The Good Life

During the Christmas-New Year holiday week, I watched movies via our new “smart” television set. The set is multifunctional, as is the case with telephones, cars and other devices that are “smart.”

We, unhappily, are not. Neither my wife nor I is smart enough to use the Internet-connected “smart” functions of our television set. It is taxing enough for us to get the set to display channels received via satellite, or to display the occasional rented movie on a DVD disc.

So the “smart” functions sit unused unless children or grandchildren come to visit. Lo and behold! We can watch movies, view websites such as Facebook, or, for all I know, fry eggs or automatically feed our chickens. The kids make it work.

Once upon a time, I was “smart.” I would be called to my mother’s house to reset the cable box atop her wood-encased “console” TV. In those days, the manufacturers tried to get television sets to blend into rooms by disguising them as furniture, complete with sliding doors, drawers or other appurtenances.

Mom could never figure out how to push two or three buttons in a certain order. I would arrive, chitchat for a while, have something to eat whether I was hungry or not, then try to show her how to do this herself.

She would throw up her hands in frustration. She had bifocals. She had cataracts. She had a 10th-grade education as a needed-to-work child of the Great Depression.

“That’s why I had you!” she would chortle, claiming that my entire purpose in life was to occasionally rescue her from needing to understand the complexities of 1980s life, be it television sets, kitchen stoves or, before she had her century-old house rewired, fuse-blowing hair dryers.

I could not understand why she would not learn.

Today, I am becoming my mother.

I watched Maryellen’s son Mike twiddle the remote control, hitting the “source” button to disengage the cable and engage the computer hidden somewhere within the television’s incredibly skinny silhouette.

The twiddles produced images with dizzying speed. The set flickered between Netflix, Amazon, Facebook and, for all I know, the Philadelphia telephone book before finally settling on a movie.

“You can watch these without having to go to town,” Mike explained, patiently, trying to not be patronizing, but not trying all that hard. He and the other grown males in our families enjoy assisting his mother and me with matters technological. The grown females don’t bother about such stuff, leaving it to their husbands or brothers to bring computers, smart phones, GPS devices, etc. to life when complications arise.

I can still run some TV sets.

Upstairs, there still exists a 100-pound cathode ray tube “old style” TV set. When the new “smart” set, a gift from my eldest son Chris, arrived at our house, I donated a similar CRT set to charity. My income tax software’s “deductible” feature gives me the fair market value of charitable donations. A CRT set? $25, max.

These are the same sets that cost us $600-$800 to buy just a decade ago when Maryellen and I got married and upgraded our appliances.

That is the value of my technological expertise as I sink further into my 70s: $25.

It suffices. We are not as movie-oriented as are the younger generations. I still flinch at f-words, which are as omnipresent in today’s movies as is oregano in my spaghetti sauce. This is not prudery. I admit to using pungent vocabulary with disturbing frequency when chasing runaway chickens. I do not, however, use f-words with every breath. When movie characters do, it distracts me. I get caught up in inwardly tut-tutting at each f-word and tend to lose track of the flow of conversation.

That tends to make the movie less than interesting. So does my increasing deafness.

I have a deafness remedy of sorts. My son Greg, 37, has a hearing loss that is severe enough to benefit from hearing aids. Beside our TV set is an aftermarket set of headphones. When Greg visits, he dons the headphones and mutes the TV sound, saving us from the window-rattling volume he would need to watch endless reruns of “Golden Girls” and food shows, or WWE wrestling.

That works for Greg.

But since my family likes to converse while watching movies, I am horned by the dilemma. If I don the headphones, I can increase the volume to a level that allows me to hear comfortably, while the other people can keep the TV set’s volume at reasonable levels. But with the headphones on, I can’t participate in the conversations. That, to me, is torture.

So I relegate my use of Greg’s headphones to instances when my wife is upstairs sleeping. I can listen to a baseball game’s chatter with the main set’s volume muted, not disturbing her. Since I am by myself, there is no conversation to follow. The only sounds are my muttered expletives when a Pirates or Yankees fielder makes an error.

But unless we have company, the “smart” functions of this amazingly versatile TV set remain unused for weeks at a time.

Fine. I hate to be upstaged in my own house.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: