Viewer Beware


Santa Stand & Museum of obsolete technology

Sunday. A day for domestic chores. It’s rainy outside, so there’s little temptation to go out. I begin the laundry and Burke decides to venture into and organizing the No Man’s Land underneath the bed.

She has a worse job. Laundry is relatively simple. The most aggravating part of laundry is finding errant socks on the floor or trying to understand how women’s clothing works (Seriously. No idea). But ‘under’ things doesn’t get cleaned for the same reason ‘behind’ things or ‘closets’ don’t. Out of sight, out of mind.

These places are used as storage when we’re cleaning up the visible areas of the flat or house. And it works, too. As long as our living room is clear, our dishes are done, the bed is made and clothing is in its preordained drawers, I am usually content. I don’t sit around thinking – man, it’s dirty under this bed. What’s more, when was the last time you visited a friend’s house and said, “So, your bedroom is nice and tidy, but what’s it look like under the bed?” I hope not recently, or ever; in fact, if you have ever said that and you’re not a marine drill sergeant, you are a monster.  

A domestic duty day is always good for a number of reasons. First, things get done. Second, it means a free viewing day.

The daily question: “What are we watching tonight?”

When I was growing up, that question’s answer was very simple: whatever we want until Dad comes home. Then it’s whatever he wants. My mom always let the kids watch what we wanted. This is something I appreciated enormously until realizing that giving us rule of the TV was a way to give herself an hour of quiet. I still appreciated it, but in two ways.

The minute my dad arrived home or came into the living room, everything changed. The very idea that someone other than my dad would have control of the TV let alone the remote was simply insanity. When my dad was around the TV was my first taste of what a dictatorship actually looked like. Our pleas for young viewer sustenance fell on deaf ears. Our bitter lamentations (Not The Cavanaughs again!) were dealt with the crushing fist of impatience. In the end, our woes meant nothing to a man who was trying to get into A Hobo’s Christmas.

My parents have been married for 46 years, so the fact that they still greet each other cordially in the hallway is as worthy of attention as that cat that was born with two heads. In general, it seems, they still like each other very much. When I get my Sunday afternoon call, banter between my mom and dad is expected. She overhears something, makes a comment. He responds with something he thinks is witty, but which Mom and I both see as an opportunity to forward a dinner agenda (e.g. Ah, mom says I can’t do that, but she’s too busy making fried chicken steaks). A second conversation forms, of which I become an audience. It’s at this point that I begin reading and writing emails I need to get done.

When discussing the causes of such marital harmony, my siblings and I touch on things such as respect and love and a willingness to listen, develop, and sacrifice. And then we agree that the thanks is completely due to multiple TVs and advanced technology.

Years ago, if someone in my house wanted to watch something my dad didn’t want to watch, they were cast into a house of black and white TV sets. There was one in my parents’ room (color) and one in my room (black and white, 4 channel). This meant watching M*A*S*H with a squiggly line down Hawkeye’s face. For me, this sufficed for the most part, and not only because I knew that with a little dangling I might be able to catch glimpse of a boob on Benny Hill later on. The viewer castaway from the living room in my house was at times deranged with the knowledge that they were not watching cable TV.

Were this still the case in my parent’s house and my mom was sent off to watch a little beat up old network TV in her kitchen, I would have long ago been called by the police to identify a body, one of which, no doubt, would have had a remote buried in his eye socket.

But this is the 21st century and technology saves the day. At the very touch of a finger my mom and dad and you can watch virtually anything they want on Earth. When considering the viewing habits of them both it’s not hard to see that this is a huge factor in keeping the domicile peace. My dad watches baseball, light sitcoms, romantic comedies, and dramatized biographies. My mom watches political talk shows, Hallmark Christmas movies, and every possible spin off and version of the CSI and Law and Order universe. And so they enjoy the full benefits of a long-term partnership without having to sacrifice the Phillies or David Caruso.

Perhaps my most disturbing revelation on this weekend is not that this is a real way to keep peace within a household, but rather how close my viewing choices are to my dad’s. Burke enjoys watching shows which end in ¾ of the characters’ misery. I enjoy watching the ones which make me laugh and which won’t make me weep myself to sleep.

On this domestic chore day, I watch a show and ten feet away Burke watches hers. Both of us in relative bliss. Only occasionally do I hear the pained wail of a man who Spike Lee appointed to step on a landmine. Only now and then does she overhear the manic antics of Ben Chang on Community. It’s a Sunday of folding and sweeping and vacuuming. My dad calls later and gives me the rundown of what he’s watching. Just for fun, I ask what mom’s watching and the pause tells me everything I need to know.

He says “ISC police show or something.”    

I say “CSI?”

“I don’t know.”

They don’t make them like they used to.   

  1. #1 by jer on June 22, 2020 - 5:13 pm

    I watched my first R rated movie when I was 5. I still am of the mind that because I was 8 years younger than my brother, my dad simply didn’t care and figured I would be smart enough to figure things out for myself. I still remember the week when my mom was away for some conference during the summer when I was, I don’t know, maybe 13, and my dad picked up both Predator and Robocop on video rental. We both knew the unwritten rule: Never talk about this.

    It also helped that my mom pretty much ignored the TV until she discovered Masterpiece Theater on PBS in the early 1990’s. It also didn’t help that I introduced her to Merchant/Ivory films. It was all downhill from there.

  2. #2 by jer on June 22, 2020 - 5:23 pm

    Complete side note: I find it crazy that I haven’t seen you in at least 15 years and I can still hear your laugh in my head.

    I find that to be the mark of a true person, as I can only think of two other folk whose laugh is remarkable to me. As one of those two immortalized on a poster made for me, “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.”

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