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Monday, February 20, 2006

TV Shopping 101

March 23, 2005

There seems to be only one requirement now when purchasing a television. It must be the size of a drive-in movie screen or large enough to be viewed from space.

That’s what I discovered on a recent outing to scope out a possible replacement for Beulah. Beulah is my 27-inch Zenith television purchased in 1995.

Don’t mock. The name Beulah may not be as clever as “Stevie the TV,” Joey Tribiani’s nickname for his precious idiot box, but Beulah was perfect for my bulky bargain beauty. Beulah was a display model at the time of purchase, so I got a sweet deal. I figured a few hours of play wouldn’t hurt a television, since that’s what it was made to do anyway.

She looked great on the shelf, but her cumbersome weight was trouble from the get go. Trying to push and prod her into the backseat of my two-door Chevy Cavalier was the first obstacle. Unloading her was another. I recruited my muscular 250-plus pound neighbor to wrangle her up my apartment stairs and into the living room. And it was there we started our tumultuous relationship.

Sadly, it’s come to this. I may have to put Beulah down. Lately, she’s exhibiting erratic behavior. Green objects turn yellow, an interesting color for the Desperate Housewives’ perfectly manicured lawns. Some days, Smurfs are pink. And sometimes, she won’t come on at all. She’s been to the repair shop once already this year, and considering the cost, I don’t want to send her again.

So there it is. The reason I ventured to the super-sized electronics stores to look for Beulah’s replacement. Why is it that as humans make advances to make life better, inevitably, things get more complicated?

Buying a television in 2005 is equivalent to learning a foreign language. The sales clerks rattle off terms such as HDTV, HDMI digital interface, LCD, digital comb filter, DVI, PC display capability, wide screen, flat screen, rear projection, virtual high definition, and plasma, like all humans understand these words, acronyms, and functionalities. We don’t.

Oh, I tried to pretend that I knew all the technical speak, as a sweet, teenaged sales clerk tried to educate me on what is available. But, as my eyes glazed over, I was mentally scanning the store for a paper bag to hyperventilate into, as he went on about picture-size ratios and tube vs. projection.

Intimidated, confused, and clinging to dreams of extending Beulah’s life, I walked sheepishly through the display models. There, at the end of the aisle, I spotted her. A sleek, proud, brilliantly colored 42-inch screen of plasma perfection – the Hope Diamond of televisions. Then, I saw the price tag. For about the price of a nice used car or a down payment on a new home, she could be mine. At $3,500, she was a bargain, the clerk assured me.

As I thought back to the television I grew up watching, the absurdity hit me. Our television was the typical 1970s model. It had no remote, only a round dial to manually change channels. It offered only one channel, two if the weather was good. And although it was simple, it was loyally viewed for more than 25 years, before going to that TV heaven in the sky.

I left the store feeling immense guilt. So, Beulah lives to see another day. Besides, pink Smurfs really aren’t so bad.

Originally published 3/23/05 in The Exponent Telegram newspaper.


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