Ask Not What Television Can Do For You
Or at least that's what I was thinking when I found the dead rat.
A few weeks ago, burly workmen arrived carrying the new couch my wife and I had ordered. Its appearance was the result of an extensive, exhaustive search -- long hours spent suffering through the minutiae of multi-person leisure furniture, researching the historical importance and impact of each of our options: the features of the futon, the substance of the settee, the characteristics of the chaise. We spent more time birthing this sofa than our children.
We knew we wanted something to watch TV from, and we knew we wanted to be as inert as possible while we did it. Our old sofa actually required the use of neck muscles to keep our heads from nodding forward, and we were going to learn from that mistake.
After the sofa was pushed against the wall and the plastic wrapping was stripped away and the "Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law" tags were removed, we edged up to our new home-within-a-home, turned, and planted our asses on it with all the grace that the word "plant" implies. And then, in that instant, we knew -- we knew -- we had found exactly what we were looking for. Clouds parted and angels trumpeted and we had forged our own little slice of visual spectrum heaven: an honest-to-God La-Z-Boy sofa, with dual spring-loaded, integrated, independent footrests and wall-flush full reclinability. Without the gimmicky distractions of a built-in refrigerator or an Internet connection -- my wife wouldn't let me get them -- this baby was fertile potato field, a high-tech command chair for commanders who happen to fall asleep during The Daily Show. Oh, yes.
The only problem was, it was on the wrong damned wall.
The cable outlet was against the west wall, meaning the couch was against the east wall, meaning that there was no way to actually squeeze our unplanted asses out the sliding glass door against the north wall. Normally, access to the outside world wouldn't be a big concern -- Chinese food is delivered by the front door, not the back -- but sealing off the yard meant that the dog would eventually starve, and probably do a lot of distracting barking in the meantime. And so, armed with a drill, a measuring tape and fifty feet of coax, I slid the parts of me that would fit under the eighteen inches that my house hovers off the ground and began to crawl.
The underside of a house is a world unto itself, populated by piping and duct work and inconveniently-placed floor supports and a fine, dark dust that turns to mud at the slightest contact with sweat and gets up your nose and into your lungs and down the front of your pants. I plowed a trough through the muck, grit coating my teeth, my tongue, my eyes, and found the spot under the east wall where the cable outlet of my dreams belonged. I drilled a hole in the floor and fed the coax up through it and into a junction box I had put into the wall earlier. Gathering my tools, I trudged on, trailing cable behind me. The splitter was on the other side of the house and I had a lot of winding, turning, vent-avoiding crawling to do.
Halfway there, of course, I found the rat.
God knows how long it had been down there. It wasn't so much a body as a white, desiccated shell, still held in rat-shape by the mysteries of nature. Half-buried in the dust, I was almost on it, over it, when I saw its beady little lack-of-eyes staring up at me.
And it all came collapsing in. What the hell was I doing down here? What the hell? Was I insane? Soaked, dirtied, sore, bent, under an expensive new couch, and face to face with the corpse of an animal that, if The X-Files is any indication, has the distinct possibility of suddenly coming to life and eating my face. And for what? Television? For sixty or seventy channels of crap? For more of my precious youth, pissed away? For the numbing, narcotizing slow death that is modern American televised entertainment?
Good God, was all of this worth it?
Of course. Don't be stupid. I went around the rat, hooked up the cable and, dude, it's awesome.
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