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(May 14, 2008)

So the goddamn thing blew up. That’s right, the eye blinked and did not open again---the big black eye that reveals an Alice-in-Wonderland/Dante’s Inferno cornucopia of crap every time you hit “power” on the remote.
          How ironic, that word, in this context. What little power you have as a human being is vacuumed right out of your innards and neuron receptors every minute you spend staring at the big Window to Nowhere, after you hit “power.” You are then enslaved to “free market” approved, government-inspected reality. The button should read: “surrender.”
          I mean, TeeVee hasn’t been very much fun since the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, but can you believe that (regular, non-cable, non-satellite, non-extra-terrestrial) TV is now about 80 or 90 percent infomercials? And the rest is “reality” programming that has as much to do with reality as a George W. Bush press conference?
          I know, you all are paying fifty bucks a month for the corporate brain-rape of CNNESPNFOXCSPANTMS. . .(where do you get your money?) Well, I don’t. I copped the stuff for free for about ten years when a friendly neighbor wired our whole building for cable, and I could never shut the thing off. I watched 48 hours’ worth of “48 Hours.” Eventually, we were “caught,” and warned, and I became RenseTV Unplugged.
          You know, I understand about greedslobber---that is, capitalism---but when God invented this machine,* I doubt that HeSheIt intended it to broadcast nincompoops and borderline criminals trying to trick you out of your credit card number in exchange for blenders that make guacamole at 2 a.m.. Or to help keep Robert Kiyosaki in Beverly Hills haircuts and private jets by buying his books telling you what a poverty-stricken loserjerk you are.
          Yet that’s all that hapless loserjerks who still use rabbit ears (or, next year, HDTV antennas) get now. Yes, there is the twentieth or thirtieth rerun of a nice Britcom, or the Don Cheto Show, which features the sublime combination of banda music (rock ‘n’ roll tuba!) antic dwarves, and near-naked silicone-inflated chiquitas, but these things are little proof against infomerciality. As for the rest of you mainlining satellite feeds of sports and porno for fifty bucks a month, ‘s’all good, dawg.
          Well. I need worry no more. Pfft. Boink. Sploot. The old tube---yes, it was a twelve-year-old hulking Sony antique from prehistory, weighing perhaps a hundred pounds---is no more. That is, it is still sitting out there, helpless as a mute, blind fat man with no legs, but it is dead. Going to have to hire a couple of Julios to get it out of here. Then what?
          Why, buy a new one, of course! Where would my insomniac nights of horror be without 92-year-old Jack La Lanne showing me how to make rutabaga juice, with that woman sidekick who has a tragic disease that causes her lips to remain constantly peeled back? Mrs. Sardonicus. . .
          And here is where our story begins. Or rather, there---in Costco. Yes, I am a member of Costco, which makes me feel like one of the citizens in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” after they’ve slept with a pod. Or a fan of Milton Friedman, which is about the same thing. But there I was, with my trusty emanuensis, Annie, inspecting television sets. If these flat-screen things still go by that name.
          “Jesus,” I said, wondering why I incessantly call this name when he has never once responded to me. “Maybe I should just get my old 1961 Zenith black-and-white out of the garage and hook that sucker up.”
          “Maybe you should,” said Annie, ever helpful.
          I was just full of such scintillating remarks. Things like, “Maybe we should just surrender to a giant-screen and Pringles.” You see, the idea of me buying any piece of modern electronic equipment is no stranger than, let’s say, a dolphin doing the same thing. And remember, like dolphins, I have two brains. It’s just that neither of them has any comprehension of mechanics, physics, or how to open items sealed in plastic by Chinese people.
          Now, I’m not such a rube that I had never seen a flat-screen TV before. I’ve even spoken on a cell phone. What’s more, I “researched” the goddamn thing on various websites before going to buy it. Well, that is, I read a whole lot of stuff that sounded written by Arthur C. Clarke, minus adjectives. I mean, did you know that TV’s are full of plasma now? Can other bodily fluids be far behind?
          We settled tentatively on a Sharp (mostly because of the name, I suspect), and naturally, the model advertised by Costco on-line was not available in Costco off-line. It suddenly occurs to me that this is the prevailing delineator in today’s planet Earth: on-line, and off-line. Two entirely different life experiences, if not worlds! Sometimes harmonious, sometimes clashing---like Dick Cheney and a mirror.
          So in the real, off-line Culver City Costco, there was no Sharp TV. In Renseco, where nothing is as it is supposed to be, this was a given. We quickly settled on a Toshiba instead, figuring that we would get it home and find four or five reasons not to have bought it---but agreeing that this was the only way to find out those reasons. The price was right, the size was right, the picture “looked good.” This lattermost point, of course, was my main means of assessing quality, as “runs good” is the sum total of my ability to analyze cars.
          Naturally, there were no Toshibas on hand, either, aside from the display model, so we found a Costco Guy. He was busy, he was bothered, he was a little surly, he was filling out forms, but after a few minutes of waiting for us to go away, he turned to offer “help.” We explained. Costco Guy promptly looked into Costco Computer. Why do I always get that scene in my head from “The Wizard of Oz” where Judy Garland is staring into the Wicked Witch of the West’s giant crystal ball whenever I see somebody peer into a computer?
          “Yup. . .Plenty of ‘em at our Torrance store. . .(clickety click). . .and Hawthorne’s got a lot. . .Inglewood. . .see, 24 of ‘em down there.”
          Next morning, I fortified myself with Xanax and ventured into the old-fashioned off-line world called a freeway, making my way to the Inglewood Costco, right near Hollywood Park. The store was easy to find amid all the other iconographic corporate Earthkillers, especially after a nice Mexican guy who spoke almost no English pointed across the street, past a Starbucks and a Ross and a CVS and a Gigante Supermarket and a Buy This Before You Die and said, “Costco. . .Across. . .across. . .across.”
          I drove across the street, Hollywood Park in my rear-view. The old song played in my head, “They’re off and running at Hollywood Park. . .come on let’s have a lot of funnnn. . .watching the thoroughbreds run. . .
          You know, of course, what happened. Both of my dolphin brains knew it was coming, and it was a damn good thing I had taken that Xanax or I’d have gotten a bit irritated. . .Up and down the aisles I wandered, over and over, dreamily, double-checking my senses. . .
          Was it true? No Toshibas here either?
          “No, sir, we don’t have any of the Toshiba in stock,” said a new Costco Guy, staring into the computer screen just like his colleague in the Culver City Costco. “You’re sure he said we have them in stock? You sure it was Toshiba? Thirty-seven inch? Let me double-check.”
          Auntie Em! Auntie Em! I thought about saying it, but I don’t think Guy spent much time in non-linear reality built of 20th Century entertainment experiences, so I opted for, “Thank you, sir.”
          He was a pleasant fellow. Reminded me a lot of the wonderful late actor Henry Calvin, who played Sgt. Garcia on “Zorro” back in the ‘50’s. See what I mean about 20th Century entertainment experiences? He showed me his computer screen that said the Inglewood Costco did not, in fact, have 24 Toshibas, as I’d been told by Culver City Costo Guy. My mind, in trying to take this in, was momentarily diverted. Twenty Four Toshibas, starring Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura, directed by Kurosawa. . .Then he added:
          “Oh, but you see this? This must be what he saw---we have 24 en route. En route!”
          Yes, en route---like the flying monkeys. Like the Wicked Witch of the West. They would be here soon. . .Dat-da-dat, da-dahh-dahh! Auntie Em! That elongated, green face, twisted, hideous. . .I stared too long at the number, “24,” on his screen, wondering if I looked like I was staring too long.
          “They’ll be here tomorrow morning, probably,” said Costco Guy # 2.
          It was that “probably” that sort of bothered me, but like I said, Xanax took care of this. It also gave me the patience---no, courage---no, fearlessness!---to persevere through you-know-what and ask him for directions to the Hawthorne Costco. They’re off and running at Hollywood Park. . .come on let’s have a lot of funnnnn. . .
          “Okay, it’s easy. Just go back to the 405, head south to Rosecrans. No---Rosecrans East. Make sure you take Rosecrans East. And. . .you’re right there!”
          I liked his confidence, his certainty, his existential savoir-faire. I liked the idea of being “right there!” We should all feel that we are “right there!” in life, no matter where we are, all the time, every day. He smiled at me and wished me well. Suddenly, the world was not a harsh place full of incompetence, rudeness, terrorism, murder, spit, starvation, festering wounds, urine-reeking Alzheimer’s patients---it was a place full of helpful fellows who looked like Henry Calvin, who would steer you in the right direction. Who would put you right there.
          I cruised back to the 405, once known as the San Diego Freeway, past a collection of businesses and residences that made me glad I was not “right there.” I don’t know, the Green Zone in Baghdad sounds more appetizing, especially with that big new amusement park and hotel complex they're building. Here, everything looked like it was covered with a fine layer of soot, mostly because it was, from passing jumbo jets heading into LAX. Dive bars, bars on windows, people as animated as barbells.
          I put Bizet’s “L'Arlésienne” Suite No. 2 on the car stereo, as a buffer. I love the first movement, which aside from being gorgeous, enormous, embracing, sounds like a fabulous clock. It makes the passing of time a lyrical and grand thing, and believe me, that’s a trick and half. With Bizet at my side, I eased down the freeway, eased on down the road, certain to soon be united with a Toshiba 37-inch flat-screen HDTV that would almost hallucinogenically improve my informercial experience. I heard Costgo Guy No. 2’s confident voice in my head, “Be sure you take Rosecrans East,” and I did, ever so diligently. Pulled to the end of the off ramp, turned my head to the right, saw Rosecrans East a half block away, and proceeded.
          Good directions give life such purpose, such logic, such resolution!
          And I drove. For about five miles. Through Hawthorne neighborhoods that were less enticing than the one I had just left. Immigrants working their asses off, living cheaply. . .a parade of grungy houses and ragamuffin apartments that many people in Sri Lanka would kill to inhabit. . .The Beach Boys, I remembered, came from Hawthorne. No wonder Brian Wilson was nuts. And. . .
          No Costco. Not there. Not. . .right there. There was no there right there. Turned around and drove back the other way, my head doing a half-Linda Blair trying to catch a glimpse of that inimitable red Costco marquee. . .right there. . .somewhere. But. . .no Costco. No Toshiba. Soon I was back at the freeway. And soon I was home, looking at a map in the on-line world.
          The Hawthorne Costco was not on Rosecrans East. It was at the end of the Rosecrans East offramp. Right there.
          “Jesus Christ!” I said.
          Again, no answer.

* "Television is a gift of God, and God will hold those who utilize his divine instrument accountable to him." Philo T. Farnsworth, television pioneer.

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