This is, without a doubt, the best time of the year for me, and not just because of the cool, crisp autumn air and New England fall foliage. The NFL season is in full swing. The baseball playoffs begin this Tuesday, professional hockey the following week, and I’m following two college football teams. Yes, October is a veritable cornucopia of a smorgasbord of a goulash for sports fans.
And so it was that I sat down in front of a big screen TV last night. I hit the “mute” button on the channel changer and loaded my six-CD player with a selection of music that would last me through three-and-a-half hours of televised sports. A little Bud Powell, some Jacky Terrasson, some Michel Petrucciani; delicate stuff, I know, but the perfect counterpoint when you’re watching some steroid-infused slugger pound a helpless little white ball off a light tower.
The doorbell rang–an unusual sound at night in our neighborhood. Must be the Seventh Day Adventists, I thought. Anybody else would have entered the modern world and texted me.
I got up and went to the back door, where I saw my next-door neighbor through the glass.
“Hey Rob,” I said. “What’s up?”
“I . . . uh . . . just thought I’d come watch the game at your house. My TV’s on the fritz.”
“Sure,” I said, but I didn’t mean it. If I wanted company, I would have asked for it.
We had no more than sat down on the couch when I heard the doorbell ring again, this time at the front. “Help yourself to a beer,” I said to Rob as I got up to respond to a second unexpected intrusion on my quiet evening.
Through the glass I saw Ed, Mike and Tom, three guys from the neighborhood who I’d wave to when I passed, or see at cocktail parties, but for whom–to put it bluntly–I have no special affection.
“Hey, guys, how’re you doing?”
“Fine, fine,” Ed said. “Say, we were just about to watch the game when we discovered that our remote needed some new batteries.”
“Uh, triple D,” Tom said, not sounding very sure of himself.
“You guys wait here,” I said, and I scurried down into the basement to check our supply. Nope–no triple D’s. I walked back up the stairs to tell them the bad news.
“Sorry, guys,” I said, even though I wasn’t. “We don’t have any triple D’s.”
“No problem,” Michael said. “We’ll just watch the game here,” and before I could throw a block on them they were past me on their way into the family room. When I caught up with them, I saw not just four uninvited guests, but a whole room full of them, along with my wife, whose eyes were red and who was trying unsuccessfully to keep herself from sobbing.
“What the . . . ” I began, but Rob ended my confusion swiftly and abruptly.
“This is an intervention, pal,” he said, his face dripping with altruistic severity.
It was my wife’s turn to speak.
“I’m sorry, honey,” she said, choking back the tears. “But I couldn’t take it any longer.”
I looked around the room–I was outnumbered, and there was no use resisting. I sat down on a foot stool, resigned to whatever it was they had planned for me.
Mike came over, got down on one knee, and announced the charges against me.
“She tells us you watch TV with the sound off.”
I was, quite frankly, stunned. Like many who suffer from a harmful dependency, I was oblivious to–or unwilling to face–my personal demon.
“Yeah, well, so what?” I asked defensively.
“This is going to be more difficult than I thought,” Tom said to my wife
“The first step towards recovery is to admit you have a problem,” Rob said. “There’s over 220 million people in America who watch TV with the sound on. There’s three, maybe five guys who watch with the sound off.”
“And one of them’s an old man in Otterville, Missouri, whose TV broke before he lost his hearing,” Ed added.
“So he doesn’t count,” Mike said.
I took a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling. “I’m . . . I’m sorry guys,” I said when I’d recovered my composure. “Just because I’m in the distinct minority doesn’t mean I’m wrong.”
If I could have had a nickel for every rolled eye in my family room just then, I’d have bought a 16 oz. jar of Planter’s Honey Roasted Peanuts, and damn the calories.
It was Tom who spoke–or should I say snorted–first. “Are you all right?” he asked dubiously, “or is the world all wrong?”
I gave him my best slit-eyed, hard-boiled look. “I’m right,” I said firmly, “and I can prove it.”
The assembled group gave each other sidewise glances, unsure of where I was going to take them. “Listen, you can never have a Super Bowl party in your house unless you turn the sound on,” Ed said.
“Who gives a rat’s rear-end about that?” I shot right back. “If I want to go to a Super Bowl party, I’ll come over to your house. I turn the sound off to keep my mind from rotting from exposure to the black mental mold that you can get from listening to TV–like this!”
I grabbed the remote and hit the mute button. It was the work of a nanosecond for one of the announcers to say something incredibly stupid.
I turned the sound off again. I laughed a mirthless little laugh. “Anybody want to double down on that bet?” I asked, one eyebrow arched skeptically.
There was silence for a moment, then a guy named Bob, who claims to win money betting on football, took up the challenge. “That was lucky,” he said. “I’ll bet you three to one Sam Adams Light Beers he don’t say nothin’ stupid for . . . let’s say another minute.”
“You’re on,” I said gleefully. “Starting”–I glanced up at the clock–“now!”
I put the TV sound back on, pressed the “Pause” button on the stereo, and before you could say “Columbus Blue Jackets” an announcer stepped in it again. “Now listen to this,” I said as I reversed the electronic order of things.
Out of my stereo speakers came the sounds of Terrasson whirling through Bud Powell’s “Parisian Thoroughfare,” one of the most evocative jazz compositions ever written. Terrasson’s take was a thing of beauty, as delicate as a doily in your grandmother’s parlor, and yet vigorous–almost athletic.
“Geez,” Bob said, a bit chagrined. “I guess you’re right. I always thought of Joe Buck as some kind of genius. Now–I’m not so sure.”
“Is that enough evidence,” I asked, perhaps a little smugly, “or would you like me to subject you to Tim McCarver?”
“So–there’s a method to your madness?” Tom asked, the scales having fallen from his ears.
“You bet your life there is. And it’s not just sports. Take ‘The Voice,’ for example.”
“But that’s a singing program,” Tom said. “You wouldn’t turn off the sound to that, would you?”
“Sure I would,” I said. “That program is slowly but inexorably destroying the classic, restrained vocal style developed by jazz singers as they interpreted the Great American Songbook. The only way to watch it is with the sound off.”
I had them now, and I knew it.
“So you’re saying . . . that some shows are actually better without sound?” Rob asked, incredulous. “What about something like The View, which doesn’t have music?”
I had to tread carefully now, as I could reasonably assume that the popular ABC daytime show was a favorite of the wives of many of the men present.
“That’s a special case,” I said, proceeding thoughtfully. “The only way to make that show better is to turn off your TV entirely.”