When I was a kid, our TV was a big wooden box on four legs with an on-off switch, a volume control, and big fat dial to change channels--all twelve of them. There was also a secret panel that no one but my father was allowed to touch. That opened to reveal a row of smaller knobs controlling such esoteric details as color, tint, tone, light, dark, etc.
Ask anyone in my family, and they'll probably tell you the TV picture was always just fine . . . until father decided to sit down and watch. Suddenly the color was way off. Only he could see that the people on the screen were either (a) suffering from severe jaundice; (b) glowing green as if exposed to radiation; or (c) about to lose consciousness because their skin tone was somewhere between blue and purple.
My father would get up out of his recliner, march across the living room to the TV, squat down and open that secret panel, and start fiddling with the knobs. For a good five minutes, no one could see the screen or more importantly, the set-up of the movie being watched, while he turned knobs this way and that and grumbled, "Why don't they show me a face already, so I can adjust the flesh tone?" Eventually, he'd get an actor's face and make the adjustment, then return to his recliner.
A few minutes later, he'd get up and beat another path to the TV's secret control panel. "It still isn't right," he'd assert. "Those faces look just a little too pink."
Would you believe I wound up marrying a man just like my father?
Today, Mr. Lucky and I have a much larger TV that takes pride of place in a huge entertainment center along one wall of the family room. Like an intensive care patient on life support, it's hooked up to all sorts of fancy, expensive electronic gadgets that blink and glow and sport scores of buttons and switches, most of which I'm told never to touch because it might cause an explosion that would blow out the speakers and send me flying into the opposite wall.
Whether I watch TV, a DVD, or just listen to music, I don't need anything more than an on-off switch and a volume control. Hit the play button, give me a picture and sound, and I'm happy.
When I was a single girl, I had a compact stereo system that fit entirely on the top of my steamer trunk, speakers included. I had only to hit the power switch, put on a record or turn on the radio, and voila! I had music. I was happy. I never felt like ripping out all the cords and smashing the equipment with a sledgehammer. Life was simpler then.
Now it seems as if every time I want to listen to a CD or watch a DVD, I need my husband to push all the required buttons in the proper sequence for me. If he's not at home, then I have to do what Homer Simpson did when the nuclear power plant was in danger of meltdown--push buttons and flip switches at random, going "eenie-meenie-minie-moe" until I get lucky (or "succeed despite idiocy" as they say about Homer). It's almost like trying to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile. All we need is a red phone with a direct link to the Oval Office, and a pair of keys that my husband and I have to turn at the same time.
Once I do figure it out, I sit down, relax and enjoy . . . until Mr. Lucky comes in, looks in dismay at the entertainment center, and says the words that always make my heart drop like an anchor: "Oh, this isn't right at all. Where's the remote?"
"It's fine!" I exclaim.
"No, it's not. You simply have no sense of great sound, no sense of the visual. I'm going to fix it. What did you do with the remote?"
"The sound is fine. The picture is fine. You don't even like this movie! I specifically selected it in hopes you wouldn't bother me about the sound or the color."
"I may not like this movie, but it's the principle of the thing." Remote in hand, he aims it at the entertainment center and starts pushing buttons. A menu drops down on the TV screen, completely blocking my view of Colin Firth and thereby violating my human rights. The sound goes in and out. At one point Mr. Lucky will hit the wrong button and switch the TV to one of the shopping channels. Every once in a while the menu will disappear, allowing me to see Colin who looks perfectly healthy to me, but my husband insists he looks near death.
"That's because he's about to fly his plane into Ralph Fiennes!" I protest.
But my protests are for naught. Down comes the menu again. Finally my husband pushes the exit button, proclaims, "That's better," puts down the remote, and leaves me fuming. Meanwhile, I've just missed half the movie and can't for the life of me see or hear the difference in what he did.
It's much the same when we sit down to watch a DVD together. He insists on fast-forwarding through all the previews, then when the main feature begins--so do the adjustments. Menus drop down, pictures flash on and off, sound goes in and out. He trots back and forth between the speakers, putting his ear to them, tilting them this way and that, reaching behind them to toy with the plugs and cords.
Then he wants to turn out all the lights so it'll feel like "a real theater." I argue that it's already enough like a real theater, what with the floor all sticky and covered with trash, and the screaming little kid who keeps kicking my seat and throwing popcorn everywhere. All that's missing--besides the punk with the laser pointer up in the balcony--is the party of ten people (not including the two dozen kids and babies they invariably bring with them even though it's an R movie), who come in twenty minutes after the movie begins, and ALWAYS take the row of seats either in front of us or behind us.
After all that, Mr. Lucky is worn out, and ends up falling asleep before the movie is over.
I seem to recall my dad usually did, too.