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The lost vacation

Aug 26, 2002  •  Post A Comment

This was going to be a real vacation; i.e., no TV. Such was my vow. A lifetime of vow-breaking, however, told me that it wouldn’t be easy. I would be tempted. I would be entreated. I would hear the siren song in the night-Connie Chung doing an interview on CNN, Robert Osborne introducing an old Preston Sturges movie on TCM, Ted Koppel pumping a congressman on ABC, that fat guy with the beard selling cleanser made from orange peels on-well, you name it. That screaming idiot is on all the networks all the time.
And I’m not even that big a fan of Preston Sturges. Of course Connie Chung is something else again-that Circe, that temptress, that bedevil’r of men’s souls! Not to mention (though we will) all the other minor myriad enticements: The Game Show Channel and its mercilessly beckoning “Hollywood Squares” reruns-with Paul Lynde miraculously resurrected and presiding again from the center cubicle! The fellow on PBS who tells you a spittoon you found in the attic is worth four grand. The husband and wife who get cozy with crocodiles on cable. Martin Short as Jiminy Glick. Quick-click!
Absolutely not. Positively not. I wasn’t giving in to any of them. I was going to be on Martha’s Vineyard with good friends and my beautiful brilliant godchildren and 10 million spiders and I was not going to succumb, not even if Mel Brooks, Totie Fields and Soupy Sales turned up in Squares adjoining Lynde’s. And it’s been known to happen.
I remembered that old “Twilight Zone” about the compulsive gambler who finally tears himself away from the casino and goes back upstairs to his hotel room and-and darned if one of them slot machines doesn’t follow him, a-blinkin’ and a-clinkin’ and beckoning him back. “Play me, play me.” “Watch me, watch me.”
TV was a bottle of rye and I-I was Ray Milland.
No cable, no problem
Lucky break: It turns out the house we rented had a clunky old 19-incher with no cable and only five or six channels and two of those were in Spanish. Hey, no problemo! I could do the time standing on my head. I wasn’t going to have the TV dt’s. I wasn’t going to see bats eating mice in holes in the wall.
But-what if there were withdrawal symptoms? What if I looked at my friend Jim and imagined a coconut conking him on the head, and started calling him Gilligan?! Or even “little buddy”?! What if I woke up in the middle of the night shrieking in agony for a Top Ten fix? Or was even willing to settle for one of those lame “Jaywalking” bits?!
Pish tosh. Splish splash. None of that happened, nor anything like it.
One day without television: I felt sorta funny. Two days without television: I felt slightly tipsy. Three days without television: I felt a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll. Four days without television: Nirvana, and I don’t mean visions of Kurt Cobain shooting up. My mind was clear, not numb. The air seemed sweeter-or at least I started noticing there is such a thing as air. Also a sky, and trees, and grass, and good clean dirt, and that terribly civilized human invention, The Morning Paper.
It really told me all I needed to know and more than I wanted to know. I was in no danger of Media Intake Overload (MIO). My sensory receptors were at peace. I was taking information manually, not intravenously. And loving it. It felt wonderful.
Those headaches, those dizzy spells, those spots before my eyes? All those things went away once I escaped the torture of the ticker-tape news crawl. Man was not meant to live by bread alone, no, but even more, he was not meant to look at a moving picture up here and simultaneously read a running news wire down there.
Life seemed not empty, but fuller. There were things to do, people to meet, books to read. There were chicks, just right for some kissin’, and I meant to kiss me a few. Why those chicks, don’t know what they’re missin’! There was such a lot of livin’ to do!
And g’s to drop! To be replaced with apostrophes!
Suddenly, nothing was virtual. Everything was real: a breeze, the squawk of a sea gull, a sunset, a sunrise (well, I had to take it on faith about the sunrises), roasted chicken, lobsters in a pot, spider bites. There is something to be said for actual, tangible, primal experience. It ages you, yes, but it has compensating rewards. You’re overcome with this pleasantly weird sensation known as existing.
The list of things I didn’t miss, had I made one, would have been nearly endless. “Dog Eat Dog” promos. “Fear Factor” promos. “Spy TV” promos. “Dateline” promos. “Rerun Show” promos. “Meet My Folks” promos. “Law & Order” promos. “Crime & Punishment” promos. To boil it down to five little letters: N-O-N-B-C. That made it all worth it right there. And close behind: N-O-M-T-V.
I am not one of those silly children of the ’60s who thinks TV is “bad” for you and eats macrobiotic vegetables and mourns the day Dylan went from acoustic to electric and all that other baloney. Few things irritate me more than the sanctimonious self-promoters who each year sponsor “Turn Off the TV” week and mindlessly urge their fellow Americans to disconnect the set even if we are in the middle of a war on terrorism and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” has returned for a new season and Mary Hart just got a new hairdo not that there was anything wrong with the old one. I love TV. I’d better. And I balk at meaningless organized “protests” that presume to attach sinister satanic overtones to a device that has brought me so much joy and pleasure and mere companionship.
Serenity Now
I love George Will on Sunday mornings and Mike Wallace on Sunday evenings and Dan Rather Mondays through Fridays and Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey on Saturday nights. These people are doing their parts to make the world a little less threatening and in their own way battling insanity. But-if only to appreciate the good stuff all the more-every now and then you’ve got to turn it off, got to seek peace, got to look at the world without a sheet of glass between it and you, got to get real (or at least get more realistically fake), got to partake of a little Serenity Now.
Just think, I went seven days-maybe even eight or nine-without a single “Seinfeld” rerun. And I’m OK! I made it! All my working parts are working as well as they did before my vacation-which is to say not very well, but still in there turning and churning and ticking and clicking. Why, I feel like Scrooge on Christmas morning-awake and alive and “light as a feather.” OK, a very heavy feather. But still. And yet. Even so. Being that as it may.
My godchildren made it, too. No Nickelodeon or Disney, no “Boy Meets World” or Mary-Kate and Ashley or Bob the Builder or even a SpongeBob SquarePants. Yes, I admit it, I missed SpongeBob more than they did. But they were busy with sand and sea and rocks and friends and books and games and making things up for themselves. They never once expressed a longing for television. They never pined for a cartoon. They never wondered what Lizzie McGuire was up to. Yessir, the kids are all right.
So are the adults.
Made it, ma. Top of the world!