“IS THAT BETTER?”
I’m leaning over the toilet in the downstairs bathroom trying to hear through the two-foot square window. The Bearded One is outside on the ladder twenty feet up adjusting the TV antennae with a long extension pole. The wind is blowing and we are shouting. “HOW’S THAT?” he hollers.
“HANG ON!” I say and wedge myself out from the narrow space between the commode and the cabinet, holding the remote control in my left hand. I have been trained once again in its use, the up-and-down CH arrow buttons, and the top, far right second-row-down button called DISPLAY. My job is to check channels 9, 4, 13, and 51.2 trying for the highest DISPLAY numbers possible, or at least 20. We’ve been at this for 15 minutes. As soon as one channel comes in clear, some other one quits working. I’m now at the end, the dreaded Channel 51.2.
This distills what it is to live rural. In a valley. In a forest. There is no cable, and satellite dishes don’t work in the forest. I’m not directly affected since I don’t watch TV and haven’t watched since the 1980s. It makes me nervous. Hits me like a strobe light.
The Bearded One loves it, though. At least at night. He wears earphones and the TV is here in the den, the man’s cave. He and Ruby lie each night before the flashing bonfire of the vanities, flipping through the stations or watching a Netflix movie. The kids got him Netflix for Christmas. He also reads a lot in there. I do other things.
But not now. Now I point the remote at the little black box which sits on top of the slightly larger little black box on the cabinet just outside the bathroom beside the TV itself.
And the remote is as sluggish and unresponsive as ever. Even as I point it inches from its mother ship, the action is about as effective as a crosswalk button. Everything’s on delay.
I start my re-check with Channel 9, the PBS top priority. A Cat in the Hat cartoon. I check the signal.
“NINE IS TWENTY-TWO!” I shout. The ladder outside creaks, and I hear, “NOW FOUR!”
My ultimate goal is Channel 51.2. The fights. Which I hate. When I happen to walk into the den when they’re on, I feel assaulted. Men beating each other up! Butting heads like goats! Pecking at each other like chickens! How can it possibly be relaxing to watch? He loves it.
I tangle with this irritating machine out of love, which, I remind myself, is accepting if not embracing of extreme differences.
Channel 4 is Doctor Oz talking with some 20-year-old woman about an anti-aging product. Check signal. Then to 13, a talk show of some sort, just like so many others on this weekday afternoon. All of this takes time, and the fix won’t last long. Every cloud coming in off the Pacific Ocean alters the result completely. Some channels we get only in a hail storm.
“HELLLLLLOOOOOO!” shouts the Bearded One.
“JUST A SECOND!” I shout back. Why doesn’t he understand how slow this sucker is? Perhaps because he has been stuck up high on a ladder for 15 or 20 minutes.
Finally I arrive at 51.2, and it’s a talk show, thankfully. Or maybe a religious show, I can’t tell. The signal is a barely acceptable 18, but the Bearded One is finished.
“DONE!” he calls, and I whoop and cheer.
When the Bearded One comes back inside, he is tired and his feet hurt from standing on the ladder. He starts to run through the stations to see what he’s got.
“I’ll be upstairs on the computer,” I say.
“Emails?” the Bearded One asks.
“That and the kittens.” There’s a live-streaming video I love to watch of 5-week-old kittens and their mama. They’re being fostered for an animal shelter by a young woman in her home in Canada. There are almost 800 of us followers now, it’s like an in-home reality show. I can’t get enough of it. When I checked them an hour ago, they were all sound asleep.
I hurry back upstairs. Surely they’ll all be fighting like crazy by now.