As a result of a recent stomach operation (no, not getting it stapled), I found myself unexpectedly at home for a few weeks. Until I recovered, under doctor’s orders, I was not allowed to lift anything heavy. I shuffled around stooped over like the world’s oldest, and most feeble, man.
The worst part wasn’t the physical discomfort. The worst part was trying to find a way to occupy myself. For the past 25 or so years, most of time at home has been spent either hammering and sawing away at home repair projects or using a crowbar to pull apart earlier home repair projects that didn’t turn out so well. I can’t stare at a wall without wondering whether it’s load-bearing or not.
The first option was the boob tube. What I found, though, is that TV during the weekday is, if this even possible, stupider than TV at night. It’s as if TV programmers have decided people at home during the day are too stupid to care what they watch.
And it gets dumber by the minute. At 7 a.m., the time I usually leave for work, the “Today” show is all about major news, with updates from the nation’s capital and the Middle East. At 8 a.m., the top stories are trending topics on Twitter and recipes for meatballs. At 9 a.m., there’s no news at all, just the anchors sitting around a table chatting. At 10, it devolves into two women sitting at a desk drinking wine and laughing uncontrollably. Anyone who drinks wine at 10 a.m. probably ought to keep that on the down low.
After that, I had a choice of talk shows where people who had nothing to talk about talk anyway, a show where good-looking doctors in scrubs told me to eat plenty of fiber, and “Judge Judy,” a show where two incredibly inarticulate people line up in front of one incredibly impatient and unpleasant lady in a robe. She barks at them for five minutes, telling them how dumb they are, then bangs a gavel.
Believe it or not, there are still a few soap operas on the air. The actors look as if nobody told them the ’80s ended a long time ago, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them fell asleep in mid-scene. The game shows I remember from my childhood are gone, but I was shocked to find that “The Price Is Right” is still on the air with contestants still dressing up as Raggedy Ann dolls. It was as if Darwinism had stalled, then slowed, then started running in reverse.
The commercials were even worse. Ads during the day are depressing. Every other one asked if I had been hurt in an accident or experienced pain and suffering as a result of a defective medical device. (If so, a payday was right around the corner!) In between, there were constant commercials where Fonzie, now looking like a kindly grandfather, told me in soothing tones that I could pay my bills if I would just consider a reverse mortgage.
I switched to cable news but soon learned the secret: There actually isn’t enough going on in the world to support a 24/7 news operation. It’s just the same three or four stories over and over again, interspersed with “experts” (translation: people without real jobs).
Discouraged, I pulled out my laptop. Facebook is different for each person because you see only what your friends post. I seem to be friends with a whole lot of people who post links to videos. Most of them are inspirational (Wait until you see what happens when this old lady needs help crossing the street!) or are cute as all get out, featuring babies, dogs or cats in some combination -- dogs looking sheepish when they get caught tearing up things around the house, cats getting stuck in cookie jars, and babies falling asleep in high chairs. Sometimes, there are babies who babble in baby talk to sheepish dogs or cuddling with kittens. Those friends who weren’t posting baby/dog/cat videos were taking quizzes telling them which Harry Potter character they should be or which “Golden Girl” they most resemble. If all else failed, I could accept one of dozens of invitations to play “Candy Crush.”
I could feel myself getting dumber and dumber with each passing minute. I knew I was in trouble when I found myself choking back tears at a video of a bride singing a love ballad to her groom as she walked the aisle.
Two weeks in, I was begging to be able to go back to work before I slipped into an irreversible coma. It was either that or pursue Plan B: Start drinking at breakfast, fake an injury and get the Fonz to hook me up with a reverse mortgage.
Peter McKay is a longtime Ben Avon resident and syndicated columnist. He can be reached at his website, www.peter-mckay.com.