Watching TV for Dummies
by Patricia Draznin

My husband and I just upgraded our old VCR to a DVD player. (Wait for applause to subside). Now we’re the proud owners of a supercharged Hi-Fi DVD Player/Video Cassette Recorder that we will certainly master long after it’s declared obsolete, which is scheduled for next Wednesday at 3:00 pm.

Navigating digital apparatus is daunting for an electronic wimp like me who is still mastering our blender. Ideally, SONY should have included a technical support person along with the auxiliary cables. Lucky for us, our good friend Scott speaks fluent digital. Scott kindly hooked up our new equipment and demonstrated how to play DVDs and videos, which looked ridiculously simple while he was doing it. But later that night when I needed my fix of HBO, I discovered that the remote was still parked in DVD mode. And navigating it back to TV was as likely as finding seven channels worth watching. So I called Scott. And all I can say is, only a wild and crazy friend would make a digital house call at midnight. But being a sensible man, Scott suggested I call back in the morning. LATE morning.

So I did what any intelligent person would have done. I pressed every button on the remote until I hit TV mode, a button I have yet to locate again. And watching the channel guide reappear on the screen, I vowed never to use the DVD or video player again, lest I be forever deprived of The Sopranos. Until the following day when my husband asked me to tape the presidential debates and I realized that we needed our DVD/VCR after all. But remembering how to record was as likely as finding twelve channels worth watching.

So I did what any intelligent person would have done. I pressed every button in the room until both the TV debates and the VCR were running, as well as three floor lamps, a ceiling fan, and an ionizer. Then I pressed record—and—omigosh—it was recording. Sadly, the playback showed only a soundless capture of wavy verticals, making it more challenging than usual to distinguish between the Democrats and the Republicans.

I was in digital despair. And Scott had neglected to give me his new unpublished phone number. So I did what any intelligent person would have done. As a last resort, I opened the operating manual. And there it was, right in the Table of Contents, after Warning, General Warning, Important Safety Warnings, Additional Warnings, and Why You Shouldn’t Have Purchased This Equipment If You’re an Electronic Wimp: “Setting up your VCR Plus+® System,” pages 12-18, 31-36, 45-57. Really. I just want to record the show, not produce it. Surely this fine overpriced equipment could behave like the original, which now sits in our closet whimpering beside the eight-track.

So I searched the VCR section for instructions on how to push the record button. But all I could find were the virtues of PlusCodes, some alleged nine-digit numbers assigned to every TV broadcast which, when programmed into the remote via eight simple steps, would allow me to record the show. And these hundreds of codes were readily available—no, not in the manual; that would have been too logical—in TV Guide, which I don’t subscribe to. Suddenly I felt really drowsy and in need of a nap. And as I was dozing off and dreaming of PlusCodes as the definitive cure for insomnia, I remembered we have a friend named Ray who speaks fluent analog and probably knows how to reconnect our old VCR.

Copyright 2004 Patricia Draznin


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