When a TV addict goes cold-turkey

A terrible thing happened to me in New York City on Sept. 15 at 9:10 p.m.: My TV stopped working. One minute the Sony Trinitron 25-inch screen was packed with colors, people’s heads, speaking mouths and screaming voices about the best cures for erectile dysfunction or bad breath and the latest on corruption in Afghanistan, Washington, D.C., or down the street. And the next minute the same 25-inch screen was blank, black, voiceless.  
At 9:05 I had called my sister urging her to watch Rachel Maddow, the bright and gutsy commentator on MSNBC.
“Don’t know her,” my sister says. You should, I tell her. “Plus I don’t have the time,” she adds, “I’m watching a film about a little princess on the Disney Channel.”
Oh well, my sister, the university professor, is under the spell of Disney. Forget about the future of the world. When I ask her which channel, as usual she doesn’t know that kind of detail. Now I want to know what’s happening to this little princess. I press a couple of buttons and then, blank. Nothing. The screen is black. I unplug and replug everything in sight, I push more buttons on the unresponsive clicker. I panic as if I had run out of gas at night in a bad neighborhood.
I call Time Warner. An expert in Toronto gives me hope. At his suggestion I unplug and replug the TV. The expert does something in his Toronto retreat. Screen goes from black to pale blue. “Initiating,” it says in large, encouraging letters. The expert and I wait patiently like two old school friends. Ten minutes later we are still initiating. That’s as far as we get.
“You need a technician to come to your house. I can arrange that.” Can he come tomorrow? “Let’s see. I’ll get you someone in 10 days.”
I raise my voice. I’ve been your customer for years. Ten days, you cannot be serious, I say in a McEnroe moment. But he’s serious. Ten days or nothing. Time Warner is a miserable company, I mumble. End of conversation.
The blue screen is still initiating, whatever that means. For the first time in a very long time I am alone with my dog, Nina, and no TV.
Past midnight I call again. Another Time Warner expert might bring me luck. I wish it would be a woman. I could use a little bit of nurturing. Past midnight a woman’s voice would be more comforting. It’s a man’s voice from Pakistan but he is based in Costa Rica. It’s a safe country, I tell him as if that might help my case.
“Yes, we have no army.” I am having difficulty understanding him. “You’ve called before,” he says suspiciously. I unplug and replug one more time. “You need a technician. ” Perhaps my man from Costa Rica will find a technician in a couple of days. “Eleven days,” he says.
They may not have an army over there but I’m ready for war. I’m sick and tired, as they say, of companies that have a monopoly on the services you need and will leave you stranded and seem so indifferent about it. You cannot be serious. Damn.
Addiction comes like mice in the house. Silently. Then you find the droppings. At 1 a.m., I remember the dog needs her walk. We go. Screen still pale blue, still “initiating.” We come back home to the welcome of pale blue. I cut it off. It’s all black.  
I knew about sugar addiction. I didn’t know about TV. I’m inside four walls and a few windows bring in the outside world, 50 feet of it. This morning I could jump from my New York sidewalks or my Orient fields to the deserts of Africa, Yankee Stadium, Wimbledon, Paris or the hills of San Francisco. Now, there’s nothing but my walls and myopic windows that give me brick walls across the street. True, in Orient I get the beautiful bay and magnificent trees. But I’ve been spoiled. I have TV addiction.
A sense of loss prevails. Will I knock at a neighbor’s door. “Can I come in and watch a show?” I need Rachel Maddow or Larry King or TV5, 24 hours of French television without commercials! I need the freedom to choose beyond my hundreds of books and the worn objects in my life. Nina is sniffing around my memory-scented carpets. Given an opportunity, she would run away for an hour of discovery and come back, with excitement in her eyes and secrets she cannot share with me. My escape is that screen, now black like a window on a moonless night.
I was a latecomer to television. I did not understand the friends who kept it on all day for companionship, sometimes falling asleep to its voices or its music. That evening in September its absence was an unwanted farewell. How many days would I survive without it? I felt trapped, anxious, deprived of my drug. I had to slow down inside my head. I took some deep breaths. I saw the books, the records and CDs. I could play Mozart, Leadbelly, I had the written word. And the telephone, an addiction, too.
Next day in the afternoon I got hold of the remote, pressed a button. The screen was alive. I’ll never know what happened. But for a few hours I had lived on my own without television. It was a different life and it wasn’t bad at all. More intimate perhaps. And with the soothing return of silence in the house.
Pierre Gazarian is a poet and a writer of one-act plays. E-mail: [email protected].