The thing I most frequently tune to on the house televisions these days is channel 1800 on the UVerse dial, “UVerse Showcase.” It shows a 20-minute HD loop followed by some promotional material. But the 20-minute loop is the sort of thing they use to demo HD televisions – long sequences of sunsets, or tropical views, or Antarctica, with vaguely NewAge-y ambient music.
And I get sucked in. I sit with that on for literally hours at a time, losing myself in 1080p vistas of something in the Caribbean. I don’t even like tropical beaches, and yet, I stare at the crystal blue water and the thatched huts and am just absorbed. Maybe this makes me 40 going on 65, I don’t know.
But it’s a meditation of a sort. Not unlike those Saturday mornings where I get up earlier than I like, stopping by Starbucks on my way to unload two bags of assorted meat and accoutrements in front of the smoker. Then I fire it up, get the meat in the pans and into the hotbox, get the temperature around 180 degrees from smoke…and then it’s just nine or ten hours alone in the back yard with my pile of wood and my poking-stick to try to manage the fire.
The first three times, I did the whole job on my own, with only Absolute Radio’s “Rock And Roll Football” to accompany me the first couple hours. And I seriously wondered whether I could get away with this in Britain -stack a load of wood by the shed in the back garden, pull the fire box smoker out and load it up, and spend the whole day until dark tending a couple of pork shoulders in the native style of my ancestral land – in a place with nothing of the sort for hundreds or thousands of miles in any direction.
After that, it’s just reading and maybe a little music in the background. And it occurs to me that I don’t do this anymore. Years ago, when I first came to California, my old tobacconist in DC would send a care package with some of my favorite sticks, and I’d park my stadium-tailgate-camping chair by the car and rest my feet on the bumper. And I’d have a 2-liter soda and a tumbler of ice, and I’d sit and smoke a couple of cigars for a couple of hours. Maybe have the laptop there for Wikipedia purposes as my mind wandered, but otherwise just sit under the stars and clear my head. But now the only place you can really smoke is in a tobacconist’s or in your own home – and the only time I can really get away with it is out by the firebox where I’m going to smell like a forest fire no matter what I do or don’t puff in the meantime.
But that’s what the cigar shop was in DC, in retrospect – sit, relax, detach, maybe hear the surrounding conversation but just as easily tune it out. I didn’t know it at the time, but I needed that time to just clear the mechanism – different from the “5-space” where I need solitude to recharge. I thought they were one and the same, but in many ways they aren’t.
And that’s where channel 1800 comes in – anytime, day or night, I can stretch out on the sofa or on the bed and turn it on and disappear. Nowhere in particular – just something to clear my head for a while. I need to make a better effort to do that, because I think we’ve conclusively proven that living too much in my own mind and dwelling on the present tends to lead me down a bad road.
And if you think this is a tacit concession that yes, I need to go back to unplugging on Tuesday nights…well, you got me.