Jewish World Review May 16, 2005/ 7 Iyar, 5765

Greg Crosby

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Consumer Reports

All Television All the Time | Going to the doctor's office is bad enough. Medieval medicine was comprised of varying degrees of torture and pain applied by the physician, today the torture and pain is administered BEFORE we see the physician. First you go through the parking torture, then it's Ordeal by Waiting Room. By the way, in the interests of full disclosure and truth in labeling, the name, "Waiting Room" should be changed to the "Waiting a Really, Really Long Time Room."

Since the magazine options in there are usually limited to Golf Digest, Highlights for Children with half the pages torn out, Time Magazine from March 1997, and brochures for penile erectile dysfunction, you bring in your own reading material. You figure at least it's an opportunity to get in a little reading — HA! You figured wrong.

You sit for about an hour surrounded by sick people coughing, sneezing, and hocking all over the joint. The ones not making disgusting noises are either talking loudly to a friend sitting next to them or talking loudly on their cell phone to a friend somewhere else. Periodically one of the assistants will open the door into the waiting room and yell out somebody's first name — "ELEANOR!" (The assistant NEVER leaves the door; it must be some kind of medical insurance regulation.) The waiting patient never hears her name on the first call; it generally takes, oh, about four to five shouts, after which the ninety-six year old Eleanor makes her way across the bus depot-size waiting room with the help of her walker and third world caregiver. After reading the same sentence about fourteen times I decide to give up trying to read altogether and just zone out until I'm called, or drop dead, whichever comes first.

But wait — what's that over there on the wall? Something new has been added! In an effort to keep the increasing number of waiting room sickies occupied, my doctor's office has installed a high definition, large flat screen plasma television set on the wall. Whoopee! Just what I've always wanted, television in purgatory.

The TV faces directly across to the medical assistants' working station (I guess in the off chance that if things slow up around there, those folks can now watch TV between putting on their make-up and asking for co-payments). The TV is permanently tuned to CNN so it's a pretty safe bet that every time I walk in there I'll see Wolf Blitzer (the only consolation being that at least I'm assured I'll see a recognizable face from visit to visit).

Television is everywhere. Some major supermarket chains have even put LCD screens on checkout isles, not broadcasting CNN, but running commercials for products they sell. Waiting in long grocery lines wasn't bad enough, now we stand there and gaze zombie — like at video screens selling us more stuff after we have already loaded our shopping carts and want to get out of there. It's as if they're saying, "You didn't buy enough, go back and buy some more!"

There have been TVs in bars for fifty years but usually in the little neighborhood joints — these days every single bar everywhere has at least one, some have two or three. Of course you'd expect them in sports bars, but must they be in every bar everywhere? The most historic and quaint cocktail lounges in the most elegant of old hotels have television sets shoved between the polished rich mahogany paneling above the bar.

Everyone assumes that everyone wants to watch TV. My neighborhood barber shop has no less than three television sets, and this in a space no bigger than a small living room — and they're all turned on. They are in airports, restaurants, Laundromats, medical clinics, nail salons and every kind of store. Gas stations have begun hanging televisions above their pumps. Wachovia Bank is placing TVs in the lobbies of all its branches. Almost anywhere people have to go you'll find a television set turned on and blasting — whether anyone is watching it or not!

You can't go to a baseball stadium or sports arena and simply watch a game played live anymore, you're forced to watch it on big screen television. The enormous monitors are built high over the stands and literally dwarf the playing field, as if to imply that the live game being played down below is secondary to watching it on TV. Even if you'd rather just watch the real game, the screen is so big that it's impossible not to glance at it.

Last year they installed big screen monitors at the Hollywood Bowl. Just like sporting events, people can now go to the Hollywood Bowl and watch television, isn't that neat? I guess people are so used to watching all their entertainment on TV, that if it's not on TV they think there must be something wrong with it. So spend a fortune on a box at the Bowl, bring your picnic basket loaded with a fine wine, expensive pâté, cheeses, and other delicacies, spread them out on a linen tablecloth, serve them with linen napkins and well appointed eating utensils, and sit back and enjoy the television show. At least there are no commercials — yet.

One thing that can be said for the big screen projection monitors at the sports arenas and amphitheaters, as intrusive as they are, at least they are showing the game or concert you went there to see and not broadcasting Oprah Winfrey or Dr. Phil. With the TVs in other public places you are completely stuck with whatever they are blaring out for the length of time that you are there. Or maybe not. Not anymore … thanks to a brand new invention.

A guy by the name of Mitch Altman has invented a little device he calls, TV-B-Gone. You carry it on your keychain or in your pocket; it weighs almost nothing and fits in the palm of the hand. There is a little button on it that when pushed, casts a beam of invisible light from a tiny diode at the tip that will, now get this, TURN OFF ANY TELEVISION. That's right; the thing will turn off any television within a radius of 45 feet. Just think, no more Wolf Blitzer at the doctor's office. No more Jerry Springer when all I want is to have a quiet drink in a dark bar. No more Judge Judy or Judge Brown or Judge Anybody when I'm waiting for a test result at the lab. No more late breaking reports of murdered children or car chases when I'm out relaxing with friends at a restaurant. With one little zap the TV is no more.

This thing may be the greatest invention of the 21st century! Anytime, anywhere you are exposed to a television assault, you just zap your little stealth gizmo and the annoyance is gone! Presto! Just like that! Now if Mr. Altman can come up with something similar for real-life jerks, my life would be complete.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2005 Greg Crosby