TV Skills Are Remote

I don’t watch much TV. I’d like to say this is because reality TV isn’t deep enough for me. Or “Friends” is too predictable. Or John McLaughlin offends me. But none of those high-minded reasons apply. The real truth is, I can’t work the remote.

Remotes, that is. We’re now up to four lined up in military order on the coffee table. I think there are a couple more under the couch cushion. They are all essential, my husband says, to the efficient running of the contents of our otherwise unimpressive “entertainment center.” Each one, it seems, works a different machine.

Every few months, we’ve had an orientation session. But recently, when several unexpected surgeries laid him up and made him a TV slave for weeks, Gadget Man had time to begin more serious remote control training. Starting, as usual, with the one marked “TV.”

“This one is just basic,” he explains once again, but now with pain-killer-induced patience. “All it does is turn on the TV and control the volume.” He hands over a sleek gray plastic control. It has 36 buttons, I notice. How basic is that?

“It changes channels, too.” I say.

“Nooooo!” he screeches, diving across the couch. (We’re near the three-hour point on pain-killer).

“Never change channels on this one. It always stays on 3. You use the cable remote to change channels.”

Without knowing it, he has summed up the problem. Every single remote claims to do every possible thing. The TV remote has all sorts of buttons that say they run a VCR and a DVD and something called a “theater,” as well as a V-Chip, a sleep timer and something called a “Hyper Sur.” I point this out, and Gadget Man squints.

“OK, he says. “There is a button to push on here if you want to watch DVDs, even though we also have a DVD remote, which I’m getting to in a minute.”

I reach for the little button under the red letters “DVD.”

“No!!!” he screeches again. (We’re near the four-hour point on the pain-killer). “Never change it to ‘DVD.’ “Just go to the little button under ‘Video 1.’ It’s marked ‘input’. And you can use it for the karaoke machine, too.”

With that piece of news, we move on to the cable remote, which has at least as many buttons for changing cable channels, which is allowed, but the thing to remember here is that you never push the number of the channel you want.

“Hit cable 7 for channel 34,” he says. “Look it up on the back of the TV guide. There’s a little chart.”

The cable box remote is not to be confused with the VCR remote, which he explains is capable — if I hit No. 5 — of programming the VCR to pick up certain shows during the day or night automatically.

“Don’t push 5!” he warns. “You stick with Play and Stop. And don’t even go near express programming.”

The order is possibly easy to follow since this remote, like the one for the TV, doesn’t label any button to say what it actually does. Nothing says “express programming.” I’m dying to the push the 5 button but am scared something terrible will happen. Maybe the gazebo will blow up in the neighbor’s backyard. I sit on my hands.

Finally, we go over the DVD remote, the newest in our electronic family of channel-changers. I like it. The power button is red. Oddly, it says “power.” Apparently pushing this red button will power up the DVD as long as the blue power button on the TV remote is on and the “input” button has been activated.

A few run-throughs and I’m pointing and clicking and remembering which channel is for the cable and whirring around DVDs. I remember this for about as long as I used to remember after a science test that PSBEWV stood for all the parts of a simple leaf.

“How about labeling them?” I ask, handing over a roll of masking tape and a ballpoint pen. “Just say what it works and what to push.”

Gadget Man rolls his eyes but begins to dictate VCR directions with the urgency of a dowager on her death bed bequeathing the family silver: “Press Power,” “Put Tape In,” “Fast Forward Past Preview,” “Press Play.”

Labels on every control, I am in business until one of our daughter’s high-tech friends turns one over and giggles.

“Oh, my gosh!” she says. “You’ve got to be kidding!”

Mysteriously, the labels vanish. Bits of adhesive say “Press” or “Play” but never what. No matter, I tell her. Who has time for TV? I’m much too busy with Shakespeare.

Copyright Pat Snyder 2003

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