LOS ANGELES — In my living room, a new holiday gift hangs on a wall above the mantel. It is high-tech and sleek, but large enough to dominate. Friends and family say it's a wonderful present, the hottest thing in modern electronics.
But my gift - a painting-sized, plasma TV - is taking over hearth and home. It may be a wonder of light, wires, and glass. It may be the future of entertainment. Nevertheless, it crowds me, soaks the life out of my surroundings. Try starting a conversation. You can't.
These days, it seems everyone wants to see something on this amazingly crisp big screen: Films. Game Shows. "Law and Order." It doesn't matter. And, oh yes, please pass the peanuts.
What a prize.
It was my father who decided the new set was the way to go. He adores a good television. Fifty years ago, he made sure we were one the first families on our block to have a state-of-the art model. Accordingly, he spent about $1,000 - a fraction of my new set's cost - on a mahogany cabinet containing a modest black-and-white screen, phonograph, and radio. A triple threat in vintage amusement.
(The cabinet survives to this day; it's in my den, functioning as a semi-art deco bar. Even then, dad knew value.)
This new set - I am afraid to ask what my father paid - is more monstrosity than convenience.
It's one thing to have a large picture on your wall and quite another to have a work the size of a Diego Rivera to bring you deodorant ads, car commercials, and game shows.
My gorgeous, expensive present is the perfect excuse for guests not to talk to each other.
Worse, I can't hide it. It doesn't nest cozily inside an armoire. It doesn't take its place in what we've come to call "entertainment centers," alongside CD players, tape machines, and turntables. It is the center of attention. Always waiting for a football game or cable showing of "Lawrence of Arabia."
And while we're on the subject, let's talk about the startling sound of my gift. It's rattling. It's unsettling. It comes from speakers placed all around my formerly sedate salon.
Accordingly, with my daughter and friends draped over couches and armchairs, I've been roused from rest by the din of epic motion pictures on DVD. By the sounds of Sheryl Crow or Matchbox 20 - unplugged or otherwise - on MTV. By cheering crowds at VH-1 awards shows. If this keeps up, I'll never make the Oscars.
Then there is the simple matter of leaving the house. As in, going out. As in, "Let's go to the movies." The kids are hesitant to leave. The grownups get settled. After all, there is parking and seat selection and those $3 Cokes. There are talkers and coughers and ample patrons excusing themselves en route to rest rooms. Let's not even mention cellphones.
To some, my swell new present keeps the real world from spoiling everybody's fun - except mine.
Maybe, in weeks and months to come, the novelty will wear off. Maybe my guests will tire of all those startlingly clear images, those true-to-life sounds. I can only hope.
In the meantime, I stick mainly with news and classic film channels. I watch them on a terribly serviceable 10-year-old TV in my bedroom. I don't need large-scale violence. I'm used to the voices of Tracy and Hepburn at modest decibels.
On weekends, on days off, I am still at the movies - where I always hope to be overwhelmed.
• Joe Honig, a former CBS and AP journalist, writes for television.