hatchback car.

The last time we owned a television set, we were newlyweds living in a tiny in-law unit in the backyard of a mansion in the Berkeley Hills. We kept it on a rollaway cart in our lone miniature closet and pulled it out whenever we had the hankering to watch a movie. 

Then we’d climb into our little secondhand Honda and drive to The Silver Screen, a dingy video rental shop at the height of its dingy-video-rental-shop glory, with stained carpet that smelled of stale popcorn and burnt plastic, endless rows of DVDs catalogued like so many library books (the “Adults Only” section tastefully cordoned off by a hanging beaded curtain, through which forbidden lights glowed), and always the same gentle giant behind the counter, a large man made larger still by the tiny toy rubber ducks he brought out for every customer: if you picked the right duck—the one with a sticker dot on its underbelly—you walked away with a free DVD rental.

Somehow, though, even picking the wrong duck felt like a prize all its own, with that moment of hopefulness hanging in the air as your hand hovered over the tiny rubber ducks, mysteriously gravitating toward one or another, lingering, before finally settling on the chosen one, presenting it, belly up, to the man for inspection.

We were loyal customers long after Netflix came into fashion. (Say what you will, I will always mourn the loss of the dingy video rental store. I believe firmly that a neighborhood is not a neighborhood without one.)

So I submit that, driving back home with this behemoth of a television in my trunk, I was happy.

Granted, the first night we had it in the house, we could not sleep—its blank face an enormous abyss in the corner of our living room, amassing an unnamable and ever-growing energy—but we covered it with one of my old scarves and now we sleep like babies.

There are other problems. It rings obnoxiously if it runs too long, which apparently is after about eight minutes or so, but if you turn it off and then back on again, the ringing is replaced only by a low and steady humming. And, of course, there is the issue of its size, which, apart from that mild embarrassment all its own, blocks half of our only window in the living room.

But now I can snuggle with my man on our vintage settee as we watch Jeopardy in the evenings, stuffing our faces with popcorn and calling out all the wrong answers. I can spend my Friday nights falling (even more) in love with Alice Walker on “American Masters.” And I can engage in that long-forgotten, oft-forbidden act that has fans and haters everywhere: channel-surfing.

So a free, 27”, CRT tube television with absolutely no bells or whistles (unless you count the ringing, of course)?

Best. Prize. Ever.

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