Talking Story

Last night I had The Power.

At least that’s what we called it when we were kids. He who controlled the tv remote ruled the world as far as we were concerned.

During my childhood our father was King of the TV. Like most Maui families, we had just one, but it was a huge color 24 incher. On it we watched all four stations broadcasting from Honolulu—CBS, NBC, ABC, and PBS—fine-tuning each with rabbit ears and something that looked like a socket plug we hooked precariously to various shelving brackets mounted on the wall behind it.

In the days before ubiquitous channel changers, there was a low-tech solution that followed a totem pole chain of command.

“Lehua, change the channel to 3,” proclaimed the King.

I nudged my younger sister. “Channel 3,” I said.

As she commando crawled to the set (Do. Not. Block. The. View. Ever. You are not a window or a door.), inwardly I sighed. Another Sunday afternoon spent watching Let’s Go Fishing, instead of the Million Dollar Movie Matinée. It didn’t matter which—any movie would do, even though I never figured out where the million dollars came in.

There was always an outside possibility that Dad would fall asleep. If that happened, we could chance ‘em by turning down the sound and carefully, slowly, easing the dial to another station. By the time I was 6 I’d perfected the art of soundlessly changing the channel to Olympic gold medalist levels.

The first real tv remote we got made a clicking sound each time you pushed the button. To this day, my Dad still calls the remote the clicker. You couldn’t enter a number; it just advanced through the channels each time you pressed the remote, eleven clicks to go all the way around. It was a fancy one because it also turned the tv off and on and the volume up and down. Really fancy ones had color control.

Possessing the clicker gave you The Power to decide what the rest of the minions could watch back in the days when if you missed a show, you missed it forever.

When I was a kid there were two exceptions to the forever rule: The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz. I remember both movies playing every year until I was 10 or so. I’m pretty sure I was married when I finally saw what happens after Maria sneaks out of the Von Trapp family mansion carrying her guitar and the Cowardly Lion runs from the Wizard and jumps through the window, the 8 pm mark in each movie. When you love stories there’s nothing worse than The King of the TV’s bedtime edict that had The Power’s ability to shut them off.

Last night, propped with pillows on the sofa, I had The Power. Kids and hubby were also sprawled in various positions and we were watching a Family Show, our name for the handful of programs we watch together. We never watch a show live anymore; we wait until it’s convenient.

In our house, The Power works a little bit differently; it’s less about what gets watched as it is about who’s responsibility it is to fast-forward through the commercials, pause the show when someone says pause because they want to make a comment, and turn the volume up or down.

Holding the mighty clicker like a scepter last night I realized The Power isn’t a power anymore. It’s a chore.

And no one wanted The Power because then they would have to give up their laptops, iPads, and smart phones and actually pay attention to the show, which didn’t matter because if they missed something they could always ask me to back it up or find it again online if it got erased. They could even watch the same recorded show at the same time in a different room.

I wasn’t Queen of the TV; I was TV House-Elf. I sighed. Another bubble popped!

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