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I’M SITTING on the floor directly in front of the TV, which I’m pointing the remote right at while pushing the power-on button, but nothing is happening.

“What’s the deal?” I cry. “Problem?” my wife, Jessica, asks.
 
“All these buttons,” I respond. “This thing is like a miniature cockpit.”

“Let me see,” she says, as she sits down next to me.

With a dismissive flick of my wrist -- intended to signal both fatalism and hope -- I hand it to her.

“Sure,” I mutter. “Go ahead.”

She pushes a button and waits. Nothing. She pushes another. Nothing. Another. Nothing.

“You can do it really slow if you want to,” I say acidly, “but it’s still not going to work.”

“It will work,” she says, steadfastly punching buttons. “You just have to figure it out.”

“Figure it out?!” I exclaim. “It’s a TV remote, for cryin’ out loud. What is there to figure out?”

“Will you calm down?” she says. “I just can’t believe this,” I respond.

The remote is new. Our 18-year-old son, Sam, bought it because he broke the previous one, having hurled it during a football game. Or maybe it was his friend who hurled it.

Whoever broke it, it happened on Sam’s watch, so Sam had to replace it. When he brought it home, he showed me a couple of quirks.

“When you whateverwhateverwhatever, then you have to press this whateverwhateverwhatever. Otherwise, it won’t work. Got it?”

“Yeah, got it,” I said.

It occurs to me now that I probably should have been listening. But come on -- how hard can it be to turn on a TV? Besides, I figured that in the inconceivable event that I somehow couldn’t figure out a simple remote, I could just ask Sam -- in the most nonchalant way, of course, as if I were testing him more than seeking a tutorial.

Trouble is, Sam isn’t here. He’s away for the weekend, visiting a college he might attend in the fall. Now here I am, sitting on the living room floor, wondering if I will ever be able to watch television again.

“THE PROBLEM,” I tell Jessica, “ is that Sam shouldn’t have broken the remote in the first place.”

“I don’t know that he did,” she replies.

“Okay. Whatever. My point is, if the remote hadn’t been broken, we wouldn’t have this problem.”

“I thought he showed you how to use the remote,” she says.

“You know …” I begin, and then I realize I can’t think of a rejoinder. “Never mind. Just … never mind. Let me see the remote.”

She hands it back to me. I concentrate. Why won’t this thing work?!

“The thing is, it’s not just the remote,” I say. “It’s … have you been downstairs? All those amplifier cables all over the place? It’s a wreck down there. Has he read that book for English? I. Don’t. Think. So.”


Jessica glances over at me. “What are you talking about?” she asks.


“I’m talking about this stupid remote,” I say.


“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she says.


“Yeah?” I say. “Neither do I.”



You hear jokes about parents needing their children’s help to run the household gadgetry. I thought they were just that -- jokes.
I mean, it’s not that I’m a stranger to technology. I use a computer. I download music to my MP3 player. I even have a GPS device in my car. Of course, I have it because Sam knows the streets in this city better than any overnight-package-delivery driver, and when he leaves for college, I’ll be lost.

A few weeks back, for example, we were driving home and came upon a traffic jam. “Turn right,” he said.


I looked to my right and saw a street that angled sharply away from the direction we wanted to go.



“That street goes the wrong way,” I said.




“Trust me,” he said. I took a leap of faith and turned right.



“Turn left,” he said. I didn’t see a street.



“Where?”
“Here.”
>


“Here?”



“Yeah, just be careful.”



I turned left onto a narrow alley that was all but hidden from street view. It curved around until it came to a T. “Left,” he said.



I looked over at him. He had peach fuzz on his face. His thick, poofy hair was too long. He needed a shave and a haircut. I remembered when I looked like that. I remembered when I knew all the shortcuts.



I turned left.



We came out on a street a few blocks down the road from the traffic jam.



My GPS won’t do that.

 




I FINALLY figure out how to turn on the TV. It took a while, but I got it. It may be a baby step in my own personal self-help movement, but, hey, I’ve got to start somewhere. And the way things are headed around this place, it won’t be the last thing I have to figure out.



In a few months, the amplifier cords will be gone. The basement will be as clean as a whistle. I’ll have adapted to making my way home without Sam’s help and learned how to effortlessly turn on not only the TV but also the DVD player.



But I’ll probably call Sam anyway to ask for his advice. After all, he’d be lost without me.




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