21 May 2007

Treading blue

We have a stupid, evil man and an even stupider spoiled brat, only 60 years old, running the country, decent people are dying for no reason in the brat’s vanity war and the U.S. Constitution is in shreds. The Justice Department is riddled with scurvy rats, it cost me almost $38 to put 11 gallons of gas in my 12-gallon car last week, and when I asked a middle-aged local firefighter with a shaved head about the fire-danger situation in my county while we were both in line at the office supply store, he fixed me with a solemn gaze and said, “It’s bad. The fuels are as bone-dry right now as they normally get in July. It’s the worst it’s ever been.”

There wasn’t much I could say about that. I wished him safety and good luck. He bought his box of blank CDs and left, unsmiling, his navy blue T-shirt tight across his muscled back.

There’s nothing I can say or do about any of it, except to wish us all safety and good luck. And keep a garden hose handy. You’ll understand if I haven’t been posting here much lately.

But hey, forget about all that doom and gloom in the big outside world. Here at home, it’s the little things that get me down. Like my TV, which shows me only a bright, cheery blue screen instead of CNN no matter how many buttons I push on the fancy new remote the cable guy left me last week.

It has a lot of buttons, too.

Here’s the story. I decided not too long ago that it was time to shove the Wren’s Nest into the future. So I invested in a broadband Internet connection, which is finally available up here in dem thar hills. No more dial-up! I could stop filing my nails during website changes and actually load those ubiquitous U-Tube videos and watch them the very same day!

Naturally, the local cable company was happy to help me out, and a cable guy duly showed up. He got us all set -- digital cable TV, broadband Internet and digital phone service.

I’d told the rep on the phone when I’d set the appointment that I also wanted a wireless connection for our two computers, one of which is Mr. Wren’s desktop. The other is my little laptop computer. I wanted to be able to move it around the house without the hindrance of wires. Imagine – with a wireless connection, I could sit in front of the fire next winter, tapping out Blue Wren posts, writing and surfing the Net in cozy comfort. In the summer, I’d be able to take advantage of the chilled swamp cooler air at the other end of the house. I could – glory! – watch the Sunday news lineup and use my laptop at the same time. What could be more modern? More delightfully convenient? And – though I haven’t tried this yet – with that miracle wireless card, I’d be able to go to the local Starbuck’s and be one of those cool people working furiously on their laptops while they sip the latest blend.

I was just giddy with excitement.

Well, the cable guy arrived without the equipment necessary to let me go wireless. He suggested, however, that I could easily do it myself. Just go to the local office supply box store, buy a wireless router and cards for the computers, and (heheh) viola. I’d be set.

I was already delighted with the speed of the broadband connection, even though he’d connected the only cable to it way in the back bedroom. The cable was about six feet long, which required that I set my laptop on top of a laundry hamper for use while kneeling.

This would not do.

So, being a plucky and courageous Wren, off I went. I bought the required wireless hardware, zoomed home and went about setting it up.

Several hours later, it still wasn’t working. I’d exhausted my very limited technical knowledge and longed for rescue. Grimly, I called the company that makes the router and cards. A very nice young woman in the Philippines spent more than two hours on the phone with me, talking me through a myriad of possible fixes. No go. She decided, finally, that the router must be defective and apologized profusely. I should return to the store and exchange it for another, then try again.

The next morning, with considerably less enthusiasm, I exchanged the router and had that cheery conversation with the firefighter. I drove home at the speed limit, noting the combustible dry weeds along the highway verges. I made myself lunch. I gazed at my laptop, sitting there on the clothes hamper. I swept the kitchen floor and started a load of laundry. I made coffee. I considered a shot of whiskey and decided it wasn’t five o’clock anywhere yet, so I’d better get busy if I didn’t want to kneel like a supplicant while reading the news anymore.

I unboxed the router, picked up the phone and called the customer service folks again. Gave them my “case number.” And this time, guided by a sweet young man who may have been in India, (I’m old enough to still be thrilled by talking with polite foreigners in faraway countries on the phone for free) it worked. Within 45 minutes both computers were wireless.

Note to the uninitiated: When the 22-year-old cable guy says it’s easy, do not believe him.

And now, back to the TV and that blue screen.

One of the reasons I haven’t watched television for years (besides just getting out of the boob-tube habit in young adulthood because I couldn’t afford to buy one) is the rise of cable. When I returned from Germany in 1992, I found that watching TV now required a) cable and b) programming in the local channels. The station numbers and affiliates hadn’t changed – they were still familiar – but to be able to get them on the cable connection, one had to fiddle and fidget, finding the code numbers that corresponded, etc, then working out how to get the remote to talk to the “box,” get the “box” to accept the numbers, and then to actually work.

You must understand. My technical expertise stops at changing batteries. Even that’s a challenge these days, since they make those little “+” and “-” signs so incredibly tiny. Have you noticed that? Or is it just my failing eyesight?

Anyway, once I’d worked all that tedious programming business out, I discovered that TV had utterly changed since I’d left the U.S. in the mid-80s. First, there were far more commercials, and very few of them were in any way pleasant to watch. They were raucous and incredibly loud, so that I had to turn down the volume when they came on, then turn it back up to hear the program I was trying to enjoy. I learned how to use the “mute” button. I would mute the commercials, but then get distracted in the silence, reading a book or getting involved with something else, and forget to “unmute,” so I’d miss part of the program entirely. This was annoying, but I adjusted.

