Reality TV

Long before electronic remotes existed my family employed the use of a biological one, my younger brother John.  Our Zenith TV, the first color one in our neighborhood earned my father  the title of American royalty. The neighbors gathered in our den one Saturday; bowls of chips were passed and my mother tittered around making certain that the adults were sitting in the optimal viewing zone. Children were thrown about the floor like scatter rugs, elbows to the floor and chins resting in their palms. When the colors of the NBC peacock appeared, you could hear a pin drop.

My father left.  The TV stayed, for years.  The wooden corners were gnawed by one dog or another. When the power button fell out a wrench found permanent residence in the hole to twist the button on or off and the color slowly began to fade to a sickly green which could be temporarily adjusted by a swift whack with the heel of the hand to the side.  Even the remote began to get finicky.

“John, get up and change the channel,” my older brother Chuck would yell from his perch on the sofa and I would echo “Yeah, get up and change the channel dufus.”

John would lay there on the orange shag carpeting as if nerve gas had crept into the house and rendered him unconscious.

There would be one more command before Chuck would begrudgingly get up and nudge John with his foot, arms-length away from the TV himself.
We would hear the sound of my mother’s brown pinto on the gravel driveway and spring into action. My comatose brother John would miraculously arise and run to the kitchen to grab a wash towel, wet it with cold water and wipe the top of the TV to cool it down.  Chuck would grab a book and sit up, suddenly enthralled by its content. Our mangy dog Tiger would wake up with wide eyes and spring off the sofa, aware that if he was found on the furniture by my mother he would suffer the same fate as the banished cat.
When my mother entered through the back door there we’d be, a placid scene of family harmony who had by no means been watching TV all night; John diligently scribbling in his notebook, Chuck reading an upside down book, Tiger panting in his flat doggie bed and me at the piano, entertaining them all with a rousing rendition of “Hot Cross Buns.”

My mother would regard this scene warily, walk to the TV and place her hand on top, moving it around like a doctor with a stethoscope searching for a pulse.  When she was satisfied with its dead coolness, she’d pick up the kitchen phone, stick the end of a pencil in the rotary to dial a number and begin to talk for hours on end.  We’d breathe a sigh of relief.
The TV was eventually replaced.  The biological remote matriculated to college and all of us brothers moved out and bought TV’s of our own for every room in our homes.

My mother will often call me and bemoan the sorry state of our brotherly affair, each of ya'll too busy to give a rat’s-ass what the other one is up to. There was a beautiful zenith of synergy that peaked around the flickering green light and then like the TV faded to black. Occasionally, we’ll gather at the holidays, our own re-runs scattered on the floor, watch the old shows and briefly marvel at how funny and heartwarming that original content truly was.

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