Archive for July, 2006

Tivo Power

// July 6th, 2006 // No Comments » // writing

Recently my wife Lisa and I have been indoctrinated into the cult of Tivo. Digital Video Recording is an amazing experience for us and has taken us off of network scheduling. It really is TV at the touch of a button and I’ve felt like George Jetson. We may watch more TV, but the TV that we do watch is on our time. Our life doesn’t revolve around the hour or half-hour any more. If we’re a little late after work and don’t get to the show when it starts, no matter. We can watch it from the beginning while it’s still recording. I feel like I’m in a time machine.

The last time I watched a DVD was weeks ago. I haven’t sullied my hands with a tape or DVD in weeks. Because everything is digital, there’s nothing to unwrap, open, misplace, degrade or scratch. It’s all in the remote. I feel like a Roman emperor seated on a divan pointing a sceptre. Of course, this makes the remote an almost holy thing. It sits on a shrine. Lately I’m wondering if I’m paying enough attention to the remote.

But Tivo has changed our lives in more ways than that. Because of Tivo, we have to redecorate our entire living room. I’m glad that I’m saving money on renting and buying DVDs, because we need this money to buy new furniture. Let me explain.

When the service man came to install the unit, he was quick and knowledgable. I might be a little affected by all of those customer response surveys, but all of the Direct TV people get “five out of five” in satisfaction. Especially with their cleanliness and appearance. Before these surveys came after installations, I never thought to grade them on their appearance. As soon as they’re not looking, though, I start making notes. I always check in the most flattering rating unless the installers actually smell or emit noxious fumes, neither of which has ever happened.

Installation of Tivo went fine, but there was a small problem in fitting the unit into our entertainment center. There was just not enough room in the cabinet to fit everything, so it had to go on top, along with two other units, a receiver and CD player. As much as we enjoy our new appliances, we now need a new entertainment center. We choose and purchase a new piece of furniture and are delighted when it arrives at our door, solid and made with sturdy wood. This is a terrific unit, about as solid a construction of wood that I’ve ever purchased. I feel proud as it comes all together.

There is surprisingly little swearing uttered as we move pieces from the old unit (which has started to sag) into the new piece. In the back of this excitingly solid amoire, there is a solid piece of wood. The existence of this solid piece of wood is captivating to me and I stare at it with a certain sense of awe. Most of this type of furniture in the past had cardboard or particle board backing or it was in two or more pieces. Not our amoire! This is solid wood, securely fastened with 27 small screws around its edges. In the center, looking like an afterthought is a round two-inch hole. This is where we need to thread all the wires, cables and power cords.

A few hours into the operation, I’m covered in sweat, holding a lamp since the flashlight broke. I’m stuffed like a Pillsbury crescent roll into the guts of the unit. I’m reaching towards this two-inch hole like a diver’s last source of air and light. As we attempt to thread all these black cords through the tiny holes, it occurs to me that this has been designed for human brains to assemble, but we are the wrong customers. This furniture can only be put together by monkey people. These are beings who I have surmised are of exceeding brightness and intelligence, but also possessing very long legs and arms to latch onto tiny places in shelves to hold ends of cords.

Neither of us had thought it would take very long, perhaps a half hour. I had taped and labeled all of the cords ahead of time and I knew where they should go. We hadn’t figured on needing the agility of a spider monkey. It was the monkey people joke that kept us laughing instead of yelling at each other. We kept laughing after two hours only reverting to very short, hastily spoken answers sometimes barked. At one point some cords had to be replaced with longer ones, but we managed to fix that with a quick run to the basement.

Moving the TV was the hardest part. This TV has a 29 inch screen. It’s very nice, but not the most expensive or even largest. Even so, there were some apparent handholds in unlikely places. Some of these looked more like places to get your hands stuck rather than actual grips. Some looked like mock handgrips, as if the manufacturers were taunting us, “Yes! Grip it HERE and watch it flip forwards onto its expensive TV screen!” There were no handgrips at the very bottom beneath the heavy and extremely fragile picture tube. Still we managed to lift it up onto the shelf without shattering the TV or any bones. I think that this part of the procedure would have also been easy for the monkey people to accomplish. They might even have laughed. I’m sure that none of them would have made the noises that my wife and I made. I couldn’t decide if I should crush my fingers beneath the TV first, then wait for my wife to get her hand there or wait for her to yell, “Lift! My hand is getting crushed!” before I acted. The good news is that I don’t think that we have to worry about anyone taking this TV. It is not moving from this spot.

As it neared midnight, we were just a few components away, but cords were still disconnected and the TV was sideways. We were both nearing the end of our patience and ability to answer in calm, non-swearing answers. I saw Lisa with a screwdriver in hand behind the amoire. “What are you doing?” I screamed, perhaps louder than I’d intended. I was like the guy who panics in the disaster films, the one who ends up losing all the water. I had to reign myself back.

“I’m going to remove these screws!” she yelled. She sounded like someone in a hostage situation on a TV crime drama. I moved in to talk her down.

“Don’t do it! There’s 27 of them!”

