Back in the days of televisions with "rabbit ears," it was my job to operate the fractious TV set at the far end of the Jowers living room. As the designated knob turner, I was in charge of getting a viewable picture on the TV screen and keeping it there. It was up to me to twiddle the dials until the horizontal and diagonal lines stopped jumping all over the screen.
When my daddy Jabo walked into the living room on a Saturday morning, he wanted Soul Train playing on the TV, and he wanted it in a hurry, with no defects. Lucky for me, I had a steady hand, and I could make the TV behave.
I think the happiest day in Jabo's life was the day that Bonanza showed up in color. It wasn't long before remote control clickers took over most of the tedious jobs of knob twiddling and rabbit-ear adjusting. After a little practice, I could ensure that Bonanza's TV skies were blue, Little Joe's jacket and the Ponderosa pine trees were green and the dirt was, well, the color of dirt.
These days, at the current Jowers house, daughter Jess has taken charge of all the screens — cell phone screens, television screens, computer screens, iPod and iPad screens, and all gizmos that glow. And don't you know, she has made it abundantly clear that I, the original Jowers keeper of the TV, am not nearly smart enough to keep our 21st century TVs functioning as intended.
For instance, I asked Jess how to activate on-demand television shows.
"On-demand shows are in the past," she explained. "They've already run. You can find them and re-watch them, but all they do is show you the stuff you already watched — or could watch."
"So," I said, "when it comes to modern-day TV, there's some time travel involved. Am I right?"
"Don't beat up your brain," Jess said. "You click, you find a show from the past, you watch a show from the past."
"Well," I said, "How about future shows? Last time I checked, there's no way to go forward in time."
Jess explained, "The guide is the future. You can't catch up to the shows in the guide, at least until they've been produced and are ready to air."
"So I'm sitting here in an invisible cosmic swing, very likely too close to a black hole, and I'm caught between the past and the future," I said. "I don't want to go to the past. There are parts I don't want to run up against. Funerals and such."
"Well then," Jess said, "watch Bob Ross, the fuzzy-haired painter who Mom thinks is named Titanium White. That show is harmless."
"I think he's got a brother named Phthalo Blue," I said. "You knew that, didn't you?"
"I know you made it up," Jess answered.
A few minutes later, daughter Jess ditched the real-time TV shows, started recording shows from the past, then started working feverishly to collect shows from the future.
"Back when I was a kid," I said, "every school-age child was expected to walk into the TV room in the evening and start pushing buttons and twisting dials, to ensure that the TV screen was watchable for the whole family. It was all part of kids' chores, like sweeping the floors, feeding the chickens, washing the dishes and scaling the fishes."
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