Sunday, October 10, 1999

Confessions of a nouveau cable junkie




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        I never thought it would come to this. Books. I love books. And tennis. So why do I find myself parked in front of the television set? It's not as if I hadn't seen one before. Even though we're never the first ones on our block to get anything, we have had a TV for several decades.

        We just never had cable.

        We told ourselves we got it to improve reception. And we were more or less telling ourselves the truth. Did you know that Carol Williams is blond? (Maybe.) And that Clyde Gray is not? (Definitely.) I'm exaggerating. We could see them perfectly well if one of us held onto the rabbit ears.

Crisp images
        Now their images are crisp, but they are competing with Ricky Martin living La Vida Loca on MTV and Joan Rivers sniping at celebrity clothing when she is not hawking her own cheesy jewelry. Clyde and Carol are up against fabulous movies such as Swamp Thing, starring Adrienne Barbeau, and Smokey and the Bandit, which must be on some continuous cosmic loop because they are available somewhere, day or night.

        Like a gigantic lard sculpture with a remote control, I roam between the biography on A&E and the “true story” on E! One night they both featured Alfred Hitchcock. He was a genius on A&E and a pervert who looked up ladies' skirts on E!

        After hours of research, I'm beginning to get the hang of the two. A&E never has a bad word to say. E! never has a good one. I found out that Vivian Vance didn't love Lucy. No wonder. According to E!, every time Ethel lost a couple of pounds, Lucy made her put on an apron.

        I knew cable was replete with old movies and sitcom reruns, but nobody ever told me about the Animal Planet with Steve the crocodile hunter. And who can resist Pet Line, where this week you could learn the remedy for dogs who hog the bed? There's also something where they dress up guinea pigs in tiny clothes, but I saw that in the middle of the night, so I may be hallucinating.

        Howard Stern is really there, not a hallucination. But definitely a bad dream.

        And I haven't even mentioned community access, where you can hear soliloquies from city council members and see toddlers playing soccer. Or the Comedy Channel's Dead from New YorkIt's Saturday Night reruns.

Upgrade for couch potatoes
        I can't figure out the channels, which bear little relationship to the decoder card we were given by our cable company. So I am afraid while I'm watching a hysterectomy or Shark Attack Files on the Discovery Channel, I might be missing a bargain on Susan Lucci's hair care products somewhere else.

        And, of course, if I run out of good stuff to watch on my basic cable menu, I can always order up something special on a movie channel or pay-for-view. This month, for example, I am thinking of taking a look at a little-known classic called Orgazmo, a comedy about a Mormon who earns extra money by acting in porno films.

        It's dreck. It's probably destroying brain cells. But I can't put down my clicker. So far, there is no support group for people like us. But I am pleased to report that we have something even better.

        Our own furniture.

        La-Z-Boy has announced a new recliner with a built-in refrigerator under one of the armrests. The chair also has a 10-motor massage with heat and a “Trimstyle phone” with caller ID. I think we can know instinctively that the the phone will be the only thing on this chair that is trim.

        And indeed, the manufacturer reports that the seat is 41 inches wide.

        My friend Jan says this is just a phase, that I'll get over it. She says after I've stumbled into Howard Stern's show more than once or seen Lucy and the chocolates on the conveyor belt a couple of dozen times, I'll put away the clicker. I'll open a book. Go for a walk.

        Until then, I'm wondering how many cans of Slim Fast I can fit under the arm of my La-Z-Boy.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at laurapulfer@enquirer.com Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears on WVXU radio, NPR's Morning Edition and Insight's Northern Kentucky Magazine.