Southern Views
The recession demanded it.

The damn thing just pounded its iron fist on the table and said “Give it up, dammit!”

Nonetheless it was a sad occasion. I’d looked forward to the monthly game of deciding whether to buy groceries or pay unconscionable prices for Cable-TV being piped into the house. Lately Cable-TV has become little more than ambient, background noise provided by what surely must be scripted reality shows, televangelists dressed in sheep’s clothing and  infomercials telling me that “Individual Results May Vary”.

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That I could still play a shell game with cable-TV as one of the players was my own litmus test, a barometer of how well I was doing. Warren Buffett has his own measuring stick. Cable was mine, plebian and superfical though it might be. The game was immensely amusing and I was always interested in seeing how things turned out myself. On a more than a few occasions, cable won. It had a laudable record too. The crisis developed when the others got wind of the proceedings and insisted upon their own seat at the table.

“Why choose cable as your barometer … your so-called litmus test”, one said dersively.  “Why not one of the rest of us? We’re all the recession, ya know.”

“He’s exciting. Besides he brings The Golf Channel, MLB and all of the other games with him. Sometimes he even shows up with pretty women.”

“Look buddy boy, you’re forcing our hand. We didn’t want to do it this way, but you’re delusional. This is an intervention”

“Wha …?!

“It’s for your own good. We’re the ones, who feed and clothe you  … and you’re in no shape to keep all of us. You’re just barely employed. Just barely hanging on. Get rid of the cable or else you never receive our services again. ”

“You can’t be serious.”

“We assure you that we are. If you want to eat, take a shower, or have air conditioning this summer, do it. Now!”

Then the fist pounding started. Thus, last week, I overthrew the cable. Got rid of it … threw it out with the garbage as if it were forgotten leftovers.

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The consolation prize of overthrowing the cable is a retrograde return to FREE-TV.  You’ve no doubt heard of FREE–TV. It has origins in the Pleistocene Age of broadcasting, a time when all TV programs were transmitted via the air in the same manner as the common cold, rumor, gossip, innuendo and house flies.

Of course, as with almost anything labeled as such, “FREE-TV” is not without baggage. The picture quality was very often fuzzy, the sound choppy, and the actual programming often devoid of plausibility. Signal clarity, say in Atlanta, Georgia,  was highly dependent upon factors such as the absence of airplane flyovers, the complete cessation of any kind of physical movement inside the TV room itself, what our next door neighbors were having for dinner and wind gusts in the Aleutians. Sometimes it was a big accomplishment to get any TV reception at all.

During the days before cable (“B.C.”), the best way of getting TV reception was with the use of “rabbit ears”, one of the worst outcomes of the 1950’s along with Mickey Mouse ears, McCarthyism and the Edsel. Rabbit ears were the electronic equivalent of fishing rods. They snagged, from the air, any TV signals that happen to be passing through the neighborhood on their way somewhere else.

In the same way as angling for fish or the opposite sex, attracting TV signals was delicate, nuanced — and decidedly random.  As with fish or the opposite sex, some kind of bait was often helpful.  Dabbing the tips of the rabbit ears with Fire Engine Red nail polish was effective for some households. In my own neighborhood,  dipping the rabbit ears in Freako’s Bar-Be-Que sauce produced amazing picture clarity.

Good television  reception was also dependent upon the time of day, the angle of the sun, and the proper alignment of the three Outer planets of the Solar System.  At my house, rabbit ears had to face 37 degrees and 22 seconds and 35 arc seconds north by northeast from the azimuth, assuming that the wind was blowing at less than 12.6 miles per hour. You get the picture.  (Well, sometimes you didn’t get the picture.)

On occasion, getting a picture on the ol’ Admiral or the Philco meant talking, cajoling — or threatening — another household member into grabbing  the base of the antenna while standing on their head and holding the rabbit ears pointed in the right direction with their left foot or some such. Even after all of these machinations, the outcome was never guaranteed.

“Individual Results May Vary”, we all learned.

For a very long time, FREE-TV was all that we had. In those days, not paying for electronic entertainment was our birthright,  like clean restrooms on the highway or toilets anywhere. Of course, just as the whole country had gotten use to the idea of FREE-TV as well as finally figuring out how to work the rabbit’s ears, somebody got the bright idea to run TV signals through a wire instead of through the ether. They then went about the land convincing people that the world would be a much better place if we paid for what we heretofore had gotten for free. It was about this same time that somebody had the same idea with tap water: put it in bottles, market it as “pure spring water” and conning the public that it was healthier, more romantic and therefore worth paying for.”

Paying for stuff that heretofore was free, or nearly so, became the rage.  Pretty soon businesses flocked to the idea of pay–toilets, the elimination of free checking accounts, and charging $4.95 for a fifty cents cup of coffee.

I now pray that the guy out there somewhere, who’s mulling over the re-packaging of air,  will be kidnapped, detained forever in Iran, or worse, stuck in line at one of those diversity job fairs.

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As with any kind of revolution or overthrow, regime change is not without its hazards … its own uncertainties. Present day FREE-TV viewing is still the video equivalent of riding a roller coaster with no seat belt. Similar to its predecessor of the 1950’s and 60’s, present day FREE-TV produces a telecast that has holes in it in terms of both sight and sound.  The enjoyment of the sport still requires the absence of airplanes buzzing overhead, no physical movement by persons in the room, and calm winds in the Falkland Islands.

Thus my old rabbit ears have been pressed into service — out of the closet as it were. And while the picture quality is still not nearly as good as on the cable, I am no longer required to write an exorbitant monthly check to those folks over at Bombcast.

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Of late, my “thirty-somethingish” neighbor, who lives three doors down, has been laid off his job. (I knew that the recession was not over.) If it is a lengthy lay-off, he is sure to overthrow the cable.  The recession will likely demand it. Not being a Baby Boomer, he has no clue as to how to do the dance with rabbit ears — if he even knows what they are.

Being the neighborly sort,  I think that I’ll go down and console him … give him a gentle welcome him to the Recession Club,  as it were. I’ll take him a beer, a Red Stripe. I’ve got an extra set of rabbit ears. He may soon need them. I can perhaps train him in the nuances of rabbit ear use. I wonder if his wife or kid can be trained to stand on their head and hold the rabbit ears with their feet?

Of course, I hope he understands that “Individual Results May Vary”.

©Copyright 2011 Will Cantrell

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Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell

Will Cantrell (a pseudonym) is a writer, storyteller, and explorer of the milieu of everyday life. An aging Baby Boomer, a Georgia Tech grad, and a retired banker, Cantrell regularly chronicles what he swears are 'mostly true'  'everyman' adventures. Of late, he's written about haircuts, computer viruses, Polar Vortexes, identity theft, ketchup, doppelgangers, bifocals, ‘Streetification’, cursive handwriting, planning his own funeral and other gnarly things that caused him to scratch his head in an increasingly more and more crazy-ass world.   As for Will himself, the legend is at an early age he wandered South, got lost, and like most other self-respecting males, was loathe to ask for directions. The best solution, young Will mused, “was just to stay put”. All these years later, he still hasn't found his way but remains  a son of the New South. He was recently sighted somewhere close to I-285, lost, bumfuzzled and mumbling something about “...writing' his way home.” Of course, there are a lot of folks who think that “Cantrell ain't wrapped too tight” but hope that he keeps writing about his adventures as he finds his way back to the main highway.