“We can take this entire back piece off!” Lisa moved in with the screwdriver and started to turn the first screw.

I gently grabbed her arms. “Really, we’re almost there. Put the screwdriver down.”

Lisa did put the screwdriver down and we started to place the last components in. “Monkey people,” I cried and we shared an uneasy laugh. We reconnected everything and started moving things back into place, checking all the cords, plugging everything back in. I was filled with an eager confidence. I didn’t have any parts left over and everything was lighting up the right way. I turned on the TV with a flourish and smiled as it flashed the lovely logos that let me know that these were the people I’d be paying to get all of this great stuff to work. I always think it’s funny that you can always tell the poofed up logos from the error messages telling you something’s wrong. So when I see the logos, I know I’m all right.

For about a week or so after installation, as I sat back to enjoy it all, I’d hear unsettling noises from around the house, as Lisa tended to the chain reaction of home decorating that the addition of one piece of furniture can cause. Things would be moving and I’d hear the sound of moving furniture, a pounding hammer… often in the same room that I was in. My wife doesn’t often tell me when things need to be moved. She just does it, often requiring my assistance only halfway through the process when something else is in the way. Sometimes it’s me that’s in the way. Lisa may be the kind of person who can move furniture right away, but I need a little notice. At least enough notice to get out of the way.

After we moved the other furniture back into place and settled in to watch an episode of our favorite show, Lisa realized that we needed a new couch. Tivo, this is all your fault!

The Camper

// July 6th, 2006 // No Comments » // archive

When I was seven or eight years old we had already travelled quite bit around the Chicagoland and Lake Geneva area, camping with a pop-up camper attached to my Dad’s Dodge van. We had such a fun time camping and hiking and have many stories to tell. This is one of the early ones.

It was the end of another happy vacation and we were on our way home. My parents were in front, my Dad driving along the expressway not knowing what I had in store for him. My Mom was sitting next to him in the “co-pilot seat” that we all wanted desperately to claim as the high point of status in our childhood years. The sole higher eschelon of status was to actually sit in our Dad’s lap and steer the vehicle “home”.

We sat in the next two rows of seats, quietly reading comic books or story books. I must have read my Donald Duck comic three or four times over, so I was looking for something exciting to end the trip. And then in the recesses of my prepubescent mind, an idea began to form. I started to chuckle already, thinking that I really had a winner here.

My sister Gina, who was no more than five looked over to see what was so funny. I leaned over and whispered to my co-conspirator. Between giggles, I told her what I was going to do. She giggled with me, however she must have been wiser than I was because she said “Maybe you shouldn’t. You might get in trouble!”

Trouble! What was trouble when the possibility for fun and excitement was at hand? If I pull this off, I’ll get one-up on Dad and maybe even my brother Nick would think it was high comedy. No, I was determined to take hold of the moment and step into the spotlight.

A little nervous, I glanced back to look out of the back windows. Through the double doors of the Dodge van, I could see the pop-up camper trudging behind faithfully as we sped down the highway at 60 miles per hour. The sun glinted off of its fiberglass top. This was the moment. I swallowed carefully and took a deep breath.

I let it out with all the force my body could muster. “DAD! THE CAMPER’S GONE!”

There was a brief moment when all time stopped and I could see my Dad’s terrified grimace as he slowed our van down and pulled over to the side of the road. We were all jostled like astronauts heading for splashdown. I grabbed onto the armrest, my grin plastered to my face, still thinking what a good joke this was. I could hear the squeal of the tires as we came abruptly to a stop.

The whine of the other cars whizzing past us was the only sound we heard for a few moments as my Dad tore his fingers off of the steering wheel. He looked at each one of us to see if we were alright and then he looked at me, still confused but at this moment not realizing the cruel trick I had pulled.

He looked through the windows and saw that the camper was STILL THERE. Astonished, he looked at me and all the panic and fury bore down on me as he asked me and all of the universe “It’s not gone! Why’d you say that, Dan?!”

In that moment, I probably could have said any excuse and made up for it. We were safe, the vehicles were safe and after a short trip home my parents could both change their underwear. I’m sure I could have thought up any number of reasons. The sun was in my eyes. I panicked. I really thought it was gone.

Yet my parents had raised me to tell the truth and that’s just what I did.

“I just wanted to see what you would do.”

My mother saved my life at that point, urging my father not to kill me and instead to get back on the road and start driving home. A soliloquy of swearing followed us home like a demonic soundtrack punctuated by my name at various points. As a harmony, my mother’s soothing voice interjected at times to enable my dad to stay seated and not strap me to the top of the camper for the rest of the journey home.

To be honest, there was so much to do once we got there that all of my father’s anger was directed at unloading the camper and unpacking. By the time he actually got to speaking with me without swearing, telling me how foolish this had been, I had learned the lesson many times over, as well as many other words that I had never heard before.

To this day, I know that curious children are far more dangerous than malicious children, which is why I know that I am doomed. I know that I will not have malicious, cruel children, but rather curious children who will always be wondering “I just wanted to see what you would do.”