Friday, July 10, 2009

Back When TV Went Off for the Night

I got a puzzling direct message on Twitter from a writer friend named Allan the other day. He said: Karen, send me one of those Erma Bombeck pieces (300-400 words). I want to run it by someone.

I kind of knew what he was talking about. Most of my published personal essays are humorous in nature, and Allan has flattered me in the past by comparing my work to Erma Bombeck. So, he obviously wanted me to send him one of my shorter humorous pieces. Still, what's up with running it by someone? Hmmm.....

I went ahead and emailed something that had appeared in the Christian Science Monitor a few years back. It was 400 words, per Allan's instructions. I haven't heard back, so I have no idea how the running it by went.

Allan's a mystery writer, the author of Crossing the Centerline, so I guess he's just being mysterious. I hope I find out the backstory behind his request eventually.

In the meantime, here's the essay I sent him--a rerun from about five years ago, judging by my son's age at the time.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


BACK WHEN THERE REALLY WAS NOTHING GOOD ON TV

By Karen McQuestion


Today I mentioned to my 16-year-old son that hearing "The Star-Spangled Banner" always made me think of going to bed, since that's the song they used to play right before TV went off.
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Charlie was puzzled. "When TV went off?" he asked. I didn't realize I'd made an obscure historical reference. He listened skeptically while I explained that television hadn't always been on 24 hours a day, that at one time it came to a halt every night around midnight
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"They'd show the American flag," I explained, "play the national anthem, and an announcer would say, 'This concludes our regular programming.' "
~
Charlie didn't say anything for a moment. "Then they showed infomercials?" he asked.
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"Well, no," I said, wondering why this was such a hard concept to grasp. "Then there was nothing. TV was off for the night."
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He looked so incredulous I started to feel as though I was making the whole thing up.
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"So what was on the screen then?" His tone was challenging.
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I searched my brain for an accurate answer. I didn't want him Googling the topic later and proving me wrong. "A test pattern, I think, for a few minutes. Then just static and snow." From there the conversation took another turn when I described the purpose of a test pattern.
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"So you had to adjust the color?" he asked.
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"Yeah, there were these knobs for color and focusing, and you used the test pattern as a reference to calibrate it all. I really can't remember how it worked," I said apologetically. "It's been a long time.
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The expression on his face reminded me of how I felt as a kid when my father spontaneously serenaded the family with the "Chiquita Banana" song. "Okay, then," Charlie said, patting my shoulder. "Thanks for sharing."
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"You sound like you don't believe me," I said. "Ask your dad. Ask your teachers. Well, your older teachers, anyway." (At the last open house I'd caught several of the faculty looking suspiciously young.)
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"I believe you," he said slowly. "Although it is funny this is the first I've heard of it." Then, before I could make a case for myself, his sister yelled from the next room that he'd gotten a phone call, and he left to answer it.
~
He thinks this is over, but I'm here to say I'm not done with this discussion.
~
Tomorrow's topic: adjusting the rabbit ears.
###

5 comments:

Therese said...

One of my nieces came over to get help in researching a paper. As we were googling the topic, I said, "Clare, you sure are lucky. The internet didn't exist until I was out of grad school." She looked at me and asked incredulously, "What? How did you do research papers?" I told her, "The old fashioned way. We went to the library and used books."

Amazing how times have changed, isn't it?

Bill B said...

Yeah, I remember, oh, probably 15-20 years ago, when two of our children saw us pull a dial-type phone out of a box of "stuff." They stared blankly until Matt said, "hey, I think I know how to do this," and put a finger in the dial and moved it back & forth. Gees, I have a business card from my Dad that says, "Earl Bielby Real Estate, Telephone 11." And he was one of the double digit phone numbers!

Karen McQ. said...

Therese, you look way too young for that particular anecdote. But I hear you--when Greg bought his first computer people were astounded that we owned such a high tech thing. They couldn't even imagine what we'd do with it. And it wasn't much by today's standards. Hey, I had thought my electric typewriter was pretty cool...

Bill, ah the joy of the rotary dial phone! I have no personal memory of a double digit phone number, but I still have my childhood phone number memorized--"Hopkins 4-3695." My kindergarten teacher made us learn it in case we were ever lost and the fear of being missing forever sealed it into my brain. Meanwhile I've forgotten most everything else.

Bill B said...

RAndolf 8-2113 (party line with 3 other people).

Karen McQ. said...

Bill, you kill me.
And here I thought I had an exceptional memory...