Sit up, take note

I was a teenage T.V. addict. My family said I'd watch anything that moved. They were probably right. I think I might even have watched test patterns. Then, I became an adult T.V. addict. Friends would bring me books like "Four Arguments For the Elimination of Television." They would clasp their hands and gaze hopefully into my eyes, saying, "Read this. It will do you a great deal of good."

But their maps of television's wasteland were useless to me. Millions of tiny electronic dots are worth a thousand words I'd say. But one day a strange thing happened.

I had stepped out on my front porch to look for the newspaper. I needed the day's television listings, of course. The paper girl had missed the porch. Somewhere in the bushes was my T.V. listing. I thought I saw it crumpled there just under a bird's nest and behind a spider web. I fixed the position in mind and plotted how I might reach it quickly and with little damage to myself and the paper.

A neighbor happened by. Surprised to see me out of doors during nearly prime time, he tried to be casual as he said, "Well, enjoying Nature, are you? That is quite a spider, isn't it? Remarkable how they make those webs."

The spider, sensing an audience, began to do a few repairs in the web. We both watched in silence. After several minutes of trance-like quiet, my neighbor said he had to leave.

"Huh? Oh yeah." I responded, never taking my eyes off the web. I sat down on the edge of the porch, transfixed by the framing and weaving before me. How did it do that? I must have sat, wondering, for about twenty minutes. I got up , went inside, felt lost, and returned.

This time as I sat there I realized that all along I had never been a T.V. addict. I was a sit-and-stare addict. This spider had more Neilson-rating value than the whole fall line-up put together. And the bush that the spider was spinning around was not so bad either. It was no stage-prop bush; it was on-location reality. It had two different kinds of leaves. You could see where the old growth stopped and the new growth began. Then there was this dragonfly that had a near miss with the spider's web. A small beetle finally ended the spider's and my suspense with action like a made-for-T.V. movie. It was the best viewing since the night they showed "Gone With the Wind" opposite "The Great Pumpkin."

I now have an entire theory about television based on my encounter with the spider. Each of us requires a certain amount of spectatorship. There is nothing wrong with sitting and allowing objects before us to perform, fade, cut, blend and emerge. Many of us spend our whole day participating. And when I get home from a heavy day of participation, I want to plunk down and watch somebody else get organized.

Other generations had the front porch and the rocking chair. If you rocked on my front porch right now, you'd end up in the bushes. Or you'd have a call from a neighbor asking you not to stare into her apartment balcony. While television has become my generation's socially acceptable way to sit and stare, it's not television we want; it's not television we need. We need a place, not too far from the kitchen, where you can sit in your old clothes, watching somebody or something else do things.

Until that fateful morning with the spider, I thought that place was in front of the T.V. But now I see. Don't give up T.V. because you're an addict. Give it up because there's a whole world out there to sit and watch. There is more creeping, chirping, digging, attack and counter-attack, special effects, costuming, comedy routines, sneaking up on and being sneaked up on, courting, parading, photosynthesizing and metamorphosizing than you'll ever find on television.

They can hardly get me inside anymore. The cat is the only one who is disturbed by the change that has come over me. She did so enjoy settling down on top of a warm television set.

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