Then, I discovered that with the exception of just a few shows, the fare offered bored me to tears. That was in spite of 437 available channels. I watched a lot of Animal Planet until I started seeing repeats all the time. And I was shocked by the shouting, the low level of discourse, the gratuitous violence, bad language, rudeness and ugliness that I saw on the screen. Now, I’m not prudish, but watching people throw chairs at each other over their marital problems on Jerry Springer’s reality show just wasn’t my cup of tea. I noticed the network news programs had become extremely partisan and it was all trumped-up Clinton scandals, all the time. I wasn’t particularly political at the time, but even I could see I wasn’t getting the whole story.

In the meantime, cable became even more complicated, programming-wise. When Mr. Wren and I got a fabulous new TV back in 1998, I just let him figure it all out. He loves watching television and has far more patience than I do with gadgets (and commercials). In fact, the worse the B movie, the better he likes it. The only problem with that was that in the meantime, we’d purchased a VCR, and he was recording programs during the day and overnight. If I happened to be home alone and flipped on the TV just to see what was on, I’d screw up his recording and would later face a very unhappy postal worker with a foot of height and about 150 pounds on me. You don’t want to go there.

If he wasn’t recording, I couldn’t find my old trusty channels anyway, because they had different numbers coded in. I didn’t know what they were without perusing the guide, which had grown to telephone book size, or asking Mr. Postal.

Talk about distraction. I gave up on TV.

So now, here I am with digital cable. The cable guy showed me the fancy new remote, told me he’d already programmed in the local channels, and handed it to me. “So that means if I push, for instance, ’03,’ I’ll get Channel 3?” I was skeptical.

“That’s right!” he grinned. “Try it!”

I did. Channel 3 came right on. Cooooool.

I made Mr. Wren help me drag the old treadmill into the living room the next morning. I had plans. I’ve been working very hard on a diet, but I’ll lose that 10 years of accumulated desk chair weight a whole lot faster if I exercise. But I hate exercise. I can’t afford a health club, which would mean driving a long way to get to the nearest one, anyway. And taking a brisk walk along our local country roads, beautiful as they are, is out. There are no sidewalks, and no shoulders. Only ditches. Lumber trucks whizzzz by at 60 mph. There are better ways to go.

So, the treadmill, which is a wonderful device but deadly boring, and I must be entertained while suffering. I’d tried reading while treading, but I kept tripping. I tried music while treading, but all that did was make me realize just how incredibly long a 3-minute, 45-second song really was.

But now that I had this very cool, very simple cable setup, I figured I could rise upon my pre-dawn hot flash, get on the treadmill and point the remote at the TV. I could watch the latest breaking news while trudging and treading, just like those skinny, burnished people in the fancy gyms do. I wouldn’t have to be embarrassed by my Buns of Lard, oversized Dog-a-Thon T-shirt and Just-My-Size sweatpants. The talking heads on TV would distract me from the fact that I was sweating and gasping. I could turn treading into ... a brand-new, goddess-like body!

Oh, baby.

So, the next morning, I was up before the birds, cooling myself by fanning my hot flash sweat with a magazine and looking forward to the First Day of My New Life. I got on the treadmill and switched ‘er on. Pointed the remote at the TV and pushed the on/off button.

The TV came on, but the blue screen informed me that the VCR was recording, so I was “locked out.”

Hell hath no fury. But Mr. Wren was sleeping peacefully, no doubt dreaming about the documentary on Bhutan he was recording at 6 a.m. Later, after he was up, awake and showing no postal tendencies, I politely requested that he not, in future, record anything between 4 and 8 a.m. He must have seen the murder in my eyes and agreed to my request without argument.

Next morning, there I was again. Got the treadmill going. Pointed the remote at the TV. Clicked. It worked! Except at that hour, there was no network news, so I had to stop the treadmill and find the instructions for how to find the cable news outlets. Finally, I found CNN, pressed the appropriate buttons, and trudged while some tart on CNN explained to me that Republicans in Washington, DC are better dressed than Democrats. As soon as she finished telling me that fascinating bit of news, there were 45 commercials. When she came back, she was all about some creepy guy who’d microwaved his baby in a hotel room last month.

Grossed out and disgusted as much by the idea that this passed as “news” as by the deed, I trudged. Stopped when I hit a half-hour. Those were the only two “news” items CNN showed in that time.

Yesterday morning I didn’t tread or try the TV. Mr. Wren and I were up and out of the house bright and early for a county garden tour. Figured I’d do all the walking I could take during the tour, and I was right. It’s hilly around here and we hit eight gardens in various parts of the county. I figure I walked for, oh, five out of eight hours.

And now, this morning and those little things that get you down. Up with the birds again. Mr. Wren dreaming of gardens. Power up the treadmill after checking the cable channel guide, memorizing the number for the version of CNN that actually has news on it. Click “on.”

Blue screen. No CNN, no stupid CNN, no nothing. Just blue screen. And none of the buttons, no matter which I pushed, worked on the remote.

Oh, well. Eventually I’ll figure out how to make the TV show me images of baby torturers and badly dressed Democrats while I tread. In the meantime, I’m staying on my good diet and working on further widening my nicely developed desk-chair caboose.


Mike Kretzler said...

Excellent! I have a question and an answer. What is that about waiting until five o'clock for a shot of whiskey? I thought it was noon (and it's always noon somewhere). And, yes, the little pluses and minuses are getting microscopic; no doubt.

Kevin Wolf said...

I am without cable and do not miss it. The "news" is unbearable and most of the entertainment is too stupid to be tolerated.

I kept falling back on Law & Order repeats and the like. Turner Classic Movies was a favorite. It's 24 hours, so you could just join things in progress and kill the time.

Better yet, get out any tapes you have and load up the VCR each morning.