When I was a kid, computers were the size of apartment buildings, and there were, like, four fuzzy channels making their way through the air to our little black and white TV set. Most Americans got their information and entertainment primarily from radio (no, not satellite) and newspapers (remember them?).
(My earliest memory of television’s impact on my life was having my bedtime moved all the way back to 7:30 one day a week so I could watch Whirlybirds, a show about a guy who owned a helicopter company and was hired for all sorts of daring jobs and rescues … sort of like a Charlie Sheen publicist but with vertical takeoffs.)
More than half a century later, TV is still changing my life … and determining my bedtime.
We got a second DVR recently, and my wife, Goggy, and I are apparently better off for it. (Just having two TVs doesn’t create the same dynamic … there has to be something you want to watch on the one without a DVR.)
Now I don’t have to watch The Biggest Loser or The Bachelorette … and she doesn’t have to yell “Shut up!” when I mention that I wouldn’t mind if the plane carrying the cast to the next romantic locale plunged into the sea. And she isn’t forced to flip through a magazine during documentaries on the History Channel—she calls it the “Hitler Channel”—or Dodger games … that belong on the Hitless Channel.
So I watch a defeated German army freezing in the Stalingrad and the vanquished Dodgers stranding men on base in Philadelphia. And she watches boring fat people and loathsome self-absorbed people ... or at least that’s how I saw it ... before I never had to watch it again, anyway.
But DVRs have freed up several hours a week, allowing me to expand my constructive pursuits … OK, recording shows lets me to go bed a couple hours earlier.
Still, it’s a new commercial-free, time-travel life abounding with once unthought-of liberties. And rule No. 1 is don’t watch anything in real time. With a recording, you’re God.
Don’t like the way the Lakers are playing at the end of the third quarter? Fast-forward to the start of the fourth. Still losing big? Move ahead to the final five minutes, a point at which there is at least a half-hour of free throws, timeouts, inane commentary and commercials before the final buzzer. That’s when I decide whether to just hit erase and go to bed … sometimes it’s not worth the aggravation even to speed through.
(How much would you pay for one of these if they worked in real life? Saturday traffic school? Fast-forward to the scare film of a crash victim being freed by the Jaws of Life … then the guy sleeping next to you with Doritos stuck on his cheek … then the instructor saying, “Don’t text and drive,” … and—voilà!— it’s time to go home and congratulate yourself on all the money you’re going to save on car insurance.)
Even if you can’t fast-forward your life until your boss retires, DVRs are still a boon for sports fans … at least my kind of sports fan. Did you know you can watch every single pitch of a 3½-hour baseball game in less than an hour with a deft fast-forward-button finger and a little practice?
If the Dodgers are playing on the West Coast, I turn on the TV about 8 and finger my way through the first hour of the game in about 15 minutes. When I catch up to real time, I start a recorded Military Channel show with two World War II fighter pilot aces—Germany’s Lieutenant-General Günther Rall and American Capt. Joseph Powers—sitting in Powers' Costa Mesa backyard and discussing an air battle they only recently discovered involved each other.
“You shot off my thumb!” the German tells his host, holding up his disfigured hand and laughing. Powers manages an awkward chuckle.
(Sorry, but this stuff is fascinating … watching people blubber because they didn’t lose enough blubber is not.)
When the fun in Costa Mesa is over, it’s back to the Dodgers. (You want reality? Now we’re talking about the real biggest losers.)
They miss no opportunity to discover new pathways to futility: Bases loaded, nobody out and still fail to score? That’s easy. Pop out. Strikeout. Fly out to the warning track. But when it all happens in less than a minute, it’s much less agonizing.
Meanwhile, Goggy’s in the other room with House Hunters International, trying to guess which vacation home in Aruba the couple from Michigan is going to buy. The fixer-upper with the caved-in porch near the beach? The house with spectacular views … well from the bathroom, at least? Or the move-in ready one that’s right on the beach but—surprise, surprise—$40,000 over budget?
Later, she’ll be amazed to learn that the Food Network's Paula Deen has come up with yet another creative use for gobs of butter.
(Columnist’s note: Please, no solicitations from marriage counselors. Mr. and Mrs. Idle are master communicators, regularly engaging in all forms of intercourse … well, daily phone calls, texts and emails, anyway. And every evening we have a tête-à-tête over a glass of pinot noir … OK, I do most of the talking … and, yeah, most of the drinking.)
About this column: John Weyler has lived in Orange County for almost 50 years. His weekly regional columns offer his unique, and often irreverent, take on life in the O.C.