Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Nothing As Useless As an Old TV



            In the midst of a heart-stopping run of beautiful days -- true June blue -- we decide to replace our decades-old television with a flat screen TV. Apparently our son has been waiting for us to do this for years.  
            I will thoughtfully omit the technical details of this operation because I don't understand them. Needless to say, we would never have accomplished this transaction without our son's assistance. And naturally, in the American consumer way, we had to convince ourselves we were buying something new to save ourselves some money.
            When the new device was up and running,we put the old TV out on the curb for the city garbage pick-up, or anyone else so minded, to take it away. That was easier said than done. Old TVs, that is to say all TVs before the beginning of the flat screen era, are astonishingly heavy. It took both of us to carry it out the front door and down the stairs without breaking anything else we owned or any part of us. Once it hit the curb, we were never going to touch it again.
            We put it out on a Sunday. It was still there Wednesday morning when the garbage trucks began rolling through the streets. Evidently the single object that no one in Quincy can find a use for, even for parts, or for scrap, is a heavy old TV.
            We have a rich history of citizen-initiated curbstone recycling in this city. Any number of ridiculous old objects, worn-out appliances, failed purchases are put out on the street. And quickly disappear. Anne says, just put it out on the street. I say, no one will want it, the garbage truck won't even take it. She wins; I drag it out. We turn out backs: gone.
            Sometimes the delivery man bringing something new takes away something something old completely unrelated to his business. An over-sized barbecue grill went away like that. I think the reason is they can't stand having an empty truck.... A year ago I lugged an air conditioner, as old and heavy as you can imagine and even more junky, outdoors on trash night and even before I put it down on the pavement a car had stopped in the middle of the street and a man and women were getting out to pick up my junk and make it their junk, for some obscure financial benefit.
            "You know it doesn't work," I said.
            "We still want it," the woman replied, in a reassuring tone.
            But this time was different. The TV sat there, an increasingly embarrassed expression spreading over its empty screen in light of its conspicuous lack popularity with the city's junk gleaners.
            Then, absurdly, Tuesday night, the night garbage goes out around here for the Wednesday pickup, someone put an old, heavy, box TV on the curb of the opposite side of the street directly across from ours. The two discarded TVs, identical in size and shape, faced one another.
            This could only be explained to me as an episode in one of those "joke-on-the-unsuspecting-public" TV shows. The script writers set up some absurd, or physically impossible, action/scene/phenomenon in a public place captured by a hidden camera. You're waiting for a bus, say -- an ordinary, jaded, seen-it-all urban dweller -- when the bench begins talking (or emitting rude noises). A balloon follows a child down the street, repeatedly bumping him on the back of the head. A clown jumps out of hiding and chases the ice-cream man into a fast-food joint and all the counter help stops and stares while they have a food fight with ketchup squeeze bottles. Meanwhile the hidden camera captures the spectators' troubled reactions. The man at the bus stop pretends not to notice. A woman double-takes and makes a face, unable to get over her ill-concealed shock -- why are the clown and the ice cream man having a food fight why she's trying to drink her coffee? A young teenager rushes off to call 911.
            So, as the expression goes, I kept looking for the hidden camera.
            But no, no comic development takes place. Then I feared the next time I looked out the window the number of TVs would have doubled again, old sets lined up in front of every house on the street. I suspected the televisions might begin broadcasting clashing TV programs at high volume. It would be as bad as an airport.
            But nothing. The two unwanted technically obsolete entertainment devices -- mere carcasses of their former selves -- remained on opposite sides of the street, awaiting their fate.
            Then early the next morning one, but not both, of the TVs was gone. I notice the absence of the 'other' TV, the one across the street, before I've even had my coffee. Thank goodness, I think, but when I look for ours, it's still there, distressingly larger than life.
Now I'm sure it's a practical joke. Maybe I imagined the whole thing: the old TVs are trying to drive us crazy. Eventually I realize that quite a lot of garbage has been picked up on the opposite side of the street, but rather less on our side.The tension builds during the afternoon: are they still coming for us or is my useless consumer artifact being left behind because I omitted some bureaucratic nicety?
            Around four thirty p.m. the recycling truck finally reaches our side of the street. I watch as a sanitation engineer snaps the white elephant up like a pizza box and tosses it into what appears to be a specially created basin for old TVs. It seems a lot of these old entertainment units are hitting the street.
            Is there anything of value in an old TV? You can't prove it by me.