Letting Go #9:
We bid a sad farewell on June 12 to our beloved black-and-white Panasonic television, the one that my husband received in 1976 as a freshman in college. It lived in the dorm room with him, and then numerous apartments, the duplex where I joined him, and through a succession of homes we either rented or owned up until its final stand in the kitchen of our present abode. And although we have bought and worn out many color TV’s of all shapes and sizes in our quest for total mindless electronic joy, and despite brief infatuations with the satellite and cable set ups that can still let you down in violent weather or a cable box encounter with a skidding car, the Panasonic always came through. The hard truth is that no matter how many thousands of channels you purchase in those tempting packages, you still can’t find anything to watch on Friday nights.
And what was so intriguing about the black-and-white was its reliability. Even in the most remote places (and we’ve lived in some) with the world’s worst reception, that TV could pull in something—and the service was free (as long as you had some electricity). Now, that’s not to say that we didn’t watch some trash on that little set, but there was always PBS, sometimes two stations if we were lucky, and performed some fancy dialing on the UHF knob with the finesse of a safe cracker. Granted, you had to drape the power cord on top of the set in delicate configuration just the right way, or make your significant other stand on the left foot while holding the UHF antenna in the right hand for long periods of time, but by golly, you could catch a little Red Green or Austin City Limits if the wind was blowing at the correct speed. My husband is proud of the fact that he viewed many Super Bowls on the Panasonic, an event that typically inspires grown men to spend massive amounts of moola on a big screen monster that requires one to watch from the next room so that the individual nose pores gain some perspective.
On my part, it was so convenient to scoop the little guy up and set him on the toilet seat while I soaked in the tub with a glass of wine and a cheese plate (proper safety grounding a priority, of course). That little television was always there for us in times of trouble, as well. It was the one we watched in our basement during the tornado warnings in Kansas, the one we were glued to when the earthquake hit San Francisco during the World Series, the one we should have listened to when we decided to stay in our “waterside” cottage during the aftermath of hurricane Hugo, the one that reassured us by making the fancy radar less threatening because we couldn’t tell the hail zone from the micro bursts on the color chart.
It was the one that could go outside with a long enough extension cord so that we might enjoy the day outside and still feel connected to the bigger picture. And its picture was classy, in the way that the black-and-white photography of Paul Strand and Alfred Stieglitz was classy. Every show had a simplicity unmarred by the distraction of color—one could concentrate on the gradations of grey and the variations of the pattern. It was cool like the blues. It was timeless.
But now our little set is out of time. It stands in the corner, gathering dust, spitting white noise and emptiness. I sat and watched it last Friday morning, the final viewing as it gave out its last sound and picture, ending with one of those old station signoffs from the 50’s. What now? I’m sure there’s a number of cute things you could turn the poor old guy into—a clothes rack, a planter, a (horror of horrors) fish tank. I don’t believe that’s how something that cool wants to go—a proper burial can be the only choice befitting the dignity of an appliance whose only crime is that it is so well-built that it’s outlived its usefulness.
So if you happen to see me digging a hole in my yard about 16” by 16” and hear the sound of taps in the middle of the night–don’t ask.